Israel is a country that takes the issue of incitement quite seriously, certainly more so than many other Western states that place a higher premium on freedom of speech except in cases of an actionable threat. It’s also a place that is deeply riven by ideological differences that can at times supersede all else — even intellectual honesty. That’s the case at least in the last 24 hours, as a rally meant to show that opposition to corruption crossed political boundaries fizzled out and a fake guillotine carried at another anti-corruption rally drew wide rebuke.
Wide, but not that wide. The guillotine is pointed to with absolute horror by Israel Hayom — a pro-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paper that has been waiting for a slip-up like that — and at least acknowledged by Yedioth Ahronoth, including on the Netanyahu-loathing tabloid’s front page. Yet it somehow misses the attention of left-wing Haaretz’s editors and the four people who got bylines on the broadsheet’s coverage of the rallies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
The paper is normally a paragon of good journalism, with standards not often seen in other corners of the press scene here (full disclosure, I worked on the English desk there for several years), so it’s somewhat disheartening to see what may be a case of willful ignorance in the service of a larger cause.
Disheartening, but not all that surprising, given the ideology-driven lens the rallies are peered through in the press and society at large. Thus Israel Hayom seizes on the guillotine with the fervor of a French revolutionary, calling it “serious and dangerous incitement” on its front page and devoting its main coverage to the cutout and perhaps blowing it out of proportion while simultaneously playing down the right-wing anti-corruption rally.
“The model guillotine that was carried during the latest demonstration in Tel Aviv is clear proof that all boundaries have been crossed and these self-righteous demonstrations have become a clear and present danger, not only to democracy, but to people’s lives. We must not be dismissive for a moment – the incitement is serious and dangerous. Hatred blinds and could drag Israeli society into the depths of hopelessness,” columnist Haim Shine writes in an accompanying piece.
The guillotine also makes to the front page of Yedioth, but mostly as an especially ill-thought-out curiosity. The paper reports that organizers tried to defend it as a cigar chopper, but Amit Brin, who executed the display, admitted it was meant to make heads roll.
“I’m sitting with a beer on a bench on Ben-Zion St. and every other person is stopping to take a picture of the guillotine to put it online,” the paper notes he tweeted. “Protest 2.0 is done sitting down.”
The paper devotes much more space to the right-wing rally, which writer Nahum Barnea writes did not draw the large numbers organizers hoped for.
“A thousand people, maybe a bit fewer, stood at Zion Square. The inner core of Likud and Jewish Home voters were not there. The wall of right-wing faithful was not broken. Nonetheless, it was still fascinating,” he writes.
In the same paper, right-wing columnist Shlomo Pyoterkovsky explains why he did not join the rally, saying those who did might have good intentions but are just pawns in someone else’s political game.
“Good friends, those of you who rallied last night, you were part of an attempt to tell a false story. This is a story of a corrupt government that is using its great power of manipulation to run roughshod over the gatekeepers with the bare ability to defend us from an enormous wave, a tsunami of corruption, that is threatening to drown this country. This is the story they are telling you, and it’s the story you went out to protest in the name of, but the story is simply not true,” he writes.
The right-wing rally is also derided by Haaretz’s Gideon Levy on the broadsheet’s op-ed page, not because he thinks the corruption charges are bogus, but because he thinks the right’s sudden concern for the rule of law is hypocritical given its support of the West Bank occupation.
“The demonstration by the right on Saturday night can be likened to improving the service in a slaughterhouse so the butchers will feel better. It’s hypocritical to call it a moral battle. A right-wing demonstration that supports the continuation of the dispossession, the detentions, the abuse and the pointless killing, but under better administration, breaks the record for hypocrisy and a lack of self-awareness,” he writes. “A pro-occupation right wing that demonstrates against corruption is monstrous. This right with makeup on, that everyone is swooning over and waiting for to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is more dangerous than the honest right, more corrupt in its deceptions.”
The paper also gives wide coverage to continuing unrest in the West Bank and various diplomatic moves surrounding the UN’s rejection of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, particularly Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowing he won’t accept another US peace initiative.
According to the paper, though, there wasn’t much of a peace plan to reject anyway.
“A senior Palestinian official who was involved in the writing of the message told Haaretz that the Palestinian leadership had not received any messages or information on the peace plan supposedly being prepared by the White House and that there is almost a complete disconnect with the Trump administration,” the paper reports.
Israel Hayom, meanwhile, continues to gush over how this White House is nothing like the old White House, at the UN, in Jerusalem and now with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he will probe if predecessor Barack Obama went easy on Hezbollah to save the Iran nuclear deal.
“[Trump’s] decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel symbolized not only his deep commitment to the ‘special relations’ between the US and Israel, but also his contrarian approach to frameworks and organizations that have allowed Israel to become a regular target of criticism and condemnation,” columnist Avraham Ben Tzvi writes. “This is in sharp contrast to Obama, who made every effort to lead American foreign policy based on multi-nationalism and cooperation with most of the players in the international arena.”