Missiles, discrimination and heart attacks outweigh a trial
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Hebrew media review

Missiles, discrimination and heart attacks outweigh a trial

With little going on, the papers focus on matters important to them: Israel's security, Israel's education and Israel's grandfather

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Elor Azaria in court on July 5, 2016 (Flash90)
Elor Azaria in court on July 5, 2016 (Flash90)

Slow news days provide a great barometer for determining what a newspaper cares about most. With nothing pressing, editors can emphasize what gets them out of bed in the morning. Wednesday happened to be a fairly dull day by Israeli news standards, and the Thursday front pages in the Hebrew press reflect that in their wide ranging issues.

In Israel Hayom, the importance of projecting the country as safe, secure and under control with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm is paramount. Like Yedioth Ahronoth, the top story is coverage of Wednesday’s hearing in the manslaughter trial of an IDF soldier who shot an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist at point blank range. But the big headline in the pro-Netanyahu tabloid reports on the successful test several weeks ago of a multi-leveled missile defense system incorporating three Israeli shields and three American ones.

“The anticipated answer in the next war against Hezbollah?” the paper asks on its front page. The test, the paper says, tried the capabilities of an integrated missile defense and was successful. Israel Hayom writes that “although no official admitted it, one of the objectives of the trial was to test the integration of the different systems against a missile attack on Israel, in particular by Hezbollah, which is capable of firing tens, or even hundreds of missiles, simultaneously.”

The Defense Ministry simply said that the systems “stood up to the rigors” of the trial, Israel Hayom reports.

By comparison, Yedioth Ahronoth plays up its exclusive interview with national grandfather and former president Shimon Peres, who tells the paper about the heart attack and subsequent surgery he underwent six months ago. Why? It’s not clear.

“I usually wake up early, 4:30, 5 a.m.,” he tells the paper, parodying old men everywhere. “That morning I got up at the same time, but there was abnormal pressure on my chest, which got stronger, and then I felt a great pain in my chest.”

He says he kept his cool, called his doctor, had a chat, eventually got an ambulance and was catheterized. The paper’s big quote from the elder statesman is “I didn’t have time to think about death or prepare for it.” While it’s no doubt fascinating to listen to a man in his 90s talk about his health problems, fortunately Yedioth Ahronoth keeps it short and sweet and saves the full interview for the weekend.

On the other hand, Haaretz runs a major investigative piece on how the Israeli government is defunding Arab teachers and keeping Arab teachers out of Jewish schools despite a teacher shortage. The story, which gets the entire space above the fold, is about the Education Ministry’s “deliberate discrimination” against Arab teachers’ colleges by cutting their funding to a fraction per student of what Jewish teachers’ colleges get.

“The development is part of a new method of funding for students in teachers’ colleges that the Education Ministry is advancing and will start in the coming academic year, and its aim is to encourage students to learn professions that have a shortage of teachers” — math and science in particular — the paper reports. The ministry says that because of an excess of Arab teachers in northern Israel, Arab students will be funded 56% of the standard — NIS 25,000 for Jewish students and NIS 14,000 for an Arab student.

An official at a teachers’ college in the north tells the paper anonymously that “we were asked to pass on a detailed list of those registered and, to my surprise, the Education Ministry knew exactly how to count heads and know who was Arab, and whom to finance less.”

“In my eyes it’s really racist. There’s no other explanation for it,” a senior official, also anonymous, says.

Back in the manslaughter trial, the tabloids make big deal out of the soldier’s brigade commander’s testimony, with both Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth playing up his statement that “there was no justification for the shooting.” They both play it straight and, surprisingly, none of their opinion writers weigh in on the issue.

Quotes vary slightly between the two papers, but the gist of Colonel Yariv Ben Ezra’s testimony is this: there was no legitimate cause for Elor Azaria to shoot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif because there was no threat to anybody’s life. “When I watched the film I understood that better,” he says.

Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom differ slightly in their coverage of what a rank and file soldier who testified at Wednesday’s hearing said. Yedioth says that Corporal M., who was at the scene of the incident, told the tribunal that “I didn’t feel endangered in the incident,” but added that “I’m a young soldier and I haven’t encountered situations like these.” He’s quoted saying that other soldiers said afterwards that the state won’t back up either them or Azaria.

Israel Hayom plays up the fact that M. thanked Azaria for shooting the terrorist — if indeed the terrorist had an explosive device. “If there were a bomb, I would have died and therefore Elor saved me and other soldiers. Thanks Elor.” At the same time, M. and another soldier who testified said they’d been trained not to shoot incapacitated terrorists.

Israel Hayom also plays up Palestinian children dressed up as Hamas fighters on the Temple Mount during Eid al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem on Wednesday. As expected, the paper finds someone to call it incitement and urge the Israeli government to put an end to it.

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