Hebrew media review

Netanyahu’s ‘betrayal,’ Trump’s ‘one state, two state’ rile Israeli press

Pundits are out in greater numbers than reporters as the Hebrew media breaks down a troubling press conference in Washington

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

It’s the Trump and Netanyahu show in the Hebrew papers on Thursday morning after the prime minister and the US president met for the first time since the Donald took office last month. From Israel Hayom on the right to Haaretz on the left, the commander-in-chief’s remarks about the two-state solution are at the top of the docket.

As Haaretz’s headline sees it, “Trump avoided calling for a two state solution; Netanyahu expressed willingness to curb construction in West Bank.” The tabloids in the middle, Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv, run virtually the same front page, with the same picture of the leaders and their wives, and both paraphrase the president’s apparent backing down on the two-state solution.

Maariv more accurately conveys the president’s vague response to reporters’ inquiries as to whether he was committed to previous US policy concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Its headline reads “One state or two — whatever the sides decide.” Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom, on the other hand, are slightly more ambiguous, interpreting the president in their headlines saying “one state or two — whatever you decide.” Who’s the you here? The Israelis? The Israelis and Palestinians? At best it’s lazy, at worst it’s deliberately misleading, or perhaps the papers know something that went unstated.

It might be frigid in Washington and Jerusalem this time of year, but Israeli pundits are churning out enough hot air to make DC feel like Florida. Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth vie for the most op-eds attempting to dissect the meager-fleshed body of information conveyed during the joint press conference. Both papers run an astounding six analysis/opinion pieces, putting to shame Israel Hayom’s relatively paltry three and Maariv’s comparatively pathetic two. Don’t these media outlets know readers only care about the interpretation of facts rather than the facts themselves? Sad! Yedioth Ahronoth even goes so far as to lead with its three columns by Nahum Barnea, Shlomo Pyoterkovsky and Sima Kadmon before getting around to reporting on the press conference.

Two key issues preoccupy the great minds of the Israeli journalistic world: Trump’s comments on Israeli-Palestinian peace and Netanyahu’s comments about anti-Semitism in Trump’s midst.

“Anyone who expected to understand how exactly the president of the United States wants to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was disappointed,” Maariv’s reporter in Washington writes in a news article that reads like an blog. “There could be two states for two peoples, or one state; the important thing is that the sides reach a deal and are happy.” The paper’s senior wonk Ben Caspit follows suit, writing that Trump “still doesn’t know what he wants of himself and the Middle East.” Caspit’s bottom line is that “what we saw yesterday is essentially a choreographed ceremony, an orchestrated performance of friendship and evasive declarations that cannot prove anything about what will happen on the road between Washington to Jerusalem and Ramallah in the coming years. Period.”

The haruspices at Haaretz gaze into the sheep entrails that were Trump and Netanyahu’s comments and portend dark days for the two-state solution and prospects of peace with the Palestinians. Chemi Shalev writes that the two-state solution suffered a major blow, but remarks that “Netanyahu smiled when he heard Trump’s bizarre comments, but it’s a warning sign: he may yet find himself longing for the high of opening night.” Yossi Verter says Trump “looked like someone who doesn’t have the most basic understanding of the material” when he issued his proclamation about one state, two state. “The regional approach he spoke about sounded hollow in his voice, like someone put a page in front of him with that headline and he declared it.”

Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth basks in what he sees as affirmation from the White House that “the idea of two states as the only option for peace, the road map, multilateral negotiations, international initiatives, threats of sanctions against Israel, an accusatory finger at settlements all simply became almost irrelevant, or at most secondary.”

Whereas Verter finds Trump’s comments vacuous, and Caspit thinks them hollow, Bismuth sees genius. “Donald Trump is much more attentive to the security needs of Israel. Iran and jihadist terror are enemies for him that must be fought until victory.”

At the same time, in a moment of truth buried beneath a 500-word pile of prattle, Bismuth admits Trump has no clue. “There were those who left the press conference yesterday and said that Donald Trump doesn’t understand, and that he doesn’t have a policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Donald Trump wants to make a deal. How exactly he’ll do that, he still doesn’t know. And perhaps that’s actually good: we saw where all the experts in peace brought us to.”

As for Netanyahu’s wholehearted defense of Trump against a question concerning the rise in anti-Semitism in America and members of the new administration “playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones,” most Israeli pundits are outraged. In Yedioth Ahronoth, Barnea writes that the one thing Netanyahu said that was “unforgivable” was his final remark: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Trump.”

“Trump opened the door to this phenomenon with his racist comments, his calls challenging political correctness, and encouragement he gave to radical right wing movements and refusal to condemn those groups’ anti-Semitic publications,” Barnea fumes. “That’s not how a big supporter of the Jewish people behaves. That’s not how a little supporter of the Jewish people behaves.”

While some American Jews support Trump and look to his Jewish son-in-law and his daughter who converted, the majority, he reminds his readers, “see beside them Steve Bannon, the guru of anti-Semitism in American and the deciding man in the Trump White House. They hear the prime minister of the Jewish state’s flattery and choke.”

At Haaretz, Shalev says that Netanyahu shafted American Jews and “stuck a knife in their back while throwing them under the bus” by defending Trump against a question concerning the rise of anti-Semitism and his white supremacist supporters. Israel Hayom, all too predictably, parrots the prime minister.

“Trump is good for the Jews,” proclaims Bismuth, presidential sycophant-in-chief at Israel Hayom, “despite the sirens of ‘anti-Semitism in America’ heard since he won the elections.” He offers no explanation of how Trump is good for the Jews; simply, the prime minister said so.

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