New year, new Mideast
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Hebrew media review

New year, new Mideast

Hebrew dailies hope that Iranian protesters will change regime while some make the tempting comparison to politics at home

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

University students attend an anti-regime protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by Iranian anti-riot police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)
University students attend an anti-regime protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by Iranian anti-riot police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

The ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Iran top the agenda in Israel’s leading Hebrew-language papers, playing up the disdain some protesters express toward the Islamic regime.

As the new year is ushered in, Israel’s leading Hebrew-language papers look abroad at the developments unfolding elsewhere in the Middle East and attempt to decipher what the future of the region hold.

The country’s two most popular dailies, Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth, both lead with the ongoing unrest in Iran over economic hardships and against the regime. Yedioth’s headline quotes an unnamed Iranian protester assessing that “soon you will see millions in the street.” Yedioth frames the protesters as “young Iranians” who are tired of “suffering in silence.” According to the paper, many in Iran are “planning for the moment in which they can escape to Europe,” and the daily notes in a tone more sympathetic than critical that a subculture has developed in the Islamic Republic characterized by “underground parties with sex and alcohol, right under the Revolutionary Guard’s nose.”

A more intense portrayal of the demonstrations is brought forth on Israel Hayom’s front page, with an anonymous quote by an activist in Iran warning that the protesters aim to “switch the regime, or die.”

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

Eyal Zisser, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Tel Aviv University and a frequent contributor to Israel Hayom, posits that while the rallies in Iran are a “deep expression of yearning for a change,” there is currently no clear leader who could bring about such a change, and no real agreement about what should come instead of the rule of the ayatollahs. Nevertheless, Zisser writes that there is hope that the demonstrations may cause a ripple effect that will gnaw at the Iranian regime over time and weaken the religious leadership’s hold on the country. Zisser even hints that he believes a new revolution may be sprouting up among the protests on the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities.

“Few, if any, can predict a popular uprising before it has occurred,” he writes. “For even its heroes and its creators do not always know what the results of their actions may be.”

In Haaretz, Amos Biderman’s daily cartoon throws shade at the current Israeli leadership — and, perhaps, at the Likud-aligned Israel Hayom — who while urging on and admiring the anti-regime protests in Iran, claim that the weekly anti-corruption demonstrations in Tel Aviv are merely a pretense for toppling the Jewish state’s democratically elected, right-wing government.

“It is funded by the New Israel Fund,” an illustrated version of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pointing to a television broadcasting the protests, is seen telling President Hassan Rouhani.

The cartoon is referencing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates’ frequent accusations that the left-wing New Israel Fund and other non-governmental organizations are the ones behind the anti-corruption protests in Tel Aviv, using the rallies as a means to advance their agenda of unseating the Israeli leader.

Members of the Likud Central Committee vote in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank at the Avenue Conference Center, near Ben Gurion Airport on December 31, 2017. (Courtesy)

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s editorial spares no words in condemning the Likud Central Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, for unanimously passing a resolution urging the faction’s leaders to formally annex parts of the West Bank and allow unlimited construction in the settlements.

“Representatives of the settlers in Likud exploited Netanyahu’s preoccupation with the corruption investigations against him to try to force him to take a step he had refrained from making,” the paper offers. “The settlers and their representatives in [the Jewish Home party] and Likud are exploiting Netanyahu’s moment of weakness to push him to the right, with the threat of bringing down the coalition hovering in the background.”

The editorial, in the left-wing fashion characteristic of Haaretz, makes sure to stress that an annexation such as the one approved by the Likud Central Committee is a dangerous step that can lead to “the establishment of apartheid in areas of the sovereign State of Israel: one law for Jews and another for Palestinians, who will be second-class subjects, without citizenship.”

Interestingly enough, while Israel Hayom dedicates some coverage to the Likud resolution, none of the daily’s major analysts or columnists comment on the decision at all. But on a separate note, the paper does present some interesting statistics regarding Israel’s population as the new year begins.

According to Israel Hayom, 8.8 million citizens live in the Jewish state, 6.5 million — or 74.6% — of whom are Jewish. Arab Israelis make up 20.9% of the country’s population, while 4.5% consist of other ethnic or religious minorities. Over the past year, Israel’s population grew by 1.9%, or 165,000 people, with 18 percent of the growth attributed to immigration.

Twenty-seven thousand new immigrants decided to call Israel their home in 2017, with 75% s coming from European countries, 15% from the United States, 5% from Asia, and 4.3% from Africa.

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