Hebrew media review

Not exactly out of left field

Even the right is coming to grips with the fact that the Zionist Union could take the election, though it’s hard to call the reporting on the matter news

Israeli Arabs sit under a poster of Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party, during an election campaign press conference in the northern Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram on February 28, 2015 (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli Arabs sit under a poster of Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party, during an election campaign press conference in the northern Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram on February 28, 2015 (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)

With less than a week to go before Israelis make their way to the polls, it would be nice to say that the Israeli press is pulling out its big guns ahead of the grand finale. In actuality though, despite months of bickering and campaigning, all three main election headlines in the major dailies could have easily been written months ago when elections were first announced.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s top story, about people who are marching for change, is pretty much as evergreen as a story gets. Ditto for Israel Hayom, which gives major front page real estate to Likud’s warnings that the country is headed for a leftist government (taking for granted that that result is not what its readers want).

Only Haaretz has a scintilla of news, with Shas head Aryeh Deri saying in an interview that he’s open to sitting in a center-left-led government, which seems to represent an about-face from his full-throated backing of Netanyahu just a few weeks ago. With his denuded party polling in the mid-single digits, however, it’s not exactly earth-shattering news.

By parsing all three dailies, though, one gets the sense that the conversation has indeed shifted to the country coming to terms with the fact that Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog could be the next prime minister, should polls showing the Labor-Hatnua merged list taking a serious lead prove correct.

If Tuesday’s Israel Hayom was anger and denial that the election is slipping out of Likud’s hands, Wednesday’s may very well represent the next stage of grief, bargaining, though certainly not acceptance. Hence the headline “Victory is far from assured,” quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by a commentary piece from Dan Margalit warning that the election is still a way off and anything can happen, and an analysis from an exasperated Moti Tuchfield wondering how the left can be pulling ahead if the public is clearly leaning to the right.

The problem is, for proof of the rightgeist he uses polls showing a plurality wanting Netanyahu to remain as prime minister, without noting that Israel’s parliamentary system makes that stat a poor bellwether of how voters will cast their ballots.

“In the test of pure ideology, the left lost the battle a while ago,” he writes. “Even its spokespeople and representatives admitted years ago that the Israeli public moved to the right. Therefore every time there’s elections they try to find some creative way to bypass the landmine of the people’s will and take over the leadership.”

A look at Yedioth, though, could leave readers wondering whether this rightist majority that wants Netanyahu to stay in power is just the fever dream of Israel Hayom’s editors. The paper leads off with a profile of eight citizens from across the political spectrum fed up with politicians ignoring socioeconomic issues, like housing prices and cost of living, leading a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem beginning Thursday.

Arriving on election day, they plan to set up shop outside President Reuven Rivlin’s house and call for him to call on the new lawmakers to do what the Knesset and two Likud-led governments have failed at.

While the group has a clear anti-incumbent vibe, its members hail from across the political spectrum and dismiss attempts to color them as part of one electoral camp or another.

“While politicians are vilifying each other, they are not dealing with the issues that truly matter,” write protest leaders Arel Botchinki and Meli Alfasi in the paper. “Everyone tells us ‘after the elections’ but that moment is coming and somebody needs to put these issues on the agenda. … On Tuesday we will approach the president because he is the only one who can remind the politicians that they are here for us and not themselves.”

Of course, the protest leaders fail to mention that a number of parties are running on bread and butter issues, like the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. In an interview with Haaretz, Shas head Deri tells the paper that while he will recommend Rivlin appoint Netanyahu to form a coalition, he won’t rule out sitting in a government run by Zionist Union, so long as Yesh Atid is not in the coalition as well. “I am for a wide government,” he says. “If the president appoints Herzog I won’t disqualify [joining with him], but not in a narrow left-wing government.”

He adds that while his party does always see eye to eye with Zionist Union, joining them is better than letting Yesh Atid and Jewish Home gang up to control the coalition like last time around.

Joints and lists

Some of Haaretz’s readers may be more interested in a feature inside the broadsheet, though, laying out the different parties’ stances on cannabis. While Zionist Union, Kulanu, Meretz and yes, the Joint List, are all for medical marijuana, only Kulanu and Meretz support decriminalizing the wacky tobaccy.

Yesh Atid, meanwhile, is open to being peer-pressured on the matter: “If you tell me that a state in the US does it and it’s okay, then it’s okay,” party head Yair Lapid is quoted as saying.

Likud and Yisrael Beytenu both decline to puff or pass, refusing to reveal their positions, though Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, while not very high on his party’s slate, is a staunch backer of loosening restrictions on the greens.

Should he drift back into the Knesset, Haaretz reports, he’ll likely be joined by Yinon Magal, another rightwinger not exactly cotton-mouthed on the issue, though the boss of his Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, is known to be against even medical usage, even if his hipster alter-ego likely wouldn’t apologize for bogarting a spliff.

Not all the news is election related. All three papers cover the killing of Israeli Arab Muhammad Musallem by the Islamic State, in a video published late Tuesday which also features direct threats against Israel. After describing the video in grotesque detail, Yedioth reports that Musallem’s family members plan to watch the propaganda film showing his killing, despite how hard it will be.

“My brother was a little kid who wasn’t interested in politics or religion,” his brother Ahmed is quoted saying, referencing the fact that Musallem was captured after joining the jihadi group and trying to escape them, leading to charges he was a Mossad agent. “Da’esh took advantage of him and screwed him.”

Israel Hayom Boaz Bismuth takes the tragedy and uses it to point an accusatory finger at the US president for aligning with Iran against the Islamic State, calling it Barack Obama’s “‘absurd reality.”

“The tragicomic reality in our story is that Iran is supposed to be the one that beats the Islamic State. With all due respect to the coalition of 62 countries behind Washington, it seems the White House is depending more on Iran to do the dirty work in Iraq and Syria,” he writes. “The West will strike from the air, but Iran will grab the real victory on the ground. The Iranian general from the Revolutionary Guards is the one who is supposed to beat IS. It’s a dream come true.”

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