Hebrew media review


Unpopular Haredi protests against the draft feature prominently, along with the idea that it’s only some bad seeds that should be blamed; and Yedioth’s ‘#Me Too’ campaign ramps up

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Police disperse ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrating  in Jerusalem against the conscription of members of their community to the IDF on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Police disperse ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrating in Jerusalem against the conscription of members of their community to the IDF on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The toxicity of the idea that some people are “asking for it,” has been made plainly clear this week, thanks to people claiming that women are somehow to be blamed for being harassed because of the way they dress or act in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the ‘#Me Too’ campaign.

Yet Friday’s Hebrew print press landscape shows that sometimes people are actually “asking for it.” Not sexual harassment of course — which again features prominently in Yedioth Ahronoth as more women come forward — but rather people blocking roads to protest the jailing of draft-dodgers just asking to be thrown in the slammer, as well as a literal ask by a soldier convicted of killing an incapacitated assailant, who is now seeking a total pardon.

Pictures of the ultra-Orthodox draft-dodging protest grace all three front pages, it being the most photogenic thing to happen in Israel on Thursday.

Both tabloids Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth adopt the Haredi language of calling it a “day of rage” as protesters managed to create traffic chaos in Jerusalem. With the group already not particularly endeared to much of Israeli society, the blocking of roads and inconveniencing of thousands to draw attention to the plight of their brethren forced to sit in jail instead of getting to avoid mandatory army service doesn’t exactly make them heroes of the people in the papers.

Yedioth’s headline of “road rage” doesn’t refer to the anger of drivers, but rather that of the ultra-Orthodox, with reporter Yishai Porat noting that “it’s clear that the feeling of anger and frustration that was present during the day of rage against the draft can break out again at any moment.”

Columnist Shlomo Pyotorkovsky, meanwhile, writes that the Haredi claim that the protest is for their freedom to learn Torah in peace is as likely as them protesting for the right to eat bacon. “The truth is that police have never busted into a yeshiva study hall, a student has never been ripped away from his page of Talmud and forced to sit in jail for learning Torah. All of those arrested until now, including the latest arrests, were grabbed outside yeshivas,” he writes, noting that the main concern of the leaders of the protest is that men avoid the army whether or not they are engaged in Torah study.

Israel Hayom, whose ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely led them to go softer on the ultra-Orthodox — an essential part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition — plays the story smaller than Yedioth, with a column accompanying their news coverage focused on the fact that these road-blockers from the Peleg Yerushalmi (Jerusalem faction) group are just a few bad apples and don’t represent most ultra-Orthodox.

“The members of the Peleg Yerushalmi, some five percent of the Haredi public, are causing untold damage to the wider ultra-Orthodox community,” writes Meni Gira Shwartz, the editor of Haredi news site Behadrey Haredim. “Even if the community respects the more conservative ideology of this group, there’s no tolerance for anarchy. Even in the view of the most conservative ultra-Orthodox.”

On Haaretz’s op-ed page, Yisrael Cohen agrees with the assessment that they are a marginal group but says the focus on the draft issue is allowing the fringe faction to creep into the mainstream.

“The police that nabbed the draft-dodging yeshiva students this week unintentionally gave the Peleg Yerushalmi a gift. After a period in which they ‘lost power,’ the arrests put wind behind the sails of the extremists. From the point of view of the heads of the Peleg Yerushalmi, ‘the draft decree’ is their flagship issue,” he writes. “Their existence depends somewhat on it remaining in the political and public agenda. The relative quiet over the past year regarding the draft caused internal issues within this fringe group, which was pushed even further to the margins. The arrests this week returned a spark to the protesters.”

Also gaining steam is the wave of high-profile Israeli women coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse. Yedioth Ahronoth runs snippets from 24 different women, some reporting on things that happened to them, and some speaking out against the phenomenon.

In one column, transgender diva Dana International says she has had “not a few” bad encounters, including getting felt up by a crew member recently, and prying questions from late TV host Dudu Topaz over whether she had her genitalia removed years ago.

In another, TV presenter Lucy Aharish speaks more generally, giving support to those women who only now feel ready to speak up about the horrors they have been through, and giving those who might criticize those women a piece of her mind.

“You who question my trustworthiness, who accuse me of remembering too late, you are no less criminals than the man who forgot for a moment that the woman he is harassing is also a mother, or a sister, or a daughter. Who forgot that he would also ‘lose his shit,’ as they say, if he heard some guy tried to sexually assault his daughter,” she writes.

One would be forgiven for thinking that all men are terrible after hearing these stories, but would one be forgiven for shooting and killing an already injured assailant? That’s the question before President Reuven Rivlin, after Hebron shooter Elor Azaria asked for a full pardon, just a few months after going into prison (and already having his sentence shortened to a bare minimum.)

The story is on the front page of Israel Hayom, which was the only mainstream paper to show support for Azaria during his trial, highlighting quotes such as: “Unfortunately, I did not get a just verdict. That’s my feeling and nothing will change it. The trait of mercy and graciousness, which is a part of pardoning, I request from the president.”

Though Azaria doesn’t show remorse, usually a prerequisite for a pardon, the paper’s Dror Eidar still calls for him to be granted clemency, also excusing the shooter’s actions.

“From the chain of events, it seems that had these hostile [left-wing human rights] groups not filmed the incident, it would have ended with disciplinary action at worst. On top of that, the widespread intervention by senior army officials to convict him before his trial concluded hurt the judicial process,” he writes. “It was Azaria standing in the field, not the judges. These were days of terror, and the murdered filled the news pages.”

While Eidar charges that Azaria was convicted because of politics, in Haaretz, columnist Yossi Verter charges that another man in uniform, police chief Roni Alsheich, is being smeared because he refuses to play politics and is investigating the prime minister. And it’s not just Alsheich, writes Verter, but the whole force is under fire now.

“The Knesset winter session, which opens Monday, will be conducted in the shadow of the mudslinging by the prime minister’s associates against the organization that is collecting the evidence against him. The mudslinging … won’t be restricted to issues related to the investigations. Every mistake and screw-up by the police will serve as an acceptable reason for the slander,” he writes. ”It started this week. An incident in which a policeman threatened ultra-Orthodox demonstrators with his pistol was followed up by Yonatan Orich, who is Netanyahu’s Facebook editor. ‘If it develops into a media crisis for the police, it’s liable to deteriorate tomorrow into another leak from the investigations,’ he tweeted on his personal Twitter account.”

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