Of a dead Syrian boy
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Hebrew media review

Of a dead Syrian boy

A picture of a drowned child graces front pages Thursday morning, one that is as important as it is devastating, but may not be enough to shift Europe’s anti-refugee tide

A Turkish police officer carries a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank. (AFP/DOGAN NEWS AGENCY)
A Turkish police officer carries a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank. (AFP/DOGAN NEWS AGENCY)

A picture of a dead child graces two of three major Hebrew-language dailies Thursday morning. A dead Syrian child, drowned while trying to reach Europe from Turkey. A dead child. It’s an unthinkably devastating picture. A horrible one. One that gives anyone who sees it more than just pause, but revulsion at the lack of humanity in the ever-deepening migrant crisis occurring on Europe’s unwelcoming doorstep.

And in that way it’s also an incredibly important picture, a brave one even, one that rives the soul of anyone who sees it. And one that has the ability to shift the tide of public opinion as no other image has.

And thus it’s not surprising that Israeli newspapers, following the lead of other papers around the world, took the step of placing a picture of a dead 3-year-old child on their front pages. Front and center for all the country – a country with an abysmal record of helping non-Jewish refugees – to see.

Yedioth Ahronoth is only paper to run on its front page the most shocking picture, that of the child lying alone face down in the surf, dressed as if he is ready for a day on the playground, but instead another victim of the Syrian civil war. Atop it is the paper runs the headline “The toddler who moved the world.”

(The Times of Israel made the editorial decision not to feature that picture, taking into account news value and respect for the victims.)

The tragedy serves as the impetus for Yedioth commentator Merav Batito to pen a heart-rending piece about the larger plight of refugees fleeing for safer shores.

“Now he is quiet and safe, his eyes won’t have to look in terror at the darkening horizon, his little hands won’t reach out anymore to his mother, that will put them on top of hers, and his crying voice won’t be heard across the stormy waters,” she writes. “The heartbreaking pictures of the Syrian child that drowned is a reminder of how much fear is the curse of the refugee: a human being that nobody wants, a person whose life has been overtaken by extinction and chaos, a creation with no salvation who is maybe better off dead than alive.”

Haaretz’s front page features a slightly softer version of the picture, with a Turkish policeman carrying the lifeless child off the beach, the child’s face obscured, but without any sort of plea or comment. (Israel Hayom uses the same picture — as did the Times of Israel, see above — but chooses to bury it on page 35 with the headline “The child who shocked the world.”)

That’s not to suggest Haaretz doesn’t have what to say about the tragedy. Commentator Asaf Ronel writes that much of the opposition to the entrance of migrants is coming from Eastern Europe, though the whole Continent is vulnerable to anti-immigrant nationalists which have made gains in recent years and can be blamed for much of the tragedy, which may only get worse.

“The crisis and lack of answers of the EU fits like a glove next to the populist radical right across Europe, who have used hate against foreigners and opposition to the EU to garner unprecedented victories at the ballot box,” he writes.

While refugees’ lungs were filling with the Mediterranean’s blood-soaked waters, US President Barack Obama was having the time of his life on a boat off the coast of Alaska, celebrating the clinching of the Congressional support for nuclear deal, which now has enough backing to sustain a veto of anti-deal legislation.

All three papers put Washington’s big win on the front page, but much of the coverage focuses not on the triumph for the US but the loss for Israel. Israel Hayom leads off coverage with Jerusalem’s insistence that a majority are still against the deal, which is technically true (but mostly irrelevant).

In case anybody was curious where the paper stands on the issue, the headline “The deal will be passed by force” should clue them in.
However, it’s not the support of Senator Barbara Mikulski and 33 of her closest friends that grinds the gears of the tabloid’s Boaz Bismuth, but the reaction of the Israeli body politic, which aimed its words at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for both failing to stop the deal and straining ties with the US.

“Obama got yesterday a majority to ensure the nuclear deal with Iran, and the chorus of ‘told you so’ and ‘Bibi failed’ flowed in response. All that was missing was them busting out in a dance,” he writes. “Our chorus decided that the Iranian nuclear program is just a personal Netanyahu issue. Not a national problem, not an existential threat, but a personal affair of the prime minister who opposed the nuclear deal.”

Much of that anti-Netanyahu sentiment gets wide play in the two other papers.

Yedioth, which runs a picture of Obama on the boat and calls it a “victory sail,” includes a handy dandy guide for all the Israelis who somehow missed their American high school civics classes on how a veto works, and how a minority can be a majority.

Commentator Orly Azulai notes that even if the fight didn’t need to be a personal one of Netanyahu’s, he made it that way by going out of his way to oppose Obama, and will now suffer consequences.

“The White House still has yet to fully figure out why Netanyahu is doing what no other foreign leader has the gumption to do: ally with the president’s political enemies and work to thwart him. Had the prime minister successfully caused Congress to quash the Iran deal, not just the president would have sought to settle the score, but also most of the Democratic party – that’s half of America, at whose head stands the leading candidate to be the next president: Hillary Clinton. Now Netanyahu is left isolated, repulsed by official Washington, shoved away from the diplomatic table and far from relevant information. He has turned into the man who beat himself, and us, who now stand on the wrong side of history.”

Similarly, in Haaretz Barak Ravid also blames Netanyahu for giving the whole country a black eye with his ill-conceived attempt to go against Obama and take down the deal.

“The problem is that in his headlong crash into the wall, he took with him many innocent victims. With his forceful interference in Congress’ approach to the accord, he turned Israel into a divisive issue in US politics. In his calls on American Jews to support him and not their president, he ripped the fabric of American Jewry. His fight with Obama caused grave damage to US-Israeli relations, with implications that will be apparent in the coming year,” he writes. “One might have hoped that Wednesday’s events would stop Netanyahu and cause him to take stock, to examine where he went wrong and formulate new policies. Apparently, this will not happen. The first reactions from his bureau indicated the opposite. He intends to continue fighting the deal.”

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