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Israel media review

Polls apart: What the press is saying on October 30

An Israel still smarting from the deadly results of its own divisions peers across the sea to a polarized America as it tries to gauge who will be president and what it could mean

US voters mark their ballots during early in-person voting, Oct. 29, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AP/Elise Amendola)
US voters mark their ballots during early in-person voting, Oct. 29, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AP/Elise Amendola)

1. States of play: There are a few days to go until US election day, but the Israeli media, perhaps glad to be covering someone else’s election after its own neverending parade of democracy, is locked and ready for the US contest, or as much as one can be in this wackadoodle year of our lord 2020.

  • Front pages previewing the election grace all three of Israel’s major daily newspapers, and many news sites.
  • “The US will choose this week between [Joe] Biden and [Donald] Trump, but also between truth and lies,” reads Haaretz’s front page headline, and you don’t need to be a professor of literature to figure out who the liberal paper is referring to.
  • When it comes to lies “Trump is in a league of his own. For him they are not the means but the end. This is a well-known symptom of a narcissistic mental health disorder,” writes armchair shrink Chemi Shalev. “Trump is that rare combo of a sociopathic liar who sees his lies as a legitimate tool to reach his goals, and a pathological liar, who doesn’t even know that his lies are lies.”
  • Want a second opinion? In Israel Hayom even-keeled front page headline “Battle for America” is belied by the actual story accompanying the package, in which editor Boaz Bismuth, touring the “can’t-lose state” of Florida, tries to keep his chin up despite Trump polling behind.
  • “The American president finds himself on the defensive in every state he wants to win, even when they’re supposed to be in his pocket. He isn’t letting up, and is attacking the media, which he claims has enlisted to push him out and is ignoring alleged corruption by the Biden family — all because of how he handled the COVID crisis as president,” he writes.
  • He adds that “Biden is in trouble with Hispanics, but he might be able to take comfort in the fact that polls show that retirees are no longer in Trump’s pocket like they were four years ago, because of COVID. Like in every election, it is likely that voters will “return home” in the next few days. Of course, we mustn’t forget the Jews. Although the vast majority of them are expected to vote for Biden, older Jewish voters should be flocking to the polls and they are considered supporters of Trump because of what he has done for Israel.”
  • While Bismuth plays up the importance of Florida (“The road to the White House goes through Florida. Everyone already knows the mantra that is repeated in every presidential election: Florida, Florida, Florida.”), in Yedioth Ahronoth, correspondent Orly Azulay crowns Pennsylvania the most sought-after belle.
  • That seems to be mostly by dint of being the state where she spent three days and traveled 900 kilometers (560 miles), which we learn from the front page — that time and distance apparently being super noteworthy (considering that many Israelis spent the last month confined to a single kilometer around their home, it may be).
  • She agrees with Bismuth, though, about the importance of a government report showing the GDP grew by 33.1% quarter over quarter, the largest-ever single quarter rise. (Only Azoulay notes that it came after the largest single quarter drop.)
  • She also appears to get her red-blue shift timing mixed up, claiming that due to the fact that mail-in votes cannot be counted before election day, “an initial count will show Biden winning, and during the second round of counting it could flip.” In actuality, as explained by a 538 article that may have inspired Azoulay, the opposite is expected, since mail-ins take longer to count.
  • Kan’s Moav Vardi says that news consumers should be careful about trusting the polls, noting what happened last time and asking if pollsters have actually managed to fix it.
  • “Apparently there is something in this phenomenon known as Trump that is elusive, below the radar,” he says. “If it turns out Trump wins, this won’t only be Yom Kippur for the pollsters, it will simply make all polls superfluous.”

2. The world is too much against us: Closer to home, some outlets look at Trump’s legacy in the region and what Biden may do should he win.

  • In a column for Channel 12 news, CNN’s Nic Robertson writes about Trump’s troubles with international diplomacy.
  • “To take him at his word, Trump initiated a trade war with China and unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. But these moves came with prices, and many times angered allies, sometimes also ratcheting up tensions globally and even supplying opportunities to America’s enemies,” he writes (in a translation of his words from the published Hebrew back into English.)
  • Walla’s Barak Ravid delves deeply into the backstory behind the Israel-Sudan normalization deal, reporting that it was actually Israel brokering US-Sudan normalization and their own inclusion in the deal.
  • “Senior Israeli and American officials say that Jerusalem directed the White House toward Khartoum. Israel suggesting linking the terror delisting talks between the US and Sudan and the normalization talks between Israel and Sudan. The Trump administration got a similar piece of advice from the UAE.”
  • But he says the deal almost fell apart last month when the Sudanese balked at the pittance the US was willing to give them: “After the talks collapsed, the Israeli and Emiratis tried to bridge the gaps, calm the anger and frustration and get the sides back to the table. Senior Israeli officials said the two countries told Sudan that they should take the US deal even if it doesn’t have everything they want because after the election they will get a worse deal. At the same time, they asked Washington to sweeten the deal as much as they could for the Sudanese.”
  • Israel Hayom devotes nearly a full page to a column by from national security adviser Jacob Nagel claiming that Biden will reinstate the Iran nuclear deal and warning against “repeating the mistake.”
  • “Biden’s advisers have hinted that they will immediately remove sanctions on Iran,” he writes, seemingly misconstruing comments about what Biden advisers say will happen if they re-enter the JCPOA. “Some of them think that sanctions relief will help them get to a deal and without it, we’ll be dragged to war. But that’s simply wrong. The sanctions could lead to the correct deal and avoiding war. There’s no doubt that a credible military threat is necessary; without it the Iranian [regime] won’t come to the table for real talks.”
  • Avi Issacharoff writes in ToI about the high stakes in the election for the Palestinians: “If Democratic candidate Joe Biden is elected, then the PA would like to believe that any steps taken by Trump are no longer relevant and their cause will return to the center of the Middle East stage. If Trump is reelected, then ‘mourning will be declared here. Genuine mourning,’ as a leading Palestinian commentator told me this week,” he writes.
  • “Indeed, a Trump victory may mark the end of an era: the end of the Oslo Accords era and the end of the Palestinian Authority in the form it has taken since 1994. If so, this will provide Israel and Israelis still celebrating the regional peace agreements with a reminder that the most difficult problem to solve — and certainly the most painful — was and still is the Palestinian issue.”

4. We’ve learned nothing, friend: While Biden tweeted about the Yitzhak Rabin assassination anniversary, media coverage marking 25 years since the event that scarred the country forever is somewhat muted, thanks to all the other news around.

  • Israel Hayom, which may be the worst of the bunch, gives the anniversary all of a few paragraphs and a big picture way inside on page 7.
  • What attention there is in the press landscape, appears to focus mostly on assassin Yigal Amir’s ideological progeny and fears of renewed political violence.
  • In a column for Channel 12, anti-Netanyahu activist Eldad Yaniv writes that Amir’s words have become the talking points of those in power. “The words that shocked us 25 years ago today don’t shock a soul.”
  • Calling right-wing pundits Shimon Riklin and Yinon Magal the right’s most prominent spokespeople, he writes that they “have turned Amir’s shocking words and melodies, that half the citizens are not ‘from us,’ into an engineered paradigm that has run wild every day since, every day, to the half of the nation that is theirs, in their heads. It’s clear that Netanyahu is the chief engineer, but they are his captains.”
  • In Haaretz, Ravit Hecht writes that while Netanyahu is complaining about a resurgence of hate being directed at him, “the bullets always fly in one direction.”
  • “The right is the one who comes to street corners to hand out beatings. The right is the one that can’t control its hands or its impulsive behavior. The right is the one that fails the test of ‘cultural leadership,’ and descends into physical violence.”
  • Walla’s Baruch Kara writes that Netanyahu, who he says has long relied on being able to capitalize of divisions, has only been egged on by Trump.
  • “Four years of Trump, which will end this week, have only strengthened Netanyahu’s path and bolstered him. He learned from him that he does not need to hide his divisive ways, and he doesn’t need to apologize. Trump taught Netanyahu that you can even enjoy it.”

4. Unite or die: Some manage to bemoan political violence without straying into divisive political ideology.

  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes: “We’ve been there, came back from the brink, and owe it to ourselves and our tiny, precious country to remember how greatly what unites us outweighs our divisions, and act accordingly. And may other countries learn from our history, especially at the most fateful moments of searing domestic argument.”
  • In Yedioth, Yedidya Stern writes: “A quick look at Israeli society now shows that we’ve gone back to acting in a savage way; we again treat the other as evil, traitorous, and criminal. The polarization is felt not only on the street, but in mainstream media and even the Knesset. Alarm bells are ringing loudly. The possibility of political violence has returned, and strongly.”
  • In Haaretz, editor Aluf Benn shows how civility works, writing a column in which he posits that the recent normalization deals show Netanyahu to be more of a Rabin-esque character than he is normally thought of, though its more of a slight to Rabin than praise for the current premier.
  • “The agreements Netanyahu has signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recall the Rabin legacy far more than Ariel Sharon’s unilateral pullout from Gaza. In this case, Arab countries are accepting Israel as a desirable neighbor and a lobbyist in Washington,” he writes. “Not a single bit of land or a single settler had to move in exchange, and the Palestinians got only vague lip service. That’s exactly what happened during Rabin’s forgotten visits to King Hassan of Morocco and the regional economic conferences that then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres organized in Casablanca and Amman.”

5. Come in, we’re closed and angry: News coverage isn’t only focused abroad or on the past, with the coronavirus remaining a front and center concern.

  • Yedioth reports that despite a cabinet decision to reopen schools on Sunday, but not stores, there are still many questions, including from principals who say schools won’t be ready, and parents sick of being jerked around: “The parents are confused and don’t know anymore whether to even look at the new plan,” the head of a teachers union tells the paper. “There’s no clear process. This is disgraceful, chaos.”
  • The decision to open synagogues but leave most stores closed, meanwhile, manages to make a whole lot of people unhappy.
  • Haaretz reports that merchants in Tel Aviv protested the government’s decisions, including burning their own wares (they have done this before.)
  • One small business owner says: “It’s Bibi’s fault. He lets the merchants suffer, he doesn’t dare hurt anyone else. He’s a pawn of the tycoons at Azrieli, Weizel and Ofer,” referring to the main owners of Israeli mall chains, competitors of the smaller businesses. “He doesn’t care about his voters, it’s all about him.”
  • Kan reports that Netanyahu tried to set up a meeting with representatives from those chains, but they refused when they found out that sit-down would be after the cabinet already decided not to open most stores. “They claimed there’s no point in having a meeting where they can’t influence the prime minister’s stance,” the station reports.
  • Perhaps the pressure is having some effect, though. Army Radio reports that Netanyahu told business owners that if the daily infection rate falls below 500 new cases a day, stores can open sooner.
  • Looking at the second lockdown as a whole and whether it was a success, as claimed by Netanyahu, Tani Goldstein of ToI sister site Zman Yisrael finds that it’s not necessarily what brought infection numbers down.
  • Among other things, he notes that infection rates now are still higher than they were at any point in the first wave. Prof. Hagai Levin, a top epidemiologist and noted anti-lockdown evangelist, says that thanks to the high numbers of the second wave, Israel should not expect to get down to numbers like it saw after the first lockdown.
  • And he doubts the second lockdown helped much anyway: “An analysis of your numbers shows very clearly that the rise in infections occurred gradually, over several months, and the lockdowns didn’t stop it, didn’t affect it, just delayed it slightly. This is another thing, one of many, that proves how much a lockdown is the worst way to deal with the virus.”
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