Hebrew media review

Presidential-sized brouhaha over Obama’s comments

The papers go crazy over the American leader’s remarks about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership abilities

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama in New York, September 21, 2011 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama in New York, September 21, 2011 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

With less than a week left to the elections, what’s on everyone’s mind is what’s on US President Barack Obama’s mind regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jeffrey Goldberg ran an article in Bloomberg news saying that the president privately and repeatedly said “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are” and that Netanyahu is a “political coward” who’s driving Israel towards international isolation.

Maariv calls the Goldberg article “Obama’s sniping” and says that senior Israeli officials regard the statements from the White House as “callous intervention in the [Israeli] elections.” It does not elaborate further on that issue, but quotes AIPAC saying that Obama will not affect US-Israel strategic relations.

Yedioth Ahronoth clarifies that senior Likud party members contend that Obama is intervening in Israeli politics by “slandering Netanyahu.”

“Obama needs to internalize that the future prime minister will be Netanyahu and he will have to continue to work with him,” the paper quotes a senior Likud member saying.

Columnist Orli Azoulay writes that the Obama statements against Netanyahu are proof positive that a second-term president feels bolder. “Before he was elected to a second term Obama could not have said things of this sort,” she writes. “Now he presents his worldview and explains to Israel that he loves it, but from the Liberal perspective.”

“The US president wants to save Israel from its leaders,” she says. The problem is that Israel will receive greater presidential apathy (as demonstrated in Goldberg’s article), which only serves Netanyahu’s interests and doesn’t serve Israel’s, according to Azoulay.

Israel Hayom leads with the Likud reaction to the Goldberg article and quotes sources close to the prime minister saying that Netanyahu withstood international pressure during his term and will continue to do so. Likud members are quoted by the paper saying that the “fingerprints of the Israeli left wing are all over the story.”

Columnist Dan Margalit charges that the timing of the article was no coincidence, and that the US president “has joined Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert and Yuval Diskin in providing verbal artillery for Israel’s opposition parties.” He says that the polls do not indicate whether Obama’s statements will push Israeli voters further to the right or draw moderate voters to the left.

Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid writes that “the most interesting element of Goldberg’s revelations is the timing,” less than a week before national elections.

“Netanyahu and his associates aren’t admitting it, but one can assume they think Goldberg was briefed on this by the White House now so he would put out the story a week before the Israeli election,” he says. Though he expresses skepticism that the article was an effort to intervene in the elections, he notes that in the past few weeks there has been an increase in information leaked in the US media regarding what Obama has in store for Israel’s prime minister.

“So far, it’s looking like Netanyahu’s next term, too, will entail confrontation with the White House,” Ravid writes.

Haaretz also reports that in the past week four unarmed Palestinians were shot dead in the West Bank, the latest by IDF fire on Tuesday night. The paper quotes Palestinians saying that the four were all injured by Israeli fire, but the IDF denies involvement in one of their deaths. It also reports that an IDF probe found that soldiers fired 80 rounds at protesters in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh in November in violation of regulations.

“Recently we feel as though there’s been an escalation by the army,” Iyad Mura, a Palestinian activist, is quoted saying.

Yedioth Ahronoth runs an article entitled “the campaign against geometry” describing the latest political ad from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. According to the report, the party warns that if it is left out of the government coalition after the elections, the ultra-Orthodox will likely be forced to learn core curriculum subjects in school and will be drafted to the military.

The party was the last to publish its campaign ads, one of which splashes the world EUCLID on a poster, below which is written “no, it’s not the name of a drug. It’s a Greek mathematician that your child will learn about instead of learning the Mishna.”

Maariv cites Shin Bet statistics that reported that December was the first month since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip that not a single rocket fired from the Hamas-controlled territory landed in Israel. It quotes a senior official in the IDF’s Southern Command saying that the south hasn’t seen quiet like this in 20 years.

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