Ready for whatever: 8 things to know for January 10
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Israel media review

Ready for whatever: 8 things to know for January 10

Israel thinks it can handle cyberattacks, but fake news may be the greater threat; Netanyahu devises a plan to beat his legal woes; and US and Israel face twin propaganda problems

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud event in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan, on December 2, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud event in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan, on December 2, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Girding your ballotboxes: Israel is pushing back against claims it may be vulnerable to cyberattacks, but also preparing for the likelihood it will be subjected to attacks from some foreign country like Russia.

  • “Israel is prepared to thwart a cyber intervention, we’re prepared for any scenario and there’s no country more prepared than we are,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday.
  • Meanwhile, a Pew survey released Wednesday found 73 percent of Israelis polled thought the country is “well prepared to handle a major cyberattack,” the highest percentage of any of the 26 countries surveyed. However 62 percent also thought elections could be tampered with.
  • “We are apparently up against major powers, but we have brain power — and a ton of experience,” an explainer in Yedioth Ahronoth reads.

2. Fake news news: Admitting some flaws, the Central Elections Committee says it will devise a plan to deal with meddling attempts. Given that Israel uses paper ballots, the biggest hole in the system would seem to be the ability of fake news to pervade society, which Israel is not so well-equipped to deal with.

  • “We are not responsible for distinguishing between truth and lies,” spokesman Giora Pordes tells ToI. “That is not in the purview of the committee.”
  • Pordes says that “every complaint will be decided on based on its own merits within the law,” but that spreading “fake news” was not illegal in its own right.
  • As for who is helping spread the crockery, it turns out your Nana who complains on Facebook about Mexican terror squads roaming America’s streets, and her ilk, are the most to blame.

3. The plan — draw attention to the probes: A preview of Netanyahu’s “strategy” for dealing with possible indictments against him comes from Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld, who has served as something of a mouthpiece for the prime minister’s thinking.

  • Going against what one might have considered conventional wisdom, Netanyahu, who apparently believes the looming indictment drafts will be announced next month, wants the conversation until then to only be about his legal troubles, which he thinks will actually help him for three reasons:
  • a. It will lower the drama around the actual announcement, since everyone knows it’s coming
  • b. It will allow him to paint the indictment as a product of unbearable pressure from the left, undermining law enforcement but saving his own skin
  • c. It will allow him to push the narrative that bribery without an exchange of money is not real bribery, something he has already started to do.
  • The messaging on the last point came from Likud research “which showed that the public identifies bribery as having to do with the exchange of money. Over the next month the prime minister and Likud officials will say that despite the harsh wording and severe criminality normally contained in the word, Netanyahu’s case is different.”

4. Confronting claims: If Netanyahu’s non-dramatic dramatic speech Monday was meant to kick off this strategy, it seems to be doing its job quite well.

  • Hadashot news led its Wednesday night broadcast with what appeared to be the law enforcement community pushing back yet again against the prime minister’s claims that he asked for a confrontation with state’s witnesses and never got one.
  • The channel, citing an unnamed source, reports that Netanyahu said he maybe wanted one but needed to check with bis lawyers and never got back to them.
  • Somewhat interestingly, the source said police would have been fine with having him confront a witness. In the immediate aftermath of Netanyahu’s claim, though, most police and justice sources said he didn’t get one because it was not appropriate for those cases. So which is it?

5. United in dealing with propaganda: Haaretz’s Uri Misgav tackles the other disturbing part of the speech, the media’s giddiness at allowing the prime minister carte blanche on live TV, with some harsh words against those who gave him a platform and should have known better. Not only did they permit the prime minister to play them, but he has shown time and time again how he uses the media to get around campaign laws that kicked in Wednesday (with 90 days to go until the vote) akin to the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine.

  • “Media outlets and journalists who now give an open platform to Netanyahu’s election propaganda aren’t just committing sins against their profession, the public and democracy, they are also criminal,” he writes.
  • Serendipitously, almost the same exact conversation is occurring in the US after some networks gave US President Donald Trump free airtime in prime time for a speech about border security, amid a government shutdown over border wall funding.
  • “After Tuesday night’s debacle in the Oval Office, television network executives should be spending the day in their spacious offices practicing a simple word: No,” Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post. “No, Mr. President, you may not break into prime-time programming to fundraise and mislead. They’ll need to practice because you can be sure that the request will come again. And again.”
  • There seems to be a consensus though that Trump was due the same as other presidents got when they made Oval Office addresses, and to offset it networks should have fact-checked him.
  • “I think the major factor is really simple. He’s the President. And he’s giving a Presidential address. And I know that sounds old-fashioned,” Brian Stelter of the New York Times tells The New Yorker in an interview.
  • In Israel, the idea of fact-checking the prime minister in real time hasn’t even entered the conversation. While there were some tweets from journalists that tried to put his words into context, the majority of the reaction was a “he said, she said,” with the media giving coverage to unnamed judicial sources to offset Netanyahu’s claims.
  • In the aftermath of Trump’s speech, Netanyahu’s much-derided tweet about how great walls are suddenly took on new life, garnering thousands of retweets despite being almost two years old.

6. No man photographs the same river twice? In Wednesday’s media review, I referred to a picture of a rushing stream published by Yedioth Ahronoth that the paper said proved the depths of the mess-up that led to the death of a soldier trying to ford the Hilazon Stream.

  • According to The Seventh Eye website, though, the picture and video published was not of the Hilazon Stream, but the Jordan River.
  • The site recreates the pictures captured by Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua to prove that his pictures were taken at a different river.
  • There is no response from Yehoshua.

7. On the map: For the first time ever, the New York Times picked an Israeli destination — Eilat — on its list of 52 places to visit, and not even on the bottom of the list, but way up at No. 6.

  • “New hotels, including the luxurious Six Senses Shaharut, opening just in time for Israel’s turn at hosting the Eurovision 2019 song contest, are ready for the crowds,” former ToI reporter Debra Kamin writes for the gray lady, focusing on the new Ramon airport opening up the city to the world.
  • The placement garners a whale of attention in Israel, even making it to the front page of Yedioth, and a bit of mocking, given that many Israelis still view the city as a provincial backwater and prefer invading Greek islands to making the trip down south.
  • “I’m canceling my subscription to the Times,” Ynet reporter Atilla Somfavili jokes on Twitter.
  • “Eilat is sixth on the list of places to visit. Who says the Russians don’t spread fake news,” Kan anchor Eran Singer guffaws online (apparently confusing the Times for Pravda).

8. There’s plenty more tropical fish in the sea:

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