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Hebrew media review

Same stories, different year

News that bubbled below the surfeit of Peres coverage last week — such as unity talks, Aleppo and US elections — is finally able to see the light after a Rosh Hashanah break

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with opposition leader Isaac Herzog during a special plenum session marking the 50th anniversary of the Knesset, January 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with opposition leader Isaac Herzog during a special plenum session marking the 50th anniversary of the Knesset, January 19, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After a two-day hiatus to mark the Jewish New Year, the print press is back in business Wednesday morning, though readers would be forgiven for thinking they were still stuck in worn and overplayed 5776 and not brand-spanking-new 5777.

Leading the news agenda Wednesday morning is a gaggle of stories that, if not exactly new, have been buried over the last week under the news surrounding the death of Shimon Peres, a major news event which itself has now faded into the underworld.

Instead, stories like rumored unity talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, US and Russian saber-rattling over Aleppo, the American elections and other bric-a-brac take center stage.

While Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom both lead their reports on government unity talks with denials by Herzog and Netanyahu, Haaretz goes the opposite direction, kicking off its paper with a headline announcing that the negotiations have made progress, after Channel 10 first reported on it.

“Netanyahu and Herzog agreed that if Labor joins the government, it will get nine portfolios, including the Foreign Ministry, agriculture and culture and sports,” the paper reports. “Herzog and Likud denied the reports, but sources from both parties who spoke to Haaretz confirmed them.”

The paper also quotes a senior member of Labor saying that opposition to the move within the party is weakening.

But the Israel Hayom tabloid, which quotes Herzog calling the reports “complete lies,” also includes in its story a lineup of opposition politicians expressing doubts over their leader’s assurances, raking both him and Netanyahu over the coals for the negotiations, and vowing they won’t go along with it.

“The denials aren’t convincing,” Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal is quoted saying. “Herzog needs to allow his faction to make a decision not to hold talks or to announce publicly about the contacts. Even if Herzog manages to betray his voters’ trust, I will not join the government.”

If Herzog’s demand to get the Culture and Sports Ministry seems strange, the papers report that it’s designed to get rid of Minister Miri Regev, who has used her position to wage a kulturkampf against “disloyal” art.

But given Yedioth’s top front page story, announcing that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked believes Israel’s democratic character to be subservient to its Jewish character, he may want to place his sights on that ministry as well, assuming he doesn’t read past the headline.

Yedioth’s report is based on a “this I believe” column penned by Shaked and published in the liberal arts journal Hashiloach, with the tabloid writing that it’s the first time the justice minister has expressed such a view.

A closer look at what she actually wrote, though, shows it’s not far off from comments she’s made in the past, putting the two on equal footing, and not exactly what the headline advertises.

“Now that there are those who want Israel to undergo advanced processes of democratization, we need to deepen our Jewish identity at the same time,” she’s quoted writing. “These identities are not mutually exclusive. The opposite: I believe that they strengthen each other. I believe we’ll be a more democratic country the more Jewish a country we are, and we will be a more Jewish country the more democratic we are.”

A Syrian medical staff member inspects the damage at the site of a medical facility after it was reportedly hit by Syrian regime barrel bombs on October 1, 2016, in the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Sakhour, in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO / THAER MOHAMMED)
A Syrian medical staff member inspects the damage at the site of a medical facility after it was reportedly hit by Syrian regime barrel bombs on October 1, 2016, in the rebel-held neighborhood of al-Sakhour, in the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO / THAER MOHAMMED)

One needs to do considerably less reading between the lines for Israel Hayom’s lead story, which calls increasing tensions between Washington and Moscow over Syria “Cold War: Version 2016” and oh-so-subtly telegraphs disdain for America’s response and Trumpian admiration for Russia with the headline “US: Threats; Russia: Missiles.”

Columnist Boaz Bismuth, while not exactly lauding Russia, drives the point home with a column lambasting the US for its ineffectiveness in keeping Aleppo from being bombed to bits.

“Kerry makes threats, but at the same times Washington makes it clear to Moscow that the cooperation in Syria between the US and Russia will continue. Kerry’s threats get translated in Russian into threats of a limited nature: You can sleep quietly. Just not in Aleppo,” he writes. “The name of the game in Aleppo today, for the Russians, is how to return the big city to Assad. And the world is silent. Just like it was silent back then. Just like it was silent in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and today in Aleppo [sic].”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with supporters after a rally, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Novi, Michigan. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with supporters after a rally, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Novi, Michigan. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s unlikely the paper’s preferred US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, would do much better, but if the editors of Israel Hayom think so, they are far from alone in being willing to believe the unbelievable, as Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev points out in a column that could have easily been headlined “How I spent my Trump rally.”
In a dispatch from an event in rural Pennsylvania, Shalev’s prose meanders nearly as much as a Trump diatribe itself, from questioning the playlist to comparing Trump supporters with Netanyahu backers, though he homes in on one central point: Trump voters are living in a world of their own.

“The belief in a giant all-encompassing conspiracy which oppresses them is the one area in which the seemingly pleasant audience seems to go over the edge,” he writes. “These amiable and largely well behaved Average Joes and Plain Janes come from the same planet as everyone else but they live in an alternate universe nonetheless. When Trump warns of a ‘rigged’ election, they nod in agreement, even though no evidence has ever been uncovered of massive voter fraud in the United States. But they don’t believe any establishment ‘evidence’ anyway, because everyone is in on the fix: the government, the media, the pollsters, and the politicians on both left and right.”

It’s not just Trump supporters who are into conspiracy theories. Yedioth devotes a whole two-page spread to writing about a supposed “October surprise” and what it could do to the campaign.

For Trump, the paper notes, The New York Times’ publication of tax filings showing he may have bailed on federal taxes for 15 years were just that, though it’s hard to see how much damage it will do.

But for Hillary Clinton, who has taken the lead, a shocking development like the fabled “surprise” is the only thing between her and the White House.

Noting that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange failed to deliver a bombshell, the paper writes that Trump supporters are casting their eyes to the swirling waters of the Caribbean Sea instead.

“The Trump camp is perhaps hoping for a miracle from heaven, literally,” Tzipi Shmulovich and Benjamin Tobias write. “Yesterday Hurricane Matthew lashed Haiti with 230 kmh winds and category 4 strength, one below the largest. Thousands were evacuated, but from the US perspective, the drama will come Thursday, when the hurricane is expected to hit the southeast coast, from Florida to North Carolina. Among Trump supporters, some hope that if negligence is uncovered in hurricane preparations, they will be able to blame the Obama administration – and from there it’s a short path to Hillary (despite the fact that she doesn’t hold any official position in the government.) What’s for sure is that it will be stormy.”

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