Schoolyard politics: 7 things to know for September 1
Israel media review

Schoolyard politics: 7 things to know for September 1

As kids head back to school, Netanyahu looks for votes by teaching annexation to first graders and bullying a reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting schoolkids in the West Bank settlement of Elkana on the first day of school, September 1, 2019. (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting schoolkids in the West Bank settlement of Elkana on the first day of school, September 1, 2019. (Courtesy)

1. Back to basics: September 1 marks the biggest unofficial holiday on the Israeli calendar, as kids head back to school after summer break, and parents celebrate the renewal of a system many treat as subsidized childcare.

  • What in most places would be a trifle, or a human interest story, is a major event in Israel, with the media covering little else, at least until actual news happens. Anchors announce the opening of schools as they might an invasion of a foreign country, with upbeat musical intros and interviews of parents and kids as they head into their classrooms.
  • News sites run reams of incredibly uninteresting pictures of kids in their Sunday best, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of hope as they embark on yet another year of organized schooling. Some also go a step further and post pictures of the Education Ministry war room, which is about as interesting as you would expect a bunch of middle-aged people sitting around a table to look like.
  • “What an exciting day. A real holiday. Even grandparents who are far removed from school get the sense of a new beginning,” Presidetn Reuven Rvlin writes in a piece published in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “I wish all the kids a rich and productive year,” he writes in another pabulum-filled page-turner in Israel Hayom. “Full of new discoveries and being exposed to new and exciting worlds.”

2. School stumping: Politicians joining in the school openings is nothing new, but with elections three weeks away, groups of first graders and other non-voters find themselves in stump city Sunday rather than hitting the books.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise at a school in the West Bank settlement of Elkana to extend “Jewish sovereignty” over all the settlements makes the most waves.
  • “There will be no more Gush Katif, there will be no more displacements, and with the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the Land of Israel, and as part of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told the whippersnappers.
  • He also wishes the kids a successful school year.
  • The comments make major headlines (and also allows the media to keep school openings at the top along with actual news.)
  • Haaretz writes that “Netanyahu has ratcheted up his support for annexation since the last election.”
  • Walla notes that the comments come as Netanyahu is locked in a battle for votes on the right.
  • While those in the center and left attack Netanyahu for using the opportunity to promote annexation instead of things actually important to schools, the right is not enamored either.
  • Ultra-nationalist website Israel National News notes that the pro-settlement Sovereignty movement “cautiously welcomed” Netanyahu’s remarks but “warned of a possible hinting in Netanyahu’s remarks, to the possibility of allowing the establishment of an Arab political entity over the rest of the area in Judea and Samaria.”

3. The Jewish question: The term “Jewish sovereignty,” which he has never used before, has more than a few people scratching their heads (and not from the inevitable lice infestation that will accompany the kids’ return to school).

  • “I’d like to know what Jewish law will apply there,” Channel 12 reporter Dana Weiss asks. “And what’s different from Israeli law, are they already the same, or was it just because of the place and time. Just want to know what to prepare for.”
  • Army Radio’s Yanir Cozin points out that Netanyahu tried to warm up to his point by asking if any of the kids were from settlements in Gaza that had been uprooted, and got crickets in response.
  • “Worth noting that first graders were born in 2013, eight years after the disengagement. Sixth graders were born in 2008, three years after.”

4. Learning and girding: The media is also able to tie in actual news to the school openings by putting them in the context of tensions on the border in Gaza and the north.

  • Channel 13 news reports that kids in towns near the Gaza border will have an army escort as they make their way to school, and in Sderot, all municipal workers were drafted to welcome kids to schools and kindergartens “to give them a feeling of security at the start of the year,” a week after many were traumatized by rockets being fired near an outdoor concert.
  • “Classrooms next to bomb shelters,” reads a headline in Ynet.
  • But a teacher of a school near the northern border tells the news site that “the explicit orders from the army are to keep to routine, so we are keeping to routine.”

5. Retort reform: Things are getting a little out of routine on the border, though, amid reports of IDF shelling areas of the contested Mount Dov, known in Lebanon as Shebaa Farms, on the Israel-Lebanon border.

  • On Saturday night, terror chief Hassan Nasrallah mentioned the area as the site of a possible response it says is coming to reported Israeli strikes against Hezbollah members and a drone explosion in Beirut.
  • While Nasrallah repeated his bluster about attacking Israel, some identified a lack of resolve and an attempt by him to walk back previous vows of fiery vengeance.
  • “Seems like Nasrallah does not want to be baited into a strategic mistake & realizes the moment is not in his favor,” writes analyst Firas Maksad.
  • “It is not clear if Hezbollah is simply threatening to act against Israeli drones or attack Israeli territory,” RadioFarda notes.
  • A-Sharq al-Awsat indicates that Nasrallah has also basically kicked responsibility down to his underlings by saying his field commanders will take care of the retaliation.

6. Terrorizing journalism: Netanyahu has attempted to warn Nasrallah off any major attack, but he seems to be saving his most bombastic speech for going after journalists rather than terrorist leaders.

  • On Saturday night, he launched a blistering broadside on Channel 12 reporter Guy Peleg, who has taken the lead on reporting on corruption cases against him, and accuses the channel’s owners of carrying out a “terror attack against democracy” by “pulling the strings” of Peleg.
  • The media’s response is a collective recoiling from the remarks.
  • “Netanyahu will not rest until blood is spilled – the blood of a journalist. There is no other interpretation,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes.
  • “Netanyahu’s offensive is the real terror attack on democracy,” writes Seventh Eye editor Uzi Benzimann.


  • Israel Hayom ignores the story completely, rather than amplify it, in a sign that perhaps even the prime minister’s allies are not comfortable with the attack on Peleg.
  • Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich also can’t get behind Netanyahu’s attack (and gets in a little twist after Netanyahu made him apologize for running his mouth). “I would hope we would think before opening our mouths, but I would expect the same decibel level when journalists on the right are attacked,” he tells Army Radio.

7. Not a biting response: Channel 12 responded to the attack with a monologue by anchor Roni Daniel, who accuses the prime minister of inciting against Peleg, who already needs a bodyguard to take his kids to school: “It’s very sad the prime minister is doing this. I knew him once, a few years ago, he was a different man.”

  • But some see the channel’s retort as a sign of it backing down rather than rearing up for a fight.
  • “It’s interesting to know what the channel would do if Netanyahu decided to go on another interview blitz,” Yedioth TV critic Einav Schiff wonders.
  • “Netanyahu can keep calm,” writes Walla columnist Nadav Menuhen. “The watchdog of democracy is not bothering to bark, to say nothing of biting.”
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