The king is still alive, long live the king
Hebrew media review

The king is still alive, long live the king

The press goes gaga for Peres, but some say the hubbub over his 90th birthday is excessive as well as premature

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

President Shimon Peres with Barbra Streisand at Peres's 90th birthday party, June 19, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
President Shimon Peres with Barbra Streisand at Peres's 90th birthday party, June 19, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

We get it. President Shimon Peres is celebrating his 90th birthday and the country is putting on the ritz for him. Coverage of the ceremonies, parties and speeches have dominated the newspapers for two days. Wednesday’s papers typify the semi-deification of the man termed “the lion from Israel” and “the social Einstein,” and equated with the Queen of England during Tuesday night’s events, according to Israel Hayom.

Yedioth Ahronoth might as well have changed its name to Yedioth Peres because its entire front page is devoted to the man’s 90th birthday celebrations (for crying out loud, his birthday isn’t for another two months!). And look, former president Bill Clinton and actors Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone came to wish him a happy birthday, too.

Amid the fanfare, Nahum Barnea, a voice of reason, says the president missed a few of the lessons in modesty, a trait Peres said his late wife instilled in him, especially in light of Streisand’s rendition of “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) in his honor.

“We need to pinch ourself once in a while and remind ourselves that we live in a republic,” Nahum writes, channeling Cicero. “The president of the country is not our father or our king.” The spectacle and speeches Tuesday night neglected to mention Peres’s long-held, later much-moderated right-wing stance and ineffectuality as prime minister after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, he says.

“The cult of personality he enjoyed [Tuesday] night is foreign to Israeli political culture, and contrary to all the values Peres preaches. What happens in North Korea needs to stay in North Korea,” Barnea says, noting Peres deserves a thank you, not worship.

Israel Hayom’s Dan Margalit writes about Peres’s upsides and downsides, noting his acumen in pushing for Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, and mistake in opposing the strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1982. His bottom line is praise for the man whose “years in public service are a wealth of wisdom and perceptiveness and unique memory and management skill and action and confidence and….” You get the picture.

Unlike the two tabloids, Maariv and Haaretz don’t devote nearly as much ink to the Peres-athon. Haaretz buries the story on Page 6, and Maariv decides to take itself seriously and sticks it way back on Page 14, behind real news.

Maariv gives top billing to the “price tag” attack on the Arab-Israeli town of Abu Ghosh on Tuesday, in which the tires of 28 cars were slashed and racist graffiti was scrawled on walls. The paper reports that the police have concerns that such acts of Jewish nationalist crime may spill over from the West Bank, where they are most often perpetrated, into Israel proper against its Arab minority.

“The climax was [Tuesday] in Abu Ghosh, but beforehand there were ‘price tag’ incidents in Jaffa, Peki’in in the north, Kafr Akbara next to Safed, in Tuba Zangariya in the Galilee, and in other Arab villages,” the paper writes.

It cites police figures, which reported over 600 “price tag” attacks in 2012, and 165 in the first four months of 2013. 

Ben-Dror Yemini writes in the paper that Abu Ghosh was a calculated target, for “it is one of the foci of Jewish-Arab coexistence.”

“Jews feel as safe in Abu Ghosh as they would feel in a Jewish town,” he writes. “Whoever acted there intended to incite and destroy because he loathes Arabs, not because some [Arabs] have hatred towards Jews,” he writes.

He adds that it is not enough for Israeli politicians to condemn the incident. “You are the decision-makers,” he says, addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Peres, Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett. “You need to take action. Whosoever justly demands the end to funding Palestinian incitement cannot continue to finance [Jewish religious institutions] that develop the same incitement.”

Haaretz’s editorial discusses price tags, but those that indicate the economic cost of the political stalemate with the Palestinians. “National economic growth and individual households’ standards of living are both closely tied to progress toward peace. Without a diplomatic horizon, the economic skies will also darken — and Likud will lose power,” it writes.

“Netanyahu would do better to work energetically to break the diplomatic impasse, desist from his ritual of casting blame on Abbas, and above all, abandon his efforts to evade negotiations.”

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