Hebrew media review

The politics of disqualification

Angry authors mouth off at the PM for meddling in literary affairs, while two outspoken MKs are barred from running

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Arab Israeli MK Hanin Zoabi on February 12, 2015 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Arab Israeli MK Hanin Zoabi on February 12, 2015 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two provocative, if short-lived, political rulings dominate the headlines in Friday’s Hebrew papers: the prime minister’s decision to remove several Israel Prize judges for their political views (since rescinded) sparks a debate on politics and art, and the disqualification of two extreme MKs (expected to be overturned by the High Court) examines the boundaries of free speech.

The fury over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meddling in the panel of judges of the prestigious award is front-and-center in Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz, with the former spotlighting criticism by authors David Grossman — who withdrew his candidacy for the award on Thursday — and Amos Oz.

“It was supposed to be Grossman’s year,” Yedioth laments. “After Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua won the Israel Prize in past years, his winning the prestigious prize this year was almost certain. But since then, the issue snowballed out of control. At the beginning of the week, when he read the first headlines on the case, Grossman understood that he had no choice but to pull out of the running.”

Israeli author David Grossman (photo credit: CC BY-SA torre.elena, Flickr)
Israeli author David Grossman (photo credit: CC BY-SA/torre.elena, Flickr)

“The withdrawal of my nomination also combats the incitement campaign of the prime minister against senior scientists and artists in Israel,” Grossman tells the paper. “I also think it’s important to say that this step by Benjamin Netanyahu grossly and dangerously impairs the complex relationship between the world of the humanities and the state. The tension between these two systems is part of the secret power of democracy, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s move is a cynical, destructive maneuver that harms Israel’s freedom of the humanities, of thought, and of art — and I refuse to take part in it.”

The paper also quotes Oz, who has a few choice words for the prime minister — and Israel’s illiterate public — as well.

“Yesterday, I heard Prime Minister Netanyahu explain why he fired the Israel Prize judges. He said that there are many communities that are not represented on the award panel,” the author says. “In Israel, about 70 percent of Israelis don’t read literature; they might read Israel Hayom, but they don’t read literature. In Israel, there is a large population of ultra-Orthodox who don’t read literature and view it as heresy. Netanyahu doesn’t want to replace the committee, he wants to replace the authors, the judges. The truth is he even wants to replace the media.”

Haaretz, meanwhile, highlights the number of people who pulled out of the race since Netanyahu’s disqualification — eight of the 13 judges and six author nominees — in what the paper calls a “culture war.”

In what is presented as a news report on the issue, journalist Or Kashti does not hold back from expressing his opinion. He writes: “The statements from the prime minister and senior Likud members, who swiftly aligned with him yesterday, are built on a dichotomy of ‘Zionist’ and ‘anti-Zionist,’ the definitions of which are purposely left vague. The distrust of the world has been internalized, because no reflection or nuance is tolerated in Netanyahu’s struggle to define reality. This struggle can never end: The ‘traitor’ on duty is waiting just around the corner.”

Meanwhile, another legal ruling that is expected to be overturned by the High Court, namely the disqualification of Baruch Marzel and Hanin Zoabi from running in the next election, receives ample coverage as well. The expected overturning of the decision appears in the headlines of both Israel Hayom and Yedioth.

The story leads in Israel Hayom, under the headline “Disqualified (until the High Court [Intervenes]).” The paper writes that the session on Zoabi was “particularly stormy and raucous.”

As Zoabi spoke, “her remarks were marked by an uninterrupted flow of interjections by MKs in the hall and right-wing members of the elections committee,” it reports.

Both Marzel and Zoabi will appeal the decision to the High Court by mid-next week, the paper writes.

Columnist Dan Margalit, recently a lone dissenter among Israel Hayom’s chorus of Netanayhu supporters, calls out the decision as a PR ploy, since the High Court is expected to override it, and says the conduct of the Zionist Union and the Likud was “embarrassing.” While the Zionist Union initially opposed the disqualification of Zoabi, it jumped on the bandwagon to garner more votes, Margalit charges, and Likud voted in favor of removing Zoabi while allowing Marzel to run in line with its political stance. “The vote was based on distinctly partisan interests,” he writes, and the disqualification-approval cycle has become in past years “a sort of tradition, from Knesset to Knesset.”

Meanwhile, the Central Elections Committee “voted in favor of disqualifying Zoabi and Marzel simply because it’s popular (and rightfully so), but mostly because their decision is not final,” he argues.

Columnist Haim Shine, meanwhile, praises the ruling as “correct” and “essential.”

“It’s not surprising that the first people who expressed their disappointment with the decision were the Hamas spokesmen, for whom Zoabi was a veteran collaborator, who time and time again pulled at Israel’s democratic strings, threatening to tear them. I don’t know of any other country that would allow a parliamentarian to cooperate with its most bitter enemies.”

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