The race for second place
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Hebrew media review

The race for second place

Papers play up Labor primaries but nobody thinks the winner will amount to much, and Modi’s visit is touted as either the best thing ever or not even on the level of a fizzled pop princess

Labor party activists shout slogans outside a primary polling station in Jerusalem on July 4, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party activists shout slogans outside a primary polling station in Jerusalem on July 4, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Labor party, a shadow of its former self as the hegemonic leader of the country, still has the power to drum up interest, at least as its members head to the polls to choose a new leader. Interest in who will helm the party, and possibly steer it out of the doldrums that has seen it get drubbed at the polls consistently for some two decades, manages to one-up the first ever arrival of the prime minister of the largest democracy on the planet in the press Tuesday morning.

Of the major dailies, only Israel Hayom focuses on Narendra Modi’s visit, playing both to its government overlord, which has an interest in playing up Israel’s flowering diplomatic achievements, and its right-leaning readers, who are probably not lining up in the heat to cast a ballot for which white guy in a suit will lead Israel’s opposition.

Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth, though, both lead off with the Labor primaries, setting it up mainly as a five-way battle between Isaac Herzog, Amir Peretz, Avi Gabbay, Erel Margalit and Omer Barlev.

“Close race in Labor,” reads the top Haaretz headline, while Yedioth goes for the cliched “Moment of truth” headline. Without much new to report, the papers go over the number of voters and other facts and figures before ceding way for the columnists to have their way with bemoaning the depths the party finds itself in.

“Whoever is chosen will be fated to cope with a party that consumes its leaders, one beset by rot and despair. True, Yitzhak Rabin was forced to live alongside Shimon Peres, and in their day there were also camps and resentments. But they were Rabin and Peres. Once the great leaders exited and all that was left was the negative phenomenon that grew increasingly worse, we got what we’ve got,” a nostalgic Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz.

In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon tried to handicap who will move onto the expected second round alongside who she assumes will be Amir Peretz, a former leader of the party. But really, they are all just clambering on one another for who will be the top loser.

“It doesn’t really matter who wins today. He won’t be the next prime minister,” she writes.

The paper, considering i’s frankly strange theme of having kids of newsworthy figures weigh in, does so again, with pieces from the offspring of the five front-runners holding the equivalent of a “my dad is better than your dad” contest with readers coming away none the wiser.

“My dad does for the sake of doing and really doesn’t talk about it afterward,” Mai Bar-Lev writes about her daddy-o. “My dad always said that he does a different kind of politics. Clean,” writes Daniel Gabbay about his pops, who isn’t even an elected politician.

You know who is an elected politician? Narendra Modi — whose Hindu nationalist party won a cool 171 million votes in 2014 — that’s who. As it did when the last strongman, US President Donald Trump, came to town, Israel Hayom gets more worked up than a Bollywood dance number to celebrate the arrival of the Indian premier. While the Times of India (you know, the other ToI) made do with a small refer on its page 1 pointing to a special message crafted by Modi and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel Hayom’s front page is taken up mostly with a Hebrew rendition of the same column, printed again (and in full) on page 3 in case anyone missed it.

Beyond that, the paper busts out its Hindi, splashing “Namaste” and Hebrew for “Welcome” as both a headline and lede on its “news story,” because copy that good shouldn’t be wasted by using it only once.

President Reuven Rivlin (L) hugs with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference in New Delhi on November 14, 2016. President Rivlin was in India for an official state visit. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (L) hugs Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference in New Delhi on November 14, 2016. President Rivlin was in India for an official state visit. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

The rest of the story plays up the importance of the visit and Israel’s growing diplomatic achievements, riffing off comments made by both leaders. Columnist Amnon Lord picks up the baton and drives the message home, writing that Israel should be much more concerned with feting India than dealing with our other practically untouchable allies.

“Despite the massive demographic gap between the huge country and the Middle East flea, people like Prime Minister Modi see the deep bond and brotherhood between Israel and India. With all the importance the Israeli elite gives to a national-Merkelist Germany and a France that has turned into Macron-esia, India is a market of a billion and a quarter people, with a high economic growth rate and with great strategic, defense and technology needs,” he writes.

Lord’s column is titled “The visit proves: The claims of international isolation — ridiculous” but he doesn’t really delve into that subject, and another story by the tabloid — saying that even its bestest friend in the world still won’t give Israel visa-free entry — gives a hint as to the reason why.

The paper reports that efforts to put Israel on the visa waiver program hit a snag when Israel refused to open up its fingerprint database to the FBI, but hope springs eternal for Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

“The addition of Israel to the list of countries included in the Visa Waiver Program would be an important achievement for the deep friendship between Israel and the United States. Under the Trump administration, I believe there is a great chance that we can make progress on this issue,” she is quoted saying.

Britney the Brahmin

The Modi visit warrants nary a mention in either Yedioth or Haaretz, but both save space to review the performance of Britney Spears.

“Spears didn’t let the humidity or sweat bother her, changing outfits every 15 minutes and not ceasing to move and dance,” Yedioth gushes, under a headline calling her simply “hot.”

American pop star, Britney Spears performs in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 3, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
American pop star, Britney Spears performs in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 3, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In Haaretz, reviewer Ben Shalev is a bit less forgiving, writing that the performance had a “feeling of playback,” i.e., she wasn’t actually singing her songs.

“That’s okay. We didn’t think she’d suddenly emerge as a first-class vocalist. Spears’ songs were always engineered to the very limits of the possible. And more than engineered, they were hacked to pieces. Within this context, playback at a performance is reasonable,” he writes. “Britney’s main weapon is that she’s fucking Britney. But her stage persona on Monday was rather dull. She announced ‘I’m Britney bitch!’ at the right moment, but she didn’t seem as if she was completely in control of the situation.”

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