Violence and vacation: 8 things to know for April 22
Israel media review

Violence and vacation: 8 things to know for April 22

The Sri Lanka bombings dominate the Hebrew-language press as Israelis make a mad dash for Sinai, which is suddenly seen as safe for terror-free sea and sun

Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019 (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Sri Lankan Army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019 (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)

1. Death on the front page: Despite being half a world away, the deadly Easter Day violence in Sri Lanka has dominated the Israeli press landscape, a product of both the paucity of news during the holiday season and the utter enormity of the bombing campaign, which left nearly 300 people dead.

  • “Island of blood and tears,” reads the front page headline of tabloid Israel Hayom.
  • “Easter massacre,” reads one in the Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid.

2. Help from another terror-stricken land: Israel offered humanitarian aid to Colombo after the attack, though it was not immediately clear if Sri Lanka had accepted the offer.

  • The Israel National News website notes that United Hatzala and the AJC recently sent a team to Sri Lanka and India to train emergency services for dealing with just this sort of attack.
  • “The team from Israel provided training to members of the military, police force, search and rescue units and the fire department in Sri Lanka and provided them with tools and techniques developed in Israel in dealing with large-scale attacks such as the kind that occurred today,” United Hatzalah is quoted saying in a statement.

3. Blame Islamists: What Israel does offer is plenty of punditry on who was behind the attack — pointing a finger at Islamist groups hours before Sri Lankan authorities announced that it believed that local Islamist group National Thowfeek Jamaath was behind the attack.

  • In Haaretz, Dafna Maor notes that experts had surmised the campaign was the work of a local group of Islamists, given the targets’ associations with the West.
  • Israel Hayom’s Oded Granot also assumes it’s Islamists, going off only “past precedent around the world.”
  • Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini casts doubt over whether National Thowfeek Jamaath is really behind the attack, saying the scale is too large for pretty much anyone but Islamic State (whom he says NJT may be affiliated with, though that is not at all clear).
  • “This is a small group, and it’s doubtful it could carry out such a complicated terror attack,” he writes of NJT.

4. Calm amid the terror: No Israelis were hurt in the attack, but Israeli television on Sunday featured several interviews with backpacking Israelis or others in the country.

  • “We’re just hanging out by the beach, keeping calm,” one backpacker told Channel 12 news Sunday.
  • Israeli Amit Kabalana tells Israel Hayom Israelis should not be afraid to come to Sri Lanka.
  • “I’ve been living here for two years and I run a number of businesses. There are a lot of tourists here now, and we’re lucky that it’s the end of the season, so it does less damage to tourism. The question is how it will affect the next tourist season,” he says.
  • Interestingly, news sites do not interview any of the hundreds of Sri Lankans living in Israel as caregivers.

5. Let my people go: Terror fears don’t seem to be a huge worry for Israelis, given the reports of tens of thousands of people who tried to make it across the Taba border crossing into the once- (and maybe still)-terror-stricken Sinai Peninsula for some R and R on Sunday.

  • TV channels showed lines of cars and people stretching for miles, in what some deemed a “reverse exodus.”
  • Globes reports that officials believe 40,000 Israelis will vacation in Sinai over the holiday, a 20 percent increase over Passover last year, despite a terror warning (issued every year) for Israelis to avoid the hot vacation spot.
  • Walla News’s Dana Yarzki, giving a travelogue of her adventures in Sinai, says when she asked her taxi driver about Islamic State in Sinai, he answered “You’re the first to ask me about that in over two years.”
  • The border-crossing bonanza also gave birth to a viral star, a woman named Hadassah who excitedly told Channel 12 news about how she was roasting like a Passover sacrifice and her plans to “party with Bedouins in the mountains.”

6. Under-the-table dealings: Back in Israel, where a few of us are still holding down the fort, underwear enthusiast and former Netanyahu aide Natan Eshel was give the okay Sunday to partake in coalition negotiations.

  • Eshel, a close confidant of Netanyahu’s, served in the PMO between 2009 and 2012. He resigned as part of a plea bargain over the sexual misconduct allegations, specifically that he had used a surreptitiously placed camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague. He was also accused of accessing her private emails.
  • News that Eshel would be participating in the coalition talks prompted considerable criticism in recent days, with the Ynet news site reporting that hundreds of Israelis emailed the Prime Minister’s Office to urge that he not be allowed to do so.
  • Assaf Rosenberg, a prosecutor who signed Eshel’s plea deal, tells Ynet that “he should have no place doing business in the public sector.”

7. Immunity or bust: Channel 13 news reports that Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party was offered the Foreign Ministry, a post most politicians would throw their mother under a bus for, but turned it down, saying he wants to stay on as finance minister, a post most politicians wouldn’t force on their mothers.

  • It’s not clear why Kahlon was offered such a weighty role, though it may be to entice him to join Likud and keep his party from blocking efforts to pass a law to give the prime minister immunity.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that United Right-Wing Parties, which is meeting Likud for coalition negotiations Monday, will demand support for a law that gives lawmakers automatic immunity from prosecution.
  • The party insists it’s not in service of Netanyahu, though it will certainly help him. “He’s not the story here. We’ll demand the [immunity] law or something similar even if Netanyahu is opposed to it,” MK Bezalel Smotrich is quoted saying.

8. Jewish, but not a Jewish president: The election of comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as president of Ukraine means the country now joins as Israel as the only one to have both a president and prime minister who are Jewish.

  • The news elicits little more than a “how bout that,” though, with Zelensky not playing up his Jewishness at all, and his religion being about the least interesting thing about him.
  • In Haaretz, Maxim Edwards writes about why Zelenksy’s Jewishness isn’t an issue, for good or bad.
  • “It wouldn’t be correct to speak of Zelensky as a ‘Jewish showman’ or even a Jewish president,” Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, tells him. “He’s a Ukrainian with Jewish ancestry; he’s not a member of the Jewish community, he’s not religious, doesn’t keep Jewish traditions and never speaks of himself as a Jew.”
  • Sam Sokol, a journalist who is coming out with a book about Putin and the Jews that focuses on Ukrainian nationalism, tells Edwards that “there is some worry that if he screws up it could result in anti-Semitism. But at the same time, the almost nonexistent focus on his Judaism among ethnic Ukrainians is seen as a good sign — a sign that the deep-rooted anti-Semitism of the past is fading away in contemporary Ukraine.”
  • He adds: “So the people who are most excited about Zelensky’s ascension in this sense are probably Jewish journalists.”
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