Welcome to the jungle: What the press is saying on August 31
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Israel media review

Welcome to the jungle: What the press is saying on August 31

Israelis leave their ‘villa’ for a ‘historic’ jaunt over Saudi Arabia to visit their new besties in Abu Dhabi and (almost) everyone is super stoked. Did I mention it’s historic?

A member of an El Al flight crew ahead of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. (NIR ELIAS / POOL / AFP)
A member of an El Al flight crew ahead of the first-ever commercial flight from Israel to the UAE, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, August 31, 2020. (NIR ELIAS / POOL / AFP)

1. So is the flight historic? What better way to end the summer than by escaping Israel’s stifling heat for the even more sweltering climes of the United Arab Emirates? With an El Al flight taking off for the UAE (and likely landing by the time you read this) excitement over the trip is high, at least among those aboard and their editors.

  • The word “historic” is plastered across Israeli news pages online and in print Monday morning as the flight prepares to depart, with journalists (and others) on board and on the tarmac tweeting excitedly about every last detail, from the flight path (over Saudi Arabia, as it turns out) to what the face masks and tickets and seats look like.
  • “On the wings of history,” reads a front page headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “Making history,” reads a headline in Walla.
  • The writer’s Twitter feed on the morning of August 31, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)

    “This is a flight of history,” Channel 13 reporter Alon Ben David says from the terminal.

  • “At 7:30 a.m., as Israeli officials and the traveling press arrived at the eerily empty Ben Gurion Airport for check-in, Abu Dhabi was not listed on the screens as a destination. But at the El Al counter on Terminal 3, flight LY971 — the number is a nod to the UAE’s area code — was displayed on various monitors, inspiring journalists and officials to snap photos of the historic sight,” writes ToI’s Raphael Ahren.
  • (One hopes that the airport bookstore in Abu Dhabi sells a thesaurus.)

2. Flight of fancy: Haaretz notes that in another first, a source says the plane will fly over Saudi Arabia, though “The four countries [Israel, US, Saudi Arabia and UAE] and El Al have declined to comment on the route.”

  • The Guardian writes that the overflight “signaled at least an acquiescence by the kingdom for the UAE’s move. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has maintained his country’s boycott of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state. Any long-term flights between Israel and the UAE would require Saudi clearance to be profitable.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster has some fun with the route, joking that the plane will write out its name in Hebrew over Saudi Arabia. “Sorry for the delay,” it tweets.
  • On Twitter, journalist Noga Tarnopolsky notes that despite all the talk of history, the plane is little more than a glorified charter flight, which will be tailed by two massive US Globemasters and some cargo planes that will ferry the Americans from Abu Dhabi to their actual destinations.
  • And others also pooh-pooh the supposed importance of the flight: “A historic moment, but it certainly doesn’t solve the deep, deep divisions and the deep problems in this region,” says Sky News’s Mark Stone.

3. We’ve finally arrived: Beyond the actual flight there is much talk of what the visit means, even if it’s not the first by Israeli officials, who have been shuttling to the UAE for years, at least quietly.

  • “After two decades of hints, slivers of information, and behind-the-scenes contact, the ties will be made public,” writes Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana. “Israelis will no longer have to travel to the Persian Gulf in secret. They will no longer have to use foreign passports to enter the UAE. Emirati citizens who come to Israel will no longer have to disguise themselves. No more tricks and games intended to hide what everyone knew. From now on, everything will be out in the open, public and official.”
  • In a front page column, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea writes that for years Israel was left out of the Middle East’s magical mix of romanticism, colonialism and oil. “Now we will also be able to be enchanted by the same mix of romanticism, oil, money and shared fears of Iranian hegemony. Good luck to us.”
  • Army Radio reports that beyond deals with the Emirates, Israel is hoping to use their newly forged open ties to help push along joint ventures with the Jordanians that have gotten stuck.
  • “This is not just cooperation between us and them, but with the whole region. We hope this process does good for all the nations of the region,” said Yossi Draznin, director general of the Regional Cooperation Ministry.

4. Don’t walk like an Egyptian: In fact, coverage is rife with comparisons to Israel’s treaties with Jordan and Egypt, and explanations of how this deal is not like all other deals.

  • “We won’t be like the Egyptians, who keep a cold peace with Israel,” Yedioth quotes a UAE official saying. “We won’t be like Jordan, who back [PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s] stance, say no to any process and now regret it.”
  • Walla’s Barak Ravid writes that Israel and the UAE may simply be in a honeymoon, not unlike those between Israel and Egypt and Jordan which were brought back into reality by the assassinations of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin and “turned into frigid couplehood. But unlike Egypt and Jordan, in the case of the UAE it seems the chances for warm peace, even hot, are much higher.”
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau says that Israelis are the ones giving the cold shoulder in this case: “It seems as if all the backdrops and props have not succeeded in infusing the Israeli masses with the same amount of enthusiasm. They have not stirred any great collective national interest – including struggles for and against – that historic peace agreements have generated in the past. It’s not that anyone is particularly opposed to the deal; very few people in Israel have expressed any kind of opposition to the initiative, but at the same time, few have been moved to tears. And this isn’t only true of the left’s so-called sourpusses. The general Israeli attitude toward the agreement could be dubbed ‘indifferent support.’”

5. Take off: There may have been fewer journalists to tweet pictures of historic message boards, with the original delegation only consisting of six journalists. But after an outcry, including by The Times of Israel, which was initially left off the list, several more were added and given a few hours’ notice to rush to the airport and hop on board.

  • The Seventh Eye reports that after journalists complained, the Prime Minister’s Office reached out to the Americans for permission to add more on the flight.
  • The watchdog’s Shuki Taussig writes that while right-wingers complained that only left-leaning outlets were being allowed aboard, in fact, “invited on the flight were journalists thought to be ‘left’ and ones thought to be ‘right,’ and it seems the key to the Americans’ choices were based on a desire for broadcast media and personal connection with the diplomatic correspondents.”
  • Nonetheless, the exclusion of Yedioth/Ynet, which just happened to break the F-35 sale story, seems more than a bit suspicious. ToI editor David Horovitz, urging a last-minute rethink, noted that his own paper is both the most-read English news site in Israel, and also publishes in Hebrew and Arabic. ToI’s Raphael Ahren was eventually added to the delegation.
  • Yedioth’s Itamar Eichner, who eventually makes it onboard, chides Israel Hayom’s Kahana on Twitter for refusing to stand up for his fellow journalists initially left off the flight: “Too bad you don’t have the same determination when it comes to collegial solidarity with colleagues not allowed on the flight for partisan reasons. You got yours so you are fine. Shame on you.”

6. Out the Meridoor: The UAE flight may be among the biggest stories around, but it’s not the only game in town and it’s given a run for its money by the “dramatic” departure from the Treasury of top official Shaul Meridor, who left with a huff and a letter slamming the government for budget malfeasance and politicization.

  • The word “drama” in reports on him leaving is almost as prevalent as “historic” is for the UAE flight.
  • Channel 12 notes that “as expected, reactions to Meridor’s resignation followed partisan lines.”
  • “Meridor’s quitting has become an indictment that can cost the state dearly,” reads the top headline of Haaretz, putting its analysis ahead of news.
  • “Sunday’s resignation by the Finance Ministry’s budget director, Shaul Meridor, is additional evidence of the ministry’s reckless conduct under Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, and more generally, of the dangerous populism that has grown like a weed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” says the paper’s lead editorial.
  • Kan’s Shaul Amsterdamski also calls Meridor’s departure an “indictment.”
  • “It’s not just Shaul Meridor, he’s just the latest in line,” he writes. “This is an overarching, incredibly far-reaching, systematic attempt that has gone on for years to smash the public sector in Israel. To rid it of fit professionals, those with honest, clear professionalism, and change them out for fanatical boot-lickers.”
  • Histadrut labor union head Arnon Ben David says more resignations are on the way: “I hear the officials, there is overbearing management there. Minister Israel Katz needs to understand that he’s managing the economy, not the Ashdod port.”
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