When everyone loses
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Hebrew media review

When everyone loses

After a sorry ‘debate’ with no winners, Israel gears up for the election

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman (bottom L), Yair Lapid, leader of 'Yesh Atid' Party( bottom 2L), Leader of the Yachad party, Eli Yishai (bottom 2R), Leader of the combined Arab list, Ayman Odeh (bottom R), Meretz party leader Zahava Gal On (upper R), Leader of the ultra orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri (upper 2L), Leader of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, Naftali Bennett (upper 2R) and Leader of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon (upper C) and Channel 2 TV news anchorman, Yonit Levi (upper L) seen before a Channel 2 news political debate ahead of the 2015 Israeli election. in the Neve Ilan studios near Jerusalem on February 26, 2015. (Photo cedit: Channel 2 News)
Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman (bottom L), Yair Lapid, leader of 'Yesh Atid' Party( bottom 2L), Leader of the Yachad party, Eli Yishai (bottom 2R), Leader of the combined Arab list, Ayman Odeh (bottom R), Meretz party leader Zahava Gal On (upper R), Leader of the ultra orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri (upper 2L), Leader of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, Naftali Bennett (upper 2R) and Leader of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon (upper C) and Channel 2 TV news anchorman, Yonit Levi (upper L) seen before a Channel 2 news political debate ahead of the 2015 Israeli election. in the Neve Ilan studios near Jerusalem on February 26, 2015. (Photo cedit: Channel 2 News)

And so two days before the elections that will decide Israel’s future Yedioth Ahronoth has the gall to answer the questions no one was asking.

“Who ate meatballs this weekend?” their top story asks. “Who took care of their garden?”

Hard-hitting stuff. (The answers are Aryeh Deri and Avigdor Liberman, respectively.)

The first four pages of Yedioth deal solely with what the party heads did during the weekend. (Spoiler: the religious politicians went to synagogue and ate with their families; the less-so just ate with their families.) No mention, 48 hours to balloting, of Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Netanyahu’s “mini-debate” from the night before until page 43, or the right-wing rally planned for Sunday evening in Rabin Square until page 12, both of which are top, if not cover, stories for the other newspapers of note.

Though, to be fair, Yedioth’s coverage of the generously named “mini-debate” is the most insightful.

The Tel Aviv rally is Israel Hayom’s top headline. “The prime minister expected to speak,” the headline reads in bright yellow. (Be still their heart.)

Israel Hayom’s top story, however, reveals that a new US Senate subcommittee is investigating the possibility that money given to the nongovernmental organization OneVoice by the US State Department made its way to the nongovernmental organization V15, which donated money to the Zionist Union campaign.

How the alleged transfer of money from the Obama administration through the State Department to OneVoice, which stopped receiving funding before elections were even announced, to V15 to the Zionist Union constitutes administration funding against Netanyahu is not entirely obvious — nor is it discussed in the actual article. The article itself deals with a Fox News report that only questions whether OneVoice as a nonprofit violated US law by donating money to a political cause.

Haaretz opts to deal with the small spat between opposition leader Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” Saturday night as its lead story. All the outlets have settled on calling it a “mini-debate,” but only a pessimist could call the barely two minutes of irrelevant and rhetorical questions, petty barbs and one embarrassing gaffe that took place a “debate.”

Haaretz boils the debate down to Netanyahu claiming Herzog and Livni will cave to any international pressure and Herzog saying Netanyahu is weak and ruining Israel’s standing in the world.

When Netanyahu questioned Herzog’s stance on Jerusalem, Boujie fumbled in a vaudevillian, over-the-top way. “I will maintain a unified Netanyahu,” Herzog said.

Haaretz tries to be helpful, explaining he meant “a unified Jerusalem.”

Israel Hayom just points, laughs and puts Herzog’s mistake as a headline. The free daily also declares Netanyahu the winner of the “debate.” (Knock me over with a feather.)

Einav Schiff’s analysis for Yedioth Ahronoth on the issue, though it is buried deep in the Sunday edition, takes a more critical view on the topic.

The deck was stacked against Herzog, Schiff points out. The setup of the surprise “debate” — Herzog in the studio, Netanyahu on two screens behind him in a live feed — demanded that Herzog swivel awkwardly between Netanyahu, the host and the cameras.

And at the end of their squabble, Schiff points out, the program’s director gives us a wide shot, showing Herzog leaving the studio as a giant Netanyahu peers down on him from two screens “like a student sent outside to complete a homework assignment.”

But this setup wasn’t necessarily ideal for Netanyahu’s solo segment. On his live feed, Schiff writes, Netanyahu appears “caged and cut-off.” At the end of two hours of the special episode that interviewed the heads of all the major parties, “the prime minister appears as an unattainable personality with a frightening giggle and a slight tendency toward paranoia.”

The left, the right and the chocolate flight

Sunday’s opinion pages don’t add much to the public debate leading up to the elections.

Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest not-free newspaper in Israel, offers two bland and innocuous pieces.

Eitan Haber discusses his memories of the first Israeli elections, standing outside of the polling booth with his father, handing out flyers for Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s now-defunct right-wing party Brit HaTzohar. Haber tells us that all politicians are liars. If we hooked up a polygraph to the candidates, he writes, “it would explode.” But still, he writes, if you want a government that will be tough on defense, vote right. If you want a government that will make peace and deal with social issues, vote left. “The rest,” he says, “is bullshit.”

Sever Plotzker praises Herzog for changing his campaign tactics from tackling the cost of living to tackling Netanyahu. The campaign, Plotzker writes, is “No longer ‘Do you want four more years of high cost of living?’ instead, ‘Do you want four more years of Bibi’s rule?’ That’s a great question.”

Plotzker then criticizes Likud for potentially ruining its chances as a party by not ditching Netanyahu in 2013. And finally he calls out Aryeh Deri for continuing to drive racial divide with his “Mizrachim vote Mizrachi” poster, which tells Oriental Jews to vote for his Oriental party. Plotzker reminds Deri that “Orientalism dominates popular culture. In the elite culture, two of the four most important Israeli writers and most of the young poets are from Oriental origins.”

Dr. Gabi Avital in Israel Hayom blames the campaigns in general but mostly just the left-wing parties for making our current situation seem more terrible than it is. “One of the most prominent announcements issued by the Zionist Union talks about nine years of nothing. Nine years of total failure in every area Benjamin Netanyahu touched,” he writes.

But the economy is doing well and since this summer’s conflict there has been quiet in the south, Avital replies. Anyone still wavering on who to vote for, he offers, should get their facts straight “so that Justice will return to its place.”

Yossi Dagan uses Israel Hayom’s opinion section to invite everyone — religious, secular, Tel Avivians and settlers — to Sunday night’s rally in Rabin Square in order to show proportions of “those who know the situation is not perfect, but is still not bad” — the Right — “and who just want to cause depression for the sake of the elections” — presumable the Left.

In Haaretz Gideon Levy draws an extended parallel between the elections and last month’s story of an Israir flight in which an Israeli family berated a flight attendant for not selling them a chocolate bar.

“The chocolate flight of Israel will land in two days’ time at its destination, its cabin upside down and disheveled as it’s never been before,” the Haaretz veteran writes.

Levy starts his polemic against bullying with “the biggest of the polluters of language”: Avigdor Liberman. Levy criticizes Liberman’s “risible” Hebrew, “ridiculous” English, and his phrasing, which is “revolting in any language.”

Wait, I thought this was supposed to be anti-bullying. But I guess it’s just anti-Liberman, so making fun of an immigrant’s second and third languages are fair game.

Levy skewers Liberman for his statements against Arabs including the head of the Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, who the foreign minister called “the fifth column” and told to “go to Gaza.”

But while most of Levy’s venom is shot toward Liberman, he saves some for his penultimate paragraph. “This is the conversation,” he writes, “Yair Lapid with Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who won’t sit in a government ‘with the Arabs,’ Isaac Herzog who has had negotiations with every party except for the Arabs.”

And even, Levy writes, “Amos Oz, a man who is loved and dear (to me), called for a fair divorce from the Palestinians.”

“Because,” Levy finishes, “this is the chocolate flight: the bullies rampage and the passengers are quiet. Some from fear, some from agreement, until everyone becomes one voice, the voice of the bully.”

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