Wringing in the school year, ringing up the news
Hebrew media review

Wringing in the school year, ringing up the news

Papers try to squeeze a bit of newsiness out of the decidedly un-newsworthy return to the classroom, and mull what Netanyahu is and isn’t telling the public

Illustrative: President Reuven Rivlin visits first grade students on the first day of school in Ma'ale Adumim, September 1, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: President Reuven Rivlin visits first grade students on the first day of school in Ma'ale Adumim, September 1, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The first day of school is not a newsworthy event. It’s as dog-bites-man as they come, in the parlance of grizzled editors everywhere. Nonetheless, ignoring it is not an option in Israel, where it is a national holiday on par with Independence Day, maybe because the people of the book really appreciate education, and maybe because parents are just overjoyed to have their kids out of their hair.

So students heading off to school is the name of the game in all of Israel’s major dailies Friday morning, supplanting the normally more interesting weekend stories that usually adorn a Friday front page. The papers though, bless their hearts, do try and wring a little news out of the decidedly ho-hum event.

Haaretz, being a more serious broadsheet, has the most success in this regard, reporting that high school students in areas of the country far from the economic center are much more likely to go to trade school, rather than receiving a rounded liberal arts education, under the headline “When we grow up we will be metal-workers and secretaries.”

“The numbers show the continued segregation in education, and children being pushed into professional tracks based on the economic level of their hometown,” the paper quotes MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) saying. “If in 9th grade the only realistic option for a kid to make it into the workforce is going to a technical school, it would be foolish to oppose that. The problem is opportunities aren’t handed out age 15. The numbers show that the stratification starts at age zero.”

Underlying the numbers is the fact that more Arabs live in peripheral areas of the country. The paper’s lead editorial doesn’t have any solutions for closing the economic gap, but it does call for schools to lead the way in shrinking the Jewish-Arab tolerance gap by teaching Arabic in Jewish schools.

“Really teaching it, combining language and culture, in Jewish schools could be an important tool in lowering the walls of seclusion and calming the waves of hostility between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. It could serve as an antidote to the trends threatening to destroy society in Israel,” the editorial reads.

The other papers are more sappy and unoriginal in their attempts, the “news” mostly being made up of statistics, accompanied by sentimental columns that could easily just be reprinted year after year.

Yedioth reports that the school year will see shortened vacations during Hanukkah and Passover for elementary school kids, calling it “good news for parents exhausted from never-ending vacation days given to their school-aged kids.”

Lest one think all parents are monsters who just can’t stand being around their children, Israel Hayom runs a column from a parent of a first-grader touchingly recalling his younger days and his leap into elementary school, but the column frankly doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose for readers outside the writer’s family.

Perhaps a bit more suitable for print is a message the paper runs from President Reuven Rivlin, in which he tells kids that math, reading and writing are great, but learning not to be insolent is even better.

“The most important class you’ll learn in school is the class on respect. You have an obligation to learn to respect others and the right to be respected. Remember, every person has deep reserves of good and humanity, and so don’t discount anyone — respect others and appreciate differences,” he writes.

Can you hear me now?

There’s actual news in the papers as well, believe it or not, including the release of documents showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson on average 0.75 times a week from 2012 to 2015, and with Israel Hayom editor Amos Regev 1.5 times a week on average during that period.

Yedioth Ahronoth notes that the prime minister released the numbers reluctantly when compelled by a judge and he still has not published details on when the calls were made and their length, as he was ordered to do.

“There’s much importance in publicizing the dates and length of the conversations — for instance before an edition closed or in times when he was in the headlines — which can shed light, as was the point of the court petition, on the level of influence he had over Israel Hayom. Likewise, it’s not clear if Netanyahu’s numbers take into account weeks when there were holidays or vacations,” the paper writes in its news report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are seen flanked by Likud lawmakers at a Likud party rally in Airport City on August 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are seen flanked by Likud lawmakers at a Likud party rally in Airport City on August 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Haaretz also reports on the phone records on its front page, but maybe it’s Sara Netanyahu’s phone conversations journalists should be more interested in.

In his weekly politics roundup, columnist Yossi Verter recounts Netanyahu’s speech at a Likud rally Wednesday night, in which he went after former PM’s Residence caretaker Menny Naftali, and states matter of factly that the prime minister was being told what to say by his wife.

“Naftali, the former chief caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, whose testimony plunged Sara Netanyahu into deep water, was the target of a series of smears: sexual harasser, liar, thief and more. Netanyahu balked at nothing; no exaggeration was too petty for him to evoke,” he writes. “It’s quite possible that, had the choice been his to make, Netanyahu would have forgone this part of the speech; at times he didn’t look entirely comfortable. But the texts were in large measure dictated by his wife and were intended to calm her and tone down the madness that’s seized their home on Balfour Street ahead of the decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in the case of the residences. Whether or not this was also an attempt to obstruct justice, as Naftali’s lawyer claimed, is not for us to decide. But it did constitute an attempt to frighten potential witnesses for the prosecution.”

To nobody’s surprise, Israel Hayom almost completely ignores the phone call revelations, giving the story all of one paragraph in a tiny sidebar. Instead the paper runs a full-page attack on activist Eldad Yaniv, who has been organizing protests against Netanyahu with Naftali, running a story reporting that his kitchen and living room were found to have improper construction permitting. The paper offers contradictory information, reporting both that the structure, built on the roof of his apartment, is still standing, and that he tore it down after being forced to by a court.

But don’t let the non-reportage on the calls and paper’s slavish devotion to defending Netanyahu fool you. The paper runs a column by Haim Shine denying claims that the prime minister has built a cult of personality around himself, pushing back against Likud MK Benny Begin, who has taken no truck with the Netanyahu love-fest.

“Likud members throughout history have never been loyal to a leader. Their loyalty is to the vision that the leader pushes. When the leader strays from that path, he will be forced to leave the Likud or the Likud will leave him,” Shine writes. “Most Likudniks support Netanyahu not out of personal loyalty, but out of clear recognition that over the years he has succeeded in a cruel world and in chaotic surroundings to bolster settlements, ensure the strength of the army, economy and technology and advance quality of living for all citizens.”

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