You talkin’ to him? You talkin’ to him?
Hebrew media review

You talkin’ to him? You talkin’ to him?

Netanyahu’s comparison of a soldier being tried on manslaughter to fallen troops, and his upcoming meeting with Trump and Clinton, raise questions about who is talking to and why

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a reception in the southern Israeli town of Netivot, September 15, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a reception in the southern Israeli town of Netivot, September 15, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO).

Sometimes it seems the news comes in sets of interconnected dots. One week, Israel’s press may be obsessed with issues of religion and state, exploring that theme via a number of different entry points. On Sunday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoying his last day in New York, the press seems to revolve around the question of who can talk with whom, who can meet with whom and protest whom, with anger — some of it manufactured — a major theme throughout.

For full unadulterated opprobrium, readers need to look no further than Yedioth Ahronoth, which devotes fully the top half of its front page to excoriating Netanyahu over his comparison of soldier Elor Azaria, on trial for killing an unarmed and wounded Palestinian assailant, to those killed in battle or missing in action.

The comparison was made during an interview given to Channel 2 as part of Netanyahu’s first Israeli media blitz in over two years. “After the storm, one can assume he won’t be doing this again,” quips the lead of the paper’s news story, which focuses on the quote and resulting hullabaloo.

But it’s the blistering scolding of columnist Nahum Barnea that takes up the front page, under a headline cribbing from David Ben-Gurion’s famous quote that “every Jewish mother should know” their sons are in good hands when in the army, which has become a foundational meme of the relationship between the army and Israeli society.

“The comparison between the parents of a soldier standing trial for manslaughter and the parents of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul screams to the heavens,” he writes, the ink black as the steam one imagines bursting from his ears. “It screams firstly because of the unbridgeable abyss between soldiers who risk their lives for the country and a soldier accused of a serious crime. It screams because of the abyss separating the parents. The Goldin and Shaul parents allowed the Operation Protective Edge to end without their sons’ remains returned. It wasn’t easy or simple any way you look at it. They were role models of patriotism. And it screams because it gives Israelis, especially those in the military, a deformed set of values, that are unacceptable.”

Lest one get the impression that Barnea speaks for most Israelis, Israel Hayom – a paper often seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu (which is possibly why he feels he doesn’t need to give interviews to the Israeli press) – wants readers to know that the hubbub is just a tempest in a teleprompter, and it’s only “leftists” who think he said anything wrong.

The paper’s lead story instead focuses on Netanyahu’s plans to meet both presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Sunday, just before the two go mano-a-mano in their first debate.

“The estimation is that Netanyahu is expected to request from the two that they don’t support anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council or other international bodies, and thus to keep Obama from pushing forward his own [Israeli Palestinian peace] outline during the transition period after the election,” the paper writes, without bothering with a silly thing like sourcing.

It’s not likely either candidate will have much luck, given Haaretz’s lead story, which quotes US Secretary of State John Kerry saying the administration isn’t going to give up on an two-state solution. (Somewhat surprisingly the paper ignores the Netanyahu-Azaria dead soldier comparison, even as it covers both Netanyahu’s interviews and the Azaria trial.)

If Kerry’s words, in a private meeting with donors to the PA, aren’t necessarily A1 material, the description of him all but foaming at the mouth over the issue certainly is (though a picture might have been nice).

“Kerry repeatedly raised his voice, emphasizing that Israel and the Palestinians are moving in the direction of a binational state rather than a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and are also headed toward war. He added that if the international community is interested in putting a halt to these developments, ‘Either we mean it and we act on it, or we should shut up,’” the paper reports. “Western diplomats who were present at the meeting, but who asked not to be identified because the meeting was not public, noted that Kerry was extremely agitated.”

The paper’s Chemi Shalev, meanwhile, ponders why Netanyahu is once again putting himself out there to be seen as intervening in the US elections, and comes up with the answer — to help Trump. As for the claim that he’s meeting with both candidates and is thus showing balance? Narishkeit.

Nu, shoyn, as the Yiddish saying goes. So they’ll say. The truth is that there is only one candidate who desperately needs Netanyahu’s blessing and legitimization, and his name isn’t Clinton. Only Trump will benefit from Netanyahu placing him on an equal footing with his rival,” he writes. “Only he will require the kosher stamp that Netanyahu can give him. Jewish leaders refrain from standing beside Trump, most foreign leaders — besides Egypt’s President Sisi, which isn’t saying much — prefer to keep their distance and many right-wing and conservative columnists and commentators, some of whom admire Netanyahu immensely, want nothing to do with the Republican nominee. But Netanyahu is giving him a golden photo-op, and seems even eager to do so.”

Clinton, he adds, is only meeting with Netanyahu because not doing so could give her a black eye with Israel-focused Jewish voters and thus she is being forced to bend.

Kulturkampf over the Darwish awards

Sometimes, though, a politician can win points by not bending to the wills of other, as proven by the rhubarb around Culture Minister Miri Regev’s decision to storm out of the Ophir Awards (Israel’s Oscars, as they are often called) to protest poet Roee Hassan’s reading of a poem penned by late Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish.

“A provocation from both sides,” reads the headline to a column from Israel Hayom’s Dan Margalit, which is the closest the paper gets to criticizing Regev.

“The contribution to the provocation was a picture of her temporarily leaving the ceremony, which gave her some popularity among the Likud base. Regev chose a move that was ill-advised but allowed. I learned once from Shlomit Aloni [considered a founder of Israeli cinema] that a culture battle includes the right to stand up and boo loudly, and then to leave or be quiet,” he writes, oddly echoing Kerry and adding to the strange web of the news constellation. “The worrying part of her behavior wasn’t at the ceremony, but rather her stated intent to intervene in Israeli cultural programs through fiscal means. She call it ‘governance’ but in reality it is a harbinger of evil.”

In Yedioth, columnist Raz Shechnik posits that the whole supposed protest was just show business (how fitting) designed to win her points, writing that she doesn’t even care about Darwish. “Hassan’s move didn’t bother her, and rightly so. But it seems the bounds of free speech are determined by the number of cameras that are around and the potential for likes on Facebook – 33,700 at last count,” he writes.

“You don’t need to be a film expert to realize Regev’s provocation was planned from the start, down to the ideal camera angle by her people, who were quick to distribute the clip across the media.”

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