Popular anchorman’s entry into politics likely to secure PM’s rule

Posted: January 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Yair Lapid left his position in Channel 2 News and announced his intention to enter politics. He is likely to split the secular vote in a way that won’t allow anyone but the Likud to form the next government

One of the questions that has dominated the political landscape in Israel in the last couple of years received an (almost) definite answer this week, when the most popular journalist in Israel, Yair Lapid, resigned from his post as Channel 2′s Friday evening anchorman in order to enter politics.

If he had it his way, Lapid would have waited for new elections to be called – probably later this year – but the Knesset legislators forced him to reveal his cards. A bill subjecting every journalist to a full “cooling off” period of a year before entering politics was about to become a law, and Lapid, who probably made up his mind on his political future a while ago, had to leave his comfortable position in front of a prime-time audience. The official announcement came in the form of a resignation letter to his bosses at the station.

Lapid, 49, is the son of the late journalist-turned-politician Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and novelist Shulamit Lapid. He grew up in Tel Aviv and London, served as a reporter for the IDF’s magazine Bamahane, and later started working for his father’s paper, Maariv. His star rose in the 90′s, when he acted in an Israeli film and hosted popular TV talk shows on Channels 1 and 2. Lapid wrote books and a TV mini-series, led TV campaigns for Israel’s largest bank, and since 2008 hosted the prestigious weekly news magazine on Channel 2. Lapid also writes the leading full-page column in Yedioth Ahronoth’s Friday edition, the most widely read paper in Israel.

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For such a public figure, Lapid’s political views are extremely vague. His father, a Knesset member and then government minister, was known for his militant secularism, both in public and in his personal life. Lying on his deathbed, Yosef Lapid refused any treatment that would prolong his life and eventually starved to death. Like his father, Yair Lapid is hostile to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, although even on this trademark family issue, his tone is much more restrained. Yosef “Tommy Gun” Lapid was an Archie Bunker-like conservative; Yair Lapid is his business-oriented, politically-correct alter ego.

If figuring out Yair Lapid on social issues is a complicated task, making sense of his views on diplomatic and regional politics, on human rights and democracy, is close to impossible. From his columns, it seems that Lapid is at the center of the secular consensus (some say that he is the center) – i.e. he supports in theory of the two-state solution; he is somewhat critical of the settlements and clearly hostile towards the “extreme” religious settlers, but he has no special affection for human rights organizations and he hasn’t showed unique interest in the current wave of anti-democratic legislation.

Lapid wrote a couple of times that Israel should have supported, rather than opposed, the Palestinian UN bid, but I don’t remember hearing a real out-of-the-box idea from him, one like Shaul Mofaz’s (Kadima) support for negotiations with Hamas. Lapid is not a rightwing hawk nor a dove; one more thing he inherited from his dad is a hatred of “the lefty media,” which he confessed again recently.

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Lapid updates his Facebook followers on the progress of his Knesset bid. Unlike pages of other Knesset members, Lapid’s wall is lively and exited. According to one of his latest messages, he hasn’t formed his party yet. He will probably skip the option of leading his father’s party – Shinui – which wasn’t able to pass the Knesset threshold in the last elections. There is little sense in forcing oneself to deal with the party’s dysfunctional machine, plus I would imagine that Lapid aims higher than the narrow appeal of Shinui, which will always be constrained by its free market, secular Ashkenazi image.

It is somewhat ironic that Lapid, the privileged son of the Israeli elite, would be one of the first to benefit from the summer’s social protest. Yet there is no doubt that the growing discontent in Israel’s middle class played a major part in his decision to enter politics now. As I have written here in the past, the J14 demonstrations – also known as the tent protests – were, more than anything, a show of middle-class disappointment with elected Knesset members, and especially with Kadima.

While Israel’s right is filled with would-be leaders and Knesset backbenchers who compete for attention by introducing racist bills or conducting bizarre public stunts, and while the left has no voters or public appeal whatsoever, the amorphous promised land of the moderate center is up for grabs. Shelly Yachimovitch, the surprise winner of the Labor primaries, was the first to take a bite, and Lapid might be the one to deal Kadima its coup-de-grace.

The man who is likely to benefit the most from this process is one Benjamin Netanyahu. Lapid can draw votes from all of Netanyahu’s potential challengers – including Avigdor Lieberman – but he is not likely to hurt the Likud too much. The result will be a fragmented Knesset, in which the Likud is a single big party and four or five others – Lapid, Labor, Lieberman, Kadima and maybe Shas – are competing for a place in the coalition. Since Netanyahu will only need between two and three of those parties, and since they won’t be able to form an alternative coalition due to a lack of a central, agreed-upon, leading force, they won’t have any bargaining position. It will be Bibi or nothing.

Early polls suggest that this is the most likely scenario. There were three polls conducted right after Lapid’s announcement – by the dailies Maariv and Yedioth, and by Channel 10. The results varied, but the general picture was the same: Likud was the only party to pass the 20-seat threshold, polling between 27 and 30 of the 120 Knesset seats (Likud has 27 MKs now). Lapid had 11-16 seats, Kadima 13-15 (28 now), Labor 12-18, Israel Beitenu 14-15 and Shas 9-11. In such a picture, the old division into two competing blocs – left-center and right-religious – becomes meaningless.

On a deeper level, Lapid’s entry into politics could be seen as representing a new stage in the Israeli culture war, one in which the dominant social group – secular middle class – has left behind the hope to lead the political system and is settling for a sectarian representation of its interests, spread between several parties. Except in the case of an unexpected event such as war or a deep economical crisis, we are likely to be left with Netanyahu as prime minister; or with a fragmented system in which nobody can really govern. Yair Lapid therefore is not the answer to Israel’s existential crisis – more than anything, he is a representation of the problem.


Flotilla: Even state officials say Netanyahu, IDF spread lies

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

According to government sources, the army doesn’t have any evidence that the flotilla activists are planning violent resistance, yet it publicly accuses them of conspiring to murder soldiers

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

Flotilla activists preparing weapons for their encounter with IDF soldiers (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The top story in two of Israel’s leading daily papers yesterday was a bombshell: The IDF unveiled plans by flotilla passengers to kill soldiers trying to stop the ships from getting to Gaza.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely read paper, ran a headline declaring “Flotilla activists set to kill,” which was attributed to military sources (but only in the fine print). The story declared, “Intelligence information revealed violent plans.” In the inside pages, the headline declared that this flotilla is considered to be “more violent than the previous one.”

Maariv’s top story covered the same topic: “IDF intelligence reveals: Lethal acid on flotilla boats.” The free paper Israel Hayom had a smaller headline in the front page. “Fear: Flotilla activists will try to kill soldiers.” Haaretz is the only paper that didn’t give the story such prominence in its print edition, but it was the top headline on the paper’s website throughout the previous evening. The Jerusalem Post’s headline read “IDF: Some flotilla activists planning to kill soldiers.

You can view all front pages of the Hebrew papers in this pic, taken from the media blog Velvet Underground. Yedioth and Maariv are the bottom two.

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Front Pages of Israeli papares, June 28 2011 (photo: velvet underground blog)

Chemical Weapons? Against the Israel Navy Seals, Air Force and war ships? Even as a suicide mission, it sounded too fantastic. And how could this flotilla be “more violent,” when the notorious IHH, whose members were on the Mavi Marmara last year, cancelled its participation? Who exactly is going to execute the soldiers with the lethal acid, 64- year-old Alice Walker? It was the kind of propaganda no thinking person could believe, yet the entire Hebrew media – even Haaretz! – went for it.

Luckily, it didn’t take Max Blumenthal to debunk this one. The media’s tone today was entirely different. Government sources have told Maariv that the so-called “intelligence information” was a spin by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reflecting “a Hasbara [propaganda] hysteria.”

“It’s unthinkable that in cabinet meetings we receive information according to which there are no threats of violent actions from the flotilla activists or [indication of] the presence of terror elements on the ships, and that at the same time, senior political sources, including the army, feed the media with information that is the exact opposite of what we were given.”

Information that the media was only to eager to swallow, one should add.

A day too late, Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent was the voice of reason in his paper:

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that extreme elements will initiate resistance against IDF soldiers. There is no knowledge of the existence of firearms on the ships.”

The damage, however, was done. The reports of the murderous intentions of the flotilla activists traveled around the country and across the world. Not for the first time, a group of unarmed European and American activists traveling on old yachts was presented as a threat to the security of the region’s superpower. The only question is: for how long will the world continue to buy these kind of stories?

Maariv’s story today offers a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, claiming the information that was passed to the media came from IDF spokesperson unit. In response to my question today, the IDF spokesperson’s office made it clear they stand behind the information that was released yesterday.


Poll: Netanyahu, US congress & AIPAC stand to the right of Israeli public

Posted: May 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

According to Maariv’s poll, 57 percent of Israelis accept the principles outlined in president Obama’s Middle East speech. By being more pro-Israeli than the Knesset, the US Congress indicates that the road to peace and justice in the region cannot pass through Washington

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011. In Israel, Kantor’s view would have placed him in a settler’s party (photo: AIPAC)

In the morning following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress, a poll published by the Israeli daily Maariv indicates that while Netanyahu enjoys considerable support among Israelis, the public is far more inclined than its prime minister to make concessions to the Palestinians.

According to a Teleseker-Maariv poll, conducted last night, a clear majority of 57 percent of Israelis would have wanted Netanyahu to say “yes” (or “yes, but“) to the path to a two-state solution outlined in President Obama’s speech.

(As pollster Dahlia Scheindlin wrote on this site, such figures correspond to previous polls, which show, for most part, the support of most of the Jewish public for a two-state solution based on the ‘67 borders.)

At the same time, if elections were held today, the Maariv poll has Netanyahu’s Likud party receiving 30 seats (it holds 27 today), with opposition party Kadima dropping from 27 to 26 seats. The poll shows Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu rising from 14 to 16 seats.

If those numbers represent the real attitude of the Israeli public, then Netanyahu has presented a false picture in the speeches given during his U.S. visit– he enjoys a stronger coalition than he cares to present, but in rejecting the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, he doesn’t reflect the views of most Israelis.

My bet is that with time, more Israelis will come to oppose the ‘67-based solution and a compromise over Jerusalem, as the prime minister’s messages increasingly sinks in with some of his supporters, who are now more open to concessions than he is.

What’s even more interesting is how far to the right the Washington establishment is on these issues. If they were Israelis, all of those attacking President Obama on Israel – from the Senate majority leader to the Washington Post’s editorial page – would have been part of the right flank of the Likud, or a moderate settler party. Right now, the Israeli consensus – if such thing exists – is to the left of the beltway (though Netanyahu is working very hard to change that).

If the events of the past few days have taught us anything, it’s that the unique connection between Washington politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike), the Jewish lobby and Israeli hawks is the main obstacle to the termination of the occupation.

Under the current circumstances, the road to justice and peace in the region cannot pass through the U.S. capital.


Netanyahu in 1987: Shoot to kill stone throwers

Posted: March 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Maariv, 1987

The settler’s blog “The Muqata” pulled out this old Maariv piece from the days of the first Intifada to condemn Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who apparently got too soft with the years, at least for the blog’s taste.

It reads:

Netanyahu: Shoot to Kill the Stone Throwers | According to Netanyahu, the Intifada’s leaders should be deported, and the West Bank sealed to foreign media

Still, I guess Netanyahu should be considered a moderate compared to his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who in his youth joined Rabbi Kahane’s Kach movement, later to be outlawed for its racist activities.

[The Muqata's blog entry is a few months old, but I missed it at the time]


The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide)

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth showing the same headline (photo: yossi gurvitz)Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Market Share* (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 43.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Ynet (English edition here).

Politics: After years of dominating the printed media market, Israel’s leading tabloid has met a fierce rival – the free paper Yisrael Hayom, launched three years ago by gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many people believe that this is the reason for the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone Yedioth has taken over the past year. The paper is constantly publishing articles attacking the Prime Minister, his staff and even his wife. Star pundit Nahum Barnea is especially hostile to Netanyahu; in fact, I think there is only one columnist in Yedioth – Hanoch Daum – who is an open Netanyahu supporter and a proxy to the Netanyahu family.

Leaving Netanyahu aside, Yedioth is a fairly centrist paper. It tends to be conservative on military and security issues, but more open than other tabloids when it comes to dealing with civil rights issues. The campaign the paper launched against the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court for their intervention in policy issues and nominations of high ranking officials seems to have calmed down recently.

I think people outside Israel don’t pay enough attention to Yedioth. For years, the paper was known for its ability to capture the voice of the average middle class Israeli. The front page story of the papers’ weekend magazine always presented “the man of the moment”, or the story that would be discussed during the following week. Yedioth is not as strong today – but it is still the most important media organization in Israel. Yedioth’s internet site (Ynet) is by far the most popular news site in Israel.

Yair Lapid, channel 2 anchorman and a possible candidate in the next elections, has a widely read column in Yedioth.

The bottom line for Yedioth Ahronoth: Conservative on security and Supreme Court; critical of the government and Netanyahu himself; slightly more liberal than the two other tabloids.

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Yisrael Hayom

Market Share (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 25.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew, printed edition only).

Politics: According to most estimates, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid, which is circulated in 250,000 copies, is losing money. But Adelson’s intention in launching the paper was not to gain profits, but political influence.

Adelson’s paper is edited by a former proxy to Netanyahu, Amos Regev. Under Regev, Israel Hayom is extremely supportive of the Prime Minister, constantly pushing stories that present Netanyahu and his family in a positive way. Recently, the paper is taking on an even more nationalistic editorial line.

[A more detailed post about the ties between Yisrael Hayom and Netanyahu can be found here.]

Yisrael Hayom is very hostile to the Palestinians; it tends to emphasize security threats and to present a favorable coverage of some of the new Knesset bills which are aimed against the Arab minority, Arabs members of Knesset and leftwing NGO’s (though one could find in it from time to time an occasional op-ed expressing different views).

Yisrael Hayom is supportive of the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court, but only on corruption issues, not civil rights ones.

Yisrael Hayom doesn’t have its own publishing house, so the paper has outsourced its printing and distribution to Haaretz. There are rumors that this move saved Haaretz from bankruptcy.

The bottom line for Yisrael Hayom: Conservative on security, diplomacy and civil rights; highly supportive of Netanyahu.

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Maariv

Market Share (June 2010): 12.5 percent on weekdays, 16.1 on weekends.

Internet site: nrg (Hebrew only).

Politics: for years, Maariv was Yedioth’s greatest enemy (when I moved from Ynet to Maariv in 2003, I was told by one of the senior editors that I would never write for Yedioth again), but now both papers join hands in the battle against Yisrael Hayom.

Maariv ran into financial difficulties more than six years ago, and since then it has been changing its editors and CEO’s frequently. A new team of editors (Yoav Zur and Yoav Golan), and a new co-publisher (businessman Zachi Rachiv) seem to have stabilized the paper a bit recently.

Under its new editors, Maariv has taken a sharp turn to the right. The paper’s subtle criticism of Netanyahu could be a bit misleading. Maariv keeps a very nationalistic and conservative line. It was Maariv that launched the campaign against the New Israel Fund by publishing the Im Tirzu reports. The paper is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies, and it usually presents a somewhat favorable coverage of the bills Israel Beitenu is trying to pass in the Knesset.

Rumors have it that it was a conscious decision by Maariv’s editors and managing board to take an editorial line that would exploit the current nationalistic trends in the Israeli society. The promotion of conservative contributors such as Kalman Livskind and Ben-Dror Yemini support this theory. Yemini is known for his campaigning against “lefty” influence in the Israel academia and media. He has repeatedly called to hold state funds from critical movies and from artists and professors who are “anti-Israeli”. Last week he published a double spread attacking Haaretz journalist Gidon Levi for an interview he gave to the Independent.

The bottom line for Maariv: Highly conservative on security; anti-civil rights, anti-Supreme Court; slightly critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

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Haaretz

Market Share (June 2010): 6.4 percent on weekdays, 7.4 on weekends.

Internet site: Haaretz (English site here).

Politics: Haaretz was Israel’s liberal paper for many years, and one could claim that it’s the only paper committed to supporting civil rights and promoting democratic values. By Israeli standards, Haaretz is very critical of the IDF, thought in the past few years the paper was criticized for pushing Palestinians’ civil right issues into its back pages. Many leftwing activists and politicians are also dismayed by the liberal line Haaretz tends to take on economical issues.

Haaretz’s editorial line is very critical of Netanyahu and Lieberman, though some important contributors, such as Ari Shavit and Yoel Marcus are less clear on the issue. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass is especially known for her work on Palestinian rights issues.

Haaretz’ circulation is not substantial – it’s almost similar to that of the unimportant free tabloid Israel Post – but it is widely read and discussed by public opinion makers, politicians, diplomats and the international press, so it has a more substantial weight than its numbers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that very few Israelis actually read Haaretz.

The bottom line for Haaretz: liberal on security, civil rights and economy; supportive of the Supreme Court; very critical of Netanyahu’s government.

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(*) Maariv and Israel Hayom are the only daily papers in Israel to disclose their circulation figures. The common way to measure papers’ share of the market – and the one used to determine advertising prices – is through the TGI poll, conducted twice a year by the independent company TNS-Telegal. The figures in this post relate to the June 2010 poll.

For daily updates on the leading stories in the Israel Hebrew press, check out the daily media roundup on +972 magazine.


Israeli tabloids urging NIF to ditch Palestinian and Lefty NGOs

Posted: September 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Israeli Tabloids Maariv and Israel Hayom, which led the attack on the New Israel Fund in recent months, celebrated yesterday what they believe is a change in the NIF policy regarding its support for leftwing organizations.

A page 4 story in Maariv, written by the paper’s reporter in New York, Tzah Yoked, has declared that “from now on, organizations that reject the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in Israel will no longer be eligible to receive money from the New Israel Fund.”

The story repeated some of the misleading information Maariv published in the past, claiming that NIF-backed organizations “served as the legal basis for the Goldstone report.” It concluded that:

The change [in NIF guidelines], it should be underscored, is more than merely cosmetic. This is a change that will oblige the New Israel Fund to reassess longstanding relationships it has had with organizations that until now had enjoyed its financial support, despite the fact that they explicitly advocated the establishment of a bi-national state and rejected the Jewish nature of the State of Israel.

Ben Dror Yemini, a conservative writer for Maariv and one of the leaders of the campaign against the NIF wrote that:

If the New Israel Fund truly does change the criteria for funding—it will be deserving of all praise. Rumors about that have been circulating for a long time.

Yemini also called the NIF to immediately stop supporting Adalah and the Women Coalition for Peace in order to show that it did change its ways.

In the tabloid Israel Hayom, senior columnist Dan Margalit accused NIF of flip-flopping, claiming that by clarifying that it would continue supporting left wing organizations, the NIF “ruined the correction” [of its wrongful policy], after “yesterday it seemed that the New Israel Fund had turned an attentive ear [to the criticism against it].”

It seems that the confusion over the NIF’s intentions got the progressive left worried as well. Blogger Richard Silverstein wrote that:

This is my lowest moment in an ambivalent relationship with NIF.  I cannot in good conscience support its work when it turns it back on its Palestinian grantees and an entire Palestinian NGO community.  I would urge these grantees to unite and protest this terrible formulation of the guidelines.  I can’t help but think if most of the Palestinian and even perhaps a few Jewish grantees refuse to apply for funding that this will send a shock through the system.

Silverstein also urged his readers to withdraw their support from the NIF until it changed its guidelines.

I don’t agree with Richard on this one. The NIF never backed from its support of Palestinians NGOs. In fact, it actually re-affirmed its commitment to them. As I wrote in an answer for Richard’s comment on my blog, I think we should give the NIF people more credit, and judge them according to their actions, not (only) their words.

I cannot overstate the importance of the NIF for those who still believe that the work of civil society organizations matters. The battle here is much larger than the argument over the new guidelines or the misquotation of someone. This is the front line of a war on the future of democracy in Israel. The NIF is under tremendous pressure these days, and so far they have dealt with it honorably. So though I have my own issues with some of the NIF’s statements and actions, I would wait a bit before I join those casting stones at it (even when it’s done for the best intentions).

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Didi Remez has contributed for this post.


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.


Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu tabloid now the most widely read paper in Israel

Posted: July 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

israel hayomThe rightwing free tabloid “Israel Hayom” (ישראל היום, Israel today) is now the most widely read daily paper in Israel, with, for the first time, a slight lead over Yedioth Ahronoth on weekdays.

Israel Hayon is known for his support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The paper’s publisher, gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is a close friend and political ally of Netanyahu, and according to reports, the papers editor, Amos Regev, was part of Netanyahu’s inner circle for some time.

Most papers in Israel don’t disclose the number of copies they distribute, so their share of the market is evaluated by the TGI poll, taken twice a year by TNS Tlgal surveying company. Advertising prices are also determined according to the TGI poll.

The Jan-June 2010 TGI survey, released yesterday, had Israel Hayom leading with 35.2 percent of daily papers readers, comparing to Yedioth’s 34.9%. Readers’ exposure Ma’ariv is at 12.5% (median 14.4% last year), exposure to Haaretz is 6.4%. The free paper Post has 7.9% exposure.

On weekend Yedioth has a share of 43.7, and Israel Hayom, who just began distributing a weekend edition, 25.7%.

Yedioth Ahronoth has been the most widely read paper in Israel since the 70′s. At times, it controlled more than 50 percent of the market.

Since its first appearance, the paper has taken an extreme pro-Netanyahu line. Mr. Adelson has rejected claims of his paper’s political bias.

The introduction of Israel Hayom sparked a war between Israel’s daily papers. Yedioth and Maariv, who were rivals for half a century, are now joining hands in fighting Adelson’s paper (with little success so far). The two papers were said to be behind the unsuccessful attempt to introduce an anti-dumping law that would have forced Israel Hayom to start charging money for its copies. PM Netanyahu had the Likud party oppose the bill, which failed to pass in the Knesset.

Ironically, Israel Hayom is printed and distributed by Israel’s Liberal paper, Haaretz. Estimates are that the high prices Haaretz’s publisher, Mr. Amos Schoken, is charging for these services, are part of the reason for his paper’s ability to survive these days.

Needless to say, Haaretz opposed the dumping bill.


The Persecution of Haaretz

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily paper, has a status that exceeds its limited circulation. Israel’s supporters who whishes to portray it as a thriving democracy give Haaretz as an example; Critics of Israel use Haaretz when claiming that the US media is too easy on Israel (“The NYT would have never printed Gidon Levy’s op-ed“). Even after suffering loses during the financial crisis and going through major cuts the paper remains the best source for information on human right issues and on Israeli politics. It is also the only Israeli newspaper to have an internet site and printed editions in both Hebrew and English.

These days, Haaretz is under attack. Rightwing groups, pundits, politicians and competing media organizations go after the paper. They accuse it of being “too liberal”, “too lefty”, even “anti-Israeli”. The attack was triggered because of the Kamm-Blau affair, but the case against Haaretz is far wider and deeper, and has a lot to do with the dangerous nationalistic mood in Israel right now.

Two articles on the front page of Maariv’s weekend edition took shots at Haaretz: Ben Dror Yemini accused the paper of aiding “the industry which demonizes and delegitimizes the State of Israel,” and Columnist Menahem Ben simply called for the paper to be shut down and its editor and publisher arrested for treason.

After the exposure of the Kamm affair, MK Michael Ben-Ari, a former student of Rabbi Kahana, cancelled his Knesset subscription for Haaretz and called interior Minister Eli Yishay to use his authority and immediately forbid the printing of Haaretz. Surprisingly enough, Ben-Ari was joined by two MK’s from Kadima: MK Israel Hason, a former Shin Beit man, called for readers to boycott Haaretz, while MK Yulia Shmuelov wrote her own letter to minister Yishay demanding Haaretz to be shut down.

Radio Host Avri Gilad said last Sunday on the IDF station that “I mourn what happened to the Left and to the Left’s journal [Haaretz]… it is making the left irrelevant in Israel… every sensible person today understand that the Left has made the state of Israel its enemy.” There wasn’t even a slight protest heard.

And this is what rightwing columnist and editor for Jerusalem Post (who is rapidly becoming the Israeli Pravda), Caroline Glick, had to say:

By collaborating with Kamm first by publishing her stolen documents and hiring her as a reporter, and finally by covering up her crimes while suborning Blau’s perjury, Haaretz has demonstrated that leftist traitors have a powerful sponsor capable of exacting painful revenge on the State of Israel for daring to prosecute them.

In facilitating and supporting treason, Haaretz itself can depend on a massive network of supporters in Israel and internationally. Reporters, self-proclaimed human rights groups, and the leftist blogosphere in Israel and throughout the world as well as foreign governments happily swallow whole Haaretz’s manufactured stories about Israel’s purported venality.

I agree with Hanoch Maramri, Haaretz’s former editor, who wrote in The 7th Eye that Haaretz will survive this attack. The paper suffered boycott attempts during the first and second Intifada, when its editors insisted on reporting cases of abuse and illegal actions by IDF soldiers. But these were different times for journalism, and the real danger is that the delicate financial situation affecting all newspapers will make Haaretz change its line a bit so it wouldn’t bleed too many readers.

Even more important is what these events teach on the current moment in Israel. Most people outside this country fail to notice it, but we are at the dangerous turning point in which words and ideas, and not just acts, are becoming illegitimate in this country, even criminal. Haaretz won’t be the last victim.


Delegitimization and censorship continue: Jpost stop publishing Naomi Chazan’s articles

Posted: February 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Haaretz reveals today that following the rightwing campaign against the New Israel Fund, Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief David Horovitz informed president of the NIF Naomi Chazan that the paper will stop publishing her op-eds. The story, by Jonathan Lis and Dimi Reider, appears in the front page of today’s English Edition.

Yesterday Chazan received an e-mail from Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz, informing her the newspaper would cease publishing her column.

Chazan had provided the daily with one of its few leftist voices in recent years. Horovitz declined to respond to questions from Haaretz last night.

This is just one of several recent cases of self-censorship in the Israeli media: Both Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth, two of the leading tabloids in Israel, have decided recently not to publish major articles which were critical of Israel and the IDF.

Meanwhile Chazan, who was the target of a Der-Strumer style ads in the Israeli media, commented on her personal feelings following the rightwing Im Tirzu movement’s campaign against her:

“I don’t know why they chose me – I can think of plenty of human rights supporters they could pick on. But I’m ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy. No doubt about it.”

Earlier this week it was published that the Jewish community in Melbourne canceled a scheduled event with Chazan.

This is just one of several recent cases of self-censorship in the Israeli media. As I wrote here before, Both Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth, two of the leading tabloids in Israel, have decided recently not to publish major articles which were critical of Israel and the IDF.

Chazan, who was the target of a Der-Strumer style ads in the Israeli media, commented for the first time on her personal feelings following the rightwing IM Tirzu movement’s campaign against her: