Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler
Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Thursday, January 24.
1) Election analysis
The New York Times reports on the Making of Israel’s New Power Broker, Yair Lapid:
Mr. Lapid’s campaign hardly challenged Mr. Netanyahu’s policies on
the Iranian nuclear threat, the tumult in the Arab world or the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was the first election in memory in
which such existential security issues were not emphasized, as a growing
majority of Israelis see them as too tough to tackle. Even Mr.
Netanyahu barely spoke about Iran, his raison d’être.
Instead, voters and analysts alike said Mr. Lapid had captured the
hearts of Israel’s silent majority with his personal charm and a
positive, inclusive message that harnessed the everyday frustrations
that fueled the huge social justice protests in 2011.
One pollster found that about 40 percent of Mr. Lapid’s supporters
defined themselves as right-leaning, and in Israel’s coalition system,
many saw his success as a tactical move by voters not to oust Mr.
Netanyahu but to nudge him to broaden the agenda.
Are the "existential security issues" really viewed as "too tough to
tackle?" It seems more likely that Israelis don't necessarily assign
them the same importance that reporters for the New York Times do. The
reporter more likely is correct that the surge of support for Yesh Atid
was to get Netanyahu to "broaden the agenda."
The Washington Post reports that Israel's new political star champions middle class:
Although he has put domestic issues first, Lapid says Israel cannot
allow a continued impasse in peace efforts, and he suggests that they
should be revived along the lines of previous Israeli proposals.
He favors a return to talks with the Palestinians to reach a two-state
solution to the conflict but says the deal should leave large Jewish
settlements in the West Bank under Israel’s sovereignty, with possible
land swaps. To drive that point home, he launched his election campaign
in Ariel, a large settlement town deep in the northern West Bank.
Though Lapid may advocate new peace talks, his views are consistent with
Netanyahu's - as well as the Israeli consensus - and the idea of
keeping "Jewish settlements" would seem to be a non-starter for Mahmoud
Abbas. (By the way the idea of keeping settlements with land swaps was
also that of Avigdor Lieberman who's views are usually described as
"ultra-nationalist" or otherwise "extreme."
Roger Cohen is thrilled with the results. In The Israeli Center Lives, Cohen can barely contain his glee that Netanyahu has been rebuked by the voters. In addition, he writes:
The Israel that emerged from the vote is not the rightward-drifting,
annexationist-tending, religious-lurching nation it has become
fashionable to portray. The Jewish state, far from moving right, turned
toward the center. It is tired of the old guard, embracing new political
parties. It is impatient with the free-loading ultra-Orthodox who do
not serve in the army but do soak up welfare. It has sufficient
lingering interest in a two-state peace to split roughly down the middle
on the issue.
Yes it has been fashionable to portray Israel like that. Like the writer who recently opined:
Netanyahu may be returned to power in elections this month at the head of an even more right-wing coalition.
Who was that? Why it was Roger Cohen! Never mind that Cohen has no idea what Israel is about, why couldn't he at least write explicitly, "I was wrong about Israel?"
A New York Times editorial, Israel's election, shows the editors' one track mind:
Still, there is a reason to hope that the new government could be
more receptive to a peace initiative. The vote suggests that if it is
not, Israelis may give even more support next time to a centrist
coalition not led by Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid has been skeptical of the
Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate and has not made peace
talks a priority. But he supports a two-state solution and renewing
peace talks that have been frozen for four years.
At least Roger Cohen in his own clumsy way acknowledged that Israel's
political center is strong. The editors of the Times can't get away from
the peace process. Do they consider the possibility that if a moderate
like Yair Lapid is "skeptical of the Palestinian leadership's
willingness to negotiate" maybe the problem with peace talks is not
Why didn't Netanyahu perform better?
In Israel’s Election: Netanyahu Holds On, Center Does Well, Barry Rubin writes:
Netanyahu’s decision to combine with Avigdor Lieberman’s party was
probably a mistake, driving moderate liberal voters to Lapid. With
Lieberman being indicted, his party would have gone into crisis and many
or most of its voters would have gone over to Netanyahu without him
having to give anything in return.
Evelyn Gordon writes in It's the Cost of Living, Stupid:
The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon has an excellent analysis
of just how dominant domestic considerations were in this election. As
he noted, the parties that significantly increased their parliamentary
representation–Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor and
Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home–campaigned almost exclusively on domestic
issues. Even Bennett, who is unfairly caricatured overseas as
representing “the extreme right,” ran mainly on domestic issues,
capitalizing on his record as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. In
contrast, parties that ran on diplomatic/security issues–Netanyahu’s
Likud, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima–did poorly, aside
from one exception: Meretz picked up the diehard peacenik votes Labor
lost by focusing on domestic issues.
Consistent with what the New York Times wrote about "broadening the agenda," Gordon continues:
The same conclusion emerged from another Post reporter’s visit
to the former Likud stronghold of south Tel Aviv (the city’s poorer
neighborhoods): Person after person praised Netanyahu on security issues
but panned him on bread-and-butter ones, and cited that as their reason
for abandoning his party.
In an article
for Commentary following the socioeconomic protests of summer 2011, I
detailed the many pressing domestic issues Israel faced and warned that
Netanyahu would be judged on whether he exploited the protests’ momentum
to address them. As it turns out, he didn’t–and especially not the one
most important to Israelis, the high cost of living. That partly
explains how Lapid could come from nowhere to win 19 seats by running on
pledges such as “Our children will be able to buy apartments” and “We’ll pay less for gasoline and electricity.”
Equally important, however, is that Israeli voters tend to vote
tactically. And with Netanyahu seemingly a shoo-in for the next prime
minister, they primarily focused on trying to ensure that his next
coalition would be both willing and able to carry out the needed
As far as what comes next, Israel Matzav notes that coalition discussions are focused on neither the peace process nor Iran. He also makes a number of points about drafting Haredim that are well worth reading.
2) What the media got wrong
Walter Russell Mead writes in MSM Bungles Israel’s Election:
The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the
West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in
the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to
the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYT, WSJ, BBC, NBC, Time, Reuters, Guardian, HuffPo, Slate, Salon, Al Jazeera, and countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.
Dylan Byers covered this in Politico:
didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists
gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of
forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While
Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there’s a
strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud,
center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.
Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, wrote about the election again today,
after the fact. He attributes the high turnout on the center-left in
part to "fear of [the] hard-right coalition" he wrote about in the
feature, but doesn't offer the sort of mea culpa Mead may have been
So is Remnick, perversely, taking credit for the election results? Is he
saying he helped raise awareness of the right wing threat?
If anything Remnick further validates Adam Garfinkle's observation about the media cited by Mead:
“We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon)
what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we’re sure
that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will
not see evidence of it until too late.”
Labels: Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset elections 2013, mainstream media, Middle East Media Sampler, Soccer Dad, Yair Lapid