Media Matters: Hebrew Obamelation

Why did the inauguration upstage the IDF pullout from Gaza in the local press?

obama 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
If not for the fact that the words running along the bottom of the screen during Tuesday evening's broadcast were in Hebrew, one might have mistaken Channel 10 for an American network. Factoids about previous inaugurations flowed through the "ticker tape," as though prepping the public for a pop quiz on the history of our noble nation. The trouble is that, as noble a nation as the United States is (something all local newscasters suddenly discovered, as soon as it became clear that a Democrat would be occupying the Oval Office), it is nevertheless not ours. No matter how crucial its moves on the world stage are to Israel's survival and well-being, the US is a foreign country. And it would have been treated as such by the local media had John McCain won the election on November 4. Indeed, the local media's anxious awaiting of the arrival of the Great Black Hope on the proverbial white donkey has been so unbridled that they could be as appropriate as their American counterparts for parody in an apt cartoon by Dana Summers in the Orlando Sentinel. In it, a group of screaming fans flinging panties at Barack Obama is reproached by a policeman. "Stop throwing your underwear at him, and make way for the media," he scolds. A woman responds by flashing her press card at him. "We are the media," she says. The messianic fervor surrounding the meteoric rise of the charismatic candidate, who virtually swiped a seemingly surefire victory in the Democratic primaries from Hillary Clinton - as if out from under her - is the stuff for psychoanalysts and future historians to sift through and sort out. That most of the American media made this possible on the one hand, and were as affected by it as the voters on the other, is not the least bit surprising. Even revolutionaries must grow weary of lugging around all those heavy protest banners. And even leftists long for leaders they can love. To them, Hillary would have certainly been better than any - gasp! - Republican. She, at least, could have assuaged the anger felt by all those females whose fear of chipping a nail makes it difficult for them to break through the glass ceiling they claim is preventing their promotions. Still, let's face it: Clinton is not messiah material. Her personal popularity was never that high to begin with. And standing by her philandering man - however his behavior was spun to salvage his politically correct career - didn't help elevate her esteem. All of this makes some modicum of sense in the context of the country that produced The Cosby Show and is now under the illusion that it is about to live it. BUT WHY has the Israeli press followed suit? Why - on the day that IDF troops were exiting Gaza, after three weeks of war - was the inauguration the top story in almost every newspaper, radio show and TV program? Logical explanations abound. In the first place, Israel has just entered a cease-fire arrangement brokered by Egypt and stamped by Europe, following a hostile vote in the Security Council from which the US abstained at the last minute. If that was the best the Bush administration could do, what - many wonder - awaits Israel when Obama takes over? Even the timing of the end of Operation Cast Lead appeared to be geared to take place right before the inauguration - just so the first words emanating from the White House about this region wouldn't be: "Get out of Gaza, or else." And, if not for being fired on, every last soldier would have been out before the hallowed ceremony on Capitol Hill. Secondly, Israel's own general elections are taking place in a mere two and a half weeks, with polls indicating that opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu will be forming the next government. Speculation about how Bibi will get along with Barack is the focus of much discussion. And last - but certainly not least - is the question of how Obama's presidency will affect the Israeli economy. These are issues which demand the kind of serious attention the media are supposed to attempt to supply. It is not this serious kind of attention that is cause for pause, however. On the contrary, it is the job of reporters to make all major stories of the day relevant to their readers. Israeli journalists do this by seeking out the Mideastern - or Jewish - angle, and bringing as many aspects of it to light as possible. But when Channel 10's Gil Tamari, reporting from Washington, could not contain his elation, and all he had to contribute - other than a giddy grin - was breathless exuberance at the "historical" day he was witnessing, whatever else the viewer was treated to, it sure wasn't news coverage. Nor was Tamari the only clown in the multiringed circus. Channel 2's Arad Nir compared the event to Nelson Mandela's rise to the South African presidency, and he meant it as a compliment. This was after his colleague, Yonit Levy, said that she didn't want to spoil the electric atmosphere ("But that's my job, after all"), yet felt she had to ask what kind of president the newcomer will actually turn out to be. Nir made sure to reassure her that Obama will be just fine, thank-you-very-much. In the Channel 2 studio, sharing the split screen with scenes of the happy First Couple watching George and Laura Bush board the helicopter to take them back to Texas, Yair Lapid had his own special way of getting in on the act. With a knowing smile, he said that if we looked hard enough, we could see the imprint of Obama's shoe on Bush's backside - a "good riddance" gesture Lapid expressed by attributing it to Obama. SANITY AND intellectual integrity came from an unexpected source this week. Haaretz economics pundit Nehemia Strassler, as liberal as they come, said that if we think the American economy is in bad shape now, just wait until Obama gets his hands on the till. This Strassler based on Obama's stated intention to be extremely generous with federal funding, by providing tax rebates and health insurance for all, investing hundreds of billions in roads, schools and hospitals, increasing the minimum wage and strengthening labor unions. Netanyahu couldn't have said it better. It is doubtful that this little bit of Oblasphemy is going to cost Strassler anything. Obama may be a hero here, but he's not an "etrog" - which means the local media are free not to fawn over him now and then. What they will not be free to do, now that our own elections are under way, is forget to toe the party line - any party to the left of Likud, that is. This will become as evident as Obama's halo on the covers of Newsweek and Time. Mark the words on the ticker tape.