Israel’s election generates no coverage, interest in US

There has been almost no coverage of the upcoming Israeli election in American media. In other words, the election has generated no interest.

WORKERS MAKE preparations ahead of the election at the Central Elections Committee’s logistics center in Shoham last month. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
WORKERS MAKE preparations ahead of the election at the Central Elections Committee’s logistics center in Shoham last month.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
March 23 is election day in Israel. That date falls right on the eve of Passover. Everyone reading this column knows that.
What you do not know, and what may surprise you, is that hardly anybody in the United States knows about this Israeli election. Even people who diligently follow Israeli news don’t know when the election will take place. In a recent poll among my friends – all of whom are fervent Israel lovers, not one of them had the correct date. Not one. They’ve all been to Israel too many times to count, some have homes, some have children in Israel. Some have both. But none of them had the correct date.
There has been almost no coverage of the upcoming Israeli election in American media. In other words, the election has generated no interest.
There are, of course, reasons for the lackluster coverage. Boredom probably tops the list. Boredom coupled with oversaturation – another Israeli election and then another and then another and now this one.
But the most crucial reason this Israeli election has gone almost completely uncovered in US media is because Israel and the Middle East are no longer high on the general news agenda. And the reason Israel and the Middle East are no longer high on the news agenda is because they are not very high on the agenda of the new Biden administration.
Actually, I’m being polite. It is no longer high on the agenda – a position it occupied for decades and especially the last four years. Whatever the new US administration is doing vis a vis Israel is being done quietly and behind closed doors. Most importantly, President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team do not want to be seen putting their proverbial finger on the scale and showing support for Benjamin Netanyahu. Or, for that matter, for any candidate slated to run in Israel’s election.
This is good news. It’s great news. Believe me when I say that for Israel, for all of Israel, this is a diplomatic dream come true.
Israel – for the time being – is no longer under the microscope of American media. Not Israeli policies and not Israeli politicians.       
When the media in the United States does cover Israel, more often than not it is the foibles of the Jewish State on which they focus. Not the heroics. Not the good news – the bad news. As if that were not enough, when American media does cover Israeli news, they often take a situation and dramatize it.
A recent and obvious example that played well in the press is the story about Israel not vaccinating Israeli Arabs. It even made its way into the, now infamous, news segment of Saturday Night Live. The story teeters on the brink of being a modern-day blood libel. A gross exaggeration of the situation, a clear misunderstanding of the facts – a story that captured the attention of America’s media honchos.
When US media did cover previous elections in Israel, it showed a clear misunderstanding of Israel and Israeli democracy. The US media does not understand the multi-party parliamentary system. They do not understand what a parliamentary democracy is, how it is formed and how it runs. They tend to focus on candidates rather than parties because that is, after all, the American way. And so, it is easier for Americans to grasp, even if clearly inaccurate. Except for extremist parties. Those are newsworthy and they include every party right of Center and all religious parties.

US MEDIA loves to cover extremes. And that’s because news in the United States is structured to be entertaining. Extremists will always lead over conventional, i.e., boring politics.
The cliché in US media coverage is, “if it bleeds it leads.” In this context, blood means extremism. As the calendar moves closer to the 23rd and when they can no longer avoid the fact of the election, there will be US media coverage. And coverage of the election in Israel will, undoubtedly, mention the Netanyahu court cases. Then the media will cover the possibility of a right of center coalition. The Center-Right will be labeled “right-wing” or “extremist” or “religious right-wing extremist.” Israel cannot win when it comes to US media coverage.
Being perceived as boring is not the worst thing to happen to Israel. Israel is not alone. There is also an upcoming presidential election in Iran. And that election, too, has received scant coverage by US media.
I would argue that the Iranian election, scheduled for June 18, is much more important for the United States than the Israeli election. No major change in US/Israel relations will occur as a result of this Israeli election. There will be no step forward and no step backward. The stakes are higher with Iran. The candidates for that election are just starting to emerge, but it is already clear that the result of the election will have a huge impact on how Iran and the United States interact.
I’ll tell you a little secret. Unfortunately, if the names of the candidates – both in Israel and in Iran – were easier for Americans to pronounce, there would be more coverage. But for now, Israel has Joe Biden to thank for keeping them under the US news radar. Enjoy it while it lasts.
The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator.