The name was missing from the front pages of Monday’s newspapers. It was not on most of the Israeli news sites’ home pages either, though you could find it on a couple of them, but only after scrolling down a bunch.
A day earlier, those same news sites were rife with concerns about former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak’s safety if people favoring the judicial reform meant to reverse Barak’s judicial revolution are allowed to demonstrate in front of his home.
Here’s a reality check: The concern ended up being much ado about nothing. Around 50 protesters showed up, far more supporters rallied next to them, and they were seemingly well-behaved. Instead of fessing up that the concerns came to naught, the news just quietly moved on.
There’s a lot to be said about this brief Barak-centric interlude. For example, it’s interesting that the political camp that was so worried the octogenarian jurist wouldn’t have a quiet evening at home is the exact same one that popularized the practice of protesting outside private homes back when Avichai Mandelblit was attorney-general and weighing whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. How quickly they seem to have forgotten that the very court they say they are protecting was the one that determined that protesting outside homes is permissible.
Yet what is especially glaring is that the way the Barak protests were foreshadowed and then swept under the rug is part of a pattern with so many of the “concerns” we’ve read about online and heard about from news anchors with furrowed brows in recent weeks.
The same thing happened with reports on reservists
Remember the panic over reservists shirking their duties to protest judicial reform? High-profile figures led the effort: pilots and elite intelligence officers signed petitions, at least three former IDF chiefs of staff commented to a similar effect.
Here’s a headline few outlets other than The Jerusalem Post dared publish: The actual number of reservists reporting for duty remained mostly stable. A defense establishment source said the number of reservists who explicitly said they would not show up for political reasons was in the dozens. Not hundreds, not thousands. Dozens. Air force pilots and officers who were not part of the protests expressed anger that their entire category was being portrayed as draft-dodgers, and the numbers justify their dismay. At least one Hebrew newspaper that also publishes in English falsely reported the number of paratroopers who report for reserve duty on average to make it look like this year’s numbers were alarmingly low.
Looking back at Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s March 25 speech, the one that led Netanyahu to fire him – before reversing weeks later – it’s apparent that he did not speak out because there weren’t enough Israelis reporting to duty. He was ringing an alarm that the divisions in society exacerbated in the debate over the judiciary were surfacing within the IDF.
“The fissure that is continually deepening in society is penetrating the IDF and security bodies. That is a clear and tangible danger to national security,” Gallant said, and made it amply clear that he is not on the side of the protesters: “We must stop the protests and reach out for dialogue.”
Yet the situation was framed very differently, as though there was a grassroots draft-dodging movement that brought down the judicial reform, and there was almost no mea culpa or renewed analysis when that turned out not to be the case.
Further examples were last week’s events on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Remembrance Day and Independence Day. For weeks, we were forewarned of major disruptions by protesters against the judicial reform at cemeteries holding memorials for fallen soldiers should cabinet ministers appear to pay their respects. A few ministers from ultra-Orthodox parties decided not to go to the gravesites because those who did not serve in the IDF were said to be major targets. UTJ leader Housing and Construction Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf announced that he would read Psalms at the Western Wall in the soldiers’ memory, instead.
When Yom Hazikaron finally arrived, once again, we found there was much ado about almost nothing. A couple of people booed National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in Beersheba, which brought a cascade of push notifications. Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel was hounded out of a Druze cemetery for reasons that had nothing to do with judicial reform; the bereaved families were angry about the Kaminitz Law cracking down on illegal construction. And that was it. The memorial events proceeded mostly normally and respectfully, perhaps even more so than last year when then-prime minister Naftali Bennett was disrupted by a demonstrator on live TV.
Of secondary concern, but still making plenty of headlines, were concerns that the central Yom Ha’atzmaut torch-lighting ceremony would be overshadowed by protesters. Transportation Minister Miri Regev did not help by suggesting that, like the FIFA rule about soccer fans who run onto the field mid-game, Israeli broadcasters be required to turn the cameras away from anyone who would disrupt the proceedings.
Ultimately, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Attendees reported hearing some loud car horns honking outside, but that once the music started, nothing. Akiva Novick, who hosted the KAN telecast, wrote on his Instagram that “somehow, despite (and maybe because of) the concerns about disruptions and provocations, the ceremony this year was more beautiful and exciting than in previous years... There were some annoying things, like every year (touches of politics...) but they were dwarfed by the bottom line – these guys know how to organize a ceremony.”
Things certainly have been tense in politics in the past few months. The escalation from tense to apocalyptic, however, could have been avoided with a more responsible presentation of the facts and the publication of reality checks when the drumbeat of fears and concerns don’t have the expected outcome. Whether for political reasons or the cynical pursuit of more clicks and subscriptions, that path was rarely chosen.