Following the Geneva agreement between the six world powers and Iran, the Israelis were caught in the dilemma of whom they should believe: their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had said that this was a bad deal, a historical blunder and that the Iranians got everything they wanted and gave nothing back; or President Obama, who had praised the agreement because, in his words, “for the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
Where does one turn to in such confusion? To the newspapers, of course, which, in an ideal democracy, should help concerned citizens to make educated decisions. Most of the Israeli press, however, didn’t prepare its readers for this situation. In the days preceding the agreement, the newspapers were actually dealing with the real drama: The Eyal Golan affair.
Golan, in case you didn’t know, is a popular Israeli singer who was involved in an underage sex scandal. One of the most popular Israeli daily newspapers dedicated its front page and the next six pages to the following of every juicy detail. Only on page 8 did the readers find out that, meanwhile, in Geneva, the powers were cooking up a deal that might have enormous implications on their future.
To its credit, Ha’aretz, the quality (and hence lower-circulation) paper, put the sex scandal in proportion and dealt heavily with the Geneva agreement. No wonder it is called “The Newspaper for the Thinking People.” Except that there was too much thinking going on there, and again the readers were thrown into the dilemma: Should they believe the editorial, which encouraged them to give the deal a chance, or one of the six columnists who were lined up together, each giving a different interpretation?
I can tell you right away what I did: I picked the one columnist with whom I always agree, and read his column with satisfaction, congratulating myself that “great minds think alike.”
But maybe I’m too harsh on Israelis’ reading habits. Maybe they are just fed up with being endlessly frightened by their leaders, who keep showering on them doomsday prophecies.
For example, the ink hasn’t yet dried on the Geneva document and already there were the usual analogies in the papers to the notorious Munich Agreement, with the famous soothing remark of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to the British people, upon returning from his meeting with Herr Hitler: “I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
Now, how come that the Israelis, despite this alarming wake-up call, went home and indeed got “a nice quiet sleep?” Maybe because they know better than what’s written in the papers. Maybe they guess that Iran, which went to Geneva because it had been suffocated by the sanctions of the world powers and threatened by military attack, is not necessarily equivalent to omnipotent Nazi Germany, which had bullied weak Western powers in Munich in 1938.
Furthermore, contrary to the helpless state of the Jews before and during World War II, the Jews today have a state of their own and they can defend themselves. The Israelis are fed up with their leaders — and their newspapers — invoking the Holocaust to frighten them. Therefore, they expect their popular media to spare them that harassment and give them entertainment instead. Reality shows have never been so popular here.
On the other hand, and here is another interesting idea, maybe the Israelis are secretly reading the important stuff elsewhere, say, in the international newspapers. How about The Atlantic Magazine (Aug 9, 2012), for example, where Louis René Beres and Gen. John T. Chain — former commander-in-chief of U.S. Strategic Air Command, no less — argue that even if Iran will have a nuclear capability, Israel will probably be able to deter it effectively.
And how about the interview Saudi royal Prince Alwaleed ben Talal just gave to The Wall Street Journal (Nov.22, 2013)? I’m sure that the few Israelis who have read it were impressed by what the prince had referred to as “this startling alliance of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, and the Jewish state.” We are not standing alone in this region, then, vis-à-vis the threat of a nuclear, Shiite Iran. The Sunnis, who are the overwhelming majority in the Muslim world, are suddenly our unexpected bedfellows.
With all the reservations mentioned before, one has to give the Israeli newspapers credit where they deserve: Their horoscopes are good. They give the concerned citizens exactly what they need to make rational decisions. I, for one, was warned last week that I spend too much. Long live the newspapers!