In the wake of the unprecedented developments in Israeli politics — the result of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s April 9 election victory and his subsequent inability to form a coalition — Dana Weiss, one of Israel’s top journalists, spoke with the Cleveland Jewish News June 6 about Israeli politics, including the most recent and upcoming elections in Israel.
Weiss said covering the April 9 elections was very tense.
“From all the elections that I’ve covered – and I’ve been covering elections since 1996 – I think these were the most toxic and the most dividing. And it was the first time I think that social media and all the elements of safety and even ‘deepfake’ ... took such a major role in the election,” she said.
Deepfake is a form of human image synthesis that combines and superimposes existing images to create fake content. Weiss said it’s used to manipulate facts in ways difficult to detect.
“So, I think we still have to process what it means for the democratic procedure all over the world, but also what it means for Israeli politics,” she continued. “And the fact that we have now Round 2 is unbelievable. Certainly, the political systems, the media and I think the public are reaching these elections with no appetite or energy to go through this again.”
Weiss will speak at the Israel Bonds Cleveland’s Women’s Division Sponsors Luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 17 at Acacia Reservation, 26899 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst. A frequent traveler to the United States, she will also attend the Jerusalem Post’s conference in New York City during this trip.
Weiss began work as a legal affairs correspondent and was host of Israel’s “Meet the Press” for nearly a decade.
“I think we saw new parties and candidates using social media to get messages out there they wouldn’t do if they had to do it on traditional media,” she said, describing the recent election. “They could be more blunt. They could go lower. ... Although, all of the candidates, even the prime minister himself, didn’t give up on traditional media. What’s interesting is that these elections ... were again all about Prime Minister Netanyahu. ... So, it was either you were with (the) prime minister or you were on the team that wanted him gone. ... Prime Minister Netanyahu did come out of these elections very strong, and yet, very weak when it came to forming a coalition. That was very strange. The night of the election, he declared that it was a great victory. He managed to get 35 seats and the right-wing coalition. ... And a month-and-a-half later, that victory turned out not to be enough in order for him to form a coalition.”
Weiss said Israelis believe the elections scheduled for Sept. 17 are unnecessary. She also pointed out that some Israelis barely remember a time before Netanyahu was their leader. This summer, he will become the longest-serving prime minister of the state of Israel, serving for 13 years.
“First of all, I think the public is very angry and very tired,” she said. “They think that they would like a coalition to be formed, or Prime Minister Netanyahu should have returned the mandate to the president or give someone else a chance. There is no need to drag the country through another round of very expensive, unnecessary elections. ... In a way, it will be again, all about Prime Minister Netanyahu. ... It’s also a second chance for the center-center left to get their act together.”
Turning to the support of American Jews for Israel, Weiss said she believes it is critical to keep Israel a bipartisan issue.
“I think the main issue – the No. 1 concern of Israeli politicians and Israeli public and Israeli decision makers – is to keep Israel a bipartisan issue as much as possible,” she said. “I think that is an essential key. It’s instrumental in keeping the strong connection between the diaspora and the Jewish community and Israel on the right track.”
While she acknowledged Israel’s ministry formed to respond to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which aims to delegitimize the State of Israel, she said the overwhelmingly positive response of Europeans to the recently held Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv was a reality check.
She also said the biggest misconception among Americans about Israelis pertains to Israelis’ penchant for heated discourse.
“Sometimes when Americans meet Israelis, they sit around a table and think they are quarreling, not just talking,” she said. “Understanding the tempo and the way they discourse, the fact that they are very blunt. I would say, ‘don’t worry, this is an Israeli type of discussion.’ You are going to think they are yelling at each other. They’re fighting, but just when we get off stage, we are going to be best friends – and when we walk on stage they (we) are best friends. That’s the way we talk. That’s a big misconception.”