In recent weeks, a lot of attention has been given to the Israeli elections by the American press. In keeping with this theme, FishbowlDC caught up with NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, while on her way to the West Bank.
Mitchell schlepped all the way to Israel on Monday night, so she could report live from Tel Aviv during the elections — appearing on her MSNBC show and on Nightly News from Netanyahu’s party headquarters last night as he declared victory to an exuberant crowd of supporters. She will be reporting on the ground again tonight, so make sure to tune in!
We asked her about the role American media has played in Israeli politics, how their election coverage differs from our own, and the Israeli reaction to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. Enjoy!
FishbowlDC: In a general sense, how does election coverage in Israel differ from our own?
Andrea Mitchell: It is strikingly different because Israel is a parliamentary system with its own unique horse trading in order to create a majority of the Knesset, or Parliament, to create a government. The final polls ended on Friday – without the daily tracking polls we rely on in the U.S. to monitor the final trend lines. In Israel, it is ILLEGAL to publish a poll after the Friday before the election. In this case, that meant that the media misread the closing day momentum, because on Friday Netanyahu polled behind. The final four days revealed a change in his strategy: a big Sunday nightrally, a new position Monday against forming a Palestinian state, and even an election-day appearance get his base out by warning that Arab Israelis were “voting in droves.” Under Israeli law, a judge ruled that his appearance could not be broadcast live while the polls were open so Netanyahu posted it on Facebook saying “they cannot shut us up.” Critics called his final appeal fear-mongering.
FBDC: What has been the role of social media and the Israeli youth during these elections?
AM: The traditional media today are all banging their heads because they did not see Netanyahu’s victory coming. Social media was a big factor used by Netanyahu and the other parties – but Netanyahu’s campaign ads were deemed highly effective.
FBDC: Netanyahu’s declaration of “no two state solution” turned a lot of heads yesterday. What has been the reaction over there to this position?
AM: Reaction in Israel depends on people’s position: Palestinians are outraged and vow to go to the international court and the UN and get recognition. Left-wing parties and supporters of the peace process, including many young people, are appalled. But the hard line parties won – partly a delayed political response to last summer’s war with Gaza and their view that as long as Hamas is in the Palestinian coalition government, there is no partner for peace.
FBDC: Has the influence of American media played a major role in the elections thus far? More specifically, how has Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper “Israel HaYom” been viewed by the general public?
AM: There is a huge rivalry between Adelson’s free newspaper and Yedioth Ahranot – and the free newspaper now has even more clout for backing Netanyahu all the way.
FBDC: How has the Israeli media treated Netanyahu’s speech to Congress?
AM: The television media here is more anti-Netanyahu, and they played the speech to Congress as a move to score votes – and oppose Obama. But there is a consensus – right and left – here that the deal with Iran is a bad deal. Still, people were voting on pocketbook issues – inflation, high housing costs – and on the peace process and Gaza, not focusing as much on Iran.