B’Ivrit | Israeli Dailies Pounce on Biden’s Lackluster Debate Performance

By | Jul 08, 2024
Trump and Biden made front page news in Israeli after their debate

1. Biden takes over the Israeli news cycle

The June 27 presidential debate, which may have changed the course of the election, caught Israeli media at an inconvenient time. All main TV channels carried the debate live (at 4 in the morning!), but because print newspapers do not come out on Saturdays, they had to wait until Sunday for their first chance to tell readers about America’s political drama. And when they did, it was over the top.

“The Debate and the Collapse,” read the main headline of Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest centrist publication. The commentary column alongside the article, written by Nadav Eyal, was simply titled “Catastrophe.”

Other publications also featured the debate at the top of their front pages, with Israel Hayom leading its special four-page coverage of the debate with the headline: “Calls Intensify for Biden to Withdraw.” Also on the front page, two of the right-leaning publication’s columnists found it hard to conceal their schadenfreude at Biden’s demise. “Now it’s clear: Biden is weak and is driven by extremists,” wrote Amnon Lord. And just above him on the front page, Avi Ben-Zvi wrote about an “embarrassing show of weakness and hesitation.”

Liberal-leaning Haaretz reported on calls by Democrats to replace Biden on the ticket, while Maariv, a centrist daily, chose a tabloid-style title for their front page story: “America is Shocked: Trump Defeated Biden in Presidential Debate.”

Make no mistake, the U.S. presidential debate was, by all standards, big news that touches the lives not only of Americans but of the entire world. And still, it took place while Israel is in a state of war and when 120 hostages (Israelis and foreigners) are still being held captive by Hamas. Biden’s garbled responses and mental lapses on the stage in Atlanta overtook some very urgent news for Israelis, including increasing threats from Iran to launch a full-scale war against Israel, reports of more Israeli servicemen killed in Gaza and along the northern border, and a political crisis threatening to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

What led editors at every major Israeli publication to go all-in on the Biden story?

It wasn’t just the understanding that America’s political turmoil is reverberating around the world and will impact Israel too. The likelier explanation is that in Israel, even while in the midst of a terrible war, people still recognize a good political drama when they see one. Biden’s fall from grace is a heck of a story, one that no one wants to miss.

2. A challenge for the ultra-Orthodox media: reporting on Kamala Harris

Vice President Harris doesn’t usually get much attention in the Israeli press—not even her comments in March calling for a ceasefire drew much attention in Israel. The last time she made headlines was over a year ago, when expressing veiled criticism of Israel’s judicial reform plan during a speech at the Israeli embassy’s Independence Day celebration. 

But with her name now out as the potential presidential nominee if Biden steps down, the Israeli media is showing some interest. 

“Reports: Kamala Harris Emerges as Biden’s Likely Replacement,” reported the ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Hadarim. The story, as is common in many Haredi publications, did not feature a photo of Harris since ultra-Orthodox media outlets avoid showing images of women. Instead, editors opted for a generic picture of the White House. The modern-Orthodox news website Srugim had no problem running a photo of Harris, alongside Biden, with their story. 

But the best one was at Kikar Hashabat, another news website serving the ultra-Orthodox community: “According to The Wall Street Journal, the most suitable person to replace Biden is actually a woman.”

3. It’s all about the Israeli angle

It may be a sign of provincialism, or simply a legitimate expression of national self-interest, but much of the discussion in Israel following Biden’s dismal appearance in the presidential debate focused on the centuries-old question: Is it good for the Jews? Or in this case, how will it impact Israel?

The consensus in the Israeli media, emerging immediately after the debate ended and before the dust even began to settle, was that Biden is now weak and vulnerable and that Israel will therefore be in greater danger, at least until next January when—according to almost all pundits and commentators in Israel—Donald Trump will return to the White House.

“Officials in Jerusalem are wondering how Biden’s post-debate weakness will matter for Israel. The concern in Israel is that an American president who is perceived by Israel’s enemies as being weak will encourage them to increase their activity against Israel,” wrote Gil Tamary, foreign news editor for Channel 13 news.


Writing in Ma’ariv, liberal-leaning columnist Ephraim Ganor noted that while “there is no doubt that Biden is a true friend of Israel,” the presidential debate exposed the fact that America is in the midst of a leadership crisis and that what he describes as “this American weakness,” could cause regional players in the Middle East to join an anti-American axis.

Surprisingly, the most sympathetic writing about Biden was found in Makor Rishon, a publication associated with the settler movement. Columnist and author Ari Shavit praised Biden’s unwavering support for Israel and, in what could come across as a premature political eulogy, wrote that “for the Jewish state and for the Jewish people, Biden’s potential departure from the White House is a source for sorrow and concern.”

4. Covering international drama from afar

The Israeli media’s tendency for navel-gazing when covering major international news is not limited to Biden and the American presidential race. Recent elections in the UK and in France also devolved quickly into a discussion about what newly elected officials think about Israel. Do they support Palestinian statehood? And will they be tougher on Netanyahu than their predecessors?

Following Labour’s victory in Britain, Israeli media outlets rushed to provide their audience with profiles of Keir Starmer, the UK’s new prime minister. (Incidentally, his wife is Jewish and the couple does Shabbat dinner every Friday night.) “He fought Antisemitism and Led Labour Back to the Center: This is Britain’s New PM,” read the headline at the Netanyhau-aligned Walla, one of Israel’s most popular news websites. KAN-11, Israel’s public broadcasting corporation, also focused on Starmer’s battle against antisemitism in his party, while describing the new prime minister as a “supporter of Israel, and an avid Arsenal fan.”

Israel Hayom, which is owned by GOP mega donor Miriam Adelson, managed to find something to complain about: Shabana Mahmood, who was appointed by Starmer to serve as lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, “expressed in the past pro-Palestinian views and even posted on social media using the BDS hashtag.”

Then came Sunday’s elections in France, which ended with an unexpected victory for the left-wing bloc. 

Less than an hour after polls closed in France, nearly all Israeli news outlets sent out alerts with the news that Jean-Luc Melenchon, who led his party to its electoral success, announced that a left-wing government in France will recognize, as soon as possible, an independent Palestinian state. There was a clear sense of “Oy vey” accompanying these alerts.

Israel Hayom reported that the French Jewish community is “shivering” with fear and is engulfed with concern “following the victory of Melenchon the antisemite.”

Maariv was quick to post an instant analysis piece after the closing of the polls, quoting an Israeli expert stating that “the results of the French elections are a political disaster for Israel.”

5. Escapism Israel-style

How do you find a moment of solace with a war going on for nine months and no end seen to the fighting?

How about a nice vacation?

Israelis love to go abroad, it’s almost a national obsession. During summer vacation, on holidays or even for a quick weekend, Israelis used to flock to Ben-Gurion Airport and board low-cost flights to any destination that would take them out of the region: from European capitals to the islands of Thailand.

All this came to a stop on October 7. Not only were Israelis too shocked and bereft to think about a fun vacation, there were also very few options for those who wanted to go, since most airlines stopped their flights to Israel. Now, the gates are reopening and Israelis are ready to take a much-needed break.

The Israeli media is there to help, with the return of an all-time favorite: reporting on the latest hotspot.

”Greece and Cyprus are back,” announced Noga Nir Neeman on Channel 13. Neeman is Israel’s top authority on travel destinations and the best overseas deals awaiting Israeli tourists, and she’s already on the road checking out the new all-inclusive hotels.

Globes, a business daily, explained that Israelis are now avoiding countries they feel are hostile to Israel, and so Turkey, a hugely popular destination, as well as France and Egypt, are out. Instead, according to the report, Israelis will be taking off this summer to Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. In another report, Globes noted that Israelis are even heading this year to Azerbaijan and Albania. And just in case you’re wondering—a nice trip to Baku or Tirana from Israel will only set you back $600.

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