Benizri’s release and Netanyahu’s trip to Washington
Hebrew media review

Benizri’s release and Netanyahu’s trip to Washington

The Israeli media is abubble over the recent snowfall, and incensed by former Shas minister's early release from prison

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Former minister Shlomo Benizri prays at his house in Jerusalem after his release. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Former minister Shlomo Benizri prays at his house in Jerusalem after his release. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“The first of March will be remembered as a holiday for the Israeli criminal world,” a senior Prison Service officer told Maariv on Friday.

Israel’s front pages (except, notably, Yedioth Ahronoth, who buried the story on page seven) covered the release of over 600 murderers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers, security detainees, and white collar criminals from prison due to overcrowding. Most prominent among them was former Shas MK and health minister Shlomo Benizri, who earned an early release for good behavior despite the “moral turpitude” that landed him in jail.

Benizri was convicted of accepting bribes, breach of trust, conspiring to commit a crime and obstruction of justice in 2008, and was sentenced the following year to four years in prison. Israel Hayom’s headline reads “Benizri released early, we expected him to keep quiet.” On his release — and to the shock of the press — Benizri called the pain of his imprisonment “greater than [Gilad] Shalit’s” and scorned the justice system and president.

Haaretz says he already reneged on his earlier contrition for his offenses, and also quotes him saying: “I understood [Shalit’s] pain, I understood the emotion and frustration. I understand what pain is, except my pain is greater, I think.” Yedioth Ahronoth employs a play on words in expressing its disdain of Benizri’s release: “regret (charata) or rubbish (charta)?”

The media emphasize the fact that the Knesset committee that approved Benizri’s release is headed by Shas MK Amnon Cohen. Benizri’s release is “the Operation Entebbe of the Shas faction, who rescued one of its people from prison, but along with him hundreds of dangerous criminals were set free,” Maariv quotes a Prison Service official saying.

Danny Brenner writes in Israel Hayom that although the criminals are rejoicing their truncated sentences, Israeli society should not. “These people are criminals that society vomited up and sent away for inflicting damage against society and its values,” he says. Brenner blames the state for liberating these men against the will of the law, and the media for glorifying them as heroes.

Netanyahu en route to Washington despite investigation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is traveling to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama.

Maariv writes that although a public statement by both heads of state is unlikely, Netanyahu is looking for the US to intensify its pressure on Iran. “Obama will not threaten to attack Iran” Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted Obama administration officials saying. The officials also caution that the US’s policy of sanctions will not change.

Nonetheless, Obama officials have issued contradictory statements about Iran in the past few weeks. American Air Force chief, General Norton Schwartz, announced on Wednesday that the US has drafted plans for an attack on Iran. Haaretz says these mixed messages are encouraging Iran not to halt their drive to acquire the bomb.

Israel Hayom also posits that part of Netanyahu’s reason for meeting Obama is to get him to guarantee that the US will prevent Iran from going nuclear. Paraphrasing Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Israel Hayom writes that Netanyahu’s visit comes as time is running out.

Meanwhile, Haaretz’s reports the questioning of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday by the State Comptroller for financial impropriety in the last decade. The “Bibi-Tours” episode, now in its eleventh month, investigates allegations that Netanyahu and his wife Sarah traveled at the expense of businessmen and donors, that some of their trips were double-billed, and that he illegally obtained campaign funds.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu answered questions posed to him, but no comment was made by the comptroller or Prime Minister’s Office about the investigation. Questioning Netanyahu is considered the final step before a recommendation would be submitted to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to open a criminal investigation

Let it snow!

Snow is on everyone’s mind. As the storm of the season rolled over Israel, dumping a meter of rain on Jerusalem and 40 cm of snow in the Golan Heights, the media waited with bated breath for the capital to see its first flakes. Early Friday morning, snow fell in Jerusalem.

Yedioth Ahronoth, elated by the snowfall, writes that Israel looks like Europe. With record-breaking precipitation this winter, Israel Hayom calls the latest storm “the peak of winter.” Every paper featured photos of Israel draped in white.

More importantly, Lake Kinneret, Israel’s primary water source, is filling up. “The Kinneret is rising, reservoirs in the Golan are filled,” reads one headline. Maariv reports that those reservoirs overflowed their banks. Although plenty of rain has fallen, however, the Kinneret is still meters below the “red line”.

 “The right to remain silent”

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran was caught not singing Israel’s national anthem at the swearing-in ceremony for incoming Supreme Court President Asher Grunis on Tuesday. The incident sparked national furor and debate.

In response to criticism of the judge, Haaretz published an editorial on page two defending his actions. The newspaper writes that it is his right “not to sing the national anthem, ‘Hatikva,’ the law does not require him to do so, nor do the words of the song allow him.”

His not singing the song, Haaretz argues, is an important contribution to public discourse and as much of a right as free speech. Joubran reminds Israel of the complex situation of Israeli Arabs in a respectful fashion. Haaretz even goes so far in their editorial as to suggest, controversially, that Israel should consider amending the national anthem to better suit its non-Jewish minorities.

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