Bringing in the new year with scandals and banned books
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Hebrew media review

Bringing in the new year with scandals and banned books

Hebrew press starts 2016 with two black eyes for Israel's right -- Sara Netanyahu gets questioned, Bennett wages a campaign against literature

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem Labor Court on October 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem Labor Court on October 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Should old scandals be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Not if the Hebrew press has anything to say about it.

Besides Yedioth Ahronoth‘s and Israel Hayom‘s compulsory well-wishes for the new year (Haaretz was apparently too cool to notice the holiday), Israeli newspapers are chock full of reports on the scandals of 2015, which are sure to continue being 2016’s top stories.

The front pages of the first issue of the new year were not kind to Israel’s right wing, with stories on Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s increasingly absurd war on a book — whose sales have boomed since the start of his campaign, the papers point out — and the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu’s interrogation the day before for alleged financial irregularities.

A man walks with balloons past a festive "2016" balloon display on New Year's Eve in central Jerusalem, December 31, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A man walks with balloons past a festive “2016” balloon display on New Year’s Eve in central Jerusalem, December 31, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Bennett’s war on literature began earlier in the week when his ministry decided not to allow Dorit Rabinyan’s novel, “Gader Haya,” or “Live Border,” to be taught in Israeli public schools, as the book features a romance between a Jewish Israeli woman and Muslim Palestinian man and “slanders IDF soldiers,” according to Bennett.

Haaretz, which broke the story, gives its latest report on the incident prime real estate above the fold.

“Broad protest against the book banning,” its headline reads. The left-leaning newspaper also features a story on the alienation and hatred facing Jewish-Muslim/Israeli-Palestinian couples in Israel.

Illustration photo of the novel "Gader Haya" written by Israeli author Dorit Rabinian. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustration photo of the novel “Gader Haya” written by Israeli author Dorit Rabinian. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The very essence of the book, that love can cross borders, is not just in the books,” one of the people interviewed tells Haaretz.

The right-wing Israel Hayom focuses more on the irony that Bennett’s attempts to ban the books — or at least not accept it into the official Israeli curriculum — has led “Gader Haya” to fly off the shelves.

The more politically central Yedioth Ahronoth opts instead to lay out the controversy, quoting literary and government authorities in its report on the ongoing drama playing out in the Education Ministry.

Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

In an op-ed for the newspaper, however, famed Israeli author Amos Oz comes out strongly against Bennett’s decision, saying it was “maybe influenced by the Lehava organization,” a group that some in Israel have called to have deemed a terrorist group for the often violent means they use to prevent “the daughters of Israel” from entering relationships with non-Jewish men.

Oz calls out Bennett and his ministry for not taking parts of the Bible out of the official curriculum. “In everything dealing with sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews, the Bible is a thousand times more dangerous than Rabinyan’s book,” he writes.

Joseph, Ephraim and other biblical characters either engaged in sexual intercourse with non-Jewish women or were the products of it, he says. “Maybe it’s time that we stopped teaching literature and Bible in our schools.”

That way, Oz writes facetiously, “the kids will know now and forever that culture is only the ‘kosher’ and nice things.”

She is not a crook

Israel’s first lady, Sara Netanyahu, was brought in for questioning on Thursday for allegedly misusing state funds for the Prime Minister’s Residence, in a black-eye for her husband that has been playing out over the past few months.

Celebrity interior designer Moshik Galamin expresses to Sara Netanyahu his shock at the dilapidated state of the kitchen at the Prime Minister's Residence. (YouTube: screenshot)
Celebrity interior designer Moshik Galamin expresses to Sara Netanyahu his shock at the dilapidated state of the kitchen at the Prime Minister’s Residence. (YouTube: screenshot)

The Israel Police’s high-profile crime unit, has been looking into multiple suspected irregularities surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence, including the hiring of electrician Avi Fahima, a Likud Central Committee member. A committee charged with overseeing residence expenditures — and which included the Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser — had ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed nonetheless.

During her interrogation, Sara denied all charges, Israel Hayom, the Bibi-loving tabloid, reports, employing its beloved technique of putting headlines in quotation marks, despite no one actually saying them in the article.

Yedioth Ahronoth, the decidedly non-Bibi-loving tabloid, uses a particularly unflattering photograph of the first lady in its report on her five-hour questioning by police.

“I don’t deal with that stuff at all,” Netanyahu reportedly told her interrogator, Yedioth writes.

“Sara won’t sing,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes, in an a full page, rambling article whose title is a play on words (Sara and sing are spelled the same in Hebrew), but has little to do with the piece’s content.

“The week, in the middle of which a former prime minister has been sentenced finally and irreversibly to prison, ended with the wife of the ruling prime minister being questioned under caution, on the suspicion of dishonestly taking goods,” Verter starts his article. “But other than the coincidence in timing, there’s nothing connecting the two incidents.”

Sara Netanyahu is a private figure, while Ehud Olmert, whose appeal was shot down by the Supreme Court earlier in the week, was a public official when he committed his crime.

“If Sara actually gets caught up in this, who will pay the price, her or him?” Verter asks. He doesn’t provide an answer, but it’s something to think about.

But from there, Verter jumps inexplicably from Sara Netanyahu’s interrogation to last week’s Likud elections to the committee that names judges to the Likud’s first gay Knesset member Amir Ohana to Sunday’s cabinet meeting, in which Benjamin Netanyahu struggled to open a wine bottle.

What does Bibi’s difficulty in cracking a cork mean? Something, but it’s apparently not important enough for Verter to explain. “The human spirit triumphs,” he writes. Okay.

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