Sometimes having a government mouthpiece like Israel Hayom masquerade as a legitimate news source can be useful in proving a point.
At least that’s the case on Thursday morning, as the Hebrew-language print press goes whole hog on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon taking aim at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Haaretz’s top headline reads “Kahlon to Netanyahu: When there are difficulties, you disappear. You are only interested in power,” and as if to prove the point, Israel Hayom — a newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu — almost completely leaves the story off its pages, in essence ignoring some very harsh criticism from the prime minister’s most senior coalition partner.
Haaretz reports that the conflict between Netanyahu and Kahlon over the fate of a new public broadcaster “wasn’t known, until it jumped into the public eye yesterday when Netanyahu called publicly for Kahlon to agree to a six-month delay in the broadcaster going on the air.”
The paper, citing “sources,” writes that at a meeting last week, Kahlon went off on Netanyahu, accusing him of playing games as if the finance minister were still under his thumb as a Likud member.
“You can’t play such games with me. There’s a human being sitting across from you. When there are achievements, you always show up. When there are problems, you disappear,” he’s quoted saying.
Yedioth also plays the Netanyahu/Kahlon spat prominently on its front page, calling it a “war in the government” and reporting most of the same facts as Haaretz. The paper notes that the whole issue came to a head at a coalition party that was supposed to be a “celebration of bourekas and jokes,” until Netanyahu got up to speak.
“Netanyahu got up on the stage and decided to again attack the public broadcaster. He put down the broadcaster’s workers, calling them ‘leftists,’ and turned to Kahlon and demanded he delay the opening of the broadcaster,” the paper reports.
What little coverage there is in Israel Hayom is buried on the bottom of page 35, next to a story about the US Fed rate hike and a feature about a woman who draws comics. Aside from the slim play, the paper also focuses not on Kahlon’s criticism but rather on Netanyahu telling Kahlon to spike the broadcaster altogether.
What Israel Hayom does lead with is another major fight shaping up within the coalition: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman taking heat from Education Minister Naftali Bennett over his threat to pull funding for a pre-army college headed by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein — he of “women shouldn’t serve in the military” infamy.
The paper devotes much of its front page and three more inside pages to the brouhaha, including three analysis/opinion columns.
“Rabbi Levinstein dropped a bomb and the whole political system is at war,” the paper’s lede reads, under the punny headline “Political free-for-all” which in Hebrew uses the same words as “rabbi battle.” (The pun is also repeated in a Yedioth headline).
While some look at whether Liberman was right or not, much of the press is actually tuned in to the Levinstein fight as a proxy battle between the defense minister and Bennett to prove their political mettle.
Israel Hayom columnist Mati Tuchfeld notes that the Levinstein case is part of a larger drive by Liberman to leave his right-wing roots behind and ensconce himself in a more moderate spot on the political spectrum.
“No longer is he trying to compete with Netanyahu and Bennett over the leadership of the right; now he is trying to court the center, where issues of religion and state drive the agenda and assaults on rabbis boost popularity, especially when made in defense of liberal values and equality for women in the IDF and beyond,” he writes. “It is not surprising, then, that left-wing parties applauded him on Thursday. The same Lieberman they deplored over the years has now become, thanks to one letter condemning a rabbi, their cultural hero.”
In Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben Dror Yemini turns the concept on its head, noting that Bennett himself was happy to clamp down on free speech when it meant keeping left-wingers from talking to students, painting him as the political operator who is using the case to ensconce himself further on the right of the political spectrum.
“If that’s the rule for lecturers, why should it be different for heads of other educational institutions? Why should a person at the head of a pre-army academy be allowed to call out against women being drafted. The answer is hypocrisy. Just hypocrisy,” he writes. “[Bennett] is against [free speech] only when it’s about leftists. He’s for it when you are talking about right wingers.”
Haaretz columnist Amos Harel notes both that the affair plays into the hands of Liberman trying to make himself the “responsible adult” of the right-wing coalition and for Bennett to show himself to the “protector” of the religious Zionist community. Meanwhile, caught in the middle of the politics is the actual military.
“Liberman’s frontal assault has led the religious Zionist community to close ranks. Both Knesset members and rabbis responded harshly. At the same time, Channel 10 reported on an open letter by dozens of rabbis who oppose religious soldiers serving in mixed-gender battalions,” he writes. “Even if the army brass are now trying to step back from an open confrontation with this community (they even refrained from issuing a condemnation of Levinstein’s remarks last week), they remain on the front lines of the clash.”