For months now, close watchers of Hebrew media have been tracking a shift of the Israel Hayom tabloid, the most-read newspaper in the country, away from what used to be its lockstep support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mostly, signs of the shift have been subtle. A story that could make Netanyahu look bad — like the submarine scandal — would find its way to the front page, instead of page 13, where it would once have been buried. Instead of leading off with a quote from Netanyahu defending his actions, the paper might just stick to the actual news.
On Wednesday, though, a day after Netanyahu and his ministers folded to international pressure and removed metal detectors from the Temple Mount, the paper seems to be done with subtle, accusing the prime minister on its front page of “displaying helplessness” in the decision and seemingly cementing the move away from “Bibi-ton” (a nickname for Israel Hayom made by amalgamating Netanyahu’s nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper) to the more right-wing Naftali Bennett-ton.
“It’s not just the feeble response of removing the metal detectors,” Mati Tuchfeld writes in a column in which he accuses Netanyahu of abandoning his political base of right-wing Jews. “The problem began even earlier, with the nebbishy atmosphere that accompanied them going up. The Israeli response to an attack in which two cops were killed at the Temple Mount was so hasty and insignificant that there was no doubt that any opposition move by Arabs or the Waqf would lead to the surrender of the State of Israel, which has run the site since 1967 as a fig leaf.”
It’s a sign of how far the paper has turned its back on Netanyahu that Haaretz, normally leading the opposition to the prime minister, is actually less harsh, with columnist Amos Harel on the front page praising the cabinet for making the right decision in removing the devices, though also blaming Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan for getting Israel into the mess in the first place.
“Not for the first time, circumstances forced Netanyahu to fold and scrap the hard-line positions he prefers presenting to his domestic audience,” he writes, referencing other times under Netanyahu that Israel has been forced to back down because of army or Mossad flubs. “But this time, the security services’ errors aren’t the main reason for the retreat. Granted, the police recommended installing metal detectors after the attack that killed two policemen on July 14. But ever since, Netanyahu and Erdan have been responsible for the escalation of the crisis by rejecting the advice of the IDF, the Shin Bet and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, all of which recommended removing the detectors before last Friday’s prayer services on the Mount.”
In fact it’s Yedioth Ahronoth, historically no big friend of Netanyahu, but reportedly willing to play ball for the right price, which seems to give the prime minister the most succor, with a front page showing him hugging the guard he brought back from Jordan — the victory he has sought to broadcast — and a top headline quoting Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman justifying the decision to remove the sensors.
But an accompanying column by Shlomo Pytorovsky echoes Israel Hayom’s right-wing anger over the move, criticizing Netanyahu for trying to play up anything in the removal, and the return of the guard from the Israeli Embassy in Jordan who shot and killed two people during an apparent attack, as a victory.
“True, the detectors themselves are not basic to our existence. But Israeli control over the Temple Mount is definitely a value of its own. The question of whether the metal detectors increased security is for the defense people. But the fact is that there is no argument that removing them for these reasons is a troubling strike against the shattered remains of Israeli control of the Temple Mount. Even if Israel had other interests, more critical ones, that justify the move, it’s definitely not a reason to celebrate,” he writes.
Another reason not to celebrate, the paper reports, is that the guard is not yet out of the woods. According to the Vienna Convention, which they cited in claiming diplomatic immunity, Israel still needs to investigate the guard and present Jordan with the findings.
“The guard Ziv will soon be summoned to the police for questioning. The estimation is that since this is a case involving killings, he will be interrogated under caution,” the paper reports, though it adds that the move is standard.
The paper and much of the other media take it as a given that the metal detectors came down as part of a deal with Jordan for the guard’s return, though both governments have denied it. In Haaretz, Barak Ravid sheds some light on the diplomatic efforts and Netanyahu getting the Americans involved, including a high level game of telephone Sunday night as the prime minister tried unsuccessfully to reach King Abdullah and turned to his envoy in the US Ron Dermer.
“Dermer called US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and America’s special peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt and asked them for help. A senior Israeli official said that Kushner and Greenblatt updated Trump about the developing crisis in Jordan. According to the official, Trump instructed the two to intervene with the Jordanians and prevent the crisis from escalating. Kushner contacted high-level officials in the Jordanian government and during the night between Sunday and Monday (Israel time) managed to reach Abdullah and asked him to help find a solution that would prevent the Jordanian-Israeli tensions – already high because of the events on the Temple Mount – from getting worse. One of Kushner’s requests was that the Israeli diplomats be allowed to leave Jordan,” he writes.
“At the same time, Trump sent Greenblatt to the region to get involved in solving both the embassy crisis and the Temple Mount crisis. At the White House’s instructions, the acting American ambassador to Jordan also contacted senior Jordanian Foreign Ministry officials and heads of the kingdom’s security services, asking them to help bring a quick end to the predicament.”