Now that the peace talks are over and done with, the press is free to move on to a variety of different stories. And yet one issue from the failed negotiations with the Palestinians remains in the headlines: US Secretary of State John Kerry referring to Israel and apartheid in the same breath. His semi-apology features across the board in the papers.
But the top story in Haaretz on Wednesday is a report citing Israeli intelligence officials saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad is secretly stashing away chemical weapons that he promised to ship out of the country and destroy. The paper makes no comment as to whether this revelation will have any impact on Assad’s chances in the upcoming presidential election.
Breathe easy, though. The Israeli intelligence community doesn’t suspect Syria will use the weapons of mass destruction against Israel. Haaretz adds that for the time being the defense establishment has no intention of backpedaling on its decision to halt production and distribution of gas masks to Israeli citizens.
Israel Hayom cleaves to the ongoing legal saga surrounding former prime minister Ehud Olmert, reporting in its top story that Olmert delivered his final statements ahead of sentencing on May 13. The “big drama” of the day in court was when Olmert’s lawyer said there could be no comparison between Olmert’s acceptance of NIS 500,000 and a local politician’s taking of NIS 1.3 million in bribes as the basis of Olmert’s punishment. In response to the lawyer’s comment the judge burst out that “NIS 500,000 is not trivial!” and banged on the table. “NIS 500,000 is a huge sum! It’s a huge sum! It’s a very significant amount!”
Yedioth Ahronoth also runs Olmert’s final statements in the front part of the paper, filling its opening pages with quotes from the second-to-last hearing in the never-ending legal story. It quotes Olmert defending himself to the last against the charges of bribery for which he has already been convicted, and saying that he will take the matter to the Supreme Court.
“I never asked for and never received bribes, not indirectly and not directly, not for myself and not for my friends and not for my family,” he told the judge. “The court’s verdict was a very difficult shock for me. I know that the verdict was based on a fundamental mistake, and that it isn’t correct. Nobody knows it better than I. I deliberated a lot about what to say here, and decided that for the reason of the respect of the court and the judges of Israel that I will cut it short and not shout the cry that I want to let loose from my heart.”
The paper’s main front page photo, however, is devoted to a burred-out member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit who received a Chief of Staff Citation from Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. The top commando unit received commendations for its “successful execution of a complex series of operations in the past year, which significantly contributed to the security of the state while endangering the lives” of its personnel. While the specific nature of the operations were not disclosed, Sayeret Matkal’s most recent mission made public was the interception of a ship bearing arms that the IDF claimed it caught en route from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The awards were given to the soldiers in a closed-door ceremony by President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and the chief of staff.
As for Kerry and his comments concerning Israel on the eve of the breakdown of peace talks, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the US diplomat apologized for warning that the Jewish state could become an apartheid state. “If I could, I would have chosen a different word,” the tabloid quotes him saying in its headline. Israel Hayom runs Kerry’s comment up the flagpole, putting “Kerry apologizes” beneath the masthead. It opts for his clarifying remark saying that “Israel is not an apartheid state” as its headline. Haaretz attributes Kerry’s backpedaling to “a wave of political and personal attacks against him” for warning that Israel could potentially become an apartheid state in the absence of a peace deal.
Two of the papers’ editorial cartoons go after Kerry for his apartheid remark, making light of what quickly became a major political issue (even though, as Kerry pointed out in his apology, former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak made similar comments). Haaretz runs a cartoon showing a masked Kerry spray-painting “apartheid state” on a wall with the caption “hate crime.”
Yedioth Ahronoth shows Kerry as a doctor with Israel as a patient. Kerry says, “There’s a possibility of apartheid,” to which the Israeli responds, “I want a second opinion.” Kerry replies, “There’s no possibility of apartheid.”