Netanyahu and Azaria on the ropes
Hebrew media review

Netanyahu and Azaria on the ropes

Former IDF generals come to the defense of the chief of staff, and the prime minister is in hot water

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.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

A new week dawns and the reverberations of the Elor Azaria trial are still shaking up Israeli society and the media. But if that weren’t enough, this weekend’s revelations concerning police inquiries into allegations of criminal activity by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vie for attention.

The lead story in Haaretz addresses the investigation into Netanyahu, reporting that the suspicions of wrongdoing are backed up by recordings in which he’s heard striking a “quid pro quo deal” with a businessman to help keep Netanyahu in power and offering “achievements estimated to be worth a fortune” in return.

While Haaretz turns the spotlight on Netanyahu and the police investigation into alleged misconduct, Israel Hayom keeps its sights on Azaria in what seems an obvious effort not to draw public attention to the probe. The paper reports on the claims of Netanyahu accepting gifts from an Israeli businessman on Page 7, but in true Israel Hayom fashion leads with the prime minister’s attorney’s dismissal of any wrongdoing.

On Friday Yaakov Weinroth dismissed the TV reports about the investigation, saying there “is not and cannot be any scrap of prohibition” of someone giving his friend a cigar.

Amir Oren blends the two issues into one op-ed in Haaretz, saying that any Israeli concerned about democracy needs to stand by IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and against politicians who rally around Azaria. In his rambling op-ed, he touches on US President-elect Donald Trump, Netanyahu’s wife, Elor Azaria, the Six Day War and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Netanyahu, like Trump, he charges, “prefers his personal benefit over the institutions of law and security.”

He says a group of former soldiers, including a comrade of the prime minister’s late brother, are organizing a rally in support of Eisenkot. “Justice, even if it isn’t the majority, is with Alec Ron and his friends,” Oren says, referring to the troops behind the demonstration. “In Eisenkot we trust; in Netanyahu we don’t.”

After Wednesday’s demonstrations outside Tel Aviv’s IDF headquarters protesting a military tribunal handing Azaria a guilty verdict that featured calls to violence against Eisenkot, Yedioth Ahronoth musters a platoon of generals in support of the top officer. Former IDF chiefs of staff (some of whom also served in the Knesset) Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Dan Halutz, Shaul Mofaz, Benny Gantz all got together at the paper’s offices in a message against those who threatened Eisenkot. Former defense minister and general Ehud Barak, who spoke out on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s incident, would have joined, the paper says, but he was out of the country.

“We are letting a small minority control and shout,” Eisenkot’s immediate predecessor Gantz tells the paper. “We need to stop shouting and start thinking. How did we get into the situation where Eisenkot and the judges need security from [fellow] Jews? We have a strong, serious and steady chief of staff. I don’t worry for him, only for the state.”

The gist of the rest of the generals’ comments follow the same vein: “We stand here to support the chief of staff, the army, and its values,” Mofaz tells the paper. Barak suffices with a laconic response: “With the chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and with you, wholeheartedly, from the end of the world.”

A plea deal for Azaria is what runs as lead story in Israel Hayom, which reports that military prosecutors are expected to offer a reduced sentence in exchange for his lawyers dropping an appeal. Azaria’s lawyers tell the paper, however, that they have yet to hear from the prosecutors.

After the ugly protests outside the military court by members of the far right, the paper is on the defensive, and op-ed author Haim Shine says it’s the “shrill minority” that’s responsible. Along the way, he writes that “every intelligent person understands that peace is a distant vision and not practical because of the extensive demands of the Palestinians, who aren’t prepared to recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish people. There remains only a small and limited minority that still, mostly in international forums, blames Israel for the conflict.”

Changing subject once again, he says, “You don’t need to be a poll expert to assess that most citizens believe the soldier Elor Azaria should be pardoned, among other reasons in light of past precedents.”

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