The Israeli press seems to have restrained itself at the news of a letter sent to the Prime Minister’s Office accusing Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar of having an affair with a subordinate. State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has ordered the police to look into the origin of the letter and there could be a political sex scandal or a repeat of the Harpaz Affair, but until the fog clears, the papers are holding their judgment.
“Harassment or a plot” is Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page headline, laying out the two possibilities. Are the allegations true? Is the letter real or fake? If it is fake, who wrote it and why? Sa’ar’s camp has called the letter a forgery and an attempt to down his political career.
Yedioth included a small item of clarification. The paper itself was referenced in the letter for a profile it ran about Sa’ar two months ago in which it (ostensibly) chose not to report on the affair. In a two-sentence note, Yedioth writes, “Yedioth Ahronoth clarifies that the allegations in the letter to the prime minister regarding Minister Gideon Sa’ar are completely unfounded. We emphasize the details and events described in the letter, as they refer to Yedioth Ahronoth, are false.”
Though all the papers give front page coverage to the Sa’ar letter, on the inside it’s clear that their hearts are still focused on Prisoner X. Maariv leads with the story and reports how Zygier hanged himself from the bars in the bathroom with a sheet. The story reveals that Zygier was not considered a suicide risk so guards only checked in on him every 20-25 minutes.
Haaretz reports on the alleged transgression that landed Zygier in prison in the first place. Referencing another report from the Australian channel, ABC, Haaretz writes that Zygier allegedly passed secrets to Australia about Mossad operations, particularly about an Mossad operation in Italy. The paper reports that Zygier’s divulgence of information may have been a long time coming as the ASIO, the Australian agency tasked with internal security, had Zygier under surveillance for quite some time.
“What happened to our son?” asks the family of Zygier on Yedioth’s front page. The family broke its silence and told an Yedioth reporter, “We are requesting that the State of Israel reveal to us exactly what happened to our son.” The brief statement is the first word from the family since the story broke. The family also stated, “We support the call by the Australian government to Israel to reveal what exactly happened there.”
Israel Hayom includes in its coverage a report that Eyal Yinon, the Knesset legal adviser, has warned that “the Knesset chamber is not an area impervious to prosecution.” While not stating definitely one way or another if the Knesset members who spoke of Prisoner X on the floor of the Knesset could be tried for violating the gag order, Yinon did say that if MKs were unsure whether they could speak about something in the Knesset, they should check with relevant ministers or committees.
There is a new push to have Europe declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The new effort is driven by Bulgaria’s report on the bombing that occurred in Burgas in July that killed five Israelis and Bulgarian. Israel Hayom reports that EU foreign ministers discussed the issue on Monday after the Bulgarian foreign minister presented the findings of the report, in which the country laid the blame squarely on Hezbollah. The United States, which already lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, is pressuring the EU to do the same. The paper also quotes from a New York Times opinion piece written by Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon: “The Bulgarian investigation has once again proved to the world what Hezbollah has tried for years to hide: that it remains engaged in international terrorist attacks against civilians.”
While Bulgaria tries to convince the EU on Hezbollah, on the domestic front, Netanyahu is trying to convince parties to join his coalition. Yedioth reports that negotiations are stalled and there is only a week and a half left before Netanyahu has to ask for an extension from President Shimon Peres. The Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties are reporting that nothing has changed over the past week. Naftali Bennett said, “For a week there have not been meaningful negotiations. We have time, but the Jewish people don’t.”
There is still another week and a half before Peres might be requested to grant more time to Netanyahu, but his office is looking further ahead. Maariv reports that Peres will present Obama the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction when the US president visits in March. The paper reports that Obama is expected to give a speech upon receiving the medal from Peres. Peres received the American Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama in June 2012.
In the Haaretz op-ed, the paper revisits the Zygier case and calls for a public inquiry into the incident. The paper acknowledges off the bat that “we will never know the full details of the Ben Zygier affair.” The paper asks a series of questions about Mossad recruitment policy, Zygier’s arrest and detention, and how the prisoner outwitted his guards. “Answers are demanded,” the paper writes, “even if not all them are made public.”