The caretaker and the coalition chairman
Hebrew media review

The caretaker and the coalition chairman

From reports about a former PM's residence employee turning state witness to coverage of a Likud bigwig's daughter's wedding, it's starting to feel like most stories lead back to the probes against Netanyahu

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Menny Naftali, the former caretaker at the Prime Minister's Residence, protests outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 1, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Menny Naftali, the former caretaker at the Prime Minister's Residence, protests outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 1, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Hebrew-language newspapers continue to cover and muse about the ongoing investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, but they look to different angles, as even the most seasoned political analyst can have a tough time tracking all the developments and intricacies of the different probes and their implications.

Israel Hayom’s complicated, on-and-off support of Netanyahu in past weeks does not stop it from leading with a not-at-all-subtle, yet surprisingly weak, attempt to discredit Menny Naftali, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence and one of the current leaders of a weekly protest outside the attorney general’s house against the handling of a number of graft cases involving the premier and his family.

Yesterday, Channel 2 reported that the state prosecution “was treating Naftali’s status as that of a state witness” and making efforts to enlist him to testify against his former employer.

“The left and the media have branded [Naftali] a social activist, despite his past,” reporter Akiva Bigman writes. To which past is the Israel Hayom contributor referring? It is not at all clear from Bigman’s piece, which is largely a series of questions — unanswered and unaddressed — about Naftali’s motives, as well as anecdotal descriptions of his ostensible new ties to left-wing, “radical” activists. In fairness, the daily promises a “full report” on Naftali this Friday, but as of today, Bigman offers little evidence that Naftali’s past in any way taints his current status.

Fellow Israel Hayom writer Haim Shain’s attack on Naftali is much more detailed, and underlines the paper’s real problem with the former caretaker and his involvement in the protests against the Netanyahus. “It is suddenly evident, to the surprise of many, that the social justice and integrity warrior, the knight of government quality and the fight against corruption, and the organizer of protests outside the house of the attorney general, is an alleged criminal, who signed a state’s witness agreement,” Shain writes.

“Naturally, the testimony of a state witness is highly questionable and unreliable,” the Israel Hayom contributor argues, leading him to arrive at the conclusion that the recent developments in the investigations involving the prime minister and his wife are strengthening the notion among the public that there is an “atmosphere of persecution aimed at replacing the leadership without having to go to elections.”

Current Haaretz writer and former Israel Hayom journalist Dan Margalit also discusses the probes into Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, arguing that the investigations have become so central that they have created or exacerbated many other problematic issues in the country. Among these, Margalit writes, is the debate over the police arrest last weekend of leaders of the weekly protests outside the home of the attorney general, and the effort by the prime minister and his wife to suppress information about Sara’s employment as a psychologist for the Jerusalem Municipality.

Margalit writes that it will be pretty embarrassing if it becomes evident that Sara did not, in fact, work all that much for the municipality, and argues that the Netanyahus themselves would have no one but themselves to blame for bringing this fact to center stage, due to the prime minister’s frequent mention in speeches of his wife’s position as a child psychologist.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are seen as they enter the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on March 14, 2017. (Moti Kimchi/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are seen as they enter the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on March 14, 2017. (Moti Kimchi/Pool)

Yedioth Ahronoth stays away from Netanyahu for the most part, and instead focuses on the Israeli housing market. The paper somberly warns that if current trends continue, the Jewish state can expect a major economic crisis in the near future.

“No one is buying apartments,” the main headline reads. According to the daily, the number of homes purchased in the last quarter was 24,000, 15% lower than the previous quarter. Yedioth attributes the stagnation in the market to “investors running away, young couples waiting for [the government sponsored] housing lottery program, and contractors insisting on high prices.”

But Yedioth does still save some space for matters concerning the prime minister. The paper covers one of the most anticipated events of the year, especially if you’re a member of the Likud party — the wedding of coalition chairman David Bitan’s daughter, Galit.

Bitan, one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters, received major compliments from the prime minister at the event last night. Netanyahu recalled that two years ago he offered the position of coalition chairman to Bitan because the prime minister believed he “would be good.” Now, Netanyahu exclaimed that Bitan has surprised him. “You were better than I even imagined,” the prime minister told his loyalist.

On Saturday, some 100 Likud supporters held, for a second week, a counter-demonstration outside the attorney general’s house organized by Bitan as a show of support for Netanyahu. “They are trying to pressure the attorney general to finish the investigations and indict the prime minister. This sort of pressure is illegal and anti-democratic,” Bitan told the crowd at that event, referring to the anti-Netanyahu protests. “You cannot say that what they are doing does not affect the investigation. Of course it does.”

No wonder Netanyahu hailed Bitan as “an excellent coalition chairman” last night.

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