The second coming of Kahlon
Hebrew media review

The second coming of Kahlon

By rescuing the middle class and taking Netanyahu to school, the treasurer is made a hero anew

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends a Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimuna in the southern city of Ashkelon, on April 17, 2017 (Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attends a Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimuna in the southern city of Ashkelon, on April 17, 2017 (Flash90)

In 2011, then communications minister and loyal Likud member Moshe Kahlon led a revolutionary deregulation of the Israeli cellphone market, ushering in reforms that led to massive drops in cellphone bills and making him a hero in a country where cellphone usage is among the highest per capita in the world.

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rode high on his underling’s success, famously telling his other Likud ministers to “be Kahlons.”

Since Kahlon re-entered politics, under his own brand, in 2015, he’s formed an often-uneasy alliance with Netanyahu, who has likely been waiting for his popular former subordinate to drop the other shoe, knowing that it may not redound to his credit this time around.

On Tuesday, it finally happened, with Kahlon revealing a plan to benefit the middle class — and even before the fine print has been fully consumed he’s already being seen as a hero by some in the print press Wednesday morning, both for the actual proposal and for the fact that he went behind Netanyahu’s back, keeping the prime minister from having any chance at stealing his thunder.

Nowhere is the second coming of Kahlon more glorified than in Yedioth Ahronoth, which has made no secrets of its lack of love for Netanyahu.

“The family will profit,” reads the tabloid’s massive front-page headline alongside a picture of a smiling Kahlon (and a smaller scowling Netanyahu in the corner.)

The paper’s three pages of coverage include a main wrap of the news of the announcement (“The plan is a complete package that can be implemented immediately,” the paper writes), a sidebar on the angry denunciations of Likud loyalists, some political punditry, a graphic representations of the announced benefits (mostly tax credits and a guaranteed minimum income), and a Q & A using a random Israeli family as an example. “I don’t really understand these things, but if it will give us more money every month then we’ll be very happy,” Dad Barak Segal is quoted saying, summing up the reaction of most Israelis.

The papers are more concerned, though, with the political fight shaping up around the announcement, and the paper notes that it puts Netanyahu in a situation where he can’t be seen coming out against a popular plan to benefit the middle class even if it hurts him politically.

Columnist Sima Kadmon sees the plan and the sidelining of Netanyahu as obvious revenge by Kahlon, and not just over a fight the two recently had over the public broadcaster.

“The way Netanyahu appropriates for himself the achievements of his ministers and turns them into his own successes, of the government that he heads, or every other move than minimizes the minister’s achievement and shifts the weight to Netanyahu gets on the ministers’ nerves,” she writes. “Until now nobody has had the nerve to do what Kahlon did — hold a press conference in blatant defiance of the prime minister. But this is not the first time Kahlon has been the pioneer in dealing with the prime minister. This time he did it with unparalleled elegance and effectiveness: The plan on its face is good and important. Were elections on the horizon, we would say this is an electoral strategy. And if elections are indeed sooner than we think, Kahlon managed to boost his public standing and maybe even capture back a few seats.”

In Haaretz, which also plays up the plan and the political battle, though not to the same degree, columnist Yossi Verter notes that Netanyahu has not yet made his move.

“From this we are given to understand that the prime minister is planning a few retaliatory measures of his own. After all, most of the government and the Knesset is still under his control. He can ask for various changes in the plan, trim it a little here and there, perhaps impose a few conditions. Netanyahu can still drive Kahlon up the wall insisting on this and that in order to guarantee himself a place on the bandwagon,” he writes.

The fact that Netanyahu can’t come out against the proposal but will likely try to push Kahlon down a peg or two can already be seen in staunchly pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom, which plays up the plan, and Netanyahu’s response that it’s “on the right track.”

Where others saw a war shaping up, Israel Hayom sees the coalition working like a well-oiled machine, quoting Kahlon himself saying “This has nothing to do with elections, there is no split in the coalition.”

Columnist Mati Tuchfeld continues the theme of seeing light where others see shade, writing that the subtext of the statement from Netanyahu’s camp is that “perhaps Kahlon proposed the plan that he presented, but he did it at the service of the boss. Netanyahu’s response is like that of a general who honors one of his troops on a successful mission,” he writes. “Tensions between the two will always be in the background, and it’s not impossible that there will be another outbreak, but it seems for the near future, the two have actually reached a ceasefire.”

Kahlon may have stolen the headlines, but the hubbub over Palestinian prisoner, politician, terrorist and hunger-strike leader (did we leave any out?) Marwan Barghouti hasn’t totally died down, and Haaretz’s op-ed page is chock-full of takes on the both the Palestinians’ plight and the Israeli response to Barghouti’s New York Times op-ed.

In one piece, Amira Hass writes that incarceration of Palestinians happens on several different levels via Israel’s colonialist policies, including in limiting freedom of movement in Hebron, which happens to be the subject of the paper’s lead editorial. Meanwhile Chemi Shalev takes aim at how Israeli officials responded to Barghouti’s published opinion piece, writing that by attacking the author instead of his claims, it gives them an out, or so they think.

“This was another example of the time-tested Israeli ritual of accentuating the insignificant at the expense of the essence, the results of which are well known in advance. First you manufacture righteous indignation over a minor fault in an article or the problematic identity of its writer, then you assault the newspaper or media that published it and cast doubt on its motives, then you demand to know how this was even possible and who will pay the price,” he writes. “In this way, the Israeli public is absolved of the need to actually contend with the gist of the article or public utterance, in this case Barghouti’s claims that he was physically tortured, that almost a million Palestinians have been detained over the years, that their conviction rate in the Israeli military court system is absurdly high, whether it’s really wise to hold as many as 6,500 security prisoners in custody at one time and so on.”

As if to prove his point, Yedioth’s top story after the Kahlon fiasco isn’t really a story at all, rather just a rehash of all the terrible things done by Barghouti.

And in Israel Hayom’s op-ed page Ariel Bolstein goes even more to the other extreme, writing that Palestinian security prisoners — terrorists all in his telling — should have any rights they have revoked in response to the hunger strike.

“The hunger strike provides a golden opportunity to amend this situation. All the privileges that make the lives of the terrorists pleasant must be revoked. Anyone who has taken a life and never expressed regret for their actions does not deserve leniency,” he writes. Israel should base its response on a simple equation: For every day that the prisoners strike, the government will permanently revoke one of their privileges. The organizers behind the strike are trying to scare Israel with the repercussions of the death of one of the hunger-striking terrorists. This is an empty threat. A show of weakness would mean a victory for terrorism. Israel must stand firm.”

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