An enigma wrapped in a █████: 6 things to know for November 5
Israel media review

An enigma wrapped in a █████: 6 things to know for November 5

A report on alleged pressure tactic used by police in Netanyahu probe is discussed extensively but only circuitously, though some details, and hypocrisy, still leak out

A blurred image of Johann Rehbogen at the start of the third day of his trial at the regional court in Muenster, western Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Guido Kirchner/pool photo via AP)
Illustrative image of a blurred image of a man on trial in Germany on Nov. 13, 2018. (Guido Kirchner/pool photo via AP)

1. Just don’t mention the pressure: Reports on Channel 12 news are raising questions about the police and prosecution practices in the interrogation of Nir Hefetz, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who turned state’s witness.

  • A Monday night report, by the channel’s political correspondent Amit Segal, claims that Hefetz lied in at least some of his testimony and may have been pressured illegally to turn stoolie.
  • According to the report, Hefetz started out by saying he didn’t remember certain events, but then gave testimony two weeks later that didn’t line up with reality. In addition, according to the report, Hefetz only signed up to be a state’s witness when “a person with no connection to the case was brought in and that person was asked questions that have no relevance to the case.”
  • Segal notes that “the Justice Ministry put a lot of effort into preventing the publication of details about that claim,” but does not expand. He says the efforts were deployed only after he asked the ministry for a response, which was that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit did not approve the moves against Hefetz.
  • On Twitter, though, he essentially confirms what those efforts were and what the pressures allegedly were by retweeting what he would like to say and commenting “A retweet is not necessarily confirmation.”
  • Haaretz, testing the limits of whatever gags are in place, notes that the efforts were put in place “seemingly to preserve personal privacy,” but says it also cannot write about what it cannot write about.
  • Interestingly, the Globes financial daily notes that it also asked police about pressures put on Hefetz two months ago, reporting that he was deprived of sleep and made to stand during interrogations, “something that is only allowed in the case of a ticking time bomb.”
  • The paper does not mention the mystery person reportedly brought in, but writes that when it asked police for a response it was told that “all of those brought in were only [brought in] to testify“ and that police “did not threaten those being questioned that they would reveal personal details about them.”
  • The paper quotes a fresh response from Mandelblit, who says that all witnesses “gave their testimony freely.”
  • Walla, though, reports that Mandelblit said he will look into it.

2. Suddenly leaks are cool? A followup Tuesday by Channel 12 asks “did the prosecution try to hide Hefetz’s testimony,” and all due respect to Mr. Betteridge, in this case the question appears to be Segal’s way of saying yes.

  • Segal, who is seen as right wing, has mostly stayed away from reporting on the cases against Netanyahu — which have been the province of Guy Peleg, among Likud’s favorite punching bags — and his appearance here points to how even reporters are being divided into camps.
  • Unlike many of the other leaks out of the investigation, this one falls squarely in line with the version of events Netanyahu and his allies have tried to advance, casting Hefetz as a liar and his testimony as the result of pressure.
  • Journalist Neri Zilber notes on Twitter the fact that Segal, who just days ago railed against other leaks from the prosecution (if that is who is leaking the information), was happy to publish leaked information now. (And if you are looking for a hint at a source from Segal, or anyone else, don’t waste your time.)
  • But Peleg, who has also reported on matters that cast Netanyahu in a better light only to be mocked by the prime minister for it, backs Segal, calling his report “very strong.” “Without leaks, we would not know any of this,” he tweets.
  • Speaking to the right-wing journal Mida, Segal turns the claim around, saying that he “has a hard time understanding all these journalists who talk all the time about freedom of the press and the right of the public to know, but yesterday were suddenly silent.”

3. Man-o-Mandelblit: Not everybody is silent, though the report is mostly picked up by the right wing press, including Israel Hayom, which writes that the transcripts published by Channel 12 “raise serious questions.”

  • “This is disturbing, we cannot allow this to become normalized,” reads a headline on the tabloid’s website, quoting from a response by Miri Regev.
  • Yedioth also carries a piece about it, but buried on page 14.
  • Haaretz leads off with a related matter, namely Mandelblit rejecting the prime minister’s demand that alleged leaks from the police and prosecution be probed.
  • The paper notes that Mandelblit also criticized statements from senior officials in order to defend the police and prosecution, apparently referring to comments by Justice Minister Amir Ohana last week.
  • “Mandelblit returns fire,” reads a much more exciting headline in Yedioth.
  • A video by Channel 13 catches an awkward encounter at a conference where they both spoke.

4. Let’s be direct, shall we? Leading the news agenda Tuesday morning, though, is the possibility of a return to direct elections for prime minister, with Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz seemingly no closer to coming together in a unity government and a fresh round of elections looming on the horizon.

  • Israel Hayom reports that the “curious idea” was brought up by Shas leader Aryeh Deri at a meeting of the heads of the right-religious bloc.
  • Ynet, which also reports on the proposal, says Netanyahu rejected the idea.
  • On Tuesday morning, though, freshly picked Likud whip Miki Zohar says the Likud leader may support it, Israel Radio quotes “those close to Netanyahu” saying he is seriously considering it, and Ayelet Shaked also tells Army Radio she is down with the plan, leading Likud to send out a statement officially putting the kibosh on the idea.
  • Apparently not getting the memo, Likud minister Ofir Akunis still takes to Army Radio to express support for it, saying Deri’s idea is not whack and the sides need to do something to break the deadlock.

5. Unfit to unify: That something may be Israel Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who according to Channel 12 is set to begin internal consultations to make a “final decision” and tie his party to a single camp, thus giving one side the needed support to create a government and avoid new elections.

  • But on Tuesday morning Liberman tweets that any such reports are “nonsense” and he has no plan on compromising on his coalition demands, which call for a unity government.
  • There’s not a lot of hope elsewhere, though. Israel Hayom runs a massive front page headline reading that “there is no chance at unity.”
  • The paper quotes an official from who knows where saying the sides are farther apart than ever and “as of Monday night, it was clear that neither the Likud nor the right-wing bloc would oust Netanyahu and would prefer to hold a third election, even to their detriment.”
  • The sides did manage to come together, however briefly, for a Knesset memorial held for late Shas rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff notes that “politicians from left to right used the event to highlight the former Shas spiritual leader’s unifying presence, with some calling on Netanyahu and Gantz to honor Yosef by putting aside differences and forming a unity government together.”
  • However he notes that both Gantz and Netanyahu only hinted at unity, including the prime minister “who came to the event halfway through — with some suggesting he was waiting, in vain, for Gantz to leave.”

6. Omar going: A court decision to deport Human Rights Watch director Omar Shakir also gets wide play, and wide criticism.

  • The decision to deport Shakir is based on the fact that he supported boycotts of settlements. ToI’s Jacob Magid notes that the decision falls in line with the government’s view on BDS being related to any part of Israel or the territories, even if it itself distinguishes between them.
  • The court decision doesn’t get a ton of play in the Hebrew press, though Channel 12 news runs a short item mostly filled with Israeli politicians and NGO monitor celebrating the decision.
  • Haaretz quotes from several people critical of the move, including former diplomat Alon Liel who says, “It’s not at all clear that the next government will also demand Omar Shakir’s deportation. That’s why there’s room to postpone the proceedings until the new government forms an opinion on the subject.”
  • The paper’s Anshel Pfeffer writes on Twitter that BDS is not actually as big a threat as the government claims it is and “Shakir is being quicked out to intimidate human-rights groups and dampen criticism.”
  • Responding to the decision, Shakir tweets that “if it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave & it’ll join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official. We wont stop. And we wont be the last.”
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