Hebrew media review

As PM’s scandals rumble on, papers stick to their playbooks

Yedioth dispenses with soul-searching to go back to attacking Netanyahu, while Israel Hayom attacks Yedioth and Haaretz attacks Mandelblit

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

A man carries a newspaper over his head to protect himself from the sun, on a warm summer day in Jerusalem. May 22, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/FLASH90)
A man carries a newspaper over his head to protect himself from the sun, on a warm summer day in Jerusalem. May 22, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/FLASH90)

Another day, another leak in the slow-simmering scandal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. By now, all the papers know their parts and play them to a T. Yedioth generally does some soul-searching but in the end defends its owner; Israel Hayom does its best to defend Netanyahu and demonize Mozes and his paper, and Haaretz uncovers bits and pieces while pleading with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to just issue a damn indictment already.

Today, though, Yedioth goes slightly off-script and dispenses with most of the inward-looking to resume its age-old tradition of attacking Netanyahu, focusing on a statement made by the prime minister over the affair Sunday in which he says one of the reasons he dismantled the government in 2014 was because of infighting over the bill reportedly at the crux of the talks between him and Mozes.

In a sign that things haven’t changed all that much with the revelations, Yedioth reduces Netanyahu’s comment that fighting over the anti-Israel Hayom bill was one of the factors that brought down the government to the headline “I dismantled the government for Israel Hayom.”

The implication by the paper is that Netanyahu is not just prime minister but acting as the real (and illegal) proprietor of the Israel Hayom tabloid, as Yedioth bids to make him look even more underhanded than Mozes.

While that implication is all but written by the paper, an accompanying column by Ra’anan Shaked tries to drive home why Netanyahu’s actions were so much worse than Mozes’s.

Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon "Noni" Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)
Publisher and owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon “Noni” Mozes arrives for questioning at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, January 15, 2017. (Koko/Flash90)

“Netanyahu is a public servant who has sold something that isn’t his and never will be – Israeli democracy – in exchange for the survival of his regime. Mozes is the owner of a private newspaper and is allowed to sell, buy change, uncover and in certain ways also determine its direction as a product of his understanding and will. No, he can’t buy and sell news, but he rules, and is supposed to be able to rule, the editorial line of his paper. Yedioth Ahronoth is a private property. The State of Israel is not.”

Netanyahu’s comments about the Israel Hayom law were intended to show that he didn’t need or seek Mozes because he was able to form a new government that quashed the bill ab initio.

That defense and more makes up the bulk of Israel Hayom’s coverage, which parrots his attacks on the “biased leaks” of the conversations with Mozes and does little to persuade anyone that the paper is much more than his propaganda arm.

The paper’s coverage consists of a full transcription of Netanyahu’s comments, Mozes being investigated by police again and a hodgepodge of other reports about the affair being leaked out bit by bit, like the fact that the prime minister tried to broker a deal so his buddy Australian billionaire James Packer could buy a piece of Yedioth.

Defending Netanyahu is only half the paper’s charge, though, and it also continues its attacks on the rival paper, this time with an important tell-all by Itzik Saban, formerly of Yedioth and currently of Israel Hayom. who writes that in a bid to defend disgraced former minister Haim Ramon, a friend of Mozes who was then being probed by police over sexual harassment claims, a story was written attacking investigations head Yohanan Danino, with Saban’s name stuck on “by order from on high.” That was par for the course for Yedioth, and journalists there should stop pretending otherwise, he writes.

“In the last few days, senior people at Yedioth, in a bid to defend their home, have claimed that they and reporters do their work without instruction from above and that Mozes never called them and doesn’t stick his hand in. So that’s it. Mozes also never called me before my name was stuck on a story I didn’t write to help his good friend,” he writes. “To anyone who doesn’t understand, that’s how it works there. Mozes doesn’t need to call anyone of his reporters or commentators in order for a defamatory article he wants to make its way to the printing house.”

While the two papers are bickering, Haaretz has moved on to pushing Mandelblit into taking action, seeing all it needs to be convinced that Netanyahu should be charged already. The paper’s front page headline puts the attorney general in its sights, reporting that he prevented police from questioning Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the same time.

According to the reporter Gidi Weitz, police wanted to get them at the same time to keep them from being able to coordinate their answers between sessions, but Mandeblit rejected the attempt because he thought the evidence against them was already strong enough that it wasn’t necessary.

That expose makes up the leading edge of an article chock full of various tidbits, analysis and more related to the cases against Netanyahu from Weitz, including the fact that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has all but disappeared from the affairs, leaving everything to Mandelblit to handle. Weitz surmises that Nitzan is acting as an errand-boy for those in power.

“It could be that Nitzan’s basic instincts are telling him that it’s better to be at the forefront of issues that don’t undermine power structures. In the past he was recruited to defend the plea agreement offered to Katsav, trying to cast doubt on the complainants’ credibility; later, with great skill and talent, he composed a post-modernist document designed to extract Lieberman from the straw companies affair, in which several businessmen allegedly transferred millions of dollars to companies owned by Lieberman when he was an MK and minister,” he writes.

Relegated to second fiddle coverage ( or even lower, in Yedioth’s case) by the Netanyahu cases is the Paris peace conference.

In Israel Hayom, analyst Dror Eydar calls it a “Farce in Paris.” The punny headline plays much better in Hebrew, as perhaps does the argument that the summit is a sign of anti-Semitism by the international community, since there are atrocities elsewhere and they are only apparently allowed to focus on one thing at a time.

“The Paris conference is part of the Obama administration’s heritage: Just before you break up, attack the Jews. Just before the breakup of the government of Francois Hollande, the French remembered to attack the Jews. For a long moment – too long – the massive massacres in Syria and Aleppo were forgotten, the return of Arab states to the tribalism, clans and dissolution from the structures built for them by colonial France and Britain after World War I was forgotten, the insane rise of Islamic jihadism was forgotten, the deaths of hundreds of French and Germans at the hands of Muslim fanatics was forgotten. All was forgotten, except for the reason for all this anger: the settlements.”

Haaretz’s lead editorial, though, attacks not the conference but Israel’s boycott of it, calling the decision to stay away “pointless,” the same word used by Netanyahu to deride the summit.

“This is not a ‘pointless’ conference. Au contraire. Participants will be asked, at the very least, to reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution, a principle that Netanyahu has recognized, and perhaps even to propose ways to achieve it,” the paper writes. “One can debate the effectiveness or the results of the conference, but Israel mustn’t abandon the international arena when its issues or issues relating to the conflict are being discussed without at least presenting its position and trying to persuade participants of the justice of its policies.”

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