Back in the fold: 10 things to know for November 20
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Back in the fold: 10 things to know for November 20

Bennett’s decision to kiss his threat goodbye leaves him looking like a shmatta while Netanyahu cleans up. But can the prime minister’s magic last?

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement to reporters on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement to reporters on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Bennett’s boo-boos: It’s difficult to imagine a worse day politically for Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett than Monday, after he was forced to sheepishly back off his threat to bring down the government, despite not getting the Defense Ministry, and managed to anger the defense establishment and make himself easy pickings for other politicians in the meantime.

  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter calls Bennett’s about-face a “pathetic U-turn” that once again shows how he is not even in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s league when it comes to political machinations.
  • “Monday morning Israel saw one of the most mortifying shows of capitulation ever staged in these parts. [Bennett and deputy Ayelet Shaked] had threatened ‘the defense portfolio, or early elections’ – but what they wound up with is not the one or the other: They were used to clean up the floor. The expression ‘dishrags’ has never seemed more appropriate,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Yifat Ehrlich writes that Bennett erred in putting up an ultimatum at all: “Someone who sees themselves as a defense minister or future prime minister would do well to learn from the poor attempts of their predecessors — ultimatums are for weaklings.”

2. Cave of wonders: At least pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom seems to appreciate Bennett’s decision to fold like an extra chair at a Thanksgiving table.

  • “It’s easy to argue with Bennett and Shaked’s decision … but the bottom line is they made the right move,” the paper’s top story reads.
  • Columnist Yehuda Shlezinger also tried to comfort Bennett, writing that folding takes courage too.
  • “The non-resignation event should be put in the right frame. That’s how it is in politics: you win some and you lose some … it’s not great, it’s not terrible.”

3. Amateur hour in the Knesset: Netanyahu and his allies can afford to throw Bennett a bone, with the whole affair leaving the prime minister looking to pundits like a magical wizard whose mastery over coalition politics makes everyone else looks like a bunch of bush league amateurs.

  • “Netanyahu has for the umpteenth time given his would-be successors a political leadership masterclass, and apparently given his fractious, depleted coalition a little more breathing space,” ToI editor David Horovitz writes.
  • “Given the way Bennett subjugated himself to Netanyahu, who once again comes across as a political magician staying two steps ahead of his rivals, it’s doubtful whether Bennett maintains much political bargaining power. The two press conferences, fewer than 24 hours apart, primarily demonstrated the difference between Netanyahu and his main political right-wing rival. It is simply no contest,”’ writes Haaretz’s Amos Harel.

4. How’d he do it? But even though Netanyahu survived the scare and came out smiling, questions still swirl over how he managed to get Bennett to change his mind.

  • Hadashot news reports that Bennett’s decision to back off came after Netanyahu’s national security adviser shared secret information with Rabbi Haim Druckman, who then passed it on to Bennett with the message that he should not resign.
  • The story is drawing charges that Netanyahu improperly mixed security and politics, as well as denials from many involved.
  • MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) has already asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to probe whether Netanyahu used a civil servant for political purposes, Globes reports.
  • But Jewish Home is claiming that it decided to not leave the government before Bennett and Druckman spoke.
  • Asked about whether he met NSA Meir Ben Shabbat, Druckman doesn’t quite deny it to Army Radio.
  • “I don’t see how someone so important would get involved in politics,” is all he offers.

5. Gaunt government: Many are also questioning how long Netanyahu’s svelte 61-seat coalition can last.

  • “His strait,” reads a top headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, using a word that means both “pain” and “narrow” in Hebrew.
  • Kulanu, is seen as the biggest potential problem, with party leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon already predicting the imminent downfall of the coalition.
  • Only fear of going up against Netanyahu could stop him, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes: “It remains to be seen whether the finance minister, who will be loath to having his economic agenda held hostage by individual coalition members, will do what his Jewish Home colleague feared to, and pit himself directly against Netanyahu,”
  • Trouble may already be brewing, with Walla news reporting that Kahlon told Netanyahu he would not back a law forcing the president to choose the leader of a party to form a government, which had been seen as one of several legislative imperatives sought by the prime minister before early elections.

6. Killing it: If his decision to fold were not enough, Bennett is also drawing fire for saying that IDF soldiers are more afraid of the military advocate general than Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar.

  • The remark leaves him wide open to criticism from everyone, including Netanyahu, who tweeted out later: “The IDF is not afraid of anyone.”
  • Bennett tried to defend himself by saying that there was a problem with the army being overly litigious toward soldiers, and Israel Hayom attempts to back him up, with a story on a survey it claims shows most Israelis agree.
  • In fact the survey, which Israel Hayom does not bother mentioning is from the Israel Democracy Institute’s October 2015 peace index (note: over three years ago), asked questions about whether soldiers should take Palestinian lives into account, or are allowed to kill attackers even if they no longer pose a threat, with a shockingly high number supporting the army doing basically whatever it wants.

7. Quitting the opposition: Pollster Mina Tzemach tells Army Radio she thinks the big winner from the whole coalition crisis is Avigdor Liberman.

  • I would contend, though, that it is Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, who wins the (Hebrew) internet with a tweeted picture of Liberman now sitting next to him on the opposition side of the Knesset plenum: “I’m thinking about quitting the opposition,” Odeh quips.

8. Deri-don’t: At least Odeh may not have to worry about sitting next to Shas chief Aryeh Deri, whose legal troubles are plastered across the top of every major news site Tuesday morning after police recommended he be indicted.

  • The interior minister, who already went to jail once for crimes committed last time he was interior minister, is suspected of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering, and tax offenses involving millions of shekels, some of which were committed while he was a cabinet minister.
  • Walla News’s Amir Oren writes that Deri should be forced to resign, but Netanyahu, whom police also recommended indicting, doesn’t quite have the moral authority to force him out: “Netanyahu is just happy that Deri’s fear of not crossing the electoral threshold next time around is keeping him glued to the coalition,” he writes.

9. Airbds or Errbnb: Airbnb’s decision to remove listings in West Bank settlements draws the usual suspects out of the woodwork, with Israelis crying discrimination (what about Western Sahara) and Palestinians praising it as a “first step.”

  • After deputy minister Michael Oren calls to boycott the boycotters, Palestinian official Xavier Abu Eid marvels at the logic of it all.
  • Israel Hayom just goes ahead and calls Airbnb “racist” in its headline.
  • Yedioth, which usually has top-notch punny headlines for just this type of story, comes through with only the disappointing “Air B and bli” “bli” being Hebrew for “without.”

10. Rabbi Kafka: This tweet from women’s rights activist Rachel Stomel is worth a read for the terrifying/fascinating look it provides of the wacky world of the Chief Rabbinate (it’s worth reading her whole thread).

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