Benny at the bat: 7 things to know for October 22
Israel media review

Benny at the bat: 7 things to know for October 22

Netanyahu passes the mandate back; Blue and White chief Gantz is seen as having no better chance than PM at forming a government, though he will give it a try

Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz carries a Torah scroll as he dance during Simhat Torah celebrations in Kfar Chabad, on October 21, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz carries a Torah scroll as he dance during Simhat Torah celebrations in Kfar Chabad, on October 21, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

1. Your turn: It’s been several weeks since pundits predicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would imminently return the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin, and their predictions have finally come true, with Netanyahu ending his doomed attempt a couple of days early and passing the buck to Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Gantz’s first move will be to open talks with Likud about forming a rotational government in which he leads first, with Gantz contending that Netanyahu’s failure and the fact that Blue and White got more votes give him that right.
  • “Blue and White has created a work plan in which he will first turn to Likud. His second approach will be to Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and after that to Labor-Gesher head Amir Peretz. Gantz himself has said in closed talks that his plan is a unity government with Likud, headed by him.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that Gantz has a number of options available, from a minority government backed from the outside to fomenting a right-wing or Likud mutiny.
  • “At present, every single one of these scenarios seems far-fetched, but Israel has entered uncharted waters. Someone who isn’t Netanyahu is about to receive the mandate to form a coalition, and suddenly everything is possible,” he writes.

2. Readying for round 3: Netanyahu’s plan appears to be to continue refusing Gantz’s overtures while blaming new elections on him and Liberman, thus biding time ahead of a possible indictment.

  • “Gantz’s stubbornness is bringing new elections closer,” reads the banner headline on the front page of Israel Hayom, seen as the Likud house organ.
  • “[Yair] Lapid and Gantz want to prevent at any cost — including the cost of state security and economic stability — a situation in which Netanyahu continues on as prime minister for any stretch of time,” columnist Amnon Lord writes in an accompanying op-ed.
  • On Army Radio, Likud lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely accuses Gantz and Liberman of “leading Israel into the abyss. It’s on Gantz to show a minimum of leadership opposite Lapid — and to split off from him if need be.”

3. Gantz in the dark: Most predict slim and slimmer chances for Gantz to actually succeed at forming a government, especially with a Likud-led bloc vowing to stick together and not give Gantz an inch.

  • “His chances of forming a government in the coming 28 days are slim, perhaps even slimmer than those Netanyahu had,” Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz. “The election results are familiar to all, and no fairy can appear and magically move blocks around so that they add up to a governing majority.”
  • In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that Netanyahu has spent the last few weeks laying the groundwork for making sure Gantz doesn’t have many options.
  • “Over the last few weeks he has been busy less with coalition talks and more with pledges from the right-wing bloc and support votes in the Likud meant to torpedo any chance of a mutiny and to close off all paths Gantz has to forming a government without him. If the right-wing bloc stays strong and Likud officials continue to stick to their words, it can survive the loss and keep hold on power,” she writes.
  • Shalev also brings up the possibility of a short-lived minority government supported from the outside by Liberman and the Joint List of Arab parties, but ToI’s Jacob Magid notes that such a possibility is more speculation than anything.
  • “Blue and White has not once expressed interest in such a coalition, and an adviser to a senior left-wing political official who insisted on anonymity told The Times of Israel Monday that Blue and White had not even raised the idea of such a minority government,” he writes.

4. The end of Netanyahu often comes: Despite Gantz’s poor chances, pundits are still beginning to see this as an end of sorts for the Netanyahu era.

  • “The significance is mostly psychological,” Channel 13’s Barak Ravid says. “Many in the political arena and wider public who see Netanyahu as a political magician who can do anything and an eternal prime minister will get a shock when they see his political monopoly has been broken.”
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev describes Likud’s hundreds of thousands of supporters as brainwashed Kool-Aid drinking rubes who will need to be re-educated once he leaves the scene.
  • “The thought that Israeli politics will naturally revert to a semblance of sanity once Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the stage is overly optimistic, if not naive,” he writes. “The Israeli right will need a long period of recuperation and rehabilitation before it can overcome its addiction, if at all.”

5. They were right eventually: Speaking of cult-like, the last four weeks provide yet another case in point of sloppy Hebrew-language journalism in which reporters make themselves into easily duped conduits for bad info.

  • In late September, almost every single Hebrew news outlet reported that Netanyahu would return the mandate to Rivlin within days, possibly even before the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
  • The information was never sourced, but was reported as accepted fact by everyone, seemingly after Channel 12 news aired a report to that effect. (The Times of Israel also jumped to some degree on the speculatory bandwagon.) As we now know, the info was bad.
  • (A Likud statement from around the time calling a meeting with Gantz a last effort before returning the mandate hinted at those intentions, though it would not be crazy to call it spin.)
  • In Yedioth, on the front page no less, columnist Nahum Barnea goes as far as blaming Netanyahu for the bad information, claiming falsely that he said he would give back the mandate publicly.
  • “Right after getting the mandate, Netanyahu announced he would return it to the president within days, a week tops,” he writes, rewriting history. “Despite that he kept it until the last day. It seems it was hard for him to lose the mandate. That’s how it is at our age: It’s hard to let go.”

6. Kumi on: There is hand-wringing around settler violence near Yitzhar, days after an attack on troops brought near-universal condemnation.

  • While the Yitzhar secretariat distanced itself from the attack, Kan reports Tuesday morning that it had aided the anti-IDF sentiment by cutting off all contact with the army days earlier as a form of revenge after the army refused to lift a restraining order on a resident of the Kumi Ori outpost where much of the violence emanated from.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel advises against getting too excited over the round of condemnation, saying past experience shows they are full of sound and fury but signify nothing.
  • “Each side knows its role: Senior IDF officers are shocked, politicians condemn, settler leaders renounce responsibility while explaining that violence does not represent the silent majority – only a deviant and negligible handful of settlers, and life quickly returns to normal. Judging by past experience, the probability that such an incident will end in a trial, let alone a prison sentence, is rather low,” he writes.

7. Missing the cedars for Hezbollah: The media also takes notice of growing protests in Lebanon, where demonstrators have taken to the streets for several days demanding the government step down.

  • In Israel, much of the coverage revolves around protests apparently against Hezbollah, though it’s unclear how much the protests are actually against the group.
  • “The protests are a serious challenge for Hezbollah and its head Hassan Nasrallah,” Doron Peskin claims in Calcalist. “The protests in the Hezbollah strongholds, including the burning of offices of lawmakers from the group, show the growing disappointment for Nasrallah and his men. “
  • Yedioth’s Smadar Peri writes that the protests are the first time Shiite youth has come out against Hezbollah.
  • “Lebanon was a country of commerce, but was also a pillar for the disappeared riches of the Middle East and a great tourist spot for Westerners,” she says. “None of that happens anymore because of tensions between Hezbollah and the Maronites, while [Hassan] Nasrallah is making his millions in South America and managing a war of words with Israel. The Lebanese are sick of it,”
  • In Israel Hayom, however, columnist Eldad Beck predicts that even if Hezbollah will have a hard time selling war with Israel to the Lebanese, the protests could push it into one anyway: “If Hezbollah feels it has no other choice, if the financial pressure on it is ratcheted up, if its organized crime wings are dismantled or it is told to disarm or Iran gives it an order, it can open a front against Israel.”
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