Better luck next time: 7 things to know for May 7
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Israel media review

Better luck next time: 7 things to know for May 7

The High Court ruling okaying Netanyahu to form a government is seen as far from the last word on the matter, sparking suspicion on the right and hopes on the left

Attorneys at the Supreme Court for a hearing on petitions against the proposed government, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)
Attorneys at the Supreme Court for a hearing on petitions against the proposed government, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)

1. Full court pass: As had been widely expected, the High Court struck down petitions against an indicted lawmaker being tasked with forming a government as well as various other attempts brought to bench to try and torpedo a power-sharing deal between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, paving the way for the two-headed Likud-Blue and White government.

  • Israel Hayom, Netanyahu and his apparatchiks’ paper of record, celebrates with a front page headline reading “Unanimous: Netanyahu can form the government.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the decision a “green light” from the High Court.
  • The paper’s Ben Dror Yemini praises the verdict as “correct from a legal point of view and a public point of view.”
  • With the court’s okay, the Knesset on Thursday passes changes to Basic Laws that underpin the coalition agreement, and Walla reports that the process of collecting 61 signatures to give Netanyahu the presidential mandate to form a government has already begun, with Rueven Rivlin expected to hand that baton to the Likud leader later in the day.
  • With a midnight deadline for passing the mandate making the day look like a season of “24,” the President’s Office sends out a note detailing exactly what must be done before the clock strikes 12: “According to the law, a request under Section 10(a) of the Basic Law must be presented to the president at Beit HaNasi in writing and delivered by hand. The request must include the signatures of at least 61 members of the Knesset and must include a written agreement of the candidate the president is requested to assign the task of forming a government. Once the request is presented, it will be stamped ‘received’ and the date and time of receipt of the request will be noted.”

2. For now: The right wing has long seen the court as an enemy bastion of liberal values and even this decision supporting their ostensible man is viewed under a lens of jaundiced suspicion, thanks to two words in the several-page verdict: “for now.”

  • The clause is widely interpreted to mean that the petitioners can try their luck again once the Knesset actually passes the laws they were complaining about.
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal says the score is 11-0, referring to the number of judges on the court, but “it’s only halftime.”
  • “[Supreme Court President Esther] Hayut stuck between the lines a series of troubling hints that could cause Netanyahu and Gantz serious issues, and perhaps even drag us to elections,” he writes.
  • “The ruling all but invites future petitions to challenge the government once the legislative procedure instating the Likud-Blue and White coalition is complete,” Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld says, accusing the court of becoming the “linchpin” of Israeli politics despite its argument that it is not intervening.
  • “Over-intervention by the court at this stage can only bring about chaos,” he adds.
  • Former justice minister Daniel Friedmann writes in Haaretz that “this time, they rejected their judicial activism and returned to sanity, a moment before stepping into the abyss.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Likud minister Zeev Elkin offers a begrudging “they made the right decision. There’s nothing to praise here.”

3. This ain’t over: It’s not only the right-wingers that see more petitions in their crystal ball. “We’ll meet again,” writes Yuval Yoaz, who was one of the petitioners against the deal, in Zman Yisrael.

  • “The court planted the seeds of the coming judicial battles and petitions, both on the question of an indicted lawmaker heading the government and the issues enshrined in the coalition agreement. The door is certainly not closed,” he writes.
  • Kan’s Yoav Karkovsky comes to the same conclusion, but writes that the main issue will be whether there can exist a special status for an alternate prime minister who has all the rights of a prime minister (i.e., can stay in job despite prosecution). “Netanyahu, but especially Gantz, will need to enlist heavy-hitting arguments to convince the court, when it needs to rule on it, why it’s more logical to create a special status for an alternate prime minister, and why this is not a end run around the Deri-Pinhasi rule [which said that ministers under indictment have to resign], which is still with us, as they tried to do this week in the hearings, but which ended up getting bolstered by the justices’ words.”
  • Haaretz’s main editorial, meanwhile, leaves nuance at the doorstep and slams the ruling for green-lighting “an abomination,” specifically highlighting clauses in the coalition agreement that give Netanyahu control over the state’s legal authorities.
  • “Clauses in the coalition agreement reveal Netanyahu’s intentions to undermine the legal proceedings against him. In addition, they testify to another problem included in his continued functioning as prime minister: Netanyahu is facing a serious conflict of interest. Any action he may take could well be suspected as being intended to serve his legal interests,” the editorial reads.

4. All shuk up: Thursday also sees another major step by Israel in reopening its economy, with malls and outdoor markets, like Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda shuk, allowed to open their doors, albeit with a few restrictions on crowd sizes and the like.

  • Reporting from the shuk, Channel 12 reports that the restrictions mean complaints are as plentiful as the gaggles of would-be shoppers forced to wait in line to get in.
  • “They are elderly who took two buses to get here. They need to stand in line in the sun? Open the shuk, it’s big and there’s room for everyone,” one stall owner is quoted saying.
  • Another of the market’s Einsteins is heard yelling at people to break through the barrier, promising them that they will get COVID-19 by standing in line, not by shopping together.
  • Kan, though, tells a different story from the same location, calling it a “day of celebration” in its headline.
  • “We’re so happy and excited to open the market to the shopping public again,” the head of the market’s sellers’ association tells the outlet.
  • “This is the heart of Jerusalem — when this place is open, Jerusalem is alive,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon crows to i24 News.

5. Cabin fever: Meanwhile, others are also looking to get in on the action, including restaurants, which still cannot do any business but delivery and takeout.

  • “The last two months have been hard,” a former (and hopefully future) restaurant manager in Tel Aviv tells ToI’s Simona Weinglass. “We’re waiting, waiting to see what the new government guidelines are. In the meantime, restaurants have to pay bills and rent. I don’t know what kind of work there will be out there for me and what the salaries will be.”
  • Yedioth reports that owners of vacation cottages, also known as zimmers, are seeing sky-high demand, with Israelis looking to get away from home after weeks on lockdown, but not wanting to travel internationally.
  • “Israelis don’t know what the summer will bring, and if they will be forced to go into two-week quarantine upon returning from a European vacation, for instance, and so are not taking chances and are booking up zimmers, which are also relatively isolated and not prone to crowding like a hotel with thousands of rooms,” the paper notes.
  • With the same idea in mind, JTA reports that some Jewish summer camps being closed for the summer due to the virus may instead transition into borscht belt-style bungalows.
  • “We just wiped the slate and said OK, we have this private piece of property,” Noah Gallagher, director of Colorado’s Ranch Camp, the first to make the switch, tells the agency. “Is there a world where we can bring people and give them some sense of connection to one another, and to nature, to Judaism in this environment without compromising their health, safety and well-being?”

6. Annexation takes a vacation: Israelis may have a bit more room to stretch out as well (Palestinians be damned) if Netanyahu pushes ahead with annexation plans, which are again a hot topic after Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced another step toward approving 7,000 new homes in Efrat and US Ambassador David Friedman gave an interview to Israel Hayom in which he essentially encouraged Israel to keep on truckin’ into the West Bank.

  • In the same paper, columnist and former general Gershon HaCohen pushes annexation as the salve for Israel’s overcrowding within the Green Line: “A comprehensive plan is needed for western Israel that will balance the necessary space between transportation, water, electricity, housing, sewerage, and protection of green spaces. From this perspective, applying sovereignty obligates the government to formulate a new strategic master plan for the development of Israel’s eastern backbone.”
  • In Haaretz, though, analyst Anshel Pfeffer predicts that Netanyahu will talk about annexation, but won’t actually go ahead with it, since he doesn’t need to rally his base and doesn’t want to sour his relationship with Joe Biden, assuming he wins in November:
  • “The settlers and the ideological hard-core on the right still hope Netanyahu seeks a career-defining ‘legacy’ in the form of annexation. But they don’t realize that Netanyahu doesn’t believe his career is anywhere near over. So what’s the rush? They hope Netanyahu won’t allow the ‘historic opportunity’ of the Trump presidency to pass without annexation, but Netanyahu’s perspective is a long-term one,” he writes.
  • With US Secretary Mike Pompeo coming to town, Ynet reports that settler leaders are protesting in the hopes of pushing the Trump administration even further right and away from its reported demand that annexation be accompanied by a peace process that may lead to a Palestinian state.
  • “Sovereignty is important to Israel’s security, but it’s not worth even one centimeter of damage to Israel and the creation of a terror state in the heart of the land,” Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan tells the news site.

7. Wins and zeros: In a rare case of an Israeli firm being mentioned in a cybercrime story and not being the bad guy, the New York Times reports that Tel Aviv-based Check Point has flagged the re-emergence of the China-linked Naikon Group, which is using a new tool called Aria-body to hack into “embassies, ministries and state-owned corporations dealing with science and technology” in Asia and Oceania.

  • “The Naikon group has been running a longstanding operation, during which it has updated its new cyberweapon time and time again, built an extensive offensive infrastructure and worked to penetrate many governments across Asia and the Pacific,” Lotem Finkelstein, head of the cyberthreat intelligence group at Check Point, tells the paper.
  • In Israel, Walla reports on a super secret database being kept by police that tracks the movement of vehicles, ostensibly to trace their origins after terror attacks or other crimes. However, the news site reports that the cops are keeping the database, which essentially allows them to track the movements of innocent Israelis, for months or even years.
  • “What justification can there be for gathering this information when it is not regulated by any law or even an internal protocol?” Anne Suciu of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel tells Walla.
  • Fox News reports that Iran launched a cyber attack in late April targeting Israeli water infrastructure, using American servers, but with few details.
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