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Big shoes to fill: What the press is saying about that new guy meeting Biden

Bennett’s DC trip invites Netanyahu comparisons, plus Bedouins mourn a political giant and a spike in COVID cases draws some soul searching

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then-Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan/Pool/via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then-Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan/Pool/via AP)

1. Where Bibi walked: As the never-confirmed rumor goes, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara used to bring suitcases full of dirty laundry on trips abroad to take advantage of hotel cleaning services. As current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett now heads to Washington, he too appears to bringing the Netanyahus’ soiled baggage along with him, figuratively at least.

  • As Bennett prepares for his Thursday summit with US President Joe Biden, the press seems less fixated on his official goals of resetting ties and blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and more focused on how Bennett compares to the old boss.
  • The New York Times, which scored the first interview to the foreign press Bennett has given since becoming premier, notes that the policy goals he is taking with him to Washington “differed little in substance from those of his predecessor.”
  • “Mr. Bennett did not reveal the details of his new vision for Iran, but the policies he cited could just as easily have been articulated by Mr. Netanyahu, if perhaps more combatively,” write Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner.
  • A diplomatic source is quoted telling Haaretz,“The meeting between Bennett and Biden is an important signal to world leaders that the new Israeli prime minister is getting a strong American embrace and support equal to what his predecessor received from the White House.”
  • Bennett differs from Netanyahu in one way, and that is in not managing to draw much media attention for his trip. While Netanyahu often complained about a lack of coverage, his trips, especially to the White House, usually garnered an outsize amount of cover thanks to his ability to drum up the drama.
  • While Bennett’s trip is buried in the depths of Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth’s front pages, Israel Hayom outdoes them all, sticking it on pages 8 and 9.
  • “While Netanyahu’s relationship with Biden over the last decade was full of tensions and minefields, despite Bennett’s basic positions, Biden sees him as a clean slate to work on with no bad history,” columnist Abraham Ben Tzvi writes for the paper.
  • Perhaps equally dismissive of Bennett as a statesman in his own right, Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea calls the trip his “audition” with Biden. Biden and his staff, Barnea writes, will try to find out “what [Bennett] wants, what he’s worth, if he can be relied on, and mostly, does he have a political future. Washington speaks the language of power. Good intentions are great and all, but deals are made with those who can bring the goods.”
  • Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai tells Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi that “the question is whether they mesh, especially in their closed-door meeting. Age will play a part. When [Yitzhak] Rabin met [Bill] Clinton, he was the senior and Clinton the young one. Now Biden is the veteran politician and Bennett the junior. It’s interesting.”
  • Even Bennett’s attempt to keep the focus on Iran appears to be failing, with much of the coverage around his trip dominated on Wednesday by his comments to the New York Times that “this government will neither annex nor form a Palestinian state, everyone gets that.”
  • Several Hebrew-language news sites translate his comments as him taking peace talks off the table, though they could also be viewed as a description of the big moves his unwieldy coalition is unable to make and not a specific policy announcement.
  • “In the interview Bennett used a conciliatory tone toward the US government, after years of tensions between Netanyahu and Democrats, but he added that he is opposed to restarting peace talks with the Palestinians and that Israel will keep building in the settlements,” writes Barak Ravid in Walla.
  • The comments are enough to make Makor Rishon editor Hagai Segal, a fervent backer of the settlements, cautiously optimistic: “Blessed is the (right-wing) man who is always afraid, but in this interview Bennett does not express any willingness for concessions regarding [the West Bank], Jerusalem and the ‘two state solution.’ The opposite,” he tweets.

2. Southern man: Bennett’s trip is overshadowed by a number of things, but on Wednesday morning, it’s the sudden death of Ra’am MK Sa’ad al-Harumi that grabs the headlines.

  • Speaking to Army Radio, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levi calls al-Harumi “a man of high intellect, a man of education, a Negev man, who chose to represent the Bedouin with authenticity and dedication. Sa’ad was a pragmatist who was always looking for solutions.”
  • “Al-Harumi was thought of as a Negev Bedouin rights activist, as he was one of the leaders of the struggle in the Negev Bedouin community against house demolitions and for unrecognized villages in the Negev being recognized,” notes Channel 13.
  • ToI’s Aaron Boxerman tweets that al-Harumi had a large and faithful following.
  • Channel 12 zooms in on Iman Khatib-Yasin, a self-described feminist and Israel’s first hijab-wearing MK, who will likely replace al-Harumi as Ra’am’s fourth legislator. The channel notes that she has the potential to play a wildcard in the coalition, as al-Harumi did when he refused to vote with everyone else. “She’s also expressed stances that are unacceptable to some coalition members, like backing the Ben and Jerry’s boycott of the West Bank. That being said, it’s hard to see how she’ll mess up the coalition. Her entry into the Knesset will actually help its stability.”

3. 10,000 maniacs: Also seemingly stabilizing are Israel’s COVID numbers, just in a not-great place, after two straight days of case tallies in the upper 9,000s.

  • “Two days in a row: Nearly 10,000 new cases,” reads Channel 13’s top headline.
  • Former Health Ministry deputy head Itamar Grotto sounds resigned as he tells Army Radio that “numbers of cases will keep climbing until the end of the month at least, and then maybe we’ll start to see a drop. In this situation, it actually doesn’t matter if you open places or not, kids are getting infected everywhere anyway.”
  • But a day earlier, Sharon Alroy-Pries, head of public health services at the ministry, told Ynet that Israel should do something more. “So long as we don’t put in place some sort of restrictions that will also significantly lower morbidity, the numbers will continue to climb, so we need both — we also need to lessen contact between people, meaning limiting gatherings,” she said.
  • Kan, however, reports that experts think Israel just needs to get jabbing faster, with 5 million booster shots representing the magic number that will drop morbidity like a rock and bring it back to those sunny pre-Delta days.
  • Israel Hayom runs a top headline with former coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu saying he told Bennett that a lockdown would be a “weak solution,” though nobody really thinks a lockdown is on the table, let alone in the house.
  • At the same time, it runs a column by Ran Reznik who accuses the government of acting “with indifference and too late.”
  • “In contrast to the sense this government and the man at its head would like you to have, the fourth wave is hitting Israel particularly hard. The country is tragically recording a record number of seriously ill patients and deaths,” he writes. “You wouldn’t know this, though, from any of the ministers’ statements. Every day, dozens of families receive word of the death of a loved one from COVID-19, yet the prevailing atmosphere in the coronavirus cabinet and the government borders one of indifference toward the victims.”
  • Israel’s current coronavirus commander, Salman Zarka, is not much more forgiving. He tells ToI’s Nathan Jeffay that Israel messed up by slacking off as the Delta variant emerged.
  • “We stopped trying to explain and push [the unvaccinated] to have the vaccination. After we started Delta and the fourth wave of the disease, we returned to dealing with this,” he says. “It seems that some mistakes were made when we thought we won the war, and now we understand we only won the battle, the war is still here, and we have to continue and to explain and push all the people to get vaccinated.”

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