Black and blue and white: 8 things to know for March 19
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Black and blue and white: 8 things to know for March 19

Benny Gantz is looking increasingly bruised and beaten, with scandals coming fast and furiously, despite attempts to deflect attention to the submarine bribery case

Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Not a lock: Benny Gantz’s hopes of removing Benjamin Netanyahu from the prime minister’s office seem to be slipping away, with mini-scandal after mini-scandal dogging the former general.

  • The latest controversy comes courtesy of a recording broadcast Monday night by Channel 13 news in which the Blue and White leader can be heard saying he would be willing to sit in a government with Netanyahu, at least in a situation in which he (Gantz) is prime minister.
  • “The door is closed, but not locked,” he is heard telling a group of close advisers.
  • Doing damage control, Gantz on Tuesday releases a statement saying that now that the decision to indict Netanyahu has been published, circumstances have changed and that door is locked. “I am saying, not in an anonymous recording but openly and in my voice: I won’t sit with Netanyahu in the government,” he says.

2. Flubs for everyone: This is only the newest scandal, after the Iran phone hacking affair came to light and with polls showing his party dropping like a stone.

  • “The Likud campaign hasn’t been free of mistakes, but the Blue and White campaign trumps it by a bit with its own dose of flubs,” political strategist Memi Peer writes in Israel Hayom.
  • “The campaign is still officially in crisis mode,” writes Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, saying that the wheels have come off the campaign, and ticking off a laundry list of pitfalls facing the challenger.

3. Treasury meddling: The Globes financial daily notes that Gantz may have committed another faux pas and sold a sympathetic voice down the river with the Channel 13 tape quoting him as having spoken to senior “officials” from the Treasury who called the country’s financial situation a “catastrophe.”

  • The daily reports that suspicion of who the “officials” are has centered on budget director Shaul Meridor, who has rumbled with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on a number of policy issues like whether taxes need to be raised.
  • “If this is true, it’s very bad; it’s improper meddling between bureaucrats in politics and muddies the Treasury,” the paper quotes more unnamed senior officials in the ministry saying.

4. Subbing in the subs: Gantz’s method of fighting back has been to deflect attention away from himself and onto Netanyahu over the German submarine bribery affair, also known as Case 3000, which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has made a point of noting that Netanyahu is not being investigated over.

  • At a press conference Monday, the party “launched an all-out offensive” against Netanyahu over the affair and allegations that he may have earned millions from selling shares of US-based Graftech, which is a major supplier to Thyssenkrupp, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff reports.
  • The move is a risky one, Pfeffer notes, since it means trusting Mandelblit on some allegations against Netanyahu and questioning him on this.
  • And there are questions about its effectiveness.
  • Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea writes that even though Gantz and co. did not find a smoking gun, “the decision to focus their campaign on Case 3000 gives the case the weight it deserves,” though “underneath the loud headlines are just questions, not proof.”
  • In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev notes that as much as the case stinks, “the prospects that the smell of corruption – never mind actual indictments – could undo Netanyahu and crown Gantz and his partners as the Four Horsemen of Netanyahu’s Personal Apocalypse are slim, at best. Netanyahu has not only weathered the attorney general’s damning evidence of his miserliness, greed and pathological obsession with the media, he is, one must never forget, a maestro of political maneuvers, while Gantz is a total rookie.”

5. Iran on the phones: Meanwhile, the Iranian phone hacking scandal is continuing to simmer in the background.

  • On Twitter, Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal writes that the source of his report on Gantz’s phone being hacked by the Iranians is “not Netanyahu, anyone related to him or in his circle.” Many had speculated that Netanyahu, under whom both the Mossad and the cyber directorate sit, had leaked the story for political gain.
  • In a speech Monday, former Mossad head Tamir Pardo called the case a “political terror attack,” and Ben Caspit in al-Monitor calls the ensuing back and form of blame over the story a “cyber mud bath,” including infighting in Blue and White.
  • “This kind of event cannot remain secret,” a senior party official is quoted telling him. “It would have been much better if Gantz would have told us all in advance and prepared us for a possible embarrassment.”
  • Meanwhile, a Saudi website connected to the Independent reports that Gantz wasn’t the only one to get hacked, with Netanyahu’s wife and son also having their phones broken into by the Iranians.
  • A source tells the website that Sara and Yair Netanyahu were not themselves the main target of the hack, but rather that it was an attempt to gain general information on the prime minister, who does not have a cellphone.

6. Another dimension: Bloomberg’s Zev Chafetz adds to the canon of literature by people unsure about Gantz, noting his refusal to speak to the media, and questions he refuses to answer about his one venture in the civilian world, a spectacularly failed cybersecurity firm called Fifth Dimension.

  • “While Bibi is a master of the big public occasion and his English is flawless; Gantz has little to say in English. His flops and pulled punches are due to his basic honesty and his lack of political judgment. It explains his campaign slogan, Israel First, which not only echoes Bibi’s friend Trump but can, in Hebrew, be read as Israel ‘uber alles,’” he writes.
  • “His refusal to explain the fiasco of the Fifth Dimension also betrays his inexperience. … Only a political rookie would believe that silence will make these questions go away. Bibi will ensure they don’t.”
  • As for Gantz’s media shyness, while it is troubling, it’s worth noting that both Gantz and Netanyahu have yet to give full-on press conferences, and while Gantz’s one interview was with a singer and comedian in Yedioth, Netanyahu’s only interview was with Likud TV, that bastion of unbiased journalism. That will change Tuesday night, though, when interviews with Gantz are scheduled to air on both Channel 12 and Channel 13.

7. No deal: In Politico, David Makovsky writes that no matter who wins or how the elections pan out, it’s unlikely to work out well for the Trump administration’s peace plan.

  • “The biggest challenge for Trump may be the shifting political winds in Israel. Only a strong prime minister can take the big risks required for peace,” he writes, doubting whether Gantz or Netanyahu will have that kind of political wiggle room.
  • “None of [the possible options] bodes well for the peace plan.”

8. Inc. ink: Tuesday sees the release of “Kushner Inc,” a hotly anticipated book about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s business dealings and how they affect the White House.

  • Well, maybe not so hotly anticipated. The one excerpt to come out of Vicky Ward’s book featured a blase quote about how Ivanka doesn’t think her dad is a racist.
  • “Ward’s own yields generally feel meager, and she wraps even the smallest scoops in a fog of insinuation and menace,” an NPR book review reads.
  • In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg notes that the book also tackles the disastrous 666 Fifth Ave. deal that the Kushners managed to unload on the Qataris, which seemingly came in exchange for better ties with Washington.
  • Seemingly unnoticed by everyone is the fact that the same company that bought the property (Brookfield Asset Management, which is actually Canadian and used to be owned by the Bronfmans) also bought a little Ohio-based company back in 2015. The name of that company? Graftech.
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