Close but no cigars: 7 things to know for November 11
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Israel media review

Close but no cigars: 7 things to know for November 11

Netanyahu and Gantz almost touch, but unity remains elusive in the political arena, in the national memory and in a Bnei Brak wedding

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Shouldering the burden: Even from beyond the grave, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin are managing to bring together two Israeli leaders who are locked in a political deadlock the likes of which the country has not seen for decades, if ever.

  • On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and de facto opposition head Benny Gantz bumped into each other at the Knesset, as the former left the rostrum and the latter ascended at a memorial service for Rabin on the 24th yarhzeit of his assassination.
  • The meet-cute, with Gantz patting Netanyahu’s shoulder as they pass, is splashed across the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, imbued with meaning under the headline “So close, but so far.”
  • Meetings between the two have been relatively rare, though they did meet for talks, and also did both appear at a memorial for Peres several months ago, at which Rivlin tried to get them to buddy up.
  • The idea that they are close is nothing new, as my colleague Haviv Rettig Gur pointed out way back in March.
  • They also remain neck and neck in polling, according to Channel 13, which publishes a survey showing that if elections were held today Blue and White would get 35 seats to Likud’s 34, though neither side would be able to form a coalition. Shocker.

2. Taking aim at Liberman (but really Arabs): They say numbers don’t lie, but polls, aside from being unreliable, can also be easily spun. Thus Army Radio reports that 44 percent of Blue and White voters oppose a minority government backed by Arab parties.

  • The same poll is reported on in Israel Hayom as “Over half of Blue and White voters support including Arab parties in gov’t.” The actual number is 52%.
  • The main target of the paper, seen as a Likud/Netanyahu organ, isn’t Gantz, though, but rather Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, whom it accuses of wanting a government backed by the Arabs instead of a right-wing one.
  • “Good luck to him with a government backed by the Arabs,” the paper quotes a Likud source saying, placing the quote prominently. Another quote, “We’ll tear the mask off Liberman’s face,” is emblazoned across the tabloid’s front page.
  • “Liberman zigzagged first and has put himself up for sale,” the paper’s Mati Tuchfeld charges, accusing him of abandoning his base.
  • The one common thread is that whoever is being attacked, the ones really being attacked are the Arabs.

3. Yvette’s bets: Likud doesn’t need Israel Hayom to act as a stand-in, though, with the party brass being quite vocal about how it feels about Liberman and his ultimatums. Haaretz leads off its print edition with Netanyahu accusing Liberman of coordinating with Gantz and only placing demands on Likud.

  • Kan Radio quotes a Likud official saying Liberman “forgot he’s not in a casino.”
  • The paper’s Chemi Shalev writes that with his ultimatum, Liberman “once again showed his incisive political instincts and proved his penchant for taking high-risk gambles.”
  • But he adds that “given that Lieberman is viewed by the right as a traitor to the cause and in large swaths of the center left as a rabid racist temporarily wrapped in a moderate’s clothing, both sides assumed the worst.”
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff finds another problem with Liberman’s ultimatum, one that nobody is talking about: the fact that under the law Gantz and Netanyahu cannot agree to have Netanyahu as prime minister first, since Gantz is the one holding the mandate to form a government.
  • “It’s written clearly: whoever forms the government must sit at its head. If Gantz forms a government he needs to head it,” Assaf Shapira, an Israeli constitutional expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, tells him.
  • The problem is, the parties are so wrapped up in their talks that they hadn’t even considered the legal obstacle.
  • “Spokespeople for both the Blue and White and Likud parties initially told The Times of Israel that there was no problem with Gantz forming a coalition and letting Netanyahu serve as prime minister first,” Wootliff writes. “Only when presented with the Basic Law and legal opinions to the contrary did both parties concede that under the current law, Gantz would automatically become prime minister if he formed the government.”

4. Politics and memory: While Netanyahu and Gantz brushing against each other was nice, the real news at the Rabin ceremony was a public feud that broke out between Netanyahu and Rabin’s grandson.

  • After Yonatan Ben Artzi urged Netanyahu to resign over the three criminal cases against him, the PM shot back during the Knesset ceremony that “to my regret, this year too there were those who decided to exploit the state memorial service for blatant and shameful political attacks, which more than anything else harm the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.”
  • Several on the right, and not only on the right, back Netanyahu and blame Ben Artzi for politicizing the memorial.
  • “Rabin’s grandson chose to ruin the ceremony and attack Netanyahu,” reads a headline in the website of ultra-Orthodox radio station Radio Kol Hai.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Gideon Alon writes that “with all due respect, it is not the place of Rabin’s grandson to use a memorial ceremony for his grandfather to preach to Netanyahu about how to act.”
  • “As someone who saw Rabin killed before his eyes and who cannot be accused of being a staunch Netanyahu supporter, I find myself bewildered and taken aback by the annual ‘media attack’ over Rabin’s grave,” former Rabin media adviser Avi Benayahu writes on Twitter. “In my eyes it does not add to the needed national remembrance of Rabin’s legacy. Netanyahu respects the state ceremony every year and one should respect the stature and holiness of the place. Politics should be left to the square and to the Knesset.”

5. Circles in the square: In fact, Rabin Square was home to an annual event meant to push national conciliation in Rabin’s remembrance.

  • The Ynet news website calls the event an instance of “unity on a day of division.”
  • Among those participating was Miriam Peretz, an outspoken and widely respected right-winger who lost two sons in war.
  • “We need to learn from each other the hard way how to listen to one another,” she tells Army Radio. “I paid the price of peace and the price of war. If everyone would take three steps back, everything would look different.”
  • Others, though, don’t think just anybody should get to bandy Rabin’s peacemaking legacy about. “Anyone who imagines they are continuing the legacy of Rabin needs to stick to one simple truth of his: We have to end ruling over the Palestinian people, and we need to come to an agreement with them,” former general Amiram Levin writes in Haaretz.

6. Rude reception: Perhaps running a close second when it comes to events that should possibly not be politicized is a wedding, but Gantz’s decision to attend the wedding of the son of ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Yaakov Asher drew protesters who gathered outside, called him a “terrorist,” told him to “go to the Arabs.”

  • Walla reports that Asher apologized to Gantz and blamed the ruckus on a “group of youths who have embarrassed the Haredi public as a whole,” and “the current trend of political polarization.”
  • The damage is done, though, with the incident widely reported on and giving the black hat community a black eye.
  • Kan writes that Gantz was a given a “hostile reception,” and notes the same thing happened to Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi in Ashkelon.

7. Shut that neias: Rather than cover it up, the rude welcome is also covered in the ultra-Orthodox press, though sites are sure to note that Gantz had a wonderful time inside.

  • That includes Kikar Hashabbat, which has a video of a Yiddish song “a Gantz yar freilich” (“Happy all year”) performed just for the politician.
  • On Haredi radio station Kol Barama, reporter Yanki Ferber says organizers should have known, given the political atmosphere, that this would happen and should have had Gantz avoid such a public entry to the Bnei Brak hall.
  • But presenter Israel Cohen says maybe it would have been better if the whole thing was kept under wraps.
  • “This was a wedding with a kiddush Hashem,” he says referring to something that glorifies God by showing the community of God-fearers in a good light. “Us journalists are guilty of choosing to make headlines out of the heckling instead.”
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