Coalition whiplash
Hebrew media review

Coalition whiplash

Bitan is barely out the door and papers are already asking why not Netanyahu too, why Amsalem is in, and whether the world, or Israel, will soon change course on Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with MK David Bitan in the Knesset plenum, November 18, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with MK David Bitan in the Knesset plenum, November 18, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Many Israelis surely appreciate US President Donald Trump’s threat to cut funding to states that back a UN resolution condemning him for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But a look at the main newspapers Wednesday shows that the country’s collective mind is tuned to more internal matters, namely corruption scandals plaguing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his now-former coalition bulldog David Bitan.

“Quit because of the investigation,” reads the main headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, practically screaming at Netanyahu to do the same.

Throwing any subtlety to the wind, the paper’s columnist Yuval Karni does just that.

“Netanyahu, whether under investigation or indicted, has no problem continuing to run the country. It’s nothing for him. So why is it too much for Bitan,” he writes. “If Netanyahu can continue even though he is neck-deep in probes, why can’t the coalition head, flesh of his political flesh, continue in his position? What’s good for Netanyahu, it seems, is no good for Bitan.”

Much is also made of the man picked to replace Bitan, David Amsalem, who has recently pushed ahead laws (championed by Bitan) seemingly designed to protect the prime minister from the police, which is just what Netanyahu wants in a whip.

“Amsalem proved that he can deliver the goods, even with controversial laws that advance the personal interests of Netanyahu,” Haaretz quotes a coalition source as saying.

The paper’s Yossi Verter doubts that Amsalem can actually deliver anything but more browbeating, though, chalking up his appointment to another poor decision by the prime minister.

Likud MKs David Bitan (L) and David Amsalem attend a Knesset committee meeting on September 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The choice of the MK whose name has become synonymous with everything that’s wrong with Likud nowadays, whose every media appearance chases sane Likud voters into the arms of Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, is totally contrary to the prime minister’s personal and political interests on the eve of the completion of the police investigation and the transferring of Cases 1000 and 2000 to the prosecution,” he writes. “In his delicate situation, Netanyahu should have found someone calm, gentle and amenable, someone who would know how to behave with coalition partners and opposition rivals.”

Even Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom can’t ignore the story, though the biggest takeaway from its main headline is that both Bitan and Amsalem have the first name David.

Never mind what the move means for the coalition — columnist Amnon Lord ignores the fact that a major political figure quit over a corruption scandal and instead attempts to disembowel the media for what he calls their incitement against the prime minister (what somebody else might call “accountability journalism”).

“The media in Israel have not been educated in democracy and their powers of judgement should not be taken seriously, given their past record. How do things look to someone on the right, an American for instance, who grew up around democratic ideals like the right to privacy, personal freedom and human dignity as the foundations of life rather than types of character assassination in law books,” he writes. “Anyone who talks to me coming from the outside finds it hard to believe that an investigation like the one taking place against the prime minister can be acceptable. The police did not need to waste their time expending resources on working under the order of known figures in the media — if there is corruption, it exists in the same police force that has joined forces with the battery of journalists trying to carry out a political assassination against Netanyahu since 1996.”

If Lord’s attack on the cops and the media wasn’t gauche enough, things will get super-awkward soon in the Knesset, where a day of saluting the police will be held while lawmakers are voting on Amsalem’s bill to shackle investigators from making indictment recommendations, Yedioth reports.

Haaretz’s lead editorial, meanwhile, claims it’s not the media and police that are inciting against Netanyahu but the other way around.

“Netanyahu is what he is – there is no value, institution or person he wouldn’t sacrifice to save his skin, and in his eyes there are no illegitimate methods for getting what he wants,” the editorial reads. “After years of inciting the public against Yitzhak Rabin, the architects of Oslo, the left, Israel’s Arabs, the media, human rights organizations, the courts, the IDF and the police, to name only some of his targets – the public has apparently become accustomed to this rhetoric, and most Israelis remain indifferent even when Netanyahu tells them a putsch is on in this country.

Trump bump or dump Trump?

Israel Hayom is also alone in being the only paper to play Trump’s threat on its front page bigger than the Bitan story. It reports matter of factly that Trump will cut funding to states that vote against it at the UN, without really looking at whether that’s likely to actually happen. Instead, columnist Lior Weintraub writes that the world will eventually come to its senses and see how good Washington’s word really is.

US President Donald Trump sits in the driver’s seat of a semitrailer as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House in Washington, DC, to discuss healthcare, March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jim Watson)

“Despite the picture of isolation that’s been created now, in the long run the American message will be that the strongest power in the world stands indisputably with its allies,” he writes, “and this will strengthen faith in it and in its ability to act in the chaotic international community and in the many challenges in the Middle East and beyond.”

America may stand by Israel, but perhaps Israel should rethink standing by Trump, writes columnist Dan Margalit in Haaretz’s op-ed page.

“Trump is unpredictable. Perhaps Netanyahu, who sees himself as a great diplomatic talent, believes he can ride the tiger, but there’s no certainty what an administration that has won so much praise from Jerusalem can offer to solve the conflict. In any case, this is still for the long term. The other problem is in the essence of Netanyahu and Trump’s relations,” he writes, comparing the US president to Apartheid South Africa, which Israel also broke bread with, to disastrous effect. “It’s convenient for the current government that Trump is president. But the two leaders, carelessly, have become fixed in the international consciousness and in their respective countries as Siamese twins. Netanyahu is harming Israel and America when he publicly commends the president or his UN ambassador every other day, even if his words stroke Trump’s ego.”

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