Comity of errors
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Hebrew media review

Comity of errors

Tales of unhealthy friendships dominate the press, including the kinds of friends who only seem in it for the champagne or anti-Iran intelligence

Arnon Milchan and the Netanyahus pose with one of Milchan's children in a family setting. (Hadashot news screenshot, November 16, 2017)
Arnon Milchan and the Netanyahus pose with one of Milchan's children in a family setting. (Hadashot news screenshot, November 16, 2017)

Friends come in lots of shapes and sizes, and they are not always good ones. Sometimes a friend is someone you pal around with, who then asks you for lots of expensive gifts all the time. Sometimes a friend is someone who makes things up to make a story better. Sometimes a friend is someone who lets you crash at their place until they decide it’s time for you to move out and go to jail, or anywhere else. And sometimes friends are people who pretend not to know you when others are around, and then ask for a piece of your intelligence pie in secret.

All of these friends are on display in Israel’s print press Friday morning, along with a healthy helping of enemies.

It’s the last type of friendship, which Israel is lucky enough to share with Saudi Arabia, that is perhaps played up the most in the papers, a day after IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot gave his first ever interview to an Arab media outlet, the Saudi Elaph.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot addresses the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on July 5, 2017. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

The story makes the top item in Israel Hayom, highlighting Eisenkot’s offer to share intelligence with Riyadh, with the headline “Secret info, tightening ties in the open,” despite the fact that the Saudis still refuse to forge official ties with Israel and they aren’t all that open.

Further proving that Saudi Arabia is not as open as the paper might like, it resorts to quoting anonymous “Arab sources” in detailing how close the relationship is getting (though truth be told, named sources are rare even in anything to do with diplomacy).

“The two countries are leading a coordinated stance to stop Iran from getting a foothold in the region, especially in south Lebanon,” the paper reports. “According to the sources, the efforts are being made with the US’s leadership and with participation by Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states.”

Indeed, the idea that Israel and the Saudis are only friends as far as they both oppose Iran also comes through in a column for Israel Hayom by Oded Granot who says “the fact of the interview was important but the content was even more so.”

Haaretz, which also plays up the story, notes that Elaph has in recent years become a conduit for Israel to send the Gulf messages regarding Israel’s stance on Iran and Hezbollah, “often when the site turns to Israel, and not as an Israeli initiative,” indicating that the Saudis are also interested in reaching out to Jerusalem so it’s not one-way traffic.

But if Israel and the Gulf are playing with two cans and a string regarding Iran, they would do well to pick up an actual phone and call Moscow directly, as it’s the Kremlin that is actually in charge, writes columnist Amos Harel, though he doesn’t see Russia running to answer Israel’s demands.

“The reason for Russian support of Iran, despite Russia’s generally close and positive ties with Israel, is simple: The Iranians, and especially their Hezbollah proxies, are providing the Russians and the Assad regime with the ground forces upon which the regime’s survival hinges. Keeping the current regime in power is mission number one for the Russians, because that way they can maintain all the advantages – an image of power, a Mediterranean seaport at Tartus, potential trade deals – inherent in an Assad victory,” he writes. “Russia does not intervene or protest when Israel reportedly bombs a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syria (as long as the airstrike doesn’t harm Russian troops), but is has no reason to exert itself to meet all of Israel’s demands about keeping the Iranians out of Syria.”

Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, leads off with a different kind of unhealthy friendship, the give and give kind personified by accusations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what’s known as Case 1000. After Netanyahu’s office published pictures supposedly showing what great friends the prime minister and family are with Arnon Milchan and his brood, the paper is the only one to take the bait and publish them, with even the Netanyahu-backed Israel Hayom steering clear.

But while the pictures may tell one story of amity, meant to highlight Netanyahu’s defense that the bottles and cigars were just presents between chums, they are accompanied by the leak of yet another testimony showing how far the Netanyahus went in their demands of gifts from their buddies, with Milchan’s driver recalling he was sent the night of the Passover seder to ferry bottles of champagne to the Netanyahus.

“The driver’s testimony likely overshadows the Netanyahu’s defense,” the paper reports, quoting the driver as saying he was “forced to leave my family’s seder table to bring the bottle of pink champagne to the Netanyahus, on Sara [Netanyahu]’s demand.”

Screen capture from video in which Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff described how he ostensibly beat a passive Palestinian protester in Hebron, filmed at a rally in April, 2017. (YouTube/hakolhayehudi)

The paper also plays up the news that a Breaking the Silence spokesperson did not beat up a Palestinian, which might normally be seen as a good thing, but in this crazy case is actually bad as it proves that the group tells fibs in order to prove its politicized point (the friend who embellishes). At least that’s according to the populist Yedioth, which sprinkles its critical coverage with the word “lies,” and includes two separate columns speaking out against the group, showing just how far Breaking the Silence is from the Israeli mainstream.

“This is not one story. It’s a method,” Ben-Dror Yemini writes in one. “[Breaking the Silence head] Avner Gvaryahu gave a lecture a Columbia University and showed a picture of a mosque blown up by the IDF. Unfortunately for him, there was a soldier there who had served in Gaza. He told the crowd that two soldiers had been shot and killed by fire from the mosque. In most cases, nobody is there to dispute the lies. That’s how Gvaryahu and others can go around the world and give the impression that IDF soldiers are monsters.”

Not surprisingly, right-wing Israel Hayom also jumps all over the story, with columnist Dror Eidar calling Breaking the Silence “an industry of libel and lies against the IDF,” and targeting the money the group receives from donors outside Israel.

“There’s a pathetic justice to the fact that one who receives a stamp of ‘liar’ from the court should hold the position of spokesman of this group, which speaks lies about its own people,” he writes.

As for the friend who kicks you out when you’re down on your luck, that’s actually the ministerial duo of Gilad Erdan and Aryeh Deri, whose decision to shut down the Holot holding facility for asylum-seeking African migrants is the top story in Haaretz.

African asylum seekers gather at the entrance to Holot Detention Center in southern Israel to mark the International Refugees Day on Saturday, June 18, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

They won’t be left completely high and dry, though, given the choice of where to go next.

“The border authority will formally announce within a few weeks a new policy, under which asylum seekers will have to return to their countries of origin, agree to be sent to Rwanda or be jailed indefinitely in Israel,” the paper reports.

While Haaretz’s coverage is tinged with a critical edge, Israel Hayom’s is anything but, with columnist Shefi Paz deriding Holot as a money pit and saying there’s no reason the African migrants can’t just go somewhere else and get out of her hair.

“It’s time for this madness to end,” she writes. “Ten years of living as outsiders is enough for us. We, residents of south Tel Aviv and other occupied neighborhoods, want to go back to being part of the state of Israel.”

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