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Hebrew media review

Don Netanyahu

The prime minister is made to seem less like a premier than a mafia boss, with allegations of sweetheart cronyism and protection from a friendly paper

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while giving a lecture regarding Israel's foreign policy priorities at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London November 3, 2017. (ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while giving a lecture regarding Israel's foreign policy priorities at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London November 3, 2017. (ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

One reason crime syndicates are often so successful is that they have a number of different ways to take care of business and keep themselves as a going concern. Sometimes, those methods involve subterfuge, like sneaky-peteing a crony into a sweetheart job to do their bidding, and sometimes they are heavy-handed, like bringing a baseball bat to a meeting and making sure the other party knows what a shame it would be to lose their kneecaps.

Both methods are on display — figuratively in one case — in two of Israel’s major Hebrew-language papers Thursday morning, with the man accused of being the mafia don none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though like any successful godfather, the papers have him looming in the background and not the foreground.

Much like the baseball bat method, there’s little in the way of subtlety on Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, which comes right out and accuses the premier and his Likud henchmen of acting like gangsters toward police chief Roni Alsheich.

“They are fighting the police commissioner with mafia methods, so that they will understand you don’t mess with the prime minister,” reads the headline splashed in big letters across the paper’s front page, a quote from a former police chief, though the paper does not say who it is.

What has the paper and the po-po in a tizzy is the preliminary passage of a bill that would prevent police from recommending an indictment in the cases they are investigating against Netanyahu, as well as a proposal to lower Alsheich’s salary and give Netanyahu a raise. Despite the fact that Netanyahu said the second measure was unnecessary, the paper still describes the day’s events as the “peak” of a Likud campaign against the police.

“We have no option but to state that this is a dangerous trend of hurting the police in any way possible,” the paper quotes the police saying in a statement.

Even more harsh are columnists Ben-Dror Yemini and Sima Kadmon, who are both aghast at the idea of talking about lowering Alsheich’s salary, which they say isn’t really about his take-home pay at all.

Chief of Police, Roni Alsheikh speaks with the media during a press conference at the police headquarters, Jerusalem on January 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It’s clear there’s nothing to the salary proposal, just as there’s nothing to the proposal on preventing police from recommending charges… But Amsalem-Bitan aspire to just one place: They want to incite and to intimidate. They want to create more divisions,” Yemini writes, referring to MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan, two of Netanyahu’s most vociferous Likud supporters.

“They want their faithful supporters, even if it’s just a small part of the right, to catch on to their violent and scary language. It’s a dangerous gamble. It’s doubtful [Attorney General Avichai] Mandelblit and Alsheich will be shocked. But these proposals are like a match when the air is filled with gas. Netanyahu sits to the side and ponders to himself: Blessed is the match.”

Haaretz’s lead story may not be directly tied to Netanyahu, but it’s pretty close, alleging that the director of the Communications Ministry appointed by the prime minister worked to push a merger deal that would have given Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitz, a friend of Netanyahu, a nice payday. The paper details not only the fact that Filber started on the deal almost from day one, but also ignored anyone who told him the merger was not a good idea.

“When the deputy director for finance in the Communications Ministry refused to sign off on the legal opinion okaying the deal, the ministry went to a private consultant, Odeliah, which is not an expert in communications,” the paper reports, adding that the opinion allowing the merger, instead of taking months to put together like normal, was completed in a matter of days.

Not surprisingly, Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom has no such stories, unless you count a report on the Knesset discussion regarding the police recommendations bill, under a headline attacking police media adviser Lior Horev, who “does not need to be in the police one more minute,” according to the highlighted quote from Amsalem.

Instead, the paper leads off with an exclusive, revealing the “bank of targets” of anti-Israel organizations to be prosecuted once a law forbidding boycotts of Israel passes. There’s none of the criticism that has accompanied the bill, but instead the paper excitedly lists the groups that will be in the government’s gunsights once the law (already struck down by the High Court once) passes. Among them are Amnesty International, Coalition of Women for Peace, and the biggest baddie of all, the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

The paper lists a number of cases that could land the groups in hot water, reporting for instance on Amnesty’s calls “to boycott settlement goods and urging of an arms embargo on Israel under the claim that it is a war criminal and its settlement activity is a war crime.”

Israel Hayom’s habit of putting stories that play to its right-wing base on its front page instead of covering investigations against Netanyahu is not new, but the paper’s decision a day earlier to run a story attacking someone heading a road safety campaign for the Transportation Ministry for her Israel-critical views is derided in Haaretz’s lead editorial as a step too far.

“Nothing that [Makbula] Nassar has written or done is against the law. Proud of her nationalism, she publicized her worldview and opinions long before she was appointed to a position in the civil service. Most of what she has said reflects the position of the absolute majority of the country’s Arab citizens, and it’s a strong, structured and legitimate position,” the editorial reads. “Israel Hayom’s response is to be condemned. … It seems the paper seeks to please its patrons and blur the seriousness of the allegations [against Netanyahu] as much it can. So its editors found a solution: a witch hunt. Rather than cover the investigations into Netanyahu, create a new agenda by inciting against Israeli Arabs. McCarthyism instead of journalism.”

As if to prove that it’s possible to cover a news event that might not dovetail with your editors’ worldview, Yedioth Ahronoth does not shy away from reporting on the labor court’s criticism of a claim brought against Sara Netanyahu by a worker who says she was abused. It even puts the story on its front page and plays up the judge’s “tough criticism,” in the paper’s words, though the paper had earlier clearly placed itself on the side of the claimant.

Yedioth reports that the judge asked the claimant and her lawyer to remove the word “slave” from the claim, dismissing the lawyer’s defense that he was trying to give a feeling of what it was like in the house.

“I don’t care about the atmosphere. What was said to someone else and not the claimant doesn’t interest me; it’s not relevant,” the judge is quoted saying. “The background noise on the floor where the worker lived doesn’t interest me. What interests me is what happened with the claimant.”

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