Electioneering at any cost: 8 things to know for October 16
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Israel media review

Electioneering at any cost: 8 things to know for October 16

Netanyahu’s tired quips, an unsafe train and a possible transfer of Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem are all chalked up to vote-chasing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the winter session of the Knesset on October 15, 2018. (Knesset)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the winter session of the Knesset on October 15, 2018. (Knesset)

1. Pre-stump speech: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an interesting speech to open the Knesset’s winter session, and while he didn’t quite deliver, the speech and other comments by the prime minister were still noteworthy in that they offered the latest proof that Israel is headed toward snap polls.

  • “The punch lines were weak. The self-glorification was hackneyed. The whining about the media, which undermines freedom of expression, was warmed-over hash reheated for the thousandth time,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes. “Netanyahu never mentioned the word ‘elections.’ But that doesn’t mean that in mid-November, once the runoff elections for mayoral races are over, he won’t dissolve the Knesset on some pretext or another.”
  • The Israel Hayom tabloid, seen as close to Netanyahu, runs a front page headline quoting the prime minister telling the paper that “I don’t need an excuse to go to elections,” during an impromptu question and answer session in the Knesset cafeteria.
  • “It seems he meant what he said,” columnist Mati Tuchfeld writes in the paper, before listing a number of possible excuses for Netanyahu to dismantle the government. “The conscription bill may be behind us, but the conversion [issue] is still looming. As is Gaza. And the investigations. And his great polling numbers. One of them will be the determining card in the end and lead everyone to the ballot box.”

2. Stolen goods: Netanyahu’s quip that “The country wasn’t stolen, the country is awesome,” ( it sounds slightly better in Hebrew) may have been lame, but newscasts still found it catchy enough to run clips of it repeatedly Monday evening, and it makes the headline of Yedioth Ahronoth’s coverage.

  • The paper’s Nahum Barnea admits that Netanyahu is right that you can’t accuse a citizen of stealing the country, and you can’t discount the many successes Israel has had under the premier. But that’s not the whole story.
  • “Netanyahu is convinced he deserves credit on all the good things that happen here. He isn’t prepared to take responsibility for the less good. When war on the Gaza border is continuing beyond the gaze of the government, he is not responsible, nor is the defense minister — the IDF chief is. That’s how Trump acts, how Erdogan acts, how Hungary’s Orban acts.”

3. They really love me: Journalists did take note of Netanyahu’s claim that the left-wing media in the country is self-censoring, telling the story of a senior journalist who praised Netanyahu to his face but was afraid to publish anything.

  • Netanyahu did not initially name the journalist, but responded in the negative when a heckler called out that it was Channel 20’s Shimon Riklin (Israel’s Sean Hannity).
  • Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu later confirmed the journalist was Israel Radio’s Arieh Golan.
  • Netanyahu also refers to Haaretz’s Noa Landau, again without naming her, mentioning a behind the scenes article she wrote after following the Netanyahus around on a tour in Vilnius. He says she later “corrected herself,” apparently referring to her coverage of barred Hebrew University student Lara Alqasem, which has given Israel a black eye internationally.
  • Pushing back, Landau tweets: “Prime minister, you know well I didn’t ‘correct’ anything because I didn’t exactly take any heat. I’ve always believed, and I still believe in extreme independence of thought.”
  • Meanwhile, Daily Beast correspondent Neri Zilber notes that the supposedly self-censoring anti-Netanyahu media showed his speech in full, while cutting away when opposition leader Tzipi Livni got up to speak.

4. Tractor or terror? The Israeli media is reporting on a Turkish tractor driver shot after running into cars near the Israeli embassy in Ankara. In Hebrew, though, the incident takes on a sinister tone that contrasts sharply with more careful reporting in English, likely a product of Israeli familiarity with a string of attacks by tractor drivers about a decade ago.

  • “On the way to the Israeli embassy,” reads a headline on Israel’s Channel 10 news, though it quotes Turkish news as saying the man was on his way to protest in front of the embassy.
  • The Ynet news site quotes CNNTurk as saying that the driver planned to attack the embassy. However, the story about the incident on the Turkish network specifically notes that terrorism is not suspected in the incident.
  • Reuters quotes an Israeli official saying that the incident had nothing to do with its embassy. “To the best of our knowledge this has nothing to do with the embassy. He was on his way to demonstrate outside a (Turkish) government ministry. The incident happened near the ambassador’s residence, and not the embassy,” the official is quoted saying.
  • Several Israeli sites note that Israel’s ambassador to Turkey hasn’t been in Ankara for months, after being booted amid an ugly diplomatic spat.

5. That’s not a capital. This is a capital: The news that Australia’s prime minister will look into recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy to West Jerusalem was seen as a major step, with Canberra being the first major Western country after the US to publicly consider such a move. But several journalists are pouring cold water on the Israeli excitement.

  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes that what Scott Morrison told Australian media appeared to be closer to what Russia has done — recognize West Jerusalem and move a lesser diplomatic mission there — than the US’s move of “taking Jerusalem off the table.”
  • “Unlike Washington, Canberra unambiguously said its possible recognition of an Israeli capital in the western part of the city would go hand in hand with acknowledging the Palestinians’ right to a capital in its eastern section.”
  • Australia also coupled its Jerusalem announcement with a strong commitment to the principle of two states for two peoples. The term ‘two-state solution’appears three times in Morrison and [Foreign Minister Marise] Payne’s joint statement,” he writes.
  • Channel 10’s Barak Ravid says a former Australian diplomat told him the Jerusalem move is just a small part of a larger policy review and the embassy is not about to be transferred.
  • And several Australian journalists note that the statement comes just days before former envoy to Israel Dave Sharma, who is pushing for the move, is set to compete in an election for the Wentworth district of Sydney, where many Jews live. If he loses, Morrison will lose his parliamentary majority.
  • “The Liberals have been making a big pitch for the Jewish vote in Wentworth, on the back of Sharma’s diplomatic experience. His major opponent, independent Kerryn Phelps, is Jewish,” reads a story on Australian site The Conversation.

6. Pulling a fast one: A day after over 150 train passengers traveling from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem were stuck in a tunnel for over an hour, Walla news looks at the woes to plague the rail since it began service just a few weeks ago.

  • The news site notes that dozens of trains have been canceled and there are almost constant disruptions to service, contending that the government rushed the much-delayed project out too early to win some brownie points.
  • “The obsession with opening the fast train to Jerusalem at any cost and for a photo op, while clearly ignoring clear and unmistakable warnings signs so Israel Railways and the Transportation Ministry did not properly plan for the opening of the line — is nothing less than a colossal mess-up,” Eyal Tal, the head of a public transportation policy group, tells the site.

7. Doctor’s note from the ghetto: Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the treasury is demanding a Holocaust survivor seeking state help for dental work prove she suffered the damage to her teeth during the war.

  • “How am I supposed to prove the condition of my teeth was caused by the war? I should bring a note from the Ghetto doctor?” the one-time Warsaw Ghetto resident says.

8. Blood and marriage: Yair Lapid should be on her side. He also says Jews have not recovered from the Holocaust, which was the reasoning he gave for coming out against intermarriage recently.

  • Haaretz’s lead editorial takes Lapid to task for the comment, calling it improper for the head of a supposedly liberal Zionist party.
  • “His outrageous words paint Yesh Atid in problematic colors and must be rejected by the rest of this party,” the editorial reads. “Someone must remind him that the Israeli government and its leader in particular work for all the country’s citizens – Jews, Muslims and Christians as one – and for them alone. Does Yesh Atid want a society that preserves the purity of blood and matrimony?”
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