Everything is political: 6 things to know for January 22
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Israel media review

Everything is political: 6 things to know for January 22

As kings and presidents come to Israel to commemorate the Shoah and slay anti-Semitism, a few jesters and annexers are butting into the get-together

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party campaign event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party campaign event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. King of the commemoration: On Tuesday, I wrote about Yedioth Ahronoth mentioning the visit of Russian President Vladimyr Putin while seemingly ignoring the reason for his trip, Holocaust remembrance. On Wednesday, the paper does a complete 180, filling its front page with a picture of children taken during the liberation of Auschwitz and the words “Never again” written in a smattering of languages.

  • The official commemoration isn’t until Thursday (and remembrance day is not until next week), but the cover accurately (if overly) captures the mood in the country and the press, where it feels almost like Yom Hashoah.
  • Except whereas on Yom Hashoah the focus is on survivors, now the focus appears to be on the high-level delegations making their way to Israel.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren calls it “the biggest diplomatic event in Israel’s history,” noting that 49 delegations will be in Israel, including 41 leaders or heads of state.
  • His excellent rundown of all the issues surrounding the ceremony and what’s on the menu includes an actual exploration of what is on the menu (sea bream and beef) at a super-exclusive and packed state dinner Wednesday night at the President’s Residence.
  • “For space reasons, the heads of the foreign delegations were asked to bring only one guest — in most cases, a chief of staff or a senior adviser — with no spouses allowed. The plus-ones will sit in a tent erected specifically for this purpose last week. The leaders’ security personnel will be holed up in a third tent.”
  • The dinner will also feature a video of world leaders falling over themselves to issue statements about anti-Semitism, which is being anthologized in a book by the President’s Residence and Yad Vashem.
  • “To those who seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, we say: never again,” reads one from Trump, who has clearly upped his game since calling Yad Vashem “amazing” in its guestbook.

2. Never again, again: It’s not just the past but worries about the future that are on everybody’s minds.

  • Israel Hayom fills its front page with a column from Rivlin in which he talks about his pride at the fact that so many leaders are visiting his little neck of the woods, saying they answered his call. “They are doing this out of appreciation for Israel and by coming are saying courageously to the world that together we will stand against anti-Semitism, at a time when it is rearing up its head.”
  • Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress, who actually put the World Holocaust Forum together, tells Army Radio that he fears “in 30 years all the European Jews could have emigrated. The scope will match the scope of anti-Semitism around the world.”
  • France is one of the places seen as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and in Yedioth, French leader Emmanuel Macron admits that “75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, survivors, citizens of France and other countries, are being attacked because they are Jews.”
  • He adds that he is fighting anti-Semitism with everything he has but says that forcing people will never work, instead counseling education as the antidote to hate.
  • In Israel Hayom, British ambassador Neil Wiggan writes that a new Holocaust memorial and learning center is being built right next to Parliament.
  • “Holocaust learning and education is absolutely fundamental if we are to wish to abolish antisemitism,” he writes.

3. Duda, where’s my ceremony: Not everyone is on the same page about everything, and there is still ye olde dispute with Poland marring the ceremony somewhat.

  • Speaking to ToI’s diplomatic reporter Raphael Ahren (who is working very hard this week), Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, offers scathing criticism of Kantor and the organizers of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum for daring to hold an event outside Poland (he describes Auschwitz as “the biggest Jewish cemetery, but also the biggest Polish cemetery”).
  • “It is simply so provocative and immature that I do not find the words to comment on it,” he says, before finding the words and then some. “For me, the entire row is just pathetic and immature. Inadequate in the context of this very important day and the memory of the victims themselves.”
  • But the Associated Press notes that Israel’s taking Putin’s side over Polish president Andrzej Duda, who canceled his appearance over not being able to speak, “appears to be rooted in Israel’s sensitive relationship with Russia,” noting the fact that Kantor is close to Putin.
  • “Using history for all kinds of things is very much a part of our world today and we as historians rail against it,” Yad Vashem’s Robert Rozette tells the news service. “But if if we were waiting for all the stars to line up and for everyone to be on the same page, we would never have an event like this.”
  • In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el notes that Kantor also pumped money into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign, and despite reiterating over and over again the solemnity of the occasion, wishes the leaders coming would use the occasion to actually do something rather than just memorialize.
  • “How easy it is to assemble kings, presidents, prime ministers and oligarchs to honor the memory of the Holocaust. But these are the same leaders who were unable to halt the slaughter in Syria, to end the brutal war in Yemen or to put an end to the Israeli occupation in the territories,” he writes acerbically. “The lofty World Holocaust Forum apparently has a chronic allergy to regional and international conflicts. Memorials are its forte. It will always be happy to show solidarity with those who were killed and to exercise its conscience after the fact.”

4. Coordinated craziness: Bar’el is kind of getting his wish with pushes by both Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for West Bank annexation suddenly being the talk of the town.

  • On Tuesday, Gantz said if elected he would annex the West Bank “in coordination with the international community,” in what is seen as a try for right-wing votes.
  • He might also get votes from the absurdist community. As Economist writer Gregg Carlstropm notes on Twitter, “’Annex the Jordan Valley in coordination with the international community’ is sort of like ‘open a combined slaughterhouse and fur shop in coordination with PETA.’”
  • Or as Haaretz’s Noa Landau puts it: Gantz knows very well that there’s no such thing as ‘annexation coordinated with the international community.’ There are either agreements with international backing that set temporary or permanent borders, or unilateral annexation that shows contempt for the international community and its laws. There is no middle ground. There will never be ‘annexation by agreement’ or even a ‘mini-annexation.’”

5. Annex till you drop: Netanyahu, though, has decided to one-up Gantz by promising to annex everything in coordination with himself.

  • He also dives into ToI’s archive to put down Blue and White’s Yair Lapid, while getting into a little back and forth with Gantz, who challenges him to just annex the damn thing now.
  • Kan reports that instead, Netanyahu is working on getting backing from the White House for such a move, before elections and before the US peace plan is presented.
  • Channel 12 news reports, without a source, that Foreign Ministry people are up in arms at the both of them making this an issue just as the world’s eyes are on Israel.
  • “Gantz proved what we feared: he’s not a diplomat,” says the channel’s Ehud Yaari. “And Netanyahu …. is acting irresponsibly.”
  • In Yedioth, Ben-Dror Yemini writes that Netanyahu knows annexation is bad news, since it will put even more of an onus on Israel regarding the Palestinians. But, elections. “There’s a new Netanyahu, who is more concerned with taking care of Netanyahu than the rest of the country,” he writes,

6. Homecoming queen: Israel can always ask for annexation advice from Putin, who grabbed Crimea just a few years ago. But it has other matters, namely, the release of backpacker Naama Issachar.

  • After Channel 13 news reported that Russia asked for Israel to help solve an ownership dispute raging for years around the Sergei’s Courtyard complex in downtown Jerusalem, Maariv now reports that Israel already took care of it three weeks ago.
  • In a filing made on December 30, the property was listed as being transferred to the Russia Federation, according to the report, setting off a 60-day comment period before it’s made official.
  • The report notes that Minister Gila Gamliel recently went to Russia to discuss the Issachar case with a Russian official who just happens to be the same one tasked with getting an arrangement for the property.
  • Harel Tubi, the President’s Residence chief of staff, tells Army Radio that Israel has high hopes.
  • “I hope that we won’t even need to bring this up when Rivlin meets Putin, since the message from Russia will be very clear the moment the president arrives, in the way he’s bringing news to the people of Israel.”
  • The other matter is an Israeli gesture to take Russia’s side against Poland in the World War II dispute, as discussed above. Haaretz’s Amnos Harel writes that “this is a minefield, but Israel appears to be leaping right into the middle of it with youthful exuberance.”
  • “Instead of leaving the past to historians, leaders have waded deep into the battle over the narrative,” he writes.
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