Fears, fibs and falafel: 9 things to know for March 5
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Fears, fibs and falafel: 9 things to know for March 5

While Israelis worry about an uptick in fighting with the Palestinians, which could be tied to elections, Netanyahu kinda makes up with a rival and Gantz has lunch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of his Likud party's election campaign in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019.(Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of his Likud party's election campaign in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019.(Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

1. Violent upsurge: There are new fears of renewed violence with the Palestinians Tuesday, a day after a suspected West Bank ramming attack on soldiers and an uptick in violence with Gaza.

  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel calls tensions in the West Bank, Gaza and over the Temple Mount, with elections on the horizon, a “perfect storm” brewing.
  • Army sources tell him that “every day that passes without broader escalation in the West Bank is a happy surprise; in the Gaza Strip, much depends on the damage done by the bombs thrown at Israeli soldiers during the night-time protests.”
  • And while he says Israel wants to avoid clashes ahead of elections, “the fear of appearing weak to the Palestinians could induce the government to escalate matters – and on the Palestinian side too, some evidently view the situation as a tempting opportunity to drive Netanyahu into a corner.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua, who writes that the area is “on the verge of an explosion,“ also says that Israel is “willing to pay any price to prevent a clash with the Palestinians, but it’s not clear if the other side is interested,” echoing a talking point used by the right-wing as a cudgel against the prime minister.
  • He also notes, “It seems as if the IDF and the Shin Bet are using every opportunity to express fears and issue warnings, in order to feel ‘covered’ and keep from taking responsibility.”

2. Gaza protection racket: It’s not clear what price Israel is supposedly willing to pay, especially with at least some of the tensions ostensibly tied to cuts of tax transfers from Israel and aid from the Americans.

  • Gal Berger of the Kan public broadcaster reports that Hamas is asking for $20 million or it will ramp up violence again, apparently dropping all pretense of aid money not being mafia-style protection.
  • He also reports that Qatar’s envoy will be visiting the Strip in the coming days, as will an Egyptian delegation, hoping to get ceasefire talks off the ground.
  • At a press conference on Monday, the terror group’s head, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Israel of “opting out of short and long term understandings,” the Associated Press reports.
  • Analyst Yaakov Lappin writes on i24’s news website that Hamas in Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar’s strategy “has been to ambitiously build up Hamas’s military wing while using the Gazan border violence as a ‘low flame’ pressure tactic to extort the region into finding a solution to Gaza’s economic mess, which has been created by Hamas’s own policies.”
  • “Hamas is telling Israel that if a solution to its distress is not found soon, it will prefer war to passively watching Gaza’s economy crumble, and risking an uprising by Gazans,” he writes.

3. No adventures: Unsurprisingly, the violence is being tied directly to elections.

  • On Monday, Haniyeh warned Israel against embarking on any swashbuckling “adventures” ahead of elections.
  • While Netanyahu needs a war like a hole in the head, the right is clearly pushing him to toughen up, with New Right leader Naftali Bennett telling Channel 12 that Netanyahu is afraid of the terrorists, referring to a Yedioth report that security chiefs want to avoid riling up security prisoners by cracking down on smuggled cellphones.
  • The cellphone drive, being led by Likud Minister Gilad Erdan, is also seen by many as a pre-election ploy to make him look tough on terrorism.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial goes through a laundry list of right-wing policies that it sees as being driven by electioneering, warning that “the lack of confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judgment raises suspicions that he may view a military flare-up as an electoral lifeline.”

4. Fact Tuesday: Netanyahu on Monday night kicked off Likud’s electoral campaign, and though the event was meant to highlight the “stars” of the party, only one man was the focus: Netanyahu.

  • Netanyahu spent most of the time taking aim at his favorite punching bags, Benny Gantz and the media, while also warning supporters that victory “will not be easy.”
  • The Washington Post notes,“The atmosphere at the campaign rally was at times tense, as the prime minister’s most ardent supporters rubbed up against journalists.”
  • Netanyahu made a lot of claims in the 40-minute speech and ToI’s Raphael Ahren looks at eight of them, and finds that “especially when attacking his political opponents, he made several … claims that were either half-true, grossly misleading or unproven.”
  • And that’s not even touching on his sensational claim to have visited Afghanistan, which some news sites picked up as a major reveal, until he clarified that he had meant Azerbaijan.

5. Friends again? The stump speech is overshadowed by Netanyahu shaking hands with party rival Gideon Sa’ar, despite claims he had avoided bringing the tops of his slate onstage to avoid being seen with Sa’ar.

  • Israel Hayom leads its edition with the handshake and Netanyahu telling Sa’ar, “C’mon it’s time to work together” (according to a Likud statement). If Netanyahu did in fact say that, it’s a wonder Sa’ar didn’t scowl, given the fact that the prime minister was the one who had refused all of Sa’ar’s pleadings to end their petty fighting and not vice versa.
  • Despite them appearing to make nice-nice, Israel Hayom quotes sources close to Netanyahu saying that the handshake did not mean that two had reconciled.
  • Nonetheless, Yedioth Ahronoth calls it a “breakthrough” between the two.

6. No campaigning: The speech also got less coverage in the news after Justice Hanan Melcer of the Central Elections Committee ruled it could only be aired with a 10-minute delay to vet it for news value, after the Labor party petitioned to have planned live broadcasts canceled.

  • News channels chose to just excerpt a few lines, rather than broadcast full segments of the 42-minute speech, as they might have had they been allowed.
  • Yedioth surmises that though this is the first time a judge ordered the speech not be broadcast live, one may expect other candidates to get the same treatment.
  • Instead, those who wanted to watch the whole speech went online, where it was livestreamed on Facebook and elsewhere.
  • “Your honor, have you heard of the internet,” asks Israel Hayom columnist Yaakov Ahimeir, noting that every news item is actually election propaganda anyway.
  • “Even when Benny Gantz chews his falafel during his tour up north, and makes more for his friends, it’s election campaigning,” he writes.

7. Pita politics: And yet, Gantz and Co’s. stop at a falafel stand did make the news, especially given that many other politicians, including Netanyahu, have visited the same Kiryat Shmona joint, making it the equivalent of a Cedar Rapids coffee shop.

  • Yedioth’s front page features a picture of Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid chowing down (alongside a pic of Netanyahu and Sa’ar shaking hands).
  • Shimon Omar, the owner of the shop, tells Army Radio that everyone but Lapid got harif spicy spread on theirs.
  • Lapid was also the odd man out when Gantz boasted of the 117 years of military experience between the four of them. That included the careers of three chiefs of staff and Lapid, who spent three years writing for army publication Bamahane.

8. Taking a hard look at AIPAC and Israel: US President Donald Trump predicts a dark day for Israel because of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments on Israel, and it is indeed cloudy outside of ToI’s Jerusalem office, but she likely does not control the weather.

  • Even as Omar comes under fire, some are taking a harder look at what she is saying, leaving the anti-Semitic canards to the side.
  • In the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that questions about AIPAC’s influence will only grow louder as the lobbying group’s annual conference later this month nears.
  • “To critics, Ms. Omar had a point, even if it was expressed with unfortunate glibness. Aipac’s money does have an outsize influence,” she writes.
  • “The increasing willingness of Democrats like Ms. Omar to accuse Israel of human rights abuses — coupled with the far-right policies of Mr. Netanyahu and his embrace of President Trump — is challenging Aipac’s claim to bipartisanship. Some liberal Democrats, including young Jews, are abandoning the organization,” she adds.
  • Analyst Kerry Boyd Andersen writes in the Saudi-based Arab News that “Israel can no longer rely on complete support from the Democratic Party.”
  • “ Omar and [Rashida] Tlaib are on the progressive fringe of the Democratic Party, with limited influence, but their willingness to take on this third rail issue might create more space for other Democrats to question the traditional assumptions.”

9. No resolution: Highlighting those shifting sands, California Democrat Juan Vargas comes under scathing attack on social media after tweeting that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”

  • Politico reports that the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Though it does not mention Omar, the news site calls it “an unprecedented public rebuke of Omar.”
  • Yet, it also notes that Republicans are unlikely to be mollified.
  • On Twitter, foreign policy guy Jonathan Goldberg quips that the measure “will be so watered down even Omar will be able to vote for it.”
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