1. With five days before Israelis head back to the polls for an unprecedented second election this calendar year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life.
- Netanyahu is looking to secure a fifth term as prime minister by shoring up support for his Likud party among right-wing voters. His promise to annex the Jordan Valley if reelected, and ramped-up incitement against the Arab minority in Israel, reflect time-honored Netanyahu election gambits. (The morning of the 2015 election, Netanyahu warned that Arabs were “voting in droves,” and ahead of the April elections, he promised to annex West Bank settlements.)
2. On Thursday, Facebook announced it was suspending a chatbot operated by Netanyahu’s official page for violating hate speech policies, after a message spread by his campaign a day earlier warned voters that Arab Israeli politicians “want to annihilate us all.”
- His efforts to woo right-wing nationalist voters have not gone ignored by the Israeli media; his annexation announcement was met with skepticism by journalists, and his anti-Arab Facebook pitch was widely castigated.
3. In a scathing editorial, the Haaretz daily on Thursday excoriates “Netanyahu the Inciter,” and says that during this current election round the prime minister has crossed “every possible line.”
- “Hatred of Arabs and incitement against them are so common that the public seems apathetic to new expressions of them. We must not accept this,” Haaretz says. “We must not accept the fact that the prime minister has stigmatized one fifth of the public as a dangerous internal enemy, one seeking to annihilate all the rest, as if this were self evident. Democracies are judged by how they treat minorities. Netanyahu has crossed every possible line.”
4. The Yedioth Ahronoth daily’s front page story is titled “Netanyahu vs. the Arabs,” and its reporters calling the bot message circulated Wednesday “nasty and racist.”
- Yedioth columnist Ben Dror Yemini blasts Netanyahu’s efforts to win over the pro-settlement camp by promising to annex the Jordan Valley. “Netanyahu took a much more dangerous step, showing a willingness to hurt Israel’s national interests in the hopes of mustering a small political advantage — something he is actually unlikely to achieve,” Yemini writes.
- Another Yedioth columnist, Shimon Shiffer, suggests that Netanyahu’s popularity and influence abroad is dwindling, and he may be in real trouble next week. He says Netanyahu’s strong alliances with Presidents Trump and Putin appeared to have taken a hit this week with the firing of national security adviser John Bolton and a rare rebuke from Moscow over his annexation announcement.
- “Netanyahu has tried to convey the message that he belongs to a different league, a kind of ‘champions league’ of foreign leaders, but recent events indicate that Israel is more in the ‘working man’s league,'” Shiffer writes. “His decision to put all of his eggs in Trump’s basket could lead to a broad violation of our national security.”
5. Unsurprisingly, one of the only media outlets to praise the prime minister amid the torrent of criticism was Israel Hayom, a freebie tabloid published by Miriam Adelson.
- The daily runs an exclusive interview with Netanyahu, who restates his claim that his main election rival Blue and White has struck a deal with Arab parties and Avigdor Liberman to ensure his ouster after Tuesday’s election.
- He tells Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord that a broad military campaign in the Gaza Strip could be in the offing, and says the Trump administration gave him tacit approval to announce his plans to annex the Jordan Valley, which amounts to almost a quarter of the West Bank.
- “What I said was done with the knowledge of the US administration. Their response to the announcement, whereby their position on the matter hasn’t changed, shows that even if it’s not exactly a green light it is more of an orange light and regardless isn’t a red light,” Netanyahu says.
- “It’s a fact that the declaration about applying sovereignty over a large area isn’t arousing opposition among the Americans; case in point – they merely issued a lukewarm statement that their view on the status of the territories hasn’t changed,” he adds.
6. President Trump’s move toward possible rapprochement with Iran is closely covered by Israeli media outlets.
- On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that Trump fired Bolton earlier this week over due after a forceful disagreement with other White House advisers on rolling back sanctions on Iran in a bid to secure a meeting with President Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month.
- Trump didn’t refute the Bloomberg account of Bolton’s departure or his cabinet mulling reaching out to Tehran. Asked if he would ease sanctions on Iran — something Bolton would not have advised — to entice Iran into a meeting, Trump didn’t say yes and didn’t say no.
- He told reporters on Wednesday that Bolton was not aligned with his administration’s priorities, but remained noncommittal about rolling back sanctions and possible talks with Iran.
7. And lastly, Thursday’s papers feature the obligatory, almost daily roundup about the rising tensions with Gaza.
- On Tuesday and Wednesday, factions in the Palestinian territory fired rockets at southern Israel, causing damage to a home near Ashkelon but no injuries. According to reports in Hebrew-language media, Israel believes the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, is responsible for the latest rocket fire.
- In a morning interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu said the continued rocket fire from Gaza is making another war against Hamas inevitable.
- “I do not wage war unless it is a last resort and I don’t risk the lives of our soldiers and citizens just to get applause,” Netanyahu said. “We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza.”