Fool me twice: 6 things to know for September 20
Israel media review

Fool me twice: 6 things to know for September 20

Netanyahu’s unity proffer is dismissed as just more spin in a media environment already saturated with it. Oh, what is a poor president to do?

President Reuven Rivlin, right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, left, at a memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
President Reuven Rivlin, right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, left, at a memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

1. Trust nobody: With President Reuven Rivlin set to begin consultations over who to task with forming a government on Sunday, parties are jostling for position, trying to squeeze everything they can out of potential allies and rivals.

  • With most Israeli politicians subscribing to Lee Atwater’s dictum that perception is reality, a big part of the finagling process involves using the media as a tool, and the press happily plays along.
  • Observe Channel 12 reporting, without a source, on Thursday, that Avigdor Liberman had told associates his Yisrael Beytenu party would recommend Blue and White’s Benny Gantz for prime minister, a potentially game-changing move.
  • Within hours, the channel itself had mysteriously stopped reporting the comment, members of the party issued denials and Walla News was reporting, based on unnamed “party sources,” that perhaps Liberman wouldn’t recognize anyone.
  • (This was not the first time Channel 12 placed getting it first over getting it right. The channel was quick to claim that Iron Dome had shot down four missiles from Gaza on Thursday after sirens went off near Sderot, basing the claim on four explosions in the sky. As my colleague Judah Ari Gross noted — well before the Army confirmed his suspicions — the air defense missiles are designed to explode midair whether they intercept a missile, a Randy Johnson fastball or nothing at all.)
  • It’s not only Channel 12. On Thursday, Channel 13 reported that Gantz promised Liberman he would not form a government without him. On Friday morning, Liberman denies the report. “There was no agreement of the kind, there’s no need for it. We can manage in the coalition or opposition,” the channel quotes him saying.
  • There are also reports of the ultra-Orthodox softening their positions against Blue and White, followed by denials, of Likud reaching out to Labor-Gesher (and more denials) and yet more bric-a-brac. What to believe? My advice: None of it.

2. All the president’s calculations: Most of the wrangling and electoral math is based on trying to calculate who Rivlin will task with forming a government.

  • Speaking to Army Radio, Rivlin chief of staff Harel Tubi says that the president “will give the nod on forming a government to whoever has the best chances — even if they have fewer recommending them than another candidate.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Rivlin is in a spot, faced with the unprecedented decision of whether to task someone who may be indicted on charges that could carry a moral turpitude conviction just weeks later.
  • According to the paper, should Rivlin task Netanyahu, there will likely be a petition to the High Court which will force Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to clarify to the court Netanyahu’s legal situation, placing them in uncharted waters as well.
  • “Legal experts say that this could result in an unprecedented constitutional crisis. In their opinion, the new legal reality could force the attorney general to announce that there are at least acute legal difficulties with the case, and perhaps beyond that,” the paper reports.
  • On Twitter, Channel 12 reporter/pundit Amit Segal jokes that perhaps Rivlin should open a hotline for the public to give him ideas about how to will a government into being, like the army did to deal with the Gaza tunnel problem. Rivlin (or his office) responds: “cute idea, friendo.”

3. Three’s company: Someone else might call such an idea of asking the public what to do “elections,” and some see Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu leading Israel toward that path as his only way of staving off the inevitable.

  • ToI’s David Horovitz notes that Netanyahu’s quickly spurned unity offer Thursday was part of the prime minister’s overall calculations.
  • “Netanyahu, needless to say, knew full well that Gantz would reject his offer. His goal is to appear to be seeking a unity government, to probe for any weaknesses in the ranks of the Knesset members siding with Gantz, to somehow will those election results into his favor… and, if all else fails, to blame the ostensibly intransigent Gantz for spurning his overtures, and allow Israel to slide into yet a third round of elections, the scenario that all of our newly elected leaders assure us they will do their utmost to prevent,” he says.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter accuses Netanyahu of playing “an absurd, transparent game.”
  • “Now he’s pulling out the only rabbit he has left, the good old blame game, in a bid to reach a third election with some kind of public support,” he writes. “This is a total delusion.”
  • In Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, meanwhile, Moti Tuchfeld tries to make the case for a third election.
  • “It appears that if Likud supporters were to vote on whether they wanted a unity government or a third election, most would choose the second option,” he writes.

4. Giving Bibi the boot: Avoiding new elections may mean removing Netanyahu from the Likud leadership.

  • In ToI, Raphael Ahren looks at how that might go down and why some in Likud would support it.
  • “They backed him after the last election; they stayed with him even after he disbanded the Knesset. But they won’t stay on the Likud-Titanic,” pollster Mitchell Barak tells him.
  • In Haaretz, though, Chemi Shalev writes that “Netanyahu’s lily-livered Likud underlings, most of whom yearn to see him go, are still terrified by the prospect that the ultimate comeback kid will rise like a Phoenix from his ashes and take revenge on anyone who showed even a smidgen of disloyalty.”
  • Why is Netanyahu so insistent on being prime minister and being first in a rotation? It’s the legal woes, stupid, writes Sima Kadmon in Yedioth.
  • “As Netanyahu sees it, a senior figure in Likud said, if he is not at the head of the government he doesn’t have zilch. If he’s a mere minister he’ll have to resign from the government after he is indicted.”

5. Not so fast: Despite all the floccinaucinihilipilification of Netanyahu’s chances, some on the right are sticking by their man and others are warning against counting him out.

  • “Despite the celebratory air in the Israeli media that is dominated by his foes, the prime minister isn’t finished. If he can keep his party united behind him – no mean feat given the predatory ambitions of those who hope to succeed him – the outcome of the coming weeks of coalition negotiations is far from certain,” writes Jonathan Tobin of JNS, though he adds that “the idea of another Netanyahu-led government is far from the likeliest outcome.”
  • “It is still too early to say our good-byes to Netanyahu, even though it is fascinating to watch a few media people being freed now from the Stockholm Syndrome that had taken hold of them over the past two years, because of the systematic intimidation by his supporters, the internet bullies,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. Though he also predicts that in the end the premier will fade away grumbling about plots against him like Ehud Olmert and Richard Nixon.
  • Some are also not giving up the ghost of claiming fraud by the Arabs, like right-wing Makor Rishon, which devotes its top story to the allegations. The story is based on a report alleging 113 cases of electoral fraud in Arab areas. The source of all the reports, though, is the strategy firm of Kaizler-Inbar — yes the same people who ran the Likud’s camera campaign the last time around and boasted of lowering Arab turnout.

6. Time for a rethink: ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that Likud members might want to consider stop using Arabs as their punching bags, especially because with Arabs making up more and more of the voting public, the backfiring can only worsen.

  • “A right-wing that constructs its political identity on fear and marginalization of a growing subset of the population is a right-wing keen on repeating the left’s mistake with Mizrahim, and risks harvesting the same bitter political fruit for decades to come,” he writes.
  • As the right comes to terms with that, it’s also coming to terms with the fact that its laundry list of legislative achievements is about to come to a halt, and its decade of salad years are about to grow quite moldy.
  • “The right-wing and religious communities in Israel will in the coming years face battles and problems much more pressing than their big program for strategic reform of the state,” writes Shlomo Pyoterofsky in Israel National News. “So many things that for a decade were practically givens are about to become battlegrounds. So it may feel silly to talk about extending sovereignty, when conversations about evacuating settlements turn from academic discussions into practical ones.”
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