General question mark: 9 things to know for January 28
Israel media review

General question mark: 9 things to know for January 28

Papers try to figure out who Benny Gantz is, or at least who he is with, as primary season heats up, and issues about Iron Dome’s soft underbelly are raised

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Benny and the everyone: The big question of Who is Benny Gantz is heating up ahead of his silence-breaking speech Tuesday.

  • There’s no guarantee he’ll say anything of substance, but if he does, it may allow politicians to stop bickering over whether he is left-wing, right-wing or stands for anything.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, both former IDF chiefs, are on the cusp of reaching an agreement to join forces, which would be a shift to the right, though there remains some bickering over what the partnership will look like.
  • According to the report, despite Ya’alon polling extremely poorly and Gantz sitting pretty, the latter is willing to give the former three seats in the top 10 of his faction list, and his party is not happy.
  • “If Gantz agrees to give Ya’alon three seats in the top 10, he will be signing an agreement of acquiescence,” the paper quotes a party source saying.
  • Right-leaning Israel Hayom is still trying to place Gantz on the left, reporting that the only reason he isn’t joining up with Labor’s Avi Gabbay is because internal polling show him losing seats by doing so.
  • The paper still works off the assumption that Gantz is part of a center-left bloc though. “According to a source with knowledge of the details, the numbers were shown to Gantz, and became a deciding factor for him on the question of unity.

2. General discipline: Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, in a wide-ranging profile, makes out Gantz is both not new to the fight nor a neophyte when it comes to being a politician, and he may have a better shot than nearly anybody in years of unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

  • “His awkwardly named party, Hosen L’Yisrael (Resilience for Israel), is at present not an actual political party. The small team of friends who have taken time off from their jobs and the professional campaigners hired in recent months resemble one of those high-tech startups or NGOs with which Gantz has been associated since ending his military career in 2015,” he writes.
  • According to an associate of Gantz, the campaign videos that show him vacillating between tough guy and peacenik are the work of these slick aides.
  • “Benny doesn’t like the blood-and-glory style of these videos. That’s not the kind of person he is. But he is the kind of person who lets the experts do their work. He’s disciplined and he’s a team player,” the associate says.
  • In the meantime, that means deciding whether to attack Netanyahu and alienate the right, or bide his time — drawing fire from both sides for his wavering.
  • “Gantz can’t win and he knows it,” a senior figure in a centrist party who knows Gantz is quoted saying. “He’s running to be defense minister in Netanyahu’s next coalition. So far he hasn’t criticized Bibi even once.”

3. Busting the fuzz: Former police chief Roni Alsheich is drawing renewed fire after telling a Tel Aviv security conference that he can’t see Netanyahu escaping indictment.

  • “Alsheich is continuing to taint the investigation,” reads a front page headline in Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom.
  • “It would be good if former officials would be quiet when their term is up,” Haim Shine writes in the paper, whose chief editor is a former diplomat.
  • “Some people just don’t know when to quit,” Likud MK David Bitan, who has remained an MK despite a police probe into graft allegations against him, tells Army Radio.
  • “Alsheich is a liar and I hope he sues me for slander,” right wing commentator Erel Segal says on the radio Monday morning. “The whole police can sue me for slander.”

4. A cavity search for votes: Haaretz’s lead editorial goes after another Likud higher-up, Security Minister Gilad Erdan, accusing him of using strong-arm tactics against prisoners, specifically raids against Palestinian inmates to find contraband phones, to win brownie points on the right ahead of party primaries.

  • “The timing of the searches, the PR they received (the prison service spokeswoman sent photographs and videos to Israeli media within hours) and the force used by the SWAT teams were no accident. An election season is an ideal time for populist measures; in addition, Erdan is about to face a primary in which he needs the support of Likud party members,” the editorial reads. “Instead of producing normal campaign ads, Erdan is giving his base a direct, almost live, broadcast from the field — recorded proof of his iron hand with Palestinian prisoners.”
  • Responding on Twitter, Erdan writes that “it has no connection to primaries, nor to facts or the truth, but it’s good that you noticed my work with regards to terrorists in jails.”

5. Iron Doh: With extra attention on missile defense in recent days thanks to tensions in Syria and Gaza, Yedioth takes a look at the security surrounding the all-important Iron Dome missile batteries. The conclusion: there’s not so much.

  • The paper’s Niv Ziv writes that he and a photographer went to an Iron Dome site, where there was a only a small fence, and hung out for ten minutes and nobody came to bother them. If they wanted to, he surmises, they could have easily hopped the fence and reached the battery.
  • “If we wanted to damage the system that protects our children, we wouldn’t need a precision missile or smart bomb. A grenade, firebomb, IED or some gasoline would have been enough, and without much trouble we could have damaged the workings of the world’s most advanced missile defense system,” he writes, all but telling Israel’s enemies exactly where to find the battery or how to make a Molotov cocktail. “If something like that happened, in Damascus and Gaza they would hand out candy, and in Israel there would be outrage and a state commission, heads would roll and people would die, because if this battery were damaged, people would get hurt.”
  • The article is accompanied by a front page picture of Yedioth photographer Tal Shahar reaching over the fence to take a picture of the battery, though for some reason he is pixelated in the picture.
  • “Really, it’s easier to take a picture of the battery than actually damage it,” Kan editor Ofer Perecman quips on Twitter.

6. Backing Guaido: After days of keeping silent, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday gave in to US pressure and backed the ouster of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and the ascension of rival Juan Guaido.

  • This came despite reports that Israel had hesitated, fearing for the safety of Venezuela’s remaining Jews.
  • The Foreign Ministry, which is also run by Netanyahu, backed the move, and if the Diaspora Ministry was disappointed, it hasn’t said so.
  • Not helping the situation, one Jewish Venezuelan tells the Maariv newspaper that “the whole community supports this decision (the ouster).”
  • “We all want government change, not because Maduro had something against Jews, but because of the damage he has done to the country,” he says.
  • Guaido has wasted little time in tweeting his thanks to Netanyahu: “Seventy-four years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated, and today, just as our country is also fighting for its freedom, we thank the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu for the recognition and the support.”

7. Anti-Semitism as Holocaust remembrance: The Jewish Chronicle reports that a Holocaust Memorial Day event in Newcastle had the lovely Yvonne Ridley as one of its speakers, alongside local Labour MP Liz Twist.

  • Among Ridley’s thoughts, according to the JC, are that Zionists should be hunted down, and that Israel is akin to Nazis.
  • “The purpose of Holocaust Memorial Day is to bring people together in order to learn from genocide – to create a better future.
  • “It is an abuse of Holocaust Memorial Day to cause distress and offence to Holocaust survivors and to members of the Jewish community, to use it as an opportunity to whitewash previous promotion of, or tolerance of, anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion,” says Olivia Marks-Woldman, the chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, whose materials were used by the University and College Union to put on the event.

8. Malaysian hypocrisy: Israel is cheering at the decision by the International Paralympics committee to strip Malaysia of hosting rights for a swimming competition over its refusal to give visas to Israelis.

  • Sports Minister Miri Regev calls the move “courageous and needed.”
  • It’s not just in Israel that Malaysia is being criticized. “Readers can come up with 1,001 examples of why so many, many nations should be banned from entry here in Malaysia for whatever reason, from Italy’s burkini ban to the Swiss referendum to not allow mosques to have minarets, to even the jailing of Christians and oppression of peoples around the world,” Hafidz Baharom writes in the Malaysiakini website.
  • “It is easier to ban a small, tiny nation we don’t have to trade directly with rather than the superpowers of the world. It is easy to see how geopolitics makes hypocrites of the Malaysian government constantly.”
  • Responding to the claims that banning only Israeli athletes is hypocritical and anti-Semitic, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah tells the Malaysian press that Kuala Lumpur will not back down.
  • “Yes, they are abuses of human rights in other countries. For now, we will say that the suppression and oppression against the Palestinians is incomparable,” he says, according to Free Malaysia Today.

9. Iraq and opinion steering: ToI’s Jacob Magid writes about his travels to Iraqi Kurdistan, which he says felt just as safe as the West Bank he travels in constantly to cover.

  • “The comparison came to mind particularly during the shared taxi rides we hitched from city to city, in which drivers appeared to be under the impression that traffic laws were merely suggestions.”
  • An independent Kurdistan is often seen as a possible ally of Israel, should it ever be realized. Signs that Iraq might even open to Israel were also apparent when a delegation visited recently. But in Israel Hayom, columnist Adi Cohen writes that Iraqis are just extorting Israel by dangling peace prospects because they want military aid that doesn’t come from Iran.
  • “Peace with Iraq is light years away. In October 2017, the Iraqi parliament passed a law outlawing flying Israeli flags and attaching a jail term to it,” he writes. “If we haven’t learned from the past, we should at least learn from the present.”
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