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Israel media review

Get out the votes: What the press is saying on October 22

The coalition’s attempt to mulligan a vote heralds the end of democracy and maybe the Joint List; meanwhile, Trump-stumping in Israel Hayom hits new highs (or lows)

Coalition whip Miki Zohar pleads his case to Deputy Knesset Speaker Mansour Abbas in the plenum on October 21, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)
Coalition whip Miki Zohar pleads his case to Deputy Knesset Speaker Mansour Abbas in the plenum on October 21, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

1. Vote early and vote often: A chaotic Knesset session gives the press fresh fodder for outrage, punditry and confusion after the opposition caught the coalition asleep at the wheel and managed to successfully pass a vote to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the submarine bribery scandal. But the win was swiftly overturned by the Knesset speaker, who called in the government cavalry to make sure the vote was quashed the second time around.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth describes the rhubarb as unprecedented: “Even those who thought they had seen everything in Israeli politics got another surprise from the Knesset yesterday,” writes the paper.
  • Trying to untangle the mess, the paper attacks the Gordian knot from six angles, finding that the main issue, which will likely be decided by the courts, revolves around the timing of when coalition whip Miki Zohar requested a voice vote by roll call from fill-in Knesset Speaker Mansour Abbas. While Zohar says it was before Abbas pushed a button to open voting, Abbas said, at least at first, that Zohar only came to him afterward.
  • And then there is the question of whether Zohar was even allowed to make the request. “According to the Knesset’s rules, the authority to request a voice vote is only granted to a minister or by a letter signed by at last 20 MKs. He did not give Abbas a paper like that, and though he is coalition whip, he is not a member of the government. Thus even if he made the request of Abbas in time, he did it without authority,” reports Yedioth.
  • But Channel 12 says that “there are those who claim, like the Knesset legal adviser, that there is a custom that the coalition whip is a government representative.”
  • The channel also notes Zohar’s claim that even though Abbas didn’t hear his request, somehow the rest of the coalition did and so held off on voting while they waited to hear if he would allow a voice vote.
  • Haaretz notes that while Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who booted Abbas from his chair to annul the vote, claimed the declaration of the vote was too soft, “In Knesset footage, the announcement of the start of the vote can be heard, and it also appears on the countdown clock in the back of the room.
  • Israel Hayom admits that in the video of the session, Abbas can be heard saying “we are voting,” and only after he says “you can now vote,” does Zohar show up to ask for the roll-call vote, and Abbas tells him, “you asked too late.”
  • But the pro-Benjamin Netanyahu paper also claims that “even if the vote was valid, the commission of inquiry would not be set up so fast,” going through the parliamentary sausage-making involved in the creation of the committee.

2. Too much voting is bad for democracy: Despite the confusion about what went down, there are plenty of people who have already formed strong opinions that they air for all to hear.

  • “The Israeli legislature marked a new low on Wednesday,” starts Haaretz’s lead editorial. “Levin’s conduct reflects contempt for the law. It appears that for him, democracy is just a tool and that when it doesn’t benefit his faction, breaking the rules is permissible.”
  • “This is the middle of the end of democracy,” former Knesset speaker Dan Tichon tells Kan.
  • Channel 13 reports that judicial sources say that the High Court will have a hard time accepting the second vote “since the first one looked completely fine.”
  • But after the opinion from the Knesset’s legal adviser that everything is hunky dory, Army Radio predicts that the court will have a hard time holding up the first vote.
  • “I wonder if there is any serious right-winger who feels okay with what Levin did,” tweets the station’s Michael Hauser Tov.
  • “The Netanyahu Party is erasing what’s left of Israel’s institutions of state,” gripes Walla’s Baruch Kara.
  • In Zman Yisrael, ToI’s sister site, Shalom Yerushalmi has a lot of questions for many involved, like why Levin didn’t preside over the session himself and why Netanyahu decided to have a cabinet meeting during the vote.
  • “What’s clear is that what we saw yesterday was an inconceivable display of shlemielness from the Likud brass,” he writes. “‘Shame, shame,’ opposition MKs shouted yesterday. Indeed it was a huge farce that may still roll into the High Court, but this was not intentional fire at democracy as MKs from Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu yelled yesterday. We got a healthy dollop of confusion, embarrassment and idiocy. Corruption? Not this time.”

3. Souring on Mansour: Meanwhile Abbas gets run through the wringer by both his party and the wider opposition for releasing a joint statement with Levin saying that the revote was correct.

  • While a statement from the Hadash faction slamming what happened does not mention Abbas, most read it as an attack on the Joint List MK, who heads the Ra’am faction within the Joint List.
  • “The faction hinted that [Abbas] is acting in practice as a superfluous part of the Netanyahu government,” reports Walla.
  • The site also quotes Balad head Mtanes Shehadeh calling out Abbas by name in a tweeted statement: “MK Abbas, Likud is not our partner, that’s how it was and that’s how it is.”
  • “The Joint List is now not so joint,” quips Army Radio.
  • Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz also goes after Abbas, alleging a conspiracy with Likud. “MK Abbas did something severe — and not for the first time,” he tells Kan. “I don’t know what happened in the room with Levin or what happened between him and Netanyahu.”
  • Leave it to Israel Hayom, though, to come to his defense, quoting an unnamed “senior source in the Joint List” saying that Abbas is nobody’s fool.
  • “He’s a trustworthy, ethical and mostly faithful man, and so I’m not surprised that he stood up alongside Levin and backed him,” the source is quoted saying. “If Mansour thought they were stealing it, he would not have backed Levin, who is seen by most Arab MKs as a dangerous man, like all of Netanyahu’s apparatchiks.”
  • Asked on Army Radio about being accused of breaking bread with Likud, Abbas is not shy about his willingness to cross the aisle. “Every MK aspires to be in contact with ministers. It’s not a crime. There’s no doubt that I have different methods and dialogues.”

4. Grand ole mouthpiece: If governments using gray-area powers to meddle in democratic processes is your thing, then you’ll want to check out Israel Hayom’s front page.

  • Emblazoned across the top in massive letters is the quote “The Iranians are praying five times a day that [Joe] Biden will win.”
  • The speaker? None other than David Friedman, who some might be surprised to learn is not the Trump campaign’s outreach person in Israel, but actually the US ambassador, speaking to a publication that purports to be a newspaper and not a campaign flyer for Donald Trump.
  • (The quote isn’t even correct, assuming Israel Hayom’s English staff didn’t butcher Friedman’s words. He actually said, “What is Iran’s strategy? It’s to pray five times a day that Trump loses.”)
  • More than a few people point out that Friedman appears to be borrowing a line from Netanyahu’s own campaigns against Benny Gantz. “Where do I know this talking point about Iranian praying for someone from? I’m surprised Friedman did not say the Iranians broke into Biden’s phone,” tweets Walla reporter Barak Ravid.
  • The real star of the paper, though, is none other than editor in chief Boaz Bismuth, whose trip to Nashville for the debate earns him four pictures of himself in the first few pages of the paper, either being the Israeli Toqueville or Zooming with Friedman. That includes a front-page picture of him standing in front of a sign for the debate, under the words “Israel Hayom correspondent Boaz Bismuth reports from Nashville.”
  • Bizmuth using the paper as a personal scrapbook for when he meets people or travels is a bit of an ongoing theme, as documented by The Seventh Eye.
  • “Our teacher and master Boaz Bismuth continues to act without seeking attention, remaining modest and remembering that he is a journalist and not the story, and treats himself to three pictures of himself in one edition of Israel Hayom,” quips Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson on Twitter, missing one of the four.
  • Aside from the great lighting for his photos, one wonders why he went all the way. Bismuth’s page-long article doesn’t include any quotes from locals or much local flavor at all, and even he seems to care little about the debate.
  • “Less than a day before the second debate in Nashville in the state of Tennessee, everyone’s only thinking of one thing: What will happen the day after. The actual debate, and surely what is said, is less interesting. What can they say that is new?”
  • Also in the US is Gantz, though he somehow manages to make it several hours without posting a picture of himself. While many reports indicate he is there to discuss the possible US sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, Walla reports that he’s also working on a massive deal for Israel to purchase a mess of helicopters, jets, refueling planes, arms and maybe even some V-22 Ospreys, though to do so, he will have to convince everyone that Israel can delay payments for its own F-35s for nearly another decade to free up the cash.
  • “If it happens, it will place Gantz as the defense minister who influenced and upgraded the air force and IDF, and so he’s putting every effort into advancing it,” reports Amir Bohbot.

5. Time for school? And who could forget the coronavirus, which still remains a major story along with everything else, even after the government chose not to choose a path forward out of the lockdown on Wednesday.

  • The decision to delay a delay doesn’t earn the government a ton of plaudits. For instance Prof. Hagai Levine accuses the government of “delayification.”
  • “To put off decisions does not help. They need to draw up an orderly plan,” he tells Ynet.
  • He adds that “the question is not when it will open, but how it will open. They need to draw up an orderly plan that is not dependent on time. They don’t need to say ‘another few months and we’ll open grades 5-12, we have no idea how.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu does feel the time crunch, though he already knows how it will go down: “We’ll make a decision this weekend, and the final decision has to be made on Sunday, and on the Sunday after that we will return to school, even partially. We can’t make the parents crazy.”
  • One school that is not waiting is UoPeople, reports Haaretz, a unique Israeli-founded online institution of higher education that has signed up 20,000 new students during the pandemic.
  • “People attend UoPeople from all over the world, no less than 200 countries. Its students have unique needs and study under strange and at times challenging circumstances – among them are survivors of the earthquake in Haiti and refugees from the genocide in Rwanda, for example. Most of the students who live in the United States, for example, were not born there, but arrived as refugees or undocumented immigrants – and no university is willing to accept them,” reports Ruti Levy.
  • Channel 12 reports on other schools that are not waiting: Haredi Talmud Torah institutions, which have refused to comply with state virus guidelines. The expected result: Parents who are keeping the rules are jealous and angry.
  • “This morning I sent off my girls to preschool and across from my house there is a religious school. Dozens of kids were waiting outside and the guard opened the gate and I thought maybe I missed something,” says a frustrated mom from Rishon Lezion who a moment ago spoke of wanting to send her first grader to school. “There cannot be a situation in which I need to find solutions [for the first grader] every morning, take advantage of grandma and grandpa, when it is so not right to meet them because of the coronavirus, and [the ultra-Orthodox] don’t care and send their kids to school. In the end, we’ll be in isolation because of them, because they are continuing on with their lives.”
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