Getting away with it: 8 things to know for November 21
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Getting away with it: 8 things to know for November 21

Deri’s new legal troubles draw lots of tsks, but pundits say it’s unlikely to affect his political role for now; and the US picks realpolitik over human rights, and blames Israel

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at an Interior Affairs Committee meeting regarding the deportation of African asylum seekers at the Knesset, January 29, 2018. (Alster/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks at an Interior Affairs Committee meeting regarding the deportation of African asylum seekers at the Knesset, January 29, 2018. (Alster/Flash90)

1. Seems familiar: Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is being seen as the poster boy for recidivism, after he once again has found himself in the grip of the long arm of the law, facing a likely indictment on a raft of graft charges.

  • Deri already went to jail in 2000, on a corruption conviction over crimes committed before and while he was interior minister, but managed to finagle his way back into the same position a little over a decade after being released.
  • “Deri hasn’t learned a thing,” reads a front page headline in Israel Hayom, and the same phrase is used in headlines by other news outlets as well.
  • Fellow tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth calls the case a “rerun.”
  • The Globes daily notes that Deri is a long away from actually facing the music, but, should he be found guilty, “his past conviction will be taken into account by the court determining his punishment.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer notes that, with Deri again in legal trouble and Avidgor Liberman on the outs with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it feels an awful lot like the Furby-tastic days of 1998 around here. And it’s possible that the parallels, like dancing hamsters, won’t end there.
  • “Just as 1998 was followed by 1999, when Netanyahu’s divide-and-rule tactics couldn’t keep his coalition together, the same can happen in 2019. The right finally rebelled against him then over the Wye River Accord, even though it was minimal and only partially implemented. Now, on the streets of Sderot and on social media, similar tones are being heard from people who until recently were die-hard Bibi supporters. Then, the opposition got its act together, boosted by many moderate-right Israelis who simply couldn’t bear him any longer. There’s no reason to assume it couldn’t happen again, next year,” he writes.

2. Untouchable Deri: Despite the suspicions hanging over him, politics watchers should not expect Deri to be pushed out by the coalition, which needs every supporter it can get right now, writes Israel Hayom’s Moti Tuchfeld.

  • “The only thing that can change the picture is conviction. Not an indictment and certainly not a police recommendation. So long as the law allows, Deri will stay,” he says.
  • Walla News’s Yeki Admaker also thinks there won’t be much political fallout, with Deri’s Shas party having just seen large gains in municipal elections nationwide: “Deri enjoys the wide support of the Shas’s spiritual leadership. The MKs and activists are borderline ‘admirers’ and most importantly the voters are ultra-Orthodox who believe he is innocent.”

3. Blood diamonds: Police are under fire after a woman questioned in the massive Lev Leviev diamond smuggling case leaped to her death from an office building in Ramat Gan’s Diamond Exchange. The suicide is being regarded as a direct result from police pressure put on the woman, a mother of three, who held a very junior position in the firm, according to Hadashot.

  • According to the channel, citing someone in LLD, the company she worked for that is being investigated, the woman made barely above minimum wage, did not have a lawyer at the hearing, and was put under heavy pressure by the police.
  • “The investigation has already exacted a heavy human toll,” Yedioth Ahronoth writes, though police have defended their investigation as having “the needed amount of sensitivity.”
  • The Kan public broadcaster reports that even before the suicide, a judge had scolded the police for refusing to allow a suspect in the case to meet with their lawyer.
  • According to reports, Russian-Israeli tycoon Lev Leviev, who owns LLD, is a central suspect, but is refusing to come to Israel from Russia for questioning.
  • Channel 10 reports that Leviev offered to come back, but only if the police guarantee he will not be arrested, something they refused to do.
  • There had been some confusion about whether Leviev was hiding out in Russia or elsewhere, but Kan has published pictures of what it says is Leviev visiting the grave of a founder of the Chabad movement in a town near Smolensk on the border with Belarus, which is where he appears to be wintering.

4. Siding with a ‘psychopath’: US President Donald Trump is being pilloried for his decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and not punish it over the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi, and his decision to cite Israel’s interests as a reason is causing some consternation.

  • “Worth thinking about what it means for American Jews that Trump cites Israel twice in his statement siding with Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi killing,” tweets Forward writer Josh Nathan-Kazis.
  • While Trump somehow found a way to use Iranian threats against Israel as a reason to give Mohammed Bin Salman a pass, his role in the nascent Israeli Palestinian peace plan is also seen as a main factor.
  • “Trump Bet the Whole Middle East on Khashoggi’s Alleged Murderer. Now He’s Doubling Down,” reads the headline of an opinion piece in the Daily Beast by Christopher Dickey, looking at how much Trump is relying on the “homicidal” crown prince.
  • Dickey writes that Trump is trying to stick with MBS and the many promises he made about shoring up the region and fighting Iran, though it has become clear that “The guy behind the counter at that the Saudi One-Stop Mideast Policy Drive-Thru turn[ed] out to be a psychopath.”
  • Some note, however, that human rights have never really been a main plank of US policy in the Middle East.

5. Don’t look at us: Israel’s entanglement in the affair gets little attention in the Israeli press, and one would be hard-pressed to blame many Israelis for not wanting to be seen on the wrong side of history, even for the purposes of realpolitik.

  • Most stories in the Hebrew press mention the Israel connection only in passing, and focus more on the Turkish report of a transcript of the tape of the Khashoggi killing.
  • “In the past, Israel used its influence and connections with the US to open doors to allies it wanted, doors to their governments. Trumps’s announcement today says that he will continue to preserve friendly ties with Saudi Arabia (despite the Khashoggi affair) to benefit Israeli interests. In other words, Israel is his excuse to avoid the murder,” Israeli journalist Yossi Melman writes on Twitter.

6. Playing with numbers: On Tuesday, I noted how Israel Hayom had fudged an old survey to try and prove a point. On Wednesday, media watchdog the Seventh Eye notes that the free tabloid has a history of funny business with surveys.

  • According to the report, a survey last month — that the paper said showed wide backing for Israeli airstrikes in Syria and support for Netanyahu’s efforts against Iran in the country — was actually only representative of Jewish Israelis.
  • “Israel Hayom didn’t only publish the ‘apartheid survey,’ which left out Arab-Israeli society for no justifiable reason, but the paper misled its readers into thinking it was publishing figures that represent the whole country,” the watchdog writes.

7. Last resort: Israel is continuing to be roiled by Airbnb’s decision to boycott Israeli settlements.

  • According to Hadashot news, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin is pushing the treasury to levy some sort of special tax on the vacation rental site as punishment, though it is unclear what form it will take and the whole gambit could end up hurting Israel’s tourism economy more than anything.
  • Israel is examining “numerous courses of action” against Airbnb, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan tells a Jerusalem Post conference.
  • Meanwhile, the company is still refusing to comment on if it will also blacklist other disputed areas, despite badgering from journalists, a former IDF spokesperson and others.
  • In Haaretz, Omer Benjakob writes that Airbnb’s decision will be harder to enforce than it seems, since it uses Google Maps, which has steered clear of wading into thorny issues in the West Bank.
  • “For all intents and purposes, Airbnb has outsourced the political question at the heart of its ban. Unless it plans to start its own version of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch and maintain a blacklist of settlements and outposts, it may find itself barring Palestinians as well as Israeli settlers from its service,” he writes.

8. Cloak and pen: Ronen Bergman’s book on Israel’s secret assassination program, “Rise and Kill First,” has made the New York Times list of 100 notable books of the year.

  • Bergman, who writes for Yedioth and The New York Times, says on Twitter that the inclusion makes the last eight years worth it.
  • Early pick for 2019? Matti Friedman’s book on Arab Jews who spied for Israel as the country was fighting for its survival, “Spies of No Country,” is already starting to get some good press. It won’t come out until March 5.
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