Hebrew-language newspapers are a study in contrasts Tuesday morning, as the swearing in of a new IDF chief of staff is tempered by the death of minister and all-around-great-guy Uri Orbach, and juxtaposed with hubbub ahead of an apparently damning report on spending among the prime minister and president set to be released later in the day.
Orbach, who died Monday morning at the age of 54 after fighting an unspecified illness, is remembered in the papers as one of the good ones. After reading the various appreciations of the Jewish Home lawmaker, it’s possible to come away thinking Israel Hayom’s headline of “Everyone loved Uri,” is not just nice hyperbole.
Haaretz, whose leftist leanings should have put it at odds with the right-wing Orbach, stops short of penning any eulogies (though diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid did change his Twitter avatar to Orbach’s mug after the death was announced). The paper, however, still gives wide coverage to what everyone else had to say about the minister.
“Uri charmed all his listeners with his deep erudition and wisdom that stemmed from the depths of his soul,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quoted saying. “I have not met anyone who knew him and didn’t love him.”
Much of the coverage focuses on Orbach’s love of humor, like writer Jackie Levy, who waxes sadly in Israel Hayom of visiting Orbach in the hospital two years ago.
“There in Shaare Tzedek, between the frightening jumble of sounds, tubes and smells of a hospital, Uri lay, thinner than ever. His color was worrying even then. We sang a bit, but we mostly laughed. From time to time he asked us to stop, because it hurt him to laugh. Now, as I sit to write after returning from the large and beautiful funeral held in Modiin, I am completely given over to personal grief. I know this is a national loss, but on a more personal level I lost a beloved friend. So early, so untimely, that it’s simply ridiculous.”
In Yedioth, Hanoch Daum writes of Orbach’s public service record, and his reputation as an upstanding lawmaker.
“Not full of yourself. You didn’t change. Power did nothing. You truly cared for the elderly. You acted honestly, with some kind of wonderful mental spirit,” he writes. “How much we need religious people like you Uri, normal, wise, restrained.”
Yedioth also gives Orbach the last word, reprinting a column penned by the late minister for Yedioth in 2008, just before he made the leap into politics.
“And now I up and go, if the electorate chooses, to politics, to the nascent Jewish Home party. Why do I do this? Not just because it suddenly came over me, and not just because a week ago they offered me a spot (okay, nu, of course it’s also because of that). The main answer to the question of why is also in this case ‘because,’” Orbach writes, before going on to explain what all the “becauses” are. “As a fresh politician, I need to bring something new. So in two lines: I am trying to contribute in my modest way to a new party for the religious Zionist and traditional communities in Israel. If this public can rise above its petty internal squabbles, it can push forward ideas of love of Torah, the people and the land, and our beloved country will a better place to live in for every resident and a more attractive place for every immigrant. Shmaltzy, but true.”
No grace period
While the country bade farewell to Orbach, it greeted new IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, though he may want to turn around and run away after seeing what’s in store for him after only a day.
Israel Hayom’s main headline of “Good luck” riding high above a picture of him placing a note in the Western Wall, could either be seen as a genuine show of well-wishing, or a more foreboding “Good luck, you’ll need it,” type statement.
Reading Yedioth Ahronoth’s main headline “Not one day of grace,” it’s safe to say the latter is the more likely sentiment.
The paper’s Yoaz Hendel writes that Eisenkot, like every army suzerain in the last decades, will have to deal with battles on two fronts, the baddies on Israel’s borders (what he calls the Arab front), and the bickering nabobs running the show in Jerusalem (or Jewish front).
“For new chief of staff Eisenkot, a similar trauma is assured. Despite the results of Protective Edge and boasting of ministers, there are still no decisions on how to deal with Hamas. There are no discussions, only video clips. There’s no plan for regional development or decisions on toppling Hamas. In this reality, somebody will need to take responsibility after the next war, and if it’s up to some politicians, it will once again fall on the military complex – or to be exact, whoever is at its head.”
In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit paints Eisenkot as an ask first, shoot later kind of general, which may bump up against some ministers. But he says the new honcho’s first order of business will be fighting with the fat cats in Jerusalem over his budget.
“He’ll need to set a new list of priorities, or rethink the old one – and as always, the questions of how much to put into long-term security and how much to current needs? How much to boots on the ground and how much to air and sea? And that’s exactly why Netanyahu promised him yesterday ‘you won’t have a single day of grace.’ Just that he should succeed.”
In Haaretz, editor Aluf Benn bids adieu to outgoing chief Benny Gantz, who he says should be remembered more for his adroitness in navigating political minefields than actual ones.
“He did not undermine the politicians who appointed him, didn’t leak information that embarrassed them, and didn’t use nongovernmental personalities like former President Shimon Peres to weave schemes to trip them up. The Israel Defense Forces spokesmen who served under him worked as spokesmen, not to prepare the chief of staff for his future political or business career. Gantz kept his fights private, and was perceived by the public as a professional officer who represented the IDF, not as a politician in uniform or a prime ministerial-wannabe,” he writes.
“Conservative chiefs of staff like Gantz, who fought no major wars and refrained from implementing reforms, tend to be forgotten. His tenure will not be studied in combat legacy and strategy classes, but ought to be remembered in political science courses.”
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen
The new chief of staff won’t save Netanyahu from his most pressing threat, though, the state comptroller’s report due out Tuesday which will detail spending excesses at the Prime Minister’s Residence, as well as the president’s.
The papers report on the prime minister’s efforts to gear up for the battle and take a few early swings as well, a day after the Netanyahu’s tried some pre-emptive damage control by filming an interior designer showing off how modest their digs are.
Yedioth dials up its sarcasm in reporting on a second kitchen in the Prime Minister’s Residence, which somehow didn’t make it onto designer Moshe Glaman’s tour of the house.
“It seems the Netanyahu family ‘forgot’ to invite Glaman to the second floor of the residence, where there is a new kitchen that has undergone renovations and where the Netanyahus entertain guests. Channel 10 published last night pictures of the kitchen on that floor which indeed look renovated and in a much better condition, taken during Ehud Olmert’s tenure,” the paper writes.
However, Haaretz reports that sources on the right and left both think all this focus on renovated kitchens and bottle deposits and other small-ball affairs will end up helping Netanyahu at the polls.
“Netanyahu benefits from any discussion that isn’t substantive and any focus on matters unconnected to his functioning as prime minister,” an unnamed Likud source is quoted saying. “It’s easier for the premier to refute claims of hedonism or wasting money than to explain to the public that to this day, he hasn’t managed to get Israeli housing prices under control. The latest polls prove this.”
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