1. It’s not the size of defeat that matters: Likud’s leadership primary has been officially set for December 26, and while for the first time in over a decade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have a worthy opponent in MK Gideon Sa’ar, few speculate that the incumbent will be dethroned.
- However, many, including Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld, point out that Netanyahu doesn’t just need to win, but to win big. The at least 40 percent that he predicts Sa’ar will win would be a blow to the premier’s momentum right out of the gate on his way toward the March 2 national vote.
- A poll from Tuchfeld’s generally pro-Netanyahu daily indicates Likud would earn the same number of seats whether it is headed by Netanyahu or Sa’ar, in what is likely good news for the challenger, who only announced his intention to run several weeks ago.
- The Israel Hayom reporter claims that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has a favorite in the race, and hasn’t even hid the fact that it is Sa’ar because the latter comes without the baggage of indictments that has prevented the centrist slate from swallowing the compromises necessary for a unity government with the right-wing bloc. Tuchfeld writes that Sa’ar also enjoys the support of the media, jumping on a commonly used talking point by Netanyahu’s family regarding coverage of its rivals.
- On Channel 13 Saturday night, Sa’ar challenged Netanyahu to a debate, which the prime minister’s people quickly decline given that the longtime premier would have little to gain from such a showing.
- Hours later, Sa’ar files a petition with the Second Authority for Television and Radio demanding that Channel 12 cancel its broadcast of a week-long series from political correspondent Amit Segal that centers around never-before-seen archive footage of Netanyahu spanning decades. Sa’ar argues that the special amounts to campaign advertisement for the premier. Yair Netanyahu quips on Twitter that because Segal’s colleague Amnon Abramovich provides commentary in the series, it will actually be a bunch of leftist propaganda, so Sa’ar has nothing to worry about.
2. Merger or bust: Like each of the year’s past two election campaigns, the next is already proving to be heavy on time devoted by pundits to possible mergers on the right and the left.
- Channel 13 reports that Netanyahu is working to hard to convince Jewish Home to join forces with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party after the latter failed to cross the electoral threshold in the September race, wasting thousands of right-wing votes.
- Such a merger will likely depend on the fate of Jewish Home chairman Rafi Peretz, who opposes the move, but is seen as increasingly unpopular. The national religious Srugim news site reports that Bezalel Smotrich, whose National Union party is expected to remain aligned with Jewish Home, is working to hold open primaries for the national religious camp, in which the transportation minister would surely fare better than the gaffe-prone Peretz. Such a scenario would allow for Otzma Yehudit to participate, and the fringe party’s leader says he’s happy to play along, but would also be fine with an official merger with Jewish Home-National Union “as soon as today.”
- This leaves the Naftali Bennett-led New Right party, which Israel Hayom reports is feeling an increase in optimism due to its chairman’s improved relations with Netanyahu as well as his new job as defense minister. The party’s No. 3 Matan Kahane tells the Knesset Channel that the faction deputy Ayelet Shaked is officially staying put. However, no word has been given by the popular former justice minister herself, and the Kan public broadcaster reports that unnamed Likud officials are pressuring Netanyahu to take her in.
- Netanyahu will also rely on the bloc of right-wing religious parties that stood by the premier after the last election and refused to split in order to join a Gantz-led coalition. However, an unnamed right-wing official told Channel 12 on Saturday night, “there will not be another blind following of Netanyahu… A fourth election is not an option and would be unforgivable.”
- As for the left, while most analysts speculate that a Labor-Democratic Camp merger would prevent either party from falling under the electoral threshold come March, there currently is a great deal of bad blood between the two parties, which have rather minimal ideological differences. Israel Hayom reports that the Nitzan Horowitz-led Democratic Camp is the main party interested in such a merger, but both Labor-Gesher leaders, Amir Peretz and particularly Orly Levy-Abekasis, don’t want to be tagged as leftists and would prefer merging with Blue and White anyways.
3. Pushing off quiet: Yedioth Ahronoth’s Sunday edition focuses on the faces of Israelis who will be most impacted by the failure of lawmakers to form a permanent government necessary for making long-term decisions to address problems in healthcare and security
- Ninety-seven year-old Victoria Douek tells the daily that she had to wait two days in hallway of Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center while suffering from respiratory issues until she received a bed. Asked what she had to say to lawmakers, she responds, “You have failed to uphold the critical commandment of honoring your mother and father.”
- Footage of 5-year-old Tahel Dahan taking cover while shaking in utter fear during a red alert siren in Sderot went viral last month. Her mother Sarah tells Yedioth that the lack of permanent government will mean that no major decisions will be made to ensure long-term quiet for residents of Gaza border towns. “Governments come and go and go but our reality is not changing. Now that there is no government at all, I do not believe that anything will change,” says Dahan.
- Senior IDF officials separately tell the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua that the extension of the transitional government’s term returns the IDF to the days before the 2014 Gaza war when then too, the lack of a permanent government prevented the passing of a long-term budget. Next month, the army will be forced to rely on funds that were approved for the 2019 year, rather than receiving additional funding.
4. Target practice: The left-wing Haaretz daily focuses a significant portion of its coverage, including two of its top stories along with its editorial, on the IDF’s November bombing of the al-Sawarka family home in Gaza, which killed nine civilian relatives inside reportedly after the army failed to update its “target bank” to deem the house “non-military.”
- The IDF has insisted that the home was indeed approved just day before the airstrike and deemed a legitimate target, but two Air Force pilots tell Haaretz’s Yaniv Kubovich that there is a great deal of pressure on them to produce a list of as many targets as possible, and more emphasis during approvals is given to new targets added to the list than old ones that remain on it from before.
- The paper’s Gideon Levy cites the harrowing testimony given by 11-year-old Noor al-Sawarka to the B’Tselem rights group after the strike on her home. “I found my brother Salem and my sister Lama next to my mother, who recited the Shahada prayer [the statement of Muslim faith], and then was silent. I tried to wake her up, I said, ‘Get up, mother, get up,’ but she didn’t hear me. I realized that she was dead.”
- “If the death of uninvolved civilians… in their homes does not prevent an army from declaring that in general, the operation in which they were killed was a success [as IDF chief Aviv Kohavi did], something has gone fundamentally wrong with that army’s ability to distinguish between soldiers and civilians when it comes to Palestinians,” Haaretz writes in its editorial.
5. Defending the indefensible: A gag order has been partially lifted over a case involving sexual abuse of children in an ultra-Orthodox town.
- Channel 13 and Yedioth each report that the court’s agreeing to lift the gag order came because of their respective requests.
- Details remain limited, but what the Jerusalem District Court does clear for publication is that an indictment has been filed against a therapist who is accused of abusing her patients.
- The Jewish Community Watch sexual abuse victims’ rights group, which was involved in exposing the alleged crime, says, “Countless hours went into breaking the silence surrounding this case. We are grateful for the diligent work of the police in investigating and bringing this very devastating indictment. We will continue to support any victim who comes forward, and hope that the authorities will continue to take swift action to bring the justice they all deserve.”
- Defending the suspect are attorneys Tal Gabay and Yehuda Fried, the same lawyers who are also defending alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer. They have managed to drag out extradition-related proceedings against the former Australia school principal for over five years and have evidently made a name for themselves in the process.
6. Never-ending hate: In the US, police are investigating vandalism at a large Los Angeles-area synagogue as a possible hate crime.
- Prayer books were torn, scrolls were crumpled, furniture was overturned and relics were smashed inside the Beverly Hills Nessah Synagogue, which serves the area’s large Persian community, authorities say.
- Police say they are searching for one man seen on video breaking into the synagogue and ransacking it at around 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
- Eric Garcetti, the Jewish mayor of Los Angeles, tweets that he is “shocked and outraged” by the incident.
- “Enough is enough, from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jewish
communities are under attack,” says Vered Nisim from the Israeli-American Civic Action Network. “Just a few days ago Jews were killed in Jersey City, and now today this vandalism. How many Jews have to die and how many synagogues have to be destroyed before serious action is taken?”