Hiding in the shadows: 9 things to know for October 26
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Israel media review

Hiding in the shadows: 9 things to know for October 26

Haaretz uncovers some secrets about Black Cube; Netanyahu may be paranoid but may still be in trouble; and shady candidates want your votes (and will probably get them)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a holiday toast event for Local Council chairmen at Airport City, ahead of the Jewish New Year, on August 30, 2018. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a holiday toast event for Local Council chairmen at Airport City, ahead of the Jewish New Year, on August 30, 2018. (Flash90)

1. A private Mossad: A report by Haaretz names former Barack Obama and Harry Reid aide Caroline Tess as a previously unknown third target by private Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube during an operation that went after Iran deal backers in the administration. Previous reports listed Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl as targets.

  • The report claims that the operation was not meant to discredit the deal on behalf of Trump people, but was actually a scheme to get info for a lawsuit to claim seized Iranian assets as part of terrorism judgments, funded by Taiwanese shipping tycoon Nobu Su.
  • Haaretz details how Black Cube set up a fake diving club to try and lure Tess to meeting with a representative, one of several phishing schemes it tried against its targets.
  • It also sheds some light on the operations of the super secretive company, whose headquarters takes up an entire floor of a Tel Aviv office tower, though visitors who find it will see only a black wall, and not the name of the company.
  • The black wall, doors that open by fingerprint, and an excellent whiskey selection for guests in the general manager’s office, closely mirror another secretive organization, the paper notes.
  • “The reception room of the Mossad espionage agency at Glilot, north Tel Aviv, greets visitors with a similar bar, featuring the best the world has to offer. Black Cube wants to give its clients the impression they are getting a private Mossad, for any purpose,” the paper writes.

2. Same difference: A poll by Channel 10 news finds that Likud would suffer, though not by much, were it led by former minister Gideon Sa’ar instead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • According to the survey, Netanyahu’s Likud would win 30 seats, and Sa’ar’s 25.
  • Those five missing seats would go to Jewish Home and Yisrael Betyenu, according to the poll, and considering both parties are natural coalition partners of Likud, the difference is essentially meaningless in terms of coalition-formation calculus.

3. Automatic for the people: Fallout from the radioactive Netanyahu-Sa’ar (and President Reuven Rivlin) brouhaha is continuing to pulsate through the press.

  • Moti Tuchfeld from pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, who kicked off the whole donnybrook by taking the bait and reporting on the supposed coup plot between Sa’ar and Rivlin, writes that Netanyahu didn’t have a beef with the fact that he could lose, but that he could win and the will of the people (the people!) for him to remain in power might not be realized.
  • “Does that sound paranoid,” Netanyahu asks, referring to Rivlin’s claim against Netanyahu, since echoed by many other critics. “You don’t need to go far to see there’s something to it,” he adds, referring to media criticism which he translates into a conspiracy to have him ousted.

4. Hidden enemies: It’s true that Netanyahu doesn’t have a ton of friends in the press. Even former aide Yoaz Hendel writes scathingly in Yedioth Ahronoth, accusing the ruling party of suffering from mass delusions a la fata morgana.

  • “When [Netanyahu] identifies hidden enemies, there are enough who are willing to side with him and open fire. The Sa’ar-Netanyahu fight isn’t important, the point is that the party in charge can’t allow itself to sink into flattery and fantasy. Ruling is a means to preserve the state, not a goal in and of itself,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter goes through the list of putsch attempts claimed by Netanyahu, back to the 1993 cassette affair, through a claim (also broadcast via Israel Hayom) in 2009 that then-president Shimon Peres would do everything to give the government to “the left,” to Netanyahu’s claim that led him to bring down his government in 2014: that Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni were plotting against him.
  • “Netanyahu feeds on these intrigues. He wallows in them like a farm animal in a puddle. He creates imaginary enemies, plotters scheming to topple him, oust him, remove him from the throne,” Verter writes.
  • The rub is, though, that Netanyahu may find himself in serious legal trouble, and now Sa’ar has been set up as someone with a “backbone.”
  • “Internal opposition, if it’s significant and has a strong leader, would be a horror show for Netanyahu,” writes Verter.

5. Old case reopened by a hair: The story dominating the press conversation is the reopening of a 12-year-old murder case that has enraptured the public, after a DNA test raised doubts over a conviction of Roman Zadorov for killing 13-year-old Tair Rada.

  • According to the Abu Kabir forensic’s institute, a hair found on Rada’s body matched the boyfriend, known only as A.H., of a mentally ill woman (known as O.K.) who has reportedly confessed to the crime, reigniting speculation on who committed the killing and whether Zadorov could be given a retrial.
  • Prosecutors, however, are quoted in some media as downplaying the significance of the DNA findings and saying they did not conclusively prove the hair belonged to A.H., who claims O.K. confessed to him that she had carried out the murder while wearing his clothes.
  • “A.H. is in a wide group of people and we don’t know how many others are in this group, who could also match the hair,” Israel Hayom quotes from the prosecution.
  • “The fact that forensic evidence was found cannot stand on its own and there will need to be bolstering material or other finds that will explain the discovery of the forensic material at the crime scene,” a police source tells Walla news.
  • But the evidence is apparently enough for Yedioth columnist Noam Barkan to demand Zadorov be released from prison immediately, pointing an accusatory finger at the prosecution.
  • “For years the law enforcement system and prosecution have not allowed anything to stand in the way of their narrative — Roman Zadarov is the killer and nobody else,” he charges.

6. Dirty mayors: Municipal elections are just days away, and ToI’s Marissa Newman finds no shortage of people with shady pasts running, from those who have already served time, to others on trial or being investigated for corruption.

  • It’s not that Israelis don’t know, they just seem to not care much: “Just 17 percent of Israelis believe there is no corruption at all in their local authorities (34% of Jewish respondents, and 62.5% of Arab respondents believe there is a great deal of corruption),” she writes, citing an Israel Democracy Institute poll. “But history has also shown that a whiff of criminal wrongdoing, or even an indictment, will not prevent Israeli voters from reinstalling embattled local politicians in office — particularly over white-collar crimes.”
  • Among those running are Ashkelon’s Itamar Shimoni, who is facing bribery charges and has set it up so his lawyer can hold his place for him should he win a new term.
  • Also on the list is Nazareth’s Ali Salem, who is being probed on a raft of graft charges. He’s most interesting because of his claim that he taught US President Donald Trump everything he knows, despite the two never meeting.
  • The source of his claim is the fact that Trump once repeated “I love you,” something Salem says he has done.
  • “Asked if Trump and Salam could perhaps have had similar ideas without coordination, the mayor was adamant: ‘This is no coincidence.’”

7. King of the white nationalists: Israelis aren’t the only ones who elect bad people to office. In Iowa, Rep. Steve King looks set to cruise to victory in the midterms, despite being the closest thing Congress has to an out and out fascist.

  • King has gotten in trouble for comments before, but the Washington Post’s revelation that he went to Austria to meet with a far-right party while kind of on the dime of a group that had flown him to Europe to learn about the Holocaust.
  • On top of that, he gave an interview to an anti-Semitic publication and also made sure to supplement his trips to concentration camps with his own tour to get “the Polish perspective.”
  • Alex Kotch of Read Sludge reports that in his filings, King writes that the trip was to “further talks and debate about the Holocaust,” which is similar language to that used by some Holocaust deniers.

8. Faith no more: Last week, King was under fire for endorsing Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, who makes no bones about being a white supremacist (and was trounced in the vote).

  • In Haaretz’s op-ed section, Canadian associate professor Mira Sucharov writes that Goldy’s prominent run was actually good for exposing hidden structures of white supremacy.
  • “While Faith Goldy retreats from a fringe bid for mayor in Canada’s largest city, she has, perhaps unwittingly, reminded us of all the work left to be done in all our societies when it comes to basic issues around race, justice and basic humanity,” she writes.

9. Rick’s pickle: Lastly, With a Jewish Federations meeting this week exposing the Israel-Diaspora rift (and doing little to heal it), Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement, tells ToI that they are not giving up on the Jewish state. Rather, they are “doubling down.”

  • “Especially at this moment, where the distance is real – anyone who doesn’t see it is not opening their eyes and not thinking,” Jacobs says. “Instead of letting that continue, we said we have to put more energy, and build deeper, be more engaged – particularly with our younger people – to connect to the things that are absolutely at the core of what Israel is, why it was created, why it’s part of all of our lives.”
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