Israel media review

If not now, when? What the press is saying on December 1

Early elections are imminent with Gantz reportedly possibly almost ready to vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset, except maybe they’ll wait a while; ditto for lockdown No. 3

Counting ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Counting ballots from soldiers and absentees at the Knesset in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, March 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

1. Are we voting yet? Israel is headed toward early elections. That much the country’s news outlets can agree on, though they all seem to be looking at different maps of the road there and different travel times.

  • “On the way to more elections,” reads the front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, taking the road more traveled.
  • “Trading blame on the way to the moment of truth,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom, more focused on the billboards on the side of the highway than the eventual destination.
  • Channel 12 news, meanwhile, opened its 8 p.m. broadcast with the claim that yes kids, we are there already. According to the channel, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has already made up his mind to support a measure to disperse the Knesset Wednesday and will announce his intentions any moment.
  • “If nothing changes at the last moment, Israel will get into the fast lane toward its fourth elections in two years,” said anchor Yonit Levy, kicking off the broadcast.
  • But Haaretz, looking at the same TripTik, sees a different destination — pressure on Netanyahu: “Gantz is likely to vote on Wednesday for a bill to dissolve the Israeli parliament, in the hope that this will spur Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a compromise on a state budget,” reports the paper.
  • Backseat driving Science Minister Izhar Shay (who is also Blue and White’s media point person) tells Kan that he thinks he knows what road they are on: “I assume we’ll vote for dissolving the Knesset, but it’s Gantz’s call — he will probably decide tonight or tomorrow morning.”
  • “As it looks now, we are on our way to elections,” says Sports Minister Chili Tropper, also of Blue and White.
  • All of this comes from a press whose trigger finger has been itchy for elections for such a long time that nearly every outlet fell, once again, for Netanyahu’s “dramatic speech” trick — apparently thinking it might be the announcement they were all waiting for. The result being that they helped him hype up a 20-second statement that was anything but dramatic.

2. Talk about early: Not so fast, say many others, who believe reports of the coalition’s demise are premature. For one thing, note many, the vote on Wednesday is a preliminary one.

  • “Spoiler: The government will not fall on Wednesday,” writes Walla’s Tal Shalev. “Even if Gantz decides to back Yesh Atid’s bill to dissolve the Knesset, until it is approved on third reading the coalition can still take a ride on the Surprise Railroad… The real deadline is December 23 at midnight, or forever away in political terms.”
  • Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker says that while Netanyahu does want elections, he prefers they take place later, while Gantz just doesn’t want to look like a sucker “who gives in to every one of Netanyahu’s demands.”
  • “At this point, the question is who will cave first — Gantz or Netanyahu,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, “Gantz knows that any election in the foreseeable future will spell almost certain electoral wipe-out for [Blue and White]. Netanyahu knows that Likud’s prospects will not revive in time for a March election if the campaign is dominated by Israel’s almost inevitable third wave of COVID-19, and he will be at [Yamina leader Naftali] Bennett’s mercy. They can barely stand the sight of each other anymore, but facing the voters right now will be more difficult. So it will hardly be surprising if they find the way to allow Gantz to instruct his MKs to vote against dissolving the Knesset.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Gideon Alon notes that “in Israel’s political history, there have been many cases in which, even after a vote to dissolve the Knesset was approved on preliminary and even first reading, the politicians who oppose early elections have managed to halt the process.”
  • Even Yedioth (which, remember, declared that Israel is on its way to the polls on its front page) devotes its lead stories to two reasons elections are imminent, and two reasons they are not.
  • “There are sources in Blue and White whispering in Gantz’s ear that in Israeli politics anything can happen, and so he should not truckle to every instigated crisis tooth and nail, but keep the [coalition] deal,” writes the paper’s Yuval Karni.

3. Ballot shuffling: Even if early elections are six months away instead of three, there are signs of politicians and aspirational Knesset members getting their ducks in a row for the next campaign season.

  • Army Radio quotes Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai saying that “I hope to see the most failed government in the country’s history clear the stage.”
  • “Readying for elections?” asks the station.
  • Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that whenever elections do come about, Blue and White is headed straight for Israel’s political graveyard: “Like Shinui and Kadima before it, Blue and White’s day has come…. It was the internecine fights that decided the fates of these forgotten political corpses. Blue and White is heading straight and sure in the exact same direction.”
  • Haaretz’s Noa Landau criticizes those on the left who have begun to push another former IDF chief — Gadi Eisenkot — as their messiah in waiting.
  • “The center-left’s penchant for the military brass is already turning into a parody,” she writes. “While seizing on to the past images of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, they are fantasizing about a senior defense official so that there can be no doubt about his patriotism, and are thereby falling into the trap so well prepared by the right, which has worked hard to undermine the nationalism of the left.
  • “The left is now in need of Jewish-Arab partnership, ethical leadership with a clear vision, and ability on the ground based on practical political experience. The left does not need another general from the boring list of names.”
  • Kan reports that the Ra’am faction of the Joint List is considering not supporting the Knesset dissolution measure, another sign of its break toward Netanyahu.
  • But faction No. 2 Waleed Taha tells Army Radio that no matter whose camp Ra’am is in, “we are not in the pocket of the right. Opposition or coalition, the interests of Arab society will determine our path.”

4. Constant emergency: Showing that one can repeat the same warning again and again and it won’t lose its currency, at least in some quarters, several news sites lead off Tuesday morning with coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying that Israel is in a “state of emergency,” as virus numbers head skyward again.

  • The channel reports that ministers were presented with “several warnings and alternatives to a lockdown — which it will be hard to avoid. Cabinet members were presented with research claiming that there is no way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and another lockdown is unavoidable.”
  • Kan reports that the Health Ministry expects case numbers to rise to 2,000 a day, which will trigger a third lockdown, though by lockdown it means a “breathing closure,” i.e., one that keeps schools and businesses open.
  • Israel Hayom writes that “while the defense and health systems are preparing for a third lockdown, the Education Ministry is not far behind,” with plans being drawn up in a bid to avoid the issues it ran into with the lifting of the first and second lockdowns.
  • Education Minister Yoav Gallant tells Army Radio that there has been no rise in cases in the education system, and says it should be seen as a “coronavirus island,” employing the terminology used for Eilat and the Dead Sea’s special virus-free zones.
  • Yedioth reports that former czar Roni Gamzu is launching a new initiative that would help most businesses and other venues open up, so long as potential visitors are able to present coronavirus-free passes showing they had a negative test in the last 72 hours. The initiative is intended to “return Israel quickly to an almost normal routine,” the paper claims.

5. Ticket to (fly over) Riyadh: Until then, Israelis are taking advantage of the open skies and making for Dubai, with the actual first commercial Israeli flight taking off for the UAE on Tuesday.

  • As if the “historic” label weren’t applied to that first not-actually commercial flight enough, the label is once again thrown out like it’s going out of style for this flight.
  • “History,” reads a headline from Channel 13 news, which notes that it’s the first Israeli commercial flight that will be allowed to cross Saudi Arabia.
  • Israel Hayom reports that the Saudi okay for the overflight came at the 11th hour following US intervention, though it says Riyadh, which announced its okay for the overflights months ago, wasn’t trying to be the bad guy.
  • “From a check with the American sources, it has become clear that the Saudis didn’t go back on their approval, and that the issue arose from technical matters that have not been dealt with until now,” it reports.
  • However, Channel 12 news reports that the Saudi overflight permission is not as groundbreaking as many hoped. According to the station, the approval is for four days only, and will only cover Israeli flights to Dubai, not any other destination.
  • Meanwhile, Bahrainis are heading to Israel for their second ministerial-level delegation Tuesday, reports ToI’s Raphael Ahren: “The visit is very significant from our perspective,” Eliav Benjamin, the head of the Arab world desk at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, is quoted saying. “It is an illustration of what we and what the Bahrainis want to see in our relations — progress in our cooperation. This is true normalization between our two countries: trade, commerce, meetings between delegations and ministers and businesspeople.”
  • NPR reports that with Israel expecting an influx of Gulf visitors, some sensitivity training is being ordered up for Ben-Gurion Airport’s border control officials, who aren’t known for their welcoming attitudes: “The deputy mayor of Jerusalem has asked Israeli officials to update security protocols at the airport, where Arab and Muslim visitors regularly face stringent questioning, so anticipated Emirati visitors will receive a warmer welcome.”
  • Everyone else is also getting a dose of dos and don’ts when around the Emiratis, NPR reports: “‘The United Arab Emirates is not a democratic country and it is not acceptable to speak about democracies as a preferred model of government,’ the advisory says. It also recommends ‘not to speak to Emiratis about the royal families,’ ‘avoid speaking about local politics’ and ‘avoid speaking about government or state policy towards foreign workers.’”
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