1. Diplomatic [non]-incident: Dozens of world leaders are in town for the World Holocaust Forum — a truly magnificent event in and of itself, but local media appears more interested in overshadowing that magnitude with other things.
- First came an altercation between French President Emmanuel Macron and an Israeli security guard at the entrance to the Church of Saint Anne, which is French state property.
- “Everybody knows the rules. I don’t like what you did in front of me,” an animated Macron loudly told the Israeli officer, speaking in English, in the crush to enter the building. “Go out — outside please!” he added, refusing to allow the Shin Bet security guards to accompany him into the church.
- The scene was reminiscent of a 1996 Jerusalem visit by late former president Jaques Chirac to the church. Chirac got angry at Israeli soldiers for clinging too closely to him and shoving well-wishers, residents and even accompanying journalists away when they tried to shake his hand or get close to him. Chirac heatedly told them their actions were a “provocation” and angrily asked: “What do you want? Me to go back to my plane and go back to France, is that what you want?”
- Haaretz plasters its front page with a photo of Macron showing the security guard the door. Channel 12 opens up its nightly broadcast, saying it can’t start its coverage of the Holocaust forum without first addressing the “serious [diplomatic] incident].” Channel 13 doesn’t get far in its coverage before tackling the “shameful” incident.
- Except the matter appeared to be far from that, with Macron later thanking Israeli security personnel for their work in escorting him, in what appeared to be an effort to calm tensions. A joint police-Shin Bet statement claimed the French president had even apologized to the forces for losing his cool.
2. Go big or go home: Next on the media’s mountain out of a molehill puff-tour is its coverage of the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin as negotiations for the release of Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar from Russian prison reach a peak.
- Putin lands at Ben Gurion Airport as the list of concessions the Kremlin is expecting from Israel continues to grow. According to Hebrew media reports, Russia has asked Israel to transfer a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property near the Old City of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Kremlin.
Reports also indicate that Russia is seeking strong Israeli backing for its position in a spat with Poland over responsibility for World War II.
- One Israeli diplomatic official tells Channel 12 that Russia has been able to add to its list of demands thanks to consistent leaks from officials in Jerusalem that have demonstrated just how important freeing Issachar is to the Jewish state. Combine this with the coverage that backpacker has received in recent weeks, which has exploded with Naama’s mother Yaffa meeting with Putin during the latter’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- While reporters may have been setting the table for Putin to announce a pardon during his visit, the Russian president settles for telling Yaffa that “everything will be okay.”
- Reacting to the hubbub, ToI’s Josh Davidovich tweets, “I could be wrong, but Israeli journos are crazy for thinking Putin would announce a pardon while here. Doing so on foreign soil would throw his whole judicial system under the bus. He has to make it look like a judicial process, not a diplomatic one. But that was a very strong hint.”
- “I expect Israeli officials to leak within hours that she will be pardoned. If they do, it could blow the whole thing up. The fact that Israeli journalists took seriously the prospect that he would fly Naama to Israel with him on his plane just shows how wackadoodle people have gotten over this,” Davidovich adds.
3. At least someone gets it: Not all reporters are willing to get on board with the puffed-up, sensationalized coverage of Putin’s visit, which even included a Kan public broadcaster live-feed of his convoy making its way to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion airport.
- Haaretz’s Josh Breiner writes that he finds himself thinking a lot recently about the families of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who have been held captive in Gaza for six and five years respectively while failing to receive the type of nonstop coverage that Issachar has provoked.
- Channel 13’s Akiva Novick goes further, saying, “Only a country in a state of mental psychosis enslaves its political interests for one prisoner. With all the empathy for Naama Issachar, we have completely freaked out beyond reasonable proportion. And the media, with all of its employees, similarly should be hospitalized over how it’s handled Issachar.”
- Criticizing Channel 13 for sending a push notification over Yaffa Issachar being on her way to meet Putin, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson says Israel and its media is treating Naama as if she’s a Mossad operative being held hostage in Iran.
- Haaretz’s editorial calls out Netanyahu in particular, saying “if the reports are true that [he] intends on expressing support for the campaign that Putin is conducting against Poland over the past few months, then it is a bad joke at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust, and its survivors, in whose name world leaders are gathering on Thursday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.”
4. Ballooning out of control: As the Holocaust remembrance events march on, residents of the south were forced to deal with a further uptick in arson balloon attacks from Gaza.
- Kan reports that Egypt is in involved in “intense efforts” to get the Hamas terror group to end the attacks amid fears of a return to violence after
a bundle of balloons was found in the Gaza-adjacent Sdot Negev region, attached to a “suspicious object,” the Israel Police says in a statement.
- Israeli officials believe Hamas is behind the spate of balloon-borne bombs and incendiary devices launched in recent days, as the group seeks to signal it is unhappy with the slow progress of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire.
- Officials have assessed that the group could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum. either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other, smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, the report said.
5. Hack attack: Independent UN rights experts say that the alleged Saudi hacking of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’s phone was likely carried out using spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group.
- Bezos’s phone is reported to have been infiltrated through a WhatsApp account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- For its part, the Israeli firm says in a statement it was “shocked and appalled” by the reports linking its software to the Bezos phone hacking, and asserted that its software was definitely not involved.
- “Recent media reports that suggest the kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’s phone are absurd,” the Saudi Arabian embassy says on its Twitter account.
- The New York Times quotes a UN expert who says Bezos’ experience should sound alarms because even with his wealth and resources, it took months of investigation by specialists to figure out what had happened. “It basically means that we are all extremely vulnerable.”
Scene in Davos this morning after Jared Kushner heard the news about MbS and Bezos pic.twitter.com/GMijKIGtcf
— Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) January 22, 2020
6. In other Saudi-related news: ToI’s Adam Rasgon reports that Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL) is slated to visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Thursday ahead of the 75th anniversary of its liberation by the Soviet Red Army.
- American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris says the trip represented “the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever.”
- Issa, the Muslim clerics and the AJC officials will tour the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on Friday as well as visit the Nozyk Synagogue in the Polish capital and a local mosque, Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for AJC said, adding that the group will share an interfaith Shabbat meal as well.
- Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz praises Issa’s visit, calling it “a historic and moving step. It points to an important process of change transpiring in the Middle East and to considerable opportunity for Israel.”