In Israel and Iran, waiting for the other shoe to drop
Hebrew media review

In Israel and Iran, waiting for the other shoe to drop

A graft case against an MK looks to widen even further and nobody is quite sure whether Iranian protests will be suppressed or manage to bring about something more

Likud MK David Bitan addresses the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan addresses the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Things are not looking great for former coalition whip David Bitan. Newspapers are filled Wednesday with reports of dramatic developments in a police investigation into allegations of graft leveled against the Likud MK, with even Israel Hayom putting his legal woes front and center.

The tabloid, long seen as a mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, calls what’s known until now about the lawmaker’s bribery scheme “seemingly just the tip of the iceberg.” The hyperbole refers to the fact that key witness Moshe Yosef reportedly testified on other heretofore unreported scandals, but the very importance the paper assigns to the story is likely a sign that the paper is either shedding Bitan’s soon-to-be dead weight or that the story has become too big to ignore, or possibly both.

Less telling is populist and anti-Netanyahu tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth playing up the developments, which apparently center around Yosef, said to have been Bitan’s money conduit. Yedioth gives a detailed account of Yosef’s day in the interrogation room, making it seem like their reporter was right in there next to him.

“Yosef finished his questioning last night only at 7 after spending nine hours with interrogators,” the paper reports. “In his testimony he claimed that he passed money not only to Bitan himself and Bitan’s wife Hagit but also to other family members, and also passed on details about other bribery schemes, not necessarily connected to Bitan, which have not been investigated until now.

Haaretz also puts the story on its front page, though lower down than the other two papers, perhaps reflecting the fact that the scandal no longer seems to have much to do with the ruling elite. The paper reports much the same information as the other two, as well as the fact that police now think that Hussam Jarushi, thought to have been involved in the bribery scheme to get a earthworks contract, was not actually a part of the affair. The paper does not mention the potential damage done to the Jarushi’s family’s name by the arrests and media coverage that assumed they were guilty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty is often overlooked in the media scrum to take down corrupt politicians. The same goes for Netanyahu, who has been defacto judged guilty despite not even being indicted yet, though if reports of his misdeeds are true, the media has good reason to cast a jaundiced eye in his direction, including Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, who predicts the prime minister is headed for a “Nixonian end.”

Shalev recounts the various similarities between Richard Nixon and Netanyahu, writing that the prime minister is more like the resigned president than the current one, both in successes and potential failures.

“Every time [Netanyahu] attacks his investigators, diminishes the severity of his known misdeeds and refuses to accept any responsibility for his actions, Netanyahu’s image in Israeli public opinion, including many on the right, is entrenched as a compulsive crook who is clinging to his prime ministerial bedposts. If he continues on his present path, this is how Netanyahu will go down in history as well, with his achievements consigned to oblivion,” he writes.

At least Nixon and Netanyahu never tried to pull somebody away from mourning for their dead wife to vote on a bill shuttering mini-markets on Shabbat, as Shas leader Aryeh Deri attempted to do with Likud MK Yehudah Glick Monday, earning the derision of many. But Yedioth columnist Amichai Etieli sees the move as just another cynical ploy by a career politician who wants to show his voting base how much he cares about Shabbat.

“Deri is someone who keeps an onion around in order to create crocodile tears for his teacher and leader, a politician in every sense,” he writes. “That’s exactly why he is able to think it’s totally normal to pull a person out of sitting shiva for his wife to come vote in the Knesset.”

Predicting a politician’s downfall is a dangerous game, whether it’s in Israel or Iran, which Israeli papers and pundits continue to try and get a handle on. The fact that nobody seems to quite know what is going on is not unique to news agencies in Israel, though, with Haaretz’s Amos Harel reporting that Israeli and Western intelligence officials are still not sure what to make of the protests and if they can snowball into an opportunity for regime change, or will be put down brutally.

Leader of the ‘Shas’ party MK Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 01, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“As of Tuesday evening, the Iranian regime still has not used its full force to put down the protests. It appears that like the foreign intelligence agencies, the Iranian authorities had not predicted the timing of the breakout of public fury. Even though the regime responded violently in a number of cities, and about 20 people have been reported killed so far, it is far from the aggressive means used to quell the 2009 protests. It looks as if the regime is still in the containment stage and has yet to loosen the reins on its offensive forces,” he writes.

In Israel Hayom, columnist Raz Zimet notes that perhaps they should have seen it coming, with Iranians electing reformer president Hassan Rouhani as a sign of their unhappiness with the revolutionary regime.

“He brought hope for a brighter future. Rouhani, seen as part and parcel with the revolutionary regime, understood well that the regime was losing support of the public and tried to win back some backing by making the revolutionary ideology match up with the current reality,” he writes. “But four and half years after being elected, most expectations by citizens that he would improve the economic situation and expand rights have been replaced with the disappointment and despair reflected in the current protest.”

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

In Yedioth’s op-ed page, Yonatan Yavin writes about comparisons between protests in Iran and protests in Israel, including comparing the claim by Iran that Israeli agents are fomenting the unrest to claims by Netanyahu that leftists are the cause behind the protests in Tel Aviv (and he jokingly refers to Iranian agents in Israel, mere hours before the Shin Bet revealed the capture of an actual Iranian intel network here).

“So maybe Iran is not the same as here, but the sad comparisons between the accusations of Khamenei and Netanyahu put us in the same gloomy neighborhood. Here we may not kill protesters, but that’s only because here we demonstrate with terrible politeness and there the situation for Iranian citizens is much worse,” he writes. “Let’s keep track, perhaps we will learn something. I assume that in a week or two we’ll hear Khamenei talking about droves of Zionists heading to the squares in buses.”

read more: