By now it’s become a nightly ritual. Like clockwork, Israel’s two main evening newscasts on Hadashot and Channel 10 (and Kan to a lesser extent) will kick off their reports with some sort of thinly sourced yet juicy and usually correct scoop related to the scandals surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates.
For whatever reason, Israel’s print newspapers, no less fine journalistic specimens than the TV news, are not getting the same leaks and insider info as their bestudio’ed brethren (though there are exceptions). The reason for this, which has been going on since the first revelations of Case 1000 began to drip out over a year ago, is not clear, but the result is that even on a Friday, when they normally pull out the big guns, the newspapers are filled with only the diddliest bits of gossip, beefed up with a healthy dose of commentary.
Thus Haaretz’s dramatic front page, a full blast 8-column photo of Netanyahu (suggestively snapped in front of hospital a sign reading “trauma and intensive”) is only used for the purpose of previewing columns filled with insider baseball bric-a-brac, the left-behind scraps of the TV news’s more damning revelations.
In one column, Yossi Verter writes (without any sourcing, natch) that on top of trying to bribe their way to more positive coverage, the prime minister’s men even tried leaning on satirical sketch comedy show “Eretz Nehederet” to lay off Sara Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s obsession with being able to control the media went so far, Verter writes, that in 2016 in the thick of coalition talks with Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, he balked at giving up the communications portfolio.
“I’d rather let you be the head of the country,” he’s quoted as saying.
“At the time it sounded like funny folklore. At the time, there was no way for Herzog to know that behind the strong objection was hiding a skeleton in a closet and a criminal Pandora’s box,” Verter adds.
While Verter at least broke a little new ground, Yedioth Ahronoth’s main package just reports what’s already known. Particularly, it looks at the sob story offered by suspect Nir Hefetz and others about their horrid conditions in prison, playing up the fact that all these big-wigs, including Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch “will spend Shabbat behind bars.”
Israel Hayom also focuses on the poor suspects and what their backers say police are doing to try and break them to make them turn state’s witness, like making them be around other prisoners and not get their beauty rest.
“On the second night, there was a fight in the cell. I woke up in the morning with hundreds of flea bites and my body full of blisters,” Hefetz is quoted telling the court, with the paper calling his tale the “heights,” although of what it does not say.
The main attraction in the papers, though, is the Talmudic heap of commentary, though it’s safe to say there is not much new under the sun, with papers toeing tried and true ideological lines as they parse who is and isn’t backing Netanyahu.
In Israel Hayom, for instance, Akiva Bigman points to polls showing continuing support for Likud as proof that the public knows some things are more important than following every law to a T.
“The public understands that the role of the prime minister is first and foremost to provide security, stability, prosperity and success, and all of these Netanyahu has delivered big time,” he writes. “The public is showing surprising maturity and remaining faithful to what it sees as the national interest, as seen in the elections. This is a hard thing for some in the media and politics to say.”
In Haaretz’s op-ed page, meanwhile, Ravit Hecht has a surprisingly similar take about those who are sticking by the premier, though she places it in a slightly harsher light.
“The Likud, even though it has been the ruling party for 40 years, not counting a few short breaks, conducts itself like a militia, like a family in which the collective memory includes bad relations with ‘the government’ or ‘the state.’ This family regards its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a critical component for its continued survival. His removal by ‘the state’ would be a fatal blow to the family’s structure, a catalyst for its dismantling. Likudniks are convinced that without Netanyahu they will lose control and remain powerless, becoming again a small tribe, dispersed and vulnerable at the margins of a political desert,” she writes.
“The Likud is not a herd of stupid beasts, and anyone who sees it as such does not understand the syntax of Israeli politics. It is a family whose values, as openly admitted by Likudniks, supersede the values of the state, the rule of law, and pretty much everything else, too.”
Papers may stick to ideological lines, but that does not mean individuals do. In Yedioth, self-professed right-winger Netanel Elyashiv explains why actually it is the rule of law that should supersede Netanyahu and not the other way around.
“Political and factional considerations cannot come at the expense of our core values,” he writes. “There’s no point in fighting over the borders of the state if we don’t also fight for what goes on inside those borders. We cannot impinge on the ability to separate good from bad, light from darkness.”