Israel media review

Judging Amir: 7 things to know for December 18

Justice Minister Ohana may, like his boss the PM, want to investigate the investigators, but now he’s being prosecuted (metaphorically) for picking the wrong prosecutor

Likud MK Amir Ohana attends a Knesset debate on December 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Likud MK Amir Ohana attends a Knesset debate on December 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

1. Amir vs. the world: A blistering battle is being set up between Justice Minister Amir Ohana and everybody else, after he appointed Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari as the country’s interim state attorney, replacing Shai Nitzan.

  • All day Tuesday, and earlier as well, Ohana traded barbs with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over the choice, with the two accusing each other of being unreasonable.
  • According to reports, Mandelblit would have been unhappy with almost anyone on Ohana’s shortlist of candidates, save deputy state prosecutor Shlomo Lemburger. Ginsberg ben-Ari, however, is described as a cut below, a junior officer with little to show she should be given the task beyond having the correct political chops.
  • According to Channel 12 news, the deputy district prosecutor was rejected by a vetting committee three times for the position of district prosecutor. “She’s not fit to be district prosecutor, how is she state prosecutor?” the channel’s Amnon Abramovitch wonders.
  • Channel 13 adds that Ginsberg Ben-Ari and Nitzan beefed after he torpedoed one of her appointments, after finding out that she had hidden information that could have exonerated a murder convict.
  • A prosecution source tells the channel that afterwards she would go around badmouthing Nitzan, including calling him “Hitler” and “al-Qaeda.”
  • Given the fact that Nitzan was one of the biggest bogeymen of the right because of his role in prosecuting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many see the appointment as political in nature, and by Wednesday morning, a first petition is filed in court against the nomination, citing fears of “outside influence.” Hours later, the court freezes the nomination.
  • Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz notes that the nomination is a win-win for Ohana and Netanyahu: “If the court keeps Ginsberg Ben-Ari from taking Nitzan’s place, Ohana can yell about collusion between judicial officials against politicians. If she is okayed, the justice minister can bask in a victory over Mandelblit.”

2. Oh no, Ohana: Much of the media is not kind to Ginsberg Ben-Ari or Ohana over the move.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Tova Zimuki writes that Ohana’s behavior “is a direct continuation of the incitement of his patron Netanyahu, who accused the prosecution of a ‘coup’ in putting him on trial.”
  • Broadsheet Haaretz, which goes balls to the wall against the appointment, runs several columns slamming Ohana.
  • “True to the spirit of his commander, who spreads tales of a legal putsch and seeks ‘to investigate the investigators,’ Ohana is abusing his temporary political power in an attempt to weaken the institution of the state prosecutor. Instead of respecting the circumstances and reducing his presence in the appointment process, Ohana seeks to squeeze everything he can get out of his temporary position,” the paper’s lead editorial reads.
  • In another column, the paper’s Chemi Shalev writes that “in normal times, the debate and drama surrounding Ohana’s decision to ignore the senior-level candidate proposed by Mendelblit and appoint a lower-level government attorney instead may have been viewed as in-house bickering that’s gotten out of hand. In these abnormal times, with an indicted prime minister bent on escaping prosecution and seeking reelection, the Ohana-Mendelblit showdown should be seen as a decisive skirmish in Netanyahu’s all-out war against the rule of law.”
  • Walla’s Amir Oren says that Ohana is beholden only to two constituencies, Netanyahu and Likud’s voters: “A third constituency, the things justice ministers take care of, within the ministry and outside of it, is important only in a negative sense, as a punching bag.”

3. Oh yes, Ginsburg Ben-Ari: Not everybody is against the appointment. Israel Hayom covers the story under the headline “Ben Ari — the right person for the job,” a quote from Ohana.

  • The paper’s Amnon Lord says that all the claims against Ginsberg Ben-Ari actually prove that she’s the best for the job, since she’s near the top but clearly not a member of the good ol’ boys club.
  • “Given the amount of dust being thrown up by opponents to the nomination … it seems Ohana has done something right,” he writes, throwing in a derisive reference to Stav Shaffir as “some redhead” for good measure. Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal writes on Twitter that in trying to reject the appointment, the attorney general is engaging in a “thought dictatorship.”
  • Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes that while she’s not the best pick, “the appointment is totally within the justice minister’s purview.”
  • In Haaretz, Netael Bendel actually quotes a number of colleagues who say she is a solid prosecutor, and won’t necessarily be Ohana’s errand girl.
  • “From the legal standpoint, she’s no different than the other prosecutors. … She never did things differently, so it’s not clear what he expects her to do differently,” an unnamed judicial source is quoted saying.

4. Imputschment: Israelis are watching the US President Donald Trump impeachment show with a mix of bemusement, confusion and morbid fascination.

  • While in the past parallels have been drawn between him and Netanyahu, with the prime minister’s own legal woes being buried in the prosecutor hubbub and elections, differences between Israel and the US are more in focus now.
  • As there is no concept or even word for impeachment in Hebrew (though they love the word putsch), a number of news sites make do with a word that roughly translates to ousting.
  • Globes goes a step further, adding a clunky transliteration of “impeachment” in parenthesis.
  • In a piece that could have been written about the US but does not mention Trump once, Arik Carmon of the Israel Democracy Institute writes in Yedioth that elections are no replacement for legal processes (the very thing impeachment is designed to address).
  • “The last thing we need is to prefer ‘the will of the people’ at the expense of those we have entrusted with safeguarding [our laws],” he pens.
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer writes that whatever happens to Trump, who is likely not going anywhere, the US-Israel relationship will survive: “the relationship between the two countries is much stronger than the personal ties between any two leaders. This will remain true for the foreseeable future, whoever eventually replaces Netanyahu and Trump. Even the most critical of the current crop of Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders, constantly repeats (to the dismay of some of his supporters) how pro-Israel he is,” he writes.

5. Turkey jerky: A report in the British Telegraph claims that Turkey is allowing Hamas to plan attacks on Israelis from its soil, despite a 2015 agreement to crack down on the terror group’s activities.

  • “Transcripts of Israeli police interrogations with … would-be attackers show senior Hamas operatives are using Turkey’s largest city to direct operations in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank,” the daily reports. “Israel has repeatedly told Turkey that Hamas is using its territory to plan attacks but rather than take action [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to meet with its leaders.” Among the plots uncovered in the report was one failed attempt to assassinate either ex-Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, ex-MK Yehudah Glick or ex-police chief Roni Alsheich.
  • Glick, a Temple Mount access activist and one-time attempted assassination survivor, tells Army Radio that his inclusion on the list shows that “Erdogan and Hamas are putting their finger on the center of the world, on Jerusalem which for them represents control over the Middle East.”
  • Though the story, which has many previously unreported details, makes major waves in Israel, some point out that Hamas planning attacks from Turkey is not exactly new.
  • Journalist Tali Ben Ovadiah notes that Kan ran a similar hour-long investigation just last month.
  • Channel 12 reporter Ohad Hemo writes on Twitter that he heard the same story from Suhaib Yusuf, the son of Hamas bigwig Hassan Yusuf, “in inside testimony about what they were doing on Turkish soil. He spoke about listening in on Israelis, a ‘West Bank’ brigade that was based in Istanbul and of planning attacks in the West Bank.”
  • Barkat meanwhile takes a break from accusing Gideon Sa’ar of stabbing Netanyahu in the back to push US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to sanction Turkey over its support for terror. Given Friedman’s boss’s closeness with Erdogan, I’d say there’s a better chance of Democrats deciding not to impeach US President Donald Trump.

6. Let my people go: After several days of simmering reports bubbling of Israelis being held up at Russian airports, the story has broken into the open, with reports of 46 Israelis being detained at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

  • The Ynet news site reports that the number includes small children who are being detained during a slow questioning process.
  • In a statement, the Russian embassy all but confirms the report, saying that Israel holds up lots of Russians too.
  • The Kan news site connects the case directly to Naama Issachar, the backpacker jailed for over 7 years on a minor drug charge, in what many think is a move to use her as a trading chip.
  • However Channel 12 news quotes an Israeli official saying that the case has nothing to do with Issachar, but rather Russian “revenge.”

7. Missing attention for a missing woman: While Issachar has gotten gobs of news coverage, with Netanyahu vowing on Tuesday night to bring her home at a campaign rally, ToI’s Adam Rasgon looks at the case of a lesser known Israeli abroad in dire circumstances, Lutfia Zbad, when went missing in October during a trip to Paris and has not been located.

  • Zbad’s relatives tell Rasgon that she suffers from schizophrenia, and urge authorities to do more.
  • “Netanyahu personally contacted Putin about Naama Issachar. Why is he not contacting the authorities in France about Lutfia?” brother Rasem asks.
  • It’s not just the authorities. Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi alleges racism in the small amount of coverage the mother of three has gotten from the press as well.
  • “It has not received enough coverage,” he says. “I honestly believe that if she were a Jewish Israeli, the media would cover the story more prominently,”

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