1. Peretz turns right: For the last several weeks, Israeli newspapers have been rife with reports that the Labor Party and Meretz were on the cusp of merging, presenting it as all but a done deal. On Thursday, that got turned on its head as Labor chief Amir Peretz announced he was joining forces with Orly Levy-Abekasis of the nascent Gesher Party.
- Despite having just a few days ago run a headline saying there were “agreements” between Peretz and Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz, Yedioth Ahronoth now crows about a small story it ran on June 20 — ancient history — about talks between Peretz and Levy-Abekasis. Way to go.
- The move is widely viewed as a shift toward the center for the left-wing party. According to several reports, it was accompanied by Peretz informing Horowitz that he would not be merging with the fellow left-wing faction.
- Haaretz highlights Peretz’s comment that “we will break down the walls between camps” writing that it was a “hint that the move is designed to bring in right-wing voters.”
- It’s also seen as intended to move away from diplomatic matters and toward socio-economic issues, which Levy-Abekasis, once a rising star, has made into her bread and butter issue and managed to parlay into a disappointing 74,000 nationwide votes last time around that were then thrown in the trash.
2. Split the left: The move is met with widespread bafflement, if not pessimism, at least on the left, especially as it means that there won’t be a more major merger between Labor, Meretz, or Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.
- “What seemed totally unreasonable until a few hours before has become the leading scenario, if not the only one: The left will run with three heads. Not one, not even two. Meretz and Israel Democratic are like water and oil, tea and whiskey,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, who is clearly not a fan of the hot toddy. “Opposition to Barak on the left is practically a consensus, so it won’t happen.”
- “Peretz is gambling big time here on being able to bring in votes from the right … is this one bridge too far?” asks Channel 12’s Amit Segal on Twitter.
- (Gesher means bridge, hence there is no dearth of bridge-based references being made by pundits.)
3. What’s Peretz looking for? Meretz and Barak were at least united in attacking Peretz over the move, with Horowitz accusing the Labor leader of repeating the mistakes of his predecessor and Barak saying he won’t commit to not join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Others agree that Barak may be onto something.
- “Peretz + Levy = the two biggest ministerial posts in the Netanyahu government,” tweets Barak Ravid of Channel 13.
- “Peretz himself has denied it and promised he won’t do anything like that, but there could be a situation in which the prime minister is pushed into a corner with far-reaching demands. Sound familiar?” asks Israel Hayom’s Yehuda Shlezinger. “With big promises of significant socio-economic portfolios for Peretz and Levy, and maybe even a promise of support one day for the presidency, it’s not clear that Peretz [will stay out]. In politics, as we’ve seen, anything can happen.”
- Barak may know something about such mergers. Several news sites note that in 1999 the then-Labor leader joined with Levy-Abekasis’s father David Levy (who had been in the Likud) and his own Gesher party.
4. The Daily Mail, as American as apple pie: Barak also got an answer Thursday to his demand that the Mail Online retract and apologize for a story that insinuated he was somehow involved with Jeffery Epstein’s sex trafficking because he was photographed entering Epstein’s home.
- “DailyMail.com stands by its recent story concerning Ehud Barak’s relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein 100 percent,” the letter says.
- Interestingly, even though Barak addressed his complaint to the Mail Online, the British-based website of the well-known Daily Mail tabloid, the response letter came from DailyMail.com, which is its US-based website.
- While the story was seemingly produced by DailyMail.com in New York, it was carried on the Mail Online website.
- In correspondence with The Times of Israel, a representative of DailyMail.com noted that the story had never appeared in the print version of the British tabloid, and insisted that connecting it to the British paper would be “misleading.”
- Why the fretfulness? It’s not 100 percent clear but it could be because the news organization is looking to make sure it stays under the umbrella of America’s famously press-friendly libel laws, which would make it nearly impossible for Barak to sue successfully.
5. Sympathy for the devils? The Mail Online, meanwhile, is more worried about the alleged gang rape of a British tourist by 12 teens in Cyprus this week.
- The story has also grabbed the Israeli press, though it has approached it with kid gloves not normally granted to gang rape suspects. All throughout the day Thursday, TV stations replayed footage of the Israeli teens being hauled in and out of court, some of them crying and saying they were beaten by police when asked by parents or reporters.
- Though some reports indicate that three of the teens admitted to having consensual sex with the woman, Yedioth claims that the charge sheet says only one of them did, though he did rape her in front of 11 other people.
- “It’s true that they were drinking and having fun and she did hook up with one of the Israelis, but she didn’t sleep with 12 guys, that’s not appropriate for her,” the paper quotes the alleged victim’s friend as saying (in a free translation back into English).
- Pushing back against the claims of being beaten by police or other tourists, the Cyprus Mail reports that “a medical examiner who examined all 12 Israeli suspects found no evidence of battery on them.”
- The Mail also reports that Israeli Foreign Ministry head Yuval Rotem was in Nicosia for talks with his Cypriot counterpart Tuesday though it’s unclear whether the case came up.
6. Grip and grin and establish ties: Rotem’s boss Israel Katz, meanwhile, was in Washington, where he held a rare meeting with his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.
- Though a picture of the two meeting, an even more astounding occurrence, was tweeted out by US envoy Jason Greenblatt earlier in the evening, both Israeli channels 12 and 13 claimed the story as a scoop.
- In Axios, Channel 13’s Ravid notes: “There has been a flurry of meetings between Israeli officials and their counterparts from the Gulf states recently, but the meetings are typically not made public by either party. That’s why the joint photo of both ministers is even more significant than the meeting itself. Israel and Bahrain don’t have diplomatic relations but are in a steady process of warming ties.”
Head spinning. It’s only a matter of time before Bahrain establishes diplomatic relations with Israel. https://t.co/H4iBfBWfOJ
— Mark Dubowitz (@mdubowitz) July 18, 2019
- The release of the photo came at the same time as Bahrain announced a follow-up to the Warsaw meeting on combating Iran (kinda) for sometime in the future. Though Netanyahu attended that meeting, and all the same countries will be invited, a diplomatic source tells The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren that it will be a low-level workshop and only a low-level official will be invited.