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Israel media review

Like a spy in the night: What the press is saying on December 30

Jonathan Pollard’s middle of the night arrival is met with a modicum of excitement from most. Now the question is what’s next for him, and for Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets released US spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther at Ben Gurion Airport, December 30, 2020 (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets released US spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther at Ben Gurion Airport, December 30, 2020 (Courtesy)

1. The spy whom we loved: For years there have been fears that the inevitable arrival of US-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel would be a minefield for Jerusalem, due to the optics of celebrating a hero who was jailed for decades for spying on the US.

  • In the end, Pollard’s middle of the night arrival with his ailing wife Esther appears to have been met with something somewhat larger than a whimper but well below the feared-for bang.
  • On the bang side of the equation is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took a solo midnight trip to the airport to greet Pollard’s plane. “His” newspaper, Israel Hayom, got the exclusive on the arrival and, with Netanyahu the only bigwig on the tarmac, gives the premier all the credit.
  • “Netanyahu met them excitedly on the tarmac, gave Jonathan his Israeli ID card and the three [including Pollard’s wife Esther] said the ‘Shehecheyanu’ blessing,” the paper reports, under the headline “Welcome back,” as if the former Navy analyst had been an Israeli all along.
  • In English — but not in Hebrew — the paper runs an “exclusive” by Boaz Bismuth, though it includes little more info and not even a ton of pathos: “As the pilots prepared to land, Pollard was called to enter the cockpit, where he was able to hear the Ben-Gurion International Airport control tower welcome him to Israel in Hebrew.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Bismuth says that the Pollards flew to Israel on the private jet of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who just happen to own his newspaper.
  • He also tweets that in almost 40 years as a journalist, Pollard’s arrival was his most exciting night.
  • For the dose of excitement missing in Bismuth’s account (which he may be saving for the print edition on Thursday), the paper turns to Effi Lahav, head of the campaign for Pollard’s freedom, who says, “We are experiencing a historic moment, amazing and exciting, that we’ve been waiting for for many inconceivable years.”
  • With several other groups claiming to have been leading the fight for Pollard, there is no shortage of activists for other outlets to interview, their excited words spreading gleefully across the media landscape.
  • “I spoke to them before they got on the plane and they were very excited after 35 years to get to Israel and start a new life,” lawyer Nitzana Darshan-Leitner tells Channel 13.

2. The old-new home: Despite the 35-year wait, or perhaps because of it, many outlets play down the Pollard story and also let other politicians besides Netanyahu weigh in and try to jockey for credit as well.

  • “Right after we got word that the parole conditions were lifted, we made contact with Pollard through his lawyer, in order to be ready to give the Pollards whatever aid they need,” Channel 12 quotes Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata saying.
  • Kan runs a fairly thin story on Pollard that does not even call him an Israeli, despite all the talk of him “returning.”
  • Haaretz, which does the same, notes that the Pollards already own an apartment in Jerusalem and will go into quarantine. It also includes the fact that “the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, where he spent 30 years, was once ranked number ninth on Forbes Magazine’s list of America’s 10 ‘cushiest’ prisons.”
  • Education Minister Yoav Gallant tells Army Radio he doesn’t really care if the Americans get annoyed with Israel for warmly welcoming the ex-spy: “He paid a heavy price. This is a warm Jew and with all due respect to the American administration, he did his time. We praise his arrival.”

3. MK Pollard? Within hours rumors have begun flying that Pollard will jump straight into politics and join up with Netanyahu’s Likud party, which would try to piggyback on his status as a cause celebre.

  • The rumor gets enough traction that Maariv sends out a push notification with the headline that “the political system assesses” that Pollard will join it.
  • “A nation in a hallucination,” tweets social media creature Eran Cherpak above a picture of the push notification.
  • “There’s no suggestion more overblown than giving Pollard a spot on the Likud Knesset slate. This is almost a joke,” tweets Ynet’s Atilla Somfalvi.
  • Both Bismuth and Darshan-Leitner tell Army Radio that Pollard wants to do some “high-techie” stuff.
  • “He has some amazing high-techie proposals that he’s been thinking about. Back when I visited him in prison in North Carolina he had these plans, he let me in on some amazing stuff,” Bismuth says.
  • Hopefully it’s better than his spying. Yedioth’s Ronen Bergman writes an appreciation for Amos Gilboa, a former Military Intelligence head during the time Pollard was an Israeli agent, who died suddenly this week. He says he asked Gilboa about the info Pollard passed, during their last conversation, and whether it was worth the 30-year sentence.
  • “It didn’t help, except in some very limited areas,” he’s quoted saying. “It didn’t change anything, contributed very partially, definitely was not worth this.”

4. Party on, dudes: Perhaps Pollard will start his own party? It’s what every other (white, male) political aspirant is doing.

  • On Tuesday, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai unveiled his The Israelis party — a name that is the political equivalent of Washington Football Team.
  • Nonetheless, the hotly anticipated entry of yet another player into the political game generates wide coverage in the press as the latest, greatest center-left challenger to Netanyahu’s throne.
  • “Through one door exits he who promised to save them two years ago,” Walla’s Tal Shalev writes of Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, “and through another door enters one who promises to do it now.”
  • Despite the prevalence of parties crowding into the untenable center space, Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld predicts that they will shuffle around until they find a possibly winning combination.
  • “What we saw last night was just the beginning. It was the left-wing camp setting its game pieces out on the board. Over the next month and up until the party lists are submitted in February, they will begin to move those pieces to their benefit. The left, but also the right, will be following this with anticipation. Many of the moves that take place on the left will determine the political fate of New Hope’s Gideon Saar, Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, and even Netanyahu,” he writes.
  • Also making the news is former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, for announcing that he not only won’t start his own party, but won’t even run on somebody else’s.
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal notes that with Gantz sinking, Gabi Ashkenazi likely also leaving and Moshe Ya’alon not making progress in his merger with Yesh Atid, it might be the first time since 1959 that there is no IDF chief of staff in the Knesset or the government.
  • Yesh Atid MK Yossi Segalovitz bemoans the constant search in the center-left for the Next Big Thing.
  • “We’re living in a state of manic depression, looking for stars all around, every day someone else is the best based on the polls. If you really want to make a change, you need to join up with someone who does not zigzag,” he tells Army Radio, likely referring to his own party, which has somehow managed to stay relevant for eight years despite living in a political space that eats new parties for breakfast.
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes that the Haredim have stayed straight and true to Netanyahu, but even they are signaling they could zag away.
  • “The sense that the Haredim are in play has created an appetite for their support throughout the political system,” he writes, adding that Shas and UTJ still want Netanyahu to win. “But they’re no longer sure he can. The new openness to Sa’ar, Bennett, and even Huldai is a hedge against a post-election Netanyahu who lacks the parliamentary numbers to stay in the prime minister’s chair.”
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