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Israel media review

Looking at fourth and long: What the press is saying on December 23

There’s 3 whole months before we go back to the ballot box, but the media wastes no time rushing into the scrum of horse-trading, polls, speculation and virus-fueled fury

Coalition MKs watch the final moments of the 23rd Knesset tick away in the Knesset plenum on December 23, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson)
Coalition MKs watch the final moments of the 23rd Knesset tick away in the Knesset plenum on December 23, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson)

1. Act surprised: The coalition that for months was as stable as a jenga tower on a waterbed in an earthquake has collapsed and Israel is heading back to the ballot box.

  • Despite the fact that the coalition survived for seven months, Israeli media is still hyping the upcoming vote as “round 4,” after two inconclusive elections dating back to April 2019 and the third one that birthed the Netanyahu-Gantz power not-so-sharing deal.
  • “Again: Elections,” reads a massive headline on Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, noting that “now it’s official.”
  • It does not take long for the jockeying for position, which was already rampant, to hit new levels. “I’m happy to join the party of the next prime minister,” Likud MK Sharren Haskel is quoted saying by Army Radio, referring not to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but her new savior Gideon Sa’ar. “I plan on quitting the Knesset,” she adds, two days after she helped torpedo a bill to give the government a two-week budget deadline extension by conveniently disappearing from the vote.
  • Channel 12 news reports that Yamina party Naftali Bennett will deliver an address Tuesday evening in which he plans on declaring his candidacy for the premiership, a largely symbolic move since every party head is technically a prime ministerial candidate.
  • The channel also reports that Justice Minister (for now) Avi Nissenkorn is expected to jump the Blue and White ship and join forces in a party with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai “which is being organized to try and funnel some center-left votes from Sa’ar.”
  • Channel 13 says that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will likely leave Blue and White as well, and quit politics altogether. According to the station, attempts to bring in former IDF head Gadi Eisenkot failed, as did talks for possibly making Ashkenazi head of the party instead of  Benny Gantz.

2. Right turn ahead: A poll by Kan continues to show Likud in the lead with 28 seats, followed by Sa’ar with 20 and Bennett with 15, two seats more than Yesh Atid-Telem. Blue and White manages a measly six seats.

  • A separate survey by Channel 12 shows a bigger lead for Likud, with 29 to Sa’ar’s 18, and drops Yamina down to 13 seats, behind 16 for Yesh Atid-Telem.
  • Neither survey predicts the so-called anti-Bibi bloc getting enough votes to hit a majority, unless they manage to throw together the far-right and far-left or Arab parties.
  • But still, with numbers like that, it’s no surprise that many see an internecine right-wing battle shaping up.
  • “The elections will change everything we knew about campaigns in Israel,” writes Yisrael Hayom’s Yehuda Shlesinger. “Until now we were used to the simple comparison: Right vs. left, Begin vs. Peres, Netanyahu vs. Rabin. Now it will be right vs. right. The slogan Likud has used in the all the latest campaigns, like the recent “Gantz. Left. Weak,” is not relevant against outspoken right-wingers like Sa’ar, Bennett and [Bezalel] Smotrich.”
  • In the same paper, Jacob Bardugo worries that two rights will make a wrong. “On paper, the right is living the dream … but the dream could soon turn into a nightmare like we’ve never seen, in the name of ‘anyone but Bibi.’ The left lost the majority but it’s winning the war of shaping the political arena.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that the problem of a right-wing that abandons Netanyahu is one of his own doing. “Netanyahu’s reputation for dishonesty has severely limited his ability to strike the deals that may save him. To stay in power after March, he must win outright. It is no longer enough to fight his opponents to a draw, as he did over the last three races,” he writes.
  • “The right has grown in the polls compared to last year. Parties that self-identify as right-wing (including the Haredi factions) now account for roughly 80 Knesset seats. Yet the anti-Netanyahu camp has grown too. The divide over Netanyahu no longer tracks the left-right divide.”

3. Benny folds four: Despite the fact that mutineer Likud MKs helped sink the compromise deal that would have given the government a slight extension, Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld wastes no time in aiming fire at Gantz for failing to keep his troops in line.

  • Tuchfeld describes Netanyahu as a man who had every intention of honoring the agreements he showed no indication he would ever honor, and castigates Gantz as a poor schlemiel whose refusal to force his party to kowtow to Netanyahu is what brought down the government: “Gantz, a gentle and optimistic man by nature, didn’t once dare to call his party members who continuously sneered, mocked, and attacked the man at the government’s head to order. On more than one occasion, he was even dragged into joining their attacks and voicing automatic opposition to Netanyahu’s moves. Although they were all members of the prime minister’s government, it was as if Blue and White was still in the middle of its anti-Netanyahu election campaign. One can blame the prime minister for bringing down the government and failing to honor agreements. That is all true. But it is Gantz who is responsible for getting us in this position in the first place. From the outset, he failed to control the members of his party. His lack of control over Blue and White was the main reason this government, and his party, have fallen apart.”
  • Haaretz’s Aluf Benn also goes on the attack against Gantz, in this case for the sin of joining the Likud head in the first place: “The political career of Benny Gantz has reached its miserable end, and for a moment, one might feel some schadenfreude, a sense of satisfaction that politics does contain rewards and punishments. You stole the votes of people opposing Benjamin Netanyahu in order to join his government, you believed the false promises of a ‘rotation in the role of head of government,’ you humiliated yourself in chasing perks such as a meaningless title and a prestigious official car,” he writes with the fury of a lover betrayed. “You deserve everything that befell you.”
  • Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu plans on twisting the knife in a bit deeper, using the Likud’s majority to run roughshod over Blue and White in the transition government. Gantz may even lose the coveted title of alternate prime minister: “He was that the whole term, but what’s the point of it when there’s elections and no rotation.”
  • That’s not to say Netanyahu doesn’t get blamed as well. Former Likud minister Limor Livnat tells Army Radio that “with his own hands, Netanyahu crushed the dignity of the office, wipe out the Likud and turned it into a one-man movement.”
  • In Yedioth Nahum Barnea compares Netanyahu to a kid who gleefully shows his parents a report card filled with Fs and a single A.
  • He also calls the government Israel’s worst ever, but doesn’t hold out much hope for the future: “Three times we went to elections because of the indictments [against Netanyahu], and because of them we will go to a fourth. It’s so torturous, so unnecessary, so horrible, that it threatens the most basic support of the public for the democratic process. The failure of the current government is infectious and it will carry over into the next ones.”

4. Pandemic politics: With coronavirus case numbers rocketing, many see a fresh lockdown looming, but thanks to the elections that also looming, many fear political pandering overriding sound health policy will rocket as well.

  • Kan reports that the Health Ministry wants a full closure that will limit movement to within one kilometer of home, only to be lifted when numbers fall below 1,000 a day, which it estimates will take three to four weeks.
  • “The situation is worrying. There’s been a scary jump in morbidity, over 500 people are in serious condition. This requires an immediate lockdown,” coronavirus czar Nahman Ash tells Kan. “I hope the public understands the importance and we’re all hoping this will be the last lockdown.”
  • Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Army Radio they are looking for something akin to the Yom Kippur lockdown, but while he wants schools to close, he is leaning toward allowing preschools to remain open.
  • Channel 12 reports that the proposed lockdown would start 48 hours from whenever the government makes a decision about it.
  • But will they actually risk angering voters by locking them down? Yedioth columnist Nadav Eyal does not think so.
  • “Israel needs to concentrate on one central issue now,” he writes, referring to the pandemic and vaccination drive. “But instead we need to deal now with fourth elections, with all the populism that comes with it. We’ll see how many lives it costs us.”
  • Walla notes that the election will cost us in shekels too, 2.7 billion of them to be exact.
  • The figure includes NIS 2 billion for the bank holiday, plus NIS 500 million to run the thing and the rest for funding campaigns.

5. Play it again, and again, and again: A celebratory trip to Morocco by Israeli and US officials, by now a de rigueur trip for diplomatic deals, is overtaken by the political and pandemic drama, but still manages to squeeze out some media real estate.

  • “Making history,” reads the lede of Israel Hayom’s double-truck spread buried all the way back on pages 14 and 15. The words history and historic repeat themselves several times in the paper’s coverage.
  • Maybe not so historic. ToI’s Judah Ari Gross, along for the ride, notes that history is actually repeating itself. “Though the United States, which brokered the renewal of ties between Jerusalem and Rabat, anticipated that these two countries would develop full diplomatic ties, for now the relationship would remain at a slightly lower level. In place of embassies, the two planned to reopen liaison offices — Israel’s in Rabat, Morocco’s in Tel Aviv — which had been closed in late 2000, when Morocco decided to call off the existing low-level ties between the two countries with the outbreak of the Second Intifada,” he writes.
  • He also writes that “though the flight to Rabat was the first commercial flight from Israel to Morocco, the return flight would not share the same status. In 1993, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres stopped in Morocco on their way back from a state trip to Washington. Their return was the first commercial flight from Morocco to Israel.”
  • Haaretz reports that Morocco wasn’t up for all the pomp that came with the other normalization agreements either: “Morocco has signaled to Israel in recent days that it does not intend to hold a public signing ceremony for their agreement to normalize relations, as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain did with Israel a few months ago.”
  • Nonetheless Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita tells Walla news that everything will be hunky dory: “It’s all normal and we don’t plan on going half-way,” he’s quoted saying.
  • And he markets the downplayed ceremony and shunning of the Abraham Accords label as justified by the fact that it was actually normalizing with Israel before it was cool: “We told our American friends, don’t give us the same T-shirt as everyone else. We were pioneers when it comes to ties with Israel. For us this is a big deal, but we’re not starting from zero.”
  • Moving forward, talk has already turned to who may be next in line, with Bloomberg reporting that the US is dangling $2 billion in front of Jakarta if it makes nice to Jerusalem.
  • “We’re talking to them about it,” US International Development Finance Corporation head Adam Boehler is quoted saying. “If they’re ready, they’re ready and if they are then we’ll be happy to even support more financially than what we do.”
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