Over years of sometimes-capricious gag orders, military censorship and onerous libel laws, Israeli journalists have developed some ingenious ways of telegraphing news they can’t report, using loopholes and hints with the deftness of a Talmudic scholar to say what they mean without running afoul of the law.
Such was the case with reporting on “the wife of a politician” and “a woman very close to David Bitan” suspected in the massive corruption scandal surrounding the Likud MK and coalition whip. On Tuesday morning, wonder of wonders, Yedioth Ahronoth reveals that, yes, the woman that David Bitan put as the name on his bank account is in fact David Bitan’s wife, splashing the news across its front page as if anybody hadn’t already figured it out.
One would suppose, though, that at least their placement is better than that in Israel Hayom, which makes the story second fiddle to an exclusive on prison overcrowding, which may actually become connected given all the corruption scandals floating around. (In fairness, Yedioth puts a story on army recruitment figures ahead of the Bitan coverage inside the paper, and Israel Hayom does have some Bitan news on its front page.)
Haaretz leads off with Bitan and the actual news that the mobster he is suspected of taking bribes from is from the Jarushi crime family, specifically Hossam Jarushi.
“According to the suspicions, Jarushi would transfer money to Bitan via a third party they both knew well, and in return Bitan would give him benefits and act to help him in the tender to do earthwork on the 1000 commercial center, a large development in Rishon Lezion,” the paper reports.
Israel Hayom’s coverage also focuses on the Jarushi connection, and the paper gives a bit more background as to whom this Jarushi jabroni is, in a report headlined “Jarushi: The name is enough to win you a tender.”
Likely in a bid to soften the blow for Bitan, who like the paper is a key backer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the story notes that not all Jarushis are violent criminals — some are just hard-working construction mobsters:
“When the gag was lifted on publication of the fact that a Jarushi member was the one who helped Bitan cover his gray-market debts, not a few people raised an eyebrow at how a member of a family with a reputation for violent crime got connected to a politician. But some checking reveals that part of the Jarushi clan works in earthworks and construction, and not just violence.”
It’s fair to say that nobody raised their eyebrow in surprise over the news that Bitan’s wife is the wife of the politician suspected in the case, but Yedioth still plays up the news like it’s a bombshell. The paper does report on more than just her name, though, giving details of her interrogation by police, including this tidbit of her refusing to take the fall when they asked how the big bucks wound up in her bank account:
“My husband dealt with my account and he transferred the money. I have no idea what was going on with the account,” she’s quoted as saying after they showed her printouts of statements with large sums flowing in. “I don’t believe those are real printouts. You’re just going after my husband. You already investigated this and it was closed.”
Bitan’s importance extends beyond running his wife’s finances, though, with Haaretz reporting that Finance Ministry official don’t think Netanyahu and treasurer Moshe Kahlon will be able to pass the budget without bulldog Bitan whipping the coalition into a shape that supports the measure.
“In a committee meeting yesterday, the treasury did not manage to pass through its changes for the budget,” the paper reports as a harbinger of what may come.
It may not be Netanyahu’s problem much longer, though, according to Yedioth columnist Yoaz Hendel, who writes that whispers are beginning in Likud of a plot to push out the man at the top. He recounts a meeting with “one of the most senior people in the Likud this term” who is hatching the coup.
“This option is the more dangerous politically, especially in the Likud. How will it work, I asked him, and here is his theoretical idea: Five senior lawmakers in his cohort, including him, will sit behind a table, across from a press pool. The courage is found in the fact that it’s a joint effort, without a lone victim. Two others already tried to go solo and their wings were clipped. The message came through,” he writes. “Together, and only together, they will look into the cameras and say that it won’t work anymore. The unrelenting loss of balance, the investigations and damage to the right,” he adds, noting that they will announce that one of them will replace Netanyahu, without saying whom.
It may be easier said than done. There are still many that support Netanyahu, like Eithan Orkibi, who writes in Israel Hayom’s op-ed page that the so-called popular protest against Netanyahu Saturday night was nothing short of “a lynching.”
“True, we don’t drag the guilty out of the courthouse and string them up on a tree to sate the rabble’s mob justice anymore. But the principle is the same. This primal instinct is more dangerous to democracy and to the rule of law than a thousand recommendations laws. Anyone who recognizes this perverse frenzy is aware that the recommendations law was born to a large extent as a restraint to the widespread lynch mob mentality. That is why it was the driving force behind the demonstration on Saturday night,” he writes.
That’s not the message Haaretz op-ed writer Nehemia Shtrasler thinks Netanyahu is taking away from the protest, but rather: Jeez, maybe I am unpopular.
“Netanyahu understands the power [of protest] well. It’s not for nothing that he regularly conducts opinion polls to check which way the wind is blowing and to change his positions accordingly. He knows that in a democracy, that elusive thing called public opinion ultimately determines the fate of every politician,” he writes, agreeing with the protest’s detractors, who say its aim was to sway the police and justice officials. “A continuation of the demonstrations on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard endangers Netanyahu because the police, the attorney general and the judges all need a tailwind to rule against the prime minister. They want to know that a significant portion of the public supports them. They want to feel part of a large tribe. So mass demonstrations are important.”