1. Looking for votes where the sun don’t shine: The allegedly icky fingers of Jeffrey Epstein are reaching all the way to Israel’s already grody political scene this week.
- Epstein, who has been charged with trafficking underage girls for sex, is known to have hobnobbed with many rich, famous and powerful people, including former prime minister Ehud Barak. Unfortunately for Barak, Epstein’s dirty deeds are back in the press just as he is mounting his political comeback, a fact Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is openly looking to exploit.
- Netanyahu has in the past several days released statements about Barak’s connections to Epstein, including a video in which he complained that the Israeli media was not investigating his rival’s links to the financier, and only the actual criminal cases against Netanyahu.
- On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s Likud party steps up its campaign, demanding that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit look into it, and sending out a press release about the demand.
- Mandelblit and Barak have not bothered responding and while many Hebrew news sites take the bait, the story is still only getting middling play in the right-wing press.
2. Innocent until proven to not have rich and powerful friends: That’s not to say the Epstein case is not getting any real estate in the Israeli press, though interest is certainly lower than in the US.
- A picture of protesters outside of court holding up mugshots of Epstein is the leading art on the front page of broadsheet Haaretz, which also devotes a full news page to the piece, and several pages in its The Marker financial supplement.
- In an interview with Army Radio that airs Wednesday, attorney Alan Dershowitz, who defended Epstein in a previous case (in which he is widely seen as having gotten a sweetheart deal thanks to his many friends in high places) continues to do so, telling the station that “we must maintain a presumption of innocence for everybody no matter what party they’re from from or what country they’re in – the presumption of innocence must apply.”
- Dershowitz also pushes back against claims that he himself had anything to do with any of them women: “I have had sex with one woman since the day I met Jeffrey Epstein – that’s my wife. I’ve been a devoted husband. I did nothing wrong, and I have no fear of any investigation.”
3. Shotgun wedding: Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu is getting ready to buffalo the right wing into unifying, much as he did before the last elections, and will be even more of a bully about it this time.
- “The last time around, Netanyahu rolled up his sleeves and jumped right into the right-wing fray in order to bring about a unity deal between the various right-wing parties. This time, it seems he will need to work even harder. The fragmented parties remain as they were and have yet to be put back together. Netanyahu will not allow a situation where one party is on the fence. Whoever is not part of the alliance will be the focus of a political campaign aimed at erasing them as early as the polling stage, not at the voting stage as was the case with the New Right party three months ago,” the paper’s Mati Tuchfeld writes.
- While there are some signs of the right coalescing again, they aren’t inspiring a ton of confidence.
- On Tuesday, the Jewish Home and National Union factions signed an agreement to stay together, but Yedioth Ahronoth calls it “unity under a shadow of divorce.”
- That’s because extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit band of Kahanists have yet to sign on the dotted line. According to the paper, Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, of the aforementioned parties, are urging Ben-Gvir to meet with them posthaste.
4. Netanyahu is not the only one playing matchmaker: Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, no longer thought of as a shoo-in for the right-wing bloc, tells Israel Radio that he wants a unity government led by Likud and Blue and White.
- So badly does he want this unity government that he leaves open the possibility that he would forgo joining such a government should it include the far-right or ultra-Orthodox.
- “I doubt a wide unity government would be formed without me, but I would accept it,” he says.
- Liberman is also fusing together Palestinians and Arab Israelis, according to comments made at a private event reported on by ToI’s Hebrew-language sister site Zman Yisrael.
- “Any attempt to reach a separate agreement with the Palestinians or the Arabs of Israel will fail,” he says.
5. Inconceivable comparison: Peretz, meanwhile, is being minced after calling intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews a kind of “second Holocaust,” according to a Channel 13 report.
- Haaretz writes that the comment “puts further strain on the relations between Israel’s Orthodoxy and the American Jewish community, much of whose members abide by more liberal streams of Judaism.”
- “The use of such divisive rhetoric is unequivocally wrong and if, like Rafi Peretz, you are concerned about assimilation, it is harmful to your cause. American Jews do not want, and ought not, to be told that their marriage choices make them similar to the Nazis who murdered their grandparents,” Sam Sokol writes in the Jewish Chronicle.
- Also among those to slam Peretz were Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt, who calls the comments “inconceivable.”
- In fact the comments are quite conceivable, and just a few years ago were not seen as all that controversial.
It's inconceivable to use the term "Holocaust" to describe Jews choosing to marry non-Jews. It trivializes the Shoah. It alienates so many members of our community. This kind of baseless comparison does little other than inflame and offend. https://t.co/5z4bFPC5ip
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) July 9, 2019
- Among those who have used the term were Netanyahu himself, during a 1996 speech, according to this report which notes it with no discernible alacrity.
- It also appears to have been a subject of a 1991 General Assembly for the Jewish Federations of North America.
6. The enduring bromance: And what of that most magical love story, between US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu? In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman — who is one of the only people at the paper allowed to write his own headlines — goes with “Who Is a Bigger Threat to His Democracy: Bibi or Trump?”
- While he doesn’t actually answer the question, or even really try to address it, he does try to explain why the entry of Ehud Barak into the race is so important.
- “Barak cannot win this election. But by jumping into the race and highlighting all these threats to Israel’s future, he can force them onto the agenda and force the Blue and White and Labor parties to discuss what he has called a ‘slippery slope’ to an ‘apartheid’ future for the West Bank,” he writes.
- In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer says that though Trump and Netanyahu have a beautiful relationship, the former’s latest tirades against the British should be seen as a warning message to Israel despite the supposedly unbreakable bond.
- “Trump doesn’t support Israel. He has no inkling of the issues facing it. He feels comfortable with Israel because of his personal rapport with his friend Bibi,” he writes. “Today, Israel enjoys a special relationship with the United States, but if Israel’s voters, or its criminal justice system, finally turf Netanyahu out of office, he will find a way to show his displeasure. Trump only has special relationships with himself.”