Meddle, middle, muddle: 7 things to know for September 4
Israel media review

Meddle, middle, muddle: 7 things to know for September 4

A new tape adds to charges of Netanyahu meddling where he shouldn’t, the center pushes away the ultra-Orthodox, and a look at how the IDF is fogging up its war with Hezbollah

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara at a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara at a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

1. Merger was the case that they gave me: Israel’s political theater is being roiled by a mini-scandal involving an ex-minister mostly remembered for his gaffes and a prime minister seen as having little regard for boundaries.

  • Two days after the publication of a recording of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yelling at his minister Ayoub Kara and seemingly meddling in Communications Ministry matters he had been told to stay away from, Haaretz on Wednesday drops another mini-bombshell.
  • The paper says it has obtained a tape in which Kara can be heard saying that he was threatened by a higher up in Likud not to fire a committee member who was blocking a merger between Channel 10 news (now Channel 13) and the Reshet licensee (a merger that later went ahead).
  • According to the report, Kara was told that if he did not extend Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich’s term as head of the Second Authority, which oversees Israel’s commercial TV stations, he would find himself out of the Knesset, and indeed he did not extend her term and has now found himself out of the Knesset and feuding with Netanyahu.
  • Netanyahu has claimed that he was intervening on behalf of Channel 20, which was not a conflict of interests, but the Haaretz report, the cherry on top of an already sordid affair, seems to show that his intervention went beyond.
  • But Channel 13’s Baruch Kara notes that his demand that Kara dismantle a regulatory body that was standing in the way of a merger between Yes and Bezeq would have indeed helped his friend Shaul Elovitch, who owned Bezeq and was pushing for the deal.
  • “Netanyahu is willing to do anything, political or personal, legal or ideological, to make sure he gets favorable coverage in the media,” writes Moshe Goreli in Calcalist. “And that includes crossing lines.”

2. Do something already: On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry released a statement essentially chiding Netanyahu and saying that conflict of interest rules had not been suspended, though it did not specifically mention him.

  • But some are calling for the ministry or Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to quit sitting on the fence and do something.
  • “The recordings provide more evidence that Netanyahu scoffs at the law and does with the state as he sees fit. Mandelblit must order a speedy inquiry – before the election – into whether the prime minister violated the conflict-of-interest agreement he signed. He must also impose a sweeping ban on Netanyahu handling anything relating to the media market until things are clarified,” reads Haaretz’s lead editorial.
  • “The ball is in the attorney general’s court,” Walla news reports.

3. Channeling anger: Others are more forgiving toward the prime minister, specifically, his backers, who frame the issue as one of sectoral politicking rather than of good governance.

  • Israel Hayom devotes a full page to a column by Akiva Bigman saying the outcry over Netanyahu intervening on behalf of Channel 20 is “the height of hypocrisy” given the fact that five years ago many people slammed Netanyahu for not doing enough to save Channel 10.
  • “One side has been trying to advance real freedom of speech for the last 40 years, and the other has been trying to hold onto its hegemony and rule over you forcefully,” says the writer for a newspaper widely regarded as a mouthpiece for a prime minister who has been in power the last 10 years.
  • Channel 20 commentator Shimon Riklin complains on Twitter that “the law is supposed to protect the public’s interests, so long as the far-left cabal is the one deciding what the public’s interests are.”

4. Rabbi rousers: The ultra-Orthodox can now consider themselves part of the right-left kulturkampf too, after Blue and White head Benny Gantz made clear that he won’t be inviting them to his “liberal” unity government.

  • “Blue and White is starting to prepare for the possibility it might get to form the government, and is banking on a unity coalition of just it, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu,” reports Yedioth, after Gantz told Ynet that “we are against being blackmailed.”
  • Unsurprisingly the ultra-Orthodox aren’t at all happy with Gantz’s decision, even if they had been completely in Netanyahu’s court.
  • “A black flag for Blue and White,” reads a front page headline in Haredi daily Yated Neeman.
  • “Blue and White leaders are showing their true faces,” reads a kicker in Hamevaser.
  • The Kikar Hashabbat website calls Gantz’s statement “unprecedented incitement,” which it seems to term a lot of things.
  • “In the political arena, it is estimated that Gantz’s goal with this statement is to funnel seats from Yisrael Beytenu from those who had planned to vote for [Avigdor] Liberman because of hate radiating against the ultra-Orthodox,” the news site reports.

5. Not so black and white: Fearful that its secularist raison d’etre is being stolen out from under itself, Yisrael Beytenu is quoted on Channel 12 news accusing Gantz of coordinating the attack on the ultra-Orthodox — with the ultra-Orthodox.

  • “It’s clear that the ones the most worried about Yisrael Beytenu getting stronger are the Haredi parties and Blue and White, and their cooperation only strengthens the true intentions of Gantz after elections, after he’s already given the ultra-Orthodox carte blanche,” a party source is quoted saying.
  • The statement is a strange one coming from Liberman, who himself used to be buddy buddy with consummate ultra-Orthodox politician Aryeh Deri from the Shas party, but that’s history.
  • Even Likud, which has been campaigning hardest against Yisrael Beytenu, is apparently willing to forget his previous dalliance with Deri. Channel 13 reporter Akiva Novick points out on Twitter that Likud photoshopped a picture of Joint List head Ayman Odeh’s head onto Deri’s body in order to accuse him of being an Arab-loving leftist.
  • Israel Hayom also goes after Gantz, filling its front page with an “exclusive report” on what it describes as a secret deal to pass power to party No. 4 Gabi Ashkenazi should he decide to leave politics, going over Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon.
  • “The former IDF chief is taking fire from all sides,” notes Zman Yisrael.

6. Precision missile madness: The current IDF is meanwhile preparing fire, or at least threatening it, on Lebanon. On Wednesday, the army released photos of what it says is a site in the Lebanese village Nabi Sheeth being used to manufacture precision missiles.

  • Reuters calls it “a veiled warning of further possible Israeli counter-strikes.”
  • Walla news quotes the army as saying that Hezbollah sees its guided missile program as of utmost importance, and is taking the threats seriously. “In the last few days, operatives have been busy clearing out special and expensive equipment from the compound … and have been moving them to civilian areas in Lebanon, including properties in Beirut.”
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel warns that Israel cannot bomb its way out of the problem, though.
  • “Foiling the launch of an Iranian satellite, destroying a special explosives-mixing machine in Lebanon, the mysterious bombing of a missile base in Iraq, or the destruction of a building designed for launching drones against Israel are similar on the tactical level – despite the major logistical differences – to striking at targets in the Gaza Strip,” he writes. “You can assassinate a Hamas commander, destroy civilian infrastructure or hit missile launchers, but those acts won’t solve the root problems that create these military operations.”

7. Big little lies: IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus excitedly tweeted that the army’s information refutes one of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s “lies,” seemingly referring to his claim that he is not producing the missiles in the country.

  • But ToI editor David Horovitz wonders what anybody can believe from the IDF anymore, after the army proved it was willing to stage the wounding of soldiers and keep a thick fog over what actually happened on the border, rather than just make it all clear. The fact that Israelis may need to rely on Hezbollah for accurate information is worrying, he says.
  • “A core component of our national resilience is the Israeli people’s confidence that their military and political leaders are, within the limitations of their wider security concerns, telling them the truth,” he writes. “We have for decades mocked Arab leaders who utterly misled their citizens over the progress of their various wars against Israel, and have rightly regarded the desperate disinformation with which our enemies attempted to cover up their military failures as a sign of weakness.”
  • Lebanese president Sa’ad Hariri, himself no big fan of Hezbollah, also pushes back against the Israeli narrative, telling CNBC that Lebanon should not have to pay for the terror group’s misdeeds.
  • “Look, Hezbollah is not a Lebanese problem — only — it is a regional problem,” he says. “Israel wants to have … this scenario that Lebanon is responsible, with what Netanyahu says, and if you want to buy it, buy it. But he knows and the international community knows that this is not true.”
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