Memorial for a maverick: 8 things to know for August 26
Israel media review

Memorial for a maverick: 8 things to know for August 26

John McCain is remembered as a friend to Israel, Jews (especially Joe Lieberman) and even a shark; Syria fights Iran and domestic politics may bring a Gaza war near again

Senator John McCain, left, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on March 19, 2008. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)
Senator John McCain, left, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on March 19, 2008. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/Flash90)

1. A friend of Israel: Israeli leaders are praising John McCain as a friend to Israel, paying homage to the Republican lawmaker who may have been a maverick on some issues, but still seemed to toe party orthodoxy on the Jewish state.

  • As of 7 a.m. most Israeli news sites are just running straight obits of the one-time presidential candidate, but with tributes pouring in from Israeli leaders, pundits and others, that will likely change soon.
  • Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who is either overseas or could not sleep last night, was quickest to offer tribute with a tweet at about 4 a.m. Israel time saying “Israel owes him a big thanks.”
  • Livni was foreign minister when McCain visited in 2008 for a pro-forma pre-election tour that placed a heavy emphasis on security aid, with trips to Sderot and a press conference in front of a bunch of Kassam rockets stacked up high.
  • Ayelet Shaked seems to be the first government figure with a statement, saying McCain was “one of Israel’s biggest friends.”
  • “He loved his land with all his might and he recognized Israel’s challenges. Over 36 years of public service in the House of Representatives and Senate, Israeli governments knew they always had a friend in him,” she writes on Twitter, as well as recalling his refusal to allow himself to be released before his fellow POWs when captured in Vietnam.
  • Also on Twitter, Amichai Stein, an editor for Israel’s public broadcaster, shares a video from 2008 in which McCain shut down a woman at a town hall event calling Barack Obama “an Arab,” saying it shows “why he was so special.”
  • Tzvi Hauser, a former top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shares a picture of a memorial where McCain’s plane was shot down over Vietnam, calling him a “symbol of heroism.”
  • Even far-left Israeli writer Yossi Gurvitz calls McCain “the last honest Republican.”

2. Tireless champion: Jewish groups are also heaping praise on McCain.

  • Former senator Norm Coleman, the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who is fighting his own battle with cancer, doesn’t mention the disease. But he calls McCain “a patriot and a fighter. He fought for his country in war and in peace with a dedication that was awe-inspiring. It was an honor for me to serve with him in the US Senate, where he was a leader on defense and security issues. His record of service to our country is a testament to a great man. We are diminished by his passing.”
  • “He was a tireless champion of the issues and principles that he held dear, from reforming the broken campaign finance system, to the effort to bar the use of torture by US authorities, to his pivotal vote just last year to save the Affordable Care Act. On those issues and others including combating climate change and strengthening US-Israel relations, we were honored to work with him. And when we engaged him around areas of disagreement, Sen. McCain was always honest and straightforward,” reads a statement from Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner on behalf of the Reform Movement.

3. Palin regrets: In an excellent roundup of McCain’s ties to Jews and Israel, JTA’s Ron Kampeas notes that his commitment to foreign intervention, which may have cost him votes, also made him such a staunch supporter of Israel.

  • He also writes that “McCain’s willingness to reach across the aisle even to liberal Democrats, which likely kept some conservatives away from the polls, extended to the Jewish community, where he worked with human rights activists.”
  • And Kampeas goes in-depth into McCain’s friendship with Joe Lieberman, which he reports included trying to get the GOP to let him run on a joint ticket with the Orthodox Democrat-cum-independent. Instead, the Republican establishment, which feared Lieberman’s pro-choice stance, told him to try on Sarah Palin.
  • “It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” Kampeas quotes McCain writing in his book “The Restless Wave,” published this year. “But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.”
  • According to Kampeas, the move likely cost him the Jewish vote, and possibly the election.

4. So who doesn’t like McCain? On social media, at least, some seem willing to sully the name of a dead man, chiefly over a dumb joke he made in 2008 after asked about when an “air package” would be sent to Tehran.

  • “You know that old Beach Boys song: bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran,” he responded, to the tune of “Barbara Ann.”

  • An account sharing the name with Sacha Baron Cohen’s ultra-liberal snowflake caricature also gets in a lather over the quip:
  • Surprisingly, nobody seems bothered by the fact that he was also a friend to bloodthirsty sharks.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shakes the fin of “Sharkman” a spokesman of “Citizens for a Sound Economy” after McCain invited him on stage during a town hall style meeting of New Hampshire voters at American Legion Post 7 in Rochester, N.H., Friday night, Jan. 28, 2000. (AP/Stephan Savoia)

5. Punching the Palestinians in the wallet: Haaretz reports that hundreds of millions of dollars in planned US aid cuts to the Palestinians will “harm humanitarian groups and financial bodies in Gaza and the West Bank.”

  • The paper adds that the cuts “are not expected to reach the Palestinian Authority itself and [the PA] isn’t expected to be directly hurt by the cuts.”
  • In ToI, Eric Cortellessa notes that the US official announcing the move “did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said it is more than $200 million that was approved in 2017. The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas or returned to the Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth plays the move as increasing pressure on the Palestinians before a peace deal rolls out.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Eran Ben Tal praises the move, saying that Trump demands “paybacks from everyone, even the Palestinians,” even though it’s not clear what the Palestinians have gotten in return (and what price Israel is being made to pay for actual achievements.)
  • Ben-Tal calls the US and Israel the only adults in the Middle East, insinuating that the Palestinians are just children given an allowance: “[The Palestinians] have benefited over the past decades from rifts in aligning the interests between mom and dad in the Middle East.”
  • He also claims soon everyone will enjoy the fruits of Trump’s policies, “even Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank,” just not terrorists.

6. Jewish terror is still terror: Yedioth columnist Ben-Dror Yemini calls the Jews suspected of attacking Arabs in Haifa over the weekend terrorists, and writes that they need to be treated exactly the same as Israel would treat Arab terrorists.

  • Some Israelis have said it’s not the same because of the relative rarity of Jewish nationalist attacks on Arabs, and thus no deterrent punishment is needed. But Yemini says that’s exactly why Jewish terror needs to be rooted out to its core, to make sure it cannot take hold.
  • “The violence needs to be taken care of with a strict hand, without forgiveness, without justification. And if the punishment of Jewish hooligans is even a centimeter less than that given to Arab hooligans in a similar situation, that will be racism and support for violence,” he writes.
  • Despite Yemini’s case, an Israeli court has already released one suspect to house arrest, repeatedly rejecting a police request that he be kept behind bars. One would have to search pretty far to find an Arab accused of attacking a Jew for nationalistic reasons afforded the same treatment.
  • Both Haaretz and Yedioth cover the attack prominently, but right-wing Israel Hayom buries it on page 19, though it does write that it was a “severe incident.”

7. Not so friendly fire between Iran and Syria: ToI’s Avi Issacharoff reports that the last few weeks have seen a number of battles between the Syrian army and Iran-backed militias, despite the two forces supposedly being on the same side.

  • According to the report, the battles have taken place near the city of Al-Bukamel, in a strategic region along the Euphrates on the border with Iraq, and a key point for Iran’s attempts to create a conduit to the Mediterranean.
  • The news would seem to bolster hopes that Iran can be pushed out of Syria, but a number of experts tell Haaretz’s Amir Tibon that even if the US and Russia are on the same page, as Bolton says they would need to be for it to happen, it’s a pipe dream.
  • “There is an understanding that right now, this will be very hard to achieve. A more realistic goal, for the time being, is to deny Iran any further victories and achievements in Syria,” says Hussein Ibish, an expert at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

8. Turn right to enter Gaza: As for Israel’s other front, which seems to have quieted, the government is still insistent that it’s not talking to Hamas about a long-term deal.

  • “Israel will only agree to indirect negotiations with Hamas on improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza after there is complete quiet in the south,” Israel Hayom writes, citing comments from a senior diplomat in Netanyahu’s entourage in Lithuania.
  • The comments dovetail with Haaretz writer Amos Harel’s analysis that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman being vocal about there being no talks with Hamas — and thereby taking up the vanguard of the right, may push Netanyahu to also shift right for domestic political reasons, thus making war all the more likely.
  • “Netanyahu is less comfortable in the center. Two months ago, under similar circumstances, we almost embarked on a war over incendiary kites, until the prime minister, with the army’s recommendation, stepped on the brakes,” he writes.
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