1. Mike first and the gimme gimmes: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Israel is not new, but the likely outgoing top US diplomat is sure trying to do new things while here, and I don’t mean rappelling down the Makhtesh crater or grabbing hummus in Abu Ghosh.
- On Thursday, Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit West Bank settlements, getting some bespoke quaff for his stop at the Psagot winery, and then became the not-first secretary of state to visit the Golan Heights.
- “Pompeo toured parts of the Golan on Israel’s border with Syria under heavy security aboard a Blackhawk helicopter, alongside Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi,” ToI’s writeup of the Golan visit notes.
- While some call Pompeo the first secretary of state to visit the Golan, that was actually Warren Christopher’s cross to bear in 1993, a fact helpfully pointed out in the Algemeiner. (The right-wing news site also points out that James Baker toured the Golan by air in 1991.)
- Christopher and Baker never visited Psagot or any settlement winery, or even any settlement for that matter, making Pompeo the first to take that step, which was accompanied by the announcement that the US would label settlement goods as “made in Israel.” — another first — and that BDS is anti-Semitic and a “cancer.”
- “Settlement products — Israeli products,” screams a large front-page headline in Israel Hayom crowing about the news.
- “Another string of pro-Israel demonstrations by the Trump administration,” reads the lede of the paper’s top story.
- Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to Pompeo, though he might want to skip the column which celebrates the fact that the visit will (presumably) be his last.
- “Mike Pompeo chose to end his term as secretary of state with a tour of solidarity with Israel’s extreme right, while spitting on decades of pre-Trump US foreign policy, on the norms of international law and on justice. On Wednesday he came across more like an extremist leader of the Yesha Council of settlements than as the foreign minister of the superpower,” it reads.
2. We want MOAR: On the right, though, some are looking ahead to what other ceilings he might shatter. “His announcement on goods labeling is of utmost importance and gives the state a shot in the arm,” Health Minister and ex-settler Yuli Edelstein tells Army Radio. “The next steps are to recognize the younger settlements, legalize them, and start the process of annexing Judea and Samaria,” he adds, referring to illegal outposts in the West Bank.
- According to the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu told associates he will ask Pompeo to okay Israeli expansion in the Atarot area of East Jerusalem.
- Unnamed sources who spoke with Netanyahu tell the broadcaster that the premier wants to establish facts on the ground before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
- Israel Hayom’s Nadav Shragai pens a column urging Netanyahu to show some backbone and push ahead with plans for 10,000 homes over the former Atarot airport, made famous in the movie “World War Z” as a zombie-free refuge (or as they might call it today, a “tourism island”), which has essentially become part of the Shuafat refugee camp.
- “This strategic neighborhood is of vital importance to the capital. The question of whether or not it is built will decide whether or not the northern “finger” of Jerusalem remains Israeli and Jewish, or whether the Palestinians will take it over and even cut it off from the rest of Jerusalem, as they openly announce they intend to do, for the sake of their dream of a Palestinian state,” he writes.
- AFP notes that the vino Pompeo was given to take back with him was marked with his name but not stamped Made in Israel. Rather it was #MadeInLegality.
- “We are not thieves. We didn’t [steal] this land,” the owner of the winery Yaakov Berg tells the agency.
- Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that Berg thinks the EU decision to label settlement goods actually helped him: “The labeling doesn’t change anything for us,” Berg is quoted saying. “We proudly note our location on our label anyway, and most people buy us because of that.”
- It’s not a coincidence that most of these reports are from Israeli or foreign outlets with English editions. Aside from Israel Hayom, most Hebrew-language outlets view Pompeo’s precedent-breaking moves as a curiosity but little more, and coverage is somewhat limited. Yedioth Ahronoth, for instance, gives Pompeo a few paragraphs alongside the death notices on Page 9.
3. Garbage time policy: The lack of coverage in Hebrew may reflect a view of Pompeo’s moves as essentially meaningless pronouncements by an administration running out the clock, and which may soon be reversed.
- “Hanukkah came early this year. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to town Wednesday evening and brought with him a huge bag full of gifts for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” writes ToI’s Raphael Ahren. “But the goodwill gestures he made Thursday are unlikely to have a lasting real-world impact.”
- He writes that the visit to the Golan “was a powerful endorsement of [Donald] Trump’s March 2019 decision, but, again, one with scant concrete real-life implications. Washington remains the only capital in the world, besides Jerusalem, that recognizes Israel’s claim to the Golan. A quick visit by a supportive but lame-duck diplomat will not change that.”
- On the settlements issue, Walla’s Barak Ravid writes that Biden “has no illusions about the chances of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian deal — but he intends to roll back most of the decisions of Donald Trump. Biden is expected to remove the Trump peace plan from the agenda and vociferously oppose annexation.”
- On Twitter, Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman notes that rolling back all of Pompeo’s moves may be easier said than done.
Rolling back quasi-explicit recognition of Area C as part of Israel is probably not hard. Labeling policy roll-back will bring accusation of supporting BDS, which under IHRA definition = antisemitism. So not cost free.
— Lara Friedman???? (@LaraFriedmanDC) November 20, 2020
- As the clock ticks down, Haaretz’s Amos Harel posits that Israeli officials and others in the region are worried about what Trump may do as a lame duck with what he considers nothing to lose: “The edginess in Israel and the region persists, spurred on by the realization that the humiliation Trump suffered at the polls, along with his desire to leave a foreign policy legacy, only make it harder to predict his behavior and decisions.”
- Kan reports that Israelis are also worried about UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov leaving, fearing that his possible replacement, which it names as Norwegian envoy Tor Fennesland, may not be too friendly toward Jerusalem. Mostly, though, they just want Mladenov to stay: “Mladenov had close ties with Israel, the PA, Hamas and other key actors in the region. He is very appreciated in Israel and some say he’s the best envoy to be posted here in years.”
4. Being Avichai Mandelblit: Kan doesn’t bother sourcing that information, and nobody even thinks of raising an eyebrow. Israeli journalism, in fact, doesn’t always stick to the same standards of sourcing as US publications, with the result being that it can sometimes look like reporters are claiming to be privy to knowledge they can’t know. It’s not unheard of for a journalist, especially an analyst type, to quote the thoughts of an official. But it’s rare to see a newspaper actually claiming explicitly to be inside someone’s head, as Yedioth does Friday morning, claiming to have entered the cranium of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
- The paper’s claim that it is “inside Mandelblit’s head,” may be unfortunate hyperbole, but its focus on Mandelblit and the challenges and pitfalls faced by the outgoing jurist and Likud No. 1 enemy, buffeted by criticism from right and left.
- The paper counts three main tasks ahead of Mandelblit, all of them freighted with danger and suffused with the fraught relationship he enjoys with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: The premier’s criminal trial, a battle with said premier over conflict of interest rules regarding his role in appointing senior law enforcement officials, and the search for a new state prosecutor.
- What emerges from Nahum Barnea and Tova Zimuki’s journey to the center of Mandelblit’s mind is an inside-baseball look at the various dramas taking place in his sphere, with what appear to be educated guesses (one would hope informed, but there is no sourcing) at the attorney general’s state.
- “The personal attacks on Mandelblit and his staff have not turned him into a victim, not in his eyes. He is not asking for pity. His besieged building on Salah a-Din street is broadcasting determination, self-assurance and a fighting spirit,” the two write. “In the justice system they are familiar with what’s called ‘final-year symptoms,’ the last year of a judge or prosecutor’s term he stops being polite. What determines his moves are his place in history, or his chances of being appointed to the Supreme Court.” (Mandelblit has some 15 months left in his tenure.)
- A Haaretz story above the fold on A1 notes that Mandelblit may be delaying some unfinished business, with charges against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Housing minister Yaakov Litzman, respective leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, still pending.
- The paper’s Gidi Weitz notes that prosecutors recommended charging both senior politicians over different affairs over a year ago, calling the timeline absurd, especially in the case of Deri, an ex-felon who has had a cloud hanging over him since 2015.
- Here too, Weitz says, Mandelblit’s tangling with Netanyahu may be weighing on his steps. “The damaging delays in dealing with the Deri and Litzman cases have given birth to speculation that has gained traction in the political sphere and even among some justice officials: Mandelblit, who has been burned by Netanyahu’s attacks, is stretching out the ministers’ cases so long because he fears adding them and the publics they represent into the fighting circle,” he writes.
- While Mandelblit’s office denies this, a judicial source tells him it appears to be correct: “The law enforcement system is being deterred by the regime, there’s no doubt,” the source says.
- At least some in Shas show their appreciation. Party backbencher Moshe Arbel, who recently stood up to defend Mandelblit in the Knesset plenum, tells Channel 12 news that the attorney general’s knowledge of international law “likely saved Israel. We owe him a lot. He’s a fair man and I appreciate him.”
- Kan reports that a middle of the night deal between Likud and Blue and White will allow the government to move ahead with some senior appointments despite the conflict of interest rhubarb, though a director of the Justice Ministry is not among them.
- The station notes that the lack of a director had until recently created a barrier to even starting a search for a new state prosecutor or attorney general, but Mandelblit has ruled that they could start looking in the meantime.
- “The lack of appointments for senior civil service posts impairs the stability and proper functioning of all of the civil service, and, as such, raises significant legal difficulty,” Mandelblit is quoted in Walla writing in a letter to Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, whom he had ordered to appoint an accountant general post haste.
5. Heckle and snide: If Mandelblit is Likud enemy No. 1, then the parents of Tom Farkash, a pilot killed in the Second Lebanon War, may be Likud enemy No. 2 these days.
- After pro-Netanyahu protesters demonstrate outside their home in Caesarea, calling them “anarchists” and worse for the crime of allowing anti-Netanyahu protesters to gather at their home, which happens to be next door to Netanyahu’s private residence, the nation collectively recoils.
- Even Israel Hayom, always solidly in Netanyahu’s corner, seeks to distance itself from them, running a column on Thursday by Michal Aharoni in which she accuses the protesters, and Likud members who refused to speak out, of having no shame.
- “In their minds, you either support Netanyahu, or you don’t. Whoever does not support the prime minister is an anarchist and a traitor who is beyond redemption,” she writes.
- On Friday, the tabloid (which buries its coverage well inside the paper) gives space to a column from army chief Aviv Kohavi sent to all media outlets, in which he calls the actions of the protesters “a moral and humane red line that must not be crossed.”
- But it also levels blame on the media, with commentator Haim Shine accusing the press of amplifying fringe messages.
- “The point is clear: To show the ‘right-wingers’ and tar them all. On the other side, when a professional protester compares the prime minister to Hitler, a comparison which says everything about the identity of the protester, the right-leaning media pounces on the evil words as found loot, as if it is the opinion of all leftists. It seems sometimes there’s a competition between the right and left on vanity, evil and stupidity,” writes Shine.
- Is it really all the media’s fault? Army Radio reports that after an anti-government protest leader was indeed heard comparing Netanyahu to Hitler, the Black Flags protest sent out a video showing a prominent Likud activist comparing prosecutor Liat Ben Ari to Hitler.
- Channel 12 reports on a pro-Netanyahu group releasing a video of an anti-Netanyahu protester calling him a virus (in Israel, the insult is regarded as beyond the pale). “The public discourse continues to spiral downward,” the channel chides.
- But the incident with the Farkash family seems to go well beyond all of that, due to the fact that they are bereaved parents. For a primer on Israeli societal baggage when it comes to the parents of soldiers killed in action, read this piece from ToI’s Judah Ari Gross in 2017.
- Haaretz writes that Kohavi’s decision to speak out on the matter with a column submitted to the press was “out of ordinary.” It also includes the Likud condemnation on behalf of Netanyahu, which it says only came after many politicians lobbied the prime minister to speak out.
- What do the Farkashes themselves think? This time Yedioth does have the receipts, er, quotes.
- “What have we come to,” mother Anat says. The worst thing has already happened to us, we lost our dear son, but to come to our home and curse us like this — what rift will we be in? This is just insane.”