Mistakes were made: 6 things to know for October 31
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Mistakes were made: 6 things to know for October 31

Media quick to highlight an overeager police force after court raps law enforcement for illegally seizing phones of PM aides in effort to gain more dirt for case against Netanyahu

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(R-L) Ofer Golan, Likud campaign manager, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, digital adviser Topaz Luk and Likud spokesman Jonatan Urich at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Witness this: Both major dailies provide prominent coverage to a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court decision allowing limited police searches of phones belonging to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides, highlighting the judge’s criticism of law enforcement over its “significant flaws” handling the case.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth plasters the “flaws” quote across their front page, leading the story, which points out that the police search and seizure of the phones without prior court order and without notifying the aides, four Likud staffers who are suspected of having harassed Shlomo Filber, a former Netanyahu confidant turned state’s witness in the alleged bribery case against the premier, Case 4000.
  • To make matters worse for police, its representative tells the court that it indeed had created a group on the Telegram messaging app titled “Case 4000 supplementations,” after looking through the phone of  Netanyahu’s spokesman Jonatan Urich, more than suggesting that they used the opportunity of the state’s witness harassment case to do additional digging for their cases against Netanyahu. Haaretz’s Josh Breiner tweets that the premier’s attorneys in the courtroom were positively giddy upon hearing the news of the police blunder.
  • Channel 13’s Akiva Novick says the police conduct provides more than enough ammo for Netanyahu supporters who claim that the police and prosecution are carrying out a witch hunt against the prime minister and are willing to use whatever means necessary to persecute the Likud leader

2. Investigating the investigators: Israel Hayom previews its weekend edition interview with Justice Minister Amir Ohana with a quote spread across its front page in which the Netanyahu confidant tells the Netanyahu mouthpiece that he’s considering appointing an investigative committee to examine the conduct of state prosecutors.

  • “My appeal was for an investigation of leaks in the State Attorney’s Office,” Ohana says. “It is very possible that if there is not a serious response to Tuesday’s press conference [in which he launched a scathing attack accusing them of persecuting public officials they feel threaten their standing], I would like to exercise my authority and set up a government investigation committee into the conduct of the prosecutor’s office.”
  • Ohana’s warning comes amid regular news broadcasts over the past several years in which police and prosecutors leaked information from their interrogations of Netanyahu and others involved in the cases against him — a criminal offense that quite perplexingly Israeli law enforcement has no problem committing on a near-daily basis.
  • Not about to let Ohana’s attacks against the so-called gatekeepers of democracy go unanswered, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut warns an Israeli Bar Association audience against “unprecedented” efforts to politicize Israel’s judicial system.
  • “Politicization of the judicial system is likely to completely undermine its foundations as an independent and objective system,” Hayut adds, warning it could undermine the public’s faith in the courts.
  • On a semi-related note, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff reports that leading British lawyer Anthony Julius has been providing legal advice to Netanyahu in the criminal cases against him.
  • Before providing advice to the premier in Cases 2000 and 4000, Julius rose to prominence representing  Diana, Princess of Wales. now-disgraced British media proprietor and former MP Robert Maxwell, and Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt in her successful legal defense against Holocaust denier David Irving.

3. Third time’s a charm: While Blue and White is making a point in publicizing each of prime minister-designate Benny Gantz’s meetings with the various faction leaders in an effort to show progress being made toward a coalition, the growing speculation among the media is that he will not be able to succeed and that Israel is heading toward its third election in a year.

  • In the backdrop of the investigation into Netanyahu’s aides and the indictments expected to be handed down against the premier himself, the Kan public broadcaster’s Michael Shemesh reports that several leaders of right-wing parties now believe that there is no longer a chance that a third election will be avoided.
  • There will be a third election and the right-wing bloc will endure a significant blow and this is partially due to Netanyahu’s staff’s inability to operate in recent days, one senior right-wing lawmaker tells Shemesh.
  • Amid the deadlock, Israel Hayom reports that former justice minister Ayelet Shaked is once again surveying her options, which include once again bolting New Right. Shaked, according to the daily, has inquired with Jewish Home officials into whether the national religious party will be holding leadership primaries in the near future. The Srugim news site says her options are similar to what they were after the April election: Take a break from politics to prepare for a return to Likud, vie for the top spot of Jewish Home or remain in New Right. Neither appear to particularly excite the ex-minister.
  • Gantz is slated to meet with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh later today in a clear change of pace from Netanyahu’s practice of largely sidelining the Arab-majority parties. But Channel 12’s Daphna Liel points out that the Blue and White chair simply is trying to talk to everyone, including the hardline right-wing parties. Gantz posts on Facebook that he is in talks with the latter  — this despite the fact that the right-wing bloc has vowed to negotiate as one unit led by Netanyahu.

4. Trading apples for oranges: Al Jazeera reports that Israeli negotiators attempted to use the two Jordanian citizens Jerusalem has under administrative detention in an effort to, at the very least, extend Amman’s leasing of the Naharayim border parcel to the Jewish state.

  • The network says that Jordan was particularly disturbed by the offer and that its Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat to immediately cease the tactic if he did not want to further damage relations between the two countries.
  • “Israeli officials” brief reporters, telling them that Jordan has not given any indication that the recent detention of an Israeli citizen who illegally crossed the border is connected in any way to the issue of two Jordanians held in Israeli custody, contrary to the assertion by a senior official in Amman.
  • In addition, other “Israeli officials” brief Channel 12 to assure viewers that everything is fine and that relations with Jordan will recover. “This is not a crisis, it is merely a disagreement,” the network reports.
  • One of the detained Jordanians, Heba al-Labadi, has been hospitalized for the third time this week as she continues her hunger strike into the 38th day. Haaretz says Israeli officials believe Labadi was sent to the West Bank to recruit Hezbollah operatives.

5. Yes, sensei: Facing mounting pressure from the United States over growing Chinese investments in Israeli companies, Israel’s security cabinet announces the formation of a new advisory panel on foreign investments in the country.

  • While the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office does not mention Washington or Beijing, no one in the media seems to be fooled by lack of context given in the announcement.
  • Axios points out that the move from Jerusalem comes after meetings between US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. In both sit-downs, “Mnuchin demanded that Israel make good on its promise to form a monitoring mechanism for Chinese investments.”
  • However, the extent of the new committee’s authority remains unclear, with Axios reporting that it “will only have an advisory role” and that “government regulators won’t have to consult with the committee or accept its recommendations.”

6. Turns out everyone has a crazy uncle: A poll commissioned by the organizers of an upcoming rally commemorating former prime minsiter Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination finds that one in five Israelis believe that assassin Yigal Amir should be pardoned.

  • On the bright side, the statistics of the latest survey look better than one from last year which found that just 60% of Israelis believe that Amir killed Rabin.
  • The topic is in the news after Bar Ilan University professor Mordechai Kedar went full-on conspiracy theory at a right-wing rally in support of Netanyahu, ranting about how Amir didn’t kill Rabin.
  • Bar Ilan has since summoned Kedar for a disciplinary hearing, but the move has received backlash from unlikely sources. The Netanyahu-hated, New Israel Fund funded Association for Civill Rights in Israel has called on Bar Ilan to drop its censure of Kedar, arguing that he has a right to free speech no matter how despicable his comments were.
  • The Ynet news site releases footage of initially overlooked footage from the same rally in which the founder of the far-right Im Tirzu group and a former Netanyahu speechwriter claimed that left-wingers don’t serve in combat and instead arrange jobs for one another in intelligence units. “The left established the state but then left it all screwed up. It left most of Israel’s citizens disadvantaged,” says Erez Tadmor.
  • Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson compares the footage to a campaign speech made by New Right MK Matan Kahane, who — in calling for national unity — points out that 70% of the fighter pilots he served with were leftists, not exactly jibing with Tadmor’s more divisive rhetoric.
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