Model citizens and cowering generals: 7 things to know for March 11
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Model citizens and cowering generals: 7 things to know for March 11

A celebrity and her friends go where a party of macho ex-army men refuse to go in defending Arab citizens, pushing Netanyahu into an ‘admission’ on the nation-state law

A picture taken on March 11, 2019, shows Israelis walking past a campaign poster for the Yashar political party, showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, head of the Labor party Avi Gabbay, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid giving the finger, in Jerusalem. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A picture taken on March 11, 2019, shows Israelis walking past a campaign poster for the Yashar political party, showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, head of the Labor party Avi Gabbay, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid giving the finger, in Jerusalem. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

1. State of the nation-state: An election campaign that has had no small share of ridiculous moments seems to have entered a new phase, with attention turning to a social media spat between a mid-level Israeli model/actress/reality TV host and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • Rotem Sela, responding to an interview in which Culture Minister Miri Regev claimed that the Blue and White party was seeking to work with Israel’s Arab parties, wrote on Instagram in exasperation: “What is the problem with the Arabs??? Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”
  • Netanyahu’s response, that Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but rather a Jewish state thanks to the controversial nation-state law, is seen by many critics as long-sought proof that the legislation does actually make Arabs second-class citizens, after the prime minister and others backing the law had claimed that it didn’t actually change anything.
  • “The ugly, naked truth has been exposed … Even though nobody disputes that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, Netanyahu has now admitted that the nation-state law enshrines Jewish supremacy in law and declares that the state belongs more to a Jew who’s an American or Belgian citizen than it does to an Arab citizen born in this country,” Haaretz’s lead editorial reads.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes that the comments about the law suggest that political cartoonist Avi Katz’s illustration of Likud lawmakers celebrating the bill as the pigs from “Animal Farm” (a cartoon that got Katz fired) “was spot-on, with the premier’s explanation of what the legislation means regarding equality reflecting that of the pigs. … All Israelis are equal but, according to Netanyahu’s stated understanding of the nation-state law, evidently some are more equal than others.”

2. How dare they quote him accurately: Though the story gets much more traction in Israel than abroad, Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom blames the outcry on the international media for distorting Netanyahu’s words, which were in Hebrew.

  • “When Netanyahu denied that Israel was a country of all its citizens, he was saying that Israel is not defined according to that criteria,” the paper writes, showing off some gymnastics. But the international media “quoted him literally, according to which Netanyahu denied the individual rights of Arab citizens to the state.”
  • What traction the story did get internationally was helped along by Gal Gadot entering the fray in Sela’s defense. Other models and celebrities have, as well.
  • The Washington Post quips that while Netanyahu went after Sela, “We’ll have to wait and see whether Netanyahu is willing to go head to head with Wonder Woman.”

3. General dismay: Nonetheless, Sela is lauded in Israel for standing up to Netanyahu, with some noting that little old her did what a bunch of grizzled old generals would not: confront Netanyahu over his attempt to campaign on the idea that coalition-building with Arabs is verboten.

  • “Courage, it seems, is not only for generals. Generals who have shut their mouths over this issue. In a campaign cycle that is cynical, filthy and testosterone-filled, with no conversations about actual issues, Rotem Sela and her cohorts are a breath of fresh air,” Hen Artzi Srour writes in Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “Quit squirming, quit playing nice and quit being afraid of Netanyahu’s shadow and the mud he is trying to throw at you,” Haaretz’s Uri Misgav counsels the leaders of the Blue and White Party, in a piece entitled “Learn from Rotem Sela.”

4. The chances of that happening seem slim right now: Moshe Ya’alon, one of the leaders of Blue and White, tells i24 News that his party won’t break bread with any Arab party that is not Zionist.

  • He also tried to dismiss any potential coalition with Arabs as a technical “blocking” maneuver, a fact that Israel Hayom plays up on its front page, describing his comments as “trying to avoid giving a straight answer.”
  • (Israel Hayom was the same paper that defended the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit merger as just a technicality.)
  • Political strategist Yaakov Maor writes a column in the paper defending the mud-slinging. “Politics is naturally a dirty business,” he writes. “You can denigrate someone in order to build a wall between the opposing candidate and the voters. But be careful not to exaggerate into slander, and don’t burn bridges,” he advises.
  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is currently suing Israel Hayom for libel for running sexual harassment claims against him.
  • Lawyer Ilan Bombach tells Army Radio that the suit has little chance of success, but is likely designed to get the paper to back off.

5. Coalition ultimatum: And what of Arab parties wanting to join with Blue and White? Ayman Odeh, head of Hadash-Ta’al, tells ToI’s Adam Rasgon that he is open to joining a Benny Gantz-led coalition, if certain conditions are met.

  • “We hope to influence decision-making and we do not want to permit the creation of another extremist government led by Netanyahu that constantly incites against us,” Odeh says.
  • His laundry list: “They need to show us they are willing to negotiate peace with the [Ramallah-based] Palestinian leadership, support equality for all citizens including Arabs, increase budgets to the local authorities in Arab villages and cancel the nation-state law.”

6. On the chopping block: Arab’s may be second-class citizens, but Palestinians aren’t even that, and don’t enjoy worker protections that Israelis get in many cases.

  • That means that as the KKL-JNF prepares to cut its workforce, Palestinian employees are getting axed first, ToI’s Avner Hofstein reports.
  • Three Palestinians have already been dismissed from the forestry org and 25 more have been invited to pre-dismissal hearings.
  • “We loved KKL-JNF, and now they have struck at our hearts,” says one worker. “The people at KKL-JNF told me over the years that they never leave anyone behind, that KKL-JNF is like a family. But the management doesn’t seem to care about that anymore.”
  • A spokesperson for the agency denies any discriminatory practice and says the dismissals will be reconsidered.

6. Close calls: The names of the two Israelis killed aboard a flight from Ethiopia to Kenya that crashed Sunday have yet to be released for publication as of this writing, but news outlets are reporting on those with close brushes to the crash.

  • Jerusalem-based business partners Israel Mozoson and Shraga Israel tell Israel Hayom they were supposed to travel to Addis Ababa and then on to Nairobi on the flight, but had to put off their flight to Ethiopia and missed the connection, which crashed.
  • Mozoson tells the paper that he plans on saying a special prayer at synagogue to mark his redemption “and I’ll also make a big kiddush,” he says, referring to a celebratory after-services spread.
  • Israel’s Ambassador to South Sudan Hanan Godar tells Channel 13 news that he actually flew on the same plane last week on a route from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv. and it seemed to have engine troubles then.
  • The pilot informed them of a problem with one of engines, telling them: “We’ll operate one engine to see if it catches, and if it catches, we’ll start the other engines,” Godar says.
  • Israel’s El Al carrier does not have any of the 737 Max8s that are being grounded now because of the crash, but it does have many 737-800s, which are the same plane before they retooled the engines.
  • And several airlines still fly the plane to Israel, especially from Europe.

7. Middle finger politics: In yesterday’s column, I called Moshe Feiglin of the Zehut party a pot-smoker. Several people from the party contacted me to point out that while Feiglin certainly supports legalization, he doesn’t actually touch the stuff. The piece has been corrected and I apologize for the error.

  • Feiglin’s party isn’t the only smaller faction turning heads. The Yashar (upstanding) party has begun putting up signs with photoshopped pictures of leading politicians flipping the bird.
  • “Today’s politicians don’t take us into account. We have no influence the day after the vote,” party number 2 Yuval Karniel tells Army Radio, referring to what he says are voter frustrations.
  • The ads appear to have struck a nerve. Globes reports that at least one sign along the Ayalon Freeway in Tel Aviv was covered up with a black cloth by the company that owns the ad space, hours after it was put up, because of “heavy pressure seemingly exerted by parties who are not interested in the campaign continuing.”
  • But the plot thickens as the news site notes that among the owners of the sign company is someone who had contracted with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience before it transformed into Blue and White, though he denies any link and says the sign is just not respectful.
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