Israel media review

Mr. Security or Mr. Politics? 8 things to know for November 19

A speech by Netanyahu appointing himself defense chief is seen as both the final straw before the government collapses, and the first shot in a looming election campaign

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a late Prime Minister Golda Meir's 40th memorial ceremony in Jerusalem on November 18, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a late Prime Minister Golda Meir's 40th memorial ceremony in Jerusalem on November 18, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

1. Trying to keep it together: Attempting to hang on to his foundering coalition, Prime Minister Netanyahu has begun to portray the downfall of his government as a blow to Israel’s security.

  • “We are in the midst of a military campaign, and you don’t leave during a campaign, you don’t play with politics,” Netanyahu said during a speech at Defense Ministry headquarters (timed to coincide with the main nightly news broadcasts, which gave him an exclusive soapbox).
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that the speech managed to put Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked in a corner: “Netanyahu trapped them well last night, weaving a complex web of arguments meant to pre-empt any reason they can claim for bringing elections forward.”

2. Political security: Still, the claim that keeping the coalition together is vital for security is seen as a rich one from someone who has refused to appoint a full-time defense minister, as made plain by this headline by one of my colleagues: “Naming himself defense chief, Netanyahu says ‘no room for politics’ in security.”

  • “The hypocrisy of Netanyahu as he talks about the importance of the defense portfolio cries out to the heavens,” says Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg, calling Netanyahu’s words “hypocrisy.” “This is the same Netanyahu who just two years ago appointed to this sensitive position a cynical, inexperienced, and irresponsible man only due to considerations of political survival,” she says, referring to Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister in May 2016.
  • Even Yedioth Ahronoth’s Shlomo Pyoterkofsky, normally the paper’s one voice in favor of Netanyahu, accuses the prime minister of “playing a dumb game,” with the defense portfolio: “It’s hard to be impressed by Netanyahu’s hallowed principle, according to which he is the one that needs to be defense minister,” he writes, also noting how he was “not ashamed to sell it” to Liberman two years ago for a stable coalition.
  • And several people point out that Israel always has serious defense challenges. If we didn’t have elections because of security, David Ben-Gurion would still be prime minister.

3. First to the stump: Netanyahu’s speech is widely covered as the opening shot in his re-election campaign.

  • “The television networks fell for it like flies, and by the time they realized it was a campaign speech, it was too late,” Maariv’s Ben Caspit writes, comparing the address to Churchill’s “Blood sweat and tears” speech, “just without the Germans.”
  • “The non-election election speech was aimed at changing the narrative from the weak and war-shy prime minister to that of Israel’s ultimate security chief,” Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes. “As the statement ended, he loftily waved away the reporters’ forlorn attempts at questions – ‘I’m going to work,’ he dismissed them curtly.”
  • Sure Netanyahu’s going to work, Yedioth’s Shimon Shaffir quips: “He’s already been working closely with advisers for several days on messages that are designed to ensure him another term as prime minister.”

4. Backing Bennett? The idea that the coalition has to stay together because of secret security issues was actually floated almost a full day before Netanyahu’s speech by Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord, in what some may see as yet another sign of the close relationship between the paper that works as a Netanyahu mouthpiece.

  • On Monday, the paper describes Netanyahu’s speech as “personal and emotional,” but it seems not all of its columnists are behind him 100 percent.
  • Netanyahu “can’t hold the rope at both ends, keeping his coalition stable and putting down Naftali Bennett at the same time,” columnist Moti Tuchfeld writes, calling on the prime minister to give the defense job to Bennett.
  • In the past, close media watchers have seen signs that publisher Sheldon Adelson could switch allegiances to Naftali Bennett. And Tuchfeld’s column, in which he writes that Bennett should be given a chance to be a true right-wing defense chief, as his predecessors have failed to be, may be another sign of that.

5. Jewish Homeless: It’s likely too late for such a move though. Bennett and Jewish Home No. 2 Ayelet Shaked are slated to give a statement to the press at 10:30 during which they are widely expected to announce they are resigning, thus toppling the government.

  • Uri Ariel, another Jewish Home minister, tells Army Radio that the two are ready to resign, meaning the government could fall as early as Wednesday.
  • While the general feeling is that Netanyahu’s speech pushed both sides into their respective corners, making early elections a certainty, the Ynet news website leaves open the possibility that things could still shake out differently: “There could be more talks that will make clear that the option of giving Bennett the defense portfolio is still on the table. This will leave Bennett and Shaked in the air and they are thus likely to sharpen their ultimatum during their speech this morning.”
  • Just before their statement, Netanyahu is set to speak to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, his first act as defense minister.

6. Peace plan deferred: Early elections will likely give the US administration another reason/excuse to delay its long-awaited peace plan, ToI’s Eric Cortellessa writes.

  • Cortellessa notes that the US has likely made a note of Likud worries that the release of the peace plan could hurt them at the ballot box, according to Hadashot news.
  • “Despite reports that Trump has told world leaders he’s wary of Netanyahu’s desire to make peace with the Palestinians, he has plenty of reasons to want to keep him around,” he writes.
  • “Trump’s closeness to Netanyahu, his moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal have been a boon for him with his evangelical base. As he’s heading into his reelection campaign, he likely won’t want to do anything to disrupt that support.”

7. Foie gras legislation:  Haaretz’s lead editorial warns of the possibility that early elections could mean dangerous bills are shoved through the Knesset at the last moment, noting a series of bills it opposes on the cusp of being passed.

  • “Netanyahu’s right-wing government is dying. This wave of ugly legislation must be allowed to die with it,” the editorial reads.

8. Held hostage by Gaza? Israel Hayom reports that Likud MK Miki Zohar, who heads the Knesset’s State Control Committee (analogous to Ways and Means in Congress), plans on trying to delay the dissolution of the parliament as long as possible by holding up any measure that breaks up the Knesset.

  • That will come Wednesday, when Meretz brings a no-confidence motion to the plenum.
  • “As long as the situation in Gaza is ongoing, the Knesset committee won’t take up the bill to dissolve the Knesset,” he says, essentially threatening to put Israel in an indefinite totalitarian state of emergency.

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