Israel media review

Naming names and cutting funds: 10 things to know for September 16

Trump and Abbas hit new lows, but Manafort is a bigger problem, and may be an issue for an Israeli as well; plus diplomats under fire, Barak pulls a Monica, and Syria’s crappy name

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Paul Manafort walks from Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Paul Manafort walks from Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

1. The spigot runs dry: The Trump administration’s decision to cut off the last bit of civilian aid to the Palestinians, in the form of funding for coexistence programs, has some scratching their heads.

  • Haaretz notes that the money had been approved by Congress, which has supported such programs, mostly through sports, for years. “It was even backed by senators from both parties,” the paper notes.
  • Plenty of people from both sides of the political aisle have what to say about the move.
  • Dave Harden, a former USAID director, writes on Twitter that the move “reinforces Hamas’ narrative.”
  • He also denies a claim by NGO Monitor head Gerald Steinberg that US officials admitted funding problematic Palestinian groups because they had to use the money.
  • US President Donald Trump has said the funding could return in a peace deal, but top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat tells Reuters that he doesn’t think the White House will ever even reveal its long-awaited peace proposal: “The whole world is rejecting their ideas. They are already implementing their plan by changing the terms of reference.”

2. Abbas’s mistakes: Pro-Trump Israel Hayom turns the Palestinians’ anger over the cuts on their head, running a lead headline based on a Palestinian official saying that Ramallah has learned that Trump sticks to his word about cutting funds (which is true, at least with the Palestinians).

  • The source also levels criticism at Abbas for not making like Netanyahu and finding a way to deal with the US president.
  • “Abbas has made every possible mistake since Trump entered the White House. He needs to find a new way,” the senior Palestinian official is quoted saying.

3. Man oh Manafort: Perhaps Abbas has gotten the same advice the Iranians supposedly got from John Kerry — to just wait out the administration. Israelis see that end possibly coming sooner than expected with Paul Manafort joining the ranks of those who have agreed to testify in the Mueller probe.

  • “They are closing in on Trump,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth. Its correspondent Tzipi Shmulovich writes that Manafort could represent Trump’s “biggest pain.”
  • In Haaretz, columnist Chemi Shalev writes that Manafort isn’t just another witness: “He’s the big prize, the main target, the keystone witness, whom Mueller managed to push to the wall with unending patience, until he broke.”

4. Manafort’s mystery Israeli: The plea deal also revealed a heretofore unknown local connection to Manafort and his work in Ukraine, alleging that he teamed up with an Israeli official to gin up an anti-Semitism smear against opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and her followers.

  • Addressing the mystery of who the official was, Yedioth reports that Breitbart hinted it was Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman.
  • Liberman’s office is denying the claim, but the paper notes that the Foreign Ministry, which was run by Liberman at the time, did indeed publish a statement that Israel was worried about anti-Semitism in the Union and Svoboda parties.
  • Alex Miller, a former MK from Liberman’s party who was an international observer in that election in 2012, tells Haaretz that he was never in contact with Manafort, though he did condemn anti-Semitism from Svoboda.
  • “I don’t know Manafort or any such claim. The anti-Semitic character of the Svoboda party was known to all and obvious, and Israel condemned it because it was the right thing to do.”
  • JTA correspondent Sam Sokol, who is writing a book about anti-Semitism in Ukraine, notes that a 2017 report from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry included a passage on Tymoshenko laughing at an anti-Semitic joke.

5. The Cantor file: Another person caught up in the legal woes surrounding Trump, George Papadopoulos, confirms that the Israeli he met with who set him on a path to being charged in the Mueller case was Christian Cantor, who works at the Israeli embassy in London., which is expert at digging up five quick facts about anyone suddenly in the news, fills out its list on Cantor with the bombshell that he likes food.

And JTA’s Ron Kampeas takes his own crack at Papadopoulos.

6. Parole for terrorists: Yedioth Ahronoth is reporting that the army will soon begin considering parole requests from Palestinians serving life sentences.

  • Until now, according to the report, prisoners sentenced by the West Bank military court to life sentence had no way to petition for early release.
  • The move will affect dozens of people, among them terrorists, according to the report, which notes that the decision came after a court petition by a terrorist who has served 30 years for killing an Israeli and been rehabilitated.
  • Right-wing group Im Tirtzu and terror victims aid group Lavie both slam the move, saying in a joint statement that it will “lead to the release of a massive number of killers … and seriously hurt deterrence.”

7. The Dermer Keyes chain: The fall of Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes, of whom more than a dozen women have complained about sexual assault, sexual harassment or improper behavior, is continuing to garner wide press coverage, even making it into the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom.

  • On Saturday, Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer admitted that he was told about Keyes’s problems, but kept it to himself because it did not cross the line into criminality.
  • However, ToI’s Raphael Ahren notes that in Israel sexual harassment is a crime. MK Michal Rozin, noting that the prohibition also extends to foreign service workers, called Saturday for a probe into Dermer’s conduct.
  • Walla reporter Tal Shalev writes on Twitter that on Sunday the civil service commission will already check to see if there are grounds to probe Dermer and Keyes.
  • However, she says that a person in the commission tells her that they think the harassment and assault allegations are only from before he was Netanyahu’s media adviser, and thus they have no jurisdiction. On Thursday, though, ToI reported on a case that allegedly occurred after Keyes had already joined the Prime Minister’s Office.
  • In Yedioth’s op-ed page, Merav Batito calls Keyes the second Natan Eshel, and writes that Dermer’s decision to not report him was motivated by a culture of silence and privilege around the prime minister, especially for the cadre of Americans who work for him.
  • “The mere thought of reporting it shook him to his core. To go against a senior member of the exclusive club who speaks polished English and looks like a white North American is like going against yourself. Why should Dermer suddenly chip away the paint from the shiny bumper and ruin the prime minister’s showy ride?” she writes.

8. Barak pulls a Monica: Channel 10 news had its own Monica Lewinsky moment as former prime minister Ehud Barak left the set mid-interview after panelists started talking about him and his political aspirations as if he were not there.

  • “I did not agree ahead of time to be part of a panel discussion,” a visibly annoyed Barak says in the clip, before bidding everyone else a happy new year and a hearty “may you be inscribed in the book of life.”
  • Clearly annoyed at the affair itself, Channel 10 writes that Barak left because “someone tried to ask him a question.”

9. No easy answers: A Haaretz poll ahead of Rosh Hashanah on Israelis’ religious beliefs is continuing to make some waves.

  • The paper’s columnist Gideon Levy writes about his shock at discovering that 56 percent of Israelis have the gall to consider Jews the chosen people, making them out to be mental cases.
  • “It’s a case of detachment from reality, a dangerous delusion. A people that is convinced that it is chosen poses a danger to itself and its surroundings,” he writes.
  • In Israel Hayom’s op-ed page, Yossi Beilin takes issue with the poll itself, writing that somebody’s religious beliefs is not something that can just be summed up in a simple answer.
  • “A question about faith is not just an invasion of privacy, but also requires an answer that is a procrustean bed,” he writes. “Perhaps it doesn’t need a whole book, but to make do with a binary answer — yes or no? As if they are asking whether you graduated elementary school or high school? As if it’s just a fact.”

10. Crappy name: Lastly, those looking for a laugh can have a hearty one at Bashar Assad’s expense. After Syria claimed to shoot down Israeli missiles shot at Damascus’s airport, its state propaganda arm put out a poster that read in Arabic “Our sky is forbidden to others,” and was supposed to say the same in Hebrew.

  • Instead, according to Roi Kais from the Kan broadcaster, they wrote “Our name is shit to others.”
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