Israel media review

Not afraid to run: What the press is saying on December 22

Some Knesset parking lot trickery kicks off election season, with Netanyahu readying to face a rabble of right-wing rivals just as a jogger’s murder brings terror fears to the fore

MK Asaf Zamir makes a surprise appearance in the Knesset on December 22, 2020 to vote against a coalition budget bill. (Knesset spokesman/Danny Shem Tov)
MK Asaf Zamir makes a surprise appearance in the Knesset on December 22, 2020 to vote against a coalition budget bill. (Knesset spokesman/Danny Shem Tov)

1. Ding-dong, the Knesset is dead: The countdown is on, and I don’t mean for a third lockdown. A day and change after it looked like the government was headed for a last ditch stay of execution, it’s instead been ding-dong ditched by the Knesset, setting the stage for elections in 90 days.

  • The overnight drama saw several coalition MKs mutiny and oppose or refuse to back the bill that would have staved off the vote by again delaying a budget deadline, leading to its narrow defeat, 49-47.
  • Though there remains the slight chance of some sort of really last-minute deal, most in the media put it just beyond the realm of possibility and have already all but called elections.
  • “Israel is going to elections,” Channel 13 crows.
  • And though the paper was ostensibly published before the Knesset bill failed, Israel Hayom’s top front page headline says “Elections on the way.”
  • “Counting down the minutes to midnight,” reads a headline in Ynet.
  • “The heart of the problem is the timing,” the site reports. “Even if the party heads decide that they prefer to avoid dissolving the Knesset and avoiding the vote, legislative procedures that still need to be carried out won’t leave the coalition enough time for three readings [of the 2020 budget bill]. However, talks and political contacts are expected throughout the day.”
  • Coalition whip Miki Zohar tells Army Radio that “there won’t be any effort to prevent the Knesset dissolving because Gantz went back on all his agreements.”
  • Kan reports that Gantz changed his mind about the budget deal because Blue and White sources say Netanyahu was trying to pull a fast one and could never have passed the 2021 budget in two weeks. ‘They claim that Netanyahu’s goal was just to get a 2020 budget so he could continue to disperse handouts, even during the campaign.”
  • In Walla, Tal Shalev has moved ahead to penning the government’s obituary, and she does not sound very sad to see it go.
  • “In the history books, at least the recent ones, the Netanyahu-Gantz government, its fights, squabbles, and elbowing will go down as one of the most dysfunctional and repulsive that we’ve had here. Polls show that at least 50 percent of Israelis will say ‘good riddance’ tonight,” she writes.

2. Park n’ hide: Army Radio, which also declares that elections are coming, still tries to keep the drama machine pumping, reporting on the “traditional filibuster” by MK Yaakov Pindros, and “the MKs who sat in their cars in the Knesset parking lot to mislead their faction.”

  • That’s a reference to Likud MK Michal Shir and Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, who according to several reports hid out in their cars (along with Blue and White MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich hiding in the library), and then popped into the Knesset just in time for the voice vote on the bill to sink it, seemingly part of some pre-arranged plan.
  • “This is probably the first time the Knesset parking lot has been in the news,” the station’s Michael Hauser-Tov jokes on air.
  • Channel 12 news calls it a “political trick of the type we have not seen for a long time, especially from a party other than Likud. … The move was made so Likud would think [they] were not there and they had a majority.”
  • The station manages to snag a picture of Shefa hiding in a car, and intimates that Likud’s Sharren Haskel was also part of the deception, noting that she just didn’t show up and refused to respond to “endless” calls from senior Likud people. “Despite that, she did respond to social activists lobbying for marijuana legalization.”
  • The channel reports that the whole thing was seemingly put together by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who spent the day in talks with MKs who were undecided on whether to vote to give the government a few more days on life support. But it also indicates Sa’ar had a hand in it.
  • Kan’s Michael Shemesh notes that only twice in 10 years has anyone in the Knesset managed to trick Netanyahu into thinking he had a majority when he did not, now and the 2014 vote on the presidency. “Both times the same person put it together — Gideon Sa’ar.”
  • Shir, a Gideon Sa’ar apparatchik who had held on to her Likud seat but who switched sides immediately after the vote, denies any accusations of political trickery and tells Army Radio she sat in her car because she “did not feel well.” (Though by Knesset rules during the pandemic, she should not have been allowed back in if she left due to sickness.)
  • Israel Hayom notes that Shir had hidden in a car not registered under her name, so nobody would know it was her, and this was after taking a week off of the Knesset due to an unspecified illness.
  • Trick or no, Likudniks are not happy with her. “I told Shir she’s a bitch and I’m not sorry about it,” MK Osnat Mark tells Radio 103 FM. “She’s the biggest traitor ever.”

3. Look one way before you cross: Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu should probably get used to that losing feeling, or at least get ready for a battle like he’s never faced before.

  • “Benjamin Netanyahu got used to waging a campaign against a single main rival from the center-left. He found it easy to make wicked, false accusations, bordering on claims of treason, against his rivals,” he writes. “But now, with Gideon Sa’ar as a main rival and Naftali Bennett as a secondary challenge, the tactic that had served him so well is no longer relevant. It will be harder for him to paint them as ‘left-wing collaborators.’ He will try, of course, but even the tricks of the world’s best campaigner have their limits.”
  • Times of Israel editor David Horovitz also notes that Blue and White chief Benny Gantz and the center left are facing a real crisis, creating a battle of right and righter: “Not only is Gantz heading into political oblivion, but so is much of the Israeli center-left. Blue and White drew much of its support from that part of the spectrum, but the opinion polls suggest many voters are not going back there. The new icon of the ‘anyone but Bibi’ movement is Gideon Sa’ar, a former Likud minister who stands to Netanyahu’s right on matters relating to settlements and the Palestinians.”
  • “Netanyahu was in no great rush to face the public again, and may have a tough battle on his hands — on his own side of the political spectrum. But if his rival-ally-rival Gantz now looks doomed — in what is a simply astounding fall, barely nine months after he was recommended as prime minister by most of the Knesset — nobody should bet against the shrewd, wily Netanyahu sailing onward,” he concludes.
  • And meanwhile, internal squabbles inside the possible anti- Netanyahu bloc are continuing. Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman tells Kan that “I wonder if Sa’ar is a new hope or a new version of Blue and White. Since he broke off he’s been in constant talks with the Haredi parties. They say they won’t enter a coalition without Netanyahu … anyone who is tied to them will find themselves in a coalition with Netanyahu.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that with such an array of non-opponents (as he sees them) it won’t be politicians Netanyahu is campaigning against.
  • “Netanyahu has always avoided dealing directly with the judicial system. He always let others like Amir Ohana or Yariv Levin stand at the front. Now, with the elections coming after he has not given in on reforming the matter, it seems it will for the first time be at the top of Likud’s campaign agenda. With no political opponents, the messaging on the need for comprehensive judicial reform could be the decisive factor in the regime’s continuation,” he writes.

4. What we’re running from: The murder of an Israeli woman in the West Bank in a suspected terror attack, is also major news, with the press closely covering the funeral, the investigation, and attendant terror fears, especially after a second apparent attack in Jerusalem.

  • Yedioth runs a massive picture of Esther Horgen, 52, and her large family, under the headline “The heart breaks.”
  • The paper also runs a grainy picture in which she can be seen running near the forest ringing her settlement of Tel Menashe, calling it the last known picture of her.
  • “What went through Esther Horgen’s mind moments after she was seen on the security camera walking through the forest near her home? Did she manage to call out for help? Did the attacker surprise her? Did she try to fight him?” reads the paper’s unhelpful lede.
  • “She lived every moment of her life. She had so much to give,” her husband Benjamin Horgen is quoted in Kan eulogizing his wife at her widely covered funeral.
  • “The murder of Esther Horgen and the terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Monday could indicate an impending terrorist wave,” worries Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom, crediting pandemic lockdowns with helping tamp down on terror until now. “This has contributed to the low figures but has changed nothing in terms of motivation. Both organized terrorists – specifically guided by Hamas in Gaza – and localized cells, continue to plot attacks. As always, ‘lone-wolf’ terrorists who act independently are also a constant concern.”
  • But in Haaretz, columnist Amira Hass counsels against jumping to conclusions and credits Israeli curbs on Palestinians for the killing, stopping just short of justifying it: “If the murderer is Palestinian, is there a connection between his deed and the cumulative cruelty of Israeli policy, which has stabbed and wounded him every day since he was born? If so, it’s a cruelty that millions of Palestinian experience personally from the cradle to the grave, one that stokes wrath and disgust in every one of them.”
  • Army Radio reports that running groups, especially of settler women, have popped up to honor Horgen and protest her murder. “We can’t let this pass quietly. It’s our right to be able to run near our homes without being afraid of having our skulls crushed,” one organizer tells the station.

5. Run while you can: With coronavirus case numbers rising, running may soon be a thing of the past. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says a lockdown is what the doctor ordered: “It seems we missed the tightened restraint train,” he says.

  • Ministry director Chezy Levy says pretty much the same: “I’m not sure tightened restraint is the answer. It’s possible we’ll need to pick a date and go under lockdown.”
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel says the government should think twice about locking people down again. “Wide-reaching measures are being taken against the new and still largely unknown threat. People who have participated in meetings tell of near-hysteria over the [virus] mutation, which appeared amid steadily climbing infection rates in Israel. From this point, the road to a third shutdown is a short one, and politicians are already explaining that it would be better to have a prolonged lockdown now so that the presumed election in March takes place when only a small number of voters are ill or in isolation,” he writes.
  • “It’s simply inconceivable, and it reflects the terrible indifference of the cabinet and the inner cabinet to the harsh new regulations imposed on the population with such frequency. The pandemic is dangerous and hazardous on its own, but when you add to this the considerations of a prime minister who is a criminal defendant trying to escape justice, the result is systematic disregard for the good of the economy and the population,” he writes.
  • In Israel Hayom, Menahem Gsheid is also harshly critical of the government locking people down and throwing them in isolation hotels: “The decision makers are not giving any basic logical reason for why they should have the public’s trust. Every decision is different than the last, to say nothing of the lack of ability to make decisions. A Turkish bazaar is run more professionally.”
  • Dr. Pnina Tzubotro from Kaplan medical center tells Army Radio the London mutation is not anything to get your panties in a bunch about: “It seems the rise in morbidity is linked to the holiday season and the multitude of family gatherings. There’s no proof that the severity is different. We need to research it, but there are mutations all the time.”
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