Paving a road back to the Middle Ages: 5 things to know for June 18
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Israel media review

Paving a road back to the Middle Ages: 5 things to know for June 18

As opposition responds with mix of derision and panic to Smotrich becoming transportation minister, reporters begin poking holes into police account of brutal rape of girl, 7

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

MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties speaks during a Jerusalem Day event at Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties speaks during a Jerusalem Day event at Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

1. Answering to a higher authority: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Union of Right-Wing Parties MKs Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich as education minister and transportation minister respectively, but the hullabaloo in the media and opposition is primarily focused on the latter lawmaker, who earlier this month said he longs for the days when Israel was ruled by religious law.

  • Smotrich thanks Netanyahu by going on the Kan public broadcaster hours after his appointment and declaring that he answers to God, not the prime minister.
  • The remarks were likely music to Avigdor Liberman’s ears, given the Yisrael Beytenu chairman’s efforts to paint Netanyahu as a friend of the “religious coercionists” such as Smotrich. Liberman’s colleague Oded Forer patronizingly tweets in response, “Bezalel, my friend, let me tell you a little secret: you work for the citizens of Israel… You are a talented young man, but the role of God’s messenger is a separate appointment.”
  • Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh (or possibly his new spokesman Dean Issacharoff who joined the MK last week after several years at Breaking the Silence) chimes by wishing Smotrich good luck in the new post, also warning him not to be too disappointed when he learns he cannot pave a road back to the Middle Ages. Zing!
  •  Yedioth Ahronoth takes a similar crack at Smotrich in a cartoon titled “Returning to the days of David,” which references the URWP No. 2’s halachic-state remarks. The caricature shows the new transportation minister standing next to a donkey on what was once a train platform, telling waiting passengers, “The donkey to Beersheba will be departing at 5:00 p.m.”
  • Channel 12’s Amit Segal takes issue with the “pathetic” celebratory interviews and statements being issued by Peretz and Smotrich following their appointments to posts in a transitional government in which their powers are exceedingly limited.

2. The rape that shocked the nation: The major Hebrew dailies all lead with above-the-fold coverage of the alleged brutal rape of a 7-year-old Israeli girl by a Palestinian maintenance custodian at her school in a settlement in the central West Bank.

  •  The Israel Hayom daily is leaked a copy of the first page of the indictment against 46-year-old Mahmoud Qadusa, and details how the victim identified her attacker two days later at school after confiding in a teacher what had happened to her.
  • The story also leads the evening broadcasts of Channels 11, 12 and 13 but that doesn’t stop Yair Netanyahu from lamenting on Twitter that the press is ignoring the story and instead preferring to focus on the recent conviction of his mother for illegally procuring catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
  • Who did neglect to cover the story was much of the ultra-Orthodox press, despite the fact that the alleged rape occurred in one of their communities. Ari Homnick, a reporter for the Haredi Kol Barama radio channel, tweets that his heart is torn between his commitment to inform the world of the brutal crime and his commitment to his listeners who are not interested in being exposed to such taboo “horrors.” The story is also absent on Homnick’s competitor channel’s Kol Hai broadcasts over the past day.
  • The story does receive coverage in the Haredi Behadrei Hadarim and Kikar Hashabbat news sites, but in the former, the story is buried and in neither is the word “rape” mentioned at all.

3. The uncomfortable job of fact-checking: As the rape gains more and more coverage and the list of right-wing lawmakers calling for the execution of the “terrorist” responsible expands, reporters begin to poke holes in the police’s account of the crime, leading some to believe that it may be far harder to convict than was initially thought.

  • Channel 13’s Yossi Eli reports that the police had initially thought the crime had taken place at Qadusa’s home in the village of Dir Kadis. But then a man in the settlement where the girl lives testified that the suspect had been doing construction work in his home at the time of the attack, leading the police to change their theory of where it had taken place.
  • Eli then points outs that while one polygraph test conducted on Qadusa found him to be lying when he said he did not commit the crime, a second test found him to be telling the truth. There is also no forensic evidence tying him to the crime.
  • More troubling is the distance from the school where the girl was taken to the building where the rape allegedly took place — a 15-minute walk down a busy street in the settlement where the indictment states the girl was dragged, crying, in the middle of the day. Eli questions how it is that nobody saw or said anything.
  • Haaretz’s Josh Breiner asks how someone with no record of pedophilia could carry out such a brutal crime, and says that if two other Palestinians had been in the room at the time holding the girl down, it would have been possible to track them down by now through their cellphone GPS.

4. Wedding without the bride AND the groom: Many headlines over the past several months mocked the fact that the US is putting on a peace summit in Bahrain that one of the two relevant parties have decided to boycott. But now, the White House has announced that not only will Palestinian leadership be absent, but that Israeli officials will not be receiving an invitation either.

  • “This is a workshop where we will present our economic vision for the Palestinian people,” a White House official tells The Times of Israel. “As such, we want the focus to be on the economic aspect, not the political.”
  • Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi does his part to further play down the conference. Axios quotes him as saying: “Let’s not exaggerate the significance of the Bahrain workshop. It’s a workshop.”
  • But it’s not just Israelis and Palestinians that have not received invitations. The Economist’s Gregg Carlstrom tweets that the confab may happen without press coverage because organizers still haven’t confirmed to reporters where the June 25-26 summit is being held and who will be accredited to cover it.

5. Oh, how the mighty have fallen: Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi, is buried, under heavy security, a day after his dramatic collapse and death inside a glass cage of a Cairo courtroom.

  • Morsi’s son Ahmed tells AP that security agencies refused to allow Morsi to be buried at the family’s cemetery in his hometown in Sharqia province.
  • Kan’s Suleiman Maswaeh points out that coverage of the former president’s sudden death was pushed all the way to the bottom of the front pages of Egypt’s main newspapers, with minimal details eulogizing Morsi or explaining how exactly he died so suddenly.
  • The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren tweets a throwback picture from seven years ago in which Morsi sent a warm letter to then president Shimon Peres in which he called him a “good and great friend.” Upon the Islamist leader’s election, there was considerable concern over whether the peace treaty with Israel would hold, but Israeli analysts have eulogized Morsi as someone who turned out to be a pretty reliable figure that Jerusalem could periodically lean on.
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