Playing fifth-dimensional chess: 7 things to know for February 20
Israel media review

Playing fifth-dimensional chess: 7 things to know for February 20

If elections are near that means it’s time for conveniently unsourced reports on a probe into Gantz’s old firm; the Blue and White head is not suspect, but everything else is

In this November 20, 2019, file photo, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz arrives to address media in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
In this November 20, 2019, file photo, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz arrives to address media in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

1. Fifth dimension problems: There has not yet been any official announcement, but the press is treating the state prosecution reportedly advising the attorney general to open an investigation into allegedly dirty dealings behind Benny Gantz’s failed tech company Fifth Dimension as a fait accompli.

  • Stories on the supposed probe make major news across the Israeli media spectrum and the opening of a probe is presented as inevitable.
  • “Apparently: The police will check into the firm that Gantz headed,” reads a massive headline on the front page of Yedioth, noting the “sensitive political timing,” just 11 days before the elections.
  • “A look into communications between police and the firm is nearly complete. The estimation is that a probe will be launched after elections,” Haaretz reports.
  • According to allegations, Fifth Dimension, which shut down after part owner Viktor Vekelsberg was sanctioned by the US as part of the Robert Mueller investigation, made a deal with the Israel Police to provide services that it apparently could not make good on, raising questions about both bodies.
  • Israel Hayom, which is normally not shy acting as a Likud propaganda outfit, goes for a more subtle approach, making the story only the secondary headline on its front page and noting only Fifth Dimension and not Gantz.

2. A probe in every pot: Many reports take pains to note that Gantz is not a suspect.

  • “I need to emphasize, and I emphasize this on purpose, as of now, there is no suspicion against Gantz and he is not expected to be questioned as a possible suspect,” Channel 13’s Aviad Glickman bellowed during Wednesday’s broadcast with what he claimed was a scoop. (Channel 12 had the same information.)
  • But some can’t let the supposed facts get in the way of a pithy joke. Channel 12’s Amit Segal cracks that “no matter who is prime minister, they will be under investigation.”
  • Israel Hayom goes much the same route, noting in its lede that after elections both heads of major parties will be under investigation, even though that’s apparently not true.

3. Source loser: It’s worth noting that while many reports cite their information to Channel 12 or 13, neither of those channels sourced the info to even an “unnamed official,” to give readers some sort of clue as to whether this is actually happening or political spin, which should raise enough red flags to warrant its own probe (don’t hold your breath).

  • Haaretz also reports the coming probe as a fact, without even a hint as to where that information might come from.
  • That does not necessarily mean the info is not true. The first stories that came out about the investigations into Netanyahu, which were oh so real, were also unsourced. And the fact that everyone is reporting the info as a fact and none of Israel’s excellent journalists are saying “whoa, Nelly” may also be a point in its favor.
  • While many Israeli journalists care little about sourcing, the fact that they are all so politicized and easily manipulated (it’s common for officials to tell journalists to write info “in their own name” or lie about the identity of the source — calling a Likud operative a diplomatic official, or an army official “Palestinian reports” — and journalists often go along with it) shows how easy it would be for a Likud official to straight up lie about the investigation being opened to smear Gantz, with the Israeli public being the ultimate loser.
  • Case in point: The fact that almost the same exact thing was reported by Channel 13 on September 9, 2019, just eight days before the last election.

4. Pressure probe: Gantz himself tells the media that he doesn’t know of any investigation, but indicates he’s ready for whatever.

  • “It sounds like political pressure so the subject will be back on the agenda. I’m ready to go to any inquiry, I’m totally calm — unlike some others, I trust in the law enforcement system,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Speaking to Kan, he predicts that “the next few weeks will be black weeks. Netanyahu and his people will spread lies about the right and left, using every old thing and trying to make it new. All the old affairs will suddenly come out in the next couple of weeks. The public understands that.”
  • Gantz also tells the outlets that the affair has more to do with the police than with Fifth Dimension. In Ynet, Eli Senior writes that the affair will test the police and their ability to investigate their own, and it’s not clear who will even do the investigation.
  • “The story is much more complicated than people think,” a police source tells the news site. “This will need to be a really special unit that is disconnected from the rest of the police, to get to the truth. Since when can cops investigate their friends, or the ones who are supposed to be their commanders? It’s clear this will be bad. The question is whether they really want to investigate and get to the truth.”

5. The timings they are a changin’: Investigating the investigators just happened to be a Netanyahu talking point when he was the one being investigated.

  • On Twitter, Channel 13’s Barak Ravid quips that “I guess from now we no longer need to investigate the investigators.”
  • On the other side, Amit Segal of Channel 12, who has been increasingly outspoken in support of the right wing, reports that the attorney general will wait until after elections to announce a probe because it’s too close to the election, and then takes to Twitter to make his real feelings known.
  • “The charge sheet against Netanyahu was published five weeks before the election. Judicial sources explain: The decision [in the Fifth Dimension case] fell out about four weeks [before elections], and that’s too close,” he writes sarcastically.
  • Going even further, Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine says that Blue and White is actually controlling the judicial system and its decisions on timing, noting that just this week the date for the start of the Netanyahu trial was announced: “They couldn’t wait to announce until after elections? What’s the sudden rush? Blue and White is under pressure because the agenda has turned to diplomatic security matters, where it broadcasts confusion and flaccidity, and thanks to the judicial system, the conversation turned quickly again to the Netanyahu cases. Coincidence? I wish.”

6. No debate: Gantz is also taking flak for his decision to turn down a debate with Netanyahu, just as Netanyahu finally agreed to one after some 20 years of refusing them, and depriving Israelis of a showdown that could have outmatched Elizabeth Warren’s spanking of Mike Bloomberg in sheer entertainment value.

  • According to several reports, Gantz did so because polls show him in the lead and for a leader there is no benefit of opening yourself up like that.
  • “Gantz does have a slight lead, but he fears he has only what to lose in a debate with Netanyahu, and so is not interested in entering the ‘lion’s den,’” writes Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker.
  • Channel 12’s Segal writes that “Gantz would have to be crazy to walk willingly into this pit, knowing that Netanyahu excels at it and has more experience than him.”
  • Israel Hayom reports that Gantz is actually raring to go mano a mano, but his aides stopped him.
  • “In private conversations, Benny really does not discount the possibility of a debate with Netanyahu and is not afraid,” Gantz’s “surroundings” is quoted telling the paper.
  • Kan reports that Blue and White thinks there is still a chance that Gantz will agree to a debate with Netanyahu at the last moment.

7. Out of Yokohama: Another big story of the day is the freedom of Israelis who were on the Japanese coronavirus cruise and have now been allowed to disembark and make their way to Israel.

  • In an eerie repeat of the homecoming for Naama Issachar (remember her?) last month, the press is giddy over the liberation of the Covid-19 11 from their terrible prison aboard a luxury cruise liner, pushing aside any possible qualms about bringing possible carriers into the country.
  • Channel 12 news publishes a video of “celebrations” on the bus as the group makes its way to the airport, with passengers singing “Am Yisrael Hai.”
  • “Awaiting their return,” reads the top front page headline in Israel Hayom.
  • And even though Netanyahu didn’t fly to Japan to bring them home, the paper still manages to jimmy a picture of him visiting a hospital quarantine into its story.
  • Also like Issachar, the group will not disembark in the main terminal in Israel, but rather in an area far away, from which they will be whisked directly to a hospital for their 14-day stay in another, likely less luxurious, quarantine.
  • The plane will reportedly return immediately to Asia and its crew will not be allowed to enter Israel while it is being prepared for the flight back.
  • On Thursday morning, families of passengers were permitted to drop off homemade food and personal items for the passengers in the quarantine area, Channel 13 television news reports.
  • Among the items left for family members, according to the report: a bottle of Corona beer.
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