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Hebrew media review

Rich uncles, poor Bibi

Who’s the sad sack now? Just as Olmert is getting his groove back, Netanyahu is seen in deepening trouble with prosecutors, friends and wealthy US Jews

American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the  cornerstone laying ceremony for the new Medicine Faculty buildings at the Ariel University in the West Bank, on June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)
American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the cornerstone laying ceremony for the new Medicine Faculty buildings at the Ariel University in the West Bank, on June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

A novelist couldn’t have written it better (and would have been derided as a hack if he tried). While one dirty former prime minister packs his bags and readies to leave prison, the cigar chomping, jet-setting prime minister who took his place could, if you believe one of Israel’s Hebrew dailies, conceivably be heading in the opposite direction.

No newspaper on Friday make a connection as direct as that (with good reason, the cases are not linked), but that’s the impression one might come away with looking at the top stories in Israel’s major dailies.

Yedioth Ahronoth plays up the decision to release Ehud Olmert from prison early and does little to hide its support for the former premier, with a “Freed” headline and describing him as a sad sack “so bent and so insecure” before the decision was read out.

Once it became official, when the prosecution decided not to appeal the decision, “Olmert — who got the news by public telephone — called out in joy and yelled out to his friends in the wing “I’m going home,” the paper reports.

As for that decision, Yedioth notes that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan was influenced by criticism of his conduct in the decision to probe Olmert for allegedly leaking classified info in his memoir transcript.

“Nitzan was badly hurt by the criticism of his handling of the affair, including raiding the publisher, and he feared that it would look like he had it out for Olmert,” the paper quotes a source saying.

In Israel Hayom, columnist Aviad Hacohen agrees that rejecting parole would have looked like justice officials are chasing Olmert, but laments the fact that Olmert is being let go without ever admitting any wrongdoing, even though by law, they can’t reject parole for that reason.

“Olmert‘s refusal to admit to the severe wrongdoings he was convicted for is maddening. It is a continuation of his blatant and open opposition to the judicial decisions in his case. However, this consideration alone, which is not expressly mentioned in the law, should not cast a shadow over all the arguments supporting early release, including Olmert’s great contributions to the state during his tenure in public life, which would tip the scales,” he writes.

Haaretz leads off with a report that evidence is building against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two of the cases he is involved in, which kind of feels like deja vu, since it at least feels like they and others have run the headline a dozen times. The paper reports that investigators have made headway in looking into the possibility Netanyahu tried to advance the business interests of Arnon Milchan and have been bolstered by testimony from Netanyahu backer Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam.

“Evidence in the two criminal investigations into Netanyahu has strengthened in recent weeks, and the probe has moved to the next level,” the paper reports, noting that investigators hope to finish their probe and decide how to move forward in a few weeks.

Like a CIA analyst looking at pictures of Soviet military parades to get a picture of the power structure in the Kremlin, Nahum Barnea in Yedioth takes a deep dive into a recent event inaugurating a medical school at Ariel University, seeing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman positioned as a wall between the Netanyahus and the Adelsons and concluding that the sides are no longer hot to trotsky.

“When Netanyahu got up to speak, he let fly with praise in English and Hebrew for ‘the Adelsons, our dear friends, dear people,’” Barnea writes, inexpertly paraphrasing Netanyahu. “Adelson was not impressed. When he got up to speak, he did not start, as is the custom, by mentioning the prime minister, ministers, Knesset members. ‘Who put me on after two politicians,’ he complained and immediately moved on to the great day when he met his wife. Not a word about Bibi, not a word about Sara. These are new times.”

Despite whatever anger Adelson may have toward the prime minister, old habits are hard to break and in many ways his Israel Hayom newspaper still acts as his mouthpiece, which on Friday means passing up juicier news and leading with a ho-hum exclusive on a faceless nameless man — dubbed only M. — picked as Netanyahu’s next national security adviser, plucked like so many others from the ranks of the Shin Bet.

The paper also runs — along with Yedioth and Haaretz — a large ad in English and Hebrew expressing displeasure with the government over the Western Wall and conversion bill decisions, signed by a who’s who of major donors to Israel (Haim Saban, Charles Bronfman, and yes, ToI co-owner Seth Klarman, among many others, though not Adelson).

It’s not clear if any of these donors will actually turn off the spigot but Yedioth continues attempting to put a figure on how much the government decision could cost Israel if our “rich uncles” put away their checkbooks. The paper estimates that a 1 percent drop in Diaspora funding to Israeli NGOs could lead to 1,800 people losing their jobs, and the state could lose NIS 6 million in taxes if rich foreign Jews stop snapping up 1 percent of vacation homes in Israel.

In Haaretz, columnist Yossi Verter also tackles what the government decisions could do to ties with US Jewry, excoriating Netanyahu for lack of leadership and adding more warnings to the litany that have already issued forth like biblical floodwaters.

“In addition to delivering a resounding slap in the face to American Jewry, the Israeli government also spat in its face. Both backpedaling on an agreed-upon compromise at the Wall that was approved a year and a half ago and got stuck, and advancing a draconian conversion bill. This creates a break of historic proportions,” he writes. “A true tsunami. ‘We didn’t lose the Reform Jews,” one minister noted, “we lost the next F-35. And we didn’t just lose money, we lost our strategic arm in the United States. It’s important to understand: This is not just a crisis with American Jewry, it’s a crisis with the United States of America.’”

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