Hebrew media review

Rule of law, or rule of one?

The Hebrew-language papers debate how the so-called police protection bill may impact society, and whether the legislation is gnawing at the state’s democratic foundations

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony opening the new Route 31 in Arad on November 23, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony opening the new Route 31 in Arad on November 23, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The three leading Hebrew-language newspapers are often split in the way they view the major perils facing the country, and the divide often shifts the focus of the dailies’ columnists in different directions.

This week they have struggled to determine if the state is threatened more by the violence and hostility displayed by its enemies, or by internal political corruption and blows to the rule of law. The coverage and focus of the major Hebrew papers over the weekend can teach much about how each daily proposes to answer the question.

Both Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz lead with new developments in the investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Columnists in both papers tie in criticisms of the Israeli leader with condemnations of government ministers for their willingness to advance the so-called police recommendations bill, which would bar police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment and from publicizing information or leaking conclusions to the media.

The bill, proposed by Likud MK David Amsalem, has widely been viewed as an attempt by lawmakers to shield Netanyahu. It should be noted, however, that the provision about not informing prosecutors about their conclusions would not apply to the two ongoing corruption probes involving the prime minister.

“The problem isn’t Netanyahu,” writes Yedioth contributor Nahum Barnea. “The problem is the 119 other Knesset members.” Barnea paints a doomsday scenario, claiming that should the bill pass, the country would be pushed towards becoming a “banana republic” which favors the interests of the prime minister over upholding the rule of law. “In the political science departments, students will [one day] write of the implications of the day [on which the bill is passed],” Barnea continues. “They will compare Israel to other countries going through similar processes — Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Trump’s America.”

Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch takes the criticisms a step further, warning that the bill actually puts the state of Israel in danger. “I would like to share with you the grave concern that I feel these days for the continued existence of Israeli democracy, to the status of the law and the rule of law, and for the structure of government that has been established here,” Beinisch writes in Yedioth. “Some of the new bills are meant to solve a personal problem instead of reflecting the public interest,” she adds.

Meanwhile, in Haaretz, analyst Yossi Verter accuses Knesset members of becoming “personality-less ignoramuses” when facing the prime minister’s demands — whether on paper or only implied. “Coalition members ended up voting in favor [of the first reading of the bill], and many of them had to take a virtual nausea pill,” Verter writes. “In the past days, [Jewish Home’s] Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Uri Ariel, [Kulanu’s] Moshe Kahlon and others came out against the bill, in order to wash themselves of the filth. Voting and weeping, backing [the bill] and rejecting it [at the same time].”

In Israel Hayom, neither the Netanyahu probes nor the police recommendation bill saga is to be found anywhere near the first dozen pages. Instead, the pro-Netanyahu freebie focuses on the outburst of violence against Israelis by Palestinian attackers, including the stabbing to death of an IDF soldier in Arad, and an assault on a group of Israeli settlers, mostly children, in the West Bank, in which an armed parent escort fired into the crowd of stone-throwing Palestinians, killing one person.

“Because of the use of weapons, no Israelis were killed,” Israel Hayom contributor Nadav Shragai writes, referring to the West Bank clashes. The rest of the piece, however, only touches lightly on the subject of bearing arms. Shragai instead focuses on his observation that while stone-throwing attacks on Israelis beyond the Green Line are quite common, they are only reported when someone — Palestinian or Israeli — is killed.

“Thousands of other cases of rocks hurled at Jews take place every year, but almost no one counts them,” he writes. “This statistic may teach us about the widespread nature of the phenomenon, but it does not account for the moments of terror, the shock victims, and the changes in the behavior of Jews [in areas susceptible to attacks]. Neither does it account for the number of miracles, like the one that occurred yesterday for the Jewish children near the [West Bank] village of Qusra, an incident which could have ended much worse.”

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