Russian a deal before Putin pen to paper: 7 things to know for January 21
Israel media review

Russian a deal before Putin pen to paper: 7 things to know for January 21

Scads of world leaders are on their way to commemorate the Holocaust, but Israel seems more concerned about other matters, from a prison break deal to bashing the ICC

A picture taken in Tel Aviv on December 12, 2019, shows a billboard bearing portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American citizen imprisoned in Russia for drug offenses. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A picture taken in Tel Aviv on December 12, 2019, shows a billboard bearing portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American citizen imprisoned in Russia for drug offenses. (Jack Guez/AFP)

1. Good prospekts: The so-called “air-train” of leaders and other dignitaries visiting Israel for the world Holocaust forum to mark the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation has begun, but it seems all eyes are on one person only, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Putin won’t arrive until Thursday, but with him holding the keys to freeing Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, reports in the Israeli press are anxiously centered on sky-high hopes for a deal.
  • Despite having been burned already for too much chatter and needlessly high hopes being dashed, reports in the press describe a deal as all but done, with only the final kinks to be worked out.
  • “The path to her freedom has been paved quickly,” reports Channel 12 news.
  • The channel claims that all that’s left to work out is the mechanism by which she will be freed, whether by pardon, or a prison transfer to Israel and then a quiet pardon.
  • “Freedom is near,” reads a headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, sounding like Martin Luther King Jr. — except for young white women who forget a dime bag in their luggage while flying back from Rishikesh.
  • The paper still seems to be holding out hope for the frankly outlandish notion that Putin will embarrass his entire judiciary and bring Issachar on the plane with him to Israel, but notes that the fact that only Foreign Minister Israel Katz and not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on the tarmac to greet him “is an indication that she won’t be on the plane.”
  • Also trying to read the tea leaves for clues is Kan, which interviews Rabbi Berel Lazar, seen as “Putin’s rabbi,” who tells the station that things are looking up. “Putin understands that this girl has a future and it’s not in Russian prison. I hope he’ll make the move before or during his visit to allow her to return to Israel.”

2. Putting Putin before the memorial: For the past several days, most reports have been accompanied by requisite comments from Israeli officials who are cautioning against putting the cart before the horse. Now though, in some cases that caution is buried by sheer unbridled excitement.

  • Or, in the case of Israel Hayom, not mentioned at all. “If Naama is freed, it will add a sweet taste to the visit, and the Russians know that,” the paper quotes Israeli officials saying. It also notes that most other important subjects will be second fiddle to the Issachar case.
  • Israel Hayom isn’t the only paper to appear to forget Putin’s actual reason for visiting: the Auschwitz memorial ceremony.
  • Yedioth’s front page headline reads “Waiting for Putin” above pictures of the Issachars, completely ignoring the real reason the Russian leader is coming.
  • Along the same gauche vein, Haaretz reports on Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion’s poorly thought out idea to have a reception and dance party for journalists visiting to cover the Holocaust memorial.
  • The paper reports that the city has since “issued a clarification that the event is intended for the press and not the official delegates, and that there won’t be a DJ. In a statement, the municipality added that the invitation was only a draft one that was leaked to the media, whereas the final version mentions no DJ nor an after-party.”
  • This journalist got two invitations mentioning a DJ a week apart, apparently both sent by accident, and another one on Monday with the DJ and after-party no longer appearing.

3. To Russia with hopes: I’m sure Putin is a nice guy, but few are under the impression he is doing this just for the kudos and a number of reports look at what Israel may be expected to give up in exchange.

  • Channel 13 news reports that a possible deal in the works may be the resolution of a planning and building dispute at Sergei’s Courtyard in Jerusalem — a Russian-owned complex serving the country’s pilgrims in the holy city that has been a bone of contention for years.
  • The channel does not say what may be on offer.
  • A number of reports have indicated that Israel will back the Russians’ narrative about culpability for the Holocaust, amid a spat with Poland over the issue.
  • “In Israel Putin will dedicate a memorial, together with Netanyahu, that will remind everyone in Jerusalem about the trauma that Leningrad residents went through while under siege by the Germans,” Army Radio’s Ilil Shahar reports.
  • She adds that Netanyahu in his speech is expected to say Israel recognizes the size of the sacrifice made by the Red Army and the residents of Leningrad, which Israel hopes will help convince Moscow to let Issachar go.

4. Pole positions and Ukraine’s refrain: It’s already clear that Israel has backed Russia over Poland in the spat.

  • Poland’s president, who is boycotting the ceremony because he was not given a chance to speak, tells Kan that as far as he is concerned, the main memorial is Monday in Poland at the site of the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz.
  • Andrzej Duda also calls Putin a liar and claims he is covering up for Stalin’s crimes by claiming that Poles had anything to do with the Holocaust. And he claims that “there are Jews who were born in Poland before World War II, who survived the Holocaust, who think Poland is owed an apology,” for Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz saying that Poles suckled at the teat of anti-Semitism.
  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is also attending, and he tells ToI editor David Horovitz that he would be attending whether or not he got to speak (in a sly putdown of Duda).
  • But like Duda, he downplays the complicity of his country’s citizens in the slaughter of Jews, pointing instead to a survey that showed low levels of anti-Semitism in his country.
  • Asked about the glorification of Nazi collaborators, which set off a mini-row between Jerusalem and Kyiv, he says, “It is a very complicated and sensitive issue. There are heroes that are honored in the west and in the center of Ukraine, and there are other Ukrainians that have their own heroes and think otherwise. And I understand the different feelings. And that’s why I’ve said several times, very clearly: When we have so complicated a history, let’s build a common history. Let’s find those people whose names do not cause controversy in our present and in our future. Let’s name the monuments and streets for those people whose names do not provoke conflict.”

5. ICC what’s happening here: The memorial is not only a chance for Israel to redeem prisoners, have an elegant party and not whitewash Polish anti-Semitism, but also to push its diplomatic case on the world stage, which is what remembering the Holocaust is all about.

  • Haaretz reports that Netanyahu will use his pulpit to inveigh against the International Criminal Court for its prosecutors’ decision to explore a war crimes case against Israel: “Netanyahu is expected to ask the leaders he will meet – chief among them U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and others – to publish official statements that will back the Israeli claim that the court in The Hague has no jurisdiction in Palestinian territories.”
  • Macron is important because a French judge is one of three who will decide on whether there is jurisdiction to pursue the case. Hungary, where another judge hails from, already announced it is against it, while Benin, the third judge’s home, has been silent and will not have a representative in Jerusalem for the memorial.
  • Netanyahu is seemingly not waiting for the rigmarole to kick off, giving an interview to Christian network TBN in which he appears to call for viewers to “rise up” against the ICC.
  • “The US government, under President [Donald] Trump has spoken forcefully against the ICC for this travesty, and I urge all your viewers to do the same — to ask for concrete actions, sanctions against the international court, its officials, its prosecutors, everyone,” he says.

6. Remembrance ramps up: There will of course be some official remembrance of the liberation from Auschwitz, and the press is awash in stories, testimonies and other features tied to the anniversary.

  • In Reuters, Rinat Harash writes about how facial recognition technology can help survivors find out what happened to their loved ones in the Holocaust, but is off to a slow start: “So far, Shem Olam [which is running the project] has received thousands of photos from the public but only several matches were made after further research and none was conclusive.”
  • And in another reminder that the past could also be the future, Israel Hayom reports on a survey from AJC that finds most French people believe anti-Semitism to be a problem, while less than half think the French government can tackle it.
  • “The time has come for countries which have seen a rise in anti-Semitism, including France, to take decisive action,” an AJC official is quoted telling the paper.
  • In ToI, Steven Zipperstein writes about a previously unknown telegram sent to the UK’s Neville Chamberlain by Polish Jews begging for sanctuary in Palestine from the Nazi killing machine.
  • “In the darkest and most tragic hours of history and life of Jewry three and a half million Jews in Poland appeal to His Majesty’s Government the authority which has undertaken responsibility to create a seat in Palestine for the Jewish people to consider both the confidence which the Jewish people have placed in England and the most sacred hopes of Jewry and not to apply a policy in Palestine which throws the Jewish masses into an abyss of despair,” read the telegram from March 17, 1939.
  • Exactly two months later, Chamberlain published the infamous White Paper limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine and dooming large chunks of European Jews who might have otherwise escaped.

7. Mistook river? Also apparently previously unknown is the existence of a new river in Israel. Yes, a river.

  • Kan news reports that there is a large river running through a canyon next to the Dead Sea that nobody knew about for years.
  • The site, which it calls a “mini-Grand Canyon,” was underwater before the 1970s, and is today still being formed with sinkholes all around, not to mention the landmines, making a journey there treacherous, though as this video shows, the payoff is pretty nice.

  • But is this really new, or more like Columbus “discovering” an already populated New World.
  • The river and canyon are clearly visible on Google Maps and other satellite pictures, meaning it was not totally hidden.
  • Yedioth writes that Kan’s claims “don’t hold water,” and experts say they have been studying it since the 1980s.
  • “Studies have been published in many academic journals and presented at professional and public conferences in Israel and around the world.”
  • In another takedown in Haaretz, Moshe Gilad writes that it’s not even a river, but something closer to a swale for runoff from the Dead Sea Works plant nearby.
  • “The Works pumps 600 million cubic liters of water to the southern pools and returns about half of it to the northern section. What you see is water being pumped from the southern part to the northern section. This is a known and reported thing. Not secret, not hidden,” he quotes expert Nadav Lansky, who has been studying the phenomenon saying.
  • Lansky does admit that the area is impressive, and shows the importance of the Dead Sea geosphere on a global scale.
  • Kan, though, claims that the river is independent of the Dead Sea Works, though it’s within its land concession, and that the factory is trying to downplay its significance to hide the damage it’s doing to a system “that is the only one like it in the world,” according to the outlet.
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