Shooting for a narrative: 7 things to know for May 17
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Shooting for a narrative: 7 things to know for May 17

As Hamas appears to pull back, Israel goes on the PR offensive and does the tango with Turkey – even if Netanyahu can’t do the chicken dance

Iranians take part in an anti-US demonstration inside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 16, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
Iranians take part in an anti-US demonstration inside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 16, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

1. Two things regarding Monday’s bloody demonstrations seemed to become a bit clearer on Wednesday evening: the role Egypt played in holding Hamas back, and what appears to be Hamas’s dominant role in the most violent demonstrations.

  • While Egypt has stayed mum on the issue, Israeli officials have been insisting for over a day that not only did Cairo convince Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to retreat, but it also told him that Israel may start carrying out assassinations and it, Cairo, would not protect him.
  • Hamas confirmed the Egyptian role Wednesday night, though Hamas in Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said only that the group agreed with Cairo about the need to keep the demonstrations from descending into all-out war, according to a translation of his comments broadcast on Israel’s Channel 10 news.
  • In televised remarks, Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also alluded to the contacts, saying that “Egypt has been in contact with the Palestinian and Israeli sides to help end the bloodshed, has kept its border crossing with Gaza open and has been providing ambulances and medicine to the Palestinians in an effort to ‘alleviate the impact of the situation in the [Gaza] Strip,’” according to Egyptian news site al-Ahram. “‘We cannot do more than this,’ the president said, adding that his country only makes statements that help resolve the situation, not complicate matters.”

2. Haaretz reports that Qatar played a role in mediating with Hamas, and that thanks to the efforts, demonstrations on Friday — which had been expected to ramp back up again, will likely be low key.

  • This being the Middle East, having Egypt and Qatar get together to talk to Hamas is too simple, and according to Israel Hayom, Doha’s involvement led to problems with Saudi Arabia, which had been supporting the Egyptian effort.
  • An Egyptian intel source tells the Israel Hayom daily that Qatar actually had no role, after Riyadh complained: “The Saudis … sharply opposed being seen as cooperating with Doha and even said any official involvement of Qatar would lead them to pull support and backing for pressure being put on Hamas.”
  • The source claims that Qatar is too close to Iran and didn’t want to intervene, but the tiny Gulf nation’s closeness to the US means that it is not any ordinary Iranian client state, as was made clear with a visit by US envoy Jason Greenblatt there Wednesday to discuss Gaza.

3. What seemed like an offhand comment by Hamas official Salah Bardawil Wednesday, that 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in protests Monday and Tuesday were members of Hamas, became widely shared by Israel backers as proof that the demonstrations were mobilized by Hamas as a cover for violent attacks.

  • The statement was mentioned by a number of Israeli politicians and others on social media. Yedioth Ahronoth calls it part of the “PR battle” currently raging between Israel and Hamas after the bloody nose the Jewish state got on Monday.
  • At least one person who had criticized Israel — British MP Nick Boles — said the information made him rethink his criticism.
  • Others have pointed out, though, that being a member of Hamas, even if it is a terror group, does not necessarily make one a terrorist, and should not be seen as instant justification for killing that person.
  • As the Associated Press notes: Bardawil did not elaborate on the nature of their membership in the group and his claim could not be independently verified. It was unclear if the protesters he was referring to were militants or civilian supporters of the Islamic group, which rules Gaza and opposes Israel’s existence.
  • There’s also the question of whether Bardawil was speaking from experience, or pulling a number out of his tuches to help boost Hamas to a domestic Gazan audience.
  • AFP reports Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum did not confirm all 50 were members of the Islamist movement. He said Hamas paid for the funerals for all 50 “whether they are members or supporters of Hamas, or unrelated to the factions.”

4. Haaretz’s Uri Blau says even the IDF is admitting it lost the PR war to Hamas, with army spokesman Jonathan Conricus telling North American Jews in a briefing that “we haven’t been able to get that message out of how it is from our side, what we are defending – and the ‘winning picture’ overwhelmingly, by a knockout, unfortunately, have been the graphics from the Palestinian side. The amount of casualties has done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story.”

  • The army and Israel supporters are still trying to get their side of the story out, though, as in this Times of Israel blog written by reserves soldier Kinley Tur-Paz, who was stationed at the border Friday and saw the mess go down.
  • “I want to testify that what I saw and heard was a tremendous, supreme effort from our side to prevent, in every possible way, Palestinian deaths and injuries,” he writes.
  • “A situation where thousands of people rush you is frightening, even terrifying. It is extremely difficult to show restraint, and it requires calm, mature professionalism. Sixty-two dead is an enormous number. But I can testify from my first-hand experience, that every bullet and every hit is carefully reported, documented and investigated, in Excel spreadsheets. Literally. I was there and I saw it with my own eyes.”

4. Fallout is also continuing from the diplomatic spat between Israel and Turkey, ahead of a planned massive protest at Istanbul’s Taksim Square against Israel.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth has new details from the security check that booted Israeli ambassador Eitan Na’eh was subjected to, noting that Na’eh had opposed not so much the check as being forced to do it in front of Turkish cameras.
  • “They humiliated not just me, but the State of Israel and this came from above,” the paper reports Na’eh saying in “closed conversations. (He was forbidden by Israel from giving interviews.)
  • Na’eh says he thought the check was legitimate, but asked to do it on the side or for the journalists to be removed, but was told by officials they could not do that, which will strike anyone familiar with Turkey’s atrocious record on press freedoms as ironic at best.
  • The Turkish foreign ministry tells Haaretz that the journalists were not given special permits to enter the security check area of the airport. Israeli officials, though, tell the paper the journalists could not have gotten in without it.
  • Some pointed out that Na’eh was forced to be humiliated in the same way that Israel humiliates visitors with security checks, especially non-Jews and those with pro-Palestinian sympathy. Na’eh himself was one of the people doing security checks at Ben-Gurion airport in a past life.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Eldad Beck writes that Israeli officials at one time held out hope of waiting until Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped off the stage to resume healthy ties, but things may have now passed the point of no return.
  • “If and when a political alternative comes to power, it will not be able to simply erase Erdogan’s poisonous breaths. On the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that it will maintain its hostile attitude toward Israel and the Jews in order to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the people.”

5. Trade is apparently continuing between the countries, though, including an electronic device that’s being made in Israel, shipped to Turkey and then sold to Iran, according to a report in Yedioth.

  • The paper reports that the UN is probing whether Israeli firm Celem Power Capacitors is involved in breaking sanctions on Iran. The company says it was shocked to hear of the investigation and that it was deceived by the Turkish buyers.
  • The paper also talks to Israeli travelers heading to Turkey, with jitters high over being identified as Israelis, especially after a Hadashot news crew was attacked in Istanbul Wednesday.
  • One woman tells the paper that she won’t leave the airport during her long connection, and a businessman says he tries to stay in his hotel as much as possible during any visit there since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
  • “In meetings, we talk money and people are very nice and friendly toward Israelis. It seems deals and money solve everything,” he says.

6. The bigger scandal in Israel at the moment, though, is one that erupted Wednesday night after sketch comedy show “Eretz Nehederet” made fun of minister Naftali Bennett by having a character play him wear two sets of phylacteries, or tefillin, on his head to mimic singer Netta Barzilai’s twin bobs.

  • Interior minister Aryeh Deri said the display would be considered anti-Semitic in any other country, and chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau has called on the producers to apologize.
  • Bennett himself wrote on Facebook: Laugh at me all you want, but on tefillin and the holiness of Israel — no.”

עליי תצחקו כמה שתרצו. אבל על תפילין וקודשי ישראל-לא. אני גאה להיות בין מנשקי המזוזות ומניחי התפילין. אני יהודי גאה. ????????

Posted by ‎נפתלי בנט – Naftali Bennett‎ on Wednesday, 16 May 2018

  • Yedioth reports that Bennett did not want to get involved but thought the skit was “unnecessary.”
  • The show’s producers tell the paper in a statement that they did not mean to offend anybody.

7. Personally, though, I think Israelis should be more offended by their prime minister’s inability to do the chicken dance, the one dance even old white men should be able to do.

  • Perhaps this guy can be brought in to give him some pointersץ

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