Situation normal, all fudged up: 10 things to know for January 4
Israel media review

Situation normal, all fudged up: 10 things to know for January 4

It’s election season, which means the spin cycle is on overdrive, and nobody is safe from the whirring blades of politicking

Border Police clear several hundred settler youths who had crammed into a pair of illegally placed mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)
Border Police clear several hundred settler youths who had crammed into a pair of illegally placed mobile homes on the Amona outpost on January 3, 2018. (Binyamin Regional Council)

1. Blot out the bad news: A violent outpost evacuation (two mobile homes and lots of bilious youth who showed up itching for a fight) quickly turned into a political battle and a possible liability for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • After taking heat from the right, reports in the Hebrew media late Thursday claimed that Netanyahu had tried to stop the evacuation, but his military secretary Avi Blot didn’t get the message out in time to the troops sent in to clear the place.
  • According to the report, the troops, who are apparently lemmings, were already on their way to the outpost, and thus could not turn back from their mission.
  • The reports give no indication of why the troops could not simply turn around, or under what pretense Netanyahu suddenly changed his mind, and thus not everybody is buying the story.
  • “Netanyahu sent his staff to brief reporters that he actually cares about us, and if that meant throwing his military secretary under the bus, then so be it,” an official from the Binyamin Regional Council tells ToI, fuming over the decision and accusing Netanyahu of inventing the story to endear him to settler voters.
  • Kan military reporter Roy Sharon notes on Twitter that “there’s no such thing as too late to stop an evacuation. This is a total bluff. I myself have been there during several evacuations of more than two mobile homes, which were called off when the forces were already inside the outpost.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth notes that even if Netanyahu is throwing Blot under the bus, “He’s highly regarded in the Prime Minister’s Office and any harm done to him that turns out to be unjustified could hurt Netanyahu with his base, thus it’s safe to assume Netanyahu will act with an abundance of caution.”

2. Warning signs: That wasn’t the only possible snafu. Army officials admitted Thursday that they gave the settlers advance warning about the evacuation, which allowed them to call for young Jewish extremists to make their way to the site to “defend it,” leading to clashes with police forces.

  • The fact that the settlers were given advance warning is even crazier considering that Haaretz reports that both Police Minister Gilad Erdan and Acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen say they only found out about the operation from the media.
  • A defense official who spoke with The Times of Israel acknowledged that the clashes could very well have been avoided had Central Command Chief Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan not notified the settler leaders responsible for installing the mobile homes that the army was planning on clearing the hilltop Thursday morning.

3. Wrath and Khan: Those who weren’t throwing rocks at police, were throwing them at glass houses, complaining bitterly that these two caravans were being removed while the Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar, also facing demolition for being illegally on state land, still stands.

  • Even in the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom, columnist Akiva Bigman aims rare criticism at the prime minister, who he notes has justified his decisions by citing extenuating circumstances like international outcry and so on.
  • “The ongoing saga of Khan al-Ahmar puts the idea of ‘extenuating circumstances’ to the test and creates an absurd situation that is impossible to accept,” he writes.
  • Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman went as far as going on a tour of the village, telling reporters tagging along that “Netanyahu is fake right.”
  • In Haaretz, though, Yotam Berger explains that the two are not at all the same. While Amona is built on land deemed to belong to individual Palestinians, Khan al-Ahmar is on what is called state land, and efforts are being made to retroactively legalize its status, the same as is being done for dozens of outposts built without necessary permits.

4. Get Avichai: The spin machine also means that attacks on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit are taking on a Rashomon quality, meaning different things to different people.

  • While many think the attacks on Mandelblit are coming from supporters of Netanyahu who want to scare him away from announcing an indictment, Netanyahu claimed Thursday that the attorney general is actually under massive pressure from those on the other side trying to cow him into pressing criminal charges.
  • Netanyahu claimed that unless Mandelblit can hold a hearing for him and announce a final decision before the elections, he should probably just keep his mouth shut. The current thinking is that Mandelblit will announce an intention to indict in February, but a possible hearing can take six months to schedule, making it impossible to happen before the elections.
  • “This means Israelis will go to the polls having seen the draft indictment as the attorney general wrote it, but not the draft defense,” Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes, coming to Netanyahu’s defense.
  • Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu’s claims were roundly condemned by everyone not in his camp, with several making comparisons to him speaking like a criminal throwing out subtle threats.
  • Mandelblit, for his part, tells Channel 10 news that he won’t commit to a timeline, but all the hubbub isn’t affecting him or his team: “All this ambient noise is just irrelevant. I’ve said for a long time… people can’t disturb our work, they won’t change anything, they can’t change anything. We’re working professionally — only the evidence will have a say.”

5. Who’s the battered wife here? Labor leader Avi Gabbay is continuing to take heat for his ousting of Tzipi Livni, with some going so far as to claim that Labor will fall out of the Knesset altogether.

  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter comes to his defense, though, writing that in his relationship with Livni, he was the battered wife: “From the moment Livni was appointed leader of the opposition, last August, he was like nothing to her. There’s no other way to interpret her frenetic efforts to forge ‘hookups’ than as an insistent bid to remove him as leader of Labor. He took it and took it until he had enough.”
  • In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon writes that Livni is still hoping to get together with others, even Gabbay, to form a bloc that she claims could get up to 30 seats, even before they pick who will lead them: “She’s hoping what happened will lead to upheaval, will create a new dynamic between the parties. But the way it looks now, the chances of parties joining up is not big.”

6. Swearing in: The US is past elections, with a new Congress being sworn in on Thursday, including the first female Palestinian congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib.

  • Tlaib is no fan of Israel — supporting a one-state solution that essentially ends Israel as a Jewish state — and one reporter in her office notes that someone wasted no time in erasing Israel off a map hanging in there.
  • While Tlaib’s son Adam made a name for himself by doing a dance while voting for Nancy Pelosi to be House speaker, she also got some attention for being less than kid-friendly, shouting, “We’re gonna go in and impeach the motherfucker [Trump],” at an event, at least according to accounts in Russian propaganda and right-wing news sites.

7. Counting Jews: Tlaib is part of what is being called the most diverse Congress to date, and one picture from CNN illustrates it better than any statistic could.

  • As JTA’s Ben Sales notes, though, it’s not the Jewiest (that goes to a 1993 Congress), but it does overrepresent the Jewish population by a factor of three.

8. But is it good for Israel: The new Congress may also be less Israel-friendly than past ones, and Haaretz reports it may work to offset the Trump administration’s clear pro-Israel slant.

  • However, most agree that support for Israel, especially on security matters, will remain strong as ever.
  • “Overall, there will be issues on which the new Democratic majority will be critical of Israel, such as settlements and the peace process. But when it comes to Israel’s security, there will be substantial support for Israel,” a Dem staffer tells the paper.

9. Sissy Sissi: CBS is pushing ahead with its airing of an interview with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in which he confirms that Egypt and Israel are working together to fight jihadists in the Sinai.

  • CBS does not say why Egypt demanded the interview not be shown, but it also includes segments of Sissi being pushed hard for his country’s human rights violations and jailings of journalists and others critical of his regime.

10. The other Canadian caper: Do read this article from the Canadian Jewish News about how Canada’s national junior hockey team smuggled Jewish prayer books and shawls to Soviet Jews in 1983.

  • Among those who participated in the caper were future stars Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and Dave Andreychuk.
  • “I saw there were three or four people sharing a siddur,” says Sherwood Bassin, who organized the power play, about lugging his “hockey goods” to a St. Petersburg synagogue.
  • Let’s see Gritty do that.
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