Sorry, not sorry: 7 things to know for August 13
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Israel media review

Sorry, not sorry: 7 things to know for August 13

It’s mid-August, and with apparently little real news to cover, Israeli media is all in on Netanyahu’s almost-firing of a minister who sniped at him

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Bezalel Smotrich sitting casually in the Knesset, on April 12, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Bezalel Smotrich sitting casually in the Knesset, on April 12, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Kiss and fake up: Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich has apologized for calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “weak” and saying he showed “zero leadership,” mercifully putting an end to a saga that has dominated the news cycle for two days too long.

  • Speaking at a campaign launch event for his United Right alliance (that is now calling itself Yamina), the No. 3 candidate — who has become the de facto face of the party — praises Netanyahu’s record as prime minister and dubs him “the leader of the right.”
  • Following Smotrich’s apology, Likud releases a statement saying Netanyahu told the minister during their meeting earlier in the day that if he did not immediately apologize, he would be fired. Smotrich was appointed transportation minister just two months ago in Netanyahu’s caretaker government.
  • Fuming over the “storm” that quickly faded, Haaretz’s political reporter Chaim Levinson tweets, “A fake incident from start to finish. A classic example of the disease of excessive news coverage in politics that overly focuses on gossip that has nothing to do with the lives of citizens.”
  • On Haaretz’s front page, Levinson’s colleague Yossi Verter argues that the affair demonstrated Netanyahu’s toothlessness given his legal situation. If he is unable to fire a minister who so rudely addressed him during a transitional government that cannot actually fall, imagine how enfeebled he’ll be at standing up to Smotrich in a coalition of 61 MKs.
  • Verter also points out the headache that Netanyahu’s transitional government appointments have caused him — from Smotrich’s hankering for a halachic state to Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s (brief) support for gay conversion therapy to Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s assertion that not every High Court of Justice ruling needs to be heeded.

2. What were we arguing about again? While most of the coverage focused on the tiff between ministers, the Haredi press has not forgotten the issue that started the kerfuffle — a Nazareth District Court decision barring the city of Afula from holding a gender-segregated public concert for its ultra-Orthodox residents.

  • The Yated Ne’eman daily affiliated with the United Torah Judaism party publishes a cartoon showing a judge holding the court’s ruling while riding a bulldozer as it crashes through a synagogue full of Haredi worshipers. Luckily the woman are all sitting in the back thanks to the gender divider and appear to be missing most of the rubble as it crashes down on the men.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth dispatches a reporter to a gender-segregated concert in Lod where the Modern Orthodox singer Ishay Ribo performed in front of hundreds who appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the music in a more “modest” setting.
  • “The only thing that bothers me is that I can’t see Ishay Ribo from a good angle,” one reveler tells the Yedioth reporter in the woman’s section, located in the back part of the concert grounds. “I came to see a performance and it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s standing with the boys or separately… I came to hear the singer and not rub up against boys.”

3. I’ve got your back:  New State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has changed the makeup of the permits committee that is tasked, among other things, with deciding whether tycoons can finance Netanyahu’s legal defense. Channel 12 reports that a majority of the new members of the committee are either Likud activists or have made statements supporting the premier in light of the corruption allegations made against him.

  • Israel Democracy Institute legal expert Mordechai Kremnitzer writes in Haaretz that it’s critical that the new members “have no connection to politics, political parties or politicians. Otherwise, the people whose job is preventing conflicts of interest could themselves have conflicts of interests.”
  • Smotrich rushes to Englman’s defense, tweeting, “The left’s selective defense of the gatekeepers is just amazing. There are no words. I stand with the state comptroller who is finally making order in the permits committee and quietly and resolutely returning it to its original role as helping to streamline the system rather than to persecute public officials.”

4. Lots of baggage: The delays of dozens of flights at Ben Gurion Airport due to a malfunction of the baggage handling system receives a hefty amount of coverage from the few reporters that still remain in the country at the peak of vacation season.

  • The Civil Aviation Authority said the fault at Ben Gurion was being taken care of, as frustrated passengers stood in long lines and saw their suitcases pile up in the departures hall without being sent to the planes.
  • Yedioth interviews families waiting for their flights, asking them how they were handling the possibility of arriving at their final destinations without their luggage.
  • The Kan public broadcaster issues a short video, which appears to troll passengers for bringing so much with them in the first place. “People, what do you need 50 pounds of stuff for — in addition to the eight pounds you have with you in your carry on?” the presenter asks. Before giving viewers an opportunity to explain, she points out that the heavy baggage Israelis are checking leads to further increases in greenhouse gas emission from the extra fuel required to lug the suitcases to their final destination.

5. Give us your poor, your tired and your Jewish: A Filipino migrant worker and her Israel-born teenage son have been forcibly deported from Israel after successive court appeals failed.

  • Rosemary Peretz came to the country in 2000 to work as a caregiver, but seven years later, her employer died and she remained in Israel illegally, most recently working as a cleaner. Her son Rohan is 13.
  • A social worker who prepared a report on the boy’s case tells Ynet that “his removal to the Philippines at this critical stage of his development and his removal from his familiar environment will likely cause irreversible damage and a severe behavioral response.”
  • Regulations stipulate that female foreign workers who become pregnant must send their babies home, as a condition for their visas’ renewal. But many fail to do so and stay in the country illegally doing menial jobs, to give their children a better life than they would get in their home country.

6. Maybe BDS isn’t so bad after all? ToI’s Raphael Ahren reports that a group of 21 right-wing MKs, including two deputy ministers, sent a letter to four US lawmakers warning that calls for a two-state solution are “far more dangerous to Israel” than efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

  • The letter comes on the heels of a resolution passed with an overwhelming majority in the US House of Representatives that rejects the BDS movement but also explicitly calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
  • The American Jewish Committee, a longtime establishment group in the States, is having nothing of the initiative, tweeting, “The search for an enduring 2-state solution is aimed at bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace & securing Israel’s Jewish & democratic future. BDS is a hateful movement led by bigots who’d like to see Israel disappear. Comparing the two is wrongheaded.”
  • Israel Policy Forum’s Abe Silberstein quips on Twitter, “a little kernel of truth is revealed here: the Israeli right is much more afraid of a concerted American efforts toward a two-state solution than they are of the BDS movement, which is a boogeyman.”
  • Breitbart columnist and former New Right candidate Caroline Glick scoffs, “Congress’s recent anti-BDS resolution was a net loss for Israel b/c it endorsed the anti-Israel ‘2-state solution’. This is how AIPAC pretends squad embracing Dems are still pro-Israel. Israeli pols are fed up with this nonsense. Enough is enough.”

7. Protecting those who don’t protect me: Ethiopian-Israeli Fkadu Kfalleh blogs in The Times of Israel about how toward the end of high school, he set his sights on enlisting in a combat unit, only to see that desire wilt in light of the regular racism he endured and saw others fall victim to.

  • “I didn’t know what racism was until fourth grade, when I pressed an elevator button, and a 3-year-old told her dad that ‘the niggers’ had already pressed it.”
  • “In ninth grade, I went to the supermarket with my mom. She asked me to fetch a pan, which was displayed outside. As I left the building, the security guard ordered me to pull up my shirt to prove I hadn’t stolen anything. It was in front of quite a crowd and was totally humiliating.”
  • Referring to the police shooting of the unarmed Solomon Tekah last month as his “breaking point,” Kfalleh concludes, “this is my country, and I love it very much. But I now am wondering why I should serve in a combat role to protect Israeli citizens, when they don’t protect me.”
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