Straight outta Balfour Street
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Hebrew media review

Straight outta Balfour Street

Scandal-hounded Netanyahu is seen by some papers as orchestrating a concerted campaign to counter the police chief's claim of illegal harassment of investigators

Israeli Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli Chief of Police Roni Alsheich seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony held in Alsheich's honour, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone through a number of really rough spots over the last few years, marked by corruption allegations and other embarrassing scandals. With a claim that somebody is trying to dig up dirt on those investigating him dominating the press Friday morning, the weekend looks set to be among the worst of them.

Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz both have the fallout from police chief Roni Alsheich on their front page, saying someone of influence had been trying to collect dirt on the people investigating Netanyahu — in Haaretz’s case, alongside an investigative report on yet another possible graft probe.

Even Netanyahu-backed Israel Hayom can’t ignore the story, putting it on the front page (alongside an interview that editor Boaz Bismuth conducted with Donald Trump, which the reader clearly knows because of the front page photo of Boaz Bismuth standing next to Donald Trump before, or maybe after, Boaz Bismuth interviewed Donald Trump), and devoting its first few pages to the story, though in the tabloid’s case, the ink that’s spilled goes to proving just how wrongheaded Alsheich is.

Not so in Yedioth, which gives little space to the idea that Alsheich was lying, as Netanyahu all but claimed. Instead the paper reports that only a few hours after Alsheich dropped his bomb, “disturbing new details are coming to light about the secret identity of those private investigators, and on the police officers in their sights,” referring to the scant details that have been published about some “European close to Netanyahu” who is apparently funding this effort.

Unsurprisingly, the pundits are having none of it.

“If the claims are correct, these are suspicions of serious crimes. This is how a mafia operates,” Ben-Dror Yemini, usually viewed as a conservative voice, writes ominously in Yedioth.

Haaretz leads off its coverage with Netanyahu associates going after Alsheich hard, including accusing him of trying to engineer a coup.

In the same paper, columnist Yossi Verter also compares the prime minister to a Tony Soprano type figure for the attacks on Alsheich. “The whole semi-mafioso campaign was led by the prime minister. His contractors and henchmen? Likud MKs David Bitan and David Amsalem, who bring up bills that smack of criminality, together with the pals of his son Yair, who manage new media for Bibi,” he writes. “We’ve seen confrontations in the past between politicians, on the one hand, and police chiefs and investigators on the other. But an orchestrated campaign like this one, rife with vilification, mudslinging and a concentrated effort to delegitimize the Israel Police, is unprecedented.”

For a closer look at the attacks on Alsheich, one need search no further than Israel Hayom, which doesn’t so much report on it as engage in it. The paper has a front page headline supposedly quoting former police chiefs who say “Alsheich is mistaken — big time.”

Unfortunately, the paper’s actual story on the subject has nothing of the sort, the quote is not attributed to anybody, while a former police division head — who the paper calls a police commissioner even though he is not — is quoted mustering the damning criticism that Alsheich should order a fuller investigation into the claims. Not exactly the shellacking the paper’s front page seemed to promise.

If criticizing Alsheich is what the reader wants, though, the paper’s pundits have plenty of that on hand, including from Akiva Bigman, who says the lack of an investigation into the claims makes clear that Alsheich is a liar who has it in for Netanyahu.

“It seems that since the incident at Umm al-Hiran [in which police were embarrassed by a non-terror incident being declared terrorism by politicians], Alsheich has turned the Netanyahu probes into a personal project, upon which he speaks, leaks, briefs and presents to the public. The police does not have a commissioner. It has an official presenter for the anti-democratic putsch,” he writes.

If one reads Haaretz, though, the epicenter of anti-democratic banana republic forces is concentrated right in the lap of the prime minister, who is accused in the paper of managing a quid-pro-quo with buddy and former Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitz to bury critical coverage of him in the Walla news site. In exchange, the paper alleges, Netanyahu and Communications Ministry head Shlomo Filber put the brakes on a reform that would have hurt Bezeq’s bottom line.

“According to information received by Haaretz, evidence in the case is growing and getting stronger, including many testimonies and affidavits, some of them very detailed, from several of those involved, one of them close to the prime minister,” the paper reports, naming the scandal “Case 4000.”

Yedioth goes back to what police have dubbed “Case 1000,” running what it calls the first interview with Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan’s lawyer since his name came up as a businessman suspected of giving Netanyahu expensive gifts. Unsurprisingly, the lawyer gives the same defense Netanyahu has been giving all along, that they were just gifts, not bribes.

“In our case there is no connection between the circumstances and a prohibition against bribery,” the lawyer says. “It could fall under breach of trust, but that’s different.”

Israel Hayom interviews someone slightly more powerful, President Donald Trump, though it only teases part of the full interview, which will come out Sunday. If the few paragraphs it publishes are any indication, readers can look forward to softball answers to less-than-hardball questions.

“I think recognizing Jerusalem was the peak of my first year in office,” Trump is quoted as saying. “I understand why other presidents failed in making good on the promise, because there is intense pressure put on them not to do it. The lobbying against the move was huge.”

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