Israel media review

Sub-prize! 8 things to know for March 24

Netanyahu’s unexpected interview to Channel 12 news provides plenty of headlines, especially over his double-secret decision to okay a submarine sale to Egypt

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of his Likud party's election campaign in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of his Likud party's election campaign in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

1. Sub talk: It took four years and apparently came without much warning, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally offered a major news outlet a one-on-one interview.

  • For a contentious 35 minutes, the prime minister sparred with hosts Keren Marciano and Amit Segal on everything from the submarine affair to how much he hates the media. The interview was apparently a last minute thing for Netanyahu, who stopped at the studio Saturday night as he made his way to the airport to fly to the US.
  • On his business dealings with Seadrift Coke and whether it relates to Israel’s purchase of submarines from Thysennkrupp: “I sold every share I had 1.5 years before the first submarine was bought. The charge that I made money from the submarines is a straight-out lie, I didn’t make a single shekel from the submarines because I didn’t invest a single shekel.”
  • On his secret approval of Egypt buying submarines from Germany: “Whoever needed to know, knew … in the State of Israel, there are secrets that only the prime minister and a handful of others know.”
  • On plans to pass a law to give him immunity from prosecution: “I haven’t got involved with this… and I don’t believe I will get involved with this.”
  • On his political opponents: “They are issuing a blood libel against me.”
  • On the allegations against him: “Most have fallen apart and the rest will [also fall apart] soon. It’s poppycock.”

2. Spilled blood: Netanyahu also addresses a Likud TV clip that made fun of the appearance of journalist Amnon Abramovitch, whose face is scarred from burns he suffered during the Yom Kippur War.

  • “Sometimes [people] do stupid things in campaigns. [They] did something stupid and are sorry for it,” he says, but doesn’t apologize.
  • He adds that he was busy with state affairs but had it removed once he found out about it.
  • He also uses the occasion to attack the media for “hypocrisy.”
  • “What you’re doing here every evening is satire … you’re spilling my blood.”

3. What are you saying? Blue and White leader Benny Gantz responds to the interview with a video of his own, addressing Netanyahu like he is a mental patient — mostly regarding his refusal to tell anyone about his double-secret reason for approving the Egyptian submarine purchase.

  • “Bibi, what’s going on? Are you listening to yourself? Do you hear the words you are saying,” he asks, in a poor-quality video.
  • As an aside, from the look of the shelves in the background, it appears that Gantz recorded the interview while in an office or side room of a synagogue in the US, probably in the DC area, which he is visiting to speak at AIPAC. And he did it while it was still Shabbat in America.
  • While he is not religious, there is a tradition of Israeli public figures, especially prime ministers, not making a show of breaking Shabbat in public while on trips abroad.

4. No good answers: Netanyahu’s media appearance was rare enough (four years, did I mention) that it makes the front pages of all of Israel’s major print dailies.

  • Many of those headlines revolve around him admitting that he okayed the Egypt deal, even in Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom — though unlike the others its front page headline is his defense that the Egyptians would have bought the submarines in any case.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes that by citing “security,” Netanyahu was able to shield himself from giving serious answers to important questions about it.
  • “His answer, that the attorney general looked into it, isn’t serious. The AG checks legal issues. The real question, why he approved something while compartmentalizing the security brass — didn’t get an answer.”
  • In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu likely won’t be going back for more media appearances after his turn through the wringer at Channel 12.
  • “Netanyahu was tense. More than once he had trouble answering. He twisted and turned, his eyes darting about in confusion. It was evident that suddenly, he didn’t feel like the ruler of his kingdom. Perhaps, in his heart, he regretted coming,” he writes.

5. Campaigning from DC: Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that those who saw the interview as a sign that Netanyahu is panicking missed the point. The campaign is now moving to Washington, essentially home court for Netanyahu.

  • “Time after time they see that there is an unbridgeable gap between him and the rest in the international arena, especially America. Especially in the Trump era.”
  • He also allows that there’s a probably a kernel of truth to the theory that Netanyahu planned the elections so he would be able to have the AIPAC conference and a White House trip at the tail end.
  • Shimrit Meir writes in Yedioth that while Netanyahu and Gantz will be speaking to Americans, their real audience will be Israeli voters: “All due respect to attendees, who would normally be an important audience, but two weeks before the elections they are nothing more than stage decorations.”

6. AIPAC and the Dem dearth: The conference kicks off Sunday, but Monday morning will see the heavy hitters, with US Vice President Mike Pence and Gantz giving speeches.

  • Tuesday morning it will be Netanyahu’s turn, but while he is waiting, he’ll have a meeting with Trump, and then another event at the White House Tuesday evening.
  • Some have noted the paucity of Democratic candidates at the confab, seeing it as a sign of increasing partisanship.
  • “AIPAC has always had a hardline approach that has been compatible with the way Netanyahu is dealing with the Palestinians, but because Netanyahu is seen as toxic in progressive circles, the fact that AIPAC is somehow aligned with Netanyahu’s approach is becoming less palatable to Democrats,” Dina Badie, chair of the international studies program at Centre College in Kentucky, tells AFP.
  • But JTA’s Ron Kampeas notes that the lack of Democrats is simply because AIPAC doesn’t invite candidates on a non-election year.
  • “An AIPAC official confirmed the policy to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, but would not explain it. A best guess is that when there are more than a dozen candidates in play, it’s too unwieldy. By the time March of an election year rolls around, it’s down to three or four, which makes the logistics easier,” he reports.
  • As for why more aren’t attending just to glad-hand and kiss pro-Israel Israel babies, he surmises they are busy campaigning elsewhere.

7. Mueller and me: Netanyahu will be glad-handing with Trump just as the US president faces his own legal woes with the end of the Mueller report into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

  • That means “the center of public attention in the US capital won’t be on Netanyahu’s trip or the expected recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Israel Hayom’s Avraham Ben-Zvi writes.
  • In Haaretz, columnist Chemi Shalev surmises that Netanyahu can get some attention if he decides to weigh in on the Mueller report, which he just may do.
  • “The prime minister will be more than happy to stand besides Trump as he declares that the Mueller report proves both his innocence as well the existence of the ‘witch hunt’ he has incessantly blasted. Netanyahu hopes the analogy to his own predicament will make its way from Washington to Israel,” he writes.

8. Blunt speak: While candidates were heading to Washington to campaign, one unlikely star of the election season sat down with ToI’s Raoul Wootliff to talk legalized weed and just how extreme his position on the Palestinians are.

  • After objecting to even using the term Palestinians, Moshe Feiglin of the Zehut party told Wootliff that his party’s position is not all that far from the extremist Otzma Yehudit’s (though the party’s real bread and butter is the economy and education).
  • What that means is that the party stands for transferring the Palestinian population out, albeit by incentive rather than force.
  • ToI’s Jacob Magid writes that “Feiglin asserted that over 90 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and 65% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip already prefer to emigrate, making it possible for Israel to maintain a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. He did not specify a source for the statistics and the Zehut party was not immediately able to provide one either.”
  • As for the rest, they would be given a form of second class citizenship or made to swear a loyalty oath and go through a long process of becoming full-blooded Israelis.
  • He said, though, that he couldn’t think of why any would want to go through such a process. Maybe that’s where the legalized marijuana comes in.

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