The beginning of the end – but of what?
Hebrew media review

The beginning of the end – but of what?

Papers see recommendations to charge Netanyahu as the end of his career or the end of a police witch hunt, and some fear the end of the rule of law if the case is dragged out

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It isn’t every day that police recommend indicting the prime minister on bribery charges, though it is also not unprecedented. A day after police did just that, there is no other subject on the mind of the print press, as each paper plays the news according to its own agenda and style.

For Israel Hayom, known to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that means playing up the leader’s protestations of innocence alongside the charges, and his taking down of enemies old and new, including police chief Roni Alsheich and key witness Yair Lapid.

For Yedioth Ahronoth, which seemingly never did make a deal with Netanyahu for more positive coverage in exchange for legislation hobbling Israel Hayom — as is suspected in one of the two bribery cases — it means doing the opposite (and pointedly not playing up the paper’s own publisher’s entanglement in the case, though also not ignoring it).

The tabloid’s 16-page package on the recommendations (how will they outdo it once the actual indictment comes, if it comes, or heaven forfend, a conviction?) is emblazoned with the tag “bribery” over and over again, which is also the one large word stamped above Netanyahu’s sullen-looking face on its front page.

Interestingly, Israel Hayom and Yedioth’s respective coverage presents negative images of each other’s other’s coverage a decade ago — when Israel Hayom did not offer then-prime minister Ehud Olmert the benefit of the doubt and Yedioth did, which just goes to show how factionalized the press really is.

For Haaretz, it means taking a deep investigatory dive into the allegations, most of which have already been reported on, and thoroughly parsing the statement released by police on their recommendations and Netanyahu’s response. The paper’s 32-word “headline” over seven decks on its front page accentuates the fact that there’s just too much going on to be summarized into a pithy header.

The common theme running through all three that this is the beginning of the end, though the end of what is where they disagree. In Haaretz and Yedioth’s case, it’s the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s career and in Israel Hayom’s, the beginning of the end of the bad times, with the mean police finally exiting the stage.

“With the police’s recommendations to indict Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, the prime minister begins the countdown to the end of his political life. Netanyahu made clear he won’t step down without a fight and spoke aggressively against his investigators, promising that the recommendations will end in nothing and he will once again be elected Israel’s prime minister,” Haaretz editor Aluf Benn writes in a front-page above-the-fold column. “But the important part of his speech was what he failed to mention: Netanyahu didn’t try to contradict the hard facts published by the police.”

In Yedioth Ahronoth, analyst Sima Kadmon writes that watching Netanyahu get up to deliver a defensive speech Tuesday night, she had the feeling he might actually quit. But then again, that’s not the prime minister’s way, she said, envisioning him grasping at whatever he can on his way down. “And he is going down,” she writes.

“Even the skeptics among us, even those who think there’s no hole Netanyahu can’t climb out of, understand that last night was the beginning of the end. Despite the promises from Netanyahu that he will run in the next elections, it’s doubtful whether he actually believes it. He understands that even among his sworn supporters, there are not many who will buy the version he tried to sell yesterday, according to which the police, and first and foremost police commissioner Roni Alsheich, are working to oust him from power,” she writes.

Despite what Kadmon writes, a look at Israel Hayom, which is seen as a mouthpiece for the prime minister and his supporters, shows that even if they don’t believe it, the narrative that this is a police coup is continuing to be pushed, along with the entrance of a new villain to the stage with the news that Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid is a key witness.

“Trust in the commissioner has been damaged and in a proper police force he would not be the chief. The publication of the recommendations is being seen as a political event that draws an end to a stage of this political probe against the prime minister,” Amnon Lord writes in the paper. “Not only the top cop has been exposed as biased against the prime minister. It has now become clear that the main witness in the illicit gifts case is the prime minister’s political rival, Yair Lapid.”

In the same paper, Haim Shine goes a step further and accuses the police of cooking up the case against Netanyahu, in a column headlined “The police work is done — they should stay away.”

“I would have been surprised had they published anything else as their recommendations. The dish had been prepared from eons ago, they just needed to add a little spice to satisfy the hostile media,” he writes.

It’s worth noting that buried in the paper is a short column, on page 15, by dovish commentator Yossi Beilin, calling on Netanyahu to step down to concentrate on his legal woes.

Aside from the upshot for Netanyahu, papers also seem to push for whatever will happen to happen quickly, predicting chaos if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit drags his feet and the mudslinging at the police continues.

“For the good of the country, Mandelblit needs to decide immediately. He cannot drag this out for long months and there is no real reason to,” Yoaz Hendel writes in Yedioth.

Haaretz’s lead editorial also calls for Mandelblit to act fast, but columnist Chemi Shalev in the same paper writes that the lack of a smoking gun from the police could delay a decision and the toxic atmosphere may turn yet more poisonous.

“The current destructive impasse will only get worse. Netanyahu will escalate his war of attrition against the rule of law in general, and his police investigators in particular, with totally predictable consequences: Public trust in law enforcement will continue to erode, political polarization will deepen and Israel will continue to serve as a boxing ring in which the prime minister tries to beat his way to exoneration,” he writes.

There’s no such call for a quick conclusion in Israel Hayom, with columnist Aviad Hacohen detailing the long way to go before the prime minister can be pushed from office, including conviction and appeals.

What the paper does play up (aside from going after Lapid in a series of columns) is the case in which Netanyahu is suspected of dealing with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes in a quid pro quo deal to weaken Israel Hayom.

“It’s hard to imagine a larger earthquake in the media industry than that uncovered in Case 2000,” the paper writes.

In Yedioth, columnist Nahum Barnea writes that Mozes should suspend himself from running the paper as the case rolls on but sees the much bigger problem with the way Netanyahu tried to represent himself in the talks, seemingly casting Mozes, and the rest of the country, as innocent rubes under the thumb of a chimeric prime minister.

“Netanyahu claimed that the negotiation with Mozes was a facade: he did not intend to advance any deal. The police claim Netanyahu is lying. According to them, he took actual steps to carry out the deal,” he writes. ‘The police did not deal with the public question, and still the question must be asked. What does a facade mean? Can a politician who engages in negotiations for favors be prime minister in a law-abiding country? When is he showing his true self and when is he a facade?”

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