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The Mandelblitz: 8 things to know for January 20

The attorney general appears to be under unprecedented attack after a Hadashot news report, and journalists are in the target sights as well

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

1. Are Netanyahu and his allies stepping up their attacks on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit? It certainly looks that way.

  • A Facebook post by Netanyahu slamming Mandelblit for “cooperating” with a Hadashot TV news profile, and accusing him of a setup, is being called the prime minister’s first “direct” attack on the attorney general.
  • Netanyahu let loose with his broadside just before taking off for Chad, and while he refused to answer reporters’ questions about it on the tarmac, he promised to have “severe words” when he comes back Sunday.
  • While the Hadashot news report only featured a short, seemingly impromptu interview with Mandelblit, who has not generally given exclusive interviews while he works on Netanyahu’s cases, Netanyahu’s complaint seemed to indicate that he thought Mandelblit or people under him may have leaked other details about the investigation to the channel. Especially because he didn’t really say anything objectionable to reporter Dana Weiss.
  • The post came on the heels of Netanyahu releasing a video accusing the left and the media of pressuring Mandelblit, which has been his main method of attacking the investigation until now.

2. Who decides? Netanyahu’s Likud party is also behind a series of online ads and billboards accusing journalists — specifically Amnon Abramovich and Guy Peleg from Hadashot TV news, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, and Ben Caspit of the Maariv daily — of pushing Mandelblit into an indictment and trying to sway Israeli voters, according to Hadashot.

  • Haaretz’s lead editorial calls the ad campaign and a survey asking Likud voters if they would support silencing some political commentators before elections “a new low in the sewer politics of Benjamin Netanyahu and his fellow Likud members.
  • “It seems that there is no red line they have not crossed in their efforts to retain control of the government; there is no institution or principle they have not crushed in their campaign for survival,” the editorial reads.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the campaigns a “full-frontal attack” on its front page, and a “multifaceted attack,” inside the paper.
  • In pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, meanwhile, columnist Haim Shine joins the Likud attacks with some impressive hyperbole: “All the left’s hopes are wrapped up now with Mandelblit. All it’s dreams, it’s desires and ambitions depend on him. The media and its minions in the justice sector are putting uncommon pressure on him, almost inhuman pressure. They don’t want to give him a choice.”

3. Even a Haaretz journalist: Netanyahu also accused Mandelblit of a “setup,” posting a screenshot of a tweet from Haaretz journalist Chaim Levinson in which he said the reported fact that the investigation was launched on the basis of rumors was disturbing.

  • “Even a Haaretz journalist was forced to admit here that it is a witch hunt,” he wrote, alluding to the fact that left-leaning Haaretz is far from being in his pocket.
  • Levinson, who is known for having an acid wit on Twitter, hasn’t responded to Netanyahu, though he did get in a Twitter tiff with his son Yair, which ended with the brash scion calling Levinson a Bolshevik and threatening to block him.

4. Who are you, Mandelblit: With Mandelblit becoming the main foil in what is looking like a battle that may shape Israel’s future, ToI’s Raphael Ahren looks at who Mandelblit is and what it says about how he’ll handle the pressure from both sides.

  • “Many people familiar with the AG and his work say they are thoroughly convinced he will make the fateful decision on the Netanyahu file based purely on the virtues of the cases themselves. Vouching for his decency, sincerity and fairness, they believe he will be able to ignore the constant pestering from the various camps and focus on the facts,” he writes.
  • Anat Hoffman, who was part of negotiations with Mandelblit over expanding access at the Western Wall for pluralistic streams of prayer, tells Ahren she thinks “the world” of a black kippah-wearing attorney general.
  • “He’s ultra-Orthodox, a friend of Netanyahu, a general in the army — he’s got everything going against him, as far as I am concerned. And yet he won me over,” she says. “He’s driven by a desire to avoid conflict and war, and he is a pursuer of justice and truth. He is wise, respectful, flexible; he is willing to change his mind.”

5. Looking for someone to care: On Friday, I devoted much of this column to the fact that Israeli media wasn’t devoting nearly the amount of space or time to the murder of Aiia Maasarwe as were the media in Australia, where she was killed, nor were Israeli officials reacting at all, whereas many of Australia’s leaders had.

  • On Twitter, Kan Arabic reporter Eran Singer writes that the claim (made by others as well, especially in the Arab community) is “puzzling and outrageous.”
  • But he also notes that many in the Arab community feel that the lack of coverage is a sign of their marginalization in society.
  • “We have the feeling we don’t have a mother or father in Israel,” he quotes an Arab lawmaker saying. “That sentence is the whole story of the killing of Aya,” he adds. “If only an Israeli politician would respond to the murder, before the investigation ends, a whole community in Israel would feel like somebody is thinking about them.”
  • Responding to the thread, Ben Caspit adds that he too is sorry for his role in it.
  • The issue appears to be more politicians than the media, though. At a rally in Aiia’s hometown of Baqa al-Gharbiya, local activist Muadad Biyadsa tells Channel 13 news that Netanyahu should get involved to get her body released for burial.
  • “It is already Saturday and the incident happened Wednesday. We’ve been waiting until now. The Australian prime minister already met with Aiia’s father, they sat together and had time to talk. Neither the foreign minister or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have taken the time to sit and speak with Aiia’s family or take steps to bring her back as soon as possible,” he adds. (Netanyahu is also foreign minister).

6. Clouded march: Australia’s ABC news notes that women’s marches held over the weekend focused on Aiia’s death.

  • “I’m thinking particularly of the death that happened this week and so many other women who have suffered from violence and who are dead,” one marcher in Canberra is quoted saying.
  • In the US, meanwhile, marches were heavily colored, or smudged, by the anti-Semitism allegations that have roiled the Women’s March organization, overshadowing the group’s ostensible agenda and leading to much smaller turnouts nationwide.
  • “In a relatively subdued demonstration compared to years prior — without the star-studded presence it had become accustomed to — speaker after speaker addressed the Jewish community directly,” ToI’s Eric Cortellessa notes.
  • At the same time, he writes, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour made sure to speak in favor of the anti-Israel BDS movement. And the fact that Tamika Mallory refused to say whether Israel has a right to exist likely didn’t help matters.

7. Cold blood: A killing in Bat Yam of a man of Ethiopian descent who police say rushed them with a knife is also colored by claims of racial discrimination.

  • The family of Yehuda Biadga, 24, say police used excessive force and treated him with suspicion because of the color of his skin. And they are not alone.
  • “This was a killing in cold blood. There is no other word to describe what happened,” Dani Adino Ababe writes in Yedioth.

8. So, you’re Oates: The Jerusalem International Book Fair has announced Joyce Carol Oates as the winner of the 2019 Jerusalem prize, considered among the most prestigious prizes given out in Israel.

  • Oates is the first American to win the prize, given to writers who evoke the “freedom off the individual,” since Arthur Miller in 2003.
  • “In a world in which individual freedoms are under assault, the autonomy of the individual and the role of art in our lives is of great concern,” Oates says in a statement carried by Publishing Perspectives.
  • Oates will visit Jerusalem for the book fair, and notes that she discovered late in life that her father’s mother was Jewish, a fact her grandmother kept secret for years.
  • “Obviously, there is an entire dimension of my life which was inaccessible to me and which I might have considered lost, and so a visit to Israel is likely to be profound and life-changing,” she says.

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