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Hebrew media review

The media closes in on Netanyahu

Gloves come off in newspapers’ reporting on the various alleged scandals surrounding the prime minister

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged involvement in a string of scandals is the number one topic for Israel’s major Hebrew-language papers Friday. And although no evidence of actual criminal activity on the part of the Israeli leader has been produced, some papers are covering the cases as though it’s patently obvious he should be behind bars.

Yedioth Ahronoth shows little restraint when it comes to attacking Netanyahu, with the paper’s front page determining that the latest developments in the German submarines affair, as well as the alleged violations of transparency rules related to regulating Bezeq, “are what corruption looks like.”

The daily, traditionally hostile to the prime minister, plainly believes it knows where the investigations will end up. “Black on white, in an official document handed in by the Israel Securities Authority to the courts, are revealed dramatic suspicions regarding the method by which the Communications Ministry operated under [Bezeq head Shaul] Elovitz and Netanyahu,” the paper states authoritatively.

Yedioth mocks the prime minister for an interview he gave on the conservative Channel 20 late Thursday, in which Netanyahu responded to, and dismissed, the allegations against him. Referring to the right wing news outlet as Netanyahu’s “home turf,” Yedioth features a series of quotes by the prime minister that, when strung together one after another without context, look rather ridiculous, even Trumpesque. Yedioth also publishes a leaked version of a document handed out by Netanyahu to ministers in his government, which includes talking points about the various corruption affairs, and accuses the media of illegitimately attempting to topple the Israeli leader.

Yedioth columnist Nahum Barnea continues with the same line of criticism he had been pushing all week, arguing that while Netanyahu may have individual excuses for each different case, the accumulation of affairs involving the prime minister points to something rotten in the leadership of the state.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on April 25, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, on April 25, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The daily’s veteran analyst Sima Kadmon claims that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was appointed by Netanyahu, understands that the chances are slim for the prime minister to avoid indictment in one or more of the cases. On the other hand Amichai Eteli, another Yedioth writer, reminds readers that Netanyahu has so far not been charged — indeed, he is not a suspect in the submarine or Bezeq cases — and implores the citizens of Israel, and perhaps his fellow journalists as well, to allow the wheels of justice to turn uninterrupted before jumping to conclusions.

Israel Hayom’s coverage of the investigations into the allegations involving the prime minister is particularly interesting, given the recent reshuffling of the daily’s editorial staff and the consequent, under-the-radar break away from the paper’s previous unstintingly pro-Netanyahu leaning. The daily’s front page is rather reminiscent of Yedioth, though more restrained, as it presents the developments in the various affairs as dramatic and serious.

The paper does not directly criticize Netanyahu, but now, as opposed to the past, does seem ready to entertain the possibility that the prime minister may have been involved in some shady dealings. In contrast, its columnists Akiva Bigman and Haim Shine write respectively that no real evidence has yet indicated that Netanyahu acted illegally, and that the investigations are still at a very early stage, which renders most speculation on the matters to be premature as well.

Haaretz’s take on Netanyahu’s numerous possible entanglements is unsurprisingly harsh and unforgiving, and the paper dedicates a significant portion of its front page to a stinging analysis by political commentator Yossi Verter titled “A danger to society.” Verter argues that the stench of corruption surrounding the prime minister has become unbearable, and that with the publication of new details on each affair the problematics of the Israeli leadership becomes more and more evident.

“Adviser after adviser [to Netanyahu], associate after associate, are exposed in their disgrace, are dragged to interrogation rooms, taken to custody… and only the person who they serves [conveniently] knows nothing,” Verter writes cynically. “The notion that after the next elections, whenever they may be, he and the characters surrounding him will return to the Prime Minister’s Office and other points of power should be enough to sicken every decent Israeli, regardless of their religion, gender, political leanings, or sectoral affiliation.”

The paper’s editorial argues that Mandelblit must hasten the investigations into Netanyahu, since the state of doubt surrounding the prime minister is terrible for governance, and weakens the trust of Israel’s citizens in the judicial system. “The situation is such that for over eight months Netanyahu and his inner circle are heavily suspected of corruption, but continue to hold the reins of power undisturbed,” the editorial protests. “The [protracted] continuation of the investigations raises a concern in the public that the attorney general is not doing enough in order to speed up the process and reach the decision of whether to indict or not.”

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