The minister of scathing tweets: 7 things to know for August 12
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The minister of scathing tweets: 7 things to know for August 12

Netanyahu is seen as easily pressured by the right over the Temple Mount and now faces pressure to give the boot to Twitter minister Bezalel Smotrich after he goes off the rails

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference hosted by the Israel Hayom newspaper in Jerusalem's Old City on June 27, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference hosted by the Israel Hayom newspaper in Jerusalem's Old City on June 27, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

1. So, who won? Fallout from Sunday’s battle over the Temple Mount continues to reverberate in the press Monday morning.

  • On Sunday, the first day of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, police and Muslim protesters clashed after Jewish visitors were allowed on the site to mark the Jewish mourning day of Tisha B’Av.
  • “The bottom line, the Jews won,” Israel Hayom columnist Nadav Shragai writes, referring to the fact that Jews were allowed on the Temple Mount despite the vociferous and violent protests.
  • “The decision to disperse the protesters using force and try to open the Mount to Jews, even during non-normal visiting hours, was courageous,” he adds, though he notes that political support for such a move is likely thanks to the fact that it’s election season.
  • Actually, the extremists on both sides won, Haaretz’s Nir Hasson says, noting the elasticity of the so-called status quo.
  • “The situation, in which there is no agreement to begin with, allows both sides to push the envelope to check the other side’s limits,” he writes. “Due to cynical election and publicity concerns, the status quo is being [stretched] by both sides, threatening to tear it apart completely.”

2. Let’s just agree Netanyahu lost: Throughout the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to distance himself from any of the police decisions, but that did not stop critics on the right from criticizing him when police initially prevented Jews from entering. The eventual decision to allow Jews is widely seen as Netanyahu trying to shield himself politically, damn the consequences.

  • In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea says Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, unless police need to keep them away to keep order, and chides Netanyahu for pretending he had nothing to do with okaying the police decision to keep non-Muslims away.
  • “He acted like a scaredy-cat when, after criticism from the right-wing religious party, he denied giving the approval that he gave [to the police],” he writes. “Netanyahu has learned well the lessons of past battles, overflowing with blood, on control of the Temple Mount. For that he’s worthy of praise. But a hero he is not.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial, though, slams Netanyahu for giving in to extremists with his apparent about-face on allowing Jews on the Temple Mount.
  • “The decision to open the mount was meant to demonstrate determination and to prove that the police are capable of forcing their will on the Palestinians. But in effect it was a surrender to political pressure and to a small and extremist group,” it reads.

3. Nobody expects Jewish visitors: Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahane claims there there was no about-face and Netanyahu was always planning on giving the go-ahead for Jews to visit, but kept it a secret until the last moment so the dastardly Waqf wouldn’t know and be able to build up opposition ahead of time.

  • “The Waqf, though, figured out what was going on,” he writes, noting the Muslim authorities’ decision to bring as many faithful to the Temple Mount to keep non-Muslims out.
  • In fact, at least according to the official narrative, police delayed a decision, but the announcement that they were even considering it was enough for the Waqf to begin crying foul.
  • Also planned, according to the paper, were the riots. “The riots were planned,” reads a large headline on the paper’s front page, ostensibly a quote, though from whom it’s not clear.
  • The theory though, is repeated several times by columnists, with nothing to back it up. “The thousands of Muslim worshippers who rioted on the Temple Mount this week essentially received orders from Tehran, which hopes this could provoke a response from Israel and the US, and drawing the Arab world close to the Shiite regime,” the paper’s Daniel Siryoti writes.

4. Twittering twits of Twitter: Responding to right-wing politicians taking shots at him for allowing police to initially close off the site to Jews, Netanyahu branded them as the “Twitter cabinet,” coining a new phrase and giving editors a munchable soundbite for headlines.

  • Yedioth writes that the term was seemingly meant to put his critics down, “but yesterday it seemed as if the storm on social media was what influenced Netanyahu to change his mind (seemingly, seemingly). Perhaps it’s not the official authority, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as effective or influential as the real cabinet.”
  • Indeed Twitter appears to still be the main forum of conversation in Israeli politics. On Monday morning, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh takes to the microblogging platform to slam Netanyahu for giving in to the extremists.
  • “Has somebody asked how the Kahanists who won’t enter the government feel, or is he making do with those who are already in the government,” he quips.
  • As for “Twitter cabinet,” Googling the term in Hebrew brings up only results with good deals on cabinets for tweeters or treble speakers.

5. When even Kahanists think you’ve gone too far: Leading the attacks on Netanyahu has been United Right’s Bezalal Smotrich, who called the premier’s policies on a wide range of issues “weak” and issued other attacks on Twitter and elsewhere.

  • Not content with just that, Smotrich also calls the justice system “stupid” for a decision nixing a gender-segregated event in Afula.
  • Walla news describes Smotrich’s broadsides as “scathing.”
  • Israel National News reports that even the extremists of Otzma Yehudit thought he went too far: “We expect more,” Itamar Ben Gvir is quoted saying.
  • United Right head Ayelet Shaked compares Smotrich to Trump, saying it’s not her style “but he’s essentially right,” the Srugim national religious website reports.
  • Asked on Israel Radio if he’s going to apologize, Smotrich says, “I’m not Hanna Bavli, when something hurts I scream,” referring to the Israeli Miss Manners.
  • (Yes, there is apparently such a thing as Israeli manners. Who knew?)

6. Bye bye, Bezalel? Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu is now considering firing Smotrich.

  • According to the channel’s Daphna Liel, Netanyahu is coming under pressure from within Likud to jettison the transportation minister. And we all know how he does with pressure.
  • Amit Segal, also from Channel 12, notes that the move is “dangerous,” but honestly Smotrich isn’t about to recommend Benny Gantz so he doesn’t have to worry that much. At the same time, though, United Right could protest by recommending someone else in Likud.

7. Losing to win: That dovetails with a report by Zman Yisrael’s Nati Yefet who says that “a group of senior politicians in Likud and in United Right are hoping that the right-wing camp loses the elections, just so Netanyahu will be forced out and it will give them a chance to lead the camp in the next election.”

  • The report is sourced to a “right wing activist,” and while it’s something Netanyahu has alleged for a while, and is likely true to a certain degree, nobody has the shpilkes to actually come out and say so.
  • Channel 13’s Seffi Ovadia writes that the United Right are “taking their gloves off because they understand they have nothing to lose to Netanyahu — he can funnel away their votes without worrying about them not crossing the threshold.”
  • A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute of right-wing voters finds that 53 percent of respondents support Netanyahu staying in office if he is indicted, most of them voters last time around for Likud, the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Union of  Right-Wing Parties. Those who, in April, voted Kulanu, the New Right, Yisrael Beytenu, Gesher and Zehut, meanwhile prefer he resign.
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