1. No he’s weak: Things are beginning to get ugly between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz as election campaigns heat up.
- After months of Netanyahu and his Likud party hitting at Gantz for supposedly being a leftist and weak on security, Gantz’s Israel Resilience hit back and then some on Tuesday, publishing videos slamming the government for allowing Qatar to bring millions of dollars into Gaza and accusing Netanyahu of backing the Gaza disengagement.
- (Gantz has also said he backs the Gaza disengagement, making the use of it as a cudgel somewhat strange.)
- Israel Resilience also went a step further, publishing a Facebook post with the personal phone numbers of Netanyahu and several Likud MKs, which stayed up for hours until Facebook removed it. (The party itself removed just the Netanyahu listing a few hours earlier.)
- A check of the numbers by ToI found that most of the links provided a direct and active phone number for the candidates and lawmakers, though some were for aides.
- However, a message to a number listed as Netanyahu’s did not elicit a response.
2. Mr. too-much-security: The attack is largely seen as precipitated both by Netanyahu saying he won’t allow Gantz to be in his government, and a series of attacks by Likud blaming Gantz for the death of a soldier during the Second Intifada.
- However, the brother of Madhat Yusuf tells Channel 12 that he is unhappy with Netanyahu trying to campaign on the back of his brother, and that the family is considering legal action.
- Netanyahu also flirted with campaign controversy when he visited a base in Haifa and mocked a ruling by the attorney general saying he can’t use pictures of him with soldiers for campaign purposes.
-Attorney General: Stop using IDF soldiers & bases as election props.
-Netanyahu: Cool, cool.
-Also Netanyahu, today at Haifa naval base: pic.twitter.com/eOMLyIDClH
— Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) February 12, 2019
- And he again broke Israel’s ambiguity policy on striking Iran-backed fighters in Syria Tuesday night.
- Both the Yusuf campaign and the comments on Syria are potentially dangerous, Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes.
- On the first count, army officers are getting the message they may be sold down the river in the future for political means. And on the second, the chances that Iran will respond grows with each public statement.
- Yet “politically, it seems the gamble will pay off, as it has in past elections.” he writes.
- In Yedioth, columnist Yoav Keren writes that Netanyahu, who likes to be known as Mr. Security, is positioning himself in the best possible spot.
- “When there is security, it’s thanks to him; when there is terror, the left and media are responsible. That’s the message Netanyahu has managed too implant in the public, and the voters buy it.”
3. Unite the right: Netanyahu also got other good election-related news, with National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich saying that four far-right factions will unite, a move the prime minister has pushed for.
- Yedioth quotes sources in Jewish Home confirming that a deal will be sealed in coming days.
- Moshe Kahlon meanwhile said he’ll be happy to recommend Netanyahu to head the next government and not Gantz. On Wednesday, though, he vowed not to join with another party, essentially saying if he can’t get in on his own, so be it.
- And speaking at a Times of Israel Presents event, New Right number 2 Ayelet Shaked said her party would not join Gantz because he has “no political experience to be prime minister and to juggle Trump and Putin,” though nobody really expected those parties to join forces.
4. Whoa there, Gabbay: A Channel 13 poll published Tuesday found a bump for Labor of 2-3 seats following the party’s primary.
- The faction had been seen near the bottom of the pack and had been hoping to get a boost by picking its slate, though it’s unclear if the bump is artificially created by the buzz around the list or it can be sustained.
- Raining on Labor’s parade, Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that “even the party brass know they are not competing for prime minister, but having a bigger part of a Gantz government, or more likely, another round in the opposition. And when that is your starting point, it’s hard to believe that even successful primaries will help much.”
5. One summit, two focuses: Netanyahu made the comments about Syria and Iran as he headed to Warsaw to join an international conference focused on the Middle East.
- Netanyahu said he did not think Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would take center stage, but rather joining against Iran would, noting that US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — neither of whom are involved in peace talks — will be there.
- However despite Netanyahu’s efforts, much of the focus of the summit appears to be on Mideast peace efforts, with Jared Kushner expected to reveal parts of the so-called deal of the century there.
- A US administration official tells pan-Arabic daily A-sharq Al-Awsat that “Kushner plans to report on how the team dealt with the project (the peace plan) in an integrated format, but without going into partial details,” the official says, adding that “he also plans to respond to the questions of the participating foreign ministers.”
6. FM radio silence: According to the Kan broadcaster, Netanyahu has been trying to set up meetings with foreign ministers of Arab countries, highlighting their shared interests against Iran, without much success.
- “There is no doubt that the majority of Arab countries attending the meeting will not be comfortable being seen as taking cost-free steps to normalizing ties with Israel when Netanyahu and his right-wing government are shrugging off the two-state solution,” Osama al-Sharif writes in Arab News. “Furthermore, while there is an agreement that Iran’s regional agenda is a destabilizing factor, Arab states are not in the mood to be part of an anti-Iranian military alliance that includes Israel.”
- The US is also seen as having little to gain from the summit.
Having planned my share of failed Middle East conferences upcoming gathering in Warsaw has all hallmarks. Hard to figure what point is; why Pence/Pompeo are attending. With agenda so broad – peace/security – results unlikely Warsaw likely to highlight US weakness not strength.
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) February 13, 2019
- Netanyahu will at least have an opportunity to be in a picture with the Arab FMs for a summit family photos. That’s how he got his last meet-cute with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
7. Saw you in Saudi: His efforts will likely not be helped by a report from Israel’s Channel 13 that Israel and Riyadh got together for a push to restart peace efforts in 2014, only for it to fall apart after Netanyahu walked away when the Saudis asked him to be flexible on some points.
- According to the report, Saudi Prince Bandar, who had been leading the effort, felt that Netanyahu had lied to him and the affair led to a year-long rift during which secret contacts between the countries were frozen.
- It was only after King Abdullah’s death and Mohammed Bin Salman’s rise to power that Riyadh began to warm up to Israel again, according to the report.
- A number of Israeli politicians attack Netanyahu for missing the opportunity in the wake of the report.
- “Netanyahu is afraid and won’t do anything. Now there’s no security in the south, and Hamas decides when they are going to shoot,” Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah writes on Twitter. “On a missed diplomatic opportunity you don’t have panels of inquiry. You just pay for it in blood.”
8. Abbas and MbS, or just BS? The report came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting the Saudi leadership, though many noted that MbS was missing from the meeting.
- Abbas later held a meeting with MbS, though some doubt his statement on how committed he is to the Palestinian cause was totally sincere.
Had MbS been Bart Simpson he would have been told to stay after class and write "KSA supports an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital" 500 times on the blackboard. https://t.co/wcFjQMgMn3
— Ofer Zalzberg (@OferZalzberg) February 13, 2019
- Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, meanwhile, accuses Abbas of using the visit to Saudi Arabia as part of a diplomatic tour aimed at sinking the Trump administration’s peace deal.
- “Abu Mazen proves again: There is no partner,” reads the free tabloid’s main headline.
9. Saved from Shefita: Israel picked its Eurovision representative Tuesday: Kobi Marimi, who won the “Rising Star” TV singing competition.
- With Israel hosting, that means he’s guaranteed a spot in the finals, though there’s not a ton of hope the crooner will get much more than that.
- The official Eurovision news site notes that Marimi comes to the contest without any formal singing experience, though he can still belt out the standards.
- In Israel, there’s mainly excitement is over the fact that Shefita, a whiter than white Jew who impersonates Arabic singing and is known for being provocative, did not get picked — even if she is more “fun.”
Shefita is very talented, but she shouldn't be sent to represent Israel in the #Eurovision. She's an Ashkenazi woman masquerading as a Mizrahi women. People were angry about Netta appropriating Japanese culture, so they'll accept Shefita and vote for her??? #HaKokhavHaBa
— (((Major Major))) (@shopgirl157) February 12, 2019
- “Arguably the last thing Israel needs is to be represented in the contest by a politically controversial singer accused of blatant cultural appropriation,” Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote in Haaretz ahead of the final.
- “Kobi Marimi’s win saved ‘Rising Star’ from being responsible for this international bungle,” Einav Schiff writes in Yedioth. “Had we sent Shefita to Eurovision, it would have well served those just waiting to push Israel into a corner. It’s doubtful if Israel will get the repeat, but at least it didn’t lose before the game even started.”