Israel media review

The timing of the shrewd: What the press says about court days and class delays

The reopening of schools appears to have been pushed off, and now Netanyahu is trying to do the same with his court case and an ICC probe

A woman takes a picture of the Grim Reaper holding a sign referring to Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during a demonstration outside the International Criminal Court, ICC, urging the court to prosecute Israel's army for war crimes in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (AP/Peter Dejong)
A woman takes a picture of the Grim Reaper holding a sign referring to Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during a demonstration outside the International Criminal Court, ICC, urging the court to prosecute Israel's army for war crimes in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (AP/Peter Dejong)

1. Meet another day: Israeli schoolchildren’s long winter of Zoom will apparently continue, after ministers fail to come together on a plan for reopening schools.

  • “Confusion on the way to class: ‘When can we return,’” reads the top front page headline in Israel Hayom.
  • Walla reports that ministers are being asked to okay reopening school for all grades except 5th-10th, but coronavirus czar Nachman Ash is advising them to take a slower three-stage approach, which would include only opening “lower levels” to start.
  • “We’re exiting at a point with a very high infection rate,” Ash is quoted saying in the meeting. “You know the numbers, it’s a fluid situation.”
  • Despite the fact that Tuesday is a day away, several news sites still think schools could open then. “The return to schools on Tuesday is in doubt,” read headlines from both Channel 12 news and Kan.
  • Channel 12 reports that ministers were warned not to allow schools to open in red or orange zones (the two highest infection levels), since it would constitute a serious danger.
  • Perhaps with elections on his mind, Education Minister Yoav Gallant is no longer head cheerleader for opening schools as soon as possible, instead taking a more cautious tack, or at least saying he will. “Everyone in the meeting was surprised that after such a long lockdown and the vaccines, morbidity has not dropped,” he tells Army Radio. “I suggest taking maximum caution. If we need to leave the school system closed to overcome the pandemic, we will do it.
  • Kan reports that in the last two months, the number of children infected has rocketed 400%, mostly due to the British variant.
  • “It should be noted that most kids who are infected are only mildly ill or show no systems, but the education system worries that opening the school system in any form will bolster the spread of the contagion and the number of confirmed cases,” the station reports.

2. Dock duck: According to Kan, the meeting is only the third thing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plate Monday, what with the Greek foreign minister visiting and a date with justice.

  • Netanyahu’s return to court Monday for the first time since May is followed closely by the press.
  • “The hearing will focus on Netanyahu’s response to the criminal indictment against him and launch the evidentiary stage of the trial,” writes ToI’s Michael Bachner. “The court will also discuss the timetable for the evidentiary stage of the trial, including whether its start will be postponed until after the March 23 Knesset elections and whether Netanyahu will have to physically attend the expected three long hearings per week, which would consume much of his time, while he also manages the country.”
  • While the hearing is mostly technical, the import of a sitting prime minister on the stand is not passed over.
  • Channel 12 writes that the “big battle” is over the timing. “The interesting part of the next [hearing] includes the opening speech by prosecutor Liat Ben Ari and the testimony of the main witness in Case 4000, the former Walla head Ilan Yeshua. The defense team is expected to request that the hearing be pushed off until after elections, so it doesn’t influence them. The prosecution claims that the election is irrelevant to the way the trial is handled.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea sides squarely with the prosecution, writing that voters have already made up their minds. “It’s doubtful anyone’s testimony will cause an upheaval or majorly change the agenda. Theoretically, prosecution witnesses should help Gideon Sa’ar’s party, which is built on Likudniks who are sick of corruption. But it’s safe to assume that anyone who would be moved by this testimony has already moved over to Sa’ar or [Naftali] Bennett. Like Trump, Netanyahu has also not left any room for doubt. Those for him are for him and those against him are against him,” he writes.
  • Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to urging the judges not to delay the trial: “Instead of blocking such a man from contending for the premiership, establishing a government or serving as its leader, they suggest that his trial simply be canceled, or at least postponed. How did they not think of that sooner? An innocent person is meant to welcome the opportunity to prove his innocence. But Netanyahu is fleeing from the law like an escaped convict.”
  • Israel Hayom dispenses with any semblance of balance, running a front page headline: “Netanyahu judges will decide today, a postponement, or a show trial.”

3. Hague against the machine: Netanyahu spent the weekend lashing the court as anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and anti-fair. The International Criminal Court, that is.

  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that a secret panic button on some Israeli officials’ phones should they be detained abroad for war crimes investigations is being reactivated for those who may be facing ICC action, and while a trial may be a while off, or not pursued altogether, the threat of one is enough to cramp Israel’s style.
  • “For those still in uniform or political office, the thought of losing a lucrative second career is a sobering one. Especially now that so many new markets have opened recently for Israeli security types. The fear of one day, even in the distant future, being forced to stay at home in Israel’s cramped borders, because of a policy you once made or implemented, will have an intangible effect, “ he writes. “Friday’s ruling could also force [Netanyahu] to tone down his attacks on the attorney general and the Supreme Court. After all, one of Israel’s main legal claims against the ICC’s jurisdiction is that all the government’s actions are already subject to domestic judicial scrutiny.”
  • Daniel Reisner, the former head of the international law unit in the military prosecution, tells Army Radio that “There’s no doubt that the timing comes from the changing of the guard at the White House. Trump signed an executive order giving the US Treasury chief the ability to sanction international court jurists, the question is whether [Joe] Biden will implement them.”
  • To Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord, there’s no question. “Biden’s Democratic administration isn’t hostile to Israel, it’s simply anti-Israel,” he writes. “The Americans voice their support for ‘Israel’s security’ while undermining its global status through international organizations… With a friend like Biden in the White House, Israel can expect to be on its own.”
  • ToI’s Lazar Berman notes that the court is under pressure to reform and the new prosecutor to replace Fatou Bensouda in the summer may decide to reconsider the case as well.
  • “The new prosecutor has maybe a last chance to either lead the reform of the ICC, or acknowledge that it is indeed a kangaroo court,” Blue and White MK Michal Colter-Wunsh, the Knesset’s first-ever Official Representative on Matters Relating to the International Criminal Criminal Court, tells him.
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