The tip of the bribeberg?
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Hebrew media review

The tip of the bribeberg?

Like a submarine with a screen door, the press is inundated with news that the defense purchasing scandal could expand to other deals, though whether it will drown Netanyahu remains to be seen

Then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon aboard the INS Tanin submarine as it docks for the first time at the Haifa Port, September 23, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/ FLASH90)
Then-defense minister Moshe Ya'alon aboard the INS Tanin submarine as it docks for the first time at the Haifa Port, September 23, 2014. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/ FLASH90)

A day after former security expert Giora Eiland took to the media to urge the creation of an investigatory commission in the wake of the submarine graft scandal, saying other defense deals could have also been made via illegal means, his prediction has seemed to come true, with Israeli front pages trumpeting the expansion of the sub probe as just those suspicions came to light.

The papers offer few details on what those other defense deals might be, but still manage to play up the drama surrounding the possible expansion of the case.

Israel Hayom reports cryptically that it has learned that investigators have gathered materials leading them to suspect graft both in “the navy and outside of it.”

“The estimation is that the probe will require a dramatic shift in all matters related to defense deals as those brokering them. A source called this area an ‘open jungle,’ and predicted that bodies outside the defense system will need to deal with this after the police investigation, including the government cabinet and subcommittees of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee,” the paper reports.

Haaretz’s top headline tackles some of those “dramatic” changes, reporting that “the police are expected to question serving officers.”

One man who still is not being questioned is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Haaretz analyst Amos Harel notes that even as the investigation moves to other deals, it’s not clear if he’ll be wrapped up in any of it.

“None of this detracts from the seriousness of the affair. According to police and legal sources close to the investigation, a much larger Pandora’s box could open involving huge defense deals, not necessarily limited to the navy — and this might also cross into non-defense procurement,” he writes. “So there’s now an opportunity to clean out the barn. Also needed, along with the criminal investigation, will be a deep examination of the methods of defense deals in which dozens of retired senior officers mediate between the state and companies in Israel and abroad — and reap the benefits of doing so.”

Perhaps getting ahead of himself, columnist Aviad Kleinberg begins the process of writing Netanyahu’s political obituary in Yedioth Ahronoth’s op-ed page, saying that he’ll need some sort of magic to escape from all the scandals surrounding him unscathed. While the piece is far from a hagiography, one gets the sense that Kleinberg appreciates Netanyahu’s abilities to be a sort of political Houdini, for better or for worse.

“Netanyahu’s disregard of troubling questions such as what is democratic and what is not, what is permitted and what is forbidden, is seen in all arenas. For the agenda he promotes with great skill (turning West Bank annexation into an irreversible fact), Netanyahu is willing to cut a great many corners — so many corners that we have wound up trapped in a circle,” he writes. “Left with no options, he’s forced to rely on his right-wing allies, the settlers, who are comrades in the use of winks and about-faces, and a disregard for democracy to serve their agenda. Netanyahu understands that his policy strengthens his political rivals on the right. He is not happy with this, but deep down it’s only them, and not the Likud Central Committee, he really trusts (including the fact that when needed they will abandon their parties and vote for him).”

The paper’s lead story is also about the sub scandal, but deals with another top official getting wrapped up in the story, in a less underhanded way. The paper follows up on its previous expose on a senior Israeli official secretly expressing worries to German Chancellor Angela Merkel over ThyssenKrupp selling ships to Egypt, now reporting that that person was none other than President Reuven Rivlin.

Calling it another “branching” of the scandal, the paper says that Rivlin brought the issue up to Merkel during a visit in 2015, after it turned out that the Israeli government had okayed the deal without checking with defense officials, who were clearly not hunky-dunky with the agreement.

“The German agreement to sell four submarines and two anti-submarine ships to Egypt has raised the possibility that behind the scenes there was a three-way pact by which Israel would sign off on the package to Egypt — and in return get a steep discount on buying its own ships to secure offshore gas rigs,” the paper reports.

Dividing the undivided city

Yedioth isn’t the only one with scoops. Haaretz’s front page has an expose on a secret agreement between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a panel of rabbis representing the ultra-Orthodox community, essentially red-lining the eternal undivided capital into areas for secular Jews and areas for Haredi Jews, amid ever-present tensions in areas where both communities are forced to coexist.

“The Ramot neighborhood has a Haredi majority with a large non-religious minority. This neighborhood is expected to become increasingly Haredi. New housing projects in the neighborhood will target the ultra-Orthodox community. However, the Ramot Bet part of the neighborhood will remain a sort of ‘secular reserve’ where Haredi families will not be encouraged to move in. A neighborhood such as Ramat Eshkol, which has become almost completely Haredi, will ‘officially’ be recognized as such and a new, large Haredi educational complex will be built there. The nearby non-Haredi neighborhood of French Hill will remain non-religious and will not have Haredi institutions,” reporter Nir Hasson writes, in language that is likely baffling to anyone living in a country where such practices have long been seen as discriminatory.

A view of the Ramot Mall and the major artery that leads to and from the shopping center (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
A view of the Ramot Mall and the major artery that leads to it (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

This is not America, though, a fact also driven home by Hasson accompanying his reporting with an opinionated analysis in which he calls the deal “sensible but worrying” but not for the reason one might think.

“For secular residents, the problem is that the deal contains no guarantee that the ultra-Orthodox won’t continue moving into secular neighborhoods, leading to a new agreement in another few years that will be worse for the secular community. At the moment, market forces and the shortage of housing in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are working against secular residents,” he writes.

It’s not just in the corner store and park where “Haredization” is taking place, but also in schools, according to a flurry of recent reports on secular parents being outraged at religious indoctrination their kids are exposed to in school and camp. In Israel Hayom’s op-ed page, Hanani Bleich tries to downplay those complaints as overwrought, but ends up looking as silly as the straw men he builds up to tear down.

“Wait, what are we really complaining about — that it’s boring,” he writes in response to a story about a mother saying her kid isn’t interested in learning about Jerusalem’s place in Jewish heritage. “I agree. I think that when I was in third grade, in the religious school where I studied, I would also fall asleep with chocolate milk and a roll in my hand in the August heat when faced with a lesson about Jerusalem. Nu, so we’ll get together and start a protest against boredom. Don’t let our kids get bored in camp!”

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