‘They are what we thought they were’: 6 things to know for December 10
Israel media review

‘They are what we thought they were’: 6 things to know for December 10

There’s time left on the clock, but after the longest 11th hour ever, the parties have seemingly finally ceded the field and moved on to the blame game and readying for round 3

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addresses members of his faction during  a meeting in the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Elad Malka)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz addresses members of his faction during a meeting in the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Elad Malka)

1. Who the heck takes the third election like it’s BS? You wouldn’t know it from looking at some corners of the Hebrew media Tuesday, but there are approximately 36 hours left until the deadline to form a government or call dreaded third elections.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth for instance declares it the 90th minute — the soccer equivalent of the 11th hour, and drives the metaphor home with a graphic of an hourglass, while going through all the barb trading of the main players and seemingly stillborn attempts to forge some sort of deal.
  • “Unless there’s some huge drama, Israelis are going to the polls on March 2,” the newspaper declares.
  • Channel 12 news reports that the sides have ramped up efforts to pin the failure of talks on each other.
  • “It doesn’t seem there is any chance of preventing elections,” Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah tells Army Radio.
  • Israel Hayom goes even further, declaring talks are over and done with. “Agreement in the political system: There’s zero chance,” reads a headline splashed on the paper’s front page.
  • “With the sword of elections already laying on the neck of the political system — there seems to be an almost total retreat from the possibility of preventing elections,” the paper writes.
  • If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it has become an almost de rigueur mantra going on about three weeks at this point.

2. Why they didn’t take the damn deal: Accompanying the pessimism all along has been a touch of optimism amid efforts to reach some sort of last minute accommodation. But though those efforts continue to some degree, the optimism is gone and they are seen as little more than spin.

  • On Monday, Blue and White softened its position, saying it would settle for Benjamin Netanyahu committing to not seek immunity. And Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said he would drop a deal for a power-sharing rotation with party leader Benny Gantz.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that Blue and White managed to do to Netanyahu what he normally manages to do to others, tar them in public: “When Gantz tosses the immunity ball into Netanyahu’s court, as a condition for unity, he achieves two things: He hits the soft underbelly of the indictee from Balfour Street with a subject most off the public does not support him on — continuing to rule under indictment; and he scores points in the blame game.”
  • The decision to do away with the rotation may have also given Blue and White a slight boost, according to a flash poll put out by Walla news. The survey finds the party up to 35 seats, to Likud’s 33.
  • A separate question about who is most fitting for prime minister has Gantz one point ahead of Netanyahu, 38 to 37 percent, while only 16 percent fathom that neither of them is fit for the role. According to the report, it’s the first time Gantz has beaten out Netanyahu on that question.
  • However, polls are notoriously unreliable, and the survery mostly finds that the blocs and the general makeup will remain the same.
  • It also shows that several smaller parties, including Labor-Gesher, will remain on close to the threshold and in danger of not making it in at all.
  • Former Kadima minister Haim Ramon tells the Galey Yisrael radio station that he voted for Labor-Gesher last time around but won’t do so again.
  • He also says Gantz and Co. were actually “stupid” to refuse Netanyahu’s offers of a rotation in which he would remain PM for six months and then jet, according to a transcript published by Zman Yisrael: “Why didn’t Gantz take it? Netanyahu is going to remain prime minister in the case of elections at least six months anyway.”

3. If you want to crown them, then crown their butts: Netanyahu, meanwhile, was the one spurning offers on Monday, rejecting Blue and White’s overtures and instead turned to Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman to join his right-religious coalition. Liberman himself dismissed Netanyahu, saying a “narrow government would put the country in dire straits.” (The word for narrow in Hebrew — tzara — is the same as the word for straits, or trouble, making the quip something of a humdinger that he must have been saving up.)

  • In Israel Hayom, Mati Tuchfeld goes after the kingmaker who never was Liberman, telling readers that a vote for him is a vote for endless elections: “Anyone who enjoys going to the polls every few months while the running of the country comes to a grinding halt should, by all means, vote for Yisrael Beytenu. But if political limbo is not your cup of tea then you should cast a different ballot. Regardless of one’s political views, platform or policy, a vote for Lieberman is a vote for a fourth election.”
  • Kan publishes a tape of National Union head Bezalel Smotrich promising before the September vote to do everything to avoid a third round of elections, even supporting another candidate if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition.
  • “However in actuality, as we know, Smotrich threw his lot in with the right-wing bloc,” the broadcaster says.
  • The station treats the tape like a smoking gun, but rare is the politician who did not promise to do “everything” to avoid a third round and yet here we are.

4. We let him off the hook! Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer looks at the various ways Netanyahu managed to engineer things to make sure he stays in power, public confidence or not.

  • “He has survived his toughest political year since coming back to power in 2009, and in 2020 will complete his 11th consecutive year in office. No longer the all-powerful wizard of Israeli politics, perhaps, but still its Houdini at least,” he writes, describing Netanyahu’s “survival act” as the product of four complex layers of protection.
  • The most important one is the fact that Attorney General Avichai Mnadelblit can’t actually indict him formally yet. In Walla, Amir Oren blames Mandelblit’s “hesitation” in declaring whether Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government for turning Israel into the “land of forever elections.”
  • “He presents himself as a man of action, who doesn’t rule on theoretical cases. To him, the problem is only in the minds of those who ask him for an opinion, but is not yet standing on its own, and he refuses to see the issue as relevant,” he writes.

5. The Gids are all right: What Netanyahu did agree to on Monday is a party leadership primary in the case of new elections, where he will face a stiff challenge from former minister Gideon Sa’ar.

  • Sa’ar was seen by some on the left as the hero who will unshackle Israel from Netanyahu, but he is quickly demonstrating that his battle for Likud supremacy will take him far to the right rather than the center.
  • Case in point is Sa’ar’s tour of Khan al-Amar with the far-right group leading the charge to have the small West Bank hamlet razed — Regavim.
  • Sa’ar predictably calls for the evacuation of the town. Far-right Israel National News notes that while there he also “vowed that if he becomes premier, he will push for Israeli construction projects in E-1 – the area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim which is considered key to cementing Israeli control over the Adumim bloc and preventing the future establishment of a Palestinian state – and in the Givat HaMatos neighborhood in south Jerusalem.”
  • Left-wing activist Daniel Seidemann writes on Twitter that “When it comes to populistic, jingoistic & rabid nationalism, Netanyahu has a worthy successor in Gideon Sa’ar.”
  • It’s not just Bedouin villagers that Sa’ar is going after. In a wide ranging interview with The Times of Israel, Sa’ar says that Netanyahu’s war on the judiciary was his war first, one he wants to take much further.
  • “This has been my agenda for many years. It was never Netanyahu’s agenda. He is discovering it now. I respect it, but I am talking about bigger things. Let’s put it this way: I know of much worse misgivings [than Netanyahu’s]. I am talking about basic matters [in the state prosecution] that need to be corrected,” he says, though he is clear that his plan is to fix, not destroy the system.

6. Throw another shirk on the barbie: One deadline that did already actually pass is one for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation of sexual assault suspect Malka Leifer, who is attempting to avoid extradition to Australia to face 74 counts of various sex crimes from her time as a principal of a Melbourne school.

  • “However, with dozens of journalists and interested parties packed into the courtroom, Judge Chana Lomp entered briefly only to read aloud a letter from the head of the panel, Northern District chief psychiatrist Amir Ben Ephraim, who said that he and his two colleagues needed additional time to properly examine Leifer,” ToI’s Jacob Magid reports.
  • Australian-Israeli victims advocate Manny Waks tells the Australian Associated Press that the proceeding is an “absolute farce.”
  • “It is absolutely unacceptable, and the Israeli judicial system desperately needs to be reformed, it does not make sense that this charade is continuing,” he says.
  • Former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu is quoted in The New Daily also calling the case a “farce.”
  • “But the world is watching. And the world should know that Leifer’s victims will not be deterred,” he adds.
  • The hearing doesn’t get much play in the Hebrew press, but Haaretz devotes its lead editorial to the case and suspicions that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman intervened to aid Leifer escape justice.
  • “Leifer is entitled to a fair trial, and Israel is obliged to afford her one. However, the serious allegations against Litzman and the unusual drawing-out of deliberations about this case while violating an international extradition treaty, due to an examination of mental fitness which could have taken place in Australia, cast a shadow on Israel’s justice system,” it reads.
  • Some of Haaretz’s editorial is based on reports of serious diplomatic damage being done between Jerusalem and Canberra as a result of the case, including a recent UN snub that the paper says was Australia’s way of getting Israel back.
  • But a spokesman for the Aussie embassy tells ToI that an Australian delegation did in fact “attend the Israeli-led event ‘Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children.’”
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