Hebrew media review

To see the future, follow the cash

Hebrew papers try to spy into tomorrow by looking at where the money is going

Soldiers watching sheep in the West Bank. (illustrative photo: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Soldiers watching sheep in the West Bank. (illustrative photo: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)

When it comes to the newspaper business, anybody can report on the past. Getting a scoop on the future is the holy grail, and short of auguring pigeons or reading tea leaves, every good journalist knows that one simply needs to follow the money for a glimpse at what may come. Hence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s short-lived request to make changes to his investment portfolio (despite conflict of interest concerns) is not just about one man’s number-crunching, but a furtive peek into the thoughts of an operator with his finger on the big red button. Not surprisingly, alarm bells go off and the story makes all four front pages, and is about the only consensus “big story” in the Hebrew press today.

Yedioth Ahronoth is the only paper to lead with the news that Netanyahu last month asked the state comptroller for permission to make changes to his portfolio (a request he later retracted after it became clear the cabinet would also have to clear the move). Yedioth gives an accounting on the prime minister’s wallet (about NIS 30-40 million by their count) but is really concerned about what was happening in the days before the July 22 request. A lot, it turns out. Both the Burgas bombing and the partial collapse of his coalition took place in the days earlier, which Yedioth Illustrates with pictures of its own front pages from those days. Could Netanyahu have seen the writing on the collapsed wall in the wake of those earthquakes (to mix metaphors)?

The comparisons to former IDF chief Dan Halutz, who was pushed out partially over the revelation that he sold stocks in the hours before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon war, are obvious and plentiful, with a finger pointing not north this time but east, to Tehran. “What does Netanyahu know that we don’t?” writes Eitan Haber in the paper, summing up the thoughts of a nation. “Are we closing in on a strike on Iran and he is trying to sell off his stocks before ringing the alarm, like the story of former IDF chief of General Staff Halutz?”

Israel Hayom, normally seen as bastion of Netanyahu support, also puts the story on its front, though it’s a completely different story, colored first and foremost with Netanyahu’s defense — that he pulled back the request after realizing there would be outcry. “There is no connection to Iran; this is primarily politics,” the story leads off by quoting Netanyahu’s lawyer. “There is very serious political goading here, disconnected from reality.”

The paper also found a commentator to defend Bibi, which surprisingly turns out be center-left former politician Yossi Beilin, who says Netanyahu was right to ask for the change: “Three years have passed since he last had control over his investments and there have been global economic changes. He was right to ask.”

Maariv also consults the follow the money oracle for news on the future of plans for Iran, leading off with the story that the US has stepped up sales on fighter jets and other major armaments to countries in the Middle East that could serve as potential allies in a military operation. The news, based on a New York Times piece on a congressional report, shows that Washington has sold some $40 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, all Shiite enemies of Iran. Maariv packages the news with a whoa-Nellie type warning from Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi that rising Islamism in the region may lead Israel into war. “In the coming year, the State of Israel will come up against an unstable, increasingly Islamist region: a region that has been dealing with a series of crises — regional and internal — that increases the volatility of all of the players and that could lead, without prior warning, to conflagrations,” Kochavi told the IDF brass in an annual assessment. Good thing there are no Islamists in Saudi Arabia or the UAE that just got some kick-ass F-15s and helicopter gunships.

Join up, for flock’s sake

Haaretz also reports on the future, in this case of yeshiva students in Israel, who will begin receiving call-up notices next week from the army. Some 7,500 ultra-Orthodox men will get draft notices as the army begins the process of operating in a Tal-lawless world. Many rabbis and students have vowed to fight the edict, though a good number are likely to just trade in their black and white threads for olive uniforms. United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler, one of the more outspoken critics of drafting Haredim, is quoted calling on called-up yeshiva students to keep calm and refuse to sign anything. “There’s no obligation to sign,” he is quoted as saying. “Yeshiva students served notices should not be afraid of threats and not argue with soldiers and officers. Watch your mouth, and watch your soul. When you are served the notice, they have fulfilled the law as demanded and they have no right to detain you or threaten you in any way.”

Perhaps if the students knew what fun times awaited soldiers on the Hermon, they would be first in line to join up. Yedioth reports that the slopes of the northern mountain have become inundated with sheep, disturbing soldiers trying to operate there and turning Israel’s toughest Rambos into veritable shepherds. The army believes the sheep are sent across the border by Lebanese and Syrians looking to cause trouble. “It’s reasonable to assume they were sent to this point. We are talking here about a disruption of Israeli sovereignty in an outstanding way. True, we are talking about sheep, but their presence is dangerous.”

Salt and settlers

In Israel Hayom, op-ed cowboy Mati Shemoelof comes to the rescue of salt company Salit, which has come under fire for removing a drawing of a woman on some of its packages, which some charge is because of Haredi pressure. So what, says Shemoelof, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. “Is it really worth it for us to fight for this in name of gender equality? Surely the answer is no, since we didn’t want the picture of the woman in the first place. The woman should be like a man and not like an object for commercial use.”

Haaretz’s editorial laments the state’s relationship with lawbreaking outpost residents in the West Bank, who they say should be cut off from excessive state grants: “The lawbreakers’ path away from the land they stole from their Palestinian neighbors is paved with extensive public funds. The state is paying NIS 33 million — NIS 660,000 per family — to build an interim site where they can live. The Migron evacuees will pay a generously subsidized amount of no more than NIS 11 per meter for the mobile homes. One can hope that this excessive benefit will not be granted to residents who moved into the outpost after the High Court had already ordered its evacuation.”

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