Trying to make sense of senselessness: 10 things to know for February 10
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Trying to make sense of senselessness: 10 things to know for February 10

The Shin Bet is waiting to call the killing of Ori Ansbacher a terror murder, but others – possibly including the suspected killer – aren’t, for various reasons

Israelis light candles in memory of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, in Zion Square in Jerusalem, on February 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis light candles in memory of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, in Zion Square in Jerusalem, on February 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Unsafe ground: The murder of an Israeli teen, allegedly at the hands of a Palestinian assailant in what some are describing as a terror attack, has been the main story of the weekend in Israel.

  • Pictures of Ori Ansbacher grace the front pages of all of Israel’s major dailies, some of which focus on the security operation to capture her suspected killer and some of which take a softer approach.
  • In Israel Hayom, columnist Nadav Shragai calls the wooded area in which she was killed, which is visited by both Arabs and Jews, an “island of sanity and humanity, without prejudice, without stigmas. A nature reserve adorned with ancient terraces, groves and orchards, a spring and mosaics; a reserve of those who love people and nature, lovers of good, like Ori Ansbacher.”
  • “Just when Ori was walking on safe ground, this evil came and took her from us,” reads a main headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting from her mother’s eulogy.

2. Quick-draw arrest: Much is made of the quick work by security forces in catching Ansbacher’s suspected killer, after they had been criticized following previous terror attacks recently for taking weeks or months to hunt down alleged perpetrators.

  • “He was captured at record speed,” Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes.
  • Channel 13 reports that investigators used DNA evidence to tie Arafat Irfaiya, 29, to the scene, though reports differ on whether he was known to security services as a member of a terror group or not.
  • “Already by Friday afternoon, after an autopsy, the police knew the killer’s identity,” Yedioth reports.

3. Terror either way: As of this writing, investigators have yet to officially declare the killing a nationalistically motivated terror attack, but it is being treated as one nonetheless. Army engineers started Sunday morning mapping Irfaiya’s house for demolition.

  • According to Channel 12, Irfaiya confessed, though the Shin Bet may not be taking his confession as rock solid.
  • Haaretz reports that Irfaiya appears to have acted alone, could still change his story and may want to be declared a terrorist no matter what: “Irfaiya may well have an interest in claiming that this was a terror attack, since that would entitle him to financial support from the Palestinian Authority.”
  • Speaking to Channel 13, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan seems to agree and says it’s a terror attack no matter what Irfaiya’s motivation was.
  • “When a Palestinian in Israel illegally murders a Jew in the State of Israel, there is no doubt that it needs to be considered as nationalistic murder,” he says. “It does not matter what he says or doesn’t say in the interrogation. I hope the relevant authorities understand this and if not, we need to legislate it.”
  • Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, meanwhile, urges on the same channel that military prosecutors pursue the death penalty.

4. Stop the rumor mill: Much of the case remains under gag order and rumors about the brutal nature of the crime proliferated on social media, WhatsApp and elsewhere with alarming speed.

  • That included Yair Netanyahu, the son of the prime minister, who wrote a snotty Twitter post slamming the media for refusing to report on the rumors or gagged information, essentially accusing the press of anti-Semitism — and breaking the gag along the way.
  • (This kind of thing is actually shockingly common. The ToI newsroom often gets indignant letters from readers who heard some rumor or other and are angry at the supposed media “cover-up.”)
  • The police, having none of it, released a rare statement telling the public (and a certain dauphin) to quit it.
  • In Yedioth, columnist Hen Artzi Srour notes that these blood and guts mongers should be ashamed, not only for reporting falsehoods but for not thinking about the family of Ansbacher, who have to read these horrible things being said about their daughter, whether true or not.
  • “What will be of us, that the terrible murder of a 19-year-old is not enough? In an era of Islamic State and fake news we need this mythological, biblical terror. As if our souls cannot be stirred from hurt and anger over such a senseless death otherwise. And nobody stops to think before sharing,” she writes.

5. Has Bin: Yair Netanyahu isn’t the only progeny getting put in his place. Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reports on an internal Foreign Ministry document which notes that a potential opening between Israel and Saudi Arabia fostered by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has been set back now that has father has taken the portfolio back.

  • According to the document, which Ravid also writes about in Axios, Riyadh has rolled back to its old position that ties with Israel cannot be advanced without Israeli moves toward peace with the Palestinians.
  • “There was a feeling in the last year that there was a window of opportunity to reach a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia — but, even if there was such an opening, this window is closed for now,” he quotes an Israeli official saying.
  • Respond to the report, Brookings analyst Natan Sachs notes that one should not expect Ramallah to be more Catholic than the pope in Riyadh.

6. African shift: Terror groups in Africa tied to al-Qaeda or Islamic State are seemingly increasingly seizing on Trump’s moving the US embassy to Jerusalem as a rationale for attacks.

  • The phenomenon has been noticed by SITE analyst Rita Katz, who tells the New York Times that the rhetoric is “opportunistic exploitation of a major human rights issue and geopolitical controversy.”
  • “Outside of this rhetoric, Al Qaeda has not actually provided any sort of effective assistance to Palestinians,” she says.
  • There may be a silver lining for Israel, though, if such a thing is possible after deadly terror attacks.
  • “The violence may serve to advance its efforts to make common cause with African regimes, particularly on security issues,” David Halbfinger notes.
  • Former foreign ministry director Dore Gold tells him: “The militant Arabs, our adversaries, have less to offer the Africans. And we have a great deal to offer.”

7. Merger doesn’t matter: On the election front, a poll by Channel 12 news shows Netanyahu sitting pretty whether Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid gang up against him or not.

  • Because of the importance of ideological blocs in forming a government, analysts often focus on that rather than individual party numbers. In the case of unity, the center-left bloc gets only one more seat than if they don’t join up, neither of which are enough to block Netanyahu.
  • This is the case even if the Arab parties join such a bloc — even in a tactical way — and if Jewish Home and National Union, which appear headed to splitsville, both stay out.
  • However, the calculus assumes that Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party stick with Netanyahu. With margins as thin as they are — and there is still a while to go before elections — Kahlon could once again play kingmaker even with only four or five seats.

8. Let’s get together: According to Channel 12 news, Lapid has also offered Gantz a pre-election merger, with some sort of rotational prime ministership.

  • It’s not clear if Gantz will accept such a proposal, or exactly what form it will take.
  • Yedioth reports that Lapid appears to be leaning toward keeping the parties separate and just committing to act together as a “technical bloc” after elections.

9. Skinned alive: There are no Israeli entries to the Oscars, but one film by an Israeli, “Skin,” is up for the live-action short category.

  • According to NPR’s Steve Inskeep though, the category is a dud. Inskeep tweets from a screening that the heavy subject matter, lots of dead kids, weighed on the audience. The last film screened, which was apparently “Skin,” drew audible protests.

10. From redlining to nuclear red lines: There’s also no direct Israeli connection to Frank Robinson, but JTA’s Ron Kampeas was able to find a pretty good Jewish one.

  • Kampeas reports that Baltimore realtor Marcus Sherman managed to keep Robinson in Baltimore by finding him integrated housing when he threatened to leave in the 1960s if none could be found.
  • That tidbit comes courtesy of Sherman’s daughter Wendy Sherman, who is best known in Israel as one of the main architects of the Iran nuclear deal and someone who had frequent contacts with Israeli officials.
  • Apparently, negotiating runs in the family. “Dad found a house in what then became an integrated neighborhood by promising signed bats and balls, meeting one by one with each family. The rental, nonetheless went from $300 to $500/month.”
  • Sherman writes that her dad lost his business because of it, but never regretted it.
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