United we stand, united we fall: 7 things to know for February 17
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United we stand, united we fall: 7 things to know for February 17

Parties are racing to wrap up unity deals before a Thursday deadline, and Netanyahu is rebuked for trying to stay friendly with Poland even if it means selling out truth

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters on the plane home from Poland in the early hours of February 15, 2019. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters on the plane home from Poland in the early hours of February 15, 2019. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

1. Occupational hazard: Channel 13 anchor Oshrat Kotler is facing fire after speaking her mind regarding an incident in which soldiers beat handcuffed Palestinian suspects, saying the occupation of the West Bank had made them into “animals.”

  • Kotler was immediately hammered for her comments, mostly by right-wing politicians. New Right leader Naftali Bennett said he would ask the attorney general to investigate her for libel, and considering the justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, is his Number 2, he may get his wish.
  • Later in the broadcast, with the storm already gathering around her, Kotler clarified her comments, noting that some of her best friends are combat soldiers, and her beef was with the occupation. “I’m actually in favor of easing the soldiers’ punishment, because it is we who sent them into that impossible reality,” she said.
  • The channel distanced itself from her comments while defending her right to express them: “Oshrat Kotler is an opinionated journalist who makes her opinions known from time to time, as do other reporters with different opinions. Oshrat was voicing her personal opinion only.”
  • One unlikely voice to come to her defense was former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, who wrote on Twitter that “the occupation corrupts,” and that the army invests lots of resources into educating soldiers on how to be occupiers. “We all back the soldiers who are fighting there in our name and dipping their hands into the filth of the occupation until a solution can be found.”

2. United slates: There’s less than a week to go until party lists must be finalized, with parties scrambling to finalize their slates, wrap up unity negotiations and figure out where they fit in.

  • The biggest question is who, if anybody, will join with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience. Yedioth Ahronoth lists everyone from Gesher to Yesh Atid to Achi Yisraeli (Adina Bar Shalom) as possible matches, along with a possible Meretz-Labor merger and Hatnua-Ehud Barak shidduch.
  • The paper reports that the Gantz-Yesh Atid merger, potentially the biggest juggernaut in the elections, is still snagged on who will lead the faction. It quotes Yesh Atid higher-ups as blaming the holdup on Gantz adviser Ronen Tzur, who they say is trying to torpedo any possible union and acting as Gantz’s puppetmaster.
  • “Ronen Tzur has Gantz’s ear and doesn’t want unity,” the paper quotes a Yesh Atid muckety-muck as saying. “So because Gantz listens to what he’s told, he’s acting like he doesn’t want unity.”
  • Israel Hayom reports that Yesh Atid plans on trying to push for a unity deal until the last possible moment — i.e., Thursday, when lists must be submitted — though Israel Resilience plans on revealing its slate a day earlier.
  • In Haaretz, former lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz writes that Lapid and Gantz have to join up if they want the president to give one of them a shot at forming the next government.
  • “If you want to be prime minister, you need a clear mandate from the public, and no, 15-20 seats is not enough. So Gantz and Lapid need a united list. Any other scenario will prove that they don’t truly want to replace Netanyahu, but are just peacocks busy with ego games, and are really just competing over who will get to sit in the next Netanyahu government.”

3. Looking right: On the right as well, things are not quite wrapped up, with a last-minute push for Jewish Home-National Union to bring the even further right Otzma Yehudit and Eli Yishai into their bed.

  • Israel Hayom doesn’t give the union great chances at forming: “If you see how [Jewish Home and National Union] managed their talks until now, one can estimate cautiously that the chances it will end in frustration are greater than the chances it will end in success.”
  • The union is something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing for and Yedioth reports that even while away in Poland, he was pressuring influential rabbis to get at least the Jewish Home-National Union deal sealed.
  • “Netanyahu oversaw the talks from Poland and called the heads of the parties from the Warsaw summit to make sure they were progressing toward an agreement,” the paper reports.

4. Comedy of errors: That’s one thing Netanyahu managed to accomplish in Poland. The rest of the trip, was not so great, as recounted by journalists who accompanied him there, with the word “mishap” appearing in several post mortems.

  • From the vague point of the conference to Netanyahu’s office mistranslating him to the Polish law kerfuffle to the plane not taking off, there were enough snafus packed into the two-cum-three day trip to fuel a whole series of buddy comedies.
  • “Apart from the Omani foreign minister, Netanyahu left the conference without a photographed direct meeting with any of the Arab leaders he insists are no longer concerned with keeping their Israel relationship secret. Warsaw was certainly a step forward in Israel’s slow rapprochement with the Arab world, but slow is the operative word,” ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes, calling the trip “memorable.”
  • “The technical glitch that halted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s takeoff at the end of his visit to Poland, forcing him to wait all night for another plane, was the most fitting final chord of a trip full of mishaps and clarifications,” writes Haaretz’s Noa Landau.
  • Yedioth’s Sever Plotzker writes that it seemed as if the conference were cursed.
  • “A succession of misunderstandings, mishaps and disappointments accompanied it from the start to the end,” he writes.

5. Everybody loves Alawi: Oh, and the one “big get,” Netanyahu’s meeting with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi, was apparently no big thing.

  • In Munich, at another security confab, Alawi is photographed meeting Tzipi Livni.
  • At least he’ll always have Trump.

6. Don’t apologize: The end of the conference and Netanyahu’s very late arrival back home wasn’t even the end of the flub-fest, with the prime minister pretty much being forced to release a statement clarifying his position on Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

  • The statement, which is interpreted by many as an apology, goes over about as well as pork kielbasa at a kosher wedding.
  • “It’s the prime minister of Poland who needs to apologize,” Shoshanna Chen writes in Yedioth. “To ask forgiveness for the terrible game of revisiting the memory and pain of the relatives of those killed by the German genocide machine, with their dedicated helpers, including Poles, Ukrainian, Latvians, Lithuanians, Hungarians and more.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial takes issue with Netanyahu’s mealy-mouthed attempt to stay friends with both the Poles and Holocaust survivors.
  • “Netanyahu refused to clarify his remarks in his own voice. When asked, during his return flight from Warsaw, to go on camera to explain himself and say whether Poles collaborated in the Holocaust or not, he said that Shir, his spokeswoman, would provide an update,” the editorial reads. “This evasive answer is inappropriate for a subject of such great import in the history of the Jewish nation and so painful to many Israelis whose families were slaughtered on Polish soil — some at the hands of Poles. When the Israeli ambassador is summoned for a reprimand, or worse, over such a highly charged issue, Netanyahu must stop trying to hold the rope at both ends and instead explain his position on the matter, clearly and in his own words.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Eldad Beck, meanwhile, blames the kerfuffle on what he calls a “political media terror attack.”
  • “It’s hard not to understand why the Poles were upset,” he writes, defending their position.

7. Bad medicine: Even as bad as the whole episode has left Netanyahu looking, he would have to work overtime to seem as bad as UTJ leader Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who apparently used his powers to protect an alleged pedophile and sexual assailant from facing justice.

  • Litzman met with Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist to pressure him into issuing a false assessment for Malka Leifer, thus preventing her extradition to Australia, a legal official tells The Times of Israel.
  • The Kan public broadcaster, which first reported on the meeting, notes that the two even speaking about the case during legal proceedings could constitute obstruction of justice on Litzman’s part.
  • It apparently does not end there. “Everybody knows the Litzman system,” reads a headline in Yedioth.
  • The paper reports that several doctors recounted being leaned on by Liztman’s people for various favors, with their medical licenses at risk if they did not follow through.
  • “It’s always something to do with the ultra-Orthodox community,” one doctor tells the paper. “Once it will be to get to the front of the line, and another time it will be to get a medicine approved even though it’s not in the subsidized basket.”
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