Vacation, had to get away: 6 things to know for October 7
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Vacation, had to get away: 6 things to know for October 7

Decision by lead prosecutor in Netanyahu probes to fly off to South Africa in middle of pre-indictment hearings meets with criticism and mockery across the political spectrum

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

(L) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorneys, led by Yossi Ashkenazi (c) arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for a  pre-indictment hearing regarding the corruption cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 6, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) (R) Tel Aviv District prosecutor Liat Ben Ari. (Justice Ministry)
(L) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorneys, led by Yossi Ashkenazi (c) arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for a pre-indictment hearing regarding the corruption cases in which Netanyahu is a suspect, on October 6, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) (R) Tel Aviv District prosecutor Liat Ben Ari. (Justice Ministry)

1. Vacation, all I ever wanted: Two days of pre-indictment hearings were apparently enough for Liat Ben-Ari, as the lead prosecutor in the three corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to fly off to South Africa for some fun under the sun, leaving her colleagues to finish off the rest of the job.

  • The move has been roundly mocked and criticized across the political spectrum, with some analysts warning of the impact her absence could have on the case.
  • Leading civil rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman criticized Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit’s decision to continue holding the pre-indictment hearings on Sunday and Monday even with Ben-Ari on her safari. “It is a scandal. I am amazed that Mandelblit is holding the hearing. If the process doesn’t succeed, they will say it is because the person who is most expert in the case didn’t even attend the hearing,” he tells Army Radio.
  • The State Prosecutor’s Office has tried to defend the move, issuing a statement explaining that Mandelblit is the one who is authorized to make a decision at the end of the hearings and he has no plans to take any vacations before they end. Moreover, he is accompanied  by a “broad representation of prosecutors.”
  • A “source close to Netanyahu” tells Channel 13 that by taking a family vacation this week, Ben-Ari gives the impression that she has already decided the outcome of the hearings and thus did not bother attending.
  • A Justice Ministry official acknowledges to the Ynet news site that Ben-Ari’s decision to not delay her trip “gives a feeling of being inappropriate, disrespectful, and [shows] a lack of public sensitivity.”

2. I just got back from canceling my vacation: No sympathy is shown for Ben-Ari in the media either, with reporters trying to one-up each other with stories of how they were forced to cancel vacations due to work emergencies.

  • “Hi Liat,” writes Channel 20 journalist Eliran Tal. “During the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge I ran from missiles because that is my job. Last summer, I canceled a family vacation and paid a cancellation fee because I had to cover a Netanyahu political trip that had been scheduled that week. I have missed endless family events because every night I broadcast from the field or the studio. And I’m just a journalist, and not a senior public figure.” — Not all journalists wear capes.
  • “Three years ago we flew to a family event in New York,” former Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, also a journalist, recalls. “At the last minute, the coalition filed an important bill that we opposed. Within two hours, we had time to move up our return flight, pay the fine, and start packing. In the end, the vote was delayed and we were on the phone for another two hours with the Icelandic airline who thought [we were messing with them]. Since when can one not cancel or postpone a vacation?”
  • “Absence from a hearing for vacation in South Africa is a reasonable move in a case in which the vacationer is not important or the process is not important. But because the vacationer is important and the process is important then it really is chutzpah that indicates the following: No matter what is said there, you will not convince me,” tweets Channel 12’s Amit Segal.
  • His colleague at Haaretz, Josh Breiner, says Ben-Ari’s decision to take off shows a lack of respect for her position as well as for the figure she is seeking to prosecute.
  • Former Channel 10 political correspondent Nadav Peri jokes that Ben-Ari won’t be taking another vacation until she retires due to all the blowback she’s been getting.
  • One of the few voices defending Ben-Ari is Army Radio’s Razi Barkai, who mocks Segal for “going on vacation every weekend,” knocking the religious reporter for observing the Sabbath while many secular reporters are forced to work. Barkai doubles down on the low blow even after being quickly criticized, saying that had Ben-Ari decided to cancel her vacation, Segal would have been among the first to respond, “she would not give up the chance of a lifetime: to hang Bibi.”

3. The forgotten Mr. Kurd:  The White House announces that US forces in northeast Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault, essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the years-long battle to defeat Islamic State militants.

  • The Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez says the move “has given the greenlight for Turkey to attack America’s Kurdish allies in northeast Syria, the same people who led the fight against ISIS.”
  • The Economist’s Gregg Carlstrom adds that one can expect Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to start deporting Syrian refugees from Turkey to the “safe zone”  [it now controls] and the [Kurdish] YPG, hunkered down on its side of the border, to cut a deal with Syrian President Assad and reconcile with the regime in Damascus.
  • Asia Times Middle East Editor Alison Meuse recalls a time just a year ago when Trump had been expressing different feelings toward the Kurds.
  • ToI’s Avi Issacharoff is among those not too thrilled about the decision, calling it a “stab in the back” to the Kurds and comparable to Washington’s decision to “ignore” Iranian attacks against Saudi oil fields and refineries.
  • On the latter issue, Issacharoff points out that while the White House may have quickly identified Iran as responsible for attacks in the Gulf, it has done little to act against Tehran in retaliation. “There are some in Israel who believe that American inaction will lead Tehran to develop an even greater appetite for aggression and may tempt it to carry out similar hostilities against Israel, most likely in retaliation for the ongoing alleged Israeli strikes against Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq.”
  • While Issacharoff qualifies that concern by admitting that the Iranians are not likely in a rush to launch a complex war that could involve Saudi Arabia and various other Middle East powers, he points out that Trump is still pursuing the same policy of restraint over which he  lambasted his predecessors in the Obama administration. “The problem is that Tehran, as everyone knows, can sense weakness from afar,” he concludes.

5. Iranian boogeyman: Speaking of Tehran, cryptic warnings from the Netanyahu government regarding threats from the Islamic Republic are back leading Channel 12 nightly news casts, with Yaron Avraham reporting on the convening of the high-level security cabinet for the first time in two months.

  • The report comes as Netanyahu and others drill down the point that the current sensitive security situation requires the formation of a broad unity government, likely against the terms sought by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.
  • In addition to calling the security cabinet meeting, the Kan public broadcaster reports that the premier is pushing to advance a huge air-defense project aimed at countering the threat of an attack from Iran.  The NIS 1 billion ($290 million) project would place particular focus on defending the country against cruise missile attacks, similar to strikes on Saudi oil facilities last month blamed on Iran.
  • Among those not buying the severity of the Iranian threat is left-wing MK Yair Golan from the Democratic Camp. In an interview with Army Radio, he accuses Netanyahu of “cynically using security threat, through exaggerations and creation of public anxiety, for political gains.”

5. “Those violent Arabs”: As Arab Israeli leaders prepare to expand their protests against violence in their communities and alleged police neglect, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is the latest senior official to attribute the recent wave of bloodshed to “their culture.”

  • “It’s a very, very — and another thousand times — very violent society,” Erdan tells Jerusalem Radio. “It’s connected to the culture there. A lot of disputes that end here with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and gun.”
  • An apparent expert, Erdan goes on to claim that in Arab society, “a mother can give a son permission to murder the sister because she’s going out with a man who’s not pleasing to the family.”
  • The remarks are met with uproar from Arab Israeli leaders, including Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, who says in response, “Instead of taking responsibility for the security of all citizens in the country, Erdan prefers to hide behind racist claims.”
  • MK Ahmad Tibi, No. 2 in the Joint List, said the faction was discussing how to respond to Erdan’s remarks. The public security minister is scheduled to meet with Joint List lawmakers on Thursday, though Erdan’s remarks have likely jeopardized the sit-down.
  • On Army Radio, Kfar Saba resident and activist Ayelet Shalev shares why she joined the recent protests in the neighboring Arab town of Tira. “I consider this whole area to be a mixed [Jewish-Arab] city. I have many friends in Tira.” However, she acknowledged that she only spotted six Jews at a protest of some 200 yesterday.

6. Evade justice with a little help from my friends: Kan’s Carmel Dangor conducts a fascinating interview with a 21-year-old Israeli father of two who is facing eviction from the West Bank due to his alleged participation in violent attacks on Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

  • Neria Zarog was notified last month of a pending IDF Central Command order to evict him from his home, which is built illegally outside the hardline Yitzhar settlement in Area B of the West Bank, which is supposed to be administered by the Palestinian Authority and free of Israeli settlements.
  • Israeli authorities have yet to demolish his home and for now have been holding off on moving in on Zarog, whom the Shin Bet has labeled as “particularly dangerous.” The hesitancy from the security establishment could in no small part have to do with pressure placed by senior rabbis, Yitzhar community leaders and even Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, who have called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the order against Zarog.
  • The young settler says he has not been involved in hate crimes against Palestinians, but when asked whether he believes in them, Zarog says he’s not sure.
  • Midway through the interview — unless it was done for dramatic effect — Zarog is forced to scram upon receiving a warning from a friend in Yitzhar that a Border Police vehicle is approaching his hilltop. “We’re constantly moving,” he laments. “But God willing we’ll be able to stay.”
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