Walkway to hell: 8 things to know for August 23
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Israel media review

Walkway to hell: 8 things to know for August 23

Katz finds few friends after apparently caving to ultra-Orthodox demands on the Yehudit pedestrian bridge, though he still insists he halted work because the plan was no good

Illustrative: A long exposure photograph of traffic on the Ayalon Highway through Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (Esther Rubyan/Flash 90)
Illustrative: A long exposure photograph of traffic on the Ayalon Highway through Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (Esther Rubyan/Flash 90)

1. Bridge over troubled waters: Roadwork near Tel Aviv’s Ayalon freeway has set tensions aflame, after the ultra-Orthodox protested the construction of a bridge over Shabbat, because it will necessitate shutting parts of the highway, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz ordered the work be stopped.

  • While Katz didn’t say so, critics are unanimous in accusing the government of caving to ultra-Orthodox demands that construction not take place on their day of rest — and over what?
  • “The ultra-Orthodox didn’t threaten to bring down the government and not even a coalition crisis, but Katz folded yesterday and made a surprise announcement on canceling construction on the Yehudit Bridge,” Yedioth Ahronoth writes.

2. Out of order: On Haaretz’s front page, the paper plays up the fact that Katz doesn’t actually have the authority to stop the work.

  • According to the report, a legal opinion issued last year found that the government can’t force state companies to operate against normal business practices for political considerations. Ironically, it was issued at Katz’s request last year when the ultra-Orthodox pressured the government over train work near the Ayalon on Shabbat.
  • The paper says Katz has not responded to a request to comment.

3. Thrown under the bus: Did Katz even have authority from above to halt the work to appease the ultra-Orthodox? In Israel Hayon, sources from the Prime Minister’s Office pillory Katz.

  • “It’s not reasonable that they will stop traffic on the Ayalon in the middle of the week.”
  • Columnist Mati Tuchfeld in the same paper claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is paying back Katz for his actions last year during the train work fight that “that left [Netanyahu] alongside the ultra-Orthodox on the wrong side in the media.”
  • Tuchfeld also says that Katz didn’t fold to the ultra-Orthodox, but rather was put off by the poor planning that would necessitate the road closure: “It’s a terrible plan,” he says, though he seems to indicate it’s better to just leave the bridge unbuilt.

4. No bridge? Katz tells Israel Hayom he has no intention of closing the busy freeway during the week, and also seems to indicate he’d rather the pedestrian bridge not get built at all.

  • “If no alternative is found without closing the highway, the work won’t be done at this time at all,” he says.
  • He also repeats the claim that he had no idea about the plan until Tuesday night: “I was not informed of this plan, which was put together without authority between the city of Tel Aviv and the Ayalon Highway Co., which reports directly to the Transportation Ministry,” he says.

5. Fast train to nowhere: Perhaps seeking to temper his shellacking in the press with some good news, Katz tells Hadashot news that the fast train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will finally open next month in time for the Sukkot holiday.

  • The train, though, will only travel between the capital and the airport, with Tel Aviv stops several months away.
  • This is the second time he has said the train opening is just around the corner. Last year Katz said the train would be open in time for Passover, in late March. However, a state comptroller report last year said the train might not be ready until late 2019.
  • Of course, with the original opening date having been in 2008, what’s a few months here and there after a 10-year delay.

6. Black day: Also thumped by media criticism is US President Donald Trump, with the Hebrew press catching up to the legal woes surrounding former aides Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, coupled with his mysterious promise that Israel would pay a higher price for his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital.

  • “Trump hasn’t had a black Tuesday like this since he was elected,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s Orly Azulay writes, referring mostly to the former.
  • As for the latter, Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that Trump’s message in West Virginia can only make things worse. The Palestinians, he is implying, will sell out their holy city of Al-Quds in exchange for “something good” that Trump is going to rustle up from Israel. This is a sure-fire formula for failure.”
  • “It’s also hard to imagine – unless he’s gone completely bonkers, which is always a possibility – that Trump would pick a fight with Israel when he is at his most vulnerable.”
  • Bonkers? Maybe not, though this clip making the rounds would seem to suggest otherwise.

7. Bloc-busting: Taking off for the Baltics, Netanyahu is clear that the trip is part of his plan to foster a pro-Israel bloc within the EU, essentially driving a wedge between the east and west of the Continent.

  • “I am also interested in balancing the not always friendly EU approach toward the State of Israel, in order to achieve an approach that is more fair and genuine to the State of Israel. I do this through contacts with blocs of countries within the EU, the countries of Eastern Europe, [and] now with the Baltic states and, of course, with other states,” he said before taking off, according to a statement from his office.
  • Haaretz notes that Netanyahu’s “visit is in line with Netanyahu’s recent attempts to gain support for his government’s political agenda in the EU and the UN, such as moving foreign embassies to Jerusalem, and to challenge the EU consensus on the Palestinian and Iranian issues.”

8. Spies of a feather: Perhaps no firms have received more bad press recently than Cambridge Analytica and Black Cube, which allegedly provide all sorts of services seen as nefarious, like hacking and election meddling.

  • ToI reports that the two were actually linked via Vincent Tchenguiz, an Iranian-born British entrepreneur and property tycoon who owns the largest share of Cambridge Analytica and helped Black Cube get off the ground, according to 2013 court filings.
  • “Tchenguiz, whose family is of Iraqi-Jewish origin, fell out with the secretive Israeli company and its founders and sued it for fraud and other alleged offenses, seeking almost a million pounds in damages. The case, which received very little media coverage at the time, was ultimately settled out of court,” ToI writes.
  • The lawsuit alleged that Tchenguiz helped Black Cube apply for a grant and gave it vital early funding and office space.
  • “If Tchenguiz, SCL Group’s largest shareholder until June 2015, indeed played a such a role in Black Cube in 2011-12, this sheds new light on two mysterious companies that are alleged to have been involved in political influence campaigns worldwide.”
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