What a Netanyahu wants: What the press is saying on August 13
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What a Netanyahu wants: What the press is saying on August 13

Budget battle? Hah! The PM’s real prize is revealed to be a hand in appointing the next top cop and AG, while his wife allegedly just wants some clothes unsullied by Ethiopians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrating election night in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrating election night in Tel Aviv on March 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. No tricks, except maybe just one more: A day after reports emerged that the budget battle threatening to bring down the government was a Likud smokescreen to increase pressure on Blue and White for changes to the coalition agreement, a dose of something close to confirmation has arrived Thursday morning courtesy of Israel Hayom.

  • “The estimation: The PM prefers appointments over the budget,” reads the top headline of the tabloid, which is widely viewed as a cipher for the internal machinations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • The news marks a sharp turn after days in which Likud — and Israel Hayom — portrayed the budget battle as the most important matter at hand.
  • According to reports, including in Israel Hayom, the appointments in question are for the new police commissioner and new attorney general, which just happen to be the two senior appointments the coalition agreement forbids him from being able to have a hand in making, due to the criminal cases against him.
  • “The budget was always an excuse. Not just for Netanyahu but Gantz too. What Netanyahu is consumed with is something different altogether,” writes the paper’s Moti Tuchfeld. “The estimation is that if [Blue and White head] Benny Gantz and [Justice Minister] Avi Nissenkorn give him a hand in the appointments, the prime minister may back down on the budget question.”
  • He goes on to explain that Likud thinks it has ideological backing to break the coalition agreement because Blue and White abstained from a vote — which failed anyway — on forbidding an indicted prime minister from serving. “Likud says it cannot be that only one side keeps the coalition agreement while the other does what it wants,” writes Tuchfeld, conveniently leaving out the fact that Likud’s insistence on a short-term budget also breaks the agreement.
  • “In other words: The senior political analyst for Israel Hayom: Netanyahu is a liar. Weird that it’s not the lede,” tweets Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson alongside a picture of Tuchfeld’s piece.
  • “It seems the whole show about elections we see here and the manufactured battle over the budget is just a pressure lever on Blue and White to compromise on what is actually important to Netanyahu, the appointments of the police commissioner and attorney general, which he is totally forbidden from meddling in,” tweets Dafna Liel from Channel 12 (which first reported on Netanyahu’s actual desires earlier this week) above a picture of Israel Hayom’s front page.

2. Kiss my grits: While Tuchfeld claims that Likud is blaming Blue and White for holding the appointment of a police commissioner by refusing to convene a panel for that purpose, Walla news says that Netanyahu is actually seeking to do away with the panel as a way of pushing through a preferred candidate.

  • The site reports that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (a Netanyahu apparatchik) had promised to announce a candidate for the police comish position this week, but has pushed it off in the hopes of getting his preferred candidate through without needing to go through the appointments panel. “There are a few moves Ohana and others around the prime minister are trying to advance, like canceling the appointments panel,” Walla quotes an unnamed senior police official saying. “Nixing the panel would help Netanyahu and Ohana push through the candidate they want for the comish, without [political] assassinations like there were with [Moshe] Edri and Gal Hirsch.”
  • Likud members are also carrying out sallies against other parts of the justice system, according to reports. Channel 12 news reports that Likud MK Shlomo Karhi wrote to the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Esther Hayut and made the request for Jerusalem District Court judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who is the lead judge in the cases against Netanyahu, to step aside, in a move that was apparently coordinated with the premier.
  • The appeal centers around the fact that Friedman-Feldman’s son worked at the law firm that advised Ilan Yeshua, former CEO of Walla, and a key witness in Case 4000. Friedman-Feldman’s son left the law firm at the end of 2018, according to the report.
  • Karhi also says Hayut recently formulated the rules on recusal to specifically ensure that Friedman-Feldman would not need to step aside. From the moment the judge’s son left the law firm, the two were theoretically able to discuss the case, while other cases would require a 5-year cooling-off period, he claims.
  • Speaking to Kan, Karhi accuses Hayut of “cooking grits,” a reference to a children’s song which basically transmits the idea that she has to hold everyone to the same standard, including herself. “I’m not the one who made the rules regarding conflict of interest. Hayut published the guidelines on Friday. The only clause she did not give a five-year cooling period to, not even a single day, happened to be this one.”
  • Israel Hayom, meanwhile, jumps on allegations that prosecutor Liat Ben Ari split a home into two separate units against regulations, running a large story on a “series of infractions,” in her supposed “real estate empire.”

3. Thus spake Sara: An explosive exposé in Yedioth Ahronoth alleges that Effi Azulay, who runs internal business at the Prime Minister’s Residence, had a rule forbidding workers of Ethiopian descent from going up the stairs to the actual residence part of the building.

  • The paper quotes from conversations with former workers, including one it subjects to a polygraph test, and though several say Azulay was the one to enforce the rule, the paper points a finger straight at Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the premier, alleging that she would complain about Ethiopians being near her clean clothes.
  • The paper quotes from what it says is a tape of a conversation between two workers, one of them Ethiopian, who said she would hide, sometimes in the pantry, when the laundry would come back.
  • “Where should I have gone? Where? The laundry would come in and she would say that we, we have bugs. If I happened to be there, they would send the clothes back to be cleaned again.”
  • The Netanyahus deny the report, natch.
  • On Twitter, Elihay Vidal claims that the report is the real reason Netanyahu recently met with Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shatta, who is Ethiopian, and not to woo her away from Blue and White, as had been widely suggested.
  • Sara Netanyahu also comes under wide fire after granting a rare interview with Channel 12 news in which she alleged she was a “battered” woman and that she had been sexually assaulted by lewd displays at the protests outside her home.
  • While many shoot back that Netanyahu is cheapening actual victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, in Haaretz, former MK Zehava Galon writes that the discourse about the appropriateness of a balloon shaped like a male sex organ distracts from the actual violence being committed on the sidelines of the protests.
  • “We are diving time after time into moralizing politics instead of dealing with morality. We are talking about displays of art instead of real blood being spilled on the streets, always the blood of the same camp, which is being spilled by the opposing camp. We allow people who have left their conscience behind – along with their backbone – drag us into discussions of ‘why didn’t you condemn it,’ instead of talking about the regime that required its citizens to give up their livelihood and did not bother to offer them help.”

4. Oration nation: Channel 12’s Liel writes in a column that Sara Netanyahu’s decision to give her station an interview, which came hours after Benjamin Netanyahu decided to show up to the Knesset plenum and have an exchange of words with opposition head Yair Lapid, are connected and point in one direction: elections.

  • “From the words of both of them — in the Knesset and in an interview — one can understand that they are attempting to rally their base, to spark the public that supports them to do so again — a step that has proved effective in past elections and especially the last vote, in which many Likud voters who did not go out to vote in September 2019, then chose to do so.”
  • Zman Yisrael’s Nati Yefet calls Netanyahu’s Knesset speech “the launch of his last campaign” — last because “Netanyahu knows that a fifth round will not be acceptable as a move to further strengthen himself.” The phrase is almost laughable, given that the same thing has been written about every round of elections for over a year now, with pundits seeing more elections as impossible, until they are not.
  • But Yefet also entertains the possibility that elections may not be called, should Likud and Blue and White come to terms on those aforementioned appointments. “Though as the appointments of Roni Alsheich and Avichai Mandelblit proved, even a win there does not guarantee a thing.”
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer allows that elections may not be a certainty, but heralds the rise of Lapid in the blistering Knesset exchange as a force Netanyahu may have trouble reckoning with.
  • “While Lapid’s inexperience and dilettantism gives Netanyahu ample ammunition against the former chat-show host and columnist, it also creates a dilemma for him. Attacking Lapid with all guns blazing increases his popularity in the anti-Netanyahu camp, where many have had trouble taking Lapid seriously,” he writes. “Lapid might not have the prime minister’s economic or security experience, but he can rival his prowess at media manipulation. He’s spent nearly as long as Netanyahu in the limelight and has had everything written about him in the gossip columns. Netanyahu’s previous rivals were powerless against his ability to dominate the news cycle and dictate the issues of the day.”

5. Unity, just not for the Russians: Yedioth, meanwhile, is more than impressed with a speech by Blue and White MK Tehila Friedman, devoting a two-page spread to printing what it terms her “address of hope” in full.

  • “In less than 11 minutes, the religious Blue and White MK managed to express in a clear voice, sometimes cracking with tears, what so many have been asking for:
  • “To stop the hate, the polarization, the war within,” gushes the paper.
    Globes, which for some reason tags Friedman as a Yesh Atid MK, also runs a transcript of the speech, noting that over 1 million people watched it so far.
  • Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen on the other hand is criticized for getting up on the plenum to make fun of Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Kushnir over the fact that he was not born in Israel and speaks with a Russian accent, accusing him of anti-Semitism.
  • On Thursday, Cohen gets on the horn with Army Radio to kind of apologize: “My words were a mistake. I didn’t mean to offend those who immigrated from the USSR. I truly apologize for how my words were taken, they were aimed at Kushnir, who has endlessly defamed the Haredi public with anti-Semitic speeches.”

6. Where’s the money? Does the fact that the budget battle was fake mean Israel will soon have a working one to fix its fiduciary problems? That’s not clear just yet, especially after the Knesset advanced a bill that would let the state go another 100 days without a budget.

  • “It’s hard to point to a more stark and enraging example of a legislative body where most of its representatives do not represent the true interests of their constituents, of citizens, whoever they may be,” chides Sever Plotzker in Yedioth, predicting that the economic crisis will now only worsen.
  • In Globes, Matan Rothman writes that “the general feeling among the public is ensconced in the claim that there is no organized thinking, and decisions are not being made in a smart and logical way, there’s no plan and no planning. In response comes the idea, which comes up from time to time in different contexts, that they should allow the experts to deal with the crisis.”
  • But ToI’s Shoshanna Solomon has some good news. According to the S&P credit analyst dealing with Israel’s credit rating, the state is under no risk of being downgraded.
  • “Israel’s macroeconomic economic fundamentals are “strong” and its institutions, including the Bank of Israel, are “credible,” says Karen Vartapetov, the Frankfurt-based director for S&P’s Global Ratings and a sovereign credit analyst for the ratings firm.
  • “We really need to see some persistent and protracted weakness in economic and fiscal performance before we start moving the rating,” he says.
  • Haaretz, though, points to a new problem down the road, the fact that Israel has agreed to stop using US defense aid to make any purchases from local companies by 2028, with gradual reductions before then, according to a recent state ombudsman report.
  • The paper reports that the Finance Ministry is not concerned, even though it could mean a $1 billion annual loss for local contractors, because they meet certain terms that may allow them to keep working. The firms, though, do not agree, with the paper reporting that some are moving factories and jobs to the US to stay afloat.
  • “The report says that the detrimental impact of the agreement on Israel’s industry will be felt in a few years, but it’s already here now,” Amit Tesler, owner and chairman of Magam Safety is quoted saying. “The American terms mean we can’t protect our own industry.”
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