What the devil? 6 things to know for December 23
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Israel media review

What the devil? 6 things to know for December 23

A day after getting called out for rushing to condemn the ICC, Yedioth continues its attack, tarring the prosecutor for having once served under Gambia’s dictator

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) during the closing statements of the trial of Bosco Ntaganda, a Congo militia leader, in The Hague, Netherlands, August 28, 2018. (Bas Czerwinski/Pool via AP)
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) during the closing statements of the trial of Bosco Ntaganda, a Congo militia leader, in The Hague, Netherlands, August 28, 2018. (Bas Czerwinski/Pool via AP)

1. Devil’s advocate: A shocking expose in mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth uncovers the already-known fact that International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda once served under former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

  • Bensouda was attorney general of The Gambia under Jammeh from 1998 to 2000 before having a falling out with him, and has criticized his crackdowns since moving up the ranks of the ICC, where she has been for close to 15 years — but you would not know any of that from reading Yedioth.
  • “The devil from Gambia and the prosecutor from Hague,” reads the tabloid’s front page, part of its continuing and frankly unprecedented attack on the ICC — which has opened the door to a war crimes probe into Israel and the Palestinians — and its effort to tar Bensouda in particular.
  • The paper treats Bensouda as if she is a demonic figure hiding “the stains” of her past associations with Jammeh, who ruled the country from 1996 until 2017, when he left to become a “farmer” in Equatorial Guinea.
  • “The fact that Bensouda served under the dictator as a central figure for years has raised… much criticism. Many Gambians, especially those aligned against Jammeh, claim that Bensouda turned a blind eye to his terrible deeds,” the paper writes, promising the full story of “Bensouda’s shady secrets” in a fuller report on Friday.
  • While it’s true that Bensouda did have associations with Jammeh, the paper massively overplays the criticism of her and her supposed crimes, unless it actually has new information it is keeping secret until the weekend.
  • As a cherry on top of the whole ridiculous mountain of anti-ICCream, the paper undoes its own thesis with its final paragraph, noting that many claim Bensouda worked for women’s rights and human rights. “According to many reports, the fact that she was pursuing justice and working to help human rights groups enraged the dictator greatly, who booted her in 2000.”
  • Or, as a slightly more evenhanded approach to Bensouda from the New York Times in 2013 reads: “Legal experts on Africa speak respectfully of Ms. Bensouda despite her links to Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, a mercurial autocrat who took power in a 1994 coup and appointed her as justice minister in 1998. They had a falling out two years later, and she was dismissed.”

2. Jammin with Jammeh: The paper’s campaign is apparently so weak that even columnist Ben-Dror Yemini can’t get behind it. Under a headline reading “The hypocrisy cries out to the heavens,” Yemini writes that “the problem isn’t Bensouda. It could be she did not take part… the problem is that… again and again the accusatory finger is pointed at one country, just one.”

  • There is hypocrisy, but it’s not the ICC’s (alone). Israel for years has happily maintained positive ties with The Gambia, including under Jammeh.
  • In 2016, Israel’s then ambassador to The Gambia Paul Hirchson described warm relations with the country, even after it changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Gambia. “The president told me, ‘If we didn’t want you here, you would not be presenting your letters of credentials.’ That’s a verbatim quote. He is fully aware that this is a public decision that he took,” he told ToI at the time.

3. What else Yedioth got wrong: The argument of hypocrisy is a bold one after the paper yesterday went whole hog on accusing the ICC of only going after Israel, asking why it is not going after Hamas and a host of other baddies, even though the probe will actually also look at Hamas crimes.

  • The claim was repeated by deputy attorney general Roi Sheindorf.
  • Asked about it by Haaretz, Sheindorf said “that he meant the narrative of the decision in its entirety, especially the section on the historical background, was slanted, in his opinion, and it did not focus on the Palestinian Authority – which is true,” the paper’s Noa Landau writes.
  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren notes that the claim that Israel is being singled out is also a piece of whataboutism, since a body has to be a signatory to the Rome Statute to make the claim against a state on its territory, rendering many of the other cases pointed out by Yedioth, like Syria and Iran, moot.
  • “The ICC did not choose to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It did not initiate the process. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that the court, with its limited resources and already poor reputation, was hoping to stay far away from it. However, it was dragged into it by the Palestinians. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the peace process, Ramallah viewed The Hague as a convenient arena to score potent points against Israel,” he writes.

4. Not down with OTP: After getting called out for the egregious mistake, one of the authors of the Yedioth piece, Itamar Eichner, previewed the attack on Bensouda in a tweet Sunday, saying that if Netanyahu does not go after her as hard as he has gone after the Israeli prosecution, “he will be accused of double standards.”

  • But why would Netanyahu need to do it when journalists are seemingly doing it for him? On Facebook, Attila Somfalvi, an editor at Yedioth’s Ynet news site, writes that he told Foreign Minister Israel Katz that “I am prepared to do whatever I can (advocacy, writing, interviews, lectures) to help Israel fight this terrible decision.”
  • His site reports that the Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting to discuss how to respond to the case at its offices in Jerusalem with the National Security Council, the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Israel Defense Forces.
  • Israel Hayom, which is normally the government’s mouthpiece, gives the ICC little mention on Monday, save a column from Caroline Glick listing five steps to “neutralize” the court, which she accuses of endangering soldiers’ lives with its lies.
  • Also going after Bensouda is Channel 13 news, which reports that Bensouda met with a Palestinian group but avoided meeting with Israeli organizations before the announcement on Friday.
  • Meir Linzen, head of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, tells Channel 13 that “for about a year we contacted the prosecutor several times, and didn’t get an answer.”

5. Figure of imagination: Yedioth is also getting called out for running a report based on questionable numbers claiming that the lion’s share of immigrants to Israel are not Jewish under the Chief Rabbinate’s rubric.

  • To illustrate. the report uses a picture of Ethiopian immigrants disembarking a plane.
  • The Seventh Eye media watchdog points out that Ethiopian immigrants are not mentioned in the piece, which mostly deals with those from Russian-speaking countries.
  • But even beyond that, the numbers cited, which the paper says were obtained from the Interior Ministry by the progressive Hiddush organization, are apparently inaccurate.
  • Haaretz’s Judy Maltz, who reported this Yedioth “exclusive” two months ago, writes that the ministry told her the numbers provided were not correct.
    “It seems there were inaccuracies in collecting the data,” she quotes a spokesperson saying, adding that the figures are being checked a second time.
  • Makor Rishon’s Zvika Klein tweets that Nefesh B’nefesh, which is the body that officially collects data for immigrants from north America, says only 2.3 percent are not considered Jewish, not 30 percent as the story claims.
  • Nonetheless, well after all this comes out, Hiddush sends a press release in English repeating the mistaken numbers.

6. Who decides? The High Court’s decision to take on the question of whether Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government while under indictment gives Israel Hayom a chance to direct fire at Haaretz.

  • The paper parrots Netanyahu’s talking points, with headlines rejecting the legitimacy of the court to decide such a matter and declaring that “only the people can decide.”
  • In a column, Amnon Lord accuses Haaretz of being caught defending terrorists and the ICC with its editorials. “Haaretz does this in the sadistic tone of an English school for aristocrats. Soon the paper will surely publish ‘instructions’ for the court on Netanyahu. It’s hard to know if the ‘Haaretz diktats’ won’t expose the court ruling, which has already been decided ahead of time.
  • While Haaretz’s lead editorial doesn’t mention telling the court what to do, is does note that Netanyahu’s attempt to portray attacks on him as against the public as a whole come straight from Trump’s playbook.
  • “The only difference between the two posts was the expressions on their faces. While Netanyahu was also pointing forward, he was wearing a friendly smile, in contrast to Trump’s knowing glare,” writes Allison Kaplan Sommer, who notes that other journalists pointed out that the meme actually began with India’s Narendra Modi.
  • Walla’s Amir Oren writes that Netanyahu’s claim is not 100 percent “false demagoguery dressed up as democracy, but rather 86%.” Why? Because in the closest case to it, regarding mayors being removed from office seven years ago, it was six judges to one.
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