Whatever it takes: 7 things to know for December 24
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Israel media review

Whatever it takes: 7 things to know for December 24

Israeli journalists ignore inconveniences in order to place a black mark on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and posit Israel will keep striking Iran, promised response be damned

International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda delivers a speech in Kotu, near Banjul, on October 15, 2018. (Claire Bargeles/AFP)
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda delivers a speech in Kotu, near Banjul, on October 15, 2018. (Claire Bargeles/AFP)

1. Sins of Truth Commission: The Israeli media is continuing its hunt to try and dig up dirt on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

  • On Monday night, Channel 13 news, taking the baton from Yedioth Ahronoth, which ran a hit job on her Monday morning, runs a piece tying Bensouda to former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh and claiming she has a “stained past.”
  • The channel brings as proof two testimonies from a Truth Commission formed in Gambia following Jammeh’s ouster in which people say they were tortured by the regime. In one of them, Batch Sambo Jallow (who the channel misidentified as Sambo Jallow, the minority speaker of Gambia’s national assembly) calls Bensouda, who prosecuted his case and several others arrested at the same time, “the mastermind of everything we went through.”
  • A second testimony is also mentioned, though the channel does not say that Bensouda played little role in that case, which she was eventually forced to withdraw from.
  • The channel also makes it seem like she stayed on with Jammeh for a long time, though he got rid of her after only a few years.
  • With only two testimonies to go off of, Nadav Eyal predicts that “it’s safe to assume” that more testimonies implicating Bensouda will come forward soon. He claims there is a public outcry for her to appear before the commission “to give a full account of her senior role in a regime that committed crimes” but “it’s doubtful if that will happen.”

2. Sins of omission: Eyal’s account is not any sort of sleuthing reporting but easily available all over the internet, which means what he left out is also easily available. Like the fact that Bensouda backs the commission and has said she is willing to appear if invited (she spoke at its opening session, but did not testify), according to Justiceinfo.net (which may have been Eyal’s source for his reporting.)

  • He also leaves out a part of the testimony where the commission’s lead council Essa Faal explains that Bensouda as a prosecutor would unlikely be involved in his arrest or conditions in prison. While Jallow denies this, he does not offer evidence that she was the mastermind.
  • And he doesn’t mention that the cases he brings up are from 1995, when Bensouda was a local prosecutor and not any sort of higher-up in the regime.
  • Both Faal and Gambia’s Justice Minister Abubacarr Marie Tambadou have said that it’s unlikely Bensouda had more than a passing role in the atrocities.
  • “I know that the prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has not been mentioned in a very credible manner. We have to remember that she was only a prosecutor at the level of the state law office and therefore she came at the tail end of any legal process,” Tambadou has been quoted telling the BBC.

3. Play your part: While it’s true that there are questions about Bensouda’s role in the regime that must be answered, by reporting only parts of the story that fit its narrative the channel and Yedioth discredit their own work in the service of some sort of Israel advocacy effort.

  • On Twitter, Eyal writes that the Yedioth piece, widely seen as not credible and over the top, “was an excellent story that made me scream out with frustration.”
  • Responding to a Ynet editor’s public proclamation that he wants to use his journalism to help Israel’s government fight the ICC with propaganda, IDC associate prof Adam Shinar writes on Twitter that “a journalist is not a propagandist. Israelis have for a while confused patriotism and journalism, so that there are some who think the purpose of the latter is to serve the former.”
  • In Haaretz, Odeh Bisharat takes Yedioth (and other unnamed outlets) to task for their campaign against the ICC.
  • “For the editors’ information, and not only those at Yedioth: Patriotism, like fat in the blood, becomes dangerous when it exceeds the permitted limits. A surplus of fat in a human being leads to a heart attack, whereas for the masses a surplus of patriotism leads to the blocking of any rational discussion,” he writes. “Who knows, maybe the slogan ‘Death to The Hague’ will yet turn out to be the hot slogan of the upcoming election campaign.”

4. How dare they do what we’ve been doing? While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hammering the “Bensouda is anti-Semitic” line and comparing her and the ICC to Hanukkah villains, others are finding new ways to go after her.

  • In one of the more creative criticisms, Jack Engelhard in Israel National News blames Bensouda for the fact that female genital mutilation is rampant in The Gambia.
  • “You would think Grand Inquisitor Bensouda’s first order of business would be to clean up her own act and her own backyard,” he writes.
  • In fact, one of the most common criticisms of Bensouda and the ICC is the fact that they focus too much on Africa while giving Western countries a pass.
  • Israel Hayom reports on the shocking news that Bensouda’s decision is partially based on work by B’Tselem, which is funded by countries in Europe, which we all know is anti-Semitic, to advise on Israeli courts’ treatment of Palestinians.
  • The report, which is basically based on work by NGO Monitor, notes that opening a probe against Israel requires a determination that the Israeli justice system is unreliable. “Looking at the activities of B’Tselem shows that the group has attacked on this point relentlessly.”
  • “Some groups are trying to hurt the independence of the Israeli judiciary in order to show it as unreliable to the international community,” NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg charges.
  • Unreliable Israeli justice system? That sounds almost familiar, as if it is a constant talking point of Israel Hayom and backers of Netanyahu in trying to prove that his prosecution is a witch hunt. But… nah.
  • “This is a joke, as if Bibi doesn’t exist. Amazing, wonderful,” tweets Haaretz’s Noa Landau.

5. Frozen valley: Despite that, Israel Hayom continues to hammer Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and his minions for daring to warn that Jordan Valley annexation could spur the ICC probe, accusing him of essentially helping the war crimes probe.

  • “The legal adviser’s warning not only demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the ICC, but also gave it more motivation to act against Israel by supplying the ICC with the goods – international proof that the court is changing how a state conducts itself by its threats of legal action,” writes Avi Bell in an English-language op-ed.
  • Yedioth reports that the annexation is in “deep freeze” now because of the ICC probe.
  • The paper says a first inter-ministerial meeting to discuss extending Israeli sovereignty over the territory was canceled last week, hours before it was scheduled to start, after it became clear that an ICC announcement of a probe was forthcoming.
  • Meanwhile the US appears to be egging Israel on, with Mike Pompeo telling a Christian radio outlet that Europe should “recognize the fundamental rights that the Israeli people have to this land, to this space.”

6. Don’t want to be a refugee: Yedioth on Sunday pointed to Iran in its jingoistic (and frankly wrongheaded) attempt to call out the ICC for hypocrisy, and on Tuesday anger against Iran gets a boost after Reuters reports that the true death toll from protests in November is closer to 1,500.

  • According to the account, widely picked up in the Hebrew media, the crushing response was ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who instructed his underlings to do whatever necessary to quell the disturbances.
  • Foreign Minister Israel Katz uses the news to hammer both Iran and the ICC, though ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes that he is repeating Yedioth’s fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that the ICC would have no jurisdiction to investigate.
  • Yedioth, meanwhile, publishes a firsthand account from Iran in which Abbas Pur Mohammady writes that the regime is forcing relatives of those killed to claim they committed suicide.
  • The protesters, he explains, don’t necessarily want to bring down the regime ( contrary to Israeli claims) but just want to make a living. “The truth is that we don’t want revolution, we want to fight the harsh reality. We see what’s happening in Syria and Iraq and we are afraid. From what? From the fact that if the regime falls, we won’t be able to make a living,” he writes.
  • Is Iraq so bad? In Haaretz, Zvi Bar’el writes of the Iraqi protests that succeeded where Iran’s failed, with creativity alive in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and films already being made and shared on social media about the uprising: “This video library is growing. Many of them have already gone viral on YouTube and social media, with thousands of new views every day. The government’s efforts to stop the spread of the videos by disrupting the internet have not really helped,” he writes.

7. Waiting for the other drone to drop: The Israeli media is getting in a huff over threats made by Iran to exact revenge over an alleged Israeli airstrike in Damascus on Sunday.

  • Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari writes that Israel should be worried and the Iranians may step up their attacks to convince Israel to lower theirs. “In Tehran, they have learned from the large successful attack on the world’s largest oil facility at Abuqaiq [in Saudi Arabia], which did not result in any real response against them, and it’s possible they may seek to hit Israel with a similar retaliatory attack.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes that Israel is stepping up attacks on Iran in Syria after an apparent lull, and Iran will eventually retaliate.
  • “This means that Israel must continue using its brawn, but also its brains. It cannot be obstinate. It must be able to change and adapt its actions to developments on the ground. Expecting the Iranians to surrender and give up trying to establish a presence in Syria, simply because of Israeli attacks, is unrealistic,” he writes.
  • But Haifa U. researcher Yossi Mansharoff, who brought that firsthand account to Yedioth, says there’s probably no reason to get too worked up. “One should understand Iran’s power has limits,” he tweets.
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