Israel media review

When I said this, I actually meant that: 5 things to know for September 25

As unity government talks intensify, leaders of Blue and White are forced to reconcile with countless promises they’d made not to sit with that ‘unsuitable’ guy on the other side

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), and Benny Gantz (L), leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), and Benny Gantz (L), leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

1. What an election promise is worth these days: After all that pre-election talk from Blue and White about how corrupt Benjamin Netanyahu is and all that sneering from Likud members about how insane Benny Gantz is, both sides appear to be holding their noses as President Reuven Rivlin pushes them together for one more unity-government negotiations photo op.

  • Channel 12 presents a clip on its evening news going through all the campaign videos, highlighting Netanyahu’s ridiculing of Gantz for agreeing to a rotational partnership with Yair Lapid. In some of the ads Lapid is portrayed as a child while in others, the mere mention of Lapid is enough of an insult to Gantz by association apparently. As for Blue and White, most of its ads included promises to not sit in a government with Netanyahu, who himself has asserted (in reference to former prime minister Ehud Olmert) that a “premier up to his neck in criminal investigations does not have a moral mandate to continue serving as prime minister.”
  • That was then. This is now, apparently. Kan reports that progress is being made toward a government both sides had once vowed they’d never join. Officials from both parties tell the Kan public broadcaster that Blue and White is prepared to drop one of its flagship red lines from the election campaign: either not to sit in a government with a Netanyahu facing indictment or not to include the Haredi parties in a coalition. Gantz’s party denies the report.
  • Kan also says that Gantz is open to the possibility of a rotational prime minister, but that he is not budging on demands regarding issues of religion and state. These include: public transportation and mini-markets open on the Sabbath, civil marriage, legislation regulating exemptions to military service for Haredi yeshiva students, and a return to agreement broken by Netanyahu to create a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that while Likud is open to the possibility of letting Gantz serve as the first prime minister in a rotational unity government, Lapid has put his foot down to any unity government with Netanyahu — whether he is prime minister or not.
  • The Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom offers above-the-fold coverage on the brewing agreement between Blue and White and Likud, which will apparently include a rotation for prime minister along with an even-steven division of cabinet appointments: 16 a piece. Whether the 16 given to Likud in such a scenario will be shared with the religious parties that have entered coalition negotiations as a united bloc led by Netanyahu remains to be seen. But Yamina chairman Ayelet Shaked appears to already be sweating, cryptically telling Radio Jerusalem, “If there is a betrayal of the ideological right and religious Zionism, everyone will bear the consequences.”
  • Gantz and Netanyahu are slated to meet again tonight at the President’s Residence for more Oslo-style handshakes and maybe some negotiations as well.

2. The worst job in all the land: Also surely sweating is President Reuven Rivlin, who is left to play a decisive role in the next government’s formation, and thus open to criticism from both sides who weren’t really interested in a unity government in the first place.

  • The “Eretz Nehederet” television show that satirizes current events akin to “SNL” has a cutesy clip of Rivlin sitting in his office sobbing over the results as he tries to tally the deadlocked numbers using a Chinese calculator. (No Hebrew needed to understand the skit.)
  • The left-leaning Haaretz chides the president’s arm-twisting, writing in its editorial: “Rivlin is both mistaken and misleading when he describes not wanting to join a government with Netanyahu as a boycott. Blue and White was established for the purpose of offering an alternative to Netanyahu and his corrupt and corrupting government.”
  • The paper argues that the country does not need “saving” from another election if that is the result that the democratic process ends up offering. “Saving” the state from such a possibility by means of gross interference is not in the president’s job description.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer points out that anointing Netanyahu prime minister, even on a rotational basis, was not exactly Rivlin’s first choice either. “We don’t know how Rivlin, a lifelong Likudnik, voted in last week’s election. But it would surprise no one if he were to reveal that, just like other veterans who grew up in the party of Menachem Begin (such as Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Benny Begin), he found a vote for today’s Likud simply unpalatable.”
  • “And despite all this, Rivlin has no choice but to try and get Gantz and Netanyahu to share power. It isn’t just his constitutional duty, or his desire to save Israel from a damaging third election,” Pfeffer adds, apparently disagreeing with his editors.

3. Take a mandate, leave a mandate: The Central Election Committee announces after midnight that following an investigation which found several instances of apparent election fraud, it had amended the election results and Likud gained one more seat at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.

  • The 32-seat total for Likud at the expense of the now seven-seat United Torah Judaism does not appear to impact the status of coalition negotiations as Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc remains at 55 seats while Blue and White is still the largest party with 33 seats and 54 recommendations for premiership.
  • Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer says that votes cast in six polling stations, mostly in Arab Israeli and Druze towns, would not be included in the results. Separately, Channel 13 reports that the son of a Likud minister attempted to tamper with Blue and White ballot slips in an effort to invalidate those who went on to use them.
  • Aryeh Yoeli from the national religious Srugim website argues that while on the face of it, neither side is impacted by the shift in mandates, the change is actually a blow to Blue and White, which that before had the (unlikely) possibility of building a coalition with Labor,  Democratic Camp, UTJ and Shas. Now, however, such a government would only add up to 60 seats.

4. Oy! Impeachment: Also enjoying coverage across the board in the Hebrew press is US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

  • At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
  • If it’s JTA, then it must be finding a Jewish connection to the whole ordeal, which is exactly what Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas does in his analysis, going through the various members of the tribe involved in the matter.
  • At the center of the matter is Zelenskiy, whose “challenges are compounded by his Jewishness,” writes  Kampeas. “He shies away from repudiating Ukraine’s anti-Semitic past and from what many see as its lingering anti-Semitism. Prior to his election, for example, an influential pundit said that the president of Ukraine should be Christian. He resists delving too deeply into his own Jewishness, joking at one point that ‘the fact that I am Jewish barely makes 20 in my long list of faults,’” writes Kampeas.
  • The three House Democrats who would take the lead on such proceedings are Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and Eliot Engel — all proud Seder-goers.

5. To fight Iran, you must befriend Israel: The impeachment rumors come at the backdrop of Trump’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly in which he urged Arab states to normalize ties with Israel in order to combat the Iranian nuclear threat as a more united front.

  • The US president accuses Tehran of trafficking in “monstrous anti-Semitism” and engaging in a “fanatical quest” to obtain nuclear weapons. Trump says the rogue regime’s aggression has created newfound regional alliances to counter the Iranian threat.
  • Despite Trump’s vows to further up sanctions against the Islamic regime, AFP reports that French President Emmanuel Macron is still holding out hope to arrange a last-minute summit between the US leader and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.
  • “If he leaves the country without meeting with President Trump, honestly this is a lost opportunity because he will not come back in a few months,” Macron says.

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