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Israel media review

When it snows, it pours: What the press is saying about Bennett, Omicron and Litzman

The PM blitzes the media with his thoughts, Omicron’s onslaught leads to a politically tinged fight over school quarantines, and the AG’s plate-clearing plea deals raise scrutiny

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

1. Bennett blitz: Israeli prime ministers don’t often give one-on-one interviews to the press, but when they do, they do it all at once. Thus it is that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is all over the print (and some non-print) press Friday morning, touting his achievements and bashing the last person who used to blitz the media by giving everyone interviews all at once: opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • Bennett features prominently on the front pages of all three major dailies Friday morning, as well as Makor Rishon and the Jerusalem Post. He also finds his way into Walla, despite supposedly only speaking to print publications. (We won’t delve into what it means that news organizations are willing to go along with this all-or-nothing system despite the fact that it dilutes their exclusivity and allows prime ministers to get off without giving regular press conferences.)
  • Bennett’s messages to the publications all fall generally within range of each other, with him giving similar answers to questions about managing the pandemic, managing his unwieldy coalition, managing the opposition, and managing diplomacy. But within each interview lie unique and even interesting tidbits.
  • Haaretz plays up Bennett’s recollection of Netanyahu’s hyperbolic anger at him once he realized that Bennett was going to join his rivals and form a government that would push him from power.
  • “’Listen,’ he said to me, ‘if I understand correctly what you’re going to do, you should know that I am going to employ my entire machine, the army against you.’ He demonstrated with his arm,” the paper quotes Bennett saying. “’I will send the drones at you, and we’ll see.’”
  • Asked if he means Netanyahu would send a real army or air force after him, which may tell you something about either how Netanyahu is viewed or Israeli media, Bennett replies that no, Netanyahu did not mean the literal IDF.
  • “No. He was talking about his army of bots, the [social media] groups, his people on the radio, TV and online,” Bennett is quoted responding.
  • (The paper also quotes Bennett citing a bit of macabre trivia, noting that the last two times Jews had full sovereignty over the land, referring to biblical times, it didn’t last more than 80 years. “We’re now in our eighth decade.”)
  • Yedioth Ahronoth tosses hardball questions at Bennett, such as: “Are you worried about another coronavirus variant?” “What did you do correctly regarding the coronavirus and where did you go wrong?” and “How has being prime minister changed you?” Perhaps the most interesting thing he says is that he does not plan on ever moving into his official residence, but will rather use the home a few days a week while keeping his family in Ra’anana.
  • Israel Hayom tries a bit harder to challenge Bennett, though it does so from a right-wing perspective that often seems to miss the point, like pushing him to answer for his left-wing coalition partners. Bennett tells the paper that if his successor Yair Lapid, who is supposed to rotate into the job next year, pursues another “Oslo,” as in an arrangement with the Palestinians, he’ll leave the government.
  • And he downplays efforts by Lapid and especially Defense Minister Benny Gantz to forge ties with Ramallah. “They have no authority over matters of state,” he says of his foreign minister/alternate prime minister and defense minister. “They talk economics and I’m for bolstering trade between us and the Palestinians.”
  • Speaking to Walla, which actually pushes him on his “confusing” coronavirus policy, Bennett presents Israel as a magical wonderland of health, where all of his policies to remove restrictions will bring a windfall of education and weapons to the country’s guns and homework starved populace.
  • “As I see it, on the coronavirus, Israel is managed better than anywhere else in the world,” he says. “Lockdowns are the worst solution because they destroy kids’ souls and the future economy of the nation. The last government’s policies cost us NIS 200 billion ($625 million). You know how many kids’ lives could have been saved with that money? What free education from birth to university we could have paid for with that money? You know how many flak jackets, Trophy [defense systems] for tanks, or upgraded APCs we could have bought our fighters with that money? I am taking the same tack as I did before: Doing everything for the economy, for the market and for education.”

2. Schoolyard brawl: Also all over the media landscape Friday is someone who would likely disagree with that assessment, Yaffa Ben David, head of one of the country’s largest teachers unions and de facto spokeswoman for all who think Israel’s new policy of exempting schoolchildren from quarantine might not be the best idea they’ve ever had.

  • On Wednesday, Ben David took her fight against Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton up a notch, calling a strike to protest the new policy — thwarted only by a court order.
  • Ben David tells Channel 13 news she’s doing what Shasha-Biton should be doing, protecting faculty: “All due respect to the education minister, but I represent the teaching public. She should be the one shouting their cries of alarm.”
  • Speaking to Kan, she notes that if doing away with quarantine was so healthy, they would have gotten rid of it across the board. “They are leaving teachers exposed.”
  • She also points out that the new guidelines, which went into effect Thursday, called for all students to be tested before entering the school, but the Education Ministry never actually distributed tests to all the students. “So today they all came to school without being checked. Even the Education Ministry said if you feel fine but don’t have a test, come anyway.”
  • Despite Channel 12 and Ynet reporting that Ben David had been put up to calling the strike by Health Ministry official Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Shasha-Biton’s arch-nemesis, other teachers, and not only, are in the media expressing misgivings over the plan.
  • “The decision-makers need to be connected to what’s happening on the ground and understand that teachers are people, we are going in physically afraid of the class,” one teacher tells Army Radio. “We have no way to oversee the testing to know if a kid is a carrier or not since the tests aren’t reliable.”
  • Others still pursue the idea that Ben David is just a pawn of the Health Ministry. She tells Channel 12 that nobody pressures her into doing anything, but the channel reports that three separate bills are currently making their way toward the Knesset designed to limit her power. Among the proposals are laws forcing the teachers union to change leadership every few years, and limiting the union’s ability to inform teachers about ways for them to make more money.
  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that the quarantine quarrel was a “low point” for the government in its management of the pandemic, but he says the real rank smell comes from the other side of the debate.
  • “What happened this time calls for an examination. The professionals need to express their opinion based on the best knowledge and assessments they have – but the final decision rests with the government. In this case, there is at least a whiff of a flanking maneuver that involves an external element whose top priority is not necessarily the wellbeing of the teachers and the pupils. Bennett was raked over in the media when his wife and children went abroad for a vacation at the start of the present wave, contrary to his admonition to the public. If senior Health Ministry officials manipulated him, that is far worse.”
  • The paper’s Rogel Alpher also wants you to know (really, it’s his headline) that Ben-David “reminds me of a teacher I had in elementary school, one who hated kids.” Fascinating.

3. Pleas and thank you: Also in the things-that-seem-to-stink category is a plea deal reached with UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman, who was accused of using his power as minister to try and help a woman accused of sexually abusing her students, evade justice and more.

  • According to Channel 13, which first reported on the deal, Litzman will admit to breach of trust only in the case of accused pedophile Malka Liefer, have all other charges dropped, get a suspended sentence and pay NIS 2,800 ($875).
  • Ynet reports that he’ll also agree to step down and leave political life, though he had said he was planning on doing that anyway.
  • “In the past, he called the accusations against him a ‘false plot.’ Now he’s admitting to breach of trust in the Leifer case and thus, it seems, ending his political career.”
  • Yet others are still unhappy with the slap on the wrist. Yaakov Sela, a spokesperson for Magen, which has aided Leifer’s victims, tells Army Radio: “Throughout the whole time with the case, we felt that there were major forces working against us, and yesterday we got the proof. People get more serious punishments for very small things, though on the other hand, I’m happy that Litzman admitted it. I see it as something that might give the victims a bit of peace.”
  • Kan’s Tamar Almog, noting that the fine is less than one-tenth of Litzman’s monthly salary, connects the plea deal (and another deal reached with Shas’s Aryeh Deri last week) to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s looming retirement and his apparent desire to clear his slate before he goes.
  • “When everything happens at the last moment, the question comes up of how it looks. Justice should be visible, as the attorney general has said himself many times.”
  • On Twitter, Globes reporter Avishai Grunzweig explains that Litzman’s actions were not actually malicious, but just a product of his ultra-Orthodox non-Zionist worldview.
  • “From his perspective, he’s a representative who’s there in order to help protect against the Fritz, against the regime,” he writes, using a word that apparently refers to tax-happy Polish landowners who used to be the biggest threat to ultra-Orthodox Jews back in the day.
  • “That’s how it was in the Leifer case. There’s no doubt that Litzman, short on experience, doesn’t know a thing about psychiatric evaluations. When he tried to change the decision of the psychiatrist, he was just trying to save Leifer from the Fritz. Litzman himself called it redeeming hostages. He wasn’t trying to change policies, but rather to save [Leifer] from them.”

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