In Germany, the Kulturkampf referred to battles between civil and religious authorities over control of what the state would look like. In Israel, the same term could be applied to battles between the ruling class and the creative community over the right of free expression and the character of the country.
That fight once again reared its head Tuesday after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tried to get singer Yehonatan Gefen blackballed from Army Radio for comparing Holocaust icons Anne Frank and Hanna Szenesh (and King David and Joan of Arc) to Palestinian activist/soldier-slapper Ahed Tamimi.
The bruising battle makes front pages, along with a separate fight between politicians and law enforcement authorities revolving tangentially around an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Gefen story carries a potent mix of politics, music and a power battle, the latest iteration of a fight that pops up every now and again when Liberman and others try to keep views they find abhorrent out of whatever parts of the mainstream they can control (see Miri Regev and “Foxtrot” for one recent example, and Liberman and Mahmoud Darwish for another).
Yedioth is the only newspaper to lead off with the story, playing up Gefen’s place in the pantheon of Israeli songwriters and his catalog of classics, “though he now has to worry,” the paper writes. The reporting notes that after Liberman tried to ban Gefen from Army Radio broadcasts, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit slapped him back as overstepping his authority, setting off a fresh fight between the two of them.
Former Army Radio chief and IDF spokesperson Avi Benayahu accuses Liberman of attempting a Regev-esque putsch (“The only thing for certain is that he woke up before her,” he writes) and says while he might not agree with Gefen’s words, the defense minister is unprecedented in his actions.
“I headed Army Radio for six years and never once got an order like that of Liberman’s. I also advised three defense ministers, who would never try a move like that on Army Radio. Did they grumble? Sure. Did they put pressure? Yes. But they knew where the limit was,” he writes.
In Haaretz, Amos Harel notes that in trying, and likely failing, to put his weight on the radio station, Liberman has seemingly shot his bid for more control in the foot.
“The bottom line is the fight between Liberman and Mandelblit signals an end to to the defense minister’s bid to transfer control of Army Radio to the Defense Ministry. In the attorney general’s letter, it is clear that he does not give the minister the authority to intervene in the station’s decision-making,” he writes.
The paper also reports on another bizarre twist in the Tamimi saga, with Kulanu MK Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US, surmising that the family known as provocateurs might actually be light-skinned actors just pretending to be Palestinian activists.
Oren is quoted telling Haaretz that a Knesset subcommittee that he chaired “looked into whether ‘members of the family were chosen for their appearance’ – blond, blue-eyed and light-skinned. ‘Also clothing. A real costume. American dress in every respect, not Palestinian, with backward baseball caps. Even Europeans don’t wear backward baseball caps. It was all ready; after a provocation or a brawl the posters would come out. It was all prepared. It’s what’s known as Pallywood.’”
On Israel Hayom’s op-ed page Reuven Berko (husband of MK Anat Berko who once famously said Palestinians don’t exist because they can’t say “P”) surmises that the Tamimis are a family of converts from Judaism, related to Ahlam Tamimi, the woman behind the deadly Jerusalem Sbarro bombing in 2001. But his wider point is that there’s no place to compare any of them to Frank, Szenesh Joan of Arc or King David.
“I had to overcome my gag reflex when I heard the comparison Gefen made,” he writes.
Surprisingly, the paper doesn’t touch the Gefen story at all in its news pages, leading off instead with a report that Roni Rittman, head of the police’s anti-fraud unit, has handed in his resignation after being dogged by sexual harassment allegations.
“I have no strength to tilt at windmills, I was supposed to finish my term a few months ago and I have no strength to bear the brouhaha surrounding me,” the paper quotes a frustrated Rittman telling friends as he continues to protest his innocence.
The paper, which has gone on the attack against the police over the Netanyahu probe, now continues to do so, with analyst Akiva Bigman calling the resignation a black eye for police commissioner Roni Alsheich, who kept Rittman on beyond his term despite the allegations. Bigman notes Rittman’s rumored claim that it was Netanyahu or his associates trying to bring him down, attributing Alsheich’s decision to keep him on as pushback against the conspirators, with the columnist casting a jaundiced eye on both Ronis.
“So how could the commissioner or Rittman be able to manage the investigation of the PM with clean hands and in good faith?” he asks.
Meanwhile the investigation against Netanyahu rolls on and Haaretz leads off with a conversation, first reported on by Channel 10 news Tuesday night, in which Netanyahu reportedly asked business bigwig Arnon Milchan for cigars while they were talking about securing the businessman a US visa.
According to the paper, the tape, provided by former aide Ari Harow, “provides further evidence of the link between the prime minister’s assistance to Milchan, and the gifts he is accused of requesting in return.”
The paper also plays up graft charges recommended against three members of the Arab Balad party, including quoting Balad accusing the police of going after the MKs to balance out the probes of Netanyahu. While the story notes that sources don’t think the MKs will be indicted, the paper itself indicts other opposition MKs for refusing to back Balad and other Arab lawmakers during a protest against US Vice President MIke Pence’s Knesset address on Monday.
“The only ones who faithfully represented opponents of the occupation, seekers of peace and lovers of Israeli democracy on Tuesday were the members of the Joint List,” the paper’s lead editorial reads. “All the other opposition members, by their spontaneous apathy, proved that their leader is none other than Netanyahu, and that they deserve their marginal role in the nationalist puppet theater that the prime minister manages.”