Who’s not a very good boy? 10 things to know for March 20
Israel media review

Who’s not a very good boy? 10 things to know for March 20

Abbas refuses to be the US’s puppy, Netanyahu is dogged by more legal trouble, NY Times pieces get defanged, and self-driving cars may get a shorter leash

Illustrative: Stray dogs. (JDMaddox/ iStockphoto, Getty Images)
Illustrative: Stray dogs. (JDMaddox/ iStockphoto, Getty Images)

1. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s attack on US Ambassador David Friedman, in which he called the envoy a “son of a dog” and a “settler,” is getting little attention in the Hebrew press, perhaps highlighting how far gone the Ramallah-Washington relationship is already.

  • The Haaretz daily notes that this is not the first time Abbas has accused Friedman of being a settler, with him having leveled a similar attack in January, though that speech was mostly remembered for the Palestinian leader’s “slap of the century” quip and anti-Semitic remarks.
  • The Times of Israel’s Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Abbas probably knew full well that he was burning any remaining splinters of the bridge he had left with the Americans: “Abbas feels that the Palestinians’ relations with the US have sunk so low that it’s impossible to undo the damage. He feels the Palestinians no longer have anything to lose by engaging in a direct confrontation with the US administration.”
  • Official Palestinian news site Wafa’s roundup of the Palestinian press notes that Abbas’s speech made top headlines, though not for the Friedman statement; rather, the focus was on his accusations against Hamas and his promise to “take national, legal and financial measures to protect our national project.”

2. In Israel and the US, the reaction to Abbas’s comments were fairly fast and very furious. Friedman himself said Abbas’s comments could be considered anti-Semitic, and the White House accused him of “hateful rhetoric.”

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the words were proof that the Palestinians are “losing it,” and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called for sanctions against the PA.
  • “Abbas is speaking like a terror leader, like an anti-Semitic instigator,” columnist Amnon Lord writes in Israel Hayom. Pointing to Abbas’s refusal to condemn terror, Lord insists that Europeans stop funding Palestinian institutions and NGOs, though he accuses even US Jewry of being on the side of PA president.
  • “Is there any chance American Jewry will come to its senses and listen to words of the chieftain? Doubtful. They agree with him. If Friedman gives legitimacy to settlers, so it’s okay for Abbas to not condemn terror? This is morally bankrupt,” he writes.

3. So what is a son of a dog? Abbas’s choice of insults to level at Friedman initially raised some confusion, with many (The Times of Israel included) at first  translating the comments as “son of a bitch,” the closest pejorative in common American-English usage. Friedman himself, quoting Abbas based on what he saw being reported, said he had been called a “son of a bitch.”

  • However, Arabic speakers were quick to point out that “ibn kalb,” the exact Arabic words used by Abbas, have a different, milder connotation than “son of a bitch,” closer to jerk or son of a gun. Even Abbas’s Fatah group was forced to put out a clarification, accusing the media of distorting his words, maintaining that he had said son of a dog and not son of a bitch.
  • As for Israelis’ ruff response to Abbas, that may have stemmed from “ibn kalb” having entered Hebrew slang as a swear word — something closer to “son of a bitch.”
  • For those curious, “Son of a Dog” is also a play about the crash of EgyptAir flight 990. Yoram Kaniuk’s Holocaust novel “Adam Ben Kelev,” which translates literally to “Man, Son of a Dog,” was turned into “Adam Resurrected,” when made into a Hollywood film in 2008.

4. Netanyahu may have some choice words of his own after reports emerged Monday night that he could be questioned over suspicions of obstruction of justice for allegedly telling aide Nir Hefetz to tell others to destroy incriminating phone messages related to the Bezeq case.

  • Reporting on the suspicions, Hadashot news noted that Netanyahu himself does not have a phone, so there are no messages to destroy, but telling others to do so could also get him in a heap of trouble. The report was sourced to unnamed judicial sources.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, which first reported on suspicions that Hefetz told Bezeq’s Shaul and Iris Elovitch to destroy their phones, now reports that that that act may have tipped off investigators, who noticed they were erasing messages and got permission to tap the phones of Hefetz and others. “If they are tampering with the investigation like this, it’s a sign they have something to hide,” the paper quotes a member of the investigation team saying.

5. Haaretz’s lead editorial goes after a prime minister who already was behind bars — Ehud Olmert — for his campaign of lashing out at everybody ahead of the release of his memoir.

“If there was a hope that the 18-month prison sentence and the 12 months he actually served would cause Olmert to do some soul-searching, it was not borne out. Just the opposite. Apart from one meaningless admission of responsibility — ‘I take the responsibility on myself because a thing like this happened with my senior aide’ — Olmert blatantly ignores the facts,” the editorial reads. “Olmert’s assault on the rule of law is occurring against the background of similar behavior by his successor.”

6. World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder, on the other hand, is praised in Haaretz for his New York Times op-ed, in which he points to the many ills in Israeli government policies, which the paper’s Chemi Shalev writes amounted to a mea culpa and was “an expression of the severity of the developing schism between Netanyahu’s Israel and American Jews.”

  • “Whether the ups and downs of Lauder’s personal relationship with Netanyahu played a role in his decision to confront the prime minister, publishing his article took no small amount of courage, especially for a man whose middle name for many decades seemed to be discretion and caution,” he writes.
  • Not everybody was enamored with Lauder’s op-ed. Speaking at an anti-Semitism in conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, with Lauder in attendance, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that it was “not a very good piece.”
  • Maariv reporter Yanir Cozin later caught a snippet of the two meeting in person, with Bennett complaining, “What are you doing?” “You’re my inspiration,” Lauder tells him. “Say I’m your inspiration and I’ll lose five seats in the Knesset,” Bennett shoots back, as US envoy Friedman looks on.

7. Another New York Times piece also comes under attack, after editor Jonathan Weisman penned a piece claiming that US Jewish groups were ignoring anti-Semitism.

  • “Nobody is talking about anti-Semitism? Everybody is talking about anti-Semitism. They’re just not listening to each other,” JTA editor Andrew Silow-Carrol writes.
  • Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer also picks apart the essay: “I don’t know precisely what American-Jewish community Weisman is describing, but his generalizations bear little resemblance to the one I’ve been reporting on. It is certainly true that anti-Semitism has surged during the rise of Donald Trump. But the American Jews I’ve watched have been anything but sheeplike in their response.”

8. A day after a French consulate driver was charged with gun-running between Gaza and the West Bank, French parliamentary member Meyer Habib writes in Israel Hayom that the case is proof of anti-Israel sentiment in his country’s diplomatic mission.

  • “The pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel environment that has been brewing for too many years at the French consulate in Jerusalem has created fertile ground for actions that are now polluting all of France,” he writes.

9. In Malaysia, meanwhile, officials are protesting against an accusation that they are not sufficiently anti-Israel, after an Israeli diplomat attended a conference in Kuala Lumpur.

  • “The status of Malaysia and Israel’s relations didn’t change. The attendance of the Israeli diplomat should not be seen as efforts for Malaysia and Israel to have diplomatic relations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican is quoted saying by the Malay Mail. “Our police also did not provide security (for the representative). He was the only participant invited directly by the UN.”
  • The paper notes that the visit by David Roet had sparked rumors that Malaysia could be opening diplomatic channels to Israel.

10. Elon Musk is in Israel, but another player in the self-driving car market is getting more press, after a self-driven Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

  • “An accident like this is a nightmare for every company involved in the coming self-driving revolution, not a few of them Israeli, and it was only a matter of time,” Yedioth’s Udi Etzion writes.
  • Bloomberg notes that Uber can expect the kind of scrutiny that Musk’s Tesla got after one of its self-driving cars was involved in a fatal accident in Ohio. The newswire notes that that incident led to a bad breakup between Musk and Israeli firm Mobileye.
  • Musk’s last trip to Israel was to meet with Mobileye about self driving car technology, and this time around he’s reportedly having talks with artificial intelligence startup Cortica. The Times of Israel’s Shoshanna Solomon reports that a person familiar with the meeting says the sides are seeing if the technology developed by the Israeli firm can be integrated into the Tesla cars.
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