Hebrew media review

Will Netanyahu’s Eilat casino wager pay off?

The papers won’t bet on the PM’s initiative to legalize gambling in the southern city, but highlight the benefits such a move may bring

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Tourists seen playing at a casino in Las Vegas. May 20, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Tourists seen playing at a casino in Las Vegas. May 20, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The odds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to legalize gambling in Eilat will receive government approval do not look promising, but when such a contentious issue is laid out on the table you can bet the Hebrew-language media will go all in with attempts to understand the sudden rush to put casinos in the southern resort town.

“A political gamble,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s main headline. The paper stresses the fierce objections raised by members of Netanyahu’s own government to the possible establishment of several casinos in the Red Sea city, but Yedioth’s analysts nevertheless seem to side with the prime minister’s proposal. Nahum Barnea, uncharacteristically sympathetic to Netanyahu, repeats the Israeli leader’s claims that the only way to revive Eilat’s dire economic situation is to attract gambler tourism to the city. “In face of Eilat’s tsunami of problems, the government has only one solution: A casino,” Barnea writes.

Yedioth goes on to offer a casino-themed infographic explaining the pros and cons of the prime minister’s proposal, stressing that while legalized gambling will probably result in increased tourism, economic growth for Eilat’s residents, and high tax revenues for the government, the move may also usher in organized crime rings to the resort city, and harm financially unstable individuals who may be tempted to spend their hard-earned shekels at the roulette table in hopes of making an easy buck rather than handling their money responsibly.

In Haaretz, the focus is on the Welfare Ministry, which in no uncertain terms determines that the opening of an Eilat casino will result in a major increase of gambling addicts. “I am against the establishment of a casino because such a move will lead many people to need treatment from the Ministry of Welfare,” Haim Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and the minister of welfare, tells Haaretz. “We are seeing a rise in the number of individuals who are receiving treatment for gambling addiction, and there is no doubt that the construction of a casino will increase the number of addicts.”

Israel Hayom seems less concerned with the potential harm to the country’s moral fabric, and the casino affair is not even mentioned on the paper’s front page. Instead, the popular Israeli daily leads with Russia’s arms deals with Iran, ahead of the first delivery of S-300 air defense systems from Moscow to Tehran. Iran and Russia have reinforced their military and nuclear cooperation since the signing in July of a landmark accord between Tehran and world powers over the Iranian nuclear program. Israel Hayom contributor Boaz Bismuth bemoans the West’s acceptance of Iran as a trade partner once again, and accuses world powers of hypocrisy as Tehran builds up its stockpile of weapons. “Iran hasn’t changed [since the signing of July’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 world powers], not in actions and not in rhetoric” Bismuth says. “The West knows this, but excels at hypocrisy.”

Back in Haaretz, reporter Almog Ben Zichri writes that the Magistrate’s Court in Kiryat Gat ruled that the local hevra kadisha, or burial society, of nearby Kiryat Malachi must pay compensation to the family of an 18-year-old woman who died of AIDS complications, since the organization failed to properly prepare her body for burial. While the hevra kadisha said it had not performed the usual preparations due to concerns of infections, the court said the treatment of the girl’s body displayed “egregious behavior” on the part of the burial society as it had not notified the family that the procedure had not been performed. Ben Zichri explains that the case highlights the misinformation and lack of guidelines among the burial society as to the required actions in cases of AIDS-related death.

Thousands of Israelis flocked to the south over the past few weeks to see the region covered in a blanket of blooming red anemones, but Yedioth reports that for all their good intentions and nature loving, many tourists left a trail of garbage after viewing the spectacular flowering. However, the paper continues, teenagers from nearby Kibbutz Alumim set out to pick up the trash and make sure that the damage to the anemone fields would not be substantial. “Our youth is loyal to nature and returns to it the love that it gives to them,” Tamir Idan, the head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, told the paper. He called on visitors to respect the region, keep it clean, and not step on the flowers. Sounds like a reasonable request.

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