Yelling ‘Arabs’ in an uncrowded theater: 6 things to know for November 18
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Yelling ‘Arabs’ in an uncrowded theater: 6 things to know for November 18

Netanyahu is criticized by some for his anti-Arab rhetoric against a minority government, but incitement or not, Gantz is still in a political pickle

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on November 17, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

1. Mayday from the cockpit: Coalition negotiations and jockeying are reaching a fevered pitch, with Benny Gantz and his Blue and White buddies kicking an 11th hour Hail Mary and hoping it nets them a government.

  • Haaretz’s top headline reports that Blue and White says it has made progress in negotiations with Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party, but in the fine print a Blue and White source tells the paper that things are not going so swimmingly.
  • “After the cockpit [leadership] meeting there is nothing really new,” one of the officials tells Haaretz.
  • Likud-backing Israel Hayom, which is chock full of what is essentially propaganda (more on that later), quotes a Blue and White source calling Liberman “unstable,” and saying nobody in the party really trusts him.
  • A picture of the so-called cockpit meeting, with the four macho men in black and white in a sterile-looking room, elicits some guffaws. ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes that the whole scene is very Scandinavian, while New York Times bureau chief David Halbfinger jokes that they could be a barbershop quartet.

2. Who will get Liberman’s rose? Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that all eyes are on the Yisrael Beytenu head, who is once again the main kingmaker. She notes that Liberman will meet with both Likud and Blue and White once more before making his final decision, making the negotiations sound like something out of “The Bachelor.”

  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer notes that “Liberman has been inciting against Arab Israelis for even longer than Netanyahu — and in much more blatant terms.”
  • Asks Pfeffer: “Has he finally reached the one bridge he cannot pass to accomplish this mission” of defeating Netanyahu?
  • Channel 12’s Daphna Liel, though, writes that Liberman has every reason to want to choose a side and avoid elections.
  • “He may be able to tell the public he stood by his word and prevented the creation of an extremist government by both sides, but on the other hand, the polls show his voters are the most fickle — some 50 percent are considering not voting for him again, and he could easily find himself below the threshold.”

3. Minority problems: Even with Liberman’s backing, a minority government would need the outside support of the Arab parties. And the problem goes well beyond Liberman.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes a Blue and White source laying out the options for such a government: Blue and White + Yisrael Beytenu + Labor with outside support from Democrat Union and Joint List; or Blue and White + Labor + Democratic Camp with outside support from the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu.
  • According to the paper, though, Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi, half of the Blue and White leadership committee, will only be okay with a minority government that has Liberman “inside.” And the paper notes that Blue and White’s right-wing MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser (whose name they absentmindedly write as Tzvika Hendel, a former ultra-nationalist MK no longer serving) might not be down with the plan in any case and bolt.
  • Channel 12 reports that Democratic Camp says it won’t back a minority government unless it is in it, which further limits Gantz’s options.
  • Sefi Ovadia writes on Channel 13 news’s website that the chances of either a unity or minority government are both “slim,” meaning elections here we come (again).

4. Make Bibi great again: One of the big reasons many think that neither unity or minority is possible is Netanyahu’s decision to go all out against the Arabs, making joining a minority government look as palatable as gingerbread hummus.

  • Yedioth notes that Gantz believes the anti-Arab push is proof that Netanyahu has already decided on going to elections.
  • At a Sunday night “emergency” rally against the “dangerous” minority government scenario, Jacob Magid notes that some of Netanyahu’s rhetoric echoed was used by a Likud chatbot that was kicked off Facebook (and which Netanyahu had sworn no knowledge of).
  • Magid also notes that the event wasn’t too far from a Trump rally: “In what appeared to be an Israeli equivalent of the ‘lock her up’ calls against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heard at rallies for US President Donald Trump, dozens of attendees held signs calling for the jailing of Deputy State Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari and the interrogation of State Attorney Shai Nitzan.”
  • Unlike Trump’s barnburners, though, this one was poorly attended, which a former Likud official explains is a product of the fact that the rally wasn’t for the party, but for one man and his diehard supporters: “It’s a rally for Bibi. That’s why this place isn’t full.”
  • A tweet from the rally shows one of those diehards holding a poster listing members of Blue and White and other parties with Arab first names, which is nothing at all like when people accentuate Barack Obama’s middle name.
  • “We got an Order 8 and we came,” reads the headline in Israel National News over the dispatch from the rally, referring to the emergency call-up of troops in war.

5. Race to the bottom: The rally, and Netanyahu’s anti-Joint List statements before, after and during it garner gobs of media coverage, most of it unkind toward the prime minister.

  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that “Netanyahu staged a one-man show of lunacy.”
  • In the same paper, former Meretz MK Issawi Frej goes even further, calling the prime minister more dangerous than Meir Kahane.
  • “Then, racist and hateful talk came from a marginal figure, whereas today the words are not that dissimilar, but they issue forth from the mouth of a prime minister,” he writes.
  • Journalist Neri Zilber calls the performance “pure incitement.”
  • In Yedioth, Nahum Barnea writes that Netanyahu has cried wolf one too many times, and even his backers don’t buy it anymore.
  • “The words were bigger than life. Prophecies of doom, no less, from a revered leader, the sitting prime minister. I expected people to cry out bitterly, start wailing at the stage. But nothing happened. They just took pictures, laughed, yelled “only Bibi” now and then. Maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems that the years of spin, of rhetorical flourishes, of pathos on the stage, have gone too far. They revere Netanyahu, even love his words, but don’t trust his messages about a looming enemy,” he writes.

6. Head for the hills: Don’t tell the editors of Israel Hayom, who see the threat and all but take off fleeing.

  • “Likud official: The danger of a minority government has not passed,” reads the top headline of the tabloid, as if the idea is some sort of plague or sharknado.
  • As if issuing a threat, the paper’s Amnon Lord calls Netanyahu’s campaign “a taste of a little of the campaign in the next election — should Gantz and his buddies decide to go for a minority government of the left and Arabs.”
  • Hamevasar also appears to be down with Netanyahu’s message, running as its top headline Netanyahu’s description of a minority government as a “terror attack.”
  • “This isn’t just a serious, terrible precedent with destructive consequences on the political level and sad for the identity of the national state of the Jews,” writes Boaz Shapira in Israel National News, “but also a serious security risk immediately endangering in a real way the country and its citizens.”
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