You scratch my back… I get you that immunity: 6 things to know for August 20
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Israel media review

You scratch my back… I get you that immunity: 6 things to know for August 20

After bombshell report saying Shaked sent feelers to Netanyahu claiming she could make criminal probes go away if PM let her back into Likud, Yamina head goes on media denial blitz

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, left, during a vote on the 2017-2018 state budget in the Knesset plenum, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, left, during a vote on the 2017-2018 state budget in the Knesset plenum, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. My buddy Mandelblit and I will take care of this for you: Haaretz reports that former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who now leads the right-wing Yamina party, offered to use her ostensible influence with Israel’s attorney general to ensure the closure of the three corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the premier let her back into the Likud party.

  • If substantiated, Shaked’s alleged actions could conceivably constitute crimes in themselves, including breach of trust and obstruction.
  • Haaretz says it saw written exchanges and heard recordings of “political figures” making the offers, purportedly on Shaked’s behalf. She reportedly used interlocutors to lobby influential figures in the ruling party, including Netanyahu and his wife Sara, who has reportedly vetoed allowing the the former head of the premier’s office back into his good graces.
  • But with the Netanyahus refusing to play ball, Haaretz says one Shaked emissary reminded an unnamed Likud interlocutor that the former justice minister and Mandelblit are like best buds. “She controls him. She knows how to influence him. She’s close to him. If she isn’t in control of the Justice Ministry, it’s clear that Bibi [Netanyahu] is going to prison,” the messenger reportedly said, adding that Shaked would be far better at explaining to the public why the premier deserves immunity than that populist Miri Regev.
  • So desperate was Shaked that she even scheduled an interview with Channel 12 in which she prepared in advance to answer a question regarding her relationship with Sara Netanyahu. When the moment came, she assured the interviewer that she only has the greatest respect for the prime minister’s wife and the latter’s “true partnership” with the premier.
  • Shaked’s efforts continued until hours before she agreed to become chairwoman of the New Right party, which eventually became part of the Yamina amalgam along with the Union of Right-Wing Parties. According to Haaretz, the former minister sent feelers to Likud officials warning them that she wasn’t bluffing about returning to politics and that she would either do so as a Netanyahu ally or foe.  The prime minister ultimately chose the latter.

2. Deny, deny, deny: Shaked vehemently denies the report, calling it “a low and ugly attempt to slander me and the attorney general. She claims that the mediators quoted in the report were not working on her behalf and that she is as clean as a whistle.

  • Just to be sure, she goes on just about every morning talk show imaginable in an attempt to put the story to bed — from Army Radio to the Kan public broadcaster to 103FM; all within minutes of each other.
  • Asked about the report during his diplomatic trip in Ukraine, Netanyahu similarly scoffs at it. “Shaked can join Likud, like anyone else. It turned out that she didn’t want to,” the premier tells reporters.
  • Shaked’s fellow faction members are quick to come to their party leader’s defense, with Naftali Bennett tweeting that the only thing the Yamina chairwoman is interested in is improving the lives of Israeli citizens and Bezalel Smotrich chiming in that such “attacks” on Shaked will only bring more supporters to her party. Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson, who penned the bombshell report, points out on Twitter that the statements from Bennett and Smotrich were issued within 60 seconds of each other, suggesting that they had followed a directive from party higher-ups to jump to Shaked’s defense.
  • Less convinced of the ex-justice minister’s innocence were members of the Democratic Camp. The party’s No. 3 candidate Yair Golan sent an urgent request to Mandelblit ordering him to probe the accusations made in the Haaretz report.

3. Emigration nation: Briefing Israeli reporters in Kyiv in the name of a “senior official,” Netanyahu claims his government is actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and is working to find other countries who may be willing to absorb them.

  • The story leads the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily, which appeared to have missed the Haaretz report about Shaked’s alleged offer though other outlets, such as Yedioth, gave it plenty of play.
  • The premier says Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate, and would even be willing to consider allowing them to use an Israeli air field close to Gaza to allow them to leave for their new host countries, stopping short of saying IDF soldiers would assist Palestinians in packing their belongings.
  • In order to demonstrate that the policy is already in motion, Netanyahu points out that 35,000 Gazans have already left the Strip. (Two million more to go.)
  • Commenting on the report, Middle East analyst Neri Zilber tweets that the policy is “pie in the sky but important politically. Clear ripoff of far right platforms – Feiglin, Ben Gvir & Smotrich. Shows you where Bibi is at these days & pressure on his Gaza policy.”
  • Kan Palestinian affairs correspondent Gal Berger further picks the policy apart: “Those who emigrate will be the ones with money — the rich, the established, the taken care of, the educated. And who are we stuck with? You guessed it the les miserables,” he says referring to the poorest, least educated and most prone to violence.
  • As for what Gazans themselves think of Netanyahu’s plans, one 27-year-old from Gaza city who asked to remain nameless tells The Times of Israel’s Palestinian affairs correspondent Adam Rasgon, “People are leaving on their own. Netanyahu hasn’t done anything to help them emigrate. As far as I am concerned, he made the statement to win more votes from the right, which holds racist views of Palestinians.”

4. You better do what you’re planning on doing. Or else: Hamas issues a direct threat to Israel in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, warning that it will escalate the violence along the Gaza-Israel border if Israel hinders the entry of Qatari cash into the Gaza Strip and fails to increase the supply of electricity.

  • “The factions have given the interlocutors a direct threat [to pass along to Israel]: If the enemy does not implement the understandings, allowing entry of the Qatari funds and increasing the quantity of electricity by this weekend, they will move to escalate on the ground,” an unnamed Hamas source tells the newspaper.
  • Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi is set to arrive in Gaza on Thursday to oversee the disbursement of another $25 million in $100 bills to needy families, and to discuss infrastructure projects funded by the Gulf emirate in the Strip.
  • TOI military correspondent Judah Ari Gross points out that “Hamas has already done this multiple times. Give an ultimatum for something Israel is already planning to do, then when Israel does the thing it was planning to do, it looks like Hamas made them.”

5. Schepping chutzpah: Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib hold a press conference blasting Israel’s refusal to grant them entry to the country over their support for boycotting the Jewish state.

  • “We give Israel more than $3 billion in aid every year, based on it being an important ally in the region and the ‘only democracy in the Middle East,’” Omar argues. “But denying entry to duly elected officials of friendly countries is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self determination is not compatible with being a democracy.”
  • Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and whose grandmother lives in the West Bank, breaks down in tears while describing hardships she said her relatives have had to go through. “I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints were put up near Beit Ur al-Fauqa.”
  • White House spokesman Hogan Gidley was less than sympathetic toward the representatives, saying that they “have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships. Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.”
  • More moved by Tlaib’s words is the anti-occupation group IfNotNow, which tweets, “we are kvelling (welling up with emotion) as we listen to @RashidaTlaib describe her experience as a child on a vist to the West Bank.”
  • The far-left group frequently employs Jewish jargon in an effort to convey their fight as a religious one. But this time, it mixed up its Yiddishisms. Kvelling is the verb used to describe the feeling of pride and satisfaction from seeing others excel. The group eventually deleted the tweet, but not before it got picked up by others on Twitter, who were quick to mock.
  • “I just kibbitzed (laughed my head off) so much I spilled my shmutz (latte macchiato) all over my tuches (computer keyboard),” tweets former TOI breaking news editor David Sedley.
  • Apropos of Yiddish, here’s former Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachman more properly using the term chutzpah.

6. Israel’s coach: Also peppering the headlines in many of the Hebrew dailies is Israeli-American basketball coach David Blatt’s announcement that he is battling a progressive form of multiple sclerosis.

  • “Sometimes life throws things at you that really have no explanation or rhyme or reason. Those are moments that upon recognizing you have to make choices that test your true character,” he writes in a letter published on the website of the Olympiacos Greek team that he’s currently coaching.
  • The coach, who took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA finals in 2015 before being dumped by the team the next year, says he is applying sports methodologies to his treatment program, and planns to continue coaching Olympiacos.
  • In a subsequent interview with Kan, Blatt says, “I feel different on the physical level, but mentally – I am stronger than ever. There are things more difficult [than what I’m going through.] There are quite a few people who have to fight no less than I do. One of my goals is to inspire – not give up and continue to enjoy life.”
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