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Israel media review

You scratch my back, or else: What the press is saying on August 12

Likud appears to be getting what it wants out of Blue and White on one bill, as new demands rise to the surface and the specter of elections remains front and center

Benny Gantz speaks to the media outside his home on August 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Benny Gantz speaks to the media outside his home on August 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Flexible as a steel beam: With the danger surrounding a vote that would forbid the election of a prime minister who is under indictment seemingly defused in Likud’s favor, the party appears to have gone straight back to digging in its heels on the budget issue, meaning that new elections could still be on the cards.

  • “We want a compromise, but won’t agree to a two-year budget,” reads the front page headline in Israel Hayom, often seen as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quoting an unnamed senior Likud member.
  • The paper goes on to claim that the “ultimatum” of Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, in which he appeared to hang the threat of the no indicted prime ministers law over Netanyahu’s head to force his hand on pushing off the budget deadline, has failed.
  • “The ultimatum expired without Netanyahu responding to it — since Blue and White announced that it would not take part in the Yesh Atid vote,” reports the paper, even though Likud did respond to it by saying it would back the budget deadline extension, at least on preliminary reading, which it does Wednesday morning.
  • Speaking to Channel 13, Finance Minister Israel Katz is shocked and offended that a political party would play politics and try to engage in horse-trading over the bills. “If he tries to link the two things, that’s a sad attempt that is inappropriate. You can’t threaten the prime minister and prevent him from running.”
  • Meh. “These are fateful days, and I call on Likud to get itself together. If it’s impossible, at least we tried,” Blue and White’s Orit Farkash HaCohen tells Army Radio.

2. Oh no, Mr. Bills: Despite the budget extension bill passing on preliminary reading, neither bill is seen as having much of a chance of succeeding (and indeed the Yesh Atid bid has failed).

  • Haaretz reports that while Shas and UTJ both voted for the budget extension bill, “neither believe that the bill will further advance and are backing it to gain public support and not to be perceived as those who are thwarting a possible solution to Israel’s political crisis.”
  • The paper’s lead editorial pillories Blue and White over its decision to skip out on the vote: “The decision by the members of Blue and White to absent themselves from the vote is another gentlemanly gesture towards their partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the sake of national reconciliation and the battle against the coronavirus, which goes well with the spirit of the La-La Land in which they are living. The only problem is that any connection between the scenario and reality is definitely a coincidence. That’s because their ‘partner’ is a liar, a serial breaker of promises and contracts, a person without honor, who can’t be taken at his word and whose signature is not worth the paper on which it is written.”
  • Kan reports that despite Blue and White saying it will abstain from voting on the Yesh Atid bill, Likud still “sees it as the same as voting for the bill.”
  • “Shas head Aryeh Deri has spoken to senior Blue and White members and tried to convince them to vote with the coalition, in order to not give Netanyahu another excuse to dismantle the coalition and go to elections,” it reports.
  • The station also notes that Blue and White is claiming that it asked Yesh Atid to push off the vote on the indicted PM law by a week, to no avail: “Blue and White explained that by next Wednesday, it would know if there was a compromise or not on the budget and so there would be a better chance that they would support Yesh Atid’s bill.”
  • But Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovitch says the bill is too little too late, and doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter anyway, which he thinks should be disqualifying anyone under indictment from even running for Knesset.
  • “The right to be elected, like the right to vote, is not without limits,” writes the budding totalitarian.

3. It’s not the budget, stupid: The budget crisis isn’t even necessarily the main focus anymore. Channel 12 news reports that the budget battle was only being used to pressure Blue and White to change the terms of their coalition deal.

  • According to the report, Netanyahu is demanding the coalition deal be altered so elections are automatically called should the High Court of Justice disqualify him from serving as alternate prime minister after he hands over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021. The current deal only gives Netanyahu protection for the first six months of the government’s existence.
  • Netanyahu is also reportedly demanding that the agreement to form a professional committee for appointing senior legal officials — such as the state attorney and the chief of police — be canceled, with that power returning to politicians.
  • The channel predicts Blue and White will make a fuss over the second demand, which was seen as a main achievement of their coalition talks.
  • “The budget, as is known, is just an excuse,” writes Walla’s Tal Shalev. “The ping-pong between Netanyahu and Gantz is mostly an official announcement of the start of the blame game, which is usually the preliminary stage before the government breaks up and dissolves the Knesset. It also exposes the severe crisis of faith between the sides, which for now is far from being solved.”
  • “All the frenetic activity ostensibly intended to stave off the threat of elections is an illusion,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Verter. “From MK Zvi Hauser’s bill delaying the budget deadline, to the bills targeting Netanyahu authored by Yesh Atid and Meretz. The political judgment is being delayed week by week, as the Likud members’ talking points on a single-year budget sound like a particularly bad joke. The chances of new elections are 50:50 – either this November, or June 2021, at the latest. The chance of continuing with unity and Netanyahu honoring agreements are approximately equal to his perceived bodily risk: Zero.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, former Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein says nobody cares about these politicians’ internal squabbles. “What will the average Israeli think, with no idea of the difference between a one-year and two-year budget, but understands there is no connection between these political games and the benefit to the state and individuals, and all this while the coronavirus is running rampant and the economy is in tatters. Enough. Get it together.”

4. Not the shot in the arm we need: Perhaps he will be calmed by news of a Russian vaccine. He shouldn’t.

  • Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday that Israel would enter talks with Russia for the vaccine, though many think that’s not the best idea.
  • “The science world is worried about this,” Eren Segal from the Weizzman institute tells Army Radio. “There’s been no phase three study, which is the most important way to check viruses. If they start giving out the vaccine without checking, there could be many consequences.”
  • In Yedioth, Dr. Eitan Friedman compares using the virus, which is based on a weakened cold virus carrying the coronavirus gene, which would then release antibodies, to playing Russian Roulette.
  • “Even if the vaccine protects against the coronavirus in the short term, the weakened virus could cause a much worse sickness. Sickness similar to Corona, which could end up being more harmful,” he writes.
  • A New York Times report notes a recent study out of Tel Aviv, looking at FDA-approved vaccines from the last 20 years, found that none of them had problems, showing the effectiveness of the whole three-phase trial thing.
  • “This is all beyond stupid,” virologist John Moore is quoted telling the paper. “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”

5. Let’s Jew this: Israelis are less sure what to make of Joe Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris as his VP candidate, which also gets fairly wide coverage in the press here.

  • “Harris certainly walked the tightrope on the issue of Israel: She is strongly in the moderate Biden column but has had to adjust her optics, if not the content of her stance to avoid alienating more progressive supporters,” writes Allison Kaplan-Sommer in Haaretz.
  • “Like Biden, Harris strongly supports a two-state solution, and she has pleased AIPAC and other ‘pro-Israel’ circles by speaking in favor of Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ from Hamas attacks from the Gaza Strip, and saying that she didn’t think the United States should pressure Israel on peace with the Palestinians because a resolution ‘cannot be imposed by outside parties.’ Those circles are surely less excited by her statements during the primary race endorsing the idea of the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement under a new administration, but ‘look toward expanding it,’” she notes.
  • ToI’s Eric Cortellessa writes that, “When it comes to US policy on Israel, her positions more or less reflect mainstream Democratic thinking over the last 10 years.”
  • But he adds that “There has been one issue in which Harris has diverged to an extent from Washington’s pro-Israel lobby: the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that would criminalize boycotting the Jewish state. Harris does not support the BDS movement, but she voted against the bill on the grounds that it would infringe on speech rights.”
  • Kan’s Amichai Stein says that with the pick of Harris, Netanyahu is able to “breath a sigh of relief. The big fear there had been that Susan Rice, whose relationship with Netanyahu is not great, to say the least, would be the candidate.”
  • And as the provincial Jewish press is wont to do, there are plenty of mentions of the fact that Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish.
  • That means Emhoff “would become the country’s first Jewish second husband,” writes JTA. Also the first second husband at all, but who’s keeping score?
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