News Nosh 7.28.20

APN's daily news review from Israel - Tuesday July 28, 2020

You Must Be Kidding: 
"A siege on the Arabs and not on the Jews."
--Words spray-painted by settlers on the walls of a mosque in a West Bank village before they set it ablaze.*

Front Page:


Yedioth Ahronoth

Maariv This Week (Hebrew links only)

Israel Hayom

Top News Summary:

A thwarted attack that ended in a tie, but didn’t end the battle between Hezbollah and Israel, a battle plan against the corona crisis by the new ‘Corona Czar’ of Israel, and a continued battle between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz over the the time period of the state budget (which many, such as Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman, say is just an excuse for Netanyahu “to lead Israel to another election for personal reasons” - Maariv)  - were the top stories in today’s Hebrew newspapers.

Israel said it foiled an attack by Hezbollah on the Lebanon border when a group of Hezbollah fighters crossed the border in the area of the Shebaa Farms, known in Hebrew as Mount Dov, then fled back into Lebanon. However, Hezbollah denied it was involved and said its retaliation against Israel for the killing one of its fighters in Syria is still coming. The IDF said that Hezbollah group was armed and on its way to carry out an attack without any doubt. (Maariv) Nevertheless, the Israeli army is taking the latest threat seriously and the north stays on alert. (See excellent analysis by Maariv military analyst, Tal Ben-Ram in Commentary/Analysis below.) However, what commentators also noted was that the Lebanese fighters ‘got away alive.’ They noted that Israel’s unwritten policy on both the Gaza and northern border is to kill any militants who try to cross. So the question was whether the Israeli soldiers missed the shot or just let them go. Yedioth reported that Israel had changed its policy. “In the present considerations, it’s not certain that it’s right to kill them,” one ‘senior source’ told Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua. Yehoshua wrote that this change of policy “shows the steps Israel is taking to prevent an escalation, but also testifies to the dangerous erosion in deterrence.” But it might have just been a failure by Israeli forces to hit the unwanted visitors. According to Syrian and Lebanese media, in the exchange of fire, Israel hit much farther than the border, near the village of Kfarchouba and even further, at the village of Habbariyeh, where an Israeli shell fell on a house (photo). Netanyahu and Gantz issued a warning to Hezbollah and Lebanon, saying that all those who test Israel and IDF will be met with 'powerful response.’

Meanwhile, inside Israel, the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations have sparked great anger. Not only among Netanyahu’s supporters, a few of whom have attacked and injured demonstrators. But also  among Netanyahu loyalists. Senior police have told reporters that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who was secretly recorded pressuring police commanders to stop the demonstrations, is using the appointment to the position of permanent Police Commissioner to pressure police commanders to do his bidding. But one senior police official told Maariv, “No one in the police will challenge the High Court ruling (allowing the protesters to demonstrate).” Then Ohana justified his remarks, saying that the anti-government protests are ‘incubators for coronavirus.' Ohana was not alone in his attempt to silence the demonstrators.  Maariv reported on a very sharp attack in Knesset by Liaison Minister David Amsalem against the demonstrators, calling them “anarchists working against democracy in Israel.” Speaking after a series of no-confidence motions in the government, Amsalem told opposition MKs,  “You are working against democracy in Israel because you do not accept the voter decision. If there is an election tomorrow after two days, you will once again demonstrate against the prime minister that he is not suitable for you. This is your DNA.” But Meretz Chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg replied, saying: "If someone from the left-wing had said things like you said, the country would be in a storm and it would have been the top story of the evening news. Your words were not just slanderous. You said them as part of a campaign to suppress and silence a protest against Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is accused of bribery, for which, in the history of democratic protests, there has never been a more justified protest than this.” Amsalem then accused the High Court of supporting what he claimed was a violation of the law: ”You are defending anarchists who are acting against the law. As if the right to demonstrate was the only one in the universe. Yesterday I heard one of the senior police officers say that about 120 policemen were infected with corona, some of them at demonstrations. It all starts in the Hight Court. There, the right to demonstrate is more important than my right to life." After the report about Ohana’s pressure on police, President Reuven Rivlin got involved, declaring that demonstrating is a supreme value and that the incitement and violence against the demonstrators must end. (Also Maariv.) Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn warned against over-policing and vowed to protect the right to protest, Haaretz+ reported.

Corona Quickees:

  • Israel sees 2,001 daily coronavirus cases, contagion rate slightly falls - Health officials report that 321 patients are in serious condition, of which 97 are ventilated, adding to the already-overcrowded coronavirus wards; 480 have died since the start of the outbreak. (Yedioth/Ynet)
  • Most of Israel's COVID units at capacity as 2,000 new cases confirmed - National corona coordinator Professor Ronni Gamzu to roll out plan for public activities that is anchored in transparent data. (Israel Hayom)
  • High Court Rules Against Sick Pay for Quarantined Israelis - The justices decide that isolation is not tantamount to an illness, but employers will have still have to cover such costs through September. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
  • Health bosses' diaries show how Israel was unready for coronavirus - Datebook made public following rights group's petition, shows ex-Health Minister Litzman favored personal engagements over virus meetings, while epidemiological expert and Health Ministry No.2, Prof. Grotto, sidelined in early days of the outbreak. (Yedioth/Ynet)
  • Billionaires' tax: Meretz party’s plan to emerge from the economic crisis - At the faction meeting, MK Nitzan Horowitz presented an alternative economic plan designed to reduce unemployment, rehabilitate the health care system and social services, and encourage growth: "The government has failed dramatically.” (Maariv)
  • Global pandemic prompts sharp decline in immigration to Israel - Knesset Research Center noted that immigration inquiries were down 19%, especially with respect to applications from the former Soviet Union, where the Jewish Agency had to temporarily shutter its offices due to the coronavirus. (Israel Hayom)

 Quick Hits:

  • **West Bank Mosque Set on Fire, Vandalized With Hebrew Graffiti - Palestinians say perpetrators arrived at the Al-Bir Mosque in the village of Al-Maghir, east of Jenin, and spray-painted the phrase 'Curfew for Arabs and not Jews' and 'the Land of Israel is for the people of Israel' in Hebrew on one of the walls before setting the site on fire and fleeing the scene. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Jewish settlers of setting the blaze, calling it "racism and apartheid." Israeli Cabinet Minister Amir Peretz condemned the incident, calling for "the criminals and hatemongers" responsible for the crime to be brought to justice. (MaarivIsrael HayomHaaretz+ and Ynet))
  • Police Fail to Investigate East Jerusalem Murder Beyond West Bank Separation Barrier - Man shot in the village of Kafr Aqab, which police need military escort to reach. (Haaretz+)
  • Tel Aviv court rules that Israel can seize monies given to terrorists by Palestinian Authority - The District Court rejected a petition against a seizure order in the amount of tens of thousands of shekels, which a security prisoner received from the Palestinian Authority as a "salary" for his imprisonment. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz lauds the ruling, says he plans to promote future moves that “block the transfer of funds to terrorists and terrorist organizations.” (Israel Hayom and Maariv)
  • Hamas head: We refused $15 billion in aid conditioned on disarming - In interview with Qatari newspaper, Hamas politburo chief, Ismail Haniyeh, said offer came from ‘parties paid off by major powers’ as part of controversial Trump plan. “There were parties that came to us two months ago, who we know had been paid off by major powers. They offered us new projects in the Gaza Strip worth about $15 billion. Of course, we said this is excellent, we want to establish an airport, port, and economic development projects in the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said. In exchange, Hamas had to give up on (E.) Jerusalem and “Palestinian resistance.” (MaarivIsrael Hayom and Times of Israel)
  • World Bank grants Palestinians $30M in welfare aid - Funds earmarked for the creation of jobs and other welfare projects seeking to help the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (Israel Hayom)
  • Shin Bet Has Been Tracking Israeli Citizens in Recent Years, Report Says - According to Channel 13 News report, Shin Bet was granted tracking ability as part of anti-Islamic State campaign, which was approved by a select Justice Ministry committee – apparently without parliamentary oversight. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom)
  • Joint List MK: Homosexuality almost nonexistent in Arab society - Following the vote to ban conversion therapy in Israel, Joint List MK Walid Taha told Israel's national broadcaster Kan that the 'phenomenon of gays is almost nonexistent in Arab society' adding the bill 'prevents them from (receiving) treatment that would bring them back to a normal.’ (Ynet)
  • Israeli Archaeologists Reveal Secrets of Ancient Desert Wine Industry - Byzantine settlers in the Negev were making good coin by growing grapes and exporting booze around the world 1,500 years ago. Then came volcanic eruptions and plague. (Haaretz+)
  • Yeroham residents help give 2,000-year-old archaeological site a makeover - A small fort, which served as a way station for travelers on ancient trade roads, was already damaged and neglected before vandals spray-painted graffiti on its walls. (Israel Hayom)
  • Final Democratic Party Platform Expresses 'Ironclad' Support for Israel - An amendment by the party's left-wing flank offering a more critical approach toward Israel – including conditioning military aid – rejected by a large majority, with 117 voting against it and 34 voting in favor. (Haaretz+)
  • Pilgrims arrive in Mecca for downsized hajj amid pandemic - Kingdom has one of largest Mideast outbreaks, bans faithful not residing in Saudi Arabia from performing annual pilgrimage, instructing those participating to bring their own prayer rugs and pray at a distance from one another. (Agencies, Ynet)
  • Two Anti-government Protesters Killed in Clashes With Security Forces in Baghdad - Since October, over 600 demonstrators have been killed in Iraq during protests due to live fire and tear gas used by security forces. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Iran moves mock-up US carrier to mouth of Gulf - Tehran, which opposes the presence of US and Western navies in the Gulf, frequently holds naval war games in the strategic Strait, the conduit for some 30% of all crude and other oil liquids traded by sea. (Agencies, Israel Hayom)
  • Egypt and Sudan Criticize Ethiopia at Start of Nile Dam Talks - Ethiopia says it needs Blue Nile dam to provide electricity to its people, but Sudan and Egypt fear it could lead to water shortages in their own countries. (Agencies, Haaretz)
  • Qatar Takes Step Towards Olympic Bid, Possibly for 2032 - The Olympics have never been hosted in the Middle East, and Qatar will be the first nation in the region to host the FIFA World Cup. (Agencies, Haaretz)

Features:Who are the Israeli protesters at Netanyahu’s doorstep?
The disparate protest groups filling Jerusalem’s streets have been labeled by Israeli authorities as anarchists and even traitors. But who are the demonstrators, and what do they want? (Robert Swift, 972mag)

Top Commentary/Analysis:
To Protect and Serve Prime Minister Netanyahu (Haaretz Editorial) Public Security Minister Amir Ohana continues his efforts to quash the protests against his master, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no stick he isn’t prepared to raise against the demonstrators, or carrot he would hesitate to use to tempt partners to his side. Every anti-Netanyahu demonstrator must know that they should expect a fine for not wearing a mask and be soaked by water cannons. And every police commander should know that the big prize for eradicating the protests will be the prestigious position of police commissioner.
The protesters don't have ownership rights on democracy (Dr. Eithan Orkibi, Israel Hayom) Perhaps it is time to burst this bubble of self-importance that has been created by the protesters across the street from Netanyahu's residence.
Netanyahu's Enforcer Is Trying to Stymie the Right to Protest. The Attorney General Must Intervene (Mordechai Kremnitzer, Haaretz+) Public Security Minister Ohana calls anti-government demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence anarchists, so far-rightists on the street and bad cops act accordingly. But the right to protest is vital for democracy.
Corona is not the reason for the appearance of black flag bearers at demonstrations (Adv. Aharon Papu, Maariv) The demonstrators took to the streets because of their desire to abolish democratic rule and the Jewish nation-state. Otherwise why do they carry the international flag of anarchy?
When a Minister Encourages Police Brutality (Michael Sfard, Haaretz+) “It’s not important where. The same treatment for everyone, that’s what I want. Not discriminatory or different treatment.” No, that’s not Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. And no, he is absolutely not pursuing equality. He is abusing the notion of equality to disseminate hatred, violence and divisiveness, as is his wont. His remarks during a conversation last week with Acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen, as quoted in the media (and which he didn’t deny), are no less that horrifying. The man responsible for the organization with the most extensive authority to use force against civilians was complaining to Cohen in a manner that implied that his men were not brutalizing the protesters at the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street as they do during demonstrations by Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian Israelis.
The demonstrations will not overthrow Netanyahu, but also great leadership will come to an end (Yossi Ahimeir, Maariv) …I know Netanyahu from childhood, his ideological home, I followed the beginning of his ascent. I have known his powerful ambition since time immemorial, which led him to the helm of the state. Today his personality and conduct are like a book open to all. And yet, after all the books written about him, the harsh treatment of him in the news studios, the constant column against him by Ben Caspit… the mud slung at him on a daily basis, along with the waves of admiration and love from his ardent supporters and voters: countless puzzles remain. What is he made of? What motivates him? How hasn’t he broken? Where does his psychological powers come from? How does he withstand the inhuman pressures exerted on him? And the question is - why does he go on with this headache? These are questions that only Bibi himself can answer. And he shows no signs of being willing to remove his hands from the wheel of power. Even without the corona, without the trial at the door, without the hate articles and insults on the social media networks, without the harsh, legitimate criticism, another person in his position would surely have said to himself: I stood at the top of the pyramid long enough, I will act now for myself and my home. This is not Bibi. He will suffer - but he will never give up. Although the end date of his term is set with the formation of the current government [1.5 years - OH], and may even be brought forward following an early election campaign, Netanyahu is running for his political survival as if this were the first time he was going out to conquer the echelons of the government. He does not know governmental satiety, he does not mark an heir. He fights like a lion for his political status, while showing suspicion and indifference - even if just in appearances - towards the sharp manifestations of insult. And perhaps this is the secret of his tireless survival and struggle. The more they torture him, he will break through, will do more, will become stronger. He and the Likud. The question is to what extent can this dismal situation in the country, accompanied by street carnivals, continue, when even some of his loyal supporters are already showing signs of satiety from his prolonged rule. Neither the protesters, nor the anarchists nor the mudslinging articles will overthrow the prime minister. It is also doubtful whether the trial poses an obstacle to his continued path. He and not Gamzu…will continue to be in the coming months the ones who will win the battle against Corona, from the health and economic aspects. But even great leadership ends up reaching the end of its path, even when it is at its peak. And maybe it would be better for Netanyahu to voluntarily put the keys on the table? When that happens, and it is doubtful if it will happen soon, then Bibi's riddle will really begin to be solved.
More than meets the eye (Yoav Limor, Israel Hayom) There are several versions of what happened on the northern border Monday, but if there is one thing everyone agrees on is that the next chapter the Israel-Hezbollah hostilities is far from over.
Hezbollah took a hit but may still be a threat (Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet) Israel is not interested in further escalation of tensions along the Lebanon border and has proven its deterrence by foiling the latest infiltration attempt without suffering any casualties after it was prepared for such a move by Hezbollah.
The incident at Har Dov: an expression of tension that will last for a long time (Yossi Kuperwasser, Maariv) Yesterday's event is a milestone in the ongoing campaign to shape reality in Lebanon and Syria. The next test points are the US attempt to prevent the removal of the arms embargo on Iran in October and the US election…The incident on Mount Dov, in which Hezbollah's force apparently tried to infiltrate Israeli territory to carry out a retaliatory and repulsive attack, is just one milestone in the ongoing battle between Israel and Iran and Hezbollah over shaping the reality in Lebanon and Syria. This, as part of the confrontation over Iran's status and its ability to advance again towards equipping itself with a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, as promised by the nuclear agreement it signed with the powers in 2015. The campaign deals with Iran's ability to improve the accuracy of Hezbollah's rockets, in order to strengthen its ability to strike Israel and deter it and the United States from acting against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. As part of the activity attributed to Israel in Syria to torpedo the moves of Iran and Hezbollah, a mid-level activist of the organization was killed. The concern that the lack of response on his part to such a move would be interpreted as accepting Israel's freedom of action in Syria obliged Hezbollah to respond in order to preserve what it perceived as a balance of deterrence. Because it failed [yesterday- OH] - or claimed he did not try at all, it is likely to try again at another time. This is despite the fact that in recent years the entire conflict, including the campaign against Hezbollah and Iran in Syria and Lebanon, has been going on as Israel's rivals are suffering from increasing distress. The economic situation is getting worse due to US sanctions and the corona crisis, the nuclear program is once again focusing on the effort to obtain fissile material for a first explosive device, instead of realizing the ability to stockpile a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, and it will even be delayed due to damage to the centrifuge train facility at Natanz. The regime's status in the eyes of the public continues to weaken, in the face of its repeated failures: the assassination of Suleimani, the downing of the Ukrainian plane, the series of explosions and protests against Iran and its activists in Iraq and Lebanon. The next test points are the American attempt to prevent the removal of the arms embargo on Iran in October and the US elections in November. At least until then, Iran and Hezbollah will make every effort to make it clear that they are determined to continue advancing their policies despite the difficulties, while at the same time striving to prevent an unwanted escalation on their part. The implication for Israel is that even after the incident, it must be attentive to Hezbollah threats and continue to be vigilant and alert to thwart them, while continuing to harm its and its master’s efforts to equip itself. {The writer is a Brig. General in reserves and a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.)
Israel-Lebanon Border Incident Ended With a Tie. It May Not Be Enough for Hezbollah (Amos Harel, Haaretz+) Despite severe economic crisis tearing Lebanon apart, Nasrallah is still committed to retaliate the death of one of Hezbollah's fighters in Syria.
Zero draw, no audience (Tal Lev-Ram, Maariv) Although yesterday's incident ended without escalation, the IDF takes seriously Hezbollah's statements that the response to the death of their operative in Syria will still come, which ensures that the high alert in the north will continue...Apparently, each of the two sides - Israel and Hezbollah - has its own version about yesterday's encounter on Mount Dov. In this way, it will be possible to close the current chapter on security tensions until the next chapter, which has probably already been written during these hours. Hezbollah will tell about the heroism of the terrorist cell that infiltrated very close to IDF outposts and returned safely to Lebanon - and will claim that the IDF is hiding information about the success of the operation. On the other hand, in Israel they will tell about the good preparation of the Northern Command, about the successful observation operation and about the fighters who were deployed in the area, reacted quickly and disrupted the event. On the reason why Hezbollah terrorists returned alive to Lebanon they will already speak less. Hezbollah was the one that chose the playground, Mount Dov. And the choice is not accidental. In terms of its narrative, the fact that there is a debate about sovereignty of the place gives it room for legitimacy to act against Israeli military targets. However, Hezbollah has already shown that if it wants more vigorous action - also symbolically - the entire length of the border between Israel and Lebanon is open to it. This time it chose to return to a familiar playground, in broad daylight, with Northern Command on high alert. In the world of images from the football field, both sides went on the field but did not really want to score a winning goal, and so it ended - a zero draw. Militarily, yesterday's event was tactical and relatively small. Hezbollah, which knows how to carry out more complex military operations with forces operating simultaneously in several sectors and covering each other with artillery shells and more, this time chose to attempt an attack at the individual platoon level - and probably not by chance. In this outline, an attempt to place explosive devices in the area and flee back to Lebanon seems quite plausible. It is not that Hezbollah did not seek revenge for the death of the operative last week in Syria. The premise is that even in planning a simple tactical operation they wanted to kill IDF soldiers, but the aiming hand, it seems, directed them to a demarcated event that could be relatively controlled. On the other hand, the Northern Command conducted a good defense and disrupted the attack, but an incident in which terrorists enter Israeli territory and flee to Lebanon is not something the IDF boasts about. The expectation on the Gaza or the northern border is that whoever entered Israeli territory to carry out an attack will not return alive to its territory. The IDF refrained yesterday from providing clear answers on this issue, but in a sober look at the events of recent years, it has always been there. On the one hand, the duty of both sides to respond, and on the other - a joint attempt not to slip into a wide-ranging confrontation. This time, perhaps even more than previous times, the internal hardships and consequences of the corona epidemic seem to have strengthened the mutual motivation not to degenerate the situation into an all-out conflict. On the other hand, it is important to say that the security establishment takes seriously statements in Lebanon that the action was not taken yesterday in response to the killing of a Hezbollah operative in Syria and that another response will come, which ensures that high alert in the north will be maintained in the coming days. At the level of the specific incident, the disruption of yesterday's attack prevented, for the time being, escalation on the northern border at a very inconvenient time for Israel. Either way, Hezbollah's equation for Israel, according to which it will respond on the Lebanese border to all of of Israel's killings in Syria, is problematic, and could ultimately lead to a much larger confrontation.
Israel's Economy Needs Stability and Long-term Planning, but Netanyahu Needs the Exact Opposite (Sami Peretz, Haaretz+) Netanyahu can't fight the coronavirus, an economic crisis and criminal charges all at once.
U.S. Elections Far More Critical to Israel's Future Than Its Own (Chemi Shalev, Haaretz+) A Biden victory would deflate Netanyahu – and make Israel sane again.
Netanyahu prefers for Gantz to decide (Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom) If Benny Gantz refuses to budge on the matter of a two-year budget, we will have an election this November. If he folds, PM Netanyahu will have to hold on until March, when his trial will be underway.
Ex-Gantz Ally Isn't Going to Make It as Prime Minister, but at Least He Finally Came Home (Ran Shimoni, Haaretz+) Yair Lapid has come home. After years of vainly wooing right-wingers, the national-religious and the ultra-Orthodox, he must have realized that something in his grand plan wasn’t working, but still: He didn’t give up. But his discarding by Benny Gantz – after the arduous path they strode together, after Lapid essentially gave up the rotation with Gantz – left him no choice. It was time to go back home. And since he did – and he’s as surprised as anyone – life has been good. The government is botching its handling of the coronavirus crisis, Gantz is turning out to be a flop, while he, Lapid, soars in the polls by dint of holding the ultimate job: Chairman of the furious opposition.
What Fuels Evangelical Christians’ Love-hate Relationship With Jews (Richard Landes, Haaretz+) A cyclical, volatile and dangerous form of apocalyptic Christian belief moves rapidly from philo-Semitism to hating Jews. Will this be the playbook for pro-Israel evangelicals surrounding Donald Trump?
President Joe Biden Will Have the Palestinians' Back – and Israel's, Too (Joel Rubin, Haaretz+) Bernie Sanders’ Jewish outreach director: From opposing settlements to protecting the right to criticize Israeli policies without fear, the Democratic party platform on Israel-Palestine is the most realistic and most progressive of its kind.
'It's Like George Floyd. We Have Our Knee on the Palestinians' Necks'
B’Tselem director-general Hagai El-Ad tells Haaretz why organizations like his have become the last form of Israeli resistance to the occupation, and how he copes with being branded a traitor. (Interviewed by Ravit Hecht in Haaretz+)

Prepared for APN by Orly Halpern, independent freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.