Nov 5-6: High-ranking official blackmailed Israeli government

Hebrew media roundup: Ehud Barak fires back, while the search for someone to replace him continues; Yedioth: Government was blackmailed by high-ranking official

> Defense Minister Barak fires back at the Labor insurrection against his leadership (more on the move against Barak here). In their desperate search for a candidate to replace Barak, some MKs are mulling [Heb] a bill that would shorten the “cooling-off” period and allow the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, to compete in the next elections As Labor’s head. Ashkenazi became Barak’s bitter rival when the two fell out over the appointment of Ashkenazi’s successor, Yoav Galant.

Galant, in turn, was also attacked [Heb] by a Likud minister, over accusations that he illegally took over state land.

> The Israeli government paid [Heb] millions of dollars to a former high-ranking official, who stole secret documents (including lists of secret agents) and blackmailed the government by threatening their publication. This affair is especially disconcerting in light of the current prosecution of a former conscripted soldier, Anat Kam, who leaked documents which proved the IDF was engaged in illegal assassinations.

> The government has transferred, secretively and without tender, dozens of real estate assets in Palestinian East Jerusalem to far-right Jewish non-profits.

> Israel is ranked 15th in the world in the UN Human Development Index. The ranking, of course, excludes millions of disenfranchised Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza, for almost half a century now.

The Columnists’ Corner: Netanyahu Must Still Deal with Obama

> Every weekend, the roundup brings you a summary of what the four newspapers’ major columnists have to say.

> Nahum Barnea (Yedioth) uses his column to break the story (mentioned in the headlines) about the former official who blackmailed the government in exchange for withholding publication of classified materials he stole. Aside from that, Barnea points out that after the mid-term defeat, Obama will still be Netanyahu’s counterpart, and not the more favorable Republican legislators. He also profiles a Bedouin Israeli: veteran, Zionist, polygamist and enthusiastic supporter of Foreign Minister Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu). Barnea’s ton is favorable, and his interview is shallower, less critical than usual.

> Yossi Verter (Ha’aretz) covers a storm in a tea cup, which is nonetheless indicative of broader trends: Netanyahu’s ridiculously epic and zigzagging struggle to prevent one of his own supporters from being appointed as chair of the Knesset Economics Committee. This is a classic Netanyahu story: obsession with control of the media (an issue the committee handles), paranoia (not trusting one of his own supporters for frivolous reasons) and self-destructiveness (alienating backers, appearing corrupt and undemocratic). He also covers the story (mentioned in the headlines) regarding the incoming Chief of Staff, Yoav Galant, accused of illegally taking over state lands.

> Dan Margalit (Yisrael Hayom) bashes [Heb] Barak for his political skills, or lack thereof, but praises him for statesmanship (the withdrawal from Lebanon, even negotiations with Palestinians). The columnist believes Barak’s membership in the cabinet is good for Israel, because of it moderates the government’s image abroad. Noting Barak’s good relationship with Netanyahu, Margalit quotes a source close to the Prime Minister as saying that “Bibi [Netanyahu] is now politically to the left of Rabin [Netanyahu’s former rival, assassinated in 1995 for negotiations with the Palestinians that Netanyahu opposed at the time]”. Netanyahu, and the government he leads, are torn between those who believe that the secession of terrorism compels Israeli concessions, and those who argue that the Palestinians aim to destroy Israel through negotiations, and therefore demand recognition of a Jewish state as a precondition. Finally, Margalit ominously suggests that “someone should convince” Avner Cohen, an Israeli American scholar, to stop arguing that Israel should forsake its policy of nuclear ambiguity.

> Ben Caspit (Ma’ariv) makes the predictable point that Labor’s troubles stem from its leaders’ addiction to their minister’s seats. He believes that Obama, unlike Netanyahu, is capable of learning from his political troubles and rebounding, including a renewed involvement in the Middle East. Netanyahu is willing to consider another, even more partial, settlement “freeze”. But the point of the whole exercise would be to use the time to decide on the borders of a future Palestine, and Netanyahu is too afraid to do that. The settlers are planning a major political campaign building on that weakness.

The Sidelines: You have No Right to an Attorney

> A meeting between a “security prisoner” (i.e. mostly Palestinians suspected or convicted of terrorism) and an attorney could be postponed [Heb] for up to a year, according to a new bill before the Knesset.

> The names of IDF checkpoints in the West Bank have been changed [Heb] from Arab names to Hebrew names, in order to “make clear to Palestinians that the checkpoint is under Israeli control, and to soldiers that they are not protecting a Palestinian area, but an Israeli area.”

> The Ministry of Science, headed by a minister from a national-religious party, is funding courses about the link between science and Halakha (Jewish religious doctrine).

The Bottom Lines: Besieged by Bigots

> A harassment and intimidation campaign is being conducted against the Jewish mayor of Safed, who supports the opening of a medical school in the city, where Arab students could attend.

> A similar campaign, against the Judge Advocate General, for his decision to prosecute soldiers who committed serious offences against Palestinians, is being led by an extremist settler group.

> A far-right American organization, which supports settlers, has also provided aid for IDF units operating in the West Bank.