Oct 22-23: Foreign donors funded 98% of Netanyahu’s campaign

The Headlines: Brutal and Incompetent

> The mess over the illegal migrant worker employed by the wife of Defense Minister Barak (Labor) is not going away. The Attorney General turned down her request to pay an administrative fine, and is considering an indictment. The immigration police is scouring the country looking for the worker, while she leisurely interviews for one media organ after another. This is yet more evidence that the immigration police, supposedly set up to deal with illegal migrant workers, is in fact an incompetent, wasteful and vicious body, based on racial-profiling and terrorizing innocents, while victims of serious crime (Lod, anyone?) are neglected.

> The ultra-orthodox parties want the budget for 2011-2012 to include the awarding of benefits to Yeshiva students. This practice was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, because it discriminates against university students, which are not eligible for the same benefits.

> Yedioth exposes a list of potential foreign donors, penned by Netanyahu as part of the preparation for his 2007 primary campaign. Some of them were extreme right-wingers, or under criminal investigation. 98% of the donations for Netanyahu’s campaign came from abroad.

The Columnists’ Corner: This is Netanyahu’s Party, and He’ll Cry if He Wants to

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

> Nahum Barnea (Yedioth) gives Netanyahu an unpleasant 61st birthday present: a sharp rebuke. The Prime Minister may have had a stable year and a half in office, but this stability came with the price tag of stagnation on all fronts (Iran, Palestinians, Hamas, Hezbollah). Barnea diagnoses Netanyahu as suffering from “inaction inertia”, and blasts him for failing to manage the relationship that was most important to achieving all his goals: the one with Barack Obama. He also clearly favors Knesset Chair Rivlin in his feud with Netanyahu over parliament’s independence. Barnea continues to criticize Israel’s Gaza policy, this time relying on remarks by former Prime Minister Olmert to ask: could Israel have reduced the loss of innocent civilian life during the Gaza War of 2009? (Read The Sidelines, below, for more on this topic)

> Yossi Verter (Ha’aretz) focuses on internal politics this week. Like Barnea, he takes the Knesset Chair’s side against Netanyahu. He adds another, potentially alarming element, to the loyalty oath fiasco: it turns out ministers voted on one proposed bill (the oath for non-Jews only) but somehow the government decision that was formally recorded had a different wording (an oath required of all new citizens). In this case, the final bill will have to be approved by the Knesset (hopefully, this time, the text that will be voted on will be identical to the final law, if it passes). But imagine if this was a decision on security, or foreign affairs? It would be a virtual coup d’etat. Verter also covers Barak’s constant political decline, and a sudden new interest by Shas in opening doors to old political rivals.

> I rarely applaud Dan Margalit [Heb] (Yisrael Hayom). But I have to commend the opening of his column, noting Arab Israeli women’s struggle for their rights, braving violence and even murder by men. Another target of his praise: Prime Minister Rabin (Labor), assassinated 15 years ago this week by an extreme right-winger, because of his role in the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Despite the praise, Margalit agrees Labor should move on and focus on the heritage of David Ben Gurion, founder of both Israel and Labor. He joins his fellow columnists, firmly standing behind the Knesset chair. Finally, he equivocates about sexual harassment charges against a prominent national-religious rabbi.

> I applaud Ben Caspit (Ma’ariv) even more rarely than Dan Margalit. Yet I still endorse his heartfelt evisceration of right-wing extremists’ self pity and sense of victimization regarding Rabin’s murder, despite their role in the incitement that led to his killing. I actually know an entire country that behaves that way, but I guess this is where Caspit and I part ways. Caspit’s diagnosis of Netanyahu is exactly like Barnea’s: inaction inertia. I could mention his diagnosis of the Labor Party as well, but why beat a dead horse?

The Sidelines: Previous Gaza War Investigated, a New Gaza war is Brewing?

> The Military Police has uncovered new information in its investigation of a bombing during the Gaza war, in which 21 innocent civilians, all members of the same family, were killed. Palestinian witnesses have long claimed that the IDF was well aware of the presence of civilians on the premises. Now it turns out that several IDF officers warned that this might be the case before the airstrike was approved. The investigation could implicate a senior Brigade commander, and reinforce concerns that rules of engagement during the war were far too lax [Heb], resulting in a high ratio of civilian casualties.

> Israeli security officials believe that Hamas will accelerate its preparations for another round of conflict with Israel, following the organization’s success in smuggling large amounts of cash from Iran to the Gaza strip (Yedioth). This is a cause for concern, because even if untrue, these assessments could cause an escalation in Israel’s own actions, acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

> And this concern is not quite alleviated by the views of the new Chief of Staff, Yoav Galant: the disengagement from Gaza was not a mistake, the abduction of a soldier should result in a massive invasion, and the Gaza war should not have been extended in order to topple Hamas.

> A police investigation concluded that a former Lt. Colonel in the IDF acted alone in forging a document meant to discredit Galant, when his candidacy for Chief of Staff was under discussion.

> Five months after a central West Bank road was supposedly opened for Palestinian traffic, by order of the Supreme Court, only five Palestinian vehicles use [Heb] it every day. This is because Palestinian access to the road has been limited to the point of making it completely useless. Yet again, a supposedly enlightened ruling has been drained of all content.

> Since the end of the settlement freeze, the settlers have begun construction of at least 544 buildings, including in areas densely populated by Palestinians. This is four times the pace of construction in the past two years, including well before the freeze had begun. Illegal construction is also continuing apace, including [Heb] in the settlement where Foreign Minister Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) lives.

> New developments [Heb] in the trial of 12 Israeli Arabs accused of killing a Jewish terrorist, who murdered 4 Israeli Arabs, after he was already apprehended by police. One of the key witnesses for the prosecution changed his story, but was not deposed, and the defense was not informed. The prosecution is also insisting on obscuring the details of the incident, making no reference to the fact that the deceased was a terrorist, and treating the event as a regular homicide.

> Is Netanyahu trying to bring opposition party Kadima into his coalition, or break it up? His recent maneuvering makes it unclear (Yedioth, Musafshabat).

> The bankrupt Labor Party will now have [Heb] both a salaried Secretary-General and a salaried Executive Director, courtesy of its leader, Barak, who just had to award the latter position to his 30-years old political aide.

> Standardized test scores for elementary and high school students show slight improvement in comparison to last year, but major gaps persists between Arabs and Jews, rich and poor.

> Residents of Israel’s peripheral areas are poorly represented [Heb] in the civil service. Many ministries and public bodies employ few of them or none at all. Nonetheless, the government is likely to oppose a bill offering affirmative action for those areas, bizarrely claiming there is no evidence for discrimination against them (Ma’ariv).

The Bottom Lines: The Gentiles among Us

> The Interior Ministry is trying to frighten [Heb] the public about asylum seekers, claiming that they are flooding the country. In fact, there are only 30,000 of them out of a population of 7 million. The number of new entrants is rising this year, after dropping last year, but showing no particular trend, with a peak of about a 1,000 entering each month. In comparison, 1,000 babies are born in Israel roughly every two days.

> The Chief Rabbinate Council, an official state body, has formed a committee of enquiry to examine the issue of orthodox conversions. Many rabbis, who are state employees and vested with exclusive authority to approve marriages, have refused to do so in cases where conversions have been conducted by IDF rabbis or a special state conversion panel. They argue that these orthodox conversions are not strict, and therefore they cannot allow the converted to marry.