Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by GPO
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Netanyahu’s Memorial Day message: Today is a solemn day – Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. After last night’s national ceremonies at the Western Wall and the Knesset and a well attended ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, Israel’s politicians spent the day at cemeteries and comforting the bereaved. Many politicians are remembering their own relatives.
One of the many events Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended today was the memorial for victims of terror. On his mind are the Taylor Force Act, a bill to cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority that ends up being used to pay terrorists and their families, that is on the docket of the US Congress and President Trump’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Bibi had a message for the two Presidents: “Do you want to take a real step towards peace? Cancel the payments to the murderers. Cancel the law that requires the payments. Fund peace and not murder.”
The Israeli version of the Taylor Force Act has already been submitted by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), and it is expected to go to ministerial review in the coming weeks.
Edelstein’s promise: Just ten days after two Likud MKs – coalition chairman David Bitan and Miki Zohar – shouted at and argued with bereaved parents who were critical of Netanyahu in the Knesset State Control Committee, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein tried to do some damage control. Though he had already criticized Bitan and Zohar immediately after their performance, he decided to reassure bereaved families again on Memorial Day. “This year, we embrace you more than ever and promise that your status will remain above all controversy and beyond all dispute,” Edelstein said at the national memorial ceremony in Yad Labanim.
That night’s memorial ceremony in the Knesset, in which popular singers perform songs and politicians and officials read poems inspired by fallen soldiers and victims of terror, went off without a hitch. But it still turned out that Edelstein was signing checks he couldn’t cash, because within hours, some MKs participated in a very controversial event involving bereaved families – though they weren’t the ones stirring up the controversy.
Mourning mired in controversy: Several Meretz lawmakers and MK Dov Henin (Joint List) participated in a joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony for “warriors for peace,” which took place simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Beit Jala. “Today, of all days in the year, we must remember the price we pay in blood can and must stop,” MK Michal Rosin said. Henin and Rosin came out against the Defense Ministry, which, for the first time, did not allow Palestinian activists to come to Tel Aviv, which is why the ceremony was held in two locations. “A message of peace and coexistence is not a threat,” Rosin stated. The Defense Ministry said it made its decision because of the stabbing in Tel Aviv last week, in which the terrorist was a Palestinian who was permitted to enter the country on a coexistence trip.
Meanwhile, a few dozen right-wing extremists protested outside the event, along with – who else? – rapper Yoav “The Shadow” Eliasi, who has become a ringleader for this kind of leftist-baiting in recent years. The activists held signs that said “we won’t let you desecrate the memory of the fallen” and called participants in the ceremony Nazis. Henin called the protest “unfortunate…They don’t understand how important this effort is to translate the pain in loss and bereavement to a joint effort to build a different future here for two nations, a future of peace.”
It’s worth pointing out that it is not just nasty protestors who oppose the joint ceremony; after all, most bereaved families don’t take part in it. Frimet and Arthur Roth, who lost their daughter Malki in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 2001 and blog about the conflict, wrote a blog post in which they said they believe the Parents Circle – one of the organizations behind the alternative memorial ceremony – politicize Memorial Day and totally blame Israel while ignoring acts of terrorism. You can read what they have to say about it here.
Big Trump fan takes over Yisrael Hayom: It’s the end of an era for Sheldon Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom daily, as the founding chief editor of the newspaper, Amos Regev, announced he will be stepping down after 10 years. He will be replaced by Boaz Bismuth, the free newspaper’s senior foreign affairs editor, and the man who probably interviewed Donald Trump more than anyone else in the world in the last few years. The dramatic news was published yesterday on the front page of the newspaper, accompanied by a letter by the Adelsons, who described Regev’s departure as his personal choice. “We respect your desire to resign from the position. The combination of the love of the country and the love of the profession that you brought to the newspaper contributed to the fact that Yisrael Hayom quickly reached many achievements, even becoming the leading newspaper in the country.” Regev himself thanked the Adelson family “for the opportunity to revolutionize the Israeli communications market in an amazing and challenging decade.”
The personnel change, dubbed by Yisrael Hayom insiders as no less than an earthquake, ignited a wave of rumors and speculations about the complex relationship between Regev, the Adelsons and Netanyahu. According to one version, disagreements with the Yisrael Hayom management are the reason for Regev’s departure, but the other alleged background stories are much juicier. For months, journalists, media pundits and politicians have been following what appeared to be a delicate editorial change in Yisrael Hayom, and a slight departure from the traditional, well known pro-Bibi line. The main litmus test, by the way, was a steady decline in the number of pictures and positive items about Sarah Netanyahu published in the daily. At the same time, one of the paper’s leading commentators, veteran journalist Dan Margalit, has gradually been intensifying his criticism of Netanyahu and his policies, and Shlomo Cesana, the diplomatic correspondent, occasionally tweeted against the Netanyahus, which reportedly lead to a harsh quarrel between Regev and the Prime Minister’s Office in recent months.
Meanwhile, the police probe of Netanyahu’s secret talks with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Aharonoth, Yisrael Hayom’s main competitor, also might have had a chilling effect. The alleged Bibi-Noni deal , a/k/a “File 2000,” was aimed at weakening Yisrael Hayom in exchange for positive coverage in Yedioth Aharonoth, and Regev himself was summoned to the police to give testimony in January. According to well-informed sources, the top brass at Yisrael Hayom was “shocked” when they learned about the negotiations, implying that Adelson himself was also not in the loop. A source close to the PM told Kafe Knesset that since then, “there is some distance from the Adelsons,” coining the change as the “2000 factor.”
The new boss at Yisrael Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, is considered close to the Adelsons as well as to the Netanyahus, and has been in the spotlight quite often recently with his VIP access to the new man in the White House. Bismuth is one of the most colorful journalists in Israel with over 30 years of foreign affairs coverage, and is especially known for reaching unexpected destinations and figures, including meetings with hostile leaders such as Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad and reporting from Beirut and Yemen. Bismuth also served as Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania for 4 years, between 2004-2008, and a few years ago Bibi offered him a job as a special facilitator to deal with illegal infiltration from Africa. Since 2008, Bismuth has been Yisrael Hayom’s chief foreign affairs editor, and under the auspices of Sheldon and Miriam, he endorsed Donald Trump during the campaign, and was granted several exclusive interviews and sit-downs, and is the only Israeli journalist to interview the President so far in the Oval Office. Bismuth said yesterday in a statement that the job is “the best of his dreams coming true: to be a newspaper editor, and the number one newspaper in the country … I am grateful to the owners and the editor-in-chief for the great trust and hope to continue to serve our readers and respect Israeli values.”