Happy Birthday, Daddy: Dozens of Likud ministers and MKs gathered in the cabinet room to celebrate Bibi’s 68th birthday. Perhaps because of the scandalous police investigations underway, no one brought any gifts, but Netanyahu’s eldest, Yair, gave a rare statement, which could be his birthday gesture to his father. After months of rumors about his future political plans, Netanyahu said he has no intention to follow his father’s steps. “I admire the price you pay for the nation and the land, but I will never enter politics,” Netanyahu Junior said, while both his parents nodded and applauded. Earlier this month, Bibi had already distanced himself from Yair’s rumored path, and in a Fox News interview said that he does not want his children to follow his political steps. Does this mean no more “Yair Hun”, controversial right wing Facebook posts? Not necessarily, according to a Netanyahu confidant who told Kafe Knesset that Yair is very much interested in right wing media, though “he wanted to push off the attacks and the ambush he has been going through in recent weeks, and the whole family thought it was a good idea to put those rumors to rest.”
Bye bye, Part 1: It was a busy evening at the PMs office last night, as headlines just kept pouring in. Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molcho announced that he will be leaving his post by the end of February. It might be the end of an era: Molcho is probably one of Bibi’s closest advisors, and has been an essential confidant, envoy, and loyalist since he first assumed the post in 1996. Since then, Molcho has representing Bibi on dozens of secret and discrete missions as well as in various rounds of peace efforts mediated by the US. Molcho’s unique and elegant advocacy and negotiating style even has a professional name: “Molchoism”, as several sources pointed out: “it’s common to hear people in DC say ‘don’t Molcho me.'”
PMO sources briefed Kafe Knesset that Molcho had asked to be relieved of his duties a year ago but that Netanyahu convinced him to stay. But now Molcho wishes to spend more time with his family. However, Molcho had been lowering his public profile anyway in recent months, and keeping far away from the media’s eye. All of this against the backdrop of growing public scrutiny of Molcho’s volunteer activities and mixture of private business and public activity. This scrutiny, pundits believe is the real reason for Molcho’s request to be relieved from his duties. The State is supposed to reply today to looming petitions at the Supreme Court in which the State is supposed to explain why Molcho is still serving as Bibi’s advisor in light of the investigation of the Submarine affair, a/k/a File 3000, in which Molcho’s partner, Netanyahu’s lawyer, David Shimron, is a suspect.
Kafe Knesset learned that one of the leading candidates to replace Molcho is another old-time close associate and advisor of the PM, Dore Gold. Gold served as Netanyahu’s political advisor and as Israel’s ambassador to the UN in his first term. Gold was the director general of the Foreign Ministry between June 2015 and October 2016. Gold is currently the director of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Gold has been participating in meetings with Molcho and has been in contact with US administration officials for a few weeks now, as part of preparations for an American peace plan that could be formulated in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister’s office confirmed that “Dori Gold is certainly one of the candidates to replace Molcho. The prime minister will announce the identity of the replacement soon.” Gold told Kafe Knesset that “I did not sign any contract and will continue to be president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. I am happy to assist the Prime Minister in everything and give him my input.” Gold expressed regret over Molcho’s resignation and said that Molcho was “a tremendous asset to the state.”
Bye Bye, Part 2: The already escalating tensions between Israeli politicians and the country’s top legal brass were heightened even more this morning. The High Court of Justice issued a landmark decision on the contentious issue of Shabbat. It was the last ruling of Chief Justice Miriam Naor, who is ending her term as president of the Court and passing the mantle to new Chief Justice, Ester Hayut. This follows an old Court tradition that a retiring justice renders a substantial judicial verdict in his or her last case. Despite appeals from small business owners, the Court decided to approve the Tel Aviv municipality bylaw, which allows 165 grocery stores to stay open on Shabbat. This decision enraged the Haredi parties who are already planning to promote a bill that would circumvent the decision. Shas’s Aryeh Deri tweeted with rage, quoting President Rivlin’s controversial speech from earlier this week, “This is not a revolution but a coup d’etat by the court.” Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, on the other hand, praised the Court’s ruling: “Bnei Brak can keep its stores closed, Tel Aviv can keep them open, and no one should tell the other one how they should live. But its time for a new and different dialogue about the Israeli Shabbat.”