Kafe Knesset for June 14

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Secretary Tillerson’s statement that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has changed its policy of paying salaries to families of terrorists in Israeli prisons, caught Jerusalem by surprise. Early this morning a senior PMO official clarified that “Israel has no knowledge of any change in Palestinian policy, which continues to pay to the families of terrorists. The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite and encourage terrorism through payments,” said the statement. A few hours later, the Knesset approved a first reading of a new law that would deduct the PA’s terrorism support payments from the the Israeli tax revenues that are distributed to the PA. The new law was approved by a wide cross section of members, with 78 MKs voting in support and only 13 voting against. The bill, sponsored by opposition MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), was supported by the government coalition as well as by the Zionist Union. The Arab MKs were fuming over the consensus support. Joint List (Arab) MK Yosef Jabarin presented the opposition to the bill, which he defined as a “populist bill and collective punishment. There is hardly a Palestinian family that does not include a security prisoner.” Jabarin attacked those of his fellow Knesset members who are the opposition to the government. “What can you say about an opposition that competes with draconian bills like these? Who needs to change the government this way?” Jabarin’s comments angered many in the plenum with Likud MK Oren Hazan shouting that: “Only supporters of terror speak like this and oppose such a law,” and Jewish Home’s Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan blasted “just declare that you support terror.” Earlier this week, the government approved the bill, even though it was sponsored by opposition Yesh Atid. At the same time, coalition chair David Bitan advised MK Elazar Stern that the bill will advance past a first reading only after consultations with the various government agencies involved, and that this process might take some time.

A strategy for dealing with American Jews

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Diplomacy and Hasbara held a special discussion yesterday about trends related to American Jews and their connection with Israel. The guest of honor was Dennis Ross, who is one of the co-chairs of the Jerusalem-based think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. Ross told the lawmakers that “until recently we managed to convey the message that Israel is not a Republican or Democrat issue but an all-American one. But in the current politically polarized environment it is very important to keep good relations with the majority of American Jews by emphasizing the democratic and liberal aspects of Israel. Unfortunately, the large Pride parade that took place this week in Tel Aviv was not very visible in the US, but the Kotel issue and the Haredi battle are very visible. There are many young Jews who want to be in contact with Israel and we have to give them the tools. If they see what I see, there will be a natural link.”

The Committee chair, Likud’s Avi Dichter, stated at the opening that the “weakening of this asset is an existential threat to the State of Israel.” However, one of the things that came up at the meeting – which included government officials from all of the relevant ministries – the Foreign Ministry, Diaspora Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry, was the lack of clarity about who exactly is managing the relationship with the US Jewish community. The Committee agreed that there was a need to to create a macro-strategic plan to deal with the current challenges. At the end of the meeting, the Committee requested that each of the government ministries prepare a presentation with their strategic plans and action plans within a month for a follow-up discussion.

Israel Hayom on a sacking spree

The Israel Hayom drama continues. Another veteran and well respected journalist has been sacked by Boaz Bismuth, the new editor of Sheldon Adelson’s daily. Moti (Mordechai) Gilat, one of the most prestigious investigative reporters in Israel, was fired yesterday. This was the latest in a long line of personnel changes in the paper since Bismuth replaced the founding editor, Amos Regev, last month. As with his colleague, Dan Margalit, who was fired last week, Israel Hayom explained that Gilat’s dismissal was a financial decision. These two former columnists both earned generous salaries and Bismuth is trying to cut costs. However, just like Margalit, Gilat claims that he offered to take a dramatic cut in his salary but was dismissed anyway, prompting the notion that it was not about the money at all.

Gilat gained his fame back in the 1990s, when he was still working at Israel Hayom’s biggest rival, Yedioth Aharanoth. Gilat ran a series of investigative reports which eventually lead to the indictment and conviction of Shas leader, Aryeh Deri. In 2008 he left Yedioth for Adelson’s newspaper, where he continued publishing investigative reports, though none of them had to do with PM Netanyahu or his family. But in recent months, he has become quite critical of Netanyahu on Facebook and that is perceived to be the real reason for his removal.

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