Kafe Knesset for July 14

Calls to change the status quo on Temple Mount: After this morning’s terrorist attack on the Temple Mount, in which three assailants opened fire, killing two border policemen, and were killed by police officers, the response from the Israeli Right was that something has to change. For Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the response was to consider tightening security. But many others challenged the status quo of the past 50 years, by which the Jordanian Islamic Trust, known as the Waqf, manages the site. Culture Minister Miri Regev called to reduce the Waqf’s area of responsibility to the Al-Aksa Mosque alone, and not the entire Mount, and to open the area to all, at all times of day. Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said Jews should be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, which they are forbidden from doing today. Ben-Dahan also said the terrorist attack is connected to UNESCO decisions denying the Jewish connection to Jewish historic and holy sites, saying that both are attempts to erase Jews from those places. Despite the calls for change, Netanyahu reassured Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the status quo would remain. Abbas had called Netanyahu to condemn the attack.

Netanyahu’s other war front: The Temple Mount terror attack this morning diverted the focus away from the legal rope thickening over Netanyahu’s closest confidants, as well as from his unusual and rare TV appearance late last night. Throughout the whole day yesterday, the general atmosphere reflecting from the Prime Minister’s office was one of panic. Likud ministers and MKs were raiding the TV studios, reading out prepared talking points which attempted to clear Netanyahu of any suspicion and accuse the media of trying to oust him. At around 11:30 pm, the Israeli public could hear these exact messages from the Prime Minister himself, in a rare and quite awkward TV interview on right-wing religious-Zionist Channel 20, skipping over the much more popular traditional mainstream media outlets. Instead of hostile and skeptical critics, he was questioned by the channel’s admiring commentator and analyst Shimon Riklin, and the diplomatic correspondent Eliran Tal.

The main messages of BB’s defense line had already chanted by his Likud loyalists earlier yesterday: Netanyahu stressed that he “knows nothing” about his lawyer David Shimron or the submarine affair. The PM pointed out that the Attorney General has stated that Netanyahu himself is not a suspect in file 3000. He defended both Shimron and Shlomo Filber. Filber is Netanyahu’s former aide and current director general of the Communications Ministry who yesterday was remanded for two weeks of house arrest. The PM described Shimron and Filber “as honest and trustworthy people.” Everything being reported, according to Netanyahu, is “fake news”, initiated by the media who aspire to topple him> Netanyahu went so far as to name and shame Channel 10’s Raviv Druker and Channel 2’s Amnon Abramovich as the leaders of the campaign. A few hours before the interview, the first interview granted to Israeli media in almost a year, Netanyahu posted a Facebook post with a photo of all the logos of all of the mainstream media outlets in Israel blasting: “The fake news method is simple. They paste a picture of the Prime Minister with grandiose headlines of baseless accusations and expect the brainwashing to work on public opinion.”

For Netanyahu’s first interview to Israeli media in almost a year, his venue choice is part of the story itself. The relatively new Channel 20 has not gained much viewership, producing only 0.6% ratings, according to official figures released today. However, on every other outlet he would have been grilled, and in this case, he was totally in control and was questioned by two rather enthusiastic fans, and in any case – all the other news sites followed up on his interview. Riklin, by the way, is emerging to be Balfour’s favorite, as he was also given an exclusive interview with Sarah Netanyahu last March. “I need a place where I can talk. All of the media is mobilized against me, and they don’t let you talk,” Netanyahu said again and again during the interview. “On channel 20, I can finish a sentence.”

The legal developments of the past few days also ruined Netanyahu’s weekend plans. The Prime Minister and his wife were set to leave this afternoon for a weeklong visit to France and Hungary, but yesterday afternoon they announced they have postponed their departure to Saturday night. Earlier this week, journalists had questioned the need to spend the weekend in Paris given that Netanyahu’s official itinerary only starts on Sunday. The PMO provided a detailed explanation about the need to prevent Shabbat desecration and for the PM to get a good night’s sleep before his first working meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. All of that reasoning went down the drain, as BB decided it would not be wise to leave the country and spend a luxurious weekend in the City of Lights while the Friday night TV editions discuss all of the scandals hovering over his head.

Yair Lapid and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week: Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid probably wishes he could forget the events of the last week-and-a-half or so. First, Avi Gabbay won the Labor leadership primary. If Amir Peretz had won, Lapid could have gone after him as a left-wing extremist and a socialist hardliner, like he did against Shelly Yachimovich back in the day. But Gabbay is a centrist, like Lapid, and it was the common assumption that they would be competing over many of the same voters. Then, along came the polls and confirmed that: Yesh Atid took a steep drop in the polls this week, and Labor surpassed them as the Likud’s main competition for biggest party. Then, the usually smooth operator found himself with his foot in his mouth more than once. It started with an onstage interview at a conference organized by right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon, where he was asked if there is “religionization” in Israeli schools. The movement against “religionization” in secular schools, and the debate on whether the phenomenon truly exists or not, has been a major topic of discussion lately. (More information here.) But when Lapid, supposedly a major proponent of secularization, was asked whether it exists, he said “I don’t think so,” sparking outrage among those protesting the phenomenon. Then, a couple of days ago, after the polls, Lapid did an interview on TV where he said that there actually is religionization, and was criticized for flip-flopping. That same day, Lapid was mocked for a cryptic tweet: “The public wants someone who knows and cares. I know and I care.” What does he know? What does he care about? Your guess is as good as ours.

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