Kafe Knesset for July 17

Dispatch from Paris: Providing the perfect summer break from ongoing scandals and affairs surrounding him and his closest confidants, Netanyahu is spending the week far away in Europe. The first stop was Paris, where the PM was warmly welcomed by French President Macron. The French President went out of his way to give Bibi a grand welcome, including repeated hugs and friendly gestures. The chemistry between the two leaders was evident from early in the morning, as they stood side by side at the memorial ceremony marking 75 years since the deportation of French Jews during the Holocaust. Then they went on to hold their first working meeting, which was, according to both sides, constructive and positive. In the traditional briefing for reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu touched upon a range of issues – providing several headlines on Syria (Israel opposes the southern Syria cease fire deal), Lebanon (Jerusalem is concerned by the Hamas presence in the region) and the latest tensions surrounding the Temple Mount (Netanyahu adamantly defends the status quo). However, he refused to discuss any questions regarding the probes and investigations and shrugged off the journalists’ criticism of him, dubbing all mainstream media “Fake news.”

From Paris, Netanyahu will be continuing to Hungary. Netanyahu will be the first Israeli PM to officially visit the country. However, the historic visit will be overshadowed by the growing concerns in the local Jewish community over anti-Semitic trends encouraged by the government and the ruling party. In sharp contrast to Macron, who gave a strong speech yesterday taking full responsibility for his country’s misdeeds and collaboration with the Nazis during WWII, Hungarian PM Victor Orban has been embracing Miklos Horthy, the country’s leader during that war. Orban regularly praises Horthy, who worked with the Nazis, as an exceptional statesman. And the tensions rose last week following an ad campaign by Orban’s party against Geroge Soros, which exacerbated the Jewish fears of anti-Semitism even more. Netanyahu has been trying to minimize the anti-Semitism issue in order not to harm his visit, but he did tell reporters yesterday that he intends to raise it in his meeting with Orban.

Whatever the headlines from Hungary will be, for Bibi this visit is a type of safe haven. Far away from the Knesset and the police probes, he is in his diplomatic and security comfort zone this week. So far, the PM has succeeded in dominating the agenda and diverting attention away from the criminal allegations against his closest advisors. He made a point of stressing that his travel is far from luxurious, when he told reporters yesterday that he spent the night flight on Saturday sleeping on the floor. Due to a shortage of El Al aircraft, Netanyahu is traveling on a small Boeing 737 aircraft, with no first class seats at all. Netanyahu, who suffers from back problems, therefore spent part of the flight sleeping on the plane’s floor.

Opposition roars back into action: But the opposition isn’t about to let Netanyahu forget about his troubles at home. New Labor leader Avi Gabbay needs to make a name for himself as the major alternative to Netanyahu. Gabbay started by focusing on the corruption probes. There have been protests outside Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva every Saturday night calling on the AG to indict Netanyahu, and this week, Gabbay took part in the demonstration for the first time. Gabbay said coalition parties should quit and that Israelis “are no longer willing to accept corruption.” Gabbay called Netanyahu’s behavior “wrong on an ethical level.” Meanwhile, losing the Labor leadership race has not taken the wind out of MK Erel Margalit’s sails, and has called on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to block the purchase of nuclear submarines from Germany, as long as they are subject to a corruption probe. Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter, of Likud, said he asked legal advisers in the Knesset to review the matter and he has not made a decision yet.

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