Kafe Knesset for July 19
Budapest dispatch – Bibi’s hot mic incident: Some journalists wait a lifetime for a “fly on the wall” moment, and reporters accompanying Bibi on his European trip got one today. Arriving at the V4 Visegrad conference venue — bringing together leaders from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland — Israeli journalists were awaiting an official press conference. Coincidentally, we all opened the headphones that were given out for the simultaneous translation only to hear Bibi and his counterparts in their closed door meeting. For about 15 minutes the reporters eavesdropped on the conversation, providing a glimpse into Bibi’s real thinking.
“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear. I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth. Both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel,” he said. Bibi urged the countries to change the trend. “The EU is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, that produces technology and every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it. It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy. There is no logic here. The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining its connection with Israeli innovation by a crazy attempt to create political conditions,” he said. Europe wasn’t the only hot topic – Netanyahu also said Israel “had a big problem,” with the Obama administration and its policies on Iran and Syria. “I think its different now. Vis-a-vis Iran, there is a stronger position. The US is conducting more bombing attacks, which is a positive thing. I think we are OK on ISIS. We’re not OK on Iran,” he said.
After about 15 minutes, the PM’s press officers understood they were busted, and the broadcast was stopped, but it was too late, because tapes were already distributed and all media outlets broke out with push notifications about the incident. When the official statements started, Netanyahu addressed the matter, and said in Hebrew that he “will be brief because I understand the Israeli press is already well briefed.” However, despite the obvious embarrassment, the incident is not necessarily bad for Bibi, as it proves he actually delivers the same messages both inside closed doors and outside as well. His staunch defense of Israel will definitely earn him some points with his base. Bibi also got headlines and breaking news push notifications from his visit to Hungary, which he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise at all, even prompting speculation and conspiracy theories that the hot mic wasn’t even a mistake.
King Bibi’s reign can continue: The Knesset once again voted down opposition bills limiting a prime minister to two terms in office. The bills weren’t expected to pass, but it’s always fun to watch the coalition squirm when these kinds of things come up. After all, as Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli, one of the legislation’s sponsors, pointed out, in 1996, before he was elected, Netanyahu said that he would enact term limits. Bibi was quoted as then saying that “whatever you can’t do in two terms, you won’t ever do.” Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharar vowed that the initiative isn’t about all of the corruption scandals tied to Netanyahu – but then said that serving in a powerful position for a long time corrupts.
Lapid is feeling the heat: Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid was an especially interesting person to watch in the Knesset today. Lapid is usually very, very composed. His comments are prepared, he has catch phrases and sound bites ready. But today, in the Knesset, he lost it a bit. During his speech on the term limits debate, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, representing the government, called Yesh Atid hypocritical for proposing the bill, because its party regulations state that Lapid will remain leader until the end of the 22nd Knesset. (We’re currently in the 20th). Lapid heckled Elkin endlessly, asking him why he was an MK in Kadima, and why he didn’t come out stronger against the demolition of the Amona outpost earlier this year. Then, in an apparently unprecedented move for Lapid, he spontaneously asked for the right to speak in the Knesset – which he was entitled to do since Elkin mentioned him specifically – and responded to the mockery. What’s with the unusual (for Lapid) behavior? One theory is that new Labor leader Avi Gabbay is making Lapid sweat. Gabbay is thought to have centrist appeal, and in the polls taken after his election, Labor surpassed Yesh Atid for the first time in a very long time. Lapid showed signs of stress on Monday, too, when, for the second week in a row, he turned his faction meeting into a press conference and answered questions. Then, he admitted in an answer to one of the questions that it had been a mistake to criticize Gabbay and call him inexperienced, musing that negative campaigning is a bad idea.
Blind item: As the corruption investigation relating to the Defense Ministry’s purchase of a submarine continues, rumors are flying of another layer of drama. Miki Ganor, the Israeli representative for submarine manufacturer ThyssenKrupp’s, is reportedly negotiating a deal to become a state witness. There is plenty of speculation about what information Ganor might have. The talk in the Knesset’s halls is that Ganor may implicate another prominent figure in defense and politics who tweeted a bunch on unrelated topics exactly when the reports about Ganor came out. On the other hand – talk is cheap, and state witness negotiations can go on for months, so the mystery remains.