Kafe Knesset for August 11

A witch hunt? Israelis are not buying it: Another roller coaster week of intense public engagement with Netanyahu’s legal and criminal affairs has come to an end. Everyone could probably use the Shabbat break to take a deep breath. Bibi’s uphill battle to brush off the impact of the State’s Witness agreement signed by his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, last Friday was channeled into a “witch hunt” message targeting his favorite enemies – the left and mainstream media. “They are now involved in an unprecedented, obsessive witch hunt against me and against my family, with the goal of achieving a coup against the government,” as Netanyahu preached to his Likud supporters on Wednesday night. The clear sense of political persecution captivated thousands of Likudniks attending the massive support rally on Wednesday, but for the general public, it is a different story. Several opinion polls were conducted yesterday, all showing that Netanyahu’s Trump-style claim that the media is on a witch hunt to bring him down divides Israelis. The majority rejects the PM’s assertions. Only 42% of Israelis polled by Channel 2 said they agreed with Bibi, while 48% said they disagreed. Asked whether Netanyahu’s heated speech strengthened or weakened their trust in the PM, 50% of the respondents said the speech had no impact, 11% said it strengthened their trust, but 27% said it worked in the opposite direction and weakened their confidence. A Channel 1 poll showed similar margins in identical questions, but had other bad news for Bibi: 67% of Israelis do not believe Netanyahu is innocent of corruption, and only 33% are sure he has done no wrong. On the other hand, a Jerusalem Post poll showed that the Likud has nothing to be worried about at this point, because if elections were held today they would still be the largest party, and would receive 27 seats, which is less than its current 30, but consistent with previous polls conducted in the past months, before Netanyahu’s alleged crimes totally took over the agenda.

“The old man with the new beard” strikes back: In the aftermath of the Likud mega event, Bibi’s clash with his former friend, colleague, and army commander, Ehud Barak, is escalating. Barak was the only political rival to be targeted personally in Netanyahu’s address, referring to him as “that old man with a new beard.” “He was prime minister for a short time, not one of the most successful,” Netanyahu said. Communicating mainly on Facebook and Twitter, Barak has emerged as one of the most sharp and effective opposition voices to Bibi. Barak’s messages have produced constant rumors and speculations of a political comeback effort. These reports are apparently really annoying Netanyahu. In Barak’s latest homemade video, posted just a short while after Netanyahu’s attack, Barak called on Netanyahu to resign and said that “Bibi is about to end his way, and if he comes to his senses and initiates a dignified ending, he will also be remembered for his achievements. But if he continues to procrastinate, he will crash into the abyss.” Netanyahu could not leave the attack unchallenged, and yesterday the Likud posted a harsh counter-attack on Barak, floating several corruption accusations against Barak himself and sending him off to “continue his journeys around the world.” “It is funny that Barak talks about corruption,” the statement said, referring to the “Barak NGOs” affair from the late 1990s, which included alleged violations of campaign finance law and millions of shekels were illegally channeled for Barak through non-profit organizations. The case was eventually closed because of lack of evidence. “If Buji Herzog would not have maintained silence in his investigation, Barak could have sat in prison.” Late last night, Barak continued the tit-for-tat, tweeting: “He is under pressure, not the Likud – they are proud citizens who will not support corruption. It is him and his loyalists. All the slanders against me were investigated and found baseless. Sad. A clown prime minister.”

Petach Tikva has had enough: The central city of Petach Tikva is usually a quiet and calm place. But in the past few weeks it has become the hottest political spot, because of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who lives in the town. For 37 weeks in a row, hundreds and thousands of Israelis have been arriving every Saturday evening for anti-corruption demonstrations. The demonstrators have demanded that Mandleblit advance the investigations against Netanyahu. As these protests are gaining more and more traction, last week, coalition chairman David Bitan, Bibi’s chief defender these days, organized a counter Likud demonstration on the other side of the city’s Goren . Bitan has called on Likud supporters to arrive tomorrow evening to do the same. But the ordinary Petach Tikva residents – many of whom are religious – are fed up with road blocks and the dirt and the noise that begins before Shabbat even ends. These residents have submitted an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice demanding a temporary injunction that would cancel both demonstrations, stating that “it is inconceivable that left-wingers and right-wingers are turning the neighborhood into a wrestling arena.” The court decided not to issue an urgent injunction this week, but it will be debating the residents’ petition next week. The anti-corruption protestors, who see these court room moves as politically driven attempts to shut them up, have called on supporters to arrive en masse tomorrow. Meanwhile, Likud activists have been spreading Whatsapp messages with urgent calls to arrive for the counter-demonstration. Until they reach their desired peace and quiet on Saturday evenings, Petah Tikva is likely to “enjoy” at least one more showdown.

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