Kafe Knesset for August 18

Bait and switch: As usual, the Barcelona terror attack was widely and quickly denounced by everyone in the Israeli political system. But the PM appeared to be putting in an extra effort to be part of the story. An hour after the attack occurred, Netanyahu arrived at the Foreign Ministry for a special video conference and consultation with the Israeli ambassador in Spain and his diplomatic team. Barcelona is a popular tourist destination and there are thousands of Israelis there this August weekend. This provides Israel with a special reason for concern, but there was also a PR cloud over Netanyahu’s unusual media blitz over the event. The Prime Minister’s Office issued numerous updates and statements and even a video of the PM’s special meeting. Given the criminal cloud surrounding him these days, Netanyahu is thirsty for any diplomatic security agenda he can get. It enables him to project “business as usual” in the wake of all of his legal affairs. Bibi’s diplomatic efforts emphasize his strong sense of statesmanship, which is unmatched by any of his political rivals. Next month, Bibi is planning another historic overseas trip, partially aimed at keeping foreign policy at the top of the agenda. He is set to be the first Israeli PM to visit Latin America. Before his annual trip to NYC for the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu will be hopping between Buenos Aires and Mexico City and possibly even a stop in Bogota, Colombia, as well.

Good news for Bibi – or not? There are weekly protests near the home of Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, calling on him to indict Netanyahu. For now, these protests are off, at least officially. The ban on demonstrations follows complaints to the Police by residents of Petah Tikva, the sleepy city near Tel Aviv where Mandelblit lives. Petah Tikva has a large religious population that encountered the demonstrators each week before the end of Shabbat. Today the police determined that the protesters should no longer obtain a permit for these demonstrations. Coalition chairman and Bibi cheerleader David Bitan praised the decision, calling the rallies “anti-democratic,” “immoral,” and, worst of all when coming from a Likudnik, “left-wing.” Of course, Bitan had been organizing counter-rallies, but he called them off. Still, Netanyahu should not be popping (pink?) champagne just yet. The protest organizers, including former Prime Minister’s Residence chief caretaker Meni Naftali, have not given up. The protestors have appealed to the court to reverse the Police decision. Do not be surprised if some demonstrators show up anyway, since failed Labor candidate and anti-corruption crusader Eldad Yaniv called on people to violate the Police decision.

The battles of the first families continues: Netanyahu’s family members have been maintaining regular presence in the media these past few weeks: The PM’s eldest son, Yair, is shooting out controversial Facebook posts once every few days. Meanwhile, Sarah poured out her heart in an interview by her friend, Nicol Raidman, who was essentially a Real Housewife of Tel Aviv. Sarah also opened up her house for her on a special insider’s tour. The Yair Facebook tales have already prompted a harsh exchange with the children of former PM Ehud Olmert. Now, another premier descendant had something to say about the Netanyahus’ lifestyle. The granddaughter of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Michal Diamant, wrote a lengthy Facebook post responding to the Raidman video clip of the Balfour street residential floor. “I was shocked by the nonsense, and the materialism they care about – instead of dealing with what is called life itself, and from the couple’s obsession with how the house looks and the attempt to portray themselves as miserable through horribly populist ways.” Diamant wrote with poignant wording, recalling the kitchen and the dining room which appeared in Nicole’s video. “I know this house very well, the Prime Minister’s Residence. More precisely, I spent almost every weekend there for four years. There were no old biscuits in the oven because it was full of baked potatoes, kebabs and various dishes my grandmother had made… I mainly remember that no one ever dealt with how the house looked and whether it was renovated, luxurious or not.”

Shabbat warriors who cried wolf: The Haredi politicians are threatening the coalition again over construction work on railways taking place on Shabbat. The leaders of United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi Haredi alliance, wrote a letter to Netanyahu on Thursday night demanding that the work stop immediately. According to the Haredi news website B’Hadrei Haredim, which reported on the construction work taking place last Shabbat, Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, leader of the Lithuanian (non-Hassidic) bloc Degel HaTorah, said that government ministries are “severely violating the holy Shabbat, and we will have to bring the severity of this matter before the Torah Sages and make a decision. The ministries cannot toy with us on this. They’re toying with us and severely harming the holy Shabbat, and we need to rethink our steps.” Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, head of the Hassidic bloc Agudas Yisrael, said that “the intention is to violate the Shabbat publicly through infrastructure work on the train, and the cry of Shabbat must be heard through the whole world. The pain of the violation of our holly Shabbat on something that can be prevented, injures every Israeli heart.” According to B’Hadrei, Shas leader Aryeh Deri said he would cooperate with UTJ on this matter and that they cannot tolerate having a problem like this arise every few weeks. But since this problem has popped up so often lately, it also means that the Haredi leadership has made quite a few threats without following through – so no one appears to be taking it too seriously at the moment.

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