Kafe Knesset for August 31
Bibi against Meni Naftali: PM Netanyahu’s Rosh Hashana toast was, as promised, quite a show. Two thousand Likud activists gathered at the Avenue Conference Center near the Ben Gurion airport to embrace their leader with love and affection. Hundreds more were left outside the hall due to security concerns. Netanyahu opened his speech on a positive note, with a statesman’s-like Happy New Year greeting. The PM then moved on to brag about all of his achievements, which of course, as he pointed out to the cheering crowd, one never hears about in the media. “They prefer to present Israel as isolated and weak. They just do not want Israeli citizens to see success,” Netanyahu said, accusing the media of cooperating with his other favorite enemy – the anti-corruption demonstrators who have been protesting outside the Attorney General’s house in Petach Tikva on a weekly basis.
Bibi then launched a direct attack on two of the protests leaders, social activist Eldad Yaniv and Meni Naftali. Naftali is the former caretaker at the PMs residence. Bibi blasted the media for turning Yaniv and Naftali into “rule of law knights” instead of investigating their own misdoings. Naftali was the main target, as Netanyahu dedicated a significant portion of the address to various allegations which have been floated against Naftali in recent years. These allegations include violence and sexual harassment allegedly committed by Naftali over the years. In an apparent attempt to preempt the upcoming expected indictment against his wife, Sarah, in the Residence Expenses affair, Netanyahu argued that when Naftali started his job, the food budget doubled, and when he left, they went bacl down. “Who ate the huge quantities of this food, and what about the cleaning materials?”
Neyanyahu spoke to his core supporters with the common well known underdog tone. Bibi is increasingly adopting a Trump style attitude, but some spectators, even loyal Likudniks, felt he went a bit too low. “He is the Prime Minister. Why is he dedicating his Rosh Hashana speech to a dispute with a caretaker?” a prominent Likud activist told Kafe Knesset. “He is totally right about the media, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate to focus on all the good things we are doing?”
The media itself appears to be growing resilience, or indifference, to Bibi’s abusive rhetoric. Netanyahu’s previous mega support rally earlier this month, was broadcast live from start to finish on the main networks. His message last month dominated the headlines and the front pages. By contrast, this time the speech got much less coverage. The television stations had a brief report from the event, and only in Adelson’s Israel Hayom did the event make it to the headlines.
The opposition, on the other hand, did not remain idle. Immediately after the speech came the opposition emerged with strong reactions. Labor chairman Avi Gabbai criticized Bibi’s obsession with the media. “Not protests by the disabled, not the opening of the school year, not the housing crisis or traffic jams. Media, media media,” he said. Former PM Ehud Barak used much less PC language, tweeting “It begins with a P: Panic, Paranoia, Psychosis. The earth is shaking and Netanyahu is in spin mode.”
The court wars are back: The High Court of Justice convened today to discuss the Reform and Conservative movements petition against the government decision to freeze the Kotel Agreement. The judges, lead by Chief Justice Miriam Naor, urged the government to reconsider the freeze. The freeze was approved by the Cabinet in late June, following heavy pressure from the Haredi parties. The Haredi parties backtracked on their previous consent to the framework. “This is an explosive and sensitive subject,” Naor said during the discussion, adding that she does not understand why the agreement was frozen. “You have to ask yourself what exactly happened here. There was a plan, which was debated and prepared, and then the government comes and says. The plan does not exist. It raises questions.” The debate ended with no ruling, but the judges did imply that they have doubts if they can force the government to implement the agreement and if it is a legal question altogether.
Outside the courtroom, there was a grand reminder to another Supreme Court ruling from earlier this week. In the earlier case, the judges decided they do have the authority to override government decisions. A tall golden statue of Chief Justice Naor was placed early in the morning, and was removed after a short while by the Jerusalem Municipality. A right wing group took responsibility for the action, claiming it was a protest against the High Court’s decision this week on asylum seekers. The court ruled that the government can deport African asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda, but may not jail those who refuse to go. The ruling has been subject to staunch criticism, mainly from the Right. The government will be promoting new legislation to bypass the court’s decsion in the coming weeks, but meanwhile, Netanyahu is making political rounds this afternoon in southern Tel Aviv, and will be meeting the local Jewish residents. These residents are demanding a solution to the concentration of asylum seekers in the area. But unlike many of his coalition partners, Bibi does not tend to slam the Supreme Court with harsh rhetoric.