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Rose Report: Is the Deck Stacked against Bibi?

Binyamin Rose

Israeli journalists talk straight about their anti-Bibi bias

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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The chances are rising that investigators for the Israel Police will wrap up the probe by the end of December, at which time they will either recommend an indictment, or close the case (Photo: FLASH90)

I t’s not every day that the reporter who breaks a major story of alleged political corruption concedes that the media is biased against the target of the probe.

Yet that’s what happened during a panel discussion at last week’s Eilat Journalists Conference, where several of Israel’s most seasoned political writers debated whether the reporting on the various scandals surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu is a “Bolshevik plot” against him or a sign of a robust, free press.

“Netanyahu’s feeling that the media is out to get him is not unfounded,” said Guy Peleg, the Channel 2 reporter who broke the “Case 2000” story in January, in which Netanyahu is suspected of allegedly providing business favors to Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Acharonot, in return for Mozes arranging more favorable coverage for Bibi.

Peleg’s source is an anonymous Israel Police insider and he stands by his story. Yet watching the media hysteria swell from day to day, Peleg admitted: “There are plenty of journalists with an agenda, and I learned that early in my career.”

Ben Caspit, a senior political analyst and author of a 480-page hardcover book published in July called The Netanyahu Years, disagreed with his colleague. “The investigations into Netanyahu have been underway for more than six months. That’s a fact,” Caspit said. “The image Netanyahu is advancing that certain journalists are using the accusations to topple his government is fake news on his part.”

Either way, the yearlong investigations into Netanyahu, and, lately, some of his closest advisors and fellow Likud members, have taken their toll on Bibi politically.

Maariv and the Jerusalem Post published a poll last Friday showing that if Gideon Saar were the Likud Party leader in the next elections, the Likud would win 30 seats compared to 25 if Bibi remained at the helm.

Polls are only a snapshot in time. The Israeli electorate is notoriously fickle. Netanyahu couldn’t have lasted as long as he has if he were thin-skinned. He carries on his duties with vigor as if all is well.

But it’s not easy being Bibi these days. His standard refrain, that nothing will come of the investigations because he did nothing wrong, wears thinner each time he is called in for questioning.

The chances are rising that investigators for the Israel Police will wrap up the probe by the end of December, at which time they will either recommend an indictment, or close the case.

Percentage-wise, only 30% of police investigations result in charges. The bar is usually set much higher for a sitting prime minister, but as any fan of sports or politics knows, playing the percentages is always a gamble. And in the never-ending battle between a left-wing justice system and media, and a center-right prime minister, placing bets on Netanyahu’s longevity is looking riskier than ever.

LAW AND ORDER

Curbing Judicial Activism

The best explanation I ever heard as to why Israel’s justice system leans heavily left came from an American legal scholar and Orthodox Jewish activist, Nathan Lewin, whose knowledge of the high court systems in both the US and Israel is second to none.

Lewin once pointed out that America’s Supreme Court turned liberal under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1960s, while Israel’s Supreme Court followed suit about a decade later when Aharon Barak joined the bench.

Israel Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak

However, even when President Reagan reversed the Supreme Court’s direction in the 1980s, appointing four conservative justices, Israel’s Supreme Court remained in a time warp.

Until recently.

In her nearly three years as Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked has appointed some 230 judges to Israel’s court system, including four to the Supreme Court.

Shaked was interviewed on stage at the Eilat Journalists Conference by Channel 2’s Rina Matzliach, who often likes to answer her own questions before the interview subject can, and resorts to theatrics to keep the crowd’s attention focused on her. But Shaked has stage presence herself and she defended her picks.

“I want judges with a conservative worldview,” Shaked said. “It’s not a matter of left or right. But much to my dismay, in the last 20 years, there is far too much judicial intervention in political matters.”

Try as she might, there are limits even to what the Justice Minister can accomplish. Her position is only safe as long as the present coalition lasts. Even after her Supreme Court appointments, the majority of the 15 Supreme Court judges lean left.

Shaked would like to move the needle further by recruiting more religious judges. “Judges should be representative of all sectors of Israel’s society, including settlers and chareidim, and this doesn’t have to come at the expense of professionalism,” Shaked added.

This last could be wishful thinking on Shaked’s part, because even though there are growing numbers of chareidi attorneys who possess the professional credentials to be appointed as judges, chareidim face halachic prohibitions against serving as judges on secular Israeli courts.

RECALIBRATION

No Longer Taboo?

Would the US ever resort to a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea or Iran?

Setting aside President Trump’s considerations for now, the conventional wisdom has always been no, according to William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive (NSA) in Washington, D.C.

The NSA, a project of George Washington University, collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

Last week, the NSA released new documents detailing both President Eisenhower’s and President Kennedy’s aversion to using atomic weapons in the aftermath of World War II, when President Truman ordered nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, killing more than 200,000 Japanese civilians and forcing Japan’s early surrender.

A poll taken that same month showed 85% of Americans approved of President Truman’s decision, but support has steadily dropped over the years. A 2015 poll found that only 46% of Americans still view the atomic bombing of Japan as “the right thing to do.”

However, the times may be changing.

A survey published in the summer edition of the MIT press journal International Security by professors Scott Sagan of Stanford and Benjamin Valentino of Dartmouth found that contrary to the nuclear taboo thesis, a clear majority of Americans (59.1%) would approve the preemptive use of nukes against Iran, even at a cost of two million Iranian civilians, if the government believed that such a strike would save the lives of 20,000 American soldiers. An even larger percentage (63.1%) would approve of a conventional bombing attack designed to kill 100,000 Iranian civilians to intimidate Iran into surrendering.

“When faced with realistic scenarios in which they are forced to contemplate a trade-off between sacrificing a large number of US troops in combat or deliberately killing even larger numbers of foreign noncombatants, the majority of respondents approve of killing civilians in an effort to end the war,” write Sagan and Valentino.

I couldn’t help but think that this poll could make good cannon fodder for Israel and the IDF — next time they are forced to fight and are accused of using excessive force in self-defense. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 688)

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