Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama's Israeli coalition members


Americans watching in horror as Barack Obama makes clear that he is an enemy, not a friend of Israel, will be shocked to know that while the Israeli public shares their estimation, the Israeli media and the political left are taking Obama's side against Israel. It is important to understand the context behind what is happening today in Israel because the powers that be on the Israeli Left are advancing several different agendas at once by attacking Netanyahu.

For their part, Yediot Ahronot, Ma'ariv and Channel 2 television news which is owned by more or less the same people as Yediot, are all battling Netanyahu as a proxy against his political supporter US billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson owns the new free daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom and his is distributing for free in 350,000 copies a day. Recently, Yisrael Hayom began publishing a weekend newspaper as well.

Before establishing Yisrael Hayom, Adelson made two attempts buy Ma'ariv which has been hemorrhaging cash for years. After the leftist media establishment circled the wagons to block him, Ma'ariv's primary owners, the Nimrodi family rejected his offer.

Just this month, they sold a large share of the newspaper to high-tech multimillionaire Zaki Rakib. Media analysts suspect that something other than financial interests played a role in the deal because no one believes that Ma'ariv has a future in light of Adelson's move to capture the newspaper advertising market with his free paper. Among other things, it has been reported that Rakib has just formed an investment fund with Yediot's heiress Judy Shalom-Nir-Mozes.

So too, in Jul 2008 Yediot lost its monopoly, (i.e. more than 50% share) of the Israeli daily newspaper market due to Yisrael Hayom's erosion of its readership. Both Yediot and Ma'ariv declared war against Netanyahu in the hopes that by putting the squeeze on him, he will prevail on Adelson to cut back on Yisrael Hayom's circulation. In light of Yediot's owners' ownership shares in Channel 2, financial interests have played a role in the television station's animosity towards the premier.

The Israeli media's business interests are perfectly aligned with their ideological interests, which are overwhelmingly far left. As many of you know, last year, through my position as the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy, I launched Latma, a Hebrew-language, satirical media criticism website to expose the political bias and incompetence of the print and broadcast media in Israel to the domestic audience in a new way. For the past several weeks, I have been posting the English subtitled versions of our weekly videocast The Tribal Update.

At any rate, the ideological bias of the Israeli media has similarly led the local press to take Obama's side against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Since Netanyahu returned from the US, Yediot, Ma'ariv, and the far-leftist flagship Ha'aretz have been pressuring him to adhere to Obama's diktat and bring Kadima in as a senior coalition member while ejecting Shas and Yisrael Beitenu. In the past week, Ha'aretz has manipulatively published polling data to create a false perception of Obama as friendly towards Israel twice. Ma'ariv and Yediot have both blamed Netanyahu for the rift with Obama and Ha'aretz has repeatedly called for the overthrow of his government, (in the interest of Israel's crucial relationship with Washington, of course).

Add to this mix the behavior of the political left. First we have the anti-Ehud Barak chorus in the Labor party. Since Barak joined Netanyahu's government, a half of his party has rejected his move and consistently voted with the opposition against the government. This means that we have seen a de facto spilt in the Labor party for the past year. In the interests of maintaining the fiction that Barak remains the leader of the far left party, Netanyahu has given in the Barak on substantive issues to placate his party members and prevent them from breaking off and forming a new party.

Labor's five cabinet ministers for their part, have no interest in leaving the government but to placate Labor primary voters - the decisive faction of which are Israeli Arabs - they give lip service to the Obama administration's demand that Netanyahu bring Kadima in to the government. They of course know that if Kadima joins the coalition, they will lose their ministries, which is why there is no reason to take statements by the likes of Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Shalom Simchon seriously. But the media, which wish to weaken Netanyahu, has seized on half-hearted statements by Ben Eliezer and Simchon as well as by Avishai Braverman to attack Netanyahu.

Finally, there is Kadima and its chairwoman Tzippi Livni. As I wrote last week, there is suspicion that Kadima colluded with the Obama administration to initiate the current crisis in relations. Since Netanyahu returned to Israel, Livni has been pouring salt on his wounds and very publically blaming Netanyahu for the crisis, alleging that he isn't serious about peace and that he is a coward because he won't bow to Obama. So too, Livni and her lackeys in the party are demanding that in exchange for their agreement to save Netanyahu from himself, that the premier disassemble his government, rewrite its guidelines, fire all the current ministers from their positions and give Kadima full control over his policies.

What all of this shows is that for Netanyahu, and for Israel a moment of truth has arrived. His challenge domestically is to unmask Kadima's Livni as a radical leftist. The way to do this is by tearing apart her party by bringing all centrist-right Kadima MKs into his government under the leadership of Livni's rival Shaul Mofaz. So too, he has to move in a manner that will embolden the far left members of Labor to bolt the party. If Labor cracks up, Netanyahu will be able to give a portion of their ministries to Kadima breakaways. This is the only thing Netanyahu can do to derail Obama's gambit to destabilize and dismantle his coalition. According to this report, Netanyahu seems to be operating on this logic.

Netanyahu leads the country at its hour of greatest peril. This week's battles along the border with Gaza as well as the riots in Jerusalem must be met with overwhelming force and now if a full-scale war is to be averted and Israel is to maintain the initiative of when and how to attack Iran. At this time, he needs a weakened opposition in order to neutralize the adversarial US President's ability to topple his government.

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