The total solar eclipse that could be seen across America Monday made the front pages of newspapers in Israel, even though it could not be viewed here, because it is such a rare occurrence when the moon blocks all of the sun’s direct sunlight by passing between the sun and the earth.
Seeing the papers that day must have been a relief for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who undoubtedly wishes the Hebrew press would deal with nothing but astronomy every day and not the multiple criminal investigations still orbiting over him and threatening his career.
The stars have aligned repeatedly for the prime minister in recent weeks, as the investigations have not moved forward as quickly as his opponents in politics and critics in the press had predicted.
“There are those who claim that by the end of the month, a heavenly message will be announced that will cause a great storm,” Haaretz
political analyst Yossi Verter wrote in a subhead July 8. “There are more and more signs of this pointing in that direction.”
Well, July ended, and next week, August will as well, and the longer nothing actually happens in the probes
, the stronger Netanyahu will look and the weaker his critics will seem.
Without serious developments in the legal arena, other news items that normally would not have attracted attention have been pushed into to the limelight.
Such is the case with the New Likudniks. They describe themselves as a group of centrists who want the party to become more moderate and return to values they say existed when Likud was led by late prime minister Menachem Begin, which are no longer prevalent in the party.
Netanyahu described them very differently in an interview with sympathetic Channel 20 anchor Shimon Ricklin on Thursday. He compared them to the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) movement of former MK Moshe Feiglin, whose members included thousands of people who joined Likud and voted in its primaries, then cast their ballots for parties whose positions run further to the right than Likud, in general elections.
“It is clearly ethically wrong,” Netanyahu said. “They are not Likudniks, and they are not new. They are old leftists. They want to enter the Likud to take it over and destroy it from within
. We will fight them with legal means, as we did with Feiglin.”
Likud officials admitted in private conversations this week that Netanyahu is overjoyed that the New Likudniks are attracting such attention and distracting the public from the probes. What the eclipse did in one day, the New Likudniks and those who are fighting them have done for two weeks.
The Channel 20 interview was supposed to be about Netanyahu’s trip to Sochi, which the prime minister wanted to paint in a positive light despite no immediate signs of success. But what made the news from the interview? Netanyahu’s comments about the New Likudniks and the probes.
When Ricklin asked him whether the investigations hurt his functioning, Netanyahu said no. He added that the probes were not pleasant but that he has always been able to multi-task.
Netanyahu is expected to prove that ability again on Wednesday night, when thousands of Likud activists will come to a hall in Airport City for his annual pre-Rosh Hashana toast for members of his party. The hall was purposely chosen because it can fit more than 5,000 people.
If coalition chairman David Bitan could draft 3,000 people for the event two weeks ago that was put together in three days, imagine how many people will come Wednesday to an event Netanyahu and Bitan had three weeks to plan.
Netanyahu sent out video messages to the Likud membership list imploring the party faithful to come and to bring as many friends as possible.
“It will be very warm and emotional,” he said in the message.
Netanyahu made a decision four years ago that he wanted the Likud to be vibrant and active. Before that, he discouraged political activity in the party and ignored even its top activists.
“Four years ago, the party was dead, with no events and empty branches,” a Likud official said this week, boasting that there are now multiple events in the party every night, which attract ministers and MKs not just to convenient locations in the center of the country but also to far out in the periphery.
On September 5, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev will be the guest of honor when the Likud opens its first branch in many years in the Negev development town of Yeroham.
Labor leader Avi Gabbay could only wish his branch offices were alive and kicking as much as those of the Likud. His efforts to shift funding from annual pre-Rosh Hashana toasts in Labor strongholds to places in the periphery that the party has ignored have been blocked by the staff and activists who control the party’s finances.
Gabbay’s efforts to change that have forced him to focus on the internal party squabbles that doomed his predecessors rather than zero in on the Likud and other rivals. He hopes to change that in the months ahead, but he faces an uphill climb.
At least until then, Gabbay, like Netanyahu, will have to struggle for positive media attention.
Netanyahu’s pre-Rosh Hashana toast was originally set for September 17. When it was moved to August 30, party officials were questioned about why.
Likud director-general Tzuri Siso said that the event was advanced because Netanyahu will be abroad for the United Nations General Assembly. Siso said it had nothing to do with the fact that on September 17, the gag order will be lifted on the testimony of state’s witness and former Netanyahu chief of staff Ari Harow.
The newspapers in Israel are sure to be interesting that week.
Netanyahu will want them full of details about his Iran warnings at his UN speech and his historic first-ever trip by a prime minister to Latin America.
But chances are there will be more coverage of police leaks of what Harow told them about gifts the prime minister received from international billionaires and any connection between Netanyahu and the controversial German submarine deal.
By then, it will be much harder for Netanyahu to set the public agenda.
He would need the sun to shine on him to have the issues that matter to him eclipse the coverage of his investigations by the media.