Media Summary

Gal Gadot’s casting as Cleopatra causes controversy on social media

The BBC reports that Israel has approved a plan to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to the country, marking a major step towards ending a decades-long saga over their fate. They are part of about 8,000 members of Falash Mura, who have been advocating for their right to settle in Israel for many years but the community is a contentious issue in Israel as their background rules out automatic citizenship available to most Jews.

Plans to cast Israeli Gal Gadot as Cleopatra have sparked a controversy before filming has even started, as reported by the BBC. The announcement has led to a row on social media with some alleging “cultural whitewashing”, where white actors portray people of colour. The Jerusalem Post’s Seth Frantzman is quoted in the BBC saying that it made no sense to exclude Jews from playing roles from the Middle East, “when Jews are primarily a people from the Middle East either with distant or recent roots.”

The Telegraph continues its series on how Donald Trump has changed the world, with analysis on Trump Heights and the President’s most zealous Middle Eastern supporters. The paper notes that in a few weeks, around 20 families are due to move to the baron area on the Golan heights and start building homes. “The dream is to convert Trump Heights into the centre of life in the north,” says Haim Rokach, a senior local official and former Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officer who is overseeing the development, adding that he hopes it will eventually host 400 families.

The Guardian reports that British firm JCB’s sale of equipment used in the destruction of Palestinian villages in the West Bank is being examined by a UK government body to determine whether its due diligence process complies with human rights guidelines set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The National Contact Point quango, a subsidiary of the British Foreign Office that oversees the complaints, said that after examining the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights complaint and hearing JCB’s rebuttal, it deemed that JCB had a case to answer in relation to some claims and that the issue fell within its remit.

The Independent notes that Israel is refusing to release a Palestinian detainee feared to be “on the verge of death” after being on hunger strike for nearly 80 days. Maher al-Akhras, 49, from Silah al-Dahr village in the West Bank, has been held in administrative detention since his arrest in July – a policy used by Israel to detain suspected fighters without charge. Israeli authorities believe al-Ahkras is a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Akhras’ attorney, Ahlam Haddad, filed an emergency petition with Israel’s High Court calling for his release, but it was rejected at a hearing on Monday. The court only agreed to not extend the administration detention.

David Garnder in The Financial Times gives a synopsis of the current state of Lebanon. He argues that the main obstacle to French President Macron’s efforts to bring about a new government and reforms in the country was the insistence of Hezbollah and Amal, led by Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament and a former Shia militia leader, on naming their own candidate as finance minister.

The Guardian reports that Iran has reported its largest number of deaths in a single 24 hours since the coronavirus outbreak started in March, and the largest number of new infections. The number of people newly infected in the previous 24 hours was recorded as 4,108 on Wednesday, just down on the record of 4,392 on 8 October. COVID-19 has so far killed 29,070 Iranians, according to widely challenged official statistics, including 254 on Wednesday alone, just down on the daily record set on 12 October of 272.

The Economist focuses on the end of the UN arms embargo on Iran this month but says a full-blown arms spree is unlikely to happen due to Iran’s lack of funds and its desire to not depend on traditional weapons, but on a mix of ballistic missiles to deter attacks and a sprawling network of friendly militia groups — from Hezbollah in Syria to the Houthis in Yemen — to project power.

The Financial Times leads today with the headline, “Demise of Gulf wise men bodes ill for Middle East conflicts”. It argues that the death of two experienced Gulf peacemakers this year augurs ill for the war-torn Middle East.

All the Israeli media focus this morning on yesterday’s deliberation at the Corona Cabinet meeting. Kan Radio News reports that the ministers decided to extend the lockdown until Sunday at midnight but the cabinet will meet again tomorrow to discuss a morbidity data-based exit plan from the lockdown, which will include allowing kindergartens and small businesses that do not have reception to open next week, as well as customer pickup from restaurants. Maariv notes that prior to yesterday’s meeting, the National Security Council director, the Health Ministry’s director general and the coronavirus czar, Professor Ronni Gamzu, all said that any decision at present on easing the lockdown restrictions would be premature since the morbidity rate remained high and it is still too soon to measure the impact that the current lockdown has had on the morbidity rate.

The rate of infection continues to decline in Israel. The Health Ministry reported 2,255 tested positive for COVID on Tuesday, after 44,369 tests, putting the contagion rate at 5.4%. This is the lowest daily number since early July. The number of patients in serious condition stands at 808, of whom 240 are ventilated. There are 48,000 active cases, including 5,617  in Jerusalem, 4,279 in Bnei Brak, 2,170 in Modi’in Illit, 1,791 in Ashdod, and 1,675 in Tel Aviv. The official death toll has risen to 2,055.

The Israel media also reacts this morning to last night’s publicised recordings of two private conversations that were held in 2015 and 2016 between Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the then president of the Israel Bar Association, Efi Naveh by Channel 2 News’s Amit Segal and Guy Peleg. In the recordings, Mandelblit is heard complaining about State Attorney Shai Nitzan’s decision not to cite “lack of guilt” as the decision for closing the case against him in the Harpaz affair, and saying that Nitzan had him “by the throat.” Several Likud politicians, including Yariv Levin and Osnat Mark, also seized on the report as evidence of the supposed corruption in the prosecution.

Israel Hayom plays up the story as evidence of the plot against Netanyahu. Matti Tuchfeld comments: “Many people in the political establishment and in the public sphere in Israel were puzzled as to what it was that precipitated Mandelblit’s changed thinking. Mandelblit, who used to be the ‘Netanyahu family’s attorney general’ and was the object of left wing demonstrators who wanted to oust Netanyahu from office by legal proceedings and who perceived Mandelblit as the weak link who could be pressured, has now evolved into being the ‘attorney general,’ the man who has spearheaded with alacrity the legal proceedings against Netanyahu, including the decision to hastily indict the prime minister while he was on state business overseas, and to cover up all of the flaws that have come to light thus far in the course of the investigation and in its wake. Mandelblit felt that the top tiers of the State Attorney’s Office had him by the throat. That is no longer a hunch but the exact words that Mandelblit used when he shared his feelings with his friend, Efi Naveh. The route from that moment to Mandelblit’s breaking down was short indeed. If you can’t beat them, join them. And that is precisely what Mandelblit did. He quickly discovered how pleasant it is being on the other side.”

Yediot Ahronot reports on why Israel is still without a state attorney. Civil Service Commissioner Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz has held off on publicising the appointment of the search committee to select the state attorney, despite Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit having already decided the composition of the committee ten days ago. The commissioner argues that the search committee cannot be formed without an acting director general of the Justice Ministry, who will be part of the committee but has yet to be confirmed by the cabinet. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preventing a permanent director general, according to the paper: “Netanyahu views the appointment of the next state attorney to be his be all and end all. In his dreams, the next state attorney will reopen his cases, “review” them, rebel against Mandelblit’s authority, and possibly even compel him to resign. In the best-case scenario [with that kind of state attorney], he’ll have a French bill passed to prevent his continued prosecution. In the worst-case scenario, he’ll sign the plea bargain agreement of his dreams.”

Haaretz notes that Hezbollah and its ally Amal have criticised the Lebanese delegation set to negotiate today with Israel over the disputed sea border, calling for changing the team hours before the first meeting. In an overnight statement, both groups said the negotiating team must include only military officials, without any civilians or politicians. Today’s meeting will be the first official civilian diplomatic talks between Israel and Lebanon in 30 years.