Israeli elections: Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and his wife wave to supporters in Tel Aviv on Sep 18. (photo: AFP)
Regardless of what new coalition government emerges, Israel has broken no new ground on resolving its largest problem.

By Richard Silverstein | Middle East Eye | Sep 18, 2019

But Israel is not a secular democracy. It is rather an ethnocracy, in which the rights of Palestinian citizens are subordinated to those of Jews. No ruling Israeli coalition has ever included Palestinian parties.

Israel’s second election in the past five months has led to yet another political stalemate. As occurred in April, the two main political parties, the far-right Likud and center-right Blue and White, fought to a virtual tie.

The political kingmaker today, as he was in April, is Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu. In the last election, he refused to offer his party’s seats to a Likud-led coalition headed by his once-patron and now arch-rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. This is what led to the current round of voting.

Though it is hard to predict what Lieberman will do, he is holding out for a secular “unity government” consisting of Likud and Blue and White. His main aims are to keep the Orthodox parties out of the ruling coalition and pass a military draft law to compel currently-exempt Orthodox youth to join the army.

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Israel after Netanyahu?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives to deliver a statement during a news conference in Jerusalem September 18, 2019 [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives to deliver a statement during a news conference in Jerusalem September 18, 2019.  [photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters]
Six trends underlined by the Knesset elections will determine the future of Israel.

By Marwan Bishara | Al Jazeera |  Sept 19, 2019

…the Israeli vote confirms some larger trends that will shape the future of Israel/Palestine more than any one particular leader.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spell may have finally worn out. He tried every trick in the book to win Tuesday’s Knesset elections but failed to secure enough seats to form a government.

For months, the incumbent premier lied to his constituency, ridiculed his competitors, flouted electoral rules, demonised the Palestinian minority in Israel, bombed several neighbouring countries, announced new illegal settlements, vowed to annex a third of the occupied West Bank, and trotted around like a superhero with US and Russian leaders.

All to no avail.

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Netanyahu is in trouble, and other takeaways from the Israeli election

Ponomarev / The New York Times)
Israeli voters went to the polls on Tuesday for the second time in five months. The results aren’t certain, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to gain the support he had hoped for, and Israeli Arabs are poised to become the third largest party in the Knesset.

By Megan Specia | The New York Times| Sep 18, 2019

•  Netanyahu’s reign appears to be fading. He had hoped to achieve a stronger mandate this time around, with the support of smaller parties on the religious right, but he seems to have made no gains and the support of those groups seems unlikely to be enough to form a governing coalition.
•  What happens now? Benny Ganz, whose broader bloc of center-left parties may give him the support he needs, may be able to form a coalition provided he can count on the backing of Mr. Liberman.
•  What will Mr. Liberman do? The secular ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu, which is expected to win nine seats in the Knesset, may have the potential to make or break a coalition. Its leader, Avigdor Liberman, appears to hold the power to be a kingmaker.
•  Arab voters came out in force. The Joint List of Arab parties — a coalition of the four largest Arab-majority parties — has regained the influence it lost in April and looks set to be the third-largest party in the Knesset, according to early results.

A day after Israel’s general election — the second in five months — there is still uncertainty about the final outcome, but it appears the long reign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be coming to an end.

As expected, neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his main rival, the former army chief Benny Gantz, a centrist, won enough votes to claim an outright majority in the Israeli Parliament. Crucially, neither seems to have a straightforward path to forming a governing coalition with at least 61 of the 120 lawmakers in Parliament.

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Who won the Israeli election? American Jews by the Forward
(photo: Getty Images)
The progressive American Jewish community may feel relieved if Netanyahu loses, but solutions to Palestinian human rights may be still hard to find.

By Abe Silberstein | The Forward | Sept 18, 2019

If this is indeed the end of the Netanyahu era, the resilience of progressive American Jews will be tested in the coming months and years.

Tuesday was election day in Israel. But no winner has yet been declared. As of this writing, it appears that the parties committed to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister will not win a majority in Knesset. At the same time, the opposition parties ostensibly committed to ousting him will also fall short of a majority.

It’s too early to predict exactly how this stalemate will end. But for the liberal majority of American Jews anxiously watching the election results, uncertainty was one of the better possible outcomes. Every Israeli election since 2009 ended with a more or less convincing victory for Netanyahu, victories which, in both 2015 and April 2019 immediately followed incendiary promises to upend the possibility of a two-state solution. For the American Jewish community, which is by and large committed to a just end to the conflict via two states for two peoples, this was a devastating set of affairs.

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How conservative American money helped the religious right take over Israel

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walking past a Likud party election campaign banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in Jerusalem, Sep 11, 2019. (photo: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
The religious right is successfully dominating Israel’s public discourse — with the help of funding and tactics used in the US.

By Rami Hod and Yonatan Levi | Haaretz | Sep 17, 2019

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Israeli politics’ swerve to the right is that it has no parallel, or precedent, in public sentiment. The vast majority of Israelis still support the two-state solution, progressive economic policies and freedom of religion.

Regardless of the election results, the Israeli religious right is on the rise. The public face of its success may belong to Benjamin Netanyahu — a patently secular politician, whose weakness for luxurious nonkosher restaurants is a well-known fact in Israeli politics — but the long-term consequences of its ascent will outlive the career of any specific leader.

A closer look at the political camp Netanyahu has been heading for over a decade — from its key institutions, to its flagship legislation, to its grassroots organizations — reveals that most of the right’s ideas and energies don’t stem from the prime minister’s palatial villa in seaside Caesarea, but rather from a new political elite based in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank. It also indicates just how radically the Israeli right has changed in the past few years.

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Boycotts, Benjamins and America’s university leaders

Boycott divestment sanctions 560
BDS movement [Public domain]
Educational institutions continue to use academic freedom arguments in opposition to BDS when money may be the more honest answer.

By David Klein | International Middle East Media Center | Sept 12, 2019

‘Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.’
— Drew Faust, past president of Harvard University

Days of Palestine, September 11th, 2019

If there is one thing which unites American university presidents, it is opposition to the academic boycott of Israel.

The leaders of more than 250 universities have posted letters or made public statements denouncing the boycott. The provost and president of Johns Hopkins proclaimed, in a joint statement: “To curtail the freedom of institutions to participate in the exchange of ideas because of the policies of the government of the country where they reside is to strike at the very mission of our university.” Harvard’s president wrote, “Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.” The president of California State University Northridge, where I teach, echoed the Chancellor of the 23 campus California State University system when she wrote, “The boycott tarnishes the gold standard of academic review and undermines academic freedom — the very heart of the academic enterprise.”

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Israeli Arabs get a second chance to oust Netanyahu. Will they use it?

Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)
If 65 percent of the Arab citizens of Israel vote, Netanyahu won’t be prime minister anymore.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Sep 14, 2019

Odeh’s ads practically beg Palestinian citizens to vote on Tuesday, saying that one million citizens, if they all voted, would translate into 28 seats [23%] in the Knesset.

Arab citizens of Israel have no love lost for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who routinely resorts to fear-mongering against them to rally his right-wing Jewish base. But when they had a chance to help toss him from office in April, fewer than half of eligible Arabs voted — a record low.

Now, with a do-over election on Tuesday, they have a second chance, and Israeli Arab leaders say they are doing things differently this time.

The often-overlooked Arab vote will be one of the most important subplots in this election, and could well determine Mr. Netanyahu’s fate. A robust enough turnout could deprive Mr. Netanyahu of the 61-seat majority in Parliament he needs to secure another term.

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The Search for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land

The Search for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land logo image

Please join our brothers and sisters at Bellevue Presbyterian Church for a series exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how we might serve as agents of peace and reconciliation.
Date: Tuesdays, Sept 3 – Nov 19, 2019
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Location: Bellevue Presbyterian Church, 1717 Bellevue Way NE (Upper Campus room 425), Bellevue WA
Information: Event information here →
Tickets: Free
Event Details

Some Jews and Christians consider the modern state of Israel to be the fulfillment of a Biblical promise that God made to Abram. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God tells Abram in Genesis 12, referring to the territory we today know as Israel and Palestine. This and other Old Testament verses, however, can prove troubling when seeking a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Does God’s promise to Abram permit us to overlook the mistreatment of the Palestinian people by those “given” the Holy Land? How should we think about Biblical passages used to justify unjust Israeli policies toward the Palestinians?

These questions take center stage in this study series called The Search for Peace and Justice in the Holy Land. BelPres Associate Pastor Scott Mann will walk us through the Genesis texts, and other passages in scripture, in order to help us gain a larger view of what the Bible says about Holy Land “ownership” and relations between Israelis and Palestinians. We’ll have plenty of time afterward for discussion.

The event gets started at 7 PM in Upper Campus (UC) Room 425 at Bellevue Presbyterian Church.

More information here →

“Less space to breathe” — Palestinian response to Israel’s annexation plans

The Old City of Jerusalem is seen from the Mount of Olives, Jan 13, 2017. (photo: Chris McGrath / Getty Images)
Given the Trump Administration’s support for Netanyahu, Palestinians now fear they will be pushed into a quasi-state comprised of Gaza and isolated plots of West Bank land, surrounded by Israeli settlements. Jerusalem isn’t even on the table.

By Dalia Hatuqa | Time | Sep 13, 2019

‘Annexation has been de facto the case for a long time, some might argue from the beginning of the occupation, but certainly since the Second Intifada [2000–2005]. But this process of creeping annexation has been gathering pace under Netanyahu’s government as officials push for formal annexation and have begun introducing bills to the Knesset in that direction.’
— Tareq Baconi, a Ramallah-based analyst with the International Crisis Group

On a chilly April evening, several elderly Palestinian men sat in a smoke-filled downtown Ramallah cafe watching the news. The anchor on the enormous flat-screen mounted on the wall read election results that would affect their lives in every way imaginable. The tally was not from Palestinian polls, which haven’t been held in 14 years, but next door, in Israel.

As the days went on, Palestinians saw how much Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to secure an electoral victory, including vowing to annex West Bank settlements. They watched as Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, made compromises with the most fringe elements of the Israeli far-right to draw votes from his competitors. Though Netanyahu had won the elections, he failed to form a coalition, spurring a do-over that has left him more politically exposed than he has been in over a decade. And with that, he has gone even further to secure another victory in the next elections on Sept. 17: On Tuesday, he announced plans to annex the Jordan Valley, a large and important part of the West Bank, if his party wins.

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Israel and the decline of the liberal order

(Illustration by Neil Jamieson for The Washington Post; Photos by AFP and Getty Images)
The rise of nationalism around the globe may be reflected in the outcome of Israeli elections on Tuesday.

By Robert Kagan | The Washington Post | Sep 12, 2019

For most of their existence, Israelis have struggled to embed their nation ever more firmly within the liberal economic, political and strategic order. . . . The fact that many Israelis, including the country’s leaders, seem to be abandoning this decades-long approach says something about the current state of Israeli politics and society.

In the growing confrontation between the liberal world order and its anti-liberal nationalist and authoritarian opponents, which side does Israel want to be on? The question would have been absurd even a decade ago, when Israelis still regarded themselves as members in good standing in the liberal world. But in recent years, Israeli foreign policy has been trending in a decidedly anti-liberal direction.

Since about the middle of 2015, the Israeli government has embraced Hungary’s avowedly “illiberal” prime minister, Viktor Orban; worked to forge close ties with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, despite its limitations on civil liberties and legislation outlawing public discussion of Poland’s role in the Holocaust; warmly embraced Brazil’s right-wing nationalist leader, Jair Bolsonaro; provided a state visit for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who once likened himself to Adolf Hitler; worked consistently to woo Russian President Vladimir Putin; offered a 25-year contract to a Chinese state-owned firm to manage the port of Haifa, which has often hosted the U.S. 6th Fleet; and provided consistently strong support for the military dictatorship in Egypt, including lobbying the U.S. Congress on its behalf, as well as supporting the authoritarian sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, notably, stood up for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Post contributing columnist.)

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