News from May 3 to May 9

Clashes in Jerusalem, Netanyahu fails to form a government, and honorable mentions

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Clashes between Israeli police and protesters erupt in Jerusalem over Sheikh Jarrah evictions

Background: In 1876, two Jewish trusts bought land in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee or left Israel, settling in the West Bank (controlled by Jordan), Gaza (controlled by Egypt), and other places in the region. After the war, Jordan ruled East Jerusalem, and many Jews fled to West Jerusalem and Israel proper. At the same time, Jordan built houses and moved dozens of Palestinian refugees into Sheikh Jarrah. Then, during the 1967 War, Israel captured East Jerusalem (including Sheikh Jarrah) and transferred ownership of the buildings to the trusts that owned the land before 1948, which sold the land to an Israeli settler organization. Since then, there have been intense disagreements over who rightfully owns the land, with Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents both citing various Ottoman-era documents to prove their case. According to Israeli law, Jews can regain ownership of East Jerusalem property if they can prove they were the heirs to land taken in the 1948 war (Palestinians are not subject to the same law and cannot make the same claim on land Israel annexed after the 1948 or 1967 wars). This week, the Israeli High Court was set to hear a case that would decide the ownership of some property in Sheikh Jarrah but delayed the hearing. If the court rules in favor of the Jewish claim, several Palestinian families will likely face eviction.

What’s been happening? As you may recall, Israeli police have been clashing with Palestinian protestors in Jerusalem for weeks now due to the placement of security barriers outside the Damascus Gate. The Sheikh Jarrah case only contributed to the existing unrest in Jerusalem, with many Palestinians viewing the potential evictions as the latest in a series of moves to expel the city’s Arab population. In their view, the evictions are an attempt to solidify the Jewish demographic control of the holy city, ensuring future Israeli control over the totality of Jerusalem. On the other side, some Israelis see the Sheikh Jarrah dispute as a legal question and nothing more. Since the issue is so polarizing and it touches the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–land, historical grievances, and religion–the Sheikh Jarrah case has led to immense tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Protests have erupted in Jerusalem and at times turned violent, with hundreds of Palestinians and several Israeli police officers reportedly injured.

Is it just the court case? While the case is itself sensitive, it comes at a particularly delicate time. Israel is about to celebrate Jerusalem Day, a holiday that celebrates the unification of Jerusalem after the 1967 War. Palestinians will also be honoring Nakba (Tragedy) Day, which commemorates Palestinian displacement after the 1948 War, this week. The convergence of these events, and the mixing of large groups with deep distrust and antipathy in Jerusalem’s old city, has led to a dangerous situation where Israeli extremists, Palestinian protestors, and Israeli police are clashing nightly. Sadly, the city that should most embody coexistence finds itself plagued by violence. 

How have people reacted? Here are some notable reactions:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late. I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.” He also said that Israel “shall not allow any radical element to undermine the calm.”

United States State Department: “The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah, which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people.”

“There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan. This includes Friday’s attack on Israeli soldiers and reciprocal ‘price tag’ attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, which we condemn in no uncertain terms.”

“We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount – in word and in practice. Leaders across the spectrum must denounce all violent acts. Security services must ensure the safety of all of Jerusalem’s residents and hold all perpetrators to account.”

“We are also deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations. As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”

Pope Francis: “I am following with particular concern the events in Jerusalem. I pray that it may be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace. Violence begets only violence. Enough of these clashes.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “The terrorism of the settlers will only increase our determination to stick to our legitimate rights to end the occupation, attain freedom and independence and establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

The United Nations Security Council will hold a session to discuss the situation in East Jerusalem today.

Anything else? Candidly, there has simply been too much in Jerusalem to cover, so if you are looking for a more in-depth breakdown, this article does a pretty good job. As I finished writing this, Israeli police announced that the Jerusalem Day parade would not be permitted to approach the Temple Mount for fear that it could lead to violence. Gazan militants also fired three rockets into Israel early this morning. Israeli journalists have been sharing pictures and videos from Jerusalem, where clashes appear to have reached the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and it is a really, really ugly situation right now. We should all hope and pray for a peaceful resolution.

Further reading:

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Yair Lapid tapped to form a government after Netanyahu’s coalition talks falter:

What happened? After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expired on Tuesday evening, President Reuven Rivlin tasked opposition leader and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid with building a viable governing coalition. Lapid now has a little over three weeks to cobble together a coalition of ideologically diverse parties that only share one thing in common: a deep distaste for Netanyahu. 

Why did Netanyahu fail to form a coalition? To form a government, Netanyahu would have needed to persuade the Islamist Ra’am party and the far-right extremist Religious Zionist party to support the coalition together, something which both parties have ruled out. Otherwise, he would have needed to convince Yamina to join him with at least two MKs from other parties to defect to give him a 61 seat majority. Perhaps such an outcome would have been possible during one of the previous elections. However, after Netanyahu broke his main coalition promise to rotate the premiership to Benny Gantz this year (and countless other political tricks over the years), virtually nobody in Israeli politics trusts him to make good on his commitments.

Can Yair Lapid form a government? It will certainly be challenging, but he is probably closer to replacing Netanyahu right now than any other politician over the last few years. To assemble a coalition, Lapid must convince the right-wing anti-Netanyahu New Hope, right-wing Yamina, Islamist Ra’am, centrist Blue and White, center-left Labor, and left-wing Meretz parties to join his centrist Yesh Atid. Two years ago, the prospect of Yamina joining a government with an Islamist party and a dovish left-wing party would have been unthinkable. Now, due to the uniquely polarizing nature of Netanyahu, the opposition is getting creative. 

If they manage to form a government, it will likely be led by a rotation of Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, who would serve as Prime Minister first (even though Yesh Atid has ten more MKs than Yamina). The powerful defense, justice, and interior ministerial roles would also probably be ceded to the right-wing parties. There has been some progress; Lapid, Bennett, and Hew Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar have reportedly been meeting in an attempt to solidify the government quickly, and it could happen as soon as this week. Many believe that the longer the negotiations take, the less likely the coalition will be because Netanyahu can try to pry individual MKs away from the “change” camp. Indeed, one member of Yamina has already said he will not support the proposed coalition.

Yair Lapid. Source: Brookings Institution via Ralph Alswang.

What to watch for: There could be a new government as soon as Shabbat this week. Of course, there are still numerous challenges to overcome, but recent progress and reports suggest the differences are not insurmountable. The storyline to watch is whether Netanyahu will be able to convince Yamina MKs to vote against the coalition proposal. If he cannot, and Lapid and Bennett successfully negotiate a coalition deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu will become Opposition Leader Netanyahu by next week’s newsletter.

Where can I learn more about Yair Lapid? Yair Rosenberg did a remarkable write-up of Lapid in his Substack last week. I highly encourage you to check it out:

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Honorable Mentions:

Actor Lakeith Stanfield moderated a Clubhouse room full of anti-Semitism” by Gae Friedman (JTA)

Report: Israel shared Soleimani’s phone numbers with US hours before his slaying” (Times of Israel)

Hate crimes see 73% rise in NYC, with Asians and Jews most targeted” by Andrew Silow-Carroll (JTA)

NY Jewish federation sending $200K in COVID relief to India” by  Andrew Silow-Carroll (JTA)

Heshy Tischler pleads‌ ‌guilty‌ ‌to‌ ‌inciting‌ ‌mob ‌against‌ ‌journalist‌” by Molly Boigon (Forward) (I wrote about this case back in October)

Antisemitic Attacks Spike in NYC as COVID-19 Fades” by Armin Rosen (Tablet)

Israel launches largest-ever multi-front war exercise” (JNS)

A New Suspenseful Israeli Show Is Coming to Netflix This Month” by Lior Zaltzman (Kveller)

Hoboken’s first Sikh mayor is on the front lines of fighting antisemitism” by Gabby Deutch (Jewish Insider)

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