News from March 23 to March 29

Israeli Election Update (!)

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. Stay safe!

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? YES (probably)

Wait, what? Finally, it looks as though Israel will form a government. Last week, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz decided that he would join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and form a unity government. The deal isn’t official yet, but the agreement will reportedly include a rotation deal for Prime Minister, in which Gantz will become the Prime Minister in October 2021. Before I dive into the details of the deal, I figured the best way to help you make sense of all of this would be to start a couple of weeks ago and tell the whole story. 

Give me some context. I thought Gantz was completely against joining Netanyahu? He certainly was. In fact, his central campaign promise to voters was that he would not sit in a government with Netanyahu as long as he was indicted. It was such a fundamental part of the campaign that it was really the only “ideology” holding Blue and White together. Remember, Blue and White is a combined list of several constituent parties, some of which are right-leaning and some of which are more center or center-left. What united the parties was that they all thought it was time for Netanyahu to go. Since none of the parties had enough support to beat Netanyahu’s Likud party outright, they had to join up and form one combined list (led by Gantz). Many predicted that the party would be unstable because it was too politically diverse to have a cohesive platform outside of replacing Netanyahu. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this.

Gantz and Netanyahu. Times of Israel via Elad Malka.

So what happened? As you may recall, the most recent election produced similar results to the previous elections. Though Likud won a plurality of the seats in the Knesset, the majority of the Knesset did not support Netanyahu. Even so, Gantz could not form a government with that majority because doing so required the support of the Israeli-Arab parties, and three members of his bloc refused to join a Joint List-supported government. Thus, neither Gantz nor Netanyahu had a clear path to form a coalition. That said, Gantz did have a way to ensure the end of Netanyahu’s political career. The anti-Netanyahu bloc intended to pass legislation (term limits, rules about an indicted MK forming a government) that would have prevented Netanyahu from forming a government following another election. That way, he would have only had to force another election, and Netanyahu would be finished.

To vote on such legislation, the Knesset had to first establish the relevant committees, a process that is carried out by the Speaker of the Knesset. At the time, the Speaker was Yuli Edelstein, a Likud MK who is a close ally of Netanyahu. As 62 members of Knesset wanted to vote on the legislation, Blue and White called on Edelstein to form the proper committees and convene a vote. When he refused to do so, Blue and White called for a vote to pick a new Speaker that reflected the will of the Knesset. Remember, at this point, the majority of the Knesset opposed Edelstein. He again refused to convene a vote. Blue and White then petitioned the Supreme Court, who said that Edelstein had to hold a vote. Rather than calling for a vote on his replacement, Edelstein resigned, leaving nobody to initiate the voting process. The Supreme Court then ordered Edelstein to hold a vote and designated the longest-serving MK, Amir Peretz (Labor), as a co-Speaker so he could convene a vote.

Two hours before the vote was supposed to happen, Gantz replaced Blue and White’s candidate Meir Cohen (a member of the Yesh Atid party) with himself. The move ensured that unity talks with Netanyahu could continue because Netanyahu had said that if Blue and White replaces Edelstein (ostensibly with Cohen, who is more liberal than Gantz), he would end unity negotiations. To ensure that Gantz would become the Speaker and leave the door open for talks, the entire right-wing bloc voted for Gantz while the Yesh Atid faction of Blue and White boycotted the vote. 

Gantz’s move marked the end of Blue and White as a party because the #2 MK on the Blue and White list, Yair Lapid, pulled his Yesh Atid party out of the electoral alliance. As stated earlier, the one thing that united the parties within Blue and White was their desire to replace Netanyahu. Once Gantz decided to work with Netanyahu, there was no reason for Blue and White to exist. As it stands, Blue and White has split into Yesh Atid-Telem (led by Lapid) and Blue and White (led by Gantz). The new Blue and White party will have 17 MKs while Yesh Atid-Telem will have 16 MKs. Yesh Atid-Telem’s Yair Lapid will likely serve as the leader of the opposition. 

What made Gantz change his mind (personal opinion/analysis)? It’s hard to say, but I would chalk a lot of it up to the Coronavirus situation. If Gantz were to have allowed the anti-Netanyahu legislation to pass, he would necessarily subject Israel to another election in the fall. Nobody knows when the Coronarivus pandemic will quiet down, but it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that the crisis would be ongoing during the election. At the very least, the campaign would be affected by the situation. I imagine that Gantz saw the Coronavirus and feared two things. For one, he would have been almost certain to lose support for forcing the public to go to another election during a pandemic instead of forming a unity government and taking steps to combat the crisis. I believe Gantz also probably feared that Netanyahu could exploit the Coronavirus pandemic to acquire emergency powers or further erode democracy in Israel.

Gantz saw an opportunity to affect change from the inside. By joining the government, Gantz could bolster democratic institutions, ensure that Netanyahu goes on trial, and secure many important ministerial positions for his secular, center-right party (as opposed to the right-religious parties). The critical question is, “what was the alternative?” In reality, the alternative would probably run contrary to Gantz’s other main message of “[placing] Israel before all else.”

What are the details of the deal? Since nothing is official yet, nobody knows for sure, but here are the current details:

  • Netanyahu serves as Prime Minister until October 2021, when Gantz takes over

  • Gantz serves as Defense Minister until October 2021, when he becomes the Prime Minister

  • Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi serves as Foreign Minister until October 2021, when he becomes the Defense Minister

  • When Gantz becomes Prime Minister, Netanyahu will serve as Vice Prime Minister and he will be in charge of relations with the United States and Russia

  • Blue and White will hold the Justice, Economy, Culture, Welfare, Communications, Agriculture, Tourism, Absorption, Minorities, and Science and Technology portfolios

  • Likud will hold the Finance, Internal Security, Energy, Construction, Environment, and Transportation portfolios

  • Blue and White will also hold the Defense portfolio for the whole term while Likud will hold the Knesset Speaker post for the whole term

Two MKs from Labor will also join the government. Also, critically, three right-wing MKs from Telem and Gesher (smaller parties in the previous center-left bloc) will join the government, meaning Netanyahu will have 61 right-wing MKs. That could prevent Gantz from collapsing a Netanyahu government if he decides its necessary in the future.

Further reading: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/27/benjamin-netanyahu-political-wizardy-prime-minister-extended-term/

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News from March 16 to March 22

Israeli election update, Coronavirus in Israel, positive Coronarivus news!

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. Stay safe!

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government? Nope.

What’s new? As you may recall, Israel is still politically deadlocked because neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz can form a government. Though Netanyahu won the most seats in the Knesset, a majority of MKs are against him. The problem is that they aren’t necessarily supporting Gantz either. So, right now, the anti-Netanyahu bloc is attempting to pass legislation that would complicate or prevent Netanyahu’s formation of a government. 

The first step to passing such legislation is to establish Knesset committees to handle the lawmaking process. To form the committees, the Knesset has to vote, but the Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein of Likud, stopped Knesset deliberations during negotiations on Wednesday. Accordingly, Blue and White is seeking his ouster to ensure that the legislative agenda of the anti-Netanyahu bloc can pass unobstructed. To that end, they are seeking a vote to replace Edelstein. However, Edelstein has thus far refused to convene the Knesset to hold the vote that would lead to his ouster. 

Can Edelstein legally prevent the Knesset from replacing him? After Edelstein blocked the vote, Blue and White petitioned the High Court to answer that exact question. The court heard the case yesterday, but as of Sunday night, they had not announced their decision. After the Knesset legal advisor and Attorney General announced that they believed the speaker could not close the Knesset, Edelstein said that the Knesset would meet on Monday.

Will the anti-Netanyahu bloc vote to replace Edelstein? It’s not clear right now. Complicating matters, Netanyahu announced that if Blue and White moves to replace Edelstein, Likud would drop talks for a unity government. A few days ago, Netanyahu said that he had reached a deal with Gantz and released the details (Gantz denied that an agreement had been reached). According to the Jerusalem Post:

“Likud would start out with the posts of prime minister, finance minister and Knesset speaker, and Blue and White would start with a deputy prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister and then switch after a year and a half. The Justice portfolio would be filled in an agreement by either an outsider or a minister and a deputy from each party.”

Yuli Edelstein. Haaretz via Ohad Zwigenberg

Would Gantz accept that deal? He might not have a choice. Gantz is in an unenviable position. He campaigned on a platform of not forming a coalition with Netanyahu or the Arab parties. Now, to form a government, he will need to work with one of them. Alternatively, he can work with neither and risk going to a fourth election. If that happens, Netanyahu could attack Gantz for preventing Israel from having an effective Coronavirus response. Thus, it’s a real possibility that Gantz will end up joining Netanyahu.

Further reading: https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-implores-gantz-to-help-him-save-israel-as-nations-sink-like-titanics/ (TOI)

Israeli Coronavirus Response:

What’s happening? As of Sunday night, the number of Coronavirus cases in Israel was 1071. Sadly, Israel reported its first death yesterday. Aryeh Even, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, passed away Friday in Jerusalem. You can read more about him here.

In other news, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been sending planes around the world to retrieve Israelis who cannot get home due to travel restrictions. El Al already sent planes to Peru, but they are now planning to send planes to Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Italy. 

What about Gaza and the West Bank? Even though Israel has had many cases, Gaza has yet to be hit badly by Coronavirus. Israel and Egypt’s closed Gazan borders have likely contributed to keeping Coronavirus out. That said, Gaza reported its first cases of Coronavirus in two men who just returned from Pakistan. An outbreak in Gaza could be catastrophic because the Gaza Strip is densely populated and has an overtaxed health system. Gaza reportedly only has 15 available ventilators for the entire territory.

Meanwhile, West Bank medical authorities are dealing with 57 cases as of Sunday. Yesterday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced a two-week West Bank lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, which was found to be spreading rapidly in Bethlehem. Israel is working closely with the Palestinian Authority to ensure the Coronavirus situation does not get out of hand, including setting up a joint operations center to fight Coronavirus.

Further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israel-coronavirus-aryeh-even-holocaust-survivor/2020/03/22/428f657c-6c35-11ea-a156-0048b62cdb51_story.html (WaPo)

Positive Coronarivus news:

Birthright Excel and MIT launched a hackathon to come up with innovative ideas to combat Coronavirus-related issues. Participants came up with ideas ranging from apps that connect vulnerable populations with people who could run errands for them and software that would allow children to learn in “fun” environments.

Young Jews in Los Angeles have teamed up to deliver groceries to Holocaust survivors and at-risk adults.

College students created “Zoom University Hillel” to meet other Jewish students while quarantining due to Coronavirus. Some students have even used the new group for matchmaking and dating!

Thousands of Israelis stood on their balconies and applauded the efforts of healthcare professionals working around the clock to take care of Coronavirus victims.

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News from March 9 to March 15

Israeli election update, Coronavirus, Natan Sharansky

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. Stay safe!

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? Nope.

What’s going on? This week has been a doozy. Now that the election results are finalized, Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have begun haggling to establish support for their blocs. As you may recall, Gantz’s center-left bloc has fewer seats than Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, but the general anti-Netanyahu bloc has more seats than the right-wing bloc. 

This week, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party announced that they would support Gantz to be the Prime Minister. Then, the Joint List of Israeli-Arab parties said that all of its members would support Gantz as well. The Joint List’s support for Gantz is a gamechanger in Israeli politics. With all of their MKs, Gantz now has 61 seats supporting him to be the Prime Minister. Remember, though, that the 61 seats represent the anti-Netanyahu bloc, but not a cohesive, stable governing bloc. 

Wait, didn’t the Joint List support Gantz after the September elections? Mostly, yes. In reality, the Joint List actually consists of four constituent parties: Hadash, Ta’al, Balad, and the United Arab List. Balad, whose stated platform is “to transform the State of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity,” did not endorse Gantz following the September elections. Balad saw Gantz as someone who would continue the same policies they sought to replace with Netanyahu’s ouster. Now, though, Balad is joining the rest of the Joint List parties and recommending Gantz for Prime Minister in a move that unifies and consolidates the political power of the Israeli-Arab population (you can find a good analysis of why they changed their minds here).

Israel has non-Zionist political parties? Insofar as Zionism is defined as the belief that Jewish people have the right to self-determine in the land of Israel, yes. That’s precisely what makes the Joint List so controversial in Israeli politics and one of the main reasons they have not sat in a governing coalition (along with the fact that sitting in a government would give off the impression that they sanction the occupation of the West Bank and the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza). The Joint List is also controversial because several of its MKs have voiced support for terrorists or enemies of Israel. Accordingly, it’s historically been very difficult for mainstream Jewish parties to partner with the Joint List. That’s especially the case of Liberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

So how will Gantz form a government with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List? Bingo. This is why Gantz doesn’t quite have the numbers necessary to form a government but does have the numbers to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. However, if there is one thing that Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List agree on, it’s that Netanyahu needs to go. How on earth they will work together after they boot Netanyahu is another question entirely. Even if Gantz manages to secure Yisrael Beiteinu’s participation in a coalition and the Joint List’s support to form a government, it would be extremely unstable because Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List would not agree on defense. While Yisrael Beiteinu is hawkish, the Joint List would oppose any large-scale military operation. 

But Gantz can technically form a government, right? Even if Gantz somehow managed to get the Liberman and the Joint List to buy into his government, he still might not have the numbers. This week, the leader of Gesher, Orly Levy-Abecassis, and two Blue and White MKs, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, announced that they would not support a government that relies on the Joint List. So, unless Gantz can convince two of them to support his coalition, he will not be able to form a government. Stay tuned on that.

What happens now? Yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin officially issued the mandate to form a government to Gantz. He will have about a month to attempt to build a governing coalition. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netanyahu offered Gantz a role in a temporary government where Netanyahu would remain in charge with some Blue and White MKs serving as ministers. Alternatively, Netanyahu also proposed a four-year permanent government where he would serve as Prime Minister for the first two years and Gantz would serve for the second two years. In both cases, Netanyahu would remain the Prime Minister for the foreseeable future. Gantz declined the offers and will begin coalition negotiations. 

There are only really a few possibilities at this point (in no particular order):

  1. Gantz as PM in a minority government supported from the outside by the Joint List

  2. Gantz and Netanyahu rotating as PM in a Likud-Blue and White unity government

  3. Netanyahu as PM after convincing three center-left MKs to join his bloc

  4. Fourth elections

Stay tuned!

Further reading: https://www.wsj.com/articles/blue-and-white-leader-gantz-to-get-first-shot-at-forming-israeli-government-11584306462 (WSJ)

Israel grapples with Coronavirus:

What’s new? Israel is basically on lockdown, but the biggest news out of Israel is that the government is preparing to use digital counter-terrorism tools to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Although the Attorney General has reportedly placed limits on the use of the technology, some in Israel are concerned that the initiative is a form of mass surveillance. The government will only be able to use the tools to fight Coronavirus, and the authorization to use the technology will end in 30 days. 

According to the Times of Israel, “the Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data–notably which cell towers the device is connected to–in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the Coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine. The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters (6.6 feet) of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.”

Anything else? The other big story is that as a result of COVID-19, Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which was set to begin on March 17, has been postponed until May 24. Though the delay was criticized as being political, many countries around the world have started shutting down their courts. Still, the closure of the courts does not look great to Netanyahu’s critics.

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Coronavirus-Israels-counterterrorism-policies-on-virus-containment-621109 (JPost)

Natan Sharansky shares wisdom on living in isolation:

What happened? Speaking to students at New York’s SAR academy, Natan Sharansky, a well-known Soviet-Jewish activist, offered guidance on how to stay positive during prolonged periods of isolation. Sharansky, who spent nine years in a Soviet prison (half in solitary confinement), reportedly offered the following pieces of advice:

  1. The struggle is centered around you. Don’t feel like you are removed from things just because you are in isolation.

  2. Don’t lose your sense of humor; continue making light of the situation, however dire.

  3. Find something enjoyable to do in your head. For me that was chess – I played hundreds of games in my head. This ensures that you don’t deteriorate intellectually. Find an area in which you want to develop.

  4. The power of Jewish unity is when we feel together with one another, even if we are in solitary confinement.

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News from March 2 to March 8

Israeli election update, Yeshiva University basketball team, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com

Also, don’t forget to vote in the World Zionist Congress elections! You can do so here. Voting ends on March 11!

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? Nope.

What were the results of the election?

Right-Wing Bloc: 58

Likud: 36

Shas: 9

United Torah Judaism: 7

Yamina: 6

Center-Left: 55

Blue and White: 33

Joint List: 15

Labor-Meretz-Gesher: 7

Yisrael Beitenu: 7

So, Netanyahu won the election? Not quite. Netanyahu’s party won the most seats and his bloc is the largest, but without winning 61 seats, Israel is stuck in the same situation it has been in for months. These results are akin to the electoral college; even though Netanyahu/the right-wing bloc may have won the plurality/popular vote, he is not automatically the winner of the election. Remember, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party has refused to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu and the Joint List. Without his support, both Netanyahu and Gantz will not be able to form a government. 

Okay, so if Netanyahu didn’t win, did Gantz win? It’s complicated. Even though Gantz won fewer seats, he still emerged in a better position than Netanyahu. For one, Netanyahu’s bloc coming up short of 61 seats virtually guarantees that Netanyahu will stand trial for his fraud, bribery, and breach of trust cases. If Netanyahu had won outright, he would have been able to delay or even dismiss his charges through a variety of legal measures (for example, ordering a new Attorney General to “re-examine” the cases). Now, should Israel have to go to a fourth election, he will have no such protections, and his trial will have started.

Moreover, while Gantz’s bloc is 55 seats, the anti-Netanyahu bloc (Center-left + Lieberman) is technically 62 seats. To be clear, that does not mean Gantz can form a government with those 62 seats; The Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu did not have an epiphany and decide to start working together. However, they are united in their shared goal of removing Netanyahu from power. 

In sum, neither Netanyahu nor Gantz managed to secure a plurality for their bloc, but a majority of the Knesset believes in replacing Netanyahu.

What has happened since the election? The anti-Netanyahu bloc is using its plurality to advance legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from becoming the Prime Minister by imposing term limits for Israeli Prime Ministers. Gantz proposed having the term limits go into effect for the next election, but Lieberman wants to see the term limits law apply immediately. If Gantz’s form of term limits gets passed, he will likely maneuver for a fourth election since Netanyahu would not be able to lead Likud. Moreover, the anti-Netanyahu camp is also pushing for a bill that would prevent an indicted MK from establishing a government. Both bills would block Netanyahu’s path to a fifth term as Prime Minister.

Netanyahu sees the laws as “[undermining] the foundations of democracy” and “[canceling] out what the people determined.” Gantz said that “[Netanyahu] lost the election. The majority of the people do not want his continued rule, and that is what the people will receive.” Ultimately, it comes down to two different conceptions of what would be “democratic.” It’s true that Netanyahu’s party and bloc received the most votes. It’s also true that the majority of people voted against Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.

Further reading: https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/israel-election-benjamin-netanyahu-and-israel-at-impasse/ (National Review)

Yeshiva University advances to Sweet 16 in NCAA Division III Tournament:

What happened? Following a historic 27-1 season in which they recorded their “best start in school history, the longest winning streak and their first national ranking,” the Yeshiva University Maccabees have advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Having won the Skyline Conference, the Maccabees beat Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the first round and the Penn State Harrisburg in the second round of the competition. Their next game is against No. 3 Randolph-Macon College on March 3 at 2:00 p.m. in Ashland, Virginia. Every win from here will be a new record for the Maccabees.

Their path has been difficult. After a student at Yeshiva University tested positive for Coronavirus, their hotel in Baltimore canceled their reservation, forcing the team to find last-minute accommodations. Also, The Worcester Polytechnic Institute game was the first athletic event in America that banned spectators due to Coronavirus fears. On top of that, the team also cannot play, practice, or watch game film on Shabbat.

Further reading: https://www.wsj.com/articles/yeshiva-university-basketball-team-racks-up-faithful-fans-with-win-streak-11583440334 (WSJ)

Honorable Mentions:

The South China Morning Post published a profile on an 18-year-old from Hong Kong who passionately advocates for the Kaifeng Jews

A student at the Marine Academy of Arts and Sciences (MAST) in New Jersey sued her school, claiming the school failed to protect her from antisemitism. 

JTA is reporting the latest updates with Coronavirus in Jewish communities and Israel

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News from February 24-March 1

Israeli election update, American election update, flare-up with PIJ

Hey everyone. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com

Also, don’t forget to vote in the World Zionist Congress elections! You can do so here.

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? Nope.

What’s new? The third Israeli election in a year is taking place today. The latest polls have shown Netanyahu surging to a two-seat lead over Gantz. Blue and White has been struggling since the Israeli police announced an investigation into Gantz’s former company, Fifth Dimension, last week. If the polling proves accurate, neither candidate will have a clear path to forming a government since Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc would have 58 seats, and Gantz’s center-left bloc would have 56 seats. Once again, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu would be the proverbial kingmaker, as his party’s projected six seats would be enough to put both Gantz and Netanyahu over the 61-seat threshold. If this sounds familiar, it’s precisely what happened in the March and September elections. 

What else? Gantz again found himself dealing with bad press this week when a recording of one of his top advisors, Israel Bachar, claiming Gantz does not have the courage necessary to attack Iran leaked to the media.  The recording is particularly damning because it reinforces Netanyahu’s core claim that Gantz, despite being a successful military commander, is a weak leader. When the recording surfaced, Gantz immediately fired Bachar. Understandably, many in the Israeli public were curious how such a recording could ever leak. Eventually, details started to come out; Bachar had visited a rabbi, Guy Havura, to discuss personal matters, but Havura secretly recorded the conversation. Gantz defenders were quick to point out that Havura has connections to Netanyahu and actually met with him the day before the recording was released. Though Netanyahu has denied having known about the recording before its release, another recording allegedly containing a conversation between Netanyahu and Havura about the release of the Bachar recording was made public Sunday. Netanyahu’s spokesman said he was unaware of the conversation, but did not deny that it happened. Oy gevault.

Further reading:https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/.premium-from-a-bibi-victory-to-another-stalemate-five-scenarios-for-the-israeli-election-1.8613704 (Haaretz)

American election update:

What’s new? Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he would not attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, expressing concern “about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” For those who don’t know, the AIPAC Policy Conference is a large gathering of pro-Israel Americans that is frequently attended by significant politicians (Representatives, Senators, presidential candidates), and Israeli leaders. Historically, presidential candidates usually speak at AIPAC as a way to publicize their stance on Israel. Thus, Sanders’ decision not to attend is a significant rebuke of the traditional pro-Israel lobby. 

At Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina, the moderator asked Bernie Sanders what he would say to American Jews who might feel that might be disappointed that the potentially first Jewish president wasn’t supportive of Israel’s perspective. Sanders reiterated on his criticism of Israel in his response: 

“I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. I happen to believe that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country. And I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel. But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Sanders also said that he would consider moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv.

The other prominent Jewish Presidential candidate, Mike Bloomberg, responded to the question by saying that he wouldn’t move the embassy back to Tel Aviv but that President Trump should have used the embassy move to convince Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Bloomberg will be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference. 

Watch the full exchange here:

Further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/sanders-rejects-aipac/2020/02/25/4048f0fa-57fc-11ea-9b35-def5a027d470_story.html (WaPo)

Israel strikes Gaza in response to rocket barrage:

What happened? Last Sunday, the IDF shot and killed a Palestinian man who was attempting to place an improvised explosive device near Israel’s Gaza border fence. Afterward, the IDF retrieved his body using a bulldozer. After a video of the IDF’s graphic retrieval spread over social media, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) launched 80 rockets into Israel over the next few days. Though the rocket barrage did not wound or kill any Israelis, schools were closed in Southern Israel, affecting 65,000 students. The IDF struck many targets in Gaza in retaliation for the rocket attacks as well as a target in Syria, killing at least two PIJ militants. PIJ and Israel declared a cease-fire two days after the hostilities began, and it appears to be holding. 

What does this mean? This flare-up is just the latest evidence that Israel’s policy of holding Hamas responsible for Gazan attacks on Israel is dead. Now, Israel appears to be clearly delineating between PIJ and Hamas. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, it allows Israel to more easily maintain its cease-fire with Hamas, the more powerful Gazan faction. On the other hand, it means that Hamas does not have to keep PIJ in check.

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