News from April 19 to April 25

Netanyahu suffers major political blow, Gazan militants fire rockets at Israel, and honorable mentions

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Israeli election update:

Background: Since Israel has a parliamentary-style government, individuals vote for parties, which are then allotted proportional representation in the Knesset. The Prime Minister is chosen not by direct election but through negotiations between the various parties elected to the Knesset. As a result, there is a window of time post-election after the Knesset members (MKs) are sworn in where there is no Prime Minister. During that time, the Knesset still has to function, so there is a committee called the Arrangements Committee that votes to establish the basic setup of the Knesset. The Arrangements Committee decides who chairs each committee, how many MKs from each party are members of each committee, and other administrative issues. 

What happened? Last week, Netanyahu suffered a significant political blow when Likud failed to pass its proposal to form Knesset committees in the Arrangements Committee. Instead, the Arrangements Committee passed the “anti-Netanyahu bloc’s” proposal, which gave more sway to Netanyahu’s opponents. Although the pro-Netanyahu camp appeared poised to pass their bid to set up the Knesset, Ra’am, a conservative Islamist party who expressed a willingness to work with Netanyahu in the past, decided to vote with the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas reportedly changed his party’s votes after learning that Netanyahu intended to give Naftali Bennett’s Yamina disproportionate political power and after Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid offered him powerful committee assignments (though he said the posts did not affect his decision).

Why was the vote important? By winning the vote, the anti-Netanyahu bloc can now set the agenda for the Knesset and lead important oversight committees. Notably, the anti-Netanyahu bloc can attempt to pass legislation that would prohibit someone who is indicted from forming a government. Although the bill would be controversial, it could pass because it would specifically prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. 

On another note, the vote was noteworthy because it was the first time that Ra’am formally partnered with either the anti-Netanyahu or pro-Netanyahu camps. Before the vote, Ra’am was fence-sitting, and Abbas was relishing his kingmaker status. However, despite constant speculation that Netanyahu might woo him, Abbas and Ra’am finally signaled their position (though it could always change) to support Lapid and the anti-Netanyahu camp in the Knesset.

What’s the bottom line? Last week’s vote went very poorly for Netanyahu. In fact, it went so badly that Miki Zohar, a senior Likud leader, admitted that Netanyahu would be the opposition leader (and not the Prime Minister). Netanyahu’s prospects for forming a government are growing slimmer and slimmer, and Ra’am’s decision to side with the anti-Netanyahu camp may well prove to have been the nail in his proverbial coffin. Things are so dismal for Netanyahu now that he reportedly offered Benny Gantz the ability to serve as Prime Minister first in a rotation. In case you haven’t been paying attention to Israeli politics over the past few years, this election happened precisely because Netanyahu did not want to rotate the premiership to Gantz later this year. Accordingly, one might interpret the reports to suggest that Netanyahu is growing desperate. 

What should I watch moving forward? Netanyahu has a little over a week left to form a government. Anything could happen in that time, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll be able to assemble a coalition. It remains to be seen who will get a chance to form the government next, as both Lapid and Bennett are likely to seek the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin.

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Gazan militants launch dozens of rockets into Israel amid clashes in Jerusalem:

What happened? Over the past few days, Gaza-based terrorists have launched dozens of rockets into Israel. The groups, which include the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), have said that their rocket fire is a response to the rising tensions in Jerusalem. Israeli forces struck several sites in Gaza in response to the rockets, including underground facilities, observation posts, and rocket launchers. Israel also closed the zone where Gazan fishermen can fish after initially reducing it from 15 nautical miles to nine nautical miles. At least 36 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last few days, six of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. Responding to the attacks, the United States State Department tweeted, “We condemn the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. There is no justification for such attacks.”

Why are tensions high in Jerusalem? There have been many issues, and the timeline is not necessarily clear. One incident that stoked tensions was Israeli police setting up metal barricades at the Damascus Gate, where Palestinians have been gathering after Ramadan prayers. Meanwhile, many Israelis were angry that videos of Arab youth attacking religious Jews in Jerusalem were spreading on Tik Tok and other forms of social media. As a result of both issues and other lingering problems, Palestinians and ultra-nationalist Israelis violently clashed over the weekend. It was an ugly scene, with ultra-nationalist Israelis at times chanting “death to the Arabs” while some Palestinian protestors threw rocks at officers and buildings. 

Israeli forces during 2019 protests in Jerusalem. Source: Israeli police.

Is this scuffle going to escalate further? It’s hard to say. Jerusalem police have since restored Palestinian access to Damascus Gate, so it’s possible that the clashes could subside. However, the tension between ultra-nationalist Israelis and Palestinians is unlikely to subside any time soon. Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed Israeli security forces to prepare for any scenario.

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Honorable Mentions: 

In protest rallies, thousands of Jews in France and beyond demand ‘justice for Sarah Halimi’” by Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) (For reference, I wrote about the Halimi story in last week’s newsletter)

CBS News story on the origins of Billie Holiday's “Strange Fruit:”

What happened to Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine?” by Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman (JPost)

Israeli NBA forward Deni Avdija suffers injury, ending promising rookie season” by Louis Keene (Forward)

The Jewish National Fund’s iconic blue charity box is now accepting bitcoin” by Asaf Shalev (JTA)

In ‘WandaVision,’ Timely Jewish Wisdom About Coping With Loss” by Shmuel Hain (Tablet)

New DNC chair stands by Israel amid progressive headwinds” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

Dr. Ruth’s post-pandemic life is a lot busier than yours” by Benyamin Cohen (Forward)

The State Dept.’s diversity officer grew up among Orthodox Jews in Cleveland” by Gabby Deutch (Jewish Insider)

Sanders, Warren: U.S. Should Restrict Military Aid to Israel” by Aaron Bandler (Jewish Journal)

Four synagogues in NYC’s Riverdale neighborhood vandalized, windows smashed” by Ben Sales (JTA)

A portal for federal entertainment industry grants will no longer launch on Shabbat, following complaints from observant Jews” by Andrew Silow-Carroll (JTA)

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish Star in a New, Very Jewish Movie” by Lior Zaltzman (Kveller)

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