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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