News from March 29 to April 4

Israeli election update (including an unprecedented speech), Anti-Defamation League study results, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for how to make News of the Jews better at If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. You can follow me on Twitter @skaps1. As a reminder, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) starts on Wednesday, April 7, at sundown.

Israeli election update:

Does Israel have a government yet? No.

What’s new this week? Starting today, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will begin meeting with party leaders to ascertain who has the best chance of assembling a viable governing coalition. Then, on Wednesday, Rivlin will announce who he will give the “mandate” to, the critical first step to forming a government. Accordingly, the past week has been full of political maneuvering among the candidates for Prime Minister to gather the most support possible.

Where do things stand? The political conditions in Israel are changing every hour as leaders hold new meetings and form new agreements, so it’s hard to say. Remember, the most important thing right now is who will get the first chance to form a government because they will have the exclusive ability to assemble a governing coalition for three weeks. As you may recall, the two obvious candidates to form a government are Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (17 seats) and Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud (30 seats), but each leader faces challenges. Lapid is the leader of the largest party in the proverbial “anti-Netanyahu” bloc, but he will have to figure out how to convince Yamina and Hew Hope to enter a centrist coalition supported by the Joint List (no small task!). Netanyahu’s Likud got the most seats overall in the Knesset, but he needs the support of the far-right racist Religious Zionist party and the Islamist Ra’am. 

Since both leaders are struggling to find the requisite support, another possibility has emerged recently; a government led by Yamina’s (7 seats) Naftali Bennett. A kingmaker, Bennett has not committed to either camp, and both Lapid and Netanyahu require his support to form a government. Yesterday, reports suggested that Lapid was willing to partner with Bennett to form a government if it meant getting rid of Netanyahu. Practically, such a government would include a leadership rotation with Bennett serving as Prime Minister first. If it’s true that Lapid and Bennett reached that understanding, the center/center-left parties will likely recommend Bennett to Rivlin this week so he has the chance to form a government before Netanyahu. The numbers back up this possibility; according to Israeli media reports, 67 lawmakers have not ruled out working with Bennett, compared to Lapid’s 66 and Netanyahu’s 63.

How can a party leader who didn’t even receive 10% of the vote become Prime Minister? Crazy, right? Sadly, it’s an indictment of the very broken political system in Israel, where leaders are so polarizing that parties are no longer judged on their ideology but their willingness to work with other political leaders. When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if Israelis demand reforms to their electoral system.

What else happened? On Thursday, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas delivered an unprecedented prime time speech promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence and cooperation. To understand why his speech was so significant, you need to understand some context. Ra’am is an Islamist political party that left the Joint List earlier this year, in part because Abbas wanted to play a larger role in Israeli politics and did not rule out working with Netanyahu. Then, although few expected the result, Ra’am crossed the electoral threshold in March’s election, winning four seats. According to the current political alignment, Ra’am is a kingmaker because he could put both blocs over the 61-seat threshold to form a government.

Mansour Abbas. Source: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

What did Abbas say, and why was it significant? You can read the full text of the speech at this link. Here are a few highlights from the speech:

“I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and home to two peoples.”

Ra’am “respects every person whoever they are, sanctifies life and abhors all violence against anybody based on political or national or religious reasons. The time has come for us to listen to each other, to respect each other’s narrative, to respect the other.”

“We don’t have to agree on everything. We will obviously differ on many issues, but we must give ourselves and our children the right and opportunity to come to know our neighbors. Every one of us has a name, a culture, a story, experiences and a narrative. If we cannot find the way to defeat ignorance and beat racism, we will bequeath the next generation a complex and dangerous and impossible reality.”

“I don’t want to be part of any [political] bloc — right or left. I am here in a different bloc — the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, that for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”

Abbas’ speech was remarkable because he was charting a new path for Israeli-Arab society that favors integration into mainstream Israeli politics. For decades, Israeli-Arab politicians either refused to work with Zionist politicians or were excluded by them. Now, Abbas has a tremendous amount of political power, and he intends to use it to promote coexistence and improve the lives of Israel’s Arab population. It was a great speech, and I encourage you to read it. 

Further reading:

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Annual ADL survey finds a rise in antisemitism in the United States:

What happened? The Anti-Defamation League, a leading antisemitism watchdog, released the results of a new study that indicated that 40% of Jewish Americans experienced antisemitism over the last year. The study also found that 63% of American Jews had experienced antisemitism at some point during the previous five years, up from a 54% in last year’s poll. The survey, performed by Yougov, included responses from 503 individuals between January 7 and January 15, 2021. Here are some other key findings from the study:

9% of Jewish Americans reported that they had experienced physical assault because they were Jewish over the last five years.

25% of Jewish Americans said they had been the target of antisemitic comments or slurs over the last five years.

Almost 60% of Americans indicated that they do not feel as safe today as they did a decade ago.

33% of those who reported being harassed have experienced difficulty sleeping.

It wasn’t only bad news:

There was a six percent reduction in the percentage of Jewish Americans who are afraid of a violent attack at their synagogue between 2020 and 2021 (55% to 49%).

There was also a slight drop (within the margin of error) in the percentage of Jewish Americans who fear various forms of antisemitism like harassment and vandalism.

Anything else? Last week, Tablet published an article about a recent study on the relationship between antisemitism and education. The study, carried out by Jay P. Greene, Albert Cheng, and Ian Kingsbury, found that those with more education might be more antisemitic than those with less education. Interestingly, their study focused on double standards, and they found that more educated people were more likely to apply a double standard to Jewish causes. Here’s a snippet from the article:

“When asked whether ‘attachment to another country creates a conflict of interest,’ respondents with a four-year degree and those with advanced degrees were respectively 7 and 13 percentage points more likely to express this concern when the attachment in question was to Israel rather than Mexico. People with advanced degrees were 12 percentage points more likely to support the military in prohibiting a Jewish yarmulke than in prohibiting a Sikh turban as part of the uniform. Those with four-year college degrees answer this question the same whether the example is Jewish or Sikh.”

The study has significant ramifications for the way we think about antisemitism. Sometimes folks instinctively believe antisemitism is the product of a lack of education, but the research suggests that hypothesis might not be true, or at the very least, does not paint a complete picture. Knowing where antisemitism originates and is prevalent could help researchers find ways to stop it.

I highly encourage you to give it a read here:

Further Reading:

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Honorable mentions:

Knife attack on Jewish family in New York being investigated as possible bias crime, police say” by Aaron Katersky and Meredith Deliso (ABC News)

The secret Jewish history of Peeps” by Amy Oringel (Forward)

Blinken tells Israel: Palestinians should enjoy same rights, freedoms as you do” (Times of Israel) (Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down a call from Antony Blinken, seeking to first speak with Biden)

Biden administration quietly ramping up aid to Palestinians” by Matthew Lee (AP)

How Duolingo created a Yiddish course with a secular scholar and Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn” by Gabe Friedman (JTA)

Biden calls on Americans to remember Holocaust victims, survivors” (i24 News)

Baseball is back: Alex Bregman and Max Fried top the list of 8 Jewish players in the majors” by Rob Charry (JTA)

‘New Yorker’ takes heat for article on Polish complicity during Holocaust” (JNS)

Biden revokes Trump's sanctions on International Criminal Court” by Barak Ravid (Axios)

Houston synagogue files federal lawsuit claiming city violating its religious rights” by Faygie Holt (JNS)

Israel signs multimillion-dollar commerce accord with Morocco” by Gilad Zwick (Israel Hayom)

US Government Report Concludes USAID Agency Did Not Abide by Terrorism Vetting Procedures in Grants to Palestinians” (Algemeiner)

Jordan nabs ex-palace officials for ‘security reasons,’ denies coup plot report” (Times of Israel)

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