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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