News from May 31 to June 6
Israeli Opposition agrees to form a government to replace Netanyahu 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. You can follow me on Twitter @skaps1. A lot of the major headlines this week were related, so here’s a primer on what's happening in Israeli politics:
What happened? In last week’s newsletter, I mentioned that the Israeli opposition was nearing a deal to form a government and replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Well, this week, the opposition finally reached an agreement that, if confirmed in a confidence vote, will end Netanyahu’s time as Israel’s Prime Minister (at least for now). As you may recall, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid held the “mandate” to form a government for a few weeks, meaning he was the only person who could assemble a coalition to replace the current government. Just under forty minutes before his mandate expired on Wednesday night, Lapid called Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to inform him that 61 lawmakers from 8 different parties had agreed to form a new government. The call was significant because it essentially kicks off what amounts to be Israel’s political “transition.”
What are the details of the new coalition? Nothing is official yet, so I don’t want to speculate. However, the most important details are known. If the new government is sworn in, Naftali Bennett, the right-wing leader of Yamina, will become the Prime Minister for two years, at which point Lapid, the centrist leader of Yesh Atid, will rotate into the premiership. During the first two years, Lapid is expected to be the Foreign Minister. I’ll include the final portfolio allocations once they are widely reported. In the meantime, here’s a good piece on Bennett, and here’s a good piece on Lapid.
For more on how the coalition will likely govern, check out last week’s newsletter.
Party leaders of the new coalition. From left: Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Naftali Bennett (Yamina), Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), Mansour Abbas (Ra’am), Merav Michaeli (Labor), Benny Gantz (Blue and White), and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). Source: Tal Schneider.
What’s new about this coalition? Forgive me if I sound repetitive, but it’s difficult to underscore the ideological breadth of the coalition. On the one hand, Bennett’s been politically tied to some of the most radical right-wing elements in Israeli political life (the Religious Zionist Party). That’s not to say he will govern as right-wing as his political history suggests he will, but he is certainly ideologically right-wing. On the other hand, the coalition features the dovish Meretz party, which is a social-democratic left-wing party that stridently believes in a negotiated two-state solution. Thus, there pretty much is not a political position in Israel that will not be represented by the “change” government. Achieving such unity is usually impossible, but in this case, all parties are united by one common goal: replacing Benjamin Netanyahu.
In addition to the ideological diversity of the new coalition, it also features an Arab party for the first time in decades. Traditionally, Arab parties do not serve in Israeli governments because it could be seen as legitimizing the actions of the state. However, over the past couple of years, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas has expressed a willingness to make change for Israel’s Arab community from inside the government. Indeed, Ra’am, an Islamist party, will sit in the coalition alongside some of the most fiercely nationalistic parties (New Hope and Yamina).
So, is Bennett Prime Minister yet? No, not yet. The Speaker of the Knesset, which is currently Likud MK Yariv Levin, has a great deal of sway over the procedural element of swearing in a new government. Since the Knesset Speaker belongs to Netanyahu’s party, he will likely do whatever he can to delay the confidence vote for the new government. Thus, the vote will likely not take place until June 9 or June 14. During that time, a number of potential obstacles remain. For one, none of the coalition agreements are finalized. They have been agreed to in principle, but they still must be finished and formally signed. Secondly, Netanyahu and the Likud are still trying to convince right-wing MKs to ditch their current parties and vote against the coalition (though so far it does not appear that their efforts are working). Netanyahu’s pressure campaign has been so aggressive that the leader of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), Nadav Argaman, publicly pleaded for politicians to lower the temperature of their rhetoric to avoid incitement and “igniting” the country. Lastly, far-right organizers are attempting to reschedule the Jerusalem Day March that was postponed during the recent conflict with Hamas. If the march happens as had been planned (Defense Minister Benny Gantz is against the March), it would be a provocative incident that could cause the region to erupt (Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said as much). A massive security-related situation could cause delays in the new government’s formation or lead to its demise altogether, which is why the leaders of the Joint List, Labor, and Meretz (and a Yesh Atid MK) warned that the rescheduled March was a right-wing attempt to thwart the budding coalition.
I read something about a new President. What’s that about? Yes, Israel has elected a new President. Unlike parliamentary elections, Israeli Presidential elections are conducted as a secret poll of Knesset members. In last week’s election, former Labor MK Isaac Herzog defeated educator Miriam Peretz by a substantial margin (87 out of 120 votes). Herzog, who formerly led the Jewish Agency, will serve a seven-year term starting in July. He also comes from a family with a deep political legacy; his father, Chaim Herzog, served as Israel’s President, while his uncle, Abba Eban, was Israel’s Foreign Minister. Israel’s President is a largely ceremonial role, with its primary political purpose being the assignment of the mandate to form a government.
Anything else? The political environment in Israel is dangerous right now. Four of the seven Yamina lawmakers have been assigned extra security due to threats from protestors. Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg was forced to flee from her home after protestors threatened her and her child. It’s no surprise, then, that some have compared the atmosphere to just before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
In other news, Israeli police detained and later released three prominent Palestinian advocates in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. Police also detained an Al Jazeera journalist and later released her as well. The arrests have been criticized by the Foreign Press Association, which called them “the latest in a long line of heavy-handed tactics by Israeli police.”
“UNRWA finds attack tunnel under one of its Gaza schools” by Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
“In significant verdict, French court sentences Holocaust denier to 5 years for making death threats” by Cnaan Lipshiz (JTA)
“Jon Scheyer to succeed Coach K at Duke” by Jacob Miller (Jewish Insider) (Scheyer, a Jewish former player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, is sometimes called the Jewish Jordan. Go Duke!)
“Mayim Bialik’s Jewish Family Inspired Her to Guest-Host ‘Jeopardy!’” by Maddy Albert (Kveller)
“David Dushman, last surviving Auschwitz liberator, dies aged 98” (AFP) (Dushman ran over the electric fence at Auschwitz in a tank)
“Bobby Kennedy’s Admiration for Israel” by Shalom Goldman (Tablet)
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