Prior to the Six Day War, which took place 54 years ago this month, the pages of this paper were filled with foreboding and ominous news of enemy militaries amassing adjacent to Israel’s borders. The very next issue was triumphal and jubilant – the war already had ended.
Such is one of the challenges of publishing a weekly newspaper. When a war only lasts six days, it presents difficulties for a journal that comes out every seven. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been on a twice-monthly publishing schedule, adding to the challenges of bringing you news in a time of fast change.
Of course, as regular readers know, we recognize our limitations and strengths and, as the internet has made information accessible 24/7, we have adapted to provide thoughtful, contextualizing essays and ideas, complemented by coverage of local events that only we can deliver.
Still, commenting on events that are subject to rapid flux remains a reality. This week, as we go to press, many or most observers assume that Naftali Bennett will soon replace Binyamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister. Netanyahu continues to insist that such a new government represents something undemocratic. Indeed, his choice of language has been incendiary, and the imagery employed by some of his supporters veers into the realm of the demonization that we saw in the lead-up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Whatever his political objectives, Netanyahu should beware not to lead Israel down a path of “scorched earth,” as Bennett warned this week.
Bibi seems to be taking a page from the playbook of his ally Donald Trump, who emerged again recently to rehash his lies about stolen elections and assorted nonsense, including his imminent reinstallation in the White House. While scarily huge swaths of Americans (Republicans mostly, of course) believe that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president, we have more trust in the intelligence of Israeli voters to know that whoever is prime minister by the time the dust settles is there by due process.
If, as seems likely, Netanyahu is replaced, do not expect to hear the last of him. Again, like his friend in Florida, Bibi is clearly not done yet. He has been defeated before and returned to hold the position, becoming the country’s longest-serving leader.
Perhaps the biggest variable will be whether his Likud party stands behind him, as Trump’s Republican base has apparently stood by their man. Already, Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu’s health minister, has said he would challenge Bibi for the party leadership should they lose power.
If successful, Edelstein, or any alternative Likud leader, would almost certainly cause an immediate tectonic shift in politics. That’s because the binary in that country’s politics is now cemented as “pro-Bibi” and “anti-Bibi.” With anyone but Netanyahu at the helm, some of the right-leaning partners in the new, broad coalition would likely look afresh at a deal with the party that has, by a large margin, the most seats in the Knesset.
Netanyahu may yet pull another rabbit out of his hat before Bennett can take his place. More likely, we are about to see a political shift that will see Netanyahu out but not down. That is, he seems to have enough capital to remain a major player in Likud and Israeli politics in general. The corruption case currently proceeding against him may affect that, but it has done little so far to dislodge his defenders.
If, as smart money has it, Netanyahu is unseated in the next few days, we will truly see a new era in Israeli politics. But we would caution that such a new era will begin with a time of flux. The new coalition is unwieldy and may not hold. Netanyahu has been the centre of gravity for Israeli politics for a very long time. In his absence, everything changes.
Our next issue is June 25. We promise this: plenty will have changed by then.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, vote on March 23. While the prime minister’s party won the most number of seats in the Knesset, he will still struggle to form a government. (photo from IGPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes a stunning deal with lawmakers to abandon his post and replace Reuven Rivlin as president of the country when the president’s term expires later this year. An agreement to pardon Netanyahu around corruption charges he currently faces is part of a deal that leads to Netanyahu ending his run as the country’s longest-serving leader. With “King Bibi” finally in a sinecure of symbolic eminence, the polarized Knesset manages to cobble together a coalition and stave off the fifth round of elections in two years.
This was one of the most fantastical possibilities mooted in a webinar presented by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) March 25, just two days after Israelis voted in the fourth of a series of elections during a two-year period of instability.
The panelists were CIJA’s chief executive officer Shimon Koffler Fogel and Adir Krafman, the agency’s associate director for communications and analytics. They sifted the entrails of the convoluted election outcome.
While ideological schisms divide Israeli politics, as does the secular-religious divide and other fractures, Fogel and Krafman concurred that the elephant in any discussion of the next Knesset is Netanyahu. CIJA is a nonpartisan organization and Fogel emphasized that the panelists, and moderator Tamara Fathi, were not advocating any outcomes, merely commenting on possibilities.
And the possibilities are almost endless. The vote sent 13 parties into the 120-seat Knesset. Some of these are not even parties, so much as umbrellas under which different factions coalesced for electoral purposes, so the mosaic of the chaotic chamber could refract in countless ways. But, while there are myriad permutations of possible coalitions and strange bedfellowships, Fogel, Krafman and most commentators in Israel and abroad think the most likely outcome is a fifth election. That is how difficult it would be for either side to patch together 61 members of the Knesset to govern.
Krafman presented graphic evidence of the challenges the pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions face in reaching that magic number. The pro-Bibi side likely has 52 dependable seats; his opponents probably have 57. That means an anti-Netanyahu coalition could form with the support of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which holds seven seats. For Netanyahu to eke out 61 seats would require the backing not only of Bennett but also of the four seats won by the Arab party Ra’am. Such a partnership would be historic and would have been almost unthinkable in the recent past. But Netanyahu of late has been making amenable noises toward Arab Israelis in general and to the Arab parties in particular. However, even if the prime minister and his unlikely allies in the Arab sector made a deal, it could upend the consensus on the other side, as some on the right would probably balk at joining a coalition that includes Ra’am.
Ra’am is one of the big stories of the election. Exit polls indicated the party would not make it over the 3.25% threshold to win any Knesset seats. That created a scenario where Netanyahu and his probable allies were seen as almost certain to form a government.
But, as actual counting took place through the night and into the morning, it became clear that Ra’am would cross the minimum support for representation. Instantly, the calculations shifted.
If Ra’am were to enter a coalition government, or even if it merely supported a government from the sidelines, it would be a turning point in the role Arab parties play in Israeli politics. Ra’am has already upended conventional Arab approaches to politics. The umbrella of Arab parties, recently running under the banner of the Joint List, has always played a spoiler role. They are oppositionist and anti-Zionist groups that are as much protest movements as conventional political parties.
Perhaps learning a lesson from the outsized power of small, right-wing and Jewish religious parties, Ra’am adopted a more pragmatic and transactional position than their former allies in the Arab bloc. The leader, Mansour Abbas, has not ruled out supporting a coalition or playing a role in government. Like smaller Jewish parties, he would be expected to come to coalition discussions with a shopping list of demands, such as more funding for projects and programs that benefit his constituents.
Ra’am’s success makes it an unqualified winner in the election sweepstakes. Fogel and Krafman discussed other winners and losers.
“The first loser, I think, is Netanyahu,” said Fogel. “Despite his party winning the most number of seats, 30 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, [he] is still not able to form a government.”
That might have been survivable if other parties that are Netanyahu’s likely backers did not also come up short.
“The other two losers are other right-wing parties,” Fogel added. Naftali Bennett, whose Yamina took seven seats, and Gideon Sa’ar, whose New Hope party took six, had hoped to siphon off a larger chunk of Likud’s votes.
“Both of them really failed to do that, winning only a handful of seats,” said Fogel.
It is a profound statement about tectonic changes in Israel’s ideological fault lines that the Labour party, which took seven seats, and another left-wing party, Meretz, which took six, are viewed as having had a good night. In the days leading up to the vote, there were questions whether either party would overcome the minimum threshold. The Labour party was the indomitable establishment political party for the first three decades of Israel’s existence.
Another loser, Fogel said, was Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party. Lieberman is a right-wing but avowedly secularist politician. He ran a campaign promoting separation of religion and state and against Charedi privileges. His message may have backfired: while turnout was down overall from the last election, Charedi voters turned out in greater numbers, possibly in reaction to Lieberman’s message.
The discussion turned again to what may be the most likely path for a right-wing government, which could be the exit of Netanyahu. There are centrist parties, Fogel said, that do not have issues with Likud policies so much as they do with the prime minister personally. With him gone, a bloc of anti-Bibi members might engage with Likud under a new leader and form a centre-right coalition.
As unlikely as this scenario might be, it would stave off another unsavoury development.
Any hope of forming a Netanyahu-led coalition probably depends on support from the extremist grouping called Religious Zionism. This new umbrella of racist, misogynistic and homophobic extremists, which holds six seats, would taint any coalition as the most far-right government in Israel’s history. (Click here to read this week’s editorial.)
Whatever happens – whether someone can manage to hammer together a government, or whether exhausted Israelis will trudge to the polls for a fifth time – there are serious issues facing the country.
“There are some pretty daunting challenges out there,” Fogel said. “Most especially on the economic side. We see that some other countries have already begun to emerge [from the pandemic] with a fairly robust recovery. Israel isn’t there yet…. There is a sense of urgency that they do have to get an Israeli government in place that is going to be able to effectively address these issues and it’s not clear that the election result will offer that to Israelis, so I think it makes a situation, if anything, more desperate.”
Local Israeli Jews gathered at Vancouver Maritime Museum Aug. 29 to join groups around the world in supporting rallies in Israel for democracy. (photo by Zohar Hagbi)
In recent years and with greater intensity during COVID-19 and the current “emergency” coalition in Israel, many believe that the foundations of Israeli democracy are being challenged by a prime minister indicted on several criminal counts. On Aug. 29, several dozen Israeli expats, members of the Metro Vancouver Jewish community and others joined compatriots in 18 cities around the world to support the growing protests in Israel.
Hundreds of supporters, standing in unison with protesters in Israel, took a stand at their respective locations in Atlanta, Amsterdam, Basel, Berlin, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, New York, Oslo, Paris, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C. Another Canadian city, Calgary, has held a rally or two. On other weeks, protesters as far as Sydney, Australia, have expressed their support.
From the outset, Vancouver organizers drew inspiration and guidance from UnXeptable, a grassroots movement launched by a group of Israelis residing in the San Francisco Bay area. This tightly knit, completely self-funded team of volunteers put together position papers, crafted marketing materials and created social media channels that seeded the formation of similar groups dotting Western Europe and North America.
The prime minister’s official residence is located on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, making it and the neighbouring squares and streets the epicentre and namesake of the protests. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, the more serene and isolated location of the Vancouver Maritime Museum served as our venue. It was the third time we have come together to hold signs, wave the Israeli flag, chant and sing in solidarity with the countless protesters, of all stripes, on the ground in Israel. In contrast to local gatherings in previous weeks, this global rally saw a significant increase in participation. Whether this was due to the broad media coverage of police violence at Balfour the week before, the global nature of this particular event, or the remarkable planning, the result was a palpable level of energy and a sense of unity.
It was a windy day, which forced us to relocate from our usual spot on the north side of the museum to the warmer grass at the front of it. The venue was chosen over more central locations out of consideration for the safety of the people involved and other sensitivities. The goal of our gathering was, after all, to support the people in Israel, while reducing the chance of friction with anti-Israelis or with those who would mistakenly claim that our actions were akin to “airing dirty laundry.” Over the years, Israelis living abroad have faced significant pushback from many parts of the Diaspora community who have had difficulty understanding and accepting their criticism of Israel. As Diaspora Jews and others learn more about the serious challenges that Israeli society faces today, they may become a little more sensitive to the internal conflicts of many Israelis living abroad – people who have given some of the best years of their lives to defending the country they love and who are genuinely concerned by what is currently taking place.
Assembled in the various cities for more than an hour, the Vancouver group joined their peers around the world in a simultaneous Zoom-powered broadcast of the rally, dubbed “Halev BeBalfour” (“the Heart is in Balfour”). This coordinated event, quite possibly the first of its kind in Israeli history, took place at precisely 9 p.m. Israel time, was streamed on the new independent channel DemocratTV and, most importantly, screened on the side of a building at the neighbouring Paris Square for the protesters to see. During an allotted two minutes, each location was given the opportunity to express its support through speeches, chants or songs. As the cities took their turn, Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background, Berlin with its Brandenburg Gate, San Francisco with the Golden Gate and so on, Vancouver had its share of the focus.
Anyone who is interested can watch the video, available on DemocratTV’s Facebook page. It shows how Israelis worldwide have joined together to express their concern about the situation in Israel. In the video, you can hear people from Vancouver speaking about the need for the Israeli people to come together again and recover from the many years of divisiveness, the culture of corruption and the fear-mongering. The Vancouver group ended its two-minute segment calling for internal peace, and singing the late Arik Einstein’s “Ani Ve’ata Neshane et Ha’olam” (“You and I Will Change the World”) and “Kol Ha’olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” (“The Whole World is a Very Narrow Bridge”).
It’s no secret to anyone following Israeli news that, in past years, the country has suffered from growing internal tensions and political instability, which resulted in three elections within the span of a year. Those who yearned for a seemingly never-ending political deadlock to be broken and new national leadership to emerge in the March elections, from the combined front of Yesh Atid and the Blue and White party, were left disappointed. These voters reluctantly had to watch Binyamin Netanyahu dismantle the opposition and form what is quite possibly the most dysfunctional and largest government in the nation’s history, with a pandemic serving as its backdrop.
The focus and efforts required to address the deepening Israeli tribalism gave way to the government’s concerted fight against the virus. Israel, which was considered a role model of how to handle the health crisis by some countries early on, largely due to its aggressive lockdown, is now experiencing widespread infection. What remains from the unprecedented civilian cooperation at the start of the pandemic is record unemployment, thousands of closed businesses and a growing distrust in the motives of the country’s leadership.
As Israeli society is quite likely on the brink of a new lockdown, more and more Israelis of all political persuasions are demonstrating their frustration with the mismanagement of the crisis, their concerns for the future and their anger against corruption at the highest echelon of government. After years of ongoing investigations and constant delays, with the outcome of investigative case No. 3000 (aka the “Submarine Scandal”) still pending, Netanyahu was indicted in October 2019 on three counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Demonstrations, rallies and marches spanning hundreds of locations in major cities, road junctions and highway bridges near the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea and in Balfour itself have consistently grown in attendance, culminating in weekly events at the end of Shabbat since June. Fueled by the unity of more than 20 grassroots movements, notably Ein Matsav (Unacceptable), Protest of the Individuals, Crime Minister, and the Black Flags, the assembly at Balfour drew an estimated 45,000 marchers and protesters at the end of August, much higher than the numbers reported by major media outlets such as Walla News and Ynet. While the protesters appear to come from all political factions, age groups, religious backgrounds and Jewish ethnic divisions, Netanyahu and his supporters have referred to them as “anarchists,” “aliens” and even “traitors.”
It’s quite possible that by the time you read this, the outcomes of the protests, the fragile political balance and the situation of the health crisis in Israel may be quite different. What won’t change, with time or distance, is that Israelis around the globe will continue their struggle to protect democracy. Our hearts remain with the people of Israel.
Adi Kabazoand his family moved to Vancouver from Israel in late 2002, when daughter Hilla was less than a year old. A high-tech marketing professional by trade and hummus maker by hobby, he keeps a close tab on Israeli affairs. The connection with Israel and sense of the obligation to uphold and protect Zionist and Jewish values is shared by Hilla, a first-year arts student at the University of British Columbia. Hilla has a strong interest in social justice and is an active member of the Camp Miriam community, as a volunteer and in her role as a summer camp counselor.
ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו (U.S. Department of State)
המראות הקשים מהחדשות האחרונות העיבו על רוחי. המגפה הנוראית הזו גבתה את חייהם של רבים בקנדה ובעולם כולו.
מה עושים שאלתי את עצמי מספר פעמים עד שעלה במוחי רעיון מעולה. דבר שישמח את כולם. קודם כל את בת זוגתי אהובתי שתחיה, וכן השכנים, תושבי ונקובר ואולי המדינה כולה. רעיון מבריק, רעיון נפלא – התחלתי לדקלם לעצמי.
כתבתי מספר מילים על פתק קטן כדי שבטעות לא אשכח מה להגיד ברגע המתאים. רצתי בעליזות מרובה למטבח והצלחתי איכשהו לעלות על השולחן הרעוע ולעמוד עליו ביציבות לא יציבה. הוצאתי את הפתק מכיס חולצתי והתחלתי להקריא בקול חזק ורם כיאה לאיש חזק ודומיננטי כמוני. הרמתי את ידי למעלה ממש כמנהיג המטבח בדקות חשובות אלה. וכך אמרתי בהתרגשות רבתי תוך דמעות חונקות את גרוני: “אהובתי, יקירתי, אהבת חיי לנצח נצחים. אני מכריז בזאת כי לאחר שימצא החיסון למגפה שנפלה עלינו משמיים, אציע לך באופן רשמי נישואין. לאחר מכן נצא לירח דבש באחד המקומות האהובים עלינו בטבע. רק את ואני, יד ביד, לחי ללחי. אני בטוח אהובתי שהצעתי תשמח אותך, ואולי אף תרים את המורל השפוף של רבים רבים הסובלים עתה ממראות המגפה”.
לאחר סיום הנאום הצלחתי בכוחות אחרונים לרדת מהשולחן וכמעט התהפכנו שנינו. לאחר שנעמדתי על הרצפה היציבה מזיע ונושף ארוכות, הבחנתי לצערי שאהובתי כלל לא מגיבה בשמחה נוכח הצעתי הנדיבה. היא המשיכה לבהות מול מסך הטלוויזיה. באותו זמן הוקרנה סדרת טלוויזיה באנימציה שנוצרה לאחרונה בישראל. הספקתי להציץ במסך ולראות תמונה הזויה לחלוטין. ראש ממשלה מקומי שמחזיק בקרנות השלטון כעשרים שנה הצליח שוב להקים ממשלה והפעם כיאה לו היא רחבה וגדולה מאוד. האופוזיצה כך מתברר במקום להתנגד לו התחברה אליו. כך שהוא ימשיך לשבת על כיסא המלך למרות כתב אישום חמור נגדו. יקירתי נאותה סוף סוף להוריד את העיניים מהמסך ולהסתכל אלי ישירות. וכך אמרה לי בכעס רב: “נו באמת האם אתה חושב שאני טיפשה מטופשת. מחר ימצא חיסון וניתחתן? הרי זה ייקח שנים על גבי שנים. וחוץ מזה אתה חושב שאני יכולה להאמין לישראלים שכמוך. תראה על המסך איך אתם עובדים אחד על השני. וראש הממשלה שלכם עובד על כולם שוב ושוב”.
ולסיום דבר מה שכתבתי לאחרונה על ישראל:
ביבי גרם לנו אנחה ארוכה ארוכה.
ואולי בעצם הרבה אנחות או שמוטב אפילו להגיד אין ספור אנחות.
זהו שיר שלי למחות על מה שעושה ראש הממשלה הנצחי של ישראל לנצח ישראל.
כפי שאמר היוצר שלום חינוך בשירו המעולה והרלונטי היום יותר מאי פעם: “הציבור מטומטם ולכן הציבור משלם” – מה עוד צריך לקרות שבישראל יתעוררו ויבינו שראש הממשלה הוא בעצם ראש כת (משפחת נתניהו המלכותית) שמהלכת אימים על רבים ובעיקר על חלשים ועניים.
מה עוד צריך לקרות שהאזרחים יקראו את הכתובת על הקיר ויבינו שהממשלה הרחבה הנוכחית היא יריקה בפרצופם של משלמי המיסים.
לא נשכח שמתנהל משפט על חלק מחטאי ראש הממשלה והגיע הזמן שהוא ישלם מחיר על מה שעשה כי אחרת – הוא ימשיך לעשות עוד ועוד לכיסו המנופח.
אפשר להגיד את זה באנגלית או בעברית: הראש מושחת והשחיתות משתלטת על כל חלקה טובה מרחוב בלפור והלאה.
למי שגר כאן בקנדה הבעיות בישראל נראות רחוקות ואולי אף הזויות
British Columbians, like others in much of the world, are stepping gingerly into what may be a post-pandemic period – or an “inter-pandemic” phase, if the predicted second wave bears out. Our daily briefings from Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, and Health Minister Adrian Dix are cautiously optimistic, tempered with the reality that some people, given an inch, will take a mile. Confusion around, or contempt for, changing social distancing guidelines has meant numerous instances of inappropriate gatherings.
All in all, though, British Columbians have so far experienced among the lowest proportions of COVID-related illnesses and deaths than almost any jurisdiction in the developed world. Each death is a tragedy, yet we should be grateful for those who have recovered and the fact that so many of us have remained healthy so far. Thanks should go to all those who have helped others make it through, including first responders, healthcare professionals and also those irreplaceable workers we used to take for granted: retail and service employees and others who have allowed most of us to live through this with comparatively minimal disruptions.
In our Jewish community, so many individuals and institutions have done so much, from delivering challah to providing emergency financial and other supports for those affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Canadians, in general, seem to be making it through this time as well as can be expected. Polls indicate that Canadians are overwhelmingly supportive of the actions our governments have taken during the coronavirus pandemic. How the federal and provincial governments manage the continuing economic repercussions and the potential resurgence of infections in coming months will determine long-term consequences both for us and for their popularity.
In signs that things are returning to something akin to pre-pandemic normal, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s once-and-still-prime minister, is complaining about a “left-wing coup” and asserting that “the entire right” is on trial. In fact, it is not an entire wing of the Israeli political spectrum that is on trial, but Netanyahu himself, for bribery, breach of trust and fraud. He is accused of exchanging favours to friends and allies in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in trinkets like cigars and champagne, and favourable coverage in media. Whatever strategy his team has for inside the courtroom, his PR strategy is pure deflection: blame the media, the court system, political opponents. He’s fighting two trials: the one in the justice system and the one in the court of public opinion. Netanyahu has managed to save his political hide thus far, through three successive elections and a year of coalition-building and horse trading. Predicting what might happen next is a popular but fruitless pastime.
More signs that things are not so different came from U.S. President Donald Trump on the weekend. As the death toll in the United States approached 100,000, Trump took time off from golfing to deliver Twitter rants, including retweets calling Hillary Clinton a “skank” and smearing other female Democrats for their appearance. Trump also insinuated that MSNBC TV host Joe Scarborough is a murderer.
Sitting (mostly) comfortably in our homes watching such things from afar, it’s no wonder Canadians are feeling good about the way our various governments – federal and provincial, of all political stripes – are behaving these days.
After two inconclusive elections in Israel, incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears certain to form a government after elections Monday, ending an unprecedented period of political instability.
Whether Netanyahu himself, under indictment and slated for a trial this month on corruption charges, will remain prime minister for long, the right-wing is certainly poised to govern for the near future. Israel’s Supreme Court explicitly refused to offer an opinion on whether a convicted prime minister could continue in office, a question that may now go from theoretical to very real.
Jews in the Diaspora, including a great many here in British Columbia, follow politics in Israel casually or closely, as many of us do the machinations of American politics that are also roiling this week. Canadian politics and those in British Columbia, around issues of environmental policy, disruptive protests and a host of other topics, have people here at home fired up about politics even without elections on the near horizon.
While there are countless issues and contests vying for our attention, there is also an undercurrent of less immediate yet possibly more ominous peril facing our democracies. Threats of external influence from bad actors, like a repetition of the Russian interference in U.S. elections in 2016, are cause for serious concern. The rise of domestic extremism – in mainstream politics as well as in the form of underground and sometimes violent movements – also deserves close attention. So does apathy.
All of these influences and attitudes present dangers to our democracies – in Canada, in the United States, in Europe and Israel. Newer democracies in Central and Eastern Europe have demonstrated how fragile the tissue of open, accountable and responsive government can be. It is alarming to witness the path that Hungary, Russia, Turkey and Poland have been on recently. Our democracies – in the United States and Canada, even Israel – may be somewhat older, but these countries are still warnings of how things that we take for granted can be snatched away. Democracy is less an enormous oak with deep and broad roots than it is a delicate flower that requires nurturing and constant attention.
For this reason, when there are government policies or election outcomes with which we disagree, we should remind ourselves that democracy may be the ultimate win-some-lose-some proposition and recommit ourselves to respect for the institutions of our democracy, not just when they serve our interests but even – especially – when they deliver outcomes that we find disagreeable. At the same time, we should be identifying and calling out every instance when a political leader or movement threatens the institutions or norms of our democracy.
Amid all of these political dramas, very daunting situations that recognize no geographic or ideological boundaries are challenging each and every one of us. This week, again, coronavirus is spreading and causing panic. Meanwhile, the dangers posed by climate change escalate every day. The economic impacts of these global concerns are blaring across the business pages: pandemic fears are causing wild stock market fluctuations, while the measures necessary to alter the course of climate change demand fundamental economic shifts. All of these threaten to exacerbate existing inequalities locally, nationally and internationally, threatening our morality and the stability of our world.
In the face of existential issues like these, the differences in our ideologies in countries like Canada, Israel or the United States fade into shades of grey. This is perhaps optimistic: that the differences between us are minimal in comparison to the difficulties we face together. That should motivate us to look beyond or to bridge our differences and recognize both the humanity in those with whom we disagree and the challenges to humankind that we must overcome together or succumb to apart.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu talks about the rockets being fired from Gaza. (photo by IGPO via Ashernet)
Rockets were falling on southern and central Israel as the paper went to press this week. After the Israeli military killed Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata, Gaza once again erupted into full war footing.
The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad called the assassination “a declaration of war against the Palestinian people” and declared, “Our response to this crime will have no limits.” Because they’re usually so restrained.
Schools were closed and Israelis, especially in the “envelope” area near the Gaza Strip but also in Tel Aviv, hunkered down in bomb shelters as Iron Dome deflected some but far from all of the rockets launched from the enclave.
The new, or renewed, conflict does not occur in a vacuum. Political leaders in Israel are in the midst of difficult negotiations to form a government after the second inconclusive election this year. Some critics claim the fighting is a scorched earth attempt by incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to shake up the status quo and tip domestic politics in his favour. But, among those who reject this assessment is Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, who is now leading the efforts to cobble together a working alliance in the Knesset.
It all has a feel of déjà vu, of course, because this scenario, in different permutations, has played out repeatedly. As we posited in this space recently, some people say the status quo cannot hold. It can. It has for decades. But intermittent, terrible flare-ups like this are a part of and a price for that status quo, a high price paid by both Israelis and Palestinians. Until someone finds a path for both peoples to coexist more peacefully, this is life.
אינכם מבינים עד כמה אני עסוק? יש לי עניינים מעניינים שונים לעסוק בהם. מכאן ועד שם. אז מה אם הוא ראש הממשלה? מה אתם חושבים שיש לי זמן להתפנות ולשמוע אותו נואם בחדשות המרכזיות של הערוץ המרכזי בשעה המרכזית?
אני חייב להתקדם בענייני הדחופים – הרי אני מייצר עניינים כדי להיות עסוק. נא להבין ולהתחשב בי. אמנם אינני שותה שמפניות ורודות או כל משקה אחר למכובדים ואף לא מוזמן לאירועים רבי מעלה, אך באמת ובתמים עסוק כל יום מהבוקר עד הלילה. לישון מוקדם כי בוונקובר כולם ישנים מוקדם? מה השתגעתם? אפילו ראש הממשלה לא ישן מוקדם – אז למה אני?
נכון בצעירותי נהגתי לעשן סיגרים מדי פעם לפעם בעיקר לאחר שחברי משפחה שונים ומשונים בחתונות, דחפו לי אותם לכיס החולצה הלבנה המגוהצת שלי. כן נכון! זה לא באשמתי. הרגשתי לרגעים חבר במועדון המכובדים בזמן העישון המרגיע ועם סיום הסיגר גם התחושה הזו הסתיימה. בוונקובר אגב לא עישנתי אפילו חצי סיגר.
אחד מיריביו של ראש הממשלה הושמץ בעבר הרחוק כל פעם. אמרו עליו שאמו ערביה ושיש לו מניות בתדיראן. כמובן מדי יום הזכירו בחדשות שהוא חתרן בלתי נלאה. ואני לעומתו: אף לא חושד שאימי ערביה, שאולי בטעות יש לי מניות בתדיראן או שאני חותר נגד מישהו או משהו – אני בכלל לא יודע לחתור. אבל למרות זאת מספיק שונאים גידלתי לעצמי. אבל למה זה מגיע לי? כיוון שאני עסוק כל כך?
אז מה אם הוא ראש הממשלה שמסרב להיפרד מהכיסא? אני מבין שהוא עשה לכם הרבה נזק ועשה הרבה לעצמו. אז זה אומר גם שאני צריך להיפרד מהרגלי להיות עסוק כל הזמן או ללכת הביתה? תרכשו לו כרטיס לכיוון אחד ותעזבו אותי בשקט. אנא רבותי לא לשכוח: אני הרי עובד מהבית בוונקובר אז לאן אתם רוצים שאלך בדיוק לעזאזל? מה אני הומלס? אנא קצת רחמו עלי לשם שינוי.
אני יושב כאן במשרדי שבביתי בדאון טאון וחושב על ראש הממשלה. חושב כיצד הוא ממשיך לשבת על הכיסא ולא משנה מה היו או יהיו תוצאות הבחירות האלה והקודמות, ומה קורה למדינה שלנו-שלכם. ולא דיברנו עוד על כתבי האישום העומדים נגדו למרות שלדבריו “לא היה כלום ואין כלום”.
כמוהו כמוני גם אני לא עוזב את הכיסא ונצמד אליו חזק חזק. אם הוא יכול אז גם אני יכול, למרות שאין נגדי שום כתבי אישום ושוב כתב בכלל עד לרגע זה. רק אני ועצמי לי. אז מה אם הוא ראש הממשלה? האם זה אומר שאני צריך לתמוך בו? בדרכו הקלוקלת? לא ולא.
מוונקובר שבמערב קנדה הכל נראה רחוק וטוב שכך אם כי גם לנו ביבשת הצפונית יש מנהיג שמתנהג בדומה לראש הממשלה. כן הנשיא של המדינה השכנה מדרום ממש כמוהו מצפצף על כולם. מופרע לחלוטין. אז מה אם הוא הנשיא? האם זה אומר שאני צריך לשבת מול המסך ולראות אותו מדבר במהדורה המרכזית, בשעה המרכזית של הערוץ המרכזי? או לקרוא את השטויות שלו בטוויטר?
אולי בכלל כדאי לרכוש מניות של טוויטר? כל עוד שהנשיא האמריקני המופרע ממשיך להשתלח בכל העולם ואשתו באמצעות טוויטר – המיזם המדיומי הזה צובר מבקרים רבים יותר וערכו עולה. אז מה אם הנשיא מצייץ בטוויטר? האם זה אומר שגם אני צריך לצייץ?
The U.S. president accused Representative Rashida Tlaib of a political stunt when the American politician of Palestinian descent rejected Israel’s offer of permission to visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds.
Israel’s government had first announced that it would permit visits to Palestine by Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar, another of the four members of the “squad” of progressive women of colour elected to Congress as Democrats in last November’s U.S. midterm elections. Then, apparently after Donald Trump intervened with his continued vendetta against the women, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu changed their minds and declared that the congresswomen would not be permitted to go to Palestine. Then, in another twist, Israel decided to allow Tlaib admission based on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her grandmother and other relatives in the West Bank. Tlaib rejected the offer.
“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” Tlaib tweeted about her grandmother. “It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in – fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Putting ideology over seeing a nonagenarian grandparent seems a tad distorted, but she’s probably correct that Israel’s actions were over-the-top.
The idea that Israel should ban members of the United States Congress from entering the country (en route to the West Bank, which is occupied by Israeli forces, which means Israel controls who can enter and move around there) is a highly dubious move. Given Tlaib’s and Omar’s unrelenting condemnation of Israel and its policies, including support for the BDS movement, some people argued that Israel should ban them. But almost every mainstream Jewish and Zionist organization in the United States that spoke up argued that they should be permitted to go.
In fact, it would have been smart to invite the two as guests of the Israeli government and give them the VIP tour of Israel. Then, they would have at least have heard the Israeli side of the story, take it or leave it. More to the point, had they refused the invitation to see the modern miracle that is the Jewish state, they might have looked closed-minded.
Instead, the two Democrats have come out of it looking righteous, while Netanyahu looks like Trump’s puppet and Trump looks like, well, like he usually does. Especially when he tweeted that the only winner in the scenario is Tlaib’s grandmother because “She doesn’t have to see her now!” One wonders about what goes through the minds Trump’s grandchildren when he blusters into the room.
On the one hand, the recent vote in Congress to criticize the BDS movement was massively lopsided and indicates that Israel’s special relationship with the United States remains steadfast. But among grassroots Democratic voters and some other Americans, the Netanyahu-Trump bromance is repellent and makes some people naturally less amenable to the bilateral relationship – specifically because it has been so spectacularly and cynically politicized by both leaders.
There are serious and legitimate fears that the solid bipartisanship that has defined this relationship for 71 years is fraying, possibly irrevocably.
It doesn’t matter what one thinks of Trump. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition who told the New York Times, “When I look at what he’s done for Israel, I’m not going to take issue with anything he’s said or done.” The day-to-day cut-and-thrust of politics means we will agree and disagree with our leaders in Canada, or those in the United States or Israel or elsewhere. But the deterioration of the nonpartisanship around the foundational importance of the bilateral relationship between Israel and its most significant ally is a grave concern.
We have an election campaign about to launch here in Canada. There will be moments when Middle East policy comes up and we will disagree. What we should strive to ensure is that, regardless of our opinions about Israel’s leader – and what position he may hold after next month’s Israeli elections – or our thoughts about our own political leaders, one thing we should avoid at all cost is turning Israel into a partisan tool. Let’s just not. And let’s not reward politicians who try.
A special cabinet meeting was convened in the Golan Heights on June 16 to name a new settlement there in honour of U.S. President Donald Trump. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, together with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, attended the special meeting, unveiling a sign reading Ramat Trump (Trump Heights) in Hebrew and English. The decision to name the settlement after the U.S. president was as a sign of appreciation for the Trump administration’s support of Israel. While Ramat Trump does not presently exist, the planned location is next to an isolated outpost with no more than 10 residents. It appears on paper that the plan is to build some 110 new homes. The Golan Heights is of strategic importance to Israel – before 1967, when Syria had control of the area, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which is located below the heights, was constantly being fired upon from Syrian positions, making life unbearable for the residents of that part of the Galilee.