When I was younger, we would frequently take long family trips in the car, visiting our grandparents who lived in different cities. Even as I got older, our lengthy car trips continued with my sister moving to a city 13 hours away from Toronto (on a good drive). As anyone who has taken these long car trips knows, the most frequently asked questions from young children (and even not-so-young "children") are - "are we there yet?" and "when will get there?" You know where this is going....
Israel Political Update
Coalition negotiations were tense, difficult and tiring. Lapid was trying to put together a coalition made up of a range of very strange bedfellows. The potential coalition included a far right religious party (Yamina - "the Right"), another fairly far right less religious party (Tikvah Hadashah) ("New Hope"), the centrist Yesh Atid party, the centrist Blue and White party (which had been Netanyahu's reluctant governing partner since March 2020), the Labour Party (left-centre), the left wing secularist Meretz party and an Arab Islamist party - Ra'am, led by Monsour Abbas. Frankly, it sounds unfathomable. What would hold such a diverse range of parties together in a coaltion deal? They could pretty much all agree that Israel needed to oust Netanyahu. And perhaps most of these parties could also agree that they would rather have a government without the two ultra-Orthodox parties. But otherwise, at first glance, it seemed hard to imagine what else they could agree on.
Despite these difficulties, just before the recent fighting with Gaza broke out, Lapid and Bennett were about to announce that they were forming a "change government" and Netanyahu would be ousted. Shortly after the war broke out, Bennett announced that he was giving up on the idea of this change government and that he would go back to negotiating with Netanyahu to form a "true right wing government." The problem was that Netanyahu's mandate had expired and, in any event, even with Bennett, Bibi could not get past 59 seats.
So after the Gaza fighting ended, Lapid set out to restart efforts to put together this change coalition, without Bennett. He negotiated with all of the different parties and then brought back his offer to agree on a rotation government back to Bennett under which Bennett would go first as Prime Minister or the first two years. At first Bennett held out and continued to state that he would not go along. But after some further delays, Bennett made an announcement that he would now seek to enter into a coalition to form a "change government" since it was clear that Netanyahu could not form one. It was either going to be a new government or another election.
Since Bennett's decision, the different parties have held marathon talks trying to piece together a deal. The deadline was midnight tonight. As of yesterday, it was really 50-50 whether the parties were going to reach a deal. Yamina's number 2, Ayalet Shaked, announced last night that she wanted a key seat on the judical appointments committee. Not just any seat - she wanted to take the one that had been promised to the leader of the Labour party - Merav Michaeli as part of the newly negotiated coalition deal. Shaked stated last night - that if she didn't get her way - there would be no "change government." Shaked had been hoping to get the Minister of Justice portfolio but the other coalition members refused. Her goal is to appoint a benchful of exclusively right wing judges - who can act, more or less, act as another branch of a right wing government, rather than as an independent body. While serving as a Minister in a past government under Netanyahu, she was involved in the appointment of a large number of such judges. She constantly attacks and criticizes the courts when rulings are issued with which she disagrees. As the deadline approached today - Shaked and her demand remained as one of two outstanding issues. The other issue involved Monsour Abbas and the Raam party.
Lapid had been hoping to conclude an agreement by 11 a.m. this morning. If that had happened, the new government could have been sworn in as early as Monday June 8, 2021. But talks could not be completed. The deadline came and went and there was no deal. The next deadline was midnight tonight.
As a political junkie, I had to flip on the three Israeli channels (I'm using a streaming device in case you are wondering) and check in with channels 11, 12, and 13. It was almost as exciting as a sporting event. Would there be an agreement by midnight or would the time expire - leaving Netanyahu to live another day politically? In other words - are we there yet? When will we get there? And the additional question - will we get there?
By 10 p.m., there was still no deal. One hold out issue had been resolved - issues involving Monsour Abbas, and for the first time in Israel's history, an Arab party had agreed to be part of a government coalition agreement. Now that was exciting - a true watershed - but it didn't mean that a deal had been reached. Shaked and other members of Yamina were still holding out. Apparently, members of Gideon Saar's New Hope party were also refusing to sign.
Netanyahu and his supporters were involved in all kinds of behind the scenes activities. Netanyahu himself called Abbas and told him that he would get a better deal with Netanyahu (though Netanyahu had no actual government to offer him). Netanyahu supporters sent death threats to Shaked, Bennett and other members of the Yamina party - as well as other party leaders of this coalition. All were assigned additional bodyguards. One Yamina member was told that if he supported the agreement - his house in Petach Tikvah would be burned down.
Just after 11 p.m. Israel time, Lapid and Bennett announced that a deal had been struck and all parties had signed off. Michaeli agreed to a compromise resolution which mostly favoured Shaked. Lapid and Bennett informed the President who offered his congratulations. But it may take 11 days until the official "swearing-in" ceremony will take place. Between now and then, Netanyahu will still try everything he can to retain power. His party has been exerting extreme pressure on the members of the two right wing parties - Yamina and and New Hope - trying to convince them that it would be a sell-out to leave him and join a "leftist coalition." Members of these parties have been called "traitors," "liars," "promise breakers" and lots of other names. The rhetoric is extreme, heated and dangerous. Given Israel's history and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin Z"L, there is a serious threat of political violence. It is concerning. Are we there yet? Not yet. Will we get there? Unclear.
So it is still a bit premature to offer a political eulogy for Netanyahu. He is known as the "magician" and over the next 11 days, he and his supporters will try every possible trick to abort this in vitro government before it can come to life. Even if the government is sworn in, it will face enormous pressure trying to hold together such a diverse range of political actors. But I will say that both Lapid and, to a lesser extent, Bennett, have exuded a certain sense of calm, a need for compromise, dedication and professionalism that suggests that it may well happen.
Political commentators on the right wing of the spectrum are dumbstruck and remain filled with disbelief - and some hope that the coalition will be stopped. They were convinced that Netanyahu would not let this happen. One leading TV commentator, Amit Segal, railed against the formation of this coalition on Israeli national TV. Another right wing commentator and outspoken Bibi supporter, Avishai Ben Haim, called it "one of the darkest days in Israel's history."
On the other hand, Lapid and Bennett have gone to incredible lengths to build a compromise coalition government that includes a wide range of voices and is based on decency, respect, service to the country and an interest in doing things differently. I do believe that if the government is sworn in and is able to last, it is likely to be one of the best governments that Israel has had in many years, if not ever. Will we get there? I think there is a good chance that we will, though there are many obstacles and it is hard to say how long it will last.
The Israeli Knesset also voted today to elect a new President. The presidency is largely a figurehead
position - much like a monarch or the Governor General position in Canada. There were only two candidates - Yitzhak "bougie" Hertzog and Miriam Peretz, an educator and public speaker who lost two sons to the IDF.
I heard an interview today with one Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi from the Torah Judaism party who stated that Herzog was a Levi (part of the Jewish Priestly caste) and therefore he must be an acceptable candidate. Perhaps, he went on to say, that this could be the start of a reimplementation of the Priestly class in leadership roles in politics throughout Israel.
In any event, Herzog received 87 votes in the 120 seat Knesset and won handily. He will be sworn in at the end of President Rivlin's term over the summer.
As a long time Toronto Maple Leaf season ticket holder - I have the same questions that I have been applying to my discussion of Israeli politics. Are we there yet? When will we get there? Will we ever get there?
Over the past number of years, the Maple Leafs have opened up the vault and signed a number of very expensive players - our "superstars." Toronto forward Auston Matthews led the league this year in goals scored. The Leafs were heavily favoured against the Montreal Canadiens, who had barely made it into the playoffs.
And yet, like in so many past years, the Toronto Maple Leafs expired in the first round, beaten by Montreal in a 7 game series with nothing to show for that massive payroll. It was enormously disappointing. But then again, being a Leaf fan is always enormously disappointing. The Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. That drought does not look like it is about to end any time soon. Are were there yet? Certainly not. Will we get there? Who knows. I would love to see a Toronto Maple Leaf Stanley Cup championship win - but I'm really not sure that I will ever see it.
Toronto and Covid Update
My final comments on my own trip to Toronto. I wrote about it more extensively in my previous blog. Since arriving in Toronto on May 27th, I have been using the "ArriveCan" phone app to check in and confirm that I am still healthy. I have also received a bunch of robocalls. Sample questions: "Are you aware that you not allowed to have visitors or entertain people at your home? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no. Are you planning to have visitors or entertain people at your home during your quarantine period? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no." I'm not making this stuff up. In any event, I'm getting to day 8, where I will have a zoom call with a nurse who will watch me complete my "day 8 Covid test." After that, just 6 more days to go. Time flies when there is so much going on....
Sorry if I have bored you with all of the Israeli politics - but, as you probably know from reading some of my previous blogs, it is one of my favourite topics - especially when there is so much going on. It is so volatile, that everything I have written may change by the time you are reading this. But hopefully my analysis will still be relevant.
I'm officially finished my quarantine on June 9, 2021, so looking forward to seeing whoever I am able to see while in Toronto. Best of health to everyone.