Showing posts with label Israeli elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israeli elections. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Final Blog of 2020 - Covid, Elections, Sports and a Few Other Items

As 2020 draws to a close (good riddance), I thought I would squeeze in one more blog - a pot pourri of  selected issues related to Israel, on some of the topics that I have been writing regularly.  There are many things to discuss but I don't want to be too repetitive.  So here goes...

Covid-19

In some ways,  I think it is fair to say that Israel is in the midst of a good news/bad news period in dealing with the pandemic.  On the one hand, the virus has been spreading rapidly, including the "British mutation," the "South African mutation" and now the "Indian mutation."  There have been more than 3,500 new cases a day recently  and 10-15 people have been dying daily, if not more.   This is all, of course, the bad news side of things.  

As a result, the Israeli government instituted a 3 week partial lockdown starting on December 21, 2020.  Unlike the first lockdown, public schools have remained open.  Non-essential retail establishments are closed and restaurants are permitted "delivery only" but no take-out service.  The airport has remained open and Israel has not instituted testing for all arrivals.  The government attempted to institute a mandatory quarantine plan in government-sponsored hotels but that soon fell apart.  It is fairly clear that at least some of the out of control spread of the virus has been the result of travellers arriving back in Israel and failing to follow any proper quarantine rules.  This has been the case since the initial outbreak in March, 2020 and the government has been unwilling to take necessary steps to stop it, largely for political  reasons.

On the good news side of the ledger, the Israeli government has ramped up its vaccination program to the tune of more than 120,000 vaccines a day.  For now, Israelis who are over 60 years of age, front line health care workers and those with extremely serious medical conditions are the only ones being vaccinated.  

Israel, as you may know, has a public  health care system.  It is somewhat like the Canadian system,  though instead of one "OHIP" - there are a few different Health Care organizations - and Israelis can choose which one they wish to join.  They are all under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health, so they are each funded by the government.   There are additional user fees and optional enhanced plans - though these tend to be priced quite reasonably.  

So it is these health care providers - Maccabi, Clalit, Leumit and Meuhedet, that have set up stations across the country and are using smart phone apps, web sites, and their computerized systems to arrange appointments and roll out the vaccines as quickly as possible.  By all accounts, it seems to be working quite efficiently.  The providers have set aside the second vaccination dose for each person that receives the shot and have booked a second date automatically 21 days after the first dose.  

Government estimates are that more than 80% of Israelis in these higher risk groups will have received their second dose by mid-February 2021.  The general population is expected to start receiving the vaccine within the next week or two, with the government currently hoping to have close to 50% of all Israelis fully vaccinated by the end of March, 2021.  It sounds optimistic, but given that the providers are managing to vaccinate more than 120,000 people a day, it seems quite possible.  

It remains to be seen whether the vaccine is as effective as touted, how it will deal with new mutations and how long the inoculation will last.  We also don't know yet whether the vaccine will prevent people from spreading the virus to others.  But there is certainly a feeling in Israel that we are nearing the end, even though there are still some very difficult months ahead.

Politics

As you may know and as I mentioned in my last post, Israel is heading to the polls for the 4th time in the past 2 years on March 23, 2021, just a few days before Pesach (Passover).  

If I were to try to cover all of the different political developments, I think I would need to write several columns a week, if not daily.  New political parties are sprouting up like weeds and it is far too difficult to try and make any predictions at this point.

But here are a  few of the highlights.

One of Likud's most senior members, Gideon Saar has formed a new party called "New Hope" and he has taken several Likud members with him.  Reported polls have estimated between 15 and 20 seats for New  Hope though I think it is far too early to start counting these  votes.  Saar has staked out his ground as a "solid right wing" alternative to the Likud led by  Netanyahu.  As far as I can tell, this seems to mean just about all of the same policies as the Likud without the alleged corruption.  Saar has vowed that he will not form a government with Bibi but we have heard that before from the Blue and White Party.  I'm skeptical.

Saar joins "Yamina" - the "Right," led by Naftali Bennett in a reasonably crowded field of right-wing nationalist parties.  

It is probably fair to include the Blue and White party in that camp as well, since the left and centrist members of that party split away when Blue and White entered into a coalition government with Likud in March 2020.  Yesterday Ganz announced that he will remain on as party leader and that he is  not giving up.  Polls show that the Blue and White party is running at about 5 seats and is flirting with coming in below the minimum electoral threshold.  Most commentators seem to agree that Gantz was thoroughly humiliated by Netanyahu but, for now, Gantz has elected to stay on.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai

In another development yesterday, the mayor of Tel-Aviv, Ron Huldai, also held a press conference and unveiled his new party called "The Israelis."  Huldai's party is intended to offer a bit more of a left-centre approach than Blue and White.  Politically, it would probably fall somewhere between Yesh Atid and Meretz, though it remains to be seen how Huldai's party differentiates itself from those other two left-centre parties.  I have not yet seen any poll predictions as to how many seats The Israelis would get but they might make things interesting.

There are other developments as well, including key politicians leaving different parties and joining some of these new ones but I am not going to get into all of the details.

The long and the short of it is that Bibi is facing several challenges from the right, the centre and left.  Most of these challengers have stated, quite unequivocally, that they will not agree to an "immunity bill" that gets Bibi out of his legal problems.  They have also stated that they will not enter a coalition agreement with Bibi and his Likud party but I think the election results will really determine whether that promise can be upheld.

All of that being said, there is lots of time between now and the cut off date for new parties to enter the election campaign, which does not occur until mid-February I believe.   So the only thing that seems reasonably certain is that there will be many new developments between now and the election.  As of now, it looks likely that Israel will elect a fairly right wing government, with or without Bibi, but a lot can change in a few months.  It does, however, seem like quite a long shot that Bibi will be able to get a "Get out of Jail Free" Card in the form of an immunity law.  In the meantime, his criminal trial is scheduled to continue in February 2021.

Sports

There are a few interesting sports stories that are worth mentioning.

One of the big sports stories in Israel in 2020 is in NBA basketball.  The Washington Wizards drafted Danny Avdija 9th overall in this year's NBA draft.  This was huge news in Israel since 6 foot 9 inch Avdija was born in Israel on Kibbutz Beit Zera.  Very few Israeli basketball players have made the NBA and he is the highest drafted Israeli ever.

Many people have been staying up until the wee hours to watch Washington Wizard games even though cheering for the pitiful Wizards has been a disconcerting proposition to date.  Through four games, all losses, Avdija has averaged 7.5  points a game and 5 rebounds.  Not earth shattering but it is early.  I confess that I jumped on the bandwagon and watched the first game but since I am not a huge basketball fan, I have only done this  once.  If I were to watch middle of the night basketball in Israel, it would probably be my home town Raptors, though I understand they are also off to an equally dismal start.  Generally, I tend to save the basketball watching  for the playoffs, if at all.  

A second big sports story is in the world of soccer, or football, depending on your preference.  As you might have seen, UAE Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan bought 50% of the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club.  The deal was announced soon after the peace deal between the UAE and Israel.

This is really quite fascinating.  Beitar is known for having  a very right wing fan base, who have, at times, chanted anti-Arab slogans at football matches.  They sing several vulgar songs at Beitar matches and have also been known to show up at pro-Bibi political rallies.  For years, Beitar had  no Muslim players on its side unlike many of the other teams in the Israeli league.  So it is quite remarkable that of all teams, the Sheikh has decided to purchase and rehabilitate this team, in the spirit of "Muslim-Jewish cooperation" as he puts it.  It will be really interesting to see how the fans react and how this all works out.


Lastly, on the sports side - is the world of ice hockey.  One of my friends sent me a link to an article that referred to a recent UAE-Israeli ice hockey match played  between the UAE Mighty Camels and the Bat Yam Chiefs.  I don't really recall seeing anything about it in the Israeli news but there is always hope that hockey will attract  more fans and  participants over time, especially with the relatively recent opening of a full size arena near Netanya.  And of course, it is nice to see yet another sign that the peace between Israel and the UAE may develop into the warmest peace deal yet between Israel and its Arab neighbours.   I guess we could say that the ice was broken quickly between these new peace partners.

As far as hockey goes, I have been staying up late to watch the World Junior Ice Hockey tournament.  These games have been on somewhere between 1 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Israel time.  Three games, three big wins for Canada so far.   Canada has not faced stiff opposition yet so I look forward to seeing how they will play against Finland tomorrow night - and then in the  playoff round starting next week.  The World Junior Tournament is one of my favourite sports events to watch since you get to see so many future ice hockey stars trying to impress NHL scouts.  I am quite thankful to have a working VPN and streaming set-up.  It does take a toll on my sleeping patterns though.

Holidays

As I discussed in my last post, Chanuka is not a really big deal here, other than the ubiquitous donuts, and once Chanuka ends, everything is pretty much back to its normal schedule.

I thought  about the time-honoured tradition for American (and some Canadian)  Jews of eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  But it is really not a thing in Israel for several reasons.  For one, it is not a holiday here so everyone is simply on a regular schedule and does not have the time to get together that they have in North America, where everything is closed for the holiday.  

Secondly, and more challenging here is the difficulty of finding decent Chinese food. Although Israel has many different types of cuisine - including sushi and "pan-Asian" restaurants all over the country, there are very few decent Chinese restaurants and even fewer that are Kosher.  

That hasn't stopped me from trying to fill the void every now and then.  My hot and  sour  soup is pretty decent and I have made a range of other dishes.  But I think Chinese food is something that  is sorely lacking in Israel.  Perhaps an opportunity for a budding post-virus restauranteur?  Not me, that's for sure.

New Year's Eve here is known as "Silvester," named after Pope Silvester I.  Many Israelis celebrate with parties and festivities, though it is not an official holiday in Israel so everything is open as normal on New Year's Day.  Not sure what people will do this year in the midst of the pandemic but we happen to have some champagne choices on hand in case we want to go crazy...  

Food Developments

I couldn't let the year pass without commenting on something really interesting.  An Israeli company,  Aleph Farms, has been producing cell based meat grown from animal cells in a lab.  The company has been producing steaks and burgers.  No animal slaughter required.  

Another company, "Redefine Meat" has been producing 3D printed steaks which are made using digital models and food formulations but no actual animal products.  The steaks apparently have a very authentic taste. 

There are several other Israeli start ups also working in the meat alternative industry,  which is rapidly growing.  

Aleph Farms Alternative Meat
Many observant Jews are examining whether these products are to be considered Kosher, and if so whether they are meat, dairy or "pareve."  Questions also include what kind of supervision might be  required, and  whether the original cells have transformed into something else in the course of growth and production, such that they are no longer "meat."  Needless to say, these debates are likely to provide Rabbis and Yeshiva students across Israel and the Jewish world with a great deal of food for thought.


There's lots more to say but I will have to save some of it for 2021.  This has probably already been too long but I hope that you have found some of it to be interesting reading.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2021.





Wednesday, November 11, 2020

U.S. Elections, Israeli Politics and Remembrance Day 2020

It is Remembrance Day, 2020, eight days after the U.S. election.  Amidst the ongoing turmoil in the U.S. and the almost equally tenuous situation in Israel, a blog post is overdue.  On Remembrance Day, we reflect on the high price that we have paid to fight for freedom and democracy - the millions of civilians and soldiers who lost their lives to ensure a better  future for everyone else.  And of course, we often think of what might have been if the Allies had not emerged victorious by the end of the Second World War.

I haven't provided this introduction to be overly dramatic.  But there are very real concerns facing democracy in the United States and in Israel and I think some context and discussion is relevant.

As  of the writing of this blog, the U.S. is really at a crossroads.  We await the "official" results even as most major U.S. networks, including pro-Trump networks like Fox News, have called the election in favour of Joe Biden.  

On the one hand, I accept that either candidate is entitled to ensure that full and final results are tabulated and certified.  Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina have still not been called.  The margins are very slim and there are still many votes left to be counted.  North Carolina seems highly likely to go to Trump.  It is within the realm of possibility that Arizona or  Georgia or  both could be flipped as a result of lawful counting.  But even if Trump managed to take both Arizona and Georgia, which seems unlikely but possible, that would still leave him behind 279-259.  

What next?  Again, on the legal side, it is possible that a legitimate recount of Wisconsin could flip the state.  The margin is very small.  However, this seems unlikely.  Trump won Wisconsin by a very small margin in 2016 but the result was upheld.  There is no reason to believe that the Wisconsin ballot counters are off by so many votes.  They seem to know how to oversee closely contested elections.  

Winning and flipping Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin would be highly improbable  but if the votes bring those results legitimately, it would not be undemocratic or improper.  On the contrary, it would be entirely democratic and appropriate if that  was what the actual votes showed.  

But assuming that Trump loses at least one of those three states, there is no real path to re-election for Trump other than the use of the judicial system to mount a large-scale attack on the U.S. voting process - in states that Trump has lost.   This is where things become frightening. 

The margin in Pennsylvania is more than 40,000 votes and is likely to wind up being more than 70,000-80,000 votes.  As of the writing of this blog, no evidence has been presented that would come close to invalidating that many legal votes.  But Trump seems to be convinced that if he can bring any argument at all to the Supreme Court of the United States (even if he is defeated at lower court levels), his battalion of three newly appointed justices will combine with two or three of the existing right-wing judges on the Supreme Court and uphold any argument that he puts forward, even one which disenfranchises more than 40,000 voters.

I am hopeful that we will not get close to  this scenario, but it is a terrifying one.  This type of ruling, if it were to occur, could only be characterized as a court-sanctioned coup.  We have already seen the U.S. Supreme Court tilt an election to the Republicans in a ridiculously partisan 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore.  We can only take solace in the notion that Florida in 2000 was unclear in any event and a decision  in Gore's favour at that  time may not have resulted in a Democratic victory.  If the Supreme Court were to side with Trump in the present circumstances, it would be a very different situation, by orders of magnitude. 

You might be wondering how this all relates to my blog.  I think there are a few different responses.

First of all, Israel and its leadership are watching the U.S. results as closely as any other country in the world, if not more so.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has invested a great deal in his personal relationship with Trump.  In the last Israeli election, Netanyahu posted billboards all over the country with giant pictures of him and Trump posing together with the message that only Netanyahu could continue the special relationship with President Trump and the United States.  Netanyahu has placed most, if not all, of his eggs in the Republican basket.  He has cooperated with Trump to try and shift support for Israel to a partisan idea in the U.S. in the hopes of moving voters to the Republican party.  

Although President Obama took some actions that were viewed as hostile to Israel's interests, the Obama administration was very supportive of Israel in many other ways.  The U.S fully supported Israel during the  Gaza war, improved military and technological cooperation and handed off a very strong U.S. - Israel relationship to Trump.  There are some real questions about the Iran nuclear deal that was signed under Obama.  Additionally, it is unfortunate the Obama snubbed Israel at the beginning of his administration and refused to visit while he was "in the neighbourhood."  His support for an anti-Israel U.N. resolution on the way out the door at the end of his second term was odious.  But it is very misleading to conclude that the Democratic party has gone along with Trump's efforts to make Israel a partisan issue.  There are many leading Democrats who are very supportive of Israel and if Biden wins the election and takes office, it will be very important for Netanyahu and Israel to work with Biden constructively.  

At the same time, Trump deserves credit for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, for cutting off funding to Palestinians until they agree to end the "pay for slay" program and for advancing peace agreements between Israel and other countries in the region.   A Biden administration may reverse some of these policies and that may not bring the region any closer to peace.  Hopefully Biden will be more supportive of Israel than Obama was in some areas.  Indications are that this is likely.

All of this has put Netanyahu in a quandary.  He has invested so much energy and political capital in mobilizing support for the Republicans that he found himself in an awkward situation staring at a likely Biden victory.  Even as news networks across the U.S. were calling the election in Biden's favour, Netanyahu resisted recognizing his  buddy's  election loss.  While leaders of several other countries congratulated Biden, Netanyahu held out for more than 12 hours after which he finally felt forced to offer his best wishes.  Unlike the leaders of Russia, China, Turkey, Brazil and a few others, Netanyahu recognized that he would have to say something.  Notably, he has avoided calling Biden "President-elect" but he has sent at least one lukewarm message.  

This is not  Netanyahu's first awkward moment resulting from his pro-Republican partisanship. Weeks before the election, in a conference call with world leaders, Trump asked Netanyahu to confirm that "sleepy Joe" wouldn't have been able to bring about these peace deals with UAE, Bahrain and  Sudan.  After a long pause, Netanyahu demurred and  mumbled that Israel is happy to get the support of any  U.S. leaders who can provide assistance.  Trump's face told the whole story.  He  was  quite displeased with Netanyahu's response.  

Following the election,  Netanyahu was again faced with the question of how to keep Trump happy while not damaging Israel's political interests with a new U.S.  administration.

Netanyahu himself is in a very questionable situation.  He remained in power after the March 2020 elections by cobbling together a coalition with the biggest opposition party - Blue and White - which then promptly fractured into two parts, only one of which joined Netanyahu's coalition.  Key terms of that coalition deal included a two year budget (until the end of 2021) and a rotation agreement under which coalition partner Benny Gantz would become the Prime Minister in September 2021.  

Eight months have passed and no budget has been presented.  Netanyahu has taken the position that times have changed and the government should now only pass a budget that  covers 2020.  That would leave him something to argue about and a reason to break apart the coalition and  call a new election in early 2021.  Needless to say, the Blue and White party have demanded that Netanyahu honour the coalition deal and agree to a two-year budget.  The matter is headed for a showdown by the end  of November at which time the government will fall if a budget agreement is not reached.

Netanyahu is still holding out hope that he can win an election and put together a  right wing coalition.  His criminal trial is scheduled to resume in January 2021.  He is facing three different sets of charges for bribery, breach of trust and corruption.  Over the past three elections, he has been hoping that he can put together a coalition that would agree to legislation that would retroactively eliminate his criminal problems.  This would be a shockingly anti-democratic move but he  seems to have quite a large number  of Israel Knesset members who would be prepared to support this type of bill, though not he has not yet been able to get more than half the Knesset to sign on.

Unlike the U.S. President, the Prime Minister of Israel does  not have the power to pardon people (or himself).  He can seek a pardon from the President of Israel, who holds an otherwise largely ceremonial figurehead role, much like the Queen in England or the Governor General in Canada.  So Netanyahu will require a Knesset majority of some sort if he hopes to get his legal troubles to vanish.  On the other hand, I am quite convinced that if Trump eventually relinquishes his office (or is forced to do so), he will pardon himself and many many others, including family members and friends just before leaving office.  It remains to be  seen whether the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold this use of a self-pardon.  Certainly there appear  to be 3 or 4 judges would almost certainly side with Trump.  I suppose that Gorsuch, Coney Barrett and Roberts will be the real decision makers,  though I am beginning to feel more confident that Roberts would not go along.

In short, looking at all of this, we are facing some very real tests of democracy in both the U.S. and Israel.  The fight in the U.S. may extend into January as various court challenges, recounts and other steps are all addressed.  I offer my hope that honesty, fairness and integrity will prevail in both the recounts and any judicial decisions.  In Israel, things may not be decided any time soon.  There may be an election in the coming months but it may be followed by still more elections if Netanyahu is unable to win and rid himself of his criminal charges.  

In both cases, democracy  and freedom will only prevail if the eventual election results reflect the actual votes of the people and if the voices of the people are heard, upheld and implemented.  In assessing recent actions taken by Trump, including the spread of demonstrably false claims, and the efforts to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of  voters, we should remember the history lessons that we think of, especially today.  And remember how easily a vibrant democracy can quickly slide into totalitarianism.  




Monday, March 30, 2020

Israel Update - Government, Covid-19 and General Lockdown

Hi.  I have a bit of time so this blog might be a bit longer than usual.   I have divided this post  into three parts - the government, the virus and some miscellaneous stuff.  Lots going on, I guess....

Israeli Government

As you might  have read, we finally have a government in Israel after three elections.  It is quite similar to the government we have had up until this point, with the addition of about 18 members of the now splintered Blue and White opposition party.  Netanyahu is still the Prime Minister, for at least the next year and a half and the ultra-religious parties are still part of the government.  Yamina, the right wing nationalist party, is also still part of the new coalition.

As you probably know, we went through three elections and we were still mired in a stalemate.  Netanyahu and his right wing bloc had a total of 58 Knesset seats, leaving them 3 short of being able to form a government.  The opposition included 15 members of the Arab Joint List party, some of whom are virulently anti-Zionist.  But with the Joint List members, the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz was able to cobble together 62 seats and was attempting to move ahead with a new government.

This plan created quite a bit of uproar in Israel.  Many of Gantz's critics and even some of his supporters noted that he and other Blue and White members had promised that they would not form a government relying on the support of the Joint List.  Of course Blue and White had also promised that it would not join a government that was led by Netanyahu.  The Likud party figured that Gantz was bluffing and there was no way Gantz could go ahead and build a government relying on the Arab parties.  So the Likud party stuck with Netanyahu and the full right wing bloc and insisted that Gantz's only move was to give up and join them.  Netanyahu stated over and over again that if Gantz did not join him, there would be a fourth election.  He also stated that because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the nation was in a crisis and that the only thing Gantz could do to help save the country would be  to join Netanyahu, on Netanyahu's terms.

For Blue and White, many of its members hoped that by proceeding to take certain steps towards forming a government with the Joint List, the  Likud and/or its right wing bloc would start to crack under the pressure. At some point, the Likud bloc members would realize that unless they made significant concessions towards a genuine unity government, they would all be out of power and Israel would be controlled by a left centre government with support from 15 Joint List members.  Gantz moved things along in this direction.  He developed a plan to replace the speaker of the house, Yuri Edelstein, with a new speaker from the Yesh Atid faction of his party and he also planned to introduce some new legislation including a bill that would prevent Netanyahu from being Prime Minister in the next government until his criminal charges were addressed.

But as the new Knesset members were sworn in, Edelstein, acting under Netanyahu's direction, closed the Knesset  and refused to hold the vote that would have led to his replacement.  The Blue and White party sought direction from the Supreme Court of Israel, which ruled that Edelstein had to open the Knesset.  But Edelstein refused.  Instead, he tendered his resignation along with a 48 hour window for it to take effect.  This meant that the Knesset would continue to be closed and he could not be replaced.  It was a calculated move by Bibi to buy more time and continue negotiating with Gantz while he was still in a position of power.  Bibi continued to threaten that if Gantz did not give in to his demands, that would create a fourth election.  He also called on Gantz to "put Israel above all else" and join his government.  Bibi and his bloc members were prepared to openly disregarded the order of the Supreme Court as a delay tactic to put more pressure on the opposition.

At  the same time, Gantz lost considerable bargaining power.  Two Blue and White members, Zvi Hauser and Yoav Hendel, decided that they would not agree to support a government that was relying on the support of the Arab parties.  Another member, Orly Levy, also stated that she would vote against any proposal that would include the Joint List.  So the Blue and White party was now left with the potential support of only 59 with considerable confusion about what Hauser and Hendel might do in the event of any given vote.  One additional member of Blue and White started to indicate that he would defect as well.  Faced with all of this internal pressure along with the pressure from Bibi and political pressure from the right, Gantz conceded defeat and agreed to join Bibi's government, against the wishes of about half of the members of his own coalition group.

To try to paint the rosiest picture possible, Gantz claimed that he had extracted genuine concessions and that this was a necessary move for Israel at this challenging time.  Although the deal includes equality between the number of Blue and White cabinet ministers and the number from the entire right wing bloc - 14 or 15 each initially and now maybe up to 17, it leaves Netanyahu in place as the Prime Minister for at least 18 more months.  It also includes a provision to change the law and allow Netanyahu to serve as a cabinet minister while facing indictment.

A significant number of Blue and White members were outraged.  The Blue and White party itself had been made up of three different factions.  Two  of them rejected this deal and decided to split.  Yair Lapid's party Yesh Atid and the Telem party led by Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon both left Gantz's party, taking 18 members with them.  That left Gantz with 16 to join Netanyahu's government, of whom 15 will be cabinet ministers.   The government will have a massive cabinet with between 28 and 34 cabinet ministers to try and keep as many Knesset members as possible happy.

Meanwhile, Lieberman, who had held the balance of power with 7 seats, has been left out in the cold.  He is not part of the new government and was unable to force the Likud to agree to a true national coalition government between the two big parties without the ultra-religious parties.  This new government is likely to continue the same direction with respect to state-religion issues, which is a major defeat for the Blue and White party and its supporters and for Lieberman.

Meanwhile, the left wing coalition between the Meretz (secular democratic) and Labour (socialist) party has also fractured.  Before the election, a key Labour Party member, former Labour leader Amir Peretz, said he would shave his trademark moustache so that people could "read his lips"  to prove that he would not join a Bibi-led government.  Today he seems poised to join the Netanyahu government, leading his coalition partners to split off into another faction.  It is unclear why Peretz feels that it is so urgent to abandon his party's principles and join this government but that is what appears to be taking shape.

Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party will stay with the Telem party and look like they will be the official opposition.  Yesh Atid and Telem both broke away from the Blue and White party as a result of this deal.  Only Lapid and Ya'alon seem to have been prepared to  weather the pressure from Netanyahu and stay the course towards trying to bring about genuine change in the Israeli government.

In the end, after three elections, Israel has another right wing-ultra-religious government, led by Netanyahu, who continues to await the start of his criminal proceedings.  A major defeat for the centre and the left in Israel and another big win for Netanyahu who is truly a master politician and an unrivaled manipulator.  Like many other politicians, he is ready willing and able to use every trick in the book to retain power.

Covid-19 Update

Like the rest of the world, Israel continues to grapple with the spread of Covid-19.  As of yesterday, there were about 4,300 cases in Israel.  There have been 16 deaths and there are about 80 people in serious or critical condition.  The government, led by direction from the Ministry of Health, has implemented wide-spread restrictions on movement across the country.  Many businesses are closed including most non-essential retail establishments, restaurants (other than for take-out and delivery) and all forms of entertainment.  These restrictions may have helped to limit the spread and allow the hospitals to prepare for the impending onslaught of patients who will require respirators and ventilators in the coming weeks.  It is unclear whether the combination of restrictions and preparations will suffice but Israel is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the curve.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone on TV regularly to introduce new, increasingly harsh restrictions.  He has also been warning Israelis that the steps are necessary to ensure that Israel does not turn into Italy, Spain, or the United States.  In one TV appearance last week, he suggested that the U.S. may wind up with close to 500,000 fatalities and that Israel would likely wind up with more than 10,000.  We will continue to hope that these predictions are not accurate and that we will soon find a vaccine or a cure for this disease.

Miscellaneous Other

I saw the meme that is circulating  - "I miss those days when I could voluntarily choose to skip going to synagogue."  Well, our shul, Kehillat Hod VeHadar, has been building up a series of Zoom shul meetings.  Our shul has not implemented Zoom services on Shabbat for halachic reasons but it has been running Kabbalat Shabbat (before Shabbat) and havdalah (after Shabbat) with more than 50 different zoom windows open and somewhere between 50 and 100 people attending.  Not bad for a shul with only a few hundred families.  Like Synagogues around the world, the Kehillah will continue to develop online learning opportunities, classes and other meetings while in-person attendance is not feasible.  I see that Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto is also headed down that path as are many other congregations.  Families are gearing up for Zoom Pesach seders.  I think we are likely to hold an intimate Pesach Seder for just the five of us rather than a Zoom event.  But I guess we have a bit of time to decide.

Israeli TV station, channel 12, has been broadcasting concerts each night at midnight on TV as well as other concerts at different times on its website.  We have seen some terrific concerts  including Idan Raichel, Rami Kleinstein, Amir Dadon and Keren Peles.  Others have been less memorable but it is a great initiative.  All of the concerts are performed live at an empty Zappa Club in Tel-Aviv.

Like many other people, we have been doing lots of cooking.  Trying out some new recipes.  We made some homemade pizza - even the sauce was from scratch.  Tried out a recipe for long ribs, a Spanish Frittata, and a whole roasted chicken (mixed recipes from a friend and a family member).  Lots of other ideas coming up.  I have a humus recipe from one good friend and a channa masala recipe from another.  And it is nice barbecue weather.  Trying to keep the recipes reasonably healthy and limit the amount of wine that is consumed with the meals.  And trying to do some exercise using a phone app - to keep off the weight.  We haven't really made a dent in the whisky collection yet but if this isolation period continues long enough - we might start.

Israel has made great efforts to bring Israelis home from all over the world.  El Al has played a significant role in this - despite the enormous financial and existential difficulties it is now facing.  Some flights were sponsored by donors, businesses and other contributors to ensure that people could come back home for free or at a greatly reduced rate.  Other flights were were arranged by El Al itself or by travel agencies or other airlines.  Everyone arriving home (including our family member...) has had to go into a two week self-isolation.  So we are grateful for all of the efforts of these airlines and travel agencies and happy to be going through that now with our self-isolated family member.  We are looking forward to the end of the two week period - right before Pesach.

Obviously there will be no travelling for  me (or anyone else) for a while - who knows for how long - but hopefully there will be clients  who are happy to meet virtually.   I hope that my friends with big family events including bnei-mitzvoth and weddings will see all of this subside super quickly or will find ways to make alternate arrangements that are equally meaningful.

It is a strange world without any sports events, entertainment outings or other of the usual events that we have been so accustomed to enjoying.  Our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be denied the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup (they haven't won since 1967 and they probably weren't going to win this year...).

How quickly everything can change.  We take so many things for granted and we realize now how suddenly everything can be so different.  It brings ever increasing meaning to so much of the liturgy that we read on Yom Kippur.

I wish everyone the best of health and hope to try to keep in touch regularly with as many of you as possible.  Let's hope that we got through this much quicker than expected.










Friday, September 6, 2019

Israeli Election 2019 - Some Possible Outcomes

The second Israeli national election of 2019 is due to take place on September 17, 2019.  Since I haven't been writing as much lately, I thought I was overdue to put together some comments about the upcoming election.  In the past I have reviewed the platforms of the various parties and provided some comments.  In this post, I thought I would try to look at some realistic possible outcomes, based on current polling numbers and consider what Israel might face following the elections.  This is certainly not "Torah mi-Sinai," as I have been very wrong in the past when trying to predict Israeli political outcomes.

I figure that there are about 4 or 5 realistic possible outcomes and I will consider them and the implications of these outcomes.

1.  A Likud (Netanyahu) Victory

At this point, with about 11 days to go until the election, I would have to think that this is the most likely outcome.  The Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, needs to assemble a coalition of 61 seats to have a majority in the Israeli Knesset and form the government.  Following the previous election, Netanyahu was able to string together up to 60 but not quite enough to form a government.  Once it became clear  that he was unable to form the government, Israeli customary practice would have normally seen the President ask the next party in line (Blue and White) to try to form the government.  But Netanyahu preempted this step and brought a bill to the Knesset to dissolve the Knesset and set another election date. 

So there are now at least two different ways, perhaps even three that the Likud could form a government.

One possibility would be if the Likud and its coalition partners obtain 61 seats or more. 

Current polling from a whole range of different Israeli polls estimates Likud at between 30 and 32 seats, a drop of 6-8 seats.  The two ultra-religious parties, Shas and UTJ are estimated at 8 each, with no change.  The Yamina party, which is a coalition of a number of right wing nationalist parties, replacing Bennett's previous party, and now led by Ayelet Shaked, is polling at between 8 and 10 seats.  So add all of that up, at the high end and you come up with about 58 seats.  If Likud were to pick up 3 more, by itself or if any of its coalition partners were to add seats, Likud could get to a 61 seat coalition without Lieberman. 

A second possibility is a deal with Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu).  If the Likud is unable to put together a governing coalition of 61 seats without Lieberman's party, it will almost certainly try to negotiate a deal with Lieberman's party.

Following the last elections, Likud was unable to come up with a coalition deal that would have satisfied the ultra-religious parties and the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.  Neither Lieberman nor the ultra-religious were willing to make sufficient compromises, particularly on the issue of drafting ultra-religious men to the army. 

While it is true that Lieberman seems to  have gained significant public support by demonstrating a willingness to stand up to the ultra-orthodox, his party otherwise shares many of Likud's political positions.  His party is willing to support a retroactive immunity bill that would get Netanyahu out of his various legal troubles.  This would also help other coalition partners who are under investigation.  Lieberman is also willing to support the "attack on the Supreme Court" bill (my description) that would give the Knesset the power to override any decision of the Supreme Court by a simple majority.  This is an important bill for Netanyahu since he knows that the retroactive immunity bill would probably be struck down otherwise as a violation of the principles of fundamental justice.

Lieberman's support for these bills would be life-saving for Netanyahu since it would end all of his legal problems.  Lieberman is certainly not a pushover but Netanyahu desperately needs these pieces of legislation to avoid the possibility of winding up in jail.  I think that there is strong likelihood that Netanyahu and Lieberman will negotiate some kind of deal if Likud cannot otherwise get to 61.

A third possibility for a Likud win is some other type of coalition without Lieberman.  Suppose that Likud and his coalition partners wound up with 57-60 without Lieberman.  They would need to find 1-4 additional supporters from elsewhere.  One possibility is to convince a few right-leaning Blue and White party members to join a Likud coalition, perhaps in exchange for cabinet posts other other attractive offers.  Or perhaps some Labor members or members of the Democratic Union might be willing to make a deal.  I think that these are relatively unlikely scenarios.  I find it hard to see that some Blue and White Knesset members or members of the other parties would agree to the retroactive immunity bill and the court bill to protect Netanyahu.  And that seems to be the number one priority for Likud and Netanyahu.  That being said, in Israel there are always surprises and there is a great deal of horse trading (to put it nicely).  So I don't think that this possibility can be ruled out entirely.

2.  Another Stalemate

This is probably the second most likely possibility after some type of Likud victory.  If Lieberman holds steady and refuses to make a deal that will allow Netanyahu to continue to govern and if no other Knesset members from other parties are willing to defect and join Likud - Israel could see a third consecutive election.  With the holidays and other timing issues, this would likely mean a January or February election.  This could be a big problem for Netanyahu.  If his criminal trial moves ahead and he has not been able to enact an immunity bill to make everything go away, he could be forced to step down at some point to defend against the charges.  This could change the Israeli political landscape quite a bit.  To me, it underscores the urgency of a deal for Netanyahu - with Lieberman or anyone else - at all costs (from Netanyahu's perspective).


3. A National Unity Government

Many people in Israel have discussed this option but I don't believe it is very likely at this point.

On the one hand, if Likud were to have the plurality of seats, Netanyahu would be looking to retain his role as Prime Minister and pass the two bills that his party has been pushing to protect himself.  I find it hard to see how the Blue and White party could agree to a retroactive immunity bill or even the Supreme Court bill.  Blue and White might be willing to agree  to have Netanyahu continue to govern - without these pieces of legislation.  In this case, he would face the possibility of having to resign at some point as the prosecution progressed.  I don't think Netanyahu would agree to a deal without immunity. 

If Blue and White were to win a plurality of seats, they could ask Likud to join a national unity government, with or without Netanyahu - with no immunity bill. Again, this seems quite unlikely to me since the Likud members have shown a willingness to continue to support Netanyahu irrespective of the challenges that he faces.

The landscape would only change if the Blue and White party came out ahead of Likud by 5-6 seats or more and Likud realized that it simply could not get to 61.  In this scenario, Netanyahu would, at some point, be forced to resign and face charges while the rest of the Likud party made a deal with Blue and White.  This seems highly unlikely to me for several reasons.  For one, I don't think that Blue and and White is about to get such a big win at the polls.  They don't really seem to have the momentum and don't seem likely to finish ahead of Likud by 5-8 seats.  Anything is possible but I am not predicting that outcome.

I also think that it is unlikely that so many Likud members would suddenly turn on Netanyahu after so many years of benefiting from his  leadership.  And I believe that with so much at stake, Netanyahu will pull out all the stops to cut a deal with someone to get the immunity bill and stay in power if there is any possible way of doing so. 


 4.  A Blue and White Win

While this is a theoretical possibility, I don't see how the numbers add up.   With a coalition of Blue and White, Labor, the Democratic Union (formerly Meretz) and even Lieberman, the total would come to 50-55.  I suppose that there is a chance that Blue and White could convince the ultra-religious parties to join a coalition - but that would put Blue and White into the same difficulty that Likud has faced - balancing Ultra-religious demands with those of Lieberman (and now the Democratic Union).  This would really require some creative deal-making on the part of Ganz and the Blue and White party.  It is possible that they could get the chance to try if none of the other possibilities reviewed above lead to a government.  Overall, I see this as unlikely but not impossible.

Conclusion

These different possibilities are all based on a review of current projected polling numbers combined with my own gut sense of where things are headed.  But election polling can be off quite dramatically and the numbers may be very different from those in the polls.  Likud could wind up at 37-40 seats, supported by many Israelis who don't really want to tell pollsters that they are voting Likud.  However, these seats would probably come from Yamina (or maybe Blue and White) so it is not clear that even with 38-40, Netanyahu would be able to get to a coalition of 61 without Lieberman.

Watching election results in Israel is very different from watching in Canada or the United States.  The actual polling station reports don't seem to turn up on a regular ongoing basis in the same way.  Instead, the media reports on "exit polling" numbers and uses those reports to predict the election outcome.  But the real results are usually not determined until the next morning - or perhaps even a few days later.  So whereas in Canada or the U.S., most elections are usually decided by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., the latest, that is not the case in Israel.  We will probably only have a decent sense of the actual numbers by 10 or 11 a.m. Israel time on September 18th, 2019 (3 a.m. on the east coast for those in North America who plan to stay up and wait for the news...).

Even once the actual numbers are known, that will only really mark the start of coalition talks which are almost guaranteed to take a month or two.  So stay tuned for a wild and crazy ride.  It is almost certain that Israelis and Jews around the world will find themselves fasting on Yom Kippur without knowing what kind of government Israel will have for the coming years.  As for  Netanyahu, he may find himself fasting while hoping that he can continue to blow his own Shofar and that any negative decrees (from above, from the Israeli public or from the Israeli courts) can be averted. 








Sunday, March 8, 2015

Post Purim 2015: On to the Israeli Elections 2015

It was a busy week in Israel - for me, for our family and for the country.  Purim was on Wednesday night and Thursday.  That always brings with it lots of festivities in Israel - parties, parades, carnivals, mishloach manot (gift baskets) and shul.  Just preparing for Wednesday night was busy for our family, as we (three of us) read 4 of the 10 chapters of the Megillah at our shul.  Add to that - a wonderful fundraising evening of Jazz on Tuesday night that we were invited to attend (to raise money to build a well in Sudan) and a bar mitzvah celebration on Thursday night of some close friends - and things were quite busy and tiring.

Today marked the start of another week here in Israel.  Since Sunday is a normal work day, that meant back to the army for the oldest, back to school for our younger two.  It also meant that there is just over a week until Israel's next national election.

So after watching "Matzav Ha-Umah" - the "State of the Nation" - Israel's equivalent of Saturday Night Live - which featured Naftali Bennett this episode - I thought I would try to put together a few comments about the upcoming elections in Israel.

Of course it seems that these elections have arrived so soon after the previous national elections which were held in 2013.  If you would like a few refreshers, here is a link to my 2013 Israel Elections Preview.  Here is my link to a summary of the results of the last election.

However, there have also been a few changes since 2013 in the various parties and the coalitions and possible coalitions between the various candidates.  I thought I would highlight a few:

1.  The Zionist Union

The Labour party and "Hatnuah," a party led by Tsipi Livni, joined forces in December 2014 to campaign together as the "Zionist Union."  This centre-left coalition is now the main opposition to Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party.  Some polls have put the two parties neck and neck at anywhere between 23 and 26 seats each out of the 120 seats in Israel's Knesset.  As of today, it seems too close to call which party will wind up with a plurality of seats.

According to Israeli political convention, the party that wins the plurality of seats is supposed to be asked by the President of the country to form a coalition government by putting together a bloc of at least 61 Knesset members.  It seems unclear to me at this point how the Zionist Union could cobble together enough support to get past 61, even if the party wins more seats than Likud in the election.  But if they do come out ahead, they would most likely earn the right to try.

2.  Likud/ Yisrael Beitenu

In the 2013 election, Likud campaigned jointly with Avigdor Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beitenu.  The two parties obtained 31 seats, jointly.  This time around, they are running separately.  However, most polls I have seen have put Likud at between 23 and 26 seats.  They have also put Lieberman at anywhere from 5 to 8.  While Lieberman could surprise people and join a government led by the Zionist Union, it is probably more likely that he would put aside any personal differences he might have with Likud and join a Likud coalition once again.  The overall impact is that the combination of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu is still likely to be in the range of 28-32 seats.

3.  Yesh Atid/ Kulanu

The surprise winner of the 2013 election was certainly the Yesh Atid  party which won 19 seats and claimed some key cabinet posts including ministries of finance and education.  At this point, polls have put Lapid's party at anywhere from 11 to 14 seats.  Where are these votes going?  The most logical answer is that they going to another centrist party - the new "Kulanu" party, led by Moshe Kahlon, which has been focusing on economic and cost of living issues.  There is probably still time for both parties to go up or down.  The polling results are likely to fluctuate.  Nevertheless, it seems likely that Lapid will lose a number of seats and that Kahlon will win at least 5 or 6.  Either Lapid or Kahlon - or both them - could wind up in a government led by Likud or a government led by the Zionist Union.  They may well be the power brokers in the next election, which could be a very good thing for the Israeli centre.

4.  Bayit Hayehudi 

This right wing national religious party, led by start up mogul Naftali Bennett is currently polling at approximately 11-12 seats.  The party held 12 after the last elections.  My sense is that there is some momentum for the party and that it could wind up with a few additional seats - perhaps 15 or 16 - which would be seats that would come at the expense of Likud or Yisrael Beitenu votes.  On TV earlier this evening, Bennett reiterated that his party would not give up "one centimetre" of land in exchange for a peace deal and that its proposal to the Palestinians would be "peace for peace" rather than "land for peace."  Bennett could not join a government with the Zionist Union so he would either bolster a Likud coalition or he would sit in opposition.  Sounds to me like a recipe for an early war but maybe he figures that deterrence prevents war.  Doesn't seem to me that Israel's history, to this point, supports that viewpoint completely. 

5.  Arab Parties

In previous Knesset elections, there were three Arab parties.  They are now all running together as a "United Arab List" which could claim 12 or 13 seats.  It may well be that this party, ironically, would bolster a Zionist Union government as part of some type of express, official deal, or as part of some sort of unofficial deal.  There may even be a chance that the joint party would come to terms with the Zionist Union to become part of the government though that seems unlikely at this point.  In any case, this voting bloc is likely to hold a reasonable amount of power and may be able to generate some positive changes for its supporters.

6.  Shas/ Yachad

Shas is the ultra-religious eastern (Mizrachi) religious party.  In 2013, it won 11 seats.  It has historically been part of Israeli governments and has usually been able to wrangle significant concessions for its voting bloc.  It did not join the government for this past session, for which it blames Yesh Atid, the party viewed as public enemy #1 by Shas and its supporters.  While in the political wilderness, Shas fractured.  A splinter party, led by Eli Yishai was formed called, ironically enough, Yachad ("together").  Between Shas and Yachad, the two parties are polling at a total of 11 to 13 seats.  They would be strong candidates to join a Likud led coalition.  They would try to insist that Lapid remain outside of the government.  They could probably live with Kahlon's party, Kulanu.

Summary

In reviewing the Likud math  (the math that Netanyahu would hope for - or that he could live with) - that would mean - (all estimates), 25 likud, 7 Yisrael Beitenu, 12 Bayit Hayehudi, 12 Shas, 4 Yachad, 6 UTJ (Ultra-religious Ashkenazi party).  That all adds up to 66 before Kahlon's votes.  So Netanyahu would still have room to court offers from Yisrael Beitenu, Yachad and/or UTJ to form the government.  Only Lieberman, Shas and Yachad would be real threats to leave and join the Zionist Union.  With this math at a minimum, Netanyahu would be in the driver's seat and would have the upper hand in forming a government.  He could well see higher numbers for his party or for some of the other parties listed above.

On the other hand, with enough of a monetary offer, both Shas and Yachad could also join a Zionist Union government. Let's look at that math (the math that Herzog would hope for - or could live with).  Zionist Union (27), Meretz (6), Shas/Yachad (16), Kahlon (8)....I'm only getting to 57.  Add in UTJ (6) and you have a razor thin government.  If  Lapid won 13 seats and replaced Shas/Yachad - I'm not sure that would get the coalition to 60.  Even if this type of government was formed - which combined the Zionist Union with three different ultra-religious parties, it is likely this would be a very unpalatable government for quite a large number of Israelis.  It could also add in 12-15 Arab seats but that might make it even more unpopular among the Israeli centre.

It seems to me that in order to form a government, the Zionist Union will either need a joint "national unity" government with Likud - or it will require some very surprising results (i.e. a big swing to the left by the Israeli electorate).  Neither seem incredibly likely at this point.  While there is certainly a move in some circles to create a change of leadership and elect a new Prime Minister in Israel, there is also significant support for some right wing parties including Habayit Hayehudi.  There is also some level of lack of confidence in Isaac Herzog ("Boujee") who has been painted in the media as weak and indecisive.

All in all, it is difficult to predict what might occur.  Although there is a possibility of some type of national unity government led by Likud and the Zionist Union, that seems to be the only real possibility of governmental improvement in Israel in my view.  The alternatives of a right wing coalition (i.e. replacing yesh Atid with the ultra-religious parties) or an unholy alliance between the left and the ultra-religious parties (possibly with support from the Arab parties) both look like grim options to me.

But 8 days can be a long time in Israeli political life so we will stay tuned and wait to see what happens.  Hopefully, a high percentage of Israelis will make it to the polls and will participate in this important election.







Thursday, January 17, 2013

Israeli Elections Humour...Simpsons Poster

For my last blog, I had a look at the various candidates running in the upcoming Israeli Knesset elections (Tuesday January 22, 2013).  I'll provide an update shortly with some of the latest poll results and how that might change things.  For now - I couldn't resist adding this Simpsons' poster that someone put up on Facebook.  I would attribute credit - but I'm not sure who put it together.

For those of you whose Hebrew might be less than fluent, the title of the poster is (roughly) "List of Candidates for the 19th Knesset."

Top row (left to right): Labour party led by Sheli Yacimovitch, Likud-Beitenu, Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz;
Second row:  The Jewish Home (led by Naftali Bennett), There is a Future (led by Yair Lapid) and Shas;
Third row:  Otzma L'Yisrael (Strength for Israel), the Pensioners' Party and Meretz;
Fourth row: Torah Judaism, the Green Leaf Party, Balaad (Arab Party);
Fifth row: The Movement (led by Tsipi Livni), The Pirates, the Green Party.

The funny thing is that at least 10 or 11 of these are perfect matches...