Showing posts with label Jenin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jenin. Show all posts

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Impending "Balagan" in Israel

It is Saturday night, the  8th of July - and things in Israel are heading towards a very intense week - and likely even more intense months to follow.  I haven't been writing too much lately even though there is definitely no shortage of material.  But I thought I would cover off a few topics with a bit of my usual spin.  I'll deal with the current legislation being advanced by the  Israeli government, the protests against it, Bibi's trial, Jenin and maybe some more upbeat sports, travel and whiskey...

The "Legal Revolution" or "Judicial Reforms"

As you might recall, the current Justice Minister, Yariv Levin, held a press conference in January 2023 to announce that he was going to be putting forward a series of bills in the Knesset to "overhaul" the judicial system.   I have discussed these bills previously. The short summary is that the combined effect of Levin's initiatives would be to reduce dramatically the power and independence of the Supreme Court in Israel, and the Israeli judiciary in general.  Power would be transferred, effectively, to the governing coalition which would be able to advance legislation, make appointments and take other actions without concern about judicial review or interference.  I am not going to rehash the full legal discussion here over each of the initiatives  - perhaps that is a discussion for another day - though you can find  numerous articles about the pros and cons of the different pieces  of legislation on various online  sites.  

Much of the Israeli public was shocked by Levin's  proposals.  The proposals were not a major part of the Likud platform in the election campaign and this was not an announcement to convene a committee or begin a public consultation process as to how  best to reform the judicial system. Rather it was a shot across the bow by Levin - announcing that he was simply  going to proceed to eviscerate the current Israeli  justice system.

Protests began across Israel, which ultimately led Prime Minister Netanyahu to put the Levin proposals on hold until after Pesach, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, and other Israeli holidays and days  of observance.   Netanyahu agreed to  a proposal to hold consultations  under the  auspices of the President of Israel, Isaac  Herzog - to see if agreement could be reached on some changes to these proposals.  However, it seems apparent that Levin and his supporters had no real intention of diluting the proposals.  The "consultations" failed, as planned, and the governing coalition is now bringing the legislation back to the Knesset.

The first piece of legislation is the "reasonability law."  In Israel, judges have developed a  precedent for administrative review of legislation and/or governmental actions, where the actions taken can be challenged and overturned if they are deemed  "extremely unreasonable."  (Like the "patently unreasonable" standard for judicial review in Canada by a court in examining the decision of an administrative tribunal).  The Levin proposal is to legislate the cancellation of this line of authority and bar judges from using "reasonability" as a grounds for judicial review of governmental action or authority.  It is a major incursion into the sphere of judicial independence and it is intended to weaken the judiciary dramatically.

The other pieces of legislation are waiting in the wings.  This "reasonability law" is more or less the same bill that Levin proposed back in January - despite the "consultation" process.  

There is a great deal of opposition to this bill, which is seen by many as a major attack on the independence of the judiciary - and thus, a major attack on Israeli democracy, which, like any vibrant democracy, relies on an independent judiciary to remain democratic.  The bill is scheduled for a first reading in the Knesset on Monday July 10, 2023.  In response, the protest movement has called for massive demonstrations across the country including efforts to close highways, the airport, and other commercial activity if the bill passes its first reading.  (Like in Canada, the bill requires three readings to pass).  As of tonight, a range of companies and other organizations have started announcing that they will support the protests.  Hard to predict what is going to happen, but it looks like it is going to be very chaotic.

The Netanyahu coalition is also planning to proceed with a piece of legislation that is even more outrageous.  As you may have heard, the Israeli Bar Association recently held an election to elect its president.  A candidate supported by Bibi and his Likud party was roundly defeated by a candidate who opposes the judicial changes.  The Israeli Bar Association is the equivalent of the Law Society of Ontario (and other places) - an independent body, though a creature of enabling legislation - that governs lawyers and their conduct.  In response to the loss of the election, the governing coalition announced that it was putting forward legislation to disband the Israeli Bar Association, set up a different organization - and appoint the President.  Unfortunately, I am not making this up.   Part of the Likud justification is that the Bar Association is allowed to nominate two candidates to sit on the Judicial Appointments Committee - and Bibi and Levin would rather have pro-Bibi committee members (even though they could  not get them elected).  But disbanding the Bar Association?  Seriously?  Unfortunately, this is reminiscent of legislation that one might find in 1930s Germany.  If this bill passes a first reading in the Knesset, I would imagine that Israeli lawyers will pull out all the stops to fight this.  We might see courts shut down, lawyers on a general strike - and all kinds of  other protest measures.

Just these two pieces of proposed legislation are causing so much rancour that there is already a sense that all hell is about to  break loose.  But the  government also has a whole series of other bills that it wants to pass.  I am not going to go through all of them now - but the overall effect of the proposed legislation is odious.

The Demonstrations

Demonstrations against the current government's proposed legislation have been taking place since Levin's announcement.  The demonstrations peaked just prior to Bibi announcing a temporary freeze of the judicial overhaul.  Now that the legislation is being brought back, the demonstrations have been ramping up.

Early this year, things were almost uniformly non-violent.  The Israeli police responded in fairly mild fashion.  There were few arrests and very few incidents of violence, police brutality or major confrontations.  

Since then, the extreme right elements of the current coalition have been calling on the police to expand the use of force against protesters (even though the  protests have been non-violent).  The police chief refused to accede to these orders and resigned.  He was replaced by a police chief more sympathetic to the current government and the police have begun using water canons and greater force to disperse protests.  There have also been incidents of pro-government supporters showing up at protests and attacking protesters. There were three incidents of car rammings this week by pro-Bibi supporters attacking anti-government protestors.    Several protesters were hurt, some seriously.  So far, none of the attackers have been charged.

The former police chief warned that police escalation in the use of force would eventually bring about increasingly widespread protests - which might even become more violent.  I guess we will see what happens in the coming weeks.  If the government proceeds with its plans to enact the "reasonableness law" and disband the Israeli Bar Association, I think things here are likely to get very crazy and unpredictable.  I'm not actually convinced that even Bibi will actually proceed with all of these plans but he seems to want to get something passed to appease his far right coalition partners.

Jenin, Terrorism and Pogroms

Over the past few months, Israel has faced a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks on civilians, especially in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank") but also in other areas.  Much of this violence was tied to terrorist groups based in Jenin, a city and refugee camp in the Territories.  As you may have read, Israel launched a fairly large scale military operation in Jenin last Sunday to fight back against this wave of terrorism.  It was a short operation that ended Tuesday night.  Large caches of weapons were confiscated.  Several members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed and some were arrested.  It is unclear whether this incursion will have accomplished any of its goals but Bibi's coalition  members were urging Bibi to take some  type  of action in the face of a widespread string of attacks.

Aside from Palestinian terrorism against civilians in Judea and Samaria - and in other areas in Israel, there have also been several attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.  Some of these attacks have involved looting of Palestinian villages, beatings of civilians and other violence. Many  Israelis have called these attacks "pogroms" and have urged the Israeli police to arrest and prosecute those responsible.  A small number of settlers have been arrested.  I'm not sure what charges, if any, have been formalized.

Some of Bibi's coalition members, including Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in particular, but also others, have been sympathetic to the settlers and dismissive of any attempts to punish the perpetrators.  This is also something that may escalate dramatically in the coming weeks and months - the level of violence in Judea and Samaria - going both ways.  Extremist Palestinian groups are calling for a "third intifada" and settler  groups are calling for increased use of force against Palestinians.  Let's just say I haven't heard any rosy  predictions.

Bibi's Trial

In  the midst of all of this, Netanyahu's criminal trial has been plodding along.  I have not been attending the trial and so I only have bits of information coming  from released parts of testimony and the  analysis  of several  commentators.

A couple of weeks ago, the judges hearing the case apparently  called on both sides to try and negotiate a deal  of some sort - and suggested that it would be "difficult" for the prosecution to succeed in proving  bribery in at least one  of the cases.

On the  other hand, the key state witness, Arnon Milchen, gave  testimony over the past couple of weeks about the  various  gifts that he  gave to Bibi and what he  got in return.  Milchen seems to have suggested that he is still good friends  with Bibi.   He testified remotely in London - where  Sara Netanyahu showed up to watch. Before the start of one day of Milchen's testimony,  she gave him a big hug and a kiss - trying to show the judges that Milchen only gave the  Netanyahus all the gifts because  they were such good friends.  

According to some analysts, Milchen  was easily manipulated by Bibi's lawyers during  cross examination and wound up giving dramatically different testimony  than the evidence  he gave  investigators during  the  initial  investigation.   This is a problem  for the prosecutors  who have been relying on Milchen as a  reluctant "state  prosecution witness."

If there is no deal, this trial might still continue on for two or  three more years, according to some analysts.  It sounds very entertaining but  hard to predict  what will happen.  I still stand by my  original prediction that there will probably be some kind  of deal before there is ever a final verdict - or Bibi's governing coalition  will succeed in legislating his legal problems out of existence.  That being said, Bibi's defence may have helped themselves quite a bit by taking  advantage of this reluctant state witness - or perhaps, by working with him outright.

Sports News

As you might have heard -  it has been a great year for  Israeli football (soccer to  those of us from the  other  side of  the  pond).  First, the Under 20  men's team wound  up taking 3rd place in the U20 World Cup. That was incredible -  especially Israel's huge upset win over Brazil in the quarter finals.  After that, Israel's U21 team made it to the semi-finals in the U21 Euros.  The team was beaten soundly by England - but was a very respectable showing.  As a result, Israel's  national  soccer team has made it into the Olympic games which will take place in Paris in 2024.  Now that is exciting for Israeli football fans.

Aside from the  odd football game - or soccer - whatever, I haven't really watched much in the way of  sports, since it is off-season for ice hockey and  NFL football.   I did watch  the Blue Jays this afternoon (night time in Israel) - as they were "no-hit" by the lowly Detroit Tigers.  The Jays are doing reasonably well  but I have not been watching very many games.  Difficult to do with the time change.  Perhaps I will have the chance to see a few games - or attend in person when I am back in Toronto next week.

I suppose the really big news in sports this year - which has nothing to do with my blog, is the play of generational superstar Shohei Ohtani.  I haven't seen him play this year - but, as you may have seen or heard - he is among the league leaders in batting average, home runs, hits, pitching average, strikeouts,...There are very few players in baseball who pitch and  also play regularly  on the offensive side of the field.  His accomplishments so far this year are super impressive and have led people to start comparing him to the great Babe Ruth.  I think it is early for that - but that gives you a sense of how dramatic his statistics have been.

Israeli Whiskey

I am not sure if I discussed Israeli whiskey previously, but even if I have, I will mention the M & H Distillery once more.  M & H stands for "Milk and Honey."  This single malt distillery in Tel-Aviv has been making some terrific whiskey - including whiskies that have won worldwide whiskey competitions.   I had a great time visiting their distillery recently - and I would strongly recommend a tour there on your next visit to Israel - if you enjoy some decent whiskey.  The accompanying cheese and  bread plate is also pretty tasty.  It's a kosher place - closed on Shabbat of course.  The actual whiskies are sold by the bottle and are not super cheap but the tour and tasting is priced reasonably and is lots of fun. And educational.

Other Travel

As you might know, there are several discount airlines that fly to different destinations in Europe from Israel.  Many of these flights cost less than the price of one night in a hotel here. We recently flew to Rome, Italy  on Wizzair.  I can't say that the flight itself was an enjoyable experience.  Wizzair is about as "bare-bones" as it gets - they don't even serve free water on the 3.5 hour flight - and a "basic" ticket only allows travellers on the plane with a small  knapsack.  If you want to add a trolley type carry on bag - you pay about as much as the cost of the ticket for the bag.

On the other hand, Rome is such a fantastic place to visit that the short flight itself becomes secondary.  I should mention that there are quite a large number of Kosher restaurants now in Rome - including pizza and other dairy places, meat restaurants and even a "Lybian Kosher Restaurant" - called "Little Tripoli."  Rome also has more than 10 active synagogues with daily minyans - and a Jewish museum.  

We certainly visited all of the major tourist sites in Rome as well - and had some fantastic coffee, gelato, food and wine - all over the city - but there is quite a bit more going on now in terms of Jewish culture than there was the last time I visited - though I have to say that was quite a few years ago.

That's about it for now - I hope you have found some of this interesting - and I wish everyone a great summer.  Back in Toronto shortly (if I can get out of the Israeli airport with all of the planned demonstrations) so I may not have another update for a while but I am sure that there is bound to be quite a bit of news coming out of Israel in the months ahead.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Beauty Queen of Jerusalem and Some News Comments

We just finished watching  The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Israeli Season  2.  Wow.  It was intense.  

Beauty Queen is an Israeli historical fiction series that follows the Ermosa  family - a Sephardi Jewish family living in pre-independence Israel.  Part one of the series originally aired in Israel in 2021 - as a 44 part series.  Each episode was about a half-hour long.

Over the first season, the show moved back and forth between earlier and later decades, which some viewers apparently found too confusing.  The series was still a big hit in Israel and Netflix picked it up in late 2021.  Netflix divided the first season into two season of 10 episodes each - of just under one hour in length - and of course added subtitles.  At first, Netflix only released the first 10 episodes but I believe the "second season" was subsequently released.  However, Netflix did  not release it all over the world - only in certain countries.

Last year, we watched the first Netflix season, which made up one half of the first Israeli season - about  20-25 of the 44 episodes, which Netflix edited and turned into 10 episodes of about an hour each.

We were determined  to see  the rest so we found a way to watch the series on YesTV in Israel  - but that meant no English subtitles.  I guess my  Hebrew got a chance to improve somewhat.  In order  to see everything - we had to start watching at about episode 18 and watched through the original 44. 

The series is based on a book by Sarit Yishai-Levi.  I have the book but I admit I have not read it yet, though I probably will very soon.  The first full season - (the first two Netflix seasons) run from pre-World War I to approximately  1940.  The cast is a who's who of Israeli acting including Michael Aloni (one of the main stars of Shtisel), Itzik Cohen (Captain Ayub in Fauda), and a range of other excellent actors including, in particular, Hila Saada (as Rosa), Swell Ariel Or (as the  brilliant Luna), Irit Kaplan (as Mercada) and several others.

The  series deals with a variety of themes and sub-plots.  One constant is the historic backdrop.   The  series follows the  development of the State of  Israel  before  1948 - while it was under Ottoman and  then British  control.  At first, the Ermosa family, like everyone else in the Ottoman area, is seen managing and dealing with the  Turks and Turkish authorities. Following  World War I, this  transitions to British rule and authority.  By the end of  Israeli series II (the latest parts),  we are  at approximately 1943/44 - and still under British control.

A key part of the series is the  story of the  Ermosa family - and its struggles as a family.  Perhaps one  might characterize some of this as "soap opera" type content, including infidelity, dysfunctional spousal relationships, love, parenting, the relationship to religion, gender equality issues and limitations in this time period.   But we found it extremely compelling.  The actors were sincere and believable.  The drama was intense though some episodes were  particularly violent.  Others were emotionally draining.  We couldn't stop watching.

This year, YesTV released the next 26 episodes.   This  will  probably all make up about one season on Netflix when it is eventually released of perhaps 10-13 episodes of one hour each or so.  For  now it is only available in Hebrew so we had to watch it on "Yes On Demand," which we have as part of our cable  package.

We finished it this week.  It was simply intense, emotional, well-acted and thought provoking.  For the newest season, YES changed the format and eliminated the back and forth.  It is now mainly chronological and less confusing that way.  The new season continues the old season themes but also deals with some very difficult issues - including domestic violence, the relationship between the growing Jewish community in Pre-Israel Palestine and the British (including some harsh looks at the "Lehi" group), Jewish-Arab relations during this time period, religious issues, and other related issues, all against a backdrop of World War II  and the horrors taking place in other parts of the world.

I am not going to do a detailed plot analysis here or provide any spoilers but I would say that I think it ranks up at the very top of Israeli productions that I have seen.  I will also say (and this is not intended to be a spoiler) that there are some scenes that are extremely violent, that there is a great deal of tension throughout the series.  The show is emotionally wrenching and draining.  But isn't that what you would want to say about a great production?

Israeli News

I don't intend to provide ongoing details of everything going on in Israel - I would have to become a full time news outlet to do that - and I do have another career....

But here are my few noteworthy items....

The Israeli army fought some of the biggest  battles it has fought in recent times today in Jenin.  It faced significant resistance  from a range of armed Palestinian groups while seeking to arrest some alleged terrorists.  Several Israeli soldiers were wounded, some seriously - and a number of Palestinian fighters were  killed.  This may well be the start of a significant escalation for both sides in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). 

The Israeli Bar Association is  holding its elections tomorrow for a new president.  This has been making quite a bit of news, partially because of the current political landscape across the country.  Some 77,000 lawyers will be voting.  The candidate, who is apparently the current front-runner, is Amit Becher, a staunch opponent of the Levin-Rotman proposals to "reform" the  judicial system and someone who regularly speaks at protests in Tel-Aviv and across the country. Becher is the current interim leader.  His opponent is a former head of  the IBA, Efi Naveh.  Naveh is a supporter of Levin and Rotman.  He is also someone who has been convicted of border fraud -  and charged with a range of other offences including criminal sexual harassment.  (Those charges were  dropped because some of the evidence came from an illegal wiretapping of Naveh's  phone).  Perhaps it is no surprise that someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence is out there running as the biggest supporter of a government that is full of convicts, politicians facing charges - and a leader in the midst of a major criminal trial.  The good news (from my perspective) is that it seems likely that Naveh will suffer a significant loss.  The polls could be wrong and I guess we will see soon.

The current Israeli government continues to flounder around - like a game of Whack-A-Mole.  It seems that every few days, the government has to deal with a crisis emanating from a statement or action of one of its coalition members.  Last week, the government faced a secret vote in the Knesset over who to appoint to the Judicial Committee (charged with appointing judges in Israel).  Netanyahu decided to pull his candidates and have nobody elected.  (To help  his own political maneuvering) One of his own Likud party members Tali Gottlieb, decided to run anyways against Netanyahu's wishes. She failed to get the votes which was quite embarrassing for the coalition.  On the other hand - the Yesh Atid (opposition candidate) Karine Elharrar won a seat, which means that several Likud members voted against their leadership in this secret ballot.  Netanyahu reacted by barring any meetings of the committee for an indefinite period.   So it is unclear when any judges will be appointed.  The whole thing was a major embarrassment for this current coalition - though not enough to jeopardize its governing status.

Apparently, the government intends to push ahead with plans to bring back its "judicial reform."  If they do proceed, I expect that we will see massive protests across the country.

Sports and Other Distractions

Just to finish off the news from my last post - as you might know, the Israeli national soccer team lost to Uruguay 1-0 in the semi-final of the U20 World Cup.  Uruguay went on to win by beating Italy.  Israel played a consolation game against South Korea and won 3-1, which meant third place and a bronze medal for the Israeli side.  This was a huge accomplishment for the Israeli team and for the Israeli national soccer program in general.  One of Israel's best international tournaments ever - if not the best.

I didn't really wind up watching  much of the Las Vegas-Florida NHL finals or of the Miami-Denver NBA finals.  From my perspective as a sports  fan, it is a pretty low time of the year now with all of these playoffs having concluded.  Sure the Blue Jays look pretty good  some nights - but no NFL until September (real games I mean), no NHL  until October etc.,  I guess this gives me the chance to catch up on my watching of  some great TV series, read some books, get lots of  work done - and maybe try to lose some  weight.  And of course play some games on the amazing site - - which has been expanding tremendously.  My latest favourite games include ArkNova, Barrage and several others.  I just wish they would add Brass Birmingham and a whole collection of Vital Lacerda games (Lisbon, Vinhos and others).

I should have time to come up with some interesting blogs in the coming months.  Wishing everyone a wonderful summer.