Showing posts with label Knesset. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Knesset. Show all posts

Thursday, September 8, 2022

September 2022: Political Comments, Wineries, Sports, Festivals and General Notes

I am a bit behind getting to my blog but I thought I would throw this one together to comment on a few different  issues.  Maybe I will put together one more just before Rosh Hashanah, which is quickly approaching.

Israeli Politics

Firstly, what  could one of my blogs be without at least some comments on Israeli politics?  As you might know, we have yet another election scheduled - for November 1, 2022.  Former Prime Minister Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops  trying to get himself back into power.  I would say it is going to be very close. According to a few different recent Israeli polls, here is an approximate estimate of where things stand in terms of projected seats by party (poll predictions):

Likud: (Party of Former Prime Minister Netanyahu):           31-33 seats

Yesh Atid (Party of current Interim Prime Minister Lapid):  22-24

National Unity (Party led by Benny Gantz):                         12-13

Shas (Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi (eastern) Party:                        8-10

Labor (Left wing "workers" party, led by Merav Micaeli):     5

United Torah Judaism (Ultra-Orthodox Ashkanazi party):      7

Yisrael Beytenu (Led by Lieberman):                                        5-6

Religious Zionist Party (Ultra Nationlist - Smotrich/Ben Gvir)  10-13

Meretz (Far left, secularist party):                                            5

Joint List (Arab parties, largely anti-Zionist):                          5-6

Ra'am (Arab party, led by Monsour Abbas):                            4

So if we add all that up - by looking at who could  go with who, we get something like this:  

Netanyahu (Likud), together with the two ultra-Orthodox parties and the RZP is running at 56 to 63.  Obviously, if these parties could put together 63 seats, they would form a far-right wing, narrow government though it would probably be relatively stable for the next 2-3 years.  This would be a government of vengence in my view, which would immediately try to change the law in several areas, especially in the area of religious-secular issues in Israel, budgeting (especially for Orthodox and  Ultra-Orthodox groups) and extensive increased settlement building.  This type of government would try to "roll back" any changes that had been made over the past two years by the current government and would do everything it could to assist Netanyahu in getting out of his legal  problems.

If they fall short of 61, they will try to convince Ganz and his "National Unity" Party to join the government.  Given that Gantz's party could have 10-12 seats, it is definitely a possibility that this could happen though it is unclear who would go first as Prime Minister and what Netanyahu would have to promise Gantz to get him to join the government.  Nevertheless, I don't rule this out especially since Gantz has shown  in the past that he  is prepared to make deals with Netanyahu.  One  would assume that the inclusion of Gantz would moderate the government somewhat but it would still be a very right-leaning government.

On the other side of the ledger, Lapid's "bloc" is running at between 49 and 53, without Ra'am.  If we add back in Ra'am - that would get them to between 53 and 57, still not enough to form a government.  This group would need to make a deal with one or both of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, which seems quite unlikely.  It doesn't look like there are any other potential participants.

Given these numbers, it is possible that there will be another stalemate and that this might finally force Netanyahu to consider resigning from the leadership of the Likud party.  But I wouldn't bet on this.  Unless something dramatically changes, it looks like Israel is heading for some type of right wing government, either with the participation of Gantz's party  or without.  Lapid and his potential coalition partners would all need a big change in the  polling  numbers to be in a position to form a government.  As of right now, that seems unlikely.

I will watch the polls and see if anything interesting develops but with less than two months to go - this is where things seem to be headed.

Israeli TV and Sports

As you may know, the fourth season of Fauda is out and has been airing on Israeli TV, one episode at a time.  The grand finale will be next Wednesday, September 14, 2022.  After that, I understand it will be released worldwide on Netflix.  So if you are a Fauda fan, this season will surely keep you riveted to the screen.  "Fauda" means chaos in Arabic.  This show is definitely chaotic.  Violent, pressure-packed, intense and dramatic, it makes for some very compelling TV.  I would say that the the fourth season has been  one of the best though we are still waiting for the  culminating  episode.

The big news in Sports here in Israel is that the Maccabi Haifa soccer team made it into the European "Champions League."  That is a very big deal for European  and Israeli football (soccer) fans.   Next week, Paris St Germaine will be playing a home game in Haifa - which means that soccer superstar Lionel Messi, among others, will be arriving in Israel for a game.  This is really a huge sports event here and tickets are very hard to come by.  I have no plans to go in person but I will probably jump on the bandwagon and watch it on TV.  Expectations are not very high for Maccabi Haifa against such strong international competition.  But just being there is a big accomplishment for the Haifa squad.

As a Torontonion, on the other hand, I am very excited about the Toronto  Blue Jays this year, who have an excellent (though often inconsistent) baseball team.  When in Israel, this means watching games from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. (or sometimes longer).  About 20 games left to go in the regular season and the Blue Jays are still in a playoff spot, so I may be keeping strange hours in the coming weeks.  Also quite excited about the Buffalo Bills, who play their season  opener tonight and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who begin the season in about a month.  All of this means keeping a semblance of Toronto hours, while here in Israel - not an easy feat.

A quick musical mention - a blast from the past - the "Counting Crows" are playing  in Ra'anana at the Ra'anana ampitheatre next week.  Not sure I will make it to that but it sounds like it could be fun.  I might go see Tamir Grinburg instead,  winner of last year's "Rising Star" competition on Israeli reality TV.

On my recent  trip back to Israel, on Air Canada, I watched a few Israeli movies on the plane.  Nothing too memorable, but it is worth mentioning that if you look for  these movies in the entertainment system, they are available.

Worthwhile Sight  Seeing Mentions

We  took a few trips  recently to places that we had been to in the past but seemed worth visiting again.  

Photo #3
In late July, we  arranged a tour of the Israeli Supreme Court.  This is a fascinating tour, filled with all kinds of interesting information on the details of the building itself, the history and  role  of the Israeli Supreme Court, and a chance to watch some live proceedings.  It can be arranged in English or  many other  languages - and it is free.  Obviously this is a sight of very high interest for lawyers from around the world, but I think many other people  would also enjoy visiting.

Last week, we  went for a tour of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament  building.  This is also quite an interesting  tour, which takes about 1.5 hours.  It is free and  can be arranged in English, Hebrew or several other languages.  Like the tour of the Supreme  Court it includes quite a bit of information on the history of the Knesset, the building itself, the Israeli political system and other interesting tidbits.  We had a terrific guide and really enjoyed the tour.

I have included pictures  of the Chagall Art that adorns the Main Knesset entrance and reception hall area.  We spent a significant of time looking at and discussing  these photos.

While in the Knesset, we happen to see a number of current Knesset members wandering around.  One of them was Ayelet Shaked.  Several visitors were stopping her to ask for a picture.  We  didn't.  According to current  polls, Shaked and her  party are unlikely to make it to the Knesset this  time around but she  is still actively campaigning.
Photo #1 (on the  Left)

Photo #2 (Middle)


  





Summer in Israel also features several interesting events and  festivals.  On the liquid refreshment side of things, there are three that I would like to mention.

Each year, the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem holds an annual Wine festival.   It is an outdoor festival at the Israeli Museum grounds, with beautiful views of Jerusalem.  It is usually held in July or August, generally after Tisha B'Av.   There are about 30-40 wineries in attendance.  Guests pay a set admission (120 Shequels this year - or about $40  USD) and receive a wine  glass that they can take  home at the end of the evening.   Guests can then wander around and taste wines from any of  the  different  wineries.   No additional  charges for the wine, though some of the wineries run out of their better wines  early in the evening.  There are also food kiosks selling a wide range  of items - cheese plates, pizza, baked potatoes, sushi.  The festival also includes live music and there was a really fun band playing a wide range of music  - from classic 70s rock to 80s and 90s pop music - to current Israeli music.  On the day  we attended, the band even  played a medley of Jewish Hora music.  Lots of fun.  Our whole family attended and everyone  had a really fun time.  (As crazy as it sounds, everyone is now old enough to drink alcohol legally....)

Next week, there is a Coffee festival in Tel-Aviv, which promises to showcase  more than 50 different  coffee  vendors.  Not sure how much coffee I can drink in one evening - and how long I might have to stay up afterwards until all of that caffeine wears off.  But I suppose, getting back to my sports comments, if there is a baseball or football game to be watched after the event, it may not be so bad.

There is also a beer festival coming up with more than 50 breweries.  I'm not that much of a beer connaisseur but it might still be a fun event.

Israeli Wineries

Speaking of wine, we managed to visit a few wineries over the past few months.

One was "Harei Galil" - the Galil  Mountain Winery.  This winery is in northern Israel, very close  to the Syrian  border.  The winery sits atop a mountain and the visitor's centre provides a beautiful view.  The visitor centre staff were  very friendly.  We arranged a tasting  of six different wines, accompanied by a plate of cheeses, grapes, apricots, dates, olives, breads and other  goodies, all strictly Kosher and  all quite tasty.   The wine itself was nice though not compelling enough for us to load up  with purchases.  Galil is one of Israel's largest wineries, producing more than 1.2 million bottles  a year.  They have some  very nice  high end wines as well as some drinkable mid-range offerings.  It is a beautiful visitor's centre and well worth a stop

Nearby, we also stopped  at one of my favourites, the Dalton  Winery, which produces some delicious wine.  We arrived a bit late so we had a choice of standing  at the bar and tasting whatever they poured us for free - or sitting  down  and ordering a set tasting.  Since  we were running a bit late, we opted  for the bar tasting.  The staff were very friendly and  helpful and poured us a variety of  tastings.  Here we couldn't resist buying  a few bottles though the prices were not really any better than the prices in Israeli wine shops.

We also visited the Tulip Winery which is another  one  of our favourites.  The Tulip Winery invests in and supports a community of adults with special needs, many of whom also work at the winery.  For that reason alone, it is one of  my favourites to visit and support.  We  opted for a 6-7 wine tasting package which also came with a nice selection of fruit, cheeses, breads and other goodies.  Like at the other wineries, the staff were very helpful and friendly.  We sat outdoors on high bar chairs.  It was quite warm but they had fans set up so it was comfortable.  

I will also mention that we visited the Ella Valley  Winery which is much  closer to the  Jerusalem area - located in the Judean Hills.  The tasting here was somewhat  less organized.  We  were served some olives with our wine.  Most of the wines we tasted were not particularly good.  Our guide  was friendly and fun - but not very experienced or  knowledgeable.  We  weren't able to taste the higher  end wines.  Not sure  we will be running  back to this winery for a visit though I have had some Ella  wines that I have quite enjoyed  over the years.

Maybe I am saving the last for the best.  Not far from Ella is the Tzora Winery.  Tzora is more of a boutique winery, which primarily produces  blended wines.  But their wines are all outstanding.  The visitors' centre is beautiful.  We have been there a few times.  On  our most recent vist, we were able to taste 5 or 6 wines and were provided with a wonderful cheese, bread and olive oil platter.  Everyone we were with enjoyed all of the wines.  Of  all the Israeli wineries we have visited, from a taste and experience  point of view, this is definitely one  of the best.

There are somewhere around  300 wineries now in Israel, so this is only a very  small sampling.  We  have probably been to close  to 50 of them but  still a long  way to go.  For any guests who are planning to visit -  we are happy to try and get  to as many  of the  remaining 250 as possible,  although we have visited many of the really good ones so we may have to go back for seconds  to some of those places.

Random Closing Thoughts

With the approach of another Jewish  New Year, Rosh Hashanah,  in just a few weeks, I think I would say  by way of sizing things up that the "State of the Nation is Strong."  Okay, I know I have  stolen that phrase, but I think it is true.   Israel has all kinds  of challenges, including Religious-Secular tensions, serious external threats as well  as sporadic terrorist attacks, ever  increasing cost of living and a variety of other types of tension.  But Israeli recently ranked #9 on a World  Happiness Index, which is quite an accomplishment.  That put Israel higher than Canada or the United States (#16  and  18 respectively).

Sometimes, it can feel like living in a powder keg, not knowing  if hostilities will break out any moment with Gaza, with the Palestinians,  with Hezbollah or with some other party.   And things will  not  really be truly peaceful  here unless and until we  can reach some type of resolution with the Palestinians.  But  Israel has come quite far since its founding more than 74 years ago and certainly seems like  a more stable, prosperous, vibrant - and yes even peaceful place than it  was  in the first  40-50 years of its existence.  Hopefully  we  will soon  find a way to address some of these outstanding  issues and ensure long term peace and stability.

If I  don't  get a chance to write before the holidays, I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year - Shana Tova u'Metukah.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

New Sheriff In Town - Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is Israel's New Prime Minister

It is a very historic day for Israel.   After 12 years under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel is swearing in a new government - a "change coalition" made up of 8 different political parties - with members ranging from the far right to the far left.  The different parties all signed off on a coalition deal on Friday afternoon, clearing the way for today's swearing in ceremony.

The first order of business for the Knesset was to hear speeches from a range  of speakers - the leaders of the different parties - of both the outgoing government and the incoming administration.  The designated order was that Naftali Bennett, the incoming Prime Minister would speak first, followed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the outgoing Prime Minister.

Bennett was invited to go first.  He had prepared a very carefully written speech - professional, conciliatory, stately and dignified.  But Netanyahu's supporters had other plans.  They had apparently decided that they would use every possible method to disrupt the  speech.  They hurled insults, abusive language and consistently disrupted the speech.  The House Speaker, who himself is a handpicked Netanyahu designate, had no choice but to start warning Knesset members that he would throw them out of the Knesset if they continued.  Soon he had to start ordering the removal of various Knesset members from the Religious Zionist Party, the Likud Party and the Ultra-Religious parties.  Frankly, it was embarrassing, childish and highly inappropriate.  At least 5 or 6 Knesset members had to be forcibly removed because they couldn't follow the basic decorum of listening to a speech from a political opponent.  One Israeli commentator said that it was as if those who had stormed the Capital in the U.S.  were actually the congress members and senators inside the Knesset.  It was simply disgraceful.

Bennett's speech was disrupted several times but he still managed to give it.  He thanked Netanyahu for his years of service and for many positive accomplishments.  But he also spoke about the  urgency of doing things differently, of working with people with opposing viewpoints, and of addressing many urgent issues facing the country.  He promised to try and work on behalf of all Israelis, even those who opposed him.  He mentioned that Israel may have disagreements with the United States on some issues - but he promised to work with the United States administration respectfully and work to return to a situation where support for Israel is bi-partisan in the U.S.  rather than partisan.  He laid out some of the government's proposed platforms and he introduced by name all of the incoming cabinet members.  He ended his speech by reciting the "prayer for the State of Israel" which is recited in synagogues around the world.  It was an emotional moment.

Yair Lapid was supposed to speak next.  After watching all of the disruption, he  decided to cut his speech short.  He stood up and said that he had  brought his 87 year old mother to Jerusalem (she rarely comes to Jerusalem) to see how a peaceful transition of power works in Israel, a country that did not exist when she was born.  He said she told him that she was simply embarrassed by the behaviour of the opposition Knesset members but she also said  - that this conduct by Netanyahu's supporters in the Knesset demonstrated why a change of government was so urgently needed.  Lapid said that was all  he was going to say at this time and he sat down.

Next it was Netanyahu's turn.  He was allotted the longest time  period as the outgoing Prime Minister.  Netanyahu began his speech, shockingly, by quoting the  lead prosecutor  in the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann  and claiming that he was standing here on behalf of the "millions" (in Netanyahu's case - the "millions" who had voted for him but would not have him as a leader).  This was an outrageous misuse of historical context - to suggest that the incoming government was a horrible and tragic event on the scale of the Holocaust.  

Netanyahu then proceeded with a review of the many accomplishments of his government, for which he took all of the credit personally.  Some  of this review was partially accurate, some was slanted and some was outright misleading.  For example, he noted that Israel is in a far better security situation today than it was 12 years ago.  That is probably true.  He claimed that his government had dramatically decreased the "gaps" and "inequalities" in Israeli society.  That is patently false.  He claimed that his government did more than any previous Israeli government to support the Arab Israeli community.  That is questionable and probably not accurate, even though at times the Netanyahu government invested significant amounts in certain Arab communities.  His tone was combative, irascible and condescending.  This was only the first part of the speech and just the beginning.   

For the second part, Netanyahu switched to a litany of attacks on the incoming government and, in particular, on Bennett personally.  This part of the speech was simply a page from the Trump playbook.  He insulted, derided and castigated his political opponents and this deal to create the new government in particular.  He used nicknames to make fun of certain Knesset members.  He stated that "unlike what has taken place in some places, he is not challenging the legitimacy of the actual ballots - they were counted properly."  But he is challenging the fraudulent misuse of the ballots by Bennett - who took right wing ballots and turned them improperly into a left wing government. He quoted Arnold Scwarznegger stating "I'll be back" and promised that it would be a lot quicker than anyone  expects.  He did not wish the new government success or provide any kind words for the incoming government or any of its members.  Instead, he simply promised to bring down the government as quickly as possible, with "God's help."  I can't say this speech was unexpected though I think some were a bit surprised at the complete lack of any hint of statesmanship or professionalism.  

There was then a break for a few hours.  During this time, the tv commentators reviewed and assessed both speeches.  Even the right wing commentators were somewhat taken aback at the conduct of the disruptive Knesset members during Bennett's speech.  In the meantime, Bennett announced plans to go to the Kotel for a special blessing after being sworn in.  At the same time, the Religious Zionist party and the Ultra Orthodox parties announced organized demonstrations at the Kotel and special prayers for the "downfall of the government."  We can clearly see that there will be rocky times ahead and it will be fascinating to see if this new government can hold things together.

There are definitely several concerns about the new government.  It is comprised of far right wing parties, far left wing parties, centrist parties along with an Arab Israeli party.  They will have lots of disagreements and they only have a razor thin margin of 61-59 to run the country.  If two Knesset members defect, the government will collapse.

Furthermore, there are genuine and legitimate complaints about the incoming Prime Minister Bennett.  His party only had 6 seats.  He had promised his voters, in writing, that he would not join a government with Lapid, even a rotation government.  He also promised that he would not sit in a government that worked with the Arab parties.  Many of his supporters are understandably upset and I can see that there was no reason that he should have been so unequivocal with his promises if he had no intention of keeping them.  In short, it is true that he  deceived his voters.

At the same time, most politicians tend to make all sorts of promises that they are often unable to keep.  Netanyahu also made a list of promises and broke many of them.  Bennett has insisted that, overall, the deal he has made involves a variety of compromises, all with a view to the best interests of the country at this point in time.  I think many Israelis will be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for some period of time.

Changing Of the Speaker of the House

After a significant delay, the Knesset was recalled for the next order of business - the vote for a new speaker of the house.  The vote was held and Mickey Levy of the Yesh Atid party won with 67  votes (61 required for a majority).  For a bit, the outcome was uncertain, but in the end  the candidate of the change coalition was elected the new speaker of the house.  The outgoing speaker, Yariv Levine, in contrast to Netanyahu, was statesmanlike and professional.  He wished Levy the best of luck, shook his hand and said a few words about his own departure.  It was a welcome change of tone.

Voting in the New Government

Shortly afterwards, the full Knesset was invited to vote on the new government.  There was some tension since the government is being implemented with a  61-59 majority.   No wiggle room at all.  As the votes came in, there were 3 initial abstentions.  The vote sat at 60-56.   The speaker, of  course, only votes in the event of a tie.  The speaker asked if there were any missing votes.  Three Arab members changed their votes from "abstain" to against and the vote was now 60-59.  But that was it.  The vote was called and the speaker announced that Naftali Bennett is Israel's new Prime Minister.

Swearing In of the Ministers

The final step was the swearing in of the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers.  Each person comes up and repeats, according to a set formula - which starts with "I, (full name), the son or daughter of (full name) and then either "may he/she live many more years in good health" or "of blessed memory" followed by the other parent's name.  It is incredibly emotional.  Some of the ministers were lucky to have parents and family members in attendance.  Others thought of their deceased parent or other family members as they took the oath and mentioned their names.  The cabinet features a wide range of members from 8 different parties.  Some of these parties have not been a part of any Israeli government for many years.  It was quite a sight.

Conclusions for Now

In some parts of Israel, people are celebrating, especially in Tel-Aviv.  There are many Israelis hoping that this new government will usher in a wide range of changes in many different areas.  Other Israelis are extremely upset and are planning to hold demonstrations, prayer gatherings and other events calling for the end to this government.

This  new government contains a large number of "right wing" members.  I don't expect things to change very much with respect to relations with the Palestinians in the very near future.  I would say that there is somewhat of a consensus on some of the issues in dispute - and  some of the policies that Netanyahu has promulgated.  For example, no Israeli government is going to be interested in negotiating the status of Jerusalem, discussing the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Israel or even negotiating a Palestinian state in the current climate.  There may, however, be more of an openness to meet and try to restart some negotiations on these and other issues with a view to trying to resolve some or all of the ongoing conflict with Palestinians.

The real change, however, is that this government is  the first one in a number of years without the two ultra-orthodox parties.  That may well prove to be the biggest element of change in the "change" government  Suddenly, the  budget might change and religious educational institutions that do not support mandatory military recruitment may start finding themselves with significantly reduced budgets.  Bennett promised to take away the monopoly over Kashrut from the Ultra-Orthodox and provide a wider range of options for Kashrut observers.  There may well be a range of positive changes in Israeli society that affect gender equality, education, the environment and many other areas, all of which can be tackled without having to appease ultra-religious interests.  

I really can't predict whether this government will be  able to hold up and if so, how long it might last.  The deal has been signed as a four year deal.  But with a such a thin margin, it seems unlikely that this government will make it through the full four year term.  But I suppose that is going to depend on what kind of priorities the government tackles and whether its actions are viewed favourably by the Israeli public, or at least a large part of it.

I do maintain and believe that there is a significant likelihood that we will see a much higher level of public discourse, respect within the government, cooperation, trust and a resolve to act in the public interest - all of which will be very different from the legacy that Netanyahu is leaving behind, particularly over the course of his final few years of this term in office.









Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Another Election Update: Complete Craziness Here - and Other News

With less than one week to go for Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a  government, things are getting completely crazy here politically.  Netanyahu's chances of forming a government seem to be slipping away.  But not without a major struggle.  Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops to try to retain power.

It seems like he has a string of increasingly radical moves lined up - right up until the last minute next week when he will either succeed in forming a government with his final moves (whatever they might be) or one of the other two alternatives will win out - either a new replacement government or a fifth consecutive election.

Last week, Netanyahu started to see that his chances of forming a 61 seat coalition were looking grim.  He is trying to pull together two far right wing parties - Yamina and the Religious Zionist party and mix those parties with two ultra-Orthodox parties - and then have that whole package supported by the 5 seats of an Islamic Fundamentalist Arab party.  The Religious Zionist party has balked at the idea and has held a number of press conferences at which they have spewed anti-Arab rhetoric  and stated that they will not enter a government that is supported in any way, shape or form by any of the  Arab  parties.  Meanwhile, the Arab party, Ra'am, has naturally called on Bibi to reign in the rhetoric of his racist cohorts if he is really hoping to get  Ra'am support.

So Bibi came up with a new plan.  He decided he would call for a two track election system with a separate election for the position of Prime Minister  Obviously, this is an attempt to create a U.S. style President with separate executive powers and to  circumvent  Israel's current system.  As any constitutional student would realize, it doesn't mesh at all with a Parliamentary democracy.  It is a different governing system.  So, essentially, Bibi's position is - "if I can't win - we have to change the system so that I can."  One would have thought that this would be dismissed out  of hand, especially since it was tried and failed in Israel in the past.  But since Bibi only needs 61 votes to  get a proposal like this passed, he is pushing it as hard as he can.

Some of the actual changes that have been proposed are even more ridiculous.  The "Prime Minister" could be elected with only 40% of the vote.  He would then instantly have all of the powers of a sitting Prime Minister rather than an interim one - even if he could not cobble together 61 seats.  Further, under Bibi's plan (as presented by Aryeh Deri, the former fraud convict and current leader of the Ultra-Religious Shas party), the winning Prime Minister would instantly get 12 additional seats in the Knesset as a bonus for winning the 40%.  Taking everything into account, this is essentially a plan that one might see presented by Putin or Erdogan.  The problem is that Bibi only needs a bare majority to pass the plan and the issue is whether he can pay off or horse trade with enough members to get this proposal through.  So far, the leader of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, has said he would not support it but the possibility of Bennett changing his mind cannot be ruled out.

Seeing that his "direct election" plan did  not seem to be working out, Bibi upped the stakes.  Earlier today, he proposed that a Bibi loyalist, Ofir Akunis, be named to be the Justice Minister, a position that has been sitting vacant since the government collapsed (leading to the election).  Contrary to Parliamentary and cabinet procedure, he did not provide advance notice of intention to put forward a candidate.  Contrary to the current coalition deal with the Blue and White party, which is in place until a government is formed, he presented a Likud candidate instead of a Blue and White candidate (as required by the coalition deal).  And contrary to the Supreme Court's stated guidelines, he did not recuse himself from being involved in the appointment of a Justice Minister while he is in the midst of an ongoing trial.  

The Attorney General noted that this was an illegal nomination, an illegal vote and an illegal procedure.  Bibi effectively stated that he didn't care and demanded that a vote be held.  The vote was a tie which meant  that he could not proceed.  In lightning speed, the matter arrived at the Supreme Court  of Israel by the evening and will be heard  in greater detail tomorrow and perhaps even shown on live TV.  The Supreme Court does not want to wade into political decisions but Bibi's actions, by all counts, are a clear attack on the rule of law.  Not that he or his party are strangers to this type of attack.  After the last election, one of Bibi's henchmen, Yuli Edelstein, locked up the Knesset to avoid a vote which would have replaced the speaker of the house.  Even then, the Supreme Court was reluctant to interfere.  Some commentators have suggested that this is all part of a plan by Bibi to get the Supreme Court to rule against him so that he can run a populist campaign against the Supreme Court in the next election.  Does that sound familiar to anyone across the ocean? *Late Addendum - added at 1 p.m.  Israel time on April 28, 2021 - Netanyahu has now agreed to back off and allow Blue and White to continue to hold the Justice Minister position - his announcement came just three hours before the Supreme Court was scheduled to being the hearing.

Given the manner in which Bibi has been escalating his tactics, it is hard to predict what he  might try between now and May  4, 2021.  This week, he offered  to allow either Gideon Saar (leader of the New Hope Party and one of the most virulent anti-Bibi Knesset members) or Naftali Bennett (leader of Yamina) to go first in a two-year coalition deal.  His condition is that he would stay in the  Prime Minister's house and be called the "alternate Prime Minister" while some else  "officially" fills the role.  We don't know what else he has requested as part of these offers but his demands are bound to be significant.  Neither Bennett nor Saar have rejected the proposals outright but even if Bennett were to agree, Netanyahu could still be short of the 61 that he needs.

So all in all, it is fair to say that things are extremely volatile, unpredictable and, definitely, new and unique, even for Israeli politics.  That being said, it seems likely that things will go in one of three directions by May 4th.  If Bibi can come up with the right mix of promises, threats, payoffs, carrots and sticks, he might still form a government by the deadline.  I don't think we can rule it out yet.  It seems that he will need to convince Gideon  Saar or some of his New Hope party members to bend and join Netanyahu.  That would cause Bennett to join as well and would create a government.  But Saar has sworn up and down, over and  over, that  he wouldn't join Bibi.  So it will take quite a lot.  I think this is still in the 40% range, perhaps now a bit less.

On the other hand, Bennett, Saar and Lapid are actively negotiating to try and form an alternate "unity government" made  up of parties across the political spectrum.   They have many challenges, which is inevitable when one tries to combine such a disparate range of political philosophies.  From the far left, egalitarian, anti-nationalist Meretz party to the far right, extremely nationalist, religious Yamina party, held together by centrist Lapid of the Yesh Atid party.  And  this coalition might only have 57 seats unless they can recruit an Arab party or an ultra religious party.  It looks like a tall order to get to 61.  I'm still not convinced that the chance of this group forming a government is higher than 30 to 35%.  

And if you do the math, that leaves us with a 25-30% chance of another election, at least according to this prognosticator.  But we should know by May 4th or  shortly thereafter.  If it is to be a fifth election, it may be in August or September.  Perhaps by then, a greater number of Israelis living abroad will be  able to travel to Israel to participate in the vote.  For the last election, ballot stations were actually set up in the  Ben Gurion airport so that Israelis could arrive at the airport and vote before heading  off to a  quarantine.

Covid Update

As you probably know, things have been opening up everywhere here based on the use of a vaccination certificate system.  Concert venues, inside and  outside, restaurants, malls, sports events - everything is almost back to normal, for those with Green Certificates, at least.  But is it just a lull?  We are hearing of significant challenges now coming from the "Indian Variant" which may be impervious to the Pfizer  vaccine.  If a variant arrives in Israel that can  beat the vaccine, we may wind up heading back to square one - after a period of ostensible normalcy.  So far, Israel is still pushing ahead with plans to allow for international tourism (for vaccinated tourists only of  course), a resumption of the Birthright  Program and an expansion of flights, outbound and incoming.  But we really can't  say how long this "golden period" will actually last.  Hopefully, in Israel and the rest of the world, the vaccine will help turn things around in a lasting way.

Heat Wave and Upcoming  Holidays

As you might have seen - we reached temperatures of more than 40C last  week - more than 100F and it was only April.  Fortunately, things have cooled off somewhat and the weather is actually quite  nice now.  People are arranging their Lag B'Omer bonfires for Thursday night and planning their all night study sessions for the holiday of Shavuot which is 17 days after Lag Ba'Omer.  We are picking out our best Blintz and Cheesecake recipes and figuring out how we will best observe the Chag.  We may have to visit a winery or two between now and then to find some nice White or Rose wines that could best accompany our  anticipated dairy bonanza.

Board  Games

I don't mention it that  often  in this  blog - but as many of you might know, I have a hobby of collecting, teaching and playing a wide range of board games.  One of my future projects (hopefully sooner rather than later) is to design one myself.  These are complex strategy games - "Euro games" as they are often  called that include game categories such as worker  placement, territory control, engine building, and economic decision making.  They are rarely winner  take  all games but are won by the player who has amassed the highest point total.   Given that I have been here for such a long stint, I have found a few reliable partners - who are quickly becoming equally addicted.  Recently we have managed to play three fantastic games - Viticulture (which is all about developing and  running your  own winery), Brass Birmingham (an economic  game  set  in 19th century England) and Barrage (a  worker placement/economic game in which players build dams and try to control water  flow and develop energy).  These are all terrific games - so if anyone is looking for something fun to do when spending extra time at home - these games will all give your brain quite a workout.  Israel has a Facebook group called "Unbored  with Board Games" which has more than 10,000 members - who trade tips about different games, buy and  sell used games and arrange meet ups with each other.  So if you thought  board game playing was now a dead or non-existent past time - I think these numbers strongly suggest otherwise.  Board game playing is especially common among Shabbat observant families since most of these games can be played on a Saturday afternoon without violating any of the rules of Shabbat.  

That's about it for  now - waiting for the political fireworks here in Israel over the next  week or  so and wishing everyone the best of health!

 









Sunday, April 4, 2021

Post Passover April 2021 - Election Process, Bibi's Trial and Whatever Else...

Here in Israel, Pesach (Passover) came to an end last night, as Shabbat ended - at about 7:35 p.m.  After that, Israelis across the country headed out to Mimouna celebrations - wherever they could find some friends  of Moroccan heritage.  Moroccan Jews mark the end of Pesach with a party at which they eat lots of sweets and mufletta (a fried dough pastry) covered with honey or nutella.  This is not an evening for those on a low-sugar diet.   Moroccans generally offer an "open invitation" to all those who want to show up and come and join them.  I have never figured out how they are able to get everything ready so quickly - change over the dishes, get the kitchen ready etc., in time for a mimouna that starts so quickly after Pesach.  But we have attended a few over the years and they are lots of fun.  We  spent our evening putting away our Pesach dishes and were not able to get to a mimouna this year.

Last year, in Israel, there were no mimouna celebrations because of Covid-19.  This year, with so many people vaccinated and the infection numbers quickly dropping, there were big parties all over the country.  The same can be said for Pesach seders.  This year, many Israelis (us included) were able to attend traditional style seders with 15-20 people or more, whereas last year it was just immediate family members who live at the same address.  Hopefully, the Israeli experience is a sign that by next year things in Canada, the U.S. and other parts of the world will be back to some semblance of normal.

Now that Pesach is over, we have lots of interesting, significant and meaningful events coming up.

On the political side - we have two main events.

Monday April 5, 2021 will officially mark the start of the evidence portion of Netanyahu's trial.  There are over 300 witnesses and some of the witnesses will take a week or two, between examination-in chief and  cross-examination.  The trial is expected to last between 2 and 3 years assuming that it is not somehow resolved before it is completed.  The court will sit all day, three days a week, to hear the  evidence.  Netanyahu has sought permission to be absent from the court room at times and the court has agreed.  I'm not going to spell out all of the details as I have reviewed the charges that Netanyahu is facing in previous posts.  For example, in this post,  I covered come of the issues.  It remains my view that the trial will never actually reach a contested verdict.  One possibility is that Netanyahu will be able to cobble together an election victory at some point - and pass a retroactive immunity bill to end his legal problems.  Many of the would-be supporters of a new Netanyahu government on the right of the political spectrum are willing to support this approach.  As of now, however, Bibi does not have the votes for this.  

The other possibility is that if the trial is proceeding - and things are not looking good - Netanyahu will cut some sort of deal either involving a plea bargain, a pardon or a blend of a political and legal deal.  If, on the other hand, the prosecution's case somehow falls apart, perhaps because key witnesses pass away (or disappear), there is also a possibility that the prosecution could drop the case.  Of course Netanyahu insists that the latter option is what will happen, but I really doubt it.  No matter what transpires, it should make for fascinating political and legal theatre and generate quite a bit of interesting press coverage, complete with round-the-clock analysis.  As a lawyer, I am about as interested in this legal proceeding as any other that I can recall (other than some of my own great cases, of course).

Election Update

Tomorrow is also a very important day in Israel for dealing with the current election deadlock.

As you may know, Israel is a parliamentary democracy, modelled after England or Canada.  The official head of state, ceremonially,  is the President, who fills the role of the Monarch in Britain or the Governor General in Canada.  In other words, the President has very little actual power and is mostly a figurehead.

However, one of the key roles of the president takes place after every election.  (President Rivlin  has been working double or triple time the past few  years).  The President is taked with the role of asking one of the political parties, traditionally the party with the plurality of Knesset seats or the party that has the best chance of being able to build a coaltion with 61 seats - to try and form a government.  The leader of that party is then given 30 days to try and form a coaltion.  

So tomorrow, each party will come to the President's residence to meet with the President and tell him who they plan to recommend to form the government.  13 different parties were elected in the March 2021 elections, each of which attained more than 3.25% of the vote.  So starting at 8 a.m., President Rivlin will meet with 13 different representatives and they will all tell him what they intend to do and who they intend to recommend.  Or maybe they won't really but they have to recommend someone.

It sounds like tonight is going to be a long night of negotiations, promises, political calculations and perhaps some trickery and slight of hand as well.  Maybe some magic spells will also be cast along with some special blessings appealing to the Almighty.  By the time the sun rises in the morning, or perhaps a few hours after that (allowing for time for morning prayers for some), decisions will have been made and the parade will begin.

As of now, news reports indicate that no leader will receive 61 votes of support.  Netanyahu is likely to get 52 which includes his party (Likud) (30), the two ultra-orthodox parties (Shas and UTJ)(16) and the far right party - RJ the Religious Zionists (6).  If he could convince Bennett and the Yamina party to join him - he could get to 58 but that seems unlikely right now.  He is also trying to gain the vote of the Arab Islamic party Ra'am, which has 4 seats to offer. 

The other primary suitor is the Yesh Atid party led by Lapid.  As  of now, Lapid's party is likely to get 43 recommendations - which include Yesh Atid (17), Labour  (7), Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman's secular nationalist party) (7), left wing Meretz (6), and perhaps the Joint List (Arab secular nationlist) (6).  There is a chance that the centrist Blue  and White leader Benny Gantz could recommend Lapid, which could add 8 more and bring Lapid to 51.   However, to this point, Gantz has stated that he will only support Lapid if he thinks that Lapid can form a government.

That leaves two parties - the right wing religious party Yamina (7) ("The Right") and the right wing  New Hope party (a break off from the Likud) with 6.  Naftali Bennett, the leader of Yamina, is insisting that he should be the Prime Minister.  He says that he is the only one who can form a right wing government that is an alterntive to the Likud.  He says he will not join Lapid because  Lapid is too far left.  So he has decided to recommend himself, barring some  kind of last minute deal.   That certainly throws a loop into things but it doesn't seem to get everyone any closer to a deal.

The other party is New Hope led by Gideon Saar.  Saar  says he will not recommend Netanyahu under any circumstances.  Although many of Saar's policies are similar to Bibi's, if not further right, he has stated several times (including this afternoon) that he is determined to eliminate corruption in politics and restore honour to political office in Israel.  That certainly sounds like a tall order to me....

Saar still has not announced who he will support but he stated before the election that he will not recommend Lapid.  So he must now decide between recommending Bennett in which case Bennett would have 13, recommending Lapid in which case Lapid would have as many as 57 or recommending himself (which can't be ruled out as a possibility).  Saying nothing is apparently not an option.

If Saar decides to go against one of his pre-election promises and opts to recommend Lapid, Lapid would either have 49 or 57 depending on whether Gantz also recommends Lapid.  With 57, Lapid would then have 30 days to try and form a government by finding a few more Knesset members or cutting some kind of deal, perhaps with one of the two ultra-religious parties.

If Saar recommends himself or Bennett, the President will almost certainly give Bibi the first chance to form a government.  Bibi, with his 52, will need to try and find 9 more seats.  Even if he were be able to convince Bennett to join him (they have been arch rivals for a number of years  now and Bennett is particularly despised by Bibi's wife, Sara), that would still only get Bibi to 59.  If Bibi fails to form a government, the President could give  Lapid a chance or the Knesset could dissolve and another election could be called.

Behind the scenes - there are two sets of negotiations going on.

Bibi is making all sorts of  promises to try and entice Bennett to join his coalition.  But even if he succeeds he will still only have 59 and he will need to find some defectors or he will have to rely on the support of the Ra'am party.  Some members of Bibi's party have started to speak about the possibility of Likud relying on Ra'am and have insisted that it is a non-starter. The far right RZ party has said that it will not join that coalition under any circumstances.  So Bibi will have to convince  some others to defect.  Perhaps he is hoping to break up Saar's party (like what he did to Blue and White the last time around) or perhaps he is hoping that he can entice Gantz to join him again.  As I have said previously, one can never count Bibi out but he is facing quite an uphill battle.

The other negotiations are taking place between Saar, Bennett and Lapid.  Saar and Bennett are essentially saying that together they have 13 seats (which is still less than Lapid's 17).  They are asking that Lapid agree to a rotation government in which they would share power, with Bennett as Prime Minister for half of the time and Lapid the other half.    For the parties to the left  of Lapid, including Meretz, the Labour party and the Arab Joint List, this is not very popular.  These parties do not want to replace Bibi, the right wing Likud leader, with someone who is even more right wing.  On the other side, members of Saar's party and of Bennett's do not want Lapid as the Prime Minister since they feel he is too far to the left.  If you add all of this up, it comes to 63.  However, that would be a bed full of awfully strange bedmates.  A left wing secular Arab party, a left wing secular mixed party (Meretz), a right wing religious nationalist party (Yamina) all sharing the same blanket.  The only thing they can all agree on is that they all want to kick Bibi out of the bed.

One possibility is that Saar and Bennett will try to woo the ultra-religious parties with their 16 seats to leave the Bibi camp and join them - perhaps instead of the Joint List and Meretz.  Would Lapid go along with this? Unclear.  For now, the Shas party says that it will refuse and it has sworn allegiance to Bibi.  The other party, UTJ, seems to be starting to waver.  The ultra religious parties do not want to be left out in the cold and will, at the last minute, do whatever it takes to avert that possible disaster.

I think that is about all I can say for now about what is going to happen.  How do I handicap all of this?  Okay - let's go with 40% that Bibi manages to come up with some kind of deal by finding some defectors, working over Gantz, or breaking up Saar's party and/or by relying on the Ra'am party.  Next, let's say 35% that we have another election by September or October.  Finally, that leaves a 25% chance that some kind of  alternate government can be strung together by Lapid, Bennett and  Saar.

You might say that I am being  fairly non-commital.  Fair enough.  But that is the current  state of Israeli politics.  I think this is a realistic assesssment of what we are likely to see. 

Other Events and Commemorations

Wednesday night  is Erev Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah.  The day of Rememberance of the Holocaust and Heroism.  It will be 82 years since the start the second World War and 80 years  since the Nazis made the decision to begin operating death  camps to ramp up their systematic mass murder of the Jews of Europe.  Memorial events will be held across the country.  TV stations will show Holocaust themed  movies and documentaries all night and all day long (on Thursday) and a two minute long siren will blare across the country during which traffic across the country will come to a stand still.  Restaurants will be closed across the country on Wednesday evening as people walk to near by community commemorations.

The following week, April 14th is Israel's Rememberance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.  And April 15th will be Israel Independence Day marking Israel's 73rd birthday.  I have written about both of these days in previous blogs.

I am not sure yet how  all of these events will be marked across the country as we are still easing out of the Covid-19 restrictions but I am certain that there will be all sorts of commemortations and festivities respectively.

As Pesach ends, the weather starts to warm up in Israel and beach season arrives.  In fact, we are expecting some very hot weather this week with a cool down by the end  of the week.   A bit of a taste of things to come perhaps.  By May, it will be quite hot here.  As the vaccine continues to work, I am quite sure that the beaches will be overcrowded this year, even if tourists won't yet be  able to join our Israeli beach goers.  Let's hope that by next year that, too, will change  back to some semblance  of normal.

Wishing  everyone the  best of health and hoping that you will all have the chance to come and visit soon!






Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Chanuka Approaching 2020: Virus Not Leaving Yet: Update from Israel

 

Chanuka is quickly approaching - only two days until the first candle - so I thought it was time to write an update about a few things going on here in Israel - and maybe some other comments, connected or not.

The photo shown is a random store on Ahuza street in Ra'anana with a table display of a variety of  Chanukiot (the 8-candle Menorahs that we light on Chanuka).  This is only one of many stores that has this kind  of display.   Retailers all  over Israel are selling Chanukiot, bakeries are selling sufganyot (jelly filled  donuts, usually) and caterers are offering latke specials.  So you could say that Chanuka is in the air, though it is not the only thing circulating.

To mark the holiday, the Israeli government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided on a two step plan to combat the  spread of Covid-19.  On the one hand, there will be an evening curfew for a period of two weeks.  Just about everything will be  closed, apparently, and  people will  be prohibited from travelling between cities, at night.  Remaining details are still to be announced if the "Corona Cabinet" can agree.  To complement this evening curfew plan, the government has decided to fully reopen all  malls,  across the country, during the daytime.   A few shopping malls in "red zones" will be the exception and will remain closed.  Now I may not be an expert but  I am scratching my head trying to figure out how this plan makes any sense at all.   Infection numbers have been rising in Israel  - and we seem to be in the range of 700 to 1000 new cases per  day.  Some government ministers have stated in interviews that they expect that the numbers will rise significantly by January 1 - and we will then have a full closure (the "3rd closure") for several weeks in January.  Really, I'm not making this stuff up.  That is the plan.  (Added new update - sounds like the Israeli courts have indicated that this plan would not fly so the "night curfew" is now unlikely to come into effect).

Speaking of the Israeli government, you may have heard that it is on  the verge of dissolution - maybe.  The Knesset has passed the first reading of a bill that would dissolve the current government and set an election date.  By law, if an agreement is not reached to stop the dissolution and pass a budget, the Knesset will automatically dissolve on December 23, 2020.  This would lead to Israel's 4th election in a span of 2 years. The dissolution bill would normally require two more  readings before it is passed - but  there could be an automatic dissolution as an alternative.  Or there could still be a last minute compromise.

Netanyahu's Likud party entered into a coalition agreement with Benny Gantz's Blue and White party following the March 2020 election.  One of the terms of the agreement was that the coalition would pass budgets for 2020 and 2021 in the Knesset.  But the coalition agreement also included a term that  stated if the government fell for any reason - other than a disagreement over the budget - Gantz would become the "interim Prime Minister" until after the election.  If the government were to fall because of a disagreement over the budget, then Netanyahu would continue to be the Prime Minister until the next government is formed.

Netanyahu was  not happy with this coalition from the  start, since it was not willing to grant him the retroactive immunity bill that he has been seeking to extricate himself from all of his legal troubles.  So he has been biding his time, waiting for his poll numbers to rise, and looking for an opportunity to call another election when conditions are more favourable in the  hope that he can piece together a right-wing coalition that will  give him  the  immunity that he has long sought.  He has refused to pass budgets either for 2020 or for 2021, since passing a budget would leave him vulnerable to losing his position, even on an interim basis.

Covid-19 has continued to hamper Netanyahu's plans.  His criminal  trial  has been delayed by a month and is scheduled to continue in early February 2021.  So he is really hoping  that an election can be  called before then, that he can delay the trial due to the election and that he can win the election and  pass an immunity bill.

Can he do all of this?   Well, Netanyahu now has a plan.  The Israeli government has  been buying  massive quantities  of vaccine, from Pfizer and Moderna as well as any other company that might have vaccinations to sell.  Okay, maybe not the Russian vaccine though there have apparently been some tests of that  one in Israel. Nyet, thanks.  In any event,  according to some reports, Israel will have more than 4 million vaccines available by late December or  early January, from Pfizer and Moderna, enough to vaccinate almost half of the population.

I read yesterday that Canada was getting ready to roll out  350,000 vaccines for a population of more than 30 million.  That number sounded very low.   Contrast that to Israel's plan to vaccinate a  huge percentage of the population by mid to late winter.  Maybe the numbers were way off. 

If the vaccine has been rolled out before the next Israeli election and it seems to be working - and the economy starts to improve - it is quite imaginable that Netanyahu will get the win he wants and get his "get out of jail free" card.  Of course the opposition is trying to schedule the election as quickly as possible, while the numbers show some possibility that Netanyahu may not win.  But it looks like it will be hard to bet against Netanyahu, especially if the vaccine works and the economy begins to pick up again.

Travel

One of the big accomplishments for the current Israel government has been the establishment of peace deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.  The UAE has indicated that it is very interested in a "warm peace" with wide-ranging cooperation in technological, medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical and military areas as well as  tourism.  Israeli and UAE airlines are now able to overfly Saudi Arabia and get to Dubai in about 3 hours.  To foster this tourism, the UAE has been  designated as a "green" destination, which means that 14 day isolation is not required for returning tourists.   Kosher food is available in Dubai for those who want it and Israelis are being  encouraged to visit and are being welcomed warmly.  I haven't heard of anyone visiting Bahrain or Sudan but thousands of Israelis, even in the  midst of this pandemic, are visiting Dubai.  Some Israeli ultra-religious groups have held weddings in Dubai - bringing the whole entourage there to ensure a restriction-free wedding.  Others are going to the UAE just to be able to go somewhere and get out of Israel for a bit.  

For those of us looking to fly to Canada, that still involves a 14 day quarantine - in both directions - which seems a bit impractical.  Maybe I'll manage to get an early vaccine  and that will help things.  Or maybe we'll go with the herd and visit the UAE.  Not too likely at this point.

TV

Over the past few month, we have watched some excellent TV series.  Most recently, we watched the Israeli-produced series "Valley  of Tears"  ("Sha'at Ne'ilah" in Hebrew) - about the 1973 Yom Kippur war.  The series aired over 8 weeks beginning in mid-October.  It is a 10 part series but double episodes were shown at the beginning and the end.  The final episode was last night.   It was very intense.  Excellent acting and very powerful.   The series follows two particular units, an intelligence unit and a tank unit and delves into the personal stories of many of the combatants, on the Israeli side.  It is a shocking reminder of the horrors of the Yom Kippur war and, really the horrors of any war.  At  times, it is graphic and  difficult to watch and it is quite stressful.  

After each episode, the Israel TV station had a panel discussion with surviving soldiers who had fought in the battle and discussed their experiences, their comments on the series, and the impact on their lives.  These discussions were as moving and emotionally draining as the show itself.  

Although there  were some unrealistic parts, in some of the early episodes in particular, the series has received favourable reviews.  Veterans have commented that the  last two episodes were incredibly realistic and have generally been grateful that the series has raised the consciousness of so many people about the Yom Kippur War.  Valley of Tears is now showing on HBO  Max, though I am not sure how Canadians can watch it.  Sderot.tv is probably an option.

A few months earlier, we watched the Israeli series Tehran about an Israeli agent, sent to disable the Iranian central electrical system to assist Israel with a strike on the Iranian nuclear reactors.   This was also fascinating.  Although much of it seemed much less realistic and believable than other TV series, it did seem reasonably balanced and had many parts that seemed very plausible.   Tehran is showing on Apple TV in North America.

We also watched "The  Queen's Gambit" recently, which is probably less related to this blog - though all three of us thought it was amazing (there were only 3 in the house at the time...).  I think it is on Netflix everywhere.  With its range of themes including gender equality (in the chess world and otherwise), addiction, competition and the power of chess, it is quite an impressive production.

Cooking

My ongoing  quest to make the perfect Humus continues.  I think I have been doing a pretty good job.  Recipe available on request.  For a while we were buying humus from a local humus shop.  While it was quite good and reasonably priced - I felt it had too much cumin in it for my taste.  So I decided to see if I could get my own homemade humus to compete for the hearts and taste buds of our family members.  Last  Friday's humus was probably our best batch yet, made with extra large chick peas, soaked over night - and then peeled individually after boiling.  Sure it was labour intensive  but very creamy and smooth.  

To  go with the humus, I have also been making Zhoug, a  Yemenite-Israeli hot sauce that combines hot peppers with fresh cilantro leaves and a  range of spices in small quantities - ground coriander, cumin, cardamon, cloves, black pepper and  maybe  even  a touch of  cinnamon.   This has also been a big hit - even among the hard to please Yemenite critics who have sampled it.

Next up of course will be latkes for Chanuka though I expect that we will just make the classic traditional type.  It's only once a year - a few latkes can't be that bad, can they?


On  the purely random side, I thought I would  add in this picture that I took in Tel-Aviv last week.  This bird was so close and so interested in posing that I had to oblige.

We were right near Rabin Square.   The nearby park area was filled with people  even in the midst of the pandemic.   Apparently, restaurants are serving "take-out packages" that include a blanket, a basket and everything you need to take the meal and go sit in the park and eat it.  Apparently  you return the blanket  and basket etc., when you are  done.  People are constantly coming up with ways to try and  do "normal" things in these pandemic times.

For my last  note,  I couldn't  resist including  this picture of a coffee cup that I saw in a small store.  As you may be able to see, there is a Hebrew blessing written on the mug.

You might be familiar with a blessing called "she'hechyanu"  - which is recited on festive holydays, joyous life cycle events - and other occasions.  It essentially thanks God for "giving us life, sustaining us  and  enabling us to reach this moment."  This coffee  cup changed the blessing a bit to give thanks for "giving us life, sustaining us and  enabling us to reach coffee time."  It is a very applicable blessing for many of my good friends, family members and completely unrelated readers who  love a good cup of coffee.

Here's hoping that the bright lights of the holiday season  - whether the candles we will soon light on Chanukah - or the Christmas lights for those celebrating later this month - will bring us all some real brightness, warmth and joy - and hopefully usher in a much better 2021!

Best of health to everyone.



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Two Tracks of Craziness


Israel, like much of the rest of the world is facing an ever-growing and severe spread of the Coronavirus.  The Israeli government has taken several increasingly aggressive steps to slow the spread of the virus, the most recent of which came into effect last night.  At the same time, the country continues to face a political crisis which has not yet been resolved.  No government has been formed and the country is currently running on an interim government and could well wind up with a fourth round of elections.  Either of these issues would normally be enough to occupy media coverage twenty-four hours a day on its own.  With constant reporting about both issues, along with news from many other parts of the world dealing with Coronavirus, things are very stressful here.

As of the writing of this blog, Israel has more than 200 confirmed cases of Coronavirus.  Fortunately, there have not yet been any fatalities, though there are a few patients in serious condition. 

Last week, Israel began instituting restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.  Within days, things went from a restriction on no more than 1,000 people at a gathering - to a maximum of 10 people.  By the end of last week, the Israeli government had closed schools, universities, and other large institutions.  Effective this morning, restaurants, recreational establishments, malls, gyms and other establishments had been ordered closed.  Supermarkets, drug stores and private businesses (in other industries) have been left open.  Public transport is still running. Anyone arriving in Israel is required, by force of law, to self-quarantine for 14 days.  But many airlines have suspended service to Tel-Aviv.  I have decided to stay here and work remotely, at least until after Pesach.  The restrictions in Canada and the United States will probably soon catch up to those that have been implemented in Israel.

Israel has not yet gotten to where France and Spain are - effectively instituting martial law - preventing anyone from leaving the house - without a proper reason.  But I believe that will be  following soon, perhaps by the end of the week, perhaps by next week.

This afternoon, we went out for a walk.  Surprisingly, we saw many places open that, seemingly, were not supposed to be. Falafel places, Shawarma places and bakery/cafes.  Restaurants that are only restaurants are either closed or are running take out service/ delivery service only.  But other places seem to be operating, oblivious to the directive.  Not sure what will be open in the coming days.

Many business owners are complaining about the lack of support measures behind these steps along with the disparate application.  For example, a drug store that is inside a mall is now closed whereas one on a main street is open.  Some falafel places and bakeries are open but full service restaurants  are closed.  Many of the people who work in these establishments are very vulnerable financially and may have no support.  Many of the owners are vulnerable as well.  They have rent to pay, lines of credit, tax installments etc., none of which are being frozen.  But all income has come to a halt.  It seems to me that this is only an interim step that will last a few days - until we get to a full closure that looks more like what is going on in Rome, Madrid or Paris.  It is all placing the whole country under tremendous pressure, though that is not very different from many other places around the world. 

The decisions are being made by the current interim government, led by Netanyahu.  Although many experts seem to agree with most of the steps taken by the country to fight the community spread aggressively, there are certainly well-founded concerns about the manner in which these dramatic decisions are being made. 

Netanyahu does not have a majority of Knesset members supporting him.  He has, thus far, only been able to muster 58 supporters - with the opposition holding 62.  The Blue and White party has been willing to support the measures  he has taken thus far - but in the circumstances, they should be an integral part of the decision making. 

The difficulty is that Netanyahu is fighting the spread of the Coronovirus - while fighting a concurrent personal battle to deal with the criminal charges he is facing - and while trying to find three Knesset members to switch sides and support him in building a government.  So it is natural that many Israelis have a reasonable level of suspicion and skepticism about decisions he is making.  At the same time, most recognize the urgency of the situation and are hoping that these measures will slow the spread in Israel and keep the country from getting to the situation that some other countries are now facing.

Last night, Netanyahu announced that the government was in an emergency situation - and that all gatherings of more than 10 people would be barred.  He did not mention his upcoming criminal trial (which was scheduled to start on Tuesday March 17, 2020).  Instead, his key advisors notified the press at about 1:30 a.m. (more than 3 1/2 hours after his main announcement) that a side effect of his various measures would be the delay of the trial by at least two months.

Today, Netanyahu called for an immediate "emergency government" with the Blue and White Party.  He provided his conditions - in the form of two options.  Either a temporary government of six months - with Netanyahu at the helm - or a four year government with a two year rotation for each party - and Netanyahu would go first.  In both cases, he made the proposals as someone who had won the election and held all of the cards.  Mathematically, however, this is not the case.  The Blue and White party is still responding to these proposals.

Today was also the day when all of the Knesset party leaders were supposed to meet with the President (following the recent election) and indicate who they were supporting to put together a government.  Apparently 62 Knesset Members recommended Gantz, which may give Gantz the right to first try and put together a government, albeit one that is reliant on 15 Knesset members from the Joint List (An Arab party which includes  2-3 anti-Zionist communists).  Netanyahu has attacked this type of government wildly and has all but threatened violence to prevent  it.

Weighed against all of this, many feel that Netanyahu has handled the Coronavirus crisis well to this point.  Netanyahu is hoping that if the general public feels that way (and presumably, if his measures prove successful) - he may be able to muster a few more seats and get to 61 for him and his coalition in a 4th election.  This could also allow him to pass legislation that would provide him with immunity for his criminal proceedings.  So I would say that there is a definite and growing sense that Netanyahu is hoping that a fourth election in September or October would allow him a shot a forming a government that has eluded him in the first three election attempts.

At the same time, that is only really relevant if the country can succeed in getting the spread of the virus under control and in limiting casualties.  If things get out of control, all of the talk about the formation of the government will be a much more minor concern.  We can only hope that the measures that have been taken so far and the additional measures that are going to be taken are the proper ones to address this world wide epidemic.  We can also hope that, at some point, the different Knesset members will find a reasonable way to resolve this governmental stalemate.











 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Israeli Elections 2020

The results are in from the 3rd consecutive Israeli election within a span of a year and they are just about final.  More than 99% of the ballots have been counted.  The final result?  No clear winner.

I think it is fair to say that Israel is in the midst of a constitutional crisis.  The country is split down the middle between right and left and the two sides have not been able to compromise and form a government.  Nothing from the most recent election (on Monday March 2, 2020) suggests that this is about to change.

Here are the current results (which are likely to be certified in the coming days):

Likud (Bibi's party):                                                     36 seats (+4)
Blue and White (Led by Benny Gantz):                       33 seats (No change)
Joint List (Arab party):                                                 15 seats (+2)
Shas (Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Party)                             9 seats (No change)
Yehadut HaTorah (Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party:     7 seats (No change)
Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman's party) (Right Secular):     7 seats  (-1)
Avoda/Meretz/Gesher (The Left)                                    7 seats (-4)
Yamina (The Right)  (Naftali Bennett)                            6 seats (-1)

I have included in brackets the change for each party over the last election results from September 2019.  Prime Minister Netanyahu ran  with a "right bloc" which included Likud, Shas, Yehadut HaTorah and Yamina.  His bloc wound up with 55 seats in September 2019 and has now increased to 58.  However, a majority in the Israeli Knesset is 61 (out of 120).  Without 61, a government cannot be formed since the "bloc" cannot control the Knesset.

Over the course of the past three elections, including the most recent one, Netanyahu has insisted that his "bloc" will stay together and not be broken up.  In any coalition talks with other parties, he has maintained that any government will include all of these parties.  The difficulty is that all of the remaining parties oppose significant parts of the agenda that these 4 parties are proffering.  Blue and White, Yisrael Beitenu and, AMG are all looking to reduce the power of the ultra-religious, at least to some extent.

The bigger issue has been a key demand made by Netanyahu.  As you may know, he is currently facing three separate, serious criminal indictments.  His trial is due to start in about two weeks, though it may take a year or two until it is completed.  His party has been insisting on two different laws (bills to be passed) as part of any coalition agreement. One law would grant him retroactive immunity from prosecution while holding office.  Some forms of this law would allow him to be prosecuted after leaving office while others would immunize him outright.  The other bill would ensure that the Supreme Court cannot strike down the first law - by allowing the Knesset to override any decision of the Supreme Court.  Both of these bills are acceptable to Netanyahu's bloc partners. But neither bill is acceptable to any other party.

The main reason that a coalition agreement could not be reached after the past two elections was that no  other parties were prepared to accede to Netanyahu's demands for retroactive immunity.  He had to keep going with additional elections until he could get 61 supporters to pass these bills.  It was literally life or death for him politically.  Without immunity, he risks going to prison, if convicted.

On Monday night, after the election, as exit poll results were coming in, Netanyahu claimed that he had won an "enormous victory."  His expectation was that he would be able to reach 61 seats, put together his right wing coalition and legislate away his criminal problems.  For a while, that looked like it might happen.  His supporters were seen dancing, singing songs of victory and celebrating wildly.

But  as the real results dripped in slowly, the picture began to change.  Netanyahu wound up with a bloc of only 58 seats, three short of a majority.

On Tuesday, he sent out all of his key advisors and former ministers to argue on TV and radio appearances that he had won the election, that the Israeli public had made a decision and that he should now be able to form the government.  The problem is that this was premature and inaccurate.  While he had won 3 more seats than the Blue and White party and that gave him a plurality, it was not enough to give him a majority.  58 Knesset members have been elected in support of Netanyahu and his bloc but 62 have been elected to oppose that bloc.  Most people, though not everyone these days, agree that 62 is more than 58.

By Wednesday morning, the opposition parties - sometimes described as centre-left together with the Joint List, were proposing a law that would bar a leader under indictment from serving as Prime Minister.  If they are able to pass this law, Netanyahu would be out of cards to play other than perhaps an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court to override the law.  (From a legal perspective, there is a reasonable argument that it is an improper law since it would be enacted after Bibi won the election).  It is almost like fighting one retroactive proposal by enacting another one.  Not the strategy I might have chosen, but the opposition seems to believe that this would be the best way to avoid a fourth election.

So Bibi, as he is affectionately called, took to the airwaves for a press conference.  He held a press conference that was nationally televised.  He went through the math as he sees it.  He said that there were 58 votes for the "Israeli, Jewish, Zionist right."  On the other hand, he argued that there were only 47 for the "Israeli, Jewish, Zionist left." (He included Lieberman).  He  noted that the Arab party had won 15 seats but he marked a big X through that number and said that they effectively did not count.  (See photo above).  Even though these seats represented 15 democratically, legally elected members of the Knesset.

He then said that "we won this election and we are not going to allow anyone to steal it from us."

Very strong words indeed.  Especially coming from someone who has lost - 62-58.

With all of that having taken place, we are now left with trying to figure out what comes next.  I have to say that I really have no idea.

Here are some options:

1.  Netanyahu and the Likud could  convince 3 or more Knesset members to "defect" from their parties and join him to allow him to form a 61+ seat majority.  This seems quite unlikely right now.  It would require some members of the Blue and White party or the AMG to join him.  While there may be some Blue and White party members who are ideologically close to Bibi, I just don't see them moving over at this time.

2.  Netanyahu could negotiate some kind of coalition with Blue and White.  I can't imagine that they would give him the immunity he is seeking and this might involve a rotation of Prime Ministers.  Seems unlikely right now but anything is possible.

3.  A fourth election.  Even though it makes no sense and seems  unlikely to resolve  anything, it may well be a possible outcome.

4.  Netanyahu forced to resign as a result of a left-sponsored bill that bars him from being Prime Minister while under indictment.  This would allow Likud and Blue and White to reach a coalition deal fairly quickly.  It seems to me that this might happen after a fourth election but not necessarily now.

In the meantime, Israel has no real government, only a caretaker government with limited powers and a limited budget.  Many government operations are underfunded and being neglected.  The country needs a government but there is no obvious solution as to how that is about to occur.  Especially given the political deadlock.

The next few weeks will be fascinating politics.  We can only hope that sooner or later Israel will have a stable government.  Unfortunately, it is hard to see how that will take place in the near future.