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).
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!