Showing posts with label U of T Encampment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U of T Encampment. Show all posts

Sunday, July 7, 2024

July 2024 Israel Update

We are into the summer months - where it is, of course, very hot here in Israel.  It has been 9 months since Hamas launched its massive terrorist operation and massacre in Israel - and the war is still continuing on several fronts.  So, in my normal blog style, I am writing a few comments about how  things are seen here, where things might be headed - and some other remarks that come to mind.  I'll add in a bit of sports and other comments for fun.

The War

I think in wartime, it is very hard to get any really accurate news.  So my comments are really limited to what I gather from a variety of sources including Israeli news (Ynet Hebrew, the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel, Haaretz, Channels 11, 12 and 13 (we don't watch Israeli channel 14 - which is like Fox news but but with less truth and even more extremism).  I also try to read articles in the New York Times, CNN, the Canadian newspapers - and sometimes, for a totally different perspective (though not that often) Al Jazeera.

The war with Hamas in Gaza is continuing on.  Some reports seem to be indicating that the Israeli army is close to determining that it has defeated most of the Hamas armed brigades and that it can only continue with small scale operations.  At the same time, there are still somewhere in the range  of 120 hostages in Gaza, though we do not not how many are still alive - and the main leaders of Hamas including Yihyeh Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh are still alive. I believe that the army planned to conclude this operation in a much shorter time period.  

Things have been slow partially because Israeli has gone out of its way to minimize civilian casualties and partially because the army has also made efforts to minimize Israeli military casualties.  On the Israeli side, 679 soldiers have been killed since October 7, 2023, of whom 323 have been killed in fighting since October 27, 2023.  The official Israeli government site lists a further 4,000 soldiers as having been wounded.

According to Hamas sources, estimates of Palestinians killed are in the range of 35,000.  However, that does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.  Israel had estimated that Hamas had about 30,000 fighters divided into 5 divisions before October 7, 2023.  Israeli military reports indicate that quite a large number of these fighters have been killed or wounded in fighting.  Many others have been captured.  Some Israeli reports had put the percentages at 50-60% of the Palestinian  casualties.  We also know that Hamas tends to exaggerate its numbers.  So there is a strong likelihood that the number of military casualties on the Palestinian side is in the the range of 15,000-20,000, perhaps even more - and the total number of civilian casualties in closer to the range of 10,000.  We do not know the exact numbers but the Israeli troops are not out there fighting and killing civilians.  They are fighting armed military units and it is very likely that this would account for most of the casualties on the Palestinian side.

The point is that the allegations of "genocide" being thrown around against Israel are clearly ridiculous by any sane definition or measure.  It actually degrades the meaning of the word "genocide" to try and suggest that Israel's war against Gaza - falls into the category of situations around the world where civilians are massacred en masse, deliberately - or to even begin to compare this situation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust or to the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks, the Rwandan genocide or other such atrocities.

There are many reports that suggest that a deal to end the Gaza war is being negotiated but I am not holding my breath at this point, for several reasons.

First of all, at this point, Hamas is looking for a deal where they will return about 22 live hostages (out of about 120) and still stay in power.  Although much of Gaza will have been devasted, Hamas will sell that as a big "win" and will try to rebuild its forces, restock its ammunition and get ready for another round.  This would be a major defeat for Israel - and would leave us with another ticking time bomb.  

It is unclear that Netanyahu is even interested in this type of deal, even though the U.S. is pushing for it, and it is unclear that he can muster political support for it.  Many Israelis, even those who do not support Netanyahu would like to see  a more decisive defeat of Hamas which seems attainable, according to Israeli military sources.  

At the same time, Hamas does not seem that eager for a deal either.  They figure that they have picked up major international support for this war - especially from the despicable leadership of countries like Ireland, Spain and Norway - and they do not really care about civilian casualties.  They would prefer to be able to consolidate power, rebuild and restock and argue that they could not be defeated by Israel - even if that means thousands of additional Palestinian casualties.

Concurrently, Israel is fighting an active war with Hezbollah up north, Iran's proxy forces.   Every day, Israel has been subjected to barrages of rocket attacks, missile attacks and rpgs.  Thousands of Israelis have evacuated their homes and the border towns are all ghost towns - other than military personnel.  Soldiers and civilians are being killed - and shockingly, Israel's Prime Minister, Netanyahu, previously self-described as "Mr. Security" has done very little to counter all of this.

Many in Israel are calling for a major war in Lebanon to fight Hezbollah and try to move the Hezbollah forces out of the border area in Lebanon.  It is hard to say what will happen but this seems very likely.  There is a possibility that some kind of deal with Hamas will also bring about a deal with Hezbollah.  But a Hezbollah deal seem even less likely than a Hamas deal since Israel would need guarantees that the Hezbollah forces would move back from the border and refrain from attacking Israel. There is such a deal in place from 2016 but Hezbollah has simply refused to honour it.  Any such deal would need enforcement provisions, "teeth" and perhaps real international guarantors.  I suppose anything can happen, but it seems that a major war with Lebanon is more likely than a deal of this type.

Of course the other major threat is an all out war with Iran.  Israeli historian Benny Morris (who at one time was a far left historian and then later moved to the right) has called for Israel to launch an all out war against Iran as the only way of defeating the threat from Hezbollah, Hamas and other enemies and to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat against Israel.  While there is some logic to this given that this whole war has been a proxy war with Iran, I hardly think that Israel, with its 10 million people - is in a position to start launching all out wars on the whole middle east with hundreds of millions of enemies. 

Perhaps Netanyahu is hoping that Trump will win the U.S. election - and will actively support an all out war against Iran.  Or at least the threat of one.  I'm not sure what to say about this - other than it would really throw the whole region into something massive and unpredictable.  As if things are not already difficult enough here. Contrary to Netanyahu's expectations, even if Trump wins, I think it is far from predictable that Trump would support the kinds of activities that Netanyahu has in mind.  

Ultimately the difficulty we have in Israel is that we have a leader, Netanyahu, whose decisions are necessarily coloured by his own political and legal predicament.  If the war ends, his coalition might fall.  His trial might continue.  A national inquiry might be launched.   He could face all kinds of personal and political challenges - that he views as worse than continuing the war.  He could even face new and additional criminal charges.  Yes, this is a cynical view but it is compelling.

Under Netanyahu, who was supposed to provide security, deterrence and a strong military, Israel has never been weaker, even though he has his dream "fully right wing" coalition in place.  The war with Hamas has taken much longer than expected, the hostages have not been released, the leaders of Hamas are still in place and a large number of soldiers have been killed or injured.  

In the north, thousands of Israelis are still displaced, Hezbollah has been attacking Israel at will, and Israel has done very little to respond.  The economy in Israel has faced all kinds of challenges - and relatively few airlines are flying here.  There is simply no way to assess this situation as favourable for Netanyahu unless one is completely blinded by support for him and his party.

Other Israeli Politics

Despite all of the above, Netanyahu's coalition can stay in power until October 2026 unless one of the parties leaves the coalition.  Two of the parties are ultra-orthodox and would have nowhere to go politically.  One of the parties is made up of far-right extremists and they would also have nowhere else to go politically.  So as long as things don't change  dramatically, his government is fairly "safe" for now, contrary to whatever his political opponents or other  commentators might say.

The one potential way that the government could collapse is if his own party collapses internally.  This possibility has been increasing but is still relatively low.

Just to review a few possible issues - Netanyahu's coalition partners have demanded a few things and some members of his own party - have been reluctant to support them.

One major demand of the ultra-orthodox is a blanket military exemption for all "ultra-orthodox" males up to the age of 25.  There were different proposed pieces of legislation in place - and the Israeli supreme Court had issued an ultimatum that this needed to be addressed by June 1, 2024.  When the date came and went and there was still no legislation, the Supreme Court ordered the conscription of the ultra-orthodox.

As a result, the ultra-orthodox have been demanding that the coalition pass a bill to protect them from this Supreme Court decision. (Referred to by opponents as the "Draft Evasion Bill").  Netanyahu is willing to do so. After all, he will do anything to stay in power, seemingly.  But there are more and more rumblings in his party - Likud members who have begun to come out and say that they will not support  this type of bill.  This could lead to a no-confidence motion or it could lead to Netanyahu withdrawing the bill -  and the ultra-orthodox might decide to pull the plug. All in all, I think the latter option is unlikely since any deal they might get would be worse after an election and they know that.

I have to point out that, at the same time, the IDF has indicated that it needs more recruits in the short and long term.  The ultra-orthodox answer is to extend the service time for  existing conscripts and reserve soldiers.  This type of bill has been floated.  But once again - there is quite a bit of resistance to this from other Likud MKs in the governing coalition.

The ultra-orthodox have also been trying to pass another bill - to provide for the centralized hiring of some 600 ultra-orthodox rabbis by the State and to give them the authority to take over religious control of towns and cities across Israel.  This bill has been referred to by opponents as the "Rabbi corruption law."  Once again, a number of Likud members have come forward and stated that they will not support this bill.  So this is another potential area where things could explode.

The far right coalition members have different ideas. They would like annex the west bank, build settlements in Gaza, continue the war - and generally avoid any kind of deal with the Palestinians.  They are threatening to bolt the government if Netanyahu actually reaches a deal with Hamas.  A deal could be saved by the support of other non-coalition Knesset members but this would cause the government to collapse.

Many Israelis listened attentively as the U.S. Supreme Court granted wide reaching immunity to President Trump for various alleged criminal conduct.  Before this whole war broke out with Hamas, Israel had been gripped in a national fight over proposed judicial reform by Netanyahu and his political partners.  The proposed reforms were intended, ultimately, to do exactly what Trump succeeded in doing in the U.S.  Stack the court with a bunch of right wing idealogues who would do whatever he wanted - and then grant  him wide ranging immunity from any criminal charges.  Netanyahu, like Trump, figured that this would be his "get of jail free" card.  So far, Netanyahu has not yet succeeded and the war has probably set him back quite a bit politically in his efforts to get this done.  Netanyahu is, however, looking enviously at Mr. Trump - who probably had quite the celebration  when the Supreme Court immunity decision  came out.

One more comment on Israeli politics.  The Labour Party and the Meretz Party have banded together to form one left wing bloc - though they still have to formally approve the merger.  The party is being led by Yair Golan.  Golan is a  former Israeli general who saved many Israelis on October 7, 2024 when he rushed into action and became a "one-man army" driving around, fighting Hamas terrorists and rescuing Israelis.  He is forceful, opinionated and resolute.  On the one hand, he is of course, a supporter of a strong IDF and not afraid to use IDF forces where appropriate.  On the other hand, he is very much in favour of finding a long term resolution with the Palestinians that is workable - and of protecting democracy in Israel from the threats of those that have been in power currently.  I am not thrilled that they have decided to call the party "the Democrats."  I would have suggested something more Israeli, with less baggage and less Americanized.  At the same time - I think they are likely to do quite well in a national election - and that much of their expected gains will come at the expense of Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz.  But we may not know until 2026.


Israelis are huge soccer fans, as you know, so the big news here has been the FIFA Euro 2024 Soccer Tournament. Everyone is watching even though Israelis don't really have a horse in the race.  The games are on at a reasonable time and the soccer is at the highest level in the world (just about).  Once the Euro tournament is over, Israelis will look forward to watching the Israeli national team compete in the men's Olympic soccer tournament for only the second time in Israel's history. Israel will play Mali, Paraguay and Japan.  That should be very exciting. Maybe Israel can come up with a win  or two - and advance to the next round.

My preferred sport as you know is ice hockey.  I stayed up some very late nights to watch the Stanley Cup finals and cheer for the only remaining Canadian team. It was a tough loss for the Edmonton Oilers - but the fact that the Oilers were able to come back from a 3-0 deficit and get to a game 7 was really incredible.  

So with no more ice hockey, I have turned my attention to watching some of the "Coppa America" - the North/South America FIFA soccer tournament.   As you might know, the Canadian national team has advanced to the  semi-finals and will play Argentina on Tuesday night.  That is the furthest any Canadian team has ever advanced in a top level soccer tournament.  While it is expected that Canada will get pummeled by Argentina - anything can happen in one game.  Maybe Canada can pull out a big surprise and get to a final against the winner of Uruguay-Columbia.

I can't say that I have watched very much baseball as the Blue Jays have been atrocious and baseball does  not attract very much viewership at all here.  I'm still happy to go to a game or two when I am in Toronto - and to support the kosher food provider there - that expanded the menu this year.  But it is really more about spending time with friends, enjoying the weather etc., than watching the underperforming Jays play.

Other Comments - Worldwide Protests and Anti-Semitism

I couldn't let this blog conclude without a few other comments on this issue.  As you many know, pro-Hamas "encampments" have been put up all over the U.S. and Canada - and many other places around the world.  

In Toronto, a bunch of hoodlums - (let's not mince words - we can also use "terrorism supporters") invaded the University of Toronto and put up a tent encampment.   They set up their own "security forces" and  controlled entry to the area. They chanted antisemitic slogans, harassed students and others and occupied a chunk of U of T property.  And of course demanded that U of T "divest" from anything to do with Israel.  In what sane universe is this permissible?  U of T should have called in the police immediately, to remove and/or arrest all involved.  This should not  have been allowed to last even one day. I think the University of Alberta took the proper approach when it cleared out a similar encampment immediately. 

But instead, the encampment remained in place for approximately two months.  U of T went to court to get an injunction and the Ontario Superior Court issued a 61 page decision last week - ordering the protesters to dismantle the  encampment and leave  - which they did.  The decision was striking.  The Judge spent the majority of the decision making all kinds of unnecessary comments and  findings that had nothing to do with the real issues - and were simply bad precedents.  In the decision, Justice Koehnen of the Ontario Superior Court, bent over backwards to find that the actions of the protestors were not "antisemitic" or violent  and seems to even suggest that their demands were justified.  Thankfully, he also concluded that the University of Toronto had no legal obligation to negotiate with this band of thugs and that there is no legal right to simply build an encampment and take over a property that belongs to someone else.  From my perspective, this probably should have been a three page decision with those conclusions.

But Israel continues to face these kinds of challenges all around the world from Pro-Hamas/Pro-Palestinian demonstrators who are calling for the destruction of Israel.  Israeli PR efforts have fallen short (other than some major crusaders like Noa Tishby - who has been phenomenal).  This is partially attributable to the disarray of the current Israeli government and its inability to appoint or designate proper and  competent people to lead these efforts.

There are probably other things that I need to cover, but I will have to leave some topics for next time.  My plans to be back in Toronto  were delayed for a bit due to personal reasons but I am hoping to be back in mid-July.  Wishing everyone the best of health - and wishing for peaceful times for all of us, Israel and all of its neighbours (as well as other locations around the world), the release of all of our hostages and the safety of our soldiers.  We are thinking of all of the families of victims, casualties and losses since October 7, 2023 and hoping for better times.