Showing posts with label Yair Lapid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yair Lapid. Show all posts

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.









Sunday, May 30, 2021

In Quarantine - and a Political Comment or Two

As you  might recall from my last blog (if you read it), I arrived on an Air Canada flight early Thursday a.m. and headed off to the Marriott Airport Hotel in Toronto for my "up to three day quarantine."  I took my Covid test on Thursay morning at about 6:00 a.m. or so.  After that, I headed off to the hotel on the Hotel Shuttle Bus - which was about a half hour wait.  I was put on a  "Covid floor" at the Marriott - where you are not supposed to leave your room - and meals are delivered three times a day.  Thankfully the internet service was decent.

Urban Kosher Lunch

I had ordered Kosher food and the meals were supplied by Urban Kosher, which is part of L'Chaim Catering.  The food was fine.  Breakfast both days was an omelet, grilled tomatoes, hashbrowns, a fruit cup and a muffin (one day blueberry, one day cranberry, in case you are wondering...).  The fruit cup was quite good with fresh berries, pineapple, dragonfruit, and some other fresh fruit.  Lunch on thursday was two sandwiches - one of cold grilled chicken, the other of cold roast beef.  It also came with a big chocolate cup cake, some celery and some carrots.  The lunch was, perhaps, the "weak link."  Dinner on Thursday was a grilled chicken breast in a terryaki sauce with mashed potatoes and a giant piece of chocolate cake along with a Caesar salad (pareve of course).  I appreciate that the Marriott arranged these  meals without any additional cost (unlike some of the other hotels that I called) and the food quality was fine, better than an airplane meal for sure.  My only criticism is that the caterer is apparently a meat and pareve caterer - so there are no dairy meals.  I would have prefered them to use a dairy caterer for the breakfast so that they could provide yogurt, cheese etc.,  But for a relatively short stay,  that is not a huge complaint.  Breakfast and dinner were served warm and the food was tasty.  Kol  Hakavod to Urban Kosher.
Lunch  Sandwiches

The Marriott provides some coupons for some cappucinos.  So I was able to call room service and order cappucinos.  I asked them to use the coupons to cover the cost of the coffees and they were happy to do so.  The coffee was pretty good - Illy coffee - so I had  two nice cappucinos with breakfast each day.

By 10:30 a.m. on Friday, I received my results, negative of course (since I have been vaccinated twice), and I was free to leave.  I still had a work meeting so I couldn't leave until about 1 p.m.  But at the time  I received the test results, I also received a message from the ArriveCan app asking me to confirm that I was "leaving the Hotel" and to confirm "where I would be spending the rest of my quarantine." 

Chocolate Layer Cake

In other words - these three are working together - ArriveCan, Switchhealth.ca  and the hotels.  They want to get you the results within one  day - and then ensure that you leave the hotel asap.   They know, in advance, that is how things will work but still insist that you buy a three day, pre-paid, non refundable hotel stay.  I tried asking at the hotel desk if there was anything they could do - but they were resolute and hid behind the Canadian government ("the Canadian government insists that it be a  three day non-refundable rate - we can't do anything about it.").  I have heard that some of the hotels are offering some refund if you leave early - but I'm not sure which.  I wanted to ensure that I had the Kosher  food - so I didn't find any of these hotels that were offering a partial refund.  Perhaps I will write to the Marriott as well but I doubt I will get anywhere.

It seems to me that a class action lawsuit against the  government of Canada would probably succeed. Under the Canadian Constitution - the Charter - the government could probably show that there was a "pressing and substanial need" due to the pandamic - to override the rights of Canadians.  That is  fine.  But under section 1 of the Charter, the government is also required to show that it infringed on people's rights to the minimum extent possible.  Here, I think they would have a big problem.  Given that people could drive across the border and not go to these hotels - it makes no sense to insist that only air travellers have to pay $1,200 extra or so to buy a "three day prepaid non-refundable" stay whereas those who fly to the U.S.  and take a cab back to Canada can circumvent the  process.  Especially since the government knows and expects that in 95% of the cases, travellers will test negative and will be able to leave within 24 hours.  They could have made it a 24 hour stay - and pushed to get the results within that time frame.  Or they could have insisted that everyone - land travellers and air travellers - stay the full three days.  This would have been drastic - but it would have been equal and fair to everyone.  There are probably many other possible solutions as well.  The point here is that a three day mandatory, non-refundable, stay is a significant overreach and  is not likely to meet a proportionality test, in my view.  Then again, I'm only an employment lawyer, so what do I know?

I expect that in the coming weeks, this policy will be abandoned and the government will start recognizing vaccination certificates.  I don't plan on bringing the class action lawsuit myself - but  I'm quite sure that a properly framed suit would have a very good chance of success.  Maybe someone else will decide to take this on.  

Israeli Political Update

Naftali Bennett
Sitting here in Toronto - I flipped on Israeli news channel 12 to watch two back-to-back press conferences - one by Naftali Bennett and  one by Benjamin Netanyahu.  It was fascinating to watch.  The Israeli public is really divided and there are protesters outside everywhere across the country - rallying either in favour of this new potential "change government" that Bennett is trying to form with Lapid or in support  of  Netanyahu and against the Bennett-Lapid plans.

Bennett spoke first. I actually thought it was quite a good speech.  He appealed to Israelis from across the political spectrum to make some compromises, form a stable government and avoid a 5th election.  He noted that he  had made extensive efforts to form a purely right wing government with Netanyahu but they were short of the votes - and it wasn't going to happen.  He stated that his government would not be a "left"  government - but one made up of left and right wing politicians and that it would involve compromises.  He said that some of its members would be "more right wing" than those in the current Netanyahu government.  He prommised that  he was going to make every effort over the coming 48 hours to form such a government - even though his second in command - Ayelet Shaked was not beside him and has not yet fully committed to this plan.  Bennett did not take any  questions.  He will spend the next 48 hours - until Lapid's mandate ends - trying everything he can to finalize arrangements and  take over the government from Netanyahu.

After a short TV break, Netanyahu spoke from a different location.  He was disturbed and unhinged.  He levelled every kind of personal insult at Bennett and repeatedly called Bennett a liar, a flip-flopper and someone who was  forming a left wing government despite the overwhelming support that he enjoyed from the country as the preferred choice for Prime Minister.  He attacked, in personal terms, the leaders and members of the left and centre parties that would make up the potential government - including Lapid, Michaeli, Horowitz and Zandberg.  He warned that this "change" government would be a danger to national security, to the army, to Israel's interests worldwide.  He compared Bennett's plan to take over - to the way governments are run in Syria, Iran and Turkey - governments that are formed, in his view, against the overwhelming national will and electoral preferences.  He said  Bennett was putting himself above the national  interest - and endangering everyone so that he could become the Prime Minister.  Isn't all this quite rich for someone who has dragged the country into four consecutive elections becauses of his personal legal troubles?  The language was Trump-esque - "only I can be the Prime Minister and ensure national security."  This despite the fact that if  Bennett succeeds in forming a government, it will be one that is made up of more than 50% support of the Israeli voting public.

Netanyahu's speech was aimed at members of the Yamina party, especially Shaked, who may not be happy about joining a compromise government.   It was also aimed at Gideon Saar's "New Hope" party - in an effort to try to get some of that party's members to cross the aisle.  As well, it was aimed at Netanyahu's base - and was a call to action for protests, name calling, threats and whatever else over the coming 48 hours.  

It is unclear what will  happen.  I don't think we can rule out the possibility that Netanyahu will somehow suceed in blocking this change government by doing something drastic over the next 48 hours.  He is pulling out  all the stops and exerting the maximum pressure that he can on as many people as possible.  Some of his supporters are calling Bennett and Saar "traitors" and using very extreme language and rhetoric to attack their opponents.  For Netanyahu, if he cannot  block the transfer of power, it will a devastating loss with significant personal ramifactions since he will now have no effective way of slowing, stopping or manipulating his ongoing corruption trial.  

It will be really interesting to see if Bennett and Shaked can withstand all of this pressure and form a change government.  The next 48 hours may  be one  of the most fascinating time periods in Israeli political history.  Hopefully, however things work out, it will all be done peacefully.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

At the Edge of Change? Will Israel get a New Government?

Yair Lapid, Leader of Yesh Atid
We are at an historic crossroads in Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has served as Israel's Prime Minister since 2009.  Over the past three years, he has led his party into four consecutive elections but  has not been able to put together a  stable government.  Plagued by a set of ongoing criminal charges, that are now being heard  in court as I write this blog, Netanyahu has faced an increasingly diverse and growing opposition to his continued rule.

After the last election, Netanyahu reluctantly entered into a rotation government with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz.  But the government was paralyzed by opposing political aspirations and a reluctance by Netanyahu to take any actions that might stabilize the government.  His continued hope was that he could keep holding elections until he could win - and piece together a coalition government that would enable him to legislate an end to his legal problems.  As a result, Netanyahu refused to appoint a wide range of ministers, failed to propose or pass a budget, blocked key committees and generally put up roadblocks to the resolution of a wide range of issues.  Moreover, in some areas, he made key decisions on his  own without even keeping his ministers in the loop.  The government collapsed and a 4th election was held.

Once again, the results were inconclusive.  Netanyahu won a plurality of votes, with an estimated  25% support from the Israeli electorate.  But  even though he and his Likud party won 30 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, he could not seem to garner the support of the additional 31 members needed to form a government.  It was close.  Likud had the support of 16 ultra-religious Knesset members along with 6  members of the extremist Religious Zionist party.  But that only adds up to 52.

Netanyahu figured that he could negotiate with the Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett, which had 7 seats.  Bennett agreed but that only brought the Likud to 59, just two short of a government.  But no one else was budging.  Netanyahu decided that he could woo the support of the Arab party Ra'am to join his coalition with their 4  seats - either as an outside supporter of the government or possibly as a formal coalition member.  This would be a real watershed in Israeli politics - to have an Arab party become a full participant in a government.  But the Religious Zionist party balked and refused to have anything to do with Ra'am or to even consider joining a government that would be supported in any way by Ra'am.

At the same time, the opposition, led by Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid" ("There is a Future") party actively negotiated with Bennett and offered his Yamina party a rotation government with 1.5 to 2 year terms for each leader.  This has been a fascinating exercise in political negotiations.  Yamina is a  right-wing religious party, heavily supported by settlers and other right wing groups.  Yamina's natural coalition partners would be Likud and the Religious Zionist party.  But the party is also more modern and nationlist than the ultra-religious parties that have been the common law spouses of Netanyahu for the past several years.  Unlike the ultra-religious, Yamina is supportive of strong secular education, military service, growth in science and technology  and other areas in which they could find common ground with Yesh Atid. 

This has created some internal division within Yamina.  The second in command, Ayelet Shaked, is a relentless idealogue.  She wants to defang the Israeli Supreme Court (as she  describes it) with plans to limit standing rules, change the judicial appointment process, pass a law that would allow the Knesset by a simple majority to overrule decisions of the court and take other steps to increase the power of the government at the expense of the courts.  She has insisted on being given the Justice  Ministry as part of any coalition agreement. But Lapid and the other prospective coalition partners including Labour, Meretz, Blue and White, and perhaps even Lieberman's party Yisrael Beitenu, all oppose all of these initiatives.  They are all strongly opposed to giving Shaked this ministry.

In my view, finding a way to placate Shaked while not going too far to alienate the  rest of the potential coalition partners will be one of the biggest challenges for Lapid if a government is to be formed.  I am still not entirely convinced that it can be done but I think they now have a better than 50% chance of putting a government in place within the next month or so.  Bennett and Shaked will probably realize that they don't have too many alternatives at this point.  Another election would likely be a disaster for Yamina - as its constituency would probably move right to the Religious Zionist party or left to Likud  or another party.  Plus, this may be  a once in a lifetime chance for Bennett to hold a term as Israel's Prime Minister while having won only 7 seats in a 120 seat parliament.  

If an arrangement can be reached, I do believe that we are likely to see a rocky but stable government which will have a very good chance at making it through the next four years.  It is true that everything  is unpredictable in Israel.  At the same time, I do think that Bennett and Lapid are committed to the idea that if they negotiate a deal, they will stick to it and carry it through.  This directly contrasts with Netanyahu, who clearly had no intention of honouring his deal with Gantz from the outset.  

We will know over the course of the coming month.  If a government cannot be formed, we will be facing a fifth consecutive election.  There is little reason, at this point, to think that a fifth election could provide something that none of the previous four have generated - a workable government.

Tragedy At Meron:

I am not going to write a great deal about the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron last Thursday at which 45 people died but I do have a few comments.  Meron is essentially an ultra-religious  pilgimmage site at which tens of thousands of worshippers gather every year to  pray at the grave of the second century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) to whom authorship of the Zohar has been attributed by many Orthodox Jews.  The site has been a political football for many years in Israel as it has seen the annual arrival of an ever growing number of pilgrims.  Different ultra-religious denominations have insisted on control of the site and have prevented the State from taking responsibility and turning it into a National Religious Site (which would include the active responsibility for ensuring the safety  standards, occupancy levels etc., of the site).  

Last Thursday, by some estimates, more than 100,000 people arrived at a site that is deemed safe for up to 10,000.  Ministers in the current Likud government, at the behest of  their ultra-religious coalition partners, insisted on limiting the State's ability to cap attendance and to oversee the event.  The resulting overcrowding and chaos led to these tragic deaths.

In the aftermath, everyone has pointed the finger at everyone else.  The ultra-religious have blamed the Supreme Court of Israel for refusing to turn the site into a National Religious Site (something the ultra-religious vehemently opposed).  The government ministers have blamed the police, the courts and others.  The sponsoring rabbis have blamed the "shortcomings of the people of Israel."  One influential ultra-religious Rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky said yesterday that the disaster was a "decree from Heaven" and that it could only be prevented by  women observing the laws of modesty more strictly.  Just as an aside, the Meron disaster was pretty much a men-only event.  So it would be quite a head scratcher for anyone to draw this causal connection.  But I digress.

Ultimately, I can only say that it was a horrible event and I offer my sincere condolences to all  of the affected families and my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery for all those who were injured.  I also hope that the government will institute a proper commission of inquiry, take appropriate steps to ensure that it does not happen again and, in general, review procedures for other sites that attract large crowds, including the Kotel and the har habayit/ Dome of the Rock.

Weather and Covid-19

It is very hot here.  Summer has arrived, though not officially.  The forecast for the next few weeks is between 28 and 30 and sunny with few if any clouds to be seen anywhere.  A  very high percentage of the population has been vaccinated.  Restaurants, concert halls, and just about everything else have reopened and there is a real sense of normalcy.  I am concerned that it may be a facade.  Considering the rapid spread of so many  mutations of Covid-19 across the world, it may well be that one or more variants will arrive in Israel that will send us back to a full closure.  I hope that this will not be the case but flights are being opened rapidly and it only takes one infected passenger to begin another round of a worldwide pandamic as we know from the Chinese-Italian experience.

Shavuot

Meanwhile, next week is Shavuot.  I usually use Tori Avey's Blintz recipe or a slight variation of it  - which seems close enough to the blintzes that my grandmother used  to make and passed along  to my mother (who hasn't made them in quite a while I think).  I might also make a cheesecake even though I am not a huge fan.  One of our  shul friends has an incredible recipe (I don't have it handy to publicize here).  In keeping with the dairy theme of Shavuot, perhaps an eggplant parmesan will also make an appearance.  

Shavuot is not only about eating dairy food. There is a tradition of studying all  night  on Erev Shavuot (which will be Saturday night, May 15th, 2021).  We  still have to decide where we will participate this year.  My favourite Shavuot events were years ago at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto.  The shul used a three-part model.  First there would be a study session  for about 45 minutes.  Each session would be led by someone different. After that, there would be a musical session with 20-30 minutes of singing.  Then it would be time for a food break for about 15-20 minutes.  Each break would feature different  food.  Repeat this schedule all night - starting at about 10 p.m. and running until 5 a.m. - and then hold an early morning Shavuot service.   We haven't found something equivalent in Israel though we have attended study sessions at a range of different places including our shul in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar.  Here is the Hebrew version of the site.

That's about it for now.  I wish everyone the best of health and hope that the health situation will soon improve across the world.  I'll probably write again soon.  With any luck, by the time of my next blog, Israel will be on its way to a new, stable government.





Monday, November 20, 2017

Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph "Tommy" Lapid - by Yair Lapid - A Review

It has been a while since I have had the chance to put together a new post.  Things have been quite hectic, I suppose.  I'm not complaining about that.

I have been meaning to write a review for a while - about Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph "Tommy" Lapid, by Yair Lapid.  This was quite an interesting read.

The book as written as an autobiography, yet it was written by Yair Lapid after the death of his father Tommy Lapid.  As Yair Lapid indicates in the acknowledgements, much of the material came from a series of interviews conducted by Amnon Dankner with Tommy Lapid in the last years of his life.

Tommy Lapid was a remarkable figure.  His story of survival from the Holocaust is powerful and chilling.  The book details the incredible sacrifices his parents made and their efforts to keep Tommy alive as the situation became grimmer and grimmer for the Jews of Hungary.  Lapid and his mother were rescued by Raoul Wallenberg and moved to Israel in 1948, while Lapid's father was murdered in a concentration camp.  

The book also traces Lapid's immigration to Israel and the astounding challenges that he faced along with all of the other new immigrants as they moved one from one existential struggle to another.  Through it all, Lapid became a lawyer, a journalist, a politician and a writer.  He wrote for a Hungarian language newspaper in Israel but later became a journalist with Maariv, director of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Authority, founder of the magazine "At" (a women's magazine), a Knesset member and, eventually, chair of Yad Vashem.

The book is an often intimate look at Lapid's life and those around him.  He doesn't shy away from telling stories of romantic and other sexual encounters - along with various stories of his travels and escapades.  From eating shark-fin soup in Hong Kong to meeting royalty in England, Lapid certainly managed to come into contact with many influential figures.  He covered the Eichmann trial as a journalist, he rubbed elbows with Arnon Milchan, Robert Maxwell (for whom he worked) and Ehud Olmert.  Interesting group of characters.  In fairness, he was also close with Ariel Sharon.

Lapid is a controversial figure in Israeli politics.  He was avowedly secular and dedicated to fostering an increased separation between shul and state in Israel.  This caused him to be a lightning rod for ultra-orthodox anger.  Yet, as Yair Lapid tells it, Tommy Lapid's vision for Israel was a considered one.  Here, for example, are some thoughts about his rift with the Ultra-Orthodox:

"a democratic society is not founded merely on rights but on obligations as well.  I have no problem whatsoever with an Ultra-Orthodox Jew who serves in the army, goes off to work in the morning, then studies Torah all night if he wants.  That man is my brother and I love him better than any non-Jew in the world.  He was there with me in the ghetto and on the rickety boat that brought me to Israel, he sat with me on a boulder facing a ruined synagogue on the island of Rhodes when I sobbed at the memory of 500 Jews led from the building by the Nazis and drowned at sea in an Italian ship."

And he goes on:

"The fact that a man wears a shtreimel on his head and grows a beard does not absolve him from the responsibilities carried out by all the other citizens of the state.  It was not with ultra-Orthodoxy that I have a complaint but with the fact that the Ultra-Orthodox turned it into a permit for ignoring all the chores were are obliged to carry out on a daily basis..."

These excerpts provide a window into the ideology of Lapid as well as his son Yair.  While Tommy pushed for the Israeli government to make changes to laws in Israel that define the religious-secular divide, it was Yair Lapid who was actually able to institute some key changes for a fleeting period of two years during which he was Israel's Finance Minister.  Once Yair Lapid was excluded from the government, the changes that had been made were reversed and the religious-secular landscape has shifted considerably with ever greater power accruing to the ultra-religious and the nationalist religious in Israel.

While I agree with Yair Lapid's past approach to these issues, an approach that was more nuanced than the vision that his father apparently espoused, I felt that little other philosophical ground was covered in this book.  That is an ongoing criticism of Yair Lapid in Israel - that he is shallow and often seems more concerned with who he is meeting, where is speaking and how he looks - than the policy content that he advocates.

I was not able to conclude from this book that I had a solid understanding of Tommy Lapid's goals for the country, his aspirations or his dreams.  Certainly I understood that he was successful, bright, engaging and often acerbic and determined.  He enjoyed fine wine, high quality food and many other trappings of his self-described bourgeois life.

Yet I came away feeling that I had missed out on his real goals.  Sure, Lapid was an ardent Zionist who was committed, unconditionally, to the survival of the State of Israel and to doing whatever he could to help it flourish.  I have little doubt that his son Yair shares those aspirations, just as he seems to share, for the most part, Tommy Lapid's outlook on the Ultra-Religious and the religious-secular fault line in Israel.

But beyond that, this book provides little from which one might discern a further understanding of the real aspirations of either the father or the son.  And perhaps that is by design.  Simply a genuine reflection of reality.  That shallowness, if you will, for lack of a better term, may well doom Yair Lapid to a comparable political fate.

      

Friday, July 10, 2015

Current Government: Religious Issues and Some Predictions

Chief Rabbs Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau
Does it look like Iran?  It's not.  It's Israel and here are a couple of Israel's major power brokers (under the current government) - the two chief Rabbis of Israel.

The rabbis and their supporters have had a busy week, filled with lots of newsworthy items.

Last Sunday, they were successful in rolling back a conversion initiative that was intended to make it easier for people to convert to Judaism in Israel.  This was rolled back at the behest of the Shas and Degel HaTorah parties which are major partners in the current governing coalition.  The rollback has widely been viewed as an effort to consolidate power over religious affairs in Israel back to the Ultra-Religious and away from the Zionist religious (i.e. the "modern Orthodox").

On Tuesday, a woman from Colorado, Linda Siegel Richman, was ordered to leave the Kotel (the "Western Wall) in Jerusalem because she was wearing a kippah (a skullcap or yarmulke).  The Western Wall ushers told her that she did not belong and asked her to leave the area.  She had come from the U.S. to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel and was at the Kotel to pray and to place notes in the wall. The notes had been given to her by her students at a Denver school.  The incident attracted enormous public attention.  The next day, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch issued a half-hearted apology in which he noted that it was not clear that the incident had actually even occurred.  Rabbi Rabinovitch has, of course, made concerted efforts over the past few years to prevent women from having access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel, from praying out loud and from wearing tallithot.  So it is really no surprise that a woman wearing a kippah encountered such difficulties under his watch.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, (of the Shas party), lashed out at Reform Jews and stated that he did not even consider them to be Jews.  He had other choice comments for Reform and Conservative Jews that were along the same lines.  Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly issued a condemnation of these remarks and called them "hurtful." Education Minster Naftali Bennett also condemned the remarks in no uncertain terms and stated that all Jews are Jews.  Bennett went on to say the home for all Jews, including Reform and Conservative, is in Israel.

Is all of this related?  Well, the current government includes 7 Shas members and 6 Degel HaTorah members as part of its 61 seat bloc, which gives the government the slimmest possible majority in the Knesset, facing 59 opposition Knesset members.  Prime Minister Netanyahu paid an enormous price to enlist these Ultra-Religious parties into the governing coalition.  Both parties were granted a range of powerful political portfolios as as significant policy and financial concessions. 

This is in marked contrast to the previous government.  After the 2013 Israeli elections, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid had won 19 seats.  His party insisted that it would not join a government that would make so many concessions to to the Ultra-Religious parties.  Lapid held out and an Israeli government was formed without the Ultra-Religious parties - for the first time in quite a while.  As a result, the previous government began to make certain changes.  These included mandatory military enlistment for the Ultra-Orthodox, reducing government grants for non-working Yeshiva students, ensuring that secular subjects like math and science are mandatory for everyone and numerous other changes.  Many of these changes as well as other proposed changes that were in the pipeline were quite popular among secular and other non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

But when it came time to negotiate a coalition agreement this time around after the 2015 election, Prime Minister Netanyahu simply gave away everything.  He agree to roll back all of the changes that had been made or proposed in the last government and to go beyond that by providing additional monetary incentives for the Ultra-Orthodox to join the government.  The disappointing aspect of all of that is that Moshe Kahlon and his allegedly centrist Kulanu party simply agreed to all of these terms and conditions.  This was in marked contrast to Yair Lapid in 2013 who had retained some principles during the previous round of coalition building negotiations.

As the Ultra-Religious establishment increases its power during the current mandate, many Israelis are becoming more and more disaffected with this turn of events.  This will cause many Israeli voters to turn away from Kahlon and Netanyahu in the next election.  Who will benefit?  Bennett will be the winner among religious and more conservative voters and will take away some seats from Netanyahu and/or Kahlon on the right.  But the big winner is likely to be Lapid.  If he stays the course and continues to fight as an opposition member, Israelis will view him as one of the few principled politicians who is willing to stand up to the Ultra-Orthodox.

It is a fairly common viewpoint that the Labour party, Zionist Camp or other name that it might run under would be as willing as the Likud party to court the support of Shas and/or Degel HaTorah by making similar concessions in order to form a government.  Only Yair Lapid and, perhaps, Tsipi Livni, have shown that they would be willing to hold out against these demands.  It will be clear to Israeli voters that Kahlon will simply agree to anything in order to get a cabinet seat.

While there are many Israelis who simply do not care about many of these secular-religious issues or other issues of religious pluralism, more and more Israelis are starting to pay attention.  Many Israelis are looking for alternatives to Orthodox weddings, which currently have a monopoly in Israel.  Opening the door to civil marriage ceremonies could lead to widespread change and could also open the door to same sex marriages in Israel.  Easing the conversion laws could benefit a large number of Israelis including thousands of immigrants whose religious status as Jews has been called into question. Still other Israelis would like to see public transportation on Shabbat, demonopolization of Kashrut authority, or more liberal laws in other areas affecting personal status.

The more that the current government acts in a fashion that is viewed as extremist, the greater the resentment will be among centrist Israelis.  This may all lead to a large shift of voters from Kahlon and Netanyahu to Lapid and others.

The Shas and Degel HaTorah voters will not change.  Those parties will continue to attract similar numbers in any given election.  Their elected officials are doing a good job in advocating for policies that they support.

But the Israeli political landscape has a large number of undecided centrist voters who are mobile.  These voters have swung around over the past number of years, from the Kadima party, to Tsipi Livni and Yair Lapid and now to Moshe Kahlon and Kulanu.  Lapid and the Yesh Atid party make a strong case that the centrist voters should shift back to him and his party and that they are the only party that will stick to some principled positions on certain issues.

The current coalition is very tenuous.  It is hanging on by a thread and Prime Minister Netanyahu's government even lost its first legislative vote this week, although that vote was not a "non-confidence" vote.  We will probably see another election in Israel sooner rather than later.  And if the current trend continues, Lapid and his Yesh Atid party are likely to be the big winners.
       

 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Israel: Coalition Talks Continue

Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett
The Israeli election was held on January 22, 2013.  My analysis of the expected coaltion talks, writing at the time, can be found here.  Meanwhile, more than a month has passed and it is still unclear what type of government Israel will have, other than the fact that it will almost certainly be led by the Likud party.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has failed to reach a coalition deal within the initial alotted time period.  He will now have until March 14, 2013.  If he still cannot conclude a deal by that time, there will either be new elections - or President Shimon Peres will ask another party to try to form the government.  In all probability, Netanyahu will reach a deal with some of the other parties by the deadline, even if the deal is reached just as time is expiring.

The only party to have joined the Likud so far is "The Movement" led by Tsipi Livni.  This was quite surprising to many Israelis since the centrist Livni joined a government without knowing which other parties would be involved.  She was granted a few cabinet posts and put in charge of overseeing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  As leader of the Kadima party after the previous election, Livni had opted to stay out of the government, despite having a large and powerful party.  This time around, she brings a much smaller number of seats.  To date, no other parties have been willing to join this coalition, which now numbers 37.  A majority of 61 is required to control the Knesset.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been speaking to all of the possible suitors - Labour, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Religious parties.  These talks are mainly held behind closed doors and it is really difficult to know exactly what is being demanded, promised or rejected and what genuine information or misinformation is being leaked.

However, it is fairly clear that two of the largest parties, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi have reached some sort of deal under which they will only enter the government together.  Apparently, the main piece of the deal centres around the idea that almost all ultra-religious Israelis will be required to serve in the army or the national service, by age 21, with only a small number exempted.  Both parties seem to be holding very firm to this demand, even as the ultra-religious Shas party has been attacking the parties for their lack of flexiblity and alleging that they are "anti-Haredi."  Tonight, Likud-Beitenu suggested that Yesh Atid was refusing to sit in a government with the ultra-religious parties.  However, it is not clear that Yesh Atid has actually taken this position.  It may be that they are holding merely steadfast to certain demands - the content of which are entirely unacceptable to the ultra-religious.  However, there is a big difference between insisting on some significant policy changes that will affect Haredim (as well as many other Israelis) - versus being "anti-Haredi."

Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seem to have been able to agree on policies in a number of areas, primarily related to domestic issues.  Their stated aims are to improve education in Israel, improve life for the middle class, change the relationship of the State and the Ultra-Religious and other issues.  Both Bennett and Lapid served in the Israeli Defence Forces and both believe that the burden of mandatory military service should be distributed universally across Israeli society including ultra-religious Jews and Arab Israelis.  Overall, in the realm of domestic policy, Bennett does not appear to have staked out any particularly extreme positions, though his party would certainly have a much more right leaning social and domestic agenda than the platform on which Lapid campaigned.

The big question mark is what this means for the future of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian relations.  Bennett is adamantly opposed to any territorial concessions and has indicated that his party will not support a government that makes any such compromises.  Lapid is much more flexible and favours an immediate return to the bargaining table  with the Palestinians.  Even though both parties oppose any concessions with respect to Jerusalem, it is hard to see how any kind of peace deal could be reached with the Palestinians without significant territorial concessions in other areas.  So, ultimately, if both Bennett and Lapid join the Netanyahu-led government together, the government will likely be preoccupied with domestic issues and negotiations with the Palestinians will move down on the priority list, even below where they have been currently.

The big winner so far in the Israeli public forum has been Yair Lapid.  Israelis have apparently been very supportive of his determination and resolve in not making concessions to the ultra-orthodox on the issue of universal conscription.  Some polls have suggested that Lapid's party would win more than 30 seats if a new election were held now.  It may well be that Lapid plans to deal with domestic issues first and then use his momentum and popularity to force a change in the governing coaltion or to force the government to turn its attention to addressing the Palestinian-Israeli dispute in more flexible fashion.

In any event, it seems to me that there are still reasons for Israelis to be cautiously optimistic.  Although the Yesh Atid Party may not be able to fulfill all of its promises, the determination that Yair Lapid is showing with respect to domestic issues is a promising sign that some significant, positive changes are on the way.
 






Thursday, January 24, 2013

Israeli Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin

On Wednesday, we received the official results from the January 22, 2013 Israeli election.  These results have now been slightly adjusted and we have received the "final" official result as of approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday January 24, 2013.  Apparently, there were still ballots to be counted from military personnel, prisons, hospitals and foreign-stationed diplomats.  After counting all of these ballots  (approximately 220,000), a few changes have now been announced.  Naftali Bennett's party, HaBayit Hayehudi has increased by one seat to 12 and the United Arab List has dropped to 4 from 5. Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party have remained stable at 19 seats.  The Yesh Atid party still seems to be in the driver's seat as the front runner to help build a government with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Lapid has a wide ranging and interesting background.  The son of Tommy Lapid, late leader of the Shinui ("change") party, a secular party which reached 15 Knesset seats in 2003, Yair Lapid has politics in his family background.  In addition to his political career, he has also been involved in many other activities.  He has written well known Israeli songs, tried amateur kick-boxing (which he still practices 1-2 hours a day - even while on the campaign trail), acted in Israeli shows and worked as a TV news commentator.  He has also brought a refreshing approach to bridging the secular-religious divide in Israel.  For example, or a number of years, he ran a Shavuoth night "tikkun" - an all night learning program that  focused on a wide range of topics of Jewish interest rather than pure Torah study.

With his new political party, Lapid has emphasized a new approach to politics in Israel and an effort to represent the silent majority - the non-ultra-orthdox, army-serving, middle class, zionist Israelis.  Among other platforms, Lapid has called for efforts to increase the availability of lower cost housing, and to ensure that all Israelis, at the age of 18, including ultra-orthodox and Arabs, serve in the army or perform some type of national service.  He has vowed to insist on these demands as part of his fundamental terms for joining any coaltion government.  He has also vowed to insist that the peace process with the Palestinians be re-ignited.

As of yesterday, the left-centre "bloc" in Israel, including the Arab parties and Yesh Atid made up exactly 1/2 of the new Knesset - 60 seats - with the right and right-centre bloc, including the ultra-orthodox, making up the other 60.  As a result of this afternoon's announcement, adjusting the results, the right bloc now has 61 seats and could, theoretically, form a very right wing/ultra-orthodox coaltion that could hold the majority by 2 seats.  Most commentators feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to go down this road for a number of reasons.  The government would be very fragile.  The Prime Minister would be under constant threat of different coalition members leaving the government if they were not provided with new concessions.  Many of the concessions Prime Minister Netanyahu would have to make, particularly to the ultra-orthodox would be unpalatable to much of the Israeli public including many who voted for Netanyahu's party, Likud.  So there is a real sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu  very much intends to enter into a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid.

But this is where the fun starts.  Lapid has indicated that he has three key demands in order to enter the government:

1.   Most imporantly - an equal sharing of the "burden" of military/ national service.  Lapid proposes that all Israelis, with the exception of a very small number of ultra-orthodox, super-bright scholars, will be required to serve in the army or perform national service.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made statements indicating that he is prepared to support this idea, although it is unclear whether he will be willing to follow it through.  The other left and left-centre parties - such as Labor, Meretz, Hatenuah and Kadima would support this type of legislated change.  It may also be the case that Naftali Bennett's party, Habayit Heyehudi, would also support a modified version of this type of law. Bennett might also support changes to Israeli laws that deal with zoning restrictions on land and other laws that would, generally, help bring about a lower cost of living in Israel.  So there is a good chance that Lapid could wind up in a government with Netanyahu and Bennett, which would make significant domestic changes that many Israelis would appreciate.  It is hard to imagine that these terms (at least universal conscription) are terms to which the Shas party (with its 11 Knesset seats) would agree.  So this scenario might see a government without Shas, the ultra-religious party that has historically extracted massive concessions in exchange for joining coalition governments.

2.  Lapid has also indicated that another key demand is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue with a view to negotiating an agreement.  Of course, just starting talks does not mean that they would go anywhere.  Lapid has firmly stated that he would not be prepared to divide Jerusalem and that view probably represents a significant majority view in Israel.  The Palestinian Authority described the visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Kotel on the eve of the Israeli elections as a "provocation."  But this is Judaism's holiest site.  There are no conditions, in the foreseeable future, under which Israel would cede control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Lapid has also indicated that the Palestinian refugee problem should be solved by the Palestinians in their new state when an agreement is reached.  This makes eminent sense and is a view that also enjoys wide ranging Israeli public support.

These two issues, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem, have supposedly caused or contributed to collapses in talks in the past.  But realistically, no Israeli government, even a left wing government would be prepared or even able to make major concessions on these points.

On the other hand, Lapid has indicated a willingness to support a two-state solution and to come to terms with Palestinians on mutually agreeable borders, which could even include the removal of some Jewish settlements.  It is quite clear Bennett's party is not prepared to make any such concessions and would refuse to join a government that planned to do so.  So while Bennett may be prepared to support some of Lapid's domestic agenda, he will not support Lapid's foreign policy. 

3.  Lapid's third demand is for a reform to education to ensure that everyone studies secular subjects in school. This is strongly opposed by Shas, but not necessarily by Bennett.  Netanyahu has indicated that he would be prepared to support this type of change.

Overall, Shas is on the opposite of Bennett on a number of these issues.  While they might support Bennett's foreign policy views, they would oppose most of his domestic agenda and would insist on continued support for much of the ultra-religious political agend, which Lapid has staunchly opposed, and which make up two of his three main platform ideas. 

So it looks like the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition, if it happens, will either include Shas - and maintain much of the status quo on the domestic front while moving ahead on the diplomatic front - or it will include Bennett and it will make signficant changes domestically but drag its feet on foreign policy matters including negotiations ,with the Palestinians, if they take place at all.

For now, the likeilhood seems to be the addition of Habayit Hayehudi.  This may well result in some very real and tangible gains for the left-centre, domestically, but it is unlikely to result in any progress with respect to peace talks and peace efforts.  Of course, if Lapid is able to demonstrate tangible accomplishments for at least part of his platform, that may well improve his political capital and open the door to changes in other areas in the future.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that the Shas party negotiators are very experienced in these matters.  They may yet offer some concessions on the issue of universal conscription and may show a willingness to support a broad peace initiative.  It is quite conceivable, though, admittedly less likely, that Shas could be part of a Lapid-Netanyahu government that could make progress in a few different areas.

Some commentators are estimating that it may take up to six weeks for this coalition negotiation process to unfold.  This is where we will see the real results of this election.  This process is sure to be even more interesting than the election itself.







Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Israeli Elections 2013: Preview

With Israeli national elections approaching on January 22, 2013, I thought it was about time that I provided a bit of information and perspective on the coming elections.  It will be my first opportunity to vote in Israel, though I'm not writing this article as a partisan piece.  I thought I would look at trends and anticipated outcomes.

As many of you know, Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a 120 seat legislative assembly, the "Knesset."  Like in other similar systems (Canada, Britain, to name a couple), a party is required to cobble together a majority in order to govern.  A governing coalition requires more than 61 seats to hold the confidence of the Knesset.

The Knesset


The challenge in Israel, of course, is that each Israeli believes that he or she can and should run the country.  New political parties are constantly being formed, old ones disbanded and new coalitions arranged.  Things are very volatile, to put it mildly.

Following the last election in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put together a very stable coalition (by Israeli historical standards).  The numbers ranged from 66 to 74 over the course of this term in office but the coalition was never really threatened.  The government was made up of a multi-party coalition which included the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Yisrael Beitenu party lead by Avigdor Lieberman (who has now been indicted), some religious and ultra-religious parties and the leftist Labour Party.  It is interesting to note that some of the most vociferous condemnation of the current government has come from the leader of the Labor Party, even though Labor was an integral part of the governing coaliton.


Prime Minister Netanyahu
For the current election, there have been some very interesting changes for some of the parties. While at this point, there seems to be little doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be reelected, the big issue is what type of coalition he will put together and what policies that government will embrace.

The "Right Wing" Parties

The two major right wing or right centre parties are Likud and Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel, Our Home")Founded by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1973, Likud has been one of the two dominant Israeli political parties for more than 30 years.  Its membership includes members with a range of view points from those who support a negotiated two-state peace solution with the Palestinians to those who favour annexation of much, if not all, of the disputed territories (Judea and Semaria or the West Bank).  On its own in the last election, Likud won 27 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman
Yisrael Beitenu is a party led by Avigdor Lieberman, who was serving as Israel's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister until December 2012 at which time he was charged with fraud and breach of trust.  Yisrael Beitenu won 15 seats in the last election.  While characterized as a right wing nationalist party, Yisrael Beitenu favours a two-state solution including territory swaps with the Palestinians.  Lieberman has called for the Israeli government to demand "loyalty" from its Arab citizens and has also called for a reduction in the power of Israel's religious authorities.

Likud and Yisrael Beitenu have now merged and are running as one party for the current elections.  Most recent polls estimate that they will win anywhere from 32 to 37 seats.  The combined total will almost certainly be lower than the 42 that these two parties won in the 2009 election.

One of the big surprises of the campaign to date has been the newly named party Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home).  Its leader Naftali Bennett, a youthful and successful entrepreneur oversaw a merger of the Jewish Home and National Union parties and won more than 60% of the combined leadership race.  The party has an avowedly right wing platform, favouring annexation of the disputed territories, even though Bennett himself lives in the wonderful city of...Ra'anana.  Bennett has used a mixture of facebook advertising, carefully produced videos and his own energetic appeal to build growing support.  While many might characterize Bennett's views as extremist, current polls have estimated that Bennett may win between 13 and 18 seats in the Knesset.

Naftali Bennett
 One other "right wing" party, Otzma L'Yisrael ("Strength for Israel) could also win anywhere from 0 to 4 seats.  This was a group that splintered off from the newly merged Bennett party.

Overall, the "right wing" parties, which are not characterized as "religious" are projected to win anywhere from 45 to 59 seats.  This is quite a variance and will have a tremendous impact on the type of government that is formed.  If the combined numbers are closer to 45, the group will almost certainly be forced to combine with some of the centrist parties to form a fairly broad coalition.  If the group is close to, or even over 60, it could combine with some of the religious parties and produce a very stable, very right wing government, politically and even economically.

The Religious Parties

Shas is an ultra-religious party dedicated to furthering the interests of observant Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.  It has formed governments with the right and the left over the past 20 years - and has been willing to bend on some of its principles, as long as there is lots of money available for its constituents.  Several Shas Knesset Members have been convicted of offences including fraud, forgery and bribery.   One of those convicted, well known member, Aryeh Deri is now the number two candidate on the Shas list and will almost certainly be elected in the coming elections.  Polling numbers for Shas have been quite consistent.  Estimates range from 9 to 12 seats, with most polls at 10 or 11.

Aryeh Deri

United Torah Judaism, another ultra-religious party, is estimated to win between 5 and 6 seats.

So the ultra-religious block is expected to have somewhere between 14 and 18 seats, which would position it well to join a government in exchange for all kinds of concessions.

Throughout Israel's history, left wing and right wing governments have been prepared to make major concessions to this religious block to bolster their governments.  Some of the resulting policies have included exemptions from the army for Yeshiva students, exclusive legal jurisdiction for the religious over personal status matters including weddings and funerals and control of many other aspects of Israeli life, ranging from limitations on public transportation on Shabbat to laws prohibiting the sale of Hametz (leavened bread) on Pesach.   Of course the flip side is that at least some of these laws enjoy fairly widespread public support, even among non-Orthodox Jews.


The Centrist Parties

There are currently three centrist parties that are expected to win seats in the coming election - Kadima, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah.

Formed in 2005 by moderate Likud members, Kadima reached a high point of 29 seats in the 2006 elections, with a policy platform emphasizing efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.   In the 2009 election, the party won 28 seats under the leadership of Tsipi Livni.  Rather than join a coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Livni opted to remain in opposition.  In 2012, Livni lost a leadership race to Shaul Mofaz.  Following Israel's history of politicians founding new parties, Livni left Kadima and set up her own party, arrogantly named "Hatnuah" - "the Movement."  The party's campaign has featured some fairly bizarre advertising slogans.  Tsipi Livni herself has been viewed as ineffective as an opposition leader.  Nevertheless, it looks like many of the Kadima supporters have deserted Mofaz and flocked to Livni.  The party's platform has emphasized peace, social justice, environmental protection and religious pluralism.  Current estimates suggest that Livni's party may win between 7 and 10 seats.

Tzipi Livni
The other centrist party expected to do well is the party led by well known Israeli media personality Yair Lapid named Yesh Atid ("There is a future").  Lapid's party's platform has included an emphasis on education, religious pluralism, an end to exemptions from military service for the ultra-religious, and efforts to change the Israeli political system.  Lapid's party seems to be running at 9 to 11 seats.

If these two parties, which should be natural allies, combine for between 16 and 21 seats, they could be part of a government and have substantial power.  Lapid has already suggested that he would like to be part of a Likud led government if Likud wins the election while Livni has been more circumspect.
Yair Lapid
The number of seats won by the centre may be the most significant factor in determining what type of government Israel has.  If the centre attracts some Likud supporters and helps limit the cumulative right wing block to less than 50 seats, it will be very important for Likud to include the centre in the government.  If the centrist parties are less successful, Likud may be able to form a government without them, relying only on the religious parties.




The Left

Though the Labor Party was one of Israel's two strongest parties and has been the governing party throughout much of Israel's history, it seems fairly clear that this has been a party on the decline over the past several years.  Perhaps Israel's new economic realities, with a shift over time to more of a capitalist economy have been instrumental in creating this result.  Or perhaps there has been disenchantment over Labor's role in participating in a staunchly right wing Likud coalition.  In any event, under its current leader, Shelly Yacimovich, the party has emphasized social justice issues rather than national security and has tried to position itself as the party most willing to tackle issues of widespread Israeli middle class decline and increasingly high levels of poverty.  Predictions have varied for the Labor Party, but most seem to estimate 16 to 21 seats.     


Over to the left of the Labor Party is Meretz, a party that touts itself as "Israel's Left."  Emphasizing human rights (especially in the area of sexual orientation), social justice, separation of religion and state, dismantling of most Israeli settlements, and humanism, the party is expected to win 3 to 5 seats.

If Labor and Meretz do well in the coming elections, they could have as many as 25 or 26 seats.  This would either be a considerable opposition block - or it could elect to try to form a national unity government though that seems unlikely.    Even if the political left and centre were to combine, the ceiling would probably be in the range of 40 to 45 seats.  Given current Israeli political realities, it seems quite unlikely that the left wing parties will play a significant role in the next government.

The Arab Parties

Israel currently has three Arab or Arab-Socialist parties in the Knesset.  UAL-Ta'al, Balad and Hadash.  They currently have 10 seats between the three of them.  The expectation is that they will be in a similar range following the coming election.  It is unlikely that they will form part of the next government, though it is theoretically possible that these parties could bolster a left-centre coalition.  Given the expected number of seats, it appears that even if the left and the centre combined with the Arab parties, they would still have less than 61 seats.

Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi

Finally, this type of survey article would not be complete without mentioning at least some of the "novelty parties" that are not expected to win seats.

There is the "Green Leaf Party" - I will leave it to you to figure out what they stand for...

How could I not mention the "Kulanu Haverim" ("We are all friends") party, whose members include follows of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev?



And finally - the "Pirate Party" whose members advocate the "freedom to copy" and promote the lifestyle of the piracy sector.

This list is not complete - there are many other parties running, including, for the first time, an Arab Zionist party (El Amal Lat'gir), led by Bedouin politician Aatef Karinaoui.  But time limitations keep me from making this blog article more comprehensive.
Green Leaf...

I will see if I have time to add some additional information between now and the election date.  I will want to be sure to research all of the issues thoroughly to make an informed decision.

For now, a couple of things seem fairly clear to me.  Prime Minister Netanyahu will almost certainly be the next Prime Minister.  Labor and Meretz will almost certainly be in the opposition along with the Arab parties.  The real issue is whether Netanyahu will lead a broad right-centre or right-centre-religious coalition or whether it will be a much narrower right-religious government.  Stay tuned and if you are in Israel and you are eligible - make sure to vote!!