This Week Today: Current Events from Israel

Ben Packer,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Ben Packer
Originally from Petersburg, Virginia, Ben Packer moved to Israel in 1999, where he served in the IDF's Givati Brigade in the Gaza Strip. Ben served as a Rabbi on campus at Univ. of North Carolina and at Duke Univ. Ben now serves as Director of the Jerusalem Heritage House (www.heritagehouse.org.il) and Co-Director of Young Jewish Conservatives (www.youngjewishconservatives.org). He lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his wife and 6 children....

This Week Today
Current Events from Israel

Obviously, the major news in Israel continues to be the Coronavirus pandemic that is facing the whole world. But, of course, Israel is still in the midst of serious political drama which took a crazy turn this week and is still very much not resolved. A very serious game of poker is being played right now between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. If only Kenny Rogers were still alive to sing about it!

Coronavirus - the 11th Plague
Since last week, the numbers of those infected with Coronavirus have grown considerably, but not surprisingly. In Israel, we now have over 6000 infected and 25 deaths. However, despite how bad this sounds, apparently its the best in the world. This is according to a report, very popular in Israel, that came out today. The basic idea is that Israel is handling the situation very well and that's why the number of deaths is so low. Anyway, hope they are right.

For now, Israel has increased the stringencies of where folks can go and how many can go together and banned communal/extended family seders for Passover. They are now only allowing minyans at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron. And the number of people allowed to participate in those minyans is also quite limited. Just now, they are saying that everyone has to wear a mask in public. Just another thing ISIS was ahead of the curve on.

There is a disproportionate amount of ultra-orthodox who have contracted Corona in Israel, as well as in the US and parts of Europe. This is likely most attributable to the way that that specific community is set up and often prone to close contact of large groups of people for long periods of time. Despite this obvious reality, the haters are out and active. The anti-ultra orthodox sentiment has awakened, very similar to anti-Semitism in the US, and reared its very ugly head. Some folks won't like this analysis, but they wouldn't be able to explain why all the secular people at the beach and other places doesn't bother them so much. Because of the nature of physical interaction in the different communities, the secular actually transmit it to each other much less, but it doesn't mean they are following the rules better. They aren't. But trust the media if you want. Its not like they have an agenda. Clearly this Corona thing is actually President Trump's fault - just turn on any channel (except Fox) in the US and they'll tell you that. Its not. Fake News.

Israeli Political Craziness
Even by Israeli standards, this last week was totally crazy! I'll do my best to explain, but it ain't over yet, definitely more surprises to come!

At the end of last week, it looked like Blue and White, with Avigdor Lieberman's party and the Arabs, were about to take over the Speak of the Knesset position and then pass a law that would disqualify Prime Minister Netanyahu from being allowed to attempt to form a coalition government because he's under indictment. This would be despite the fact that Blue and White would still be unable to actually form a government themselves. They could have also theoretically been able to pass other laws as well.

And then....a total 180 (maybe). Seemingly out of nowhere, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, the leaders of the "Israel Resilience" faction of Blue and White, announced that they had decided, for the good of the country during this Corona crisis, to seek to form a unity government with Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc of 58 seats. The other factions within Blue and White were horrified and bitterly opposed - they had all run together - 3 times!! - with the explicitly stated purpose of removing Netanyahu as Prime Minister. The proposed deal would include a rotation agreement in which Netanyahu would stay Prime Minister for the next year and a half and then be replaced by Gantz. (Of course, assuming the Government lasts that long!!)

After this dramatic announcement, Benny Gantz was then elected Speaker of the Knesset. This was after previous Speaker, Yuli Edelstein of Likud, resigned in protest rather then initiate an election for his replacement, as he had been ordered to do by the Israeli Supreme Court. So now Gantz is the speaker, so what? Here's what: negotiations between Netanyahu/Likud and Blue and White aren't going great and appear on the brink of collapse. What at first seemed like a done deal has now encountered a good number of problems.

What are they fighting over? They are fighting over ministerial appointments (who gets to be the minister of what) and the potential policies of the proposed coalition government. It was originally reported that Netanyahu was willing to award Israel Resilience members and other defectors from Blue and White who came with them with numerous minister positions, very disproportionate to what would be awarded to the Likud members and other members of partnering parties. Elements of the Labor Party were also said to be planning to join in the fun and also be rewarded with positions. As to be expected, Netanyahu's fellow Likud members and his traditional allies were none too pleased with all this generosity - most notably the Yamina party who now has 3 ministries and may go down to 1.

Current Ultimatums:
1) Yamina says that any new government has to include the extension of sovereignty over all Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley (the "settlements" in the "West Bank"). If not, they out. They smirkingly highlight that Netanyahu ran in the last election under this exact pledge.

2) If a deal isn't reached soon, as Speaker of the Knesset, Gantz will allow the introduction of legislation to ban Netanyahu from being allowed to form a government. This would likely lead to a 4th election.

What about the Arabs? With their political fortune much diminished, Arabs rioted today in Jaffa after an Arab was arrested for violating the Corona restrictions. Could be a solitary incident, but could also spread, especially with everyone at home watching social media. Not everyone is watching that Tiger murder show. #freejoeexotic

Happy Passover!