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Ed Webb

Liberman spawns 'alliance of the underprivileged' - 0 views

  • Israel’s political system is currently ensnared in a dizzying spiral the likes of which it has never known. The unprecedented decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict an incumbent prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust has rattled Israeli politics, which was already suffering from deep polarization, and this is just the beginning. In a nationally televised response to Mandelblit’s announcement of the indictments on Nov. 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is being subjected to an “attempted coup.”
  • Netanyahu, heavily influenced by his legal woes, will push Israel into a third election in less than a year to gin up public support at the ballot box in the hope that his supporters will at least acquit him in the court of public opinion.
  • Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party holds the deciding votes in the current political deadlock, has not only put him in a bind, but has also created an “alliance of the underprivileged”
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  • Liberman, who under the current constellation has the power to decide who will be Israel’s next prime minister, is seeking to exclude the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs from power. Thus, these two groups, which would seem to have nothing in common save a possible desire to join forces against Liberman’s onslaught of incitement against them, are striking up a surprising “friendship.”
  • Israel’s Arab and ultra-Orthodox citizens — together constituting at least 30% of the population — are the country’s poorest demographic and the largest beneficiaries of its social welfare services. While Netanyahu and his right-wing allies shower generous budgets on the Jewish West Bank settlements and provide their residents with an array of benefits, members of the Arab Joint List and of the two ultra-Orthodox parties have to work hard to advance legislation that benefits their voters.
  • The first sign of their alliance appeared in the Knesset following Netanyahu’s harsh Nov. 13 speech accusing the 13 lawmakers for the Joint List of supporting and encouraging terrorism. At the start of the Nov. 19 session of the Knesset Finance Committee, Chair Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah, thanked his committee colleague Tibi for his ongoing cooperation. “You know how to leverage [this cooperation] for the benefit of the public you represent. You do so with great skill. We see it in the Arab communities too. There is development, and you have played a large role in this, and I thank you for it,” Gafni said. Gafni’s ultra-Orthodox colleague Yinon Azoulai of Shas seconded his assessment, asserting, “With the [Joint] List and Ahmad there always was cooperation, and it is always possible to do more.”
  • “The clear and present danger is the anti-Zionist coalition of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Knesset members,” Liberman said. “This is truly an anti-Zionist coalition active in both blocs [left and right]. The Joint List is a real fifth column; there is no need to whitewash and hide it. Unfortunately, the ultra-Orthodox community and its political parties, too, are becoming increasingly anti-Zionist, and it’s time to stop this nonsense that only their fringes [are opposed to the State of Israel].”
  • Such cooperation could crush the protective right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 seats that Netanyahu has built and undermine his mantra that the formation of a center-left minority government supported by the Arab parties would be nothing short of a mass national terror attack.
  • Members of the Joint List are all too familiar with being targets of incitement and delegitimization by Netanyahu and others, but for Shas and Yahadut HaTorah, which have tied their fate to that of Netanyahu, this is a new experience. Thanks to Liberman, they too are now illegitimate, just like their Arab Knesset colleagues.
  • The last time Liberman tried to “bury” the Arab parties, he sponsored legislation raising the electoral threshold in 2014 so that only parties winning 3.25% of the vote could send representatives to the Knesset. The move, designed to exclude the small Arab parties, backfired, uniting the ideologically disparate parties into a single list. This forced union then overtook Liberman’s faction. As of the September elections, they are the third biggest Knesset faction, with 13 seats, while Liberman’s party has eight.
  • For the sake of the sacred goal of survival, there is no need for an ideological glue other than shared destiny, as the four Arab parties – Ta’al, Ra’am, Balad and Hadash — realized in uniting against Liberman and forming the Joint List.
Ed Webb

Liberman's secular campaign turns him into kingmaker - 0 views

  • A little over 173,000 people voted for Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party in April, giving it five Knesset seats. In September, the number of people who voted for the party shot up to 310,000. So, after just 3½ months of campaigning, it gained 137,000 new voters and grew to eight seats. These eight seats make it impossible for either bloc — right or left — to form a narrow majority government. That's why, on Oct. 3, the very day that the new Knesset was sworn in, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a meeting with Liberman. He wanted to convince the Yisrael Beitenu leader to join the new government that he was trying to form
  • It seems like Liberman succeeded in selling voters on his formula for change, specifically in matters of religion and state. That is something that most people support, particularly in the political center. What Liberman also offered them was a realistic way to make it happen. He proposed bringing two main parties — the Likud and Blue and White — together, given that there are so few ideological differences between them. Doing this would seem to be the most natural thing in the world. The problem is that the Blue and White party rejects Netanyahu, because of his pending criminal cases, while the Likud insists on bringing its right-wing, ultra-Orthodox bloc along with it.
  • Liberman called for a change to the status quo on matters of religion and state and laid out a path to achieve this, i.e., a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox or the ultra-Orthodox nationalists.
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  • He wants to see a new government made up of the Likud, Blue and White, and his Yisrael Beitenu party only, thereby forcing Netanyahu to sever his sacred alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. In this way, Liberman could advance the changes that he promised. When, about two weeks before the election, the Blue and White party realized that Liberman is stealing many of their votes because of this position, they also started talking about a secular, liberal government. Liberman now claims that this was why he did not have an even bigger victory.
  • most of the party’s new voters supported it because it established itself in their minds as a kind of middle ground with a message of unity, and as a party capable of solving problems of religion and state, such as public transportation on the Sabbath, conversion, the Conscription Law,
  • the second generation of immigrants, who came here when they were very young or who were actually born in Israel, are now suffering because of the Chief Rabbinate, which is forcing them to prove that they are Jewish in order to get married. This is especially insulting to them, given that they fought so hard to preserve their Jewish identities under the Soviet regime.
  • One possible explanation for this movement of voters from the Likud to Yisrael Beitenu could be the characteristics of many such voters — people who immigrated to Israel from Russian-speaking countries, or people whose parents did. In the past, these people voted for the Likud, because their politics traditionally veer (nationalistic) right, but in this election, they internalized Yisrael Beitenu’s campaign message concerning religion and state. Liberman’s focus on these issues is particularly dear to them. The fact that they have to prove to the Rabbinate that they are really Jews before they can get married seems to have clinched the deal.
  • One other group where Liberman was successful was the Druze sector. According to the Globes analysis, Yisrael Beitenu received 10,000 votes from the Druze sector, compared to just 6,000 in April. What is remarkable is that Yisrael Beitenu won these votes even though it supported the Nationality Law, which infuriated Israel’s Druze community. Hamad Amar, a Druze Knesset member for Yisrael Beitenu, told Al-Monitor that these Druze voters were very impressed by the way Liberman stuck to his principles in last May’s coalition negotiations. “They recognized that Liberman sticks to his word and that he is reliable. That is the most important thing for us.”
Ed Webb

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem over required military service proposal - The ... - 0 views

  • Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets here Sunday afternoon to express anger over attempts by Israel’s political leaders to force them to serve in the military. Local media outlets estimated crowds at the “million-man march” to number more than 300,000, while organizers put the figure closer to 500,000. Police did not provide an exact figure, but spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were present. It was one of the largest demonstrations in the country since 2011, when about 200,000 Israelis protested the high cost of living.
  • Ultra-Orthodox men — or Haredim, as they are referred to here — are almost universally exempt from military or national service as long as they are enrolled in yeshivas to study the Torah, as almost all of them are, or at least claim to be. The new law seeks to end those deferments, as well as some financial benefits that go along with them.
  • Although a small number of ultra-Orthodox do serve in the army, such service is greatly frowned upon, and those who enlist are sometimes spat on or accosted when they return to their neighborhoods dressed in military uniforms.
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  • “In a month from now, every Haredi youth will receive a draft order. Whoever does not enlist will do civil service in the fire department, MDA paramedics or aiding the elderly. Sharing the burden is not an attempt to pick on Haredim or their lifestyles. We are truly committed to aiding them extract themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who ran on a secular platform in the 2013 elections.
  • The law and even the attempts to put it in place mark a significant challenge to the religious-secular status quo established by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in the 1950s. Back then, Ben-Gurion struck a deal with Haredi rabbis allowing believers to study rather than fight, in an attempt to rebuild the world of Torah study destroyed by the Holocaust.
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