Monday, December 9, 2019

Who is Gantz kidding?

Israel's Benny Gantz, head of the Israeli political Party, Blue and White, wants to become Israel's next Prime Minister. All he needs to do is convince 60 other Members of Knesset (MPs) to join him to form a ruling coalition government.  He's failed to do that.

Meanwhile, the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,  has met with a similar fate. He, to, has been unable to find 60 other MK's to join him to create his own ruling coalition. This stalemate means that if there's no movement towards forming a coalition (by anyone) between today and later this month (December 2019), Israel will be forced into new elections in March 2020--for the third time in the same 12-month period.

Israel has been in this position since April 2019. There's no real government, just an unending 'transition'. Little-to-nothing gets done in the Knesset. Military funding is frozen. A budget won't get done. Laws won't be passed. 

Both Gantz and Netanyahu blame each other for this impasse. For example, just this week, Gantz accused Netanyahu of doing everything in his power to create the need for a new election (here). He suggests Netyanyahu is doing whatever it takes to get to another election (ibid).

But these accusations are patently false--and Gantz is going to be hammered for these accusations. Indeed, that 'hammering' has already begun (here).

The truth is, it's Gantz who's the one to blame for no government. Here's why:

Just after the September 2019 election, it was clear to all that neither Gantz nor Netanyahu would be able to form a ruling coalition. The numbers needed to do that (given how Israel's electoral system works) just weren't there. Israel's President Reuven Rivlin saw this problem--and began to propose creative ideas for establishing a shared Prime Ministership for both Gantz and Netanyahu (here). While the media in Israel essentially interpreted Rivlin's initial proposal to mean a 'rotating leadership', that wasn't what he was proposing (ibid). 

Rivlin's first proposal (here) was unusual. Looking back almost 500 years to a plan first created during Europe's Reformation period, Rivlin offered Gantz and Netanyahu a co-equal Prime Ministership. In this arrangement, both men would have power together--at the same time. Both would have a veto right on the other. Both would therefore be forced to govern together (ibid) to get anything accomplished. This initial proposal did not mention anything about a rotation of power, where only one-at-a-time would govern.

The idea was to create some kind of 'unity government', so that no other election would be necessary--and governing the State could begin. But this first proposal by Rivlin went nowhere.

Then, Rivlin proposed that a new law be passed so that Netanyahu could 'suspend' himself as PM while he worked to clear his name from accusations of criminal behavior while in office. During this 'suspended' time, Gantz would govern as PM (here). But Gantz, rejecting every democracy's idea of the presumption of innocence, rejected this offer, saying he would not enter a government where the sitting PM was under a criminal indictment (ibid). Gantz then falsely called Netanyahu a 'unity government rejectionist' (here).

As this impasse was unfolding, Israel's  Avigdor Liberman (head of the political Party, Yisrael Beteinu), essentially demanded there be only a 'true unity' government, where the Parties of both Gantz and Netanyahu would govern together, with a rotation schedule. Gantz rejected it. He wouldn't sit in any government with an indicted criminal (Netanyahu). 

The presumption of innocence? Forget it.

Now, Netanyahu has made a new proposal (here). He would, as in other proposals, be the first to rule in a shared rotation leadership agreement. But this offer is not to serve two years before giving Gantz his own two years. Now, Netanyahu says he would serve as PM only until February or March 2020--for three or four months. After that, Gantz would automatically take over for the next three+ years.  

What's not to like here? For Gantz, it'd mean a certainty to serve far longer than Netanyahu. It also meant a short waiting period before becoming PM. 

Of course, if Gantz rejected this proposal, Israel would continue to be in limbo. Worse, Israel would be forced to hold a third, unprecedented election--in February or March 2020. 

What's interesting about this proposal is that if Gantz rejected it,  he'd have to wait for elections until February or March 2020 anyway--and then, to be PM,  he'd have to win that election. If he took the offer, he'd get a guarantee to be PM--in that same February or March 2020.

 In other words, Netanyahu was offering Gantz his Premiership on a silver platter, guaranteed. There's be no unprecedented third election. There'd be no chance for Gantz to lose. 

Gantz rejected it. 

After having accused Netanyahu for months of doing only what would be good for Netanyahu,not what's good for the country (by demanding to form a unity government only if he, Netanyahu, served as PM first), Gantz was demanding the exact same thing: he'd only sit in a unity government if he (Gantz) served first! (here). He said he had to serve first because he couldn't sit in a government headed by an indicted (potential) criminal. 

Democracy's presumption of innocence? Forget it. 

Gantz runs the risk of being labeled with the very accusation he'd used repeatedly against Netanyahu. It isn't Netanyahu who puts his own  desires first--Netanyahu is willing only to serve just three-four months; it's Gantz who puts himself first exclusively: the only way he'd serve is if Neta nyahu resigns. Worse, this latest rejection by Gantz means we must now (short of a last-minute miracle) suffer through an historic third (and expensive to the state) national election. 

Who is Benny Gantz kidding? The unity rejectionist isn't Netanyahu. It's Gantz. 

Caroline Glick has already said that Gantz's Party was founded on only the flimsiest of foundations--to destroy Netanyahu (here). With Gantz saying he'd serve in a unity government only if Netanyahu steps down (here), Glick looks correct in her assessment. 

What appears important to Gantz is not serving Israel by becoming its PM. What's of primary importance to him seems to be gaining the title, "the man who finally forced Netanyahu out of office".

Gantz's excuse is, the indictments. He says Netanyahu must go so he (Netanyahu) can deal with the indictments against him.  But while that sounds like a good idea, it isn't. It's a terrible idea-- because it's illegal.

Israel's Attorney General says Netanyahu cannot legally resign (here). The reason is simple: a Prime Minister cannot just resign at this time because when an Israeli government is in transition--as this government is now--a PM simply cannot resign (ibid).

This government has been in transition since September 2019. How many times has Gantz said throughout this time that Netanyahu must resign? Ten times? Fifty times? In every speech? In every interview?

Neither Gantz nor anyone on his team seems to understand Israel's laws. This ignorance is why his Party still insists Netanyahu must (illegally and impossibly) resign before Gantz will serve in a unity government. 

Gantz condemns Israel to a third election--with an illegal demand, no less.

Perhaps this is why Gantz--and all of his Blue-and-White co-leaders--is now being called a bunch of amateurs (here). They don't understand anything about Israel's legal system. They reject democracy's presumption of innocence. All they care about is getting rid of Netanyahu.

Is this what Israel has voted for--bumbling, ignorant amateurs from Chelm?

How's that going to work out?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Israel has a problem with democracy

(Updated December 4, 2019)

It looks like Israel has a problem with democracy. On the one hand, most of Israel's most vociferous defenders of 'democracy' in Israel--those to the political Left--talk a lot about 'democracy'. But then, in the same breath, they demand the resignation of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because he's under indictment for bribery, breach of trust and corruption.

Indeed, Netanyahu's main rival, Benny Gantz believes that, unless Netanyahu resigns immediately, Israel may not remain a democracy (here). If Netanyahu stays in power, Gantz argues, Israel will collapse into a Turkey-style state (ibid).

Worse, Gantz claims, if Netanyahu won't resign, Israel runs the risk of a civil-war of 'brother-against-brother' (here).

You may call these words 'Leftist drivel'. It certainly sounds like Leftist drivel. But it can't be. 

You see, Gantz doesn't call himself a Leftist. He calls himself a centrist.

Do you see the democracy problem embedded in such anti-Netanyahu behavior? Chances are, you don't--and that's the disturbing part of this problem. When it comes to the basics of 'democracy', even Israel's potential political leaders don't know what are the basics of 'democracy'.

How can such a potential leader of Israel stay true to the 'democracy' he says he cares about if he's so ignorant about 'democracy'?

What Gantz and his anti-Netanyahu cabal don't know is that when many people think about 'what is democracy?' one common thread that appears as an answer is called a key characteristic, or even a pillar of democracy. That singular pillar of democracy is, 'the presumption of innocence' (here).

 A Democracy believes in this presumption. So important is this presumption, it's been enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights that all nations have been called upon to adopt (here):

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

To some around the world, such ideas as the Rule of Law, democracy and democracy's definition of 'justice' are all focused on this presumption of innocence (here). Presumption of innocence is what makes a Western democracy a democracy. Just ask New Zealand (ibid) and the US (here), to name just two examples.

Even in difficult, troubling cases, everyone is innocent until proven guilty (here). That should suggest that even an Israeli Prime Minister is to be granted that Human Right, right?

Wrong. From what we see and hear in Israel's media and from Israel's leading politicians, an Israeli PM--or, more accurately, this Israeli PM--has no right to be presumed innocent at all. At least, that seems to be clear from politicians Gantz and Yair Lapid, and from such noted media outlets as the Times of Israel, to name just a few who, in the name of protecting Israel's democracy, call for Netanyahu to resign immediately.

Not much in life is perfect. But when it comes to the principles of democracy's ideas of justice (which is founded in part on this presumption of innocence), Israel's leading politicians are certainly perfectly ignorant. These are the people Israel votes for? To 'protect' Israel's democracy?

Israel has a real democracy problem.

Do these Netanyahu haters believe in democracy? If they did, they'd be raging, 'what are you doing? the man is innocent until proven guilty'. Instead, they trash basic democratic principles and rage, 'he must go now! He's guilty! Period!'

The anti-Netanyahu crowd dismisses democracy. It doesn't want Netanyahu in the PM's seat. It doesn't care which of democracy's principles it must violate--so long as they get rid of a hated enemy.

This is Israel's democracy problem.

Israel's anti-democracy advocates want a change. They fail at the ballot box--another basic of a democracy. So they avoid the ballot box. Instead, they indict Netanyahu for actions no other democracy on this planet has ever criminalized (here).   

These anti-democracy Netanyahu haters hate 'innocent until proven guilty'. They hate democracy's fundamental ideas of the Rule of Law (which requires the presumption of innocence). Ultimately, they hate you, the voter.

These are the people trying to get rid of Netanyahu--which is why Israel has a democracy problem: by refusing to give Netanyahu the right to a presumption to innocence, with a promise of a fair and public trial, they trample on one of the most basic concepts of democracy. They also trample on one of the most fundamental of Basic Human Rights (see above). If this is how they treat the PM, how do you think they'll start treating you when they get into power?

If these people can criminalize Netanyahu, they can most certainly do it to you. This is why Israel has a problem with democracy.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Will Israel's Religious Zionists finally get smart?

(posted in Israel Saturday night, app 100 minutes after end of Shabbat)

As many of you already know, Israel today faces the prospect of a third national election in one 12-month period, April 2019-March 2020. It's a historic first for Israel, so many attempts to create a coalition government. 

One culprit for this three-elections-in-one-year dilemma is, in my opinion, the very nature of Israel's election system. It's not a system that pits two or perhaps three rivals against one another, as in the USA, Canada or the UK. It's messier than that. 

Israel's election system seems designed to encourage 20-40 Parties to join in. It's a system that requires not just politicking to get elected--but, for the winner, even more politicking to create a ruling coalition after the election, where a coalition of Members of the Knesset commit to 'bind' (in a loose way) together to create a minimum 61-seat majority for the winner. In Israel's system, getting to 61 seats is not guaranteed by simply winning an election. That's why this second set of politicking after the election is so necessary.

A winner might not be able to get those 61 seats because the political compromises he needs to make to get those seats may be more than he can ideologically bear. Or, no one wants to join his side. 

This means that Israel has an election system that always has the seed for what we've got now--a stalemate or, perhaps more accurately, a mess, with neither of the two top rivals able to cobble together 61 Members of Knesset to create that ruling coalition. It's a system that actually opens the door to great election uncertainty, when instead an election should, by definition, put an end to political uncertainty.

Israel's election system is unwieldy. Most here in Israel can't even explain how it works. Read herehere and here. After you've read these three articles, try to explain to someone how Israel's election system works. 

Israel's election system seems to attract political fragmentation the way a magnet attracts metal filings. For example. a modern Israeli national election doesn't present Israel's voters with 2-4 Parties. It presents somewhere between 30-50 political Parties, all seeking to get voted into the Knesset. But, typically, less than 15 get enough votes to get into the  Knesset. In the September 2019 election (our most recent election), only 10 Parties got into the Knesset. The votes of the remaining, failed 21 Parties got split up and redistributed according to a complex pre-established formula (see those three articles, above). In the end, the 20+ smallest Parties disappeared--and their votes got divided among the bigger Parties. Some of these redistributed votes actually went to Parties the voters for these tiny Parties abhor. 

This 'lost vote' issue is especially important to Israel's Religious Zionists. During an election season, this political segment typically forms 5-7 Parties, most of which  don't get enough votes to qualify to enter the Knesset; some of these Parties actually fail and pull out of running just before the election, a failure-to-compete that might encourage supporters to skip voting altogether (why vote when my favorite Party just 'died'?).

Religious Zionism isn't a huge segment of Israel's population. Yes, it's larger than Israel's true Left. But the committed Religious Zionist base still only represents perhaps 20% (at most) of the total voter base (my estimate). Failing to unite means that much of this base isn't proportionally represented in the Knesset.

For example, in the September 2019 election, only two of some five Religious Zionist Parties qualified to get into the Knesset. If all Religious Parties had run as one Party, Religious Zionists could have gotten at least another 4 seats in the Knesset (see the articles above to understand the need to 'pass the threshold test'). But because the Religious Zionist vote was split between all those 5 Parties (above), the votes of the three failed Parties didn't go to this 'bloc'. They were redistributed among non-Religious Zionist Parties.Those Religious Zionist votes, therefore, were indeed 'lost'--or, as some would say, wasted.

By contrast, in that same September 2019 election, the Haredi (ultra-religious) were united into just two Parties. The Ultra-Religious in Israel represent perhaps 11-15% of Israel's population. But because they have united, this 'bloc' is truly proportionally represented in the Knesset: it won a total of 16 seats in the Knesset, which is approximately equal to its population size--13% of the total Knesset vs 11-15% of total Israeli population). The Ultra-Religious are, therefore, fairly and 'proportionally' represented in the Knesset.

The same isn't true for the Religious Zionists. The population of Religious Zionists isn't proportionally represented in the Knesset, as are Haredi: while Religious Zionists may represent some 15-20% of Israel's population, they secured only 7 seats (equal to 5.8%) in the Knesset. Those 'lost' 4 seats (from the failed Parties, above) would have given the Religious Zionists perhaps 11 seats, or some 9.2% of the Knesset--still not as proportionate as the Haredi vote/population numbers (above).

That means Religious Zionists are under-represented in the Knesset. Of course, there's another complication for these Zionists: some Religious Zionists will vote not for a Religious Zionist Party, but for a larger Party (typically Likud or, this year, Blue-and-White). This year's potential 9-10% representation in the Knesset is, possibly, the best that Religious Zionists could hope for--a situation that leaves the Religious Zionist population severely under-represented in the Knesset. 

Nevertheless, in political terms, if all the failed Religious Zionist Parties had been united with the successful Religious Parties (which won seats in the Knesset), the four votes that  got 'lost' (see above) would have gone to the Religious Zionists, to give these Zionists 11 seats, not the 7 they currently hold.

How important would that 11 seats have been? Very important. The current 7 seats makes the Religious Zionist the 7th largest Party in the Knesset (of 10 Parties that won seats). But 11 seats would have made Religious Zionists the 4th largest Party, after Blue-and-White, Likud and the Arab Joint List. 

The point of Israel's election isn't just to win; it's to corner control of as many seats in the Knesset as one can. Seats equal power. Put another way, for an Israeli election, the mantra shouldn't be 'me first' but instead, 'united, we'll stand strong; divided, we'll be ignored'.

Of ten Parties, it's relatively easy to ignore the 7th of that 10. It's much harder to ignore the 4th largest Party. 

Clearly, Religious Zionists haven't learned that lesson. 

The longer Religious Zionists refuse to unify, and the longer they spread their votes over too many Parties that fail, the longer the entire Religious Zionist bloc remains, essentially, partially disenfranchised. 

But now, there may be a change. A group of Religious Zionists has had enough. It's created a petition. It's demanding that all Religious Zionist Parties run as one Party (here)--including primaries to choose the new Party slate.

The petitioners claim that, if rebuffed, they'll vote for no Religious Zionist Party at all, but instead for one of the larger Parties, presumably Likud or Blue-and-White. They sound serious.

Personally, I believe that if Religious Zionists really want power, they should not join together among themselves to form a new, united Party. Instead, they should join Likud.

If they'd done that in the first-of-two-so-far national elections (back in April, 2019), the lost seats might have been 5 or 6 (from Zehut, Otzma Yehudit and Naftali Bennet's failed Party), not four. Even with an additional 5 seats, back in that April election, Netanyahu would have been able to form a coalition with at least 62 seats--enough to form a government. 

If all Religious Zionists had united under Likud, we wouldn't have the  mess we've got now, stalemated, with no one able to attract the needed 61 seats. If the Religious Zionists had joined Likud back in April, Netanyahu would now be Prime Minister: game over. 

As it is, Religious Zionists haven't united. They won't join Likud. And Israel suffers an insufferable mess.

Will Religious Zionists finally get smart--or will they stay fragmented? Will they unite in some way to win? Will they join Likud to win?

Stay tuned. Just don't hold your breathe while you wait.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The greatest threat to a democracy: a rogue police and Prosecutor's Office

(Last update: November 18, 2019)

Can a democracy survive if a nation's voting public no longer trusts the police and its legal arm, the nation's Prosecutor's Office? As you'll see in a moment, recent events in Israel suggest just such a question. 

This question has arisen because of a series of criminal investigations against Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (here). Rumor has it that an indictment now appears practically guaranteed (here), possibly as early as November 26, 2019. 

Netanyahu has been fighting to save his career. For some, the fact that Netanyahu fights against the criminal accusations against him doesn't prove that Israel has a vibrant democracy--you know, that Israel allows the man to claim he's innocent until proven guilty. Instead, those against Netanyahu take a different approach. They say that his fighting for his career threatens the integrity of Israel's democracy (here). 

These anti-Netanyahu 'experts' see their accusations against Netanyahu as pure proof of guilt, nothing less. Essentially, they ask, how can a democracy remain a democracy when those found to be criminally guilty (in the media) remain in power?

For others, Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty. That, they say, is his democratic right. The  counter-argument that  'we must defend our democracy by forcing the man to resign now' only suggests that it is they who stand against Netanyahu in this matter who threaten Israel's democracy. 

The police and its legal arm, the national Prosecutor's Office (the Attorney General's Office) contribute to the fog that has surrounded this 'good for democracy or bad' discussion. They've been working overtime to criminalize what some call normal interactions between politicians and publishers (here). If Netanyahu goes to trial, the police and the Prosecutor's Office will cast a chill on publisher-politician behavior--and give police effective control over the press (see here).

The argument here is that he who controls the freedom of speech (and press) more easily controls whether or not a nation retains its democracy.

Israel's voters don't know how to respond to such a discussion. They can barely understand Israel's election system, let alone a discussion about what threatens the democracy that underpins those elections. 

This is a complicated case with enormous consequences. It isn't just about Netanyahu. It's about how a democracy is supposed to work, something Israel's Prosecutor's Office might not understand (here). 

Voters have reacted in two ways to all of this. First, these criminal allegations against Netanyahu have meant that Israeli voters have become unable to decide who they want to see as a national leader. The key election question seems to have been, how can I vote for someone the media calls a criminal? 

The police-media drumbeat against Netanyahu has taken its toll. In  reality, voters have turned against Netanyahu. But barely--only enough to give his opponent a meager one-seat advantage in this last election. That's not a resounding rejection of the current leader (Netanyahu). But it's enough to paralyze Israel's election system.

In fact, in the two election-attempts we'd had during 2019, voters haven't chosen anything at all: neither Netanyahu nor anyone else in Israel has received enough votes to form a national coalition government. (Read here for a fairly even-handed look at how Israel's election system works, one that was prepared in April 2019 before the first of two elections in 2019; for an explanation of why that first election failed--and why now the second election is so close to failing (Benny Gantz has until November 20th to form a government; if he cannot, there could well be a third election)--read what I would call a highly-charged-but-possibly-accurate view of Israel's voting system, by Daniel Greenfield (here).

This question of Israel's democracy being threatened started because of what some see as police misbehavior during its investigations against Netanyahu. Police have been investigating Netanyahu for almost three years for crimes against the State (or, the 'people'). Netanyahu now faces serious criminal charges for bribery, corruption and what Israel calls, 'breach of trust' (here). 

These investigations appear, so far as many voters are concerned, to render Netanyahu a criminal (above). At least, that's how some in the media present this unfolding drama. While there is no law that says a Prime Minister indicted for crimes must step down until he's been cleared of all charges, many in Israel's media cry that Netanyahu is guilty-until-proven-innocent--and must therefore step down immediately. They claim he is 'clearly' unfit to hold National Office, something which, of course, has not yet been proven. 

Given the pressure the police and their media allies have put on the Prosecutor's Office through almost three years of damning leaks against Netanyahu, the Attorney General may be trapped. He may feel that this 'ongoing public trial' the police and media have engaged in against the PM needs to be cleared up. Facing three years' worth of damning anti-Netanyahu media reports, the Attorney General may feel the only way to end the anti-Netanyahu clamoring is with a trial.

The stakes for Netanyahu are high. If found guilty, he (Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister) could land in prison. 

The second part of Israel's voter response to these accusations has just shown up in a new poll. Here, just 22% of Israelis maintain a strong faith in Israel's police, and only 28% percent feel the same about Israel's Prosecutor's Office (here). 

This isn't good news for the police, the Prosecutor's Office--or for Israel. On average, some 75% of Israeli voters appear not to trust the police or the Prosecutor's Office. Please note that these numbers may not be just a one-off experience  for Israel. They're part of a disturbing trend. 

Back in early March, 2019, some 42 percent of respondents to another poll agreed that, when it came to the accusations against Netanyahu, the public perception was that the nation's Attorney General had caved in to Israel's political Left to hound, harass and seek the arrest of the Prime Minister (here). That's how much voters trusted the Prosecutor's Office (and the police doing the investigations) eight months ago. Now, public trust in these two institutions appears to have cratered, as the latest poll (above) suggests: only 22% of respondents trust the police?

This is dangerous. If a nation's voters come to believe the police are not honest, and if at the same time that public also believes the Prosecutor's Office, which prosecutes those whom the police want prosecuted, also is untrustworthy, then that democracy will be seriously threatened. 

That's how much power the police have. That's how powerful a nation's Prosecutor's Office is. These two institutions are supposed to protect a democracy's Rule of Law. If they 'go bad', they can destroy a democracy.

Have they now gone bad? 

Read Caroline Glick (here). Unelected officials in the Prosecutor's Office will very soon judge Netanyahu. They're going to decide if or how politician-publisher interactions should be criminalized. Apparently, at least some in that office may also have an 'anti-capitalism' (read, 'anti-Western-style democracy') bias as well (Glick, ibid). That's an existential threat to Israel's democracy because Israel has a Liberal, Western-style democracy (here) where the freedoms of speech and press are fundamental to Israel's political structure (ibid); a Netanyahu indictment could redefine what is 'freedom' for the press (see the Glick essay just cited). 

When the police and Prosecutor's Office criminalize politician-publisher interactions, how do you think publishers will start behaving? Will they risk jail by interacting with a politician? Will they risk bankruptcy to defend themselves against a long string of leaks against them?

Indicting Netanyahu means the Prosecutor's Office will not defend two of a Liberal Democracy's founding Principles (to protect freedoms of speech and the press). They will be criminalizing those Principles. 

That doesn't protect anybody's democracy. It hurts it. It undercuts it. Instead of protecting democracy in Israel by indicting Netanyahu, Israel's Prosecutors will be condemning it. That will elevate the power of the police--and that, in turn, will open the door to a state controlled by the police.

This is a real problem for Israel. The nation's democracy is being threatened by the very people supposed to protect it.

The Left in Israel, including much of the media, may finally get what it's wanted for more than a decade--to get rid of Netanyahu. Be careful what you wish for, Israel. You may get it. 

Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Israel under attack!

In the early-morning darkness of November 12, 2019, Israel's IDF (Israel Defense Force), along with Israel's Security Agency (Shin Bet), attacked a home in Gaza (here). Killed in that attack was a man named, Baha Abu Al Ata. This is a name you have probably never heard before.

Al Ata was no ordinary man. He was a Senior leader of the terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the  most aggressive anti-Israel organizations trying to destroy the Jewish state. They appear to be based in Gaza. He is considered to have been responsible for most of this organization's recent anti-Israel terror activities in Gaza. He led and personally participated in attacks against Israeli civilians (ibid). He is considered to have been responsible for  most of the terror attacks against Israel from from Gaza over the past year (ibid).

He was no saint. He lived to commit violence against Israel. He died an appropriately violent death.

Less than an hour after Al Ata died, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened revenge. "We will" it declared, "Shake the Zionist entity" (newsbrief, arutzsheva, 0543, November 12, 2019). 

This is exactly what Israel experiences this morning. At 0553 today, just ten minutes after that threat of 'revenge', air raid sirens in Southern Israel (near the Gaza-Israel border) began to sound. It is now 1050 in the morning here in Israel, November 12, 2019. In the slightly more than 4 hours since that threat, at least 100 rockets have been reported to have been fired into Israel, some 28 just between the two minutes, 1003-1005, alone. That adds up to one rocket every 4.5 seconds.

This barrage continued through 1008. The intensity remained the same, app one rocket every 4-5 seconds.

In Israel's South, near the Gaza border, at least 17 small communities have had air raid sirens sounded. Everyone runs for a shelter. At least two children are reported to have 'collapsed' trying to get into a shelter.

Right now, I'd say the two main target areas for these rockets have been, first, the southern coast of  Israel, including the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. My guess also is that the second main target has been Tel Aviv.

It's hard to tell. Tel Aviv is my guess because these rockets from Gaza are not guided missiles. They aren't precise. Tel Aviv seems to me be a target area because so many rockets have landed in communities 4-6 miles south of Tel Aviv--or closer.

I have a son and daughter, both married, living in the Northern portion of Tel Aviv, inside city lines. At app 0800 this morning, my daughter 'whatsapped' us to say she had just heard three explosions. My son talked to me at about 1000 this morning. He lives not far from his sister. He reported that, so far, as of 1000, he'd heard 5 explosions. Three of them seemed farther away from his apartment in center-city, two closer. 

Israel is truly under siege. Schools in these areas above are closed. Businesses are closed. People are being told not to go out. My Tel Aviv son-in-law has been told not to go to work today, but to stay home and work from home. It's as close to a 'lock-down' as you can find.

Public transportation has been disrupted.  Train service has been disrupted in these areas. Emergency Medical Services are out in force treating people. So far, these injuries seem to be mostly shock and 'injury'. Public shelters have been opened. An emergency 'situation room' to monitor health services and damage report services have been opened.  

The IAF (Israel Air Force) has begun to bomb Gaza. No reports as yet--but in the past, most targets for the IAF in Gaza have been empty buildings and warehouses. Will we see more of the same?

Today, a Tuesday, is the day new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is to start his first day as Defense Minister. In the past, he has been a critic of 'soft' Israeli responses to these rocket attacks. Will his response to this new rocket assault be more severe?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Caroline Glick, Benjamin Netanyahu--and Israel's survival as a democracy -- with UPDATE

(Last update: October 25, 2019)

Most of Israel's media has been following three long-running criminal investigations (here) against Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Most of this media coverage appears to focus on 4 sets of details: (1) the individual cases against Netanyahu for bribery, corruption and 'breach of trust'; (2) how Natanyahu must be indicted in order to protect Israel's democracy (the media has apparently assumed Netanyahu to be guilty before indictment or trial); (3) how Netanyahu has an absolute obligation to step down from office before being indicted, even though the law doesn't require this; and (4), since Netanyahu has not yet stepped down, he most certainly should do so once he is indicted, even though the law doesn't require that, either.

Otherwise, most media news outlets claim, Israel's democracy will be threatened. Therefore, for our democracy's sake, Netanyahu should step down immediately--if not sooner.

Caroline Glick has just published an essay that raises serious questions not only about the three cases against Netanyahu, but also about "Israel's democracy" (here). If you want to see the 'case' against Netanyahu in an entirely new light--one not yet explored here in Israel--you 'd be wise to read her essay (see below).

Now, late October, 2019, the three criminal cases against Netanyahu have advanced to the stage where Israel's Attorney General (Avichai Mandelblit) is studying the results of a four-day pre-indictment hearing for Netanyahu that ended some two weeks ago. Mandelblit will decide sometime over the next seven weeks if Netanyahu should go to trial--or be exonerated (here).

Some in Israel claim that these three cases against Netanyahu, which have harassed Netanyahu for more than three years, are linked (here). Some argue that these charges are the reason Netanyahu didn't win the April, 2019 national elections. The weight of all the 'corruption' stories simply hung too heavily around his neck. These cases are also the reason, for some, that  Netanyahu couldn't win enough votes in the follow-up September 2019 elections to retain his hold on the PM office. 

Now, Caroline Glick has written a bombshell of an essay about Mandelblit's responsibility to Israel in this case. Her point of view is brand new to Israeli readers. 

Mandelblit has less than eight weeks to decide to indict Netanyahu--or cancel more than three years' worth of police investigations. Glick claims that what's at stake here for Mandelblit is nothing less than Israel's reputation as a Western democracy. She suggests that, if Mandelblit makes the wrong decision (which is to indict Netanyahu), Israel can lose its reputation as a 'Western democracy'. Her title is, "Netanyahu, the media and the fate of Israeli democracy". It's available here.

Her  thesis is simple. Because, she claims, these three cases involve three individuals seeking special treatment in exchange for what we can call some kind of positive news coverage for Netanyahu, Mandelblit has to be careful how he evaluates his facts. Why? Because, Glick argues, Western democracies have already seen such cases; and in each such instance--even when there is evidence of a quid pro quo--a democracy simply doesn't criminalize such news-media/politician discussions. Criminalizing such discussions would have a chilling effect on all journalist-politician relations,she argues; and these media/politician interactions represent a very special kind of relationship that's too precious to a democracy to chill through a criminalizing label.

Read her essay. It's startling. 

Her essay presents two interesting issues. The first issue is, are each of these three cases against Netanyahu really about gifting to Netanyahu positive news coverage in exchange for special treatment? In perhaps two of these cases, such an offer does appear indeed to be 'on the table'--if news reports are accurate. But the question is, did Netanyahu accept the offer? That's not entirely clear. Then, in a third case, the offer itself isn't clear.

In the end, none of this could matter because of a second issue--a remark cited by Glick: one of the prosecutors at the pre-indictment hearing is reported to have claimed that something about this 'danger' of criminalizing any journalist-politician relationship is, 'a capitalist position' (ibid). 

This single comment could be innocent--and therefore unimportant. But it could also be something else: an anti-capitalist, ideological, political bias. Does such a bias belong in a courtroom? Is such a political reference ever relevant in a courtroom?

In Israel, the one answer to such questions is, too often, yes. That is, such language is too often very relevant in Israel's courtrooms. Too often, such language is an ideological bias that prejudices Israel's most important courts--to the Left. 

Such an existing political bias--and such a biased political comment from a presumed-to-be-objective prosecutor--could suggest that these three cases aren't about criminal behavior at all. This bias suggests that these cases could actually be about how social justice warriors inside Israel's Attorney General's office now travel down the road to damning democracy: in the name of 'protecting democracy', perhaps they'll find Netanyahu guilty of a kind of corruption no other Western democracy dares to embrace. These 'warriors' can thereby 'chill' Israel's political climate so as to take 'democracy' out of Israel.

Such a biased political remark during a legal proceeding certainly suggests a social-justice bias--a bias that leans Left, to Socialism. It suggests a bias that rejects the freedom-of-speech sensibilities that Western democracies so cherish. 

Social justice Socialism never seems to look down the road to think about the unintended consequences of its actions. Just look at social justice warriors in the USA calling for police to be disarmed, without thinking about the consequence of such a demand. 

In America, it is this rise of social-justice Socialism that threatens to undercut the rule of law where, for example, it is a Socialistic 'anti-capitalist' bias that threatens to get a sitting President impeached through secret hearings. There have been just three impeachments in US history, and none--until now--has ever used closed-door hearings to plot out an impeachment case against a sitting President. 

More and more, social justice-Socialism law looks like closed, hidden Soviet-style authoritarian law than open, transparent Western law. By definition, social justice Socialism isn't 'capitalistic'. It's anti-capitalist. 

It's also anti-democracy. Is this Netanyahu's problem? Is his  behavior being judged not through the lens of a democracy, but through a Socialist, anti-democracy lens?

If so, he'll go to jail. But if Netanyahu is indeed to be judged through such an anti-democratic lens, upon what law what this change established in Israel? 

Calling a sensitivity to freedom of speech issues involving journalists and politicians simply 'a capitalistic position' is disturbing, to say the least. Israel's stature as a first-rate world democracy could be seriously undercut if Israel's chief law-enforcement officer listens to such talk and ignores the most basic of Western democratic ideas about free speech in order to criminalize what no leading modern democracy has yet dared to criminalize.

Will Mandelblit go down this road? More important, is this the anti-democracy road Israelis want?

If Glick is correct, Israel's democracy could be at stake here. Read her argument. 

What happens to Netanyahu--and to Israel--with these criminal cases may all depend on how Israel's Attorney General's office defines "capitalist". If their definition is anti- capitalist and anti-democracy, Netanyahu doesn't stand a chance. 

UPDATE: a new story in today's (October 25, 2019) timesofisrael (here) suggests that 'senior prosecutors' in Israel's Attorney General's office are reported to be unmoved by anything Netanyahu's lawyers said during the October 2-8, 2019 pre-indictment hearings. They seem intent to keep intact all of the original charges. Such a report is disturbing. It tends to confirm the analysis above. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Fast of Gedaliah and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

(Please  note: there are conflicting dates given for the story I am about to tell. I have chosen one time-line. Others use different dates)

(Last update: October 4, 2019)

The Jewish Fast of Gedaliah always falls on the third day of the Jewish month, Tishrei. In the Jewish calendar, the 3rd of Tishrei is the day after Jews around the world celebrate the two-day Holiday called, Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. This year, 5780 (2019 on the secular calendar), this Fast occurs today, Wednesday, October 2nd.

Today's title suggests a connection between this day of public fasting and Israel's current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. If you wish to see this connection, consider first what this Jewish Fast day commemorates. Then, consider the story of Mr Netanyahu. 

The name, Gedaliah, belongs to a man we know today as, Gedaliah ben Achikam ben Shafan. This Gedaliah (the son of Ahikam, the grandson son of Shafan) lived in Israel more than 2,400 years ago (here). His story is referred to twice in our Tanach, once in the Book of Yirmiyahu (chapters 40-41) and then, again, more briefly, in Malachiim 2 (Book of Kings 2, chapter 25) (ibid). You can look up those chapters for details of his story.

Not long after the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jewish Temple--and most of the Jewish settlement enterprise in Israel [in 586 BCE (here)]--he decided to allow a remnant of Jews to remain in Israel. He appointed the Jewish Gedaliah as governor over this remnant (here).

Gedailah ruled over Israel at a time when Babylonia was the most powerful nation in the world. Gedaliah is said to have believed that maintaining a strong and peaceful relationship with this all-powerful nation would be good for Israel. That is, he appears to have believed that staying on Babylonia's 'good side' would mean that Israel would thrive (ibid). 

Indeed, following a policy of 'staying in line with' Babylonia, Israel's economy improved under Gedaliah's rule (ibid). By arranging a 'foreign policy' that favored Babylonia, Gedaliah was able to use his domestic leadership skills to strengthen Israel's ability to stand alone economically.  Through this combination of a shrewd foreign policy with a skilled domestic policy, Gedaliah created a success formula for Israel's existence. 

Netanyahu is no different than Gedaliah. Like Gedaliah, Netanyahu has a foreign policy that works closely with the interests of the modern world's most powerful nation, the US. Like Gedaliah--or, perhaps more successfully than Gedaliah--Netanyahu has combined a shrewd foreign policy with excellent domestic leadership skills to guide Israel to historic economic gains. 

Despite these achievements, both Gedaliah and Netanyahu are plagued by enemies. In Gedaliah's case, some Jews were jealous of him--and hated both his leadership and his policies (ibid). Disaffected Jews plotted against him. They wanted him gone. Gedaliah was warned to tread carefully with these plotters, but he didn't listen to that advice. 

On a Rosh Hashannah, he invited his main opponent to join him for the Holiday meal. At that meal, that opponent--along with men he had brought with him to the meal--rose up and murdered Gedaliah (here). 

This murder not only ended Gedaliah's life. It also ended the Jewish settlement enterprise in Israel (ibid). Gedaliah's leadership was such that his murder represented a devastating blow to Israel's well-being. Without him leading, Jews abandoned Israel. Israel withered into weakness and decline. 

We mourn today that loss. We fast, both for his death and the treachery which preceded it.

This, in essence, is the story of Gedaliah's Fast. It's short. It's ugly. Its consequences were disastrous for the Jewish remnant in Israel struggling to remain in Israel.

Today, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces what some feel is a similar treachery. What is at stake today isn't Netanyahu's life. No one seriously fears for his physical survival. But what some do fear today is for Netanyahu's political career. Netanyahu's enemies have, it seems, a lust to destroy him; and some in Israel fear the international and domestic consequences Israel will face should he be toppled.

Netanyahu's and Gedaliah's enemies share a starling similarity. Both sets of enemies hated their national leader. Neither wanted the leader they hated to remain in office. Both sets of enemies chose to destroy that hated leader--one through murder, the other by destroying the leader's reputation.  

Today's enemies of the state leader are frustrated. They hate Netanyahu. But they've only been able to keep him out of the Prime Minister's office  just once, some 20 years ago. Since his return to office in 2009, he's become Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister, ever. His enemies hate that he's done that despite their efforts to unseat him. His successes make them look like fools. They hate that, too.

While we don't know much about how and when Gedaliah's enemies plotted, and with whom, we know a lot about Netanyahu's enemies. Beginning perhaps in 2015, these enemies have been trying to remove Netanyahu from office outside the ballot box. Until now, Netanyahu's enemies certainly haven't beaten him at the ballot box. That has seemed pretty much impossible. So, beginning perhaps 4 years ago--some will say this all began much earlier-- Netanyahu's enemies hit upon a new tactic. They decided to destroy him with accusations of corruption. 

In Gedaliah's days, those who plotted against him sought to murder him. Today's plotters against Netanyahu seek only to 'murder' Netanyahu's political career. 

After close to four years of attacks, the accusations against Netanyahu have begun to talk hold in the nation's psyche. More and more voters have come to believe that, where's there's so much 'smoke' (accusations that are repeated some daily), there must indeed be fire (with all these accusations, the man must be guilty, right?). 

Some voters, so convinced, express a visceral hate for the man. They want to see him destroyed; or, if  not destroyed, then in jail (which, of course, amounts to the same thing). Now, with Israel's criminal justice system on the verge of indicting Netanyahu for the accused corruptions he is supposed to have committed, his enemies appear ready to celebrate finally getting rid of him. 

Gedaliah and Netanyahu. Two leaders felled--or brought to  the "felling" post (court)--by plotters and haters. No small irony, this--on the Fast of Gedaliah, no less.

Gedaliah long ago lost his life because of treachery. Will Netanyahu lose his political life now because of an equally hate-filled treachery? The Jews of Israel suffered when Gedaliah lost his life. Will Jews in Israel now suffer again if--as many expect--Netanyahu's political life is destroyed? 

Can Netanyahu save his career and his reputation? Will indictment bring out the howling wolves of 'he must resign now'?

Will a trial save him--or be the final nail in his political coffin?

Stay tuned. This ugly tale of modern Jewish treachery has just begun.  

How is this going to end? G-d knows.

(Some of us are fasting today. Have an easy fast)