Forward Thinking

The Black Panthers Haggadah

By Asaf Shalev

The following is a translation of the Israeli Black Panthers Haggadah

With a strong hand, two. And with an outstretched arm, two more.

With great terror, two more. With protests, two more. With banners raised, two more. With hunger strikes, two more.

These, then, are 10 plagues that the Black Panthers from Musrara brought upon the government in Jerusalem, and they are:

  1. The founding of the Black Panthers of Jerusalem

  2. The passing out fliers

  3. The demonstrations, with an effort to keep them peaceful

  4. The chained protest at the Knesset building

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Lithuania vs. Morocco — Whose Jewish Museum Wins?

By Jonathan Katz

Model of a Rabat Jewish bride in her finery / Jewish Museum in Casablanca

I was fortunate enough to travel this month to both Morocco and Lithuania — the former for a class trip, the latter for an attempt to become acquainted with the land of my ancestors, including my ancestral hometown of Panevėžys (Ponevezh). While in each country, I decided to visit the national Jewish museum.

In some ways, the Jewish museums are very different. Morocco’s Jewish Museum is located in a posh suburb of Casablanca, and is fairly small. Lithuania’s Jewish Museum — the “Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum” — is a somewhat larger affair, spread across three facilities in Vilnius pending the completion of a new structure in 2017. Morocco’s is discreetly signposted; Vilnius’ is prominently marked with enormous direction signs on relevant city streets.

Artifacts exhibited at the Tolerance Centre, a part of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum.

Yet both are state-funded museums, founded in the 1990s during times of change. The Lithuania museum emerged in a post-Soviet state coming to terms with its unsavory past of historical anti-Semitic nationalism and collaboration with the Nazis. The Morocco museum’s founding was one consequence of a wider liberalization following the infamous Years of Lead, which included both political liberalization and the discussion of taboo topics, like the history and culture of Morocco’s Jewish and Berber-speaking communities. Both institutions have been generously funded by donors abroad. Both are part of growing Jewish tourism industries.

In some ways, the museums’ exhibits are remarkably similar: there are the mezuzot, Torah crowns and ornate arks of historical communities. There are the pictures of old communities and art made by today’s community members. Both museums have a curious interest in strange Torah ornaments. But for me, one remarkable difference set these two museums apart.

Lithuania’s museum wants to tell stories. Morocco’s wants to convey situations.

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The 'Stranger' at Your Passover Seder? That's Me.

By Kelsey Osgood

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

A week before my first Passover Seder, a friend took me to her local Chabad, where the rabbi outlined the ritual for us, from washing our hands to reading the Haggadah to eating the little sandwich. “You’ll do fine,” the rabbi said to me as I was leaving, which confused me because I hadn’t realized I looked nervous.

The night of the Seder, I wore a navy blue dress. I brought a bottle of kosher wine, even though my boyfriend’s family didn’t keep kosher, and a copy of the Sarajevo Haggadah as a gift. Most of the attendees I knew by face, from my boyfriend’s grandmother’s funeral some months prior. As far as our addresses and our clothing and our jobs went, there wasn’t much to distinguish between us, but I knew that underneath all that we were very different. They were Jewish — and therefore belonged here — and I was not.

By this point in my life I had felt like the blond Presbyterian at a bar mitzvah many times over. I had sat in synagogue and listened to rabbis wax poetic about the inherent specialness of the Jewish people. I had been to Sabbath lunches where I perhaps not so subtly grimaced at various containers of brown sludge and fish coated in oil. I had even swayed at the Wailing Wall — mostly to blend in — and watched, brimming with curiosity, as teenage girls nearby sobbed into their Siddurs.

But this was the first time I had been such an active participant in a Jewish ritual — in the home, no less, of the people who might eventually be my family.

The group read aloud: “Still we remember it was we who were slaves, we who were strangers, and therefore we recall these words as well: you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

However adolescent this makes me sound, I must admit that I considered, for a brief moment, that these people were talking about me. At that moment, I felt like I was the stranger in the Haggadah. I didn’t want reprieve from oppression, exactly, but I craved acceptance. Even though I’m not of you, I thought, I hope you can welcome me. Because I am here, and I love you.

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1 Thing Moroccans Want All Jews To Know

By Jonathan Katz

Moroccan Berbers, seeking to build better ties with Jews, celebrate a traditional wedding / Getty Images

One of the most intellectually stimulating weeks of my life was the one I recently spent in Morocco. More than the architecture or the food, the thing that stimulated me most — and that made me think of Ashkenormativity yet again — was the way many Moroccans spoke of the country’s Jewish community.

I’m always discreet about being Jewish when I travel — whether to Muslim or non-Muslim countries — so here, I tried to be just another traveler who happened to speak fairly proficient French. French is the prestige language in Morocco, and my ability to speak it opened many doors for me to chat with the Moroccans I encountered, be they AirBNB hosts in Rabat and Casablanca, the driver of a “grand-taxi” in Rabat, or the charming family I met at a tea house in Rabat’s Kasbah.

Being a writer, researcher and nosy person, I generally asked simple questions, then listened avidly to their answers. Often, I asked, “What should I know about Morocco?” in order to hear it from the locals themselves.

A number of times, I was told — by everyone from taxi drivers to a high-ranking Moroccan government official — of the country’s immense diversity. “We have Arabic-speakers and Berber-speakers, Muslims and Jews and Christians, secular people and niqab-wearers,” one person told me. A taxi driver originally from the town of Taroudant in Morocco’s south told me that “though the Jews and the French of our town have left, we still miss them.”

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Can You Vote in France While Wearing a Kippah?

By Jesse Lempel

Can you vote in France while wearing a kippah?

That was the debate that erupted among officials at the polling station on Sunday when Rabbi Avraham Weill, the Chief Rabbi of Toulouse, a city in southern France, went to vote in the municipal elections. He was initially turned away on account of his offensive attire — specifically, his skullcap.

The kippah, Weill was told, was a “religious symbol” and as such violated “the neutrality of the office,” according to a report by France 3. The voting booth was in a public school.

The official who was bothered by Weill’s kippah was a delegate of the French Communist Party (PCF). Other delegates at the polling stations soon intervened, and Weill was eventually allowed to cast his vote — though the PCF delegate insisted that the incident be formally documented.

Weill has since filed a complaint for “discrimination” for having been “humiliated” in front of his 4-year-old son. According to a 2007 official document by the French Interior Ministry, “no legal regulations may limit voters’ freedom of dress.”

The PCF issued a clarification that their delegate’s actions were, rather than a manifestation of bigotry or hatred, simply “a bad interpretation of the law.” There has been no explanation as to why, for the sake of consistency, the delegate did not also demand that Weill shave his beard.

The official with a sensitivity to kippahs, it so happens, is a public school teacher.

France has a strong culture of laïcité, secularism, which is enshrined in law. A controversial 2004 law bans wearing conspicuous religious symbols in public schools. Though the law theoretically covers all religious symbols, it is considered by some to target the hijabs of France’s growing Muslim population.

Just three days before the kippah fiasco, March 19, was the anniversary of the 2012 massacre at the Toulouse Jewish day school, in which Mohammed Merah, a French citizen, killed 3 young children and a rabbi because they were Jewish.

To mark the date, the French politicians — including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose conservative party came out on top in Sunday’s round of voting — held a ceremony in which representatives of various faiths signed a “Charter of Secularism” to promote tolerance among the religious branches.

Rabbi Weill noted wryly that nobody at that ceremony asked him to remove his kippah.

Is Ted Cruz Leading in 'Sheldon Adelson Primary'?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Getty Images

Shmuley Boteach may have just dropped a major clue in one of the biggest mysteries of the 2016 Republican primary: Who does Sheldon Adelson like?

In an email yesterday, Boteach’s charity, This World Values Network, announced that Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz would be a guest of honor at its May 28 gala. Also being honored? Sheldon Adelson… and Newt Gingrich.

The winner of the Jewish Las Vegas casino mogul’s political favor will profit mightily from his blessing. Adelson spent nearly $100 million in the 2012 election, singlehandedly buoying Gingrich in his doomed primary run and throwing millions more to Mitt Romney. Republican presidential hopefuls have been courting Adelson since early last year, traveling to speak to a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Las Vegas last March and making phone calls and other personal pleas.

The Washington Post reported last March that Adelson was looking for “a more mainstream Republican with a clear shot at winning the White House” in 2016. That points away from Cruz, a Tea Party favorite who is expected to struggle mightily to establish himself as a top-tier candidate.

Yet Cruz is spending a lot of time buddying up with Adelson’s buddies. Last September, Cruz was the headliner at the annual dinner of the Zionist Organization of America, a right-wing group that is heavily funded by Adelson.

Now, Cruz seems to have made a friend in Shmuley Boteach, an Adelson confidant and beneficiary whose charity received $639,000 from Adelson 2013.

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Next Time Your Jewish Parents Nag You, Try This!

By Sigal Samuel

A still from The Brother Mike tapes

You’ve been there. We all have.

Your Jewish parents bust into your room and start their nagging routine: the command (“Clean up this junk!”); the bafflement (“How can anybody live like this?!”); the fake concern (“I’m only saying this because I love you!”); the guilt (“Don’t you know how much I sacrificed so you could have all this junk?”); and the maddening ignorance (“What? What am I saying that’s so wrong? How exactly is this emotional manipulation?”) which all your beautiful, logical arguments are powerless to stop.

Well, not anymore.

Next time your parents bust in to tell you what a shanda your room and/or life is, take inspiration from Mike Cohen. Between the ages of 12 and 28, he covertly pressed Record whenever his parents came to his room to pester him. His friend Rodd Perry took these 16 years’ worth of audio records, animated them and put them online. Now, the whole internet is rejoicing over a Jewish parenting stereotype come to life.

Watch what happened when, for example, Cohen visited home during a 1985 college break.

The Brother Mike Tapes: 1985 from rodd perry on Vimeo.

We’re all used to the stereotype of the Jewish mother as an overbearing nag who’s constantly butting into her kids’ lives, even when they’re no longer kids. This video puts more of a spotlight on the Jewish dad. “I always thought of my dad as a grumpy old Jew,” Cohen tells us in the opening shot. Then, on the tape, we hear him accusing his father: “I don’t trust people, because you taught me not to trust people… You know — ‘Don’t trust anyone who’s not the same religion as you!’ and ‘Lock your doors constantly!’ and — ”

Yep, that sounds about right. Anyone who grew up in an insular Jewish community will hear echoes of their own upbringing in this viral clip. Does it play off Jewish stereotypes? Sure it does. But it implicitly points the finger at the real-life embodiments of those stereotypes, essentially telling parents, “You guys are the shanda, not me!” The parents are caricatures, yes — but they’re caricatures of their own making.

And remember — all Cohen did was hit Record! Genius in its simplicity, no? If an entire generation of young people were to take up this tactic, would that finally, finally, finally bring the parental Jewish nagging routine to a halt?

When We Include Rabbis With Disabilities, Everyone Wins

By Jay Ruderman

Eytan Yammer, William Tepper, Carnie Shalom Rose

We expect a lot of our rabbis and most of them do their best to deliver. They head our congregations and often become public faces of the community. They are dedicated to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of their members and can be exemplars of service.

But some stand above the rest. The Forward’s 33 Most Inspiring Rabbis in America is a mosaic of the best our community has to offer. The testimonials given by members of these rabbis’ congregations provide a glimpse into the herculean effort the best rabbis exert to reach people and enhance the community.

As president of a foundation dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, I am especially heartened that the Forward’s list includes rabbis with disabilities and those dedicated to inclusion as a Jewish value. These rabbis know that including people with disabilities is just as much in service to the community as it is to the individual with a disability.

As a result, these rabbis create great communities. Great communities are humane, treating each individual with dignity. Great communities are diverse, embracing a wide range of talents, skills and minds. Great communities recognize that extraordinary things often come from people who possess different abilities, and that we deprive ourselves of their contribution when we leave them out.

There are a number of rabbis who stand out for their superb work. Rabbi Eytan Yammer and Rabbi William Tepper both have disabilities themselves but are defined not by their disabilities, but by their rabbinical leadership. That their congregants have asked them to lead shows that they can see past their disabilities and appreciate their strengths as rabbis and community leaders. The congregants are setting a righteous tone for the rest of the community.

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Is Bibi Our Moses or Pharaoh? Neither.

By Jesse Lempel

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

In his speech to Congress a few weeks ago, Bibi concluded with a quote from none other than Moses, the great leader of the Jews and hero of Passover.

Indeed, many of his supporters might see him as a modern-day Moses, boldly rebuking the arrogant Pharaoh (whether Obama or the Ayatollah) and sticking up for the liberty of the Jewish people. Having been schooled in America — just like Moses raised in Pharaoh’s house — he was able to go straight to the seat of power and speak in a smooth and elegant English on behalf of his nation.

True, Moses was “not a man of words” — not exactly the first description of Bibi that comes to mind — but the Prime Minister has had some speech malfunctions, too: just this week he had to apologize for “unintentionally” offending all Arab citizens of the State of Israel. So he can relate.

And just as Moses split the sea, Bibi has miraculously split the U.S. government along partisan lines regarding Israel — the Red Sea now totally red.

Still, some of his detractors see Bibi not as Moses but as the hated Pharaoh. From the Palestinian perspective, he is no less than a callous and oppressive slave-driver. To the Israeli left, he is the stubborn, arrogant leader prepared to lead his people to destruction rather than cave to pressure and just let the occupied territories go.

Besides, Pharaoh was given to frequent changes of heart, first letting the Jews go and then refusing only to reverse himself again. Bibi, too, has lately found himself supporting Palestinian statehood one day and adamantly rejecting it the next, until the following morning when he’s back to supporting it. Sure, the political motivations were different — locusts and frogs for Pharaoh, voters and Obama for Bibi — but the flip flopping is the same.

The truth is, however, that Bibi is neither Moses nor Pharaoh. He’s not a humble man with a profound mission of justice, but he’s also not an egomaniacal tyrant fighting against God and nature and everything good.

So who is he?

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At Jew-Centric J Street, Arabs Ask the Best Questions

By Lisa Goldman

Courtesy of J Street

For the Jews who attended this year’s J Street Conference, the event was an expression of community, idealism and ideology. In a way, it was about how Israel was all about us, the Jews. It was about our values and our identity, which have been so inextricably intertwined with the state of Israel since 1967. And about how the re-election of Netanyahu, for a fourth term in office, was a turning point for liberal American Jews.

Even the panels that included Palestinians, whether they were citizens of Israel or from the occupied territories, were less about Palestinian rights and more about how realizing their rights would affect the Jews’ status in Israel.

This was understandable, since J Street is a mostly Jewish NGO that calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” and which has a mandate to work for a two-state solution — one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians. But it also made the conversation a bit stale. We have been over and over the questions of whether or not liberal Zionism is still relevant, or whether or not external diplomatic pressure on Israel will be effective in ending the occupation. It doesn’t feel as though there is anything new or insightful to say on that subject.

For me, the most insightful observations came from non-Palestinian Arabs who attended the conference, and from the responses they received to their questions, which illustrated a genuine curiosity about what Israelis thought of them and of Israel’s place in the Middle East.

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Want To Fight the Occupation After Bibi's Victory? Here's How.

By Elisheva Goldberg

Activists from Center for Jewish Nonviolence replant trees on the Nassar family farm / Courtesy

Nothing has more depressed American Jewish progressives than the recent revelation that Israel will be facing four more years of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s renewed reign spells continued rancor between the two countries American Jewish progressives care about. It means more troubling conversations about Zionism for campus Hillels. Most conspicuously, it means four more years of occupation, oppression and denial of rights carried out in the name of the Jews. The question for progressive Jews is, now what?

Peter Beinart sat on a J Street conference panel on Sunday and gave some recommendations. In particular, he rang a bell for American Jewish solidarity activism. In his words: “We need to think very hard and very creatively about how we amplify Palestinian nonviolent protest in the West Bank…the best way we could do that is to be there ourselves.”

Yes, Beinart was suggesting that American Jews who oppose the occupation fly to Israel to stand in nonviolent solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories. What Beinart didn’t mention is that there is a new organization doing just that. It’s called the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. (Full disclosure: I have worked very closely with the Center and hold a position in its organizational structure.)

In the United States, Jews who seek an end to the occupation have tended towards various types of activism. At J Street, the discourse is political. At Jewish Voice for Peace, it’s international. This has left the grassroots nonviolent direct action model relatively unexplored by North American Jews. Until now.

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Stop Using Brooklyn Fire To Stoke Anti-Orthodox Hatred

By Mordechai Lightstone

An Orthodox man looks at the scene of the fire in Midwood, Brooklyn / Getty Images

You never want Shabbat to end on a tragic note. Yet among the the rush of messages that blipped across my phone when I turned it on Saturday night was news of the death of seven children in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood. A malfunctioning hotplate left on for Shabbat, it seems, somehow sparked a fire. According to the New York Times, it was the worst fire in the city since 2007.

When faced with such momentous tragedy, the emotional impact so fresh and raw, the responses vary. Some cry, some remain silent, others choose to act. What is clear though, is that tragedy must serve as an impetus to bring more good into this world, to create positive action and light in the face of the void.

That’s why, despite the general outpouring of grief, it has been so startling and cruel to witness an insidious undercurrent in some responses.

In a post published here in the Forward, J.J. Goldberg penned a particularly cynical piece. The fire, he wrote, was “at least the fourth deadly blaze in the borough resulting from Sabbath and holiday observance in the past 15 years.” Bolstered by a sensationalist headline boasting a “deadly plague of Sabbath fire,” his reasoning seemed crystal clear: Look at the observance of the so-called “ultra-Orthodox”! Look how they needlessly endanger their own lives and the lives of others!

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Shame on Hillel for Shunning Civil Rights Veterans

By Dorothy Zellner, Ira Grupper and Larry Rubin and Mark Levy

In 1964, Queens College student Mark Levy – one of the four authors of this piece – traveled to Meridian, Mississippi with the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, registering African Americans to vote. When he tried to go to synagogue in Meridian, before he ascended the stairs outside, a representative of the synagogue came out and yelled, “Go away. You are not wanted here!”

Over 50 years later, many American Jews celebrate the history of Jews in the Civil Rights movement. Amidst celebrations of our work, again we are hearing the message, “Go away. You are not wanted here!”

Let’s take a step back. Last October, we were honored to speak to a diverse group of 350 passionate Jewish students and recent college graduates at the Open Hillel conference, which featured panels and discussions on topics ranging from race, gender, and sexuality in the Jewish community to potential solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are honored that since the conference, Hillel students around the country, from Boston to Chicago to North Carolina, have invited us to continue these conversations in their Jewish communities on campus.

Both we and the students who have invited us to speak feel that it’s crucial for older activists to share lessons from the Civil Rights movement – a time when we ourselves were student organizers. All too often, the Jewish community is divided not just by religious and political ideologies, but also by age. We see these conversations with Jewish students on campus as a key way to build connections between Jews of different generations.

We, four veterans of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, view our activism as rooted in Jewish values. We worked in the Deep South and put our lives in danger to stand in solidarity with African-Americans who were risking everything to overcome a system that was preventing them from exercising the civil rights that were theirs by birth. We are proud that Jewish tradition teaches that Jews must pursue justice, and we are proud that the Jewish people venerate sages such as Hillel who said that the entire Torah can be summed up in the phrase “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” We have learned from history that the Jewish people will never be free and secure unless all people are free and secure.

Our Jewish values and experiences in the Civil Rights Movement have propelled us to dedicate our lives to pursuing just and equitable societies. The recent emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement protesting racist police violence shows the continued need for people of all ages and all backgrounds to take a stand against racism and injustice in our local and national communities.

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What's an Israel Advocate To Do?

By Samuel Lebens

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Years ago, I was on the National Executive of the National Union of Students in Britain, elected ostensibly to defend Israel against rabid anti-Zionists. I have also trained Israel advocates on Birthright tours and on yearlong programs in Israel.

I am an Israel advocate, and I remain dedicated to defending Israel against unfair allegations, double standards, and demonization. But something in me has changed. Something has broken.

In order to defend Israel against its critics, at school and university, I would find myself defending Labour policies one year, Likud policies the next, then Kadima policies after that. I sounded like I was contradicting myself, and, of course, I was, because I wasn’t really speaking for myself. I was acting as a self-appointed mouthpiece for whichever government happened to be in power. I saw that as my role, as a Jew in the Diaspora: to serve as an unofficial ambassador for a government I didn’t elect. It’s as if that role was part of what it meant to be a committed Jew in the Diaspora.

That is no longer the case. I’m now an Israeli citizen (albeit living overseas on a research fellowship in America). But the government due to emerge after these elections doesn’t speak for me. And I will not speak for it. In fact, I don’t see why anybody should.

This election has surely killed the myth that Israel advocacy demands defending a government; a myth that J Street was born to fight. Netanyahu won this election by taking peace off the table, and by racist scare-mongering. I will not sully my name in defense of this government and I don’t expect Diaspora Jewry to do so either.

So what becomes of Israel advocacy — this deep seated desire in the soul of the Diaspora Jew to speak up for Israel — when the government is so far away from representing your outlook and values?

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Why I Don't Regret Sitting Out Israel's Election

By Lior Zaltzman

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

“Will you be writing a regret post about the election?”

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was debating whether or not to go home to Israel for the elections. Well, spoiler alert: I didn’t. Like many Israeli friends with families and jobs and New York rents to pay, I did not buy a ticket to Israel.

As the elections drew near, I felt my anticipation mixing with a creeping regret. “This election is important” was the message that echoed all over my social media feeds and the subtext in every phone conversation I had with my family and friends.

For Israelis abroad, this election meant something too. If things were to change for the better, so many of us would so happily return. For the sake of raising our children with our families around. For the sake of Hebrew and warmth.

Of the Israelis that I’ve met in my five years in New York, those who don’t want to go back to Israel seem to be a minority, not a majority. A real mahapach, a real change in government, would help the day of our return grow nearer.

“If it’s Bibi again, I will definitely regret not going back to vote” is what I thought a week before the election.

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The Israeli 'Olive King' Who's Also a Political Expert

By Naomi Zeveloff

Hag sameach!

Vendors at Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s legendary vegetable market, wished each other happy holiday Wednesday morning when they learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had swept the election.

Mahane Yehuda is considered a Likud stronghold, and shop owners were worried in the weeks leading up to the election.

“They believed the polls,” said Yaron Tzidkiyahu. In a market full of amateur political pundits, nobody is as sought after by the media as Tzidkiyahu, who dishes out political commentary alongside glistening olives, pickles, and garlic.

On Wednesday afternoon, the market brimmed with pomegranates, fresh fish and rounds of halva. Tourists, locals and Israel’s Channel 2 news crew roamed about, soaking up the post-election atmosphere. A van decorated with a poster of Netanyahu and four large flags — three Likud and one Israeli national flag — drove by.

Tzidkiyahu was apprehensive for Tuesday’s vote even as he voted for far right Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, breaking with his 40 year personal tradition of supporting Likud. In an interview with the Guardian before the election, Tzidkiyahu said that Netanyahu hadn’t done enough to help Israel’s struggling economy.

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We're All Letting Bibi Off the Hook for Racism

By Sigal Samuel

What would happen if an Israeli coffee chain started a #RaceTogether campaign like Starbucks’? Nothing good, that’s what. Getty Images/Starbucks

Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed everyone’s worst fears about him when he launched a last-minute fear campaign on Tuesday, warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls” — and proving that he is perfectly happy to win an election using racism.

Depressingly, predictably, Bibi’s “the-Arabs-are-coming” bugaboo worked like a dream on the Israeli public, shoring up his base by swinging the right-wing vote toward him. But how will it play in America?

The answer is: very, very bad.

Or at least it should be.

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3 Reasons Bibi Won — and What It Means

By David Hazony

Moshe Kahlon, the kingmaker now that the results are in / Getty Images

So you wanted a Jewish state — a democracy, no less. Well, you got one.

Over the course of a century, the most talkative people has been empowered with the most debate-encouraging political system to create what is arguably one of the most colorful, noisy and widely-covered election cycles in the world.

But while this election’s results are pretty much in line with what the final weeks of polling have suggested — the bigger Likud and Zionist Camp parties came out stronger than expected, while Moshe Kahlon still looks like the kingmaker for the next government — there were a few last-minute surprises that will resonate far beyond the coming weeks and months.

1. Bibi’s Two-State Shocker

For about five minutes yesterday, headlines across America blasted out Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he is Prime Minister. This would appear to fly in the face of his own declared Israeli policy, and undermine the central pillar of both American and European policies vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet beyond the fact that Western media were way too preoccupied with the election itself to dwell on his pronouncements, there are two big reasons why it slipped quickly off the radar.

First — because pretty much anything that is said by any Israeli politician in the week before elections may be safely dismissed as electioneering. And second — because it is far from clear what exactly the shift would mean if he even meant it. After all, from Netanyahu’s perspective, the difference between accepting or rejecting the idea of a Palestinian state today, when the vast majority of Israelis oppose it and the peace talks haven’t borne fruit in a very long time, seems more like a shift from “we believe in a Palestinian state as soon as the Palestinians are ready for one” to “we reject a Palestinian state because the Palestinians aren’t yet ready for one.” In other words, de facto, it feels more like a shift in rhetoric — even if an important one with long-lasting consequences — than a change in policy.

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Live-Blogging Israel's Election Results

By J.J. Goldberg and Nathan Guttman

Getty Images

J.J. Goldberg and Nathan Guttman analyze Israel’s exit polls as they come in, bouncing ideas off one another to figure out what’s next for the government. This post will be updated frequently, so check back soon.

Nathan Guttman (7:00 PM)

Isaac Herzog put on his best face and told his supporters that it ain’t over yet.

But to get the true picture of the shape the Zionist Union is in, it’s worthwhile listening to Reuven Adler, the party’s strategist who spent his entire career in the battlefields of Israeli politics. Adler basically conceded on behalf of his client. Asked if Netanyahu is better positioned to form the next government, Adler replied dryly, “yes.”

Herzog may not be ready to admit it yet, but it is pretty much over.

In order to become the next prime minister, Herzog needs to pull off the political stunt of the century and convince Moshe Kahlon to take a risk and join him instead of the Likud party where he and most of his voters feel comfortable. Kahlon himself said in his speech tonight that he has forgiven everyone. Who exactly? Kahlon didn’t say, but if Netanyahu is on the list of those granted forgiveness by the new kingmaker of Israeli politics, the road to the next Netanyahu right wing government is paved.

Herzog’s other last chance is to somehow convince Netanyahu and President Rivlin, that only his presence in a national unity government could save Bibi from the international calamity waiting around the corner: a bad deal with Iran, tensions with America, and a Palestinian move in the U.N.

Netanyahu, however, has no reason to buy this promise. After all, he had just proven in his speech to Congress that one can defy the will of the United States, of all the free world, and of many of his voters and still get reelected.

J.J. Goldberg (6:25 PM)

Late-breaking news: Israel’s Channel 1 TV publishes an adjusted exit poll that shows the far-right Yahad party passing the threshold and entering the Knesset with 4 seats.

The 4 seats come at the expense of Herzog’s Zionist Union, which drops to 26 seats; Lapid, who drops to 11; the Arab-backed Joint List, which drops to 12; and Moshe Kahlon, who now has 9 seats.

This reverses my earlier count of recommendations to the president for who should have first crack at forming a coalition. That had been 57 for Herzog and 54 for Netanyahu. If Yahad’s numbers hold up, that’s now 57 for Netanyahu and 54 for Herzog. One twist: One of Yahad’s four new lawmakers, former Kahanist Baruch Marzel, threatened earlier not to recommend anyone for prime minister. That would make it 56 Netanyahu, 54 Herzog.

That said, it’s still up to Moshe Kahlon. Whoever he picks gains an immediate majority and wins the president’s nod. What are his considerations?

For Netanyahu: Kahlon considers himself a true Likudnik, who’s come to restore the Likud to the true path that Menachem Begin envisioned. To do that he needs to get in the game. On a more crass level, joining a Likud-led coalition positions him to maneuver to succeed Bibi as leader of the movement. In a Herzog-led coalition he’s just one of many social activists — though one with considerable clout, given the near-certainty that Herzog would make him finance minister.

For Herzog: Kahlon said tonight that he would join with whichever camp promises real social reform. The Labor Party has a crowd of social reformers close to Kahlon’s school in key positions, including Shelly Yachimovich and Stav Shaffir in the 3 and 4 slots on the party list after leaders Herzog and Livni. If Kahlon seriously wants to implement reform during the next Knesset, that’s the spot to do it.

Which way will he go? Smart politics of the classical sort would dictate that he go with Bibi. But he just might be naïve enough to pretend he’s Mr. Smith going to Washington and join with Herzog. He says he’ll announce his decision after the final vote count on March 24. Until then we’ll be holding our breath.

Nathan Guttman (5:00 PM)

Despite the tight race, Bibi is the big winner, at least of this night.

First, he came back from the dead with an aggressive campaign that proved there is nothing like some last-minute fear-mongering to get voters back to the base. Also, he is in a better position than Herzog to get tasked by President Rivlin to create the next coalition.

Netanyahu’s dream coalition: Bennett (weakened and battered, just like Bibi wants him), Shas (also significantly weaker, thanks to Yishay who broke off), UTJ (the Ashkenazi ultra Orthodox), Lieberman (also, too weak to pose any threat) and Kahlon. A classic right-wing government.

Herzog will have to jump through hoops to get to anything close to a coalition.

Only saving grace for Herzog — Bibi could prefer a national unity government with Zionist Union, which will help him deflect international pressure and would make coalition negotiations much easier.

J.J. Goldberg (4:25 PM)

On the surface it looks like a dead heat, which means an advantage to Bibi and a disappointment to Herzog. All the smart thinking pre-election was that Herzog needed a significant lead over Bibi in the final Knesset seat count in order to overcome Bibi’s advantage in the ease with which he could form a coalition. Herzog would need to bring the Haredim together with Lapid, which would require considerable muscle and bargaining power to force them to compromise with each other. Bibi wouldn’t have that problem — he needs to bring the Haredim together not with Lapid but with Bennett.

Things are different now. Their natural camps are lopsided in the opposite direction. Here’s how it breaks down according to Mina Tzemach’s exit poll on Channel 2:

On the left, Herzog (27), Lapid (12) plus Meretz (5) equals 44. On the right, Likud (27), Bennett (8) plus Lieberman (5) equals 40.

Additional recommendations, though no commitment to join a coalition later: Joint List for Herzog: 13. Haredim for Bibi: 13 (assuming Torah Judaism recommends Bibi — they might not recommend anyone). Total recommendations: 57 for Herzog, 53 for Bibi. By cannibalizing Bennett’s vote to bring his own party even with Herzog’s, Bibi may have undermined his bloc and weakened his bargaining power. Unless there’s a big surprise — or Kahlon decides to break his silence and recommend Bibi — it looks to me like Herzog gets first crack at negotiating for a coalition.

In Jaffa, Israeli Arabs Get Out the Vote

By Naomi Zeveloff

Silan Dallal, a Jewish activist with the Joint List / Naomi Zeveloff

This morning, Wael Mahamid received a mass text message from the Likud party with the warning to its right wing base that Israeli Arabs were going to the polls in record numbers.

But Mahamid only laughed at the message, which was sent out to millions of Israelis. After all, he is working for just that outcome.

“It was very funny,” he said. “This message, it gives us hope. It gives us more motivation to work hard.”

Mahamid, a 43-year-old history teacher, is the manager for the Jaffa headquarters for Joint List, which is made up of four Arab parties in Israel: Hadash, the Jewish-Arab communist party, Ra’am, an Islamist group whose base is in southern Israel; and Ta’al and Balad, two nationalist groups. The four groups joined for the first time this year in order to overcome Israel’s new voter threshold which mandates that parties must garner 3.25 percent of the vote, or about 4 seats, to enter the Knesset. Pollsters predict that the list could get as many as 15 seats for Israeli’s Arab public.

But at around 8:00 pm on election night, with just two hours until the polls closed, Joint List volunteers were concerned about the prospect of low voter turnout among Arab Israelis. At the List’s Jaffa base, in a warehouse across the street from a park, activists checked their cell phones and updated Facebook. A TV blared election updates on a Hebrew station. On the walls were handwritten signs in Arabic and Hebrew: “Peace for two nations.”

Silan Dallal, a Jewish activist with the List, cheered when another volunteer told her that the percentage of voters went up a point, to 57 percent from 56 percent of eligible Arab Israelis. That was still 10 points lower than one prediction, from a study commissioned by the Abraham Fund for coexistence in Israel.

Dallal said that the prime minister himself was to blame. If Arab Israelis thought there were “buses and buses” of people voting, maybe they would feel their vote wasn’t needed after all.

“If the unification doesn’t bring any difference, people are going to be much more devastated and desperate that it didn’t work because they waited for so long for it to happen,” she said.

Another two activists, Rola Agbaria and Itamar Haritan-Reiner, decided to launch an impromptu get-out-the vote effort. Walking on Jaffa’s busy Yefet Street, Agbaria asked a group of mechanics fixing a motorcycle if they had voted.

Elias Ashar, a 25-year-old, said that no, he hadn’t. Why should he? The leaders are taking care of themselves and not him.

Elias Ashar voted for the Joint List / Naomi Zeveloff

“This party scares the fascist right,” Agbaria said. She said that she was planning on boycotting the elections too, but the unification of the parties was a “historic event” and she couldn’t sit it out.

“We Arabs are treated like dogs,” Ashar countered. He said that French immigrants buy property in Jaffa for millions, while he, a local, could barely afford to make ends meet.

“Fifteen seats in the list will change this reality,” said Agbaria.

Finally, Ashar relented and got into Agbaria’s car. She drove him to a nearby polling place as he joked that he would vote for Green Leaf, Israel’s marijuana party. Agbaria and Haritan-Reiner waited as Ashar cast his vote.

He emerged with the white card that proved he had voted for the Joint List. It was his first time voting.

How was it? “Good.”

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