Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.
Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.
He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.
For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.
As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”
The new star of the Israeli right may be heading for the opposition benches. Israeli media are reporting that Naftali Bennett and his religious-Zionist Jewish Home party have rejected an offer that would have made it part of the government with control of the Education Ministry and other prominent positions.
To Bennett’s irritation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud-Beytenu alliance and convener of the new government, informed them of the offer via the media, so he rejected it via the media.
In addition to the education portfolio the Likud offer would have reportedly given the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home a socioeconomic portfolio and a deputy defense minister who would deal with settlements.
This is undoubtedly part of a bargaining game by Netanyahu and Bennett, along with a working through of bad blood that has existed been them since Bennett’s stint as his Chief of Staff, a position he left in 2008.
But it does appear that beneath all the negotiating talk, Bennett truly is unhappy with the offer, which is interesting. In years gone by the National Religious Party, the faction which rebranded to become Jewish Home, was excited at talk of holding the Education Ministry. One of its key priorities was impacting Jewish identity in the state, and it saw the educational realm as an important route for doing this.
The difference is that the NRP was focused on its religious-Zionist ideology and putting it in to action, and wanted the ministries that would best help it to do that. The Bennett Revolution in Jewish Home keeps largest of the ideology, but it’s all about making the party a contender to become the biggest mainstream right-wing faction in the country — he hopes bigger than Likud. Which is why, unlike most of his predecessors he sniffs at the Education Ministry and is desperate for a post where he feels that he can prove his ability to lead the nation. Can he bargain his way to what he considers real power? Well, let’s just say that nobody really believed that the leader of the formerly-niche immigrant party Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Liberman, could become Foreign Minister, and he held the position for the last Knesset session.
Could a politician who almost disappeared in to obscurity be poised to take up one of the most powerful positions in Israel?
It is safe to say that as chairman of the Kadima party Shaul Mofaz hasn’t been the greatest of successes. It’s hard to believe but Kadima was actually the biggest party in Knesset after the last election, yet in the poll 16 days ago it almost failed to pass the electoral threshold, and in the final reckoning scraped in with two seats.
To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is busy building his coalition, every mandate counts, and ever since the election he has apparently been keen to get Kadima on board. Now, with US President Barack Obama set to visit Israel and focus attention on the peace process, wooing Kadima has become more attractive for Netanyahu — and he may well be prepared to make him Defense Minister.
Kadima has a reputation as centrist and pro-peace, and can help with the challenge of giving international credibility to his government on issues of peace. Though the party only has two lawmakers, it’s a pro-peace name on the list of coalition parties, which will allow him to present his government as more centrist. If he also persuades the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party to join, as expected, he will have notched up two pro-peace factions in his coalition — despite the fact that their smallness would compromise their ability to promote a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Is Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel going to turn into a Yair Lapid love-in?
The Israeli daily Yedioth Araronoth, suggested in its editorial yesterday that Obama decided to come because Netanyahu is currently weak — because of the staggering success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. The administration is working on the premise that “Netanyahu won, but he really lost, and therefore, he will do what is demanded of him,” Yedioth estimated.
So, as a result of Lapid-the-centrist’s success “Obama is coming to press Netanyahu’s weak point after the Israeli people have had their say and partly disproved the American concern over an Israeli lurch to the right.”
For a further Yair Lapid-related aspect of the trip, some are suggesting that it will compel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in his coalition. Take, for example, this Haaretz article which reports:
One [Israeli] source even argued that Obama’s visit, scheduled for late March, is so close on the heels of the Israeli election as to constitute “inappropriate interference” in local politics, and that it would pave the way for Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid into the Israeli coalition.
When it comes to cartoons, it’s usually Muslim fundamentalists that throw hissy fits. But, in a turn of events, some of our storied communal defenders, Abraham Foxman and Marvin Hier among them, have been taking the lead. Indiscriminately tossing around accusations of anti-Semitism, our fearless leaders have attacked at least three editorial cartoonists over the past few months on charges that they have defamed the Jewish people.
Representing important institutions, you’d think that Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, and Hier, who represents the Simon Wiesenthal Center, might have figured out how to differentiate an anti-Semitic cartoon from an editorial cartoon that criticizes Israeli policy. Although both are undoubtedly experts on anti-Semitism, they both seem to take leave of their senses when it comes to criticism of Israel. And yet both claim to be ardent supporters of free speech. Except when it comes to that one thing, that Israel thing.
So when the London Times published a cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu cementing Palestinians between bricks of a wall, it was a perfect opportunity for Foxman to pipe up, accusing the cartoonist of evoking the blood libel. Britain’s Chief Rabbi opined that the cartoon caused “immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world.” The Israeli ambassador to Britain, who also chimed in on behalf of the International Jewry, argued that the cartoon added insult to injury, as it was published on European Holocaust Memorial Day.
Okay, so the cartoon and its timing were a bit ham-handed, for which Acting Editor of The Sunday Times Martin Ivens apologized. Gerald Scarfe, who has been visually excoriating British politicians since the late 1960s, was the artist behind Pink Floyd’s, The Wall. It appears, walls are, when all else fails, his fallback metaphor.
Sure, his cartoon wall dripping with Palestinian blood references the separation wall, which incidentally, isn’t particularly newsworthy right now, so it doubles as a symbol of Netanyahu’s recalcitrance vis-à-vis the peace process and how it crushes Palestinian life. Netanyahu comes in for some harsh criticism here, but so do all the other public figures Scarfe has drawn over the years. In fact, compared to Margaret Thatcher, Bibi gets off easy. It’s an obnoxious cartoon, but it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s also been removed from the Times website.
What is Yair Lapid’s next move?
The man who shocked Israel with a stunning showing in the elections could try to establish a “blocking coalition” by uniting parties that want to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government. Labor would definitely be game for that, as would Meretz, Hadash, the Arab parties and probably the Tzipi Livni party. But according to the exit polls, there would not be quite enough mandates to make this possible.
If he could convince the Haredi Shas party he could make it work, and such a move may appeal to Shas’ recently returned dovish leader Arye Deri. However, given that Yesh Atid is all guns blazing to draft Haredim to the army and Shas is dead against the draft, it’s difficult to imagine Shas cooperating with Lapid.
Lapid’s other hope is that exit polls may have underestimated Livni’s showing and Labors. If this is the case he could pull off the blocking coalition.
But even without a blocking coalition, Lapid’s victory is big news. If the figures are right Netanyahu could form a coalition It means that Netanyahu could leave the Haredi parties out in the cold and push through the Haredi draft. If he did this Lapid, who after all went in to politics to become a minister, could negotiate handsome portfolios for his party — I predict he will become Education Minister. The other coalition partners would be the Tzipi Livni Party and Jewish Home.
The difficulty with this option is that both Yesh Atid and the Tzipi Livni Party say they wouldn’t enter a government that won’t negotiate for a peace deal, while Jewish Home is totally opposed to a two-state solution. This raises the possibility that Netanyahu could substitute Jewish Home for Shas and resolve to advance negotiations. It’s hard to imagine given that much of his party is against a Palestinian state, but it’s a possibility nevertheless.
Exit polls are just out in Israel, and the results are, simply put, astonishing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s list — an alliance between his Likud party and the further-right Yisrael Beytenu — was placed with 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats according to all three polls that were conducted. The Yesh Atid party headed by political novice Yair Lapid, a popular journalist, surprised pollsters and is placing at 18 to 19 seats.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem amazing, but take a closer look. Netanyahu’s own Likud party will control just 20 seats if you discount Yisrael Beytenu’s seats. This is a very real calculation, as Yisrael Beytenu’s lawmakers will be loyal to their party leader Avigdor Liberman, and not necessarily to Netanyahu.
Labor looks set to come in close behind Yesh Atid with 17 seats. So what is the bottom line? Netanyahu probably will still get to form the coalition, but as a far weaker leader than he would have hoped. And he will do so with either a very strong opposition led by Lapid, or a powerful Lapid inside his coalition, trying to keep him central.
The Israel Land Administration is a notorious government bureaucracy, whose precise functions are a mystery to most Israelis. And yet, one day before polling opens here in Israel, the whole country is talking about it.
The reason is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that the popular minister Moshe Kahlon, who aid ahead of the campaign that he was leaving politics, will become director of this body which controls the release of land for building.
Kahlon is loved because he’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy in a Likud party which is increasingly seen as serving Israel’s tycoons. In a country where ethnicity matters in politics he’s Sephardi in an Ashkenazi-dominated faction. Last but not least, in these important hours in which the parties try to catch floating voters (more than 10% of voters are still undecided) Kahlon has the ability to attract socially-concerned voters who may otherwise go for the centrist parties.
And so, while Netanyahu can’t undo the fact that Kahlon isn’t standing for Knesset, he’s done the next-best thing — appointed him to a high-profile unelected post. His big achievement as Communications Minister in the last Knesset was to reduce cellphone prices, and Netanyahu is indicating that he’ll have the same kind of impact on house prices.
But house prices are far more complex than cellphone packages, and one wonders why, if bringing house prices down is really so simple as appointing the right man to the job, why Netanyahu didn’t do exactly that 18 months ago when the social protestors took to the streets objecting to high living costs? If the answer is that this has more to do with the poll than with real concern about housing prices, one wonders how ethical making civil service appointments is as a form of electioneering. What happened to good old fashioned baby-kissing?
In the past, Israeli political parties have gotten themselves in to trouble for slurring their opponents during campaigns, with election authorities clamping down on what they see as negative campaigning.
Strangely enough, there’s the opposite problem this time — a contest to campaign for Bibi.
Given that it’s pretty much taken-as-given that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will win Tuesday’s election with his Likud-Beytenu list, parties on the right have decided that their best strategy is to hang on his coattails.
So Shas and Jewish Home have been declaring their allegiance to Bibi, telling voters that they’ll back him as Prime Minister and join his coalition — and saying that a vote for their party is the best of both worlds. In other words it’ll bolster their party in Knesset, and also bolster Bibi as Prime Minister.
Jewish Home advertisements featured that party’s leader, Naftali Bennett, next to a picture of Bibi, and a slogan “strong together, voting Bennett.” Likud-Beytenu objected, saying the advertisement gave the impression that Bennett and Bibi were actually running together, and election authorities insisted that the advertisements were removed.
Now, Shas has a video with a similar message. Arye Deri, one of the party’s leaders, has promised in a video that whoever votes Shas “gets a double benefit.” He used the slogan: “Voting Shas, keeping Netanyahu.”
Could this extent of devotion to Bibi work against Jewish Home and Shas when it comes to the coalition negotiations? Given that the parties have all but promised their voters they’ll be in the coalition, they’re going in to bargaining with Netanyahu with a pretty weak position.
So, we all kind of know who is going to take top spot in Tuesday’s general election in Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Yisrael Beytenu alliance. But who is going to come in second spot?
Some Israelis were starting to eulogize the Labor party after its poor performance in the last election in 2009, but buoyed by the social protests it has emerged as a force to be reckoned with this time around. To the relief of the Israeli left, it has looked all through this campaign like one of its parties would come in as the second largest party. But now it doesn’t look so certain.
A Geocartography Institute poll broadcast today on Israeli Radio predicted that Labor will win 16 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, but the right-wing Jewish Home will win 17.
In another poll released today on the Knesset Channel, conducted by Panels, Labor gets 16 while Jewish Home wins 14 — but the suggestion that it could be beaten to silver by the previously-sectarian religious-Zionist party will be causing some concern in Labor. Second-place is psychologically very important for Labor — for many in the party it’s a sign that the faction has been restored from the sidelines to its prominent status in the country.
The polls give Likud-Beytenu 32 and 34 seats respectively — a comfortable win, but far less than the alliance originally hoped for.
The Donald is backing Bibi.
Trump, the flaxen-haired publicity hound last seen pushing birther conspiracy theories in the U.S. presidential race, made what he likely considered a major announcement this afternoon (then again, he thinks everything he says is a major announcement).
He’s backing Benjamin Netanyahu in the January 22 Israeli elections.
“Vote for Benjamin. Terrific guy. Terrific leader. Great for Israel,” Trump said in a web video published January 15.
The endorsement is short on policy but high on praise for the incumbent prime minister. “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s nobody like him,” Trump said. “He’s a winner.”
Trump is a real estate and casino mogul who is also the star of the TV reality show The Apprentice. He toyed with making a Republican run for president last year, punctuated by his latching onto discredited questions about President Obama’s birth certificate.
Netanyahu is projected to come out on top in next week’s electoral contest, though he’s facing pressure on his right flank from the settler candidate Naftali Bennet and frustration from the religious Sephardic party Shas over his alliance with the Russian party Yisrael Beitanu.
What does Trump think of all this? He hasn’t said. He sure does like Netanyahu, though.
“He’s highly respected,” Trump says of Netanyahu. “He’s highly thought of by all.”
With less than three weeks until elections in Israel, the nation’s leading party still has no platform.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hybrid political faction formed from the recent merger between the ruling Likud party and right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, has yet to publish its platform, in which it lays out its stands on major issues.
It’s a standard practice of political parties in Israel, just as it is in America. But Likud Beiteinu officials in the Israeli press as saying the joint list may forgo one altogether, since the idea is “anachronistic.”
As it turns out, Likud Beiteinu may have good reasons for avoiding the publication of a party platform.
From a practical standpoint, party platforms do little to attract voters and it is hard to find swing voters who sit down and compare platforms before casting their ballot.
But the combined party also has a specific reason to avoid making any policy statement this year. The Likud party has taken a turn to the right in recent years, and with the addition of ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu to the joint list, the new party has moved from center-right closer to the far right wing of Israeli politics.
Nowhere is this more so than when dealing with the Israeli – Palestinian conflict—an issue to which the international community, including the United States — Israel’s prime supporter — is extremely sensitive.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has locked horns again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two men have a troubled relationship, and in the summer had a very tense month after Peres went against Netanyahu’s position on Iran.
Speaking to a large gathering of Israeli diplomats, Peres heaped praise on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a man that Netanyahu and recently-resigned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have put great energy in to discrediting and portraying as an antagonizer in recent weeks.
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” said Peres. “No one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen, even if they say I cannot express it because I’m the president.”
Loverboy Bibi is at it again.
Last year we caught Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Now he’s locking lips with Israeli Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich.
Well, not exactly.
Back in November 2011 Benetton photoshopped the embrace between Bibi and Abu Mazen as part of its controversial UNHATE ad campaign. There were lots of other highly unlikely couples, like President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the leaders of North Korea and South Korea.
Now, the Israeli leftist party Meretz has produced altered parody images for another campaign — the one for the Israeli elections scheduled for January 23. There is the image of Bibi and Yachimovich. There is also one of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman kissing Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, to draw attention to Lapid’s refusal to pledge that he will not enter a coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud party following the elections and the likely event that Netanyahu will remain prime minister.
By all accounts, it was a nerve-wracking time for the 75,000 Israeli reservists called up in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza last week.
“The next days were an emotional roller coaster ride,” wrote Marc Goldberg, who reported to duty on November 18, in a blog post for The Times of Israel. “I was prepped to go in and then stood down, only to be prepped to go back in again and stood down again and again…most of the time was spent hanging around waiting for something to happen, waiting for the final decision to get us moving.”
And when soldiers spend their time hanging around and waiting, things happen. Things like a bunch of reservists doing a khaki-clad rendition of the international smash hit “Gangnam Style.” Ariel Maoz, apparently one of the dancing soldiers, posted the video on his Facebook page and it went viral, attracting the attention of the news media.
On a more serious note, Goldberg wrote of arguments among members of his units as to whether the IDF should and would actually enter Gaza. “Then word came down about the ceasefire. Though there many who were angry that we wouldn’t be going in, the sense of relief that slowly swept through the company was palpable,” he wrote.
Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister and the center left’s “if only” man, is expected to confirm any moment that he won’t be running for Knesset.
Soon after the January 22 election was announced, speculation has abounded that if Olmert made a comeback and pulled together a broad center-left alliance he could actually win and once again become Prime Minister. From there, it was said, the Middle East would be his oyster — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently said that he was close to a deal with Olmert in 2008, intimating that the two could return to this point if Olmert returned.
There was some polling to back up this dream. In fact, it appeared that when Likud decided a month ago to run on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu it was a case of Netanyahu trying to ensure that he would have the most Knesset mandates behind him even if Olmert entered the race.
But then came Operation Pillar of Defense, knocking the issues championed by the center-left — Israeli-Palestinian peace and socio-economic issues — off the public agenda and putting security at the forefront. Even if it was right a couple of weeks ago, the national mood in Israel isn’t right for Olmert now.
And so, for the second time in his career, Olmert leaves us all wondering what could’ve been. What could’ve been on the Israeli-Palestinian front had scandal not forced him out of office when it did? Was he planning on running in the coming elections? If so, what could’ve been during and after the election has it not been for Pillar of Defense?
For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?
Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.
The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.
Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”
Center-right commentator Shalom Yerushalmi at Maariv argues that the rockets from Gaza seem likely to turn the upcoming Israeli elections once again into a referendum on who has bigger guns, meaning a Likud reelection. Sadly, he says, that would again bury the election that seemed to be shaping up, the one that Israel deserves, the one that’s typical in normal democracies, over the country’s intolerable social and economic inequities.
This assumes, at least in part, that Israel launches a serious attack into Gaza to stop the rockets, in some sort of reprise of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff at Haaretz think that’s unlikely and will have to settle for less aggressive action, like resuming aerial targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership. They say Bibi’s freedom of action is limited because
…the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that Hamas has heated up the border, after close to three years of relative quiet (broken mainly by jihadi groups) because it wants the Likud to win – that it fears a possible victory by an Olmert- or Livni-led center-left leading to renewed negotiations with Abu Mazen? Is this Hamas’s bid to ward off a two-state solution and keep Palestine indivisible? I’m just saying …
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reeling from not one but two disappointments on Tuesday. It is widely believed that he was desperate for Mitt Romney to win the American presidential election. But he also had an eye on another election at home.
The main religious-Zionist party Jewish Home was holding its primaries to choose a new leader, and the winner was none other than his former right-hand man who he wanted to lose.
High tech millionaire Naftali Bennett became Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006, and was responsible for the campaign that got him elected as Likud leader. But the two didn’t see eye to eye, and in 2008 Bennett left. Bibi was so keen for him not to be elected that his wife Sara Netanyahu was reportedly canvassing against him.
So what is it that made Netanyahu want one of Bennett’s rival primary candidates to lead Jewish Home? It’s not a subject he’s discussed but one can suppose that it’s in large part the very same things he liked about Bennett back in 2006.
Israelis professed great interest in the U.S. election — but evidently not enough to lose sleep over it.
The US-Israel time difference meant that by getting up just a few minutes early, Israelis could watch the moment of truth. The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, with the support of the Jerusalem Post, offered people the chance to take advantage of this, with a breakfast election results party at its central Jerusalem offices. There was a light breakfast, a television stream, analysis from pundits, and so that the religiously observant didn¹t need to choose between polls and praying, space was set aside for the morning service.
But despite the thousands of American voters in and around Jerusalem, there were only 20 to 50 people there at any given time. There wasn¹t a minyan or quorum of ten men for the morning service.
Those who did go along got on well, without differences in party affiliation causing any tensions. The pundits provided some worthwhile insights.
Pollster Mitchell Barak, CEO of Keevoon Research spoke of the inevitable impact on the January 22 Israeli election, saying that ³part of the campaign here now will be who will be able to get along better with the American President.