Forward Thinking

A Better Way To Talk About the Holocaust

By Lior Zaltzman

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Dear Stanford: Don't Quiz Me on BDS Because I'm Jewish

By Molly Horwitz

Stanford’s Molly Horwitz, running for student senate, says she faced anti-Semitic questioning

I am both a woman of color and a Jew. For much of my life, I struggled to embrace these identities. In high school people told me I was “not a real Latina” while also claiming it was my Hispanic ethnicity that got me into Stanford. I felt both not Hispanic enough and too Hispanic. I was also faced with anti-Semitic comments that made me variously cling to and deny my Jewish identity. Some people would say I didn’t “look Jewish;” others made remarks alluding to the stereotype that Jews are obsessed with money. The anti-Semitism I faced growing up showed me the necessity of taking pride in my heritage, but at the same time it sometimes made me afraid to say I was Jewish.

It was wonderful to join the accepting Stanford community, a community in which I finally felt understood. The diversity of this community allowed me to explore and embrace all aspects of my identity. I am now proud to call myself a Latina and a Jew.

But I know many Stanford students grapple with the same issues as I did. I feel my experience as a member of two different oppressed minority groups — Jews and Hispanics — gives me unique insight into the challenges students of color face at Stanford. I want to help other students of color on their journeys. I decided to run for Stanford Senate primarily to address issues I saw in Stanford’s mental health-care system. One of these issues is a lack of diversity among counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I was quite excited to seek the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) endorsement because I felt that my Senate candidacy and SOCC had many goals in common. I was ready to work with SOCC.

SOCC decided to grant me an interview. The interview was held on Friday, March 13, 2015, in the basement of the Native American Community Center. I entered the room apprehensive but hopeful. I would leave it shocked and devastated.

Across from me in the room sat eight members of SOCC, who took notes throughout the interview. Part way through the lead interviewer asked me, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” I couldn’t quite process that I had actually been asked this question. Did me being Jewish mean I wasn’t qualified to serve on Senate? Did SOCC doubt my commitment to serving students of color on the basis that I am Jewish? Somewhat stunned, I asked for clarification. The SOCC interviewer responded that she had noticed I talked about my Jewish identity in the application and was wondering how this would affect my decision on divestment.

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The Problem With Jewish-Only Holocaust Trips

By Jessica Lang

March of the Living participants visit Auschwitz in 2009 / Yossi Selliger

(JTA) — The evening before we visited Auschwitz, over pizza with a group of young people in Oswiecim, the town on whose outskirts lies that infamous symbol, one of my students approached me with tears in her eyes.

Tears are hardly uncommon to visitors of sites of mass death. But for this student — a participant in a weeklong trip to Auschwitz undertaken as part of a course on Holocaust history and literature that I teach at Baruch College in New York City — the trip marked her first time on a plane, her first time in a foreign country, and her first time experiencing an academic setting that didn’t involve a laptop and a classroom located at a busy Manhattan intersection.

Unable or unwilling to bridge these two worlds — a crossing of time and space that seven decades after the war’s end enables a group of American students to casually dine with European counterparts at the edge of history’s most notorious killing center — she felt lost, detached from all that was familiar and unsure of what lay ahead.

Students on our trip were a diverse group, self-identifying as Latina, Jamaican, Polish, Israeli, Moroccan, Mexican and American, among others. By day we toured sites essential to a historical understanding of the Holocaust. In the evening we discussed readings connected to the places we had visited. Some students shared their own journals, which joined Primo Levi and Ruth Kluger as texts for analysis and reflection.

The great advantage of looking at the Holocaust in this way is that it eliminates the notion that this history belongs more to one person than another. This democratic take on the Holocaust makes the experience meaningful, even transformative, for everyone.

Typical Jewish teen tours hold themselves to a poorer standard. Confined to Jewish youth, the trips eliminate the diversity of voices essential to ensure that the imperative of remembrance is broadly observed. Aimed principally at Jewish identity building through the Holocaust, they offer a limited rendering of history, narrow in reach.

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What Hillary Clinton Needs To Tell the Jews

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

Now that Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is official, American voters will want to get a whole lot clearer on her policies. For the Jewish community, some of the major questions will revolve, inevitably, around Israel and Iran. And we shouldn’t be surprised if, on these topics, we hear her sounding a more hawkish note than the one Obama’s been hitting for months.

Over at The Nation, editors and contributors seized on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations by calling our attention back to a speech Clinton made to the American Jewish Committee in May 2014. As the Forward reported, that speech “was meant to send a signal to the pro-Israel community, insiders say, that a Clinton presidency would smooth over tensions ruffled by the Obama White House.”

Chief among those tensions? Iran, of course. Here’s Clinton: “I personally am skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver… We will have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away and increase the pressure if need be… From my perspective, we cannot and should not accept any agreement that endangers Israel or our own national security.”

Note that Clinton delivered these words — to the Jewish crowd’s delight — a month before her foreign policy autobiography, “Hard Choices,” hit bookstores. And that book was widely viewed as the unofficial start to her campaign for the 2016 election. Clinton, in other words, was already priming the pump with an eye toward getting elected.

Elected — and funded.

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How Ed Miliband Lost Britain's Jewish Voters

By Liam Hoare

Getty Images

With Britain’s general election just one month away, a new poll of Jewish voters makes brutal reading for the Labour Party and their leader, Ed Miliband.

The poll, published by the Jewish Chronicle, shows that if British Jews were to vote tomorrow (and if we remove undecided voters from the equation), 69% would vote for the Conservative Party, while only 22% would go with Labour. The support in the community for both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats is negligible, each polling around 2%.

To give you some idea of how lopsided this is compared with the rest of the country, the last polling average calculated by the BBC on April 4 had the Conservatives in the lead with 34%, Labour just a point behind with 33%, UKIP with 13%, and the Liberal Democrats trailing on 8%.

Evidently, Labour isn’t the only party failing to capture the imagination of British Jewry. But given Miliband currently has as good a chance of becoming the country’s first Jewish prime minister as not, the overwhelming Jewish support for his rival David Cameron is staggering.

So what’s happened?

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If Nuclear Iran Is So Scary, What About Israel?

By Michael Karpin

Getty Images / Lior Zaltzman illustration

As the web indulges in polemics on Iran’s Preliminary Nuclear Deal, I’m seeing a lot of tweets and statuses asking why Israel succeeded in developing its nuclear capabilities without making the rest of the world nervous enough to prompt a forced inspection of its nuclear installations or threaten it with sanctions — while Iran (and Iraq, and Libya) failed to do so.

This question was also asked among many readers of my recent Forward article, “Revealing Israel’s Nuclear Secrets,” which cited the top-secret report that was declassified by the Pentagon in February, exposing for the first time the actual depth of the military cooperation between the United States and Israel. The report contains details about the development of Israel’s nuclear infrastructure and states that in the eighties, Israeli scientists were reaching the capabilities to employ hydrogen fusion.

So, why did Israel succeed while Iran failed?

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How an Eritrean Taught Me the True Meaning of Passover

By Madison Margolin

Courtesy of Tekle

Tekle journeyed half a year by foot across the Sinai from Eritrea to Israel. He traveled mainly at night, for fear of getting caught during the day. “It was a matter of life and death,” he told me when I asked him to recount his escape. Without a civilian judiciary or democratic elections, the Eritrean regime mandates indefinite national service in the form of hard labor — paving roads, mining, or agricultural work. Those who flee are considered traitors and risk torture or death by the government. After graduating college, Tekle left his family and escaped alone. Each month, over 1,000 Eritrean soldiers do the same.

Tekle is one of 47,000 asylum-seekers now living in Israel, 73% of whom are from Eritrea and 19% from Sudan. Many live in the impoverished neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, but around 1,700 have been detained, without a trial, at the Holot Residency Center.

Last spring, I tutored Tekle in English at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), nestled in a corner of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. He chose to write his first essay in English about Einstein’s theory of relativity. As a major in library science, Tekle values knowledge and education above all else, but his university degree means little in Israel. He’s lived there now over three years, but never intended to settle there. He works job to job — cleaning the park or bussing in cafes — to save money for his eventual move to Europe, where he wants to pursue graduate studies in applied mathematics. “It is a dream I am working very hard to realize,” he told me.

The author with Yusi, one of the girls she volunteered with / Courtesy of Madison Margolin

I had no particular agenda when I moved to Tel Aviv for five months last year. My choice had little to do with Judaism or Zionism, and more to do with the post-college dizziness of not knowing what else to do. I lived in south Tel Aviv, a short walk away from the Central Bus Station. Outside that cement monolith, a homeless woman always sat picking a scab on her leg, and inside was chaos set to the soundtrack of trance blasting from boom boxes for sale. Flies hovered over green-olive pizza, merchants hustled to sell mobile phone SIM cards, and the variety of languages spoken there — Hebrew, Arabic, Tagalog, Russian, Tigrinya — reminded me that Israel’s population comes from diverse origins.

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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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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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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.

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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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Left or Right, Election Is Day at Beach

By Naomi Zeveloff

Or Amar, 21, with Martina Bialek, 23 / Naomi Zeveloff

In Israel, election day is a holiday. And in Tel Aviv, voters traditionally hit the beach after they go to the polls — whether they vote for left or right wing or anything in between.

“The day started with coffee, very early, then we went to vote, and then we came to the beach to relax,” said Sagi, a 39-year-old startup worker with a shaved head and sunglasses who was sipping on a Goldstar beer on the beach with his cousin, Lior. The cousins asked not to include their last names for privacy reasons. “Israelis need a day off after we choose.”

Gordon Beach, in north Tel Aviv, was packed with visitors, even though it wasn’t quite beach weather. Teenagers smoked hookah on blankets while people played volleyball and ping pong in the sand. Unlike urban Tel Aviv, nary a political poster was in sight.

Sagi voted for Naftali Bennett, of the far right Jewish Home party. “Why? I believe in his way.”

“He wants to kill Arabs!” said Lior.

“Don’t say that!” said Sagi. And then, about Lior: “He’s from the left, you see.”

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