In surreal scenes, Knesset sworn in 3 members at a time amid virus crisis

‘Give this people a government,’ pleads president in speech to near- empty chamber; Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi arrives to take oath despite exposure to suspected COVID-19 patient

In a surreal ceremony, the 23rd Knesset convened on Monday in the shadow of the COVID-19 outbreak, with its 120 lawmakers inducted in batches of three to avoid the spread of the virus and its leaders giving their usually festive opening remarks to an empty hall.

President Reuven Rivlin opened the parliament swearing-in with an address to the only three lawmakers present — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

In his speech, Rivlin implored the political parties to resolve their differences and form a coalition, putting an end to the deadlock that has left the country without a functioning government since December 2018.

Earlier in the day, Rivlin had given Gantz first shot at forming a government, after the Blue and White leader picked up recommendations from 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers. But it remained unclear whether Gantz could successfully do so without Netanyahu’s Likud.

After three consecutive elections, Rivlin said Israelis are “exhausted” by politics.

“We are looking forward to the day-to-day, the routine, when we will all return to what we have in common, our shared fate that is expressed so clearly in the current crisis,” he said, referring to the outbreak of the virus.

The president pleaded with the political leaders to compromise.

“Politics is far from perfect. But politics is meant to be the art of the possible. Often, politics needs to be the art of compromise… At the heart of democracy lies the understanding that what often creates the requirement for compromise, to make deep and painful concessions, is the will of the people itself,” he said.

Rivlin continued: “The current political crisis is very real, very deep and is breaking us in two. And we still have no other choice, because we have no other people and no other country. In democracy, we may be able to replace the leadership, but we cannot replace the people. Not some of it, not one half of it and not the other half of it. We were destined to live together.”

Edelstein, who on Sunday blocked an attempt by Blue and White to replace him as Knesset speaker, also told the president, Netanyahu, and Gantz that an emergency unity government must swiftly  be formed.

“The plenum is empty, but with us are the millions of citizens who badly need an emergency government,” said Edelstein.

After Edelstein, Netanyahu and Gantz took their oaths, the other lawmakers were brought in, three at a time and in alphabetical order, to be sworn in.

The Knesset guard administered fever checks for those entering parliament.

According to Channel 12, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi was asked not to attend after being exposed to the husband of a coronavirus patient, who is also suspected of having contracted the virus.

But Hanegbi entered parliament nonetheless. Hanegbi later said he stayed in his office after arriving at the Knesset and kept a distance from other people when he was sworn in. After taking his oath, he left the Knesset.

Along with Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster, Hanegbi had been at an agricultural conference where a man whose wife is confirmed to have the virus was present. Neither Ben-Barak or Shuster was at the swearing-in ceremony.

The article was published on The Times of Israel


A BIG YEAR AHEAD: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN ISRAELI POLITICS IN 2018

Will Netanyahu come in like a lion and leave like a lamb?

They say that March, the third month of the year, comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

This is the third New Year’s Day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his election to his fourth term as prime minister in March 2015. The year ahead for Netanyahu is expected to come in like a lion, continue like a lion, and go out like a lion.

The developments that will make this year particularly ferocious for the prime minister include the criminal investigations of Netanyahu and his wife Sara, controversial legislation in the Knesset, and diplomatic developments set to be advanced in the year ahead by US President Donald Trump.

Perhaps such challenges would be less problematic for Netanyahu if he still had capable former coalition chairman David Bitan at his side. But Bitan has been neutralized by his own criminal investigations, in which he is set to be questioned by police a dizzying three times this week.

Bitan’s replacement David Amsalem is as despised in the Knesset corridors as Bitan is beloved. His ability to defend Netanyahu from his powerful and sensitive post will be hindered by his lack of grace, charisma, and ability to work well with people of differing views.

After yet another delay, the police are expected to recommend in March to indict Netanyahu for breach of trust and perhaps bribery in Case 1000, the “Gifts Affair,” and Case 2000, the “Newspaper Collusion Scandal.”

As Netanyahu and his associates constantly remind people, the police recommendations have no legal significance. Only Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide Netanyahu’s fate, and if the police do not ask for more time, that will happen sometime by the end of 2018.

But when the police recommendations are leaked to the press, there will be tremendous pressure on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to remove his Kulanu party from the coalition, as Ehud Barak threatened to do with his Labor Party when police recommended indicting Ehud Olmert.

Chances are that Kahlon will stay, and Netanyahu will succeed in passing up David Ben-Gurion to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister on September 23, 2018.

But there is always a chance that Netanyahu himself could initiate an election before then if he decides it would serve him tactically.

What could throw everything off is if the police decide at any given point to declare Netanyahu a suspect in the much more serious Submarine Affair, Case 3000. With all due respect to newspapers and cigars, if Netanyahu traded Israel’s national security for money for his confidant, that would blow the other two cases out of the water.

The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob reported on Friday that the Police Recommendations Law, which passed last week, is completely unclear about whether the police could issue recommendations about Netanyahu in Case 3000.

There are also investigations of Netanyahu’s wife Sara for alleged misuse of public funds, which could either make the political year even more intense or perhaps calm it down if she becomes the legal scapegoat who gets thrown in the fire while her husband is cleared of charges.

While the focus all year will remain on the probes, there will be controversial legislation in the Knesset almost every week when the parliament is in session. The most problematic politically for Netanyahu will be over matters of religion and state, where his coalition is especially divided.

But there will also be bills that will change how political campaigns are financed, the role of deputy ministers, and whether land in Jerusalem can be relinquished in a diplomatic agreement. And that’s just in the Knesset.

The Likud central committee and other party institutions will also be making decisions that could tie Netanyahu’s hands before talks with the Palestinians could potentially begin.

While the Palestinians are currently saying they will not negotiate with Israel as long as Trump is president and the US is the mediator, they will come under tremendous pressure to back down from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and his American counterpart, Jared Kushner.

“Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change,” Netanyahu said himself when Trump came to his residence in Jerusalem.

If that happens, perhaps Netanyahu’s coalition could be unraveled from the Right or from within the Likud.

But then again, maybe Netanyahu will be able to tame all those potential lions and march into 2019 politically unscathed.

If that happens, he will definitely have what to celebrate a year from now.

The article was written by Gil Hoffman and was published on The JPost


How UK labour moderates played the Jewish card, and why they used us to do it.

0.41%. I want you to keep that number in mind. It’s important in the context of the current UK Labour Party woes over Anti-semitism.

That’s the percentage that British Jews make of the entire UK population. Or for those of you who prefer real numbers, we Jews are 263,000 people out of 64.1 million in the UK as a whole.

Let’s put that into an even bigger context, there are more members of the labour party (388,000), than there are Jews.

So anyone looking at these numbers is probably thinking the exact same thing I am. How on earth has such a tiny minority managed to exert such a strong influence on British politics? And how on earth have such a tiny minority managed to effectively bring about one of biggest crises in the opposition labour party since the early 1980’s?

Well the short answer is that we haven’t and we don’t. We have simply been used as the latest pawn in the game of thrones by moderates in the parliamentary Labour Party who desperately want to unseat the radical head of Labour, Mr Jeremy Corbyn and his far left leaning acolytes.

Of course, we are quite right to feel indignant at the recent comments from some in the Labour Party about Israel, Hitler and Zionism. But they came from people that we shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised about.

‘Red Ken’ Livingstone has a history longer than my arm on being rabidly hostile to Israel and being supportive of the Palestinians. Jeremy Corbyn regards the IRA, Hamas and the PLO as legitimate friends and people to be negotiated with, and Naz Shah – who was suspended from the Labour Party last week – is the MP who dethroned George Galloway, the Saddam loving anti-semite, in Bradford: a town with the largest Muslim population in the UK, where race riots took place and where anti-Israel hostility is commonplace.

The only difference between these people from the last election is that they were marginalised, on the periphery, and not representative of the party as a whole. Like the embarrassing drunk uncle at the dinner table they were tolerated and derided in equal measure.

Now they sit at the top table, advising Corbyn and able to articulate their wacko views with impunity. Or so it seemed until last week.

You see, up until the moderates pulled out the Jew/Anti-semite card and put it on the table, they were out of options to get rid of Corbyn. They had tried throwing everything at him: Trident (the UK’s nuclear deterrent that Corbyn opposes), his desire to get rid of the Army, his poor performances at Prime Minister’s question time, his views on minimum wage and taxing the rich to the hilt, etc, etc, etc…

None of it worked, none of it stuck. For the moderates it was like one of those nightmares where you are trying to fight someone off and the punches you land, seemingly with all your force, feel soft and have no effect.

So somewhere, in a corner office in the House of Commons, a researcher was put to work on the Jewish/anti-semitism card. They sifted through tweets, facebook posts, old statements, speeches, you name it, to find the necessary dirt on the wacko faction. They didn’t have to look too hard.

They then picked the two weeks before the London Mayoral, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Assembly elections, not to say regional elections to launch their attack.

The idea was to create such a furore that the effect on Corbyn would be shattering. As it stands, Labour look set for their worst regional council elections since 1982.

Their Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has already said the row was costing him electorally.

The outworking of all this is that post-elections, the moderates can legitimately start sharpening their knives and inflict their badly wanted death blow on Corbyn and reclaim labour, putting it back on the centre ground.

And we helped them do it. We responded exactly as we were supposed to. Ambassador Mark Regev, Israeli politicians, Rabbis from every denomination, all appeared on TV. We, this tiny minority, got huge airtime and acres of newspaper coverage.

Ask any British Jew what they want most, and most will tell you to live peacefully, quietly, and to live a Jewish life without fuss and attention.

That’s why it sits so badly with me that we have been manipulated like this. Used and I would say, abused in this inter-Labour warfare.

We have been used in the past as pawns across the Political spectrum. We need to be more careful in future before falling into the same trap again.

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The piece was written by EIPA executive director, Alex Benjamin.