Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
With plea for harmony, President Rivlin officially taps Netanyahu to form new coalition
President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday officially tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with assembling a coalition to govern the 21st Knesset with a plea to Israel’s leader to soothe social divides after a combative election campaign.
“In democracies, the majority decides. And in these elections, the majority spoke its part,” Rivlin said at a press conference alongside Netanyahu, after officially handing him the appointment.
Netanyahu, who will be serving as prime minister for an unprecedented fifth term, is expected to cobble together a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties after talks kick off Thursday.
Last week’s election saw him defeat challenger Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief who leads the Blue and White party, and who is expected to head the Knesset opposition.
“We’ve been through a difficult election campaign. A lot of things were said that shouldn’t have been said — from all sides — not in a Jewish state, and not in a democratic state,” Rivlin said.
“Us versus them is over, and now it’s just us,” added the president. “Now is the time to stop fighting ‘them’ and to regain faith in ‘us.’”
Netanyahu, in his remarks after Rivlin, vowed to represent all Israelis, “those that voted for me, and those that didn’t.”
The prime minister said he was as excited “as the first time” and perhaps more.
The two held closed talks before the public remarks.
The president’s decision to tap Netanyahu comes after senior members of parties representing 65 of the 120 Knesset members recommended Netanyahu for prime minister in consultations with Rivlin over the past two days.
Though Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with Blue and White at 35 seats apiece, the prime minister is the only one with enough potential partners to cobble together a coalition.
Netanyahu is likely to build a coalition of 65 seats comprising Likud (35 seats), Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Yisrael Beytenu (5) and Kulanu (4).
The opposition is expected to comprise Blue and White (35), Labor (6), Hadash-Ta’al (6), Meretz (4) and Ra’am-Balad (4).
After Rivlin’s selection, Netanyahu will have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.
Rivlin held meetings on Monday and Tuesday with representatives of the political parties voted into parliament for consultations ahead of the appointment.
Netanyahu and Rivlin have long been reported to be at loggerheads, with the prime minister saying ahead of last week’s Knesset elections that the president was looking for an “excuse” to task political rival Benny Gantz with assembling a coalition.
Rivlin strongly denounced Netanyahu’s comment, with his office saying it was a “despicable attempt” to undermine the public’s trust in his choice of who should get the first go at cobbling together a ruling majority.
Likud is expected to start coalition negotiations on Thursday with representatives of right-wing and Haredi factions.
Avigdor Liberman, whose secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party won five seats in the election, said Monday he would recommend Netanyahu, likely cementing the Likud-led coalition, though Liberman said he would hold his ground on religious and state issues in a coalition likely to be dominated by the religious right.
The clash between religious and secular right-wing parties will likely complicate negotiations going forward.
The Knesset announced Tuesday that the newly elected members will be sworn in on April 30 at 4 p.m. (Israel time). The law dictates the swearing-in ceremony should take place 14 days after the elections, but the Knesset speaker delayed the ceremony due to the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter. (the Times of Israel) Staff
US publishes first map showing Golan as Israeli territory
The US has for the first time published a map showing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, three weeks after President Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau.
US Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted a picture of the map on Tuesday, saying: “Welcome to the newest addition of our international maps system.”
The map shows the 1974 ceasefire line between Israel and Syria as a permanent border, whereas the border with Lebanon continues to be demarcated as the 1949 armistice line.
The map also notes that the West Bank is Israeli-occupied, with its final status to be determined in peace talks.
And it notes that while the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, it does not take a position on the boundaries of the holy city, which is also claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state.
However, while the map was updated, text attached to the Israel entry in the latest CIA world factbook, which included the map, continued to call East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights “Israeli occupied.”
Part of a map published by the US on April 16, 2019, that for the first time shows the Golan Heights as Israeli territory
Trump’s formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan sparked widespread international condemnation. The announcement in late March was a major shift in American policy and gave Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu a needed political boost ahead of April elections.
Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the rest of international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.
The map was published with the US indicating it may also be on board with Israel annexing West Bank settlements.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said he did not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election talk of extending Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements would hurt the Trump administration’s long-gestating peace plan.
His comments would appear to indicate that the US plan does not provide for Palestinian statehood, or even for Palestinian control of substantive contiguous territory in the West Bank.
Asked during a CNN interview by anchor Jake Tapper whether he thought Netanyahu “vowing to annex the West Bank” could hurt the US proposal, Pompeo answered “I don’t.”
“I think that the vision that we’ll lay out is going to represent a significant change from the model that’s been used,” he added.
“We’ve had a lot of ideas for 40 years. They did not deliver peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Pompeo said. “Our idea is to put forward a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique, that tries to reframe and reshape what’s been an intractable problem.”
He said the Trump administration wanted “a better life” for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In interviews days before the elections, Netanyahu said he intended to gradually apply Israeli law to all settlements, and that he hoped he could do so with the agreement of the United States.
On Tuesday, a coalition of more than a dozen conservative groups, most of them Jewish, sent a letter to Trump tacitly asking him to respect a potential Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements.
The letter comes in response to a coalition of centrist and liberal groups who last week urged Trump not to recognize a potential Israeli West Bank annexation. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Israeli Ambassador to US Dermer: Trump peace plan will take Israel’s ‘vital interests’ into account
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer addressed the much-anticipated Trump Mideast peace plan in remarks at the White House pre-Passover reception held in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on Tuesday.
“I know a lot of people are concerned that the peace plan is going to be coming out soon. But I have to say, as Israel’s ambassador, I am confident that this administration — given its support for Israel — will take Israel’s vital concerns into account in any plan they will put forward,” Dermer said in remarks obtained by Jewish Insider.
Addressing Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Mideast envoy, Dermer quipped, “They say that the key to peace is low expectations. So I think you are well underway.” The comment drew laughter from the crowd.
Greenblatt posted on Twitter earlier in the day: “Jared, Ambassador David Friedman & I sincerely appreciate all of the interest in our peace efforts over the past two years. But, we’re not going to reveal details of the plan ahead of time. Continued speculation doesn’t help anyone and harms the effort. We kindly suggest a stop to the guessing games.”
The Israeli ambassador said that he’s “optimistic” about the peace plan because “there is a real change in the Arab world” in their attitudes toward Israel “that some people haven’t recognized.”
Dermer added: “I think that you have in Jared [Kushner], in Jason [Greenblatt], in Avi [Berkowitz], in David [Friedman], in this whole team — you have the best chance to take advantage of this historic moment of opportunity that exists, because everybody that speaks to them knows that they speak for the president of the United States. And I can tell you, as an envoy, the single most important currency that we have as envoys is that people know you are speaking for the leader and the government that they represent.”
“So, while I will never blame any American president or secretary of state or envoy for the failure to achieve peace — anyone who does that doesn’t understand why we don’t have peace. The Palestinians have to cross the rubicon. It’s going to be up to them. But what you can be is better or worse facilitators to get them to that point. And I could not think of better facilitators, with better relations both with Israel and the Arab world, to take advantage of this historic opportunity. I know that you all join me in wishing the best for the initiative that will come in the weeks and months ahead.”
The closed-to-press event was attended by Jewish community leaders, mostly from Orthodox Jewish groups who maintain close ties with the Trump administration. Attendees were treated to gefilte fish, Israeli salad and matzah crackers.
Dermer said it was important for him to attend the event “to express” Israel’s gratitude for President Trump’s support for Israel “just in the last twelve months.”
Dermer also thanked President Trump for giving Israel the backing “both in words and deeds” to defend itself from Iran in Syria. “You saw it in the decision recently by the U.S. that it would make it clear that it would stay in this important base within Syria, in al-Tanf,” he said, and by Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Dermer said about Trump, “It is true that in every generation they rise up against us (Sheb’chol Dor VaDor…). But it is a rare thing — a very rare thing — a president like President Trump and an administration like the Trump administration — that doesn’t happen every generation. It may happen once in many, many, many generations. And Israel, the Jewish state, and I believe, the Jewish people are blessed to have a real friendly administration.” (Jewish Journal US) Amir Tibon
IDF requests NIS 10 billion in funds for the military
The IDF’s ongoing “war-between-wars” and the strengthening of the armed forces of Israel’s neighbors have caused the army to ask the government for a budget supplement of NIS 10 billion, Army Radio has reported.
According to a military source quoted by Army Radio, the unexpected costs of the IDF’s war-between-wars caused hundreds of millions of shekels to be taken from the budget of other divisions in the military.
The IDF’s “war-between-wars” is code for a constellation of covert operations that continue below the radar against Israel’s enemies. It is believed that the ongoing operations have cost several million shekels over the past year.
Israel has until recently refrained from commenting on military activities beyond its borders, believing that by neither confirming or denying the strikes, Iran would be less likely to retaliate. But in recent months, officials have begun discussing IAF strikes in Syria.
With Iran continuing to entrench itself across the Middle East, Israel might have to consider expanding its war-between-wars campaign over the next year. It is believed that Iran will attempt to entrench itself in Iraq – a mainly Shia Muslim country – as it has done in Syria, where Tehran have managed to establish and consolidate a solid parallel security structure in the country.
Israel likes to stay one step ahead of its enemies and, according to the Army Radio, another reason behind the demand for the extra funds are the military purchases to counter the movement of Iranian and Russian weaponry into countries like Iraq and Syria.
In recent years, Russia has asserted itself as the main superpower in the Middle East, especially with the American withdrawal from the region under US President Donald Trump. The Kremlin is selling S-400 missile systems to Turkey, and T-90 battle tanks to Iraq, and is also trying to sell to Egypt – which is almost completely refurbishing it’s military – SU-35 fighter jets. Cairo also just purchased advanced submarines from Germany.
Syria is also rebuilding its army with the help of the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah. It is assumed to be focusing first on intelligence and air defense divisions, which could pose a threat to IAF warplanes
“The impact of the significant costs of the war-between-wars on the IDF budget and the gaps for optimal IDF readiness were presented and reported to the relevant authorities. These implications will be taken into account when building the next multi-year IDF program,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post.
In August, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his 2030 Security Concept to his cabinet, which will add hundreds of millions of shekels to military spending based on expected threats, military manpower needs and the principles for using force over the next decade.
“Due to our small area, the population concentration and the numerous threats around us, Israel will always have security needs that are much greater than any other state of similar size,” Netanyahu said, adding that “today, the Israeli economy is strong enough to allow for this supplement. In any case, the increase will be enacted while maintaining a responsible budgetary framework.”
According to reports, the plan calls for an increase in defense spending of 0.2% to 0.3% of the gross national product, making for an increase of $630-$950 million.
The budget increases, Netanyahu’s office said at the time, would be used for anti-missile defenses, the completion of security fences and other measures. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
1,600-year-old gold coin of emperor who abolished Sanhedrin discovered by pupils
An extremely rare 1,600-year-old gold coin of the Byzantine emperor who made Jews second-class citizens in the Land of Israel has been discovered — ironically, near a new trail built in commemoration of the Sanhedrin he abolished. It is the first time this coin has been found in Israel, according to an Israel Antiquities Authority press release published on Tuesday.
In February, four trekking teens stumbled upon the coin while orienteering in the fields alongside the Zippori stream in the Galilee. The high schoolers, Ido Kadosh, Ofir Sigal, Dotan Miller and Harel Grin, immediately discerned that this was no run-of-the-mill coin and alerted their geography and history teacher Zohar Porshyan, who contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The ninth graders received a certificate of commendation from the IAA at the Haemeq Hama’aravi High School in Kibbutz Yifat in the Jezreel Valley. The coin has been transferred to the State Treasuries.
The obverse of the solidus — a solid gold coin with a weight of approximately 4.5 grams that was minted in the later Roman Empire/early Byzantine era — depicts Emperor Theodosius II; its reverse is illustrated by the goddess Victory holding the Staff of the Cross.
According to IAA numismatic expert Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, “The gold coin is a solidus minted by the emperor Theodosius II in Constantinople (now Istanbul) around 420–423 CE. Similar coins are known from the Eastern Byzantine empire, but this is the first of its type discovered in Israel.”
Emperor Theodosius II (401-450) began his reign over Byzantium, the eastern part of the Roman Empire whose capital was in Constantinople, as a 7-year-old. His name is enshrined in the Codex Theodosianus or Theodosian law code, which is a set of laws published in 438 that collected and redacted the thousands of imperial laws of the sprawling empire.
Unfortunately for the Jews of the era, who had enjoyed relative freedom, the codex officially demoted their status.
Although the coin depicts the goddess Victory, Theodosius was a defender of the Christian faith and promoted Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the official religion of the empire. As such, the rights and privileges of Jews were circumscribed. They were barred from military and civil service — aside from the thankless profession of tax collector — and and no new synagogues could be constructed.
In an even more resonant blow, the emperor’s codex also diverted the taxes paid to the head of the Sanhedrin, which led to the eventual abolishment of the Jewish legal council. Gamaliel VI (400–425) was the final holder of the office of Nasi.
“The emperor Theodosius II abolished the post of the ‘Nasi,’ the Head of the Sanhedrin Council, and decreed that the Jews’ financial contributions to the Sanhedrin be transferred to the Imperial Treasury,” said Yair Amitzur, IAA chief archaeologist of the Sanhedrin Trail.
“The Sanhedrin Trail initiated by the IAA tells the story of the Jewish leadership in the Galilee at the time of the Mishnah and the Talmud in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It is symbolic that the gold coin discovered adjacent to the Sanhedrin trail reflects the period of dramatic events when the Sanhedrin ceased to function in the Galilee, and the center of Jewish life transferred from the Galilee to Babylon,” said Amitzur.
The high schoolers showed archaeologist Nir Distelfeld, the IAA’s anti-theft inspector, where the valuable coin was discovered.
“It is uncommon to find single gold coins as they were very valuable, and people took care not to lose them. I commend the pupils and their teacher for their good citizenship,” said Distelfeld. (the Times of Israel) Amanda Borschel-Dan
Netanyahu’s brilliant victory and the challenges ahead
Netanyahu employed his electoral skills, ruthlessly dumping his allies at the very end of the campaign to increase his primary vote – a maneuver that led to his success.
by Isi Leibler The Jerusalem Post
Israeli voters have chosen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what was essentially a referendum over whether he should be reelected to a fifth term of office. This was the result despite a viciously hostile media, three pending corruption charges and having held office for 13 years. In three months, he will surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving leader.
Netanyahu employed his electoral skills, ruthlessly dumping his allies at the very end of the campaign to increase his primary vote – a maneuver that led to his success.
His campaign was unprecedentedly boosted by foreign leaders including US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, all of whom effectively endorsed him the week before the election.
But the main reason for Netanyahu’s triumph was that while many Israelis recoiled against aspects of his personal life, in particular his hedonism, they instinctively felt his expertise and experience were critical today and that none of his opponents could even remotely display similar levels of strategy and leadership to enable them to step into his shoes.
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right Party failed to qualify for inclusion to the Knesset by a hair, but had it qualified, Netanyahu would have had the support of 67 Knesset members instead of 65.
This was a product of Bennett’s hubris. He persuaded Shaked – undoubtedly one of the most talented MKs – to join him in political oblivion. There is a likelihood that despite Netanyahu’s intense dislike of her, Likud will bring her into its ranks. As of now, Likud is also negotiating with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party to encourage it to join the coalition.
Setting aside the nightmare of finding an accommodation to satisfy conflicting ministerial demands, the prime minister is also going to face enormous external challenges.
For a start, the Trump peace plan is soon likely to be unfolded. It has been made abundantly clear that even in the absence of a two-state policy, Israel will be asked to make territorial concessions that do not compromise security. It could well be that most Israelis accept the proposals but Netanyahu is dependent on the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which has threatened to bolt any government that accepts territorial compromise.
The public exhortations by the Reform, Conservative and other liberal American Jewish groups demonstrate the extent to which the bulk of non-Orthodox American Jews have not only abandoned Israel, but have the chutzpah to tell the democratically elected government that they are entitled to influence our security even if this runs counter to the will of the Israeli people.
If most Israelis have reached the conclusion that a Palestinian state would be a terrorist state which would undermine their security, it is grossly irresponsible for armchair Diaspora Jews to assume they knew better than Israelis what is good for them. Israel’s problem is that these Jews are also incentivizing the Democrats, including hitherto supporters of Israel, to exert pressure on Israeli government policies.
Is it unreasonable for Netanyahu to seek to apply Israeli sovereignty to the major settlement blocs? We have waited for decades – to no avail – to negotiate with the Palestinians on the future of the territories.
IT IS abundantly clear that these settlement blocs are no longer subject to negotiation and have become part of Israel. Now is surely a propitious time – unless the Palestinians miraculously reverse themselves and become flexible when the Trump peace plan is released – to finally legalize the status of over 500,000 settlers by applying Israeli sovereignty to them. This move would have the support of most Israelis and would not alter the quality of life for Palestinians by an iota. However, such a step, even restricted to the major settlement blocs, would undoubtedly create an upheaval and the bulk of the world would condemn us. But if the US stands by, we should not miss such an opportunity to stabilize the area and ultimately reach a settlement.
Should we fail to do so and maintain the status quo, then in the absence of a supportive US government in the future we will find ourselves continually negotiating over our rights in the major settlement blocs.
While Netanyahu has a powerful case to act with the major blocs, it is unlikely the US will allow him to fulfil his undertaking to annex the isolated settlements, and he would not necessarily have the support of the majority of Israelis to move in that direction.
All this will require not only a juggling act but also sensitive negotiations within his coalition. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party has already threatened to oppose the government if the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) bloc prevents the passage of the draft conscription bill. If this happens, Netanyahu will lose his majority and we could face new elections.
The haredim polled exceedingly well and have proved to be masters of extortion in the past. Aside from additional diversion of funds toward their yeshivot and the aggrandizement of the Chief Rabbinate, we can expect efforts to impose even greater stringencies on issues of conscription, conversion, marriage, gender separation and kashrut. This will also intensify the rifts between Israel and the Diaspora.
Netanyahu may brazenly outlast the confrontations and reach an accommodation. That would be his first choice – leading a right-wing government and satisfying haredi demands.
But taking account of the external as well as internal pressures, despite his spectacular victory, he may be obliged to consider other alternatives. Benny Gantz’s partner, Yair Lapid, has promised to make life miserable for the government. But Gantz himself is far more reasonable, and the partnership with Yesh Atid could break up.
Setting aside the current confrontational approaches by both the incoming government and opposition, the reality is that the dominant policies in both Likud and in Gantz’s party are almost indistinguishable.
If Netanyahu finds the demands from his satellite parties are too extreme, or they block what he considers a reasonable American peace plan, he may well reach an accommodation with Gantz over his legal problems and form a unity government – which would be applauded by the vast majority of Israelis.
For the time being, however, it looks as if a right-wing government will prevail. A broader unity government is today only a remote possibility but should not be dismissed from happening in the months to come, if the smaller extremist parties persist with demands that make it impossible for Netanyahu to govern.
A crucial election in Israel
by Suzanne Fields The Washington Times
Benjamin Netanyahu just won his fifth term as prime minister of Israel. He’s not the most beloved in the pantheon of Israeli leaders. As a patriarch, he has no aura. In this re-election he was haunted by allegations of corruption and his political rhetoric of expediency lacks trustworthiness. He’s not loved, or even that well liked.
The election was close, with diminished jubilation. But if you talk to Israelis and read what they write, there’s a great sense of gratitude that he’s still standing tall. You can hear sighs of relief from many of his countryman and from Jews around the world because he’s a man who can keep Israel safe.
Young voters in particular voted for him, with the 18 to 34 year olds a key bloc, young enough to remember serving in the military, aware of the dangers for their country and who appreciate a hang-tough attitude.
During this time of rising anti-Semitism in the Middle East, emanating from the left and the right in Europe, it’s visible even in America and in the Democratic Party, once champions of Jewish safety and security. Jews who have grown up and grown old since the Holocaust are feeling a chill they haven’t felt since the death camps were liberated at the end of World War II. The Israelis see in Mr. Netanyahu a strong leader of a strong Israel, sending an important message against anti-Semitism in their midst and abroad.
When the United Nations recognized the state of Israel in 1947 there were dissenters, but across the globe you could hear support for a Jewish homeland where Jews could feel safe from the evil of anti-Semitism set loose by the diaspora. It was the right time for the wandering Jew to secure his own roof.
Moses had led an exodus out of Egypt when Jews were slaves. That exodus is observed as part of the Passover holiday, celebrating the flight to the Promised Land. After their temple in Jerusalem was burned, the Jews were scattered again, forced to depend on their own ingenuity and the kindness of strangers. When a civilized country in the modern world killed 6 million Jewish men, women and children, a majority of the United Nations concluded that it was right that Jews should have an independent state.
No nation is perfect, including Israel, but it’s nevertheless the only democracy in the Middle East, and a firm ally of the United States. In Western Europe as in the United States, Jews have broken down barriers in institutions that once excluded them. They’re civic leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, citizens who have grown in confidence knowing that there’s a homeland they can turn toward, even if they never go there. No small thing.
Modern Israel has been threatened by its neighbors since its founding, and Jews even in France, Germany, England, who felt a minimum threat from anti-Semites after World War II, have become concerned that these haters are moving from the fringe to the midst of civilized territory. Many of these Jews, like the majority who voted for Benjamin Netanyahu, appreciate that Israel has a leader who talks tough and presents an image of Jews as warriors. The Jew as a symbol of strength was not a popular image before the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.
Anti-Semitism of the present day is nothing like that of the 1930s, but a shadow no bigger than a fist capable of grasping a gun, and sometimes becoming the size of a mob, has seized public attention as bigotry becomes ever more brazen. The New York Times recently catalogued growing incidents under the headline: “Anti-Semitism is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes.”
France, where swastikas frequently mar Jewish tombstones, has seen a 74 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, with more than 500 incidents. President Emmanuel Macron says it’s the worst outbreak since World War II. In Paris, a torrent of hate speech was hurled at Alain Finkielkraut, the distinguished philosopher, when Yellow Vest rioters accosted him on the streets of Paris. They screamed a cacophony of left-wing and Islamist slogans, some filthier than others.
In Germany, anti-Semitic incidents have risen 60 percent. In Poland, a far-right newspaper ran a story explaining “How to spot a Jew.” Politicians and their supporters on the left blame Jews for the failings of capitalism.
The Jewish Chronicle finds 85 percent of British Jews, with good reason, think Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labor Party, is an anti-Semite. Some members of the party have bailed over it.
The Jewish Seder this week begins with a feast, celebrating spring and new beginnings. The feast is marked by a mix of bitter herbs and sweet fruit. There’s an abundance of food for thought.
Israeli soldiers spell out Pesach Sameach