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Latest News in Israel – 10th April

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Gantz or Netanyahu ?  Final votes being counted in dramatic election

As 96% of the votes have been counted, it appears that Likud is going to take the win with 37 seats compared to Blue and White’s 36. However as this dramatic election has shown, anything could change as the final percentage is counted.

As more and more exit polls began to be published Prime Minister declared victory at a Likud rally at around 2:00 AM.

Earlier polls that showed Blue and White as leading by as many as four seats and party chairman Benny Gantz also held a victory rally.

Netanyahu claimed victory, because his Right-Center bloc won handily over Gantz’s Center-Left bloc in polls broadcast on Channel 13 and KAN, 66 to 54 and 64 to 56, respectively. In Channel 12’s poll, the blocs were even at 60 seats.

“The right-wing bloc led by Likud clearly won,” Netanyahu said. “I thank Israeli citizens for their trust. I will begin forming a right-wing government with our natural partners already tonight.”

On the other hand, Gantz announced that he won the race, because in the Channel 12 poll, Blue and White received 37 seats and Likud 33. In the KAN poll, the victory margin was 37 to 36. The Channel 13 poll found the two parties even at 36.

“We won!” Gantz and his number two Yair Lapid said in a joint statement. “The Israeli public has had their say! Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser. Netanyahu promised 40 seats and lost. The president can see the picture and should call on the winner to form the next government. There is no other option!”

President Reuven Rivlin will meet with the heads of the parties that cross the threshold next week. Shas, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties announced late Tuesday that they would recommend Netanyahu to form the government.

Kahlon and Liberman said they would only decide when the final results are in.

Labor and Meretz will recommend Gantz.

The surprise of the election was that former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party did not cross the 3.25% threshold, according to the exit polls. But party officials said their supporters did not cooperate with the exit polls and the results in the ballot box would be very different.

UTJ’s Moshe Gafni said he spoke to Netanyahu minutes after the exit polls were released, and that he would recommend him to be tasked with forming the next government when he meets in the coming days with President Reuven Rivlin.

Several Likud ministers and top candidates were on hand at the party’s election event to respond to the polls and tried to take a similarly optimistic approach to the results.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said “the picture appears to be that the national camp won and the right-wing bloc can form the next government. That is what represents the will of most of the public and not the biggest party, which destroyed Labor.”

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu crossed the threshold, while MK Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher did not.

The polls were inconclusive on the fate of the New Right of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, which did not cross the threshold, according to the Channel 12 and KAN polls but narrowly did, according to Channel 13.

One of the stories of the election was apparently low turnout in the Arab sector. Hadash-Ta’al won six to seven seats in the polls. United Arab List-Balad did not cross the threshold in two of them.

Netanyahu spent most of the day trying to convince people that voter turnout is dangerously low for the Likud. He posted a new video on his Facebook page every hour warning that “the right-wing government is in danger!”

In the afternoon, Netanyahu went to the Poleg Beach in Netanya to tell voters to stop lollygagging and go vote.

“A lot of people went to the beach, but if they stay on the beach and don’t go vote, they’ll wake up with [Blue and White co-leader Yair] Lapid as prime minister of a left-wing government,” he warned. “If they want to continue with a Likud government with me at the head, they need to vote. Go to the beach later!”

Netanyahu also claimed that Blue and White activists were vandalizing Likud voting slips so that they are not usable.

In another video, Netanyahu spoke to one voter after another: “Go house by house, person by person, make phone calls, send WhatsApp, text messages, get every last voter,” he told Michael in Ramle after 8 p.m.

In a phone conversation with Bet Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch, he told her to try to get out the vote, and she said she’s making an effort as long as Netanyahu promises to make Bet Shemesh a great city.

Netanyahu then warned that in 1992, a general – Yitzhak Rabin – won an election and signed the Oslo Accords and in 1999, another general – Ehud Barak – won and the Second Intifada started under his watch, a common refrain of the Likud campaign. (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Gantz can’t deliver on his promise to be next prime minister. Netanyahu holds the majority

“I will be everyone’s prime minister,” Blue-White leader Benny Gantz promised in his victory speech after bypassing Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud with 37 seats to 36 or 33, variously predicted by two TV channels’ exit polls. Gantz and his cheering followers were premature. A 20pc count of votes just after midnight gives Likud 34 seats to Blue-White’s 30.

Although Likud and Blue-White could if they joined forces command a comfortable majority in the 120-member Knesset –  this would be a landmark event in Israel’s political history – the reality for now is that the right-of-center bloc controlled by Netanyahu can muster 8-10 seats more than the left-of-center parties willing and able to support Gantz’s bid for the premiership.

Blue-White’s four-man leadership, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gaby Ashkenazi, pulled off an amazing feat by creating a brand-new political party in three months and campaigning successfully enough to win more than a million votes. At the same time, the opponent they swore to destroy came to the campaign limping badly under the burden of three threatened corruption indictments hanging over his head. Yet, Binyamin Netanyahu, in an exceptional display of political flair, actually enhanced Likud’s rating from 27 well past the 30-mark – and multiplying as real returns are counted. His victory speech following that of Gantz was greeted with hysterical applause – especially when he congratulated the new Likud MKs.

Benny Gantz, to beat him for the premiership, would have to poach heavily in the right- of-center camp to eke out a majority coalition. He would need to steal such Netanyahu loyalists as former Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and at least one ultra-religious party. However, Blue-White failed in its campaign effort to win over the “soft right” which stuck with Likud in the end and drew most of its support by virtually cannibalizing the veteran Labor party, which came out of the election reduced by half.

Netanyahu, for his part, has no time to lose before building a stable coalition government out of right-wing and religious parties – no easy task, while preparing to defend himself in a hearing before the attorney general set for July, in the hope of extricating himself from the cases pending against him. Three religious parties announced on Tuesday night that they were wholeheartedly behind him; Kahlon and Lieberman, who hopes to recover the defense portfolio will also stand by Netanyahu when he establishes his fifth coalition government. (Debka)

Police find guns, bullets in Palestinian car with small children

Two M-16’s and an airsoft gun along with 15 magazines and hundreds of bullets were found after a Palestinian family with young children in the car was stopped at the A’Zaim checkpoint near Jerusalem.

The car was stopped after the driver raised the suspicion of Israeli Border Police. The driver’s wife, young daughter and days-old son were also in the car.

After a quick investigation, the police asked the driver to open the trunk, where they found a suitcase filled with the weapons and ammunition, alongside clothes and personal items.

Police arrested two suspects in their twenties from the Palestinian town ‘Anata next to Jerusalem for further interrogation.

The weapons were intended for terrorists and criminals within Israel, according to Israel Police         (Jerusalem Post)

Airbnb backs off removing Jewish West  Bank ads after Shurat Hadin lawsuit

Airbnb announced on Tuesday that it would rescind its decision to remove ads of Jewish homeowners in Judea and Samaria following a settlement of a Shurat Hadin lawsuit.

The rental giant had said in November 2018 that it would ban Jewish property owners living in the West Bank from advertising on its site following objections from groups seeking to boycott Israel.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Airbnb has agreed to repeal the discriminatory policy, resolving the discrimination lawsuit Shurat Hadin had filed in a federal court in Delaware on behalf of a group of US citizens.

The company is incorporated in Delaware.

Airbnb said on Tuesday that it would not profit from host activity in the West Bank and would donate the money earned to “nonprofit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.”

“Airbnb will also implement the same approach for listings in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two other disputed areas where the company has previously announced that we would take action,” it said. “Airbnb has always opposed the BDS movement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform.”

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the policy of the San Francisco-based Internet hospitality company discriminated against them due to their religious background.

The basis of the case was the Fair Housing Act, a US statute which bars discrimination in the housing sales and rental markets.

Though the properties were located in West Bank, the plaintiffs alleged that the discrimination was being committed by Airbnb, which is bound to follow federal policies of non-discrimination wherever it operates in the world, since it is based in the US.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs requested that the court enjoin Airbnb from discriminatory practices against Jewish homeowners and sought compensation for lost rental income.

Due to the pending litigation, Shurat Hadin said that Airbnb had not implemented the announced policy.

In light of the settlement, the NGO said that “the policy will never be implemented and the property owners have been saved from suffering any losses.”

In addition to Shurat Hadin, New York attorney Robert J. Tolchin and Delaware counsel David Eagle helped manage the case.

The NGO said that, “when Airbnb publicly announced its redlining policy barring rentals of Jewish-owned properties… It stated it would no longer agree to list these homes due to claims that such properties are located in Palestinian-owned territories illegally occupied by Israeli settlers.”

However, the plaintiffs “contend that all the properties are legal. Further, the plaintiffs asserted that Airbnb had succumbed to pressure from the extremist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions propaganda movement which seeks to delegitimize Israel and challenges its right to exist.”

Shurat Hadin president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner stated, “The rescinding of Airbnb’s discriminatory policy is… A powerful defeat for the anti-Israel boycott movement. BDS is an antisemitic campaign which purports to care about human rights but whose real goal is to completely replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian one.”

“Other international companies need to learn the lessons from Airbnb’s mistake and understand that boycotting Israel and discriminating against Jews are unlawful acts, which will ultimately result in dire legal consequences, public condemnations and embarrassment,” she added.

In Washington, Chairman Ted Deutch issued the following statement: “Since this misguided policy was first announced, I have engaged with Airbnb executives and urged them to reconsider their misguided and discriminatory plan. I applaud the company’s move to reverse that position. Just like other boycott efforts, applying a double standard to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank does nothing for the peace process, and in fact harms economic opportunities of both Israelis and Palestinians. I hope this reversal serves as a reminder for other multinational companies that taking action that discriminates and plays into the hands of the anti-Israel BDS movement is wrong, harmful, and bad for business.”

Back in Israel, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said, “the ill-advised Airbnb decision to delist Israeli hosts was the product of NGO pressure and BDS campaigns, and the company’s reversal is a major defeat, particularly for Human Rights Watch. As NGO Monitor and others conveyed to Airbnb, the HRW campaign was morally, legally and economically wrong.

“When Airbnb officials belatedly performed the due diligence they should have done much earlier, they found that HRW’s claims on Israel and the conflict have no basis in fact or law. NGO Monitor is proud to have contributed to this result,” he concluded.  (Jerusalem Post) Staff

Netanyahu, the divisive force of nature who refused to be beaten

Even the combined might of three former IDF chiefs proves no match for a prime minister now heading for his fifth term

by David Horovitz           The Times of Israel


In the end, the combined might of three former Israeli army chiefs proved no match for the political will of Benjamin Netanyahu.

A divisive force of nature who commandeered the airwaves, took over the vegetable markets, monopolized social media and even called potential voters out of the sea at Netanya beach on election day, Netanyahu simply refused to be beaten.

He had help. President Donald Trump gifted him the sensationally timed US recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights late last month, and the branding of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force as a terror group this week. President Vladimir Putin pitched in with Russia’s return of the remains of Zachary Baumel, 37 years after the Brooklyn-born IDF tank commander’s death in the Lebanon War.

He didn’t always play fair. His “vote Likud, only Likud” gevalt mantra of the campaign’s final days siphoned votes away from his ostensible right-wing partners. His Likud party’s hiring of activists to deploy hidden cameras in Arab polling stations Tuesday will require further investigation, as will the impact that tactic had on turnout in the Arab sector. The effort to depict his key rival Benny Gantz as mentally unstable was truly a low.

He proved spectacularly adept in turning the potential major embarrassment of an ostensible exposé of illicit twitter campaigning into a victory over his accusers, even at the price of bringing the homophobic extremist “Captain George” into the Prime Minister’s Residence.

He also used reprehensible means toward the single end of winning by brokering the construction of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, with the inclusion of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, when seeking to prevent the loss of vital right-wing votes (even as he was happy to try to consign Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right to political oblivion).

And as he now prepares to try to build a majority coalition, there is widespread suspicion that he will tacitly condition his recent promise of West Bank settlement annexation and key roles for his potential right-wing partners on their readiness to support legislation that would protect him from his looming indictment for fraud, breach of trust and, in one case, bribery. Netanyahu has denied this with greater and lesser conviction in recent days. Some potential partners, such as Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, have said they would never support the immunity move; others, such as URWP’s would-be education minister Bezalel Smotrich, have said they will champion it.

But at the end of it all — at the end of a bitter campaign in which he denigrated those three ex-chiefs of staff as “weak leftists,” and battered the media and the cops and the state prosecutors for leading an ostensible witch-hunt against him over his alleged corruption — Netanyahu overnight Tuesday-Wednesday was emerging victorious again, heading for his fifth term in office.

It wasn’t all his doing. He benefited from Israelis’ gradual shift to the right: In 1999, he was defeated by another ex-IDF chief and political newcomer, Ehud Barak, in part because a goodly proportion of the electorate believed that he was missing opportunities for peace. That was not the case this time. Not in an Israel still traumatized by the Second Intifada. Not in an Israel reminded intermittently by Hezbollah’s tunnels, rockets and threats, and by Hamas rocket attacks, of the dangers of relinquishing adjacent territory.

Netanyahu also benefited from Gantz’s understandable awkwardness in his fresh political career, and the Blue and White camp’s wider failure even to exploit rocket fire on Tel Aviv to undermine his Mr. Security credentials.

Ultimately, even that unprecedented cavalcade of military men could not persuade enough Israelis to trust anyone but Netanyahu at the helm.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu made victory speeches in the first few hours after the polling stations closed late Tuesday night. But Gantz’s was premature. Netanyahu bided his time, and had the final word.

In that address, with victory about to be formalized, he could afford to sound magnanimous for the first time in the election campaign — to promise that while he would work to build a right-wing government, he would be the prime minister of all Israelis, right and left, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Just hours earlier, and for weeks and months before that, his tone had been so very different. But now he was King Bibi, about to be recrowned.

What Should Be Israel’s Response to the U.S. Peace Plan? – Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser (Fathom Journal-BICOM-UK)

Israel’s response to the expected U.S. peace plan will reflect its commitment to seek a peace that guarantees its security and so will probably be “Yes, but.”

At the same time, Israel will have to:

  1. Clarify its red lines, namely, that no lasting peace can be reached without: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people; a security plan that leaves the Jordan Valley under Israeli responsibility and allows the IDF to deal with threats from the West Bank; and ending the hate indoctrination and incitement that inculcate support for terror and commitment to a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” in Palestinian minds.
  2. If the Palestinians reject the plan, Israel together with the U.S. should continue conveying the message that there is a price for Palestinian intransigence. They should seek to convince the Palestinians of the need to accept the existence of a Jewish people that has a sovereign history in this disputed holy land as well as accepting the need to share this land with them.
  3. Continue with the current policies vis-a-vis Gaza and the West Bank. These are solid and reasonable policies in light of the complexities of the situation. If the threat from Gaza rises, Israel will have to be prepared to take harsher measures to protect its citizens, including forcing Hamas to give up its control of the Strip.
  4. Refrain from moving towards unilateral concessions disguised as “separation” from the Palestinians. This is a dangerous idea as it ignores the Palestinian narrative and may lead to greater Palestinian terror while simultaneously causing higher tensions within Israeli society. The probability that any new government will support such a policy is very low.

Moreover, Israel should try to convince the pragmatic Arab states to use the expected Palestinian rejection of the American peace plan as a justification for having closer ties with Israel. This may eventually help in pushing the Palestinians to adopt a more realistic approach towards the peace plan.

The writer, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Research Division, is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.