Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Trump sings Bibi’s praises as he wins Israeli elections
Watch the video and commentary (Israel Video Network)
Opening PM consultation talks, Rivlin tells Likud ‘the people expect unity’
Kicking off consultations over who should be tasked with forming the next government, President Reuven Rivlin told representatives of the Likud party Monday morning “the people expect unity” and that the right-wing party should play a key role in bridging divisions within Israeli society, regardless of the identity of the next prime minister.
He also quizzed the centrist Blue and White party on whether it would entertain the notion of sitting in a government not led by its party leader Benny Gantz — an option firmly ruled out by the centrist faction.
Following last week’s national election, Rivlin will meet Monday and Tuesday with leaders and senior representatives of all of the 11 parties that won Knesset seats in last week’s elections, to receive their recommendations for who should get the first opportunity at assembling a ruling majority.
Rivlin seems certain to entrust the task of forming a government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats comprising Likud (36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (eight seats), United Torah Judaism (seven), Union of Right-Wing Parties (five), Kulanu (four), and, maybe, Yisrael Beytenu (five).
By contrast Benny Gantz’s Blue and White — having all but ruled out partnering with the two Arab Israeli parties, Ra’am-Balad and Ta’al-Hadash (and all but been ruled out by them) — can rely only on the backing of Labor and Meretz despite having won 35 seats. While the results put it just behind Likud, its 35 seats increase only to a mere 45 with the backing of the center-left and left-wing parties.
After an election campaign that saw Likud accuse Rivlin of planning on “subverting the will of the people” by choosing a candidate other than Netanyahu to lead the next government, the president opened his talks by stressing to the party’s senior representatives that his role was that of an emissary of the people.
“I said before the elections and I repeat now — a president does not choose a prime minister, not one person among the citizens of the country chooses a prime minister, but the sovereign chooses a prime minister and the sovereign is the people,” he told Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Miri Regev and former coalition chair David Bitan, who were representing the party in the talks.
After the president makes his selection — who as Rivlin said does not necessarily need to have received the most recommendations or be the head of the largest party — this chosen MK will then have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.
Unsurprisingly, Tourism Minister Levin told Rivlin that the Likud party “wishes to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu, as the person who won the broadest trust and the broadest public support, to form the next government.”
Levin added that “we ended a difficult election campaign and we set out to form a stable government that could lead the country for four more years.”
For the first time, the recommendations were broadcast live, a decision the president’s office announced last week “in the name of transparency” and “in a historic and pioneering decision.”
After hearing from the Likud representatives why they felt that Netanyahu was best suited to lead the next government, Rivlin said that the party must consider its role in uniting the people — which could signal his preference for a national unity government to be formed.
“The entire nation wants to see a more courageous unity even when there are disagreements among the people,” Rivlin told them.
It is indeed within Rivlin’s constitutional powers to deliver both Gantz and Netanyahu an ultimatum: Agree to a national unity government, dividing the premiership by rotation, or see your opponent get the first crack at premier.
Rivlin also asked the Likud representatives what they think he may do if the incumbent prime minister does not receive 61 or more recommendations, a majority of the 120-seat Knesset.
Levin responded that he thought the president would take into consideration “the fact that Likud received more votes, more seats and more recommendations, even if not a majority.”
Referring to looming corruption charges widely expected to be brought against Netanyahu in the coming months, pending a hearing, Culture Minister Miri Regev said the people made clear that they want him to remain prime minister regardless.
“He received the public’s trust on a personal level, and Likud received 36 seats for the first time in many years… This means that the conscious public has spoken clearly,” Regev said.
Netanyahu is assembling what some have described as an “indictment coalition” that could prove loyal throughout a legal hearing process and even — if an indictment is served — while he stands trial in the Jerusalem District Court.
Speculation has swirled that he may use his newfound political strength to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister. He has been reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on support for either a so-called French Law, sheltering a sitting prime minister from prosecution, or altering parliamentary immunity laws to automatically protect him from charges. He could also use the existing immunity law — asking his fellow MKs to grant him immunity on the basis of an indictment ostensibly being served in bad faith — for which he would need a simple majority in the Knesset House Committee and then again in the Knesset plenum.
In a light vein, Rivlin told Regev that Likud “actually got 38 seats in 2003” — the last election it ran under a leader other than Netanyahu — and that 36 was “the best result since it got 12 in 2006,” after Netanyahu became chairman.
Blue and White rules out unity government
After the Likud party came representatives from Blue and White, who also unsurprisingly recommended their chairman Benny Gantz for prime minister.
Opening his comments to the second-largest party, Rivlin noted that “these were stormy elections, which on many occasions pierced the hearts of many of the citizens of the State of Israel,” and said that “many people in Israel want to see an attempt at coming closer together.”
Rivlin told the Blue and White representatives that “I don’t want to use the word unity in the political sense — I am talking about unity among the people — but they want to see us all working together as one people.”
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, elected to the Knesset and number three on Blue and White’s slate, told Rivlin that the centrist party wanted to lead a process of reconciliation.
“The elections were indeed stormy, but the sovereign said his word,” said Ashkenazi, adding the Blue and White would respect the election results and the president’s decision.
Citing “great challenges facing the country,” Rivlin asked Ashkenazi if Blue and White would be willing to sit in a government “not headed by the person you recommended,” a clear reference to Netanyahu.
Ashkenzi responded: “We are not surprised that you are asking that question. And we have considered it but we have decided that because of the political and other considerations, we would not be able to sit in the government that you are suggesting.”
During the election campaign, Blue and White leaders said they would not sit in any government headed by Netanyahu but would consider joining Likud in a government headed by someone else.
Following Blue and White, representatives of both the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties said that as promised, they were recommending Netanyahu as prime minister.
Hadash-Ta’al representatives were set to be the last party to meet with Rivlin on Monday while Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz, Kulanu, and Ra’am-Balad will huddle with the president on Tuesday.
Rivlin will announce his decision after receiving the official and final results of the elections from the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday. (the Times of Israel) Raoul Wootliff
‘Deal of the century’ will not include Palestinian statehood-report
The Trump administration’s peace plan, known as the “deal of the century” will reportedly include “practical proposals” for improving the lives of Palestinians, but it will probably stop short of recommending the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, The Washington Post reported Monday night.
The deal is expected to be published soon, following more than two years in which it was formulated by a small group of special envoys of US President Donald Trump’s, including special representative Jason Greenblatt and senior advisor Jared Kushner.
According to the Post report, comments from Kushner and other US officials suggest that “the plan does away with statehood as the starting premise of peace efforts” as it has been over the last 20 years or so.
The report goes on to quote several people who have spoken to Kushner’s team as saying that “Kushner and other US officials have linked peace and economic development to Arab recognition of Israel and acceptance of a version of the status quo on Palestinian ‘autonomy,’ as opposed to ‘sovereignty.'”
“What we’ve tried to do is figure out what is a realistic and what is a fair solution to the issues here in 2019 that can enable people to live better lives,” Kushner said in a rare interview with Sky News Arabia, as he sought Arab support on a visit to the region in February.
“We believe we have a plan that is fair, realistic and implementable that will enable people to live better lives,” a senior White House official said Friday. “We looked at past efforts and solicited ideas from both sides and partners in the region, with the recognition that what has been tried in the past has not worked. Thus, we have taken an unconventional approach founded on not hiding from reality, but instead speaking truth.”
Although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the US is biased, one of his chief advisers reportedly said they would not reject Trump’s plan outright.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to consider the plan, which Trump emphasized “will ask concessions of both sides,” The Washington Post reported.
Kushner has described the plan as having four pillars: freedom, respect, security and opportunity for all parties involved.
In an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan responded to the Post’s report about the deal of the century, saying that “if the American administration understands that the idea of a Palestinian state has no justification, feasibility, or chance, this is significant news.”
Meanwhile, a letter published in The Guardian by former EU officials, including six prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers, called for postponing the “deal of the century” because it is unfair to the Palestinians.
In the letter, which was sent to the European Union and EU governments, the former leaders argue that Europe must stand by the two-state solution and condemn the Trump administration’s policy, which they claim is unilaterally in favor of Israel. (Jerusalem Post) Ilanit Chernik
Trump said to warn PM security ties could suffer due to Israel-China relations
US President Donald Trump last month reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if Israel does not curb its ties with China, its security relationship with the United States could suffer.
Similar messages have reportedly been relayed in recent months by top Trump administration officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Trump issued the warning during his meeting with Netanyahu in Washington in late March, shortly after he officially recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, Channel 13 reported Sunday, citing several senior Israeli officials briefed on the content of the meeting.
According to the officials, Trump did not make a specific threat or present an ultimatum, but asked to know where the matter stood.
They said that while Netanyahu would have no problem preventing Chinese companies from participating in government tenders for telecommunications, he would be hard-pressed to cancel a tender for building a port in Haifa, since the Chinese company that won it has already began the construction work.
According to the report, Netanyahu has told the US administration in recent months that the cabinet is going to approve a new mechanism to monitor Chinese investments in Israel. However, two cabinet meetings on the matter yielded no decisions, amid disagreements over the issue within the Prime Minister’s Office and between the foreign and finance ministries.
The White House said it had no comment on Sunday’s report, and the Prime Minister’s Office said it was false.
China and Israel have stepped up business ties in recent in years and launched free-trade talks.
In October, Netanyahu and China’s Vice President Wang Qishan co-hosted a high-profile trade and innovation conference in Jerusalem. Netanyahu announced at the time that the two countries would complete a free trade agreement in 2019, and that China plans to invest heavily in Israeli infrastructure, including new ports and a light rail.
Chinese firms have made major inroads in Israel, including the takeover of local food giant Tnuva in 2014, and deals to manage the key Haifa and Ashdod ports.
During his visit to Israel earlier this year, US National Security Adviser Bolton encouraged Israeli officials to take a tougher stance against Chinese electronics manufacturers ZTE and Huawei.
“We are all concerned about theft of intellectual property and Chinese telecoms companies that are being used by China for intelligence-gathering purposes,” said a senior administration official who was briefed on the talks, according to Reuters.
Speaking to Channel 13 last month, Pompeo, the US secretary of state, highlighted the risks posed by Beijing.
“China broadly presents a real opportunity, they are an economic powerhouse and there are lots of opportunities for countries to do business with China. When China behaves transparently, when China is engaged in real economic transactions, we are untroubled,” Pompeo said.
However, he warned that China also poses risks, using “debt as a trap,” and “engages in spying through its commercial state-owned enterprises and presents risk through its technology systems, companies like Huawei,” Pompeo said, adding that these “present real risks to the people of Israel.
“We want to make sure every country is wide-eyed and awake with regard to the policy threats posed by China,” he said. “America will have to make decisions too. If certain systems go in certain places then America’s efforts to work alongside you will be more difficult, and in some places we won’t be able to do so.
“Intelligence sharing might have to be reduced, co-location of security facilities might have to be reduced, we want to make sure countries understand this and know the risks,” he added.
In January, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency was said to raise similar concerns over China’s involvement in the country’s national infrastructure.
Channel 10 (now merged into Channel 13) reported then that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman warned that massive Chinese investment in Israel could pose a danger to national security.
“Chinese influence in Israel is particularly dangerous in terms of strategic infrastructure and investments in larger companies,” Argaman said at a closed-door speech at Tel Aviv University.
Argaman noted that Chinese companies would be taking over operating part of the Haifa port and constructing the Tel Aviv light rail system, and were actively seeking to acquire other major Israeli firms.
Argaman advised the Knesset to pass legislation to monitor foreign investment in Israel. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Fires sparked in south by balloon-borne incendiaries from Gaza
Two small fires were started in southern Israel by balloons carrying incendiary devices from the Gaza Strip on Monday, the local fire department said.
The blazes were quickly extinguished by firefighters.
The arson attacks came amid a period of relative calm along the Gaza border, but also as terror groups in the Strip threatened to renew their violent activities on the security fence if Israel does not abide by an unofficial ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt last month.
One of the fires was located in a grassy area outside Kibbutz Be’eri, east of Gaza. The other was outside the nearby community of Shokeda.
Once the fires were extinguished, investigators inspected the scenes to determine what caused the blazes.
“The investigation found that the fires were caused by balloons,” the department said.
For the past year, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been launching balloons carrying explosives and incendiary devices into southern Israel, sparking fires that burned thousands of acres of agricultural fields, forests and grasslands. This spring, farmers in southern Israel were encouraged to harvest their wheat early in order to prevent their fields from being burned in such attacks.
Recent weeks have seen a significant decrease in the level of violence along the Gaza border with the start of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, under which Israel agreed to ease some of its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave in exchange for calm.
Israel says the limitations on movement aim to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from transferring into Gaza weapons and materials used to construct tunnels and fortifications.
In recent weeks, as the unofficial ceasefire began to take effect, the number of balloon-borne explosives and incendiary devices flown over the border dropped, though attacks have not stopped entirely. Nightly riots have ended, and the weekly protests along the border have been held farther from the security fence.
On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces said it was standing down the extra forces deployed to the Gaza border region during an uptick in violence last month.
Terror groups in the Strip have threatened to renew the violence along the border if Israel does not continue to deliver on its promises.
Jerusalem has thus far reopened its two crossings with Gaza and significantly expanded the permitted fishing area around the coastal enclave. (the Times of Israel)
Significant natural gas discovery made off Israel’s shore
Greek energy producer Energean has discovered a further significant natural gas reserve off Israel’s coast, the company announced on Monday.
According to preliminary estimates, the latest discovery in the Karish North exploration field contains between 28 to 42 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas.
Publicly-listed Energean will now conduct further evaluations to further analyze resource potential and determine the liquids content of the discovery.
The newly found gas will be added to the 45 bcm already discovered at Karish, and an additional 22 bcm identified at the Tanin gas field, also managed by Energean.
“We are delighted to be announcing this significant new gas discovery at Karish North, which further demonstrates the attractiveness of our acreage offshore Israel,” said Energean CEO Mathios Rigas.
“We have already signed a contingent contract to sell 5.5 bcm of this new resource, and our strategy is now to secure the offtake for remaining volumes. We continue to see strong demand for our gas, which we believe will be supported by today’s announcement.”
Drilling of the initial phase of the Karish North field is now complete, the company said. Energean will now deepen the well to identify additional energy sources. Once completed, Energean will return to drilling the three development wells at the Karish Main natural gas field.
In December 2018, Energean signed a contract with the IPM Beer Tuvia power plant, 10 km. from the coast, to supply an estimated 5.5 bcm of gas. Future agreements are likely to focus on both local and major export markets.
The contingent contract, dependent on the results of Energean’s 2019 drilling program, is significantly more likely to be converted into a firm contract following Monday’s announcement, the company said.
“Following years of standstill, natural gas exploration resumed in Israel’s economic waters a month ago – and the company is already reporting an additional discovery,” said Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
“I congratulate Energean on the large amount of natural gas that has appeared in Karish North. This is a prelude, which I am sure will herald further discoveries in the future. If you will it, it is no dream, and Israel will become a regional energy power.”
Until large discoveries of natural gas were made off Israel’s coastline in recent years, few perceived the historically natural resource-poor Israel to be a significant source of energy.
This perception started to change with the discovery of the Noa gas field off the shores of Ashkelon in 1999.
The discovery of more major natural gas fields in Israel since 2009, including Tamar and Leviathan, has transformed the Jewish state from an energy-dependent country into an energy supplier, both domestically and abroad.
Israel is now planning to supply former adversaries Jordan and Egypt with natural gas valued at $26 billion and plans to construct a 2,000-km. pipeline to supply Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe.
In January, seven countries hoping to benefit from the region’s newly discovered resources, including Israel, established the Cairo-based Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum.
Several major energy firms, including American oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, are reportedly considering competing for a new round of offshore exploration rights, the second auction of its kind in Israel, with bids due to be submitted by June 17. (Jerusalem Post) Judah Ari Gross
Israeli scientists unveil world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue
Scientists in Israel unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels on Monday, calling it a first and a “major medical breakthrough” that advances possibilities for transplants.
While it remains a far way off, scientists hope one day to be able to produce hearts suitable for transplant into humans as well as patches to regenerate defective hearts.
The heart produced by researchers at Tel Aviv University is about the size of a rabbit’s.
It marked “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Tal Dvir, who led the project.
“People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels,” he said.
But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts would be available for transplant into patients.
Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry, immersed in liquid, at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science.
Researchers must now teach the printed hearts “to behave” like real ones. The cells are currently able to contract, but do not yet have the ability to pump.
Then they plan to transplant them into animal models, hopefully in about a year, said Dvir.
“Maybe, in 10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” he said.
But he said hospitals would likely start with simpler organs than hearts.
In its statement announcing the research, Tel Aviv University called it a “major medical breakthrough”.
Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization, and transplants are currently the only option available for patients in the worst cases.
But the number of donors is limited and many die while waiting.
When they do benefit, they can fall victim to their bodies rejecting the transplant — a problem the researchers are seeking to overcome.
Their research involved taking a biopsy of fatty tissue from patients that was used in the development of the “ink” for the 3D print.
First, patient-specific cardiac patches were created followed by the entire heart, the statement said.
Using the patient’s own tissue was important to eliminate the risk of an implant provoking an immune response and being rejected, Dvir said.
“The biocompatibility of engineered materials is crucial to eliminating the risk of implant rejection, which jeopardises the success of such treatments,” said Dvir.
Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of heart with human tissue at the University of Tel Aviv
Challenges that remain include how to expand the cells to have enough tissue to recreate a human-sized heart, he said.
Current 3D printers are also limited by the size of their resolution and another challenge will be figuring out how to print all small blood vessels.
But while the current 3D print was a primitive one and only the size of a rabbit’s heart, “larger human hearts require the same technology,” said Dvir.
3D printing has opened up possibilities in numerous fields, provoking both promise and controversy.
The technology has developed to include 3D prints of everything from homes to guns. (the Times of Israel) Delphine Matthieussent
The people have spoken. They want to live in Netanyahu’s Israel
Israelis were not under-informed or unfairly swayed. They knew what they’d get with a 5th term of Netanyahu. The result was the highest vote ever for right & ultra-Orthodox parties
by David Horovitz The Times of Israel
The people have spoken. And a week after the elections, with the president now in the midst of consultations with our newly elected politicians ahead of the formation of our next government, it’s worth taking a closer look at what the people actually said.
They knew that Benjamin Netanyahu was facing criminal charges in three cases, unless he could persuade the attorney general of his innocence. They knew that he had castigated the opposition, the media, the cops and the state prosecutors for purportedly seeking to frame him as part of a political vendetta to oust him. They knew that, if reelected, he might try to use existing or new legislation to avoid being prosecuted, and would likely seek to stay on as prime minister even if he were to be prosecuted. And that, if reelected, he would make the case that the public had given him a mandate to offset the state prosecutors’ recommendations that he be put on trial.
They knew. And 26.45% of the voting Israeli public chose Likud — a vast number, by Israeli standards, 1,139,079 out of the 4,306,520 legitimate ballots cast nationwide.
The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.
They knew that they had a clear alternative to four more years of a Netanyahu-led Israel, embodied in a party led by three former IDF chiefs of staff — an unprecedented assemblage of security expertise, in a country where security concerns always figure at the very top of voting considerations. They saw Netanyahu portray that party, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, as a group of weak leftists. Even though it included Netanyahu’s own former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose public positions are more hawkish than those of Netanyahu, and even though Netanyahu in 2013 extended Gantz’s term as IDF chief by an additional year in the most overt illustration possible of the confidence he then had in Gantz’s security leadership capabilities.
They watched Netanyahu’s Likud depict Gantz as mentally unstable. They watched Netanyahu attempt to make political capital out of a bizarre saga involving the reported Iranian hacking of Gantz’s phone — a saga in which Gantz and his colleagues did not provide a clear-cut explanation of what had gone on. They watched Gantz veer between an attempted statesmanlike, high-ground approach to beating Netanyahu and a lower-ground trading of insults and accusations.
They watched Netanyahu broker a deal that legitimized the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party as part of a new Union of Right-Wing Parties that would partner Netanyahu in any new Likud-led coalition. They watched URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich declare he’d set his heart on becoming minister of education. They watched the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked vow to curb the power of the Supreme Court if she continued as justice minister.
They watched. And they made their choice. Very few voters from the right of the political spectrum threw their support behind Gantz and the other generals. While Blue and White also topped the million-vote count — 1,124,805 — much of its support came from the center and the now decimated Labor, and that wasn’t enough to thwart Netanyahu’s fifth election victory.
The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.
They recognized other likely and possible implications of another Netanyahu victory. He’d vowed in the final days of the campaign to extend Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements — a move that, if realized, would have major consequences for what was once called the peace process. It was clear his most reliable coalition partners would be the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism — on whose behalf he reluctantly froze the Western Wall compromise deal, and whose key agenda items include making Israel more Shabbat-observant and minimizing the number of young ultra-Orthodox males required to share the rights and responsibilities of military and national service.
Self-evidently, enough Israeli voters either share this agenda or are not deterred by it. Enough to hand Netanyahu another term.
The people have spoken.
Residents of the Gaza envelope communities of southern Israel have for years complained about Netanyahu’s policies in dealing with Hamas. They have protested that the government has turned them into rocket fodder. Sderot, the most rocket-battered city of all, voted 43.52% for Netanyahu’s Likud. (The next most popular party was Yisrael Beytenu at 10.14%.) To the east of Gaza, Netivot voted 32.46% Likud (second only to 33.35% Shas.) Ashkelon, to the north, voted 42.61% Likud (followed by Blue and White at 15.62%). By contrast, kibbutzim and moshavim in the Gaza periphery area generally voted overwhelmingly for Blue and White.
The people have spoken.
Early on election day, reports started circulating about Likud-paid activists bringing hidden cameras into polling stations in Arab areas. Some of those involved have since acknowledged that they were indeed acting on behalf of Likud; a PR agency has claimed responsibility, saying it was hired by Likud; the Likud party’s lawyer, on the day, claimed the operation was open and legal, and necessary to ensure the “integrity” of the vote in districts ostensibly prone to voter fraud; Netanyahu himself championed the use of public cameras for the same purpose. (Needless to say, the Central Elections Committee has its own, nonpartisan procedures for preventing election fraud.) In fact, ruled the judge overseeing the elections, the deployment of the cameras was illicit; the equipment was ordered removed.
Israel’s voters watched and read about all these developments in real time.
Some analysts have suggested that the camera gambit depressed Arab turnout — it’s not comfortable showing up to do your democratic duty, as members of a minority that was traduced by the prime minister on the previous election day, when you hear on the news that you’re going to be filmed in the process by his supporters. Arab turnout does appear to have been down last week (an estimated 52%) as compared to 2015 (an estimated 63.7%). And while the Joint (Arab) List won 13 seats in the last Knesset, its constituent parties, now running in two separate lists, managed only 10 this time.
But if the camera ploy worked to Netanyahu’s advantage, possibly costing his political rivals a seat or three, and maybe boosting support for a Likud seen to be taking on the Arabs, there was a more dramatic arithmetical factor on the right-hand side of the spectrum that worked against him. Between Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right (138,491 votes, or 3.22% of the national total) and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (117,670 votes; 2.73% of the national total), a staggering 6% of right-wing votes went down the drain — a potential six or seven more Knesset seats for a Netanyahu-led coalition. And yet Netanyahu still has a clear, if complex, path (involving reconciling the ultra-Orthodox parties with the fiercely secular Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu) to a 65-strong coalition.
Over 57% of counted votes went to right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud; Shas; UTJ; Yisrael Beytenu; United Right-Wing Parties; Kulanu; The New Right; Zehut, and Gesher). This is the highest proportion in Israeli history. Only 34% went to centrist and left of center Zionist parties (Blue and White, Labor and Meretz).
The two ultra-Orthodox parties, it is worth noting, had repeatedly stressed in the run-up to polling day that they would only consider joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. Even when the polls closed and for a brief moment Gantz was claiming victory on the basis of a predictably inaccurate exit poll, UTJ rushed to say that it would go into the opposition with Netanyahu rather than partner with Gantz.
By way of comparison, the 2015 elections saw over 56% voting for right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and Yachad). In 2013, the comparable figure was 48% (Likud, Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ, Otzma LeYisrael). In 2009, it was 54% (Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, UTJ, National Union and Jewish Home).
Going way back to 1977, when Menachem Begin’s Likud first won power, the comparable proportion was about 53% — and that’s including the then-relatively centrist National Religious Party, which had partnered with Labor-led governments for the past three decades.
The people have spoken.
Were some worried by Gantz’s warnings that Netanyahu is turning Israel into Turkey — becoming our un-oustable leader, gradually marginalizing opposition, taking control of ever more of the media, bending the cops and the prosecutors and the courts to his will? Doubtless, many were. But not enough to unseat him.
The people saw Gantz caught by a camera in his car, toward the end of election day, looking exhausted. They saw Netanyahu, sweating in his suit on the beach at Netanya, imploring potential supporters to get out of the sea and vote Likud.
The people saw everything, internalized what they chose to internalize, and made their decision. No nefarious forces, as far as we know, skewed these elections. The public was not under-informed; nor was it disaffected. The turnout was a healthy 67.9% (compared to 61.4% in the 2016 US presidential elections, or 66.1% in 2015’s British parliamentary elections).
The people want to live in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel.
The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.
Israelis’ choice. Israelis’ consequences.