Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Netanyahu secures majority backing after right-wing parties recommend him as PM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured the backing of a majority of Knesset members Tuesday as Yisrael Beytenu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu recommended him to form the next government in their official consultations with President Reuven Rivlin.
With 10 of the 11 parties elected to the Knesset having presented their recommendations to Rivlin (the Arab Ra’am-Balad party was meeting with him later Tuesday), Netanyahu has the backing of 65 MKs, a majority of the 120-seat Knesset. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, in contrast, has just 45.
The president said his choice is now “all but certain” and he is expected to entrust the task of forming a government to Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats comprising Likud (35 or 36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (7 or 8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Kulanu (4), and, likely, Yisrael Beytenu (5).
Rivlin is set to receive the official elections results and then meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday, and charge him with forming a government.
Taking Netanyahu over the 60-seat mark, Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz said his party of five seats “felt that the people have made themselves clear and we represent the people who chose us. Therefore we recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.”
After the Union of Right-Wing Parties made its recommendation, Rivlin confirmed that no other candidate would be able to gain a majority and that “the scope of my consideration has been almost entirely removed.”
Netanyahu’s total was then taken to 65 seats with the center-right Kulanu also saying it would back him. MK Roy Folkman, representing the party, said that “the people have made clear who they want to be prime minister. We plan to work with him to advance our social platform.”
The second and final day of presidential consultations over who should be tasked with forming the next government kicked off in the morning with the Labor party giving its backing to Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu endorsing Netanyahu.
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.”
While recommending Netanyahu to form the next coalition, newly elected Yisrael Beytenu MK Yefgeni Suba, representing the party in the discussions with Rivlin, stressed that it would only commit to joining the government if its key demands were met.
“We said throughout the campaign that we would support a right-wing government and we think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the person to lead it,” Suba told Rivlin.
“But it doesn’t mean we will join the government. We have already said that,” he added, referring to comments made by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Monday declaring he would hold his ground on religion and state issues. Rivlin confirmed that “the recommendation just means you think he is the best person for the job, but not that you have to support them.”
Speaking at a meeting of his party’s Central Committee in Jerusalem, Liberman threatened, “If we’re forced to choose between giving up on the [ultra-Orthodox] draft law to remain in the coalition, or sitting in the opposition, we will go to new elections.”
On Monday, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties also recommended Netanyahu to be prime minister and are needed in his coalition if he is to hold a majority in the Knesset.
In principle, Yisrael Beytenu’s backing of Netanyahu would cement the prime minister’s right-wing coalition at 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
But with Liberman holding five of those seats, he has just enough to bring Netanyahu to the brink of collapse if he leaves the coalition — as he did in November in a spat over what he said were disagreements with the prime minister’s Gaza policy, shrinking Netanyahu’s coalition at the time to just 61 seats.
MK Yulia Malinovsky told Rivlin on Tuesday that the party saw itself as “the protectors of secular Israel, while acting with respect for the religious.”
Liberman, whose base of supporters is largely made up of secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union, campaigned on opposing “religious coercion,” in addition to ending the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce, and passing legislation regulating — and limiting — exemptions to military conscription for ultra-Orthodox students.
Yisrael Beytenu’s recommendation came after Labor chairman Avi Gabbay told Rivlin that his party would be backing Gantz.
“I think that it is not good to have someone who has been prime minister for 10 years or more. It’s not healthy,” said Gabbay, who led the Labor party to its worst-ever result, picking up just six seats.
“On the other hand, the people have chosen. They made a decision and they chose. They chose Netanyahu,” he said. “But they didn’t choose him so that he could limit our democracy.”
In the first of a number of telling interjections, Rivlin told Gabbay in agreement, “A rule of the majority must not damage the minority. Everyone who is a citizen of Israel is the same. That is our strength and we must maintain that.”
To do so, Rivlin also urged that Labor and other parties push for Israel to adopt a full constitution. “Ben Gurion appointed the Constitution Committee to create one and it has been delayed since then. It is extremely important for the public. A constitution is what stands between the public and fear of government,” he said.
The left-wing Meretz party also recommended Gantz as prime minister, with its chairperson Tamar Zandberg saying it would “represent true left-wing values in whatever position it finds itself after the government has been formed.”
Ra’am-Balad leaders were meeting with the president Tuesday afternoon.
Rivlin will announce his decision after receiving the finalized results of the elections from the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday evening. After the president makes his selection, the chosen MK will have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president. (the Times of Israel) Raoul Wootliff
Netanyahu vows to be prime minister for ‘Jews and non-Jews as one’
In a lavish event celebrating his election victory, the prime minister vowed to be a leader for those who did not vote for him, attacked the media and boasted of receiving congratulatory messages from Arab leaders, all while being serenaded by Israeli pop stars.
Speaking at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – surrounded by his Likud party members – said: “We are on the eve of forming a new government, and I will be the prime minister for everyone. Those who voted for me and those who did not.”
“I want everyone in Israeli society, Jews and non-Jews as one, to be part of the success story called the State of Israel, and I want everyone to enjoy the prosperity and the progress,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister went on to say he wasn’t fazed by the ”explicit threats,” issued by the political pundits in Israeli media.
“I’m not afraid and I won’t be deterred by the media,” the prime minister said. “There were respected political analysts who said I would pay a personal price if I’ll appoint one of our talented friends as justice minister,” he added, referring to Likud’s Yariv Levin, who promised to overhaul the Justice Ministry.
“The people aren’t buying it anymore, and they made their voices heard loud and clear in the elections. This is the will of the people,” he said. “There are still those who have not internalized the results of the elections, the results of democracy.”
Netanyahu also said “many” leaders of the Arab and Muslim world called to congratulate him on his elections win. “It wasn’t just one or two, there were many leaders,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for a better future … all of this is based on the fact that we have turned Israel into an up-and-coming world power … a strong, independent and progressive state,” Netanyahu added.
The event kicked-off in a bizarre fashion with a 24-year-old Israeli pop singer Eden Ben Zaken serenading the 69-year-old Netanyahu and his wife Sara with a song called “My Love.”
“I am excited to be here and I want to congratulate you on the elections victory, you have those who love you. Good luck,” the singer said to Netanyahu after her performance.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin said that a majority of parliament members had advised him to have Netanyahu form a government after the April 9 vote, effectively ensuring his nomination. In office for the past decade, Netanyahu won a fifth term despite an announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in February that he intends to charge the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing. (Ynet News) Staff
PA FM: Abbas ready to meet Netanyahu without preconditions
Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, is prepared to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no preconditions, PA Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said in an interview with the Russian news agency Sputnik.
“We are ready to talk with Israelis without any conditions,” Al-Malki said.
There would, however, be one condition. The invitation to meet would have to come from Russian President Vladimir Putin, “the one who will create the best conditions for a meeting to take place and for a meeting to be successful,” according to Al-Malki.
“We have reiterated our readiness and our willingness to President Putin that any time that he believes there is readiness on the Israeli side we will be more than ready to come and sit and have talks with Netanyahu,” Al-Malki said to Sputnik.
In reference to the peace plan being developed by the USA, Al-Malki stated that “we reject any proposal to resolve the conflict which doesn’t include recognition of the independence of a Palestinian state.”
“If Netanyahu is going to annex the West Bank, then the response should not be exclusively Palestinian, but the response should be a collective response from the international community,” Al-Malaki added, referring to Netanyahu’s pre-election promise to annex the West Bank. “If Netanyahu wants to annex the West Bank, he has to deal with 4.5 million of Palestinians.” (Jerusalem Post) Tzvi Joffre
‘Trump plan off the table if Jerusalem is off the table,’ says PA
Palestinian Authority (PA) spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told a group of Israeli journalists in Ramallah on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s as-yet unreleased Mideast peace plan “endangers the Middle East” and “could set [the region] on fire,” reported the Globes news site.
Among his comments on Trump’s “deal of the century” plan, Abu Rudeina accused the U.S. of “sabotaging the last chance of reaching an enduring peace in the region,” and “creating chaos, instability and the potential for renewed violence.”
In addition to his public role as PA spokesman, Abu Rudeina serves as a close advisor to PA Presidnet Mahmoud Abbas, and has boasted in the past about rejecting the Trump plan out of hand, regardless of its final contents.
On Tuesday, he told the assembled reporters that the plan does not provide for the establishment of a Palestinian state, Palestinian control of Jerusalem, or the return of the descendants of Arabs who left Israel voluntarily or were expelled during and after Israel’s war of independence, whom the Palestinians refer to as “refugees.”
Abu Rudeina also accused the U.S. of bias and slammed Israel for withholding tax revenues that the PA earmarks to pay stipends to terrorists who murder and maim Israeli civilians and the families of terrorists killed while committing crimes. In reaction to this loss of revenue, the PA has slashed salaries for government employees and security forces, in order to continue paying terrorists and their families.
To that end, Abu Rudeina repeated the threat to discontinue security cooperation with Israel based on reductions in tax revenues, which appeared to be an implicit threat of a spike in terror.
According to Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Ashraf al-Ajrami, if the PA does not pay the terror stipends, “Hamas, Iran and Islamic Jihad [will pay them], and that will only lead to a worsening of violence,” reported Globes. (WIN) Staff
Trump administration’s new anti-Semitism envoy says BDS movement is anti-Semitic
The Trump administration’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism said Thursday that participating in boycotts of Israeli companies and products made by Jews living in the West Bank is anti-Semitic because the campaigns implicitly deny the legitimacy of Israel itself.
“An individual has a right to buy or not buy what they please,” Elan Carr told reporters. “However, if there is an organized movement to economically strangle the state of Israel, that is anti-Semitic.”
Carr, who was sworn in Thursday morning as special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, said the administration is unequivocally opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
“The idea that somehow there can be movements organized to deny Israel its legitimacy, and not to allow Israel to participate in economic commerce in the world, sure that is [anti-Semitic]. Hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people.”
The BDS campaign aims to change Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians by encouraging boycotts, stock divestiture and sanctions against Israeli and international companies that operate on land that Palestinians consider theirs to change its policy toward the Palestinians. It encompasses the West Bank, but also East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Critics of the movement say the policy changes it advocates would effectively end Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland.
Carr said it was “discriminatory” to not purchase products made by Jewish communities and buy products made by Arabs living nearby.
“Two communities that are living side by side, and one refuses to buy from Jews and one wants to buy from non-Jews, I think that’s very clear what that is,” he said.
Carr’s appointment comes after a tight election in Israel won by the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu said Israel would annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in testimony before congressional committees this week, declined to say whether the administration opposes the annexation or still supports a resolution based on a separate state for Palestinians. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino also declined to directly address the policies.
Carr is an anti-gang prosecutor from Los Angeles whose mother emigrated to Israel from Iraq. He grew up in New York speaking Hebrew and Arabic, and served in Iraq in an Army anti-terrorism unit.
He ran a losing race for Congress against Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in 2014, and also lost a run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He was supported by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor he has described as a personal friend.
The anti-Semitism envoy position had been vacant for two years, and members of Congress had been pressing the administration to fill it.
Carr told reporters Thursday that he aims to reduce the insecurity among Jewish communities worldwide at a time when anti-Semitism is growing. Another focus will be looking at school textbooks that teach hatred of Jews to children in some countries. But he said his rallying cry would be that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic.
“We are going to focus relentlessly on eradicating this false distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism,” he said.
He characterized the BDS movement as “dedicated to strangling the Jewish state out of existence.”
“This isn’t a ragtag group,” he added. “There are international organizations; there are websites; it’s organized. And the stated goals are clear. And the stated goals on the website of the BDS movement is to deny the state of Israel economic prosperity and to deny it legitimacy. That is anti-Semitism.”
On its website, the BDS movement describes itself as an “inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
The website also says that Israel maintains “a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.”
Carr acknowledged that anti-Semitism is growing in the United States as well and vowed to speak out on it “wherever we see it.” (the Washington Post) Carol Morello
Professor Rotem Karni and his team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) about to present a new technology to fight cancer.
RNA-binding proteins play a major role in cancer growth. These proteins, active in all cells but especially so in cancer cells, bind to RNA molecules and accelerate cancer cell growth. Unfortunately, no cancer treatment has targeted these proteins. Until now.
Karni’s team has designed decoy molecules that trick RNA-binding proteins into binding with them. Once bound, these RNA-binding proteins are no longer able to bind with the natural RNA molecules in cancer cells and lose their cancer-promoting activity. These “sterile” RNA molecule decoys are called oligonucleotides.
Hebrew University’s Prof. Rotem Karni and Polina Cohen-Denichenko
“Our technology is a new approach in the war on cancer. By understanding the biological function of RNA-binding proteins we successfully designed decoy molecules that inhibit these proteins and move us ever closer to creating an anti-cancer drug,” shared Professor Karni.
Prof. Karni and his HU Institute for Medical Research-Israel Canada (IMRIC) team, led by PhD student Polina Cohen-Denichenko, developed several decoy molecules that inhibit the RNA-binding proteins that speed-up brain and breast cancer growth. To test the decoys, they treated brain cancer cells with decoy molecules. When the cells were then injected into healthy mice, the cancer cells did not replicate and, soon after, the tumours died off.
Though this study tested the efficacy of decoy molecules on breast and brain cancer cells, Karni explained that his technology enables scientists to tailor-make decoys for other types of cancer, thereby streamlining and improving treatment for cancer patients. “We still need to examine the toxicity of the decoy molecules and to test their efficacy on animals before we can move on to humans,” cautioned Karni. “However, I’m optimistic, given that we’ve already succeeded at creating decoy oligonucleotides that inhibit RNA binding proteins in other kinds of cancers.”
To date, a patent describing this technology has been registered in the United States and Europe by Yissum, Hebrew University’s R&D company. (JWire) Staff
After the elections: What now ?
by Ron Weiser ZFA
In the end the people of Israel voted for Prime Minister Netanyahu “Mr Security-Mr Statesman,” over Bibi with all of his human shortcomings.
And they did so in the full knowledge of all of the allegations hanging over him.
This turned out to be in fact Netanyahu’s biggest win in any of his 5 election victories.
Those who did not wish to see him as Prime Minister attempt to portray the election results as close. To do so is mostly wishful thinking on their part.
The true extent of his victory is not in the head to head count between Blue & White and Likud.
Only now as the parties troop to the office of President Rivlin to offer their support for either Netanyahu or Gantz for PM, is Netanyahu’s win better understood.
Fully 65 (out of 120) members of the Knesset support Netanyahu for Prime Minister, yet only 45 support Gantz.
This is an overwhelming margin by any standards in any democratic country. It is such a decisive win which even the President, should he so wish, would be extremely hard pressed to work against.
However, the makeup of the 65 also turns out to be Netanyahu’s biggest immediate problem, even before the legal issues to come.
Firstly, some observations.
This was an election that saw the extreme left and the extreme right suffer significant losses – but the extreme left more so.
The Labor Party was also humbled and suffered a massive fall in support for what was once the leading party in Israel. Unless they can bring a new agenda which is in touch with the people, their future is limited.
One quite large shift that many in the diaspora have not yet caught up with is that seemingly the term ‘centre left’ now has new meaning.
Gantz who publically stands for a united Jerusalem, retention of the settlement blocks, Israeli sovereignty on the Golan and a declaration that Israel’s eastern security border will be the Jordan River is invariably described by the media and commentators as ‘centre left’.
Moreover, throughout the campaign Gantz consistently refused to mention the words ‘two states’.
Announcement of those type of policies at one time led to one being called ‘right wing’ or even ‘extreme right wing’.
The most prominent other ex IDF general in Gantz’s Blue and White party – Boogie Ya’alon – is opposed to Oslo and vehemently opposed to a Palestinian State ever emerging under any circumstances. Throw in Yoaz Hendel and the Blue and White party looks like a strange form of traditional ‘centre leftists’.
The mood and the feelings in Israel have changed – mugged by reality if you like – and the diaspora needs to get better in tune with just where and why Israelis feel as they do – whether they voted for Netanyahu or Gantz – whose actual policies on security were not that dissimilar.
On social policy, despite Netanyahu himself seeming to lead an elitist life of some privilege, it was the lower socio economic layers of Israeli society – the poorer towns, those on the periphery – who overwhelmingly voted for him.
Where one would have expected the Labor party to reach this demographic, it just was not so. And neither did Gantz, who did much better in the more affluent areas.
In general, what people saw was ten years of relative calm, ten years of relative prosperity, stability and the ability of Netanyahu to command and strut the world stage.
Gantz and Netanyahu both sucked votes from their respective potential future partners and in the case of Netanyahu the effect on potential thorns in his side was dramatic.
Both Bennet from the New Right party and Feiglin from Zehut, failed to pass the threshold on the latest but not final count and will not be in the next Knesset.
This could not have pleased Netanyahu more, based on past relations.
The move to the right is even greater if one takes into account the number of lost votes that went to Bennet and Shaked on the one hand and Feiglin on the other.
Quite another amazing factor and one which really bears further analysis, is just how and/or why it was that Netanyahu received tangible support for re-election from both Presidents Trump and Putin.
Aside from Trump’s earlier pro-Israel actions, during the election campaign he recognised that Israel should have sovereignty on the Golan and proscribed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.
Putin, almost out of nowhere it seemed, returned the remains of Zachary Baumel z”l, 37 years after he was killed in 1982 in the Lebanon War. The efforts that this involved with the Syrian government and who knows who else, demonstrated Russian abilities. Putin’s willingness to do so during an election campaign, which he well knew would assist Netanyahu on numerous levels, is a statement in itself.
It also turns out that Egypt’s Al Sisi informed Hamas that if Netanyahu is re-elected, they would get their ‘arrangement’ with Israel. In a Middle Eastern way, it seems Hamas were rooting for Netanyahu as well.
So with all of this, what is Netanyahu’s immediate problem? In two words, Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman, contrary to all opinion polls, ended up with 5 seats.
Lieberman has at times been in previous Netanyahu governments and at other times has either not joined Netanyahu coalitions or has later left them – and to repeat – he has 5 seats.
Lieberman has already recommended Netanyahu for Prime Minister to President Rivlin – giving Netanyahu the 65 seats and ensuring that Rivlin will invite Netanyahu to form a government.
The problem for Netanyahu is that Lieberman has also stated that he will play hard ball in the coalition negotiations and will insist on the Haredi Draft Bill going through and separation of religion and state. Of course Netanyahu’s much larger Haredi party allies will object to this.
Lieberman has said that this is a deal breaker.
Whatever one wants to say about Lieberman, he has a very consistent policy platform over many years and he sticks to it.
Without Lieberman, Netanyahu only has 60 seats, which does not a majority make.
Lieberman is cunning, intelligent and knows how to play hardball.
This is the pickle Netanyahu is in and the way in which he negotiates the competing aims on drafting Haredim et al within his potential coalition, is the main game ahead.
How he must wish that Lieberman got just one less seat and someone else, anyone else in his potential coalition, one more.
Assuming that Netanyahu gets his coalition over the line, dependant on Lieberman’s whim – and that’s a big assumption – he will then go on to surpass Ben Gurion’s record of longest serving PM around July.
In the interim we will almost certainly finally get to see Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ and then just what it has in store for Israel and whether that will possibly strain the coalition and whether Netanyahu will need to consider approaching Gantz or not.
Of course for Gantz the big challenge will be to hold his Blue and White party together long enough to face another election.
And the question is, whether/when we get that far, and if it is post indictment, what will some of Netanyahu’s partners do. At that point they will really be faced with the difficult question over Netanyahu’s legal situation.
For the moment, that is all further into the distance – let’s first see how Netanyahu deals with Lieberman.
Surviving and thriving: Israeli communities near Gaza see remarkable growth despite daily terror threats
Despite being on the frontlines of border riots and rocket attacks (and some sandy driveways), the communities in southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip are experiencing economic growth that is double that of the rest of the country.
by Eliana Rudee JNS
During times of tension and violence between Gaza and Israel, international media tends to focus primarily on the latest destruction and deaths, especially in Gaza, compared to the deep psychological consequences of war. “If it bleeds, it leads” as New York magazine journalist Eric Pooley once said.
But even rarer than dialogue regarding long-term social consequences of violence is post-conflict discourse of the economic consequences of tensions and terrorism. In the context of the recent economic growth of Israel’s Gaza Envelope region, rockets represent a serious challenge—not only to the physical and emotional well-being of families in the area, but also for the economic well-being of the region.
Over the past year, the Gaza Envelope population has increased, and with it, positive signs of economic growth. Despite the threat of spillover from the Palestinian “March of Return” on the Gaza border that has taken place nearly every Friday for a year, in that same time frame more than 50 families have relocated to the Gaza Envelope area—20 to the Kerem Shalom border community alone. A new mayor was elected in Sha’ar Hanegev, Ofir Libstein, whose platform and vision focuses on boosting economic growth in the region. Several hundreds of new housing developments are being built in Sderot and the surrounding communities, and new businesses have emerged to diversify the local industry.
Clearly, the communities in the Gaza Envelope are seeing the fruits of their focus on economic development.
But while they have spent the past year moving forward, when tension increases—as the communities witnessed in the most recent bout of Palestinian rockets in March—the region’s businesses are often thrown back into disarray. Rockets introduce various challenges to continued economic growth, especially for the shipping and manufacturing industries that are common in the south.
“Security issues and red alerts have a negative impact on regional economic development,” said Ofer Maimon, CEO of Eshkol Regional Enterprises Company and Manager of Avshalom Industrial Park. He told JNS, “There is a problem with transportation when there are red alerts; meetings are cancelled because nobody wants to drive on the roads.”
“Businesses in the region already experience challenges being far from infrastructure, and then when you add snipers and bombs to that, we see a negative impact,” he added.
Even so, Maimon has witnessed the growth of communities and companies in the region, as well as business cooperation with those companies, “not just as a charity case, but as a good business decision.”
‘Making the desert bloom’
Similarly, according to Itzhak Oppenheim, American expat and owner of a medical-device factory in the Gaza Envelope, economic growth in the region increases by 5 percent to 7 percent every year—double the rest of the country’s growth rate of about 3 percent. He described what the region was like five or six years ago as “the American equivalent of Wyoming, with a lot of sand, dust, and some agriculture, but not much beyond that.”
But in the last year, Oppenheim told JNS, he has seen startups moving to the region, including a food-technology company, a brewery, and a medical-device research and development center.
“I have seen a tremendous influx of employees moving here seeking economic opportunities, to continue the Zionist vision and [seek] a better quality of life here than in Tel Aviv,” he maintained, noting that there’s high demand to live in the Eshkol region, with a waiting list for many of the moshavim and kibbutzim (communities reminiscent of Israel’s pioneering, agricultural and close-knit communal beginnings).
Oppenheim moved from Jerusalem to B’nei Nitzarim, a community fewer than 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Gaza, because of the higher quality of life and actualizing his “Zionist vision” of “making the desert bloom by living somewhere where nobody has lived,” he said, recalling his “sand driveway” when he moved in.
“And now we have the best park in all of Israel,” he said, referring to the HaBsor National Park—a green point and source of attraction for tourists in the northern Negev, planted by the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Regional Council.
Amid the economic opportunity, quality of life and fulfillment of the Zionist vision, Oppenheim acknowledged that there are many challenges living and owning businesses in the region.
“Kites, riots and rockets grate on us,” he said. “If I haven’t slept in two days because my house has been shaking, my kids won’t sleep at night, so I don’t sleep. I can show up to work, but I won’t be very productive,” he explained.
With trauma caused by the rockets, he continued, sometimes his employees’ children don’t feel well, and instead of going to school, the parents will bring the children into work.
“This also economically impacts a business from a productivity standpoint,” he said, adding that as “a small-business owner with a heart and living in the area, I try to understand my employees’ struggles and let them come in on a flexible schedule.”
To improve quality of life during difficult times, Oppenheim also mentioned contributions from the government and organizations like JNF that promote growth and jobs in the area.
“I spend a lot of time on the road, and at every bus stop, there’s a bomb shelter,” he said. “When I see someone being paid to paint the bomb shelters, I not only see that my employees will be more comfortable driving on the roads and knowing they’ll be safe, but I also see regional opportunity and growth.”
‘Building the periphery’
Yedidya Haroush, JNF liaison for Negev community development, observed similar regional economic growth, challenges and motivations after moving to the Halutza community in the Negev. According to Haroush, his community—largely comprised of families relocated from Gush Katif, Haroush’s family included—has grown since late 2009, thanks to a partnership with JNF. With the vision of “helping people and providing jobs,” the projects have “allowed us to build a state-of-the-art medical center, schools, synagogues, kindergartens, a community center, music and arts center and a farming incubator.”
Living on a triangle border with Egypt and Gaza, Haroush says that the nearby communities were founded and built “knowing that the threats are there.”
Aerial photo of new neighborhoods being built in the Halutza communities of the Gaza Envelope
Similar to Maimon and Oppenheim’s assessment, Haroush maintained that border violence “threatens businesses, hurting the economy because of lower production [since] drivers and shipments won’t risk being on the roads that are exposed [to rocket fire].”
When this occurs, Haroush told JNS, people in the region band together as a community, raising money between friends, taking out loans and seeking government compensation when businesses are impacted. As the regional liaison, he encourages nearby communities to continue their vision of being the “pioneers of the 21st century, building the periphery to do something meaningful for the country,” as well as the practical goal of building the Negev “for the next generation that won’t be able to afford to live in the center of Israel.”
He also encourages business and kibbutzim in the region to work together to diversify economically, so that if one market experiences challenges, the entire region isn’t affected as much as it would be if the entire community’s economy crashed.
According to Haroush, this mindset and resilience to adversity through community-building can act as a model for other peripheral communities in Israel and beyond. “In the time of “i” this and “i” that, we understand that it’s actually about the community—the people of Israel—and not about the ‘i.’ Once you understand that,” he said, “you’re able to achieve big things.”