Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Police recommended on Tuesday that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of a food business that his own ministry had deemed unsanitary.
The first case involves Malka Leifer, a former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal charged in Australia with 74 counts of child sex abuse. The police announced in February that they were investigating Litzman on suspicion that he had pressured employees in his office to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed Leifer fit for extradition.
In their statement, police said that the investigation, conducted by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and the National Fraud Investigation Unit, had found enough evidence to put Litzman on trial over his involvement in the Leifer case, as well as for intervening to help several other sex offenders obtain improved conditions, including prison furloughs and other benefits, by pressuring state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.
In the second case, police said that Litzman attempted to influence officials in the Health Ministry in order to prevent the closure of a food business whose owner “he is close to” — a closure that had been ordered due to “serious sanitary findings found that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products.”
Kan reported that breakthroughs in the police’s case came from the testimonies of various state psychiatrists. One of them told investigators, “I’m just a bureaucrat. A senior minister is sitting in front of me [making requests]. I know my place and I know his place and what is expected of me.”
Several psychiatrists told police that they feared they’d be fired if they didn’t follow Litzman’s orders.
Litzman, who possesses many authorities of a full minister despite serving as a deputy, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining in a response to the police recommendation that his office has a “clear open-door policy for assisting members of the public. This is without discrimination between populations and without clarifying the status of those who call for assistance. The deputy minister expressed confidence that no charges would ultimately be filed.”
In the wake of the police recommendation, it will be up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to determine whether or not to indict.
Dassi Erlich, a Leifer accuser who launched a campaign to extradite her former principal back to Australia, said in a statement Tuesday, “We are feeling so grateful that the questions we continually raised through the #BringLeiferBack campaign resulted in one more step to achieving justice.”
In May, Channel 13 news reported that Litzman helped at least 10 serious sex offenders obtain improved conditions, including home visits and other benefits, by pressuring state psychiatrists and prisons service officials.
Earlier in the year, the TV channel had reported that police were investigating suspicions that Litzman and his chief of staff pressured a psychiatrist, Moshe Birger, to ensure that another imprisoned sex offender close to Litzman’s Gur sect of Hasidim was placed in a rehabilitation program. Participation in the program can lead to furloughs and early release from prison.
Police said Tuesday that they had not found sufficient evidence to prosecute Litzman on his suspected assistance to other alleged pedophiles.
Leifer, a former school principal who is wanted for alleged sex crimes in Australia, is known to have links to the Gur community, having once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the branch.
A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel in February that police had recordings of Litzman and officials in his office speaking to Health Ministry employees and pressing them to act on Leifer’s behalf.
In 2000, Leifer was recruited from Israel to work at the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne. When allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a red-eye plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.
After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012. Leifer was arrested in Israel two years later, but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.
She was rearrested in February 2018 following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the Emmanuel settlement, a Haredi community in the northern West Bank, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.
Despite the seemingly damning footage, the trial has dragged on for an additional year, as the court continues to debate her mental fitness. The Jerusalem district psychiatrist responsible for evaluating Leifer, Dr. Jacob Charnes, has changed his mind three times regarding whether Leifer was fit for extradition, ultimately signing off an a legal opinion in which state psychiatrists found her fit for extradition.
However, when the psychiatrist was cross-examined by the defense on the evaluation late last year, he told the court that he recommended an additional evaluation of Leifer be carried out — a proposal that both sides have rejected.
A legal official told The Times of Israel that police suspected Charnes changed his medical conclusion after being contacted by officials in Litzman’s office. Though Charnes has been interrogated under caution in the case against the deputy health minister, police on Tuesday said they did not recommend he be tried.
The Jerusalem District Court will hand down a final decision regarding Leifer’s mental fitness for an extradition hearing on September 23. The Times of Israel learned last month that a separate court appointed medical board is slated to officially concluce that Leifer has been feigning mental illness, in a ruling that would likely impact the Jerusalem District Court’s decision.
Jewish Community Watch founder of director Meyer Seewald said in a Tuesday statement, “Our private investigation in 2017 only clarified what was obvious to so many: that Malka Leifer was feigning mental illness to avoid extradition. Considering she was doing very little to hide her ruse, it was apparent that Leifer was being protected by very influential people. The police recommendation clarifies that it was allegedly Litzman and his office that were diligently working to make sure Malka Leifer’s victims never received justice.”
Seewald called on senior lawmakers to ensure that Litzman is not made a member of the next cabinet after the elections on September 17. (the Times of Israel)
Several prominent haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Religious-Zionist politicians gave their backing to Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader Rabbi Ya’acov Litzman on Tuesday after police recommended indicting him on charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Litzman allegedly interfered in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer.
Police said that Litzman, a Gerrer Hassid, attempted to pressure the Jerusalem district psychiatrist into falsely stating that Leifer was mentally unfit to be extradited to Australia to stand trial. Litzman’s meeting with the key witness in the extradition case could constitute obstruction of justice, according to reports.
He is also accused of threatening other medical professionals at the ministry if they would not write reports in a way favorable to Leifer. The former principal fled to Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students at the Adass Yisroel school in Melbourne.
Senior UTJ leader MK Moshe Gafni said that he had “no doubt that the allegations are false” and that it would become clear that the deputy minister did nothing for himself but rather for the good of those who turn to him for assistance.
“The timing of the announcement of the [police] recommendations is odd and arouses questions,” Gafni added.
Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party, issued a statement saying that it “supports deputy minister Rabbi Litzman,” and described him as a “faithful public servant who has worked faithfully for the public for decades.”
The party also stated that Litzman will “be proved innocent and justice will come to light speedily.”
Senior United Right MK Bezalel Smotrich came to Litzman’s defense as well, saying that although he was not familiar with the investigative material, “I am familiar with his dedication and that of his office.” He said that Litzman helps anyone who turns to him for assistance.
“The police announcement appears to be another attempt to revoke the active authorities of elected officials and turn them into functionaries and to delegitimize to the intervention of elected officials,” added Smotrich.
Police said that they found sufficient evidence to charge Litzman with trying to influence the opinion of psychiatrists appointed by his ministry in order to aid Leifer and prevent her extradition to Australia, where she is wanted for dozens of cases of sexual abuse that she allegedly committed while serving as a school principal in Melbourne.
Leifer is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse. She was arrested in Israel in 2014 but was released after being deemed mentally unfit for the legal proceedings. She was rearrested last year after an undercover investigation found that she lived a normal life and was mentally fit to face extradition.
The second case investigated by police was about Litzman’s alleged involvement in trying to influence officials in the ministry to work on behalf of a food company whose owner is close to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politician. Litzman allegedly tried to prevent the closure of the company, which had been found to pose a health hazard to the public, having caused several people to become sick after consuming its products.
The police said that the investigation found sufficient evidence against Litzman to charge him with fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust.
After the police recommendation, a statement was released on Tuesday by Litzman’s office saying that, “[Deputy] Minister Litzman has worked throughout his years for the benefit of Israeli citizens, with complete transparency and by law. The office of Litzman has a clear, open-door policy to assist the public. This is without discrimination against anyone, and without clarifying the status of those who call for assistance, except under the law and [with] integrity.”
The statement continued: “The police statement also clearly shows that the police also believe that no offense was committed in most of the suspicions about which Deputy Minister Litzman was interrogated. Regarding the other allegations, we are unquestionably confident that, upon close examination, it will be revealed that no crime was committed by the deputy minister.”
Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush also released a statement on Tuesday morning, saying that, “It is very serious that legitimate and demanding activities of a public envoy in the context of public inquiries – and helping the citizen with complex bureaucratic systems – constitute a basis for investigations.”
Activist groups combating sexual abuse in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad immediately called for Litzman to resign.
“It is deeply disappointing and angering that someone of the stature of Deputy [Health] Minister Ya’acov Litzman allegedly used the power of his position to help scores of child rapists, and we hope the police recommendation is a step toward him facing justice,” said Meyer Seewald, Founder and Director of Jewish Community Watch (JCW).
It was a private investigation by JCW in 2017 demonstrating that Leifer was ostensibly functioning normally in her daily life in Emmanuel, which led to a renewed police investigation and her eventual arrest in February 2018.
“Our private investigation in 2017 only clarified what was obvious to so many: that Malka Leifer was feigning mental illness to avoid extradition,” said Seewald, adding that it was “apparent that Leifer was being protected by very influential people” and that the police charges demonstrate that it was Litzman who was assisting her.
The Kol V’Oz organization also called for Litzman to resign in light of the police’s recommendation to indict him, saying that the “prolonged, sordid case” involving Leifer had damaged Israel’s global reputation.
“It seems the truth is slowly coming to light: an alleged interference at the highest level [by] Israel’s ultra-Orthodox deputy health minister,” said Manny Waks, director of the group.
“Those of us who have been following this case closely over the years have always wondered how it reached this level of farce,” he added. “There have been over 50 court hearings, with no end in sight. (Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in March his intention to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases: Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair; for breach of trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair; and for breach of trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.
Mandelblit is scheduled to make a final decision on the indictment and the charges it will include after a hearing he will hold in October, after the September 17 general election.
Interior Minister Arye Deri
The Shas leader is again facing jail time after police recommended in November that he be indicted on counts of fraud and breach of trust.The investigation found sufficient evidence against Deri with respect to his conduct with a businessman while serving as a minister, as well as for significant tax offenses amounting to millions of shekels, money laundering, disruption of court proceedings and giving false information to the Knesset speaker and the state comptroller regarding his assets and income.This is Deri’s second run-in with the law. In 2000, he went to Ma’asiyahu Prison for 22 months after being convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s. Deri returned to politics in 2012 and was appointed interior minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the last election.
The Shas leader is again facing jail time after police recommended in November that he be indicted on counts of fraud and breach of trust.
The investigation found sufficient evidence against Deri with respect to his conduct with a businessman while serving as a minister, as well as for significant tax offenses amounting to millions of shekels, money laundering, disruption of court proceedings and giving false information to the Knesset speaker and the state comptroller regarding his assets and income.
This is Deri’s second run-in with the law. In 2000, he went to Ma’asiyahu Prison for 22 months after being convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s. Deri returned to politics in 2012 and was appointed interior minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the last election.
Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz
In February, police recommended indicting Katz in a case involving the period of time in which he served as chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries’ National Workers Union.Police said that it had found enough evidence to indict Katz and other senior IAI officials with offenses of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and forceful extortion.Katz, along with the senior officials, allegedly took advantage of his position to use other workers for their own benefit. It also said that in return for assistance, the minister provided paid jobs for “his people” in and out of the IAI and that during his time as chairman, Katz used thousands of shekels worth of IAI resources and workers for personal use.
In February, police recommended indicting Katz in a case involving the period of time in which he served as chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries’ National Workers Union.
Police said that it had found enough evidence to indict Katz and other senior IAI officials with offenses of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and forceful extortion.
Katz, along with the senior officials, allegedly took advantage of his position to use other workers for their own benefit. It also said that in return for assistance, the minister provided paid jobs for “his people” in and out of the IAI and that during his time as chairman, Katz used thousands of shekels worth of IAI resources and workers for personal use.
Likud MK David Bitan
In March, police recommended indicting Bitan, a Netanyahu confidant and former coalition chairman, for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.Bitan is alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of shekels and a promise to receive apartments as bribes from 2011 to 2017, which covers both his term as Rishon Lezion deputy mayor and as a member of Knesset.In exchange for the bribes, Bitan allegedly acted to promote the interests of those giving the bribes, including Danya Cebus Ltd., a food department chain, and real estate developers and contractors.
In March, police recommended indicting Bitan, a Netanyahu confidant and former coalition chairman, for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.
Bitan is alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of shekels and a promise to receive apartments as bribes from 2011 to 2017, which covers both his term as Rishon Lezion deputy mayor and as a member of Knesset.
In exchange for the bribes, Bitan allegedly acted to promote the interests of those giving the bribes, including Danya Cebus Ltd., a food department chain, and real estate developers and contractors.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman
On Tuesday, Police recommended indicting Litzman, leader of the United Torah Judaism, on charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly interfering in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer. Police said that they found sufficient evidence to charge Litzman with trying to influence the opinion of psychiatrists appointed by his ministry in order to aid Leifer and prevent her extradition to Australia, where she is wanted for dozens of cases of sexual abuse that she allegedly committed while serving as a school principal in Melbourne.
On Tuesday, Police recommended indicting Litzman, leader of the United Torah Judaism, on charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly interfering in the extradition of alleged pedophile Malka Leifer.
Police said that they found sufficient evidence to charge Litzman with trying to influence the opinion of psychiatrists appointed by his ministry in order to aid Leifer and prevent her extradition to Australia, where she is wanted for dozens of cases of sexual abuse that she allegedly committed while serving as a school principal in Melbourne. (Jerusalem Post)
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) thwarted a major Hamas terrorist attack in Jerusalem after an explosive charge ready for use and laboratory were uncovered in Hebron.
The cell had been planning the attack before it was broken up by a joint Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police investigation. It was operating under direction from Hamas’s military wing in the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks against Israeli and Palestinian Authority targets.
Cell members were instructed to establish teams for carrying out kidnapping, shooting and stabbing attacks, to purchase weapons and to recruit others for carrying out terrorist attacks, the Shin Bet said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the security forces for thwarting the attack, saying that “our enemies should know that our long arm will reach whoever tries to attack us.”
In June, 22-year-old Hebron resident Tamar Rajah Rajbi, a student at the Polytechnic College in Hebron and an activist in Hamas’s student arm Al-Kotla al-Islamiya was arrested at his home. At the time of his arrest, Rajbi was in possession of a 3 kg. explosive device with dozens of pieces of metal attached to it that would have likely caused extensive collateral damage when exploded.
As part of the interrogation by the Shin Bet, it emerged that Rajbi had been recently recruited by Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip to serve as a manufacturer of explosives. He was trained by Hamas operatives in the blockaded coastal enclave over the internet as to how manufacture explosive devices. In addition to what was seized by Israeli authorities, Rajbi was asked by his handlers to manufacture additional charges.
During the investigation, it was uncovered that he had recruited his classmate Yussef Attrash, 22, from the village of Kafr Rai, another member of Al-Kotla al-Islamiya. He is accused of assisting Rajbi in purchasing the necessary components for manufacturing the explosive charge.
“The activists of Al-Kotla al-Islamiya constitute the future generation of Hamas activists, and it is evident that efforts have been made, within their membership of the organization, to radicalize their ideological attitudes and perceptions for training them as military activists,” the Shin Bet said.
According to the Shin Bet, the manufacturing of the explosives took place in a civilian environment “at the risk of unsuspecting residents nearby. For example, materials were stored in the school grounds adjacent to Rajbi’s home.”
The Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that were involved in planning and directing the thwarted attack were identified by the Shin Bet as 38-year-old Ramzi Elauk – originally from the Aida refugee camp outside Jerusalem before being deported to the Strip – and 29-year-old Jabalya resident and senior Hamas militant Ahmed Katari.
“The military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip continues to invest considerable efforts in establishing terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank with the aim of promoting terrorist attacks in Israel aimed at undermining regional stability,” a senior Shin Bet officer said.
“Hamas exploits the youth in the West Bank by harming them and their families for the purpose of promoting terrorist activities, and even exploits humanitarian credentials granted by the State of Israel for this purpose. The Shin Bet, together with the IDF and the Israel Police, will continue to thwart terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens,” he added.
Last month, the Shin Bet announced that it foiled a series of attempts by the military wing of Hamas to establish terrorist cells in the West Bank and that it had arrested an explosives expert who entered Israel with a humanitarian permit for medical treatment.
The Shin Bet said that prior to leaving the Strip for his medical treatment, Sabah received a coat with a hidden piece of cloth that contained code words of encrypted communication between the Hamas military wing in the Gaza Strip and recruits in the West Bank in order to plan and carry out attacks against Israeli targets. (Jerusalem Post)
The Palestinian Authority will treat all of Judea and Samaria as being under its administrative and security control, P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Sunday.
Speaking at a meeting in his Ramallah office with owners of homes demolished by Israel last month in Wadi Hummus, Shtayyeh said that “Israel no longer respects any of the signed agreements and deals, [treating] all areas [in Judea and Samaria] as if they were Area C. Accordingly, we will deal with all areas as if they are Area A.”
Area A of Judea and Samaria is fully controlled by the P.A. according to the Oslo Accords, while Area B is administered by the P.A. but under Israeli military control. Area C, comprising some 60 percent of the territory, is under full Israeli control.
Israel demolished several buildings in Wadi al-Hummus in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher last month following a lengthy legal battle. Israel maintained that the buildings had been erected too close to the security fence, in violation of a military order. Residents argued that the buildings were in Area A, and that the P.A. had given them construction permits.
Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled against the residents, paving the way for the buildings to be demolished.
P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, partially in response to the demolitions, announced that the P.A. would halt implementation of all agreements with Israel, including on security coordination, and said a special committee would be formed to that end.
P.A. Deputy Minister of Local Government Ahmed Ghoneim, whose ministry is tasked with urban planning, including the issuance of construction permits, told The Media Line that with this latest move, the P.A. was following through on Abbas’s decision.
“We are implementing the decision [to cut ties with Israel],” said Ghoneim. “On the order of [P.A.] President [Mahmoud] Abbas, a committee has been formed to develop mechanisms to follow through.”
The P.A., he added, was just acting in accordance with the 1993 Oslo Accords, which called for the transfer to the Palestinians of the vast majority of Judea and Samaria 18 months after elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The elections were held in 1996.
“From a political point of view, the terms ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ no longer exist to us,” said Ghoneim, adding that “from a professional and technical perspective, we will apply planning policies in Palestine at three levels: national, regional and local.” (JNS/United with Israel)
SpaceX overnight Tuesday launched Israeli communication satellite Amos-17 into orbit from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, after a suspected engine fault delayed its take-off by 14 days.
Communication company Spacecom, the Ramat Gan-based operator of the AMOS or “Affordable Modular Optimized Satellite” series, told the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Monday that the launch had been rescheduled for late Tuesday, pending final authorizations. The shuttle launch was successful.
The satellite launch was initially scheduled for Sunday evening (local time), but postponed after a “suspect valve” was identified in one of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle’s engines.
Spacecom said Amos-17 will be the most advanced high-throughput satellite to provide communication services to sub-Saharan Africa. The satellite also offers coverage for growing satellite service markets in the Middle East and Europe.
“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX tweeted on Sunday. “[The] team is now working toward August 6 for launch of AMOS-17 from Pad 40 in Florida, pending Range availability.”
The reusable Falcon 9 launch vehicle, designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is a two-stage rocket for the transport of satellites and other commercial payloads into orbit.
The launch vehicle booster scheduled to deliver Amos-17 has previously flown in support of Canadian communication company Telesat’s Telstar 19V satellite in July 2018 and Japanese-built Qatari satellite Es’hail-2 in November 2018.
While a standard satellite launch on-board Falcon 9 is priced at $62 million, SpaceX is providing the launch at no cost to Spacecom after the company’s $200m. Amos-6 satellite, leased by Facebook, was destroyed in an explosion during a launch test at Cape Canaveral in September 2016.
SpaceX later confirmed that the explosion was likely due to a breach in the helium system of the Falcon 9’s second stage liquid oxygen tank, leading to the fiery and destructive ignition of the launch vehicle and its cargo.
In September 2018, the Science and Technology Ministry said it would subsidize the development and construction of a new Israeli-built communication satellite: the Amos-8.
The satellite, which will be built and designed entirely in Israel by Israel Aerospace Industries, will be the seventh in a series of Israeli communications satellites, with all but one developed by IAI.
Contact was lost with Amos-5, developed by Russian company Reshetnev, in November 2015. The latest satellite is expected to be built within four years.
The first satellite in the series, AMOS-1, was launched in 1996, primarily for home television transmissions. The lifetime of existing satellites is 15-20 years. (Jerusalem Post)
by Marcy Oster JTA
Israel’s upcoming elections in September — just five months after the last ones in April — are essentially a do-over.
In the April election, the right wing won a majority. But because Israel has a parliamentary system, a bunch of small right-wing parties had to agree to join a governing coalition. They were too divided to do that, so now Israel is trying again.
Unsurprisingly, people have basically the same opinions they had earlier this year. In other words, polls haven’t shifted much.
The main difference between this election and the last one is that a few groups of small parties have decided to join together, meaning fewer parties are running this time. But overall, the Israeli right, center and left are still slated to get the same number of votes as last time.
Here’s a look at who’s running next month, what they stand for and what their chances are.
Is Benjamin Netanyahu running again?
Oh, yes. The biggest player on the right is still Likud, the party that’s governed Israel for the past decade. It’s running mostly on the record of Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July.
Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood, supports annexing Israeli West Bank settlements to Israel and sees Iran (and its potential nuclear weapons program) as Israel’s biggest threat. He’s put up ads showing off his bromances with right-wing leaders around the world, including President Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
Polls show that Likud is slated to get 30 seats in Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in the upcoming election. That’s down from the 35 seats it won in April.
Sounds like nothing has changed.
Well, things get more interesting to Netanyahu’s right, which has been doing a lot of breaking up, getting back together and breaking up again.
Earlier this year, there were basically two parties to the right of Likud, which broke off from each other before the last election. Now, they’re reuniting. The party, called United Right, is staunchly pro-settlement, hawkish on defense and supports infusing Israel’s culture with religious Judaism.
The party’s leader, Ayelet Shaked, is someone to watch. She’s a secular woman at the head of a religious, mostly male party. That means United Right is the only party headed by a woman. It’s a comeback of sorts for Shaked, who is a popular former justice minister, and who did not win a Knesset seat in April’s election.
The United Right is polling as high as 14 seats, and has said it will support Netanyahu after the next election. Then (because, why not?) its two parties have said they will break up again.
One party left out in the cold is an extremist group called Jewish Power, which has roots in the racist anti-Arab views of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Because of a deal brokered by Netanyahu, it was part of the religious Zionist party last time, but didn’t join up this time. It tried to run with a new far-right anti-LGBTQ party, but decided not to. Why? One of the anti-LGBTQ candidates does not wear a yarmulke. Polls show that it won’t get enough votes on its own to enter Knesset.
Who’s running against Netanyahu?
Netanyahu’s main rival is the centrist Blue and White Party, which was formed before the last election. Like Likud, it hasn’t really changed since April’s election. And like Likud, it’s running mostly on Netanyahu’s record.
The difference is that Blue and White is focusing on Netanyahu’s impending indictment for fraud and breach of trust. They’re painting him as a petty, corrupt and divisive leader.
Other than that, the party is pretty vague on policy. It opposes Israeli annexation of the West Bank, but hasn’t come out in support of a Palestinian state. It’s led by former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
Do they have a chance?
In one word, maybe. In two words, maybe not. Even though Blue and White is probably going to be the biggest centrist party, people are paying more attention to the true X-factor of the election: a man named Avigdor Liberman, the former defense minister.
Until earlier this year, almost nobody called Liberman a centrist. He’s a defense hawk who used to be more right-wing than Netanyahu. His party, Israel Beiteinu, has supported drawing Israel’s borders to leave out Arab cities and applying the death penalty to terrorists.
But he’s also partially responsible for the repeat elections this year. His party’s base is Russian-speaking Israelis, who are mostly secular. So in the April coalition negotiations, he refused to accept the demands of the haredi Orthodox parties, causing a deadlock.
This time, Liberman is the kingmaker. His main goal is to freeze out the Orthodox parties, so he plans to use his party to force a unity government between Likud and Blue and White. A recent poll showed half of Israelis want that as well.
The problem is that the two big parties have spent months demonizing each other, and Blue and White has vowed not to join a coalition with Netanyahu, though it would join with Likud if Netanyahu were somehow forced out.
Wait, what about the Israeli left?
They’re not doing so well. The last time Israel’s left won an election was 20 years ago, in 1999. And this year, the man who won that election came out of retirement to unseat Netanyahu. His name is Ehud Barak.
Barak used to run Labor, a party that dominated Israeli politics back in the day. But Labor has had a tough summer. Its leader Amir Peretz, who is 67 years old, defeated two candidates in their thirties in the party primary. Then he allied with a center-right party called Gesher, which focuses on economic issues. Labor is polling at a paltry six seats.
So Barak created a new center-left party. He immediately began trying to unite the left wing and ended up merging with the far-left Meretz Party and Stav Shaffir, a dynamic young lawmaker who left the Labor Party.
Barak took a modest 10th place in the new party, which is called the Democratic Camp, meaning it would have to win 10 seats for him to earn a place in the legislature. It could be that he needed to lower his profile after being linked to convicted U.S. pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. The Democratic Camp is polling at 7-9 seats, which is a better showing than Meretz alone had in April.
Both parties support a Palestinian state, oppose settlement annexation, are left-wing economically and staunchly oppose Netanyahu. But altogether they’ll make up just a fraction of the Knesset.
Also on the left, Israel’s four main Arab political parties will join together again, after breaking up for the last election. The Arab Joint List won 13 seats in the 2015 election, but after splitting up into two factions, they won a total of 10 seats representing Arab-Israelis in April. The parties hope that the alliance will increase Arab voter turnout this time around.
On Thursday, Joint List head Ayman Odeh said he would not rule out joining a government led by Gantz, but it’s not likely that Gantz would invite him to join, because Arab-Israeli parties never sit in Israeli governing coalitions and usually disagree with both the Israeli Jewish left and right.
Anyone else I should pay attention to?
Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party, a quasi-libertarian and nationalist party, captured the attention of young people who support the legalization of marijuana. It polled at up to 7 seats ahead of April’s election, but failed to make it into Knesset. This time, it’s running on its own again. Feiglin said he would support Netanyahu for prime minister.
At least two new political parties with very narrow agendas got a lot of coverage in the Israeli media this week. There’s the anti-LGBTQ party, Noam, which is designed to represent fervently religious Zionist voters. Their slogan is “A Normal Nation in Our Own Land.”
Meanwhile, four wives of Jerusalem cult leader Daniel Ambash have formed a political party called Kama, or Advancing Individual Rights. Ambash, a Hasidic man who was married to six wives and had more than 10 children with them, was sentenced to 26 years in jail for sexual abuse and holding a person under conditions of slavery. The four wives still live together and have called for conjugal visits in prison with Ambash. The aim of the party is to prevent the government from intervening in Israelis’ private lives.
Israelis are going to have a long hot summer to decide which party to vote for.
Eric R. Mandel (JTA)
According to Jonathan Spyer, director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, “It’s very important for Western policymakers to be aware that leaderships and elites throughout the Arab world today find a great deal of common ground with Israel on the issues of the Iranian and Sunni Islamist threats.”
“To an increasing extent, they are also weary of Palestinian intransigence and see Israel as a model for successful development. Much of that, however, cannot be said openly by these leaders because this does not reflect the views of parts of the societies of the leaders in question, where Islamist and/or Arab nationalist sentiments continue to hold sway.”
Despite some public lip service to the Palestinian cause, the Sunni Arab world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at most a “side issue.”
An Israeli military intelligence expert who had just returned from private meetings in Europe with Arab and EU officials told me that, behind closed doors, their analysis of the Middle East, including Iran, is often light years away from the public rhetoric offered by European and Arab Sunni government officials to their citizens.
The conflicts of the Middle East are primarily tribal and religious in nature, and the primary allegiance is not to modern states artificially constructed by the West 100 years ago. Insiders know that if there were no Israel, the Shiites would still hate the Sunnis, Iran would still aspire to hegemony, Turkey would still be an unreliable NATO ally, and Libya and Yemen would still be chaotic.
Some European officials, who vociferously defend the Iran nuclear agreement publicly, privately acknowledge the dangers of the Iranian revolutionary theocracy that acts against their values.
The writer is director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network.