Haneen Zoabi is a former MK who is virulently opposed to both a two state solution and Israel as a Jewish state.
In 2015, she falsely accused Naftali Bennett of being proud of killing Arabs. In the last week, that lie has been repeated by Naz Shah MP in the House of Commons; by model Bella Hadid on Instagram and by Qatari-owned Al Jazeera.
Inevitably, when the lie involves the Prime Minister of Israel allegedly glorying in killing non-Jews, it rapidly becomes an antisemitic trope. It is not just a lie about a politician: it is used, as medieval blood libels were, to demonise Jews, as well as to incite hatred of Israel.
Predictably, the usual suspects among antisemitic groups in Scotland have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, spreading lies to their followers. What did Naftali Bennett really say? “In the course of my military service, we eliminated many terrorists.” That’s it. He just did his job. Check out the video below (in Hebrew, with subtitles).
The most recent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect at 2am local time on Friday 21 May. At the time of writing, it has therefore held for precisely nine days. However, a ceasefire is only that - it is not the basis for any kind of future planning, but at least it gives a breathing space.
Back in February, we wrote about the two Israeli civilians: men with mental health problems and from marginalised communities, who have been held captive in Gaza since 2014 in the case of Avera Mengistu and 2015 for Hisham al-Sayed. As well as these men, Hamas has refused to return the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, who were abducted and murdered during Operation Protective Edge. As Egypt and Israel prepare for simultaneous diplomatic exchangevisits, with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi heading to Cairo and Egypt's Director of Intelligence Abbas Kamel set to visit Israel, Ramallah and Gaza, we are pleased to note that Israel is insisting that the return of the four men must be part of any deal that is struck.
With Egypt and Qatar each offering $500 million to help with reconstruction in Gaza, there would appear to be no shortage of goodwill finance available should Hamas ever decide to pursue a peaceful path. You may be wondering where the Hamas leadership were during the recent crisis - were they with their people in Gaza? Not according to the receipt below, from the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel in Doha.
If you think the scandal of this is the $1 million that Ismail Haniyeh spent on the jaunt to the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel in Doha, rest assured it is a mere bagatelle to the multi-millionaire and is easily covered by the 20% "tax" that Hamas collects on the illegal trade passing through its network of tunnels. For the real scandal, check the dates. The terrorists checked in on 9 May, the day before Hamas began firing missiles at Israel. And they checked out on 20 May, hours before the ceasefire.
So, while millions of Israelis cowered in bomb shelters and Palestinians were used as human shields by terrorist groups in Gaza, the so-called "leadership" of Hamas were living it up on their holiday. A far cry from the 'martyrdom' which Haniyeh is encouraging in the picture to the left.
The major news today is that Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, has decided to go back on his signed pre-election pledge not to join a government led by Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid. This could mean that, by Wednesday's deadline, a coalition will be ready to bring to an end the Premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader since Hasmonean times. There is no doubt that Israel could do with political stability, after four elections in the last two years, and the arithmetic of the Knesset means that there is not going to be overwhelming support for any of the possibilities.
President Reuven Rivlin met with representatives of all 13 parties represented in the Knesset yesterday, to receive their nominations for Prime Minister, despite expressing doubt that any party would be able to form a coalition.
There are 120 Members of the Knesset, and a coalition therefore needs 61 members. After that, the arithmetic gets very tricky.
Likud is the largest party with 30 MKs, and its leader, the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, has the support of Shas (9), UTJ (7) and Religious Zionism (6), for a total of 52. Yesh Atid is the second largest party with 17 MKs, and its leader, Yair Lapid, has the support of Blue & White (8); Labor (7); Yisrael Beitenu (7) and Meretz (6), for a total of 45. Not part of any bloc at the moment are Yamina (7), which has nominated its own leader Naftali Bennett to be PM; New Hope (6); Joint List (6) and Ra'am (4) which have all abstained from nominating anyone.
If Netanyahu were to stand down, it would seem likely that New Hope's six MKs would return 'home' to Likud with support from either Yamina or Yisrael Beitenu securing a right-wing coalition. Bibi's great problem is having so many opponents saying that they will not work with him personally.
A left-wing coalition, on the other hand, would require cooperation between parties with radically different outlooks. It requires support from either the economically right-wing Yamina and New Hope plus at least one of the Arab parties. Mansour Abbas, leader of Ra'am, has expressed willingness to work with either side, but Naftali Bennett's strong support for West Bank settlers puts him at odds with not only Ra'am but also many other MKs on the left. On the other hand, reports of Bennett reneging on his pledge not to support a Lapid-led administration are gaining ground with rumours that he is now close to agreeing a rotation agreement with Lapid with Bennett getting first shot as Prime Minister. With the currently unstable nature of Israeli politics, there is no guarantee that a coalition would hold together long enough for Bennett ever to hand over to Lapid. The greatest danger to Bennett may be the prospect of right-wing voters not forgiving him for entering into an alliance with left-wing parties and an Arab party but, on the other hand, Bennett is known to be very ambitious to be PM and he may see this as too good an opportunity to turn down.
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Depending on whom you ask, it is a question fraught with all sorts of complications. However, it is relevant to the recently published Report of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities, It appears to follow the tradition of British censuses of treating Judaism as a religion and not as an ethnicity. Yet, anyone with any insight can immediately spot the difficulties. Many, many people who are halachically Jewish claim not to hold any religious beliefs. Out of these, many do follow certain traditions, such as taking part in a seder meal at Passover. In the same way, many agnostics and atheists will have Christmas dinner or buy their children Easter eggs without it speaking for any faith in the religious beliefs behind these traditions.
However, unlike Christianity or Islam, Judaism is not a faith. It is an ethno-religion, like Hinduism. Jewish people are "Am Israel", the "nation of Israel" and almost all Jews are born into Judaism. Karaite Jews and Samaritans, who recognise only the Torah as authoritative (of course, there are significant differences between the Samaritan Torah and the Jewish Torah) argue that the Torah does not provide any means for conversion and therefore have traditionally not permitted conversion. In recent years, of course, the Samaritans have begun accepting inter-marriage between Samaritan men and women from outside, so long as the bride accepts Samaritan traditions. Unlike the majority of Jews, both Karaites and Samaritans recognise patrilineal descent, ie a person belongs to the community through their father, not their mother.
The Torah does not contain any word for 'religion' as most of us would understand it in the modern world. The word dat (דת) only appears in texts from the time of the Babylonian exile onwards, particularly in the Book of Esther, and comes from a Persian word meaning law, or custom. The Jewish 'religion' is therefore the laws, or customs, of the Jewish people and, as we mentioned above, these are frequently adhered to, at least in part, by people who would vehemently deny being religious. A smaller number of people, such as Noahides, are Jewish by religion without being ethnically or halachically Jewish.
It is therefore extremely unhelpful for a census or other official document to treat Judaism as a religion rather than an ethnicity or, even more usefully, both. According to Rabbi Motty Berger, Judaism needs to be both about religion and about Am Yisrael, and abandoning either leads to disaster. Reform Judaism began 200 years ago in Germany, by well-meaning Jews who wished to fully assimilate culturally whilst maintaining their religion as Jewish Germans. We know how that ended. At the other extreme, we are aware of the damage caused to Israel's reputation by the behaviour of a minority of secular Jews who live in West Bank yishuvim (settlements).
We do agree with Recommendation 24 of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities, which is that the term 'BAME' is unhelpful. Different ethnic groups have different experiences and different needs. In his excellent book Destiny, Rabbi Ken Spiro quotes the observation of emeritus Professor Michael Curtis of Rutgers University that, "anything and everything is a reason to hate the Jew. Whatever you hate, the Jew is that." Whether Jews are strong, weak, rich or poor, at some point in history antisemites have hated them for it.
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"Two Jews - three opinions" is an often quoted proverb and, like most stereotypes, it has some basis in fact. The forensic analysis of evidence, word by word, has been the basis of Torah study for centuries. However, in Israeli politics, the number of political parties and the range of positions they hold can be bewildering. The "Judean People's Front"; the "People's Front of Judea" etc, as famously parodied in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" are not without more than a grain of truth, either with reference to the time of the Roman Occupation or to the modern day.
President Reuven Rivlin will be given the official election results tomorrow (Wednesday) and, as head of state, it will be his very difficult task to find someone capable of heading a coalition government. Clearly, Prime Minister Netanyahu is the man in possession and the evidence suggests that he is in no mood to bring an end to his long career.
It looks as though Mansour Abbas, leader of Ra'am, is likely to become the first Muslim government minister since Raleb Majadele in 2009 and, indeed, part of Ra'am's message to Arab voters this year was that the party is willing to enter into coalition and bring Arab concerns to the Cabinet table rather than remaining in opposition. Ra'am has reportedly been in talks with parties of both left and right, with prominent rabbi Yitzhak Shilat speaking out in favour of the Jewish religious parties Shas and UTJ accepting Arab support and working to build bridges. On most social issues, the Haredi parties and the Islamists of Ra'am share similar conservative ideologies and, as Shilat says, there may be room for pragmatic cooperation.
Last week, the Religious Zionist party ruled out any cooperation with Ra'am, with the greatest stumbling block being the seeming impossibility of any alliance between Ra'am and the highly controversial Itamar Ben Gvir whose Otzma Yehudit party ran a joint campaign with the Religious Zionist Party. With Benjamin Netanyahu having unusually made considerable efforts to win Arab support in this election and having previously described Ben Gvir as "not fit" to be a member of Cabinet, much may depend on whether Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich can be persuaded to overcome his instinctive opposition to sitting alongside Abbas.
On the political left, Yair Lapid is the leader of the largest party, Yesh Atid. His efforts to head a coalition have been boosted by the support of Yisrael Beitenu's leader Avigdor Lieberman but the arithmetic involved in getting to a workable coalition is daunting, to say the least. One problem he has, is that the anti-Netanyahu bloc extends from centrist former Likud MKs such as New Hope's Gideon Sa'ar (who has indicated that he could support a coalition in which Lapid and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett rotate the Premiership) all the way through to the political far left such as Ofer Kassif of Hadash. It is almost impossible to see any way that such people and parties of such disparate views could ever form a strong administration. Conflicting reports suggest that Bennett has held discussions with Lapid, despite his pre-election pledge not to support a Lapid-led coalition as indeed did Sa'ar himself.
It's not over yet...
Highly appropriate for the time of year, “a plague on all your houses” appears to be the message from voters to Israel’s politicians, as the fourth election in two years ends in yet another stalemate. Arguably Israel's strongest leader since King David, Benjamin Netanyahu now faces the nightmare scenario of having no pathway to a majority without an astonishing volte-face from at least one political leader who has been calling on him to go. Even if the combined forces of Likud, United Torah Judaism and Shas can draw in support from Yamina and the highly controversial Religious Zionists, they are likely to fall short of a majority. Yair Lapid, the leader of the second-largest party Yesh Atid, has been quoted as saying that he will “do everything to create a sane government”, branding the Religious Zionists as “racists and homophobes”.
If the election comes down to pro-Bibi versus anti-Bibi, then it is difficult to see how Netanyahu can survive. Arguably the most powerful Israeli leader since King David, Bibi finds himself faced with former colleagues such as Gideon Sa’ar, leader of New Hope, who have left the Pharoah’s court and are committed to removing him from power. Although Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, has not ruled out working with Netanyahu, he has been vociferous in saying it is time to “fire the CEO”.
It is difficult to see how a fifth election would solve the problem. It seems obvious that voters are not ready to give any bloc a clear majority and that the solution must lie in parties and politicians finding ways of working together. So what collaborations are possible? With Likud by far the largest party, it is difficult to see how a Prime Minister from anywhere else could command a majority in the Knesset.
There is now a very powerful religious bloc, with Shas, UTJ and Religious Zionists having more than 20 seats between them. Rabbi Gerson Edelstein of UTJ has ruled out supporting a left-wing government, and both haredi parties have pledged only to support a coalition which will overturn the recent High Court ruling which recognises non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel.
The Resurrection of election night is the political career of Benny Gantz, leader of Kachol Lavan (Blue & White). Pre-election polls showed Blue & White in danger of failing to cross the 3.25% threshold, with Gantz himself warning of the possible consequences should he not be returned. With around 90% of votes counted, Blue & White find themselves in fourth place and with a leader who will become Prime Minister in November unless the Rotation Agreement is overturned.
With turnout down among Arab voters, Joint List is set to see its number of MKs fall but its erstwhile partner of Ra’am may just finish above the threshold, with its leader Mansour Abbas having repeated his willingness to work with Netanyahu in a coalition. Ra’am is an Islamist party which had become frustrated with the Joint List’s perceived lack of concern for religious views on social matters. Another source of concern for Arab voters, which Ra’am seeks to offer an alternative to, is the refusal of Joint List to be part of the political mainstream: a place for an Arab party in a coalition can only be to the benefit of Arab communities. On many social issues, Ra'am is likely to be in agreement with UTJ and Shas, although any cooperation with the Religious Zionists would seem very unlikely due to RZ's approach to the disputed territories.
If we go on like this, it will soon be necessary to add one or two General Election dates to the annual calendar of Jewish holidays.
The Israeli Constitution consists of a series of Basic Laws1. The first of these, “The Knesset”, provides for a general election no more than four years after the previous one2, to take place during the month of Cheshvan (ie October or November). Interestingly, the Talmud refers to the month as “Marcheshvan”3, the prefix “mar” meaning “bitter” among other possibilities. In fact, you would need to go back to 1988 to find the last election to take place during Cheshvan, but there has been no shortage of bitterness as Israel holds its fourth general election in less than two years.
The final three opinion polls were published last Friday4 with, as always, a bewildering array of 37 parties5 jostling for attention. One thing is clear: there are a lot of people including, if polling is to believed, 51% of Israelis who do not want Netanyahu to continue as Prime Minister6 whilst there is no candidate who looks as though they are capable of matching Bibi’s popularity. Unless the polls are wildly wrong, Likud is certain to be the largest party and a coalition which did not include Likud would require cooperation between parties which are diametrically opposed on almost any issue other than their mutual desire for a change of Prime Minister.
Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (rightwards) party is in a strong position to finish third, with Bennett himself being a possible challenger should Bibi be forced out. His party is passionately opposed to any “two state solution”7 and it is difficult to see how he could avoid coming into rapid conflict with the Biden administration in the United States which is reportedly keen to make progress on that issue.8 Of course, that has been American policy for decades without having any noticeable effect on the ground.
As Jacob Kornbluh identifies in The Forward9 in his presentation of four possible scenarios, even if there were cooperation between opposition parties to force Netanyahu to resign, it is far from easy to predict what the ultimate outcome would be. Indeed, Kornbluh argues that, were the situation not resolved by November, there is at least an outside chance that Benny Gantz could claim the Premiership under the existing Rotation Agreement.10 It is a mark of how rapidly things change in Israeli politics that, when Gantz signed the coalition agreement he led the second largest party (Kachol Lavan – Blue & White) with 33 seats: less than a year later, they are struggling to stay above the threshold and are predicted to win around 4 seats. Indeed, you would need to go back to a Channel 12 poll last December to even find them on course to get into double figures.11
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David Miller came to our attention a few months ago when he wrote to us requesting information about COFIS. We didn't think this was because he had any sympathy for our work and, judging by what we are hearing about him, that may be an understatement.
Professor of Sociology at Bristol University, Miller has been accused by author Dave Rich of promoting an antisemitic conspiracy theory in which the university's Jewish Society and Union of Jewish Students are accused of being "directed by the State of Israel." A petition to dismiss Professor Miller from his post has been started by Jonathan Hoffman at change.org Both Hoffman and David Collier allude to the long-term nature of allegations against Professor Miller, dating back more than a decade and preceding his current appointment. The latest controversy, reported in the Jewish Chronicle of 15 February involves an angry outburst in which he described Zionism as an "enemy" which needs to be "ended" and accusing Israel of "trying to impose their will over all the world."
Bristol University has issued a statement stating that they "do not endorse the comments of David Miller": however, stopped short of indicating any disciplinary action against him, citing employment law and the need for privacy. In recent days, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism [sic] has called for a meeting with the university's vice chancellor and the Board of Deputies has also written to him.
SOURCES (All accessed on 23 February 2021)
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Brilliant news today that more than 3 million Israelis - roughly 1/3 of the total population, have now received the crucial second coronavirus vaccination. This includes more than 90% of the vulnerable 60+ age group. The Chair of COFIS got his first coronavirus vaccination today and has confirmed to us that it is almost completely painless. Although many businesses re-opened on Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is talking about the possibility of nighttime curfews and, certainly, there will be restrictions on Purim celebrations upcoming this week.
Speaking of the 60+ age group, some of them may be old enough to recall the last time that legendary American show Saturday Night Live was funny. The antisemitic 'joke' that was made last Saturday by Michael Che, accusing Israel of only vaccinating Jews made no attempt at humour, instead transferring medieval blood libel to a modern context.
It's good to see some of the creative ways that local authorities in Israel are using to encourage people to take up vaccinations. Tel Aviv has put in place a range of measures, from free pizza and hummus to setting up a mobile vaccination facility in a bar, with a free drink for volunteers. Meanwhile, the very conservative community of Bnei Brak has opted for a more traditional offering of cholent for those who come forward to be vaccinated.
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In September 2014, an Ethiopian-born Jewish man called Avera Mengistu wandered across the border fence into Gaza and into the deadly clutches of Hamas. From a desperately impoverished background, Mengistu had long-term mental health problems, including schizophrenia and depression.
Since then, attempts by Mengistu's family; foreign governments and the Red Cross to have access to him have all been unsuccessful. It is thought that Hamas intends to release Mengistu only if Israel agrees to exchange imprisoned terrorists for him.
In April 2015, a second Israeli made the same fateful journey. On this occasion, it was a Bedouin called Hisham al-Sayed, once again a man with mental health problems and from a marginalised community. Almost four years ago, Human Rights Watch investigated the cases of both men and confirmed that, contrary to Hamas' claims, both men were civilians, unconnected to the Israeli military or government at the time they went missing.
Today, a Member of the Knesset, Ayelet Shaked, described it as "a shame and a disgrace" that Israel has agreed to the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to Gaza, without also insisting on the release of the two prisoners, as well as the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul who were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.