30 July 2019

Israel-the perfect picture of a hectic month- Ramadan, Eurovision and a delayed government

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

For Israel, May is a difficult period… •Some have celebrated •Others have worked hard to create a new government. Most likely, to get immunity •After Ramadan, here comes the Peace Plan •Also something on security •As I was saying, May was…•

Image source: Mediafax

For Israel, May is a difficult period…

… a month wherein events, celebrations and commemorations of the Israeli and Arab-Israeli communities, happy or not, however all extremely intense, are creating the perfect framework where suffering and confrontations, victories and defeats are guiding the moment like a shadow. Holocaust’s Day (2nd of May), Memory (8th of May) and Independence Day (9th of May) and even Jerusalem’s Day (2nd of June), together with Catastrophe Day/ Nakba (15th of Macy), Al Quds Day/ the Arab version of Jerusalem’s Day (31th of May) are this month’s most important moments.

If we also add the Ramadan and even the Eurovision, May becomes even more important.

Besides, the list gets completed by the tensions surrounding the difficulties in creating a new Israeli government.

Some have celebrated
For the left and liberal Israeli people, increasingly defensive after the last elections, wherein they were cornered by a right-wing, nationalist, aggressive and victorious rhetoric, Eurovision was a whiff of oxygen. Accustomed to losing, including in the political galleries spectacle, they got back at what Eurovision offered in Tel Aviv, Israel’s cosmopolitan city and economic heart, and not in Jerusalem, country’s capital, but also the center of home and international tensions.   

 A show watched by 200 million viewers, Tel Aviv’s Eurovision has received both critics’ negative thoughts, who considered this annual international show to be European show’s most tasteless moment, as well as technological awards that got it the first place in the world in all its 63-year history. This is not really something new for Israel. In 1973, on its first participation, it was the first satellite-connected country in the final gala of Eurovision. When it firstly organized this contest, Israel transmitted, again, the final evening by satellite, this time for all participating states.

The tensions generated by Israel's Eurovision organization emerged from the very first moment, and the organizers were able to breathe barely in the end, when the results showed that none of the participating countries refused to participate, as happened before. And its inside and outside political gestures were symbolic, of course, but rather tangential comparing to region’s serious issue.

The Israeli Eurovision has rather proved, despite the foreign predictable critics, of some disputed groups, an internal breach between the liberal society, the Israeli left, still dominating Tel Aviv, and country’s administrative and political structures, having the support of an Israeli population majority, already more conservative than during previous decades, way more reluctant to political, religious and sexual liberties which are, in general, the international symbol of the Israeli musical art.

According to media, authorities were somehow circumspect about the contest, seeing only its propaganda value, but also its affront against the national traditional values. That is why the organization was exclusively in the National Television Company’s responsibility, Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, acronym to Kan ("Here", in Hebrew), one of the independent entities that together with Attorney General's Office, gives, periodically, many headaches to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given Israeli authorities' refusal to support Eurovision’s first organization, Kan had to borrow approx. $ 28 million to make it happen, money and debts that might be extremely important in the conflict with the prime minister. 

Thus, the demonstrations against Eurovision were organized not by pacifist groups, nor by the Arab community. The ultra-Orthodox Jews were the ones who felt outraged by the organization of the contest on a Sabbath day, a day of rest and prayer.

Of course, the event was primarily political, because, for decades, Eurovision is not about music, art, technology, it is primarily about national identity, image promotion and international status. Given these circumstances, the press release issued by the European Broadcasting Union / the European agency that co-organized the event, following the show offered by the special guest, Madonna, is one of the good jokes made lately: "The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this".

Both Israeli and Palestinian flags, stuck on the back of two dancers from artist's band, were on the television screens for only a few seconds. And the fact that the event had, more than in other editions, an obvious artistic and sexual freedom tendency, is seen only as a swan song for the Israeli liberal community, especially concentrated in Tel Aviv, against Israel’s recent years conservative tendencies.

 A few hours after the contest ended, at government’s weekly meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated the winner, the Dutchman Duncan Laurence, has consoled the Israeli representative, Kobi Marimi, did not say a word about the performance of the National Television Company and got back to agenda’s main objective, the creation of the future government, a process wherein the religious parties and the secularist Avigdor Lieberman are already on opposed camps.

  Others have worked hard to create a new government. Probably, in order to get immunity
Although before the parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu firmly denied that he would elaborate a law, which would give him the necessary immunity to avoid, again, the republican prosecutor, of course, not directly, the post-election situation is different, so the test had to be done. He would not have been acting as himself if he had not tested the ground for a legislative act to defend himself against the corruption case. As he received negative reactions, coalition’s potential members, even inside his own party, threatening to refuse govern, the normative act did not reach the debate phase. But Netanyahu, again, would not be acting as himself, if he did not try to use even the effective law to see if there is any possibility to postpone the judicial result.

Or to postpone the approval of a new legislative act. Until presenting it to the prosecutors, , in September, there is still time. When Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will present himself before the Knesset, to ask for the rise of executive’s chief parliamentary immunity, it will be too late. The prime minister will, in the meantime, be giving up the amendment on its immunity, in order to obtain, instead, the prevalence of parliament's decisions on attorney general's requests. With a loyal majority, it will be the same.

Of course, this is the scenario of frustrated Israeli electorate, the Israeli left, which still hopes for the justice to give them what they could not get through parliamentary elections.

Besides organizing this judicial defense on the medium term, Netanyahu also has current concerns, however unexpected, considering the score he got within the Likud elections and the Israeli right, in terms of setting up a new government. What seemed so simple suddenly became so complicated. And because a small leak will sink a great ship, it was called Lieberman.

 Shortly before the constitutional deadline Benjamin Netanyahu has to create the government, a month and two more weeks, his former coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman, who entered the new parliament's limit, reiterated the negotiated scenario similar to other post-election times. It means: "do it when you have the opportunity". The five deputies of Yisrael Beiteinu party / Our House Israel, led by Lieberman, can make a difference between a solid majority government and a minority one. And if you do not get all that you can from a prime-minister like Netanyahu, from the very first start, later, after Knesset’s vote, it would be way harder.

And Lieberman has set not less than five conditions to join a coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu. It is "all" he can do for his former partner from some previous governments and the minimum from his political formation’s "legitimate requirements":

•a military solution for the Gaza conflict, contrary to the temporary processes with Hamas;

•approving the recruitment law project in its current version (which requires for a number of Jewish young men, ultra-orthodox, to enter the military service, otherwise being financially endorsed;

•increasing old men’s pensions;

•the leadership of Knesset’s Committee for Home and Environment Affairs to be on Yisrael Beiteinu’s group representative responsibility;

• stopping the DNA tests, made by some religious authorities to test the Jewish lineage (Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet space were their main target).

Some of the conditions are for his own electorate, the Russian-speaking Jews, the vast secular majority. Others are the result of an offensive stance on solving the Gaza conflict, a position that also led to Lieberman's resignation from the government and early elections’ triggering. And there is at least one point introduced as a negotiation condition. The stake is higher for Netanyahu, who, besides the problems he has with justice, he is only one step closer from an Israeli policy premiere in the 70 years since state’s creation, which is overcoming the political longevity record of state’s founder, David Ben Gurion. Being so close to something like this and then be disturbed by someone like Lieberman and its secularisms is outrageous!  

But the prime minister does not have to fight alone. The recruitment law must be changed, are the religious parties saying, otherwise they will not enter the government either. And their number of mandates they have is at least three times higher than Yisrael Beiteinu’s ones. Between the secular and the ultra-Orthodox groups it seems to be no dialogue possibility, although both movements belong to the same Israeli right wing.

For things to be even more complicated, the opposition Kahol Lavan / Blue and White, led by the generals' party, Resilience for Israel, also called for a mammoth rally, on the evening of May 25, in Tel Aviv, to protest against prime minister's attempts to get immunity by the law, but also to remind the electorate that there is still political life after Netanyahu. "Netanyahu places himself above the law and (to prevent this) ​​we will fight in the markets, (...) in schools, in the media and within the law," said Benny Gantz, the opposition leader, paraphrasing Winston Churchill's words at the beginning of the Second World War: "We will fight on beaches". The political rhetoric remains lit even after the parliamentary elections, in a country that has strong political and social gaps, accentuated by the personality of the current Israeli prime minister.

Until June 3rd, there are only a few days for creating a new Israeli government, otherwise the mandate returns to country's president, Reuven Rivlin. Negotiations are continuing and there are chances for Netanyahu to find the key to open parties’ ballot boxes on the right of the Israeli political checker and get parliamentary confidence. If not, there is also the possibility for a minority government to be created, which will probably be voted also by Avigdor Lieberman’s group, but will remain permanently in a precarious equilibrium.

After Ramadan, here comes the Peace Plan

Postponed due to the electoral campaign, and afterwards because of Ramadan, the peace plan President Donald Trump announced is also about to be presented. US officials have already announced the organization of a working conference on economic issues, at the end of June, in Bahrain, an event where this plan’s first elements will be presented. Even conference’s name, "Peace to Prosperity," suggests the approach Trump’s Administration has in the document whose content is known by very few, however predictable for most of the people. Gaza Strip and the West Bank’s economic development, through regional investments, seems to be the way the White House believes that Palestinians can be brought at the negotiating table. Moreover, a number of other adjacent measures are including direct dialogue between both Palestinian entities.

It is unclear, now, whether Israeli and Palestinian delegates will be invited at the conference or not, the conference addressing mainly potential donors, but a Palestinian official said that the Palestinian side will not be part in the economic or political segment of the public presentation of document’s provisions. This gives, from the very beginning, few materialization chances for the provisions of this peace plan.

Also something on security
Also in May, in the three years of political penance (when former Israeli army chiefs are banned from political activities), but also wanting to stay in the public life, Lieutenant General (r.) Gadi Eizenkot, the former Chief of the Israeli Defence Forces would summarize the current threats Israel faces. General's presentation came after an exhibition held at the Washington Institute and, of course, referred to the already known field, national security. The list of threats is short, yet relevant:

- Possible unconventional threats from Iran, but also as chemical weapons held by other regional actors;

- Conventional warfare threats;

- Threats coming from fundamentalist groups in the region;

- Cyber-threats.
Enjoying this rare five-year period without a major conflict, Israel continues to be on the alert, facing at least four directions/fronts where tensions can escalate at any time. It is, however, a different period from a few years ago. At that time, the Israeli army was either in direct confrontation or getting ready for war. Currently, the used concept is a "campaign inside the walls", a sophisticated and preventive approach, which has kept under control the tensions, especially at the border with Gaza Strip.

As I was saying, May was…

... there are complicated times for Israel. The elections are gone, yet not completed, through the vote of a new government. Eurovision has been praised, criticized, flattered, but it is also gone and the National Television Company / Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation / Kan is going to pay its debts. The leader of a fulcrum party for the local political scene sets conditions to the leader who just sent the history book, with a chapter about himself, to typography. The opposition, led by generals who are trying out their new politicians' suits, is back on the streets, trying to sweeten electoral defeat’s bitterness. Palestinians do not want to hear about President Trump's peace plan, and Israeli Arabs, through their Knesset deputies, do not want to listen the Israeli national anthem. The celebration days are concurrent to commemoration days. Borders’ concrete walls are present also inside the country, through the invisible borders between communities.

Word to an American movie: “It’s complicated!”

Translated by Andreea Soare