Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Early Result of Israel's Re-do (Update 9/19/19)

As the final votes are tallied today, the situation in Israel has cleared up a bit.  Here are the early takeaways.  President Rivlin needs to appoint one of the largest parties to attempt to form a 61 seat coalition from the following results.

The Anti-Netanyahu Camp (44 + 13 = 57):
33 Seats: Kachol v'Lavan, the Centrist/Left (Ganz)
6 Seats: Avodah/Gesher, (Peretz)
5 Seats: The Democratic Camp, (Barak)

The Netanyahu Camp (55):
31 Seats: Likud, the Center/Right (Netanyahu)
9 Seats: Shas, (Deri)
8 Seats: United Torah Judaism, (Litzman/Gafni)
7 Seats: Yemina, (Shaked)


13 Seats: Joint List (4 Arab parties together).  Will vote anti-Netanyahu.
8 Seats: Yisrael Beitenu, (Lieberman) - The wild card.
Zero Seats: Otzma (Kahanist).  Was polling well in the last week but did not pass the threshold for representation in the Kenesset.

Summary:  The largest party is Kachol/Lavan.  Neither Ganz nor Netanyahu have a governing majority.  If the Joint List "supports" Ganz, he can form what is called a minority government.  That occurs when enough parties vote to form the government, but less than a majority actually serves in the government.  Would Lieberman join a Left-wing minority government of 57 members of kenesset that is dependent upon the Joint List's 13 votes from Arab support?  Unlikely.  Will Shas, UTJ and Lieberman come to an agreement on the drafting of the haredim into the army?  Unlikely.  So, the same stalement that was reached in April has been reached today.  Lieberman is pushing for Kahol Lavan and Likkud to form a centrist government, with him (though they wouldn't need him). 

What are the subtle differences since April and do they matter?

Group                April Election     Sept. Election       Last Kenesset

the "right"             60 seats                 55 seats           61 seats
the "left"                45 seats                44 seats           41 seats
the "Arabs"           10 seats                 13 seats           13 seats
Lieberman               5 seats                   8 seats            5 seats

So, in the last Kenesset, the right with Lieberman has 65 seats (one Likud member had defected).  That was affirmed in the April election.  Compared to April, the "right" lost 5 seats.  4 of them to Lieberman, and 1 to the math of the proportional distribution of seats in the election.  So, when the news says that Netanyahu lost from April to September, that is correct.  But his position is largely unchanged.  TOTAL: The right is down 6 from the last Kenesset.  Lieberman is plus 3.

On the Left, in April they went up to 45 seats from the previous Kenesset's 41 seats.  The Arab parties ran separately, and as a whole lost 3 seats.  So the Left's 54 with the Arabs in the Kenesset became 55 seats in the April election. In the September election, the left went back to 44, and the Arabs regained their original 13.  So, the left has gained 3 seats from the last Kenesset.  Therefore, it is correct to say that they improved, but they as a whole did not "win."


1) Rivlin gives Neyanyahu the mandate to form a government.  He can form a unity government with Ganz, or we are right back where we were in April, and there will probably be a third election.
2) Rivlin gives Ganz the mandate to form a government.  He can form a minority government with Lieberman with the support of the Arabs, or he can form a unity government.  Mathmatically he could form a majority government with the Arab parties, but as a former head of the Army he is not trusted by them and this is highly unlikely.

UPDATE SEPT 19, 2019 8:40 A.M.  Overnight both Netanyahu and Ganz, with the affirmation of President Rivlin, have called for a Unity Government.  This does not mean that it will happen.  Netanyahu wants his old allies, the UTJ, Shas, Yeminah in the government with him - which would both include cabinet ministries and a powerful voting bloc in case of conflicts.  Ganz, of course, does not want that - and does not need it once Kahol Lavan and Likud are cooperating with their combined 64 seats.

And, of course, they disagree about who should be the Prime Minister in such a government.  You may recall that Ganz had an agreement with his own partners in Kahol Lavan that 3 of them would rotate the prime ministership over the course of their elected term.

What would Shimon Perez say to the center left letting Netanyahu leading the unity coalition?  "Over my dead body."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz shake hands at a memorial service for Shimon Peres, September 19, 2019.

Netanyahu, in classic body language, seeks to co-opt and control Ganz in a unity government.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We return to Thee oh Israeli Elections

The redux of the electoral loggerhead from last spring is due to take place on September 17, 2019.  Israel will once again demonstrate its broad and deep commitment to the electoral process, with one of the highest voluntary voter turnouts in the world.  In a world were Hamas is unstable, Hizbollah is flexing, Iran is rebuilding and Trump is Trump, the status quo may once again rule the day.  However, the future of Netanyahu as Prime Minister probably hangs in the balance, as another stalemate will force a Likud shakeup of some kind, and his pending corruption charges will surely move forward in the courts.  Here's what happened, and what might happen in the israeli elections.

Since my last blogs, the left-wing newspaper HaAretz has developed election tracking tools that are truly useful, regardless of your political views.  I recommend you click here to see descriptions of the parties in play and click here to fiddle around with their "build your own coalition" tool to understand how to get to the 61 seats needed to form a government.

Current polling shows that Lieberman, who brought down the government last December and stymied the Netanyahu led efforts to form a coalition in April, will be rewarded with as many as 10 or 11 seats in the new election.  On the far left, former prime minister Ehud Barak convened the Democratic Union with escapees from labor and meretz, only to lose control of the party and be assigned the 10th seat on their list.  Here's the quick summary of the latest average of polls:

Likud (Netanyahu)     31
Kahol Lavan (Ganz)   31

Either of these parties needs another 30 seats to form a coaltion, from the following.

Joint Arab List                           10 or 11
Yemina (Shaked/right wing)      10 or 11
Israel Beiteinu                            10 or 11
Shas (Sefardi Orthodox)               7  or 8
UTJ (Ashkenazi Orthodox)           7 or 8
Democratic Union                                 7
Labor/Gesher                                 6 or 7

No government has ever been formed that is dependent on Arab parties, so despite their being "leftist," they won't factor in the coalition building.  This puts the left at an extreme disadvantage in forming governments.  Each of those potential king-makers is competing from the remaining 58 seats after Kahol Lavan and Likkud get their 62.

So, let the math games begin.  Did you go to the coalition building tool?  Here's what you probably found. Likud, Yemina, shas and UTJ only get you 56-58 seats. They simply can't form a coaltion without Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu.  Kahol Lavan, Democratic Union and Labor Gesher only get you 44 or 45.  Even with Israel Beitinu there is no majority on the left.

This is important, because Lieberman has been saying that if Netanyahu and Shas/UTJ don't agree to draft the ultraorthodox into the army, he will "force" a national unity government of Kahol Lavan and Likkud.  But that only works if he can form a left wing government without Likkud, so Likkud would have a reason to have to do that.  Without a viable coaltion threat on the left, Lieberman's words are empty.  And what's more, even if Kahol Lavan (31) and Likkud (31) do agree to a unity government, which is highly unlikely, they could then do it without Lieberman!  - which is strange and funny.

And therefore, there is no likely coaltion AGAIN in the coming election.  And the real question will be what happens to Netanyahu in the aftermath.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Jewish "Disloyalty," according to President Trump

It is an unbelievable moment, requiring response despite its stupidity.  So here it goes.

Today President Trump clearly elaborated that he believes that any Jew who votes for the Democratic party is "Disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish People." Those were his words, after a lengthy explanation.

He is either 1) AntiSemitic, 2) Ignorant/Stupid, 3) Machiavellian, or 4) a Jackass.  Here is why.

The AntiSemitism of Disloyalty:

Jewish "loyalty" and "disloyalty" is a known antisemitic attack.  The idea, going back to the Middle Ages and finding its logical extreme in Nazi Germany, is that a Jew can not be loyal to a secular country in which he or she lives.  The accusation is that a Jew's loyalty is to an external power, the Jewish People, and in our day the State of Israel  over and against their professed (but dishonest) loyalty to their home nation.  This is core White Nationalist and Nazi philosophy, headlined in all their writings and pursued without regard to fact.  From the Dreyfuss trial in France to Louis Brandeis' confirmation hearings to the US Supreme Court, accusations of dual loyalty are the rallying cry of the AntiSemite.  ONLY loyalty to the supreme leader can be accepted and all other identity is intolerable.  The Jew is, in this vision, is not only disloyal, but insipid and treasonous.  I do not believe that the President is AntiSemitic, but his callous use of personal loyalty in the context of "The Jews" is a horrific gaff of some kind.  So what kind?

Ignorance or Stupidity:

One apology for the President's comments is that he didn't know that such a trope, "disloyal," screams of AntiSemitism.  This was the claim of Rep. Tlaib when she said that AIPAC was "all about the Benjamins baby ($100 bills)."  Just as I didn't give her a pass for using an AntiSemitic trope, neither do I give the President a pass.  If he didn't know, he had better address it.  On the other hand, he might be incapable of understanding the subtle nature of trope, making him intellectually deficient.  I won't conclude that he is stupid.  I do believe that he may be ignorant of the trope.  He must recognize what that is in some way if we are to believe it to be an accident of any kind.

The Machiavellian/Bannon Interpretation.

If you hold that the president is brilliant, then this was a calculated move for a purpose.  Possible purposes could include: 1) Distraction from the fiasco of back-peddling on universal background checks after the El Paso Shootings, or 2) distraction from the ridiculous diplomatic gaff of wanting to buy Greenland from Denmark even though Greenland has independent home rule (I believe this to be the distraction move, not the disloyalty comment), or 3) creating a wedge issue out of Israel loyalty to divide the democratic party.  This final interpretation is what the President said on the White House lawn, explaining at length that this is about the anti-Israel members of the progressive wing of the Democratic party: that they are the new face of the Democrats and that voting for the Democrats is therefore supporting AntiSemites.  This implication is the basis for his saying that Jews are being "disloyal" to Israel and the Jewish people.  In other words, he is using the AntiSemitic trope to rile up the Jewish electorate against AntiSemitism, and challenging them to prove that they are against AntiSemitism by only voting for the Republican party and himself.  This is sharp, deliberate, intelligent and - quite frankly - morally repugnant.  To deny the loyalty of the 67% of American Jews who voted for Clinton for either the State of Israel or the Jewish People is identity politics at its worst.

Option Four:  He is just a Jackass.

In fact, I do believe this is the only real takeaway.  I believe that President Trump is largely ignorant of political history, and entirely ignorant of social history.  I believe that he instinctively understands that calling Jews disloyal is a manipulation of identity politics that was sure to trip up news narratives on other topics, while continuing to paint the progressives as anti-American and anti-Israel.

His comments however, are extremely in line with the worst Nazi and White Nationalist hate groups' views of Jews.  Was it good politics?  Was it expedient?  Will it help him in the election?  Almost certainly yes.  But it is, once again, incredibly empowering of the hatred on the extreme right which we are facing in this country at this time.  He knows enough to know it this is a bigger topic than he pretends. He did it not just yesterday but again today, and at length.  What do you call a person who uses insulting and divisive language with no regard for the harm it may do directly or indirectly to other people?  Quite simply, a jackass.


President Trump has once again given a gift to the extreme right, demonized the far left, and this time thrown the loyalty of the Jew into the public square for mob trial.  Well done, Mr. President, if that is your intent.  Walk it back immediately if it was not.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Omar's BDS failure.... so far

We see you, Rep. Omar, and are not that stupid. We affirm the US alliance with Israel and reject your BDS maneuvers.

On July 16, 2019, Rep. Omar of Michigan (D) proposed a  bill in congress to support BDS against Israel.  That bill was expressed as a civil rights bill, to protect the right to boycott as a civil right.  The bill says:
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) affirms that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution;
(2) opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad; and

(3) urges Congress, States, and civil rights leaders from all communities to endeavor to preserve the freedom of advocacy for all by opposing antiboycott resolutions and legislation.

So, that's no so bad, right?  The bill will never see the floor of the House.
Why?  Because her bill is not a civil rights bill, it is a BDS bill against Israel even though it doesn't say it.  The BDS movement seeks to specifically target Israeli economic, political, social and academic institutions and individuals in Israel and throughout the world.  It punishes one side of the conflict while simultaneously denying that side's right to peaceful participation in the global community.  It is a bill based in prejudice against Israeli's and blind sweeping support of Palesitinians as a whole, regardless of their own particular political or social views and actions.  It would protect a terrorist, and fire a painter or poet.  The U.S. House of Representatives is not that stupid, and saw right through her efforts, despite her sardonic inclusion of the holocaust in her preamble to her bill.
In fact, one week later on July 23rd, a bill opposing the BDS movement against Israel passed the H. Res 246.  This bill passed by a vote of 398-17, with 5 "present":
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel;
(2) urges Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
(3) affirms the Constitutional right of United States citizens to free speech, including the right to protest or criticize the policies of the United States or foreign governments;
(4) supports the full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–296; 128 Stat. 4075) and new efforts to enhance government-wide, coordinated United States-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas, such as with respect to energy, water, agriculture, alternative fuel technology, civilian space technology, and security, in order to counter the effects of actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel; and
(5) reaffirms its strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states—a democratic Jewish State of Israel, and a viable, democratic Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.

In other words,  boycott divest and sanction is against any reasonable effort to achieve a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict for all sides.  For now, the U.S. Congress is absolutely clear on that topic.  But note the 18 votes against the resolution, and wonder... is this the beginning of a slow creep for BDS?  Is this the beginning or the end?

Representatives who voted against HR 246.  Keep an eye on them, as they are often in the news:
Carson (IN)
GarcĂ­a (IL)
Lee (CA)
Watson Coleman

The 5 Representatives who voted "present" (an abstention):

Davis, Danny K.
Johnson (GA)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

My only post on impeachment

The question of the President's impeachment is on my mind.  I write here not to advocate, but to process.

The only "Jewish" issue involved is the morality and ethics of one who is charged with a legitimate duty fulfilling that duty in their private lives.

Can someone who breaks shabbat teach shabbat (yes)?
Can someone who eats treife supervise kashrut (no)?
Can a president who breaks the law enforce the law (not objectively, no)?

The question of k'tocho ba'aro - one's inside should be as one's outside speaks to trust and hypocrisy.  Nevertheless, I write here to put it down - and perhaps to leave it behind - in my own thoughts.


The Power of Impeachment.

United States Constitutional sources:

Article 1, section 2:  The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Article 1, section 3:  The Senate shall have sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Article 2, section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.


History of actual impeachments voted by the House:

1868 - Andrew Johnson, for violating an act of Congress in how he fired a member of his cabinet.
1998 - Bill Clinton, for lying under oath and obstructing justice in an investigation, both about his personal sexual life.

Both were tried in the Senate, and not convicted by the 2/3 majority required.  No president has ever been removed from office by this power of Congress.  Under threat of impending impeachment, President Richard Nixon chose to resign and be pardoned by his immediate successor, President Gerald Ford.

That's it.  No other president of the United States has ever been impeached by the House and (therefore) tried in the Senate.


My feeling about the Presidency and impeachment:

What are "High Crimes and Misdemeanors?"  I believe that either a high crime, or a misdemeanor can be sufficient for legitimate impeachment.  When Clinton lied under oath, and attempted to obstruct justice, he was a legitimate target for impeachment.  Why?

A sitting President is the chief executive for the enforcement of the law.  He/She must be beyond reproach in observance of the law.  But, if he/she commits a misdemeanor (let's say, shoplifting or possession of a small amount of marijuana), should he/she be removed from office?

A sitting president may not be tried by any authority other than impeachment.  The DOJ has a firm policy that the sitting president may not be charged with crimes or misdemeanors in any setting other than the House.

Therefore, while I supported President Clinton politically, I believed that his impeachment was both petty and legitimate.  Before asking if it was necessary, I will comment on Trump.


My feeling about President Trump and Impeachment. 

I believe that, objectively speaking, it is absolutely clear that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice regarding the Mueller investigations.  I also believe that he did so in a manner that is both similar to, and more serious than the second article of impeachment against Bill Clinton.  As such, he is also legitimately subject to impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Now, words really matter here, because the constitution says the President "shall be" removed upon impeachment and conviction.  Does that mean that the House shall impeach?  I.e. the House must impeach?  Not, it doesn't.  Article 1, Section 2 affirms the House's "sole power," which means it is entirely within their prerogative to do it or not, regardless of the preponderance of the evidence.  That means, to re-use Trump's example from his January 23, 2016 campaign speech, he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue as a sitting president and shoot somebody and the House would not be forced to impeach him.

My own conclusion is that any president who is accused to have obstructed justice should be impeached and tried in the Senate.  Like any other accusation of wrongdoing, there is a process by which the accused is exonerated.  In this case, that can - and should - only happen in the Senate.  I also believe that this will not occur.


What I don't like.  I don't like that Nancy Pelosi is making this a hedge bet for the political future.  I recognize that the current situation in the United States is polarized and "everyone" believes that "everyone else" is acting only out of political/tribal loyalty.  Pelosi is politically astute and knows that the Republicans will not convict Trump of any article of impeachment in the Senate.  Therefore the only reason to impeach him in the House would be for political gain, and it is not clear that the Democrats would gain politically from that.  Therefore, for political reasons, she is not supporting impeachment.  I really don't like that point of view.

Is she right? Yes.  Is she politically right?  She probably knows a lot better than me. But I believe that she is wrong as a matter of ethics.  I believe that there is an ethical mandate to bring the matter forward to trial. It is serious and it is real.  It should be recorded in history as such.  Sometimes the right thing to do has nothing to do with probable outcomes.

So that's it.  I believe obstruction of Justice is a legitimate cause for Articles of Impeachment.  I believe that Trump has clearly met the criteria for obstruction of justice. I believe he should be impeached, and then tried.  And if he is not convicted, the rule of law will have been observed. Sometimes guilty people are not convicted.  Of course, as I said, it won't happen.


Having gotten it off my chest, moving forward I support those who call for impeachment, because it is the right ethical stance.  But our leaders in government will not act on it, and time is precious.  I will work on other things.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Back to your own country?!

 In a series of tweets yesterday, President Trump suggested that four members of Congress should return to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Each has a strong ethnic, religious and/or cultural background. 

3 of the 4 were born in the United States of America and the fourth immigrated legally at the age of 12.

Yes, Mr. Trump, Detroit (Rep. Tlaib), Chicago (Rep. Pressley) and the Bronx (Rep. Ocasio-Cortez) are "totally broken and crime infested places."  But you never lived there, so you think they don't exist in your America.  You never had to work for a subsistence living or feed a family in the face of institutional poverty and prejudice. Unlike other children of privilege who turn their wealth towards those in need from a sense of gratitude and care, you declare them unwelcome in your America. 

Mr. Trump's world view it is that the white and the wealthy represent some idyllic nobility in this country.  His life of privilege and prejudice leads him to this world view, which has in no way diminished while in the White House.  

I am sure that it would be more convenient for him if representatives of inner-city American congressional districts would just go away and crawl back under the rock that their districts live under.

I call on all supporters of the President to purge this kind of language from the Republican Party.  I call on all people to affirm the economic, social, cultural, religious and racial diversity that defines the greatness of this country and the nobility of its entire citizenry.

The President's comments are revolting, revealing and wrong.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

New Elections September 17

The 80th Congress of the United States was called the "Do Nothing Congress," but Israel has it beat as the 21st Knesset votes to dissolve itself without even forming a government.

The new election will be held on September 17th, just two weeks before Netanyahu's first indictment hearings in court on October 2 and 3rd for corruption.  In the meantime, Jared Kushner arrived in Israel yesterday in the middle of the mess instead of in the court of the new Prime Minister's government.  Jared is saved by the turmoil, as the Trump peace plan seems to be nothing more than an economic plan for further investment in Israel, the PA and the territories, mostly with Saudi and Bahrain support.  Russia and China, two of Israel's largest trade and political partners, will not attend the Trump-led conference.

More to come...