Israel News for May 19, 2016

Forget Unity
Remember all that talk about the PM forming a potential unity government by bringing opposition leader Issac Herzog and his left wing faction’s 24 Knesset seats into the government? Forget about it.

Instead of forming a broad based coalition which would have created a centrist government with a large majority, the PM has decided to push the government even further to the Right by bringing Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beyteinu party into the government.

Yisrael Beyteinu currently has six Knesset members, which would boost the government’s razor thin majority of 61 seats to a little less thin 67 seats. That’s not huge, but it’s enough to give the government a bit of breathing room to push through its more controversial bills that might not garner 100% coalition support.

Avigdor Liberman formed Yisrael Beyteinu in 1999 to create a platform for Russian immigrants who support a hard line in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He has previously served as Foreign Minister, from 2009 to 2012 and again from 2013 to 2015, and is known for his staunchly Right wing positions.

In order to bring Liberman into the government, the PM has offered him the job of Defense Minister. That means current DM Moshe Ya’alon is out. That doesn’t come as a big surprise to Ya’alon, who has been embroiled in tensions with the PM over his statements defending the freedom of IDF officers to speak their minds, even if those words are against government policies. The PM didn’t like that very much.

Ya’alon was also attacked by Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi party for not being tough enough against the Palestinians or supportive enough of the settler movement. Bayit Yehudi officials were quick to comment on the new coalition deal, “Bogie’s (Ya’alon) going, and that’s for the best. It’s been a year of tremendous damage to the IDF. A year of abandoning soldiers, a year of terrible army culture. Bogie needs to go home, and he’s going…Lieberman’s entering (the coalition) will make the government the most right-wing government in history, and that’s good. A full right-wing government could reach a full term.”

While Naftali Bennett and many Likud members are thrilled about Liberman getting Ya’alon’s job, many in Netanyahu’s party are not. Ya’alon, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Likud member, is highly respected by party members. Furthermore, the idea of taking the job of Defense Minister away from a decorated general and giving to a politician without any military experience beyond his mandatory IDF service, during which he attained the rank of corporal, is tough to swallow. Apparently, Netanyahu is willing to do whatever it takes to strengthen his current Right wing government and implement his policies.

But don’t cry for Ya’alon just yet. Sources say that the PM is considering offering him the coveted job of Foreign Minister, which the PM has been holding on to for last few years just in case a situation arises where he needs to give the job away in order to make a deal. Now that’s foresight. Ya’alon’s associates have said that he would accept such an offer.

In addition to the Defense Ministry, Yisrael Beyteinu will get the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which makes sense since most of the immigrants to Israel in recent years are from the former Soviet Union.

As Defense Minister Liberman will likely be able to achieve one of his other demands for entering the government: the death penalty for terrorists. Netanyahu has previously blocked the law, but that will probably change now.

But Liberman will not get everything he wants. He is expected to set aside his campaign for a law allowing for common-law marriage, reform in Jewish conversion and a tougher law to draft Haredim into the Israel Defense Forces, in order to hold together the coalition and keep the Ultra-Orthodox parties in the government.

The opposition is obviously up in arms about the appointment of Liberman as Defense Minister. Any possibility of Herzog joining Netanyahu in a unity government are now pretty much history.

The final coalition deal is likely to close on Friday. You never know what can happen until then?

For further reading click here.

Meat Law
According to Israeli law, all meat imported into the country requires the kosher certification of the Israeli Rabbinate. That means no non-kosher meat can be legally imported into Israel. A number of Arab Israeli businesses are demanding an exemption from laws prohibiting the import of non-kosher meat, and have brought their case to the Supreme Court.

The claimants in the case argue that the law constitutes religious coercion, forcing Israel’s Arab citizens to abide by Jewish religious law.

The suit was filed by Sawsan Zahar, a lawyer for Adalah, a leftwing Arab Israeli NGO. The claim was made on behalf of Ahmed Afnadi Inc., a meat store from the village of Kfar Kana.

Zahar noted that similar exemptions had been issued with regards to other laws, citing the example of pork farms which are permitted in towns with a majority of Christian Arabs.

Makes a lot of sense. Why should Arabs be force to eat kosher meat, and pay more for it?

For further reading click here.

Iron Dome at Sea
The IDF has installed the Iron Dome anti-missile system on a navy missile boat. In a recent test the ship, sailing 20 miles off the Israeli coast, successfully shot down three dummy missiles out of the sky.

To watch a video of the successful test, click here.