- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected Prime Minister of Israel after his opponent, Benny Gantz, conceded Wednesday.
- Netanyahu and Gantz both received 35 seats, but Netanyahu will still win because the smaller parties that are expected to back him and build a coalition would give him more than 61 seats needed to form a majority government.
- With Netanyahu’s victory essentially secured, he will likely try to pass a law giving him immunity from indictments against him, and try to annex the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected, despite preliminary exit polls showing him in a dead heat with his opponent Benny Gantz.
With around 97 percent of polls reported, both Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White party have each received 35 out of a total 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Neither party has won an outright majority, which is common in Israeli elections. In order to become Prime Minister, the party leaders now have to build coalitions with the smaller parties in order to put together a majority of 61 seats.
In this case, a group of right-wing parties that are expected to back Netanyahu have already won a total of 65 seats, which means that if all of those parties coalition with Netanyahu as predicted, he will have a majority over the center-left bloc.
Tuesday night, before all the polls were in, both men declared victory.
Gantz called the election a “historic vote” and urged Netanyahu to step down, saying, “Elections have losers and elections have winners. And we are the winners”
Netanyahu took to Twitter shortly after to say that the Likud had “won a definite victory.”
Then on Wednesday, Gantz officially conceded the election. Although the polls still showed both parties tied with 35 seats, Gantz acknowledged that the Blue and White party did not have enough votes.
“At the moment, with the blocs, this is the reality,” said Gantz, “The war is not over.”
Now, Netanyahu will have 42 days to build a coalition of parties to get that 61-seat majority, and it seems likely that he’ll be able to do that pretty easily.
What Happens Next?
While Netanyahu is essentially guaranteed to be re-elected, there are still a few steps that have to be taken.
Regardless of how many seats Netanyahu ultimately gets, this election is still considered a major setback for both him and the Likud Party.
Now, the new Blue and White party is positioned to be the main opposition party to the right wing, a role that was previously held by the Labor party.
Already this election represents a huge shift in Israeli politics, and although Netanyahu will probably still be Prime Minister, he has come out of this election significantly weathered and with less support from the Israeli people.
Many Israelis have said this election was the dirtiest and most divisive race in the country’s history.
With Netanyahu poised to continue as Prime Minister, there are two main things to look out for moving forward.
The first and most immediate issue will be the indictments against Netanyahu.
Back in February, Israel’s attorney general announced that he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
Intended here is the keyword, because in order for charges to actually be brought against Netanyahu, he has to have a hearing first.
Netanyahu requested that the hearing happen after the election because he was worried evidence could leak. The Justice Ministry agreed and said the hearing will take place no later than July 10.
These charges against Netanyahu come from three different cases. One of the cases alleges that he illegally accepted $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons in exchange for lobbying, and the two others claim he traded favors to get positive news coverage from an Israeli newspaper and a website.
Netanyahu, of course, has denied the allegations, notably calling them “fake news.” Despite all of this, he is still incredibly popular in Israel, and his Likud party has dominated Israeli politics for the last decade.
However, following the announcement of the indictments, the newly formed Blue and White Party started to gain popularity in the polls.
Now that the election is over, the evidence from those cases, which Netanyahu requested to have kept under lock and key until after the election, will now to be given over to lawyers in the case.
This means that if some the evidence is leaked, Netanyahu could face reports that could hurt his reputation in the 42 days he has to assemble a majority government.
If he does succeed in building a majority, he is expected to try to pass a law that would give him immunity from being prosecuted while in office. Even if that law does not get passed and he is indicted, he does not legally have to step down.
With all that said, if he is indicted on criminal charges, his coalition could fracture and he could lose his majority, which in turn could lead to a new Likud prime minister or even entirely new elections.
The second thing to look out for concerns Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign promise to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
It is hard to overstate how massive this move would be.
If Israel annexes the West Bank, they would be asserting their control over land that most countries consider to be legally owned by the Palestinians.
This move is largely deemed to be illegal under international law, and would immediately destroy Israel’s relations with many countries. Those countries include Arab dictatorships that have been working with Israel against Iran, which would create a huge crisis for Israel in the Middle East.
Most significantly, the move would be catastrophic for the Palestinians. It would certainly represent the strongest rejection of a two-state solution by an Israeli prime minister in recent history. Palestinian leaders have already called the vote an “endorsement for oppression.”
To make matters even more high-stakes, the future indictments and the annexation could be connected.
It is possible that Netanyahu could promise the far-right parties that want to annex the West Bank that the annexation will happen if they vote in favor of an immunity bill. If that happens, he would not only be protected from facing charges, he could also turn a temporary occupation of Palestinian land into a sovereign part of Israel permanently.
Right now, the stakes are incredibly high, and a lot is still up in the air. The international community will have to wait and see what another term of Netanyahu will bring.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (Haaretz)
Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.
Health Minister Makes Announcement
Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”
The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.
The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.
While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.
The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.
Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.
All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.
The World Reacts
Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.
On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.
“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”
Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.
In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)
Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
Saved By The Bell
The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.
A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.
In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.
Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.
“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”
A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.
Britains Divided by Controversial Policy
U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.
“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”
“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”
An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.
“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”
The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.
The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.
Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)
Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans
Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.
Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination
Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.
The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”
Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.
Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.
“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”
“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”
Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.
The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.
Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.
Memories of Apartheid Resurface
“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.
South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.
“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.
Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.
“We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.
Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.
Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.