- 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)
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
- Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
- Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard.
- The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.
Some Americans Left Behind
A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.
When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.
While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.
The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.
On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”
“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.
“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.
The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.
The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.
The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.
While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.
While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.
Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.