- Israel’s Parliament voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections on Wednesday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a new coalition government.
- Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition was primarily due to his inability to reconcile a bill being debated by two factions of his right-wing bloc, that would require ultra-orthodox men to enlist in the military.
- Netanyahu was also unable to get support from the centrist Blue and White Party, which refused to form a government with a leader facing indictments.
Israel Election Take Two
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a coalition government Wednesday, prompting Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, to dissolve itself and call for new elections.
This incident marks the first time in Israel’s history that a prime minister-elect was unable to form a coalition government after an election, as well as the first time that a prime minister-elect dissolved a Parliament that had only been sworn in a month earlier. The new elections will be held on Sept. 17.
On April 9, Netanyahu’s Likud Party beat the opposition Blue and White Party and it’s leader Benny Gantz by a fraction of a percent. In fact, the election was so close that both parties ended up getting the exact same amount of seats, with each receiving 35 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
Neither party won an outright majority, which is common in Israeli elections. In order to become prime minister, party leaders are required to build coalitions with other, smaller parties to piece together a majority of 61 seats.
Usually, the party with the most seats is given the first chance to form a government, but because Netanyahu and Gantz were tied, the decision came down to whoever had the best chance of getting enough support from other parties to build a government.
Because bloc of right-wing parties that were expected to back Netanyahu won a total of 65 seats, Gantz conceded the election. Netanyahu then was given a maximum of 42 days to build a coalition government.
How Did We Get Here?
After the election in April, Netanyahu seemed unstoppable, calling his win “a definite victory.”
Despite how close the election was, Netanyahu was expected to easily form a coalition government, which would usher in his fifth term and make him the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.
Netanyahu’s assumed success begs the question, what went wrong? Netanyahu biggest problem came down to a political dispute between two parties that were essential to building a right-wing bloc: the secular ultranationalist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, the Shas and the United Torah Judaism.
All three of those parties were expected to back Netanyahu, and he needed all three to get a majority in the Knesset. However, politics got in the way when Netanyahu was unable to resolve a rift between Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-orthodox parties that all came down to a single bill regarding military requirements.
Under current conscription law, most Israeli citizens are required to enlist in the military once they are 18. However, Ultra-Orthodox men who study the Torah are currently exempt from military service.
The proposed bill would change that by requiring ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military conscription. Unsurprisingly, the ultra-Orthodox parties were against the bill and wanted Netanyahu to change it.
Efforts to change the bill, however, were thwarted by the former defense minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, Avigdor Lieberman, who did not want any changes to the bill. Lieberman had promoted and strongly supported the bill, arguing that all Israeli citizens should be required to serve in the military.
Lieberman gave Netanyahu an ultimatum: he and his party would join Netanyahu’s coalition, as long as the bill stayed in its current form. This move essentially put Netanyahu in a lose-lose situation.
He could either pass the bill as-is and get Lieberman’s support but risk losing some of the essential 16 seats belonging to the ultra-orthodox parties, or, he could compromise with those parties and lose the five seats Lieberman’s party would bring, which were necessary to give Netanyahu the majority.
Either way, Netanyahu would not get enough seats.
However, the Likud party claimed it had already secured 60 seats, meaning they just needed one more seat to get a majority. This prompted Netanyahu to look to the opposition parties. Here, Netanyahu’s legal problems came into play.
Netanyahu currently faces charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust from three corruption cases, all of which he has denied.
While he still managed to maintain power in the election in April despite those charges, they still hurt his chances of forming a government with opposition parties, specifically the Blue and White, which refused to form a coalition government with a prime minister facing indictment.
Netanyahu’s failure to build a coalition raises questions about his future battling the corruption charges and indictment.
That is primarily because it will stop his party’s efforts to pass a law that would give him immunity from prosecution. Right now, the corruption hearing is set for early October.
However, because the elections are not until September 17, and whoever wins will almost certainly need time to build a coalition government, there is a possibility that there will not be a government when Netanyahu goes to his hearing.
That said, it is unclear whether or not the new elections will push back Netanyahu’s hearing.
Regardless, it is still not over for Netanyahu– at least not yet. While he and his party are not secured a win in the next election, running again is still a better alternative for him.
If Netanyahu had not called for Parliament to be dissolved and triggered new elections, then Israel’s ceremonial president would have given the opportunity to form a coalition to another candidate.
At least this way, Netanyahu still has another shot, strategically speaking. Of course, that opens Israel up to a groundhog day scenario where Netanyahu wins the most seats or is the most likely to form a coalition again, and then they would face the same problems.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Haaretz) (Vox)
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric
- Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.
- Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
- Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life.
- After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks.
Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.
“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”
Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.
“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”
The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.
Reactions to Alvim’s Speech
It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination.
Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.”
But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.
President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.”
The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)
Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role
- Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
- Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State.
- Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
- While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled.
Appointment of Di Giovanni
Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.
Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media.
“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.
Milestone for Women in Catholic Church
Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant.
Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.
On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind.
“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”
Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.
“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”
See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)
Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane
- Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
- Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
- Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable.
- There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.
Backlash from the Plane Strike
Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board.
Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.
During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.
According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.
The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion.
“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”
A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.
“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.
Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.
One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.
They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.
“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.
Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration.
Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press.
Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.