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Israel’s Netanyahu Tapped to Form Government After Second Election in Five Months

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  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been chosen by Israel’s president to form a government following last week’s election.
  • The election, which is the second in the last five months, was triggered after Netanyahu failed to form a government in May, prompting Parliament to dissolve itself and hold new elections.
  • Despite the fact that Netanyahu’s Likud Party received fewer seats than his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, he was given the first chance because the president believed he would be more likely to build a government.
  • Gantz and Netanyahu both agree that the best path forward is to pool their seats and form a unity government. But Gantz has said he will not create a government with Netanyahu because he faces indictment over criminal corruption charges.

Rivlin Nominates Netanyahu

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government Wednesday, in a move that surprised many following an election last week that appeared to jeopardize the long-term leader’s career.

The election, held last Tuesday, was the second held in the country in the past five months.

During the first election in April, Netanyahu’s Likud Party tied with his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, with each receiving 35 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

As neither party had enough seats to make up a 61-seat majority, Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a government by building a coalition with other parties.

However, by May, Netanyahu had failed to get enough parties on board in the required time period. Instead of allowing Gantz to have a chance to form a government, Netanyahu proposed a bill to dissolve parliament and hold new elections, which parliament voted in favor of.

Many viewed the second election as a referendum on Netanyahu, who also faces indictment over corruption and bribery charges. As a result, when Gantz won 33 seats to Netanyahu’s 32, it was generally considered a significant defeat.

Blocs

But Rivlin’s decision to again choose Netanyahu to cobble together a coalition government despite the fact that he failed to do so last time and that Gantz won more seats appeared to reflect the fact that the president believed Netanyahu would be more likely to build a coalition.

Rivlin’s view that Netanyahu would have more success creating a government came down to the blocs: the power-sharing alliances that parties form based on their political leanings.

Following the election, the right-wing bloc of parties that included Netanyahu’s Likud had 55 seats, while the center-left bloc that Gantz’s Blue and White party belongs to had 54 seats.

Netanyahu will now have 28 days to try to form a government, though he can ask for a 14-day extension, as he did back in May.

Next Steps

Even with Netanyahu set to take the first swing at forming a government, it remains unclear what will happen next.

Rivlin, Netanyahu, and Gantz have all agreed that the best and possibly only way forward is to form what is known as a unity government. Under that system, the two parties come up with a power-sharing agreement and combine their seats to form a majority.

That may seem simple enough, but Gantz has refused to form a unity government with Netanyahu as long as he faces indictment.

Without the Blue and White Party, Netanyahu’s chances of forming a coalition government are slim to none. 

Much of the power to decide the next government remains in the hands of Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party which won eight seats in the last election.

Lieberman, who has refused to back either party outright, also posed a similar roadblock for Netanyahu the first time around due to his clashes with the ultraorthodox parties in the right-wing bloc.

Lieberman’s disagreements with Netanyahu’s key religious allies ultimately resulted in the prime minister failing to form a coalition government by one seat.

For his part, Lieberman has said he supports a unity government between his party, the Likud, and the Blue and White Party.

Netanyahu’s Troubled Future

With Lieberman unlikely to back him and with Gantz refusing to form a government with Netanyahu at the helm, the Israeli leader seems to have found himself between a rock and a hard place.

Netanyahu is set to have a pre-indictment hearing on Oct. 2. Legal experts have said that it is likely he will be indicted. After that, charges could be filed within weeks. 

As long as there is no government, Netanyahu remains the official leader. If he is criminally charged while still serving as prime minister, he can continue to serve until a final conviction.

However, if Netanyahu were to heed Gantz’s demand and step aside as the Likud leader and take an ordinary ministerial role, he would likely be forced to resign if charges are filed.

As a result, experts have pointed out that remaining in power as prime minister is his best chance of avoiding being prosecuted and that he will cling to power and prolong the process as long as he can, perhaps by trying to strike an immunity deal.

If Netanyahu fails to form a government, Rivlin would likely choose Gantz to be the next to give it a shot. If Gantz fails, it is possible that a third member of parliament will be given the mandate to form a government. If everyone fails, a third election would be held.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (Haaretz)

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Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

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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)

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Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour

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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)

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Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans

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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.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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