- 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.
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.
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)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.