- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on three corruption charges.
- The announcement comes just one day after his rival Benny Gantz failed to form a government.
- Gantz had been given the opportunity to form the government after Netanyahu had failed to do so twice before following two separate elections over the course of five months.
- Israel’s Parliament now has 21 days to form a majority, or it will head to a third election in less than a year.
Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday that he was indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, making it the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted.
The indictments levied against Netanyahu stem from three different cases.
One case claims that Netanyahu illegally accepted $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons in exchange for lobbying. The two others allege that he traded favors for positive news coverage from an Israeli newspaper and a website.
Netanyahu denied the allegations, calling them “fake news” and saying the claims against him were a politically-motivated “witch hunt” run by the left and the media.
The indictments come at a time when Israel is already in a period of unprecedented political turmoil.
Series of Elections
Over the last eight months, Israel has seen two elections and three failed attempts to form a government.
During the first election in April, both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and opposition leader Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party both won 35 seats in Israel’s 120-seat Parliament, meaning neither party won an outright majority of 61 seats.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a government by building coalitions with the smaller parties to make a majority.
When Netanyahu failed to build a coalition, he proposed and passed a bill to dissolve parliament and hold a second election in September rather than give Gantz or someone else a chance to form a government.
In the resulting September election, Gantz barely edged out Netanyahu, with the Blue and White Party receiving 33 seats to the Likud’s 32.
Netanyahu & Gantz Both Fail to Form Government
Despite the fact that Netanyahu won fewer seats and had already failed to form a government a few months before, Rivlin still chose to give him the first shot at making a government again.
This time, instead of trying to build a coalition with smaller parties, Netanyahu decided to try to form a unity government, under which he and Gantz would come up with an agreement to share power and then pool their seats to make a majority.
But Gantz said he would not form a unity government with Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud as long as Netanyahu faced indictment, and Netanyahu refused to step down as the party’s leader.
As a result, on October 21 Netanyahu announced that he had again failed to form a government and Rivlin handed the mandate over to Gantz, who was then given 28 days to complete the task.
On Wednesday, just hours before the deadline, Gantz announced that he too had failed to build a government. Speaking yesterday, Gantz slammed Netanyahu for his insistence that he maintain his right-wing, ultra-religious bloc rather than trying to create a unity government.
“I will not cooperate with an effort to turn the majority of the people to a hostage being held by a small group of extremists,” he said. “I will not be prepared to impose a radical agenda on the majority of the people who have chosen differently.”
Netanyahu hit back at Gantz, saying that he had been “willing without preconditions to enter immediate discussions with you, even tonight, to form a unity government.”
He went on to say that Gantz’s failure to build a government is his own fault, and accused him of being willing to work with Arab lawmakers, who Netanyahu called “terror supporters.”
However, there is also a third player that has been absolutely key in everything that’s been going on and the repeated failures to form a government: Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party.
Lieberman was once a Netanyahu ally and even served on Netanyahu’s cabinet in multiple positions, but last year he denounced Netanyahu, citing the prime ministers growing dependence on ultraorthodox parties.
Lieberman’s decision not to form a coalition with Netanyahu after the first election was ultimately the reason why Netanyahu was unable to form a majority.
In the aftermath of the second election, he has again found himself as kingmaker because he was basically the only chance for Netanyahu and Gantz to form a majority without building a unity government.
If Netanyahu had the support of the religious parties, Lieberman’s seats could give him a majority. If Gantz had the support of the more left-wing parties as well as the Arab party, the Arab List, Lieberman’s seats would also give him a majority.
But Lieberman refused to work with either the ultraorthodox religious parties or the Arab List, so that was that.
Israel & Netanyahu’s Chaotic Political Future
With the series of unprecedented developments over the last few days, Israel’s political future remains up in the air.
Now, Israel’s Parliament will have 21 days to get a majority to support Gantz, Netanyahu, or a third candidate.
If the Parliament can not cobble together a majority in the next three weeks, then Israel will automatically be headed to its third election in less than a year, which would likely happen in March.
Many experts believe that a third election is the most likely scenario.
As for Netanyahu, he will technically remain as prime minister until he steps down or another is chosen.
While he is not legally required to step down unless convicted, that is only because a prime minister has never been indicted before, and while Israel has a law that requires indicted ministers to resign, whether that law applies to a prime minister has not been tested.
Already there are reports that several lawmakers have said they are going to petition the Supreme Court to remove him from office.
Even if Netanyahu does not step down, some experts believe the indictment could make it far more difficult for him to retain power.
While some have also pointed out that he largely kept his popularity with his base in the last two elections even with the charges against him, polls have shown that an official indictment would change the minds of many, including right-wing voters.
Others have also speculated that this could be the final straw for the other parties and could push them to coalition together to dump Netanyahu and avoid a third election.
If Netanyahu were to win, he faces a new legal problem: It will be the first time a candidate is under indictment, which raises questions about whether or not the president would even give him a shot at forming another government.
Even before the indictments, there was some talk in his own Likud party wanting to change leadership after Gantz failed to form a government, and on Thursday a lawmaker in the Likud called for a primary contest for prime minister within the party and said he would be a contender.
See what others are saying: (The Times of Israel) (The Washington Post) (Vox)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.