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Netanyahu Indicted for Bribery, Fraud, and Breach of Trust

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  • 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.

Netanyahu Indicted

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.”

The Kingmaker

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

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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International

Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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