Herzog wins presidential race; Lapid finalizes coalition deal: On Wednesday, Israel had a once-in-a-lifetime moment when the new president and government were chosen on the same day. Israel’s president is elected by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, every seven years, while the elections for Knesset and prime minister happen at irregular intervals. However, all at once the Knesset voted with a super majority to elect Isaac Herzog to succeed Reuven Rivlin in the largely ceremonial role as Israel’s president and then later that evening Opposition Leader Yair Lapid notified Rivlin that he had formed a coalition agreement for a new government to be led first by Yamina’s Naftali Bennett.
Herzog is Israeli royalty: Herzog was up against Miriam Peretz, a mother of two sons who perished serving in the Israel Defense Forces and winner of the Israel Prize, Israel’s most prestigious award, in 2018. However, she was no match for Herzog’s credentials, the current Chairman of the Jewish Agency who served as head of the Labor Party and Opposition Leader in the Knesset. Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, was President of Israel and his grandfather, also Isaac/Yitzhak Herzog, was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland and later Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi rabbi. (Both Herzog and Bennett descend from English-speaking backgrounds, with Bennett having grown up in the U.S. and Herzog having gone to high school in New York.) In fact, Herzog comes from such an elite, old-school Israeli family that his aunt married Abba Eban, Israel’s UN Representative and Foreign Minister.
Herzog, who embraced Peretz and praised her, was congratulated across the political spectrum in Israel and the world, including by President Biden and Vice President Harris. Biden said that under Herzog’s leadership the U.S.-Israel alliance “will continue to grow and deepen.” Biden also officially announced that President Rivlin, but not Prime Minister Netanyahu, will be visiting the White House before Rivlin’s term is up in July.
Coalition went down to the wire: The suspense built to the very last minute with the new government, as the anti-Netanyahu or “change” bloc had only minutes left before a midnight deadline when Lapid announced the new government on Wednesday. Once the papers were signed, Lapid gave the mandatory call to Rivlin, who was at a soccer game with the Emirati Ambassador to Israel at the time. The coalition is historic in several respects, including the fact that right-wing Naftali Bennett, who will go first as prime minister before Lapid takes over in 2023, won the smallest share of the electorate in Israeli history. In fact, at just seven seats in the Knesset, Bennett may have had the smallest number of people vote for him of any prime minister in the world. (Center-left Lapid has triple the number of seats as Bennett but gave up going first as prime minister in their compromise.)
Arabs join for first time ever: Additionally, for the first time in Israeli history, a majority Arab party is not just backing the new government, but actually joining it as a full-fledged partner. Ra’am, the Arab Islamist party headed by Mansour Abbas, signed on to the change bloc, providing the crucial final number of seats to declare victory. Since he’s an Islamist, Abbas had been demonized by Netanyahu as an unacceptable partner in the run-up to the 2020 election. However, after the election, when Netanyahu was given the first shot to form a government, Netanyahu negotiated with Abbas, therefore legitimizing his role for all of the right-wing parties to do the same. Netanyahu’s own legitimization of Ra’am/Abbas as a mainstream political player, in addition to the fact that most of the leaders who combined forces to take down Netanyahu formerly worked under him and were allies, sealed his own downfall.
Coalition still faces challenges: The coalition is set to be sworn in in the coming days, but the Knesset still must take a vote to approve it. With only 61 seats of the 61-majority needed, the coalition doesn’t have even one vote to spare. The Knesset Speaker must call the vote for the coalition, but he is a staunch Netanyahu-ally. Rumors suggest that the Speaker may slow-walk the vote in order to give Netanyahu time to peel off that one crucial vote to stop the coalition, which is his only last chance at preventing his fall from power.
Expect a vote Wednesday: The new government is expected to be sworn in next Wednesday, but in the meantime, Netanyahu is doing everything he can to avoid that fate. Reportedly, the Prime Minister has even called the rabbis of Yamina Members of Knesset to pressure the rabbis into asking certain MKs to break away from the new government. Hundreds of right-wing Netanyahu supporters have been rallying outside MKs’ homes, including Ayelet Shaked’s, Yamina’s number two. Tamar Zandberg of Meretz had to flee her home after her and her baby’s lives were threatened. Bennett, who is the greatest target of Netanyahu’s ire, told his children that “their father will be the most hated person in Israel” after the coalition agreement was implemented.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Hamas banishes UNRWA chief after truthful comments on Israel’s precision
UN Gaza chief flees after truth on Israel’s precision: After the head of the United Nations agency in Gaza said, truthfully, that Israel’s strikes against Hamas were “precise,” he was forced to issue an apology. However, that was not enough for the Hamas terrorist organization which chased Matthias Schmale and his deputy from the Gaza Strip over his honest statements about Israel’s military tactics. Hamas is apparently demanding that the UN fire Schmale and the UN is taking its orders from the group. UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer said: “[The UN] has effectively disciplined their Gaza chief Matthias Schmale—by pulling him from his post, and announcing a review of their response mechanism—because he said on TV that Israel did not target civilians, which angered Hamas.” Neuer went on: “The irony of Hamas declaring UNRWA Gaza chief Mathias Schmale a persona non grata for supposedly siding with Israel is that Schmale has a long record of employing admirers of Hitler and other antisemites and Jihadi terrorism supporters as UNRWA teachers and principals.”
Hamas receives bitcoin donations: A senior official of Hamas said the terror group has received a surge of cryptocurrency donations since the start of its latest terror campaign against Israel. Cryptocurrency donations enable the terror group to circumvent international sanctions and to fund its military operations. The Hamas official who spoke anonymously declined to share how much the group received. While cryptocurrencies purport to offer anonymity, U.S. regulators and law-enforcement officials have had some success in blocking the transactions.
Fires on Iran’s infrastructure: Iran’s largest naval ship was destroyed when a fire broke out on board. The fire is a humiliating disaster for the Iranian regime and it comes after an Iranian military plane crashed and killed two pilots the previous day. In addition, on the same day, a fire erupted at the oil refinery serving Tehran which caused massive smoke plumes across the capital. It is unclear what caused the outbreaks.
Google reassigns diversity chief after antisemitic posts uncovered
Google reassigns diversity head after antisemitism: Google’s head of diversity was removed from that position after it was revealed that he had posted antisemitic blog entries. In 2007, Kamau Bobb wrote a post titled “If I were a Jew,” which included things like Jews having an “insatiable appetite for war.” Google called the posts “unquestionably hurtful” and said Bobb had been reassigned to a STEM research position at the company as a result. Rabbi David Wolpe said on Twitter: “They didn’t fire him. You can get canceled for marginally slighting statements about gender or race, but full on anti-Semitism gets you transferred. Haters, adjust accordingly.”
NYC memorial vandalized: A memorial for Vietnam war veterans was vandalized with swastikas and profanity in New York City. The memorial was covered in symbols which the Anti-Defamation League describes as white supremacist hate images. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed outrage at the vandalism, saying “it’s antithetical to the moral fiber of our state and our country.” Cuomo directed the state police to investigate the incident.
INSIDE THE U.S.
In quick visit, Gantz meets with Biden officials in Washington
Gantz in Washington: Right after signing the coalition agreement for Israel’s new government, Defense Minister Benny Gantz hopped on a flight to Washington, to meet with his U.S. counterparts in the wake of the war with Gaza. In doing so, Gantz became the first Israeli politician to visit the U.S. since Biden’s term began in January. In D.C., Gantz met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, among others. Sullivan apparently pressed Gantz on the need to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, while officials on both sides expressed their desire to rapidly replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Judging by his statements in recent days, as well as that of other senior defense officials, the emerging nuclear deal with Iran was also most likely a central talking point between Gantz and the U.S. officials. Gantz reportedly shares Netanyahu’s grave concerns over the U.S. returning to the deal.
Booker starts Black, Jewish caucus: Senator Cory Booker is establishing a Black-Jewish Senate caucus to fight antisemitism. The initiative was immediately joined by Senators Raphael Warnock and Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, and Senator Tim Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican. Blumenthal said: “We will be fighting both racism and antisemitism. I think we’re in the midst of a racial justice moment and a reckoning now that could draw us together.”
WH advisor swears in on 1492 Mishnah: The White House’s top advisor on science and technology, which has been raised to a Cabinet-level position, was sworn in on a 1492 copy of the Mishnah. Eric Lander, who is Jewish and a geneticist and mathematician by training, said he wanted to be sworn in on the book of Pirkei Avot because of its emphasis on Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, what he called a version of the administration’s “Build Back Better” plan. The book was on loan from the Library of Congress which only recently discovered the artifact. Lander also noted that the book was written in Naples the same year that the Spanish expelled its hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents.
Today we celebrate pride celebrations kicking off in Israel with a huge parade in Jerusalem. One of the defining features of Jerusalem’s gay pride parade is celebrating the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, including those who are religious. The parade was thousands of people strong and flanked by police due to security concerns. A handful of protesters were at the event as well. In Tel Aviv, the city said it will allow unmarried couples to register for city services, like parking permits and education for children. A city councilman said: “More than one million Israeli citizens now live in local authorities that recognize their partnership – even if they are unable or do not wish to marry through the rabbinate.” Israel still does not perform same-sex marriages due to the control of religious authorities over that process. However, the country does recognize same-sex marriage performed abroad.
On this day in 1939, the Roosevelt administration denied entry of 963 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis off the coast of Florida. The ship had carried those fleeing Nazi destruction toward hope in the New World. However, Roosevelt was advised not to accept the Jews and instead turned the ship full of refugees away. With nowhere else willing to accept them, the Jews headed back to Europe. Over 200 of the passengers subsequently perished in the Holocaust, a direct consequence of the decision.