(JTA) — The video gives a “Schoolhouse Rock” vibe: Cartoon figures climb the names of the three branches of the U.S. government — “legislature” at the base, “judiciary” at the top and “executive” sandwiched in the middle — as part of a lesson on governance.
But while the video is in English, the government it refers to is not American but Israeli. And the video was produced not by an educational television company but by the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank that is widely understood to have influenced the rightward shift within Israeli politics.
The video’s release on Twitter Wednesday appears to be part of a wave of efforts to sell one particularly controversial aspect of that shift — proposed reforms to Israel’s judiciary — to skeptical English speakers. While the many critics of the proposed changes say they would bring Israel out of line with other democracies, all of the English-language efforts press the case that the opposite is true.
“The reforms in progress will address the anomalies of the Israeli system and bring Israel just a few steps closer to the rest of the Western democracies,” concludes the Kohelet Forum video, which features a caped jurist superhero.
Israel’s judicial reform: strengthening democracy pic.twitter.com/k4rL88NlaU
— פורום קהלת Kohelet (@KoheletForum) January 25, 2023
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forcefully defended the proposed changes, which include allowing the parliament to overrule the Supreme Court and would have the added benefit of insulating himself from his ongoing corruption prosecution. But he appears to have underestimated opposition to the reforms, which has come not just from liberal Israelis and American Jews but from traditionally nonpartisan think tanks, legal scholars and even right-leaning Americans.
Unlike some of the other changes called for by members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which includes far-right extremists and religious parties, the judicial changes are raising questions about core values held by most pro-Israel American conservatives: that Israel is a democratic oasis in the Middle East and that business savvy is an Israeli strength. Foreign investors and international credit agencies have both signaled that if the reforms go through, they will downgrade their estimation of the country.
“The conservative right was with [Netanyahu] and now he seems to be riding the tiger of the radical right,” David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in December on the day the government was sworn in, before it had begun turning its ideas into policy proposals. “And I think that is bound to alienate the very people who counted on him being risk-averse and to focus on the economy.”
In a notable symbol of this shift, Bret Stephens, the New York Times columnist who has been a staunch defender of Netanyahu, publicly broke with him on Wednesday, writing that the judicial reforms convinced him that the prime minister had “moved along the current of illiberal democracy whose other champions include Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.” Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional lawyer who is usually a stalwart supporter of Israel, has also criticized the reforms.
“It’s a high bar for conservatives in contemporary American politics to criticize Israel, but there have been some cracks,” said Scott Lasensky, who teaches on U.S.-Israel relations at the University of Maryland.
Whether the English-language defenses emanate from any kind of coordinated public relations strategy is unclear. But Lasensky said Netanyahu may feel that he needs to explain why he is dismantling the judiciary to American conservatives, who cherish a judicial system independent of the pressures of successive liberal Democratic administrations.
“American conservatives have a majority on their courts — they don’t want to change their courts,” he said.
It’s unlikely that the Kohelet video will reach an audience anywhere the size that Stephens has. But another defense of the judicial reforms released this week certainly can: that made by Ben Shapiro, the American Jewish right-wing pundit with more than 20 million followers across platforms, on his Daily Wire podcast, which says it has more than 1 million paid subscribers.
“They want the judges of the Supreme Court to be appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Knesset, which sounds like the system in the United States,” Shapiro said in the segment. “They want to ensure, because Israel does not have a constitution, that the Supreme Court will not be able to come up with a constitution in a move of judicial dictatorship. … It’s ridiculous.”
Netanyahu briefly shared a video of Shapiro’s comments on Twitter before his tweet was removed. The version that Netanyahu shared features Hebrew subtitles as well as a message from the person who made it suggesting that Shapiro — who spoke in Israel for the first time last summer — can convince Israelis and Americans alike: “Ben Shapiro supports the judicial reform and not just that he explains why. Watch and join in.”
In yet another English-language defense of the proposed judicial reforms, Tablet, the online Jewish magazine that is known for airing conservative and often inflammatory ideas, published an essay by Gadi Taub, a prominent Israeli conservative.
“The press has got it backwards. Yariv Levin, Netanyahu’s new justice minister, is not out to destroy democracy,” Taub wrote in the essay published Wednesday. “He is out to restore it.”
The English-language defenses are particularly notable given Netanyahu’s longtime boast that he does not care about winning over Americans to his domestic agenda. But Josh Block, a former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Netanyahu is interested in having Americans be convinced that he is driving changes, not the extremists with whom he is aligned in government.
“He clearly feels the need to try to reassure people across the political spectrum in the United States, that he’s in charge of his government,” said Block, who is now a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. “That the decisions that will be made rest with him and not with people who are subordinate to him, who may have ideas that are anathema to some of us in the United States.”
Netanyahu may be sensitive to a major criticism of his immediate predecessors, Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid, who accused the current prime minister of alienating Israel’s most important ally, said a former senior U.S. official who dealt with Israel policy.
“It cuts against one of the arguments of the opposition that these reforms, or this plan, will weaken Israel’s standing in the community of democracies, including its relationship with the United States,” said the official, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “‘Well, look, there are Americans who are endorsing it and saying good things about it,’ Bibi can say.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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