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How a once-cautious Benjamin Netanyahu came to lead the most radical coalition in Israel’s history



(JTA) — Twenty-seven years have passed since Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected as Israel’s prime minister. Since 1996, he has headed six governments over a period of more than 15 years, more than any other prime minister. Unfortunately, his current coalition is one of the most radical-populist governments in Israel’s history. This government seeks to rapidly undermine Israel’s democracy by granting unlimited political power to the executive branch of government at the expense of the judiciary. 

How can Netanyahu — a U.S.-educated and respected world leader who was cautious in his approach to building previous coalitions, and was once respectful of Israeli democratic institutions — support such a dangerous plan? Was the “writing on the wall” earlier on in his lengthy tenure?

A glimpse into Netanyahu’s years in office reveals that, indeed, signs of his being a populist leader — specializing in attacks against the so-called elite — could be detected long ago. As Likud leader in 1993, Netanyahu was blamed for ignoring the incitement by extremists that preceded the assignation of Yitzhak Rabin (a charge he vociferously denies). As early as 1997, during his first term as prime minister, he said that “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” Two years later, during an election campaign, he mocked the “leftist” press by saying “they are scared” (by the possibility of a right-wing victory). On Election Day in 2015, he posted a video urging Likud supporters to go out and vote by warning, “the Arabs are heading in droves to the polls.” That message led to accusations that the candidate was using racial dog whistles to motivate his followers.   

However, Netanyahu’s populist discourse and his natural divide-and-conquer leadership style were balanced out, at least until 2015, by several factors. First, Netanyahu always sought to include centrist and even left-of-center parties in his coalition governments. Even when he could build a “pure” right-wing coalition (following the 2009 elections, for example), he preferred to invite partners from the opposing political side. His intention, he once said, was to provide a “wide and stable government that unites the people.”

Second, despite his hawkish image and his hardline discourse on security issues, Netanyahu wa considered to be an exceedingly cautious leader in that arena. Risk-averse, he tended to avoid involving Israel in major wars and was wary of acting in ways that would spark violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Third, over his many years in office, he had demonstrated respect for the rules of the game — and towards Israel’s Supreme Court. He even blocked earlier initiatives that sought to undermine the power of the judicial branch. I believe that in a democracy, a strong and independent Court is what enables the existence of all other democratic institutions,” he said in 2012. “Every time a law comes across my desk that threatens to impair the independence of the courts, we will take it down.”

The 2015 elections should probably be regarded as the turning point, after which these balancing factors quickly gave way to unabashed populism. The unexpected resounding victory in that year’s elections brought out the hubris in Netanyahu. He formed a right-wing coalition government (only slightly moderated by Moshe Kahlon’s centrist Kulanu party), personally held four ministerial positions in addition to the prime ministership, and gave his blessing to the hugely controversial Nation-State Bill. This legislation, which anchored in law Israel’s status as the “national home of the Jewish people,” strengthened the Jewish component of Israel’s dual “Jewish and democratic” identity without in turn strengthening its democratic component — explicitly and implicitly downgrading minority rights.

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s longtime obsession with controlling press coverage reached a new level. His insistence on personally heading the Ministry of Communications and his excessive involvement in media — for example, installing a close ally as director-general of the ministry, and targeting and strong-arming ostensibly “unfriendly” newspapers and broadcasters — served as the background for two of the three indictments for which he is currently on trial.

The investigations on corruption charges, and his subsequent trial, further pushed Netanyahu toward populist extremes. Following three rounds of elections between 2019 and 2020, which threw Israel into an unprecedented political crisis, Netanyahu was forced to form a unity government with former Gen. Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue & White party. Coincidentally, just a few hours after the government’s first meeting, Netanyahu’s trial began in the Jerusalem District Court. The prime minister arrived at the court on May 24, 2020, accompanied by several Likud Knesset members, and launched a fierce attack:

What is on trial today is an effort to frustrate the will of the people — the attempt to bring down me and the right-wing camp. For more than a decade, the left has failed to do this at the ballot box. So over the last few years, they have discovered a new method: some segments in the police and the prosecution have joined forces with the leftist media… to manufacture baseless and absurd charges against me.

These statements made it clear that Netanyahu had crossed the Rubicon, setting the tone for his behavior ever since. He dispensed with the partnership with Gantz, sacrificing Israel’s economic and political interests along with it. In the build-up to the next elections, he legitimized extremist, racist politicians such as Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are today members of his governing coalition​​. After failing to form a government in 2021 (having been ousted from power after more than 12 consecutive years), he violated fundamental parliamentary conventions and norms. For instance, he instructed his right-wing allies to boycott Knesset committees and refused to attend the customary “update meeting” the parliamentary opposition leader holds with the prime minister. His previous respect for the rules of the game and democratic institutions was a thing of the past.

In that sense, it is no wonder that the current government he has formed, following his victory in the 2022 elections, is relentlessly pushing the overhaul of the judicial system, with little regard to the dangers the legislation poses to Israel’s democracy. This is due to a combination of Netanyahu’s own self-interest regarding his trial and the interests and worldviews of his political partners — politicians who hold extreme views (Ben-Gvir, Smotrich) as well as those who have previous corruption charges hanging over their heads (Aryeh Deri, leader of the haredi Orthodox Shas party). 

The “old Bibi” would have never coalesced with such radical forces and would have never so bluntly disregarded democratic norms. But hubris, an instinct for self-preservation and his high self-regard as the “indispensable man” of Israeli politics created a new Bibi – and a crisis unlike anything Israel has ever seen. 

Ironically, Netanyahu finds himself in an unexpected position — as the moderating force in the most radical coalition in Israel’s history. He could tap the instincts that he once had and be the voice of reason, the one who plugs the dike with his finger. He has the chance to lead Israel to a major constitutional moment. Will he rise to this historical challenge?

The post How a once-cautious Benjamin Netanyahu came to lead the most radical coalition in Israel’s history appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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