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Who’s who in Israel’s new far-right government, and why it matters



(JTA) – As the sun set on the fourth night of Hanukkah in Israel on Wednesday, incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to announce that he had successfully formed his new coalition government after more than five weeks of negotiations.

There are some asterisks: Netanyahu hasn’t officially signed any coalition deals yet with other parties (he has until 48 hours before the new government is seated Jan. 2 to do so), and some of his expected new partners are first demanding new legislation that has been delayed until after coalition talks. 

But Netanyahu seems confident that he has formed a coalition that will grant him a comfortable majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Assuming he pulls it off before the swearing-in date, Israel seems set to welcome a new set of ministers who have set off alarm bells around the globe for their extremist beliefs and records. 

Among the most worried observers are the U.S. government and Diaspora Jewish groups, who warn that, should these ministers get their way, Israel would be placing its status as both a pluralistic Jewish and democratic state at serious risk.

So what has everyone so concerned? Before the new government looks to be formally seated in January, here’s what you need to know about who’s set to take power in Israel.

Who’s in the new government?

Netanyahu’s coalition is full of incendiary characters hailing from Israel’s far-right and haredi Orthodox wings — including multiple fringe figures who until recently had been shunned by the country’s political mainstream, but who the incoming prime minister needs on his team in order to hold a governing majority (and attempt to dodge his own corruption charges).

Chief among them is Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, who will likely hold a newly created ministry position that gives him power over the state’s police force. A onetime follower of Jewish extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben-Gvir has been convicted of incitement over his past support of Israeli terrorist groups and inflammatory comments about Israel’s Arab population. He has also encouraged demonstrations on the Temple Mount by religious nationalists that often lead to sectarian violence, leaving analysts worried about what he would do once placed in control of the state’s police force.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of Israel’s Otzma Yehudit party, and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, attend a rally with supporters in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, Oct 26, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)

In addition, the new government will include Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the extremist-aligned Religious Zionist party, who has been accused by Israeli security forces in the past of plotting violent attacks against Palestinians. Like Ben-Gvir, Smotrich will also likely be given a newly created ministership role in Netanyahu’s government to oversee Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank — a move which liberal groups say would lead to “de facto annexation” given his desire to expand settlements and deny Palestinian claims to the area. 

Smotrich, who will additionally hold the position of finance minister, is also fervently anti-LGBTQ in a country that prides itself on its treatment of LGBTQ citizens. He has organized opposition to pride parades and compared same-sex relationships to bestiality. 

He’s not the only incoming anti-LGBTQ minister: Avi Maoz, head of the far-right Noam party, has described himself as a “proud homophobe” and has called all liberal forms of Judaism a “darkness” comparable to the Hellenistic Empire that controlled the Jews in the Hanukkah story. (A leading Israeli LGBTQ group has invited him to attend a pride parade.) Maoz would headline a new “National Jewish Identity” education position with the power to demand certain content be taught in schools. He has said he wants to fight liberal attempts to “brainwash the children of Israel” with progressive ideology, aligning him with many figures on the American right today.

Another controversial figure in Israel’s new government is Aryeh Deri, head of the haredi Orthodox Shas party, who is set to become interior and health minister pending new legislation. Deri has been convicted of tax fraud and served 22 months in prison in 2002 — which would bar him from holding a ministry position, unless Netanyahu can pass a law allowing him to serve. (There are reports that Netanyahu’s party, Likud, may offer Deri the position of alternate prime minister if the court rules he cannot serve in the Cabinet.) Netanyahu himself is embroiled in a years-long corruption trial, and may be relying on his allies to help shield him from the consequences of an eventual verdict.

Who’s not in?

Not all Israelis are excited to see Netanyahu return to power. Hundreds of protesters recently took to the streets of Tel Aviv to object to his pending far-right alliance.

Government officials have also lashed out against him in the press. Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, outgoing Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, outgoing Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and a coalition of business executives are among the figures warning that the new laws, in the hands of the new government, would turn Israel into an illiberal state

Benny Gantz — the outgoing defense minister and Netanyahu’s former rival-turned-unlikely-political-partner — had been floated as a wild card coalition contender in the wake of this fall’s election: A unity government involving his Blue and White party and Likud would reduce Netanyahu’s need to cater to far-right parties. But Gantz has not been mentioned in recent reporting on Netanyahu’s coalition negotiations.

How could the new government change Israel?

In some ways, it already has. As a precondition to some of his coalition deals, Netanyahu is pushing laws through the Knesset that grant new powers to his incoming ministers, allowing them expanded oversight of everything from law enforcement to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Shas party is also demanding an overhaul of the Israeli court system that would grant more authority over rabbinic judges and less oversight from secular ombudsmen, a move that legal observers in the country warn would cripple the judiciary and open the door to misconduct by rabbinic judges

Netanyahu’s opposition bloc, which successfully ousted him in 2021 only to see its own coalition crumble a year later, is still in power through the end of the year and tried to delay Netanyahu’s moves with parliamentary gamesmanship this week. While they weakened some of the laws Netanyahu sought to pass, they seem to have failed to prevent the incoming PM’s ability to form a government.

Some figures in the new government also favor policies backed by the country’s Orthodox rabbinate that are hostile to much of Diasporic Jewry. Among the sweeping changes that could soon be on the table: 

Removing the “grandchild clause,” a rule that allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to apply for Israeli citizenship, from the country’s Law of Return (haredi parties have promised to back off trying to change the Law of Return in the short-term);
Passing a law to no longer recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Israeli citizens, reversing a recent high court decision;

And scuttling long-in-the-works plans to create a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. 

How will this affect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

The answer many experts would give: What peace process?

With Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and other new ministers presenting themselves as openly hostile to Palestinian statehood, the chances of restarting viable negotiations for a two-state solution in the near future are slim to nil. Netanyahu continues to insist that any formal peace process would require the Palestinians to allow Israel to maintain some manner of security presence in the occupied territories, terms which the Palestinian Authority has strongly refused. 

People gather to protest against the far-right upcoming coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Dec. 17, 2022. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

With a recent rise in violent attacks on Israelis and Palestinians alike forefront in citizens’ minds, security concerns were a foremost reason why Israel’s recent elections played out so well for the right wing. There is little incentive for the new government to engage in peace talks.

In addition, one of the carrots Netanyahu offered to his incoming coalition members was that the Israeli government would formally recognize a greater number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which the international community consider to be part of an illegal occupation. Such a move would even further deteriorate relations with Palestinians and the international community. 

Netanyahu’s discussions with other Arab nations, however, are continuing unabated. Seeking to build off of the success of the Abraham Accords, he recently hinted that Saudi Arabia may soon join the normalization agreements, urging the United States to formalize their own relationships with the Saudis.

What is the U.S. response?

The United States is certainly worried about the rightward direction Israel is headed in. President Joe Biden has often boasted of his decades-long “friendship” with Netanyahu, but that relationship is soon to be tested the further the Israeli leader embraces his coalition partners, some of whom the Biden administration has hinted it would refuse to work with directly.

Biden’s current strategy, insiders told Politico, is to work only through Netanyahu and to hold the prime minister responsible for any actions taken by his Cabinet. In interviews with American media, Netanyahu has insisted that he is still fully in control of his government.

Mainstream American Jewish groups including Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee have stewed over Netanyahu and tried to reaffirm a commitment to “inclusive and pluralistic” policies in Israel, but they have publicly said they would wait until the new government was formed to make any judgments. Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, has warned he “won’t be able to support” Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s vision for Israel. 

Other groups, like B’nai Brith International and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have characterized the new government as just the latest in a long line of Israeli governments they have successfully worked with.

Most American Jews are politically liberal, support a two-state solution, generally oppose Netanyahu and also highly prize the sense of egalitarianism that his new government has threatened to do away with. Any changes to the Law of Return, in particular, would be catastrophic for the relationship between Israel and American Jews, warns Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

The post Who’s who in Israel’s new far-right government, and why it matters 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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