Tuesday, September 17, 2019

From the Editor: Who will form Israel’s next government?

Michael Regenstreif

By Michael Regenstreif

As a student of politics (my BA and MA are in political science), this is a fascinating time for me with the second Israeli election in less than five months about to take place on September 17 (after this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin goes to press but before it comes out), the October 21 federal election campaign here in Canada underway, and a possible election on the horizon in the United Kingdom. As well, of course, the battle in the Democratic Party to see who will take on Donald Trump in the 2020 U.S. presidential election is well underway.

This Israeli election was called because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not put together a governing coalition of at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the weeks following the April 9 election. The stumbling block was Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman (a former defence and foreign minister) who insists that exemptions from military service for haredi men studying Torah be ended. With that demand, Yisrael Beiteinu members will not serve in a coalition with the haredi Orthodox parties – whose support is crucial to Netanyahu’s coalition numbers.

The last Smith Research poll published before the election suggests Netanyahu’s Likud Party could win 33 seats and that his potential coalition partners (Yamina, Shas, and United Torah Judaism) could win a total of 24 seats for a possible coalition of 57 seats. If those predictions are accurate, Netanyahu will again not have enough support to govern.

Netanyahu’s rival for the prime minister’s office is Benny Gantz, a former chief of the Israel Defense Forces, who leads the Blue and White Party. That last Smith Research poll suggests Blue and White could win 32 seats, putting them in a neck-and-neck horserace with Likud.

The poll suggests Blue and White’s likely coalition partners (the Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher) could win another 11 seats. The wild cards are the Joint List (an alliance of Arab parties) which is predicted to take 12 seats and Yisrael Beiteinu which is predicted to win eight seats. If the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu join Gantz’s potential coalition (and that’s a very big if), he will be in a position to unseat Netanyahu and form a government. Such a coalition would be precedent-setting as Israel’s Arab parties have never before participated in a governing coalition.

Another scenario being discussed is Blue and White forming a power-sharing unity government with Likud. This is a scenario Liberman is said to favour, as it would mean the haredi parties could be sidelined on the opposition benches. However, there has been speculation that both Gantz and Liberman would insist that Netanyahu step down from the Likud leadership. And Netanyahu has indicated that he’s not interested in such a unity government.

In all likelihood, it will be some time before we know what’s to be. It typically takes weeks of wheeling and dealing after an Israeli election to form a governing coalition. But if neither block is able to form a governing coalition, there may be no other choice but a unity government, as it is doubtful the public would stand for a third election in less than a year.

Editor’s notes
This Rosh Hashanah edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is one of the two community-wide issues of the paper that we publish each year – the other is at Passover – so the paper has been distributed to many in the community beyond our regular subscribers. We hope you’ll want to subscribe and receive all 19 of the issues we publish each year. It’s the best way to stay informed and engage with Ottawa’s vibrant Jewish community. An annual subscription is still just $36 per year in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. You can subscribe by calling our business manager, Eddie Peltzman, at 613-798-4616, ext. 256.

Unfortunately, for technical reasons beyond our control, we have been unable to add or update content to our website since August 9. We hope to unveil a new version of the site in the coming months. In the meantime, we have created a blog – www.ojbulletin.blogspot.com – to post our columns, some local articles and PDF versions of new print issues.

On behalf of the Bulletin staff – Patti, Eddie and myself – I extend our best wishes for a happy, healthy and sweet New Year. Shana Tova Umetukah.

Federation Report: Get involved – it is our responsibility to preserve, build, enhance our community

Michael Polowin

By Michael Polowin
Chair – Jewish Federation of Ottawa

Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe are a time when we at once look back and forward. Our traditions of looking back include asking for forgiveness of our fellow man, and of Hashem, for wrongs committed in the past year. We visit our departed loved ones. Yet at the same time, we look forward. The formula for the request we make of Hashem at Kol Nidre is expressed in terms of the future, not the past.

New years are like that. We look forward and back, at once. Indeed, in the secular calendar, January is named for the Roman god Janus, whose two heads looked forward and back.

In the first few months of my term as chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, I have spent some real time looking back. I have had meetings with a number of our larger community agencies, to learn more about who they are and what great work they do in our community. I have learned a great deal, and the esteem in which I hold our agencies has grown as a result.

Yet I have also spent time looking forward. Over the spring, we finalized our new five-year strategic plan, which is looking forward in a significant way. We have tried to envision what will truly enhance our community over that period, and set our goals to achieve that enhancement. Truly, what our community needs is more engagement. Engagement can be at the individual level, or in larger groups.

Our community is embarking on a range of exciting initiatives that will ensure the future and make it better and better. Smaller initiatives like Jewish Jumpstart and Federation Microgrants enhance Jewish engagement at the micro level. Larger initiatives, like our largest-ever endowment to preserve and enhance Jewish education in Ottawa, will increase engagement and benefit our community for years to come.

All of this, however, is built on the foundation given us by those who have come before. Our community is a trust, given to us to hold for a time, and then passed on, stronger than how we found it, to our children and grandchildren. Our forebears, both actual and notional, were giants. They built a community from nothing, often having not much themselves. Can we, who have personally benefited from their labours, do anything less?

Community is our responsibility. We all must pitch in to help. In a time where the pressures of the outside world seem to be growing; where we are feeling the ancient wounds of antisemitism more and more, none of us can stand idly by and not get involved. Involvement can take a variety of forms. Attend community and agency events; get involved with our various agencies and Federation as a volunteer; donate your time, and yes, your money, to help others, and your community.

None of us can stand to the side waiting for community to be given to us. It is the responsibility of all of us to preserve, build and enhance. Get involved. Like getting into the water, it can be intimidating at first, and then it’s just wonderful. We have schools, shuls, camps, and social agencies that would love to have you join the effort!

Melanie, our children, and I wish you and those you love, a Shana Tova Umetukah, and Gmar Chatimah Tova.

Michael Polowin is the chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. He can be reached at chair@jewishottawa.com.

Ideas and Impressions: Trump’s claims of disloyalty are an outrage

Jason Moscovitch

By Jason Moscovitch

The recent rising intensity in tone and content from the president of the United States about the State of Israel can’t possibly go to a good place – even if the words are supportive. The divisiveness of the president in using Israel for his own domestic political reasons is why nothing good will come of it.

When President Donald Trump takes the few visceral anti-Israel voices in the Democratic Party to say American Jews can’t vote Democratic without being “disloyal,” as so many commentators have noted, those words conjure up old and ugly antisemitic boogiemen and women from the past. It proves, how, when it comes to antisemitism, the past and the present can so easily blend into one. Most thinking Jews never forget that.

But when the proven pro-Israel president, the president who moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, launched a loyalty grenade into the American election cycle, it was the act of a crass and politically unsophisticated despot.

Despots don’t measure their words. Despots dispose of subtlety as if it were poison. Despots laugh at political compromise, and sometimes at necessary political nuance and ambiguity. The problem is, if there ever was a country that needs subtlety, compromise, nuance and ambiguity, it is the State of Israel. So, thank you President Trump for your help.

In this High Holy Day period you can imagine the renewed tension that will exist in U.S. synagogues when the subject of Israel comes up, if it comes up. Can you imagine the reluctance of rabbis to mention the state of affairs in the Holy Land? Tension is running high in all Jewish communities across the U.S. Bluntly put, not all American Jews support Israel’s perceived hardline views as their president does.

Traditionally, most American Jews support the Democratic Party although there has always been a good number of Jews who support the Republican Party. The stereotype that all Jews support the Democratic Party in the United States is as misguided as the long-held view in Canada that Jews vote Liberal. Increasingly, not all Jews think the same, pray the same, or vote the same.

And on both sides of the border, support for Israel is not the only consideration when Jews cast their ballots. If that were the case, every Jewish vote would have gone to former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, which we know didn’t happen.

What Trump has done fits the pattern of his taking down long held ways of doing politics. This time Israel and Jewish voters are made targets as the president wings his way through another outrage to get attention and, he thinks, political advantage.

Talking about Jewish voters being disloyal to Israel, to America, or to both, is such a disgusting outrage that you have to wonder if it is just a bad dream. But it’s not – not when Trump is the most powerful leader in the world.

Trump’s support of Israel is good to have – but it is necessary to note there is not another world leader who supports what he is doing or saying about Israel. Israel is so alone in the world, and when the United States has a president who is often over the top on Israeli matters, the question for the medium and long term is whether Trump is causing more harm than good.

Since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, every Rosh Hashanah has seen Israel in a state of war with most of its neighbours, and this year, 71 years later, there is not a glitter of hope that peace is anywhere on the horizon. The difference this year is the unworthy spectacle of Trump stirring the pot so ferociously.

There are those who think Trump says what needs to be said. The problem is that so much time has passed without resolution and, rightly or wrongly, the fires of frustration with Israel burn around the world.

The reality is how there is so much difficulty for Israel in the world and while Trump may think he is helping, there is no evidence of that.

Perhaps, on this Rosh Hashanah, we need to face the sad reality that our loud and powerful friend is not making anyone feel any better.