The year that wasn’t: The top 10 stories of 5777 that didn’t happen

5777 was the year that wasn’t. So much could have happened, was speculated about, worried about, kvetched about, but… didn’t.

A man holds an Israeli flag during a protest (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
A man holds an Israeli flag during a protest
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Woe to be the writer at an Israeli newspaper assigned to sum up this past year on the Jewish calendar, when very little of significance actually ended up happening in Israel.
What would make their top 10 list of headlines? What Yair Netanyahu wrote on Facebook? Elor Azaria going to prison? Ehud Olmert leaving prison? Moshe Katsav still in prison? The pickings this year were slim in the Jewish state.
War was not waged and peace was not made. Wait, wasn’t there a mighty and beautiful Israeli who saved the world from destruction and evil?
No. Wonder Woman was not real.
The JTA wrote about 10 moments that mattered to the Jewish world in 5777. But the only moments in Israel among the 10 were US president Donald Trump visiting the Western Wall and the cancellation of a deal for egalitarian prayer at the very same site.
Israel hosted a prestigious international basketball tournament but won no games. An Israeli baseball team went far at the World Baseball Classic – inspiring many along the way – but few Israelis noticed, and it wasn’t so Israeli a team anyway.
5777 was the year that wasn’t. So much could have happened, was speculated about, worried about, kvetched about, but… didn’t.
It’s so much easier to write about what didn’t happen in 5777. It was hard to cut down the list to 10, but here are the top 10 stories of 5777 in Israel that did not actually end up taking place:
Netanyahu indicted
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended 5777 the same way he started it: Innocent until proven guilty. His criminal investigations escalated, but the police are taking their time, as new developments are revealed.
Those who thought Netanyahu would be either exonerated or forced to quit by now were guilty of impatience, wishful thinking, or just don’t realize how slow the log-jammed legal system works in Israel.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit officially informed Sara Netanyahu two weeks ago that she is likely to be indicted in the Prime Minister’s Residence Affair, but that is still subject to a pre-indictment hearing. So the one-word answer to the question of whether a Netanyahu got indicted in 5777 is NO.
Bibi and Sara can celebrate another year in power with no indictment. But they should probably party without cigars or pink champagne, and they better not summon an electrician on Yom Kippur.
Elections initiated
Did anyone really think Israel would go back to the polls in 5777 over the issue of public broadcasting? For a while it looked that way, as Netanyahu’s trip to China got overshadowed by his election threat as he boarded his plane to Beijing.
Netanyahu showed Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who’s boss. But the Public Broadcasting Corporation Kan did premiere, it is independent, and virtually indistinguishable from the Israel Broadcasting Authority that preceded it.
Netanyahu was not brought down by criminal investigations and certainly not by an ineffective opposition led by Isaac Herzog, who lost his job as Labor leader, and Yair Lapid, who has been told by his strategist not to attack the prime minister too much.
Will elections be initiated in 5778? Netanyahu said he won’t initiate them, so the only way they will take place is if Mandelblit indicts him and one of his coalition partners gets the guts to force him out.
Violence escalates
There was no intifada in 5777, though there were plenty of tense moments. The grisly murder of Yosef Salomon, his daughter Haya and son Elad in Yosef’s home in Halamish in July was especially frightening.
But as hard as it is to put a year in proportion, it must be said that 17 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks since last Rosh Hashana, down from 43 the year before.
Shin-Bet chief Nadav Argaman briefed the cabinet 10 days ago that Israel has prevented 200 terrorist attacks from more than 70 local terrorist cells since the beginning of 2017, so the statistics could have been much worse.
Israel did not get embroiled in the Syrian civil war, Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is still in his bunker, while Israelis can go anywhere in the country safely.
Regional peace conference held
The lack of war does not mean that peace was made. There were those who thought there would be major steps toward a peace process this year, especially after new US president Donald Trump came here and to Saudi Arabia in May and spoke about a regional approach to solving the conflict.
“For the first time in my lifetime, I see real hope for change,” Trump was told in Jerusalem by Netanyahu, who will turn 68 next month.
Trump told Netanyahu Monday in New York that he still thinks there is a good chance that a peace deal could happen. Polls show Israelis and Palestinians are much less optimistic.
A regional peace conference led by the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians does not appear to be on the horizon, and the likelihood of it happening in 5778 depends on political developments in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US.
US embassy moves to Jerusalem
A consensus in Israel would like to see that headline. Trump gave Israelis and Jews around the world hope that it would happen in 5777 after promising it in a way that could not be denied.
“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he said at the March 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference.
But shortly after Trump returned to the US following a trip to Israel that was seen as very positive, he signed the same waiver his predecessors have for 20 years and delayed the embassy move for up to six more months, or the signing of another waiver.
The embassy is still in Tel Aviv on the beach, on a site that could be a prime location for a future Trump Resort, but only if the president will get the courage to keep his promise.
Trump speaks at the Knesset
“It is a rare privilege for the American president to speak to the Knesset, although the prime minister told me there is something even rarer – to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time,” George W Bush joked, in a 1988 address to the Israeli parliament.
Bill Clinton followed suit six years later. Barack Obama preferred to speak to Israeli college students two blocks away.
Trump was willing to address the Knesset, but his associates were persuaded that it would not be a good idea by none other than Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who told the parliament that it did not happen, “because of five, six or seven MKs for whom 25 seconds of fame would be more important to them than the honor of the Knesset.”
So due to fear of heckling, Trump spoke not at the Knesset but at the Israel Museum across the street. Trump did, however, make history by becoming the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall – in part because heckling is much less likely when talking to a wall.
Western Wall deal implemented
Reform and Conservative Jews and regular Israeli families might have hoped egalitarian services would be held this Rosh Hashana at the Kotel, but due to pressure on Netanyahu from haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, the agreement to bring about that change did not happen in 5777.
Netanyahu froze a decision that would have created an entrance to the current Robinson’s Arch egalitarian prayer site from the Western Wall, expanded it and allowed pluralistic movements to administer the site. He has pledged to continue developing the site, but Diaspora Jewish leaders have heard that before.
With Netanyahu’s coalition as dependent as ever on Shas and United Torah Judaism, it is very unlikely that there will be significant movement on this issue in 5778. Reform and Conservative leaders will undoubtedly have to go to either the women’s side or the men’s for services at the Kotel on Rosh Hashana 5779.
Labor Party election passes with no fanfare
The July 4 election for leader of the Labor Party was not expected to include fireworks. People joked about it being about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and yes, at one point, Labor did have more leadership candidates than seats in the polls.
But the candidates did not cooperate with those peddling the conventional wisdom that Labor is irrelevant and boring. If anything, they made the election one of the most fun and action-packed primaries in recent memory.
The race went down to the wire, with a close runoff race on July 10 between veteran former leader Amir Peretz and fresh face Avi Gabbay, who joined the party only in January. Following Gabbay’s victory, Labor jumped in the polls at the expense of Yesh Atid.
The party has lost much of that post-primary boost, but Gabbay keeps working hard, visiting Labor strongholds all over the country on a nightly basis. Gabbay still doesn’t have a fraction of the charisma of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, but he has proven that he cannot be ignored.
Chaos in the Palestinian Authority
Since the 80th birthday of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas two and a half years ago, right-wing Israeli politicians, especially Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, have been begging Netanyahu to start preparing for anarchy in the West Bank that can follow Abbas’s death.
But the chain-smoking Palestinian leader keeps on defying expectations and science, traveling the world to everywhere but the negotiating table with Israel. His Fatah party chose a deputy in February, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, who has the uncomforting nickname Abu Jihad.
Abbas met Tuesday in New York with US President Donald Trump, whom he clearly likes a lot less than Obama. Abbas missed an opportunity to help his people by closing a deal with Obama and by rejecting an unprecedented offer from Ehud Olmert in September 2008 at the culmination of 100 meetings with him over the course of a year.
After another fiercely anti-Israel speech at the UN General Assembly, the health of Abbas is unlikely to be included in Netanyahu’s Rosh Hashana prayers.
Snow in Jerusalem
The weathermen predicted snowfall in Israel’s capital in January. The weathermen were wrong again.
On January 26, Jerusalemites woke to a rainy but not snowy day. Schools were not canceled, and children were not happy.
The highest elevation areas of the city were reported to have had “a light dusting.” But if it happened, it failed to accumulate.
At least Israel avoided any serious weather problem in a year in which storms caused destruction all over the world, proving once again the adage that no news is good news.