Grapevine December 24, 2020: Rivlin’s dilemma

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
In the first quarter of this year, President Reuven Rivlin did his utmost to prevent another election – and failed. But it is doubtful that he envisaged having to listen for the fourth time to recommendations by delegations of parties represented in the Knesset as to who he should task to form the next government. The last thing he wants to do in this respect, is to once again offer this opportunity to Benjamin Netanyahu. He would much rather offer it to Gideon Sa’ar who helped him to become president when Netanyahu did not want to see Rivlin in that role.
Depending on the virus situation, Election Day on March 23 could very well be a lockdown date. But even if it isn’t, it’s cutting things fine for Rivlin who will receive the election results on March 30, and will have until April 6 to decide whom to ask to form the next government. The prime minister-presumptive must form a coalition by May 18, and if he fails, the second person tasked with this responsibility will have until June 15.
The new government must be formed by July 6, which is only a few days before Rivlin leaves office. Party-swapping seems to be the in thing right now, and several politicians are playing musical chairs. In the event that Netanyahu remains prime minister, Ze’ev Elkin, who has left Likud to join Sa’ar, has forfeited his free trips to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
■ YOU CAN’T dance on two weddings at the same time. The decision by Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz not to stand for reelection as head of the party, may have something to do with his bid to succeed Rivlin as president. Another reason is that Peretz’s chances of being reelected are slim, given that he joined a Netanyahu-led government after swearing  he would never do so.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn has been approached to take over from Peretz, presuming that it’s highly unlikely he will continue his political career with Benny Gantz, who also swore that he would never sit in a Netanyahu-led government. Promises, promises.
In the meantime, there’s a move afoot to persuade Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to help Labor regain some of its former glory. Labor already has a seasoned, capable and exceedingly loyal-to-party-principles parliamentarian in the person of Merav Michaeli. She would make an excellent replacement for Peretz, especially as she refused to be part of the Netanyahu administration. The upcoming presidential elections will be a tough battle not only for Peretz, but for all the candidates, as many current MKs will not return to the Knesset, and it is the MKs who vote the president into office. There will be very little time for candidates to campaign.
■ WHICHEVER PARTY wins the elections to the 24th Knesset, there is no doubt that it will be a party whose politics lean to the Right. Former Meretz head Tamar Zandberg said in an interview on Reshet Bet that among the reasons Blue and White failed was that it had no ideology, no policy. Just wanting to get rid of Netanyahu and replace him is not good enough, she said. Another factor was the racist element within the party, in that certain people absolutely refused to cooperate with the Joint Arab List. Meretz, she said, has always had Arab members in its ranks. She regretted that no Arab had been part of the Meretz faction in the outgoing Knesset, but noted that Arabs had been elected in primaries prior to previous Knesset elections. She made particular mention of Issawi Frej, who was a Meretz MK from 2013 to 2019, and was an esteemed parliamentarian.
■ A SAD sign of the times this week was the pledge ceremony at the President’s Residence for Military Court Judge Col. Noa Zomer, who made her signed declaration in the presence of President Rivlin and President of the Military Court of Appeals Maj.-Gen. Doron Piles, following her nomination as a permanent member of the Military Court of Appeals. Under ordinary circumstances, the ceremony would have been held in the main hall with members of her family, colleagues and friends in attendance. Instead, it was held in the small, near-empty reception room adjacent to the main hall.
■ EQUALLY SAD on the following day was the sparsely attended Israel Air Force graduation ceremony for cadets who successfully went through course 181. Rivlin pinned wings on the most outstanding graduates and told them how inspired he was by them as role models of society. He also mentioned that this was the last time he would be attending such a ceremony in his capacity as president of the state. Implying that politicians are not exactly role models, Rivlin said, “To our shame, the storm of elections is with us again.”
■ IDF CHIEF of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi referred to a demonstration the previous day in which ultra-Orthodox members of the “Jerusalem faction” had attacked an IDF general “who has fought his whole life for all Israeli citizens.” Kochavi described the situation as “extremely grave, crossing a red line, and to be deprecated.” He underscored that the demonstrators who attacked the general were attacking those who defend them, attacking those who allow them to live their lives in safety, and attacking the IDF. “They demonstrated in the open, but what they were actually displaying was a loss of values and a lack of appreciation, trampling on an important and central religious obligation. The incident should cause them pause for thought, them and their leaders,” declared Kochavi.
■ WHAT DO Effi Eitam and Dennis Ross have in common? Neither is the flavor of the month for a large number of people. Opposition to Eitam’s appointment as the head of Yad Vashem to succeed Avner Shalev, who is stepping down next week, has been voiced not only in Israel, but in many parts of the world, and not just by Jews. Now it appears that Ross is a front-line candidate for America’s next ambassador to Israel, and American Jews on the Right of the political spectrum are already issuing warnings to the effect that Ross is not good for Israel and is known to be more favorably disposed to Arabs.
That claim seems somewhat doubtful given that Ross is a co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute. But without discussing whether or not he’s the right man for the job, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro is still in Israel, where he has many Israeli and Palestinian friends and acquaintances. Moreover, because Shapiro’s been in Israel for such a long time, and speaks both Hebrew and Arabic, he has a much better understanding of what goes on in the country than Ross will ever have. Aside from that, he’s a very loyal Democrat.
If anything, President-elect Joe Biden, should be twisting Shapiro’s arm to accept a re-appointment. On the other hand, one can’t help wondering if the anti-Ross campaign is being secretly orchestrated from Israel. As for Eitam, for the next few months at least, he will remain in suspended animation while Yad Vashem gets an interim chairman in the person of Ronen Plot, the former director-general of the Knesset, and currently the mayor of Nof Hagalil (formerly Upper Nazareth). The families of both his grandfathers were murdered in the Holocaust, his two grandmothers were Holocaust survivors and his father was wounded fighting the Nazis.
■ FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25, should have been a happy day for residents of Israel and the disputed territories. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath, and on this particular date it’s Christmas for those Christians who are not members of Eastern Churches. For Jews, the daytime hours of Friday are usually a preparatory time for Shabbat, but this particular Friday is the minor fast day of the 10th of Tevet, designated by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as a day of mourning and remembrance for those Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust and whose dates of death and places of burial remain unknown.
For local Muslims, it is a sad time in that they are mourning so many loved ones who have succumbed to the coronavirus, as well as loved ones who have been victims of criminal elements that make life unbearable in so many Arab towns and villages.
For Christians, who would normally flock to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, this will be a somewhat low-key Christmas.
For the residents of Bethlehem, who are troubled by increasing outbreaks of the coronavirus, it will also be a devastating season in that the usual pilgrims and tourists will not be there, with the notable exception of representatives from the Palestinian Authority and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who will be greeted at Manger Square by Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman. The traditional choral singing in Manger Square on Christmas Eve did not take place this year, but Christmas carols sung by international choirs from cities twinned with Bethlehem were broadcast live on the Facebook page of the Bethlehem Municipality.
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