Chag Kasher Ve’sameach – Happy Pesach!

Chag Same’ach! The Seder plate, Matza, wine and the Hagaddah

This blog is going on semi-vacation over the next week during the Pesach (Passover) festival until after the chag (it finishes on the night of  26th April, running straight into Shabbat on the 27th). If you would like to learn more about Pesach, have a look at Aish’s website or Chabad.

We’re heading out to our daughter and son-in-law (and their many children!) for the Seder, together with our younger son and a good friend – so it’s definitely not going to be a quiet Seder night!  While the weather looks to be unseasonally cold and rainy, at least for the first days, we still hope to go on day trips to Jerusalem and other sites around Israel during the intermediate Chol Hamo’ed days.  And then the 2 day finale to Pesach will be spent at our older son and his family. That does not look like it will be any quieter than the first day! 😀

For your edification, here is a (very) potted history of Pesach from the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem:

For some deeper thoughts to ponder on Seder night, here is the wonderful Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on The Odd Seder Invitation:


And just a little added value for your entertainment, here is a slightly different version of the Pesach story – the Lion King Passover, as sung by the excellent Six13 band:

I would like to wish all my readers, along with all of Klal Yisrael, a chag kasher vesame’ach – a happy and Kosher Passover. May we all merit to celebrate in rebuilt Jerusalem “speedily in our days” as we say in the Seder.

Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’Samea’ach!

!שבת שלום וחג כשר ושמח

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Good News Wednesday

It is almost the eve of the Passover festival, for which I have a different post prepared, so in order not to miss out on the latest good news I thought I would get you all into festive mood with a Good News Wednesday post instead!

Let’s start with the big stuff.A couple of weeks ago President Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. This week he went one step further and protected Israel from prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC):

In what can be seen as an incredible show of support for Israel, the U.S. administration has included the Jewish state in its efforts to block the International Criminal Court at The Hague from investigating war-crimes allegations.

U.S. President Donald Trump with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 23, 2017 | Photo: AFP

In a statement attributed to Trump, the White House said: “Since the creation of the ICC, the United States has consistently declined to join the court because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers; the threat it poses to American national sovereignty; and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate. Any attempt to target American, Israeli or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

While some have decried the administration’s response to be an expression of what they perceive as American exceptionalism, U.S. President Donald Trump views it as the opposite – unfair, exceptional focus on democracies. And so does Israel, which is consistently singled out and unfairly held to a higher standard in the international arena.

In response to the ICC investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. forces and allies in Afghanistan, last week the United States revoked ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s entry visa. National Security Advisor John Bolton has now threatened ICC judges with sanctions if they charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes. The United States under Trump has made it clear that no international court, especially those led by human-rights violators, would threaten it or its military personnel. And, thanks to Trump, the United States has also made clear that Israel sits safely under American protection.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, testified on the ICC in Congress and advised senior American and Israeli officials on the court and its jurisdiction.

“President Trump has taken an extraordinary step in defense of Israel, promising to impose sanctions such as travel bans on ICC officials if they pursue their biased investigation of Israel,” Kontorovich said.

He added that when the ICC “threw out its long-pending investigation into crimes committed by U.S. and other forces in Afghanistan, the Trump administration’s hardball approach to fighting prosecutions of U.S. soldiers by the Hague-based ICC was totally vindicated.”

“Now,” Kontorovich said, “the U.S. is promising to also impose sanctions on the court if it proceeds with an investigation into Israel about settlements in the West Bank. Israel, like the U.S., did not join the court’s treaty. This is an extraordinary show of support from America and may help deter a biased and unjust investigation.”

When I think how everyone (including myself I am ashamed to say) mocked Donald Trump for his clumsy ways and unpolitically correct way of speaking and acting, it is almost miraculous how he has consistently done the right thing as far as Israel is concerned.

Once again, thank you Mr. President for standing with Israel and for withstanding and rejecting the nay-sayers.

On a similar theme, a massive BDS Fail took place last week as Airbnb decided to revoke the ban it had imposed on holiday home rentals in Judea and Samaria! The Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin, which uses lawfare to combat terrorism and boycotts, was at the forefront of the lawsuit against Airbnb:

The policy change came in a court settlement Monday between the vacation rental company and a dozen American Jewish plaintiffs who had sued the company, organized by Shurat Hadin-Israel Law Center, a pro-Israel law organization. A copy of the settlement obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency says that Airbnb will now allow rentals in both Palestinian Arab areas and Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria.

“Airbnb takes no position on the Host-Plaintiffs’ claims, or others’ claims, to legal title to the properties on which the accommodations are located,” the court settlement reads. “All listings for accommodations located in the Affected Region will at all times be permitted on its platform, subject to applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”

Airbnb announced in November that it would remove some 200 rental listings in Israeli settlements because it contended that the settlements “are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” The movement to boycott Israel saw the decision as a victory.

But Airbnb never actually removed the listings. And about a week after the decision, Shurat Hadin organized the suit on behalf of a dozen American Jewish families, most of whom own properties in Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria. The suit was filed under the Fair Housing Act, which was meant to prevent discrimination against minorities in the United States. Because Airbnb is based in the United States, it must adhere to the act in all its listings worldwide.

The plaintiffs claimed that Airbnb was discriminating against them for being Jewish, given that it still allowed listings by Muslims and Christians in Judea and Samaria.

“The policy Airbnb announced last November was abject discrimination against Jewish users of the website,”Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat Hadin, said in a statement. “Whatever one’s political view, discrimination based on religious affiliation should never be the solution.”

“Airbnb recognizes that its decision to apply its Policy to Subject Listings in the Affected Region has been met with strong objections by some members of the Airbnb community as well as other individuals and groups supportive of Israel,” the document reads. “Some have even sought to associate Airbnb with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (“BDS”) movement. Airbnb is clear that it does not intend, and has never intended, to align itself with the BDS movement or to otherwise position the company as adverse to any segment of its community.”

Kol hakavod to Nitsana Darshan Leitner and Shurat Hadin for not letting this matter rest, and for their clever use of the law to ensure Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria, as well as the rest of Israel. Kol hakavod too to Airbnb for acceding to Israeli requests and for restoring the status quo ante. Now we can use Airbnb again for booking our holidays with a clear conscience.

More BDS Fails are on the way with the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest soon to take place in Tel Aviv. A great bonus to the show will be the appearance of Madonna as a guest star, despite the calls to her from BDS to cancel her appearance. The JPost reports:

Madonna will perform live at the Eurovision grand finale in Tel Aviv on May 18.

Madonna in Berlin, Photo: RAINER JENSEN/dpa

Israel’s public broadcaster KAN, and concert organizers Live Nation both confirmed on Monday the original report by Yediot Aharonot.

The cost of bringing the international superstar – which stands at $1.3 million – to Israel will be covered by Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams.

“I’m excited and proud to host Madonna in Israel and to bring her to the Eurovision which will be held in Tel Aviv,” Adams said in a statement Monday evening. “I believe that the performance of Madonna at the Eurovision – accompanied by dozens of professional backup dancers – will make a significant contribution to the success of the event and to the strengthening of Israel’s positive branding in the world.”

Live Nation said Monday that the singer will perform two songs at the Eurovision, including one from her upcoming album. The organizers said she will arrive in Tel Aviv with a 65-person staff, which includes dozens of backup dancers.

Kol Hakavod to Sylvan Adams for his generosity in financing the cost of bringing Madonna to perform. And kudos to Madonna too, not only for coming to perform but for rejecting the calls to boycott Israel. This Eurovision is going to be fantastic!

And from the ridiculous to the sublime, Israeli scientists have “printed” the world’s first 3D artificial heart from human tissue:

A team of Israeli researchers has “printed” the world’s first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart.

On Monday, a team of Tel Aviv University researchers revealed the heart, which was made using a patient’s own cells and biological material. Until now, scientists have successfully printed only simple tissues without blood vessels.

“This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who was the lead researcher for the study.

He worked with Prof. Assaf Shapira of TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences, and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student. Their research was published in Advanced Science.

Heart transplantation is often the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure. The waiting list for patients in the US can be as much as six months or more. In Israel and the US, many patients die while on the waiting list, hoping for a chance at survival.

“This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process, these materials serve as the bio-inks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3-D printing of complex tissue models,” Dvir explained.

“People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” he said.

At this stage, the 3-D heart produced at TAU is sized for a rabbit, but the professors said that larger human hearts could be produced using the same technology.

Watch this short video demonstrating this extraordinary development:

A huge kol hakavod to the scientists at Tel Aviv university for this fantastic development, which has the potential to save countless lives. May their research lead to great success for the sake of all of us.

I hope all this good news will put you in a good mood to finish all your Pesach preparations!

Posted in Boycotts and BDS, Culture, Arts & Sports, Lawfare and Delegitimization, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Legality of the existence of the State of Israel -then, as now

Map of the Jewish National Home as determined by the San Remo Conference of 1920 (Jewish Virtual Library)

The following article by “Alan in Australia” is a thorough and excellently researched piece about the legal basis for the foundation and existence of the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

There is so much delegitimization of the very existence of the State of Israel that sadly, even over 70 years after Israel gained its independence, it is still necessary to reiterate these important facts, not only to put the antisemites in their place, but also to educate the ignorant, of whom there are too many, about the righteousness of Israel’s cause and existence.

Go and read.

C.R.A.P - Countering Racist Anti-Israel Propaganda

Ninety nine years ago this April, on April 24 1920, at San Remo, the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers, consisting of Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, agreed to approve the Balfour Declaration of Nov 2, 1917.

The San Remo Conference thus changed what had been only a statement of British intent, into a binding legal document.

This was accomplished by significantly changing the wording of Britain’s pledge from using their “best endeavours” to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine, to one which made Britain legally responsible for “putting into effect” this objective.

And it was solely for this objective that the Mandate was conferred on the land aggrandizement of the shattered Ottoman Empire.

In other words, post San Remo, the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine meant two important things:

  1. Creation of the state and country of Palestine which till that time officially did not…

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Posted in Antisemitism, Incitement, indigenous rights, Lawfare and Delegitimization | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Good News Friday – Shabbat Hagadol moonshot edition

What a week it’s been! The ups and downs of the elections – first with Benny Gantz and his Blue & White party seemingly winning the vote, then Binyamin Netanyahu overtaking him; Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked being out, then in, and then out again (that’s a real pity); and then the excitement of the Beresheet moon landing – which crashed in the last minute.

Nevertheless, it’s all good. The elections, dirty as the campaigning was, and despite the claims of dirty tricks on all sides, were an exercise in democracy which would do any civilized nation proud, particular a nation under literal and figurative fire for every day of its existence. That’s while not even beginning to compare ourselves to our neighbours who don’t know the meaning of the word democracy.

So Likud have won, the horse trading will begin, and maybe Netanyahu will be indicted and maybe he won’t. But one thing we can be sure of: the State of Israel will continue to thrive, a military coup will not take place, and nor will a civil revolution upturn the results of the election.

Yes, we complain every day, and we have plenty of reasons to, from the lagging health care system to the sagging transport infrastructure. But we have so much to be proud of and to be grateful for. And our grandparents only 2 or 3 generations ago would have given their eye-teeth for a chance at governing themselves under a Jewish government in a sovereign Jewish state.

We can also be extraordinarily proud of our moon-shot, even if it did crash at the very last crucial minute:

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon’s surface. (Youtube screenshot)

The Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the moon’s surface during its attempt to land on Earth’s satellite on Thursday evening, dashing the hopes of hundreds of engineers who had worked on the project for years.

The last pic of the moon snapped by Beresheet before it crashed, April 11, 2019. Photo via SpaceIL and IAI

Israel could still claim the title of seventh country to make lunar orbit, and the seventh country to reach the lunar surface, though unfortunately not in one piece.

“As far as we can see, we were very close to the moon,” operation control director Alex Friedman said to engineers in the SpaceIL control room in Yehud, east of Tel Aviv, after communication with the spacecraft went down. “We are on the moon, but not in the way that we wanted to.” [Talk about understatement!]

The spacecraft successfully initiated the landing sequence, but a few kilometers above the moon’s surface the main engine failed, meaning the spacecraft could not properly brake in time to cushion its landing.

Binyamin Netanyahu struck the right note with his hopeful tone:

“Write this down, in three years we will get another spacecraft on the moon, and this one will land in one piece,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. We’ll try again, and next time we’ll just try it more gently.”

The last selfie taken by the Beresheet spacecraft just before it crash-landed onto the Moon

President Rivlin hosted a group of excited schoolchildren who watched the moon-shot live. He comforted their disappointment eloquently:

“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the moon. True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end,” President Rivlin said, hoping to provide comfort and hope to his young guests.

The president did not hide the disappointment but said there was “no doubt that our achievements and abilities – of our scientists and our country – are wonderful.”

The president sang Israel’s national anthem, a song of hope, with his young audience.

“When we were children your age, we never even dreamed we would go to the moon. I hope that you will be the scientists who get to the moon and achieve even greater things. This is an important evening of the State of Israel and for Israeli citizens and children who can see what we can do when we want and try – so long as we work together,” he said.

IAI said in a statement that it was “proud to be part of this amazing journey with SpaceIL that brought us to the moon. We will continue to lead Israel to unbelievable achievements. The Beresheet effect will continue to lead the children of Israel to dream about Beresheet 2.0!”

Indeed it is this spirit of indomitability that is Israel’s secret strength. We don’t let failures stop us. We use them as learning experiences in order to make us stronger and improve our methods.

Melanie Lidman in the times of Israel wrote a very evocative piece on the flight failure of Beresheet – “for a moment we raised our eyes to the heavens”:

Have you looked at the sky today? Have you looked at the moon?

Somewhere, up there, are the remains of a crazy idea that was hatched by three friends at a bar in Holon, that somehow, along the way, garnered $100 million in donations, harnessed a team of dozens of engineers, and captured the attention of Israel and the world.

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to have the courage, the audacity, to stand up and say, why not? Why not try and get to the moon?

It’s the smallness I used to feel devouring my father’s battered copies of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction: how beautiful it is to dream about what can exist beyond our horizons. How crucial it is to remember how small and unimportant we are. How beautiful to know that there is more out there than what we can see.

There were many similar sentiments expressed on social media:

And this being Israel, there were all the self-deprecating and irreverent memes:

There were many more memes and graphics doing the rounds on WhatsApp, too many to reproduce here. 🙂 But blogger Paula Stern has provided a pretty good round up on her post “Israel laughing its way to the Moon”.

But despite the failure, there was still some more good news to follow: The XPrize Foundation decided to award $1million to the Beresheet program despite yesterday’s failure:

XPRIZE will recognize SpaceIL’s achievement with a $1 million Moonshot Award for its successful entry into lunar orbit and for its attempt to land on the lunar surface – both of which are “firsts” for a privately-funded entity, marking a new era in space exploration.

SpaceIL’s robotic lander, Beresheet, Hebrew for “Genesis,” came very close to touching down on the Moon today, but ultimately failed to soft-land during its final descent. As it prepared for landing, Beresheet experienced a main engine failure and lost communication with mission control in Tel Aviv, suggesting the lander crashed into the surface.

“SpaceIL’s mission not only touched the Moon, it touched the lives and hearts of an entire world that was watching,” said Peter H. Diamandis, executive chairman and founder of XPRIZE. “The legacy SpaceIL will have on the future of the space industry is significant. This team’s ability to build a lunar lander for $100 million and less than 50 engineers is remarkable, a leap forward towards affordable and accessible space exploration. Congratulations to Morris Kahn, their primary benefactor, and the entire SpaceIL team for all their accomplishments — we are so proud.”

Kol hakavod to the XPrize Foundation for their generosity and for recognizing the importance of Beresheet.

And of course huge kudos and thanks to the entire Beresheet program, from the founder Morris Kahn, to the Israel Aircraft Industries, to the scientists, engineers and researchers who made it all possible.

May the next moonshot get all the way there in one piece!

You may be wondering from my headline what is the connection of the moonshot to Shabbat Hagadol, the last Shabbat before Pesach.

Pesach falls in the month of Nissan, called “the month of spring” in the Torah, and we are told that Nissan is the first of all the months. The months in the Jewish calendar are always marked by the first sighting of the new moon. Today, ever since Rabbi Hillel fixed the Jewish calendar in Mishnaic times, we have a calendar that we can follow and know exactly when Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, falls. But 2,000 years ago the months were announced only when a witness would get themselves to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and swear that he had seen the new moon. Then bonfires were lit on the hilltops, and thus the news spread quickly from town to town.

A friend of mine, Miriam Kresh, wrote on Facebook about those ancient traditions and yesterday’s moonshot, and made the connection which resonates so deeply with me:

Recently I’ve felt that Israel is living in an historical era much like that of the Maccabees. A tiny Jewish minority, standing against hostile giants determined to destroy us in our ancestral land. Now I wonder what our Maccabbean ancestors would have thought if they could have known that, unimaginable centuries later, their children would land an Israeli rocket on the moon. On the moon, whose earliest sighting every month established that month on the Jewish calendar; the calendar that the Greeks forbade. No new month, so no holidays to mark the points of the Jewish year. That’s what our enemies tried to erase, our continuity. But here we are, and we landed a rocket on the moon.

Sometimes it seems that Israelis are a little in awe of themselves, at what they have achieved. This week, from the noisy elections to the almost-success of a moon-landing, we have every right to enjoy that sense of awe and be proud of ourselves. And as importantly, we must give thanks to G-d that He has chosen our generation to play this hugely important part in this latest chapter of the unending story of Jewish history.

Shabbat Shalom to you all! Look up at the sky and see the new moon! Maybe you can spot some of Beresheet’s spare parts floating about. 🙂

Posted in Israel news, Judaism, Slice of Israeli life, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Israeli National Elections 2019

Today is election day, in fact as of this writing it is nearly over. I have not written about the elections at all for a few reasons:

  1. As I have mentioned frequently lately, we have been dealing with a family health crisis which is taking up a huge amount of our time and mental energy;
  2. I have been very torn as to whom to vote for so I’ve been trying to avoid the subject altogether; and
  3. It has been a horrible, dirty, personal campaign this year on ALL sides. Almost every party has smeared and slammed their rivals and it has left a very bitter taste in most Israelis’ mouths. It almost put me off voting at all.

Key points to note: there are two new, very popular parties: Blue and White, led by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who has rounded up a roster of two other former CoS’s. And the Yamin Hachadash, the New Right, headed by former Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. I would have been tempted to vote for them, but I cannot find it in my heart to forgive them for leaving Bayit Yehudi, my own political home since I made aliya, high and dry 5 minutes before the elections, giving them almost no time to find a new charismatic leader and cobble together a vote-worthy list.

So who are the 40 (!!!) parties involved? Arutz Sheva gives us a rundown:

Ten to fourteen of the 40 Knesset slates competing in the election are likely to actually pass the 3.25% electoral threshold and enter Israel’s parliament, while at least 26 parties are expected to fall short of the projected 144,000-145,000 (3.25%) or so votes needed to cross the threshold.

The 10 parties most likely to enter the 21st Knesset

A quarter of the 40 parties running in Tuesday’s election are widely expected to clear the electoral threshold, having been projected to win at least four seats in every pre-election poll conducted over the past 30 days. They include the Blue and White party, the Likud, Labor, Meretz, United Torah Judaism, Shas, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right, Zehut, and Hadash-Ta’al.

The Blue and White Party

Party Type: Joint list of three separate factions (Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid, Telem)
Alignment: Center (self-declared) to Center-Left
Current number of MKs: 11 (Yesh Atid)
Chairman: Benny Gantz
Polling at: 27 – 32 seats

Gantz (left) and Lapid (right)

A joint ticket of the existing Yesh Atid faction and the newly-established Israel Resilience and Telem parties, the Blue and White alliance was formed in February and has presented itself as a centrist alternative to the ruling Likud party.

The joint list is led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who chairs the Israel Resilience faction, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and former Defense Minister and ex-IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, who heads the Telem faction.

Blue and White’s platform emphasizes the security bona fides of its three generals – Gantz, Yaalon, and Ashkenazi – and eschewing the right-left divide, offering itself as a kind of radical centrist alternative.

According to the party’s platform, the Blue and White list backs territorial compromise with the Palestinian Authority and “separation from the Palestinians”, while calling for maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, as well as Israeli security control over the Jordan Valley along the border with Jordan.

The Likud

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Right to Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 30
Chairman: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Polling at: 26 – 31 seats

Netanyahu Likud election poster

The Likud, Israel’s big-tent conservative party, has governed for 31 of the last 42 years since it first took power in 1977. Originally formed in 1973 as a joint list of nationalist and classical liberal parties, the Likud was formally established as a unified movement in 1988.

The party has long backed the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, and in December 2017, the party’s central committee voted unanimously to back the annexation of “all areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

On April 6th, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he would pursue the annexation of Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria if reelected as premier.

Fiscally conservative and emphasizing economic growth, the Likud backs additional tax cuts, the reduction of business regulation, and the reform of some government-owned companies.

The Israeli Labor Party

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Left to Left-Wing
Current number of MKs: 19
Chairman: Avi Gabbay
Polling at: 8 – 14 seats

Avi Gabbay

Once dominant in Israeli politics, the Labor party has not controlled the premiership since March 2001, when then Prime Minister Ehud Barak was defeated by the Likud’s Ariel Sharon after just one year and eight months in power.

With its roots in the socialist but often hawkish Mapai, Labor has evolved into a progressive-left faction emphasizing the Two-State Solution, the expansion of the welfare state, economic equality, and social liberalism.

While the party managed to win 19 seats in 2015 as part of a joint list with Hatnuah (the union won a total of 24 seats), polls show Labor falling to mid-single digits in the April election.

Like Blue and White, Labor’s 2019 platform emphasizes security and separation from the Palestinian Arab population in Judea and Samaria. Labor explicitly endorses the establishment of a Palestinian state, and provides for the possible eviction of large numbers of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.

The New Right

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Right to Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 3
Chairman: Education Minister Naftali Bennett
Polling at: 5 – 6 seats

Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked

In December 2018, then-Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Shuli Mualem broke away from the Jewish Home party to form a new right-wing faction aimed at attracting support from both religious and secular opponents of the Two-State Solution.

The New Right’s strongly opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, favoring instead Israeli sovereignty over large swathes of Judea and Samaria, with expanded autonomy for large Arab population centers in the Palestinian Authority.

In line with Western-style conservative parties, the New Right backs market-based economic reforms and the curtailing of judicial activism by the Supreme Court – what Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has dubbed the “judicial revolution”.

On social issues, the party has called for the preservation of Jewish tradition “without coercion”, condemning efforts to promote either secularism or religious observance in the public sphere via legislation. The New Right also backs greater integration of the haredi community in the Israeli “economy, academia, public service, service in the IDF and civilian national service.”

Union of Right-Wing Parties

Party Type: Joint list of three separate factions
Alignment: Right-Wing, National-Religious
Current number of MKs: 5 (3 Jewish Home, 2 National Union-Tekuma)
Chairman: Rabbi Rafael Peretz
Polling at: 5 – 7 seats

Betzalel Smotrich (l) and Rabbi Rafi Peretz (r)

Formed on the eve of the elections for the 21st Knesset, the Union of Right-Wing Parties is a temporary alliance of three small rightist, socially conservative, national-religious factions: the Jewish Home, the National Union, and Otzma Yehudit.

A rebranded version of Israel’s National Religious Party (NRP), the Jewish Home – like its predecessor – has advertised itself as the political home for Israel’s Religious Zionist community, yet for decades has failed to win a majority of the national-religious vote.

While many Religious Zionist voters have backed the Likud, the Jewish Home has also faced competition from rival national-religious parties, such as the National Union. An amalgamation of smaller rightist factions, the National Union is led by the Tekuma faction, which broke away from the NRP and represents the Hardal, or so-called ‘haredi national religious’ sub-sector of the Religious Zionist movement.

The Jewish Home and National Union successfully ran together on joint tickets in 2006, 2013, and 2015. This year, however, the two parties brought in a third faction – the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party – for a technical bloc, with plans to run together in the election, then split once they enter the Knesset. Otzma Yehudit, which is led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has drawn controversy for its founders’ ties to the banned Kach party, which advocated the transfer of Arabs from Israel.

The joint ticket’s platform emphasizes its support for maintaining Israel’s Jewish character, the sanctity of the Sabbath in the public sphere, traditional family values, support for the Chief Rabbinate, the need to expand Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria, and the party’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The three factions are led by Rabbi Rafael ‘Rafi’ Peretz (Jewish Home), MK Bezalel Smotrich (National Union-Tekuma), and former MK Michael Ben-Ari (Otzma Yehudit).

And here is one of the weirdest parties I’ve ever seen contending for the Knesset, and there are those who say it has a strong chance of crossing the threshold:

Zehut (Identity)

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Libertarian, Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 0
Chairman: Moshe Feiglin
Polling at: 4 – 6 seats

Moshe Feiglin

Founded by former Likud MK and Land of Israel activist Moshe Feiglin, Zehut combine a laissez-faire, libertarian political ideology with nationalist positions on issues of territory and foreign policy.

The unusual combination of support for decriminalization of marijuana and staunchly right-wing views regarding the future of Judea and Samaria have led some to dub Zehut the party of “legalization and annexation”.

Zehut has called for the full legalization of marijuana – both medicinal and recreational – and the application of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, while offering Palestinian Arabs who declared loyalty to Israel legal residency status, much like the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem.

The party’s platform, which was written in large part by libertarian economist Gilad Alper (third on the Zehut Knesset slate), calls for massive reductions in taxes and regulations.

Zehut has also called for a school voucher system, allowing parents greater freedom to choose what school to send their children to.

Other policies on the Zehut platform include: legalizing civil marriages; privatizing Israeli hospitals and large swaths of the public health insurance system; ending state funding of political campaigns; an end to state coercion in matters of religion and state; land privatization; replacement of Israel’s progressive tax system with a flat tax; free trade and an end to protective tariffs; increased gun-ownership rights; and an end to US government aid to Israel.

Zehut Chairman Moshe Feiglin served in the Knesset with the Likud from 2013 to 2015. Prior to that, he was known as the leader of the Zo Artzenu (This Is Our Land) movement, which protested the Oslo Accords and establishment of the Palestinian Authority. In the mid-1990s, Feiglin founded the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction of the Likud, with the aim of pushing the party to the right.

There are several other parties in the article, including a long list of single-issue parties who don’t stand a chance but add some piquancy to voting day. You can read about them at the link.

Arutz Sheva also provided a helpful article explaining how the Israeli electoral system works:

Minimum Electoral Threshold and Seat Allocation

Any party which receives 3.25% or more of the vote is represented in the Knesset. Given historical trends of voter turnout, it is expected that some 4.4 million or so Israelis will take part in this year’s election – meaning that a party must win about 144,000 votes to pass the electoral threshold.

Each seat will represent some 36,000 to 37,000 votes – not including the seats allocated in the second round of the vote count, based on the votes to parties which did not cross the threshold.

That means that a part can enter the Knesset with a bare minimum of 3.25%, or the equivalent of 3.9 seats. In theory, a party can thus win a minimum of three seats in the Knesset, though practically speaking winning less than four while still crossing the threshold is unlikely.

The Knesset

After the initial seat allocations are made, the votes to parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold are divided up among the remaining parties, in proportion to each faction’s share of the vote. In other words, votes to parties which fail to enter the Knesset are distributed to those parties which passed the threshold, which the larger parties receiving a larger number of those ‘extra’ votes.

Alliances and Vote Sharing

In addition to receiving extra votes from parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold, lists which do manage to enter the Knesset can also win ‘extra’ seats through vote-sharing alliances with other parties.

Based on the Bader-Ofer method of voting sharing, two parties (or joint lists) may sign a pre-election agreement to ‘share’ surplus votes.

Under this arrangement, if one of the parties in the agreement is just short of an additional seat and the other party has enough ‘extra’ votes beyond the seats they’ve been allocated, those ‘extra’ votes are transferred to the first party, giving them an additional seat.

This happened, for instance in 2009, when the National Union list was just shy of its fourth seat, but had signed a vote-sharing deal with the Jewish Home, enabling it to ‘borrow’ votes pushing it up to the fourth seat.

This election cycle, several large parties signed vote-sharing deals, including the Likud with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right with Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism with Shas, the two Arab lists with each other, and Labor with Meretz.

An Israeli voting booth, with letters representing each party

Parties, Factions, and Joint Lists

In elections to the Knesset, parties (miflagot) may run either as independent factions, or join together with other parties to form a joint list.

For instance, since 1992, two small Ashkenazi haredi parties – the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction and the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah – have run for the Knesset on a joint ticket, dubbed the United Torah Judaism list.

Both parties remain independent entities, and run separately in municipal elections, negotiating the terms of their joint ticket every election cycle.

In 2015, four smaller Arab factions – the communist Hadash, secular Arab nationalist Balad, the populist-nationalist Ta’al, and the largely Bedouin United Arab List – ran together on a joint list, unimaginatively named the Joint List.

This year, three right-wing parties – Jewish Home, the National Union, and Otzma Yehudit – formed a similar joint ticket, dubbed the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Joint lists function in some regards like parties, even though they are in fact collections of smaller parties. While the member factions often retain a high degree of autonomy within the larger list, in terms of elections, they are treated as a single party. The joint ticket submits a single Knesset slate to the elections committee, and runs under a single letter(s) symbol – represented by either one, two, or three letters, which appear on the joint list’s slips in every voting booth around the country.

The vote this year, as it is in every election cycle, is of huge importance in a country as volatile as Israel. And yet it seems that the election turnout so far has been relatively low. The weather is gorgeous and I think many people just can’t be bothered to vote, thinking the results will be the same old same old, and have gone off on picnics and hikes, or even abroad. We will see the full numbers at the close of voting at 10 pm local time.

My own tuppence ha’penny on the elections and possible results:

We won’t know till tomorrow Israel time at the earliest what the results will be. And even if Netanyahu wins, he has to put together a coalition. The same goes if Benny Gantz wins. And the theory at the moment is that even if Netanyahu loses, he will be the one most able to put together a coalition first and that is what counts in the end.

Most people can’t imagine Israel without Bibi any more. He has been in power for 13 years which is an extremely long time by any standards. At this stage it’s not necessarily a good thing anymore. He has been an excellent prime minister but he has not cultivated a successor. No one lives forever and even if he is the best prime minister consistently, one day someone will have to take over. The trouble is no one has the diplomatic experience that he has.

I am less worried about security, although that is also a concern. I have full faith in the other leaders that they are loyal Israelis who wouldn’t do anything to endanger the country. Then again they may be delusional like Shimon Peres was, dreaming of a New Middle East which was never going to come about, at least in the pink-rainbow way he imagined.

But Netanyahu has managed to negotiate us through the very difficult waters of Russia, Syria, Iran and America, keeping us safe and strong. I don’t think there is another leader in Israel, or the entire world, who could have done what he did.
But as the cynics say, cemeteries are full of indispensable people. And as I said, no one lives forever and even if he is voted in again he must cultivate a successor to ensure a smooth continuity. But I doubt he is listening to me!

Meanwhile, here is Sivan Rahav Meir on how the national vote was viewed back in those fateful early days of the state, in 1949:

This is how Rabbi Moshe Alpert of Jerusalem’s pre-State Old Yishuv described the first Israeli elections to the Knesset in 1949. To give us some perspective, the day before Israel’s elections, above all the blaring headlines and non-stop noise:
“At 5:35 AM we woke up, my wife, my brother Reb Shimon Leib and my brother-in-law Reb Natanel Solduchil. And after we drank coffee we put on Shabbat clothing in honor of this great and holy day, because ‘This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be happy on it .’After 2000 or more years of exile, you could say that from the six days of Creation until this day, we have not merited to see a day like this, that we are holding elections in a Jewish state. Shehechiyanu! Blessed is the One that kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day! So we went to the voting station near Chabashim Street with our identity cards in hand. With great and mighty joy we walked the short way there, and the entire way I walked like it was Simchat Torah and I was circling with a Torah scroll, because I was holding the identity card of our new Jewish State in my hand.
My happiness and joy knew no bounds! The assistant at the voting station brought the ballot box, and the chairman called out to me and said ‘V’Hadarta Pnei Zaken’ – ‘And you shall honor the old man’, And he told me that since I was the oldest person present, I would be the first to votre. With a thrill of awe and holiness, I handed my identity card over to the chairman, and he read out my name from my card and from the book of voters.
And the deputy chairman wrote down my name and handed me the number 1. Then he handed me an envelope and I went into the other room, where there were ballots from all the parties. And with a shaking hand, moved with holiness, I took one ballot marked “B,” for the Religious Union party, and I placed the ballot inside the envelope I had received from the deputy chairman.
I reentered the polling room, and I showed them that I held only one envelope. Then the holiest moment of my life arrived. The moment that neither my father nor my grandfather had the privilege to experience in their lifetimes. Only me, in my time, in my lifetime, did I merit to experience such a holy and pure moment as this… What joy for me and my portion!
At 6:28 AM, we returned home and went to pray. What a great holiday!”.

Translated by

What a pity that a mere 70 years later people are so apathetic. And then they complain that they don’t like what their leaders are doing! That’s what happens when you don’t make use of your legal right and civic duty to participate in the elections.

May the best man or woman win!

Posted in History, Israel news, Slice of Israeli life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Good News Friday

I can’t believe it’s Friday already! Time for another Good News Friday installment.

This week we received some very exciting news from the days of the First Temple! A seal bearing the name of Kind Josiah’s court official was unearthed in the City of David:

A bulla (seal impression) and a 2,600-year-old stamp dating back to the First Temple and bearing Hebrew names were recently uncovered as part of the archaeological excavations of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem. The dig was conducted by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University.

The Natan-Melech Eved Hamelech bulla found in the City of David

Bullae were small pieces of clay impressed by personal seals, used in ancient times to sign letters. While the parchment they sealed didn’t survive the fires that devastated ancient Jerusalem, the bullae, which are made of ceramic-like material, were preserved, leaving evidence of the correspondence and those behind them.

According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the IAA, who were responsible for the dig, the extraordinary artifacts were found inside a large public building that was destroyed in the sixth century BCE – likely during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.

Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered in the building, all indications that they had survived an immense fire. The importance of this building can be discerned, among other things, from its size, the finely cut and dressed ashlar stones from which it was built and the quality of the architectural elements found in the layers of destruction: for example, remnants of a polished plaster floor, which had collapsed and caved into the floor below.

The stamp and bulla, which are about one centimeter in size each, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem. Based on the script, she dates them to the middle of the seventh- to the beginning of the sixth-century BCE.

The seal impression, dated to the First Temple period, features the words: “[belonging to] Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech). The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, who took part in the religious reform that the king was implementing: “And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire.”

The title “Servant of the King” (Eved HaMelech) appears often in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king. This title appears on other stamps and seal impressions that were found in the past. This seal impression is the first archaeological evidence of the biblical name Nathan-Melech.

Dr. Mendel-Geberovich notes that the fact that this official was mentioned by his first name alone indicates that he was known to all, and there was no need to add his family lineage.

Another stamp-seal, made of bluish agate stone and engraved with the phrase “[belonging to] Ikar son of Matanyahu” (LeIkar Ben Matanyahu) was discovered the same location. According to Dr. Mendel-Geberovich, “The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name ‘Ikar,’ which was unknown until today.”

She believes that despite the literal meaning of Ikar which is farmer, it most likely refers to a private individual with that name as opposed to a description of his occupation. It is still unclear who this person was.

According to Gadot and Shalev, “since many of the well-known bullae and stamps have not come from organized archaeological excavations but rather from the antiquities market, the discovery of these two artifacts in a clear archaeological context that can be dated is very exciting. They join the bullae and stamps bearing names written in ancient Hebrew script, which were discovered in the various excavations that have been conducted in the City of David until today.”

They also suggest “the discovery of a public building such as this, on the western slope of the City of David, provides a lot of information about the city’s structure during this period and the size of its administrative area.”

Doron Spielman, Vice President of the City of David Foundation which operates the City of David National Park added: “This is an extremely exciting find for billions of people worldwide. The personal seal of Natan-Melech, a senior official in the government of Josiah, King of Judah, as described in the second book of Kings. The ongoing archaeological excavations at the City of David continue to prove that ancient Jerusalem is no longer just a matter of faith, but also a matter of fact. It is truly fascinating to watch how archaeologists have uncovered more than twelve layers of Jerusalem history in what used to be a parking lot until just few years ago.”

Sivan Rahav Meir comments on this wonderful find and puts it into perspective:

Eavesdropping, polls, press conferences – seemingly, the important headlines take place in the realm above the ground. However, yesterday we received a dramatic reminder from the bottom of the earth. Two rare discoveries were unearthed in the City of David in Jerusalem: A stamp seal on which the inscription “[belonging to] Ikar son of Matanyahu” (LeIkar Ben Matanyahu) is engraved in ancient Hebrew letters, and a bulla (seal impression) on which the inscription “[belonging to] Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech) was written (this name is mentioned in II Kings). The researchers didn’t hide their excitement yesterday and said that these findings are “rare and exciting”: These discoveries are 2,600 years old (!) and were found in a burnt structure that had probably been ruined during the destruction of the First Temple, and was now discovered in Hanyon Giv’ati. The estimation is that these are relics from the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem, following which, as we know, we were exiled. Did that Nathan-Melech, servant of the king, ever imagine when he fled from the Babylonian army that a day would come and we would find his personal seal this way?

We have returned home, and from time to time we receive thousands of years old greetings, which remind us how our story is greater and more ancient than what we imagine it to be.

These details about this extraordinary find, despite the bullae’s tiny size, are riveting! The words inscribed on that tiny seal bring the Tanach alive. No longer can people claim that the Bible is merely a fairy tale or legend. Here is the living proof that confirms our history, the Jewish people, in this Land of Israel.

Kol hakavod to the archeologists and researchers who are working so hard to uncover our amazing history and bring it to life.

From the distant past we fast forwrad to the very advanced present day and Israel’s moon shot. This week the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet succeeded in being “captured” by the moon’s gravitational pull:

SpaceIL’s engineering team and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) this evening at 5:17 p.m. Israel team conducted the most critical manveuver to date of Beresheet’s journey to the moon – the Lunar Capture. This maneuver enabled the spacecraft to be captured by the moon’s gravity and begin orbiting the moon – and with the moon, orbiting the Earth.

A picture taken by the Beresheet spacecraft of the moon’s surface with the Earth in the background on April 5, 2019. (courtesy Beresheet)

Today’s maneuver moved the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around the moon, with the closest point (perilune) 500 km to the moon, with the farthest point (apolune) 10,000 km from the moon. Unlike the longer orbits around the Earth, Beresheet’s first lunar orbit will last 14 hours. Before it lands on the moon, each orbit thereafter will take only two hours. At the beginning of this week, Beresheet reached, for the last time, the closest point to Earth in its last Earth orbit, only 1,700 km, and continued on course to the point where it could join the lunar orbit, 400,000 km from Earth.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes, and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km from the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

SpaceIL Chairman, Morris Kahn: “The lunar capture is an historic event in and of itself – but it also joins Israel in a seven-nation club that has entered the moon’s orbit. A week from today we’ll make more history by landing on the moon, joining three super powers who have done so. Today I am proud to be an Israeli.”

Morris Kahn is right to be proud of Israel. We have now joined the seven-nation club of moon-orbiters which includes the United States, Russia (as the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India. The Times of Israel has more details:

Early on Friday morning, Beresheet sent back photos, one taken at a distance of just 470 kilometers (290 miles) above the moon’s surface.

The NIS 370-million ($100-million) spacecraft is a joint venture between the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists.

On Thursday, Beresheet’s engineers executed the most complicated maneuver yet, a perfectly choreographed space hop allowing the car-sized spacecraft to jump from an orbit around Earth to one around the moon.

Watch this explanatory video by SpaceIL about the lunar capture:

Thursday was the longest period that engineers have activated the engines since the spacecraft’s launch on February 22.

Now drawn into lunar orbit, Beresheet will trace smaller and smaller loops around the moon before attempting to land on April 11 in the Sea of Serenity.

In total, the spacecraft has traveled around 5.5 million kilometers and still has about a million left to go. This is the slowest and longest trip a spacecraft has made to the moon. The distance from the Earth to the moon is an average about 385,000 kilometers (239,000 miles).

Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

What can one say but a huge kol hakavod to the whole team at SpaceIL who developed Israel’s spacecraft and planned the journey to the moon.

How proud we can be that in the same week we can uncover the distant past and blast into the distant future. Indeed we live in the land of miracles!

Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh Nissan and we read Parshat HaChodesh, the Torah portion dealing with the preparations for the Exodus from Egypt, as we rapidly approach Pesach.

Israel is also approaching another “festival”, if that’s the right word, this Tuesday, in the form of our national elections. I have not written about these at all for the simple reason that I am still undecided between a couple of parties. I hope to cover this issue in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile I wish you and us all Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom. May we have a quiet peaceful Shabbat and a happy and safe week.

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