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Tuesday's Elections are Israel's Judgment Day

By the Jerusalem Post & VOA News
All issues will pale compared to the legal crisis that is at the heart of Israel's 21st general election. "I don't think he is gone," cautioned Shimon Peres in 1999, when asked about Binyamin Netanyahu's future following his electoral trouncing by Ehud Barak. Twenty springs later, with Netanyahu's name already defining an era, the embattled prime minister remains the axis around which Israeli politics revolves. So central has Netanyahu become here that, whether as savior or Antichrist, he is the lynchpin of both Right and Left as they spar today over the leadership and character of the Jewish state. The leadership contest had taken a turn no one foresaw even several months ago when it wasn't clear that Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz would enter politics, much less that he would prove popular enough to rival Netanyahu himself. Back then, it seemed Gantz could at most garner a mid-sized faction that, after hardly scratching Netanyahu's armor, would join his coalition, perhaps as defense minister. Instead, he managed to weld three parties and form the most potent challenge Likud has faced in a decade. While impressive, especially for a political novice, this achievement will doubtfully produce victory. Parallel to Gantz's achievement looms its inversion, namely Netanyahu's success in circling his wagons and the apparent retention of his electoral core. Unlike recent electoral collapses here, like Labor's in 2001 or Likud's in 2006, there is no sense of approaching defeat among the ruling coalition's voters. Then again, Likud's opponents have a new and potent cause. Unlike all elections since 1996, Likud's main opponent cannot be identified with the Oslo process, as Labor was, or the disengagement program, as Kadima was. If anything, Gantz's Number Three, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon was the disengagement's staunchest opponent and was fired as IDF chief of general staff by Ariel Sharon, because of that hawkish stance. Free of such liabilities, Gantz et al. focused on Netanyahu's legal situation, even at the expense of highlighting a major domestic program – the way, for instance, that Yitzhak Rabin did when he produced his plan to build highways, raise teachers' and doctors' salaries, and universalize healthcare. Gantz's Blue and White did produce a plan for domestic reforms, but there was no dramatic presentation of a specific program – for instance, one that would display budgeting and deadlines for reinventing public transportation and unclogging Israel's notorious traffic jams. The prudence of this tactic – to let the moral and legal debate dominate the campaign – is part of what will be tested today, as Netanyahu's supporters argue that he has presided over a decade of relative security, economic prosperity and diplomatic sway. The other part that will be tested is the very cause that drove Gantz's tactic, namely, what the public makes of the legal allegations Netanyahu faces. The moral campaign has been successful in the sense that this contest has indeed come to be about Netanyahu, the man. That is why time-honored satellite parties, from Meretz on the Left to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu on the Right, are struggling to cross the electoral threshold. People want to vote either for or against Netanyahu, directly. In a vote so personalized, the Netanyahu-Gantz showdown is also about antithetical styles. Gantz's patent lack of Netanyahu's communications skills has evidently cost him, but that damage may be partly offset by the very Israeli baggage of a born farmer and lifelong warrior for whom friendship is a value second only to Zionism, and for whom doing comes more naturally than talking. Similarly, Netanyahu's dominance within the Right, and his shedding over the years of multiple allies and lieutenants are the perfect opposite of Gantz's effort to display team play, most notably by running on a rotational ticket with Yair Lapid. These aspects of the contest will surely be on voters' minds, as will the widespread deployment in recent months of the Internet as an engine of deceit, and the siege it helped lay on truth. However, all issues will pale compared to the legal crisis that is at the heart of Israel's 21st general election. Netanyahu's voters belittle the severity of the allegations he faces, and see no need to back the judiciary in its looming confrontation with the executive branch. This is the better case. In the worst case, they happily join the war that Netanyahu has arguably waged on the judicial branch of the Jewish state. The prime minister's opponents, at the same time, feel they are voting to protect of the rule of law. Polls show Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White winning a similar number of seats in the 120-member Knesset. If that occurs, the 69-year-old Netanyahu might be poised to win a fifth term in a coalition with smaller right-wing parties allied to him. As the months-long campaign neared an end, Netanyahu again reminded voters of his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump. He thanked the U.S. leader — "my dear friend" — for responding Monday to a "request of mine" to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. In his two-year presidency, Trump already had acceded to other Netanyahu requests, including declaring the Jewish state's sovereignty over Syria's Golan Heights, territory that was captured in the 1967 Six-Day War; recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv; and pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 deal to restrain Iran's nuclear weapons development. Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, has moved in recent days to shore up his base of conservative voters, vowing to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that if done on a large scale could end any remaining hope of creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. "Who else can do this? Who can do this? Come on. Honestly," Netanyahu said, portraying himself as the face of Israel. "Who can stand in front of the world?" he asked. "Who can stand in front of the American Congress? Who can move public opinion in that direction?" The 59-year-old Gantz called Netanyahu's pledge "irresponsible." Gantz said he favors a "globally backed peace agreement" that envisions Israel maintaining its hold on the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and security control over the territory. Gantz has portrayed himself as a unifying force in Israel and says that it is time to oust Netanyahu from power. "There's a need for change and an opportunity for change," Gantz told Israel's army radio on Monday. "Israel needs to choose a direction of unification, connection and hope — or of extremity. Enough already, Bibi," Gantz's campaign videos say, using Netanyahu's widely known nickname. Should he win, Netanyahu would be on track later this year to become Israel's longest-serving leader, surpassing founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

Election Exodus: Some 60,000 Israelis Abroad as Country Goes to Polls


Some 60,000 Israelis will be out of the country on Election Day on Tuesday, and unlike in some other countries, there is no absentee ballot (save for diplomats stationed in foreign countries). The exodus abroad from Israel began at the weekend, stepped up its pace on Sunday and continued throughout Monday and even into Tuesday. Israelis of all stripes - Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, singletons and couples, families and groups – were in evidence Monday at the check-in counters of Ben-Gurion International Airport. Some said that they had booked their tickets before the date of the elections was announced, others said that the outcome as obvious, and some jokingly warned they would decide whether to return to Israel based on the election results. Yossi Fogel and Shmulik Zeigan, both aged 19 from Kiryat Malachi, were supposed to vote for the first time in their lives on Tuesday. But on Sunday they were standing at the terminal with a Torah scroll, for they were on a mission. "We are going to northern India to prepare the Chabad House for Passover," they said. "We have a lot of work there, to clean and ready the place. We will have about 150 guests there for the Pesach holiday. It is important to vote - but we have a mission and we cannot just abandon it. " Anwar from the town of Tira is traveling with her husband and toddler for a holiday in Bodrum, Turkey, and has no qualms about missing the vote. "Only God decides the elections," she said. "We found a date that worked for a vacation and we decided to travel. It is obvious that Bibi (Binyamin Netanyahu) will win, so what is the point of voting?" Also in the queue to check-in are dozens of students from Yokneam, who are heading off on a 10-day trip to China. The students are not yet of voting age, but one of their teachers, 62-year-old Shlomo Kfir, is sorry that he will not be in Israel on decision day. It will be the first time in his life that he will miss a vote. "It does bother me," he says. "These elections are very important, but the date for the trip was set before the elections were decided and we simply could not change it." Another traveler is Anan al-Atauna from the Bedouin town of Hura in southern Israel, who has a surprising perspective. "If I had not been going abroad, I would have voted for Bibi," he says as he and his wife prepare to fly to vacation in Antalya, Turkey. And why wouldn't he give his vote to one of the Arab parties? "What exactly are they doing for us?" he asked. "They are always yelling 'Palestine, Palestine' but neglect the Arab public in Israel."

In Unprecedented Ruling, Israeli Court Convicts Man for Refusing Divorce to Wife

By the Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Monday, for the first time, convicted a man on criminal charges for refusing to grant his wife a get, a Jewish divorce document. The man, Meir Gorodetsky, had been refusing his wife a get since the mid-1990s. According to a release by the court, the maximum sentence for this offense is four years in prison, though it is unlikely the perpetrator will receive the maximum sentence, as this case would set a precedent for future cases. Tzivya Gorodetsky was married to her husband for nine years and had four children with him before eventually requesting a divorce in 1995 due to his violence and abusive behavior toward her. This included beating her while she was pregnant so that she miscarried and throwing acid on her. Her husband steadfastly refused to grant a bill of divorce even after being ordered by the State Rabbinical Court to do so. This led the court to eventually jail him, which lasted on-and-off for 19 years. The court said there was nothing more they could do to obtain the divorce, aside from placing him under harsher conditions similar to those placed on prisoners who have committed sexual offenses and murder – which it did – arguing that Jewish law prohibits the annulment of a marriage by outside parties even in extreme circumstances. At various points, Meir Gorodetsky was even placed in solitary confinement. Ultimately, she was freed from her marriage by a private, ad hoc Orthodox rabbinical court headed by, respected Orthodox rabbi and Talmudist, Rabbi Daniel Sperber. She then sought to drop the charges against her husband and free him, but the State Attorney's Office said it had already begun criminal proceedings against Meir Gorodetsky for his divorce refusal. Criminal prosecution of severe cases of divorce refusal was made possible in 2016 by the State's Attorney's Office, but only one case has been pursued until now. While the conviction is unprecedented, not everyone is celebrating it as a victory. "The court's decision is being presented as a breakthrough for women who are denied a divorce, but it is not," the Center for Women's Justice (CWJ), who dealt with Gorodetsky's case, said in a statement. "The imprisonment of get refuser's has proven ineffective in most cases. There are halachic and civil ways to end a marriage without the consent of the husband and we regret that the Rabbinical Courts and the State of Israel do not adopt them." CWJ has also pointed out that since the man is now in jail from a criminal conviction – he has even less incentive to grant his wife a divorce – because even if he does he will remain in prison.

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