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Israel Election 2019: Netanyahu Fails to Secure Majority, Gantz Leads, Arabs Surge, Exit Polls Show

By Haaretz & Israel Faxx News Agencies Haaretz reports that exit polls released by Israeli television channels on Tuesday indicate Prime Minister Bunyamin Netanyahu has failed to secure a ruling majority in Israel's second election of 2019. All exit polls show that Netanyahu's right-wing bloc will gain around 56 seats. The biggest party, according to the polls, is Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan. However, since neither Netanyahu nor Gantz appear to have gained a 61-seat majority, the two are likely to head to deliberations with President Reuven Rivlin who will determine which of them gets the mandate to try and form a governing coalition. According to two of the polls, Kahol Lavan is leading with 32-34 Knesset seats, while Likud is projected to garner 33-30 seats. In all three polls, the Joint List of Arab parties is projected to have the third most seats, while Yamina, led by Ayelet Shaked, is projected to win 6-7 seats, and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to receive 8-9 seats. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party is projected to win nine seats In all three polls. United Torah Judaism is projected to win 7-8 seats. The Democratic Union party is projected to win 5-6 seats, whereas Labor-Gesher, which teetered on the edge of the electoral threshold in polls leading up to the vote, is projected to win six seats in all three exit polls. In an updated exit poll released by Kan 11, Likud fell to 31 seats, breaking the previously reported tie between Likud and Kahol Lavan. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu lost one seat. The Joint List gained a seat as did Labor-Gesher. In an updated exit poll released by Channel 13 the Joint Arab List received 15 seats, the most they have ever received in an Israeli election. Both Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Kahol Lavan shrunk by one vote. Shas Chairman Arye Dery said he will reccommend that Netanyahu be tasked with attempting to form a government. "Despite the fact that the prime minister didn't leave any stone unturned, and we saw how he took votes from us in the periphery… we will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu to the president," Dery said. Dery said that though it was a difficult campaign, and there is uncertainty over what comes next, he hopes a government will be formed quickly. "It was an election campaign of great incitement and rifts in the nation. We tried to run a nice, clean campaign. I want to tell you all that we are one nation and we have to live together. I call on everyone to forget the incitement and speak like Jews," he said. The final voter turnout in Israel's second election of 2019 is 69.4 percent – higher than April's election, in which voter was 67.9 percent Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman reiterated in his speech at party headquarters that "We have only one option - a broad liberal unity government including Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kahol Lavan." He said that unity governments are an emergency measure, and that "both security- and economy-wise, this is an emergency. More than we can imagine." Gantz has called for pursuing peace with the Palestinians while maintaining Israel's security interests. He has signaled he would make territorial concessions toward the Palestinians, but has also sidestepped the question of Palestinian statehood. His party is also running on a platform promising to impose term limits on the prime minister (Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term), invest more in education, allow public transportation on Shabbat and enact civil marriages. Democratic Union Chairman Nitzan Horowitz said after election polls were released that "we are at the height of a major political drama." There is a historic opportunity to save Israeli democracy, he said, but stressed that "We have a very long night ahead of us...we need to wait for the real results. The results may take us to the right." Though the three exit polls showed that Netanyahu does not have a majority in the Knesset, the atmosphere at Kahol Lavan headquarters in Tel Aviv was weary, rather than elated. None of the party leaders had arrived at the Tel Aviv port facility where the party was holding its event. The crowd – mainly members of the press – was relatively small, and there was little excitement in the air. This contrasted sharply with the atmosphere on election night in April, when the exit polls also showed the two major parties neck and neck, but that time, with an advantage to the right-wing bloc. President Reuven Rivlin will convene the different political parties for a round of consultations in order to decide who will be the candidate he will select to attempt to form a governing coalition, his office stated following the publication of exit polls.

Torah Students who Choose the Army Reveal Israel's Bitter Divide

By The Guardian (UK)
Life in one of Israel's ultra-Orthodox military units does not proceed according to the usual army schedule. The morning starts with prayers just before dawn. Meals in the barracks are prepared under the strictest kosher requirements. Training is halted twice more during the day for prayers; once again for a rabbi to teach soldiers about religious texts. Unlike the rest of the Israel Defense Forces, there are no women on duty. Many of the unit's deeply observant members were raised to be rabbis, which is seen as the highest calling and duty. But as Daniel Rosenberg, an ultra-Orthodox who operated a heavy machine-gun, explained, sometimes a "kid doesn't want to be a rabbi; he wants to be a fighter". These men, who number just a few thousand, are at the center of a fierce debate in Israel that has driven rifts through society, peaking earlier this year when political differences over the issue shattered attempts to form a government. Israel has mandatory army service but has always made an exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredi, who are allowed to continue full-time Torah study. During the past two decades a small but growing number of Haredi have volunteered to join the military, often going against their parents' wishes, and in many cases being rejected by their families. "You need to have a lot of strength and power to detach from your family's beliefs and go do something extremely different," said Rosenberg, 21, who recently ended his time as a Haredi paratrooper. "They have no emotional help," he said. "And then, when it comes to the field, they're beasts … Those kids are on their own, and that gives them a lot of strength, ironically."

The exemption policy dates back to just after the country's founding, when 400 yeshiva students were permitted to avoid conscription. With Haredi populations increasing to about 12% of the country's nine million citizens, tens of thousands now avoid the military and live on government stipends. For Avigdor Lieberman, a secular former defense minister, the issue was a deal-breaker. In May he refused to join a coalition government with ultra-Orthodox parties unless Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to force the Haredi into the army. The stalemate led to a second election being called. It is not only in Israeli society that Haredi soldiers are controversial. The first ultra-Orthodox battalion, Netzah Yehuda, established in 1999, mainly operates in the occupied West Bank and has been embroiled in a series of abuse allegations over the years against Palestinians – including violent beatings of handcuffed detainees and even claims of electrocuting prisoners. In March an Israeli military court convicted four soldiers from the brigade for aggravated abuse after they filmed themselves laughing and hitting two arrested Palestinians. "We're having a party here," one is filmed saying before slapping a blindfolded man. In Israel, the Haredi call-up issue could paralyze the next attempt at government-building. At the very least, it has added vitriol into politics. Netanyahu's main rival, Benny Gantz, has hinted that he might also snub powerful religious politicians if elected. Secular and religious Israel have always had their differences, but they are ballooning as ultra-Orthodox communities grow. Some fringe sections of Haredi society even reject Zionism, arguing there should be no Jewish state, and certainly not a secular one, before the arrival of the Messiah. In parts of Jerusalem, protests against authorities are common. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav used to lead those demonstrations and says he was arrested more than 30 times. But his opinions changed when in 1989 he came across the aftermath of a bloody attack by a Palestinian who seized control of a public bus and forced it off a cliff near the outskirts of Jerusalem. It killed 16 people. "That was something that shook me very deeply," he said. "Your mind changes when you go to the scene of an attack. You understand that, in order to keep the possibility of having what we have here, everyone needs to volunteer and give what they can." He was one of the first Haredi rabbis to promote the idea of serving in the army, and his son, Netanel Meshi-Zahav, has just left a Haredi paratrooper unit. The 22-year-old spent a lot of his time helping so-called "lone soldiers", men whose families had abandoned them. As his father had embraced mainstream Israeli society, he knew both sides, and also acted as an aide to non-religious officers who might not understand the Haredi background. "Sometimes secular officers do not understand that these guys have been sitting for 18 years on a chair learning and studying the Torah," he said. "They haven't run 100 meters in their lives." With time, the soldiers caught up and, he boasts, Haredi units now often win many army sporting competitions. One secular officer he knows even became a foster carer for three lone soldiers.

Meshi-Zahav's family supports him but he feels the pressure other Haredi soldiers feel in their communities, where they may be labeled traitors. "When I used to leave the base, I would go through Tel Aviv. People were very kind; they would offer you something to drink. I felt really proud to have my paratrooper wings on my chest," he said. But when he took the bus to deeply religious neighborhoods, "the change was very clear … I could feel the anger, the tut-tut-tut." He understands the sentiment, but says it is frustrating: "When you are lying on the ground in the rain, they don't understand you are protecting them."

Jewish Same-Sex Couple Sues State Department after Infant Daughter Denied Citizenship

By JTA
A same-sex couple from Maryland is suing the U.S. State Department for refusing to grant birthright citizenship to their infant daughter. Kessem Kiviti, who is 6 months old, was born via surrogacy in Canada, according to the LGBTQ immigrants' rights organization Immigration Equality. She is the daughter of Roee and Adiel Kiviti, who are both American citizens. But Kessem's biological relationship is to Adiel, who was born in Israel and became a U.S. citizen in January. Adiel falls one year short of meeting the five-year residency requirement to transfer citizenship. Roee also is an Israel native and grew up in Southern California; he became a U.S. citizen in 1993. The couple married in October 2013 in California and lived abroad until they moved back to the United States in 2015. They have a son, Lev, who was born in Canada in 2016 through surrogacy and has been recognized as a U.S. citizen since birth. The Kivitis received official notice of the rejection in early July. Kessem is currently residing in the U.S. on a tourist visa. They filed a lawsuit challenging the rejection last week in U.S. District Court in Maryland with Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal. Despite Roee and Adiel's marriage, the State Department is treating Kessem as being "born out of wedlock," and since her biological relationship is to Adiel she was denied citizenship — a requirement that is not placed on children of married U.S. citizens, according to Immigration Equality. "We were there when (Kessem) was first born, when she took her first breath, when she first cried," Roee Kiviti told CNN. "We were the first people to hold her, we gave her her first feeding, her first bath. She first slept on our chests. We are her only parents, the only parents she's ever known. Another Jewish couple, Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American, and Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli, challenged a State Department denial of citizenship to one of their twin sons after a required DNA test showed that one of the babies was biologically related to the Israeli parent though both of the father's names were listed on the birth certificates. They won their case in February in federal court in Los Angeles, with the judge ruling that U.S. law does not require a child to show a biological relationship with their parents if their parents were married at the time of their birth. The State Department is appealing that decision.











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