Let’s twist again: 9 things to know for May 14
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Let’s twist again: 9 things to know for May 14

From embassy hubbubs to immunity bids to Poland to Rashida Tlaib to Eurovision, narratives are getting squished into Procrustean beds

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on February 13, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on February 13, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Mission creep: It’s a year to the day that the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem, in a ceremony replete with pomp, circumstance and promise that it would be the first of many.

  • The nattering naysayers in the press, though, point out that those promises failed to come true, unless one counts Guatemala.
  • “A handful of countries did toy with the idea, and some even opened lower-level ‘missions’ or ‘offices’ in Jerusalem. But the hoped-for mass relocation of embassies did not materialize,” writes Raphael Ahren in ToI.
  • And even Guatemala may be on its way to hoofing it back to Tel Aviv.
  • “There is no guarantee that the next president will keep the Guatemalan embassy in Jerusalem,” says Leah Soibel, founder and CEO of Fuenta Latina, a nonprofit fostering Israel’s ties with the Spanish-speaking world. “We have to remember that initially Jimmy Morales’ decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was not widely supported in Guatemala.”
  • Only one candidate seen as having a chance of winning Morales’s post, Zury Ríos, the daughter of the country’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, has supported keeping the embassy in Jerusalem. She is polling in second place.
  • Noa Landau in Haaretz notes that not only was there no surge of diplomatic activity in Jerusalem, Israel may have paid a price for the move.
  • “If anything, Trump’s announcement had the opposite response to what Netanyahu had hoped for. The leaders of Europe’s biggest countries — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron — as well as the United Nations and European Union, all rejected the unilateral step. Jerusalem’s status, they reaffirmed, would be negotiated as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians,” she writes. “From Morocco to Iran, the Arab and Muslim world almost unilaterally condemned the move. As violence flared in Gaza, Israel even suffered a number of diplomatic blows, with Turkey and South Africa both recalling diplomats, Israeli envoys being reprimanded by Europeans and the Security Council calling for a probe into the deaths on the Gaza Strip border.”

2. Jerusalem yay: Israel Hayom, which went nuts on Sunday with a six-page spread and a celebratory column from Ambassador David Friedman, has nary a mention of the anniversary, though it does include a small pic-cap of Guatemalans celebrating Israel’s birthday with a parade this week.

  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon fills the void with a tweet celebrating the anniversary of the embassy move.
  • In Canada’s National Post, the country’s former envoy to Israel Vivian Bercovici urges Ottawa to join its southern neighbor in moving its mission to Jerusalem, as Conservative prime ministerial candidate Andrew Scheer has pledged to do.
  • “Canada should aspire to be a principled, disciplined global actor. Foreign policy, thoughtfully conceived and implemented, reflects pragmatic and idealistic aspects of political and national identity and places those aspirations in an international context. If Canada is, as we are reminded daily and want to believe, an arbiter of decency, fairness and international rules-based law and order, well, then, we should honour those lofty commitments,” she writes.
  • “Israel is the only country in the world — including all the nations that have emerged and formed in the post-colonial and Soviet eras — that has been denied the threshold respect from the international community of designating its own capital.”

3. The end of Israel as we know it: But who can think about the past when the future is so much scarier. A day after a report in Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to defang the Supreme Court as part of an immunity bid, critics ring alarm bells with renewed vigor.

  • The reform would reportedly allow the Knesset to overrule the court on not only legislation, but also decisions, like granting someone immunity.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini decries what he calls the “Erdoganization” of Israel, referring to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • “This is a fatal, dangerous, anti-constitutional mix between the override clause and the immunity law,” he writes.
  • “Neutering the High Court … will mark the end of democratic Israel. All supporters of Israeli democracy — both in the coalition and the opposition, whether in the public or private arenas — have a duty to act to put an end to this legislative initiative,” a lead editorial in Haaretz urges.
  • Channel 12 reporter Daphna Liel pushes back against the claim that the immunity bill was something Netanyahu and his right-wing cohorts were elected to pass, noting that he said on several occasions he did not support such a measure (though in actuality he was more coy than that on most occasions, which is why it’s being pushed by URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich).

4. What immunity? In Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, columnist Haim Shine says the immunity law won’t grant criminals immunity.

  • “There’s not a smidge of intent to switch out court decisions for public verdicts. Courts decide who is guilty or innocent, and this is not giving immunity from standing trial,” he claims.
  • Yedioth’s Shlomo Pyoterofsky exclaims his exasperation at the left and media making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • “How many times can you hear about the ‘end of democracy’ and still get worked up about it?” he asks. “Did you think for a second that maybe there is a logic to legislating an override clause that will return balance between the Supreme Court and the people, which is the Knesset?”

5. Boring Benny: Likely opposition leader Benny Gantz gave his maiden speech to the Knesset on Monday, and while he urged the safeguarding of democracy, some criticize him having a lackluster fighting spirit against Netanyahu.

  • One pundit remarks he’s had more animated arguments when accidentally bumping into someone in the Knesset hallway.
  • The speech “sounds like a continuation of the meatless Monday campaign,” Channel 13’s Akiva Novick quips on Twitter.

6. Pushing the Pole: Tension with Poland over the government’s efforts to end Holocaust restitution to Jews also finds its way to the Israeli press.

  • On Monday, the crisis went up a notch after Poland canceled the visit of an Israeli delegation.
  • Jonny Daniels of the From the Depths organization, described as close to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, tells Makor Rishon that the Polish government’s hard line on the issue is little more than election bluster.
  • “It’s like Netanyahu saying ‘the Arabs are flocking to the polls’ — there’s a vote for EU institutions in a week and a half and the prime minister has been caught by the far right which is inflaming Poland with a demand that property not be returned to Jews.”
  • He adds that Poland and the World Jewish Restitution Organization were quite close to a deal before it got blown up.
  • But in Israel Hayom, columnist Meir Indor accuses the government of inciting the street over the issue.
  • “For whatever reason, the Poles have never made a collective accounting [of what they did during the Holocaust.]
  • Yedioth columnist Sever Plotzker, himself born in Poland, says the Polish government should not claim to speak for him, and complains that the Israeli one is not.
  • “Israel’s voice against the Polish moves should have been heard clearly a while ago,” he writes.

7. Taking on Tlaib: Israelis aren’t exactly being silent regarding Rashida Tlaib’s comments about the Palestinians providing a safe haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust and paying a price for it.

  • Envoy Danny Danon takes to Twitter to condemn her remarks as anti-Semitic.
  • In Israel Hayom, Yisrael Medad accuses her of “seeking to hide and pervert the true historical record,” and of being encouraged by leftist Jews.
  • “This is not done for the sake of hindsight but to lay the groundwork for the future. She observes Jewish students reciting Kaddish for Hamas terrorists. She sees Jews leading the BDS struggle,” he writes.

8. Twist and shout: Others, though, rush to her defense, especially after some claim she said the Holocaust was “calming.”

  • “Amazingly, her positive comment about the establishment of the state of Israel is being twisted into a positive comment about the Holocaust,” writes NY Mag’s Jonathan Chait. “Tlaib is repeating the same basic observation that Jews habitually make — out of the darkness comes light.”
  • And some see no winners in such a charged debate.

9. Ban camp: The song contest part of the Eurovision song contest officially kicks off Tuesday evening.

  • On Wednesday Madonna will arrive with an entourage of roadies and dancers, and her equipment is already here, leading to speculation that she will be performing at Eurovision. The only problem: Eurovision says it’s not yet a done deal.
  • According to Channel 12 news, the delay is being done on purpose to try and keep Israel boycotters at bay, though it’s unclear if that strategy is working.
  • In the meantime, a couple of think pieces look at the campy festival kicking off and the politics surrounding it.
  • In a paper for the right-leaning BESA Center, Shay Attias writes that the BDS movement has already won, with the contest being held in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.
  • “While Israel’s ability to win and subsequently host Eurovision at all indicates that it does have some degree of soft power, its failure to prevail in the Jerusalem debate shows that that power still has some serious cracks,” he writes. “Now that this dent has been made in Israel’s perceived international legitimacy, the BDS movement might be emboldened to try to score more points. Israel would be well advised to view Eurovision 2019 as a perilous event at which the groundwork may be laid for new diplomatic fights.”
  • In the Jewish Review of Books, Shayna Weiss writes that “Through pageantry, the contest aims to subsume conflicts between its members as part of a larger program of international peace. Of course, these are deeply naïve, even absurd, goals—almost as absurd as Eurovision’s song and dance numbers. Yet, rather than a cynical rejection of all Eurovision holds dear, I recommend paying attention to how Israel shapes its image through the international politics of camp.”
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