Pomp and circumstance: 7 things to know for October 3
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Pomp and circumstance: 7 things to know for October 3

Knesset unrolls red carpet to swear in 22nd parliament; event appears as ceremonial as ever with sides no closer to reaching compromises necessary to prevent 3rd election

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Preparations for the opening of the 22nd Israeli parliament session, October 02, 2019 (FLASH90)
Preparations for the opening of the 22nd Israeli parliament session, October 02, 2019 (FLASH90)

1. Turn up for what? After months of rolling up their sleeves on the campaign trail, lawmakers will be donning suits, ties, dresses and blouses for the swearing-in of the 22nd Knesset Thursday afternoon, but the ceremony feels ceremonial at best, with many convinced that we are as far as ever from forming a new government.

  • Caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says no breakthrough has been reached after his meeting with the election’s so-called kingmaker Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. The former is sticking with his bloc of religious parties, while the latter says he’s only interested in working with Likud and Blue and White.
  • Knesset Speaker (for now) Yuli Edelstein makes headlines by telling Kan public radio that Netanyahu would be prepared to take a leave of absence if he were indicted in the graft cases against him. “This is not an easy step in leadership,” he says. “The prime minister is prepared to pay this price to establish a government.”
  • As for who will be taking part in Thursday’s ceremony, it’s largely the same folks that strutted the red carpet just five months ago, back when Liberman wasn’t a “leftist” (in Netanyahu’s eyes) and forming a government seemed like a relatively manageable task.
  • Seventeen of the lawmakers who served in the 21st Knesset, several of whom voted to disperse it upon Netanyahu’s command, have since been sent packing. The 22nd class will see just eight new members, with nine other veterans making a comeback. While the last real Knesset (20th) saw a record number of women (37), the one being sworn in Thursday will feature a measly 28.

2. The gang’s not all here: Absent from today’s lackluster ceremony will be the Joint List, whose members announced that they would be boycotting the swear-in to protest what they call the government’s failure to address rising levels of violence in Arab towns.

  • Over 60 Arab Israelis have been murdered since the start of 2019, prompting their political representatives to promise to make the problem a primary issue.
  • Whether the spike in violence is a result of law enforcement neglect or lack of leadership from the communities themselves, the situation is leading to scenes that suggest anarchy is ruling the Arab Israeli streets.
  • The issue has failed to garner massive media coverage, but Media Central, which takes English-language press on tours of Israel, has picked up the gauntlet organizing interviews for reporters with relevant decision-makers.

3. Messianists and Nazis: Netanyahu might have hoped that the religious parties would stick with him through thick and thin, but Israel Hayom reports that the leaders of Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism refused to sign a document vowing that they would continue to back Netanyahu after he acknowledges failure to form a government and tells President Reuven Rivlin he can task someone else with the job.

  • Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz is expected to receive the next (albeit long-shot) opportunity, and if he fails the entire Knesset could vote to see if  any one candidate can get 61 recommendations. It is regarding this tally, in which the religious parties are preferring to keep their cards close to their chests. that Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked tells reporters that Hebrew equivalent of “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
  • Haaretz reports that in a meeting of the right-wing factions sans Yisrael Beytenu, Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich offered to hold off being made a minister while the government is still being formed in order  to not scare away Liberman, who has vowed not to sit in a government with “crazy messianists.”
  • You say messianists, incoming Democratic Camp MK Yair Golan says Nazis. Golan, who caused quite the kerfuffle in 2016 when he compared political trends in Israel to those of 1930s Germany, is doubling down on the Nazi talk. “Let’s remember that the Nazis came to power in a democratic fashion,” he tells Radio Darom. “So we have to be careful that extremists with a messianic view don’t take advantage of Israeli democracy to create another governing reality here.”
  • The remarks were quickly lambasted by right-wing pundits and politicians. Shaked gives what appears to be the most respectful rebuke tweeting at Golan, “You are being sworn into the Knesset today. You are a great man who can contribute to the country, so maybe can let go of your obsessive need to compare us to Nazis? It’s not even annoying anymore. Just pitiful.”
  • Channel 13 reporter Akiva Novick asks the more simple question of how it could be that Golan has no advisers around to remind him that Nazi comparisons lack class. In Golan’s defense, rarely does a day go by in Israel in which members of the nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust are not comparing one another to Nazis.

4. Hearing him out: The second day of the pre-indictment hearings in Netanyahu’s criminal cases is also underway, with the premier’s defense team predicting, as they did yesterday, they would need a lengthy session to present all of their arguments in the most serious of the three cases the premier faces.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Netanyahu’s lawyers are hoping to get the most serious charge of bribery scrapped from Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq case.
  • Channel 12 reports that the defense is expected to request the extension of deliberations on Case 4000 from two to three days — a further extension beyond one already agreed to by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
  • Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Ashkenazi tells reporters before heading into today’s hearing that during Wednesday’s session the defense team provided new evidence in the form of “documents that were not in the investigation material.”

5. Shh, torture in progress: As the condition of the Palestinian suspect who was tortured into a coma by the Shin Bet improves Haaretz columnists bring pen to paper to criticize the security service’s interrogation methods, which have been more broadly scrutinized when they were used against Jewish perps.

  • Security forces have defended the interrogation tactics used against Salim Arbid, who is alleged to have been behind the West Bank natural spring bombing that killed Rina Shnerb. They argue that torture is necessary in “ticking time bomb” cases where there is a belief the suspect could provide security forces with information that could prevent an imminent attack.
  • But former Meretz head Zehava Galon is having none of it, asserting in a column that no circumstances can excuse the employment of such tactics. “Don’t say it’s to protect me. The Shin Bet has an intelligence network, a respectable budget, advanced surveillance technologies and information gathered over the years. They beat people because we allow them to, because it is easier than investigating. If it turns out to be a mistake — oh well. It’s only a Palestinian.”

6. Can you hear the cries from Melbourne? Leaders in Australia’s traditionally uncritical Jewish community have just about had it with Israel’s justice system after a judge yesterday ordered the release of Malka Leifer to house arrest as the alleged serial pedophile’s extradition looks as far off as ever.

  • Australian media has once again began picking up on the story, which only began to receive appropriate coverage in Israel when it was revealed that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman allegedly tried to pressure district psychiatrists to deem Leifer mentally fit for extradition.
  • ABC radio interviews Australia’s former ambassador to Israel turned Federal Liberal MP Dave Sharma, who says the case “does not reflect well on the Israeli legal system, which has allowed the extradition process to drag on for over five years.” Sharma says he plans on urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to raise the issue with his Israeli counterpart, but admitted doing so while Israel does not have a definitive prime minister makes things tricky. Foreign Minister Marise Payne tells ABC in a statement that she raised the issue with her Israeli counterpart Israel Katz as recently as last week.
  • The decision to release Leifer to house arrest could go into effect as early as this afternoon barring the Supreme Court’s acceptance of an appeal from the prosecution.

7. Their boys: Israel Radio broadcasters Amit Segal and Yaron Dekel interview the co-creator of the hit HBO series “Our Boys,” Joseph Cedar, and spend most of the time taking him to task for the show’s emphasis on the brutal murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, rather than on the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel that preceded it in the summer of 2014.

  • Segal takes issue with the title of the show, saying it is not really about “our” (read: Israeli) boys. While Cedar appears to concede the point, he says they picked a title that would be evocative. Moreover, he urged viewers to focus not on the name but on the personal stories of the characters introduced in the show.
  • Dismissing accusations that the show painted all Israelis in a negative light, Cedar says the goal of “Our Boys” had been to get Israelis to let go of their much-desired feeling to be viewed as victims. “It should not be about comparing our victims to theirs,” he says.
  • Asked how he felt about Netanyahu’s criticism of the show as anti-Semitic, Cedar admits that the post from the prime minister had been excellent PR for the series. However, he says that the reaction had been given “in the context of an election.”
  • “I wish he would look at things from the eyes of Mohammad’s parents or even the eyes of the Ben Davids (one of the murderer’s family) who are only receiving orders from above and don’t have any ability to oppose them,” Cedar says.
  • While Segal laments that the same sort of internal reckoning has not been seen in Palestinian cinema, Cedar objects saying that the show’s lone Palestinian director Tawfik Abu-Wael was behind much of the focus on the pressure Mohammad’s father Hussein underwent during the mourning process, when he was expected to turn his son into a martyr of the Palestinian cause.
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