What just happened in Israel, explained.

With views from the left, right, Israel and the U.S.
Isaac Saul Jun 3, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

Benjamin Netanyahu faces the end of his time as prime minister. Plus, a question about budget reconciliation, a new Blindspot Report and a critical “story that matters.”

President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stop to talk with reporters Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, along the West Wing Colonnade of the White House prior to their meeting in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Tomorrow.

After combing through reader feedback, continuing to read, and reflecting a bit, I’m going to revisit my writing on critical race theory from last week in a personal essay tomorrow. But remember: Friday editions are for paying subscribers only. So if you want to receive tomorrow’s Tangle, and all the other benefits that come with a Tangle subscription (rewards, comments section, our gratitude), click the button below!

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Quick hits.

  1. President Biden suspended drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. (The New York Times, subscription)
  2. Former President Donald Trump shut down his blog yesterday, which was less than one month old. (Reuters)
  3. The Biden administration and top Senate Republicans remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart on a new infrastructure spending bill. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. Federal prosecutors are looking into whether Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice during a phone call with a witness in a sex crimes investigation. (Politico)
  5. George P. Bush, the nephew and grandson of two former presidents, is planning to run for Texas attorney general. (Dallas Morning News)

What D.C. is talking about.

Israel. And more specifically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is the longest-serving leader in Israeli history, with more than 12 years on his current tenure and 15 years total. But now, opposition leaders in Israel say they have come to a power-sharing agreement that would oust Netanyahu and usher in a new prime minister and a new coalition in Israel’s Knesset. Since Israeli politics are unfamiliar to many, we’re going to take a second to explain what’s happening and why it’s important.

Israel’s government is a parliamentary democracy. Just like the U.S., Israel has three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. But instead of Congress, Israel has the Knesset, a parliament that has 120 members. Israeli voters cast ballots for party lists, not for individual members. After elections, the Israeli president (a largely ceremonial position) consults party leaders and then picks someone to try to form a coalition government. In order for a coalition government to be formed, a group of party representatives of more than 61 members must come together — a majority of the 120 members in the Knesset. Since no party ever gets a 61-vote majority on its own, this empowers smaller parties to influence how Israel’s government is formed. The leader of the government coalition becomes the prime minister and head of the state of Israel.

That’s been a bit of a problem. Israel has now had four elections in two years, and not one of them has resulted in a coalition government. That’s left the country in turmoil, with no state budget and a prime minister (Netanyahu) with no mandate. On top of that, Netanyahu is also facing corruption and bribery charges, and the conflict in Gaza and East Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians has all eyes on the region at a time when he has repeatedly failed to unite the government.

So what just happened? Naftali Bennett, a right-wing former Israeli Defense Minister, announced that he had formed a government coalition agreement that would replace Netanyahu. The alliance is unprecedented and consists of eight political parties with a diverse range of ideologies, religious associations and ethnicities. It spans from the left to the far right. Bennett would lead the coalition as prime minister until 2023, when it would then be passed to Yair Lapid.

Who are those guys? Both Lapid and Bennett are popular politicians in Israel. Naftali Bennett is considered more right-wing than Netanyahu, which is no small thing. Netanyahu has pushed Israel to the right under his leadership and is viewed as a pariah by many liberal Americans, who have been hoping for his ouster. Now, though, he’s being replaced by a former settler leader and a “standard-bearer for religious nationalists,” as The New York Times put it. Yair Lapid is a former television host who is considered a centrist, and more representative of secular Israelis.

Some history was also made. Ra’am, an Arab Islamist party that includes Palestinian citizens of Israel, is also part of the coalition. While Arab leaders have long populated the Israeli government, it’s the first independent Arab group to join a political alliance like this in Israeli history.

Why does it matter? Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies, and Netanyahu has been one of the most influential leaders in Israel’s history (some may argue the most influential leader). U.S. and Israel’s politics are deeply tied to each other. The change of power comes at a time when U.S. interest in what’s happening in Israel is at an all-time high, and when the politics of the Middle East as a whole are a major U.S. priority.

Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions to this news from the right and left.


What the left is saying.

The left is happy to see Netanyahu being ousted, but worried about what the next government may do.

In The Washington Post, David Ignatius said “the United States could take a lesson” from what’s happening in Israel.

“Bennett is an Orthodox Jewish former settler leader who wants to annex the West Bank; Lapid is a secular Jew who favors a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem,” Ignatius wrote. “Yet the two joined forces last weekend for what supporters call a ‘change government.’ The mission is to oust Netanyahu and end the impasse in Israeli politics he helped create… [Netanyahu] has remained prime minister for the past 12 years in part because of his genius at exploiting the divisions in Israeli society for his own benefit. He exploited ‘wedge politics’ much like his political ally, former President Donald Trump. He has kept his post despite a 2019 indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and a trial that resumed in April, in which he has pleaded not guilty. But this week, Netanyahu’s threats and bluster finally seemed to have lost their bite.

“Most of all, I suspect, Bennett and Lapid have come together because of a shared passion for the well-being of their country,” Ignatius said. “And that’s the point that I wish Americans could learn from watching this episode. This seems to be a moment where Israel’s version of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states — people who disagree about fundamental issues — have decided to put those divisions aside because of something that’s more important: national survival.”

In a CNN op-ed, Anshel Pfeffer warned that Netanyahu is not going to go down without a fight.

“Even if they succeed in keeping their coalition together and Bennett is sworn-in as Israel's next prime minister, Netanyahu is going nowhere,” he wrote. “He remains leader of Likud, Israel's largest party, and he's unlikely to give up that position. Although he's facing criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust -- all of which he has denied -- his trial is expected to take years. And Israeli law would allow him to serve again as prime minister while the case is continuing…

“As the leader of the opposition, with a considerable hardcore of fanatical supporters still intact, Netanyahu is sure to be daily plotting another comeback, awaiting any slip-up of his successor and exploiting discord in the unwieldy new coalition of wildly diverse and disparate parties,” he added. “Yet another election -- the fifth in two years -- could be just around the corner and Netanyahu remains a constant campaigner, even at 71… For many Israelis, Netanyahu will remain the king-in-exile, for years to come. And even if he never makes it back into the prime minister's office, his stamp on Israel will last for decades.”

In Newsweek, Muhammad Shehada wrote about the implications for Palestinians.

“His ouster is big news, including for us Palestinians, for whom the disaster that was Netanyahu's leadership cannot be overstated,” Shehada wrote. “Netanyahu spent his entire time in office putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in deep freeze, working tirelessly to take it off the agenda, both domestically and internationally. Throughout his tenure, Israeli human rights organizations and proponents of peace were disempowered, vilified, and delegitimized, until the word ‘leftist’ became a curse word synonymous with weakness and even treason… Netanyahu's term reshaped the Israeli discourse on the Palestinians in general and on Gaza in particular, injecting the entire subject with a toxic machismo that dehumanized Palestinians and erased any vestiges of hope for coexistence.

“And yet, despite all this, our relief will be short lived, given who will be replacing him,” he wrote. “Naftali Bennett is not good news for Palestinians. For as long as he's been a politician, Bennett has placed himself to Netanyahu's right vis-à-vis the Palestinians. He is an avowed opponent of the two-state solution and a fierce advocate of annexation. ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure [Palestinians] never get a state,’ he has said. Worse, he's bragged about killing us. ‘I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that,’ he said in a cabinet meeting in 2013, explaining his view that terrorists should be shot without trial.”


What the right is saying.

The right has cheered on Netanyahu’s rule, but agrees with the left that American liberals and Israelis may regret this change of power.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the “new government in Israel defies categorization.”

“If negotiations go through as planned, Israel could soon be led by a religious-nationalist Prime Minister backed by a centrist dealmaker, with the support of Arab and leftist parties,” it wrote. “American liberals will surely celebrate the departure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has come to symbolize the Democratic Party’s rift with Israel over the last decade. But it would be a mistake to interpret it as a rejection of Israel’s rightward political and security direction, which the new government is likely to maintain.

“The ouster of Mr. Netanyahu, if it happens, won’t be because the public turned against muscular security politics but because the conservative bloc grew so large that it fractured,” the board said, adding that Netanyahu’s contributions have been great. “He strengthened Israel’s ties with countries from India to Brazil, and normalized relations with Arab states in the region through the Abraham Accords. His economic reforms helped the country escape from its postwar, union-dominated socialism and make it a technology powerhouse. The country’s sustained growth—per capita GDP increased 42% between 2010 and 2019—improved its diplomatic standing as its economic leverage increased.”

In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord said “Bennett knows he is about to become prime minister based on a bitter, hysteric wave of hatred for Netanyahu.”

“But on this happy day, when a strong-arm minority tramples most of the people, let us remember – who, Mr. Bennett, would you really have wanted to see in office these past two years, other than Netanyahu?” Lord asked. “With anyone else, including members of the newly-formed coalition, we'd still be eating masks for dinner and crying out that our people were dying.

“While the government that is being called the worst in Israel's history was in power, great strides were made, in addition to Israel being the first country in the world to contain the pandemic,” he wrote. “Economic growth was restored, we saw improved numbers and a diplomatic and operational campaign against Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the Abraham Accords, which it's doubtful the new government will be able to protect. Going into a government with a budget and ministers eager to intervene in citizens' lives, it's possible that we might wind up missing the ‘paralyzed’ government.”

In The Times of Israel, Ophir Falk called it “the end of democracy in Israel as we know it.”

“No prime minister in Israel has ever entered office with less than 26 seats in the Knesset (less than a quarter of the 120 seats in parliament),” he said. “The one with 26 (Ehud Barak) lasted a year and a half in office and is considered to have been a colossal failure. Now, for the first time in Israel’s history, the mandate to form a government is in the hands of someone with 17 seats (Lapid), who in turn is offering to appoint a prime minister with six mandates (Bennett). That is, a prime minister, who barely received 280,000 votes, most of whom regret it already. Not so long ago, such a scenario would be difficult to fathom.

“Appointing a prime minister with six mandates — one-fifth the size of Netanyahu’s party — will go down as the most anti-democratic political ploy ever carried out in Israel — perhaps in any democracy,” he wrote. “It will be the first time in the history of democracies that someone with less than 5% voter support is sworn into office. This six-mandate stunt is being trumpeted by mainstream media, which, in doing so, is cutting off the third leg of democracy. The same media that warned about Israel’s unstable democracy under Netanyahu, is now showing that hypocrisy has no limits.”


My take.

As someone who is often inspired by political compromise and folks with different political views coming together (hello, Tangle readership!), I can spot a certain beauty in what’s happening in Israel.

It’s hard to make a comparison to how this might look in the United States, but the closest I can think of would be to imagine Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi forming a political arrangement to share power over Congress. And with that arrangement, a split ticket in the executive branch — a Republican president and Democratic vice president — in the White House.

Of course, in this case, the unifying factor is not so much a high-minded ideal about political compromise and diversity in government, but a burning hatred for, and frustration with Benjamin Netanyahu. Imagine, for a moment, the kind of unified scorn for someone else it would take to unite Donald Trump and Joe Biden or Pelosi and McConnell to share power in a government. Perhaps it’s most comparable to the “never-Trump” Republicans’ love affair with Democrats, except on a much larger scale. That’s what is happening in Israel — among ultra-Orthodox Jews, Zionists, centrists, leftists, and the historic inclusion of the first-ever independent Arab party in a governing alliance.

As for Netanyahu, good riddance. His impact on my life as an American Jew who cares about Israel has been overwhelmingly negative; he has divided American Jews, divided Israeli citizens, and could be leaving office at a time when he’s under investigation for corruption (for which there is strong evidence). Plus, he has just overseen weeks of the worst fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in more than a decade. Of course, he doesn’t carry the blame for that alone, but his leadership has done far more to provoke hostilities than tamp them down.

Regardless, you don’t have to take my word for how divisive, harmful and toxic Netanyahu’s leadership has been for Israel — or how much harm he’s done to prospects of peace in Gaza and the West Bank with Palestinians. Just look at the spectrum of people he has united in opposition against him.

And yet, my message to the American left is: be careful what you wish for. As nearly every observer has pointed out, Naftali Bennett has spent much of his career attacking Netanyahu from the right. His government will be one of the most tenuous and fragile in the history of any democracy, and if Netanyahu has proved anything it’s that he is a political survivor. How long this coalition will last, or the future direction of Israeli politics as a whole, is anyone’s guess.


Your questions, answered.

Q: We've been hearing a lot about budget reconciliation as a means to avoid the filibuster, including your latest on Biden's budget proposal. Question: It was my understanding that this process could only be used once per year, and yet we keep seeing proposals to use it again, how does this work? Is this like the time Republicans tried to pass two budget reconciliation bills in one year by one of them actually being for the next year's budget, or am I missing something?

— Dillon, Hurst, TX

Tangle: We actually got some news on this (quietly) yesterday. Refresher: budget reconciliation is a process to pass bills by a simple majority. That means Democrats can pass whatever they want under budget reconciliation, so long as every Democrat is on board (the Senate is split 50-50, and Democrats have the tie breaking vice presidential vote).

But only certain kinds of bills can pass via reconciliation — those tied directly to federal spending and revenue. Rulings on whether a bill qualifies for budget reconciliation are made by the Congressional Budget Office (which predicts the impact of bills on revenue and spending) and the Senate parliamentarian (right now, that’s Elizabeth MacDonough, and she rules on the grey areas).

Traditionally, for reasons too complicated to elaborate on here, Congress only gets one chance to pass a major bill via reconciliation a year. Practically, that means Democrats would have to choose to use reconciliation on either the American Jobs Plan or the American Family Plan, knowing they’re unlikely to win Republican support on either. So they petitioned MacDonough to rule on whether they could use it for both. Yesterday, MacDonough effectively said no. Or, at least, she said that Democrats didn’t have justification for using it twice right now — which means you can expect them to barrel ahead with infrastructure next month and figure out the rest later.

If you’re interested, Salon has a good write-up about how this could derail the Democratic plans for this summer.


Blindspot report.

Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. And one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.

If you’re on the left, you probably missed the story of an explosive study claiming Chinese scientists created Covid-19 in a lab.

If you’re on the right, you probably missed the story of the rioters at the Capitol who blamed their actions on 2020 election misinformation.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.


A story that matters.

Cyberattacks on essential U.S. services are ramping up. A few weeks ago, a ransomware attack — where hackers took down a network of fuel pipelines and then asked for payment to resolve it — rocked the U.S. Another attack took down the largest meat supplier in the U.S. yesterday. On top of that, New York’s subway system and a ferry that takes tourists to Martha’s Vineyard from Cape Cod were also subjects of cyberattacks, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. These attacks are part of a “global criminal pivot from stealing data to hobbling operations,” and are beginning to impact day-to-day life for citizens across the planet.


Numbers.

  • 16,500. The average number of new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. over the last week, a 30 percent drop from the week before.
  • 43 states. The number of U.S. states where cases are declining.
  • Zero. The number of U.S. states where cases are increasing.
  • 6,578,084. The number of eligible voters in Israel’s last election.
  • 4,410,052. The number of voters who cast a ballot.
  • 30. The number of seats won by the Likud party in the last Israeli election, which is led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • 17. The number of seats won by Yesh Atid in the last Israeli election, the centrist party founded by Yair Lapid.
  • 7. The number of seats won by Yamina in the last Israeli election, the right-wing party led by Naftali Bennett.

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Have a nice day.

With a rover on Mars already, NASA is setting its sights on another planet: Venus. Yesterday, NASA announced that it is planning to send two spacecraft missions to Venus this decade that will ramp up exploration of Earth’s closest neighbor. Scientists studying Venus have long complained that it doesn’t draw the same interest as Mars, despite the fact that “tantalizing” data has been collected from the planet suggesting the possibility of microbial life in its atmosphere, a previous ocean on its surface and the possibility it was once a habitable planet. It’s the first probe of Venus in more than 30 years. (NASA)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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