Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Israel has made peace with another Muslim country this week and it’s not even the most exciting story. The big news was at the World Zionist Congress. Elections definitely have consequences.

 

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Corona in Israel

Baruch Hashem, Covid-19 cases are down below 13,000 active cases in Israel. There were also very few new serious cases in the last week. Unfortunately, some patients do continue to die, but some are getting better as well. As a result of the more positive numbers, Israel is planning to re-open schools for grades 1-4 next week as well as select businesses, like hair salons.

If the numbers stay good, more things will be opened soon thereafter. Additionally, Israel is now allowing giving visas for individuals on certain business trips and opening hotels in the Eilat and Dead Sea areas. Things definitely still aren’t back to normal, but better every week right now.

 

Peace With Sudan! Who’s Next?

A normalization agreement between Israel and Sunday was announced this week. Sudan becomes the third country to join the “Abraham Accords.” Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan had been very active in terrorism for the past few decades.

President Trump announced that there are at least five more Muslim countries (and maybe as many at 10) who are seriously considering joining as well, including Saudi Arabia.

It seems that the next two countries most likely to join are Oman and Morocco. Reports suggest that Saudi Arabia is waiting until after the U.S. presidential election to make its announcement. Always so darn clever, those Saudis.

 

Elections?

There are two major factors pushing Israel toward potential elections in the near future:

1) The Blue and White party has declared that a budget for 2020 must be passed by Dec. 25. It normally takes about six weeks to pass a budget, so the first week in November (next week) should give a pretty good indication of whether this is going to happen or not.

Ideally, it would also like a budget passed at that time for 2021 as well. Failure to pass a budget is the only condition in the agreement between Likud and Blue and White that would lead to new elections without Prime Minister Netanyahu having to turn over the premiership to Benny Gantz. Some speculate that failing to pass a budget was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan from the beginning. Others are 100 percent sure of it!

2) The Israeli Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday challenging the legality of the agreement made between Likud and Blue and White to form the current government. The justices didn’t seem so enthused by the extreme leftist plaintiffs’ arguments, but have yet to issue a ruling.

It seems unlikely they will strike down the agreement, which would lead directly to new elections. But you never know with those fine folks.

 

Jihad?

A few months ago, Israel arrested a member of the Islamic Jihad terror group. It wasn’t the first time he had been detained. As his detention has continued without charges being filed, the terrorist went on a hunger strike. He has now been on that hunger strike for over 90 days!

It’s unclear how close to death he really is, but safe to say that he’s seen healthier days. Islamic Jihad has reportedly mobilized its forces in Gaza to be ready in case the guy who refuses to eat dies. In the meantime, it has begun to send balloons with explosives into Israel again.

As of now, he’s scheduled to be released in November, so Israel will probably release him a little early, but if he dies before then… might be some jihad.

Review of the World Zionist Congress

The 38th World Zionist Congress was held – virtually – this past week. The Congress is held every five years in Jerusalem and predates the State of Israel.

What is it?: The World Zionist Congress of 2020 is made up of 524 elected and appointed delegates from all over the world. A little more than one third are from Israel (and mirror the current Knesset), a little less than a third are from the U.S. (and are democratically elected), and one third are from the rest of the world (and are either elected or appointed in their respective countries/regions).

The idea is that world Jewry will have a say on how the Zionist organizations are run, much like they did before the State of Israel actually existed.

What does it decide?: It decides who will lead the major Zionist organizations: the World Zionist Organization, the United Israel Appeal, the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund. It decides who will receive other positions as well and it sometimes passes resolutions/statements.

Ma Nishtana – why this year was different: As the Obama administration learned, sometimes when you go too far, you cause a serious pushback. With Obama, it was Trump, and with the World Zionist Congress, it was the Eretz HaKodesh party. Although the World Zionist Congress always tilted left/secular, it wasn’t so controversial. Why? Because mostly the organizations were run by Israelis and they did what they were historically meant to do:

Jewish Agency = encouraging and facilitating aliyah
United Israel Appeal = fundraising
World Zionist Organization = Zionist education/activism
Jewish National Fund = land acquisition and management in Israel

But two recent disturbing trends happened in the past decade or so:

1) The Reform and Conservative movements began using the electoral success in the U.S. to aggressively push a more leftist policy at organizations like the Jewish National Fund, attempting to curtail/end their activities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Additionally, they used the institutions to fund their very small communities in Israel as well as provocative organizations like “Women of the Wall.”

2) Groups affiliated with the “Hatikvah” slate in the U.S. united together and aggressively campaigned to gain more seats and influence. These people would be considered radical leftists at best and many would be termed anti-Zionists because of their support for BDS and other anti-Israel initiatives.

The Response: Eretz HaKodesh. A new party was formed in the U.S. to represent the more right-wing (politically and religiously) oriented community. This party, led by long time right-wing leader, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, became the third largest party in the U.S. delegation. The other more right-wing parties, like Mizrachi and ZOA, also did quite well in the election and Eretz HaKodesh tipped the balance of the whole Congress to the right.

Before the Congress: Right before the Congress was scheduled to be held and after tense negotiations, all the right-wing parties joined together into one coalition. Combined with their Israeli counterparts, they now had enough votes to secure all the major positions in the various organizations.

At the Congress: When the strength and plan of the right-wing became apparent, the left began to scream. They even went as far as to threaten to withdraw from the Congress altogether. Their loud protests, through the media, unnerved some of those on the right and a compromise was reached where all parties were part of the coalition and all received some positions.

Of course, the right got more, including the leadership of the Jewish National Fund, whch is considered the most important.

After the Congress: Not much has happened yet, since the Congress just took place last week, but already there are protestations from the left about the results. Although all groups claimed victory, the right is clearly now in charge, something that never happened before. And now it’s payback time.

If you think President Trump has done a lot for Israel (he has), watch out for Eretz HaKodesh!

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Rabbi Ben Packer is the director of the Jerusalem Heritage House.