Israel’s Caretaker PM Lapid Holds First Cabinet Meeting

Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid held his first Cabinet meeting Sunday since taking over as leader, promising a functional government despite the political instability that is sending Israel to its fifth elections in less than four years.

Lapid, sitting next to his predecessor power-sharing partner Naftali Bennett, also warned that Israel would take any step necessary to defend itself after it shot down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Lapid took over last week as prime minister as part of an agreement forged last year that created the coalition government. Bennett led it initially but stepped down following a series of defections and legislative defeats. Parliament dissolved itself, triggering new elections and handing power to Lapid.

Israel will head to the polls again Nov. 1, when Lapid will seek to convince voters to adopt his centrist vision and deny former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was ousted last year after more than a decade in power, a chance to return to lead the country. Bennett will not run in November.

“In the coming months our goal, of this whole table, is to run the government as if there is no election campaign. The citizens of Israel deserve a functioning government at any given moment,” Lapid said.

Lapid faced his first challenge on Saturday, when Hezbollah launched its unmanned aircraft toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea. The move appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.

“Hezbollah continues its path of terrorism, undermining Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime border. Israel will continue to protect itself, its citizens and its assets,” he said.

Lapid, who served as foreign minister under Bennett, will use his months as caretaker leader to prove to Israelis that he is prime minister material. He travels to Paris this week for meetings and then next week hosts President Joe Biden, a potential pre-election boost.

The upcoming election, as in the previous four, will likely be a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to lead at a time when he is on trial for corruption charges. He denies wrongdoing, but several political parties have refused to join a government led by him, complicating efforts to form coalitions and end the political turmoil.

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Ben & Jerry’s Opposes Plan to Sell Its Ice Cream in the West Bank

Ben & Jerry’s says it opposes its parent company’s plan to continue selling ice cream in the West Bank.

The parent company, Unilever, had announced on Wednesday a new business agreement to make money throughout Israel and the West Bank, forcing Ben & Jerry’s to serve ice cream despite its call to protest Israel settlements in the West Bank, paying homage to the progressive boycott divestment sanctions [BDS] movement.

Ben & Jerry’s announced its opposition to Unilever’s decision to sell the ice cream maker’s brand in Israel to an Israeli company, according to Ynet News. The Israeli company, American Quality Products, has vowed to continue the sale of the products in Israel and the West Bank.

In Wednesday tweets, Ben & Jerry’s slammed the decision.

“We are aware of the Unilever announcement,” it said. “While our parent company has taken this decision, we do not agree with it.

“Unilever’s arrangement means Ben & Jerry’s in Israel will be owned and operated by AQP. Our company will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.

“We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

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Reschenthaler Blasts ‘Bogus,’ ‘Baseless’ UN Commission of Inquiry

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., blasted the U.N. Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Commission of Inquiry as “bogus and baseless” and unfairly targeting U.S. ally Israel.

“The UNHRC’s bogus and baseless commission perpetuates a longstanding U.N. practice of unfairly singling out our ally Israel while refusing to hold actual bad actors accountable,” Reschenthaler wrote in a statement.

“The commission’s recent report is a blatant attempt to delegitimize Israel and whitewash Palestinian terror organizations. I’m proud my amendment to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding this highly controversial commission was adopted with strong bipartisan support.”

Reschenthaler introduced an amendment prohibiting federal funding for the UNHRC commission for its false allegations of human rights violations by Israel in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The House Committee on Appropriations unanimously passed it Wednesday.

In May 2021, following the conflict between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas, the UNHRC approved an unwarranted investigation into Israel’s alleged human rights violations, Reschenthaler’s release read.

“The UNHRC has consistently demonstrated strong bias against Israel,” it continued. “Of the 32 UNHRC mandated investigative probes, nine were against Israel. In contrast, the UNHRC has not established a Commission of Inquiry into the clearly documented genocide that China is committing against the Uyghur people in Xinjang.”

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McLaughlin Poll: 49 Percent Say Media ‘Biased Against Israel’

The mainstream media is “unfair, dishonest, and biased against Israel,” according to 49% of Americans and almost 60% of evangelicals, All Israel News reported from its McLaughlin & Associates polling data.

The poll also found 18.8% of Americans were “so turned off by the mainstream media’s dishonesty and bias against Israel that they are interested in finding a news service covering Israel that they can trust,” according to the report.

“That means 46 million Americans of all religions, races, and regions wish they could find a credible, honest, trustworthy alternative source of news and analysis regarding Israel and the Middle East,” according to the analysis, using the 2020 U.S. Census total of 258.3 million Americans age 18 or over.

Nearly 60% of evangelicals (57.4%) do not trust the mainstream media coverage of Israel or are downright angry and are looking for alternatives.

More than 38% of evangelicals find the media’s coverage of Israel is too often “unfair, dishonest, and biased against Israel,” according to the poll.

Among the “mainstream media” outlets mentioned included The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and the major broadcast news networks.

Respondents were asked which view best represents theirs on Israel:

  1. “Overall, I trust the mainstream media and believe that they cover news about Israel fairly and honestly.
  2. “I do not trust the mainstream media and believe that too often their coverage of Israel is unfair, dishonest, and biased against Israel.
  3. “I am angry with much of the mainstream media, I believe that far too often its coverage of Israel is terribly unfair, dishonest, and extremely biased against Israel, and I wish I could find a news service covering Israel I could trust.”

Just 30% of Americans 18 and over polled say they trust the media, while nearly half of Americans (49%) say they don’t trust due to bias or are angry enough about the bias they are seeking media alternatives. There were around 20% who did not know how they feel about the coverage of Israel.

McLaughlin & Associates polled 1,000 Americans ages 18 and over between June 17-22 for All Israel News. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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Israeli PM Convenes Cabinet Before Parliament Is Dissolved

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened what is likely his last Cabinet meeting as premier Sunday, with parliament expected to dissolve itself this week, triggering new elections in the fall.

Bennett’s decision to head to elections puts an end to an ambitious political project that united eight ideologically disparate parties that chose to put aside their differences to oust former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, who now has an opening to return to lead the country. The elections, the fifth the country has held in three years, deepen an unprecedented political crisis in Israel.

At the meeting, Bennett listed a series of accomplishments under his year-old government and thanked his coalition partners, which included dovish parties that support Palestinian statehood, nationalist ones who don’t, and for the first time in Israeli history, an Arab political faction.

“It was an excellent government that relied, yes, on a complicated coalition. And here in this room there is a group of people that knew how to put aside ideological disagreements, to rise above, and to work for the state of Israel,” he said.

As part of the power-sharing agreement that brought Bennett to power, he is set to hand over the premiership to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist former broadcaster, once parliament is dissolved. Elections are expected around the end of October and polls show Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to garner the most seats.

But as in most rounds of voting during the current political turmoil, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has been unable to muster a majority to form a coalition government, with some of his traditional allies refusing to join him. That could further extend the crisis after the upcoming vote.

While Bennett’s government helped steady the economy and navigated the last year of the coronavirus pandemic, it was beset by disagreements over the very issues it sought to avoid, particularly Israel’s 55-year occupation of the West Bank. Bennett said he decided to put an end to his political experiment because the government was unable to renew regulations that enshrine separate legal systems for Jewish settlers in the territory and Palestinians.

Bennett’s own nationalist faction, Yamina, was dogged by defectors, legislators who said the prime minister, a former settler leader, had veered too much toward the center in his bid to keep the coalition intact.

Bennett, who entered politics a decade ago, hasn’t said whether he’ll run in the upcoming elections.

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Report: Next Election May Be Netanyahu’s Last

Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to run in the upcoming round of elections for the very last time, according to sources quoted by Walla News.

“This October, I will turn 73 years old and it will be my last tenure,” said Netanyahu, who currently serves as the head of the opposition in the Knesset.

Assuming that he will get to build one more coalition, Netanyahu added that he wants to transfer the country to the premier who will inherit a “stabilized security, economic, and social state.”

Netanyahu’s office denied the report.

In any case, the former Israeli premier kicked off his election campaign on Monday immediately after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced their decision to dissolve the parliament.

“After a determined struggle of the opposition in the Knesset and great suffering of the Israeli public, it is clear to everyone that the worst government in the history of the country has come to an end,” Netanyahu said.

“My friends and I will form a broad national government headed by the Likud. A government that will take care of you, all the citizens of Israel, without exception. A government that lowers taxes, that lowers prices, will lead Israel to tremendous achievements including expanding the circle of peace as we have already done.”

Walla News reported that, unlike in previous elections campaigns in which Netanyahu considered declaring as his last, this time around he is seriously considering making an official announcement. Such a statement could be a major part of his campaign strategy, the Israeli outlet said.

The latest polls indicate that a right-wing bloc headed by Netanyahu is nearing the 61 seats needed to form a coalition. However, these polls reflect voting according to the current political landscape, whereas some parties are expected to join forces and undergo major changes. It is also likely that new parties might emerge.

Meanwhile, the opposition is still engaged in attempts to replace the Bennett-Lapid government without going to elections and dissolving the Knesset. The chances for that scenario are considered low. Yet on Wednesday, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked – Bennett’s longtime political partner – told Ynet news that she is willing to sit in an alternate government led by Netanyahu in the current Knesset.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s political rivals are trying hard to prevent him from taking the helm again through legislation dubbed the Defendant’s Law – a law that would prevent a government in any future Knesset from being formed by a lawmaker under indictment, including Netanyahu.

If it does pass, it would not apply to the current Knesset meaning Netanyahu would still be able to form an alternative government if he gathers 61 mandates prior to the Knesset dissolution and before going to new elections.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he will vote against such a bill, which is widely seen as personally targeting Netanyahu.

This article originally appeared on ALL ISRAEL NEWS and is reposted with permission.

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Report: Israel Keeping US in the Dark About Possible ‘Gray’ Operations in Iran

Israel is not telling the United States whether it is conducting ”gray” operations in Iran, including possible assassinations, to try to prevent that nation from getting atomic weapons.

According to a CNN report Tuesday, Israel is being tight-lipped with U.S. officials regarding Iran’s accusations that Israel may be involved in several ”targeted killings and other gray-zone operations” in the country in recent months.

Israel doesn’t ”seem to have a strategic plan right now to end the Iranian nuclear weapons development,” Jonathan Panikoff, head of the Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former deputy national intelligence officer for the Near East at the National Intelligence Council, told CNN. “It’s hoping that through a series of tactical actions it can keep the pressure on and continuously delay Iranian progress.”

Iran has accused Israel of poisoning two scientists who died last month as well as a drone strike on the Iranian Parchin military complex that killed a colonel in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Tuesday, the Iranian News Agency MEHR reported that three people believed to be tied to the Israeli secret Mossad agency were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill another scientist.

“The arrest of these Mossad operatives came after a complicated intelligence operation that lasted for eight months of monitoring them,” Mehdi Shamsabadi, the prosecutor general of the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan, said in that news outlet’s report on Tuesday.

The three were involved in leaking classified materials regarding Iran’s nuclear program and were trying to access more classified information through local officials, according to the report.

While U.S. officials told CNN that they were watching the escalation between Iran and Israel, the administration is taking a “hands-off” approach to possible Israeli operations, and do not expect our ally to acknowledge such actions or ask for permission before implementing them.

“The more the Israelis push — especially if the Iranians decide JCPOA is dead — the more the Iranians are going to push back,” Panikoff said in CNN’s report, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, i.e., the Iran nuclear deal.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia next month and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a swing through the region, according to The Washington Post.

The two are expected to discuss the situation between Iran and Israel, and the possible instability it could mean in the Middle East.

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Israel Bill to Ban Netanyahu From Another Run Denied Again

A bill seeking to ban Benjamin Netanyahu from running again to be prime minister reportedly was dropped Tuesday by the Israel Knesset.

Yevgeny Soba of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party sought a bill to keep a lawmaker charged with a serious crime from becoming prime minister, but it was dropped from the legislation to dissolve the Knesset and hold another election, according to The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu is currently opposing corruption charges in court, making the bill an obvious attempt to ban him from another run to lead Israel, critics told the Times. Liberman admits as much.

“These elections are the result of the intrigues, lies, and harassment of one man, and his name is Benjamin Netanyahu,” Liberman said, the Times reported. “The main goal is to prevent him from returning to power.

“It would be possible [to form a lasting government] if not for one man that is concerned only about himself.”

Knesset Presidium — the speaker of the Knesset and the speaker’s deputies — denied Liberman and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s requests to attach the bill to the dissolving of the Knesset, which is expected to come Wednesday.

Now that bill will have to pass separately — but with the Knesset dissolving soon, time might have run out on it, according to the Times.

Soba and Liberman are still trying to bring it back up separately, but the oft-repeated attempt to block Netanyahu might not be popular enough to pass regardless of running short on time. Critics note a pointed attempt to target a single candidate in Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday they are requesting the Knesset to dissolve because the government needs a new election to fully function.

That vote to dissolve the Knesset was moved up to Wednesday, reportedly to keep renegade parties from having enough time to form an alternative government, according to the report.

While the timing of the dissolving of the Knesset will come as soon as Wednesday, the new elections would be expected to come at the end of October, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, Bennett and Lapid would switch roles in the temporary government, making Lapid the prime minister and in charge of Iran policy as the world seeks a new Iran nuclear deal.

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Israel Coalition Agrees to Dissolve, Hold New Elections

Israel’s weakened coalition government on Monday decided to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The vote, expected later this year, could bring about the return of a nationalist religious government led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or another prolonged period of political gridlock.

In a nationally televised news conference, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it wasn’t easy to disband the government, but he called it “the right decision for Israel.”

Bennett’s office announced the move Monday.

The election, expected in October or November, would be Israel’s fifth in three years. The election could also set the stage for a return to power by Netanyahu, who is now the opposition leader.

Bennett has struggled to keep his unruly coalition of eight parties together since it took office one year ago, and defections have left the crumbling alliance without a majority in parliament for over two months.

Bennett and his main coalition partner, Yair Lapid, decided to present a vote to dissolve parliament in the coming days, Bennett’s office said. Lapid is then to serve as caretaker prime minister.

Bennett formed the eight-party coalition in June 2021 after four successive inconclusive elections. It included a diverse array of parties, from dovish factions that support an end to Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967, to hardline parties that oppose Palestinian independence. It made history by becoming the first Israeli coalition government to include an Arab party.

The alliance made a series of accomplishments, including passing the first national budget in several years and navigating a pair of coronavirus outbreaks without imposing any lockdowns.

But eventually it unraveled, in large part because several members of Bennett’s hard-line party objected to what they felt were compromises made by him to keep the coalition afloat and his perceived moderation.

The dissolution threatened to overshadow a visit scheduled next month by President Joe Biden. Israeli media quoted Biden’s ambassador, Tom Nides, as saying the visit would take place as planned.

Netanyahu said the imminent dissolution of parliament was “great tidings” for millions of Israelis, and said he would form “a broad nationalist government headed by Likud” after the upcoming elections.

Israel held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021 that were largely referendums about Netanyahu’s ability to rule while on trial for corruption. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

Opinion polls have forecast that Netanyahu’s hardline Likud will once again emerge as the largest single party. But it remains unclear whether he would be able to muster the required support of a majority of lawmakers to form a new government.

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan Elected Vice President of UN General Assembly

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations was elected vice president of the UN General Assembly in a vote held at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Both Iran and Syria voiced their objection to the Israeli ambassador’s appointment, but did not call for a counter vote, knowing that they are likely to lose it.

Erdan will fulfill the role for one year beginning in September when the 77th General Assembly convenes. In this position, the Israeli ambassador will chair General Assembly meetings and take part in setting the agenda for its deliberations.

“I will now be representing Israel in a position at the heart of the UN. Nothing will stop me – and I mean nothing – from fighting the discrimination in the UN against Israel,” Erdan said.

“This new position gives Israel another platform to present the truth about our country and our contributions to the world, despite the ongoing lies of the Palestinians and others at the UN. This triumph sends a clear message to our enemies that they will not prevent us from participating in leading roles at the UN and in the international arena. Hatred must never triumph over the truth. I won’t allow it,” he added.

A statement by the Israeli mission to the UN hailed Erdan’s appointment as a “major achievement for Israel” that comes despite the “exploitation by the Palestinians and others of the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”

“This achievement also prevails over the phony report, premeditated with anti-Israel bias, from the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry,” the statement read further, referring to a recent report that blamed Israel for “perpetual occupation.”

In the past year, Israel has achieved a number of significant milestones at the UN, including its election to serve for the first time ever as a member of the UN Economic Council (ECOSOC), the election of Odelia Fitoussi to serve on the Committee of Experts on Disability, Sarah Weiss-Maudi to serve as vice chair of the UN Legal Committee and the passing of the historic resolution in the General Assembly against Holocaust denial and distortion.

In 2017, then-Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon was elected as a vice president of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly.

This article originally appeared on ALL ISRAEL NEWS and is reposted with permission.

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