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Israel’s new government: ‘This is not the end of democracy,’ says Netanyahu


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“This is not the end of democracy,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he was sworn in Thursday morning for a record sixth term. We start the day with a variety of perspectives on the most hardline government in the country’s history. 

 

Israel’s far-right government, explained: Netanyahu’s new coalition represents a blow to the cause of religious pluralism in Israel, and would allocate hundreds of millions of shekels to projects aimed at turning non-observant Israelis onto Orthodoxy. Other plans would redefine who is considered Jewish and limit who can make aliyah, likely alienating millions of diaspora Jews. Our partners at Haaretz break down some of the key initiatives. Read the story ➤

Opinion | Don’t let the far-right define what it means to be ‘pro-Israel’: Most Israel advocacy organizations have insisted that the only way to be “pro-Israel” is to uncritically support it, regardless of who’s in office writes Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street. He argues that “the pro-Israel tent will be strongest if there is room for both those who agree — and those who disagree — with Israel’s government at any given time.” Read his essay ➤

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Alan Dershowitz recently returned from a visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Getty)

Alan Dershowitz: Netanyahu ‘will not do anything to endanger American support for Israel.’ Dershowitz recently met with the new prime minister and talked to our senior political reporter, Jacob Kornbluh, about his views on the future of Israeli democracy. “I will continue to proudly defend Israel with no redline,” Dershowitz said, adding that he will not shield it from criticism over drastic changes on civil liberty issues. Read the story ➤

 

Polarizing politician: Netanyahu tapped Amichai Chikli as minister of diaspora affairs. Chikli told us in an interview last year that American Jews underestimate how leftist politics threaten the Jewish state. “I have a problem,” he said, “with the trend of Reform Jews seeking to assimilate and affiliate themselves with groups who are anti-Israel.”

 

In an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionist Party writes that he’s trying to make Israel closer to an American model.

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Elon Musk’s restoration of the Twitter accounts of several antisemites has some Jewish Tesla owners regretting their purchases. (Getty)

It’s buyer’s remorse for these Jews who love their Teslas but are disgusted with Elon Musk: The Twitter CEO’s permissive policies on antisemitism are making some once-proud Tesla owners reconsider. “It’s almost like the last six years we’ve gone back 60 years,” said Andy Heller, who owns two Teslas and plans to sell the older one. There have always been antisemites, “but they haven’t had a platform,” Heller added. “And now they have not only a platform, they have a mechanism to bring in followers and people who listen to them and respect them.” Read the story ➤

 

In this overlooked documentary, the son of Holocaust survivors embarks on a seemingly impossible mission: Donna Kanter’s 2019 film, The Presence of Their Absence, grapples with the difficulty of reclaiming a past lost to the Shoah through one man’s journey to find a photograph of his grandparents. Traveling to Poland and Israel for clues, that man, Fred Zaidman, is able to gain a clearer picture of his family’s fate. But, as Simi Horwitz writes, “the larger questions remain unanswerable.” Read the story ➤

And one more: A Jewish woman was paralyzed when she contracted polio in the 1950s. Amid worries of a new outbreak in an Orthodox community in upstate New York, she’s encouraging others to get vaccinated.

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WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

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Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Rep.-elect George Santos committed any crimes. (Getty)

😠  Federal and local prosecutors have launched investigations into whether Congressman-elect George Santos’s extensive lies about his work, education and family background constitute a fraud on the public. “No one is above the law,” said the Nassau County District Attorney, who, like Santos, is a Republican. “If a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.” (New York Times)

 

🔎  Meanwhile, Jewish elected officials and leaders plan to call “on Congress to immediately launch an ethics investigation into Santos’ misconduct” at a news conference on Thursday. (Twitter

 

🤦  And more Santos lies about a Jewish heritage came to light on Wednesday: He once said his mother’s family’s historical Jewish name was “Zabrovsky” and appeared to operate a GoFundMe campaign for a pet rescue charity using that alias; claimed in a campaign video that he understood the dangers of socialism because “my grandparents survived the Holocaust;” and said in an interview, “my grandfather was born in Kyiv.” The Forward broke the news last week that his mother’s parents were both born in Brazil before the Nazis came to power. (CNN)

 

🩺  U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Jewish Maryland Democrat who has been a lead investigator of former President Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, announced Wednesday he has a serious but curable form of cancer. (JTA)

 

💸  Hasidic and Orthodox schools in New York have exploited a city policy fast-tracking approvals of special education services, a new investigation by The New York Times found, with companies collecting more than $350 million in government funding for services that were not always needed or provided. These schools also reported far higher rates of special ed than others in the city, and some pushed parents to get their students diagnosed with disabilities. “The program is smoke and mirrors,” said one woman who filed a whistle-blower complaint. (NYT)

 

🇮🇹  A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor and senator in Italy is president of a parliamentary commission to combat racism, antisemitism and incitement to hatred. Since she took the job in 2019, the senator has had a police escort due to death threats from the far-right. (Guardian)

 

📖  Ukrainians’ online engagement with the Bible rose by 55% after the country was invaded by Russia in February, according to the creators of a popular Bible app. Their favorite verse is from the Book of Isaiah: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Religion News Service)

 

What we’re listening to ➤   Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, a podcast, whose latest episode dropped overnight and has the host chatting with one his biggest fans, a congregational rabbi from the New York suburbs. Rabbi David Schuck of New Rochelle talked about what goes on at synagogue board meetings, surviving the pandemic and pastoral counseling in the grocery store. “Every day is completely unpredictable,” he said.

What else we’re reading ➤  Meet the rabbi who is helping bring legal cannabis to New York … Israeli archaeologists excavating ‘Jesus midwife’ tomb …A new coffee table book of photos explores the Jewish history of Northern Virginia.

ON THE CALENDAR

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Shlomo Venezia in his clothing store in 2007. He died, at 88, in 2012. (Getty)

On this day in history (1923): Shlomo Venezia, a Holocaust survivor and memoirist who owned a clothing store in Italy, was born on Dec. 29, 1923. Venezia was imprisoned in Auschwitz and made to work for the Sonderkommando, which helped dispose of those killed in the gas chambers. While most of the Jews assigned this task were later killed so they could not reveal the horrors of the camps, Venezia spoke about his experience on TV, in films and at schools and conferences. His book, Inside the Gas Chambers, has been translated into more than a dozen languages and his story served as inspiration for the 1997 movie The Grey Zone.

VIDEO OF THE DAY

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In case you missed it: Our editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren, chatted with Maggie Haberman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for The New York Times about former President Donald Trump, antisemitism and what Maggie does to relax.

 

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Thanks to Nora Berman, PJ Grisar and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter.

You can reach the “Forwarding” team at editorial@forward.com. 

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