In slightly under three weeks, Israel will be holding its 20th parliamentary election, which was declared after a long period of internal power struggles within the ruling coalition. Eventually, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to dissolve the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) after less than two years out of a four-year term. The initial public response to the election was outrage, with the common opinion being that the election is a waste of public funds caused by ego-driven quarrels rather than legitimate policy disagreements. However, that sentiment seems to have withered down as the election became more competitive and surprising.
Political parties in Israel can be categorized into five groups: Right, center, left, ultra-orthodox (“Haredi”) and Arabs. The right consists of Likud, the Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beiteinu. In the center we can find two parties: Yesh Atid and Kulanu. The left parties are the Zionist Camp (a union of Labor and Ha’tnua) and Meretz. In a historic move, the Arab parties decided to unite in the coming election and to run together as one united party. The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties also considered the idea of unity briefly but eventually decided to stay as separate parties: United Torah Judaism party (UTJ) for the Ashkenazi Haredis, Shas party for the Sephardic Haredis and Yachad for the hard-right wing Haredis.
The current government was formed by a coalition of center-right parties, in contrast to the right-Haredi coalition who ruled before. However, the coming election might put an end to the Netanyahu regime, which has been in power since 2009. The alternative to Netanyahu is the political couple Issac Hertzog and Tzipi Livni. Together, they lead the Zionist Camp alliance and aim to bring the Labor party back to power for the first time since 2001. Do they have a chance? The polls suggests a complicated answer.
Here are the numbers from the most recent polls (there are 120 members of Knesset):
(Babushka ranks the parties in brackets, not the WP)
Likud 24 [Right]
Zionist Camp 23 [Center-Left]
Jewish Home 13 [Hard Right]
United Arab Party 13 [Left]
Yesh Atid 8 [Center-Right]
Shas 8 [Religious Grifters]
Kulanu 8 [Center Right]
UTJ 8 [Religious Grifters]
Yisrael Beiteinu 6 [Hard Right]
Meretz 5 [Hard Left]
Yachad 4 [Religious Convicted Felons]
The first thing that pops up is just how close the leading parties are, with just one seat separating them. However, what bothers the Zionist Camp is not so much the number of votes it will receive but rather the number of votes that will be cast in favor of the political center.
Speaker John A. Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to address Congress on Tuesday has turned a foreign policy issue that has had near unanimous support in both parties — Israel — into a bruising political showdown.
And nowhere has that transformation been more wrenching than among Jewish members of Congress — all but one of them Democratic — who seem to reflect the dismay of the nation’s larger Jewish community over the House speaker’s action.
“I went out to play golf — I never play golf — with three of my Jewish buddies,” recalled Representative Alan Lowenthal, a Jewish Democrat from Southern California who only this weekend decided he will attend Mr. Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress. “One said, ‘You must go,’ one said, ‘You definitely should not go,’ and one said, ‘I’m in the middle.’ That literally reflects the American Jewish community.”
Through foreign policy trials as difficult as the wars in Gaza and Lebanon, Israeli settlement policies, Arab terrorism, and the repeated failures of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Jews in Congress — and to a large extent, Jews in the United States — have spoken in a near-monolithic voice, always in support of the government of Israel
The Iraqi military, alongside thousands of Shiite militia fighters, began a large-scale offensive on Monday to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State, a battle that could either deepen the country’s bloody sectarian divide or become a pivotal fight in the campaign to reclaim north and west Iraq.
Iraqi state television announced the beginning of the offensive Monday morning, a day after Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, visited the forces massed on Tikrit’s outskirts and delivered a speech in which he said “zero hour” for the liberation of Tikrit was at hand.
While visiting Samarra, a town near Tikrit, on Sunday, Mr. Abadi promised amnesty to local residents who had been forced to join the Islamic State, but said it was the “last chance for them” to lay down their arms and assist the security forces in pushing out the militants.
Foreign Policy Ascends as Issue for Republican Presidential Contenders
The New York Times
Gruesome killings by the Islamic State, terrorist attacks in Europe and tensions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia are reshaping the early Republican presidential race, creating anxiety among party voters and sending potential candidates scrambling to outmuscle one another on foreign policy.
Doubts that crept into the minds of conservatives about engagement abroad after George W. Bush’s presidency and the protracted war in Iraq are dissipating, and they are increasingly pressing for more action against the Islamic State.
Nearly three-quarters of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week. And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early-voting states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.
Is there a state that faces a specific existential threat right now? Yes again. That state is South Korea.
South Korea has no nuclear weapons of its own, though the U.S. has extended its “nuclear umbrella.” Its immediate neighbor, North Korea, does have nukes, which it tested and developed while the U.S. was distracted in Iraq. North Korea’s leaders are peculiar, to put it mildly, and have repeatedly promised / threatened to destroy South Korea in a “sea of fire” in rhetoric as blood-curdling as any anti-Israel rant from Iran. South Korea’s population center is practically on the border with the North, rather than several time zones away as with Iran relative to Israel.
It would be better for everyone except North Korea if it had no nukes, but the South Korean president was not invited to address Congress during the GW Bush years to demand tougher action against North Korea.
Is Israel’s situation comparable to that on the Korean peninsula—or, to use the more familiar parallel, to that of European Jews menaced by Hitler in 1938? It most emphatically is not, if you pay any attention to the underlying facts.
The most obvious difference is that Israel is the incumbent (if unacknowledged) nuclear power in the region, with the universally understood ability to annihilate any attacker in a retaliatory raid. The only similarity between this power balance and the predicament of European Jewry in 1938 is the anti-Semitism. In 1938 the Jews of Germany, Poland, France, and Russia were a stateless minority with no military force of their own to protect them and no foreign power (including the U.S.) willing to step in. In 2015 Israel is a powerful independent state, more heavily armed than any adversary.
Think of this parallel: The full-tilt U.S. slave economy of the 1850s and the police-shooting abuses of 2015 have in common racist anti-black prejudice, but they are not the same situations. One was resolved only by cataclysmic war. The other is very serious but not the prelude to north-versus-south combat. The Iranian rhetoric of 2015 and the Nazi death machine of the Reich have in common anti-Semitic hate-mongering. But the differences between them are far more obvious than the similarities.
On Monday, The Atlantic unveiled a new feature piece by Graeme Wood entitled “What ISIS Really Wants,” which claims to expose the foundational theology of the terror group ISIS, also called the Islamic State, which has waged a horrific campaign of violence across Iraq, Syria, and Libya over the past year. The article is deeply researched, and makes observations about the core religious ideas driving ISIS — namely, a dark, bloodthirsty theology that revolves around an apocalyptic narrative in which ISIS’s black-clad soldiers believe they are playing a pivotal role. Indeed, CNN’s Peter Bergen published a similar article the next day detailing ISIS’s obsession with the end times, and cited Wood as an “excellent” source, citing a passage from his article with the kicker “Amen to that.”
Despite this, Wood’s article has encountered staunch criticism and derision from many Muslims and academics who study Islam. After the article was posted online, Islamic studies Facebook pages and listserves were reportedly awash with comments from intellectuals blasting the article as, among other things, “quite shocking.” The core issue, they say, is that Wood appears to have fallen prey to an inaccurate trope all too common in many Western circles: that ISIS is an inevitable product of Islam, mainly because the Qur’an and other Islamic texts contain passages that support its horrific acts.
In his article, Wood acknowledged that most Muslims don’t support ISIS, as the sheer number of Muslim groups who have disavowed the terrorist organization or declared it unIslamic is overwhelming. Yet he repeatedly hints that non-literal Islamic arguments against the terrorist group are useless because justifications for violence are present in texts Muslims hold sacred.
I thought this might be of interest in balance to the page I posted yesterday.
fter nine years with Benjamin Netanyahu as their prime minister, Israelis know a lot about him and his first lady, Sara. Now they also know how much the couple spends on hair and makeup, maid service and swimming pool water.
On Tuesday, at precisely 4 p.m., the Israeli state comptroller released an eagerly awaited report condemning the Netanyahus for “excessive spending” at both the prime minister’s official residence at 2 Balfour St. in Jerusalem and the couple’s private beachfront villa in Caesarea.
Want to know how much the Netanyahus billed the Israeli taxpayer for takeout food in 2011? It was 92,781 shekels, or about $24,000, “even though there was a chef in the residence,” the comptroller noted disapprovingly.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.
Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)
We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohamd Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.
TEL AVIV — Mistrust between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli prime minister has authorized leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran.
The decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive information about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu’s office had given Israeli journalists sensitive details of the U.S. position, including a U.S. offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium with 6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal.
Obama administration officials believed these reports were misleading…
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.
Of course these were not the weapons being made on the famous mobile labs that Powell talked about. Still, it clearly was not true that Iraq had no chemical weapons.