News Digest —3/2/20
Israelis Head To Polls For Third Time On Monday
With more than 6,000,000 able to exercise their right to vote, Israelis will wearily head to their third election in a year on Monday (2nd). The political gridlock is unlikely to be broken this time either as polls show neither party gaining enough seats to form a majority.
For most of the three-month campaign, polls showed Blue and White led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with a slight lead.
Then last week they showed the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulling ahead. Now polls show a dead heat.
Israel Hayom, Israel’s largest daily, published poll results on Friday (2/28), showing both parties at 33 Knesset seats. Ma’ariv gave each 34 seats. Walla! News published a poll showing each party with 34 seats. Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, showed the Likud slightly ahead at 35 seats.
The Likud says only a right-wing victory will ensure the annexation of the Jordan Valley and significant portions of Judea and Samaria, as promised in the Trump Administration’s peace plan.
Blue and White says that democracy is at stake. Last week Gantz accused the prime minister of a “hate crime against democracy.”
Election Day in Israel is a day of rest by law, but public transportation services will continue as determined by the Central Elections Committee and are free throughout the day.
Israel Prepared Coronavirus Isolation Booths For Election Day
The Israel Central Election Committee set up over a dozen voting stations around the country for citizens who have quarantined themselves after coming into contact with possible carriers of the coronavirus.
There are several thousand people who fit into this category, as they have recently visited countries where outbreaks of the illness have been reported, or could have come into contact with foreign tourists who came to Israel and then tested positive or became infected after returning home.
The Ministry of Health announced that if those who have isolated themselves do not have symptoms such as a fever, a cough, or trouble breathing, they can go to the special polling tents. They should come alone in private vehicles without stopping anywhere else on the way, and not park in public parking garages.
While awaiting their turn, said the ministry, no person should stand closer than six feet from their fellow voters or touch anything.
They will enter special, heavy plastic tents, wearing masks and latex gloves, one at a time. They will have to sign a declaration that they are voting in a booth set up for quarantined individuals, after which the pen will be thrown away.
Their voting slips will be sealed in double envelopes, just like the votes of soldiers on their bases and hospitalized patients. Regular volunteer observers could not be found to oversee and count these votes, so emergency medical technicians from Magen David Adom have stepped up to do the job.
The volunteers will wear smocks, gloves, and masks and make sure that the correct distance is kept between the voters. These special polls will only be open between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
The Washington Post stated that many countries should take an interest into how Israel deals with “an infection election,” including the United States, where presidential and congressional elections will be held in November.
Mortar Fired From Gaza Toward Israel, Hours Before Elections
A mortar shell was fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Sunday evening (1st), according to an IDF spokesperson. It came just 10 hours before polls were to open on Monday (2nd) for the 23rd Knesset elections. Locals reported hearing an explosion in the area. An alert was activated in open areas near the border. No group has claimed responsibility for the mortar fire.
Palestinian media reported on Sunday (1st) that the Hamas terror group had sent delegations to Moscow and Cairo. The delegation in Cairo is set to discuss recent clashes with Israel and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip with Egyptian officials.
The Hamas delegation to Moscow is headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and will discuss US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Middle East peace plan and Russia’s role in supporting Palestinian rights, among other issues. A delegation led by the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist group is also planning on visiting Moscow.
Last week almost 100 rockets were fired by the PIJ from the Gaza Strip towards communities in southern Israel. The IDF carried out widespread airstrikes in response to the rocket fire and placed restrictions on entry permits and traffic through the border crossings into the Strip during the clashes but removed the restrictions after a ceasefire came into effect on Monday night (2/24).
UN Danny Danon Calls Out Sanders At AIPAC Conference
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is “a liar, a fool, or both” Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said at the AIPAC policy conference on Sunday (1st) in Washington, D.C.
“We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a racist is either a liar, a fool, or both,” Danon said.
At a February 25th Democratic presidential primary debate in South Carolina, Sanders said, “What I happen to believe is that, right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”
Sanders said in the same comment that he would consider relocating the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. President Donald Trump moved the Embassy to Israel’s capital on May 14, 2018 after announcing the decision in December 2017.
Sanders also said earlier that he wouldn’t attend the AIPAC conference, accusing it of “bigotry.” The pro-Israel lobbying group condemned him for the decision and noted he never attended the conference in the past.
Sanders has a history of making anti-Israel statements and has been accused of outright anti-Semitism by some, despite being Jewish. Among those endorsing him are controversial figures such as Linda Sarsour and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was voted “anti-Semite of the year” in 2019 in a poll conducted by stopantisemitism.org
Democratic Republic Of Congo Leader To Appoint Israeli Envoy Within Days, Vows Closer Ties
WASHINGTON–The leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo said Sunday (1st) he would appoint an ambassador to Israel after a two-decade gap, inviting the Jewish State to build a close relationship.
Addressing the influential pro-Israel US Lobby AIPAC, President Felix Tshisekedi said he was inspired, in part by his Christian faith, and thanked evangelicals for supporting Israel.
“After more than 20 years of inadequate representation, I will name an ambassador in the coming days,” he said to applause, at the annual conference in Washington.
“I invite Israel to raise its diplomatic and economic presence in my country as high as relations can go between our two states and peoples,” said Tshisekedi, who took office last year.
“This nation is a source of inspiration,” he said. “It teaches us what man can do in such a short span of time when he has drive, resilience and especially, divine grace and favor.”
Tshisekedi said the ambassador would be posted in Tel Aviv but that a commercial section would be based in Jerusalem – which Israel considers its undivided capital but where only the United States and Guatemala have moved their embassies.
Tshisekedi said he would visit Israel this year and was especially interested in science, technology and agriculture investments in his resource-rich but conflict-scarred nation.
Meanwhile, over the past few years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to normalize Israel’s relationships around the world.