By winning a landslide victory this week, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak has been given a mandate greater than any of his recent predecessors to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East and to heal the divisive rifts that have polarized Israeli society.
Benjamin Netanyahu, dubbed by the Israeli press as “the most vilified prime minister ever,” is battling for his political life in Monday’s election and his opponents — and even some supporters — smell blood.
Limor Livnat, the cabinet minister directing Netanyahu’s media campaign, reportedly was preparing to challenge Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud Party should he lose. And Netanyahu was said to be ready to fire Livnat if he does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote and is forced into a June 1 runoff election.
The divisive tensions in Israeli society became political fodder this week as the main political parties pitted Ashkenazi against Sephardi, the “elite” vs. “the street.” Ehud Barak of the One Israel Party said he would not allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party to draw the country into a civil war just two weeks before the May 17 election, which some are calling Israel’s most crucial.
The ad is striking, showing two trains converging onto the same track with the headline: “Are secular and religious Israelis on a collision course?” Beneath the picture are the words: “Not if we can help it.”
The ad, which appears in this week’s Jewish Week, launches a yearlong campaign in the U.S. and Israel by Bar-Ilan University designed to promote tolerance and stop the culture war. One line reads: “Isn’t it time for the rest of the Jewish people to stop pointing fingers and to start joining hands?”
The battle for Jerusalem has hit cyberspace. Israel’s mission to the United Nations this month created its own Web site to counter what Israeli officials maintain is a stepped-up offensive by the Palestinian Authority to argue its case on the Internet.
On the new Israeli UN Web site, a section titled “Palestinian Web Watch” contends the Palestinians are using their Web pages to violate the Wye agreement that calls for resolving outstanding issues through negotiations.
Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon moved from the battlefield to the political arena this week.
Ehud Barak, the Labor Party candidate seeking to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the May 17 elections, vowed to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by June 2000, within the context of negotiations with Syria. Netanyahu, whose Likud Party at first chastised Barak for turning the issue into a “simplistic election gimmick,” later came close to matching Barak’s pledge.
After three years of postponement, Israel’s High Court of Justice finally convened this week to consider the validity of two non-Orthodox conversions in Israel — and immediately sought to sidestep the issue.
At the very start of the nearly three-hour hour session, Supreme Court President Aaron Barak surprised the plaintiffs with this question: would they be content having the state recognize the nationality of the two adopted children as Jewish, but leave their religious status blank?
Even before King Hussein’s death Sunday, his eldest son and successor was mending fences with old foes and reassuring friends like Israel and the United States of Jordan’s continued close ties and commitment to Middle East peace.
But without the political acumen and moral suasion of his father, King Abdullah, 37, is expected to face formidable challenges as he tries to maneuver Jordan among the conflicting forces that make up this highly volatile region.
Former Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai was not “fully aware of the impact” of his Knesset vote last week in favor of a bill designed to keep Reform and Conservative representatives off of Israel’s religious councils, according to his running mate on the new centrist party.
“He was not aware,” insisted former Israeli Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak in an interview here with The Jewish Week just hours after he called Mordechai for an explanation.
If the Israeli economy were a patient, doctors wouldn’t know whether to release it with a clean bill of health, keep it overnight for additional tests or simply prescribe vitamins to perk it up a little. That’s how confusing the symptoms are at the start of 1999.
# Israel’s economy last year grew just 1.9 percent, down from 2.4 percent in 1997 — the slowest rate in the decade, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.