The political party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost its ruling majority in parliament, apparently setting back the anti-Israel leader’s bid to gain sweeping powers.
With most of the votes counted in Sunday’s election, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had about 41 percent of the vote with projections of about 256 seats, some 20 less than needed for single-party rule. AKP has been the sole party in power since its founding 12 years ago.
The main secular opposition Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, was at about 25 percent of the vote, while the nationalist MHP was at about 16.5 percent. The pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democracy Party, or HDP, won 12.8 percent, for the first time passing the 10 percent electoral threshold necessary to join the parliament. Its participation in the government is expected to affect the power of the ruling coalition.
Regulars at the annual parley of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are used to hearing speakers warn that “critical times” face supporters of Israel. Mostly, this is no more than a standard injection of some alarmism to jolt members into action.
This year the term is amply justified. And the catalyst is not some outside hostile force. By bypassing Democrats and the Obama administration in arranging his address to Congress, Israel’s own prime minister has unleashed a torrent of parlous consequences for AIPAC, one that will be on display at its conference that starts March 1.
First and foremost, it has imperiled achievement of the goal that AIPAC has defined as its prime long-term objective just as that effort was reaching its decisive moment: making sure America denies Iran any nuclear capability.
Among other things, the veto-proof majority that some believed was ready to vote for tougher sanctions against Iran in February, contrary to the administration’s wishes, dissipated at least temporarily with Netanyahu’s move.
Senate Democrats, including the bill’s Democratic co-sponsor, made clear they would not vote for the bill now, in the face of what they saw as a move by Netanyahu to both snub President Obama and boost his own re-election when Israel goes to the polls just two weeks later.
A new reality of overt partisanship has now tinged the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Merav Michaeli, the Israeli journalist and women’s rights activist-turned-Knesset member for the Labor Party, is a sign of hope for a progressive future in Israel. Last Tuesday, she tried to convince an exclusive crowd of worried Jewish leftists gathered in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that there was hope for the upcoming elections and for the future of a democratic Israel. The talk was sponsored by the progressive Zionist organization Ameinu, and also included journalists, professors, high-ranking members of the New Israel Fund and Encounter, along with representatives from Hillel, Habonim Dror, and others. What followed was a passionate, sometimes heated, and surprisingly optimistic discussion of the future of the Jewish State and the role American Jews can play.
*The first question asked was about the nationality bill, the controversial proposed law to officially declare Israel the “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” This question proved an easy one—since there is no Knesset, there will be no nationality bill. When there is a new Knesset, its makeup will likely be so different that it won’t even be proposed again.
*On the coming elections slated for March 17: Though the mood in the room suggested I was not alone in hearing virtually nothing but terrifying predictions of a rout by the right and another term for Netanyahu, if not a first term for the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett, she was hopeful. For the first time in a long time, she said, there was actually a good chance a center-left coalition headed by her Labor Party will take power, meaning Labor leader Isaac Herzog and not Bibi Netanyahu would be Prime Minister. “The feeling towards Netanyahu right now, there is so much grudge and hatred, people are sick of him. His approval ratings are very, very low,” she said.
To capitalize on this, Labor is busy forming a center-left bloc of parties that will include the recently-fired former justice minister Tzipi Livni and former defense secretary and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz to give Herzog an additional vote of confidence among the public. Though the political climate in Israel is notoriously quick to change, polls show that if the election were held today, this coalition would win the majority of votes. The goal, she said, is to create, “One address for people who want to restore a more democratic Israel, one that works towards narrowing gaps in society.”
Law Mistreats Asylum Seekers — and Shames Jewish History
The new Anti-Infiltration Law presented by the Israeli government, after two previous iterations of the law have been voided by the High Court, is the culmination of the development of a completely unreasonable government policy toward the foreigners from Africa. Government officials and members of Knesset keep referring to Sudanese and Eritreans as “work infiltrators” but, at the same time, the state does not examine their individual asylum claims according to international standards.
Israel examines only a minuscule number of asylum requests and approves less than one percent of them. Officially, Israel does not deport them, because it recognizes the danger the asylum-seekers will face if returned to their country, thus following the principles of international law. At the same time, Israel does not grant them any rights including the right to work. In fact, it deprives them of their most basic human rights.
Israel, like any sovereign country, is entitled to decide who can enter it or not. For example, it can encourage the arrival of migrant workers from country A and prevent the entry of migrant workers from country B. The government can also decide not to accept any migrant workers. But as part of the calculations regarding entry to Israel, Israel must take into account its obligations under the Refugee Convention, which Israel helped shape following the Holocaust. If Israel properly examines the refugee status claims of the asylum seekers, it can recognize those deserving of the status of refugees and bring about the departure of those who are not refugees and have come here to find work.
In fact, Israel grants the right to work in Israel to a very large number of migrant workers, who outnumber the refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. The migrant workers are invited from non-African countries where people don’t face harm if they return, such as the Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc. It appears that the refugees from Eritrea and Sudan who are threatened by their regimes endure discrimination in Israel mostly for the color of their skin.
Israel does not have any right to detain and jail a refugee for a long time, or pressure him until his gives up and is deported “willingly.” Israel is obligated to protect refugees and grant them minimal rights until they can return to their homelands. Israel’s corpus of laws can do without more disgrace in the form of a bill allowing the detention of refugees without trial. Such a law would prove not only that we didn’t learn from the two High Court rulings that voided such previous laws, but also that we failed to learn from our history. German Jews who managed to reach England on the eve of World War II were placed in detention centers at the start of the war because they were citizens of an enemy state, Germany. Will a detention center like “Holot,” one of the largest of its kind in the world today, fit the lessons learned from Jewish history?
Many of Israel’s estimated 47,000 African asylum seekers live in Tel Aviv’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood.
For African immigrants living in South Tel Aviv, there is only one fate they dread almost as much returning to their troubled homelands: being sent to Holot, a spartan detention center deep in the Negev desert.
Israel’s high court handed the community a huge reprieve when it ruled on September 22 that the government must close the much reviled Holot within 90 days, and then struck down a provision allowing foreign asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally to be held for a year without trial. The ruling states that detaining immigrants as prisoners “violates human rights in an essential, deep and fundamental way.”
The closure of Holot — assuming it happens — will not only set free the 2,200 Sudanese and Eritrean people detained there; it will also have a profound impact on an estimated 47,000 asylum seekers in Israel, many of whom live in South Tel Aviv.
According to local activists, African asylum seekers who had lived in the country for five years or longer were ordered to report to Holot when they went to the Ministry of the Interior to renew their visas. Since the high court ruling, community members no longer feel as though they are simply biding their time before being sent to the detention facility.