Kafe Knesset for March 17

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Sorry, not sorry: The Israeli PM is known to be a man of thoughtful words, but even the most gifted rhetorician can utter the wrong words sometimes. That’s what happened yesterday as Netanyahu was trying to put the coalition crisis with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to rest, he sparked another fiasco on the way. During the coalition meeting in which the quarrel over the future of the Israeli Broadcast Corporation was settled, Kahlon asked Netanyahu why he sought to postpone the IBC’s launch, again. “My Mizrachi (Sephardic) gene was activated,” Netanyahu replied. The comments, which were leaked to the press, ignited harsh criticism from Mizrachi politicians, who slammed Netanyahu and demanded that he retract his remarks.

“Netanyahu’s racist gene was activated,” Zionist Union’s Amir Peretz said. “This isn’t about self-deprecating humor, but this exposes a dark inner truth, and is another expression of Netanyahu’s discriminatory policies. We all know which areas in the country don’t have enough hospitals and classrooms.” Yesh Atid’s Meir Cohen called on BB to apologize, stating that “the only gene that was activated was the dividing gene. For the benefit of all us, Netanyahu should be looking into his DNA, find his Jewish gene and consider his words more carefully, as one would expect from a Prime Minister.”

Netanyahu, usually considered a pure “Ashkenazi,” actually discovered last year that he has Sephardi roots and revealed that his brother, Ido, took a DNA saliva test which found some Spanish roots in the family tree. And he received a voice of support this morning from no other than Kahlon himself, who told a local radio station this morning that the premier was misquoted and only said “My gene was activated”. Despite Kahlon’s alibi, sensing the growing PR crisis, Netanyahu issued an apology this morning on twitter. “I apologize for my comment yesterday. I did not intend to hurt anyone. Every fiber of my soul is connected to all of Israel’s sectors, and I appreciate their enormous contribution to our nation’s legacy and our state’s building.”

It is not the first time BB has to issue an apology for unfortunate remarks. In 2015, after his infamous election day GOTV statement in which he tried to encourage right wing voter turnout by warning of the Arab voters “coming out in droves to the polling places,” Netanyahu invited Arab leaders to his residence and told them he was sorry for offending the Arab citizens. Later on, as the statement continued to cause tensions, he distributed a public video in which he again apologized and said he was misunderstood. Last September, he apologized again, after comparing the suffering of the family of Elor Azaria, the soldier from the Hebron shooting, to the agony of IDF soldier’s bereaved families. This statement was followed by harsh criticism from former PM, Ehud Barak. Barak himself, by the way, is considered the apologist pioneer in Israeli politics: back in 1997, as head of the Labor party, he publicly asked Mizrachi Jews to forgive the Labor party for the Mapai party’s discriminatory absorption policies in the early years of the State.

Groundhog Day: Remember the Maale Adumim bill? The contentious legislation seeking to annex the West Bank city is back on the agenda, again, for the third time within three weeks. Originally submitted the day after Trump’s inauguration, Netanyahu has succeeded so far in postponing the preliminary vote on the law, which is supported by MKs from the Likud and Jewish Home. However, the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, which is promoting the bill, isn’t giving up, and is pushing to move forward before the Knesset goes on its Spring recess next week. The bill has been resubmitted ahead of this Sunday’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting, and again, an intense PR campaign has been launched to pressure the PM and the ministers to approve it. The mayor of Maale Adumim, Beni Kashriel, issued a public appeal to Netanyahu and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett urging them not to miss “the historic opportunity” and bring the bill to vote. The Young Likud Chairman, David Shayan, did the same, calling on the PM and Likud ministers to “promote the Likud ideology by which you were elected.” Netanyahu himself is still trying to postpone the vote, but will not be around this Sunday, as he’s traveling to China for a festive visit marking 25 years of diplomatic relations. If the PM wishes to postpone the debate again, he will likely have to rely on Likud Minister Yariv Levin, who co-chairs the Ministerial Committee for Legislation alongside Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. However, Levin has publicly pledged his support for Maale Edomim’s annexation and will not necessarily volunteer to get BB out of this one…

The Missing Yarmulke: Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt definitely won the hearts and minds of many Israeli and Palestinians, who followed his Twitter reports from his first visit to the region with much enthusiasm. But for some Haredi observers, Greenblatt’s shuttle diplomacy was overshadowed by his missing kippa, and ultra orthodox journalists and news outlets have been freaking out over it this whole week. “People who watched the video and the pictures from the meeting with Netanyahu couldn’t resist wondering where his Kippa is,” the Kikar Hashabat website wrote this week. “Haredim 10,” another popular website, explained that many US Orthodox businessmen give up wearing the kippa during business meetings and even gave the religious explanation for the habit, which is unusual for religious Israelis, from all denominations. “Many Jews have this habit, based on a Halacha ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who ruled that since wearing a kippa is a Hassidic custom, one can sit at work without it.” Aryeh Erlich, a leading columnist in “Bamishpacha” weekly, tweeted a joint picture of Netanyahu and Greenblatt today, stating: “Greenblatt’s decision to remove his Kippa is his own personal choice. But the fact that in the White House he feels comfortable with a Kippa and in the Prime Minister’s office he doesn’t – should bother us.” The Prime Minister’s new media advisor, Jonathan Urich, came to Greenblatt’s defense and replied: “You can calm down. They prayed Mincha together yesterday, and had a Minyan in the cabinet room. When there is nothing wrong, you don’t have to look for people to blame.”

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