Kafe Knesset for March 7

Introducing Lahav Harkov, the new contributor to Kafe Knesset. Lahav is The Jerusalem Post’s parliamentary reporter, and will be joining Tal reporting on what’s driving the conversation from the halls of the Knesset each day.

President Trump to the rescue: Trump provided Netanyahu with a pleasant respite by calling him during the five-hour police interrogation at Bibi’s residence last night. Bibi’s aides said it was a surprise call from the White House and that the main focus was Iran. Meanwhile, during the probe, Netanyahu was reportedly confronted with new and surprising information gathered from Arnon Milchan in recent days. According to sources close to the investigation, Milchan’s most recent testimony was dramatic and substantial. The police are still trying to reach Aussie billionaire James Packer, who, according to a new Ha’aretz exposé funded 25% of the alleged gifts from Milchan to the Netanyahu family. To date, the authorities have not been able to interview Packer. According to other press reports, the police are hoping to question Sheldon Adelson, as well.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid is not waiting for the investigation to be concluded and Lapid is already preparing for the the next election. Lapid convened a special press conference today during which he introduced seven new members of his party – mayors from around the country. Lapid has invested a lot of effort in rallying support outside of the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem metropolitan areas and the local leaders – previously aligned with the Likud and Labor – pledged their support for Lapid, who explained the timing of the announcement with a clear-cut statement that “we are in election-year mode”.

Trump was the subject of a stormy session of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee today as MK Dov Hanin (Joint List) accused the US President of directly causing a spike in anti-Semitism in the US. Hanin blasted the PM for supporting Trump. “There is an elephant in the room and his name is Donald Trump. This dark wave of hate, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fascism comes from the top,” Hanin said. Hanin also criticized the Likud’s efforts to strengthen relations with far-right parties in Europe. “The ruling party in Israel has become the friend of anti-Semites worldwide.” Likud MK Abraham Negosa, who chairs the Committee, demanded that Hanin withdraw his comments but he refused to do so. Yesh Atid’s Aliza Lavie also scolded Hanin stating “we should not attack the President of the United States and not even suggest he is an anti-Semite.”

Meanwhile, an Israel Democracy Institute-Tel Aviv University poll released today found that most Israelis are optimistic about Trump. Most (62%) thought his meeting with Netanyahu was positive for Israel. Over three-fourths (77%) of Israelis think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a priority for Trump and, even if he decides to focus on it, 65% think he will not force an agreement on Israel against the Israeli government’s position. Plus, 55% of Israelis think Trump will allow more settlement construction. In addition, over one-half (57%) thought Netanyahu did the right thing by not continuing the peace talks track led by former US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Netanyahu’s approval ratings low: More than half (53%) of Israelis think Netanyahu is doing a poor job, while a third think the opposite, according to the same poll.

IDI-TAU checked other politicians’ approval ratings as well: A nearly equal amount approve (45%) and disapprove (44%) of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, a potential successor of Netanyahu as leader of the Likud, received a 41% approval rating as opposed to 30% disapproving.

BDS, beware: There’s a new sheriff in town – or at least new rules. The Knesset passed a law banning people or members of organizations who call for boycotts of Israel from entering the country. Boycott proponents will not be able to obtain an Israeli visa unless the Interior Minister makes an exception. The definition of boycotting Israel is taken from the 2011 law that allows people who incurred losses to sue anyone who called for a boycott, including a boycott of just the settlements and not all of Israel. Now it remains to be seen if this law will ever actually be enacted. The 2011 law has not resulted in any lawsuits. Kulanu MK Roi Folkmann, the lead sponsor of the bill, said “A person can have national pride and believe in human rights. We can defend the name and dignity of the State of Israel and there is no shame in that.” MK David “Dudi” Amsalem of Likud said: “It’s a basic thing that whoever humiliates me cannot enter my home. We have honor; when someone insults us, we react. This law is basic. We’re not against legitimate criticism, but that doesn’t mean calling for a boycott of Israel, which is crossing a red line.” On the other hand, MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) spoke of his experience fighting academic boycotts as an economics professor, saying he’s ashamed of the new law, which will put Israel “into a bunker, closing the door and throwing away the key… We need courage, not fear. This law arms our enemies.”

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