Kafe Knesset for May 3
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Politicians unite against UNESCO on Jerusalem: The vote by UNESCO’s executive board criticizing Israeli policies in Jerusalem was the final chord of Israeli Independence Day celebrations. Even before the vote took place, Netanyahu used his public speeches at the traditional barbecues, receptions and the annual Bible quiz to attack the resolution, declaring “if UNESCO defies the truth, we will defy UNESCO and remain faithful to our truth. Throughout the course of Jewish history, Jerusalem has been the heart of our nation.”
After the vote, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum echoed Netanyahu’s response and slammed the UN body. Both Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid dubbed it “anti-Semitic”. “UNESCO’s decision against Israel today is an anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli disgrace that is distorting the history of the Jewish people and its unshakeable connection to its eternal capital, Jerusalem,” said Herzog, and Lapid said that “No one, not even UNESCO, can rewrite Jewish history. Certainly not on the day when Israel celebrates 69 years of independence as a strong democratic state. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel, has always been and will always remain.”
This morning the backlash continued: the Swedish ambassador was summoned first thing in the morning to the Foreign Ministry for a reprimand, as Sweden was the only European country to support the move. Then, at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu announced Israel will be cutting off 1 million dollars from the annual UN budget. This is the third time this year that Netanyahu has decided to reduce UN funding in reaction to hostile, anti-Israeli moves, following a $6 million cut in January in reaction to the UNSC resolution 2334, and an additional $2 million cut in March after the Human Rights Council adopted a series of anti-Israel decisions. “This systematic harassment has a price. Israel will not sit idly by while the organization calls to revoke our sovereignty in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.
But some in the government are calling for even more punitive measures, led by firebrand Culture Minister Miri Regev of the Likud, who is demanding to remove the UN headquarters in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv. “UN headquarters have been stationed in Armon Hanatziv since the Six-Day War, for a very specific reason: Overseeing the ceasefire between the countries. Today we do not have to supervise a ceasefire because we have peace with Egypt and Jordan. Therefore, we have to make a decision and demand that the headquarters be removed.”
Opposition’s had enough of the IBC drama: Did you think we were done with the drama over public broadcasting in Israel? Well, it has started up again. Tomorrow, the Knesset is supposed to hold an afternoon debate and vote on the bill enacting part of Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s compromise to restructure the nascent Israel Broadcast Corporation’s news division. But tomorrow is also the last weekday of the Knesset’s Pesach recess – a/k/a the MKs’ break from the Knesset – and the opposition has had enough of these recess meetings. Their argument is that recess meetings are meant for emergencies. This point would be much stronger if it wasn’t the opposition who called most recess meetings, and mostly about things that could wait.
In any case, opposition parties sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein demanding that the meeting wait until Monday, when they will be back to work anyway, and he rebuffed them. So today, Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli announced that the opposition will be boycotting tomorrow’s debate. If you’re wondering why that is supposed to convince the coalition of anything – after all, if there’s no opposition, it’s that much easier to get a majority in favor of the bill – it’s supposed to embarrass the coalition and make the proceedings look less democratic.
The opposition also tried a delay tactic to keep the IBC bill from moving forward, with Michaeli penning a letter to Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit complaining that the website for citizens to comment on government initiatives was down for the last four days, which means the public had less than 21 days to review the broadcasting proposal. Mandelblit has yet to respond but the coalition has a May 15 deadline to pass the bill.