WSJ: Why cannabis legalization could decide Israel’s next prime minister

The kingmaker in forming a coalition government may well be a small far-right party that backs deregulated marijuana.

Beyond the future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and everything else at stake in Israel’s April 9 election, the Jewish state also seems poised, in distinctly Israeli fashion, to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Understanding why requires a journey into the intricacies of Israel’s raucous electoral system—and shows how desperate Israel’s clashing political blocs are for every vote in an election that pollsters expect to be tight.

In March, Mr. Netanyahu said on a webcast from his Facebook page that he was “looking into the matter” of cannabis legalization, adding that his government had expanded medical marijuana use. On Tuesday, the prime minister boasted at a campaign event for his right-wing Likud party that, under his leadership, “Israel is turning into a cannabis-exporting power.” Mr. Netanyahu added, “Whoever is for the plant should vote Likud.”

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From Begin’s tchach-tchachim to Bibi’s bots

Likud has a long history of milking opponents’ insults for more votes.

“First they called us tchah-tchahim, then they called us riffraff, mezuzah-kissers, and now they call us bots,” has been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refrain since the news report about a supposed social media network of fake accounts supporting him and the Likud was published on Monday.

Some have compared Netanyahu turning around the accusation to US President Donald Trump emphasizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “deplorables” to describe half of his supporters.

But the Likud has a long history on capitalizing on name-calling – that is, the insulting names that its opponents call it. Continue reading

Then and now: Kahane and Ben-Ari’s bans and the Israeli Overton Window

The ideas that got Kach banned are still outside the acceptable discourse in Israel, but quite a few of Kahane’s other proposals are present today and, apparently, within the Overton window.

The High Court of Justice ruling to disqualify Otzma Yehudit candidate Michael Ben-Ari from running in the April 9 election is unprecedented, in that it was the first time an individual candidate approved by the Central Elections Committee was banned.
Otzma and other parties led and later inspired by Rabbi Meir Kahane have a long history of losing in court, and in that way it seems like history has repeated itself.
However, a lot has changed since 1988, and perhaps the fact that Otzma is still allowed to run without Ben-Ari is the greatest proof of that. Continue reading

Analysis: Banning Ben-Ari is unprecedented and uneven

It’s unclear why Michael Ben-Ari of Otzma Yehudit can’t run now when he could in 2009, after which he was a Member of Knesset for nearly four years.

The Central Elections Committee hearings on whether to disqualify candidates has long been little more than political theater. The politicians on each side argue how bad the opposite side’s extremes are, and whichever side has a majority wins.

The real arena has always been the High Court of Justice, to which the committee’s decisions are always inevitably appealed.

That’s why the cries about racism and the end of Israeli democracy – after the committee vote two weeks ago to keep Otzma Yehudit candidates Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir in the running, while banning UAL-Balad and Hadash candidate Ofer Kassif – were overblown. They were generally the result of cynicism from those who would speak like that about Israel or the Right no matter what; or of ignorance, especially from foreign outlets whose reporters are only in Israel for a few years and may not have gone through these motions before. Continue reading

The Feiglin phenomenon

The leader of the rising Zehut Party is attracting more than just young potheads to his libertarian platform.

It seemed like hardly any politician could go on the radio this week without being asked if he or she has smoked weed. New Right leader Naftali Bennett, National Union head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Blue and White candidate Yoaz Hendel? No. Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay? Yes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would consider legalizing cannabis, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said pot-related offenses should be removed from people’s criminal records. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan touted the law he passed, reducing penalties for first- and second-time cannabis offenders. Meretz put out a “Hey, remember us?” message, pointing out that it has long been for making use of the drug legal. Continue reading

New math: The electoral threshold can make or break this election

There’s often a party that’s considered the “election surprise” or the kingmaker that ends up being larger than expected, tipping the scales in favor of one side or other.

Elections in Israel are naturally viewed mainly as a competition between the biggest parties over which will end up with the premiership. Will Benjamin Netanyahu remain prime minister, or will he be replaced by Benny Gantz?
And then there are the two approaches to analyzing Likud and Blue and White’s position in the polls: by the bigger party or the bigger bloc. Since Blue and White came together, all the polls have showed them ahead of Likud. Last week’s polling average put Blue and White at 34 and Likud at 30. But almost every poll also shows the right-wing bloc being larger than the center-left bloc. Continue reading

Netanyahu: Money to Hamas is part of strategy to keep Palestinians divided

“Now that we are supervising, we know it’s going to humanitarian causes,” the source said, paraphrasing Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s regular allowing of Qatari funds to be transferred into Gaza, saying it is part of a broader strategy to keep Hamas and the Palestinian Authority separate, a source in Monday’s Likud faction meeting said.

Netanyahu explained that, in the past, the PA transferred the millions of dollars to Hamas in Gaza. He argued that it was better for Israel to serve as the pipeline to ensure the funds don’t go to terrorism.

“Now that we are supervising, we know it’s going to humanitarian causes,” the source said, paraphrasing Netanyahu. Continue reading