64°F
weather icon Clear

Arab lawmakers in Israel endorse Gantz for prime minister

JERUSALEM — The Arab bloc in Israel’s parliament abandoned its usual hands-off stance Sunday and endorsed former military chief Benny Gantz for prime minister, potentially giving him the edge over hard-line incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.

The historic move marked the first time in nearly three decades that the Arab parties backed a candidate for prime minster, reflecting their contempt for Netanyahu, who was accused of fomenting hatred of the Arabs during his re-election campaign.

“Benny Gantz is not our cup of tea,” said Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi. “But we promised our constituents that we would do everything to topple Netanyahu, and the default here is recommending Benny Gantz.”

It will be up to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to decide which candidate should be given the chance to form a coalition government and serve as prime minister — a usually pro forma task made difficult this time by last week’s deadlocked parliamentary elections.

Neither Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, nor Netanyahu, head of the conservative Likud movement, has a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or 61 members. But with the backing of the Arab parties, Gantz gained a slight advantage. He could have as many as 57 backers, compared with Netanyahu’s 55.

Maverick politician Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-size Yisrael Beitenu party, controls the final eight seats, making him the key powerbroker. But he announced Sunday that he isn’t endorsing either candidate.

The endorsement by the Joint List, a bloc of four small Arab parties that controls 13 seats, marked a turning point in Israeli politics. Arab parties have traditionally refrained from endorsing a candidate for prime minister, and they have never sat in a coalition government, not wanting to be seen as legitimizing Israeli policies.

Although many Israeli Arabs remain angry at Gantz for leading the military’s devastating war against Gaza militants in 2014, their fury toward Netanyahu runs much deeper. Netanyahu’s campaign repeatedly accused the Arabs of trying to “steal” the election, drawing accusations of racism and incitement.

There is also deep-seated anger over a law passed by Netanyahu’s government in 2018 that declared Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. Arabs believe the law codifies discrimination.

Though the Arab parties are still expected to stay out of Gantz’s future government, their endorsement reflects a growing desire of Israel’s large Arab minority to take a more active role in shaping the country.

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, argued that his move should end Netanyahu’s political career and provide a watershed moment for Israel’s Arab minority.

“If the center-left parties of Israel believe that Arab Palestinian citizens have a place in this country, they must accept that we have a place in its politics,” he wrote. “There is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.”

Netanyahu reacted by saying: “As we warned, the Arab parties that oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and glorify terrorists recommended Gantz for prime minister.”

The Arab parties’ decision does not guarantee Gantz will be prime minister. The president usually appoints the candidate with the most supporters, but not necessarily. Rivlin has wide discretion.

In last week’s vote, Blue and White won 33 seats, while Likud took 31.

The deciding factor looks to be Lieberman, who is demanding a broad unity government with the two major parties that will be secular and exclude the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and Arabs. That appears to be the compromise emerging between Blue and White and Likud, though both are insisting upon leading it.

Complicating matters is Blue and White’s refusal to sit with Netanyahu because he faces a likely indictment on corruption charges.

Odeh said he is planning on becoming opposition leader in the case of a unity government. As the leader of the largest party in opposition, he would be entitled to the position, which includes meetings with visiting world leaders and access to sensitive security information.

Rivlin has not indicated which way he is leading. But he said he interpreted the will of the people as yearning for a “stable” government. “And there can’t be a stable government without the two big parties,” the 80-year-old president said.

Last week’s vote was Israel’s second election in five months. Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition after April’s balloting.

In calling a new election, Netanyahu had hoped to secure a narrow majority of hard-line and religious parties that would grant him immunity from prosecution on charges that could include bribery, breach of trust and fraud. But now that possibility appears to be off the table.

Israeli law does not require a sitting premier to resign if indicted. But if he is charged, as is widely expected, he will come under heavy pressure to step down.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Controversial Las Vegas domestic violence law moves forward

A new Las Vegas city ordinance would carry the same penalties for people convicted of domestic violence as Nevada state law, but would eliminate the requirement for convicts to give up their firearms in order to avoid holding jury trials for each offense.

Census Bureau asking states for data, including citizenship info

The U.S. Census Bureau is asking states for drivers’ license records that typically include citizenship data and has made a new request for information on recipients of government assistance, alarming some civil rights advocates.

Ex-National Security Council expert on Russia testifying to Congress

Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council expert on Russia, was testifying to Congress behind closed doors Monday, the latest former Trump administration official to be subpoenaed as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

US pulls troops in north Syria, Trump threatens Turkey sanctions

The United States appears to be heading toward a full military withdrawal from Syria amid growing chaos, cries of betrayal and signs that Turkey’s invasion could fuel a broader war.