Australian Jewish leaders react to unity deal
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Netanyahu-Gantz coalition

Australian Jewish leaders react to unity deal

'After three inconclusive elections in the past year, Israel urgently needs a majority government that can deal effectively with the unprecedented challenges the country faces'.

Election posters put up by Blue and White show candidates Benny Gantz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu on February 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Election posters put up by Blue and White show candidates Benny Gantz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu on February 18, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

COMMUNITY leaders in Australia have responded to news surrounding the formation of a unity government in Israel with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution.

President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Jillian Segal hailed it as “a chance for national healing”, but acknowledged that “unity may prove to be a vain hope, given the many elements of the deal which have made it so controversial among Israelis”. 

Noting the government had been formed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, she stressed it also had to tackle other issues that divide Israeli society, such as widening economic inequality, religious pluralism and governance reform.

“Israel has been crying out for leadership of the kind that united the country in the past,” Segal said. 

“After three inconclusive elections in the past year, Israel urgently needs a majority government that can deal effectively with the unprecedented challenges which the country faces, and about which Diaspora communities have been voicing concern.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler concurred, describing the government’s formation as “overdue, and welcome”, and stating it has “a mandate to address the very real challenges facing the State of Israel”.

However, he noted, “The Australian Jewish community remains deeply concerned about the reappointment of Yaakov Litzman as health minister. He has been credibly accused of criminal misconduct, and the police have recommended he be indicted. He should not have been reappointed.”

It has been alleged that Litzman, who this week was said to have recovered from COVID-19, has interfered in attempts to extradite alleged child sexual abuser Malka Leifer to Australia, by pressuring psychiatrists to state she was unfit to stand trial. Litzman denies the allegations. 

Applauding “the pragmatism and patriotism” of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz in uniting to face “the immense challenges of the coronavirus crisis and Israel’s other immediate economic and strategic imperatives”, Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said the pair have “demonstrated that the spirit of democratic compromise and service to the national interest is very much alive and well in Israel, and appear set to give Israel the stable government it so badly needs after the unfortunate political impasse which the country has experienced over the last year”.

New Israel Fund Australia president Dr Ilana Snyder, by contrast, was less enthused. 

“I’m deeply concerned that the new coalition will lay out a roadmap for the annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories,” she said.

“Annexation will apply Israeli sovereignty to thousands of Palestinians, while denying them the right to vote and equality before the law,” Snyder lamented, adding, “If Netanyahu and Gantz carry this out, it will be a harsh blow to Israel’s legitimacy as a democracy.”

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