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Politicking pandemic: Israel’s political sprint echoes the US

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Politicking pandemic: Israel's political sprint echoes the US

Politicking pandemic: Israel's political sprint echoes the US

In Israel, a remarkable resemblance to the American presidential brawl in 2020 is the sprint to the March 23 election.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, candidates are holding virtual events or limited in-person gatherings. During the contest between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and the Democrat who defeated him, President Joe Biden, some signed up star U.S. advisers who faced off against each other.

The Israeli race is, as in the United States, a referendum on the divisive personality at the top and its stewardship of a COVID-19 brutalised nation.

The choice was seen by many Americans as Trump, or almost anyone else. The field is split between those in Israel who are for or against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Netanyahu implores people to “come back to life” where Trump had, “Make America Great Again.

A common theme is the question of moral authority, too. Trump was accused as president of a multitude of wrongdoings, including sexual misconduct against more than a dozen women (he denies all of them), tax questions, and serial truth-telling problems. Last week, Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to charges of breach of confidence, fraud and accepting bribes.

The two men have both cast themselves as victims.

Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York, said, “It’s almost verbatim.” They’re both victims of a witch hunt, and they’re both running a whole campaign about how they’re going to get me out. And if they’re out there to get me, they’re out there to get you.”

But the key difference is there. Netanyahu remains Israel’s most popular politician, while Trump suffered a solid defeat in November, and has a strong chance of continuing his 12-year reign.

That stems in part from the vastly different populations and government systems of the two nations. The U.S. is home to almost 330 million people; there are just over 9 million in Israel. America is a democratic republic where, on Election Day, voters select both the president and members of Congress. Israel holds national elections where an array of political parties compete in the 120-member parliament, or Knesset, for proportionally awarded seats.

Since no individual party has ever won a 61-seat majority on its own, to form a government, this generates relentless coalition-building.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is projected to emerge as the largest party in the March election in all opinion polls. But his hopes of cobbling a government together have been complicated by his legal woes, with an increasing number of parties refusing to serve under a prime minister accused of serious crimes. In December, after just seven months, a delicate governing coalition between Netanyahu and his arch-rival collapsed, sending the country to its fourth vote in two years’ time.

Netanyahu has taken the virus seriously, unlike his close ally Trump, and made Israel’s vaccination campaign the centrepiece of his reelection bid.

Late last year, he personally negotiated what has become the world’s fastest vaccination drive for coronaviruses. Nearly half of the population had received the first dose of the vaccine by Tuesday. Almost one-third have been inoculated twice, and the rate of serious infections and fatalities has begun to decline.

But other parts of the management of Netanyahu’s pandemic have come under heavy criticism. Like Trump’s key allies, in defiance of the virus threat, a bloc of Netanyahu’s core supporters, the ultra-Orthodox, are breaking safety guidelines and attending mass events. Public anger is pronounced, with thousands of protesters gathering on bridges and overpasses outside his residence every week or toting black flags. They want Netanyahu to step down over his legal troubles and the profound economic harm incurred during the past year by a series of lockdowns.

Netanyahu’s toughest opponents are not retired generals but former journalists, in a break from Israeli tradition. Three party leaders are former TV commentators and Gideon Saar, a fourth rival, is married to one of the most prominent news anchors in the world.

These media-savvy personalities have waged impressive pandemic politicking, supported in some cases by American strategists.

Lesson No. 1: Learn successful interactive campaigning on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, cross-post those activities, and weave them with relentless social media campaigns.

Netanyahu, educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. and deeply familiar with American politics, named his campaign manager, Aaron Klein, a native of Philadelphia, last month. Klein, 40, is a former U.S. talk show host and chief of Breitbart News’ former Jerusalem office. At the time, he was named by the site’s executive chairman, Steven Bannon, who would later become Trump’s main strategist.

Long-time American adviser John McLaughlin, whose banner photo atop his Twitter feed features him shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump, has also brought back the prime minister. In recent campaigns, Netanyahu has used similar photos. But with Biden in office, this time around, he has played down the Trump connection.

Saar, Netanyahu’s onetime ally, is now questioning the prime minister from the right. Last month, by attacking his moral authority, he hired several founders of the Lincoln Project, perhaps the best-known anti-Trump group in the 2020 election, which drew Republican voters away from the president. The organisation is now dealing with accusations about how one member, John Weaver, who has resigned, treated claims of sexual assault. Saar’s campaign on Tuesday said it was re-evaluating its relations with the party.

The moral concerns posed against Trump are close to the message of Saar as head of New Hope, the party he formed when he broke away from the Likud of Netanyahu.

Saar shares the hard-line nationalist ideology of the prime minister; he is a keen supporter of West Bank settlements and supports their eventual annexation. But he’s trying to contrast with Netanyahu, who, he said, turned Likud into a “personality cult,” a familiar rhetoric for anyone who listens to Trump’s different opponents.

In his campaign, Saar also makes civility and decency a centrepiece, reminiscent of the approach of Biden against Trump. “Saar said in an AP interview that he was “in a better position” to have a positive relationship with Biden than Netanyahu.

Partnering with influential Democratic pollster Mark Mellman is another Netanyahu challenger, Yair Lapid. Lapid travelled to the U.S. last month to meet personally with his longtime ally, the Times of Israel reported.

Lapid, a former anchorman, said several times during a virtual town hall on Feb. 9, “The situation here in Israel is crazy.” “With integrity, we can have a prime minister.”

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Editorial: Centennial Elementary School has done nothing wrong by supporting Black Lives Matter

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PHOTOS: Denver’s MLK Marade returns after pandemic hiatus

Teachers and administrators at Centennial Elementary School have done nothing wrong, but we cannot say the same for the adults who are making the school a target for conservative anger.
That anger manifested itself this week when a man pretending to be a father of a future student gained entry to the school and then berated school staff because of an effort to teach students about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Racial and educational equity is our collective responsibility and while Centennial has been a flashpoint for this conversation, in Denver Public Schools, equity is a core value for us,” said Tony Smith, the head of the district’s diversity and inclusion programs.

Smith said the community has rallied around the teachers, staff and students because they are “committed to the idea that racial equity is important.”

Those who have riled up this anger at an elementary school’s principal and staff are the villains in this story, not those who are in good faith attempting to create a welcoming and inclusive public school that serves the needs of all students regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. It is not reverse discrimination to provide additional activities targeted to a historically disadvantaged group.

We’re looking at you, Christopher F. Rufo, who sparked this whole ugly episode when he tweeted a photo of the school’s sign for a “families of color playground night” and called it “racially segregated playtime — for equity.”

University of Denver law professor Dave Kopel piled on, accusing the school on Twitter of violating the Colorado Constitution’s stipulation that “nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color.”

The national group Parents Defending Education have exploited racial tensions by saying Centennial and other schools are “treating and separating students on the basis of race,” as though white students are in any way disadvantaged by efforts to create events targeted to minority students or that teach equity.

The reality is Denver elementary schools are doing an excellent job presenting age-appropriate curricula on sensitive subjects that need to be introduced. An elementary school student should know that slavery was evil and wrong and practiced in America. An elementary school student should understand that at one time Black students were not allowed to attend public schools. And an elementary school student should know that while the world is a better place and moving toward justice and equality, there is still much progress to be made.

Elementary schools, of course, are introducing concepts of America’s founding — the founding fathers, Independence Day, American symbols, a free republic founded on a functioning democracy. But also, schools are providing a little dose of history — Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for advocating that Black Americans receive the same basic human rights as white Americans.

It can be uncomfortable to talk to young children about the evils of racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and sexism. No one wants to explain the Holocaust to a young child. Teachers are professionals who have dedicated their lives to the next generation and they are equipped to handle these difficult historical and social studies topics. They are not some sort of liberal enemy indoctrinating students or making students feel guilty for their privileges – who would do such a thing?

Parents who are compelled to put real effort into convincing others that “the subversion of public school education has accelerated,” like those Coloradans working with No Left Turn in Education, are driven by a desire to control what their students are being taught. These folks accuse America’s schools of abandoning liberal education where different points of view are presented and debated, but really they are the ones who balk at their children being taught “lessons on equity and race” or about different sexual orientations. They are the illiberal thought police who would really rather their children not be exposed to the picture book “Ruby Bridges Goes to School.”

Public schools and education are not the enemies of these parents. Rather it’s our progression toward a society that openly embraces that which makes us different.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by email or mail.

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Denver weather: Another round of snow coming Thursday

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Denver weather: Another round of snow coming Thursday

Denver is still a winter wonderland Wednesday morning, with most of the snow from Tuesday’s storm still on the ground after a brutally cold night. Temperatures dipped to 11 degrees overnight, and the snow that’s already fallen should be joined on Thursday by some new flakes.

According to the National Weather Service in Boulder, Denver will top out at 42 degrees on Wednesday. The clear day and evening will have a low of 19 degrees. Fog is possible Wednesday morning in low-lying areas across the plains.

On Thursday, a storm system will move in Colorado, bringing light snow to the metro area, foothills and northern mountains. The snow is expected to fall later in the morning and into the early afternoon as the temperature reaches 31 degrees.

There’s a 70% chance of precipitation p to three downtown with up to three inches of snow possible. The foothills could get up to five inches, and winds could gust near 20 mph. Temperatures will again plummet Thursday night, with a low of 12 degrees in Denver, but some suburbs could see lows near zero.

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Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine demands not met

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Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine demands not met

MOSCOW — Russia warned Wednesday it would quickly take “retaliatory measures” if the U.S. and its allies reject its security demands over NATO and Ukraine, raising pressure on the West amid concerns that Moscow is planning to invade its neighbor.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it has any such designs, but the U.S. and its NATO allies are worried about Russia deploying an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine and launching a series of sweeping military maneuvers.

As part of the drills, motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia practiced firing live ammunition, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea performed bombing runs, and dozens of warships sailed for training exercises in the Black Sea and the Arctic.

At stake is the future of Ukraine: Russia has demanded guarantees that NATO will never admit the country and other ex-Soviet nations as members and that the alliance will roll back troop deployments in other former Soviet bloc nations. Some of these, like the membership pledge, are nonstarters for NATO, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.

Speaking to lawmakers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise President Vladimir Putin on the next steps after receiving written replies from the United States to the demands. Those answers are expected this week — even though the U.S. and its allies have already made clear they will reject Russia’s top demands.

“If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,” Lavrov said.

But he indicated Russia wouldn’t wait forever. “We won’t allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,” he said.

He mocked fears of an imminent invasion, saying that “our Western colleagues have driven themselves up into a militarist frenzy,” adding sardonically that “the Ukrainian elite itself has grown a bit scared by the Western scare.”

Asked by lawmakers if Russia could expand military cooperation with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as part of its retaliatory measures, Lavrov responded merely that Moscow has close ties with those countries in the Western Hemisphere and is seeking to deepen them.

Earlier this month, Lavrov’s deputy pointedly refused to rule out the deployment of Russian military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if Moscow’s security demands aren’t met.

NATO said this week it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region and the U.S. ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe. Western nations have also sent planeloads of weapons to help Ukraine strengthen its defenses.

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