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Biden team embraces new Israeli government after Netanyahu

The Biden administration wasted no time in embracing the new government of Israel.

The politics of Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, are no more agreeable to President Biden than those of the unseated Benjamin Netanyahu — including the rejection of both a Palestinian state and any agreement with Iran.

But style and temperament suddenly make a major difference.

“You don’t have to sit in Washington to hear the sigh of relief in the White House as Netanyahu gives his farewell speech,” Ori Nir, spokesman for the progressive pro-Israel group Americans for Peace Now, said on Twitter as the longest-serving Israeli prime minister took his leave, hurling invective in many directions, on Sunday.

Few expect the U.S. and Israel to make progress on major outstanding issues. It’s more a matter of stanching disastrous deterioration than taking bold steps forward, experts said.

“It’s not Bibi. That’s the beginning and end of it,” Natan Sachs, director of the Middle East policy center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an interview Monday, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

In a way, Netanyahu himself deserves full credit for laying the groundwork for a much-improved relationship between Israel and Washington.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem on Monday.

(Associated Press)

In inflammatory and self-aggrandizing rhetoric in the final moments of his rule, he blamed Biden and every U.S. president back to Franklin D. Roosevelt — except for his friend Donald Trump — for endangering the state of Israel. That only confirmed to many in Washington what they already believed: that he was not a reliable partner.

Commentators from the Potomac to the Dead Sea noted the speed with which Biden, and most other senior officials in his government, telephoned Bennett or his coalition partners with “warm” congratulations, as the White House put it.

Biden spoke to Bennett shortly after the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, confirmed the new coalition government by a single vote on Sunday. Earlier this year, Biden had pointedly waited weeks to telephone Netanyahu as part of the round of calls a new president traditionally makes to other world leaders.

“My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability and peace for Israelis, Palestinians and people throughout the broader region,” Biden said in describing the call he made from England, where he was on his first trip abroad as president. “Israel has no better friend than the United States.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken telephoned his counterpart, Yair Lapid, who will take over as prime minister in two years.

“We look forward to strengthening all aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership and working together for a more secure and prosperous future,” Blinken said in a statement after the call, also made from England where he was accompanying Biden.

The secretary of State traveled to Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah last month to shore up a cease-fire in the latest war between Israel and the militant Hamas group in Gaza. His trip was also to reestablish ties with the Palestinian leadership that Trump had severed and to reopen an American diplomatic mission in Jerusalem for Palestinians.

Blinken was the first U.S. leader to meet with senior Palestinian officials in five years, after a Trump attempt to isolate, sideline and punish Palestinians in favor of Israelis.

The new ruling coalition is unlikely to embark on dramatic foreign policy shifts. It is led by Bennett, 49, a religious nationalist, and Lapid, 57, a secular centrist former television talk show host who cobbled together the ideologically diverse political grouping that ended Netanyahu’s long reign. The new government also won’t likely do much to revive efforts to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But U.S. administration officials expect it to be a more trustworthy and less manipulative partner.

“The mistrust that characterized the Biden administration’s relations with Netanyahu is gone,” said analyst Yohanan Plesner, who heads the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

But Plesner and others cautioned against expecting the U.S. and Israel to find consensus on tougher issues.

The Biden administration and the new Israeli government, for example, will continue to diverge deeply on Iran. The United States is deep in negotiations aimed at returning to a landmark Iran nuclear deal that Trump sought to destroy but that had succeeded in containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Israel, however, sees Iran as an existential threat.

Still, Plesner said, talks surrounding the matter with a Bennett-led government would be “serious and discreet,” with little chance of grandstanding on the Israeli side that became so familiar under Netanyahu.

“And the way they deal together with the Iranian challenge will very much set the course,” Plesner said.

Sachs, of Brookings, said Bennett will remain hawkish on issues like Iran and a Palestinian state but will be amenable to “smaller things” such as easing economic restrictions on Palestinian territories.

“Despite significant differences, he wants to set out on the right foot with Biden,” Sachs said. “He is not about to become a two-stater, but he sees room for productive steps on a lower level” achieved quietly and without “the public rows.”

Netanyahu worked with Trump to shift pro-Israel policies away from the bipartisan support enjoyed in the U.S. for decades to a hard-core Republican base, including white Christian Evangelicals with an end-times vision. That was unforgiveable among many in Biden’s orbit, as well as among progressive American Jews.

Many in Biden’s administration are veterans of the Obama years, when Netanyahu paid the ultimate insult to a sitting president. In 2015, Netanyahu went around the White House to speak before Congress at the invitation of a Republican member, an unheard-of breach of protocol. He used the speech to attack Obama and his efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.

Lapid, who will be the more conciliatory interlocuter with the Biden administration, on Monday minced few words in critiquing the Netanyahu government’s approach to diplomacy, telling envoys at a handover ceremony at the Foreign Ministry that Israel’s international ties had been afflicted by “disgraceful neglect.” He said fence-mending efforts with Democrats and with American Jews would be a priority.

“The outgoing administration took a terrible gamble in focusing only on the Republicans and abandoning Israel’s bipartisan standing,” Lapid said.

Palestinians were happy to see the end of the Netanyahu era, but far from enthusiastic about the new Israeli leadership.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called Netanyahu’s time in office a “dark chapter in the history of the conflict,” but emphasized that the new government was not seen as “less dangerous than its predecessors.”

Bennett’s background as a settler leader, his calls for the annexation of most of the West Bank and other incendiary anti-Palestinian rhetoric has fueled particular concern and will complicate a more public relationship with Washington, such as any visits to the Oval Office.

The long-term stability of Israel’s new government is also a looming question. Its unparalleled diversity, including leftist and right-wing Israelis and even a Palestinian party, raises doubts about how long it can last.

But, Israelis said, the point was to oust Netanyahu. And the longtime premier, as several Israeli commentators said, remained “Trumpian” to the end.

His refusal to attend the formal inauguration of his successor, said veteran political affairs commentator Yossi Verter, came across as “sour, grumpy, not stately.”

King reported from Jerusalem and Wilkinson from Washington.

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How do we end the pandemic and return to normal? Trust

Since the coronavirus invaded our lives 15 months ago, we’ve been on an emotional journey that took us through isolation and despair, anger and grief.

Some of us felt envy when others got vaccinated before us, others encountered anxiety as the restrictions that kept us safe for a year were slowly lifted.

Now, as we prepare for a full reopening in California on June 15, we must confront yet another emotional hurdle: our willingness to trust others.

“Trust is probably the most important ingredient in a society,” said Peter Kim, a professor of management and organization at USC. “It’s what allows us to engage in every sort of social, economic and cultural interaction we have in the world.”

Trust is broadly defined as a willingness to make oneself vulnerable in situations involving risk, said Kim, who is writing a book on the subject.

“The risk element has to be there,” he said. “If there is no risk, there is no way to demonstrate trust because there is no downside.”

Members of the Montebello High School cross-country team avoid touching hands at a March meet, an example of behavior modified during the pandemic.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The chances of getting COVID-19 will not be zero anytime soon — even for vaccinated people. So, for all of us to comfortably return to in-person work, send our kids to school and abandon our masks, we will have to rely on multiple lines of trust.

  • Trust that the vaccines are safe and work as well as the research suggests.
  • Trust that the people we interact with are vaccinated or protecting themselves in other ways.
  • Trust that when government leaders say it is safe to remove our masks, or shop in crowded stores, that they are motivated by science, not politics.

“Trust will certainly affect how effectively we manage the recovery process,” Kim said.

Unfortunately, Americans’ willingness to trust one another was already in decline before the pandemic began.

In 2019 the Pew Research Center found that 71% of Americans thought interpersonal confidence has worsened in the past 20 years, and 49% thought their fellow citizens were not as reliable as they had been in the past.

At the same time, three-quarters of Americans said our trust in the federal government had shrunk.

However, a more local survey conducted in January of this year found trust in abundance.

Public opinion data collected by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University found that 74% of Angelenos trust the scientific community “to do what’s right,” while 70% trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do the same. Similarly, 69% of respondents said they trust the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“Trust in the scientific community has grown over the past year from 65% in 2020 to 74% in 2021,” said Brianne Gilbert, associate director for the center who co-led the work.

Those high levels of trust were found across a wide range of income levels and other demographics, although people who identified as Black and politically conservative were slightly less likely to feel trust in scientific and public health institutions, she said.

 Barbara Ferrer at the County Office of Education vaccine site in Downey.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer monitors people after they get their vaccines in Downey in March.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Lorraine Hamblin, 74, of Porter Ranch said she trusted recommendations from health officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director, as well as supported the many restrictions that were put in place across the county and the state throughout the pandemic.

And yet, even though she’s been fully vaccinated for months, she’s not convinced that it’s safe to return to her old way of life.

She still wears a mask whenever she leaves her home, even just to walk the dog.

“It’s not totally assured that the vaccine will last forever, plus I don’t want to infect anyone else,” she said.

She also finds it difficult to trust politicians who say it is safe for the state to open up on June 15.

“I like Gov. Newsom very much, but I think he’s pandering to the pressure from his constituents,” she said. “I will still wear a mask until I myself am sure that the pandemic has been conquered. I think they are ignoring some important facts we don’t have yet.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom adjusts his face mask at a news conference.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown in May, has announced that California will fully reopen on June 15.

(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Hamblin said she won’t return to her pre-pandemic life until there is a high vaccination rate — perhaps 90% — as well as a few years of data that demonstrate the vaccines truly perform as promised. She’d also like to see case rates, already falling in the county, plummet further, and better treatments for those who do get sick with from the virus.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, expects that many people across the state will feel the same way.

In her opinion, fear-based messaging and confusing statements from California’s public health leaders have made it difficult for residents to trust that they could ever return to living normally.

“We told people crazy things, like you can go to a mall that’s at 20% capacity and be around people you don’t know, but you can’t walk outside with another member of a different household,” Gandhi said. “That’s a major contradiction.”

She’s also frustrated that health officials at the state and national levels did not promote a more optimistic message about the effectiveness of vaccines when they first became available.

After a year of being told that any exposure to other people presents a serious risk of infection, Gandhi wonders how many Californians will be willing to go back to life as normal on June 15.

“It’s such an about-face,” she said. “And that cannot generate trust.”

On a national scale, Odis Johnson, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, said political polarization and events such as the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters further eroded the trust Americans have in one another.

“What happened on Jan. 6 laid the field for us to question a number of things, including whether our neighbors and schoolmates will really keep our best interests in mind by adhering to the CDC’s guidelines and advice,” he said.

In addition, the pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and inconsistent messaging around all the vaccines has also made it hard for many people to trust the inoculations are safe and effective, he said.

“Right now, we have a lot of voices that are not speaking the same language,” Johnson said. “We have local mandates, state mandates and the CDC guidance, and often the local mandates are the strictest.”

So how to build trust given all that? Consistent communication, he said.

“If everyone was on the same page, then perhaps people wouldn’t see vaccines and safety precautions as a political division and ideological divide,” he said.

Emily Brunson, a medical anthropologist at Texas State University, said trust issues are inevitable in a pandemic, but they were exacerbated in the United States because we entered this one extremely divided politically and socially.

“If you were to go back even 10 years in the U.S., we wouldn’t be in the fractured state we’re in now,” she said.

There have been other hurdles. Brunson noted that many people still don’t trust the CDC’s guidance on COVID-19, in part because the agency did a poor job explaining why it initially said masks were not necessary for most people, and then changed course a few weeks later.

“What needed to be transparent at that time is that this virus was really new, and there were going to be unknowns because they didn’t understand certain things about it yet,” she said. “They were not omniscient and they should have communicated that.”

If CDC officials had made it more clear to Americans that they were learning about the virus in real time, and that guidance would probably shift, people may have felt less confused and upset when the agency changed its guidelines, she said.

“Information processing is something we do wrong very often.”

Isabelle Brocas, USC economist who studies decision making

The challenge of building trust is compounded by another factor — health officials cannot just rely on facts and data, said Isabelle Brocas, an economist at USC who studies decision making.

That’s because humans are hard-wired to process new information in ways that support their previously held opinions, she explained.

“Information processing is something we do wrong very often,” Brocas said.

For example, a recent study found just 0.03% of fully vaccinated people in L.A. County have contracted the virus after being immunized. Scientists and public health workers might see that as evidence that the vaccines are wildly effective. But someone who does not trust vaccines may interpret that same data as confirming their belief that the shots are not 100% effective.

“New information won’t do much to bring people together if their initial opinions are not aligned,” Brocas said. “If they start far away, they will stay far away.”

Getting people to trust one another again will be challenging, Brocas said.

“It is difficult to know how to pull out of it,” she said. “It might just take time, and little by little, things change.”

Eileen Ybarra, 43, agrees.

The librarian, who lives in Glendale, said she trusts that local leaders are not acting recklessly by loosening restrictions.

Column One

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from the Los Angeles Times.

“From what I understand, the restrictions were there to prevent hospital collapse and that’s not a problem any more,” she said. “At this point, since so much of the rest of the country has opened up, it’s harder and harder for us to stay closed.”

But after spending most of the pandemic at home in her apartment — staying away from friends and family and having necessities delivered to her door, Ybarra said she’ll need some more time to ease back into activities that she knows intellectually are probably fine.

“I feel a whole lot safer than I did before I was vaccinated, but I’m not quite ready to do everything I did before,” she said.

At some point, however, she will want to challenge herself. Her birthday is in late July and she hopes to feel safe eating at an indoor restaurant by then.

She has already bought tickets to two concerts for the fall.

Fingers crossed, she’ll trust it’s safe to see a show by then.

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Podcast: Netanyahu is out as Israel’s prime minister. What’s next?

Listen to this episode of The Times: Apple | Spotify | Stitcher | Google

On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu lost the prime minister’s post after opponents in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, approved a coalition government led, for now, by his one-time protege, Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu will now serve as leader of the opposition. The new government is an unlikely group of politicians and parties from the left, right and center, united only by their opposition to Netanyahu. The vote to oust him may prove easier than the next part: What happens now?

To discuss that, we speak today to L.A. Times global affairs correspondent Laura King about Netanyahu’s legacy and his downfall, and whether the new government can bring any peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We’ll also hear from Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian Canadian who lost family members to an Israeli attack, yet has emerged as a leading advocate for … peace.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times global affairs correspondent Laura King, and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, author of “Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity”

More reading:

Benjamin Netanyahu ruled Israel as a man of many faces

He ‘won the lottery’ of Israeli politics. But Naftali Bennett remains an enigma

First priority for anti-Netanyahu coalition: Stay united long enough to get sworn in

Listen to more episodes of The Times here

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Biden reassuring NATO members after Trump mocked alliance

It took most of his term for former President Trump to grudgingly acknowledge the most fundamental tenet of the NATO transatlantic bond: An attack on one is an attack on all, and all will join in the defense of one.

The only time that the Article 5 provision was invoked was when NATO member states rushed to support the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Trump, who once branded NATO “obsolete,” wondered out loud why he should send U.S. troops to defend countries he apparently had barely heard of.

Into that sense of unease steps President Biden on Monday. As he is seeking to do elsewhere on his first overseas trip as president — starting with sessions with the Group of 7 wealthy democracies Friday — Biden is trying to repair critical ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance that has worked to preserve global peace since World War II.

“We have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in the relationship between North America and Europe,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said ahead of Monday’s meetings. He cited “challenges” in the transatlantic relationship during the Trump years.

Speaking Sunday before traveling to Brussels, where NATO and European Union headquarters are, Biden drew a clear distinction between himself and Trump, whose threat to withdraw the U.S. from the organization if other members didn’t immediately boost defense spending threw the last NATO summit in 2018 into disarray.

“We do not view NATO as some sort of a protection racket,” Biden said at a news conference at the Cornwall county airport in southwest England. “We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security for the … remainder of the century,” as well as serving as the foundation for security for all Europe, he said.

“We feel very, very strongly about the cohesion of NATO,” Biden said a day earlier as he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is emerging as the first among equals in Western Europe leadership as German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to retire.

The European Union, Biden added, “is an incredibly strong and vibrant entity, that has a lot to do with the ability of Western Europe not only to handle its economic issues but provide the backbone and support for NATO.”

But Biden also must confront strains with NATO of his own administration’s making or, at least, responsibility.

Trump, without consulting NATO, abruptly announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan after nearly two decades. He did not fulfill that pledge, but Biden has vowed to proceed, ending the U.S. military presence in his country’s longest war by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Then-President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to pursue Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the attacks.

NATO forces have accompanied U.S. troops during most of the Afghan operations, and are acknowledging that they cannot sustain a presence without the U.S. There is mounting fear that once the foreign troops depart, the Taliban will move to retake control of most of Afghanistan, unleashing civil war and a reversal of the bare rights gained in recent years by women, minorities and others.

NATO is wrestling with other thorny issues as it contemplates its own future efficacy, including climate change, which Stoltenberg says poses a major threat to the alliance’s military capability and readiness; Russian aggression against countries on NATO’s eastern flank such as Ukraine and Georgia; and defense spending, which member states have pledged to increase and have, in many cases.

During the Obama administration, NATO members agreed to raise domestic defense spending to 2% of their national budgets by 2024. Trump demanded it happen more quickly, and some countries have complied; others, including Germany, continue to lag, arguing that they should receive dispensation because much of their spending goes to the resettlement of refugees created by armed conflicts.

NATO is also confronting problematic relations with member nation Turkey, which has moved closer to Russia and purchased Russian air-defense materiel that Western experts say might allow Moscow to spy on NATO weapons systems. Biden is scheduled to hold a separate meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the margins of the NATO session.

Also, many NATO officials are alarmed at democratic backsliding in some states in the alliance.

Democratic freedoms and rule of law, enshrined in the NATO charter, “are being upheld unequally across the alliance,” Rachel Ellehuus, a Europe and Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a panel discussion ahead of Biden’s trip.

Countries including Hungary and Poland have cracked down on dissidents, journalists and news media outlets.

“The deficit in internal NATO values is also an external security threat,” Ellehuus said.

Biden also intends to encourage NATO to expand its mandate to include confronting China, his national security advisor Jake Sullivan said. For decades, Russia as the enemy was the raison d’etre for NATO, but cyberattacks and China’s growing global power have made it an emerging threat that NATO must address, he said.

“China will be there [on the talks’ agenda] in a way it hasn’t before,” Sullivan told reporters traveling with Biden to Brussels late Sunday. It would be a significant shift because many NATO countries are not as keen to go against Beijing as Washington is.

“NATO speaking out powerfully about the common purpose and common strength of democracies is an important part of a collective effort to be able to meet the China challenge over the decades ahead,” Sullivan said.

The administration is stressing that affirming U.S. alliances in multiple venues — NATO, the EU and the G-7 — strengthens Biden’s hand as he heads into what will be the most challenging encounter of the trip: his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Wednesday in Geneva.

“The president’s not coming into this meeting with President Putin in a void,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is accompanying Biden, said Sunday on Fox News.

“What we’re demonstrating in each of these meetings and summits is that democracies can come together and work effectively to actually deliver results for our people and, by the way, for people around the world,” Blinken said. “And also, when we’re working together militarily, economically, diplomatically, politically, we’re a very powerful force.”

Stokols reported from Brussels and Wilkinson from Washington.

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Op-Ed: Israel’s most diverse coalition ever reaffirms the Middle East’s ‘miracle’ democracy

Israel, along with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is one of the few countries in the world never to have known a moment of nondemocratic governance. And it is the only country on that list never to have known a moment of peace. In a region where elected governments are as scarce as water, and where armed conflicts are commonplace, Israeli democracy is a miracle.

But Israel’s democracy has also been gravely challenged. After succeeding for seven decades in bridging the rifts in Israel’s kaleidoscopic society of secular, religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox Jews, Western and Eastern Jews, left-wingers and rightists, Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Bedouin and Druze, the system had begun to fray.

In addition to the radicalization and polarization that has plagued democracies throughout the world, including the United States, Israel was riven into opposing camps for and against Benjamin Netanyahu, the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu was viewed by many as Israel’s leader par excellence, a master politician, economist, orator and statesman, but by an even greater number as power-hungry, mendacious and corrupt. In four elections in two years, Israeli voters failed to break the logjam between the two camps. The result was a series of short-lived coalitions that could barely pass legislation, much less approve a national budget. Entire sectors of the economy and state bureaucracy were moribund.

The political stalemate threatened to hamstring Israel as it wrestled with the twin crises of COVID-19 and the recent war with Hamas. Though the nation led the world in fully vaccinating its population and achieved many of its military objectives in Gaza, Israelis understood that the cost of both successes was increased by the absence of a fully empowered and functional government. Israel’s inability to defend itself effectively from international criticism of its wartime actions, and to cope with the Arab-Jewish clashes sparked by them, stood as stark proof of the price of its political gridlock.

Yet the very upheavals that have shaken Israeli politics ultimately succeeded in melding seemingly irreconcilable factions. The amalgamation came about, first, with the decision of Mansour Abbas, head of Raam, an Islamic purist party, to break from the Joint Arab List and its perennially oppositional stance and express a willingness to join any Israeli government, right or left, that would pledge greater security, housing and economic development for Israeli Arab communities.

Not since 1977, when the Likud party under Menachem Begin defeated the Labor party that had ruled Israel since its founding in 1948, has an election proved more revolutionary. Suddenly, Israeli Arabs, representing a decisive 21% of the population, were part of the political game and to an unprecedented extent determining its outcome. The power of the ultra-Orthodox parties, formerly the kingmakers with 12% of the electorate, consequently diminished. This enabled the eight parties in the anti-Netanyahu camp to align with Abbas and Raam, and to piece together a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox. By the narrowest possible majority of 60-59 votes (with one abstention) in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the opposition ousted Netanyahu.

But it did far more than that. Composed of right- and left-wing factions, Jews and Arabs, Israel’s 36th government promises to be its most inclusive. It features the first prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to wear the skullcap of religious Jews; the highest number of women ministers; and an Arab minister, Esawi Frej. Binding them all is not the usual political expediency but a genuine commitment to live up to its claim to be the coalition of change.

“This government will work for all the citizens of Israel,” said secular centrist Yair Lapid, who will replace Bennet as prime minister in two years. “It will do everything to unite Israeli society.”

Will this government last? Most Israelis are doubtful, fully expecting the Likud-led opposition to introduce legislation, for example annexing the West Bank, designed to divide the coalition. Bennett and Lapid are likely to have diverging policies on the peace process as well as domestic issues such as LGBTQ rights. And if Hamas once again fires rockets at Israel, Raam’s Abbas will not countenance an Israeli counterstrike against Gaza.

The chances of this government surviving its full four-year term indeed seem small. But a mere month ago, during the Gaza fighting, it appeared unlikely to emerge at all. Israeli politics are never short of surprises and the longevity of this government might just be another. Whether it perseveres or falls, the new coalition illustrates again the strength and dynamism of Israeli democracy, that rare Middle Eastern miracle.

Michael B. Oren, former ambassador to the United States from Israel and former Knesset member and deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, is the author, most recently, of “To All Who Call in Truth.”

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Netanyahu ruled Israel as a man of many faces

Over the last three decades, Israel and the world have seen many sides of Benjamin Netanyahu.

There was the smooth speaker of American English who became a familiar face on international media as Iraqi Scud missiles menaced Israel in 1991. The political wunderkind who won the prime minister’s job at 47, the youngest person ever to do so. The confident, charismatic leader who basked in ardent followers’ chants of “king of Israel!”

There was also the ambitious opposition leader who ruthlessly whipped up fury against his rival, warrior-turned-peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a far-right zealot in 1995. The prime minister who dimmed Palestinian statehood hopes. The angry criminal defendant lobbing insults at judges. The bane of one American president — Barack Obama — and the back-slapping intimate of another, Donald Trump.

Benjamin Netanyahu, then an Israeli spokesman, addresses a news conference in Washington in 1991. At left is Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval.

(Charles Tasnadi / Associated Press)

Since Israel’s iconic first generation of founders and builders, no national leader has so imprinted himself on the political landscape and in the popular imagination, both through force of personality and sheer longevity. Netanyahu served a total of 15 years, longer than any other Israeli leader, including the country’s revered first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, whose tenure he surpassed in 2019.

Along the way, Netanyahu inspired almost cult-like devotion but also alienated even many like-minded compatriots — a balance that finally tipped against him Sunday, when the Knesset, or parliament, narrowly voted in a new government led by right-wing nationalist Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s onetime protege.

Netanyahu — Hebrew for “God has given,” the family name chosen by his immigrant father — has wandered the political wilderness before. He left the electoral battlefield for a time after a bruising loss in 1999 but a decade later — buoyed by a stint as a reformist finance minister — he was back in power.

Benjamin Netanyahu stands next to Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu with Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, in Jerusalem in October 2009.

(Uriel Sinai / Associated Press)

Another comeback is always possible, given the fragility of the across-the-spectrum coalition that has supplanted Netanyahu, led by centrist Yair Lapid, who will govern in rotation with Bennett.

But this time around — at 71, on trial for corruption, surrounded by foes who were once his confidants, with his conservative party well aware it could easily have remained in power if it jettisoned him as its chief — Netanyahu, now leader of the opposition in the Knesset, has the aspect of a still-combative but wounded political creature.

Many analysts cited profound public fatigue with Netanyahu after an unprecedented string of inconclusive elections — four in two years — that were all fundamentally a referendum on “Bibi,” the nickname by which he is universally known.

During much of his time in office, however, Netanyahu was seen by many Israelis as a strong and competent leader, good for the economy and for national security. He also won wide praise for Israel’s swift COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which is credited with helping bring about a speedy return to normal life.

Benjamin Netanyahu stands with other men in front of a cargo jetliner with the DHL logo.

Netanyahu, right, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, center, attend the arrival of more than 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv in December 2020.

(Abir Sultan / Associated Press)

“He was always the best leader for us — smart, experienced and tough,” said Dan Kamari, 49, who works in real estate in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion. Weeks after sheltering with his wife and three children under 12 while Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel during hostilities last month, Kamari insisted that no one but Netanyahu could be a true guarantor of Israelis’ safety.

Others saw worrying signs of demagoguery, viewing the prime minister’s tenacious efforts to cling to power — and his virulent lashing out at political enemies — as solely self-serving.

“I’m scared for our democracy, after everything he’s done,” said 18-year-old Tair Bloch-David, who will soon embark on her military service. “It’s not just disagreeing with him politically — in my family, there is someone from every political party, and our Shabbat dinners are like, wow — it’s that I really don’t trust him to think of the country instead of just himself.”

Always a deft political operative, Netanyahu for years demonstrated just enough of a show of willingness to consider a two-state solution — the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, favored by the United States and the international community — to skirt broad opprobrium on the world stage, even while carefully cultivating a status quo that grew worse over time for Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu and then-President Trump sit together in the Oval Office.

Then-President Trump presents a key as a gift to Netanyahu in the Oval Office in September 2020.

(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

His actions — particularly during Trump’s tenure but well preceding it — systematically narrowed the window for a viable Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, analysts said. Under Netanyahu, the rate of population growth in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal under international law, was more than double that in Israel proper, according to population figures.

“He killed the peace process,” Israeli political science professor and author Tamar Hermann said bluntly.

Trump-era moves by Washington — the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, slashing aid to Palestinians and putting forth a Mideast plan heavily weighted toward Israeli wishes — were essentially political gifts from Trump to Netanyahu, she said, but ones that merely cemented his existing inclinations.

“If you are someone who is against the two-state solution, then you’re happy with him,” said Ofer Kenig, a researcher with the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute. “Bibi really, really succeeded in putting that to bed.”

In recent years, Netanyahu presided over a broad domestic Israeli shift to the right, highlighted by the enactment of a controversial 2018 law proclaiming that the right of national self-determination in Israel was unique to Jews. The measure also established Jewish settlement as a “national value,” and downgraded the status of the Arabic language, in what was seen as a slap at Palestinian citizens, who make up a fifth of the country’s population of 9 million.

Benjamin Netanyahu and other men in face masks walk through a door.

Netanyahu, right, leaves the courtroom after a hearing in his corruption trial in Jerusalem in January 2021.

(Abir Sultan / Associated Press)

Palestinian citizens of Israel often felt dehumanized, said Amal Jamal, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University whose sphere of research includes the country’s Arab minority.

“He has a very narrow black-and-white image of reality,” Jamal said. “With him, it’s ‘you are with me, or you are my enemy. You submit, or I have the right to obliterate you.’”

Still, some give Netanyahu credit for a measure of social inclusiveness, particularly in the political empowerment of Jews of Middle Eastern descent, or Mizrahim, who long chafed under what they saw as the elitism of Jews of European descent, or Ashkenazim.

“Although totally Ashkenazi himself, he gave a lot of pride to non-Ashkenazim, created an atmosphere in which they felt much more a part of the decision-making, and found a place in the cultural sphere,” said Hermann.

Many observers believe Netanyahu harmed Israel’s standing in Washington with his assiduous courtship of Republicans, eroding what had always been a bipartisan relationship with Israel.

Congress members stand and applaud Benjamin Netanyahu, who stands on a podium.

Netanyahu addresses a joint session of U.S. Congress in 2015.

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

That pattern intensified under Trump but dated back at least to 2015, when the Israeli leader smashed diplomatic protocol and used an address to a joint session of Congress to rail against then-President Obama’s efforts to strike a nuclear accord between world powers and Iran.

“I think he damaged Israeli interests with that,” said political scientist Kenig. “He really burned bridges vis-a-vis the Democratic Party, and with some in the U.S. Jewish community.”

Netanyahu and his allies have railed against the new government with something verging on biblical fury. In his final days in power, Netanyahu mused darkly on Facebook about a Talmudic account of malefactors working to weaken “the spirit of the people.”

Palestinian laborers walk past an election campaign billboard

A campaign billboard for the opposition Blue and White party shows its leader, Benny Gantz, right, and Netanyahu, left, in Bnei Brak, Israel, in March 2021.

(Oded Balilty / Associated Press)

Rabbinical leaders aligned with the prime minister also invoked apocalyptic language. “The names of the wicked shall rot,” declared Moshe Gafni, who leads the small United Torah Judaism party, referring to Bennett and Lapid.

Even if the handover of power stays on a peaceful track, Netanyahu is a famous holder of political grudges and unlikely to cede any courtesies to incoming leaders, despite his long acquaintance with them.

In 2009, as soon as Netanyahu was tasked with forming a new government, his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, “ordered all intelligence organizations and the chief of staff to provide his successor with free access to all material,” journalist Yossi Verter wrote Friday in the Haaretz daily newspaper.

Bennett, he said, “hasn’t even gotten so much as a phone call.”

Many commentators believe that, both at home and abroad, Israel’s image and identity are bound up tightly with Netanyahu because the prime minister was such a well-known and commanding figure for so long. Now, they say, disentanglement may take time.

“Netanyahu is not Israel,” wrote Yaakov Katz, the editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post. “And Israel is not Netanyahu.”

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G-7 nations condemn forced labor in rebuke of China

President Biden finished three days of meetings with Group of 7 leaders here Sunday lauding new agreements by the world’s leading democracies to collaborate on efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, combat climate change and counter the growing threat of autocracies, with an explicit rebuke of China’s forced labor practices.

Biden, who is holding a press conference before flying to London for a visit Sunday with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, has sought to convince wary allies in Europe that “America is back” as a global leader after the Trump years saw a retreat toward a more inward-looking, nationalist posture.

A G-7 communique released Sunday at the conclusion of meetings on the sandy shores of Carbis Bay featured a section on China emphasizing the group’s shared commitment to responding to “China’s non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.”

It included an explicit rebuke of human rights abuses, “calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

Biden had pushed to include the language on China’s forced labor practices in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors. The leaders of Germany, Japan and the European Commission, because of their economic ties to China, were reluctant to be so explicit.

The White House, eager to demonstrate Biden’s leadership on the issue of China, pointed out that the G-7 communique three years ago hadn’t mentioned China.

A fact sheet on this year’s document released by the White House stated: “We welcome the commitment of our G-7 partners to ensure all global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor.”

The communique also references China in calling for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened” study of the origins of the coronavirus and in a statement of concern about rising tensions with Taiwan in the South China Sea.

The allies, emphasizing commitment to their shared democratic values, also referenced other human rights concerns, including in Myanmar, Belarus and Ethiopia.

In other areas, the communique highlighted the work conducted over the last three days at an especially substantive summit, the first in two years and since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated countries large and small and damaged the global economy.

Leaders agreed to a new global vaccination push, donating 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine over the next year to low-income nations where the coronavirus continues to spread. The U.S. is contributing half, 500 million shots, which it will begin to distribute this summer.

Over the weekend, the Group of 7 leaders also agreed on new efforts to curb carbon emissions, including the goals of halving emissions by the year 2030 and being net zero with carbon by 2050. The effort would also include a global minimum tax of 15% aimed at preventing major companies from moving operations to anti-democratic, low-tax nations, and an infrastructure financing initiative to offer the developing worlds an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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War reduced parts of Gaza to rubble. It’s his job to take it away

When the sunlight hits the right angle, the clouds of dust turn golden, swirling in gentle eddies around the concrete crusher before wafting toward the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Another war between Hamas and Israel has fizzled out, halted by a May 21 cease-fire. As the last weeks of May stretched into June, Gazans took stock, surveying which families survived and what was destroyed in the latest conflagration.

Not so Mahmoud Abu Jubbah. For the 31-year-old, who along with his brother and other members of the family runs a concrete-crushing operation in the east Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiyyah, it is time to work.

Mahmoud Abu Jubbah picks through another load of rubble brought in from Gaza City to Shujaiyyah after Hamas’ 11-day war with Israel.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Over the 11 days of armed conflict, Israeli strikes demolished 1,800 housing units and partially damaged a further 14,315 in Gaza, according to the Ministry of Public Works. Striating the enclave’s neighborhoods are multistory towers-turned-maws and mountains of wrecked homes and offices, hollowed-out buildings and perennially pockmarked roads further churned up by the violence. Some 8,500 people are still displaced, the United Nations says.

All that has left people desperate to rebuild, more than doubling Gaza’s demand for cement from about 4,000 tons a day to 10,000, according to the local Chamber of Commerce, even as construction materials are restricted from entering by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Gaza is starved for cement, and there isn’t enough of it.

But there is plenty of rubble. That’s where Abu Jubbah comes in.

From this dust-filled corner of Shujaiyyah, just a mile away from the orderly fields of Israel’s Nahal Oz kibbutz, he and others like him can process up to four truckloads of debris — more than 80 tons — every day. It’s a task he’s had to do often, he says.

Too often.

 A worker stands in a pile of busted up concrete

A worker tasked with breaking up rubble in Shujaiyyah prepares for a new truckload after the 11-day war between Hamas and Israel.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“I’ve been at this since 2008. Since then, I’ve also dealt with the destruction of 2012, 2014, 2019 and now 2021,” he says matter-of-factly, rattling off the years of past confrontations between Israel and Hamas. So far, he’s already collected more than 30 truckloads from the most recent conflict.

He scans his surroundings and points to a squat pile of wreckage nearby.

“See this one here? This is the last of the 2014 batch. We were finishing it up only a few days before the war this time.”

Dust rises from a pile of rubble

A concrete crusher sorts pulverized rubble into three different sizes,

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The process is simple: Once Abu Jubbah’s brother negotiates a price for the wreckage with municipal authorities, it’s loaded onto trucks and dumped here in Shujaiyyah. It’s then fed into a crusher, which pulverizes the rubble. What pours out the other end is sorted into three different sizes, which Abu Jubbah labels, in ascending order, “sand,” “sesame” and “lentils.”

He’ll find a buyer for each, but only the sesame-sized granules, which by weight usually account for 60% of a load, can be used to make concrete blocks. Whereas a block made with fresh cement from Israel or Egypt can cost about 75 cents, one produced here costs a bit above 50 cents.

It’s the tragic availability of Abu Jubbah’s stock, rather than its price, that is the main draw.

Gazans procure cement either from Israeli or Egyptian firms, but deliveries are handled via the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, a set of regulations meant to keep tabs on constructions materials that could qualify as dual use, meaning items that could be used for civilian as well as military purposes. Cement, which Israel says is commandeered by Hamas to build its bunkers and underground tunnel system, stands at the top of the list.

To bring a bag of cement into Gaza, developers have to submit their plans to Israel and the Palestinian Authority and then wait more than 15 days for approval, says Maher Tabaa, the head of public relations for Gaza’s Chamber of Commerce. If approved, bags entering Gaza are then put into a warehouse under international oversight, with security cameras that the Israelis can use to monitor all movements.

 A worker drinks from a bottle during a break on a rubble pile

Men take a break after working on the rubble pile in Shujaiyyah.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s not just difficult. It’s bone-breaking,” Tabaa says of the process.

“If cement were freely available, you could have thousands of people working. The electrician, the painter, the one who lays down tiles, the plumber — it all relies on cement. It’s a chain.”

With the border crossing with Israel still closed to construction materials since the hostilities began in May, despite the truce, operations like Abu Jubbah’s are essential. But he has many — often grim — steps to go through before he can sell anything.

Standing on top of a plateau of rubble, Abu Jubbah looks down and says, “This here is what’s left of the Abu Al-Ouf building, the one where 40 people were killed.” He’s referring to the tower where the Abu Al-Ouf family lived, which, along with other parts of a compound on Gaza City’s Wahda Street, was leveled by Israeli missiles May 16. The blasts killed 42 people, more than half of them from the Kolak family and 15 from the Abu Al-Ouf family.

“I keep it off to the side because it needs to air out; it smells extra bad.”

He stares at a truck rumbling down the dirt road bisecting Shujaiyyah’s outskirts before stopping near him. He moves to the side before the truck turns around, lifts its bed and pours more contents onto the pile of debris.

A child's pink school backpack in rubble

A child’s school backpack recovered from the wreckage.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

To begin with, Abu Jubbah’s is a scavenger’s job. Even before the dust settles on the load, he and others clamber over the wreckage, on the lookout for the flash of an aluminum pot, a dented appliance, a piece of furniture — anything that can be repaired and reused.

Catching a bit of color in the gray, he leans close: It’s an English-language exercise book belonging to 7-year-old Maram Abu Al-Ouf. “Where is the ball? It’s under the table” is scrawled on one of its pages. She survived the airstrike.

At times, former residents of bombed-out buildings come to Abu Jubbah, hoping he’ll have salvaged something of their past life. He remembers a woman who came looking for the gold jewelry she and her husband had hidden in a cubbyhole in the wall of their apartment, which was destroyed in the 2014 war. Abu Jubbah’s workers found a portion of the gold and returned it to her, which he says saved her marriage.

He keeps any personal items of potential value for two days to give loved ones of the dead a chance to get them back before he gives them away or consigns them to the landfill.

 Mahmoud Abu Jubbah tries on a large cloak

Mahmoud Abu Jubbah tries on a large cloak that he found in the rubble brought in from Gaza City.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Rather than seek them out, he lets family members approach him, having learned it’s better not to take the initiative to return something that could remind them of the person they lost.

“Why would I give something to someone? To make them grieve again?” he says.

“Besides, there’s usually nothing. Even the poorest people in Gaza won’t touch most of this stuff.”

Once a load is picked over, Abu Jubbah’s team of six workers breaks up the bigger pieces of rubble with sledgehammers. It’s hot, seemingly never-ending work, with the dust of the crusher turning damp on the sweaty foreheads of the crew. Near them, a 10-year-old boy, a member of the family who declines to give his name, recovers rusted snakes of rebar and chops them into 4-inch strips with a bolt cutter attached to a stand.

A bulldozer pushes through rubble

A bulldozer pushes through a huge pile of rubble.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“We sell that to Israel, and companies won’t take it unless it’s that small,” Abu Jubbah says. “This pile here? It’ll get 10 shekels. That’s barely enough for a good meal.”

He stops for a moment, looks at the boy and becomes uncharacteristically annoyed.

“We’re kidding ourselves. We say we’ll hit Tel Aviv, and this is what we get,” he says of Hamas’ boasts of inflicting major damage on Israel.

“You think it’s OK three people sit here and do this work? That a 10-year-old is sitting here cutting a strip of metal?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. A bulldozer drives near him, scoops up some broken-up rubble and dumps it in the crusher, whose incessant chugging kicks into high gear.

The dust starts up again.

 Children who work as laborers sit and rest as a truck brings in debris.

Children who work as laborers sit and rest as a truck brings in debris.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Salah is a special correspondent.

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Column: What Congress can do about doomed voting rights bill

The Democrats’ sprawling voting rights bill, known on Capitol Hill as HR 1, is dead.

Officially, the bill is still clinging to life. But Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the majority party’s stubbornly maverick 50th vote, signed its writ of execution last week, complaining that the bill looked too “partisan” to him. That made HR 1’s demise inevitable; even its advocates knew it was unlikely to get 50 votes in its current form — let alone survive a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome.

The problem with HR 1 is that, unpalatable as it may be for other Democrats to admit, Manchin is right. As election law expert and reform advocate Richard L. Hasen of UC Irvine noted, the bill is “a wish list of progressive proposals.”

It includes federally mandated automatic voter registration and minimum standards for absentee voting, good things that most Republicans oppose — ostensibly because they would be federal incursions into an area normally left to the states, but also because they might make it easier for Democrats to win elections.

And the bill doesn’t stop there. It also includes more exotic measures like a public financing system for congressional elections, new ethics rules for the Supreme Court, and campaign finance reforms that Democrats have sought for more than a decade.

HR 1’s collapse comes at a time when electoral democracy is under threat. Republican-controlled state legislatures are still passing new laws to make it harder to vote. So it’s time to stop mourning HR 1, which has always been a long shot, and start thinking about what needs to happen next.

First, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York should take Manchin at his word that he genuinely wants to pass bipartisan voting reforms, and ask him to convene his vaunted negotiating group of 20 Senate centrists to work on them.

Some parts of HR 1 have broader support than others, including minimum early-voting standards and ballot security measures that are eminently worth passing. In public, Schumer and other Democrats haven’t acknowledged that HR 1 can’t pass, but they are already exploring privately whether pieces of it might.

“The issues in HR 1 are still in play,” Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Democracy at New York University told me.

Second, Democrats should expand a second election reform measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Manchin says he supports. The bill would update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of racially discriminatory laws to seek Justice Department approval for new election rules. The Supreme Court effectively gutted the law in 2013, but left room for Congress to pass an improved, updated version.

One problem with the Lewis Act is that it would apply only to new rules that states propose; it would not apply to the many voting restrictions that Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing now — 22 new laws this year, with more to come. Those new statutes include the Georgia law that makes it a misdemeanor to give water to voters while they are waiting in line and prohibits early-voting sites from staying open after 7 p.m.

“The [John Lewis] bill could be amended to make it retrospective as well as prospective,” Weiser said — although she noted that negotiating universally applicable standards for reviewing state laws would not be an easy task.

Third, and perhaps most urgent, Congress needs to make it harder for anti-democratic politicians to overturn the results of the next presidential election. That means rewriting the 1877 Electoral Count Act, a once-forgotten but justly maligned statute that Trump tried to use last year to block the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral vote.

The 1877 law was passed in an attempt to establish rules for Congress to decide the outcome of a presidential election when states fail to report clear or uncontested results — but in its first major test in practice, it proved to be an ungainly mess.

The law allows state legislatures to overrule their own voters in the event of a “failed election,” without defining what a failed election might be. Last year, Trump and his allies appealed to legislators in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona — all states Biden won — to award their electoral votes to him instead. None of the legislatures complied, but there’s no guarantee that future candidates won’t try the same gambit.

The 1877 law also allows Congress to contest and potentially discard individual states’ electoral votes through an odd, undemocratic process. That’s what eight GOP senators and 139 Republican House members were doing when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Their effort to block Biden’s election also failed, but the law remains on the books for future insurgents to use.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that any of those reforms will attract enough Republican support in the 50-50 Senate to overcome a filibuster. But with democracy at risk, all 100 senators should be required to vote on them — and explain their decisions to the people.

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Biden visits Queen Elizabeth before NATO and Putin meetings

President Biden will become the 13th U.S. head of state to be received by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II when he and First Lady Jill Biden call on her at Windsor Castle on Sunday.

The ceremonial visit, similar in protocol to President Trump’s 2019 visit to Windsor, will cap four days of meetings around the Group of 7 summit in the county of Cornwall on England’s southwestern coast.

Biden first met Elizabeth in 1982 when he was a senator, according to the White House.

The visit comes after a difficult year for the monarch and just three days after what would have been her husband’s 100th birthday. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died in April.

Jill Biden had marked Philip’s birthday on Wednesday, tweeting: “We are holding the entire Royal Family in our hearts today, and wishing them peace and comfort on what would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday.”

Meanwhile, reports in the British press continued to swirl about whether Prince Harry and Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, consulted the monarch before bestowing her nickname, Lilibet, on their daughter, who was born June 4 in California. The queen’s grandson and his wife had stepped back from royal duties and moved with their son, Archie, to the Santa Barbara area.

The queen first met a serving U.S. president, Harry Truman, as Princess Elizabeth in 1951. She has since met nearly every American president (Lyndon Johnson was the exception) who served during her 69 years on the throne. It’s one indication of the importance the monarch, who came of age following World War II, places on this “special” transatlantic relationship.

She appeared to take a special liking to President Obama, whom she met three times during his presidency, including hosting a 2011 state dinner that included a two-night stay at Buckingham Palace.

She also hosted a state dinner for President Trump in 2019 a year after welcoming him to Windsor Castle for a short ceremony. Though Biden, unlike Trump, opposed Brexit and is committed to transatlantic relations, his Irish roots — and outspoken support for upholding the Good Friday Agreement — could lend a degree of awkwardness to the meeting.

On Friday, the queen surprised the G-7 leaders by traveling to the coastal southwestern county of Cornwall to take part in a welcome event alongside Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate, the duchess of Cambridge.

That same day, Jill Biden joined Kate on a visit to a local school and led a roundtable discussion on the importance of early childhood on lifelong outcomes.

Between the events, American reporters asked Kate if she had any wishes for her new niece, Lilibet Diana.

“I wish her all the very best. I can’t wait to meet her,” she said. “We haven’t met her yet. I hope that will be soon.”

When the reporters asked the first lady if she’d asked Kate for any advice about meeting Queen Elizabeth, she was all business.

“No I didn’t. We’ve been busy. Were you not in that room?” she said. “We were talking education.”

Following the visit to Windsor, the first lady will return to Washington, D.C. The president will travel on to Brussels for two days of meetings with NATO and European Commission leaders, and then to Geneva, where he’ll conclude his weeklong trip with a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.