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From Ben-Gvir’s Paramilitaries to IDF ‘Policing’ | Israel’s Alarming Security Plans Could Inflame Relations With Its Arab Citizens

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Segalovitz fears that Israeli Arabs will see the plan as “a militarization of their relationship with the state.” And he warned that if soldiers used live fire against Israeli Arabs during riots inside Israel, it would be an extremely grave turning point in the state’s relations with the Arab community.

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Israel and Palestinians in holy site war of words Published 23 hours ago

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Israeli and Palestinian envoys have traded accusations at a UN meeting over an Israeli minister’s visit to a contested holy site in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian ambassador said Israel displayed “absolute contempt” for the international community, and demanded the UN take action.

His Israeli counterpart accused the Palestinians of mounting “a poisonous campaign” to erase Jewish history.

The minister’s visit on Tuesday was seen by Palestinians as provocative.

It was made by Israel’s new National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right political leader known for past anti-Arab statements and once convicted of incitement to racism.

Mr Ben-Gvir’s visit was his first public act since the government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was sworn in five days earlier.

The hilltop site is the most sacred place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of two Biblical temples, and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, the site of Muhammad’s ascent to Heaven. The entire compound is considered to be al-Aqsa Mosque by Muslims.

Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to go to the compound but not pray, though Palestinians see visits by Jews as attempts to change the delicate status quo.

Addressing the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour accused the world body of inaction.

“What red line does Israel need to cross for the Security Council to finally say enough is enough and act accordingly?” he asked. “When are you going to act? It [Israel] has displayed utter disregard for the sanctity of Palestinian life, the sanctity of international law and the sanctity of Haram al-Sharif… yet the council remains on the sidelines.”

“Our people are running out of patience,” he added, warning: “The record shows that Israel’s persistence on this path does not lead to surrender but to uprising.”

“Israeli actions have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with the unlawful attempt to alter the character, status and identity of the city [Jerusalem]”.

Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan responded angrily, saying Palestinian objections were motivated by “Jew-hatred and antisemitism”.

“For years now the Palestinians have orchestrated and advanced a poisonous campaign to obliterate any trace or connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, ” he said. “They exploit every means both in words and actions to promote these lies.”

“This insidious plot,” he said, “comes directly from the top of Palestinian leadership… the personal threats of the Palestinian representative speak volumes.”

He said it was “absurd” that the Security Council had felt it necessary to discuss “the peaceful 13-minute visit of a Jewish minister to the holiest Jewish site”.

“The very fact that this meeting was held is an insult to our intelligence,” he said.

Jerusalem holy site map

The holy compound is the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Situated in East Jerusalem, it was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. Under a delicate set of arrangements, Jordan was allowed to continue its historical role as custodian of the site, while Israel assumed control of security and access.

Muslim prayer continued to be the only form of worship allowed there, although a bar on Jewish visits was lifted. Palestinians argue that in recent years, steps have been taken that undermine the status quo, with Orthodox Jewish visitors often seen praying quietly without being stopped by Israeli police.

The number of visits by Jews has swelled in the past few years, something Palestinians claim is part of a surreptitious attempt to take over the site.

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Article source: BBC News

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

Why is EU sharing secrets with Israel Lobby?

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Why is EU sharing secrets with Israel lobby?

David Cronin Lobby Watch 10 January 2023

The Israel lobby is not entirely monolithic.

Some of its players oppose particular policies. Others applaud one obscenity after another.

Arié Bensemhoun, head of the Paris office with the advocacy group called the European Leadership Network, is in the latter category.

Bensemhoun has defended Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, following his recent incursion of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The incursion cannot be dissociated from the stated intention of Israel’s new government to assert Jewish supremacy throughout historic Palestine.

Members of Ben-Gvir’s party are recommending a “last war” against Palestinians. A “last war” sounds eerily like a “final solution.”

Israel’s genocidal ambitions are becoming increasingly clear to everyone paying attention. Yet Bensenhoum has suggested that the real objective behind Ben-Gvir’s invasion was to advance religious freedom.

Ben-Gvir is an admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who infamously massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron.

To imply that Ben-Gvir is now a champion of religious liberty is perverse.

It is by no means the first time that Bensemhoun has made outrageous comments. In 2021, he alleged that there “never was a Palestinian people.”

Far from being a marginal figure, Bensemhoun wields considerable clout. He recently accompanied a grouping of elected representatives as they visited the Middle East.

The lawmakers belong to Renaissance, the party of Emmanuel Macron, the French president.

While they behaved exactly as one would expect – by spreading myths about Israel being a “beautiful democracy” – one of Bensenhoum’s colleagues in the European Leadership Network hinted that such jaunts are not merely “fact-finding” missions.

Emmanuel Navon, head of the group’s Israel office, welcomed the visitors by noting that France is a “key military actor” in the eastern Mediterranean region and the Gulf.

Navon has previously argued that the Abraham Accords – normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries – offer an “opportunity to expand and formalize defense cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Four European Union states – France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus – could take part in such cooperation, along with Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, according to Navon.

“Defense cooperation” is almost certainly a euphemism for joint military exercises and weapons trading.

Eager to please

Navon’s enthusiasm for military cooperation might explain why the EU has developed a strong relationship with his organization.

In October, the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv teamed up with the European Leadership Network to host a conference.

Documents obtained following a freedom of information request indicate that the EU officials in attendance were eager to please the Israel lobby.

Andrea Pontiroli, a senior diplomat in the EU’s Tel Aviv embassy, gave what he called a “sneak preview” of an opinion poll that had not then been published.

Undertaken by the research agency Gallup, it found that “a whopping 72 percent of respondents consider EU-Israel relations as good and only 24 percent as bad,” Pontiroli said. The proportion of Israelis who regarded ties with the EU as “very good” had doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent over a year, he added.

“I hope that we will all do our part to ensure that these positive trends are sustained and continue to grow,” he said. “Because the EU-Israel relationship is strong, deep and mutually beneficial and it only makes sense that this also be reflected in public opinion.”

Michael Mann, head of the Middle East division in the EU’s diplomatic service, did not strike quite an upbeat tone in his comments to the same event.

“Let us be frank,” Mann said. “The situation is exceedingly bleak. The situation on the ground is deteriorating. The perspectives for a two-state solution, which is the only viable one, are growing dimmer.”

Mann claimed that “throughout the gloom, there are occasional glimmers of hope.” He cited last year’s maritime boundary agreement between Lebanon and Israel as “a great step forward.”

That deal theoretically allocated one gas field – known as Karish – to Israel and another – called Qana – to Lebanon.

The finer points actually allow Israel to profit from both fields. Israel will be able to get royalties from exploiting part of the Qana field through a side agreement with the French fossil fuel giant Total.

The only hopes likely to be realized by the deal are those of the Israeli establishment and the energy industry. Both hope to become richer and more powerful.

The EU diplomatic service censored the documents – see below – I had requested under freedom of information rules.

A note prepared for Mann “contains a piece of information concerning an exchange that took place between representatives of the EU and the state of Israel in a format that was not intended to be made public,” the diplomatic service stated. Releasing that information, it added, would “risk harming the possibility of maintaining an environment of mutual trust” in discussions between the EU and Israel.

Even though the European Leadership Network is not an official governmental body, EU diplomats have, in effect, admitted that they are sharing secrets with it.

Asked to explain why he was giving details deemed sensitive to a lobby group, Mann would only say that “the information concerned the support expressed by representatives of the last Israeli government for the Middle East peace process.”

There is something rotten and anti-democratic about this whole business.

Professional lobbyists are privy to details withheld from human rights activists, journalists and other mere mortals. The EU’s pandering to Israel’s backers is becoming more extreme.

Article link:
Article source: Electronic Intifada, 10/1/2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

‘Defending the Indefensible’: What Israel’s new government means for Jewish students abroad

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Defending the Indefensible’: What Israel’s New Government Means for Jewish Students Abroad

As Israel’s most right-wing and reactionary government to date begins enacting its policies, Jewish students thousands of miles away feel the burden of being identified with it (Haaretz, 10th January, 2023) )

Until the recent election, though, Israel still had the benefit of being viewed by most of the Western world as a democracy, albeit a fragile one. But that election, held just over two months ago, has brought into power the most right-wing and reactionary government in Israeli history. Headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, it is planning crackdowns on the judicial system as well as basic civil and minority rights, leaving the country’s status as a democracy in limbo.

Among those certain to be impacted by this new government are those Jewish students abroad who, for no fault of their own, may be held accountable for its actions. Some are already pushing back.

Within days of the election, the Union of Jewish Students in the United Kingdom issued a statement saying it would not be able to support a government that includes the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – now the national security and finance ministers, respectively.

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“If we as a community call out the Far Right in Britain and elsewhere, we must not turn a blind eye to the Far Right in Israel,” the statement said. It noted that these two leaders of the Israeli far right “do not represent the Jewish values we hold dear.”

Even before the election, the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, which represents students at schools throughout Australia and New Zealand, issued its own statement expressing concerns about the possible impact of events taking place thousands of miles away. “While we cannot vote in the Israeli elections, as Jewish students in the Diaspora, we are significantly invested in and affected by political developments in the Jewish State, whether we like it or not,” it said.

The student union expressed deep concerns that a party running on a platform of homophobia and racism – the Religious Zionism party led by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir – was likely to emerge as the third-largest party in the country, which it did. Referring to the two lawmakers, the statement said: “We cannot allow these men to co-opt the ideologies we hold so dear, and it is for this reason that we say Lo bishmenu – not in our name.”

In conversations with Haaretz, 15 Jewish students from the Diaspora share their thoughts about the new government in Israel, and what it will mean for them and their campus discourse.

Betsy Cohen, 21, fourth year student at Leeds University, England

Cohen, who was raised in North London in a Modern Orthodox family, had been considering aliyah. But following the November 1 election, she is having second thoughts: “I’m waiting to see how things pan out,” she says.

A member of the British Labour party, Cohen describes herself as left wing and “culturally religious,” though she isn’t especially active in Jewish life at her university.

The rise of the extreme right in Israel, she believes, has brought the cultural divide between Israeli and Diaspora Jews to the forefront. “At the end of the day, Israelis voted for a radical far-right government,” says Cohen. “I think we have to start asking ourselves uncomfortable questions about what this reveals about the country and the headspace its citizens are in.”

Cohen still identifies as a Zionist and says she can’t imagine the day when she would sever ties completely with Israel. “That said,” she adds, “it no longer feels like the country I knew and was taught to love growing up.”

The rise of the far right has made it more difficult for students like her to defend Israel, says Cohen, “because the optics are so bad.”

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“We have to be able to separate Israel’s government from Israel as a whole,” she adds. “But that’s not a super clear or strong argument for Jewish students to pedal.”

Asher Dayanim, 20, third-year student at Columbia University, United States

Dayanim, the son of Jewish immigrants who fled Iran, describes himself as a Zionist with strong cultural and emotional ties to Israel. Although his commitment to Israel has not waned because of the election results, he says, defending the country has become “trickier” – especially on a campus where students and faculty tend to be very left-wing and critical of Israel.

“It feels like the election results have confirmed all their biases,” says the Philadelphia native. “I also know some Jewish students who have been on the fence about Zionism, and this hasn’t helped.”

Dayanim takes solace, however, in the fact that Israel’s previous government, albeit short-lived, was the most diverse in the country’s history. “I think this shows that there hasn’t been a fundamental shift in the political outlook among Israelis, but rather that Israeli politics are an absolute mess,” he says. “There’s still a sense that we can all ride this out.”

Brad Gottschalk, 21, third-year student at Cape Town University, South Africa

Gottschalk grew up in Johannesburg, where he was active in Habonim Dror, the left-wing Zionist youth movement. He is now a member of the South African Union of Jewish Students.

Because the Jewish community of South Africa tends to be quite conservative with regards to Israel, he says most of his peers are unfazed by the recent election results. “In fact, Bibi is a popular figure here,” he says, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In South Africa, he explains, it’s hard to find Jews with a nuanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “You are either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine,” says Gottschalk.

That makes life particularly challenging these days for an outlier like him. “Being a left-wing Zionist involves a lot of mental gymnastics,” he says. “I feel like I’m having a particularly rigorous workout.”

As someone who follows Israeli politics closely, Gottschalk says, he wasn’t particularly shocked by the election results. “That said, I think for a lot of my contemporaries, it came as a

“It no longer feels like the country I knew and was taught to love growing up”

huge and unwelcome surprise,” he adds. “Many students in South Africa are what I term ‘blind Zionists,’ and fascism in Israel doesn’t fit the narrative of the Herzl spiel we all grew up on.”

Jaron Rykiss, 21, third-year student at the University of Manitoba, Canada

Rykiss, who describes himself as a “Zionist with caveats,” is president of the student union at his university.

Disappointed with the new political situation in Israel, he says: “I’m trying to be calm and take a wait-and-see approach, but Israel needs to be a country that provides a safe space to all its citizens – at least that’s the ideal we should all be striving for.”

“Fascism in Israel doesn’t fit the narrative of the Herzl spiel we all grew up on”

He says he wouldn’t blame young Jews for turning their backs on Israel, given the composition of the new government, and notes that the process has already begun.

“I think part of the issue is that Diaspora Jews are taught that Israel is a magical land, and they’re not give a counter-narrative,” says Rykiss. “Once they get to campus and meet pro-Palestinians for the first time, it makes for a jarring experience.”

Leonardo Shaw, 20, third year student at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Shaw, who defines himself as “culturally and ethnically Jewish,” is not aware of his Jewish friends pulling away from Israel because of the new government. and assumes this is because they are able to distinguish between the state and the government.

“Britain also has a very right-wing government in power, so it could be that it’s easier for us to make this distinction,” he posits.

While the political situation in Israel is “upsetting,” he says, his feelings toward the country haven’t changed.

“I was hoping to visit this summer, and funds permitting, I will,” says Shaw. “Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but politics are temporary, and things can always change for the better.”

“As Jews, we end up spending most of our time defending the idea that the Jewish people have a right to a national homeland”

He doesn’t expect it to become more difficult to defend Israel on campus for the simple reason, he says, that most students tend to be pretty ignorant about the situation in the country. Indeed, Shaw says he would be shocked if students on his campus knew anything about Itamar Ben-Gvir, widely considered to be the most controversial member of Israel’s new government.

“Most non-Jews I meet on campus don’t even know that Israel’s a democracy, let alone keep up with the country’s politics,” he says. “The type of debates we have on campus are way more basic. In fact, as Jews, we end up spending most of our time defending the idea that the Jewish people have a right to a national homeland.”

Josh Cohen, 21, third year student at Nottingham Trent University, England

Cohen, president of the JSoc (the Jewish students society) on his campus, identifies as Modern Orthodox religiously and center-left politically. Describing himself as an “unapologetic Zionist,” he believes it is important for students to continue engaging with Israel, but at the same time, to be “vocal in our opposition to the new government.”

Cohen does not anticipate tough times ahead for Jewish students on campus: “The vast majority of students, Jews and non-Jews alike, aren’t interested in Israel’s internal affairs.”

Gabriel Gluskin-Braun, 23, graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, United States

Gluskin-Braun, the son of a Reconstructionist rabbi, was active in the Habonim Dror Zionist youth movement but now identifies as anti-Zionist. The rise of the far right in Israel, he predicts, will push growing numbers of young American Jews into his camp.

“The idea that Israel represents the interests of global Jewry has, I think, been largely disproven,” says the Philadelphia native, who is studying Eastern languages and culture, with a specialization in Arabic.

“In the past, Diaspora Jews were hesitant to criticize Israel in public for fear of being labeled ‘self-hating’ or even ‘antisemitic.’ Now, a lot of young Jews have reached the end of their tether and are questioning how much longer they can defend the indefensible and engage with a country whose values don’t align with theirs.”

He describes the predominance of extremists in Israel’s new government as “another straw on the camel’s back.”

George Aminoff, 23, fourth-year student at Aston University, England

Aminoff, a member of the Birmingham JSoc, was raised in London and comes from a traditional Jewish background. Although he remains a Zionist, he says he will find it much harder now to continue defending Israel. “I don’t want to excuse the country’s swing to the hard right,” he says.

At the same time, he doesn’t expect the rise of the far right in Israel to radically change the views of his Jewish

“People think Israel is a dictatorship, comparable to a theocratic regime like Iran”

friends. “On campus, a lot of young Jews are increasingly critical of Israel, but I don’t think the election results alone are going to turn people into anti-Zionists,” he says.

Paris Enten, 20, second-year student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia

Enten, who serves as advocacy and communications coordinator for the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, says that this is the first time she can remember so many young Jews fundamentally opposed to the Israeli government.

She describes the situation as “challenging,” but does not think the election results will cause young Jewish Australians to distance themselves from Israel. “Our relationship with Israel isn’t based on the government of the day but on the idea of supporting a Jewish homeland,” she says.

Growing up at a time when Israel is under constant international criticism – often unfairly so in Enten’s view – has strengthened the resolve of her and her peers to stand up for the Jewish state. “It has hardened our Zionist beliefs,” she says.

Enten takes consolation in the fact that most of Israel’s major critics on Australia are relatively clueless about domestic politics in the country.

“Debates are not happening on our campuses at a such a sophisticated level,” she says. “People think Israel is a dictatorship, comparable to a theocratic regime like Iran. So, we don’t spend our time discussing nuances, but rather, dispelling basic lies.”

Kayla Lior Vardi, 22, third-year student at University of Cape Town, South Africa

Vardi, who was born in London and grew up in Johannesburg, identifies as a secular Zionist, but is active in Chabad, the Orthodox outreach movement.

As someone who has long advocated for Israel on her campus, she anticipates greater difficulties ahead. “In South Africa, the antisemitism I’ve experienced has always stemmed from anti-Zionism, and the composition of the new government is bound to provide more fodder.”

With Israel moving away from democracy, says Vardi, it will become harder for students like her to advocate for it. “I’ll be having to defend a government I disagree with on just about everything,” she says.

Having said that, Vardi does not think many young South African Jews will disengage from Israel because of the new government.

“Even the most liberal Jewish schools in South Africa are staunchly Zionist, and so, I don’t think the trend we see worldwide is relevant for young Jews in my country,” she says. “One election – albeit unprecedented in terms of the extremist results – is unlikely to make us turn our backs on

“I would delete my social media and [move to Israel] very quietly, because I’m worried about being canceled”


Vardi has considered immigrating to Israel, but says she was always hesitant “for fear of a backlash from my non-Jewish friends.”

If she were to move now, she says, “I would delete my social media and do it very quietly, because I’m worried about being canceled.”

Josh Feldman, 22, fourth-year student at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia

Feldman, who describes himself as a centrist Zionist, runs the blog for the Jewish Student Society at his university and follows events in Israel closely.

He thinks it would be “short-sighted and wrong” for young Jews to abandon Israel, and believes most of his peers in Australia share his view. “Young Australian Jews are very Zionist – even more than our parents and grandparents were, and I highly doubt this election will change people’s feelings toward Israel,” he says.

“Rather than distancing themselves, I think a lot of Jewish students are interested in learning why a person like Ben-Gvir has managed to become so popular,” he adds. “In this regard, there’s a perverse sense of renewed interest in the country.”

Rose Zelezniak, 21, third-year student at University of Cape Town, South Africa

Zelezniak, who identifies as a left-wing Zionist, says she is feeling “pretty hopeless” about Israel these days.

“But I’ve accepted the fact that as a Diaspora Jew, there’s very little I can do,” she says.

Rather than feed into the anti-Israel atmosphere on her campus, Zelezniak says, she has resolved to keep her thoughts to herself. “On campus, I still advocate just as fervently for Israel as I did before the election,” she says.

Zelezniak expects life to become even more challenging for Jewish students like herself because of the Israeli government’s orientation.

“Now we have to contend with the idea that a fascist party will be part of the new government, and that is the last thing we need on our plate,” she says. “If I were to sum up, I’d say that the Israeli election has made an already desperate situation even more toxic.”

Sheli Cohen, 22, recent graduate of University of Kansas, United States

Cohen, who grew up fairly observant, describes herself as a “cultural Jew” with left-of-center political views.

After graduating this summer, she moved to Tel Aviv, where she is working in the film industry. Despite the temptation to pick up and leave in despair over the new government, she says, she felt “the brave thing to do was to stay and fight.”

Cohen finds it disheartening that most of the American Jews she has recently encountered who moved to Israel tend to see eye-to-eye with the new government. “They’re changing the demographics of the country, and it is hard for me to engage with them,” she says.

The situation in Israel today reminds Cohen of how things felt in the United States right after Donald Trump was elected president. “It enabled the extremists to become more extreme, and led to super-polarization,” she says.

Adam Levy, 23, fourth-year student at University of Sydney, Australia

Levy, who describes himself as left-wing, is concerned that if the new Israeli government begins to act on some of its declarations, life could become far more challenging for Jewish students on campus.

“This is bound to further enrage the anti-Israeli activists on campus and make the environment even more hostile to us”

“All these horrendous laws will end up creating more violence against the Palestinians, and this is bound to further enrage the anti-Israeli activists on campus and make the environment even more hostile to us,” he says.

Levy, who plans to immigrate to Israel within the next few years, believes it is easier for him, as a Diaspora Jew, to distinguish between his feelings toward the state and his feeling toward the government. “I understand that’s a privilege not afforded to Israelis,” he says.

Beitha Milner, 20, second-year student at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students, is not particularly disturbed by recent political developments in Israel. “Israeli politics are not super relevant to me, because my ties to the land are historical, cultural and religious,” she explains.

Neither does she anticipate that life will become more difficult for Jewish students on South African campuses. “The pro-BDS students in South Africa have never cared about who’s in power in Israel,” she explains. “The election for them is irrelevant, and I doubt they even knew one had taken place.”

Although she cares deeply for Israel, Milner says she would never speak out publicly against the new government. “Who the Israelis choose to elect isn’t really my business,” she says. “I’m not a citizen of the country, and I don’t pay taxes there.”

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Article source: Haaretz, 10th January, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

Arab nations condemn Itamar ben-Gvir’s visit to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem

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Arab nations condemn Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem

Posted 10h ago10 hours ago, updated 9m ago9 minutes ago

Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has briefly visited the compound that houses the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a move condemned by Palestinians as provocative and despite warnings it could lead to violence.

“The Temple Mount is open to all,” Mr Ben-Gvir said on Twitter, using the Jewish name for the site.

An accompanying photograph showed him strolling at the periphery of the compound, surrounded by a clutch of bodyguards and flanked by a fellow Orthodox Jew.

An Israeli official said the quarter-hour visit took place in accordance with a so-called status quo arrangement, dating back decades, that allows non-Muslims to visit on condition they do not pray.

The visit passed without incident, the official said. However, it sparked condemnation from neighbouring Arab states.

Jordan, the custodian of al-Aqsa and whose peace deal with Israel is unpopular at home, summoned the Israeli ambassador and said the visit had violated international law and “the historic and legal status quo in Jerusalem”.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh cast the visit to the holy site as a bid to turn a major mosque there “into a Jewish temple”.

Addressing his cabinet, Mr Shtayyeh called on Palestinians to “confront the raids into al-Aqsa mosque” after Mr Ben-Gvir toured the periphery of the mosque compound.

A spokesman for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza and rejects coexistence with Israel, said of the visit: “A continuation of this behaviour will bring all parties closer to a big clash.”

Saudi Arabia also condemned the visit as a “provocative action” and, without referring to him by name, said Mr Ben-Gvir had “stormed” the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The United Arab Emirates, despite signing a normalisation agreement with Israel in 2020, echoed Saudi sentiments regarding the “storming” of the holy site, condemning the Israeli minister’s actions, according to a state news agency.

Mr Ben-Gvir’s actions appear to have stirred Israel’s allies as well, with a White House National Security Council spokesperson saying on Tuesday any unilateral action jeopardising status quo of Jerusalem holy sites is unacceptable.

“The United States stands firmly for preservation of the status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. Any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo is unacceptable,” they said.

The United States called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to preserve his commitment to the status quo of holy sites.

The rise of Mr Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party, to join a religious-nationalist coalition under re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deepened Palestinians’ anger over the long frustrations of their goal of statehood.

In fresh violence in nearby Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager during a clash, medical officials and witnesses said.

There was no immediate comment from the army.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns the storming of al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict”.

A spokesman for Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that rejects coexistence with Israel, said al-Aqsa “will remain Palestinian, Arab and Islamic … and no fascist can change this fact”.

There was no indication that Mr Ben-Gvir approached the mosque, however.

Compound home to one of Islam, Judaism’s most holiest sites

Once an advocate of ending the ban on Jewish prayer at the compound, he has, since taking office, spoken in a more non-committal way about a need to enforce “non-discrimination” there.

“If Hamas thinks that it can deter me with threats, it should understand that times have changed,” Mr Ben-Gvir said on Twitter.

“There is a government in Jerusalem!”

On Monday, a Jewish Power politician, Almog Cohen, told Israel’s Kan radio that the party’s “aspiration is — yes, God willing, for all religions to be able to pray on the Temple Mount”.

But Mr Netanyahu, now in his sixth term as premier, has pledged to preserve the “status quo” around holy sites.

The al-Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam’s third-holiest site. It is also Judaism’s most sacred site, a vestige of two ancient temples of the faith.

Located in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war, the compound further serves as a focus of Palestinian hopes of founding a state in those territories.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital — a status not recognised internationally.


Article link:
Article source: ABC (Australia), 4/1/2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

Far-right Ben-Gvir Intends to Visit Temple Mount Despite Warnings of Escalation

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Far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir will go ahead with his planned visit to the Temple Mount, in defiance of warnings that ascension to the contested holy site could spark a conflagration.

Hamas has threatened Israel with “explosive violence” following reports that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is planning on visiting the contested holy site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

According to a report published Monday morning by the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news channel, Hamas warned Israel, via Egypt, that the new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu will be held accountable for the consequences of Ben-Gvir’s planned visit.

The Lebanese channel, which is identified with terrorist group Hezbollah, reported that Hamas “won’t sit idly by.” Earlier on Monday, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanua said that Ben-Gvir’s plans to visit the Temple Mount “are another example of the arrogance of the settlers’ government, and of their future plans to damage Al-Aqsa Mosque and to divide it.”

A different Hamas spokesperson, Hazem Kassem, refused to give details about the organization’s response to the planned ascension at the Temple Mount. In a radio interview, Kassem explained that Hamas’ response “will be based on what plays out on the ground.”

According to reports from the Kan public broadcaster, a high-level meeting will take place within Israel Police to discuss the possible visit to the Temple Mount. Ben-Gvir will not attend the meeting.

At a meeting on Monday afternoon, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned against the new national security minister’s plans to ascend the mount.

“This is a provocation that could endanger human lives. It will be seen by all the world as a violation of the status quo. It is an unnecessary risk and any professional would tell you the same thing.”

Later on Monday, Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Zvika Fogel reacted to the news, saying his party leader “will visit the Temple Mount whenever he sees fit.” When asked about a possible response from Hamas, Fogel said, “We shouldn’t treat his visit as something that will lead to an escalation. Why not see it as part of realizing our sovereignty?”

On Sunday evening, hours after being sworn in as Israel’s national security minister, Ben-Gvir announced that he plans to visit the Temple Mount this week.

“No one will threaten us or tell us anything. The Temple Mount is the holiest place for the people of Israel,” he said, adding that he “will not give up on any place in the Land of Israel, and I’m against the racist policy at the Temple Mount, as well as the racism against Jews. The Mount is sacred to Muslims and all sorts of religions, I don’t doubt it or their right to ascend to the site.”

Earlier on Sunday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone, the first call between the new prime minister and his Egyptian counterpart since Netanyahu returned as prime minister.

The two leaders expressed their desire to promote bilateral relations across areas of cooperation while emphasizing the importance of promoting peace, stability and security for the benefit of the two countries and for all the peoples of the Middle East.

Sissi was among the few prominent leaders, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, who did not rush to call Netanyahu on his election victory. While Putin called Netanyahu last week during Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, Sisi waited until after the government was sworn in.

Last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned about “red lines” concerning Jerusalem holy sites, with the Temple Mount status quo playing a central role amid international concerns.

“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” he told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines. And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”

Under Jordan’s custodianship of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jews have been allowed to visit the Temple Mount but are barred from praying there. Abdullah warned earlier this year that Israel was conducting “illegal provocative measures” amid clashes at the Jerusalem holy sites, calling for increased international pressure on the Bennett-Lapid government.

“We have to be concerned about a next intifada. And if that happens, that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will benefit from. I think there is a lot of concern from all of us in the region, including those in Israel that are on our side on this issue, to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he continued.

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Article source: Haaretz | Jack Khoury | Jan 2, 2023

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Letters to The Australian

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Israel must be strong

One can argue ad nauseam regarding Israel’s conservative political parties and their idiosyncracies (“Netanyahu must steer ship of state”, 28/12). Despite national opposition, past Israeli governments have returned strategically important regional areas to Arab overlords. The result has been catastrophic, militarily, with many Israeli lives lost. Until at least one influential representative Arab leader declares that the Palestinian Arabs accept the existence of the democratic state of Israel, in the first instance, it is all a waste of time.

Aviva Rothschild, Caulfield North, Vic

It’s a measure of the extremism represented in the governing coalition cobbled together by Benjamin Netanyahu that even the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council has voiced its concern. The far-right dogmatism and ambition of partners such as West Bank settlers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich pose a defiant challenge to Netanyahu’s captaincy.

He may well be “Israel’s longest-serving and most experienced political leader”, as Mark Leibler and Colin Rubenstein declare, but what they and your editorial fail to point out is that Netanyahu is exploiting all his political skills to battle corruption charges.

The Faustian pact he has forged with ultra-Zionist radicals may delay his reckoning but will not serve Israel well, much less address the moral malady that afflicts its nationhood, the entrench­ed and worsening disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people.

Tom Knowles, Parkville, Vic

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Article source: The Australian (29/12/2022)

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Israel’s Arab Allies Signal Business as Usual, Despite Far Right’s Rise

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TEL AVIV — When Benjamin Netanyahu won a general election last month, analysts wondered how three Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel in 2020 — Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — might react.

Mr. Netanyahu forged the deals himself when last in office, but his new far-right allies have a history of anti-Arab statements that some thought might prove too objectionable for leaders in the three Arab states.

Ahead of the election, the Emirati foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met privately with Mr. Netanyahu and expressed discomfort at his alliance with the far right, according to two people briefed on the conversation who requested anonymity to speak more freely.

But since the election, that unease has quickly morphed into a more pragmatic approach: Business as usual, at least for now.

In recent weeks, both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates invited Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s most extreme allies, to their national day celebrations in Tel Aviv. All lawmakers, from the left and right, were sent invitations to both events, but Mr. Ben-Gvir’s inclusion — and an especially warm embrace by the Emirati ambassador — raised eyebrows and made headlines in Israel.

While other countries, notably the United States, have avoided Mr. Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted in Israel of anti-Arab incitement, the Bahraini and Emirati missions have not.

“Any change of government will not affect Bahrain’s approach to developing positive relations with Israel,” Khaled Al Jalahma, the Bahraini ambassador to Israel, said in a text message on Thursday night. “Bahrain’s stance on the change of administration in Israel is the same as it would be with any other country.”

But, Mr. Al Jalahma added, “As with any government, we will voice concern if policies enacted are of a nature that could strain relations.”

That stance reflects the extent to which the Abraham Accords, as the 2020 deals were called, redrew the contours of Middle Eastern geopolitics. For decades, all but two Arab governments refused to formalize their relationships with Israel until there was a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Open ties with Israel, let alone its most extreme politicians, were out of the question.

The signing of the accords underscored how solidarity with the Palestinians had been eclipsed, for certain Arab leaders, by national self-interest. Shared fears of a nuclear Iran, coupled with enthusiasm for better economic, technological and military ties with Israel, prompted the accords’ signatories to prioritize relations with Israel above the immediate creation of a Palestinian state.

Two years later, those fears and hopes have also now helped nudge the signatories into accepting Mr. Netanyahu’s chosen partners, even as some of Israel’s longtime supporters, like the United States, adopt a more cautious approach, analysts said.

“This is what Israel is — and countries like the U.A.E. have decided to deal with whoever the Israelis elect,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political scientist. “There is no going back on this treaty, the Abraham Accords, and we are stuck with someone like him,” Professor Abdulla added, referring to Mr. Ben-Gvir.

Mr. Ben-Gvir’s acceptance has drawn particular attention because of his history of anti-Arab extremism. While he says he has recently moderated his views, until 2020 Mr. Ben-Gvir displayed in his home a portrait of a Jewish gunman who in 1994 shot dead 29 Palestinians inside a mosque.

In Mr. Netanyahu’s likely new government, Mr. Ben-Gvir is set to become minister for national security, a role that oversees the police. Before the alliance formally enters office, it is attempting to pass a law that would give Mr. Ben-Gvir greater power over police activity.

That has raised fears that his tenure could provoke even more confrontations with Palestinians, particularly in sensitive places like the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount, where Israeli police frequently clash with Palestinians at a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Despite these concerns, the Emirati ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, greeted Mr. Ben-Gvir warmly at a gala organized by Ambassador Al Khaja in Tel Aviv this month — tightly clasping his hand in front of several photographers.

The United Arab Emirates’ foreign ministry declined to comment but Mr. Ben-Gvir’s office used the encounter as evidence of his increasing acceptance.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain “recognize Ben-Gvir for what he is, which is a law-and-order party leader, and not a racist leader, as is much suggested in Western media,” said Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for Mr. Ben-Gvir.

Mr. Al Khaja later paid a visit to Bezalel Smotrich, another far-right leader with a history of anti-Arab comments. Both Mr. Smotrich and Mr. Ben-Gvir were then invited to Bahrain’s national day ceremony in Tel Aviv on Thursday night but, like many coalition lawmakers, did not attend because of political commitments in Jerusalem.

At the event, the Bahraini ambassador, Mr. Al Jalahma, said in a speech that the Palestinian cause remained important to Bahrain. But the overall tone of the evening, in which Mr. Netanyahu appeared via video link, was that business continued as normal. This month, Bahrain also welcomed Isaac Herzog, Israel’s centrist president, in the first visit to the country by an Israeli head of state.

The Moroccan government has avoided the Israeli far right, but it has signaled through other means that its relationship with Israel continues as normal.

This week, Morocco sent a senior military officer to participate alongside Israeli, Bahraini and Emirati counterparts at a meeting in the United Arab Emirates about cybersecurity.

Last week, Morocco hosted a conference for education officials and academics from Israel and seven Arab countries, including citizens of two countries, Oman and Sudan, that do not yet have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Participants discussed how to improve collaboration between their education systems, including an exchange system for Israeli and Arab university students.

Several Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini participants watched games from the World Cup together, including Morocco’s surprise victory against Spain.

That sort of interaction highlights the complexity of Israel’s place in the Arab world: Even as certain Arab leaders deepen their relationships with Israel, polling shows that this process remains unpopular among ordinary Arabs.

During the World Cup in Qatar, many Arab attendees — and some players, including the Moroccan team — have stressed their support for the Palestinians and refused to speak with Israeli journalists covering the tournament.

“What’s happening at the top has nothing to do with what’s happening among people,” said Elham Fakhro, a research fellow at the Center for Gulf Studies at Exeter University in Britain.

The Moroccan foreign ministry declined to comment for this article. But analysts say that key Arab leaders are happy to ignore the protests of their citizens and the Palestinians because their countries greatly benefit from military and economic partnership with Israel.

Israel is working together with the Abraham Accords countries and the United States to protect against Iranian missiles and unmanned drones.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has signed public agreements with its Bahraini and Moroccan counterparts, making it easier for the three countries to coordinate and share military equipment, and quietly supplied an air defense system to the United Arab Emirates, satellite photos published in October suggested.

Trade is also flourishing. This month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates made the final touches to a deal that will cover 96 percent of bilateral trade — the most detailed trade agreement between Israel and an Arab country.

“This was always a pragmatic arrangement which they see as being in their long-term strategic interests,” said Dr. Fakhro. “It doesn’t change just because Ben-Gvir is now around. They won’t trade those interests for the Palestinian issue.”

Saudi Arabia has frequently said it will not seal full ties with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state. Analysts also believe it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in normalizing with Israel unless it receives more support from the United States, including the supply of more sophisticated arms or support for a nuclear program.

But Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly promised since his election victory in November that he will try to normalize relations with Riyadh.

“We can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap,” Mr. Netanyahu said Thursday on Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network.

“Of course, I’m referring to what could be a truly remarkable, historic peace with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Vivian Nereim from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Article source: New York Times | Patrick Kingsley| Dec. 16, 2022

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