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Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down appointment of key Netanyahu ally

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Israel’s Supreme Court struck down the appointment of a minister who is a critical ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dealing an early challenge to the stability of the newly sworn-in coalition government.

The judges found the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a minister “extremely unreasonable” in light of his conviction last year for tax evasion. They noted his subsequent promise to quit political life as part of a plea deal and his conviction two decades ago on bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges while in office, for which he served nearly two years in prison.

The court, in a 10-1 ruling, said that Mr. Deri can’t continue in his roles as interior, health and rotating finance minister.

The ruling comes just as Mr. Netanyahu’s government is rolling out a plan to overhaul the justice system, which coalition members demanded be expedited in light of the court’s decision on Mr. Deri.

The plan will give the ruling coalition more say in which judges are appointed, allow a simple majority of lawmakers to override the Supreme Court should it strike down legislation and remove the ability for judges to base rulings on the grounds of reasonability, as they did in Mr. Deri’s case.

Israeli law forbids a recent convict from serving as a minister. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition amended the country’s law before the government was sworn in to allow people recently convicted of crimes to serve as ministers if they had suspended jail terms and didn’t serve time in prison, like Mr. Deri.

The judges in their ruling on Wednesday criticised the amendment to the law for its apparent personal character but didn’t challenge its legality. Still, they considered the appointment unreasonable given Mr. Deri’s criminal record and vow to leave politics.

“[The principle of] reasonableness is not in the written law but has been in our common law for decades,” said Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem-based think tank the Israel Democracy Institute.

Shas, which is the second-largest party in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, said the ruling negated the will of hundreds of thousands of voters who voted for the ultraorthodox leader just a few months ago, with full knowledge of his criminal record.

“Today, the court ruled in practice that elections are meaningless,” the party said.

If Mr. Netanyahu ignores the court ruling, as some in his coalition want, opposition leaders say it would cause a constitutional crisis.

“If Aryeh Deri is not fired, Israel will be in an unprecedented constitutional crisis,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid.

On the other hand, members of the Shas party are threatening to topple the government if Mr. Deri isn’t given a senior appointment.

“If Aryeh Deri is not in the government — there is no government,” said Shas ally and Welfare Minister Yaakov Mergi, hours before the court’s ruling, in an interview with Israel’s national broadcaster Kan.

Shas controls 11 seats in the ruling coalition of 64 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, and its exit from the government would rob it of a majority and leave it vulnerable to collapse.

Political analysts say it is unlikely that Shas would leave the government so early after its formation and that it will instead demand a solution from Mr. Netanyahu.

Legal analysts say the government could try to reinstate Mr. Deri after passing its judicial-overhaul plan, which would allow the coalition to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

“We will act in any legal way available to us and without delay to correct this injustice,” said the party leaders of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition in a joint statement.

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Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Dov Lieber | January 19, 2023

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Netanyahu far-right government takes power

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Already dogged by criticism at home and abroad, a new Israeli government is set to be sworn in – the final stroke in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s political comeback.

The veteran leader, 73 and on trial for corruption charges he denies, has had to calm concerns for the fate of civil liberties, diplomacy and clean governance since his bloc of nationalist and Jewish religious parties secured a parliamentary majority in a November 1 election

His alliance with the Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties has stirred unease given their opposition to Palestinian statehood and some members’ past agitation against Israel’s justice system, Arab minority and LGBTQI rights.

Fending off criticism, Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to promote tolerance and pursue peace.

“We will establish a stable government for a full term that will take care of all Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday.

Israel’s longest-serving leader, he was prime minister for three years in the 1990s and from 2009-2021, albeit at times heading a caretaker government ahead of elections.

The new government policy outline, published on Wednesday, said it would strive for peace with all of Israel’s neighbours.

The first guiding principle listed, however, cited assertions of “exclusive and unassailable” Jewish national rights “throughout the land of Israel”, terminology that appeared to include the West Bank and East Jerusalem – among the territories that the Palestinians seek for a state.

For the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s government line-up has simply darkened an already bleak view, putting their hopes of statehood further out of reach.

Violence in the West Bank has surged this year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday bemoaned what he called “the establishment of an Israeli government whose motto is extremism and apartheid”.

On wider diplomatic circles, Netanyahu has said he hopes for a breakthrough in forming diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia as he did in 2020 with other Gulf states that share Israel’s concerns about Iran.

Riyadh has signalled no change in its position that any progress with Israel was contingent on Palestinian statehood.

The appointment to police minister of Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler convicted in 2007 of incitement against Arabs and support for a Jewish militant group on Israeli and United States terrorist watchlists, has stirred concern at home and abroad.

Ben-Gvir, a lawyer, says his positions have become more moderate.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, warned on Sunday against causing potential harm to individuals’ rights.

Israeli businesses have decried calls to revise the country’s anti-discrimination law.

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Article source: Canbera Times
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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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“World’s oldest hatred”: Rabbi Shmuley claims people who attack Israel hate Jews

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Author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says when people claim they hate Israel but love Jewish people, they are “dyed in the wool liars” and anti-Semites.

He said Jewish people are not hated because of “Israeli aggression”, but rather Israel is hated because of anti-Semitism.

“The reason why people attack Israel is they don’t care about Arab rights and they don’t care about Arab LGBTQ rights – they care about hating Jews,” Rabbi Shmuley told Sky News host Rita Panahi.

“This is the world’s oldest hatred, we see it repeated over and over again.”

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Article source: Sky News, 29/12/2022

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Netanyahu must steer ship of state

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After weeks of political horse trading after his clear victory in Israel’s November 1 election, Benjamin Netanyahu at last has been able to advise President Isaac Herzog that he has the numbers to secure his return as prime minister. That reflects a remarkable comeback by Mr Netanyahu, 73, who appeared headed for political oblivion when he lost office 18 months ago. His leadership should do much to fortify Israel’s defiance against the existential threats it faces from Iran and terrorist groups including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

But he must not ignore reservations that exist about the deals done to form a coalition that critics say will be the most far-right government in the Jewish state’s history. For once, it is not only the usual claque of mindless anti-Israel campaigners who are worried about some of the names included in Mr Netanyahu’s line-up. Significantly, the influential Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, which has led the way supporting successive Israeli governments for many years, has expressed concern. In a joint statement congratulating Mr Netanyahu, chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said: “Mr Netanyahu is, of course, Israel’s longest-serving and most experienced political leader. We take him at his word that he will be the one steering the ship of state, not his coalition partners. We hope and expect that this means that he will ensure that the inflammatory rhetoric and radical proposals that have emanated from some members of the new governing coalition will not define the domestic or foreign policies of the new government.”

Like the US and other Western governments, the AIJAC is concerned about the presence in the new government of leaders of Religious Zionism, among others. One leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a firebrand West Bank settler and ultranationalist who was a follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose anti-Arab group was labelled a terrorist movement by the US. Once convicted of racism, Mr Ben-Gvir was barred from serving in the Israeli military because of his activism in extremist organisations. He will be the new security tsar with powers over Israel’s police and the West Bank. Bezalel Smotrich, another West Bank settler and ultranationalist proponent of annexation of the Palestinian territories, is an outspoken homophobe who, as finance minister, will control the West Bank’s administration. Others among the ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties that have gone into coalition with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party are also extreme. Their demands delayed finalisation of the six-party coalition, with Mr Netanyahu forced to ask Mr Herzog for extra time.

Mr Netanyahu’s imperative was to ensure his return to office for a sixth term. But in doing so he must not lose sight of the concerns held by some of Israel’s best friends about the controversial make-up of the coalition. US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has avoided saying he will work with far-right members of the new government. But he will work with Mr Netanyahu who, as the AIJAC noted, has promised his hands will be firmly on the wheel of government. It would do Israel no good if Mr Netanyahu did otherwise. Amid the deepening existential threat it faces, the Jewish state’s best course, as always, is a sensible two-state solution to the Palestinian problem, and in building a united, democratic Israel able to deal with security and economic challenges. Although the extremists have helped Mr Netanyahu reclaim the prime ministership, their divisiveness and racism are unlikely to help him achieve those goals. As the AIJAC said, Mr Netanyahu, not his controversial coalition partners, must “be the one steering the ship of state”.

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Article source: Australian editorial, 28/12/2022

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Palestinians ‘weren’t there at all’– Netanyahu tells credulous Jordan Peterson

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Palestinians ‘weren’t there at all’– Netanyahu tells credulous Jordan Peterson


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Conservative scholar/media star Jordan Peterson turned over a new leaf this fall by touring Israel with the ideologue Ben Shapiro and dining with Benjamin Netanyahu. Now Peterson has published an interview with Netanyahu titled “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?” in which he allows Netanyahu to rant against Palestinians and misrepresent history:

Israel did not create “a single refugee” in 1948. No, neighboring Arab armies did that by telling the Palestinians to flee. This has always been Jewish land, the bible tells us so. Though before Jews returned to it, it was just a “barren dump” and “wasteland” and “ruin.”

There was no such thing as Palestinians. They were “southern Syrians” till Zionism built a “miracle” in the desert and they emigrated to the land.

Peterson has a large following, and the interview has gotten 800,000 views in eight days. Though happily, many commenters on the video have denounced Peterson for his hospitality to racism and historical fictions.

Here are some of Netanyahu’s Zionist fables. On the refugees:

“Seventy five years ago when the state of Israel was declared, you did not have a single Arab refugee…. In fact the refugees are the result of Arab aggression and not its cause. …. The Palestinian refugees… fled in advance of the advancing armies [from five Arab countries] being promised that they could return in a few days, the Jews would be annihilated and driven into the sea, that didn’t work out, thank god.

The Zionists “did not kick out an existing population with a national consciousness.” Because no one was there, it was barren land.

“The Arabs who had conquered the land [in the 600s] basically left it barren. They never made it their own. It was a barren land. Practically it was an empty land…. The Jews came back in the 19th century to the land of Israel. The result of this return was that we started building farms, factories, places of employment. Arabs from nearby countries started emigrating. And they now became– they call themselves Palestinians. They reconstructed history, they said we’ve been here for centuries. No they haven’t. They weren’t there at all, and they didn’t have a national consciousness….

“It’s not your land, it’s been our land for 3500 years. If you took over somebody’s apartment, kicked them out, dispossessed them, and they never gave up their claim… and you left this barren dump, OK? And the families, the progeny of the people you kicked out came back, rebuilt the house… you cannot come back and tell them, you don’t belong here, we’re going to kick them out.

“Especially since your latecomers who have come to live in part of the house, which is what so-called Palestinians are. We say to them you can live here, we can live here, but it’s our land, its our state…”

This is Nakba denial, and hateful to those who respect human rights and history. Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinians are “southern Syrians” is the same line that Sheldon Adelson, his friend and the late Republican donor, used to put out.

Jews have suffered more than anyone else.

“If any people has any right to a state, if any people never gave up their dreams… If any people rebuilt their home from nothing, from barren, wasted land, it’s the Jewish people. To tell them, you who have suffered more than anyone else… you have no right to be there, but the Arabs who are trying to destroy you, they have a right, That is a complete perversion of history…

The land belongs to us.

“The Jews belong to this land, this land belongs to the Jews, the Palestinians are free to live here next to us, among us, but they are not free to demand the dissolution of the Jewish state…

There’s no occupation, Netanyahu says, using biblical terms for the West Bank: “our so- called occupation of the heartland of the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria.”

More ranting about Arabs are not productive:

“We came back to this land to this land that was laid barren by the Arab conquest, brought it back to life, and allowed Arab immigration, what we call now Palestinian immigration, to come back in…

“They did nothing with the land. They built one town. Ramle. That’s it. Hundreds of new sites that we built…. The Arabs did nothing with it… We perform this miracle… it was desert, it was nothing.”

Netanyahu repeats that it’s like being evicted from an apartment and when you come back, there are “no tenants” there.

“They took over my apartment a long time ago…The apartment was left barren and many decades– in this case, centuries later, I come back to this barren mess, this ruin, and I build it up back, I not only improve it, I make my ownership based on improvement, but that nobody else did anything with it. There was no someone else! There practically were no tenants, that’s my argument… “

Peterson never challenges Netanyahu’s lies about Palestinian history and Palestinian refugees. He does not touch on Netanyahu’s corruption trial or Netanyahu’s current plan to take on fascistic coalition partners to gut the Israeli legal system so he won’t go to jail.

So the interview is not so different from PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, interviewing Netanyahu for 11 minutes a few weeks ago and leaving him off the hook on corruption and racism and apartheid charges (“You see a home for the Palestinians in years to come?”).


Peterson accepts the claptrap surely because he is a Christian Zionist and opposes the American left at every turn, so Netanyahu is a hero. But Peterson offers a rationalization for theft that his own commenters are mocking. There is a “principle of ownership in English common law,” Peterson says, that “if you own territory and you’re doing nothing to it and someone squats on it” and does something productive, that someone gets to keep the land. “You have to do something productive with [territory].. The Jews have actually taken the land and did something with it. … They invited other people to live there… It wasn’t an oppressive regime.” This is high-minded hasbara, or explaining Israel to the world.

In turn, Netanyahu justifies Israeli land theft on the basis of the bible.

“The bible describes how the Jewish people lived on this land, were attached on that land, fought off conquerors sometimes were conquered but stayed on their land… till the 7th century… We were conquered by the Romans, conquered by the Byzantines. They did a lot of bad things to us, but they didn’t really exile us…. The loss of our land actually occurred when the Arab conquest took place in the 7th century. The Arabs burst out from Arabia and they did something that no other conqueror… nobody did before… They actually started taking over the land of the Jewish farmer. They brought in military colonies that took over the land.”

(Military colonies — a wee bit of projection there!)

“So it is under the Arab conquerors that the Jews lost their homeland.. The Arabs were the colonials, the Jews were the natives dispossessed… We were flung to the far corners of the earth, suffered unimaginable suffering because we had no homeland. … We never gave up the dream of coming back to our ancestral homeland.”

This is claptrap. The scholar Shlomo Sand debunks it in his books “The Invention of the Jewish People” and “The Invention of the Land of Israel.”

The claim that there was not a single refugee at the time of Israel’s founding is laughable. Consider that the scholar Ibrahim Abu Lughod and his family left Jaffa in May 1948 before the state of Israel was created because they feared for their lives. Hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians took similar actions.

Many fled because of violence by Zionist militias who sought to take over areas coveted by the Jewish state (like Deir Yassin on the road to Jerusalem) outside the boundaries the U.N. had drawn. Many were trucked away from their villages by the Israeli army so as to create a Jewish majority in the new state. Most importantly, at least 700,000 refugees were not permitted by Israel to return once the armistice was achieved in 1949.

How can a serious scholar indulge the racism and cultural supremacy of saying that Palestinians “did nothing” with the land? And does it matter whether the people you kick out of your country have a “national consciousness”? Don’t they still have a right to their homes and villages? Records are clear that over 400 villages were erased by the Zionists. This is dangerous thinking, and it’s a sad reflection on Peterson that he humors it.

Peterson characterizes the Nakba as an intellectual fad. Why has the idea of Palestinians being indigenous and displaced “gained such cachet in the west?” Peterson asks.

Netanyahu is clearly nettled by the rise in consciousness of the Nakba in the west. “Intellectual elites have created a fake history that deracinates Jewish roots,” he says. He seeks to counter the “settler-colonial” critique of Zionism with slogans, of which he’s a master.

We are not the Belgians in the Congo, we are not the Dutch in Indonesia, we are not the British in South Africa. We had been there all the time…. We were kicked out of the Congo and nothing happened in the Congo. Nothing. no other people there, no development, nothing..

He reprises Joan Peters’s argument, in “From Time Immemorial”, fully discredited by Norman Finkelstein, that the Palestinians in Israel in 1947 had emigrated there to get in on the great developments of Zionism.

Netanyahu justifies the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration by the British in 1917, later endorsed by the U.S.– on a similar basis, the bible and Jewish cultural supremacy.

They [western leaders] basically knew that the land was practically empty.. It made sense both from biblical prognostication and also a humanist view that this evil of history, this injustice of history would be corrected. These Jews who had contributed so much to civilization, and morality and history… [the leaders] concluded knowing the history I describe that is so unknown today on college campuses and among so-called intellectuals that Jews had a right to rebuild their national life in their ancestral land.

Reflect that this is the racist political leader, praised by the Democratic establishment, who successfully demolished the possibility of a two-state solution during his first 15 years in office.

Comments on the video are mostly scathing.

Lion Heart. “A quick summarising: If your house is empty and you only put a couch there, someone should come and be in your house instead.” Also judging by Benjamin’s logic, natives should be taking America and Canada back and rule. Right?

theobnoxiousweed”: “Netanyahu’s main philosophy of the entitlement for Israel is based on the inherent superiority of the Jewish people. He repeatedly describes the lands around Jerusalem as barren wastelands. A similar philosophy to my ancestors who declared Australia empty a few hundred years back and thought of the inhabitants as having no entitlement to the land they lived on due to their perceived primitive culture.”

Reid Schwantz: “My great great great great great great great great grand father, the first human on earth posses the whole lands and oceans under the atmosphere where all human live nowadays. inspired by mr. netanyahu, now i’m thinking about to claim it back after 50k years or so.”

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Article source: Mondoweiss, 14/12/2022

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Israelis have put Benjamin Netayahu back in power. Palestinians will likely pay the price

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Israelis Have Put Benjamin Netanyahu Back in Power. Palestinians Will Likely Pay the Price.

Dec. 13, 2022, 5:05 a.m. ET

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By Diana Buttu (New York Times)

Ms. Buttu is a lawyer and former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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HAIFA, Israel — As the prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu finalizes the formation of Israel’s most extreme right-wing government to date, I, along with other Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories, am filled with dread about what the next few years will bring.

Every day since the elections, Palestinians wake up with a what-now apprehension, and more often than not, there’s yet another bit of news that adds to our anxiety. The atmosphere of racism is so acute that I hesitate to speak or read Arabic on public transportation. Palestinian rights have been pushed to the back burner.

We Palestinians live knowing that a vast majority of Israeli politicians don’t support an end to Israel’s military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip nor equality for all of its citizens. We are made to feel as though we are interlopers whose presence is temporary and simply being tolerated until such time as it is feasible to get rid of us.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 48 percent of Jewish Israelis agree that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” I look around in my mixed Haifa neighborhood and wonder which of my neighbors voted for the extremist candidates who have voiced similar opinions. “It is only a matter of time before we are gone,” my friends tell me. To add insult to injury, Israelis blame Palestinians for the rise in extremism and racism, rather than looking at how racism has become normalized in Israeli society. It is blaming the victim rather than the aggressor.

Since his recent election, Mr. Netanyahu has been offering important positions in government to vocal anti-Palestinian politicians. The incoming governing coalition includes the extremist and racist Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, party, whose leaders have a history of supporting violence against Palestinians.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a settler who leads the Jewish Power party, has been convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist group. Earlier this month, Mr. Ben-Gvir reportedly hailed an Israeli soldier who fatally shot a Palestinian young man in the West Bank during a scuffle — an act caught on video and widely circulated on social media — by remarking, “Precise action, you really fulfilled the honor of all of us and did what was assigned to you.” Israel’s current police chief blamed him for helping ignite the surge in violence in May 2021. He will now be minister for national security, putting him in charge of Israel’s domestic police and border police in the occupied West Bank, home to roughly three million Palestinians.

Over the course of decades, and especially since the erection of the wall along the West Bank, Israelis seem to have become immune to how Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and what it is to be Palestinian in Israel. Conversations with neighbors in Haifa about the nakba — or “catastrophe,” in which hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were expelled with the creation of Israel in 1948 — or Israel’s military occupation that amounts to apartheid or even racism in Israel are always met with denial or with justification, so we have learned never to speak to one another.

On Dec. 1, Mr. Netanyahu inked a coalition agreement with Bezalel Smotrich, another settler and head of the Religious Zionism party, naming him minister of finance and giving him control over a Defense Ministry department. Mr. Smotrich has called himself a “proud homophobe” and has said that the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank by suspected Jewish militants in which an 18-month-old child and his parents were burned to death was not a terrorist attack. In 2016, he said that he was in favor of segregation between Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospital maternity wards.

Last year, Mr. Smotrich mentioned that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, didn’t “finish the job” of expelling Palestinians in 1948. He has also promoted a subjugation plan in which Palestinians (who accept the plan) would be considered “resident aliens” while those who do not would be dealt with by the Israeli Army. As part of his Defense Ministry post, Mr. Smotrich will have unprecedented authority over the policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and over Palestinian construction, and will be able to appoint the heads of the administration responsible for the government’s civil policy in the West Bank.

Both the Jewish Power and the Religious Zionism party platforms are almost exclusively focused on Palestinians and about ensuring that Jewish supremacy reigns. The Religious Zionism party aims to retroactively legitimize settlements in the West Bank.

I fear that Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians will only increase in the near future as I consider the record of Mr. Netanyahu and his previous coalitions — a history of relentless race-baiting and incitement of prejudice against Palestinians in Israel, the passage of the Jewish Nation-State law (which enshrines the privileging of Jewish citizens), the open fire policy, Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian homes, its continued colonization of the West Bank and repeated mass bombings of Gaza.

With Mr. Ben-Gvir, Mr. Smotrich and other extremists in his coalition, Mr. Netanyahu will very likely continue in this path, particularly since he has been the enabler of so many of these policies. Jewish Power and Religious Zionism are natural extensions of Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. Failing to recognize this is akin to putting one’s head in the sand.

If there is any silver lining to our grim situation it might be that the rise of Mr. Ben-Gvir and his fellow extremists will open the eyes of more Americans. Some former State Department officials and diplomats have already called upon the Biden administration not to deal with the most extreme members of the new Israeli coalition. American Jewish groups have also expressed alarm at the new coalition. But American policy is unlikely to change in response to these dark tidings. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken of “equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity” for Israelis and Palestinians, but what guarantees will he be offering to ensure that Palestinians live in freedom and security with this new government?

As Israel lurched further to the right, the United States and other Western governments continued to normalize and legitimize extremists once deemed beyond the pale — from the notorious former general Ariel Sharon, when he became prime minister, to the race-baiting ultranationalist and settler Avigdor Lieberman when Mr. Netanyahu, during his second run as prime minister, made him a cabinet minister in 2009.

At the time, the appointment of Mr. Lieberman — who had called for loyalty oaths for Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish citizens and a redrawing of borders that would strip Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship — was widely criticized. But soon enough American and European officials were meeting with Mr. Leiberman.

There is little hope that this won’t happen this time, too, and what was unthinkable but a few years ago will become a reality, with Palestinians inevitably paying the heaviest price for Israel’s electoral choices.

Diana Buttu is a lawyer and former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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Article source: New York Times, 13/12/2022

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Police slap ketchup ban on Balfour protester

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Police slap ketchup ban on Balfour protester
Kit Klarenberg and David Cronin The Electronic Intifada 16 November 2022
London’s police force has imposed bizarre restrictions on a woman who spoke out
against Britain’s role in the colonization of Palestine.
On 12 November, two protesters glued themselves to the plinth of a statue dedicated
to Arthur James Balfour in Britain’s Parliament. One also doused the statue in
tomato ketchup.
Attracting widespread media coverage, the protest drew attention to the 1917 Balfour
In that document, Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, expressed support for the
Zionist movement and its goal of establishing a Jewish state – euphemistically
described as a “national home for the Jewish people” – in Palestine. By so doing,
Britain paved the way for the mass expulsion of Indigenous Palestinians three
decades later.
The protesters were trying to educate the British people about imperialism and its
consequences. In a video circulated following their action, one of the protesters can
be heard accusing Britain of profiting from colonial crimes for more than a century.
Despite performing a public service, the women now face criminal charges.
Even though they have been released after their initial arrest, at least one of the
women is subject to onerous bail conditions.
She is banned from carrying “any adhesive substance” in a public place and from
possessing “any condiment or liquid that can be used for defacing property.” She is
also not allowed to enter Westminster – the part of London where the Parliament is
located – “unless for medical, educational and legal reasons with a pre-arranged
The women are scheduled to appear in court on 2 December.
They are being charged under a draconian new law called the Police, Crimes,
Sentencing and Courts Act.
Section 50 of that law concerns the damaging of “memorials.” Through this
provision, a court may impose stiff penalties even if the damage caused to a
monument is small.

White supremacist
In this case, the police appear to have exaggerated the scale of the damage caused to
Balfour’s statue.
They have put a very precise figure of £5,535 (approximately $6,600) on the damage
caused by the ketchup. Though ketchup is usually easily removed from stone
The stains of shame left by imperialism are, of course, far harder to remove and
arguably indelible.
That may explain why the London authorities are so determined to punish activists
who highlight crimes omitted from the version of history taught in Britain’s schools.
Section 50 was introduced following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. During
one London demonstration, the words “was a racist” were written on the plinth of a
statue dedicated to the wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Like Churchill, Arthur Balfour was a white supremacist. Balfour once contended that
Europeans should enjoy greater privileges than Blacks in South Africa by claiming
that “men are not born equal.”
His eponymous declaration of November 1917 was inherently racist. It granted
greater rights to incoming settlers than to Indigenous Palestinians.
Balfour even insisted that Palestinians would not be consulted about the Zionist
colonization project.
The declaration was later enshrined in the League of Nations mandate, through
which Britain administered Palestine between the 1920s and 1940s.
Britain introduced a series of ordinances enabling Jewish settlers to seize land which
Palestinians had farmed for generations.
The British would not tolerate any resistance. A major Palestinian uprising in the
1930s was crushed with great brutality.
British forces mentored and were frequently aided by the Haganah, the largest
Zionist militia in Palestine. The Haganah and some other armed groups later drove
up to 800,000 Palestinians from their homes during the Nakba, the wave of ethnic
cleansing before, during and after Israel’s establishment in 1948.
The recent protest against Balfour’s statue was organized by Palestine Action, which
is best known for breaking into factories and offices owned by the Israeli weapons
maker Elbit Systems.
Confronting the Israeli arms industry and its investments in Britain has proven
effective. Elbit capitulated to sustained pressure from Palestine Action this year by
closing its London office and selling a plant it owned near Manchester.

A Palestine Action representative, who asked not to be named, pointed out that the
British government is constantly developing stronger political and economic
relations with Israel.
“There might not be British troops on the ground in Palestine today, but the country
still sustains violent colonialism there today, in different forms,” the representative
“Elbit factories across the country [Britain] create weaponry daily that is
fundamental to Zionist ethnic cleansing. This horror could not continue without
London’s active acquiescence.”
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence
services in shaping politics and perceptions. Twitter: @KitKlarenberg.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His books
include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto

Article link:
Article source: Electronic Intifada, 16/11/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

As Netanyahu nears power, the Far Right wants to oversee the Army

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As Netanyahu Nears Power, the Far Right

Wants to Oversee the Army

Bezalel Smotrich is an ultranationalist who opposes Palestinian sovereignty and
wants to govern Israel by Jewish law. He seeks the Defense Ministry in Benjamin
Netanyahu’s government.
By Patrick Kingsley
Nov. 16, 2022, 11:18 a.m. ET (New York Times)
KEDUMIM, West Bank — As Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to form a new
government in Israel, one likely member of his cabinet has drawn particular concern
in Washington and in Israeli security circles: Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right lawyer
angling to lead Israel’s powerful Defense Ministry.
Mr. Smotrich, 42, is a former settler activist with a history of hard-line positions,
including support for segregation in Israeli maternity wards; governing Israel
according to the laws of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible;
and backing Jewish property developers who won’t sell to Arabs.

Mr. Smotrich has described himself as a homophobe, refuses to shake women’s
hands for religious reasons and has said it was a “mistake” that Israel’s founders did
not expel more Arabs when the country was founded.
Now, Mr. Smotrich wants to be defense minister, the second-most-powerful position
in government, and one that would give him oversight over the Israeli occupation of
the West Bank and airstrikes on Gaza. It would also make him a central point of
contact between Israel and the United States, which provides the country with more
than $3 billion in military aid each year.
His far-right ally,  Itamar Ben-Gvir , who is seeking to run Israel’s police forces, may
have attracted more media attention. But Mr. Smotrich’s ideological focus,
organizational discipline and long-term vision — coupled with his desire for the
Defense Ministry — have made foreign diplomats and domestic opponents fear his
rise as much as Mr. Ben-Gvir’s.
Like Mr. Ben-Gvir, Mr. Smotrich wants Israel to annex the occupied West Bank,
ending any hope of a Palestinian state. But both his critics and allies feel Mr.
Smotrich has a clearer idea about how to make that happen.
“From the perspective of preventing Palestinian statehood, his agenda is more of a
threat,” said Ofer Zalzberg, director of the Middle East Program at the Herbert C.
Kelman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.
“He thinks a Palestinian state is still possible, and this is why he’s investing so much
in trying to prevent it,” Mr. Zalzberg said.
Mr. Smotrich’s rise highlights the growing role played within Israeli society by
religious ultranationalists, who emerged as the third-largest bloc in the Israeli
Parliament in the general election earlier this month — their strongest showing ever
— and who are increasingly reaching the top ranks of the security establishment and
the police.
Mr. Smotrich’s ambitions also underline the difficult balance that Mr. Netanyahu
must now strike as he tries to finalize his government.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Parliament was sworn in, formally giving Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc
a majority coalition and bringing it a step closer to power.
But before he can formally re-enter office, Mr. Netanyahu needs to persuade his
coalition partners to agree to the makeup of his cabinet and a shared policy platform.
One of the remaining hurdles is a disagreement about Mr. Smotrich’s role. Mr.
Netanyahu has to placate Mr. Smotrich, without whom he has no parliamentary
majority. But Mr. Netanyahu also needs to consider international reaction,
particularly from the U.S. government, which would probably balk at having to work
so closely with someone with such extreme views.
“The administration is considering whether or not it would be consistent with
President Biden’s emphasis on promoting democratic values to deal with Bezalel

Smotrich and others in his party,” said Daniel B. Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador
to Israel and distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, a U.S.-based research
Current U.S. officials have not publicly discussed Mr. Smotrich by name. But as the
Israeli news media increasingly presents Mr. Smotrich as a candidate for the Defense
Ministry, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has said it is closely watching events.
“Obviously we are keenly focused on ministry appointments,” said Thomas R. Nides,
the U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a text message. “Specifically the minister of defense,
who is a major interlocutor with us.”
Amos Gilad, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, told reporters on Saturday
that Mr. Smotrich would be “a major disaster” as defense minister if he refused to
moderate his views after taking office.
Mr. Smotrich’s office declined an interview, as did his spokesman. But his allies
portray him as a diligent public servant whose critics misrepresent him.
“I’m convinced that Bezalel Smotrich will serve all the people,” said Hananel Durani,
the mayor of Kedumim, the Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank where Mr.
Smotrich lives.
“He has a certain image in the media,” said Mr. Durani, a member of Mr. Smotrich’s
party, Religious Zionism. But in reality, Mr. Durani said, he was a conscientious man
who “listens, learns and takes decisions quickly.”
Mr. Smotrich is often mentioned in the same context as Mr. Ben-Gvir, another far-
right politician hoping for a senior security role in the new government. But though
part of the same far-right alliance, the men come from different backgrounds and
rabbinical schools — and in fact lead separate parties.
The son of a right-wing rabbi of European descent, Mr. Smotrich grew up on a
settlement in the occupied West Bank and studied religious law for far longer than
his ally.
Mr. Ben-Gvir grew up in a less observant environment, in a family of Middle Eastern
origin. He spent his childhood in a middle-class suburb west of Jerusalem and only
moved to a settlement in the West Bank as a young adult.
While Mr. Ben-Gvir’s earthy gusto was the driving force behind their alliance’s
success in the recent election, Mr. Smotrich displayed the clearer roadmap.
It was Mr. Smotrich who produced detailed plans to limit the Supreme Court’s ability
to check the power of elected lawmakers. While Mr. Ben-Gvir expressed looser ideas
about accentuating Israel’s Jewish character, Mr. Smotrich set out a sharper program
for doing so — publicly opposing the organization of soccer games on the Jewish
sabbath, for example.

“Smotrich is coming from a place that is much more defined, ideologically and
theologically,” said Mr. Zalzberg, the analyst. “Whereas Ben-Gvir has moved into a
space that is much more vague.”
Throughout their careers, it has also been Mr. Smotrich who has shown the greater
organizational discipline, and the greater ability to work within the system.
Like the vast majority of Israelis, Mr. Smotrich served as a conscript in the Israeli
Army, briefly taking a minor administrative role after studying Jewish teachings for
several years. By contrast, Mr. Ben-Gvir was barred from army service because he
was deemed too extremist.
Both men are lawyers. But while Mr. Ben-Gvir worked largely independently, as a
defense attorney for Jews accused of violence and extremism, Mr. Smotrich
harnessed his legal expertise to found a pro-settler nongovernmental group that
worked systematically to cement Israeli control of the West Bank.
While Mr. Ben-Gvir has several criminal convictions, including for racist incitement
and support for a terrorist group, Mr. Smotrich was released without charge in 2005
after protesting against the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Smotrich even worked in an earlier Netanyahu government, albeit in a more
junior capacity. In 2019 and 2020, he served as transport minister, winning plaudits
from allies and critics for advancing road projects in both the West Bank and Israel
“The group that Ben-Gvir is most focused on, and feels that he needs to deal with and
rein in, are the Arabs,” said Prof. Yehudah Mirsky, an expert on Jewish political
thought at Brandeis University.
“For Smotrich, it’s the state — the state is the real problem,” Professor Mirsky added.
Both men are religious Zionists: They believe that the land in what is now Israel and
the occupied territories was promised to Jews by God.
But they come from different rabbinical schools within the movement, giving the two
men slightly different theological underpinnings, according to Daniella Weiss, a
settler leader and longtime neighbor and ally of Mr. Smotrich.
Mr. Ben-Gvir’s current beliefs are hard to pin down, but as a younger man he was an
unabashed follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an Israeli-American extremist who
believed in protecting Jews by expelling Arabs from Israel.
Mr. Smotrich’s lodestar is Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the forefathers of
religious Zionism, who placed greater emphasis on establishing Jewish rule over the
land, and was less concerned about how many Arabs lived there.
Rabbi Kahane believed that “as long as we have enemies on the land of Israel, there
will always be problems,” Ms. Weiss said. His “first act was to see to it that the
enemies do not live here,” she said.

Followers of Rabbi Kook, like Mr. Smotrich and Ms. Weiss, believe that “from the act
of redeeming the land, everything in our life will benefit,” said Ms. Weiss.
“If we have more land and if we have more settlements,” Ms. Weiss said, “then the
Arabs will understand that they will not have here a Palestinian state.”
(Reporting was contributed by Myra Noveck from Kedumim, West Bank; by Gabby
Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; and by Jonathan Rosen from Jerusalem.)

Article link:
Article source: New York Times, 16/11/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000