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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

Watch this Cup with Horror

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November 16, 2022 | Herald Sun/Sunday Herald Sun/Home Magazine
(Melbourne, Australia). Also in Brisbane’s Courier Mail.
Author/Byline: TZVI FLEISCHER | Page: 20 | Section: OpEd

SCANDALOUSLY, this year’s FIFA World Cup will kick off in Qatar on
November 21. I say “scandalously” for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the international soccer federation FIFA’s decision to award the
world cup to Qatar literally became a major scandal.
There have been numerous bribery allegations against FIFA officials, and
police investigations of them, since Qatar was awarded the tournament in
FIFA president Sepp Blatter was essentially fired over corruption related to
the Qatari and other recent world cup bids.
Blatter has repeatedly conceded the decision to give the world cup to Qatar
was a “mistake”.
He’s right. Unless the sole selection criterion is who is willing to spend the
most money on the world cup, it is hard to think of a country less
appropriate as host of the tournament than Qatar.
Leave aside for a moment the weather issues, which forced this year’s world
cup to be played in November rather than the traditional northern summer,
and the fact that Qatar has virtually no significant achievements in soccer.
As a late October statement by 16 players from the Socceroos highlighted,

awarding the contract to Qatar was a guarantee that the stadiums and other
infrastructure would be built by something very closely akin to slave labour.
Under the notorious kafala system for foreign workers in Qatar, workers
are chained to their employers and often condemned to unsanitary living
quarters and meagre pay.
Despite Qatari claims of reform, reports say thousands of these workers
have been killed or severely injured while constructing the world cup
stadiums with little or no compensation for their families back home,
because Qatari employers routinely categorised their work-related deaths
as heart attacks or suicides.
While none of the Arab Gulf states are democracies, and all have significant
human rights challenges to answer, Qatar is particularly horrendous in
terms of its exploitation of foreign labour. About 95 per cent of the
workforce in Qatar are foreign workers from poor countries with almost no
Moreover, less discussed is the reality that Doha is the contemporary worst
offender among Arab states in terms of offering support for terrorist and
Islamist extremist groups such as Hamas and the Taliban.
While the princes and officials in Doha can appear smooth and reasonable
to the Westerners with whom they interact, Doha has served as a base for
top leaders of al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, Hamas and other extremist groups,
with the regime’s consent.
Meanwhile, $US360m to $US480m annual contributions from Qatar
subsidised Hamas’s activities in Gaza.
And unlike the smooth words to foreigners, when speaking in Arabic, Doha
routinely spreads messages of support for terrorism and for Islamist
extremist groups, as well as messages of hate against LGBTIQ+ people and
Much of this hate comes through Al Jazeera, the well-resourced, slick and
“hip” media outlet funded and owned by the Qatari royal family.
While many know its English language service which is more careful and
professional, the network’s Arabic output is blatantly pro-Islamist and pro-
The network has even been given an award by the terror group Hamas for
its service to the cause of violent “resistance”.

Senior Al Jazeera journalists and presenters have repeatedly made blatantly
anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist statements on and off air.
But the same concerns extend to the official diplomatic representatives of
the regime. Recently, Qatari World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman called
homosexuality a “damage in the mind” in a German TV interview.
This is hardly unique for Qatari officials. Qatar’s new ambassador to the UN
Human Rights Council, Hend Al-Muftah, has an appalling history of
spreading homophobia, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories on social
She has responded repeatedly to mentions of LGBTIQ+ people with “May
God curse them!” and referred to gay rights as “disgusting rights”.
On the anti-Semitism front, Al-Muftah has also claimed that, via
investments in industry and media, the Jews “ dominated, tyrannised and
ruled the world”, called for the “expulsion” of all Jews from “Palestine”, and
endorsed material accusing the Jews of infecting Western civilisation with
“obscenity and decadence, cocaine, crack, nudity, sex and violence”.
Salman and Al-Muftah are the sort of people the Qatari regime feels should
be representing it internationally. And many Qataris seem to share their
ugly views. When Al-Muftah’s homophobic and anti-Semitic comments
were publicly revealed by an NGO back in September, Qatari newspapers
and journalists rallied to defend her views, writing numerous columns
insisting she was being vilified for telling the truth and called her a role
model and source of pride for her fellow citizens.
Given this spread of open hate by the Qatari regime together with the
dubious means Qatar used to gain the hosting rights, and the indefensible
way the infrastructure for it was constructed, no one should watch the 2022
FIFA World Cup without a sense of deep disquiet – even horror – at where
it is being played.

Article link:
Article source: Herald Sun & Courier Mail 16/11/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

Bungled handling of West Jerusalem makes a tough decision worse

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Bungled handling of West Jerusalem makes a tough decision worse


By Matthew Knott

Updated October 18, 2022 — 7.19pmfirst published at 7.17pm

Changing Australia’s position on a topic as contentious as the capital of Israel was always going to arouse intense opposition and debate.

But the messy, confusing way the Albanese government executed its decision to no longer recognise West Jerusalem made a challenging task significantly more inflammatory and damaging than it needed to be.

The bungled handling of the issue stands in stark contrast to the rest of Penny Wong’s successful short tenure as foreign minister, which has been marked by competence and assuredness.

There’s been a flurry of visits to Australia’s previously neglected Pacific neighbours and a symbolically powerful trip to Wong’s childhood hometown in Malaysia. Wong has met twice with her Chinese counterpart, helping stabilise a crucial relationship after years of escalating tension.


Now she faces her first crisis in the form of an infuriated Israel.

The main problem on West Jerusalem is not the policy change itself – which Labor announced in opposition – but the timing of the reversal.

The announcement came as a shock to the Israeli government and Australia’s Jewish community, which had no inkling the issue was on the government’s agenda.

The question of West Jerusalem had faded from attention in Australia over recent years and did not feature in the May election campaign.

The decision was an embarrassment for Israel’s fragile centre-left governing coalition just two weeks before Israel’s national elections.

Intensifying Israel’s anger was the fact the decision coincided with the Simchat Torah, a Jewish holiday. On the day the government announced a major change to its foreign policy, the Israeli embassy in Canberra was closed for the holiday, its phone going straight to voice mail.

The Israeli government and its local supporters feel not only disappointed but blindsided by Australia’s lack of consultation and warning – just as Emmanuel Macron did when Scott Morrison axed a lucrative submarine contract with French company Naval Group.

The only reason the issue flared up now is that in recent days the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade quietly scrubbed a reference to West Jerusalem from the Israel page of its website.

According to the government, an overeager public servant got ahead of themselves by updating the website to reflect the government’s stated position on West Jerusalem. The problem was that cabinet hadn’t made a decision on the issue and the government hadn’t announced any policy change.

After the update to the website was revealed on Monday night, the government hurriedly assured reporters and anxious pro-Israel groups that Australia hadn’t changed its position on recognising West Jerusalem.

That was true until, a few hours later, it wasn’t: the Albanese cabinet met in Canberra on Tuesday morning and agreed to reverse the Morrison government’s stance.

As Wong says, Labor’s decision returns Australia to the international mainstream when it comes to the Israel-Palestine dispute. The global consensus has long held that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved only as a result of peace negotiations that lead to a two-state solution.

Donald Trump exploded that consensus in 2017 by officially recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing he would relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

Morrison flagged doing the same in the lead-up to the 2018 Wentworth by-election, a seat that just so happens to have a large and politically active Jewish community.

In the end, Morrison recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but stopped short of relocating the Australian embassy.

According to Middle East specialist Rodger Shanahan, a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute, Morrison’s decision was “intellectually incoherent … policy-making on the run” that made Australia an international outlier. The new government, Shanahan argues, was right to overturn it.

But a change of such a sensitive, globally significant nature should be announced in an organised, carefully considered way. That’s not what happened here.

A policy born in regrettable circumstances has died an unnecessarily painful death.

Australia was already grappling with a volatile and complex geopolitical environment; now it has a self-inflicted diplomatic stoush with Israel to deal with as well.

Article link:
Article source: The Age, 19/10/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000


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FOUR KILLED IN WEST BANK RAID NABLUS (The Australian, 26/10/2022))

Four Palestinians were killed and nearly 20 others injured early on Tuesday in raids by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

“There are three dead and 19 wounded, three of them seriously, by Israeli fire in Nablus,” the ministry said in a brief statement referring to a city in the occupied West Bank. The ministry later reported another Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire, in Ramallah.

The Israeli army said in a joint statement with police and intelligence agencies they had raided a “hide-out apartment … that was used as a headquarters and explosives manufacturing site”. AFP

Article link:
Article source: The Australian, 26/10/2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

Analysis | Why Didn’t Hamas Join Islamic Jihad Against Israel? Ideology

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“Hamas is the backbone of the resistance, and we’re in an eternal pact against the enemy,” Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah declared this week after the cease-fire with Israel. It doesn’t seem that such a declaration was necessary. It’s taken for granted that the two groups have been brothers in arms in recent years, but Hamas violated this alliance when it stayed out of the three days of fighting.