+972 Magazine » Dimi Reider http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 30 Jul 2014 03:51:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Lame duck, not nuclear duck: Netanyahu’s staggering defeat http://972mag.com/lame-duck-not-nuclear-duck-netanyahus-staggering-defeat/91895/ http://972mag.com/lame-duck-not-nuclear-duck-netanyahus-staggering-defeat/91895/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 21:27:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=91895 The slow crumbling of Netanyahu’s political prestige reached its nadir on Tuesday, when his own heir apparent Gideon Sa’ar turned against him to elevate arch-rival Reuven Rivlin to presidency. 

Reuven Rivlin’s victory in the presidential elections on Tuesday was a resounding one, but nowhere near as resonant as Benjamin Netanyahu’s defeat – a domestic political defeat to match his 2013 failure to stop Iran-U.S. rapprochement, which yanked the rug out from under his foreign policy.

Rivlin and Netanyahu weren’t running against each other. Quite the contrary, Rivlin was the candidate of Netanyahu’s own party, Likud, adored by the party’s rank-and-file and Israelis in the street alike. With a bit of self-discipline and an exercise of that most elusive quality of leadership – humility – Netanyahu could have transformed today’s event into a sweeping victory for his party, for the nationalist camp and for himself personally. Worst come to worst, he could have even written it off as a pointless formality, playing on the public’s weariness of the largely ceremonial presidential role. Instead, Netanyahu made it into a personal crusade, raising the stakes of the presidential race immensely and amplifying his defeat to match. He is perceived as having ignored, deceived and ultimately betrayed his own party – and all to lose the race. This doesn’t mean Netanyahu will be going anywhere tomorrow, but it does mean that the historical fourth term he covets is becoming increasingly unlikely, and that like many a Prime Minister to have served three terms, the final blow might well come from his own home party.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

The Netanyahu-Rivlin rift goes back to 2009, when the freshly victorious Netanyahu had Rivlin elected once again as Speaker of the Knesset. Rivlin, a tradionalist if there ever was one, soon proved to be much more loyal to parliament and to the letter of the law than to his own party. He stalled nearly every piece of anti-democratic legislation that came his way, deferring votes, sending bills to die in committees and even setting up committees especially to kill those bills he felt impinged on democratic rights. Along the way, he protected MK Hanin Zoabi when the Knesset tried to sanction her for taking part in the Gaza flotilla; elevated MK Ahmed Tibi, the Palestinian Israelis most love to hate, to deputy-speaker; acknowledged the “great suffering and real trauma” endured by Palestinians in 1948; and called for the establishment of one state in all of historical Israel-Palestine, where Palestinians would also have the vote.

Read more on Rivlin: Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right

All this and more could have been forgiven by Netanyahu, who, while grumbling about Rivlin’s obstinacy, made use of him to pour cold water over the more embarrassing excess of Likud’s younger parliamentarians and their coalition allies. The final straw apparently came  later, when Rivlin made a disparaging comment about Netanyahu’s wife and her notorious tendency to intervene in her partner’s political appointments. “Maybe I should ask my wife who to appoint,” Rivlin quipped at a 2010 coalition meeting that dealt with a monitoring position that needed to be filled. “Oh, I forgot – my wife doesn’t appoint people.” This, according to Bibi-watchers across the political board, meant war.

The heir and challenger rises 

And what a war it was. Netanyahu began by breaking his promise to Rivlin to support him for re-election as speaker should he himself be re-elected as prime minister in 2013, appointing Yuli Edelstein in his stead. Rivlin found himself unceremoniously dumped from leadership to the back benches where, true to form, he repeatedly voted together with the opposition and criticized his own party, especially when minority rights were under attack. Netanyahu then proceeded to make it known that while he cannot prevent Rivlin from standing for president, he won’t support him and will be looking for another candidate in his stead.

The only other Likud man keen to stand was Silvan Shalom, but he was discarded early in the wake of sexual harassment allegations (which didn’t materialize into criminal charges, but were severe enough to see Shalom out of the race). Netanyahu then dawdled for some months, before throwing the political equivalent of a tantrum in mid-May and launching a strange and obviously doomed campaign to abolish the presidency altogether. As this would have required a rare privileged majority, the plan was split in two: first Netanyahu would get Edelstein to postpone the election by a few months; then, he would use the time to persuade 80 out of the Knesset’s 120 deputies to dispense with the office of the ceremonial head of state.

Neither part of the plan worked. Edelstein pointedly consulted the candidates before refusing outright to move the election date. The normally complacent Yair Lapid saw Netanyahu’s flopping in the shallows as a convenient time to strike, and announced he would oppose any attempt to abolish the presidential office. Finally, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the man recognized for years as Netanyahu’s heir apparent, flatly refused to support his boss’ maneuver.

File photo of Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Photo: Activestills.org)

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Photo: Activestills.org)

By challenging Netanyahu so openly, Sa’ar transformed himself from heir apparent to challenger, giving other ministers a cause to rally around. Having failed to recruit any support even among his own party ministers, Netanyahu beat a humiliating retreat. By then, members of Netanyahu’s inner circles were describing the prime minister as ‘fixated’ and ‘obsessed.’ As if this wasn’t enough, he spent the last 24 hours before candidacy registration deadline trying to persuade Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid to support the elderly Holocaust author Elie Wiesel, neither a citizen nor a resident of the state Netanyahu would have him ceremoniously lead.

Even after this last dash ended with a whimper, and even after Netanyahu made the most reluctant of endorsements for Rivlin’s candidacy, the Likud prime minister’s minders did not stop trying to undermine the Likud’s  presidential candidate. Rumors about pressure to vote for anyone but Rivlin persisted as late as Tuesday afternoon, when Rivlin and Meir Sheetrit went head to head in the second round. Everywhere outside Netanyahu’s circle of confidantes, however, the party’s rank and file were seething, inundating the MKs with calls and text messages, reminding them that primaries votes were a more important factor in their future than the prime minister’s good graces.

In the end, it was left to Gideon Sa’ar to whip the coalition votes into shape in the second round and lead the charge, securing Rivlin the broad party base the Likud should have given him from the get go. Although Netanyahu’s ostensible support for Rivlin allowed Netanyahu to save face and to pretend Sa’ar was doing his bidding, the line in the sand Sa’ar drew could not have been more clear. Rivlin returned the favor, making Sa’ar the first person he thanked and praised in his acceptance speech. Netanyahu’s deadline might still be a relatively vague one, but next to that deadline there is already Gideon Sa’ar’s name.

Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right

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Why the Left’s best president might come from the Right http://972mag.com/ben-eliezer-rivlin/91810/ http://972mag.com/ben-eliezer-rivlin/91810/#comments Sun, 08 Jun 2014 10:18:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=91810 The opposition is scrambling as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer withdraws days before elections. The Left’s best candidate may well be on the Right, but political tribalism looks set to triumph.

Benjamin Ben Eliezer. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Benjamin Ben Eliezer. Photo: Yossi Gurvitz, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Labor’s candidate for president, Benajmin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer announced on Saturday that he is withdrawing from the race, just four days before the vote. Ben-Eliezer’s decision came after he spent much of Friday being interrogated concerning allegedly illicit cash transfers from an Israeli businessman, which allowed Ben Eliezer to purchase a luxurious penthouse apartment in Jaffa late last year.

Questions have been asked about the house before, as the Labor candidate’s 60 years on state salaries – first in the IDF and then as parliamentarian and minister – made such an ostentatious purchase somewhat suspicious. The prosecution and police, however, moved in only after businessman Abraham Nanikwashwili was implicated in another investigation, that of bribery and nepotism at the port of Ashdod. According to several reports in the Israeli media, police reviewed Ben Eliezer’s bank accounts without his knowledge and found transfers that the veteran parliamentarian failed to report to the Knesset.

The candidate was called in for questioning on Friday morning, and when interrogators deemed his replies unsatisfactory and evasive, he was told that he was now being interrogated under caution. On Saturday afternoon, Ben Eliezer announced that he was withdrawing his name from the race, decrying the timing of the questioning as suspicious and the entire investigation as a “targeted assassination attempt” against his political career.

A scramble for candidates

The withdrawal leaves the center-left without its most senior candidate, and sent parliamentarians scrambling for a figure behind whom they can unite – if not for the first round of votes then for the crucial second one, which will be held to determine which of the two leading candidates will receive over 60 votes (in other words, over half the votes available in the Knesset to become Israel’s 10th president). The challenge is made all the greater considering the vote, by law, is private and confidential; at the end of the day, each MK will be voting according to his or her conscience, and party discipline cannot really be enforced.

To add to the opposition’s woes, for each characteristic they might require of a centrist president, there is more than one candidate to choose from. Centrist? All four: former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik,  former finance minister Meir Sheetrit, Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman and former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner. Above the fray of recent Knesset politics? Three out of four (Itzik retired from the Knesset in 2009). Utterly apolitical? Dorner and Shechtman. Women? Itzik and Dorner. And so on.

Each candidate also has their faults and weaknesses, which some MKs might find more difficult to swallow than others. Sheetrit, hailing from the smallest and most centrist party in the coalition that has not yet found the guts to head to opposition, has by now been written off by most analysts, which tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dalia Itzik with George W. Bush and Shimon Peres. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

Dalia Itzik with George W. Bush and Shimon Peres. White House photo by Shealah Craighead, 2008.

Dalia Itzik is too reminiscent of Ben-Eliezer in her relationship with major Israeli business interests; while no criminal investigation has been started (yet), questions are already being asked about her purchase of a multi-million shekel apartment in central Tel Aviv. Memories of her trying to mollify journalists writing about her corporate allies have already begun to surface. And last month, The Marker‘s investigative reporter, Sharon Shpurer, revealed that since her retirement, Itzik has been enjoying a lush career as a corporate board member, receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels for a few hours of her time each month. When confronted about it by Shpurer, Itzik replied: “Who do you want me to work for, poor people?” Not exactly sterling presidential stuff, especially for an Israel exponentially more concerned about crony capitalism and social justice than about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This shift of focus makes many see Justice Dorner as a compelling candidate for the center-left; many recall her role in the landmark Danilowitz ruling, which heralded a new era of equality for same-sex couples, and her firm stance against white-collar criminals. Many more forget her earlier role as president of the Military Courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the 1970s, the era before human rights NGOs and the interventionism of the High Court of Justice in how the occupation was run.

Dalia Dorner at an IDI rountable. Photo by Jonathan Klinger

Dalia Dorner at an IDI rountable. Photo by Jonathan Klinger, Flickr.

What’s more, few of the journalists championing her candidacy for president remember how lackluster was her tenure in her most recent public role, that of president of the Press Association, where she has served since 2006 and where she failed to take a determined stance in any of the crises of freedom of press in Israel during her term (the Kamm-Blau affair and Prisoner X affairs, to name but two). The ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset, which could well once again be kingmakers, have a long-standing beef with the Supreme Court and might well regard these elections as payback time. Additionally, a few of their MKs will be trepidatious about voting for a woman for the top job, even if others  among them might see it as a timely and fairly risk-free opportunity to give a nod to gender equality.

The next presidential term might be the most challenging yet 

Dorner’s record of standing firm to financial powers notwithstanding, it is this more recent record of failing to stand up to state power that should be giving pause to potential supporters. In a way, Shechtman shares the same fault: both he and Dorner are too aloof, too clean, too apolitical. This might be attractive in the short term, considering this has been the dirtiest presidential run in recent memory. But this dirt was just a harbinger of things to come.

Over the next few years, the separation of powers and the structure of government are set to become the key battlefields of Israeli politics; Netanyanu, Liberman, Livni and others want to centralize power in Israel, sucking authority away from the legislature and the judiciary in favor of a bolstered executive, perhaps even a presidential republic. This new arena requires a president who not only cherishes the parliamentary and democratic institutions enough not to be tempted by any short-term boosts to his own power, but knows how to affect parliamentary politics (while remaining above the fray, as the office demands).

Even if Shechtman and Dorner can attest to the their faith in these democratic principles (despite not having a record of such attestations recently), they manifestly lack the set of skills to protect them and to navigate the presidency through the impending crises – both constitutional and diplomatic ones, as the two-state solution finally begins to implode.

The best president for the Left, for whom the Left will never vote

To many, the ideal candidate to tackle both would be another former Knesset speaker and current frontrunner for the job, the Likud’s Reuven (“Ruvi”) Rivlin. As speaker, Rivlin’s commitment to parliamentary democracy (and democracy in general) saw him turn time and again against his own party and its allies, stalling most of the anti-democratic legislation pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Liberman’s Israel Beitenu, while at the same time trying to instruct his fellow right-wing legislators about the dangers of nationalist populism.

Reuven Rivlin as Speaker, 2011. Photo by J-Street, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Reuven Rivlin as Speaker, 2011. Photo by J-Street, Flickr.

As a staunch right-winger, Rivlin is opposed to partition but is emphatically opposed to racism, coupling his opposition to a Palestinian state with support for offering Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians. While this is a stance being taken up by a number of right-wing politicians in recent years, Rivlin, as a democrat, goes one step further. When I interviewed him for Foreign Policy four years ago, for instance, he spoke nostalgically of a rotation-based executive espoused by Revisionist Zionists like Ze’ev Jabotinsky  - and held up by Belfast as one possible inspiration for a future of power-sharing. It’s a far cry from nationalist self-determination, or from the one state advocated by Palestinians and the pro-Palestinian Left. But it still offers infinitely more room for maneuver than anything ever plausibly offered or actually given to Palestinians by the centrist two-state Left.

Rivlin is certainly no left-winger – he hasn’t opposed any Israeli military operation and as communication minister in Sharon’s first cabinet, he presided over a major privatization drive. Still, Rivlin’s tenure as Knesset speaker earned him praise in liberal circles (including the soubriquet of “a bulwark” for democracy from The Economist), and the lasting ire of both Netanyahu and Liberman. Netanyahu, in a lamentable display of panic amplified by a petty squabble with Rivlin over some comments the latter made about Netanyahu’s wife, tried preventing Rivlin’s candidacy by canceling the presidential post at a few week’s notice, and trying to recruit American author Eli Weisel (who is not even an Israeli citizen) to stand in Rivlin’s place. Only when Weisel refused did the prime minister yield and offered Rivlin his sour-faced support. Even if Netanyahu is getting behind Rivlin only so he can eventually stab him in the back (to borrow a Yes, Prime Minister line), he apparently failed to warn Liberman of this decision, prompting the latter to denounce and renounce Rivlin and to hint he himself might support Dalia Itzik.

Considering Liberman’s own record, his support for Itzik should not come as a surprise. But his explanation of why he won’t vote for Rivlin reads like the best pitch for an opposition vote Rivlin could have wished for:

I have nothing personal against Ruvi. I do have a problem with his positions. I supported him when he ran against Peres [in 2007]… but when he became speaker we realized he wasn’t what we thought. As far as I’m concerned, Rivlin cannot be our candidate for presidency. When he became speaker, his first official visit was to [Palestinian Arab city] Umm el Fahm. If he went to [Druze village] Beit Jan, I wouldn’t have had an issue. But there’s a message about going to Umm el-Fahm. It tells you something.

When we tried to deny [exiled Palestinian MK] Azmi Bishara his parliamentary pension, Rivlin was against. When Faina Kirschenbaum wanted to pass a law against extreme leftist NGOs he was the one to stop this, while at the same time boosting the status of Ahmed Tibi by setting up a parliamentary investigation committee that has not provided a conclusion in six years. He went against us, full on, and this is why we can’t support him.”

And yet, despite such a glowing reference from one of the Left’s arch-enemies, and despite the grief Rivlin’s election would give Netanyahu, there is nothing less likely than the Left rallying to Rivlin’s side (with the exceptions, so far, of Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and Micki Rozenthal, and Meretz’s Ilan Gilon). This has to do both with sheer political tribalism – Rivlin is from the other gang, the Likud gang, and the Labor-Meretz gang (with a couple of honorable exceptions) seem to have no greater priority than to spite the other bunch, whatever the long-term price may be; and with the fetishization of the two-state solution. Meretz’s Zehava Galon has put it best some weeks ago: “We’ll have freedom of the vote,” she wrote, “but I can’t imagine anyone supporting someone like Rivlin, who believes in a binational state.”

Corpse-worship and tribalism over strategy

No Israeli president can do anything  to advance revive the two-state solution. The earth never saw a more adamant two-stater than the departing president Shimon Peres. Yet in his seven years as president, much as in the preceding seven years as the rubber-stamp for Sharon’s and Olmert’s occupation policies, his impact on advancing partition has been nil. Still, Galon has a point: the president is supposed to be the focal point of legitimacy and respectability, and a one-stater in this post can give the one-state approach a crucial push into the heart of the Israeli mainstream.

Nevertheless, it is startling that this consideration alone could drive a committed democrat and anti-Occupation activist like Galon and others like her to support anyone-but-Rivlin. It was particularly jarring when this “anyone,” at the second and crucial round, was most likely to be Ben-Eliezer – oozing cronyism and wading in stale blood from his short, but brutal tenure as Sharon’s defense minister. Ben Eliezer’s complaint about being the victim of targeted assassination rings particularly grotesque, seeing as he alone signed off dozens of orders for literal, not metaphorical, extrajudicial killings of Palestinian militants in less than two years in office. Including the particularly notorious killing of Hamas militant Salah Shehade and 13 civilians that happened to live nearby.

With Ben Eliezer out the leftist vote is splitting.  The closest thing to rival of choice to Rivlin is now set be Dorner, who has the liberal rhetoric but not the track record or skill set of standing up to the executive, and no vision to offer for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian strife.


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Palestinian-Israeli journalist on bail after incommunicado arrest http://972mag.com/gag-order-lifted-on-arrest-of-palestinian-journalist/89762/ http://972mag.com/gag-order-lifted-on-arrest-of-palestinian-journalist/89762/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:40:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89762 Majd Kayyal, 23, a journalist from Haifa who also works as editor for civil rights center Adalah, is out on bail  after  days of solitary confinement and interrogation since his arrest on Saturday night. The gag order on the case was lifted hours earlier, after activists in Israel and abroad ignored the ban. 

Update: The Haifa District Court on Thursday morning released Majd Kayyal, a 23-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel and a journalist from Haifa, who was arrested as he was traveling home from Beirut last Saturday night. Police prosecutors who originally applied for an extended remand earlier this week said  Kayyal was suspected of visiting an enemy state and establishing contact with foreign agents.  The foreign agents allegation was dropped as he was released on bail, but enemy state one remains. According to Adalah, Kayyal has been banned from using internet for 21 days, which Adalah is set to challenge in court.

The gag order imposed on the case was removed several hours earlier.

While it is illegal for Israeli citizens to visit “enemy states” such as Lebanon and Syria, many Israeli journalists do so on a regular basis, some by making use of their dual citizenship and some by simply crossing the border. None of them were formally arrested or charged in recent memory.

The journalist, who made no secret of his visit and posted reflections about it on Jadaliyya while still abroad, was not allowed access to legal counsel since his arrest until Wednesday night, hours before the gag order was to be lifted. The state alleged fears that the interrogation would be compromised should he and his lawyers be allowed to meet – a tactic applied frequently to Palestinians appearing before Israeli military courts in the occupied territories, occasionally to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and almost never to Jewish citizens. Even Kayyal’s solitary court appearance at the remand hearing took place only after his legal team was ordered to leave the room.

Kayyal told his lawyers that the questioning so far focused on his visit to Beirut and the meetings he held during the conference. He said he answered all the questions, and explained all of them were held in his capacity as a journalist, according to Adalah. He was checked on a lie detector and found to be speaking the truth, the rights group said.

According to his lawyers, Kayyal was  held in solitary confinement, without a bed, a window, daylight or fresh air, and with an electrical light on 24 hours a day, a tactic used to make detainees lose their sense of time. The questioning was aggressive, he said, and included many questions about his private life. The Adalah legal team said they nevertheless found him to be in good spirits.

On Wednesday, while still under a gag order, Adalah posted reflections on its Facebook page about the denial of right to counsel, stressing in particular the risk of torture. “Meeting a lawyer before and during questioning is a constitutional right, requisite for protecting the right of the detainee for due process,” the organization wrote.

“Such meetings are also necessary for monitoring the investigation and preventing the use of unlawful investigative means, including torture. It is a right according to both Israeli and international law. When the detainee is suspected of security-related offenses, this right become conditional… security-related interrogations are often accompanied by protracted periods of detention, and are not recorded through audiovisual means, as questionings on offenses carrying a punishment of 15 years or more normally are… it is a draconic practice usually applied to Palestinian detainees in order to break them psychologically,” Adalah said.

In the same hearing where Kayyal’s remand was extended on Sunday, a sweeping gag order was imposed by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on the entire affair – an increasingly standard practice by state agencies who do not have a case for applying military censorship laws and resort to lowest-instances courts to rubber-stamp injunctions. As in earlier cases, media outlets abroad took the lead on ignoring the ban, with Electronic Intifada even posting the classified transcript of the remand hearing, which prompted a question on the arrest at the State Department hearing on Monday. On this occasion, a growing number of Israeli independent publications also chose to defy the ban.

The trend began with Adalah’s own Facebook page, which posted the fact of Kayyal’s arrest immediately after it took place and before the imposition of the gag order the following morning, prompting breaking news coverage on the site Arab48. Arab48 continued its coverage even as the ban was imposed, and several Hebrew blogs picked up on the story – with the blog OR139 even titling its post “Gag order.” Al-Ittihad, the Haifa-based printed newspaper of the Communist Party, went even further, printing news about the arrest during the week. So far, no known steps have been taken against any of the publications, but many other media outlets held back – mainstream media in line with its habitual kowtowing of the security services line, and independent media for lack of financial resources to withstand a lengthy court case – even if they would be acquitted at the end.

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Haaretz columnist Reuven Pedatzur killed in traffic accident http://972mag.com/haaretz-columnist-reuven-pedatzur-killed-in-traffic-accident/89703/ http://972mag.com/haaretz-columnist-reuven-pedatzur-killed-in-traffic-accident/89703/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:43:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89703 Senior Haaretz security analyst Drץ Reuven Pedatzur was killed last night in a traffic accident on Israel’s coastal highway, emergency services said. He was 66 years old.

Reuven Pedatzur, 1948-2014. Photo by Barry Levinson (Courtesy)

Reuven Pedatzur, 1948-2014. Photo by Barry Levinson (Courtesy)

A reporter, commentator and columnist for Haaretz for almost 30 years, Dr. Reuven Pedatzur also co-hosted a military affairs program on Israel’s Army Radio, wrote for Al Monitor and contributed to many other publications at home and abroad. In a field dominated by sycophancy and regurgitation of official spins and figures, Pedatzur was known as a fiercely independent critic and a bold analyst. He was also one of the most respected civilian experts on Israeli military expenditure, a notoriously murky field jealously guarded by the defense establishment. He combined his journalistic career with an academic one, teaching at Netanya College and the National Security College, and with that of a commercial pilot, most recently flying for Israeli airline Arkia.

Pedatzur frequently took the top brass to task about their insatiable demand for funds, and regularly accused them of employing scare tactics to intimidate both the public and the civilian decision-makers. On some occasions, he did that not only in their face, but to their face. ”A few years ago, during a routine argument between the Finance Ministry and the IDF over the size of the defense budget, I showed up at the office of the chief of staff’s financial adviser with a graph on the defense budget published by the Treasury,” Pedatzur wrote in his column in 2012. “The graph clearly showed how the defense budget was growing annually. Are the figures in this chart acceptable to you in the IDF, I asked the adviser. Yes, of course, he replied. In that case, why do you say they’re cutting the budget when the figures show that it’s constantly growing? You don’t understand, the adviser scolded me, we demand a certain sum for the defense budget every year, and when they don’t approve what we requested, that’s a budget cut as far as we’re concerned. That happens every year, and this time too. The IDF requests an add-on of about NIS 4 billion, and if it doesn’t receive it, that’s a cruel budget cut.”

Over the years, Pedatzur criticized many prestigious IDF projects, especially the much-touted missile defense systems Hetz and Iron Dome. Earlier in his career, Pedatzur published an investigation about the less-than-spectacular performance of the Patriot missile defense system during the First Gulf War. He was interrogated repeatedly for unlawful possession of classified documents (a universal practice among security journalists), and Israeli police sought to charge him with aggravated espionage. The attorney general office threw out the case. Nearly 20 years later, Pedatzur stood by his younger colleague Uri Blau, when Blau was brought to trial (and eventually convicted) under nearly identical circumstances.

According to police and paramedics at the scene, Pedatzur pulled over to the side of the road late last night, got off his motorbike, and was almost immediately hit by a passing car. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver who hit Pedatzur told police he drove behind the journalist for a while, until the latter pulled over, climbed off the bike and stepped onto the road – too quick for the driver to avoid hitting him. Channel 2 reported police are inspecting the driver’s mobile phone, to determine whether he was using it when he hit Pedatzur.

Pedatzur’s last column, published on the morning of his death, criticized Chief of Staff Benny Gantz for failing to comment on the radical settlers who attacked an IDF post in the settlement of Yitzhar. “Gantz’s silence communicates to his subordinates that they would be better off to avoid engaging with the settlers, and that it would be good if they stood aside when settlers go berserk, vandalize military property, attack those who were sent out to guard them and, of course, when they attack Palestinians and their property,” he wrote.

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Lapid’s Passover prayer: Lord, get the Palestinians away http://972mag.com/lapids-passover-prayer-lord-move-the-palestinians-away/89689/ http://972mag.com/lapids-passover-prayer-lord-move-the-palestinians-away/89689/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:43:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89689 Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the great secular crusader, has finally found God. And he has but one thing to ask of Him. 

Finance Minister Yair  Lapid, the moderate mainstay of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, published today a long, rambling post drenched in self-pity (typical enough, on the most reassuring of Jewish holidays). The post is titled  ”A (private) Prayer for Passover,” and it contains the following paragraph:

“There used to be a 16th century philosopher called Zeno, who asked: “Can God create a rock He himself cannot lift?” At the time they thought the question had no answer. That it was a paradox. Now we know that the answer is yes. There is a rock like that, and it’s called the Palestinians. And it’s true You can’t lift it, Father who art in Heaven, but could You roll it aside a little bit? Because this rock is a stone placed upon our hearts. They say You can’t stop a madman coming in with a knife to a school in Jerusalem, trying to kill students. But this is precisely why You are omnipotent. We need you in that place in which we always needed You: when all other possibilities failed. And even then, our Lord and Lord of our Fathers, it is not enough (lo dayenu).”

The paragraph has been picked apart by eye rollers – Zeno didn’t live in the 16th century (this, and only this bit, was later edited out from the post), he didn’t invent the omnipotency paradox (it was probably Ibn Rushd), how exactly  several millions of people are one rock, which is also a stone, and who placed it on our collective heart.  The most chilling bit, though, is the core of the “prayer”. Lord, make the Palestinians move away somewhere. Just anywhere. Get them out of our face.

Lapid may not be intelligent, moral, strategic, erudite, principled or good at math, but there is one quality that cannot be denied to him – he is a walking, talking, writing barometer of the Israeli public mood. This is how he got his stardom, this is why he scooped up all these profile votes: because he reflects to Israelis Israelis as they wanted to see themselves. And this inane little ramble touches on the the very heart of the Israeli attitude to Palestinians: They are a nuisance.

Thomas Friedman, back in his actual reporting days in the midst of the First Intifada, had a similar insight in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem: the rage of the Israelis against the Palestinian is the suburban middle-class rage of people who think they’re home-owners but are constantly reminded that their home is not only their own, and no, they most certainly cannot just kick their shoes off and relax. It is a violent rage (try reading comments on Israeli news sites), but it is curiously like unyielding irritation. And it makes any atrocity Israeli does to Palestinians easy to shrug off and look away from, so long as there is any hope it’ll get them to shut up.

In a way, this craving for Palestinians to shut up and eff off is why anti-normalization is actually soothing and anesthetizing to most Israelis  - we’d find it a lot more difficult to deal with a constant, inescapable inundation by Arabic and Palestinian presence in thought, music, politics, art, in our streets and on our airwaves. It is so powerful a craving that Lapid, the crusading-secularist-de-lux, publicly turns to God. And freedom from having to hear of someone worse off than him – indeed, directly subjugated by him – is the freedom Lapid, champion of the crumbling middle class, is asking for this Passover. Something to think about on only on the Palestinian front, but on the social justice one as well.

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Netanyahu gains popularity as peace talks collapse http://972mag.com/netanyahu-gains-popularity-as-peace-talks-collapse/89608/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-gains-popularity-as-peace-talks-collapse/89608/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 16:00:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89608 The prime minister’s personal popularity goes up, while the Likud and Habyait Hayehudi gain seven more seats between them if elections were tomorrow. The Left loses four seats. Coalition troubles aside, ‘peace’ remains electorally toxic. 

The biggest losers from the collapse of the peace talks are the pro-peace parties, a Haaretz weekend poll suggests - a finding unlikely to delight those hoping Netanyahu would swap his hard-right coalition partners for more moderate ones.

According to the poll, conducted soon after the peace talks went into a spiral due to a cancelled prisoner release and the newly announced settlement building plans – Kerry’s “poof” moment – Netanyahu’s personal approval rating went up from 40 percent to 45 percent since mid-February. His faction, Likud-Beitenu, would get five more seats if elections were tomorrow (37 seats instead of 32 in February). Habayit Hayehudi, openly annexationist and home to Construction Minister Uri Ariel whom Kerry indirectly blamed for scuttling the peace talks, would get 15 seats instead of 12.

Read +972′s full coverage of the peace process

The main centrist block in the coalition, Yesh Atid, which neither did nor said anything of substance about the peace talks, manages to keep to the 14 seats it had in February, and the popularity of its chairman, Yair Lapid, improved a little bit from dismal to appalling (from 18 percent in February to 25 percent today). Lapid is still the most unpopular figure in Israeli politics (67 percent think he’s doing a lousy job as finance minister), with Yesh Atid continuing to be the Liberal Democrats to Netanayahu’s Tories – enablers and disposable lightning-rods.

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

If anyone thought this was an opportune moment for the opposition parties to raise the Oslo flags once more and ride triumphantly into power / join demurely at the tail of Netanyhu’s train to the White House lawn, the  slump in popularity of all the remotely pro-peace parties would suggest otherwise: “pro peace” remains the single most toxic brand in Israeli politics. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua goes from five seats in the February poll to three today (half of the six seats it actually has now), while Kadima is mercifully wiped out of existence – from two seats to none. Labor loses a seat (15 from 16 in the previous poll,) as does Shas (from 10 seats to nine.)  Even the steady rise of Meretz, the only dovish party to see a consistent rise in the polls since the election, appears to have been checked for now, as it slumps back from 10 seats in the previous poll to nine (but still gaining on the six seats it has today).

To cap it off, the men the poll names as most  popular in Israeli politics are the man of no influence over public opinion and the man with no publicly known opinion – President Shimon Peres  and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz,  respectively. As Peres is not expected to ever run for public office again (one hopes), Gantz has been the great benefactor of the poll, with much speculation about his political future this weekend. Gantz is known precisely for not having ever taken a stand on anything whatsoever, and his very appointment came as a compromise after an epically compromising, House-of-Cards-style dirty war between patrons of a dovish and hawkish candidates for chief of staff. Gantz was deemed to be neither; his lack of notoriety is in itself notorious, and helps more and more in Israel mistake him for a saint. So whatever his future might hold (Gantz is set to retire in 10 months, but would need to wait three years before he can run for office), it seems fair to assume he’ll continue the strategy most Israelis seem to prefer in relation to the peace talks.

Chief of staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Chief of staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

None of the above means, of course, that Netanyahu is unassailable. Israeli politics are rarely moved by public opinion polls alone or, indeed, by public opinion. (Recent legislation helped take care of that.) Netanayhu is at one of his weakest points, because his entire third premiership is built as a balancing act between the rightist and center-right blocks in his coalition, keeping both busy enough with the peace talks not to go after his own throat; Livni is a particularly useful buffer, and if she was to retire, the very delicate balance could well start unraveling; or, worse still, with Iran receding further and further as a real threat and the peace talks no longer keeping his rivals occupied, public opinion might well turn to the one issue where Netanyahu is indefensible – the socio-economic front. But whoever tries to snatch leadership away from Netanyahu will put ending the occupation as their very last talking point – and will do their best to keep it off their to-do list altogether. At least until external pressure turns Israeli heads once more.

The peace process needs a whole new outlook
Bennett’s response to Palestinian UN bid: Annexation
The rejectionist: Netanyahu and the peace talks

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Im Tirtzu founder joins Liberman’s party http://972mag.com/im-tirtzu-founder-joins-libermans-party/89576/ http://972mag.com/im-tirtzu-founder-joins-libermans-party/89576/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 08:47:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89576 Head of the movement that once threatened to sue Wikipedia for describing it as ‘right-wing,’ takes a senior position in one of Israel’s most right-wing parties.

Ronen Shoval, co-founder of the Im Tirtzu movement, has joined Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party to serve as the CEO of its international branch.

Shoval, who retired in January as the chairman of Im Tirtzu, will also be Liberman’s candidate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections. In an interview with NRG-Maariv earlier this month, Shoval said his aim was to “rejuvenate” the party and the global Zionist institutions. He also criticized the relatively neutral term “diaspora,” which he said has come to replace the more negative concept of “exile.”

Ronen Shuval, head of Im Tirtzu (Yossi Gurvitz)

Ronen Shoval, former chairman of Im Tirtzu (Yossi Gurvitz)

Although the combination of Im Tirtzu’s ideas, goals, donors and tactics place the movement firmly on the right of every imaginable spectrum, the movement has for years operated under the slogan of “bringing Zionism back to the center,” an ethos on which it built itself. The assumption propagated by Im Tirtzu was that the ideology which, by all accounts, defines every single realm of Israeli life and politics had  been ejected from the mainstream by some sort of omnipotent cabal of postmodernist academics (on a personal note, I’d love a bit of what they’ve been having). In his retirement interview in January, Shoval took pride in “giving birth to sacred cows rather than slaughtering them.”

As a result, despite spending much of its time agitating against left-wing movements and NGOs (especially the New Israel Fund) and even authoring right-wing legislation, the movement fought tooth and nail against anyone describing it as right-wing, including lawsuit threats against the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia (where readers-editors repeatedly squeezed the offending adjective into articles on the movement). This tactic culminated in a libel suit against the operators of a Facebook group that described the Im Tirtzu as “fascists.” The trial ended with the court accepting the objective truth plea of the respondents, upholding the opinions of the expert witnesses summoned by the defense, and all but officially proclaiming Im Tirtzu to be, indeed, fascist.

Shoval’s joining with Lieberman doesn’t make the movement he left behind any more or less partisan than it was before, but it doesn’t seem far fetched to say it gives yet more indication where its loyalties lie – with the secular, undemocratic hard right.


Jerusalem Court: Okay to call Im Tirtzu a ‘fascist group’
Exclusive: The gov’t connection of right-wing group Im Tirzu
Israel’s ‘magnificent democracy,’ according to Im Tirzu


* As publicly stated on our ‘About‘ page, +972 has in years past received travel grants from the NIF’s Social Justice Fund.

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Bennett’s response to Palestinian UN bid: Annexation http://972mag.com/bennetts-response-to-palestinian-un-bid-annexation/89515/ http://972mag.com/bennetts-response-to-palestinian-un-bid-annexation/89515/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 22:21:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=89515 The leader of the Jewish Home party asks Netanyahu to convene the cabinet and discuss the formal annexation of the settlements and 60 percent of the West Bank to Israel. ‘The peace talks are dead and I’m proposing an alternative.’

Formal annexation of all Israeli settlements, as well as selected parts of Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli control) – this is Naftali Bennett’s response to the Palestinian bid to join 15 UN treaties and institutions. The proposal, based on the plan Bennett publicly championed before running for Knesset (outlined in the video below), claims that annexation would bring under formal Israeli rule some 400,000 settlers and “only several tens of thousands” of Palestinians. Bennett’s proposal is to offer these Palestinians Israeli citizenship, so as to preempt any claims that Israel is engaging in apartheid. It should be noted that in the status quo, Israeli civilian law is, de facto, applied to settlements and settlers wherever they go, while a Kafkaesque mixture of Israeli military, British and Ottoman laws are applied to Palestinians living in the same territories. This means that a Palestinian from the West Bank and a settler will never face the same court for the same offense.

The Minister of Economy  - and more importantly, Netanyahu’s single greatest rival on the expansionist right – outlined the proposal in a letter to the prime minister on Wednesday night, suggesting the move be put before the cabinet as early as possible. In a later interview to Ynet, Bennett was casually dismissive about the international fallout that could ensue. “In 1967 [Prime Minister] Eshkol annexed Jerusalem. In 1981 Begin annexed the Golan Heights. The sky didn’t fall,” he said, before adding cautiously that he wouldn’t tell the U.S. to leave Israel alone, but rather advise it to concentrate on other crises, like Syria.

Even though Bennett got some surprising (read: disoriented) support from former Labor stalwart Amir Peretz, who welcomed the fact that his cabinet colleague was finally willing to talk borders, the chances that the cabinet acts on his proposal is small. Netanyahu’s overall approach is easy-does-it, and pushing the Americans even further at this point won’t serve any earthly good. And this is before we even get to Bennett’s dodgy math – the numbers he presents in his proposal are highly contested.

But there are still some important takeaways from this proposal finally being thrown into the ring, and this time by a senior minister, rather than an independent right-wing activist (even if they are the same person, two years apart).

First, that this is no gimmick: Bennett and his party, despite not having really grappled with the topic in their year in government, are still as annexationist as they ever were, and their model is still the same: give minuscule, but densely populated Area A (under full control of the Palestinian Authority) some semblance of autonomy, and annex the rest, while offering the Palestinian residents there citizenship. The use of that latter verb is crucial – Bennett relies on Palestinians refusing such an offer, thus forfeiting any formal influence over the regime that will be running their lives while absolving said regime from any responsibility for excluding them.

Second, the relatively muted reaction in political circles indicates that this proposal is not at all as outrageous as it would have been some years back; and the more it is aired by Bennett and other supporters, the more normalized it will become, at least in the Israeli discourse. Physical partition is no longer sacrosanct, and whatever else they are, annexationists – especially the more conservative ones, like Bennett – are fringe no longer.

Last but not least, Bennett is right about this much: with the last-ditch two-state process hanging by a thread, he is the only player of consequence offering a vision and an alternative. Supporters of the peace process at home and abroad refuse to counter Bennett’s idea of non-partition with one of their own, for fear of legitimizing the very notion of a single state. This tells you a lot about their own faith in the viability of a two-state solution: they seem to believe their paradigm is in such frail health that it will be snuffed out by even the most hypothetical discussion of alternatives.

The result is that, yet again, the Israeli right has taken the initiative while the left has been left behind to protest and lament. It would be good to see those in Israel and abroad who don’t share Bennett’s vision begin to at least anticipate the irretrievable change of endgame they themselves are constantly warning about, and perhaps start offering their own alternatives. Unfortunately, if peering into the abyss of a complete negotiation breakdown failed to get them thinking in this direction, it seems that nothing will.

Read more:
Is Israeli annexation of Area C of the West Bank imminent?
In West Bank, the logic of annexation supersedes the rule of law

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies at 85 http://972mag.com/former-israeli-prime-minister-ariel-sharon-dies-at-85/84878/ http://972mag.com/former-israeli-prime-minister-ariel-sharon-dies-at-85/84878/#comments Sat, 11 Jan 2014 12:30:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=84878 Israel’s former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who spent the last eight years comatose after a series of strokes, died on Saturday, January 11. He was 85 years old.

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2001. (Photo: Moshe Milner/GPO)

A general, politician, statesman, and to many a notorious war criminal, Ariel Sharon was known to combine dogged personal ambition with strategic acumen and ruthlessness, which together shaped one of the most controversial and remarkable careers in Israeli political history. Born in the community of Kfar Malal in 1928, Sharon joined the Haganah in the mid 1940s, and first saw action in the run-up to the 1948 War, when his unit staged raids against Arab villages around Kfar Malal. He was seriously wounded in the battle of Latrun and temporarily left the army in 1949 to study at the Hebrew University. By personal order of David Ben-Gurion, however, Sharon was recalled to military service and asked to head the newly established Unit 101.

The unit was created specifically for the purpose of retaliatory raids against Palestinian refugee guerrillas who operated across the Jordanian and Egyptian borders. As often as not, the attacks were against civilian targets, including refugee camps and villages in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip and Jordanian-occupied West Bank. One such raid, on the village of Qibya in 1953, culminated in a massacre of 69 civilians who were gunned down as they tried to escape their homes or were buried under the rubble of detonated buildings. The public outcry was so severe that Ben-Gurion initially lied to the Israeli public, claiming the act was a spontaneous act of revenge by Jewish civilians retaliating for the death of a Jewish woman in the town of Yahud several days earlier. Internally, however, Unit 101 was highly praised and its experience and tactics were judged successful enough to make the unit the core of the new Paratroopers Battalion, of which Sharon, not yet 30 years old, took command as lieutenant-colonel.

In the Sinai War of 1956, Sharon led his brigade in a disastrous assault on Sinai’s Mitla pass, losing 38 men and earning allegations of impatience and aggression – allegations that would accompany him the rest of his career. He would eventually be put back on the path to promotion, however, reaching the post of major-general in 1967. Sharon played a key role in the ground offensive on the Egyptian front in the Six Day War, and is generally credited with once more breaking through the Egyptian lines during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, separating two Egyptian armies from each other and creating a crucial turning point in the war (both assaults were seen as brilliant acts of tank warfare and were taught in military academias decades later). After returning from the front, Sharon retired from the IDF for the last time and turned to politics, flirting with the center-left before joining the newly-formed Likud.

As agriculture minister in Menachem Begin’s first government, Sharon played a key role in the government’s open endorsement of settling the Occupied Palestinian Territories with Israeli citizens. Although under his patronage the number of Israeli settlers in the territories more than doubled, his most lasting legacy was the revival of the Ottoman laws regarding “mawat” land – land that was not worked for a number of years, was declared “dead” and then given to the state. The move paved the highway for settlement construction and land expropriation in the West Bank from 1979 to this day.

As defense minster in the second Begin government, Sharon became the architect of the First Lebanon War, including (as later investigations established) consistently lying about the scope of the operations to Begin, who favored a much more limited approach. Sharon was found by the Kahan Commission to be indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of over 2,000 Palestinian refugees by Israel’s Lebanese allies, the Phalanges, and was made to resign – although he remained in the cabinet as minister without portfolio. Attempts to bring him to trial in international courts over the massacre went to no avail. Two years later, in 1984, Sharon came close to winning the leadership of the Likud, and returned to his ministerial career, first as minister for trade and industry and then as housing and construction minister. In the latter role, Sharon oversaw the construction of more than 144,000 housing units for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Minister Ariel Sharon (photo: Saar Yaacov/GPO)

Sharon was a vocal and vigorous opponent of the Oslo Accords, despite the fact that they were championed by his erstwhile patron and mentor, Yitzhak Rabin, and even called upon soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate settlements (such orders never arrived in Rabin’s time). He then occupied several ministerial jobs in Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government, culminating with the Foreign Ministry; in the latter capacity he took part in the Wye Plantation talks. After Barak defeated Netanyahu in the 1999 general elections, Sharon replaced the latter as head of the Likud and head of the opposition. In that role, Sharon paid the now-infamous visit to Temple Mount on September 28, 2000. The visit and the protests it provoked were widely seen as the spark that lit the Second Intifada; but in the immediate aftermath, the clashes were seen as a resounding failure of all of the incumbent government’s peace efforts, leading to Barak’s resounding defeat by Sharon in the special prime-ministerial elections of March 2001.

Sharon’s first and second terms as prime minister saw him preside over the suppression of the Second Intifada, the construction of the Separation Wall and the first-ever truce agreement with Hamas, known as the hudna  - which lasted less than a month; all parties violated the truce, but it was Israel’s continued policy of assassination of Hamas leaders that conclusively shattered the agreement. Internationally, Sharon made the most of the post-9/11 political map by casting Israel as the United States’ greatest ally and foremost ally in the ‘War on Terror.’ Sharon used the resultant U.S. backing to effectively roll back most of the Oslo Accords, a process sealed by a letter Sharon obtained from George W. Bush that abandoned the maxim of 1967 borders as the territorial basis for negotiations. His prime ministerial terms were also haunted by accusations of corruption and nepotism, for which, like for his involvement in war crimes, he never stood trial.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, April 14, 2004. (White House Photo)

The final chapter in Sharon’s career came as he declared, much to the surprise of allies and adversaries alike, that Israel would unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip – a plan he proceeded to steamroll through the Likud despite massive opposition within the party. The Disengagement – Israel’s last eviction of settlements since the withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula – went off without a hitch and is still seen as a watershed moment in Israeli politics in general and the history of the settlement movement in particular. But with no diplomatic process to accompany it, the Disengagement did little to improve the material or political conditions of Gaza’s Palestinian residents, who remained effectively under lock and key in the tiny coastal enclave, with the IDF merely regrouping from patrolling within the Strip to surrounding it on three sides. The withdrawal also did little to quell the violence in and around the Gaza Strip: to many Palestinians the withdrawal, contrasted with the PA’s manifestly futile (and in Sharon’s time, unrequited) strategy of engaging in negotiations boosted the case for armed resistance, especially of the kind championed by Hamas. To Israelis, the rocket fire that continued and at times intensified from the Gaza Strip proved the futility and folly of withdrawing from any of the Occupied Territories, and ensure broad popular support for the air raids and ground incursions Israel continued to visit upon the Strip, despite the Disengagement.

On the domestic political scene, the withdrawal from Gaza made Sharon’s position within the Likud virtually untenable, and two months later, in November 2005, he announced he was leaving his home party to start a new centrist party – Kadima (“Forward” in modern Hebrew and “Eastward” in the biblical dialect). The move not only split the Likud – many of whose most ambitious politicians followed Sharon  - but Labor, which believed the disengagement to be part of a genuine move leftward and rushed to support what it saw as a new centrist momentum in Israeli politics. Sharon himself, however, suffered a series of strokes in December of that year, leading to his incapacitation and to the coma in which he spent the remaining eight years of his life. The momentum generated by the founding of Kadima and not least by the Israeli public’s nostalgia for his leadership eventually went to the benefit of his deputy, Ehud Olmert, who succeeded him as the leader of Kadima and as Israel’s next prime minister.

Sharon is survived by two sons, Omri and Gilad. He lost his first wife, Margalit, to a car accident, his eldest son, Gur, to a firearm accident, and his second wife, Lili, to cancer.

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British activist detained entering Israel, facing 10-year ban http://972mag.com/british-activist-detained-in-israel-facing-10-year-ban/85384/ http://972mag.com/british-activist-detained-in-israel-facing-10-year-ban/85384/#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 01:07:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=85384 Gary Spedding was detained after landing in Tel Aviv ahead of meetings with parliamentarians and activists. He says his phone was hacked and contacts extracted. 

A high-profile member of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party and a long-standing activist for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Gary Spedding, was detained on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday and told would be deported and banned from the country for 10 years. Speaking from the airport, after being held for eight hours, Spedding told +972 that the interrogating officers hacked into his mobile phone, and copied email addresses and telephone numbers. He also said no reason for his impending deportation was given, except that he was a “liar” and a “security threat.”

“I flew in to Tel Aviv from London Luton at about 4 p.m. local time,” Spedding told +972.  ”When I got to passport control the guy asked me to step aside and wait. After about an hour, three people came and took me to a room. They questioned me and took my phone, asking for my security code. I wouldn’t give my code but agreed to type it in to show the phone was a real phone. What I didn’t realize is that somebody is standing behind me and watching me do it. My Hebrew is not very good, but good enough to pick up he was reading out the digits I was typing to the rest of the security team. ” Spedding said the security team then logged onto his mobile phone without permission and scanned through his contacts, text messages and email, copying some of the content manually onto a notepad.

“They told me they’d hold me for nine days until my return flight, so as not to have to pay for my deportation,” Spedding said. The security team questioning Spedding then changed, and one official told him a decision was made to deport him and ban him from Israel for 10 years. “I was told this was a fact, not a threat, and there was nothing neither I or my government could do,” said Spedding, who is a dual Australian and British citizen.

The activist was still being held near Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday night, and the state’s plans regarding his deportation were not immediately clear. “I’m just one guy, sitting here at Ben-Gurion, pretty tired and not feeling so good but apart from that, I’m ok,” Spedding sought to stress when commenting on the attention news of his detention had attracted on social media networks. “This kind of shit happens to Israeli and Palestinian activists all the time, as we all know, and nobody speaks up as much for them.”

Spedding, 23, is a well-known member of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, and is hoping to contest a seat in next elections to the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016;  he is not yet an approved party candidate. He said that on this visit he had been expecting to meet with Palestinian and Israeli activists and officials, including MKs, to discuss a variety of projects, with a particular emphasis on Northern Ireland’s transition from armed conflict to political process.

As erstwhile leader of the Queen’s University, Belfast, Palestine Society, Spedding had clashed with pro-Israel voices in Ireland and beyond, prompting one pro-Israel commentator to write an entire book titled “Dear Gary: Why You’re Wrong About Israel.” (Full disclosure – I traveled from London to Belfast as a guest speaker of the society in March 2012.) Spedding also repeatedly clashed with some pro-Palestine activists, including ones he felt had allowed themselves to slip from criticism of Israeli policies and politics to ultra-nationalism or anti-Semitism. He has written op-eds for a number of online publications, including Huffington Post UK, Belfast Telegraph, and +972.

If Spedding does indeed get deported, he won’t be the first one – Israel has deported and banned dozens of solidarity activists over the past decade, from ISM members to international activists picked up at Palestinian demonstrations. To my knowledge, no explanation has ever been given for any deportation or ban, except the oblique “security risk.” No evidence implicating any deported activist in any violence has ever been produced.

Anyone with any inside knowledge of why Israeli services thinks any of this makes Israel any safer or better-looking is invited to contact me over email (dimi at 972 dot com); full discretion guaranteed.

Update: On Friday morning, the British embassy was told Gary was a threat to Israel because he was very popular on the social networks and could start demonstrations if allowed into the country.

Update (Friday evening): Gary was deported with a 10-year entry ban to Israel.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that Spedding is not an approved candidate for the Alliance Party at previous or future elections. The Alliance Party has, however been in contact with Gary and in a statement to +972 said it is “extremely concerned for his welfare,” adding that it trusts UK consular officials will afford him all the necessary support.

‘No Falasteen for you!’ Shin Bet banned me from Israel for 10 years 
Exclusive: ‘Political contract’ required to enter Israel
Testimony: A filmmaker detained at airport fights deportation

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