+972 Magazine » Dimi Reider http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 25 May 2016 14:23:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Israeli intel minister: Brussels was attacked because of chocolate http://972mag.com/israeli-intel-minister-brussels-was-attacked-because-of-chocolate/118074/ http://972mag.com/israeli-intel-minister-brussels-was-attacked-because-of-chocolate/118074/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 17:46:24 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=118074 Israel Katz says that Belgians enjoy life too much, refuse to decide that they’re in a war with Islamic terrorism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud minister Israel Katz at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Likud minister Israel Katz (R) at a campaign event in Raanana. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

There have been a number of original explanations for why Islamic State militants struck Brussels, killing at least 34 people on Tuesday.

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Turkish media blamed Belgium’s embrace of the Kurds, a Ukrainian blogger expounded on the blasts being a joint Putin-ISIS conspiracy to distract media attention from the trial of a Ukranian pilot, and an Israeli minister chided Belgians for talking too much about Israel and not enough about their own radicalization problems.

But the best of the bunch has to be another Israeli cabinet member, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Israel Katz, for whom enemy number one is chocolate. And enjoying life. Definitely the enjoying life bit.

Belgian chocolate on display in a store. (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

Belgian chocolate on display in a store. (Illustrative photo by Shutterstock.com)

Katz made the remarks in a Wednesday morning interview with Army Radio. Here it is in full:

If Belgians continue to eat chocolate and enjoy life, they won’t be able to fight. Europe and the United States would not define that the war is against Islamic terrorism. When your definition is wrong and doesn’t exist, you can’t lead a global war.

If Belgians keep eating chocolate and enjoy life and look like great democrats and liberals, and not decide [sic] that some of the Muslims there organize terrorism, they won’t be able to find them.

Look at how we are able to bring the moderates closer and drive the extremists, like the Islamic Movement, outside of the law. We are also going about our lives but we are preparing without illusions and this comes from our ability to define who the enemy is. The Europeans and even the United States haven’t defined who their opponent is.

Katz is perhaps the most senior Likud member who has managed to survive at Netanyahu’s side the longest, even as more astute peers were pushed out and marginalized by the rivalry averse prime minister. One theory of his success is that he is perceived too daft to be disloyal. If this is the case, today’s comments will have earned him a few more years at the top.

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Why Israel’s former prime minister is going to prison (and why he’s not) http://972mag.com/why-israels-former-prime-minister-is-going-to-prison-and-why-hes-not/115344/ http://972mag.com/why-israels-former-prime-minister-is-going-to-prison-and-why-hes-not/115344/#comments Wed, 30 Dec 2015 21:17:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=115344 Ehud Olmert this week became Israel’s first former prime minister to head to prison. Here is a simple explanation of why, what legal troubles still await him, and the crimes for which he’ll never pay. 

File photo of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in court. (Photo by Activestills.org)

File photo of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in court. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is going to jail — albeit only for 18 months. The Supreme Court shortened Olmert’s six sentence in a long-awaited appeal this week. The sentence was for a bribery conviction in a scandal referred to in the Israeli media as Holyland Affair. But that is far from the end of the plentiful legal sagas that forced the sitting prime minister to resign.

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Olmert also has another appeal pending, against another conviction over another scandal, the Talansky Affair. The State, meanwhile, is appealing Olmert’s acquittal in a third trial, the Rishontours Affair, and a partial acquittal in a fourth, the Investment Center Affair.

Israel Police’s bribery unit, meanwhile is pressing for charges to be brought against the former prime minister for obstruction of justice, for alleged witness tampering, which would start — quite remarkably — a fifth legal entanglement.

Although Olmert’s criminal trials only began after his forced resignation, the actions for which he is answering began long before he ever took the reins of Israel’s government.

What it’s all about

The Investment Center Affair concerns Olmert’s tenure as minister of trade and infrastructure, when he allegedly intervened in the decisions of the ministry’s investment center to benefit projects submitted by his former law firm partner, Uri Messer.

The Talansky Affair concerns envelopes stuffed with cash, sent by businessman Moshe Talansky and delivered by intermediaries to Olmert the latter was mayor of Jerusalem (1993-2003) and minister of trade and infrastructure (2003-2006). The state claims Olmert pocketed the money; Olmert maintains it was campaign funds not used for personal gain.

The Rishontours Affair concerns Olmert using state funds to buy flight tickets for himself and his family on private trips abroad. Rishontours was the travel agency through which the flights were booked.

Finally, the Holyland Affair concerns bribery on a massive scale. Both Olmert and his successor as mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lapoliansky, were convicted of accepting bribes in order to rush through permits and planning processes for an outlandishly grandiose residential complex on a Jerusalem hilltop — against the strong opposition of residents and ecologists. Olmert’s bribes alone, it was alleged, amounted to millions upon millions of Israeli shekels, and the sums exchanged in the entire affair ran up to millions of dollars.

Olmert’s conviction in the Holyland Affair, which came in March 2014, rested heavily on the testimony of a state witness. The witness, Shmuel Dechner, was a flamboyant former chemist, manager and investor with a trail of debts in both Israel and the UK. He was allegedly hired by Holyland’s main stake holder, Hillel Cherny, to secure the requisite permissions. When Cherny failed to pay Dechner his fees, the latter turned on him, filing a civil lawsuit and offering his services as a state witness.

Specifically, Dechner accused Olmert of accepting half a million shekels (some $128,200) in bribes via his brother, lawyer Yossi Olmert. Dechner also accused Olmert of suggesting he give money to the municipal engineer, Uri Sheetrit. Lastly, Dechner testified that Olmert’s longtime secretary and enforcer Shula Zaken asked him to sponsor a public opinion poll. The former prime minister was convicted in this affair based largely on the first accusation of the three, and acquitted on the other two.

Zaken herself was convicted of accepting vast bribes from Dechner, but later turned state’s witness herself. The obstruction of justice accusation concerns Olmert’s alleged attempts to dissuade Zaken from testifying against him.

Dechner died of a heart attack in the middle of the trial, before he could be cross-examined by Olmert’s lawyers, which is the main reason we even know his name today. (Dechner was identified in the media solely as “S” throughout the entire trial until his death, at which point the court allowed his real name to be used.) But his credibility was destroyed over the course of the trial, shining a spotlight not only on his rather sordid business record but an almost pathological history of lying.

His brother’s keeper

This particular case at this particular stage turns on the question of whether Olmert knew that Dechner was giving money to his brother, Yossi. The Jerusalem District Court maintained that he did. The Supreme Court agreed that this was a reasonable assumption to make: after all, Dechner was courting favor with Olmert and had nothing else to gain from lavishing gifts on his younger brother. But crucially, the court surmised, that assumption did not amount to proof, and thus does not withstand the test of reasonable doubt. Thus, the Supreme Court threw out Olmert’s conviction on the central charge, and upheld only a lesser one, of accepting bribes to the tune of NIS 60,000.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the appeal was announced earlier this week, a jubilant Edud Olmert tried presenting it as an acquittal. Furthermore, he told reporters outside the courtroom that he never took any bribes at all. Neither of those statements are true, of course. Olmert remains the only Israeli prime minister to be convicted in a criminal court, and bribery is bribery — strictly speaking, 60,000 is just as abhorrent as 60 million.

With other trials and appeals still under way, Olmert’s extraordinarily lenient jail sentence may still have a few years tacked on to it from the other trials, and his political career is, at any rate, long over. He is legally barred from holding public office for at least seven years, which considering his age makes a comeback highly unlikely.

There is still the possibility of a pardon by President Reuven Rivlin (unlikely, considering the president’s stated abhorrence of corruption) or a reduction to time served on compassionate grounds if Olmert’s pancreatic cancer was to relapse.

The most slippery beast

On the surface, this should send out a strong message about accountability and corruption, possibly even propping up Israel’s slipping international rating on that front. After all, the most powerful man in the state was dragged down from his post and is now going to spend at least some time in prison — even if the actual time served is brief, the symbolic importance is immense.

But what stands out far more is the degree to which a sly, wealthy and powerful man was able to evade justice for so long. Even if he is convicted on the remaining charges, Olmert has already spent more time in interrogation rooms and in the dock — all the while remaining free to travel in Israel and abroad — than he will ever spend in prison.

The role of Olmert’s eminence in the tortuous process of his trial was underscored by a pure coincidence — a similar yet diametrically opposite ruling in the same court just days earlier.

Last week, the Supreme Court cited “intuition” in rejecting an appeal by Roman Zadorov, an immigrant convicted of murdering a schoolgirl in 2006, despite a wealth of forensic evidence pointing at his innocence and consistent reports of a police cover-up.

Just a week later, a conviction that leaned on that same feeling, “intuition,” was thrown out in order to exonerate a former prime minister. As Zadorov’s lawyer Avigdor Feldman lamented after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Olmert case, reasonable doubt is the most slippery beast of criminal law, and it tends to favor wealthy politicians over impoverished immigrants.

The same, alas, can be said of the silent witnesses to Olmert’s trials — the hundreds of Palestinians, Lebanese and Israelis killed on his watch as prime minister.

That is perhaps the most bitter subtext of the entire saga. The man who bears direct executive responsibility for the killing of Lebanese civilians in the Second Lebanon War, Palestinian civilians in Operation Cast Lead, and the loss of over 100 Israeli soldiers in Israel’s worst-managed war ever, is going to jail. But he is not likely to ever be put on trial for even a single life sacrificed to his unparalleled, vicious incompetence as a prime minister.

After six years of legal wrangling, the Israeli Supreme Court doled out a small crumb of justice this week. But true criminal justice, as well as historical justice, is years, if not decades, away for Israel’s 12th prime minister.

An earlier version of this post appeared on The Middle East Eye.

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Yossi Sarid: Conservative innovator of the Israeli Left http://972mag.com/yossi-sarid-conservative-innovator-of-the-israeli-left/114588/ http://972mag.com/yossi-sarid-conservative-innovator-of-the-israeli-left/114588/#comments Wed, 09 Dec 2015 18:47:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114588 One of the first Israeli politicians to champion the two-state solution, Yossi Sarid was also one of the last vestiges of the Israeli Left’s old guard. He will be remembered warmly for never turning away a person in need, but also for his contentious attitudes toward religious and Mizrahi Jews. 

Yossi Sarid at a Sheikh Jarrah solidarity protest, January 22, 2010. (Photo by Lisa Goldman)

Yossi Sarid at a Sheikh Jarrah solidarity protest, January 22, 2010. (Photo by Lisa Goldman)

For better or worse, there has never been a more perfect embodiment of the old Israeli left than columnist and politician Yossi Sarid, who passed away from a heart attack age 75 late last week.

He was an uncompromising champion of human and civil rights, of free speech, of separation of church and state, of equality before the law, transparency and accountability, and a vocal, frighteningly erudite and deliciously acerbic critic of the Occupation.

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But Sarid was also one of the strongest examples of the Israeli left’ willful ignorance of ethnic discrimination of Mizrahi Jews,  its barely veiled contempt for the religious sentiments cherished by the majority of  Israeli Jews, and its single-minded fixation on championing the collapsed Oslo process without admitting to its many shortfalls. All this contributed to alienating the majority of Israeli voters, including many who could have been natural constituents for any left-wing opposition party.

Sarid was born Yossef Sneider, to Yaakov, a prominent functionary of the soon-to-be-ruling party of Mapai (the Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel) and Dova, a teacher. At the young age of 24, Sarid was appointed spokesman of the Mapai party (then at the peak of its glory as the founding party of the state and the source of all political and civil power in the country) and also the personal press secretary to the prime minister. He was elected to the Knesset in 1973 as the face of the young guard of the Labor party, a generation disillusioned by Golda Meir’s squandering of diplomatic opportunities in the run-up to the October War and Israel’s near-defeat in the war itself. This marked the beginning of an uninterrupted 32-year parliamentary career.

Innovator of the old Left

Sarid was one of the great innovators of the Israeli Left ahead of its brief return to power in the 1990s. He was one of the earliest adopters of a two-state solution, supporting territorial compromise already in the late 1970s. Then, in 1982, he broke with Israeli tradition that until then had dictated support for armed forces in wartime, by abstaining in the Knesset’s vote on the First Lebanon War.

He set a third precedent two years later when he left the Labor Party to join Ratz — a dovish party led by another, earlier Labor renegade, Shulamit Aloni. Labor MKs have split off to form new parties before, but the innovation here was in the cause of Sarid’s departure. It was prompted by Labor going into the first of many national unity coalitions with the Likud — a practice that benumbed Labor as a credible political force in the 1980s and all but buried it as a credible opposition from 2000 onwards. Ratz and its successor party, Meretz, never joined a Likud-led national government yet.

Meretz, formed by a merger of Ratz with Mapam in 1992, gained 12 seats and became a senior partner in the second Yitzhak Rabin government; this was to be the peak of its success. Sarid was named environment minister, during which time he transformed the ministry from a backwater office into a force to be reckoned with, aggressively legislating against polluters. After a brief stint in the opposition, Meretz returned to government under Labor prime minister Ehud Barak in 1999, with Sarid forfeiting the Housing portfolio to become education minister — a choice emblematic of Meretz’s preference of the cultural, rather than the socio-economic battleground.

Although his tenure lasted a little over a year, Sarid is still remembered by teachers as one of the most proactive education ministers Israel has ever had, fighting hard to fund and modernize the decaying state education system. The majority of the public, conversely, remembers one particular decree — the decision to introduce two poems by Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, into the curriculum. The poems were emphatically non-political but the Israeli public balked at the notion of schoolchildren being taught the national Palestinian poet.

The controversy soon escalated into a no-confidence vote, but the poem survived in the curriculum, with one being removed only this year. Sarid stayed on in the Knesset for five more years, before finally retiring in 2005 and taking up a column in Haaretz ‚ appreciated for its erudition and wit even by those who disagreed with his arguments.

Liberal blind spots

While the 90s were a high-point for Sarid, however, they also saw the flip side of his particular brand liberalism emerge and cement.

Alongside the peace process and it discontents, the 1990s were dominated by the ascendancy of religious Jewish parties — especially the Sephardi Shas, representing a largely Mizrahi, or Arab-Jewish, ultra-Orthodox constituency.

Sarid saw Shas’s rise as a cardinal threat to what little separation of church and state existed in Israel, and he threw all of his rhetorical power to fight it, not shrinking from denigrating the revered spiritual leader of the movement, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef.

But for many, the fight over the religious character of the state was rooted a much more important divide between Meretz and Shas — that between a party of the old, secular Ashkenazi elite and the party of a badly discriminated minority. Sarid’s arguments fell flat for many jarred by his seemingly unshakable disinterest in the  hardships the Ashkenazi old guard, his political mentors included, imposed on the Mizrahi minority.

On the Palestinian issue, Sarid stood honorably apart from the Labor party, which spent the 2000s compulsively selling its commitment to a peace process for a few cabinet seats. But on the issue of Mizrahi Jews, Sarid embodied the old Left’s haughty contempt for Jewish ethnic and cultural minorities, who also happened to comprise the majority of the Israeli working class — a cross section of the very communities any social-democratic party should, theoretically, fight for.

Against the backdrop of this apathy — and sometimes outright denial — of the Mizrahi plight, Meretz’s commitment to Palestinian rights looks to many Israelis as the inexplicable boutique altruism of an old elite. This dissonance is as much a part of Sarid’s liberal legacy as its nobler aspects.

Between the personal and the political. 

The tragic irony of this is made all the starker by the fact Sarid never turned away a person in need, whatever their background.

Hip-hop singer “The Shadow,” probably the most violent rightist rabble-rouser today — responsible for organizing attacks on leftist rallies during last summer’s Gaza war — posted an uncharacteristically warm obituary for Sarid, recalling the latter’s help when the singer’s father was abused by the prison system. Political rivals from across the aisle praised his even-handless and incorruptibility, with only the most marginal of right-wing extremists stooping to celebrate his death. Israeli media and social networks were so full with similar memories of Sarid that people who he didn’t help, reassure or comfort in some way began to seem a minority.

But there was something about the aloof, somewhat haughty strain Sarid’s otherwise earnest and sincere liberalism that prevented him from translating these laudable traits into broader political achievements.

This, incidentally, belies an essential flaw with some of the eulogies that bemoaned not only Sarid, but the passing of the Israeli Left itself.

The truth is that while Sarid’s Left is withering away, a new generation of Israeli progressives and radicals is well on the way to succeed it. It is a more inclusive and diverse generation, which battles the status quo on many more fronts than the 90s’ Left ever did — from natural gas revenues to independent unionizing, from rent control to resisting the forced displacement of Negev Bedouin communities, and, crucially, against the internal Jewish racism so prevalent among Israel’s liberal elites.

The fight against the occupation, too, is much broader, more direct and more sophisticated than Meretz’s own campaigns; and the emergence of the Join List as the most dynamic force of the Israeli opposition gives hope of mainstream political struggles where Palestinians are partners, rather than distant objects of liberal compassion.

The fact that Sarid’s politics overlapped with the Left’s last actual stint in government does not mean they are right for all seasons, or even that they were entirely right at the time. His generation is on its way out, as all generations ultimately go; it can only be hoped that the generation now on the ascent will learn both from Sarid’s achievements and from his mistakes.

Yossi Sarid, 1940-2015. Columnist, parliamentarian, minister, leader of the Meretz Party. Survived by his wife, Dorit, and three children.

A longer version of this post appeared on The Middle East Eye.

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Yair Lapid on Hillary handshake: ‘I met my buddy’s wife…’ http://972mag.com/yair-lapid-meets-hillary-met-my-buddys-wife/114579/ http://972mag.com/yair-lapid-meets-hillary-met-my-buddys-wife/114579/#comments Mon, 07 Dec 2015 13:31:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=114579 Israel’s Mr. Liberal went to the Saban Forum in Washington D.C. and met this woman he’s seen somewhere, a lawyer maybe? Bill’s wife, you guys know Bill. 

Yair Lapid, leader of the third largest party in the opposition (a far cry from his briefly held title of the great white hope of Israeli moderates, way back when in 2013), attended the Saban Forum at Brookings last night. As in the rest of his political career, Lapid’s contribution to proceedings was somewhat difficult to place, but he didn’t pass entirely unnoticed. At the end of the summit’s third day, Lapid got to shake hands with one Hillary Rodham Clinton, and posted the following tweet:

Yair Lapid meets Hilary R. Clinton. Screen Shot captured 2015-12-07 at 01.09.41

 

In translation:

Met my buddy’s wife in DC…

The tweet was deleted after a few hours. To be fair, judging by Clinton’s face, she is having even more trouble recalling who Lapid is, and why he’s clasping her hand so intently.

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Knesset deputy speaker accused of pimping, meth abuse http://972mag.com/knesset-deputy-speaker-accused-of-pimping-meth-abuse/107608/ http://972mag.com/knesset-deputy-speaker-accused-of-pimping-meth-abuse/107608/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 14:27:14 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107608 Junior MK Oren Hazan, who rose in the ranks at breathtaking speed to become the country’s deputy speaker of the Knesset, is now being accused of running a gambling operation, procuring call girls and using crystal meth.

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Oren Hazan (Likud) was suspended from chairing parliamentary sessions Tuesday morning after a Channel 2 exposé alleged he was involved in running a gambling operation; procuring and paying for call girls for his clients; and even using crystal meth — all as recently as last summer. The suspension puts a looming question mark over the most rapid and contradictory career the Knesset has seen in years. Hazan is the son of a convicted fraudster who barely squeezed into the Knesset and went on to occupy some of its most prestigious seats, and a right-wing populist whose first bill called for compulsory teaching of Arabic in all Israeli schools in order to reduce inter-communal tensions and honor Arabic’s standing as an official state language.

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Oren Hazan. (photo: Activestills.org)

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Oren Hazan. (photo: Activestills.org)

Hazan’s foray into politics came last autumn when the Likud party was gearing up for primaries ahead of the looming general elections. Told sparingly, Hazan had as good a chance as any: not only was he a young, ambitious international businessman, but he was also the son of former Likud MK, Yehiel Hazan. So far so good — except that his his most recent business experience was persistently rumored to be a casino on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, and his father’s most memorable moment in politics was conviction of voter fraud for leaning over to push the voting button of an absent colleague), followed by another for the obstruction of justice (for breaking into the room where the incriminating voting mechanism was stored).

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A lesser (or wiser) man than Hazan Jr., when forced to measure political ambition against such  circumstances, would, conceivably, decide not to run. If he decided to run anyway, he may have considered to keep a low profile, hoping his father’s transgressions and his own less than savory business interests never arise, and working his way up the party ladder. Alternatively, someone in Hazan’s situation could go the other way: confront the problem head-on, casting himself as the enemy of vice — a gambler who has seen the light.

Hazan decided to combine the worst of both worlds. First he gave interviews denying he ever ran a casino (it was a hotel that had a casino, he said, and he didn’t run it, just helped set it up). Then, he doubled back on the allegation by releasing a primaries campaign video featuring himself and his father doing a skin-crawlingly bad imitation of the Godfather.

“My dear son, Oren,” groans Yechiel Hazan with a faint Italian accent à la Brando.

“This is your chance to restore dignity to the state and amend the wrongs done to me as a Knesset member… Sonny, I trust you to do the job.”

“Papa,” Oren Hazan replies, “I’m making the people of Israel an offer they can’t refuse.”

As part of his pivot to politics, Hazan courted extra notoriety by calling the Israeli veterans organization Breaking the Silence during the summer’s Gaza war and offering them a transparently false and macabre story of killing Palestinian civilians as a reserve soldier. There was no shortage of such killings during the war, but Hazan made his story so improbably grotesque that the organization decided to cross-check sources to see if his story held any water. They only discovered his identity because he used his middle name for his pseudonym, presenting himself as Asaf Hazan.

If all this sounds too cringe-worthy to actually work, it is. Hazan landed in 30th place on the Likud slate for the Knesset at a time when the party was polling steadily at 24. He just barely made it to the Knesset after Netanyahu cannibalized his right-wing allies, growing to 30 seats at the expense of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party. In fact, the vote was so close that Oren told an Israeli news site that he placed bets for and against himself getting elected “so that I would win either way.”

Hazan’s second winning streak came two months later, when longtime Netanyahu ally Avigdor Liberman declared he was leaving the coalition. This left Netanyahu with a paltry 61 MKs out of 120 — still giving him a majority but sharply upping the stakes for everyone involved. The resulting coalition was left with an awkward structure: the Foreign Ministry was all but dismembered between a deputy-without-a-minister and a minister-in-charge-of-negotiations, while the Communications Ministry was absorbed into the prime minister’s office in a move that many fear will herald significant challenges to free press in the country.

But there was no more rapid an advancement than Hazan’s, who, according to several Israeli news sites, casually let it be known that unless he shares with Tzipi Hotovely the position of Deputy Foreign Minister — in effect, acting foreign minister — he might neglect showing up to important votes. While this particular position was denied to him, the compensation was abundant: the first-time MK became Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and was given seats on five committees: the Comptroller Committee, the Reform Committee, the House Committee, and the two most prestigious and powerful committees of the house: Security and Foreign Affairs, and Finance.

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

After several outlets reported on the young MK’s propensity for strong-arming the prime minister, Hazan released his own statement. In his version, discussions with Netanyahu were cordial and collegial, and he got the plush appointments simply because the coalition needed “someone young and hardworking” to shoulder the administrative load. Either way, the precariousness of Netanyahu’s coalition has never been as clear or as absurd.

Hazan marked his inauguration by accusing Hotovely — a stalwart of the settler wing in the Likud — of pandering to the radical left by advising Arab MKs to move to Ramallah and by presenting his first bill: a proposal to make the study of Arabic compulsory even in majority Jewish schools from first grade on. In the preamble to the bill, Hazan emphasized the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel, and observed that just as it is inconceivable for a Palestinian in Israel to graduate without speaking Hebrew, so should it be impossible for a Jew in Israel to graduate without knowing Arabic. Several coalition as well as opposition MKs signed the bill.

This rambling combination of right-wing populism, sheer chutzpah and a surprisingly constructive legislative project finally hit a snag on Monday night. Channel 2 News, Israel’s flagship news program, paid a visit to the establishment Hazan ran until last summer on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. According to the report, which featured clients as well as current and former employees, Hazan not only ran a casino at the resort, but also procured call girls for his clients, and was seen by them using hard drugs, including crystal meth. The report also included print-outs of emails from Hazan to other stakeholders in the casino, outlying his concerns about various administrative members and emphasizing his interest in the well-being of the operation “as a partner.”

After a pretty easy run with most of the Israeli media, Hazan now finds himself confronted with negative publicity of the worst kind. Hours after the broadcast, Hazan took to Facebook to deny Channel 2′s report, announced that he is ready to take a lie detector test and published scans of a lawsuit threat against the channel. His defenders, meanwhile, are hinting darkly that the investigation was cooked up by the Prime Minister’s Office to slap down against an upstart MK who made Netanyahu look weak. Even if leads did come from the PMO — which is in itself disturbing — it doesn’t mean that what is being said isn’t factually true. Hazan better have some seriously good lawyers and incontrovertible proof to discredit the Channel 2′s sources.

The accusations, meanwhile, are no laughing matter. Procurement of prostitution is illegal both in Bulgaria and in Israel, and few criminal offenses are as despised by as many politicians and opinion-makers as human trafficking. Consumption of crystal meth is also, obviously, illegal, although on the face of it is seems somewhat less plausible than the all-too-frequent association of a casino and an escort service. In fact, Channel 2′s only source for this is single-source hearsay. Nevertheless, MK Esawi Frej (Meretz), who had endorsed Hazan’s bill on Arabic teaching in schools, has already filed a request to lift Hazan’s parliamentary immunity, as drugs and gambling are among offenses Israelis can be brought to trial for even if they committed them abroad.

But if Netanyahu holds a grudge against Hazan, the allegations alone are enough for the prime minister to boot the junior MK out of the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee. The implications of an alleged crystal meth addict with regular access to the most sensitive intelligence material are staggering, not least because of the risk of blackmail and bribery.

And since the role of a deputy speaker is a symbolic one, several opposition MKs are already vocally resenting being represented by a pimp. On Tuesday morning, the Speaker, Yuli Edelstein, suspended Hazan from chairing parliamentary sessions “until his name is cleared.”

Even the muscle that Hazan used to secure the slew of lush appointments has been neutralized, albeit from an unlikely quarter: Opposition leader Isaac Herzog announced, much to the chagrin of his own party, that at Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein’s request, the opposition will cancel out any vindictive vote by Hazan against the coalition, thus helping preserve Netanyahu’s fragile rule. The Labor leader seems determined that wherever Netanyahu is weak, he can be weaker.

An earlier version of this article appeared on The Middle East Eye 

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Ultra-Orthodox paper photoshops women out of gov’t portrait http://972mag.com/ultra-orthodox-paper-photoshops-women-out-of-govt-portrait/106965/ http://972mag.com/ultra-orthodox-paper-photoshops-women-out-of-govt-portrait/106965/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 17:34:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106965 Yom-LeYom, the official weekly of the Shas party, published the traditional group portrait of the cabinet and the president this morning — with one notable amendment: Ministers Miri Regev (Culture), Ayelet Shaked (Justice) and Gila Gamliel (Immigrant Absorption and, you guessed it, Gender Equality) were all airbrushed out.

Here is the original:

The 34th Government of Israel (GPO)

And here is the Shas version:

Yom LeYom, the Shas party's weekly paper, airbrushes the three female ministers out of the government portrait.

Although there is no specific instruction in Jewish law that bans pictures of women, many ultra-Orthodox publications err on the side of caution so as not, um, lead their readers into temptation. Haredi media famously censored pictures of the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march in Paris, clumsily photoshopping leaders like Angela Merkel out of the front row. The Israeli media responded with a predictable flurry of memes, from the dramatic:

By Uri Breitman (Facebook)

to the hyper-realistic:

By Irit Barton Goldenberg (Facebook)

By Irit Barton Goldenberg (Facebook)

The censoring of the group portrait is odious enough, but take a look at the original again: despite this Knesset having more women that the previous one, Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to compose a government made up of 21 ministers, in which only three are women. Only one, Shaked, is senior enough to sit at the cabinet table. As is often the case in Netanyahu’s Israel, the big picture is hardly an improvement on the small.

Related:
Shas’ stunning election ad is a challenge to both Right and Left
Can a feminist Mizrahi woman find her political home in Shas?

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With friends like these: How Netanyahu walked all over his closest ally http://972mag.com/with-friends-like-these-how-bibi-walked-all-over-his-closest-allies/104638/ http://972mag.com/with-friends-like-these-how-bibi-walked-all-over-his-closest-allies/104638/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 00:43:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104638 Netanyahu’s crushing victory wasn’t so much over the Left, which never stood much of a chance to begin with. His true and ruthless triumph was over the Right, and especially over one man — his closest ally, Naftali Bennett. 

It is difficult to describe Netanyahu’s victory in Tuesday’s elections as anything other than stunning. Stunning not so much for the fact that he had won — this much was reluctantly accepted among most observers throughout the election season. The true shock came as the sheer scope of Netanyahu’s victory was revealed – 30 seats to Herzog’s 24, dramatically strengthening the prime minister’s hand in coalition bargaining and reasserting him as Israel’s shrewdest and most brutal political operator. This victory was achieved not so much at the expense of the Left — indeed, very few seats moved from the “nationalist” to the “leftist” bloc. The real loser in these elections was Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s closest natural ally.

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett campaigning. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett campaigning. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Of all the parties that went into these elections, Bennett arguably fared the worst, as far as distance between expectation and results is concerned. When the election was announced, Bennett’s Jewish Home was widely anticipated to gain as many as 17 to 19 seats, becoming the second or third largest party in the Knesset and bringing the settler movement a new level of mainstream legitimacy in Israel. The prospect attracted prominent public figures to the party, making it seem like the only one with any momentum in an initially dreary and uninspiring election season.

Bennett’s own goal

Reality, however, proved more mundane. Bennett was quickly hamstrung by his own comrades, who reminded him their party is composed of several factions — most of which are significantly more religious and conservative than the chair. The primary elections, despite Bennett’s best efforts, produced a remarkably stale and old-fashioned list of candidates, instantly stalling the momentum Bennett was enjoying at this point. Then, in a desperate bid to expand the party’s reach beyond the religious-nationalist settlements that were its primary base, Bennett reached out to an unlikely recruit — former football star Eli Ohana, a moderate Mizrahi Likudnik with no previous experience in politics. Despite his lack of experience, Ohana was offered the coveted 11th place on the slate, thought at the time to be safely electable, at the expense of many prominent new members who failed to obtain an electable seat in the primaries.

The move backfired spectacularly, in every direction. Ashkenazi conservatives were miffed by the introduction of a Mizrahi; heavyweights were shocked to have been passed over for political newbie. The far-right of the party was aghast that the red carpet was rolled out to someone who publicly supported the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And worst of all, actual and potential Mizrahi voters saw the move for what it was — cheap, transparent and condescending tokenism. Ohana’s political career lasted all of 72 hours before he quietly withdrew, but the damage was done. A significant proportion of Bennett’s voters returned to the Likud; others defected to Yachad, a fringe ultra-right party that ended just a few thousand votes short of the electoral threshold.

[tmwinpost]

Trailing in the polls but still vying for some of the same constituencies as Netanyahu, Bennett found himself in a direct and unseemly tug-of-war with the prime minister. After several rounds of mutual mud-slinging, Netanyahu finally settled on smothering his ally with brotherly love. For the past two weeks, Netanyahu’s relentless message was this: Bennett is my natural ally. The very first phone call I will make after I am elected prime minister will be to Bennett. His place in the next cabinet is assured, no matter how many votes he gets. But for that cabinet to happen, we need a strong Likud. Only a strong Likud can guarantee a right-wing government, and only a right-wing government will have a need for Bennett. Therefore, if you want Bennett in government, you should vote for me, instead.

Bennett tried fighting back, but to no avail – especially after Netanyahu renounced the two-state solution on the eve of the elections, eviscerating Bennett’s claim to being the only politician to openly oppose partition. The cannibalization was so transparent that Jewish Home ended up embracing it. On Tuesday night, as the scale of Bennett’s collapse became evident, his number two, Ayelet Shaked, used a metaphor familiar from military training to depict her party’s loss as an act of self-sacrifice. The national-religious community, she said, shouldered Netanyahu’s stretcher; forfeiting any chance of winning the race but making sure the team, the nationalist camp, made it through to the finishing line. On Wednesday, Bennett took up the same line, professing exuberance at the spectacular victory of the nationalist camp as a whole and belittling his own losses.

Promises, promises

It is reasonable to assume Netanyahu will stand by his promise to honor Bennett with a senior cabinet post — if only because the constituencies of the two parties are fluid, and he doesn’t want to alienate Bennett sympathizers after having just won them over. But Bennett’s dismal showing doesn’t entitle him to ask for much, either. It is still possible that Netanyahu will give him the foreign ministry, if only to push the envelope further vis-a-vis the U.S. and the European Union, if this is what he wants to do. Or else he could give him the defense ministry, in case he wants to cut the incumbent, Moshe Ya’alon, down to size and preclude him from any thoughts of someday contesting the Likud leadership. But the defense ministry is the most prestigious post in cabinet; it’s hard to see how Bennett’s paltry eight seats entitle him to that much. It is more likely he will be given the same portfolio as he held before, that of the economy minister (junior to, and not to be confused with the finance minister, which is all but certain to go to Moshe Kahlon.)

It is still too soon to tell whether this defeat will speed Bennett’s personal demise, or allow him to turn on the conservatives in his own party, correctly blaming them for the rout. But it is clear that he can no longer claim to be the most powerful champion of the settler movement, or the new hope of the right. At least for the time being, the prime minister has reclaimed both titles.

An earlier version of this article appeared on The Middle East Eye.

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Jewish nationalism and the new Palestinian politics in Israel http://972mag.com/jewish-nationalism-and-the-new-palestinian-politics-in-israel/104468/ http://972mag.com/jewish-nationalism-and-the-new-palestinian-politics-in-israel/104468/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:34:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104468 It seems somehow difficult to remember now, but the Israeli general elections were announced on the crest of a tidal wave of nationalist hostilities — unusually pronounced even by the standards of Israel-Palestine. This past summer, rogue Palestinian militants abducted and killed three Israeli teenagers from a hitchhiking post outside a West Bank settlement. When they were found, a clique of young Israelis kidnapped a Palestinian boy, beat him, and burned him alive.

The weeks that followed were replete with incidents of Jews and Arabs coming to blows in cafes, on public transport and on the street; a longstanding neighborly dispute between Palestinian families and ultra-Right Israeli Jews in Jaffa nearly bubbled over into a full scale riot and was only quelled by a timely intervention of imams from the neighborhood mosque and the police.

A memory that seems to stick to many Israelis from that summer, is that of the very ground slipping under their feet; for a few moments the country seemed on the brink of an unprecedented collapse into grassroots violence along the lines of Kenya in 2007, underlining how intermingled Jews and Palestinians have become in recent years — perhaps more so that at any time since the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987 — and yet how alien and threatening they were to each other all the same.

The tension eventually found release in the devastation of the Gaza war, with the more traditional purveyors of violence — the Israeli government and Hamas — reasserting their respective monopolies. The prospect of ethnic strife within Israel proper receded somewhat, but was soon supplanted by political violence, with right-wing demonstrators repeatedly attacking left-wing protesters against the war, both at the protests and afterwards, away from the police, on the streets.

The wave of nationalism did not stop on street level. One of the last pieces of the legislation slated for vote before the Knesset broke up for early elections was the Jewish Nation-State Law. The bill, drafted by the Institute for Zionist Studies and originally sponsored by center-right Kadima before being adopted in its latest incarnation by the Likud-led government, aimed to constitutionally ground Israel’s Jewish character.

Among other things, the law would spell out the exclusivity of national self-determination within Israel as belonging exclusively to the Jews; would entrench the Law of Return, which effectively allows only Jews to immigrate to Israel, but which has not enjoyed the status of a Basic Law until now; would designate Hebrew as the only official language of the state (today Hebrew shares that status with Arabic); would formalize religious law as a legitimate source for resolving judicial conflicts (albeit as a last resort, after legislation, precedent and deduction).

The Nation State Law was a reaction to the political and national awakening of Palestinians of ’48. Hassan Jabareen

The bill is particularly notable for what it omits; in particular, it abandons the long-standing formula of “Jewish and democratic state,” in favor of a more ambiguous “state whose regime is democratic.”

The bill was enthusiastically cheered by the right-wing parties, but opposed by the center and center-left — most of whom argued that sidelining democracy was dangerous, and the underscoring of Jewish preeminence in Israel was an overstatement of the obvious — a defense that did little to quell contribute to the alarm of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The rift that opened up between the more nationalist and the more centrist elements in Netanyahu’s government contributed to his assessment that the coalition was no longer governable, which he cited as the reason for calling new general elections just two years into a four-year term.

Right-wing nationalists attacking left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists, with little police interference. Three activists were injured and one right-wing person was arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing nationalists attacking left-wing activists during a protest in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists, with little police interference. Three activists were injured and one right-wing person was arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Yet despite all this — the murders, the war, the street clashes and the nationalist legislation — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict occupied curiously little space in the three months of electioneering now coming to a close. Polls have shown repeatedly that Israelis are more than twice as concerned about the economy as they are about the conflict (48 percent and 19 percent in a mid-February Times of Israel poll). Benjamin Netanyahu, who has little to show on either topic, filibustered most of the way through election season by talking endlessly the one issue on which he has a complete monopoly — the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu’s main challengers from the left, the Zionist Union, focused on the economy, and on making their candidate, Isaac Herzog, look prime-ministerial — which in the Israeli political vocabulary, means talking tough about Arabs. But even Herzog’s tough talk was generic, without touching directly on the Israeli Palestinian conflict; you would need to dig very deep indeed to find direct references to the occupation, or to the peace process. The received wisdom was that conflict is simply not what these elections are about.

Nevertheless, once you stop looking for this particular articulation of nationalism — the question of Palestinian self-determination and Israel’s denial of it — it soon becomes clear that nationalism, even if not the question of the occupation, permeates the campaign system as thoroughly as it did this past summer. Rather than being a wedge issue in the campaigns, it seems to have defined them.

“Social issues came up more than before, but the nationalist agenda, which was completely dormant in the 2013 elections, definitely took center stage again,” says geographer Oren Yiftachel, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and author of the book (and of the term) “Ethnocracy.” You had the Herzog-Livni alliance choosing to name themselves ‘The Zionist Camp.’ Then you had the Joint List, which is expressing a Palestinian national identity — something that doesn’t bother the Right at all. If anything it makes them happy. It is the Left that needs the Palestinians to take power but can’t bring itself to strike up an alliance with them.

“You had very pronounced nationalism further on the right, of course, from Eli Yishai to Liberman, with his extremely blatant language — calling for capital punishment for terrorists, dubbing Haneen Zoabi a traitor, calling all Arabs in Israel a ‘fifth column,’ and so on. Even the Mizrahi emphasis in the Shas campaign signals nationalist thinking,” adds Yiftachel.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

What truly appears to be missing from these elections is not so much the conflict, but rather any substantive advocacy for a two-state solution. That Netanyahu is not championing partition is self-explanatory — especially as he formally buried it hours before the polls opened, saying in an interview that if he is reelected there will be no Palestinian state. For those still championing partition, however, it was the Left’s silence on the matter that was particularly disconcerting.

“The two-state solution was absent from these elections for two reasons, explains settler leader Dani Dayan, a former Yesha Council chairman and briefly a contender in the current elections. “One, the parties that set the tone in these elections, the Zionist Camp especially, realized that this is a weak spot for them and so they preferred to talk about other issues. But secondly, it’s clear to just about everyone that it’s not going to happen. Whoever is elected as prime minister will be faced with extremely limited diplomatic options. The differences between Netanyahu, parties to his left and parties to his right are small to non-existent.”

As things stand, the chances for a U-turn toward the two-state solution in any recognizable form really do appear very slim. Despite a last minute surge in the polls for Herzog, the consensus on the eve of the elections was that Netanyahu was still the likeliest candidate to compose the next government. Even if Herzog succeeds Netanyahu, however, he will only have done so thanks to a center-right campaign that avoided the Palestinian issue like the plague. More importantly still, he will only be able to compose a coalition by relying on parties to his own right, especially if Meretz falls short of the electoral threshold. He will not have the popular or political mandate to take any dramatic steps, especially with a Palestinian Authority on the brink of a legitimacy crisis and a Middle East spinning increasingly out of balance, making Israelis even more distrustful than they normally are, and making the relatively stagnant and low-intensity conflict with the Palestinians appear a lot less urgent.

Which brings us back to the Jewish Nation-State Law. The cultural and political revival among Palestinian citizens of Israel — or Palestinians of ’48, as many prefer to be called — could not be in sharper contrast to the increasingly catatonic Palestinian Authority. The most triumphant stand-off between Palestinians and the Israeli state in recent years wasn’t in the West Bank or even in Gaza — where dogged resistance by Hamas has only achieved a return to the antebellum, at the price of enormous devastation still exacting a toll from Gazans. It was near the town of Hura in the Negev. Young Palestinians of ’48 — middle-class students from the Galilee and the big cities, locked arms with Bedouin community leaders and organizers, as well as several dozens of Jewish leftist activists, and clashed with police, protesting the Prawer plan to forcibly urbanize the Negev Bedouin, the largest displacement campaign initiated in Israel since 1948. To the surprise of everyone, not least the organizers, the protest worked — dealing a blow to the Prawer from which it has yet to recover. It increasingly seems the contestation between Israel and the Palestinians is no longer contained by the Green Line, which is swiftly becoming irrelevant geopolitically.

Youth protest against the Prawer Plan in the Negev city of Hura, November 30, 2013. (Activestills.org)

Youth protest against the Prawer Plan in the Negev city of Hura, November 30, 2013. (Activestills.org)

This process goes both ways — if anything, Israel’s rightist governments can claim much of the credit and the initiative. “The Nation State Law was a reaction to the political and national awakening of Palestinians of ’48 who began demanding their civil and collective rights, including through detailed Vision Documents,” says Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, the preeminent civil rights organization of the Palestinian minority in Israel. “Kadima, and later Likud, began passing laws meant to reinforce the ethnic Jewish character of Israel. Most of these laws were directed specifically against the Arab citizens, and were meant not so much to be enforced as to send a message.”

There is recognition that the struggle for Palestine is not just about ‘67 but also ’48.Dianna Buttu

In 2011, the Knesset passed the so-called Nakba Law, which sanctions state-sponsored schools and institutions for commemorating Israel’s systematic expulsion and displacement of Palestinians that began in 1948. “The law has never been enforced. So why pass it? To send a message of superiority. To remind us who is it that really sets the agenda, and how easy it is to infringe on constitutional rights, like the right to free speech, in the name of preserving Jewish hegemony in the state.” The same is true, Jabareen says, about the Admission Committees Law, which permits small communities inside Israel proper to refuse to admit non-Jewish residents. “The Nation-State Law is a continuation of that. Its purpose is declarative, not operative. All the values it sanctions are already there, in practice and in law.”

A Palestinian photographer standing during a minute of silence commemorating the Nakba, as part of a ceremony that was held by Palestinian and Israeli students in the entrance to the Tel Aviv University, May 13, 2013. A right wing demonstration was held against the ceremony, as the protesters were shouting slogans against the participants, under police surveillance. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian photographer standing during a minute of silence commemorating the Nakba at Tel Aviv University, May 13, 2013. A right wing demonstration was held against the ceremony. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

“The Liberman-Netanyahu government didn’t have much else to do in the West Bank,” he concludes. Now is the time of a shift of the conflict from the spaces and paradigms of ’67 — Gaza, West Bank, the two-state solution — to the spaces and paradigms of ’48, the entirety of Israel-Palestine and the question of the relationship between Palestinians and Jews across the entire space.

“There was a lull that began in 1948 and lasted up until the 1990s,” says Jabareen. “But the successive right-wing governments since then all seem keen to communicate that the problem is what happened in 1948, not what happened in 1967. And the same shift is happening among Palestinians, although it depends where and how. As far as one and two states are concerned — there is still not a single serious party in Israel that raises this demand, for a single state. The single state does not yet have a credible, powerful agent, like Balad, or Hadash, or the Islamic Movement. But at the same time, the Palestinian connection is growing stronger. People go to Ramallah to work. There are economic relationships, cultural ties. Ramallah never seemed as close to Haifa as it is now.”

“I think that there has been a recognition that the struggle for Palestine is not just about ‘67 but is also about ’48,” says Diana Buttu, herself a ’48 Palestinian and a former negotiator, legal advisor and spokesperson for the PLO. “I hear this often: the only scope for movement is in ’48 and not in ’67.”

The Arabs are still in the process of discovering that they do, in fact, have power.Hassan Jabareen

Dayan, who is seen by many as a member of the annexationist one-state camp, has recently published a “non-reconciliation” plan that offers to postpone the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of focusing on incremental, short-term improvements to the quality of life and freedom of movement of Palestinians, coupled with direct involvement into low-level Israeli decision making, but falling short of actual enfranchisement. He is equally circumspect about how the conversation around and about nationalism is going to play out in the next few years.

“I think the discourse will increasingly expand to include various alternative ideas for how to manage and/or resolve the conflict,” Dayan says. “I think the conventional, simplistic visions of one state or two states will fade away.” At the same time, he is wary of giving credence to a rights-based discourse. “I don’t think we’re heading to a conversation of collective rights and how different ethnic groups can divide the country. This kind of discourse will fade as surely as the two-state [discourse] is fading now. With a bit of wishful thinking, I personally hope that the conversation will be more constructive — about how the lives of the two major communities living here can be managed in the best way possible without a conclusive solution to the conflict.”

Palestinians in Bethlehem commemorate the Nakba, May 14, 2013. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians in Bethlehem commemorate the Nakba, May 14, 2013. (Activestills.org)

Both Jabareen and Dayan, each in his own way, are wary to prophesize as to how the emergence of the Joint List — a broad Palestinian unity project that champions Palestinian identity, individual and collective rights, an end to the occupation — can do that within the framework of Israel’s limited parliamentary democracy. Dayan confesses that he is more interested than alarmed to see how Joint List leader Ayman Odeh will fare as the leader of the Knesset’s third largest party and possibly leader of the opposition, but has a good hunch the differences within the Joint List will pull it apart — perhaps even immediately after the elections.

“The Joint List was a reaction to the anti-Arab racism during the war in Gaza and to the elevation of the electoral threshold,” says Jabareen. “People started wondering why we need to invest so much in differences between Islamists and communists when racism doesn’t bother with these distinctions anyway. It’s hard to tell how this will evolve and just what role the List is going to play after the elections. It’s the first time Arabs have run together since 1949. But I think the Arabs are still in the process of discovering that they do, in fact, have power, and that there is, in fact, a political option. Most Palestinians, I think, are in various states of exasperation with politics. An electoral success for the Joint List can revive their faith in political activism and bring back some hope.”

“Inside ’48, Palestinians tend to be a lot more critical about the List and the efficacy of using the Israeli system to challenge Israel,” Buttu says. “Palestinians in the Diaspora seem to think that change is possible and that as the leaders of the opposition, they will be able to effect change.” Alternatively, she adds, “they may be pleased that there is unity inside ’48 where, across the rest of the Palestinian landscape, there seems to be hopeless disunity.”

On the larger scale, rumblings about yet another diplomatic push on behalf of the United States notwithstanding, conclusive solutions certainly never seemed further than they do today.

“Where are we going from here?” wonders Yiftachel. “Ethnocracies like Israel only really change with the aid of external pressure. Even if Herzog is the next prime minister, what can he really do? Create a Palestinian statelet in the West Bank, that will give neither a solution nor even stability, and might trigger a limited civil strife within the Jewish majority itself?

Herzog will not likely make any drastic moves, maintaining the momentum toward a slow descent into official apartheid, Yiftachel continues, adding that there is maybe a chance of progress “if Israel is faced with sanctions, and the Palestinians keep up a non-violent struggle.” But that will take time.

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Behind election lurks Israel’s ethnic divide http://972mag.com/behind-election-lurks-israels-ethnic-divide/104073/ http://972mag.com/behind-election-lurks-israels-ethnic-divide/104073/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 16:29:21 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104073 The use of racially loaded code words at an anti-Netanyahu rally highlights the inter-Jewish racism that has plagued Israeli society and politics since day one. A look at the correlation between ethnic background and voting patterns.

Tens of thousands of people at a demonstration calling to replace Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, March 7, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Tens of thousands of people at a demonstration calling to replace Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, March 7, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night was meant to be a high point of the campaign to oust Israel’s prime minister in next week’s general elections — a last hoorah before a triumphant storming of the polls. But as such events go, it left a lot to be desired. The turnout was unimpressive, the speakers predictable, and the mood, attendees reported after the event, was surprisingly lethargic.

The reason Israelis are still talking about the rally days later is not because of a passionate speech delivered by the former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Meir Dagan, but rather because of a highly embarrassing – and potentially, electorally damaging – speech by an artist and frequent Haaretz contributor, Yair Garboz.

Garboz opened the rally by describing how he viewed Israel with Netanyahu at the helm, indulging in a popular habit of attributing the most extreme aberrations and abuses of powers to a tiny, unrepresentative minority.

They told us that the man who killed the [former] prime minister [Rabin] was part of a delusional, tiny handful of individuals,” he said. “They told us he was under the influence of rabbis detached from reality, part of the crazy margins. They said those of yellow shirts with black badges, who shout “death to Arabs”, are a tiny handful. They told us the thieves and the bribe-takers are only a handful. That the corrupt are no more than a handful…. the talisman-kissers, the idol-worshippers and those bowing and prostrating themselves on holy tombs  - only a handful… then how is that this handful rules over us? How did this handful quietly become a majority?

WATCH: Yair Garboz speaks at the anti-Netanyahu rally [Hebrew]

In the heated discussion that ensued, Garboz insisted he wasn’t referring to anyone of any particular ethnic origin. But to most Israelis, the phrase about “talisman-kissers” and “tomb worshippers” was as much a dogwhistle phrase as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remarks, a few weeks earlier, that Obama “wasn’t brought up the way [you and I were]” was to black Americans. Some Ashkenazi Jews do all of the above too, usually in connection to the tomb of the 19th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslaw in Uman, Ukraine. But talismans and pilgrimages are a well-known staple in the lives of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries – also known as Mizrahim.

[tmwinpost]

Although many Israelis — usually Ashkenazi European Jews, descendants of the founding elites of the state — like to portray Israel as a “melting pot,” the story of Mizrahi Jews in Israel is one of fierce and relentless discrimination. When they arrived, usually as refugees driven from Arab countries by the far ripples of the war of 1948, the Labor Zionist governments of the time ensured Mizrahim were housed in camps and far-flung frontier settlements, denied jobs and robbed of their tremendous cultural heritage. They were even violently shamed out of speaking their native Arabic. The bubbling indignation and discontent at this treatment found its outlet over 20 years later, when Mizrahi voters ousted a Labor government to replace it, for the first time, with the Likud.

Jewish immigrants from Yemen at a camp near Rosh Ha’ayin. (Photo: GPO)

Jewish immigrants from Yemen at a camp near Rosh Ha’ayin. (Photo: GPO)

The Likud’s liberal-capitalist approach opened a path for many Mizrahim through the hitherto tightly controlled nepotist economy set up by the Labor Zionists. The same Labor party today tends to frown on any mention of the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide, insisting it is a thing of the past and that bringing it up today is divisive and inappropriate.

But the Likud emphasized individual opportunity rather than collective rights, and this being the case, never bothered with affirmative action or far-reaching systemic reforms; it made it easier for ambitious individuals to overcome discrimination, but did not do nearly enough to prevent the discrimination in the first place.

To this day, a Mizrahi child is much more likely than an Ashkenazi one to be sent to a “vocational” school, which condemns him to a career of skilled menial labor. Despite tremendous advances in recent years — no thanks to any left-wing party – Mizrahim are still badly under-represented in upper-middle class professions and in academia.

Garboz’s remarks were not merely patronizing and prejudiced, throwing such innocuous — and to many, cherished — experiences as pilgrimage into the same category as corruption, genocidal racism and murder. They also highlighted a tremendously important and painful political divide that usually goes unseen by foreign observers: Israeli voters attribute considerable importance to the ethnic affiliation of a party, even if it is not explicitly stated. This affiliation tends to be almost as decisive as a party’s political stance.

A week before the rally, this all too frequently ignored reality was confirmed by a rare survey broadcast by Channel 10 that asked for whom Ashkenazis and Mizrahis intended to vote. The resulting division could not be clearer: 55 percent of the potential voters who support the Zionist Camp, which is the current standard bearer of Labor Zionism, are Ashkenazi, and only 22 percent are Mizrahi.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon (Photo by Activestills.org)

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon (Photo by Activestills.org)

Among the voters for the Zionist Camp’s more liberal cousin, Meretz, whose stronghold is among Tel Aviv academics, professionals and members of kibbutzim, 69 percent are Ashkenazi and 12 percent are Mizrahi. The Jewish Home, a product of the historic Ashkenazi Religious Zionist movement, has 46 percent Ashkenazi voters and 31 percent Mizrahim; its reputation among Mizrahim was damaged further when chairman Naftali Bennett recruited and then dumped former soccer star Eli Ohana, in a move that was widely perceived as blatant tokenism. Yesh Atid, an “apolitical” centrist capitalist party appealing to Israel’s urban young professionals, has 51 percent Ashkenazi voters and 29 percent Mizarhi.

Meanwhile, Likud, the original vehicle of Mizrahi electoral awakening, boasts the most equal division between the two communities, with 41 percent Ashkenazi voters and 39 percent Mizrahi. Kulanu, a centrist party led by a prominent Mizrahi, ex-Likud politician Moshe Kahlon, comes close to the Likud balance with 36 percent Ashkenazi voters and 42 percent Mizrahi. Shas, the only party so far to bill itself as a party by Mizrahim for Mizrahim, specifically, ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews, boasts 75 percent Mizrahim among its voters and only 5 percent Ashkenazis.

These results are further borne out by the voting data from the 2013 elections, processed into map form by the Madlan real estate portal. Hover over Tel Aviv, its northern suburbs or any of the kibbutzim that dot the map, and you will see overwhelming votes for Labor, Meretz and Yesh Atid. Look over Tel Aviv’s poorer southern suburbs, like Bat Yam and Rishon Letzion, or over the far-flung “development towns” where the original Mizrahi immigrants were shunted, and see the color change to blue, with overwhelming votes for right-wing parties or Shas.

Israeli left-wingers who like to claim that intra-Jewish discrimination is a thing of the past also like to wonder loudly — and often sneeringly — why the poorest Israelis continue to vote for Netanyahu, even though his ultra-capitalist economic policies hurt them first. The question should rather be who and what they are voting against, and how the left-wing parties can begin to recognize and address these grievances, past and present.

An earlier version of this post appeared on The Middle East Eye.

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Netanyahu: Two-state solution is off the table, kinda http://972mag.com/netanyahu-two-state-solution-is-off-the-table-kinda/103982/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-two-state-solution-is-off-the-table-kinda/103982/#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2015 20:16:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103982 The Israeli prime minister moves closer than ever to officially declaring an end to the two-state solution. He doesn’t say it explicitly, but there are only so many eulogies a political paradigm can sustain before it expires. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University. (Photo Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University. (Photo Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that his  commitment to a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was no longer relevant.

The statement was released by the prime minister’s Likud party following the circulation of a synagogue newsletter, which catalogued the different parties’ stances on a Palestinian state. The newsletter claimed the prime minister announced that his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, where he made the commitment, was “null and void,” and emphasized that Netanyahu’s entire political biography was “opposition to the Palestinian state.”

After initially attributing the comment to MK Tzipi Hotovely and denying she represented anyone’s position but her own, the Likud changed tack Sunday evening. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in the present situation in the Middle East, any vacated territory will be immediately overtaken by radical Islam and terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran,” a party statement read. “For this reason, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions, this is simply irrelevant.”

Netanyahu has already made comments that amount to a practical rejection of a sovereign Palestinian state — most notably last summer, when he stressed that he does not see a scenario in which the IDF no longer maintains a presence in the West Bank. But between them, the two statements could amount to the first time since the Bar-Ilan speech that Netanyahu and the Likud outright rejected the very notion of Palestinian statehood. It is certainly being interpreted as a  of policy by many Israel-watchers.

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These Israel-watchers are almost certainly jumping the gun.The new statement allows the prime minister considerable leeway: if he ever desires to get on board with yet another American attempt at a peace process, or to outmaneuver his rightist allies by swinging toward the center, Netanyahu could still stress the semantic difference between the comments attributed to Hotovely and those attributed to him. While Hotovely rejected the Palestinian state outright, Netanyahu’s statement on Sunday did not mention a Palestinian state, and did not say it is off the agenda. Rather, the latest Netanyahu statement says that the current regional situation makes a mockery of any plan to withdraw IDF forces from any territory. At the moment, however, his comment reads more like a reiteration of Hotovely’s statement than a modification of it, and for good reason.

(Update: Netanyahu’s Prime Minister’s Office has since denied that he made the second part of the statement released by Netanyahu’s own Likud party, but reinforced the first part of the statement. In other words, the prime minister is sticking by his explanation of why he won’t concede any territory in the West Bank, he just isn’t explicitly following through and saying he won’t do it.)

The context in which both statements should be read  is Israel’s looming general election, and Netanyahu’s increasing shift of attention away from his challengers on the center-left, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, and toward his main rival on the Right, Naftali Bennett. For the past few weeks, Netanyahu and Bennett have been locked in an increasingly tight, and occasionally petty, tug-of-war, with each trying to scrape a seat or two from the other. (Even Netanyahu’s insistence on making the Iran speech in Congress last week owes something to this tactical rivalry: his main aim in going through with the speech was not so much winning new seats as not losing any to Bennett.)

Netanyahu and Bennet are not actually polling anywhere near the same numbers — Likud consistently polls at 23-24 seats compared to Bennett’s 12-13. But both leaders vehemntly argue that one or two more seats for either party can make all the difference. Netanyahu claims that a vote for Bennett reduces the odds of a outright Likud victory and increases the chances of a Labor-led government. Bennett claims that without a strong showing for his Jewish Home party, Netanyahu will reach out to the Zionist Union and pivot Israel sharply back toward Oslo.

This argument came to a head late last week with the release of old negotiating documents allegedly demonstrating Netanyahu’s readiness to agree to pre-’67 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. While the Israeli public did not seem immediately impressed — the negotiations, after all, ended in a failure, and what is an old piece of paper next to Netanyahu’s emphatic and well-publicized intransigence on the Palestinian front? — Bennett went all in.

On Friday, Bennett published a passionate Facebook post, saying that “the document is real,” and that a coalition with Labor would put Israel was on the brink of a disastrous withdrawal from the West Bank. Only a strong Jewish Home can pull it from the brink. Only the Jewish Home, he concluded, has explicitly opposed any kind of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s decision to go with, rather than against, Hotovely’s comments made to an obscure synagogue newsletter, reflects his fear of being decisively outflanked by Bennet just over a week before the elections. Whatever else, Bennett’s monopoly on open opposition to Palestinian statehood has been broken.

All this should be taken with a pinch of salt: Labor has been in most right-wing coalitions since 2000, and has never affected the peace process one iota. In fact, it served as fig leaf for Ariel Sharon’s dismantlement of the Oslo accords’ meager accomplishments. The current incarnation of Labor, the Zionist Camp, does not even pretend to have the peace process on its agenda, and Herzog is taking great pains to sound as similar to Netanyahu as possible. A pivot toward partition is as unlikely in such a coalition as it would be in another Netanyahu-Bennet government, which is also a very reasonable scenario.Election banner - newMoreover, in every conceivable practical sense, the two-state solution is already dead and rotting, with Netanyahu having driven whatever nails remained into its coffin over the last five years of his premiership. The solution exists solely as an article of faith, which is why an official declaration of its demise by one or more parties to the conflict can seem like a big deal.

In a simpler world, Netanyahu’s statement would be answered with Mahmoud Abbas slamming the proverbial keys on the table and inviting Netanyahu to come up with an alternative. In reality, the only thing that sustains the incumbent Palestinian leadership is the notion that an independent Palestinian state is still possible. So barring a spontaneous implosion (triggered, for instance, by Israel overplaying its hand in withholding Palestinian tax money), the Palestinian Authority will continue hankering for a two-state solution long after the Israeli leadership has walked away.

So even if Netanyahu was as unequivocal as he purports to be, his comments are not likely to make a great difference in the short term.

What Sunday’s statement can do, however, is to feed the incremental but accelerating process of airing alternatives to partition. If Netanyahu does not get on board with the Nth American negotiation proposal there will, over time, be more and more space for propositions on what the Israeli endgame in the Occupied Territories should be, sans two-state solution.

It’s not very likely such a proposal will come from Netanyahu himself — he, after all, has made it his policy to operate on the basis of the status quo, not constraining himself with any long-term commitments. Still, his statement on Sunday, especially if taken at face value by a sufficient number of people, can help drive Israeli political discourse further toward not only ignoring the two state paradigm, but actually replacing it.

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