+972 Magazine » Dimi Reider http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:41:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 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).


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.

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.


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.


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.


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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WATCH: The most anti-Semitic Israeli cartoon ever made? http://972mag.com/watch-the-most-anti-semitic-israeli-cartoon-ever-made/102698/ http://972mag.com/watch-the-most-anti-semitic-israeli-cartoon-ever-made/102698/#comments Sat, 14 Feb 2015 20:48:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102698 [This post has been updated]

The Samaria Settler Council — an organization representing Israeli settlements in northern West Bank — has just uploaded a pretty jaw-dropping piece of propaganda. It’s subtitled in English and really needs to be seen to be believed. But in case you don’t want to do it to yourselves, it shows a wealthy European named Herr Stürmer (get it?) tossing shiny Euro coins to a hook-nosed, vicious character referred to only as “ze Jew.”

“Ze Jew” is paid by his master (whose face is obscured by a newspaper parodying Haaretz headlines on Israeli human rights abuses) to besmirch Israel, its soldiers and its settlers. At the end, when Herr Stürmer has no further use for him, “ze Jew” obligingly hangs himself (got that one?). The depiction of the dissenting and/or diasporic Jew as identical to the anti-Semitic caricature is a sadly familiar trope of Zionist nationalism, dating all the way back to the earliest days of the movement. The punchline is supposed to be that this is the same hooked-nosed, money-grabbing, media-manipulator that European paymasters have always seen in the Jews. But the cartoon was not drawn by Europeans — it was conceived, drawn and paid for by Israelis, for Israelis, about Israelis.

One can only wonder how right wingers, of all people, have the gall to call critics of Israeli policies ”self-hating Jews”.

UPDATE: The Samaria Settler Council is a non-profit, but most of its funds comes from the Samaria Regional Council, which is an elected local authority (confusing, I know). As Labor MK Stav Shaffir wrote to her followers on Saturday night, “In case you were wondering who was sponsoring that filth, the answer is: you” – some NIS 1.3 million of taxpayer money in the last year alone, according to Shaffir.

Since going online, the video has been lambasted by just about everyone, including settler leaders. Danny Dayan, one-time chair of Yesha Council and number one advocate for the settlement movement, stressed the Council does not represent him, while Naftali Bennett tried to place some distance between himself and the video, albeit obliquely.

“I think the clip is inappropriate,” Bennet told Army Radio. “The content, incidentally, is very true: Europe funds organizations that harm IDF soldiers, and that’s a fact. I think this should be dealt with through legal means. I’m generally against using Nazi allegories.” Later on Sunday, even the Samaria Regional Council itself professed revulsion with the clip.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Samaria Settler Council, Benny Katzover, doubled down behind the video, saying the uncut version was even harsher. “It had much stronger imagery because the picture of leftist organizations courting the greatest anti-Semites is an outrageous one,” he said to the same radio station. “But we knew that the Israeli public, which isn’t really aware of what is going on, can’t really take overdoses all at once [sic], so we softened it up.”

Morbid curiosity abounds.

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WATCH: Shas’ stunning election ad is a challenge to both Right and Left http://972mag.com/watch-shas-stunning-electoral-ad-is-a-challenge-to-both-right-and-left/101482/ http://972mag.com/watch-shas-stunning-electoral-ad-is-a-challenge-to-both-right-and-left/101482/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 19:36:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101482 The ultra-Orthodox party, which has drifted far to the right over the past several years, reaches out to the all the Israelis who are not middle-class – which is to say, the majority. 

Shas, the party founded by the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and today led by Rabbi Aryeh Deri, is usually seen as the narrowly-sectorial party of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox. Even the kingmaker status it had enjoyed for nearly two decades is usually (and rather haughtily) ascribed by commentators to their ability to march a docile and obedient religious minority to the polling stations, rather than to broad popular appeal. But the launch of the new election campaign this past weekend signals a strike both against this traditional image – and against the middle-class focus that will likely be a key feature of the 2015 general election campaign:

The message of the ad should be painfully obvious to any of the several parties pretending to the banner of social justice, yet Shas is the first to say it outloud: yes, the middle class has had it tough, but no, they are not remotely the worst off. The ad also throws down the gauntlet to the big parties in terms of representation: the characters in the ad are Mizrahi, Ethiopian and Ashkenazi, half men and half women – much more than can be said for the candidate slates of all the other parties. Even more crucial for a party that many secular Israelis identify closely with the religious/secular divide is the fact that not one character in the ad is ultra-Orthodox. The target audience is obviously broader than anything any ultra-Orthodox party tried before.

The ad’s inclusivity is particularly startling when one looks at the other parties hoping to swoop in on the social-economic protest vote. Professor Yossi Yona, the only Mizrahi candidate to run in the Labor party’s primaries (the party is the main contender for the social justice vote) reached number 10 on the list, but was pushed down to a nearly-unelectable number 23, since the kibbutz movement automatically reserves several spots on the list.

The kibbutz movement is still one of the main pillars of the party, which doesn’t so much excuse Yona’s demotion as much as aggravates it. Kibbutzim constitute the core of the increasingly marginalized, old elite that many associate with Labor, and are one of the reasons the party is either loathed or ignored by most Israelis (despite the decade and-a-half that has passed since Labor was tested – and failed – as a ruling party). Yona is one of handful of Mizrahi activists still willing to give the party (which, incidentally, was responsible Mizrahi discrimination to begin with) a second chance, and all he gets for his pains is a kick to the back row. Meretz conference, in which members will elect the candidate list, is still to come, but the party’s realistic spots are still expected to be occupied by a majority of Ashkenazis, perhaps one Mizrahi and one Palestinians – if we should be so lucky. Moshe Kahlon, himself Mizrahi, has yet to reveal his campaign, but has so far been extraordinarily careful in his messaging and seems at risk of stretching his slogans too thin by keeping just about everybody happy. What he should be doing is tapping into how just about everyone in Israel is exasperated and pissed off.

Shas, however, has a lot to answer for and much to prove. As many as six former MKs and ministers of Shas have been convicted of fraud and corruption, including Deri himself. While defenders argue that they are being singled out and that Ashkenazi political figures engaging in similar practices are let off the hook, these recurring scandals help many Israelis ignore the genuine accomplishments of Shas by dismissing the party as kleptocratic and corrupt.

Shas MK Aryeh Deri (Photo by Activstills.org)

Shas MK Aryeh Deri (Photo by Activstills.org)

Secondly, for most of the past 15 years, former Interior Minister Eli Yishai pulled Shas steadily to the right, dumping its traditional welfare-oriented agenda in favor of egging on their electorate to scapegoat the non-voting poor: Palestinians, migrant workers and asylum-seekers. In 2012, Yishai was unceremoniously demoted in order to allow for the return of the party’s legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, who was just coming back from the cold after serving a prison term for corruption, not to mention several years of court-imposed political retirement.

Deri broke hard to the Left, but the electorate did not follow, with Shas just barely holding onto the 11 seats it held under Yishai (and ending up in opposition, to boot). Yishai left Shas ahead of the upcoming elections to set up his own party, and so far he is floundering. After having been ditched by every potential ally and not even projected to pass the electoral barrier, he has done considerable damage to Shas, pushing it to just above the electoral threshold itself. While Shas has somewhat recovered, it is quite clear that a significant proportion of it would-be base is not enamored with the inclusive, broad social-democratic direction taken by Deri.

Finally, Shas is also hobbled by two of its most defining features as an ultra-Orthodox party – hardwired deference to the Council of Sages, a rabbinical committee that directs and instructs the party in lieu of an internal democratic process; and a deliberate lack of representation for women, since the candidate list Shas is putting forward consists of only men. This is the subject of a growing frustration among women Haredi voters, and a jarring contrast to the half male, half female cast of the ad. As comments on Deri’s Facebook post of the ad suggest, both aspects put off many would-be voters on the left side of the political map, who one would expect to be amenable to the new messages.

In other words, many of Shas’s traditional voters don’t like the party’s new direction, while a great deal many of would-be voters don’t think the change of direction is genuine enough.

Still, it would be a mistake to write the ad as a cheap electioneering stunt and the recent shifts within Shas as plus ça change. To start with, the leftist activists crying foul over the ad are simply not its target audience; Shas is not trying to elicit a feeling of charity from the Israeli elite towards the bottom 20 percent – which, incidentally, includes most Palestinian citizens of Israel. Instead it is appealing directly to that 20 percent, right over the heads of the elite. This 20 percent might be far less concerned with the aforementioned shortcomings – not because they don’t care about party democracy or representation for women, but because the hypocrisy and cronyism of Israel’s liberal parties make Shas seem very straightforward in comparison. Activists from the middle class usually have difficulty accepting a rejection of their compassion (and/or genuine solidarity) by minority activists, so expect a lot of indignation in liberal circles toward Shas. Just don’t confuse it with a rejection from the broader Israeli body politic.

And secondly, whatever its recent tribulations, Shas has a place of pride in the Mizrahi history in Israel as the first (and so far only) party to have consistently represented the Mizrahi voice in open defiance of the Ashkenazi establishment. This makes it an ideal platform for the creation of a broad party representing everyone rejected and excluded by said establishment – not just the ultra-Orthodox Sephardis, but Mizrahis generally, and very much beyond.

Shas leaders Ariel Atias, Aryeh Deri and Eli Yisai at the party rally following the elections, January 22, 2013 (photo: Tali Mayer)

Shas leaders Ariel Atias, Aryeh Deri and Eli Yisai at the party rally following the elections, January 22, 2013 (photo: Tali Mayer)

The party’s latest conference, in Ashdod, featured a very unusual guest speaker: Ophir Toubul, editor of radical cultural magazine Café Gibraltar. ”The lower class today has a color,” Touboul said, with Deri sitting to his right. “It is the Mizrahis, the Russians, the Ethiopians, the Druze, the Bedouin, the Arabs… I call on Rabbi Deri to open up the party, to make Shas belong to all the people of Israel, and you might not like what I’m about to say – women, conservatives and seculars, should all be here. What Bennett did in the Jewish Home is what should be done at Shas.” His remarks were met with thunderous applause.

This does not mean Shas will transform overnight into a broad popular party, or that it would be wildly successful even if it did. It does mean that the potential is there, however  - and if nothing else, the campaign launch is a step in the right direction.

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Customer complains about Arab drivers, gets schooled by taxi app http://972mag.com/customer-complains-about-arab-drivers-gets-schooled-by-taxi-app/99272/ http://972mag.com/customer-complains-about-arab-drivers-gets-schooled-by-taxi-app/99272/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 15:01:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99272 At a time when Uber is getting  all the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it is heartening to see another taxi app – GetTaxi,  aka Gett - attracting a very different kind of press. As we reported here last week, businesses across the country are responding to the latest escalation by turning out their Palestinian employees. Last week, a GetTaxi customer, Yael, complained that too many of the drivers who appear on her app when she orders a taxi are Arab. English translation of the exchange follows the screenshot:


Yael: I’m a regular customer whose every ride is with Get Taxi. I stoppppped any order recently it’s an Arab driver!!! As if there aren’t Jewish cabs! Lose, amen!

GetTaxi: Yael, we are a company that believes any person must be respected, anywhere. As you know, Israel has a law that prohibits discrimination by many parameters, including a person’s religion or origin. We test each driver as an individual and according to our company values (reliability, service etc), not according to their origins. Your racist comment is out of place and if this is how you think, you’re completely welcome to give up our services. Especially on days like the ones we are experiencing now, we should be promoting tolerant dialogue, not racism. Shabbat shalom.

Yael: The problem is I’m not the only one who will [cancel]. I’m sure many others who order and see an Arab driver cancel so don’t bullshit me… I’m giving up (canceling)… me and thousands of others!!!!

GetTaxi: Yael, as we said above – you’re welcome to give up [your subscription]. We are a law-abiding company, and please mind your language, or we’ll have to start erasing your comments. Thank you.

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Bill aims to strip citizenship, curb speech — a bellwether of Israel’s Right http://972mag.com/bill-aims-to-strip-citizenship-curb-speech-a-bellwether-of-israels-right/99249/ http://972mag.com/bill-aims-to-strip-citizenship-curb-speech-a-bellwether-of-israels-right/99249/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:15:08 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99249 A senior Likud MK is proposing to suspend much of Israeli democracy. His bill has zero chance of passing muster, but it does show where the Israeli Right thinks the future of the conflict lies. 

MK Yariv Levin (Likud), chairman of the House Parliamentary Committee, is pushing a new directive — temporary legislation — to “combat terrorism” that amounts to perhaps the most sweepingly anti-democratic legislative project in recent years, whether implemented or proposed. The directive is extraordinarily harsh even by Israeli measure, and is almost certainly unconstitutional on several levels. It is meant to apply both to the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel proper.

According to Ynet, the provisions of the bill include:

• “Terrorists,” which includes anyone throwing a Molotov cocktail, will be stripped of their citizenship or residency and expelled to the Gaza Strip.

• Stone throwers, inciters, and anyone displaying the Palestinian flag or flags of terrorist organizations will be arrested and held until trial — without bail.

• Anyone convicted of terrorism will be denied national insurance benefits and will lose their driver’s license for 10 years.

• The homes of accused terrorists’ families will be demolished within 24 hours of the terrorist act.

• Bodies of terrorists will not be delivered to their families, and will be buried secretly, without funeral rites.

• Citizenship/residency will be stripped from family members who express support for the terrorists.

• Businesses that print [sic] publications supportive of terrorism will be shut down.

• Employers summarily firing workers with a record of “security” offenses will not be liable for compensation claims.

The bill is so off the wall that it’s nearly comical. Some details have very little grounding in Israeli law (what constitutes an “inciter,” for instance?) or in 21st century realities (confiscating printing presses? go right ahead.) It also contradicts several basic laws and overrides existing criminal law, which already sets punishments for many of the listed offenses.

That is probably why Levin is  proposing it not as a law in its own right, but as a “temporary directive.” Regardless, it’s highly doubtful it will make it even to a preliminary vote, much less so further down the legislative process — through committees, three more votes, and finally into the books and possible review by the High Court of Justice. In other words, this is more likely to be a spin rather than a legislative proposal: Levin is putting it out there to show how “tough on terrorism” he is,  while relying on his fellow MKs to check his pace. He can then blame these fellow MKs for hampering his efforts and make them look less tough on terror in comparison.

Nevertheless, it is interesting and alarming. A few years ago, such legislative deformities would be produced by the margins of the margins of the Israeli Right — provocateurs like Michael Ben Ari, for instance, who used them mostly to stir controversy and secure some airtime. Yariv Levin, conversely, is a stalwart of the Likud, the former coalition chairman and probably a future minister. The audience he is aiming to impress isn’t radical settlers, but center-right and right-wing voters floating between the Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party. If this is where the center-right is shifting, it doesn’t bode well for anyone.

The specific concern that the legislation pretends to address — while actually fanning it — is more alarming and interesting still, and is revealed in the bill’s frequent references to the revocation of residency and citizenship. These measures are overwhelmingly directed at citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem as opposed to residents of the occupied Palestinian territories; they aim, therefore, to respond to the disquieting realization of many on the Israeli Right that getting rid of the two-state solution did not make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict go away, but rather brought it closer to home. The bill, like many other pieces of far-fetched legislation, is a weather balloon: it is one more early indicator that with the creeping demise of the Palestinian statehood project, the focal point of the struggle is beginning to spread, if not shift, inside the Green Line — with everything that implies for the “Jewish and democratic” state structure.

Read also:
Is the ‘Jewish nation-state’ bill good for anyone at all?
Israel’s UN ambassador puts another nail in the two-state coffin
Israeli gov’t votes to support annexing West Bank settlements

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