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'We don't need a constitution—we have the Bible'

Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee says every piece of legislation should be ‘compatible with Jewish law.’

From the moment Israel’s founding fathers declared the independence of their state, Israeli politicians have been unable to agree on a formal constitution. Although the Declaration of Independence stipulated that a constitution be written by October 1, 1948, the 1948 war—as well as the inability of different groups in Israeli society to agree on the purpose and identity of the state—prevented that from happening.

Every so often the idea of a formal constitution is floated by politicians and civil society, but has never come to fruition. Now, it seems, the idea of preparing a constitution is being rendered redundant by the chairman of the Knesset committee charged with, among other things, determining the constitutionality of proposed Knesset bills.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom daily this week, Nissan Slomiansky, the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, stated that drafting a constitution is unnecessary, since “Israel already has a constitution, the Bible.”

According to Slomiansky (Jewish Home), Knesset legislation should be “compatible with Jewish law,” adding that “there is no reason why this should not be the case.”

Like the United Kingdom, Israel doesn’t have a written constitution, but rather relies on a set of “basic laws” that were built piecemeal since its founding. These laws deal with the formation and role of state’s institutions; the relations between the different state authorities and branches; and they protect civil rights. Basic laws were given constitutional status in a 1992 landmark decision by the Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court at the time, Aharon Barak. Since then, the Supreme Court has asserted its authority to invalidate provisions of Knesset laws it has found to be inconsistent with a basic law—a reality that Slomiansky’s party is working hard to change.

Slomiansky, a founder of Gush Emunim (a Jewish messianic movement that promoted the settlement of Jews in the occupied territories) and former head of the Council of Judea and Samaria (Yesha Council), is one of the key forces pushing for a major overhaul of the court, an institution that he believes is “disconnected from the will of the people.” In essence, however, his goal is to replace its more liberal justices and allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings that strike down anti-democratic legislation. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also from his Jewish...

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Palestinian man killed by IDF jeep, soldiers shoot Gaza man

Abdullah Iyad Ghanayim, 22, was shot in the lower back during clashes before the jeep flipped on top of him and left him dead.

A Palestinian man was killed on Sunday when Israeli soldiers struck him with their jeep during clashes in Kafr Malik, a village near Ramallah.

Palestinian officials stated that the incident took place when local residents threw stones at the Israeli soldiers, and that the victim, 22-year-old Abdullah Iyad Ghanayim, was shot in the lower back during clashes before the jeep lost control and flipped on top of him.

According to the Israeli military, Ghanayim had just thrown a firebomb at the jeep, causing it to swerve out of the way and strike him by accident, Haaretz reported. The jeep flipped over.

The Israeli military also said it was investigating the incident.

According to Ma’an News Agency, local sources said six other Palestinians were injured during the clashes after they were shot by Israeli forces with rubber-coated steel bullets.

Ghanayim is the second Palestinian to die in clashes with Israeli forces in less than a week, after a man was shot dead during a confrontation with the army on Wednesday in Jenin refugee camp.

According to the UN, Israeli soldiers have killed 11 Palestinians in the West Bank since the start of the year.

Ghanayim’s death comes just two days after a video — which has by now gone viral — showed Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian man after he was arrested during a demonstration near Ramallah.

According to Haaretz, clashes that erupted between Palestinians and forces from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in Jalazone refugee camp were caught on video by local Palestinian media.

The footage shows Israeli soldiers repeatedly punching the man and striking him with the butts of their rifles. The soldiers also yelled obscenities at him as he lay on the ground.

WATCH: Soldiers beat Palestinian during protest in Jalazone

Haaretz reports that according initial investigation conducted Saturday morning, the soldier reported the arrest, but failed to mention the events as they were caught on video. The army claims that the beating took place after Palestinians threw stones at soldiers, who in return fired rubber bullets, injuring one Palestinian, and then fired live round into the air in an attempt to disperse what they described as a riot.

Following a more in-depth investigation, however, the IDF...

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Who needs the Right when we have Isaac Herzog?

What is the difference between warning about Arab hordes heading to the polls and warning of Arabs being democratically elected to parliament?

A few days after Benjamin Netanyahu swept the elections — partly attributed to his election-day racist warnings about Israel’s Palestinian minority — I wrote a piece about his rival, Isaac Herzog, who was lugging his own brand of anti-Arab racism along with him on the campaign trail.

Throughout the race, Herzog positioned himself as an alternative to Netanyahu who would reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, save Israel from looming international isolation, and return the country to its rightful place among the community of nations. In reality, Herzog refused to consider forming a coalition with the Joint List, joined the right-wing chorus by voting to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi from the elections, and released a video featuring former intelligence officers lauding him as someone who “understands the Arab mentality,” and who “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations” (including “in the crosshairs”).

Some might counter that in the current climate, a “dovish” underdog has little choice but to turn into a hawk during elections. I accept that premise: politicians always have and always will make election promises they do not keep. But if there was any doubt that a racism lies deep down in Herzog and his ilk, it was belied on Sunday evening when the Zionist Union leader warned attendees at the Herzliya Conference of the “demographic emergency” facing Israel:

There you have it. The leader of the Israeli opposition, the great white hope of the Israeli Left, the man who was supposed to rescue Israel from itself, thinks only Jews are worthy of being elected prime minister in the Jewish and democratic state. What is allowed for Jews is, at best, hardly afforded to Palestinians. At worst, it is a prized possession that must be protected from non-Jews at all costs. After all, what is the difference between warning of Arab hordes heading to the polls and warning of Arabs being democratically elected to parliament?

At this point, Herzog is doing us a favor by making it clear that the issue does not lie specifically with him, or even Netanyahu for that matter. The consensus worldview in Israel — which has historically been propagated by the Zionist Left — is one of separation between Jews and Palestinians. This is...

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WATCH: IDF brings segregated streets back to Hebron

IDF re-segregates main road leading to Cave of the Patriarchs, two years after it ostensibly put an end to the policy.  

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem announced Thursday that the Israeli military has renewed segregation between Jews and Palestinians on the main street leading to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron since January. The military does not allow Palestinians to use the main part of the street and forces Palestinians to use a narrow, unpaved and rough pedestrian passageway.

According to B’Tselem, this policy had been previously implemented between September 2012 to March 2013. It was was temporarily stopped after the organization published a video (above) showing Border Police officers explaining that the main part of the street was for Jews only. The military withdrew the policy only once the video circulated widely and received much media coverage. Until recently, that is.

Since the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, in which an Israeli settler by the name of Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslim worshippers, the Israeli military has adopted an official policy of separating Jews and Muslims in Hebron. However, only Palestinians bear the brunt of this policy, which places them under severe restrictions when it comes to travel and movement in downtown Hebron.

Related:
Prisoners in our own homes: A look at life in occupied Hebron
WATCH: A heartbreaking portrait of life in Hebron, in 9 minutes
Israel’s president went to Hebron for all the wrong reasons

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Every day is Land Day, on both sides of the Green Line

The word ‘occupation’ evokes the West Bank, but the policies of land expropriation and Judaization were perfected inside Israel long before they were used on Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In 2005, Amnon Raz-Karkotzkin, a professor of Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University known to his friends and associates simply as Nono, published a seminal article titled “There is No God, But He Promised Us the Land.” The article, published in Hebrew in Mitaam, an Israeli journal devoted to literature and radical political thought, captured perfectly the spirit of the Zionists who founded the State of Israel. While Judaism may have been the source behind the fervor to re-claim Zion, Nono wrote, those who envisioned and founded the State of Israel only used it inasmuch as it provided them a vehicle for demographic and territorial power in their nascent state.

For instance, the national symbols, created upon the formal establishment of the state, have always been inextricably tied to Judaism. The best example is the national flag, whose double stripes are based on the patterns found on the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). Turning Jewish symbols into national ones was never very difficult; the difficult part was converting the most valuable resource in the country into a national (read: Jewish) asset. That resource, of course, was land.

From the founding of the state until 1966, approximately 90 percent of Palestinian citizens — those who neither fled nor were expelled during the 1948 war — were placed under a military regime. In the Galilee, the Negev and the Triangle, Palestinian citizens (who were given the right to vote in Israeli elections) were subject to a harsh permit regime, strict curfews and very often coerced collaboration (for more, see Hillel Cohen’s “Good Arabs” and Shira Robinson’s “Citizen Strangers”).

It was during this time that Israel’s secular regime expropriated the land of Palestinians refugees who had fled the country as well as much of the land belonging to those who remained. Passing a swath of legislation in the 1950s under the guise of the Absentee Property Law, the new regime transferred land that had — just years earlier — belonged to Palestinians, to the Israel Land Administration. In fact much of the justifications given by Israeli authorities for building settlements in the West Bank are identical to those given for many of the new towns and cities that were built in the years following the...

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When Jewish militants dug underground tunnels

Seventy years ago it was the Zionist militias who dug underground tunnels and hid weapon caches among the civilian population. So why is it so difficult for Israelis to understand when Hamas does the same today?

Whether we like to admit it or not, the Israeli press intentionally ignores the realities of Gaza. One would be hard-pressed to find articles about the fall-out from last summer’s Gaza war, including home reconstruction, destroyed infrastructure, high unemployment rates and the trauma that will likely stay with many of the victims for the rest of their lives.

Even during the war itself, Israel’s biggest television station consciously refrained from showing images of destruction in the Strip in its broadcasts, while the country’s biggest newspaper could barely dedicate a paragraph to the deaths of innocents killed by IDF airstrikes.

It is staggering to think that seven months after Israel embarked on a 54-day military adventure, which led to the deaths of 2,200 Palestinians (500 of whom were children), and 66 Israelis soldiers and five civilians (including one child) — it seems like nothing ever happened.

So when do we hear about Gaza? When Hamas and Fatah go head to head, when the international community fails to make good on its commitments, when Israelis are killed or wounded by Gaza militants or when the army happens to discover a new underground tunnel that it missed during Operation Protective Edge.

* * *

This weekend, while leafing through the Hebrew print edition of Haaretz, an obituary caught my eye. The piece, written by Ofer Aderet, described the life story of Yehudit Ayalon, who was born in Latvia in 1924 and moved to Palestine in 1936. In 1945, two years before the war broke out, Ayalon and a group of her friends from her Zionist youth group were enlisted into the pre-state Haganah militia for a secret mission.

“They didn’t tell us what they wanted us to do,” she said. “They just told us it would be dangerous and secret. We decided to do it, because it was very Zionist. Here I had the opportunity to do something small that would lead to the establishment of the State of Israel.” The group was soon to find out exactly what its top-secret mission was: building an underground bullet factory.

The factory, named “Machon Ayalon,” was established in an...

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Why did we forget about Herzog's anti-Arab campaign?

While commentators will be talking about Netanyahu’s anti-Arab race-baiting for a long time, his opponent’s anti-Arab campaign tactics never stirred up too much controversy. 

There were many reasons why Benjamin Netanyahu galloped to victory in last week’s election. His opponent, Isaac Herzog, was viewed by many as disconnected, elitist and lacking an alternative vision for the future of the country. However, it was Netanyahu’s campaign blitz, which came after polls revealed he was trailing his opponent by four seats, that truly won him the election.

Netanyahu pulled out all the stops, from driving a stake through the two-state solution to calling on his supporters to vote in order to counter “droves of Arabs” who were allegedly being bused to polling stations by foreign-funded left-wing NGOs. Many in Israel, as well as the international community, condemned the prime minister’s comments. After all, this wasn’t the leader of some fringe, right-wing extremist group — this was the prime minister of a state that claims to be both Jewish and democratic.

In classic Netanyahu style, the prime minister tried to backpedal from his remarks during his speech on election night, in which he promised to act as prime minister for all Israeli citizens. But it was too late: Bibi won a landslide victory through acts of shameless race-baiting.

The media, of course, rightfully panned Netanyahu for his remarks. But while Bibi’s racism was clear as day, it was Herzog’s utter indifference toward Israel’s Palestinian minority, not to mention the 47-year military dictatorship in the occupied territories, that received little media attention.

In fact, the only time Herzog’s campaign really made an effort to spotlight Israel’s Arab citizens was in a video featuring IDF veterans who served alongside him in the prestigious Unit 8200, which is part of Israel’s vaunted intelligence corps. In the video, the veterans laud Herzog as someone who “understands the Arab mentality” and “has seen Arabs in all kinds of situations,” including “in the crosshairs.”

WATCH: Unit 8200 support Herzog in election campaign video

If that wasn’t enough, Herzog and the Zionist Camp also supported the disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi from the elections, joining the chorus of far-right extremists who have been inciting against her for years. Perhaps Herzog hoped that by attacking Zoabi he would be able to steal some seats away...

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Settlers attack, wound six-year-old Palestinian girl

West Bank settlers attacked a six-year-old Palestinian girl with rocks in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday, wounding her in the head, according to Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.

The girl was wounded after a group of masked settlers threw rocks at her near the entrance to the illegal outpost of Havat Maon, said B’Tselem. She was also lightly injured in her leg as she attempted to flee. B’Tselem reported that Israeli police took the girl and her father to a local station to file a complaint, and that she was treated at a local clinic for her wounds. The police are currently searching for suspects.

Attacks by settlers on Palestinian civilians are a nearly everyday occurrence across the occupied West Bank. While Palestinians themselves are often the target of settler violence, Palestinian homes, property and sources of income are also constantly at risk. Just between March 10-15, OCHA recorded seven attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians or their property. This included physical assault and injury of two men in Hebron and East Jerusalem; the uprooting of 72 olive trees in At Tuwani and Al Khader; and vandalism to four vehicles and several water tanks. 

According to human rights group Yesh Din, between 2005-2013 just 8.5 percent of investigations against Israeli settlers suspected of harming Palestinians and their property ended in indictment. In the vast majority of cases, the investigators simply failed to locate the offenders or to collect sufficient evidence for prosecution. If recent history is any guide, the likelihood that the settlers who attacked the girl will be located is extremely low. 

And while the police and army are considered the two bodies entrusted with protecting the Palestinian civilian population, they often protect the settlers or turn the other cheek in the face of their violence.

The settlers of Havat Maon — an outpost on the edge of the already-established settlement of Maon — are notorious for their violence against the surrounding villages of At Tuwani and Tuba. I visited the area along with activists from Ta’ayush on a solidarity trip in early 2011; we planned to re-plant hundreds of trees that had been felled just a few days earlier, most likely by the settlers of Havat Maon.

When we arrived, accompanied by IDF soldiers, the settlers immediately made their way toward where we were working. Confrontations began as they started yelling “whore!” at...

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There is no reason to trust Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu can backpedal all he wants, but now it is clear even to his biggest champions that he is no longer interested in the two-state solution. Now it’s up to the White House to take a stand.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s landslide election victory on Tuesday stunned even the biggest pessimists. What looked like a possible upset turned very quickly into an easy win for the incumbent, giving his Likud party 30 seats in the upcoming Knesset. Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp, Netanyahu’s main opposition, won only 24 seats.

Like most other major political figures, Netanyahu said nothing about the occupation or the future of the peace process with the Palestinians throughout his campaign. Until March 16, one day before the election, when it seemed as though Herzog might actually defeat the prime minister. Netanyahu, who has spent the last five years trying to convince the world that he supports the two-state solution, told Israeli news website NRG that if he were to be reelected, he would never allow a Palestinian state to be created. He also explicitly disavowed his  2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, in which he voiced unequivocal support for the two-state solution.

“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told NRG, claiming that only the Right is “realistic” when it comes to security issues. Earlier that day, Bibi visited the East Jerusalem settlement Har Homa, which he claimed he established in order to “stop Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.”

On Thursday, however, Netanyahu was singing a different tune. In an interview with MSNBC, the prime minister backtracked, reiterating his support for a two-state solution, while claiming that “circumstances have to change for that to happen.” He was clearly walking back in response to the outrage of the Obama administration.

But the fact is that when it comes to his support for a two-state solution — or any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted. The man has changed his mind about what the international community long ago agreed is the only viable solution to the conflict so many times that it is difficult to keep count.

For instance, a video from 2001 shows Netanyahu visiting a family in the settlements. There, he tells them that he purposefully deceived President Clinton into believing he was helping implement the Oslo...

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Final polls show Zionist Camp with biggest lead yet

Herzog and Livni may have the upper hand over Netanyahu, but even if they win the election, they won’t have an easy time putting together a coalition.

The latest election polls published Friday show Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Camp leading Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party by four seats.

According to Project61, an independent polling project that aggregates and attempts to correct biases in the major pre-election surveys, the Zionist Camp is currently polling at 24 seats as opposed to Netanyahu’s 20 seats. According to Israeli election law, polls are not allowed to be published after Friday.

While the polls certainly reveal a drop in support for Netanyahu over the past few days (the prime minister himself said just earlier this week that there is a chance he will be unseated by Herzog and Tzipi Livni), nothing is certain. And although Herzog has never been stronger throughout the election season, it is anything but clear that he can get Moshe Kahlon’s (formerly of the Likud) Kulanu party to join him, not to mention have the ultra-Orthodox parties sit in the same coalition with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who in the last government angered the ultra-Orthodox by pushing to draft them into the army.

Currently, a possible center-Left coalition consisting of the Zionist Camp, Yesh Atid, Meretz and Kulanu would garner 48 out of the necessary 61 seats according to the polls. As of Friday night, a potential right-wing bloc, made up of the Likud, Jewish Home, Israel Beitenu and Kulanu was polling at a total of 46 seats.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties — Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) — who are both expected to ultimately be willing to sit in either a right-wing or center-left government, together poll at 15 seats. This could push either of the two potential blocs over the 61-seat threshold. Meanwhile, the Joint Arab List is currently polling at 14 seats.

After the elections, the president will ask all of the parties in the new Knesset to recommend who should be given an opportunity to form the governing coalition. Taking those recommendations into consideration, the president will then select the head of one party, who has 42 days to build a coalition of at least 61 MKs. The president is not compelled to choose the largest party; he can also choose the MK who he believes has the best chances at forming a viable coalition. For example,...

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High Court greenlights racial profiling at Israel's airports

High Court rejects petition calling for an end to racial profiling against Arabs at Ben-Gurion Airport, yet refuses to make a principled ruling on the policy as a whole.

Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), demanding an end to racial profiling at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday.

The petition — which the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed in 2007 against the Shin Bet, the Transportation Ministry and the Israel Airports Authority — sought to eliminate the category of “Arab nationality” as a criteria for conducting special security checks in the airport. The petition described how Arab passengers often undergo humiliating treatment, including extra searches and questioning that are not applied to Jewish passengers, and called for all passengers to be subjected to the same security criteria, regardless of nationality.

Although Ben-Gurion Airport has made changes to its security policy in the years since the petition was filed – including the installment of an automated system to check all passenger luggage that replaced the public checks that often took place in the ticketing area — ACRI claimed that the new system only sweeps the policy of racial profiling under the rug.

And while the High Court’s decision does not make any principled ruling on the issue of racial profiling in Israeli airports, its rejection of ACRI’s petition and refusal to touch on the basic issue of whether Jews and Arabs should be treated equally in Israel’s airports provides a rubber stamp for the government’s discriminatory policy. According to the High Court:

The court further stated that ACRI will be able to re-submit the petition should the result of the airport’s changes fail to bring about the “desired outcome.” The court will reimburse the civil rights organization for court fees, as a goodwill gesture for its contribution to bringing about changes in airport security checks.

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In response to damning housing report, Netanyahu demands Israelis think about Iran

What do you do when facing backlash from all sides of the political spectrum? Blame it on the Ayatollah.

A much-anticipated housing report published Wednesday evening by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira blamed the Netanyahu government for failing to properly deal with the rising costs of housing in Israel. According to Shapira, poor government planning and disregard for the middle class played key roles in creating the current severe housing crisis in Israel, which could lead to the disappearance of the middle class and eventually have a devastating impact on the entire economy, he says. Netanyahu’s failure, says the report, mainly stems from the lack of any long-term strategy to ameliorate the housing situation in the country.

Immediately after the report was published, Netanyahu hit Twitter to strike back at critics of his policies. Only instead of trying to explain or defend his abysmal record on housing, the prime minister eschewed any real discussion, instead opting for — once again — warning about the threat of a nuclear Iran.

But Netanyahu’s pithy response didn’t go unanswered, with both journalists and public figures lambasting the prime minister for what seems like pure contempt for any form of criticism. Manuel Trajtenberg, who was appointed by Netanyahu in 2011 to head a committee that would recommend measures to overcome the 2011 social justice protests, and who is number 11 on the Zionist Camp list for the upcoming elections, responded to the prime minister on Twitter:

The Zionist Camp’s Stav Shaffir also responded to Netanyahu’s tweet, saying:

Even right-wing journalists were surprised by Bibi’s attempt to divert attention. Elad Raveh, a literary critic for the right-wing Makor Rishon daily, responded:

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Netanyahu is losing it

From his growing conflict with the White House to frantic attacks on the media, there’s something off with Israel’s prime minister.

Election season is a time when politicians say things they generally don’t mean, make promises they generally won’t keep and kiss babies they generally wouldn’t otherwise kiss. But if you have been tuned into the Israeli election cycle, you’ll notice that one politician in particular has shunned the campaign beat typical of most would-be Israeli leaders.

In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d have noticed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is officially losing it. The downward spiral began with accepting an invitation by Speaker of the House John Boehner to speak to both chambers of Congress in order to derail American-led nuclear talks with Iran – a move that has been roundly condemned by U.S. and Israeli leaders alike. President Obama has decided not to meet with Netanyahu on his trip to Washington, and Vice President Biden has declared that he will boycott the speech.

Netanyahu, who seems intent on driving a stake through the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran come hell or high water, has even managed to alienate those Americans who dedicate their careers to defending Israeli policies. And despite criticism from a diverse chorus of prominent voices on both the Left and the Right, Netanyahu has doubled down and refuses to change course.

 

The casual follower of Israeli politics might think that the chutzpah stops there. After all, they may say to themselves, Iran is a sworn enemy of Israel, and the leader of the only Jewish state in the world has every right to try and convince its greatest ally to change course vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic. But something else is happening: the past few days have revealed that when it comes to domestic affairs, Netanyahu is becoming unhinged.

The subject of numerous attacks and almost-scandals in recent weeks, Netanyahu has started hitting back at his political opponents — or rather, swinging wildly at the messenger and becoming indignant that people oppose him. The first and primary target of the prime minister’s rage is Noni Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Mozes, or so the...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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