+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 28 Jul 2015 19:07:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Pro-Netanyahu daily invents Obama ‘quote’ against Iran deal http://972mag.com/pro-netanyahu-daily-invents-obama-quote-against-iran-deal/109285/ http://972mag.com/pro-netanyahu-daily-invents-obama-quote-against-iran-deal/109285/#comments Sun, 26 Jul 2015 16:38:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109285

Owned by Adelson and aligned with Netanyahu, Israel’s most-read newspaper has now devolved to actually making things up about Obama.

Yisrael Hayom headline: "the agreement would strengthen the terrorism." Below: "there is a reason my name is Barack Hussein" (July 26, 2015)

Israel Hayom headline: ‘The agreement will strengthen terrorism.’ Below (right): ‘There is a reason my name is Barack Hussein.’ (July 26, 2015)

The pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom has devoted itself to attacking the Iran nuclear deal in recent days. “A shameful surrender,” “Under Obama, Iran is becoming the regional superpower,” “Every new detail just proves how stupid and dangerous the deal is” — these are just some of the ways the paper’s columnists have described the deal in recent days.

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But now, Israel Hayom, which is printed and distributed for free at a considerable loss by American casino mogul and Republican party bankroller Sheldon Adelson, is taking the battle beyond the editorial pages. On Sunday the paper ran a double-spread headline that stretched journalistic ethics to their limit, or rather, ignored them altogether. The headline read: “The deal will strengthen terrorism,” with the quote, attributed to President Obama, printed in huge white-on-black letters. The sub-headline read: “The nuclear deal will likely channel money to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and The Quds Force.”.

The only problem: the U.S. president never said any of that. The headline was completely made up, and the sub-headline took the quote out of context. Here is what Obama actually said in the BBC interview that was “quoted” by Israel Hayom. I bolded the relevant sentence, but the rest is important for context:

SOPEL: But the net effect of lifting sanctions is that billions more will go to groups like Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and that is going to destabilize the region even more.

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, first of all, we’ve shut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which was priority number one. Because if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb. And create much greater strategic challenges for the United States, for Israel, for our Gulf allies, for our European allies.

Second, it is true that by definition, in a negotiation and a deal like this, Iran gets something out of it. The sanctions regime that we put in place with the hope of the Brits, but also the Chinese and the Russians and others meant that they had funds that were frozen. They get those funds back. A large portion of those funds are going to have to be used for them to rebuild their economy.

That was the mandate that elected Rouhani. And the supreme leader is feeling pressure there. Does the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard] or the Quds Force have more resources? Probably, as the economy in Iran improves. But the challenge that we’ve had, when it comes to Hezbollah, for example, aiming rockets into Israel is not a shortage of resources.

Iran has shown itself to be willing, even in the midst of real hardship, to fund what they consider to be strategy priorities. The challenge is us making sure that we’ve got the interdiction capacity, the intelligence, that we are building a much stronger defense against some of these proxy wars and asymmetric efforts. And we’ve sent a clear message to the Iranians. We are settling the Iran deal, but we still have a big account that we’re going to have to work. Hopefully some of it diplomatically, if necessary some of it militarily.

One can agree with Obama or not. One can believe that the deal “will strengthen terrorism,” as the Israeli prime minister says. But, contrary to what the most widely-read paper in Israel told its readers Sunday, the president himself never said such a thing.

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After Haaretz’s Barak Ravid called out Israel Hayom’s fabrication Sunday morning on Twitter, some remarked that the headline of a story on the bottom of the spread was far worse, since it was taken from something the president actually said upon his arrival to Kenya: “There is a reason my name is Barak Hussein Obama.”

Only that the Israel Hayom report on the American president’s visit to his father’s homeland was headlined, “There is a reason my name is Barack Hussein,” leaving “Obama” out.

In the context of Israel’s political culture and lexicon, the juxtaposition of the fabricated quote onto the nuclear deal “promoting terrorism,” along with the “Hussein” headline, forges a fairly powerful message — one that plays into the hands of the more conspiracy theory-oriented corners of the national discourse.

Furthermore, Israel Hayom‘s decision is not bereft of racism; it is actually pretty common to hear racist references to Obama’s name or family history in Israel. Two of the more high-profile incidents included a racist Tweet (which was later deleted) by the wife of the deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom. And of course there was also Ambassador Michael Oren’s infamous psychoanalysis of the president.

Recently, The Washington Post’s Colbert King warned of the possible damage to the relations between Jews and blacks in America because of the Israeli disdain for the first African-American president. “The ‘Obama Coffee’ insult, the rabbinical slurs and the below-the-belt punches of Israeli officials are so sad, dispiriting and potentially disrupting in ways that once seemed unimaginable,” King wrote. As the headlines in Israel Hayom show, Netanyahu and his supporters couldn’t care less.

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Tel Aviv bank index drops following think tank report on settlements http://972mag.com/tel-aviv-bank-index-drops-following-think-tank-report-on-settlements/109160/ http://972mag.com/tel-aviv-bank-index-drops-following-think-tank-report-on-settlements/109160/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:14:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109160 The European Council on Foreign Relations publishes a paper recommending the EU take measures against financial institutions that do businesses in the West Bank. Israeli bank stocks dip shortly after Israeli media quoted a Reuters article on the report.

The degree of nervousness in Israel over potential future sanctions against local companies that do business in the settlements was evident for all to see Tuesday. Publicity surrounding an EU think tank report on the topic caused the Tel Aviv banking index to drop 2.3 points in less than an hour (a total of 2.46 points for the day).

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The report, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, included a series of recommendations intended to create a distinction between formal EU-Israeli ties and those that create complicity in its settlement activities in the West Bank. It put a special emphasis on the banking system. (Read the full report below.)

According to the reports’ authors, Hugh Lovatt and Mattia Toaldo, “differentiating between Israel and its settlement activities within the EU’s bilateral relations is one of most powerful tools at the EU’s disposal for challenging the incentive structure that underpins Israeli support for the status quo.”

The report recommends the European Commission “task its directorates general with reviewing their existing interactions with Israel to assess whether differentiate between Israel proper and the settlements.” A special emphasis is placed on the banking system, which conducts financial activities in the settlements — mostly mortgages and loans — but also has many interests in Europe.

The ECFR has no formal capacity within EU institutions, but the alarm bells in Israel rang nonetheless. A Reuters piece on the report was picked up by the local media and published by Ynet at 1:03 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s banking index took a dive. The Israeli media was quick to connect the drop to the news items on the report.

The drop in the banking stocks on July 22, 2015 (Source: Calcalist.co.il)

The drop in banking stocks on July 22, 2015 (Source: Calcalist.co.il)

The three major Israeli banks — Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount — lost 2.6-2.7 percent each. They also had led the day in trade volume.

Sources in the banks dismissed the report, stating that it carries no formal weight. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the matter for the same reason. The market, however, sent a different signal. And while the stocks may rise again tomorrow, the unexpected drop revealed how worried the Israeli business community is about international measures against the occupation, especially those connected with the financial system.

However, a source in the banking system told the financial daily Globes that this could turn out to be the greatest threat to the Israeli banks — even more than the reform the government intends to implement.

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‘For the first time in history, Jews can take part in war from home’ http://972mag.com/for-the-first-time-in-history-jews-can-take-part-in-war-from-home/109087/ http://972mag.com/for-the-first-time-in-history-jews-can-take-part-in-war-from-home/109087/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 12:29:50 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=109087 Avi Benayahu, who served as IDF Spokesperson during both Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara incident, explains his worldview and tactics in a lecture obtained by +972 Magazine, including how he sent army officers pretending to be civilians onto foreign television news. 

Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (right). (photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (left), who replaced him as the head of IDF Spokesperson’s unit. (photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Until Brigadier-General (ret.) Avi Benayahu was appointed to be the IDF Spokesperson in 2007, the unit did little more than send Israeli newspapers photos of soldiers celebrating Passover. But between 2007 and 2011, Benayahu — then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s right-hand — revolutionized the antiquated unit, transforming it into one of Israel’s leading “hasbara” (propaganda, or “public diplomacy”) outfits. The unit’s methods and aims still rely heavily on his work.

Benayahu, a self-described technophobe, opened a “new media” division, which included an active, multilingual presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The project did so well that he was asked to lead another new media initiative after his term ended. During his time as spokesperson, Benayahu led the army’s public relations effort surrounding Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as well as the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. In 2011 he was elected “Media Man of the Year” by the Israel Public Relations Association.

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But Benayahu was not only known for his initiative. He became notorious for his aggressive approach toward the media and journalists, especially those of whom he wasn’t fond and with whom he didn’t work closely. For example, he didn’t hesitate to order IDF soldiers to confiscate equipment and work product from journalists, only to release bits and pieces of their reportage when it served senior officers.

It was Benayahu’s relationship with Ashkenazi and his inner circle that led to the spokesperson’s fall from grace. From 2011 on, his name was associated with the “Harpaz Affair,” over which leading IDF officers were interrogated about attempts to discredit then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his nominee to become the next chief of staff. Benayahu was even arrested at one point.

Today Benayahu works as a private consultant. His public image has yet to recover from the Harpaz Affair, but in the current climate, his methods and ideas are more mainstream than ever. In a country that has given up on diplomacy and long-term policy thinking, Benayahu represents the only viable alternative: a combination of military power and propaganda. “I don’t like when we apologize during war,” he recently said. And nowadays, Israel sees itself as a country that is always at war.

Benayahu gave a lecture at Tel Aviv University recently about his experience as IDF Spokesperson. Benayahu explained how he would use Israeli envoys and Jewish institutions to promote his military talking points, he discussed how he manipulated the international press, praised the local media for its discipline in wartime, and explained how he views the spokesperson’s unit’s role: “When I completed my posting in the General Staff [of the IDF], I came out with the knowledge that the IDF Spokesperson is a combat unit with more influence than two divisions.”

I obtained a recording of the lecture. Here are some of the interesting bits:

Hasbara is a very complicated issue. Compared to the Second Lebanon War, the media in Israel was very disciplined during Protective Edge. During the Second Lebanon War the media in Israel developed a reporting model that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world […] the war began, and every media outlet wanted to be the first to present the investigative committee [into its failures], already asking difficult questions.

In Cast Lead we tried to restore order, we took cellphones from the all the soldiers and we didn’t let journalists go in or go out, all sorts of things like that. We wanted to redeem ourselves. I’ll say this as clearly as possible, okay? During Cast Lead, one of the my — and the army’s main missions — was to redeem ourselves from the bad feeling [that followed] from the Second Lebanon War.

The IDF Spokesperson’s central role, Benayahu told the students, is to preserve both local and international legitimacy for the IDF’s actions. The challenge is that the world expects the IDF to operate according to its own ethical code. The IDF, however, has long since changed its policy: now it prefers to kill uninvolved Palestinian civilians rather than put its own troops in harm’s way.

When it comes to hasbara you need to align your expectations with that of the public. […] the world says to us: ’The Bible is your book, the Jewish people’s morals are yours, the Declaration of Independence is yours, the IDF’s Code of Ethics, which you wrote. Everything you hang on the walls (The Declaration of Independence and the IDF’s Code of Ethics are displayed in every army classroom – N.S.) — we won’t tolerate a gap between what you wrote and what is happening on the ground.

Therefore, we need to change what’s on the wall. What is important today is to explain to the world that are our civilians come first, our soldiers come second, their civilians come third, and in fourth place are their terrorists.

Because the world has gotten confused. The world is used to a situation where some [people] die here in order to save some of them.

In the past, one or two or three Hamas battalion commanders would travel to a meeting with a Hamas division commander — they would put a woman on the left-side window and a young girl on the right-side window as they traveled, in order to guarantee their safety. You don’t open fire, right? Today, we fire. The woman and the kid – gone. That was the surprise of Cast Lead.

Israeli protesters interrupt Avi Benayahu during a talk in 2008. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli protesters interrupt Avi Benayahu during a talk in 2008. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Benayahu explained how in order to increase the effectiveness of his messaging he would place military officers posing as civilian commentators for foreign media consumption, without ever letting the television networks know. A foreign audience, he said will receive messages by eloquent civilians far better than those delivered by a field officer with broken English:

A 58-year-old American man who comes home from work in Albuquerque or St. Louis, relaxes with a Budweiser and turns on the TV and sees that three kids were killed in the West Bank, and some colonel is trying to explain in basic English — that’s no good. Often times, that is what we had

As the IDF Spokesperson, I came with a lot more knowledge, experience and authority, because of my previous roles. I wasn’t afraid to make difficult, unpopular decisions. For example, I took former Ambassador Zalman Shoval, a who was a reserve officer in the First Lebanon War, a lieutenant-colonel in hasbara.

I took his uniform from him, a field uniform, and I told him ‘put this in the back of your car.’ I told him you’re going to do your reserve service in the Spokesperson’s Unit, but in civilian clothes on foreign television stations…

Some of the lesser-known IDF Spokesperson reservists appeared on American and European [television networks] without uniform. Without ranks of colonel or general — it’s not okay, it’s a little fraudulent because it is a general or a colonel — but in war one can do such things.

Another important initiative Benayahu implemented was using Israeli religious envoys to Chabad and Jewish community centers abroad to push the army’s talking points. This strategy is in line with the new approach in Israel, which views the diaspora and all of its institutions as a vehicle for promoting and lobbying for Israeli policies. Benayahu explicitly refers to organizations such as Hillel as agents of the army’s PR machine. In effect, diaspora Jews are asked to “participate in the war effort from home.” He even oversaw the development of software designed to make that more efficient.

The most influential front is [being fought] on social media. During Cast Lead I built a tool [...] it was called “global distribution.” […] We mapped hundreds of organizations […] Israelis, Jewish and Christian [groups] that love Israel, church organizations, we did all this leg work.

And the system works like this: if I have a message from the IDF Spokesperson, a message that I am also publishing in Israel, and I translate it to English — a photo, video, map, or document, I pass those onward with a single click through “global distribution” […] to hundreds of headquarters on every continent.

For instance, let’s take one example, Chabad. [They have] thousands of emissaries — do you know what those are? The Chabad emissaries that you all know from from East Asia, but also in France, Manhattan, New York, Los Angeles…

With a single click, [the Chabad spokesperson can] transfer [the message] to thousands of locations. Now, there is discipline there. The guy in New York gets it and sends it to thousands of people on his mailing list, and the same thing in Kathmandu and China. I send it to Hillel, and Hillel sends it to every Hillel house in universities all over the world […] viral distribution. That defeats anything. We built this system, it works, the way we distribute our newsletter videos, pictures…

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In every war, all the Jewish communities around the world identify with the IDF. They raise money and send us packages. They hold rallies in support of the army. [Now], for the first time in history, they can actually take part in the war from their homes. With the tip of their fingers, they can make an enormous contribution to Israel’s hasbara.

+972 Magazine contacted IDF Spokesperson with questions regarding the practice of placing army officers pretending to be being Israeli civilians on foreign television networks. The Spokesperson’s Office declined to comment.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Despite its wishes, the EU only deepens the occupation http://972mag.com/despite-what-it-may-claim-the-eu-only-deepens-the-occupation/108921/ http://972mag.com/despite-what-it-may-claim-the-eu-only-deepens-the-occupation/108921/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 15:14:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108921 The European Union is substituting pressure on Israel for dialogue. How else will it be able to continue building schools and solar panels in the occupied territories?

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

The European Union is one of the most demonized bodies in Israel at the moment, and the hate is no longer coming only from the extreme right. The working assumption in the Israeli mainstream is that the EU is biased against Israel, that it supports different forms of sanctions and boycotts, and that it is trying to isolate Israel and force it to withdraw from the occupied territories.

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The truth is entirely different. While the EU might support the two-state solution, and the leaders of its member states are far more committed to two states than the Obama administration, it is also one of the main bodies helping Israel maintain the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza.

The goal of Israel’s policy is maintaining the current reality in the occupied territories, in which Israel effectively rules the West Bank, continues to support settlement growth, enjoys quiet due to security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the IDF is able to act freely. All this is done without having to bear the real cost of the occupation, especially since foreign bodies fund the Palestinian Authority, train its police officers, prevent chaos in the refugee camps and maintain civil infrastructure.

The EU is one of the sustainers of the status quo. In fact, it has built the PA twice — once after Oslo, and once again after Israel destroyed the civil infrastructure in the occupied territories during the Second Intifada. Since then, Israel has taken on less and less responsibility for the civilian population under its rule (except for in Area C of the West Bank, where creeping annexation has become the norm). The vacuum is filled by aid organizations and NGOs — UN development agencies, EU and USAID projects, etc. Their effect goes beyond the financial cost of maintaining the occupation and bleeds into every aspect of Israel’s responsibility for the millions of Palestinians civilians under its authority.

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian policemen block protesters during a demonstration against the visit of US President Barak Obama to the West Bank, Ramallah, March 21, 2013. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israel is willing to let all these organizations work freely, as long as they differentiate between humanitarian/civilian activities and the political aspects of their work. If they stray from their mandate, the state will fiercely attack them, marking members of the organizations as “personas non grata” and make it difficult for them to function.

The various NGOs and aid agencies place many restrictions on the Palestinians they work with — they cannot belong to certain political parties, have no convictions and so on. The result is a “sterile environment” that does not threaten the occupation. The traditional structure of Palestinian society in the West Bank (which led the popular revolt of the First Intifada) is slowly being replaced — in certain places, at least — by a society that relies heavily on NGOs, which serves the interest of the military regime.

In this way, the EU and the United Nations maintain the reality on the ground, and in doing so subvert their stated goal: the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many people in Brussels actually understand this. I once heard Christian Berger, the head of the EU’s Office in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (and one of the major forces behind the EU’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians), complain about Europe’s role in bankrolling the status quo in the occupied territories. But the mechanism of the European consensus, alongside a deep, fundamental unwillingness to get into a confrontation with Israel (and sometimes with the U.S.) helps maintain this reality.

The new Israeli-European dialogue forum, which Barak Ravid reported earlier this past week in Haaretz — is a perfect example of this dynamic. On the face of it, Europe’s original intent behind the dialogue is understandable. Like the United States, no one in Europe believes that an agreement over a Palestinian state will come soon, so the goal of the current policy is the maintain the current reality while preventing the erasure of the Green Line or the deepening of the settlement enterprise. This was the impetus for low-level dialogue with Israel. But the Israeli government, according to Ravid, is only willing to speak about the EU’s civil projects, rather than political issues such as settlement construction or land expropriation.

From now on dialogue will serve as a replacement for pressure on Israel on the one hand, and as an act of bargaining that will serve Israel’s political interests on the other. Israel may enjoy the fruits of those EU projects in the West Bank, but it will use them as a bargaining chip against steps that are diametrically opposed to the interests of the occupation. The EU wants to build a school or a site for solar panels? To gain approval from the authorities, the EU will have to stand alongside Israel on issues that are important to the latter, such as UN reports or the ICC. Put simply: the right to fund the occupation in exchange for an agreement that the EU will not act against it.

Palestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, July 3, 2015. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

This can go on for many more years. Every new generation of European politicians will convince itself that economic investment in the occupied territories is part of a the “state-building” project or that it constitutes “support for Palestinian civil society,” and therefore is a legitimate substitute for investing their political capital in trying to end the occupation. The lessons of the last 20 years, which teach us that there is no way to build a state under military occupation, will always play second fiddle to the political needs of the European leadership.

Ironically, it is the paranoia of the Israeli Right, which seeks to do away with Europe’s foothold in Israel and the occupied territories, that is impeding the current arrangements. If the Right succeeds in forcing the Europeans to lose their projects and cease funding the Palestinian Authority, the EU’s dependence on the good will of the Israeli government will lessen significantly. This would only increase the likelihood of a confrontation. I suspect Netanyahu understands this fact, and thus lets his right-wing ministers speak out against Europe, while on the other hand deepening the cooperation and dialogue with the European Union.

This is one of the reasons why, as opposed to predictions of the Israeli press, I do not believe the world is going to force us to end the occupation in the near future (no one can be sure what will happen in the longer run). Netanyahu was able to reformulate relations with the West according an arrangement based on cooperation that is essentially effective for Israel. The political price he pays is tolerable, especially when compared to the price of ending the occupation. Bibi is being aided by the regional tumult, which has strengthened the desire for stability on the part of local and international actors. Even Hamas and Fatah are in the business of maintaining the status quo. Today it is more difficult than ever to imagine a path for ending the occupation.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Netanyahu vs. Iran: The political scoreboard http://972mag.com/netanyahu-vs-iran-the-political-scoreboard/108868/ http://972mag.com/netanyahu-vs-iran-the-political-scoreboard/108868/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:34:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108868 Netanyahu put Iran at the top of his political agenda. He was able to push the international community into action but found himself sidelined when it counted. He got the opposition to back him in trashing the deal, but never got the security establishment on board with a military option.

U.S. President Barak Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington (White House photo)

U.S. President Barak Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington (White House photo)

The nuclear deal signed with Iran is “a stunning historic mistake,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the world on Tuesday. Netanyahu loves to remind us all that he was among the first to highlight the threat Iran poses to Israel — and all of mankind. In his first speech before Congress, in 1996, Netanyahu called Iran “the most dangerous regime [in the region],” and warned about it obtaining nuclear weapons.

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When he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, Netanyahu made Iran the centerpiece of his policy. At times, he was almost alone in his quest – or obsession, as some have described it. Quite often, there was no way of delineating where the perceived security risks ended and political considerations began. That was true both at home and in Netanyahu’s unprecedented intervention in domestic American politics, all the way to his controversial speech in Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, in breach of diplomatic protocol. Was it the old Bibi trying to use any possible platform to improve his standing in a tight race, or was it Netanyahu the statesman throwing everything he had into the single-most important issue of his life?

It’s difficult to tell. Netanyahu certainly took the issue of Iran far, but his actions were unconvincing at times. If Iran was a real existential threat to Israel, why fight with President Obama over the settlements? Why alienate the Democratic Party’s “elites?” Certainly, a little goodwill on the Palestinian issue would have gone a long way in getting his message across to the U.S. president. But with Netanyahu, these sort of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. And unlike previous Israeli prime ministers, he has proved extremely capable at transforming those types of diplomatic confrontations into political gains back home.

At first, Netanyahu’s aggressive approach on Iran didn’t go over so well with Israelis. Most of the public remained skeptical and opposed to the military option. Senior politicians came out against him, including former president Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert even went so far as to publicly reveal the price tag of Israel’s preparations for a military strike — NIS 11 billion ($3 billion) — which he described as “adventurous delusions” that will never be carried out.

But what really hurt Netanyahu was the unified front he came up against in Israel’s powerful security establishment, which remains skeptical of the military option to this day. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan led the charge, first in private and then in public, and he was joined by popular then-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and then-IDF chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi. In a meeting in 2010, the three defiantly stood up against an order by Netanyahu to put security forces and the army on a war footing that would indicate to the world an imminent attack; Bibi and Barak were forced to cancel the order. Though this wasn’t a refusal of a formal order, Dagan later said, “I don’t remember such an incident in our history.” Reports in the Israeli media suggest that the army and Mossad remain in opposition to the military option to this day.

The politics of war in Israel

Netanyahu has been far more successful in moving the political system in his direction. In an interview with The Washington Post last February, on the eve of the general elections, Netanyahu’s chief rival, Labor leader Isaac Herzog, refused to call Iran an “existential threat.” (“It’s a big threat,” Herzog said. “That’s enough.”) He even said that he trusts President Obama “to get a good deal.”

Today, Herzog is singing a different tune. In a post on his Facebook wall on Tuesday, Herzog declared that “Israel’s interests were forgotten” in the deal signed in Vienna. “We are on the verge of a new day in the Middle East, one which will present Israel with complex security risks, more dangerous than we’ve ever known,” mirroring the very language used by Netanyahu.

Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, also in the opposition, took a similar line. “We thought we would get a bad deal — but this is even worse,” he wrote.

Both politicians suggested that Netanyahu is partly responsible for the bad deal, however, suggesting that his rift with the Obama administration sidelined him at the most crucial moment of the negotiations. So far, it doesn’t seem that the public shares their view; when it comes to the discourse of security and existential threats, Netanyahu is still stronger than his opponents and the public still credits him for forcing the international community to take action on Iran.

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Group Photo With E.U., P5+1, and Iranian Officials Before Final Plenary of Iran Nuclear Negotiations in Austria. (State Department photo)

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Group Photo With E.U., P5+1, and Iranian Officials Before Final Plenary of Iran Nuclear Negotiations in Austria. (State Department photo)

Just like with the Palestinian issue, the lack of effective political opposition will ensure that the Israeli consensus adopts Netanyahu’s view of the agreement. I would be surprised if the next set of polls show a majority of Israelis supporting the deal. And yet I don’t think there is much support for a military option either. Not now, and certainly not without the security establishment on board.

Netanyahu will now take his war, yet again, to Washington, hoping to get as many members of Congress to oppose the deal. Contrary to popular belief, this is one battle he doesn’t really want to win: if Congress strikes down the deal and the Senate overrides a presidential veto, the sanctions regime will collapse and nothing will stand in Iran’s path to the bomb. Netanyahu will need to choose between going to war and a fully nuclear Iran.

In all likelihood, however, Congress won’t be able to stop the deal. In such a case, and especially if Obama is forced to use his veto, Netanyahu will anoint himself informal guardian of the nuclear deal. Israel will try to gather as much evidence of Iranian violations as possible — once again threatening a military strike if the world doesn’t do something. If you think that today’s agreement will finally put the Iranian issue to rest, guess again.

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The death penalty is making a comeback in Israel http://972mag.com/the-death-penalty-is-making-a-comeback-in-israel/108694/ http://972mag.com/the-death-penalty-is-making-a-comeback-in-israel/108694/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 15:40:47 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108694 By sentencing Palestinians convicted of murder to death, the Israeli Right will only bring the mutual cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. 

Death chamber and electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in 1923. (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com)

Death chamber and electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in 1923. (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com)

No one really wants to look back and learn anything from history. Every colonial regime convinces itself at some point to raise the level of brutality in order to force the natives to accept their situation. It seems like this is the path we must also take.

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Avigdor Liberman’s party is promoting an initiative that would allow military tribunals to sentence terrorists who were convicted of murder to death. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party already announced it would back the bill, as did some Likud ministers. This was kind of expected. After all, the Right has been calling on IDF soldiers to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers, which can itself become an informal death sentence.

In fact, the military regime in the West Bank has the legal option of using the death penalty, but the prosecution rarely demands it, and rightfully so. The new bill is intended to change this policy and allow a majority of justices to sentence people to death (as opposed to a unanimous decision, which is the current requirement). However, capital punishment does not prevent acts of murder; even the Americans are starting to internalize this fact. It surely will not deter Palestinians. Those who were willing to carry out suicide bombings will also be willing to take the risk of being hanged.

Imposing the death penalty in Israel, aside from the inevitable international drama that would accompany any sentence, will bring the mutual hatred and cruelty between Jews and Palestinians to another level. The British learned this lesson not long ago.

In 1947, the Irgun Jewish underground group kidnapped two British sergeants, Sgt. Clifford Martin and Sgt. Mervyn Paice, threatening to kill them if the death sentences passed on three Irgun militants were carried out. The three had been captured by the British during a prison break, tried, and convicted on charges of illegal possession of arms, and with the “intent to kill or cause other harm to a large number of people.” When the three men were executed by hanging, the Irgun killed the two sergeants and hung their booby-trapped bodies in a eucalyptus grove. Menachem Begin even wrote an open letter to one of the fathers of the sergeants, in which he blamed the British government for the incident.

Will an Israeli mother receive such a letter from Hamas in the coming years?

After the bodies of the sergeants were discovered, British officers and soldiers took vengeance on passersby in Tel Aviv, beating and shooting them. Five Jews were murdered, and a wave of anti-Semitism engulfed Britain. The British government, on the other hand, ceased using capital punishment in Mandate Palestine.

I don’t expect much from the Right in the Israeli Knesset. But other parties, especially Labor and Yesh Atid, who have recently decided to join the populist, nationalist chorus must come out in opposition to the death penalty.

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A most moral occupation: Keeping the prisoners in line http://972mag.com/gaza-and-the-issue-of-the-israeli-armys-moral-standards/108244/ http://972mag.com/gaza-and-the-issue-of-the-israeli-armys-moral-standards/108244/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 11:54:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=108244 Does Israel have the right to turn millions of the people under its control into prisoners simply because it is afraid of what might happen once they are released?

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

An olive tree in front of the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

The UNHRC report on Gaza and testimonies published by local watchdog group “Breaking the Silence” have sparked yet another round of debate over the IDF’s moral standards, or lack thereof. These debates have become yet another way for Israeli society — and at times, the international community — to talk about the occupation without actually discussing it. My heart goes out to the people at Breaking the Silence, since I have a feeling that this time around they are in the midst of a war they cannot win.

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The objective of the Israeli occupation is control. In fact, that has long been Israel’s goal vis-a-vis the entire Palestinian people, even before 1967. Unlike many Palestinians, I do not think that the Zionist movement made a decision to ethnically cleanse the land of its residents; 1948 was the exception — not the rule. In the years following the war, and to this day, Palestinians have been removed from their homes and land, but in most cases they are not expelled from the country. In fact, the Israeli strategy stems from a recognition — on the part of the ruling elites, including both Labor and Likud — that the Palestinian population will ultimately remain here alongside the Jewish population.

There is zero chance that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will ever agree to their current situation of their own volition. And unlike most other occupying powers eventually do, Israel is not interested in granting them citizenship. Therefore, Israel’s only course of action is to control the Palestinians by force. This has been the objective of Israeli policy for decades, again, with the support of Labor and Likud alike.

This objective is the only way to explain the many actions Israel takes, which are sometimes improvised, other times planned ahead of time, and often seem to contradict each other. In practice, they are all put in place to maintain a system of control. This is the line of thinking that connects the anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, the military operations in Gaza and the prime minister’s declared war on the BDS movement.

Testimonies: ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’

In order to maintain this policy, Israel has turned the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a giant prison (Egypt helps by sealing in Gaza from the south). Like in all prisons, the guards strip the prisoners of almost all their rights, aside from those that they are willing to grant, usually in return for good behavior. Such privileges can include work permits, travel permits, or visitation rights. A Palestinian needs permission from the army to leave and return to the country. A foreign national who lands in Israel risks deportation should they openly state their intention to travel to the West Bank (save for a few exceptions).

Take note of how Israelis see nearly every “right” granted to Palestinians in the occupied territories as a “concession” or a “privilege”— the privilege to leave the country (which was recently given and then subsequently denied to 500 people due to a single crime that none of them had any connection to); the “privilege” to build homes; the “privilege” to host friends; the “privilege” of being given work permits. None of these rights are granted simply because Palestinians are human. They are carrots and sticks used to leverage an entire population, whose only goal is to maintain quiet (“peace”). This is how prison works. That is how guards speak.

The new camera-equipped weapon installed on the separation wall in Bethlehem. (photo: Activestills.org)

The new camera-equipped weapon installed on the separation wall in Bethlehem. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israel is a democracy that maintains a sub-regime that is a dictatorship. The prisoner cannot resist his or her imprisonment, which is how Israel sees every political (or military) action by the Palestinians. The Palestinians cannot, obviously, attack their guards. They cannot throw stones, they cannot call for boycotts, they cannot turn to the UN, they cannot go on hunger strike, they cannot attempt to sail to Gaza, etc. In the spirit of the times, every single one of these actions is labeled “terrorism”—meaning that they are beyond the pale of legitimate political conduct, and therefore must be fought using any and all means.

Israeli society has become accustomed to this guard-prisoner relationship over the last few decades. The IDF went from being a traditional military, whose expertise is in large-scale, offensive maneuvering, to an army that leads the world in maintaining order (over prisoners, that is). Actually, many places in the West Bank and on the border with Gaza already look very much like a prison. Israel’s technological developments — tracking systems, remote crowd dispersal methods, UAVs, remote assassination methods that cause as little collateral damage as possible — are intended to maintain that prison at both minimal cost and minimal victims. Groups of Israeli generals travel the world in order to market the experience we have gained in holding a civilian population under our control. This kind of expertise will always be in demand.

Read: How an army of defense became an army of vengeance

Alongside the generals is an entire system that creates an ideology of occupation — a public sense of justice. We can read about it in the weekend edition of every major newspaper. The differences are insignificant between Yedioth columnist Ben-Dror Yemini with his BDS obsession, the military correspondents who talk about “security challenges in the territories,” Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit’s talk of delegitimization and proper right-wing ideologists. Their goal is to justify the various aspects of controlling the Palestinians, without actually talking about the elephant in the room: the degree to which that control is legitimate in the first place.

Israel has no intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians under its control. In contrast to what Israelis tell themselves, we have no intention of separating from even some of the Palestinians either (full separation is impossible since the two populations are far too mixed at this point). If Israel intended to, we would have already left the West Bank and stopped controlling everything that happens there. But we won’t do it, since such a move carries an internal political price, not to mention serious dangers. The Right’s nightmare scenario  —rockets on Tel Aviv, for instance — is a real possibility.

It is also obvious that no agreement will fully ensure Israel’s security; even if Mahmoud Abbas becomes a card-carrying Likud member tomorrow, there is no telling who will be in charge of a Palestinian state five years from now. Therefore, any withdrawal, regardless of a peace agreement, is a real risk. This was true 10 years ago, it is true now, and it will be true in the future.

Yet this is precisely the issue of putting an end to foreign rule — once you no longer control the other side, you have no idea what it will do, and you need to come up with other ways to maintain relatively peaceful relations with it. The risks is such a case are unavoidable and Israelis are simply not willing to take them. This is why they choose leaders who promise not to reach peace agreements, and why there is a better chance for a temporary agreement with Hamas in Gaza than a permanent accord with Abbas, which could translate to an irreversible loss of control with the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Funeral in Bani Suhaila for the 21 members of the Al-Najjar family, who were killed just before the ceasefire, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.  The Al-Najjar family flew their homes in Khuza'a to take refuge fi-urther west.  Israeli attacks have killed 550 Palestinians in the current offensive, most of them civilians. Khuza'a has been under heavy attacks and many fled their village as the Israeli army physically occupies the village. Israeli attacks have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and injured around 5,000 in the current offensive.

Funeral in Bani Suhaila for the 21 members of the Al-Najjar family, who were killed just before the ceasefire, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. The Al-Najjar family fled their homes in Khuza’a to take refuge further west. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israel receives special attention from time to time because the occupation is exceptional among the nations of the world. What other legitimate member of the international community seeks to continue imprisoning (at least) a third of its population? This is the real issue that lies at the root of all military operations and their many victims. The occupation systematically denies Palestinians their human rights, and it continues unabated, regardless of the circumstances of every flare up or round of violence.

At the end of the day, the debate over the IDF’s morality — which makes headlines every time an NGO publishes a report or the murder of an innocent person is exposed — is a distraction. It is convenient for Israel and its citizens to cope with that question, since if we prove that the army makes every effort to continue controlling Palestinians with the minimum amount of innocent victims, we will feel better about ourselves and our international image won’t be tarnished. And when we cannot prove as much, we can always replace the question of morality with one of discipline: the soldier who didn’t follow orders, the commander who gave problematic orders. And hey, what is happening in Syria is way worse.

But even if another army killed 4,000 people — or 40,000 — in Gaza, would that make Israel’s policies legitimate? Does this country have a right to turn millions of the people under its control — a civilian population — into prisoners, because it is afraid of what will happen once they are released? Can we expect anything from this policy but repeated cycles of “security challenges” and “military responses?” I do not believe so, but I appreciate the honesty of the few who are willing to say “yes.” Most Israelis simply ignore the question.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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How every Israeli profits from the occupation http://972mag.com/how-every-israeli-profits-from-the-occupation/107629/ http://972mag.com/how-every-israeli-profits-from-the-occupation/107629/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:24:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107629 Israel’s government, economy and citizens regularly exploit everything they can from the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians the bare minimum for survival. If Israelis want change, they’ll have to come to terms with reality.

A Palestinian vendor sells coffee outside the entrance to an Israeli military checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian vendor sells coffee outside the entrance to an Israeli military checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, June 12, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Contrary to popular belief, the boycott is not the greatest threat facing Israel, at least not at the moment. However, now that BDS has become a household name, it is perfect opportunity for Israelis to have an honest conversation about the occupation. As opposed to the angle being peddled by Yedioth Ahronoth — which has been leading an open campaign against the BDS movement through a series of articles and op-eds — it is clear that the support for the BDS movement overwhelmingly stems from our control over millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza who lack basic rights.

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The occupation is one of Israel’s biggest national projects, if not the biggest. Every single part of the population — not to mention the Israeli economy — take part in it. From the hi-tech industry that develops our most advanced combat and surveillance devices, to the major Israeli corporations of the Israeli economy, to the thousands of people who have manned checkpoints and patrolled the streets of the West Bank over the years — everyone has had a role.

There are those who claim that the occupation is a burden on the State of Israel. Perhaps they are right. But we cannot ignore the fact that it is also profitable, even for those who live in central Israel and are convinced that the “extreme right” is to blame for everything. First and foremost, there are the profits that come from a number of business ventures in the West Bank: the mines that Israel controls, which bring down the costs of building across the country; tourist sites; or just about any industry that relies on the cheap Palestinian labor.

Even the land itself is profitable for Israel. The Israeli government solved the housing crisis in the ultra-Orthodox community by moving over 100,000 people to two cities on the other side of the Green Line. Imagine how much this kind of land would be worth in central Israel. Or what about Jerusalem, which for years has ceased expanding westward, only eastward?

The markets of Ramallah and Khan Younis carry Israeli goods. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a captive market for Israeli products, worth billions of shekels a year. Perhaps the Palestinians would prefer to buy cheaper goods from Jordan and Egypt, but developing open trade under occupation is nearly impossible.

Palestinians Burn Settlment Products in Front of the Karmei Tzur Settlement. Picture Credit: Joseph Dana

Palestinians burn Israeli settlement products in front of the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur. (photo: Joseph Dana)

And what about all those smaller forms of profit that we’ll never actually be able to quantify. Imagine a truck that leaves from Eilat toward Kiryat Shmona on the northern border — how much would the drive cost if it had to circumvent the West Bank? What if it had to pay a toll to the Palestinian Authority? What would happen if we had to pay the Palestinians to use Route 443, which cuts across the West Bank? Or if we leased the land beyond the Green Line upon which the high-speed railway to Jerusalem is slated to be built? And what about air space, aquifers or electromagnetic frequencies?

Partner, the local Israeli supplier of Orange, a French cellphone company whose CEO stated late last week that he intends to stop doing business in Israel — has antennas all across the West Bank, much like every other other major Israeli cellphone company. The problem does not only stem from land theft; Israeli companies alone have the right to operate 3G networks across the country. The Palestinian network, on the other hand, allows only for phone calls and text messages. As a result, thousands of Palestinians who want to use 3G must obtain it through Israeli companies. This is a clean profit for Partner and the other companies. And this is without even getting into strange stories, like how Orange paid rent to Israeli settlers who illegally established an outpost on privately-owned Palestinian land.

The bottom line is very simple: Israel — its government, economy and citizens — regularly exploits everything it can from the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians the bare minimum for survival. There is no such thing as “democratic Israel” to the west of the Green Line and “occupying Israel” to its east. Occupying Israel exists in Tel Aviv as well.

Instead of rolling our eyes and crying “anti-Semites” like the Right does, or blame the settlers and Netanyahu — like the Left does — the time has come to recognize these facts. Only then will we be able to start making a change.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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What to expect from Netanyahu’s fourth government http://972mag.com/what-to-expect-from-netanyahus-fourth-government/106738/ http://972mag.com/what-to-expect-from-netanyahus-fourth-government/106738/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 12:15:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106738 The new government, which could  survive longer than most observers expect, intends to resume the implementation of the Prawer Plan, aimed to force the Bedouin Palestinian population in the “unrecognized villages” into a narrow territory. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu at the first Knesset session following the 2015 elections (photo: Haim Tzach, Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Netanyahu at the first Knesset session following the 2015 elections (photo: Haim Tzach, Government Press Office)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government was sworn in in the nick of time. Due to last-minute controversies over cabinet positions, President Reuven Rivlin and the family members of the new ministers had to wait a couple of hours for the special Knesset session to begin. Alongside the coalition negotiations, prolonged to the very maximum allowed by the law, Thursday night serves as a reminder of the difficulties Netanayhu is sure to face in maintaining his narrow coalition, which rests on the support of a mere 61 lawmakers out of the Knesset’s 120.

This, however, doesn’t mean that it will be a short-lived government, as some observers were all too quick to predict. Israel had similarly narrow governments in the past, and some of them even carried out major policy decisions: Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II agreement in 1995 with an unstable 61 government, and Menachem Begin invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the same majority. (Though, admittedly, declaring war with a narrow coalition is not a big deal, since most of the opposition usually supports any military action the government undertakes.)

The fate of a coalition is often determined by the interests of a certain party in breaking away from the government and risking elections or, worse still, being left out when an alternative government is formed. Right now, I don’t see any party with such an interest, nor do I see any member of the coalition – not even the mere two necessary – who would benefit from siding with the opposition. The settlers and the hard right certainly don’t have a better alternative than this government, and the same goes for the ultra-Orthodox. My hunch is that for the time being, Netanyahu is not going anywhere.

Executing policies is a different thing, though, and this government will have very limited room to maneuver. This means an endless give and take with every MK on each bill – be it inconsequential legislation or major reform.

It’s clear that this government will not change course on the Palestinian issue. The traditional distinction between “pragmatists” and “hardliners,” or “hawks and doves,” doesn’t make sense here. All of the members of this government who have some sort of bearing on the Palestinian issue – from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely to Netanyahu himself – are united in their opposition to Palestinian statehood or to any sort of territorial concessions.

And it’s not that they have an alternative way to end the occupation – they simply want to keep things as they are, while expanding settlements. And the rest – Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon or the ultra-Orthodox ministers – simply don’t care. There was a funny moment in Netanyahu’s speech last night, when he said that his government will seek peace, and all the Arab MKs broke into spontaneous laughter, which pretty much captures everything (watch it here, around 0:30).

هههههاحلى 5 دقايق ب 2015حفلة!!!!الكل يحضر

Posted by Anan Soheil Muzalbet on Thursday, May 14, 2015

Don’t believe their pledges to annex Area C, the 60 percent of the West bank that is under direct Israeli administrative control, either. Though settler leaders call for that from time to time, it would be counterproductive for their purposes. It’s actually easier to build settlements or expropriate land under military law, and why risk the international outcry that such a change to the status quo would provoke? What we see now is Netanyahu’s final-status solution. There is no need to look any further.

With the fate of the West Bank and Gaza on hold, and major reforms depending on the goodwill of every single coalition member, I believe that much of the political energy will be invested in the internal culture war, including steps against the Palestinian minority in Israel proper – the so-called Arab-Israelis.

The right already expressed the desire to push legislation that would limit the ability of human rights NGOs and other anti-occupation groups to fundraise abroad, and the new justice minister – Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked – is a strong supporter of curtailing the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down Knesset legislation that it deems unconstitutional. If such legislation passes, it will have an effect on issues of state and religion and on the treatment of asylum seekers, where the court has taken a stand in recent years, as opposed to the Palestinian issue, where most rulings are in line with the government and the IDF.

Closer attention should be paid to the relations between the Knesset, the government, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up more than 20 percent of the population. The coalition agreement includes a commitment by the government to implement the Prawer Plan, which aims to force most of the indigenous Palestinian-Bedouin population into a narrow territory in the north of the Negev – while making room for new housing projects, settlements and farms to be built for Jews. There has already been a rise in Palestinian home demolishes, especially in the south. The experience of the previous Knesset shows that some right-wing MKs will also try to undermine the Palestinians’ political representation or freedom of speech – as they did with the Nakba Law, or through the attempts to ban Arab legislators from running for parliament.

On those issues – the Palestinian minority, the Supreme Court, the opposition to the occupation – the government will enjoy the support of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s six MKs, who are now in opposition, which means a de-facto solid 67-53 majority. Lieberman or some of his party members might also be tempted to join the coalition in the coming months, and make things way easier for Netanyahu. That’s another reason I don’t expect this government to fall so soon.

The cabinet itself will be very right-wing, as one might expect from such a coalition. There are a couple of troubling appointments which went largly under the radar: Yariv Levin, a talented and very radical MK from Likud – one of the party’s rising stars – will have the public security portfolio, in charge of the police. (The Shin Bet is under the charge of the Prime Minister’s Office.) Levin might adopt harsher policing policies vis-a-vis Palestinians in the south and East Jerusalem.

The new deputy defense ministry is Eli Ben Dahan, a radical rabbi from the Jewish Home party, who went on record lately calling the Palestinians “sub-human.” This will be the man in charge of the civil administration – the IDF agency that runs the lives of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. Even retired army general Ilan Paz, a former commander of the civil administration, called this nomination “a terrible, unacceptable thing.” Brigadier General (ret.) Paz called on the current commander of the civil administration to resign.

Finally, one should note the two senior cabinet portfolios left unmanned (meaning that the prime minister is keeping them for himself): Media and communication and foreign affairs. The latter is clearly kept as bait for prospective coalition partners – be them  Liberman or Labor’s Isaac Herzog.  The Communication Ministry, on the other hand, will not be handed to anyone but rather kept closely by Netanyahu himself, so he can use its tremendous regulatory power against those seen by him as his political rivals in the media.

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Israeli Right renews its fight on funding for human rights orgs http://972mag.com/israeli-right-renews-its-fight-on-funding-for-human-rights-orgs/105989/ http://972mag.com/israeli-right-renews-its-fight-on-funding-for-human-rights-orgs/105989/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 09:59:04 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105989 Legislative attacks on EU funding of human rights activities could backfire by forcing the Europeans to revisit the basis for its entire economic relationship with Israel — something that not even BDS has succeeded at accomplishing.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

The Israeli Right is once again seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the ability of human rights and anti-occupation organizations to seek funding abroad. As part of coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is demanding that foreign-government funding of local institutions require approval by the Defense Ministry and the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The next government is unlikely to adopt Bennett’s demand as policy, but some softer version may very well reach the Knesset floor, and even gain the necessary majority to become law.

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The right-wing media is already preparing the ground. Right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon (now owned by Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson) published a major article last weekend based entirely on press releases by NGO Monitor, and focused on the European Union’s support for human rights organizations and other similar groups in Israel.

Like most of the public debate around this issue, the portrait the article painted was biased and one-sided — the organizations themselves weren’t even given a chance to comment. The Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor are not interested in the wider, general effect of foreign entities on the public debate in Israel, nor do they seek to look into the entire array of political organizations that are funded from abroad. They will not, for instance, tell you very much — if anything at all — about right-wing non-profits’ sources of funding. (NGO Monitor itself is funded abroad, and doesn’t have the most transparent record.) The goal of the Jewish Home and NGO Monitor is to attack what they see as the last political platform for anti-occupation activity inside Israeli society. (Full disclosure: the non-profit that operates this site is among the organizations that are often attacked by NGO Monitor. Eight percent of +972′s budget last year came from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which is defined as “a representative of a foreign government” under Israeli law.)

There is little doubt one way of gaining influence is to fund certain activities, and that includes gaining political influence. “Soft power,” the common phrase used to describe such humanitarian, cultural or economic activities by governments, already betrays this fact. Every country engages in similar activities – including Israel, which, among other things, sends paid envoys to university campuses and synagogues overseas to engage in political activities designed to influence public opinion, with the eventual goal of influencing governments’ foreign policies to support the Israeli side of the conflict.

A debate about foreign influence in local politics is a good thing, but it should encompass the whole picture and put things in proper context. Most of the European Union money that is sent to Israel, for example, does not go to human rights activities, but to other fields, most notably to scientific research. As part of the Horizon 2020 program, for example, Israeli scientists and institutions are about to receive up to NIS 1.5 billion, which is more than what all of the human rights organizations got from all European countries combined (not just the EU), over a period of several years, and that’s according to NGO Monitor’s own data.

In other words, there is no “political” and “non political” money, but rather support for all sorts of activities that fall under the broad agenda of the EU (or the American government, for that matter). Anyone seeking to stop funding for human rights organizations will also necessarily risk losing university grants as well. That is the reason Netanyahu torpedoed previous versions of anti-NGO legislation in the Knesset.

And it doesn’t end there: Article 2 of the 1995 agreement between Israel and the Europe, the very document that made Israel a favorable trade partner to the EU, states that:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

I believe that the EU should have long ago realized that the permanent state of occupation Israel perpetuates, which deprives millions of people of their most basic human rights, is a major violation of Article 2 of the agreement. But Brussels has never applied Article 2, let along considered backing away from the Israeli-European agreement. The public discourse in Israel — full of conspiracy theories about European agents — tends to miss that simple fact.

If Israel decides to place limits on the EU’s ability to support human rights causes, it will be inviting the Europeans to revisit the 1995 agreement, including Article 2. As I said, I believe this – and not the fear of the Supreme Court or a non-existent opposition – is the only thing standing in the way of new attempts at passing anti-NGO legislation.

The irony is that the Israeli Right might actually succeed where all the boycott movements failed – in making European governments reconsider their special relationship with Israel, and not just engaging in symbolic actions and statements against the settlements, as they do now. If the Israeli anti-occupation organizations really supported BDS – as they are often accused by the Right – they would be wishing the Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor the best of luck in their current efforts.

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