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Israeli intel minister: Brussels was attacked because of chocolate

Israel Katz says that Belgians enjoy life too much, refuse to decide that they’re in a war with Islamic terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Israel's former prime minister is going to prison (and why he's not)

Ehud Olmert this week became Israel’s first former prime minister to head to prison. Here is a simple explanation of why, what legal troubles still await him, and the crimes for which he’ll never pay. 

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

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

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

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

What it’s all about

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

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

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

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

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Yossi Sarid: Conservative innovator of the Israeli Left

One of the first Israeli politicians to champion the two-state solution, Yossi Sarid was also one of the last vestiges of the Israeli Left’s old guard. He will be remembered warmly for never turning away a person in need, but also for his contentious attitudes toward religious and Mizrahi Jews. 

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

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

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

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

Innovator of the old Left

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

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Yair Lapid on Hillary handshake: 'I met my buddy's wife...'

Israel’s Mr. Liberal went to the Saban Forum in Washington D.C. and met this woman he’s seen somewhere, a lawyer maybe? Bill’s wife, you guys know Bill. 

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

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

 

In translation:

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

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Knesset deputy speaker accused of pimping, meth abuse

Junior MK Oren Hazan, who rose in the ranks at breathtaking speed to become the country’s deputy speaker of the Knesset, is now being accused of running a gambling operation, procuring call girls and using crystal meth.

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

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

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

Hazan decided to combine the worst of both worlds. First he gave interviews denying he ever ran a casino (it was a hotel that had...

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Ultra-Orthodox paper photoshops women out of gov't portrait

Yom-LeYom, the official weekly of the Shas party, published the traditional group portrait of the cabinet and the president this morning — with one notable amendment: Ministers Miri Regev (Culture), Ayelet Shaked (Justice) and Gila Gamliel (Immigrant Absorption and, you guessed it, Gender Equality) were all airbrushed out.

Here is the original:

The 34th Government of Israel (GPO)

And here is the Shas version:

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

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

to the hyper-realistic:

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

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

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With friends like these: How Netanyahu walked all over his closest ally

Netanyahu’s crushing victory wasn’t so much over the Left, which never stood much of a chance to begin with. His true and ruthless triumph was over the Right, and especially over one man — his closest ally, Naftali Bennett. 

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

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

Bennett’s own goal

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

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Jewish nationalism and the new Palestinian politics in Israel

It seems somehow difficult to remember now, but the Israeli general elections were announced on the crest of a tidal wave of nationalist hostilities — unusually pronounced even by the standards of Israel-Palestine. This past summer, rogue Palestinian militants abducted and killed three Israeli teenagers from a hitchhiking post outside a West Bank settlement. When they were found, a clique of young Israelis kidnapped a Palestinian boy, beat him, and burned him alive.

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

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

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

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

Among other things, the law would spell out the exclusivity of national self-determination within Israel as belonging exclusively to the Jews; would entrench the Law of Return, which effectively allows only Jews to immigrate to Israel, but which...

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Behind election lurks Israel's ethnic divide

The use of racially loaded code words at an anti-Netanyahu rally highlights the inter-Jewish racism that has plagued Israeli society and politics since day one. A look at the correlation between ethnic background and voting patterns.

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

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

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

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

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

In the heated discussion that ensued, Garboz insisted he wasn’t referring to anyone of any particular ethnic origin. But to most Israelis, the phrase about “talisman-kissers” and “tomb worshippers” was as much a dogwhistle phrase as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remarks, a few weeks...

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Netanyahu: Two-state solution is off the table, kinda

The Israeli prime minister moves closer than ever to officially declaring an end to the two-state solution. He doesn’t say it explicitly, but there are only so many eulogies a political paradigm can sustain before it expires. 

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

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

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

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

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

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WATCH: The most anti-Semitic Israeli cartoon ever made?

[This post has been updated]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WATCH: Shas' stunning election ad is a challenge to both Right and Left

The ultra-Orthodox party, which has drifted far to the right over the past several years, reaches out to the all the Israelis who are not middle-class – which is to say, the majority. 

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

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

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

The kibbutz movement is still one of the main pillars of the party, which doesn’t so much excuse Yona’s demotion as much as aggravates it. Kibbutzim constitute the core of the increasingly marginalized, old elite that many associate with Labor, and are one of the reasons the...

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Customer complains about Arab drivers, gets schooled by taxi app

At a time when Uber is getting  all the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it is heartening to see another taxi app – GetTaxi,  aka Gett – attracting a very different kind of press. As we reported here last week, businesses across the country are responding to the latest escalation by turning out their Palestinian employees. Last week, a GetTaxi customer, Yael, complained that too many of the drivers who appear on her app when she orders a taxi are Arab. English translation of the exchange follows the screenshot:

yael

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

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

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

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

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+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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