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What to expect from Netanyahu's fourth government

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. 

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...

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Israeli Right renews its fight on funding for human rights orgs

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.

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.

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...

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You can boycott anything in Israel — except the occupation

The ‘boycott law’ won’t put an end to the BDS movement — its real importance lies in the criminalization of all opposition to the occupation.

A few months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for a boycott of businesses owned by Arab citizens of Israel. Such remarks — blunt racism directed at 20 percent of Israelis, regardless of their actions, opinions or political affiliations — are now well-embedded within the Israeli mainstream. Liberman himself is a legitimate coalition partner as far as either Labor or Likud are concerned. Meanwhile, the call to boycott those who profit from the occupation is now officially considered a civil offense. This is the bottom line of the High Court of Justice’s verdict, which approved the Knesset’s anti-boycott law (with the exception of a single article) on Wednesday afternoon.

The verdict is a 200-page long formidable act of legal acrobatics and eye-rolling. A boycott, the court declares, is a form of discrimination. One of the justices even goes so far as to use the Orwellian term “political act of terror.” Yet boycotting is a very common political act, both in Israel and elsewhere. There are those who boycott shops that sell animal fur, others who boycott restaurants that serve non-Kosher food, people who boycott Turkey due to its politics, and much more. All of the these take place unperturbed in broad daylight, and are often promoted by political parties, civil society organizations and public figures. And this is before we even begin to speak of racially-motivated boycotts that target the Palestinian population — these go unhindered as well. But a boycott of settlements products? Forbidden. The bottom line is that today in Israel, one can boycott anything and anyone, except the occupation.

Justice Meltzer, who wrote most of the verdict, argues that the boycott — and especially the academic boycott — “silences intellectual discourse.” In other words, it is the boycott that hurts democracy and freedom of speech. In the abstract world of the High Court, the occupation is an intellectual issue to be debated rationally in the public sphere. In reality, however, the occupation is a regime that deprives millions of their political rights, thus denying them the possibility of participating in the public decision-making process. If Palestinians had the right to vote and participate in the political sphere that determines their destiny, there...

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Obama, Netanyahu and the Palestinian conflict: What's next?

Something indeed changed in the Israel-U.S. relationship, the question is what actions will the U.S. take and how Netanyahu reacts — from the Security Council to Gaza.

I just got back from the annual J Street conference. The atmosphere was very different from the 2013 conference. Back then it was all about the Kerry mission. This year, talk of peace was replaced by a certain state of shock from Netanyahu’s victory at the polls. Most of the conference participants get their information about those elections from the American media, which was in turn fed by the Israeli media, which presented the unrealistic probability of a Labor victory as a probably scenario. Nobody made any effort at hiding their disappointment with the actual results.

But there was also something else in the air. It wasn’t just Netanyahu’s victory that made the difference; it was the way he did it — sealing shut the door to the idea of a two-state solution and using racist scare-tactics to drive Jewish voters to the polls. The two-state solution is J Street’s main policy objective, and the history of the civil rights movement is at the core of liberal Jewish American identity. The fact that Netanyahu directly confronted everything they stand for – and was rewarded for it by Israelis – shook people to their core. The kind of talk heard from J Street people this year was unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. President of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, declared on stage – twice! – that “Netanyahu doesn’t represent us,” and the head of J Street’s board, Morton Halperin, said in his in opening remarks that, “Netanyahu will not convince us that he isn’t a racist.” Both were met with cheers from the audience. There was also a general sense that the U.S. administration is readier than ever to confront Netanyahu (a sentiment that was strengthened following the address by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough)

Israelis tend to view such developments in one of two ways: either to claim that the country is headed on a one-way path to becoming a pariah state, the way South Africa was; or to believe that nothing actually happened, and that it’s all just empty words, at best.

The truth, I believe, lies elsewhere. The shift in American views and policies on Israel cannot be narrowed to “better” or “worse,” but a...

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Netanyahu's fourth gov't: The good, the bad and the ugly

The next Israeli government will attempt to preserve the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza at all costs. Facing international backlash, the persecution of leftists and Arabs could rise to dangerous levels.

It’s quite clear what the fourth Netanyahu government will look like: A coalition of the Likud’s “natural partners.” These are the same people who have been following and backing Netanyahu since the 1990s: Avigdor Liberman, Bennett’s Jewish Home, the ultra-Orthodox parties, and Moshe Kahlon, who is actually comprises the moderate wing of the Likud. There are all sorts of rumors about sending feelers to the Labor party, but I believe Isaac Herzog will stay in the opposition this time. There is a slightly bigger chance that Yair Lapid can be lured in by Bibi, but the chances are that won’t happen right away.

Socio-economically speaking, it will likely be a better government than its two predecessors. The Jewish Home party, which espoused a radical free market ideology, shrunk dramatically. Lapid, who dedicated his time in power to going after the ultra-Orthodox (the poorest population segment in Jewish Israeli society), will be replaced by Moshe Kahlon, who is in touch with the day-to-day hardships of most Israelis, and especially those with lower incomes. Kahlon has indicated that he has far more well-off targets than the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox in his cross-hairs: the banks, for instance. I sincerely hope if he heads in that direction that he will receive the backing of both Netanyahu and the opposition parties.

In other ways I think that we are headed into a very dangerous era. Netanyahu believes in maintaining the status quo in Gaza and the West Bank. But the Palestinians will continue their anti-occupation struggle; they are not waiting to for Israel’s instructions on that matter. International pressure is building, along with efforts to confront Israel in international institutions. Israel doesn’t have an answer to such steps — it’s enough to look at the distrust with which Netanyahu’s zigzagging on the matter of Palestinian statehood is being met.

In such a case, with each international or diplomatic move or any renewed outbursts of violence, the pushback will be directed at “the enemy from within” — in other words, the Israeli Left, and especially those groups and activists working in the occupied territories, as well as Palestinian citizens. There’s not much Netanyahu can do against the UN or the American government, or even...

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What now, Bibi? — Early election takeaways

Netanyahu picked a fight with a sitting U.S. president and declared there will never be a Palestinian State. It might have helped him squeeze out another election victory, but where is Israel heading?

The Likud and Labor (The Zionist Camp) are tied with 27 seats, but Benjamin Netanyahu has way more paths to bring together the 61 seats necessary for forming a government, and another term for himself. That’s the bottom line of the exit polls published by the Israeli TV channels as the polling stations closed on Tuesday night. Netanyahu and his party members are celebrating, and Bibi is already testing the waters with potential coalition partners.

(Update: Early Wednesday morning, with over 90 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu took a large lead with 30 seats to the Zionist Camp’s 24. Read more here.)

Netanyahu was able to surge in the last few days, following a desperate – and at times, racist –campaign that warned right-wing voters of a “left-wing government backed by the Arabs.” On election day, he published a Facebook status declaring that “Arabs are heading to the polls in masses” and called for his supporters to rush and save the Right from losing power. This was a prime minister warning that his own citizens are voting. But in Netanyahu’s rhetoric, Palestinians were never really citizens anyway, even those who have Israeli identity cards; he sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people, not of Israelis.

The warnings worked. Other right-wing parties hemorrhage support – Bennett and the settlers dropped to eight seats in the exit polls (they had 12 until now), Liberman dropped five, and the far-right Yahad party probably didn’t even make it in. But Likud rose from 20-21 seats to 27-28, and the Right, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties and Moshe Kahlon’s centrist party has about 64 seats. Despite all the recent drama, there wasn’t much movement between the political blocs, compared to 2013 (61:59) or 2009 (65:55).

Sixty-four seats doesn’t constitute a huge majority, but it’s enough for a stable government – as long as Kahlon doesn’t pull any surprises and refuse Bibi’s offer (it’s highly unlikely). Netanyahu will probably try to have a larger majority by inviting Labor or Yair Lapid to join, but whether they do or not, they won’t be able to deny him the victory. Assuming there are no major changes when the final results are in,...

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Election preview: Netanyahu's moment of truth

The Israeli prime minister called elections hoping to strengthen his coalition, but he underestimated the personal resentment many Israelis feel toward him. One shouldn’t, however, confuse the fierce competition for power with a battle over ideas: even if Labor wins, the end of the occupation is not around the corner.

When Benjamin Netanyahu decided to fire Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and send Israelis to the polls for the second time in a little over two years, many people (myself included) defined these elections as “a referendum on Netanyahu.” Final results will only be in on Wednesday morning – possibly even later – but one thing is clear: Netanyahu’s goal – to rid himself of an unstable coalition and secure a clear majority – will be denied.

Instead, Bibi was forced to conduct the political battle of his life. In this campaign, he poked the American president in the eye, made all sorts of promises to just about everybody, declared war on the publisher of one of Israel’s largest dailies, and buried the Bar-Ilan speech, in which he expressed support for the two-state solution. If Bibi somehow becomes prime minister again, he will have many pieces to pick up. But all that is still far off. Right now, all Netanyahu wants is to remain in power.

Israelis will vote tomorrow on a single ballot — for the party they support. The polls close all over the country at 10 p.m. local (4:00 p.m. EST) — that’s when the exit polls will be published (including on this site). Modified polls will be published toward midnight; results are expected in the early morning. Final results and seat allocations might only come in on Thursday or Friday, once the votes from soldiers are counted (this process takes longer because the Central Election Committee needs to verify that no soldier voted twice — on base and at their home address).

Here are a few things to watch for during those days:

1. Netanyahu’s fate: A few days after the final results are published, the president – who is the formal head of state – will give the opportunity to form a government to the member of Knesset with best chances to succeed. So if a Knesset member can prove he has at least 60 other MKs backing him, he is likely to be granted this opportunity....

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Netanyahu's Congress speech: An election stunt, after all

Netanyahu didn’t offer any new thinking on Iran, but he might have succeeded in regaining control over elections that were slipping away from him

Ever since Speaker of the House John Boehner revealed his invitation to the Israeli prime minister to speak before a joint session of Congress, people have been wondering who exactly is playing who here. Is Bibi risking Israeli-American relations in order to help the GOP score points against President Obama, or did Boehner break protocol — by not informing the White House of the invitation — in order to help Netanyahu in the coming elections? Tonight we got our answer: more the latter than the former.

As far as the international debate on the deal with Iran goes, Bibi’s positions were absurd. Not only did he provide zero alternatives to the deal he is seeking to prevent, he actually asked his biggest ally to walk out of negotiations with Iran, tighten sanctions and wait for regime change. That is not only highly impractical (even if the U.S. is convinced to adopt Netanyahu’s proposed policy, there is little chance Russia or China will do the same), but most chances are that Iran would only intensify its enrichment efforts. In Netanyahu’s playbook, this leads to the military option. Since very few people in the U.S. are anxious to go to war with Iran, Netanyahu actually made selling the deal easier, as the Washington Post  was quick to point out. If even Bibi doesn’t have an alternative strategy to negotiations, the logical conclusion would be to go ahead with the deal. After all, one could always end up going to war if Iran breaks its obligations, and there is no need to do that right now.

Sure enough, the Republicans might have had some fun Tuesday night, especially in seeing all of Israel’s supporters in the Democratic Party moving uncomfortably in their seats. However, I do not think Bibi gave them much to work with; war with Iran does not seem like a winning ticket.

As far as Netanyahu’s political interests are concerned, however, the speech was a major success. Israelis were highly impressed, a sentiment I even heard coming from Bibi’s critics. Likud supporters were practically euphoric, acting as if their quarterback delivered the perfect pass at the last second. This week’s polls were bad for Likud, especially one published several hours before the speech,...

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With Netanyahu, confrontations are a feature, not a bug

Netanyahu believes he can impress Israelis by standing up to the world on his signature political issue. Previous rifts with the White House paid off for him — this time might be different. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will claim to represent the Jewish people in his speech before Congress Tuesday, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t even have an Israeli consensus behind him. His journey to Washington was heavily criticized by Israeli opposition leaders, public figures and parts of the media — especially the Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth dailies, which are taking a clear anti-Bibi stance ahead of these elections. [UPDATE: Netanyahu also had some bad election polls - the worst one this morning. see at the end of this post].

Last weekend, Yedioth ran a long interview with former Mossad head Meir Dagan, who denounced Netanyahu’s Iran strategy as a complete failure: “Netanyahu has caused Israel the most strategic damage on Iran,” said Dagan. Former head of the IDF’s northern command (and former deputy head of the Mossad) Amiram Levin blamed Netanyahu for “hitting the U.S. president between the eyes” Dagan and Levin are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the security establishment was never on board with Netanyahu’s aggressive Iran strategy, and some reports even claim that the IDF and Mossad torpedoed the prime minister’s military option when the moment of decision came.

Yet at the same time, there is a near-consensus view among those in the political establishment that Netanyahu will only come back strengthened from Washington. A strategist for one of the parties told me this week that “most pollsters we talked to believe that Bibi’s Likud will increase by a couple of seats or so by the weekend.” Analysts attribute this to two reasons: first, with his speech, Netanyahu has managed to frame the national conversation around an issue that he dominates, and on which the opposition simple doesn’t have a clear agenda. Second, with Bibi, these kinds of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. They are part of a political strategy that builds on the intense emotions that such moments produce.

Unlike Ariel Sharon, a Likud prime minister who went after the centrist vote in his national election campaign, Netanyahu has always been about rallying the base. Domestically, he highlights the cultural war within Israeli society, constantly pushing messages against “the Left” and the media...

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For a few votes, Labor joins the attacks on Haneen Zoabi

Two years ago Herzog adamantly stated that the Labor party principally opposes disqualifying any Knesset candidates. Now, in what appears to be the groundwork for joining a Netanyahu government, he and Tzipi Livni want to stop Haneen Zoabi from running for office.

The Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s joint list, “The Zionist Camp,” announced this week that they will support a request to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi and Kahanist settler Baruch Marzel from running in upcoming Knesset elections. The motion to disqualify the Balad MK is expected to pass by near consensus in the Central Elections Committee — with the support of everyone from Jewish Home to Labor. Meretz is the only non-Arab party expected to oppose Zoabi’s disqualification.

Disqualifying Zoabi has become an Israeli political ritual in recent years, but one in which Labor hasn’t always taken part. In the most recent elections Labor opposed Zoabi’s disqualification, on the grounds that “some things are more important than hot-bloodedness,” specifically, basic democratic values. There is a video of Labor leader Isaac Herzog at the time making an impassioned speech against Zoabi’s disqualification at the Central Elections Commission. Among other things, Herzog said:

So what changed? Firstly, Herzog now sees himself as a candidate for the premiership. Secondly, the Zionist Camp is down in the polls. Nothing has changed about Zoabi. The disqualification is an attempt to attract voters from the Right and to improve Labor’s position and interests in the Center-Left political block — to throw Meretz a life-line by making themselves seem less “lefty,” and to steal a seat or two from Lapid, Kahlon or even Likud.

But even in political theater there are basic principles that cannot be compromised. Relations between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel are one of them. It is the most volatile and sensitive issue, which was expressed in demonstrations and acts of violence this past summer — primarily against Palestinian citizens of Israel. One of the central sources of hope for a Herzog victory was the prospect that he might stop the steady stream of fuel the Right has been pouring onto that bonfire. Backing the attempt to disqualify Zoabi in these elections is far more than an election stunt meant to steal a few votes from Avigdor Liberman — it is the Labor party becoming Liberman.

Considering that in both Labor and even Meretz there are people...

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Ahead of close elections, Congress gives Bibi a prime-time appearance

The senator from Jerusalem will take all the help he can get these days.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11. Coincidently, Netanyahu’s speech will take place a month and a half before the Israeli elections.

According to most polls, Netanyahu is extremely vulnerable, and is still far from an absolute majority that will win him another term as prime minister. If you think this is the real reason he was invited to Washington, you are in good company. Netanyahu’s campaign, which is having some trouble taking off, is all about his position as “the responsible adult” and “the internationally recognized leader.” Bibi, who doesn’t usually attend funerals of Israeli terror victims, rushed to Paris along with Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman for a photo-up with world leaders after the recent terror attacks in the French capital. But the invitation to Congress is much better – in his previous speech, Netanyahu got 29 standing ovations. Nobody will stand in his way for a photo-op the way people did in Paris.

It is not surprising that the GOP is in the tank for Bibi. After all, Netanyahu all but endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential elections. Israeli and American politics have almost merged in recent years and the debate over America’s Middle Eastern policy sounds to the Israeli ear like a battle between Labor and Likud. This is why the U.S. cannot play a positive role in the peace talks – the American positions duplicate the Israeli debate, and as a result, are completely disconnected from Palestinian point of view. Americans always end up being either surprised or angered by every move Fatah or Hamas make – just as Israelis are.

Going back to the elections, it’s clear that the GOP is much smarter in its Israel politics than the Democrats will ever be. Boehner and his party will not only help Netanyahu, but they could end up embarrassing the president on the eve of an agreement with Iran. The problem is that there will be a considerable number of Democrats who will rush to their help – such as those who joined Boehner in inviting Bibi without consulting the White House. (UPDATE: The response from the White House suggests potential complications here.) Sometimes you get the feeling that some Democrats actually...

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Election analysis: A shared Netanyahu-Herzog government?

Herzog and Bibi’s political interests and the fragmented Knesset that is likely to emerge after the elections might force Likud and Labor into a power-sharing deal. Avigdor Liberman and President Rivlin already support the idea.

The Israeli Labor Party, which will participate in the upcoming election under the banner of “The Zionist Camp,” held its primaries this week. Former party leader Shelly Yachimovich won second place (first place is reserved for party leader Isaac Herzog); Stav Shafir and Itizik Shmuli, two of the leaders of 2011’s social protest movement, were elected in top places. Altogether the list leans a bit to the left of what Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who will lead the party, would have liked to see. They run the risk of drawing support from the leftist Meretz rather than from the right, which they need in order to win a Knesset majority and form a coalition. The first few polls conducted after the primaries give Labor 25 seats – one ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Yet what matters most is not who wins more seats, but rather which Knesset member has the best chances of forming a government. The magic number is 61, and reaching it will prove more complicated than it has been in years.

Below is an average of recent polls (not including the last two, although the difference is insignificant), conducted by the independent Project 61. According to the polls, Herzog can count on roughly 41 MKs (from Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties, though the latter will likely not join the government), while Bibi begins with wither 39 (Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party) or 43 seats, in the case that former Shas stalwart Eli Yishai’s new party makes it into the Knesset. [UPDATE: several new polls are out - see at the end of this post].

The rest depends on the ultra-Orthodox (Shas and United Torah Judaism) and centrist parties – Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Three of those parties will help either Bibi or Herzog become the next prime minister.

But the puzzle is not that simple. Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox can’t really work together (Lapid’s entire campaign was based on drafting the ultra-Orthodox, who are generally exempt from military service, into the IDF); it is not clear whether Liberman’s party will survive the recent round of corruption allegations, and there...

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Blame Peres, not Bennett, for the Qana massacre

The twisted logic of Peres’ Grapes of Wrath operation was all about hitting civilian targets. That was the reason refugees sought shelter in Qana’s UN base in the first place.

Yigal Sarna, a journalist for Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, published a dramatic and serious accusation over the weekend against Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party. Bennett was the commander of a small IDF unit that operated inside the “Security Zone” that Israel occupied in South Lebanon during the 1996 military operation Grapes of Wrath. According to Sarna, Bennett decided on his own to diverge from his orders, got his soldiers into trouble, ordered supporting fire from the regional artillery unit — and those shells hit the UN refugee camp in Kafr Qana. One hundred and two civilians and UN workers were killed and Israel was forced to end its military operation. The incident was later known as the Kafr Qana massacre.

Bennett got some surprising support from the chairman of the board of B’Tselem, Israel’s preeminent human rights organization. David Zonsheine, who served in the same unit and took part in the mission, claimed on Facebook that there was nothing wrong with Bennett’s actions that night and that in any case, he couldn’t have been held responsible for the killing. Other members of Maglan came out in support of Bennett as well.

I tend to agree. The blame lies much higher in the chain of command: those who came up with the twisted logic behind Grapes of Wrath, and most notable then prime minister Shimon Peres, IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak and head of Northern Command Amiram Levin.

As was the case in a similar operation against Hezbollah in 1993, the idea in Grapes of Wrath was to “pressure” the civilian population in southern Lebanon, creating a flow of refugees heading north to Beirut, which would make the Lebanese government demand that Syria force Hezbollah to avoid attacks on Israelis and IDF forces. In other words, to deliberately attack civilian targets in order to deter a paramilitary organization that was operating in the region. This is how the official Israeli Air Force website describes Grapes of Wrath (the IAF’s English site has an entirely different text):

Such twisted ideas were bound to lead to a disaster.

Grapes of Wrath began with dropping leaflets above Shi’ite villages calling on the population to leave. Unpopulated areas around...

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