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The new 'choice' for asylum seekers: Deportation or prison

Israel finally plans to close its desert detention facility for African asylum seekers. Refugee advocates worry it could be the start of something even worse.

During a midnight vote on Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that will enable the government to detain asylum seekers indefinitely or deport them to an unspecified country in Africa. The law passed by a margin of 71 to 41.

The consequences of the law will stem not only from what appears in the text of the bill itself, but also what doesn’t: there is nothing in the bill that mentions deportation. Instead, on paper, the law—which amends an existing law dealing with illegal immigration to Israel—extends existing provisions that allow the state to fine businesses that employ asylum seekers and that prohibit asylum seekers from taking money out of the country. The bill also sets geographic limits on where asylum seekers can live, a measure that previously applied only to asylum seekers who had been imprisoned in the Holot detention facility. Most significantly, the bill sunsets the legal mandate of the Holot facility, which is now expected to shut down in March of 2018.

The closure of Holot is planned to coincide with the implementation of agreements—the specific terms of which remain state secrets—between Israel and Rwanda and Uganda. According to recent announcements by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, once Israel closes Holot, Israel will present asylum seekers with a stark choice: deportation to Rwanda or Uganda or indefinite detention in Israel. In a High Court of Justice hearing last Tuesday, the state notified the court that it will begin deportations in a matter of weeks.

The deportation announcement comes on the heels of another High Court ruling in August that struck down a previous plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. In that case, the court ruled that the government could not use the threat of indefinite detention to force the asylum seekers to leave, since the agreements stipulated that the asylum seekers had to leave voluntarily, explained Attorney Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic.

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Explained: What Trump's Jerusalem declaration will and won't do

Jerusalem expert, activist, and attorney Daniel Seidemann talks to +972 about the short- and long-term ramifications of Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, from prospects of violence to the void left behind as Washington disqualifies itself as broker in the Israel-Palestine political process.

Daniel Seidemann is a leading expert on the politics of Jerusalem, an attorney, and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli NGO that tracks Israeli policies and settlement growth in the city. He served in an informal advisory capacity to the final status negotiations about Jerusalem in 2000-2001, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

I met Seidemann in his Jerusalem office Thursday morning to discuss the ramifications of U.S President Donald Trump’s announcement the night before formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital Israel, and declaring his intention to move the American embassy there.

The following has been edited for length.

What is the most common misconception about Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

The most common misconception among Israelis is that it’s good for the Jews. And the fetishism: you have thousands of people in the bible belt of the United States posting their hopes and dreams about moving the embassy. The Jerusalem Municipality is having public dancing to celebrate, emulating November 29, 1947 with the approval of the UN Partition Plan. It’s grotesque, vulgar, and ridiculous.

Having said that, I think most Israelis are pleased: ‘We’ve gotten rid of this anti-Semite, Obama. We have arrived.’ That that is a very misdirected interpretation of what the genuine Israeli national interest is. But Jerusalem is probably one of the most manipulate-able, manipulated subjects around. So, most Israelis are very pleased over an event that will do nothing beneficial to either Israel, Jerusalem, or its residents.

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Can you expand on that?

It has basically led to the collapse of the existing structure which governed political processes between Israelis and Palestinians — that is, the American stewardship of these political processes. Trump didn’t invent that. The United States was never really a fair broker. Having said that, this is now the death certificate. The United States has disqualified itself from any significant role as broker in Israel-Palestine political processes, and there is no...

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‘How Israel turned the West Bank into its garbage dump’

A new report from B’Tselem details how Israel has exploited the legal regime in the West Bank, trucking in hazardous waste to be processed in the occupied territory.

Israel is taking advantage of less stringent environmental regulations in the West Bank in order to conduct much of its waste treatment in the occupied territory, according to a new report by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which it describes as a violation of international law. For example, the report found that an estimated 60 percent of all sewage sludge converted into fertilizer in 2015 was processed at a plant in the northern Jordan Valley. The Israeli government even provides financial incentives that make it more profitable to build waste treatment plants in the West Bank than in Israel proper.

The report, “Made in Israel: Exploiting Palestinian Land for Treatment of Israeli Waste,” identified at least 15 Israeli waste treatment facilities in the West Bank, including six that treat hazardous waste. “The number should be zero,” B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad said.

Read the full report here.

The report focuses on five of those plants: four of which process hazardous waste produced in Israel, “including infectious medical waste, oils and solvents, metals, batteries and electronic industry byproducts,” and one that processes sewage sludge.

Precise information about the number of Israeli waste treatment plants in the West Bank, the amount and the type of waste processed, and the environmental impact is difficult to find. Israeli facilities in the West Bank do not publish their data, B’Tselem researcher Adam Aloni said. The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection and the army did not respond to B’Tselem’s freedom of information requests on the matter, according to the organization.

Environmental regulations in the occupied West Bank are considerably less stringent than those in Israel. Because it is occupied territory, the West Bank is ruled under Israeli military law. The military order that regulates hazardous waste treatment in the West Bank applies only some Israeli environmental laws to the settlement industrial zones where the waste treatment plants are located, the report found. Air pollution and environmental protection regulations do not apply in the West Bank.

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Trucking Israeli waste products,...

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Even civil rights are too extreme for Israel's education minister

Naftali Bennett cancelled an event with Israel’s oldest human rights organization after a group of bereaved families called it ‘one of the most extreme de-legitimization organizations against the State of Israel.’

On Tuesday, November 28, Education Minister Naftali Bennett canceled an upcoming joint event between his ministry and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on workers’ rights. According to Ynet, the event was scheduled to take place on Wednesday to mark the International Day of Human Rights.

Bennett reportedly cancelled the event after receiving a letter from a group of bereaved families — working in conjunction with the far-right organization Im Tirtzu — who called ACRI “one of the most extreme de-legitimization organizations that in its activities against the State of Israel also hurts us, the bereaved families, directly.”

ACRI, founded in 1972, is Israel’s equivalent of the ACLU, and is the oldest and largest human rights organization in the country.

Bennett’s office told Ynet that ACRI’s activities “in support of terrorists stands in total contradiction to the most important values that the education system stands for.”

Among ACRI’s wide-ranging advocacy activities, the organization has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court on the behalf of the families of Palestinians involved in terrorist activities to prevent the demolition of their homes by Israeli authorities. Many human rights organizations consider Israel’s practice of punitive home demolitions against the families of individuals involved in terrorist attacks a violation of international humanitarian law.

In response to the cancelation, ACRI issued the following response:

The cancellation comes just a week after top government ministers, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, targeted Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence after its spokesman, Dean Issacharoff, was recorded admitting that he beat a Palestinian detainee while a soldier in Hebron. In an unprecedented use of the legal system to attack a political opponent, Shaked issued all-but-explicit directions to the state’s attorney to find Issacharoff a liar. The state’s attorney case later collapsed once it was revealed that it had failed to interview a number of witnesses — and that it had questioned the wrong Palestinian. Hotovely, appearing alongside Breaking the Silence Executive Director Avner Gvryahu on the Israeli equivalent of Meet the Press, told Gvaryahu, “You are all traitors.”

The attacks on established human rights organizations such as ACRI and Breaking the Silence are part of the Right’s campaign of incitement against...

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Explained: Why many on the Left are furious at new Labor leader Avi Gabbay

From vowing never to join forces with Arab political parties to saying there’s no reason to remove settlements, Labor’s new leader has alienated many on the Left in recent months. His latest move, supporting the deportation of asylum seekers, is different.

Last July, Avi Gabbay was elected chairman of the Labor party on the promise to return the party to power. Since then, Gabbay has staked out positions considerably to the right of Labor’s traditional base, leaving many on the Left frustrated, even devastated. Labor gained ground in the 2015 elections because it cast itself as the anti-Netanyahu; now, Labor voters worry, Gabbay is turning into Netanyahu.

Gabbay was always an unconventional choice for Labor. A former head of the Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, Gabbay was among the founding members of Moshe Kakhlon’s center-right Kulanu party, and even served as minister in the current government, resigning in May of 2016 to protest the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. While Gabbay’s rivals in Labor raised questions about his right-wing past, the party ultimately decided to give him a chance.

Religion and state? Okay

The first sign of trouble came shortly after Gabbay’s election, in August, when he appeared at an event about religion and state alongside Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. Bennett, at the time, was facing criticism from secular Israelis who were angered by his changes to the Israeli public school curriculum, which they felt amounted to religious indoctrination. While Gabbay did criticize Bennett’s changes to the curriculum, he made a concerted effort to appeal to the religious right. “I have no problem if my son learns Talmud,” Gabbay said.

‘We have nothing in common with them’

In early October, at a speaking event in Beer Sheva, Gabbay announced that he would refuse to form a governing coalition that included the Joint List, the political heterogeneous union of Arab parties and the third largest party in the Knesset. “We have nothing in common with them,” he said. Gabbay’s stance on the Arab parties was in practice not significantly different from that of his predecessor, Isaac Herzog, but the absolute rejection of partnering with Arab parties ruffled feathers even within his own party.

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'You are all traitors': The political persecution of Breaking the Silence

That the minister of justice can singlehandedly launch an investigation against the anti-occupation group is a symptom of the decline of the rule of law and creeping authoritarianism within the Green Line.

It is not often that the justice minister of a country personally demands the investigation of a political adversary to prove they did not commit a crime. But that is precisely what happened last week in the absurd case of Dean Issacharoff, the spokesperson for Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence. The state prosecutor announced last Thursday that the investigation into Issacharoff’s claim that he badly beat a Palestinian during a protest in Hebron in 2014 had concluded due to “a lack of guilt.”

In fact, the investigation could not have ended any other way. After a video surfaced of Issacharoff describing a violent arrest he carried out during his military service, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked personally called on the state’s attorney to look into Issacharoff’s claims. “In light of the great importance I see in safeguarding the reputation of the state and its soldiers,” Shaked wrote to Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit, “I thought it appropriate to turn to you to check the truth of the incident.”

The letter was little more than an order to find Issacharoff a liar; Shaked and others on the Right have repeatedly charged that Breaking the Silence, in the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, “lies and slanders our soldiers around the world.”

Shaked’s direct intervention was an unprecedented use of the legal system to single out a non-governmental organization for attack. Former Attorney General Michael Benyair issued a strong statement condemning the investigation and Minister of Justice Shaked’s role. “The political show-investigation of Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff is a disgrace to the law enforcement system,” he wrote. “The law enforcement system has lost its independence and become an instrument of the regime against its political rivals.”

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“What began under the political direction of the minister of justice became a political investigation that came to a tendentious and political conclusion,” Avner Gvaryahu, Executive Director of Breaking the Silence, said in response to the investigation’s closure.

The first victim

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American Jews have the power to oppose Israel's gov't. Will they use it?

Jewish American leaders are slowly beginning to understand just how vast the gap is between their values and those represented by the Israeli government.

Princeton University Hillel sparked controversy earlier this week after announcing it would indefinitely postpone a scheduled speech by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. The decision came after protests by students from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives and other groups, who claimed that Hillel had scheduled Hotovely’s speech without bringing it before the Israel Advisory Committee, an internal committee that vets Israel-related events and enforces Hillel’s “Israel Policy.”

As the students highlighted in their letter to the university paper, Princeton Hillel’s Israel policy had “previously served as a thinly veiled method to exclude left-wing voices,” such as Breaking the Silence. However, in light of Hotovely’s comments about Palestinians, Conservative and Reform Jews, and her support for the occupation, the student group argued that Hotovely’s speech would violate a clause of the Israel policy, which bars “groups or speakers that, as a matter of policy or practice, foster an atmosphere of incivility, intend to harm Israel, or promote racism or hatred of any kind.”

Hotovely ended up speaking at the campus Chabad house instead. But that didn’t stop her from declaring that she was the victim of “a liberal dictatorship.” Hotovely, a staunch opponent of the two-state solution, evidently missed the irony of her comments. In the occupied territories, Palestinians protests are prohibited by military law. And the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which Hotovely in part oversees, has been actively lobbying American lawmakers to pass anti-BDS legislation, including laws that the ACLU warned violate the First Amendment. Until this week, Hotovely had no problem with suppressing free speech.

That Hotovely’s views were enough to make Hillel staff think twice about bringing her to speak is significant. Within American Jewish establishment organizations, it is common practice to subject left-wingers and critics of Israel to strict scrutiny — and even to bar them from speaking — while giving a free pass to those on the right. The controversy around Hotovely suggests that if more American Jews understood the extent to which the Israeli government’s politics contravenes their own mostly liberal values, the relationship between American Jews and Israel could change, perhaps drastically.

The American Jewish public, after all, has undergone a process of politicization since Trump’s election, which marked the reemergence of public anti-Semitism and a sharp rise in...

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Netanyahu can count on U.S. Jews to stay silent on the occupation

The prime minister sparked controversy when he announced he wouldn’t be speaking at the biggest Jewish American event of the year. But Bibi knows that no matter what, American Jews won’t speak out against his occupation policies.

Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that no matter what, he can count on American Jews not to speak out against the occupation.

Netanyahu initially announced last week that he would not be addressing the annual Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly, prompting journalists and Jewish leaders alike to speculate. Unnamed “senior sources” intimated to Haaretz that the prime minister was unwilling to share the GA stage with President Reuven Rivlin, while “a senior representative of one of the non-Orthodox movements” suggested that Netanyahu was afraid that he might be booed. A week later, Netanyahu announced he would address the GA after all.

These are unlikely reasons for Netanyahu’s hesitation. Despite the disagreements between Netanyahu and Rivlin, the two belong to the same party and often share the same stage. Boos from an American audience would hardly perturb a veteran Israeli politician like Netanyahu, accustomed to the debates in the Knesset where the decorum more closely resembles that of an American football game than a legislative assembly.

It is likelier that Netanyahu’s initial reluctance to address the GA stemmed from practical political concerns. His right-wing coalition is precarious and depends on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties — the same ones that sunk the Kotel compromise this past summer. Addressing the GA puts Netanyahu in an uncomfortable position; he has to make sure he doesn’t say anything that upsets his Haredi coalition partners, while trying to be gentle with the American Jewish groups, specifically the Reform and Conservative movements, who viewed the collapse of the compromise as a rejection of their way of life and religious identity. When Haredi leaders such as Moshe Gafni, chair of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, say things like, “Reform Jews are a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah,” this becomes no easy task.

Netanyahu probably would have preferred to skip the whole ordeal, which would have signaled unequivocally to the Haredi parties that he is on their side. Now, when he addresses the JFNA, Netanyahu will again have to walk the tightrope between his religious-right coalition and the comparatively liberal American Jews at the GA.

Not that he fears the potential consequences of snubbing American...

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