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Accepting the truth about Umm al-Hiran killing isn't enough

The slander and lies that accompanied the lethal shooting of a Bedouin teacher in Umm al-Hiran last month were nothing out of the ordinary. Walking it back won’t be enough.

In the end, it took a looming police internal affairs report for one of Israel’s most senior government ministers to even consider walking back his insistent mislabeling of last month’s double killing in Umm al-Hiran as a terrorist attack. For weeks, even as every single detail of the police’s account of the incident withered in the face of witness testimony and video evidence, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan — along with the police — stuck to their characterization of events as terrorism, all while baselessly invoking the ISIS bogeyman.

Police instantly labeled the January 18 incident — in which Umm al-Hiran resident and teacher Yaqoub Abu al-Qi’an, ahead of a spate of home demolitions in the village, was shot while driving his car, subsequently losing control of his vehicle and running over and killing police officer Erez Levi — a car-ramming attack, a narrative unquestioningly picked up by the Israeli media.

Yet even as the media narrative began to change, driven by investigations published on +972 Magazine and Local Call, the police doubled down, as did Erdan; weeks later, he was still claiming that he believed it was a terror attack. He also saw fit to call on the attorney general to open an investigation into several Palestinian Knesset members — among them Joint List head Ayman Odeh, himself the subject of a litany of police lies exposed by +972’s Mairav Zonszein, surrounding the events in Umm al-Hiran that day — for incitement to violence and even murder. Meanwhile, at Levi’s funeral, Israel’s bumbling police commissioner, Roni Alsheikh, repeated the unfounded claim that Abu al-Qi’an was a violent radical.

It is extremely unlikely that the lone calls for Erdan and Alsheikh’s resignations will be heeded. In a country where the “complexity” of a situation can be cited as justification for giving a soldier an 18-month sentence for executing a Palestinian, authorities are likely to shrug off what will doubtless enter the books as a little name-calling in the wake of a chaotic incident. And inciting against Arabs has, lest we forget, not typically

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Unpacking anti-Arab racism in Israel

A new law aiming to silence the Muslim call to prayer is just one manifestation of efforts to erase Palestinian culture and identity. But language and heritage aren’t so easy to disappear.

There is a building on Michelangelo Street in Jaffa, near where I used to live, which for a while featured the sentiment “We have no other country” graffitied in both Arabic and Hebrew, side by side. One day, the Arabic was painted over, presumably by the municipality, leaving only the Hebrew. Almost immediately, someone restored the Arabic. It was painted over again. This pattern continued until a friend publicly asked the municipality why her taxes were being used to such obviously racist ends; by the following morning, both languages had been painted over.

This sad waltz, and all that it signifies, is a useful parable in light of the so-called muezzin law’s reappearance in Israel’s parliament this week. The bill, a noise restriction policy carefully designed to partially silence the Muslim call to prayer in Israel, took another step forward on Sunday when a Knesset committee voted to advance the legislation toward becoming law.

Although the intended target of the law is tucked away in the Trojan Horse phrasing of “noise caused by loudspeaker systems in houses of worship,” the bill specifies that the restrictions only apply between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. As Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel points out, mosques are the sole places of worship that broadcast calls to prayer during these hours.

This rubbing out of Arabic — and above all Muslim — culture, language and memory in the Israeli public space is as much part of the assault on Palestinian history and presence as home demolitions, expulsions, occupation, and siege. It may be the quieter arm of the enterprise, but it works just as effectively to undermine the foundations of Palestinian society.

The effort to dismantle Palestinian national identity and memory takes various forms. At the government level, alongside recurring attempts to pass some version of the “muezzin law,” initiatives seeking to demote Arabic from its status as an official language of Israel surface every year or two. The so-called “Nakba Law” gives the state authority to reduce its funding for any institution that treats Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning. Culture Minister Miri Regev has threatened to pull funding for institutions that...

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West Bank demolitions: Building up and tearing down on the way to annexation

Israel has not slowed down its demolition of Palestinian structures in the occupied territories in 2017, after a year which saw a record number of buildings destroyed. 

Demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2017 have so far continued at much the same rate as in 2016, a year in which Israel destroyed a record number of buildings in the occupied territories.

In January alone, Israeli forces have demolished 121 structures in the West Bank and 16 structures in East Jerusalem, according to figures from the United Nation’s humanitarian agency that were provided to +972. The razing of these buildings displaced 211 people in the West Bank, including 123 children, and 26 people in East Jerusalem, including 11 children.

In 2016, Israel demolished 1,093 structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,601 people, according to the UN — the highest number on record since the agency started keeping track in 2009. The total number of demolitions in the occupied territories in 2016 was more than double that in 2015.

Most of the demolitions take place in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli security and administrative control. Very occasionally, Israel also demolishes buildings in Areas A or B — which are ostensibly under Palestinian administrative control.

However, almost two-thirds of demolitions orders in Area C are issued against structures in communities that straddle the boundaries of Areas A or B. This is deliberate: most Palestinian cities are in Areas A and B, meaning that major Palestinian population centers such as Nablus and Ramallah have most, if not all, of their borders set by the reach of Area C territory, creating invisible walls around them. By issuing disproportionate numbers of demolition orders in Area C communities that straddle Areas A/B, the Israeli army’s Civil Administration is ensuring those walls remain intact. 

Israel justifies administrative demolitions by arguing that the structures in question have been built without a permit. However, it is almost impossible for Palestinians in Area C to obtain building permits: between 2010 and 2014 the Civil Administration granted just 1.5 percent of requests.

Moreover the IDF admitted last year that when it comes to demolitions in the West Bank, “enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than...

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PHOTOS: Americans, Israelis protest Trump refugee ban in J'lm and Tel Aviv

Dozens of Americans, Israelis and dual nationals protested Trump’s refugee and Muslim travel ban in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, drawing on their own families’ history of persecution.

Dozens of Americans, Israelis and dual American-Israeli citizens protested on Sunday against U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on asylum seekers and citizens of seven predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

As confusion continued to reign over the scope of Trump’s Executive Order, with various federal rulings that stayed parts of the ban not being fully implemented, demonstrators hit the streets in Israel’s two biggest cities with signs reading, “Never Again,” “United States of Immigrants” and “Trump is the terrorist.”

Protesters in Jerusalem staged their demonstration halfway between the U.S. Consulate and the prime minister’s residence.

The protest in Tel Aviv, meanwhile, was held outside the U.S. Embassy.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aroused ire at home and abroad by tweeting his appreciation of Trump’s planned U.S.-Mexico border wall, citing the “success” of the wall built between Israel and Egypt, at the edge of the Sinai Desert. He has so far remained silent on the Trump’s Muslim ban, despite criticizing the idea when Trump first floated it during the presidential campaign a year ago.

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PHOTOS: Hundreds of African asylum seekers protest Israel's deportation policy

Hundreds of African asylum seekers gathered outside the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Thursday in order to protest the government’s deportation policy, which the court is currently deliberating.

Hundreds of African asylum seekers, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, demonstrated outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Thursday in protest at the government’s proposed deportation policy.

The court is currently deliberating a petition against the policy, which would expand and formalize the government’s existing practice of deporting asylum seekers to “third countries” — such as Uganda or Rwanda — where they receive no protection, and from where they are often forced to return to their home countries.

In a press release sent out before the demonstration, asylum seekers noted that the prime minister, along with many members of his government, had signaled their intent to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, with thousands having already been removed from Israel.

“The State of Israel has abandoned us,” the statement read. “Our asylum requests are not examined and are rejected outright… The government has also chosen not to grant temporary refugee status to anyone from Eritrea.”

The authors of the statement also said that they had lost contact with many of their friends who had already been deported. They further pointed out that arrivals of asylum seekers into Israel had stopped almost entirely, and that the last group to try and enter Israel through the Sinai had been shot dead by Egyptian security forces.

Several busloads of demonstrators had come from the Holot detention facility in Israel’s south. The protesters — who counted the founder of the Israeli Black Panthers, Reuven Avergel, among them — held placards reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Obey the Refugee Convention” and “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark,” quoting the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire.

Israel has incarcerated over 10,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Holot since it opened three years ago. Although they were initially detained indefinitely, a Supreme Court ruling in 2015 reduced the maximum detention period to a year.

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The problem with Israel's heroism addiction

The flip side of Israel’s need for heroes created in uniform, weapon in hand, is the urge to preserve the ideals associated with them and to shield them from criticism — the ramifications of which have become disturbingly clear in the case of Elor Azaria.

“A nation without heroes is a house without doors.” So says the grotesque, dictatorial general in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Autumn of the Patriarch,” after affording equal posthumous honors to several army officers who die in quick succession, no matter whether they were killed in a tragic accident or as a result of their own depraved activities.

The idea that national heroes form a structural part of any state has suffused Israel since its founding. The narrative of the pre-state years and the country’s early decades — at least the version most Israelis tell themselves — is essentially a sequence of military battles whose (Jewish/Israeli) participants are almost uniformly considered heroes, and the term “Gibor Yisrael” (“hero of Israel”), which is mostly reserved for military men, is an intrinsic part of the national lexicon. (It’s worth pointing out that the word “gibor” comes from the same root as “gever,” man, giving heroism a fixed undercurrent of masculinity.)

Narratives feed into national memory, which itself informs national identity. In Israel, then, members of pre-state militias and army generals are memorialized via countless street names and monuments throughout the country, while also collectively forming the image in which Israel has molded itself. 

It goes without saying that the concept of national heroes is not in of itself troublesome, as much as that canon in most Western countries remains dominated by white, straight, cis males. The key is context, and in Israel the context is problematic — not just because heroism is so readily associated with men’s military exploits, but also because that definition of it is so tightly bound up with Israel’s sense of the best version of itself. The uniform dictates the worth of the person inside it, not the other way around, and in this regard Israel’s relationship with its army takes on the character of religious devotion.

The notion of active military duty as the ultimate patriotic ideal is serviced by Israel’s politics, media, judicial system and academy. But as I wrote on this site a year ago, the idea that an army, which is an inherently violent institution, should form...

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WATCH: Palestinian women prevent West Bank home demolition

Israeli forces who turned up to demolish a home in the West Bank village of Budrus were met with an unexpected obstacle: dozens of Palestinian women protecting the house with their bodies.

The women of Budrus, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, sent a powerful message on Wednesday when they physically blocked Israeli forces from carrying out a home demolition. Video of the incident, shot by photojournalist Issam Rimawi, shows dozens of Palestinian women standing on the porch and roof of the home, as Israeli army jeeps and Border Police officers idle out front. To the side stands a group of men from the village, observing the proceedings.

The women of Budrus are not new to such exploits. In 2011, the village’s struggle to resist the occupation won international attention following the release of a documentary, “Budrus,” which covered local activists’ and organizers’ attempts to reroute the planned path of the Israeli separation barrier. The fight to stop the fence from cutting the village off from huge swaths of its land, while destroying thousands of its olive trees, turned a corner after Budrus’ women became actively involved. Images of women physically confronting Israeli bulldozers and jeeps are some of the most inspiring in the film. In a rare victory for anti-occupation activism, the path of the barrier was rerouted — leaving the village with 95 percent of its land. (Full disclosure: +972 partnered with Just Vision, the organization that produced ‘Budrus,’ to launch and operate Local Call, our Hebrew-language sister site.)

That moment of grace did not spell the end of Budrus’ troubles, of course: Israeli violence against the village has continued, whether structural — by the very fact of the occupation’s continued existence — or physical. Violent arrests blight the community, as they do in countless Palestinian villages in the West Bank. The gravest incident of all came in January 2013, when IDF soldiers shot and killed Samir Awad, a 16-year-old village resident. The trial of the soldiers responsible finally concluded last November, with the accused set to receive no more than a slap on the wrist.

Just two months later, Budrus’ women faced off against the same uniforms and the same guns, and held their ground. As a result, someone’s home is still standing. It’s the kind of perseverance that constitutes daily life under occupation.

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UN vote exposes the true face of Israel's settlement policy

Whatever the passage of a UN resolution criticizing the settlements may bring, the fallout has already made one thing clear: the Israeli government subscribes to a de facto ‘Greater Israel’ policy.

In the summer of 1967, before anyone was aware of just how durable Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory would prove, a movement emerged calling for the newly conquered land to become part of “Greater Israel.” Formed primarily of Labor Zionists, the movement counted such luminaries as SY Agnon and Nathan Alterman among its ranks. It failed to make a dent at the 1969 Knesset elections, however, and was later absorbed into what would become the Likud.

Fast forward 50 years, via short-lived peace attempts and an ill-devised set of accords whose greatest accomplishment was to entrench the occupation, and with Likud in power for the better part of the past decade, it is clear that the embers of a Greater Israel campaign have evolved into de facto policy. The UN Security Council’s passage of Resolution 2334, which condemns the settlements and calls for an immediate halt to their expansion, is merely the latest — and possibly most reverberant — incident to unmask the fiction of Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.

Attempts by the Israeli government and press to characterize the resolution as anti-Israel send a singular, clear message: the West Bank and its Jewish settlements are as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv, Eilat and Haifa. That this is a fairly mainstream view within the governing coalition has been abundantly obvious within Israel for some time now, as it has been to clear-eyed observers abroad, and certainly to Palestinians.

But for foreign governments whose Middle East policy still hinges on the idea that wringing land concessions out of Israel is simply a matter of time, the Netanyahu government’s reaction to the UN vote emphasizes the futility of that path. Israeli diplomats’ and politicians’ half-hearted peddling of their commitment to a two-state solution has never rung so hollow.

The hysteria seen in Israel’s response to Resolution 2334 — even before it passed — does more than just put on full display Jerusalem’s antipathy to the very idea of conceding territory (and if you need further proof, see Amona). It reveals, once again, the levels of defamation and distortion to which Israeli...

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Israel to keep Palestinian clown in prison without trial

Mohammed Abu Sakha, a circus performer, and Hasan Safadi, a prisoner rights advocate, have both had their administrative detention extended by six months. 

Israeli authorities last week extended the administrative detention of Mohammed Abu Sakha, a Palestinian clown and children’s entertainer, by six months. Abu Sakha, who has been in jail without trial since December 2015, is now not due to be released until June 2017, according to Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer.

The administrative detention of Addameer’s media coordinator, journalist Hasan Safadi, was also extended by six months last week. Safadi will not be released until June 2017, by which time he will have spent over a year in detention.

Administrative detention orders are used by Israel to imprison detainees without charging them or bringing them to trial, on the basis of secret evidence. Such orders can be renewed indefinitely for up to six months at a time. They can also be used to extend the jail time of someone who has finished serving their sentence, as with Bilal Kayed, who was sentenced to administrative detention after completing a 15-year prison term.

Abu Sakha, who has been a member of the Palestinian Circus School since 2007 and taught there until his detention, was arrested on his way to work while crossing a military checkpoint near Nablus, in the West Bank. He was placed in administrative detention shortly after, which has now been extended twice.

At the time, the IDF Spokesperson said that Abu Sakha had been arrested for “his involvement in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” deeming him a “severe security threat.” According to Addameer, that assessment remained unchanged at the time of Abu Sakha’s latest hearing, on December 5.

During one of his hearings, Abu Sakha, who specializes in working with children with special needs, told the court: “I am a circus performer. I am a clown. I have traveled around Europe and met with all kinds of people, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans. I have no intention of engaging in violent acts.”

Safadi, meanwhile, was arrested on May 1, 2016, and put in administrative detention on June 10. The military prosecutor allegedly claimed during his initial trial that he had ties to an illegal organization and that he had visited an enemy country (Lebanon) on more than one occasion. According to Addameer, Safadi was subjected to sleep deprivation and put in stress positions during...

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West Bank demolitions displace 1,500 Palestinians in 2016

Israel ramped up its practice of demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank this year, destroying more than twice as many as it did in 2015.

The number of Palestinian structures Israel has destroyed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has passed the 1,000 mark for the year, according to data from the UN humanitarian agency. As of the end of November, Israeli authorities had demolished 1,051 structures, displacing 1,569 Palestinians.

This represents, with a month of the year left to go, a doubling of the equivalent number from 2015, during which Israel demolished 544 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing 757 Palestinians.

Most of the demolitions took place in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military security and administrative control. (In November, 25 structures were demolished in Areas A and B, ostensibly under Palestinian administrative control.)

Israel justifies administrative demolitions by arguing that the structures in question have been built without a permit. However, it is almost impossible for Palestinians in Area C to obtain building permits: between 2010 and 2014 the army’s Civil Administration granted just 1.5 percent of requests.

Moreover the IDF admitted earlier this year that when it comes to demolitions in the West Bank, “enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than against Jews].”

Particularly affected — especially by home demolitions, which hit a 10-year high in the first half of 2016 — have been Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, the Jordan Valley and the E1 area around Ma’ale Adumim.

In the South Hebron Hills, the Palestinians living in ‘Firing Zone 918’ — a military training zone unilaterally declared by the Israeli army — are subject to continuous attempts by the army to force them out so their land can be used for military drills. The Jordan Valley is a long-term annexation target of the Israeli government; and Palestinians living in the E1 area around the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim are under ongoing threat of expulsion due to Israel’s plans to create a contiguous territory between Jerusalem and the settlement.

In addition, about 18 percent of the West Bank is declared as a closed military zone reserved for IDF drills, meaning that Palestinians are prohibited from building in these areas. An IDF officer has previously admitted...

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Former IDF ethicist tapped to censor 'political speech' in Israeli universities

Professor Asa Kasher, whose code of ethics for the IDF found expression in the devastation of the 2014 Gaza war, is set to decide what lecturers at Israel’s universities and colleges can and can’t say.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett intends to lay down new “ethical rules” for what lecturers at Israel’s centers of higher learning can and can’t say regarding politics, Haaretz reported on Thursday. The move is the latest in a long line of Bennett initiatives aimed at making Israel’s academic institutions more right-wing, more Zionist and more — as he would see it — loyal to the state. Israeli lecturers, spooked by the prospect of further censorship in an already-hostile environment for left-wing academics, have already started a petition against the new proposal.

With principals being threatened by the Education Ministry for inviting Breaking the Silence representatives to speak in their classrooms; teachers being hounded for criticizing the Israeli army; and books being banned in high schools for depicting a Jewish-Arab love story, this new initiative is worrying enough on its own. But it’s made even more sinister by the man Bennett has tapped to draft the rules: Professor Asa Kasher, the Israeli army’s former in-house “ethicist.”

Kasher’s name popped up across the international press in the summer of 2014, when the high civilian death toll in that year’s Gaza war prompted scrutiny of the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement. Kasher acknowledged that his premise of putting the lives of “our” soldiers above those of “their” civilians (which runs contrary to international law) had largely been internalized by the military in Gaza — most clearly seen in the mass destruction caused by artillery shelling — and declared himself pleased with the IDF’s conduct during the war.

Israel’s newspaper of record — as far as the increasingly anti-democratic Netanyahu government is concernedcalled the professor “the man who keeps a close watch on our national moral compass.” With Kasher now set to turn that close watch onto Israel’s universities and colleges, +972 Magazine has collected quotes on a range of topics from interviews with the éminence grise of Israeli military ethics.

On the media: “A very problematic force in a democratic society. Every power is supposed to be restrained. The government is restrained, the Knesset is restrained, the Supreme Court is restrained, the army is restrained, the...

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From Palestine to South Carolina, justice is scarce for victims of police violence

The trials of two police officers in Israel-Palestine and the U.S. collapsed within hours of each other on Monday. Both cases prove how difficult it is to secure justice for Palestinian and African-American victims of state violence.

On May 15, 2014, three Palestinian teenagers were shot by Israeli security forces with live ammunition as they attended a Nakba Day protest in the West Bank town of Beitunia. Nadim Nawara, 17, and Muhammed Abu al-Thahir, 16, were both killed. Fifteen-year-old Muhammed Azzeh survived, despite having been shot in the lung.

Just under a year later, over 6,000 miles away, a police officer in South Carolina shot Walter Scott, a 50-year-old African-American, in the back five times as Scott was running away from a traffic stop, killing him.

All four shootings were caught on camera, the gold standard for evidence of a crime. They were among the most clear-cut of the countless uses of lethal force by security forces in Israel-Palestine and the United States that have taken place over the last few years. But as so many bereaved families know, justice is thin on the ground when the victim is a member of a minority, and the perpetrator a man in uniform.

Of the three shootings that occurred in Beitunia, only one — that of Nawara — came to trial. Border Police officer Ben Deri was arrested six months after the event on suspicion of murder, with the charge reduced to manslaughter by the time his trial began. Michael Slager, the North Charleston police officer who shot Scott, was arrested shortly after the incident and went on trial for murder last month.

Both men protested their innocence over the killings: Ben Deri repeatedly insisted that no live bullets had come from his gun and that he had only shot rubber-coated rounds, a claim that was disproved by forensic evidence. (I was present at the demonstration when Azzeh was shot, and it was clear to all that we were witnessing the use of live ammunition.) Slager, meanwhile, claimed that Scott had tried to grab his Taser and that he was in fear for his life. His version of events was entirely debunked by the video footage that emerged almost immediately after the incident, showing that Slager did not appear in any danger when he unloaded five bullets into the fleeing, unarmed Scott’s back.

Why am I...

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Trump's win poses a challenge we must respond to

The nativist rabble-rousing and promises of expulsion and exclusion that carried Donald Trump to victory are worryingly similar to the resurgence of Meir Kahane’s Kach movement in Israel. Neither can be ignored.

On the eve of the U.S. presidential elections I stood opposite an alcove in Kraków’s High Synagogue, gazing into an empty socket in which a Torah scroll once stood. The synagogue — named for the fact that the prayer hall was installed on the first floor, in order to protect its Jewish congregants from the Christian gathering-places nearby — is no longer active, but evidence of its past remains: the circular window at the top of the building, the case of tattered religious books, the patches of Hebrew murals that look like scraps of parchment rescued from a fire. But it is the Torah ark and its present-absent void that offers the starkest metaphor for what had been and is no longer.

I looked into that empty space believing that the following day, I would watch the U.S. deliver a resounding rebuke to the kind of ideology and rhetoric that can snowball into such crimes. Forty-eight hours later, the extent of my misplaced confidence has been made crystal clear. As a queer Jew, I am deeply disturbed by what has happened in the U.S.; as a woman, I’m furious. And as a British-Israeli, I’m wondering how many more godawful Groundhog Days there will be to come.   

Indeed, the scale of the challenge now facing America, and by extension much of the world, will be familiar to many Israelis. Just like Netanyahu, Trump lied, bullied, fear-mongered and incited his way to the nation’s highest office, and there is so far little evidence to suggest that his approach, demeanor and cataloging of personal vendettas will cease once he’s in the Oval Office. The current witch-hunt in Israel against an amorphous, elastically-defined left-wing “elite” — as the populist Right defines it — is also an ominous portent of what could develop in the U.S., including the demonization of and call for restrictions on the free media

An additional parallel with Israel is more disturbing still. Even if the unthinkable happens and the pivot that Trump proved incapable of as a candidate materializes when he is president, the swirling currents of violent and unabashed misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia will be extremely difficult...

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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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