Political Ambiguity in Israel

In Israel we have a problem of political ambiguity.  There is both ambiguity on the left and the right.  On the left, the ambiguity is that attempts to placate the Palestinians by agreeing to a Palestinian State or appeasing them in other ways, plays into the hands of Israel’s enemies.  The fact is that neither the Palestinians nor their main supporters, the Iranians, the Qataris and the BDS movement, want a Palestinian State alongside Israel, they only want a State replacing Israel.  Nothing else will satisfy them, and this is a problem for the left in Israel, because of course they cannot go that far, it would mean literally committing suicide, or willingly giving their necks (and those of their children and  grandchildren) to the murderers.

On the right, the issue is a bit different, because Israel must take supporters wherever it can get them, and the best supporters of Israel are not the liberal/leftist Jews in the Diaspora, who have to protect their identity as Americans or Brits, etc.  But, they are the right-wing Christian fundamentalists in America, the Christians United for Israel, and the right wing parties in Europe, that are more anti-Islamic than they are anti-Semitic.  Or at least they try to appear to be.  The question is how can a right wing party in Europe not be anti-Semitic?  It is in their blood and their culture.

There is no doubt a genuine reason why they are currently afraid of Muslim immigration changing the face of Europe, and it is already far gone.  The favorite name for boys in Denmark is Mohammed.  The City of Malmo in Sweden is controlled by the Muslims and the rape statistics in Sweden is off the charts.  We are far past Londonistan, and the Muslim population is far past what the Jews ever were (before they were all murdered), it’s now ca. 20% and 50% in some places and rising. No wonder there are parties being elected in countries like Poland and Hungary that  categorically oppose Muslim (and African) immigration.  And these parties are overtly friendly to Israel as an ally in dealing with the reality of Islamic expansionism, but domestically these parties are also anti-Semitic (although these countries contain no Jews).

One might conclude that therefore in Israel it is necessary to be a centrist, not to fall into the ambiguity of being on the left or the right.  But, centrist parties in Israel have never thrived, they fall into the gap left by left and right polarization.  The fact is that over time opinion in Israel has moved to the right, from being a purely left-wing controlled country from 1948-1977, to being back and forth in the years until the second intifada of 2000-2005, that convinced most Israelis that the Palestinians could never be dealt with, until the recent right-wing dominance of Bibi Netanyahu and Likud.  But, so far it is a center right party.

How does one tell the difference?  Likud is nominally committed to an eventual negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, that could result in a separate Palestinian State.  A far right party, perhaps like the one just being formed by Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Caroline Glick, might simply annex the West Bank, as Judea and Samaria, legalize all settlements and outposts, impose harsh conditions on the virulently anti-Israel Arabs in Hebron and elsewhere and take a more forthright stand against Iran. Could such a party have good relations with right-wing parties in Europe, that is the ambiguity, where do you find allies?



Young Jewish Terrorists Arrested

A group of Orthodox Jewish youths were implicated in the stoning of Palestinian cars in October on the West Bank.  A woman driver, Aysha Rabi, a mother of nine, was killed when she was hit in the head by a rock thrown through the window of her car.  Last week the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service) announced the arrest of three minors and last Saturday two more were arrested.  There was a demonstration by their supporters, especially upset that they were arrested on Shabbat.  A rabbi gave a ruling that their lawyer could meet with them on Shabbat.

The youths are all students at a Yeshiva in Rehalim near the settlement of Yizhar on the West Bank.  After the meeting with their lawyer, he stated that the youths refuse to say anything to the police.  Their silence will make it difficult for the police to prove their case.  Meanwhile their supporters are spreading rumors about mistreatment of the youths by the Shin Bet, including abusive interrogation methods.

It is not known if the police can prove their case or what will happen to the boys.   The latest news is that the Yeshiva is being investigated and 30 more boys are being questioned.  These arrests make it clear that Israel will not stand by in the case of any Jewish terrorism and especially will act again the loss of innocent Palestinian lives. Tell that to your BDS friends.


Leaders in Trouble?

In a stunning development, the police in Israel have proposed indicting PM Netanyahu on charges of bribery and fraud.  Just as with Pres. Trump in the US, the opponents of Netanyahu have for long been trying to bring him down on charges of minor infractions. The police claim to be neutral and unbiased, but there is always a strong tendency for ambitious police or legal officers to try to bring down the incumbent leader. Similarly with the Mueller Probe in the US against Pres. Trump, using supposed “collusion” between the Trump election campaign and Russia. This is not to say that these politicians are lily-white pure.  But, these continuous and ongoing investigations are definitely a drawback to democracy and the efficient functioning of the governments.

In the case of Netanyahu there have been three ongoing investigations, cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, and several against his wife Sara. It is the Case 4000 that is now being brought to a proposed indictment.  This contends that Netanyahu appointed his campaign manager Shlomo Filber as Communications Director in order to ensure favored treatment for the owner of the Bezeq communications company, owned by Shaul Elovitch. Elovitch was then supposed to ensure positive treatment of Netanyahu in the news program he controls.  Now that the evidence has been forwarded to the Attorney General  Avichai Mandelblit, he has to decide whether the evidence is sufficient to actually indict Netanyahu.  If he does it will cause a major political crisis, because then Netanyahu might be forced to resign and there would be competition to replace him in Likud and then the need for a general election.

Similarly, in the US the Mueller probe into so-called Russian collusion has resulted in the indictment of several of Trump’s former aides, including his former lawyer Michael Cohen (no relative).  These may be dubbed fishing expeditions in order to get any of them to dish the dirt on Trump himself and embroil him in their own unrelated (to the Russia probe) wrong-doings, such as lying to Congress and stealing.  After nearly two years the Mueller probe should come to some kind of conclusion or be shut down.  Meanwhile Trump and Netanyahu have done great things for their respective countries.

In Israel Nothing is Happening

The news in Israel is that nothing is happening.  When Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned in the wake of the botched IDF raid into Gaza and the subsequent ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, he expected to cause a political crisis that would lead to the fall of the Netanyahu Government and imminent elections.  Many agreed with him, but it didn’t happen!

When Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Beit Yehudi faction, threatened to resign unless he was given the Defense portfolio, he and many others expected Netanyahu to cave.  Because, if Bennet also left the coalition the government would collapse.  But, it didn’t happen.  Netanyahu has so far kept the Defense portfolio himself, as well as being PM and Foreign Minister.   Netanyahu called their bluff, he managed to keep his coalition together with his razor-thin majority of one.  In fact, one Likud MK Shareen Haskel, had to leave hospital with a drip in her arm to go to the Knesset and vote to ensure the Govt. did not fall.  So far in Israel nothing has happened!

However, although nothing is happening at present, it must in the NTDF (not too distant future), because Netanyahu’s Govt. has only another year until elections must be called, and no-one expects it to survive that long.  The present is boring, but the future looks exciting.

The Nation-State Law Recriminations

After the Nation-State Law was passed by a majority vote of the Knesset, it has come under fire from the usual suspects, the Palestinians, the Western pro-Palestinian liberal elite, and the left-wing in Israel.  But, perhaps more worrying is that it has also stirred opposition within Israel from unexpected sources, most notably the Druze.

First Brig. Gen. Amal Assad, a strong Druze supporter of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, contacted him to express Druze reservations about the Law.  Then Bennett wrote a letter to PM Netanyahu pointing out the Druze concerns.  In this letter he referred to the Druze as “our brothers.”  Indeed the Druze, a small religious community in Israel have been very loyal to the State of Israel, serving faithfully in the IDF and indeed dying side-by-side with Jewish soldiers.  Then Netanyahu arranged a meeting with Druze leadership, including their spiritual leader Sheik Mowfat Tarif.  This meeting ended in recriminations, so that there were two further meetings.  Now, with Bennett’s help further negotiations are underway to come up with a compromise that could amend the law to satisfy the Druze and other minorities.

The Druze are considered a heretical sect of Islam, that developed in Egypt in the 13th century.  They believe that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is another prophet of God, who has been over-looked by others.  They were persecuted in Egypt and fled along the coast to the mountains of Lebanon where they took refuge in the region called Jebel Druze.  Their minority status means that they are loyal to any country that protects them.  So far they have been loyal to Lebanon, Syria and Israel.  They also cultivate a strong military tradition.

In order to put pressure on Netanyahu to amend the law, a large demonstration was held last Sat night in Tel Aviv with tens of thousands of Druze and Labor Party supporters, who oppose the Nation-State Law.  Although I understand the Druze concerns, the fact is that this Law is an addition to the Basic Laws of Israel, but changes nothing in terms of treatment of minorities.  The Druze want to be acknowledged as part of the State that we call Israel alongside the Jews.  But, the fact is that in a democracy, the majority rule, and this Nation-State law is what the majority of Jews want.  Once the Druze critics start to bandy around terms like “apartheid State” which they know very well is untrue and defamatory, then the two sides will have to part ways.

The Nation-State Law

In an important outcome, PM Netanyahu was successful in having the Nation-State Law passed by the Knesset.  This establishes in Israel’s Basic Laws that it is the Nation State of the Jewish people, and as such is required to take actions and have policies that are intended to ensure the survival and well-being of the Jewish people.  Note that this transcends religion, although Judaism is an integral part of Jewish culture and being, nevertheless Israel is founded on the principle that the Jews are a “nation.”  Some people like to say “a race” but this is not correct, because the Jews today are made up of many races, black, white, brown, all shades.

As evidence for this fundamental principle, that the Jews are a nation, one can readily note that when the Jews were in exile (galut) after being expelled from their historic homeland by the Roman Empire (2000 years ago), they nevertheless retained many aspects of a nation, i.e. a coherent and unique religion, a unique language (Hebrew), a continuous form of communal organization, specific ethnic practices (such as food),  and a specific history as a distinct group even though dispersed throughout many lands (diaspora).   The Jews were not unique in this respect, for example, the Armenians were also a nation devoid of a country for many years, after being expelled and massacred by the Turkish Empire.  Also, the Kurds are clearly a nation, even though dispersed between other sovereign states (Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran).

As further evidence, one must note that although anti-Judaism existed early on in the history of the Church, it soon transformed into a racial hatred now known as anti-Semitism, a term that was introduced in Germany in the 19th century.  Thus, the Inquisition, founded in 1478, was obsessed with hounding and murdering so-called “New Christians” (i.e Christians descended from Jews) in order to ensure the purity of Christian blood (limpieza de sangre).

This was very similar to the anti-Semitic racial laws promulgated by the Nazis, that were derived from laws and practices adopted throughout Europe during the medieval period.  Note that the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe during WWII murdered Jews based on their “racial” characteristics and they were not concerned with their religious beliefs (many were descended from families that had converted to Christianity generations before) .

Another example, was that in the former Soviet Union Jews were classified as a nationality, although they were the only nationality in the former USSR without an endogenous homeland (that’s why Stalin sought to transfer Jews to the artificial homeland of Birobidjan on the remote Chinese border).

In the USA, for purposes of “affirmative action,” certain groups (tribes or nations) are designated officially to be “minorities,” including Blacks, Hispanics (Spanish-speakers), American Indians (indigenous peoples) and certain Pacific Islanders (from US possessions. such as Guam).  Jews are not considered a “minority” in this respect, because they were not considered to need special treatment or help, they were too successful.  But, this designation led to ridiculous anomalies, such as that very wealthy immigrants to the US from Spain or Africa, could receive government financial support as a “minority,” but poor Jewish immigrants, from for example the former USSR, could not!

In a recent case in the USA, a Jewish man who had converted to Christianity was refused a job as a coach by a Louisiana Baptist College because of his “Jewish blood.”  He sued them on the grounds of racial discrimination and the Federal Judge found in his favor.  The Judge specifically noted that in this case his religious views were not considered, only his national/racial origin as a Jew.

There are those who decry the passing of this Nation-State Bill into law.  Among them are (1) Arabs, including Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs, who have called it racial discrimination and “an apartheid law.”  However, this is nonsense, not only does the Bill itself recognise the rights of minorities in Israel (there are Arab Muslims, Christians of many denominations, Druse, Circassian, etc.), but also this Law in no way changes the other Basic Laws of Israel that include democracy and the rights of minorities.  Also, note that most Muslim countries define themselves as Muslim and do not allow minority rights, and the PA has stated that any future Palestine State would exclude all Jews!       (2) Western liberal Jews and their Israeli counterparts, who would like Israel to be defined as “the State of all its people.”  It is precisely why this Law was necessary, to prevent the watering down of the unique Jewish nature of the State of Israel by such all-inclusive sentiments.   (3) The Ultra-Orthodox who see this Law as a means to include in the definition of the State of Israel all those non-Orthodox streams (including Conservative and Reform Judaism) that they do not consider to be “Jewish.”  It is precisely to ensure that the State of Israel is the state for all members of the Jewish nation that this Bill was necessary.

A Dangerous Web

PM Netanyahu has committed himself to passing the Likud-sponsored “Jewish Nation State Bill” before the present Knesset session ends soon.  This will finally establish in Israeli law the fact that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Apparently, although this has been widely known since the establishment of the State, it was not actually enshrined in Israeli Law, much as some countries don’t have written constitutions.

But, in order to pass the Bill, Netanyahu needs the support of his coalition colleagues, which includes the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ).  But, these parties vehemently oppose other legal initiatives that Netanyahu has been pursuing.  One of these is the Kotel (Western Wall) compromise between the Orthodox and the Conservative and Liberal Jewish movements.  Another is the Haredi Draft Bill, that requires all haredi men to register to serve in the IDF.  In relation to the former, the ultra-Orthodox represented by Shas and UTJ are totally against any compromise with the non-Orthodox movements, and have threatened to vote against and cause the Government to fall.  As a result Netanyahu has dropped the compromise he had negotiated with them, leading to much consternation among Jews in the US.   Also, he has backed off his former position that all haredi men must serve in the IDF.  He has done this in order to preserve his Government until at least after the summer break.

But, the price for ensuring Shas and UTJ support for the Jewish Nation State Bill may be too high.  Many Likud MK’s are angered by Netanyahu’s lack of leadership on these issues, which from a National Religious point of view are also quite clear-cut.  Most Likud supporters and modern Orthodox support the concept of a compromise at the Western Wall and most support haredi draft enforcement.  So by choosing to accommodate the Ultra-Orthodox versus his basic Likud supporters, Netanyahu may be making a pact with the devil.  Such are the intricacies of politics in Israel.