Israeli Arabs get a second chance to oust Netanyahu. Will they use it?

Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)
If 65 percent of the Arab citizens of Israel vote, Netanyahu won’t be prime minister anymore.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Sep 14, 2019

Odeh’s ads practically beg Palestinian citizens to vote on Tuesday, saying that one million citizens, if they all voted, would translate into 28 seats [23%] in the Knesset.

Arab citizens of Israel have no love lost for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who routinely resorts to fear-mongering against them to rally his right-wing Jewish base. But when they had a chance to help toss him from office in April, fewer than half of eligible Arabs voted — a record low.

Now, with a do-over election on Tuesday, they have a second chance, and Israeli Arab leaders say they are doing things differently this time.

The often-overlooked Arab vote will be one of the most important subplots in this election, and could well determine Mr. Netanyahu’s fate. A robust enough turnout could deprive Mr. Netanyahu of the 61-seat majority in Parliament he needs to secure another term.

Continue reading “Israeli Arabs get a second chance to oust Netanyahu. Will they use it?”

“Less space to breathe” — Palestinian response to Israel’s annexation plans

The Old City of Jerusalem is seen from the Mount of Olives, Jan 13, 2017. (photo: Chris McGrath / Getty Images)
Given the Trump Administration’s support for Netanyahu, Palestinians now fear they will be pushed into a quasi-state comprised of Gaza and isolated plots of West Bank land, surrounded by Israeli settlements. Jerusalem isn’t even on the table.

By Dalia Hatuqa | Time | Sep 13, 2019

‘Annexation has been de facto the case for a long time, some might argue from the beginning of the occupation, but certainly since the Second Intifada [2000–2005]. But this process of creeping annexation has been gathering pace under Netanyahu’s government as officials push for formal annexation and have begun introducing bills to the Knesset in that direction.’
— Tareq Baconi, a Ramallah-based analyst with the International Crisis Group

On a chilly April evening, several elderly Palestinian men sat in a smoke-filled downtown Ramallah cafe watching the news. The anchor on the enormous flat-screen mounted on the wall read election results that would affect their lives in every way imaginable. The tally was not from Palestinian polls, which haven’t been held in 14 years, but next door, in Israel.

As the days went on, Palestinians saw how much Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to secure an electoral victory, including vowing to annex West Bank settlements. They watched as Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, made compromises with the most fringe elements of the Israeli far-right to draw votes from his competitors. Though Netanyahu had won the elections, he failed to form a coalition, spurring a do-over that has left him more politically exposed than he has been in over a decade. And with that, he has gone even further to secure another victory in the next elections on Sept. 17: On Tuesday, he announced plans to annex the Jordan Valley, a large and important part of the West Bank, if his party wins.

Continue reading ““Less space to breathe” — Palestinian response to Israel’s annexation plans”

Israel and the decline of the liberal order

(Illustration by Neil Jamieson for The Washington Post; Photos by AFP and Getty Images)
The rise of nationalism around the globe may be reflected in the outcome of Israeli elections on Tuesday.

By Robert Kagan | The Washington Post | Sep 12, 2019

For most of their existence, Israelis have struggled to embed their nation ever more firmly within the liberal economic, political and strategic order. . . . The fact that many Israelis, including the country’s leaders, seem to be abandoning this decades-long approach says something about the current state of Israeli politics and society.

In the growing confrontation between the liberal world order and its anti-liberal nationalist and authoritarian opponents, which side does Israel want to be on? The question would have been absurd even a decade ago, when Israelis still regarded themselves as members in good standing in the liberal world. But in recent years, Israeli foreign policy has been trending in a decidedly anti-liberal direction.

Since about the middle of 2015, the Israeli government has embraced Hungary’s avowedly “illiberal” prime minister, Viktor Orban; worked to forge close ties with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, despite its limitations on civil liberties and legislation outlawing public discussion of Poland’s role in the Holocaust; warmly embraced Brazil’s right-wing nationalist leader, Jair Bolsonaro; provided a state visit for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who once likened himself to Adolf Hitler; worked consistently to woo Russian President Vladimir Putin; offered a 25-year contract to a Chinese state-owned firm to manage the port of Haifa, which has often hosted the U.S. 6th Fleet; and provided consistently strong support for the military dictatorship in Egypt, including lobbying the U.S. Congress on its behalf, as well as supporting the authoritarian sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, notably, stood up for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Post contributing columnist.)

Continue reading “Israel and the decline of the liberal order”

Cable cars over Jerusalem? Some see “Disneyfication” of the Holy City

The view from the Jewish cemetery of Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli authorities have approved a plan to build a cable car network across the Old City. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)
The architecture of occupation: A planned cable-car network to Jewish holy sites bypasses Palestinians and furthers Israel’s claims over East Jerusalem.

By Michael Kimmelman | The New York Times | Sep 13, 2019

Israel’s current government seems to hold preservation less sacrosanct than previous ones — eroding, for political purposes, the protections on landscape and heritage that make this city a global icon of faith and history, much as the Trump administration in the United States has been loosening protections for national monuments and endangered species.

At a glance, Jerusalem’s Holy Basin still looks pretty much as it must have looked centuries ago. The Old City’s yellow walls still read in silhouette against an ancient landscape of parched hills and valleys. The skyline is still dominated by the city’s great Muslim and Christian shrines: the gold, glistening Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was said to have been buried.

But this is about to change. Israeli authorities have approved a plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall, the holiest site in the Jewish world, by 2021.

Continue reading “Cable cars over Jerusalem? Some see “Disneyfication” of the Holy City”

How Jewish should the Jewish state be?

Sergey Ponomarev / NY Times)
The question shadows the upcoming Israeli election.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Sep 12, 2019

This election was supposed to be a simple do-over. . . . Instead it has become what Yohanan Plesner, president of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, calls ‘a critical campaign for the trajectory of the country.’

For years, the resentment had been building.

In Israel, Jewish men and women are drafted into the military, but the ultra-Orthodox are largely exempt. Unlike other Israelis, many ultra-Orthodox receive state subsidies to study the Torah and raise large families.

And in a country that calls itself home to all Jews, ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a state-sanctioned monopoly on events like marriage, divorce and religious conversions.

A series of political twists has suddenly jolted these issues to the fore, and the country’s long-simmering secular-religious divide has become a central issue in the national election on Tuesday.

Continue reading “How Jewish should the Jewish state be?”

Why Bibi fears Arab voters

The Israeli-Arab politician Ayman Odeh (front, third from right) at a campaign rally for the Joint List alliance of Arab parties ahead of Israel’s September election, Aug 23, 2019. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images)
For the first time in decades, many see an unprecedented opportunity for an Arab-Jewish partnership in Israeli politics.

By Yardena Schwartz | New York Review of Books | Sep 10, 2019

‘The Arab vote actually matters this time. Not since Rabin have we witnessed such attention paid to Arab voters.’
— Thabet Abu Rass, Arab-Israeli co-director of the Abraham Initiatives, an organization promoting equality in Israel

The giant yellow billboard near the Arab town of Nahef in northern Israel declares in Arabic, “This time, we are the decision-makers.” It is a reminder to the nearly 2 million Arab citizens of Israel that in this election, which will be held on September 17, they could decide Israel’s future as a democratic state. Their votes, should they choose to wield them, have the power to end the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Long relegated to the margins of Israeli politics, Arab voters are playing a central part in this do-over election, triggered when the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted to dissolve itself after Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition following an election in April. Arab voters suddenly find themselves under a spotlight from every direction. On the right, they are being weaponized to scare Israelis into going to the polls and keeping “Bibi,” as Netanyahu is popularly known, in power. On the left, Arab voters are being actively courted by Israeli politicians who finally understand that they need their support to unseat Netanyahu.

Continue reading “Why Bibi fears Arab voters”

How the Right is rebranding anti-Semitism

An election billboard in Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb 3, 2019. (photo: Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
By defining any public stance critical of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic, the Right is smearing the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

By Mairav Zonszein | New York Review of Books | Sep 4, 2019

For years, powerful right-wing American Jewish and Christian pro-Israel organizations and leaders have equated being a good Jewish citizen in the US with unbridled support for Israel — regardless of Israel’s worsening human rights record. Organizations that claim to represent American Jews and their interests . . . have pushed to ensure that those who challenge the pro-Israel consensus in Washington, DC, or advocate for Palestinian rights are silenced.

On August 20, after President Donald Trump told a reporter that any American Jew who casts a “vote for a Democrat . . . shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” outraged reactions flooded social media, attributing to his statement the anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.” This is the idea, rampant in so much nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought, that Jews cannot be trusted because their allegiances are inherently divided between their Jewish and their national identities. Captain Alfred Dreyfus would never have been tried in France without the perception that Jews were disloyal.

Just as troubling in Trump’s statement as any echo of the old charge of dual loyalty, though, was its implication that any Jew who doesn’t subscribe to his politics — to both the policies of his Republican Party and of the current Israeli government — is a disloyal Jew, an inauthentic Jew, a self-hating Jew. Trump was equating Judaism with a messianic vision associated with Israel’s settler right, putting forth a souped-up loyalty test based on his alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his years in office, Trump has made himself a staunch ally of Netanyahu — withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and ending USAID to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. If you are Jewish and vote Democratic, then you are triply disloyal — to Trump, Israel, and America.

Continue reading “How the Right is rebranding anti-Semitism”

Israel is trolling Palestinians on social media

Screenshot of an Israeli government posting on Facebook. (photo: COGAT / Facebook / Forward)
Israel posted a video on Facebook of a Chicago native who “fell in love” with serving in the occupation forces.

By Muhammad Shehada | Forward | Aug 28, 2019

I thought about my late father, who died before my eyes in the blockaded Gaza Strip after COGAT prevented him from traveling to the West Bank for life-saving medical treatment. Gaza’s own hospitals and supplies were crippled by Israel’s blockade, and my family and I couldn’t find any medications but painkillers to give him. Even when my uncle in the United Arab Emirates managed to obtain some life-saving medicines for my father and tried to send them, it was no use. With rare exceptions, COGAT allows only paper mail into Gaza.

You may not know that in addition to living under occupation and blockade, Palestinians must endure trolling on social media by the same forces that oppress us. It’s certainly not comparable to the daily, systematic humiliations, traumas, and abuse involved in living without civil rights. But there’s something downright dehumanizing about having to watch these abuses repackaged on social media as services for which we should be grateful.

That happened this week, when Israel’s occupation forces in charge of administering civil issues in the West Bank — the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories or COGAT unit — posted a propaganda video on social media. Their latest message is a promo video starring a young soldier from Chicago named Alyse, who says that she “fell in love” with the Israeli unit that runs the occupied territories.

There is so much wrong with this. For starters, COGAT embodies everything that’s problematic about the occupation of the West Bank. It is a military unit in charge of civilian affairs, a perfect encapsulation of the problem with military rule over a civilian population without the right to vote.

Continue reading “Israel is trolling Palestinians on social media”

Seattle Jewish Federation censors donation to IfNotNow

IfNotNow protesters. (photo: Gili Getz / Forward)
The Federation routinely approved a family’s donations for 15 years, but refused to allow them to donate to IfNotNow.

By Aiden Pink | Forward | Sep 2, 2019

‘A cohesive Jewish community tolerates a certain amount of dissent. It certainly shouldn’t eliminate it.’
— Alan Sussman, who was prevented from donating to IfNotNow

At the beginning of this year, like he did every year, Alan Sussman asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle to donate some of his family fund’s money to a charity of his choice.

This time, though, things went awry.

That’s because the group Sussman wanted to support was IfNotNow, the left-wing Jewish group that has made its name protesting not only Israel but also American Jewish organizations themselves — including the Seattle Federation.

Citing the protests, the federation told Sussman that supporting IfNotNow would go against their policy of “build[ing] a cohesive Jewish community.” . . .

Continue reading “Seattle Jewish Federation censors donation to IfNotNow”

Israel’s one-state reality is sowing chaos in American politics

A mural depicting US President Donald Trump on the separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Aug 4, 2017. (Flash90)
Until US lawmakers and major Jewish organizations adjust to the current one-state reality, the acrimony that has marked the last several years under Netanyahu and Trump will only intensify.

By Joshua Leifer | +972 Magazine | Aug 26, 2019

‘If the two-state solution ceased to be possible, 64 percent of Americans would choose the democracy of Israel, even if that meant that Israel would cease to be a politically Jewish state, over the Jewishness of Israel, if the latter meant Palestinians would not be fully equal.’
— University of Maryland poll, 2018

For decades, the two-state solution has been the central pillar of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Washington. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, every single US administration has been committed, at least nominally, to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Yet the expiration of the two-state paradigm under Prime Minister Netanyahu and the lack of a clear alternative to take its place has kicked that pillar away, disordering the politics of Israel–Palestine in the United States. Until American decision-makers adjust to the current one-state reality, the acrimony, chaos, and division that have marked the past several years will only intensify.

Continue reading “Israel’s one-state reality is sowing chaos in American politics”