“Schlaglicht Israel” offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.
Main topics covered in this Publication:
- Syria’s civil war is drawing Israel closer
- Protest by Yad Vashem
- Dispute over nation state law
- Selection of Articles
Should Israel open its borders to desperate Syrian refugees?
(…) Our compassion can not only be at a distance. (…) while Israel has been considered Syria’s mortal enemy since 1973, our humanitarian gestures must be broadened. (…) Israel should make exceptions to its “no entry” policy for refugees, especially orphaned children who are in dire need. (…) the government now needs to establish a safe zone on the eastern side of the border. (…) Israel must also appeal to UNDOF (…), the UN peacekeeping force to review its mandate. (…) There are over 1000 deployed UN personnel that could immediately assist the people in need. (…) Israel’s strategic and national security interests in Syria remain the same. No Iran in Syria, and as far away as possible. Israel must maintain its operational access to thwart Iran’s intentions – setting up a forward operating base on our doorstep. However, our moral interests are just as important. We must send a clear message of an outstretched hand to people in need. (…)
Peter Lerner, HAA, 01.07.18
Things up north can quickly go south
(…) the situation on the northern border is highly volatile and could quickly go south. Recent bombardments indicate that Syrian President Bashar Assad plans to retake control of the Daraa area on the Jordanian border, then turn his attention to the rebel pockets on the Syrian Golan Heights, a stone’s throw away from his border with Israel. (…) Israel has made it clear that the fighting is an internal Syrian issue and Israel will not fight for any rebel or refugee. (…) The Israeli leadership has already made it clear that it will supply Syrian refugees with humanitarian aid but will not grant them entry into its territory. But as the fighting intensifies and with it the flood of horrific images from Syria, the call to do something more will surely grow louder. It is in Israel’s interest to get through the next few weeks without military entanglement in the north. Once the dust settles, Israel will once again be dealing with one person in charge. Assad may emerge from the fighting weaker but he still enjoys Russia and Iran’s backing. The latter is sure to look for every way possible to undermine the stability that has prevailed along the border for four decades. Israel is bracing for this possibility, knowing that the volatility in the area will peak in the near future.
Yoav Limor, IHY, 02.07.18
Assad’s huge victory and what it means for Israel
The capture of areas in the Daraa province and the Jordan border crossing south of it serve as an important psychological victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Russians (…) because it is a serious blow to the morale of the Sunni rebels (…). The Daraa province lasted a long time thanks to the supply and reinforcements it received from Arab nations—among them Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations—through Jordan. Jordan also allowed the Americans and the British to support the Syrian rebels with advisors and aid from its territory. Now, all of that is over. (…) From Israel’s point of view, the new situation created in southern Syria holds several consequences, not all of them necessarily negative. (…) only small forces of Hezbollah and Shi’ite Iraqi militias sent by Iran took part in the conquering of Daraa and the villages surrounding it. (…) Their small numbers show the Russians were attentive to Israel’s demands and warnings, and demanded the Iranians to have minimal involvement in the proper fighting. And the same applies to Hezbollah’s presence in the fighting areas. (…) the Daraa area was the center of operations in south Syria of organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda. (…)The conquering of Daraa eliminates the base of operations for organizations affiliated with global jihad, which almost took over the Quneitra border crossing in Israel. (…) There is also a pocket of ISIS in the southern Golan Heights, at the Israel-Jordan-Syria border area, but it too is now isolated and cut off from reinforcements, and so its fall is only a matter of time. All of this is good news from an Israeli point of view. (…) The bad news for Israel concern two aspects. The first is the possibility the Syrian army will take advantage of the fact that UN peacekeeping forces have withdrawn from several positions in the demilitarized zone on the Syrian side of the Golan border, violating the 1974 Disengagement Agreement, which prevents the presence of the Syrian army and heavy weaponry on the border. (…) If the Syrian regime does this under the auspices of the Russians, a new situation would be created in which the IDF would find itself in direct conflict with Syrian forces stationed only one kilometer, or less, away from Israeli communities. (…) Another negative aspect is the possibility that when Assad sends his forces to fight in the Golan Heights, the fighting will “spill over” into Israeli territory. (…) Serious friction can always get out of control and escalate into a conflict, a military campaign or a serious war. Israel has no interest in that. (…) The picture is a complicated one and the war in Syria has still not yet been decided, but the fall of Daraa was the beginning of the end and Israel must prepare for the day after.
Ron Ben Yishai, YED, 08.07.18
Assad’s Pyrrhic victory
(…) Israel has resigned itself to the fact that Assad will once against control the shared Golan Heights border. After all, barring military intervention, it does not have to ability to stop him. (…) Assad may have won the war in Syria, but this is a Pyrrhic victory. It will take him years, perhaps decades, to rehabilitate the country and especially his army. Meanwhile, his fate is in the hands of the allies to whom he owes his victory – Russia and Hezbollah. It seems that here lies the potential trap for Israel: not only has Assad returned to the border, this time he is backed by Iran’ regional proxy. (…) neither the Americans nor the Russians have offered any guarantees to that effect. (…) it would be “unrealistic” to expect Iran to pull its forces out of the war-torn country. It appears that no one wants to, or can, remove the Iranians – neither from the border with Israel nor from Syria proper. After all, Tehran did not invest tens of billions of dollars and sacrifice thousands of militiamen in Syria simply to bow out at Israel’s request. (…) It is doubtful that Iran truly wants a direct military confrontation with the U.S. in the Gulf, as that would be a dangerous and costly scenario for Tehran. A limited confrontation with Israel on the Golan Heights, however, one with indirect Iranian involvement, could send necessary messages to Trump and his allies. The bottom line is that Assad’s newfound control of the Golan Heights does not necessarily mean peace and quiet in the area. (…)
Eyal Zisser, IHY, 09.07.18
The Fall of Dera´a
(…) With the fall of Dera’a, the Sunni Arab rebellion launched in late 2011 against the Assad regime comes close to its conclusion. (…) For Israel, the crucial issue will be whether Iranian-associated forces will accompany regime troops to the border with the Golan. (…) It remains deeply open to question as to whether Putin has either the will or the capability to prevent Iranian deployment in the border area. The Iranians have invested deeply in Syria and possess a powerful military-political infrastructure in the country. The imminent eclipse of the rebellion, of which the fall of Deraa constitutes a milestone, therefore looks set to lead to continued competition and probable clashes between Israel and that infrastructure in Syria.
Jonathan Spyer, JPO, 09.07.18
Neither Poland nor Israel can afford their fixation with the past
(…) Employing history as a source of international soft power is, in fact, a distinctly bad idea. (…) history helps little in winning geopolitical allies, attracting commercial partners, and creating an appealing national brand – the three essential conditions of foreign policy success for a country like Poland. By its very nature, a historically-based foreign policy is a zero-sum game. (…) While the Jewish people’s uniquely tragic and heroic history was surely pivotal in securing international support for the country’s establishment, it is difficult to find concrete ways in which that history wins Israel many new allies today. (…) We in no way underestimate the role of anti-Semitism as a source of opposition to Israel on the international stage. (…) But a country fixated with its past fights and grievances risks being seen as both unstable and not sufficiently adaptive. The past, especially for most businesspeople, is the opposite of the future. (…) An intense focus on history may also create other problems, such as attracting talent from abroad, increasing the risk of regional crises that can affect supply chains, or simply complicating a country’s pro-business messaging. (…) History should surely be studied by scholars, commemorated in museums and taught in schools. Yet when it comes to foreign affairs, progressives are conceding too much when they accept the historical fixation of authoritarians and their regimes. Instead, they should have courage to inspire their compatriots with attractive, alternative sources of future-oriented national power, prestige and success.
Maciej Kisilowski, Anna Wojciuk, HAA, 02.07.18
Poles carry their own hatred for Jews
(…) Poland was the only country occupied by Germany in which no citizen joined the SS to fight alongside the Germans, unlike some French, Dutch, Belgians, and Ukrainians, the last of whom guarded the concentration camps. On the other hand, Poland was the only country in which, after the Nazis were defeated, local anti-Semites carried out a pogrom and murdered dozens of Jews. (…) Sometimes, Polish Jews and Polish Christians alike were forced to work together – that is common sense, given that a million Poles were murdered by the Nazi scourge. But that did not make us brothers; the Poles’ hatred for Jews was too great. (…) The historical facts in the Israeli-Polish statement have not been thoroughly checked. This is a sad day and a step that could hurt many Holocaust survivors and weaken the war against anti-Semitism, not only in Poland but in other European countries too.
Mordechai Hareli, IHY, 06.07.18
History is not for sale
(…) even if on paper the diplomatic crisis has ended, the way it was resolved has created additional crises, no less severe, that cannot be swept under the rug by the mendacious document signed by the prime ministers of Israel and Poland. The joint declaration achieved exactly the opposite of what it set out to do. (…) it has caused divisions and led to a mutual lack of confidence. (…) It seems as if someone in Israel tried to “make a deal” at any price, even at the expense of offending the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors. Not many words are needed to explain the significance of the dramatic step taken by Yad Vashem, the world’s most important research institute on the Holocaust, which has unequivocally rejected the declaration. (…) This isn’t the first time we find Benjamin Netanyahu rewriting history for political purposes. (…) Netanyahu must stop trading in history as if it were his personal property. (…) it would be better to publish a document that leaves the work with historians on both sides, amid calls to resume friendly relations between the countries. (…) In any case, the declaration isn’t binding historically or ethically as long as it has not yet been approved by the cabinet or brought to the Knesset for debate, or received Yad Vashem’s approval.
Editorial, HAA, 08.07.18
When realpolitik crosses the line
(…) No one wants to be blamed for genocide, even if it’s a geographically, but not politically, accurate term. The motivation for a law punishing people for calling Poland complicit with the Nazis is clear. (…) But half of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were Polish. The death camps were in Poland. (…) There are many stories of Jews who returned to their homes after the war, and were murdered or threatened by Poles (…). The joint statement is mostly accurate, but it skims over these facts, just like the Polish government has, and countless – though not all – Poles have. (…) Nazis killed millions of non-Jewish Poles too. (…) Poland was taken over by communists after World War II. There were Jewish communists. All of these statements are true. None of them address the actual problem. By highlighting the incredibly courageous Poles who saved Jews and dwarfing those who savagely murdered Jews, the prime minister’s statement is technically accurate, but misses the point (…). It’s become clear in recent years that Netanyahu engaged in total realpolitik when it comes to Israel’s foreign relations. After what has apparently been months of negotiations with Poland, the son of a historian apparently decided to compromise on history, in exchange for continuing good diplomatic and trade ties with Poland. (…) A small country like Israel, isolated from most of its region and facing threats on all sides, can’t be too picky when it comes to building ties, even if it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. So where should the line be drawn? For the one and only Jewish state, antisemitism is a good place to start taking a strong stand, as is the Holocaust. (…) Israel cannot compromise on the truth here. (…)
Lahav Harkov, JPO, 06.07.18
Unfair ire surrounding the joint Israeli-Polish Holocaust statement
(…) The ensuing Israeli-Polish dialogue was meant to end this situation, which endangered the freedom to undertake and publish historical research on the Holocaust in Poland and was on the verge of ruining relations between Poland and Israel. That was accomplished: This law has been now been cancelled. (…) Striking a balance between the many Poles who as individuals were accessories to the Holocaust, and the much smaller number who risked their lives trying to assist Jews during the German occupation, is hardly possible. (…) Much has been done over the years by Polish governments to commemorate the 1,000-year history of the Jews in Poland and to improve relations between it and Israel since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1990. The joint statement by the Israeli and Polish prime ministers seems to have fortunately put an end to what was a needless perturbation of this process.
Moshe Arens, HAA, 10.07.18
The new Polish law is not going to change the world for the better
(…) researchers and journalists will no longer be facing imprisonment for speaking about the dark sides of Polish history. Instead, they will have to pay compensation if they lose their court case with someone who felt offended by their words. This is not a concession on the part of the Polish Government, nor backtracking from a bad law. It is an attack on freedom of speech (…).
For me, the most glaring symbol of the gradual erasure of the Jewish past from our space is the mass grave in my hometown. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans left a group of young and relatively strong Jews alive, sending them to do cleanup work. Then they took them to Piękna Street, ordered them to dig a hole and shot them. According to sources, there were from several dozen to 300 Jews there. After the war, the survivors who returned to the town laid a modest concrete slab in the place of the mass grave. Several years later, someone added the inscription “To the victims of fascism”. (…) The new law (…) is not going to change the world for the better. (…) It will close the mouths (…) of those who want to tell the truth. Because having to prove the truth in court is a long and exhausting process. Not everyone can afford it. This way, false textbooks will become the official interpretation and the only possible version of events. Poland will lose because it will have another generation brought up on falsehood. (…)
Katarzyna Markusz, TOI, 10.07.18
It’s the Germans’ fault
One people only are responsible for the Holocaust – the Germans. There is an entire continent full of anti-Semitic history, and that is Europe. (…) What makes Poland unique is that the Nazi occupiers carried out most of their atrocities there. Jews from all over Europe were sent to the terrible death industry in the extermination camps in Poland. (…) Israel has a vested interest in maintaining good relations with Poland. When Poland passed a law that could have threatened those who research and teach the Holocaust, Israel was obligated to speak up and intervene. Israel did, and achieved its goal – the Polish law was changed (…). The wording of the joint statement issued by the leaders of Israel and Poland on the alterations to the law isn’t perfect and contains some problematic statements. Maybe Israel should have insisted on better, more accurate wording, and perhaps it could still be changed. (…) The document includes Israel’s agreement with the statements that are so important to the Poles – “the term ‘Polish concentration/death camps’ is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germany for establishing those camps” and “we reject the actions aimed at blaming Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators.” Israel is simply agreeing with a historical fact.
Uri Heitner, IHY, 11.07.18
Intervention against apartheid law casts Rivlin as brave gatekeeper of Israeli democracy and morality
(…) Rivlin is the Real McCoy, salt of the earth, a born and bred Jerusalemite, modest family man, man of the people and true believer in Jabotinsky-style grandeur. (…) Rivlin’s tendency to joke about everything, including himself, often made him seem like a clown. (…) Rivlin has proven that he is made of sterner stuff. Consistently and persistently, Rivlin has exhibited the kind of civic courage that has made him into the guardian of the gates of the Israeli state and its institutions. (…) He has stood against racism, Jewish terror and discrimination of Israel’s LGBT community. (…) Rivlin knew full well that he would come under fierce attack from right wing loons and their parliamentary representatives after his dramatic intervention (…) against legislation of the so-called Nation-State Law. (…) He has done his best to fill the moral vacuum in Israel’s top echelons and he has deployed the prestige of his presidency as a wall against the black hole that sucks in Israeli politicians and destroys their integrity. (…) above all, and notwithstanding the valid claim that he has often deviated from the limitations of his office, Rivlin adheres to his oath to protect and defend the State of Israel and its laws. (…)
Chemi Shalev, HAA, 10.07.18
The motives behind the nation-state bill
(…) Netanyahu is waging an all-out campaign to siphon off support from Habayit Hayehudi, and it seems to be working. (…) Netanyahu is once again pushing for the passage of the nation-state bill (…) even though there is nothing that warrants urgency on this matter. After 10 years of being rewritten, watered-down and revised, the current iteration of the nation-state bill is essentially a list of laconic provisions that are a far cry from their original intent. (…) Netanyahu knows that by going full steam ahead with the bill, he would face an onslaught from MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) and Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg. But the two are not his focus. His real goal is to prevent Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett from outflanking him from the Right. (…) Netanyahu still has no answer for the incendiary kites in the south but at least he has managed to make the Left go mad. That accomplishment should not be discounted.
Mati Tuchfeld, IHY, 11.07.18
Nation-state bill isn’t racist – it preserves the legacy of Israel’s founding fathers
(…) The most selective kibbutzim (…) were those of the far-left Hakibbutz Ha’artzi movement. Arabs weren’t the only ones excluded from them – Jews who didn’t observe all of Hashomer Hatzair’s commandments likewise couldn’t be accepted (…). Even when spirits were inflamed over the “who’s a Jew” issue, there was total consensus that in Israel the Jewish nation and only the Jewish nation can realize its self-determination; that the state is the Jewish nation’s state, not the state of all its nations. (…). The Basic Law: Nation-State proposal was intended (…) to preserve the founding fathers’ legacy against those – including the High Court – acting to destroy it. (…) it was Kadima, headed by the peripatetic Tzipi Livni, who submitted the nation-state bill to the Knesset, crafted in a much more ambitious (i.e. racist) style. Twenty Kadima MKs signed it, as did others from opposition parties. Had Benjamin Netanyahu wanted the bill, it would have passed with a great majority. But he chose to freeze it. Now, when the bill’s feathers have been plucked and it’s raising an acute internal controversy, he’s pulling it out for his tactical needs, which could change tomorrow. It is not respectable to submit this bill to the vote in such a cynical way, which degrades its ideological, Zionist and Jewish content. Only those of exemplary moral conduct and pure intentions are worthy of submitting a bill with spiritual and historic meaning like the nation-state bill.
Israel Harel, HAA; 12.06.18
Discrimination, racism and Smotrich
(…) All of the elements the bill is meant to enshrine into law are already part of our daily lives: Arabic is not Israel’s second official language in practice anyway, and those who want to have apartheid, have it uninterrupted—both in communities that have declared themselves free of the “other” and in those that simply declared themselves free of Arabs or seculars. If there’s something Israel has no shortage of, it’s nationalism. (…) Universal views of equality are not common currency in the State of Israel. They’re special medals sold to tourists and foreigners. (…) the nationality bill was not meant to meet the needs of the people, but the needs of Smotrich’s party, Bayit Yehudi. (…) Smotrich’s enthusiastic support of racism as Zionism and Zionism as racism is—in his mind and in the mind of those like him, who are gradually increasing—looking reality in the eyes. In Israel, this means (…) the ability to give ourselves a moral exemption from actions we would’ve condemned if others had done them (apartheid, for example) and then condemned the critics for zealot purity. Smotrich doesn’t believe in purity (…). He’s not alone, of course. (…) Smotrich did not settle for criticizing the purism, he also had a punch-line. After he was done rebuking the president, Smotrich concluded: “No discrimination and no nothing.” Let’s say I half-agree. Definitely not nothing.
Aviad Kleinberg, YED, 13.07.18
Gaza goes from ‘world’s biggest prison’ to ‘world’s biggest solitary confinement cell’
The two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip will be transferred from “the world’s biggest prison,” as the Strip is sometimes called, to the world’s biggest solitary confinement cell. The prime minister and the defense minister, with the consent of the army’s chief of staff, have made a final decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing, the only conduit through which Gazans can obtain goods and export a few of their own. Pulling this cruel decision out of Israel’s bag of tricks for ending the struggle against it attests (…) the failure of its war against incendiary kites (…). Israel has adopted a tactic centered on a years-long hermetic blockade accompanied by airstrikes, with the goal of forcing Hamas to stop the attacks on Israel. (…) the complete disregard for proposals that are already on the table, such as helping to develop the Strip, significant economic recovery, a long-term tahadiya — cessation of hostilities — and the generous allocation of Israeli work permits, means Israel is trapped in the delusion that only a military solution will bring calm. (…) Israel apparently expects Gazans, who are well-versed in misery, to exert pressure on Hamas’ leaders so that they, with a wave of the hand, will end the attacks on Israel. In other words, what brutal military operations did not achieve, isolation will. But that is highly unlikely to be the result. (…) Israel could and should revoke its immoral decision to lock Gaza’s gates; launch an effort to coordinate with Hamas, via Egypt or any other country willing to help; replace its Pavlovian military responses with a policy of development and rehabilitation and see Hamas as part of the solution. (…)
Editorial, HAA, 11.07.18
Israel, Gaza and international law
(…) In the case of Gaza, the people living in the territory live under Hamas administration and control. It is Hamas law that governs the people’s lives and it is the Hamas soldiers that enforce their laws. (…) while Israel and Egypt do maintain a blockade of Gaza, that doesn’t equate to occupation. (…) quelling a riot, such as those that happened at the Gaza border, is specified as a legitimate basis for the use of deadly force. (…) proportionality is not a question of equivalent body counts and the number of those injured. Instead, it is based upon the Israeli military’s assessment of whether the expected civilian casualties would be excessive in relation to the anticipated gain of preventing the breach of the border fence to protect its own citizens. The rule of “proportionality” relies upon intent, particularly in regards to collateral damage. (…) The fact is, the vast majority of those killed were members of militant groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel and were actively participating in a violent attack on the State. While anti-Israel activists will continue to spread their malicious claims of war crimes and human rights violations, those claims don’t hold up under international law.
Ari Ingel, JPO, 04.07.18
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: July 2018
Dr Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel