“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.
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Main topics covered in this Publication:
- Coalition with Liberman instead of with Herzog
- Initiatives from Cairo and Paris
- BDS and J Street
- Selection of Articles
1. Coalition with Liberman instead of with Herzog
Netanyahu is bringing the whole center-left camp to its knees
(…) Herzog is less annoying than some of his party colleagues. Ostensibly, they all oppose him and hold him in contempt, telling him they won’t support his move. In practise, if Netanyahu were to even modestly improve his insulting offer, the entire “rejection front” would collapse. (…) Let’s assume that Netanyahu would give the Zionist Union the Justice Ministry instead of the economy and industry portfolios (…) Let’s fantasize that King Netanyahu would be willing to find within himself a tiny shred of compassion and formulate some convoluted formula regarding the diplomatic process, with a tiny hint at a possible construction freeze in the settlements (…) in order to facilitate a conducive atmosphere during the negotiations” – this would lead to a truly united government: partnership in leading the country, a hand on the helm. One doesn’t need much more and everyone instantly becomes a soldier in Netanyahu’s duplicitous army. In truth, this is really depressing. (…)
Raviv Drucker, HAA, 16.05.16
A common interest in unity
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor leader Isaac Herzog are both very experienced politicians. (…) Netanyahu and Herzog share a common interest and both have something to lose. However, their situations are not the same. Despite the razor-thin majority held by Netanyahu’s 61-MK coalition in the Knesset, the prime minister has managed to pass a budget and a number of different laws over the past year. But it has not always been easy. (…) Netanyahu has sought to expand the coalition as quickly as possible. (…) If the talks with Herzog fail, things will go back to the way they were for Netanyahu, at least seemingly. (…) For Herzog, the failure of the talks with Netanyahu would be a mortal blow. Herzog’s chances of being reelected as Labor leader in the party’s next primaries would plummet, as his opponents would portray him as someone who crawled, capitulated and gave in to temptation — and failed.
Mati Tuchfeld, IHY, 17.05.16
Offering Liberman the defense job, Netanyahu embraces a politician who despises him
The job of Israeli defense minister (…) holds immense significance and sensitivity. The burden of defending this country is complex and ever-shifting. (…) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entrusted that position (…) to a politician (…) who shoots from the lip. A politician who (…) has called for the ouster of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even as Netanyahu has been trying to assure the international community of his desire to enter negotiations Abbas. (…)Who after the war ridiculed the prime minister under whom he had served as paranoid and ineffectual. (…) First and foremost in Netanyahu’s thinking is the fact that he holds a 61-strong coalition in the 120-seat Knesset, and that’s a lousy way to have to govern. (…) Netanyahu thus widens his government, keeps his right flank happy, and humiliates Herzog. (…) Netanyahu could conceivably feel rather pleased with himself. (…) He has plunged the main opposition party into a frenzy of bitter recrimination and public ridicule. He may relish having the tough-talking Liberman at his side. (…) It is hard to believe that Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, who only this week was hailing potential peace opportunities and may have believed he would soon be dealing with foreign minister Herzog, will be joyfully contemplating the arrival of defense minister Liberman. Much the same could be said of the Saudis (…).
David Horovitz, TOI, 19.05.16
Netanyahu’s morally and politically dysfunctional government
The recent shenanigans of the government sickened even those reconciled to the reality that a total lack of ethics pervades the Israeli political arena. (…) Netanyahu saved his government by this ‘volte farce.’ But it may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory. As the global community prepares to exert more pressure (…) we will be perceived as having an even more extreme right-wing government. (…) When Liberman served as foreign minister he abused his position and misrepresented Israel. To appoint him defense minister, possessing no military experience whatsoever, is grossly unsuitable (…). The country’s biggest loss is Ya’alon, whose wisdom and military knowledge are irreplaceable. The other loser is Herzog, who sought to bring Zionism back into the Labor Party and marginalize the leftists who have hijacked it. (…) His party will now be in shambles until it sorts itself out and elects a new leader. The big winner, aside from Liberman, will be Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who will benefit immensely and is likely to represent an alternative leadership at the next elections. (…)
Isi Leibler, JPO, 22.05.16
Can a broader coalition tackle Israel’s real economic problems
The Ministry of Finance does not at this stage have any firm plan for encouraging economic growth. (…) The (…) Ministry of Finance is (…) already coping with two difficult challenges in drafting the state budget: a very large fiscal hole in 2017 (…). A downward revision of the growth forecast for 2016 will force the Ministry of Finance to adjust the tax revenues forecast for 2016 and 2017 accordingly, making the fiscal hole even bigger. (…) the economic slowdown limits the tools available to the ministry to close the hole, because raising taxes at a time like this will only worsen the slowdown and could tip the economy into a deep recession. (…) Budgets Division in the Ministry of Finance is under pressure from the prime minister to allocate billions to stimulating growth, even at the expense of some increase in the deficit target. (…) The Ministry of Finance believes that (…) the source of the problem this time is not a global slowdown but local weakness in the economy, arising from, among other things (…) low productivity and a high structural deficit. Solving these problems mainly requires long-term reforms and political determination. Against this background, the question whether the prime minister will be able to exploit the broadening of the coalition to instigate significant structural changes, even if their contribution to growth will be felt mainly in the medium-to-long term, becomes more acute.
Amiram Barkat, GLO, 30.05.16
Is messianism replacing the old order in Israel?
(…) the Temple Mount movement moved one step closer toward legitimacy in Israel by getting its first representative into the Israeli parliament. (…) The difference between Ya’alon and Glick is stark, and can be seen as indicative of larger shifts within Israeli society. (…) Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff, is a stern former dairy farmer and kibbutz member, whose pessimistic worldview was shaped by his lifelong membership in Israel’s security establishment. (…) Glick, on the other hand, is an American-born activist who made his name by campaigning for Jewish access to the Temple Mount, who once went on a 53-day hunger strike after being barred from the mount and believes that a Third Temple should replace the Al-Aqsa mosque. (…) One favors caution, the other – faith. (…) Their paths to the Knesset could not be more different. Ya’alon’s was the traditional route by which former Israel Defense Forces generals ascend to the highest levels of Israeli politics (…) Glick (…) operated on the margins of Israel’s politics for years, until the attempt on his life brought him to the national stage. (…) A resident of the settlement Otniel, Glick has been instrumental in bringing the Temple Mount movement, once a fringe group of messianic zealots relegated to the far-right reaches of Israeli politics, closer to the Israeli mainstream. (…) the symbolic transition between Glick and Ya’alon does mirror the new values quickly taking hold in Israel. Glick’s brand of messianic fervor is on the rise, while some of Israel’s top generals (…) landed in hot water (…) after taking a stand against Israel’s quickly-radicalizing political discourse and daring to question Israel’s current conduct. The cold, analytical military mind of Ya’alon is being replaced by Glick’s messianism not only in the Knesset, but also in Israeli society (…).
Asher Schechter, HAA, 26.05.16
2. Friedensinitiativen aus Kairo und Paris
The French peace initiative is doomed to fail
The French peace initiative was born in sin. It did not begin as an initiative, it began as a threat: If Israel doesn’t accept the diktat to recognize a Palestinian state, without negotiations and without the Palestinians having to recognize Israel, France will support Palestinian demands. (…) The Israeli anger—which is entirely justified—led to a certain change in tone. (…) The French realize they’ve made a mistake. (…) All peace initiatives so far have failed. (…) Experience proves that it doesn’t matter what the Palestinians are offered, it doesn’t matter what the initiative entails. It’s clear, even before the fact, that Abbas will say no. (…) So, despite the pro-Palestinian bias, the result is known in advance. (…) The only plan the Palestinians support is the Saudi peace initiative, which became the Arab proposal. (…) The French resolution will fail, and it’s a shame if it fails because of Israel. That would only aid the Palestinian campaign against Israel. (…) Instead of a French initiative, we should’ve had an Israeli initiative—both regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It’s not that the Palestinians would’ve said “yes,” but an Israeli initiative would have at least continued the tradition in which Israel says “yes” and prospers. (…)
Ben-Dror Yemini, JED, 16.05.16
A step in the right direction
(…) The speedy responses issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog reveal this much: They didn’t fall off their chairs when they heard Sisi talking about “a real opportunity to find a long-awaited solution.” This is because this opportunity is partially based on Egypt’s status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The former Egyptian director of military intelligence, Sisi knows a thing or two about the political camps in Israeli politics (…): He knows that without Herzog as minister of foreign affairs, Netanyahu won’t have any wiggle room. (…) Sisi deals with countless problems, yet those who meet him describe a determined, hardworking and dedicated leader who (…) willingly disclosed his frequent phone conversations with Netanyahu. The task Sisi has taken on is far from simple. On the one hand, he has promised not to force any solutions, and on the other hand he cannot afford to fail. (…) There are no shortcuts, and without painful compromises on both sides as well as (Saudi) incentives, Sisi knows he’ll never reach his end goal.
Smadar Perry, JED, 18.05.16
The ‘peace processors’ are back
(…) These days, the periodic push to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is back on the agenda for those with nothing better to do and those too lazy to think of something new to write about. We are in the midst of rerun season and the end result of the latest peace process will be no different than all the prior failed efforts. (…) The problem with the new approach, described as a “rare show of independence,” is that for over two decades, the parameters of the two-state solution have never been a mystery (…). Israel needs to pull all its settlers out from beyond the separation fence, and offer land to the Palestinians of equal quality to what Israel would retain beyond the Green Line. Jerusalem should be an open, shared city and become a capital of two nations. It is easy enough to write, but it may be a bit more complicated to work out the details. How will the two sides address the problem of knife-wielding terrorists trying to kill Jews in the holy city? (…) The deal that achieves a two-state solution would call for an end to all future claims by either party. The chances of Palestinians ever agreeing to these points regarding refugees, weapons, and ending the conflict, is of course zero. The history of peacemaking between the two parties is that the Palestinians have never gotten to a yes that requires them to forgo future demands or accept that there is no right of return, or that Israel is a Jewish state. Bill Clinton could advise his wife about this. (…) On the international stage, the French appear to have gotten over their own domestic terrorism woes, (…) and have now taken the lead on organizing a multinational conference aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (…) There is nothing new to see here. (…)
Richard Baehr, IHY, 26.05.16
3. BDS und J Street
At the epicenter of BDS
Over the last 68 years, since the establishment of Israel, we have seen how the Arab world has tried to eliminate Israel through conventional warfare and then by way of intifada and terrorism. But to date, the most effective Arab tactic has been the campaign of demoralization and delegitimization. (…) the most brutal battlefield today is the average U.S. college campus, and some of the leaders of this movement happen to be Jewish students, particularly those lacking adequate knowledge of the history of what happened to our people over the last two centuries.(…) For over a generation now, our taxpayer dollars have been used to fund professors such as Hatem Bazian, who founded Students for Justice in Palestine in 1993 at the University of California, Berkeley. Students for Justice in Palestine purports to be a human rights movement, but in actuality it is an anti-Israel movement at the forefront of the BDS movement. It is represented on more than 120 of our nation’s college campuses. (…) Many teachers view these professors, who teach at some of America’s most elite universities, as real “experts,” and are therefore receptive to their political diatribes as a substitute for sound scholarship. (…) The section on “Palestine” is replete with historical half-truths and total untruths meant to generate sympathy only for the Palestinian cause, cleverly disguising this tactic as “critical thinking.” (…) It contains no films sympathetic to any part of the Israeli narrative. It is no wonder, then, that by the time students arrive on the college campus, (…) the one state consistently singled out for opprobrium is the State of Israel.
Sarah Stern, IHY, 22.05.16
J Street: For sale to the highest bidder
(…) When President Obama criticized Israel for building homes in its capital, Elie Wiesel published an ad calling for support for the unity of Jerusalem. In response, J Street published its own ad, reprinting an article from Haaretz by Yossi Sarid calling for the division of Israel’s capital. Sarid summarized J Street’s philosophy by asking President Obama to use his clout to save us from ourselves. (…) The view has always been popular among critics of Israel who, like J Street, believe that Israelis are either too stupid, immature, or foolish to know what is best for them and therefore must be helped to see the error of their ways by Americans who know better from the safety and comfort of their homes 6,000 miles away. (…) Could it be that rather than being foolish and immature, Israeli voters actually know their history and make decisions based on their experience? (…) There is a fundamental distinction between the consensus of the pro-Israel community and those who claim to represent Israel’s best interests. The former do not substitute their judgement for that of Israeli citizens who must live with the consequences of policy decisions, and who must fight and sometimes die for their country. (…) The stubborn reality is that there can be no movement toward peace until a Palestinian leadership appears that is ready to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. (…) Yet another example of J Street chutzpah is to call itself the pro-peace lobby, which clearly suggests that everyone else is anti-peace or pro-war. (…) Pro-Israel? Pro-Peace? Nah, just for sale to the highest bidder.
Shmuley Boteach, TOI, 26.05.16
Take BDS to court
The tactics of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement out to destroy Israel turn out to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is largely held in higher esteem than the Bible is in Europe. (…) The tide of BDS rises and falls, almost habitually by now, across municipal city councils all over Europe. (…) Such a situation, naturally, is untenable and ridiculous. (…) What is needed is a final judicial ruling on the utter illegality and incompatibility with human rights legislation from the highest authority on this issue in Europe, namely the European Court of Human Rights. (…) bringing the question of BDS before the European Court of Human Rights could prove to be a very powerful step against BDS, literally outlawing the movement across the European continent in one (…) It is a venue that must be explored as a means to shutting the BDS down and officially exposing it, on European soil, as the racist and illegal movement that it is and as the very antithesis of everything for which the European Convention on Human Rights stands.
Judith Bergman, IHY, 26.05.16
Want to defeat BDS? You need an army
(…) We can’t do it on our own, we need help and support from Christians, atheists, in fact from whoever we can find that is committed to the cause. I’m talking about building an army (…) an army that fights with its mind, that fights with its collective intellectual muscle to exert unstoppable pressure on governments in Europe who might be swayed into anti- BDS initiatives. (…) Politicians, like everyone else, respond to pressure. (…) I’m 100 percent convinced that a cross-European army would defeat BDS here. (…) We are in a war, ladies and gentlemen. And contrary to current military thinking, this war can only be won with boots on the ground. (…) Israel’s greatest asset isn’t its army, or its public representatives. It’s you, the public reading this. You have the power, by hitting the dislike button, by leaving a comment, by writing a letter, by picking up the phone. Combined, we are powerful force for pro-Israel advocacy and defeating the BDS movement. It’s not a lost cause and never has been. Together we can do this. (…)
Alex Benjamin, JPO, 29.05.16
RIGHT FROM WRONG: Anti-Semitism is not the Israeli government’s fault
One of the highlights of the annual report released on Tuesday by State Comptroller Judge Yosef Shapira is the government’s failure to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and other attempts at delegitimizing the Jewish state.(…) no amount of quality “hasbara” – an untranslatable Hebrew word for public diplomacy (…) can prevent or eliminate anti-Semitism. (…) In the past, we heard incessant whining about the fact that not enough foreign-service staffers spoke proper English (…) What nobody seemed to notice was that the Palestinian in the studio had ranted in equally terrible English, while presenting an utterly incoherent argument, based on bald-faced lies. In other words, it wasn’t the quality or content of their presentations that mattered, but rather the fact that Israel – the collective Jew – had become the bad guy. And no number of Berlitz courses could have countered that. (…) while figures like Alan Dershowitz in the United States, Irwin Cotler in Canada, Michael Gove in Britain and hundreds of other tireless defenders of Israel have stepped up their campaigns to contradict the false narratives that are taking campuses and political parties by storm, the BDS movement particularly, and anti-Semitism in general, have continued to rage on, spreading like a deadly virus immune to all available treatment. (…) It is good to know that the state comptroller considers battling BDS a serious enough priority to warrant mention in his report. (…) But neither he nor the rest of us should be under any illusions about the root and character of Israel- bashing and anti-Semitism, which are not the Israeli government’s fault.
Ruthie Blum, JPO, 29.05.16
4. Selection of Articles
One report, two tests for Israel
The 26 pages of the chapter of the annual State Comptroller’s Report (…) paint a bleak picture of Netanyahu’s conduct (…). Netanyahu and his wife love to travel abroad in lavish style, but not always at the state’s expense. The comptroller, retired Justice Joseph Shapira, rightly wonders how and why our then-finance minister, (…) enjoyed accommodations paid for by a body subject to his ministerial influence (…) and by individual businesspeople. Such conduct on the part of Netanyahu, who is fond of reminding people that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” is outrageous, and all the more so because it has been repeated numerous times. (…) From a public standpoint, Netanyahu’s conduct is intolerable. He preaches to Israelis to live within their means, while he lives within others’ means. (…) where are the coalition MKs, including the Likud MKs and ministers? Are they all Netanyahu’s faithful accomplices? Are they all ready to ignore the alleged corruption? (…) Mendelblit must prove that he serves the law alone. The examination of the material from the comptroller should become an open investigation. (…)
Editorial, HAA, 25.05.16
The report will help Netanyahu
The state comptroller’s report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s travel expenses isn’t exactly what the Left was hoping for. After a buildup spanning so many years, we can now say that the affair has ended on a grating but fairly weak note. (…) this is not what will bring down the government. (…) The state comptroller’s report points out problematic conduct relating to Netanyahu’s trips as finance minister, but doesn’t include any bottom line. (…) the report determines that the trips were paid for by legitimate organizations that invite dozens of MKs and ministers each year, not businesspeople. In the end, when the dust settles, there is only one test that counts for anything in the Israeli political system: the criminal aspect test. The public is not impressed with long discussions and preaching about manners and customs. (…) The Right doesn’t like it when people bother the leader. If it turned out that Netanyahu did commit a crime, that would be another matter. If not, they say, leave him alone and let him continue leading. (…) The coalition agreement (…) will deal another blow to the opposition, which is already up to its ears in internal strife. In the wake of the comptroller’s anticlimactic report, the prime minister can secure a few years of political calm, while the members of the Left perpetuate their age-old habit of eating each other alive.
Mati Tuchfeld, IHY, 25.05.16
More than stability, Leviathan needs customers
(…) In order for Leviathan to meet the late 2019 timetable set for it (…) customers must first be found to whom the gas can be sold. Without customers, the huge investments required to develop the reservoirs cannot be justified. (…) Demand in the domestic Israeli economy does not justify the development of Leviathan. The Palestinian Authority has canceled the only gas agreement signed by the partners. The Jordanian economy consumes very small quantities of gas (…), and since Royal Dutch Shell acquired British Gas, selling gas to the liquefaction facility in Egypt has become much less likely. (…) Turkey is an option, but still a remote one, and Europe will be willing to buy the gas only at a price at which the partners will not agree to sell. (…) The job of the government, now that it has “defended” the public by changing the stability clause, is to make sure that the public benefits from the gas, whether through increasing subsidies to enterprises for being hooked up to the gas; guaranteeing electricity rate coverage for Israel Electric Corporation (…), so that it will use more gas and less cheap coal; introducing the use of natural gas for transportation; or by encouraging private developers to build gas-driven power stations.
Hedy Cohen, GLO, 19.05.16
(…) When speaking of Israel’s outstanding record on gay rights, one risks being accused of pinkwashing. But this week – Gay Pride Week – we have decided to take that chance. For while Israel is not perfect, it is nevertheless indisputable that the Jewish state offers an exceptionally welcoming environment for LGBT individuals – not just in comparison to neighboring Muslim countries, but relative to Western nations as well. (…) This is not to say that Israel is fully accepting of LGBT individuals. People like Bayit Yehudi Knesset member Bezelel Smotrich, who represents a large swath of the religious Zionist community, have referred to the Gay Pride Parade as a blasphemy that defiles the holy city. (…) Horrific acts of violence have been perpetrated against the LGBT community and its supporters. One of the recent casualties was Shira Banki, who was stabbed to death by religious fanatic Yishai Schlissel during last year’s Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. (…) More needs to be done. (…) On Gay Pride Week we should celebrate the gains made by Israel in championing the rights of the LGBT community, while remaining vigilant against attempts to disparage or discriminate against individuals for their sexual orientation.
Editorial, JPO, 25.05.16
(…) the death sentence has been close to Liberman’s heart for some time. (…) Executing a terrorist murderer cannot prevent a slaying that has already occurred; just as demolishing the family homes of some terrorist murderers does not deter others. Politicians say deterrence, but they mean revenge. There are good fundamental reasons in Jewish tradition why our sages have eliminated the death penalty over the centuries. (…) Maimonides taught that such restriction is necessary to prevent the execution of the innocent. (…) In 1954, the Knesset abolished the death penalty for murder, but retained it de jure for war crimes, crimes against humanity, treason and certain crimes during wartime. (…) Until the present wheeling and dealing for cabinet jobs is concluded, it is good to consider a remark last year by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, when proposing a bill to abolish the law allowing civil and military courts to sentence people to death, except in cases of genocide. (…) “The proposal to sentence terrorists to death does not reflect Jewish morals or democratic values,” Gal-On said. “Killing for reasons of revenge is wrong. It is unwise and unjust, and its results were best described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
Editorial, JPO, 21.05.16
British anti-Semitism? What else is new
They say there’s ant-Semitism in Britain. (…) what else is new? (…) anti-Semitism has been around in Britain for a long time. (…) The first shot to be fired by a British naval vessel during World War II was fired on September 2, 1939, at an immigrant ship the Tiger Hill bringing “illegal” refugees to Palestine. Two refugees on board, having escaped from Europe, were killed. (…) British policy throughout the war prevented the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews and made Britain partly responsible for their fate. This has not been acknowledged by any British government to this day. (…) Britain did not support the UN partition resolution, (…) and Britain was among the last to grant Israel recognition. (…) So it’s ironic that it should have been responsible for actions that prevented the rescue of many who could have been saved, and threatened the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Anti-Semitism in Britain was at least partially responsible for the widening gap between the original promise and its nonfulfillment.
Moshe Arens, HAA, 17.05.16
A politicized army is a mortal threat to Israel
The debate over whether senior Israeli officers have the right to publicly express political opinions has raged around several contentious issues. (…) missing from this discussion, though, is what’s really at stake: the future of Israeli democracy. Democratic systems are predicated on certain fundamental principles (…). The intervention of army commanders in domestic politics, in deed or even in word, is the first step toward coups and juntas. (…) In Israel, the situation is complicated by the intimate relationship between the IDF and Israeli society, as well as by the presence of former senior officers in political positions. Together with threats from Israel’s enemies, the army must grapple with the challenges posed by Israeli extremists from both the right and the left. Still, the principle of an IDF that stays above the political fray is crucial to Israel’s survival as a democratic state. (…) Those in Israel now advocating for the right of military personnel to comment publicly on politics must ask themselves whether that right will be reserved for generals only or also extend to junior officers and even privates. (…) Whether or not senior Israeli commanders are correct in their analysis of the threats facing Israeli society is beside the point. Openly sounding those warnings is not their role and, worse, it undermines Israeli democracy. (…)
Michael Oren, TOI, 17.05.16
HAA = Haaretz
JED = JediothAhronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: June 2016
Dr. Werner Puschra, Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel