“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:
- Righter Than Ever – Netanyahu’s New Alliance Is Taking Shape
- Growing Concerns About Democracy and the Rule of Law
- On Course for a Confrontation With the Diaspora
- Selection of Articles
1. Righter Than Ever – Netanyahu’s New Alliance Is Taking Shape
IDF and Israeli politics are a dangerous mix
(…) every week far-left agitators go to Hebron and deliberately provoke the soldiers doing their duty, hoping to catch the soldiers on camera (…). Soldiers, however, should know better, and must act better. When they don’t, they need to be punished. And when they are punished, the political echelon needs to give the army full backing, not second-guess those in charge. Ben-Gvir’s public disagreement with Kohavi – the two butted heads (…) over the 10-day jail sentence – is inappropriate, to say the least. The last thing Israel’s enemies need to see is the IDF General Staff fighting with the political echelon. Equally unseemly, however, was Netanyahu’s silence – until he wrote his nine-word Facebook post – and that of the man likely to be his defense minister, Yoav Gallant. They both needed to speak out immediately, and firmly, against political interference in the IDF. (…) Ben-Gvir is already interfering in the IDF’s decision-making process. If that is how he behaves before receiving a ministerial appointment, what can the country expect once he is sworn in? (…) Netanyahu needs to let Ben-Gvir know in no uncertain terms that there are redlines that, if crossed, could have tragic consequences for the country. The mixing of politics and the army is one of those redlines.
Editorial, JPO, 01.12.22
Israel will be replaced by a halachic state
The emerging coalition agreements will damage the standing of the legal system, erode women’s and LGBTQ rights, undermine the war against the delegitimization of Israel, harm the country’s relations with the Diaspora, among other things by changing the Law of Return, while the agreements also include a plethora of dangerous, misogynist demands that will set us back light years from the path envisioned by the visionary seer of the State of Israel, Theodor Herzl. The religious priests that Herzl sought to leave in their temple are the ones who are running the coalition negotiations, and when a coalition is formed it will be they who chart Israel’s new path. The reality being dictated is one where a Zionist democratic state will be replaced by a halachic state. The first to appear on the political field was Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich, who protested in a letter to the chairman of the Israel Football Association the fact that games are held on the Sabbath.ontroversy, and with it, the new political era. (…) Of course, the story is not about soccer, but rather, the character of the State of Israel and the future of its residents – all of us. (…) In an era in which it is permissible to rewrite history and to forget where we came from and where we are headed, it is also possible to change course and to change the existing political structure. (…) Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has demanded that coalition negotiations include a clause that overrides the rulings of the Supreme Court, and an increase in budgets for yeshiva students (…). Add to this the dangerous vision of Rabbi Zvi Thau, one of the spiritual leaders of the Noam faction of the Religious Zionist list, which has already closed a deal with Netanyahu that will make Noam leader Avi Maoz a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office where he will be able to exercise his master’s vision. (…) Religious priests are those who manage our lives, and the above is just a partial list of recent examples. (…) Add to this the demand for gender separation in public events paid for by the taxpayer (…) and the misogynistic remarks made by Maoz and his friends, as well as comments on the LGBTQ community, female IDF service, changes in the content taught at schools, and the call to cancel the gender adviser position to the IDF chief of staff (…). A full right-wing government? Far from it. (…) The incoming government could change the face of the State of Israel. There will be no more checks and balances, and the vision of a Zionist state will slip away into the distance. (…)
Sharon Roffe Ofir, JPO, 05.12.22
As tensions grow, all eyes are on the Temple Mount
As preparations accelerate for the establishment of a new Israeli government, many eyes (…) are turned to the Temple Mount. This religiously sensitive site with its explosive potential appears to pose a major test for the new government and warning sirens are being sounded even before the government has been formed. (…) Jordanian officials have been warning that an attempt by the new government to change the status quo at the site and allow provocative actions by Ben-Gvir as a future minister of national security, could threaten peaceful relations with Jordan and inflame the entire region. (…) a permanent framework of dialogue, coordination and cooperation on this most sensitive and volatile issue (…) would enable a constant channel of communications, serve as a tool for message and information exchanges and confidence building measures, promoting coordination and preparations for times of crisis, and agreed moves to calm tensions and restore order. (…) The combination of recent and increasing instability in the West Bank, the tensions in eastern Jerusalem and the fears of extreme and dangerous policies promoted by some members of the new government create a particularly volatile mix and any unusual incident on the Temple Mount could trigger a flare-up. This state of play underscores the critical importance of preventing escalation at this sensitive site and instituting permanent and effective coordination and dialogue mechanisms between all parties involved.
Lior Lehrs, JPO, 05.12.22
Israel will pay for far-right’s realization of the annexation dream
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s policies will likely throw legitimacy of Israel’s rule in the West Bank into further dispute, threatening international cooperation, which is a corner stone of our security. (…) Israel’s blooming relations with parts of the Arab World, and the legal position of the international community, that considers the West Bank under a temporary military occupation, will be compromised. The designated ministers in the incoming Netanyahu coalition, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, have been dedicating their efforts towards annexation of the West Bank, for religious reasons. Most of their lives, the two gentlemen had been in conflict, with Israeli security services and law enforcement and they will now, be overseers of both. (…) The two incoming ministers, will serve the interests of the Jewish settlers, including annexation of 60% of the territory defined as area C, legalize the illegal activities of settlers there, and impose a heavy-handed policy towards the Palestinian population.
2. Growing Concerns About Democracy and the Rule of Law
This is the call for a liberal religious rebellion
(…)The success of the ultra-Orthodox parties and even more so of the party that calls itself the Religious Zionists is a disaster for the Torah. They declare Jewish supremacy, unbridled power, contempt for democracy, civil rights, secular education and religious ethnic tolerance. It creates a suffocating feeling that God’s name is being desecrated. (…) The Torah (…) is in palpable danger. We (…) we must fight it. This great and urgent task requires courageous and comprehensive mobilization. There is a sizeable liberal religious community in Israel that sees no contradiction between halachic observance and living by humanist ideals. (…). But this community, part and parcel of Israeli science, scholarship, economics and culture has remained silent. (…) We must battle the racism and nationalism that are eroding the best of Israeli society. It is time, in other words, for us to separate ourselves from the public that has seized our home. (…) both Israel and Jewish tradition have reached a critical and dangerous crossroads. (…) Other planned legislation will allow discrimination against minorities on racial grounds and will permit rabbinic courts to impose new stringencies on non-Jews who want to convert to Judaism, Jews who want to divorce, and women who cannot remarry because their husbands have disappeared. And haredi schools will be exempted from any requirement to teach basic core subjects. These are just a few examples and that’s without touching on the culture of lies, fabrications and corruption that is rife in much of the Netanyahu camp. (…) It’s time to stop pretending that our camp, that of Orthodox Zionism, is one unified body. The camp represented by the knitted kippah has not been unified for some time. It is now imperative that the cracks already long evident be widened and deepened rather than simply bandaged over. (…)
Itay Marienberg-Millikowsky, JPO, 05.12.22
Who’s the One Inciting Rebellion?
(…) For Netanyahu, who uses the same rhetoric as other populists around the world, any opposition to his actions is a “revolt.” While he goes about pursuing regime change (…), anyone who has the audacity to defend democracy is labeled a “rebel.” (…)
Israel’s democracy is in danger not just because it’ll be led by someone standing trial for bribery who is willing to sell it out in order to keep himself out of jail. What helped him bring us to this point is that the democratic systems have been eroded to the point that they are less effective in representing the citizen, and there has been a loss of trust in these systems and a loss of passion to defend them. At a time when technology enables public participation and can be harnessed for the sake of the public’s future, government sticks to the past. (…) Now it is the majority’s turn to wake up, and local authorities have a leading role to play: the more they use their authority they have in education, transportation and housing, the more they can push democracy towards the future. Taking a brave stance in defense of education is only the starting point. (…) the democratic public in Israel needs to go out to protest against the new government, but unlike in the past, this time, the protest won’t be waged in the High Court of Justice or with pleading, but in the streets of the cities.
Stav Shaffir, HAA, 07.12.22
Lapid’s civil-war incitement won’t work
(…) Israel’s outgoing caretaker prime minister, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (…) is no more of a so-called “centrist” than he is a healer of societal rifts. (…) his self-described “change” government (…) has embarked on a campaign to foment civil war. The effort will fail as badly as his bid to remain at the helm and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s attempt to replace him at it. There’s a reason that their crew lost the election to the nationalist camp. (…) those who continue to insist that the nation is split down the middle are in denial, deluding themselves or (…) Hysterical warnings from all its representatives and supporters about the imminent demise of Israeli democracy, due to a collection of politicians who emphasize the state’s Jewish identity and prioritize patriotism, are influencing liberals abroad. They’re also music to the ears of Israel’s mortal enemies. At home, however, the hyperbole is likely to have the opposite effect. As one honest left-wing TV panelist pointed out bemusedly this week, if the chattering classes don’t put a muzzle on their (…) Lapid had his chance and blew it. His task, when the ruling coalition takes the reins, is to challenge it when he sees fit. It’s not to stage a revolt in the name of vague, lofty ideals that he’s better at voicing than putting into practice. The trouble is that doing the latter would entail acceptance of his current situation and tolerance for diversity.
Ruthie Blum, JPO, 08.12.22
Far-right will drive Israelis to the streets en masse
They are coming our way because Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Avi Maoz do not understand the meaning of the election results. (…) Protests are coming our way because the devotees of democracy among us will not be willing to give up on a Jewish democratic state. (…) We’re dealing with a party of radical religious extremists, who have been bestowed authority over 18 Border Police battalions in the West Bank. On the other hand, we have a party of Temple Mount messianics with de facto control of the Civil Administration and coordination of activities in the Occupied Territories. If this isn’t enough of reason for Israeli distraught, there is also a party of outright homophobes in charge of a significant portion of the over 800,000 students’ extra curricula studies, in the education system. The belief in good and effective governance has been shattered. (…) Benjamin Netanyahu is being blackmailed and humiliated, while a gang of outcasts representing about one-tenth of the population, is taking over the country. (…) Instead of targeting the prime minister by name, demonstrators must call for Israelis to come forth and unite. (…) The focus should be on Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, and Maoz – not Netanyahu. (…) The protest wave must be in support of democracy. (…) The protest wave must be patriotic. It must reject outright extremists on the Left, and the anti-Israel lunatics. Even in difficult and dark days, the public’s voice should reiterate Jewish and Israeli, values, standing up against the far right, it must reflect an alliance of citizens from all over the political spectrum. In the face of the nationalist fanaticism that desecrates the legacy of the Herzl’s Zionism, the public must express Herzl’s principles. (…)
Ari Shavit, YED, 08.12.22
Israeli officials who call to resist new government are playing with fire
(…) the former premier called for “civil disobedience without violence,” over radical elements in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s emerging coalition. Barak said although the formation of the emerging coalition is “legal,” it is “illegitimate” due to “stinking political deals” that led to its establishment. (…) Barak (…) calls for disobedience “not to fix, but to replace” the incoming government. This is the main difference between people (…), who believe the government is illegitimate and want to destroy it, and people like Martin Luther King – who see the government as legitimate and only want to make changes to make the system more just. True civil disobedience must be public and non-violent, since its goal is to emphasize the problem that is being protested and rally the rest of the public to join. But Barak isn’t trying to rally the public, but to divide it by saying that those who fail to join him are afraid of doing so because they are worried about their political position. As a result, he may cause the government to be seen as illegitimate and block any free, public dialogue. (…) many share Barak’s fears over the incoming government, but when someone thinks hearing a different beat is wrong, shunning or forcing them to match your own could also lead to harming of basic human rights. Something Barak fears Netanyahu’s government would do.
Yuval Elbashan, YED, 11.12.22
3. On Course for a Confrontation With the Diaspora
The anti-Netanyahu resistance is counterproductive
Prior to the recent Israeli election, it was clear that Benjamin Netanyahu’s left-wing opponents and their sympathizers in the United States wouldn’t meekly accept defeat if they were unable to prevent the Likud Party leader and his allies from winning. But now that Netanyahu has won and appears to be on the verge of forming a government with a stable majority, it’s clear that what’s about to unfold goes beyond even the usual histrionics and plotting that ensue whenever the parties of the right succeed. Having campaigned on a platform that depicted Netanyahu as an enemy of democracy, they continue to push that argument regardless of the facts or the consequences for Israel and its alliance with the US. Much like the cultural tribal war that characterizes American politics, the Israeli Left and their friends in the organized American-Jewish world, the foreign-policy establishment and the Democratic Party believe that no smear or tactic is too awful to employ if it can somehow hurt him. (…) they are not only prepared to undermine the already shaky ties between Israel and American Jews and heighten tensions between Netanyahu and the Biden administration. They also seem to think that encouraging the Palestinians to double down on their destructive attitudes is not beyond the pale. (…) The belief that behaving like a loyal opposition is the proper response to losing an election has gone out of style in both the US and Israel. (…) Concerns about whether Ben-Gvir and Smotrich will behave responsibly as ministers leading government departments are reasonable, as is disgust with Noam’s pronouncements. Still, (…), the fears about them are (…) partisan talking points that ignore the fact that the Israeli voters who put them in this strong position see them as proposing sensible responses to a security crisis the previous government didn’t sufficiently address. (…) the most dangerous aspect of the anti-Bibi resistance (…) is the rhetoric coming from American Jews (…).
Jonathan S. Tobin, IHY, 01.12.22
Netanyahu would do well to heed warnings of Diaspora Jewry
(…) Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League and a staunch long-time defender of Israel, said that he would not be able to support a non-democratic Israel. (…) Foxman’s warning needs to go off as a loud alarm bell in Israel. Whether Netanyahu will heed them is another question – but they should not go ignored. (…) Foxman said is important, is because it explains what might happen in the coming year, depending on what the presumed new government of the Likud, the Religious Zionist Party, Shas and United Torah Judaism do in the Knesset. (…) The US – and especially many of its prominent Jews – care (…) about the future democratic character of the State of Israel. Sweeping changes to the delicate balance that exists here between the legislature and the judiciary are unlikely to be ignored. (…) in The Washington Post (…) two former US diplomats – both Jewish – called on President Joe Biden to consider withholding offensive weapons to Israel “or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.” This is worrisome because the talk today is not coming from the extreme corners of the progressive camp but also from the mainstream camp within the Democratic Party, people like these diplomats and prominent Jewish leaders like Foxman. Netanyahu would do well to keep this in mind as he considers the policies that his new government will seek to enact. (…)
Editorial, JPO, 04.12.22
Smotrich Needs to Apologize to US Jews
Incoming Minister and head of the Religious Zionism political party, Bezalel Smotrich, infamously declared Reform Judaism to be a “Fake Religion.” On top of this, the soon to be new minister Avigdor Maoz declared today before the Israeli Knesset that forms of ‘liberal religion’ are a ‘darkness’ that must be expelled. These are clever political moves that play to their base within Israel. But they have enormous repercussions to Jews in the USA. Now that they are going to be leaders in the new government being formed under Benjamin Netanyahu, they need to apologize for these statements. (…) Not only do I identify as a Reform Jew, most of my friends in the USA do as well. And all my friends are big supporters of Israel. They are the leaders of AIPAC and JNF and Jewish summer camps and the list goes on and on. (…) Desecrating, devaluating, and insulting Reform and other more liberal streams of Judaism may be politically expedient, but they are not Jewish values. It is one thing to state these things when you are out of the government. But when you are given the responsibility to lead the Jewish nation of Israel, you need to behave differently. (…) The Jewish nation has enough enemies as it is. Our leaders should not be attacking some of the best of our people simply because the prayer service looks a little different.
David Brent, TOI, 08.12.22
How Can American Jews Confront Israel’s Horrific New Government?
Benjamin Netanyahu is putting the finishing touches on his new government, and American Jews are sickened and horrified by what they see. (…) Netanyahu is about to form the worst government in Israel’s history (…) whose roster contains the names of soon-to-be ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, and Avi Maoz. And there is no mistaking who these characters are. Taken together, they are an existential threat to the state of Israel. They are avowed enemies of the rule of law. They have no fidelity to the moral ideals of Zionism. They bring racism, homophobia, and religious primitivism to the government of the Jewish state. And they are likely to put a terrible dent in Israeli democracy. (…) In a saner system of government, a bloc of three parties winning 11 percent of the vote would have only modest clout. But Netanyahu outsmarted himself. He stitched the bloc together himself, afraid that otherwise the parties would disappear. He then kept his distance during the election, hoping to escape the taint of their racism and bigotry. But when he could not form a government without them, he put their extremism aside and caved in to their outrageous demands. (…) Netanyahu (…) when the time comes (…) will be identified as the prime minister who invited Kahanists, Jewish supremacists, and convicted criminals into the cabinet that he had painstakingly assembled. (…) there is the issue of the new government’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry. Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, and Maoz have pledged to join with the ultra-Orthodox parties to pass laws invalidating Reform conversions and limiting the right of Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship under the Law of Return. Further limitations on non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel are also on the agenda. (…) Netanyahu shows no inclination to restrain his political partners; indeed, since 2017, when he abandoned the “Western Wall compromise,” he has been utterly indifferent to Diaspora Jewry’s religious concerns. World Jewry’s commitments to Israel run deep and have remained strong. But eventually, a price will be exacted for Netanyahu’s dismissive attitude and for the religious radicalism of Ben-Gvir and company. (…) American Jews donating money to Israel have focused on social service organizations, religious institutions, and universities. (…) We should use our dollars to strengthen the centrist politics in Israel that most American Jews support. This means a commitment to Jewish values and identity, dovish politics, a liberal worldview, promotion of social justice, and hard-headed realism on security. (…) at this time of distress, we must come together with our Israeli brothers and sisters and find a way out.
Eric H. Yoffie, HAA, 11.12.22
You’re a Liberal U.S. Jew Repelled by Far-right Israel?
(…) the most likely effect will be none whatsoever – because most American Jews have no relationship with Israel. (…) now would be an excellent time for us to start one. The inconvenient truth is that while the Jewish mainstream has, by and large, regarded Israel as a source of good Netflix shows and a free vacation destination for teenagers, our brethren on the right have been outthinking, outworking and outspending us. (…) most American Jews identify as both left-leaning politically and supportive of Israel. Yet this silent majority has almost always been a silent partner when it comes to Israel. The community played a marginal role in the state’s founding and, even as it lent increasing political and monetary aid in the ensuing years, largely remained at arm’s length from what actually happened there. (…) It made sense for American Jews to stay out of the affairs of a fledgling socialist endeavor threatened militarily from all sides. Today, the world’s two largest Jewish communities find themselves at near parity: educated, wealthy and, for the most part, secure. (…) American Jews will want to take a closer look at where our philanthropy flows. Not for the sake of divesting from Israel, as those on the fringe left call for, but rather to increase investment in causes that align with our values and, just as important, actually require our assistance. (…) American Jews must become more willing to articulate and promote their Judaism. This is bound to make some squirm – both because American Jews are proud of their secularism and, conversely, because many of us have internalized a certain inferiority complex relative to our more literate observant and Israeli brethren. Yet the liberal American-Jewish mainstream is profoundly religious. Our consistent affinities for tolerance and coexistence (…) flow from the very same Torah that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich love to say they’re following. (…) In order to change hearts and minds in Israel, we will have to gently yet assertively share our Torah. (…)
David Zenlea, HAA, 14.12.22
4. Selection of Articles
New on Netflix: Farha
Farha and the image of Israelis worldwide
(…) a new drama called Farha (..) will focus on the battles that took place during Israel’s War of Independence. Wartime provides fertile ground for thrilling content for such a TV series, which will no doubt include great battle scenes, and the physical and emotional trauma both of the Israeli soldiers and their Arab opponents. The possibilities are endless. (…) it is beyond disappointing that the drama will present IDF soldiers as murderers of a baby. In fact, it is completely not acceptable. (…) Israel does not have the luxury of sitting idly by as a propaganda war is waged against her in pop culture. (…) If we stay silent in the face of Farha, if we do not work to prevent it from airing, we will give the instigators and the haters yet another platform to slander Israel even further. We will allow them to add another chapter to their campaign of hostility that will meet us on the Arab streets, both near and far. Members of the outgoing and incoming government, those in the opposition and the coalition, and lovers of Israel all over the world must rally together and demand that Netflix not provide a platform for this series, which may pose an immediate danger to Israel and Israelis.
Oded Revivi, JPO, 03.12.22
Violence in the West Bank
IDF readiness for war compromised by West Bank tension
(…) The numbers speak for themselves. At the end of 2021, 13 battalions took up positions in the West Bank, with most of them belonging to the standing army and some including reserves. In 2022, 25 battalions were positioned in the West Bank, alongside units of IDF special forces and Border Police. Before the need to assign large forces to that region, the IDF managed a division of 17 weeks of training and 17 weeks of operational duty, and this ratio is now disrupted. This means that the IDF’s standing army has very little time to train, this is also true for the 66 reserve battalions the IDF plans to conscript in 2023. This situation does not seem likely to improve. The constant need to provide forces for the West Bank is the result of the ongoing incitement for Palestinian terror attacks, leading to casualties on both sides. Some call what has been playing out a “mini-Intifada” while others prefer to see it as a terror wave, but the Shin Bet and the IDF believe that this surge in violence is unlike anything Israel has experienced before. These attacks are no longer the actions of lone wolves or rioting mobs. (…) The ongoing coalition negotiations have also had an impact. The (…) political squabbles over authority, could lead to a question of authority over the West Bank. Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that he will control the government and its policies, is simply unattainable. (…) The power struggles and political disagreements between the different factions and political players, will eventually reach the IDF, Shin Bet, and the police. Those heading these institutions will know how to navigate the politicians, but soldiers in the field will be confused, much like the IDF soldier who assaulted a left-wing activist in Hebron. The military’s readiness is deteriorating, incitement in the West Bank and Gaza is increasing, and the political struggle is threatening to harm Israel. It seems 2023 will be a true challenge.
Ron Ben Yishai, YED, 05.12.22
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: December 2022.
Dr. Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel