“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.
⇒Download the latest Publication of “Schlaglicht Israel”!
Main topics covered in this Publication:
1. Israel’s New Government
Israel’s High-tech Leaders Can Stop Netanyahu’s Dangerous Plans
(…) if there is any chance of stopping the regime revolution that the Netanyahu government is about to bring about, the high-tech community has an important role to play. Israeli high-tech is a powerful force. (…) Most of the high-tech rich don’t support the incoming government’s agenda, and they have tons of money, but they aren’t ready to do anything substantive to change the situation. The judicial override clause doesn’t seem to bother them especially. But without them, it will be very difficult to create a balance of deterrence against Netanyahu. (…) For sure, there are tech entrepreneurs who are happy with the coalition about to take power, but even they know that if it realizes half of what it has promised, the industry will be harmed. When The New York Times is writing about the next government, it will be harder to interest liberal entrepreneurs in the innovative nation that Netanyahu talks about. It’s a bit of a shame that only by making the case that the industry itself will be harmed can the high-tech entrepreneurs be coaxed out of their apathy. But at this stage we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing those who are willing to fight.
Raviv Drucker, HAA, 19.12.22
The Haredi parties’ reasonable demand for religious freedom
(…) The shrill accusations from the virtue-signaling crowd about how Israel is on the verge of becoming a Tehran-like theocracy would be funny if they weren’t so false. (…) The brouhaha surrounding the issue of male-female segregation is a perfect illustration. (…) Contrary to the claims of disingenuous fear-mongers, the religious parties do not intend to impose gender segregation on the general public. They simply aim to allow for it among those whose interpretation and observance of certain talmudic decrees requires it. This hasn’t kept caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his ilk from turning up their hyperbole, however. On the contrary, decrying the freedom-of-religion effort – an effort that he would never in a million years oppose if it concerned Muslims or Christians – he had the gall to tweet that while the “brave women of Iran are fighting for their rights,” their Israeli counterparts are about to be shoved in the opposite direction. (…) Stories like this (…) should serve as a guide for the perplexed for anyone still puzzled by the outcome of the Nov. 1 Knesset elections.
Ruthie Blum, IHY, 19.12.22
Israel’s democracy is not in jeopardy; it is combative and feisty
(…) the New York Times (…) has spoken and asserted that Israel’s democracy is in danger. (…) This is not the first time that political developments in Israel have led to predictions that the country would soon be falling off the precipice and that masses were searching for greener pastures abroad. (…) Ever since the establishment of the state, there has been a constant drumbeat of predictions that because of either dire political, security, or economic conditions, “many Israelis” were sitting on their suitcases waiting to board a ship and sail away into the sunset. (…) And the reality? The country’s population has ballooned since its establishment almost 75 years ago. Why? Because Israel, despite what The New York Times may think, is a robust democracy comprized of people committed to the country who neither flee nor turn away from a challenge when things get tough. On the contrary, they stay and try to mold the country into their preferred image. (…) No, Israel’s democracy is not in jeopardy. On the contrary, what we are witnessing right now is what it has always been known for: its combative and very feisty nature.
Editorial, JPO, 21.12.22
What is the anti-discrimination law that new Israeli government is seeking to change?
(…) The law – which Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious coalition partners are seeking to change – states that those who are providing a product, service, or operating a public place will not discriminate based on race, religion or religious group, nationality, place of origin, sex, or sexual orientation, age, opinion, party affiliation, personal status or parenting. However, there are already exceptions to the law. If discrimination is necessary due to the nature of the service: When it is done by a non-profit organization or club, to promote the special needs of the group members belonging to it, and provided that special needs don’t contradict the purpose of the law. For example, a separate framework for men or women, in which non-separation will prevent some of the public from receiving the product or service (…). MK Orit Strook and MK Simcha Rothman suggested that a doctor, for instance, should be able to refuse “a medical treatment that does not match his faith, or a hotel owner could refuse to host gay people.” “At the moment, it seems that the amendment only allows religious discrimination,” says Dr. Adam Shinar, a constitutional law professor at Reichman University. “Once a person opens a business in public space, he must take on all kinds of obligations. He can’t discriminate. (…) As soon as discrimination is legitimized, the number of discriminated people will rise,” Dr. Shinar adds.
Tova Zimuki, YED, 26.12.22
Will Netanyahu keep his allies from ending Israeli democracy
A sentiment that’s been expressed about the incoming government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is that it should be judged by its actions rather than its personalities. It’s a wishful-thinking sentiment expressed mostly by level-headed citizens and leaders – both Israeli and international – who have been able to keep a modicum of hope that the new coalition won’t possibly be as damaging to the country and undemocratic to its principles as some of those personalities have stated in their intentions. (…) Already, over the weekend, it had come to light that the coalition agreements (…) include a clause that would enable discrimination in private businesses based on religious belief. (…) pro-LGBTQ groups warned that the law could be used to normalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community in privately owned businesses. The amendment could also be distorted to include refusal of service to other sectors of society, based on the whim of the vendor. (…) The Likud’s coalition partners will continue to eat away at the democratic nature of the country (…) It’s time for Netanyahu to put his feeble declarations that he’s the one in charge of the coalition into action. He needs to put his foot down and take ownership of the government he has cobbled together. Otherwise, we are headed for dark times that even eight candles of light will not be of help.
Editorial, JPO, 27.12.22
For Israel, There Is No Way Back From Netanyahu’s Chaos
Everything that has happened in Israel since the election is ostensibly legal and democratic. But under its cover – as has happened more than once in history – the seeds of chaos, emptiness and disorder have been sown in Israel’s most vital institutions. (…) this isn’t what Israelis went to the polls to vote on. (…) The negotiations, which more closely resembled a looting spree, have flickered before our eyes in rapid pictures, in flashes of an alien, provocative logic – “the override clause,” “the discrimination law,” “Smotrich will be the ultimate arbiter on construction in the West Bank,” “Ben-Gvir will be able to set up a private militia in the West Bank,” “The serial criminal Dery will be able…” In the blink of an eye, with increasing freneticism, with the sleight of hand of a streetside card sharp. We know that someone is deceiving us at this very moment. That someone is pocketing not just our money, but our future and that of our children, the existence we wanted to create here – a state where, despite all its flaws and shortcomings and blind spots, the possibility of becoming a civilized, egalitarian country, one that has the power to absorb contradictions and differences, one that in time will even manage to free itself of the cursed occupation, occasionally shines through. A country that could be Jewish and believing and secular, a high-tech power and traditional and democratic, and also a good home for its minorities. (…) there is no return. (…) The chaos is here, with all its suctioning force. Internal hatreds are here. Mutual loathing is here; as is the cruel violence in our streets, on our highways, in our schools and hospitals. The people who call good evil and evil good are also already here. The occupation also evidently won’t end in the foreseeable future; it is already stronger than all the forces now active in the political arena. What began and was honed with great efficiency there is now seeping into here. Anarchy’s gaping maw has bared its fangs at the most fragile democracy in the Middle East.
David Grossmann, HAA, 28.12.22
2. Hope for Abroad and the Diaspora
As Crimes of Apartheid Worsen, the West’s Exceptionalism Toward Israel Must End
Inside Israel’s Defense Ministry, a new governing body is taking shape for the occupied Palestinian territories, which will see MK Bezalel Smotrich as its designated governor. Smotrich, a religious Zionist extremist who has spewed racist and homophobic rhetoric in the past, is pursuing a plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to the entirety of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, without granting citizenship to the millions of Palestinians living there. (…) Smotrich (…) will have the authority to approve master plans in the settlements, order the demolition of structures built without a permit in Palestinian communities and enforce (…) planning and construction laws on settlers. He will determine whether and where to build roads. He will decide who and what enters and exits Gaza, and he will decree whom among the Palestinians will be allowed to cross the separation fence to cultivate their lands on the other side or to work in Israel. (…) The West Bank’s new ruler has also made sure the legal department for the territories is transferred from the military system to his headquarters, meaning that its legal advisors would be civilians, selected by Smotrich, rather than military personnel. (…) Israel’s new government is going to bolster its rule over the Palestinians and Palestinian land both quantitatively and qualitatively, both in the intensity of control and in its structure. (…) While Smotrich is sizing up the Defense Ministry corner office with the best view, the UN General Assembly in New York is getting ready to discuss a proposed request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal status of Israel’s control of the Palestinian territories, and the legal implications of this status for the international community. (…) But the UN General Assembly vote is not about Syria or Sudan. It’s about Israel, and this is where the West’s exceptionalism toward Israel comes into play. This policy has allowed Israel to build settlements, oppress millions of people for six decades, dispossess many of them of their lands and annex occupied territories in violation of express prohibitions under international law – without paying a real price. (…) That is why this is Europe’s moment of truth. Second only to the American administration, Europe is the chief enabler of Israel’s criminal policy toward the Palestinians. (…)
Michael Sfard, HAA, 21.12.22
Compromise only way to preserve the US-Israel
(…) Netanyahu is nervous. He knows that Israel’s biggest ally in the world is the United States and that officials in the Biden administration are waiting to pounce. (…) there is no hiding the disappointment with the plans that Netanyahu and his coalition partners have outlined. There are the judicial reforms, religion and state reforms, gay rights, education reforms and of course, the West Bank (…). Netanyahu wants to avoid – for as long as is possible – giving the Americans a reason to get upset. He knows how much he will need them and how much they are waiting and that when that moment comes, it will not be pretty. (…) Reports out of the US indicate that the Americans intend to hold Netanyahu personally accountable, a message that American officials have been telling their foreign diplomatic counterparts in Israel and elsewhere in the world where there is interest. (…) just like Israel receives military aid from the US, it can stop receiving military aid from the US. Nothing is written in stone. Nevertheless, if both sides are interested in preserving this relationship, compromises will need to be made. The US has a proven track record of being able to do that. So does Netanyahu. Ben-Gvir and Smotrich? That remains to be seen.
Jaakow Katz, JPO, 22.12.22
What Will Brussels Do?
(…) many voices in the “Anyone but Bibi” camp can be heard predicting or hoping for the imposition of international sanctions on Israel. (…) It won’t happen. (…) Officials in Brussels are (…) worried that the new government will take steps to restrict the operation of nonprofit and other non-governmental organizations which promote Jewish-Arab-Palestinian coexistence, education toward democracy, assistance for refugees and support for the LBGTQ community. (…) despite these concerns, scenarios in which economic or military sanctions are imposed on Israel are unrealistic. European Union resolutions need to be taken with a consensus among the 27 member states. For years, Netanyahu has fostered tight relations with leaders of central and eastern European countries such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, ignoring their support for ultranationalist elements, many of them antisemitic ones. Netanyahu has done this so that these countries block any attempts by Western European countries to take punitive measures against Israel. (…) If Israel’s 37th government runs wild, the European Union will be bound to respond. However, its ability to act is limited. No harsh response can be expected, such as one swift blow that would rock Israel and affect people’s daily life. Israelis will not be boycotted in Europe. They’ll continue to travel there. Commercial ties will not be significantly reduced. At most there will be some minor inconveniences, some unpleasantness here and there. Anyone fantasizing that the European Union will impose painful sanctions on Israel, so that the right-wing government changes the policy it is bent on implementing, is daydreaming. The European Union, even if it dislikes and condemns expected moves by the new government, will get used to the reality taking shape in Israel and will not pull the Israeli liberal camp’s chestnuts out of the fire that the right is igniting.
Yossi Melman, HAA, 22.12.22
American Jewry’s support of Israel is conditional…and it’s a problem
(…) the idea of conditional support for Israel raises questions about the whole relationship between the two sides. (…) Abe Foxman, longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, for decades the foremost fighter in the battle against antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad (…) would withdraw his support from the only Jewish state in the world, the one place that offers instant refuge to victims and potential victims of antisemitism? (…) Really? Abe and others don’t like the results of the Israeli election. Neither do lots of Israelis. But the fact is, that’s how the election turned out. It’s democratic by definition. (…) those of us who are horrified by the outcome of this election are doubling down to fix it next time. We still believe in our country (…). This is no longer 1973. Israel is not in need of bailouts or charity. Israel has one of the strongest economies in the world (…). Israel has its problems, to be sure. Income distribution, high housing prices, crowded highways, and over-burdened health care and education systems, just to name a few. But these are in the category of first-world problems. Those domestic issues are Israel’s to solve. All we need is the right government, the right leaders, and the right agenda. (…) Instead of carping about Israel’s election, they could ask for Israel’s help in the fight against antisemitism. (…) All the wailing on antisocial media accomplishes little. Instead, the two sides need to take the initiative in the fight against antisemitism. They can work together to take the air out of the argument that Israel is the real problem, and the Jews as a whole are to blame. Standing in the way of that are public statements from American Jews criticizing Israel. Even if well meant, like Abe Foxman’s, they are convenient ammunition for the haters to fire back, and they do. (…) the real enemy is not this or that Israeli politician or government. We Israelis will deal with that. The real enemy is antisemitism. Let’s fight it together.
Mark Lavie, YED, 24.12.22
U.S. Jews Must Stop Donating Blindly to Israel
The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization for hundreds of local Jewish Federations throughout the U.S. and Canada, is the world’s biggest vehicle for donations to Israel (…). For years, the prevailing assumption among its donors was that, by the very fact of channeling their money to Jewish Zionist purposes, they were achieving their goal. They didn’t ask questions, and donated blindly. But the growing strength of Israel’s Orthodox establishment, Benjamin Netanyahu’s abandonment of bipartisanship in favor of siding with the U.S. Republican Party and other factors led to growing alienation and tension within the federations. One manifestation of this is that more and more American Jewish donors are asking questions about which programs or organizations their money is going to. The (…) JFNA, like other organizations that raise money for Israel (…) must say no to donating blindly for vague purposes (…) and yes to donating to organizations engaged in strengthening democracy and pluralism in Israel. (…) This must be the order of the day for the entire Jewish world. (…) From now on (…) Jewish Federations and communities in North America must direct their donations to a variety of programs and projects whose common denominator is fighting the descent of religious fundamentalist darkness on Israel and the intolerance and fascism that have put down roots here. (…) American Jewry and Jewish Israel are now essentially two different peoples whose shared values and identity are fraying. (…) Diaspora Jewry has an important role to play in the battle to save Israel from itself. (…)
Moshe Ben-Attar, HAA, 26.12.22
3. Hanukkah 2022
(…) For many American Jews, the issue of whether a menorah is displayed next to the Christmas tree in their town square’s holiday celebration – or if assemblies in their children’s schools include Hanukkah songs along with the carols – is a very big deal. (…) But liberal Jewry has embraced the misguided goal of sweeping the public square clean of faith. This has been driven, for some Jews, by an anti-religious impulse. (…) For most Americans, Hanukkah is merely a chance to share in the annual communal December cheer. It’s a blue-tinseled version of Christmas, marked by the same consumerist excess accompanied by largely meaningless expressions about goodwill and fellowship. (…) this Jewish gloss on Christmas – as well as the way in which the large and growing population of intermarried families often merge the two holidays into a hybrid entity they call “Chrismukkah” – has nothing to do with the actual Jewish festival. It may come as a shock to most American Jews, but Hanukkah is pretty much the opposite of the modern secular celebration of Christmas that most of their neighbors celebrate. Rather than an expression of peace, the revolt of the Maccabees was a battle against foreign oppression and a bloody civil war. The priest Mattathias and his five sons and their followers fought both their Syrian Greek oppressors and the assimilated Jews who had embraced the Hellenistic practices of their overlords. Contemporary leftists critical of Hanukkah aren’t wrong to point out that most American Jews probably have a lot more in common with the latter – who were embracing a universalist culture and rejecting the narrow, parochial beliefs of the rebels – than the heroic Judah Maccabee. (…) The essence of Jewish identity from our beginnings has always been a willingness to stand up against the idols of popular culture. In the time of the Maccabean revolt, it was the powerful pull of Hellenism. (…) Today, it is not merely the dilemma of living as a religious minority in a country where more than 98% are not Jewish. Defending Jewish identity also means defying the woke leftist doctrines that dominate so much of American society, including campuses and the mainstream media. Intersectional ideology and critical race theory label Jews as “white” oppressors of indigenous people (…). Hanukkah is a call to arms to stand up against all these forces. (…)
Jonathan S. Tobin, IHY, 18.12.22
The Festival of Lights has a special feel to it in Israel
Hanukkah (…) itself is a miracle. Jews are celebrating it everywhere around the globe, most of them marking it openly with Hanukkah candles lit in the windows of their homes and public candle-lighting ceremonies, often thanks to the work of Chabad. (…) In Israel, in particular, the Festival of Lights has a special feel to it. Even in times of increased tension between religious, ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, this is a holiday that is celebrated by all. There is something uplifting about seeing homes in both religious and nonreligious neighborhoods and towns with hanukkiot shedding light from windows or outside front doors. There is no argument about the celebration of the holiday itself. This is perhaps in part because there is no clash between religious restrictions and observing the holiday. (…) There is a tendency abroad to think of Hanukkah merely as a festival that roughly coincides with Christmas, the main difference being that Hanukkah presents are traditionally given on each of the eight nights as opposed to one night. This, of course, is a mistake. Christmas is the ultimate Christian holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Hanukkah story took place nearly 200 years before that and is the story of Jewish survival against the odds. (…) Today, when, sadly there are still those who want to erase Jewish and Israeli ties to Jerusalem, Hanukkah serves as a reminder of how deep those ties to the ancient Temple are. It is also a reminder that even outnumbered, the Jews did not give up on that bond. (…) And in these times of polarization, both here in Israel and among the Diaspora, we should ask for another blessing and miracle: That we maintain a sense of unity not just this week but beyond the eight days of the holiday.
Editorial, JPO, 19.12.22
An Egalitarian Hanukkah: Israeli politics have room to improve
United States Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides joined Reform Jews and other progressive movements (…) for a Hanukkah lighting ceremony at the egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall known as Ezrat Yisrael. This was an important demonstration of religious liberalism, showing the diversity and beauty of Israel, in which all types of Jews can come together to celebrate this beautiful holiday. (…) The egalitarian service was an important symbol of the struggles that non-Orthodox Jews have gone through to have a space of their own. (…) Hanukkah is a time to remember the need to safeguard these freedoms. The holiday provides us an excellent opportunity to discuss how freedom – and particularly freedom of worship – are key elements of the resilience of our state. (…) The incoming government has a chance to do the right thing and work toward coexistence at the Western Wall and other places. (…) our unity is more important than our divisions. When we are unified as a country and as the Jewish people, welcoming toward others and welcoming toward our own, then we can fully realize the dream of Zionism. (…)
Editorial, JPO, 22.12.22
Why celebrating ‘HanuChristmas’ threatens Jewish cultural identity
(…) the streets of Tel Aviv have been decorated not only with festive lights in honor the winter holidays, but also with banners put up by the municipality, promoting the so-called “Hanukkah-Christmas” parties. This phenomenon has also broken through the secular bubble of Tel Aviv. Now, it’s not uncommon for an Israeli workplace to put a Christmas Tree, or incorporate a game of Secret Santa, while lighting up the Hanukkiah and indulging on Hanukkah doughnuts (…) many local stores are even selling Santa Claus hats and tree ornaments on racks next to menorahs and dreidels. This is a problem! (…) Pluralism is encouraging freedom of religion and enabling Christians to celebrate Christmas in Israel – in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, and other mixed Arab-Christian municipalities. That, indeed, is our duty as a democratic state. But, the leap from this to actively combining the celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas as if it is one holiday – is a step too far. This is not pluralism, it is obscuring the national identity. Not merging the two holidays is not the same as banning Christmas altogether. Furthermore, the Christian holiday may have become a modern global sensation, but it doesn’t make it ours. The inability to see the difference between our identity and one we’ve imported from the West, poses a serious threat to our culture. (…) Just like no child thinks of comparing his parents to other parents, Jews should not have to compare between Hanukkah and Christmas, and put in a position where they have to decide which is better. Our parents, like our holidays, are part of our identities, our stories, and of who we are as people. (…)
Ido Fechter, YED, 25.12.22
4. Selection of Articles
Barghouti Is Considered the Majority Preferred Option Among the Palestinians
The Palestinians Want Marwan Barghouti as President
The (…) Palestinians are looking for a leader who will not be tainted by corruption and who will meet the social expectations, cultural norms and religious obligations that apply to the father – both biological and national – of the family: decision-making that is not dictated from the outside; the safeguarding of members of the national family; and management of an independent economy that will extract Palestinians from the status of beggars. (…) it is Marwan Barghouti (…), and not Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who should be the next president. (…) The Palestinians appear to be less interested in the character of their society and government, and like other traditional and patriarchal societies, tend to prefer a high level of governance and security over a democracy that promises them freedom. Hamas and President Abbas’ Fatah movement, both of which have a record of corruption, oppression, divisiveness and diplomatic stagnation, have been gradually losing their legitimacy in Palestinian society. (…) if the Israeli side doesn’t have a leader who understands the importance of the human factor in the escalation and resolution of conflicts and who isn’t aware of the need to consider the release of Marwan Barghouti, subject to Arab and international guarantees – when the Mahmoud Abbas era is over, Israel will be dealing with a major rabble of armed militias that will drag it into a major clash with Fatah and Hamas.
Ronit Marzan, HAA, 20.12.22
Back to a New Normal
Is the COVID-19 pandemic finally over?
COVID is finally over. How do I know? I took my mask off. (…) Of course, I know that COVID is not really over. People are still getting sick every day. (…) But at a certain point, despite the documented dangers, we have to make the switch to “live with COVID.” Not just in words but in deeds, too. (…) An alarming study from Maccabi Healthcare Services, one of Israel’s largest HMOs, found that 34.6% of participants reported not returning to their baseline health condition some five months since recovering from COVID. Nevertheless, masking – in America at least – is down to 29% of the population, compared with 50% to 80% in the first two years of the pandemic. (…) I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was exhilarating to eat in a restaurant again, to walk around a museum unencumbered by a tightly tied Sonovia cloth. And yet, this “new normal” is also an admission that we’ve failed. Failed to stop a virus that will now circulate among human beings forever. There are, after all, still DNA remnants of the 1918 flu pandemic in today’s annual flu outbreaks. Failed to depoliticize science such that mask-wearing, along with vaccines, became not a matter of public safety but one of red vs blue, Right vs Left. Failed to embrace good governance over populism, vilification and victimization. (…)
Brian Blum, JPO, 16.12.22
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: January 2023.
Dr. Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel