“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:
- Violent Revenge Actions After Assassination
- Protests Against Judicial Reform
- International Concern About the Violence and Planned Reforms
- Selection of Articles
1. Violent Revenge Actions After Assassination
Building in Judea and Samaria is the best response to terrorism
(…) Re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel after two thousand years of dispersion and persecution indeed was a “unilateral” action taken by the Jewish people! Jews unilaterally decided to rally around the Zionist banner and reclaim Zion. Over the past 120 years they unilaterally fought their way back into the Land of Israel against Ottoman, British, and Arab opposition. They unilaterally established “settlements,” from the very northern Galilee to the deep southern Negev to the Judean Hills and outside the walls of Jerusalem (…). Having dispensed with the world’s pejorative use of the epithet “unilateral” which is meant to cripple forward Israeli reclamation of its homeland, let us move to the politics of current Judea and Samaria settlement activity, and specifically the timing (…). Settlements are the best Israeli response to Palestinian terrorism because they exact an actual price from the Palestinians for their recalcitrance. (…) It is a Zionist response. It is also sweet revenge. In Palestinian eyes, the expansion of settlements is truly punitive; it is the one Israeli policy they fear most. (…) With every terrorist outrage, the government should speed-up construction, increase the building budget, expropriate more land, and ever more grandly celebrate the start of each new neighborhood. With fanfare. International and Palestinian press invited. (…)
David M. Weinberg, IHY, 19.02.23
Condemning Israeli price tag attacks won’t normalize Palestinian terror
(…) Since 2005, extremist Israeli Jews have carried out attacks against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, often in response to when the Israeli government halts settlement building or in response to Palestinian terrorism. (…)
These price-tag attacks are usually motivated by racism, as the perpetrators leave hateful, anti-Arab and anti-government slogans in the name of expanding settlements. (…) In some cases, these extremists have injured members of the Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces. (…) These price tag attacks are morally reprehensible, and our community must condemn them to the fullest degree. These vicious acts of violence have led to more escalations and harmed innocent Israelis and Palestinians. Price tag attacks are not an Israeli government policy or counterterror operation, these are attacks by rouge extremists who seek to establish a balance of terror by their own means. (…) Even a person who leans Right and supports the Jewish expansion of settlements in the West Bank should be able to differentiate between the ideology and the indiscriminate targeting, harassment and murder of ordinary Palestinians. (…)
Zina Rakhamilova, JPO, 21.02.23
Capital punishment for terrorists: Theoretically defensible but not wise
(…) In the 74 years of Israel’s existence, only one person has ever been executed by the Israeli judicial system – Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler’s Final Solution. Supporters of capital punishment for terrorists believe that, although Israeli society generally does not favor capital punishment, even for murderers, an exception should be made for terrorists. It is not necessary for Israeli society or the Knesset to engage in a quantitative comparison of the horrors of the Holocaust with the horrors of anti-Israel terrorism. Both are based on antisemitism and a wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life (…). Jewish tradition has (…) frowned upon carrying out capital punishment, and (…) modern Israel has long-recognized the fallacy of human judges who might mistakenly sentence to death an innocent person. (…) The reason that capital punishment for terrorists is not wise is that it would not be efficient. (…) The legislative process should not be used primarily to afford MKs the opportunity to check a box from their campaign promises. Lawmaking has consequences and when there is a possibility that an act of the Knesset could inadvertently lead to the death of innocent civilians, prudence cautions against taking that action. (…)
Eric S. Sherby, JPO, 22.02.23
A new Palestinian intifada may already have started
(…) There may not be tens of thousands of Palestinians on the streets yet, but the trajectory is clear: we are heading toward an escalation. (…) Marches of thousands could soon turn to hundreds of thousands. From there, the road to unbridled bloodshed is short. (…) How will Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza react to the developments in the West Bank? The Gaza rulers have shown in past that they prefer to avoid an all-out war in their backyard, preferring for the clashes to take place in the West Bank. Any uptick in violence there could threaten the 17,500 Gazans who are allowed to work in Israel with a loss of their income. Hamas is also concerned about the growing trade with Egypt and the dropping unemployment rates, which now stand “only” at 44.7%. Still, Hamas may want to appear as leading the fight in the West Bank. (…) as Palestinian casualties increase, they may be convinced to open an additional front for Israel to deal with.
Avi Issacharoff, JPO, 23.02.23
Israel bracing for more violence as Ramadan nears
With less than four weeks left until the holy month of Ramadan, preparations for the Muslim holiday in Israel are well underway, with officials extremely concerned that the recent violent spell will only exasperate. As part of these preparations, senior officials from Jordan, Egypt, the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian Authority were to meet Sunday in an attempt to prevent the tensions from reaching a tipping point. (…) The intention of the meeting is clear to all sides – to not let the violence reach the point of no return during Ramadan. (…) Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the mediators, fear that a further escalation could eventually turn into a third intifada.
(…) The Arab world really doesn’t need a major flare-up to occur during Ramadan. It has enough troubles, most of them economic, which will become even more evident during the holy month. (…) during Ramadan, people tend to eat more than usual, and spend a lot of money on clothes and gifts, if they can afford them. But (…) this year’s Ramadan will be (…) a sad, dangerous, and explosive month. (…)
Smadar Peri, YED, 26.02.23
Israelis Still Expect the Palestinians Will Surrender. They’ve Never Been More Wrong
Part of the problem with the way Israelis approach the conflict is that they have the false idea that their problem is not with all the Palestinians, but that only a few who they believe are stirring trouble. (…) It is hard to fathom why Israelis with their traumatic historic experiences can’t understand that people don’t like to live under foreign military occupation. People might accept an occupation for a short while but will not accept it forever. (…) The Lion’s Den is much more popular than any Palestinian leader or organization simply because they dare to take on the Israelis. (…) Unlike the expectations of Israeli Zionists that one day Palestinians will forget, the national and personal memories of Palestinian longing for freedom cannot be extinguished no matter how much Israelis wish or hope for. Sometimes the retaliation takes hours or days to happen, but other times it can take years. (…) Every student of war and armed conflict knows that there is no permanent cessation of violence without a political track that can satisfy the aggrieved parties. Revenge and punishment by either side is not the answer nor is the failed idea of deterrence. Violence can only end when both sides accept one other as an entity and the rights of one another including the basic right of self-determination. (…)
Daoud Kuttab, HAA, 27.02.23
Israel must decide if it will lead or be led by radical settlers
(…) Hillel and Yagel Yaniv were the brothers who were killed (…), when a Palestinian terrorist walked up to their car and shot them from point-blank range. This was murder for the sake of murder, in broad daylight, in the middle of a bustling road, which cost a family two sons. (…) A group of young Jews went out to seek revenge in Huwara and other close villages near the site of the attack. Dozens of houses and cars were set on fire, residents were shot. This is all part of what they call a “price-tag” campaign, in which settlers attack Palestinians in retaliation. In other words – an eye for an eye. (…) At least one Palestinian was shot dead, others were rescued from their homes by security forces, moments before their homes burned to the ground. Kristallnacht was relived in Huwara. The events illustrate the abnormality and deviance of the West Bank. The security forces will locate the murderous Palestinian terrorist soon enough. If he turns himself in, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison, and if he opens fire, he’ll be shot on the spot. The young settlers who raided the villages knew that the hands of the security forces would be tied, and that they would, at most, be arrested for a night or two despite the extent of the chaos they inflicted. They see themselves as immune to the law. They do not fear the state because its laws do not apply to them. (…) This government needs to make up its mind: Will it act as a sovereign body in the West Bank? Will it be determined to impose law and order on Arabs and Jews alike? Or, will it continue cleaning up the settlers’ mess over and over again? (…) What went down last night in Huwara was a test for the government, and the results aren’t looking good.
Nahum Barnea, YED, 27.02.23
2. Protests Against Judicial Reform
Ending the rule of the judicial oligarchy
The protesters taking to the streets are concerned that the proposed judicial reforms will result in unchecked powers. This is a valid concern: The checks and balances between the three branches of government are the foundation of democratic life. But what if the judiciary is stronger than the other two branches and lacks proper restraints? Currently, there is nothing that checks its powers except the justices’ own free will and values. The anti-reform demonstrators have faith in those sitting on the highest court of the land – perhaps because they share their values. But many others do not have such confidence in them, having seen how they let their personal worldviews shape their rulings, especially on issues of religion and state, security, and nationhood. The proponents of the reforms have for years seen how their freedom to decide on hot-button issues was time and again taken from them. (…) Yes, Basic Laws are de facto chapters of a constitution and even the Supreme Court itself can make rulings based on Basic Law: The Judiciary. But it cannot rule on them because the court is not above the basic laws. But what stops the court from ruling on Basic Laws? Nothing, currently. (…) By granting itself the authority to rule on basic laws, the court’s strength has become unparalleled compared with any other judicial branch in the world. Such power corrupts even the most righteous. (…) A situation where justices enjoy unlimited power and are assumed to have better judgment than elected officials could result in blinding their eyes to the point that they don’t see their fellow compatriots; it could also pervert their rulings so that they are slanted toward the social circle they belong to. (…) Human rights are first and foremost about the right of an individual to determine their own fate through the ballot box. Israelis have never placed their independent thinking and values in the hands of a judicial oligarchy, however smart it may be; we elected this government for this purpose – to win back our freedom.
Dror Eydar, IHY, 16.02.23
Israel’s Fate Lies in the Hands of the Supreme Court
(…) The president’s courageous speech included three main points: defining the “reform” as a direct danger to democracy, the five compromise clauses and an immediate end to the relevant legislation in the Knesset. The government in effect rejected his initiative. The (…) chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Simcha Rothman (…) has been operating in the Knesset as though there is no unprecedented public opposition to his steps. (…) His hand doesn’t tremble before the public protest, the president’s emotional request, the reactions of the democratic world. Rothman, who himself represents only a tiny sliver of the population, is running into a brick wall (…) the judicial branch. It must respond to thuggish legislative processes; to “Basic Laws” whose only purpose is to serve special interests and to whitewash criminals and the convicted: a minister who was convicted, a prime minister who was indicted for alleged criminal behavior and who is prevented, according to the existing laws, from dealing with legal issues. (…) as things look now, the parliamentary battle will turn into a constitutional crisis. (…) Levin and Rothman are seeing before their eyes the consequences of their activity: You wanted public agreement, you got a mammoth protest. I strongly hope that it will fulfill its mission in the face of the powers of darkness that are threatening democracy.
Uzi Baram, HAA, 16.02.23
Democratic deficit will lead to economic deficit
Hungary and Poland, the two main “illiberal democracies” in the European Union, have recently faced economic crises. (…) the situation in Hungary and Poland is considerably worse than that of their neighbors. This situation results, among others, from actions taken by the Hungarian and Polish governments to weaken the power of the courts, curb independent media, limit freedom of speech, and generally weaken democratic principles. The European Union has for some time withheld monetary support in the number of billions of euros, which were originally allotted to Hungary and Poland as EU members (…). The leaders of the European Union do not look favorably on the distancing of the two countries from democratic principles, the weakening of the legal systems and the government’s takeover of the media. As a result, they are applying economic pressure to stop or backtrack from these anti-democratic actions. (…) Netanyahu’s government would do well to observe these weakened democracies and understand how deep is the hole that it is digging for us all. How quickly the democratic deficit can also turn into an economic deficit, caused not only by a private sector reluctant to operate under conditions of uncertainty brought on by an undemocratic regime, but also because the State of Israel is financially dependent on both the European Union and the US government, two critical factors that do not look kindly on the anti-democratic fervor that has gripped the current government. (…)
Nadav Tamir, TOI, 16.02.23
Germany 1933, Israel 2023
Protests are for a democracy. Protests aren’t effective in a dictatorship, and the dictatorship is already here. While we were busy demonstrating, it tiptoed in and got comfortable in the living room, making sure that everything would be legal. Just like in 1933. Protests are something that belong to the old civilized world, where “public opinion” had some influence. That world is over. (…) Aggressive legislation has to be aggressively opposed, but how aggressive can a civil rebellion be when it accepts the regime’s legitimacy but not its actions? Will a civil rebellion deter anything? (…) Dictatorships grow quickly, democracies wither slowly. We’re in a transition. We’ll demonstrate and Benjamin Netanyahu will forge ahead. No one wants shooting or blood in the streets. (…) But this time it won’t be 100,000 people on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street or even 50,000. Maybe 2,000, maybe less. They’ll be less polite and more determined. They’ll block roads and burn tires. There will be clashes, there will be blood in the streets. (…) Maybe somebody will show up holding a grenade. (…) It’s not that they’re against democracy, they’re for the government. (…)
Yossi Klein, HAA, 17.02.23
Gov’t should prevent economic decline caused by judicial reforms
(…) A number of high-profile hi-tech companies have announced that they are pulling their money and some of their operations out of Israel and (…) NIS 4 billion has already been moved out of Israel by clients concerned that the reforms will lead to a decline in Israeli economic growth. (…) the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that Israel’s economy grew by 6.5% in 2022 and that despite the economic slowdown that is expected to impact the country in the coming year, the forecasted growth is expected to be nearly 3% in 2023. Is it possible that the judicial reforms will undermine that? Yes. Should the government take steps to prevent that from happening? Of course. (…) Just as Israel’s tech sector was built into the formidable force that it is today, it can be ruined by wrong Knesset decisions, government intervention, or an atmosphere that makes it seem as if Israel is turning away from its liberal democratic values and system of government. (…) Judicial reforms are important. They need to be done in a way that strengthens and does not weaken Israel’s economy.
Editorial, JPO, 19.02.23
Judicial reforms lay groundwork for Israel becoming apartheid
The first process aims to annex the entire West Bank without giving citizenship to the Palestinians (…). The other process, through the Basic Law, aims to divide Israelis into three sectors, where only one – the secular-traditional (…) – carries the burden of security, labor and economic growth, which includes paying taxes. The other two sectors, the Arab and the Haredi, won’t bear the burden of security at all, and won’t fully contribute to the labor market or pay taxes, but they will draw a hefty chunk of the welfare budget for their own purposes. (…) Chairman of the Finance Committee MK Moshe Gafni, leader of the United Torah Judaism party (…) and his colleagues are not even trying to hide their intentions. Thus, for example, intention to grant the rabbinical courts jurisdiction almost similar to the civil courts that rule based on Knesset laws. This (…) is the first step in promoting a state of Halakhah over the secular values, such as democracy. (…) But what is even more dangerous is Smotrich’s plans. (…) Instead of a two-state solution, Smotrich proposes a multi-stage plan to resolve the conflict without allowing the Jews to become a demographic minority. (…) The first phase entails the government flooding the West Bank with Jewish settlements and settlers. When that happens, the Palestinians are supposed to understand that they have no chance of getting their own state and would have to choose one of the three alternatives – a life of oppression under Israeli rule, emigration, or becoming a martyr.
Ron Ben-Yishai, YED, 21.02.23
Anatomy of a protest
(…) Since the Netanyahu government was voted into power and assembled a majority coalition, it has been the target of a violent campaign of delegitimization. (…) Do not be fooled: there is no fight here to try to “save democracy,” but rather an attempt to change the outcome of the election. And Lapid’s request to freeze the judicial reform was only meant to give him time to reposition himself as the leader of the Left. The longer the demonstrations drag on, the better for him. (…) Remember what Lapid said at the opening ceremony of the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association? “There is room for reform in the judicial system, but not when that band does them.” To paraphrase, while there is nothing inherently wrong with introducing reform to the judicial system, the Opposition will oppose it solely because it is being initiated by a government led by Netanyahu.
Merav Sever, IHY, 22.02.23
Netanyahu, enough with the excuses – stop the madness
The political system is on the verge of collapse and the State of Israel is coming apart at the seams. The key to stopping this madness is in the hands of one person alone: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (…) it is time for the prime minister to roll up his sleeves, show some responsibility, and lead Israel out of this abyss. (…) The prime minister hears the voices. Knows what’s at stake. Receives reports of huge sums of money transferred abroad and sees the protesters’ determination. (…) The Opposition too pushed forward with the protests and refuses to negotiate with the Coalition as long as the judicial legislation continues. Both Left and Right are disregarding President Isaac Herzog, who presented a solution to the problem. In a truly civilized country, the president is not presented with conditions or disrespected. It is only done in a political system that has long gone off the rails. (…) Enough with the excuses. It is time for action.
Nechama Duek, IHY, 26.02.23
3. International Concern About the Violence and Planned Reforms
Is Biden too weak and preoccupied to deal with Abbas?
(…) The Biden administration has failed miserably in its efforts to calm the tensions in east Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The US president recently sent (…) one after another National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CIA Chief William Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (…) Netanyahu agreed to the American ideas for calming the West Bank. (…) But the one who torpedoed the Americans’ plans was Abbas, who tried to blackmail them and secure a political achievement, such as the opening of the American consulate in eastern Jerusalem or the reopening of the PLO office in Washington (…) and blamed Israel for the terrorism. (…) Abbas’ working assumption is that the Biden administration is weak and preoccupied with its confrontation with Russia over the war in Ukraine, and with the economic conflict with China. Biden, according to this assumption, does not want a US confrontation with the PA. (…) The refusal of the PA chairman is a blow to the Biden administration. (…) Abbas’ reluctance to have the PA fight terrorism emphasizes the fact that his role as a possible peace partner expired long ago. Only one thing now interests him: to survive in his position without confronting any factor that could endanger his throne. President Biden will find this out the hard way.
Yoni Ben Menachem, IHY, 16.02.23
Israel is a tough sell in the US as it slides toward autocracy
(…) In a series of unprecedented moves, the presidents of Israel, the US and France have spoken out separately in recent days urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step back from the precipice. (…) Biden (…) stressed the fundamental importance of an independent judiciary and checks and balances for countries like Israel and the US. (…) The prime minister insists his approach would make Israel more democratic, but the evidence points emphatically in the opposite direction. (…) For Netanyahu, it is also personal. These changes – reforms are a misnomer – are Netanyahu’s “get out of jail free” card, thanks to provisions that would effectively quash the criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust for which he is currently on trial, and grant him future immunity. (…) A growing number of American Jewish leaders and supporters of Israel in Congress, notably Jewish lawmakers, have been going public in their concerns about the threat to Israeli democracy posed by Netanyahu’s so-called judicial reforms. (…) Exacerbating the growing crisis, and further straining relations with the Biden administration, was this week’s announcement by Netanyahu’s office of the intent to build 10,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and convert nine illegal West Bank outposts to legitimate settlements. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was joined by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Britain in condemning the expansion plan. The State Department also warned against transferring military authority in the West Bank to extremist Finance Minister Smotrich, which US officials would consider a step toward annexation, a step the US and much of the international community oppose as an obstacle to efforts to negotiate a two-state solution. That just happens to be Netanyahu’s goal (…).
Douglas Bloomfield, JPO, 16.02.23
America crossed the line; Israel responded
(…) Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a red line for the Biden administration after the US joined the United Nations Security Council’s condemnation of settlements. (…) The response was long overdue. (…) It seems that the “greatest democracy in the world” unfortunately bears its name in vain. It does not respect Israel’s election results nor the internal democratic process that took place and is taking place here. (…) The US didn’t bother interfering with other countries in the Middle East and has provided them with support on a host of issues. These are places that aren’t even democracies, where the judicial branch is just for show and is controlled by the government, and where human rights have been trampled on for many years. (…) when it comes to US meddling in the judicial reform in Israel, this should be rejected by both the Opposition and the Coalition – both by the supporters and the opponents of the reform. The American involvement sets a dangerous precedent, which may lead to interference on other significant internal Israeli issues. (…)
Nadav Shragai, IHY, 21.02.23
American Jews Cannot Stay ‘Neutral’ in the Face of Israel’s Catastrophe
Israel is undergoing a rapid, aggressive attempt at regime change. (…) This is a transformative point in the history of the Israeli nation and the Jewish people. At this moment, our entire nation-state is on the verge of a homemade catastrophe. (…) what position should America’s crucially important Jewish community, which is liberal to its core, take? (…) The argument that American Jews should represent a united front on Israel went bankrupt decades ago, when AIPAC refused to support the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s historic peace initiative, which was backed by the majority of the Israeli people. (…) To call for American-Jewish “unity” – either in favor of the anti-democratic coup or by adopting “neutrality” – is to betray America’s and Israel’s core values. With AIPAC having veered rightward, both in American and Israeli terms, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street has not only earned its role as representative of the center and center-left of American Jewry, it now has to struggle alongside its Israeli liberal and progressive counterparts against the attack on the democratic foundations of the Jewish state. Well over 100,000 people have taken to the streets in recent weeks for regular protests against the government’s so-called “judicial reform” and other parts of the right-wing agenda. (…) These Israelis understand exactly what is at stake for our country – and we are saying so loudly and clearly. Now, we need our true friends in the United States and around the world to join us – exactly as J Street has. This is the moment for the U.S. government, American Jews and all pro-Israel Americans – for all who have deep concerns about our government’s policies and Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people – to speak out. (…)
Eran Etzion und Daniel Shek, HAA, 23.02.23
What can Israeli and American Jews build together?
(…) The current situation in Israel has created significant tension between Diaspora Jewry, adding more doubts to today’s temple and the joint Zionist project. We cannot continue with inertia – we cannot ask for blind and pro-Israel support, nor can we prioritize the form of the state over its content. We are being tested on our common bond as the Jewish people, expressed in every generation, by building a temple voluntarily and freely. A temple aimed at creating a community and strengthening the common heartbeat. (…) protest that could be heard at that exact time in Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv and many other city centers in Israel (…) what are we building together? Do we understand that it can only be built together?
Barak Sella, TOI, 28.02.23
4. Selection of Articles
Netanyahu’s Image in the Gulf States Is Suffering
Why Netanyahu’s ‘magic’ in the Gulf might be waning
(…) Despite his reputation as a charismatic leader, recent events have left many in the Arab Gulf feeling disillusioned with Netanyahu and his leadership style. (…) Netanyahu was widely seen as a highly influential figure on the international stage. In a significant shift from his previously advantageous position, Netanyahu is now facing challenges in establishing relations with Arab Gulf countries. (…) This shift is largely due to Netanyahu’s relationship with the Biden Administration, which has raised doubts about his previous promises regarding the supply of weapons and close ties with the United States. (…) In the Arab Gulf countries, Israel is currently viewed as a country that possesses many resources but is unable to act or make progress. (…) Netanyahu’s attempts to establish ties with the Arab Gulf nations are facing unprecedented difficulties, as he flounders in confusion and is met with rejections he is not accustomed to. (…) This makes you wonder how none of his assistants and multitude of experts on Arab affairs failed to mention to him that this term causes great offense to the Arab Gulf states.
Majdi Halabi, YED, 17.02.23
HAA = Haaretz
YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews
JPO = Jerusalem Post
IHY = Israel HaYom
TOI = Times of Israel
GLO = Globes
Published: March 2023.
Dr. Paul Pasch,
Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel