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Latest News in Israel – 12th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

There are no second-class citizens, Rivlin says, in implicit rebuke of Netanyahu

President Reuven Rivlin on Monday appeared to launch a harsh attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his recent statement about Arab Israelis, saying that all citizens enjoy full equality before the law.

In a speech at a Jerusalem conference about Egyptian-Israel peace, Rivlin also appeared to reprise his criticism of the controversial nation-state law passed last summer by Netanyahu and his allies.

“We must get to the point where we are truly able to say: No more war and bloodshed between Israelis and Arabs. Between Israel and all Arabs,” Rivlin said.

“I refused and refuse to believe that there are political parties that have surrendered the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish, state. Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens,” he said to loud applause from the audience.

The current election campaign has political thinking turned “on its head,” the president argued, condemning the “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel” made by some politicians.

Rivlin did not mention any names, but he was likely referring to right-wing parties, including Netanyahu’s Likud, that have repeatedly accused their center-left rivals of planning to rely on Arab parties in their future government coalition.

“There are no, and there will be no, second-class citizens, and there are no second-class voters,” Rivlin said. “We are all equal in the voting booth. Jews and Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel. One hundred and twenty Knesset members cannot change its character as a Jewish state; and 120 MKs won’t be able to change its democratic character.”

The president’s comments, delivered at a Hebrew University conference marking the upcoming 40th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, could be understood as a criticism of the nation-state law, which was passed in July but has again been making headlines in recent days.

The discussion over the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People was rekindled over the weekend after model and actress Rotem Sela blasted Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) for claiming that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White party wants to establish a government with the help of Arab parties.

“What is the problem with the Arabs???” Sela wrote on her Instagram account. “Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”

Netanyahu unexpectedly responded to her post with “an important correction,” saying that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens” but the nation-state of the Jewish people only.

At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu brought up the issue once more.

“I would like to clarify a point that, apparently, is not clear to slightly confused people in the Israeli public. Israel is a Jewish, democratic state. What this means is that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people alone,” he declared. “Of course it respects the individual rights of all its citizens – Jews and non-Jews alike. But it is the nation-state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

Non-Jews have “national representation” in other states, he went on. “The national representation of the Jewish people is in the State of Israel. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and of it alone.”

The frequent claims that the center-left wants to co-opt the Arab parties into their government has also been criticized by the US-based Anti-Defamation League.

“The role of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset is increasingly emerging as a key wedge of the current election campaign, with several party leaders and politicians vowing not to include them in any future coalition, while accusing their political foes of a willingness to do so,” said Carole Nuriel, who heads the ADL’s Israel office.  (the Times of Israel)

Ya’alon : Israeli-Arab conflict over: Israeli-Palestinian one remains

With Israel and a good part of the Sunni Arab world today sharing both common threats and opportunities, the term “Israeli-Arab” conflict is no longer applicable, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday.

“Today – at the present moment, in the meantime – there is not an Israeli-Arab conflict: There is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ya’alon said at a conference at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute marking the 40th anniversary later this month of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement.

And none of that would have been possible, added Ya’alon – number three on the Blue and White Party list – had Egypt not removed itself from the circle of countries at war with Israel 40 years ago.

“When we look back at the agreement, there has not been a threat of conventional war against Israel since it was signed,” said the former IDF chief of staff. “No Arab leader or Arab army dared to challenge Israel as army-against-army, and the Yom Kippur War was the last war the Arab leaders initiated against us.”

He said that the signing of the peace agreement essentially put an end to the nationalist pan-Arabist threat to Israel, noting that a month before the agreement was signed on March 26, 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran heralding the Islamic revolution in that country.

And that revolution, Ya’alon said, gave support and a strong back wind to all the variations of Islamic radicalism – be it Sunni or Shia – that the region has witnessed since: from an increase in the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the rise of Hamas and al-Qaeda. The vacuum created by the end of the nationalist pan-Arabist ideology was filled by a radical Islamist ideology, he said.

But this has also created opportunities for Israel, since – starting with the Egyptian peace accord, and even before that in 1970 when a de facto arrangement was established with Jordan – the overall enmity of the Arab world against Israel has declined and relations have developed, mostly behind closed doors, with the Sunni Arab world.

The situation is not one of “normalization,” Ya’alon said, “but they are no longer telling stories about the extremist Zionist empire that wants to reign from the Euphrates to the Nile.”

Regarding peace agreements, Ya’alon said, it is important for Israel to look in a sober manner at past agreements, because it has had some positive experiences – for example the accords with Egypt and Jordan – and some negative ones, such as the experience with Palestinians, which was based on the idea of trading land for peace.

“Instead of land for peace, it has become the territories in return for terrorism or land in return for rockets in the South – and this leads me to the conclusion that we have to be careful when talking about agreements,” Ya’alon said. “Peace is made out of interests, with clear thinking and not out of wishful thinking or illusions.”

Ya’alon said that the peace with Egypt should be seen within the prism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall, the idea the Revisionist leader articulated in a famous 1923 article that the Arabs will give up trying to destroy the Jewish presence in Israel when they realize they cannot. He noted that Moshe Beilinson, a Mapai member and deputy editor of Davar, articulated pretty much the same idea in an editorial he wrote at the beginning of the Arab Riots in 1936.

The answer to the question of how long Jews here will have to fight, die and live by the sword, Ya’alon quoted Beilinson as saying, “is until the last of our enemies understand that we are here forever – that will be the end of the battle.”

Peace, Ya’alon said, “will come out of strength and not out of weakness; out of the creation of mutual interests between Israel – Jewish, democratic, prosperous and ethical – and its neighbors.” (Jerusalem Post)

Israel is the 8th largest arms exporter in the world

Arms sales around the world have risen by almost 8% in the past five years, with the United States holding tight to its position as the leading arms exporter. The Israeli arms industry ranks eighth among exporters, with a market share of more than 3% of the total world exports.

According to the annual report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks arms inspections worldwide, the total number of global arms transactions between 2014 and 2018 was 7.8% higher than the previous five years and 23% higher than the number sold between 2004 to 2008. The five largest exporters in the past five years have been the US, Russia, France, Germany and China, which together accounted for 75% of total weapon’s exports.

The report showed that the Israeli arms industry has kept its international standing and ranks as eighth among the 67 exporting countries with a market share of 3.1%, a 60% increase between 2009 to 2013. Israel’s leading customers are India with 46% of its deals, Azerbaijan with 17% and Vietnam with 8.5%.

At the same time, Israel ranks 15th out of the world’s 40 leading arms importers with 2% of the total arms trade over the past five years, up 354% from the previous five years. Some 64% of Israel’s arms deals were with the US. With 27% of the transactions being with Germany and another 8.9% with Italy. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading arms importer with a market share of 12%, a sharp rise of 192%.

According to the data, the United States recorded a 29% increase in arms deals, mainly due to increased demand from countries in the Middle East, and its market share rose from 30% to 36%, while Russia saw a 17% decrease, because of less imports from two major customers – India and Venezuela. Now its market share stands at 21% compared to 27%, five years prior.

“The United States has further strengthened its position as the world’s leading arms supplier,” said Dr. Ode Fluernet, director of the arms transfers’ database at the research institute. “The US has exported weapons to at least 98 countries in the last five years. These shipments usually included advanced weapons such as fighter planes, short-range cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, and a large number of guided bombs.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Two Israelis victims of Ethiopian Airlines tragic crash

The official delegation from the State of Israel, with the personal approval of the Prime Minister, consisting of two teams of ZAKA volunteers from Israel and South Africa are on their way to the site of the Ethiopian Airlines crash to locate the remains of the two Israelis who perished in the tragedy and to ensure a full Jewish burial.

Following the tragic news of this morning’s Ethiopian Airlines crash shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa airport, in which 149 people – including two Israelis – were killed, it was decided to send a delegation of experienced volunteers from the ZAKA International Rescue Unit.
The ZAKA International Rescue Team delegation will be made up of two teams – one from South Africa and another from Israel. The team from Israel leave on a direct flight tonight, at midnight. This, in order to locate and identify the Israeli victims, to collect their remains in keeping with Jewish law and ensure a full Jewish burial.

Since receipt of the tragic news, ZAKA headquarters has been in constant contact with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Israeli Consulate in Addis Ababa and the Chabad emissary in Ethiopia, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaviv.

ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said: “The members of the ZAKA delegation to Addis Ababa left with the objective of doing all they can to locate the remains of the two Israeli victims and bring them to a full Jewish burial. Unfortunately, we have accumulated significant experience in dealing in a professional manner with incidents of this type.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, went to the Foreign Ministry situation room in order to see the activity regarding the plane crash in Ethiopia. He spoke with the Israeli Ambassador and Consul in Ethiopia who updated him on the crash including the monitoring of the missing Israelis and their condition.
He said: “I have come here to the Foreign Ministry to closely monitor the reports from Ethiopia. To my sorrow, our ambassador has informed us that two Israelis perished in the plane crash. Our hearts are with the families.”   (JWire)

South Africa to downgrade its embassy in Israel

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says his country is planning to downgrade the status of its embassy in the occupied territories in response to Israel’s violation of Palestinians’ rights.

Speaking to the parliament in Cape Town, Ramaphosa said South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was working on implementing a decision by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to lower diplomatic ties with Israel.

At the end of a conference in December 2017, the ANC decided to downgrade its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv to a liaison office in an expression of “practical support” for the oppressed Palestinian people, warning Israel that it should pay the price for its “human rights abuses and violations of international law.”

Ramaphosa stressed the South African government’s resolve to go ahead with the ANC’s decision.

“The South African government remains seized with the modalities of downgrading the South African Embassy in Israel and we will communicate once the cabinet has fully finalized on this matter,” he said.

“In implementing this conference resolution, we are mindful of South Africa’s responsibility to continue engaging with all parties to the conflict to see where we would be able to provide assistance,” he added.

The South African president further noted that the decision to downgrade the embassy in the occupied lands is driven by Israel’s violations of the rights of the Palestinians and the regime’ failure to enter negotiations on the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last May, South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest at Israel’s deadly crackdown on anti-occupation rallies in the Gaza Strip. South Africa established close ties with the Israeli regime during the apartheid era, but after the collapse of the discriminatory system, the African country began to lean towards Palestine.

Most South Africans have historically supported the Palestinians due to similarities between the Israeli occupation and South Africa’s apartheid rule. (AFP)

The false equivalence between ‘Islamophobia’ and anti-Semitism

by Douglas Murray              The Spectator  (UK)


I have been travelling in the Middle East for the last few weeks and slightly regret returning to the maelstrom of ancient animosities and unbridgeable sectarianism that is modern Britain. But in my absence I see that one of the worst tropes of our time has been stalking unhindered across the land. That is, of course, the latest push to make an equivalence between anti-Semitism and the crock term ‘Islamophobia’.

It is not just in the UK that this play has been made. In America over recent days people have been able to follow the progress of the new Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar, with her supporters deciding to deflect attention from her expressions of anti-Semitism by claiming ‘Islamophobia’. Where this would once have been a fringe play, this time it has been adopted by the Democratic Party itself. So we are no longer talking about a harmless misunderstanding here. This is an equivalence that has developed legs.

In the UK it appears to have been embedded not only by anti-Semites in the Labour party who want to cover their tracks, but by the Conservative party and a range of others who ought to know better. It has been reported that the Conservative party has recently suspended a number of people who have said ugly and unpleasant things about Muslims on social media. Clearly where people have called for violence against any group of people then such people have no place in a political party. But this shaving of a dozen or so people from the Conservative ranks has been described as a cleansing of ‘Islamophobia’ from the party.  Even Jacob Rees-Mogg has been happy to embed the idea that this is what has happened. And so the false equivalence gets embedded. The idea that just as there should be no place in the Labour party for anti-Semitism so there should be no place in the Conservative party for ‘Islamophobia’. One can only speculate over who might benefit from the falsehood that these are equal and equivalent problems.

If I had a pound for every time I have had to make the point I am about to make I could well become as rich as Jeremy Corbyn. But here we go again: anti-Semitism is hatred or suspicion of Jews because they are Jews. It is an irrational prejudice built on centuries of stereotypes and hatreds which culminated in the worst crime in human history, on our continent, in the last century. ‘Islamophobia’, by contrast, is a term which can claim almost anything that the wielder claims it to mean.  So in many peoples’ eyes, it is ‘Islamophobic’ to ever say anything negative about any aspect of Islam or any action carried out by any Muslim in the name of their faith.  Among much else, those who wield the term seem to hope that they can present the situation of Muslims in modern Europe as so dire that they have pretty much already suffered an equal amount to the Jews of Europe in the twentieth century.  Islamists, their sympathisers and useful idiots appear to be hoping that if they can point to some mean things said on social media then in time they can present this as indistinguishable from the organised murder, in living memory, of six million Jews.

There are people who complain that I am splitting hairs or being needlessly pedantic when I make this point. But the trouble is that if you build an idea based on a falsehood then you merely delay a problem you will have to deal with at some point. Let me give one very current example. In recent days footage has emerged of a protest by parents at a predominantly Muslim school in Birmingham who have organised protests against any teaching of matters to do with gays to their children. A video of the protest can be seen here. Since this came out social media has been filled with people from across the political spectrum making sure that they register their necessary – and comfortable – condemnation of this. And they have some help in this play of theirs. Because of course it is not as though Islam is the only faith which has problems with homosexuality. So one of the safe ways to object to the Birmingham schools protest is to stress that we must all oppose homophobia wherever it comes from, be it from Christians, Muslims or anybody else. Phew, obstacle in the road successfully dodged, eh?

Except that I would say not. For all things are not always and for all time the same. Nor do they always fall out in exactly the same way. The Christian churches managed to alter their teachings about homosexuality by a very long and slow adoption of aspects of the rights culture that had been adopted in wider society. It is not the case with the church everywhere, by any means. But in the West in general, in order to fit in to the prevailing culture the protestant churches have broadly altered their views, and even the Church of Rome has made noises under the present pontiff which suggest a softening of attitudes. There are all sorts of ways in which this can be achieved. But Christianity has a number of advantages here. Most noticeable is the fact that the Jesus of the Bible had nothing whatsoever to say about homosexuality, and since his general message would appear to have been one of love, kindness and forgiveness, modern Christians have found it fairly easy to present the Jesus of the Bible – rightly or wrongly – as a rather ‘live and let live’ figure when it comes to homosexuality as with almost everything else. A sort of Liberal Democrat in sandals. Or a Liberal Democrat.

Sad to say, it is simply harder to make this case when it comes to the central figure in Islam. This is not to say that individual Muslims may not be able to reconcile themselves to homosexuality or indeed to be gay and Muslim themselves. But it’s definitely all a much harder proposition. If Jesus had been quoted – as Muhammad is in the hadith (sayings) – as saying that two men found in the act of bum fun should be killed then Christians everywhere would have a much harder time with the pro-gay argument. Every time some nice vicar said ‘But shouldn’t we love our fellow man’ someone else would say, ‘But did our Lord not command that the person doing the act and the person it is being done to should both be killed?’ Might there then not be a lot of beard-stroking, and an awkward concern that the scriptures weren’t wholly on the side of the gays? Again, this isn’t to say that Islam has to be at all times immutable and unchangeable in the way in which it is understood and enacted. But it is to point out that it might not be enough just to talk about ‘condemning homophobia wherever it comes from’. Or to put it another way, such a response is not just callow, but really shamefully shallow.

And this is where we return to the problem which I started with. Which is how you could have anything more than a shallow and cowardly debate about this without finding yourself condemned for ‘Islamophobia’? It is difficult, isn’t it? Because the modern multi-cultural get-out is that everything – including every religion – basically comes out the same in the wash, and that if we just unite against ‘all forms of bigotry’ that wash will bring us to some equitable nirvana.

As has often been said, ‘Islamophobia’ is a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons. As it happens, we have plenty of religiously inclined fascists in Britain (as in America), including a number now in positions of legislative power from across the parties. We also have a whole plethora of cowards, from left and right, willing to dodge any problem and audibly sigh with relief as they imagine that having dodged the problem they will no longer have to encounter it again. But the one positive thing is that there are fewer morons than the fascists and cowards would wish. The general public are not morons. And we can find things out for ourselves. We have access to information. And so it would seem that in the matter of ‘Islamophobia’, as with a range of other matters, it is the people who are expected to be morons who will have to continue to correct the people who aspire to lead us.

The inevitable decline of left-wing philo-Semitism in America

By Ross Douthat               The New York Times


Like most places, America has always had potent strains of anti-Semitism — crude and polished, K.K.K. and country club. But unlike many places, we have always had important strains of philo-Semitism as well; there is a long American tradition, with both Protestant and Enlightenment roots, of really liking Judaism and the Jews.

And so the story of the Jews in post-World War II America is the story, not just of anti-Semitism’s marginalization, but of philo-Semitism’s triumph. Jewish Americans weren’t just integrated, like other ethnic and religious groups. They also attracted a particular sympathy and admiration, rooted in Holocaust remembrance, affection for Israel, and a distinctive pride in the scope of their success.

For American philo-Semites, the Jewish experience wasn’t just one minority experience among many, but a signal and elevated case. The outsize success of Jewish intellectuals and scientists and artists and businessmen and activists was an especially good thing, a unique proof of American exceptionalism — because ours was the one country where a people so long persecuted could not only survive but triumph. And attacks on Jewish success and influence, like attacks on the state of Israel, were treated as particularly dangerous, particularly un-American, because they threatened to undo this great achievement, and return the Jews to their historic state of constant threat and peril.

This history supplies one way to understand the stakes in the controversy over Ilhan Omar, the Muslim congresswoman who keeps using anti-Semitic clichés in her criticisms of the American-Israeli relationship. The part of the American left that’s defending her, or at least mitigating her offense and accusing her conservative critics of bad faith, doesn’t see itself as defending Jew-hatred, and since many of those defenders are Jewish — including the arguable front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders — it’s reasonable to take them at their word.

But the defend-Omar project is a project that seeks to push us away from the age of philo-Semitism, the age in which both American Jews and the American-Israel relationship were considered special cases among the range of minority groups and foreign policy partnerships.

This is what the left seems to want in the Omar controversy, and what I suspect it will eventually get: a left-of-center politics that remembers the Holocaust as one great historical tragedy among many, that judges Israel primarily on its conservative and nationalist political orientation, rather than on its status as a Jewish sanctuary, and that regards the success of American Jews as a reason for them to join white Gentiles in check-your-privilege self-criticism, ceding moral authority to minority groups who are more immediately oppressed. (This last shift was helpfully distilled by James Clyburn, the Democratic House whip, who defended Omar last week by basically saying that the Holocaust was a long time ago and her personal experience as a refugee and Muslim immigrant was more immediate and relevant.)

The shifts here would not just be, as is sometimes suggested, a reaction to Israeli politics, to the right-wing Netanyahu government or the cruelties of occupation. If the occupation ended tomorrow, Israel would still have a nationalist and religious identity at odds with the left’s broadly post-nationalist and post-religious vision. Secularization would still be separating the left from any specifically Christian sense of guilt over the Holocaust — which was an important spur to postwar philo-Semitism. Many American Jews would still enjoy advantages that expose them to the left’s intersectional critiques, and the Orthodox Jewish population (growing apace relative to more secular and liberal forms of Judaism) would still have religious beliefs and practices that are the very opposite of woke.

Finally, a great deal of the new anti-Semitism — from the recent wave of hate crimes in New York City to the anti-Jewish violence befouling Europe — would still be coming from minority and immigrant communities that are seen as essential to left-of-center and especially radical-left politics going forward, making them more difficult than right-wing anti-Semitism for the left to full-throatedly condemn.

Of course right-wing anti-Semites haven’t gone away either — which is part of why anti-anti-Omar Democrats can tell themselves that by downgrading Jewish exceptionalism, trading a specific philo-Semitism for a general politics of all-bigotry-is-bad, they are asking liberal Jews to make a sacrifice that’s essential for the greater good of defeating the greater enemy, which is still the reactionary right.

Whether this argument works depends in part on what the post-Trump right ultimately becomes — whether there’s a way to marry nationalism and philo-Semitism, perhaps wooing Jewish voters rightward, or whether any form of right-wing populism inevitably brings anti-Semitism roaring back.

But it also depends on whether the assumptions of Omar’s left-wing defenders are justified — whether anti-Semitism can be contained if it’s treated as one form of bigotry among many, or whether the perverse resilience of Jew-hatred is such that cultures choose between philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism, with only a swift downward slope lying in between.