Israeli Democracy is Not at Risk: David M. Weinberg, Israel Hayom, Feb. 3, 2017— The Economist last week released its annual global democracy index. Not surprisingly, Israel scored high.

How Israelis See the Settlements: Yossi Klein Halevi, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2017— A billboard near the highway entering Jerusalem proclaims in Hebrew: “The Time for Sovereignty Has Come.”

A Leader in Waiting, Lapid Slowly Builds a Doctrine for the Trump Era: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Feb. 6, 2017 — Squandering the political capital created by the arrival of US President Donald Trump at the White House on settlement building would be a historic mistake, according to former minister Yair Lapid…

Netanyahu Messed Up But it is Time to Move Forward: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 16, 2017— Enough is enough.


On Topic Links


Amid UN Warning, Israel Set to Pass Historic Settlements Bill: Gil Hoffman, Udi Shaham, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 6, 2017

It’s Time Canada Ended its Double Standard that Considers Israeli Settlements ‘Illegal’: Jason Reiskind, National Post, Jan. 31, 2017

Could Submarine Scandal Blow up in Netanyahu’s Face?: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, Feb. 1, 2017

No Victory: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2017





David M. Weinberg

Israel Hayom, Feb. 3, 2017


The Economist last week released its annual global democracy index. Not surprisingly, Israel scored high. The highbrow magazine ranked Israel very high for pluralism and political culture. It ranked Israel a bit lower for civil liberties, mainly because of the rabbinate's ultra-rigid control over Jewish marriage, divorce and conversion. Indeed, Israel is more globalized, open and democratic than at any time in its history. Over the past decade, Israel's "democracy" scores have risen from 7.28 to 7.85 on a scale of 1 to 10, according to The Economist.


In comparison, Belgium this year rated a score of 7.77, France 7.92, the U.S. 7.98, Britain 8.36, and Canada 9.15. Greece was downgraded to the status of a "flawed democracy" at 7.23. Turkey is no longer rated a democracy, but a "hybrid regime." And yet, there is a steady drumbeat of warning about "dangers to Israeli democracy" being propagated these days.


You read it on the front pages of the left-leaning Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz newspapers. You get it from progressive academics in Israeli political science and sociology departments, and you are confronted with it by politicians seeking to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The discourse goes like this: Israeli democracy is under attack by dark forces of ultra-nationalism, racism, fascism and religious radicalism. An ugly wave of hatred is washing across Israel, with fundamentalists leading a surging tide of extremism.


The purported evidence for this are the youths who gathered this week to prevent Amona from destruction, and hooligans who threatened army leaders and judges after Elor Azaria's conviction for killing an immobilized terrorist. Adding to the list of alleged "dangers to democracy" is a series of nationalist legislative initiatives in Knesset. These range from cultural and educational issues (spending more shekels on arts communities in the periphery, high school curriculum changes in civics and Jewish-Zionist heritage studies, and keeping the Breaking the Silence organization out of the school system) to constitutional matters (the nation state law, reform of the judicial appointments process) to political initiatives (crackdown on illegal Bedouin and Arab building, tougher prosecution of terrorist family members), and so on.


But none of the above actually proves the charges of fascism or undermining of Israeli democracy. Not at all. The noisy demonstrations and bullying of a few hundred radicals prove nothing, except that there are fringe elements in our society that need to be kept in check, on the extreme Left and Right alike. This holds equally true for radicals who threaten to upend Israel on behalf of the terrorist-abetting Israeli Arab MK Basel Ghattas, and for those who threaten military judges on behalf of Azaria. All zealots must be marginalized. But note: The right-wingers in Amona don't come close to falling into this category. They were mainly passive protesters, expressing outrage at flawed policy in legitimate fashion.


It is critically important how we approach the public policy debate. It is wrong to portray Israeli society as bisected by two enemy narratives: that of a moral, liberal, democratic, universalist Israeli Left, versus an immoral, illiberal, isolationist, nationalist Israeli Right. This is a false dichotomy, and it's an untrue picture of Israeli society. Like Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. these days, there is a real and worthy debate in Israel over important public policy matters, and there is a continuum of respectable views that defy simplistic categorization as democratic or anti-democratic.


It's important to acknowledge this, and to abjure accusations that every controversial policy innovation is motivated by hatred, moral insensitivity or authoritarianism. Taking up one side of the debate, I will argue that neither hawkish Israeli foreign policies, nor conservative Israeli socio-economic and cultural policies, automatically make this country less free, enlightened, noble, creative or exciting. Let's say, for example, that the NGO funding transparency law is passed by the Knesset, or that the judicial appointments process is altered to deny Supreme Court judges a veto over selection of their successors. Is that the "end of democratic Israel"? Of course not!


Let's say that the Knesset breaks up the Labor party's kibbutz-controlled food cartels, or that it passes a law mandating compensation for absentee Palestinian landlords for land on which Israelis have been living for 40 years (instead of expelling such Israelis from their homes). Is that the "end of democratic Israel"? Of course not! When the High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Netanyahu government policies on natural gas exploitation and on expulsion of illegal African migrant workers (while circumscribing some aspects of the attendant legislation) — policies that were strenuously opposed by the Left — was that the end of Israeli democracy? Or let's imagine that Azaria receives a light sentence for his manslaughter. Would that be fascist and undemocratic?


My point is that opposition to public policy should be debated on its merits — without semiautomatic screeching about intolerance, repression, dictatorship, thought police and the crushing of democratic norms. Over-the-top attacks make the political opposition sound just as crude and intolerant as the caricature of the government they are communicating.


Of course, no one should pooh-pooh civic challenges that do stand before Israeli society. The Israel Democracy Institute's 2016 democracy index found a significant drop in public trust of government institutions and politicians; and an increasing willingness to marginalize minorities, such as Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and settlers. But we must beware of a doomsday discourse about depredations in Israel's democratic moorings. Israel is far more hale and hearty than some of its detractors would have us believe.                                                             




Yossi Klein Halevi

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2017


A billboard near the highway entering Jerusalem proclaims in Hebrew: “The Time for Sovereignty Has Come.” It is part of a new campaign for the formal incorporation into Israel of Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank and barely a 10-minute drive east of Israel’s capital. The campaign’s sponsors, backed by several ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’s coalition, see annexing Ma’ale Adumim as the first step to annexing the entire West Bank and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.


Israelis have been arguing about settlements ever since the Six Day War of June 1967, when the Israeli army captured the West Bank—the biblical regions of Judea and Samaria—and small groups of Israelis began establishing enclaves there. Annexation, long the goal of the settlement movement, has always been more aspiration than possibility, thwarted by opposition within Israel and from the international community. But with the rise of Donald Trump, settlement leaders have sensed an opening. Mr. Trump’s nominee as U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a longtime pro-settlement activist. And in a marked break with American policy, the Trump administration refused to condemn Israel’s announcement that it intends to build some 5,000 housing units in settlements, the largest expansion project in recent years.


The collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the chaos of the Arab world in recent years have reinforced the settlers’ sense of opportunity. So too has the imminent approach of a date fraught with symbolic significance: the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. According to Jewish tradition, 50 years—a jubilee—is the time for a reset. For those who believe that Israel needs to overcome its hesitancy and claim its rightful borders, it is a moment of high expectation.


Unlike critics abroad, including the U.N. Security Council, who denounce settlements as illegal under international law, mainstream Israeli discourse takes for granted the legitimacy of Israel’s claims to the West Bank—lands where the Jewish people find their deepest historical roots, won in a war of self-defense against the Arab world’s attempt to destroy the Jewish state. The debate, instead, is over the wisdom of implementing these claims to the “territories” (the more politically neutral term preferred by many in Israel). Permanently absorbing the West Bank would mean adding more than two million Palestinians to Israel’s population, forcing it to choose eventually between the two essential elements of its national identity as both a Jewish state and a democracy.


That is precisely the point of another new campaign, from the opposite side of the political spectrum, urging withdrawal from the territories. “We’re Not Annexing—We’re Separating,” reads one billboard near the highway in Tel Aviv. A second billboard warns of what will happen if Israel doesn’t separate from the Palestinians: “The One-State Solution. Palestine.” That warning reveals a profound shift in Israeli discourse. The mainstream Israeli left no longer promises “land for peace” but instead offers a more modest formula: withdrawal as the best way to ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic. This shift recognizes that, after years of terrorism and Palestinian rejection of past Israeli peace offers (the last offer was in 2008), the Israeli public has become deeply skeptical of Palestinian intentions.


Polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, while doubting the possibility of peace. According to an October 2016 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index, nearly 65% of Israelis backed peace talks—but only 26% thought they would succeed. Israelis worry that a Palestinian state would be overtaken by the radical Islamist movement Hamas and would threaten their population centers with rocket attacks—precisely what happened in 2005 when Israel uprooted its 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and withdrew. For supporters, settlements are crucial to security—preventing Israel’s contraction to its pre-1967 borders, barely 9 miles wide at their narrowest point. For opponents, settlements are a mortal threat to the Jewish state. The Israeli dilemma: Which alternative is the greater existential danger?


Some 430,000 Israelis live in 131 officially sanctioned settlements spread throughout the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem). In addition, dozens of small settlement outposts have been established without Israeli government approval. Meanwhile, a bill is advancing in the Knesset to legalize some 4,000 housing units built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, while offering compensation to the owners. The bill has been widely denounced abroad and by Israel’s opposition Labor Party. For their part, the Palestinians regard all settlement building, especially since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, as intended to deny them national sovereignty and basic dignity—proof that Israel has no intention of ever withdrawing.


For both sides, settlements can assume mythic symbolism. Palestinians often refer to them as “colonies,” reflecting the supposedly colonialist nature of Israel itself. Indeed, Palestinian media regularly ignore any distinction between Israel’s boundaries before and after the 1967 war, labeling coastal cities such as Tel Aviv and Ashkelon as settlements too. For Israelis, the refusal of many Palestinians to come to terms with Israel’s legitimacy is proof that the conflict isn’t about settlements but about the very existence of a Jewish state.


Although the settlements tend to be regarded by the international community as an undifferentiated entity, the discourse about them in Israel is very different. For Israelis who support a two-state solution, settlements fall into two broad categories: those within so-called settlement blocs, close to the pre-1967 border and likely to remain a part of Israel in a final agreement, and those outside the blocs, which Israel would probably evacuate as part of a peace deal. Israel’s retention of the blocs near the border would still allow territorial contiguity for a Palestinian state—though at least one settlement, Ariel, which Israel regards as a future bloc, is deep enough inside the West Bank to threaten that contiguity. Under various proposed plans, a Palestinian state would be compensated for lost land with territory from within pre-1967 Israel.


Depending on how one draws the map, more than three-quarters of the settler population lives in blocs likely to be kept by Israel under an agreement. The blocs plan gives hope to supporters of a two-state solution that settlement-building hasn’t yet reached the point of no return. Though Israel is hardly likely to evacuate 430,000 settlers, it could, with enormous strain to its social fabric, evacuate the 80,000 or so settlers living outside the blocs. (How traumatic would a forcible evacuation be? This past week, it took some 3,000 police and soldiers to remove a few dozen settlers from Amona, an illegal hilltop outpost.)…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




                                 A LEADER IN WAITING,


          Avi Issacharoff

  Times of Israel, Feb. 6, 2017


Squandering the political capital created by the arrival of US President Donald Trump at the White House on settlement building would be a historic mistake, according to former minister Yair Lapid, a centrist politician who some see as a possible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In an interview, Lapid, the head of the opposition Yesh Atid party, took a less bullish view of the new president than Netanyahu, who has openly feted Trump’s election as a welcome change after years of strained ties with Obama, but expressed cautious optimism over the new United States leader.


“While it is important and good that there is a friendly president in the White House. We don’t know how this will look in the long term,” Lapid told The Times of Israel last week. In the telling of Lapid, who has called for “separation” from the Palestinians, Trump’s heavy slant toward Israel regarding the conflict with the Palestinians will help dismantle some of the international pressure on Israel to accede to Palestinian statehood demands. However, Israel must use that breathing space wisely, said Lapid, and not as Netanyahu has done, announcing some 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as plans for the first officially sanctioned new settlement in 25 years.


“The Palestinian Authority’s strategy of putting heavy international political pressure on us has collapsed. We have freedom of action,” Lapid said. “But this is also our chance to dictate, from a position of strength, what we want. If it’s squandered on building another four outposts, that will be a mistake that will be mourned for generations.” Instead, Lapid called for the convening of an international conference to try to resolve the situation with Gaza and seek progress with the Palestinian Authority, an idea he has pushed for the last year, though one which has made little headway in diplomatic circles.


Despite saying he wants to make peace with the Palestinians, Lapid drew the line at speaking to Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian terrorist serving five life sentences in Israeli prison but also a popular politician. And he said he would not negotiate directly with terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza, though he does support giving the Strip a seaport in exchange for a long-term truce, including a cessation of tunnel-digging and rocket fire. “It’s a win-win situation. You’re starting a kind of disarmament, preventing rocket fire, and preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” he said. He also expressed full support for moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and warned against being intimidated by threats from the Arab world opposing such a move.


For now, this is just the talk of a politician with little say on whom Israel does and doesn’t talk to. But that could change. Recent polls have shown Lapid’s party surpassing Netanyahu’s Likud, making him a potential prime minister or at least a kingmaker. Elections are theoretically years away, but with Netanyahu under investigation for a raft of scandals, some analysts believe they may be in the offing sooner than planned. A former journalist and son of late minister Tommy Lapid, Lapid rode to power in 2013 as a freshman politician on an anti-corruption platform.


On the topic of suspicions that Netanyahu took hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts from wealthy businessmen, Lapid was unequivocal. “Did the prime minister say it was permissible to accept gifts? I’m telling you it is not. Absolutely not. Anyone in the political world knows that accepting gifts is not allowed, so they don’t accept them. It’s against the law,” he said. Despite his party’s initial focus on domestic concerns, Lapid has used his time as a lawmaker to fashion himself as something of a shadow foreign minister, with the role of top diplomat currently held by Netanyahu himself…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                





Isi Leibler

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 16, 2017


Enough is enough. Since the beginning of his public life, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been subject to the most ferocious ongoing campaign of vilification endured by any politician in the democratic world. For two decades, Noni Mozes, the publisher of the daily Yediot Aharonot, which until recently had the highest circulation and was most influential newspaper in Israel, waged an ongoing campaign employing the worst form of character assassination, defamation and double standards aimed at achieving the downfall of Israel’s prime minister. There were even unsuccessful efforts to introduce Bolshevik- style legislation into the Knesset making it illegal to provide the public with a free newspaper (Israel Hayom) because of its support for Netanyahu and popularity among Israeli readers. The promoters of this reprehensible legislation – political opponents and the hostile media – had the chutzpah to initiate it in the name of democracy.


Over the past few weeks, the public was shocked to learn that in the very midst of this battle with his greatest enemy, Mozes, their prime minister had actually been indulging in crude horse trading with him. The disclosure of contents of extensive taped telephone conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes prior to the last elections stunned Israelis. Israel Hayom, the free daily newspaper whose primary shareholders are Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, had emerged as the largest Israeli daily, overtaking the giant Yediot Aharonot in circulation, and many argue it was a crucial contributor to Netanyahu’s electoral success. The tapes disclose bizarre offers from Netanyahu to Mozes to allow passage of legislation which would limit the expansion of Israel Hayom and eliminate the weekend supplement – in return for political support and a guarantee that Mozes would promote him as prime minister indefinitely.


The fact is that Netanyahu has no control whatsoever over Israel Hayom and, not surprisingly, the deal was never consummated. In his defense, Netanyahu pathetically claims that the recordings were made to protect himself from extortion by Mozes. This deplorable demonstration of amorality by both parties nauseated Israelis of all political persuasions and reflects badly on Netanyahu’s lack of trust even in those who have been his strongest allies and supporters.


Although there is no justification for Netanyahu’s behavior, he has been treated outrageously by the media. Since the 1990s and his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu has been confronted by a barrage of unsubstantiated, politically motivated allegations in unsuccessful efforts to discredit him. The most virulent defamation was the despicable personal attacks on his family. The ad hominem, front-page screaming headlines day after day attacking Netanyahu, his wife and even his children go beyond what is considered “yellow press.” They reflect a total absence of moral compass and represent a disgrace to the nation. His son was accused of being invited to fly on private jets by and receiving guest accommodation from Netanyahu admirers – hardly corruption. His wife was headlined as augmenting her income with NIS 20 weekly by “stealing” 1,000 bottle refunds for her own credit. At one stage, the prime minister’s household expenses were headlined as extravagant because of Netanyahu’s penchant for quality ice cream.


In recent weeks, there were front-page headlines about Netanyahu and his wife receiving gifts of luxurious Cuban cigars and expensive wines from well-wishers amounting to “hundreds of thousands of shekels.” The consumption of a bottle of wine per day either from “gifts” or from the household budget was considered extravagant “while poor Israelis suffered.” Ronald Lauder, a multi-billionaire and one of world Jewry’s most generous philanthropists, is reprimanded for giving gifts that go back nearly 20 years. The hint that in return he was obtaining benefits from Netanyahu in Israel where he has invested millions of dollars in projects that were valuable contributions to the state is absurd. Moreover, Lauder is a shareholder in Channel 10, which has been at the vanguard of defaming Netanyahu and his family…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links


Amid UN Warning, Israel Set to Pass Historic Settlements Bill: Gil Hoffman, Udi Shaham, Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 6, 2017—The Knesset late Monday night is set to pass historic legislation hailed by the Right wing for salvaging 4,000 settler homes and attacked by the Left as the first step toward de-facto annexation.

It’s Time Canada Ended its Double Standard that Considers Israeli Settlements ‘Illegal’: Jason Reiskind, National Post, Jan. 31, 2017—Canada’s current position on Israeli “settlements” is that they are illegal because they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically Paragraph 6 which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The time has come for Canada to change our position to align with Canadian basic values and, equally important, with international law.

Could Submarine Scandal Blow up in Netanyahu’s Face?: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, Feb. 1, 2017—The media may be focused on the pricey cigars and bottles of champagne that the Netanyahu family allegedly amassed from its benefactors over the years, but the police investigation into the submarine procurement scandal is gaining momentum. The scandal, which Al-Monitor reported on at the end of October, is about to become a huge international imbroglio.

No Victory: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2017— There were no winners in the Amona evacuation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett – heads of what has been billed as the most right-wing government in the state’s history – all were hurt politically by allowing Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be evacuated from their homes on their watch.