Thursday, March 30

A Stench of General Elections in the Air as False Alarm

General election fever in democratic countries is a time of excitement. This takes place every four or five years when the citizen gets ready for the one day that he/she feels like a king or queen as the right to vote for a government of one’s choice is exercised. All the political parties gear themselves up by making empty promises and populist statements that can never be fulfilled. Despite these pitfalls, there is a dearth of polls - most of which are misleading with questionable predictions as was in the American Presidential Election of November 2016. The polls in Israel are no less accurate yet they have their pundits.

In Israel, election results are predictable, especially today. It is a foregone conclusion that the right and the extreme right wing will win the elections if held today. No party will get an absolute majority, but the right wing block with its plethora of parties with similar ideologies will form the next coalition government that will be even more radically right wing than the present.

It all started with PM Netanyahu wishing to close down the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation in order to privatise it and make it more cost-effective as well as being more of a government mouthpiece. This would mean firing 1000 employees.

The Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon was prepared to go with Netanyahu on this and in the end, Netanyahu changed his mind after consulting with the employees’ representatives who felt that they were on the firing line. Netanyahu opposed the move but Kahlon was not prepared to back down on Netanyahu’s original decision. The closing down of the IBA is scheduled to occur on 30th April 2017. This would be replaced by a new broadcasting company called Kan that would receive a smaller budget. It would also be run by the Communications Ministry and tow the government line. In other words, Israeli and TV services would be handcuffed to a certain extent and lose their independence.

At the time of writing both Netanyahu and Kahlon are on the edge of brinkmanship and no agreement on this issue has been achieved by these two players despite the numerous meetings between the two. 

According to latest reports, an agreement between Netanyahu and Kahlon has been reached. A compromise has been made. No elections for the time being until the next storm in a teacup when we shall all be getting a feeling of deja vu for the umpteenth time.

National elections for the Knesset must take place once every four years, though early elections have occurred more often and few governments have reached the four-year limit.

General Elections in Israel have a habit of being very predictable. The Israeli electorate for the most part over the years has moved away from the left of centre and towards the right and extreme right. There are no signs that this trend will change in the foreseeable future.

The right wing parties - Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home Party, Yisrael Beitenu, Yesh Atid (a sitting on the fence party that could under certain circumstances move to the right as its leader, Yair Lapid, is a shallow populist and adapts his views to suit his electorate) would probably form the next government. Yesh Atid has a problem with sitting in the same coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties, who are not well disposed towards Yesh Atid. Nevertheless with a little push and shove and monies pledged to their ultra-Orthodox yeshivot as a bonus, this problem will undoubtedly be solved.

The present government is the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. It is unfortunate that it is a government with no foresight and prefers to allow the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict to remain unsolved. It is a government that puts great emphasis on illegal settler expansion for which the taxpayers pay the price. Those who oppose the occupation are viewed as traitors and automatically categorised as BDS supporters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Democracy is also being eroded and people are being intimidated for their views if they do not coincide with the ruling government coalition. The stormy Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev,  a great pundit for PM Bibi Netanyahu has threatened to withhold state funding for cultural projects that she defines subjectively as being hostile to Israel according to her narrow definition of culture. She does not even have minimum knowledge or understanding of Western culture and is condescending towards those whose appreciation of Western culture is important. A person in her position should be tolerant and accept all forms of culture whether North African, Oriental, Western or whatever, especially in Israel which is a melting pot of different cultures. So what if artists are not always portraying Israel in a positive light on stage.

Even in Judaism, the Orthodox establishment rabbis are becoming more intolerant of those who are different and many of them are even racists. Examples are Rabbi Dov LiorIsrael’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, and  Rabbi Yosef Elitzur.  They have the final say on Halachic rulings as to who is a Jew and whether couples can marry according to their narrow interpretation of Halacha if one of the partners “Jewishness” is suspect. Under this government, the ultra-Orthodox parties have never had it so good. Under this government, there has been a rise of Jewish religious extremism and it is truly frightening. The Jewish Home Party is predicted to increase its strength according to the latest polls. It is a party that is racist and composed of people like MK Bezalel Smotrich, whose far-right views can only be described as virulently racist. He is a typical example of the ideology of the Jewish Home Party that is not very far from fascism. If one wishes to find a parallel to South African apartheid ideology, it is in Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party with its bunch of intolerant bigots and herrenvolk.

The Netanyahu Government under pressure from this despicable Jewish Home Party also has a Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked - a young, attractive Jewish Home Party Party firebrand with an agenda of wishing to appoint judges with right-wing views to the High Court of Appeal. She has already antagonised the present Judge President, Miriam Naor and senior judges.
This Jewish Home Party is a danger to democracy and is even interfering with the Courts to enforce its own agenda. The same can be said of the leader of this despicable party of Jewish Nationalist extremists, Minister of Education (or Brainwashing Indoctrination), Naftali Bennett, makes no bones about the education system he would like to envisage.

If general elections in Israel would result in a new government that is more open, does not erode the Israeli Court system nor tries to monopolize culture and with it censorship of films and books not supportive of the government, as well as improving the education system rather than letting it slide into the agenda of the Jewish Home Party and its inherent racism, perhaps there would be hope for a government that is all embracing of all Israel’s citizens irrespective of race, colour or creed, then the time will be ripe for elections. Naturally an honest desire for peace with our Palestinian neighbours involving making the compromises to achieve that even though the Hamas camp is not willing to negotiate. At least some moves will be made in the direction of negotiations. If the Palestinian leadership (Hamas and the PA) are not willing, at least Israel can go on record as making a genuine effort by halting settlements as starters.

Having premature elections, when there is no sign of any change, is a pointless exercise in futility and frustration. It only consolidates the present governmental stench of the right to extreme right wing party hacks in all their colours.

Saturday, March 11

"The Jewish Home" of Racism and Intolerance

The title of this post is not the true Israel but a fair section of the Israeli population that have placed their eggs in the basket of Mifleget Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home Party). They received 8 seats out of 120 seats. This party is the diabolical metamorphosis of the now defunct National Religious Party (Mafdal). It is a macabre mix of extreme right wing, religious Zionist ideology laced with hatred for the Arab Community of Israel and those who do not share their intolerant and bigoted world view. It is an illegal settler ideological party that is against the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Those, who disagree with their worldview are considered traitors to Israel.

This party, despite its relatively small representation in the Knesset, is the fear of PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud. It drags the Likud (once the liberal, moderate right wing party of Menahem Begin also known as Herut or Revisionists) into an extreme right wing direction. The leader of this political, pseudo-fascist abomination, Naftali Bennett (Minister of Education) is the pet fear of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who views him as a threat to his power base. Netanyahu and his party hacks are moving more to the extreme right, giving these party members much influence over the machinations of passing laws with a racist and anti-democratic edge. An example was the recent passing of the Regularisation Law as a result of a populist desire of Bennett and his MK hacks. The difference in ideology between the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi is marginal.  

Speaking after the law was finalised, Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home, who was one of the forces behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Donald Trump as president, "without whom the law would have probably not passed". 1

Another bill instituted by Moti Yogev MK of the Bayit Hayehudi Party called the Muezzin Law forbidding the call to prayer using loudspeakers between the hours of 11.00 pm and 7.00am. This law was aimed at the Muslim Arab Community of Israel and is another example of the hate that this extreme right wing party has for observant Muslims. There are enough laws in Israel against noise pollution that are not enforced. If the existing Noise Pollution Law was enforced then it would prevent the disturbing ear-splitting Muslim “call to prayer” from the minarets. Why single out the Muslim Community for their “call for prayer”? It is a populist law aimed to gain more support for the right-wing Jewish Home Party. Even the Attorney-General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, is opposed to this law. There are many mixed cities with both Arab and Jewish residents such as Haifa, Akko and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The Jewish citizens’ representatives living in these cities managed through dialogue with the Muslim religious authorities to arrive at an agreement and there was never any problem between the Muslim and Jewish Communities on this issue in the past.

The observant Muslim Arab Community is a minority group in Israel and as such are sensitive towards discrimination as well as any threat towards the “call to prayer” by the muezzin. The government showed a total lack of sensitivity to the needs of this community by trying to pass a law forbidding or curtailing their traditional custom of calling their faithful to prayer from the minarets of their mosques.

HaBayit Hayehudi has done a great disservice to Israel by introducing bills that are discriminatory and very pro-settler occupation in territories under international dispute.

There are members of this party that embrace ideologies resembling the ideology of the outlawed neo-fascist party - Kach of the Late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose ideology was deportation of Arabs from Israel and discriminating against them.

Bezalel Smotrich, who represents the Jewish Home party, praised the passage of the Regularization Law in early February as a “historic day for the settlement movement and for Israel”.2

Smotrich is a right wing extremist who created controversy by expressing support for apartheid in state hospitals with an emphasis on the Maternity Wards. Jewish and Arab MKs soundly condemned Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich for racist remarks; Israeli commentator Ben Caspit says Smotrich and his supporters are akin to 'Judeo-Nazis.'3

“Judeo-Nazis” is an apt description of the Jewish Home Party. They have an aggressive racist programme that is no credit to Israel. If the Late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an observant Jew in every sense of the word and one of Israel’s greatest thinkers, has used this term to describe Israel over 30 years ago, today we see that he was ahead of his time.

There is no place in Israel for a party that is divisive, racist and polarises the various population groups. It is very unfortunate that this party is gaining in strength and will be a powerful player in passing discriminatory laws.

There are other groups in Israel that share the views of this racist party - the divisive Jewish Home Party. A disgraceful group that comes to mind and is close in ideology to the Jewish Home Party is Lehava (Hebrew: למניעת התבוללות בארץ הקודש‎‎ LeMeniat Hitbolelut B'eretz HaKodesh; "Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land") is a Jewish far-right organization based in Israel that strictly opposes Jewish assimilation, objecting to any personal or business relationships between Jews and non-Jews. This group is under the leadership of Bentzi Gopstein a right-wing Kahanist extremist with Judeo-Nazi ideology.

A report by Uri Misgav of Haaretz on Apr 12, 2016, reports the Judeo-Nazi problem well:

Racism is always offensive and it is important to fight it. But even racism has its shades, too. Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich’s vocabulary is that of the master race.

Bezalel Smotrich speaking in the Knesset, November 16, 2015. Olivier Fitoussi
Why Israelis should be grateful for their racist politicians

Smotrich and segregated maternity wards are a sign of madness with no cure
Are we really any less racist than Smotrich?

Many true and informative things have been said and written, even on these pages, about the racist show of MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Heyehudi) and his wife. But one point has not been clarified enough, and it is important that it be clarified, despite the discomfort in dealing with its implications. This point overshadows all the political and social arguments by which the Smotriches and their comments were examined. It is impossible to continue running away from what's before us.

The Smotriches spoke of the holy and pure moment of the birth of a Jewish child. Of the demand that Arab hands do not interfere and pollute this holiness and purity. Of the refusal to share the physical space with Arabs, because Arabs are by necessity enemies. Of the baby that is born to an Arab mother and in another 20 years will murder the baby of the Jewish mother.
This is not just ordinary racism. Racism is always offensive and it is important to fight it. But racism has its degrees, too. This is the vocabulary of the master race. Of racial purity and its holiness. Of inferior races that could pollute the master race. Of the lebensraum cleansed of the enemy’s impurity. Of infants who will grow up to be murderous enemies because they belong to the enemy race. This is a Nazi way of thinking. The Smotriches and their followers are Judeo-Nazis.

A Judeo-Nazi movement exists on the margins of Israeli society. It is hard to estimate its size. It is not very broad in scope, but it exists. It makes various appearances in public in Israel. For example, the Lehava organization run by Benzion Gopstein (“Don’t even think about going out with a Jewish girl”); part of the activities of the La Familia soccer fan club (“Beitar Jerusalem will be pure forever”); the burning to death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir; the fatal arson attack on the home of the Dawabsheh family, and the celebration of the death of their 18-month-old son Ali at a wedding.

The time has come to recognise this phenomenon. Neo-Nazis exist in almost every Western nation. For some Israelis, the Holocaust was only a regrettable mistake in the address. At neo-Nazi rallies in Germany against Muslims, Jews waving Israeli flags participate. In last year's elections, the Judeo-Nazi denomination also won the right to enter the Knesset. It fell just short of winning more than one seat. Statistically, that is logical. Representative democracy reflects the segments of its society.
What is not understandable, and what is unforgivable is the attitude towards Smotrich. This is the true mirror he set up for Israeli society this week: Not everyone is like him, but everyone accepts his existence as something legitimate.

The only thing that needed to be done was to boycott him. To ignore his existence. Not to share a word with him. Certainly not a smile or handshake. Even the media did not stop interviewing Smotrich and his wife with chilly politeness. In the previous century, Likud tried to prevent Meir Kahane from running for Knesset, and after he was elected most MKs boycotted him. After that, his movement was outlawed.

Look at what happened in Israel over the past year. The Tekuma faction chose Smotrich in second place on its slate in its primaries. The party that calls itself Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) recognised the results and adopted him. After that along came Benjamin Netanyahu and promised voters they were a natural partner. Promised and kept his promise. The result is that the Judeo-Nazi faction is represented by a party that received the justice and education portfolios.

But it does not end here. Netanyahu has a coalition of 61 Knesset members. Smotrich’s vote keeps it alive. He was also appointed a deputy Knesset speaker and runs some of its sessions. The Judeo-Nazi faction sustains the government of Israel and serves as a deputy head of its parliament. It would be interesting to see what we would have said if this had happened in a different civilised country, shall we say Germany”.