Category Archives: Benjamin Netanyahu

Palestine’s Africa Dichotomy: Is Israel Really ‘Winning’ Africa?  

The decision by the African Union Commission, on July 22, to grant Israel observer status membership in the AU was the culmination of years of relentless Israeli efforts aimed at co-opting Africa’s largest political institution. Why is Israel so keen on penetrating Africa? What made African countries finally succumb to Israeli pressure and lobbying?

To answer the above questions, one has to appreciate the new Great Game under way in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, which has always been significant to Israel’s geopolitical designs. Starting in the early 1950s to the mid-70s, Israel’s Africa network was in constant expansion. The 1973 war, however, brought that affinity to an abrupt end.

What Changed Africa

Ghana, in West Africa, officially recognized Israel in 1956, just eight years after Israel was established atop the ruins of historic Palestine. What seemed like an odd decision at the time – considering Africa’s history of western colonialism and anti-colonial struggles – ushered in a new era of African-Israeli relations. By the early 1970s, Israel had established a strong position for itself on the continent. On the eve of the 1973 Israeli-Arab war, Israel had full diplomatic ties with 33 African countries.

“The October War”, however, presented many African countries with a stark choice: siding with Israel – a country born out of Western colonial intrigues – or the Arabs, who are connected to Africa through historical, political, economic, cultural and religious bonds. Most African countries opted for the latter choice. One after the other, African countries began severing their ties with Israel. Soon enough, no African state, other than Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland, had official diplomatic relations with Israel.

Then, the continent’s solidarity with Palestine went even further. The Organization of African Unity – the precursor to the African Union – in its 12th ordinary session held in Kampala in 1975, became the first international body to recognize, on a large scale, the inherent racism in Israel’s Zionist ideology by adopting Resolution 77 (XII). This very Resolution was cited in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted in November of that same year, which determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. Resolution 3379 remained in effect until it was revoked by the Assembly under intense American pressure in 1991.

Since Israel remained committed to that same Zionist, racist ideology of yesteryears, the only rational conclusion is that it was Africa, not Israel, that changed. But why?

First, the collapse of the Soviet Union. That seismic event resulted in the subsequent isolation of pro-Soviet African countries which, for years, stood as the vanguard against American, Western and, by extension, Israeli expansionism and interests on the continent.

Second, the collapse of the unified Arab front on Palestine. That front has historically served as the moral and political frame of reference for the pro-Palestine, anti-Israel sentiments in Africa. This started with the Egyptian government’s signing of the Camp David Agreement, in 1978-79 and, later, the Oslo Accords between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, in 1993.

Covert and overt normalization between Arab countries and Israel continued unabated over the last three decades, resulting in the extension of diplomatic ties between Israel and several Arab countries, including African-Arab countries, like Sudan and Morocco. Other Muslim-majority African countries also joined the normalization efforts. They include Chad, Mali and others.

Third, the ‘scramble for Africa’ was renewed with a vengeance. The neocolonial return to Africa brought back many of the same usual suspects – Western countries, which are, once more, realizing the untapped potential of Africa in terms of markets, cheap labor and resources. A driving force for Western re-involvement in Africa is the rise of China as a global superpower with keen interests in investing in Africa’s dilapidated infrastructure. Whenever economic competition is found, military hardware is sure to follow. Now several Western militaries are openly operating in Africa under various guises – France in Mali and the Sahel region, the US’ many operations through US Africa Command (AFRICOM), and others.

Tellingly, Washington does not only serve as Israel’s benefactor in Palestine and the Middle East, but worldwide as well, and Israel is willing to go to any length to exploit the massive leverage it holds over the US government. This stifling paradigm, which has been at work in the Middle East region for decades, is also at work throughout Africa. For example, last year the US administration agreed to remove Sudan from the state-sponsored terror list in exchange for Khartoum’s normalization with Israel. In truth, Sudan is not the only country that understands – and is willing to engage in – this kind of ‘pragmatic’ – read under-handed – political barter. Others also have learned to play the game well. Indeed, by voting to admit Israel to the AU, some African governments expect a return on their political investment, a return that will be exacted from Washington, not from Tel Aviv.

Unfortunately, albeit expectedly, as Africa’s normalization with Israel grew, Palestine became increasingly a marginal issue on the agendas of many African governments, who are far more invested in realpolitik – or simply remaining on Washington’s good side – than honoring the anti-colonial legacies of their nations.

Netanyahu the Conqueror

However, there was another driving force behind Israel’s decision to ‘return’ to Africa than just political opportunism and economic exploitation. Successive events have made it clear that Washington is retreating from the Middle East and that the region was no longer a top priority for the dwindling American empire. For the US, China’s decisive moves to assert its power and influence in Asia are largely responsible for the American rethink. The 2012 US withdrawal from Iraq, its ‘leadership from behind’ in Libya, its non-committal policy in Syria, among others, were all indicators pointing to the inescapable fact that Israel could no longer count on the blind and unconditional American support alone. Thus, the constant search for new allies began.

For the first time in decades, Israel began confronting its prolonged isolation at the UNGA. America’s vetoes at the UN Security Council may have shielded Israel from accountability to its military occupation and war crimes; but US vetoes were hardly enough to give Israel the legitimacy that it has long coveted. In a recent conversation with former UN human rights envoy, Richard Falk, the Princeton Professor Emeritus explained to me that, despite Israel’s ability to escape punishment, it is rapidly losing what he refers to as the ‘legitimacy war’.

Palestine, according to Falk, continues to win that war, one that can only be achieved through real, grassroots global solidarity. It is precisely this factor that explains Israel’s keen interest in transferring the battlefield to Africa and other parts of the Global South.

On July 5, 2016, then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kick-started Israel’s own ‘scramble for Africa’ with a visit to Kenya, which was described as historic by the Israeli media. Indeed, it was the first visit by an Israeli prime minister in the last 50 years. After spending some time in Nairobi, where he attended the Israel-Kenya Economic Forum alongside hundreds of Israeli and Kenyan business leaders, he moved on to Uganda, where he met leaders from other African countries including South Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Within the same month, Israel announced the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and Guinea.

The new Israeli strategy flowed from there. More high-level visits to Africa and triumphant announcements about new joint economic ventures and investments followed. In June 2017, Netanyahu took part in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), held in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. There, he went as far as rewriting history.

“Africa and Israel share a natural affinity,” Netanyahu claimed in his speech. “We have, in many ways, similar histories. Your nations toiled under foreign rule. You experienced horrific wars and slaughters. This is very much our history.” With these words, Netanyahu attempted, not only to hide Israel’s colonial intentions, but also rob Palestinians of their own history.

Moreover, the Israeli leader had hoped to crown his political and economic achievements with the Israel-Africa Summit, an event that was meant to officially welcome Israel, not to a specific African regional alliance, but to the whole of Africa. However, in September 2017, the organizers of the event decided to indefinitely postpone it, after it was confirmed to be taking place in Lome, capital of Togo, on October 23-27 of that same year. What was seen by Israeli leaders as a temporary setback was the result of intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying of several African and Arab countries, including South Africa and Algeria.

Premature ‘Victory’

Ultimately, it was a mere temporary setback. The admission of Israel into the 55-member African bloc in July is considered by Israeli officials and media pundits as a major political victory, especially as Tel Aviv has been laboring to achieve this status since 2002. At the time, many obstacles stood in the way, like the strong objection raised by Libya under the leadership of Muammar Ghaddafi and the insistence of Algeria that Africa must remain committed to its anti-Zionist ideals, and so on. However, one after the other, these obstacles were removed or marginalized.

In a recent statement, Israel’s new Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, celebrated Israel’s Africa membership as an “important part of strengthening the fabric of Israel’s foreign relations”. According to Lapid, the exclusion of Israel from the AU was an “anomaly that existed for almost two decades”. Of course, not all African countries agree with Lapid’s convenient logic.

According to TRT news, citing Algerian media, 17 African countries, including Zimbabwe, Algeria and Liberia, have objected to Israel’s admission to the Union. In a separate statement, South Africa expressed outrage at the decision, describing the “unjust and unwarranted decision of the AU Commission to grant Israel observer status in the African Union” as “appalling”. For his part, Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, said that his country will “not stand idly by in front of this step taken by Israel and the African Union without consulting the member states.”

Despite Israel’s sense of triumphalism, it seems that the fight for Africa is still raging, a battle of politics, ideology and economic interests that is likely to continue unabated for years to come. However, for Palestinians and their supporters to have a chance at winning this battle, they must understand the nature of the Israeli strategy through which Israel depicts itself to various African countries as the savior, bestowing favors and introducing new technologies to combat real, tangible problems. Being more technologically advanced as compared to many African countries, Israel is able to offer its superior ‘security’, IT and irrigation technologies to African states in exchange for diplomatic ties, support at the UNGA and lucrative investments.

Consequently, Palestine’s Africa dichotomy rests partly on the fact that African solidarity with Palestine has historically been placed within the larger political framework of mutual African-Arab solidarity. Yet, with official Arab solidarity with Palestine now weakening, Palestinians are forced to think outside this traditional box, so that they may build direct solidarity with African nations as Palestinians, without necessarily merging their national aspirations with the larger, now fragmented, Arab body politic.

While such a task is daunting, it is also promising, as Palestinians now have the opportunity to build bridges of support and mutual solidarity in Africa through direct contacts, where they serve as their own ambassadors. Obviously, Palestine has much to gain, but also much to offer Africa. Palestinian doctors, engineers, civil defense and frontline workers, educationists, intellectuals and artists are some of the most highly qualified and accomplished in the Middle East. True, they have much to learn from their African peers, but also have much to give.

Unlike persisting stereotypes, many African universities, organizations and cultural centers serve as vibrant intellectual hubs. African thinkers, philosophers, writers, journalists, artists and athletes are some of the most articulate, empowered and accomplished in the world. Any pro-Palestine strategy in Africa should keep these African treasures in mind as a way of engaging, not only with individuals but with whole societies.

Israeli media reported extensively and proudly about Israel’s admission to the AU. The celebrations, however, might also be premature, for Africa is not a group of self-seeking leaders bestowing political favors in exchange for meager returns. Africa is also the heart of the most powerful anti-colonial trends the world has ever known. A continent of this size, complexity, and proud history cannot be written off as if a mere ‘prize’ to be won or lost by Israel and its neocolonial friends.

The post Palestine’s Africa Dichotomy: Is Israel Really ‘Winning’ Africa?   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Quiet Rebellion: Why US Jews Turning against Israel is Good for Palestinians    

A unique but critical conversation on Israel and Palestine is taking place outside the traditional discourse of Israeli colonialism and the Palestinian quest for liberation. It is an awkward and difficult – but overdue – discussion concerning American Jews’ relation to Israel and their commitment to its Zionist ideology.

For many years, Israel has conveniently dubbed Jews who do not support Israel, or worse, advocate Palestinian freedom, as ‘self-hating Jews’. This term, designated to describe dissident anti-Zionist Jews, is similar to the accusation of ‘antisemitism’ made against non-Jews, which includes Semitic Arabs, for daring to criticize Israel. This approach, however, is no longer as effective as it once was.

Recent years have unequivocally demonstrated that there is a quiet anti-Israel rebellion within the American Jewish community. This rebellion has been brewing for long, but only fairly recently did numbers begin reflecting the rise of a new phenomenon where US Jews, especially younger generations, are openly dissenting from the typical Jewish conformity on Israel and supposedly undying love for Zionism.

In the last decade or so, this new reality has sounded the alarm within various Zionist institutions, whether in the US or in Israel itself.

Several opinion polls and surveys are all pointing to an inescapable conclusion that the emotional and political rapport between Israel and US Jews is rapidly weakening. A poll published by the Laszlo Strategies for Jerusalem U in August 2013, for example, concluded that 87 percent of American Jews over the age of 50 strongly agreed that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish,” while only 66 percent of young Jews between the ages of 18 to 29 felt the same.

Other polls reached similar conclusions, where the number of young Jews strongly supportive of Israel continues to decline. A particularly telling and important survey was that of the American Jewish Committee in June 2018. That was the time when the US-Israeli alliance reached its zenith under the administrations of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu. Though 77 percent of all Israelis approved of the US government’s handling of US-Israeli relations, only 34 percent of American Jews did. In fact, 57 percent of US Jews outright disapproved of Trump’s policies, which practically granted Israel all of its demands and wishes.

The downward trajectory continued unabated. A May 2021 Pew research indicated that one in five US Jews believes that the US is “too supportive of Israel”. Those who hold such a belief, 22 percent of the US Jewish population, have doubled in number since an earlier poll released in 2013.

Data gathering for the above poll, though released during the deadly Israeli onslaught on Gaza (May 10-21), was, in fact, conducted in 2019 and 2020. The numbers of unsupportive US Jews must have risen since then, as if there is a clear correlation between Israeli wars resulting in massive civilian casualties, and the ongoing split between US Jews and Israel.

Libby Lenkinski, Vice President for public engagement at the New Israel Fund, told Rolling Stone magazine that she sees a “noticeable shift in American perception” on Palestine and Israel since the deadly Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, a war that killed over 2,200 Palestinians. For Lenkinski, US Jewish perception should follow an ethical paradigm. “It’s a moral issue. It’s right or wrong,” she said.

Similar sentiments emerged after the May 2021 war, where over 260 Palestinians were killed. In a recent article, American Jewish writer, Marisa Kabas, explains the dilemma felt by many in the US Jewish community regarding Israel. “Because the conflict has so often been boiled down to a binary – you either support Israel or you support its destruction – for many of us it felt like a betrayal to even consider the other side.”  Because of the likes of Kabas and Lenkinski and numerous others, the ‘other side’ is finally visible, resulting in the obvious shift in American Jewish perception of and relations to Israel.

While more space for dissenting US Jews is opening up, the discussion in Israel remains confined and is hardly concerned with ethics and morality.

Recently, the understanding that Israel is losing the support of US Jews has been accepted by the country’s main political parties, with disagreement largely focused on who is to blame for this seismic shift. Netanyahu was often held responsible for making Israel a partisan American political issue through his alliance with Trump and the Republican Party, at the expense of Israel’s relation with the Democrats.

However, the Netanyahu-Trump love affair was not as uncomplicated as Netanyahu’s critics would like to believe. Indeed, the idea of Israel has changed in American society. The notion that Israel is a supposedly vulnerable little state, facing existential threats by Arab enemies, which flourished in the past, has become almost entirely irrelevant. The new concept of Israel, which is Tel Aviv’s main selling point in America, is that of a biblical Israel, a place of prophecies and spiritual salvation, which appeals mostly to right-wing Evangelical Christian groups. Young US Jews, many of whom support the Black Lives Matter and even the Palestinian boycott movements, have little in common with Israel’s zealot American backers.

Israel is now at a crossroads. It can only win back the support of US Jews if it behaves in such a way that is consistent with their moral frame of reference. Hence, it would have to end its military occupation, dismantle its apartheid regime and reverse its racist laws. Specifically, abandon Zionism altogether, or abandon US Jews in favor of complete reliance on the Evangelicals. In fact, some top Israeli officials are already advocating the latter.

On May 9, former Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, argued that, since Evangelical Christians are the “backbone of Israel’s support in the United States”, Israel should prioritize their “passionate and unequivocal” backing of Israel over American Jews who are “disproportionately among our critics.”

If Israel officially opts for this choice, perhaps with no other viable option, then a breakdown between Israel and US Jews becomes inevitable. As far as justice and freedom for the Palestinian people are concerned, that would be a good thing.

The post The Quiet Rebellion: Why US Jews Turning against Israel is Good for Palestinians     first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Family Separation Law: Israel’s Demographic War on Palestine Intensifies  

When the Israeli Knesset (parliament) failed to renew what is commonly referred to as the Family Reunification Law, news reports and analyses misrepresented the story altogether. The even split of 59 MKs voting in favor of the law and 59 against it gave the erroneous impression that Israeli lawmakers are equally divided over the right of Palestinians to obtain permanent residency status or citizenship in Israel through marriage. Nothing could be further away from the truth.

Originally passed in 2003, the Citizenship and Entry Law was effectively a ban on Palestinian marriage. Under the guise of ‘security’, the law prohibited Palestinians in the West Bank, who marry Israeli citizens, to permanently move to Israel, obtain work, permanent residency and, ultimately, citizenship.

The law was never made permanent as it was subjected to an annual vote, which successfully renewed it 17 times, consecutively. The 18th vote, on July 6, however, ran into an obstacle. Contrary to the perception given by media coverage, those who voted against the renewal of the ban did so for purely political reasons and not out of concern for the tens of thousands of Palestinian families that have splintered and broken up since the law came into effect.

Since the ousting of former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the hands of his protégé, current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s former leader has been determined to topple Bennett’s already fragile coalition. Bennett’s government allies cobble up extreme right-wing parties, including Yamina, the party of the prime minister himself, centrist and even leftist parties, the likes of Meretz. It even hosts an Arab party, United Arab List, or Ra’am, of Mansour Abbas. A coalition of this nature is unlikely to survive long, considering Israel’s tumultuous politics, and Netanyahu – eager for an early election – will do everything in his power to facilitate what he sees as an imminent collapse.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies in the opposition voted against renewing the discriminatory law to score a political point. Their justification, however, was more appalling than the law itself. The Likud wants the temporary law to become a permanent fixture, a Basic Law, to be added to dozens of other similar racially-motivated laws that target the very fabric of Palestinian society.

Welcome to Israel’s demographic war on the Palestinian people. This one-sided war is situated in the belief among Israel’s Jewish majority, that Israel’s greatest challenge is sustaining its demographic advantage which, thanks to a decided campaign of ethnic cleansing that began over seven decades ago, has been held by Jews over Palestinian Arabs.

Israel’s main fear is not simply a decisive Palestinian majority between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel’s Jewish ruling classes are also rattled by the real possibility of the growing political influence of Israel’s Palestinian Arab constituency, and are doing everything in their power to ensure Palestinian holders of Israeli citizenship are kept at a minimum. The Citizenship and Entry Law was designed specifically to keep this population in check.

The general elections of March 2020, in particular, provided a taste of what a doomsday scenario would look like.  Arab Israeli parties unified under the single ticket of the Joint List and emerged with 15 seats, making it the third-largest political bloc in the Israeli Knesset, after Likud and Blue and White. If Palestinian Arabs mastered this much influence, though they represent only 20% of the overall Israeli population, imagine what they could do if the demographic tide continues to shift in their favor.

For Israel, the future of Jewish majority – read: supremacy – is dependent on keeping the population equation in favor of Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinian Arabs. Most of the laws that discriminate against Palestinians, regardless of where they reside – in fact, anywhere in the world – is motivated by this maxim.

According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), Israel’s Palestinian Arab population is targeted with 65 different government laws and regulations, which ensure Palestinian Arabs do not prosper as a community, remaining politically disempowered, socio-economically disadvantaged and constantly threatened with the loss of their residency, and even citizenship.

Palestinians elsewhere suffer an even worse fate. For example, Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who supposedly hold permanent residency status, are subjected to different types of legal harassment, so that Jerusalem can maintain its current Jewish majority. When Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, the city was almost entirely Palestinian Arab. Through numerous tactics, the city’s Arab population is now an ever-shrinking minority. Worse still, in 2018 Israel passed a law that granted the Ministry of Interior the right to revoke the residency of Jerusalemites based on the murky accusation of ‘breach of loyalty’.

The occupied West Bank and Gaza are confined, as only Israel determines who remains and who is permanently exiled. The Israeli military occupation of these regions has taken population control to a whole new level; it is almost an exact science.

This is also precisely why Israelis abhor the very discussion of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, for they consider it an implicit call for the ‘destruction of Israel as a Jewish state’. According to this logic, if millions of Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to their homes and lands in historic Palestine, Israel will no longer exist in its current form, as a Jewish state, but will become a democratic state for all of its citizens, instead.

What is likely to happen next is that Israel’s Interior Ministry will continue to find caveats in Israel’s ever-flexible laws to block the reunification of Palestinian families, until the Knesset officially renews the Citizenship and Entry Law or, worse, make it permanent. Either way, Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians is likely to intensify in the future. Considering that it is a war that cannot rationally be won, Israel is likely to delve deeper into the abyss of apartheid.

As Israel continues to experiment with controlling the Palestinian population, it would be shameful if the international community continued to remain silent. This moral outrage must end.

The post Family Separation Law: Israel’s Demographic War on Palestine Intensifies   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Bennett’s Political Theater: The Decisive Israeli-Palestinian Fight Ahead

Many Palestinians believe that the May 10-21 military confrontation between Israel and the Gaza Resistance, along with the simultaneous popular revolt across Palestine, was a game-changer. Israel is doing everything in its power to prove them wrong.

Palestinians are justified to hold this viewpoint; after all, their minuscule military capabilities in a besieged and impoverished tiny stretch of land, the Gaza Strip, have managed to push back – or at least neutralize – the massive and superior Israeli military machine.

However, for Palestinians, this is not only about firepower but also about their coveted national unity. Indeed, the Palestinian revolt, which included all Palestinians regardless of their political backgrounds or geographic locations, is fostering a whole new discourse on Palestine – non-factional, assertive and forward-thinking.

The challenge for the Palestinian people is whether they will be able to translate their achievements into an actual political strategy, and finally transition past the stifling, and often tragic, post-Oslo Accords period.

Of course, it will not be so easy.  After all, there are powerful forces that are keenly invested in the status quo. For them, any positive change on the path of Palestinian freedom will certainly lead to political, strategic and economic losses.

The Palestinian Authority, which operates with no democratic mandate, is more aware of its vulnerable position than at any other time in the past. Not only do ordinary Palestinians have no faith in this ‘authority’, but they see it as an obstacle in their path for liberation. It was unsurprising to see PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and many of his corrupt inner circle, riding the wave of Palestinian popular revolt, shifting their language entirely, though fleetingly, from a discourse that was carefully designed to win the approval of ‘donor countries’, to one singing the praises of ‘resistance’ and ‘revolution’.

This corrupt clique is desperate, eager to sustain its privileges and survive at any cost.

If Palestinians carry on with their popular mobilization and upward trajectory, however, Israel is the entity that stands to lose most. A long-term Palestinian popular Intifada, uprising, with specific demands and under a unified national leadership, would represent the greatest threat to Israel’s military occupation and apartheid regime in many years.

The Israeli government, this time under the inexperienced leadership of current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, and his coalition partner, future Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, is clearly unable to articulate a post-Gaza war strategy. If the political raucous and the bizarre power transition from former Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, to Bennett’s coalition is momentarily ignored, it feels as if Netanyahu is still holding sway.

Bennett has, thus far, followed Netanyahu’s playbook on every matter concerning the Palestinians. He, and especially his Defense Minister, Benny Gantz – Netanyahu’s former coalition partner – continue to speak of their military triumph in Gaza and the need to build on this supposed ‘victory’. On June 15, the Israeli army bombed several locations in the besieged Strip and, again, on June 18. A few more bombs, however, are unlikely to change the outcome of the May war.

It is time to convert our “military achievements (to) political gains,” Gantz said on June 20. Easier said than done; as per this logic, Israel has been scoring ‘military achievements’ in Gaza for many years, namely, since its first major war on the Strip in 2008-09. Since then, thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and many more wounded. However, Palestinian resistance continued unabated and zero ‘political gains’ have actually been achieved.

Gantz, like Bennett and Lapid, recognizes that Israel’s strategy in Gaza has been a complete failure. Since their main objective is remaining in power, they are bound to the rules of the old game which were formulated by right-wing politicians and sustained by right-wing extremists. Any deviation from that failed stratagem means a possible collapse of their shaky coalition.

Instead of mapping out a new, realistic strategy, Israel’s new government is busy sending symbolic messages. The first message is to its main target audience, Israel’s right-wing constituency, particularly Netanyahu’s disgruntled supporters, that the new government is equally committed to Israel’s ‘security’, to ensuring a demographic majority in occupied Jerusalem as in the rest of Palestine, and that no Palestinian state will ever be realized.

Another message is to the Palestinians and, by extension, to the whole region whose peoples and governments rallied behind the Palestinian revolt during the May war, that Israel remains a formidable military force, and that the fundamental military equation on the ground remains unaltered.

By continuing its escalation in and around Gaza, its violent provocations in Sheikh Jarrah and the entirety of East Jerusalem, its continued restrictions on Gaza’s urgent need for reconstruction, Bennett’s coalition is engaging in political theater. As long as attention remains fixated on Gaza and Jerusalem, as long as Bennett and Lapid continue to buy time and to distract the Israeli public from an imminent political implosion.

The Palestinians are, once more, proving to be critical players in Israeli politics. After all, it was Palestinian unity and resolve in May that humiliated Netanyahu and emboldened his enemies to finally oust him. Now, the Palestinians could potentially hold the keys to the survival of Bennet’s coalition, especially if they agree to a prisoner exchange – freeing several Israeli soldiers captured by Palestinian groups in Gaza in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held under horrific conditions in Israel.

On the day of the last prisoner exchange, in October 2011, Netanyahu delivered a televised speech, carefully tailored to present himself as Israel’s savior. Bennett and Lapid would relish a similar opportunity.

It behooves Israel’s new leaders to exercise caution in how they proceed from this point on. Palestinians are proving that they are no longer pawns in Israel’s political circus and they, too, can play politics, as the past few weeks have testified.

So far, Bennett has proven to be another Netanyahu. Yet, if Israel’s longest-running prime minister ultimately failed to convince Israelis of the merit of his political doctrine, Bennett’s charade is likely to be exposed much sooner, and the price, this time, is sure to be even heavier.

The post Bennett’s Political Theater: The Decisive Israeli-Palestinian Fight Ahead first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Curb your McCarthyism: an early test for Israel’s new Minister of Education  

These are early days for the self-styled ‘coalition of change’ in Israel, but it has already been presented with significant challenges in the form of the Jerusalem Flag March, the Evyatar outpost, and the Citizenship and Entry law. There is another one just around the corner.

This week, the High Court of Justice informed the new Minister of Education, Yifat Shasha-Biton, that she has three weeks to decide her position regarding one of the last acts of her predecessor, Yoav Gallant of Netanyahu’s government. Before leaving his post, Gallant made a final decision as Education Minister not to award the high-profile Israel Prize in computer science to a professor at the Weizmann Institute, Oded Goldreich.

Initially, Gallant vetoed the award of the prize back in April in the wake of a right-wing group ‘uncovering’ the academic’s alleged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. In a follow-up to the veto, Gallant cast himself in the role of chief prosecutor in an investigation into the granting of the prize and Goldreich was summoned to a hearing whose function was to determine the answers to questions regarding petitions and open letters signed by him, his position regarding BDS and his activities in a group called Academia for Equality.

Professor Goldreich has been clear about his nuanced position regarding sanctions against Israel but former Minister Gallant did not do nuance. For him, the hearing had a straightforward purpose: to examine ‘whether the professor’s current renunciation of the boycott movement is sincere and whether the information he provided to the court and the state in this matter is correct.’ Goldreich’s legal representative confirmed his refusal to cooperate with a process that was ‘blatantly McCarthyist.’

Former Minister Gallant has history. He made headlines earlier this year for ordering the cancellation of a discussion in a school involving Hagai El-Ad, the director of human rights organization B’Tselem which had declared that Israel must now be considered an apartheid state. Gallant’s wider intention was to prohibit schools from inviting representatives of groups that discourage ‘meaningful service in the Israel Defence Forces’ and call Israel ‘false derogatory names.’

As an Israeli politician, Gallant is one of the more enthusiastic when it comes to attempting to shut down voices which are critical of Israeli policy. But with Gallant now sent into opposition, a declaration of a full-blown form of McCarthyism in Israel would be arguably premature. Gallant’s hearing was only a tribute act to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the new Education Minister has a real opportunity to signal a change of culture.

Shasha-Biton is well regarded but it won’t be easy. As a result of the Netanyahu years, there has been a substantial shift to the right in terms of what is acceptable to discuss in the public sphere. Direct censorship is uncommon in Israel but editorial selection, self-censorship and the mediation of Palestinian voices through Israeli journalistic ‘analysis’ result in compliant media organizations that readily provide platforms for far-right settlers, whilst moving down the news agenda anything relating to the daily reality of occupation.

Gallant’s activities were part of a trend that exists beyond the farce of the Israel Prize controversy and his own Orwellian interpretation of the job of Education Minister. Benjamin Netanyahu can be proud that, although dethroned, he bestowed upon the nation a significant legacy in the form of the delegitimization of liberal opinion. He achieved a toxification of the adjective ‘left-wing’ and his constant rhetoric referring to the dangers of the left was designed to stoke fear. His language trickled down to the street, tacitly encouraging the harassment of those who don’t conform, those considered traitors – even on the right. These are, of course, the problems of the privileged. In this land, it is still much harder to be a Palestinian than a progressive Israeli.

That said, beyond the influence of those in government, there is a layer of extra-parliamentary activity contributing to a climate of fear and intimidation and, yes, a nascent form of McCarthyism. It is worth taking stock here of some of the right-wing non-governmental organizations – sometimes described as ‘watchdogs’ or ‘think-tanks’ – which are active in the business of monitoring the left.

One of these, ‘grassroots Zionist movement’ Im Tirzu, claims to have played a direct role in the lobbying of Gallant in the case of Professor Goldreich. Im Tirzu is present on the usual range of platforms, but the website is particularly informative. The organization is dedicated to defending Zionism and exposing ‘widespread efforts to delegitimize Israel from within, whether it is in the form of BDS or subverting sovereign policies.’ A key activity is the group’s ‘Know the Anti-Israeli Professor’ project which produces and publishes files on academics worldwide, including one dedicated to Goldreich. In my book, if it looks like a blacklist and reads like one, then it probably is one.

Im Tirzu is not the only organization involved in monitoring individuals and the left in a broader sense and with challenging anything perceived as critical. Israel Academia Monitor is concerned with the activities of academics who ‘propound…false arguments that defame Israel.’ NGO Monitor focuses on ‘the anti-Israeli propaganda machine’ and the activities of NGOs such as B’Tselem ‘that claim to promote human rights.’ Honest Reporting is a website which exists to ‘combat ideological prejudice: in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.’ Ad Kan is a group specializing in ‘undercover work’ and infiltration, investigating ‘domestic organizations that discredit’ the name of the State of Israel.

These NGOs, together with the current squatter of Balfour and his lapdogs like Gallant, are part of an ideological front which has an interest in engendering an atmosphere of national paranoia. This has not disappeared with the formation of a new government. Highly political NGOs could be argued to be part and parcel of debate in a democratic society, but Israel is not a normal country after 50 plus years of a corrupting occupation, as ‘anti-Zionist’ NGOs such as B’Tselem and Yesh Din have pointed out. The wider culture of intimidation and blacklisting spawned by Netanyahu and these NGOs and the increasingly narrow boundaries of public discourse, reflect this fact.

It is not unpatriotic to be concerned about issues such as the occupation, and Professor Oded Goldreich has resisted the calls for public ‘renunciation’ in a show trial. Shasha-Biton has a decision to make which goes beyond the difference between her and Gallant, the new government and the old. At stake is not the integrity of the Israel Prize but the ability to express, or even hold, an oppositional opinion in the public arena in Israel. The likes of Gallant (and indeed Netanyahu, as we have learned) are ultimately accountable at the ballot box, but increasingly influential self-appointed watchdogs like Im Tirzu and Ad Kan operate freely. Unless there is an effort to transform the culture, they will continue to set the agenda through activities which identify, intimidate, and render vulnerable, those who think differently.

The post Curb your McCarthyism: an early test for Israel’s new Minister of Education   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Putting Lipstick on a Pig”: Why Washington is Fawning over Israel’s New Government

When former US President Barack Obama used an old cliché to denigrate his political opponent, the late US Senator, John McCain, he triggered a political controversy lasting several days.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” Obama said at a campaign event in 2008. The maxim indicates that superficial changes have no bearings on outcomes and that modifying our facade does not alter who we really are.

American politicians are an authority on the subject. They are experts on artificial, rhetorical and, ultimately, shallow change. Once again, Washington’s political make-up artists are busy at work.

Since the dramatic ousting of his former mentor, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is now being presented as the alternative to Netanyahu’s right-wing, chauvinistic and rowdy political style. However, for this to happen, more makeup is required.

Much can be said about Bennett and his party of ultra-nationalists and right-wing extremists, Yamina.

Yamina is a decidedly racist political party. Their meager seven seats at the Israeli Knesset (parliament) were garnered through their constant appeal to the most violent and racist constituencies in Israel, whose oft-repeated chant “Death to the Arabs” is a daily reminder of their sinister political discourse.

Bennett is often cited for this famous statement from 2013: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that”. Yet, there is more to the man’s politics than such an abhorrent declaration. Since Israeli leaders do not perceive any form of Palestinian resistance to be legitimate and, in their eyes, Palestinians are either terrorists or potential terrorists, consider the following ‘solution’ offered by Bennett to deal with the problem of ‘Palestinian terrorism’.

As Israel’s Minister of Education in 2015, Bennett proposed the building of a ‘deterrence’ wall, one which “demands that incitement be ended and that terrorists are shot dead before they have a chance to hurt innocent people. It means that a terrorist who is shot will be dead and never walk again. It means that Israel remains in control of its homeland forever, unmoved by terrorism.”

So why does the Biden Administration want us to believe that Bennett is different?

Immediately following his inauguration, President Joe Biden was the first world leader to call and congratulate Bennett on the new post. This act carries a deeper symbolic meaning when compared to the fact that it took Biden a whole three long weeks to phone Netanyahu, following the former’s own inauguration to the White House in January.

A close aide to Israel’s new prime minister explained the nature of the amiable phone conversation between Biden and Bennett in an interview with the Axios website. “The White House wants to have close and regular consultation and engagement with Bennett and his team based on candid exchange of views, respect for differences, a desire to work toward stability and security,” the Israeli source was quoted as saying.

Aside from the emphasis on candor and ‘respect’ with reference to the US-Israel future relationship, there has also been an equal and constant emphasis on the need for privacy in dealing with differences between the two countries. “Unlike its predecessor,” the Times of Israel reported with reference to Netanyahu, the Bennet government “would voice its criticism (of Washington) in private.” For months, the US had pleaded with Netanyahu to tone down his attacks on Washington, to no avail.

Now that Bennett is in charge, he is clearly ready to play along. And why should he not? He is eager to present himself as the antithesis of Netanyahu. By making such a ‘concession’, he would surely be expecting Washington to reciprocate. For Bennett, it is a win-win.

Bennett understands that US politics towards Israel is not determined by the attitude of Israeli leaders. For example, in comments made last May, Biden laid to rest any suggestion that the US will hold Israel accountable during his term in power. There is “no shift in my commitment, commitment to the security of Israel. Period. No shift, not at all”. If this solid pledge was made when boisterous Netanyahu was still in power, no change whatsoever should be expected, now that the supposedly agreeable Bennett is Israel’s new prime minister.

American politicians are fawning over Bennett and his main coalition partner and future Prime Minister, Yair Lapid. They are eager to turn a new page, and move forward past Netanyahu’s tumultuous years. Bennett is expected to visit the US in July, while Lapid has already been invited to visit Washington by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Meanwhile, a large Israeli military delegation headed by Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Aviv Kohavi, should already be in the US to discuss various subjects, including Iran, Hezbollah and to ‘negotiate’ yet more US gifts to Israel in the form of military hardware.

The US is keen on rebranding its relationship with Israel, not because Israel has changed, but because Washington has suffered repeated humiliation at the hands of ousted Netanyahu. Under Netanyahu, the US found itself often accused of not doing enough for Israel. Even Obama’s $3.8 billion annual military aid package did not spare him the repeated Israeli verbal assaults. Biden is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid that sordid scenario.

Biden’s doctrine on Israel and Palestine is simple. He does not want to make an actual commitment to relaunching the peace process, for example, nor does he want to be placed in a position where he is forced to make demands from, let alone put ‘pressure’ on Israel. Since Biden has little or no expectations from Israel, Bennett seems willing to play the role of the accommodating and sensible politician. He would be foolish not to do so, for, per his own political ‘vision’, he merely wants to manage the conflict and prolong the occupation while, like his predecessor, continue to promote his own version of the deceptive notion of ‘economic peace’.

While the Americans and the Israelis are busy engaging in the ever-familiar ritual of ‘putting lipstick on a pig’, the Palestinians remain irrelevant in all of this, as their political aspirations continue to be discounted, and their freedom delayed.

The post “Putting Lipstick on a Pig”: Why Washington is Fawning over Israel’s New Government first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On Trumpism and Netanyahu-ism: How Benjamin Netanyahu Won America and Lost Israel 

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is as much American as he is Israeli. While other Israeli leaders have made their strong relationship with Washington a cornerstone in their politics, Netanyahu’s political style was essentially American from the start.

Netanyahu spent many of his formative years in the United States. He lived in Philadelphia as a child, graduated from Cheltenham High School and earned a degree in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. He then opted to live in the US, not Israel, when he joined the Boston Consulting Group.

Presumably for familial reasons, namely the death of his brother Yonatan, Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1978 to head the ‘Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute’. This did not last for long. He returned to the US to serve as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988. At the time, Israel was ruled by a coalition government, which saw the rotation of two different prime ministers, Labor Party leader, Shimon Peres and Likud leader, Yitzhak Shamir.

Then, terms like ‘Labor’ and ‘Likud’ meant very little to most American politicians. The US Congress was, seemingly, in love with Israel. For them, Israeli politics was a mere internal matter. Things have changed in the following years, in which Netanyahu played a major role.

Even in the last three decades when Netanyahu became more committed to Israeli politics, he remained, at heart, American. His relationship with US elites was different from that of previous Israeli leaders. Not only were his political ideas and intellect molded in the US, he also managed to generate a unique political brand of pro-Israel solidarity among Americans. In the US, Netanyahu is a household name.

One of the successes attributed to Netanyahu’s approach to American politics was the formation of deep and permanent ties with the country’s burgeoning Christian fundamentalist groups. These groups, such as John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, used the support for Israel – based on messianic and biblical prophecies – as a point of unity and a stepping stone into the world of politics. Israel’s Netanyahu used them as reliable allies who, eventually, made up for the growing lack of enthusiasm for Israel among liberal and progressive circles across the US.

The Israel-evangelical connection may have seemed, at the time, a masterful stroke that could be attributed to the political ‘genius’ of Netanyahu. Indeed, it looked as if Netanyahu had guaranteed American loyalty to Israel indefinitely. This assertion was demonstrated repeatedly, especially as the fundamentalists came to Israel’s rescue whenever the latter engaged in war or faced any threat, whether imagined or fabricated.

As American politics shifted towards more populist, demagogic and conservative ideologies, the evangelicals moved closer to the centers of power in Capitol Hill. Note how Tea-party conservatism, one of the early sparks of the chaotic Trumpism that followed, was purportedly madly in love with Israel. The once marginal political camps, whose political discourses are driven by a strange amalgamation of prophecies and realpolitik, eventually became the ‘base’ of US President Donald Trump. Trump had no other option but to make the support for Israel a core value to his political campaign. His base would have never accepted any alternative.

A prevailing argument often suggests that Netanyahu’s mortal error was making Israel a domestic American issue. Whereas the Republicans support Israel – thanks to their massive evangelical constituency – the Democrats have slowly turned against Israel, an unprecedented phenomenon that only existed under Netanyahu. While this is true, it is also misleading, as it suggests that Netanyahu simply miscalculated. But he did not. In fact, Netanyahu has fostered a strong relationship with the various evangelical groups, long before Trump pondered the possibility of moving to the White House. Netanyahu simply wanted to change the center of gravity of the US relationship with Israel, which he accomplished.

For Netanyahu, the support of the American conservative camp was not a mere strategy to simply garner support for Israel, but an ideologically motivated choice, linking Netanyahu’s own beliefs to American politics using the Christian fundamentalists as a vehicle. This assertion can be demonstrated in a recent headline from The Times of Israel: “Top evangelical leader warns: Israel could lose our support if Netanyahu ousted.”

This ‘top evangelical leader’ is Mike Evans who, from Jerusalem, declared that “Bibi Netanyahu is the only man in the world that unites evangelicals.” Evans vowed to take his 77 million followers to the opposition of any Israeli government without Netanyahu. Much can be gleaned from this but, most importantly, US evangelicals consider themselves fundamental to Israeli politics, their support for Israel being conditioned on Netanyahu’s centrality in that very Israeli body politic.

In recent weeks, many comparisons between Netanyahu and Trump began surfacing. These comparisons are apt, but the issue is slightly more complex than merely comparing political styles, selective discourses and personas. Actually, both Trumpism and Netanyahu’s brand of Likudism – call it Netanyahu-ism – have successfully merged US and Israeli politics in a way that is almost impossible to disentangle. This shall continue to prove costly for Israel, as the evangelical and Republican support for Israel is clearly conditioned on the latter’s ability to serve the US conservative political – let alone spiritual – agenda.

Similarities between Trump and Netanyahu are obvious but they are also rather superficial. Both are narcissistic politicians, who are willing to destabilize their own countries to remain in power, as if they both live by the French maxim, Après moi, le déluge – “After me, the flood”. More, both railed against the elites, and placed fringe political trends – often marred by chauvinistic and fascist political views – at center stage. They both spoke of treason and fraud, played the role of the victim, posed as the only possible saviors, and so on.

But popular political trends of this nature cannot be wholly associated with individuals. Indeed, it was Trump and Netanyahu who tapped into, and exploited, existing political phenomena which, arguably, would have taken place with or without them. The painful truth is that Trumpism will survive long after Trump is gone and Netanyahu-ism has likely changed the face of Israel, regardless of Netanyahu’s next step.

Whatever that next step may be, it will surely be situated in the same familiar base of Netanyahu’s angry army of Israeli right-wing zealots and Christian fundamentalists in the US and elsewhere.

The post On Trumpism and Netanyahu-ism: How Benjamin Netanyahu Won America and Lost Israel  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers” 

We are led to believe that history is being made in Israel following the formation of an ideologically diverse government coalition which, for the first time, includes an Arab party, Ra’am, or the United Arab List.

If we are to accept this logic, the leader of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, is a mover and shaker of history, the same way that Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina Party, and Yair Lapid, the supposed ‘centrist’ of Yesh Atid, are also history makers. How bizarre!

Sensational media headlines and hyperboles aside, Israel’s new government was a desperate attempt by Israeli politicians to dislodge Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from power. While Lapid is fairly new to Israel’s contentious politics, Bennett and Abbas are opportunists, par excellence.

Lapid is a former TV anchorman. Despite his claims to centrist ideologies, his political views are as ‘right’ as they get. The problem is that such characters as Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, and Netanyahu, of course, among others, have relocated the center of Israel’s political spectrum further to the right, to the point that the right became the center and the ultra-right became the right. This is how Israel’s neofascist and extremist politicians managed to become kingmakers in Israel’s politics. Bennett, for example, who in 2013 bragged about “killing lots of Arabs” in his life, is set to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

It is in this strange context that we must understand Mansour Abbas’ position. His meager four seats at the Israeli Knesset made his party critical in forming the coalition that has been purposely created to oust Netanyahu. Ra’am does not represent Israel’s Palestinian Arab communities and, by joining the government, Abbas is certainly not making history in terms of finding common ground between Arabs and Jews in a country that is rightly recognized by Israeli and international human rights groups as an apartheid state.

On the contrary, Abbas is moving against the current of history. At a time that Palestinians throughout historic Palestine – the occupied Palestinian territories and today’s Israel – are finally unifying around a common national narrative, Abbas is insisting on redefining the Palestinian agenda merely to secure a position for himself in Israeli politics – thus, supposedly ‘making history.’

Even before Abbas shook hands with Bennett and other Israeli extremists who advocate the killing of Palestinians as a matter of course, he made it clear that he was willing to join a Netanyahu-led government. This is one of the reasons behind the splintering of the once unified Arab political coalition, known as the Joint List.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu in February, Abbas justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone”,  and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu was largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Palestinian communities seemed entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who was inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance, even if it included Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors. Sadly, though not surprisingly, this has proved to be the case.

Abbas’ position became impossible to sustain in May during the well-coordinated Israeli war in Gaza and the racist attacks on Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and throughout Israel. Even then, when Palestinians were finally able to articulate a common narrative linking the occupation, siege, racism and apartheid in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel together, Abbas insisted on developing a unique position that would allow him to sustain his chances of achieving power at any cost.

Although it was the Palestinian Arab communities that were under systematic attacks carried out by Israeli Jewish mobs and police, Abbas called on his community to “be responsible and behave wisely,” and to “maintain public order and keep the law.” He even parroted similar lines used by right-wing Israeli Jewish politicians, as he claimed that “peaceful popular protests” by Palestinian communities inside Israel have turned “confrontational,” thus creating a moral equilibrium where the victims of racism somehow became responsible for their own plight.

Abbas’ position has not changed since the signing of the coalition deal on June 2. His political narrative is almost apolitical as he insists on reducing the national struggle of the Palestinian people to the mere need for economic development – not fundamentally different from Netanyahu’s own ‘economic peace’ proposal in the past. Worse, Abbas intentionally delinks the state of poverty and under-development in Palestinian communities from state-championed racial discrimination, which constantly underfunds Arab communities while spending exuberant amounts of funds on illegal Jewish settlements that are built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands.

“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serve the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society — planning, the housing crisis and, of course, fighting violence and organized crime,” Abbas said triumphantly on June 2, as if the rooted inequality, including communal violence and organized crime, are not direct results of racism, socio-economic inequality and political alienation and marginalization.

No history has been made by Abbas. He is but an example of the self-serving politician and a direct expression of the endemic disunity in the Palestinian Arab body politic inside Israel.

Sadly, the unprecedented success of the Arab Joint List following the March 2020 elections has now culminated in a tragic end, where the likes of Abbas become the unwelcomed ‘representative’ of a politically conscious and awakened community.

In truth, Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian Arab politician who is willing to find common ground with extremists and proud ‘Arab killers’, only represents himself. The future will attest to this claim.

The post Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers”  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel

How did Benjamin Netanyahu manage to serve as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister? With a total of 15 years in office, Netanyahu surpassed the 12-year mandate of Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The answer to this question will become particularly critical for future Israeli leaders who hope to emulate Netanyahu’s legacy, now that his historic leadership is likely to end.

Netanyahu’s ‘achievements’ for Israel cannot be judged according to the same criteria as that of Ben Gurion. Both were staunch Zionist ideologues and savvy politicians. Unlike Ben Gurion, though, Netanyahu did not lead a so-called ‘war of independence’, merging militias into an army and carefully constructing a ‘national narrative’ that helped Israel justify its numerous crimes against the indigenous Palestinians, at least in the eyes of Israel and its supporters.

The cliched explanation of Netanyahu’s success in politics is that he is a ‘survivor’, a hustler, a fox or, at best, a political genius. However, there is more to Netanyahu than mere soundbites. Unlike other right-wing politicians around the world, Netanyahu did not simply exploit or ride the wave of an existing populist movement. Instead, he was the main architect of the current version of Israel’s right-wing politics. If Ben Gurion was the founding father of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu is the founding father of the new Israel in 1996. While Ben Gurion and his disciples used ethnic cleansing, colonization and illegal settlement construction for strategic and military reasons, Netanyahu, while carrying on with the same practices, changed the narrative altogether.

For Netanyahu, the biblical version of Israel was far more convincing than secular Zionist ideology of yesteryears. By changing the narrative, Netanyahu managed to redefine the support for Israel around the world, bringing together right-wing religious zealots, chauvinistic, Islamophobic, far-right and ultra-nationalist parties in the US and elsewhere.

Netanyahu’s success in rebranding the centrality of the idea of Israel in the minds of its traditional supporters was not a mere political strategy. He also shifted the balance of power in Israel by making Jewish extremists and illegal settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories his core constituency. Subsequently, he reinvented Israeli conservative politics altogether.

He also trained an entire generation of Israeli right-wing, far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians, giving rise to such unruly characters such as former Defense Minister and the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, and former Defense Minister, and Netanyahu’s likely replacement, Naftali Bennett.

Indeed, a whole new generation of Israelis grew up watching Netanyahu take the right-wing camp from one success to another. For them, he is the savior. His hate-filled rallies and anti-peace rhetoric in the mid-1990s galvanized Jewish extremists, one of whom killed Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s former Prime Minister who engaged the Palestinian leadership through the ‘peace process’ and, ultimately, signed the Oslo Accords.

On Rabin’s death in November 1995, Israel’s political ‘left’ was devastated by right-wing populism championed by its new charismatic leader, Netanyahu, who, merely a few months later, became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister.

Despite the fact that, historically, Israeli politics is defined by its ever-changing dynamics, Netanyahu has helped the right prolong its dominance, completely eclipsing the once-hegemonic Labor Party. This is why the right loves Netanyahu. Under his reign, illegal Jewish colonies expanded unprecedentedly, and any possibility, however meager, of a two-state solution has been forever buried.

Additionally, Netanyahu changed the relationship between the US and Israel, where the latter was no longer a ‘client regime’ – not that it ever was in the strict definition of the term – but one that holds much sway over the US Congress and the White House.

Every attempt by Israel’s political elites to dislodge Netanyahu from power has failed. No coalition was powerful enough; no election outcome was decisive enough and no one was successful enough in convincing Israeli society that he could do more for them than Netanyahu has. Even when Gideon Sa’ar from Netanyahu’s own Likud party tried to stage his own coup against Netanyahu, he lost the vote and the support of the Likudists, later to be ostracized altogether.

Sa’ar later founded his own party, New Hope, continuing with the desperate attempt to oust the seemingly unconquerable Netanyahu. Four general elections within only two years still failed to push Netanyahu out. Every possible mathematical equation to unify various coalitions, all united by the single aim of defeating Netanyahu, has also failed. Each time, Netanyahu came back, with greater resolve to hang on to his seat, challenging contenders within his own party as well as his enemies from without. Even Israel’s court system, which is currently trying Netanyahu for corruption, was not powerful enough to compel disgraced Netanyahu to resign.

Until May of this year, Palestinians seemed to be marginal, if at all relevant to this conversation. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation looked as if they were mollified, thanks to Israeli violence and Palestinian Authority acquiescence. Palestinians in Gaza, despite occasional displays of defiance, were battling a 15-year-long Israeli siege. Palestinian communities inside Israel seemed alien to any political conversation pertaining to the struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

All of these illusions were dispelled when Gaza rose in solidarity with a small Palestinian community in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Their resistance ignited a torrent of events that, within days, unified all Palestinians, everywhere. Consequently, the popular Palestinian revolt has shifted the discourse in favor of Palestinians and against the Israeli occupation.

Perfectly depicting the significance of that moment, the Financial Times newspaper wrote, “The ferocity of the Palestinian anger caught Israel by surprise.” Netanyahu, whose extremist goons were unleashed against Palestinians everywhere, similar to his army being unleashed against besieged Gaza, found himself at an unprecedented disadvantage. It took only 11 days of war to shatter Israel’s sense of ‘security’, expose its sham democracy and spoil its image around the world.

The once untouchable Netanyahu became the mockery of Israeli politics. His conduct in Gaza was described by leading Israeli politicians as “embarrassing”, a defeat and a “surrender”.

Netanyahu struggled to redeem his image. It was too late. As strange as this may sound, it was not Bennett or Lieberman who finally dethroned the “King of Israel’, but the Palestinians themselves.

The post On the Politics of Victory and Defeat: How Gaza Dethroned the King of Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians

Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to shut down all use of the popular video-sharing app TikTok in Israel last month.

The attempt to censor TikTok, details of which emerged last weekend, is one of a number of reported attempts by Israel to control social media content during last month’s military assault on the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu tried to impose the blackout as Israel faced an international social media outcry over its 11-day attack on Gaza, which killed more than 250 Palestinians, and the violent repression by Israeli police of Palestinian protests in occupied East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

Government law officers are understood to have resisted the move.

Benny Gantz, the defense minister, also lobbied senior officials at Facebook and TikTok to crack down on posts critical of Israel, labelling them incitement and support for terror.

The tech giants responded by agreeing to act “quickly and effectively,” according to a statement from Gantz’s office.

The revelations follow widespread reports last month that social media corporations regularly removed posts that referred to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel recently stepped up moves to force out Palestinian families and replace them with Jewish settlers.

Social media users and digital rights organizations also reported censorship of posts about the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Threats of expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah and an invasion by Israeli soldiers of al-Aqsa were the main triggers causing Hamas to fire rockets into Israel last month. Israel responded by destroying swaths of Gaza.

Shadowy cyber unit

Israel’s success in manipulating social media last month follows warnings from Israeli human rights groups about the longer-term threat of Israeli censorship faced by Palestinians.

Adalah, a legal rights group in Israel, said a shadowy Israeli government “cyber unit” – which works hand in hand with tech giants like Facebook and Twitter – had been given “a blank check” to police social media and muzzle online dissent.

Israel’s supreme court ruled in April that the cyber unit could continue its often secretive operations from inside the justice ministry, arguing that its work contributed to national security.

Since 2016, the cyber unit has removed many tens – and more likely hundreds – of thousands of Palestinian social media posts in collaboration with global tech corporations.

The posts are erased without any legal oversight and usually without notifying users, Adalah pointed out. In many cases, users’ accounts are suspended or removed entirely, or access to whole websites blocked.

The vast bulk of those being silenced are Palestinians – either those under a belligerent Israeli occupation or those who live inside Israel with degraded citizenship.

The cyber unit was established in late 2015, part of a raft of measures by Israel purportedly intended both to identify “terrorists” before they strike and to curb what Israel describes as “incitement”.

Given the opaque nature of the process, it is impossible to know what content is being taken down, Rabea Eghbariah, one of the Adalah lawyers who filed a petition against the unit to Israel’s high court, told The Electronic Intifada.

Examples in the Israeli media, however, suggest that Israel regularly targets posts critical of Israel’s belligerent occupation or express solidarity with Palestinians.

The court petition to end the cyber unit’s work was filed in November 2019 by Adalah, which represents 1.8 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of Israel’s population.

According to Adalah, the unit’s methods violate “the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and due process”.

In approving those methods, Adalah observed, the courts had conferred on the Israeli state the “unchecked” power “to govern online speech” and had allowed private tech companies to usurp control of the judicial process.

Eghbariah said Palestinians could rarely challenge their silencing on social media. The tech companies do not reveal when Israel is behind the censorship or what “terms of service” have been violated.

In court, Israeli officials defended their sweeping suppression of online content by arguing that ultimately social media companies like Google and Facebook were free to decide whether to accede to its requests.

News sites shuttered

However, Israeli officials have previously boasted that the tech giants almost always agree to remove whatever content Israel demands. In 2016, the justice ministry reported that Facebook and Google were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content” – almost all of it Palestinian.

Eghbariah told The Electronic Intifada that some 80 percent of Israel’s referrals for removing content relate to Facebook and its other major platform, Instagram, both of which are heavily used by Palestinians.

The next most targeted site was YouTube, where Palestinians often post videos showing attacks by Jewish settlers illegally taking over Palestinian land or Israeli soldiers invading Palestinian communities.

The accounts of Palestinian news agencies and journalists have also been repeatedly shut down.

Eghbariah noted that submissions by Israel’s cyber unit to social media platforms had skyrocketed since it was set up. In 2019, the last year for which there are figures, some 19,600 requests to remove content were submitted – an eightfold increase on three years earlier.

He added that each referral to a tech company could relate to tens or hundreds of posts, and that the removal of a whole website typically counted as a single request.

“What’s noticeable is the increasing cooperation rate of the social media platforms,” he said. “In 2016, three quarters of Israeli requests were complied with. By 2019 that had risen to 90 per cent.”

Distinctions blurred

Human Rights Watch is among those who have criticized Israel for blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism made by Palestinians and incitement.

By contrast, the Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh has noted, Israel rarely takes action against Israeli Jews, even though they are responsible for posting racist or inciteful material roughly every minute.

And the politicized nature of Israel’s crackdown on social media is often hard to disguise.

In December 2017, Nariman Tamimi was detained for incitement.

She had streamed a video on Facebook of her then 16-year-old daughter, Ahed, confronting and slapping an Israeli soldier who was invading their home in the occupied West Bank moments after his unit shot her cousin.

Dareen Tatour, a poet from the town of Reine, next to Nazareth, spent years either in jail or under strict house arrest for supposedly glorifying violence in a poem.

Experts said the lines had been misunderstood by Israel’s security services.

Indeed, errors in translations from Arabic have been regularly evident. In a case in October 2017, a Palestinian laborer was arrested for supposedly threatening a terrorist attack on Facebook before it was discovered that the Arabic expression he used meant “good morning.”

In 2019, 7amleh reported that fears over this online crackdown had left two-thirds of Palestinians worried about expressing their political views on social media.

Normalizing censorship

Other governments may look to the Israeli court’s decision in April as further encouragement to adopt a more aggressive role in censoring online content.

Eghbariah said that the UK, France and the European Union already had their own cyber referral units, although unlike Israel’s those units were explicitly authorized by legislation.

In a sign that Israel’s politicized approach to crushing online dissent could become normalized worldwide, an architect of Israel’s cyber unit was appointed to Facebook’s new oversight board last year. Emi Palmor was the justice ministry’s director-general at the time the unit was established.

The board is supposed to oversee what content should be allowed on Facebook and Instagram.

The Israeli cyber unit’s increasing efforts to remove content from Palestinians, labelling it “terrorism,” “disinformation” or “incitement,” are the latest stage in more than a decade of moves by Israel to control and manipulate its image online as social media has become more central in most people’s lives.

Israel stepped up its digital activities after its large-scale attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed large numbers of civilians, including children, and shocked much of the world.

During the attack, the Israeli army established its own Youtube channel, the first army to do so, offering a model that the US army quickly sought to emulate.

At the same time tech-savvy youngsters were recruited to pose as ordinary web-surfers as they secretly promoted foreign ministry talking-points.

Several “cyber warrior” teams established in the following years, including one that recruited former officers from Israel’s military spying unit 8200.

Erased from maps

Since then, Israel has expanded its digital operations, not only promoting hasbara (propaganda) online but intensifying its silencing of Palestinians.

At a conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2018, local representatives for Google and Facebook conceded that the companies’ priority was to avoid upsetting powerful governments like Israel’s that could tighten regulation or constrain their commercial activities.

The tech giants are also unlikely to be neutral between the claims of the Israeli state and ordinary Palestinians when they are so reliant on Israel’s hi-tech sector. Technologies developed using the West Bank and Gaza as a testing-bed have been eagerly bought up by these global corporations.

Incensed by Facebook’s censorship, a Palestinian campaign of online protests was launched in 2018 under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine.

In Gaza, demonstrators have accused the company of being “another face of occupation.”

Google and Apple have also faced a wave of criticism for colluding in Israel’s policy seeking to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. The tech companies have failed to identify many Palestinian villages in the West Bank on their online maps and GPS services while highlighting illegal Jewish settlements.

They have also refused to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine,” in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations, subordinating these areas under the title “Israel.”

Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

• First published in Electronic Intifada

The post Tech giants help Israel muzzle Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.