- The Guardian, May 7, 2009. Copyright © Steve Bell 2008
Forty years ago, I was enraptured by Israel’s courageous sense of mission. For me today, as for many, that idealism has palled
I first visited Israel in 1969. It was a time when much of the western world was still passionately enthused about the country’s triumph in the 1967 six-day war. President Nasser had for years promised to sweep the Israelis into the sea. Instead, the tiny Jewish state, less than 20 years old, had engaged the armies of three Arab nations, and crushingly defeated them all. The Israelis successively smashed through Nasser’s divisions on the western front, scaled and seized the Golan Heights, and snatched east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the face of Hussein’s highly capable Jordanian army. Sinai was left strewn with the boots of fleeing Egyptians. The Israeli victory was an awesome display of command boldness, operational competence and human endeavour.
There was a euphoria in Israel in those days, which many visitors shared. We watched Jews from all over the world gathering to pray at the Wailing Wall for the first time in almost 2,000 years; Israelis of all ages revelling in the sensation of being able to work the kibbutzim of the north free from Syrian shells. From inhabiting one of the most claustrophobic places in the world, suddenly they found themselves free to roam miles across Sinai on a weekend. The soldiers of the Israeli army, careerists, conscripts and reservists alike, walked 10ft tall – the image of an exulting soldier made it on to the cover of Life magazine. They had shown themselves one of the greatest fighting forces of history, expunging almost at a stroke the memory of Jewish impotence in the face of centuries of persecution, of six million being herded helpless into cattle trucks for the death camps.
In the years that followed, I gazed across the Suez Canal during the artillery bombardments of the 1970 war of attrition with Egypt. I was a correspondent there in October 1973, during the Yom Kippur war. It was an extraordinarily moving spectacle, to behold the people of Israel rallying to meet what they perceived as a threat to their national survival. One morning I stood on the Golan Heights and watched Israeli tanks duelling with the Syrians, amid pillars of smoke and flame. A few nights later I bivouacked in the Sinai passes, talking for hours under the stars to Israeli reservists about their hopes and fears. With a colleague from the Financial Times, having thinly disguised ourselves as Israeli soldiers, we made an illicit night crossing of the Suez canal, to report Ariel Sharon’s stunning encirclement operation which trapped the Egyptian army on the east bank. In those days I loved those people, and boundlessly admired their achievement. I wrote in one of my less temperate dispatches, expressing faith in Israel as a bastion of western civilization in the Middle East: “These last three weeks, I am proud to have shared the Israelis’ camp fires in Sinai. They are a very great people who three weeks ago came closer to destruction than blind Europe seems willing to recognise.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests. Obama, in a letter to Congress notifying it of his decision, accused Damascus of “supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.” “For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress. Renewal of the sanctions is required each year by Congress. The announcement came following the visit of two U.S. envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties. The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system. While the United States has made clear it wants better relations with Syria, a nation it has long accused of supporting terrorism, the renewal of sanctions shows Washington is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement in relations.
Thank you, O’Bomber, for punishing the victims of occupation, rather than those who perpetrate war! This will make you supporters really happy... Below you can also read about the real background for this announcement:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights. “Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu said during a briefing he gave to the reporters. His comments were published Friday on several Russian-language Israeli Web sites. A week-and-a-half out from Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to Washington, the prime minister stressed that he is ready to stand up to U.S. President Barack Obama and that he would not give up on matters that in his opinion are critical to Israel’s security.
Netanyahu said that he intends to emphasize to Obama the need to deal with Iran and its “nuclear program, which is a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.”
“If Iran turns into a nuclear power they will force all Arab states to ally with it, and the extreme Iranian regime that revealed its plan to eliminate Israel will not allow Arab states to normalize relations with Israel,” Netanyahu said. Netanyahu also told the reporters that he would not present preconditions for negotiations with the Palestinians and would not accept preconditions from them.
The UN has accused Israel of restricting development of the Bethlehem region in the West Bank.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said just 13% of land around Bethlehem was open for use by the Palestinian population. It said the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ was hemmed in by Israeli settlements and military zones as well as Israel’s West Bank barrier.
An Israeli foreign ministry official said the issue was beyond Ocha’s remit. Next week, Pope Benedict is due to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem , a Palestinian governorate which is home to 175,000 inhabitants, including many Christians. Two-thirds of the governorate’s 660 sq km (255 sq miles) has been under Israeli control and about 86,000 Israelis live in settlements and outposts in the governorate, Ocha says. Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war and its settlement activity is regarded as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
“Israeli measures have radically reduced the space available to the inhabitants of Bethlehem, compromising the future economic and social development of the governorate,” the Ocha report says. The report says that in addition to the land put under Israeli control under past interim agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), 20% of the remainder is an Israeli-controlled “nature reserve”. Meanwhile, the West Bank barrier cuts through Bethlehem’s western edges blocking off grazing and agricultural land, the report says. “As a result, Bethlehem’s potential for residential and industrial expansion and development has been reduced, as well as its access to natural resources,” the report said. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out Palestinian attackers, including suicide bombers. Palestinians call it a land grab since it juts into the West Bank. Yigal Palmor of the Israeli foreign ministry said he had not seen the report but accused past reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of containing “distorted information”.
Separately, information released by an Israeli anti-settlement group, Yesh Din, said settlement activity in the West Bank had been accelerating at the fastest rate since 2003. It cited more than 20 cases of new Israeli building on occupied territory since January, on both sides of the barrier, including a number of outposts built without Israeli permits. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised the previous US administration that he would evacuate all unauthorised outposts built after March 2001, but critics say evacuations are carried out intermittently and without rigour. The international peace plan known as the road map called on Israel to halt all construction in the settlements, although observers say construction has never ceased. Israel says it is not building new settlements, but claims the right to foster “natural growth” within the confines of existing communities.
If the UN fails to further investigate crimes committed during the conflict it will ensure stalemate, and more suffering for civilians
The Israeli government and its supporters have lashed out at the report of the UN board of inquiry into Israeli attacks on UN installations during Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza. The report, they say, is biased, tendentious and inaccurate. According to Robbie Sabel, writing in Comment is Free, the “unbalanced report” does “little to bring understanding or justice to the conflict in Gaza”.
The full report has not been published, but there’s little in the summary that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon sent to the security council on Tuesday to support such claims. On the contrary, it provides careful but compelling evidence that Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) violated the laws of war during their military operations around UN installations in Gaza.
According to the summary, the board of inquiry concluded that “IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence and recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property”. The board also holds “Hamas or another Palestinian actor” responsible for one attack on a UN installation – a World Food Progamme warehouse hit by a Qassam rocket.
The terms of reference of the UN inquiry were extremely narrow. Its job was to look at attacks on eight UN installations and one UN convoy during the period of Israel’s military offensive. As far as one can tell from the summary, the board has been meticulous in sticking to these terms of reference.
However, the conclusions of the inquiry, as represented in the summary (which, it should be noted, was not written by those who wrote the full report), raise broader questions about the use of force by the IDF during the conflict. It appears the authors of the UN report felt these questions should not be ducked. The summary notes that the board of inquiry was “deeply conscious” that the attacks on UN installations investigated in its report “are among many incidents during Operation Cast Lead involving civilian victims”.
The board therefore recommended that “these incidents should be investigated as part of an impartial inquiry, mandated and adequately resourced, to investigate violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza and southern Israel by the IDF and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants”.
Inquiry finds Israel responsible for deaths, injuries and damage to UN buildings
- A fire at the UN building in Gaza City after Israeli strikes Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty
A UN inquiry accused the Israeli military today of “negligence or recklessness” in its conduct of the war in Gaza. The summary of the UN report, commissioned by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, censured the Israeli government for causing death, injuries and damage to UN property in seven incidents involving action by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). It said: “The board concluded that IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” However, in a blow to human rights campaigners, Ban said there would be no further investigation despite the report calling for a full impartial inquiry.
Although the full, 184-page findings of the UN board of inquiry will not be made public, the 27-page summary emphasised that UN premises are inviolable, and that inviolability cannot be set aside by the demands of military expediency. “UN personnel and all civilians within UN premises, as well as civilians in the immediate vicinity of those premises, are to be protected in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law,” the summary says.
The next report explains the incredible move by the UN Secretary General, against a proper UN investigation of the killings outside the narrow confines of its own buildings in Gaza. It seems, according to the SG, that the UN is only mandated to defend itself, but not the rest of humanity, in which it has little interest, especially in those without a powerful army behind them…
One of the more striking features of today’s UN inquiry into the Gaza war is the secretary general’s prompt rejection of one of its key findings.
In its 11th and final recommendation, the board of inquiry said the killings and injuries that happened beyond its narrow remit, outside the walls of the UN compound in Gaza, “should be investigated as part of an impartial inquiry mandated, and adequately resourced, to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law”. In his covering letter, however, Ban Ki-moon, said he did not “plan any further inquiry”, opting not to use the secretary general’s prerogative to order his own inquiries into allegations of serious human rights abuses.
Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, set up such an inquiry in April 2002 after the shelling of the West Bank town of Jenin, but had to abort it in the face of Israel’s refusal to co-operate with an investigation it saw as biased from the outset. A UN official said today Ban’s decision had not been influenced by the failure of the Jenin enquiry, but added that Ban had stressed the desire to co-operate with Israel in further investigation of the shelling of the UN compound. In his remarks Ban made no reference to a UN investigation of the Gaza violence that has already been set in train by the UN human rights council. The council has in the past been rejected as ideologically anti-Israel by the west, and an inquiry under its auspices carries less weight than one ordered by a UN secretary general. But the selection of Richard Goldstone, a South African judge with strong human rights credentials (he was chief prosecutor for international war crimes tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda), gives this inquiry greater clout than would otherwise be the case. And unlike the Jenin enquiry, an investigation focused on Gaza does not necessarily require Israeli cooperation, as entry is possible from Egypt.
“Goldstone has a lot of integrity and a wealth of experience in international justice,” said Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch. “We think his investigation should be given a chance, and we think Ban should have used this occasion to put his full weight behind it.”
Report claiming deliberate targeting of UN civilians and institutions is biased, Israel says
Israel has dismissed as “tendentious” and “patently biased” an unpublished UN inquiry into Israel’s conduct during the January war in Gaza.
The UN investigation is the first into the war and looked only at deaths, injuries and damage caused at UN sites in Gaza during the three-week conflict. Some of the findings may be released today. According to Israeli media reports, a senior foreign ministry official has already received a draft copy of the report. One newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, was briefed on some of its contents and reported that it accuses Israel of “grave offences”, including “disproportionate shooting and deliberately hitting UN civilians and institutions”. The paper said the report “determined unequivocally: Israel deliberately fired at UN institutions even though it knew it was forbidden”. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was due to send his response to a summary of the report to the security council, Israel’s foreign ministry said. Yedioth said the report’s main recommendation was to call for an independent investigative committee to look more deeply into the war and to determine whether Israel violated international law. Israel’s foreign ministry said it believes Ban will not take up that recommendation.
The document has been compiled by a board of inquiry – a team of four led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal. It is still unclear if the full report will be made public.
Israel’s foreign ministry attempted to pre-empt the report today, saying the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and “proved beyond doubt” that it did not fire intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.
“The state of Israel rejects the criticism in the committee’s summary report, and determines that in both spirit and language the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It said the inquiry had “preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”.
International human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have accused both Israel’s military and Palestinian militant groups of serious violations of international law and possible war crimes during the conflict. The UN board of inquiry report has a limited scope. It is confined to investigating death or injuries or damage at UN buildings or during UN operations. The UN human rights council is also to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Gaza, but Israel has already suggested it will not co-operate, saying the council is biased.
Ed Pilkington on UN report claiming Israeli attacks on UN buildings during the Gaza war were a violation
• Move breaks US tradition of discretion over Israeli arsenal
• NPT comes up for review in 2010
A diplomatic row broke out today between the US and Israel after Washington’s chief nuclear arms negotiator called on Israel to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), breaking a US tradition of discretion over Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Israeli officials said they were puzzled by a speech to an international conference in New York by Rose Gottemoeller, an assistant secretary of state, who said: “Universal adherence to the NPT itself – including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea – also remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”
By including Israel on a list of countries known to have nuclear weapons. Gottemoeller broke with normal US diplomatic practice. Since 1968 when the CIA reported Israel had developed a nuclear weapon , Washington has pursued a policy of not demanding transparency from its close ally, and in return Israel agreed not to test a bomb or declare its nuclear capability – a policy of “strategic ambiguity”.
“As far as we are concerned, there is no change to the close dialogue we have with Washington,” Yossi Levy, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told Reuters. Privately, Israeli officials played down the importance of the NPT as a means of controlling proliferation.
Attempts to stop spread of nuclear weapons face a critical moment over the next year before the NPT comes up for review in 2010, at a time when North Korea has declared the resumption of its nuclear weapons programme, and fears over Iran’s intentions threaten to trigger a Middle East arms race. Gottemoeller’s speech was made at a meeting to prepare the way for next year’s critical NPT review conference.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said that Gottemoeller had not changed the long-held US position – that all states should join the NPT. However, she spelt that position out more explicitly in relation to Israel.
The toughest meeting of Barack Obama’s young presidency is approaching. In the next few weeks, he will have to sit down with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu. The difficulty is not just that the prime minister refuses to accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist and thereby shows the Palestinians have no partner for peace.
Far more burdensome are the ghosts of US policies past. If Obama is sincere in wanting to break the stalemate of the Middle East’s core conflict, he will have to launch the US relationship with Israel on to radically new lines. Israel must be treated as a normal country. It cannot enjoy permanent licence to escape criticism for practising policies that would be condemned if carried out by any other country’s government. Even if Israelis, through their complex coalition arrangements, had anointed a more progressive and enlightened leader, this would be necessary. It is doubly essential now that Israel has chosen a man of aggressive and narrow vision.
The day of the blank cheque must be over. The day of the huge cheque must be over, too. Why should a country with one of the world’s highest per capita incomes receive around $3bn annually, or roughly a third of the US foreign aid budget (not including extra support from the Pentagon)? Why should it not have to account for its purchases like every other recipient country – a conscious lack of oversight that allows Washington to turn a blind eye to the fact that US tax dollars are financing illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank and helping to build the so-called apartheid wall? Unless Obama ends America’s special relationship with Israel, this omission will be the achilles heel of his foreign policy. America’s standing in the Middle East, its influence in the Gulf, its image in the Muslim world, its relationship with Iran, and even its support in Europe are all linked to the way it treats Israel. Obama’s fulsome comments about Israel before his election already suggested that this was likely to be his most dangerous weakness. His first 100 days in power have done nothing to negate that. His speeches in Turkey, which were directed at Muslim audiences, showed no recognition of the fact that most Turks, Arabs and Iranians see US policy towards Israel as unfair and partisan.His resounding appeal in Prague for a nuclear-free world contained no reference to Israel’s nuclear arsenal or the need for all nuclear countries (including India and Pakistan) to join the non- proliferation treaty. If Iran, a signatory of the NPT, is rightly pressed to adhere to the requirement for transparency, it is hypocrisy not to press the non-signatories to be as honest. To argue that countries which have not signed up are exempt from the rules may be legally right, but is politically absurd. Obama’s admirable wish to reduce the world’s nuclear stockpile cannot stop at the gates of Dimona and the sites where Israel’s nuclear warheads are kept. Only a dramatic break from previous US policy on Israel can end the Middle East deadlock.
Aipac urges Congress members to sign letter to Barack Obama calling for Israel to set pace of negotiations with Palestinians
US congressional leaders and the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the US are attempting to forestall a significant shift in the White House’s Middle East policy.
The move comes amid growing signs that the US president, Barack Obama, intends to press for urgent efforts to be made towards the creation of a Palestinian state. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is visiting Washington later this month amid growing expectations that Obama is preparing to take a tougher line over Israel’s reluctance to actively seek a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians. It will be the first time that Netanyahu and Obama have met since both were elected. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) this week sent hundreds of lobbyists to urge members of Congress to sign a letter to Obama. The letter, written by two House of Representatives leaders, calls for Israel to be allowed to set the pace of negotiations. The lobbying came despite critics saying Netanyahu has consistently failed to commit himself to the creation of a Palestinian state. The letter calls for the maintenance of the status quo, with an emphasis on Palestinian institution-building before there can be an end to Israeli occupation. It says the US “must be both a trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel”. Aipac’s move to put pressure on members of Congress came at the end of its annual conference in Washington this week.
Some of the loudest applause at the gathering came in response to calls for military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities – something Netanyahu has attempted to portray as a more urgent issue than the Palestinian question.
But Aipac delegates were told by the US vice-president, Joe Biden, that the administration favours “mutual respect” in dealing with Iran.
Biden said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict strengthened Iran’s strategic position and Israel must take concrete steps – including fulfilling often-broken commitments to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements – towards the creation of a Palestinian state.
Last week, General James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, told a European foreign minister that the new administration would be “forceful” with Israel, according to a classified Israeli memo reported by the Ha’aretz newspaper.
Jones was quoted as saying that Obama believes Washington, the EU and moderate Arab states must define “a satisfactory endgame solution”.
“The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question,” he was quoted as saying. “We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.” During his election campaign, Obama alarmed Israel’s hardline supporters by saying he regarded the lack of a resolution to the conflict as a “constant sore” that “infect[s] all of our foreign policy”. Netanyahu dare not openly defy Washington, and yesterday told the Aipac conference by satellite that he was ready for negotiations with the Palestinians.
But Aipac has moved to counter any new White House initiative by trying to mobilise Congress against it through the letter, written by two people seen as extremely close to the lobby group – Steny Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. The two men addressed an Aipac banquet attended by more than half the members of Congress on Monday, each standing in turn at a “roll call” of support for Israel. On the face of it, the letter is a call for a peace, but its specifics urge Obama to maintain years of US policy that has tacitly accepted Israeli stalling of peace negotiations. The letter says that “the best way to achieve future success between Israelis and Palestinians will be by adhering to basic principles that have undergirded our policy”.
These include “acceptance that the parties themselves must negotiate the details of any agreement” as well as demanding that the Palestinians first “build the institutions necessary for a viable state” before gaining independence.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of J-street, a pro-Israel lobby group that favours the swift establishment of a Palestinian state, said that, while Aipac claims it supports a two-state solution, the letter is an attempt to prevent the White House from putting pressure on Israel to make that happen.
“They don’t come right out and say we don’t want Israel to make concessions, we don’t want Israel to leave the West Bank,” he said.
“They’ll say, ‘Of course we believe there should be peace’. But then they’ll do what this letter does. “They’ll say, ‘When the Israeli government decides it is ready to have a two-state solution, then there’ll be a two-state solution’.” Aipac wields considerable influence in the US Congress. Its critics say that what amounts to bullying pressure tactics has narrowed the room for debate about Israel, and claim the group has played a leading role in unseating some members of Congress who were critical of the Jewish state’s policies.
Of course there will be an inquiry. And in the meantime, we shall be told that all the dead Afghan civilians were being used as “human shields” by the Taliban and we shall say that we “deeply regret” innocent lives that were lost. But we shall say that it’s all the fault of the terrorists, not our heroic pilots and the US Marine special forces who were target spotting around Bala Baluk and Ganjabad.
When the Americans destroy Iraqi homes, there is an inquiry. And oh how the Israelis love inquiries (though they rarely reveal anything). It’s the history of the modern Middle East. We are always right and when we are not, we (sometimes) apologise and then we blame it all on the “terrorists”. Yes, we know the throat-cutters and beheaders and suicide bombers are quite prepared to slaughter the innocent.
But it was a sign of just how terrible the Afghan slaughter was that the powerless President Hamid Karzai sounded like a beacon of goodness yesterday appealing for “a higher platform of morality” in waging war, that we should conduct war as “better human beings”.
And of course, the reason is quite simple. We live, they die. We don’t risk our brave lads on the ground – not for civilians. Not for anything. Fire phosphorus shells into Fallujah. Fire tank shells into Najaf. We know we kill the innocent. Israel does exactly the same. It said the same after its allies massacred 1,700 at the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila in 1982 and in the deaths of more than a thousand civilians in Lebanon in 2006 and after the death of more than a thousand Palestinians in Gaza this year.
And if we kill some gunmen at the same time – “terrorists”, of course – then it is the same old “human shield” tactic and ultimately the “terrorists” are to blame. Our military tactics are now fully aligned with Israel.
The reality is that international law forbids armies from shooting wildly in crowded tenements and bombing wildly into villages – even when enemy forces are present – but that went by the board in our 1991 bombing of Iraq and in Bosnia and in Nato’s Serbia war and in our 2001 Afghan adventure and in 2003 in Iraq. Let’s have that inquiry. And “human shields”. And terror, terror, terror. Something else I notice. Innocent or “terrorists”, civilians or Taliban, always it is the Muslims who are to blame.
This week, for the first time since he took office, Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu has been looking worried. People who have spoken with him found him short-tempered, almost testy. The problems piling up on his desk are burying the sweet victory of his return to the Prime Minister’s Bureau: His approaching visit with U.S. President Barack Obama is looking less and less like cause for rejoicing amid the ill winds emanating from Washington. Before that he has Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to deal with, and in between, a budget that skimps on education, welfare and health, and is cruel to children at risk, the unemployed, demobilized soldiers, widows and new mothers.
After the draft budget was submitted to government ministers Wednesday night – proposing cuts in funds for Holocaust survivors, the elderly and the disabled – Netanyahu’s bureau sent out a hysterical beeper notice to reporters retracting the cuts. Labor Party ministers who just a week ago were singing Netanyahu’s praises boycotted the Knesset session on Monday, when the plenum voted to split various ministerial portfolios.
However, the one who blew Netanyahu’s fuse this week was his protege and right-hand man, who put together his coalition: Gideon Sa’ar, the new education minister. This week, for the first time, Netanyahu found out what it means to be in Sa’ar’s sights, when the latter decided to fight for the education budget, which has already been cut numerous times over the past decade. It began at the meeting of the Likud ministers last Friday, when Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz presented the budget. At the end of the discussion Netanyahu said something along the line of: Okay, we’re deciding that we support the government’s budget.
By Gideon Levy
Cancel the new Information and Diaspora Ministry, let the new foreign minister go, and we may as well shut down the information departments at Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu – we have a new propaganda minister. We’ve had better and worse presidents, but we’ve never had a president who served as government propagandist. Now we do: Shimon Peres has appointed himself to the unworthy task. Since the new government formed – the most right-wing government in Israel’s history – the (seemingly) left-wing (former) peace man has become its public relations agent.
Indefatigable as always, he has launched a worldwide campaign consisting of phone calls to statesmen, media interviews and visits overseas. His goal – slapping the kosher stamp of approval on what the world sees as an abomination. Instead of the real picture, he is giving them another masquerade.
First he legitimized Avigdor Lieberman (who said on Tuesday in Italy that “nothing has come from this whole peace industry,” which Peres cogenerated), then Benjamin Netanyahu – both men of peace par excellence in our president’s eyes. On what basis exactly? Trust Peres. It culminated of course during his visit in Washington, when Peres told his hosts: “Netanyahu is seeking a historic peace,” and “Since he was elected I haven’t heard him speaking against a two-state solution … peace is at the top of his priorities.” No less. Netanyahu’s spokesmen couldn’t have done it better. Do we have to ask who put him in that role? Is the president’s job to act as the prime minister’s spokesman? Is it appropriate for the president to reward Netanyahu this way for arranging him a visit to the White House?
And let’s assume Peres thought otherwise – that Netanyahu is the obstacle to peace and that Lieberman is no less than a declared racist – would he have dared to say so? And if he had, what a scandal that would have erupted over the state president’s forbidden involvement. But to praise in vain is permitted. Peres did not skip even the perverse comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany. The Israeli president may cheapen the Holocaust’s memory like this; he is allowed to compare. But when Israel’s critics dare draw such a parallel, they are automatically branded as Israel haters and anti-Semites. Peres, the statesman who firmly objected to the Begin government’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, is now the lead vocalist in the national intimidation choir against Iran, conducted by maestro Netanyahu. This, too, is inexplicable. Peres also hasn’t forgotten the shopworn, hollow old slogans about Israel’s yearning for peace, slogans for which one might still find dubious buyers only occasionally in America.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai has announced he intends to begin proceedings to revoke the citizenship of four Arab citizens suspected of hostile activity against the State of Israel. Yishai says he is seeking to reassert his authority to revoke citizenship by changing the law delegating that authority to district courts. The amendment made to the Citizenship Law last August transferred authority to revoke citizenship to district courts sitting as courts for administrative affairs, so that such action could not be taken by a politically-motivated official such as the interior minister.
Revoking citizenship is a tremendous responsibility, the use of which is supposed to be made only in rare or extraordinary circumstances so as to prevent unnecessarily compromising a legally-enshrined right. The law, however, defines the right to revoke citizenship broadly – if the suspect has committed a breach of trust against the state through an act of terrorism, active participation in a terror group, an act of treason or espionage, or acquisition of citizenship or permanent residence in an enemy country – but even then, it is clear it should be a last resort, implemented when there is no alternative.
The interior minister is authorized to file a petition to a court toward revoking citizenship, but only with the written consent of the attorney general. In 2002, before the Citizenship Law was amended, Yishai sought to revoke the citizenship of several Arab citizens. Then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein said it would be a “grave and far-reaching step,” as committing an act of breach of trust could be interpreted so broadly that intelligence indicating hostile activity towards the state would be enough to revoke citizenship, even if there were not sufficient evidence for even a criminal conviction. The decision to revoke citizenship can be upheld from a legal perspective only if it can be proven that taking such drastic action towards an individual is necessary, and the goal of enhancing security cannot be met through lesser means. The prime minister, defense minister and justice minister – and not only the interior minister – must consider the political and diplomatic damage likely to be caused by taking such extraordinary measures. All the more so during the term of an administration in which a central faction is seeking to obligate Israeli citizens to take an oath of loyalty.
Like the Third Reich, the Israeli regime does everything legally… this is an obvious Nazi move against the people of Palestine, and should be understood and explained as such.