The final deadline passed this afternoon for Israel’s political parties to register for the March 17 Knesset elections. Several last-minute decisions will substantially affect the map in the weeks ahead:
Kahanism Redux: Eli Yishai, the former Shas party chairman who quit in December and formed his own religious-right party, Yahad-Ha’am Itanu (“Together - The People Are With Us”) has joined forces with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”) party of Baruch Marzel and Michael Ben-Ari. Polls have consistently shown that neither of them would pass the vote threshold and enter the Knesset separately, but together they would get the required minimum 3.25% of the popular vote, which translates to 4 Knesset seats. Accordingly, it now looks like Baruch Marzel, onetime spokesman for Meir Kahane’s Kach party, who inherited the party leadership after Kahane was assassinated in 1991 and today is arguably the most militant leader on the far right of the settler movement, will enter the Knesset in March.
Yishai had tried earlier to join forces with Tekuma, the right wing, settler-dominated wing of the Jewish Home bloc led by housing minister Uri Ariel. But that fell through after Yishai’s spiritual mentor, Rabbi Moshe Mazuz, forbade the placing of women on the party list. Ariel continued to support the Yishai alliance, but lost a vote in the Tekuma leadership.
Yishai was appointed head of Shas in 1999 by the party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, after party founder Arye Deri was convicted of graft. When Deri entered prison in September 2000, Yishai began moving the party from Deri’s dovish, pro-Labor and moderately social-democratic policies toward his own arch-conservative views.
Among other things Yishai pulled out of Ehud Barak’s coalition in December 2000, leaving Barak with a minority government and ultimately torpedoing the Camp David negotiations that had resumed informally in August in Jerusalem. The talks resumed officially in December in Washington and then in January at Taba, but Barak had lost his majority and called for new elections, which he lost to Ariel Sharon (thanks in large part to the outbreak of the Second Intifada the previous October). From then on Shas was considered a staunchly hawkish party, firmly allied to the Likud. In 2012, though, after Deri had finished his 7-year post-prison cooling off period, Ovadia put Deri back in command, of a 3-member party troika – himself, Yishai and centrist Ariel Attias. Deri managed to give the No. 4 slot to his ally Yitzhak Cohen, who called right after the January 2013 elections for Israel to endorse the Arab Peace Initiative. Trench warfare between Deri and Yishai has been a constant ever since.
Benny Begin’s Back: Prime Minister Netanyahu took a big step toward blunting the far-right and anti-democratic image of his Likud party by recruiting Binyamin Begin, the onetime senior statesman and son of the former prime minister. Begin was named to the No. 11 slot on the party slate, a spot that’s reserved for personal appointees of the party chairman, outside the primary system.
Im Tirtzu, the right-wing Israeli truth squad best known for bashing the New Israel Fund, allowed itself a victory lap this week after taking credit for an “emergency” gathering in the Knesset on “delegitimization of Israel.”
Unfortunately, as with so much else the organization touches, the facts of the case are a bit murky. Im Tirtzu claimed in a press release afterward (full text appears below) that it had participated in a meeting of the Knesset Caucus on the Struggle Against De-legitimization of the State of Israel. The meeting’s topic, it said, was “organizations claiming to be Zionist, but which actually espouse BDS philosophies,” alluding to Im Tirtzu’s conspiratorial view of the New Israel Fund. The meeting had been convened, the release said, “as a result of Im Tirtzu’s campaign” to link the New Israel Fund with the BDS movement.
But a news report on the pro-settler news site Arutz Sheva-Israel National News said the caucus had convened “for an emergency discussion on the topic of anti-Israel boycotts in the wake of the rise of the extreme right in Europe.” The report cited Im Tirtzu leader Matan Peleg as one of a string of speakers, most of whom focused their remarks on European antisemitism, the shooting attack at the Brussels Jewish Museum and what’s been described as a link between the shooting and anti-Israel incitement.
The delegitimization caucus is one of 132 such groupings of Knesset members registered with the speaker’s office to advance specific causes. They range from promotion of Israeli-Arab peace to annexation of the West Bank, higher education, autism awareness, Israeli Arab economic development and a one-member “Tuesdays without meat” caucus.
The May 27 meeting reportedly drew several dozen attendees, including a half-dozen guest speakers, all but one of them right-wing specialists in left-wing perfidy, as well as seven Knesset members. The seven included four from the settler-backed HaBayit HaYehudi-Jewish Home party, two from Yisrael Beiteinu and one, caucus chairman Nissim Ze’ev, from Shas.
According to several reports, including a detailed account at the Haredi website Kooker, Ze’ev opened the meeting with a declaration that “delegitimization leads to anti-Semitism and antisemitism leads to terrorism.” He called for “dealing with” sources of funding for organizations that promote delegitimization and “exposing their true face,” as there are some that “pose as Zionist organizations.”
The threatened Knesset investigation of the New Israel Fund by the Israeli right has been halted, for now, following several angry phone calls to Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin from irate American Jewish communal leaders, warning that an Israeli investigation could backfire on other Jewish organizations involved in Israel. Abe Foxman of ADL is quoted telling the New York Jewish Week it was “absurd to blame Goldstone on the NIF.” He told Barnea himself that the probe was “almost undemocratic.”
(I had previously written mistakenly that Foxman had called Rivlin. My apologies.)
The nastiness of the attack and the determination of the attackers shouldn’t be understated, though. The main victim, NIF president Naomi Chazan, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset, was summarily dropped without explanation as a columnist by the Jerusalem Post. She was also dropped as a visiting lecturer at a Jewish community event in Melbourne, Australia, to be co-sponsored by the Union for Progressive Judaism and the Zionist Council of Victoria (state), after the Zionist council pulled out. The Zionist council’s chief was quoted in The Age, an Australian daily, as saying “we don’t want to have anything to do” with the NIF. But the head of the Union for Progressive Judaism told another daily, The Australian, that the cancellation was a mutual decision between his group and Chazan “because both realised the controversy would detract from fund-raising.” Uh-huh.
Also worth a read: This eloquent column, translated from Maariv, by the widely respected chairman of Meretz, Chaim “Jumas” Oron, warning that attacks of this sort on dissenters by free-lance bullies — right down to the Nazi-style caricatures of Jews with horns — are the first step down the slippery slope toward fascism.
Here’s the Der Stuermer-style caricature of Chazan with horns that was run as a newspaper ad in the Jerusalem Post and carried as signs by protesters outside Chazan’s home.
And this report about two Maariv reporters who publicly attacked their own newspaper for giving front page coverage to Im Tirtzu and effectively providing the launching pad for the sliming of NIF.
A right-wing Israeli activist group is waging a multi-pronged public campaign to discredit the New Israel Fund (NIF), which supports human-rights groups in Israel.
The activist group, Im Tirtzu (“If you will it” — from Theodor Herzl’s epigram “If you will it, it is no dream”), made the Friday (January 29) front page of Maariv, Israel’s second-largest daily. In a three-page article in its tabloid weekend supplement, Maariv reports on the group’s new 112-page study claiming that NIF-funded organizations were a major source of damaging information in the Goldstone Report, the United Nations fact-finding mission on last year’s Gaza conflict. The study focuses on footnotes in the Goldstone Report, calculating the percentage of negative testimony on Israel that is sourced to NIF grantees.
According to the Maariv story (Hebrew only), touted with a blaring front-page headline reading “The ‘New Fund’ and the Lie Industry,” Im Tirtzu — which describes itself as “centrist” — is planning an ongoing campaign that will include outdoor signs depicting NIF president Naomi Chazan, a political scientist and former Knesset deputy speaker, with a horn protruding from her forehead (a play on the Hebrew word keren, which means both “horn” and “fund”).
At the end of the lengthy Maariv story, reporter Ben Caspit writes briefly that the study is “the latest example” in a “wave of demonization flooding the media” in Israel against human-rights organizations, which he says “do not work against Israel” and “are an integral part of a democratic state” with “an important role as watchdogs” protecting “universal rights.”
The group kicked off its public campaign Saturday night with a demonstration outside Chazan’s home by protesters reportedly dressed as Hamas members carrying signs “thanking” Chazan and the NIF. An announcement on its Hebrew Web site calls for a demonstration against the New Israel Fund on Monday morning February 1 outside the Herzliya Conference, an annual conference of world leaders on Middle East security.
The English Web site makes no mention at all of the NIF or the Im Tirtzu campaign against it.
In response to the Im Tirtzu study, according to a Maariv follow-up story on Sunday, the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee will hold hearings in the near future on the activities of NIF grantees, following a request by Kadima lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security service, to committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi. The story quotes Hasson saying, “We have to investigate the matter of activity by groups that promote arrest warrants against IDF officers and contribute to activities that support Hamas.”