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With school controversy, secular-haredi tensions reach boiling point

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Haredi children protest opposite the Ramle prison, where a group of haredi parents were jailed June 18 for defying a court order to send their daughters to a school in Emanuel. Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90/JTA

The showdown between Israel’s Supreme Court and the parents of students at a haredi Orthodox school found guilty of discriminatory practices against Sephardic girls has brought already strained secular-religious relations in Israel to a fever pitch.

A remark by Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy that the court’s decisions are not subject to rabbinical approval went straight to the heart of the matter, with irate haredi demonstrators declaring that if they had to choose between the court and their rabbis, the rabbis always would come first.

The fundamental argument over whether the courts or the rabbis have the ultimate authority reflects a long-standing clash between Theodor Herzl’s vision of a secular democratic state for the Jews and haredi notions of a Jewish state subject to rabbinical law.

For secular Israelis, impugning the authority of the courts means anarchy. For the haredim, overriding rabbinical rulings means perverting God’s will. At issue is a test of the capacity of the Zionist, secular state to impose its will on a large group of haredim who often are derisive of its democratic, secular institutions.

The latest angry confrontation between the state and the haredim began with a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in April ordering a school run by Ashkenazi Slonim chasidim in the west bank settlement of Emanuel to stop excluding Sephardic girls from their regular classes.

In the state’s view, the practice constituted a form of intolerable segregation and violated basic principles of equality and human dignity. The offending Beit Yaakov school agreed to more mixed classes.

But rather than comply, the Ashkenazi parents started their own school next door. They argued that the segregation wasn’t ethnic but religious. The Sephardic girls, they said, came from homes less strictly observant than their Ashkenazi daughters — for example, homes with television sets and Internet connections — and they didn’t want their daughters influenced by those who were less religious. They said Sephardic girls were welcome at the Ashkenazi-dominated school if they met the standards for stricter religious observance.

The court ordered the parents to send their children back to Beit Yaakov or face fines. The parents ignored the court order and didn’t pay the fines. The court found them guilty of contempt and ordered that they be sent to jail for an initial two-week period to reconsider their position.

Amid defiant singing and dancing, 35 of the 38 fathers went to jail last week. The mothers failed to report for their prison terms on the grounds that they needed to be home to look after their younger children.

There are conflicting accounts over what caused the brouhaha and what it means.

The Slonim chasidim say that in a true democracy, they should have the right to educate their children in any way they please. They say the Israeli state, like the Romans and Greeks before them, is interfering in matters of religious principle. Just like their ancestors, they say, they’d rather face punishment than compromise their religious beliefs. In the chasidic account, the parents’ going to jail was presented as a form of martyrdom, showing up the inhumanity, lack of values, and wanton persecution of the haredi Orthodox by the secular Israeli state.

Secular Israelis see things quite differently. Many regard the Emanuel school case as a reflection of a much wider phenomenon, that of the haredim milking the state for funds without accepting its authority or performing the ultimate duty of Israeli citizenship: army service.

Haredi schools are largely state-funded but do not teach the country’s core curriculum. The secular press in Israel has been inundated with articles blasting the haredim for defying the state’s authority while tapping into its budgets for health, education, and welfare. Nowhere else in the world would haredi Jews have the temerity to behave this way, the secularists say; nowhere else would they defy state law or mock the Supreme Court.

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Before a father’s incarceration for defying a court order to send his daughter to a school in Emanuel, he tries to console his crying child. Abir Sultan/Flash90 /JTA

Many see the standoff as a test of strength the liberal democratic state cannot afford to lose.

“Don’t give in to Emanuel,” the liberal daily Haaretz exhorted in an editorial.

“We must not surrender,” echoed journalist Yair Lapid, who reportedly is on the brink of launching an anti-clerical successor party to Shinui, the party once led by his late father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid.

The Orthodox-Sephardic Shas Party was more ambivalent. Shas was created in the mid-1980s to combat Ashkenazi discrimination against Sephardim, so it might have been expected to take up the cause of the Sephardic students and families. But to do so would have seemed like siding with the Supreme Court, which is anathema for Shas. Its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, resolved the dilemma by coming out against discrimination, but more strongly against taking the case to the Supreme Court.

“Anyone who appeals to the secular courts will have no share in the world to come,” Yosef declared.

Other recent rulings by the Supreme Court have compounded the strains between the haredim and the state, as well as a string of violent clashes between haredi demonstrators and police. In mid-June, the Supreme Court ruled against state stipends for married yeshiva students on the grounds that similar stipends for married university students were abolished in 2000. A seven-member panel ruled that this constituted a violation of the principle of equality in the distribution of public funds. Either all married students should get the stipend or none, the court ruled.

Shas leader Eli Yishai has vowed to introduce legislation to overrule the Supreme Court decision.

The ruling was seen as a major blow to the haredim, many of whom choose to study Torah rather than work for a living. This exempts them from mandatory army service.

The haredim also clashed recently with police during demonstrations against building on sites where ancient bones are believed to be buried. These often violent protests were led by a small radical group in the haredi camp known as the Atra Kadisha. In May there were clashes over the removal of bones — believed to be pagan — from the site of a new rocket-proof emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon; in June there were protests in Jaffa over bones at the construction site of a boutique hotel.

For its part, the Israel Defense Forces is considering launching a new plan that would allow more yeshiva students to enlist and more yet to join the labor force. At present, yeshiva students must remain in school until middle age in order to stay out of the army.

Meanwhile, with the basis of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a strategic alliance between Likud and Shas, government ministers have had very little to say on the Emanuel school brouhaha for fear of upsetting their haredi coalition partners. But it also means that Shas is unlikely to do anything that could topple the government.

If tensions remain high, it could strengthen secular parties in the Knesset willing to take a stand against the haredim. That’s what happened in 2003, when Shinui won 15 seats. But three years later it lost the seats when members defected to other parties.

Whether the current haredi-secular tensions will translate into a political shift, and whether that could be sustained, remains to be seen.

JTA

 
 

Opposition to Israeli conversion bill mounts

WASHINGTON – Opposition to a proposed Israeli conversion bill is mounting, from the U.S. Congress to the Israeli prime minister.

Meanwhile, the bill is likely to be put on hold while the Knesset adjourns this week for a two-month recess.

The controversy over the bill erupted last week when its main sponsor, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, unexpectedly put it to a committee vote. The measure passed by a 5-4 margin, sending it to the full Knesset.

Meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel, the bill also would consolidate control over conversions under the office of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox diaspora Jewish movements and the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and Jewish Agency for Israel all have warned that non-Orthodox converts would be put at risk of being disqualified as Jews by the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

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Sen. Ron Wyden, left, is asking Jewish Senate colleagues to sign a letter opposing an Israeli conversion bill. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, right, has agreed to sign the letter. Office of Sen. Ron Wyden/Office of Sen. Frank Lautenburg

In recent days, a Jewish U.S. senator unhappy about the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), began circulating a letter asking fellow lawmakers to join him in condemning the controversial Israeli measure. Wyden’s letter is circulating among the Senate’s 13 Jewish lawmakers for more signatures before it is delivered to Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill in its current form. The bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

Following its passage last week by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution, and Justice Committee, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset for it to become law. The prime minister said he would try to remove the bill by consensus, but if that fails he will ask members of his Likud Party and other coalition members to oppose it in the Knesset. With the Knesset on the cusp of a long recess, the bill is unlikely to come up for another vote until the fall.

Rotem says the bill aims to simplify the conversion process, empowering local Israeli community rabbis to perform conversions and thereby make it easier for Israelis to convert — including those who don’t intend to adhere to Orthodox observance. But in giving the Chief Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions, the bill puts non-Orthodox converts at risk and may make it more difficult for non-Orthodox converts to make aliyah, critics in the diaspora warn.

Rotem says the bill should not concern diaspora Jews.

“It has nothing to do with Jews in the diaspora,” Rotem told JTA last week. “It is only an Israeli matter.”

Shas Party Chairman Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said he supports the bill.

“The absence of a conversion law is the greatest spiritual danger for the people of Israel at this time,” he told Ynet.

In the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization, said that “While the legislation in question may not be perfect, we who live in North America must recognize that it does contain much to commend it.”

The RCA called on diaspora Jews not to interfere with the internal Israeli legislation, noting, incorrectly, that “North American Jews have long embraced the principle that the duly elected leadership of the State of Israel should not be subject to outside interference or pressure by other governments, religious bodies, or communal entities.”

The chorus of American voices against the bill is growing, particularly in the Conservative and Reform movements, whose members make up most of American Jewry but have only a small presence in Israel. Opponents are concerned by the bill’s clause that converts will be recognized as Jews only if they “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halacha,” which could exclude some converts from being eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return because they would not be considered Jews by Israel.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, wrote an open letter to Netanyahu explaining why the bill will divide the Jewish community.

“The way to really ‘solve this problem’ is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system,” she wrote.

The Jewish Federations of North America said it supports the U.S. Senate letter opposing the Israeli bill.

“We welcome any expression of commitment from influential Jews to maintain the unity of the Jewish people and the dangers posed by this divisive legislation,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office.

In Washington, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have signed the Wyden letter.

“I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so,” Levin told JTA.

The letter’s text has not been made public.

Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives also have expressed support for Wyden’s letter. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and international programs, left a message for Netanyahu and spoke directly to Oren to voice her objection to the bill.

“Congresswoman Lowey believes Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matthew Dennis, Lowey’s spokesman. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risks weakening the sense of unity within the diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

JTA

 
 

Bedouin demolitions raising tensions in Israeli land dispute

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 13 August 2010
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A Bedouin boy helps to rebuild the family tent Aug. 4 in the unofficial village of Al-Arakib in the Negev after it was demolished by Israeli authorities. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – A standoff between the Israeli government and an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev Desert is raising tensions over land rights in southern Israel.

Village residents are rebuilding their homes for the third time in as many weeks after their demolition Tuesday by Israeli authorities.

In the first demolition order carried out July 27, some 1,300 police escorted Israel Lands Administration officials into the unofficial village of Al-Arakib before dawn, removing the area’s 300 residents before razing 45 structures, including homes and chicken coops. Residents rebuilt their homes and the police returned — twice.

The government says the Bedouin are occupying the land illegally; the Bedouin refused the government’s offer to let them stay as renters.

Among the Bedouin of the Negev, the demolitions are stirring anger.

“These demolitions will lead to an intifada in the Negev,” Bedouin and Israeli Arab Knesset member Talab El-Sana told reporters as he barricaded himself in one of the structures that ultimately was demolished.

The demolitions are the result of a dispute between the Bedouin and the Israeli government over rights to specific lands in the Negev comprising about 8,500 acres and 30,000 Bedouin. The Bedouin say the area has been in their families for generations, even if it has never been formally registered with the government. The Israeli government says the Bedouin are new to the land.

Balancing Bedouin claims to the land and their nomadic lifestyle against the needs of the modern Israeli state has never been easy in the Negev, where the Bedouin compete for space with Israeli military training zones, towns, and agricultural zones. For decades, Israel has tried to get the Bedouin to settle in organized towns the state established for them.

Approximately 155,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, 60 percent in the seven permanent towns the government created between 1979 and 1982, according to the Israel Lands Administration. The remainder live in homes and shanties scattered about the Negev. It is these Bedouin who frequently run up against government enforcers.

Israel has plans to build 13 new villages in consultation with Bedouin representatives to house these Bedouin, according to the ILA.

Approximately 150 to 200 Bedouin structures of the 40,000 considered illegal by the Israeli government are torn down each year.

The flare-up at Al-Arakib is the latest in a series of similar incidents since 1998, when the ILA says the Bedouin began to enter the area under dispute. The village has been the subject of cases in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Bedouins’ residence at Al-Arakib was illegal.

The ILA offered the Bedouin a deal under which they would rent the land at the nominal fee of about $2 an acre, which they refused to pay. The ILA received a court order in 2003 to evacuate and demolish the homes in the village.

Many of the residents of Al-Arakib also have permanent homes in one of the Bedouin towns, Rahat, where their children are registered in schools, according to Ortal Sabar, an ILA spokeswoman.

Yeela Raanan, spokeswoman for the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, told Human Rights Watch that only a few dozen Al-Arakib residents have other homes and that “there are at least 250 people now who don’t have another option.”

Some Al-Arakib residents reportedly also have individual land claims pending in Beersheba District Court.

Ariel Dloomy, projects director for the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace Development, says he believes that in the wake of Al-Arakib there will be more demolitions of Bedouin settlements. He said the wholesale demolition of Al-Arakib was a trial balloon to see how the Israeli people would react.

“There is a deep lack of knowledge about the Bedouins and their historic presence on the land on the side of the Jewish population in Israel,” Dloomy said. “Most of the Jewish Israelis view this conflict as a zero-sum game, while we think there is a place for everybody — Jews and Arabs — in the Negev.”

In an editorial criticizing the government for demolishing the homes at Al-Arakib, Israel’s daily Haaretz called the Bedouin “the children of the Negev.”

“Destroying their homes and pushing them into the crowded and poor Bedouin cities creates a much more severe political and social problem than the danger of the Bedouin living on state lands,” the editorial said.

During the demolitions at Al-Arakib, some critics suggested that the state wanted to clear the area for the Jewish National Fund to plant a forest at the site. JNF denied the claim, issuing a statement last week saying it “was not involved in this operation and has no link to the subject of evacuating Bedouin soldiers whatsoever.”

The organization plants forests throughout the country under a master plan of the Israeli government, a JNF spokeswoman told JTA.

JNF’s Blueprint Negev, a plan to bring about 250,000 Israelis to live in the Negev by 2013, also is raising funds to benefit the local Bedouin population. Among the sites planned is the Abu Basma Regional Council Complex/Medical Center, to be built on land donated by JNF, as well as parks and water supply and treatment projects.

After the demolitions of recent weeks, Bedouin leaders warned that the government is doing serious harm to its relations with the community.

“The attempt to uproot Bedouin citizens from their settlements constitutes a serious insult to all Bedouin,” said the Committee of Al-Arakib. “All attempts to uproot the residents of the village will fail in the end.”

JTA

 
 

Loathing the oath

 

At the Knesset, a candle for the Russian Jews

Sue Fishkoff
Published: 03 December 2010
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The author after a day’s work at the kibbutz gas station in August 1982. Courtesy Sue Fishkoff

It was December 1982, and my kibbutz ulpan had just been invited to light the Chanukah menorah for the Israeli Knesset.

The Israeli army was deep in the heart of Lebanon, the Cold War was raging, talks with the PLO were years away, and Israel was feeling both isolated and feisty. Freedom from oppression was the theme for that year’s holiday, and my six-month work-study ulpan program had been chosen for this annual honor because we had so many students from countries where Jews were being oppressed.

There was 18-year-old Ahuva, from Aleppo, whose jaw had been broken by Syrian border guards when she was caught during her first escape attempt. She made it out the second time — on foot.

There was 19-year-old Daoud, now David, and his twin brother, Ofer, who grew up Muslim in Beirut and only learned they were Jewish that summer, when their Israeli-born mother revealed her heritage, divorced her Lebanese husband, and dragged the twins to Israel as its army poured across their border.

We had the three French boys in the class: Charlie from Morocco, Michel representing Tunisia, and Didier, whose parents were Algerian.

There was a student from Iran who fled after the fall of the shah three years earlier. Another student claimed Egyptian ancestry — good enough for the Knesset — and one young man from Glasgow also would light a candle, presumably in the name of Scottish independence.

I might argue that the student from Paris who refused in class to use the Hebrew word “olah,” or “ascend,” to describe her move to Israel, on the grounds that any departure from Paris could only be a descent, also was living under oppression. She just didn’t know it.

The only thing we were missing was a student from the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain had shut tight in 1980, few new immigrants were arriving, and we were some years away from the great exodus of the early 1990s. Not a single Boris or Natasha to add to the mix.

Then I let slip that I spoke Russian. And my grandparents were from Ukraine — sure, they arrived in 1906 and 1912, but our ulpan teacher was eager to seize upon any connection, however tangential, to clinch that Knesset deal.

She renamed me Sonia Pitchkopf and instructed me to prepare a short speech to deliver, in Russian-accented Hebrew, as I lit my candle.

After the laughter died down in class, I realized the enormity of what I had signed on for. This was no Purimspiel. This was the parliament of the Jewish state, and here I was, tasked with pulling a fast one over on men and women, some of whom certainly spoke Russian, or at least were capable of sniffing out a ruse of this magnitude.

As I began writing my speech, I thought back to my first trip to the USSR. My Russian class from Cornell landed in Leningrad on Dec. 31, 1975, and as so often happened with Jewish visitors from the West in those years, I found myself in a Jewish apartment within hours of my arrival, plucked out of the crowd by a young Jewish member of the Komsomol group sent to greet us.

The table was spread with a lavish repast — mushrooms in cream sauce, pickled vegetables, carrot salad, all kinds of smoked fish. I learned later how long the family had scrimped to put together that holiday meal.

People crowded around me, eager to ask questions about America. Was there really so much street crime? What did people think of the pullout from Vietnam? Had I ever been to Israel? I had stars in my eyes, so excited was I to be in the forbidden land of Cossacks and Bolsheviks, the center of such rapt attention.

Then two young men dragged out a book and thrust it into my lap. It was an English-language edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica they had opened to the page on Chanukah. One of them pointed to a drawing of the nine-branched Chanukiyah and asked me to explain its use.

Thinking he was joking, I smiled. These were university-educated people. This was the 20th century. He had to be pulling my leg.

He wasn’t. And I’ll always remember my shock and sadness as I realized it.

So here I was, on my Israeli kibbutz, purporting to masquerade as people whose pain and isolation were so very real? I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t.

My ulpan lit the Chanukah candles that year on the floor of the Knesset building in Jerusalem. And when my turn came, I was Sue Fishkoff, not Sonia Pitchkopf. And I lit in the name of my own grandparents, free in America, and in the name of the five young men I had met that night in Leningrad.

Two of them already were living in New Jersey. The others were still in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, as late as 1996, the last time I visited them.

And my ulpan friends called me Pitchkopf for the rest of the year.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Proposed law to probe Israeli rights groups prompts fierce criticism in Israel

JERUSALEM – Knesset legislation calling for an investigation of Israeli human rights groups has sparked a fierce argument over who is doing more to hurt Israel’s reputation: human rights organizations critical of the Israeli government and army, or the politicians who want to investigate them for allegedly going too far.

By a vote of 47-16, the Knesset last week gave preliminary passage to proposed legislation calling for the establishment of a parliamentary panel to investigate the funding and activities of a long list of left-leaning human rights groups.

One of the co-sponsors, Faina Kirshenbaum of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, charges that the groups are working under the guise of human rights advocacy to discredit the Israel Defense Forces’ presence in the west bank, criminalize its soldiers, and encourage draft-dodging — with the overall aim of weakening the IDF and delegitimizing Israel.

News Analysis

“These groups provided material to the Goldstone commission and are behind indictments lodged against Israeli officers and officials around the world,” Kirshenbaum declared during a Knesset debate, referring to the U.N.-endorsed Goldstone report on the Gaza war, which among its findings included allegations of war crimes violations by Israel.

The heavy vote in favor of the legislation reflected widespread concern in Israel at the activities of human rights groups, some of which receive foreign government funds and whose goals may be seen as potentially inimical to the national interest.

Much of the subsequent criticism was directed at the choice of mechanism to deal with the issue: a parliamentary committee in which politicians would be interrogating their political opponents.

After days of criticism for the “undemocratic” nature of the proposed investigatory committee, Lieberman invited cameras into the normally closed party caucus meeting Monday to show he had no intention of backing down.

In his remarks, he suggested that Israel’s delegitimizers rely on the subversive work of Israel’s Haaretz daily newspaper; Yesh Din, a group that monitors the rule of law in the west bank; and Yesh Gvul, an organization that defends Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the west bank. He called the organizations “collaborators in terror.”

“There wasn’t a single meeting abroad where I spoke about delegitimization of Israel and people didn’t say look at what Haaretz wrote or what Yesh Din, Yesh Gvul, or Yesh Batich published,” he said, the last name a derogatory play on words meaning “There is Zero.”

Critics — from both the left and right wings — have accused Lieberman of McCarthyism. They argue that establishing a parliamentary mechanism to hound political opponents is patently undemocratic and brings to mind the witch-hunting days of anti-communist fervor in the United States in the early 1950s.

Israeli law already requires full transparency on funding, most of the named NGOs are fully transparent, and there is a registrar of NGOs where funding information already is in the public domain, critics of the new legislation maintain.

NGO Monitor, an organization often harshly critical of left-leaning Israeli human rights groups, went so far as to publish an Op-Ed criticizing the proposed law as unhelpful and polarizing. (See it at http://www.jstandard.com.)

As for activities such as pointing out transgressions by IDF soldiers, opponents of the proposed law contend that such criticism shows the strength of Israeli democracy rather than casting aspersions on the IDF as a whole or bringing the country into disrepute. On the contrary, setting up a McCarthyist parliamentary committee would do far more damage to Israel’s good name, they argue.

The proposed law, wrote NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, provides “more ammunition for Israel’s most ardent critics to proclaim the ‘death of Israeli democracy,’ further contributing to Israel’s isolation.”

Several of the singled-out groups monitor IDF activities in the west bank. The groups say this is precisely what the role of civil society groups should be: ensuring that the occupation is as humane as possible. If their funding or activities contravene the law in any way, they should be dealt with by the police, not a politically weighted Knesset committee, they insist.

Several Likud leaders, including Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Michael Eitan, and Reuven Rivlin, say they, too, are appalled by Lieberman’s approach.

“It’s a mistake to establish a parliamentary committee in which Knesset members will interrogate their opponents,” Meridor, a deputy prime minister, told Israel’s Channel 2. “It will turn our country into something it never was or ought to be.”

Critical pundits warn of a vicious circle: Threatened by a highly focused international campaign of delegitimization, they see Israel turning on itself, with figures like Lieberman attacking Israeli human rights organizations, thereby laying it open to further delegitimizing attacks.

There is a significant domestic political context to the proposed law. Lieberman’s move to take on the human rights organizations is part of a deliberate campaign aimed at displacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the natural leader of the Israeli right wing. The proposed Knesset legislation came a week after Lieberman publicly repudiated Netanyahu’s policies on reconciliation with Turkey and peace with the Palestinians.

The opposition by senior Likud members to Lieberman’s proposed investigatory committee gave Lieberman another opening to seize the right-wing mantle.

“These backsliders in the national camp, who are ready to sacrifice its interests, are responsible for the fact that the national camp has never ruled Israel even when we won elections,” Lieberman said, referring to Likudniks like Meridor and Begin.

On the Turkish and Palestinian issues, Netanyahu failed to censure Lieberman, prompting commentators to criticize him for weak leadership. But he did not leave the foreign minister’s broadside against the Likud unanswered, arguing that his party is just as determined to fight organizations that act illegally against the state or the IDF, but that there are different ways of going about this.

“The Likud is a democratic and pluralistic party, and not a dictatorship of a single view,” Netanyahu said, sniping at Lieberman’s high-handed leadership of Yisrael Beitenu and insinuating what kind of regime Lieberman might impose if he were to become prime minister.

The big loser in all this will be Israel, say some in the opposition.

Knesset member Yisrael Hasson, who left Yisrael Beiteinu in 2009 to join the centrist Kadima Party led by Tzipi Livni, accuses Lieberman of cynically undermining Israeli foreign policy in a bid to enhance his domestic political standing.

Lieberman is a “foreign policy pyromaniac” with license from an irresponsible prime minister to start fires all over the place, Hasson told JTA.

What makes this particularly dangerous, Hasson says, is that it comes in the context of the campaign to delegitimize Israel: The fires Lieberman starts can turn people who are neutral on Israel into opponents, fueling the campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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