News Roundup for March 4, 2019

March 4, 2019

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Top News and Analysis

Now That He’s Cornered, Netanyahu Is More Dangerous Than Ever, Haaretz

Yossi Verter writes, “Netanyahu is a wounded animal with his back against the wall. Everything we have seen – the unbridled attacks on law enforcement and the media – are a quaint preview of what he’s capable of in his despair, in his anger. If only we could put the entire country in the nuclear shelter built for the cabinet under the Judean Hills and wait for the fury to pass….Lacking a partner from the rival camp, if he wins, Netanyahu will be condemned to establish a narrow coalition once again of 61, 62 or maybe even 63 Knesset members. He’ll be exposed to pressure and exploitation, and will be weaker and more vulnerable than ever. His first act will be to try to pass a law preventing a sitting prime minister from being put on trial. The chances he can pass such a law aren’t good, but it’s still scary to think what he might give his coalition partners if they support such an abomination, the only thing that can save him from a trial.”

Is Netanyahu a crook? Allegedly. A threat to democracy? That verdict is sadly in, Times of Israel

David Horovitz writes, “It is irresponsible and dangerous….as prime minister, to seek, in the process, to discredit and weaken public confidence in the institutions of democracy. But that is precisely what Netanyahu has been doing — indeed, is doing, with ever-greater recklessness. Why is this all so dangerous? Because if the cops and the prosecutors are crooked and biased, if even the ex-army chiefs turned politicians (such as his key election rival Benny Gantz) are out to harm our country, if our media cannot be trusted, then why should we citizens heed any of them? Why, for that matter, should we pay our taxes? Why should we rein in our aggressions? Why should we serve in the country’s defense? Why should we look out for anything other than our own narrowest interests?”

Breaking the Silence: Inside the Israeli Right’s Campaign to Silence an Anti-Occupation Group, The Intercept

Mairav Zonszein reports, “The small whistleblower organization has found itself at the epicenter of a well-orchestrated, ongoing campaign by a spectrum of right-wing groups, individuals, media outlets, and senior politicians to quash its exposure of Israel’s occupation and human rights violations. The attacks have included incitement and threats. They have been called liars, traitors, and enemies….The political persecution of Breaking the Silence is a testament to the settler right’s consolidation of power and permeation into the mainstream over the last decade; allegations against the group have found their way into the talking points of Israel’s most powerful leaders. The state has put a heavy price tag on calling for an end to the occupation, and Breaking the Silence has found itself on the front lines of this battle.”


Car rams into Israeli troops, Palestinian attackers killed: military, Reuters

Three Palestinians deliberately drove a car into Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank on Monday and two of the attackers were shot dead after critically injuring an officer, the Israeli military said.

Coalition Parties Say They Would Join a Netanyahu-led Government Despite Charges, Haaretz

All the coalition parties have said they would join a new coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the attorney general’s decision to indict him in three corruption probes pending a hearing.  Kulanu, Hayamin Hehadash, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the far-right parties all said they would join a Netanyahu-led government even after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Thursday that Netanyahu would be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Cases 4000, 2000 and 1000, pending a hearing.

For first time in poll, Gantz pulls slightly ahead of Netanyahu as pick for PM, Times of Israel

Benny Gantz showed a very slight lead over Benjamin Netanyahu as the most suitable candidate for prime minister in a poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Saturday. The results of the survey mark the first time the head of the Blue and White party gained an edge in a poll with the prime minister, with 41 percent of respondents picking Gantz and 40 percent choosing Netanyahu when asked who they thought was most fit to serve as Israel’s prime minister, with the remainder saying they didn’t know. The margin is so small, however, as to fall within the poll’s margin of error.

‘New Right’ Party Won’t Support Bill to Protect Netanyahu From Indictment, Says Bennett, Haaretz

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday his party wouldn’t support a law that would prohibit indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while in office. Bennett, co-leader of Hayamin Hehadash, told Israeli public radio he “generally supports” such law, known as “The French Law,” but not one that would apply retroactively.

Texas blacklists Airbnb over settlements boycott, JTA

The state of Texas blacklisted Airbnb for its decision to remove listings of rooms and homes for rent in West Bank Jewish settlements. Airbnb on Friday was placed on the state’s “List of Companies that Boycott Israel” by Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar. Under the law, Airbnb has 90 days to prove that it does not boycott Israel nor has taken action against it. Otherwise, the State of Texas “shall sell, redeem, divest, or withdraw all publicly traded securities of the company, except securities.”

‘Antithesis of American Values’: Pro-Israel Democratic Senators Slam Netanyahu’s Deal With Kahanists, Haaretz

Senators Cardin and Menendez, considered among Israel’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill have expressed rare criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following his political pact with the racist Otzma Yehudit party ahead of the April 9 election. “The reality is that the party that Prime Minister Netanyahu has aligned himself with is the antithesis of American values,” said Menendez. He added that “since America plays such a significant role in supporting the State of Israel, you have to wonder at the end of the day how can we be supportive of such an alignment.” Cardin was quoted as saying: “This is an outrageous coalition, and I think what AIPAC said expressed the views of most people that I know. We’re not weighing in on foreign elections. We are weighing in on a strategy that goes beyond elections.”

Religious Jews Condemn Netanyahu’s Far-right Pact in Jerusalem Protest, Haaretz

Some 300 religious Jewish Israelis marched on Saturday outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, in protest of his electoral deal with right-wing parties, which could see followers of late racist U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane enter Knesset after the April 9 election. Former minister Rabbi Michael Melchior told protesters that Otzma Yehudit itself and Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, which joined forces with it under Netanyahu’s pressure to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties, “are adopting the most impure values from the nations of the world – fascism and racism – and want to stain Judaism.”

Opinion and Analysis

Hamas is being careful to avoid escalation, but that could change very soon, Times of Israel

Avi Issacharoff observes, “Gaza’s economy is stuck and has no growth stimuli. Residents may have more hours of electricity per day than in the past — eight — but their future is looking dimmer than ever. If anyone is wondering why we have been seeing another increase over the last two weeks in so-called ‘popular terrorism’ — incendiary balloons, improvised explosives, etc. — the Strip’s economy can supply a sad but sufficient explanation….For now, it’s clear to both Hamas and Egypt that Israel, before the April 9 elections, will not agree to any dramatic step that could harm Netanyahu’s chances of being reelected as prime minister. But public pressure is having an effect in Gaza; hence the spike in violence. How will it look at the end of the month, with the planned Land Day protest? That is hard to predict.”

As U.S. Jerusalem Consulate Shuts, Pro-Israel Envoy Takes On Palestinian Relations, NPR

Daniel Estrin reports, “When the United States closes its Jerusalem Consulate on Monday, it will not only be winding down a 175-year diplomatic mission. The move also represents another major downgrade of the Trump administration’s relations with the Palestinians….Consul General Karen Sasahara, who has served as an unofficial ambassador to the Palestinians, is leaving Jerusalem and won’t be replaced. A lower-ranking foreign service officer will head the new unit. U.S Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a longtime supporter of Israel’s West Bank settler movement whom Palestinians see as their ideological opponent, will oversee diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and Israelis both.”

Foreign Minister Zarif’s risky gamble wins the Iran deal more time, CNN

Trita Parsi writes, “Almost a week after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif submitted his resignation over Instagram, it’s become clear that Zarif made a high-risk gamble — and it paid off handsomely. Calculating that both the public and many in the political elite would rally behind him, his wager compelled key Iranian leaders to renew their confidence in him. And with the Iran nuclear deal facing existential challenges over the next few months, the boost for Zarif could not have come at a better time….It signals to the Trump administration that its attempt to frustrate the Iranians into exiting the deal — which could potentially pave the way for military action against Iran — is failing. In other words, Zarif’s presence deprives international hardliners of the pretext for war they have been so desperately seeking.”

Palestinians, Jordanians challenge Israel at Al-Aqsa over banned prayer space, Al-Monitor

Daoud Kuttab reports, “Al-Aqsa Mosque is again causing a major rift in the once friendly relationship between Jordan and Israel. Relations turned sour in the past week when Israeli security officials conducted a humiliating arrest of Jordan’s most senior official in Jerusalem. Heavily armed Israeli security forces arrived at the East Jerusalem home of Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 24. Salhab’s deputy and a score of other employees of the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf were also taken away, as were leading Palestinian activists….Jordanian Awqaf Ministry lawyers, who are usually reluctant to use the Israeli courts to resolve such diplomatic issues, were forced to defend the head of the council in court.”