Israeli Jewish Affairs

Israeli government funds have been secretly transferred to far-right organisations leading a smear campaign against groups opposed to the occupation, a series of investigations show. The rightwing groups have received tens of millions of dollars in state funding. In three known cases, the publicly funded far-right organisations launched spying operations on human rights groups, while other money has gone towards ad campaigns claiming to expose peace activists as “moles”.

One in 10 Israeli Jews cannot marry legally in their own country, Israeli legislators heard last week, as Israel’s religious authorities face a growing backlash against their wide-ranging powers. The figures include 364,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose Jewishness is not officially recognised. Critics says Israel’s marriage policies compare with those of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

Moments before an Aegean Airlines flight was due to take off, three Israeli passengers took security into their own hands and demanded that two fellow passengers, from Israel’s Palestinian minority, be removed from the plane. Dozens more Israeli Jews joined the protest, refusing to take their seats. Like a parable illustrating Europe’s bottomless indulgence of Israel, Aegean staff caved in to the pressure.

Last November, just days after lethal attacks in Paris by ISIS, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu outlawed the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel. He compared the group, which is tied to the Muslim Brothers, to ISIS in an attempt to frame the ban as part of the global war on terror. But in reality, the Israeli government’s action was long in the making and driven by considerations of local power politics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day to intensify a campaign of incitement against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens. Palestinian leaders in Israel have also harshly criticised the police for making sweeping arrests of Nashat Melhem’s relatives in what they believe is an attempt to pressure him into turning himself in.

Israeli officials met executives at Google last month to persuade them that, for the sake of peace, they must censor the growing number of Palestinian videos posted on YouTube. But these videos are simply a record of Palestinians’ bitter experiences of occupation. It is these experiences, not the videos, that drive Palestinians to breaking point.

Tens of thousands of visitors have come to Sheikh Raed Salah’s protest tent in the past three weeks, since Netanyahu declared his Islamic Movement an “illegal organisation”. In an interview, Salah calls the move “a declaration of war not just against our movement but against Islam and against the whole Palestinian community [in Israel]. Everyone feels targeted.”

With dismaying predictability, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in exploiting the massacre in Paris by outlawing the Islamic Movement, a popular party among Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Netanyahu justified the decision by conflating the movement with Hamas and ISIL, even though the Islamic Movement rejects violence and operates entirely within Israeli law.

The decision by the Israeli government to outlaw the country’s main Islamic Movement marks a dangerous turning point in Israel’s relations with its large Palestinian minority. The move effectively drives underground a religious, political and social movement representing the views of a sizeable portion of Israel’s 1.6 million Palestinian citizens.

Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a crackdown on Palestinian political leaders in Israel, blaming them for the current unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to bolster his severely dented image as ‘Mr Security’. After a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu directed officials to assemble the evidence to make possible the outlawing of the northern wing of the Islamic movement.

The violence rocking the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and now Gaza is on the verge of spilling into Israel, Palestinian leaders in Israel warned. A wave of unrest has swept Palestinian towns in Israel over recent days. Aggressive policing, vigilante-style attacks by Israeli Jews and a crackdown on the Palestinian leadership in Israel have quickly heightened tensions.

Nearly 300 Israeli schools have joined an IDF-education ministry programme called “Path of Values”, whose goal is to “strengthen the ties and cooperation between schools and the army”. In practice, say teachers, it has led to regular visits to schools by army officers and reciprocal field trips to military bases for the children, to encourage them to enlist when they finish school.

The popular shift rightwards in Israel means that even the left can no longer afford to keep its racism hidden from view. For Palestinian leaders, that may be no bad thing: it is easier to grapple with an Israel that grows ever less sophisticated, ever less capable of concealing its central goals. It looks uglier, not simply because things are getting worse but because they are finally out in the open.

With 47 independent church schools in Israel facing closure as they are starved of funding, many Christians are starting to suspect their government is waging a low-level war against them. Christians in neighbouring states are fleeing the Middle East as they face civil wars and threats of persecution. In Israel the mistreatment of Christians may be more bureaucratic than physical, but its effects are likely in the long run to prove just as tangible.

Israel is examining ways to expand the scope of the Law of Return, defining who is a Jew, to entitle up to three million more people to immigrate. Immigration rights could be extended to “groups with ties to the Jewish people”, including so-called “lost tribes” in India and Latin America. The move appears to reflect mounting concern that Israel is losing the “numbers battle” against the Palestinians.

In an interview about his new book, Jeff Halper argues that Israel is cashing in – both financially and diplomatically – on systems of control it has developed in the occupied territories. It is exporting its know-how to global elites keen to protect their privileges from both external and internal challengers. In a world supposedly mired in an endless war on terror, we may all be facing a future as Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been scrambling to extinguish a firestorm after his religious affairs minister questioned the Jewishness of hundreds of thousands of North American Jews. David Azoulay’s disparaging comments about followers of the most progressive branch of Judaism, known as Reform, threaten to undermine Netanyahu’s policy of trying to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel.

Officials in Jerusalem have approved a massive construction project, including plans for housing, shops and a hotel, on one of the largest and most historically important Islamic cemeteries in the Middle East. A previous project to build a courthouse at the site, part of Mamilla Cemetery, was scrapped earlier after it provoked a storm of protest.

The Israeli government has declared war on a new TV channel financed by the Palestinian Authority that targets Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. Despite the channel’s modest budget and ambitions, however, Israel’s public security minister, Gilad Erdan, ordered its closure last week, describing its operations as a “breach of Israel’s sovereignty”.

The belated admission by Israel that one of its citizens was last seen entering Gaza 10 months ago, and that little is known of his fate since, has caused outrage among the country’s small community of Ethiopian Jews. Avraham Mengistu’s family, able to speak for the first time after a gag order imposed since September was lifted, accused the government and security forces of foot-dragging and racism.