Anti-Democratic Trends

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”.

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.

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.

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”.

Israel is seeking to bring dozens of church-run schools under government control, a move that community leaders warn will curb the last vestiges of educational freedom for the country’s large Palestinian minority. The schools, which educate Christians and Muslims and are among the highest-achieving in Israel, are the only hope for most families trying to escape dire conditions in the government-run Arab education system.

A month into resuming his premiership, Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of an increasingly autocratic rule, as critics warn his new government is preparing to take a draconian line against institutions opposing its policies. Israel’s rightwing coalition has already indicated it will make a priority of tackling three fronts – human rights organisations, the media and the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu won the Israeli election in a last-minute reversal by scaring right and far-right blocs of voters back to their normal political base – his Likud party. But in doing so, he burnt his bridges with the international community and tore up the rules of democratic discourse.

Tired, confused, desperate and paranoid are just a few of the epithets that have been hurled at Netanyahu in the last days of the campaign. Warning that the whole of the right will fall with him, if he is defeated, Netanyahu ascribed his difficulties not to personal failings but to a sinister plot by “foreign groups”. There was “a huge, worldwide effort to topple the Likud”, he warned.

The thrust of the right’s election campaign suggests a different reading of Avigdor Lieberman’s move to raise the threshold last year. Then, it was widely assumed he was trying to bar the Arab parties from parliament. Now it seems as if he may have had a more sinister goal in mind. In creating the Joint List, the Arab parties may – rather than foiling the right’s plan – have stepped into its trap.

Israel’s Central Elections Committee on Thursday barred Haneen Zoabi, one of the most prominent Arab politicians in Israel, from running for the parliament in next month’s general election. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party had submitted a 50-page dossier of quotes it claimed proved Zoabi supported armed struggle by Israel’s enemies and opposed Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.

The right needs a credible enemy, one that can be feared and that keeps the Jewish tribe from feuding too viciously. The occasional rocket from Gaza hardly qualifies. The role is instead being assigned to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. They and Palestinians in Jerusalem are now likely to take centre stage in any future election campaign.

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