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.
Israel is pursuing a dual policy towards Hamas. On the the hand, it hopes diplomatic gains will bolster Hamas’ political wing against more threatening newcomers like ISIS. On the other, it wishes to weaken Hamas’ military wing to prevent it from developing the capacity to threaten Israel’s control over the enclave. As ever, Israel is keen to sow divisions where possible.
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”.
Fifteen years after Israeli police shot her 19-year-old son Ahmed in the eye, killing him instantly, Hadiya Jabareen has yet to lay his ghost to rest. Instead, she has watched Bentzi Sau, the commander who oversaw the police operation in which Ahmed and 12 other demonstrators died, rise rapidly through the ranks. This month she suffered a further indignity when the government made Sau the highest-ranking police officer in the country.
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.
As Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel must “rebrand” itself to avoid pariah status, ordinary Israelis are being conscripted into an army of spin doctors in a campaign termed “hasbara” – Hebrew for “public diplomacy”. In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory hasbara course for students travelling abroad so that they can learn how to justify Israel’s policies in the occupied territories to outsiders and challenge those who “seek to delegitimise Israel”. It is yet more evidence that hasbara has become a national obsession in Israel.
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.
The Israeli authorities razed Tareq Khatib's home for the second time in two months last week. Now under house arrest at a friend’s home, he expects to be billed hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the demolitions and security operations. Fingering prayer beads, the 48-year-old father of five asked: “Where are my family and I supposed to live? It seems the government thinks the only place for us is out on the street, without a roof over our heads. It’s like they are waging a war against their own citizens.”
Two recent reports suggest that Israel could face catastrophic consequences if it fails to end the mistreatment of Palestinians under its rule, whether in the occupied territories or in Israel itself. The reports should be generating a tidal wave of concern in Israel but have caused barely a ripple. The status quo – of occupation and endemic racism – still seems preferable to most Israelis.
Barack Obama used an Israeli TV interview last week to gently rebuke Israel’s prime minister, warning Benjamin Netanyahu that his security obsessions made him able only to “see the worst possibilities”. The Israeli prime minister has proved himself a master of mining the rich seam of fear that dominates Israeli political discourse. He understands it is the source of his power.
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.
There are few clues today at the site of the single worst massacre committed by the Israeli army during the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. For Israelis, the area is known as Dor, a popular beach resort south of Haifa. But in May, some 300 activists met in the resort’s car park in an attempt to end the long-enforced silence about Tantura in Israelis’ collective memory.
Only a few weeks into Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the intense strain of trying to square its members’ zealotry with Israel’s need to improve its international standing is already starkly evident. But even faced with a cabinet of settlers, ultra-nationalists and religious extremists, President Barack Obama is still choosing to shower Israel with arms and favours.
Israel’s Palestinian minority is preparing to hold a 'day of rage' to protest against a supreme court ruling last week that cleared the way to destroy an entire Bedouin village so that it can be replaced with a Jewish town. The decision marks the end of a 13-year legal battle by the 800 villagers of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. There are widespread fears the ruling will reopen the door to controversial legislation requiring the destruction of dozens more Bedouin villages.
Israelis soldiers have conducted prominent relief operations following recent natural disasters – not only in Nepal but in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines. There has to be at least a suspicion that Israel is exploiting these catastrophes to win itself new international friends, try to refute global opinion surveys that regularly identify Israel as a major threat to world peace, and reassure a public back home that Israel really does have the “most moral army in the world”.
Palestinian solidarity groups have taken to social media to step up the pressure on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include Israel for the first time on a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Although indications are that Israel is exerting enormous pressure to avoid being named, a senior UN source said Ban’s chief advisers had recommended that the Israeli army be identified alongside the Islamic State and Taliban.
As potential candidates for next year's US presidential elections start to declare their hand, the chief donors on both sides of the political divide appear to have one issue uppermost in mind: Israel. The growing diplomatic rupture between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama appears to have become a motivating factor for major donors. According to analysts, the key bankrollers of both the Republican and Democratic campaigns want to make sure Netanyahu faces a much easier ride with Obama's successor.
Upper Nazareth was built on Nazareth’s lands to “Judaise” the only Palestinian city to survive relatively unscathed from the 1948 war. But in recent years the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Upper Nazareth has grown – and now stands at 20%. Fears of an Arab takeover stand behind a raft of controversial municipal measures, from banning Christmas trees and blocking the building of a school teaching in Arabic to the latest: refusing to stock books in Arabic at local public libraries.
The question of punishing illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory was considered separately in Europe and Israel last week, with only superficial differences in the conclusions reached. Israel’s near half-century occupation is in no immediate danger, either at home or abroad. After years of internal debates, only a small majority of the 27 EU states have been able to agree on the most ineffectual measure imaginable against Israel.