Israel: Netanyahu’s blackmail

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Israel burns. But not because of aggression from the Arab world, which has meanwhile become Jerusalem’s best ally and partner. Attacks are very rare, and are followed by military repression worthy of Nazi Germany. Israel burns because its political class, which is completely corrupt, is incapable of expressing a stable government, except that of the Zionist and racist right, which considers the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust as an eternal permission to commit any crime against humanity.

Israel burns because Netanyahu’s government, with the support of the ultra-Orthodox forces, wants to replace the Western democracy born out of World War II with an Iranian-style theocracy – another change that unquestionably pleases its most important allies: the Persian Gulf monarchies. But the population does not want a theocracy and has been taking to the streets in protest for over a month. To no avail: Netanyahu goes his own way, and hopes that the genocide of the Palestinian people is enough to guarantee him political consensus and criminal impunity.

The Netanyahu regime, as well as that of Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and that of Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, invests billions of dollars in the development of espionage technologies, social manipulation, mercenary and military development. The results are astonishing, and they even reverse the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington: until yesterday, the United States was the guarantee for the survival of the State of Abraham, and today Netanyahu’s allies profoundly influence American political life, supporting the most dangerous political groups of the nationalist, chauvinist right and Christian fundamentalism[1].

The myth of the Promised Land

Thousands of Israelis protest in the streets against Prime Minister ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu[2]

What would the Messiah, walking in the Promised Land, say in the face of so much hatred and violence? Perhaps like Giorgio Gaber, he would shout that he wants to invent morality again, and sound the trumpets for the Last Judgement[3]. Patience, for the inhabitants of the Holy Land, is over. And this applies both to the Israelis, who no longer tolerate being represented by a corrupt and extremist political class that is impoverishing them; and to the Palestinians who live in inhuman conditions, after years of armed clashes and persecution.

For over a month, every Saturday, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against their government. The uprising was triggered by a government bill that allows a decision of the Supreme Court to be overturned by a simple parliamentary majority, thus nullifying and politicising the actions of the judiciary – one of the indispensable pillars of democracy[4]. The initiator of this design is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu[5]. With his authoritarian methods, he intends to reform the judiciary – only for his own personal gain[6].

With this law, which places judges under the control of politicians, Israel comes close to undemocratic forms like those of Hungary and Poland[7]. In an open letter signed by high-ranking and former state officials (which is unprecedented) dozens of publicly exposed people attack a project that will eventually ‘destroy the judicial system’ in Israel[8]. Since then, tens of thousands of protesters have poured into the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities. The protesters’ placards summarise the common sentiment: ‘For sale: democracy. Model: 1948, unrestrained’[9].

The citizens are well aware that the proposed changes threaten Israel’s secular and democratic principles, concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu’s coalition. The approval of the bill by the Knesset[10], Israel’s unicameral parliament[11], was the latest step in a sweeping reform of the judicial system[12] that favours the impunity of the PM’s entourage. A part of the people wants to put an end to the era of the despot, even though this project has repeatedly failed with the vote. Israel keeps returning to the polls mainly because voters remain evenly divided on the question of whether Netanyahu is capable of leading the country while on trial for corruption charges[13].

Netanyahu was put under investigation in 2016[14]. The premier pleads not guilty: he calls the trial a ‘witch hunt’ and an ‘attempted coup’[15]. For years, in order to prevent being judged for what he is accused of, he has been waging a mad and lying ‘holy war’ against the Palestinians who, according to him, are guilty of illegally occupying the Promised Land. With military interventions that increasingly resemble genocide, violate all signed treaties, and starve the Palestinian economy, he seeks to create a condition of permanent fear, whereby Israelis accept an undemocratic theocracy in exchange for strong alliances with Arab countries and the gradual and inexorable erasure of Palestine.

Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories[16]

Although both Jews and Arabs trace their claims to ownership back two thousand years, the political conflict began in the early 20th century. Jews fleeing religious persecution in Europe wanted to establish a homeland in what was then Palestine, a predominantly Arab and Muslim territory that had passed from the Ottoman to the British empire. The Arabs resist, claiming the land as theirs by right. A UN plan for cohabitation fails, leading to several wars between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations. Today’s border lines reflect the outcomes of two of these wars[17], the 1948[18] and 1967 wars[19].

The 1967 war left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories where more than two million Palestinians are crowded in inhuman conditions[20]. Israeli troops impose all kinds of restrictions on them. Jewish settlers relentlessly build new houses in the West Bank, on land that belongs to the Palestinians. Gaza, politically controlled by the religious party Hamas, is continuously held hostage by the army in Jerusalem[21]. But this, too, is an outcome desired by those blowing the whistle: in 2007, Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority because it promised to respond blow by blow to Israeli firing. In response, Israel and Egypt imposed a land and sea blockade, claiming they wanted to oust Hamas. This has not been the case: since 2009, Hamas and Israel have been killing every day.

Families live in refugee camps, in cramped and dilapidated houses by the sewage-filled Mediterranean Sea, because there is not enough money, electricity and infrastructure to run Gaza’s war-torn sewage system. This also applies to hospitals, schools and homes. Hardly anyone has enough clean water to drink. The only source, the coastal aquifer, is full of dirty, salty water[22]: a crime perpetrated with US support and weapons: an open-air prison, deprived for years of the necessities of life, murdered and maimed by bombs[23].

They survive thanks to the solidarity of nations writing off their debts and the influx of money sent by Palestinians abroad, thanks to Hamas’ control of territory and the support of international bodies and the UN[24]. There is little doubt about this: scholars of international law claim that this is an attempt at genocide[25], which began with the mass displacement of Palestinians in 1948, and continued over half a century of military occupation and discriminatory regime, of which Netanyahu is the ultimate interpreter[26].

Genocide is a term with a sociological and legal meaning. The term was coined in 1944 by a Polish Jewish jurist, Raphael Lemkin[27]. According to his criteria, Palestinian genocide is an ‘incremental genocide’. The killings, the terrible living conditions, the expulsions, followed on from Lydda in 1947 and 1948, when 700 or more villages in Palestine were destroyed – events that continue to this day[28]. Dozens of Holocaust survivors, along with hundreds of descendants of victims, blame Israel for the deaths of over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza during the 2014 military offensive[29].

Years of political stalemate

18 May 2022: Palestinian families from the Gaza Strip at the end of Ramadan next to their homes destroyed by the Jerusalem army[30]

Those who try to bring these atrocities to light end up in the crosshairs of Israeli snipers, as happened last May to Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, while documenting clashes in the occupied West Bank[31]. Despite the fact that she was wearing a helmet and a protective vest marked ‘press’, she was hit by Israeli fire, although Netanyahu vigorously denies that a soldier intentionally targeted her[32].

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s strategy has led to an escalation of the conflict, with an exponential increase in killings. Often unjustified murders, often of women and children, real executions. This behaviour is having serious repercussions on stability in Jerusalem and throughout the Palestinian territories[33]. This is countered by Benjamin Netanyahu who, in his election programmes, promises peace and prosperity for all thanks to the slaughter of Palestinians.

A propaganda that works, because it blocks the political debate in Israel. Two elections in 2019 end in a stalemate[34]. Netanyahu remains in power, as interim prime minister, unable to put together a coalition[35]. On 10 April, when ‘Bibi’ is sworn in for a fifth term, this is despite looming corruption charges[36]. Exactly one month after the Knesset is sworn in, the majority votes to disperse and call new elections in September. This is the first time in Israel’s history that a candidate for prime minister has failed to form a coalition after the president has given him the job.

Netanyahu claims that he was unable to reach a compromise on the controversial law on the conscription of the haredi community (ultra-Orthodox, advocates of genocide, excluded from military conscription) and that he tried unsuccessfully to convince opposition MPs to join his government[37].  Neither Likud, the premier’s party, nor Benny Gantz’s Blue and White centrist party have enough seats to form a majority. President Reuven Rivlin, according to the will of the voters, summoned Netanyahu and his electoral rival, Gantz, in the hope of unblocking the situation[38].

Rivlin hopes that the two sides will overcome the impasse, otherwise the country will be forced to hold its third election in less than a year. Netanyahu offers a government of national unity, but Gantz refuses[39]. The premier is determined to retain power because it puts him in a stronger position to face indictment for corruption[40]. Meanwhile, Israel’s Arab bloc, the Joint List party, announces its support for Gantz’s party. “We want to end the Netanyahu era, so we recommend that Benny Gantz form the next government”[41]. This is the first time since 1992 that an Arab political party has given its support to the future Israeli prime minister[42].

Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, barbarously killed by an Israeli soldier[43]

But the votes in the Knesset are not enough, and there is a vote for the third time, on 17 May 2020. Gantz is willing to negotiate with the Prime Minister if he gives up his immunity[44]. After three elections and a situation of paralysis, Israel finally swears in a new government led once again by Netanyahu. The first time an indicted Israeli leader is formally at the helm of the country. Netanyahu opens the televised ceremony with a speech, followed by Benny Gantz, who turns from a former rival into a partner. He holds the position of deputy prime minister, as well as defence minister, for the first 18 months of his term, before swapping places with Netanyahu[45]

The rotation is part of an unprecedented coalition agreement[46]. The broadest government in Israel’s history is born, at a time when the economic crisis rages and unemployment reaches the highest levels in Israel’s 72-year history[47]. Poverty in Israel is a significant problem, but the issue is often silent, or even unknown, to most Jewish communities abroad. According to 2021 data from the National Insurance Institute, in fact, 21% of the Israeli population lives in poverty[48].

These are tragic figures: 10.6% of families are without medical care. In 2021, Israel has the second highest poverty rate in the developed world, behind Costa Rica[49]. The subjective feeling of poverty has increased[50]: in 2021, almost 30.6% of Israeli men and 27.4% of women live in poverty[51]. Among the causes are rising inflation and the interruption of state subsidies to families due to the coronavirus pandemic[52]. As if this were not alarming enough, the statistics are even more dire when it comes to children living in poverty: one in three.

Contrary to popular belief, these are not people who grew up in a low socio-economic environment, but the middle class overwhelmed by the crisis[53]. There is talk of increasing jobs in the state apparatus and investing in education and specialisation, which ‘will lead to higher wages and help lift people out of poverty’[54]. In Palestine, of course, things are worse. According to the UN, 36% of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories live below the poverty line.

The report highlights the role of the military occupation in fragmenting the Palestinian economy and preventing its producers from accessing regional and global markets. The result is a massive trade deficit of 37% of GDP in 2021 (among the highest in the world) and trade dependence on Israel, which accounts for 72% of total Palestinian imports and exports in 2021: Jews control more than two-thirds of Palestinian tax revenues[55].

The final results of the second elections in 2019[56]

The figures reflect a grim and worrying picture. So, in June 2021, in a surprise move, Netanyahu’s opponents united and won the election. All against him. Against the strongest, the most contested, divisive and despised, capable of any nefariousness in order not to lose even an inch of his prominence[57]. He has been Prime Minister on and off since 1996[58], and his opponents oust him when they realise what is obvious to everyone: Israel’s real problem is him[59]. The dastardly bombing of Gaza[60] in May 2021, the clashes with the Arabs on the Esplanade of Mosques[61], and the long-disputed issue of the conscription of students from ultra-Orthodox seminaries, traditionally exempt from automatic military service[62], are the sparks for the eight different parties to take Netanyahu out.

The coalition is united enough to pass a new budget, the first in Israel in more than three years, and make administrative appointments in key positions. Israel’s relations with the Biden administration are strengthened and ties with key Arab states are deepened[63]. The coalition consists of the ultra-right Yamina with leader Naftali Bennett[64], the left-wing Labour Party, the centrists of Yesh Atid (There is a Future[65] ) of former TV journalist Yair Lapid[66], and the United Arab List.

The latter is an unknown. Many Israelis consider him unfit to handle complex security issues, including countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions[67]. In the election campaign he promised to tackle housing costs, end military conscription exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox and legalise same-sex marriage[68]. Since then, he has been Minister of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Strategic Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, as well as leader of the opposition. The son of Yosef Lapid, a former minister and Holocaust survivor, and Shulamit Lapid, a writer, he advocated a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But to secure the support of Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state, he agrees not to negotiate the creation of their state for the duration of the alliance[69].

It allies itself with the Israeli Arabs of the United Arab List, Ra’am, the first Arab party in Israeli history to enter a government. Its leader, Mansour Abbas[70], a moderate Islamist, aims at a broader project, cooperation between Arabs and Jews and political stability, but without Netanyahu in the way. To the Arabs he promises unprecedented investments: over 16 billion dollars in development plans[71]. But the right alchemy between the components is not easy to find – and the experience ends after only a year of toil and discussion[72]. The attempt to transform the prevailing psychology from the ‘ethnic’ nationalism of a ‘State of the Jews’ Israel to a civilised and egalitarian identity of the ‘State of the Israelis’ fails[73].

The government agreement is based on a rotation mechanism between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid as prime minister – a move already attempted by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz[74]. The new alliance collapses even before the budget is approved[75]. Netanyahu succeeds in bringing down the government, plunging the country back into political chaos[76], claiming that Bennett (who has been one of Netanyahu’s main allies in the past) is instigating ‘the fraud of the century’, deceiving voters and lying about political reality[77].

The leaders of the eight ‘government of change’ parties: Clockwise from top left: Merav Michaeli (Labour), Naftali Bennett (Yamina), Benny Gantz (Blue and White), Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Mansour Abbas (Ra’am) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz)[78]

Bennett was chief of staff from 2006 to 2008, former Minister of Defence, and even before that major[79] of the Sayeret Matkal[80], the military special forces unit, and leader of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, the largest Zionist religious organisation in the world, which aims to educate young Jews in the Torah. “Bennett only cares about himself and is therefore giving birth to a dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu declares, despite being firmly anchored on the right: ultra-liberal, standard-bearer of the settlers in the West Bank, opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state[81].

The ideological diversity between the eight parties has been a bane, aggravated by the unrelenting pressure of Netanyahu’s right-wing[82]. On key votes, the coalition found itself unable to govern[83]. The final straw came[84] when a bill extending Israeli civil law to settlers in the occupied West Bank was rejected in parliament[85]. Several Arab members of the coalition refused to vote for it. This prevented the bill from being passed and pushed the coalition to a political impasse[86].

In June 2022, Lapid and Bennett resigned and called new elections, Lapid became interim prime minister[87] for four months, until November 2022[88]: ‘Even if we go to elections in a few months, the challenges we face will not wait. We must face the cost of living, we must campaign against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and we must oppose the forces that threaten to turn Israel into an undemocratic country’[89].

The decision plunges Israel back into paralysis and throws Benjamin Netanyahu a political lifeline[90]. This brings us to the latest Israeli elections, the fifth in four years[91], whose final results confirm the exit polls that promised a big result for the right. Likud, the party led by Netanyahu, overwhelmingly wins, and it is a fiasco for the left[92]. Netanyahu begins his sixth term as prime minister, only 18 months after being ousted from power[93]. The electorate is now aware that the prime minister has criminal responsibilities and is certainly the last man in the world capable of making peace with Palestine, but the economic emergency requires stability and certainty, so better to take him back.

With no more control

The final results of the November 2022 elections with Netanyahu’s Likud party receiving 32 seats[94]

The elections come at a very delicate time for the country, not only because of the economic situation: an increase in Palestinian attacks[95], an escalation of the clandestine war between Israel and Iran[96]. The new elections offer Netanyahu a chance to hold a very solid majority. The outgoing government failed to pass a law preventing a candidate accused of criminal offences from becoming prime minister.

The fear is that Netanyahu will take advantage of his return to office to pass laws that could hinder the prosecution, he denies this and attacks the outgoing government: “A government that depended on the supporters of terrorism, that forgot the personal security of the citizens of Israel, that raised the cost of living to unprecedented levels, that imposed unnecessary taxes, that endangered our Jewish entity. This government goes home”[97]. He is echoed by the Palestinians through the mouth of parliamentarian Aida Touma-Suleiman: ‘The government has implemented an extreme right-wing policy, expanding settlements, destroying houses, and carrying out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. It has offered crumbs to the Arabs in exchange for conceding basic political principles”[98].

The Israeli government’s shift to the right creates disquiet abroad and at home. Over 100 retired Israeli ambassadors and Foreign Ministry officials expressed concern about the new Israeli government in an open letter to Netanyahu[99]. In his speech to the Knesset, ‘Bibi’ states that of the three main tasks assigned to his government, the first will be to ‘counter Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons’. The second priority will be to develop the country’s infrastructure, including the launch of a superfast train, and the third will be to sign new agreements with Arab nations[100].

One of the key issues since the birth of the State of Israel has been its international standing. Also because of historical Arab ostracism, for decades Jerusalem was the only reliable partner of the United States in the region (and also the only functioning democracy in the Middle East), until the discovery of the great Leviathan oil field changed the Israeli perspective (no longer an energy importer, but an exporter), which is why the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi changed the pattern of alliances, bringing Israel to the centre of a solid and powerful array that includes all the adversaries of Turkey and Iran.

All this has been fundamental for Netanyahu’s political parabola: if before, the government in Tel Aviv had to remain hooked on the alliance (and money) of the Jewish community in the United States, today the relationship has been reversed, also because – for decades now – hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews (almost all Russian-speaking) have become an electoral and economic pressure group: especially with the arrival of bulky oligarchs like Arkady Gaydamak[101]. Israel proved at least as loyal to Moscow as it had been to Washington.

The Gaza bombings in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[102]

For years now, Israel has been one of Russia’s main military (and espionage technology) partners[103], and it has signed a key agreement: it promises to have no trade with Ukraine, and in return, Russia blocks its trade with Iran – an agreement strongly desired by Netanyahu[104]. Immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, the United States asked Israel to join the sanctions front against Russia[105], and a significant part of the Knesset expressed a positive opinion on this request and a negative opinion on the participation of the Russian giant Gazprom in the consortium participating in the exploitation of the Leviathan field[106].

In 2015, Netanyahu had been the director of the historic agreement between the Israeli oil company (Delek International) and the Egyptian oil company (Dolphinus Holdings), with an act of force against the political majority and public opinion in his own country[107]. Similarly, it now imposes an agreement between Delek and Gazprom, regardless of international sanctions, implicitly offering itself as an intermediary for Russian hydrocarbons, circumventing the embargo[108]. Not only that. Forced by antitrust laws to sell its 45.3% share in the Tamar oil field, Delek International, thanks to Netanyahu’s mediation, sold its share to the Emirati military giant Mubadala as part of a complex agreement to supply technology to Russia, signed in September 2021 and still in force[109].

The Likud leader leads a coalition with five other parties of the extreme Zionist and religious right, who are intent on disrupting the judicial system, reducing Palestinian autonomy in the occupied West Bank, further strengthening Israel’s Jewish character and maximising state support for the most religious Jews[110]. As peace talks with the Palestinians have failed and religious nationalism has gained strength, Netanyahu’s party has become even more extremist[111], moving decisively in the direction of establishing a theocratic state[112].

The most shocking figure in the last elections is the more than 30 seats out of 120 obtained by the religious-fundamentalist right, equal to half the total number of seats Netanyahu can count on.  In addition to the two parties – Shas and Judaism United in the Torah – which traditionally reflect the demands of the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox communities and aim to impose their theocratic conception on the country, the formation known as “Religious Zionism”, which is very strong among young people, has met with resounding success. This formation is, in one of its components, heir to the Kach[113] , the party founded by Meir Kahane, standard-bearer of anti-Arab racism, excluded for this reason from Parliament in the late 1980s[114].

The Kahanist vision sees violence and vengeance as Jewish religious imperatives, and Israel as unworthy of existence unless it gets the non-Jews out of the way and its Jews commit themselves to living Torah-observant lives. It is a rabid and intransigent ideology that for half a century has continued to find enthusiastic followers, attracted by its dualistic view of good and evil, and its predisposition to act in the name of Jewish pride[115].

The government of the thieves

Monday 20 June 2022: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, after a joint statement in the Knesset, announce the end of their coalition[116]

Religious Zionism preaches the expulsion not only of Palestinians but also of Arabs from Israel unless they accept a state loyalty test, the annexation of the entire West Bank, the discrimination of LGBT communities, the interference of executive power over the Supreme Court and the judiciary[117]. All friends of the Prime Minister, who thus leads a bloc of ultra-nationalists and ultra-religious far-right parties. He appointed them to ministerial posts. Among them, Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist who was[118] convicted of supporting terrorism[119] and inciting racism: he was appointed Minister of National Security, overseeing the police in Israel and some police activities in the occupied West Bank[120].

Acknowledged as a ‘Jewish supremacist’ and an advocate of the use of the most brutal methods against Palestinians, today Ben Gvir embodies, as the name of his movement, Power Jewish, indicates, the ‘power’ achieved by racism in the generation that seems to have forgotten the Holocaust, in order to adhere to an ideology of Jewish apartheid. Ben Givr’s violence is directed against all ‘Arabs’, but he often lashes out at Israelis who do not share his thinking[121]. Gvir, who is 46 years old, has been convicted of at least eight crimes, including supporting a terrorist organisation and inciting racism[122].

The other far-right partner in the government, Avi Maoz of the anti-Lgbt+ Noam party, has called for a ban on the Jerusalem Gay Pride demonstration and a crackdown on equal opportunities for women in the army, limiting immigration to Israel to Jews themselves according to a strict interpretation of Jewish law[123].

At the head of the Finance Ministry Netanyahu appointed Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party. He gave him the power to appoint the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli military unit in charge of border management and permits for Palestinians. Smotrich proposed a series of drastic reforms to undermine judicial independence. This includes making it impossible to charge a public official with fraud and abuse of trust, a charge Netanyahu faces in his ongoing corruption trial[124], as well as 4000 other politicians and state officials[125].

One of these thousands of cases concerns the Prime Minister’s relationship with two businessmen: Arnon Milchan[126] , an Israeli Hollywood film producer, and James Packer[127] , an Australian billionaire. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit claims that Netanyahu and his wife Sara received gifts from them, “mainly boxes of cigars and cases of champagne”, on an ongoing basis, “so much so that they became a sort of ‘supply channel'”. The value of the goods is about 700,000 shekels ($198,000). Netanyahu claims that these are only tokens of friendship. Milchan and Packer have not been charged, and they deny any wrongdoing[128].

Arnon Mozes[129]

Another case concerns the meetings between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the controlling shareholder of the Yedioth Ahronoth group, which publishes a major Israeli newspaper[130]. Mozes’ newspapers have been fiercely critical of the prime minister in the past and have strongly supported President Isaac Herzog[131], Netanyahu’s rival. But Yediot’s sales were hit hard by Yisrael Hayom, a free daily owned by US tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a long-time Netanyahu supporter[132]. Thus, before the 2014 elections, Mozes allegedly entered into negotiations with Netanyahu, asking him to pass a law that would reduce the circulation of Yisrael Hayom in exchange for Mozes’ newspapers’ support for the Likud leader. Netanyahu admits that he talked to Mozes, but only in an attempt to frame him[133].

It does not end there: in another case, the attorney general describes a ‘mutual agreement’ between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, owner of the news website Walla![134]. Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth more than 1 billion shekels (about $280 million) to Elovitch. The judges claim that in return Netanyahu, who was also Israel’s communications minister at the time, received favourable news coverage on Walla! and was even able to direct editorial strategy[135].

After all, corruption has a great tradition in the Promised Land[136]. Among those convicted, the most prominent politician is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is accused of favouring his right-hand man, Uri Messer, and of using false invoices from charities to obtain travel reimbursements. Much more serious is the charge of receiving money from Morris Talansky, a Jew of US nationality, in order to promote his business in Israel[137].

Before him was Moshe Katsav, the eighth president of Israel, sentenced for sexual offences, including two rapes, to seven years in prison[138]. Also causing anger were the convictions of Aryeh Deri[139] for accepting bribes and using public money to benefit an association run by his wife[140]. Deri is the leader of the powerful ultra-orthodox Shas party, which defends ethnic Mizrahi Jews (originally from Arab or North African countries). Deri’s legal problems have led to accusations of discrimination and racism by Ashkenazi Jews (of European descent), including recently, after the Supreme Court disqualified him from serving as minister[141]in mid-January 2023[142]. As a result, Netanyahu, who has a long and close association with Deri, had to make him resign[143]. All cases that infuriated public opinion[144].

Still many cases: former Defence Minister and far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, committed many crimes[145], including fraud and abuse in the appointment of an ambassador[146], as well as the assault on two boys. Stas Misezhnikov, Minister of Tourism, was convicted of transferring large sums of money to a woman with whom he had a sexual relationship[147]. Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson was convicted of using public funds for personal purposes[148]. He was convicted of stealing millions of shekels from the National Workers Labour Federation and the NGO Nili Jewish Youth for Israel[149].

A democracy in disarray

Netanyahu’s corruption cartoons[150]

World Bank reports indicate that Israel tops the list of the most corrupt countries in the world, with a level exceeding the ‘acceptable’ rate in developed countries of 8.8%. Whatever the cause, corruption is most prevalent in the upper echelons of Israeli society, among those with power and influence. This is one of the most worrying issues, at least on a par with ‘Palestinian resistance and internal crime’, because it affects the postcard image of the ‘Jewish and democratic state’[151].

Protest demonstrations continue throughout the country. On Thursday, 9 March, Netanyahu went to Rome for a meeting with the Italian Prime Minister. Protesters prevented him from reaching the airport by car, forcing the army to transport him by air[152]. The president of the Italian Jewish communities, Noemi Di Segni, welcomed him with these words: ‘The behaviour of those who incite hatred and violence towards their neighbours – be they colonists, leftists, Arabs or Palestinians – cannot be proudly Jewish. One cannot be proudly Israeli, nor proudly Jewish, if in the name of a Jewish identity one offers as an answer to terror and mourning the violence of the individual and the ministerial legitimisation of acts of revenge”[153].

These are words that have upset and shaken the Jewish community, but which have a profound sense of truth. In order to quell the violence in the occupied territories, we need to take a big step back and make a radical change of mentality, going back to the origins of Jewish morality, based on fairness and justice[154]. As in all theocracies, the regime, once it has crushed the so-called ‘enemy’, being unable to govern for the good of the country, will start slaughtering its own population. It has happened in the past in Germany, in the Soviet Union, in Iran, in Turkey… everywhere. If something is not done today, all that will remain of the Promised Land will be a minefield and millions of coffins.    

























[25]            Martin Shaw in Martin Shaw & Omer Bartov, The Question of Genocide in Palestine, 1948: An Exchange Between Martin Shaw & Omer Bartov, 12 Journal of Genocide Research 243, 244 (2010).

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