I had indicated in my last posting that we were dealing with multiple, heavy-weight problems. I opted to focus on just one – judicial reform – and said that I would follow with more. I will do that here. But I want to return to the topic of judicial reform briefly before moving on.
A report that surfaced yesterday indicates that Justice Minister Yariv Levin remains unfazed by criticism of his judicial reform plan and intends to move ahead without significant revisions. Apparently, he might consider minor revisions if the opposition agrees to support his legislation – something that is not going to happen.
The Court ruling on Deri has actually energized members of the government to act speedily and the first reading of the law should take place in a matter of weeks, with two additional readings to follow.
Among its other provisions, the legislation would allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws that the Court had struck down and would significantly block the Court from utilizing the “reasonable” test to strike down legislation or government decisions (as was done with the ruling that Deri could not be a minister).
(MK Simcha Rothman, RZP, has drafted judicial reform legislation that varies in some particulars from Levin’s legislation. I hope to have details soon.)
The report cited above says that Prime Minister Netanyahu is with Levin on his proposed legislation and “undeterred” by protests against the judicial reform. We should, however, be clear about the fact that reference to “protests” is with regard to left-wing demonstrations in Tel Aviv. He has faced many of these and they do not deter him.
However, another report from Channel 12 news – which does not cite sources but provides specifics – tells a different side of the story:
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was here last week. In meetings with Netanyahu he indicated that “the liberal, democratic public [in the US] and we in the administration do not like the direction you’re going in, with regards to the judicial reform.
“…if there is harm to democratic values, it will make it difficult for us to offer unwavering and unhesitating support for Israel.” (Emphasis added)
According to this report, Netanyahu told Sullivan that he would work to ensure that any judicial reform is passed with broad agreement, and that the final legislation will be watered down from the hardline version presented earlier this month by Justice Minister Yariv Levin. (Emphasis added)
The bottom line here is that it is not the business of the “liberal” – read progressive-left – US administration to make judgement on internal matters in Israel.
And most certainly US officials should not be threatening withdrawal of support in order to manipulate what happens here.
This is what I think Netanyahu should have said to Sullivan:
Sir, I am bewildered by your impression that our judicial reforms might weaken democratic values, for in fact the intent is to make the process more democratic. I have full confidence in our government’s ability to make the right decisions in order to strengthen our country. We would hope that our friends would recognize that those decisions remain solely within our jurisdiction. Were your government to withdraw support for us, that would be most regrettable, in light of the strong bonds we share.
There is considerable reason to celebrate the emergence of a right-wing government here in Israel. But let it be clearly understood here (and it will follow with regard to my next issue, below), that Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, is not right-wing. Certainly some members of the Likud party are staunchly so (and read to the end for more on this), and the right-wing parties in the coalition will draw him to the right to some degree, as we shall see.
Last Thursday night a small outpost was erected by activists eager to honor the memory of the late Rabbi Haim Druckman, a spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement. Those involved included the rabbi’s grandson. The outpost – named “Or Haim” and put up without permits – was on a hilltop adjacent to the town of Migdalim in the Shomron.
Within hours of the construction of this miniscule outpost consisting of a handful of temporary structures for five families, the Civil Administration, which operates under the umbrella of the Defense Ministry, had declared the area a closed military zone and ordered the destruction of all structures. By Friday afternoon the police had begun dismantlement.
According to activists on the scene, local Arabs attacked the outpost during the demolition, assaulting Jews, but Israeli security forces who were present did not intervene.
This scenario was particularly problematic because the actions taken contravened coalition agreements.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also serves as an independent minister in the Defense Ministry and according to his coalition agreement with Likud has broad authority over building in Area C of Judea and Samaria. Legislative changes had been made to Basic Law to enable him to assume this position, which involves control over COGAT and the Civil Administration.
Early Friday morning Smotrich had ordered COGAT to freeze plans for the outpost’s demolition until a formal hearing on the matter could be held. Smotrich’s position was that there had to be commensurate action with regard to Arab illegal building at the same time.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud), with a nod from the prime minister, countermanded Smotrich’s order and instructed the Civil Administration to proceed with the demolition. This was in direct violation of the coalition agreement, as Gallant did not consult with Smotrich.
At the very same time, Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir had ordered police to halt the demolition. Acknowledging that the outpost was built without authorization, he declared that there had to be fair enforcement of infractions: “It is outrageous that while Arabs are building across Judea and Samaria, the Civil Administration people are carrying out selective enforcement – within a matter of hours – to demolish and destroy this outpost.” (Emphasis added)
As we know, Ben Gvir’s order, as well, was ignored.
What I learned subsequent to this incident is that this was not an isolated episode: the coalition agreements between Smotrich and Likud, and Ben Gvir and Likud were in large measure being ignored.
Both Smotrich and Ben Gvir had insisted on written arrangements in their coalition agreements precisely because they knew whom they were dealing with. They knew going in that verbal promises would not suffice. Netanyahu agreed because he needed their participation in order to establish a government. Now he has that government, and it behooves him to honor the agreements.
This is hardly the end of the story. Both Smotrich and Ben Gvir are very smart and very tough. They intend to stand strong for the religious Zionist principles to which they are committed.
I share here a comment that epitomizes to a breath-taking degree the hypocrisy of the left. This a comment on the situation with Or Haim from MK Gadi Eisenkot, former IDF Chief of Staff and now a member of the National Unity Party chaired by Benny Gantz:
“I watch with concern the irresponsible conduct of Minister Bezalel Smotrich who gives illegal instructions that contradict decades of policy in which new construction of any kind is immediately destroyed.” (Israel National News source provided above.)
Eisenkot is correct. There is a policy requiring the demolition of illegally constructed housing in Area C.
But as this is so, how is it that there were 5535 new illegal structures built by Palestinian Arabs in Area C in 2022, representing an increase of 80% over what was built in 2021?
A miniscule number of these were taken down and often only after legal prodding by Regavim.
In 2022, Benny Gantz, who heads Eisenkot’s party, was Minister of Defense.
Regavim reports that now instead of temporary shelters, the Palestinian Arabs are building palatial structures.
How is it that these palatial structures still stand and Or Haim was taken down within a day?
How is it that Eisenkot was not deeply embarrassed to call attention to this policy? Does he imagine we are all fools?
Smotrich and Ben Gvir are not calling for illegal Jewish construction to stand. They are demanding, at long last, that there be equal application of the law. They are demanding that illegal Arab building be taken down.
This is a fight for our rights in the land, and more power to them!!
See here a video of new MK Dan Illouz (Likud) speaking out on this issue. He is clear and articulate.
At the Cabinet meeting this past Sunday, Ben Gvir presented a list of the illegal Palestinian Arab buildings that were constructed in the last month and demanded that they be demolished.
“A law is a law and is the same law for all, on my watch I will not accept racism against Jews and just as the Minister of Defense chose to destroy the Jewish outpost, we demand the destruction of illegal Arab construction in Judea and Samaria.”
In addition, and most importantly, he demanded that the illegal Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar be taken down. Back in 2018, the High Court ruled that the village could be taken down by the Israeli government. There were security issues regarding its location next to Route 1, in a strategically sensitive area. More than five times governments of Israel have asked for extensions or have delayed. This happened on Netanyahu’s watch, and most recently when Lapid was prime minister. The deadline for the government to tell the Court why it should not come down is February 1.
What has caused the delays is reluctance by various governments to buck the international furor generated on behalf of this illegal village, which is the flagship of the PA’s annexation project. Highly biased left-wing organizations, political bodies and agencies such as the European Parliament have said that taking down this village is in violation of international law, a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, etc.
What makes it so ridiculous is that Israel, at a cost of 80 million shekels, has constructed an alternative site, where infrastructure, roads, electricity, water, sewage, a health clinic and school have been prepared on state land just outside Abu Dis, and where the Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar might be located.
This Monday, a group of Likud activists took a tour of Khan al-Ahmar, hosted by the Regavim Movement and the Forum for Jerusalem Satellite Communities. Among the activists were two Likud MKs: World Likud Chairman MK Danny Danon (second from right below) and Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Yuli Edelstein (next to Danon).
Subsequent to this briefing, members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, including Edelstein who chairs it, requested an urgent meeting of the Committee to discuss the issue. I have been advised that the request has been denied, but am not able to explain what the process is or why the chair could not call a meeting.
On Monday night, Netanyahu met with Gallant and Smotrich in an effort to smooth things over. Eager to avoid any impression that the coalition is fractured, he is making appropriate statements about how his administration will be dealing with the issues.
“We’ll fight against Palestinian illegal building,” he said, but “it doesn’t mean that we’ll enable illegal Israeli building.” But no one was claiming this (although he seems to be trying to pin this position on Smotrich and Ben Gvir).
“What’s important to me is that all heads of the coalition agree on this,” he declared.
My response: Show us, don’t tell us. Words will not mollify Smotrich or Ben Gvir. Start with Khan al-Ahmar and show real seriousness about stopping illegal Palestinian Arab building.
Stay tuned, my friends.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.