After the high of Yom Yerushalayim, it’s important to sustain some of that positive feeling with good news items. And I will do that shortly. But it’s a bit of a challenge, as there is much to deal with.
I begin with comments that relate to the Flag Parade.
We all know buzz words used by Arabs in the PA and Hamas, as well as their supporters: “occupation,” “war crime,” etc. Words used to make a point about Israel without the remotest regard for veracity.
Recently there has been another phrase floated by Arabs and media supporting them: We are told about “settlers storming the Temple Mount.” The term “settlers” is used as a pejorative. The intent is to evoke a negative image. And for those who are not knowledgeable about the reality here it may work: The message is that “settlers” are not “legitimate” Israelis – fiercely religious, tough and radical, they impose on the rights of the Arabs.
The reality, of course, is strikingly different. The residents of Judea & Samaria are a mix of different kinds of people. It is likely that they hold fast to their well-founded conviction that according to both history and law the land belongs to the Jews. Yet they may have been drawn to the area where they live by something as simple as the quality of life available in a small community, or the beauty of the land.
But this is moot, for all of the Jews who go up on the Mount aren’t residents of Judea & Samaria (what they call “settlers”) anyway. They are being designated as such because this presumably labels them negatively: The ones who are going up are bad people, radicals intent on infringing on Arab rights. First it was with regard to the Land, and now regarding Al Aqsa.
As to “storming”: To “storm” is to move violently, to assault. There is absolutely no evidence of any Jews doing this on the Mount.
But this verb completes the false negative image.
My point here is two-fold. First, it is important to stay alert for instances in which words are designed to bend your mind in a certain direction. And then, when becoming aware of such instances, to speak out against them.
Another matter emerging from the Parade: Defense Minister Gantz is so incensed about the Jews (small in number though they were) who hurled epithets at Arabs while parading in the Muslim Quarter that he wants to label the two groups with which they were allegedly associated as “terrorist.”
While Gantz cannot be faulted for expressing great displeasure with this behavior, he is way over his head with regard to his proposed response. The two groups are La Familia and Lehava.
I will leave La Familia – which is associated with soccer team support – aside, as I am not sufficiently familiar with them to respond (though I have no reason to believe they are terrorists).
But I do have familiarity with Lehava, headed by Bentzi Gopstein.
This group is anti-assimilationist and most specifically opposed to Jewish-Arab marriages. There are those who charge that he interferes inappropriately with “true love” between Jew and Arab. And indeed, his group works actively to discourage Jewish girls from dating Arab boys, which in my book is not a bad thing. The fact of the matter is that Jewish law opposes marriages between Jews and non-Jews; Lehava is anti-assimilationist in good part because social interactions between Jews and Arabs will inevitably lead to intermarriages. That Gopstein’s uncompromisingly right-wing position does not sit well with everyone does not make it “terrorist.”
This whole situation strikes me as particularly egregious because members of the center and center-left in the government are prepared to condemn the right-wing positions of Lehava or similar groups, while embracing Ra’am as part of the Coalition, in spite of its support for terrorists.
From what I am reading, Gantz does not have a leg to stand on, legally, with regard to what he would seek to do.
As promised, a selection of good news items:
In a first with an Arab country, on Tuesday Israel signed a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates. Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry Orna Barbivai was in Dubai to sign the agreement with Emirati Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri.
“The free trade agreement covers regulation, customs, services, government procurement, e-commerce, and protection of intellectual property rights.
“Some 96% of products traded between the countries, including food, agriculture, cosmetics, medical equipment, and medication, will be exempt from customs duty, according to the deal. A number of products will be exempt immediately, while others will gradually be granted exemptions.”
There had been a hope embraced by many here in Israel after the signing of the Abraham Accords with UAE and Bahrain that Saudi Arabia would be next. It would have been an achievement with major implications: Covering 80% of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab country in the Middle East. (The second largest Arab country after Algeria, which is in Africa.)
But it has not yet been possible to realize that hope.
Until very recently, Saudi Arabia had been a reactionary society. And as far as normalization with Israel was concerned, the Saudis indicated that this could only occur after Palestinian Arab rights were recognized.
In the last couple of years, there has been a certain liberalization in Saudi Arabia, with social changes that give women more freedoms; diversification of the economy; opening of the country to tourists, and an increased receptivity to Israel (e.g. permitting some Israeli flights to go through Saudi air space).
This liberalization is made possible because of the growing role of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (popularly known as MBS).
Nominally, Mohammed’s 86-year old father, Salman bin Abdulaziz, is still the king. But de facto, MBS is ruling the country.
Now there are reports that Israel and Saudi Arabia are laying the ground work for a major diplomatic meeting. For years there have been clandestine meetings between the two countries. But this is public information at a different level.
The meeting is expected to center on economics and defense, which is exactly what might be expected. Concern about Iran is uppermost on the minds of Saudi officials, and the move towards economic diversification – away from the focus on oil – naturally stimulates a desire for communication on economic issues.
The Saudis have invited dozens of Israeli businessmen to enter the kingdom on Israeli passports; most are managers and representatives of tech companies. At the same time, Globes has reported that many Saudis are eager to visit Israel to promote their businesses and learn about Israeli technology.
According to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Israel is coordinating with the Gulf states and the US as part of the effort to normalize ties with the Saudis: “We believe that it is possible to have a normalization process with Saudi Arabia…We’ve already said that this is the next step after the Abraham Accords, to talk about a long and careful process.”
Note the reference to “a long and careful process.” We are not looking at a situation in which the Saudis will jump to sign the Abraham Accords – this must be understood. But it appears that we are moving in the right direction and this may be of major importance.
Yesterday, 181 Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel as part of Operation Tzur Yisrael. They came singing:
For some time now, those of us who are on the right here in Israel, nationalists, Zionists, have watched with something close to despair as the current Coalition has cut Israeli Arabs in official positions slack when they have behaved in a manner that is contrary to the interests of the State.
No, that is not my good news!
The good news, tentative as it may be, is that the right is beginning to fight back:
“Israel’s Attorney General’s Office on Thursday decided to authorize the police to summon Joint Arab List MKs Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh, and Ofer Cassif for interrogation. Tibi and Cassif are suspected of attacking police officers (Tibi also helped a suspect flee the police), Odeh of inciting Arab policemen to quit the service.”
See the source below for details and videos. In a recent post I had cited Odeh (who heads the Joint List) regarding his video filmed before the Damascus Gate in which he addresses Arab Israelis in the security forces. It would be my guess that Israeli Arabs in official positions have been emboldened by the tolerant stance of the government.
I hope to make it my business, whenever possible, to carry news of signs of strength within our government.
And so, it is welcome news that a bill that would prohibit hanging of PLO flags at state-funded institutions has passed its first reading. This was stimulated in good part by the sight of the Nakba demonstration held at Ben Gurion University.
Members of the New Hope and Yamina parties — including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – voted with the Opposition on this. Let us hope it passes all readings and becomes law.
We go into Shabbat tomorrow and then immediately after into the holiday of Shavuot. To those observing this holiday – which marks the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is celebrated with an intensive night of study – I say Chag Samach!
Next week I will attempt to bring a bit of clarity to our political situation – not an easy task as we are adrift in leaks and rumors. The big issue at present is the passage of a Regulation Law that applies Israeli law to the residents of Judea & Samaria without applying sovereignty.
This passes automatically every five years but this time around there is political jockeying that is creating problems. Within the Coalition, Ra’am and Meretz are refusing to back it. At the same time members of the Opposition have also refused to support it even though they are for it – in an attempt to show the weakness of the Coalition and bring it down (a dubious practice, though its rationale is clear).
In the end, I am absolutely convinced it will pass. There were rumors about Gideon Sa’ar, who heads the New Hope party in the Coalition threatening to leave if it doesn’t pass.
It was said there were negotiations going on with Likud and that he was promised a position as a minister. Sa’ar denies this.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.