JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is set to swear in a new government on Sunday that will send Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.
Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, will take over as prime minister. But if he wants to keep the job, he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.
The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.
The country's deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote. He was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled by supporters of Netanyahu, several of whom were escorted out of the chamber.
Bennett's speech mostly dwelled on domestic issues, but he expressed opposition to U.S. efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.
“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu's confrontational policy. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”
Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the U.S. for its decades of support for Israel.
Netanyahu, speaking after him, vowed to return to power. He predicted the incoming government would be weak on Iran and give in to U.S. demands to make concessions to the Palestinians.
“If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country in our way,” he said.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.
“Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive," he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need “time and achievements."
Still, Netanyahu "will continue to cast a shadow,” Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can't — all in order to embarrass and undermine them.
The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.
The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.
He called off a planned speech to parliament, instead saying he was ashamed that his 86-year-old mother had to witness the raucous behavior of his opponents. In a brief speech, he asked for "forgiveness from my mother.”
“I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you,” he said.
The new government is expected to win a narrow majority in the 120-member assembly, after which it will be sworn in. The government plans to hold its first official meeting later this evening.
It's unclear if Netanyahu will move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.
Netanyahu's supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel's Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.
Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.
His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than any other, including the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion.
Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze settlement construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel's closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama's emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the U.S. Congress.
But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal.
Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.
His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.
In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.
Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli airstrikes hit militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, and Palestinians responded by sending a series of fire-carrying balloons back across the border for a second straight day — further testing the fragile cease-fire that ended last month’s war between Israel and Hamas.
The latest round of violence was prompted by a parade of Israeli ultranationalists through contested east Jerusalem on Tuesday. Palestinians saw the march as a provocation and sent balloons into southern Israel, causing several blazes in parched farmland. Israel then carried out the airstrikes — the first such raids since the May 21 cease-fire ended 11 days of fighting — and more balloons followed.
The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks, the army said. There were no reports of injuries.
“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences for its actions,” the army said. It added that it was prepared for any scenario, “including a resumption of hostilities.”
By Wednesday afternoon, masked Palestinians sent a number of balloons, laden with fuses and flaming rags, into Israel. Several fires were reported.
The unrest provided the first test of the cease-fire at a time when Egyptian mediators have been working to reach a longer-term agreement. It comes as tensions have risen again in Jerusalem, as they did before the recent war, leading Gaza's Hamas rulers to fire a barrage of rockets at the holy city on May 10. The fighting claimed more than 250 Palestinian lives and killed 13 people in Israel.
An Egyptian security official said his government has been in “direct and around-the-clock” contacts with Israeli officials and the Gaza rulers to keep the cease-fire and to urge them to refrain from provocative acts.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said the U.S. administration has also been in touch with Israel as part of the efforts.
The two sides seem to agree "not to escalate to the tipping point,” he said. “And we do every effort to prevent this.”
The flare-up also has created a test for Israel’s new government, which took office early this week. The diverse coalition includes several hard-line parties as well as dovish and centrist parties, along with the first Arab faction ever to be part of an Israeli government.
Keeping the delicate coalition intact will be a difficult task for the new prime minister, Naftali Bennett.
In Tuesday’s parade, hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,” marched in east Jerusalem in a show of force. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the parade, which was meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians consider it a provocation.
In a scathing condemnation on Twitter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said those shouting racist slogans were “a disgrace to the Israeli people.”
Bennett, who will hand over the prime minister’s job to Lapid after two years, is a hard-line Israeli nationalist who has promised a pragmatic approach as he presides over a delicate, diverse coalition government.
Though there were concerns the march would raise tensions, canceling it would have opened Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Hamas.
Mansour Abbas, whose Raam party is the first Arab faction to join an Israeli coalition, said the march was “an attempt to set the region on fire for political aims,” with the intention of undermining the new government.
Abbas said the police and public security minister should have canceled the event.
While the parade provided the immediate impetus for the balloons, Hamas is also angry because Israel has tightened its blockade of the territory since the cease-fire. The restrictions include a ban on imports of fuel for Gaza’s power plant and raw materials.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and numerous skirmishes since then. Israel says the blockade, enforced with Egypt, is needed to prevent Hamas from importing and developing weapons.
One of the masked activists firing the balloons said they launched hundreds of them Tuesday and will continue sending them in response to what he described as Israeli provocations in east Jerusalem.
After capturing east Jerusalem in 1967, Israel annexed the area in a move not recognized by most of the international community. It considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. The competing claims over east Jerusalem, home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, lie at the heart of the conflict and have sparked many rounds of violence.
Associated Press journalists Samy Magdy and Fares Akram in Cairo, and Wafaa Shurafa in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Their countries at crossroads, the new leaders of the United States and Israel have inherited a relationship that is at once imperiled by increasingly partisan domestic political considerations and deeply bound in history and an engrained recognition that they need each other.
How President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett manage that relationship will shape the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East.
They are ushering in an era no longer defined by the powerful personality of long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, who repeatedly defied the Obama administration and then reaped the rewards of a warm relationship with President Donald Trump.
Bennett’s government says it wants to repair relations with the Democrats and restore bipartisan support in the U.S. for Israel. Biden, meanwhile, is pursuing a more balanced approach on the Palestinian conflict and Iran.
The relationship is critical to both countries. Israel has long regarded the United States as its closest ally and guarantor of its security and international standing while the U.S. counts on Israel’s military and intelligence prowess in a turbulent Middle East.
But both Biden and Bennett are also restrained by domestic politics.
Bennett leads an uncertain coalition of eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum whose main point of convergence was on removing Netanyahu from power after 12 years. Biden is struggling to bridge a divide in his party where near-uniform support for Israel has eroded and a progressive wing wants the U.S. to do more to end Israel’s half-century occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Shortly after taking office, the new Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, recognized the challenges Israel faces in Washington.
“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry,” Lapid said upon taking the helm at Israel’s foreign ministry a week ago. “We need to change the way we work with them.”
A key test will be on Iran. Biden has sought to return to the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama saw as a signature foreign policy achievement. Trump withdrew from the pact to cheers from pro-Israel U.S. lawmakers and Israel. Though Iran has not yet accepted Biden’s offer for direct negotiations, indirect discussions on the nuclear deal are now in a sixth round in Vienna.
The new Israeli government remains staunchly opposed to Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal. But it maintains it will discuss the issue behind closed doors rather than staging public confrontations, such as Netanyahu’s controversial address slamming the agreement to the U.S. Congress in 2015.
In a conversation with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, Lapid said the two agreed on a “no surprises” policy and to keep lines of communication open.
Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israeli relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, says that rather than trying to scuttle any agreement with Iran, the new government will press the U.S. administration to keep some sanctions on Iran in place and seek “strategic compensation” for Israel as part of any return to the deal.
Resolving differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be another significant challenge for the two leaders.
Biden has already moved to reverse Netanyahu-backed Trump policies that alienated the Palestinians and caused a near total rupture in official U.S.-Palestinian contacts. Almost immediately after taking office, Biden restored Trump-slashed U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, which in just four months totals more than $300 million. He announced his administration’s intent to re-open the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, closed by Trump, that handled relations with the Palestinians. And, administration officials have spoken of the imperative that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security and prosperity.
Yet, neither Biden nor Blinken has signaled any move to alter Trump’s most significant pro-Israel steps. Those include his abandonment of longstanding U.S. policy that settlements are illegitimate under international law, his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory seized from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The administration also hopes to expand Arab-Israeli normalization agreements that the Trump administration forged in its final months in office.
In a call on Bennett's first day in office, Biden affirmed his “steadfast support for the U.S.-Israel relationship" and “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.” He pledged to work together on all security matters, including Iran.
Biden's support for Israel’s heavy airstrikes during last month's war with Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, who fired thousands of rockets at Israel, angered progressive Democrats in Congress. With newfound strength in numbers, they are demanding that the administration do more to support the Palestinians and that conditions be placed on the massive amount of military aid the U.S. provides Israel.
While well-established Democratic lawmakers remain unstintingly supportive of Israel and its absolute right to defend itself, the growing number of progressive voices in their caucus have turned the issue into a political hot potato. The change in Israel's government is unlikely to ease their calls for action as Israeli-Palestinian violence has continued in recent days.
Yet, the Biden administration has already urged the new Israeli government to ease tensions with the Palestinians. In two phone conversations with Lapid over the last week, Blinken has spoken of “the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways” and pledged to deepen Arab-Israeli ties.
It's not clear that the new government will be responsive.
Centrist members like Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz clearly want to adopt a more cooperative approach with the Biden administration, while Bennett and his right-wing partners face pressure from their base to maintain Netanyahu’s hardline approach, not only on Iran but on the conflict with the Palestinians.
The former prime minister, already eyeing a return to office, has branded Bennett as weak and inexperienced, and will probably pounce on any perceived capitulations.
The Israeli government already faces tough decisions, including whether to evacuate an unauthorized settlement outpost established last month and whether to intervene in the legal process through which settler organizations are trying to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in east Jerusalem.
The Biden administration is pressing Israel to refrain from any unilateral steps — such as settlement expansion or evictions — that could hinder the eventual revival of the peace process, which has been moribund for more than a decade. But Washington has yet to issue public condemnations of settlement activity beyond general calls for both sides to refrain from unilateral steps that could inflame tensions or harm prospects for an eventual peace deal.
Bennett is a strong supporter of the settlements and is opposed to Palestinian statehood, but he is also seen by many as a pragmatist. He may be able to turn his weakness into a strength, arguing that any major concession — to the Palestinians or the settlers — risks bringing down the government and returning Netanyahu to power.
“The forces that brought this coalition to power are strong enough in my judgment to sustain the pressure from the right and probably also American pressure to make a major change in the policies toward the Palestinians,” Gilboa said.
Krauss reported from Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opened his first Cabinet meeting on Sunday by slamming Iran's newly-elected president and calling on world powers to “wake up” to the perils of returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Later in the day, Bennett warned Gaza's militant Hamas rulers that Israel would not tolerate even minor attacks from the territory in the wake of last month's 11-day war, saying “our patience is running out.”
Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid historically low turnout. He is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.
At the Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Bennett said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had chosen the “hangman of Tehran” to be the country's next president, a man "infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the death committees that executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years.”
Raisi's ascendancy comes at a sensitive time for the region, as Iran and world powers ramp up efforts to resurrect Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
For weeks, Iranian and American diplomats have been negotiating a return to the accord in Vienna through European intermediaries. Talks resumed Sunday, the first round since the election that put hard-liners firmly in control across Iran’s government.
Israel was staunchly opposed to the landmark nuclear deal and welcomed then-President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from it. Since then, the agreement has unraveled, with Iran abandoning all its limitations on enrichment after the Trump administration restored crippling economic sanctions. Tehran is currently enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels.
Although the White House has yet to weigh in on Iran's election, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday that the outcome was unlikely to affect nuclear negotiations because Iran's supreme leader wants the deal restored.
“The person who makes the decision about whether Iran will go back into the Iran nuclear deal, will assume its nuclear obligations under international law, is not the president of Iran, it is the supreme leader of Iran, and that person did not change from before the election,” Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Bennett said Raisi's election was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers."
Israel, which is believed to have its own undeclared nuclear arsenal, has long opposed arch-enemy Iran's nuclear program and has vowed to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this month, Israel's outgoing Mossad intelligence chief signaled that Israel was behind a string of recent attacks targeting the country’s nuclear program.
Bennett heads a broad coalition of parties ranging from hard-line Jewish nationalists to liberal factions and a small Islamist party. His government was sworn in last week, sending Benjamin Netanyahu to the opposition after a record 12 years as prime minister.
Later on Sunday, at a memorial ceremony for Israelis killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Bennett warned Hamas that Israel “will not tolerate violence, we will not tolerate a drizzle.”
He appeared to be referring to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza in recent days that have set fields ablaze inside Israel. Last week, Israel launched airstrikes on two occasions in response to the balloons sent by activists mobilized by Hamas.
Last month's Gaza war was halted by an informal cease-fire. Egyptian mediators have met with Israeli and Hamas officials in recent weeks to try and shore it up, but there has been no apparent progress on Hamas' main demand, the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on the territory when it seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from importing military resources, while the Palestinians and human rights groups view it as collective punishment of the territory's more than 2 million Palestinian residents.
Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe in Washington, Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinians and Jewish settlers hurled stones, chairs and fireworks at each other overnight in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said Tuesday.
The threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month's 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel's new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Israeli police and border officials said they arrested four suspects in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It was unclear who started the brawl. The officials said someone launched fireworks at police forces and residents’ houses and that “several Molotov cocktails were thrown and stones were thrown.” One woman was reportedly injured when she was hit in the back by a stone, police said.
The Red Crescent emergency service said its crews treated 20 Palestinians, including 16 suffering from pepper spray and tear gas and others wounded by rubber-coated bullets. Two other people were wounded, including an elderly man who was hit in the head, it said.
The Red Crescent said settlers threw stones at one of its ambulances and Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on a second ambulance belonging to the service.
The eruption of violence is the latest friction in Sheikh Jarrah, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month. The cease-fire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families continues.
And so the cycle of tension endures, in a stark early test for Israel's new coalition government, which is just over a week old.
At the helm under a rotation agreement is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party. In two years, he'll be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid. And leading the opposition is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted from the premiership after holding the post for 12 years.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers say the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.
Kellman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament is set to vote Monday on whether to renew a temporary law first enacted in 2003 that bars Arab citizens of Israel from extending citizenship or even residency to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Critics, including many left-wing and Arab lawmakers, say it's a racist measure aimed at restricting the growth of Israel's Arab minority, while supporters say it's needed for security purposes and to preserve Israel's Jewish character.
The law creates an array of difficulties for Palestinian families that span the war-drawn and largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories it seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for a future state.
“You want your security, it’s no problem, you can check each case by itself,” said Taiseer Khatib. His wife of more than 15 years, from the West Bank city of Jenin, must regularly apply for permits to live with him and their three children in Israel.
“There’s no need for this collective punishment just because you are Palestinian," he said.
Israel's dominant right-wing parties strongly support the law, and it has been renewed every year since being enacted. But Israel's new government includes opponents of the measure, and the right-wing opposition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — aiming to embarrass the government — has warned it won't provide the votes needed to renew the law.
Dozens of families held a demonstration outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, ahead of the vote, which is expected late Monday.
“We want stability in this country, like anyone else,” said Maryam Abu Arar, from the West Bank town of Bethlehem, who requires a permit to live with her husband and four children in Israel. “We want to live in a democratic country, with peace and security for us as well.”
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians launched scores of deadly attacks inside Israel. Proponents said Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were susceptible to recruitment by armed groups and that security vetting alone was insufficient.
The law has been continually renewed even after the uprising wound down in 2005 and the number of attacks plummeted. Today, Israel allows more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank to enter on a regular basis.
“It was passed in the middle of the intifada, and now we are in a very different period in time," said Yuval Shany, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute. Not only are attacks far rarer, but Israel has vastly improved its technological abilities to monitor Palestinians who enter, he said. “I don’t think the security argument is very strong at this point in time.”
Because of the law, Arab citizens have few if any avenues for bringing spouses from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel. The policy affects thousands of families.
Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian cases, can apply for the equivalent of a tourist permit, which must be regularly renewed. The holders of such permits are ineligible for driver's licenses, public health insurance and most forms of employment. Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been completely banned since the militant Hamas group seized power there in 2007.
The law does not apply to the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank, who have full Israeli citizenship. Under Israel's Law of Return, Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship.
Israel's Arab minority, which makes up 20% of the population, has close familial ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and largely identifies with their cause. Arab citizens view the law as one of several forms of discrimination they face in a country that legally defines itself as a Jewish nation-state.
“This law sees every Palestinian as an enemy and as a threat, just because of his ethnic and national affiliation," said Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, an Arab rights group that has challenged the law in court. "The political message is very racist and very dangerous.”
Palestinians who are unable to get permits but try to live with their spouses inside Israel are at risk of deportation. Couples that move to the West Bank live under Israeli military occupation. If their children are born in the West Bank, they would be subject to the same law preventing spouses from entering Israel, though there is an exception for minors.
The citizenship law also applies to Jewish Israelis who marry Palestinians from the territories, but such unions are extremely rare.
Human Rights Watch pointed to the law as an example of the widespread discrimination faced by Palestinians — both inside Israel and in the territories it controls — in a report earlier this year that said such practices amount to apartheid.
Israel rejects such allegations and says Jewish and Arab citizens have equal rights. Arab citizens have the right to vote, and the new government for the first time includes an Arab faction, which is opposed to the citizenship law.
But even as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a political centrist, recently urged the right-wing opposition to support the law on security grounds, he also evoked demographic concerns.
“This law is essential for safeguarding the country’s security and Jewish and democratic character, and security considerations need to be put before all political considerations,” Gantz said in a statement.
Ahmad Tibi, a prominent member of an Arab opposition party, called on fellow lawmakers to strike the law down.
“They should look at the eyes of these children and these families and then vote to prevent this most racist law," he said as he met with the demonstrators. "These families should be allowed to live normally as all other families, wherever they decide to live.”
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament early on Tuesday failed to renew a law that bars Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a tight vote that raised doubts about the viability of the country’s new coalition government.
The 59-59 vote, which came after an all-night session of the Knesset, marked a major setback for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The new Israeli leader, who had hoped to find a compromise between his hard-line Yamina party and the dovish factions in his disparate coalition, instead suffered a stinging defeat in a vote he reportedly described as a referendum on the new government. The vote means the law is now set to expire at midnight Tuesday.
“The opposition last night delivered a direct blow to the security of the country,” Bennett said Tuesday, accusing his opponents, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of choosing “petty politics” over the nation’s wellbeing.
Under it, Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population, have had few if any avenues for bringing spouses from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel. Critics, including many left-wing and Arab lawmakers, say it’s a racist measure aimed at restricting the growth of Israel’s Arab minority, while supporters say it’s needed for security purposes and to preserve Israel’s Jewish character.
The law has been renewed annually and appeared to have the support of a large majority in parliament, which is dominated by hard-line nationalist parties. But Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his allies decided to oppose it to embarrass Bennett and harm his coalition, which includes a collection of eight parties across the political spectrum, including a small Islamist Arab party.
Interior Minister Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett's Yamina party, said the opposition move to block the law's renewal would lead to thousands more applications for citizenship. She accused Netanyahu and his allies of choosing "petty and ugly politics, and let the country burn.”
Amichai Chikli, a renegade member of Yamina who voted with the opposition, said the outcome was a sign of deeper issues.
“Israel needs a functioning Zionist government, and not a mismatched patchwork that is reliant on” the votes of Arab lawmakers, said Chikli. He was the only member of his party to oppose the new coalition-led government last month.
Netanyahu, ousted by the new coalition after 12 years as prime minister, made clear his political goals.
“With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater,” Netanyahu said Monday.
Bennett reportedly proposed a compromise with liberal members of the coalition that would have extended the law by six months while offering residency rights to some 1,600 Arab families, a fraction of those affected. But the measure was defeated, in part because two Arab members of the coalition abstained. The vote exposed the deep divisions and the fragility of the new government.
The decision, however, gave some hope to Arab families that have been affected by the law. The law has created an array of difficulties for thousands of Palestinian families that span the war-drawn and largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories it seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for a future state.
“You want your security, it’s no problem, you can check each case by itself,” said Taiseer Khatib, an Arab citizen of Israel whose wife of more than 15 years, from the West Bank city of Jenin, must regularly apply for permits to live with him and their three children in Israel.
“There’s no need for this collective punishment just because you are Palestinian,” he said during a protest outside the Knesset on Monday ahead of the vote.
Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian cases, can apply for the equivalent of a tourist permit, which must be regularly renewed. The holders of such permits are ineligible for driver’s licenses, public health insurance and most forms of employment. Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been completely banned since the militant Hamas group seized power there in 2007.
The law does not apply to the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank, who have full Israeli citizenship. Under Israel’s Law of Return, Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship.
Israel’s Arab minority has close familial ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and largely identifies with their cause. Arab citizens view the law as one of several forms of discrimination they face in a country that legally defines itself as a Jewish nation-state.
Palestinians who are unable to get permits but try to live with their spouses inside Israel are at risk of deportation. Couples that move to the West Bank live under Israeli military occupation.
JERUSALEM (AP) — The owner of Israel's Beitar Jerusalem soccer club said Thursday that he called off a friendly match with international powerhouse Barcelona over its refusal to hold the event in contested Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, annexed it in a move not recognized internationally, and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the city's status is one of the thorniest issues in the decades-long conflict.
Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg said he was forced to cancel the planned Aug. 4 match “with great sadness” because he refused to give in to what he said was a “political” demand.
“After I received the contract to sign and discovered the unequivocal demand that the game not take place in the capital city, Jerusalem, and several other demands that I didn’t like, I slept with a heavy heart, thought a lot and decided that above all else I am a proud Jew and Israeli,” Hogeg wrote on Facebook. “I cannot betray Jerusalem."
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion expressed support for the decision, saying teams that intend to “boycott” Jerusalem should be barred from Israel altogether.
“Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and the decision to boycott it is not a professional, sporting or educational decision,” he said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Barcelona.
Beitar Jerusalem is the only major Israeli soccer club to have never signed an Arab player, and its hard-core fans have a history of racist chants. Hogeg, who purchased the team in 2018, has vowed to combat racism and sideline the club's anti-Arab fans.
Earlier this month the Palestinian Football Association sent a letter of protest to Barcelona over the planned game in Jerusalem.
Sami Abou Shehadeh, a Balad party lawmaker in the Israeli parliament, had also petitioned Barcelona to cancel the game, saying Beitar “represents the most extremist, racist and fascist segments of Israeli society.” Palestinian soccer clubs had also written to Barcelona urging it not to play in Jerusalem.
Argentina cancelled a World Cup warmup match with Israel in 2018 following pro-Palestinian protests. Some Israeli officials accused Lionel Messi and his teammates of caving to terrorism.
The international soccer federation later imposed a year-long ban on Jibril Rajoub, the head of Palestinian soccer, for allegedly inciting fans against Argentina. Rajoub called the ban biased and “absurd.”
FIFA said Rajoub had “incited hatred and violence” by calling on soccer fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi.
Argentina Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister vowed Tuesday to “act aggressively” against the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. urged dozens of state governors to punish the company under anti-boycott laws.
The strong reaction reflected concerns in Israel that the ice cream maker's decision could lead other companies to follow suit. It also appeared to set the stage for a protracted public relations and legal battle.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office said he spoke with Alan Jope, chief executive of Ben & Jerry's parent company Unilever, and raised concern about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise," and Israel "will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment directly on the company's decision. But he said the U.S. rejects the boycott movement against Israel, saying it “unfairly singles out” the country.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan, sent letters to 35 governors whose states have laws against boycotting Israel asking that they consider speaking out against Ben & Jerry’s decision “and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.”
Erdan said Israel views the company’s decision as “the de-facto adoption of anti-Semitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people.”
I feel like Israeli government/ambassador types need to look up anti-Semitic. They only get it wrong 100% of the time.
I feel like Israeli government/ambassador types need to look up anti-Semitic. They only get it wrong 100% of the time.
It's easier to silence criticism by conflating anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric. They're well aware of how wrong they are - it's a strategy.
By Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield founded Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings in 1978.
We are the founders of Ben & Jerry’s. We are also proud Jews. It’s part of who we are and how we’ve identified ourselves for our whole lives. As our company began to expand internationally, Israel was one of our first overseas markets. We were then, and remain today, supporters of the State of Israel.
But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government. As such, we unequivocally support the decision of the company to end business in the occupied territories, which a majority of the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation.
While we no longer have any operational control of the company we founded in 1978, we’re proud of its action and believe it is on the right side of history. In our view, ending the sales of ice cream in the occupied territories is one of the most important decisions the company has made in its 43-year history. It was especially brave of the company. Even though it undoubtedly knew that the response would be swift and powerful, Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values.
That we support the company’s decision is not a contradiction nor is it anti-Semitic. In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.
Ben & Jerry’s is a company that advocates peace. It has long called on Congress to reduce the U.S. military budget. Ben & Jerry’s opposed the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But it wasn’t just talk. One of our very first social-mission initiatives, in 1988, was to introduce the Peace Pop. It was part of an effort to promote the idea of redirecting 1 percent of national defense budgets around the world to fund peace-promoting activities. We see the company’s recent action as part of a similar trajectory — not as anti-Israel, but as part of a long history of being pro-peace.
In its statement, the company drew a contrast between the democratic territory of Israel and the territories Israel occupies. The decision to halt sales outside Israel’s democratic borders is not a boycott of Israel. The Ben & Jerry’s statement did not endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The company’s stated decision to more fully align its operations with its values is not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation. As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic to question the policies of the State of Israel.
When we left the helm of the company, we signed a unique governance structure in the acquisition agreement with Unilever back in 2000. That structure is the magic behind both Ben & Jerry’s continued independence and its success. As part of the agreement, the company retained an independent board of directors with a responsibility to protect the company’s essential brand integrity and to pursue its social mission.