ANALYSIS: Radical Policy Changes Lead to Renewed Internal Divisions in Israel

Israeli commentator describes animosity at Tel Aviv rally as greater than that of pro-Palestinian Arabs at Qatar World Cup.

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Elections
Get ready: The new Netanyahu government is going to be different than any that came before it.
Get ready: The new Netanyahu government is going to be different than any that came before it. Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Judging by what the mainstream media is reporting about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new Israeli government, the Jewish state is rapidly losing its democratic character.

The new government has been described as extremist and radical, even racist, and has been labeled a “theocracy.”

At most, however, one could say that there are radical elements in the parties now operating in the new Knesset, and this applies to both the far-right and leftist parties.

In this analysis, I will try to provide a more nuanced picture of the proposed policies of Netanyahu’s new government, and focus on the sharp change in Israel’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

What is certain is that the new government will pursue a completely different policy in some areas than the previous government of former Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.


Protests in Tel Aviv

This change in policies has already led to protests and aggressive reactions from the opposition.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of left-wing protesters took to the streets last Saturday night under the slogan “save democracy.”

Some of them behaved so violently that a well-known Israeli commentator present at the demonstration said the animosity was greater than any he had experienced in Qatar during the World Cup soccer tournament.

This man, Guy Hochman, received all kinds of insults and even was physically attacked by protesters present.

The harassment of Hochman began after he stated aloud that there were more Palestinian flags than during his stay in Qatar, where he eventually fled after similar incidents.

According to Hochman and other critics, the demonstrators proved with their behavior that they have no idea what a democracy is.

On Wednesday it became clear that the New Israel Fund, a US-based left-wing NGO, had financed the protest in Tel Aviv by giving a grant to “civil society organizations” that had organized the demonstration.

Left-wing Israelis hold up a Palestinian flag during a Tel Aviv rally against the new Netanyahu government. Photo: Flash90

Frustration on the left

The aggressive behavior of the demonstrators, and the campaign being waged by the Israeli mainstream media against the new government, are fueled by frustration.

This frustration has to do with the realization that the left-wing camp in Israel has lost its influence, and with the fact that despite all their efforts Netanyahu has become prime minister again.

The grapes were clearly too sour for the left-wing camp in Israel, which had briefly regained power after a hiatus of more than 20 years, and which is now left with less than a third of the number of seats in the current Knesset.

Since the TV media in Israel in particular is dominated by a left-wing elite, it is now easy to see how biased the news teams are, and how they started a new campaign against Netanyahu’s government the moment it entered office.

For example, on Tuesday Kan 11 TV interviewed Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, and the first question was whether the Biden administration was now considering a boycott of Israel’s new government.

Nides immediately recognized that this was a politically-motivated question and responded as follows:

“There is no boycott. I don’t do boycotts. We will work with the government. It is a democratically-elected government.”

Nides then explained that in principle he would work mainly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but also with others in the new government.

The ambassador went on to say that he believes Netanyahu “has his hands firmly on the steering wheel.”


Agenda of the Israeli TV media

The public in Israel sees through the real agenda of these Israeli TV stations, according to an opinion poll published this week.

That research was published by the organization ‘The Israeli Congress’ and showed that a large majority of the Israeli population believes that the media in their country do not report objectively and are driven by a political agenda.

A whopping 93 percent of Israelis also think that the three major TV channels are only concerned with ratings, and act according to the wishes of management (87 percent).

Israeli leftists use fatalist terms to describe the new government in Jerusalem. But the reality is they and their viewpoint are in the minority, as evidenced by the firm right-wing electoral victory. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Fake news

The Algemeiner news site this week published a critical article demonstrating that a significant portion of Israel’s media coverage over the period in which the new government has now become active, can be classified as “fake news.”

The problem, however, is that foreign coverage of Israeli affairs is often based on these local media reports.

Judging by what is written or reported outside of Israel, one would come easily to the conclusion that the left-wing Israeli news organization Ha’aretz is one of the largest media outlets in Israel.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Ha’aretz is a marginal newspaper and only its English-language international website is popular, but mainly with the public outside Israel.

Foreign media such as The New York Times, but also foreign politicians, apparently uncritically adopt Ha’aretz reporting, while the same is true of much of the propaganda disseminated by the Palestinian Arabs.


Temple Mount visit of Itamar Ben-Gvir

A poignant example of what I described above was last week’s visit by new Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was blown up into an international drama thanks to Israeli TV media.

The media milked Ben-Gvir’s visit for more than a day, waking up ‘sleeping dogs’ abroad, including of course the United Nations and the European Union.

What exactly happened was that a Jewish right-wing politician, now a minister, made a pre-announced visit to the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism and visited by thousands of Jews each year.

Ben-Gvir entered the Temple Square early on the morning of the Jewish fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, making sure there was no media coverage of his visit. The minister then walked around the huge square for 13 minutes, taking care not to go to the mosques there, nor to enter the estimated location where the Temples had once stood.

The latter was a precaution because according to Jewish law (Halacha), one must avoid entering the place where the Holy of Holies once stood.

Ben-Gvir’s visit, commemorating the initiation of the destruction of the first Temple, was clearly intended as a political signal, but for internal use only.

The new police minister had prior to his visit to the Temple Mount discussed this action with Netanyahu, who apparently gave the go-ahead.

That again was misinterpreted by the media in Israel as a sign that the prime minister had given in to the extreme elements in his cabinet.

However, anyone paying attention to what Netanyahu said during a speech at a conference last week would have come to a different conclusion.

Netanyahu and his new government are going to take a more assertive position regarding the Temple Mount, and many other issues. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Revising national policy

Netanyahu spoke of a review of national policies to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state in the land of the forefathers.

“We will carry out a security revision and take vigorous and assertive action against the terrorist arms of radical Islam in our region,” Netanyahu said. The latter was also a reference to the ‘hijacking’ of the Temple Mount by Muslims, and especially by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Ben-Gvir would never have received permission from the Wakf, the Islamic organization that manages the Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount, to visit this holy site.

After Ben-Gvir’s visit, the Wakf spoke of a “storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque,” a well-known false claim that was soon adopted by Palestinian leaders and the government of Jordan.

The Wakf has recently become increasingly hostile to non-Muslims visiting the Temple Mount.

For example, Christians who wanted to visit the place where Jesus once preached were forced to wear special clothing with white and yellow stripes.


Review of foreign relations

Netanyahu also seemed to address the rising animosity against Israel abroad when he said the following:

“We will carry out a review of foreign relations and our voice will be heard in the world. Instead of bowing our heads and giving in to the dictates of the international community, we will proudly uphold our interests in the State of Israel and the Land of Israel.”

The latter comment was clearly directed at the United Nations, which is increasingly conducting an outright antisemitic campaign against Israel.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, immediately endorsed the new policy during an emergency session of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount last weekend.

Erdan made mincemeat of the lies of the Palestinian delegate who had called for the arrest of the Israeli ambassador.

Erdan also gave a history lesson to the Security Council and showed that the so-called Haram al-Sharif, the Muslim name for the Temple Mount that the UN now exclusively uses, was a Jewish holy site long before Islam emerged.

The Israeli diplomat called upon the UNSC not to waste its precious time in holding sessions based on Palestinian lies, and brought the evidence that Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount visit was no breach of the so-called “status quo.”

The Palestinian Arabs had themselves breached the status quo “by turning the Temple Mount into a battlefield,” Erdan said, while adding that the mosques there are used as storage for stones and explosives.

In the end, the special session on Ben-Gvir’s visit ended without a vote for a new anti-Israel resolution or joint statement.

Itamar Ben-Gvir is just a convenient excuse for the Israel-haters to let loose. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Radically different approach

One of the policy priorities of the new government is a different approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This different approach was expected, but was accelerated after the PA, using the UN, succeeded in taking Israel’s “prolonged occupation” to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for legal advice.

This new unilateral violation of the Oslo Accords was answered by the new government with a series of measures directly affecting the Palestinian Authority.

Among those measures is the withholding of the taxes (mainly VAT) that Israel collects on behalf of the PA.

The initial amount is 139 million NIS, a sum that will instead be distributed to the families of murdered terror victims.

The PA used this money to finance its controversial ‘pay-to-slay’ policy that involves paying Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons and the families of slain terrorists.

The new government will, furthermore, impose a moratorium on the construction plans of the PA in Area C in Judea and Samaria, which are drawn up with the help of the European Union (EU).

This is the area that would remain under Israeli administration under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

However, the PA, with help from the EU, has been working for some time to change the situation on the ground in Area C, where hundreds of illegal construction projects have been realized in recent years.

Another measure is revoking of the so-called VIP passes of PA officials. These passes enabled PA ministers and other Palestinian leaders to travel freely throughout Israel and to fly abroad.

The first victim of this measure was PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki, whose VIP pass was confiscated at the Allenby Border Crossing after he returned from a visit to Jordan earlier this week.

Further unspecified action will be taken against organizations promoting hostile activities against Israel under the guise of humanitarian assistance.

This concerns terrorism and the political and legal activities that the PA in particular took to undermine Israel’s position in the world.

Grounded: Israel isn’t going to let Palestinian “foreign minister” Riad al-Maliki (right) to travel around if all he’s going to do is bash the Jewish state, and thus put peace further out of reach. Photo: Issam Rimawi/Flash90

Deja Vu

The protests in Tel Aviv and the increasing polarization in Israeli politics are reminiscent of the period after the conclusion of the Oslo Accords.

Now, however, the incitement comes mainly from the left, as we saw during the demonstration in Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu’s new government, for example, was called a “Third Reich government.”

When it comes to political theatre in Israel, almost all parties are guilty of the increasing polarization.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid began a polarizing campaign against the new government in early December while still prime minister, when he called for civil disobedience and for IDF officers to rebel.

Tensions escalated this week after Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) announced sweeping reforms to the justice system in Israel.

This reform aims, among other things, to reduce the far-reaching power of the Israeli Supreme Court, which has repeatedly reversed government decisions. Levin’s reforms aim to put an end to this situation.

Both Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog now try to douse the flames, with Herzog urging politicians to “lower the temperature,” while calling upon Levin to “soften” his judicial overhaul.


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