Israel may have to soon forfeit its long-touted claim to being the Middle East's only democracy. The new coalition government agreed to March 15 between Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi is calling for a rewrite of Israel's Basic Law that would officially make the state's democratic character subservient to its Jewish character. Earlier versions of the bill, pushed by Kadima MK Avi Dichter, contained controversial measures that sparked an outcry, leading to it being shelved. These included a mandate for the state to invest resources to promote Jewish settlement with no similar obligation to do so for other ethnic groups. Another stated that Arabic would no longer be considered an official language, but rather would merely have a "special status." (Haaretz, March 17)
Preliminary results of Israel's election show Benjamin Netanyahu weakened but likely to serve a third term as prime minister, in a shift toward what mainstream accounts call "the center." Netanyahu's bloc made up of the right-wing Likud and far-right Yisrael Beitenu came out on top with 31 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset—down form 42. Coming in second, the new "centrist" Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by ex-TV personality Yair Lapid took a projected 19 seats. The center-left Labor, once the mainstay of Iraeli politics, came in third with only an estimated 15 seats. Arab parties are projected to have won 12 seats. The biggest party in the last Knesset, the "center"-right Kadima, dropped from 28 seats to none. (Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel blog, JTA, Jan. 23) But an election-time controversy demonstrated the degree to which ultra-right positions have become mainstreamed in Israeli politics...
Hungary's far-right Jobbik party is radicalizing as fast as it is being mainstreamed. Prime Minister Viktor Orban belatedly condemned Jobbik lawmaker Marton Gyongyosi's call to create a list of Jewish politicians—the day after some 10,000 demonstrated in Budapest to protest the proposal. "Last week sentences were uttered in Parliament which are unworthy of Hungary," Orban told parliament Dec. 3. Gyongyosi called for the list during a Nov. 26 parliamentary debate on Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Gyöngyösi later clarified his remarks amid the outrage: He intended only to challenge the government's "one-sided support" of Israel in the Gaza conflict, and to "call the attention to the threat posed by government members and in parliament by Hungarian-Israeli dual citizens."
We have noted before the systematic discriminaiton against the Ethiopian Jews, or Falash Mura, in Israel—including a recent move to abolish their traditional priesthood. Now a Dec. 11 report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency loans credence to long-standing charges of contraception abuse against the community. JTA cites a report in Hebrew on Israeli Educational Television, charged that coercive contraception is behind a 50% decline in the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel over the past decade. Israeli and Jewish aid officials are denying the report. Ethiopian women interviewed for the program, called "Vacuum" and hosted by Gal Gabbai, said they were coerced into receiving injections of Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control drug, both at Jewish-run clinics in Ethiopia and after their move to Israel.
In news that shocked the world Nov. 18, an Israeli bomb destroyed a Gaza City home, killing 11 people, including nine from three generations of a single family—from a grandmother to a two-year-old child. Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, called the attack a "massacre" that "exceeded all expectations." Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, chief spokesman for the Israeli military, said it was "examining the event." He added: "The wanted target in this case was responsible for firing dozens of rockets into Israel. I do not know what happened to him, but I do know that we are committed to the safety of the citizens of Israel." The following day, Israeli air-strikes killed five Palestinians at the Gaza refugee camps of Nuseirat and al-Bureij. Israeli forces have now killed over 100 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Cloud six days ago.
Dozens of Palestinians were injured as protests were held across the West Bank in support of Gaza under its third day of Israeli bombardment Nov. 16. At Kafr Kaddum village, a youth was hospitalized after a tear gas canister hit him in the back of the head. Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists joined a march in the village, holding banners saying "Relief of Gaza." In Bethlehem, Israeli forces fired tear gas and a foul-smelling chemical liquid as protesters gathered outside Aida refugee camp to support Gaza—and another youth was hit in the head with a tear gas canister. In Jenin, a youth was wounded by rubber bullets in clashes with Israeli forces near the Jalama crossing into Israel. Protesters who gathered at the Enav checkpoint east of Tulkarem after Friday prayers were also met with rubber bullets and tear gas. Near Ramallah, four were arrested at a demonstration in Nabi Saleh and two Palestinians were injured in a protest in Bilin village condemning the assault on Gaza. Near Hebron, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians at a weekly demonstration in Beit Ummar, dedicated in solidarity with the Gaza Strip. In Hebron city, political and religious figures led a march to the main square, demanding the Arab world do more to stop the bombardment of Gaza. Marches were also held in Ramallah and Nablus. (Ma'an News Agency, Nov. 16)
Hamas spewed some predictable ugliness about a Palestinian official's visit to the site of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland—and the mainstream and Zionist press predictably plays it for all it is worth. Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, made the visit this week, prompting Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum to say: "It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation." He called the visit "a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy....at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy." The comments were picked up by Reuters and flaunted with open glee by the settler organ Arutz Sheva, which also offers more such gems from Hamas sympathizers.