The Temple Mount on July 27. Photo by Muammar Awad/Reuters

Knesset members allowed trial visit to Temple Mount

Knesset members will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount one day next week following months of unrest at the holy site.

The trial visit was coordinated between the Israel Police and the Prime Minister’s Office, The Times of Israel reported.

The visit was announced Wednesday, hours after lawmakers Yehuda Glick of the Likud party and Shuli Mualem-Refaeli of Jewish Home attempted to enter the site. Days earlier, Glick had held office hours outside a Temple Mount entrance to protest the ongoing ban on visits by Knesset members. Arab-Israeli lawmakers also have protested, and flouted, the ban.

In November 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered lawmakers to stay off the Temple Mount amid a wave of Palestinian terrorism linked to claims that Israel was trying to change the status quo. Israel denied the claims. After Glick filed a petition against the ban, Netanyahu in early July decided to allow lawmakers to visit the site on a trial basis.

However, on July 14, before the decision went into effect, three Arab Israelis shot dead two policemen on the Temple Mount. Israel responded by suspending the plan and installing walk-through metal detectors at the Muslim entrances to the site. Amid prayer sessions, riots and regional pressure, Israel eventually removed the metal detectors. But the ban on visits by lawmakers has remained in place.

“The decision was made in light of the improvement in the security situation at the compound,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement to The Times of Israel.

Glick is a longtime activist for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount. Prior to becoming a Knesset member, he led many groups of Jewish visitors to the site. In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist shot and nearly killed Glick for his Temple Mount activism.

Since capturing the Temple Mount from Jordan in 1967, Israel has controlled access but allowed Jerusalem’s Islamic authority to manage the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims.

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sitting outside the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem in protest on the ban on Knesset members visiting the site, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sets up office outside Temple Mount to protest ban on visits

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from the Likud party, held office hours outside an entrance to the Temple Mount to protest an ongoing ban against Knesset members visiting the holy site.

Glick, a longtime activist for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, told reporters that the action Monday would only last one day.

“I’m here to protest the fact that the prime minister won’t enable police to allow us to enter the Temple Mount,” he said. “I suffer every day I can’t enter the Temple Mount.” “There’s no reason in the world to think that my entering the Temple Mount will stir trouble.”

In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist shot and nearly killed Glick for his Temple Mount activism.

Since capturing the Temple Mount from Jordan in 1967, Israel has controlled access but allowed Jerusalem’s Islamic authority to manage the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims alike.

In November 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered lawmakers to stay off the Temple Mount amid a wave of Palestinian terrorism linked to claims that Israel was trying to change the status quo. Israel denied the claims. After Glick filed a petition against the ban, Netanyahu in early July decided to allow lawmakers to visit the site on a trial basis.

However, on July 14, before the decision went into effect, three Arab Israelis shot dead two policemen on the Temple Mount. Israel responded by suspending the plan and installing walk-through metal detectors at the Muslim entrances to the site. Amid prayer sessions, riots and regional pressure, Israel eventually removed the metal detectors. But the ban on visits by lawmakers remains in place.

Still, in July, some 3,200 Jewish Israelis visited the Temple Mount — more than in any month since the state took control of the site.

Ahad Ha'am, c.1913

Would Ahad Ha’am be denied entry to Israel today?

While reading an interview in the Forward with the 87-year-old literary critic and polymath George Steiner, I couldn’t help but think about the string of troubling bills that have been passed by the Knesset over the past few years.

The most recent bill, from March 6, denies entry to any non-Israeli who “has knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott on the State of Israel.” It should be added that the bill includes those who call for a boycott of products produced in the settlements, which is a very different matter than calling for an academic, cultural or economic boycott of the State of Israel. A good number of prominent Israeli and Diaspora Jews support a settlement boycott, while a much more marginal group supports a boycott against Israel.

To the best of my knowledge, George Steiner has not called for a boycott of Israel. That said, he defines himself as “fundamentally anti-Zionist” in that he believes that Jews are called upon to be “the guest(s) of other men and women.” Given how things are going, I couldn’t help but wonder if the day might arrive soon when Jews deemed ideologically unacceptable — for example, self-declared anti-Zionists such as George Steiner — might be denied entry to Israel.

Steiner belongs to a long tradition of modern thinkers who have defined Jewishness as the quest for intellectual, cultural or ethical excellence, rather than as the aim to attain political sovereignty. Some of these thinkers have even been Zionists. Figures such as Martin Buber, Akiva Ernst Simon and Judah L. Magnes, founding chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, made aliyah based on the belief that Judaism would reach its greatest fulfillment in the Land of Israel. They also held to the view that Zionism should not aspire to the formation of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, but rather should share power with the Arab population in a binational state.

One wonders how welcome such figures would be in the Israel of today. The Knesset has been chiseling away at the edifice of Israeli democracy through a raft of laws. In July 2016, it scaled back the principle of parliamentary immunity by making it easier to expel Arab parliamentarians. In the same month, it passed a law that called for new scrutiny of organizations that support a range of progressive causes in the country. Just last month, the “Entry Bill” turned the focus on individuals who, because of their political views, would be denied entry to the country.

Of course, many countries have used ideological beliefs as a criterion to deny entry to prospective visitors. The United States has done so itself, particularly in periods of heightened xenophobic and anti-immigrant fervor, such as the 1920s and 1950s. It is not something to be proud of. More recently, the U.S. Congress limited the practice of ideologically based exclusion through the Immigration Law of 1990 that prohibits entry only to those whose “proposed activities within the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

That is a pretty high bar. It is hard to see how a single person expressing her views, even in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, would cause “serious adverse foreign policy consequences” for Israel. It is especially hard to see how Israel gains by denying entry to someone who expresses opposition to the occupation via a ban on settlement products, which he may believe to be essential in order to preserve Israeli democracy! Indeed, as a general matter, the Knesset’s new limitations on speech both erode Israel’s democratic foundations and do damage to its reputation in the international community.

What also is unsettling about the law is that it cuts against the tradition of sharp dissent that has been a constant feature of both Jewish and Zionist thought. The Zionist movement was born in contentious and productive disagreement, from the very first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. It was at Basel that Theodor Herzl gave definitive public expression to the idea of a state for the Jews. It also was at Basel that another prominent Zionist, Ahad Ha’am, declared that he felt like “a mourner at a wedding feast.” Ahad Ha’am believed that Herzl’s emphasis on achieving sovereignty did not address the key problem of the day, which was the atrophying of Jewish and especially Hebrew culture. His solution was to promote a spiritual and cultural center in the land of Israel that would radiate out rays of vitality to the Diaspora. Ahad Ha’am was a central Zionist figure whose focus was on Jewish culture rather than power.

In retrospect, it seems clear that the divergence of views in various Zionist camps — Socialist, Religious, Revisionist, among others — was a source of strength, not weakness. This diversity allowed for different groups of supporters to enter the Zionist fold through various portals, as well as for a robust competition that fortified each ideological strain.

What has changed since that formative period? Simply put, Zionism has succeeded in placing a Jewish state on the map — and not merely a state, but a powerful, technologically advanced state without peer in the Middle East. It is strange to consider the prospect that this powerful state might no longer be open to the likes of Ahad Ha’am.

David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Five alternatives to designating separate states

This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “con” argument published in conjunction with Alan Elsner’s “pro” argument, “The Two-State Solution Won’t Die.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations of occupation and illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel inevitably answers, “We invented the cellphone” and “We have gay rights.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, always the answer is to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state on the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has managed to legitimize the proposition that the West Bank is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier there.

But for us settlers, the truth is different: The two-state solution was misconceived and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. We have a 3,700-year presence in this land, our foundational history is here, and we have reacquired control here in defensive wars. The world recognized our indigeneity in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo accords of 1920.

Additionally, as a result of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, when Hamas seized control and turned the strip into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in the hopes of getting peace in return. No Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the hilltops.

But as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong, and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel still mouths the two-state party line yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

Now, the time has come for a discussion of new options in which Israel would hold on to the West Bank and eventually assert sovereignty there. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.

At least five credible plans are on the table.

The first option, proposed by former Knesset members Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is called “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is estimated to be about 80 percent Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship.

A second alternative, suggested by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, proposes annexation of only Area C — the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords where a majority of 400,000 settlers live — while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Bennett’s, is promoted by Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are composed of separate city-based clans. So, he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven noncontiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza (which he considers an emirate already). Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside of those cities.

The fourth proposal is by journalist Caroline Glick, author of the 2014 book “The Israeli Solution.” She claims that contrary to prevalent opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel with Judea and Samaria. Alternative demographic research shows that due to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with the opposite trend among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza), and is projected to grow to 70 percent by 2059. On this basis, Glick concludes that the Jewish state is secure and that Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely similarly would annex and give the Palestinians residency rights — with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish state. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose 3.5 million residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and are actively vying to undermine the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it … there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative by former Knesset member and head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it, and given that the new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is not locked into the land-for-peace paradigm, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the bankrupt notions of the past.

YISHAI FLEISHER is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, home of Machpelah, the biblical tombs of Judaism’s founding fathers and mothers.

An aerial view of Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, March 12, 2008. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images.

Knesset committee delays vote on bill to annex large West Bank settlement

A Knesset committee vote on a bill that would annex the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim was postponed to avoid a conflict with a visiting Trump administration official.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation was scheduled to take up the bill, which would subject the settlement to Israeli law, on Tuesday, but delayed the discussion due to the visit by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, who is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to gauge attitudes on peacemaking.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, agreed on Monday to postpone the discussion of the bill shortly after a five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Greenblatt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Times of Israel reported. Greenblatt was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsors had initially rejected a request to postpone a vote on the legislation by three months, according to the news website.

Discussion of the bill had also been postponed in late January, following Trump’s inauguration, until after last month’s meeting between the president and Netanyahu.

The international community and the Palestinians argue that making Maale Adumim an official part of Israel will prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, since it would prevent territorial contiguity.

Some 40,000 Jewish settlers live in Maale Adumim, which Israel considers a settlement bloc that would become part of the nation under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The assembly hall of the Knesset on Oct. 31, 2016. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Knesset passes historic bill to legalize settlements on Palestinian land

The Israeli parliament passed a bill that would retroactively legalize some West Bank settlements built on private Palestinian land.

Knesset lawmakers voted 60-52 in favor of the measure late Monday to legalize some 4,000 settler homes.

The law, which prevents the government from demolishing the homes, comes less than a week after police forcibly evacuated the Amona outpost. It represents the first time the government has tried to implement Israeli law in Area C, part of the West Bank that is under Israeli civilian and military rule, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Knesset member Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the pro-settler Jewish Home party said Monday that the bill was “dedicated to the brave people of Amona who were forced to go through what no Jewish family will have to again,” The Times of Israel reported.

The bill has drawn sharp condemnation. Leaders of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, the second and fourth largest parties in the Knesset, respectively, both warned against its passage.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said the bill violates local and international law and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the vote, as his scheduled return from a trip to the United Kingdom was delayed.

Following a Monday meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu denied he had sought to delay the vote after Feb. 15, when he is set to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Haaretz reported.

“I never said that I want to delay the vote on this law,” Netanyahu said. “I said that I will act according to our national interest. That requires that we do not surprise our friends and keep them updated – and the American administration has been updated. This process was important for me because we are trying to act this way, especially with very close friends.”

On Thursday, Trump in his first statement on Israeli settlements since taking office said construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” in reaching a peace agreement, though he denied that existing settlements are impediments to a deal.

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which have traditionally been hesitant to weigh in on Israeli domestic issues, both criticized the measure on Monday.

ADL leaders said it would harm Israel’s image abroad and lead to legal repercussions.

“[I]t is imperative that the Knesset recognizes that passing this law will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director.

The director of ADL’s Israel office, Carole Nuriel, added that the measure “may also trigger severe international legal repercussions.”

AJC said it was “deeply disappointed” about the bill’s passage and called on the Supreme Court to “reverse this misguided legislation.”

“The controversial Knesset action, ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in Washington, is misguided and likely to prove counter-productive to Israel’s core national interests,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

B’Tselem, a watchdog monitoring human rights abuses in the settlements, slammed the bill.

“The law passed by the Knesset today proves yet again that Israel has no intention of ending its control over the Palestinians or its theft of their land,” the group said in a statement. “Lending a semblance of legality to this ongoing act of plunder is a disgrace for the state and its legislature.”

Peace Now, a left-leaning group promoting the two-state solution, also criticized passage.

“By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books,” the group said in a statement. “By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.”

Herzog accuses Netanyahu of interfering in U.S. election

Israel’s opposition leader, Knesset Member Isaac Herzog, on Monday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disavow his wealthy allies who are supporting Donald Trump for president if he claims impartiality.

“Recently there have again been reports of Israeli leaders interfering in the elections through overseas proxies,” Herzog said at the start of the Zionist Union’s faction meeting in Jerusalem. “I call on Netanyahu to instruct those close to him to make sure no damage is done.”

Las Vegas casino mogul  Sheldon Adelson, who has donated tens of millions to the Trump campaign, is a close ally of the prime minister.

On Monday, it was

Knesset passes law blocking mikvah access for non-Orthodox conversions

The Knesset passed a controversial bill that allows local Orthodox rabbinates to bar non-Orthodox Jewish conversion ceremonies in publicly funded mikvahs.

The bill, which was introduced by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party and opposed by many North American Jewish leaders, was passed on Monday night, The Jerusalem Post reported. The new law will be implemented in nine months.

Under the law, the municipal rabbinates can determine who may use the mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, in their purview. Immersion in the mikvah is part of most conversion ceremonies.

The measure aims to override an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in February that paved the way for non-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel to use public mikvahs for conversions.

The government has said it will establish four mikvahs expressly for use in non-Orthodox conversions. However, it is not clear whether the funding will come from the government or the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is funded largely by donations from Diaspora Jews.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, condemned the new law in a statement issued after its passage.

“This bill, which offers no solution to the non-Orthodox denominations, circumvents the rulings of the High Court of Justice. It is unfortunate that the bill passed before such a solution was ensured,” Sharansky said.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said the law “breaches the clear promise of the prime minister not to legislate against the progressive denominations” and was damaging to Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“This legislation jeopardizes the ability to have fruitful dialogue with the Israeli government, and we see it as a direct move by the government against millions of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and around the world,” Kariv said.

Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative, or Masorti, movement in Israel, condemned the new law as “un-Jewish and undemocratic.”

Wide-ranging terror law passes Knesset in aftermath of Tel Aviv attack

A week after Palestinian terrorists killed four Israelis in an upscale Tel Aviv food court, the Knesset on Wednesday passed wide-ranging new anti-terrorism legislation to replace all previous anti-terror laws and regulations.

The bill, which Haaretz said was supported by all the major parties in the Knesset except Meretz and the Joint Arab List, passed by a vote of 57-16, according to The Times of Israel. It was not clear from the media coverage why only 73 of the Knesset’s 120 members voted.

The legislation, which according to Haaretz applies only to activities inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, combines several bills and supersedes laws that go back to the prestate British Mandate era.

Defining terrorism as a harmful activity or threat committed out of a “political, religious, nationalistic or ideological” motive and designed to sow fear or apply pressure on the government or international organizations, the law does not distinguish between Jews and Palestinians or soldiers and civilians. It also specifies procedures for defining terror groups and seizing their assets, as well as how to deal with terror suspects.

The legislation strengthens the penalties on terrorists and stipulates sentencing guidelines. Perpetrators of attacks with large numbers of casualties, as well as those who use chemical or radioactive weapons or target “sensitive sites,” would receive life sentences.

Under the law, the government can jail those who publicly identify with a terror group, including publicizing praise, waving the group’s flag or singing its anthem.

Several members of the Joint Arab List party condemned the new legislation, saying many of its provisions undermine basic human rights.

The terror law is “draconian, expands the authority of the security forces and occupation authorities, in order to undermine the right to oppose the crimes of the occupation,” Knesset members Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi said in a joint statement. “The law does not define what terror is and represents a stain on the State of Israel’s horrifying law books. Indeed, this is a dark day for the Knesset.”

Thirty-three Israelis and four non-Israelis have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence that began in October. Two hundred Palestinians have also been killed, approximately two-thirds while attacking Israelis and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

65 Israeli lawmakers sign letter requesting pardon of Ethiopian who killed his alleged abuser

More than half the members of the Knesset want Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to pardon an Ethiopian man who murdered his alleged rapist and abuser.

In 2010 Yonatan Heilo, now 29, killed Yaron Eilin, a powerful member of the Ethiopian community in Netanya who allegedly had abused him emotionally, physically and sexually for years. Eilin also allegedly raped and blackmailed Heilo on multiple occasions.

Convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Heilo has served five years. The Supreme Court last month rejected an appeal claiming he acted in self-defense but, according to Haaretz, downgraded his charge from murder to manslaughter and reduced the sentence to 12 years.

Yoel Hasson, an lawmaker with the Zionist Union party, organized a letter to Rivlin on Heilo’s behalf, collecting 65 signatures, according to Haaretz.

The letter notes that Heilo had no previous criminal record. It acknowledges that Heilo “committed a very serious act” and “should be punished.” However, it continues, “in no way is it possible to compare the killing in his tragic case and other cases of evil criminals.”

Heilo’s story, the letter says, “reflects the reality of the difficult lives of many members of the Ethiopian community, people whom the state and welfare authorities neglect, whom the police sometimes harasses, and in some cases many prefer to suffer in quiet simply because they feel that they have no one to turn to.”

According to Haaretz, the signatories represent all the parties in the Knesset.

Bill limiting non-Orthodox mikvah use in Israel advances to full Knesset

A bill that would bar non-Orthodox conversions at public ritual baths in Israel is headed to the full Knesset.

On Monday, the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee advanced the legislation for a first reading in the parliament.

The bill, which was introduced by the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, aims to override an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in February that paved the way for non-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel to use public mikvahs for conversions.

The committee approved a revised version of the bill that does not require women using the mikvah for family purity immersion to immerse in a proscribed way.

Also as part of the revised bill, The Jewish Agency agreed to build four mikvahs throughout the country for non-Orthodox movements to use for conversion purposes, according to reports citing unnamed sources at The Jewish Agency.

The proposal to build the non-Orthodox conversion mikvahs reportedly has not been accepted by the haredi Orthodox parties or the Reform movement.

The Reform movement wants the state to fund mikvahs for the non-Orthodox movements. United Torah Judaism’s senior lawmaker, Moshe Gafni, does not believe the non-Orthodox movements are entitled to their own mikvahs.

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick moves to Knesset

A year and a half ago, Yehuda Glick was a fringe Temple Mount activist expected to die, the victim of a point-blank assassination attempt.

This week, he was sworn into the Knesset as the ruling Likud Party’s replacement legislator for outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Glick’s journey — from the United States to Israel, from government bureaucrat to outspoken demonstrator at Jerusalem’s most contested site, and from a hospital bed to elected office — is an unlikely one. And Glick’s arrival in the halls of the Knesset reflects the growing reception of his push for Jews’ right to visit and worship on the Temple Mount. From 2009 and 2014, Jewish visits to the site nearly doubled.

Glick has been barred from the mount — revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and was even charged with assault there (the charges were dropped). Glick and his fellow religious activists see his accession to the Knesset as a victory for a just cause after his brush with death. Critics, however, say the power he wields could exacerbate tensions at a regional flashpoint.

“I’m sure that I will be involved in the Temple Mount,” Glick said in an interview on May 22. “Just like I use the justice system and the courts, I think the political world has strong institutions to promote issues in a democratic society.”

Glick, 50, is the director of Haliba, an organization that brings Jewish groups to visit the Temple Mount and fights for Jews’ right to pray there. Previously, Glick was the head of the Temple Institute, a group that builds vessels for animal sacrifice and commissions architectural plans for a future Third Temple on the Mount.

The Temple Mount is under Israeli sovereignty but, under a deal following Israel’s 1967 takeover of the site, is run by the Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian body. Muslims generally have full access to the site and the exclusive right to pray there. Jews can ascend the mount only during limited visiting hours and are forbidden from doing anything resembling worship, such as kneeling, singing, dancing or rending their clothes.

“The discrimination on the Temple Mount is obvious,” Glick said. “The Temple Mount became a center of incitement and hate instead of a center of peace.”

Glick’s critics and supporters alike praise him as a gentle and benign man who seems sincerely interested in enabling members of all religions to coexist on the mount. A 2014 video shows him happily reciting a prayer in Arabic with Muslim worshippers. The men then repeat a verse in Hebrew from Psalms 24.

Analysts say Glick’s activism, however well-intentioned, could empower extremists and heighten an already explosive mood on the Mount. Palestinian leaders have accused Israel’s government of planning to change the site’s fragile status quo, which Israeli leaders fervently deny. The recent wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks in Israel began after riots and clashes on the mount.

“He’s part of a movement that deals in pyromania,” said Daniel Seidmann, an attorney and expert in Jerusalem’s geopolitics. “There are few threats that create a clear and present danger to the most vital interests of Israel more than a radical change on the Temple Mount.”

But David Haivri, a spokesman for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank and a friend of Glick’s, called him “very lovable.” Haivri said that while Glick focuses on a combative issue, he comes at it in a warm and accessible way.

“A lot of people consider him an extremist because he’s so concerned with the right of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount,” Haivri said. “They’ll discover that he’s bringing that to the table with a different type of platform. Extremism is absent in Yehuda Glick’s platform.”

Some of Glick’s fellow travelers are more provocative. When then-Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, visited the Mount ahead of Rosh Hashanah in 2014, he called for Jews in the future to “ascend the Mount and be seen for festivals, to bring sacrifices.”

Glick has also run into his share of trouble at the Mount. He has repeatedly been barred from the site and was charged with assaulting a female Muslim activist in 2014. The charges were dropped in February.

Michael Melchior, a former government minister who was active with Glick’s father, Shimon, in the liberal-religious Meimad Party, also questioned whether Glick should be celebrated as a voice of tolerance. While Melchior admires Glick’s use of universalist language in his Temple Mount work, he said Glick is inconsistent for not advocating for Palestinian rights.

“The human rights motive is used to say, ‘Well, why shouldn’t Jews have the right to pray everywhere?’ ” Melchior said. “But the human rights motive is a universal motive. If you believe in human rights, will you apply that to everything else that has to do with human rights?”

Glick was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., moved to Israel at 9 and now lives in the West Bank settlement of Otniel. He attributes his use of the language of civil rights and equality to his American upbringing. Before his Temple Mount activism, he worked for nearly a decade in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, quitting in protest of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

He became a symbol of the Jewish Temple Mount movement after a Palestinian gunman shot him three times at point-blank range outside a Jerusalem convention center in October 2014. He was discharged from the hospital that November and a month later competed in Likud’s primaries. He won the 33rd spot on the slate — reserved for an Israeli settler.

“I felt that in a democratic country, we cannot allow a situation in which someone who is active democratically, someone who is active to promote a legitimate issue, is attacked physically because of the fact that he tried to work legally,” Glick said.

Last week, Glick tweeted critically of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to oust Yaalon — the decision that gave Glick his Knesset seat. He disapproved of replacing Yaalon — who is viewed as a pragmatist — with the hawkish and unpredictable Avigdor Lieberman, whom he criticized on May 18 for his “way of speaking, changing his political opinions depending on the mood, and [his] lack of trust in the prime minister.”

‘Attack a civilian and you’re a terrorist; Attack a soldier and you’re an adversary’

An Israeli member of parliament (MK) triggered a torrent of criticism from fellow politicians in recent days when he refused to label a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli soldier as a terrorist. Palestinians could be expected to violently resist foreign military rule just as armed Zionist organizations did when they rose up against the British Mandate prior to Israeli independence, Zouheir Bahloul, the Zionist Union’s only Arab MK (member of Knesset) said.

“The (Irgun), the Lehi, the Haganah – all of these Jewish organizations went out onto the streets to fight against the British Mandate and its soldiers, to make your state – which has become an incredible state – a reality. Why can't the Palestinians do the same?” Bahloul asked during a cultural event held in the historical city of Acre.

Bahloul’s comments came in the context of a discussion regarding Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, a Palestinian who, along with an accomplice, stabbed a soldier in the contested city of Hebron. Sharif was shot during the attack and then subsequently (several minutes later) shot in the head by another soldier as he lay on the ground bleeding. The second soldier, who remains unidentified due to a gag order, is now facing manslaughter charges. Since al-Sharif's was an attack on a military individual, it did not constitute a terrorist act, the Zionist Union MK argued.

He contrasted that with attacks against civilians, including Jewish civilians living in the West Bank. “Anyone who murders someone, cuts short the life of an innocent person or ambushes a family coming home from work, is a terrorist,” Bahloul later said in an interview with Army Radio.

Criticism of Bahloul's comments has been wide-ranging, including from within Bahloul’s own party.

“The Zionist Union’s position is that a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, and it does not matter if he intended to kill Jews or Arabs,” Isaac Herzog, the party’s chairman and head of the opposition wrote on Facebook.

MK Nava Boker, from the ruling Likud party, asked that the Knesset Ethics committee suspend Bahloul, accusing him of labelling Israeli soldiers as targets and approving the spilling of their blood.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also joined in the condemnation, describing Bahloul’s comments as “shameful.”

“(Israeli) soldiers protect us with their bodies from bloodthirsty murderers, I expect every citizen of Israel, and especially MKs, to give them full support,” Netanyahu said via Facebook.

Yet despite the considerable criticism from Israeli politicians of every hue, no MK has publically disputed Bahloul’s argument that the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi conducted a violent campaign against the British military and that therefore Palestinians could be expected to use similar tactics. Instead, criticism of the Arab MK has focused on his ‘legitimization of terrorism.’

Bahloul’s point that a distinction should be made between attacks on civilians and attacks on military personnel challenges the current status quo whereby any act of violence against the Israeli army or police is automatically condemned as terrorism.

In the past, however, that distinction was made. 

“The terrorists choose to attack weak and defenseless civilians: old people, women, etc – essentially anyone, except soldiers…Guerilla fighters are not terrorists. They are irregular soldiers who fight against regular army forces and not civilians,” Binyamin Netanyahu wrote in his 1986 book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win.

This is not to say that Palestinian attackers have not targeted civilians, and at times continue to do so. But during the violence of the past six months, there are signs that some ‘lone-wolf’ attackers have chosen to target Israeli police or army personnel rather than softer targets, most notably in the frequent attacks carried out at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a well-known hotspot flooded with Israeli security personnel.

But if some Palestinian attackers (and it’s by no means all) discriminate between violence against civilians and military personnel, it is not a distinction being made much of by the Israeli media. Most of the country's leading newspapers and TV presenters describe any Palestinian accused of using violence as a terrorist.

Violence was a tool employed by the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi to reach a political goal. The three organizations shared a similar goal, the creation of a Jewish state, but differed in their approach. More radical than the Haganah, the Irgun, whose members advocated attacking the British Mandate forces, became an independent entity in 1931. The even more radical Lehi (derogatorily referred to as the Stern Gang by the British at the time) in turn separated from the Irgun in 1940. Its members disagreed with the Irgun leadership who wished to pause hostilities against the British while the latter fought Nazi Germany.

“The Haganah was very much a mainstream organization that was not particularly keen on attacking civilian targets, even members of the British civil administration,” Ben Mendales, a researcher with the Moshe Dayan Center, told The Media Line. Evidence for this can be seen in the way the Haganah distanced itself from the other two movements after the bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun – an attack which killed 91 people, the majority of whom civilians – Mendales said.

Although the actions of the Irgun and Lehi were more radical, Mendales stopped short of designating them terrorists. “I wouldn’t be comfortable saying they were terrorists because it’s a very politically charged and complex issue… it’s a debate which is still being voiced today,” he explained.

The United Nations (UN), the United States and the British government regarded the Irgun as a terrorist organization. Lehi members even referred to themselves as terrorists, publishing in August 1943, “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes.” The assassination of Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat sent to the region by the UN to mediate between the Arabs and Zionists, and the massacre at Deir Yassin, were seen as two of the more radical actions taken by the Zionists in their struggle for independence. 

Yet despite such actions, these organizations were very much accepted into mainstream society in Israel, their commanders even becoming state leaders. Menachem Begin of the Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir of Lehi both became prime ministers of Israel. And here it could be argued that double standards are being applied.

“The British regarded (Yitzhak Shamir) as a terrorist the same way that we claim every Arab who stabs a soldier is a terrorist,” Yoav Gelber, a professor of history at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Media Line. A desire to conduct military operations without incurring a single casualty is causing Israelis to make “hysterical generalizations,” the historian argued.

“Every Palestinian who tries to attack a civilian or a soldier is an enemy, but there are different kinds of enemies: if he attacks a civilian he is a terrorist; if he attacks soldiers he is an adversary on the battlefield,” Gelber concluded.

Knesset Members stand up in solidarity with Reform Jews

Charedi Member of the Knesset Israel Eichler’s comparison on Feb. 23 of Reform Jews to mentally ill patients diminishes not only Reform Judaism, but all who suffer mental illness and who struggle with disabilities of all kinds. 

The best response is to quote from the Knesset members representing different political parties who, one day after Eichler’s remarks, addressed 330 Reform Rabbis representing 1.7 million Jews worldwide at a special meeting of the Israeli-Diaspora Knesset Committee. 

Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union and leader of the opposition): “I congratulate all of you for the recent decisions on the Kotel to create an egalitarian and pluralistic prayer space and the Supreme Court decision giving rights to Reform and Conservative converts to use state-sponsored mikvaot. The decisions of the Israeli government and the High Court of Justice are not acts of kindness. They are based in Jewish responsibility and democratic principles, which is what the state of Israel is meant to advocate. Religion in the state cannot be monopolized by the ultra-Orthodox. You in the Reform movement are our partners and will always be our partners.”

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz): “Those who are a provocation are those who prevent religious freedom, not those who demand it!”

Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union): “There is an excitement today because you Reform rabbis have come to the Knesset. Judaism is about values, about being inclusive and not being closed by hatred. We are one Jewish world family. Every Jew must be made to feel at home in the state of Israel because Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people.”

Amir Ohana (Likud): “A Jewish state should not be halachic. We cannot do to others what has been done to us. We should not slander each other. We need more respectful discussion. Israel is the home for all the Jewish people.”

Rachel Azaria (Kulanu): “Every day, all the tribes of Israel awake each morning hoping that another will disappear; but no one will disappear. We’re all here. Our task is to create a country where everyone has a place around the table.” 

Dov Khenin (Joint List): “One of the great struggles in the State of Israel today is the struggle for democracy, which is under serious threat. We need to stop the censorship, which is contrary to the foundations of the state.”

Michal Biran (Labor): “We are partners. We share the same Jewish and Zionist values. Our democracy must fight against racism, discrimination and bigotry.”

Nachman Shai (Labor): “The Charedi MKs don’t understand democracy.”

Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union): “Judaism isn’t just for people dressed in black. People who call you names don’t understand Judaism or democracy. You are partners in our struggle.”

Michael Oren (Kulanu): “Zionism is faith in the nation state of the Jewish people. We are committed to implementing the government’s agreement at the Kotel.” 

Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union): “As the only Arab MK in a Zionist party, I want to say that you [Jews] deserve a nation state and the Palestinians, too, deserve a state. How is it possible that Jews can recognize that they suffer and that the Palestinians do not? I cannot deny the pain of a Jewish mother or the pain of a Palestinian mother. Do not overlook the universal values we share.” 

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid): “Jewish pluralism means that there are various ways to explore our souls and to be on the journey of being a Jew. We are part of you and we bless you.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, president of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, made an important point in telling the story of the funeral of Richard Lakin, who was killed in a knife attack by a Palestinian terrorist. Kariv officiated at the funeral in a Charedi cemetery. Though Lakin was a Reform Jew and a member of Kol Haneshama synagogue in Jerusalem, he was lowered into the grave by Charedi Jews.

This is an example of what ought to be the relationship between our different streams, not the sort articulated by Eichler, a member of United Torah Judaism.

We concluded the meeting by rising with the Knesset members to sing “Hatikvah,” a moment I will never forget. 

Rabbi John Rosove is the senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood. 

Israel NGO bill, seen as targeting left-wing groups, crosses first hurdle

A bill that opponents say targets Israeli human rights groups critical of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians won initial approval in parliament on Monday with the support of right-wing parties.

Called a “transparency bill” by its sponsor, far-right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the legislation would require NGOs to give details of overseas donations in all their official publications if more than half their funding comes from foreign governments or bodies such as the European Union.

The United States and European Union have raised their concerns publicly and privately about the legislation as well as moves against dissenting voices in the NGO community and in the arts and media under the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Opponents of the proposed law say it is discriminatory because it is mainly groups that oppose the policies of Israel's administration towards Palestinians which receive money from foreign governments and the EU.

Private funds from overseas, such as money donated to Israeli groups that support Jewish settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state, are not addressed in the bill.

In a statement before the parliamentary vote, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the NGO bill a “discriminatory law that harms democracy … (and) supports censorship and political persecution”.

Netanyahu, defending the legislation as “democratic and necessary”, has seemed to allude to foreign monetary support for Israeli groups backing Palestinian statehood.

Addressing members of his conservative Likud party last week, Netanyahu drew parallels with Spain's Basque country where various separatist groups used peaceful or violent means to further their cause. “Try to imagine Israel funding Basque independence organisations,” he said.

More than 30,000 NGOs are registered in Israel, about half of them active. Around 70 of those groups deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and receive funds either from the EU as a whole, or individual member governments, including Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, as well as non-member Norway.

To become law, the bill needs to pass three votes in parliament, where Netanyahu's coalition governs by a one-seat majority and carefully shores up support for its legislation before putting it on the agenda.

It received preliminary approval in the Knesset late on Monday and now goes to a committee for final drafting before a second and third vote at a separate parliamentary session.


The debate coincides with high tensions between Palestinians and Jews as Israel grapples with near-daily Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car rammings that have hardened right-wing sentiments within Netanyahu's government.

Other rightist initiatives include an attempt by Culture Minister Miri Regev to deny government funding to any arts institution whose programmes “subvert the state”, and a campaign by an ultranationalist advocacy group against “disloyal” left-wing artists. After widespread condemnation, it was withdrawn.

Opponents have compared such proposals with U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's campaign in the 1950s to expose Communist sympathisers, including in Hollywood and the arts.

Both Shaked, a 39-year-old computer engineer, and Regev, 50, a former army spokeswoman, are widely seen as jockeying for leadership positions in their respective Jewish Home and Likud parties, in part by rocking liberal foundations.

Once the legislation reaches a parliamentary committee for fine-tuning, lawmakers are likely to focus on the possible removal of a widely-criticised clause that would require representatives of foreign government-funded NGOs to wear special identification badges when they visit the Knesset.

Shaked has said she was determined to crack down on those groups that take foreign money and then criticise Israel, accusing some NGOs of “eroding the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state”.

From the point of view of advocacy groups, the bill is a dangerous step that would put Israel in a category with the likes of Russia, Turkey and neighbouring Egypt, which often struggle to accept internal criticism and have either cracked down on some NGOs, or threatened to do so.

Several weeks ago, the U.S. ambassador to Israel met Shaked to discuss the legislation and took the unusual step of issuing a statement expressing Washington's concern and the need for governments to “protect free expression and peaceful dissent”.

Peace Now, an Israeli NGO that tracks and opposes Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has called the legislation “a hate crime against democracy”.

Israel’s Knesset passes ‘stop and frisk’ law

Israel’s Knesset passed a “stop and frisk” law allowing police to search individuals if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they will commit a crime or are carrying an illegal weapon.

The law passed by a vote of 39-31 in its second and third readings on Tuesday.

A temporary provision allows police to stop and frisk even without reasonable suspicion based on the fear that an individual is planning to carry out a terror attack. The provision will remain valid for a year.

In a debate before the vote, those opposed to the legislation said it would increase discrimination against minorities such as Arabs, haredi Orthodox, Ethiopians and Russians.

“Searches without a reason and without limits don’t protect the public’s welfare and security,” Dov Khenin of the Joint Arab List said. “This won’t provide security but will augment the harm to individual rights, and the mistrust between the police and many populations in Israel. Overly zealous searches will also lead to more incidents of sexual harassment of women.”

The original legislation was proposed in 2011, and passed a first reading as part of an attempt to halt violence at entertainment and other venues, according to Haaretz. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan recently reintroduced the proposal to use in the fight against the current spate of Palestinian terror attacks.

Obama administration rejects likening Israel’s NGO law to US lobbying registry

The Obama administration has rejected the comparison between an Israeli bill requiring registration of foreign-funded NGOs and U.S. laws registering foreign interest lobbyists.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, asked by JTA on Wednesday about Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Op-Ed this week likening the two laws, also said the United States had expressed concerns to the Netanyahu government about the measure.

“They’re two different things altogether,” Kirby said, referring to the law approved this week by Israel’s Cabinet and the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act. Kirby did not specify the differences.

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive a majority of their support from “foreign political entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public official. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register and report their activities.

Kirby also said that since the Israeli Cabinet green-lighted the bill, U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the dangers it could pose to a “free and functioning civil society.”

He noted the bill must undergo multiple readings in the Knesset, a process that could modify the language.

The American Jewish Committee has also expressed concerns about the bill.

“The proposed solution poses as many risks as the problem itself, including the risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost,” the AJC said Tuesday in a statement.

Advancing NGO bill, Israel’s Cabinet fires another shot at its critics

Its backers call it a victory for transparency. Opponents say it smacks of dictatorship.

Either way, a new bill requiring certain Israeli nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding is moving toward passage after it was approved by a Cabinet committee on Sunday. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who proposed the bill, said it uncovers foreign meddling in Israeli affairs.

“The transparency law, which passed the ministerial committee for legislation today, doesn’t label people and doesn’t label organizations,” Shaked, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, wrote Sunday on Facebook. “It labels the foreign interest of different states, which seek to enable NGOs here, and in whose name they give hundreds of millions of shekels.”

Shaked’s bill is the latest in a string of measures undertaken by Israel’s right-wing governments to target left-wing NGOs. Sunday’s vote occurred two weeks after government ministers restricted the activities of Breaking the Silence, an organization of military veterans that draws attention to alleged Israeli military abuses in the West Bank.

In 2011, the Knesset enacted a law requiring NGOs to declare any foreign government funding on a quarterly basis. A 2013 bill sought to levy high taxes on foreign government donations, but foundered after the Israeli attorney general advised that it was unconstitutional.

Recent years have also seen legislative efforts to prohibit boycotts of settlement products and allow individual soldiers to sue groups that defame the army.

“This is part of the attempt to hurt groups that criticize the regime,” said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “They’re trying to put NGOs on the stand and say they’re not legitimate.”

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive a majority of their support from “foreign political entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public official. An earlier draft of the law would have required representatives of such groups to wear badges identifying themselves as lobbyists of foreign governments.

The NGOs affected by the bill have decried the measure as an attempt to silence opponents in Israel of the government’s policies. They say by singling out foreign government funding, which goes mostly to left-wing groups, the bill ignores foreign funding of right-wing groups by private donors.

“This creates a negative image and has no place in a democratic state,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, executive director of Peace Now, which would fall under the bill’s purview, having received donations in the past from the British, Belgian and Spanish governments. “There’s no reason I should wear a tag that says I get foreign funding while right-wing NGOs will stand next to me as if they got all their funding from home.”

Right-wing politicians have been working to clamp down on left-wing NGOs since 2009, when a United Nations report accusing Israel of war crimes cited research by left-wing groups. Shaked’s bill, which would expand the disclosure requirements of the 2011 law, comes amid a campaign by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, which has posted ads in major cities accusing prominent left-wing activists of being foreign “moles” in Israel and supporting terror.

Im Tirtzu’s founder, Ronen Shoval, wrote in a column on the news website Walla that the bill provides necessary transparency around foreign entities seeking to meddle in Israeli affairs.

“Imagine what would happen if the state of Israel chose to give money to groups in Spain working toward Catalan or, God forbid, Basque independence,” Shoval wrote. “For years, European states have been undermining Israeli democracy.”

NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that scrutinizes the work of human rights organizations, says European governments provide some $100 million in direct or indirect funding to NGOs operating in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — funding that constitutes an illegitimate effort to sway Israeli policy.

“When sovereign states disagree, they disagree through diplomacy and other measures,” said NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, who said his group neither opposes nor supports the bill, though it has long drawn attention to what it calls the “problem” of foreign NGO funding. “They do not do it through the manipulation of civil society. When states provide money to influence policy in another country, that’s a unique infringement on sovereignty.”

Critics counter that Shaked’s bill represents a ploy to suppress dissent by taking aim largely at groups on the left. The New Israel Fund, which funds several groups that would be affected by the law, said Sunday in a statement that the bill “is a very precise imitation of the policies of Putin’s Russia and other authoritarian regimes clamping down on civil society.”

Centrist and left-wing politicians are also criticizing the bill as a vehicle to shame left-wing groups. The notion that the law enhances transparency is a sham, they say, since the 2011 law already requires financial disclosure. 

Critics also called the bill inconsistent for mandating a public declaration of governmental funding, but not of private donations. Peace Now released a study earlier this month reporting that hundreds of millions of shekels in private donations to nine right-wing NGOs could not be traced to a specific individual or organization.

“This is not a law aimed at transparency, rather a law aimed at labeling Israelis,” opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni wrote Sunday on Facebook. “The goal in this law is to label bodies that oppose the government’s policy.”

Haredi Orthodox Knesset members skip swearing-in of gay lawmaker

Haredi Orthodox lawmakers skipped the Knesset swearing-in of Amir Ohana, the first openly gay lawmaker from the Likud party.

Ohana took the oath on Monday afternoon to replace Silvan Shalom, who resigned earlier this month amid accusations of sexual assault. Ohana is the fourth gay lawmaker to serve in the Knesset.

Sources from the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas told Army Radio that its lawmakers did not deliberately skip the ceremony, pointing out that they had not been in the Knesset chamber for the two hours preceding the swearing-in. But sources from the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party said its lawmakers purposely did not attend. Both are members of the ruling government coalition.

“During my swearing-in speech, I didn’t even notice that the Knesset members were absent,” Ohana told Army Radio on Tuesday morning. “Later, when I heard they had not been present, I thought that with regard to the issue of LGBT rights, it would be wonderful if their absence would continue.”

Following the swearing-in, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Ohana to the Knesset, saying he was “proud” to have him as a lawmaker in the parliament in a veiled reference to his sexual orientation.

Ohana and his partner have 4-month-old twins — a son and a daughter — born through a surrogate. He was elected to represent the Tel Aviv District and is known for his gay-rights activism.

With the ascension of Ohana to the Knesset, the next in line should any Likud minister quit or be removed from office is Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in October 2014. Glick leads a group that advocates for wider Jewish access to the Temple Mount.

Proposed Israeli NGO law is hypocritical attack on left

Yet again the Israeli Knesset is considering legislation to single out and punish progressive nongovernmental organizations, particularly the human rights groups that are such a thorn in the side of those who favor the continued occupation of the West Bank.

Carefully constructed to evade the inevitable legal challenges it would face if passed, the legislation approved by a Knesset committee this week would require representatives of organizations receiving foreign government funding to identify themselves as such in every public venue, including the Knesset, the media, and in all printed and online materials. Failure to do so would trigger huge fines.

That every human rights organization in Israel is already required to make its funding sources public is apparently irrelevant. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her Likud and Jewish Home allies designed this nakedly political maneuver to further delegitimize progressive organizations, especially those opposing the occupation and its inevitable human rights abuses.

The legislation, purportedly for transparency, comes as new reports are surfacing about the millions of foreign dollars flowing to the settlements, the NGOs that defend them and allied institutions on Israel’s ultranationalist right. The new reports make a mockery of the right’s stated objective of transparency, not to mention its self-righteous disdain for foreign funding.

In a series of investigative reports for Haaretz, Uri Blau has shown how American donors gave the settlements more than $220 million over the past five years — donations that went through tax-exempt American nonprofit organizations. Despite the longstanding American government view that settlements are impediments to peace, at least 50 organizations from across the United States are involved in raising funds for settlements and settlement activities, according to Haaretz.

Blau found that American donations fund everything from air conditioning for settlers to payments to the families of convicted Jewish terrorists. Among the recipients of tax-exempt American donations is Honenu, a right-wing legal aid group that has provided stipends to Yigal Amir, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin. The yeshiva whose rabbis wrote the “The King’s Torah,” a book purporting to demonstrate when it is legitimate to kill non-Jews, also benefits from tax-deductible contributions from the United States.

Yet the proposed legislation would exclude these organizations and their funders. Only money from “foreign political entities” are targeted, a formulation designed to ensnare Israel’s human rights community, which receives significant funding from European governments motivated by shared values and an interest in protecting the millions of Palestinians living under military rule.

Longtime observers of the growing power of the Israeli right and its links to a network of mostly foreign millionaires are not surprised by this. After all, Israel’s leading newspaper is a freebie to its readers, funded by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and faithfully parroting the Likud line. Israel permits its politicians to receive foreign funding for their party primaries, and nearly all the money donated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in the last election came from overseas, according to government records. And many of the neoconservative and ultranationalist think tanks and political NGOs in both Israel and the United States share donors, staff and volunteer leadership.

We at the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, ourselves a partnership of Israelis and Jews worldwide with program and grant recipients in Israel, take no issue with overseas dollars funding Israeli organizations and institutions. But the manipulation of Israel’s political process to single out organizations of the left for obloquy is both wrong and dangerous.

Selectively deciding that foreign funding for human rights must be shamed and labeled, while millions of dollars flow unimpeded to neutral and right-wing institutions, is not just a matter of stigma. It tells Israelis that those who criticize the occupation on the grounds of human rights need not, or must not, be heeded.

The current governing coalition, the most hard line in Israel’s history, has made it clear that it will do everything possible to stifle dissent. At a time when Israel’s relationships with its most important partners, the United States and the European Union, are already shaky, the signals sent by the government’s arrogant defiance of supposedly shared democratic values also further damages Israel’s international standing.

Let’s be clear. B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights and other beleaguered protectors of human and civil rights will do their jobs even if they have to wear neon deely boppers to visit the Knesset. No amount of harassment will shut down these organizations, short of the sorts of measures used by police states like Russia and China.

But the treatment of organizations with unpopular missions and activities is the canary in the coal mine of democracy. We who defend Israel as a liberal democracy must make clear to our counterparts in Jerusalem that we see through the hypocrisy and double-dealing, and take a stand for an honest, free and democratic Israel.

Naomi Paiss is the vice president for public affairs at the New Israel Fund.

Knesset passes law opponents say will benefit illegal West Bank outposts

Israel’s Knesset passed a controversial law that requires greater transparency from the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, but which opponents claim will funnel money to illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The bill, sponsored by Jewish Home member Bezalel Smotrich, was approved by a vote of 53-48 and signed into law Thursday, the Times of Israel reported

The law recognizes the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division as a government arm and authorizes it to fund and assist rural Jewish communities in both Israel proper and the West Bank.

“Today, it was clarified that despite perceptions among Israel’s left, which rejects outright the idea of settlements, Zionism has won,” Smotrich said, according to the Times of Israel “During the struggle of the last few months, the forces in the Knesset that have tired of Zionism came together to bring down this law. Today, despite that, Zionism has won.”

In a Knesset discussion before the vote, Yair Lapid, said Jewish extremists, such as those seen in a recently released video celebrating the murder of Palestinians, were “born in the same outposts that this bill is trying to fund.”

Lapid said the law benefits “illegal outposts” and “all the places where the [Settlement] Division is not building but is trying to establish a political reality.”

Tzipi Livni, of the Zionist Union, said the bill “is designed to deceive America,”by “giving the Settlement Division authority but not responsibility,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

“I would accept this bill if one sentence was added – that everything that applies to the government also applies to the Settlement Division – but, of course, [the coalition] didn’t accept it.”

Oren: Jews, Israelis must be first to condemn Trump

Jews and Israelis must be the first to condemn Donald Trump’s comments against Muslims, Israeli Knesset Member and former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren said Tuesday. 

In an interview with i24News, an English-Israeli TV network, Oren said, “Whatever the reason, it is thoroughly unacceptable. It is very important for Israelis to stand up against this, precisely because we are Israelis; precisely because we are facing threats from radical Islam. We have to stand up for the vast majority of Muslims who are not radical.” 

Oren said that during his tenure as Ambassador he worked with Imams and hosted an Iftar party every years at the Embassy. “This are wonderful people. And to stigmatize, derogate and criminalize an entire population is thoroughly unacceptable,” the Knesset Member told host Lucy Aharish, herself an Arab-Israeli. “Support for Israel in the U.S. is at an all-time high. But I knew as Ambassador that a part of that 70 percent were people who like Israel because they don’t like Muslims, and I would go out to the audience and say: ‘If that’s why you like Israel, we don;t want your support.’If that’s the price, we don’t want it.”

On Monday, Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He doubled down on his call during a campaign rally Monday night, as well as in a round of TV interviews Tuesday morning.

The comments were immediately condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, who compared the ban to the persecution of the Jewish people in the 1930′s. “Mr. Trump’s plan to bar people from entry to the United States based on their religion is unacceptable and antithetical to American values,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a statement. “A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values. In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” he added.

The former Ambassador said he hopes the most recent comments would be a “turning point” in the Republican race for president. 

“It is very important for Israelis to say” that recent terror attacks in Israel and abroad are “not about Islam,” Oren stressed. ”We were victims of precisely what Mr. Trump is calling for – calling for closing the gates on immigration on the basis of a racial and religious Identity. So, we know what it feels like.” Adding, “One of the reasons I moved to Israel was because I grew up in a neighborhood where I was the only Jewish kid and I got beaten up every day for being Jewish. But I don;t want to be part of a majority that, in any way, discriminates and is judicial against its minorities.”


Just interviewed on i24news English: “As Jews and Israelis we must be the first to condemn Donald J. Trump Islamophobia.”

Posted by ‎מייקל אורן Michael Oren‎ on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jewish Home lawmaker quitting Knesset over sexual assault allegations

An Israeli lawmaker from the Jewish Home party will resign from the Knesset over sexual assault allegations.

Yinon Magal informed party leader Naftali Bennett on Monday that he will step down following the accusations by two women who worked with him when he was editor of the Hebrew-language news website Walla, as well as others.

At least four women in recent weeks have accused Magal, who is married, of making lewd comments and sexual assault.

Magal had resigned last week from his position as Jewish Home’s Knesset faction chairman in light of the allegations. He apologized for his actions.

“I made a mistake in my past conduct, which is even more unbecoming for the public official I am today,” Magal said in a statement last week. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart to those who were hurt. I am determined to correct my behavior and also to repair things on the personal and family level.”

On Monday, Magal reportedly said in a statement announcing his decision to resign that while his actions were not criminal, people were hurt by them, leading to his decision.

Bennett, who is in the United States, called Magal’s decision “proper.”

Israel’s Christian schools reopen after month of strike

On Sept. 28, one of the longest academic strikes in Israel’s history finally came to an amicable close when students enrolled in Israel’s Christian school system belatedly began their school year after 27 days of protests by teachers, administrators, parents and students.

The 33,000 students, mostly Christian Arabs, attending 47 institutions across Israel returned to school one day after an agreement was inked between church leaders who administer ecclesiastical academics and Israel’s Ministry of Education. The deal reinstated $13.8 million that had been cut from the Christian school system’s allocation from the Israeli government last year, established a joint committee to set future government contributions and barred the schools from striking during the next two years.

While communication between government officials and school leaders remained open and positive throughout the closure, according to negotiators in the Joint Arab List who sat in on the discussions, some in the Christian community had hoped to ensure state funding for future years.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Yousef Jabareen, a representative with the Joint Arab List, the Arab alliance in the Knesset, and a father of three enrolled in Christian schools. Jabareen was among the thousands of parents left scrambling to find child care during the four weeks of the strike — many of them carted their children to their workplaces. During those weeks, Jabareen brought his youngest son with him to work at the Knesset, while another son assisted at a relative’s clothing store and spent “a lot of time on Facebook and watching television, unfortunately, nothing meaningful,” Jabareen said.

“On one hand, I appreciate the struggle the schools have initiated, and I appreciate their courage to keep the strike for almost one month. On the other hand, I feel some disappointment because I thought we could get a better agreement.”

Jabareen and other parents active on the strike committee had hoped the government would come up with a fixed amount for state contributions in the coming years. Under the new agreement, the amount will be determined jointly by school officials and the Ministry of Education over the next six months.

“I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, praising the compromise reached by the schools and state.

“I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year,” he added.

Days before classes were due to begin last month, the church-run schools announced that, in protest of budget cuts, they would not open their doors. School officials said the Ministry of Education had reduced state contributions from 64 percent of their operating cost to 29 percent over the past two years, and the schools no longer had the resources to educate. Because Israel’s Christian schools are a public-private enterprise, called “recognized non-official,” they are capped at receiving 75 percent of their budget from the state. The remainder of their funding comes from parent contributions, ranging from $650 to $1,300 per pupil annually.

Church leaders had originally asked the government for a total of $52.6 million. They said that amount would cover the full 75 percent maximum benefit from the state, and would match the grants given to recognized nonofficial Jewish schools.

“I look at myself, I am a hardworking person, I pay taxes,” said Leila Haddad, a gynecologist and mother with two daughters enrolled in a Christian school in Haifa, where more than 60 percent of Arab students attend Christian schools.

“I think that everyone is looking for equality and not more. We know that these are sort-of private schools, so we are not looking for 100 percent funding, but the same that other schools in our category receive,” she added.

“This 50 million NIS [$13.8 million] hardly does anything when you divide it by 33,000 students,” said Wissam Asmar, a graduate of the same school Haddad’s children attend, which was founded in the mid-1800s. Asmar is a lawyer and a father of three children who were out of school during the strike. “This is something that we will not accept. This will not solve the problem.”

Church officials who oversee the schools hail from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sects. Even so, the curriculums are often secular and noted for an emphasis on culture and civics. “They also exercise values and democracy, community, forgiveness, respecting the other, and being involved, being a caring citizen,” Jabareen said, adding, “I definitely credit my school for my career development.” In addition to serving as an elected official, Jabareen also holds a doctorate in law from Georgetown University.

In fact, Christian schools are regarded as outstanding performers in Israel’s fractured education system, serving, in addition to the Arab-Christian community, a number of Muslim and some Jewish children. Sixty-nine percent of students in Christian schools matriculate, compared to 27 percent of students from government-run Arab schools.

Four percent of Israel’s students are registered at Christian schools, yet among Arab students studying at Israeli universities, 39 percent graduated from the Christian system. What’s more, many graduates of these schools go on to become leaders in Israel’s professional class; alumni include doctors, lawyers and a staggering 89 percent of Arabs in the high-tech industry.

“I had the best education, I think. My school was one of the top schools in Israel,” said Aida Touma-Sliman, another Knesset member and graduate of a Christian school, also in Nazareth. “It’s not by chance that six our of 13 members of the Knesset [from the Joint Arab List] graduated from these schools.”

Israel’s Knesset approves controversial natural gas deal

Israel’s Knesset voted to endorse a natural gas deal with a consortium of companies that will allow the development of several offshore natural gas fields to go forward.

The deal was approved on Monday by a vote of 59-51.

“This is a great day for the State of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Netanyahu acknowledged that “we have one obstacle left and we will overcome it because it is the right thing for the citizens of Israel.”

The obstacle is opposition from the anti-trust commissioner, and the refusal of Economy Minister Arye Deri to invoke an article of the anti-trust law that allows him to approve the deal despite the opposition, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“When I want to achieve something, I achieve it,” Netanyahu said of the remaining obstacle. “There will be gas for Israel. I want it for the citizens of Israel, to lower the cost of living, to channel vast sums to the state coffers for energy security.”

Under the deal, the Israeli Delek group and the Texas-based Noble Energy will develop the largest gas field, Leviathan, and reduce its holdings in other gas fields. The agreement also will regulate the price of natural gas during the development period, which ends in 2020.

In December, Israel’s Anti-Trust Authority recommended the breakup of the consortium over monopoly fears, angering the companies, which have spent billions of dollars on exploration and development.

Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas. The Tamar field, which has at least 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is expected to meet Israel’s energy needs for the next 20 years.

Israeli lawmaker’s email leaked from Ashley Madison cheating site

The government email address of Knesset Member Taleb Abu Arrar was one of millions leaked from, a website for people seeking extramarital affairs.

Abu Arrar, of the Arab Joint List party, already has two wives, according to the Jerusalem Post. Because polygamy is illegal in Israel, he has a common-law marriage with his second wife. He has 10 children.

“Someone signed up with my email address in order to sully my good name,” he said, according to the Post. He plans to file a complaint with police.

Knesset members’ aides can also access the members’ official email addresses.

The address was revealed among some 36 million others Tuesday night by hackers who stole the information last month. They had threatened to release the email addresses unless the website shut down, which it has not. The site claims to have 38 million users.

Avid Life Media, which owns the website, said in a statement that “These are illegitimate acts that have real consequences for innocent citizens who are simply going about their daily lives,” according to Reuters.

Israeli lawmakers approve tougher law against rock throwers

Israeli lawmakers voted to impose longer jail terms on people caught throwing rocks at civilian cars and roads.

The Knesset passed the bill on its second and third readings on Monday night by a vote of 69 to 17.

Under the new law, rock throwers can be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail if it is proven that they intended to cause injury, and 10 years if harmful intent is not proven. Also, a prison sentence of five years can be levied for throwing a rock at a police officer or police car.

“Today justice has been done,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party after the vote. “For years terrorists have been evading punishment and responsibility. The tolerance shown to terrorists ends today. A stone thrower is a terrorist, and only a proper punishment can be a deterrent.”

The law does not cover the West Bank, which is under Israeli military law, and where Palestinians frequently throw rocks at Israeli civilian cars.

The Arab Joint List party in a statement called the new law a form of “collective punishment” and said it was meant to “oppress the Palestinians’ civilian and popular struggle.”

At least three Israelis, including a baby, have been killed in the West Bank after rocks were thrown at the cars they were riding in, and others have been seriously injured.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian teen was shot in the back and killed after throwing a rock at an army vehicle. Col. Yisrael Shomer said he felt threatened by the teen in the July 3 incident near the West Bank city of Ramallah, but a surveillance camera showed that the teen was shot as he ran away. The vehicle’s windshield was shattered in the attack.

Israel set to approve controversial force-feeding bill

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The Israeli Knesset is set to approve a bill that would allow force feeding of Palestinian prisoners under certain conditions. The bill is similar to one that was about to be approved last year, before the Knesset was disbanded and new elections are held.

According to Israeli law, bills that were in the process of being approved can be picked up from where they were beforehand, rather than having to begin the process again.

“The bill was created for political reasons to coerce Palestinian hunger strikers into breaking their hunger strike,” Amany Dayif, the director of the Prisoners and Detainees Department at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) told The Media Line. “The prisoners use hunger strikes to demand an end to administrative detention and solitary confinement, to allow family visits and to allow prisoners to continue their educations.”

PHR-Israel sharply condemned the proposed bill.

“The bill is ethically, medically and morally unacceptable,” PHR said. “By pushing physicians to engage in force-feeding the Israeli government threatens to defile the medical profession, its values and professionalism.”

The Chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, Leonid Eidelman, also criticised the bill, saying force-feeding prisoners against their will is “unethical”.

But the Ministry of Public Security is advocating for the bill, saying it is needed to save prisoners lives. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said striking prisoners could pose a threat to Israel. The Ministry says the decision will be made only in exceptional cases.

“Alongside attempts to boycott and delegitimize Israel, hunger strikes of terrorists in prisons have become a means to threaten Israel,” Erdan said on his Facebook page.

According to the current version of the bill, which is not as stringent as the previous version, force feeding will only be allowed if a physician believes that without it, “there is a real possibility that within a short time, the prisoner is at risk of death or irreversible disability.”

The bill was first proposed in 2014 when dozens of prisoners were on an extended hunger strike. Israeli officials worry that if a Palestinian prisoner died in jail, it could spark riots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In April, there were 5800 Palestinian prisoners, including 440 administrative detainees, meaning they are being held without charges or trial and 11 members of the Palestinian National Council.

The bill to allow force feeding could have been used in the recent case of Khader Adnan, a long-time Palestinian prisoner being held under administrative detention who was on the verge of death after a 50-day hunger strike. Late last month, he broke his hunger strike after Israel agreed to his release.

$1 coffee chain taps into Israeli anger over high cost of living

With a $1 cup of coffee, Avi Katz is starting to do something Israelis have been demanding for years and politicians have failed to achieve – lower the cost of living.

In 2011, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest against the high cost of essentials such as food and housing. That led to promises ahead of the 2013 election to cut prices, but progress has been slow, even if the government is now allowing more imports to spur competition.

Israeli food prices rose 39 percent more than the consumer price index between 2003-2014, according to the central bank.

“You brought new people into the Knesset (parliament) and people think they will change the country,” said Katz. “But the new government was a disappointment and then came Cofix.”

In late 2013, Katz launched Cofix, an increasingly popular coffee and snack chain modelled on dollar stores in the United States that has grown to 80 outlets across Israel, mainly on busy streets in urban centres.

The concept is simple: coffee and snacks such as sandwiches and quiche for five shekels ($1.30) each. Until Cofix came along, Israeli coffee shops routinely charged $3-$4 for a coffee and $5-$10 for a sandwich.

“Everyone knew you can buy coffee for five shekels. When you buy in large quantities, it's cheap,” said Katz, who heads private investment fund Hagshama.

Still, he wasn't sure the concept would work as it needed each store to sell at least 1,000 items a day to break even.

Katz said Cofix stores, which only provide take-away goods, sell around 2,000 a day, with customers buying on average two items each. Such instant success led to copy-cat shops, while more established chains were forced to slash prices.

“It's impossible to have a good idea without competition,” Katz told Reuters, saying the group would expand to 120 outlets this year.

In mid-June, Cofix went public by buying shell company Agri Invest and merging its operations into it. Revenue in 2015 is expected to near 200 million shekels. Katz said the company would have made a profit last year if it hadn't been for investment in a new low-cost supermarket concept.

Still, its shares have shed 7 percent since going public, suggesting some investors remain to be convinced, though the stock has risen 15 percent in the past two sessions.

In recent months, Katz has expanded into the supermarket business with Super Cofix, a mini-market that sells items for no more than 5 shekels. He plans three more stores this year.

Katz hopes to expand his low-cost coffee shops to London and Moscow but nothing is imminent. A copycat coffee shop, Caffix, recently opened in London where items sell for 1 pound ($1.56).

Knesset panel votes to discipline Arab-Israeli lawmaker for joining Gaza flotilla

A Knesset committee voted to discipline an Arab-Israeli lawmaker because he is taking part in a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

In a 10-2 vote, the House Committee voted Tuesday to suspend Basel Ghattas, a member of the Arab Joint List party, from participation in all Knesset activities other than voting. Its recommendation will be sent to the Ethics Committee.

On Sunday, Ghattas said that he would board one of three boats in Freedom Flotilla III, whose organizers say they are bringing solar panels and medical equipment to Gaza. Ghattas’ participation sparked a spirited two-hour debate in the Knesset on Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“Freedom of expression is the foundation on which activity in this House is built,” said the committee’s chairman, David Bitan of the Likud Party, who introduced the motion on Ghattas. “Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of it to undermine the state and try to embarrass it time after time before the whole world and cause crises while taken advantage of the fact that he has parliamentary immunity.”

Ghattas did not get the necessary approval from the Ethics Committee for his trip, nor has he disclosed its funding source, Bitan added.

During the meeting, Oren Hazan, a Knesset member with Likud, said that “MKs who have trouble obeying the law should return their [Israeli] ID cards and move to the Palestinian Authority. [The flotilla] goes against the State of Israel. It is an anti-Semitic act. If you don’t like it here, you are welcome to leave.”

The Ship to Gaza organization, which is organizing the flotilla, is calling for an immediate end to the naval blockade of Gaza; opening of the Gaza Port; and secure passage for Palestinians between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The group’s first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in May 2010. A second attempt was turned back in October 2012.