By Marjorie Cohn / Truthout
Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in for his sixth term as prime minister of Israel. While his prior tenures resulted in the commission of war crimes against the Palestinian people, Netanyahu’s new regime promises to be the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history.
Netanyahu won reelection despite facing criminal charges for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
In order to secure a sixth term, Netanyahu made a devil’s bargain with the extreme right-wing religious elements in Israel. Aside from Netanyahu’s largely secular Likud Party, all other parties in his new coalition are religious, with two of them representing ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis, or Haredim.
“The ministers of Netanyahu’s new government have been salivating for weeks at the thought of what they will change once in power,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Truthout. “Now that they’ve been sworn in, there is no doubt plans are already afoot for massive settlement expansion, establishment of de facto (albeit illegal) annexation of large parts of the West Bank, widespread increases in house demolitions and forced evictions of Palestinian families, all aimed at escalating what earlier governments also called the ‘Judaization’ of occupied East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.”
Netanyahu’s coalition declared the Jewish people’s “exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.” This goes even further than the 2018 “basic law” — which enshrined apartheid in Israeli law — by stating that only Jews have the right to self-determination.
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Under the new government, Palestinians “will face even more horrific discrimination. Military assaults on Gaza, arrests and detention of children, collective punishments — all will escalate,” Bennis said, adding that “the violations will get worse, not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well.”
Israel’s new national security minister is extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism. He will oversee Israel’s police force.
Five days after Netanyahu was sworn in, Ben-Gvir entered Islam’s third holiest site, the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, infuriating Palestinians. Hazem Qassem, spokesperson for Hamas, told Al Jazeera that Ben-Gvir’s action is “a continuation of the Zionist occupation’s aggression against our sanctities and its war on its Arab identity.”
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry referred to Ben-Gvir’s “storming” of Al Aqsa as an “unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.” Indeed, Al Jazeera noted, “Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s entrance to the site in 2000 sparked the second Palestinian Intifada or uprising.”
Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism Party, will serve as minister of finance. He will appoint the military unit that supervises border crossings and permits for Palestinians. Smotrich has advocated eliminating the authority to indict public servants for breach of trust and fraud, a change that could make charges against Netanyahu disappear.
The coalition also plans to amend the current anti-discrimination law to allow businesses and service providers to refuse services that violate their religious beliefs. It would permit them to discriminate against LGBTQ people and women.
Palestinians are not surprised at the escalation of repression promised by the new government. “Its annexationist agenda of Jewish supremacy is now very blunt and clear,” Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to Britain, told The New York Times.
Several Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, including Adalah, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, signed a joint statement warning that “the occupation and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories have made Jewish supremacy the de facto law of the land and the new government seeks to adopt this into their official policy.”
More than 100 retired Israeli ambassadors and senior Foreign Ministry officials signed a letter to Netanyahu expressing “profound concern” about possible damage to Israel’s foreign relations.
Hundreds of rabbis in the United States issued an open letter protesting the coalition’s intention to erode the rights of LGBTQ people and women, allow the Knesset (Parliament) to override decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, annex the West Bank without allowing Palestinians to vote, expel Arab Israeli citizens who question the government, and limit the Law of Return to Orthodox Jews. (The Law of Return, enacted in 1950, provides every Jew with the right to come to Israel. Its purpose was to solidify Israel as a Jewish state.)
“When those who tout racism and bigotry claim to speak in the name of Israel, but deny our rights, our heritage, and the rights of the most vulnerable among us, we must take action. We must speak out,” the rabbis wrote.
For the United States’ part, Bennis says, what is needed is “a shift in U.S. policy towards one that reflects the growing public and media opinion in this country — recognition of Israeli apartheid, and the need to challenge the longstanding levels of uncritical military, diplomatic and economic support for apartheid.”
The U.S. government is Israel’s chief enabler, to the tune of $3.8 billion in annual military assistance. Indeed, President Joe Biden reiteratedhis great affection for Netanyahu, “who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region.” Biden is implementing Donald Trump’s illegal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by building a permanent embassy on land stolen from the Palestinians.
Thomas Nides, U.S. ambassador to Israel, echoed Biden’s praise for Netanyahu. “He’s a very talented and very experienced prime minister. We want to work closely with him on mutual values we share, and at this point not get distracted by everyone else,” Nides said. “Here’s to the rock solid US-Israel relationship and unbreakable ties,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, on December 30, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution urging the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the judicial arm of the UN. It deals with disputes between UN member countries.
The General Assembly resolution seeks an ICJ opinion on the “legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
In 2004, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion which concluded that Israel’s barrier wall built on occupied Palestinian territory violated international law and ordered Israel to dismantle it and pay reparations. Israel ignored the ICJ’s ruling.
There is an effective way to pressure Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and violation of the rights of the Palestinians. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, an initiative of Palestinian civil society, consists of “non-violent punitive measures.” This includes academic, cultural and economic boycotts; divestment from Israeli and allied companies; and sanctions such as ending military trade agreements.
These measures will last until Israel recognizes the Palestinian people’s “inalienable right to self-determination” and fully complies with international law by: (1) ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the barrier wall; (2) recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) respecting, protecting and promoting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land as required by UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
“The domination of an unabashedly racist, Jewish fundamentalist, genocidal, and homophobic strand of Zionism in the current Netanyahu far-right government makes the ground even more fertile for the BDS movement to further isolate Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid at all levels,” Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, wrote in an email to Truthout. “But fertile grounds alone do not yield fruit; we still need the passion and the strategic labor of many around the world to plant seeds of change, to amass people’s power and strategically direct it to dismantle systems of oppression.”
Barghouti added, “With this unmasked Israeli fascism in power, it is high time to demolish the colonial hypocrisy of the U.S. and its European allies. They have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia because of its months-long illegal invasion of Ukraine, yet they’ve continued to enable, fund and defend Israel’s decades-long system of violent oppression of the Indigenous Palestinian people.”
BDS has had a measure of success such that Israel sees it as an existential threat. (Those who wish to learn more about the BDS movement can seek information here.)