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Israel Update

Foreign Policy Brief # 124 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | July 22, 2021

Header photo taken from: Halal Watch World News

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Policy Summary

Early June saw the Israeli Parliament oust the former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and replace him with a new coalition government and new Prime Minister. The new coalition government consists of nine differing political parties that were brought together in a loose alliance due to their shared displeasure of former PM Netanyahu. The parties are wide ranging in political beliefs from more conservative Jewish groups, to even including the Arabist Ra’am Party.

The election of the Coalition Government was a reaction to decreased public acceptance of the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to the spring war with Gaza that killed numerous Palestinians. The coalition government was seen as  a hopeful opportunity to reset Israeli public policy.; However, it was expected to be a huge challenge to govern with a coalition of such broad views.

The recent weeks have seen tensions rise again as the Knesset denied the new coalition government an opportunity to renew and extend a controversial law that would deny citizenship to thousands of Palestinians, married to Israeli citizens, their own Israeli citizenship status. The renewal of the  law  failed to pass  via a 59-59 vote that saw members of the new coalition government vote against their own government; it saw members of the new Prime Minister’s Party vote against the Prime Minister; and  saw the Ra’am Party split their votes in half with two voters against the law while two voters abstained.

This month also has seen Israel and Lebanon firing rockets at each other, technically a violation of  spring ceasefire following the war with Hamas over Gaza. The past week also  has seen an increase in tensions  over Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream decision to ban sales of their product in Israeli occupied territories.

Israel and Lebanon have exchanged rocket fire this month for the first time since the ceasefire was instituted this spring following the war in Gaza. The exchange, it appears, was started by Lebanese militants who fired rockets into Israel. It is a solid reminder, to all parties involved in finding peace in the region, that the situation there is quite tense even with a ceasefire.

The Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av over a thousand Jewish citizens praying at the Temple Mount which has for recent history seen a ban on religious prayers at the site due to the contentious nature of it being a part of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Prime Minister Bennett took an interesting course of action when he applauded the Israeli security forces for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews” on the Temple Mount during a recent Jewish holiday (which was later walked back by PM Naftali). Obviously, religion has often been a source of contention in the region; and the display of religion has been contentious for decades. 

The Ra’am Party, the Israeli Islamist party mentioned earlier, loudly voiced criticism stating that the al-Aqsa Mosque (part of the Temple Mount site) was “solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it”. The Ra’am Party even threatened a potential “catastrophic religious war” due to the tensions this event could spark throughout the region. Neighboring countries have all voiced their displeasure and anger with Israel’s leadership to allow this to happen. The Jordanian Foreign Minister said “The Israeli actions against the mosque are unacceptable and condemnable. They represent a violation of the historical and legal status quo, international law, and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power in East Jerusalem”.

Policy Analysis

The new coalition government faces major challenges. Can it keep the diverse parties within it from splitting apart over political issues.The Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, needs to figure out a way to deal with the tensions of the region and the role they play on Israeli policy while also finding a way to keep the coalition intact without it imploding and sabotaging itself as was seen during the citizenship law vote. 

Prime Minister Naftali has the unfortunate position of being caught between governing and political rivalries that pre-date his coalition. As noted previously in this brief, the coalition consists of nine different political parties all with their own agendas. 

The coalition, clearly, does not share a consensus on a particular vision for moving Israel away from the days of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The clearest piece of policy that these parties share is the simple dislike of former PM Netanyahu, which is one of the major reasons that they were able to succeed him in the first place. The views range from the conservative Jewish Yemina Party (PM Naftali’s party) to the Ra’am Party (Arabist party) and everywhere in between.

Photo taken from: BBC

According to CNN, on July 6th,  The Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law was created in 2003. The government was worried that Palestinians (or other Muslims from outside of Israel) would marry into citizenship with the goal of carrying out terror attacks inside the country. 

Citizenship for Palestinian spouses might also affect Israel’s desire to be identified as a Jewish state. Now that the Law has not been renewed (as it had been every year since 2003), the Interior Minister will have to review all cases related to Israeli citizenship.

 The vote saw the coalition government splinter, not voting with any real consensus, as the nine parties all voted their own ways (some for, some against, and some abstaining); even members of the Prime Minister’s own party voted against the desire of the new Prime Minister.

Photo taken from: The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

According to the Atlantic, Ben and Jerry’s decision to end the sale of their ice cream in Israeli occupied territories is that “it’s symbolic … but symbolism is huge.” The decision does not change much in the everyday life of Israeli citizens or the Israeli government. However Israelis often feel that “criticism from abroad of their policies is anti-Israel, it’s anti-Zionist, and it’s anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic.”

We  also have started to see the internal problems that Ben and Jerry’s is creating within the United States for this decision with politicians (on the left and the right) taking positions either in support of or in criticism of Ben and Jerry’s. Some states, such as Texas, are going as far as proposing a ban on Ben and Jerry’s due to the company’s ban on sales in Israeli occupied territories.

The US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, on July 20th, that “we firmly reject the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, which unfairly singles out Israel…. the United States will be a strong partner in fighting efforts around the world that potentially seek to delegitimize Israel and will work tirelessly to support Israel’s further integration into the international community.” However, the State Department still has not yet condemned Ben and Jerry, or commits to commenting on the actions of a private company.

Engagement Resources​

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US State Department Press Briefings (https://www.state.gov/department-press-briefings/) – 

The United States State Department Press Briefings page is updated every few days with official commentary from the State Department on issues taking place all over the world. The transcripts are provided for public consumption.

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