With Netanyahu’s help, ‘racist’ aide could become MP

Jewish Power party’s Itamar Ben Gvir, left, argues with the Israeli Arab candidate Ata Abu Medeghem of Raam-Balad in Jerusalem on March 14. (AFP)
Updated 04 April 2019
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With Netanyahu’s help, ‘racist’ aide could become MP

HEBRON: The bespectacled man was given a hero’s welcome when he arrived for the party on the recent Jewish holiday of Purim, with teenagers singing and applauding around him.

Itamar Ben-Gvir was on the streets of Hebron, a flashpoint city in the occupied West Bank, among Israeli settlers reveling while disguised and masked according to Jewish tradition.

The support for him there was a sign of why he may soon become a member of Israel’s Parliament as part of an extreme-right party many view as racist — helped along by a deal brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“No way — there’s no way that they’re racist,” said Yehudit Katz, a resident of another West Bank settlement who came to celebrate for Purim in Hebron.

Several hundred Israeli settlers live in Hebron under heavy military guard — including Ben-Gvir — amidst around 200,000 Palestinians.

“The solution that they have is to keep the people that are not Jewish — the Arabs, whoever — that are loyal to the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and there are many Arabs like that,” said Katz.

“We don’t want terrorists. Terrorists can go live somewhere else,” he added.

Ben-Gvir, a 42-year-old lawyer, said “God willing” Jewish Power will make it into Parliament.

It is a prospect that has touched off one of the most intense debates in the campaign ahead of April 9 elections.

Jewish Power’s leaders are followers of an assassinated racist rabbi whose group was labeled a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and Israel itself.

Netanyahu’s deal that saw Jewish Power join two other far-right parties to run on the same electoral list drew disgust at home and among Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the US.

For Netanyahu, the deal ahead of what is expected to be a close election was pure politics.

He defended it by saying he does not want any right-wing votes to go to waste as he eyes his next coalition.

Running alone, Jewish Power was unlikely to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold.

But all has not gone smoothly for Jewish Power, whose leader Michael Ben-Ari was also running but has been disqualified by the Supreme Court for statements it ruled were an incitement to racism.

Ben-Gvir’s candidacy was also challenged at the court, but he was allowed to stand, making him the only Jewish Power representative with a chance to make it into Parliament. Jewish Power are followers of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement wanted to chase Arabs from Israel.

The ideology of Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, also inspired Baruch Goldstein, who carried out a massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994.

Ben-Gvir acknowledges having a picture of Goldstein in his living room, but has reportedly said it is because he was a medical doctor who rescued Jews targeted in Palestinian attacks.

For Adalah, a rights group for Arab Israelis, Ben-Gvir belongs to a “racist movement recognized as a terrorist organization.”

Jewish Power strongly disputes the characterization, with Ben-Gvir telling the Supreme Court it is only against “enemies of Israel” and not Arabs in general.

Opinion polls show the list that Jewish Power is part of winning between five and seven seats in the 120-seat Parliament.

Ben-Gvir is seventh on the list.

Jewish Power advocates removing “Israel’s enemies from our land,” a reference to Palestinians and Arab Israelis who carry out attacks or who they see as not accepting the Jewish state they envision.

It also calls for Israel annexing the West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.

Ben-Ari was previously a member of Parliament as part of a different right-wing list between 2009 and 2013, but Jewish Power has never passed the electoral threshold.

Ben-Gvir has long been an outspoken member of the far-right.

Indicted 53 times since his youth, he boasts of having been cleared in 46 cases. He decided to study law on the recommendation of judges so he could defend himself.

He defends settlers accused of violence, including those allegedly responsible for an arson attack that killed an 18-month-old boy and his parents in 2015 in the West Bank, an incident that drew widespread revulsion.

In 1995, when only 19 and in a time of turmoil following the Oslo accords with the Palestinians, he appeared on television with what he said was the stolen emblem from then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Cadillac.

Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli opposed to the Oslo accords later that year.

“We got to this symbol. We’ll get to him,” Ben-Gvir said at the time.


Could foreign Daesh suspects be tried in northeast Syria?

Updated 48 min 13 sec ago
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Could foreign Daesh suspects be tried in northeast Syria?

  • The Kurdish authorities say they are seriously exploring how to set up an international tribunal

QAMISHLI: Months after the territorial defeat of Daesh, Syria’s Kurds are pushing for an international tribunal to try alleged militants detained in their region.

The Kurds run an autonomous administration in the northeast of Syria, but it is not recognized by Damascus or the international community.

This brings complications for the legal footing of any justice mechanism on the Kurds’ territory, and the international cooperation required to establish one.

With Western nations largely reluctant to repatriate their nationals or judge them at home, could foreign Daesh suspects be put on trial in northeast Syria?

After years of fighting Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold around 1,000 foreign men in jail, as well as some 12,000 non-Syrian women and children in overcrowded camps.

Almost four months after Kurdish-led forces backed by the US-led coalition seized Daesh’s last scrap of land in eastern Syria, few have been repatriated.

The Kurdish authorities say they are seriously exploring how to set up an international tribunal, and invited foreign experts to discuss the idea at a conference it hosted early this month.

“We will work to set up this tribunal here,” the region’s top foreign affairs official Abdelkarim Omar told AFP afterwards.

“The topic of discussion now is how we will set up this tribunal and what form it will take,” he said.

Daesh in 2014 declared a “caliphate” in large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, implementing its brutal rule on millions in an area the size of the UK.

The militants stand accused of a string of crimes including mass killings and rape, and a UN probe is investigating alleged war crimes.

Mahmoud Patel, a South African international law expert invited to the July conference, said any court should include input from victims and survivors.

It should be “established in the region where the offenses happened so that the people themselves can be part of that process,” he said, preferably in northeast Syria because the Kurds do not have the death penalty.

In Iraq, hundreds of people including foreigners have been condemned to death or life in prison.

In recent months, a Baghdad court has handed death sentences to 11 Frenchmen transferred from Syria to Iraq in speedy trials denounced by human rights groups.

Omar, the foreign affairs official, said he hoped for an international tribunal to try suspects “according to local laws after developing them to agree with international law.”

The Kurdish region has judges and courts, including one already trying Syrian Daesh suspects, but needs logistical and legal assistance, he said.

A tribunal would have “local judges and foreign judges, as well as international lawyers” to defend the accused, he said.

Nabil Boudi, a French lawyer representing four Frenchmen and several families held in Syria, said the Kurdish authorities seemed determined.

“They’re already starting to collect evidence,” he said after attending the conference.

“All the people who were detained and jailed had their own phone” and data can be retrieved from them, said the lawyer, who was however unable to see those he represents.

Boudi called for “a serious investigation by an independent examining magistrate ... that should take time and be far less expeditious than in Baghdad.”

Stephen Rapp, prosecutor in the trial of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor, said the most realistic option to try foreigners in northeast Syria would be a Kurdish court.

It could have “international assistance conditioned on compliance with international law,” he said, including advice from a non-governmental organization specialized in working with non-state actors.