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

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.


Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

A Syrian woman carrying a child walks by, in the Washukanni Camp for the internally displaced, near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, on February 17, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2020

Turkish, Iranian media outlets exchange blows on Syria

  • Middle East expert believes Ankara and Tehran are locked in an information war

ANKARA: Turkish and Iranian media outlets are battling as deeply rooted tensions have resurfaced. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency has published an opinion piece that critically discussed tensions with Iran over Syria. It said: “Turkey’s vision of regional development and integration is pitched against Iran’s regional strategy prioritising geopolitical wins.
“Ignoring Ankara’s concerns in the fight against terrorism during Operation Peace Spring, Tehran is now setting its Shiite militias in the field in motion against Turkey, who is actively endeavoring to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The analysis piece, titled “Idlib front, Iran’s weakening foreign operation capacity,” was penned by Hadi Khodabandeh Loui, a researcher at the Iran Research Center in Ankara.
Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.
An editorial piece that was published in Iran’s hardline newspaper Entekhab compared Turkey’s military moves in Syria to Israel’s bombings of pro-Assad forces. The piece warned Ankara about a potential aggressive reaction from Tehran to both threats.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, in early February and they hit Syrian Army and Iran-backed militia positions, reportedly killing 23 people.
Being among the guarantor states of the Astana peace process for Syria, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, Turkey and Iran have already witnessed the fragility of their relations in October 2019 when Iran criticized Turkey’s moves to establish military posts inside Syria, emphasizing the need to respect the integrity of Syria.
Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries following Tehran’s condemnation of Turkey’s operation in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

BACKGROUND

Throughout Syria’s civil war, Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Bashar Assad, while Iran has supported the Assad regime. However, the two countries are collaborating to reach a political solution to the conflict.

In March 2018, Iran’s Tehran Times defined Turkey’s cross-border military operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as an “invasion.” It splashed with a headline that read: “Turkish troops occupy Syria’s Afrin.”
Over recent weeks, Ankara has voiced criticisms that the Assad regime, Iran-backed militia and Russia have violated the ceasefire in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib, with frequent attacks targeting Turkish troops.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, thinks that Assad’s forces are winning decisively, and Turkey’s ability to resist them is greatly diminished.
“Assad’s forces have consolidated their control over west Aleppo, and are steadily advancing in Idlib. Turkey does not view the Iranian mediation offers in Syria as credible, especially as Iranian media outlets are justifying them by claiming that Turkey broke the terms of the Sochi agreement by harboring extremists. Turkey is insistent that Russia violated Sochi by supporting Assad’s offensive,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the media conflict, Ramani thinks that Turkey and Iran are locked in an information war over Syria, and are both trying to paint the other as an aggressor.
“It’s a way to rally public support in both countries around more confrontational posturing, in the event of a bigger military escalation that actually sees Turkish and Iranian forces in direct combat, not just Assad and Turkish proxies,” he said.