No apologies for fighting ‘sabotage’

A few hours after the UN Human Rights Commission’s report on Operation Protective Edge was released, claiming Israel may have committed war crimes, Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett sat in his Knesset office, highlighting sections of the footnotes.

Having given the report a quick read, Bennett chose a new direction for his planned speech to the Knesset on it.

“It’s going to be about ‘your ruiners and destroyers will come from within you,’ but less religious-sounding,” Bennett told his spokeswoman, a reference to a popular interpretation of Isaiah 39:17.

Bennett was perturbed by the UN report – not as much by its content, as by its sources.

“This report is going to go in the dustbin of infamy, like a zillion other reports,” Bennett shrugged during his interview with the Magazine. “Israel’s history is flooded with fallacious reports, since the Dreyfus Affair. This isn’t new. It has a name: It’s called anti-Semitism.”

“But when you look at the sources, they’re all Israeli NGOs,” he added, pointing to highlighted footnotes crediting B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and Breaking the Silence.

“We need to do housekeeping first.”

How does Naftali Bennett keep house? By bringing up a proposal that has risen and fallen several times since 2009, when the last UN Human Rights Commission report on fighting in Gaza, by a team led by judge Richard Goldstone, was released: Block, limit and/or label NGOs funded by foreign governments, some of which contributed to both reports.

Mid-interview, Bennett’s aide rushed in, saying she had Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – Bennett’s closest and longtime ally – on the phone.

Clearly agitated, he told Shaked what he had read: “I counted at least eight footnotes from B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. We need to promote the NGO bill; can you bring it up on Sunday already? I have to talk to the prime minister. What is this? Why can’t we stop the money to these organizations? It’s incredible.

“On page 10, it says that the timing of IDF bombings increased the chances that families will be at home. ‘Attacks on residential buildings rendered women particularly vulnerable to death and injury.’ That’s crazy; they’re sick people.”

Hanging up the phone, Bennett explained that “every time [the NGO bill] comes up, someone in the coalition blocks it” – then-Likud ministers Bennie Begin and Dan Meridor in the 18th Knesset, then-justice minister Tzipi Livni in the 19th, to name a few – “but we’re going to push it this time. It’s time to start defending ourselves. That Israeli organizations recognized by Israel can accept money from European governments to slander us abroad is crazy.”

Critics to the Left of Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and the Likud – the three major proponents of the NGO bill, in which these organizations will have to publicly declare any funding from foreign governments – have called the bill undemocratic and smacking of censorship. Recently, a concerned source in the New Israel Fund, which contributes to the organizations Bennett mentioned, called the efforts a witch hunt; but to the minister, the need for such legislation is clear.

The minister said he is not sure which of the many versions of the NGO bill that came up in the past will reappear, or whether there will be something entirely new, but his ultimate goal is to stop government benefits for “anti-Israel NGOs that are working against Israel from within Israel.”

“It’s just common sense,” he asserted. “I wouldn’t allow someone to sabotage me while I’m fighting in the field.

Why allow it in the international arena?” Bennett had the same explanation for his decision to remove A Parallel Time from the list of plays the Education Ministry allows schoolchildren to watch; it is based on the life of Walid Daka, an Israeli Arab serving a life sentence for murdering IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.

“Exposing children, on the Israeli taxpayers’ tab, to a play that humanizes a murderer is not education, it’s anti-education,” he contended. “I will always [remove from the curriculum] something that goes against Israel, against morals, because education is about setting limits.

“Later on, when they’re 30 years old, if they want to go see a twisted play, so be it, there’s free speech,” he continued.

“This discussion is not about freedom of speech – it’s about money.”

For Bennett, NGOs reporting negative coverage of IDF activities to the UN, plays humanizing terrorists and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement are all fronts in the same war.

Bennett compared the efforts to those of the biblical Amalekites and the Nazis, saying they all tried to dehumanize the Jewish people before trying to destroy them.

“People think war is when tanks shoot at each other, but this is a different generation of warfare. It’s sinister. Their idea is to tie our hands so we won’t be able to protect ourselves, and to convince the world – and ourselves – that we’re wrong and this land does not belong to us. They know they can’t beat us with conventional weapons or terrorism, so they’re trying this way, but it won’t work,” he maintained.

A war in which the enemy doesn’t fight with tanks cannot be fought by the IDF’s usual divisions and fighter jets, Bennett explained. Rather, Israel can energize supporters from “a community in Sydney, Australia… [or] a big church that supports Israel” and give them specific tasks, like “boycotting the boycotters.”

“In America, I would say we have 50 million to 60 million ardent Israel supporters. We have to galvanize them and let them know that if any company, NGO or state attempts to boycott Israel, it will be hit back in its pockets. Israel supporters have purchase power and boycott power; it goes both ways,” he said.

At the same time, as with the UN Report, Bennett stressed there is no reason to panic, pointing out that 2014 was the best year ever for Israeli hi-tech, trade with Europe is still on the rise and investments from China have spiked.

Another proposal Bennett has to protect Israel from both delegitimization and more tangible threats is to convince the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed in 1981 but much of the world still calls occupied.

“I understand the dispute about Judea and Samaria, even though I disagree [with those who call these areas occupied], but I don’t get it when it comes to the Golan. Who does the world want us to hand the Golan to – Jabat al-Nusra? [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who killed 250,000 of his citizens? Islamic State? “And who is being occupied? There aren’t any Palestinians there; it’s empty,” he pointed out.

Bennett characterized this time as a historic opportunity and urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for recognition and increase the number of Israelis living there to 100,000, to make it clear Israel is there to stay.

“If the world wants to prove it’s sincere about wanting Israel’s security, the Golan Heights is the place to start.”

EVEN THOUGH his party lost a third of its seats in the 20th Knesset, with a 12- to eight-seat drop, Bennett is hardly licking his wounds.

Putting a positive spin on the loss, which has his party conducting an internal inquiry process, Bennett said he was pleased with the coalition’s makeup as compared to the last one, despite having only 61 seats, calling it “a new ballgame.”

No longer having to contend with Livni and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to his Left, Bennett is very confident about a version of the NGO bill becoming law and the government’s components working together harmoniously in general.

“I think this is a very good government. It’s quiet and stable, with each minister focusing on his or her area,” he said, in a pointed reference to his former coalition partners. “It’s very different from last time around.”

Bennett did not deny his disappointment in losing most of Bayit Yehudi’s hold on matters of religion and state, but said that with eight seats, the party could not get everything it wants and that it was legitimate for Netanyahu to give the Religious Services Ministry to Shas.

“Never in the 100-year history of our movement have we had such powerful and influential positions, and we will do our best with the tools we have,” he emphasized.

Bennett was especially optimistic about what Shaked can do for the legal system, praising her work on the NGO bill and noting resistance to international lawfare and a promise to Bayit Yehudi in the coalition agreement to try to settle the status of land on which outposts are built.

In a metaphor harking back to his hi-tech roots, Bennett compared the Education and Justice Ministries, which his Bayit Yehudi Party has, to a computer’s operating system, saying the portfolios “influence the soul of Israel.”

“In the election we had a slogan, ‘No apologies,’ and we’re not apologizing for implementing our policies and beliefs. We’re here to govern according to our values, and we’re not going to apologize for it.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: