NEW YORK – Mayor Bill De Blasio expressed his commitment to combat the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement and defend the Jewish community against antisemitism, during an event on Tuesday evening.

The event, held at the Mayor’s official residence of Gracie Mansion in Manhattan, aimed to celebrate Jewish heritage and included the participation of local Jewish politicians, Consul-General of Israel Dani Dayan and other leaders of the community. “We know there has been a rise in antisemitism in this country, and we will not tolerate it here in New York City,” De Blasio said. “We honor every faith in New York City, this is part of our mandate and this is something we have to teach the world.” “The message is abundantly clear: we cherish the community, we protect the community, we cannot be great without every one of our communities,” he added.


De Blasio also praised Israel as the “answer to industrial oppression going back thousands of years” and spoke about the proximity between the City of New York and the State of Israel.

“There is a lot of history that teaches us why the Jewish people have needed a homeland and finally having a homeland, they deserve to know that that homeland will be protected for the long haul,” he said. “This is why I oppose the BDS movement so strongly.”

The BDS movement, the mayor said, undermines “one of the things that could lead to peace, which is economic opportunity for all in Israel, in the region.”

“I’m saying this as a proud progressive, and as a proud democrat,” he told the audience. “There is no logic, there’s nothing right and just about a movement that seeks to undermine the economy of a place that has been a refuge for the oppressed. It’s as simple as that.”

“We cannot let BDS take away one of the things that could actually lead to peace for everyone,” De Blasio concluded. The mayor’s Jewish heritage celebration is held annually and honors a different Jewish leader every year. Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, was Tuesday’s honoree.


Israel, Hamas in advanced talks over prisoner swap — report

Israel and Hamas have reportedly been engaged in intensive indirect talks recently over the release of a number of Israeli nationals held captive by the terror group in Gaza.

The talks, which are being mediated by an unnamed third party, have gathered momentum over the past two weeks, following the return of Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, from a visit to Egypt earlier this month, Channel 1 reported Monday.

While in Egypt, Sinwar met with a number of officials, as well as former senior Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan, who was involved in the 2011 deal that led to the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Egypt has previously been named in reports as the country mediating between the two sides.

Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends the opening of a new mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

In April, then Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hinted that a prisoner exchange was in the works between the two sides, while in FebruaryHamas confirmed that it was engaged in talks through third-party mediators over a possible agreement, but said a deal had been rejected for not meeting its minimum demands.

Hamas’s confirmation of the talks followed Israeli media reports that Israel was seeking to reach a deal with the rulers of the Gaza Strip to secure the release of three Israeli men who crossed into the coastal territory of their own accord: Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group, also holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who the army determined were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war.

Hamas demands that Israel release all prisoners from the 2011 exchange for Gilad Shalit who were rearrested in 2014 when three Israeli teens were abducted in the West Bank (it later emerged that they had been killed almost immediately) before any advancement in negotiations between the parties can take place.

Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

The report came against a backdrop of fears of escalation in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.

In response to the launch, which was claimed by a Salafist group linked to the Islamic State, the Israeli Air Force carried out a number of strikes that the army said targeted Hamas infrastructure targets.

On Tuesday, Hamas condemned the Israeli airstrikes, saying that they were part of a “dangerous Israeli game.”

“The Israeli claim of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and the publication of a bulletin in the name of the Islamic State in order to create a pretext for the attack is a transparent and dangerous Israeli game,” the group said.

Liberman, Mattis discuss ‘regional strategy’ amid Golan Heights unrest

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met Tuesday with his American counterpart James Mattis to discuss “regional strategy” and the ongoing cooperation between the Israeli and US militaries Tuesday, amid spiraling tensions between Israel and Syria.

The past three days have seen three incidents of errant shells fired from Syria that landed in Israel. The IDF has responded with force, targeting installations of the Syrian army, which Israel holds responsible for all incidents originating from Syrian soil.

Mattis and Liberman discussed “regional strategy and the ongoing cooperation between the Israeli and US defense agencies,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.

The defense chiefs met in on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference, set his year to focus on the Syrian conflict, in their fourth confab since Mattis took office just four months ago.

In April, Mattis visited Israel for meetings with Defense Ministry and IDF officials as part of a six-country Middle East tour that included Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Israel and the US have long had close strategic ties, with Washington providing Israel more than $3 billion per year in defense aid and US President Donald Trump pledging unstinting support for the country.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria after projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the Israeli Golan Heights on June 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

Liberman said on Monday that Israel has “no intention of launching a military operation” against Syria or rebel groups operating within it even as tensions have spiraled. “If you read the newspapers it seems that we have many prophets predicting a hot summer,” the defense minister said. “Let me be clear once again: We have no intention of initiating a military operation, neither in the north nor in the south.”

But Liberman said that despite the military establishment’s hope for calm on Israel’s borders, it will not tolerate any provocations, even accidental fire that spills over from a neighboring conflict.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on June 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We won’t hold back if necessary and when needed we will respond with all our might,” he said. “Anyone that wants to turn Syria into an Iranian base against Israel should think again.”

Before meeting Liberman, Mattis told journalists that the US would not be drawn into Syria’s civil war, despite an increasingly complicated battle space that has seen US warplanes down pro-regime aircraft. The US-led coalition was determined to keep a strict focus on fighting the Islamic State group, he said.

We won’t fire “unless they are the enemy, unless they are ISIS,” Mattis said during an impromptu press conference, using an acronym for the jihadist Islamic State organization. “We just refuse to get drawn into a fight there in the Syria civil war. We try to end that one through diplomatic engagement.”

His comments came shortly before White House spokesman Sean Spicer issued a statement saying President Bashar Assad’s regime may be preparing for a chemical attack against civilians and warning that the Syrian military would pay a “heavy price” if it took such action.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported air strike on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, on June 14, 2017. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)

Coalition forces on the ground have accused pro-regime fighters of targeting them in recent weeks, as they shot down two Iran-made attack drones and a Syrian fighter jet.

“If somebody comes after us, bombs us or takes a heading on us or fires on us, then under legitimate self-defense we’ll do whatever we have to do to stop it,” Mattis said.

The coalition has been active in Syria since late 2014, bombing IS targets and training local fighters to conduct ground assaults against the group.

Kenya (Nigger Freemasons) hopes Israeli tree tech takes root in remote deserts

David Ben Gurion’s dream of filling Israel’s barren hills with trees will soon extend to the remote deserts of Kenya, after Kenyan government officials and Keren Keyemet L’Yisrael/Jewish National Fund signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to exchange knowledge and expertise about planting forests in dry climates.

“Dry lands are home to 2.5 billion people, or 30 percent of the world’s population, and cover 40% of the world’s land surface,” said Professor Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Environment and Natural Resources. “They are also home to the most disenfranchised and marginalized people in the world.” About 80% of Kenya’s land is considered arid or semi-arid.

Wakhungu said large Kenyan delegations have been attending forestry conferences in Israel, especially at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which focus on conservation and forestry in desert climates. In 2014, officials from the Kenyan Forestry Service started working with members of their Israeli counterpart, KKL/JNF, for a series of visits and meetings.

Kenyan government and KKL/JNF officials with the memorandum of understanding signed outside of Jerusalem on June 27, 2017. (Avi Hiun, KKL-JNF)

“Kenyans have a developed tree-planting culture, but what needs to be done is to get them to use appropriate technology,” said Emilio Mugo, the chief conservator at the Kenya Forest Service. He noted that Kenya has two million hectacres (20,000 square kilometers, approximately the same size as the entire country of Israel) of public forest land, but they want to expand further. “This kind of technology doesn’t require a lot of money, so we can start training people on this kind of technology while they work,” he said.

According to the memorandum of understanding, signed Tuesday in KKL/JNF’s “VIP Planting Grove” near the Yad Kennedy memorial, Kenya and Israel agreed to three years of exchange trips and sharing information about establishing forests in arid or semi-arid regions.

Deforestation from illegal logging and charcoal production is threatening many of Kenya’s highland forests, costing the country upwards of $68 million per year, according to a study from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Professor Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Environment and Natural Resources and KKL-JNF World Chairman, Danny Atar, plant a carob tree together on June 27, 2017 near the Yad Kennedy memorial. (Avi Hiun, KKL-JNF)

Wakhungu said Kenya is looking to bring Israeli technology in areas of improving soil conservation, capturing rain runoff, monitoring precipitation, creating forest land guidelines, and engaging the public with forest conservation.

“Part of our goal is to enlarge the overall forestry in Kenya so people can use that wood for their needs and take the pressure off of natural forests that we need to protect,” said Dr David Brand, the chief forester and head of the forestry department at KKL/JNF. Brand has worked at KKL/JNF for 35 years, eight of them as chief forester. He said that KKL/JNF also plans to examine Kenya’s traditional agricultural methods to see if Israel can improve their existing technology.

Kenya also dedicated an “Israel Forest” in Kiambu County, north of Nairobi, on Israel’s Independence Day this year, with the hope that every Israeli who visits Kenya will replicate the Israeli tree planting tradition by planting a tree in the forest during their visit. She added that the collaboration between the Kenyan and Israeli forestry groups was one of the specific areas of cooperation highlighted both during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Israel in February, 2016 and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Kenya in July 2016.

“When the leaders met, collaboration about dry land forests was a major area of cooperation, and we are going to deliver on what they prioritized,” she said.

Since 2014, KKL/JNF has worked in Kenya’s remote northern region of Turkana, to run the agricultural development program “Furrows in the Desert” to help increase food security in the region.

Wakhungu and KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar planted a carob tree together on Tuesday in honor of the signing of the MOU. Brand said they chose a carob tree because it symbolizes sustainability. “The carob tree is part of our roots, it is a very Israeli tree that is all over the Bible,” said Brand.

“Carob trees only have fruits after 70 years,” Brand added. “So there is the story in [Jewish tradition] about an old man who asks a farmer, why are you planting a carob tree if you will never enjoy it? And the farmer says, my father planted a carob tree so I can enjoy it, and I will do the same for my children. The symbolism is that all of our interactions with nature should really be about protecting them and keeping them whole for the next generation.”

Bennett disappointed by Trump’s settlement policies

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Monday expressed some disappointment with the White House, saying the election of Donald Trump has not brought about the boom in West Bank settlement construction many had expected.

Education Minister Bennett, whose eight-seat Orthodox-nationalist party is part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said the settler movement expected a building boom after Trump’s election. Many members of the president’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, have close ties to the settler movement.

But Trump has instead urged Israel to restrain construction as he tries to restart peace talks.

“Unfortunately from our perspective, he’s sort of going down the same unsuccessful path that his predecessors did,” Bennett said. “So yes, there is disappointment out there.”

Settler leaders have in recent months tempered their initial euphoria at Trump’s election.

Much of the Israeli right anticipated Trump would give Israel a freer hand in the West Bank than had his predecessor, Barack Obama. Bennett himself once welcomed Trump’s election by announcing: “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

But since being elected, Trump has backed off his pledge to move the US Embassy in Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and made moves toward the final status agreement he has said he wants to broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

In April the government announced that settlement construction would be largely restricted to developed areas of existing Jewish communities in the West Bank. Where security or topography prevented this, new homes would be built as close as possible to the developed areas. Israel will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump's departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu told his top ministers that the policy was a goodwill gesture to Trump, who said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace and asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”

Some right-wing lawmakers have worried that the restrictions amount to a suspension of settlement building.

“You need to understand that people built up an expectation that there would be a new president, the old era would end, and we’d be able to do whatever we want,” Yesha Council foreign envoy Oded Revivi told JTA at the time. “All of a sudden, reality doesn’t look like our expectations.”

Earlier this month settler leadership criticized what it said was an insufficient number of construction projects advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee.

Leaders said approved homes failed to meet the high demand by the growing settler population.

Settler representatives later had what they said was a “positive” meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though they did not name any concrete gains.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that settlement building numbers were the highest they have been in over 20 years, and warned that clamoring for more construction could bring the whole enterprise tumbling down.

He said 8,345 units have been okayed since the beginning of the calendar year, terming the figures “the maximum.”

The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week. Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

Haley promises to block any appointment of Palestinian official to senior UN post

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated she would block any appointment of a Palestinian official to a senior role at the UN because Washington “does not recognize Palestine” as an independent state.

Speaking on Tuesday before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Haley was asked about the move by the US in February to oppose the appointment of former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad to be the new world body envoy to Libya.

“Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, called Mr. Fayyad a peace partner,” Representative David Price (D-NC) was quoted by the Jewish Insider as saying during the hearing. “Was Mr. Fayyad denied simply because of his nationality? Would any Palestinian have been blocked? As you know, this isn’t a state representative.”

Haley said that while Fayyad was while Fayyad was “very well qualified and is a good, decent person,” the decision was based on the fact “that the US does not recognize Palestine… and because that is how he was presented, we did oppose that position.”

“If we don’t recognize Palestine as a state, we needed to acknowledge also that we could not sit there and put a Palestinian forward until the US changed its determination on that front,” she said.

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, seen here when still in office, heads a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 16, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Fayyad was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2013, and also served as finance minister twice. He had been tapped by UN chief Antonio Guterres to replace Martin Kobler of Germany, who has been the Libya envoy since November 2015.

Haley said in February that she did not “support the signal this appointment would send within the United Nations,” where the Palestinians do not have full membership.

Israel welcomed the move at the time, even though Fayyad is widely respected in Israel and abroad as a pragmatic and moderate Palestinian leader.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon hailed “the beginning of a new era at the UN,” less than a month after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump who had sharply criticized the UN for its anti-Israel bias and had vowed that “things owuld be different” once he is in office.

Trump and Haley also criticized the United Nations for adopting a resolution in December 2016 that demanded an end to Israeli settlement building. The resolution was allowed through after the administration of then US president Barack Obama chose not to use its veto power.

Haley too has vowed to back Israel at the UN, calling on the world body to stop its bias. She’s said that there was now a new era at the UN and that “the days of Israel bashing are over.”

Israeli Settlements: The Real Story

It’s go back 50 years, to mid-July 1967: A jeep arrives at an abandoned Syrian army base in the Golan Heights. A man jumps out. He’s 24, a shepherd from a determinedly secular, left-wing kibbutz in the Galilee. Feeling adventurous, he has joined a group that will establish a new kibbutz in the Heights, part of the territory that Israel conquered a month before.

He’s the first to arrive—which also makes him the first Israeli settler in occupied territory.

So began the Great Entanglement. Today more than 600,000 Israelis live in land conquered in June 1967 in six days of fighting with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

The victory created a temporary military occupation and the potential for Israel to negotiate for peace from a position of strength. It’s the settlement enterprise that has chained Israel to occupied territory. It’s settlement that creates a two-tier legal and political regime in the West Bank—Israelis living with the rights of citizens; Palestinians without those rights. It’s settlement that steadily undercuts Israel’s status as a democracy.

Outside of declaring its independence in 1948, starting to settle its citizens in the occupied territories may be the most consequential act in Israel’s history.

The founding of the kibbutz in the Golan Heights makes clear a fundamental fact about the settlement project: It began as an initiative of the left-of-center, secular political forces that dominated Israel in 1967, and later accelerated as a project of the mostly secular right-wing forces that have held power for most of the years since 1977.

There was no ceremony on July 16, 1967, no press release, no media coverage. The moment of beginning went unreported then—and it is still almost entirely absent from the popularly accepted history of settlement, as told in Israel and as reflected in foreign news coverage. This isn’t just an academic dispute: This mis-telling of history warps debate in Israel, and perhaps beyond, about making peace with the Palestinians.


IF YOU’D LIKE TO get the classic, inaccurate Israeli narrative of settlement in two hours, watch The Settlers, a documentary released this past year in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war.

The film tells us, correctly, that the “joy of victory … consumed many Israelis” after the Six-Day War. But from there on, The Settlers focuses on the young followers of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the charismatic teacher of a nationalist theology. Kook’s students believed he had prophesied the conquests in a speech he gave a short time before the war, and they saw settling the “liberated territories” as a divine imperative.

The “first settler”—according to the film, apparently quoting earlier versions of the same story—was Hanan Porat, a student of Kook. In late September 1967, Porat led an Orthodox group to settle between Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank. They reestablished Kfar Etzion, a religious kibbutz that had fallen to Arab forces on the eve of Israel’s independence. In the film’s portrayal—again, echoing many others—Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was reluctant to allow the project, but approved it when he learned that the settlers had loaded trucks with supplies and planned to go ahead regardless of what he said.

From that opening, the film’s narrative skips ahead to the spring of 1968, when another Kook follower, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, brought a group of religious nationalists to settle in the Palestinian city of Hebron, again overcoming resistance from a weak Israeli government. The chapter after that is set in 1975: The new Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) movement, led by Porat, Levinger, and others, led illegal settlement attempts near the village of Sebastia in the northern West Bank. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres folded under their pressure and allowed a small group of settlers to remain. Many thousands of Gush Emunim supporters would follow in the years to come, establishing dozens of settlements.

A strange irony of this origin tale is that it recasts some of the icons of Israeli toughness—such as Rabin, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan—as nebbishes who cede policy to a fringe group of extremists.

The Settlers, a two-hour film, pauses briefly to tell us about the Allon Plan, the postwar strategy put forward by Labor politician Yigal Allon. The plan called for building Israeli settlements in the sparsely populated area along the Jordan River, while refraining from settling in the more heavily populated mountains of the West Bank. Another brief interlude in the film is devoted to Israelis who move to the West Bank for reasons of comfort rather than ideology. In settlements, they can afford homes much larger than what their money would buy inside the Green Line, the pre-1967 border.

Overwhelmingly, though, the film pictures settlers as religious nationalists, from Porat to today’s far-right extremists. All this fits Israeli popular perceptions. In media debate, “settler” is practically a synonym for Orthodox nationalist. For years, I’ve given a one-question history test to well-informed Israelis, asking them what the first settlement was. With few exceptions, their answer is Kfar Etzion, Hebron, or Sebastia.

The problem with this account is that it mistakes the supporting actors for the stars. Religious nationalists have played a key role in the settlement saga—but as the fractious clients of Israel’s major parties, Labor and the Likud. Those parties, and their leaders, are the main characters in the drama.

Take that first kibbutz in the Golan Heights. Its founders were followers of Yitzhak Tabenkin, the octogenarian ideologue of the Ahdut Ha’avodah (Unity of Labor) Party, then an important faction of the Zionist left. Tabenkin saw rural communes, kibbutzim, as the means to build socialism from the bottom up. Tabenkin also saw the Jewish homeland—the Land of Israel—as extending well beyond the borders of pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine, which were the invention of European imperialists. The narrower borders of independent Israel were even less satisfying. The fighting had barely ended in June 1967 when Tabenkin began urging massive settlement in the newly conquered land.

One of Tabenkin’s disciples was Yigal Allon. After the war, Allon stunned his comrades when he proposed giving up the most populated parts of the West Bank. Allon thought this was necessary to avoid turning Israel into a binational state. At the same time, as a minister in Eshkol’s government, he aggressively pushed for settlement in areas he wanted to keep. He channeled ministry funds to the Golan kibbutz, and pushed for settlement in Hebron.

Allon’s lifelong rival, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, advocated building Israeli towns in precisely the land that Allon wanted to relinquish. He proposed giving West Bank Arabs limited autonomy, or creating an Israeli-Jordanian condominium in that territory. Either way, the goal was to maintain overall Israeli rule and allow settlement without giving citizenship to the Palestinians living there. Dayan’s younger ally, Shimon Peres, held those ideas as well.

Eshkol himself had two immediate priorities after the war in 1967: building Jewish neighborhoods in annexed East Jerusalem, and returning Jews to the handful of spots in the West Bank where they had lived before 1948, including Kfar Etzion. Porat and his religious nationalist friends weren’t overcoming Eshkol’s resistance; they were providing him with the warm bodies needed to carry out his goals.

Early in 1968, three left-of-center parties merged, bringing Eshkol, Allon, and Dayan all into the new Labor Party. The arguments within the party, and within the government it led, were over where to build settlements in occupied territory, not whether to do so. Eshkol, for the most part, agreed with Allon’s strategy. So did his Labor successors as prime minister, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.

Religious nationalists were just one source of recruits for settlement. The partnership between them and the government was sometimes strained by a public dispute—again, over where to settle. That’s what happened at Sebastia. One reason that Rabin compromised with Gush Emunim is that his own party was in danger of splitting. The Peres faction was closer to Gush Emunim than to Rabin.

In the big picture, though, settlement was a government project. The Allon Plan wasn’t a sidelight; it was Labor governments’ blueprint for settlement-building.

The clash over where to settle had an element of the absurd. Allon was convinced it was possible to reach peace with Jordan on the basis of his map. The religious nationalists wanted to prevent such an agreement by settling in areas that the government seemed willing to give up. Allon’s confidence remained completely undented by his 1968 contacts with Jordan’s King Hussein, the Arab leader most eager to make peace. At a secret meeting with the king in London, Allon presented his maps. Hussein rejected Allon’s idea and, to leave no doubt, followed up with a position paper saying that the proposal was “wholly unacceptable.”

That exchange has defined the real parameters of Israeli-Arab peace contacts ever since. The 1967 war convinced most Arab leaders—some immediately, some later—that Israel’s existence and its pre-1967 borders had to be accepted. King Hussein’s position that any border changes had to be based on a one-to-one exchange of land later became a principle in Israeli–Palestinian negotiations. Under those parameters, Labor’s settlements along the Jordan River were just as much a barrier to peace as Gush Emunim’s settlements elsewhere.

By the time Labor lost power to the Likud in 1977, it had established close to 80 settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan. The Likud built on that foundation, but built much faster. Its map, drawn by Ariel Sharon, deliberately created bands of settlements between Palestinian cities. The result was that Palestinians lived in enclaves surrounded by settlements.

The Likud used two different kinds of settlements to draw Israelis into the West Bank. One was small, members-only communities, many of them deep in occupied territory. These attracted the Orthodox nationalists who fit the public stereotype of settlers. The other was larger settlements with a classic suburban appeal: A young family could get more home for less money.

The “quality of life” suburbanites can’t be squeezed into the standard settler stereotype. Many are secular. Some are ultra-Orthodox Jews, who don’t buy into the theology of religious nationalism. But with large families and small budgets, they find the cheap housing in settlements irresistible. The two largest settlements are ultra-Orthodox, and account for nearly a fifth of all settlers. For that matter, one-third of all Israelis in occupied territory live in the Jewish neighborhoods of annexed East Jerusalem. In mainstream Israeli discourse, they are almost never referred to as settlers.

What all these people have in common is that they live where they do because of fifty years of government policy.


GIVEN THE FACTS, WHAT explains the staying power of the classic narrative of settlement as a religious project?

For one thing, first impressions have staying power. In this case, the first impressions were formed by news coverage in the early months and years of settlement. And the government then tried its best to minimize coverage.

The ruling parties of the Zionist left had a tradition going back to pre-independence days of quietly “establishing facts.” When it came to settlement, Labor’s motto could have been “Speak little and carry a big hoe.” Yisrael Galili, the settlement czar under prime ministers Meir and Rabin, was particularly obsessed with secrecy.

Being in power made acting quietly easier, especially in an era when the Israeli press was much tamer than it is today. Much of the account I’ve given here of Labor’s settlement effort is based on internal government documents that remained classified for 30 years or more. Hanan Porat, the supposed “first settler,” sincerely believed that he’d forced Eshkol’s hand, but wasn’t privy to the prime minister’s office files.

In contrast to the Labor governments, the young religious activists loved publicity and the glory of being rebels. They happily told their version of events. While researching settlement history, I found that most published accounts of the founding of Kfar Etzion could be traced back to Porat and a couple of his activist colleagues.

Quite naturally, confrontations drew media coverage. So the face-off at Sebastia between Gush Emunim and the Rabin government filled the Israeli press in December 1975. Government settlement efforts elsewhere got less attention.

Another factor: The Kulturkampf between ideological secularism and Orthodoxy has always been an intensely emotional feature of Israeli politics. There’s a tendency to map the debate about settlement onto the religious-secular divide. This makes the political picture simpler—and deceptive. The original Labor advocates of settlement fade from sight. Even Likud leaders such as Sharon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu become enigmas.

There are also valid reasons for paying particular attention to religious settlers today, as long as you don’t ignore the rest. The extremists who have engaged in violence against Palestinians come from the religious camp. And if there is a peace agreement, the most extreme religious settlers pose the greatest risk of violent resistance to evacuation.


ONE DUBIOUS ASSUMPTION that pervades Israeli politics, especially the center and center-left of the spectrum, is that the religious settlements would have to go in a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, while quality-of-life settlements, at least those in large “settlement blocs,” could stay put. After all, those settlement blocs are simply too big to evacuate, and don’t intrude too deeply into the West Bank. The reasoning here is that territorial concessions by the Palestinians, or territorial exchanges, would allow Israel to keep those blocs.

By this logic, the religious settlements are the obstacle to peace; the “consensus” settlement blocs are not.

It’s true that small religious settlements are scattered throughout the West Bank, far from the pre-1967 border. They stand in the way of any imaginable peace agreement. But what about the “quality of life” town of Ariel, home to 19,000 Israelis and the anchor of one of those supposed blocs? For Israel to hold Ariel would mean annexing a finger of territory sticking deep into the West Bank. The town of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, has over 37,000 residents and is the core of another such bloc. But connecting it to Israel would mean annexing more land and creating another finger of territory that practically divides the West Bank in two.

The distinction between religious settlements and settlement blocs, then, repeats the error built into the Israeli political debate during the first years of the occupation. Back then, the self-deception was that Allon Plan settlements posed no impediment to peace. Jordan would just have to accept that Israel would keep parts of the West Bank. Now the myth is that Israel will be able to keep the blocs—which means annexing pieces of land outside its pre-1967 borders.

In reality, no one knows which settlements, if any, Israel would be able to retain under a peace agreement. Judging from the brief periods of serious final-status talks over the years, the baseline for new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will be the Green Line. Negotiations could lead to small exchanges, with Israel giving up bits of its pre-1967 territory in return for equal-sized bits of the West Bank. But even if that happens, the amount of land involved, and the number of settlements saved, is certain to fall far short of the expectations created by the talk of keeping the settlement blocs.

The narrative that focuses exclusively on religious settlement is more than an academic error. It stands in the way of Israel coming to terms with what happened in 1967 and after: Settling Israelis in occupied territory wasn’t imposed by a radical fringe. It was a national policy, for which the country’s major political camps—Labor as much as the Likud—share responsibility.

Even worse, the distorted telling of the past continues to distract attention from the hard political reality of today: Any home, built in any settlement, makes it harder to negotiate peace. It’s one more knot in the Great Entanglement.

How neo-Nazis exploit Instagram to spread antisemitic memes

Neo-Nazis are exploiting a gap in the community guidelines of the photo-sharing platform Instagram.

Faith Matters investigation has uncovered a clandestine network of individuals spreading antisemitic memes on the platform. The self-styled ‘Pro Defamation League’ (Pro_Defamation_League) account, for example, has not been removed from Instagram, despite having several posts removed for breaching Community Guidelines.

As with any self-reporting platform, Instagram requires its user base to report harmful and hateful content. Instagram makes clear in its Community Guidelines that it “is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups.” The guidelines stress a zero-tolerance approach to hate speech, but may allow its publication if the purpose of it being shared is “to challenge it or to raise awareness”.

Yet, the Pro_Defamation_League account serves no positive function. It’s just the unfettered, unfiltered and unrepentant antisemitism one expects to find on neo-Nazi forums, hate sites, and the dark corners of 4Chan. But on Instagram, old hatreds are repackaged as hateful, violent memes.

A second problem with reporting hateful content on Instagram concerns its reporting protocols. Users can report hate speech, but it falls within the broad category of ‘Bullying and Harassment’.

Accounts like Pro_Defamation_League avoid targeting Jewish users directly to avoid breaching Community Guidelines. Yet, their true intent is self-evident, and ultimately harmful.

Perhaps the most popular image in this network concerns the ‘antisemitic meme of the Jew’. According the Australian charity, the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), this racist caricature is over a decade old. It depicts a bearded Jewish man with a long-hooked nose. The author of this image uses the pseudonym “A. Wyatt Mann”. His identity has been the subject of speculation, denial and counter-claims. Its original iteration had compared Jewish and black communities to rats and cockroaches. It appeared on the White Aryan Resistance hate site in 2004.

Now in 2017, its stock as a meme continues to endure, thanks in part to its re-appropriation and plagiarism on social media. One such example includes a post made by the Pro_Defamation_League on January 10, 2017. This antisemitic meme of a Jewish man is doctored onto an image of the goat-headed winged hermaphrodite known as Baphomet. The origins of Baphomet date back to the time of the Crusades and the torture of the Knights Templar. According to French chroniclers, the Knights Templar confessed to worshipping this idol.

Yet, the doctored image of Baphomet concerns the 1856 drawing by French occultist Eliphas Levi. But an image search confirms that the image pre-dates the Pro_Defemation_League account. An online search of the term “Jewphomet” pulls you deeper into the antisemitic rabbit hole. It brings you to the hate site the “International Goyim Party”. A site who posted the “Jewphomet” image on July 26, 2015.

A secondary example of plagiarism found on pages like the Pro_Defamation_League concerns Ben Garrison. Writing for the OHPI in 2014, Mr Garrison detailed how neo-Nazis often steal his cartoons to reinforce antisemitic canards. Yet, as Sarah Brown pointed out in 2014, Mr Garrison is perhaps “unaware of the connotations of the words and images he uses.”

Other memes circulate toxic conspiracies about Israeli involvement in the 9/11 attacks and other international acts of terrorism. The Holocaust is ridiculed and outright denied. Memes about Israel are often interchangeable in their antisemitic intent.

Michael Barkun’s ‘A Culture of Conspiracy’ outlines how the internet erodes our ability to distinguish between mainstream and fringe news sources. For individuals drawn to racist ideologies, the internet functions as means to build communities, network, and reinforce echo chambers. It’s one of the reasons why Stormfront became so successful and notorious after its launch in 1995.

The inherent social nature of platforms like Instagram, arguably, intensifies such online behaviour, which in the end, reinforce certain echo chambers.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that one such account the Pro_Defamation_League follows is the ‘zionist-report,’ a page which borrows from the same script: where Israel and Jewish communities are behind major acts of terrorism or in control of politics. An example of this antisemitic canard invokes the Nazi-era propaganda of the octopus. Nazi propaganda of this era had warned against the ‘Jewish octopus of Bolshevism’. Now their political enemies of the twentieth century are reimagined for modern audiences. This canard replaces the Bolsheviks with “pro-Zionist eurocrats in Brussels”. This intends to pacify and normalise its overt antisemitic message.

Nor does it take long to find Holocaust denial to appear on the account. On December 10, 2016, the account posted: “Tell me #lies, tell me sweet little #lies. The #AnnFrank story is just another piece of the #Holohoax industry.”

Example from the zionist_report Instagram page.


The meme adds that ballpoint pens were not invented until 1951. This theory took on a life of its own decades later in extreme-right circles. But it was later discredited during a trial of neo-Nazis in Wiesbaden, West Germany, in 1980.

Researchers from the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation forensically authenticated Anne Frank’s diary in the 1980s. Miss Frank did most of her writings in grey-blue ink for fountain pens in which iron was present. The manufacturing of fountain pen ink without iron or trace amounts of iron were not introduced until after 1950. The two-pages of ballpoint annotations were not added until the graphological study of Anne Frank’s writings in 1960. In 2016, federal police in Germany issued a press release stating that their 1980 investigation cannot be used to question the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary.

That one example of a Holocaust denial received 80 ‘likes’. This number may seem small, but it should not be dismissed. While the hashtag #Holohoax only contains 9 posts, other similar hashtags are proving more popular on Instagram. The hashtag #holohoaxexposed, for example, appears 353 times on Instagram. Its enduring appeal owes in part to the nature of underground subcultures. This is partly achieved with unrelated hashtags. Some spread Holocaust denial with the hashtag #911wasaninsidejob – a hashtag with over 56,000 posts. It may not guarantee success, but it exposes individuals to unfamiliar ideas, which they may accept under the umbrella concept of ‘stigmatized knowledge’. In short, this theory suggeststhat this form of knowledge appears compelling because of its faux empiricism and the promise of knowledge which remains ‘valid’ despite its rejection from mainstream institutions.

Dr Nicholas Terry, a history lecturer at Exeter University, warns that Holocaust deniers are recruiting individuals drawn to other conspiracy theories such as the Sandy Hook school massacre.

In response to the Faith Matters investigation, an Instagram spokesman said: “There is no place for hate speech on Instagram.

We review all reports and move quickly to remove content that violates our Community Guidelines.”

Instagram has now removed the accounts @national.socialism1933 and @redpillprincess1 for breaches of community standards.

The company urges members of the public to report offensive content or profiles for review. Instagram has reassured Faith Matters that the review team monitor content daily and will not hesitate to remove content when it is found to breach community guidelines.



ASTANA – Mutual exchange of technologies, flourishing business connections and warm bilateral diplomatic relations are the main characteristics of Israel and Kazakhstan, said Michael Brodsky, the Israeli ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Commemorating 25 years of diplomatic relations, Brodsky said Kazakhstan is one of Israel’s major friends. In many fields, mainly the economic one, Kazakhstan has a great interest in Israel.


Last December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kazakhstan. During the visit, which was described as positive by both sides, the parties held a joint business forum, which included dozens of participants.

“This country thinks through the economic perspective,” said Brodsky.

“And despite the fact that it is mostly Muslim, it has no affect on our bilateral relations.

“They want us to prosper, and Israel is the role model for them,” he added. “They want to learn from us.

All this ‘make the wilderness bloom’ myth is very appealing to them.

Astana is a great example of that – it started off as a vision of [Kazakhstan] president [Nursultan] Nazarbayev and became a reality, just like the State of Israel.”

Brodsky mentioned three main fields in which Israel and Kazakhstan share information and technology: Agriculture, health and security.

“In these fields we have a lot to offer to Kazakhstan,” he said. “They see them as ‘must fields,’ meaning that cooperating with us on them is not luxury, and it won’t be affected by situation changes.

“There are many Israeli companies that operate here, and there is always talk on how to expand it,” he added.

There are some 10,000 Jews living in Kazakhstan. The vast majority came from the western part of the USSR or eastern Europe in the past century. However, Farsi-speaking Jews lived in the southern areas of the country and along the Silk Road trading route for thousands of years.

Brodsky noted that Kazakhstan is known for being very welcoming for Jews. He said there is no antisemitism in the republic.

“There is a small Jewish community, and it is spread out in several cities,” he said. “The Jewish life here is flourishing. There was never antisemitism in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh people is known to be tolerant and has a great attitude to all nations.

“The Jews also remember the special treatment they received when they got here during World War II, when they fled from eastern Europe,” he added. “Many Jews arrived here during that period.”

Despite that, Brodsky said that when it comes to the United Nations and its agencies, Kazakhstan is still committed to the larger Muslim bloc.

“When it comes to the bilateral relations, we have very warm connections and they are openly proud of it. But it is clear that they are obligated to the Muslim world,” Brodsky said. “We can see it in their [UN] votes. They voted against us not once, but we speak about it openly.

We know that they have other considerations and we are not letting it damage our great relations,” he said.

Ahead of UNESCO vote on Hebron, Israel bars fact-finding mission from city

Israel on Friday denied a fact-finding mission entry to the West Bank city of Hebron ahead of a Palestinian effort to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs inscribed on a UN list of threatened sites.

A group of independent scholars from the International Council on Monuments and Sites had been trying to gain access to the disputed holy site since the Palestinian Authority announced in April its plan to have it added to UNESCO’s list of endangered world heritage sites.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to grant them the required permits.

“On a strategic and principled level, the State of Israel will not take part in and will not legitimize any Palestinian political move under the guise of culture and heritage,” said Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen.

The UN cultural agency’s World Heritage Committee is expected to vote on the matter on July 2, during its 41st session in Krakow, Poland. Given the Arab nations’ automatic majority in international forums, the Palestinian proposal is likely to be accepted. The Tomb of the Patriarchs would become the third cultural site on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” that is registered as located in the “State of Palestine.” The other two are the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem,” around Battir.

Before those sites were added to the list, fact-finding missions were dispatched and advised against adding them, Carmel-Hacohen said. But that did not stop the members states of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to vote “yes” anyway, he added.

“Thus, it is a waste of everybody’s time and money to send professionals to make recommendations. Because as opposed to the requests of other countries, where expert opinions do have a significant impact, the Palestinians have created from themselves a VIP track to enlist a site that is among the most important in Judaism through a campaign based on lies against the Jews and their state,” he said.

Israel's Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen (L), draped in an Israeli flag, at the UN cultural agency's Paris headquarters on May 2, 2017 (Erez Lichtfeld)

The Palestinians have never lost a vote at UNESCO, the Israel envoy added, “but there’s always a first time and we’re getting closer to it.”

Israeli diplomats argue that despite a long list of grievances the Palestinians are circulating, listing alleged Israeli “violations” in Hebron’s Old City, Israeli officials and local Muslim religious leaders get along fine.

“The inscription of the Old City of Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage Site in Danger will stir resentment and fierce reaction in Israel and throughout the Jewish world,” Shama-Hacohen wrote earlier this month in a letter to the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, Mechtild Rossler.

Several Jewish groups have already protested against the expected vote.

“This is but the latest cynical move by the Palestinians to erase Jewish history by rebranding Judaism’s holiest sites, including the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Muslim,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement last week.

In a letter to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that the Palestinian claims about Hebron are “replete with false information and baseless charges,” while urging her to prevent the vote from taking place.

“This is the latest in a series of unfounded charges and accusations meant to denigrate and distort Israel’s stewardship of holy sites,” the group said in a statement.

Illustrative photo of an Israeli border policeman at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, West Bank, September 13, 2015. (Flash90)

Currently 1,052 sites are inscribed on the World Heritage List, including nine in Israel. Adding a site usually takes several years, but the Palestinians seek to fast-track their applications to the body by claiming the site is in danger.

The 21 member states currently sitting on the World Heritage Committee are likely to vote against Israel. None of the 10 states that in May voted against a Palestinian resolution at UNESCO’s Executive Committee on Jerusalem are members of the committee.

Like it does every year, the World Heritage Committee is again expected to pass a resolution regarding Jerusalem’s Old City, which in the past has ignored the Jewish people’s ties to the city. In 2016, 10 countries voted in favor of the anti-Israel resolution, eight abstained and two voted against.