ministers

Ministers push bill that could stymie East Jerusalem withdrawal

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday unanimously backed a bill that aims to make it more difficult to give up sections of Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

The basic law currently requires the consent of at least 61 MKs, a majority in the 120-member Knesset, for handing over sovereign control of any part of the capital to foreign governments or agencies, including the Palestinians.

The bill would raise that to an 80-MK minimum, or fully two-thirds of the Knesset, a threshold that likely makes it all but impossible for a future Israeli government to obtain the Knesset’s approval for withdrawing from Jerusalem.

The bill must still pass three readings and at least two committee write-ups in the Knesset, an unlikely feat in the two weeks left in the current Knesset session. It will likely not advance further until the Knesset returns from its fall recess in October.

The bill was advanced two weeks ago by Jewish Home lawmakers at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett (R) shakes hands with Minister for Jerusalem Affiars Zeev Elkin after a vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, a controversial bill that seeks to legitimize illegal West Bank outposts, December 7, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We will prevent a situation like in 2000 when [then-prime minister] Ehud Barak wanted to hand over the Temple Mount and two-thirds of the Old City to [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat” at the Camp David talks, Bennett said Sunday in a Twitter post.

In practice, it’s not clear that the new bill would increase the threshold of votes required to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem. While the bill demands 80 votes for withdrawal, it requires only 61 to amend the law itself – for example, by lowering the 80-vote threshold. That is, under the new bill, 61 MKs could vote to reduce the threshold from 80 to 61, then vote to withdraw from parts of Jerusalem.

The original bill, proposed by Jewish Home lawmakers in early July, required 80 votes for withdrawal and a similar 80-vote minimum for changing the law, but the latter stipulation was removed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over concerns that it might be unconstitutional.

The bill was the subject of an angry dispute between the Jewish Home and Likud parties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed off an earlier vote on it on July 2, saying its authors had failed to coordinate the bill with other coalition parties.

The delay led to a week-long negotiations period between Bennett and Likud’s Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

Bennett criticized Likud at the time, saying, “We are sorry narrow political considerations outweigh the need to prevent the division of Jerusalem. We will continue pushing this bill, and will do all we can to advance it in the upcoming days,” he said in a statement. “Jerusalem will be united by actions, not words.”

Likud, in turn, replied that “Jewish Home apparatchiks know well that Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the bill. He supported it back in 2007. They also know that by the coalition agreements, any amendments to a [constitutional] basic law require the agreement of all coalition partners. But instead of reaching for agreement and cooperation, Jewish Home prefers childish politicking. Likud is committed to Jerusalem forever remaining united under Israeli sovereignty, so we won’t get dragged into the kindergarten [fights] of Bennett and Shaked, but rather advance a bill together with all the coalition partners.”

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Bennett said the prime minister had hoped to “bury” the proposal but would not succeed.

“We will pass this law,” he promised.

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In step toward annexation, ministers demand new laws include settlements

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Tuesday that all government legislation will henceforth explicitly mention applicability to residents of West Bank settlements, in an apparent step toward expanding Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

MKs were holding a series of committee meetings on improving the lives of Jews living in West Bank settlements — regarding education, immigration absorption, and housing — as the Knesset celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Sinai.

“We are trying to change the reality of legislation in the Knesset,” Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, told the Knesset House Committee.

“There is no doubt that the lives of residents of Judea and Samaria need to be exactly the same as the lives” of other Israeli citizens, she said, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

The directive by Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin applies strictly to government-backed laws from June 1 but not to private legislation presented by individual lawmakers. Shaked said she had instructed the ministers to comply with the new instructions, which require “a reference” to West Bank residents on government bills. She said only half a dozen Israeli laws currently mention the settlers, including adoption laws and recent anti-discrimination laws.

Laws will not be required to extend to settlements, but will need to explicitly state whether they do or do not, and an explanation will be needed in cases where they only apply to one side of the Green Line.

Currently, Israeli law is applied to the settlements by issuing individual military orders, a process that Shaked described as cumbersome and selective.

Levin (Likud) said the application of martial orders rather than Israeli law directly to West Bank residents in some cases was “discriminatory and unequal.”

He said it was time to “liberate the residents of Judea and Samaria” from Israeli military orders, some 50 years after the war, by transferring the powers of the Civil Administration, the governing authority in the West Bank, to Israeli ministries.

“I think the rule must be that the law applies [to the settlers], unless there is a good reason not to,” he said. “And not the opposite.”

Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin seen at the Israeli parliament during a vote on a law changing the structure of the new Israel Broadcast Corporation news division, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are not seeking ‘creeping annexation’; we are looking for justice for the residents,” he said.

“And if there are those saying that through legislation we are advancing ‘creeping annexation’ — we won’t argue,” he added.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) said he was seeking, by the end of the year, to change the law in the area to allow Jews to legally purchase land in the West Bank from Palestinians.

“The Jews in Judea and Samaria are outsiders, they are not allowed to buy land,” he lamented.

At the hearing, Jewish Home MK Shuli Moallem-Refaeli said she had “no desire to conceal” the government’s intention to annex the West Bank. She added that the process must not be done in a “backdoor” fashion, but rather openly.

There is “total inequality” between Israeli citizens and settlers, she said, as the latter “have same obligations, but they don’t have the same rights.”

“We all know there is no sovereignty in the West Bank,” she said, adding that 50 years on from the war, “we are all working to fix that.”

On housing, the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group presented a plan to another Knesset panel on Tuesday to build 67,000 housing units in the West Bank.

The settler group outlined a bid to expand the Tel Aviv metropolitan area into the West Bank, saying it would drive down housing prices in central Israel. In a presentation to the Knesset Interior Committee, the council proposed a building boom in the West Bank areas adjacent to the densely populated Gush Dan region, from the settlement of Alfei Menashe in the north to Modiin Illit in the south, and Ariel in the east — overall, a 40 percent increase of built-up territory.

The West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe (Wikimedia Commons/Jonathan Schilling/CC BY-SA 3.0)

With tens of thousands of housing units in this eastern corridor, the cost of living in central Israel would drop considerably, the settlement council told lawmakers, in a session attended by Housing Minister Yoav Galant.

Galant responded with a call to build in various settlements in those areas.

“The entire expanse from Avnei Hefetz, Oranit, Nili, Naale, Gush Halamish, Talmonim, from Kfar Saba to Ben Gurion Airport, is essential for life in Gush Dan,” said Galant. “Settling this area will offer a security, strategic solution.”

Housing Minister Yoav Galant calls for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad at a conference in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on May 16, 2017. (Miriam Tzachi/Office of Yoav Gallant)

Chairing the meeting, Likud MK David Amsalem implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to increase West Bank construction.

“A city that does not go forward goes backward,” he said. “If there is no building in Ma’ale Adumin and Jerusalem, they will turn into old age homes.”

“Not building is a form of expulsion,” he added. “A child who grew up somewhere and you are not allowing him to live there as an adult [because of lack of housing] — you are in effect removing him from that place.”

Meanwhile, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a “festive” meeting celebrating the outcome of the war, though most of its members were in Washington.

After Saudi arms deal, ministers fret about Israel’s military edge

Two Likud ministers on Sunday voiced concern about Israel’s ability to retain its qualitative military edge in the Middle East, in the first government responses to the $110 billion arms package signed between the US and Saudi Arabia over the weekend aimed at bolstering the Sunni kingdom’s defenses against Iran.

“Saudi Arabia is a hostile country and we must ensure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is preserved,” Likud Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday, according to the Kan news broadcaster.

The energy minister indicated Washington did not consult with Israel before inking the massive arms deal.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons deals is something we should receive explanations about,” he said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at the "Likudiada", a gathering of Likud party members and supporters in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, on January 27, 2017. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday similarly expressed reservations about retaining Israel’s military edge, while voicing cautious optimism Trump’s visit would strengthen regional anti-Iran alliances.

“President Trump’s visit strengthens the anti-Iranian camp in the region and presents an opportunity to advance regional security and economic cooperation as a foundation for regional peace,” Katz said in a statement.

“A regional coalition should be built under American leadership to block and push back Iran,” he said. “At the same time Israel’s qualitative military edge should be maintained.”

The $110 billion deal for Saudi purchases of US defense equipment and services came at the start of an eight-day trip that will also take Trump to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican and meetings with leaders in Europe.

Trump on Saturday hailed the series of business deals, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir saying they were worth more than $360 billion overall.

“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump said after talks with Saudi King Salman. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter that the defense agreement was the “largest single arms deal in US history” and said other deals amounted to $250 billion in commercial investment.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the intent of the arms deal was to support Riyadh “in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders.”

US President Donald Trump (R) and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

He said the arms package “bolsters the kingdom’s ability to provide for its own security and contributing to counter-terrorism operations throughout the region.”

Earlier this month, a senior White House official told Reuters the US-Saudi Arabia arms deal would not erode Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

The State Department said the wide-ranging deal would cover five specific areas, including border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, and cybersecurity and communications upgrades.

“Included are offers of extensive training and support to strengthen our partnership and the Saudi armed forces.”

The package includes tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. On the naval side there are “Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, helicopters, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.”

The release said that it would also include Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD), which was recently deployed by the US in South Korea to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.

Ministers okay economic package for Palestinians ahead of Trump visit

Israeli ministers approved a series of economic measures for Palestinians on Sunday, meant as a package of goodwill gestures ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region this week.

The security cabinet of top ministers okayed the raft of measures presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including increasing building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

The package is meant to help Trump’s big to jump start peace talks with the Palestinians, moribund since US-brokered negotiations fell apart in 2014. However, the Palestinians have said they seek an Israeli freeze on settlement building before coming to the table.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked both of the hawkish Jewish Home party, voted against the move, but it passed with a majority.

Other measures approved were the opening of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day and development of West Bank industrial zones near Jenin and Tarkumiya (west of Hebron).

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio Sunday the measures would bolster Israel’s diplomacy in the region.

“The discussions are not based on any party affiliation, nor should they be, but on diplomatic considerations,” he said.

US President Donald Trump is served coffee during a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court Palace, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“We want to improve the lives of Palestinians in this area, and from what I know of this framework, there is a definite intention to take steps that will enable economic development for Palestinians.”

Katz added the confidence-building measures would serve to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world.

“In the framework of the cooperation with Arab countries, there must be steps taken toward ensuring the economic development of the Palestinians,” Katz said, adding that many Middle East states have “an existential interest in cooperating with Israel.”

Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas as part of his efforts to renew talks between the two sides.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz at a press conference held at the Ministry of Transport, April 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Trump will reportedly ask Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to confidence-building measures in order to lay the groundwork to restart the peace process during his visit to the region this week.

A senior White House official told the Haaretz daily that Trump will urge Netanyahu to restrict settlement building in the West Bank while he takes steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, and urge Abbas to stop PA-sponsored incitement against Israel.

Israelis walks past a poster welcoming and supporting US President Donald Trump in downtown Jerusalem, on May 21, 2017, on the eve of a two-day visit of the US president. (AFP/ MENAHEM KAHANA)

“The president has made a general statement regarding his position and he hopes the Israeli government will take it into consideration,” the White House official told Haaretz in a report published Sunday. “He was also very direct with President Abbas regarding incitement and the paying of stipends to the families of terrorists.”

“He has been clear about these issues, and will remain clear on those issues during the visit,” the unnamed official said.

Trump and senior White House aides arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first leg of his trip to the Middle East.

The US leader has repeatedly indicated that he would like to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper published Sunday said he “honestly, truly” thinks he can do so.

Reigniting old dispute, ministers okay new ‘Jewish State’ bill

Ministers gave their go-ahead Sunday to a controversial and long-debated proposal to officially define Israel as a Jewish nation-state.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously in favor of throwing coalition support behind Likud MK Avi Dichter’s Jewish State bill, which, for the first time in Israeli law, would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.” If passed in the Knesset, the law would become one of the so-called Basic Laws, which like a constitution guide Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Judaism is already mentioned throughout the country’s laws, and religious authorities control many aspects of life, including marriage. But the 11 existing Basic Laws deal mostly with state institutions like the Knesset, the courts or the presidency, while Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty defines Israel’s democratic character. The nation-state bill, proponents say, would put Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing.

​”This is a small step for the Jewish State bill, which establishes that Israel is and will be a Jewish and democratic state, and it’s a big step toward defining our identity, not only in the eyes of the world but primarily for ourselves, Israelis. To be a free people in our land,” Dichter said in response to the decision.

Likud MK Avi Dichter leads a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said that the bill was needed to counter Palestinian efforts to deny Jewish rights to Israel. “Events of recent months prove that this is a battle for the Israel’s image and national identity. The Palestinians no longer hide their goal of erasing the Jewish people’s nation-state,” he wrote in defense of the legislation.

Critics, however, said that the bill is discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations.

According to the language of the proposal, while every individual has the right “to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity,” the right to realize self-determination “is unique to the Jewish people.”

In another controversial clause, Arabic would be relegated from an official language to one with “special status,” which would ensure its speakers the “right to accessible state services.”

Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh issued a harsh condemnation of the legislation, calling the Ministerial Committee decision a “declaration of war” on Israel’s Arab citizens. “Discrimination has received a legal stamp. The danger in this law in that it establishes two classes of citizen — Jewish and Arab,” he wrote in a statement.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, a contender for the leadership of his party, said that the bill was “reminiscent of dark periods” in history. “The Jewish State law is an effort to erode the only democracy in the Middle East,” he said.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint (Arab) List, speaks during a vote on a bill that would allow suspension of Knesset members, March 28, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The bill was first put forward by Dichter in 2014 but, facing criticism from both opposition members and liberal-minded members of his own Likud party, it was shelved soon after. Since then, a number of versions of the legislation have been drafted by right-wing lawmakers but none has made it through the Knesset to become law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even proposed his own version of the legislation, saying in 2015 that the state lacked “adequate expression” of Israel’s “existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people” in the country’s set of Basic Laws.

Critics of the various proposals have included then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, President Reuven Rivlin, then-culture minister Limor Livnat, former defense minister Moshe Arens, former justice minister Dan Meridor (the last four are all Likud veterans), Jewish and Arab opposition parties, some coalition members, and many other Israelis, emphatically including conservative-minded ones.

The latest version appears to be a compromise between the various drafts put forward over the last three years, reaching out to liberals by including the phrase “Jewish and democratic” and omitting a previously included affirmation of the importance of settlement throughout Israel’s borders, but leaving in some contentious elements such as downgrading Arabic from an official language.

Former security cabinet ministers back Bennett’s coalition demands

Former members of the security cabinet told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that they witnessed their colleagues on the key forum voting on substantial issues without being prepared.

Unlike the United States, where the president decides security matters as the commander in chief, in Israel, that responsibility lies with a group of ministers appointed by the prime minister, which usually includes the heads of the parties in his coalition. The holders of the Defense, Public Security and Justice portfolios are automatically part of the forum.

Former security cabinet ministers from across the political spectrum came out Sunday in favor of Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s demand that security cabinet members be briefed regularly by a military secretary who would be at their disposal. The ministers said a military secretary could ensure that they will have access to information required for decision-making that could save lives.

“There is no doubt more information is needed, especially on very professional decisions,” Beilin said. “I had at times to get my information in an informal way or to ask the prime minister or head of military intelligence for favors. Not having information has caused ministers to vote based on political alliances because they had no opinion. There should be someone whose job is to brief the security cabinet, whether individually or collectively.”

For example, Beilin pointed out a decision to develop and purchase the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, rather than Israeli and American alternatives.

“On issues like that, you receive impressions from both sides, and you need to understand better why one is right and wrong,” he said.

Former Likud justice minister Dan Meridor said he would constantly take time to prepare, learn, and meet people to prepare for security cabinet meetings but many of his colleagues did not. He said under current circumstances, ministers need to build trust with security officials to receive key information and prove they will not leak it.

“A lot of information is needed,” Meridor told Army Radio. “I still feel guilty when lives were lost that I didn’t do enough.”

Former National Religious Party chairman Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, who served in security cabinet meetings under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon said only Sharon took steps to ensure his ministers received enough information ahead of key votes.

Levy, who admitted he is personally bitter at Sharon for the Gaza Strip disengagement, said he is thankful to him for regularly dispatching his own military secretary, current Kulanu minister Yoav Galant, to brief security cabinet ministers.

“It is important to know the information, what to ask, what to agree on and disagree on,” Levy said. “There were times we came and didn’t even know the agenda of the meeting due to excuses of security reasons.  In certain security cabinet meetings, information has purposely been kept from ministers. There was no information before meetings and not enough information provided during them.”

Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel also endorsed Bennett’s position Sunday in a post on Facebook.

“From my time on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee , I realized the full, embarrassing, and worrisome picture,” he wrote. “There have been security cabinet ministers who had no idea what was going on regarding key issues that they were supposed to be deciding.”

Israel, Egypt ministers hold rare meet on nuke summit sidelines

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Thursday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss regional issues, including gas development and preventing “radioactive terrorism.”

The meeting between the two officials marked the highest level convention of senior ministers in both countries since the ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, following the 2011 uprising in the country.

The two met in Washington, where they are set to attend a top-level nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

“The meeting dealt with regional issues, the possibility of providing Israeli gas to Egyptian liquefaction facilities, and international cooperation in preventing radioactive terrorism,” a statement from Steinitz’s office said.)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took power in 2013, after the ouster of Islamist former president Mohammed Morsi.

Sissi’s government has closely allied with Israel on key security issues, including Egypt’s war against Islamic State-affiliated jihadists in Sinai and on both countries’ blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

However, an Egyptian lawmaker was kicked out of parliament earlier this year after it emerged he ate dinner with Israel’s new envoy to Cairo, underlining still-fraught ties between the countries.

In September 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Egypt, four years after it was shut when a mob stormed the complex.

Sweden investigating Israeli death threats against its foreign minister

Swedish security officials are investigating Israeli death threats directed at their foreign minister Margot Wallström.

Last week, Zvi Zameret, a former official of Israel’s education ministry, published an article in Hebrew implying that Wallström deserved the same fate as Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish UN diplomat murdered by a Zionist militia in 1948.

“There are security people looking at this issue and we have no more comment than that,” Wallström’s spokesperson Kristian Brangenfeldt told the Swedish publication Etc.

“But I know which article you mean,” Brangenfeldt added in reference to Zameret’s op-ed, “and it felt very strange.”

The Swedish foreign ministry did not respond to a request for additional comment from The Electronic Intifada.

Persona non grata

Wallström has raised the ire of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for suggesting that there should be an investigation into Israel’s frequent killings of Palestinian youths that human rights groups term extrajudicial executions.

The Israeli leader recently denounced Wallström’s comments as “outrageous and stupid.”

Wallström also angered the Israelis by connecting the kind of radicalization behind the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people to the situation in the Middle East, “where not least, the Palestinians see that there is not a future.”

Sweden was already in Israel’s bad books for announcing in 2014 that it would recognize the “State of Palestine” (I strongly criticized this action, but for other reasons).

Earlier this month, Wallström cancelled a visit to Israel after officials said they would refuse to meet her.

“Inspiration”

The article by Zvi Zameret, headlined “Margot Wallström’s source of inspiration,” was published in Makor Rishon, a paper owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major financier of the Republican Party and anti-Palestinian organizations.

Folke Bernadotte was a Swedish aristocrat and diplomat who helped rescue thousands of Jews and others from Nazi death camps during the Second World War.

Later, he became the UN mediator for Palestine. He was assassinated in Jerusalem on 17 September 1948 by theStern Gang, the Zionist armed group among whose leaders was Yitzhak Shamir, a future prime minister of Israel.

In the article, translated for Mondoweiss by Jonathan Ofir, Zameret lists Bernadotte’s supposed transgressions in the eyes of the Zionist movement and then turns his fire on Wallström: “The Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, with her characteristic covert anti-Semitism, with her arrogance, ignorance, and her interest-bound speculation regarding her future Muslim voters – she too seeks to fight the foundations of the State of Israel. I am convinced and certain that her intentions will smoulder, just as all of the undignified count’s [Bernadotte] intentions did.”

Zameret has denied that his article was an implicit endorsement of violence against Wallström, but Swedish officials will be concerned because of high profile assassinations of the country’s political leaders in recent decades.

In 2003, Wallström’s predecessor Anna Lindh was murdered while out shopping in Stockholm. Her killer, Swedish citizen Mijailo Mijailović, is serving a life sentence.

In February 1986, the country’s Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead while walking home with his wife from a cinema in the Swedish capital.

His murder has never been solved, but among the many theories pursued by investigators over the years is that it was linked to South Africa’s apartheid regime, of which Palme was an outspoken international critic at the time.

Incitement

Zameret’s article came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had turned his anger on Wallström.

It also comes amid an atmosphere of incitement against domestic and international critics of Israel’s violent repression against Palestinians.

Last month, the Israeli right-wing group Im Tirzu released a report calling on the Israeli government to shut down human rights organizations that receive foreign funding and criticize Israeli policies.

Im Tirzu also released a video that labels the heads of four major Israeli human rights groups as traitors who aid terrorists at the behest of their foreign bankrollers.

It should be recalled that rising incitement preceded the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by the Jewish militant Yigal Amir. This included Rabin frequently being called a traitor for signing the 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Many in Israel still feel Netanyahu himself played a direct role in this incitement.

Now, a 2012 video has come to light titled “PM Netanyahu’s message to ‘Im Tirtzu’ supporters.” It features the Israeli prime minister praising the group and urging donations to support it.

Chemi Shalev, the US editor of the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, tweeted the video on Friday with this comment: “Making the rounds (and turning stomachs) 2012 Netanyahu appeal in English to support proto-fascist Im Tirzu.”

Ministers OK controversial bill setting prison sentence for opening business on Saturdays

Owners of businesses that are open on Saturdays without special permission could face fines and up to a year in prison, according to a controversial bill by MK Miki Zohar (Likud) approved by the Ministerial Committee by Legislation Sunday.

The “Weekly Day of Rest Bill” states that no business – excluding restaurants, bars and similar, public entertainment places, gas stations and pharmacies – may be open on a day of rest – Saturday for Jews, other days for other religions – unless it received specific permission from the Economy Minister. The minister may authorize businesses to open on Saturdays if it is a matter of national security, bodily or property security, the economy, or supplying services the minister determines are necessary for part or all of the public.

In addition, businesses may not make their contracts dependent on someone working on a Saturday and cannot demand the other side pay damages for not working on Saturdays.

If a designated inspector thinks a business violated the law, the inspector can sanction the owner for up to the amount earned on Saturday.

Breaking the law can carry a fine of up to a year in prison or an additional fine of at least NIS 4,000 for every time the law is violated.

The current law, passed in 1951, states that that a person cannot be employed on his or her day of rest – Saturday for Jews, Fridays for Muslims, Sundays for Christians – except for in special cases similar to the new bill, and employers may not refuse to hire someone who is unwilling to work on his or her faith’s day of rest. In addition, it says business owners should not open their businesses on the day of rest.

The new bill will go to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday, and will not be moved further in the legislative process until a committee of ministry directors-general reaches agreements, which is likely to moderate the proposal, due to objections from Kulanu.

Zohar called the bill “an impressive and historic achievement for the State of Israel, which will help the public and anyone who is interested in resting and enjoying time with his family on Israel’s weekly day of rest, which is Saturday.

The Likud MKs said he plans to speak with business owners, NGOs and anyone who thinks the bill will hurt them, so that the law will be fair to the entire public.

MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) said that the bill is “draconian and violates the status quo, which is why the Ministerial Committee chose to shackle it with a directors-general committee on the issue.

“The law will fulfil [Zohar’s] need in [Likud] primaries, as it was meant to, but will not enter the Israeli lawbooks,” she stated.

In the opposition, MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) accused the Ministerial Committee of approving the bill because, in a 61-seat coalition, they fear upsetting any one MK.

“This is a bizarre proposal that will end, divide and destroy the State of Israel from the inside, as if we don’t have enough other divisions and crises to fight over,” Razbozov said. “This proposal can lead to a civil war in Israel. Most Israeli Jews go out on Shabbat, shop on Shabbat and use their day of rest in a way that does not harm traditional people at all.”

According to Razbozov, the bill will harm soldiers, students and new immigrants who need to work on Saturdays to increase their income.

“If we don’t stop this bill, Israel will become Iran,” he added.

Ministers approve banning boycotters from entering Israel

Bayit Yehudi bill would also keep non-citizens or permanent residents who boycott settlements out of the country.

The cabinet’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Monday a bill that would deny entry to the country to anyone urging a boycott of Israel.

The initiative by MK Yinon Magal of Bayit Yehudi would bar any non-citizens or residents encouraging steps to embargo Israel from obtaining a visa or residency permit.

“It cannot be that someone who is trying to harm the State of Israel can enter it freely,” Magal said after ministers approved the bill, which must still obtain parliamentary approval before it becomes law.

Magal said anyone boycotting Israel was “employing terrorism” against the country, adding that “it is unthinkable that he would be allowed to move freely through the country.”

MKs from Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Likud have co-sponsored Magal’s initiative.

The measure defines boycott by the wording of a 2011 anti-boycott bill as any “deliberate avoidance of economic, social or academic ties or ties to a person or other body just because of his connection to the State of Israel, its institutions or regions under its control, in order to harm it economically, social or academically.”

The words “regions under its control” would make the bill, should it become law, applicable to people who call to boycott Israelis or their institutions in settlements or the West Bank.

The measure would permit the interior minister to make exceptions under special circumstances.

The bill’s explanatory portion points out that in recent years there has been an increase in calls to boycott Israel.

“It seems that [boycotts are] a new front in the war against Israel, for which the state, thus far, has avoided properly preparing,” it reads. “This bill is meant to prevent people or representatives of companies and organizations that call to boycott Israel to act within our territory to promote their ideas.”

The ministerial committee postponed a decision on a measure proposed by Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman to cut government campaign funding for political parties that either advocate boycotting Israel or have MKs who do so.

Liberman accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of asking for the delay “for not reason.”

“That is very typical of the prime minister, and it is unacceptable,” Liberman said.

The Joint List and Meretz could lose funding should such a bill become law.