Benny Gantz’s Week of Surprises

David Green
David B. Green
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Jazi Isa, a member of the organizing committee for the Kafr Qasem memorial.
Jazi Isa, a member of the organizing committee for the Kafr Qasem memorial.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
David Green
David B. Green

Speculation about how long it will take for the government coalition to implode (or explode) continued to be a popular topic of interest this week, with some weird sniping between parties supposed to be partners only adding to the suspense. At the same time, one couldn’t help wondering, based on some of the statements coming out of Jerusalem and Washington, just when it is that relations between the two allies are going to return to an even keel – or if, perhaps, the days of Israel being a subject of political consensus in the U.S. are behind us.

At the center of much of the shouting was Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to declare six Palestinian human-rights groups terror organizations. Whatever the reasons for the move, and its timing, Gantz apparently caught both the U.S. government and his coalition partners by surprise, yet showed no inclination either of back down or even offering conciliatory words to those who felt broadsided. 

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Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli was probably the recipient of the nastiest swipe. After she publicly chided Gantz for not giving prior notice to other coalition members, particularly the left-wing Meretz and her own party, of what promised to be a controversial move, the defense minister’s Kahol Lavan basically told her to mind her own beeswax. Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg decried the “chauvinist” response.  

Concern over the NGO ban was heard from across the Atlantic as well, where the State Department was busy telling Israel it had some explaining to do. Perhaps even most galling to the Americans was the decision to advance construction of more than 3,000 housing units in the West Bank. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had issued prior warning against the decision, but his appeal was no more effective than Michaeli’s.

Friday is the 65th anniversary not only of the 1956 Sinai Campaign, when relations with the U.S. may well have reached its lowest point, but also of a shocking massacre carried out by Israeli security forces in the Arab village of Kafr Qasem. Forty-eight civilians were shot dead for being in violation of a curfew that had been announced only hours before (in conjunction with the start of the invasion of Sinai). 

Every year Arab MKs introduce a bill calling for official recognition by the state of the atrocity, and for it to be a subject of study in public schools. The event is not in dispute, and Israel’s last few presidents have gone to the trouble of visiting Kafr Qasem on the anniversary to offer their regrets, but the initiative is always voted down. This year, when MK Aida Touma Sliman, of the opposition Joint List, introduced a similar bill, it too was shot down decisively, by a vote of 93-12. The political jockeying over the bill between Arab politicians in the opposition and the coalition didn’t do much honor to the victims of the massacre, and what could have been a largely symbolic gesture that would cost nothing and bring belated satisfaction to the country’s Arab population became a lost opportunity – and this, ironically, coming in the same week when the government gave its approval to a 30 billion shekel expenditure, over five years, to improve conditions in the Arab communities. 

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