Fearing Retribution From Netanyahu, Israeli Settlers Nix Panel on Corruption

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem, December 6, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem, December 6, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Officials in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion announced on Wednesday that they are canceling a community panel discussion on government corruption that had been scheduled for Saturday.

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The panel was organized by Yoaz Hendel, a former communications director in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. Hendel also organized a right-wing protest against government corruption in Jerusalem last month.

Internal correspondence from the settlement’s management committee shows that community officials were concerned about a backlash from the prime minister if they went ahead with the program. The correspondence shows that the officials were worried that if they held the discussion, Netanyahu would put a halt to development and construction in Kfar Etzion, which is part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. A new municipal plan was recently approved for the settlement, and the government is moving forward with plans for a new neighborhood there.

The cancellation of Saturday’s program, which was billed as focusing on integrity and leadership, provoked the anger of some local residents who called the move a “hysterical” reaction that runs counter to democratic values. Those who opposed said the management committee’s concern resulted in censorship of positions critical of the prime minister. Despite several residents’ objections, the management committee stood by its decision.

Several rabbis were scheduled to appear on the panel along with Malka Piotrkovsky, a scholar of halakha, or religious Jewish law. The program, which was planned as a follow-up to the Jerusalem anti-corruption demonstration, was to be moderated by a local resident who initiated it along with Hendel.

The program was organized a week ago, but on Wednesday evening the Kfar Etzion management committee convened a special session and subsequently informed the program’s moderator that the panel had been canceled, Hendel said. “Anyone who is afraid of holding a debate about integrity has a major problem,” he told Haaretz.

Before approaching Kfar Etzion to host the program, Hendel said he contacted two other communities that rejected the request out of hand. He refused to disclose which communities he had approached. Officials from Kfar Etzion have not yet responded to a request for comments on this report.

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