They smell blood. And it's Netanyahu's.
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As the prime minister flails in a sea of scandal, the hardline Israeli politicians who now hold all the keys to Netanyahu's slipping grip on power are moving quickly to remake Israeli governance as quickly and as radically and as permanently as possible.
In Hungary, meanwhile, Netanyahu's political desperation is being exploited to recruit him to the 2018 electoral campaign of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party, widely seen as racist, ultra-nationalist, Muslim-hating and - most recently and most relevantly to Netanyahu – vehemently anti-Semitic.
In rapid succession, a range of new Israeli government measures which could have the effect of sharply alienating the wider Jewish world from Israel, are being advanced by Netanyahu and his ministers.
In effect, Netanyahu is establishing a whole new start-up nation: Israel, the Anti-Jewish State.
Among the Netanyahu government's more immediate moves:
- A revived and darkly revised version of the already controversial Nation-State Bill, which may not only downgrade the status of the concept of democracy in Israel, it may eliminate democracy altogether from the definition of the state. The change in the draft text was reportedly made at the behest of ultra-Orthodox parties.
The draft bill, which may also state that in Israel “the right to realize national self-definition is reserved exclusively to the Jewish people" is also expected to downgrade Arabic from its present official status as an official language alongside Hebrew.
- Imposition of a blacklist and travel ban against leftist activists, many of them Jews, who have declared support for boycotts against Israel, or against the settlements – or who have been informed on by rightists as supporting boycotts, whether there is proof of this or not.
- Rejecting pleas by Hungarian Jews to cancel a planned meeting next week with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Netanyahu has gone full speed ahead in supporting and joining an orchestrated incitement campaign widely viewed as anti-Semitic.
The campaign centers on Budapest-born American Jewish financier George Soros, a Holocaust survivor and donor to leftist causes. Orbán and his party have made Soros the focus for thinly veiled Jew hatred.
Netanyahu has pointedly avoided condemnation of Orban's recent praise for Hitler ally and World War II Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, whom Orban has hailed as among Hungary's "exceptional statesmen."
On Tuesday, keen to divert attention away from alleged graft involving a submarine deal with Germany, Netanyahu stepped up his own domestic campaign against Soros.
"Israel is duty-bound to protect any Jew from anti-Semitism," wrote columnist Dror Eydar in Netanyahu's house organ, the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom newspaper. "But Israel is not obliged to turn the other cheek just so it can defend someone who hates it and wants to undo its Jewish character," Eydar continued.
"In that regard, the fight against Soros is also a fight against anti-Semitism."
In amplifying the attack on Soros, the prime minister effectively joined forces not only with Hungarian anti-Semites, but also with large swathes of the American alt-right, which has long vilified Soros as the embodiment of the left-supporting Jewish financier bent on world domination.
But that wasn't all.
In an adjacent article, Israel Hayom hailed Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar's new "Soros Bill," which, the paper said, "aims to prevent individuals who donate funds to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement from donating to Israeli organizations."
"The time has come to dry up the [resources] used by leftist organizations that undermine the government, slander Israel and try to infringe on its right to defend itself," the paper quoted Zohar as saying. "We must block their funding sources and prevent them from undermining the country."
The article included a graphic from the right-wing NGO Monitor organization showing what it said were Soros' donations to Israeli NGOs including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem, Machsom Watch and Breaking the Silence.
It noted that after Orban praised Hitler ally Horthy, "Initially, Israel expressed alarm, but then quickly accepted the Hungarian government's explanation that Orban had zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and was not suggesting everything Horthy did was positive."
The Israel Hayom articles followed the bizarre events of the weekend, when the Foreign Ministry, which initially condemned Orban's anti-Semitism campaign, was ordered by Netanyahu to issue a retraction. But not just any retraction. The retraction concluded with a strident denunciation of Soros, as well as backing for Orban's campaign against the Jewish American financier.
“In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself," the ministry's retraction said.
Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel presents: The Protocols of the Elders of Zionism.
The political moves come as Netanyahu's ship of state is taking on water from a number of directions at once.
A Netanyahu-championed deal to purchase German submarines for the Israeli navy has abruptly run aground amid multiple arrests of Israeli officials, as well as speculation that David Shimron, Netanyahu's lawyer, confidante, adviser - and his cousin to boot - may have acted improperly as a representative of the company slated to build the subs.
Just when he needs them, Netanyahu's lifelines are fast fraying. One of them, the possibility, or threat, of an alliance with Isaac Herzog, fell away a week ago when the Labor Party dropped Herzog as its leader.
At the same time, the lifeline to the North American Jewish community was badly damaged late last month. Given a choice between standing up to ultra-Orthodox extortion on the trigger issues of egalitarian prayer at Jerusalem's Western Wall and Orthodox control of conversions to Judaism or standing by explicit commitments to American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu chose the ultra-Orthodox, and betrayal.
In the end, if the support for the Hungarian anti-Semitism campaign raises the question of whose side Netanyahu is really on, it answers it as well.
There is only one side. It is the side - whatever side that may happen to be – that keeps Benjamin Netanyahu in power.