Opinion

Netanyahu Marks Scapegoat as His Coalition Stabs Israel in the Back With Land-grab Law

Instead of imploring his colleagues to cease and desist, the prime minister portrays Breaking the Silence as the true February Criminals.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at 10 Downing Street for a meeting in central London on February 6, 2017 with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Ben Stansall/AFP

The law for the expropriation of private Palestinian lands, approved by the Knesset on Monday, is unwise, unjust and unconstitutional. It infringes on the right to property, violates equality before the law and undermines the stature of Israeli courts. It constitutes the first time the Knesset has passed legislation about land in Judea and Samaria, as opposed to the Jewish settlers who live there. It will be construed as creeping annexation and as a violation of international law, and could be used to bring Israel and Israelis before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

All of these objections to the new law were not voiced in recent weeks by Israel-hating, BDS-loving anti-Semites, but by the prime minister, the defense minister, legal advisers from the attorney general on down, and many members of the Knesset, including the Likud’s hawkish Benjamin Begin, who called it a “theft law.”

If this is the view of such great patriots in Jerusalem, it’s not hard to predict how other world capitals – with the possible exception of Donald Trump’s White House – are bound to react.

Just imagine what you would feel if Beijing expropriated private Tibetan land for Chinese settlers, or if the Kremlin uprooted Ukrainians in Crimea on the pretext that the land belongs to Mother Russia. Remember how we were once appalled when South Africa told us that apartheid is actually good for the natives – just like Israeli parliamentarians are trying to convince us now that the "Regularization Law," as it’s euphemistically dubbed, is great for Palestinians.

Not to mention the historical traumas associated with the claim that the new law will be perceived as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, formulated in 1949 as a response to Nazi and Japanese war crimes. The hasbara disaster is inevitable.

Nonetheless, hours before the Knesset vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t issue a last-minute appeal to his coalition partners or his party members not to inflict such harm on Israel or its image. Instead, he voluntarily told journalists accompanying him on his trip to London that he would implore Prime Minister Theresa May to stop British contributions to the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.

The message Netanyahu wanted to convey – for which the phrase “insult to intelligence” is a compliment – was crystal clear: Israel won’t be harmed by the prime minister’s weakness or by inflammatory statements made by Israeli politicians or by the unilateral seizure of private Palestinian property.

The threat of indictment by the International Criminal Court is not related, in this version of reality, to creeping annexation of the West Bank or to the denial of basic civil rights for Palestinians or to this patently unconstitutional law. No, the real February Criminals, it turns out, are the ex-Israel Defense Forces soldiers of Breaking the Silence who inform the world about the occupation.

For an accomplished inciter like Netanyahu, this is a rather pathetic effort, as are the facts substantiating it. The last time the British government gave money to Breaking the Silence was in 2011, when the British Embassy transferred about $30,000 to the group. Since then it has received grants randomly from British NGOs that are partially funded by the London government, though not controlled by it.

The sums are a small fraction of the group’s income, and in any case less than half the price of the Cuban cigars and pink champagne that Hollywood producer Arnon Milkman produced for the Netanyahu household over the same time period.

In 2016, Breaking the Silence received $15,000 from Britain, a sum that Netanyahu implies is significant enough to take up precious moments of talks with his British counterpart – assuming that he indeed raised the issue with May and not just the press.

Netanyahu is sticking to his familiar diversionary tactics and his well-known routine of inciting against the left in order to save himself. It’s manna from heaven, of course, for Breaking the Silence, a small organization that has been cynically inflated by Netanyahu and his ministers to look like a menacing monster. It’s even possible that Netanyahu’s stale ploy can still bamboozle chronically gullible right-wing dupes.

For Israel, however, it’s unfortunate: While Israel stabs itself in the back and does its enemies’ work for them by tarnishing the country’s image, its leader is engaged in preparing an alibi and singling out a scapegoat.