Netanyahu will look to Trump and Republicans as routes back to power in Israel, experts say

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President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands while walking through the colonnade prior to an Oval Office meeting at the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

  • Netanyahu is set to be ousted as Israel’s prime minister after 12 years in power.
  • Experts say he’ll look to the US and Republicans as a path to his political revival.
  • His impending replacement is far less influential in the US, which could create some space for Biden.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After 12 years in power, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the verge of being ousted. Though he’s hit a low point in his historic career, experts and former US diplomats say Netanyahu will remain a force to be reckoned with and his political demise could actually push the Israeli leader to become more involved in US politics and elections.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has an outsized influence in the US – particularly with Republicans and Evangelicals. He garnered an especially close relationship with former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly took controversial steps on US-Israel relations that were in line with Netanyahu’s agenda and helped boost the Israeli leader’s profile.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Netanyahu] starts intervening in our own elections at a personal level and links himself to Trump more and Trumpism, and plays the Republican card,” Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, told Insider.

“Don’t underestimate that, because he’s not just going to focus on Israeli politics – he thinks he has a card to play in American politics. And I think he does, especially given our polarized political environment,” Telhami added.

Telhami said that people on the far right in the US looking for allies against the Biden administration could see Netanyahu as a top candidate in that regard. With the Democratic party increasingly divided over US-Israel relations, and progressives pushing for an approach that shows more concern for Palestinians, Netanyahu could look to the exploit the situation.

Netanyahu sees American politics as “part of his legitimization,” Telhami said, and “because he’s linked himself so tightly to Republican politics and even to Trump personally – and certainly Trump’s people like Jared Kushner and David Friedman – he’s going to be rooting for Republicans to win.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu show members of the media the proclamation Trump signed on recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights after their meeting outside the West Wing of the White House on March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The Israeli leader has already inserted himself into US affairs in ways that other world leaders wouldn’t dare to. As the Obama administration worked to finalize the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, for example, Netanyahu gave a speech before a joint session of Congress with the aim of torpedoing the agreement. Congressional Republicans invited Netanyahu to give the speech without consulting the White House, and the address was perceived as a major insult to then-President Barack Obama.

No longer being prime minister could potentially free Netanyahu up to be even more interventionist in the US, Telhami said, in the sense that he won’t have to be as mindful of the implications of his actions.

If the deal to form a new government made by a fragile coalition of eight opposition parties is ratified in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Sunday, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by Naftali Bennett, his former chief of staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party.

Bennett is considered to be even further to the right than Netanyahu.

He supports expanding Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexing most of the Palestinian territory – both considered illegal under international law. Bennett is also against a two-state solution, which has been the centerpiece of US policy toward Israel-Palestine for decades (though Trump’s approach to the region undermined that goal).

But if Israeli lawmakers vote to approve the tenuous coalition, much of Bennett’s energy will be spent on trying to keep the alliance together. Meanwhile, Netanyahu would concentrate his efforts on breaking the government apart.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

“At least in the short term, [Netanyahu] will be the opposition leader. That’s a position that has status and prominence in the Israeli system … In that role, he’ll travel to DC … and his voice will be heard. He’ll use it not only to express his views, but to try to put pressure on Bennett and into the coalition to try to split it apart,” according to a former US diplomat who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this topic.

Though Netanyahu will look to the US as a venue for his political revival, this does not necessarily mean the Biden administration will suddenly become preoccupied with the Middle East. President Joe Biden has not made the region a top foreign policy priority, and that’s unlikely to change. While Netanyahu has become a household name in US politics, Bennett is fairly unknown and doesn’t hold the same sway or influence.

“Assuming Bennett becomes prime minister, he’ll come to DC, he’ll do business with Biden. They will agree on some things, they’ll disagree on others. He’ll visit the Hill – but it won’t pack the same punch. That gives Biden some space,” the former diplomat said.

But as Biden learned via the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, neglecting the Middle East as a US president can have dire consequences.

In the meantime, the former diplomat said: “[Netanyahu] clearly has relationships and friendships or alliances with Republican politicians and Evangelicals. I’m sure there will be those who will continue to give him a platform and lift up his voice. The [Israeli] government will be shaky … There are definitely reasons why it could not survive and then he’ll have a shot to come back as prime minister. I don’t remove him from the story. He’ll still have a voice.”

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Naftali Bennett: The tech millionaire son of Berkeley ‘left-wingers’ who is poised to take over from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Naftali Bennett Ayelet Shaked
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked during a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2018.

  • Pending a Knesset vote, Naftali Bennett will become Israel’s next prime minister.
  • He was raised by two UC Berkeley graduates and has lived in Israel, Canada, and the US.
  • The right-wing multimillionaire was also controversially involved in the 1996 “Qana Massacre” of 106 civilians.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could soon be out of office after an unlikely coalition of eight opposition parties successfully reached a deal to form a new government.

If the coalition is ratified in Israel’s Knesset, Netanyahu will be replaced as prime minister by his former Chief of Staff and the head of the right-wing Yamina party- Naftali Bennett.

Bennett, an ultra-nationalist multimillionaire, would serve as prime minister for two years before handing over to the Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

With Bennett poised to take the reigns imminently, many are wondering who the prime minister-in-waiting actually is.

Read more: ‘Netanyahu owes his career to Hamas’ – ‘The Human Factor’ director Dror Moreh talks about the rise and fall of the Israel and Palestine peace process

Both of his parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley

Bennett was born in the port city Haifa in 1972. He descends from Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side and has Polish, German, and Dutch roots, according to Haaretz.

His parents, Myrna and Jim Bennett, are American but now live in Haifa. They visited Israel for a vacation after the Six-Day War in 1967 and ended up settling, according to The Jewish News of Northern California. Bennett’s father is a fifth-generation San Franciscan, the paper reported.

His parents are graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, and were “left-wingers” until they settled in Israel and embraced nationalism, his mother told Haaretz.

“In the US, we were against the Vietnam War. We went to Berkeley. We were automatically like left-wingers. When we came to Israel, I felt I loved the place I was living in,” she said in a 2013 interview.

Bennett and his two brothers, Asher and Daniel, were raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home in Haifa. A childhood friend told Haaretz that Bennett grew up in an atmosphere that was “very Zionist, right-wing.”

He attended a religious, co-educational school. He didn’t excel academically, according to a former teacher.

Naftali Bennett praying
Naftali Bennett prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in June 2013. He is a practising Orthodox Jew.

He was involved in the ‘Qana Massacre’ that killed 106 civilians

Bennett began his compulsory military service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1990. He served as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal – the special forces unit tasked with counter-terrorism missions and hostage rescue outside of Israel’s borders – and as a company commander of the elite Maglan unit, The Jerusalem Post reported. Maglan is a secretive reconnaissance unit that specializes in using advanced technology and weaponry behind enemy lines, according to Ynet.

His role in one military operation, known as the Operation Grapes of Wrath or the April Aggression, is particularly controversial.

In April 1996, Bennett was the commander of a Maglan unit of 67 soldiers. While in Qana, a village in Southern Lebanon, his unit came under mortar fire from Hezbollah fighters.

The attackers reportedly fled into a nearby United Nations compound sheltering hundreds of Lebanese civilians. Bennett radioed for support against the Hezbollah mortar team, according to The Times of Israel, and the IDF artillery strike fired 36 high explosive shells. But 13 shells struck the UN compound, killing 106 civilians in what is now called the “Qana Massacre.”

Qana Massacre 1996
An Israeli unit, commanded by Naftali Bennett, shelled a United Nations compound and killed 106 civilians in 1996.

In the lead-up to the 2015 Israeli elections, Israeli journalist Ravid Drucker cited an anonymous “senior army figure” report that said Bennett’s radio call for support was “hysterical” and showed poor judgment, The Times of Israel reported.

Bennett called Drucker’s charges a “vanity of vanities, nonsense, a pile of bulls–t.” Other officers familiar with the incident dismissed the charges and said that Bennett displayed “level-headedness,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Bennett would go onto boast of having killed many militants during his military service. “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that,” he said, according to The Washington Post. He claims to have been misquoted, Israeli media reported.

Bennett is still a reservist, ranked as a major, and was called up during the 2006 Lebanon War, The Australian said.

Bennett led Wikipedia workshops on how to make the website more Israel-friendly

After his military service, Bennett studied for a law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1999, he married his wife Gilat – a professional pastry chef from a secular Israeli family.

In the early 2000s, he moved to New York City to launch his career as a software entrepreneur and lived in the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan, The New Yorker reported. He co-founded an anti-fraud software company, Cyota, which he eventually sold in 2005 to RSA Security for $145 million.

He returned to Israel as a reservist in 2006 and then embarked on a political career. He served as Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff from 2006 to 2008. He also helped Netanyahu win his primary campaign to lead the Likud party in 2007.

In 2009, he became the CEO of Soluto – a now-defunct software company. He eventually stood down from the role to become director-general of the Yesha Council – a pro-settlement group of organizations.

In 2010, he co-founded a right-wing political organization, My Israel, with Zionist firebrand Ayelet Shaked. The group, along with the Yesha Council, worked to propagate right-wing Zionism online. They launched workshops to teach participants how to rewrite Wikipedia articles to make them more pro-Israel, The Guardian reported in 2010.

In 2012, Bennett left Likud – the party currently chaired by Netanyahu – and joined the Orthodox Jewish, pro-settlement Jewish Home party.

Naftali Bennett speaking as head of the Jewish Home party
In this Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 photo, Naftali Bennett, who was then the head of the Jewish Home party, speaks in Ashdod, Israel.

In 2013, he became the party leader with 67 percent of the vote and later won 12 seats in Israel’s Knesset. He renounced his American citizenship to join the Knesset, The Jerusalem Post reported.

He was appointed Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and, later, the Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, serving under prime minister Netanyahu.

While acting as a minister in these roles, Bennett sold Soluto for $130 million in 2013, according to Haaretz. He pocketed millions from the sale, the paper said.

In 2015, he was re-elected and became Minister of Education. In this role, he banned schools from inviting organizations that condemned Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank, Ynet reported.

Tensions between Bennett and Netanyahu

Bennett had previously viewed Netanyahu as his mentor. He looked up to him so much that he even named his eldest son, Yoni, after Netanyahu’s brother, who was killed in 1976, Reuters reported.

Their working relationship soured after a mysterious falling out in 2008 at the end of Bennett’s tenure as his chief of staff, according to The Washington Post. The argument was, according to Israeli media reports, related to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

A year later, they clashed again after Bennett criticized Netanyahu for slowing down settlement construction, the Post added.

In 2018, tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett escalated. Bennett wanted to be Defense Minister but was thwarted by Netanyahu, who then took the job for himself, Reuters reported.

Bennett announced that his party, Jewish Home, would leave Netanyahu’s government. He later reneged and remained in the coalition, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Naftali Bennett, left, in August 2016.

He then shocked the nation by splitting from Jewish Home and with Ayelet Shaked and other lawmakers to form the anti-Palestinian New Right party in 2018.

The party failed to win any seats, and the New Right formed an electoral coalition with several right-wing, religious parties to bolster their electoral chances. This became known as Yamina, which won seven seats in the March 2021 election under Bennett’s leadership.

Yamina’s core principles include opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, developing illegal settlements, and defeating terrorism.

Due to the logistics of coalition-forming in the Israeli political system, Bennett, with only seven seats, became known as the “kingmaker’ during negotiations to form a new government and set himself up to become the next Israeli prime minister.

As part of these negotiations, Bennett had to walk back on previous comments made about United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas – an Israeli-Arab politician who has joined the coalition.

Bennett had previously called Abbas a “supporter of terrorism,” but, now, the pair have become strange political bedfellows. This week, he called Abbas a “brave leader” and a “decent man” and said that the partnership would “turn over a new leaf in the relationship between the state and Arab Israelis,” Haaretz reported.

‘I told my kids their father will be the most hated person in Israel’

Those hoping that Netanyahu’s ousting will bring a substantive change to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may be left wanting. Bennett shares a similarly hardline, right-wing approach to security issues.

Several Palestinian officials told Al Jazeera that they expect Netanyahu’s replacement to pursue the same “Greater Israel” agenda.

Bennett favors the unilateral annexation of the occupied West Bank. “We have to mark the dream, and the dream is that Judea and Samaria will be part of the sovereign State of Israel. We have to act today, and we must give our lives,” he said in 2017.

But Bennett has said that, as part of his coalition agreement, he will not agree to the annexation of any West Bank territory or the building of new settlements, The Times of Israel reported.

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett speaks to the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 30, 2021.

He also opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he told The New Yorker in 2013.

Bennett holds a conservative viewpoint on social issues, including opposing same-sex marriage.

How he will find common ground between his ultra-nationalist, religiously conservative views and Lapid’s center-left, pragmatic approach is the focus of political discussion in Israel. When asked about this, his response is simple and ambiguous: “We’ll manage.”

Bennett is also already anticipating ferocious criticism and cries of betrayal for joining the coalition. He told Channel 12 News: “I told my kids that their father was going to be the most hated person in the country.”

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Rep. Ilhan Omar decries attacks on Jews while warning against equating ‘legitimate criticism’ of the Israeli government with antisemitism

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  • Rep. lhan Omar decried the recent spike in attacks on Jews in the US and abroad.
  • “Fighting bigotry of any kind means fighting bigotry of every kind,” she said.
  • Omar also warned against equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Wednesday denounced a recent spike in attacks on Jews in the US and abroad while warning against treating “legitimate criticism” of the Israeli government as synonymous with antisemitism.

“The rise in antisemitic attacks at home and abroad is appalling,” Omar tweeted. “We must be clear and unequivocal: antisemitism is unacceptable and has no place in any movement. Fighting bigotry of any kind means fighting bigotry of every kind.”

The Minnesota Democrat went on to say, “And it also means we cannot equate legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, its policy, and its military occupation with antisemitism. Connecting the actions of a foreign country’s government and military with an entire faith does nothing to keep the Jewish people safer.”

Omar’s tweets came after a group of Jewish Democrats in the House on Tuesday sent a letter to President Joe Biden decrying House lawmakers for calling Israel an apartheid state and accusing it of committing acts of terrorism. The letter didn’t explicitly name Omar or any other lawmakers, but she was among a group of progressive Democrats who employed such rhetoric regarding the Israeli government in over the past few weeks.

Top human rights groups, including the Jerusalem-based organization B’Tselem, have said that the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to a form of apartheid.

In a tweet amid the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, for example, Omar said, “Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.”

In response to this tweet, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released an ad superimposing Omar’s image over Hamas rockets and distorting her words – prompting condemnation from Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The letter sent to Biden also condemned Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of North Carolina for equating COVID-19 restrictions with the Holocaust, accusing her of making “blatantly antisemitic statements.”

Democrats are increasingly divided over US-Israel relations

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A woman gestures after finding her home collapsed after the cease-fire brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas in Beit Hanoun, Gaza on May 21, 2021.

There’s a growing schism in the Democratic party over US-Israel relations, with progressives like Omar urging the US government to take a more nuanced approach that shows more concern for Palestinians and human rights.

Progressive Democrats have sought to normalize criticism of the Israeli government, and a number of them – including Omar – were heavily critical of Biden’s response to the recent Israel-Hamas fighting. Biden offered full-throated support to Israel as airstrikes pummeled Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks, most of which were intercepted by the US-funded Iron Dome defense system. And the president initially tiptoed around offering any public support for a cease-fire.

As the fighting was still ongoing, Omar at one point said the administration was “devoid of empathy and concern for human suffering.”

The fighting killed over 250 people, predominantly Palestinians, including dozens of children.

With a cease-fire in effect as of last Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited leaders in the Middle East this week as part of an effort to ensure the fragile peace holds up. Among those Blinken met with was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people everywhere,” Blinken said on Tuesday after their meeting, underscoring that the US is committed “to working with the Palestinian people to realize these aspirations.”

During his visit to the region, Blinken announced that the US would reopen a consulate in Jerusalem to handle diplomatic relations with Palestinians, which was shut down under the Trump administration.

The top US diplomat also said the US was giving $110 million in new economic assistance to Palestinians, including $5.5 million in emergency assistance for Gaza. Blinken said this brings the total level of assistance to Palestinians from the Biden administration so far to over $360 million. The Trump administration, which unabashedly supported the agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, cut off virtually all assistance to Palestinians.

The US gives Israel roughly $3.8 billion in military aid per year, on top of selling it weapons. Democrats like Omar have called for the US to consider conditioning aid to the Israeli government in relation to the peace process and occupation of Palestinian territories. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York both recently introduced resolutions aimed at blocking a $735 million arms sale to Israel.

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Netanyahu rejects Biden’s call for de-escalation and says Israel’s Gaza offensive will continue

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Then-Vice President Joe Biden sits with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a dinner at the prime minister’s residence on March 9, 2010, in Jerusalem, Israel.

  • Netanyahu rebuffed Biden’s call for a de-escalation in Israel’s Gaza offensive.
  • The Israeli leader said the operation will continue “until its aim is met.”
  • This announcement came amid growing international calls for a cease-fire.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that he’s “determined” to continue the offensive in Gaza, rebuffing President Joe Biden’s call for an immediate and significant “de-escalation” in the fighting.

Netanyahu said the operation will continue “until its aim is met,” per the Associated Press.

The Israeli prime minister thanked the US for its support, but said the offensive will move forward in order “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”

The White House earlier on Wednesday released a readout of a call between Biden and Netanyahu that said the president told the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

Netanyahu has resisted growing international calls for a cease-fire. In a meeting with foreign ambassadors prior to his call with Biden, the Israeli prime minister said, “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

The Biden administration has tiptoed around the issue of a cease-fire, initially avoiding taking a public position on it. Amid mounting pressure in Washington from top Democrats, Biden on Monday expressed support for a cease-fire. His conversation with Netanyahu on Wednesday marked a gradual increase in the level of public pressure Biden is exerting on Israel. The president has faced criticism from progressives over his approach to the fighting, and particularly for not showing more concern for Palestinian civilians.

Israel has pummeled Gaza with airstrikes over the past 10 days, leveling residential buildings and displacing thousands of people in the process. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 58,000 Palestinians have been displaced as a consequence of the bombing campaign.

As of Wednesday, at least 219 Palestinians have been killed, including 63 children, per BBC News. Hamas rocket attacks have killed at least 12 in Israel, including two children.

Top human rights groups have raised concerns about potential war crimes committed by both sides during the fighting.

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Biden’s refusal to criticize Israel killing civilians undermines his pledge to prioritize human rights

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

  • Progressives and rights groups are calling out Biden over his response to Israel.
  • Biden has refrained from criticizing Israel over its approach to renewed fighting with Hamas.
  • Critics say Biden’s approach undermines his pledge to prioritize human rights.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden has refused to explicitly criticize Israel as it’s pummeled Gaza with airstrikes over the past week – killing dozens of Palestinian civilians in the process – and rights groups and some Democrats in Congress say it undermines his pledge to have a foreign policy centered on human rights.

Biden’s approach to the renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas over the past week has not marked a major departure from how past US presidents responded to flare ups in the Middle East conflict. The president has repeatedly touted Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas attacks, while ripping into the Palestinian militant group for firing rockets toward civilian areas in Israel. Twelve people in Israel, including two children, have been killed by the rocket attacks, per CBS News.

But Biden hasn’t publicly criticized Israel over its tactics in the fighting or the mounting number of civilian deaths in Gaza amid the offensive, which has included at least 61 children, according to Gaza Health Ministry. The death toll in Gaza has risen to at least 212 people.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International on Monday said Israel’s strikes exhibit “shocking disregard” for Palestinian civilians and “may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

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Palestinians carry the body of a child found in the rubble of a house belonging to the Al-Tanani family, that was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Biden has also refrained from addressing the central, underlying causes of the violence – Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, the economy-crippling blockade on Gaza, and efforts to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem. Top rights groups have characterized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid.

As Biden maintains the status quo, the conversation on Israel in Washington has changed. Democratic lawmakers are increasingly calling for a more nuanced approach to US-Israel relations. And critics are pushing Biden break from the tradition of unwavering support and call out Israel when it oversteps.

“That’s what’s missing in the statements coming from President Biden: You don’t hear the words ‘Palestinians deserve human rights, that Palestinians deserve to exist, that Palestinians deserve to live freely, that children need to be safe and secure,'” Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib said during an MSNBC interview on Monday.

“It’s shocking, the hypocrisy of us saying that we need to be stewards of human rights, except for Palestinians,” Tlaib went on to say. “I hope that my president, our president, speaks up and speaks truth about what exactly is happening, because I know they know.”

Tlaib accused Biden of “taking orders” from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that the president’s “passive language” is “enabling” Israel’s government. She urged Biden to “speak out against this violence in a very aggressive way that holds Netanyahu and his leadership accountable.”

After an Israeli airstrike on Saturday leveled a Gaza building that housed offices for media outlets like Associated Press and Al Jazeera, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unloaded on Biden. The New York Democrat excoriated the Biden administration for delaying the push a ceasefire and blocking the UN Security Council from releasing a statement that would condemn Israel over the Gaza offensive.

“This is happening with the support of the United States. I don’t care how any spokesperson tries to spin this. The US vetoed the UN call for ceasefire,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet. “If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to? How can they credibly claim to stand for human rights?”

Louis Charbonneau, the UN representative for Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy that the Biden administration “undermines its credibility” by not holding Israel to “the same international standard as everyone else.”

“U.S. credibility depends on an even-handed application of human rights rules and international law for everyone, allies and enemies alike,” Charbonneau said.

Human rights groups are also raising concerns about Biden’s uncritical approach, particularly due to the fact the US gives Israel roughly $3.8 billion in military aid per year.

“Hard for the Biden administration to claim a foreign policy grounded in human rights if it makes no effort to monitor how Israeli security forces are using US weapons and assistance,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet last week.

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Heavy smoke and fire surround Al-Sharouk tower as it collapses during an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City on May 12, 2021.

Democratic lawmakers and rights groups have also raised alarm about the Biden administration’s plans to move forward with a $735 million sale of smart bombs (precision-guided weapons) to Israel.

“Biden’s approval of a $735 million offensive arms sale to Israel in the midst of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law perpetrated by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups directly undermines his commitment to upholding human rights around the world,” Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. “By supplying weapons that could be used to commit war crimes, the U.S. government is taking the risk of further fueling attacks against civilians and seeing more people killed or injured by U.S.-made weapons.”

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in a statement on Monday said it would be “appalling” for Biden to move ahead with the sale. “We should be standing unequivocally and consistently on the side of human rights,” Omar said.

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Israel and Hamas aren’t trying to end their war. They’re trying to look strong.

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Israeli soldiers fire a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer toward the Gaza Strip, May 17, 2021.

  • Every few years, violence briefly erupts between Israel and Hamas and ends with a return the to the status quo.
  • Neither side has a vision of military resolution or a diplomatic solution, but they keep escalating in order to be seen as tougher than the other.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel and Hamas are locked in ever-escalating rounds of violence.

This is not new. Every few years, large-scale violence erupts for a few days or weeks and ends with a temporary ceasefire that essentially returns the situation to the same depressing status quo: The Gaza Strip besieged and devastated and the adjacent Israeli population in a constant fear of the next attack as well.

Though this is far from a symmetric conflict – Israel has vastly more military resources than Hamas – it is traumatic on both sides.

And neither side has a vision of either actual military resolution or a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

Israeli leaders know that pressing the offensive in Gaza will prolong the missile barrage on its towns and cities, including even Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, which in the past has not endured such ferocious rocket attacks. Hamas leaders know that the price the people of Gaza pay for their continued rocket launches is disproportionately high and rising.

So why keep escalating? Because the prize for each side is to be seen as tougher than the other. And there is no end to that contest.

Making the other side suffer

Gaza
Palestinians carry the body of a child from the rubble of a house that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on the town of Beit Lahiya, May 13, 2021.

The Gaza Strip is a tiny and densely populated strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2007, Hamas, which Israel defines as a terrorist organization but most Palestinians regard as a legitimate political party, has been the de facto ruler of the area.

Also since that year, Israel has been blockading the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, aimed across the border at Israel. The result has been an increasingly severe economic crisis, hunger and desperation in Gaza. Repeated rounds of violence did not fundamentally change this situation, and the current one is looking no different.

Israel’s main goal is to be seen as tough against its enemies, including Hamas. This isn’t done to achieve better lives for its Israeli citizens or even to advance national interests, but as a goal in and of itself, as demonstrated in a book Wendy Pearlman and I authored on the subject.

Despite the asymmetry of their forces, the mode of thinking is quite similar in the leadership of Hamas. That’s evident from the repeated rounds of violence that it initiates that result in no strategic achievement, but which enhance the prestige of Hamas as standing up to Israeli oppression.

And for both sides, reputation is not defined as showing resolve, resilience or perseverance. That could be accomplished by defensive means.

This boils down to a deadly calculus: The more the other side suffers, the better your reputation, no matter how much your side suffers as well.

Here’s how that works: An Israeli child is killed in a Hamas rocket attack on Sderot, just east of the Gaza Strip. Israeli rockets then pulverize a building in Beit Lahia a few miles away, killing four children from one family in the process.

Israel flattens a residential tower in the Gaza Strip. Hamas then increases the range and quantity of missiles launched toward central Israel.

And so it continues in a fatal tit-for-tat, with Israeli violence responding many times more intensely to each instance of Hamas violence.

Not rational

iron dome israel gaza palestine rockets
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 12, 2021.

Scholars generally see a country’s attempts to establish a reputation for resolve as part of a rational action to deter attacks by its enemy.

So, if either Israel’s leaders or those of Hamas think that their action would prevent future attacks by the enemy, this ferocity might make sense – regardless of its morality. But, as is obvious, neither sides’ actions do.

When actual victory is impossible and when the two sides are reluctant to engage in meaningful negotiation, the escalation is meant, instead, to create “a picture of victory,” as Zvi Bar’el, a news analyst for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz described it on May 12, 2021.

On May 11, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that the organization “achieved victory in the battle of Jerusalem,” referring to the conflict over eviction of Palestinians from their homes that started this round of conflagration. He said the organization has “set a new balance of power” against Israel.

Yet clearly, as Gaza is crumbling under the ferocity of Israel’s bombardments and Jerusalem remains firmly controlled by Israel, Hamas made no such achievements.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the Israeli leadership’s goals were “to bring long-term peace, strengthen the moderate forces in the region and deprive Hamas of strategic capabilities.”

Yet Israel’s actions, like previous rounds of violence, only strengthen the political and military power of Hamas, as evidenced by its ability to target more of Israel’s territory than ever before, and over a longer time period than before.

Israel’s citizens, in cities from Beer-Sheva in the south to Tel Aviv, farther north, continue to face a barrage of missiles from Gaza. And as the carnage in Gaza increases, the diplomatic damage to Israel is increasing as well.

Playing to their audience

Israel palestine attack gaza hamas
A man is pulled from a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, May 16, 2021.

What could be the purpose of the Israeli and Hamas leaders’ actions?

Their picture of victory is targeted solely at domestic audiences. Both Israel and Hamas frequently use the term “deterrence” when justifying their action against each other.

But their practice is not actually a rational attempt to sway the opponent’s action. It is not a rational attempt to make their own public more secure. It does not, therefore, serve to enhance deterrence. Convincing your own public that you have been victorious does not affect the degree to which your enemy is deterred.

For Israel, such distortion of the understanding of dynamics of deterrence is not new. Israel’s retaliation policy started in the 1950s as a fairly rational attempt at deterring enemies from threatening Israeli interests.

But then it became a “strategic culture,” or a habitual reaction to any attack on Israeli soil, whether that retaliation is likely to yield positive results or not.

Israeli bombing of Lebanese infrastructure during the 2006 war serves as a good example. As in that war, Israel attempts today in Gaza to achieve a picture of victory rather than concrete aims. And Hamas wants to achieve the same goal.

So long as the two sides are each aiming to convince their own public of their superiority, military ingenuity and resolve, and as long as the leaders on both sides do not care about the consequences of their actions, their citizens and the rest of the world – watching in horror – should expect no progress.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

Boaz Atzili, Associate Professor of International Relations, American University School of International Service

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Hamas denies Israel’s claim that it was operating out of a now-destroyed building where AP and Al Jazeera had offices

Al Jalaa tower
A thick column of smoke rises from the Jala Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021

  • Hamas says it wasn’t using a building housing prominent media outlets that Israel destroyed.
  • The building, which housed AP and Al Jazeera offices, was destroyed via a Saturday airstrike.
  • The recent fighting has killed at least 204 Palestinians and 10 Israelis.
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Hamas on Monday rejected the Israeli government’s assertion that the militant group was operating out of a Gaza building that housed prominent media outlets and was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike over the weekend.

“Hamas did not have any military or intelligence operations in Al-Jalaa Tower,” Basem Naim, a Hamas official who is the head of the Council on International Relations in Gaza, told The Intercept. Naim’s comments were the first official denial from Hamas to the international media regarding Israel’s claims about the strike.

“We don’t operate anything related to the military wing from civilian houses,” Naim said.

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera, which had offices in the now-destroyed building, have called for an independent investigation into the strike.

The Jerusalem Post, citing anonymous Israeli officials, in a report over the weekend said the US had been provided with a “smoking gun” proving Hamas was using the building.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he’d not personally seen any evidence backing up Israel’s claim that Hamas operated out of the building, and the White House has also not said whether it’s been provided with intelligence to back up Israel’s assertions.

“I’m not going to be in a position now or ever of committing or confirming who has or hasn’t seen intelligence,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said to reporters on the matter during Monday’s press briefing.

The Israeli government is facing growing criticism from human rights groups over airstrikes during the past week that have leveled several large buildings in Gaza.

“There is a horrific pattern emerging of Israel launching air strikes in Gaza targeting residential buildings and family homes – in some cases entire families were buried beneath the rubble when the buildings they lived in collapsed,” Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Monday. “Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian property and infrastructure are war crimes, as are disproportionate attacks.”

At least 204 Palestinians, including 58 children and 34 women, have been killed as the fighting has intensified since last Monday, according to Gaza’s health ministry, per Reuters. At least 10 people in Israel, including two children and a soldier, have also been killed.

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Blinken says he hasn’t seen evidence to back up Israel’s justification for bombing Gaza building that housed AP and Al Jazeera offices

Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

  • Blinken said he hasn’t seen evidence to back up Israel’s bombing of a Gaza building housing AP and Al Jazeera offices.
  • “I have not seen any information provided,” Blinken said on Monday.
  • Israel said Hamas operated out of the building, making it a legitimate target.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he hasn’t seen any evidence to bolster Israel’s justification for leveling a Gaza building that housed offices for prominent media outlets like the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

The Israeli government said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, was operating out of the building that was destroyed on Saturday.

“I have not seen any information provided,” Blinken said at a press conference in Denmark.

“Shortly after the strike we did request additional details regarding the justification for it,” Blinken said, adding that he “will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” whether it had shared intelligence with the US to back up the government’s claims. “Well, we pass it through the intelligence services to our people, to those people,” Netanyahu said.

“We share with our American friends all that intelligence and here’s the intelligence we had, it’s about Palestinian terrorist – an intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization housed in that building that plots and organizes the terror attacks against Israeli civilians. So it’s a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu said. “And I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries. In fact, no deaths, no injuries whatsoever.”

Netanyahu made these remarks in response to a question on a Jerusalem Post story that citing anonymous officials in Jerusalem stating that the US had been shown a “smoking gun” proving Hamas worked out of the building.

The Israeli leader underscored that Hamas has fired “thousands of rockets and missiles on our cities.”

Israel has responded to the rocket attacks by pummeling Gaza with airstrikes. The Israeli military has also said that its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted a majority of the rockets fired at Israel.

Since the fighting began last week, at least 200 people in Gaza have been killed, including 59 children and 35 women, BBC News reported, citing Gaza’s health ministry. At least 10 people in Israel, including two children, have been killed by the rocket attacks.

Amid the escalating violence, Israel has leveled multiple large buildings with strikes – including the tower housing AP and Al Jazeera offices on Saturday. Human rights groups have warned that Israel’s tactic of leveling buildings where civilians are located could constitute war crimes.

AP and Al Jazeera denounced Israel over the strike and called for an independent investigation.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt in a statement said the publication was “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza.”

Pruitt added, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, on Sunday told CNN that AP never had an indication that Hamas was operating out of the building.

“We are in a conflict situation,” said Buzbee. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”

“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday – an independent investigation,” she added.

Dr Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, in a statement called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable for its deliberate targeting of journalists and the media institutions.”

“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” Souag went on to say.

Joel Simon, executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists, in a statement said Saturday’s strike “on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.”

“We demand that the Israeli government provide a detailed and documented justification for this military attack on a civilian facility given the possible violation of international humanitarian law,” Simon added. “Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it.”

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Netanyahu says military campaign will continue despite increasing calls for ceasefire as Israeli airstrikes killed 42 people in Gaza Sunday

People inspect the rubble of a building in Gaza that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike
People inspect the rubble of the Yazegi residential building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said attacks against Hamas will continue at “full-force.”
  • Calls for a ceasefire have grown, including from the UN Secretary-General and a group of US senators.
  • At least 42 people, including 10 children, were killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday.
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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the country’s military campaign against the militant group Hamas will continue despite increasing international calls for a ceasefire.

Sunday also marked the deadliest attack in the latest round of violence, with at least 42 people killed in Gaza, including 10 children, according to the Associated Press.

Netanyahu appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and was asked how long the recent bout of attacks will continue.

“Well, we hope that it doesn’t continue very long, but we were attacked by Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “Thousands of rockets and missiles on our cities and I think any country has to defend itself and has a natural right of self-defense. We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet.”

He continued: “We’re trying to degrade Hamas’s terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it will take some time. I hope it won’t take long but it’s not immediate.”

Earlier reports indicated Israel could be headed towards a ceasefire, but during a televised address Netanyahu said the attacks would continue at “full-force,” AP reported.

Hamas attacks have also continued, as more rockets were launched from civilian areas of Gaza on Sunday with one hitting a synagogue.

Calls from the international community to end the violence have intensified. United Nations Secretary-General Antonie Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire during a UN security council meeting on Sunday, CNBC reported.

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said.

President Joe Biden has not called for an immediate ceasefire, prompting criticism from some Democrats, but his ambassador to the UN said during the Security Council meeting that the US is “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to end the attacks, AP reported.

In a joint statement Sunday, a group of 28 US senators, led by Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff, urged an immediate ceasefire “to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

AP reported that the latest round of attacks by Hamas and Israel have killed 188 people in Gaza, including 55 children, and eight people in Israel, including one child, as of Sunday.

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The Associated Press pushes back on Israel’s claim about Gaza media building, saying they had ‘no indication Hamas was in the building’

Smoke billows from a media building in Gaza that was struck by Israeli airstrikes
Smoke billows from a building housing various international media, including The Associated Press, after an Israeli airstrike on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Gaza City.

  • Israeli airstrikes destroyed a media building in Gaza housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
  • Israel said the building also contained military intelligence assets for the militant group Hamas.
  • But AP said they had “no indication” Hamas used the building and called on Israel to offer evidence.
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The Associated Press pushed back Saturday on the Israeli government’s claims that the militant group Hamas was operating in the media building in Gaza destroyed in an airstrike earlier that day.

The Al-Jalaa tower was home to several international media organizations, including AP and Al Jazeera, which were notified an hour before the building was flattened.

The Israeli Defense Forces released a statement saying the high-rise was being used by Hamas military intelligence, but AP said they had “no indication” Hamas operated from the building.

“We have called on the Israeli government to put forward the evidence,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement provided to Insider. “AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

Pruitt condemned the IDF for targeting the building, calling it a “disturbing development.” He also said the IDF has “long known” the tower was used by media and were aware journalists were present.

Pruitt said a dozen journalists and freelancers with AP were able to evacuate in time and that “we narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”

The IDF told Insider in a statement the building “housed Hamas military intelligence,” including a research and development unit that is responsible for terror activity carried out against Israel.

The IDF said the unit included subject matter experts who “operate the most valuable Hamas technological equipment against Israel” that has been used “in a number of incidents in attempts to sabotage and disrupt the actions of the IDF and of civilians in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”

The statement also acknowledged the building was used by media and said the IDF warned civilians so they could evacuate: “The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields.”

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiry about the claims that Hamas used the building.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday the White House contacted the Israeli military following the attack on the building.

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” Psaki said.

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