Quarterly Updates for (1 Apr 2019 — 30 Jun 2019)

Israeli Campaigns in Syria

                Israel continued bombing targets in Syria this quarter after the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to bombing targets in Syria in January for the 1st time (see Israel 1 January- 30 March 2019). The 1st bombing this quarter was in April when Israeli jets, according to Syria, injured 6 Syrian soldiers and destroyed several buildings in Hama Province. In May, Israel acknowledged bombing Syrian positions in Quneitra on 27 May, killing 1 Syrian soldier and injuring 1 other. On 1 June, a missile fired from Syria and hit a ski resort in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, causing damage to a ski lift. Israel acknowledged that it had hit a target in Syria, which, according to Syrian media, killed 3 Syrian soldiers and injured 7 others. 2 days later, Israel, according to Syrian state media, hit the T-4 air base near Homs, believed to house Syrian, Russian, and Iranian military personnel and equipment. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization linked to the Syrian opposition, said that at least 5 were killed in the airstrike, including Syrian soldiers.

                While Israel continued its campaign in Syria, the remains of an Israeli soldier killed in 1982 were returned to Israel from Syria on 3 April. Russia played a role in retrieving the body, which was found in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. While Syria denied having anything to do with retrieving the remains of the Israeli soldier, Israel later in April released 2 Syrian Fatah operatives to Syria as a “gesture of goodwill.”

Israeli Elections

                The Israeli general elections took place on 9 April and resulted in a new round of elections scheduled for 17 September as neither of the frontrunners—Prime Minister Netanyahu from the Likud Party nor Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party—were able to form a coalition. After the results of the elections were announced, Netanyahu was expected to be able to form a coalition and was tasked by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin to form a government, but failed to gain support from would-be kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman as Netanyahu and Lieberman could not agree on a bill pushed by Lieberman that would make military service mandatory for ultra-Orthodox men. After 28 days of seeking to form a government, Netanyahu was granted an extension of 14 days, after which he gave up and the Knesset was dissolved by its members, leading to a new round of elections.

                Before the elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in an effort to rally right-wing support, told Israel’s Channel 12 News on 6 April that he would start extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, effectively annexing it. He further stated, “I will not divide Jerusalem, I will not evacuate any community and I will make sure we control the territory west of Jordan.”

                During the general election, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party Likud handed 1,200 cameras to right-wing activists in Palestinian areas of Israel in a bid to scare off Palestinian citizens of Israel from voting in the elections. The Central Elections Committee’s legal counsel said that such filming of polling stations was illegal and Israeli police confiscated some of the cameras. After the elections, the PR firm hired by Netanyahu bragged on Facebook that its scheme to hand out the 1,200 cameras had “lowered the voter turnout to under 50 percent [among Palestinian voters], the lowest in recent years.” The post was accompanied by a picture of the heads of the PR firm with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

                After Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to form a coalition and the Knesset was dissolved, he fired Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who both failed to get enough votes to enter the Knesset. Shaked was replaced by Amir Ohana, who supports granting Netanyahu immunity in the legal cases against him (see below) and has called Muslims “culturally murderous.”

Netanyahu’s Legal Trouble

                The Israeli attorney general Avichai Mendelblit agreed to a request made by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lawyers to postpone the pre-indictment hearings in the 3 cases pending against him until the beginning of October (for more about the 3 cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu, see Israel 1 January – 31 March). Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu entered a plea deal on 12 June in a fraud case against her. Under the plea agreement, Netanyahu will repay $12,522 to the Israeli state treasury and a fine of $2,867.

Trump Heights

                After U.S. president Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights in March (see United States 1 January – 31 March), Prime Minister Netanyahu announced on 23 April that Israel would name a new settlement after the U.S. president. On 16 June, the new settlement in the Golan Heights, Ramat Trump [Trump Heights], was inaugurated with the participation of U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Because Netanyahu’s government in June was temporary due to the failure to form a new government, the new settlement could not be officially approved.

Discrimination Against Palestinians in Israel

                Residents in the Israeli town of Afula, including the city’s mayor, protested on 15 June the sale of a home to a Palestinian family. A council member of the city said, “We don’t have a problem cooperating with Arab businesses, but we won’t have them live here. We stand by the residents in this protest . . . Afula must remain a Jewish city.”

                The Israeli supreme court ruled that the Israeli education ministry had to translate the matriculation exam in geography into Arabic. High school teachers who had seen the exam before it was to be held had noticed that names on maps and text accompanying the maps had not been translated into Arabic.

                3 of 4 hospitals accused of segregating Jewish and Palestinian women at their maternity wards admitted in court to the segregation, saying it was done upon the women’s request. The 4 hospitals were sued by Palestinian women in May 2018. Their lawsuit included a recording of a nurse saying, “If there is pressure, we do mix the women, but try to separate them the next day.”

                The emergency and security department of the Jerusalem Municipality issued instructions to Jerusalem kindergartens and preschools, saying that, “outsiders may not enter kindergarten premises . . . as a rule, entrance is not permitted to minority groups [non-Jews].”

                The Israeli state comptroller said in his annual report, published in May, that Israeli government ministries have neglected the housing problem in Palestinian communities in Israel. The state comptroller found that only $1.4 million had been allocated to build a large number of public institutions and that laws requiring representation of minorities in district planning committees had not been implemented.

Deporting Human Rights Advocates

                The Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch Omar Shakir had his petition to halt his deportation from Israel rejected by the Jerusalem district court on 16 April. Shakir had his residency permit revoked in May 2018 because of accusations by the Israeli ministry of interior that claim he promotes boycotts of Israel. Human Rights Watch released a statement saying that neither Shakir nor the organization promotes boycotts of Israel and that its advocacy focuses solely on the occupied territories. Shakir’s lawyer said that they would appeal the decision. The United Nation human rights commissioner’s office said that the ruling “threatens advocacy, research and free expression for all and reflects a troubling resistance to open debate.” The European Union similarly expressed concern over the ruling and urged Israel to allow Shakir to continue his work unimpeded.

Memorial Day Ceremony

                A joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv, organized by the NGO Combatants for Peace, was attacked by Prime Minister Netanyahu who ordered a ban on the 181 Palestinian applicants from going to Israel from the West Bank, preventing them from participating. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ban was overturned less than a week later when Combatants for Peace petitioned the Israeli supreme court. After the ban was overturned, Netanyahu tweeted that “[t]here is no place for a memorial ceremony that equates our blood with the blood of terrorists.” During the ceremony, which was held on 7 May, right-wing Israeli protesters tried to burn a Palestinian flag, threw objects at participants, and yelled “traitors,” “kapos,” and Nazis” at the Palestinians and Israelis attending the ceremony.

Israeli Company Influencing Foreign Elections

                An Israeli political consulting and lobbying firm, Archimedes Group, was banned from operating on Facebook after the social media site found 65 Israeli accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups, 12 events, and 4 Instagram accounts seeking to influence elections across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. According to a Facebook press release, Archimedes Group spent some $812,000 on ads that ran from December 2012 to April 2019.