Kafe Knesset for August 14

The dramatic anti-Semitic images from the Charlottesville white supremacist rally took over Saturday’s headlines in Israel, but prompted only minimal reactions from Israeli politicians. The only official government response came from Naftali Bennett (yes, him again), who condemned the rally and called on US leadership to clearly denounce the anti-Semitic nature of the protests. “The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” Bennett said in a statement last night. Before Bennett, some members of the opposition also reacted, focusing on the inexplicit reaction from President Trump who placed the blame on both sides. Tzipi Livni tweeted that “hate kills and leadership must take a stand. There is no room for neo Nazi flags and KKK hoods in the free world.” Meretz MK Esawi Freij said that “President Trump’s weak condemnation only strengthened the racists feeling that they are not alone, that there is a man in the White House who does not disavow them.” The Prime Minister, however, chose not to address the hateful display of anti-Semitism yesterday at all at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, but he did respond to other news coming from the US – the arrival of the senior White House delegation lead by Jared Kushner later this month. “We will welcome them warmly,” Netanyahu said.

Iran again: While the media and the public are engaged in Bibi’s legal affairs, the strategic and security apparatus is preoccupied with the growing Iranian threat and the Israeli discontent with the South Syria ceasefire agreement. Iran topped the briefing that the Cabinet heard yesterday from the Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen. Cohen told ministers that the “the regional situation is changing against us.” Cohen said Israel identifies a massive expansion of Tehran’s influence in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, which is boosted by proxies like Hezbollah and other Shiite forces from around the world who are “flocking to the region” and filling in the post-ISIS void. During the briefing, the PM said that Cohen’s observations are “clear cut proof that the Iran deal’s basic assumptions were totally wrong.” Later on yesterday, Netanyahu also addressed the issue publicly. “ISIS is out – Iran is in. It’s very simple. We strongly oppose Iran and its proxies military strengthening, and first and foremost – Hezbollah in Syria. We will do anything it takes to keep Israel safe.”

As Haaretz reported last week, senior Israeli officials held secret talks with the US and Russia before the cease-fire deal, and presented Jerusalem’s reservations. Two senior Israeli officials told Kafe Knesset that there are ongoing efforts to convey Jerusalem’s concern with the permanent Iranian presence the agreement establishes. “It is the biggest challenge we are dealing with these days, and we are trying to create as much pressure as we can, though we are doubtful that our goals are being considered by the US,” one of them said. Another senior source told Kafe Knesset that “it appears that quiet diplomacy efforts are failing on this matter, no one is taking our concerns into account.”

Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett decided that quiet diplomacy is not enough. Bennett launched a Hasbara campaign last week in an attempt to rally US public opinion to Israel’s positions. First, he published a WSJ op-ed in which he warned of Iran’s intentions to use the Syrian post-war arrangements to expand to the Mediterranean. On Thursday evening, Bennett posted an English-speaking Facebook video in which he urged “to get together and stop Iran before it’s too late.” According to Bennett, “While we fight ISIS, the real danger is growing. Right now, Iran is building a Shiite corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean coast. This corridor is an Iranian dream. It is a highway to transfer weapons. It is a highway to transfer extremism. It will bring Iranian aircraft to striking range of Europe. It will bring Iranian ships and submarines to the Mediterranean.”

Consolidating power: Speaking of the Iranian threat, let us take you back in time, to the days when Ehud Barak was Defense Minister. At that time the biggest question on the agenda was whether Israel will bomb Iran or not. Reportedly, Netanyahu and Barak wanted the security establishment to prepare to take the plunge, but then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Meir Dagan refused, citing the law that says the full cabinet has to approve declarations of war or long-term military operations, not just the security cabinet. Now, Netanyahu wants to change the situation, according to Channel 2, and amend the law so that the smaller security cabinet can authorize going to war In practice, this is pretty much what happens anyway, but now Netanyahu can avoid opponents using legal technicalities to block him. Barak, who is usually Netanyahu’s biggest critic, tweeted that it is about time and that the dramatic reports are much ado about nothing.

Office hours: As things are calming down on the Temple Mount, Likud MK Yehudah Glick decided to put Jewish prayer rights on the Temple site back on the agenda. Glick opened his extra parliamentary office today at the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. The new office is in part a protest against Bibi’s policy to prohibit politicians from visiting the Temple Mount. This is a policy that several Arab MKs have managed to defy simply by not being that well-known. Glick, however, doesn’t have that option. Not only is he a redhead, he was a prominent activist for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount before entering the Knesset,. Glick survived an assassination attempt by a Palestinian who called him an “enemy of Al-Aksa,” the mosque on the Mount.

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