Our government is playing games with itself. And losing.
On Wednesday Chaim Levinson reported in Haaretz that for the first time in nearly two years, last week the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria approved new building plans for a small number of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Levinson also reported that last month Jerusalem’s municipal planning and building commission gave final approval to plans to build nearly 900 housing units in the southern neighborhood of Gilo. Initial approval was granted back in 2012.
But in the intervening three years, the commission refused to allow them to go forward.
From the report, we learn that the government’s critics in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria who claimed that it was barring Jewish building were right all along. Despite the government’s denials, the fact is that for at least the last year and a half, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers maintained an undeclared freeze on construction for Israeli Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
During this period, Jews have only been permitted to build in these areas either on the basis of plans that had received final approval before the unofficial freeze took effect, or in cases where refusal to approve building would have involved admitting that a freeze was in effect. So, for instance, in areas where the rights of Jews to their property in Judea and Samaria have been challenged before the Supreme Court by EU-financed Israeli NGOs like Yesh Din, the government has defended those rights and so given permission for Jews to exercise their property rights.
The government opted to enact this unofficial building freeze, and so trample the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, in the hopes of convincing the Obama administration to protect Israel from Palestinian efforts to pass anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council.
It might have been possible to justify the government’s behavior – or at least to understand it – if it had brought about the hoped for benefits.
If President Barack Obama had responded to Netanyahu’s radical concession by burying the hatchet and supporting Israel at the UN and on the international stage more generally, then perhaps the move would have been worth it.
But that didn’t happen. Over the past 18 months, the administration – backed by much of the Israeli Left – has escalated its anti-Israel policies and rhetoric. Even as the government curtailed the property rights of Israeli Jews in the hopes of appeasing him, Obama along with Secretary of State John Kerry has led the charge in wrongly blaming Israel for the absence of peace with the Palestinians.
Obama and Kerry have engaged in acts of deliberate libel by falsely accusing Israel of institutional racism against the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
As for the UN, both Obama and Kerry – along with their advisers – have repeatedly threatened to allow anti-Israel resolutions to be passed in the Security Council.
The message the administration is sending through its continued aggression is plain to see. It has no interest in being appeased by Israel, and as a result, no concessions Israel makes will satisfy it or diminish its desire to downgrade the US-Israel alliance and weaken Israel diplomatically.
Obama’s beef is not with building for Jews beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Attacking Jewish building is merely a means for attacking Israel.
In the absence of such building, Obama and his advisers have been quick to make up new excuses for condemning Israel.
The undeclared and unrewarded building freeze isn’t the only policy the government has implemented to the detriment of Israel’s national interest in the unfounded hope of satisfying hostile foreign governments.
There is also its policy in regard to Israeli-registered NGOs that operate as agents of foreign governments in their efforts to subvert the government and harm the state.
According to a report published earlier this month by NGO Monitor, between 2012 and 2014, foreign governments transferred a whopping NIS 169,728,500 to 27 organizations registered as Israeli nonprofits. Foreign government funding comprised 65 percent of overall funding for these highly political, anti-Israel groups.
Twenty of the 27 groups in question receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments either directly or through third party organizations. Since these groups are registered as nonprofits, the funds they receive from foreign governments are tax exempt. In other words, Israeli taxpayers are subsidizing agents of foreign governments.
These groups, which include the likes of B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Adalah, work together and separately in a bid to make it impossible as a practical matter for Israel to defend itself against terrorist groups or to respect the civil rights of its Jewish citizens, including their rights to property and self-defense. Moreover, they work to criminalize Israel’s leaders and soldiers internationally while promoting BDS.
Given their activities and goals, it is self-evident that these groups are a threat to the national interests of Israel. They cause it great harm both domestically and internationally.
As the public’s awareness of the threat posed by these foreign government-funded groups has grown in recent years, Knesset members have repeatedly introduced legislation geared toward curbing their activities.
Not surprisingly, given the fact that foreign governments – principally from the EU and its member states – are funding and so directing the actions of these groups, each time the Knesset tried to rein them in, those efforts have been immediately and viciously attacked by the governments of Europe, the EU, the Obama administration, the groups themselves, the international media and the Israeli Left.
Each time, the attacks have been the same. The foreign governments and their allies in the media and the Israeli Left, including their employees, have insisted that any move by the Knesset to restrain, regulate or otherwise expose their hostile activities constitutes nothing less than a deadly assault on Israeli democracy.
The criticism is absurd on its face, and represents pure projection. After all, it is hard to imagine a more direct assault against a nation’s democratic system than foreign governmental funding of domestic groups whose goal is to delegitimize and vilify their government and country.
These ridiculous attacks on government attempts to regulate the actions of foreign-funded anti-Israel groups beg for an unapologetic counter assault from the government. Distressingly, rather than strike the necessarily blow, time after time the government has crumpled.
One after another, NGO bills have been abandoned or watered down to the point of fecklessness.
Today Israel is being subjected yet again to the coordinated assault of the phony “champions of democracy.” As in the past, the Obama administration has joined forces with the EU, the Israeli Left and the Western media to attack the government for its support for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s NGO Transparency Bill.
Given the unhinged nature of the attacks, one could reasonably assume that this time, the government is serious. But alas, as in the past, one would be wrong.
There is nothing in Shaked’s bill that will do significant damage to either the Israeli groups or their foreign governmental funders. For instance, Shaked’s bill does not remove these groups’ nonprofit status. Under the Shaked bill, foreign government- funded groups that vilify the IDF and its soldiers like Breaking the Silence will continue to enjoy the same tax exemptions as real nonprofits like the IDF’s widows and orphans fund.
Shaked’s bill only treats as foreign agents organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments. But the distinction between Yesh Din, which receives 93% of its funding from foreign governments, and Machsom Watch (of which Yesh Din is a spinoff), which receives 47% of its funding from foreign governments, is entirely arbitrary. Both groups are beholden to foreign governments. Both are foreign agents.
Like its decision to freeze Jewish building projects, the government’s decision to water down the NGO Transparency Bill was clearly motivated by its hope of winning points with hostile governments. It is hard not to sympathize with this hope. But the fact that it comes from an understandable impulse doesn’t make the government’s behavior rational. As the unhinged criticisms directed at the bill from the US and EU make clear, they are not impressed, indeed they couldn’t care less about the government’s attempt to mollify them by advancing a bill devoid of substance.
The lesson from these miserable experiences is clear enough. Since Israel is going to be attacked no matter what it does, we might as well do things that advance our interests.
Since we will be vilified for building “settlements” even when the government freezes construction, we might as well build settlements.
Since the price for expanding existing buildings is the same as the price for building new neighborhoods and communities, there is no reason to pay full price for a fraction of the benefit. Indeed, since the Obama administration and the EU plan to attack us no matter what we do, we might as well go ahead and apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and Gush Etzion.
Likewise, since the same forces will viciously condemn us for advancing legislation that will do nothing to curb their funding for Israeli agents or curtail the hostile actions of those agents, we might as well get viciously attacked for doing something to curb their funding and curtail their actions. Given the ferocity of the criticism Israel is enduring over the Shaked bill, it makes sense to redraft the bill and turn it into something useful.
We get it. The Obama administration and the EU aren’t attacking Israel because we did something wrong. They’re attacking us because they want to hurt us. That is their goal. Recognizing this sorry truth, the public elected the Likud and its coalition partners to defend our interests and our rights. Hope is not a strategy. Building new communities and neighborhoods, expanding the writ of Israeli law and curtailing the activities of subversive foreign agents is a strategy. And a good one.