New Israel Feud: 7 things to know for April 4
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New Israel Feud: 7 things to know for April 4

After reversing his position on migrants, the prime minister locks horns with a left-wing NGO he claims plotted with the Rwandan government to thwart deportations

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference announcing a new agreement for handling asylum seekers in Israel, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference announcing a new agreement for handling asylum seekers in Israel, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. The short-lived agreement with the UN on resettling African asylum seekers has morphed into a polar opposite of itself over the past two days, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only canceled the deal and lashed out at prominent left-wing organization whose connection to the deal was vague at best, but was also seeking to introduce a multitude of new measures on the issue.

  • Haaretz reports that the prime minister wants to examine new potential host countries to which Israel could forcibly deport the migrants, after he admitted on Monday that the original target country, Rwanda, had rejected the plan.
  • The prime minister is also planning legislation to bypass the High Court of Justice’s recent ruling blocking deportations, according to Hadashot news.

2. Netanyahu was said to be applying pressure on his coalition partners, especially Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, to support the legislation.

  • Israel Hayom’s reporters subtly raise the possibility that the prime minister anticipated Kahlon would reject the plan, quoting a mysterious “political agent” who suggests that Netanyahu wanted to “embarrass” Kulanu’s leader, who has in the past opposed any Knesset bills that clash with court rulings. This would allow Netanyahu to place the blame for the failure of such legislation on Kahlon, rather than having it almost certainly being struck down by the attorney general in the future.
  • Alas, if so, sources close to Kahlon said Tuesday evening he would back such legislation on the matter of migrants. “If Netanyahu wishes it, we can pass the bill tomorrow,” they said.

3. Hadashot further reports that Netanyahu is seeking to reopen the Holot detention facility in the Negev, which had been shuttered since mid-March in anticipation of the planned deportations.

  • Holot opened on December 12, 2013, following a number of government decisions aimed at reducing the concentration of asylum seekers in cities. It was originally envisioned as a detention center to encourage illegal migrants to leave Israel or face detention.
  • In the four years since the center opened, approximately 13,000 male illegal migrants have spent time there.
  • After human rights organizations petitioned the High Court, justices ruled that no one could be imprisoned at Holot for more than 12 months.

4. In what is seen by some as an unabashed attempt to divert attention from the fiasco surrounding the migrant deal and its cancellation, Netanyahu also called for the establishment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the activities of the New Israel Fund, which he blamed for the failure of Israel’s plan to deport African migrants from the country. He also claimed the NGO “endangers the security and future of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

  • The prime minister claimed the NIF put pressure on Rwanda to reject Jerusalem’s proposed resettlement of African migrants in the country, forcing him to seek other solutions. He provided no proof of the left-wing NGO’s involvement in Rwanda’s alleged scrapping of the agreement.
  • The New Israel Fund, for its part, firmly denied the allegations. “The New Israel Fund did not pressure the Rwandan government to refuse to participate in Netanyahu’s cruel mass deportation plan,” Daniel Sokatch, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “We did support massive numbers of Israelis standing up for what is right and demanding action from their own government.”
  • For the record, Netanyahu once proposed a probe into the funding Israeli NGOs receive from foreign governments. However, the Knesset’s chief legal adviser, unsurprisingly, shot down the idea, saying that the move was “politically motivated” and therefore unfit for treatment by a parliamentary inquiry committee.

5. Naturally, the prime minister’s attack on the NIF was condemned by left-wing politicians.

  • “If [Netanyahu] believes what he’s saying, he’s paranoid,” said Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg of the the prime minister’s singling out the NIF. “If he doesn’t believe it, he’s an inciting liar.” Harsh.
  • Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay said Netanyahu “lost all shame when his decision-making process and his evasion of responsibility were publicly revealed,” and asserted that “the public will not buy the pathetic and dangerous attempt to… incite against citizens, this time the New Israel Fund.”

6. But apparently, Gabbay is wrong about the public. A poll conducted by Professor Kamil Fuchs and published by Channel 10 shows that despite the migrant policy flip-flop debacle, a Likud party headed by Netanyahu actually gets stronger.

  • According to the survey, had the elections been held today, Likud would receive no fewer than 32 seats — slightly more than a quarter of all 120 available Knesset slots. The centrist Yesh Atid party, whose leader Yair Lapid has been notably quiet these past days, would place second according to the poll, with 21 seats.
  • The survey shows that the Joint (Arab) List would receive 13 seats, Gabbay’s Zionist Union 12, and Jewish Home 10.
  • On the lower end, Kulanu and Meretz would both end up with 7 seats, Yisrael Beytenu 5, United Torah Judaism 5, Orly Levy’s yet unnamed party 4, and Shas 4 seats.

7. In news unrelated to migrants, the NIF or the prime minister, some 200 ultra-Orthodox protesters attempted to close an intersection in the heart of Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood in protest of the autopsy of a month-old baby who drowned in a hotel jacuzzi.

  • The reason for the protests is that autopsies are considered forbidden in most cases by Jewish law.
  • The baby’s parents have been remanded in custody. The mother has claimed the baby slipped from her arms while she was bathing him in the family’s room in the Miami Hotel in Ashdod, where they were vacationing for the Passover holiday.
  • Paramedics said they had attempted to resuscitate the infant and rushed him to the city’s Assuta Medical Center, but medical staff were unable to save his life.
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