Who’s really hurting Israel? 9 things to know for October 11
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Who’s really hurting Israel? 9 things to know for October 11

The barring of alleged activist Lara Alqasem is seen doing more harm than good for the anti-BDS movement, and why is the envoy to the UN slamming a text Israel signed off on

Lara Alqasem, sitting, at Tel Aviv District court on October 11, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Lara Alqasem, sitting, at Tel Aviv District court on October 11, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Get off Google: After a week in what her supporters say are filthy conditions in an airport holding cell, alleged BDS supporter Lara Alqasem is having her day in court arguing to be let into the country.

  • Besides journalists finally having updated pictures of her to use, the court appearance means the graduate student may finally find out whether she will be allowed into the country to study at Hebrew University, though it ended with judges ruling that she has to stay in detention until a verdict is handed down.
  • In an opening statement, Alqasem’s lawyer Yotam Ben Hillel aimed a direct blow at the Strategic Affairs Ministry for apparently blindly following info it found on Google without doing any actual due diligence on whether there is reason to bar the student.
  • “I have to say something to the brigades of Google searchers in the Strategic Affairs Ministry — pick up your heads from the screen and the keyboard. This is a young student, who is 22, who was 19 when she was in university. When exactly did she have time to become a central figure in the BDS movement,” he asks, according to journalists live tweeting the proceedings.
  • Haaretz journalist Noa Landau, who has doggedly followed the case, notes on Twitter that the state claimed that it would base its allegation of her BDS support on Facebook “attendance,” but she erased her profile, so it can’t. Ben Hillel calls the claim “ludicrous.”

 

2. Another cause celebre: A day after the Alqasem case managed to get even two conservative New York Times columnists to publicly criticize Israel, the case is continuing to garner headlines across the world, none of which make Israel look particularly good.

  • As former Financial Times Jerusalem correspondent John Reed notes on Twitter: “Israel’s far right government is turning another young woman we’d never heard of before into an international pro-Palestinian cause celebre.”
  • Indeed, the case has gotten 300 academics to sign a letter to the Guardian on Alqasem’s behalf. The roster includes a number of rabbis, Judaic studies professors, Israelis and others, but some point out that it also includes actual BDS backers.

 

  • In Bloomberg, Zev Chafets, who headed Israel’s press office under Menachem Begin and is making a movie about BDS, writes that the movement “poses no serious threat to American Jews, much less to Israel’s internal security.”
  • “The law that enabled the banning of Lara Alqasem, and the mechanism that implemented it, are dishonorable and self-defeating. They mock Israel’s claims to tolerance, bravery or simple common sense,” he writes.

3. Protect the hummus: Even pro-government Israel Hayom runs a tongue in cheek column on its op-ed page mocking Israel’s claims against her, which boil down to her support of boycotting a brand of hummus made by Israel-owned Sabra.

  • “If it was just regular hummus, we could forgive her. But Alqasem called to boycott all the kinds, even the type with pine nuts,” Michal Aharoni writes. “The face of Israeli hummus, ladies and gentlemen, is not to be abandoned. It doesn’t matter if barring her causes grave damage to Israel around the world and helps the boycott movement more than any marginal student group.”

4. Bar one: That column notwithstanding, the affair has drawn barely more than a blip in most mainstream Hebrew press, another reflection of the deep divide between how Israelis are viewed from the outside and how they see themselves.

  • Left-leaning broadsheet Haaretz, though, not only covers Alqasem, but also reports on an appeal to be heard by another person barred from the country over the BDS law, theologian Dr. Isabel Phiri, who was actually the first person banned under the law, in 2016.
  • “State documents obtained by Haaretz show there had been an attempt to retroactively enforce an amendment not on the books at the time, and that the accusations against her included criticism of Israeli policy and support for the “Palestinian narrative” – claims without any direct connection to support of BDS,” the paper reports.

5. Fighting BDS with teen girls: Yedioth Ahronoth, for instance, devotes space to a “major victory” by Israeli litigants against the BDS supporters who convinced Kiwi singer Lorde to boycott Israel earlier this year.

  • The paper reports that three Israeli teen girls, who were “very sad over the cancellation” sued the two new Zealand BDS supporting girls, and a Jerusalem court has ordered them to pay NIS 45,000 plus NIS 11,000 in court fees.
  • According to pro-Israel litigation group Shurat Hadin, which filed the suit, Israel has an agreement with New Zealand that will let them enforce the ruling and go after their bank accounts.
  • Though it was really Shurat Hadin behind the suit, and it’s not clear anyone will ever see a shekel from the ruling, the paper still lauds the girls for “proving to everyone how to fight BDS,” likely a sly criticism of the Strategic Affairs Ministry’s ham-fisted tactics.

6. Danon out of the loop? Figuring what is and isn’t anti-Israel can be confusing. For instance, ToI’s Raphael Ahren reports on a raft of anti-Israel UNESCO decisions passed Wednesday.

  • While on the surface, the texts may look like more of the same Israel-bashing, the texts were actually shuffled into a non-binding annex, essentially making them toothless, as part of a compromise reached between Israel, the Jordanians and the Palestinians.
  • An UNESCO source tells ToI that an Israeli diplomat entered the UNESCO secretariat and okayed the text, before the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations entered the room and also signed off on the deal, the source said.
  • Nonetheless, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon apparently did not get the memo, putting out a statement bashing UNESCO, which may have been the result of him reading a less nuanced press report.
  • “It’s really strange,” the source says. “It’s also very problematic, because if he’s representing Israel, he should know what’s going on.”

 

  • As of Thursday morning, Danon has yet to respond to a ToI request for comment.

7. Berkovitch up, for now: Israel Hayom has released part of a survey showing progressive candidate Ofer Berkovitch actually leading in the Jerusalem mayoral race, beating out presumed front-runner Ze’ev Elkin 28 percent to 16 percent.

  • The paper notes that just a short time ago, Berkovitch was though to have “no chance” of leading the city, and even though the survey shows him leading now, the paper still doesn’t give him much of a chance.
  • Because no candidate is likely to get over 50 percent, a run-off would be needed, and if Berkovitch faces Elkin then, he’ll likely lose, with the city’s religious flank and right-wing that would support Moshe Lion and Yossi Deutsch the first time around rallying around the Likud minister in round two.
  • “Berkovitch’s camp knows his only chance is to win outright in the first round, since he’ll hit his ceiling of support in the first round thanks to the dispersing of votes among the other three candidates,” the paper writes.

8. Sticking with the hate: The survey also shows insurgent Asaf Zamir within seven points of mayor Ron Huldai in the race to lead Tel Aviv, despite Huldai also having been seen as a shoo-in just a few weeks ago.

  • While the Likud party isn’t putting up a candidate for mayor, its ‘us or them’ city council campaign has brought charges of racism for targeting nativist tendencies against Arabs, migrants and leftists.
  • Though Huldai said recently the party had agreed to stop the bus stop poster campaign, a Likud spokesman denies it to ToI’s Melanie Lidman, saying the party will continue to use the slogan, and the posters will only come down because their ad buy is over.
  • “We’re going to continue to say [‘it’s us or them’]. Anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to vote for us,” the spokesperson says.

9. I bought the front page! There isn’t much national attention on the race for mayor of Kfar Saba, a bedroom community north of Tel Aviv, but local papers are seemingly printing stories, so long as you pay them.

  • TheMarker reporter Nati Tucker tweets a picture of the cover of a local paper, which is a large ad with “I bought the front page” in massive letters.

 

  • Lower down on the page, Meretz mayoral candidate Ilai Harsgor Hanadin explains that inside you won’t find a complimentary story about him but can reach about his platform.
  • Native advertising is not rare in the Hebrew press, with readers sometimes not even given any clue that the article was paid for, even in national papers like Yedioth.
  • Tucker explains that the ad is in response to other candidates also buying “native advertising” on the front page of the local paper and not being open about it. He digs up another edition from several weeks ago, featuring a piece on candidate Hadar Levi, with a tiny note in the corner noting that the article was paid for.

 

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