Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Czer, Feb 7, 2018.
Police contend that retired Judge Oded Mudrik, who has recently become Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, could have a conflict of interest in his role as head of a disciplinary tribunal in a case involving the police.
The tribunal Mudrik heads is hearing a disciplinary complaint against a police officer, T, who once filed a sexual harassment complaint against former police Maj. Gen. Roni Ritman. Ritman, before resigning amid sexual harassment allegations, had headed the prestigious police unit Lahav 433, which had been investigating the corruption allegations against Netanyahu.
The case Mudrik is hearing against T. involves not observing clocking-in regulations and for conduct unbecoming a police officer when she said of other policewomen that “they’re stupid and don’t understand anything about life.” According to the police, the conflict of interest exists because some of the officers scheduled to testify to the tribunal were involved in the Netanyahu investigations.
Recently there were media reports hinting that the prime minister’s associates might have been behind T.’s earlier struggles against Ritman. As a result, Mudrik asked both sides, the police and T., if they saw any problem with him continuing as head of the disciplinary tribunal.
T. last week told the tribunal that reports hinting that the prime minister was somehow behind the battle she had waged against Ritman were false. “These insinuations have no grain of truth and constitute a serious libel,” she said. Removing Mudrik would disrupt the proceedings, she contended. T. also asked for the police to clarify that “there’s no grounds for linking Supt. T. to the prime minister.”
But the police refused to do this. In the response submitted Sunday the police wrote that it was true that, “Representatives of the prosecution are not involved in the investigations of the prime minister and are not exposed to the materials collected by them, so they cannot express a firm position on the question the head of the tribunal has asked them.”
However, the police also said that during the disciplinary hearings, there will be witnesses for the plaintiff [the police] that are involved in the prime minister’s investigations, “Which could raise a concern of conflict of interest, if only seemingly,” given that the presiding jurist is now the prime minister’s lawyer. The police also argued that in previous hearings T. and her commander had indicated that they planned to summon both former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh and Ritman himself to testify. This would certainly pose a conflict of interest, given that Ritman had headed Lahav 433 during the Netanyahu investigations.
T. on Sunday called the whole disciplinary procedure “a vengeful pursuit against her.”
At a conference two weeks ago Mudrik said that since he started working for the prime minister, he was examining all his activities to avoid being involved in anything that would pose a conflict of interest or be otherwise inappropriate.
There’s no realistic possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be indicted, a former state prosecutor said Saturday.
“Theoretically, anything is possible, but it’s very unrealistic,” Moshe Lador said, speaking at a public forum in Mevasseret Zion, outside of Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the state prosecution recommended that Netanyahu be charged with taking bribes in two of the corruption investigations being conducted against him.
Lador based his conclusion on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s closely involvement in the investigations, including signing agreements to turn state’s evidence with three people.
“The prosecution’s recommendation didn’t land on the attorney general’s desk out of the blue,” Lador explained. “He’s been sitting at the head of the table for two years, perhaps almost three, and has monitored the police investigators and the prosecutors handling the case. So he’s very familiar with the material, like all the other members of this forum. Thus nothing there ought to be new to him.”
In one case, Netanyahu is suspected of conferring regulatory benefits on the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage from Walla, the firm’s news website. In the other, he is suspected of discussing a deal under which the Yedioth Ahronoth daily would provide favorable coverage if he took measures to undermine Yedioth’s main rival, the free daily Israel Hayom.
Lador rejected Netanyahu’s claims that his talks with both media outlets were standard practice between politicians and journalists and that favorable coverage doesn’t constitute a bribe.
“Not everyone does this,” Lador said. “And even if there are meetings between editors in chief and politicians interested in favorable coverage, the moment what you receive from me is conditioned on what I expect from you, this is an unacceptable situation that could easily prove to be bribery.”
Asked by the event’s moderator, the veteran journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, whether this analysis was valid even if, as in the Yedioth case, the alleged deal was never carried out, Lador replied, “If I shoot a man with the intention of hurting him, but he isn’t hurt, am I not committing a crime?” He noted that under Israeli law, attempting to commit a crime is a crime in its own right, even if the actual crime never takes place.
“In the crime of bribery, it’s not at all important for the bribe taker to have done what he promised, and it doesn’t even matter if he never intended to do what he promised,” Lador continued, referring to Netanyahu’s claim that he never intended to carry out the deal with Yedioth. “It’s enough that whoever gave him the bribe assumed and expected that he would then do something to his benefit, even if he didn’t actually do so.”
The third case against Netanyahu, in which prosecutors recommended that he be charged with breach of trust rather than bribery, involved his receipt of expensive gifts from businessmen. It is commonly termed “the gifts case” in Hebrew, but Lador said this name is inappropriate for a case in which goods worth hundreds of thousands of shekels were routinely delivered to the prime minister’s residence.
“They weren’t bringing this for a birthday or a dinner, the way we all sometimes give a bottle of wine or a book,” he said. “Based on what has been reported, the recipients would call and say, ‘Look, the goods are about to run out, so you have to arrange a continued supply.’ I am absolutely not willing to accept that these were gifts. These aren’t gifts.
“None of us is familiar with a situation like this — a regular arrangement for luxuries on demand, via other people, with no connection to the timing, to a holiday, to a bar mitzvah or a wedding. ... This kind of friendship isn’t pure friendship; there’s an interest that’s being supplied continuously by IV.”
What the businessmen gain in exchange, Lador added, is a close relationship with the prime minister. “This friendship gives the businessman stature, stardust,” he said. “But it also gives him an address to which he can turn if he needs it.”
Netanyahu: I won’t resign if attorney general announces intention to indict
‘Imagine if ultimately the case was closed, and a prime minister had been ousted,’ Netanyahu says. That would be ‘a terrible blow to democracy’
31 December 2018
In his most specific comments to date on the prospect of corruption cases forcing his ouster, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he would not resign if the attorney general decides on pressing charges against him before elections.
Asked during a press conference in Brazil, where he is on a visit, how he would proceed if summoned by the attorney general for a hearing, which is final step before charges are filed, Netanyahu said: “If that happens, I won’t resign.”
He said he was not required to do so under the law, and that he remains convinced that the three corruption cases against him will yield “nothing.”
“Israel is a country of law, and the law does not require that a prime minister resign during the process of a hearing,” he said.
Should Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit decide to press charges against Netanyahu, he would announce the indictment pending a hearing, after which charges could be filed with a court.
The requirement for the attorney general to provide a hearing for a suspect before a final decision to press charges against him, Netanyahu said, exists precisely so that the suspect’s side of the story is heard. “The hearing doesn’t end until my side is heard,” he said.
“And therefore it is not logical to open a hearing process before elections if you can’t finish it before elections.”
“Imagine what happens if you oust a prime minister before the end of the hearing process, and at the end of the hearing it is decided to close the case,” he said. “That would be absurd, and a terrible blow to democracy.”
He added: “In a democracy, leaders are chosen through a vote, not through a partially completed legal process.”
Reminded that he had said of Ehud Olmert, 10 years ago, that a prime minister “up to his neck” in corruption allegations had no “public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions for the state of Israel” and that there was a concern that he might be swayed by narrow “personal interests,” Netanyahu said the situations were not comparable.
“The quotation you gave related to political steps that Olmert intended to take [in negotiations with the Palestinians] on the eve of elections, which in my opinion was unacceptable … in the situation that he was in,” said Netanyahu.
But “I didn’t say that he had to resign… I said he couldn’t initiate a major political plan on the eve of elections… I stand by that opinion. I don’t intend to initiate a major political initiative on the eve of elections.”
Netanyahu’s public comments on Monday followed reported remarks last week in which he was said to have told his inner circle that he believed Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit “won’t dare” to announce charges against him before the national ballot.
Even if he is indicted, Netanyahu — who has been implicated in three criminal cases — will not cave to public pressure to step down as premier and fight the charges as a private citizen, the report in the Israel Hayom daily said Thursday. Instead, if elected, he will remain in the top job throughout his public trial, the paper, considered pro-Netanyahu, quoted him as saying.
The law does not clearly state that a prime minister who has been indicted must resign. Rather, it says he must step down only after he has been convicted of an offense that carries moral turpitude, like bribery or breach of trust, and the appeal process has been exhausted.
The Knesset can ask the prime minister to step down before that process is complete, but if it does not, he can, in theory, remain in office.
According to the Israel Hayom report, Netanyahu is planning on doing just that, and would even fight a potential Supreme Court decision that he must step down.
In the 1993 corruption case of Shas politician Aryeh Deri (who was then, and is again now, interior minister), then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin did not want to oust him even after an indictment was filed by the attorney general. However, an appeal to the Supreme Court left him with no choice.
“There’s no similar determination with regard to the prime minister, and it can be argued both ways whether it applies to the prime minister,” Israeli criminal and constitutional law expert Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer told The Times of Israel this week, adding that Netanyahu would likely challenge a decision by the court for him to step down.
According to the Law on Knesset members’ immunity, the Knesset can give an MK parliamentary immunity from prosecution if it is persuaded that they are a victim of a vendetta.
Knesset members are permitted, within 30 days of being indicted, to ask the Knesset to give them immunity from criminal prosecution for various reasons, including that the offense allegedly committed was done in the fulfillment of the MK’s legislative duties or “the indictment is not issued in good faith or as a consequence of discrimination,” a claim Netanyahu has already made by alleging a conspiracy against him.
Last week’s announcement that elections will be held in April — seven months earlier than planned — came as Mandelblit began reviewing the criminal cases against Netanyahu, marking the most high-stakes stage yet of a several-year legal entanglement that could upend the country’s political system. Reports before the announcement of early elections suggested he intended to make a decision on whether to indict the prime minister by mid-April.
According to the Israel Hayom report, senior Likud sources also warned this week that if a decision to indict Netanyahu is made before the elections, Mandelblit “will become the target of a merciless attack” by party officials.
“There will be no holds barred and no effort to safeguard his honor. The entire Likud campaign will be directed against him,” the paper cited them as warning.
Responding to the report, the Likud party put out a statement denying Netanyahu or anyone in the Likud had made the statements.
“No one in Likud is threatening the attorney general,” a Likud statement said, alleging instead that “threats and pressures to indict Netanyahu at any cost and in any case come daily from the left and the media.”
Initial reports after Monday’s announcement that elections would be held in April, citing shadowy unnamed legal officials, said Mandelblit would likely delay any such announcement to avoid the suggestion he was intervening in Israel’s political process. Later reports, however, quoting similar anonymous officials, said he could make a decision by February.
After the election, the Likud sources also told Israel Hayom on Thursday, Netanyahu would condition entry into his coalition on parties promising to remain in the government even if he is indicted at a later date. The ultra-Orthodox, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beytenu parties are reportedly seen by Likud as certain to make such a promise, while new parties headed by Benny Gantz and Orli Levy-Abecasis, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, and even the Zionist Union would all be “possible options for coalition partners” if they make similar declarations.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon and Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid have both said publicly on a number of occasions that Netanyahu cannot continue to lead the country if he is charged.
Police have recommended Netanyahu be indicted in each of the three probes against him. Of the cases in which Netanyahu is suspected of illegal activity, the one known as Case 4000 is considered by the State Prosecutor’s Office to be the most serious, according to Israeli television reports.
In that case, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
The prosecutor’s office last week told Mandeblit the allegations constituted “a clear case of bribery,” according to Hadashot TV news. Recommendations for bribery charges were also made in the cases known as 1000 and 2000, though those were seen as less clear-cut, according to the report.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009, has denied wrongdoing and portrays the cases as part of a conspiracy against him encompassing the left, the media, and law enforcement officials.
Netanyahu's Party Escalates Attack on Media With Billboard Blasting Journalists
Likud claims responsibility for sign that originally appeared without party logo, a day after Netanyahu publishes video targeting AG regarding decision on corruption probes
Jan 20, 2019
A billboard depicting leading journalists in northern Tel Aviv with the slogan 'They won't decide,' January 18, 2019.Tomer Appelbaum
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party took ownership Sunday over a controversial billboard attacking leading Israeli journalists as the party ramps up criticism of the left and the media ahead of the April 9 elections.
The billboard, which was erected Sunday morning at a prominent intersection in the center of the country, depicts prominent journalists who regularly report on Netanyahu's corruption cases. Signed by Likud, it bears the slogan: "They won't decide. You decide. In spite of it all, Netanyahu!"
On Friday, a similar billboard was put up at a major intersection in northern Tel Aviv, with no indication of who was behind it.
Also on Friday, a Facebook page also titled "They won't decide" was opened. "The media has been trying for years to systematically drip to us messages of hate against Netanyahu," a post published on that page read.
According to information available on Facebook, the page is promoted and targeted at users who follow Netanyahu's official page.
The billboards are part of a campaign by Netanyahu and the Likud, which equates a decision by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to indict Netanyahu in the corrpution cases against him with a surrender to the left and the media.
Mendelblit is expected next month to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, on charges of bribery in the Bezeq-Walla news-for-favors case – one of several corruption investigations involving the prime minister – a senior justice official said Saturday.
A video released by Netanyahu on Saturday opens with a text reading: “For three years the left and the media have been chasing after Mendelblit to indict at any cost,” accompanied by dramatic background music.
Short clips are then shown of protests that have been held near Mendelblit’s house since November 2016, as well as other protests against him. “In the grocery, in the street, at synagogue,” the video says, ending with: “Will they succeed?”
Following publication of the video, Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen wrote on his private Twitter account that “Only the evidence will speak. Any other publication – needless noise.”
The Justice Ministry spokesman reiterated statements similar to what Mendelblit has said in the past, writing that the attorney general’s decision is not influenced by either the media or protests. “Not videos, not billboards and not protesters, not quotes by ‘associates,” and fake leaks – only professional considerations will be taken into account in the attorney general’s decision on the prime minister’s cases.”
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Friday that no legal reason prevents him from deciding whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption before the April 9 election.
His statement followed Netanyahu’s lawyers' request that the announcement on the cases be postponed until after the vote.
“Suspending the regular work process, determined in advance, concerning the investigations ... until after the date of the election would be a violation of the principle of equality before the law,” Mendelblit wrote in a letter to Netanyahu's legal team.
He noted that such a delay would also deviate from past instructions by the attorney general. “Waiting to release the decision is not in keeping with the public’s right to know,” he added.
Mendelblit said prosecutors had been examining the evidence long before an early election was called. Also, the rules set in 2005 concerning investigations into elected officials during an election campaign state that no reason exists not to announce an indictment before the vote. Only a hearing is required, though it could take place after the election.
This is what happened in the case of Tzachi Hanegbi, a longtime Likud legislator and government minister. A month and a half before the 2006 election, then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz – now a Supreme Court justice – announced that he was considering indicting Hanegbi for corruption.
The indictment was handed down, the hearing took place after the election, and Hanegbi was eventually cleared of all charges.
“It seems the attorney general has given in to pressure from the left and the media to file an indictment against Prime Minister Netanyahu at any price – and before the election," a spokesman for Netanyahu said Thursday in response to media reports on Mendelblit’s expected decision.
"The prime minister’s lawyers placed a request before the attorney general to carry out supplementary questioning of more than 60 important witnesses who haven't been questioned in any of the cases. The ink wasn't yet dry and they rushed to leak from the prosecutor’s office that there was no intention to check these essential witnesses."
One request of Netanyahu’s lawyers was to question the 43 Knesset members who voted in favor of the so-called Israel Hayom bill on banning free newspapers; the daily has traditionally been pro-Netanyahu.
Two weeks ago, Netanyahu’s legal team asked Mendelblit to postpone any announcement regarding a possible indictment until after the election.
The two sides met in Mendelblit’s office for about two and a half hours. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan was also present, as was his deputy Shlomo Lemberger and deputy attorneys general Raz Nizri and Amit Merari. None of the prosecutors involved in the cases were present.
Five members of Netanyahu’s defense team attended the meeting: Navot Tel Zur, Amit Hadad and Tal Shapira, along with two retired judges who are now working for Netanyahu – a former president of the Be’er Sheva District Court, Sefi Elon, and Oded Mudrik.
Netanyahu’s lawyers did not comment on the meeting but said they had asked for Mendelblit to “guarantee a fair game for the prime minister, who is facing an election.”
On December 19, the State Prosecutor’s Office recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery in two cases in which the prime minister allegedly offered favors for good news coverage: Case 2000 involving the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and Case 4000 involving telecom company Bezeq and its Walla news site.
The next step is for the attorney general to decide. Mendelbit is said to be leaning toward accepting prosecutors’ advice and recommending a bribery indictment in the Bezeq-Walla case. In Case 1000, the affair in which Netanyahu received lavish gifts from billionaires, Mendelblit is considering an indictment for fraud and breach of trust.
Sources say there are disagreements regarding an indictment in the Yedioth case.
"In the most crucial decision in Israel's legal history, a process of a year and a half is being compressed into a few days," Netanyahu's spokesman said. "We hope the left's enormous pressure on the attorney general won't defeat him another time when he has to decide whether to consider two and a half articles on Walla a bribe.”
We need those 1930's germans back
I don’t have many good things to say about the rabbis who taught me as a teenager. Actually I have very few good things to say about them. But I had a momentary recollection of positivity early this week when Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that he was trying to get the religious nationalist Jewish Home party to link up with the other far-right parties - including the Kahanist Otzma l’Yisrael, to avoid the right-wing bloc losing votes.
Back in November 1990, when the far right extremist Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York, our yeshiva forbade its students from going to the funeral in Jerusalem. Other religious nationalist yeshivas did the same.
This wasn’t a small thing. Telling yeshiva students you couldn’t go to the funeral of a Jew who had been murdered as a Jew. But there was a very self-conscious effort at the time to make it clear there was a difference between us and the Kahanists.
With a portrait of late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane on the wall, left, a Jewish settler walks inside a disputed building in Hebron.
At this point some readers may be nodding that there isn’t that much difference between the religious nationalist, or Orthodox Zionist, community in Israel and the Kahanists anyway. Both are nationalist-fundamentalists who believe Jews should settle the entire historical homeland and disregard the basic rights of non-Jews living there. How is the old-school genteel national-religious racism better than the in-your-face fascist version of Kahane’s disciples?
But it wasn’t that simple three decades ago and it isn’t today. Not only is that broad section of Israeli society (and Jewish society outside Israel as well) which seeks to live a Torah-observant life, while being part of the modern world, impossible to classify in one religious and political box, with dozens of sub-groups existing on the non-parallel scales of nationalism and piety, but the notion that Israelis have become either more or less racist over the years is highly problematic.
We are inundated by surveys and statistics that tell us that racism on the rise, but none of those who collate these figures can tell us how bad things were before every nasty word was broadcast in real-time on social media and before each act of racial violence was recorded on smartphones and uploaded to the web.
I remember growing up in Israel of the late 1980s. Arab workers (no-one called them Palestinian then) were regularly assaulted on the streets, and the stories of abuse of Palestinian detainees one heard from older friends who were soldiers during the early days of the First Intifada were, if anything, worse than the horrific cases happening today. And very little made it into the media.
In the 1980s Kahane, who regularly led at his rallies chants of "Death to Arabs," was an elected member of the Knesset. And when he was barred on the grounds of racism from running again in 1988, he was replaced in the Knesset by members of Moledet, whose official policy was ethnically cleansing the West Bank.
So no, I don’t think Israel is necessarily more racist today than it was then (and I’m not even going further back to the wonderful days of the Mapai governments when Israeli Arabs lived under martial law for decades). In some very small ways, particularly the exhaustingly slow, but increasing presence of minorities in gradually higher levels of public service (where they are still woefully underrepresented) things have actually improved.
What has undeniably changed and for the worse, as Netanyahu’s urging to bring the Kahanists in to the legitimate political tent (back in the day when Kahane was an MK, the other 119 members, including all Likudniks, would boycott his speeches, leaving him to address an empty plenum) perfectly shows, is that we’ve become much more tolerant of racism.
And in many ways tolerating racism, even if we believe ourselves to be non-racist, is equally bad. Treating Otzma L’Yisrael and its ilk as a legitimate party means that racism is an option. And when it’s an option, even if we claim not to choose it, racism permeates everything.
Here’s another example. This week, Haaretz’s Judy Maltz reported that rabbinical courts in Israel are demanding more and more immigrants from the former Soviet Union undergo DNA tests when seeking to marry in Israel and their Judaism is in question.
It’s easy to see this as another worrying sign of growing racism in Israel. Except it isn’t really. The dayanim in the rabbinical courts certainly don’t reflect Israeli society, but instead the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical establishment that has always sought to be the gatekeepers of the Jewish people. This isn’t even about Israel per se, it’s a millennia-old debate over what constitutes Jewishness which began in the Diaspora, weaponized by 21st century technology.
Twenty years ago, I reported in Haaretz on the first cases in which rabbinical courts were using DNA tests. At the time it was seen as a positive development, as the tests were meant to solve issues of mamzerut (bastardy) and allow people to wed in Orthodox marriages. The procedure was sanctioned by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, then the most senior of the ultra-Orthodox poskim(arbiters of halakha) who ruled that DNA testing should be used only to solve problems, not create new ones.
But Elyashiv’s warning has been disregarded, and when it comes to conversion, everything is kosher to reinforce the most reactionary definition of Jewishness.
Demonstrators protesting against the draft conversion law and cancellation of the Western Wall prayer space agreement, in Jerusalem, June 2017.
Is this racism? Not necessarily. The narrow-minded halakhic concept of Jewish identity evolved historically as a reaction to the ruthless persecution of Jews for proselytizing Christians in the early centuries of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the ultra-Orthodox attitude towards conversion is about intra-Jewish politics and maintaining their hegemony, not race. A convert who has completed the years of rigorous and often callous process of Haredi giyur will be treated as a Jew by the rabbinical courts, no matter the color of their skin.
But while the dayanim live in their own bubble, their actions still resonate. Using DNA profiles for what, for them, is only a technical halakhic decision, reinforces a racist definition of Jewish identity. That may not be their intention, but they don’t really care. They quite literally live in the dalet amot, the rarified – if not alienated - confines of halakha.
I don’t expect Haredi dayanim to exercise more care in their rulings, though I wish they would. But since they exercise inordinate power in Israel, countering their influence means other Jews should reexamine their own definitions of Jewishness. That includes – particularly for religious Jews - making it clear that Kahanism has no place in mainstream politics and Jewishness, but also rethinking attitudes to other forms of Jewish identity.
This week 80 Ethiopians arrived in Israel as new immigrants. They are the first group in about 1000 Ethiopians who have been allowed by the government to emigrate, for reasons of "family reunification." Over the past 20 years, the Jewish Agency tasked by the government to facilitate the emigration of members of the Falashmura, has done so with gritted teeth, though current chairman Isaac Herzog has reversed that policy.
Israelis of Ethiopian origin chant slogans and carry signs as they block a highway in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on January 30, 2019, during a protest against police violence
On my visits to the Falashmura compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar, the Agency’s officials explained to me, usually off-record, that the thousands waiting there for years to be allowed to emigrate were masquerading as Jews and the victims of a cruel manipulation by cynical rabbis and activists making a living off their plight, and by the deluded tikkun olam intentions of American Jewish organizations. They warned that every Falashmura immigrant meant more dozens more relatives who would demand to be let in.
Veteran Ethiopian-Israelis, who belong to the original Beta Yisrael community, have said even harsher things. They described the Falashmura as the descendants of renegades who had converted to Christianity over a century ago, who had conveniently discovered their Jewish roots only when it meant a one-way ticket out of Ethiopia.
I used to accept this view, and wrote in this paper, upon returning from Ethiopia, that successive governments, caving in to pressure and authorizing every few years more Falashmura to emigrate, were "manufacturing Jews." I’m no longer so sure that’s altogether a bad thing.
Not that we should continue turning a blind eye towards the Ethiopian conversion industry. But however it’s happening, they are arriving and becoming Israeli citizens. And gradually, painfully, slowly, the increasing presence of black Israeli Jews, as we saw last week in the protest in Tel Aviv against police violence towards them, is slowly opening the eyes of Israelis to much broader definitions of Jewish identity and to the pervasiveness of racism which they have tolerated for far too long.
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