Regaining and retaining power at all cost – the sad saga of PM Benjamin Netanyahu

By Stephen Schulman

A short while ago, I finished reading TRUTH TO POWER Three Years Inside Eskom by Andre De Ruyter in which he describes his three years as CEO of South Africa’s national power utility: a giant corporation with 40,000 employees. The book does not make for pleasant reading, for in it De Ruyter details his unsuccessful attempts – that almost cost him his life by poisoning – to overcome the tidal wave of chronic corruption, plundering, criminality, cronyism, nepotism, indifference and incompetency that turned the once national pride into an almost non functioning entity saddled with a colossal debt.

Seeing the Light. An exposé of South Africa’s failing national electricity public utility ‘Eskom’ led the writer to reflect on the undermining factors crippling the country he grew up in – South Africa – to those undermining the one he settled in – Israel.

The plight of Eskom is a mirror image of South Africa today: a country that is unable to provide basic services and security for its citizens. It is a failed state with a horrific crime rate, ruled by a party riddled with corruption that sees itself indivisible from the country and is prepared to pay any price whatsoever to stay in power. Reading the book is a sobering experience for its lessons are twofold: learning about the causes that made a country turn into a failed state and raising your awareness of those same factors that might be affecting your own.

Israel, my home for more than half a century, is a far cry (thank goodness!) from present South Africa, but I could not help reflecting on the current state of affairs and discerning certain alarming parallels. The ANC (African National Congress), the backbone of the anti-Apartheid struggle has been in power since Apartheid’s demise in 1994 and its leaders have come to regard political power as their patrimony.

 Unfortunately for our country and its citizens, Benjamin Netanyahu heading the Likud party sees himself in the same light. Before returning to power in 2022, furious at being consigned to the wilderness of the opposition, he and his political allies of other opposition parties adopted a policy of willful obstruction to destabilize the government, vilifying the prime minister, harassing and intimidating its members. Throwing all restraint to the winds in their eagerness to bring its downfall, they demonstrated their utter contempt for the welfare of the citizens. It did not matter that they voted against and torpedoed bills that were beneficial for the country: openly declared, what was important for them was to regain their rightful seats at all costs and by any means, no matter what.

Netanyahu returned to power after the November 2022 elections by forming a coalition with United Torah Judaism and Shas: the two ultra-religious parties and Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam: extreme right wing, nationalistic and messianic. All of the coalition partners had one thing in common: a lack of interest in the general good, the furthering of their own narrow interests and squeezing as much as possible from the public purse no matter if it caused a budget deficit. To stay in power, Netanyahu acceded to all their demands.

Coalition of Chaos. Where has a bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers “whose main qualification appears to be a talent for sycophancy and …. noisily clamouring for a seat on the gravy train,” brought this country?

The resulting feeding frenzy and his desire to satiate them all including his own party functionaries – whose main qualification appears to be a talent for sycophancy and toadying – noisily clamouring for a seat on the gravy train, has resulted in a triumph of accommodation, creativity and ingenuity: a clumsy, bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers, so that each full meeting resembles a typically overcrowded classroom. Israel now has ministers with ministries that it never knew it needed! Most of them are superfluous and their portfolio holders are ill suited for their – or any post – and often with authority that overlaps with other ministries.

Just to name a few: The country is saddled with a Minister of Public Diplomacy (whatever that is!), a woman notorious for her foul mouth and blind devotion to the prime minister and his wife. The National Security Minister with past convictions of public disorder, incitement of racism and support for a terrorist organization now oversees the security of the citizens. The arrogant Minister of Finance has no fiscal background and is more concerned with his own sectarian interests, neglecting the burning issue of inflation while the Minister of Housing – a member of the ultra religious- coalition has a dubious background of honesty and transparency.

Menacing Ministers. “Israel will be an island of stability and responsibility” boasted far-right Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich on becoming Israel’s finance minister in early 2023. The reality has been the complete opposite with warning signs of a financial crisis.     

Netanyahu returned to power under a dark cloud of his ongoing trial with indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. When a predecessor was indicted for bribery and breach of trust, Netanyahu condemned, called for his immediate resignation and backed the integrity of the court. However, in his own case, in a display of brazen hypocrisy and pure spin he sang an entirely different tune: loudly proclaiming that he was as pure as the driven snow and the victim of a sinister leftist conspiracy not just to unseat him, he, the anointed Benjamin, but the whole right wing government from power. He launched an unrestrained assault on the police, judiciary and state attorney, besmirching, vilifying and accusing them of lack of integrity. Now in power, he has come back with a vengeance to destroy the organs of government and democracy and nullify his trial.

Court and Country. Exuding confidence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his graft trial, May 17, 2022. How confident is he in still running the country? (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of destroying the soul of my country.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu that in your self seeking haste to avoid facing trial, you have abandoned all scruples and are dragging the State of Israel into the abyss of dictatorship,

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of shredding the social fabric and destroying the cohesiveness of our society. You have fomented hatred between the different communities by labeling and stigmatizing those that are not for you as “Ashkenazi leftists” who are against the country and have encouraged intolerance, division and violence. In deliberately setting brother against brother, undoing the social ties that bind our country, you have created deep rifts between all. You have sinned unpardonably.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of poisoning the social discourse and lowering it to a nadir. You have encouraged and cultivated a culture of rudeness, intolerance, disrespect, insult and verbal violence where common courtesy has long been extinct. You have long surrounded yourself with followers whose foul mouths, threatening behaviour and grossness is simply breathtaking. The latest example of one of your sycophantic ministers threatening, insulting and mocking the attorney general is a disgrace. It is the behaviour of a backward juvenile delinquent and yet this is the same man entrusted with a key position in the cabinet! Furthermore, you have used your son as a proxy to libel, denigrate, slander, spread poison and harm not only those who speak against you but their families as well. Your silence is clearly one of assent.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of creating a culture of extravagance, profligacy, greed, avarice and rapaciousness that has become the norm. You and your family cultivate multi-millionaires and demand and accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from them. To hide the shameful action from the eyes of the public, you then resort to code words for the gifts of cigars and champaign and have them clandestinely delivered in inconspicuous packaging to your back door. Is this the behaviour of a prime minister who should serve as an example to his citizens? Should not the prime minister as a public servant, serve as a role model of moral integrity and high ethical standards by refusing to accept gifts? Tragically, you fail to see your behaviour in such light. You have even attempted to pass a law (for the present shelved) that would permit office holders and public servants to accept gifts in money and kind. Is this not corruption?

 Benjamin Netanyahu, you and your spouse have long viewed the public purse as your own to carry out extensive renovations at your homes and have demanded and got extravagant perks for yourselves. I cannot forget the words of your wife Sara who when some years back was criticized for ordering extravagantly expensive catering (at the taxpayers’ expense) for the bar mitzvah of your son. She was quoted as replying:

If the nation wants Bibi, let the nation pay.”

The country for the first time in many years is experiencing inflation but one of the first items of priority the finance committee placed on the agenda after you were elected was to devote a long session to increasing both you and your wife’s many existing benefits.

Benjamin Netanyahu, you now receive (at this date and not adjusted for inflation!) an updated official clothing allowance of NIS 80,000 per annum: a sum that many wage earners do not even bring home or receive as pensions. I sincerely hope that this will enable you to purchase a few shirts to replace those with frayed collars so your bosom buddy billionaire Melchin won’t have to fill the need or your Sara have to schlep the empty bottles to the local supermarket to collect the deposit to supplement your income as she once did to collect NIS 4,000 shekels on the 13,333 bottles (paid for by the state) that stood outside your kitchen door.

Callous Couple.  “If the nation wants Bibi, let the nation pay”, retorted an angry prime minister’s wife Sara to a reporter’s criticism of personal extravagance.  A divisive nation is paying in more ways today than money.

Benjamin Netanyahu, in your desire to emulate the billionaires with whom you hobnob, you happily let the finance committee agree to the purchase of a jet liner then refurbished to your taste and with a present cost and upkeep of approximately NIS 1000,000,000 (one billion shekels). The country’s hospital infrastructure has been so neglected to the extent that it has far trailed the population growth. Consequently, we have the most crowded hospitals in the OECD with an annual death rate of 3,000 to 6,000 patients due to superfluous infections contracted during hospitalization. Does this waste of money that could have been used in hospital construction and the unnecessary deaths of your citizens not unsettle you or does drinking pink champaign blur your vision and smoke from your Havanas obscure reality?

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu of plundering the public purse by creating a huge unnecessarily bloated cabinet of 31 ministers and deputy ministers each with their large staffs, rank with nepotism and cronyism, filled with party hacks and obsequious camp followers that cost the country i.e. us the taxpaying citizens many hundreds of millions of shekels each year.

 I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, in your self interest, of pandering to your coalition partners and of bearing the responsibility for looting the state treasury by acceding to their demands and allocating them outrageous sums of money thus plunging the economy into a deficit and raising inflation.  You have given the ultra religious sector hugely disproportionate sums to subsidize and incentivize the number of unproductive and unemployable individuals dependent on the largesse of their elected representatives. In so doing, you have simply widened and perpetuated the vicious circle of poverty and done a gross disservice to our country.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of not being satisfied with your shoveling of public money to the ultra orthodox sector but also of agreeing to exempt them from military service. In so doing you are creating a country of those serving and being served, in so doing, discriminating against the majority and further deepening the social divide by creating hatred and resentment.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of trampling democracy underfoot in our country by neutering the judiciary for your own ends. In the absence of a constitution, the courts have stood as the guardians of basic rights. You and your band of cohorts have now passed a law that prevents them from reviewing the reasonableness of government and ministerial decisions. This retrograde step now allows complete politicization of the public service by obviating the need for accountability and transparency and giving the government carte blanche to appoint public servants whose sole qualification is not their professional competency but their obsequiousness and kowtowing to the powers that be.

With the law in force, the floodgates have already opened with your obeisant lackey the minister of transport appointing a party hack as her bureau head – somebody that the Supreme Court had previously disqualified due to his complete lack of suitability. You, Benjamin Netanyahu, now unshackled will undoubtedly reappoint your long time crony Aryeh Deri – a serial offender and ex-convict thrice convicted of bribery, corruption, moral turpitude and tax evasion – as a key cabinet minister. This is a stain on and shames our country reducing it to the status of a banana republic. To add insult to injury, you have promised him an additional budget of one billion shekels to distribute as food stamps to those he decides are indigent and needy. It is clear as daylight that under him he will create another bloated administrative apparatus tainted with nepotism, cronyism and corruption that will determine the criteria to fund his supporters. Yet another source of taxpayers’ money that discourages the ultra orthodox sectors from working and perpetuates their poverty. 

You, Benjamin Netanyahu have already attempted to politicize the public service by trying to place your appointees, both ill qualified, as governor of the Bank of Israel and head of the Bureau of Statistics: both moves that would undermine their independence, disinterestedness and verity but would serve your interests and thus destroy the faith and trust of the general public in these vital institutions.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of further undermining the judiciary by working to change the composition of the selection committee for Supreme Court judges to give the ruling coalition the majority membership thereby determining that your puppets be in place to execute your will – and we all know to what end.

Courting Catastrophe. Coalition government’s assault on Israel’s Supreme Court divides the nation.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of formulating legislation to muzzle the media, smother all criticism and stifle free expression by establishing state censorship – a move unprecedented in the history of the state.

We, the citizens, Benjamin Netanyahu, with our growing concern, live in increasing insecurity as you, cynically, have appointed a blustering ineffectual individual with past convictions of belonging to a terrorist organization and of public disturbance as our Minister of Public Security. The police force is understaffed and thanks to him, demoralized and beset with resignations. Murder in the Arab sector has skyrocketed. There are organized gangs in the Galilee and down south that include extortion and agricultural theft as only two of their nefarious activities. The epidemic of car theft has reached such unprecedented proportions that it has affected our cost of living as the insurance companies have raised their premiums by 50%.

I accuse you, Benjamin Netanyahu, of hubris, by purposely not heeding the counsel of jurists, economists, diplomats, hi-tech leaders and many other prominent citizens from all sectors who advised taking the path of moderation and consensus and the danger of your taking unilateral action with its repercussions. In your arrogance, willful deafness and blindness, you have turned your back on the huge body of responsible citizens (paying taxes and serving in the reserves) protesting throughout the length and breadth of Israel against your rash decisions and so typically and mendaciously blame them for the present situation.

 You, Benjamin Netanyahu, singlehandedly bear the responsibility for bringing the country to the brink of a civil war, having created an atmosphere of insecurity, mistrust, fury, frustration and despair for the future. The enemies on our borders are licking their lips and rubbing their hands in glee.

You, Benjamin Netanyahu, have destroyed in a few months what took generations to build. You carry the responsibility on your shoulders. I urge you to stop, reflect and place the future of our beloved country before your own. Consider carefully and decide wisely for, if not, history will judge you harshly.

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 31 July 2023

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The Israel Brief

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Netanyahu’s Israel is becoming unrecognisable with each passing day

By David E. Kaplan

Ready, Aim, Fire. Rather than water down contentious bill, the government preferred to water-down protesters.

Few are talking of leaving this country but there is a growing feeling of the country leaving them.The values that bind and have nurtured the character of this great nation are being eroded by the prime minister but the people are determined to stop the rot!


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Israel cabinet minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s comment about “the salad bar” is an echo of “let them eat cake”.

By Rolene Marks

Selfie of the Selfish.  Ben-Gvir and his coalition cohorts celebrate in the Knesset while outside the people protest.

While the people of Israel protest outside the Knesset having marched over four days from Tel- Aviv, inside Itamar Ben-Gvir joins in a celebratory selfie and tweets that the scrapping of the judicial protective clause was only the “salad course that builds up an appetite …”. What else is on this fanatic’s menu is more than worrying – it’s terrifying!


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Penetration to the inner sanctum of Iran’s leadership

By Catherine Perez-Shakdam

Time in Tehran. Like a chameleon she blended into the most dangerous political environment in the world.

For a regime like Iran, where secrecy and paranoia reign supreme, admitting outsiders into the fold “is not a casual affair, unless driven by sheer necessity.” So how did they let in a woman, a Jew and a Zionist brush shoulders with those in the top echelons of power.  A riveting read by an intrepid brave Jewish woman.


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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Israel cabinet minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s comment about “the salad bar” is an echo of “let them eat cake”.

By Rolene Marks

Mention the name Itamar Ben-Gvir and you are almost guaranteed some kind of reaction from Israelis. Some will react with a curse, maybe a rude hand gesture, definitely an eye-roll and a very strong opinion. Few Israeli public figures have ever been as provocative as Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir nor as divisive. Nevertheless, he does have his supporters, albeit in the more far-right camp.

Israel has had right wing governments in the past, but the concern today is not so much that it is right-wing, as it is tilted to the far right, replete with ministers like Ben-Gvir, his Otzma Yehudit co-chairman, Betzalel Smotrich and others. Their views are extreme and they are regarded by Israelis to be racist, homophobic and dangerously provocative.

Hand in Hand. Their personal futures and Israel’s in the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and extreme right-wing Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir  (right) seen here in the Knesset.

Comments made by party members have been alarming in the last 8 months, including Otzma Yehudit, Member of Knesset, Zvika Fogel who said in an interview on Radio Galei Tzahal following a fatal terror attack several months ago, “Yesterday a terrorist came from Huwara – Huwara is closed and burnt. That is what I want to see. Only thus can we obtain deterrence.”

The act that the residents of Judea and Samaria carried out yesterday is the strongest deterrent that the State of Israel has had since Operation Defensive Shield. After a murder like yesterday, villages should burn when the IDF does not act,” Fogel added. Israel’s Attorney-General and police opened an investigation for incitement in response.

The incident went from worse, to well, worse.

Liking a tweet from Samaria Regional Council deputy mayor Davidi Ben Zion that called “to wipe out the village of Huwara today”, Otzma Yehudit co-leader, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s Minister of Finance, who was taking part in a financial conference hosted by The Marker business daily, was asked why he had “liked” a tweet.

Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” Smotrich replied. He added that “God forbid,” the job should not be done by private citizens, condemning the rampage and saying, “we shouldn’t be dragged into anarchy in which civilians take the law into their own hands.

This man has a major shared portfolio in the Defense Ministry concerning administration of the West Bank.  Our soldiers who follow an impeccable code of ethics could be in a position where they would have to take orders that support his ideological beliefs should certain judicial reforms, like the override clause, be passed.

While Ben-Gvir appealed for citizens not to take the law into their own hands, he also referred to Jewish extremists who carried out a subsequent attack where they burnt Palestinian property as “sweet boys”.

Truth leaves Sour Taste. The devastating consequences of violent settlers who Ben-Gvir has called “Sweet boys”.

This is the man who once had a portrait of Dr. Baruch Goldstein prominently displayed in his living room and has faced charges of hate speech against Arabs. Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein massacred in 1994, 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs. Ben-Gvir removed the portrait after he entered politics.

For years, Ben-Gvir was a self-described disciple of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose extreme platform called for expelling Arabs and criminalizing sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. More recently, he has tried to distance himself from some of his spiritual mentor’s views but Israelis remain uneasy with the firebrand who brandishes his weapon of choice – threats to topple the government – if he does not get his way.

He even created controversy decades ago when he clashed with legendary Irish singer, Sinead O’Connor, who passed away last week. In 1997, O’Conner was scheduled to perform in Jerusalem in a concert called “Sharing Jerusalem: Two Capitals for Two States.” The event was set to take place just a few years after the signing of the Oslo Accords. British and Irish embassies in Tel Aviv reported receiving death threats against O’Connor and her family and she subsequently cancelled. After her cancellation, fans and fellow peace activists expressed anger, surprise and dismay — some sealing their lips with black tape and protesting in the streets against Ben-Gvir and his allies.

Incensed after hearing Ben-Gvir, who was then 21, boast in a radio interview that he had succeeded in scaring her away from Jerusalem, O’Connor sent a letter to the Associated Press and other news organizations saying, “God does not reward those who bring terror to children of the world…..So you have succeeded in nothing but your soul’s failure.”

Many Israelis fear that far-right Knesset members have emboldened the extremists with their rhetoric. Six former police chiefs and over three dozen deputy police commissioners recently called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remove far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister, warning that he poses “a tangible and immediate danger to the security of the State of Israel.” The police commissioner of Tel Aviv Ya’akov (Kobi) Shabtai recently quit, pre-empting being fired for not using enough force against protesters and said he would not seek to extend his term when it ends in January.

Loggerheads.Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (left) will not seek additional year in office following repeated clashes with national security minister National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir(right) seen here at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

On a personal note, during my term as commissioner, for the past two-and-a-half years, I’d served under three cabinets and three ministers,” Shabtai said. “I have used the tools at my disposal to the best of my ability to preserve professional standards in accordance with protocol. It is no secret that I do not intend to serve a fourth year under these conditions.”

Protesters recently chanted, “Ben-Gvir is a terrorist” when the National Security Minister showed up at a protest in Tel Aviv.

Last week it was, the eye-roll and fury was felt across the country. Following the selfie-taking by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and several others after the highly contentious “Reasonableness Law” was passed in the Knesset, prompting widespread protests and international concerns, Ben-Gvir tweeted that this was the “salad course that builds up an appetite for the rest of the meal”.

Such hubris. Such a vainglorious comment, utterly devoid of any acknowledgement of the real fear and concern 62% of Israelis (according to multiple polls) feel. I could not have been the only person who referenced the French Revolution era comment “let them eat cake” while feelings of anger fomented.

The presence of the far right in Israel’s government has not only been a factor in galvanizing the massive anti-reforms protest movement who are aware of the consequences for Israeli’s economy, security and society but it is worrying diaspora communities and harming the country’s  international standing. Many are asking questions such as how will this affect Saudi normalization plans. This past weekend, the NY Times reports the Saudis require concessions to the Palestinians in order to normalize relations with the Jewish state – concessions hardline right wing extremists would never agree. Defense Minister Gallant, at great potential risk to his position, has called for a national unity government with opposition leaders Gantz and Lapid but excluding Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.

Smiles while the country seethes. Itamir Ben-Gvir (right front) is seen here with fellow coalition lawmakers crowding around Justice Minister Yariv Levin (centre) to take a celebratory selfie in the Knesset plenum, as they pass the first of the coalition’s controvercial judicial overhaul laws, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for Jews, Ben-Gvir ascended the Temple Mount and called for unity.  “On this day, in this place, it is always important to remember – we are all brothers,” the minister said. “Right, left, religious, secular – we are all the same people. And when a terrorist looks [at us], he does not differentiate between us. Unity is important, love of Israel is important. This place – this is the most important place for the people of Israel – where we have to return to show our governance.”

If only his actions matched his words.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Israel Brief- 24-27 July 2023

The Israel Brief – 24 July 2023 Dramatic voting in Knesset. Netanyahu pacemaker. Biden phones Bibi. Israeli firefighting efforts in Greece conclude.

The Israel Brief – 25 July 2023 – Israel erupts in protest in response to bill. AAA vote to boycott Israel. PA files documents at ICJ. Israelis off to Saudi?

The Israel Brief – 26 July 2023 Israeli economy impacted by overhaul. US will not cut aid to Israel. FM in Ghana. Panama adopts IHRA.

The Israel Brief – 27 July 2023 Stock exchange warns not to ignore Moody’s. Turkey hosts PA and Hamas. Hamas claim to fire rocket from Jenin. Tisha B’Av.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Netanyahu’s Israel is becoming unrecognisable with each passing day

By David E. Kaplan

It was light relief; a fleeting moment of illumination before darkness.

A “heartwarming” video clip went viral. It captures a brief respite amidst the tumult and turmoil in Israel, as protesters who are against the judicial overhaul head down the long escalator and meet momentarily pro-judicial overhaul supporters heading up the adjacent escalator at Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon underground train station. The caption to the clip describes the moment as “heartwarming” as animated protestors holding diametrically opposed positions on the government’s judicial overhaul, reach out physically to touch hands as the escalators move on – one up and one down – a moving metaphor of a literally touching encounter but going off in different directions. They were returning to their homes in a country that was beginning to feel less like home.

My son Gary, who lives in Tel Aviv, experienced it. He was in the long endless throng of protestors against the judicial overhaul heading down the escalator to the platform that would return them back to Tel Aviv after a day of protesting outside the Supreme Court. “Surreal” is the way he described it.

Fighting for their Future. Stony faces reflecting concern, the writer’s son Gary (left) and friend Tal Angert both from Tel Aviv at the demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

Separated by less than a metre, “Here we were, opponents, singing different songs, wearing T-shirts with contrary messages, as were our placards, and suddenly, a surprise reaching out – not political, purely emotional!” A spontaneous outreach – albeit fleeting.

The End of the Beginning. Following the vote, the protests will not abate until democracy in Israel is secure.

Still, it was nowhere close then what their politicians could even achieve!

How could it be achieved when the Prime Minister did not even allow it to be achieved and would later blame the opposition. Before the crucial vote – all captured on film – Netanyahu sat like an impartial referee in the Knesset, as his Defense Minister on his right, Yoav Gallant pleaded for a delay to the vote on the ‘Reasonable Bill” that was tearing the country apart, while on his left, the arch proponent of the bill, Justice Minister Yariv Levin bellowed the opposite.

We are marching to Jerusalem. Preceding the monumental vote in the first bill of the government’s judicial overhaul, protestors in the 4-day march to Jerusalem.

Give me something to work with,” pleaded an anxious Gallant trying desperately to stem the erosion of the military by protesting reservist refuseniks,  but it fell on deaf ears. The Nero in Netanyahu let Israel burn as the vote went through 64-0 with a walkout before the vote of every member of the Knesset bar the frenzied coalition of Bibi Netanyahu.

The score, 64-0, bellowed to the world, Bibi won, Israel lost.

The reactions local and global were swift.

Until recently, Bibi was championed as Mr. Economics, “the man who understood money.” That’s history, gone with the destruction of the Second Temple, which is precisely where he is leading the country today. Within hours of the passing of the first bill of the judicial overhaul, Israel’s financial markets tumbled with the shekel hitting a two-week low versus the dollar. Does the prime minister or his cohorts even care when Citibank and Morgan Stanley warn of “major risk to Israeli economy” with Morgan Stanley lowering its credit rating?

Ready, Aim, Fire. Rather than water down the controversial nation-splitting bill, the government preferred to pound protesters with water in Jerusalem, July 24, 2023. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

They are not showing it!  Is as if we are living in a Stepford Wives scenario that the minds of our leaders  have been taken over and programmed to lead us to self-destruct, while their supporters are delirious with delusion into believing this somehow its “G-d’s plan”.

The last few months have literally broken the spirit of a lot of people who now don’t believe their future is in Israel,” said Eynat Guez, co-founder of an international payroll company called Papaya Global. “The government is sending a clear message: You’re not welcome here. We don’t care about your future.”

That was exactly the feeling of those who were descending down the escalator and if there was a fleeting moment of light below ground, above ground a day later it was all dark as the front pages of many of the newspapers carried sponsered BLACK front pages.

News in Black. Response to the government’s vote in the Knesset, leading Israeli newspapers have their front pages in black.

Where was this leading? Again, we did not have long to wait. “This is only the beginning, there are many more overhaul laws to pass,” voiced danger-man National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to reporters. And in response to the Biden administration’s displeasure at Israel’s assault on shared democratic values, Ben Gvir responded on Army Radio that his Israel – most certainly not mine –  “will only take the good things from the U.S., like arming civilians and using the death penalty against ‘terrorists’.”

Is this Israel even recognizable? Is it any wonder a cartoonist has Herzl vomiting from his Basel balcony.

Revulsion. Israeli cartoonist captures a Theodore Herzl in the iconic Basel hotel on learning of the distortion of his vision of a Jewish state.


In response to the message from the coalition Knesset vote, first at the starting block to further lead Israel to ruination was the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party (UTJ). Expeditiously exploiting the cancellation of the “Reasonable Bill”, UTJ proposes a bill that would legislate that studying Torah be viewed “as service to Israel and the Jewish people” with the sole aim  to prevent a future Supreme Court ruling to strike down a new Haredi conscription bill on constitutional grounds. In other words, to avoid joining in with the lesser mortals – the people of Israeli – in defending the country. The UTJ bill would enshrine in law a blanket exemption from military service to students in yeshivot (orthodox leaning institutions) and prevent the Supreme Court – because no longer a reasonable bill protection – from striking it down on the basis of inequality.

The haredi parties had initially demanded an ‘override clause’  in order to ensure that it will be able to override a similar Supreme Court ruling in the future. That now is unnecessary as the Supreme Court would no longer have the constitutional right to strike down such a future law. The spectacle in the Knesset on Monday has brought the country to this iniquitous state of affairs.

With the direction of Netanyahu’s Israel today clear to all, it is only a question of time as this predatory government moves on the West Bank to further annex, speed up housing construction, legitamise illegal outposts and harass the lives of the Palestinian population.  Any possibility of peace will further recede and there will be no Supreme Court to question the “unreasonableness” of this government’s misguided conduct.

Man in the Middle. A medically and politically weakened prime Minister, Netanyahu (centre) blocks his attempt-at-compromise defence minister Yoav Gallant (l), championing instead his juggernaut extreme-right steered by justice minister Yariv Levin (r). (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

If THIS government survives and continues on THIS “March of Folly”, then Israel will not live up to the prophesy of the late Israeli diplomat and esteemed foreign minister Abba Eban, when he wrote:

Israel’s future will be longer than its past”.

What is more, It won’t be at the hands of the Iranians, Hamas, Hezbollah  or any of the usual suspects but by our own hand.

I thought it was an injunction of Judaism not to commit suicide!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Penetration to the inner sanctum of Iran’s leadership

By Catherine Perez-Shakdam

(*Courtesy of the American Centre for Levant Studies)

With fiery conviction, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said to me, “When we say Death to America we refer to a system sold to the Zionist cause, when we say Death to Israel we refer to the sons and daughters of Jacob who raised their hands in apostasy against our great prophets and followed the path of Satan as they toiled to steal Muslim lands and enslave our communities. Their bloodline is perverse, marked for destruction by G-d. We must obey the divine law.”

His words dripped with disdain and hatred …

The man’s determination was palpable, the implication of his words terrible. In a few words Khamenei had encapsulated the nature of the regime.

Turning away was no longer an option!


Few have ventured into the inner sanctum of Iran and reaped the benefits of an up-close observation of the regime’s machinations. The Islamic Republic, operating within a highly compartmentalized structure, functions on a strict need-to-know basis, selectively divulging information that serves its objectives. No confidence is squandered; every move is meticulously calculated and premeditated. This framework ensures that any accidental breach remains confined. Such pyramidal design also permits the regime’s elite to guarantee ideological continuity, in the sense that not all its loyalists are necessarily required to believe in the revolutionary project to the extent they do, thus insulating the Leadership. For a regime like Iran, where secrecy and paranoia reign supreme, admitting outsiders into the fold is not a casual affair, unless driven by sheer necessity.

The Iranian regime’s imperious craving for validation, its yearning to court fresh voices and expand its ideological influence, particularly in Yemen, would prove to be its Achilles’ heel. As the regime worked to develop a new asset to its ideology, few could have anticipated that it was I who in fact sought to learn of their agenda and learn of their modus operandi so that it could be defeated.

If my initial contact with the Islamic regime had been by chance, my ascent to the heights of Iran’s revolutionary structure would be by design. Presented with an opportunity to break into the Islamic Republic, I was determined to play the game as long as it would take, for as far as I could go.

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


I traversed the borders of Iran unaccompanied. No one compelled me, coerced me, or orchestrated a plan by foreign powers to infiltrate the regime and gain access to critical information. By the time 2011 arrived, I had witnessed an ample display of Iran’s pernicious influence in the Middle East, specifically in Yemen, leaving me no choice but to acknowledge Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the mastermind behind the shadow of terror. Penetrating the regime is not a venture to be undertaken lightly; it requires assuming substantial risks. One must be invited in – any other approach would raise suspicion and lead to devastating consequences.  The regime must make the approach, not the other way around.

Thus, when the opportunity presented itself, I elected to follow suit — fully aware that my endeavor held no guarantees of fruition. Nevertheless, I remained willing to undertake the endeavor.

This journey into Iran’s corridors of power commenced in Yemen in 2002, three years after my marriage to a Sunni Muslim Yemeni man. Amidst the heartland of Arabia, I found myself face-to-face with the Axis of Resistance — an alliance that, surprisingly, witnessed the transformation of a nation seemingly impervious to Tehran’s influence. In just over a decade, Yemen shed its identity and donned the colors not of Shia Islam but of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

While the Iranian regime purports to adhere to the principles of Twelver Shia Islam, its clerical class has adeptly rebranded and, more pertinently, exploited it, weaponizing faith and subjugating its practitioners to their whims. Iran’s unique brand of Shia Islam exhibits the traits of a cult revolving around martyrdom, jihad, and territorial expansion.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini boldly declared, “Islam says: Whatever good exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! Hundreds of other [Qur’anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”

Once a client-state of Saudi Arabia, Yemen underwent a seismic shift, aligning itself with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and allowing its ideologues to rewrite its history to the extent that the Yemen of today is unrecognizable.

I encountered my now ex-husband, a Sunni Muslim man from Yemen, through mutual acquaintances in the United Kingdom in late 1998 as I went to pursue my studies. We married in early 1999. Coming from a predominantly secular Jewish French background, burdened by a longing for belonging and a yearning to create the familial unit I had always craved, I dove headfirst, oblivious to the warnings that our cultural and religious differences, would eventually render our marriage unsustainable.

My first visit to Yemen in 2002 was for a family gathering. Our return to the UK would be short-lived as upon insistence from his family my husband decided we ought to resettle there, and if not forever, at least for a while. Unable to refuse, I followed.

Sana’a, Yemen

The two years spent in Yemen proved to be a complex experience. Confronted with an alien world I knew nothing about, I witnessed the deep-seated antipathy harbored by many Yemenis towards Jews and Israel. Plagued by Islamic radicalism, Yemen had already become a breeding ground for violent ideologues, each espousing a vehement hatred for all things Western while positioning Islam as the path to salvation. This impoverished Arabian nation teetered on the precipice amidst conflicting religious and political currents. While few could have foreseen Iran’s success in claiming it as its own — the writing was already on the proverbial wall.

Even then, Iran was acknowledged as a dangerous power, an unwanted influence that needed to be purged from Yemen’s society. Despite initial resistance to the ideological allure of the Islamic Republic, Yemen succumbed, absorbed into Tehran’s Axis of Resistance through the ascendance of the Houthi movement and the reconfiguration of Yemen’s socio-political landscape. Tehran, a master manipulator, had honed its skill over the decades, adeptly exploiting nations’ vulnerabilities to vie for influence.

As the poorest and most unruly country on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen remains a coveted prize for regional powers, owing to its strategic geography. Not only does Yemen provide access to the World Oil Route, but it also opens gateways to Asia and Africa — a geopolitical dream for the Islamic Republic as its leadership endeavors to incorporate more Arab capitals into its Axis of Resistance, thereby reshaping the region to align with its vision.

Previously under the patronage of Saudi Arabia and Gulf powers, Yemen had remained impervious to the Ayatollahs’ influence until the Arab Spring and the downfall of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The unrest of 2011 shattered the established order, paving the way for the most improbable contenders: the Houthis.

Regarded as outcasts within Yemen’s political and tribal spheres, the Houthis emerged in the 1990s on the fringes of Yemeni society. Shunned, derided, and relegated to the highlands, the Houthis faced insurmountable odds. It was only through Iran’s meticulous planning and the strategic appointment of several of its operatives to guide the group that Abdel Malek Al Houthi was able to march upon Sana’a, Zaidi Islam was absorbed into Khameneiism, and Saudi Arabia found itself compelled to wage war against its neighboring state in a bid to contain the escalating threat to its religious and territorial integrity.

The Puppet Masters

Two men had been put in charge of breaking through Yemen’s defenses: Hassan Al Emad, the man Saudi Arabia refers to as the Khomeini of Yemen, and Nader Talebzadeh, Iran’s chief propagandist –  both men who would ensure my rise within Iran regime’s ranks would meet no resistance. They both imagined they could use me as a pawn in their chess game.

Hassan Al Emad, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran

As fate would have it, Al Emad was a close family friend of my ex-husband, even though their respective ideology and political views could not have been more polarized. The son of a formerly affluent Yemeni family, my ex-husband had retained many close connections to Yemen’s leading class – something Al Emad was keen to utilize for his benefit.

Back then, Al Emad knew nothing of my origins other than the story my in-laws had told their entourage – that of a French girl who had married their son and agreed to embrace their way of life and, above all, toe the line.

Upon my request, we returned to the UK in early 2005, a few months after my daughter’s birth. I met Al Emad again at a family gathering in 2009, following our second attempt at settling in Yemen.

Following encouragement by Al Emad, who I would soon learn was a well-known IRGC operative in Yemen, I would be slowly taught the ideology of the Islamic Republic, first through history books, later through a crash course in the genesis of the Islamic Revolution and the ideals it claimed to embody – that of liberation and empowerment against tyranny. It is then that I commenced my ascent into Iran’s network of influence.

Such proximity to Al Emad and time would play in my favor. Add to that my curiosity for Shia Islam and a passion for history and geopolitics and I was quickly identified as a potential convert to Tehran’s ideology, someone who could be manipulated and exploited to spread the regime’s words among Yemen’s elite – potentially western media too. 

We would leave again for the UK on the back of the Arab Spring and the toppling of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in late 2012.

If Al Emad made Tehran pay attention, offering his religious clout, Nader Talebzadeh’s recommendation would open the gates. A close friend to Ayatollah Khameini, the regime’s most trusted advisor and communication strategist, Nader’s influence was greater than that of the IRGC’s most high-ranking commanders.

What he said went. Whoever he brought would be granted access, as it was assumed his vetting was the only one that mattered. He controlled the Leadership’s propaganda campaign and was its architect.

On the Right: Nader Talebzadeh

Nader loved to collect people. He would hone talents and build careers, ensuring that loyalties would be secured. I was just another project, a valuable witness of Yemen’s Revolution, a Westerner whose voice would be listened to. My grasp of the region’s dynamics made me a useful tool – that and the fact that I had access to actors within Yemen the regime could not reach. He was to become my mentor.

My ‘education’ would take place over several years – opportunities to demonstrate my utility would be staged and ‘friendships’ arranged so that I could be kept and my thoughts nurtured. Looking back, knowing what I know now of the regime’s modus operandi, I can see how I was being tested and my utility analyzed before I could be let through various circles of influence.

My induction into the regime’s higher echelons came through Lebanon when Marwa Osman, a self-proclaimed Hezbollah supporter, invited me as a political commentator on Etejah TV in early 2015. Within a few years, I became Iran’s favorite Yemeni expert, featured as I was in interviews for Mehr News, Press TV, Tehran Times, Fars News, etc. I was also handpicked by RT (Russia Today) to write OpEds and appear on its programs. Nader Talebzadeh had of course a hand in this.

Pictures of Alexander Dugin taken during the Arbaeen pilgrimage  in Najaf in 2017, Iraq. Alexander Dugin is President Vladimir Putin’s senior advisor and chief propagandist

A close friend to Alexander Dugin, one of President Vladimir Putin’s close advisors and chief ideologue, Talebzadeh had curated a network of people he could use to promote his ideas and act as a powerful echo chamber over the years. The two men were so close that only a year would go by without them meeting or traveling together.

Iran’s ties with Russia are far deeper and more diverse than many believe, as the two powers run exchange programs, allowing appointed experts to lend their clout across their respective networks so that ideas would be disseminated and certain narratives consolidated. This process also allows Tehran to identify talent and advance careers when and if needed.

Kim Sharif – Director of Human Rights for Yemen and cousin of Abdel Malek Al Houthi (Yemen)

In 2015 I was approached by the Houthis’ information bureau. Kim Sharif, a cousin of Abdel Malek Al Houthi in the UK and an IRGC asset, asked me to attend a series of events she was organizing in the UK with such groups as Code Pink and Stop The War. An affiliate of the Iranian regime, Kim Sharif had developed close ties to many Iran-friendly outposts in the UK, namely the Islamic Centre of England, the Islamic College, the Khoei Foundation, and various Shia media outlets. While the Khoeis are not per se part of the regime, their connection to Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq places them within Tehran’s sphere of influence. Many of the events the foundation hosts, for example, bring together many of the regime’s loyalists including the clerical class. The Khoeis exist within the Islamic Republic‘s ecosystem – and willingly or not remain instrumental in propagating its ideology.

Within a few weeks, Sharif would introduce me to the entire network, positioning me at the heart of Tehran’s network of influence in the UK. I would learn of the many operatives and ‘friends’ the Leadership owned and controlled – it most certainly still does.

As 2016 came rolling in, I became a known face in Iranian media, a favorite on Press TV, and a trusted mouthpiece for the regime. As my profile grew, so did my access within the regime. My position would be sealed one Sunday morning when Khamenei’s office asked me to contribute to the Leadership’s website. Featuring on Khamenei’s official website indicates that one is officially a valued asset above all suspicion. My first task would be to interview George Galloway, the former British MP, himself a favorite among Iran’s loyalists for his hatred of Israel.

A presenter on Al Mayadeen, a TV outlet in line with Hezbollah and the IRGC, Galloway would invite me to several of his shows as a commentator on Yemen first, and finally, Iran.

In early February, Al Emad arranged for me to meet with the leadership of the Dawa party (Iraq), yet another political asset of the regime. This meeting would open the doors to Ayatollah Sistani’s camp in Iraq and allow me to witness the weight and extent of Iran’s influence in Iraq.


Conference Hall of the Palestine Conference 2017 – Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran 

Later that month, I was brought to Tehran to attend the ‘Palestine Conference’. There were members of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, the Dawa Party, Al Wefaq, the PMU, and other groups totally sold on Khamenei’s ideology. This first journey to the heart of the regime would be a whirlwind. Over four days, I would come to meet the who’s who of the regime: Nader Talebzadeh, Professor Mohammed Marandi, President Hassan Rouhani, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Ali Larijani – countless meetings were arranged with countless faces.

It was then that I was granted an audience with Khamenei himself, a day after I had first officially met Nader Talebzadeh, and de facto made my entry into the regime. Little did I know at the time that Nader had watched me from afar, carefully monitoring my work while encouraging the regime’s media to give me ‘airtime’. As with most things in Iran, the decision to take me to Ayatollah Khamenei was taken over a shisha [hookah] in a cafe not too far from the conference hall. As I sat with whom I believed to be high-ranking members of the IRGC – people’s reactions to the group were enough of a giveaway for me to deduct they were indeed intelligence, and if not that, high enough within the regime’s ranks to wield great influence, I was asked:

If you could request anything what would it be?”

As I requested a ring from Khamenei –  a token most loyalists value above all, I was told:

What about meeting the Imam in person?”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – this picture was given as a token of appreciation on the back of the meeting with Khamenei as a ‘souvenir’.

I was given 15 minutes to get my things together. I was under strict instructions not to take my phone with me or to have any sharp object on me – including the pin many women use to secure their headscarves. I was to done the traditional Iranian Chador – one had been delivered to me earlier that day. As I was ushered in a four-wheel drive a woman went over the rules, impressing on me that there could be no mishaps, no faux-pas made when addressing the Leadership … not that I needed to be told twice.

Speak only if asked a direct question, do not stare, do not offer your hands to greet anyone, do not smile too overtly, sit still and keep your hands rested on your knees, do not ask impertinent questions, do not offer your opinion unless asked to, do not speak directly at him but rather your interpreter, and whatever you do, do not share any of the details of this meeting on social media or anyone within your entourage.”

We entered a complex with a large courtyard. On the right of us was an annex which I was told was where guests were received. I entered … before me was a room with bare walls, safe for a few pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei – they hung low and crooked. Bright neon lights on the ceiling added to the austerity and dilapidated feeling of the room – not a setting you would imagine meeting with a head of state. On the floor were tattered rugs and cushions running alongside the walls.

A chair was brought in. I was told to sit on the floor and wait. He came through a door located at the very far end of the room with an entourage of men. As I stood up to greet him, which I did by bowing my head as previously instructed, the woman who had accompanied me quickly waved her hand at me, so that I would sit back down. I did.

His voice was soft and he spoke slowly. He seemed smaller and frailer than I remembered him during the conference’s opening ceremony. Our interaction was an odd one.

He spoke to me of Imam Mahdi and the responsibility he had, as his servant to precipitate his return. He told me of the End of Days and the foretold battle that would end with the fall of Christianity and the death of all Jews – how G-d would strike the infidels, humiliating them before the Believers for their acts of heresy. How justice was a matter of submission to the rule, his rule since he alone could translate divine laws. He was after all, the Guardian of G-d’s will, the vehicle by which His commands could be enacted and Islam reigns mighty over all.

He spoke at length of the Zionist lobby, his fight to denounce and expose Jews’ nefarious influence, how during his time on the front against Iraq he could feel the perverse presence of Jewish America and realized then that Iran was engaged in a war that would ultimately lead to the Great War referenced in the Quran and the Return of the Awaited Imam.

I was asked if I understood the regime’s most infamous slogan: “Death to Israel, Death to America”. I replied that I wasn’t sure and wouldn’t dare assume.

When we say Death to America we refer to a system sold to the Zionist cause, when we say Death to Israel we refer to the sons and daughters of Jacob who raised their hands in apostasy against our great prophets and followed the path of Satan as they toiled to steal Muslim lands and enslave our communities. Their bloodline is perverse, marked for destruction by G-d. We must obey the divine law.”

I don’t recall the journey back to the hotel … Khamenei had just rationalized genocide to me.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s parting gift to Catheine Perez-Shakdam following their meeting.

If I had a clear grasp on the regime’s political vision by then, I had yet to be introduced to its methods and, more importantly, the goals it had assigned for the region and, more pertinently, for Western democracies.

In the corridors of Tehran’s conference hall, I would be told of the Islamic Republic’s plan for Israel, its mad pursuit for the ‘destruction’ not of a state but that of its people. How the IRGC had mapped out the Jewish diaspora so that it could, at the appointed time, strike at its very heart and drive a wedge between Israel and its Western allies.

While access was given quickly once in Iran, it reflected over a decade of careful work and networking. I had to prove myself to many of Iran’s clients and make a name first among Iran’s revolutionary networks – Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Nigeria, and Iraq so that my presence would never be questioned but rather assumed. I posed as a regime supporter to learn of its men’s techniques to buy hearts and minds. I’ve witnessed how many allowed themselves to be seduced by the regime; the pull its ideologues have on intellectuals.

The process by which Iran’s regime buys itself loyalties deserves more scrutiny – the slow burn of its indoctrination, the web its agents will weave around their intended targets. Not all, unfortunately, are aware of the game being played against them. Not all are even aware of whose game they are playing. The regime has many agents and outposts peppered across the MENA region and even our Western democracies, especially our Western democracies No sectors stand immune to the regime’s advances; from the military to academia, politics, and NGOs, Tehran’s agents are everywhere, nurturing contacts and leveraging influence.

Nothing is usually left amiss in Tehran, except maybe in my case. If many voiced reservations about my ascent, never did they suspect my loyalty or imagine that the doors they were opening were to facilitate the entry of a Zionist into their midst. I had erased every shred of my identity and dressed in theirs for far too long.

Nader’s friendship would seal the deal –  in a few months, I had become a trusted family friend, someone he would invite on trips and confide in. My links and access to Yemen’s deep state, my ability to read geopolitical developments and relay them within a context the regime could exploit, would prove too valuable not to be utilized. I was groomed to be an IRGC asset.

In April 2017 I was asked to help build the IRGC’s new propaganda campaign in the UK. Nader Talebzadeh asked me to devise a communication/propaganda campaign to help disseminate the ideas and program laid out by Khamenei during the ‘Palestine Conference.’ The regime wanted to mimic Israel’s hasbara efforts in the UK and Europe, bring the media to their views and gain traction among Sunni Muslim communities. They also wanted to draw a list of politicians and state officials they could engage with.

In May 2017, I was again brought back to Tehran, this time to interview Ebrahim Raisi, then a presidential candidate.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s interview with Catherine Perez-Shakdam In Rasht on the campaign trail

The interview taught me little, other than that Iran’s elections are a complete sham and that the media are an extension of the regime’s propaganda machine. My subsequent conversation with Raisi on the flight back to Tehran gave me better insight into the man who would become Iran’s president. A faithful follower of Khomeini’s ideology, Raisi believes in the principles of the Islamic Revolution, just as he believes that he is endowed with a religious duty to bring about the return of Imam Mahdi. Raisi craves power and control. His eyes are set on the Leadership.

In June 2017, I was called to Tehran following a terrorist attack against Khomeini’s shrine. With media attention pointed towards Tehran after the attack, the regime was keen to bring Western voices to relay its message.

Hassan Al Emad, Qom 2017, Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Al Emad is known by the Saudi Intelligence Services as the Khomeini of Yemen in reference to his ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In August 2017, I again returned to Tehran this time to meet with Nader Talebzadeh, Professor Mohammed Marandi, and Hassan Al Emad. Having molded me to be an asset, Nader was keen to maintain close contact. He arranged for me to visit him at his home and meet with several people during my stay, such as Professor Marandi, whom I had also met at the ‘Palestine Conference’. Following this visit, Professor Marandi would call me weekly to speak about political developments and drill into me the need to pursue Khomeini’s revolutionary goals.

In September 2017, I was back in Tehran to meet with Nader Talebzadeh. During this visit, I learned that Nader was planning a series of visits to Africa and the Middle East to pursue several business ventures and consolidate his network.

On the road to Karbala (Iraq) with Nader Talebzadeh and Zeinab Mehanna, 2017


In November 2017, I was invited to attend the Arbaeen Pilgrimage (Najaf and Karbala) as part of a delegation organized by Talebzadeh and his wife Zeinab Mehanna. They had put together a delegation from academia and the media, and activists from across the US, UK, Canada, and the EU so they could better understand Shia Islam. What Nader ultimately wanted was to buy goodwill, impress on the delegation the regime’s narrative, and consolidate Tehran’s hold in the West.

During our walk from Najaf to Karbala, Nader pulled me from the delegation so that I could record a special interview for Iranian media and let me know that several people close to the Leadership would meet with me in Karbala. Upon our arrival to Karbala that evening, I learned that Zaynab Soleimani, daughter of the general, and Zaynab Mughniyeh, Imad Mughniyeh’s daughter, were staying in the same hotel. We met for a coffee and a quick chat. Zaynab Soleimani informed me that her father was in town for 24 hours.

From right to left: Catherine Perez-Shakdam, Zaynab Mughniyeh, and Zaynab Soleimani (General’s Soleimani’s daughter)- Karbala, Iraq 2017

This visit would lead to my meeting with Gen. Qassim Soleimani; the then-head of the PMU, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, and several high-ranking members of the clergy, among whom were some close supporters of Ayatollah Sistani.

I came to Najaf upon Nader Talebzadeh’s invitation. Soon after that, Nader asked me to accompany him to a house in Karbala – there, I met with Soleimani. My interaction with the General was brief. He sat on the floor with maps before him, pointing at some troops’ movements, commenting on his efforts to push ISIS out of certain areas in Syria and Iraq. He recalled an incident with ISIS, claiming that his men had contacted the US military, informing them of Al Baghdadi’s exact location, saying the Americans had refused for the Iraqi army to intervene.

As he spoke of his military prowess, glancing often in my direction to gauge I was certain of my reactions, the general asked me if I knew of Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous quote:

 “If one kills the infidel, and this stops him from perpetrating his misdeeds, his death will be a blessing to him. We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be a struggle.”

This meeting was unnerving.

Soleimani was the most radical and unhinged of all the regime’s men I’ve met. His advocacy for mass murder and his dismissal of human suffering were most pronounced.

Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Karbalai, the custodian of the shrine of Imam Hussein and the representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani (Karbala, Iraq) right of the picture.

The day that followed would take me to Imam Hussain’s shrine in Karbala, where the delegation met with several high-ranking clerics from Ayatollah Sistani’s office, the Head of the PMU, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, and several representatives of Ayatollah Khamenei in Iraq.

Grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Karbala, Iraq during 2017 Arbaeen Pilgrimage (centre)

In December 2017, Tehran asked me to arrange a meeting with Yahia Saleh,  nephew of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The regime was keen to know if the Saleh faction would consider an alliance with the Houthis and abandon their military operations in Yemen. Far from selling the regime to Yahya, I tried to assess to what extent Yahya understood the role Iran continued to play in Yemen.

In early 2018, I would make my last trip to Iran. For the first time, I was challenged by immigration officers and asked to answer a series of questions on why I was visiting Iran – my name had tipped them off. Although I was immediately let go after Nader Talebzadeh intervened, I felt I was cutting it too close for comfort. This time, the regime wanted to speak to me about the MEK and asked me to research the group. The MEK makes the regime the most nervous of all the opposition groups based outside of Iran.

By the end of 2018, I had almost completely disengaged from the regime. It coincided with a request by the Leadership’s office for me to write Khamenei’s biography and convey to a Western audience the essence of Iran’s revolutionary message. By then, I felt too exhausted and sickened by the regime to carry on the charade. I also learned that several IRGC assets in the UK suspected that I was, in fact, a Zionist – an infiltrator. Given the stakes, I disappeared quietly, citing family problems to justify my silence.

From 2019 to 2021, I worked to cut all ties with the regime, choosing not to speak against it, not knowing how they would react. I also needed time to digest what I had learned and determine how to utilize my knowledge best. The pandemic would facilitate my disengagement.

In late 2021, I wrote in the Times of Israel about my meeting with Ebrahim Raisi. Following Raisi’s election to the presidency, I knew that my knowledge had become relevant and that Raisi’s profound hate for Israel would lead to attacks against Israeli interests in the region and potentially the diaspora.

As the regime learned of my ‘betrayal,’ I would be labeled an enemy of the state – with all its implications.


Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran – 2017

It is crucial that we recognize the pressing need for a comprehensive reframing of our foreign policy towards Iran. In our pursuit of peace and the promotion of democracy as a catalyst for nations to prosper and flourish, we thoroughly underestimated our enemies’ ambitions – that to subjugate us.

Most troubling of all, we have failed to grasp the true agenda that drives Iran’s regime, the tactics it employs, and the assets it cultivates. We have been so preoccupied with extinguishing the fires ignited by its agents that we have lost sight of the bigger picture.

Our misjudgment has brought the Iranian regime to the brink of victory, and its triumph is not due to the reasons we might assume. The true threat emanating from Iran does not solely lie in its nuclear program or its territorial expansion across the MENA region. Rather, it resides in the legions of men and women who have been drawn into its narrative, trapped as they are in cycles of hatred and victimization.

The regime meticulously studies us, laying traps and patiently waiting for us to fall into them. Iran is a master manipulator, and we find ourselves unwittingly dancing to its tune.

Tehran’s vision projects itself in the future, not the next election cycle. The regime cares little for popular approval or even efficiency, its men are willing to wait us out, absorbing losses as they carefully weave their carpet.

Islamic radicalism knows no sectarian boundaries; it is an Iranian phenomenon. The full extent of Tehran’s influence has yet to be fully understood and mapped out.

The Islamic Republic stands today as the biggest threat to secular democracies. For decades, Tehran has been an integral sponsor of terrorism, opening its coffers and its training camps to whoever wishes war on the West and its apostasy. We are the infidels to whom their clerics urge followers to lay waste. Everything that we are – from our quest to achieve self-governance and sovereignty over our lives, to our human rights advocacy and our calls for equality before the rule of law, or again free speech – are values Tehran’s clergy deems an insult to its religious sensitivities. Ironically, their actions, often promoting bloodshed, seem to have little to do with genuine religious principles. Nevertheless, Iran’s clerical class persists in attempting to rationalize genocide, presenting it as the liberation of oppressed people from enslavement. This contradiction sheds light on their manipulation of religious beliefs to justify their actions and ideologies.

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” – Ruhollah Khomeini

We would do well to appreciate the magnitude of such words, for since its inception, the Islamic Republic’s truest expression, its life force and raison d’être, has been to cater to a warped Shia Islamic ideal – the worldly manifestation of the Awaited Mahdi’s Kingdom, which sovereignty extends to all that is and all that will be.

The Iranian regime exists in a state of profound nihilism. Although Iran’s Leadership claims to embody morality, its ideologues have encouraged heinous violations and crimes – so their purposes would be served, advocating even the death of the innocents.

It needs an enemy to define itself against; it thrives on chaos to better exploit socio-political fault lines and in the process wield more influence; it demands a cause to hide behind so it could appear as a champion of the people. Both Khomeini and Khamenei have always positioned themselves against elusive enemies: the West, liberalism, and capitalism – not to offer answers but rather to denounce; hoping in doing so that they would rally around their rule, forever blaming their failures on others.

The Iranian regime’s most remarkable achievement has been its ability to constantly divert our attention away from its vulnerable spots, preventing us from striking where it truly hurts, and leaving us ill-prepared to defend ourselves against its relentless attacks or anticipate its next move.

We are facing a formidable adversary in the Islamic Republic. Its ranks will not easily crumble, and unless we dismantle its alliances and accurately identify its strongholds through meticulous mapping, it will merely emerge under a different guise.

Make no mistake; we are engaged in a battle for our survival.


For decades, Iran has skillfully exploited the fundamental principles that underpin our democratic societies, such as freedom of speech and assembly, to undermine and pervert our institutions. By strategically generating tensions and exploiting existing divisions, Iran has succeeded in turning us into unwitting actors in our own downfall, slowly eroding our unity and causing us to compromise our core values in the name of self-protection.

Iran has cunningly capitalized on the very freedoms that define our democratic systems. Through the manipulation of free speech, it has propagated its own narratives and ideologies, often using media outlets and propaganda to disseminate its messages. By infiltrating social platforms, it has sown discord, amplifying existing divisions and fostering animosity within our societies.

Tehran, picture taken near Parliament on the wake of the attack against Khomeini’s shrine in 2017

Similarly, Iran has exploited the freedom of assembly to its advantage. By organizing and supporting various groups, it has created a network of allies who work towards its interests. This allows Iran to influence public opinion, shape discourse, and exploit vulnerabilities within our democratic structures.

By exploiting our differences, it has fueled political polarization, social unrest, and ideological clashes. By fostering a climate of fear, it aims to weaken our societies from within, making us susceptible to divisive rhetoric and policies that undermine the very foundations of our democracies.

The ultimate objective of Iran’s manipulation is to cause us to turn against ourselves and compromise our core values – beyond that the regime wants to exhaust our resolves, systematically forcing us to engage in conflicts and crises that forever drain our resources – Iraq and Afghanistan stand testimony to such tactics.

To counter Iran’s subversive tactics requires a rethinking of our strategy, but more importantly a mapping out of the regime’s circles of influence, its finances, and methodology. Resolve will be needed … courage also.

In the words of Winston Churchill:

Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

About the writer:

Catherine Perez-Shakdam is  co-founder and director of Forward Strategy, a boutique media and consultancy company based in the UK. She is a prominent expert in the Middle East, particularly in the domains of Iran and Yemen. With a rich background, including consultancy work for the United Nations Security Council in 2012, she has played a crucial role in shaping policy decisions by providing invaluable insights into Yemen’s War Economy, uncovering the intricate web of corruption, trafficking, and money laundering.

Catherine has also established herself as a respected voice in the media landscape. She has been a frequent contributor and commentator for outlets such as the I24, Al Jazeera, the BBC, The Jerusalem Post, Politico, the Daily Express, and the Daily Mail. Her contributions have shed light on critical issues, offering a nuanced understanding of complex situations.

Having previously served as a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, Catherine has authored compelling policy recommendations and research papers to address the increasing influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, exposing its activities and providing a deeper understanding of its operations.

In 2021, Catherine gained international attention when news broke of her remarkable decade-long infiltration of the Iranian regime, during which she was able to gain access to the highest echelons of the regime’s inner circles. Unsurprisingly, she was promptly labeled an ‘enemy of the state’ by the regime. Undeterred, Catherine has courageously utilized her extensive knowledge and expertise to denounce the activities of the Islamic Republic, helping to unveil a system that had long operated under a shroud of secrecy. Her revelations have provided a unique perspective on Iran’s actions, challenging its narrative and exposing the true nature of its operations.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 23 July 2023

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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What’s happening in Israel today? See from every Monday – Thursday LOTL’s The Israel Brief broadcasts and on our Facebook page and YouTube by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africa and millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA, broadcasting out of Virginia, USA.

The Israel Brief

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An animal hunt during apartheid South Africa unleashes the dark side of  human ‘nature’

By Michael Witkin

Ship’s Carcass. Picked by the vultures of time, a leftover serves as a metaphor warning of what may await.

The “dreamlike” visuals of the Namib desert turned into a nightmare for the writer in 1970 when as a young Jewish army recruit, his staff sergeant – packing an Afrika Korps beaked cap and WW I Wehrmacht issue ‘Butcher’ bayonet – sighted a Kudu and ordered “Joodjie” (Afr. “young Jew”) to hand over his rifle.  What followed was a hunt into hell.


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It is not too late Mr. Prime Minister, to avert a catastrophe

By David E. Kaplan

Israel at a Crossroad. Mayor Ron Huldai renames Kaplan intersection in Tel Aviv “Democracy Square”. 

There is disbelief that Israel’s once immensely respected prime minister, this surmounter of challenges, would transform into an instrument causing such national disunity and dissent. It’s left to the protesting people to stop Israel’s “March of folly”.


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A selection of opinions and analysis from the Arab media.

Two Arab writers opining on Middle East issues address:

– the complex issue of the long-awaited USA visa waiver for Israelis and

– on the 2023 anniversary, a reflection for Egyptians on the liberation from their political landscape of the Muslim Brotherhood.


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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


It is not too late Mr. Prime Minister, to avert a catastrophe

By David E. Kaplan

At long last…” began The Jerusalem Post’s editorial on Joe Biden’s long-awaited invitation to Israeli PM Netanyahu. A somewhat discoloured welcoming hardly redcarpet and no mention of White House, and listening on i24NEWS at the time when the news broke, the invitation sounded awkward – unclear on when and vague on venue. It was kind of like “when you are next in town, lets catch up.”  There was not even a hint of “swinging over” to the White House.

Clearly to avoid embarrassment on a number of levels, the feeling-somewhat-marginalized Israeli prime minister wanted ‘some’ invitation out there before Israeli president, Isaac Herzog touched down in the States for his meeting with Biden at the White House to be followed with an address to both Houses of Congress.

Warm Welcome. Isaac Herzog (left) meets with US President Biden at the White House before the Israeli president goes on to address both Houses of Congress where he received multiple standing ovations.

The optics was clear – it was not Israel being snubbed; on the contrary – it was  being joyously welcomed on the occasion of its 75th anniversary – it was its president, Isaac Herzog. And for good reason thought much of the people of Israel who would prefer their PM instead of visiting the White House in Washington, to rather retire to his own house in Caesarea.

There is disbelief that this once immensely respected prime minister, this surmounter of challenges, would transform into an instrument causing such national disunity and dissent. The day following the “invitation”  was the ‘National Day of Resistance’ as mass anti-judicial reform protests convened at railway platforms, highways and intersections – metaphors for a country ‘on track’ and going places.

Joining the multitude of voices warning of the country now going in a wrong direction is someone top-of-his-game in ‘Smart mobility’, Israeli computer scientist and businessman Prof. Amnon Shashua. The company he cofounded and which he remains CEO, Mobileye was acquired in 2017 by Intel for $15 billion and hailed then as the largest acquisition of Israeli technology in the country’s history. Netanyahu, who had a hand in creating hi-tech’s miraculous milieu back then, now has a hand in unraveling all those achievements  with forecasts of a recession due to reactions both local and global to his government’s planned judicial overhaul.

Smart Advice from Smart-Tech Wizard. Holding his technology in his hand, Mobileye CEO and cofounder Prof. Amnon Shashua, warns Israeli prime minister who holds the country’s future in his hands: “Netanyahu, stop the judicial overhaul – It is not too late”.

If in 2017 Netanyahu could say to Shashua the day after the monumental deal that “This is a day of rejoicing for the economy of Israel,” not today!

Titling his article in the online news platform Ynet “Netanyahu, stop the judicial overhaul – It is not too late”, Shashua writes that  although the prime minister received a mandate from the majority of Israelis, that mandate did not include “to alter the face of the nation.”

The Mobileye CEO prefaces his position with:

I am not a political person. Since the government declared its intention to promote judicial reform, I believed with all my heart that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom I deeply respect, would ultimately do the right thing. This belief was also based on meetings and lengthy discussions with various relevant parties. However, unfortunately, I am no longer convinced of that.”

What Shashua is convinced of is that:

In order to make significant changes in the fundamental principles of our legal system, we must act with a broad consensus that does not differentiate between right-wing and left-wing stances. Such essential changes, like interfering with the independence of the judiciary and its involvement in governmental decisions, concern all of us, regardless of our political positions. We should not approach such legislation with a one-sided and biased approach.”

Warning it is essential to remember “that today the public officials in power represent the right bloc; tomorrow, they may be representatives of the left,” hence “We must seek consensus. If reaching an agreement is not possible, the process should be stopped. It must be stopped.”

Reminding that in the business entrepreneurship world “a CEO of a company that destroys its values is held responsible, regardless of who or what caused the destruction of value,” Shashua sadly laments that  this clearly is not the case in Israeli politics.  Despite the immense damage to Israel’s “security, economy, foreign relations and social cohesion,” the Netanyahu coalition is not deterred displaying recklessness at the erosion of cherished values.

Shashua concludes “all that remains between us and this dangerous change with unclear implications is the citizens of Israel themselves.”

Hence the protests and why they will continue and intensify.

A kindred spirit is Tel Aviv-Yafo mayor Ron Huldai who renamed on Monday 17 July the city’s famed Kaplan intersection  – the epicentre of the anti-judicial overhaul protest movement  – “Democracy Square”.

Israel at a Crossroad. The mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ron Huldai renames Kaplan intersection in Tel Aviv “Democracy Square” as a tribute to the unwavering spirit of the hundreds of thousands of protestors who have gathered there for 28 consecutive weeks, championing the democratic values that sit at the heart of the State of Israel. (Photo credit Kfir Sivan)

There are two reasons why we decided to rename this intersection ‘Democracy Square,” explains Huldai in a press release. “First, in the State of Israel’s 75th year, it has become abundantly clear that democracy is not to be taken for granted. We want to remind ourselves of that. Second, we want to acknowledge the tireless resolve of those who have gathered here for 28 consecutive weeks in the spirit of democracy. What is more beautiful than coming together in pursuit of common, unifying values? We hope that in the future, years after this threat to our democracy has dissipated, this will serve as a tangible reminder of a period in our nation’s history when thousands of people came together with determination and perseverance to fight for the values outlined in our Declaration of Independence — the values that comprise the foundation of the society we want to live in and want our children to thrive in.”

The resounding message to the prime minister and his coalition is:

STOP! Stop this frenzied assault on democracy before it is too late.

Will future generations lament this chapter in our history or rejoice like in the story of Purim of how we averted a catastrophe of our people. This choice is in your hands, Mr. Prime Minister.

It is time for you to resume running instead of ruining the country.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

The Israel Brief- 17-20 July 2023

The Israel Brief – 17 July 2023 Pres. Herzog departs for US. FM Cohen in Kenya. Bibi health scare. Sweden bible burning stopped. 

The Israel Brief – 18 July 2023 Day of Protests. President Herzog lands in USA. Morocco-Israel ties significantly warm. 78 entities adopt IHRA.

The Israel Brief – 19 July 2023 Presidents Herzog and Biden meet. Refusals to serve duty. Israel to assist Greece with fires. 500 Pets from Ukraine make aliyah.

The Israel Brief – 20 July 2023 President Herzog’s historic speech to Congress. King of Morocco invites PM Netanyahu for State visit. Pres Herzog meets VP Harris. Visa Waiver agreement.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Two Arab writers opining on Middle East issues address:

– the complex issue of the long-awaited USA visa waiver for Israelis

– an anniversary reflection for Egyptians on the thankful “liberation” from their political landscape of the Muslim Brotherhood

(*Translation from the Arabic by Asaf Zilberfarb)


By James Zogby 

Al-Ittihad, UAE, June 29

It is perplexing and offensive that some Biden Administration officials are hurrying to admit Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program, which enables a quick, visa-upon-arrival entry into the United States. It is difficult to comprehend since both the State Department and the Homeland Security Department are aware that Israel does not meet a fundamental prerequisite for participation in the program, which is to guarantee full equivalence; that is, “equal treatment and freedom of movement for all citizens of the United States regardless of national origin, religion, or race.” Israel has consistently failed to uphold the standard of equal treatment, which is tantamount to discrimination against Arab Americans at its borders. Civil rights advocacy organizations have amassed numerous accounts from Arab Americans, especially Palestinian Americans, who have been forced to endure hourslong interrogations at the Israeli border or were flatly refused entrance and forced to return to the United States. The US State Department has issued travel advisories indicating that American citizens with Arab or Muslim heritage, including Palestinian Americans, often face unequal treatment and significant difficulties when entering Israel. In 2014, due to this discriminatory treatment, Israel’s application to the Visa Waiver Program was denied. In addition, new regulations from Israel specifically targeting Palestinian Americans have made entry into the country even more restricted. However, the Biden Administration seems to have reversed its attitude and is reportedly helping Israel join the Visa Waiver Program. In July, a 30-day trial will begin to assess Israel’s entry screening process. Given the history of discriminatory treatment against citizens of Arab or Muslim descent, including Palestinian Americans, it is confounding that the Biden Administration has decided to backtrack on its stance and attempt to facilitate Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program. Palestinian Americans will be permitted to apply for a 90-day travel authorization through an online portal, a move that the United States is demanding Israel demonstrate by successfully granting such requests to a “critical mass.” While this change offers some benefits, it leaves much to be desired. This policy also narrows the scope of those who are able to use it: that is, only those who possess Palestinian identity cards, estimates suggest this is around 70,000 people.

Requiring Reciprocity. The United States expects Israel under a visa-waiver deal to enable free passage for Palestinian-Americans through Ben Gurion Airport into the West Bank and vice versa. (Abid Katib/Getty Images)

This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of other Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who are excluded from this process due to their prior travel to other Arab or Muslim countries, and who have been subjected to unjust discrimination. The trial underway in Israel does not address the discriminatory treatment of Arab Americans who experience harassment at checkpoints and when departing the country. The Visa Waiver Program should allow both Americans and Israelis equal entry without mandatory prior application or authorization. If accepted, Israelis ought to be given the same access to the United States as all Americans, including those of Arab descent, without requiring a visa. Israel’s purported “alternative solution” to allow limited entry to Palestinians instead of meeting the requirements for the Visa Waiver Program not only fails to address the unjust discrimination faced by Arab Americans, but it also belittles the program’s conditions of reciprocity and thereby insults the citizenship rights of Arab Americans. Israel has long claimed that its policies at the border are driven by security considerations. However, its refusal to accept US passports held by Palestinian Americans and its mistreatment of Arab-American travelers to Lebanon or Egypt paints a different picture of harassment rather than security. If the Israeli government continues in this vein, the US should take steps to withhold the Visa Waiver Program concession. For the last three decades, I have consulted with foreign ministers while in possession of numerous affidavits detailing the experiences of those subjected to harassment or denied entry into Israel. These accounts make it clear that Israel’s conduct is unacceptable. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed this sentiment when she made it clear to her Israeli counterparts that “an American is an American.” We must stand by our citizens, and granting Israel special authority to relegate Arab Americans to second-class status is unthinkable. We cannot allow the Arab American community to be sacrificed so that the Biden Administration can curry favor with Israeli voters. Furthermore, a coalition of 16 senators, 19 representatives, and six prominent liberal American-Jewish organizations have demanded that the Biden Administration suspend the Visa Waiver Program until Israel can demonstrate its reciprocal commitment to honoring the rights of American citizens. 

James Zogby


By Amina Khairy

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, June 28

The date of June 30 – marking the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government – will always remain etched in Egypt’s history as one of the country’s greatest feats. This wasn’t a traditional overthrow characterized by tanks and armed soldiers, but a determined battle waged by civilians who realized, in a brief period of two years, that they had been subject to religious exploitation.

On June 30, the people and army of Egypt united to make history: they rid the land of the corrupt politics of a criminal group that had poisoned it since 1928. This group injected its poisonous ideology into many countries in an effort to control them. But thanks to the brave action of the people and military, Egypt stands liberated today, with its sight toward the future. This is an achievement unmatched in its significance and one that even Brotherhood supporters cannot tarnish.

Cries from Cairo. Protesters opposing then Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood wave Egyptian flags at Tahrir square in Cairo, June 30, 2013. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Ten years ago, Egyptians wrote a chapter in history with their brave and passionate protests. As I recall, I still see the image of women standing at their buildings’ entrances, flags waving, and chants of “down with the rule of the supreme leader!” ringing out. I also remember mothers apprehensively sending their children into the streets to demand the removal of the Brotherhood mafia. June 30th is an iconic date that is remembered for the powerful and moving display of courage by average Egyptian mothers, fathers, and children. It was revealed on June 30 that Egyptians still possess the capacity to discern between right and wrong, and between lost and acquired identity. Additionally, it became obvious that a broad spectrum of citizens – though not all – understand that ridiculing one another undermines the foundation of the nation and blurs the role of religion in everyday life. The journey to modernize Egypt, free it from the poisonous grip of political Islam and save it from the deleterious consequences of faith mingled with politics had begun and will continue from that day forward. Yet, this mission still continues. It is something that requires effort from all of us: citizens, as well as political leaders, state institutions, and the government. It is no exaggeration to say that on June 30, the Egyptian “patient” was discharged from intensive care. Now what that patient needed is follow-up, recuperation, and the bolstering of its strength. My sincerest gratitude goes out to all those that took part in these monumental events, on June 30, 2013, regardless of their motives. 

Amina Khairy

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).