What’s happening under the Netanyahu coalition has former South- Africans in Israel worried.

By Larry Butchins

We are under dire threat. Whether many people are ready to accept and believe or not, we are on the brink of becoming what all our detractors and enemies have claimed for decades – an apartheid state. With laws that call for discrimination against Arab Israelis – yes, when funds are held back from Arab communities, that is discrimination; when law makers on the right talk about “giving job preference” to Jews over Arabs, that is racism; when women are told to “cover up” and sit at the back of the bus, that is prejudice – whether we like it or not, and it doesn’t matter if that is “official policy” or not , it is this government which is enabling that type of thuggish, racist, discriminatory behavior. Empowering those who do believe it, to act it out.

I believe that as a former South African, who grew up and then lived under the apartheid regime all my life until making Aliyah, it is my moral duty to raise a red flag and wave it vigorously, to warn what could happen here. It is my moral duty to caution that while I have fervently defended Israel against those who condemn it as an apartheid state, we are rapidly heading in that direction, to hell in a handbasket, and I am horrified by that possibility.

Shades of Shame. Visual imagery of South Africa past that the writer never wanted to revisit elsewhere.

Allow me to hark back to the days of apartheid in South Africa, as a reminder of what life under doctrinaire and dogmatic rule, was really like back then.

One of my earliest memories of apartheid was when I was probably around 10-years-old. Late one night, my parents insisted I accompany my father to take our black maid Mavis to the central train station in Durban. I had to sit in front of the car and Mavis had to sit in the back seat. When on the drive home, I asked my father why I had to go with him, he replied that he had to have proof (me, his white little boy) that he and Mavis were not contravening the Immorality Act. Had he been stopped by the police, driving alone with a black woman, they both would have been arrested on charges under that “immoral” act. He would have copped a large fine (because he was white), and she would have been thrown in jail (because she was black), processed in the system, and not seen the light of day for weeks, possibly even months. I couldn’t quite internalize the message at that age, but it followed me the rest of my life in SA, always looking over my shoulder to check that the dreaded security service, BOSS (Bureau of State Security) wasn’t following me or checking everything I had written, said or done.

Disturbing Developments. At a change of command ceremony on Wednesday night, outgoing Binyamin Regional Brigade commander Eliav Elbaz, said in reference to increasing settler violence that “It should be said in a loud clear voice, that actions of this type are not ethical, not Jewish, and do not contribute to security.” (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

I will quote from a chapter of my book, “Train in the Distance” in which the protagonist, Adam Marks, a reporter on a weekly newspaper in the 1970s – the height of apartheid – laments about his so-called “privileged freedom”.

“Do you think I’m free?

“When I write and publish the word ‘Amandla (Freedom in Zulu) under my name in the columns of a widely circulated newspaper, do you believe that I will not be condemned for that? Do you not understand that I am putting my freedom – and the welfare of my family – at risk? I cannot express my opinions freely, I cannot associate with whom I please: if I wish to invite Black friends to my home for dinner, I will be watched and under suspicion. If I meet Black friends for a day at the beach…well, that’s not going to happen, because we can’t even go to the same beach! I cannot even meet them for a picnic in a public park – unless my Black friends are seen to be my servants – haulers of wood and drawers of water for my benefit.

“Do you not understand that I cannot read, or view or listen to what I want? If I wish to read ‘The Communist Manifesto’, or ‘Lolita’, or ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, or hundreds of other banned books, magazines; or see certain films; listen to music by certain musicians – can you believe Maria Callas singing Lucia di Lammermoor fell under the censors obliterating red pencil? Fats Domino, The Beatles, Rodriguez…how many more?

“Radical new ideas, by writers, artists, musicians and committed, passionate people, are influencing and shaping dynamic new thinking throughout the world…and here we sit, under the yolk of an evil system with evil intent, all because of our ‘privilege’.

“I am not free; my ideas are not free; my life is not free – despite all my privileges, I am still a white victim of apartheid. YOU are white victims of apartheid; and I don’t know when or if it is ever going to end…”

Separate entrances in post offices and banks, stairwells in train stations, trains reserved for different races; busses – those which allowed blacks on board in the first place, insisting they sat at the back – the last three rows reserved for blacks; Christian National Education – indoctrination of school children about the “right” of the white man to conquer the land and confine others to “homelands” or “locations”; the imposition of the morals and religious authority over what we could read, or view, or listen to, or even discuss…

Back of the Bus. Some of the hundreds of Israelis demonstrating against the segregation of men and women on buses in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where the women must sit in the back. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

I could write volumes on the apartheid regime, its beginnings, middle and end… and how White South Africans enjoyed a multitude of benefits, lifestyle choices and preferential treatment. About how the Afrikaner-led government set itself up as the highest authority in the land – except for the Supreme Court and a group of courageous justices. Despite virulent government opposition, criticism and the possibility of arrest, banning orders, 90- or 180-days imprisonment, they were a light of sanity in a very dark nation.

Under the General Law Amendment Act, the Special Branch was allowed to arrest anyone they suspected of being engaged or involved in any act against the State and to hold them incommunicado for 90 days (and later 180 days) at a time. The Special Branch could interrogate and extract information, and the public was not entitled to any information including even the identity or whereabouts of people being detained. Detainees could literally and effectively “disappear”. If no charges were to be laid, the Special Branch had to release the individual or individuals after 90 (or 180) days. At the time, Prime Minister John Vorster boasted that this was repeatable “until this side of eternity.” A perfect example of the absolute need for an authority higher than the government.[1]

Am I suggesting that bleak Kafkaesque scenario could happen here in Israel? Not exactly, but there are certain resonant and frightening parallels. I do believe that former South Africans, those who came to this beautiful land of ours to flee discrimination and mind control, who came here to a democratic homeland; who came to work for and build a beacon of freedom and enlightenment – albeit somewhat flawed – should now stand up and cry out:

 “We are NOT an apartheid country – and NEVER WILL BE: IT CANNOT HAPPEN.”

[1] South Africa, Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy – Detentions Without Trial During the Apartheid Era

About the Writer:

Larry Butchins – I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and started my journalistic career as a cub reporter on Durban’s morning newspaper, The Natal Mercury, covering fires, accidents, shipping and beach news. I then moved to the Sunday Tribune’s Johannesburg branch office, covering everything from visiting celebrities to political scandals and student anti-apartheid riots. At a protest at Wits University, I was arrested along with student protesters and spent the weekend in a cell in Johannesburg’s notorious John Vorster Square.

Eventually lured into Public Relations, I opened my own PR firm in Durban. On moving to Israel with my family in 1987, I branched from classical PR into Marketing Communication, running a small English-language agency promoting Israeli products abroad, working with Israeli hi-tech enterprises. Five years ago, I self-published my novel Train in the Distance based on my actual experiences as a journalist working under (and often against) apartheid’s rules and regulations.

In addition to professional writing, I write articles and stories, travel blogs – The Offbeat Traveller – and children’s books, two of which have been published in the US and South Africa. I am now entering my third career as a screenwriter and producer for an international TV series based on my novel.

My wife, Marlyn, and I live in Tzur Yitzhak , north of Kfar Saba; have three grown children and four  grandchildren who all live in Mitzpe Ramon.

Contact Details:


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).


Where is the one in Netanyahu’s coalition who is going to finally stand up and say – “enough”?

By David E. Kaplan

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

                     Simon and Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence)

After 32 weeks of ‘sound’ counseling from the streets  of Israel – not to bring down a government but to save it from self-inflicted folly – lamenting lines in the iconic lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel sadly resonate.

Is ANYONE in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition even listening? Are we going to be in the same situation  six months from now?

Is there even one; never mind the biblical 10 from 50 righteous men that Abraham negotiated down with G-d to save the city of Sodom from annihilation?

Millennia later, it is not a desert city but the flourishing nation state of the Jewish people that is at peril and even more difficult than it was for Abraham, we cannot find even one in the governing coalition who will stand up for what is just and sensible and say to his prime minister “Maspik”- (Hebrew: “enough”).

In Whose Hands? Guiding Israel’s destiny are unabashed racist May Golan (left) with fellow arch-supporter of the judicial overhaul and far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After eight months in power, this government has little to show for itself besides showing contempt for the protestors. Take for instance the Likud Minister for the Advancement of Women’s Status May Golan who in response to being faced by protestors at a restaurant at Ben Gurion Airport, wrote on the X media platform (formally twitter): 

To what other depths of decay will those anarchists sink?”


After all these months of protestors trying to protect and preserve Israeli democracy, this government minister labels them –  “anarchists”.

Is the Likud minister so unaware that an “anarchist” by definition seeks to destroy state institutions not protect them as Israeli protesters are struggling to do. It is coalition members who are behaving like “anarchists”, hellbent on weakening – if not ultimately destroying either by design or indifference – Israeli democracy. They are doing so – despite their protestations – by undermining the efficacy and integrity of the Supreme Court, the hallmark of Israeli democracy. Without a second tier of government  – Israel has no Upper House or Senate – nor a constitution, what check do Israelis have on the excessive exercise of government power besides the Supreme Court? Can this government think beyond its appetites and partisan dispositions? We should be strengthening not weakening the Supreme Court. Until such time of major constitutional changes, what Israel needs and what its economy needs is a robust independent Supreme Court.

It protects the country from the dangerous mindset of the likes of Likud minister Golan.

It says much for the understanding Golan has for democracy when she characterises the protesting milieu in Israel as:

 “depths of decay”.

Golan tweeted further:

 “I have one message for all the anarchists: Move on. This reform will continue to advance even more vigorously …….”

There you have it from the minister and captured in the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel: “hearing without listening”. No hint of outreach, compromise or future talk; the path forward is “to advance” the judicial overhaul, “even more vigorously…”

Intoxicated like her peers with power, Golan displays only contempt for those who oppose the controversial and unpopular judicial overhaul.

Creators of Chaos. Prime mover of the judicial overhaul that is rocking the country, Israeli justice minister Yariv Levin (right) listens to May Golan during a session of Israeli parliament last month. (Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)

Is it any wonder from this MK, who has made a political name for herself by denouncing African refugees in Israel, calling them, as reported in The Guardian (April 20), “Muslim infiltrators”, criminals and rapists. She said many have Aids, suggesting they were spreading HIV by working as waiters, and demanded they be expelled from the country. “If I am racist for wanting to defend my country and for wanting to protect my basic rights and security, then I’m a proud racist,” she said at a political rally in 2013 as a member of the far-right Jewish Power party, a descendent of the Kach party that was outlawed under Israeli anti-terrorism laws.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is flush with members who think just like self-proclaimed racist May Golan. Its embedded in the rank and file.  

Forty-nine-year-old Yitzhak Zarka, from the settlement of Ma’ale Efrayim, who said he has been active in the Likud party for 40 years, made headlines last month when he called anti-judicial reform protestors “AshkeNAZIM” who should “burn in hell.”  In case  he was not fully understood, he added, “Not for nothing did six million  die. I’m proud. If only six million more would burn.” In case this man and his behaviour can be dismissed as an aberration, Zarka has been photographed cozying up with many top Likud ministers and MK’s. While there is a move to expel Zarka and others for the embarrassment caused, it is being met with opposition by some in the Likud, with one member saying:

 “I do not remember any other party that expelled any of its members for excessive anger.”

Kiss of Death. Seen here at the Knesset cuddling Benjamin Netanyahu is Itzik Zarka who at last month’s protest near Beit She’an in northern Israel, while  holding a sign reading “the people demand judicial reform”, said “Ashkenazim, whores, may you burn in hell” and “Leftists are traitors, you are the cancer of the country.”  (Photo: Zarka’s Facebook page)

This is not the verbiage of “excessive anger”, but of a disturbing  mindset that should not be anywhere near the levers of power.  With this level of UNREASONABLE behaviour amongst members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, is it any surprise that the first bit of legislation they pushed through as part of the overhaul of Israel’s judicial system was the passing last month of the controversial “reasonableness” bill which strips the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable! “It was passed in the most heavy-handed way possible – without a comprehensive discussion of the law’s consequences for the economy or for Israel’s security and foreign relations, and with complete disregard for their recommendations and warnings issued by experts in Israel and abroad,” write two former Governors of the Bank of Israel, Jacob Frenkel and Karnit Flug in their chilling article ‘Stop the legislation, save the economy’. (The Jerusalem Post August 22). They so astutely observe that following the passage of the ‘Reasonableness Bill’ along narrow partisan lines that what had until its passing “been a  negative scenario that might come to pass, has become a negative scenario that is now being realized. Indeed, the market reacted immediately with a sharp devaluation of the shekel, alongside a decline in stock market indices.”

Sounds of Silence to Sound Advice. Ex-Bank of Israel chiefs Karnit Flug (left) and Jacob Frenkel warn judicial overhaul is causing a severe blow to Israel’s economy that may, if not stopped, prove irreversible. (Yonatan Sindel and Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Is this the “reasonable” behaviour we expect from our ‘elected’ office bearers?

The former Bank of Israel governors  continue  that:

 “As of today, investment in hi-tech, the growth engine of Israel’s economy in recent years, continues to fall. This sector is seeing a decline even as the hi-tech industry globally is showing signs of recovery. Moreover, over the past six months, almost NO new hi-tech companies have registered in Israel. Instead, they are registering abroad, which means Israe will lose out on a large share of their future economic activity and the tax revenue they generate. In parallel, there has been a sharp decline in employment and number of jobs available in the hi-tech sector.”

Following the debilitating impact of three years of Covid on the economy, the self-inflicted mess of this government’s policies might cause irreparable damage to the point that it “could become potentially irreversible,” warns former BOI governors Frankel and Flug.

We shudder to think what is “unreasonably” next  from Netanyahu and his reckless band in the Knesset that are ruining instead of running the country.

Which begs the question:

Where is the one that will break rank, speak up and stop the madness?

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 joins the call for Israel’s governing coalition members to HALT attacks on country’s security forces

Who would have thought that the army that keeps the people safe, its now the turn of the people to keep the army safe!

And safe from whom?

In  75 years of its remarkable existence, Israel has survived and thrived against all odds, only because it could depend on its “people’s army” – the IDF. When Jewish passengers were held hostage by terrorists in faraway Uganda, it was the IDF that came to the rescue as when the lives of thousands of Jews were threatened in disparate diasporas from Yemen to Ethiopia, it was the IDF that saved and returned them to their ancestral homeland in heroic secret missions. And when communities in need, irrespective of race or religion faced catastrophic natural disasters across the globe, no place, whether in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas was too far for the IDF to send salvation teams of specialists. Often the first volunteers to arrive at areas devastated by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, landslides or disease outbreaks, they were always on arrival, ready to save lives and saved lives, they did.

Now the IDF needs to be saved, not from the “usual suspects” of Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran but from within – from members of Netanyahu’s governing (a misnomer if ever there was one) coalition. This is why in the annals of Israel’s military history, this is not only another “SURPRISE” attack it is an attack from a totally unexpected front. Long accustomed to  attacks on multiple fronts,  who would have predicted the latest front being – our own government!

Prime targets in the coalition’s crosshairs is the IDF’s chief of staff Gen. Herzi Halevi and air force chief Tomer Bar. A minister in Netanyahu’s government and a member of his right-wing Likud party, David Amsalem, attacked them both in a scathing rant blaming Halevi and Bar for the anti-government protests roiling their ranks and asked they be punished.

In any normal army,”Amsalem told Israel’s Army Radio. “you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,”

A member of a coalition that is ONLY held together by the inclusion of the ultra-religious haredi community who refuse for their members to EVEN serve in the army and are presently pushing for a bill that would enshrine blanket exemptions for haredi men from EVER serving in the IDF, Amsalem’s name-calling of Israel’s IDF heroes as “rebels” is  beyond disgraceful.

It gets worse.

Berating prominent judicial figures and former military figures for backing the protest movement, Amsalem demands that they:

 “rot in prison until the end of their lives.”

Such vile verbiage from within the government defaming the very people who protect this country with their lives is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s own son, Yair Netanyahu, a right-wing podcaster known for defaming others in order to defend his father, unleashed from his verbal arsenal a sickening attack ‘aimed’ at undermining the IDF’s stature and reputation.

He nauseatingly called chief of staff Halevi in a post on X, (formally Twitter):

 “the most failing and destructive chief of staff in the history of the IDF and the State of Israel.”

Interestingly, the post was later deleted as it was a glaring embarrassment – an act of stupidity and recklessness that undermined the security of the state of Israel.

Recognising that his own coalition partners were undermining the country’s military preparedness, Defense Minister and member of the Likud Party Yoav Gallant, defended his military, appealing that “If you cannot contain yourselves, attack me, the defense minister,” but “Keep the IDF out of the political debate.”

Amsalem’s remarks was swiftly condemned by opposition leaders. Leading the counterattack was former prime minister and leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid who said:

The IDF commanders and fighters aren’t ‘rebels’. They’re wonderful Israeli patriots keeping us alive,” He added that it was the rhetoric of Amsalem  that amounted to “rebellion and treason against the state…”

National Unity chief Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and army chief, blasted Netanyahu for allowing his allies to attack the top military brass. He “is allowing extremists to harm our most valuable asset,” he wrote on X, the social media outlet formerly known as Twitter.

Israel’s reservists, frequently referred to as “the backbone of the IDF,”  have a personal stake in protecting not only the country  but also the Supreme Court, which provides  by its international reputation, a legal “body Armour”.  So while  “We feel like we are doing the right thing, and that we are fighting for the democracy of Israel,” as one army reservist told CNN during a protest in Jerusalem, there is also the concern that a weakened judiciary being pushed for by the government will be unable to shield Israeli soldiers from possible criminal charges in the ICC.  

As former attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit warned why the country needs its courts to be independent:

The moment that the justice system in Israel isn’t perceived as such, Israel will lose international legitimacy for its military operations and will no longer be shielded from accusations of war crimes.”

So while this government expects its soldiers to protect the country, it shirks its responsibility of protecting its soldiers. As the furor reached a danger point caused by the rhetoric from the government and its supporters, the State President felt again the need and urgency to intervene. He did so by immediately appealing for “calm”. Zeroing on where the danger to Israel’s security was emanating from – Netanyahu’s government ministers – President Isaac Herzog  said:

These are statements that harm the strength of the IDF. We have a strong army and an excellent chief of staff…We all owe them gratitude and affect for their activities to protect the security of the country.”

We, at Lay of the Land subscribe to the message in the wording  of our State President.  Whatever grievance this government has with the reservists over their position on an issue that is tearing the country apart, it needs to be seriously addressed by debating with the people rather than defaming the army.

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).


How else to message Jerusalem before it’s too late?

By David E. Kaplan

Late last Wednesday afternoon, I was at the kid’s playground at Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona market, expecting little more than a fun few hours with my grandkids.  Apart from the obvious enjoyment of engaging with the li’l ones, it’s also one of those rare times I can get away having a ‘glida’ (Hebrew: ice-cream), usually “verboten”.  However, what time should have been simple and sweet became complex and sour, for instead of running after them between the play equipment, we the grandparents were met with “Mah..?” (what?) followed by “Lamah…?” (why?) concerning the sudden cacophony of sound, loudspeakers, and angry police keeping “big people” apart. The protest and counter protest was not something to avoid; it was happening adjacent to the playground. How does one explain to  3 and 5 year-olds that the ‘big people’ are angry; that they are trying to send a message to “important” people in Jerusalem but no-one is listening and that if it was Saturday night, their grandparents too would be among the “big people” protesting.

Quite before the Storm. The playground at Sarona in Tel Aviv next to where the protestors from opposing camps congregated necessitating a large police presence.

While this complex drama was playing out, my mind drifted to that profound observation in the 1970 movie classic, Cromwell, when Oliver Cromwell played by the late Richard Harris, arrives in London on horseback from his country estate summoned to an agitated Parliament and says anxiously to his enquiring two teenage sons amidst a public commotion in the streets:

 “When men run out of words, they reach for their swords. Let’s hope we can keep them talking.” 

Wisdom in Words. Says Oliver Cromwell, played by Richard Harris says to his teenage sons, “When men run out of words, they reach for their swords.”

The “we” did not succeed because the king, Charles I, was not interested in listening and a painful civil war ensued.

Today, the Israeli “we” are talking; that is what these protests are about. They are the collective voice of the people. How else can they make their voices heard? Write letters to newspapers and if published will have as much impact as having been drawn in beach sand? Wait until the next election by which time the ethos of this country will be unrecognizable? One could still petition the Supreme Court, which is precisely why Netanyahu wants to  disembowel it of its judicial gut!

Sarona, a Sound Setting. Back in January 2023, Israeli tech company workers stage a one-hour protest at Sarona in Tel-Aviv against judicial overhaul. (Courtesy)

The Supreme Court is to Netanyahu what Thomas Becket was to King Henry II.  Some eight centuries after the first Plantagenet king cried out “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”, Israel’s justice minister, Yariv Levin, hears his “King Bibi” appeal and reaches for his proverbial sword. That is why we are in the mess we are and why the protest will and needs to continue.

At present, we too have neither ‘king’ nor coalition listening.

They say that democracies do not disappear overnight; that they  erode over time, little by little, surely but assuredly until that day the people awake to discover it’s absence. This is not what is happening in Israel. The process could not be more out-in-the-open nor rapid, with a prickly populace awakening every day with an OMG and a groan to the news of another outrageous embarrassing statement or act of misconduct by members of this coalition government. An integral part of this pathetic political pantomime is the prime minister, the master of oratory that has less of an audience at home besides his safe Channel 14, explaining in English to a gullible overseas media, mostly in the USA that the judicial law is “minor” and that democracy fears by the protestors are “silly”.  What Bibi and his gang are orchestrating is not “minor” and the people’s fears for Israeli democracy are not “silly”.

The Israeli people that produced a magnificent country in record time are wise to the  attempted undoing by this catastrophic coalition. They have fought off the enemies from without; they will fend off the enemies from within.

Time to Listen. Uproar over the government’s plans to change the way the judicial system works, has led Israel to be in the grip of one of the most serious domestic crises in its history.

At some stage we hope that reason will prevail and that the judicial overhaul will be SUSPENDED allowing people to talk before they reach for their swords. The constitutional issues that have unsettled this nation are complex having to meet multifarious interest groups across the political, ethnic and religious divide and need time to study, present and then decided upon. Possibly even voted upon in a referendum.

In this way we will avoid the impending implosion and grandparents can safely return to the playground without having to engage five-year-olds about politics.

I may even catch up on the “glida” (ice-cream) I unjustly missed out on.

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).


Pushing through nation-divisive bills, Netanyahu is gambling away his people’s future for his own

By David E. Kaplan

In 1993, when he was Israel’s charismatic standout spokesman and still three years shy from being his country’s prime minister for the first time, he published his impressive work on Israel’s rightful place in the world:


Three Decades Later. With Israel now far more secure of its place in the world since the Prime Minister published his book in 1993, how secure is the country today from itself?

Now 30 years on in 2023, it is Benjamin Netanyahu’s “PLACE” as prime minister that is being called into question. The man who has served as Israel’s longest serving premier, has in only seven months transformed from being praised as one of Israel’s greatest leaders – for good reason –  to being reviled as its worst – also for good reason. Having taken the country to great heights, he is now driving it to unforeseen lows!

Writing in the right-leaning The Jerusalem Post, Amotz Asa-El refers to the final reading of the law abolishing the protective reasonable standard by 64-0 with the opposition boycotted the vote as “Benjamin Netanyahu’s day of infamy” – a poignant reference to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearle Harbor in 1941. It is also the title of Asa-El’s article with the subhead reading “Netanyahu earned his place in history as the man who tore Israeli society and led it to civil war.”

It may well not come to that but Netanyahu seems reckless as to whether his actions are leading in that direction. For Netanyahu, those opposing him – whom he disdainfully characterizes as either misinformed or misdirected – simply don’t seem to understand him when he says, “ I am actually strengthening democracy.” Securing a platform for his Orwellian-speak with Fox News’ Life Liberty & Levin, Netanyahu took a swipe at President Biden when he told the conservative talk show host Mark Levin that “Everybody has an opinion on Israel,” but that he “doesn’t comment on internal debates in other democracies.” In other words he, Bibi, is always reticent in the affairs of it friends, and that he Biden, should keep his opinions to himself. Netanyahu conveniently forgets or ignores how in In 2012, he all but campaigned for Mitt Romney  against Barack Obama. Inter alia, Netanyahu’s backer, the late Sheldon Adelson, held a high-profile fundraiser for Romney in Jerusalem in what Joe Klein in Time magazine called an “unprecedented” interference by a foreign leader in a U.S. election. Klein described Netanyahu’s behavior at the time as an “unprecedented attempt by a putative American ally to influence a US presidential campaign.”  

Three Decades Later. With Israel now far more secure of its place in the world since the Prime Minister published his book in 1993, how secure is the country today from itself?

There are those in the coalition arrogantly playing down the significance of the striking down of the reasonable bill like Likud MK Boaz Bismuth, who thought he was being highly entertaining by dismissively remarking on i24NEWS before the predictable outcome of the vote that “tomorrow the falafel in Israel will still be democratic.” Jokingly presenting Israel’s democracy as a falafel to a TV audience, Bismuth knows the reality – that the impact will prove monumental and the opening salvo on weakening Israel’s judiciary.

Why all of a sudden is it so important for this extreme right-wing governing coalition to remove the reasonable protection provision from Israeli statutory law?

Uproar in the House. The scrapping of the reasonable standard in the Knesset brought joy to its coalition proponents, while outside the parliament and cross Israel, the people protest. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

For starters, the elimination of the reasonable doctrine obstructs the Supreme Cout from cancelling executive decisions that are extremely unreasonable.  Looking back historically, the Supreme Court has rarely intervened using this provision and has never blocked any national programme whether economic, social, economic or defence related. The obvious inference is that you only want the ‘Reasonable’  provision cancelled unless you want to implement something “unreasonable”.

This begs the question of what “unreasonable” does Bibi, Boaz and their cohorts in the coalition want furiously carried out before there is another election or before Bibi becomes mired in his criminal proceedings?

  • Will he use this power to make  unreasonable appointments like a convicted felon Arye Deri as his finance minister?
  • Will he fire the politically independent Attorney General which he has threatened to do?
  • Once Netanyahu has his ‘yes men’ in position, will he then proceed to wiggle his way out  of his bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges by engineering a more pliable new Attorney General to drop all the charges?
  •  And then for the Holy Grail of this coalition’s wish list, will he annex the West Bank and expand settlements.

Did not Justice Minister Yariv Levin , the architect of Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul today, say back in 2017 when as Minister of Tourism that:

We are not seeking ‘creeping annexation’; we are looking for justice for the residents… and if there are those saying that through legislation we are advancing ‘creeping annexation’ — we won’t argue.”

They won’t argue!

There you have it in the words of those not running but ruining this country. This judicial overhaul that will according to Bibi “strengthen democracy”, will instead liquidate any chance of salvaging the ‘Two State Solution’ and resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict that has persisted for over a century.

Interestingly, what was Likud MK Boaz Bismuth’s reaction when it was announced that the scrapping of the reasonable bill is being seriously challenged and for the first time in history, the Supreme Court with an extended bench of 15 justices will consider petitions on 12 September? Without any derogatory felafel references this time, he tweeted:

 “15 people wearing judges robes replacing 120 representatives of the people….this is the end of democracy.”

A befuddled Bismuth omits to mention that those “15 people wearing judges robes” in Israel’s absence of a protective second house of parliament or a constitution, offers the only protection against the “unreasonable” conduct of a wayward government.

Boaz was quickly supported by the irascible Likud MK Tally Gotliv, who similarly tweeted that “I will not respect a High Court ruling to strike down the reasonableness bill.”

Age of un’Reason.  Responding to applications against the government’s Law to Cancel the Reasonableness Standard, “The Supreme Court has no authority to intervene,” tweeted right-wing MK Tally Gotliv for the Likud Party.

The battle lines are drawn.

While Netanyahu concludes on the last page of his A PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS that “If the central aim of the Jewish people during its exile was to retrieve what had been lost,”and that “the purpose now is to secure what has been retrieved,” he may sadly end up  the ‘author’ of his own misfortune and possibly that of his country by sabotaging its future.

If this prime minster continues unimpeded on his present path, the architecturally beautiful Supreme Court building in Jerusalem  – the focus of Israel’s present plight – will remain just that – a beautiful building, an edifice to what was rather than what we are and what we could be.

Battle of the Buildings. Close and yet far apart, the Supreme Court and the Knesset (behind) battle for the soul of the nation.

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).


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).


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).


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).


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).


As Bibi’s ‘’reasonable bill’ advances in Israeli Knesset, country retreats into the abyss

By David E. Kaplan

If the US is reassessing its relationship with Israel’s leadership, they are only following the example of the citizens of Israel.

Uproar in the House. The fate of the nation resting with Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) speaking with Justice Minister Yariv Levin as the Knesset deliberates a bill to cancel the judiciary’s review powers over the ‘reasonableness’ of government decisions, in Jerusalem on July 10, 2023. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

When some 300 reservists in cyberwarfare units issued a letter on Tuesday saying they would not show up for volunteer reserve duty after the Knesset okayed the first reading of a bill to eliminate the High Court’s ability to rule on the “reasonableness” of government decisions, it exposed a gaping wound in Israeli society explaining the shocking but not surprising rebellion within the ranks. When defense minister Yoav Gallant ‘shot’ back at the protesting reservists saying they were “giving a prize to our enemies” he was missing the most important point:

 that a sizable resilient chunk of Israeli society now see the current government as the “ENEMY”.

Message from the Military. Preceding latest developments of reservists refusing to serve in protest, IDF Reservists and activists protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem back in March 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The cyberwarfare reservists were following in the wake of the nearly 200 Israeli Air Force fighter pilots – some of whom “conducted covert Israeli operations” – who too are refusing to continue serving as reservists in protest against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul that they see as an assault on their country’s democracy. This new, never before phenomenon is literally chipping away at Israel’s armour –  because an angered people have been awakened and see what Gallant fails to see that this extreme right-wing government  is now the ‘Enemy of the People’.  If Bibi and his gang – albeit elected –  succeed in their pursuit, staying out of jail for the prime minister is the least of the people’s concern. What is existentially worrying is if this government succeeds in passing all their rotten bills it will be the end of the vision that most Israelis share of a liberal democratic Jewish state.  And THIS is what is worth fighting for. This is why the reservists are threatening not to serve and why the people en mass have enlisted to fight this government week after week now entering its 28th week.

Taking the Hight Ground. Israeli fighter pilots are refusing to train joining in the wave of protests across the country against the government judicial ‘reforms’. (Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

And the people protesting are in good company. Given that the government could pass key legislation aimed at radically overhauling the judiciary within days, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit who had been appointed to this position by Netanyahu in 2016, warned as well this week – that the country stands on the “brink of dictatorship.”

Beware of Bibi. Warning today that the country stands on the “brink of dictatorship” because of Netanyahu’s policies, the former attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit is seen here as Bibi’s cabinet secretary back in September 2014 with the prime minister (left). (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool/File)

Mandelblit, who was once a close confidant of Netanyahu and served as his cabinet secretary from 2013-2016 before being appointed attorney general, said on Channel 12 that the proposed legal overhaul was “not reform” but “a revolution, regime change. It’s a complete change of the DNA upon which we grew up, and the upshot is the elimination of the independence of the legal system from end to end.”

And like before the Rabin assassination, once again the warning signs are there.

The bitter divide over the planned overhaul,” continued former attorney general Mandelblit, “will lead to violence…..and somebody or some people will pay the price in blood. That’s what will happen.”

Crazed Crony. Derailing Israel’s democratic future, a frenzied Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee at the committee meeting on the planned judicial ‘reform’, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 12, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

This is the state of our State that Netanyahu has brought upon his people who he once so admirably served and now threats are there to serve him.

I cannot go anywhere today whether to my physiotherapist, hairdresser, a funeral or paying a condolence call without engaging in conversation about the “matzav” –  Hebrew for the situation. I believe it is the same for most people for what is more important today than our future tomorrow? 

Israel Today – Ministers Applaud, People Protest. Government ministers celebrate after the Reasonableness Standard Bill passes its first reading in Knesset. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

And the message from the US could not be clearer. By inviting the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog to address next month the US Congress, while still not extending the customary invitation to Israel’s prime minister to visit the White House, is a reassurance  that the much talked about widening rift  between the US and  Israel is only between the US administration and the Netanyahu government – not the people of Israel. This will be visually affirmed to the entire world watching on TV when the members of both Houses of Congress, rise repeatedly on their feet to give rousing ovations to  President Herzog. The people of Israel will also be on their feet  as they again and again will take to the streets across the country to protest until this nightmare comes to an end.

Let’s end the nightmare of Netanyahu so we can return to the dream of Herzl.

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).