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Netanyahu Plies Disinformation Ploy to Salvage Tenure
The embattled prime minister, the Israeli far right and their US backers falsely accuse the Biden administration of secretly bankrolling mass protests
UPDATE: Israeli spy chiefs led secret revolt against Netanyahu overhaul plans, Washington Post reports, based on leaked documents. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/04/08/leaked-documents-israel-mossad-judicial-reform/
RELATIONS BETWEEN Benjamin Netanyahu and the Biden administration have sunk so low that the Israeli prime minister has mounted a blatant disinformation campaign to discredit his opponents, the kind of which Vladimir Putin would be proud.
The increasingly desperate Netanyahu, backed by far right media and MAGA Republican members of Congress, is spreading a new conspiracy theory to explain away the massive grassroots street protests that have forced him to pause his attempted castration of the country’s independent judiciary.
The not-so-hidden hand behind the protests, he says, is none other than the Biden administration. Putin promulgated the same anti-U.S. conspiracy charge when he was faced with mass protests in 2011.
At first, Netanyahu was shy about glomming onto the baseless theme, which germinated from a column in the rightwing Jewish News Syndicate headlined “How Biden subverts Israeli democracy.” He prohibited reporters from using his name when he took them aside to blame Biden for the massive protests during a trip to Rome in February. Speaking only as “a senior Israeli official,” he claimed without evidence that the protests, which saw 80,000 people turn out in Tel Aviv alone in mid-January, were “financed and organized with millions of dollars”— a dubious figure, for starters, with the implication that Israeli liberals themselves couldn’t possibly have raised such sums. “This is a very high-level organization,” he said. “There is an organized center from which all the demonstrations branch out in an orderly manner.”
“Who finances the transportation, the flags, the stages? It’s clear to us,” the “senior official” went on. One of Netanyahu’s aides confirmed that he was referring to the United States. Israeli reporters later outed Netanyahu as the senior official behind the mask of anonymity.
This “foreign interference” charge is the sort of lie that one hears from the Kremlin to discredit jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or from Iran’s clerical leaders to besmirch the women leading the country’s anti-hijab protests. But it speaks volumes about where Netanyahu and his Jewish supremacist coalition partners want to take Israel.
Like most conspiracy theories, this one contains a grain of truth, upon which Netanyahu and his Republican claques in the United States have built a castle and ladled it with generous dollops of inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation.
The Jewish News Syndicate column, written by the syndicate’s senior contributing editor, Caroline Glick, fingered a tiny, U.S.-backed Israeli NGO the Movement for Quality Government, as the evildoer. She called it a “far-left organization at the epicenter of the Israeli left’s war against the Netanyahu government” and “the primary organizer and sponsor of the mass protests against judicial reform.”
For sure, the MQG has focused on fighting corruption since its founding in 1990, defending the rule of law and preserving what it calls “Israel’s liberal democratic character.” And it has petitioned the Supreme Court to oust Netanyahu from office, arguing that, as a criminal defendant indicted for corruption and breach of trust, the prime minister has a glaring conflict of interest as he oversees judicial reforms while on trial for those charges. But the MQG as the “epicenter” of the protests? If so, it’s bringing a pop gun to a heavy artillery duel.
The MQG does indeed receive funding from the U.S. State Department. But the figure is far, far less than the “millions” that Glick and Netanyahu claimed were bankrolling the protests—infinitesimal, in fact, and none of it earmarked for protests. A State Department spokesman confirmed it had provided the MQG with grants—a piddling $38,000 from 2020 to last September, all for “democracy education” in Israeli high schools. So if the MQG, which has some 65,000 dues-paying members, is the Biden administration’s “front group,” as Glick calls it, it’s woefully underfunded. Of course, she backpedals, “the point of the funding is not the amount involved, but the message it sends.”
Sure. In this, the Glick-Netanyahu infowar campaign smacks of the wild Q-Anon conspiracy theories that Trump’s MAGA world latched onto and leveled against the Democrats. Will pedophilia smears come next? Putin must be smiling.
Glick is a dual American-Israeli citizen and an adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy, a far-right, anti-Muslim think tank founded by former Pentagon official Frank Gaffney.
A few weeks after Glick’s column appeared, the Washington Free Beacon, a U.S. rightwing political news site, advanced the anti-Biden narrative with an article that charged that “the U.S. government has been funneling taxpayer money to the left-wing group bankrolling protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” A week later, Netanyahu’s son and political adviser, Yair, tweeted a link to the Free Beacon article to his many followers.
“The American State Department is behind the protests in Israel, with the aim of overthrowing Netanyahu, apparently in order to conclude an agreement with the Iranians,” Yair Netanyahu tweeted, according to The Jerusalem Post. “They aren’t protesters. They aren’t anarchists either. They are terrorists,” he wrote. “A violent underground has arisen here (financed by criminals and evil billionaires). This is domestic terrorism.”
A U.S. State Department spokesperson called Yair’s accusations “completely false."
Naturally, the echo chamber found a home with 2020 election-deniers like Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a member of the House Armed services Committee. “Congress should absolutely review the State Department’s potential funding of partisan politics in Israel,” he said.
Like Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Netanyahu’s immediate objective is to cling to power by accommodating his far right wing. But having also been indicted on charges of corruption and breach of trust, he’s also desperate to stay out of jail. His so-called “judicial reform” bill would pack the committee that chooses high court judges with right-wing supporters, restrict the high court’s judicial review, and allow a simple parliamentary majority of 61 votes to overturn any Supreme Court decision, past or present.
Arrayed against Netanyahu are: his own defense minister; members of elite military and intelligence units who have vowed to refuse to serve if the measure is adopted; the leaders of the country’s high-tech industry; and even many on the right in the academic and legal establishments who say the bill will spell the end of Israeli democracy and turn the country into another authoritarian government similar to those of Hungary, Poland and Turkey.
But that’s exactly, it appears, what the duplicitous Netanyahu and his far right backers want. So it suits their interests to keep demonizing the opposition. And now, as in America, Israeli democracy hangs by a thread.
Will their disinformation dirty tricks win the day? They have for Putin and Trump (so far). Israel may be next.###
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