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Netanyahu says NY Times has been 'demonising Israel for decades'

Returning prime minister responds angrily to NYT editorial saying his government is a threat to Israeli democracy
Andrew Ross Sorkin speaks with Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu during the New York Times DealBook Summit on 30 November 2022 in New York City (AFP)

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the New York Times of “demonising Israel for decades” and “burying the Holocaust for years” in response to an editorial arguing his government represents a threat to Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu’s bloc sailed to victory in October elections thanks to an alliance with far-right religious Zionist parties. He is likely to become Israeli prime minister once again later this month.

On Saturday, the NYT editorial board published a piece entitled “The Ideal of Democracy in a Jewish State Is in Jeopardy”.

“The far-right government that will soon take power, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, marks a qualitative and alarming break with all the other governments in Israel’s 75-year history,” they wrote.

“While Mr Netanyahu clearly has the support of the Israeli electorate, his coalition’s victory was narrow and cannot be seen as a broad mandate to make concessions to ultrareligious and ultranationalist parties that are putting the ideal of a democratic Jewish state in jeopardy.

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“Mr Netanyahu’s government… is a significant threat to the future of Israel - its direction, its security and even the idea of a Jewish homeland.”

In a tweet thread on Sunday, Netanyahu responded by accusing the NYT of “shamefully” calling “for undermining Israel’s elected incoming government” and vowed to “ignore its ill-founded advice”.

After the country’s fifth election in four years, Netanyahu’s Likud signed coalition deals with far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party and Bezalel Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism party.

The parties' leaders have secured positions in a future government that may help them push through policies such as annexing large swaths of the occupied West Bank, expanding illegal settlements, and allowing Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque.

Bezalel Smotrich, a self-declared homophobe and settler activist, has been tapped to become finance minister and will be placed within Israel’s defence ministry with oversight of settlements inside the illegally occupied West Bank.

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The post gives Smotrich authority over building permits in settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and land issues. He will also oversee two military units in charge of running civilian and security affairs in the occupied West Bank.

Ben Gvir, who was previously convicted in Israel of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organisation, is set to become national security minister, with oversight of police and the force that controls security at al-Aqsa Mosque.

Netanyahu has also promised to establish a new agency for “Jewish Identity” headed up by Avi Maoz, a man who describes himself as “proudly homophobic”.

In early December a Jewish human rights group said the government being formed by Netanyahu imperils the rule of law in Israel and poses a direct threat to the safety of both Jews and Palestinians.

“Israel’s new government is a stark display of rising fascism and racism,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, an organisation representing over 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America, said in a statement.

“Netanyahu’s coalition government gives power to violent, right-wing extremists who seek to incite political violence and who will put lives at risk…from the top down. Netanyahu and his new coalition endanger both Israelis and Palestinians."

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