Israeli elections ended two months ago, but there still are a few minister spots open that could shape the direction of the country. Most of the top-ranking slots are filled, given away weeks ago to members of right-wing parties during coalition negotiations, and this week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will complete his cabinet, promising the remaining seats–which could include the four cabinet positions he gave himself–to rank and file hardliners from within his own party. They support annexation of the West Bank and are fiercely opposed to any form of Palestinian statehood.
Confirmed last week Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely became the highest official in the foreign ministry, aside from Netanyahu who heads the portfolio. She will run day-to-day business, and is a vocal supporter of the greater Israel project. She is motivated by a religious belief that God gave the West Bank to the Jewish people, which she re-announced last week in her first address to the foreign ministry.
In addition, on Monday another annexationist, Gilad Erdan who is the former minister of interior, became the public security, and the strategic affairs and hasbara minister. In his latter role, Erdan will produce public relations materials against the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement and negotiations with Iran.
(Video: The Guardian)
In her inaugural speech to the foreign ministry last Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely explained she is on a mission to convince the world that Israel inherited the occupied Palestinian territories from God. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that,” said Hotovely in a meeting of the foreign ministry.
During the address she went on to quote from religious scholars explaining why Israel is not an occupier over the West Bank. Israel’s i24 translated:
“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.”
Then switching to English, Hotovely closed by stating she will “demand” world leaders “declare Israel as a Jewish national state,” and back settlement growth in the occupied Palestinian territory:
“We expect the international community to back up the demand of our prime minister to declare on Israel as the Jewish national state. Moreover we expect as a matter of principle that the international community recognize Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland everywhere.”
Hotovely, 36, stems from the “new Likud” branch of the ruling coalition, a cohort of far-right politicians that have changed the character of the party over the last two election cycles. She is ultra-orthodox, in fact the only female ultra-orthodox member of Knesset, and speaks often about her religious motivations for expanding the settler movement.
Plucked from obscurity after Netanyahu watched her in a televised debate, Hotovely made her debut into politics in 2009 as the then youngest member of Knesset. When she joined the government she told the Jewish Press she wanted to run for office in order to strengthen the settler movement:
“I realized that the most important decisions are created here [in the Knesset]. That was the reason I decided that whatever issues might arise concerning the settlers in Eretz Yisrael, I want to be here to raise my hand for whatever is good for the Jewish people.”
In the same interview, Hotovely explained how religion drove her views on the settlements:
“[T]he settlements are part of our Jewish history. The Jews lived in Hebron, in Beit El. These are biblical places. Hebron is the place where King David began his kingdom. I don’t think it’s something we can let go, because what is Zionism all about? Zionism is really about going back to Zion, going back to Jerusalem, going back to all those biblical places. We need to start talking about the peace process without removing people from the settlements.”
Hotovely’s brand of religious nationalism appeals to rightists from within the Likud movement. She has built a base out of constituents who would otherwise cast ballots for a less influential, far-right party. In 2011 she told journalist Max Blumenthal that her political beliefs were identical to those of Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi party.
In 2012 Hotovely addressed the “Application for Sovereignty of Judea and Samaria” conference where she called to incorporate parts of the West Bank into the state of Israel. For Hotovely, the biblical land of Israel should guide the contemporary borders of the state. Later the same year Hotovely went as far as introducing legislation into Knesset to annex the West Bank. It did not pass, although Hotovely is committed to re-introducing it.
Before his dual appointments this week as the minister of public security, and strategic affairs and hasbara, Gilad Erdan was the minister of interior. In that position he made headlines after spearheading a cash for refugees plan, where Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda in exchange for a payoff.
In his new role, Erdan will oversee the Israeli police force and run Israel’s public relations with the international community. Erdan brokered increased funding to both departments in his negotiations with Netanyahu over the appointments. As well, a new focus was added to the position of strategic affairs and hasbara, a ministry that was created in 2006 for Avigdor Liberman and has only been filled by hardliners. Erdan now has specific instructions to double down against the BDS movement, and build opposition to the Iran negotiations between the U.S. and Europe.
Making his first comments after being sworn into office, Erdan spoke to Israel radio yesterday morning. “The questions that must be asked are about our personal security, the values of the police, and the attempts to boycott and delegitimize Israel around the world,” he said according to a report by the Jerusalem Post.
In politics for over two decades, Erdan is a close confidant of Netanyahu. He served as a foreign policy adviser back in 1996 during the prime minister’s first term. Then in 2003 he entered Knesset and slowly rose within the ranks. During his tenure he introduced an early version of the “nationality law” where Israel could revoke the citizenship of those deemed disloyal to the state. Then in 2014 he went a step further and stripped a Palestinian citizen of Israel who committed a security offense of his state benefits.
In 2012 while serving as minister of energy, Erdan recommended cutting off Gaza’s electricity supply when Israel faced power shortages. At the time he said Palestinians were “not worthy” of having electricity.
That same year Erdan appeared a vocal supporter of a growing faction within Knesset to annex the West Bank. He made statements backing Hotovely’s legislation to formally incorporate the occupied Palestinian territory into Israel, although unlike Hotovely he supported the measure as a matter of strategy and not religion. Later in 2014 Erdan recommended building new settlements and annexing the West Bank as a punitive measure against Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for pursuing action at the United Nations.
While Hotovely and Erdan’s appointments come with significant domestic power to shape Israeli policy, their positions are also part of Israel’s external face. Foreign affairs and hasbara are the cornerstone of how Netanyahu will present his country to the world in his fourth term. Their hiring signals annexation is becoming more mainstream within Israel’s establishment party.