A couple of Netanyahu’s not-so-white lies to Americans

In the past week or so, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated a couple of talking points that diverged from the truth, but few people called him out on it.

1. In a meeting with the Jewish Federations of North America in New York last Tuesday,  the prime minister fielded a question regarding the state’s practice of sending asylum seekers to detention facilities in the desert, sometimes for unlimited periods of time. This has been the first time the prime minister commented since a recent ruling by the High Court that ordered the detainees to be released. “There is no asylum seeker problem in Israel – they are illegal job immigrants,” responded Netanyahu, according to Barak Ravid’s report in Haaretz. “We don’t have to open our doors to be swamped by the way other people run their economies.”

But if those who crossed the border from Sudan and Eritrea are job seekers, why doesn’t Israel deport them, like countries do with illegal immigrants? The fact of the matter is that Netanyahu’s government itself gave “group protection” to all asylum seekers from those countries (At the same time, Israel refrains from individually examining their asylum request). Netanyahu might say that the asylum seekers are immigrants, but his own policies dictate a different approach.

2. During Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S., settlers occupied 25 apartments in Silwan, East Jerusalem – the largest entrance of settlers to this flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood since the early nineties. Netanyahu dismissed the fierce criticism the government got over this issue. This is what he said in a press briefing in New York (and again Saturday on Israel’s Channel 2):

“Arabs in Jerusalem are free to purchase apartments in the western [part of the] city and no one is arguing against it […] I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs […] This goes against values that the United States also believes in.”

Let’s leave aside the various ties between the government and all those organizations and agencies who settle Jews beyond the Green Line, and take Netanyahu’s words at face value. The simple truth is that Palestinians from East Jerusalem cannot buy apartments anywhere they want in the city. East Jerusalem Arabs – who make up one third of the city’s residents – are not Israeli citizens, but rather permanent residents. They have a lower legal status, which, among other things, prevents them from buying apartments on state land – and most of the big housing projects in Jerusalem are done on state land (East Jerusalemites cannot vote in national elections, and if they leave the country for seven years – de jure, though de facto it can be less –  they lose their residency rights and are prevented from returning).

I am not sure that keeping people as second class citizens–more accurately, non-citizens–goes in line with “values that the United States also believes in.” But at this point, there is such indifference to the Palestinian issue, that Bibi can simply get away with anything.

Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination
In Silwan, the settlers are winning – big time
‘National Parks’ in East Jerusalem: New tool in occupation toolkit
In East Jerusalem, only Palestinian property seized as ‘Absentee’