Interview With Former Knesset Leader: ‘We Are Such an Angry People’

In a SPIEGEL interview, former Knesset president Avraham Burg discusses the right-wing surge in elections, the “monopoly of the Holocaust” on Israelis’ everyday lives and opportunities missed by the Palestinians and Israel.

Avraham Burg on the election of the right-wing parties and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu's imminent return as prime minister: "The Israeli society has been kidnapped by the settler movement."
Avraham Burg on the election of the right-wing parties and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s imminent return as prime minister: “The Israeli society has been kidnapped by the settler movement.” (AP)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Burg, a majority of Israelis voted for right-wing parties, and now Benjamin Netanyahu is prime-minister designate. As someone who supports the Israeli left, are you feeling a bit lonely these days?

Burg: I feel I am losing my political, ideological and spiritual home. My political home today, the Meretz party, shrank to only three seats in the Knesset. As an Israeli I feel lost because so many of my fellow countrymen are in love with war — as the solution for everything. But the most existential loss is spiritual: For me, being a Jew is being a universalist, a humanist. I can’t understand any Jew who votes right-wing. I can’t understand how a Jew can speak a language of xenophobia. And yet so many of them just did.

SPIEGEL: You’re referring primarily to the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, whose Israel Beytenu Party became the third-strongest in Israel’s parliament.

Burg: If you had told me 20 years ago that a day would come when this racist ideology would be represented with 15 seats in the Knesset, I would have said that was impossible. Now it’s as if the crossing of this red line were natural. Lieberman doesn’t talk about the West Bank and the borders of 1967. He brings us back to 1948, when tens of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes. Now Lieberman wants the remaining Israeli-Arabs to leave the Jewish state.

SPIEGEL: How could an election result like this have happened?

Read moreInterview With Former Knesset Leader: ‘We Are Such an Angry People’

Israel Will Attack Gaza Until Hamas Can No Longer Fire Rockets, Livni Says

The rubble of the al-Fadilah mosque sits in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on Jan. 11, 2009. Photographer: Khaled Hasan/Bloomberg News

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israeli troops will keep on fighting in the Gaza Strip until Hamas rockets no longer pose a threat as representatives of the militant Islamic group headed to Cairo for more cease-fire talks.

Israel’s priority isn’t to reach a cease-fire with Hamas even though the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate truce. Instead, the goal is to reach new security arrangements with Egypt to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, Livni said.

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“I don’t need Hamas to sign on a piece of paper,” Livni said in discussing efforts to broker a truce during an interview with Army Radio. What’s more important, she said, is that when Palestinians fire rockets into Israel, “they know they will be hurt.”

Read moreIsrael Will Attack Gaza Until Hamas Can No Longer Fire Rockets, Livni Says

Israel rejects EU calls for ceasefire

Israel rebuffed a call from visiting European foreign ministers on Monday for an immediate ceasefire in its Gaza offensive, as troops engaged in their heaviest clashes with Hamas fighters and the civilian death toll mounted. At least 14 children were reported to have been killed.

Speaking after a meeting with a European Union delegation that included foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, France and Sweden, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said: “A necessary war on terror does not end with an agreement. We don’t sign agreements with terror; we fight terror.”

Read moreIsrael rejects EU calls for ceasefire

Israeli Troops Launch Ground Invasion

“I am greatly surprised by, and I reject, the words of the Israeli foreign minister, who asks: ‘Is there a humanitarian crisis? There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,'” he said. “This is an astonishing thing, that after more than 450 victims and more than 2,000 injured… then it is said there is no humanitarian crisis.

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Israeli troops enter Gaza. Screengrab courtesy of Sky News

Israeli tanks and troops have launched a ground invasion to reoccupy parts of the northern Gaza strip as the military escalated its assault on the Palestinian enclave in an attempt to curb Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

With Israel’s chief military spokesman warning that the attack would take “many long days”, the Israeli Cabinet also authorised the call of thousands more reservists. As Israeli tanks and infantry crossed into northern Gaza reports began to emerge of fighting between Hamas and Israeli troops. The invasion comes after Hamas warned Israeli forces entering Gaza faced a “black destiny” and vowed that they would be defeated.

Palestinian witnesses said a small column of military vehicles moved across the border firing tracer bullets after dark. The Israeli army said the assault is intended to take control of territory in the north of the Gaza strip from where Hamas fires its rockets.

Read moreIsraeli Troops Launch Ground Invasion

Israel okays call-up of tens of thousands of IDF reservists

Israel’s government has approved the call-up of tens of thousands of reservist soldiers, it was annnounced Saturday, almost simultaneously with the launch of a Gaza ground incursion aimed at halting rocket fire on Israel’s southern communities.

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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said in a statement that, in accordance with a secret cabinet discussion Friday, the government ordered the armed forces “to draft the necessary reservists, on a scale of tens of thousands of troops.”

The Gaza ground operation launched Saturday had actually been approved last week, but Olmert promised his ministers that when the time came to begin the offensive, it would first be brought for fresh approval by the security cabinet. On Thursday night, Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a meeting that lasted until 4 A.M., during which it was decided that that time had come.

Read moreIsrael okays call-up of tens of thousands of IDF reservists

Israel preparing for an invasion of Gaza

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel, left, in Cairo on Thursday with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. (Amr Nabil/The Associated Press)

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Thursday that militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza would pay a “heavy price” if they continued to target Israel, as the Israeli military wrapped up preparations for a possible large-scale assault on the coastal territory.

In Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt urged Israel to show restraint in his meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, an Israeli official said. Livni insisted that Israel would respond to protect its citizens.

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On Wednesday, Palestinian militants pummeled southern Israel from Gaza with more than 80 rockets and mortars, causing no injuries but generating widespread panic. Cabinet ministers approved a broad invasion of Gaza, defense officials told The Associated Press.

“We will not accept this situation,” Barak warned Thursday. “Whoever harms the citizens and soldiers of Israel will pay a heavy price.”

Read moreIsrael preparing for an invasion of Gaza

US Imposes Banking Sanctions on Iran

A general view shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran (File)

The U.S. Treasury has moved to further restrict Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system, by banning certain money transfers.

The Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it will revoke Iran’s so-called “U-Turn” license, which currently allows transfers to briefly enter the United States before being sent to offshore banks.

Until Thursday, U.S. banks were allowed to process certain money transfers for Iranian banks and other Iranian customers as long as the payments were initiated by and ended up in offshore non-U.S. and non-Iranian banks.

U.S. officials say the ban is aimed at increasing financial pressure on Iran to end alleged support of terrorist groups and nuclear proliferation.

Iran is under three sets of international sanctions. It has been accused by several Western countries of seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Separately on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said any U.S. talks with Iran may be seen as a sign of weakness.

The statement was Israel first official note of caution over Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president. Mr. Obama said during the campaign he would be willing to hold talks with Iranian leaders.

Read moreUS Imposes Banking Sanctions on Iran