Israel Aims To Be ‘AI Superpower’
Israel aims to become an artificial intelligence "superpower," the Defense Ministry director-general said, predicting advances in autonomous warfare and streamlined combat decision-making. Steps to harness rapid AI evolutions include the formation of a dedicated organization for military robotics in the ministry and a record-high budget for related research and development this year, retired army general Eyal Zamir said. He named GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) and AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) as deep-learning realms being addressed by civilian AI industries, which could eventually have military applications. These, Zamir said, potentially include "the ability of platforms to strike in swarms, or of combat systems to operate independently, of data fusion and of assistance in fast decision-making, on a scale greater than we have ever seen."
Just published: “Academic freedom and the anti-Israeli BDS movement”, The Loop, ECPR (May 2023), https://theloop.ecpr.eu/academic-freedom-and-the-anti-israeli-bds-movement/
Raphael Cohen-Almagor looks at the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign to boycott Israeli academics and ban Israel tout court. He argues that there is no justification for any academic organisation to do this. Any such decision would be unjust, unfair, and counterproductive
TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday night that he will become personally involved in efforts to put major sections of a controversial judicial overhaul to a vote in the Knesset next week, following yet another day of anti-government protests across the country.
“In order to prevent a rift in the nation,” Netanyahu said in a televised address, he will shepherd the bills through Israel’s parliament over the objections of the attorney general, who has warned that such a move would constitute a conflict of interest due to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trials.
Netanyahu claimed that the legislative blitz — including a law passed early Thursday that would make it more difficult to remove sitting prime ministers from office — was for the good of the nation. But in a statement, Israel’s protests leaders said the speech showcased a “dictator-in-the-making, who instead of stopping the legal coup, decided to continue with the hostile political takeover of the Supreme Court.”
In the face of unprecedented backlash, Netanyahu’s coalition has steadfastly pressed forward with the legislation, which would give the government more power to override Supreme Court decisions and select judges.
Mass demonstrations have raged across the country for nearly three months, with protesters condemning the judicial overhaul as a power grab that would dismantle Israel’s system of checks and balances. On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets again, including large numbers of active-duty military reservists, blocking city intersections and rallying outside the homes of the right-wing ministers involved in advancing the bills.
Nearly 100 people were arrested nationwide during clashes with police, who have used officers on horseback, water cannons and other unusually aggressive tactics under the direction of far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
Several of Netanyahu’s own allies, including a previous head of the Mossad, said the proposals threatened to tear the country apart. And members of the country’s revered military have taken the unusual step of joining the protests. Hundreds of reservists recently pledged to boycott training missions until the legislation was pulled.
“We’re about to cross a red line,” said Tomer Naveh, 52, a reservist of more than 30 years, at a demonstration Thursday near the Tel Aviv headquarters of Israel’s military. “This is a genuine threat of Israel becoming a dictatorship.”
Internationally, too, criticism has been mounting. In a phone call this week, President Biden stressed to Netanyahu the importance of “genuine checks and balances” in democratic societies.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog has hosted negotiations between the government and the opposition, and has warned repeatedly that the national crisis could snowball into a “civil war.” But the deadlock has only spurred the government to fast-track its remaking of the courts. – Shira Rubin and Steve Hendrix
Read more: Netanyahu vows to push through judicial overhaul amid nationwide protests
Knesset Approves Law to Prevent Netanyahu Ouster
The Knesset ratified a law that restricts the conditions under which an Israeli prime minister can be removed, legislation that opponents of incumbent Netanyahu say is designed to shield him from facing legal heat from his ongoing corruption trial. The bill, which became law after clearing second and third hearings with 61 lawmakers voting in favor to 47 against, stipulates that a sitting prime minister can only be declared unfit and forced to step down if they or three-quarters of cabinet ministers declare so on physical or psychological grounds. The legislation was rushed through the Knesset due to Netanyahu’s allies’ fears that the Supreme Court would force the conservative leader to take a leave of absence as his government’s push to overhaul the judicial system may place him in a conflict of interest pertaining to his legal woes.
Galant to Netanyahu: Stop the Legislation
By Nahum Barnea
- Defense Minister Yoav Galant advised Prime Minister Netanyahu to suspend legislating the bill that would overturn the composition of the Judges Selection Committee before it is put to the vote on its second and third readings. In recent weeks the two men have held several conversations that were described as “difficult.” Netanyahu had adamantly refused; the bill will be put to the vote and ratified. Galant shared with him worrisome data about the legislation’s impact on the willingness of officers and soldiers to volunteer for reserve duty. Its slim chances notwithstanding, his advice to suspend the legislative process is still on the agenda.
- Galant does not intend either to vote against or to abstain once the bill is put to a final vote next week. He is going to disappoint the people in the protest movement who have been banking on him to vote against. In the course of his meetings with Netanyahu and other Likud cabinet ministers, Galant has reiterated his support for Levin and Rothman’s legislation. He told them that he views with gravity the encouragement that retired high-ranking officers have given to the protests, including former IDF chiefs of staff and other generals. He is convinced that the protestors are grossly exaggerating the repercussions that changing the Judges Selection Committee’s composition will have for Israel’s democratic regime.
- That said, given the sensitive security situation, he is also convinced that the votes to ratify the bills should all be postponed until the Knesset’s summer session. In the course of the recess, the coalition needs to try to reach agreements either with the Supreme Court president, the parliamentary opposition, or representatives of the protest movement. Even if no agreements are reached, the government will have time to persuade the public that it did everything in its power to sway the opponents. Unilateral legislation will be very taxing for the IDF, relations with the United States, and deterring Israel’s enemies. Those are dangerous processes. In political terms, Galant’s initiative is designed to distinguish him from Netanyahu and from the other cabinet ministers but to do so without riling up the Likud voters against him.
- Galant is positioning himself by assuming the role that defense ministers have traditionally taken as the representative of the IDF and the security establishment in the cabinet and as someone who is more attentive than others to the messages from Washington and other capitals. He wants to play the role of the responsible adult to the extent that there is any room in the government in its current composition for adult behavior and responsibility. He hasn’t presented Netanyahu with an ultimatum, and he hasn’t threatened to resign, but he has allowed himself to speak in the name of a set of political and national priorities that are different from those being advocated by his colleagues in the cabinet and the coalition. The country, the IDF, and the other security organizations take precedence with him over the judicial revolution.
- Yedioth Ahronoth
Jordan’s Parliament Displays Map with Palestine-Jordan Flag
Jordan’s parliament recommended expelling Israel’s ambassador while displaying a map at the center of its chamber featuring Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip — all under the colors of the Jordanian and Palestinian flags. The vote and the map came in response to a speech by Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich over the weekend in which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention” while standing by a map of “Greater Israel” that included the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom, in accordance with the hardline aspirations of some fringe extremists. The expulsion of Israeli Ambassador Eitan Surkis would require approval from the Jordanian government, which is an unlikely scenario. Surkis was summoned by Amman’s foreign ministry on Monday night in protest of Smotrich’s speech. Symbolic votes to expel Israel’s envoy are common during times of heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Amman. In May 2021, Jordanian lawmakers unanimously called for the government to expel Israel’s envoy amid Operation Guardian of the Walls, an 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
Times of Israel
|Israel’s far-right government is at the heart of a surge in violence, Washington Post, 28 February 2023|
When confronted by scenes of bloodshed and destruction in Israel and the occupied territories, there’s a tendency to talk of “the cycle of violence.” In this view, the entrenched enmities and existential imperatives that drive conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are so powerful that they create their own lethal logic, a tortuous chain of atrocity that winds its way back a whole century.
That chain lengthened by a few more links this weekend when an organized force of vigilante Israeli settlers descended upon the West Bank town of Huwara on Sunday and carried out a deadly, destructive rampage, torching dozens of homes and scores of cars. The raid was described in some Israeli and Palestinian circles as a “pogrom.” It left at least one Palestinian civilian — Sameh al-Aqtash, 37, who had just returned from a stint in Turkey as a volunteer earthquake relief worker — dead, an estimated hundred more injured and a whole community traumatized.
The attack by the settlers was billed as an act of revenge after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a traffic junction near Huwara, killing two brothers who lived in a nearby Jewish settlement. That assault itself was likely retaliation for an Israeli military raid on the city of Nablus last week that saw 11 Palestinians — including militants and civilians — killed. On Monday, there were reports of new Palestinian attacks on Israeli-owned vehicles in the West Bank. The bloody wheel turns, the cycle of violence continues.
But such logic obscures more immediate forces at play. The installation of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history at the beginning of the year has been accompanied by the marked rise in violence. Since the start of the year, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed at least 61 Palestinians — civilians and militants. A new wave of militancy is stirring in the West Bank, which analysts say is fueled by anger at the Israeli military occupation and mounting settler violence as well as disillusionment with the prevailing political status quo represented by the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority.
The violence in Huwara is “yet another sadly predictable reminder that events on the ground are spiraling out of control and will continue to do so absent real systemic changes,” observed the centrist Israel Policy Forum in a statement after Sunday’s violence. “The combination of a far-right Israeli government that is escalating confrontations with Palestinians in the West Bank and a Palestinian youth movement that is newly dedicated to terrorism and armed struggle as preferred forms of resistance will only ensure more such days.”
Israeli security officials branded the settler attack on Huwara as “terrorism.” Yet, close to 24 hours after the raid was carried out, not one arrest had been made by Israeli police, and police had already released six of eight people detained. Israeli and Palestinian observers pointed to the acquiescent role played by the local Israel Defense Forces in essentially turning the other way as the settlers went on the rampage. According to +972 magazine, a left-wing Israeli publication, eyewitnesses in Huwara said the Israeli military allowed the settlers to walk into the town “on foot, while preventing journalists, medics, and Palestinian aid workers from doing the same.”
“For sure they will return again, but what can we do?” Refat Amer, a 47-year-old resident of Huwara, told my colleagues, referring to the armed settlers. “We can throw stones at them, and then the military shoots us, too.”
There also didn’t appear to be that wide a gap between the vigilantes and some figures in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which leans on support from extremist pro-settler factions and has put forward an agenda that includes further annexation of Palestinian lands and legislation that would weaken the political rights of non-Jews.
Two of the most prominent ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, came to power on a track record of years of anti-Palestinian extremism and advocacy for the interests of ultranationalist settlers in the West Bank. They have routinely criticized Israel’s political establishment and military for not being supposedly tougher on Palestinian militant threats.
Tzvika Foghel, a lawmaker from Ben Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party, told local radio on Monday that this form of “collective punishment” was justified. “A closed, burned Huwara; that’s what I want to see,” he said. “That’s the only way to achieve deterrence.”
Such rhetoric underscores a hardening reality in Israel. “The Jewish Supremacist regime carried out a pogrom in the villages around Nablus yesterday. This isn’t ‘loss of control.’ This is exactly what Israeli control looks like,” tweeted Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. “The settlers carry out the attack, the military secures it, the politicians back it. It’s a synergy.”
Palestinian observers accuse Israel’s security forces and settlers of deliberately inciting violence with near-daily incursions, an increase in home demolitions and tougher measures for Palestinians in Israeli detention. “Israel’s disproportionate violence and excessive force will lend credence to Palestinian armed actions as a way of avenging the dead and deterring more killings,” wrote Palestinian author and analyst Muhammad Shehada. “But escalation is exactly the point.”
“People might accept an occupation for a short while but will not accept it forever,” wrote veteran Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab. “When the Israelis stormed Jenin recently killing ten including an elderly man, what did they expect would happen in reaction? When the orders were given to storm the biggest city in the West Bank, Nablus, what did they expect?”
As violence unfurled across the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian senior officials held a rare meeting in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba over the weekend in a bid to restore some calm to a rapidly deteriorating situation. But a joint statement that indicated Israel would temporarily freeze plans for settlement construction was rejected by Ben Gvir and Smotrich, and even Netanyahu backtracked from the announcement.
The Biden administration has largely sought to engage Netanyahu without truly reckoning with his far-right allies. That approach may prove untenable in the months to come. Similar concerns may be felt among the leadership of countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where warming ties with Israel could be undermined by a major bout of violence in the West Bank.
“A careful reading of the tea leaves shows that Netanyahu may, in fact, be able to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia without a two-state solution,” noted Alissa Pavia of the Atlantic Council, referring to the moribund process to create an independent Palestinian state. “But actions by his far-right ministers and his own further crackdowns on Palestinians may push Arab countries further away from normalization.”
Israel’s West Bank settler population now makes up more than half a million people, a pro-settler group said, crossing a major threshold. Settler leaders predicted even faster population growth under Israel’s new ultranationalist government. The report, by WestBankJewishPopulationStats.com and based on official figures, showed the settler population grew to 502,991, rising more than 2.5% in 12 months and nearly 16% over the last five years. “We’ve reached a huge hallmark,” said Baruch Gordon, the director of the group and a resident of the Beit El settlement. “We’re here to stay.” The milestone comes as Israel’s new government, made up of ultranationalist parties who oppose Palestinian statehood, has placed expanding settlements at the top of its priority list. Already the government has pledged to legalize wildcat outposts that have long enjoyed tacit government support and to ramp up approval and construction of settler homes around the West Bank.
Source: Associated Press
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry announced it will move forward to normalize full diplomatic ties with Israel following a visit by the Israeli foreign minister to the Sudanese capital. During his one-day visit to Khartoum, Eli Cohen met with various Sudanese political figures, including Sudan’s ruling general, Abdel-Fattah Burhan, according to Sudan’s state media outlet, SUNA. This was the first public visit by an Israeli cabinet member ever. In a statement published after Cohen’s departure, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said: “It was agreed to move forward toward the normalization of relations between the two countries.’’ Upon returning to Israel, Cohen said the two countries would seek to sign a full-fledged peace accord by the year’s end, noting that this would be in the form of “peace for peace.” “The agreement will help the economy, as well as bolster security and tourism in both countries,” Cohen said. “I hope that this year will bring good news; the Sudanese want it, and as soon as they complete their internal process, the accord will be signed. It will be quick,” Cohen added.
Source: Israel HaYom
Legal Advisor Letter to Yariv Levin Feb 2023
US Law Professors’ Statement About the Proposed Law Reforms in Israel
Initial Posting Date: January 29, 2023
List of Signatories Updated: January 30, 2023
We, law professors in the United States who care deeply about Israel, strongly oppose the effort by the current Israeli government to radically overhaul the country’s legal system. This effort includes proposed reforms that would grant the ruling coalition absolute power to appoint Justices and judges, make it almost impossible for the Supreme Court to invalidate legislation, severely limit judicial review of executive-branch decisions, and curtail the independence of the Attorney General and legal advisers assigned to different government agencies.
Some of us believe that the Israeli Supreme Court has over-reached in important respects and would support a scaling back of its power to review legislation and executive decisions. Others believe that the legal status quo need not be changed. Regardless of the disagreement amongst us, we are all deeply worried that the speed and scale of the reforms will seriously weaken the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law. These safeguards have contributed to Israel’s flourishing over the last 75 years, helping it weather severe security, political and social challenges. Weakening them would pose a dire risk to freedom of expression, to human and civil rights, and to efforts to reduce corruption, making it harder for Israel to survive such challenges going forward. We hope for Israel’s sake that it chooses a wiser path.
[university name added for identification only and not as a sign of institutional support]
Organizers / Initial Signatories
Oren Bar-Gill (Harvard University)
Jesse Fried (Harvard University)
Amos Guiora (University of Utah)
David Abraham (University of Miami)
Matthew Adler (Duke University)
Bill Alford (Harvard University)
Anat Alon-Beck (Case Western Reserve University)
Reuven Avi-Yonah (University of Michigan)
Tom Baker (University of Pennsylvania)
Kenneth A. Bamberger (University of California, Berkeley)
Michal Barzuza (University of Virginia)
Lucian Bebchuk (Harvard University)
Yochai Benkler (Harvard University)
Omri Ben-Shahar (University of Chicago)
Lisa Bernstein (University of Chicago)
Gabriella Blum (Harvard University)
Erwin Chemerinsky (University of California, Berkeley)
Harlan Grant Cohen (University of Georgia)
Alan Dershowitz (Harvard University)
Melvin Eisenberg (University of California, Berkeley)
Eleanor Fox (New York University)
Barry Friedman (New York University)
Clayton P. Gillette (NYU School of Law)
Talia Gillis (Columbia University)
Ronald J. Gilson (Stanford University and Columbia University)
Rebecca Goldstein (University of California, Berkeley)
Ellen Goodman (Rutgers University)
Jeffrey Gordon (Columbia University)
Jonathan Gould (University of California, Berkeley)
Bruce Green (Fordham University)
Ariela J. Gross (University of Southern California)
Daniel Hemel (New York University)
David Hoffman (University of Pennsylvania)
Samuel Issacharoff (New York University)
Debbie Kaminer (City University of New York)
Amalia Kessler (Stanford University)
Christopher Kutz (University of California, Berkeley)
Alexandra D. Lahav (Cornell University)
Pnina Lahav (Boston University)
Yair Listokin (Yale University)
Omri Marian (University of California, Irvine)
Andrei Marmor (Cornell University)
Florencia Marotta-Wurgler (New York University)
Peter S. Menell (University of California, Berkeley)
Martha Minow (Harvard University)
Robert Mnookin (Harvard University)
Noga Morag-Levine (Michigan State University)
Dotan Oliar (University of Virginia)
Barak Orbach (University of Arizona)
Nizan Geslevich Packin (City University of New York)
Robert Post (Yale University)
Richard Primus (University of Michigan)
Barak Richman (Duke University)
Edward Rock (New York University)
Guy A. Rub (Ohio State University)
Daniel Rubinfeld (New York University)
Samuel Scheffler (New York University)
Richard Schragger (University of Virginia)
Avital Schurr (University of Louisville)
Alan Schwartz (Yale University)
Dan Simon (University of Southern California)
- Daniel Sokol (University of Southern California)
Michael Stein (Harvard University)
Nomi Stolzenberg (University of Southern California)
Jennifer Taub (Western New England University)
Joseph William Singer (Harvard University)
Matthew Stephenson (Harvard University)
Lior Strahilevitz (University of Chicago)
David Webber (Boston University)
Laura Weinrib (Harvard University)
Mark G. Yudof (University of California, Berkeley)
Jonathan Zasloff (University of California, Los Angeles)
If you want your name added to the list of signatories, please send an email to:
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org