Even during summer vacation, no rest from political unrest
With summer vacation in full swing, it’s silly season in Israel — when Israeli politicians are scattered around the globe. Last week, one (Deri) was in the Alps, another (Lapid) in sweltering Naples, and the third (Netanyahu) was still in Israel, having booked an entire hotel in the moshav of Neve Ativ, on the slopes of Har Hermon.
The northern yishuv is one of the few locations in Israel that stays cool even during sweltering August. Netanyahu had planned a trip abroad, but his health troubles (he had a pacemaker implanted just weeks ago) forced him to vacation in Israel instead. Neve Ativ was the closest thing to overseas for him, at least as concerns the weather.
But the hoped-for calm didn’t materialize. Despite the fact that he booked the entire hotel, protesters stormed the moshav, and security forces had to turn it into an armed fortress. Local residents who found themselves under a state of siege petitioned the High Court, and even a vacation that was meant to help Netanyahu recover a little turned into another battle over the reform.
Coalition heads also hoped for some quiet after the Knesset’s summer session, but the High Court had different plans for them. The High Court is scheduling a series of hearings to be held during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and between Yom Kippur and Succos, which could turn the Israeli government into a diras arai — a temporary structure.
Netanyahu himself will be in New York when the High Court’s rulings come down. He’ll be honing his speech to the UN General Assembly — an arena from which he’s been conspicuously absent in the past year, after a decade making Iran speeches there.
As part of Netanyahu’s press entourage when he flew to meet President Donald Trump in 2020, I was there when he heard an indictment had been filed against him in Jerusalem district court. The harsh words voiced at the time by “the man in the red tie,” as he called himself, against then attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and his team sounded like pleasant background music compared to the rhetoric coming out of his circle now.
Netanyahu’s recent Bloomberg News interview, in which he made clear that the next and last stage of the reform would be to change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, was a signal to the justices that the coalition still has some unconventional weapons in its arsenal.
I asked one of the coalition heads, whom Netanyahu sees as an automatic ally, whether the prime minister or Justice Minister Levin had consulted with him regarding the countermeasures.
“About as much as they consulted me before Levin’s press conference,” was the answer.
And that seems to sum up the state of the right-wing coalition. From the moment the election results were announced, everything was turned on its head. The right had showed up to the elections organized and cohesive in the face of a demoralized and fractured left. But ever since, the left has rallied, working systematically and methodically, while the right has degenerated into chaos.
There’s no forethought, no organized agenda. Netanyahu’s famed tactical brilliance is gone.
ONthe eve of Ramadan, the Jerusalem Shas Party received a request from the rightist flank in the city council to pull the plug on Mayor Moshe Leon’s special municipal funding for activities in East Jerusalem in honor of the Muslim holiday.
In the faction room sat a pair of Cohens, deputy mayors Tzvika and Chaim Cohen. As faction chair and holder of the municipal finance portfolio, Tzvika Cohen would have to countersign any expenditure. All he had to do was make himself scarce to hold it up.
It’s very easy to make the case against funding Muslim cultural activities with appeals to Jewish pride, and there’s no need to expatiate on what right-wing voters in the capital are thinking. But on this subject, to everyone’s surprise, the two Cohens were in total agreement, with Chaim Cohen, who frequented the home of the Rav Elyashiv ztz”l, recalling a similar instance when the gadol described the matter as pikuach nefesh.
The pair turned to the mayor and security officials to determine the best interests of residents of the capital; or, in other words, would holding up the money lead to violence?
After getting a clear opinion that releasing the funds could only help, the Cohens held a consultation with two members of Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah, Rav Moshe Maya and Rav Reuven Elbaz. The answer was two-layered. First of all, it was a potential question of pikuach nefesh, given that boredom could lead Arab youth to violence. But the second and more interesting point they made was that given that Arab residents also pay arnonah, it was incumbent on the municipality to provide them with equivalent services.
Jerusalem mayor Moshe Leon has strong ties to the right, but his philosophy, backed by the chareidim, has been clear: For Arab youth who fast by day and stay up at night, it’s better to engage them with municipal programs than leave them bored and looking for more destructive means of amusement.
Tzvika Cohen countersigned the transfer at Leon’s request, and ultimately, this year’s Ramadan was one of the calmest Jerusalem has known in many years, despite all the dire warnings.
When Mayor Leon learned of Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich’s decision to freeze funding for Arab residents of East Jerusalem last week, he was stunned, and came out strongly against it. Many saw Smotrich as a hero for standing up to the state bureaucracy and freezing hundreds of millions of shekels promised to Arab Israelis, but this case highlights the government’s extremism, in defiance of common sense.
Two months from now, Israel will hold local elections. Normally in such circumstances, any statement from a mayor running for reelection would be dismissed as electioneering, but this time the opposite is the case. The Arab vote in Jerusalem is out of the equation, given their longstanding decision to boycott elections. Leon only stands to lose support by challenging a decision so popular among right-wing voters.
Leon is not alone. His position, of continuing the transfer of the funds to Arab Israelis promised by the previous government, is supported by security officials, and by all moderate members of the cabinet, voting members or observers.
Smotrich’s decision, which was made without consulting his colleagues, just goes to show how the right-wing government is functioning like a body whose limbs aren’t connected to the same brain — or any brain, for that matter.—
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 974)
Oops! We could not locate your form.