Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Busy with many demonstrations


We are now more busy than usual. Perhaps various groups of activists had been sidelined by the storm, which is still evident in piles of tree trash that block sidewalks.

Whatever the cause for the pause, there were Saturday night demonstrations in behalf of legalized marijuana, or at least easier access to the refined weed sold by drug stores with prescriptions for the relief of pain. Gays and lesbians had their demonstration, perhaps leaving some loyal to both gays and marijuana wondering whether to parade for one or the other.

The best-known demonstrator on behalf of legalized marijuana is Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin. He comes to the issue in keeping with his libertarian posture, but contributes to the complexity of alignments and problems in a clear voice on behalf of two issues. 

Feiglin is a far right as can be found in the present Knesset. He is religious, and much of his constituency consists of religious and nationalists settlers. He also is among the most outspoken of Jews demanding the right to pray on the Temple Mount. Whatever he may think about gays and lesbians, his stand in favor of marijuana and his religious constituency may limit whatever alliance some might imagine between those supporting the weed and those supporting greater rights for gays and lesbians.

There was a separate demonstration on behalf of illegal immigrants/claimants of asylum from Africa, whose issue had reached the headlines a week earlier via two break outs and marches toward Jerusalem by Africans who had been placed in something between open refuges and jails in the Negev, far from where the residents could obtain work during the hours they were allowed to be outside.

Somewhat related was a violent demonstration against a speech by the Ambassador from Eritrea. Most of the Africans who made it across the Sinai before the erection of a border fence are Eritreans. This weekend the police had to intervene to protect the Ambassador and themselves from Eritreans protesting the nature of the regime in the country they left.

Now there is a fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border, which has virtually stopped the migration.

The issue is what to do about perhaps 60,000 Africans in the country illegally, who claim political asylum, but who the establishment is not inclined to view with favor. By one view of international law, they should be transported back to Egypt, which was the country through which they passed before entering Israel. But the Egyptians are likely to treat them worse than their homeland (shooting on sight has been a common response by Egyptian police), so Israelis have not chosen that route. Many claim to come from Sudan, and cannot be sent back to a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. Those who say they come from Eritrea generally have no passports or other official forms of identification, and the Eritrean government does not want them.

Our dithering regime has let most of those who are here find their own way in the country. Some have established families. Some have found illegal work and stayed out of trouble. But many have concentrated in a poor neighborhood of Tel Aviv and make life even more difficult for the Israeli residents of that place. 

Early news about the new week’s Knesset deliberations concerned inquiries against excessive concentration in the economy. The background included two cases involving cousins, one sentenced to prison for a year for various infractions committed while heading one of the country’s largest banks, and the other losing control of a conglomerate that could not pay its over-extended debts.

The conglomerate (IDB) controls major cell phone, supermarket, insurance, investment banking, real estate, and industrial companies.

One of the investors who wants control of the conglomerate is an Argentinian about whom there is some doubt about his connections to Israel, and his partner is an Israeli largely unknown in the business circles. Journalists pursuing his details have found that he made some unknown portion of his fortune in the German sex industry, which may bother those having to decide what to do about the conglomerate.

An Arab MK, affiliated with Meretz, filed a request to mark the season by erecting a Christmas tree at the entrance to the Knesset. He got five minutes of time on one of the popular radio talk shows, and explained that he did not expect the Knesset Chair to approve his request, but made it anyway in hopes of making a statement in behalf of Israel’s Christian minority.

Lest anyone accuse Israel of being anti-Christian, there was other news indicating that President Peres would take part in a Christmas observance in Ramla. 

The headline on one of the dailies called on the Obama administration to stop tapping into the communications of leading officials.

An inner story told of yet another uptick in the campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, now justified by Americans spying on Israelis. Ranking members of the government are saying that the freedom of Pollard is a price that Obama-Kerry must pay for Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians, and perhaps even Israel’s release of the next round of Palestinian prisoners, which was the Palestinians’ price for negotiating.

Workers in the Port of Ashdod stopped work for three days, without the two weeks warning required for a legal strike. Early news was that they were protesting management’s requirement that they wear brightly colored safety vests. They claimed that management had not negotiated about the issue, meaning that they expect an increase in pay in exchange for any alteration of work rules. According to a contrary report, the reason for the strike was not really the safety vests, but a personal squabble between the head of the workers’ committee (i.e., the local union) and management.

Israel’s ports have long been bothered by strong workers’ organizations, with nepotism a prime element in the hiring of new personnel, and tendencies to sudden work stoppages on what seem to be trivial issues. One can dream of something like the Ronald Reagan drama of firing all the uppity flight controllers, but Israel’s spirit of worker socialism may still be too strong for such a measure. Some delight, while others worry about the strong signs of individual initiative and anti-unionism in the burgeoning field of high tech.

Most disturbing was the report of an abandoned package spotted in a bus serving one of Tel Aviv’s suburbs, which exploded and injured the police sapper called to deal with it. It recalls the bad days of 2001-04, when exploding buses were part of the landscape. Combined with an increase of incidents in Jerusalem, throughout the West Bank, and on the borders of Gaza, this has begun to challenge security personnel who have yet to see indications of a coordinated uprising.

Guessing the outcomes of these various activities is more art than science. 

The status quo should win most votes.

Activists concerned with each of the issues noted above are working against those unconcerned and unenlightened, along with laws and precedents that resist change. Individuals and organizations who support what exists are not easily dislodged. The very number of issues getting attention may divide those wondering where to put their attention and efforts. The prominence of a religious nationalist in the campaign for marijuana reform, but not the campaign for gays and lesbians, suggests divisions within alliances that some may see as natural.

The summer of 2011 was a time of high spirits and marches that attracted hundreds of thousands in behalf of numerous social reforms. The agenda featured lower-cost housing, the price of food and child care lumped under the heading of benefits for young middle class families. One can quarrel about the results, but few claim that they were anything more than partial.

Still on the tables of committees is the evening of military obligations, work and taxes between the ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis. 

Change may come, but it takes great work, persistence, and good luck. In a country always on cusp of a domestic or international crisis, bad luck can come in the form of an event that seizes the headlines, and destroys whatever momentum may have been developing in behalf of something else.

Another bomb in a bus may change everything, even for what moves John Kerry.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus)

in the Department of Political Science

, Hebrew University of Jerusalem



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