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Current Commotions

 


There’s always something to bother the Jews of Israel.

Currently we’re smelling the preparations for a national election. Some may suspect that it wafts over the continent from Britain or France, but it comes from local pressures.

The major responsibility may be those long-running police investigations into Sara and Bibi Netanyahu, with a lesser inquiry into one of their sons.

Likud politicians are positioning themselves, still careful to say that they support the Prime Minister, but getting ready to replace him.

Also playing the election game is Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. He’s heading a party that he called Colanu, meaning together, which is a play on his family name and points to the strength of his ego.

His party didn’t do all that well in the past election, and is doing even less well in several of the recent polls. Kahlon is seeking to rescue himself and his colleagues via an bold announcement to increase grants for Israel’s handicapped, and to tinker with a variety of taxes and benefit programs in order to improve things for what he calls the working middle class.

Kahlon first came to prominence as a Likud Minister of Communications in the previous government, when he worked to reduce the cost of cell phone service He wanted a high place in Bibi’s government, but Bibi played his tactic of cutting off the opportunities of those who seemed likely to challenge him.

As a result, Kahlon left Likud to create a competing party, with enough success to get into Bibi’s government.

Minister of Finance is a key position, but is dangerous for its occupant. Kahlon is the second politician to fall into Bibi’s trap. The first was Yair Lapid, who served earlier as Finance Minister, and had the unlovely task of saying No or Not so much to all the claimants of public resources for their own favorite programs.

In his latest effort to get media attention, Kahlon made his dramatic announcement of spending money to benefit some and reducing taxes to benefit others without informing the Prime Minister. Bibi heard about it like the rest of us, from the media. He has reacted with a mild, “It’s interesting and in the right direction,” but party colleagues are trashing the Finance Minister, most likely in the service of their party and the Prime Minister.

Involved here is a clash between politicians, each wanting credit for announcing goodies to the voters.

Along with them are a host of economists, saying that Kahlon’s heart may be in the right place, but why spend all that money favoring A and B and not C and D. And wouldn’t it be better to reform taxes the way they think is best rather than how Kahlon thinks is best.

There’s no end of these arguments, with no one clearly in the lead.

Before we finished with Kahlon’s media splurge, two other issues with deep roots in Israeli society seized the headlines.

One is the Sabbath, brought to the headlines by a Supreme Court decision allowing some Tel Aviv shops to open on Friday evening and Saturday. 

It didn’t take long for a rare uniting of ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox political parties, threatening a government crisis if nothing is done about that threat against the essence of how they define Judaism.

Equally loud was a clash in a Knesset committee, and several days media coverage of a shouting match between the parents of soldiers killed in the most recent Gaza operation whose bodies are in the hands of Hamas, and Knesset members who felt that the parents were obsessed about one aspect of a complex set of issues.

It’s possible to understand parents who want closure and a proper burial of their sons. The IDF and those who fall in national defense are at the very top of Israel’s esteemed values. Yet war is hell. Planning is imperfect. Soldiers do die, and not all can be dealt with as desired. Israel’s military cemeteries, like those of other countries, record the names of soldiers who gave their lives, and whose graves are known only to God.

While the Jews are immersed in several of our own problems, a cluster of Palestinian prisoners are clamoring for international attention by yet another hunger strike.

They and their publicist supporters are demanding better treatment.

Counter assessments is that this hunger strike is the effort of one imprisoned murderer, Marwan Barghouti, who aspires to the political leadership of Palestine.

In the context of this note, we can label him the Palestinian equivalent of Moshe Kahlon. What’s similar is that both want to replace their national leadership, and neither seems likely to do it.

Barghouti managed to get an op-ed piece in the New York Times, which initially published the item without noting that the author was serving four life sentences for involvement in multiple murders.

Barghouti has not managed to recruit to his hunger strike more than a sixth of the Palestinians in Israeli security prisons. A number of those began with him have already begun eating, and his strike is being opposed by competitors for Palestinian leadership.

An item translated to Hebrew by Memri.org.il, an Israeli site that provides material from Arabic, Farsi, and other sources, is headlined, “A Palestinian to Barghouti:  There is no utility to your hunger strike. And in the name of which Palestinians do you speak?”

A leftist Israeli talk show host provided time for an Arab expert on international law to go on at length in presenting Barghouti’s case. She admitted that Israel treats its prisoners better than Britain or Russia have treated their security prisoners, but insisted Israel is violating the international laws concerned with prisoners of war.

The host did not press her on the details, i.e., whether the laws of war apply to terrorists, involved in a conflict that is not a declared war, and does not involve conflict between the armies of recognized states.

Like Kahlon’s program, this hunger strike, still in its early days, will have to play onward before we see if it affects anything significant. Likewise the matter of Sabbath. About the parents demanding that Israel do something to acquire the bodies of their loved ones from Gaza, there seems no solution on the horizon. After Israel released more than a thousand security prisoners to free the live Gilad Shalit, with many of those released returning to acts of violence, there is little sentiment to pay what Hamas is demanding for dead bodies.

We’ll hope all these commotions pass, with or without a government crisis that get’s us to an early election, or the death of a hunger striker that’ll provide yet another reason for Palestinians to throw stones and drive their cars into those suspected of being Jews. 

Yet there’ll be something else. Commotion is part of a democracy, perhaps louder than elsewhere in Israel, given the Jewish nature of its majority.

Comments welcome. irashark@gmail.com.

 

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