Friday, Oct 15, 2021

Netanyahu–Bennett–Lapid Coalition Declares War Against The Torah World

Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved the Perry draft law, which abolishes the 65-year draft exemption for yeshiva students. It represents the greatest threat to Israeli yeshivos and kollelim since David Ben-Gurion agreed to exempt their students from the Israeli army in the early 1950s. “Today, after 65 years, we are bringing to a vote the bill that will increase equality in sharing the burden,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu said before the vote. “We will make the change gradually, taking full consideration of the special needs of the chareidi public.”

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid gloated over the bill’s success. The Perry bill has been an integral part of his party’s agenda since before the elections.

 

“After 65 years, we are righting the wrong of inequality in sharing the burden,” he said. “It is for the good of the chareidi community and for the good of Israeli society. There will be true equality after this cabinet meeting. This is a historic day. This issue has toppled governments and ended political careers. Today, three months after this government was sworn in, we are making a historic change. This is a big thing for everyone.”

 

Chareidi MKs attacked the cabinet’s approval of the bill.

 

“The decision is a stain on Israel,” said Moshe Gafni of UTJ. “It has become the only country in the world where Torah study is not regarded as legitimate. Torah students protect the entire world, as the verse says, ‘If not for My covenant of day and night, I would not place the statutes of heaven and earth.They are the foundation upon which the Jewish people rests.

 

“If anyone thinks that this law will make even one person close the Gemara and stop learning, he is making a big mistake. Let’s not mention the politicians who turned this issue into a political agenda. We won’t forgive Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, head of the Likud, who received our overwhelming political support for dozens of years, nor Naftoli Bennett, head of Habayit Hayehudi, which is considered a religious party and includes Torah students.”

 

Yaakov Litzman of UTJ said that the objective of the law is not to enhance Israel’s security, but to destroy the Torah.

 

“Approval of the draft law is typical of the destructive government whose goal is to destroy Torah in Eretz Yisroel,” he said. “We live in a time when Torah and yeshivos are on the firing line. The enemies of religion are trying to uproot all that is sacred and precious to us. Their plot will not succeed. Anyone who thinks that force, power, sanctions, edicts and threats will defeat Torah students is bitterly mistaken. He should examine the long history of our nation and see that the opposite is true.

 

“Every partner in this destructive, hateful government will be judged for his part,” continued Litzman. “Not only the heads of Likud-Beiteinu, Bennett and Lapid, but also and primarily the leaders of and voters for Habayit Hayehudi. Whoever supported and voted for this party in order to establish and strengthen a government that hates Judaism bears personal responsibility for this government’s terrible attempts to destroy the Torah, besides harming Torah students, the poor, the middle class, and every Israeli.

 

“The Torah students of the holy yeshivos will willingly go to jail and suffer financial sanctions and any other penalty for the ‘crime’ of learning Torah,” he concluded.

 

MK Meir Porush said that this day “will be recorded as a black day in the history of the Jewish yishuv” and that “Habayit Hayehudi had a major part in destroying Habayit Hachareidi.”

 

UTJ MK Yisroel Eichler added that “Jewish history would remember the edict signed during the days of Bein Hametzorim as an eternal disgrace.”

 

Earlier, Porush told the Knesset that his sons would willingly go to prison rather than leave yeshiva.

 

“I have 12 children,” he said. “At home, there are still two boys, one 18 and two months and one 16 and four months. I tell you that even if the law is passed here in the Knesset, they will listen to what roshei yeshivos and admorim tell them. My boys will go to jail and you will never succeed. Nothing will help you, because we represent history. We follow the path traveled since Har Sinai.

 

MK Aryeh Deri of Shas said that coercion would do more harm than good. “All attempts to force a certain way of life upon the chareidim and forcibly move them into the workplace or secular culture by brutally and completely cutting off sources of funding will not succeed,” he said. “What will happen is that even those who wanted to integrate will not integrate as they will perceive the situation as a culture struggle.”

 

Eli Yishai noted that even though the bill will only become critical in four years, the mere passing of the law is enough to make a schism in the Israeli public.

 

Housing Minister Uri Ariel, was the only Habayit Hayehudi minister to abstain from the vote, said that he particularly opposed the bill’s inclusion of criminal punishment.

 

“I asked for administrative punishment to the extent necessary,” he said. “Criminal punishment will lessen the chance of drafting people and lessen mutual understanding between public groups and sectors. To show my dissatisfaction I abstained.”

 

He added that his party achieved four victories that tempered the bill’s harshness “If we were not in the government, there would have been conscription for all girls above 18 without exception and conscription for all talmidim except masmidim at the age of 18,” he said. “Originally, there were only to be 400 masmidim and we raised it to 1,800 a year.”

 

Ariel claimed that Habayit Hayehudi was also responsible for the draft age raise of yeshiva students from 18 to 21, lowering the exemption age from 28 to 26, and lengthening Hesder students’ army service from 16 to 17 months.

 

After the cabinet vote, the Perry bill was swiftly authorized by a Ministerial Legislation Committee. It is expected to sail through its first Knesset vote on Monday, Erev Tisha B’Av, but it seems doubtful that the Perry bill will be passed during the Knesset’s summer session.

 

Lapid vows that “three years from now, 70 percent of the chareidim will have enlisted, which is the average for all Israeli citizens.” However, the new budget has not allotted the IDF a cent towards the billions of shekels it will take to implement the new law. An army source said that the IDF is not interested in the bill.

 

“Our plan is that the bill should pass its first [Knesset] reading,” he said. “Then we will go to the High Court and claim that we have no money to implement it. The army has no problem managing as it has until now with no proper law [deferring yeshiva students], and it certainly cannot manage with the new plans when there is no source of funding to implement them.”

 

WEINSTEIN FIXES FLAWS IN PERRY BILL

 

Some days ago, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein altered the Perry bill after discovering that it had fatal flaws. In a lengthy legal opinion, he wrote that the Hesder program, which allows Religious-Zionist students to spend roughly half their IDF service time learning Torah, was discriminatory against regular soldiers. Hesder students serve 17 months and chareidim will be expected to serve 24 months, while regular soldiers serve 36 months. He said that the same applied to the proposal to defer yeshiva students from the army until they are 21 while regular youth are inducted at the age of 18.

 

Due to Weinstein’s objections, the Perry Committee introduced two changes in the law. The Hesder arrangement will be reconsidered in 2017, and the deferment of yeshiva students until they are 21 will be a temporary injunction expiring in 2020. Limiting the inequalities by a predetermined time frame would keep it constitutional and render it unlikely to be overturned by the High Court of Justice, Weinstein said.

 

HOW THE PERRY BILL WORKS

 

To prevent immediate confrontation, the Perry Bill designated the next four years as an “adjustment period,” during which time talmidim of yeshivos will be exempt from the draft but encouraged to join “voluntarily” through various enticements. These include severe financial sanctions against yeshivos that fail to deliver draftees. At the end of the four-year period, 1,800 so-calledilluyim will be exempted annually. Although the Vaad Hayeshivosis officially tasked with selecting the illuyim, Rav Chaim Aharon Kaufman, head of the Vaad Hayeshivos, said that this is a lie.

 

“We have repeatedly clarified that we would not lend a hand to this bill,” he said. “We will not be a part, in any way, in deciding who is exempt and who isn’t. I have no idea why we were included in the final version of the bill.”

 

The 1,800 illuyim will receive deferment until they are 26 and then be exempt from IDF service. Regular bochurim will be enlisted to the IDF or the civilian service at the age of 21.

 

MORE WORK FOR THE PERRY COMMITTEE

 

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein suggested that the Perry Committee get to work creating shivyon banetel – literally “equalizing the burden” –for women as well. Pointing out that there is no legal obstacle against lengthening women’s army service, he suggested that the army encourage women to serve longer. Serving for three years instead of two years, as they do at present, will enable more women to rise to high-ranking positions which are now occupied by men, he said.

 

Weinstein recommended that Religious-Zionist women should opt for full army service instead of choosing national service, as many of them do at present.

 

“The gap between the length of service of men and women significantly limits certain military positions,” Weinstein’s office said. “Offering career paths to women in the army could contribute greatly to the promotion of civil equality, especially in light of the heavy burden of army service in Israeli society.”

 

CHAREIDI COLLEGE STUDENTS PROTEST DRAFT COERCION

 

In protest against the government’s anti-yeshiva agenda, students of the chareidi Ono Academic College near Bnei Brak said they would boycott a graduation ceremony held on the day the Perry Bill was approved if Education Minister Shai Piron showed up in response to the college’s invitation. Other students said they would attend the ceremony but walk out during his speech.

 

“We, the students receiving degrees next Sunday following our studies in the faculties of law and business management in the chareidi campus of the Ono Academic College, would like to express our strong opposition to the attendance of Education Minister Shai Piron at the ceremony,” they announced. “Mr. Piron is fighting the Torah world and has made an agenda to destroy it and deepen the social divide in Israel instead of working for unity. The Education Minister is persecuting our sons and daughters… Therefore, we hereby declare that we will not participate or attend the graduation ceremony if Mr. Piron is present. Signed, students concerned for the future of our children.”

 

Bowing to student pressure, the Ono College solved the dilemma by canceling participation of all invited dignitaries, including Piron. It blamed the change in schedule on “politically motivated individuals who were mostly not members of the college campus.”

 

At the graduation in Yerushalayim, students reaffirmed their support for yeshiva students by hanging a multi-story banner on the building where the ceremony was held.

 

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YESHIVA STUDENTS FROM OVERSEAS

 

MK Menachem Eliezer Moses of UTJ denounced the government’s intent to cut funding to overseas yeshiva students. At a Knesset Science and Technology Committee meeting, he said that this foolish measure would lose Israel more money than it saved.

 

“The treasury seems unaware that chareidi students from overseas are a source of growth to the Israeli economy,” he said. “Even the sales tax they spend on apartments, phoning overseas, food, and other things brings a lot of money into the state coffers. The decision to cancel their budget is ridiculous.”

 

Moses pointed out that 60% of such students remain to live in Israel, and it is well worth investing in them.

 

MK Moshe Gafni pointed out that simultaneous to cutting funding to foreign yeshiva students, the government has decided to increase its support of overseas university students. He said that he would complain about this discrimination to the prime minister and attorney general.

 

MK Yisroel Eichler discussed the discrimination with Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel.

 

“Don’t allow Israel’s budget to discriminate against thousands of American yeshiva students compared to other students,” Eichler said. “The government spends hundreds of millions of dollars bringing Jewish students from America to universities for various periods and the universities receive generous funding for them. The American constitution and your national heritage do not tolerate discrimination between Americans of one kind or another. We’re not asking you to interfere in the Israeli budget. I am asking you to intervene against discrimination against your citizens learning in yeshivos here in Israel compared to American citizens learning in universities.

 

Shapiro said he would look into the matter.

 

NON-JEWS AND JEWS TO BE INTERRED IN SAME MILITARY CEMETERIES

 

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon agreed that non-Jewish soldiers who die in combat will be buried in one cemetery section, but not in the same row as Jewish soldiers. This compromise is the result of a campaign led by MK Elazar Stern of Hatnuah who claimed it was unjust that non-Jews who served and died in the same units as Jews should not be buried with them.

 

“An important and just correction was made here today to a wrong that had been ongoing for many years,” Stern said. “I am glad that it was done by agreement and that there was no need for legislation, because the very aim of the bill was to bring about a more respectful, unifying reality.”

 

Habayit Hayehudi blasted Ya’alon’s decision.

 

“This initiative would create a huge rift among the people of Israel,” Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said. “Can anyone imagine a situation where a mother asks to exhume her Jewish son from his grave because a non-Jew was to be buried next to him? Well, that is exactly what will happen if this proposal is approved.”

 

CHRISTIAN ARAB PARTY ACKNOWLEDGES JEWISH STATE

 

Bashara Shlayan from Nazareth has founded the New Alliance, an Arab Christian party that acknowledges the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. As mentioned last week, many Arab Christians are agreeable to joining the IDF. The new party represents this attitude. Indeed, Bashara said that impetus to form the party came from trying to get Christian Arabs into the IDF.

“We saw that we needed to create a political party,” he told Israel Hayom. “There were articles about us published in the Arab newspapers and it sparked interest throughout the region that there is an Arab Christian in Israel who recognizes the land of Israel as belonging to the Jews.”

“They [Arab Moslems] think being against Israel is Arab nationalism, that it is the manly thing,” he added. “But if you oppose this way of thinking, you are a traitor. This is what needs to be changed. It’s stupidity. So I demand that we, the Christians, be recognized as loyal citizens of the state.”

 

ROSH CHODESH AT THE KOSEL

 

Thousands of seminary girls and married women overwhelmed the so-called “Women of the Wall” on Monday, Rosh Chodesh Av,by arriving at the Kosel early and leaving no place in the ezras noshim for the provocateurs’ prayer service. Askonim instructed the seminary girls to arrive at 6:30 a.m., half an hour before the Women of the Wall were due to show up.

 

Last Rosh Chodesh, police prevented chareidim from entering the Kosel area until the Women of the Wall entered. This month, the tables were turned.Chareidim entered the area freely, while the Women of the Wall were trapped in the upper plaza surrounded by a security ring of barricades and police.

 

The attendanceof chareidim was organized with the encouragement of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Shmuel Auerbach, and the admorim of Ger, Belz and Erlau.

 

From 6 a.m. and onwards, 5-7,000 chareidi girls and women streamed to the Kosel. Hundreds of police and plain-clothes men were present to maintain order. At first, they tried to reserve place for the Women of the Wall in the ezras noshim, but as more and more chareidim arrived, they gave up. The ezras noshim was filled to capacity with thousands of people. 300 Women of the Wall members and sympathizers were told to have their prayer meeting in the upper plaza. 

 

“Our plan succeeded,” said Deputy Mayor Yitzchok Pindrus. “We filled the women’s section so they couldn’t get inside.”

 

Two months ago, Yerushalayim District Court Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that the Women of the Wall’s practice of wearing tallis and tefillin accorded with “local custom” and that it was permitted for them to pray with these paraphernalia at the wall. The women complained that police violated the legal ruling by keeping them from the Kosel.

 

“Today, police surrendered to chareidi bullying and again placed us in the back of the bus,” Women of the Wall Director Lesley Sachs complained. “If we had come without police security, we could have taken a place near the Kosel just as we have done for the past 24 years.”

 

The chairman of the group, Anat Hoffman, said that the police had failed to do their job.

 

“The police broke the rules and failed to uphold our agreement, by which as long as we adhere to the security guidelines they are supposed to ensure that we are able to pray safely next to the Western Wall,” she said. “Instead of protecting democratic rights and allowing the Women of the Wall to pray freely at the Western Wall Plaza, the police opted to push us into a corner.”

 

“Now, when the entire Jewish people is mourning over the churban Bais Hamikdash, we refused to allow anyone to desecrate its last remnant, the Kosel Hamaarovi,” Deputy Mayor Pindrus said. Sinas chinom was the cause of our nation’s greatest churban. We have stopped a small group of provocateurs from continuing their polarization, provocation, and sinas chinom. 

 

TWO CHIEF RABBI CANDIDATES ATTACKED FOR THEIR OPINIONS

 

Will the three rabbonim competing to become the next Sefardi chief rabbi of Israel be whittled down to one?

 

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to question two of them about remarks they made in the past about Arabs, hoping this will lead to their disqualification in Israel’s High Court.

 

The list of Sefardi candidates for the chief rabbinate became complete after Rav Ovadiah Yosef endorsed his fourth son, Rav Avrohom Yosef, a prominent posek who serves as rov of Cholon, to run for the position. His two opponents are Rav Tzion Boaron, who was endorsed by outgoing Chief Sefardi Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar, and Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, rov of Tzefas, who has been endorsed by the Habayit Hayehudi party. The vote for the chief rabbinate is scheduled to take place in two weeks.

 

Weinstein, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, MKs, and prominent public figures are concerned that Rav Shmuel Eliyahu spoke against Arabs in the past, warning of the dangers of intermarriage with them and recommending that a new university built next to Tzefas be restricted to Jews. He also issued a ruling that it is prohibited to sell or rent apartments to Arabs.

 

As for Rav Avrohom Yosef, three years ago he spoke against Israel’s secular judiciary, saying that judges of Israel’s legal system should not be included in a minyan.

 

“They may not have a say in anything, they may not be included [in a minyan], nor speak in a shul,” he said. “They must be ignored as if they were nothing but thin air. Even if the judge knows how to daven well, once he agreed to be appointed a judge, he disqualified himself from participating in a minyan and certainly from being a shliach tzibbur. Even if he promises that all his rulings will accord with the Shulchan Aruch,he is still considered a person who raises his hand against Toras Moshe and is unfit to be included in any dovor shebikedushah.”

 

Admitting that he has no legal power to disqualify the two candidates, Weinstein said his involvement may encourage people to take the case to the High Court, since issuing a negative opinion now would make him eligible to defend them in the event of an appeal to the High Court.

 

If the High Court disqualifies the two rabbonim from competing, this might leave Rav Tzion Boaran uncontested candidate for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi.

 

In a new twist to the story, dozens of prominent Leftists sent a petition urging Netanyahu and heads of his coalition to expel Habayit Hayehudi over its endorsement of Rav Eliyahu.

“Rabbi Eliyahu is the Tzefas rabbi of incitement,” the petition read. “He has been inciting against Arab and non-Jews in general for years and his actions have caused racist clashes in Tzefas… That is who you want to appoint as a chief rabbi of Israel? Even the State Prosecutor’s Office, which is usually paralyzed and helpless against the power of religion, was able to put together a criminal case against him [in 2006, but later dropped]. We must deal with Habayit Hayehudi as we demanded Austria deal with Jorg Haider’s [fascist Austrian] party and expel it from the government immediately. We must deal with them as we did with Kahane’s party and denounce it completely.”

Habayit Hayehudi replied that while it was “very excited to see how involved prominent leftist figures have become in the elections for the Chief Rabbinate,” in fact, the party was not an official supporter of Rav Eliyahu; the only person enjoying the party’s official support was Rav Dov Stav who is competing for the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

 

BENNET’S VOTERS PETITION AGAINST HIM

 

Habayit Hayehudi voters are circulating a petition demanding that the party’s leadership stop backing Yesh Atid.

“Thousands of Habayit Hayehudi constituents are shocked at how the movement is being led recently,” the petition says. “One after the other, it backs the whims and edicts of Yair Lapid, while fatally hurting us, our large families, and our Zionist yeshivos. Lapid’s open enmity and attacks against the chareidi public are with the sanction of our party. Even though there are differences of opinion between them [the chareidim] and us, we strongly oppose this, both because of simple ahavas Yisroel, and how much more when the attacks are against values close to our hearts.

“Time is passing and no one is lifting a finger. Party chairman Mr. Naftoli Bennett tries to calm things down with empty words, but in practice, there are no solutions in sight… We must protest with all our strength as [members of] a democratic party, and shout to the MKs, stop these dangerous tactics!”

 

KOSHER SHABBOS ELECTRICITY

 

By introducing automated systems supervised by non-Jews, the Israel Electric Company (IEC) hopes to produce “kosher” electricity that chareidim can use on Shabbos by the end of 2014. At present, for security reasons, most of the company’s employees are Jews.

 

The electric company explained that as a public company, it felt obligated to solve the problems of every sector of Israel’s populace. With the investment of a paltry 500,000 shekels ($130,000), it hopes to get around the hurdle that causes many religious Jews to refrain from using its product on Shabbos.

 

There are those in Eretz Yisroelwho follow the ruling of the Chazon Ish and other poskim that it is forbidden to use regular Shabbos electricity in Israel. Other poskim are lenient, relying, among other things, on the rationale that Shabbos electricity is necessary for national security and for saving and preserving people’s lives. In earlier times, those who were stringent made do with candles and gas lamps. Nowadays, they are more likely to use batteries and generators.

 

This is not the first time that the IEC has announced such plans. In February 2010, the company’s CEO said that he had taken upon himself that “during this year [2010], the whole production process will be completely automatic and involve no chillul Shabbos.” Perhaps he found the going harder than he expected.

 

This time, the IEC is working in collaboration with several rabbinical organizations, one of them being the Institute for Science and Halachah, an organization “dedicated to the development of a sound halachic base for dealing with all matters connected with science and modern technology,” and the other being the Zomet Institute, which defines itself as “a non-profit public research institute dedicated to seamlessly merging halachic Judaism with modern life.”

 

SUNLIGHT SAVING BILL PASSED

 

The Knesset finally passed a new Daylight Savings Time bill, which will extend Daylight Savings by three weeks until the last Sunday of October. 73 voted in favor of the bill and 17 opposed, most of them chareidim who said the law ignored the requirements of people who need to daven Sh’moneh Esreh after sunrise.

MK Eli Yishai of Shas said the new law will make it difficult for many working people who will now begin their days in darkness. 

 

MK Tamar Sandberg of Meretz said she hoped the bill would lead to breaches of the status-quo agreement governing religious practice in the country.

 

“Passing the bill today is an amazing thing,” she said. “Not only because we finally did this simple thing, which will benefit the life of each and every one of us, but also because one of the most basic conceptions in Israel collapsed. For dozens of years they explained to us why it’s impossible and why the status-quo does not allow it, and there it passes and no hair from the head of any chareidi is touched. I guess public transport on Shabbos and civil marriages can be enacted now and nothing will happen,”

 

Proponents of the law argue that adding an hour of sunlight to the waning days of summer as Europe does, will help businesses keep in sync with European industry. It will also make roads safer, help kids reach home while it is still light, enhance people’s physical and mental health, save electricity, and improve quality of life. An investigative committee estimated that the new system should save the economy some $82 million. 

 
SEMINARIES DEPRIVED OF FUNDS

 

Seminary directors in Israel were shocked to hear of sudden cuts to their institutions when the Education Ministry announced that it will not only cut funding for extra Jewish studies, but also demand the retroactive return of any excessive funds given to seminaries since September.

 

At an emergency meeting, seminary directors said that they would consult legal advisors to see whether the government’s discrimination against them is legal. They also sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, asking to meet him in order discuss the financial devastation facing their institutions.

 

This edict is not the only monetary disaster seminaries face. Until now, seminaries received 45% of their funding automatically and another 45% from funds that UTJ got through coalition agreements. Now, with UTJ out of the coalition, the government is not handing over the second 45%. The Education Ministry also canceled the Perach Program, which paid seminary girls to give supplemental instruction to Bais Yaakov schoolgirls. 

 

The seminary directors say that as things stand, it will be difficult to provide a regular educational schedule to their students.

 

The Education Ministry denied the claim that funding for extra Jewish studies is being terminated or reduced. The overall sum will remain the same, it said. However, due to an increase in the hours that seminaries and schools devote to extra Jewish studies, there remains less of the cake to divide. The ministry pointed out that Religious-Zionist schools will also receive reduced funding for this reason.

 

CHAREIDI SCHOOLS WARNED: MORE SECULAR STUDIES OR LESS FUNDS

 

Israel’s new budget conditions the funding of chareidi “exempt schools” on their teaching more math, Hebrew and English. Currently, grades 1-8 of such schools have six-hours of general studies a week. The government wants to raise this to 11 hours. Otherwise, the 55% proportion of secular school funding they presently receive will drop to 30%. This imminent threat led to a sharp argument in the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee. Chareidi MKs said that the new legislation was an attempt to destroy chareidi society.

 

Chareidi Jews will be moser nefesh for chinuch as they have done for generations,” said MK Moshe Gafni. “President Truman once said that he acknowledged [the existence of] Israel because its people learned the Torah and observed its traditions. Torah study is the basic right of our people. We do not agree with the Liba Law. We will decide on the content of our text-books… The law is due to the wickedness of a [new] party that has come along and made its agenda to hurt chareidim in every aspect of their lives. Do you want to wage war against chareidi chinuch? We will withstand it. This war is based on hatred. Do what you want with your education. We won’t interfere. But don’t interfere with us.

 

“If the law is accepted, we will recommend that chareidi chinuch institutions break contact with the Education Ministry,” he added.  

 

Secular MKs insisted that the measure is purely for the benefit of chareidi schoolchildren.

 

COTTAGE-CHEESE PRICE DROP

 

Finance Minister Yair Lapid joyfully announced that he had lowered the price of cottage cheese in Israel by 4.2 percent.

 

“In case anyone didn’t notice, the price of cottage cheese dropped today,” he wrote. “In case anyone was sleeping, yesterday evening we passed the first reading of Law of Competition in the Food Industry, which will lead to lower prices for many food items. In case anyone did not understand, persistently, obstinately, without compromise, we are continuing to fulfill our promises to the middle class.”

 

Paltry as the price drop may seem, cottage cheese is symbolically connected to a “Cottage Cheese Boycott” of 2011. This was supposed to be the opening shot of a national fight against the high cost of living in Israel. Israeli products often cost less in New York than in Israel itself.

 

But Lapid has it wrong. The drop in the price of cottage cheese was apparently due to a lowering of the target price of milk, something which was already decided in the previous government.

 

People were not happy with Lapid’s boasting. One wrote back, “In case you missed it, there’s no money left to buy cottage cheese.”

 

Another respondent pointed out that between 2000 and 2013, the price of bread rose from 2 shekels to 6, a liter of gasoline from 4.8 shekels to 8, a piece of chewing gum from 0.1 shekels to 1 shekel, and a felafel from 8 shekels to 16. During the same period, Israel’s minimum wage only rose from 3,600 shekels to 4,300.

 

The head of Meretz, Zahavah Galon, said that no one was fooled by Lapid’s gloating.

 

“I want to tell the finance minister that the Israelis are not fools,” she said. “They know how to read papers and know what you are doing to them. They know how to read that even though the price of milk has gone down for manufacturers, cottage and white cheese are the only milk products cheaper today. They remember that you raised sales taxes and income tax for everyone so that everything will be more expensive and everyone will have less money to pay for anything… It will be good if you adopt a modicum of modesty and don’t jump up to boast about every price change during your term.” 

 

JOBS OR NO JOBS

 

MK Yair Lapid claims that the official unemployment rates in Israel are artificially low because many chareidim and Arab women are not seeking work.

 

“They aren’t listed as unemployed because they aren’t even looking for work. We’re changing that now,” he said. “The plan for shivyon banetel along with the national plan for job training that we are currently creating along with the Ministry of Economy and Trade will change the Israeli workforce,” he said. “We will train people to work in high-tech and in production, we will encourage local entrepreneurship and small businesses, and we will boost industrial areas in the north and south.”

 

MK Menachem Eliezer Moses of UTJ said this was not true.

 

“Yesh Atid waves the flag of integrating chareidim into the job market, but it is an illusion, because there is no such thing as a job market! There is no such thing as jobs,” he said.

“The figures recently released by the Central Bureau of Statistics suggest the following: 5.8 people vie for every single job. This means that more than a quarter million people vie for 64,000 jobs, ranging from clerical work to plasterers, etc. Exactly where do you want to throw 100,000 chareidi scholars? Into which market? What is your goal, to add the yeshiva students whose budgets are cut to the circle of unemployment?”

 

He also demolished the argument of Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy that chareidim could find work in simple jobs such as construction and driving busses.

 

“The figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics show that the number of job vacancies includes all types of work such as drivers, caregivers and cleaners,” Moses said. “All the jobs are included and six times more people than can be hired are vying for the same job. The supply today cannot meet the number of unemployed people. So stop tricking us with this demagoguery of ‘Go to work, the market is waiting for you.'”

 

TWO NEW PRIVATE PORTS

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that Israel will open two new ports to be fully or partially run by private companies.

 

“The monopoly is over,” Netanyahu said in reference to the unionized ports of Haifa and Ashdod, which are monopolized by the Israel Ports Authority. “Two thousand men will no longer be able to shut down the entire country.

 

“We have five great movers of economic growth,” he continued. “Gas, increased export to markets like China, the introduction of new sectors of society into the workforce, technology, and reforms to cut down bureaucracy. We began with open skies and now we are moving on to open seas.”

 

All this won’t happen immediately. After final decisions are made, it will still take 5 years to build a new harbor in Haifa and 7 and a half years to build one in Ashdod.

 

SMALL PARTIES TO BECOME EXTINCT

 

The Knesset passed a preliminary reading of an electoral bill which will make it harder for the opposition to eject ruling governments and deprive small political parties of the chance to get into the Knesset in the first place. Opposition members complained that this will especially hurt the small Arab and chareidi parties. 60 MKs voted in favor of the bill and 44 opposed it.

 

Sponsored by MK Ronen Hoffman of Yesh Atid, the bill is a reflection of Yair Lapid’s fight to reduce the number of ministers when the government coalition was formed a few months back. The bill will reduce the number of ministers in the cabinet from its current 30 to 18 and eliminate the sinecure of ministers without portfolio.

 

To get into the government, it will no longer suffice to garner 2% of the vote, which is equivalent to two seats. The threshold has been doubled to 4%. This would knock the tiny Arab parties out of the Knesset in future elections unless they unite and endanger the continued existence of small parties like Kadima, Meretz, and Hatnuah. In addition, to unseat a coalition, no-confidence measures will need to be approved by a majority of 65, not of 61 as it was until now. This will make it harder to get rid of ruling governments. 

 

Although these measures are meant to stabilize governments, the second and third measures give large parties more power at the expense of small ones. Originally, Yesh Atid wanted an electoral threshold of 6% and Yisrael Beiteinu wanted it at 10%. Even Yesh Atid’s figure would have knocked UTJ out of many previous Knessets.

 

“Our reform is a means to an end: We want to have two big parties, where the one that wins the elections should be the leader of a stable coalition and govern,” Aryeh Carmon, founder and head of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, once said.

 

Where would that leave the chareidi parties?  

 

SECULAR YESHIVA SHOT DOWN 

 

During a stormy municipal session, Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat’s plan to allocate land to a secular “yeshiva” in Kiryat Yovel was outvoted 15 to 11. Chareidi councilmen voted against it together with two secular representatives. The land was to be used for a frum kindergarten until neighbors objected.

 

“We hope the mayor learns from today’s defeat that he cannot turn chareidi children into hostages for the upcoming elections,” Deputy Mayor Yitzchok Pindrus said. “From today the rules have changed. The mayor’s futile attempt to give the site to a fake yeshiva shows his true face. Time after time he demonstrates lack of faith with the chareidi public and does all he can to divide the city and drive out its chareidi residents. This is an unmatched injustice.”

 

But winning the vote was not enough. The final decision lies in the hands of the Regional Committee of the Interior Ministry.

 

“The mayor sees great importance in allotting a site in Kiryat Yovel for the secular yeshiva and the Yerushalayim Pre-Military Leadership Program together with finding solutions for kindergartens for all sectors,” the municipality said in his name. “The final decision regarding the Warburg site will be made not by the municipality, but in the Regional Committee of the Interior Ministry. The mayor will take action to see that it is finally authorized.”

 

Chareidi councilmen say that if that happens, they will appeal the decision in the High Court on the grounds that it is discriminatory.

 

The chareidi vote against Barkat was also symbolic of an approaching battle. An influential shomer mitzvos accountant, Moshe Leon, who is close to the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has said that he may compete against Barkat to be mayor of Yerushalayim and will make a final decision after Tisha B’Av. Leon has met many chareidi leaders and hopes to get their support.

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