Opinion piece by Dr. Ron Weiser AM. Immediate Past President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Honorary Life President of the Zionist Council of New South Wales and Committee Member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency (The Sochnut)………………
The past couple of weeks have seen some dramatic events – where they will lead is still an open question.
1 – Israel just elected its new Chief Rabbis who will serve in their positions for the next 10 years.
This decision will not only affect Israelis but will impact on Jewish life around the world.
For Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi there were 2 leading candidates – the Haredi and ultimate winner Rav Lau and the modern orthodox Zionist Rav Stav, a leader of the over 600 strong Tzohar Rabbis.
They represent two different world views when it comes to matters such as conversion, marriage and divorce, as well as different national views on Haredim serving in the army and on equalising the burden by working and paying taxes.
It would be an understatement if I was to say that I am disappointed in the decision and see it as a retrograde step for the State and in my view, shows a high degree of lack of self respect by the political echelons.
What also bothers me is that the same debate plays out in our local community with some modern orthodox Zionist institutions also shooting themselves in the foot in a similar way.
Rabbi Neuwirth, a leading Tzohar Rabbi himself and founder of the Beit Hillel movement, which aims to bridge the divide between secular and orthodox Jews, as well as to raise the status of women within Judaism, will be addressing the community on Thursday night the 8th of August at Central Synagogue.
If one is serious about understanding the dynamic changes taking place in Israeli society, don’t miss out on hearing Rabbi Neuwirth who also happens to have served in the Israel navy’s elite forces.
2 – The Peri Bill – the legislation designed to bring the Haredim into army service – has now passed both the Cabinet and the first reading in the Knesset.
All such bills are not law until they pass the third Knesset reading.
The Peri Bill says that for 4 years the Government will use positive encouragement to try and ensure that of the approximately 8,000 Haredim annually eligible for Army service only 1,800 will get an exemption. After 4 years, punitive action will begin to ensure compliance.
The second reading of the bill has now been delayed for some months.
We do not know when or even if it will ever pass a third reading and become law.
However this legislation, other than as a moral statement of intent – important enough in and of itself, is now almost irrelevant as elections will be held long before the coercive elements of the bill come into force and who knows what the makeup of the next Government will be and whether or not it will retain or change the Peri Bill.
3 – The Renewed Talks – some points:
– Prime Minister Netanyahu when agreeing to resume the talks, agreed to progressively release 104 prisoners held in Israeli jails, as a “gift” to the Palestinian Authority.
Apparently the Palestinians needed to give no gift in return other than agreeing to hold talks about holding talks.
One of the most outstanding elements of this decision was to include in these prisoner releases, Arab citizens of Israel – Israeli Arabs.
Think about the absurdity of this – the Palestinian Authority representing Israeli citizens who murdered other Israeli citizens, inside the State of Israel.
And what that says about Israeli sovereignty and Israeli justice presents a real challenge into the future on so many fronts.
– If reports are to be believed, PM Netanyahu chose to publically concede on the prisoners rather than on settlements and on the starting point for discussions on border issues.
If that is indeed the case then it is clearly not because of the overall strategic
situation, but rather because of internal Likud politics.
The anti settlement movement Peace Now already recorded on the 7th of May this year that:
“Israel’s prime minister has issued an unofficial order to stop the approval of new plans for Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.”
Peace Now said that
“it appeared Mr Netanyahu had adopted a policy of restraint, possibly to avoid being blamed for undermining Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to launch a new Israeli-Palestinian political process”.
Interestingly, Palestinian settlement building in the West Bank continued apace with approvals by Israel being given for 1,400 homes to be built in Area C (land which Israel controls) near Jericho and that land being turned into Area A (land which the PA will now control). That is, progressively more West Bank land being handed over to Palestinian settlement by the supposedly “right wing” Israeli government.
And what about Rawabi?
A full new Palestinian city which is being built near Birzeit and Ramallah. It is planned for 10,000 homes in 6 neighbourhoods and for a population of 40,000. No pause in construction there.
The appointment of Martin Indyk would not have been Bibi’s happiest moment. The Americans know how to send a message when they wish to.
Indyk is more of an advocate than a mediator. He has very strong views on Jews over the Green Line and on dividing Jerusalem. And he is no fan of Netanyahu’s.
But perhaps the biggest danger for Israel is what is possibly going to be the main game – avoiding blame.
Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas will want any collapse or roadblock in the talks to be blamed on themselves. Nor will either want to be declared responsible for embarrassing the Americans.
Indyk’s reporting of the talks and his impatience with Israel’s negotiating position may in the end be one of Israel’s bigger problems.