I am referring to the task that lies before us to make certain that factual information about Israel’s new government (official picture below) is properly publicized. Genuine anxieties must be addressed and hysterical misrepresentations must be refuted.
Not an easy task, but a very important one.
Let us begin with an incendiary issue. While it is hardly the most important issue the country faces, much is being made of it and perhaps in certain respects it exemplifies the broader situation.
Outside the Knesset, as the swearing-in was taking place, there was a protest regarding a fear that persons with various sexual orientations would be deprived of their rights by this new government. But the situation was actually highly ironic because of what was going on inside the Knesset:
Amir Ohana (Likud) was sworn in as Speaker of the Knesset – a very powerful position – thereby making history. He is Israel’s first openly gay speaker. In his remarks from the Knesset podium Ohana greeted his partner, Alon Haddad, who was sitting in the gallery with their two adopted children, and then said, “…this Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, won’t hurt them or any other family, period.”
Two members of the haredi UTJ party were visibly distressed and put their heads down when Ohana addressed Haddad as his partner (ben zug). But they did not bolt from the Knesset plenum when Ohana spoke (the way Lapid left to avoid Netanyahu’s swearing in), did not call out (the way members of the opposition heckled Netanyahu), and did not refuse to be part of the governing coalition. Other members of the haredi parties listened to Ohana with full respect and heads raised.
It would not be realistic to expect the haredi members of Knesset, or the other religious parties, to actually endorse homosexuality. But that does not give those who don’t endorse it the license to hurt others.
As I write this, I pause to make what I think is an important point. It is the tenor of modern Western (significantly woke) culture to embrace the most progressive positions as the norm to which others must adhere. But this is prejudicial to those who cannot embrace these positions. There must be room for all, as long as none are harmed, but this is something that goes against the grain for people on the left.
For example, there is talk (I suspect it will never be more than talk) about allowing people to refrain from providing services that contradict their religious beliefs, IF – an essential proviso — there are others available to provide those services. Those requiring the services would be attended to. A key example is with regard to abortion. There are doctors whose religious beliefs dictate against it. Should they be required to perform abortions when other doctors for whom this is not a problem can do so? I will have more to say in this vein down the road.
A major columnist in the JPost this week wrote that it was “nauseating” for the UTJ members to put their heads down. But I would say it was not. They are cooperating because they see bigger issues and the need for a united government. Back in 2015, the members of the haredi parties walked out when Ohana was sworn in as a member of the Knesset.
In a reasonable world, one might expect that the individuals who were demonstrating would have said, Hey, this isn’t looking bad. But I don’t think we are dealing with “reasonable” here. I believe what we are seeing is an absolutist position, fueled by hysteria, that is being utilized by those on the left to weaken a right-wing government. They are stirring matters up.
The fact that the individuals who protested last week did not protest when the Arab Ra’am party – the political wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel – entered the last government exposes their biased agenda. Arab Muslims are often virulently and violently opposed to homosexuality. But not a peep.
For the record, I think Amir Ohana is one fantastic guy. Devoid of bitterness or anger, he is a passionate Zionist eager to serve the country. His position is that his gay identity is only part of who he is, and that he must attend as well to the others parts of himself. I wish him all the very best.
But let us move from this to the words and actions of some of the ministers of the new government. What you will see immediately – and I had suggested this earlier – is an enormous shift in tone. That shift brings lightness to my heart, as I think, Finally! Let it hold, let it persist!
We start with Itamar Ben Gvir, head of Otzma Yehudit and now Minister of National Security, with enhanced authority. Ben Gvir is tough, and thus has a distorted reputation as a loose cannon and a racist. He is neither. He is unafraid, believes Israel is the Jewish state, and has declared intention to fight both terrorism and criminality.
Here I summarize his remarks on being sworn in.
What he intended to do, he said, was work to right wrongs that have been endured for too long by Israeli citizens: Wrongs that have never been addressed properly. His primary focus was Be’er Sheva and the Negev more broadly. He told the story of one woman, Dana, who lives there. These days she is afraid to go out at night because of sexual harassment and shouted nationalist comments against the state and the Jewish people. Her children no longer go to the playground because of similar threats.
Dana works in a store in the area, but the owner is having a problem since he has to pay protection money. (Every Jewish business in the Negev pays protection money to the Arabs!) It is Bedouin, Israeli citizens, who are the problem. They are running rampant, without regard for the law, which is not being enforced. Has it just been easier not to bother to enforce law, or has there been fear of seeming “racist” to take on the Bedouin troublemakers? We are very close to losing the Negev.
Said Ben Gvir: “While the previous government was in charge there were tens of thousands like Dana, who live in Be’er Sheva, Omer, and Lahavim [all in the Negev], and members of kibbutzim in the north, [and] farmers whose lives are being ruined, residents of the mixed cities, some of who live in constant fear of what the next day may bring…
“…it is even happening in Jerusalem, where people are scared to walk through Damascus Gate [in an Arab neighborhood that leads to the Kotel]…. (Emphasis added)
“Citizens of Israel, the position that I am taking today is going to be a tough challenge, but I’m up to that challenge….We’re going to sweat a lot, work hard, and we won’t always succeed, but I promise to fight and, ultimately, to win.”
At the ceremony on Sunday during which he assumed his new duties, Ben Gvir said: “I must use this forum to tell you – policemen, soldiers, and everyone who fights terrorism: any terrorist who wants to harm you – his blood on his head, and I will give you all the backing in this war.” (Emphasis added)
Bezalel Smotrich, head of Religious Zionist Party and now Finance Minister, has been explaining where he intends to go, as well. He is working with professionals in the Ministry of Finance to finalize plans to alleviate the struggle of poorer Israelis. “For example, citizens at the lowest economic strata will receive food stamps, and citizens who earn the minimum wage or a low wage will receive a supplement to their salary through an increased negative income tax.”
It is anticipated that the salary of IDF soldiers will increase by 20%, an appropriate move, and that the price of electricity will be frozen for a period of time.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Smotrich wrote:
“…I will pursue a broad free-market policy. This includes removing the government price controls and import restrictions that have limited competition and kept consumer prices high, as well as regulatory reforms and a loosening of bureaucratic control over small businesses. Inspired by U.S. right-to-work laws…”
Nothing radical or scary here, but rather intent to help build Israel stronger, with attention to those who are struggling.
Of course, Finance Minister is only one of the hats Smotrich wears. He is also a minister inside the Defense Ministry, with authority over the Civil Administration. With a report released today by Regavim, we see very clearly how badly Smotrich’s authority is needed to override the obscenely leftist inclinations of the Civil Administration (emphasis added):
“This morning [Monday], the Civil Administration uprooted a Jewish vineyard near Yitzhar, only 300 meters away from an illegal mosque for which demolition orders were issued 15 years ago. Regavim: This is the first challenge that Smotrich must address on his first day on the job.
“The vineyard was uprooted following a petition submitted by Palestinian Arabs to Israel’s High Court of Justice. Despite the fact that no Arab ownership of the land on which the vineyard was planted, some four years ago, has ever been proven, the Jewish owners of the vineyard received a ‘Disruptive Land-Use Order.’ This unique military order allows removal of agriculture, even when no conflicting claim of ownership is submitted or proven – and is used by the Civil Administration exclusively against Jews.
“Only 300 meters away from the uprooted orchard, in Area C on the outskirts of the nearby Arab town Burin, stands an illegal mosque for which the Civil Administration issued a demolition order over 15 years ago. The Regavim Movement appealed to the High Court of Justice to force the Civil Administration to enforce the demolition order, and the government gave its solemn commitment to uphold the law – but the illegal mosque stands, undisturbed, to this very day – and dozens of additional illegal structures have been built around it in the interim.
“Regavim’s spokesperson called upon Minister Betzalel Smotrich to tackle this absurdity on his very first full day in office.”
In 2005, as part of the Gaza “Disengagement” (i.e. expulsion) Plan, four towns in northern Samaria, including Homesh, were evacuated. Although resettlement of this town was prohibited, a yeshiva was established there and has persisted in supporting Torah study, with some disruptions from time to time, for close to 14 years. The approach of former defense minister Gantz was particularly small-minded in this regard, e.g., removing electrical generators right before Shabbat.
Recently, the far left Yesh Din appealed to the High Court for an order to evacuate. Now the Netanyahu government has requested that the Court grant a three-month extension, noting that new government is planning to amend the Disengagement Law and to normalize the status of the community at Homesh.
“According to a report by Channel 13, Defense Minister Yoav Galant (Likud) has hosted several meetings with senior officials to draft the state’s official response to the Supreme Court petition, and to coordinate that response with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as Minister in the Defense Ministry, handling settlement affairs.” (Emphasis added) Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) is also involved.
We should remember that Yehuda Dimentman, a student at the Yeshiva, was murdered near the site by Arab terrorists in December 2021. For reasons that were inexplicable to me (the students were branded as a provocation), government actions against the yeshiva increased after this, with members of the Yeshiva charging this amounted to a reward for terrorism. Here you see a picture of some of the yeshiva students.
The new Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf (head of UTJ) is a Gur Hasid. The Hasidim have not been known for Zionist passion. But consider Goldknopf now.
He recently wrote a letter to two ministers whose offices share the same address as his, registering concern about the fact that the official stationary of the Housing and Construction Ministry listed the address as Government Campus East Jerusalem, as did the stationary of their ministries.
Wrote Goldknopf: “United Jerusalem is one. It is not a trivial thing that official government stationary immortalizes the de facto division of the city…. I request that you consent to join me in correcting this distortion…”
I had predicted that we would see small changes that would indicate major shifts. But there is more about Goldknopf:
At the exchange ceremony on Sunday, during which he assumed his responsibilities as Housing Minister, Goldknopf said (emphasis added):
“We will help our brothers who are settling in Judea and Samaria and as I saw during my visits there on the eve of the elections – part of the solution to the housing crisis lies in these areas. Just as importantly, it is our duty to help them improve their personal security, which is a guarantee for continued living and development there.”
Much more to follow, my friends.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.