Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox political parties have denounced Blue and White chairman MK Benny Gantz for saying he would exclude them from government if he gets the chance to form a coalition.Speaking on Tuesday night in Beersheva, Gantz said he would form a “liberal unity government,” without “extremists or extortionists,” widely seen as a reference to the ultra-Orthodox and right wing religious-Zionist parties.United Torah Judaism chairman and deputy health minister MK Yaakov Litzman and senior UTJ leader MK Moshe Gafni said that “the cat was out of the bag” and that Gantz’s efforts to hide his positions regarding the ultra-Orthodox parties had now been exposed.“After he has tried for a considerable period to conceal his opinions and even did everything to separate himself from his partner Yair Lapid, today it is clear that there is no difference between them,” said Gafni and Litzman in a joint statement to the press.
Even on Tuesday, Shas chairman and interior minister Aryeh Deri said that if Gantz and his fellow party leaders would separate from Yesh Atid and Lapid they could join a right-wing, religious government that might be formed.But Blue and White has, over the last few weeks, been battered by Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party for his reticence to underline his commitment to liberal, pluralistic values.Whereas Blue and White obtained 35 Knessets seats in the April election, it is currently polling between 30 and 31 seats, while Yisrael Beytenu, which took just five seats in the April election, is polling between nine and ten seats.Yisrael Beytenu rejected Gantz’s comments saying that they were part of a coordinated plan between him and the ultra-Orthodox parties and that the Blue and White leader planned to bring UTJ and Shas into a coalition which Gantz would form if he was positioned to form a government after the election.
Despite regulations, the court’s legal advisor sends religious party leaders’ recommendations for legislation that would expand the rabbinical system’s powers, including allowing Jewish law to be used in civil cases, constructing new building to match that of Supreme Court
Senior officials in Israel’s rabbinical courts prepared a document suggesting legislation for ultra-Orthodox parties to use during coalition negotiations after the April 2019 elections.
The document, which goes against existing regulations on the separation of the rabbinical courts and the political echelon, was obtained by Ynet’s sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth.
It was sent out from the personal account of the rabbinical courts’ legal advisor Rabbi Shimon Yaacovi two weeks after the elections, in an email entitled “Clauses for the government’s basic guidelines.” It was sent to several members of the ultra-Orthodox parties’ negotiators as well as Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the National Union party.
The document contained suggested legislation that the ultra-Orthodox parties should demanded from the government during the coalition talks.
The most noteworthy item was proposed legislation that states that, “the rabbinical courts will have the authority to decide financial cases according to Jewish law, if all sides in the dispute agree.”
Similar legislative attempts meant to increase the power and scope of the rabbinical courts beyond divorce and conversion, have previously been stopped in the past by the Supreme Court.
Other items in the document dealt directly with employment conditions for rabbinical court staff, demanding they be equal to those of workers in the civil court system.
Yaacovi also recommends that the government commit to assigning a budget for a new rabbinical court building and the chief rabbinate that is of equal standard to the Supreme Court building.
The legal adviser also sought to increase his own jurisdiction, recommending that he be authorized to appear before the Supreme Court for any injunction involving rabbinical courts without receiving permission from the attorney general.
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Sunday night was probably unsettling for the prime ministerial residence on Balfour Street, a night of taking stock, of frayed nerves. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not have yielded to the caprices and whims of his wife, he could have had a restrained, downsized and loyal Ayelet Shaked on the list of top ten Likud Knesset candidates, even without promising her a ministerial post (or in any case, without promising to keep his promise).
Instead of acting according to his and his party’s best political interests, as suggested to him privately and publicly by lawmakers in his party, Netanyahu was dragged by emotions and vengefulness. Last night he got his comeuppance: Shaked, who begged to be incorporated into Likud and was turned down, and who was fired by Netanyahu from her post as Justice Minister, along with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is back, and in a big way.
The writing was on the wall as far as her placement at the head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties from the moment Bennett had swallowed his pride and renounced his leadership of the New Right party. According to multiple surveys conducted to test voters’ inclinations, the right, still traumatized by its loss of five to six Knesset seats in April’s election due to its fissures, saw the numbers and urged a union of forces.
Union of Right-Wing Parties Chairman Rafi Peretz (his rabbinical title should be dropped since it’s irrelevant to his political endeavors) has been a dead man walking for some time. Recent polls have given the coup de grace to his pretentious ambitions. With his party hovering over the electoral threshold while the New Right is becoming twice as strong since Shaked assumed leadership last Sunday, there was no doubt as to who should ultimately head the union.
Peretz began the negotiations over the leadership as Tarzan and ended them like Popeye. What he won’t learn by the end of his Knesset term, Shaked, a brilliant politician, has already forgotten. Quietly, discreetly, effectively, she wove the web that brought her to where she is now. Legitimize Kahanists? She won’t bat an eyelid. Her excuse will be that it’s only “a technical bloc,” because nothing describes Shaked better than a cool-headed technocrat.
On September 18, Netanyahu, who tried to eliminate her, will find himself facing the head of a party with 12-13 seats (according to the last polls). If a Likud-right-wing-ultra-Orthodox government is at all possible, he might offer Shaked the Foreign Ministry portfolio even before she asks for it, just so the Justice Ministry stays in Likud hands this time.
Meanwhile, he’s far from reaching that goal. His aim of garnering 61 seats without Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party now looks virtually impossible to attain. Barring an extraordinary development in the next 50 days, the chances a unity government without the ultra-Orthodox, the religious-Zionists and the Kahanists seem quite realistic.
Some insights on the unifying right
As soon as he recovered from the shock, Netanyahu rushed to contact Peretz, urging him to predicate the team-up on Shaked and Bennett’s committment to recommend that President Reuven Rivlin task only him with forming the government. This is a baseless demand. They’ll do what serves them best under the post-election circumstances. This only highlights his failure. If he’d agreed to her joining Likud, he would have been saved this worry, which in 60 days will turn into panic in the best Balfour style.
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AG Barr recuses himself from Jeffrey Epstein case, citing past legal work
Attorney General Bill Barr said Monday he has recused himself from the high-profile case against financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, citing his past legal work.
Barr, during a visit to South Carolina on Monday, was asked whether he planned to get involved in the Epstein case, which involves accusations the 66-year-old hedge fund manager preyed on “dozens” of underage victims—some as young as 14. He has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking.
“I’m recused from that matter because one of the law firms that represented Epstein long ago was a firm I subsequently joined for a period of time,” Barr told reporters.
Barr joined the law firm Kirkland & Ellis in 2009, which had represented Epstein during a separate case against him in 2008.
But Barr is not the only Trump administration official faced with questions over the Epstein case—Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has faced scrutiny over his handling of that 2008 case. Acosta, who was U.S. attorney for Florida at the time, helped Epstein to secure a plea deal that resulted in an 18-month sentence—he served just 13 months. The deal was criticized as lenient because Epstein could have faced a life sentence. Acosta negotiated a deal that resulted in two state solicitation charges, but no federal charges.
Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.
Epstein was charged this week with sex trafficking and conspiracy during the early 2000s. Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday in New York City federal court.
“The victims described herein were as young as 14 years old at the time they were abused…and were, for various reasons, often particularly vulnerable to exploitation,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “Epstein intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18.”
Epstein allegedly created and maintained a “vast network” and operation from 2002 “up to and including” at least 2005 that enabled him to “sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls” in addition to paying victims to recruit other underage girls.
Prosecutors also allege Epstein “worked and conspired with others, including employees and associates” who helped facilitate his conduct by contacting victims and scheduling their sexual encounters with the 66-year-old at his mansion in New York City and Palm, Beach, Fla.
Victims would be paid hundreds of dollars in cash by either Epstein or one of his associates or employees, according to prosecutors. The 66-year-old also allegedly “incentivized his victims” to become recruiters by paying the victim-recruiters hundreds of dollars for each girl brought to him.
Epstein was once friends with former President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prince Andrew and President Trump. He was arrested Saturday after his private jet touched down from France.
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JERUSALEM – Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.
But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.
On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.
The confrontation reflected a central tension in modern Israel over the very nature of the state, founded by secular Zionists but with an ultrareligious population that is growing in size and influence.
That tension came to the forefront late last month, thwarting longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government and sending a stunned nation to the polls for the second time this year. Netanyahu needed two competing factions, secular and religious, to form a governing majority in parliament, and they were deadlocked over legislation that proposes drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military as other Israeli Jews are.
The ultrareligious parties oppose conscription as an attempt to assimilate their cloistered communities by thrusting their young men into contact with secular life and values.
But Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s ultranationalist former defence minister, has made resistance to ultra-Orthodox influence an essential part of his appeal to his political base of secular Russian-speaking immigrants. Those close to him say the conscription issue is part of his wider concern about a minority community that receives state welfare payments and tax breaks while contributing less than other Israeli taxpayers.
It is a victoryMira Ibrahim, one of the staff who disrobed
The ultra-Orthodox, a catchall for a religious community that includes a wide range of sects, choose largely to segregate themselves from the wider Israeli society to lead a life in which religious observance is paramount. Outside influences, such as films, the Internet and mixing with secular Israelis is discouraged, if not forbidden.
But in Israel’s fragmented parliamentary democracy, the political parties representing the ultra-Orthodox have become kingmakers in recent years, elevating their agenda and carving a fault line in Israeli society that is expected to grow.
For Israelis like Klil Lifshitz, the 28-year-old lesbian who opened Bastet 2 1/2 years ago with a “super feminist” wait staff rather than decamp to liberal Tel Aviv as most of her friends had, the shrinking space for secularism is a concern.
“They have more and more power,” she said of the ultra-Orthodox. “As long as they keep having the power they do in forming coalitions and governments, they are basically going to get what they want.”
It was during an usually large demonstration last month, called by ultra-Orthodox Jews to protest what they termed Israel’s desecration of the Sabbath as the country hosted the Eurovision song contest, that the wait staff decided to make their own stand. They said the purpose was to protect their tables and make an ideological point.
Since then the ultra-Orthodox have paused their weekly walk past.
“It is a victory,” said Mira Ibrahim, one of the staff who decided to disrobe, though she said the sense of triumph was tinged by a heavy-handed police response to the demonstrators that made the staff uncomfortable.
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[OPINION] – By David Suissa/JNS.org – reprinted in part without explicit permission
On the surface, the fact that Israel is headed back to an election only weeks after the last one looks like a system failure. It’s never happened before in Israel. The Israeli government will now have spent the bulk of a year in election mode rather than governing mode. There’s something wrong with this picture.
And yet, if we look at the reason for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a coalition — one party’s refusal to kowtow to religious parties — this “do-over” election presents a unique opportunity for a political upgrade.
Israel’s religious parties crave political power because it enables them to fulfill their religious agenda, from refusing to enlist in the IDF to forcing Torah laws on the public. Over the years, because Netanyahu has desperately needed their seats to form a majority coalition, he has tolerated their demands.
He probably figured the same thing would happen this time around — but one man stopped him. Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beiteinu party, decided he had had enough and refused to compromise on a bill to draft haredi(ultra-Orthodox) Jews into the IDF.JUNE 7, 2019 11:08 AM
Normally, Netanyahu is able to pull things together at the last minute, because Knesset members are loath to jeopardize their positions by going to new elections. In this case, it didn’t work. The religious parties threw a few bones of compromise, but Lieberman held firm, sticking to the original draft bill.
This dispute is rooted in the founding of the Jewish state, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the fateful decision to exempt ultra-Orthodox men (only a few hundred at the time) from enlisting in the IDF. A well-known modern Orthodox rabbi in Israel once told me that this decision did more to turn off secular Jews to religion than anything else.
This makes sense. If you’re an Israeli parent whose children are risking their lives to defend the state, why should ultra-Orthodox citizens be exempt? And if you see ultra-Orthodox leaders fighting to keep their community out of the army, how would that make you feel about religion in general?
There are countless other ways that political power in the hands of ultra-Orthodox parties has become corrosive.
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