An interesting insight into the Knesset

I find the Israeli newspaper Haaretz very informative.

The Haredi War on Ben-Gvir Is About Power, Money and Jealousy - Israel News -

Avi Bar-EliApr 20, 2024

Monday was supposed to be a day of celebration for National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. At the end of a special session during the Knesset recess, the lawmakers were due to vote to transfer the Real Estate Enforcement Division from the Finance Ministry to Ben-Gvir’s portfolio.

At long last, a year of the prime minister stalling on this issue would be over. The battle against illegal construction by Arab Israelis would be taken from Ben-Gvir’s rival on the far right, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Ben-Gvir would be able to use his new powers to please his electorate, particularly in the south, where his voters complain about the Bedouin community.

But suddenly, there was a surprise. Minutes before the vote, ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas said they wouldn’t vote yes until Ben-Gvir had lifted his opposition to a bill preserving the rabbis’ control over the cellphonesused by members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

Ben-Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit party, was apoplectic. After all, he’s the one who’s supposed to do the last-minute blackmail.

So Coalition Chairman Ofir Katz and the prime minister’s parliamentary adviser, Nevo Katz, scurried between offices at the Knesset. The agenda was repeatedly modified in order to postpone the vote.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir PorushCredit: Sraya Diamant

Religious Services Minister Michael Malkieli was instructed to filibuster while giving his speech, but the attempts to craft a compromise came up empty. The bad blood between the parties got in the way.

A frustrated Ben-Gvir accused the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim, of plotting with “the Arabs,” implying that United Torah Judaism and Shas would oppose the transfer of the Real Estate Enforcement Division to Ben-Gvir. In return, the two Arab alliances in the Knesset, Hadash-Ta’al and the United Arab List, would support the new bill exempting the Haredim from military service.

“As of today, Otzma Yehudit is not bound by coalition discipline, and until the authority is transferred, it will vote as it sees fit,” Ben-Gvir’s caucus said in a statement. On Tuesday, a committee chairman from Ben-Gvir’s party, Tzvika Foghel, canceled a hearing on a bill on the annual celebration at Mount Meron for the Lag Ba’omer holiday. This bill is the baby of United Torah Judaism’s Meir Porush.

The seeds of this strife in the governing coalition were planted during the last Knesset election campaign in the fall of 2022. United Torah Judaism and Shas felt that Ben-Gvir’s populist messaging was stealing their younger voters; some say this cost UTJ an eighth seat.

Shas leader Arye Dery

Shas leader Arye DeryCredit: Noam Revkin-Fenton

Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right/Haredi bloc won 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election, but this did nothing to diffuse the tensions. In fact, the discord increased whenever one camp in the coalition secured more funding and the other didn’t.

While Arye Dery and Moshe Gafni, the heads of Shas and United Torah Judaism, were left without the special 590 million shekels ($156 million) of funding for their deficit-ridden school systems, Ben-Gvir is brandishing an extra 9 billion shekels for his ministry’s budget.

While the coalition funds for the Haredim were cut in the 2024 budget, the police were saved from the axe and Ben-Gvir’s ministry even got an additional 2 billion shekels.

While for the first time the Haredim have been left without a law exempting their young men from the draft, Ben-Gvir is handing out rifles to them from the trunk of a car in Haredi city Elad, alleged protection against any future October 7-type attack.

United Torah Judaism chief Moshe Gafni

United Torah Judaism chief Moshe GafniCredit: Oren Ben Hakoon

More than a year into the government’s tenure, the Haredi politicians feel that they’re always being asked to show responsibility, tamp down their demands and accede to the prime minister’s pleas for “just a little while longer.” But they say that Ben-Gvir, with his trumped-up crises, ultimately gets what he wants, whetting this political novice’s appetite even more.

Regarding the phones, why is Otzma Yehudit suddenly interfering with such a sensitive issue, one designed to limit the ultra-Orthodox community’s links to the outside world? Why is Ben-Gvir trying to cancel the monopoly of the Rabbinical Committee for Communications – the only agency authorized to control the ultra-Orthodox community’s cell phone market – and then demands veto power over the regulation of this market?

According to the coalition agreement between Likud and Otzma Yehudit, any change to the cellphone law “will not harm the general public and will not prevent a switchover to more advanced phones or number mobility” – an effort to undermine the monopoly and make clear that Ben-Gvir reserves the right to intervene.

As things stand now, in the Haredi community, only the rabbis are authorized to grant a kosher certificate to cellphones and control the content available on them. This translates into millions of shekels annually, and more importantly, extraordinary political power.

So not everyone is happy that the relevant rabbinical committee is controlled by Hasidim and secret deals with the parties. In recent years, groups in the moderate “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox community and Chabad banded together to defy the monopoly. It’s possible that one of these groups is behind Otzma Yehudit’s efforts to stall the cellphone legislation.

Due to Ben-Gvir’s objection the cellphone bill cannot be advanced in the Economic Committee. And when this ‘hutzpah’ is added to the additional funds and powers lavished on the minister, jealousy rears its head as well.

Ben-Gvir’s rogue coalition party is enjoying the polls showing that it will do well in the next election, but for now it only has six Knesset seats. So, with the vote on Real Estate Enforcement Division, the ultra-Orthodox parties are trying to teach it a lesson.

Instead of Sanctioning a Rogue Battalion, the U.S. Should Focus on Netanyahu and His Ministers - Israel News -

Alon PinkasApr 22, 2024

That the United States is considering applying the “Leahy Law” to an Israeli military unit, the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion, is a big deal. It’s a big deal not because the move is unprecedented but because of the unambiguous political message it sends.

While the impact of the sanctions the law stipulates may be very limited, the United States is essentially acknowledging a very inconvenient truth: A combat unit in the Israeli army is acting like a militia.

That means that some of its operations in the West Bank are rogue, outside the boundaries of the law. That means the unit either doesn’t carry out orders, disobeys the chain of command, or has a parallel chain of political command made of rabbis – whether ultra-Orthodox or religious-Zionist – in Israeli settlements. Any other interpretation is putting lipstick on a pig.

A ceremony honoring ultra-Orthodox soldiers in Tel Aviv in 2019.

A ceremony honoring ultra-Orthodox soldiers in Tel Aviv in 2019.Credit: Defense Ministry

Second, the United States is drawing a clear contrast between Israel and the West Bank. This shouldn’t be taken lightly or dismissed as an ad hoc technicality. It’s noteworthy that the U.S. announcement, expected to be made official in the next few days, coincided, however unscripted, with the House of Representatives authorizing the Biden administration’s request to provide Israel with $14.5 billion to $16.5 billion in weapons systems and munitions ($26 billion for the entire package over time).

This comes on top of the annual military grant of $3.8 billion and the more than $300 million worth of munitions transferred to Israel since the beginning of the war in October.

This is particularly pertinent given the predictable but nonetheless comical and boisterous reactions from Israeli politicians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a global beacon of morality himself, a man who still refuses to take responsibility for the October 7 debacle, declared sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda Battalion to be “the height of absurdity and a moral low.”

![Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset this month. “I am sick and tired of U.S. control over Israel,” she said, referring to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion issue.|2200x1468](,1468,x0,y0&height=234&width=350 “Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset this month. “I am sick and tired of U.S. control over Israel,” she said, referring to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion issue., Credit: Olivier Fitoussi”)

Likud MK Tally Gotliv in the Knesset this month. “I am sick and tired of U.S. control over Israel,” she said, referring to the Netzah Yehuda Battalion issue.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who hasn’t yet commented on S&P’s lowering of its long-term credit rating for Israel last week – amid a worsening outlook for economic growth and the budget deficit – found time for some sanctimonious wailing. He announced that the U.S. decision was “absolute madness while Israel is fighting for its survival.” Yes, survival. “We warned,” he reminded the world without specifying who “we” are, that “the Biden administration’s sanctions will be extended to the entire IDF and the State of Israel.”

According to Smotrich, Israel is now in the hospitable company of Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Kim Jong Un, other innocent victims of America’s indescribable cruelty. As for the $14.5 billion, Smotrich is less impressed, and he naturally assumes that it’s God’s gift to Israel, not the American taxpayer.

Another rocket scientist who works for Netanyahu, Tally Gotliv, a hybrid of Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert but without their natural charm, bested Smotrich with her usual style and grace. Please take a moment to read this one carefully: “Who are you, the United States of America, to dare impose sanctions on the ultra-Orthodox battalion Netzah Yehuda? This is contemporary antisemitism!”

Gotliv then offered a painful lament: “I am sick and tired of U.S. control over Israel and these clear threats against us. … The U.S. is treading on Israel in a sophisticated way, a pat and then a slap on the cheek again and again.” The gut-wrenching dramatic line was saved for last: “I refuse to be a battered country!” said the woman who made a career as a lawyer defending accused rapists.

A sign welcoming visitors to the Netzah Yehuda base near Beit El.

A sign welcoming visitors to the Netzah Yehuda base near Beit El.Credit: Emil Salman

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter kept it laconic and sharp: “Step down,” he instructed the United States. War cabinet member Benny Gantz, who was the defense minister when the Americans began investigating the matter, surely thought he was reassuring the nation by saying that “I’ll talk to Tony [Blinken] and convince him.”

That’s great. “I’ll talk to Tony” is a line from the “Sopranos,” not a foreign policy.

The 1997 Leahy Law is named after its main author, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who served in the Senate for nearly four decades until last year. It refers to two statutory provisions prohibiting the U.S. government from “using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.” One provision applies to the State Department and the second to the Defense Department.

The investigative and vetting process is conducted over months or years by the relevant departments and agencies at the U.S. Embassy in the country in question.

The law was originally designed to battle the drug trade and applied to military, paramilitary and police units in Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico as well as in Turkey, a NATO member. The law was later expanded and integrated into the Foreign Assistance Act in 2008.

![Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on a visit to the north last week. “A hit on a battalion is a hit on the entire Israeli defense establishment,” he said.|2200x1466](,1466,x0,y0&height=233&width=350 “Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on a visit to the north last week. “A hit on a battalion is a hit on the entire Israeli defense establishment,” he said., Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry”)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on a visit to the north last week. “A hit on a battalion is a hit on the entire Israeli defense establishment,” he said.Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion, or the 97th Battalion of the Kfir infantry brigade, has been under U.S. vetting for half a decade and more closely since 2022. This raises the main question: Even if the allegations prove to be accurate and the sanctions are justified, isn’t this a convenient cop-out?

Three ranks above the battalion there is a major general, the head of Central Command. Above him there is the IDF chief of staff, a lieutenant general. Above him there is a civilian official, the defense minister, and above him the prime minister.

If the Leahy Law is about human rights violations, then the entire political echelon needs to be held accountable going back decades or at least to the point when the investigation began. If this is all about the last several years, particularly the term of Netanyahu’s extremist messianic-religious right-wing government, then say so unequivocally. If these violations can be proved as a recurring pattern that hasn’t been addressed by Israel’s judicial system, say so. If Israel’s defense is “our judicial system,” the very same one Netanyahu set out to destroy last year, and you don’t trust it, say so.

Sanctioning a battalion, with little practical implications, isn’t a policy. It’s an application of U.S. law. But it’s also a harsh warning, because what the United States does the EU quickly emulates. When Defense Minister Yoav Gallant remarked that “a hit on a battalion is a hit on the entire Israeli defense establishment,” he may not have realized that it’s exactly that.

This is all part of Israeli governments ignoring the mandates of the United Nations regarding Israeli settlers seizing Palestinian villages and homes.
It is more than about time that Israel realised that if they want to represent democratic government in the Middle East they behaved in a responsible way and accepts the sanctions of the UN.
Falling back on calling anyone who disagrees with them as anti semitic has lost all credibility.
We are seeing the ultra orthodox having to accept that the majority of modern Israel coming to the end of their tether in their children dying to protect the ultra orthodox and their priveleges anymore.


I was encouraged (slightly) to read that two of the vilest right wingers are competitors, Ben-Givr and Smotrich. The downgrading by S&P is also good news. Isreal is in the grip of religious extremism no less that Iran is. The irony :frowning: