Thursday, October 31, 2013

What's really bothering MK Shafrir?

As part of Habayit Hayehudi's coalition agreement with Likud Beiteinu for the current government, a new "Jewish Identity Administration" is to be started. Earlier this week, the Finance Committee voted to fund it to the tune of 14 million shekel.

Freshman MK Stav Safrir opposed the funding, since the Administration would (might?) push a certain religious agenda. In her own (translated) words, "What is a Jewish identity, and who is authorized to define it?... It seems that someone is trying to promote a very specific agenda with public funds."

While it's a fair point, we have no idea if Shafrir's main motivation is that she's against indoctrination (not her term, but close enough to what she was speaking against that I'll use it; please forgive the inexactness of it) of the public with a particular agenda, or if she just happens to be against that agenda, and sees no problem with indoctrination, or doesn't really think that the program is about indoctrination (the more likely option, given the relatively small budget of the program, i.e., only a few measly shekel per person, not nearly enough to indoctrinate even a small percentage of Israeli Jews).

A telling piece of information would be how she reacted to a similar case where she was either neutral or for a particular agenda, and see how she reacted there. Luckily, being Israeli politics, we don't have to look too far.

A while back, there was a proposal to cut funding which Yeshivot here get for each foreign student that attends. As Finance Minister, Lapid decided to restore that funding, with the caveat that the schools have to teach Zionism and civics to the students. (Hebrew article) Of course, there's not one kind of Zionism (and some Jews don't subscribe to any version): Wikipedia lists no fewer than six different types! This program certainly pushes a Zionist agenda, and may even demand that a certain kind of Zionist agenda be pushed.

So where was Shafrir when this item came up for discussion? With a 50 million shekel price tag, it has more than three times the budgetary impact as the Jewish Identity Administration, and it also promotes a very specific agenda.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is the Netanyahu family the House of Nathan?

Just an random tidbit I came across yesterday, which I decided to share in honor of Bibi Netanyahu's 64th birthday.

In the 12th Perek of Zecharya, there's a prophecy about "the end of days", which includes the description of a funeral (of Mashiach ben Yosef, according to tradition). At the funeral (which is described, several times, as being gender-separated) representatives of Israel's leadership will deliver eulogies. The list of dignitaries includes the house of King David and the Levitical caste.

Besides these well-known dynasties, two families are mentioned by name. According to some commentators (such as Radak and Metzudat David - מצודת דוד), these families will exist and be well-known when the prophecy is fulfilled, and were not necessarily famous back then. One of them is בית נתן - the house of Nathan.

Of course, we don't know who the house of Nathan is. Is it possible that the Netanyahu family (whose name is based on the Hebrew version of Nathan, and whose patriarch was named Nathan) is the one referred to 2500 years ago? Anything's possible. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, happy birthday, Mr. Prime Minister!


The other family mentioned is the house of Shim'i. I have no idea who that could be. While you're pondering it, enjoy a picture of our president blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is Yesh Atid meant to be "Shinui 2.0"?

I don't know what made me think of it now, especially since Knesset elections have long since ended, and new ones are not (for now) anywhere on the horizon.

Yair Lapid had a famous father. Not just famous, but infamous (not in-famous) among the religious crowd for his various anti-religious stances and statements. He took his anti-religious sentiments to the Knesset, under the banner of the שינוי (literally, "change") party.

Yair Lapid came to Knesset with a message that he is not following in his father's footsteps. Some of his best friends (or at least some of his party's slate) are not only religious, but ordained rabbis (one even claiming to be a Chareidi). Not everyone in the religious sector believes his claim. (I'm still undecided, but, admittedly, I'm not that interested in that particular aspect.)

But for some reason, the motto (official?/unofficial?) of his party is "באנו לשנות" ("We've come to change"). For someone as politically savvy as Yair Lapid, it's very close to the name which symbolized the legacy he claims to be running away from. Is he sending a subtle message to those who'd like to see him pick up where his father left off, that he'll continue the job (for example, the near-religious fervor he displayed in his quest to draft Chareidim), or is it just a coincidence?

I'm guessing that his supporters will point to statements he's made which support the case that he's not anti-religious/Chareidi, and his detractors will probably point out that he uses his substantial gift with words to sugar-coat his actions and hide his true intentions.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Want equality? You might just get what you asked for.

A petition has been filed by a Ruth Kolian, a law student from Petach Tikva* to deny state funding to political parties in Israel which exclude female candidates from their slates (I guess we can call them "political stag parties"). The parties named in the petition include the Ultra-Orthodox parties of Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Tov, which are each running all-male slates for local councils in various municipalities. (A link to the article is here; since the site is behind a paywall, the text is included below).

On the face of it, the petition seems fair - exclusionary tactics should have no place in an open society. While there probably are more Ultra-Orthodox men than women who are interested in participating in local politics, given the number of positions being sought, the parties should have no problem finding at least a few qualified and interested women.

Kolian, however, should be mindful of what Oscar Wilde wrote - "When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers". Denying state funding to political parties which exclude women would necessitate doing the same to political parties which include only women. Otherwise, not all parties would be equal before the law. In the Ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, a group of women have started a political party to run for city council. Not only is the party fielding an all-woman slate, its name ("עיר ואם" - "Mother and City"), slogan ("Mothers for the city of Elad"), and claimed political philosophy (women use city services more, they are thus better equipped to make decisions affecting those services) specifically exclude men.

I wish Kolian the best of luck. As a student, having to navigate the system she is studying will be a valuable experience. But if she's successful, she (and the women of עיר ואם in Elad) may learn a hard lesson in getting her way.

*or "Petah Tiqwa", for you purists.

Here's the article from Ha'aretz:

A social activist submitted a petition yesterday to the High Court of Justice, demanding that state funding be denied to political parties that exclude female candidates. The petition was filed just two weeks ahead of statewide local elections, scheduled for October 22.

In her petition, Ruth Kolian, an ultra-Orthodox law student from Petah Tikva, named as parties running in local elections that exclude women the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas; Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael (which for national elections are united as United Torah Judaism) and Tov (which is competing in the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Elad and Modi'in Illit).

By barring women from running on their slates, Kolian writes in her petition, these parties violate the principle of equality and women’s rights, including the right of free expression.

Kolian herself announced several months ago that she intended to run for the Petah Tikva city council, but she never declared her candidacy and today is not a candidate for public office.

Granting state funds to parties that exclude women creates an "intolerable situation in which the excluded group finances the excluding one," she says, pointing out that female as well as male taxpayers help to fund the parties. This preserves "the well-oiled intimidation machine that is based on discrimination and exclusion."

By allowing parties that ban women from running while receiving funds from the state tacitly encourages and gives its approval to this practice, Kolian argues. “Banning women from joining these parties removes them from decision-making processes,” she writes.

Jerusalem city council member Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the Central Election Committee before the Knesset election earlier this year, demanding that Shas and UTJ be disqualified for refusing to include women on their slates.

In March Kolian walked from her Petah Tikva home to Jerusalem to protest the suspension of the public housing law. She is also a leading animal rights activist, whose actions have included demanding that the Eda Haredit slaughter board withhold kosher certification from meat whose preparation involved animal abuse.