Residents of the embattled city of Ashdod are fed up with the political fight between Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri over forced store closures during the Sabbath.
A man pushes a shopping cart outside Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, Mishor Adumim, West Bank, May 5, 2013.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri clashed on Twitterover the supermarket law a month ago. The argument over the law, which forbids shops from operating on the Sabbath and holidays, was quite polite. The two called each other “my friend.”
The two have indeed been friends for many years. They’ve cooperated on many political fights, such as the running of a joint candidate (Moshe Leon) to head the Jerusalem municipality more than four years ago, and have served together in several coalitions. On Jan. 20, this friendship ended.
A week earlier, Ashdod city inspectors, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties in the local town council, started fining businesses open on Saturday at the large shopping centers on the outskirts of the city. Shops at these centers have been open on Saturdays for many years and had never received citations. After the Knesset passed the supermarket law, ultra-Orthodox council members wished to see local businesses open on the Sabbath fined. Mayor Yehiel Lasri, who intends to run for another term at the end of this year, gave in.
For Liberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beitenu, it was an opportunity to prove to his voters that he knows how to fight for them. He arrived at Ashdod on Saturday morning with a large entourage, including Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who is a member of his party and a resident of the city. Liberman entered a mall where businesses had been fined and sat at a cafe. He bought some cheeses at the Tiv Ta’am store, known for selling pork sausages and for its many employees and customers from the former Soviet Union.
Among other things, Liberman told journalists who accompanied him, “This tension is the last thing we want among Israeli society. … Just as I respect those who go to synagogue on Shabbat morning, I expect that they will respect those who go out with friends for a cup of coffee.”
That evening, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid came to Ashdod for a large demonstration against religious coercion.
At the end of the Sabbath, Deri’s response was harsh and swift. “I’m done with Avigdor Liberman,” he reportedly said to friends. “Liberman trampled the Sabbath, and this has crossed every line. Even the elder Lapid [journalist and politician Joseph Lapid, Yair’s father], one of the greatest enemies of religion, didn’t dare do so. There are things that are beyond any personal friendship.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to calm the coalition-rattling clash and spoke with Liberman and Deri. “Netanyahu has no issues with me,” Liberman said this week in an interview with Haaretz. “I explained my motivations to him. I told him that I don’t seek to provoke, but this ultra-Orthodox activism can’t go on without a response from me. I, too, have voters to consider.”
The voters are indeed what worries Liberman, just like Deri. Polls preceding the Sabbath clash showed both of them lagging. Deri and Shas are teetering on the Knesset threshold with four mandates, and Liberman is doing slightly better with five.
The problem with such a clash between politicians is that it mostly harms the regular folks. Ashdod is a city with a quarter of a million residents that has absorbed many immigrants. About a quarter of its population comes from the former Soviet Union, about 20% are ultra-Orthodox and there are communities of immigrants from France and South America alongside native Israelis of Middle Eastern background — a true Israeli mosaic. The population is largely divided into discrete neighborhoods. Most of the shops open on the Sabbath are not in residential ultra-Orthodox areas but in shopping malls.
The city had lived for many years in harmony until now. Secular residents don’t like the change and are protesting against it. Local teacher Inna Forman stated at the event that a WhatsApp group she created brought more than 2,000 residents together to protest on Jan. 27.
“This is a struggle for the dignity of religion and for maintaining democracy at the same time,” one of the protesters told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “We respect the ultra-Orthodox and will continue to do so. The people who stand here are private citizens who aren’t backed by any political body. This protest is not against the ultra-Orthodox; it’s against decision-makers in the municipality and the Knesset.”
He added, “I’m sure that if we sit down with the ultra-Orthodox and traditional residents of Ashdod without politicians, we’ll reach agreements and compromises for the good of the community and not for the elections.”
Knesset members Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) and Ilan Gilon (Meretz), who lives in Ashdod and once served as deputy mayor, also attended the protest. “Ashdod has been a city of inclusion since it was founded,” he said at the rally. “I’ve lived in a neighborhood next to a synagogue. Kids went to the synagogue and later to the beach. It was all accepted. Lighting candles for the Sabbath and then lighting a cigarette from the Sabbath candles. This coercion won’t be accepted.”
Not all the protesters appreciated the presence of politicians at the demonstrations. Mayor Lasri wrote on Facebook that he welcomes the civic involvement of residents, but “condemns in every way the attempts of political elements, on the local and national level, to make cynical, destructive and divisive use of the situation for their political benefit.”
Some Knesset members tried to establish a secular lobby to fight the new religious laws, but only lawmakers came to the first meeting: Svetlova, Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Omer Bar Lev (Zionist Camp). No one from Yesh Atid or Yisrael Beitenu attended, perhaps because they didn’t want to be associated with an opposition lobby and thus hurt their chances of forming a future government.
The Israel Hofsheet (Free Israel) movement is now gauging the readiness of the public to join the fight by crowdfunding to pay the fines of the shopkeepers open on Saturday. So far, within a week they collected 23,000 shekels ($6,700), almost half their goal. Director Uri Keidar is certain that a mayor who fails protect the unique balance of his city would find himself voted out in the coming election. Still, with ultra-Orthodox voting rates much higher than the average, Keidar’s assessment is dubious. For better or worse, there is no doubt of the central role of the religious-secular conflict in the Israeli election cycles.
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.