PARTING SHOT: When politics trumps humanity

How can we descend to the depths of callous, self-serving factionalism to the extent that the death of a woman becomes a political football?

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January 4, 2018 21:23
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Handshake [Illustrative]. (photo credit: INIMAGE)

 
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It was an issue that highlighted the worst aspects of our twisted political system and our priorities as caring human beings in a harsh world.

How can we descend to the depths of callous, self-serving factionalism to the extent that the death of a woman, after suffering for months following a debilitating stroke, becomes a political football, to be cynically exploited for selfish maneuverings and psychological savagery? By all indications, MK Yehudah Glick is a decent person, respected by colleagues on all sides of the political spectrum, including those who find his politics anathema.

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As The Jerusalem Post’s Elli Wohlgelernter pointed out in a Jerusalem Report profile last year, the Likud MK – known as a right-wing agitator whose life-long mission has been to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount – confounded everyone with his heimishe approach and progressive social agenda since entering the Knesset in May 2016.

Enduring his own life-threatening ordeal – the activist was critically wounded in an assassination attempt outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem in October 2014, at the hands of a Palestinian terrorist – Glick’s tragedies continued when his wife, Yaffa, died this week after being in a coma for six months following a severe stroke.

Unfortunately for his party’s partners in the coalition, it was bad timing.

Yaffa Glick’s death and the grief that her husband and eight children were experiencing was interfering with Interior Minister Arye Deri’s “minimarkets bill” – his transparent attempt to impose Torah law on the country’s residents.

That bill would require any municipality that seeks to pass a bylaw permitting commerce on Saturdays to receive approval from the interior minister, which, as the Post’s Lahav Harkov understatedly wrote this week, “Deri is unlikely to give.”



Because the bill is outlandish in its broad scope to dictate whether Israelis can shop on Shabbat, Deri has encountered difficulty in garnering coalition support, especially from the secular-loving Yisrael Beytenu. A ploy by coalition chairman David Amsalem to allow gas station convenience stores, and shops in Eilat, to remain open didn’t soften Avigdor Liberman and cronies, and only angered the religious parties which refused to accept the compromise.

That’s why Glick’s absence from the Knesset for his wife’s shiva mourning period, and a hospital stay for Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas, proved to be a thorny problem for the bill’s flimsy support.

The first sign that politics trumps bereavement was the opposition’s insistence to uphold its recent “no-offsetting” policy. A time-honored tradition in many democracies, it is generally accepted that if a legislator on one side of the fence will be absent for a vote because of illness, family reasons, or being abroad on the state’s behalf, someone from the other side would absent himself from the vote.

Call it honor among thieves.

But opposition whip Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union, as well as his fellow opposition members, refused to play the game. “The mini-markets bill is not urgent,” said Hasson. “We’ve lived here just fine without it for 70 years. There will be no deals, and the coalition can delay the vote. It is in its hands.”

Pretty heartless, but it clearly reflects the cold-blooded politics that dominate our governance. By refusing to pair off an opposition MK with a grieving Glick, Hasson was turning that blood to ice.

After losing that battle and conceding that the vote should be postponed, Deri made matters worse.

He contacted the mayor of Otniel, where Glick lives, and asked him to ask the settlement’s rabbi, Re’em Hacohen, if he could appeal to Glick to get up from his shiva to come vote, citing Halacha that preserving the Sabbath is paramount.

Glick had already written eloquently on Twitter about the matter, asking everyone to keep his wife’s death above the political fray. “I beg of you not to turn my dear wife’s funeral into a reason for dispute in any way,” he tweeted. “Please increase love and positive energy.”

The mayor refused Deri’s request, ostensibly responding that it is more important to be a mensch than to follow the letter of the law.

Deri later apologized for putting the pressure on, but the damage had been done – the vote was postponed, as it should have been (if not disposed of outright), but everyone involved in the debacle emerged smelling like yogurt that turned bad. It’s enough to make you lose your lunch.

Let’s hope that the love and positive energy Glick referred to has not been snuffed out by backroom political factionalism and fanatical messianic aspirations that place party and religion ahead of people.

ONE OF the beautiful aspects of living in Israel is the salad of cultures, lifestyles and architecture you can unexpectedly encounter, sometimes on the same block.

On a nocturnal excursion to south Tel Aviv this week, a friend and I found ourselves in dodgy no-man’s-land between the Florentin quarter and Jaffa. Amid crumbling, graffiti-splattered hovels, craftsman workshops, and car repair shops were newly refurbished buildings with upscale condos, a sign of the gentrification process taking place.

No sign of that, though, was visible at the nightclub we went to, tucked away down an alley on a dark side street. We only knew we were at the right location by the spray-painted sign on a wall with the club’s name. Inside, a subculture of what we used to affectionately call “freaks” gathered for a night of indie music. Frizzy hippie hair, mohawked metal-heads, multiple piercings and assorted facial hair made it clear we weren’t in Jerusalem any more. Despite the potentially menacing appearance, the atmosphere and attitudes in the sparsely furnished room that passed for a club were friendly and benign, and a good time was had by all.

On the three-block walk back to the parking lot, past the abandoned buildings and tireless wrecks, a glimpse down a side street produced a startling site: a two-story wooden house featuring handsome window shutters. It reminded me of the cozy homes where I grew up in Maine.

Although it was close to midnight and we still had a ride to Jerusalem in the driving rain to look forward to, I nudged my friend onto the street to take a closer look at this anomaly amid the shacks and the condos.

As we approached the front of the house, we saw a sign pegging it as an historical site. But it was the particular history that threw me for a loop: We were standing in front of the Maine Friendship House.

A group of some 150 Christians from Maine followed their faith in 1886 and settled in Palestine, bringing with them wood and supplies to build homes in their accustomed New England style. The American Colony that they established – the first Tel Aviv neighborhood outside Jaffa’s walls – centered on the corner of Auerbach and Be’er Hoffman streets, where we were standing.

Most of the settlers returned home after a few years, but that period in Tel Aviv’s history is recalled in the charming Friendship House museum, and via other buildings on the cobble-stoned street including a restored church.

The lesson to be learned from that overcast evening in a seedy part of Tel Aviv: Never shy away from entering a spray-painted alleyway or from taking a peek down those side streets. They could open you up to a brand new world, and maybe even to a little bit of your own story.

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