Grapevine: Prediction for a short-lived 19th Knesset

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan expressed concern that the 19th Knesset may be more factionalized than ever.

GIDEON OBERSON and Amira Teumi 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
GIDEON OBERSON and Amira Teumi 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hoarse from campaigning, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, in an interview with Israel Radio’s Arye Golan on Thursday, expressed concern that the 19th Knesset may be more factionalized than ever because a large percentage of the electorate assumed that if it was a given that Binyamin Netanyahu will – as all surveys project, be the next prime minister – then they could allow themselves to vote for smaller niche parties with specific interests, which will result in an extremely divisive Knesset. Erdan refused to be drawn into a discussion about which portfolio he will receive in the event that surveys relating to his party are correct, saying that it doesn’t make much difference because, if the 19th Knesset is highly factionalized, the nation will again go to the polls within the next year and a half.
■ IF THE reception given to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue on Wednesday night at the panel discussion co-hosted by The Jerusalem Post, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and the Great Synagogue was indicative of the possible outcome of the elections, Netanyahu has major cause for worry, regardless of the results of surveys that have shown that although support for Likud Beytenu is slipping, the combined ticket is still ahead. Bennett was mobbed by the media when he entered the synagogue, and when Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde introduced the speakers, it was Bennett who received the loudest and most sustained applause.
Three of the eight speakers could claim direct relationship with AACI. Alon Tal, an environmentalist and former paratrooper who fought in the first Lebanon War and who is 13th on The Tzipi Livni Party list, boasted that he was the only representative on the panel who was a lifetime member of AACI.
Bennett said that he had been closely linked to AACI since childhood because his mother had been the director of AACI in Haifa.
Laura Wharton, who represents Meretz on the Jerusalem City Council, said that she was a member of AACI but could not claim lifetime membership. She also mentioned that she was proud of the fact that no Meretz MK has ever been investigated or charged by the police.
The debate between the above-mentioned and Yuli Edelstein (Likud-Beytenu); Arieh Eldad (Strong Israel); Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid); Isaac Herzog (Labor); and Menachem Shem Tov (Shas) followed all the rules of civilized debate, and the audience was equally civilized – except when Wharton voiced the hope that Israel would take note of the 2002 Saudi peace initiative. Her statement was followed by loud boos.
There were two other short-lived disturbances, one by an immigrant from Egypt who claimed to be stateless and shouted that after living in Israel for 13 years, why was he still unable to get citizenship even though both his parents were Jewish? The question was ruled out of place and, because he continued to yell while pacing around the room, he was escorted out of the building before he could disrupt proceedings any further.
Because the event was scheduled to end at 10 p.m., there was no time to allow all the people who wanted to ask questions to do so. One man who had spent a lot of time preparing his question was furious and began screaming, but lost his battle, and his question remained unasked.
Attendance at the event rivaled that of the High Holy Days, and age-wise spanned three generations.
On many issues, all eight speakers shared similar views, causing Bennett to remark that listening to Herzog at another debate in which they had both participated, he had come to the realization that he agreed with 70 percent of what Herzog was saying.
“We have real issues to solve, but we won’t solve them if we keep fighting all the time,” said Bennett.
“We have to work hard to bring the Arabs and the haredim into society, but we have to put aside hate.”
As an example of focusing on the positive, Bennett told a story about the legendary Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who he had discovered had been Herzog’s godfather.
Levin had been walking in Jerusalem when he noticed one of his former students dressed in an army uniform.
The young man crossed the street to avoid him whenever Levin was about to approach him. Eventually their paths collided, and Levin asked him why he was being so evasive. The young man, who was no longer religiously observant said, “Reb Aryeh, my head isn’t covered, and I was embarrassed.”
“I’m short,” replied the rabbi. “I can’t see your head. I can only see the heart of a brave soldier fighting for Israel.”
Eldad, who was head of the plastic surgery and burns unit at Hadassah before entering the political arena, used his medical background as an analogy for the problem between Israel and the Palestinians. If your physician keeps changing your antibiotics and there’s no improvement in your condition, you change your physician, he said, noting that the disease has obviously been misdiagnosed. The situation with the Palestinians has also been misdiagnosed, he said.
“This is not a territorial war. It is a religious war,” he said. “We are here because God promised this land to the Jewish people.”
Herzog continued to advocate the two-state solution, while Shem Tov, half in jest, said there is already a two-state solution in place – the state of the poor Israelis in Yeruham and the state of the rich Israelis in Caesarea. He wanted an explanation as to why, in a country like Israel, staple products such as bread and milk are more expensive than gasoline.
Lipman, Tal and Wharton all called for inclusiveness.
Lipman reminded the audience that there are immigrants of Russian and Ethiopian background who should be represented in the Knesset, and also spoke of the need to find a solution for Russians who are not halachically Jewish. But his key emphasis was on education reforms, in which, if his party has its way, there will be more compulsory general studies in haredi schools and more Jewish studies in secular schools.
Wharton said it was tragic that 10,000 couples traveled abroad to get married because they could not conform to rabbinical strictures. The title of Theodor Herzl’s visionary work had been mistranslated, she said. It was not called The Jewish State as is commonly interpreted, but The State of the Jews.
Tal, who is Conservative, found it traumatic that one of his daughters had been spat on, cursed and humiliated for wearing a prayer shawl in the women’s section of the Western Wall, and urged that Israel become a more pluralistic society in which everyone could find a place at the table and feel comfortable.
Jeremy Gimpel, 14th on the Bayit Yehudi list, replaced Bennett during the Q&A period of the evening, and explained why it was important for his party to be a member of the next coalition. There were things that Netanyahu wanted to do, but couldn’t do without censure from Israel’s friends abroad, he explained. But with Bayit Yehudi in his coalition, he can always say that he didn’t want to do this or that, but Bayit Yehudi pushed him.
■ EARLIER IN the day both Arye Deri of Shas and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich separately visited Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, long known as a Likud stronghold. For Yacimovich, it was akin to Daniel walking into the lion’s den, though generally speaking, she was treated politely, and here and there managed to find a little support. Deri, however, was welcomed with open arms both by stall keepers and shoppers, with the latter making a beeline to greet him and wish him well.
■ WEATHER CONDITIONS notwithstanding, there was a full house last week as there is every year for the annual gala of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center.
Again as always, a place of pride in the audience was taken by the Dance Company’s patron, Raya Strauss Ben Dror. Other well-known faces in the audience belonged to lawyer Ori Slonim, Discount Bank chairman Yossi Bahar, theater personality Ya’acov Agmon, head of the Rabin Center Dalia Rabin, Labor MK Avishay Braverman,Orly Dankner, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, actor Oded Teumi whose daughter Amira Teumi is the manager of the Dance Company, former Israel ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, philanthropist in the field of education Dov Lautman, and many others.
At the cocktail reception preceding the performance, couture designer Gideon Oberson, whose daughter Karin is also a fashion designer, told all and sundry that she had designed the elegant cocktail dress worn by Amira Teumi. Some of the novice dancers in the KCDC, surprised those mingling at the cocktail reception by dancing amongst them before everyone entered the auditorium.
The traditional showbiz slogan “the show must go on” proved to be more than just a slogan once the performance began. An electrical fault plunged the auditorium into total darkness, and the music was suddenly silenced, but the dancers kept dancing in the dark. The audience, to its credit, did not panic and remained seated.
■ IN A DEMOCRACY, there should be no room for racism, but in Upper Nazareth, the democratically elected Mayor Shimon Gapso, who has on several occasions in the past demonstrated racist attitudes against the city’s Arab community, both Christian and Muslim, has done it again.
A report in Haaretz on Thursday states that Gapso has rejected an appeal for an Arab school to be built in the city, claiming that the request conceals “a provocative racist statement intended to disrupt the status quo.”
When the Association of Civil Rights attempted to intervene on behalf of the Arab community, Gapso’s response was that Upper Nazareth was founded to make the Galilee Jewish, and this role must be preserved.
Gapso compared the establishment of an Arab school to that of a Muslim cemetery or mosque in the city, and pledged that none of these would occur so long as he was mayor.
According to the Haaretz report, some 20 percent of the 52,000 residents of Upper Nazareth are Arab, but there is no Arab school in the city even though there are around 1,900 such students, who have to travel to schools outside Upper Nazareth. Two years ago, Gapso refused to allow the city’s Christian community, who are mainly Arabs, to put up a Christmas tree at the entrance to the city.
■ AFTER BEING released on early parole for good behavior, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, who was released from prison this week and who will celebrate his 72nd birthday on February 11, will not sit at home idle, but will engage in volunteer work on behalf of Holocaust survivors.
Hirchson, who was born in Israel and whose family had no direct contact with victims of the Holocaust, has nonetheless been closely involved with promoting Holocaust awareness for more than half his lifetime.
He was the one who conceived of March of the Living, through which untold numbers of Jewish youth from around the world have not only learned of the most tragic period in contemporary Jewish history, but have in many cases touched base with their roots and have developed Jewish and Zionist pride in learning about resistance to the Nazi oppressor.