Grapevine October 16, 2022: The power of the press

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Hundreds of Americans march in a Feast of Tabernacles parade through Jerusalem in 1996. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hundreds of Americans march in a Feast of Tabernacles parade through Jerusalem in 1996.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Despite the waning readership of printed newspapers due to the almost instant availability of news on numerous Internet sites, the power of the press remains strong and influential.

The majority of newspaper publishing media groups in Israel are holding pre-election conferences featuring leaders and prominent members of political parties. Such conferences are held in person, but are also streamed on social media platforms, to bring information to as wide an audience as possible. 

The Jerusalem Post Group is no exception in this quest, and following a recent conference in New York, the Post, together with Maariv and Walla, which are both part of The Jerusalem Post Group, will hold a leadership summit on Monday, October 24 at the Conference Center of the Israel Stock Exchange.

The idea is to get the viewpoints of the different political personalities on how they perceive Israel’s future. Speakers will represent all sides of the political spectrum, and will include Zehava Gal-On of Meretz, and Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit. Ahmad Tibi, who is among the most veteran of Arab MKs, will also be there, as well as Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who heads the Bayit Yehudi Party, and who keeps insisting that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu cannot put together a 61-member coalition without her – this despite the fact that all pre-election surveys indicate that her party is unlikely to pass the election threshold.

■ Although she has a reputation for being very tough in her negative attitude to African refugees and to non-Jewish refugees and immigrants from Ukraine and Russia, Shaked changed the rules following a report in Haaretz about a totally inhuman act by Border Control personnel. Daniel Elkin, his wife Anastasia and their seven-month-old daughter Aviva fled Russia so that Daniel would not have to serve in the army in a war in which he does not believe. 

 Ayelet Shaked (credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO) Ayelet Shaked (credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)

When they arrived in Israel, Elkin, who is Israeli, was allowed to stay, but his wife and child were taken away from him at Ben-Gurion Airport. Mother and child were detained for a day and then deported because they lacked documentation that Anastasia and Daniel were married.

During the period in which husband and wife were separated, they were not permitted to have any contact with each other.

Their case was one of several similar incidents; it occurred, according to the Haaretz report, less than a day after the immigration appeals tribunal reversed a similar decision.

Following the report by Liza Rozovsky and Bar Peleg, Shaked issued new guidelines, instructing immigration officers to admit couples arriving at Israel’s borders even if only one spouse is an Israeli citizen. This will obviate a lot of time-consuming bureaucratic administration, and will make it much easier for couples fleeing Russia and Ukraine to enter Israel as immigrants or as refugees seeking a haven for the duration of the war.

■ Israel is not the only country in which politics and religion clash. In many Muslim countries in which women are required to cover their hair, there are varying degrees of enforcement. In some places, the hijab has to cover part of the forehead and be wrapped around the neck. In others, it suffices to cover most of the head, but it is also permissible to show some frontal hair. 

Iran is one of the countries that take strict measures against women whose hair is not completely covered. Although this is a religious law, it’s also a law made by legislators and enforced by the police who often take violent measures against women whose hair is showing. This is what happened to a young woman, Mahsa Amini. The treatment she received from the so-called modesty police resulted in her death. 

In reaction, thousands of Iranian women have staged a revolt, baring their heads and publicly cutting off strands or clumps of their hair. There have been solidarity demonstrations by Muslim women, and women of other faiths in countries around the world, including Israel, where Muslim and Jewish women came together in a solidarity demonstration.

During this past week MK Sharren Haskel (New Hope) who chairs the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, joined in the protest during an address that she gave to some 2,000 Christian participants in the Feast of Tabernacles.

Following the line taken by the Iranian women rebels, Haskel chanted, “Jin, jiad, azadi; women, life, freedom” as she made two dramatic cuts to her hair.

But she also used the occasion to urge Christian parliamentarians around the globe to join in this solidarity movement and demand that their governments impose sanctions on Iran.

Haskel charged that the Iranian dictatorship is not only abusing and murdering its citizens, but is also orchestrating a regional war. “We must channel our Judeo-Christian values of justice, morality and righteousness into a global voice of life and freedom for all,” she said.

■ In a recent Grapevine column, it was reported that on Rosh Hashanah security personnel at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue denied admission to anyone who did not have a ticket. While the High Holy Days are an important source of income for many synagogues, few in Israel would prevent anyone without a ticket to enter. 

According to Tamar Jaffe, a member of the family that decades ago initiated the construction of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue and is still heavily involved in its operations, there was never any intention to keep people out. When the matter came to the attention of the synagogue’s executive board, it was immediately rectified, and anyone who wanted to enter on Yom Kippur or Sukkot was welcomed. That’s in line with the Jewish value of tikkun olam – repairing the world.

■ Moral values are all very nice, and none of us are happy to hear when those values are violated and defiled. But you can’t fix something if you don’t acknowledge that it’s broken. While there is much to be proud of in Israel, the country also has many flaws, some of which we acknowledge because they don’t conflict with our own beliefs, and others that we either ignore or defend. 

When organizations such as Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch, B’Tselem and others report on the mistreatment and even torture of Palestinians, most Israelis don’t believe them and don’t want to hear about it. Some who do believe the reports say that such actions are justified in view of continuing Palestinian terrorism against innocent Jews.

But there is no justification for the mistreatment of any innocent person regardless of their age, religion, gender, nationality or color. The Bible commands us to be kind to the stranger within our gates.

Prominent lawyer Avigdor Feldman, who frequently defends Palestinians, is one of the attorneys who have submitted an appeal on behalf of a Jewish client Amiram Ben Uliel, who was convicted of the 2015 murder of the Dawabshe family while they were asleep in their West Bank village of Duma.

Feldman is essentially a human rights lawyer whose career is based on fighting arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial assassinations.

In a recent article in Haaretz, Feldman writes about the “special means” that were used to extract a confession from Ben Uliel, and the restrictions that were imposed on Feldman when he asked to see Ben Uliel’s file. 

After all that he has witnessed over the years, Feldman does not shock easily, but he was totally astounded not only by what he read, but also by the number of things that he was forbidden to do in relation to the file. As a defense attorney, he had never previously experienced some of those restrictions.

Feldman makes no attempt to prove Ben Uliel’s innocence. What bothers him is the physical and psychological torture to which Ben Uliel and others have been subjected, and the fact that the Supreme Court considers that a confession made 36 hours or more after such special treatment, is freely given.

In some cases, after they are long retired from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Mossad, or Israel Police, former agents and officers confess to either having witnessed or participated in excessive means of torture to get the information they want.

Most Israelis would not believe that such horrific measures are used in a democratic state. Israel is not the only democratic state in which such measures are common practice. No nation is perfect when it comes to upholding moral and ethical values, but the very least any nation can do is to try to eradicate torture as a means of either punishment or getting a suspect to confess.

■ Chabad hassidim can be seen in many streets around the country, offering passing males of post-bar mitzvah age the opportunity to don tefillin (phylacteries). In advance of Sukkot, they also visit Jewish dignitaries to present them with a lulav and etrog. As French Ambassador Eric Danon happens to be Jewish, he was also one of the recipients of the lulav and etrog. 

There are some delightful photographs on the embassy’s website, showing him with the Chabad emissaries. But the most appealing photo is of Danon doing the typical Jewish thing and inhaling the aroma of the etrog to test its quality.