By BERNIE BELLAN Our March 20 print issue represented the largest Passover issue we have published in many years. I’m grateful for the continued support The Jewish Post & News has received, both from advertisers and subscribers. The fact that this paper has not only survived, but continues to thrive, comes as much of a surprise to me though, as it probably does to readers who no doubt have been reading of the ongoing struggles of print newspapers. By the way, if you’re reading this on our website and might want to subscribe to the online version of The Jewish Post & News, the cost is only $26. Click here to subscribe: https://jewishpostandnews.ca/uncategorized/subscriptions/
What you might see – if you were to subscribe, are the two pages of often fiery letters that we published in our March 29 issue.
The fact that this paper remains provocative in ways that continue to engender a kind of fierce debate unlike any other that you are likely to see in another Jewish newspaper is part of the reason that we have not only survived the many difficulties that plague other Jewish newspapers, we have done quite well.
Are our readers more open-minded than readers of other Jewish newspapers – to the point where they’re prepared to read and even attempt to understand points of view with which they vehemently disagree? I would suggest that is indeed the case, otherwise readers would have turned away from a newspaper that attempts to provide as many points of view on controversial issues as possible.
When I began preparing material for this particular issue months ago, I did collect quite a few articles related to the Passover holiday itself. But honestly, aside from running a series of Passover recipes in our last (March 15) issue, even though there were some fairly interesting stories available to me from which to choose which were directly related to Passover, instead I chose to make the content of this issue as eclectic as possible – with only a scant reference to the actual holiday.
Lately, the news that has caught the Jewish world’s attention – and much of the non-Jewish world’s as well, has been about the unprecedented fight going on within Israel over the government’s proposed judicial reforms. This particular issue reflects that fight to a large extent, with many stories centering on the impact that story is having.
Even as I write this column it is not at all clear what lies ahead insofar as the proposal to strip the judiciary of its power in Israel goes. The latest news about what was happening in Israel with regard to opposition to the proposed reforms was changing so rapidly that this column had to be completely revised when it was learned that Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, had come out in opposition to the proposed reforms on Saturday, March 25 – and was supposdely backed by two other Likud Members of the Knesset, onty to be fired by Netanyahu on Sunday, March 26. At that point the two other MKs changed course. What a whirlwind of events!
The fact that Bibi Netanyahu has thrown his lot in with a group of Ultra-Orthodox extremists is in itself confounding. Here we have a man who is decidedly secular in his own life and who, in his past iterations as prime minister, was singularly obsessed with external threats to Israel’s survival, especially the Iranian one, not the aspirations of the Ultra-Orthodox to turn Israel into a theocracy.
One can’t help but wonder at the irony that, as Iran is just weeks away from producing a nuclear bomb, there is nary a word coming from Netanyahu about that looming existential threat. Instead, he has plunged Israel into a crisis of unimagined proportions by catering to the Ultra-Orthodox element of his coalition.
There is no doubt that much of Netanyahu’s anger at the judiciary is motivated by the legal charges of corruption that still hang over his head, but for a man who has maintained for years that only he can insure Israel’s survival against the Iranian threat, to have his eye taken off the ball at this point by a ludicrous campaign to overhaul Israel’s judiciary speaks of his obsession with his own personal well-being – and survival, not the survival of the nation state of Israel.
In advance of writing this column, I took another look at a review I had written of a biography of Netanyahu that was published in May 2018, titled “Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu,” written by Anshel Pfeffer. And, although Pfeffer is a columnist for Haaretz, the scourge of right-wing Jews everywhere, I noted in my review that his treatment of Netanyahu was quite even-handed – and even sympathetic in many instances.
There were two particular parts of my review which stood out for me upon rereading it: One was that the politician with whom Netanyahu worked most closely over the years was actually his political rival, Ehud Barak, who had replaced him as prime minister in 1999, but who later served as defence minister in a Netanyahu-led government. Barak and Netanyahu shared a common point of view with regard to the threat posed by Iran – and that shared point of view led them to the belief that all other issues could be put aside for the sake of preventing Iran from acquiring the bomb. The other part that stood out for me was the close relationship Netanyahu developed early in his life with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Shneerson.
If Netanyahu was able to work well with individuals with whom he shared only certain specific interests – but constantly laboured to remove potential rivals to his leadership within his own Likud Party with whom you might have expected he would have shared a common ideology, then you can acquire a better understanding of how, in the current situation, he has decided to align himself with the Ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition. As Pfeffer noted in his book, “Netanyahu has no plans because his policies are tailored only for his political preservation…”
Thus, for the moment, Netanyahu is willing to work with a bloc that, in previous incarnations as prime minister, he kept on the sidelines. But, despite the protestations of many on the right that what Netanyahu is attempting to do is simply correct an imbalance that has occurred within Israel ever since Abraham Barak became the chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court in 1993 and the Supreme Court took a more activist approach to legal issues, there is nothing in Netanyahu’s past to suggest that he was particularly interested in what Israel’s Supreme Court was doing – until he himself became the subject of a legal prosecution.
While many readers might have only a passing interest in what is currently going on in Israel, no one should minimize the impact of what the Ultra-Orthodox are attempting to do in Israel. For instance, as we noted in our last issue, if you want to get married in Israel, while there is no such thing as a civil marriage being performed in Israel itself, until now you could fly to Cyprus and get married there and have the marriage recognized in Israel – or, as was explained in our last issue, you could also get married online – in Utah, of all places. No doubt, if the courts are stripped of their ability to overrule laws passed by the government, the Ultra-Orthodox will move quickly to pass laws banning those types of marriages.
Further, the claims brought by a great many immigrants to Israel over the years that they are legitimately Jewish have often been subject to skepticism by Ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Governments in the past have tacitly accepted the claims of those immigrants of their Jewish ancestry. What if future immigrants’ claims of Jewish ancestry are rejected – or even worse, the claims of past applicants are subjected to further scrutiny and they are retroactively rejected – where will that leave the status of all those immigrants – and the rights of their children to marry Israeli citizens?
Almost all of us have some sort of familial connections to Israelis and, even if we don’t, we have friends and colleagues who live there. The significance of what the Ultra-Orthodox are attempting to do should not be glossed over with mere suggestions that they represent the “democratic” will of the Israeli electorate. To think that “Haredim,” who refuse to serve in the army, who prevent their children from receiving a general education, who loath and ostracize members of the LGBTQ community – not to mention their antidulivian views on women, have now realized that a political system which they once scorned has now become useful to their forcing their views on the rest of Israeli society is the stuff of nightmares.
Finally, although the notion that many Israelis might flee the country, as well as many businesses, if the proposed judicial reforms get passed, might not be as real a possibility as some may suggest, the mere fact that it is even being contemplated will no doubt affect the long-range planning of many Israelis for years to come.
And this is all the result of demographics. The Ultra-Orthodox in Israel now have sufficient numbers – and the concomitant votes to cast – to hold the balance of power in Israel going forward. Only a Supreme Court that has the power to protect the rights of the non-Orthodox members of Israeli society stands in the way of Israel’s becoming a theocracy. That danger should not be misunderstood – or minimized by anyone who cares about the future of Israel.