There have been so many serious events taking place this past week that it’s hard to know where to start. Chanan Kristal, the political correspondent of Kol Yisrael summarized it best this morning on the radio – We have been pushed back 10 years in the West Bank, to the time of the intifada (based both on the kidnappings, and even more so regarding the riots in East Jerusalem). In the area around Gaza, we are back to the period before the last round of hostilities with Hamas nearly a year and half ago. Last, but not least, Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar has put Tel Aviv back at least 20 years, with his decision to overrule the government of the city of Tel Aviv. Tonight I was faced with the dilemmas of choosing between two important concurrent events: There was a rally calling for an end of the violence and against retribution, at the same time as a long planned teach-in on the increasing religious intolerance and coercion on the entire Israeli population. I decided to attend to the latter, in the hopes that (at least in this area) I could have some impact. In fact, I had the chance to express my displeasure to the Deputy Mayor at how Tel Aviv is planning to enforce the old Shabbat rules(but more on that later.)
First, to the most pressing problem – and that is the storm of rockets raining down on the South. What started as a few missiles, launched here and there, has turned into a flood of rockets, some of which have unfortunately hit S'derot. Iron Dome cannot really work effectively at that short a range. This leaves the government very few choices, but to act. The Netanyahu government has made it clear that if the rockets stop, it will not take action – However, if the missiles continue we will have no choice but to act. It’s not clear what Hamas will decide. There is one school of thought that says Hamas is currently in such bad shape that they have nothing to lose. I fear that may be the case, we will see in the next 48 hours or so. The other school of thought feels that because of its weakness, Hamas will not want to take the chance of a major confrontation with Israel.
As to events in the Jerusalem ... This week we have seen some of the worst riots we have seen in East Jerusalem in many years. The tragic murder of the Arab teenager has caused a great deal uncertainty, and seems to have clearly undermined our moral position. Unfortunately, it has been nearly two days and there is still no definitive word on whether the teen was killed by Jews or whether he was killed based on some type of family feud. I am not sure what is taking the police so long to make the determination. Once again, this undermines our already limited faith in the police.
There is much I have to say about the killings of the young Yeshiva students, the actions of the army, the government and much more. However, I will wait until after the Shiva period is over. The one thing I can not wait to say is how utterly ridiculous all the articles that in some way blame President Obama have been. I have many complaints about President Obama's Foreign Policy choices. Barack Obama is President of the US and not President of Israel. This tragedy was not and should not have been central to his concerns.
Finally, back to the item I began with ... Tonight I attended a long-planned two-part panel discussion (Part II will take place tomorrow) on religious coercion. The planned program was overshadowed, somewhat, by the actions of Interior Minister Gideon Saar to overturn the regulations passed by the Tel Aviv Municipal Council, allowing small convenience stores to remain open on Shabbat. The action has been met by widespread alarm among residents of Tel Aviv – on two levels: First, on the practical level, that most residents want the stores (similar to 7 Elevens) open 24/7 for their convenience. On a second level, it seems far beyond the scope of authority (and reason) for a Minister of Interior from the Likud (and not from a religious party) to dare overturn the sovereign decision of a municipal government – just because he wants to.
Saar's proclamation came as a tremendous shock. I was surprised to hear that the city government intends to fine all the store that are open. There were many cries from the floor – Why doesn't the municipality just ignore the ruling, or have a 'blue flu' among the inspectors? The answer was far from comforting. The Municipality asked their legal advisors how to proceed, and were told they had no choice but to heed the Minister of the Interior. Of course, asking your legal advisors in a case like this is what we call in Hebrew a “She'eilat 'Kit Bag'” (army reference: When a soldier is dumb enough to ask their commander if they need to take your full 'Kit Bag' – with all their gear – You learn quickly not to ask questions to which you really do not want to know the answer.)
The rest of the conference was dedicated to the larger question of the effect of the increased imposition of religious norms on the rest of us – norms that continue to get more and more extreme. A full discussion of this matter will wait for a longer piece.
To my readers in the U.S. – Happy Fourth of July.