While events in the countries surrounding Israel remain chaotic, (and that is quite an understatement), much of Israel's news has turned inwards this past week. In advance of the social protest demonstration held last night, the issue of the cost of the living and social welfare rose to the forefront. Last night’s demonstration was a disappointment to the organizers, with a reported 5-10,000 showing up. This attendance was a far cry from the 500,000 that came out two years ago. The issues of social and economic inequality will remain in the collective consciousness, but will require a new group of leaders to achieve anything meaningful.
The issue of public corruption has also been in the news this past week. As an international report came out claiming that 10% of Israelis paid a bribe in the last year. A former engineer for the city of Tel Aviv appeared on television to substantiate that claim, saying that most municipal approvals were taken by committee without paying any attention to the City Engineer. Which brings us to today’s development, when the Supreme Court delivered a "non- decision" on whether the mayor of Ramat Gan should be forced to resign– after being indicted for crimes including accepting a bribe. Tzvi Bar, the current mayor of Ramat Gan, is only one of 10 mayors under indictment. The Supreme Court avoided having to set a norm, by convincing Bar to agree not to run for reelection this fall. How this effects the other 9 mayors is unclear. The more important question is, how did we get to the point where so many of our elected officials are under indictment?
Of course, the newly nominated Governor of the Bank of Israel does not add to the level of high public morals in our officials. At the end of his last term as Bank Governor, the Israel's "Mavaker Hamedina" (The office in charge of investigating government activities) came out with a scathing report on how Ya'akov Frankel had falsified exprense reports. As a result of the findings, Frankel was forced to return tens of thousands of dollars to the bank. I was somehow ok to appoint someone like that– after all, who among the government is untainted– but now, a new wrinkle has developed. It has become known that a number of years ago Frankel was detained for a day in Hong Kong for stealing perfume from a Duty Free Shop. He claims it was only a misunderstanding. If you combine this new announcement with the original report of the State Controller General, it looks like this is a great way to increase public integrity in this country.
Finally, a few words regarding another area (where integrity–or the lack of it– seems to have run amuck): the Chief Rabbinate and the race to elect a new one.The current chief Rabbi is under investigation, and the past Sephardic Chief Rabbi is on trial. One of the sons of former chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was slated to be the Shas nominee for Chief Rabbi, However, another son has been slated to run for the office instead, since the first one is under investigation. Of course, another possible alternative might be the Chief Rabbi of S'fat, who has been investigated for ruling that Jews must not rent to Arabs. Yesterday the race reached a new low, when Rabbi Shlomo Cohen (one of the top Shas Rabbis, and the head of Porat Yosef Yeshiva), referred to people who wear a knitted Kipa as "Amalek"... and they need to eliminated like Amalek. So in a matter of months, National Religious Jews went from being considered "Goyim" (by Shas leadership) to being akin to "Amalek". They can observe every new chumra (halachic stricture) they continue to invent.. However, this last round of vitriol leveled by Shas at the National Religious an utterly unconscionable example of "sinat chinam" (baseless hatred)-- perpetrated during the 9 days-- The time in the Jewish calendar we are called most strongly to stamp out such wanton enmity. No amount of fasting can repair this level of damage. It is unclear whether this pronouncement is laughable (as it is so ridiculous), or simply frightening.
In the meantime, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry is supposedly on the way back here to try to get negotiations going with the Palestinians. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about how the Iranian threat is much more important than what is going on in Egypt and Syria... Maybe next week we can forget about all the annoying domestic issues and return to worrying about our survival.