Kafe Knesset for June 20
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Kotel fight heats up: The Western Wall is back on the political agenda, and once again, the Haredi parties and their supporters are pitted against the Conservative and Reform streams of American Jewry. On the heels of demands by Shas and UTJ to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the government cancel its decision to expand a pluralistic section on the southern end of the Western Wall, the Chief Rabbinate came to the Knesset with demands of its own. Rabbi Raphael Frank, a senior adviser to Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, asked that the Chief Rabbinate have its own representation in court, separate from the government, since it disagrees with the Cabinet’s resolution on the egalitarian section. “It cannot be that we don’t have any platform from which to express our opinion and the Court won’t hear the Chief Rabbinate’s stance,” Frank said. “Even if our opinion doesn’t match [the government’s] we demand that it be heard.” The Justice Ministry, however, put its proverbial foot down, saying that the government can only present one position to the courts. The Attorney-General will mention the rabbinate’s position, but since the debate is civil – about the Holy Sites Preservation Law – and not halachic, that will be the prism through which the Supreme Court adjudicates the matter. Unsurprisingly, MKs raucously debated the issue – but the strife came from within the coalition, and there are even disagreements within the Likud. Meanwhile, Likud MK David Amsalem continued his Shas-esque tirades against Reform Judaism, tweeting: “[US President Donald] Trump came to the Kotel, respected Jewish values, and entered the men’s section without his wife. Who doesn’t respect us? Reform. Who wants to help them? Apparently the government and the High Court.”
No word on what Trump’s Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt thinks, but he did visit the Kotel, tweeting a photo and that he “prayed for an end to violence and that we would experience the blessings of peace.”
The embarrassing ad Likud wanted to keep hidden: The political scene in Israel is abuzz about a proposed Likud campaign ad ahead of the 2015 election that leaked to the Internet this week, featuring Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog as a woman and his number-two MK Tzipi Livni as a friend of Hamas. Another showed Herzog as a child, holding the hands of Livni and campaign adviser Reuven Adler, apparently his parents. The images were part of a proposed “guerilla” campaign that was meant to create online buzz, but was never used. Likud Campaign Chairman Nir Hefetz told Haaretz that he never saw the images, and if he had, neither he nor Netanyahu would have approved them, and they likely never reached him because lower-level campaign staff realized they were not appropriate. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes campaigns like this on principle,” Hefetz added.
Another Haaretz story on the 2015 Likud campaign found that a poll the party took out before the election was even called, showed that at the time, then-US president Barack Obama had an equal amount of supporters and detractors in Israel, with 32.4% expressing a positive or very positive opinion, and 32% a negative or very negative one – which may explain why another leaked campaign image with a negative message about Obama was not used.
Likud Foreign Affairs director Eli Hazan called the reports fake news. “How do I know? I was there,” he wrote on Facebook. “This only interests left-wing people…They never intended to vote for the Likud anyway, and even if Netanyahu will successfully turn Israel into a perfect Garden of Eden, they will find a ridiculous reason not to vote for him.”
Get out the lie detectors: Security Cabinet ministers may be subjected to polygraph tests soon, if Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gets his way. Liberman’s most reliable point-man in the Knesset, Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov, proposed a bill today requiring annual polygraph tests for Security Cabinet ministers. The tests would attempt to discover members who leak confidential security information. Liberman has been proposing the tests since he became Foreign Minister in 2009, and Netanyahu has brought up the idea several times in the past few years, most recently in February, when the contents of a cabinet meeting on foreign policy in the Trump era were leaked to the press.