Kafe Knesset for August 22

Dasvidaniya, Bibi: Netanyahu is preparing for a day trip to Sochi, Russia. There, he will be meeting President Putin tomorrow for the sixth time in the past two years, and the second meeting in 2017. Iran, of course, will top the agenda for the meeting. President Putin will hear about Jerusalem’s concerns arising out of the diplomatic attempts to end the fighting in Syria. These diplomatic efforts are creating, according to Israeli officials, an Iranian territorial contiguity between Tehran and the Mediterranean. The PM will be accompanied on his Sochi visit by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, who also led the security delegation that discussed Syria last week at the White House, and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who has become a regular attendee and interpreter at all of the recent Bibi-Putin encounters.

The meeting with Putin comes against the backdrop of a clear disappointment in Jerusalem with the Trump administration and its level of attention to Israeli interests. “The Americans are sympathetic, but they are not willing to back words with deeds. We are not in the administration’s priorities. They are preoccupied with other issues, and there is a feeling that they have very limited attention span,” a senior Israeli minister told Kafe Knesset. He explained that the American vacuum over Syria – which was created in the Obama administration but has also been transformed into a Trump government policy – “has given increased importance to the strategic dialogue with the Kremlin, especially after Russia increased its military involvement in Syria. This has required close military coordination with the Russians to prevent friction. The Russians fill the American void and they are the ones who determine the facts on the ground. We want to make sure that the facts on the ground do not hurt us.”

Netanyahu, the privacy warrior: Netanyahu asked a legal and philosophical question today: What right does a prime minister or any other public figure have to privacy? The PM’s lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from earlier this month requiring him to turn over records of when he had phone conversations with Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson and the pro-Netanyahu daily’s former editor-in-chief Amos Regev. The lower court order was the result of a Freedom of Information Act petition by Channel 10 reporter and Bibi archenemy Raviv Drucker. A statement sent by the Netanyahu family spokesman Nir Hefetz announced Bibi’s intention to make the phone records public despite the appeal, because he has “nothing to hide.” Rather, Netanyahu is appealing the ruling on principle, because the Prime Minister feels the court set a dangerous precedent, reducing the right to privacy. Hefetz pointed to a “wave” of Freedom of Information Act petitions following the Adelson-Regev record ruling. He did not give examples, but the ruling earlier this week that the Jerusalem Municipality has to hand over records of Sarah Netanyahu’s work hours probably helped push things over the edge.

Whose Kotel is it, anyway? The Chief Rabbinate made waves this week by declaring that the High Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction over the Western Wall. This legal position was in response to a petition by non-Orthodox streams opposing the indefinite suspension of the government’s compromise on egalitarian prayer. The rabbis questioned why the High Court has not intervened in what happens at the Al-Aksa Mosque or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and pointed out that the law allowing each religion to maintain its own holy sites dates back to the Ottoman Empire and was maintained by the British Mandate. The Conservative and Reform Movements were unimpressed, with Masorati (Conservative) Movement Director Yizhar Hess quipping to The Jerusalem Post:, “I assume that the court will remind the honorable chief rabbis not just that ‘there are judges in Jerusalem but also that their wages are no longer paid by King George V, but rather the State of Israel.” Meanwhile, the Reform Movement bought billboards on prime real estate in the center of Tel Aviv emblazoned with the slogan “Jews don’t expel Jews from the Western Wall.”

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