Israel News for 11-27-17

Health Minister Resigns
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the Haredi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party resigned from his cabinet post yesterday in protest of government supported work being done on the national railway. Litzman’s decision was based on the instructions of his rabbi, the Gerrer (Gur) Hasidic Rebbe. Although he resigned from his cabinet position, Litzman remains a member of Knesset (MK) and the UTJ remains a member of the government coalition, at least for the time being.

In his resignation message Litzman said, ”The Holy Shabbat is the national day of rest, and we have been taught to safeguard against Shabbat’s desecration. Sadly, and with great pain, due to government work that has been carried out in public by Israel Railways for a long time now, I have decided to resign from my position as health minister. I cannot take ministerial responsibility for the public, state-condoned desecration of Shabbat, in opposition to the Jewish people’s sacred values, status quo and coalition agreement.”

He added, “I’m happy for the privilege I had to promote and improve Israel’s health system. I acted in every way to benefit those who are ill, without discriminating between populations and communities. I resign with my head held high, with a sense of purpose, of merit and Jewish calling. I will continue to do all I can for the people of Israel, anywhere and in any way.”

Not So Fast
In order to avert a coalition crisis (which would occur if the Haredi parties pulled out), PM Netanyahu struck a deal with the Haredi parties that would include passing a law to allow a deputy cabinet minister to exercise the powers of a full cabinet minister. That would allow Litzman to stay on as Deputy Health Minister while retaining his original powers. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that giving a deputy minister full ministerial powers to be illegal, but the new law would circumvent that ruling.

Litzman, however, said that he would reject the deputy minister compromise unless the government passed laws prohibiting all railway work on Shabbat and strengthening the protection of the Shabbat, including the closure of all supermarkets on Shabbat.

As part of his compromise deal PM Netanyahu promised that the government would pass laws strengthening the Shabbat work prohibitions. However Likud members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation refused to promote the proposed legislations at last night’s ministerial meeting. Likud officials, who don’t wish to be seen as caving in to Haredi demands, instructed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who heads the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, not to put the bills up for discussion.

The Justice Ministry is continuing to work on the legislation that would allow Litzman to maintain his powers while serving as deputy Health Minister.

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UN Blacklist
Israel and the US are working feverishly to prevent the publication of a UN blacklist of companies operating in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

Israeli officials say that about 100 local companies that operate in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have received warning letters that they will be on the list. In addition, some 50 international companies, mostly American and European, also have been warned.

The companies have not been publicly identified, but one official said they include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements.

The effort to block the list has shown some signs of success. The UN’s Human Rights Council, which ordered the list’s publication, said the release of the report has been pushed back again, from December to early next year.

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No to Uber
The Tel Aviv district court has prohibited Uber from operating in Israel, citing insurance issues as the main reason for its ruling. The company has been offering ride sharing services in certain areas in Israel since last year.

Under Israeli law, only registered taxi drivers can accept fares for a ride and the Transportation Ministry would have to change its regulations for Uber to be used legally. Uber has tried to circumvent the law by offering ride sharing services where the drivers are charging their fee simply to cover the costs of maintaining their cars.

The Transportation Ministry has been trying to force Uber out of Israel, contending that it does not properly vet its drivers and its cars are not subject to the safety requirements that regular taxis are required to have. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz also says that allowing Uber to enter the Israeli market would destroy the local taxi industry.

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Amazon Coming
According to anonymous sources in the know, Amazon is planning to set up its ecommerce and fulfillment operations in Israel. The company is reportedly negotiating the lease of warehouses in central Israel for operational activities and for supplying the local market.

Currently, Amazon’s deliveries to Israel are supplied mainly through shipping centers in Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. The company also has sales and delivery outposts in other European countries like Italy and Spain. This operational structure leads to high shipping and delivery fees that in turn inflate the prices of the products and also increases delivery times to the country, which can currently take up to a few weeks.

The rumored move by Amazon into the Israeli market will most likely hurt local Israeli retailers. But consumers will clearly benefit.

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