Israel News for August 24, 2015

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Court Promotes Charedi Minister
The High Court has ruled that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the charedi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party must either assume the position of Health Minister or resign from his current post.

The UTJ party represents the Ashkenazic charedi communities. It was formed in 1992 as a merger between the Chassidic Agudas Yisrael and the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party. The parties policies are decided by a council of Torah Sages from each of the two factions.

Because of its fundamental opposition to a secular run government, the UTJ and its predecessors have always refused to accept ministerial portfolios in the cabinet (except for one post in the first government in 1948). Instead, they assume the title of deputy minister while performing the duties of full minister.

In the current government PM Netanyahu officially holds the title of Health Minister and Yaakov Litzman of UTJ holds the deputy minister title. But semantics aside, Litzman functions as the Health Minister.

Opposition party Yesh Atid called them on this ministerial charade and petitioned the High Court to call a spade a spade (instead of a deputy spade). The High Court agreed and ruled that Litzman must either accept the title of Health Minister or resign his post altogether.

Litzman must wait for the Council of Sages of the Agudas Yisrael faction of UTJ to decide, in their meeting this Wednesday, whether to modify their policy and allow him to be a full minister. The word on the street is that the council, lead by the Gerrer Rebbe (Litzman is also a Gerrer follower) will allow him to take the ministerial post.

Even though it is really just a question of semantics, allowing Litzman to be a full minister might represent a major philosophical shift in charedi ideology and possibly bring about a greater sense of unity between them and the non-charedi right and centrist parties.

Abbas Going to Iran
Iran already has proxies on Israel’s northern border – Hezbollah and pro-Syrian government militias – and southern border – Hamas. Now they might be preparing to close the loop in the east.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Polish reporters that he intends to visit Iran in an effort to improve ties with what he calls a “sister” nation. The Palestinians already have an embassy in Tehran, located in the building that housed the Israeli embassy prior to the Iranian revolution.

Should Israel be worried? Maybe, if the Palestinians gain independence and call in the revolutionary guards, or if Iran donates millions of dollars of terrorist funding.

Terror cell arrested
Israeli security services announced that they arrested a cell of nine Palestinians two weeks ago in the terrorist attack near highway 443 that injured three Israelis three weeks ago. The suspects, five adults and four minors, were residents of Beit Hanina and the Old City of Jerusalem. They are also being indicted for other attacks including throwing molotov cocktails at a Jewish home in Beit Hanina, where two people were injured.

The suspects admitted that they carried out the attack to avenge the Duma attack. Since their attack there have been several more molotov cocktail attacks in that same location.

Israel Helping Kurds
According to the Financial Times, Israel has purchased over $1 billion worth of oil from the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Records show that from May to August Israel bought 19 million barrels, which is about 77% of Israel’s total oil consumption of about 240,000 barrels a day.

Some sources say that Israel is choosing to buy specifically from the Kurds in order to support them in their fight against ISIS. Other sources claim that Israel is getting a discounted price on the oil. In either case, if they’re spending those billions anyway, they might as well get some indirect security benefits as a byproduct.

PM Netanyahu has stated his support for the formation of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. That hasn’t done much to improve Israel’s relations with Turkey, which fears that the Kurds will want to integrate the heavily Kurdish areas of Southern Turkey into their state. Ironically, the Kurdish oil is transported to Israel via a Turkish port.
Business is business.

American Scraps Israel Flights
American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size, passengers flown and revenue, has decided to stop flying to Israel. They claim it’s due to financial consideration and that they lost $20 million last year on their Philadelphia – Tel Aviv route. Industry experts say that American’s Israel route is profitable. They claim that American made the decision due to their leading role in the OneWorld global alliance, whose members include Arab carriers like Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and Malaysia Airlines.

Whatever the reason, it’s good news for the carriers that do fly to Israel. Whether it will allow them to raise prices is still to be seen.

Shas head protests Shabbat Work
Economy Minister Aryeh Deri sent a strongly worded letter to PM Netanyahu and Transport Minister Katz protesting the desecration of Shabbat by government employed construction workers. The workers were clearing up the rubble following the demolition of the Maariv Overpass on Friday, which was leveled as part of the Tel Aviv light rail construction project. Deri threatened to take action the next time work was done on Shabbat on the Tel Aviv light rail or for any government project.

Meat Wars
Ketchup isn’t the only food they’re fighting about in Israel. The pre High Holidays meat wars are heating up, and Israeli meat eaters are benefitting big time.

In Israel you can buy three types of meat (from cheapest to most expensive): frozen, defrosted and fresh. Most of the frozen or defrosted meat, which leads significantly in market share, is slaughtered and prepared in accordance with kosher laws overseas and shipped to Israel. Fresh meat can either also be imported or slaughtered and prepared in Israel. It’s cheaper to import.

Shufersal, one of Israel’s largest supermarket chains, last week launched their own private label brand of fresh meat which they fly in from overseas in sections, which is cheaper than importing the calfs and then slaughtering and preparing them in Israel.

In response, Tnuva, the giant Israeli food conglomerate, has just announced that they will be importing fresh meat from Poland and selling it at prices equivalent to Shufersal’s defrosted meat. How can they do it so cheap? They’ll be shipping the meat by boat instead of by air. (Poland just got approved as a supplier of meat to Israel.)

Something about importing meat from a country that actively participated in the slaughter of millions of Jews just doesn’t seem right. Does the savings make it ok? Perhaps.