I do not keep up with internal Israeli politics. I just know I am not a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu. And I believe the country's policies regarding settlements and the Palestinians are both ill-advised and ultimately unsustainable, though I have no magic solution for a way forward. It is a tough neighborhood. I am pessimistic, but perhaps no more so than I am for my own nation.
I found this story, by Julian Kossoff, in the Daily Telegraph, to be of interest. Kossoff writes of an Israel caught between the pinchers of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the "Israeli ayatollah," and Avigdor Lieberman, the "Israeli Milosevic" in the Netanyahu cabinet.
Israel’s founding fathers were committed modernists and believed the archaic Jewish sects would wither and die out in Zion’s brave new world. But, nurtured by bucket loads of tax shekels, today ultra-orthodox Judaism – for the first time in 2,000 years a state-sponsored religion – is a political power in its own right.
Most significant is the ultra-orthodox Shas party, a major component of Netanyahu’s coalition whose leader Eli Yishai controls the all-important Interior Ministry, responsible for many areas of Israeli life dealing with identity and Jewish recognition. In a recent interview Mr Yishai openly admitted to taking a daily phone call from Shas’s spiritual head, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Rabbi Yosef is a Jewish reflection of an Iranian ayatollah. Revered by his followers as a legendary theologian, his world view is medieval. His recent pronouncement that the recent devastating forest fires in Israel’s north was divine retribution for poor Sabbath observance was far from the most bonkers thing he’s ever said.
What really caught my interest, however, was a reference to the fight Lieberman recently picked with Turkey. Among other things, the Israeli leader has compared Ankara to Iran right before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Turks, being so lumped with the Persians, have quite naturally taken offense. Lieberman's reasoning goes something like this: Israel and Iran were once close allies, but came the Revolution and now they are bitter enemies. Israel and Turkey were once close allies, but now the relationship is souring. Consequently, Turkey is approaching revolution. Nothing could be sillier. Lost in the equation is any notion that the deterioration of relations could have anything at all to do with Israeli policies and actions. This is the sort of fact-free prognostications one hears in this country from the likes of John Hagee or Louie Gohmert. Turkish democratic institutions--while imperfect--are stable, secure and gaining strength. Human rights for minorities are beginning (finally) to receive real attention. The middle class is engaged and expanding. There are no "ayatollahs" in this Hanafi Sunni nation. Can Israel say the same?