Dragged into Gaza: 7 things to know for July 20
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Dragged into Gaza: 7 things to know for July 20

The military, Israel's leaders, southerners and Gazans themselves seem to not want to go to war over some balloons and kites. Yet here we are

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

1. A week after the Gaza border all went to hell, Friday is seen as a key test of whether the sides can keep calm or will slide further toward war.

  • “The border protests will determine: escalation or calm,” reads a headline on the Channel 10 news website.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth may be among those pushing Israel to go to war over the balloons and kites, but writer Alex Fishman gives ample real estate to IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, who wants to avoid full-blown hostilities. Fishman says Eisenkot told the cabinet to “give me a month or two, and I’ll solve the problem without going to war.”
  • Fishman reports that the army is trying different forms of pressure, including calling up the kite launchers on the phone to warn them. “Let it work. The actions against the kite and balloon launchers, alongside economic pressure, need to simmer to have an influence. Only afterward decide if you want to go to war,” he sums up his thoughts.
  • Fishman says that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back Eisenkot, but if the last 24 hours are any indication, things are not being given their chance. Instead, the army killed a member of Hamas’s armed wing who was preparing to launch a balloon, and de rigueur revenge is promised.

2. At the heart of the issue is the question of whether kites and balloons are worth going to war over.

  • Israel Hayom photographer Yehuda Peretz, who had a suspect balloon land next to his house near the Gaza border, writes in the paper of his experience with “terror in my own yard.”
  • The story is about as exciting as it sounds (he spotted it when he got home from work, called the cops and they took care of it), but he writes that three months of taking pictures of burnt animals and scorched fields have taken a toll on his soul.
  • On the other side is Haaretz’s Amos Harel, who writes that most southerners don’t actually care much about the kites and balloons, and are not really threatened by them.
  • Harel starts off his piece with what he says is a real exchange between an interviewer trying to play up the fire fears and a southern farmer who is having none of it:
  • “It’s not terror,” he says the farmer told the morning show.
    “It’s not?”
    “No. It’s a fire. We put it out and continue to plow.”
    “OK, so you can tell us how you feel about it and how terrible it is.”
    “I don’t think it’s terrible. When people are killed, it’s terrible. When people are wounded, it’s not nice. This is a fire, most of the time in the brush. Like I told you, we put it out and carry on working.”

3. Lest one forget the Americans and their peace plan, the troika of Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner and David Friedman publish an op-ed in the Washington Post that doesn’t say much that’s new, but still manages to make waves.

  • The Ynet news website and Channel 10 news sites both lead with the news of the op-ed, reading reams into the sentence: “Life could significantly improve in short order for the Palestinian people if Hamas allowed it.”
  • Both sites portray the op-ed as an American offer to Hamas for economic aide in exchange for stopping terror.
  • Also interesting, at least to me, is the fact that they seem to indicate they could live with a reformed Hamas ruling Gaza: “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible,” they write. though they also write that Hamas must cede control of the crossings to the PA.

4. Who needs external enemies when Israel is showing itself so adept at tearing itself apart? Rabbi Dov Haiyun has been released from police custody and the police have been told off by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, but the American Jewish community (especially, but not limited to, the Conservative community) is still fuming.

  • The words “disturbed” and “outraged” show up in statement after statement, indicating that while anger may not be in short supply, thesauruses might.
  • On ToI’s Blogs site, Rabbi Mickie Goldstein, head of the Rabbinical Assembly-Israel, which includes Haiyun as a member and past president, takes aim at the Orthodox hegemony ruling the country.
  • “The State of Israel is the only country in the Western world in which a Jew is not at liberty to decide how to practice his or her Judaism. If you want to get married — it has to be Orthodox. You want to get buried in a public cemetery — Orthodox. Education in schools — Orthodox. Kashrut — Orthodox. The Western Wall — Orthodox. And so the list goes on.”
  • Haaretz reports on even stronger words from Conservative Jewry’s top US leader, Rabbi Steven Wernick, who compares the arrest of Haiyun over performing weddings without Rabbinate approval to actions in “Iran or Saudi Arabia.”
  • Haaretz’s Hebrew edition reports that the comment was made in a letter to Netanyahu. The English edition reports only that it was sent to the government, and Wernick tells me that there was no letter, it was just a statement.
  • While pretty much everybody agrees dragging a rabbi from his bed at 5 a.m. for officiating weddings is not good policy, only in Israel Hayom does one find some defense for the Haiyun arrest.
  • “Rabbi Haiyun was taken in for questioning because the weddings he officiated were carried out ‘under the law of Moses and Israel,’ and he is not allowed to do that,” writes Emily Amrousi. “Just like my cosmetician can’t give me a prescription for eye drops, even if she’s read more books on eye care than a doctor.”

5. There is also a lot of comparing the arrest to the nation-state bill, or drawing a line between the two, though there’s still plenty of criticism to go around for that law even without arresting rabbis.

  • In Haaretz, Bradley Burston writes that the ninth of Av, a Jewish day of mourning, came early this year. (It falls on Saturday, but will be observed on Sunday, so actually it’s coming late, if one wanted to get technical.)
  • With the law passed, though, pundits move beyond ragging against it, into looking what is behind it. According to Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon, it’s a good sign that elections are around the corner.
  • “If the Knesset comes back in October and decides to dissolve itself, this is a law Netanyahu wants the public to remember him for, him and not [Naftali] Bennett, him and not [Ayelet] Shaked. The war over votes on the right has begun,” she writes.

6. That’s not to say everyone is against it. In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord puts some logic on the rack to argue that the law is needed because without enshrining Israel as Jewish, it can’t be democratic, blaming Reform Jews for reviving German anti-Semitism in opposing the bill.

  • “According to them, there is something unnatural, illogical and anti-democratic about Jewish culture, Jewish identity.”
  • In the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Kontorovich also argues for the bill, saying its language is totally normal compared to other things out there, like the constitutions of Slovakia and Hawaii, those beacons of democracy.
  • “The law does not infringe on the individual rights of any Israeli citizen, including Arabs; nor does it create individual privileges. The illiberalism here lies with the law’s critics, who would deny the Jewish state the freedom to legislate like a normal country,” he writes.

7. Many have already moved on to the next fight, over rights for gay male couples to have kids by surrogate, which was torpedoed by the Knesset earlier this week arousing widespread anger.

  • On Sunday, a strike is planned in support of the would-be dads, and Yedioth publishes what it says is a partial list of hundreds of companies and bodies allowing workers to walk off, from Wix to the northern city of Tivon, to the airport, to Yedioth.
  • Hadashot news, another company allowing walkoffs, writes that Sodastream (yes) went a step further and sent a “gay gift” to lawmakers. The gift is a pair of cases that look like houses, with gay dads and daughter Sodastream bottles in one, and gay moms and daughter bottles in the other. (One assumes the Knesset’s more vocal homophobes like Bezalel Smotrich will just switch the houses to make it “right.”)
  • If you’re not an MK, you can buy the cases yourself for a cool NIS 99, though it doesn’t seem to yet be available in the US, despite an ad campaign for them (in case there was any doubt this is totally altruistic).
  • Those lucky enough to get it for free also get a letter from CEO Daniel Birnbaum making them feel terrible and calling on them to do the actual right thing: “It is disappointing to see how you traded in an egalitarian law in favor of a discriminatory law,” he writes, according to Hadashot. “It’s terrible how you weakened democracy and did not do your work as a public official.”
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