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Posts Tagged ‘Uri Ariel’

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

“What will become of the housing market?” I asked Uri Ariel, betraying my worries about my daughter and  son-in-law living in a chicken-coop-turned-apartment on a moshav.

Ariel told me about his plan to create a special cabinet whose job will be to promote the construction of rental apartments in every possible place throughout the country, thus flooding the market with rental units.  But I’m worried.  Experience shows that good people’s good ideas ultimately end up in the hands of less good people.  Ariel won’t be the housing and construction minister forever, after all.

“When your plan meets the marketplace,” I asked him, “who can guarantee that it will follow the rules that you and your associates set for it?  Why not have the state do the construction, so at least that part will stay in the hands of the government?”

“Because it’s been shown that when the state builds, it ends up costing more.”

“Why?  Because of the shenanigans?  Because of the bureaucracy?”

Uri didn’t go into details and he is not about to come out against those employed by his ministry.  In any event, he and others who know the subject firsthand agree that if the state builds, it costs more.

“But when the construction tenders start being issued,” I asked, “how can you keep the usual suspects from entering bids and making illicit gains off of taxpayers’ backs, as happened in the past?”

Uri explains that this time, such people will be treated as criminals.

Right … but we’ve been down this road before.  Take these two examples:

In the early seventies, a large rental project in the French Hill section of Jerusalem got off the ground.  The state sold the land at a good price to some kindly disposed Jews from the U.S., after convincing them to invest their money in the construction of high-quality rental units.  The state promised them that the units would yield a reasonable amount of rental income.  Yet for some reason—to this day no one seems to know why—the foreign investors found that no one was coming to rent their apartments.  There was no demand.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  The investors had to go find a buyer for their property.  A certain Jerusalemite who was famed as a theoretical communist and a practical capitalist was offered an opportunity to buy the apartments by a friend of his—a senior bureaucrat at the Ministry of Construction and Housing.

“But I don’t have the money!”

“Don’t worry.  We’ll see to it that you get a good loan.”

The ministry contacted a bank, recommending that it extend a loan to that Jerusalemite in exchange for a lien on the property.

Pay day came quickly enough.  Thanks to his contacts, the Housing Ministry made a gesture that it had not been kind enough to extend to the previous investors.  He was given permission to sell the apartments on the open market.  And suddenly there were buyers.

Greed doesn’t discriminate between political stripes, though.  Here’s a parallel case from the right:

In a settlement in Judea, adjacent to the Green Line, the government held a lottery for parcels of land on which to construct homes.  Those young couples that did not win lots were told just to wait a bit: soon there would be a tender for contractors to build denser housing, and they would be able to get a home for 900,000 NIS.

The price quoted was sensible, taking into account the low cost that the contractors paid for the land, development and construction costs, and a nice profit for the contractors.  But the young couples are still waiting.  Better-off people are living in those apartments.  Once the contractors (including one of “our” public corporations) received the land at a bargain basement price, without so much as a government tender, they took one look at the housing shortage, moved the prices up to 1.8 million NIS, and pocketed one million NIS per apartment: profit of one hundred percent.

Where were the regulators?  At best, they fell asleep on the job.  The land was sold at a pittance for the benefit of the public.  Their job was to impose reasonable limits on the prices.  Yet at the end of the day, three hundred seventy apartments were built at a profit of 370 million NIS.  The contractors made their personal fortune at the taxpayers’ expense.

So who can guarantee that once Uri Ariel has left the ministry, these shenanigans won’t return?  There is no guarantee.  Quite the opposite: it is reasonable to assume that there always will be business people and politicians who know how to game the system.  You can’t trust business people as a group, because they always want to maximize their profits.

To counter this dynamic, the public needs new, idealistic forces both inside and outside the establishment.  The public has to understand that it needs to take action on economic matters the same way it takes action on settling Judea and Samaria—a key political truth that the young social protesters of two summers ago understood well.

Aside from distributing the ethical work Mesilat Yesharim to contractors, here are some recommendations for the minister of housing and construction to consider:

– Build a no-nonsense regulatory force to supervise construction together with an no-nonsense legal department.

– Encourage the establishment of public bodies and associations to keep tabs on what is happening—preferably in every government ministry, but certainly in the Construction Ministry as it embarks on the major undertaking that Ariel and his cabinet are planning.

– Encourage the creation of institutes for the grooming of ethical government officials who see their work as a mission.  (There is one such institute named for Ido Zoldan, which was founded by his father, Nachman.)

– Encourage the activity of institutes of economic ethics, such as the one at the Jerusalem College of Technology (Mechon Lev).

If all these ideas are successfully pursued, then there will be no need for legislation against excessive concentration of economic power.  And it won’t hurt to add a prayer to God that all those involved be individuals of absolute integrity.  And where will we find them?  As Rabbi Maimoun said to Ben Gurion: For a little money, you can even find individuals of absolute integrity.

Originally published in Makor Rishon, May 17th, 2013. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.

Report: Kerry Won Five-Week Unofficial Building Freeze from Bibi

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been quietly enforcing a de facto building freeze on all construction for Jews in Judea and Samaria and areas in Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli media reported Tuesday.

The Prime Minister promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to curtail construction for Jews until mid-June to give PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas time to fulfill his condition for a return to face-to-face negotiations with Israel.

Army Radio reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu told Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who lives in  the Judea and is a senior member of the Jewish Home party, to suspend publishing tenders for 3,000 residential housing units, including those to advance plans and construction of homes in the E-1 area of Maaleh Adumim.

Ariel insisted there has been no building freeze but added that the Prime Minister has delayed progress for new building, and he referred reporters to the Prime Minister, who arrived in China Sunday for a six-day visit.

Netanyahu’s reported agreement to a five-week freeze, much shorter than the 10-month freeze announced in September 2010, might be a gamble that Kerry will not be able to convince Abbas to resume direct talks with Israel.

There have been no real discussions since the 2010 building freeze, which Abbas demanded before resuming negotiations and then refused because it did not include a freeze in eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem, and did not cover public building in Judea and Samaria.

The E-1 area has become red line for both Abbas and Netanyahu. Any building activity there would infuriate Abbas and win him more support to continue to place the Palestinian Authority on various United Agencies.

If Israel were to even offer a hint to surrender the area, the Jewish Home party would probably pull out of the coalition, and it is doubtful if Likud-Beiteinu would agree to continue to rule with a new coalition that would include the Labor party.

However, Israel desperately needs an approved government budget for this year, and any party that forces new elections without a budget is liable to be severely punished at the polls.

Someone is going to have to climb down from the limb.

If Abbas misses another opportunity to miss an opportunity and starts demanding more conditions, Kerry and Netanyahu can walk away from the tree and leave him hanging there.

White House Already Criticizes Housing Minister over Settlements

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

The White House wasted ho time in expressing dissatisfaction with Israel’s new Ministry of Housing Uri Ariel, one day after he took office. Ariel said there will be no change in policies and that construction for Jews will continue in Judea and Samaria as in the past.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a press briefing Monday that building for Jews anywhere in “settlements’ is a “unilateral action.”

“Well, I don’t have anything specific on that particular announcement, except what our general position is, is that unilateral actions that make it more difficult to engage – to resume face-to-face negotiations, direct negotiations, are not things that we view favorably.,” Carney said. “And that was true of unilateral efforts at the United Nations by the Palestinians, and it’s been true of actions by the Israelis.

“It is in our view and it’s the position of the Israeli leadership that a two-state solution is the preferred goal here for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that all of us who are party to that process, but in particular the Israelis and Palestinians, ought to take steps that enhance the prospect of progress. But beyond that, I haven’t gotten any specific reaction.”

Along with that response, Carney said that President Barack Obama is coming to Israel with a message of “the unshakeable commitment the United States has to Israel’s security.”

New Netanyahu Coalition Govt All Cobbled and Ready, Maybe

Monday, March 18th, 2013

On Monday evening, the Knesset will host the swearing in ceremony for Israel’s 33rd government, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term—second consecutive—as prime minister (his first term ran from June 1996 to July 1999).

Immediately after the ceremony, Netanyahu will convene a brief cabinet meeting, with a toast. Then the bunch (22 ministers and 8 deputies) will travel to the presidential residence, for the traditional group picture.

The Knesset session will open with the selection of the Speaker of the House. It will likely be Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who will replace the former Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, who wanted very much to continue in his post but, unfortunately, had committed the ultimate sin of criticizing the Prime Minister’s anti-democratic tendencies, not the kind of slight which Netanyahu’s wife Sara easily forgives.

As usual, Netanyahu never shared with Rivlin his plan to depose him. In fact, as far back as a year ago, he assured the popular Speaker—who is also closely associated with the Settlement movement—that he’d have his support for the post of President when Shimon Peres completes his 7-year term, 2014.

Yuli Edelstein’s life’s story is fascinating: Born in the Soviet Union to Jewish parents who converted to Christianity (his father is a Russian Orthodox priest), Edelstein discovered his Jewish connection through his grandparents. He studied Hebrew back when that was considered a subversive act, for which, in 1984, he was sent to Siberia (the charges were drug related, but everybody knew it was the Hebrew thing). He made aliyah with his wife, Tanya, served in the army, and entered politics, ending up in the Knesset in 1996. He has switched between several parties, until finally landing in the Likud, and has held several ministerial portfolios. And if he doesn’t catch Sara’s ire, he could become as memorable a Speaker as Rubie Rivlin.

But the biggest losers, without a doubt, are the Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. They were almost literally kicked out by Yair Lapid, who stated openly that, should he be seen in the government group picture with the Haredim, his voters would abandon him. Surprisingly, Naftali Bennett, his newly found brother from a different father (Yair’s father, the late MK Tommy Lapid, was a true hater of the religion), supported the dubious position that, in order to truly help the Haredi public, government had to first be cleared of Haredi partners.

Shas, a party that depends completely on patronage for its very existence, is seething with anger over Bennett’s “betrayal.” It’s hard, however, to take seriously the victimized self-pity of Shas, whose spiritual father Rav Ovadia Yosef dubbed the Jewish Home party a “Goy Home.” Altogether, it appears that, perhaps counter intuitively, the National Religious leaders as well as the rank and file, have been harboring heaps of resentment against the Haredim. The Haredi slights of several decades, including their occupation of the Ministry of Religious Services and the Chief rabbinate, doling out jobs to Haredi officials who reigned over a population that looks nothing like them—those slighted chickens have been coming back to roost.

Take for instance Rabbi Hayim Drukman, who responded to both the Haredi pols and to Netanyahu, who accused the Lapid-Bennett axis of “boycotting” the Haredi parties. Rabbi Drukman Argued that “the Haredi public are the biggest boycotters, boycotting for years the Torah of the national religious public.”

“Any Haredi apparatchik who gets elected to the Knesset, immediately becomes a rabbi, while the real rabbis of the national religious public are noted in the Haredi press by their first names (without the title ‘Rabbi’). Is this not boycotting?” Rabbi Druckman wrote in the Saturday shul paper “Olam Katan.”

Inside Shas, the short knives have already been drawn and they’re aimed at MK Aryeh Deri, the former convict who came back from the cold to lead Shas into a glorious stalemate (11 seats before, 11 after).

“We were very disappointed in Deri,” a senior Shas pol told Ma’ariv. “He did not bring the votes he promised Rav Ovadia, there was no significant change in seats, and, in fact, Deri is responsible for our failure.”

In United Torah Judaism they also seem to regret their alliance with Shas, it’s highly likely that, in a few months, they’ll opt to enter the government without Shas.

The Mysteriously Missing Religious Alliance

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

While the Lapid-Bennett alliance is still holding strong, much to Netanyahu’s consternation, recriminations are flying between the religious parties as to why no religious political bloc formed instead, which would have given the religious parties more power in negotiations with the Likud.

According to a report in the online Hareidi paper, Kikar Shabbat, MK Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) claimed that the Hareidi parties refused to join together with them to create a religious alliance.

MK Meir Porush (UTJ) responded and said that they sat with the Jewish Home, both before and after the election to discuss the idea, but never got an answer.

Porush said they offered to work in strengthening the settlements, and to look out for the needs of the National-Religious, and in exchange, Jewish Home would work to protect Yeshiva students [from the draft].

Porush claims that Bennett promised to think it over and give them an answer, but he never received a response.

Porush left a door open and said that perhaps Bennett requires more time to think over the offer, and not that he is refusing their offer completely.

Porush also dismissed the claims that it was Rav Shteinman that “ripped up” the cards, after he refused to support the idea of a religious bloc with Jewish Home, and even going so far as refusing to meet with National-Religious rabbis in his home to discuss the idea. Porush said that the Degel HaTorah faction inside the UTJ gave a “green light” to protect Torah learning and the offer is still there.

On Monday, the Hareidi Hebrew Mishpacha newspaper ran an article entitled,  “Migron [settlement] in Exchange for Ponovitch [yeshiva]” and “Haredi Price Tag”.

Ponevitch for Migron

Mishpacha claimed in the article that senior members of UTJ said they would work to destroy the settlements if the Bennett-Lapid alliance isn’t broken, as it endangers Torah learning, and that “Torah learning is more important than the Land of Israel”.

The article didn’t discuss how their “retaliatory” price tag attack would affect their own Hareidi constituents in all-Hareidi settlements such as Beitar Ilit, Modiin Ilit and Tel Tzion.

 

Adelson’s Daily, Likud, Shas, Throwing Wedge btw Bennett and Lapid

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the man who spent $100 million on electing absolutely no one in last November’s elections, owns a daily Israeli news freebee called Israel Hayom (Hebrew for Israel Today—arguably the most popular daily in Israel—hey, it’s free) whose central political position is wherever Bibi Netanyahu happens to be at the moment. It’s as good an ideological base as any (albeit more biodegradable than most), and this morning—in keeping with its party line—Israel Hayom is attempting to throw a wedge between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

We reported yesterday that Lapid and Bennett have agreed to enter Netanyahu’s government together—or not at all. This was an astute, if not outright brilliant political move, creating a block of 31 Knesset members opposite Netanyahu’s 31 Knesset members. The jury is out on how long the pact would last – Israel is not a place where those things come with long-term warranties. But it is exciting nonetheless: two successful young men, newcomers to parliamentary politics, each with his own election miracle, one to Bibi’s right (Naftali), the other to Bibi’s left (Yair). They could certainly give the old, beaten down fox a run for his money.

Which perfectly explains why Israel Hayom would make it its goal to talk them down from that dangerous penthouse (I was going with tree house, but figured these two guys could afford better).

The Israel Hayom pair of political writers Yehuda Schlesinger and Matti Tochfeld on Tuesday morning came out with a column titled: “Naftali Should Calm Down,” in quotes. Some editor, realizing perhaps that this was too combative even for a Bibigraph, changed the headline to the anemic “The 19th Knesset on its Way.” But online titles don’t lie, and the original heading is still up there, at the top of everyone’s browsers. It’s a dismissive headline, so scornful, it could have been written by Sara herself. The rest goes:

“Chairman of the Jewish Home Naftali Bennett is strengthening his ties with Yair Lapid, but in his own home there are some who are not satisfied with the alliance between the two new stars of Israeli politics. Rabbi Zephaniah Drori, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Shmona, dean of a hesder yeshiva (for National Religious men dividing their time between learning and military service) and a religious Zionist leader, addressed the issue of burden equality (meaning the idea of Haredim serving, too) and the conduct of Naftali Bennett, saying yesterday: “If in these issues he (Bennett) decides alone, not based on rabbinic judgment, it will be the end of his political career.”

Now, as Maariv reported this morning, Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel, who leads his party’s coalition negotiations team, regularly updates the party’s rabbis, who in turn have expressed their full confidence in the party politicians. Also, the same group of rabbis did not deem fit to act on Rabbi Drori’s complaints.

It appears that the Lapid-Bennett axis is causing panic not only in the Likud-Beitenu circles (we’ve been hearing from Jewish Home sources that the Likudniks are telling the Bennett people lots of Lashon Hara on Lapid, with the implied promise that the knitted yarmulkes would be better off in Mamma Likud’s bosom) – the other frightened bunch are the Shas folks, whose spiritual leader, Rav Ovadia Yosef, only the other day described Jewish Home as made up of goyim. They’re trying desperately to rewind that one—MK Nissim Zeev of Shas said the Rav was only talking about the proposal for civil marriages for the unweddables. (Better they should get married in Cyprus and join the ranks of Israelis who despise their own tradition on account of a near-autistic chief rabbinate).

Shas is aware that it’s about to lose its two seats of absolute power: Interior and Housing. If Lapid is serious about real equal burden legislation, it can’t be done with Shas inside the government, and certainly not with Shas holding the purse strings. So Shas is pushing for a coalition that would include them, Torah Judaism, and Bennett. Without Bennett that entire structure collapses on itself. This is not ideology, mind you, this is the lifeblood of Shas: they have patronage jobs to be awarded, and young Haredi couples waiting for government-subsidized apartments. If those same jobs and apartments go elsewhere, Shas would plummet to a single-digit entity next time.

Reform and Conservative Leaders Deemed Rabbis, to Receive Israeli State Funds

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The Israeli government announced on Tuesday that, for the first time, it will pay the salaries of a small number of Reform and Conservative rabbis who are considered leaders in their communities, and will also recognize them as rabbis.

The state initially agreed to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis as “community leaders”, but a panel of judges led by Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to agree to the terminology “rabbi of a non-Orthodox community”, which the State subsequently did.

The deal, brokered in response to a 2005 petition by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, in the name of the Reform community of Kibbutz Gezer and community leader Rabbi Miri Gold, extends to up to 15 non-Orthodox rabbis in farming communities and regional councils.

While the salaries of Orthodox rabbis come from the Ministry of Religious Services, monies for the non-Orthodox rabbis will come from the Ministry of Culture and Sport.  The funding is earmarked as financial assistance, and will not constitute direct employment by local authorities.  It will also not be applicable in large cities, but only in small outlying towns and agricultural communities.  Up until now, all funding for the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have come from local membership dues.

The move will not impact the Orthodox Rabbinate’s control of marriages, conversions, and related legal questions, and will not render the non-Orthodox rabbis legal, religious, or halachic deciders.

Rabbi Dov Lipman, Director of the English Speakers Division of Am Shalem, a party led by former Shas MK Haim Amsalem, blamed the religious establishment’s rigidity for leading Israelis to seek an alternative to Orthodox Judaism.  “I feel that the unwillingness of the establishment to be more embracing and willing to solve problems has led us to this point,” Rabbi Lipman told The Jewish Press.  “I believe we have reached this point because over the last few decades, extremist parties have taken control of the religious ministry and religious services. Their policies have distanced people from Judaism and have led to the search for official alternatives.”  He said Am Shalem seeks, in accordance with Jewish law, to “restore religious services to their more embracing nature, as it was when the State was founded”  in order to make them more sensitive to the needs of the wide array of Israeli Jews, including converts.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of Israel’s Reform movement, praised “the state’s decision to support the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, while clearly acknowledging their roles as rabbis,” and called it “an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel.”  Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the measure made it “a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world.”  Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Gerald Skolnik said he hoped the decision would “open the door to new and exciting Jewish spiritual opportunities”.

Religious Service Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas) responded to the news by threating to resign if the salaries would be drawn from the Religious Services Ministry.  MK Uri Ariel (National Union) called recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish chaplains as rabbis “anti- Jewish” and a “serious injury to the values of Israel”, and said that the decision to equate non-Orthodox rabbis with Orthodox ones would be “recorded with shame”.

According to Gold and Anat Hoffman, executive director of the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, the Reform movement will now seek recognition for Reform and Conservative rabbis as state and city rabbis.  The Conservative “Masorti” movement is represented in just 100 congregations throughout Israel and approximately 8 percent of Israeli Jews.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Hoffman said major support for their Israeli campaign – “the engine making this happen” – came from Diaspora Jewry, telling the Post “Israel is too important to be left to Israelis.”

Hoffman also said that she believes the move will cause Orthodox Jewry to understand that it is in competition for adherents, and that it will be forced to make itself more attractive to all those looking to find their place in Judaism.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/reform-and-conservative-leaders-deemed-rabbis-to-receive-israeli-state-funds/2012/05/30/

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