Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Abir Kara (Yamina) is as right-wing as they come: a restaurateur, he has organized some 3,000 small business owners against excessive regulation and bureaucracy in Israel under the folksy name “I am Shulman,” recalling a 1950s criminal named Mordechai Shulman who used to eat in coffee shops and leave without paying, creating the popular adage, “Shulman will pay.” And so, “I am Shulman,” means the burden of paying for the government’s excesses eventually falls on us. Kara supports cuts in the public sector, and in particular cuts in the salaries of its senior executives and a reduction in the number of civil servants. He believes in a free market and private initiative. Like I said, a more traditional right-winger you won’t find, which is why Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett offered him a spot on his party slate.
Last week, the pro-Smotrich news website Srugim revealed that Kara, in a closed WhatsApp conversation of Yamina field operators on construction, wrote: “I have to say that I think construction must focus on the center of the country and we shouldn’t invest resources in areas where it would be difficult for us to create employment.”
Sounds reasonable? Not if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool pro-settlement warrior. Now, that was bad enough, but then Kara dared say another reasonable-sounding thing and made even more enemies: “I am less connected to construction plans, including in Galilee. It’s better to strengthen existing communities than to establish new ones. As usual, this is an unpopular but correct position, including the aspects of education, the economy, employment, and trade. It’s much more Zionist today to strengthen existing communities than establish new ones.”
Again, if you’re a conservative, concerned about the frugal use of taxpayers’ money, you might agree that while a pandemic is raging and imposing unexpected spending everywhere, maybe this is not the best time to launch new settlements that would hang on the public’s assistance for years before they become economically independent.
It was downhill from there. Chair of the Knesset Committee Nir Orbach WhatsApped in response: “Dear friends, just as agriculture is a value and not just a graph with numbers, the establishment of a settlement in the Land of Israel, and especially in areas that need strengthening, is also a value.”
Sure, but someone needs to take care of the bottom line. But Orbach’s rebuke was nothing, compared to the responses from the right-wing opposition parties. MK Simcha Rothman at least used humor when he slammed Kara: “If they build in the Negev, what will be left for Abbas?” A reference to the criticism of the Bennett government’s compromises with the Bedouin, Ra’am’s constituency. Rothman added: “It is clear that Abir opposes the establishment of Jewish settlements in the Negev and the Galilee. If they establish settlements in the Negev and the Galilee, it would interfere with giving the Galilee and the Negev to Mansour Abbas.” Same theme, bigger on the details.
Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben Gvir was a whole lot less gentle: “There is no limit to the shame and disgrace of the people of Yamina. Abir Kara, who only a few months ago said that his political views are like Ben Gvir’s, is sitting in a coalition with Ra’am and now is also against the establishment of new settlements in the Negev and the Galilee and for harming the Zionist enterprise. Abir, for your information, I am in favor of establishing as many communities as possible in as many places as possible, both in the Negev and in the Galilee, and preserving the Jewish character of the state. We must not lose the Negev, we must not lose the north, and you and your government are harming the State of Israel. We will continue to fight this evil and deaf government, we will replace it, we will be strengthened and build in all the settlements of the country.”
Yes, Ben Gvir is immune to subtleties and unable to distinguish between tweaking the state’s construction preferences to favor prosperity and outright treason.
MK Miri Regev (Likud) also assaulted Kara, with a zeal that made Ben Gvir appear benign: “The two-faced Abir, with his double morality, reveals his true face. After saying that he represents all the citizens of Israel, he proves that for him the State of Israel is between Gedera and Hadera (that’s the middle of the country – DI). And he proves once again that it’s not the Shulmans and the people of the periphery he cares about, but the espresso people from Tel Aviv.”
Our prophet Amos had something to say about this: “Therefore the learned man keeps silent at that time, for it is an evil time.” (Amos 5:13). When a politician’s ideas are weighed only according to how much bashing they can be used for – maybe politics is not the place for smart people.