Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Chag Sameach! Happy Sukkos. Hope everyone is having a joyous holiday season. Things are of course very weird this year, especially in Israel, with the whole Corona lockdown. Once again, unfortunately, we’ll start with that.

 

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Lockdown? 

The “lockdown” in Israel continued this week, kind of. The Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall are sealed off to non-residents. Otherwise, folks pretty much go wherever they want throughout the country. This of course is an obvious violation of the rules.

Speaking of violating the rules, everyone is doing it. The head of the Shin Bet (Israeli FBI) just got caught, so did a few members of the Knesset (including one on the Committee for dealing with Corona). Of course protestors also continue to break all the rules as well. But the only ones getting beaten for it are the Haredim (ultra-orthodox). Apparently for some folks, this is the only way to make this truly “the time of our happiness”. Thankfully no serious injuries from the police brutality so far.

It seems that infections have gone down, but deaths continue to happen and the number of seriously ill continues to rise. Decisions will be made about extending the lockdown/other restrictions later in the week and early next week. Safe to assume that some things will be lightened, but not too many.

 

Election Talk

With many Israelis not thrilled with the Government’s performance in handling the Corona situation, polls show Naftali Bennett’s party surging to more than 20 seats and approaching that of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party. It’s not uncommon for Bennett to do very well in the polls and then not perform on election day. The reason this is interesting is that if Netanyahu were to quit/be removed somehow, with no current Likud contenders enjoying anything close to the current polling popularity of Bennett, it could be that Bennett will try to leverage his current success in the polls to make some kind of dramatic political move. Maybe some kind of unification with Likud or something like that. Meanwhile, nobody is abandoning the “right” for the “left” and new “left” contenders are declaring their intentions to run in the next elections and that could further fracture the “left” opposition.

 

No New Peace Deals Yet

Not sure if the Arabs started celebrating Sukkos or if the Israeli Foreign Ministry has – both unlikely – but Israel hasn’t been able to ink any more normalization deals just yet with additional Arab countries. However, Lebanon has agreed to negotiate with Israel about maritime borders, mostly because there is potentially alot of money involved in offshore oil/natural gas. They still refuse to discuss land borders, which is fine with me because there’s a big chunk of that country that should be part of Israel and it would be a shame to have to violate some ill-advised treaty to go and take it. Kind of like the legality of Doc Holliday shooting Johnny Ringo in the epic movie “Tombstone”.  Hey Lebanon, I’m your huckleberry.

 

Big Date to Watch – October 14th

Over the last 8 months there has been a de facto freeze on Jewish construction approvals in Judea and Samaria. In order for development to take place, a special government committee has to meet and issue new permits. Although they generally meet 3 to 4 times a year, there hasn’t been a meeting since February – Black History Month. Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently publicly stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu was personally preventing the committee from meeting. With his significant slip in the polls and Naftali Bennett’s ascendancy, Netanyahu has to do something “right-wing”. Therefore, it has been announced that the committee will meet on October 14, after the holidays have concluded and that the Prime Minister has decided to approve between 2000-4000 units in various communities and advance the planning process for thousands more.

The main thing to look for won’t be the overall numbers (although always significant as well) but where exactly the development will be. Now that President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has been suspended, the question is will there be a push to strengthen the communities that were designated as “isolated enclaves” in the plan. We should get some indication on October 14th. There are a few serious opportunities to dramatically strengthen some of those areas, like the communities of Har Bracha, Meitzad, Telem and Pnei Kedem.

Economic developments are almost as hard to understand as Corona. A non-Jewish international company called “Chevron” has purchased the rights to the natural gas off the Israeli coast and a 27 year old American Haredi kid bought El Al. I guess it’s better than the Chinese.

Oh, there’s still a war going on between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It’s too complicated for the world to deal with right now, too much going on. Seek shelter (mental and physical) in the sukkah, next week we’ll have to deal with real life again. Chag Sameach!

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Rabbi Ben Packer is the director of the Jerusalem Heritage House.