The Kashrut of Israeli politics

May 6, 2021 by Ron Weiser
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Fifty years ago this year, I first joined the Zionist Council of NSW as a youth movement representative and in all of these years, I have never written an article or opinion piece about kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) or more particularly, kosher certification. Until now.

Dr Ron Weiser Photo: David Sokol

What is kosher (acceptable) today and what is treif (unacceptable), is almost beyond pre-existing logic and convention.

For the purposes of the following discussion, whatever other connotations may exist around these two words, we will use – ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’.

1 – Ha’aretz

For Israel’s leading left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz, Naphtali Bennett’s entire political career was treif. His policies vis a vis the Palestinians, territorial adjustments, settlements, et al were simply unacceptable.

Ha’aretz correctly assesses him as more to the right than Netanyahu.

Of equal concern to Ha’aretz was Bennett’s number two in the Yamina party, Ayelet Shaked.

Her legislative changes in the ever-present tensions between the High Court and the Knesset, kept Ha’aretz columnists and editors awake at night grinding their teeth.

However, in an editorial last week Ha’aretz wrote: “Yamina Party chairman Naftali Bennett’s efforts to form a national-unity government is cause for optimism”.

All of a sudden, kosher!

Just like that. A new kashrut certification for Yamina.

Ha’aretz is now backing the erstwhile treif Bennett in order to remove, who they believe, is the ultra treif, Netanyahu.

2 – Naphtali Bennett

Bennett makes no secret of his first preference is to become the new head of Netanyahu’s kashrut authority. Indeed, to take it over from him.

Bennett has also demonstrated that he is flexible on kashrut.

In the final days before this election, Bennett publicly signed a document he himself produced, that said: “I won’t allow Yair Lapid to be prime minister, including in a rotation (agreement) and I will not establish a government based on the support of Mansour Abbas (Ra’am) from the Islamic Movement.”

For Bennett, just a few weeks ago, both Lapid and Abbas were treif.

In the case of Yair Lapid who heads the ‘change block’ and who has offered Bennett to go first as prime minister in a rotation agreement, Bennet has now declared him, almost certainly kosher!

In a wonderful display of Talmudic reasoning, Bennett now rationalises that this ‘rotation’ is somehow different from the other ‘rotation’.

In parallel, Bennett has also checked the kashrut of the anti-Zionist Ra’am party. Having met with its head, the previously treif Mansour Abbas, Bennett has suddenly declared him to be possibly kosher!

In an emergency.

The emergency being that Bennett might otherwise miss out on becoming prime minister.

Following that meeting, the Jerusalem Post reported that: The first meeting ever between the two kingmakers was requested by Abbas, who impressed Bennett by focusing only on civil issues helping the Arab minority and not security, diplomacy or changing the controversial Nation-State Law. They dealt with their parties’ views on the current political situation and the meeting went exceptionally well, the two sides said afterwards.”

What is also interesting, is which authority gave the overall kosher certification to Abbas.

No less than Netanyahu himself – according to Bennett.

A spokesperson for Bennett said: “We will be leaving open the option of Mansour voting in favour of the formation of a government or abstaining, now that he has been whitewashed (i.e. kashered) by the Likud.”

3 – Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich, who himself is regarded as treif by many in the Knesset, has a treif warning out on Mansour Abbas.

The man who Netanyahu got over the threshold in order to become a Knesset member is vetoing Netanyahu’s kosher certification of Abbas and may well be the reason either Bennett or Lapid is the incoming prime minister, or a next election is called.

4 – Gideon Sa’ar

For the ideologically staunch right-winger Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu is treif but his party, the Likud, is kosher.

Interestingly enough both the centre-left Labor party and the left-wing Meretz party have given interim kosher certification to Sa’ar, so they can join him in removing, from their point of view, the ultra treif Netanyahu.

5 – The Haredim.

The two ultra-orthodox haredi parties face a real kashrut issue.

For them the most kosher person is Netanyahu. They also believe that he can be relied upon to continue paying the kosher certification fee.

To be fair, aside from one term of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as prime minister, the haredim have always managed to ensure that their fees are paid.

This time, whilst staying with the current kosher certification, they are eyeing a possible switch to other kashrut authorities.

The Lapid kashrut authority comes with Avigdor Lieberman, who the haredim regard as treif.

Lieberman wants them to do national service and to limit the financial assistance their sector receives. They also have other differences, over conversion for example.

The dilemma for the haredim is that if they stick with certifying Netanyahu, they may go into opposition.

Already Moshe Gafni, the head of the UTJ has signalled that he may consider joining Bennett or Lapid if there is no alternate path to staying in government.

However, that would mean joining a government with the treif Lieberman.

How to make Lieberman more kosher?

The haredim do not want to see Lieberman as Finance minister (which he is rumoured to be in any Bennett/Lapid government), as in that position he might dramatically affect their subsidies.

So, in a further signal, Gafni has suggested that the treif Lieberman just might become kosher enough, as long as he will not be Finance Minister.

6 – Benny Gantz

For a while it seemed that no one cared any longer whether he was kosher or treif.

Everyone forgot that he actually has 8 seats in the Knesset – and leads the 4th largest party.

And yet last week Gantz stood his ground against Netanyahu, stood firm on the previous coalition agreement and suddenly became the Justice Minister in the interim government.

He is holding on to his kosher certifying powers and now is demanding a higher price for providing his hechsher (certification) to a Bennett or Lapid government.

Gantz has one more Knesset seat than Bennett, but finds that less people want to hold by his kashrut certification.

Should a Bennett and/or Lapid coalition government come into being, it would indeed be an interesting one.

Were this to happen, potentially all of the old kashrut wars could re-emerge, if not immediately, then eventually.

And with Netanyahu turning the spotlight onto Bennett and Sa’ar in particular, some of the newer kosher certifications might be challenged.

Whatever and whoever was kosher could become treif again and vice versa.

A stable leadership and a governable Israel and an end to this nonsense, are vital to dealing with the dangers of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah et al, groups who don’t care who in Israel is in charge of kashrut.

These elements all believe that the Jewish State’s mere existence is treif – no matter who the certifier is.

Ron Weiser is the Honorary Life Member ZFA Executive and Honorary Life President, ZC of NSW


One Response to “The Kashrut of Israeli politics”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    What a brilliant analysis, Ron Weiser. The ‘kosher’ and ‘treif’ distinctions readily expose the shifting sands of politics while providing a leitmotif, made simple for ease of understanding, for all involved.

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