Showing posts with label Israeli Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israeli Politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Are We There Yet? Is Israel About to Have a Change of Government? Perhaps.

When I was younger, we would frequently take long family trips in the car, visiting our grandparents who lived in different cities.  Even as I got older, our lengthy car  trips continued with my sister moving to a city 13 hours away from Toronto (on a good drive).   As anyone who has taken these long car trips knows, the most frequently asked questions  from young  children (and even not-so-young "children") are  - "are we there yet?" and "when will get there?"  You know where this is going....

Israel Political Update

About a month ago, in Israel, Prime Minister  Netanyahu's "mandate" to try and form a  government expired as he was unable to form a 61 member coalition that is required to form a government.  He made various efforts to come up with a coalition but he was short by at least 2 seats in the 120  seat Knesset and could not seem to find the missing pieces anywhere.  So when the mandate expired, the President of Israel, Rueben Rivlin, turned the mandate over to the head of the opposition party Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid.  Lapid was given 28 days to try and piece together a government. These 28 days ended at midnight tonight (June  2, 2021), Israel time.

Coalition negotiations were tense, difficult and tiring.  Lapid was trying to put together a coalition made up of a range of very strange bedfellows.  The potential coalition included a far right religious party (Yamina - "the Right"), another fairly far right less religious party (Tikvah Hadashah) ("New Hope"), the centrist Yesh Atid party, the centrist Blue and White party (which had been Netanyahu's reluctant governing partner since March 2020), the Labour Party (left-centre), the left wing secularist Meretz party and an Arab Islamist party - Ra'am, led by Monsour Abbas.  Frankly, it sounds unfathomable.  What would hold such a diverse range of parties together in a coaltion deal?  They could pretty much all agree that Israel needed to oust Netanyahu.  And perhaps most of these parties could also agree that they would rather have a government without  the two ultra-Orthodox parties.  But otherwise, at first glance, it seemed hard to imagine what else they could agree on.

Despite these difficulties, just before the recent fighting with Gaza broke out, Lapid and Bennett were about to announce that they were forming a "change government" and Netanyahu would be ousted.  Shortly after the war broke out, Bennett announced that he was giving up on the idea of this change  government and that he would go back to negotiating with Netanyahu to form a "true right wing government."  The problem was that Netanyahu's mandate had expired and, in any event, even with Bennett, Bibi could not get past 59 seats.

So after the Gaza fighting ended, Lapid set out to restart efforts to put together this change coalition, without Bennett.  He negotiated with all of the different parties and then brought back his offer to agree on a rotation government back to Bennett under which Bennett would go first as Prime Minister or the first two years.  At first Bennett held out and continued to state that  he would not go along.  But after some further delays, Bennett made an announcement that he would now seek to enter into a coalition to form a "change government" since it was clear that Netanyahu could not form one.  It was either going to be a new government or another election.

Since Bennett's decision, the different parties have held marathon talks trying to piece together a  deal.  The deadline was midnight tonight.  As of yesterday, it was really 50-50 whether the parties were going to reach a deal.  Yamina's number 2, Ayalet Shaked, announced last night that she wanted a key seat on the judical appointments committee.  Not just any seat - she wanted to take the one that had been promised to the leader of the Labour party - Merav Michaeli as part of the newly negotiated coalition deal.  Shaked stated last night - that if she didn't get her way - there would be no "change government."  Shaked had been hoping to get the Minister of Justice portfolio but the other coalition members refused.  Her goal is to appoint a benchful of exclusively right wing judges - who can act, more or less, act as another branch of a right wing government, rather than as an independent body.  While serving as  a Minister in a past government under Netanyahu, she was involved in the appointment of a large number of such judges.  She constantly attacks and criticizes the courts when rulings are issued with which she disagrees.   As the deadline approached today - Shaked and her demand remained as one of two outstanding issues.  The other issue involved Monsour Abbas and the Raam party.

Lapid had been hoping to conclude an agreement by 11 a.m. this morning.  If that had happened, the new government could have been sworn in as early as Monday June 8, 2021.  But talks could not be completed.  The deadline came and went and there was no deal.  The next deadline was midnight tonight.  

As  a political  junkie, I had to flip on the three  Israeli channels (I'm using a streaming  device in case you are wondering)  and check in with channels 11, 12, and 13.  It was almost as exciting as a sporting event.  Would there be an agreement  by midnight or would the time expire - leaving Netanyahu to live another day politically?  In other words - are we there yet?  When will we get there?  And the additional question - will we get there?

By 10 p.m., there was still no deal.  One hold out  issue had been resolved - issues involving Monsour Abbas, and for the first time in Israel's history, an Arab party had agreed to be part of a government coalition agreement.  Now that was exciting - a true watershed - but it didn't mean that a deal had been reached.  Shaked and other members of Yamina were still holding out.  Apparently, members of Gideon Saar's New Hope party were also refusing to sign.

Netanyahu and his supporters were involved in all kinds of behind the scenes activities.  Netanyahu himself called Abbas and told him that he would get a better deal with Netanyahu (though Netanyahu had no actual government to offer him).  Netanyahu supporters sent death threats to Shaked, Bennett and other members of the Yamina party - as well as other party leaders of this coalition.  All were assigned additional bodyguards.  One Yamina member was told that if he supported the agreement - his house in Petach Tikvah would be burned down.  

Just after 11 p.m. Israel time, Lapid and Bennett  announced that a deal had been struck and all parties had signed off.  Michaeli agreed to a compromise resolution which mostly favoured Shaked.  Lapid and Bennett informed the President who offered his congratulations.  But it may take 11 days until the official "swearing-in" ceremony will take place.  Between now and then, Netanyahu will still try everything he can to retain power.  His party has been exerting extreme pressure on the members  of the two right wing parties - Yamina and and New Hope - trying to  convince them that it would be a sell-out to leave him and join a "leftist coalition."  Members of these parties have been called "traitors," "liars," "promise breakers" and lots of other names.  The rhetoric is extreme, heated and dangerous.  Given Israel's history and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin Z"L, there is a serious threat of political violence.   It is concerning.  Are we there yet?  Not yet.  Will we get there?  Unclear.

So it is still a bit premature to offer a political eulogy for Netanyahu. He is known  as the "magician" and over the next 11 days, he and his supporters will try every possible trick to abort this in vitro government before it can come to life.  Even if the government is sworn in, it will face enormous pressure  trying to hold together such a diverse range of political actors. But I will say that both Lapid and, to a lesser extent, Bennett, have exuded a certain sense of calm, a need for compromise, dedication and professionalism that suggests that it may well happen.

Political commentators on the right wing of the spectrum are dumbstruck and remain filled with disbelief - and  some  hope that the  coalition will be stopped.  They were convinced that Netanyahu would not let this happen.  One leading TV commentator, Amit Segal, railed against the formation of this coalition on Israeli national  TV.  Another right wing commentator and outspoken Bibi supporter, Avishai Ben Haim, called it "one of the darkest days in Israel's history."

On the other hand, Lapid and Bennett have gone to incredible lengths to build a compromise coalition government that includes a wide range of voices and is based on decency, respect, service to the country and an interest in doing things differently.  I do believe that if the government is sworn in and is  able to last, it is likely to be one of the best governments that Israel has had in many years, if not  ever.   Will we get there?  I think there is a good chance that we will, though there are many obstacles and it is hard to say how long it will last.

Israeli Presidency

The Israeli Knesset also voted today to elect a new President.  The presidency is largely a figurehead
position - much like a monarch or the Governor General position in Canada.  There were only two candidates  - Yitzhak  "bougie" Hertzog and Miriam Peretz, an educator and public speaker who lost two sons  to the IDF.  

Herzog has quite the pedigree for this role.  His father, Chaim Herzog, was Israel's 6th President.  His paternal grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and then the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel from 1936 to 1959.  Herzog completed a law degree and worked in his father's firm for a number of years.  Even though he came from the left wing Labour party, Hertzog was viewed as an acceptable candidate across the political spectrum.  Even the Ultra-Orthodox parties were happy to vote for him, partially, it seems, out of respect for his late grandfather.  Suprisingly, the Likud party did not promote or actively support any particular candidate.

I heard an interview today with one Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi from the Torah Judaism party  who stated that Herzog was a Levi (part of the Jewish Priestly caste) and therefore he must be an acceptable candidate.  Perhaps, he went on to say, that this could be the start of a reimplementation of the Priestly class in leadership roles in politics throughout Israel.  

In any event, Herzog received 87 votes in the 120 seat Knesset and won  handily.  He will be sworn in at the end of President Rivlin's term over the summer.

Hockey Update

Since arriving back in Toronto,  I have been able to watch some hockey at sane hours.  Watching NHL hockey in Israel normally means watching at 2:30 or 3 a.m. This is quite disruptful to sleeping patterns.  

As a long time Toronto Maple Leaf season ticket holder - I have the same questions that I have been applying to my discussion of Israeli politics.  Are we there yet?  When will we get there?  Will we ever get there?

Over the past number of years, the Maple Leafs have opened up the vault and signed a number of very expensive players - our "superstars."  Toronto forward Auston Matthews led the league this year in goals scored.  The Leafs were heavily favoured against the Montreal Canadiens, who had barely made it into the playoffs.  

And yet, like in so many past years, the Toronto Maple  Leafs expired in the first round, beaten by Montreal in a 7 game series with nothing to show for that massive payroll.  It was enormously disappointing.  But then again, being a Leaf fan is always enormously disappointing.  The Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  That drought does not look like it is about to end any time soon.  Are were there yet?  Certainly not.  Will we get there?  Who knows.  I would love to see a Toronto Maple Leaf Stanley Cup championship win - but I'm really not sure that I will ever see it.

Toronto and Covid Update

My final comments on my own trip to Toronto.  I wrote about it more extensively in my previous blog.  Since arriving in Toronto on May 27th, I have been using the "ArriveCan" phone app to check in and confirm that I am still healthy.  I have also received a bunch of robocalls.  Sample questions:  "Are you aware that you not allowed to have visitors or entertain people at your home?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.  Are you planning to have visitors or entertain people at your home during your quarantine period?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no."  I'm not making this stuff up.  In any event, I'm getting to day 8, where I will have a zoom call with a nurse who will watch me complete my "day 8 Covid test."  After that, just 6 more  days to go.  Time flies when there is so much going on....

Sorry if I have bored you  with all of the Israeli politics - but, as you probably know from reading  some  of my previous blogs, it is one of my favourite topics - especially when there is so much going on.  It is so volatile, that everything I have written may change by the time you are reading this.   But hopefully my analysis will still be relevant.

I'm officially finished my quarantine on June 9, 2021, so looking forward to seeing whoever I am  able to see while in Toronto.  Best of health to everyone.





Sunday, May 30, 2021

In Quarantine - and a Political Comment or Two

As you  might recall from my last blog (if you read it), I arrived on an Air Canada flight early Thursday a.m. and headed off to the Marriott Airport Hotel in Toronto for my "up to three day quarantine."  I took my Covid test on Thursay morning at about 6:00 a.m. or so.  After that, I headed off to the hotel on the Hotel Shuttle Bus - which was about a half hour wait.  I was put on a  "Covid floor" at the Marriott - where you are not supposed to leave your room - and meals are delivered three times a day.  Thankfully the internet service was decent.

Urban Kosher Lunch

I had ordered Kosher food and the meals were supplied by Urban Kosher, which is part of L'Chaim Catering.  The food was fine.  Breakfast both days was an omelet, grilled tomatoes, hashbrowns, a fruit cup and a muffin (one day blueberry, one day cranberry, in case you are wondering...).  The fruit cup was quite good with fresh berries, pineapple, dragonfruit, and some other fresh fruit.  Lunch on thursday was two sandwiches - one of cold grilled chicken, the other of cold roast beef.  It also came with a big chocolate cup cake, some celery and some carrots.  The lunch was, perhaps, the "weak link."  Dinner on Thursday was a grilled chicken breast in a terryaki sauce with mashed potatoes and a giant piece of chocolate cake along with a Caesar salad (pareve of course).  I appreciate that the Marriott arranged these  meals without any additional cost (unlike some of the other hotels that I called) and the food quality was fine, better than an airplane meal for sure.  My only criticism is that the caterer is apparently a meat and pareve caterer - so there are no dairy meals.  I would have prefered them to use a dairy caterer for the breakfast so that they could provide yogurt, cheese etc.,  But for a relatively short stay,  that is not a huge complaint.  Breakfast and dinner were served warm and the food was tasty.  Kol  Hakavod to Urban Kosher.
Lunch  Sandwiches

The Marriott provides some coupons for some cappucinos.  So I was able to call room service and order cappucinos.  I asked them to use the coupons to cover the cost of the coffees and they were happy to do so.  The coffee was pretty good - Illy coffee - so I had  two nice cappucinos with breakfast each day.

By 10:30 a.m. on Friday, I received my results, negative of course (since I have been vaccinated twice), and I was free to leave.  I still had a work meeting so I couldn't leave until about 1 p.m.  But at the time  I received the test results, I also received a message from the ArriveCan app asking me to confirm that I was "leaving the Hotel" and to confirm "where I would be spending the rest of my quarantine." 

Chocolate Layer Cake

In other words - these three are working together - ArriveCan, Switchhealth.ca  and the hotels.  They want to get you the results within one  day - and then ensure that you leave the hotel asap.   They know, in advance, that is how things will work but still insist that you buy a three day, pre-paid, non refundable hotel stay.  I tried asking at the hotel desk if there was anything they could do - but they were resolute and hid behind the Canadian government ("the Canadian government insists that it be a  three day non-refundable rate - we can't do anything about it.").  I have heard that some of the hotels are offering some refund if you leave early - but I'm not sure which.  I wanted to ensure that I had the Kosher  food - so I didn't find any of these hotels that were offering a partial refund.  Perhaps I will write to the Marriott as well but I doubt I will get anywhere.

It seems to me that a class action lawsuit against the  government of Canada would probably succeed. Under the Canadian Constitution - the Charter - the government could probably show that there was a "pressing and substanial need" due to the pandamic - to override the rights of Canadians.  That is  fine.  But under section 1 of the Charter, the government is also required to show that it infringed on people's rights to the minimum extent possible.  Here, I think they would have a big problem.  Given that people could drive across the border and not go to these hotels - it makes no sense to insist that only air travellers have to pay $1,200 extra or so to buy a "three day prepaid non-refundable" stay whereas those who fly to the U.S.  and take a cab back to Canada can circumvent the  process.  Especially since the government knows and expects that in 95% of the cases, travellers will test negative and will be able to leave within 24 hours.  They could have made it a 24 hour stay - and pushed to get the results within that time frame.  Or they could have insisted that everyone - land travellers and air travellers - stay the full three days.  This would have been drastic - but it would have been equal and fair to everyone.  There are probably many other possible solutions as well.  The point here is that a three day mandatory, non-refundable, stay is a significant overreach and  is not likely to meet a proportionality test, in my view.  Then again, I'm only an employment lawyer, so what do I know?

I expect that in the coming weeks, this policy will be abandoned and the government will start recognizing vaccination certificates.  I don't plan on bringing the class action lawsuit myself - but  I'm quite sure that a properly framed suit would have a very good chance of success.  Maybe someone else will decide to take this on.  

Israeli Political Update

Naftali Bennett
Sitting here in Toronto - I flipped on Israeli news channel 12 to watch two back-to-back press conferences - one by Naftali Bennett and  one by Benjamin Netanyahu.  It was fascinating to watch.  The Israeli public is really divided and there are protesters outside everywhere across the country - rallying either in favour of this new potential "change government" that Bennett is trying to form with Lapid or in support  of  Netanyahu and against the Bennett-Lapid plans.

Bennett spoke first. I actually thought it was quite a good speech.  He appealed to Israelis from across the political spectrum to make some compromises, form a stable government and avoid a 5th election.  He noted that he  had made extensive efforts to form a purely right wing government with Netanyahu but they were short of the votes - and it wasn't going to happen.  He stated that his government would not be a "left"  government - but one made up of left and right wing politicians and that it would involve compromises.  He said that some of its members would be "more right wing" than those in the current Netanyahu government.  He prommised that  he was going to make every effort over the coming 48 hours to form such a government - even though his second in command - Ayelet Shaked was not beside him and has not yet fully committed to this plan.  Bennett did not take any  questions.  He will spend the next 48 hours - until Lapid's mandate ends - trying everything he can to finalize arrangements and  take over the government from Netanyahu.

After a short TV break, Netanyahu spoke from a different location.  He was disturbed and unhinged.  He levelled every kind of personal insult at Bennett and repeatedly called Bennett a liar, a flip-flopper and someone who was  forming a left wing government despite the overwhelming support that he enjoyed from the country as the preferred choice for Prime Minister.  He attacked, in personal terms, the leaders and members of the left and centre parties that would make up the potential government - including Lapid, Michaeli, Horowitz and Zandberg.  He warned that this "change" government would be a danger to national security, to the army, to Israel's interests worldwide.  He compared Bennett's plan to take over - to the way governments are run in Syria, Iran and Turkey - governments that are formed, in his view, against the overwhelming national will and electoral preferences.  He said  Bennett was putting himself above the national  interest - and endangering everyone so that he could become the Prime Minister.  Isn't all this quite rich for someone who has dragged the country into four consecutive elections becauses of his personal legal troubles?  The language was Trump-esque - "only I can be the Prime Minister and ensure national security."  This despite the fact that if  Bennett succeeds in forming a government, it will be one that is made up of more than 50% support of the Israeli voting public.

Netanyahu's speech was aimed at members of the Yamina party, especially Shaked, who may not be happy about joining a compromise government.   It was also aimed at Gideon Saar's "New Hope" party - in an effort to try to get some of that party's members to cross the aisle.  As well, it was aimed at Netanyahu's base - and was a call to action for protests, name calling, threats and whatever else over the coming 48 hours.  

It is unclear what will  happen.  I don't think we can rule out the possibility that Netanyahu will somehow suceed in blocking this change government by doing something drastic over the next 48 hours.  He is pulling out  all the stops and exerting the maximum pressure that he can on as many people as possible.  Some of his supporters are calling Bennett and Saar "traitors" and using very extreme language and rhetoric to attack their opponents.  For Netanyahu, if he cannot  block the transfer of power, it will a devastating loss with significant personal ramifactions since he will now have no effective way of slowing, stopping or manipulating his ongoing corruption trial.  

It will be really interesting to see if Bennett and Shaked can withstand all of this pressure and form a change government.  The next 48 hours may  be one  of the most fascinating time periods in Israeli political history.  Hopefully, however things work out, it will all be done peacefully.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

At the Edge of Change? Will Israel get a New Government?

Yair Lapid, Leader of Yesh Atid
We are at an historic crossroads in Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has served as Israel's Prime Minister since 2009.  Over the past three years, he has led his party into four consecutive elections but  has not been able to put together a  stable government.  Plagued by a set of ongoing criminal charges, that are now being heard  in court as I write this blog, Netanyahu has faced an increasingly diverse and growing opposition to his continued rule.

After the last election, Netanyahu reluctantly entered into a rotation government with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz.  But the government was paralyzed by opposing political aspirations and a reluctance by Netanyahu to take any actions that might stabilize the government.  His continued hope was that he could keep holding elections until he could win - and piece together a coalition government that would enable him to legislate an end to his legal problems.  As a result, Netanyahu refused to appoint a wide range of ministers, failed to propose or pass a budget, blocked key committees and generally put up roadblocks to the resolution of a wide range of issues.  Moreover, in some areas, he made key decisions on his  own without even keeping his ministers in the loop.  The government collapsed and a 4th election was held.

Once again, the results were inconclusive.  Netanyahu won a plurality of votes, with an estimated  25% support from the Israeli electorate.  But  even though he and his Likud party won 30 seats in the 120 seat Knesset, he could not seem to garner the support of the additional 31 members needed to form a government.  It was close.  Likud had the support of 16 ultra-religious Knesset members along with 6  members of the extremist Religious Zionist party.  But that only adds up to 52.

Netanyahu figured that he could negotiate with the Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett, which had 7 seats.  Bennett agreed but that only brought the Likud to 59, just two short of a government.  But no one else was budging.  Netanyahu decided that he could woo the support of the Arab party Ra'am to join his coalition with their 4  seats - either as an outside supporter of the government or possibly as a formal coalition member.  This would be a real watershed in Israeli politics - to have an Arab party become a full participant in a government.  But the Religious Zionist party balked and refused to have anything to do with Ra'am or to even consider joining a government that would be supported in any way by Ra'am.

At the same time, the opposition, led by Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid" ("There is a Future") party actively negotiated with Bennett and offered his Yamina party a rotation government with 1.5 to 2 year terms for each leader.  This has been a fascinating exercise in political negotiations.  Yamina is a  right-wing religious party, heavily supported by settlers and other right wing groups.  Yamina's natural coalition partners would be Likud and the Religious Zionist party.  But the party is also more modern and nationlist than the ultra-religious parties that have been the common law spouses of Netanyahu for the past several years.  Unlike the ultra-religious, Yamina is supportive of strong secular education, military service, growth in science and technology  and other areas in which they could find common ground with Yesh Atid. 

This has created some internal division within Yamina.  The second in command, Ayelet Shaked, is a relentless idealogue.  She wants to defang the Israeli Supreme Court (as she  describes it) with plans to limit standing rules, change the judicial appointment process, pass a law that would allow the Knesset by a simple majority to overrule decisions of the court and take other steps to increase the power of the government at the expense of the courts.  She has insisted on being given the Justice  Ministry as part of any coalition agreement. But Lapid and the other prospective coalition partners including Labour, Meretz, Blue and White, and perhaps even Lieberman's party Yisrael Beitenu, all oppose all of these initiatives.  They are all strongly opposed to giving Shaked this ministry.

In my view, finding a way to placate Shaked while not going too far to alienate the  rest of the potential coalition partners will be one of the biggest challenges for Lapid if a government is to be formed.  I am still not entirely convinced that it can be done but I think they now have a better than 50% chance of putting a government in place within the next month or so.  Bennett and Shaked will probably realize that they don't have too many alternatives at this point.  Another election would likely be a disaster for Yamina - as its constituency would probably move right to the Religious Zionist party or left to Likud  or another party.  Plus, this may be  a once in a lifetime chance for Bennett to hold a term as Israel's Prime Minister while having won only 7 seats in a 120 seat parliament.  

If an arrangement can be reached, I do believe that we are likely to see a rocky but stable government which will have a very good chance at making it through the next four years.  It is true that everything  is unpredictable in Israel.  At the same time, I do think that Bennett and Lapid are committed to the idea that if they negotiate a deal, they will stick to it and carry it through.  This directly contrasts with Netanyahu, who clearly had no intention of honouring his deal with Gantz from the outset.  

We will know over the course of the coming month.  If a government cannot be formed, we will be facing a fifth consecutive election.  There is little reason, at this point, to think that a fifth election could provide something that none of the previous four have generated - a workable government.

Tragedy At Meron:

I am not going to write a great deal about the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron last Thursday at which 45 people died but I do have a few comments.  Meron is essentially an ultra-religious  pilgimmage site at which tens of thousands of worshippers gather every year to  pray at the grave of the second century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) to whom authorship of the Zohar has been attributed by many Orthodox Jews.  The site has been a political football for many years in Israel as it has seen the annual arrival of an ever growing number of pilgrims.  Different ultra-religious denominations have insisted on control of the site and have prevented the State from taking responsibility and turning it into a National Religious Site (which would include the active responsibility for ensuring the safety  standards, occupancy levels etc., of the site).  

Last Thursday, by some estimates, more than 100,000 people arrived at a site that is deemed safe for up to 10,000.  Ministers in the current Likud government, at the behest of  their ultra-religious coalition partners, insisted on limiting the State's ability to cap attendance and to oversee the event.  The resulting overcrowding and chaos led to these tragic deaths.

In the aftermath, everyone has pointed the finger at everyone else.  The ultra-religious have blamed the Supreme Court of Israel for refusing to turn the site into a National Religious Site (something the ultra-religious vehemently opposed).  The government ministers have blamed the police, the courts and others.  The sponsoring rabbis have blamed the "shortcomings of the people of Israel."  One influential ultra-religious Rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky said yesterday that the disaster was a "decree from Heaven" and that it could only be prevented by  women observing the laws of modesty more strictly.  Just as an aside, the Meron disaster was pretty much a men-only event.  So it would be quite a head scratcher for anyone to draw this causal connection.  But I digress.

Ultimately, I can only say that it was a horrible event and I offer my sincere condolences to all  of the affected families and my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery for all those who were injured.  I also hope that the government will institute a proper commission of inquiry, take appropriate steps to ensure that it does not happen again and, in general, review procedures for other sites that attract large crowds, including the Kotel and the har habayit/ Dome of the Rock.

Weather and Covid-19

It is very hot here.  Summer has arrived, though not officially.  The forecast for the next few weeks is between 28 and 30 and sunny with few if any clouds to be seen anywhere.  A  very high percentage of the population has been vaccinated.  Restaurants, concert halls, and just about everything else have reopened and there is a real sense of normalcy.  I am concerned that it may be a facade.  Considering the rapid spread of so many  mutations of Covid-19 across the world, it may well be that one or more variants will arrive in Israel that will send us back to a full closure.  I hope that this will not be the case but flights are being opened rapidly and it only takes one infected passenger to begin another round of a worldwide pandamic as we know from the Chinese-Italian experience.

Shavuot

Meanwhile, next week is Shavuot.  I usually use Tori Avey's Blintz recipe or a slight variation of it  - which seems close enough to the blintzes that my grandmother used  to make and passed along  to my mother (who hasn't made them in quite a while I think).  I might also make a cheesecake even though I am not a huge fan.  One of our  shul friends has an incredible recipe (I don't have it handy to publicize here).  In keeping with the dairy theme of Shavuot, perhaps an eggplant parmesan will also make an appearance.  

Shavuot is not only about eating dairy food. There is a tradition of studying all  night  on Erev Shavuot (which will be Saturday night, May 15th, 2021).  We  still have to decide where we will participate this year.  My favourite Shavuot events were years ago at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto.  The shul used a three-part model.  First there would be a study session  for about 45 minutes.  Each session would be led by someone different. After that, there would be a musical session with 20-30 minutes of singing.  Then it would be time for a food break for about 15-20 minutes.  Each break would feature different  food.  Repeat this schedule all night - starting at about 10 p.m. and running until 5 a.m. - and then hold an early morning Shavuot service.   We haven't found something equivalent in Israel though we have attended study sessions at a range of different places including our shul in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar.  Here is the Hebrew version of the site.

That's about it for now.  I wish everyone the best of health and hope that the health situation will soon improve across the world.  I'll probably write again soon.  With any luck, by the time of my next blog, Israel will be on its way to a new, stable government.