Anshel Pfeffer

A political war is fought over Israel’s courts

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 9, 2009

After years of being a bastion of Israel’s liberal-left establishment, the Supreme Court appears to be moving to the right.

There is currently deadlock in the appointment of three new Supreme Court judges, with an ideological battle being waged between religious and right-wing representatives and the secular, mostly Ashekanzi left.
The Judicial Appointments Committee is chaired by the Justice Minister, and also includes three judges from the Supreme Court, three Knesset members and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association.

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Religious battle rages over IDF

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 9, 2009

A behind-the-scenes struggle is going on in the IDF over the role of the military Rabbinate and the increasing number of soldiers asking the IDF to accommodate their religious needs.

The IDF Chief Rabbi, Brigadier General Avihai Rontzki, has angered many senior officers by what they see as undue intrusion of the military rabbis into the internal affairs of the army’s units.

Rabbi Rontzki has told his rabbis that they are there “not only to distribute wine and challahs for Shabbat” but to “bring yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit to the soldiers in the field”.

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Tired of Al Jazeera? I’m beaming kosher TV across the Middle East

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 9, 2009

Next week, for the first time, a Jewish news channel will begin broadcasting via satellite to the entire Middle East, trying to persuade the Arabs that a Jewish presence in their midst is not such a bad idea after all.

Unlike previous grandiose plans to launch a pro-Israel hasbarah channel to counter the influence of Al Jazeera, this project is much more humble, at least to start with.

Israeli businesswoman Galia Albin has just bought a controlling stake in the small Jewish Life TV (JLTV) channel, which is currently carried on American cable and digital services.

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Who is the real man?

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 9, 2009

Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s trip to London this week to meet American negotiator George Mitchell was unremarkable for any breakthrough on the thorny issue of settlement building. It was, however, a useful illustration of the real mindset of both sides in this uneasy relationship.

On the Israeli side, the fact that Mr Barak is the main representative in the country’s most vital strategic alliance is a sign of the dysfunctionality of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government — only 100 days after it was sworn in.

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Austrian death camp to be ‘filled with trash’

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 2, 2009

Parts of the Gusen 2 Concentration Camp in Austria, almost forgotten for 64 years, are being turned into a residential development, and a former underground slave-labour factory is being filled in, local residents claim.

Tens of thousands of prisoners toiled and died in the vast underground caverns, building jet planes for the Luftwaffe. The site has remained sealed since the camp’s liberation, but redevelopment work recently began.

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Disgraced political prodigy rides back

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 2, 2009

After almost a decade of enforced absence, one of the brightest stars of Israel’s political scene is set to make his comeback.

Arieh Deri, the Moroccan-born maverick, was appointed Interior Minister before the age of 30 and transformed Shas from a marginal religious party into a major parliamentary force. But in 1999 he was convicted of fraud and bribe-taking and jailed for two years.

He will make his return to public life on July 15, seven years after leaving prison.

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Jerusalem’s Shabbat wars fuelled by rabbis’ fear

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 2, 2009

This month’s “Shabbat wars” in central Jerusalem inspired in many a weary feeling of déjà vu.

Since the 1920s, when the first violent demonstrations took place against football matches organised by the British authorities, every commercial, cultural and sporting activity on Shabbat has proved a flashpoint.

For the past three weeks, the issue has been the opening of a municipal car park near Meah Shearim on Shabbat, sparking mass protests by the Charedi community.

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Analysis: Bad timing for an economic upgrade

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 25, 2009

The decision last week by Morgan Stanley Capital Index (MSCI) to reclassify Israel’s economy from “emerging” to “developed” was greeted by Israeli economists with mixed feelings.

Everyone agreed that it was evidence of the improved regulation of local money markets and the robustness shown by the Israeli economy in the face of the global downturn. The Bank of Israel and other establishment sources saw it as an affirmation of their policies and a “coming of age” of the Israeli market.

Private-sector analysts were less certain.

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Strong shekel brings more pain than gain

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 25, 2009

Shmulik is sitting behind a 3in-thick glass window in a small flat in Meah Shearim that has been divided by a concrete wall and a steel door. This is one of half a dozen “black banks” that are the economic pipeline of Jerusalem’s Charedi community. He looks out at the empty room.

“Business is slow,” he says.

Not that long ago, the bank was packed at all hours, mainly with local residents selling dollars or cheques.

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Analysis: A Hamas-Fatah deal is not all bad news for Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 25, 2009

Palestinian unity talks are to begin this weekend in Cairo with a view to reaching an agreement before the Egyptian-imposed deadline of 7th July.

Israel is watching closely, knowing that it has a lot to gain, but also a great deal to lose, from any Fatah-Hamas rapprochement.

In the basic framework of the plan, members from both Palestinian movements will sent up a temporary government in the Gaza Strip, which will be in charge of administering the Strip until Palestinian elections next year.

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Israel’s intelligence chiefs divided over Iranian bomb

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 25, 2009

Mossad Chief Meir Dagan has recently given up smoking his beloved pipe in staff meetings. Instead he plays with a large hunting knife.

But some are beginning to wonder whether the old hunter is losing his aim.

The cabinet voted unanimously on Sunday to extend Mr Dagan’s term as head of Mossad until the end of 2010, by when he will have been chief for eight years. That doesn’t mean that ministers were overjoyed at the prospect.

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Row over Sharansky’s Jewish Agency role

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 25, 2009

Former Prisoner of Zion Nathan Sharansky was expected to be voted chair of the Jewish Agency on Thursday, after an unprecedented row between the Israeli government and American Jewish organisations nearly scuttled his appointment.

Mr Sharansky was PM Netanyahu’s candidate and, in the past, would have been automatically voted in.

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PA starts site in Ivrit

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 18, 2009

WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, launched a Hebrew website this week, in order to “present Israelis with another view of what is happening on the other side.”

WAFA is based in the PA offices in Ramallah but Faiz Abbas, an Israeli who resigned from Yediot in 2006, edits the website from his home in the Galilee.

Ma’an, the independent Palestinian news agency, set up a Hebrew website in 2005 but failed to attract many readers. Editor Abbas believes that his new website will be more successful.

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PM’s office in chaos

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 18, 2009

After only two-and-a-half months in power, Binyamin Netanyahu’s office is already coming apart at the seams. Bitter arguments between senior officials, an inflation of special advisors and a lack of clarity over responsibilities all contribute to an atmosphere of chaos.

Nir Hefetz, a former executive on the Yediot Achronot daily, was appointed the new head of hasbarah in the Prime Minister’s Office last week.

Mr Hefetz is currently the fourth senior communications official in Mr Netanyahu’s team.

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Soldier’s tale? No, just war tourism lit

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 11, 2009

There is nothing unusual about Seth Freedman’s story (Can I Bring My Own Gun? Five Leaves/Guardian Books, £8.99). Young British Jew leaves life of comfort to follow his Zionist ideals. Emigrates to Israel, joins the army (15 months in uniform giving him a lifetime’s supply of anecdotes), then, back on civvie street, he begins asking himself questions and becomes disillusioned with most of those ideals.

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Shalit clearly not Bibi’s priority

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 11, 2009

Two months into the Netanyahu government’s term and almost three years to the day since Gilad Shalit was captured from his tank on the border of the Gaza Strip, Israel still has no clear policy on how to secure his freedom from Hamas.

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IDF in 'astonishing' co-operation with PA

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 11, 2009

While the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians is at a standstill, the security ties between the IDF and the armed forces of the Palestinian Authority have never been closer.

The steep decline in organised terror attacks originating in the West Bank over the past four years has been attributed mainly to more forceful operations by the IDF and successful penetration into the Palestinian organisations by the General Security Service. The IDF now admits it has another partner.

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Make or break for Bibi

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 11, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver his most important policy speech to date on Sunday, outlining his government’s plans for peace.

Few details have been leaked, but speculation is rife that he will discuss the future of the settlements and the Palestinian Authority, as well as relations with Arab countries.

It is unclear whether he will formally endorse a two-state solution — a formulation he has avoided in the past.

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Wine: Dalton winery

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 10, 2009

On the day before Shavuot, I visited Dalton winery in the Upper Galilee. The main reason for my visit was to taste the new white wines just out to accompany the festival of cheese.

They were fantastic, but then the winery’s manager, Moshe Haviv, pointed out that they were all of the 2008 vintage, the Shmita year, and therefore would not be exported for sale outside Israel. So I won’t tantalise you with my favourable impressions, seeing as those of you not planning to visit Israel will not get to taste them.

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Dudu Topaz 'set up attacks on TV bosses’

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 4, 2009

One of Israel’s top television stars, Dudu Topaz, has confessed to organising a series of physical attacks on media executives who rejected his ideas for television programmes.

Mr Topaz apparently hired two former bouncers to assault Shira Margalit, vice president of Channel 2; Avi Nir, a Channel 2 director; and talent agent Boaz Ben-Zion in Tel Aviv over the past seven months. Ms Margalit was hospitalised with fractures in her face but the attacks were unexplained until Mr Topaz was arrested on Sunday.

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