This Week in Israel: Civil Defense simulates a two-front war, the Netanya gas explosion goes under review, cost-of-living concerns reach the Knesset, a former army bodyguard pleads his case, Labor adds to its ranks, and more
Air-raid sirens blared twice in one day this week as part of Israel’s five-day civil-defense drill (targil ha’oref, literally “home front drill”), the fifth such exercise since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Called Nekudat Mifneh 5 (Turning Point 5), the drill marked the first time that Cabinet members evacuated to an underground bunker (bunker hasodi, or “the secret bunker,” as Israel Hayom described it) in an undisclosed location in the Judean hills. The drill was also intended to give security forces the opportunity to prepare for a two-front war accompanied by rocket fire. Many Israelis ignored the sirens, including Tel Aviv native Aharon Shem-Tov. “It used to be, when there was a drill, everyone took part,” the 48-year-old carpenter told the Jerusalem Post. “Now people can’t be bothered.” Yedioth Ahronoth ran a Q&A titled “And What If I’m At a Cafe Just Then?” explaining that while residents were advised to find shelter within one minute of the siren and remain there for 10 minutes, security forces had no right to coerce anyone—including someone busy drinking the Israeli version of a latte, a cafe hafuch, or “upside-down coffee”—to comply. For all the indifference on the part of Israeli civilians, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai declared the event a success: “After the first real explosion, all the apathetic ones will zoom to the nearest protected area.”
A gas explosion (pitzutz gaz) in the coastal city of Netanya late last week killed four people and left dozens of families homeless. Residents and the Israeli media alleged this week that negligence was the cause, citing multiple complaints to city hall, the gas company, and the fire department. Yedioth published a transcript of pre-blast exchanges, including the comments of a city inspector who turned back firefighters on their way to the site of the leak, telling them: “The gas smell has gone, there’s no need for you to come.” The dead included three teenage girls, French immigrants who had been handing out Shabbat candles after a Torah study class at the local Chabad House, and a 28-year-old Israeli Arab restaurant worker who had recently bought a suit for his upcoming wedding. Maariv called the fiasco a “mehdal bo’er,” which means a failure or oversight that is both “burning” and, more colloquially, “urgent.”
Israel’s continuing cottage-cheese revolution has prompted questions about the overall high cost of living in the country, as the dairy issue filters up from the grassroots to the government. “Why Does Cottage Cheese Cost Half As Much Abroad?” Israel Hayom asked on its cover, adding: “That’s the Question Being Asked in the Knesset and the Cabinet.” The financial newspapers Globes and Haaretz’s TheMarker also looked at the cost of other products and services in Israel, with Globes finding that Israeli consumers pay “almost two to three times as much as others around the world in monthly expenditures,” including for fuel, food, and telecommunications, though Israelis earn considerably less than in other developed countries. TheMarker reported that Colgate toothpaste costs 50 percent more in Israel than in France and that the stick-shift Suzuki Alto compact car costs as much in Israel as the larger Jeep Patriot costs in the United States. Israelis even pay more for local products—such as Elite’s Must gum—than Americans pay for Israeli imports. As Globes noted, the kosher gum costs 85 percent less in the United States.
Erez Efrati, a former bodyguard to the army’s chief of staff, appealed an eight-year jail sentence for dragging a woman into the bushes, beating her, tearing her clothes, and attempting to sodomize her after his bachelor party in Tel Aviv in 2009. In his defense, Efrati said he got confused and “behaved as if she were a mehabelet,” or female terrorist.
Israel’s Labor Party is claiming 55,000 new recruits from its recent membership drive—although, according to a Channel 2 investigative report, at least 10 percent of the new members have also joined the rival Kadima or Likud parties, rendering their Labor membership invalid. Writing about the alleged Labor corruption, which included improper payment of dues and registering ineligible voters, one liberal blogger wrote: “None of this should come as a surprise. Labor, after all, is the farcical recurring of the tragedy of Mapai, the mega-party that ruled the state for its first three decades.”
Israel Week in Review will return in September.
Blumi Lazar’s nuptials—she’s the daughter of Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia—attracted 1,500 people to one of Moscow’s biggest parks, a scene that was unimaginable just 20 years ago
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