Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather near a bonfire as they celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag b'Omer in Bnei Brak, Israel, May 6, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Sunday Reads: Israel’s ‘new ultra-Orthodox’, Tillerson’s lost clout, Saudi elites get a taste of their own medicine


U.S.

Nahal Toosi talks to diplomats about how Rex Tillerson has been losing his clout on the world stage:

And, through a combination of slowness at the White House and by Tillerson, numerous leadership slots at the State Department remain unfilled, while policy decisions are increasingly made by a handful of aides to the secretary who often freeze out career diplomats with years of expertise. Meanwhile, foreign diplomats privately concede that, under Trump, they often turn to the White House first before engaging with the State Department. 

The way things are right now, “I’m not sure if State could be taken less seriously,” one State Department official said.

And Dexter Filkins offers a dire assessment of Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might not have his job for much longer, but his tenure may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history: not for what he built but for what he destroyed.

Israel

Amnon Abramovich explains why the Israeli left has been continuously losing elections:

The Left hasn’t forgotten what it means to be Jewish, but it has forgotten what it means to win elections. In Israel, you win elections with the help of security, not with the help of God.

There were two candidates for prime minister in the last elections. One is married to his third wife, his second wife was a gentile who underwent a Reform conversion, he confessed on live television that he had cheated on his current wife, he doesn’t observe Shabbat and he eats seafood in non-kosher restaurants. The other candidate is the grandson of Israel’s first chief rabbi, he observes Shabbat, he goes to synagogue every Saturday, he leads a remarkable Jewish family life and he only eats kosher food. Well, who won?

Danny Zaken writes about Israel’s “new Ultra-Orthodox”:

The first annual conference of the ultra-Orthodox faction of the Labor Party took place on Nov. 26. While people mostly associate the ultra-Orthodox with the Israeli right, it might come as a surprise that the Labor Party has an ultra-Orthodox faction. This unusual combination has been possible because of the growing integration of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society overall. Other parties have witnessed this same trend. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the Likud’s chairman, expects to win at least two seats in the coming election from voters who once would have cast their ballots for the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah or Shas Party.

Middle East

Sarah Leah Whitson describes the plight of the Saudi elites, who are now getting a taste of their own medicine:

Saudi Arabia lacks a written penal code. So a judge can convict a person of a host of non-crimes like “witchcraft” or “sorcery,” or lash a blogger and imprison him for 10 years for “insulting Islam.”

Saudi elites had long been immune to the worst failures of this brutal system. Their wealth and freedom to travel — sometimes by virtue of a handy second passport from a Western country — allowed them to flee the social, political and religious confines of their Riyadh homes. Now they know that no one is really safe when there are no laws or institutions to protect you.

Avi Issacharoff analyzes the recent reported Israeli attacks in Syria, which serve as a warning to Iran:

It is safe to assume Israel will likely seek to send additional messages in the form of attacks in order to cause Assad to reconsider his open-door policy with Iran. With this, the potential for an escalation with Syria, Hezbollah and their allies will only continue to grow.

Jewish World

Judy Maltz talks to Avraham Infeld about the growing tension between the Israeli state and diaspora Jewry:

“In the past, whenever there were fights about conversion and issues like that, it was always seen as an attack on Reform or Conservative Jews,” he says. “This time, it is being seen as an attack on all of Diaspora Jewry, and that’s what makes it unprecedented.”

Batya Ungar Sargon examines the attitudes of America’s Orthodox Jews towards the separation of church and state:

So says Shlomo Fischer, a professor of sociology in the School of Education at Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Fischer wrote an article for The Jewish People Policy Institute’s Annual Assessment of 2017, arguing that Orthodox Jews have started to see their place in American society in a way that’s fundamentally at odds with their more liberal co-religionists.

 “The notion that America is a Christian country scares most Jews,” Fischer said. “Not the Orthodox.”

+