Nominees for the Special Place In Hell Awards, Israel, Winter 2015

Categories include the 'What Do You Have To Know?' Award and 'The Only Democracy' Award.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Holot detention facility, January 2015.
Holot detention facility, January 2015.Credit: Alex Levac
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Even in Israel, with World War III quietly threatening in the north and perhaps also Iran, and a fateful election campaign in full swing, it seems that you can't turn on a television without realizing that somewhere over a different horizon, this also happens to be awards season.

As good a time as any, it would seem, to introduce some of the nominees for the 2015 Special Place In Hell Awards.

Here's a look at some of the categories:

1. The "What Do You Have To Know?" Award, presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, on a day visiting the site of the murders at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris, and having invited the Jews of France to emigrate to a welcoming home in Israel, the prime minister told leaders of the Jewish community how moved he had been to meet the grieving families.

“I told them I understand their feelings and that the Israeli people embrace the bereaved families. It was a moment of true Jewish solidarity,” he said.

And here are the nominees:

-- The Netanyahu government, for urging the relatives of the four Jews slain in the kosher supermarket to bury their loved ones in Jerusalem - even going so far as to pressure one of the families to agree - only to spur a situation in which each of the grieving families faced a bill of tens of thousands of shekels for the grave sites and the burials.

Although both the prime minister and President Reuven Rivlin spoke at the funeral of the four victims, the government failed to declare the ceremony a state funeral, for which the government would have borne the cost.

-- Officials of Jerusalem's Orthodox Jewish burial societies, who bargained over the prices they intended to charge the families. The societies, which are under the aegis of the Religious Services Ministry, hold a state-guaranteed virtual monopoly over Jewish burials in Israel.

As Avraham Gila, a senior official of the Sephardi burial society in Jerusalem, told the Ynet news website: "We compromised. Jews were killed for Kiddush Hashem" [a term indicating that they were martyred for their Judaism and for having upheld its precepts].

"Such a plot for foreign residents doesn't sell for less than 90,000 shekels [$23,000]. They will receive more than [a] 50 percent discount."

--The Religious Services Ministry, which at first flatly, and incorrectly, denied that the families would be charged, declaring that the victims would be buried free of charge.

Then - in a statement of astounding insensitivity, amounting to victim-blaming - the ministry reversed course, saying that the Jewish community and not the families, would be charged for the funeral:

"An additional check by officials in the office showed that the families of those murdered in France refused the free options and asked for a ground burial. A field burial in Jerusalem costs some 120,000 shekels [$31,000]. As an exception, the Jewish community (and not the families) will be charged 40,000 shekels [$10,000] per burial plot and 10,000 [$2,600] shekels for each funeral – totaling 200,000 [$51,000] shekels."

In the end, as reports emerged of the burial society bills, Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the state of Israel, and not the Jewish community of Paris, would cover the funeral expenses in full.

2. The "Only Democracy" Award – For the personalities and policies which led the Israel Prisons Service this month, during one of the worst cold snaps in recent memory, to confiscate the heaters from the rooms of the more than 2,000 asylum seekers held at the Holot detention facility. The nominees are much too numerous to mention. MKs Miri Regev, Eli Yishai and others have staked their careers on uncompromising and at times atrocious characterizations of the asylum-seekers, most of whom were detained without having committed any crime. Still, the front-runner in this category remains:

-- Gideon Sa'ar, who came out of retirement as Netanyahu's former interior minister, in order to revive and re-pass an anti-asylum seekers bill, a law which the High Court, in an all-time Israeli record, had already struck down as unconstitutional, not once but twice.

In September, quashing the previous incarnation of the law, the court called conditions at Holot "wretched" and ordered it to be closed within 90 days. The court said the legislation "violates human rights in an essential, deep and fundamental way.”

Last month, the newly collapsed Netanyahu government rushed a slightly modified version of the same law through the Knesset to circumvent the court-mandated closure of the detention facility.

On February 3, the High Court is scheduled to hear challenges to the constitutionality of the new/old law.

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