There is something terrifying about seeing a man cast down suddenly from the heights to the pit. And it would be hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy for Yossi Paritzky, the disgraced former Minister of Infrastructure. Just recently, he was openly discussing with reporters his ambition to one day be prime minister. A few weeks later, Israel TV’s evening news broadcast a tape of him conspiring with a private investigator about ways in which they might destroy Paritzky’s Shinui party rival Avraham Poraz.
Within moments of that broadcast, Shinui Party head Tommy Lapid was telling reporters that Paritzky must resign as a minister, as a member of the Knesset, and leave the party. "He must be cut off as one would cut a scab," pronounced Lapid. Paritzky’s party colleagues rushed to the microphones to declare him unfit to be dog catcher, much less to be a member of their party.
Never had any Israeli politician plummeted to earth with quite such dizzying speed. In addition, to being fired from his post as Infrastructure Minister and expelled from his party, Paritzky now finds himself under criminal investigation. Meanwhile he refused his former colleagues’ demand that he resign from the Knesset, perhaps out of recognition that if he leaves the Knesset, he will be unemployed for life. Even if he is not disbarred, it is hard to imagine that many of his former law clients will return. Meanwhile he is left to wander the halls of the Knesset as a complete pariah.
Paritzky’s pathetic attempts to defend himself on the nightly news immediately after the sensational revelations also could not fail to elicit pity. "I was a political rookie," he said. Apparently, he never learned in law school, or while practicing law, or in his two years in the Knesset prior to the taped conversations that it is forbidden to frame someone so as to injure his reputation, even if he is a political rival from one’s own party. Paritzky’s second defense – "I didn’t know I was being taped" – was equally risible. A new criminal defense – "I never thought I’d be caught."
(Paritzky would have been on stronger grounds claiming that his sin was being blown out of all proportion. After all, as Ben Dror-Yemini pointed out in Maariv, there is no evidence of anything actually being done to frame Poraz, and if anything was done, it certainly did not meet with success. On the other hand, it is now known that a baseless prosecution was brought against former Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman to force him to vacate his post, and that the plotters succeeded in removing him from a position. Yet the State Attorney, who signed off on the prosecution, now sits on the Supreme Court.)
AS I SAID, IT WOULD BE HARD not to feel a tinge of pity for Paritzky. But not impossible. All one has to do is remember his long record as a relentless provacateur against the chareidi community. Paritzky, who was raised in a religious home, once introduced legislation in the Knesset to allow stores to remain open on Yom Kippur. After the outbreak of the current Palestinian intifada, he revived one of the traditional European anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as war profiteers, writing in Yediot Acharonot, "There has never been a happier time for the chareidi population than the war of the last year. . . which diverts attention while they continue eating from the public trough."
After the National Labor Court, whose president wears a knitted yarmulke, interpreted the word "Shabbat" in the statute governing "Days of Work and Rest" as starting at sunset and ending at nightfall, Paritzky dashed off a letter to Ha’aretz, in which he argued that no religious person should ever be appointed to civil court in Israel. And it was Paritzky who had a radio campaign "Say Tehillim – for the Soul" removed from the air, after a protest to the Appeals Committee of the Israel Broadcast Authority.
Paritzky first came to public attention as co-founder, with the late and unlamented Ornan Yekutieli, of Am Hofshi, an organization devoted, inter alia, to ensuring that no religious institution ever be allowed to move into a secular neighborhood. (It was Paritzky’s anti-chareidi incitement that first brought him to the attention of Poraz, who originally enlisted him on the Shinui Knesset list.)
In 1999, Am Hofshi organized opposition to the construction of a Chabad educational center in Rechovot. The proposed center, on which the groundbreaking took place in 1994, was only five minutes walk from the existing Chabad school, in which over 500 children learned in makeshift, overcrowded classrooms. Almost all of the students lived within easy walking distance of the new campus, which was surrounded on two sides by four-lane boulevards and on a third by a religious high school.
Yet Am Hofshi bussed in hundreds of demonstrators from around the country to protest the complex. Speakers told the crowd how chareidim fly around the country in helicopters searching for vulnerable neighborhoods into which they can sink their talons. Am Hofshi organizers went door-to-door warning of declining property values.
And, of course, Am Hofshi brought a petition to the Supreme Court, where Justice Strassburg-Cohen took "judicial notice" of the fact that religious and secular Jews cannot live in proximity to one another – something they have been doing in Rechovot for nearly a century. Rechovot Mayor Shuki Forer, who is not religious, called Am Hofshi’s actions pure anti-Semitism.
Flush from the battle against the Chabad educational center, Am Hofshi took up the cudgels against a Lev L’Achim Outreach Center near Rechovot’s Ramat Yigal neighborhood. Am Hofshi spread rumors among neighborhood residents that the building would be used as a shelter for Jewish girls married to Arabs. (Lev L’Achim does have such a refuge elsewhere.)
Though the Lev L’Achim Center was repeatedly approved by overwhelming majorities of the Rechovot City Council, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Am Hofshi’s petition against the Center, and Lev L’Achim was forced to stop construction in the middle on a building in which it had already invested $300,000.
SO IT IS HARD TO CONJURE up too much sympathy for Yossi Paritzky. But the same can be said for his rival and the target of his machinations Interior Minister Avraham Poraz. Poraz is a no less determined fighter against Israel’s chareidi community, and, in many ways, even more effective than Paritzky. Kiruv activists around Israel report today that they are finding obstacles placed in their path everywhere they turn by local officials eager to curry favor with the Interior Ministry, which controls the vast majority of local budgets.
Poraz has, in the past, expressed support for European initiatives to ban shechitah. As Interior Minister he has denied citizenship to members of the Bnei Menache tribe from India, who underwent halachic conversions, while granting citizenship to foreign athletes and the children of illegal workers.
TODAY PARITZKY IS AN EMBITTERED MAN with nothing less to lose. He knows that there are plenty of skeletons in the Shinui closet, which he will not hesitate to expose. Already in the tapes played on TV, he mentions Poraz’s involvement with improperly run non-profit organizations, including the Center for Liberalism, which Poraz headed.
Paritzky tells the private investigator on the tapes that the Center for Liberalism failed to file the required annual reports or to pay any of the required taxes. Minutes of the organization’s meetings also show that it financed political activities of the Meretz Party, something that non-profit organizations are expressly forbidden to do.
Investigative journalist David Bedein, from Makor Rishon, has also revealed that one of the major funders of the Center was the Friederich Naumann Foundation of Germany. The Naumann Foundation has close ties to the German Free Democratic Party, which German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer has called the "last refuge of anti-Semites." The former director of the Naumann Foundation’s activities in Israel, who attended meetings of the Center for Liberalism, was detained by the Israeli General Security Services on suspicion of direct involvement in terrorist activities.
Paritzky surely knows that the Supervisor of Non-Profit Organizations has asked the State Comptroller to investigate the Center for Liberalism, and will provide the investigators with everything he can.
In short, it should get interesting as the erstwhile Shinui allies go at it. As MK Yitzchak Herzog observed after the Paritzky tapes became public, it is hardly surprising that a party based on unleashing hatred should itself reap the whirlwind of hatred.
It could not happen to nicer guys. Meanwhile "He Who sits in Heaven will laugh. . . " (Tehillim 2:4).