My Take on the News

An Ominous Situation

The worries have begun.

The elections are coming up in another 67 days, and there seems to be a good chance that Netanyahu will once again have to turn to Yisroel Beiteinu and Avigdor Lieberman to form a coalition. Lieberman has already announced that he will insist on forming a unity government including both the Likud and the Blue and White party and excluding the chareidim. Now, it seems less of a concern that Lieberman will actually be able to keep the chareidim out of the government, but it is certainly possible that they will be in the position of being a fifth wheel. We can only daven for a positive outcome from this situation.

Incredibly, both Likud and Blue and White released official responses to Lieberman’s ultimatum at the beginning of this week: Both parties announced that if they reach an impasse and the only solution is to establish a unity government, then they will manage without Lieberman altogether. That is the official position of both major parties at this time. It isn’t clear who would be the prime minister or if they will have a rotation—a situation with more than one precedent in the history of the State of Israel—but their intention of excluding Lieberman seems to have taken the wind out of his sails.

I don’t want to open my mouth to the Satan, but it does not seem that Netanyahu has much of a chance of establishing a government with the political right and the chareidim alone. In order for that to take place, several things will have to happen. First, Lieberman will have to receive his votes from the anti-religious secular left, rather than the right. Second, Ron Kobi, who will certainly not pass the electoral threshold, will have to steal votes from Lieberman. Third, the right will have to unite, rather than remaining divided into three or four separate parties (one headed by Peretz and Smotrich and another by Bennett, as well as Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party). As of now, it seems likely that Feiglin and Bennett will join forces and cross the electoral threshold together, and many hope that Otzma Yehudit will join with the United Right rather than running separately. There is also the question of where Ayelet Shaked will be. Logically, her place seems to be with Naftali Bennett, but she hasn’t yet given him a definitive answer, and he is continuing to move forward with his campaign. The United Right is interested in having her aboard, but only as the second in command under Peretz, and she is insisting on the top position in the party. In any event, the most important thing, as far as the right is concerned, is that they should not lose five or six mandates again as they did in the previous election, due to the failures of Feiglin and Bennett to cross the threshold.

A Week of Protests

But the political front is not the only area in which there was news this week. For one thing, there was a car ramming attack at the Hizme checkpoint on motzoei Shabbos. This checkpoint is very close to Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov. In the terror attack, five soldiers were struck by a car, which left three of them listed in moderate condition and two others lightly injured. The victims were evacuated to a hospital for medical treatment. This time, the army and the Shin Bet worked quickly, and the terrorist and his father were both arrested later that night. Their chief concern was that additional terror attacks might follow on the heels of the first.

And then there were the protests. Many of the main traffic junctions throughout the country looked like the scene of rioting in any city in America. The immediate cause of the protests was the fatal shooting of an Ethiopian youth by a police officer who felt threatened by him. The result was that thousands of Ethiopians took to the streets in fierce, violent protest and began breaking and destroying everything in sight, while the police stood by without interfering. Other demonstrations were also held by parents of small children, after footage from a security camera was released that showed a day care worker abusing the children under her care. This story caused reactions of shock and outrage throughout the country.

There was also a protest in the chareidi community. Last Friday night, the chareidim demonstrated in Petach Tikvah against the breach of the status quo in the city. This is a subject that may merit further discussion at a later time.

The Solution to the Mystery of Avigdor Lieberman

We still haven’t solved the mystery of why Avigdor Lieberman refused to allow a right-wing government to be established and instead forced the country to head into another round of elections. No one understands his motivations or what he gained from it. Even if he receives nine mandates in the election and manages to force the formation of a unity government or a right-wing government, he certainly won’t become more than the Minister of Defense—the highest possible position in the government under that of prime minister—and Netanyahu had already promised that portfolio to him after the previous elections. Why did he plunge the country into chaos? No one has answered that question successfully, although many have tried.

But now the answer might have been found. Last Friday, an incredible report appeared in Makor Rishon: Before the previous elections, a meeting took place between Netanyahu, Moshe Kachlon, and Lieberman, and they agreed that, regardless of the outcome of the election, Kachlon’s Kulanu and Lieberman’s Yisroel Beiteinu would merge with the Likud. After all, they are both ideologically very close to the Likud, and their political analyses indicated that the merger would leave the Likud with nearly 50 mandates, giving it a significant edge over the left.

Several days later, Netanyahu notified Lieberman that his party had agreed to absorb Kulanu, but they refused to accept Yisroel Beiteinu. They did not want Lieberman within their ranks. At that moment, it seems, Lieberman decided that Netanyahu would not become the prime minister under any circumstances.

“Political pundits in the know say that Lieberman was enraged,” the newspaper article claimed. “He flew overseas, but not in order to meet with Martin Schlaff or to connect to Yair Lapid. It might have been simply his way of counting to ten before he would decide on his next step. But whether or not he actually counted to ten, Lieberman returned with the determination that he would not allow the establishment of a Likud government under Netanyahu, come what may. He was not prepared to forgive the insult of his rejection by the Likud party…. Over the ensuing week, the people around Lieberman denied that that was what had severed their ties. ‘On the contrary, the Likud appealed to us but we refused to merge with them. We have no desire to deal with the corrupt mechanisms of the party,’ they claimed. But according to our sources, it was precisely those ‘mechanisms’ that blocked the merger with Yisroel Beiteinu. So what was it that actually insulted Lieberman—the fact that Netanyahu reneged on his promise, or the fact that even after decades of activity in the public sphere, the ruling party still considers him a second class citizen? On the surface, it is Netanyahu who is being sacrificed, not the Likud. Perhaps Lieberman doesn’t believe Netanyahu’s excuses, or he expected the veteran prime minister to marshal his own political weight in order to overrule the ‘corrupt mechanisms.’”

In any event, this could very well be the answer to the riddle that has mystified our entire country.

Baraks Unique Style of Mudslinging

Ehud Barak has found a name for his party: “Democratic Israel.” It isn’t clear if he will run separately or merge with the Zionist Camp led by Amir Peretz, and there may be other alliances formed as well (with Meretz, Tzipi Livni, and former Mossad head Yuval Diskin, as well as several other parties and individuals). What is clear is that Barak is doing exactly what was expected of him: He has launched a barrage of invective against Netanyahu. The following quote is from his first campaign notice, which was published in all the country’s newspapers last Friday:

“We have been given a second chance—before the suspect from Balfour [i.e., Netanyahu, who lives in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Rechov Balfour and is suspected of criminal activity] dismantles Israeli democracy once and for all, before he crushes the rule of law, before he destroys the court system, and before he continues dividing, inciting, and destroying. Before another failure, another weakness, and another scandal. Before Israel sinks [an oblique allusion to the submarine affair], before it drowns and becomes darkened [a hint to Netanyahu’s alliance with the ‘unenlightened’ chareidim]. Before Smotrich, before a state of halacha, and before the state disappears. In the moment before all this, we have been given a second chance. It is our last chance to save the country. This is the time for us to unite and to restore hope to Israel, to bring the light back into our eyes, and to make a change. Will it be the State of Netanyahu, or the State of Israel?”

I am sure you will agree with me on one thing: Barak knows how to hammer away at his opponents.

Who Gave Up the Old City?

Then again, there are people in the Likud who are capable of producing equally vicious verbal attacks. The following anonymous message was spread through social media: “Good morning, children. Today, we will teach you who this man with the strange beard is [i.e., Ehud Barak], the man with poor diction who speaks strangely and spreads nonsense on television. First of all, in the past Ehud Barak was one of the IDF’s bravest, most decorated, and most legendary soldiers. Over the years, however, something changed in this soldier’s head, and he became a leftist of the lowest kind, a failed politician and the worst prime minister ever known in Israel. So let us tell you who this man is; it is important for you to know.

“Ehud Barak is the man who warned Jibril Rajoub after the lynch in Ramallah, before the bombing of the Palestinian police station where Israeli reserve soldiers were lynched, so that we would not harm even one hair on the heads of the murderers who killed Vadim Norzich and Yossi Avrahami with their own hands. Ehud Barak is the defeatist who fled from Lebanon, leaving our brothers in arms in the IDF to die. Ehud Barak is the human doormat who promised that Lebanon would be destroyed if a single bullet was fired from there, but who did not react at all when they kidnapped Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Omar Souad. Ehud Barak is the architect of the restraint and weakness that eliminated the deterrence of the IDF, from which we are suffering to this day. Ehud Barak is the wretched doormat who let Border Guard officer Madhat Yosef bleed to death over the course of hours, while hundreds of soldiers and half of the command of the IDF were only 800 meters away. For Ehud Barak, the life of a Druse soldier is not worth as much as his friendship with Jibril Rajoub. Ehud Barak is the man who offered Arafat almost a complete Israeli withdrawal from Yehuda and Shomron, as well as the division of Yerushalayim and full PLO sovereignty over Har Habayis. And in response to his defeatism, Arafat launched the second intifada, in all its bitterness and cruelty.”

And the vitriol doesn’t end there. “Ehud Barak,” the message continues, “is responsible for the murders of 1200 Israelis who were killed over the course of the second intifada., yet he allows himself to preach, to hand out advice, and to incite against the prime minister. At the Tzeelim disaster, in which five soldiers in Sayeret Matkal lost their lives, Ehud Barak did not offer any help, in spite of the fact that he was asked to do so. Instead, he took off in his personal helicopter without evacuating the wounded, which led to their deaths. In the two investigations, Barak gave conflicting versions of the story. Ehud Barak was the most failed prime minister in the history of the country and was sent home by millions of Israelis after the shortest time in history! For anyone who doesn’t know this, Ehud Barak promised to surrender Yerushalayim and the Old City to Arafat, and instead of peace, he brought us terror attacks and an intifada that claimed 1200 lives. How much ignorance, audacity, and brazenness must be possessed by this failed, demented man. He dares to return to politics after all the failures and all the damage that he has brought upon us! Share this, so that everyone will understand who he is.”

Barak Blasts Lapid

As you can see, Ehud Barak’s contribution to the campaign was not only an injection of color, but a hefty dose of venom. He will certainly clash with Blue and White, and with Hashem’s help, perhaps they will harm each other sufficiently that the right will manage to secure 61 mandates. Or, perhaps, Barak will receive his four or five mandates at the expense of Gantz and Lapid (and possibly Lieberman as well), and then will join Netanyahu’s government as the Minister of Environmental Protection or something of that nature, to give him a feeling of relevance. The pursuit of personal honor has the ability to disrupt a person’s sense of direction, and Barak may well let his opposition to Netanyahu disappear in order to secure himself a government position. Barak has done this several times in the past, bashing Netanyahu relentlessly during a campaign and then making an about-face and siding with him after an election.

I enjoyed seeing how Barak aimed his invective at Yair Lapid as well, shaking the latter out of his complacency. He is probably the only politician on the scene who is not afraid of Lapid’s venomous critique. Barak was also fearless during his time in the army; he was never even afraid of running away….

This week, Lapid wrote, “So Ehud Barak, the number one man in a party without a name, says that Bibi is a disaster and that he must be removed from power, and Eldad Yaniv joins with him. His second in command, Yair Golan, says that Bibi is a responsible leader and that it is possible to sit with him in the government. Number four Kobi Richter says that there is no need at all to draft chareidim, and number five, Yaya Fink, is an ally of Shelly Yechimovich. Something very strange is taking shape here.”

Barak was quick to fire back: “It would be better for Lapid to help bring about a change in regime rather than serving as Netanyahu’s straw man. We will continue to work responsibly to unite all the forces necessary in order to restore the fundamental values of Israel as a Zionist, Jewish, and democratic state. Israeli needs a change of leadership and a fundamental change of its path and its policies. For that purpose, we need experience, courageous leadership, and the ability to look directly at our burning problems with the goal of solving them rather than perpetuating them. That is the difference between leadership and publicity seeking.” Barak is certainly a master of words. I can guarantee you that the cowardly Lapid will think very carefully now, if he is actually capable of thought, before saying another word against Barak.

A Day in the Knesset

There is something very enjoyable about wandering around the Knesset during its recess on a day such as on this past Monday, when the Knesset convened briefly for a new State Comptroller to be sworn in. The new comptroller took the following oath: “I, Matanyahu Mordechai Engelman, the son of Chasya of blessed memory and Binyomin, may he live and be well, pledge to remain faithful to the State of Israel and its laws, and to faithfully perform my responsibilities as the State Comptroller.” The new comptroller’s father sat in the visitor’s gallery, watching the proceedings with pride. In his speech, the son addressed his father, whom he hailed as a survivor of the Holocaust and a physicist who served the state with his research, and wished him well.

Engelman went on, “I pray that I will be the fulfillment of the mishnah in Maseches Avos, ‘Anyone who has these three things is among the talmidim of Avrohom Avinu: a good eye, a humble spirit, and a lowly soul.’ … My grandfather, Yehuda Kil a”h, in his peirush Daas Mikra, for which he won the Israel Prize, added that the royal dynasty of Israel, the dynasty of Dovid Hamelech, was built on the foundations of tzedokah and mishpattzedokah both in the sense of charity and that of justice. I hope that the values of integrity and of viewing matters from a social standpoint in addition to a professional one will accompany me throughout my service as the State Comptroller.”

He went on to praise his in-laws, as well: “My wife’s parents, who are here with us, Moshe and Sarah Mandelbaum, from the Mandelbaum and Solomon families, are sixth-generation Israelis. My father-in-law Moshe had the privilege of serving his country in many capacities, especially as the director of the Bank of Israel.” Engelman also spoke about his aspirations for his new position, making precisely the statements that his supporters had expected.

Touring the Knesset building on such a day, I am able to find an endless array of material to write about. I noticed a young man climbing the steps in the main room at the Knesset and I was about to warn him that the Knesset speaker might revoke his permit to visit the building for such an offense, but then someone stopped me. “Leave him alone,” he said. “He is a member of the Knesset.” Indeed, his name is Ram Shefa, and he is a member of Chosen L’Yisrael, one of the member parties of Blue and White.

The inauguration of the new State Comptroller was an official event, which required invitations to be sent to all of the former members of the Knesset, who were given special seats in the Knesset. It is always interesting to see which of the former lawmakers choose to accept those invitations. Some of them actually take the seats of the current members of the Knesset, basking in the chance to remind themselves of their past glory. This time, I noticed Rabbi Ba-Gad, a colorful and eccentric former MK, enjoying his return to the Knesset. He later joined us for Mincha and showed us his new book. In general, attendance was poor, in spite of the Knesset speaker’s pleas. Rabbi Ba-Gad, as you may be aware, has nominated himself for the post of prime minister in the upcoming elections.

Even the smoking porch offers its fair share of anecdotes. I noticed Tal Russo stepping outside for a smoke. Russo is a reserve general and the former second in command of the Zionist Camp, who has announced that he is not interested in remaining on the party’s list for the upcoming elections. His aide opened the door for him, and I laughed and remarked that it must have been a habit from his army days to have his subordinates open doors. “It’s a habit from life,” Russo replied, flustered. Unfortunately for him, he will soon have to learn to open doors on his own…. I remember that I once worked with a certain public figure who would not leave his car until I had opened the door for him. Even if I delayed, he would wait for me, rather than open it himself.

Why Not Fight AntiSemitism in Israel?

This week, the Jewish People Policy Institute presented its annual report. The JPPI is a pro-Reform organization founded by the Jewish Agency; its report shows that Orthodox Judaism is a rising force in America, and it recommended that the Israeli government bolster its connection to the religious public in America. Shmuel Rosner, who examined the trends in American Jewry on behalf of the institute and is considered an expert on the subject, reported that the Orthodox comprise about two thirds of Jewish youth in the United States. In other words, the Reform and Conservative movements are steadily disappearing. Among those movements, the younger generation has no interest in the State of Israel and has been severing its ties not only with this country, but with Judaism as a whole.

The JPPI report was discussed at a cabinet meeting, where the topic of anti-Semitism, another major focus of the report, was addressed. Following the report of rising global anti-Semitism, and in accordance with the institute’s recommendation, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the government will be forming a special council to combat anti-Semitism. The cabinet session was attended by Avinoam Bar-Yosef and Dennis Ross, two senior figures in the JPPI. But I have only one question: Wouldn’t it be better to deal with the rising anti-Semitism within Israel itself? There are plenty of anti-Semites in this country who freely demonstrate their hatred of Jews, sometimes in words and sometimes in actions. Shouldn’t we eradicate the phenomenon in Israel before moving on to the Diaspora?

One other comment: Last week, I quoted Tzvika Klein’s claim that the Reform movement has come to regret its battle over the Kosel. He wrote that they have come to understand that they launched a battle they cannot possibly win, and that the Israeli public is against them. Tzvika Klein corrected me, though: It is the Jewish Federations of North America that reached this conclusion. I had thought that the Federations consisted mainly of Reform members, and therefore it meant that the Reform movement itself had made the decision. Tzvika Klein explained to me that that is not precisely accurate, though, and I stand corrected.

Assimilation and the Cabinet

On a similar topic, I would like to quote a speech delivered by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Last Tuesday night, I attended an event for the rabbonim of Sephardic communities throughout the world. There were hundreds of rabbonim and community leaders present, which served to illustrate the growth of the Torah world, especially within the Sephardic community.

I arrived in time for Aryeh Deri’s speech, which I believe should be quoted throughout the world. One of his statements was particularly penetrating: “According to all the rules of demographics, the Jewish community in America, which numbered about six million people at the time of the Holocaust, should have increased to several times that number, but it is still only about five or six million.” After 70 years, the Jewish population of America should have reached the tens of millions, yet there are fewer than 7 million Jews in America today. Where did those millions of Jews disappear to? “They have assimilated!” Deri declared. He described a discussion he had had with his colleagues in the cabinet, including Prime Minister Netanyahu. The cabinet had been asked to approve the acquisition of fighter jets, each of which came with a price tag of about 120 million shekels. “I told the members of the cabinet,” Deri related, “that I have no doubt that if we give up one or two planes and dedicate that money to Jewish education in the Diaspora instead, we will make a much greater contribution to the security of our country.”

Intervention on an El Al Flight

I recently took an El Al flight, and when I boarded the plane, I headed directly for the rear. As I was preparing to settle myself into a seat, I realized that I had read my seat number incorrectly, and that my seat was closer to the middle. I retraced by steps and sat down in the correct seat, and then I realized that my bag from the duty free shop was no longer with me. I remembered that I had the bag at my feet on the bus that had transported us from the gate to the plane, and I realized that I must have forgotten it there. I hurried back to the exit from the plane in the hopes that the bus would still be there, but it had already driven away.

The flight crew noticed my distress and asked what had happened. I asked them to call the bus driver and to ask him to return to the plane. “Was your passport in the bag?” they asked me. If the passport had been there, then the bus would have come back; since I still had it with me, they insisted, it was impossible. I argued with them, and a technician in a blue uniform, who was supposed to leave the plane before takeoff, finally came to my aid and announced that he would call the bus driver. He made the call, then hung up and said, “He will get back to me in a minute.” Sure enough, before long his phone rang again. He answered it and looked pleased. “The driver found your bag,” he said. “He is bringing it to the lost and found department. He can’t come back here, but when you return to Israel, you will be able to retrieve it.”

I was disappointed at having to leave the bag behind, but I was impressed by the young man’s initiative and his kindness in making the call for me, and I returned to my seat. After a moment, it occurred to me that I should check the overhead compartment above the seat at the back of the plane, where I had originally thought that I had been assigned. Sure enough, the bag was there. With that, I realized that the young worker had actually tricked me. All he had wanted was to prevent me from making a commotion.

Praise for Aix-les-Baines

Two weeks ago, I found myself at Nissim’s barbershop in Givat Shaul. I usually patronize a different barber, Rav-Eliran, but he was late and I was in a hurry. Nissim was excited to see me, since it had been many years since he had the opportunity to cut my hair. As he went about his work, he told me that the yeshiva of Aix-les-Baines was holding a massive fundraising drive, and that he wanted to help but did not know what to do.

Nissim explained that he became what he is today, and that his children became bnei Torah, as a result of the yeshiva. He told me the incredible story of how he had found his way to Aix-les-Baines, and I promised to make a donation.

Three hours later, I received a recorded message, in which the caller seemed to be speaking in a hurry. “Hello, it’s Aharon,” the message began. “I am calling with the approval of Rav [the name was indistinct] on behalf of my yeshiva, where I grew and where I became acquainted with the Torah world. The yeshiva is in serious straits. The yeshiva and the rosh yeshiva, Rav Chaikin, who was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, changed my life and my future, and I believe they changed the future of all of my descendants. I have endless hakaras hatov to the rabbeim of the yeshiva, who have been dedicating themselves for sixty years to the benefit of Jewish children and the Torah without any interest in personal gain. They are honest and holy people, and I can attest to their mesirus nefesh. I compare them to malachim on earth, who are here to cause Hashem’s honor to grow. I would like to thank you for your modest contribution. May we all be zocheh to add to Hashem’s honor in the world. I am very thankful to you, and may you be blessed from Shomayim, b’ezras Hashem. Thank you.”

I must admit that I was brought to tears. I won’t tell you how much I donated, but I will tell you that it was in the honor of both Nissim and Reb Aharon, the caller in the recorded message. This week, I checked and discovered that the yeshiva attained its goal and managed to raise a total 3,004,172 euros from 9444 donors. Ashreichem!

An Unnecessary Attack on a Kiruv Institution

I don’t know who has been sending me these e-mails, but I have become repulsed by them. To these people, everything seems to be a catastrophe. Even the return of sifrei Torah that were plundered from a shul in Bnei Brak elicited their criticism: “It is a shame that when the sifrei Torah that were stolen and desecrated in Bnei Brak were returned, the police officers were allowed to dance with the sifrei Torah. Woe to the eyes that see this,” they wrote. I cannot understand what is wrong with showing appreciation to the police officers who made a supreme effort to retrieve the stolen sifrei Torah. If they asked to dance with the seforim, should they have been turned down?

The people behind these e-mails latch on to every possible pretext for conflict: eiruvin, elections, kevorim, Meron, academic studies, the Israeli flag, Kever Dovid, and England. Every incident with the slightest hint of potential controversy snags their attention. They may believe that they are somehow repairing the ills of the world, but all the perpetrators of the greatest devastation have felt the same way. I do not believe them, for the simple reason that I am familiar with the facts.

By way of example, here is the text of one e-mail I received: “An earth-shattering development: Girls drafted into the army! A general induction day for chareidi girls will be taking place on Sunday of the week of Parshas Pekudei. Seventy chareidi girls, some of them dati, some of them baalos teshuvah, and some of them Bais Yaakov students, are to be taken into the army. Let the golah become a blazing fire; this is a religious war!” I did not see thousands of people rallying around them, but I also did not see seventy religious girls being conscripted on that day. It was an absolute lie; I can assure you of that.

Even a simple advertisement can trigger a hysterical e-mail, seemingly without anyone bothering to investigate the facts. Last week, I received the following message from them: “Shomu shomayim! The plague of yeshivot tichoniot [high schools that combine Torah learning with secular studies, which are verboten in Israel chareidi society] is raging! On Wednesday, the 15th of Sivan, an advertisement appeared for a corrupting yeshiva tichonit in the Bucharim neighborhood of Yerushalayim…. This has already caused the destruction of many youths, and has ensnared dozens of innocent bochurim in its net. How long will this go on?”

In this case, I wondered if they might have been justified in their complaints, but I also found the story suspicious. Who would open a yeshiva tichonit on Rechov Yoel, in the heart of the Satmar community? It made no sense to me. I called the school in question, and I discovered that it was actually a branch of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim that caters to secular high school students with an interest in Yiddishkeit. These are young men whose parents do not wish for them to learn in a yeshiva and insist that they must take the Bagrut matriculation exams. For that purpose, a “yeshiva tichonit” was established for their benefit on the campus of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim on Rechov Yoel. Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim is a leading Sephardic kiruv institution under the direction of Rav Reuven Elbaz, and this was simply an additional program that it had opened for the benefit of these young men. The notice was aimed at chilonim who might potentially become bnei Torah if they attend the yeshiva. Certainly, if a secular youth becomes religious, he has been neither “ensnared” nor “destroyed.”