My Take on the News

Amsalem’s Closing Address

Meanwhile, the draft law has quietly been advancing through the stages of legislation. On Thursday, it was discussed in a special committee. The committee session was not punctuated by shouts or ugly rhetoric (with the exception of the comments of MK Elazar Stern) and the bill moved forward. At the conclusion of the session, I listened as the committee chairman, Dudi Amsalem, who is also the chairman of the coalition, made the following remarks:

“I have a friend who was in chutz la’aretz and then returned to Israel and enlisted in the army. He is chareidi. He joined the army as part of a program for returning immigrants, and he was assigned to the Shivta base in the Negev, as part of the artillery corps.

“When he arrived at his base, he went to the battalion commander and said, ‘I must tell you that I eat only Badatz.’ The commander replied, ‘Don’t worry about it, Mendy. We will take care of it.’ This was during Shmittah,” Amsalem continued, “and every day, a jeep would travel to the base from Tel Aviv, transporting trays of food. Every day, he received a cucumber and a tomato. And the battalion commander said to him, ‘You see, Mendy, we succeeded.’ Yes, they succeeded – but those tomatoes and cucumbers cost the army a million shekels. The army is making tremendous efforts, but it comes at the expense of a tank or armored personnel carrier. It doesn’t come for free.

“Why am I telling you this? Because when I put everything into the calculations, including the costs of manpower for this purpose, it comes out to 40 billion shekels. Even if only half of that comes from the defense budget, we have increased our defense spending exponentially. That is another thing that we must think about.

“As far as I am concerned, you should continue the discussion today, and on Sunday as well,” he told the committee. “On Tuesday, I would like the synopsis of the bill to be in my office. I plan to present it at the beginning of the week, and then to have another round of comments – but only comments. After that, there will be a vote. It is my understanding that the entire agreement will then move forward. Thank you, gentlemen.”

 

Terror Without Cease

Not many people are talking about this, but we have been experiencing constant terror attacks. Last Thursday, terrorists fired on a bus filled with passengers as it passed through the Focus checkpoint in the vicinity of Beit El. Two people were lightly wounded by shrapnel and treated on the spot. Most of the bullets struck the front windshield of the bus, which caused the driver to be injured. On Thursday night, the army released the following official statement: “A short time ago, shots were fired at a bus near the Focus checkpoint in the Binyamin region. Two passengers on the bus were lightly wounded by shrapnel. IDF forces are sweeping the area at this time.”

In another incident, a 37-year-old female resident of the village of Yata attempted to stab a soldier in the vicinity of the Kfar Adumim gas station. The police received reports about a female Palestinian suspect who tried to hide in a falafel store at the gas station. The owner of the store reported that the suspect was refusing to leave the premises. Border Guard officers were dispatched to the scene, and they were notified on the way that the terrorist had left the falafel store. She was soon located near the gas station at the entrance to the community of Alon. The soldiers who spotted her called out to her to stop, and the woman suddenly produced a pair of scissors and raced toward them, shouting in Arabic. One of the soldiers shot at her, wounding and neutralizing her. The terrorist is hospitalized at Shaare Tzedek, where she is receiving the best possible care.

 

Hundreds of Attacks Thwarted

Nadav Argaman, director of the Shin Bet, recently released his periodic overview of the state of security in Gaza, Yehuda and the Shomron. Argaman’s report focused on the mounting attempts by terror organizations to perpetrate attacks both within the Green Line and outside it. Most of those attempts, he noted, were foiled before they could come to fruition. In the last year, according to the report, the security services succeeded in preventing 480 organized terror attacks and 560 attempts committed by lone perpetrators. In addition, 219 terror cells were captured, and many cyber attacks and attempts at espionage against Israel were foiled.

Argaman stressed that the current relative quiet can be misleading. “The situation is complicated,” he said. “There is quiet on the surface, but things are bubbling beneath the surface.”

 

More on Election Results

In Teveria, the election was won by the candidate who based his campaign on opposition to the chareidi community. As soon as he was elected, he announced that he is in favor of development for chareidim – but only outside Teveria. He also said that the chareidi community today constitutes about 20 percent of Teveria’s population, and it must not be allowed to grow to 30 percent. His statements evoked outrage. The issue was discussed in the Knesset, where he was universally condemned.

In Tel Aviv, Agudas Yisroel, along with the Bucharian chareidim, received almost enough votes for two mandates. The final result of the election was supposed to be determined by the ballots cast by soldiers and the disabled, which were to be counted on the following day. However, it was soon revealed that some of those envelopes had been forged. It had already been decided that the second seat would be assigned to Naftali Lobert, a veteran representative of Agudas Yisroel in the municipality, but his admission to the city council was suspended until the courts could render a final verdict. Ultimately, several dozen of those votes were disqualified, and Lobert made it into the council by a mere handful of votes. The extra seat would otherwise have gone to the Meretz party, which made it a double victory for the chareidim.

 

A Measles Epidemic

Last week, I reported about a girl who was hospitalized in Shaare Tzedek and, according to the hospital, passed away as a result of a measles infection. The girl’s family, who live in Meah Shearim, reportedly refused to vaccinate her. Subsequently, eight bochurim from Yeshivas Mir were hospitalized after contracting measles, and talmidim of the yeshiva were given inoculations – or at least those who were convinced to accept the shots.

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Ministry of Health, reported that 1,340 people in the country have been diagnosed with measles, 99 percent of whom hadn’t been vaccinated. In response to the large number of cases, and the fact that some refuse to vaccinate their children, an appeal was made to rabbonim to intervene.

A group of leading rabbonim released an announcement warning the public that a person who refuses to vaccinate is not only defined as a “shofeich domim” on account of the damage he may cause to himself, but is guilty of causing potential harm to others as well. The virus spreads very quickly from one person to another, and the rabbonim warned that a person who refuses vaccinations will be endangering many others, even those who have received immunizations but whose immune systems have been weakened, along with babies under the age of one year, whom the Health Ministry does not permit to receive the vaccination. This p’sak was signed by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rav Shimon Baadani, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, and Rav Moshe Shaul Klein.

 

A Solid Answer to a Weak Question

MK Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid party, who never ceases maligning the religious community, appeared in the headlines once again this week, this time for a particularly ugly slur against Minister Miri Regev.

Some time ago, I wrote about one of Stern’s troublesome parliamentary queries. At the time, he questioned the fact that a hakafos shniyos event in Bnei Brak was partially funded by the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galil (which is overseen by Aryeh Deri). Stern asked mockingly if the event was entitled to funding from the ministry because it was held on a street named Rechov Hanegev. I would now like to share with you the ministry’s eminently reasonable response:

“1. In accordance with cabinet resolution 631, the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, Negev, and Galil has been operating since 2016 in communities with a low socioeconomic rating (between 1 and 4, or in neighborhoods of localities with ratings higher than 4, but which contain areas that are ranked statistically between 1 and 8). These areas are designated the ‘socioeconomic periphery.’ Bnei Brak has a rating of 2 on the socioeconomic scale. Therefore, the ministry operates in that city.

“2. Chadera has neighborhoods that are ranked between 1 and 8 on the socioeconomic scale. Therefore, the ministry operates in that city as well.

“3. The figures that were presented were not complete. Funding allocations are advertised through announcements published on the [ministry’s] web site, and the funds are divided based solely on the applications from the localities.

“4. In 2016, the ministry used its entire budget… The municipalities’ execution of programming was lower than planned, but in any event, the full budget was used.

“5. On April 15, 2018, the government adopted Cabinet Resolution 3740, which was labeled ‘a plan for the strengthening and development of the settlements of Kiryat Shmonah, Shlomi, and Metulla.’ This includes a provision for the funding of an urgent care center in Kiryat Shmonah, which will be jointly sponsored by the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galil and the Ministry of Health.”

Thus, Stern received full answers to all of his questions, including his accusation that the ministry supports Torah-related activities but ignores other areas of need, such as medical services

 

Yad Vashem’s Warped Approach

Several months ago, the “Law of the Day of Liberation and Salvation,” which was proposed by MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, was discussed in the Knesset Education Committee. This bill was the brainchild of a man who works tirelessly to see to it that events commemorating the Holocaust and its termination are held on the Hebrew anniversary of the Nazis’ defeat. During the committee’s discussion, a representative of Yad Vashem objected to the name of the law. “It cannot be called a day of salvation,” she insisted. “The Jews were liberated from the camps, but they were not saved.”

The members of the committee – Yaakov Margi, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Oded Forer, and Elazar Stern – were taken aback. Did that mean that Yad Vashem is also opposed to the Hebrew term for Holocaust survivors, “nitzolei Shoah,” which literally means “those who were saved” from the Holocaust? “Absolutely,” the woman from Yad Vashem confirmed. Ben-Tzur had no desire to argue with her, and he agreed to her demand. The term “salvation” was dropped from the name of the law, but he added a reservation to the bill that would reinstate its original name if the Knesset voted in favor of it. (In addition to voting on the contents of a bill, the Knesset also discusses and votes on any “reservations” – suggested changes to the bill – that are tacked onto the legislation in the course of a committee session.) The Knesset voted unanimously in favor of the reservation, and the title of the law was restored.

Before the bill was brought to a vote, a request was sent to Yad Vashem for the organization to convey its official position. The intent was to make it clear that the woman who had objected during the committee session was not actually speaking on behalf of Yad Vashem. However, to everyone’s surprise, the organization confirmed that that was its official stance. “The idea of changing the official name of the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany to ‘the Day of Liberation and Salvation’ is very problematic, for a number of reasons,” they wrote. In reality, the bill was never intended to replace the commemorations of the victory over the Nazis. Rather, it is meant to introduce a parallel day of commemoration with more of a Jewish content and a name that is more in line with Jewish philosophy. The reference to a “day of liberation and salvation” certainly appears to invoke the concept of Divine kindness. Could that be the reason for Yad Vashem’s opposition to it?

Their response continues, “Considering the fact that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and in light of the fact that over the days, weeks, and months after the military victory, many more Jews died due to the torment, the diseases, and the malnutrition that they suffered under Nazi dominion, the use of the word ‘salvation’ regarding the specific day when Nazi Germany was defeated seems to us to be an incorrect description of the meaning of the day, and one that harms the memories of the victims and the survivors alike.” Several paragraphs later, the letter reaches its conclusion: “In light of the above, the use of the terms ‘liberation’ and ‘salvation’ does not reflect the significance of the date of the victory. It would be a mistake to call it a day of liberation and/or salvation, both from a historic point of view and from the standpoint of understanding the processes that typified the suffering of the Jews and the restoration of Jewish life at the conclusion of the war. It would be appropriate to give more consideration to how the concept of thanksgiving should be integrated into the general context of this day, since the victory over Nazi Germany halted the process of the annihilation of the Jewish nation.”

It is a statement that is incredibly bizarre. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I felt a strong sense of distaste for this attitude. Who in Yad Vashem came up with this warped perspective? Didn’t Hashem save the Jewish people from the Nazis? Weren’t we liberated? I asked Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, the chairman of Yad Vashem, if he agrees with the approach conveyed in this letter, and he replied that he does not. It was also soundly rejected by the Knesset, which approved the original name of the law.

 

Where is the Line Drawn?

Sometimes, when I read a paragraph in a newspaper article, I find myself wondering which of us is the fool – the writer of the article or myself.

In a recent news article describing the exonerations of Ilan Shochet from Tzefas and Nissim Malka from Kiryat Shonah, I read the following: “Another allegation that was investigated was the possibility that Nissim Malka promised a public position to a member of the city council in exchange for his support at a council meeting for an appointment that the mayor desired. No evidence was found, and the case was closed.”

If there had been evidence, though, the article implies that Malka would have been prosecuted for making that deal. And I have to wonder why a mayor of a city is not allowed to offer an appointment to someone on the condition that he will join the coalition and support a decision in which the mayor has an interest. What could be criminal about that? After all, most coalition agreements on the municipal level work in this way. According to this bizarre approach, why was Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed to designate Avigdor Lieberman as the Minister of Defense in exchange for Yisroel Beiteinu’s support for the government, the coalition, and Netanyahu himself? Why is the same type of agreement considered a crime in some cases, and simple politics in others? Who decides where to draw the line?

 

Who Saved Teddy Kollek?

This is not the first time that a municipal appointment was investigated on suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. In fact, such investigations were taking place at least 30 years ago. At the time, a front-page story in Kol Ha’ir, a newspaper in Yerushalayim, reported on a “criminal deal” that had been reached between Mayor Teddy Kollek and Arnon Yekutieli, an activist of the Meretz party. Kollek was suspected of arranging a position, along with a generous salary, for Yekutieli in exchange for his support. At that time, as well, I didn’t understand what made their agreement into a criminal act, but a complaint was filed with the police, and I cannot reveal who submitted it.

The complaint was lodged against Yekutieli, who was one of the most ardent enemies of religious Jewry at the time. Yekutieli was the force behind the investigations into Aryeh Deri, which ultimately led him to be sentenced to prison. He had issued many complaints of his own to the police, and it was decided that he had to be shown that the same weapon could be used against him. Indeed, Yekutieli was quite frightened by the allegations against him, which the police took very seriously. The mere fact that he was under investigation made it difficult for him to present himself as a champion of absolute integrity.

On the other hand, Yekutieli was not the only person whose future was placed in jeopardy. If he was considered to have accepted a bribe, then that would mean that Kollek, who had offered him the position, was also guilty of criminal bribery, and both men would have been indicted. At some point during the investigation, the police sought the opinion of Aryeh Deri, who was serving as Minister of the Interior at the time. The Interior Ministry has an oversight department, and the prosecution asked for a written position concerning the Kollek-Yekutieli affair. It was clear that that document would have a decisive impact on whether the suspects would be indicted. Ultimately, the case was closed.

Kollek felt that Deri had saved his good name. I suspect that if Kollek later agreed to be the conduit for a Sefardic spiritual revolution that had no precedent before his time (and, I believe, will never be repeated on the same scale) by constructing or allocating land for buildings and approving budgets for shuls, yeshivos, and mikvaos, as well as appointing rabbonim, he was motivated, either consciously or subconsciously, by the knowledge that the Interior Ministry, headed by Aryeh Deri, had caused the case against him to be closed.

 

Arab Meat Sold to Jews in Yerushalayim

The Shalom Court recently found the owners of a butcher shop guilty of selling and trading in shark meat. The penalty was a fine of 20,000 NIS. The sharks, which had been hidden in a car, were discovered by inspectors from the Nature and Parks Authority, and the defendants entered into a plea bargain. I was not able to ascertain the name of the butcher shop, and I do not know if it has a kashrus certificate. The illicit merchandise was seized at Shaar Shechem, and I hope that that was the only destination that was intended for it. Nevertheless, we cannot be certain that this treife meat was not sold to butcher shops that are patronized by Jews, as well.

The fact that treife meat is sold in Arab-owned stores is the result of an allowance made by Israel itself. In the interim agreement of 1994, the Palestinians were given the right to sell meat in East Yerushalayim. The Ministry of Agriculture tried to put an end to the phenomenon, but it was overruled by the Foreign Ministry, the army, and the Ministry of Justice on the grounds that the agreement had to be kept. As a result of concerns about sanitation, the Ministry of Agriculture continued trying to prevent Palestinian meat from being marketed in the country, and the Palestinians appealed to the Supreme Court, which supported their position.

Uri Ariel, the Minister of Agriculture, was asked in the past how we can be certain that nonkosher meat is not being marketed to Israelis, and that it is being purchased only by Arabs. He replied, “According to the figures from 2015, there are 3,484 tons of dairy products and 302 tons of meat products that are manufactured within the Palestinian Authority for the purpose of being sold in East Yerushalayim. Although the ministry’s oversight division enforces the law requiring that these products be sold only in East Yerushalayim, it is actually impossible to be certain, once they have entered Israel, that they are not transported to other places in the country as well.” That is a situation that is utterly absurd.

 

The Chofetz Chaim’s Blessing

This coming Sunday, the tenth of Kislev, will mark the yahrtzeit of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l.

The Klausenberger Rebbe once told an incredible story about Rav Isser Zalman: “A reliable person told me that Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, during his years as a bochur, was considered an illui, but when the time came for him to marry, he contracted a lung disease and became so ill that he would spit blood. When he was recommended to the girl who would eventually become his rebbetzin, the family investigated him and was told that he was dangerously ill. The father of the girl was afraid to pursue the shidduch, but his daughter asked him how many years the doctors felt that he had remaining to live, and he replied that he could live for only about two years. To that, she said, ‘Even if I can be the wife of a talmid chochom like this man for only two years, it is still worthwhile.’ Her statement was repeated to the Chofetz Chaim, who was deeply pleased by the fact that a young girl was willing to enter into a marriage even for a mere two years, provided that she would be able to marry a talmid chochom. ‘Tell her in my name,’ he said, ‘that her chosson will live a long life and reach a ripe old age, and that she, too, will live a long, good, and pleasant life.’ And so it was,” the Klausenberger Rebbe concluded. “Both Rav Isser Zalman and his wife went on to live long lives.”