My Take on the News

A Vote for “Moshe Berkowitz”

The runoff elections that were held in various localities took place less than a week ago. I heard plenty of jokes during the course of the election campaign, some of them quite sad while others were actually amusing.

Here is one: A man related to the gabbai of his shul, who did not bother keeping abreast of politics, that he wasn’t sure if he should vote for Moshe Leon or Ofer Berkowitz. “What are your reasons for voting for each one?” the gabbai asked.

“Well,” the man replied, “what kind of name is ‘Leon’? The name ‘Berkowitz’ sounds much more like someone from our community.”

“And what is your reason for voting for Leon?” the gabbai pressed.

“It’s the first name,” the man said. “The name ‘Ofer’ doesn’t sit well with me, but ‘Moshe’ is a name that we can relate to!”

“In that case,” the gabbai asked, “why don’t you vote for ‘Moshe Berkowitz’?”

At 5:08 p.m. last Tuesday night, I received the following message on my phone: “Dear friends, the polls will be closing in another five hours. It is important to me that you vote for Raz Sagi for the office of mayor of Rosh Ha’Ayin. I thank you from the depths of my heart.” I was bewildered by this message. What connection do I have to Rosh Ha’Ayin or to Raz Sagi? I haven’t quite solved the mystery of why I received that message. Incidentally, Sagi did not win the election. He received 10,946 votes, making up 48 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Shalom Ben-Moshe, won with 52 percent, a total of 11,843 votes. Before the soldiers’ votes were counted, the gap between them stood at 897 votes.

On Shabbos, I heard the following comment in shul: How was it possible that Efron made such a dramatic about-face during his negotiations with Avrohom Avinu? After insisting that he would give the tract of land to Avrohom for free, how could he suddenly demand money for it? The answer is that when he named his price, it was after he had become a government official – a position to which he was appointed on that day. That is, there is a major difference between before an election and after it. To quote a popular Israeli aphorism, the walls speak to us before an election (through all the campaign propaganda that is plastered on the walls of buildings), but after the election, we find ourselves talking to the walls!

Then there is the following amazing yet true story: During the first round of voting, one woman revealed that she had selected an impossible combination at the polls, voting for the Shas party for the city council but for Ofer Berkowitz for mayor.

The voter is a secular woman whose husband has recently begun to move toward Jewish observance. He is currently learning in the midrashah of Lev L’Achim in the neighborhood of Armon Hanetziv, and as he has moved closer to Yiddishkeit, she has begun to follow him. The man asked his wife to vote for Shas and Moshe Leon, in compliance with the directives of the rabbonim, but she agreed only to meet him halfway. The two decided together that she would vote for the Shas party and Berkowitz.

 

A Mind in Need of Healing

Sometimes, in an election, things go wrong.

That is what happened in Teveria, where a man with a blatantly anti-chareidi agenda was elected to the office of mayor. Ron Kobi constantly spouted rhetoric against chareidim and used the most despicable methods to oppose them, but no one believed that he would be elected. As a result, the chareidi leadership did not pay much attention to him. After he won the election, Kobi announced immediately that he intended to try to drive the chareidim from the city.

Kobi’s overtly prejudiced statements were brought up in the Knesset. MK Dani Saida, who resides in the north, in a moshav near Meron, said to his colleagues, “This week we were informed, unfortunately, of a phenomenon that has never occurred before: An elected mayor is launching an unbridled verbal assault on an entire community, which lives in harmony with the other residents of the city and is an integral part of the city… Instead of conveying a message of unity and pacification, Mr. Kobi has chosen to continue lashing out at the chareidi community without restraint. This intolerable incitement on his part reminds all of us of certain dark periods in our history, which certainly should not be associated with the city of Teveria, where chilonim, chareidim, and national-religious Jews live side by side in perfect harmony.”

Kobi was caught by security cameras entering the shul of the mara d’asra, Rav Avrohom Dov Auerbach, where he tore down notices that called on the public to refrain from cooperating with him. Even the secular press voiced astonishment at his conduct

Like everyone else, I was astounded by Kobi’s actions. Not only does he lack the faintest idea of how a public figure should relate to his constituents and to the media, but he also seems to lack the most basic understanding of how to relate to other human beings on any level. In his world, nothing exists outside himself.

Yaakov Weinroth, the famed attorney, once commented that the scandal surrounding the prime minister’s wife isn’t really a matter for a criminal court. Rather, it should be handled with professional treatment. Similarly, after Prime Minister Netanyahu accused President Rivlin and Gideon Saar of executing a “putsch” against him, the president responded by asserting that Netanyahu was in need of psychiatric treatment for his paranoia. It was hardly a presidential response, but we can say the same about Ron Kobi’s behavior.

 

Ehud Barak’s Petty Invective

I don’t know if you are aware of Ehud Barak’s most recent vitriolic attack on the prime minister. “My mind wonders about Netanyahu’s logic,” Barak recently wrote, “and my stomach churns at the thought that on a night when we know in advance that such an undertaking is about to get underway, our country is headed – based on the personal decision of the prime minister – by Miri Regev.”

Whenever the prime minister leaves the country, or when he undergoes a medical procedure that makes him unavailable – as was the case this week – he appoints a different government minister to substitute for him. Regev substituted for Netanyahu during his trip to France, and when the prime minister underwent medical tests at Shaare Tzedek Hospital under general anesthesia, he designated Ze’ev Elkin as his substitute. It is not the most significant appointment, to say the least, but it was enough to induce Ehud Barak to voice his usual denunciations of Netanyahu, his political foe, while also defaming Miri Regev. What did Regev ever do to him? Why did she deserve to be maligned? At the end of the day, it was not Regev whose image was harmed. It was Barak himself who sounded petty and disgraceful.

Ehud Olmert also launched an unprecedented attack against Netanyahu last week, but that, at least, was legitimate. It is all a question of how the criticism is phrased – and Barak’s choice of words, unlike Olmert’s, was simply deplorable.

 

Exploitation of the Pittsburgh Massacre

Seven members of the Knesset submitted separate motions for a discussion about the massacre in Pittsburgh. Each of those requests was formulated in a slightly different style. MK Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian member of the Knesset, titled his motion, “The Murder of Jews in a Shul in Pittsburgh, in the United States.” Nachman Shai, Mossi Raz, and Dov Khenin all used the same title (indicating that two of them copied it from the third): “An Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Throughout the World.” Uri Maklev’s request was titled “An Anti-Semitic Attack Against Jews in the United States”; he did not refer to the fact that it occurred in a synagogue. Yoav Ben-Tzur of the Shas party wrote, “The Terrible Tragedy in Pittsburgh – The Slaughter of Mispallelim in an Anti-Semitic Incident Without Precedent in America.”

That leaves only the motion filed by Elazar Stern, the member of the Knesset who is perennially hostile to Yiddishkeit. In this case, he saw fit to label his motion “Implementation of the Kosel Agreement in Light of the Horrific Attack in the United States.” Apparently, it isn’t only in America that people exploited the attack to advance political agendas.

Stern’s speech was a cynical, embarrassing and saddening exploitation of a terrible tragedy. “You, who drive a wedge between the Conservative movement and the Jewish people, cannot now come and say to us, ‘Let us unite in response to the anti-Semitic murders of a few people who were killed because they are Jewish,’” Stern proclaimed. “I don’t want to make it seem as if I am trying to score points from this, but already on Motzoei Shabbos – and I want you to know this – along with the terrible pain of these murders, I commented that it is fortunate that this despicable murderer, Robert Bowers, did not hear the discussions in this building about the Kosel agreement. If he had, then he might not have gone to a Conservative synagogue. He would have heard that at the Kosel, even at the edge of the plaza, in a place where you have never davened – because you have never davened there, and there isn’t a single chareidi Knesset member sitting here who has davened there – that even there, we cannot allocate a place for the Reform and Conservative movements, lest someone think that they are Jews in every respect.”

 

Immigration by Numbers

While we are on the topic of America, Yitzchok Herzog recently returned from a visit there, and he spoke about the prayers that took place in the aftermath of the slaughter in Pittsburgh. Herzog, as you may recall, is no longer a member of the Knesset. He is now the chairman of the Jewish Agency, having replaced Natan Sharansky, who served in that position for many years. And Herzog does not intend for this to be the last stop of his career: He hopes to be elected to the office of president of the State of Israel as soon as Reuven Rivlin’s seven-year term is over. If he achieves that objective, he will be the first son of a former president to hold the same position. His father, Chaim Herzog, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and general in the IDF, also served as Israel’s president, although he did not exactly have major impact while he was in office.

Yitzchok Herzog will have to compete against Yuli Edelstein, the current Knesset speaker, who has also set his sights on the office of president. Rivlin also came to office directly from the position of Knesset speaker. The president of the state is elected by the members of the Knesset, which gives an advantage to a candidate who served in the Knesset for many years, such as Yitzchok Herzog. The Knesset speaker also has a certain advantage in that he is in a unique position to garner the support of his fellow Knesset members. Today, there are those who claim that Edelstein is trying to ingratiate himself with the Arabs, so that they will vote for him when the time comes. The same thing was said about Rivlin in his own time.

One of the first things that Herzog did in his new position was make an appearance at the airport to greet arriving immigrants. There aren’t many immigrants coming to Israel, which makes it an occasion for celebration when new olim arrive. Natan Sharansky used to do the same thing.

On this particular occasion, 300 immigrants arrived simultaneously, albeit from several different countries: France, Russia, Argentina, and Brazil. Two hundred of the immigrants came from France; seventy of them are children. That raises the question of whether these children will receive a religious education, as they did in France, or if they will be placed in the secular school system in the State of Israel. The Jews of France tend to believe innocently that every school in Israel is “kosher.” They do not know that the public school system in Israel is filled with heresy.

In honor of the occasion, the Jewish Agency released some statistics about aliyah. Since the state was first established, the agency claims that it has assisted 3.26 million immigrants from around the world with aliyah. The largest number of immigrants – 1.28 million altogether – come from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Presumably, that means that most of them are not halachically Jewish. The Jewish Agency recognizes a potential immigrant as a Jew even if only his father was Jewish. They also reported that 273,000 immigrants came from Romania, 244,000 from Morocco, 158,000 from Poland, 145,000 from America, 129,000 from Iraq, 115,000 from France, 94,000 from Ethiopia, and 81,000 from Iran. The precise year to which these statistics refer is not clear to me.

 

License Plates for Scooters?

Once again, I would like to share several of the interesting laws that were recently proposed in the Knesset.

While the coalition is opposed to lowering the electoral threshold for admission to the Knesset, two of the legislature’s members have submitted bills that would alter the law. Mossi Raz suggests lowering the threshold to 1 percent, the same threshold that existed in the past, while Mickey Zohar of the Likud party has proposed lowering it to 2.5 percent, instead of the current figure of 3.25 percent.

MK Yaakov Asher has submitted an interesting bill that would require electric bicycles and electric scooters to have license plates. This would aid the efforts of law enforcement personnel, but it would also make it possible to purchase insurance for these vehicles, as well as to perform official transfers of ownership. Perhaps the next step will be to require annual inspections.

And there are always bizarre new laws. Here are two of the unusual proposals that have been made: MK Yehuda Glick has submitted a bill that would prohibit smoking in an apartment if it might cause damage to a neighbor. In the explanatory text accompanying the bill, he claims that there are some people who find that they are unable to use their own balconies, since the smoke from their neighbors’ cigarettes disturbs them.

Meanwhile, MK Merav Michaeli has proposed expanding the legal ban on gender segregation. She explained that the current law makes exceptions for certain places, and she wishes to make it clear that segregation is permitted only in “sports facilities, houses of worship, educational institutions, and simcha halls.” Segregation would be strictly prohibited in any other place, and the law would also prohibit the posting of signs that state that men and women must remain separate. I cannot understand why no one in the chareidi community has attempted to introduce a law that would put an end to this madness.

 

The Stolen Kidney

A few months ago, a shocking story came to light in the Knesset during what seemed like an ordinary day of work.

The episode began when Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, addressed the Knesset with some words of praise for MK Nurit Koren, who had submitted a new bill pertaining to the lost children of the immigrants from Yemen. Since Koren had mentioned that it was the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Uzi Meshullam (the 13th of Tammuz, which was the date when this discussion took place), Deri added some words of appreciation for him, as well. “I feel a personal need – and I think all of us should feel the same way – to ask for his forgiveness,” Deri said. “We all labeled him an outlandish extremist, a person who was looking for a fight. There isn’t a single bad word that wasn’t said about this man, who was accused of sowing discord, inventing allegations, creating rifts and wounding the people, as well as defaming the entire Jewish nation, chas vechalilah. Yet it was later revealed that every word that he said, and much more, was absolutely true. And you [Nurit Koren] have made a very important contribution to revealing the truth and making sure that justice is done.”

At that point, Deri dropped a bombshell. “Two weeks ago,” he related, “I was visited by a respected head of a municipal government. I do not know if he would allow me to reveal his name, so I will not identify him, but I will tell you that he is a distinguished person and a former senior official in the Shin Bet. He is a normal person, not an alarmist, and he told me the story of his mother’s family when they came to Israel from Persia in the 1950s. There were two horrific stories; I could not believe them. One of the incidents involved a girl who was about four years old, who became ill and was hospitalized. The next day, the family was told that she had died and been buried. They were warned not to ask questions and were sent home. That is certainly one of the cases that you are already dealing with. The second story involved a different aunt, who became ill at the age of 17 or 18 and was placed in a hospital in the south. After a few days, she was released and returned home, boruch Hashem. Many years later, when she was admitted to a hospital again, they asked her, ‘Why didn’t you tell us that you have only one kidney?’ It turned out that during her first hospitalization, when she was only 17 or 18 years old, one of her kidneys was removed.”

The entire Knesset was shocked by this story. Nurit Koren shouted, “What?”

“Yes,” Deri said. “I heard this story two weeks ago, and I had the same reaction. If it hadn’t been told to me by a distinguished mayor whom I know and respect, I would have been certain that the story was fabricated. Unfortunately, this is the type of thing that used to happen.”

 

Nazis Attacking Arabs

They say that reality can be stranger than fiction. In this case, that is certainly true.

In the city of Kaminetz in eastern Germany, a group of neo-Nazis recently decided to hold a demonstration. But the protest soon degenerated into violence, as the protestors took over the center of the city and attacked anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance. German neo-Nazis essentially launched a pogrom against Arabs.

The catalyst for this incident was the fact that an Arab immigrant living in Kaminetz – which, like the rest of Germany, has become a place of refuge for Arab refugees from the Middle East and from other Arab countries – murdered a local German. The murder ignited the latent hatred against immigrants in general, and against Arab immigrants in particular, and a “spontaneous” protest was held. Surprisingly, the protest involved over 3,000 demonstrators, a huge number for a country that is generally highly apathetic. The protestors fought with the police and managed to force them to retreat by pelting them with bottles and rocks. The next stage of this brutal “protest” was a series of violent attacks against anyone who appeared to be an Arab.

 

Why Did They Come to Israel?

Bituach Leumi – the National Insurance Institute – is fighting for its financial stability. The institute is currently trying to cancel the stipends paid to the disabled, out of the concern that its coffers will be empty in another 20 or 30 years. The “logic” for this decision seems like something out of Chelm: If they do not have money in two or three decades, they will be unable to pay stipends to the disabled, and they have therefore decided to revoke those stipends even now. I cannot understand their reasoning.

Perhaps the institute should examine how much the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union have cost it. There are many non-Jews, or people of dubious Jewishness, who immigrated to Israel from those countries. They came for economic reasons, not based on Zionist ideology or any intent to collaborate with the Jewish people, and many of them moved on to Europe or America after receiving all the benefits offered by the “immigration basket.” The immigrants who were disabled or otherwise limited, however, remained in the country and became a huge drain on Israel’s finances, especially on the resources of Bituach Leumi. One can only wonder who gave Sharon and Shamir the ill-considered advice to import tens of thousands of non-Jews, including plenty of anti-Semites, to our country.

A few newspapers recently carried interviews with onetime immigrants who have since decided to leave Israel and resettle abroad. The picture that emerges from these interviews is very clear: They considered Israel to be a decent destination, but after the initial process of settling themselves here and receiving the basic benefits that they could gain, their goal was to move to a country where life could be even more comfortable, such as Germany, Canada, Sweden, and the like. In other words, Israel was merely a means, not an end in itself.

Haaretz has a column that features conversations with ordinary passengers at the airport who are either leaving Israel or arriving from abroad. This time, the interviewer spoke with two people who had just arrived from Los Angeles on a Birthright program. One of them, who was flying back to America via Ukraine in order to meet her father, related, “In the 1990s, my family immigrated to Cyprus because there was food there. That is where I was born. We moved to America from there, but my father realized that life in the United States wasn’t for him, and he returned to Ukraine. My brother actually plans to move to Israel soon with his family; they have four small children. They want to come here [to Israel] because there are better economic prospects here.”

Better economic prospects – that is his entire reason. Well, it is very nice that our country has compassion for others and accepts so many immigrants without discriminating between Jews and non-Jews, but I must wonder if it is ethical if this largesse comes at the expense of the Jewish citizens who have lived here for many years – and if people in difficult situations will not be able to receive government stipends, for the simple reason that the government is running out of money…