My Take on the News

The Prosecution’s Turn Has Arrived

This may have become a tired refrain, but it is still true: Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu’s political woes are far from over. There was a time when it was Lieberman and Bennett who regularly attacked him; now it is Bennett alone. Of course, Netanyahu is also still under investigation by the police. And the media reported more bad news for the prime minister: “The prosecution has recommended indicting Prime Minister Netanyahu on charges of bribery in Case 4000 and Case 2000.” But there was something different about this announcement: Instead of the police, it was the prosecution that had made the recommendation.

Until now, Netanyahu has always asserted vehemently that nothing will come of the allegations against him. “There will be nothing, because there was nothing,” has been his constant refrain. Despite the leaked reports from the police that they would recommend indicting him, Netanyahu has radiated a sense of calm, reminding everyone that the decision is made not by the police but by the prosecution. He insisted that while the police tend to be rash, the prosecutors will think a thousand times before filing an indictment. He predicted that the case would be buried by the prosecution. There is ample precedent for such an outcome; many other cases have been discarded by the prosecutors without developing into indictments. It is also logical to assume that the prosecution would be more cautious. The police have a very narrow view of the situation, whereas the prosecution must take a much broader picture into account. For instance, if a prime minister is indicted and then acquitted, it would be the equivalent of a political earthquake. People would claim that the indictment was a ploy to oust a sitting prime minister. The police investigators, who would not play the role of prosecutors in a courtroom, do not need to concern themselves with this possibility, but the prosecution themselves must be cautious, even if the police have no reason to care if Netanyahu is indicted and exonerated.

The prosecution seems to be favoring an indictment, and that is a very different story. At the same time, it wasn’t officially announced. This was merely a piece of information that was leaked from the state prosecutor’s office, and we cannot be certain that it is actually true, as the prime minister himself said in response to the report.

If the reports are correct, though, the attorney general will have a very hard time sparing Netanyahu from an indictment, even if he wants to do so. Case 2000 relates to the prime minister’s dealings with the publisher of Yediot Acharonot. If Netanyahu is indicted in that case, then there will be demands for other people – including Yair Lapid – to be charged with crimes as well. Case 4000 involves Netanyahu’s relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the CEO of Bezeq. In this case, the police and the prosecution will rely on state witnesses to make their case against Netanyahu. Their argument is that Elovitch received certain benefits, mainly for Bezeq, and in exchange he provided Netanyahu with favorable coverage on his website (Walla).

If the prosecution indeed plans to recommend an indictment, then a hearing will be held soon. And that will certainly affect the possibility of elections. It would probably benefit Netanyahu to win an election despite the cloud of suspicion hovering over him. He would then be able to present the attorney general with his victory as a sign that the public still wants him in office despite the allegations against him, and that he should therefore be left alone.

 

Photo-Op with Chareidi Soldiers

Netanyahu is also facing some new troubles, in the form of the security situation. Naftali Bennett is taking advantage of the situation to accuse the prime minister of failing to do enough for the sake of the country’s security, implying that he does not care about the security of its citizens. Remember, Netanyahu is not only the prime minister, but also the defense minister. And since he knows a thing or two about public relations – no less than his political rival, Education Minister Bennett – his most recent highly publicized tours have been to the areas where the country’s security is threatened. In his capacity as Minister of Defense, Netanyahu visited a group of chareidi soldiers and had himself photographed with them after two of their comrades were killed two weeks ago.

Netanyahu also visited the bus stop at Giat Assaf where the recent double murder took place. There, too, he made sure to have his photograph taken.

In order to further enhance his right-wing image, Netanyahu also allowed the passage of two bills that he has refused until now to allow the Knesset to approve. Both of these laws have been opposed by the attorney general, who claimed that they are unjust and he will not be able to defend them against challenges in the Supreme Court. One of the laws states that the government is permitted to expel terrorists, along with any members of their family who abetted them, from the areas where they live. The other law would grant legal status to certain Jewish settlements. Fearing the disapproval of the rest of the world, Netanyahu has always resisted the pressure to pass that law despite the fact that the settlements were built at the initiative of the Israeli government itself. Now, however, he decided that gaining approval within Israel is more important than remaining in the good graces of the world in general.

 

Is the Army Ready for War?

Another issue that has been raised to cast aspersions on Netanyahu is the question of whether the army is ready for war. This is a topic that has been discussed behind closed doors – in the army, in government offices, in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and, most importantly, in the security cabinet, the one forum from which information is never leaked. These discussions took place with great sobriety, because the issue is very serious.

It all began with a report from the IDF ombudsman, who is officially in charge of handling complaints from soldiers. The ombudsman’s annual report is distributed in the Knesset, and I make a point of reading it. Many of the complaints deal with religious matters – a soldier who was ordered by his commander to shave off his beard, or who was prevented from receiving glatt kosher food, or who wanted to consult with a military rov and discovered that there was no one available who answered to that description. In his most recent report, the ombudsman uncharacteristically decided to examine whether the army is prepared for the next war – and he concluded that it is not. Naturally, that was highly distressing to the Israeli government.

As a result, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee decided to form a subcommittee to investigate the matter. They spent a number of months analyzing the situation – in secret, of course – and their findings were publicized this week. The conclusion reached by the subcommittee was precisely the opposite of the ombudsman’s findings: “According to senior officials in the army, not only has the number of training sessions increased, but their level has also improved. There has been an increase in the level of preparedness with respect to almost every parameter. The subcommittee has found that the processes employed by the Chief of Staff to advance the army’s abilities were completely acceptable.” Noting that they met with many officials to clarify the situation, the committee members announced, “In response to the claims that the IDF is not prepared for war, we have found that the IDF has improved and increased its level of preparedness and it is prepared for a war despite the fact that there are some points of weakness, most of which are known.” Of course, the public statement did not provide any details regarding that point.

 

Supreme Court Decisions Soon to Come

The Supreme Court has begun hinting that it is about to release its verdict regarding the Kosel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is already working to forestall the damage. He suspects that the judges will order the government to give the Reform movement an equal section of the plaza, and the result will be a political firestorm that he will not survive. To his chagrin, the chareidi parties are not allowing him to have the government grant the Reform movement an area that is further removed from the main plaza. The chareidim consider it better for the court to accept the movement’s petition than for the government to give them anything, even if it would be smaller and less significant. The goal is to avoid allowing the government to grant recognition of any kind to Reform Judaism; that is the approach espoused by the gedolei Yisroel. As a result of this stance, the district planning committee was forced to halt several processes that were set in place to prepare an area for the Reform movement’s use. In fact, it turned out that the authority to make those decisions rests with the local planning committee, which consists of representatives of the Yerushalayim City Council, rather than the district committee, which is made up of representatives of the government ministries and public figures in Yerushalayim.

There is also the issue of giyur. As you may remember, the prime minister assigned Moshe Nissim to find a solution to the issue. This was another challenge that came from the Reform movement, who insisted that their “conversions,” both in Israel and abroad, must be accepted by the state and the Rabbinate. I have written several articles about this in the past. Moshe Nissim, a former minister on behalf of the Likud party and a son of former Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchak Nissim, toiled for weeks to formulate a recommendation, only to see it rejected by the Rabbinate. The Supreme Court is scheduled to have its say on this issue as well, and the religious public is not optimistic about the results. Just last week, we passed the court-imposed deadline for the government to come up with its own position.

 

Chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv

The ongoing saga of chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv can also be traced to the Supreme Court’s interference. After the court gave its backing to the Tel Aviv municipality, which had passed an ordinance permitting stores to operate on Shabbos, a law was enacted giving the Interior Minister the power to veto a municipal ordinance to that effect. Nevertheless, it was too late to change the situation in Tel Aviv itself; since the city bylaw had already been instituted, it was too late for the Minister of the Interior to override it. As a result, businesses continue to operate on Shabbos in Tel Aviv.

This week, the Tel Aviv municipality invited the owners of minimarkets and grocery stores in the city to submit their requests for permits to operate on Shabbos and holidays. The requests will be accepted only from stores with valid business licenses and a total floor space of no more than 500 square meters. The city will accept requests throughout the month of January, and a certain number of the approved requests will be chosen through a lottery. The winners of the lottery will be permitted to have their stores open on Shabbos, but not to employ Jews on the Shabbos day.

 

Showdown in the Knesset

One of the 120 members of the Knesset is a woman who is extremely adept at making herself heard. Her name is Penina Tamano-Shata. She is an immigrant from Ethiopia and a member of the Yesh Atid party, but she grew up in a religious home and often backs the chareidi parties, especially Shas.

Mrs. Tamano-Shata questioned Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security, about police brutality against the Ethiopian community. Her question dealt with an incident in which a group of police officers entered a school in Ashdod and began beating the students, especially the Ethiopians among them. Minister Erdan, who is responsible for the police force, was extremely flustered upon viewing footage of the incident. But when he began expressing his dismay, Tamano interrupted him to berate him. “I am almost completely in agreement with you,” Erdan told her, “but your shouting does not accomplish anything.”

Erdan proceeded to admonish her not to twist his words. “I said that there have been improvements; I didn’t say that the police are perfect,” he said. “Perfect people exist only in the Knesset,” he added sardonically.

After responding to his three questioners – MKs Neguise, Tamano-Shata, and Khenin – Erdan was interrupted again by Tamano. “What is it that you are doing?” she demanded. “I didn’t understand what you claim to be doing.”

“Does anyone actually think that I run the police on that level?” Erdan asked, frustrated at the implication that he was not carrying out his job properly. “Do you really believe that I am personally involved in its investigations?”

“No,” Tamano said, “but you should look into this.”

“Or are you trying to put on a show for the media?” Erdan went on.

“A show for the media?” Tamano repeated. “We are talking about our lives and your responsibility!”

“Screaming isn’t the way to advance a cause,” Erdan said.

Tamano insisted that he look into the matter and Erdan assured her that he would. “You are not going to look into it,” she objected. “You have said that you can’t.”

“You do not decide what I will do,” Erdan replied.

“But you have already said that you can’t look into it. That was your answer,” Tamano shot back.

And so it continued. Tamano continued heckling Erdan, while the minister somehow managed to remain calm. One thing was clear: She knows how to ask questions and he knows how to answer them. I am certain that we haven’t seen the final showdown between the two.

 

A Fish Infiltration

On a more amusing note, here is a different exchange that took place during a recent Knesset sitting. A bill was introduced that would enact certain measures to prevent infiltrations by Eritreans, Sudanese, and other illegal immigrants who have been causing problems in our country. The bill was presented by Deputy Interior Minister Meshullam Nahari. One of the speakers during the discussion was Ahmed Tibi, who began discussing a completely unrelated topic – the new regulations pertaining to fishing at Achziv Beach.

Amir Peretz interjected, “What’s going on here? Are the fish infiltrators?”

Mk Yisroel Eichler, who was chairing the sitting, remarked, “One thing is clear: A fisherman loves fish.”

“That isn’t quite so clear,” Tibi replied.

“Then why does he try to catch them? To eat them?” Yoav Kisch called out, continuing the routine.

Peretz would not be distracted, though. “I don’t understand,” he repeated. “What is the connection to the law concerning infiltrators?”

“These fish have infiltrated the law,” Tibi replied.

“I guess they are hard to catch,” Peretz said.

 

Gilboa Speaks Out Again

Meir Gilboa, a former superintendent in the National Fraud Investigations Department who retired from his post at a young age, was interviewed by the media and opined that Gilad Erdan should resign from his post due to his failure to appoint a new police chief. Personally, I had the same opinion at first, but I changed my mind after hearing that Gilboa felt that way. I can’t help but wonder why he considered himself worthy of being interviewed in the first place. After all, Gilboa himself is a man whose entire career was marked by failure after failure.

I remember him very well from the period when Aryeh Deri and his aides – including myself – were under police investigation. Gilboa did not bother even trying to hide his loathing for Shas in general and Aryeh Deri in particular. In fact, his hatred for the entire chareidi community was all too evident. I heard his comments, and I witnessed him doing everything imaginable, including crossing many red lines, in order to find a way to incriminate Deri. People do not remember this anymore, but all of the investigations at the time ended with Deri being cleared of suspicion of wrongdoing. He was fully exonerated in the public case and was found to be guilty of only a single trivial offense: failing to recuse himself from dealing with the allocation of land for Talmud Torah Kol Yehuda. The allocation itself, though, was found to be legitimate – even though the police had been investigating a claim that it was utterly fictitious. Gilboa and the police failed in their tasks throughout the process. It was Gilboa who spearheaded the most massive investigation in the history of the State of Israel. He pursued it obsessively, and he was considered to have failed by any measure.

The only thing that investigation accomplished was netting a state witness of highly dubious veracity – whom the government itself described as a pathological liar – whose testimony was used by a blatantly hostile judge to convict Deri. But Gilboa certainly showed his talent for creating a smokescreen that would fool the public, and that is a skill that he has retained to this day. If he was really qualified, though, one would think that he would have been promoted to a position of greater seniority. In fact, why did he retire early from the police force? Why didn’t he last for long in any of the other positions that he held after his retirement? And why did the state comptroller decide to remove him from his advisory position?

 

The Maddening Logic of Bituach Leumi

Bituach Leumi – the National Insurance Institute – does everything in its power to withhold stipends from people who are legally entitled to them. I am acquainted with a man who requested a disability stipend. After a long, arduous battle, he finally received notice that Bituach Leumi had confirmed that he had a status of partial disability – exactly one percent below the threshold for a disability stipend. Naturally, this was not by chance.

The Minister of Welfare once explained to the Knesset that the officials in Bituach Leumi fear that it will run out of money within the next few years. Indeed, the newspapers predicted this week that Bituach Leumi will experience a deficit within four years. Moreover, according to the latest report, the institute is expected to declare bankruptcy in nineteen years, partly due to the fact that its surplus funds have been transferred to the Treasury for many years.

With all due respect to Bituach Leumi, I have to wonder if the deficit that they expect in four years, or the possibility of total bankruptcy nineteen years from now, truly justifies the government’s unyielding attitude toward citizens who are disabled today. Does it make any sense to withhold money from a disabled person today in order to have the same funds available for a disabled person who will apply for a stipend in another nineteen years?

This reminds me of the habit of parents who prevent their children from taking an afternoon nap so that they will go to sleep early in the evening and will not be a nuisance during the nighttime hours. I have never understood what they gain from that. In order to prevent their children from disturbing them at night, the parents allow themselves to be driven to distraction during the afternoon. What makes a quiet evening better than a quiet afternoon? There is also another analogy: a smoker who has only one cigarette left and can barely resist the temptation, but insists on saving it for his evening smoke, even though he spends the entire afternoon on edge because of his nicotine craving. Or, to put it another way, Bituach Leumi’s policies remind me of a person who drives himself to the breaking point in order to keep working, solely so that he will be able to rest later. Why shouldn’t he take a break immediately and then continue working later? Why must he drive himself to the point of collapse?

Of course, all of that leads me to the old story about the man who was sitting on a beach and lazily fishing, when a passerby called out to him, “Why are you sitting around and doing nothing? You should really go out to work!”

“Why should I go to work?” the man asked.

“If you go to work, you will earn money,” replied the purveyor of unsolicited advice. “You can invest that money and become wealthy, and then you can use your wealth to buy land, and you will be truly affluent.”

“And what will happen when I am wealthy?” the man pressed.

“Why, you’ll be able to do anything you please!” the passerby replied.

“In that case,” the other man said, “I am already doing as I please…”

 

An Encounter with the Steipler

Not long ago, I attended the wedding of a granddaughter of Reb Avrohom Mordechai Abish Halevi Eisen, a wonderful tzaddik who lives in my neighborhood and brings joy to many people. Last week, I visited him for a different reason: His brother, the tzadik Reb Yehuda Aryeh (Leibel) had passed away, and Reb Abish was sitting shivah. I heard wonderful things about the niftar at the shivah. I also encountered Reb Abish’s son at the shivah house, and I asked him if he was the son who once learned in the Yeshiva of Slabodka. When he confirmed that he was, I said, “Your father told me that he once brought you to the Steipler to receive a brocha.”

“Yes,” he confirmed, and he proceeded to share a story about the Steipler: “When I was learning in Slabodka, my aunt once called me and asked me to run to the Steipler and to ask if my grandfather should listen to the doctors who wanted him to have an operation.” The young man hurried to Rechov Rashbam to present the question to the Steipler, but when the gadol inquired about the situation, he was unable to answer any of the questions. His aunt had not given him any information – the name of the disease, the type of operation, or the probability that it would succeed. “What do you want me to tell you – yehei munach [not to operate] or yachaloku [to perform the operation]?” the Steipler finally asked, invoking a couple of phrases from the Gemara. Noting the bochur’s despondence, he added, “Tell your aunt that I will say a few perakim of Tehillim.”

A few days later, the patient passed away. At that time, the young man discovered that the idea of performing an operation was merely a possibility that had been raised by a junior doctor in order to give the family some hope. It was never a serious consideration.