My Take on the News

It’s Official: Netanyahu Accused of Crimes

The long expected announcement finally arrived on Thursday evening: The attorney general informed Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu that he has decided to press charges against him in three of the cases in which he has been accused of criminal conduct. Those cases are Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving gifts, and which may not be the most severe violation of the law but is certainly the most shameful of the accusations; Case 2000, in which the prime minister is accused of making a deal with Yediot Acharonot editor Nuni Moses for favorable coverage in the newspaper in exchange for closing down a competing paper; and Case 4000, which seems to consist of the most severe allegations – that Netanyahu accepted bribes from Shaul Elovich, in the form of favorable coverage on his web site, Walla, in exchange for massive benefits for Elovich’s economic interests, primarily the Bezeq telecommunications company.

So now it is official: We have a prime minister who is suspected of criminal conduct.

I see no reason to quote everything that the attorney general wrote in his decision. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating document. Over and over, he hammers away at Netanyahu, accusing him of doing one thing after another, including firing a director-general and changing the head of a government ministry, to accommodate Elovich’s requests. He makes a convincing case that bribes were given (by Elovich, who will also be tried for his role) and received (by Netanyahu). With regard to Case 1000, Mandelblit does not bother to conceal his abhorrence for Netanyahu’s way of life. The prime minister is depicted as a man who shamelessly demands gifts of enormous value. And in Mandelblit’s view, that is not just a sign of flawed character, but also a criminal breach of trust. As for Case 2000, the attorney general plans to press charges against Nuni Moses, the editor of Yediot Acharonot, as well. That may actually be the most encouraging part of this entire episode, since it will certainly be a good thing if Yediot Acharonot loses some of its substantial influence.

Netanyahu delivered his response at prime time on Thursday evening. He began with a hefty dose of self-aggrandizement, quoting the praises he has received from Putin and Trump. Netanyahu took advantage of the country’s attention to deliver what was clearly a campaign speech. As for the criminal charges themselves, Netanyahu continued insisting that he would refute all of the charges against him. He objected to the pressure that the left has exerted on the attorney general – pressure that, he asserted, proved to be effective – and he expressed concern that their efforts were harmful to the spirit of democracy. He also voiced a concern that some potential Likud voters will be deterred from voting for the party solely because of the allegations against him. (Netanyahu used plenty of vivid language, declaring that he had been “framed” and was the victim of a “witch hunt,” and charging his accusers with “spilling my wife’s blood,” “persecuting my son,” and “putting us through the seven levels of Gehinnom.”) He still insists that the left is trying to bypass the democratic process to effect a regime change, and he continues to repeat his mantra that “there will be nothing because there was nothing there.”

A Long Time Until the Trial

The attorney general’s announcement of his intention to indict the prime minister was the main focus of the country’s attention. Both the announcement itself and the many reactions to it bespoke incredible levels of hypocrisy and insincerity. Prior to the announcement, Netanyahu and the Likud party appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the attorney general from making a public announcement. Actually, the petition was filed with the Supreme Court by a private attorney two weeks ago, but the Likud party hastened to join the suit after the media reported last Wednesday night that the attorney general planned to announce that he had chosen to indict Netanyahu. (That leads to another point: It is interesting that all the country’s media outlets were aware of this last Wednesday night and that they all reported on it simultaneously. Isn’t that a clear sign that the prosecution is not only leaking information to the media, but actually coordinating its revelations to maximize their impact?) For the time being, if I understood correctly, the court informed the Likud that they are not considered to be connected to the case and they do not have the legal right to petition the court on this subject. I am sure you are wondering, as I am, why the lawyer from Tel Aviv wasn’t told the same thing…

What makes this all very suspicious is the argument that if the attorney general publicized his decision, it would have an impact on the elections. As Netanyahu put it, this essentially constitutes an effort to unseat a sitting prime minister through undemocratic means. That is certainly a logical argument. In fact, it is precisely what the Likud claimed when it joined the petition.

But it is important to add a couple of points. For one thing, after an announcement that an indictment is in the works, the law gives Netanyahu the right to a hearing. This means that he is entitled to meet with the attorney general and to make another attempt to convince him to refrain from pressing charges. Netanyahu will certainly have some convincing arguments to make at that hearing. (For instance, in the Elovich case, there has been extensive testimony that Netanyahu had no connection to the decisions that were made in the government regarding Bezeq, which means that it wasn’t actually Netanyahu who granted benefits to Elovich, the owner of both the Bezeq telecommunications company and the news site Walla. That should certainly clear his name on that count.)

Secondly, and this is even more important, the attorney general will need a significant amount of time after the hearing in order to study all the materials related to the case. If Netanyahu and his attorneys submit documents for review, he will need even more time. Before long, the court system’s summer recess will arrive (when the senior officials in the Ministry of Justice also go on vacation), which will be followed by the Yomim Tovim. Thus, the indictment certainly will not be finalized until the winter of 2020.

Netanyahu Plays the Victim

The biggest question is: If the entire country already knew what the attorney general had decided, why did Netanyahu care if he made an official announcement about it? Moreover, in their response to the petition to the Supreme Court, the officials of the state prosecution argued that there is no legal basis for preventing the decision from being publicized. That alone made the nature of the decision abundantly clear, even if they didn’t reveal it explicitly. With these unmistakable signals about the prosecution’s intent, did it really matter if the decision was announced to the public? Did the announcement really tell the Israeli people anything that they didn’t already know?

If the Likud party felt that the plans for an indictment would have an adverse effect on their voters (and it is already being speculated that the Likud party will lose four or five mandates as a result of the attorney general’s announcement), then that impact should already have been a fait accompli. To any voters who would be affected by the plans for an indictment, it should make no difference if the attorney general had announced it officially or had merely leaked the information to the media.

In fact, what would have happened if the Supreme Court had indeed ordered Mandelblit not to announce his decision until after the election? Would that suddenly mean that the potential Likud voters would be any less affected? Would the ruling have cleared Netanyahu of any suspicion of corruption?

In short, even at the beginning of last week, the entire country knew exactly what the attorney general had decided, and every newspaper was able to accurately lay out the charges that he would level against the prime minister. At that point, did it really matter if a formal announcement was made? This makes the Likud’s efforts to silence the attorney general seem disingenuous. But the same is also true of those who made the opposite argument: that the voters have the right to be aware of all the information available about a candidate in the election, including whether that person is facing an indictment, and therefore the attorney general had to make his announcement. To that, one could make the same argument: Even if Mandelblit announced his decision only after the elections, we would already have known what was in store.

What is most astounding about this situation is that Netanyahu himself bears the most responsibility for calling the public’s attention to the impending decision. Until now, his strategy has been to portray himself as a victim, loudly protesting the fact that the left and the media had joined forces in an effort to topple him from power. He has been speaking about this for months already, on every platform and in every campaign video. How can he now claim that this announcement, coming before the elections, will have a negative influence on voters? Moreover, it is widely believed that Netanyahu’s image as a victim will actually help him in the election, and that makes it difficult to understand his objections to the public announcement. If anything, there should be no doubt that he is the victim of unjust persecution, and that should attract the voters’ sympathy.

Kite Terror Continues

We have had other concerns, aside from Netanyahu’s legal woes. For one thing, there was the election itself. In addition, we had several days of rainfall. In America, rain is taken in stride, but here in Israel it results in plenty of flooding and immobilized cars. We all saw pictures of cars that were unable to traverse various flooded areas; in many cases, the floodwaters nearly reached the roofs of the cars. There were some instances in which the vehicles’ occupants had to be rescued by emergency personnel. There were also electric outages and other disruptions as a result of the storm.

Then there were our ongoing security issues. The Shin Bet is actively monitoring the situation and has been regularly thwarting terror attacks before they can take place. This past week, two terror masterminds (that is, the terrorists who plan the attacks, rather than those who actually carry them out) were taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the hostilities in the south have continued. An incendiary balloon carrying explosives, which was launched from the Gaza Strip, landed on a house in the vicinity of Sderot. (The security services are careful not to publicly identify the actual locations where these explosives land, to prevent the Arab terrorists from improving their aim. That is despite the fact that the concern isn’t exactly relevant in this case, since the kites and balloons cannot be directed to a specific target. They are simply carried by the wind.) The balloon landed at the entrance to a residential home. Miraculously, it did not result in injuries. The spate of balloon terror began one year ago and caused 1,800 fires this past summer, burning 31,000 dunams of agricultural land.

Then there was an issue concerning the mosque that was erected on the Har Habayis. This is an issue that has the potential to ignite not only Israel itself, but the entire Middle East as well. Netanyahu will have to decide on Israel’s reaction, especially in light of the threats from Jordan and the potential for the entire area to be rocked by hostilities. In the past, the tensions over the Har Habayis escalated into an intifada. It is likely that the upcoming elections will have some influence on his decision.

Putin to Visit Yerushalayim

As much as Netanyahu has come under fire on the domestic front, he has continued successfully managing Israel’s internal security and its diplomatic relations with other countries. Two weeks ago, he was scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin. At the last minute, Netanyahu canceled his meeting (or, in his words, “postponed” it) on account of the crisis in relations between the Bayit Yehudi party (led by Rafi Peretz and Betzalel Smotrich), and Otzma Yehudit, the party led by Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir. Netanyahu considered it crucial to prevent the right-wing parties from splintering, which might cost them precious mandates in the election and could ultimately cost him the government. At this time, the right and left seem to be almost evenly matched in the polls. Netanyahu brought his entire political weight to bear on the effort to have Bayit Yehudi agree to join forces with Otzma Yehudit. The leaders of Bayit Yehudi were reluctant to do this, since Otzma Yehudit consists of followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane.

So Netanyahu canceled his trip, eliciting a twofold condemnation from the left, which accused him of making it possible for “right-wing extremist terrorists” to enter the Knesset while simultaneously destroying Israel’s relations with Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu has yet to clear himself of the first accusation. In fact, petitions have already been filed with Justice Chanan Meltzer, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, to disqualify the right-wing parties altogether. (At the same time, Otzma Yehudit has petitioned for the Arab parties to be disqualified.) With regard to Putin, though, Netanyahu managed to score a major accomplishment.

It all began when the left accused Netanyahu of poisoning Israel’s relationship with Russia, which could potentially have serious ramifications on events in Syria and Iran. “Putin will never agree to see you again,” one of the left’s spokesmen insisted in a broadcast directed at Netanyahu. Yet, a few days later, Netanyahu traveled to Russia, met with Putin, and was showered with praise by the Russian premier. It is said that the crisis in relations between Netanyahu and Putin over the downed plane has also been resolved. And now Putin announced that he was pleased to accept the invitation to visit Yerushalayim.

Netanyahu also received some words of support from President Trump, who is steadily becoming embroiled in troubles of his own, as you are well aware. When the American president was asked for his reaction to the planned indictments against Netanyahu, he replied tersely that Israel has a prime minister who is both intelligent and strong.

Unlimited Potential for the Shas Party

Everyone has been following the ongoing polls in Israel, and there is growing concern within the ranks of some parties, including Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu party and Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisroel Beiteinu. United Torah Judaism still seems fairly secure, as polls indicate that it will receive six or seven mandates. MK Uri Maklev commented this week that he would not be surprised if even the tenth candidate on the party’s list secures a seat in the Knesset, considering that the Norwegian law allows two ministers to resign from the Knesset in order to make way for the next party members on the list. Two recent polls showed the Shas party receiving seven mandates, which resulted in passionate reactions in many parts of the country. Some of those reactions came from people who were overjoyed at the predictions of success for the party; others were dismayed at the thought that it wouldn’t be wiped off the map.

Personally, I am not surprised at all. Shas is a party with potential for growth. A voter with left-wing views, for instance, has a limited range of choices. He can opt to vote for Meretz or for the Labor party. There is no sense in even trying to convince such a person to vote for Likud, or even for Kulanu, to say nothing of the New Right party headed by Shaked and Bennett. On the right, as well, a secular voter has limited choices: He can vote for the Likud or for Bennett and Shaked, but that is all.

A Sephardic Israeli, however, is an entirely different story. If he is observant, especially if he is chareidi, then it is easy to appeal to him even if he intends to vote for a different party. “How could you betray your brethren, your Sephardic roots, and Maran of blessed memory, who restored the glory of Sephardic Jewry?” the Shas party would ask such a person. Even a secular Sephardi would not be all that difficult to convince. In every election campaign, Rav Ovadiah Yosef used to announce to irreligious voters, “Unlike your grandfathers, you drive on Shabbos and you don’t wear yarmulkas. But now you are being offered an opportunity to give nachas to your grandparents and to your heritage with minimal effort. With one small slip of paper,” he would add, “you can be a partner in all the mitzvos that Shas will accomplish during the coming term. The party will fight for Shabbos and for the kedusha of the Kosel. It will build shuls and mikvaos and it will increase the spiritual treasures of Sephardic Jewry. When you arrive in the World of Truth, you will suddenly discover that you have an enormous quantity of zechuyot simply because you voted for Shas. How can you give up that opportunity?”

Driven Away from His Own Home

This past week, relations between Israel and Poland took a turn for the worse. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Netanyahu was holding too many ministerial portfolios. He is not only the prime minister, but has also been serving as the defense minister, foreign minister, and health minister. Therefore, acting on the court’s orders, Netanyahu designated Yisroel Katz to replace him as the country’s official foreign minister. Within a day, Katz managed to stir up a diplomatic tempest by publicly declaring that the Polish people collaborated with the Germans during the Holocaust. In Poland, this statement led to reactions of outrage.

It is quite possible that Katz was wrong to antagonize the Poles. After all, there are Jews living in Poland even today, and they definitely need some quiet and normalcy; they will suffer from tensions between Israel and their government. Nevertheless, there is also no denying that his statements were factually correct.

This past week, in an incredible show of serendipity, a study by the Polish Academy of Sciences that was publicized exposed the Polish people’s collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust. When the Nazis were rounding up Jews for deportation to concentration camps, the Polish gentiles generally refused to grant refuge to the Jews who managed to escape. They may have been motivated by fear of the Germans or by animosity toward Jews, but the result was the same: They were utterly apathetic to Jews who were in mortal danger. The study also found that the normative reaction in Poland was to refrain from assisting Jews. Of course, this still doesn’t mean that Minister Katz was correct or wise when he made that comment.

Katz realized very quickly that he had ignited an unnecessary firestorm. Upon hearing protests from both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the chief rabbi of Poland, he began trying to lower the flames of conflict. At the very least, he will now be able to credit himself with one accomplishment as foreign minister – reducing tension between Poland and Israel, albeit tension of which he is the cause…

This week, I received a copy of a book entitled Eidut Chayah, by Motti Lieber, which is a collection of testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Here is one chilling excerpt among many: “We tried to figure out what to do. We had to escape. It was winter and it was very cold. We climbed over the fence. I remember that I scraped myself and began to bleed. I ran toward the house where I had once lived with my parents. After a decent amount of time, I finally arrived at my home. I knocked on the door, but the person who answered it was a non-Jewish woman. She looked at me incredulously and asked what I wanted. I told her that the house belonged to me and I wanted to come inside. She called her husband, and he came out with a large pitchfork and threatened that if I didn’t leave immediately, he would kill me. And so I ran away into the snow-covered fields.” And that isn’t even the most horrifying of the eyewitness accounts.

An Anomaly in the Tax Regulations

Whenever I receive a phone call from a number beginning with a zero followed by five sevens, I pick up the phone immediately. That prefix belongs to the Prison Service, and therefore I automatically identify a call from such a number as coming from an inmate in one of Israel’s prisons. I have a number of “clients” in the prisons, and I am well aware that failing to answer a call from any of them could be devastating to them. In Maasiyahu Prison, for instance, there are dozens of chareidim, including yungeleit, and while most of them are serving time for crimes of some sort, there are some who I believe are completely innocent.

One of those convicts is an outstanding talmid chochom who was a beloved ben bayis and protégé of several gedolei Yisroel. This man, before his conviction, was a veritable one-man chesed organization, and that is a quality that he has retained even behind bars. His intervention has already led several former get refusers, were incarcerated alongside him, to agree to release their long-suffering spouses. He often uses his array of abilities and connections to benefit his fellow inmates. Whenever he calls me, I assume that he has encountered another issue that he requires my help to resolve.

This time, when I heard his voice, I greeted him, “Yes, my friend, what is it?”

His enthusiastic greeting echoed over the phone line. “You must look at the Maharsha in Kiddushin!” he exclaimed. “Look in the passage about the incident with Abaye, Rav Acha, and the serpent with seven heads.”

“What?” I sputtered, confused.

“The Gemara asks how Abaye was permitted to place Rav Acha in a position of danger and to rely on the fact that he would be saved by a miracle. The Gemara answers that Abaye relied on Rav Acha’s tefillos to save him, and the Maharsha infers that a neis that comes about because of a person’s tefillos isn’t considered a miracle at all. Amazing, isn’t it?” he exclaimed.

I agreed with him that it was a remarkable concept. My son Yitzchok – who is an accomplished talmid chochom and rosh kollel – identified a similar concept in the Ramban’s commentary on Parshas Vezos Habrocha, where the Torah states that there was never another novi after Moshe Rabbeinu who performed miracles and wonders as he did. The Ramban points out that later nevi’im indeed performed miracles, and he explains, “All the other nevi’im performed miracles through tefillah … but Moshe Rabbeinu did so instantly.” Thus, the Ramban echoes the idea that anything that is accomplished through tefillah is not defined as a miracle.

My friend from Maasiyahu Prison went on to share some of his other recent chiddushim with me, but then came the request that I had expected. “If you want to do a favor for a poor Jew, listen to me,” he said. As usual, he had come across one of the many injustices perpetrated by the twisted bureaucratic system of the State of Israel. In this case, it related to the institution of “negative income tax.” Every citizen of Israel is entitled to a refund of sorts on his income tax if his expenses exceed his revenues – unless he is wealthy. How does the government define a wealthy person? For one thing, if he purchased a plot of land for investment purposes. There is a certain logic to that, but it makes sense only if he owns a home, as well. However, this fellow discovered that if a person buys a plot of land, he loses his entitlement to an income tax refund even if he does not own a different piece of real estate. That, of course, is ridiculous.

I relayed the information to one of the chareidi MKs, and he submitted the following parliamentary query: “Every citizen has the right to receive negative income tax, with the exception of a citizen who owns land for investment purposes. I am aware of couples who do not own apartments and who purchased plots of land as part of a ‘buyers’ group’ (such as in the Achisamach development), yet the projects have been stalled for many years. When these couples applied for tax refunds, they were told that they owned land for ‘investment’ and therefore they were not eligible. They protested that they do not own apartments of their own, and that the purchase of land was not meant as an investment but rather in the hope of securing a roof over their own heads, and that it was an inexpensive plot of land in a project that had been stalled for years, but all their arguments were of no avail. I would like to ask: Why is a person who owns a plot of land ineligible for negative income tax? Is it true that a person who owns land is not eligible even if he owns no other property, including an apartment of his own? Does the value of the land make any difference? Why shouldn’t a person who joined a buyers’ group and is therefore considered to own property, yet who does not have an apartment of his own, be eligible to receive the tax refund to which he is entitled?”

Rav Chaim’s Prescience

Last Motzoei Shabbos, a certain yungerman was suffering from a psychological disturbance. For days already, he had been imagining that he was being hounded by nonexistent enemies. The man was unable to sleep and was barely able to eat, and in his delusory state, he spent his time rushing from place to place in a panic. His condition became rapidly more severe and it became necessary for him to seek professional treatment. He was brought to Rabbi Chananya Chollak of Ezer Mizion, but the suffering patient refused to accept the advice he received. From Rabbi Chollak’s office, he was forcibly brought to a psychiatrist, with whom he refused to cooperate, believing that the doctor was one of his many enemies. It was a very sad situation.

At some point, I also became involved in the efforts to care for the man.

The administration of his kollel called the yungerman’s parents, as well as his grandfather, a distinguished talmid chochom. The grandfather expressed confidence that the situation would soon be resolved. On Motzoei Shabbos, his bizarre conduct attracted the attention of his fellow mispallelim in shul, and when they became fearful that the man might harm himself, they called the police. The unfortunate soul, for his part, became certain that the police themselves were involved in the “plot” against him, and he fled from the scene. At that point, the chase began, as the concern grew that the situation might culminate in suicide. The disturbed yungerman didn’t have his cell phone in his possession, and the police were unable to locate him. Due to the danger to his life, the troubled man’s family members hurried to Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s home to ask if they should publish his picture and seek the assistance of the public in locating him.

“No,” Rav Chaim replied tersely.

“But his life is in jeopardy!” the family pressed.

“They will find him soon,” Rav Chaim said.

The family members were surprised at his response, but it didn’t take long for his prediction to be verified. Twenty minutes later, the police informed them that the man had been located … at Kever Rochel.