Friday, May 24, 2024

My Take on the News

Candidates Challenged

This week, the country’s attention has been focused on the Knesset, which, as you know, is the place where I work. The Central Elections Committee, including the Supreme Court justice who heads the committee, works in the Knesset (which has resulted in my being displaced from my regular office). The committee is always headed by a justice of the Supreme Court. In this case, it is Chanan Meltzer. He is a charming fellow, and I tend to run into him very often. Perhaps I will write about him in the future.

In any event, this week, the Knesset was at the center of the country’s attention due to the Central Elections Committee, which fielded various requests to disqualify certain candidates in the upcoming elections. The political right petitioned the committee to disqualify the Arab parties, mainly because they deny the country’s right to exist, and there is a law that states that a party with such a position may not be elected to the Knesset. The left, meanwhile, asked the committee to disqualify Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, whom they dubbed racists on the grounds that they are carrying on the legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane. There is another clause in the law that states that a racist person or party may not be elected to the Knesset. These requests fall within the purview of the Central Elections Committee, on which the political right is in the majority by a margin of one. Anyone who does not approve of the committee’s decisions has the right to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. As is always the case in this country, the Supreme Court will make the final decision.

The petition to disqualify Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir was rejected by the committee by a majority vote of 16 to 15. The committee also voted to disqualify the Jewish candidate on the Arab list, a man named Ofer Ksif, by a majority of 15 to 10. The Arab party Balad was also disqualified. On the other hand, a petition demanding the invalidation of the entire Bayit Yehudi party (which includes Ben-Gvir’s party, Otzma Yehudit) was rejected by a very large margin.

There were also petitions against various other candidates. One of those candidates was General Tal Russo, who was included on the Zionist Camp’s list for the Knesset. His challengers argued that there hasn’t been sufficient time for the requisite “cooling off” period since his resignation from the army. One of the candidates on the Likud list was also challenged on the grounds that he didn’t allow enough time to pass since he resigned from his job with the Airports Authority. A third petition challenged the inclusion of Eli Ben-Dahan on the Likud list. Nevertheless, the debates concerning Ben-Ari and Ofer Ksif, respectively, were the most interesting discussions. After the committee made its decisions, the various parties announced – predictably enough – that they would appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse the decisions. In previous elections, the Supreme Court overturned the disqualification of the Arab parties. Only Rabbi Kahane’s party was actually barred from running altogether.

Incidentally, United Torah Judaism has representatives on the committee: Avrohom Weber of Degel HaTorah and Avrohom Yustman of Agudas Yisroel. Shas, too, has its own representative: Moshe Arbel, who serves as a deputy to Justice Meltzer. The chareidi parties’ approach has always been to refrain from seeking to disqualify the parties on the right, but also to avoid interfering with the Arab parties, in order to avoid antagonizing them. Interestingly, after seeking the attorney general’s opinion about the requests, the committee defied his recommendations on two counts: Mandelblit was in favor of disqualifying Ben-Ari, but the committee did not agree, and he was also opposed to disqualifying the Arab party, yet the committee ruled against them.

Eliad Shraga and the Emblem of the State

I was present when the committee discussed the appeal to disqualify Eli Ben-Dahan, a member of the Bayit Yehudi party who was included on the Likud list due to an agreement between Netanyahu and his native party. The petition against him was submitted by attorney Eliad Shraga. He petitions the court frequently, but this is the first time that I have actually seen him in action. I always suspected that he seeks to stir up trouble for the sake of publicity; this experience merely confirmed my suspicions.

Chanan Meltzer challenged the attorney, “Can you tell me what is illegal about this agreement?” Shraga stammered uncertainly in response. MK David Bittan demanded, “You wrote that this agreement [between Netanyahu and Ben-Dahan] is deceptive to the voters. Can you explain what is deceptive about it?”

Shraga was completely flustered when Moshe Arbel commented that the logo of his movement includes the emblem of the state, which is in violation of the third paragraph of the Flag and Emblem Law. Justice Meltzer came to his rescue by declaring that the issue was irrelevant and it was undignified to use it against him. But in truth, I find Shraga to be far removed from anything associated with the dignity of the state.

Shraga’s petition was based on the claim that Ben-Dahan’s inclusion in the Likud party was a smokescreen, and that he presumably intends to resign from the Likud and return to his own party immediately after the election. That is certainly true, but what could be wrong with it? The intern from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel (which is headed by Shraga) who prepared the petition was also summoned to respond to questions, and he emerged from the proceedings looking utterly inept. “You wrote that Ben-Dahan appears on two lists. Can you tell us which ones?” the committee asked him. “When you prepared your petition, did you know that Netanyahu wrote an emendation [in which he wrote that Ben-Dahan would be ‘permitted to resign,’ not that he ‘would resign’] to his agreement with Ben-Dahan? Now that you have heard that, will you withdraw your petition?” Shraga appeared to be stumped, but he refused to back down. I am confident that he will eventually regret that decision.

In the end, the judge wished the intern good luck with his studies. “You will now be able to say that you were cross-examined even before you received your degree,” he said.

“You didn’t mention if he passed the test,” Avrohom Weber remarked.

“He fared reasonably,” Meltzer replied.

It would have been entertaining if not for the fact that the entire discussion was a terrible waste of time for all concerned. During the proceedings, I saw Avrohom Yustman swaying back and forth in his seat. I presume that he was reciting Tehillim. Avrohom Weber repeatedly interjected comments of his own, until the judge advised him to go home. Naturally, the petition was rejected.

The Surplus Vote Agreement

In the Israeli electoral system, there is a mechanism known as a surplus vote agreement. This is an agreement signed between two parties to prevent votes from going to waste. It is a complicated arrangement, but I will explain it in brief: Let us pretend for a moment that it takes 100 votes to secure a mandate in the Knesset. If a party receives 140 votes, the extra 40 votes will be wasted – or, at the very least, their fate will remain undetermined until it is decided where they are to be allocated. If another party receives 180 votes, for instance, there is a chance that it may receive a second mandate on account of the “extra” votes, which will be awarded to the party that is closest to receiving an additional mandate.

When two parties sign a surplus vote agreement, it is reasonable to assume that the agreement increases their chances of earning additional mandates. (The surplus votes received by both parties will be awarded to whichever of the two is closer to receiving another mandate.) In general, these agreements are signed between parties that are ideologically similar. This past week, UTJ and Shas signed an agreement of this nature. The two parties are indeed ideologically close to each other, and they often collaborate. They are even using similar campaign propaganda, including announcements that they will partner only with Netanyahu to form a new government. This is an important statement for them to make, in order to prevent voters who want to guarantee Netanyahu’s reelection from voting for the Likud party instead of the chareidi parties.

The True Colors of Blue and White

The Blue and White party is a very peculiar political party. Its leadership includes three generals – Benny Gantz, Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi – who are all former chiefs of staff of the IDF, as well as a fourth individual who seems utterly insignificant in relation to them. This man was a minor figure in the army, who spent his military service as a correspondent for Bamachaneh, the magazine of the IDF that has since closed down. His name, of course, is Yair Lapid. It is said that the collective amount of ego possessed by the leaders of the Blue and White party is sufficient to launch a spaceship to the moon.

The country waited eagerly to hear about the party’s campaign platform. After all, the Blue and White party consists of an assortment of people, many of whom are from the left, along with Yesh Atid, which calls itself centrist, and Benny Gantz, who is seeking votes from the right. Everyone wondered how they would manage to come up with a platform that would unify their party and would appeal to the average voter. Last Wednesday, at a ceremonious event, Blue and White finally presented the 24 chapters of its campaign platform, which dealt with a wide range of subjects – diplomatic concerns, national security, religious matters, the economy, and social issues.

On the one hand, the party sought to ingratiate itself with the right by declaring emphatically, “There will never be a second Disengagement.” They also added that “every historic decision will be presented via referendum for the decision of the people, or will have to be approved in the Knesset by a special majority… We will strengthen the settlement blocs and we will make it possible for people to lead normal lives in every place where Israelis live. The Jordan Valley will be the eastern security border of Israel, and the united city of Yerushalayim will be the eternal capital of Israel. The Golan Heights will be an inseparable part of the State of Israel; this will not be subject to negotiation.”

On the other hand, they seem to have adopted the worst possible positions on religious issues, even though they tried to present themselves as taking a moderate stance. They promised to “preserve the Jewish identity of the state,” while they also promised to guarantee “the right of every individual and every community to choose their ways of life in freedom and with tolerance.” They declared, “We must preserve the uniqueness of Shabbos as the official day of rest of the State of Israel, but at the same time, we must make it possible for activities to take place that will provide for the needs of all the citizens of Israel… We will allow local authorities, if they desire to do so, to operate limited public transportation on Shabbos. We will repeal the Supermarket Law and we will restore the Law of Sharing the Burden that was written by the defense establishment.” The party also expressed its resolve to uproot certain legal provisions that are currently in place to preserve halachic standards of morality. “We will heal the wounds that the government has inflicted on our relations with world Jewry, especially in America,” they added. This was a clear indication that they plan to grant the Reform movement a section of the Kosel. To make a long story short, this party is trying to please everyone with respect to every issue – with the sole exception of religious issues. On that subject, they have adopted an extreme anti-religious position.

Rav Ovadiah and Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin passed away on Monday, the fourth of Adar Sheini 5752/1992. This year, his yahrtzeit fell this past Monday. I searched through my personal archives to find information relating to Begin, and I came across an amazing letter that was written to him by Rav Ovadiah Yosef during the latter’s tenure as the chief rabbi of Israel. The letter was written after Begin became the prime minister of Israel, and is dated on the 26th of Elul 5737/1977, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah. This is what Rav Ovadiah wrote:

“To Mr. Menachem Begin, the prime minister of Israel: Honored prime minister, following my conversation with you, I am recording in writing the subjects that we discussed during our meeting. 1. Regarding stipends for children: I ask and urge the prime minister to use his extensive influence to maintain the allowance from the National Institute for the first and second children in a family, and to categorically reject the proposal to cancel those stipends. In my view, it is highly desirable to encourage and strengthen our young couples, who are first beginning to build their families, so that they can become established and grow stronger, and so they can build faithful homes in Israel. Tzion will be redeemed through justice, and its captives through charity.

“2. Regarding financial support for yeshivos: I strongly request of the prime minister to do everything in his power to raise and increase the degree of support for our yeshivos, so that it is in keeping with the government support for other institutions of higher education. It should be noted that many former students of the yeshivos of the State of Israel occupy prestigious positions in Israel and in the Diaspora as rabbonim and dayanim, that they lead their flocks through the wellsprings of Torah and yirah, and that they accomplish a tremendous amount to prevent assimilation. Therefore, they are deserving of an equal share in the monetary resources allocated to the higher education system in the country.”

When Today Becomes Yesterday

This week, a chareidi newspaper in Israel reported on Uri Maklev’s visit to Be’er Yaakov. I am always amazed at the volume of events at which Maklev manages to appear. This week, I spotted him at the dais at a wedding in the Gutnik Hall in Yerushalayim. By the time I made my way to another wedding at a different hall, he was already leaving the second simcha. He is constantly on the move, showing up at a multitude of simchos every night, in a tireless effort to bring joy to others.

In Be’er Yaakov, he met with the head of the local council, Nissim Gozlan, who promised – according to the article – to build two shuls and a mikvah. The article begins by relating that “MK Uri Maklev arrived in the town of Be’er Yaakov this morning.” That, of course, is a mistake; it is impossible for a newspaper that is published in the wee hours of the morning to report on anything that happened that same morning. Clearly, the writer of the article received a press release the day before, which stated that Maklev had arrived in the town that morning, and he forgot to change the relevant words to “yesterday morning.” Perhaps he was already getting into the spirit of Purim.

That reminds me of the period when I was tapped to serve as an economic reporter in Eretz Yisroel. This took place when Yitzchok Moda’i held the post of finance minister in the national government – in other words, many years ago. My editors informed me that I should consider the position a promotion. I protested that my knowledge of economics was virtually nil, but they assured me that I would do an excellent job. The spokesman of the Finance Ministry also had some encouraging words for me. “None of the financial reporters understand the subject matter,” he told me. “We put out three or four press releases every day, and they put all the statements into the newspapers verbatim. You can do the same.”

Well, I thought, what could be easier than that? But then he added, “Just don’t forget to change the word ‘today’ to ‘yesterday.’”

In case you are wondering how the job turned out, I will say simply that my editors were pleased with me both according to the Jones Index and according to the Tel Aviv Index – although to this day, I still have no idea what either of those things are.

Chometz in Hospitals

You may think that this is a Purim joke, but it is quite serious. Last week in Yerushalayim, the Supreme Court issued a highly disturbing ruling. You see, every Jew knows that chometz is something to be reviled on Pesach. There are people who willingly starved on Pesach when they did not have matzoh to eat. Every Jewish child knows that chometz is absolutely forbidden on Pesach. But that is a fact that has somehow eluded the distinguished, black-robed judges of the court.

In Eretz Yisroel, it has always been taken for granted that chometz may not be brought into a public place on Pesach. In Israel, the Jewish holidays are observed at least in the public sphere, and it is forbidden for chometz to be sold publicly. In recent years, there have been some business owners, mainly in Tel Aviv, who insisted on displaying chometz in their stores, and the Supreme Court sided with them and brokered a compromise of sorts. According to this agreement, the storeowners are permitted to sell chometz, but it must not be put on display in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of observant Jews.

Over the past two years, a new issue has been raised. Every hospital in the country does not permit chometz to be brought into its premises. This is not only in order to avoid offending religious patients, but also to prevent the hospital dishes from being rendered treif.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard two petitions on the subject. One of the petitions came from an Arab organization. This may be somewhat understandable, although they insist that we honor their holy places. (I remember that I was once present with Shimon Peres when he was asked to remove his shoes before entering a mosque in Morocco. He did not hesitate to comply; I, of course, remained outside.) The other petition was submitted by the Secular Forum, which has taken on the goal of combating religious coercion, religious influence, and even the recitation of Shema Yisroel.

The petitioners insisted on being permitted to bring chometz into hospitals on Pesach. They also demanded that the security guards at the hospital entrances be forbidden to search through the belongings of visitors or to ask them if they have chometz in their possession. At the behest of the Supreme Court, the Rabbinate agreed to a compromise, whereby special “chometz areas” would be designated in the country’s hospitals. That should be a mark of shame for this country.

But even that was not enough for them. The three justices of the Supreme Court who heard the case insisted that it was an unreasonable solution. Besides, they asked, how could a bedridden patient be expected to go to the designated area when he wishes to eat chometz? The court ordered the Rabbinate to come up with a more “reasonable” plan, such as using disposable dishes on Pesach … by June 1. That reminds me of the story about the judge who ordered a Jewish man to dismantle his sukkah within seven days. Perhaps, then, we will not have to contend with this issue on Pesach this year, but it is possible that we will find people eating bread in their hospital rooms on Pesach next year. And that is very sad.

A Dose of Humor

Allow me to conclude this column with a few lighthearted jokes, albeit with serious messages.

A debtor was once asked, “How are you able to sleep at night? You have a huge overdraft in the bank. How are you going to take care of it?”

The debtor replied, “I’m not worried about it at all. It’s big enough to take care of itself!”

The moral: At times, we all struggle with enormous issues in life. It is important not to allow ourselves to become engulfed in these problems. Sometimes, we must let them take care of themselves.

Here is another one: A Yerushalmi man won a million-dollar prize in the lottery. “Reb Yid,” his friends said to him, “that is a huge sum of money. What are you going to do with it?”

“I’ll take care of some things and help my children,” he replied. “Most importantly, I’ll be able to pay back my creditors and some gemach loans that I took out and haven’t yet repaid.”

“But what about the rest?” they demanded, presuming that he would have plenty of surplus money after repaying his debts.

“The rest?” the man replied. “The rest of my creditors will have to wait!”

This story, too, has a moral: If a person feels that he must make improvements in a number of areas, he should determine what he is capable of taking care of immediately, and set aside the rest for a later time. He should not become overwhelmed by the thought that he must “pay off all his debts” at once.

We will conclude with one more humorous story: A certain man owed 50,000 dollars to his friend. When the creditor came to collect his debt, the debtor said to him, “I don’t have a way to pay you. Would you be willing to simply forgive the loan?”

The lender replied, “If it had been only a small sum, I could consider it, but how can I give up 50,000 dollars all at once?”

“In that case,” the borrower said, “I have an idea for you: Let’s do it in installments!”

“What do you mean?” the lender asked.

“Well, don’t give it all up at once,” the borrower said. “You can forgo 500 dollars today, and another 500 dollars next week, and so forth. Do it at the pace that you are comfortable with, until you have forgiven the entire debt. Don’t worry. I have plenty of time!”

This story, too, has a moral: If you feel that you have been the victim of an injustice and that you are incapable of forgiving the person who wronged you, rest assured that you don’t have to forgive him all at once. You can begin by thinking favorably of him to a small extent, and then add to your positive impressions of him until you have succeeded in forgiving him completely.

On that note, someone once offended Rav Elya Lopian and then asked for his forgiveness. Rav Elya told the offender to come back to him two weeks later. At the designated time, the person returned and repeated his request, and Rav Elya forgave him. Those who had witnessed the incident asked the mashgiach what had been the purpose of the delay. He replied, “At first, I didn’t succeed in forgiving him, but over time I worked on myself, and now I was able to forgive him.”



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