My Take on the News

Netanyahu Fries an Egg

Anyone who has been following the election campaign in Israel, which has been steadily heating up, could easily draw the impression that the candidates are not debating issues or political views, but rather simply vying to produce the cleverest campaign videos. Every day, more videos are released that do not contain much information about the merits of the parties that produce them, and instead focus on any faults they can find in the competing parties. One of the most notable of these videos shows Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu preparing an omelet. As he fries his omelet, Netanyahu looks at the camera and says, “This is what I know how to cook. I also know what they are cooking. They are cooking up a left-wing government with the support of the leftist and Arab parties. And they aren’t fooling anyone.”

His opponents, meanwhile, are not letting this pass in silence, although the Blue and White party hasn’t proven itself as creative and witty as the Likud. The general sense is that the winners of the election will not be the people who prove themselves to be more qualified, who present a better platform, or who offer a more intelligent-sounding path toward the future. Rather, in all likelihood, this election will be won by those who succeed in producing the most creative campaign videos.

Even the chareidi parties have been forced to take part in this rising trend, addressing the secular public in videos of their own. United Torah Judaism has put out several videos showing that its Knesset members have been faithful public servants for the chiloni sector, as well. Shas is attempting to use its own campaign propaganda to prove that it is the only party that works for the benefit of the country’s periphery. One of its most successful videos shows Aryeh Deri inviting Yair Lapid to a public debate. Naturally, Lapid did not accept this challenge.

Before we move forward, I hope you will forgive me if this week’s column seems to have been infected by the Purim spirit. That is, after all, the prevalent mood these days.

Trump Helps Netanyahu

It is amazing how Netanyahu has managed to lift his head above the troubled waters in which some are trying to drown him. Ostensibly, the announcement that the attorney general plans to indict him should have wiped the smile off his face. More than that, it should have caused Netanyahu and the Likud party to drop sharply in the polls. But none of that has happened. While it’s true that the polls have shown Gantz’s party outperforming the Likud ever since the announcement, the right-wing bloc has remained ahead of the left and Netanyahu’s smile hasn’t faded. Especially buoying to him is the fact that the most recent polls have shown the gap between Likud and the Blue and White party, which previously stood at five to six mandates, beginning to narrow. It is a remarkable development.

Netanyahu has been working to draw public attention to his diplomatic accomplishments, and justifiably so, since there is nothing negative to say about him in that area. Even his opponents have no choice but to admit to his accomplishments. Last weekend, all the newspapers carried a striking picture of Netanyahu in the Golan Heights, accompanied by Senator Lindsey Graham and Ambassador David Friedman. Once again, the prime minister has scored some valuable public relations points by capitalizing on a photo opportunity.

If that wasn’t enough, the State Department of the United States recently announced that it would no longer refer to the Golan Heights as “occupied territories.” This makes for a drastic change in American policy, and it also portends a further improvement in American-Israeli relations, which have already reached record levels of cooperation under President Trump. (Yair Lapid actually tried to take credit for this accomplishment, which only elicited derisive laughter. The political right, meanwhile, claimed that the State Department was trying to soften opposition to Trump’s peace plan, which would involve a two-state solution and therefore is opposed by the majority in Israel.) Trump seems to be trying to support Netanyahu, and has even stated publicly that the Israeli premier is an excellent prime minister. As of now, it seems that Trump has been succeeding.

At the beginning of this week, it was reported that one quarter of Israeli families are living in poverty or are nearly poor, a much greater percentage of the populace than was always assumed. The State Comptroller also issued a blistering report about the state of transportation in Israel, belying the general perception that the country’s roads and public transportation system have advanced in leaps and bounds. And there was much more bad news on the domestic front: damaging traffic accidents, acts of murder, a lethal explosion caused by gas canisters, and, above all, the criminal cases involving the prime minister. At the end of the week, another attempt was made to incriminate Netanyahu in the submarine affair, as well. One of the news channels claimed that the attorney general was examining a possible new link between Netanyahu and the case, in which it was already decided that he had no involvement. Now, however, it has been discovered that Netanyahu owns stock in a company that is connected to the submarine company. Will this lead anywhere? There is no way to know. For the time being, anyway, Netanyahu seems to be faring well.

Media Machinations

No one disputes the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is being persecuted. The entire media, with only a handful of exceptions, is working vigorously against him. This week, I saw the results of a study that demonstrates that virtually the entire media is effectively collaborating in a campaign of character assassination. According to the researchers, the media’s coverage of the prime minister is so one-dimensional and one-sided that even details that are seemingly tangential are designed to foster the readers’ subconscious sense that Netanyahu is a mega-criminal of some kind.

The people who conducted this study have simply discovered what everyone else already knew.

The chareidi community of Israel has been suffering from this phenomenon for as long as anyone can remember. Take last Sunday’s issues of Maariv, for instance, which featured a short article that was forcibly enlarged to cover a full two-page spread. The title above the article read, “The Battle Over Shabbos,” and beneath it, in large block letters, appeared the words, “Detainee suspected of threatening the life of the mayor of Teveria.” There was a large picture of Ron Kobi, the downright bizarre mayor of Teveria, accompanied by images of an assortment of notices that ridiculed him, calling him a “Shabbos goy l’mehadrin” or warning that “a betrayal of Shabbos is a betrayal of the Creator of the universe.” The reader is left to draw the conclusion that the man who made a threat against Kobi’s life was chareidi

If that wasn’t enough, the reporter begins the article by relating, “Kobi, who has openly fought against religious coercion, has aroused the ire of the residents of his city and requires a constant bodyguard. The suspect was released under restrictions.” Now, I have no doubt that the suspect, who is a few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, is not chareidi at all. Some of the threats that were included in his letter to the mayor were omitted from the article due to the coarse language he used. A chareidi youth – or any other religious young man – would never use such words. In fact, I won’t be surprised if this incident comes to an end exactly like the previous time that Kobi was allegedly threatened, which triggered the need for a bodyguard in the first place – with the revelation that the “threat” was a joke played by one of his own people.

The writers at Maariv can claim that they had no intention of besmirching the chareidi community; after all, the article does not state explicitly that the threat to Kobi’s life was made by a chareidi. At the same time, the reader of the article is led to that conclusion by the many references to the “battle over Shabbos” surrounding the description of the actual incident. Any normal newspaper reader would conclude that the threat to Kobi’s life was simply an escalation of the chareidi battle against the mayor. And if that isn’t disingenuous journalism, then I don’t know what is.

Smotrich: “Ron Kobi is an Anti-Semite!”

Meanwhile, Kobi himself continues to feature in the news, as well. This week, he released a video in which he spoke against the “traitors” who help chareidim rent apartments in the city. “This is a war between us and the chareidim,” he announced. You would have to see the video in order to understand the nadir to which he has descended. The video was denounced by MK Betzalel Smotrich as “clear anti-Semitism.”

Kobi is known for his brutish tactics, but this past Shabbos it became evident that his own constituents don’t support him. The rabbonim of the Hidabroot kiruv organization spent Shabbos in Teveria, and on Friday they handed out certificates to ordinary citizens who pledged to keep Shabbos. There were plenty of residents of the city who made the commitment and received certificates. Kobi claims that he speaks on behalf of the majority in the city, but the majority shuns his behavior.

Nevertheless, there is a portion of the media that lends its backing and encouragement to Kobi’s battle against chareidim. He also has the support of the police of the Haifa district, who have disregarded the complaints that were filed after Kobi barged into the shul led by Rav Auerbach, the rov of Teveria. But all of these people will ultimately regret endorsing his behavior. There is no doubt that this mayor will not reach the end of his term in office. Kobi walks around with an entourage of supporters who flatter him and capture all of his antics on camera. Chaim Hecht, a highly regarded journalist in the north, was on target when he said to Kobi this week, “This isn’t politics. It’s thuggery!” I have no doubt that Kobi will meet his downfall soon.

Are you wondering why the chareidim aren’t mounting public opposition to him? There is an answer to that question, but it is a secret. Soon enough, I will be able to disclose the reason.

Good Work, Police!

The spokesman for the Yerushalayim division of the police force released a lengthy statement concerning a series of arrests in a case of fraud. As always, the police used all the key words to make the situation sound as serious as possible – “fraud,” “deceit,” “undercover investigation,” “prime suspect,” and so forth. Since the investigation centers on a bank located in a chareidi area, the statement made it sound as if the criminals themselves were chareidi. And that is something that I found infuriating.

In my view, the incident was actually fairly trivial. It began when a customer discovered that someone had withdrawn the hefty sum of 100,000 shekels from his account. He immediately complained to the manager of the bank, who determined the identity of the thief with relative ease and contacted the police. It doesn’t seem that the police had to work particularly hard on this case; in fact, if they had, it certainly wouldn’t have been solved. The statement boasts that “the pieces of the puzzle were put together by the police detectives who uncovered the crimes and the connection between the suspects, ultimately leading to arrests.” Once again, the police seem to be taking extensive credit where little is due. What did they “uncover,” and what was the “puzzle” that they solved? From the facts of the case, it seems clear that they received all the information that they needed from the bank. In fact, I would not be surprised if the case turns out to be the subject of a monetary dispute, which will end with a din Torah. Indeed, three days after the incident, the suspect was quietly released.

I understand the impetus for this quest for positive publicity. Lately, the police have come to be associated with violence. The Ethiopian community is staging protests against their use of brutality, and they have recently been severely criticized in court. They are certainly looking for some way to offset all the negative press they have been receiving. But I still cannot understand how they expect the public to be misled by their use of pompous-sounding words.

A Pickpocket Apprehended

This week, I also read an article that announced that a pickpocket was caught red-handed in the Machaneh Yehuda market. Upon reading the account, I had precisely the reaction that the police spokesman surely intended to elicit: admiration and appreciation for the police. This is how it was described: “Police officers operating in the Machaneh Yehuda market on Friday responded to a report about a person who was suspected of picking pockets. A search of his body turned up tens of thousands of shekels in cash, along with checks and credit cards.”

But then I paused to think about what this incident must have looked like. Let me translate the statement into simple terms: An ordinary citizen walked over to a couple of police officers who were patrolling the area and informed them that someone had stolen his wallet from his pocket. He identified the thief, and the police officers detained and searched the fellow. It was hardly an act of heroism on the part of the vaunted police officers, nor did it require much ingenuity on their parts. This “accomplishment” was virtually handed to them. Nevertheless, their public relations department knows how to turn a minor incident into a major source of praise for the police. “The officers, who responded immediately, worked to locate the suspect in the bustling market and arrested him,” the statement continues. “Upon searching the suspect, they confiscated over 32,000 shekels in cash, along with checks and an assortment of cards including debit cards, all of which are suspected of having been stolen… At this stage, the police investigators are focusing their energies on locating the legal owners of the confiscated property.”

Congratulations to the heroic officers of our law enforcement services.

The Right to Vote from Overseas

Over half a million Israelis who live abroad are not entitled to vote in the elections for the Knesset. This is a feature of Israel’s electoral system that distinguishes our country from France, America, and possibly other countries as well, whose citizens are permitted to vote from anywhere in the world. All of these lost votes could add up to about 16 mandates in the Knesset.

These figures were released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics. And if the exclusion of Israeli expatriates from the voting process seems unjust, there is actually a reason for it: Most of them would vote for the political right.

For an Israeli who is in the Diaspora, observing events in this country from afar, it is almost impossible to become a leftist. Somehow, feelings of patriotism tend to be stirred much more easily overseas. For instance, Elor Azariah received enormous support from the Diaspora. Jews abroad simply cannot understand those in Israel who seem to have sided with the United Nations. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that the initiative to change the law and to allow Israelis to vote from abroad – a proposal that is made every few years – came from the right. It also is not a coincidence that the vehement opposition to this proposal came from the left. And as long as the left maintains its power, the law will not change.

No Progress on the Siach Yisroel Case

It has been over a month since that painful Tuesday, the 23rd of Shevat, when the mispallelim of Siach Yisroel arrived to find their shul horrifically vandalized. It was a degree of desecration that was virtually unprecedented, certainly in Eretz Yisroel, and certainly over the course of the past few decades. The pictures that were publicized of the vandalism only served to increase our pain. The images showed sifrei Torah that had been torn and burnt.

Six weeks have elapsed since that dreadful day. One would think that this should have been enough time for the police to capture the perpetrators or at least to identify suspects. Yet, as of now, they have accomplished nothing. It is as if they consider this crime no more serious than someone making excessive noise during their neighbors’ afternoon naps.

Rav “Mishnah Berurah” Weiss

My grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, was a man of many accomplishments. He was one of the leaders of Agudas Yisroel and one of the founders of both the Vaad Hatzolah and Keren HaTorah. He was also the rov of the Machzikei Hadas community of Copenhagen. Perhaps most important of all, though, was his role in the Lidingo school, which he ran along with Rav Shlomo Wolbe. Together, the two rabbonim managed to safeguard the futures of 86 girls who had survived the horrors of the Holocaust. They brought the group to Eretz Yisroel, and my grandfather personally saw to it that each of the girls was married off.

As a result of his position in Keren HaTorah, my grandfather became well acquainted with the gedolim of the previous generation, whose yeshivos he visited frequently. Our family is in possession of letters that he received from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. On one occasion, he visited the yeshiva in Gateshead and asked to be introduced to a young bochur who had reportedly mastered the entirety of the Mishnah Berurah. The rosh yeshiva pointed out the bochur in question, who was immersed in learning, and my grandfather embraced him and said, “Are you ‘Mishnah Berurah’ Weiss?” Ever since that day, that nickname stuck to him in the yeshiva. Today, that outstanding bochur from Gateshead is the gaon av bais din of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss. I mentioned this incident to him once, and he remembered the encounter.

Last Thursday, the Pressburg Torah dynasty celebrated the completion of the refurbishment of its shul. The new, magnificent edifice still manages to preserve the distinct flavor of Pressburg. The event was attended by a large number of the shul’s mispallelim, yungerleit in the Pressburg kollel, neighborhood rabbonim, and others, including Rav Chaim Feinstein, the Toldos Aharon Rebbe, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe, and Rav Yitzchok Yechiel Ehrenfeld. Our rov, Rav Avrohom Shmuel Binyomin Schreiber-Sofer, was also present, along with his brother. Also present were the members of the Shapiro family, the children of Rav Avrohom Yosef and Tova (Toiba) Shapiro, for whom the new bais medrash was named. One of the Shapiro sons bears an astonishing resemblance to his father.

Rav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss was also in attendance. Whenever I see him, I am awestruck. His regal bearing somehow exudes equal parts nobility and pleasantness. When he emerged from the shul after the event, I was standing directly in his path. Two of his gabbaim tried to signal to me to move out of the way, but the third, Reb Amram Shapiro, seemed to read the gaavad’s thoughts and indicated that I could remain where I was. When the gaavad saw me, he smiled. “How is Rav Binyomin Zev’s grandson?” he asked.

“And how is Rav ‘Mishnah Berurah’ Weiss?” I responded.

Parents on a Quest for Vengeance

Of course, we can never judge another person until we are in their shoes. I refer, in this case, to the parents of the youths who were killed in a flash flood in Nachal Tzafit.

Last Wednesday, it was revealed that the principal of the school and the counselor responsible for the trip are to be indicted on charges of manslaughter. The victims’ parents bemoaned the decision, calling it a “sad day” and insisting that the courts were “spitting in our faces.” The reason for their dismay was that no other members of the faculty would be facing criminal charges, and that the defendants were being charged “only” with manslaughter rather than the more serious charge of murder.

Since last Wednesday, the issue of the Nachal Tzafit case has grown increasingly contentious. When one of the school administrators wrote that Israel is becoming a “country of hangmen,” the parents attacked him viciously for the comment.

Earthquake Scenario

I always derived a certain thrill from having classified materials in my possession. This week, I came across an envelope on which the word “secret” had been circled in bright red marker. There were three levels of classification printed on the envelope – translating roughly as “confidential,” “secret,” and “top secret” – and the middle level had been selected, so that while its contents didn’t have the status of “top secret,” they also were above the lowest level of secrecy. Now, if you guessed that instead of delivering the envelope to its destination (a specific government minister) or returning it to its origin (the office of the head of the National Security Council), I opened it, you were right.

The word “secret” was also printed at the top of each of the three pages of the envelope – albeit not circled in red or printed in large, dramatic letters. And the subject matter was not a secret at all. The document was a summary of a session of the Ministerial Committee for Home Front Preparation for Emergency Situations, headed by the Minister of Defense, along with a set of guidelines that had been formulated during that session. The writing wasn’t particularly remarkable, and the document seemed excessively long-winded. The committee session had been attended by a large number of people (which meant that there were plenty of people who might have lost such an envelope, since a summary of the session was sent to every participant). The purpose of the meeting was to assess the state of readiness of the “civilian front” and the officers of the government for any emergency, especially an earthquake. I could not understand what about the document could possibly need to be kept secret. If word gets out that we aren’t sufficiently prepared, can Hamas generate an earthquake?

Perhaps the “secret” was the fact that the various entities involved are not collaborating appropriately with each other, and the committee urged them to rectify that concern immediately. They were also urged to prioritize the development of the national radio. And the only aspect of the document that I found interesting was the fact that its writer appeared to enjoy singling out various things for special emphasis (“with emphasis on damage to infrastructure,” “with emphasis on maintaining command and control,” “with emphasis on the weaker localities,” and so forth). Nothing about it seemed to warrant a classified status at all.