My Take on the News

Nikki Haley: “I Told the Truth”

Let us begin our review of the major news stories of the week. First there was the State Comptroller’s report, which called attention to the high volume of pollution emanating from factories in the vicinity of Haifa. There are facts that no one disputes: The rate of cancer in the area of Haifa is higher than the national average, and the factories in the vicinity of Haifa create pollution. All that one must do is put these two facts together in order to reach the logical conclusion. For years, people have been demanding that someone put an end to the contamination of the air and the ecological devastation in that area by moving the factories to a desert region. The State Comptroller has now criticized the government for doing nothing about the situation.

Then there was the international forum held by Yisroel Hayom on the subject of American-Israeli relations. The forum was attended by former ambassador Nikki Haley and by Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s Special Envoy to the Middle East. Ambassador David Friedman also made headlines with his announcement that the so-called “occupied territories” are not actually “occupied.” In the ambassador’s words, “When the Obama regime came to an end in the year 2016, he left the Israeli people with the gift of betrayal by allowing Resolution 2334 to pass in the United Nations Security Council. The resolution defines the areas of Yehuda and the Shomron, East Yerushalayim, and the Kosel as illegally occupied territories. The resolution is simply a lie; there is no better description for it.” Friedman then turned to the guest of honor at the event, Nikki Haley, and said, “Several months later, a new ambassador entered the United Nations as a representative of the United States. She is a daughter of Indian immigrants who went on to become the governor of South Carolina, the great Nikki Haley. She received a mandate to fight this thuggery and to tell the truth, and she did that very well. She announced that Hamas is to blame for the violence in Gaza, due to its cruel terrorist regime and its acts of terror against Israel. She declared that the Palestinian Authority will not be able to receive independence unless it stops its incitement and encouragement of violence. It sounds completely reasonable, but no one else had said it before. She also said that the demonization of Israel in the United Nations is a sign of a racist obsession against Israel.”

Haley spoke next, asserting that she is not pro-Israel but rather pro-truth. “I simply told the truth in the United Nations,” she said. She spoke highly of President Trump, whom she described as being equally dedicated to the truth, and she made a statement that numerous Israelis had never been capable of making: “That [i.e., remaining faithful to the truth] is the only way to build a basis for peace to grow, G-d willing. May G-d bless the United States and Israel.”

Let the Left Divide Its Mandates as It Pleases

Elections have also been the focus of public attention—not the upcoming elections for the Knesset, but the primary elections that precede them. This week, primaries were held both within the Meretz party and in the Zionist Camp. To be honest, the members of those parties appear like children squabbling over some insignificant playthings, since neither party is expected to be a big winner in the election for the 22nd Knesset. In the previous election, Meretz barely managed to cross the electoral threshold. So even though the position of party chairman has changed hands (Nitzan Horowitz, a former MK and current journalist, defeated Tamar Zandberg in the primaries), and even though the chairman of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, has resigned from politics after dragging his party to a new low in the previous campaign, the outcome of their primaries will make little difference in the long run. After all, neither of the two parties is expected to play a major role in the next Knesset.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak, a failed prime minister, has announced his return to political life. Despite his dismal record, he expects to receive votes, possibly from people who weren’t even born during his tenure. One thing that Barak has managed to do is to inject some energy into the left, which had previously been campaigning lackadaisically. If Barak is a threat to anyone, it is the Labor party and Blue and White. Those are the only two parties with which he is competing for mandates. As far as the Likud is concerned, his presence in the race makes no difference. The Likud’s sole concern is how many mandates will be received by the right-wing bloc. In fact, in response to Barak’s bid, they announced, “We will not interfere in the way the left divides up its mandates.” Barak’s party, along with Labor, Meretz, and Blue and White are all left-wing parties, and the Likud should not be affected by the division of votes among them. Ehud Barak has attempted to decorate his list with some old political stars (such as Tzipi Livni, who turned down his offer) and some new ones, such as Yair Golan, a recently retired general in the reserves, and Kobi Richter, a successful businessman.

If you would like a sample of Ehud Barak’s rhetoric, this was his reaction when the Knesset speaker announced that he would try to cancel the dissolution of the Knesset and thereby prevent the election from taking place (and yes, there is such an initiative on the table): “The Knesset speaker is continuing to serve as the commander of operations for the rescue of the suspected criminal from Balfour [a derogatory reference to Netanyahu]. He isn’t interested in the benefit of the country or in preserving it as a Jewish and democratic state. All that concerns him is a sycophantic maneuver that he hopes will lead him to the office of president. Haven’t I said that our government has lost its dignity? We must make certain this does not happen.”

A Boon to Netanyahu

Ehud Barak’s decision to join the race deserves some analysis for our readers’ benefit. Overall, it should be a good thing for the religious sector. Let me explain.

Barak is a leftist. He is likely the prime minister who was willing to make the greatest concessions to the Palestinians. He was the man whom President Obama managed to push to an extreme; it is reported that he initially agreed to give up the entire Golan Heights and changed his mind at the last minute. No one disputes the fact that he is a leftist.

It is also universally agreed that he is a genius. The only person who can compete with Netanyahu on an intellectual plane is Ehud Barak. Both men are considered brilliant by any measure. They also both suffer from similar weaknesses, such as an inability to take others into consideration, and a tendency to make promises and then deny them without batting an eyelash. Barak, however, takes these traits to a much greater extreme than Netanyahu. Barak is also eloquent and incisive, although most of his predictions have turned out to be incorrect. Now that he has entered the race, there is no doubt that Netanyahu will become the target of all his venomous rhetoric.

Netanyahu, for his part, has no problem with that. He knows that it is impossible for Barak to take votes away from the right. Any right-wing voter will naturally despise Barak for his leftist leanings. Barak will attack Netanyahu with all of his might in order to gain the support of the left. He will steal votes from the Blue and White party, from Labor, and perhaps from Meretz as well. It is likely that he will cross the electoral threshold, but even if he fails to do that, he will certainly take two or three mandates away from the left-wing parties. And if he does make it across the threshold, he will be the first coalition partner of … Netanyahu himself. Does that sound strange to you? Well, that is very typical of Ehud Barak. In every election campaign to date, he has always attacked Netanyahu as if he were the greatest threat to the country, but after the elections, Barak has invariably related to Netanyahu as a friend. He was the Minister of Defense under Netanyahu, and under Sharon before that. In short, Ehud Barak is the greatest possible gift to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu (along with the chareidim) still hopes that the right-wing bloc will receive a majority of 61 to 64 mandates without Avigdor Lieberman this time. How will that happen? He hopes that the New Right party (with or without Shaked and Bennett) will receive more mandates in the election, and that if Naftali Bennett runs on his own, he will cross the electoral threshold. In the previous election, Bennett missed the threshold by only a tiny margin. The exact division within the political right isn’t clear yet; the United Right wants Shaked to join them, but she insists on leading the party and Rafi Peretz is unwilling to step aside for that purpose. Nevertheless, the general hope is that the right will grow to a majority without Lieberman or, in the worst case scenario, that Ehud Barak will see to it that Netanyahu remains prime minister.

Reform Regrets

Tzvika Klein is a religious journalist who writes for a dati leumi newspaper. He is one of the foremost experts on American-Israel relations, and he has an excellent network of sources within the Reform community. This week, he published an article that was fairly sensational, in which he revealed that the Reform movement regrets turning the Kosel agreement into a major issue. According to Klein, the Reform Jews have discovered that they have lost the battle for public opinion, and they have decided to rethink their priorities.

“Two years after the government froze the Kosel agreement, senior officials in the Jewish Federations of North America have leveled criticism at the organization’s battle against the freezing and subsequent cancelation of the agreement,” Klein wrote. “They believe that the issue is not a subject of major interest among American Jews, and it would have been better to focus on more important issues, such as the relations between Israel and world Jewry, rather than making the issue of the Kosel agreement the focus of media attention.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization of Jewish and Zionist organizations in the United States and Canada, encompasses 152 federations and about 300 independent Jewish communities. It is the largest body representing the Reform movement in America and Canada. This week, the organization met in Yerushalayim, where the people who spoke with Klein claimed that their focus on the Kosel agreement had done more harm than good to their cause. One senior member of the organization said, “The progressive streams of Judaism in the United States, the Reform and Conservative movements, are in a difficult and complicated place. They are not succeeding in inducing the younger generation to come to their temples. Therefore, they are not in a position to preach to the Israelis about how to run the Kosel Hamaarovi. Throughout this crisis, I warned that we were gambling on the Kosel issue without even thinking for a moment about whether it was the right battle for us. From our standpoint, other issues such as conversion or the chief rabbinate should be much more important, yet we are not sufficiently present on those fronts.” He admitted openly that the Israeli public did not show sympathy for the Reform movement’s battle for a presence at the Kosel.

This was something that we all knew all along. The vast majority of average Israelis want the Kosel to remain Jewish and holy; they do not wish to see it desecrated or divided. The Reform movement has now discovered this fact, and they have come to regret the failed battle that they waged. The Reform leaders have also become aware of another effect of their actions: Their relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu has deteriorated to the point of nonexistence. In fact, they even canceled a planned dinner with the prime minister.

Stymied by Kite Terror

The State of Israel is considered a highly advanced and intelligent country. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu boasts (perhaps justifiably) that all the nations of the world learn from his country’s sophistication and daring, as well as its technical knowhow. Israel is the world’s supplier of the most advanced espionage programs. For instance, it was recently revealed that facial recognition technology was developed in Israel. With this technology, when a person enters a crowded area that is a potential target for terror attacks, such as an airport terminal, the security cameras will instantly capture an image of his face, which will be checked by a computer against a database of people with known criminal backgrounds. If the person is identified as a criminal, a warning will be sounded and the security cameras will continue to monitor his movements. Yet, despite all its accomplishments, this supremely advanced country has not been able to contend with the simple phenomenon of “kite terror,” which has caused about 20 fires every day.

Once upon a time, the problems were caused by Arab youths throwing stones. The army, with all of its advanced tanks, was not able to respond to them in any way. After all, how could they respond by shooting a missile at a 12-year-old boy throwing rocks? And that was how the vaunted Israeli army was stymied by stone throwers. Today, the challenge comes from kites. Our entire country and its accomplished army cannot find a solution for the phenomenon of kites carrying incendiary material, which are launched in Gaza and carried into Israel by the winds, to land in open fields or in communities and to wreak havoc. Our country has despaired of coming up with a response to this threat.

This week, Israel signed an agreement with Hamas: We would allow the transfer of fuel to Gaza, and Hamas would order an end to the launching of incendiary kites. But while Israel kept its end of the deal, the kites continues flying across our border. Over the weekend, fifteen terror balloons flew into Israel. Hamas claimed that the agreement was never meant to be permanent; it was only a temporary ceasefire. Of course, this has become a political issue as well. Benny Gantz, as a former Chief of Staff of the IDF, announced that Netanyahu does not know how to deal with the situation, and that the agreement he signed was an act of surrender. To that, Netanyahu responded, “If I decide to invade the Gaza strip, Gantz will be the first person to attack me for it.”

The End of an Airport

This week, what begin as a relatively marginal issue became a subject of major importance—the closure of the Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv. Sde Dov is a very small airport located near the seashore. (The Mossad headquarters is also located in that area, but that is a “secret.”) Sde Dov is used for domestic flights, which does not make it nearly as active as a domestic airport in America, since Israel is a much smaller country. Here in Israel, people would fly from Sde Dov Airport to Eilat in the south, which is an hour-long flight, or to Rosh Pina or Kiryat Shemonah in the north. Many years ago, Avrohom, Borg, the Knesset speaker at the time, had the Knesset convene in Kiryat Shemonah as a sign of solidarity with the residents of the city. At that time, we all traveled from the Knesset to Sde Dov, where we boarded a tiny, dilapidated plane and flew to Kiryat Shemonah.

In recent times, the demand for construction in the Gush Dan region, along with the skyrocketing prices of land in the area, has led the government to try to free up real estate there. For instance, the Tzrifin military base—which is located at the very center of the country, off the Beit Dagan Highway, and is bordered by Rishon Letzion on one side and Be’er Yaakov on another—is being transferred to Be’er Sheva. This will result in a twofold gain for the country: It will lead to further development in the south, since thousands of military officers who serve on the base will take up residence there, and it will make the land occupied by the base available for construction that will generate enormous profits.

The same thing has happened to Sde Dov Airport. The decision to close the airport was made years ago and was approved by the government at the time. As always, though, when the time arrived for the decision to be carried out, it was met with an uproar. The residents of Eilat, led by the mayor of the city, have engaged in angry protests over the past two weeks, exerting enormous pressure on the government, the prime minister, and the Likud to cancel the closure of the airport. They claim that the move will strangle the city of Eilat and will deal a mortal blow to its residents. It is unclear why they waited this long to protest…

Characteristically, Netanyahu became frightened by their opposition. The new Minister of Transportation, Betzalel Smotrich, decided to become a populist and announced that the closure of the airport would be postponed for three months. However, every day of delay would have required the government to pay enormous sums in compensation to the purchasers of the land. This week, Netanyahu proposed a compromise: The airport would be closed, but the city of Eilat would receive enormous gifts in exchange.

On Sunday evening, the government made the following official announcement: “After extensive discussion with the Minister of Transportation, the government legal advisors, and professionals in the field, the prime minister has decided that there is no way to prevent the closure of Sde Dov, and that any such effort would cost the government billions of shekels and would cause serious harm to the state. At the same time, out of a sense of responsibility for the development of the city of Eilat, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in conjunction with the Finance Minister and the Transportation Minister and with the approval of the attorney general, has ordered a 400-million-shekel plan for the development of the city of Eilat to be presented to the government within three weeks. The Finance Minister and his staff have promised to provide the funding for the plan. Similarly, it has been decided to designate a team of ministers headed by the prime minister, who will ensure that the plan for the development of Eilat is put into motion. In addition, the prime minister and the Minister of Transportation have decided to ensure that air travel to Eilat will continue from Ben Gurion Airport with the same frequency as the current flights between Eilat and Sde Dov.”

The last flight from Sde Dov took off this past Sunday. As of now, the airport has become a part of history.

Shabbos Becomes a Day of Work

To be honest, these issues do not concern the chareidi community in Israel quite as much. The ongoing and increasing chillul Shabbos in the public sphere is of much greater concern to them. And it doesn’t take much detective work to find out about it; the information is readily available from official sources.

First of all, the Israel Railways company has shamelessly continued to use Shabbos as a time for construction. This past Shabbos, construction was performed at 16 sites along the railroad, involving the work of 272 employees, almost half of whom were Jewish. These are Jews who did not want to desecrate the Shabbos, but were either forced to work on Shabbos or enticed to do so by the offer of double or triple pay for their labor.

A biking event was also held this past Shabbos, requiring the presence of thousands of police officers. Infrastructure work was also carried out on several roads, and the police themselves announced that construction would be taking place on the Ayalon Highway beginning at 11:00 on Friday night, until Shabbos afternoon.

The religious community in Israel is pained by this, not only because of the chillul Shabbos and the affront to the sanctity of Shabbos itself, but also because we all know that Shabbos always defends its honor. We can never presume to know the reasons for events in this world, but is there anyone who can say with confidence that the ongoing plague of kite terror isn’t a result of the ongoing chillul Shabbos?

The Holy Work of Darchei Miriam

This past Sunday, an event took place that was a source of great joy but was also tinged with tears: The Darchei Miriam organization celebrated the 17th anniversary of its founding with an event for the organization’s female volunteers and the wives of its male volunteers. Hundreds of women attended the event, where the main speaker was Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, the rov of the Kosel and mekomos kedoshim. Naturally, everyone spoke highly about Darchei Miriam, which does everything in its power to assist people suffering from illness, along with their families. They rejoiced in the organization’s accomplishments, saddened only by the fact that there is so much sickness that makes it work necessary.

Fascinating speeches were delivered by Rabbi Chaim Walder, famed author and educational consultant, as well as Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi and Professor Dina Ben-Yehuda, director of the hematology department at Hadassah. An expert in sand art named Rebbetzin Zeivald, who developed a story revolving around Darchei Miriam’s work, also amazed the audience with her artistic talents.

If you are wondering if I am trying to build up Darchei Miriam’s public image, then I must admit that you are correct. I must also admit that I am also a volunteer for the organization, and I am therefore personally acquainted with Darchei Miriam, Reb Dovid Weingarten, and all those who assist him in his holy work. This organization, which is named after Rebbetzin Miriam Weingarten a”h, whose life was cut short by cancer, is kodesh kodoshim. I have seen everything that they do. I joined them on the “bus of tears” for its yearly visit to Meron, about which I once wrote in the Yated. I have personally driven patients to the hospital and listened to their stories. I have seen Ahrele Weingarten, who will move heaven and earth to accommodate the request of any patient. Ahrele spoke at the end of the event.

No Need to Conceal a Mistake

For a long time, I have wanted to express my appreciation for the dedicated people who distribute weekly publications on the parsha, which enrich the oneg Shabbos of countless families. Personally, I enjoy two of those publications in particular: Divrei Siach, which is published by Rav Yitzchok Goldstoff and features the Torah of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and Yabia Omer, which is released by Rav Yitzchok Bar-Zakai and features the Torah of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l.

Allow me to give you a taste of the pleasure I derive from Divrei Siach by quoting a few lines: “This morning [7 Adar Sheini 5763] the rov said to me, ‘Someone sent me a letter and I responded to him. He later wrote to me that my answer had been incorrect, and I wrote to him that I had made a mistake. Then he asked for permission to publish all the letters that he had sent to me, and he wished to include that one as well. I told him that since I had made a mistake, there was no reason to publish it, but then I changed my mind and told him to publish that letter, as well. Let people see that I made a mistake, and then they will know not to rely on me for practical purposes.’”

On a similar note, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl’s new sefer, Teshuvah Mei’ahavah, features copies of his correspondence with Rav Chaim. In one particular letter, Rav Chaim disagrees with Rav Nebenzahl and remarks, “I am surprised that the rov would write such a thing.” I commented to Rav Nebenzahl that I was surprised that he had included that letter in the sefer, and that I wondered why he had even included that particular line. He looked at me in surprise and said, “Why not?”

Elul is on the Way

This week, I met up with a distinguished yungerman on the steps leading from the Zupnik shul to the Pressburg shul in Givat Shaul. I was acquainted with this fellow’s late father, who was a man of many accomplishments and taught in the seminary in Be’er Yaakov for many years. When I saw him, I was on my way to Rechov Kotler, where my car was parked, while he was heading toward his kollel in the Diskin complex, which is headed by Rav Yisroel Meir Druk.

“Did you hear that Rav Chaim visited us recently?” he asked me, referring to Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s visit to Rav Yisroel Meir’s yeshiva. The yeshiva had recently relocated to Yerushalayim from its previous location in Rishon Letzion, and Rav Chaim had paid a visit to the yeshiva in order to offer encouragement to its talmidim and to Rav Yisroel Meir himself, who is his own talmid.

I acknowledged his comment and then asked him, “But why do you look so serious?”

He stared at me in surprise. “Why am I serious?” he repeated. “Because Elul is only two months away!”