My Take on the News

A New Idea: Direct Elections for Prime Minister

The country is now headed towards a third election, this time on the seventh of Adar. The chances of avoiding another election are very slim, but in a country such as ours, the most unlikely scenario sometimes becomes reality. In the meantime, as you have probably heard, Prime Minister Netanyahu has proposed holding an election only for the office of prime minister, rather than having the citizens vote for individual parties again. This is similar to a practice that was previously adopted, when voters cast two ballots—one for their party of choice and one for a candidate for prime minister.

In reality, Netanyahu’s suggestion was first proposed by Aryeh Deri. The goal is not only to cut down on the expense of another election—since a direct election for prime minister will be much less costly—nor is it even to prevent the deluge of campaign propaganda that accompanies every election. Rather, it is meant to cut to the core of the issue that has preserved the political stalemate.

The theory is simple: The deadlock between Gantz and Netanyahu revolves largely around the question of which of them will be prime minister first. Gantz says that if Netanyahu holds the office first, he won’t leave when his time is up. Yair Lapid has predicted that Netanyahu will simply decide to begin a war, to launch another round of elections, or to stall in some other way, rather than packing his bags and leaving his official residence on Rechov Balfour. And there is some legitimacy to that concern…. Of course, the conflict between Netanyahu and Gantz is largely a matter of ego, but it is also over the fundamental question of what the public wants.

What Do the People Want?

In response to their conflict, Aryeh Deri made a simple argument: If the question is what the public wants, and there seems to be an impasse between the right and left on this subject (which isn’t exactly accurate, but it is a fair presumption in order to terminate their unending dispute), then there is no reason to hold a new general election and throw the country into turmoil once again, calling for the submission of party lists, the mass printing of ballots, and so forth. Instead, there is a much simpler solution: Let the public vote directly for the prime minister, and then we will know exactly what the people want. Netanyahu is certain that he will receive the majority of the votes; Gantz, however, is not confident. Consequently, it is not certain that this proposal will be accepted.

If Deri’s idea is rejected and a new general election is called, it will be a long, wearying affair that will require preparations on the part of the Central Elections Committee, which currently claims that it is not ready for a new election, and will paralyze the country for a significant period of time. Nevertheless, if no alternative to a general election is found, then there is not much that can be done to prevent it. The chareidi community will have to hope that the right will receive 61 mandates without Lieberman, and that the chareidi parties will not lose their strength.

Within the Likud, tempers have been flaring. There has been quiet speculation that if Netanyahu steps aside and allows someone else to head the party, then a unity government can be formed without a new election. After all, it seems that as far as Gantz and Lapid are concerned, Netanyahu himself is the only real obstacle. Therefore, if someone else took his place, they would enter a government. But who would that person be? And is it really correct or advisable to displace Netanyahu even though he hasn’t been convicted of a crime? While the Labor party is often quick to remove people from power, the same cannot be said of the Likud party.

Likud MKs Eyeing Netanyahu’s Seat

Nevertheless, the battle for succession has begun within the ranks of the Likud party. The first contender for Netanyahu’s position is Gideon Saar, who has long been one of the senior members of the party, and whom Netanyahu has suspected for some time of plotting to unseat him. There is also Yisroel Katz, who has always maintained that he is the rightful heir to Netanyahu’s seat. And then there are two new figures on the scene. One is Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Yerushalayim, who claims that he deserves to succeed Netanyahu (although he expects it to be only after Netanyahu voluntarily steps down from his position, or is forced to do so due to a criminal conviction). Considering that Barkat has no prior national political experience and that he is essentially a stranger within the Likud party, it is quite surprising that he has become more popular than many other candidates.

And then there is Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset speaker. It is surprising to find his name on this list. Edelstein has never before shown interest in becoming prime minister, but it seems that the sycophants who surround him have convinced him that he is capable of it. It was always evident that he was interested—very interested, in fact—in becoming president, just as his predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, went from the office of Knesset speaker to the presidency. But in spite of all his affability and charm, no one believes that Edelstein is suited to serve as prime minister.

At one point, MK Ofer Shelach (of the Blue and White party, as a member of Yesh Atid) began collecting signatures from other Knesset members to recommend Edelstein for the task of assembling a government. That initiative, however, was scuttled very quickly. On the left and right alike, some viewed it as a baffling step to take, while others were downright angered by it. Neither Gantz nor Netanyahu was pleased by the move.

Edelstein deserves to be the subject of a profile in his own right. Perhaps I will write about him in the near future.

How Will Another Election Help?

There is a question that demands to be asked: What good will it do to hold a direct election for the office of prime minister? Regardless of whether Gantz or Netanyahu is elected, we have already seen that neither of them is capable of forming a government under the current conditions. So how will the country benefit from a direct election?

Actually, the same question can be asked regarding another general election. If an ordinary election is held, there is a significant likelihood that the composition of the Knesset will remain more or less the same, and Lieberman will be in a position to make or break the next government once again. And, of course, he will prove once again to be neither stable nor reliable. So what is to be gained from another election?

Perhaps this isn’t a fair question regarding a general election, since there is no other way of resolving the political deadlock. But it is a logical question regarding a direct election for the prime minister, which amounts to a partial electoral process that does not seem likely to achieve anything.

The answer to this question is that the outcome of such an election will reflect the will of the people. The presumption is that if the Blue and White party sees that the people want Netanyahu as their prime minister, then they will retract all of their demands. Likewise, if Netanyahu sees that the people want Gantz (or, to be more precise, that they have rejected Netanyahu himself), then he will also drop most of his own criteria for joining a government. Of course, this is based on the assumption that the two party leaders will accept this logical argument. And that is far from guaranteed.

Netanyahu Meets with Pompeo

Meanwhile, Netanyahu met with Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the United States, in Portugal. It is unclear if this meeting was actually important or if it was held in order to keep Netanyahu in the diplomatic arena and to provide him with a bit of a reprieve from the quagmire of the criminal charges against him. In any event, Netanyahu himself claimed that the meeting was critical for Israeli security.

Netanyahu also announced, “We have received information that Russia will probably cease part of its involvement in the project in Fordo in light of the resumption of nuclear enrichment [on the part of Iran]. We are exerting tremendous pressure. My last conversation with Trump was about Iran and its nuclear armaments and proliferation, and the necessity of acting with force against it. Trump spoke about this with Pompeo.” Netanyahu insisted that his dire assessment was quite real, and that he was not merely trying to take advantage of political spin. In other words, the nuclear threat from Iran is a genuine danger.

According to the information that Israel has been gathering, Iran has continued to arm itself and is transporting missiles from one location to another. Israel believes that the country now is now a danger to American forces as well as to Israel itself. In effect, it is a ticking time bomb that can certainly pose a major threat to Israel. That is certainly frightening!

Criminal Charges in the Submarine Case

The Ministry of Justice has decided to issue additional indictments in the submarine affair. A series of people, including prominent figures, are due to be prosecuted in court. First and foremost is Mickey Ganor, the man who was initially a state witness but then backed out of the deal. As soon as Ganor changed his mind, it was clear that he would be indicted. The criminal justice system in Israel is very good at taking revenge against those who anger it. Ganor is accused of receiving 10 million euros in bribes, as well as tax evasion and related crimes. He is also accused of having offered bribes to various officials in order to bring the submarine deal to fruition.

The next defendant on the list is the former commander of the navy, Eliezer “Cheiny” Maorm. Marom was paid a consultant’s fee of half a million shekels and is accused of evading taxes on this sum and of accepting it as a bribe from Ganor. Marom was responsible for appointing Ganor to the position that gave him decision-making power. Then there is attorney David Shimron, who is one of the closest people to Prime Minister Netanyahu and stands accused of money laundering. Another defendant, David Sharan, was an aide to Minister Steinitz. There is also Eliezer Zandberg, who is a senior official in Keren HaYesod today and served previously as a minister on behalf of the Tzomet party, which was an anti-religious party in the Knesset, headed by Rafael Eitan.

Pointless Legislative Work

In the past, I mentioned that the members of the Knesset have placed hundreds of proposed laws on the Knesset table, and that it appears that these bills are waiting to be discussed and subjected to a vote in the Knesset. However, this is merely a pretense, since the odds of any of these bills being brought to a vote are virtually nil, and the likelihood of any of them being passed into law is even lower. Nevertheless, 259 additional bills were submitted this week, making for a total of 1203 proposed laws filed in the 22nd Knesset.

Some of these new contributions are quite bizarre, as usual. Merav Michaeli, for instance, has submitted a proposal that is a direct copy of a bill authored by Ilan Shalgi (a member of the Shinui party under Tommy Lapid), which would prohibit “unauthorized religious figures” from entering military or police bases, due to the concern that they might bring inspiration to the soldiers or police officers. According to the law, any symposium or other event requiring the presence of a rov would have to be approved by a police commissioner or IDF general. Another law was submitted by Omer Bar-Lev, who seeks to prohibit commercial activity in hospitals due to the concern that patients might not be able to handle the pressure placed upon them. Ofer Kasif, the only Jew who is a member of the Joint Arab List, has proposed that any visit to Yad Vashem must be approved by an entity that will confirm that the visitor is not himself pro-Nazi. And Penina Tamno is attempting to limit the use of physical force in psychiatric institutions.

The problem with all of these proposals is that the Knesset is likely to dissolve itself in the near future, and all of the work that has gone into preparing these bills will be for naught. The same proposals will simply have to be resubmitted in the 23rd Knesset, and once again their authors will hope for a parliamentary miracle to allow them to be passed. But there is little chance of any of the laws actually passing, since there is no reason for the Knesset to pass a law that would not have a significant effect, whereas a law that would create a major change would also cost money, and the government would oppose it. The only bills that have a chance of being passed are those that do not come with a price tag for the government. Most of the laws proposed by the Shas party, however, fit that criterion.

Shocking Ingratitude

Ehud Olmert was recently interviewed by an economic publication, and it made for a fascinating read. He mocked Netanyahu’s accomplishments, including his relationships with Trump (“I don’t attach any strategic value to it”) and with Putin (“Putin has Bibi wrapped around his little finger”), as well as his military accomplishments. “Which government decided on the Iron Dome—Bibi’s or mine?” he asked pointedly. Olmert conceded that the Minister of Defense at the time, Amir Peretz, also deserves some credit. “However,” he added, “there was a prime minister who approved it.”

Olmert has been having a difficult time with the trend of sharing photos. When he was recently hospitalized for a slipped disc, he saw people around him taking out their cameras, and he quickly released a statement to the public. Before his own statement could even be publicized, though, he received a message from the hospital spokesman’s office. They had been asked by a television station to explain why he was given a private room, and they wished to know how to respond.

What caught my attention, though, was a brief paragraph concerning Yair Lapid. When Olmert was asked if his support for the Blue and White party was due to Lapid, he replied, “Yair and I haven’t met or exchanged a word for at least five years. He has completely turned his back on me since my conviction. I have an excellent relationship with Shula Lapid and with her daughter. Yair, for some reason, has chosen to have nothing to do with me. That is his choice and his right.”

The attitude he ascribes to Yair Lapid is absolutely deplorable. Ehud Olmert and his wife were extremely close to Tommy and Shulamit Lapid (not that that is any reason for them to be proud). Olmert supported the senior Lapid throughout the years of his illness, until his final day on earth, with dedication that defies description (and is unheard of within the chiloni world). He also provided enormous assistance to Yair Lapid in his political career, and in earlier years as well.

A Reporter Is Proven Wrong

Not long ago, I read the following in a newspaper: “After closing the case against Mayor Miriam Feirberg of Netanya, the prosecution decided to close the cases against others who were involved in the affair, including her son, Tzafrir Feirberg.”

I cannot help but ask who will restore the family’s dignity, who will compensate them for the emotional torment they experienced, and who will compensate them for the financial damage they suffered due to this case. For the police, who insisted all along that there was justification for criminal charges, the prosecution’s decision was a slap in the face. This is further evidence that when the police conduct an investigation, they should only be relaying information to the prosecution, without adding their own recommendations—which they also tend to leak to the press. On the other hand, this is a point in favor of the prosecution, which has shown that it has the ability to make a factually informed decision without being swayed by external pressure.

This is also a blow to a certain journalist who predicted over and over that Feirberg and the others involved in the case would be indicted. On November 2018, that reporter announced on Kan News, “The prosecution is recommending an indictment against Miriam Feirberg, the mayor of Netanya, for fraud and breach of trust…. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has received information and recommendations that include enough evidence to press charges against Feirberg.” This reporter’s coverage of the case was a blatant effort to unfairly influence the prosecution. But his disgraceful tactics have been exposed for what they were.

Speaking of the State Prosecution, a recent headline in a newspaper read, “Worry in the Prosecution: Bribery Charge May Be Removed from Case 4000.” After Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing, some believed that the charge of bribery might be dropped from the case. As I have said in the past, sometimes a headline tells the entire story. Why should the prosecution be “worried” about this possibility? Why should they fear the truth, if it would benefit the 70-year-old prime minister? This seems to be a slip on the part of the writer himself, who clearly viewed the potential dropping of the charge as grounds for worry.

Has the Knesset Become a Charity?

Here is another item related to the Knesset—in this case, the Knesset building.

This week, two reporters observed that the Knesset is effectively inactive due to the political deadlock, there is no official body overseeing the government, and therefore the government is effectively on an expensive paid vacation that has already been going on for 315 days. Over the course of this period, they said, only nine parliamentary queries have been submitted, in contrast to the average of 555 queries in an ordinary year. Furthermore, there were only 221 meetings held in the various committees of the Knesset this year; in an ordinary year, there would be 2600 meetings instead. And only seven laws have been passed, two of which called for the dissolution of the Knesset; in an ordinary year, the Knesset would pass 150 laws. Meanwhile, the sum of 14 million shekels has been spent to cover property taxes at the Knesset building, and the Knesset has spent 64 million shekels on security.

Most of their complaints are pure demagoguery. It is an unalterable fact that we do not have a Knesset, the committees are inactive, and it is impossible to pass new laws. There is nothing that can be done about that. It is still possible to submit parliamentary queries, and the truth is that many more than nine queries have been filed. What interested me about their comments, though, was the cost of the property taxes and security at the Knesset. If the cost was so high, in spite of the fact that the Knesset is effectively on recess, it would only be on account of the Central Elections Committee, which takes over portions of the Knesset building during an election season. And that leads to the question of whether the committee is paying these expenses to the Knesset’s financial office. Otherwise, how does it justify drawing from the Knesset’s coffers for its own needs? Has the Knesset become a charity?

Remembering Yanky Rosenberg

If we are discussing the Knesset, then I feel compelled to quote the text of one parliamentary query that was indeed presented this week: “Today, it was revealed that the police officer who fatally shot Solomon Teka [an Ethiopian youth whose death sparked riots that shook the country] was placed on forced leave, even though the Police Internal Investigations Department determined that the officer had fired into the air and the victim was killed by the ricochet. In contrast, the police officers who beat Yanky Rosenberg, a young man who suffers from developmental delays, were not disciplined at all. And out of the group of police officers who harmed the dignity and emotional well-being of a chareidi man from Beit Shemesh by pulling on his peyos, only one was reportedly transferred to a different position.” In fact, even that claim was untrue, since the officer was actually recuperating at home from a broken leg; he was not disciplined at all.

This introduction was followed by several questions: “Why was the officer who shot Solomon Teka placed on forced leave, even though his actions were not condemned by the Internal Investigations Department? At the same time, why weren’t the officers who beat young Yanky Rosenberg placed on forced leave? Why wasn’t the officer who pulled the peyos of Mordechai Kreuzer in Beit Shemesh placed on forced leave? What is the meaning of the report that he was transferred to a different post? And how can that be reconciled with the fact that he was actually at home, recuperating in a cast?”

It is good to see that there is someone who still remembers the terrible injustice that was perpetrated against Yanky Rosenberg. This incident cannot be allowed to pass. It will be interesting to see how the government responds. Another query on the same subject was submitted by Yoav Ben-Tzur, who attacked the conduct of the police from a different angle. We will have to wait and see what results from this.

Caught in a Lie

Another query that caught my eye dealt with police officers who were revealed to have lied to a judge in court. In this instance, they were testifying about the incident in Beit Shemesh. It has already been proven that the police attempted to frame their victim, who was innocently watching the demolition of a shul when they accosted him. The man was released from jail, but MK Michoel Malchieli picked up on an aspect of the case that appears to have escaped most people’s attention: The police officers who testified against Kreuzer, before the footage was shown that proved his innocence, delivered blatantly false testimony!

“Mordechai Kreuzer, who was shown by the videos to have been arrested without cause, was attacked by police officers without having done anything wrong. The policemen knocked him to the ground, and one of the officers broke his leg when they all fell together. Kreuzer was kept in custody throughout that Shabbos, in spite of his pleas and the pleas of his ailing wife, and on motzoei Shabbos he was brought before a judge for an extension of his remand. At first, the police claimed that Kreuzer had been violent and had attacked police officers during his arrest. Four police officers testified, orally or in writing, that Kreuzer had been violent during his arrest and before. The video proved beyond any doubt that the opposite was true: During the arrest, it was the police who acted violently toward Kreuzer. In other words, the police officer and his colleagues lied and falsely accused an innocent man in court on motzoei Shabbos. Will any measures be taken against the police officers who lied and attempted to deceive the judge by claiming that Kreuzer had been violent?” the query concludes.

A Brocha Never Goes to Waste

The following story was shared with me by someone who enjoyed a close relationship with Rav Ovadiah Yosef:

“My sister-in-law and her husband were married for many years without being blessed with children. In light of my close relationship with Rav Ovadiah, I offered to bring them to him in order to receive a brocha. The four of us—my wife, my sister-in-law, her husband, and I—entered Rav Ovadiah’s study. When he saw my sister-in-law, he mistook her for my wife and blessed her to be able to raise our children with great nachas. My sister-in-law, who had no children, was extremely flustered, and I explained to the rov that she was my wife’s sister and that she had no children, which was the reason we had come to him. The rov thought for a moment and then said to her, ‘Even though you have no children today, I have already given you a brocha for nachas from your children. With Hashem’s help, you will have children and they will make you proud.’

“The very next year, my sister-in-law and her husband were blessed with a baby girl.”