My Take On The News

Dancing at the Kosel

Last week, I mentioned that with the loosening of the nationwide lockdown, the Kosel would be reopened to mispallelim. My prediction has since come true, and many people were able to visit the Kosel for the first time since before Yom Kippur. Videos and photographs taken of these emotional moments show the regular mispallelim at the Kosel spontaneously beginning to dance, as tears well up in their eyes.

In July 2018, I wrote two articles profiling the regular visitors to the Kosel, some of whom hadn’t missed a single day at the Kosel for 20 or 30 years until the corona crisis began. Barred from returning there for weeks, they found their emotions overflowing when they returned. The mispallelim are still required to daven in capsules, but at least they are permitted to come.

I also wrote last week about the concerns regarding the beginning of the winter zman in Israel’s yeshivos. Boruch Hashem, the zman has already begun. All the yeshivos opened their doors, implementing the capsule program in accordance with the instructions they received from the Vaad HaYeshivos, which has been working with the Home Front Command. The situation in preschools and chadorim is more uncertain; it seems the government is unsure of what decisions to make. For the time being, though, things are beginning to calm down; as the infection rate drops in the country, the pressure on the chareidi community has been steadily decreasing.

This week, I visited Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu. When I first arrived, I was shocked. The bochurim were filing out of the bais medrash and entering the dining room on the first floor, and there wasn’t a single bochur wearing a mask. I was appalled; did they find it unnecessary to observe even the most basic precautions? One of the talmidim—who happens to be my son—quickly explained that the entire yeshiva had already contracted the coronavirus, and the bochurim were therefore exempt from all restrictions.

I also paid a visit this week to a compound in the Old City of Yerushalayim where American bochurim who had come to learn in Israel were spending their mandatory quarantine period. Americans, unlike Israelis, do not cut corners, and these bochurim were obediently complying with all the rules that had been explained to them when they arrived in Eretz Yisroel: They were learning in an isolated location, with no more than six bochurim in each capsule, and remaining in that place for a period of 14 days. Only after the two weeks were up would they be permitted to join their respective yeshivos. I enjoyed watching them, although I, of course, was forced to observe from the opposite side of a fence. Just as they were not permitted to leave the compound, no one else was allowed to enter it.

Fines for Chareidim Only

When I say that things are beginning to calm down with respect to corona, I mean that the entire country is no longer in the throes of despondence. That does not mean, however, that we are ready to dance with joy. We are still witnessing some 25 deaths a day, and that is quite saddening. Even though most of the fatalities were elderly or suffered from pre-existing conditions, and some were officially listed as having died from corona even though that wasn’t exactly the case, and even if we consider that hundreds of elderly people die from the flu and other illnesses every year, it does not change the fact that the virus is still here. Covid-19 is still causing pain, death, and bereavement, sowing grief and turning children into orphans. On the other hand, there has been progress. Bnei Brak has lost its red status and has become yellow, while Beit Shemesh has gone from yellow to green. Those developments, at least, can give us some reason to rejoice.

The morbidity rate is also declining; there are fewer deaths every day, there are fewer cases of coronavirus, and the rate of new infections is decreasing. Today, there are about 17,000 active coronavirus patients, fewer than 1,000 hospitalized patients, and fewer than 200 new confirmed cases. This is considered a slowdown when compared to what we saw one month ago. Of course, we are all thankful for that. On a global level, though, things are not as encouraging. This week, half a million new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed throughout the world in a single day. That is a fearsome number.

But I must comment about the declining rate of infections in Israel. Weeks ago, when reports emerged about a spike in infections in the chareidi community, I pointed out that infections weren’t necessarily on the rise; it was possible that there were simply more tests being conducted, and therefore more cases were being detected. Had the community not been tested en masse, I suggested, the chareidim might not have become pariahs, viewed as responsible for spreading the disease. Today, the converse may well be true: The reason for the lower number of infections may be simply that fewer tests are being performed.

This past Motzoei Shabbos, Prime Minister Netanyahu held his first press conference in a long time. As usual, he boasted about his accomplishments both on the diplomatic front and in the battle against the coronavirus. Netanyahu revealed that the government would be raising the fines imposed on schools that operate in violation of the law to a hefty 25,000 NIS (approximately $7,500). And I have no doubt that this is a measure aimed at the chareidi sector.

A Complimentary Caricature

Years from now, historians will read our newspapers, along with the minutes of Knesset sessions from this period, and rub their eyes in disbelief. We have witnessed inflammatory newspaper headlines, such as the one that appeared in both Maariv and Yediot Acharonot: “Chareidi Revolt.” There have been hateful articles calling to slash the budgets of chareidi institutions and warning of a “threat to democracy,” and demeaning caricatures of chareidim have surfaced in the media. The implied message of these cartoons, even if it is subconscious, is still dangerous: Chareidim are painted as a fifth column in Israeli society, a group that spreads disease and rebels against the government. The caricatures are no less dangerous, and possibly even more harmful, than the most vicious written incitement.

One of the cartoons (drawn by Guy Morad in Maariv) shows a group of chareidim listening to a shiur delivered by a Torah sage presumably representing Rav Chaim Kanievsky. An open sefer sits on the shtender before him, and the rov announces, “Taasu chaim” (“Have a good time”). The cartoonist’s intent was to mock the chareidi community, but the image can actually be taken as a compliment. If there is a single message that Rav Chaim Kanievsky has conveyed throughout its life, it is that Torah is chaim—life—itself. “Taasu chaim,” while smacking of a cavalier attitude as far as the secular ear is concerned, is actually apropos….

This reminds me of an incident involving Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l. A group of maskilim once staged a satirical play poking fun at the mitzvah for the Jewish army to exclude anyone who is fearful on account of his aveiros. The play showed a large group of strapping young men abandoning a tiny group of soldiers on the battlefield, who are revealed to be a handful of elderly men clutching Gemaras as they prepare to face a formidable enemy. When Rav Chaim Brisker was told about the derisive production, he remarked, “The only problem is that they didn’t show the rest of the story—those elderly men won the war!”

Similarly, this spiteful cartoonist has actually captured the truth of the current situation. The chareidi world and its talmidei chachomim have indeed chosen life; it is the rest of the world that has opted to follow the path of death.

Brutal Police, Violent Protestors

The incitement against the chareidi community is continuing unabated. There will always be people who claim that certain chareidi elements are themselves responsible for this widespread antipathy, but I do not believe that is correct. The chareidim are despised simply because they are chareidi.

On Motzoei Shabbos, a young bochur in Yerushalayim was arguing with one of the protestors at a demonstration against the prime minister, when the chiloni protestor suddenly slammed his head into the bochur. The act of violence, caught on camera by another secular Israeli, shocked everyone who saw it, but that is not my point. The point is that this intractable hatred exists.

Some believe that the divide between the average secular Israeli (not the leftists who despise Judaism) and the chareidi community will take years to mend, but no one can be sure of that. Nevertheless, the recent incident teaches us one thing: We were already aware that the police often become violent in their dealings with chareidim, but now it seems that there are secular demonstrators who do the same. The police, meanwhile, announced that they intend to identify the protestor who attacked the bochur and bring him to justice. We will have to wait and see if this happens.

Meanwhile, we are living in a time when the middas hadin is evident. Death is in the streets, and dread fills our homes. I cannot understand the people who constantly advocate for the removal of lifesaving restrictions. Why do they think they are qualified to make that call? At the same time, it is clear that many of the government’s decisions were not calculated with much care.

For instance, why did the government permit opening preschools but prohibit the operation of chadorim? If adequate precautions can be taken in a preschool, the same would be true in a cheder. And if preschools need to be opened because the parents—and their children—have reached the limits of their endurance, then the same argument could be made for permitting chadarim to operate. Moreover, there is the added consideration that boys in Talmud Torah will be deprived of many days of Torah learning as long as their schools remain closed.

So, while we all have no choice but to comply with the government’s decisions, there is no question that the chareidi community feels unfairly singled out for repression. The same impression was created by the closures of chareidi cities. Again, there was no choice but to obey the government’s restrictions, but the community remained resentful.

There is one thing that no one disputes: The police regularly act violently in their dealings with chareidim. Many police officers seem to feel that the chareidi community is a legitimate target for their rage and violent impulses. In the Knesset, Minister Amir Ohana acknowledged the phenomenon. “There is a marginal tendency, in some encounters between police officers and citizens, for disproportionate force to be used,” he said. “This exists, I agree, and it is very distressing, and it is also not in keeping with the orders or values of the police force. These cases are handled through discipline by the commanders, and in the appropriate cases there are even criminal investigations.”

Well, Mr. Ohana, there is also a “marginal tendency” for some citizens in the chareidi community to flout the government regulations. But is that a reason for the entire chareidi sector to be maligned? Why are the headlines speaking about a “chareidi revolt,” as if the entire community is at fault?

Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Now Sudan

Netanyahu is very proud of recent events on the diplomatic front. After the historic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, it is now Sudan’s turn to normalize its relations with Israel, and some say that Oman and Saudi Arabia are the next in line. It is nothing short of astounding.

Last weekend, Israel and Sudan announced an agreement for the normalization of relations between the two countries. The announcement was made during a conference with the participation of President Trump; Abed al-Fattah al-Burhan, the chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan; Abdalla Hamdok, the Sudanese prime minister; and Binyomin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. After gathering a group of reporters in the Oval Office during his joint phone call with the heads of state, President Trump announced that additional countries will establish diplomatic relations with Israel in the coming months, hinting that Saudi Arabia might be next. “The Palestinians also want to do something,” he added.

During the conversation, Netanyahu said to Trump, “We are very quickly expanding the circle of peace under your leadership.”

Trump replied, “There are many other countries on the way.”

The president’s advisor, Jared Kushner, confirmed that additional countries would soon be making peace with Israel.

Earlier in the day, Trump had signed an order removing Sudan from the list of states that are considered sponsors of terrorism. He notified Congress of the move after Sudan transferred $335 million in damages to terror victims and their families. Sudan’s removal from the list was the country’s main prerequisite for heading toward normalization with Israel, and many Israelis hope that this will be the opportunity to send the country’s large population of Sudanese infiltrators back to their homes.

The Palestinian Authority denounced the agreement. “The normalization between Israel and the Sudan is another act of backstabbing against the Palestinians,” Abu Mazen declared, in a statement that should give you an idea of the kind of “friends” that Israel enjoys. Of course, the country’s enemies were even more strident. Islamic Jihad condemned the agreement, announcing that “this agreement is a betrayal of Palestine and the people, and a threat to the identity and future of Sudan. The Sudanese regime is sliding into Israel’s embrace and giving an unearned gift to Israel. Using the money of the poor and displaced, the Sudanese are paying to ingratiate themselves with the Americans.”

And the imminent election in the United States did not escape mention. In a telephone call between Trump and Netanyahu, the American president said, “Do you think Sleepy Joe would have achieved this agreement? I don’t think so.” Trump, as you know, is not especially selective with his words. Netanyahu was at a loss as to how to respond. Finally, he said, “Well, Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.” Netanyahu certainly would not want to go on record making a critical comment about Biden; if the Democratic candidate is elected, the prime minister would have ample reason to regret it.

A Stir in the Knesset

You may be wondering what is new in the world of politics. The truth is that there is very little that is new. Prime Minister Yitzchok Shamir once said, “What could be new? The sea is the same sea, and the Arabs are the same Arabs.” In other words, the Arabs have always wanted to drive us into the sea, and nothing has changed about that aspiration.

By the same token, Netanyahu is the same Netanyahu and Gantz is the same Gantz. Their rivalry and mutual distrust are the same, and both men are talking again about new elections while simultaneously trembling in fear at the prospect, as the polls show that both the Likud and the Blue and White party have been severely weakened. Both men are also talking about the need for the state budget to be passed; as I have mentioned in the past, the law calls for the Knesset to dissolve if a budget is not passed by a certain deadline. Meanwhile, though, the government is continuing to lumber along.

Last week, there was an incident in the Knesset that nearly became violent. The left had submitted a request for a parliamentary investigative commission to examine the submarine affair—the case in which former Defense Minister Yaalon claims that Prime Minister Netanyahu made important decisions affecting Israel’s security based on personal considerations. The attorney general recently announced that this case had been closed and that Netanyahu had no connection to the affair. Nevertheless, due to a misunderstanding, the Knesset member who was chairing that particular Knesset sitting (the Arab deputy to the Knesset speaker) announced a vote on the proposal, which passed with a majority in favor.

Yariv Levin, the Knesset speaker, then replaced his deputy and announced that the vote would be voided since the government had asked for it to be conducted by a roll call rather than electronically. His announcement sparked pandemonium on a scale that had almost never been seen before in the Knesset. The opposition boycotted the second vote, even after the deputy speaker admitted that he should have acceded to the request for a roll call rather than participating in the first vote.

On another subject, I have already mentioned former Prime Minister Yitzchok Shamir in this article, and I will now invoke a different former prime minister—Yitzchok Rabin. This weekend, the country will observe its annual festival revolving around Rabin. This time, it marks a significant anniversary, as 25 years have passed since his assassination. Now, it is certainly very saddening; it is saddening whenever a Jewish person dies, and certainly when he is murdered. It is also true that Rabin’s death was no less traumatic for the State of Israel than the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a trauma for the United States. Nevertheless, the annual commemoration of Rabin’s life has become excessive, especially with the constant talk about the “Rabin legacy.” What legacy did Yitzchok Rabin leave for the State of Israel? The answer to that question is unclear. Perhaps the date should be marked in some way, and anyone who wishes to visit Rabin’s grave should be able to do so, but the time has come to lower the tone.

I will also let you in on a secret: The Knesset holds a special sitting every year to commemorate Rabin’s assassination. Behind the scenes, the Knesset members and the reporters are always begged to attend, so that the empty room will not put the country to shame. This year, the event has been scheduled for this Thursday. Bli neder, I will report to you next week both on the volume of attendance and on the nature of the program.

The Judge Dances to the Reform Tune

There is a former Supreme Court justice who holds the position of Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary, a capacity in which he receives complaints from the public about the country’s judges. In Israel, a dayan on a rabbinic court is considered to have the same status as a judge, and complaints may be filed against a dayan with the ombudsman. The Reform movement has taken advantage of this to lodge a complaint against Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the chief rabbi of Israel, who is also a dayan on the Bais Din Hagadol. (In fact, Rav Yosef served for a while as the president of the Bais Din Hagadol, but there is a rotation between the two chief rabbis for that position. Rav Dovid Lau is currently the nosi of the Bais Din Hagadol, while Rav Yosef serves as the president of the Chief Rabbinical Council.)

At the beginning of the week, Justice Uri Shoham announced that he would recommend to the Dayanim Appointment Committee to reevaluate whether Rav Yosef may continue serving as a dayan. His reason: “Because Rav Yosef recently spoke out against the court system in general, and the Supreme Court in particular.”

The complaint from the Reform Center for Religion and State was accompanied by select quotes from Rav Yosef’s public criticism of the Supreme Court (“The Supreme Court considers itself above everyone on every issue; it meddles with everything”) and of the Reform movement, whom he accused of “falsifying” the Torah. These comments were made in response to a court ruling that would force the Rabbinate to allow women to take tests on halacha. Rav Yosef added that he did not intend to comply with the court’s ruling on this subject. Judge Shoham remarked that this was not the first time that Rav Yosef had expressed himself “in a way that is not befitting for a dayan in general, and particularly for a dayan on the Bais Din Hagadol.” Shoham was angered by the fact that Rav Yosef’s statements against the country’s judges, especially the justices of the Supreme Court, have been growing steadily harsher.

Nevertheless, Rav Yosef’s rhetoric pales in comparison to the way his father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, used to speak about the courts. Rav Ovadiah would often stress the severity of the sin of seeking justice in arkaos (secular courts) and would explain that the judges of the State of Israel have the status of arkaos. The attorney general at the time (Elyakim Rubinstein, who later became a justice on the Supreme Court) considered placing Rav Ovadiah on trial for his comments, but desisted out of fear of backlash from the chareidi public.

It is difficult to believe that the Dayanim Appointment Committee—which includes two dayanim, two government ministers, and two members of the Knesset and is chaired by the Minister of Religious Affairs, a member of the Shas party—will accept Judge Shoham’s foolish proposal. MK Moshe Arbel, a legal expert in his own right, also responded to Shoham quite eloquently: “Time after time, Mr. Shoham has attempted to follow the herd and encourage the Reform movement…. But when it comes to the Reform movement itself, Mr. Shoham does not respond.”

Regarding the accusation lodged against Rav Yitzchok Yosef, Arbel added, “The rov’s comments were a direct reflection of the position of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel since the founding of the state and echo the words of the chief rabbi of Israel at the time, Rav Yitzchok Halevi Herzog, regarding the Israeli judicial system, which does not judge by the laws of the Torah.” Returning to Shoham himself, Arbel added, “We would expect a person who has previously sat on the highest court of ‘justice’ to make sure that he respects the independence of the parallel judicial system and those who serve in it [i.e., the Bais Din Hagadol and its members], and not to serve as a lobbyist for the Reform movement.”

Lapid’s Shameful Tongue-Lashing

Once again, I recently witnessed the prime minister wallowing in shame in the Knesset. Last Monday, Yair Lapid was standing at the podium, looking every bit as arrogant and conceited as his father had, and treating Netanyahu to a verbal pummeling, occasionally glancing in the direction of his colleagues in the Yesh Atid party and absorbing a new infusion of determination. But I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible for him to insult Netanyahu repeatedly on such a personal and painful level.

“At the height of this crisis,” Lapid declared accusingly, “you spent every day focused on your trial, on Mandelblit, and on the media—over and over again, the media. You focused on all the things that are not relevant to the lives of Israelis, because you are not living with us in the same year or in the same country. You are living in some sort of emotional or psychological bubble.

“Perhaps this will surprise you,” Lapid continued, “but I don’t blame you. It is inevitable after so many years. Everything that we are seeing now was inevitable—the erosion, the failures, and the lack of connection. Everyone is saying, ‘He is a liar; he is a liar; he is a liar.’ But do you know what? I don’t believe that you are lying. It is much worse than that; you actually believe what you say. You have failed,” Lapid went on to shout, “and you don’t even know that you have failed!”

Netanyahu was clearly uncomfortable, and Lapid enjoyed every moment of it—which makes him all the more repugnant.

Lapid knows how deplorable it is to use another person’s shame as the vehicle for one’s own honor, but his coarse character drove him to do it anyway. This was often his practice during his career as a journalist, when he callously used his words to harm entire sectors of the country. This week, he also wrote to the prime minister that it was inappropriate to assign Effie Eitam, a yarmulke-wearing former minister in the government and onetime brigadier general in the IDF, to serve as the director of Yad Vashem, since Eitam offended the Palestinians. “Some might say that my father, Yosef ‘Tommy’ Lapid, who served as chairman of the Yad Vashem council until his death, was also a controversial man,” Lapid added in the Knesset. “That is possible, but my father was also a Holocaust survivor who lived through the horrors of the ghetto in Budapest along with his mother and who lost his father in a concentration camp. That lends a different moral validity to his service.”

I beg to differ. The fact that the senior Lapid suffered from Nazi cruelty and still did not balk at abusing his fellow Jews only heightens his wickedness. Furthermore, Tommy Lapid was the very embodiment of evil, hurtful speech; if his son, Yair, understands that his father’s offensive and predatory style was wrong, why has he followed in his father’s loathsome footsteps? Yair Lapid has adopted the behavior of a boxer, a participant in a cruel sport that consists of pummeling an opponent until he is defeated and then listening as the audience cheers the victor and jeers at the battered, bloodied loser as he limps shamefully out of the ring. This is a sport that is certainly not in the Jewish spirit.

I heard Lapid’s merciless invective, and watched as Netanyahu squirmed in discomfort. And I was ashamed.

On Tuesday, the Knesset commemorated the assassination of Minister Rechavam Zeevi. The prime minister delivered an address, and Lapid was entitled to deliver a speech of his own, but he demurred. Without the scent of blood, he had no reason to speak. Zeevi, who was nicknamed Gandhi, was the polar opposite of Lapid; he was a man who loved to be kind to others and a master of friendship, as Amir Ohana remarked in his own address. And I can personally attest to his commitment to kindness, as Zeevi once said to me, “My father taught me that any day when I do not do an act of chesed for two Jews doesn’t count”—a striking contrast indeed to Yair Lapid.

Copy, Paste, and Evade

Since I mentioned Amir Ohana, the minister who oversees the police force, allow me to share an interesting tidbit with you. Ohana, as the Minister of Internal Security, recently wrote the following in response to a parliamentary query: “I received your query, and I am honored to respond as follow. The Israel police force relates with severity to incidents of the sort described in your question. Therefore, the police have begun investigating the incident. In the course of the investigation, the police have conducted and will conduct various procedures to collect evidence and complete the investigation in the most professional fashion, in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. As of now, the investigation of the incident is still underway. Therefore, I am unable to offer additional details about it at this time.”

Something about this response was vaguely familiar to me, and after briefly examining my records, I discovered the reason: Ohana had written the same response, word for word, to a different member of the Knesset on an entirely different subject. This time, the questioner was calling after a near lynch that took place in the vicinity of Maaleh Shomron; the previous question had dealt with the fact that the police had declined to investigate a series of assaults on visitors to Meron, despite video footage of the incidents. It seems that someone in Minister Ohana’s office is fond of using “copy/paste.”

In reality, there is nothing wrong with this, although the answer is evasive. Essentially, Ohana was informing his questioners that they could receive no information until the investigations were completed. This is a relatively recent approach, not to mention a disappointing one. And while there may be some legitimacy to the argument, it seems to lack much logic. Why couldn’t the minister reveal whether the police had examined the video evidence? Would an answer to that question harm the investigation in any way? And what about the question of whether any suspects had been found based on the videos?

In other words, even if Ohana was justified in “copying and pasting” his response, why did he have to be so opaque?

The One-Minute Limit

Tuesday is always a short day in the Knesset. Last Tuesday, the Knesset concluded its business for the day at 4:24 p.m., less than half an hour after its designated opening time. The only items on the agenda for the day were one-minute speeches. About 25 members of the Knesset had signed up to speak, but only a dozen speeches were actually delivered.

Even if all 120 members of the Knesset had spoken, the most memorable speech would have been the one delivered by Boaz Toporovsky, a member of the Yesh Atid party and, l’havdil, a former student of Nefesh Yehudi. Toporovsky is young, affable, and eloquent. I don’t believe I have ever seen him adopting the combative and inflammatory style of the tyrant who heads his party. Toporovsky also has a specific agenda: dealing with fatalities on the roads. He is deeply sensitive to the phenomenon of fatal traffic accidents, and it was only natural that he was chosen to chair the subcommittee formed to address this very issue. Every week, Toporovsky takes advantage of his right to a one-minute speech—a relatively new institution in the Knesset—to read the names of the most recent fatalities in devastating accidents around the country.

This time, when the Knesset speaker invited Toporovsky to take his place at the podium, he added that the usual time limit had been waived. Toporovsky was startled. “Really? And I made sure to be brief this week!”

“Today you can take your time,” Yariv Levin replied.

As usual, Toporovsky recited the names of seven people who had died on the country’s roads during the preceding week. As usual, he concluded, “Seven fatalities, and seven families whose lives will never be the same. Thank you.”

To understand the initial exchange between Levin and Toporovsky, I must take you back to the previous week, when there were too many victims of traffic accidents to be mentioned in the span of one minute. “Mr. Speaker and honored members of the Knesset,” Toporovsky began, “this week I will once again enumerate the fatal traffic accidents that resulted in loss of life. Unfortunately, there were many of them. On August 3, a 24-year-old man riding a motorcycle was killed….”

Toporovsky tried to continue reading from his list, but Levin interrupted him. “MK Toporovsky,” he said, “I am sorry, but there is a time allotment of one minute.”

“There are many fatalities this week,” Toporovsky replied.

Levin said, “Then you will have to find a way to list them more rapidly or….”

“To reduce the number of deaths,” Toporovsky said.

“Yes,” Levin replied. “Or you must find another way to read the names.”

“There were 13 deaths!” Toporovsky exclaimed.

“We mourn for all of them, but we must abide by our schedule,” Yariv Levin said.

This week, in light of the previous week’s incident, Toporovsky had found a way to condense his list into a single minute, yet Levin surprised him by announcing that he would be permitted extra time. Let us daven that the lists themselves will be shortened in the future!

Eyeing the Office of President

This week, I met with someone who has been eyeing the office of president (and who might very well secure that position). The current president, Ruvi Rivlin, is due to finish his term in another half a year, and the competition has already begun among his potential successors.

There is a general sense that the office of president has become a bonus accomplishment of sorts for aging politicians. That alone is not much of a problem; what is worse is the fact that the presidents often wish to return to politics after completing a seven-year term. In fact, Israel has had several presidents who returned to the Knesset after their terms were over. In the case of former president Yitzchok Navon, it was highly unsuccessful, and I believe that Navon himself regretted the move at the end of his life.

In any event, when I met this potential presidential candidate this week, he spread his arms wide and seemed overjoyed to see me. But I still remember his tenure as a minister in the government, when it was impossible to get past the army of aides and advisors who constantly surrounded him. In those days, this man could not even spare a glance for another person. Evidently, now that he needs to begin gathering support for his candidacy, he has realized that he has no choice but to begin ingratiating himself with others.

Then again, perhaps I am mistaken, and he has simply become a mensch….