Monday, May 27, 2024

My Take On The News

Will the Vaccine Be Mandatory?

Israel is getting ready for the Covid vaccines.

Pfizer and Moderna, the two pharmaceutical giants, have each produced their own respective vaccines, and Israel has signed a contract with each company for a massive quantity of each vaccine. There has been much debate as to whether Netanyahu was too hasty in signing these agreements; we will probably never know whether he was correct. What is clear is that Israel will be one of the first countries in the world to receive the vaccines.

At the end of the week, the Health Ministry signed an agreement that tripled the number of vaccines that Moderna would supply to Israel. Instead of two million doses, the country will now receive six million, which will be sufficient to inoculate three million Israeli citizens. The government has been ordering millions of surplus vaccines from various manufacturers in order to provide enough vaccinations for the entire population as quickly as possible. Since each company is providing its vaccines to Israel in limited shipments, it will take months for enough doses for the entire country to reach us. The health minister projected that the first vaccines will be able to reach Israel by the end of this month, and he promised that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu would be the first to be inoculated. If they are able to increase the number of doses to be received, it will be possible to offer the vaccines to a broader range of citizens. For now, it seems that the first round of vaccines will be reserved for people over the age of 60.

This has all given rise to another debate: Should the vaccine be mandatory? If an Israeli citizen, young or old, does not want to take the vaccine for reasons of his own, should it be forced on him? Some have argued that the vaccines are meant for the public good, and that no individual has the right to refuse one. On the other hand, vaccinations or other medical treatments have never been forced on anyone before. As of now, it seems that vaccination will not be compulsory.

As you know, Israelis love surveys. Well, a recent survey found that 61 percent of Israelis would agree to take a vaccine, 18 percent would refuse it, and 21 percent are still uncertain. Those who would resist the vaccine explained that they are afraid of the side effects and that they do not believe that the vaccines are effective. In any event, after all of Israel’s confident talk, the Israelis have decided to wait for the drugs to be approved by the American FDA.

Gantz on the Offensive

In the world of Israeli politics, there is chaos. Last Wednesday, two bills that proposed to disband the Knesset received a majority vote of 61 in their preliminary readings in the Knesset. Both bills were supported by the Blue and White party. This does not mean that the Knesset will disband immediately. Both proposals must pass several more hurdles: a committee discussion, the first reading in the Knesset, another committee discussion, and the second and third readings (which take place together). But it was certainly a major blow to the current government.

Before the vote on Wednesday, Benny Gantz delivered a speech that sounded very much like a campaign address. He attacked Netanyahu with far more virulence than we are used to witnessing. Gantz has a public image as a hesitant and inarticulate politician, but this time, he (along with his teleprompter) outdid himself. Here are some choice excerpts from his speech: “If we go to elections, we will try to establish a broad government in which Netanyahu will have no part…. Netanyahu has decided to dismantle the government and to drag Israel into an election. The way he has chosen to do that is by refusing to approve a budget for the State of Israel as was agreed, which will lead to the dissolution of the Knesset. Netanyahu likes to equate us with the most enlightened and successful countries in the world. Show me any other country where the prime minister blocks the approval of a budget and the appointment of a police commissioner and state prosecutor. Where else does this happen? I will not remain silent in the face of the economic damage caused by the withholding of a budget, which threatens the livelihood and future of every household in the country…. Netanyahu has turned the battle against coronavirus into a personal campaign for his own glory, portraying every process that is undertaken as a personal accomplishment of his own. He pretends that these things aren’t a joint effort of the Health Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Ministry of the Economy, the Labor and Welfare Ministry, and, of course, the security services and the IDF…. This is happening for one reason only: Netanyahu is fixated on his personal survival. The only basis for all of his decisions is his desire to extricate himself from the judgment that awaits him around the corner.”

This speech sounded very much like a declaration of war, and it seemed that Gantz had passed the point of no return, completely shattering his alliance with Netanyahu. But as it turns out, anything is possible in politics. In spite of Gantz’s combative speech, it was reported that “senior figures” in the Blue and White party informed the prime minister that if the budget passes, the government will stand. Gantz is still clinging to the hope that Netanyahu will hand him the office of prime minister on a silver platter, and he knows that if the country goes to an election, that will never happen.

Still a Chance for the Government to Survive

To be fair, even in his speech, Gantz called on the prime minister to pass the budget, thus keeping open the possibility for the crisis to be resolved. “The only person who can prevent an election is the person who decided to hold it,” Gantz asserted. “Netanyahu, the burden of proof is on you. Bring a new budget to the government, make sure it passes, and do something to promote the unity that you tout in front of the camera. If you act without tricks or subterfuge, the citizens of Israel will not find themselves in an election again in March.”

The next day, Blue and White voted in favor of the proposal to dissolve the Knesset, but Netanyahu still has time to pass a budget. If he does not pass it within a week, then the government will fall in any event; we are at the end of the civil year, and the law requires a budget to be passed.

In response to Gantz’s criticism, Prime Minister Netanyahu released a video in which he called on Gantz not to be pulled into an election by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, and Naftoli Bennett, the leader of the Yamina party. “I have been saying this for a long time,” the prime minister insisted. “This isn’t the time for an election; this is a time for unity. It is a time for us to continue importing vaccines and to continue our determined battle against the coronavirus…. Unfortunately, the Blue and White party is being dragged along by Lapid and Bennett. Bennett and Lapid do not care about the fact that we are going to have an election in the middle of the COVID pandemic; it is all about their personal interests. Even though Blue and White established a government within a government, even though they have been constantly fighting us and violating our coalition agreements, I still call upon them to put all of this aside.” Addressing Gantz directly, he added, “Benny, what you must do now is make a U-turn from politics for the sake of the citizens of the State of Israel. That is what is necessary now, and I am asking you to do it.”

Yaalon to Run with Eizenkot?

Meanwhile, with elections in the air, there has been much talk about party blocs, political alliances, new parties and new political stars. Every election campaign has its own rising star, and every one of them falls from the sky and loses his luster fairly quickly. There has been much talk recently of Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv founding his own party, which is projected to win about ten mandates. These projections might come true, but the party’s success would not come at the expense of the political right. Huldai would siphon off votes from Blue and White and from Yair Lapid. Based on his rhetoric, it is indeed fitting for him to usurp votes from those parties, since he is a staunch leftist and is not at all in favor of the chareidi community and its needs.

This week, a new star was introduced to the political scene: Gadi Eizenkot, a former chief of staff of the IDF. The problem is that the political playing field is filled with other former chiefs of staff, so his rank hasn’t made much of an impression on anyone. Moshe “Bogie” Yaaon is still a partner with Yair Lapid, and Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi lead their own party, having split from Yaalon and Lapid. Where would Gadi Eizenkot position himself?

This week, Moshe Yaalon announced that Eizenkot would be his second in command. Eizenkot himself quickly notified the public that until an election is officially declared, he has no obligation to decide if he will be entering the world of politics at all. He might decide to remain removed from it all, Eizenkot claimed. Nevertheless, Yaalon’s announcement caused major political damage to Yair Lapid, since it implied that Yaalon does not plan to run together with him in the upcoming election. For Lapid, that came as a formidable blow; even if the two ultimately run together, the damage has already been done. Yaalon essentially implied that Lapid is not fit to run against Netanyahu as a candidate for the office of prime minister.

A Victory for Netanyahu in Court

Netanyahu doesn’t seem to be especially perturbed by either of these things—Gantz’s aggressive speech or Yaalon’s political announcement. If it is true that Netanyahu is preoccupied by his own trial, then this week actually brought a development in his favor. On Sunday, there was a court session that was supposed to address the case, but Netanyahu’s lawyers seem to be outsmarting the prosecution. Last week, his legal team held a press conference and presented a letter they had written to the court pointing out a long list of abuses that took place during the investigation, which the attorneys feel are sufficient grounds to cancel the indictments altogether. While I won’t go into details on this subject, the truth is that crimes were indeed committed against witnesses in order to induce them to become state witnesses against Netanyahu.

On Sunday, though, the battle in the courtroom was about a different subject: Netanyahu’s lawyers insisted that if the state wishes to prosecute the prime minister for taking bribes from a media outlet and its owner (i.e., Shaul Elovich and the website Walla), then the prosecution must cite examples of skewed coverage that constitute bribery. The judges indicated that they agreed that the charge sheet in Case 4000 (the Bezeq case) must be modified in order to reflect specific instances in which, according to the state, Prime Minister Netanyahu demanded and received from Shaul Elovich unusually favorable coverage on the website. When the prosecutor, Yehudit Tirosh, claimed that Netanyahu had demanded favorable coverage, Judge Shacham asked her, “Do you have knowledge of those demands?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you know who made the demands and what they asked for?” the judge questioned her further.

“Not always,” Tirosh replied “but we don’t have to account for every demand by showing that it came from Netanyahu.”

“Do you know which of those demands were met?” the judge asked.

“Of course,” Tirosh replied.

“Then show us that,” Shacham said. “That is what the accused is asking. They have the right to know which demands were clearly met, in your opinion. This appears to be a significant element of the charges. There must be an explanation for the lack of specifics in your case. If you have specific details, there is no reason not to disclose them.”

The prosecutor tried to argue that she could not reveal the details without becoming entangled in a conflict with the defense, and the other two judges rebuked her harshly.

Lieberman Spreads Venom and Hatred

Whenever an election seems to be in the air, the anti-Semites come crawling out of their holes. This is especially true of Yvette Lieberman, who always finds an excuse to lash out against chareidim. Last week, a bill was presented to the Knesset that would make it impossible for a father who is a murderer to be a guardian of his children. There is logic in this law, but it was necessary for every paragraph to be carefully evaluated in order to prevent it from causing unintended harm to the innocent. Since it required serious discussion, many Knesset members believed that the appropriate place for it to be handled was the Constitution Committee, which is headed by MK Yaakov Asher. Nevertheless, the author of the bill, Oded Forer, moved to keep it in his own committee. This type of dispute is generally referred to the Knesset Committee for a final decision.

All of this was perfectly reasonable and fairly standard in the Knesset. Oded Forer was angry, but that was also to be expected. But then Lieberman entered the picture and proclaimed dramatically, “The chareidim abet murder!” The fact that the chareidi parties had voted in favor of the bill did not interest him, nor was he troubled by the fact that the Likud party, like the chareidim, had also called for the law to be discussed in the Constitution Committee. All that happened was that the chareidim had asked for the law to be discussed in Asher’s committee, yet Lieberman twisted that into his claim that they abet murderers. It was a blatant lie and the height of chutzpah. In fact, the Knesset secretariat and its legal department had both likewise opined that the Constitution Committee, rather than Forer’s committee, was the correct place for this bill to be discussed. It was Forer who was asking for a change in protocol, and that placed him in a weaker position from the outset.

Lieberman has exceeded all the bounds of decent behavior. Over the past year alone, he accused chareidim of exploiting soldiers, he railed that Netanyahu had “sold” the country to the chareidim, he released a video equating bnei yeshivos with Hamas terrorists, and he claimed that chareidim had “taken over” the Knesset. He has referred to chareidim as parasites, extortionists, boors, draft dodgers, and a general burden on society. He was the one who incited the country against Orthodox tourists from Brooklyn and accused the chareidim of spreading disease. In reality, it is Lieberman himself who has been spreading a different type of disease, poisoning the atmosphere in this country with hateful rhetoric.

What Good Will an Election Do?

Holding an election now seems to be utterly irrational. The last thing that this country and its citizens need now is the enormous expenditure of funds required by an election campaign. The coronavirus has caused enough damage, both financial and emotional, to all of us. Besides, do we have any shortage of sinas chinam? An impending election will only bring us extra heaping doses of the mudslinging and bitter invective that are inseparable components of an election campaign. Gantz’s speech on Tuesday night was merely a taste of this, and Lieberman’s attack on the chareidim certainly gives us an inkling of what is to come. What is most amazing is that we will probably see soon that Lapid’s proposal to disband the Knesset, which passed its preliminary reading, will be the catalyst for Netanyahu and Gantz to strengthen their alliance. At this point, Netanyahu is frightened enough to fulfill some of his promises. It is truly ironic that Lapid himself might bring that about.

Besides, what can an election possibly accomplish? The most likely outcome is that the parties and the balance between the blocs will remain the same, in spite of the polls that predict meteoric growth for Yamina (which is expected to receive 20 mandates and has not yet committed to running with Netanyahu). In the past as well, Bennett performed superbly in the polls but failed to cross the electoral threshold.

If everything remains more or less the same, then what will be the point of this foolish venture? Sometimes, things seem to be spinning out of control for no discernible reason. Why is it so difficult for men like Gantz and Netanyahu to work together like responsible adults?

Out of Our Control

In recent days, many Israelis have begun making plans to visit the United Arab Emirates. Very few people have left the country at all since last Purim, and there are apparently some people in this country who can have no peace of mind unless they are able to explore other parts of the world, or at least other airport terminals. These people have felt like caged lions since Purim 5780, and now that the skies of Dubai have been opened, they were ready to seize the opportunity to travel.

Personally, I found this all amusing. The newspapers began carrying advertisements about special deals and travel packages—all completely kosher, of course, Travel agents had already signed agreements with hotels in Dubai. There was even a list of all the major shopping centers in Dubai; a trip abroad without a shopping expedition, after all, is as pointless as a car without seats. Even the hechsher industry had begun to thrive; I came across a kashrus certification for a certain upscale hotel that noted, “This certificate is valid only for this specific kitchen and restaurant; it is not a hechsher for the hotel itself.” Passports were dusted off and people made plans to light their Chanukah candles in Dubai, perhaps to perform pirsumei nisa for the benefit of the locals. I read that the Jewish community of Dubai was bracing to receive 10,000 Israeli tourists every month.

Everything changed with the liquidation of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. After his death, the Foreign Ministry issued a travel advisory warning of danger in Dubai, and the mood of celebration evaporated.

This is only one example of a timeless truth: There is a Supreme Being Who created the world and continues to manage it, and we are not even insects in comparison to Him. We are less significant than pawns on a chessboard. We are small and meaningless, and we must respect our limits. We must understand that we are powerless to control the world events that may interrupt our travel plans. We also are not the ones who will decide whether the government will disband—with all due respect to the reporters who announced two months ago, “Mark the date! One month left until the election campaign!” We cannot even determine whether our clothes dryers will make noise or our cars will start in the morning. Nothing is in our hands; we are not the masters of our own fates.



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