My Take on the News

The Real Story Behind Operation Protective Edge

This past week, the cabinet protocols from the period of Operation Protective Edge were released, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was depressing, and even frightening. Who would have believed that this is the way our state is run? Or, to be more specific, who would have believed that the security cabinet is run in this fashion?

Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014, and continued until the ceasefire on August 26. The operation began as a result of rocket fire from the Gaza strip that was targeting the population of southern Israel. On July 7, 2014, over 80 rockets were fired at the communities of the south. The rockets from the Arab side were fired at Israeli civilians in response to the IDF’s Operation Brothers Return, which was intended to locate the three youths who had been abducted; the operation’s goal was to undermine the infrastructure of Hamas in Yehuda and Shomron.

In its initial stage, the operation consisted mostly of heavy air and artillery strikes on the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Israel remained under rocket fire from Gaza, while also contending with incursions of armed terrorists from Gaza via underground tunnels or by sea. The second phase, which began on July 17, was a ground invasion of Gaza for the purpose of destroying the terror tunnels. In the third phase, which began on August 5, the IDF’s ground troops pulled out of the Gaza strip, but the fighting continued, with more rockets being fired into Israel while the IDF continued shooting back at the terrorists in Gaza. Over the course of the operation, there were 12 efforts made to broker a ceasefire. Most of the attempts were accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas. Only on the twelfth attempt, after 50 days of fighting, was a ceasefire finally reached.

You are certainly familiar with the story of the murder of the three kidnapped boys. In June 2014, three boys – Gilad Schaer of the community of Talmon, Yaakov Naftali Frankel (an American citizen) of Shaalvim, and Eyal Yifrach – were abducted. The entire country worried, wept, and prayed for their safety for days, until it was discovered that they had been murdered on the very night they were abducted. That was the background to the military operation.

The State Comptroller has now released a report on the period of the operation, which finds fault with the government’s entire approach to the terror tunnel threat. Those tunnels were located on Israel’s southern border and enabled terrorists to gain access to the country. The report revolves around the question of whether enough was done to address the threat and whether the army actually made an effort to close off the tunnels.

The Minister of Leaks

And that is where the leaks began. There is a major political battle underway in Israel over the subject of whether the comptroller’s report should be released to the public. In general, the parties who oppose publicizing such things are those who fear that it will portray them in a negative light. Interestingly, the members of the cabinet, and the prime minister in particular, are opposed to releasing the report, while the opposition has expressed a desire for its contents to be made public. It would be interesting to know their reasons.

But even though the report hasn’t yet been released, and it hasn’t yet been discussed in the appropriate forums (mainly the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, whose sessions are classified), information from the report has already begun to be leaked. And it seems that the members of the cabinet spent the period of the war squabbling like children. While they were supposed to be discussing the nation’s security, the cabinet members traded insults and barbs during their sessions. Naftali Bennett, the current Minister of Education, emerges from these records looking better than anyone else, which seems to make him the prime suspect for having been behind the leaks. But that is not what is important at the moment. The actual contents of the report are far more significant to us.

Here is just one example of an exchange that took place in the cabinet. The Minister of Defense at the time, Moshe Yaalon, explained his plans and Bennett disagreed. “Don’t drag your feet,” he insisted. “Fight the enemy!”

This enraged Yaalon, who snapped at Bennett, “You will not teach me how to run the army!”

To that, Bennett replied, “Yes, I will. I come from the field. I hear what is happening there.”

Yaalon himself is not part of the political scene today, although he gives off the impression that he still longs to be a part of it. He is portrayed in a negative light by the recent leaks, which include details of statements made by every member of the cabinet during its sessions. Yaalon has now vented his anger against Bennett, calling him “the minister of leaks.” Calls have been heard for the members of the cabinet to undergo polygraph tests in order to determine who is behind the leaks. As if that were the main problem….

It has become clear that the army did not properly assess the danger posed by the terror tunnels. Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz repeatedly reassured the public that there was no danger. The comptroller believes that they did not understand the facts on the ground and that they failed to interpret the situation correctly. In fact, it was Naftali Bennett who repeatedly demanded that the army take serious action to address the danger created by the tunnels. The leaks have revealed that there was extensive verbal sparring between Yaalon and Bennett. This reflects very poorly on a cabinet that was involved in making major life-and-death decisions affecting an entire nation. The report also shows that the senior officials of the IDF automatically aligned themselves with the defense minister and the chief of staff, and that the prime minister barely made any effort to intervene. It is impossible to predict how this issue will develop now, but everything we have learned already is enough to be terribly saddening.

What Will Aryeh Deri Decide?

Wherever we turn, the Supreme Court is there. The issue of Shabbos observance in Tel Aviv, which is bound to impact the entire country, is in the process of being decided by the court. The subject of the Kosel is also being discussed there, along with plenty of other political issues. This past week, in the wake of the transfer of power within the American government, the Israeli government decided to permit the construction of 2,500 new housing units in Yehuda and Shomron. But I will not be surprised if the Supreme Court puts a halt to the construction. The situation in Amona, which seemed to have been resolved already and in which the Supreme Court set the tone, has also suffered a setback, because the agreement that was reached did not stand up to the scrutiny of – you guessed it – the Supreme Court.

Regarding the Kosel, the Knesset is scheduled to discuss a law proposed jointly by all the chareidi and religious members of the Knesset, which would establish rules regarding what is permitted at the Kosel. The hope is that the passage of this law will prevent the Supreme Court from feeling that it has free reign over the Kosel.

Parenthetically, while it is true that 2,500 apartments have been approved for construction in Yehuda and Shomron, the political right does not believe that the government will actually carry out its plans. As for us – the chareidi parties – we were incensed by the fact that the decision ignored the two main chareidi “settlements” – Kiryat Sefer and Beitar Illit. Both of these cities have the legal status of settlements, which means that any construction, even the addition of a porch to a home, must be approved by the government. The prime minister was asked about this during a Question Hour session, which is described in a separate report.

One more point: I don’t know how many of you read the article in last week’s Yated about the battle over Shabbos. It is an issue that requires effort to understand. The details and developments can be a bit confusing. This week, there was yet another development in the story. First, the Supreme Court rebuked the government for delaying its decision on whether it would accept the municipal bylaw in Tel Aviv, but then there was yet another twist: The government decided to return the authority over the subject to the Minister of the Interior. At the moment, that position is occupied by Aryeh Deri. That means that Deri is now supposed to decide whether he will allow the Tel Aviv municipality to permit chillul Shabbos in specific stores – as if any human being has the right to “permit” chillul Shabbos. I would imagine that everyone can predict what Deri will decide.

The Judges Who Seized Power

Regarding the Supreme Court itself, the decisions that have been emanating from the court are simply unbelievable. After all, who are the elected representatives of the people of Israel? Are Justice Chayut and Justice Elyakim Rubinstein among them? And whom did President Rivlin pick to assemble the government? Chief Justice Miriam Naor? Justice Meni Mazuz? With the ludicrous way our country is run, Prime Minister Netanyahu is merely a puppet on a string. The true rulers of the State of Israel sit 200 meters to the left of the prime minister’s office: in the Supreme Court of the State of Israel.

It is the court that will decide whether there will be construction in Yehuda and Shomron. The court will decide the fate of Israel’s natural gas agreement, as well as the security fence on the border with Egypt. Of course, the court also extends its own authority to other questions: whether the Bais Din Hagadol and the Sephardic chief rabbi may hear the case of an agunah, whether stores in Tel Aviv may be open on Shabbos, and what the policy will be concerning visitors to the Kosel. The justices of the court are the ones who decided on the funeral arrangements for Abu al-Kian, who killed a police officer during a demonstration in the south. Yet the court has never received the confidence of the public – and, if anything, the opposite is true.

It all began sometime in the year 1993, with issues that seemed relatively minor. There was a housing minister who wanted to appoint Yossi Ginosar, a senior official in the Shin Bet, to the position of director-general of the Ministry of Housing, but the Supreme Court blocked the appointment. The court also forced the resignation of Police Commissioner Rafi Peled, who had accepted free hotel stays that were construed as bribery. The court then decided who would serve as the next attorney general. Ultimately, the rule of the prime minister and the other ministers of the government was replaced with the rule of the court. The entire country now suffers under their authoritarian rule.

This week, I saw protestors from Maale Adumim and Ofra gathering outside the prime minister’s office. I couldn’t help but wonder why they bothered staging a demonstration in front of an office that has no purpose and no power. Perhaps that is why the Shin Bet officers directed them to the left, in the direction of the nearby Kikar Zussman (named for the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court) and Rechov Shaarei Mishpat, the narrow street leading to the Supreme Court. The “wonderful boys of the Shin Bet,” as Menachem Begin used to call them, know perfectly well where the decisions in this country are made.

Where Credit Is Due

My understanding of economics is rather poor, but I am aware of one thing: There is a new law that is revolutionizing the banking industry in the State of Israel. The stated purpose of the law is to increase competition within the industry; it is meant to benefit the average citizen and to limit the massive profits that the country’s banks tend to rake in. Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon explained the bill in the Knesset on Monday, and then proceeded to surprise his audience by thanking a number of his colleagues for their contributions, an act that is very uncommon in the Knesset.

“MK Cabel,” Kachlon began, “I really feel obligated – without any connection to our friendship – to thank you for the Credit Database Law. I believe that it is a very important and valuable law, and when I wanted to transfer it to the committee, you said to me, ‘I can produce a better law than the one you have brought to the table.’ I said, ‘Is that so? Go ahead.’ And so you did. The law was brought to you as the Credit Database Law, which had been worked on by Justice Minister Shaked – and we must thank her, as well – and you changed it, you improved it, and you made it more efficient, together with all the MKs of the Knesset Finance Committee. I thank you for that. I would also like to thank Minister Eli Cohen for his major work and efforts toward instituting all the reforms.”

And Kachlon was not done. “Where is Roy Folkman?” he said. “He worked together with you, in unique collaboration, to produce this bill. It might be excessive to say that this is a historic day for the financial markets of the State of Israel, but it is certainly a day of very great significance. This is something that we have been discussing for years, and we have now achieved it. I am happy to see that there seems to be no conflict between the coalition and opposition on this subject; I hope that I am not mistaken about that. Everyone, or almost everyone, believes that the time has come for this reform. The time has come to bring down the prices of bank services, to bring down the fees and the management costs, and to create a bit of competition. I have no doubt that it will benefit the citizens of this country.”

Kachlon also had high praise for his own deputy, a member of the Shas party. “I would like to thank the members of the Knesset again,” he said, “and especially my deputy, Itzik Cohen. Itzik Cohen, my friend, you have done phenomenal work with regard to the insurance industry and the finance industry. The reforms you have brought about are truly among the greatest that have been instituted in recent years. Itzik, my friend, if I were to say that you did 90 percent of the work and I did 10 percent, I would still be stealing credit that is owed to you. It is 100 percent your accomplishment. Thank you very much.”

All that is wonderful, but I must make a slightly less celebratory observation. If I have understood correctly, many of the services provided by the banks will now be performed over the internet or via smart phones – and that means that the chareidi community will be excluded. Has anyone noticed this? Are we not allowed to benefit from the reforms as well? Will the changes that will lead to enormous savings simply pass us by?

Holocaust Survivors Starving in Israel

Last week, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I am not sure how the rest of the world observes this day. According to the report on anti-Semitism recently published in Israel, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise both in Europe and in America. And the increase has been assessed at a staggering 40 percent.

In Israel, this is the day when the country expresses contrition every year for its poor treatment of the Holocaust survivors still living with us, a population that is naturally shrinking with every passing year. Every year, the country recognizes that it does virtually nothing for these people. This year, like every year, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon presented a new plan for aiding Holocaust survivors. In recent years, the economic plight of the survivors has become a more central part of the country’s internal dialogue, especially around Yom Hashoah. It appears that August 2007 marked the turning point in the public dialogue concerning this subject. That was when Ehud Olmert, the prime minister at the time, announced that he did not intend to increase the stipend provided to the survivors. As a result of his announcement, the survivors set out to stage a protest that they dubbed “March of the Living,” which included demonstrations and marches. The protest encompassed major swathes of the Israeli populace.

Since 2007, before every Yom Hashoah, the finance minister or the prime minister presents a plan for aiding the survivors. Those plans are always accompanied by dramatic speeches and pathos, but beyond all the proclamations, the plight of the survivors has not improved in any substantive way. Are there fewer Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line today? The answer is no. Perhaps the purpose of these proclamations is merely to cover up for the government’s neglect of this populace in the hope that the time will soon come when the state will no longer have to deal with them.

According to the statistics reported by the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, in 2007 there were about 240,000 survivors living in the country, out of which 80,000 lived below the poverty line. In 2015, the fund reported that there were 189,000 Holocaust survivors still living in Israel, with 45,000 of them living beneath the poverty line. It is difficult to say whether there has been any improvement in the survivors’ living conditions, but one thing is clear: In 2016, one-third of the country’s survivors are still living in poverty.

The Klausenberger Rebbe’s Pride

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked in the Knesset as well. There were a number of speakers whose words are worthy of being cited, but I do not have the space to share all their speeches with you. I will quote only one of them: Michoel Malchieli, a relatively new member of the Knesset who served until recently as a member of the Yerushalayim City Council. Malchieli is a resident of Neve Yaakov.

“Today,” Malchieli began, “the entire world is observing a day in memory of the survivors of the Holocaust. I, of course, also wish to welcome all the survivors who are honoring us with their presence here. I would like to begin with a story. The Klausenberger Rebbe, who survived the Holocaust, lost his wife and ten children during the war. In the year 5703, on the holiday of Simchas Torah, he entered a barracks in a concentration camp together with several other Jews, and he began to dance. He didn’t have a Sefer Torah there. He had only a few pages of Mishnayos, but he took those pages and began to dance with them as if he was holding a Sefer Torah, and he sang, ‘Atah vechartanu mikol ha’amim, ahavta osanu veratzisa bonu veromamtanu – You have chosen us from among all the nations, You loved us and desired us, and You elevated us.’ Without realizing it, he began raising his voice, and a Nazi soldier suddenly entered the room and began beating him. His face was covered in blood, and the soldier continued beating the Rebbe mercilessly, until he fainted. In that same barracks, there was a Hungarian Jew who had owned a bank. When the Rebbe regained consciousness, the man asked him, ‘Tell me, even after this beating, do you still believe that we were chosen above all the nations? Do you still believe that Hashem loved us, desired us, and elevated us? Look at what was done to you!’

“The Rebbe said to him, ‘I am thankful that I am part of the nation that is being murdered rather than the nation of murderers. I am thankful that I am among those who are beaten, rather than being a partner with the nation that beats us.’

“It has been 70 years since those events,” Malchieli went on. “There are about 160,000 survivors of the concentration camps, survivors of the Holocaust, living among us today. According to the statistics, almost 14,000 of them leave us every year. Yet we still hear every few months about a Holocaust survivor who doesn’t have money for dental treatment, or who cannot decide whether to use the small amount of money he has for public transportation or to see a doctor, or who has to decide between buying medicine and buying bread and milk. We must make an effort to help them, out of gratitude to those survivors for making it possible for us to be here today. We must do everything we can to allow them – and it is difficult to say this – to live out the rest of their lives in dignity. It is unthinkable that there are people with numbers tattooed on their arms who are living in the streets, who don’t have a roof over their heads or who don’t have money to pay to take a bus. I call upon the government and upon all of us, both in the coalition and the opposition, to make the greatest effort possible to give them everything we can. Thank you.”

Bar Mitzvah Reflections

In conclusion, I would like to share something I heard at a bar mitzvah that I attended this week. The simcha took place in a hall in the neighborhood of Ramot, where the boy’s father is a prominent rov and is very active on behalf of the community. As a result, many of the rabbonim and residents of the neighborhood were present. There were also many American families, including the Kaplan and Hershowitz families, who hail originally from America. One of the guests, Rabbi Elchonon Hershowitz, delivered a drashah in which he shared a little-known story about the famed mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l.

“This story took place in the year 5715,” he said. “Rav Chatzkel came to my bar mitzvah. My parents had left America a few years earlier and had come to Eretz Yisroel with barely a penny to their names. Their purpose was simple: It was for the chinuch of their children. Rav Chatzkel heard about that, and he was deeply moved. That is why he developed a connection with our family, and he made a point of coming to my bar mitzvah as a show of respect for my parents, who had made such a great sacrifice for the sake of Torah education.

“In his drashah, the mashgiach said that at every simcha, there are different types of people: There are the family members, the mechutanim, and other guests who do not fit into either category. ‘But at a bar mitzvah,’ he said, ‘we are all family, and we are all mechutanim. And why is that? Because when a bar mitzvah boy becomes obligated to keep the mitzvos, he accepts the burden of kol Yisroel areivim, of responsibility for every Jew. That makes all of us mechutanim at the simcha.’ With that drashah,” Rabbi Hershowitz declared, “the mashgiach placed a great responsibility upon me. At the young age of 13, I was taught the meaning of being a bar mitzvah and of bein adam lachaveiro. He taught me that a person does not live for himself. It was a lesson for all of life.”

At the same bar mitzvah, I heard another thought, this one from the father of the bar mitzvah bochur, Rav Moshe Tzvi Kaplan, who is also a maggid shiur at Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos. In Sefer Tehillim, the posuk states, “Fortunate is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His mitzvos. His offspring will be mighty in the land, a blessed generation of upright ones.” Chazal comment on this pasuk, “‘Who desires His mitzvos’ – but not the reward for His mitzvos.’” The Bais Halevi questions why this is true: Why should the promise of wonderful children not apply to a person who desires the reward for the mitzvos?

The Bais Halevi’s answer to his question was discovered by Rav Berel Povarsky, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva, in an archive in London, England. The posuk’s promise, he explains, is that children will emulate their parents’ personalities, for character traits are passed down from parent to child. If the father desired the reward for mitzvos, that would mean that he is a good businessman and knows how to choose the most profitable merchandise. He will therefore have children who will likewise be savvy businessmen, but there is no guarantee that they will trade in the same wares: The father might be a diamond merchant, but his children may choose to sell textiles instead. Thus, a father who seeks the reward of the mitzvos can be assured only of the fact that his children will possess good business sense. A father who desires the mitzvos themselves, on the other hand, can be confident that his children will be “mighty” and “upright,” for they will be exactly like him – devout Jews who value the mitzvos of the Torah above all else.