The Enemies in Our Land
It is a bit strange for me to be writing about the election in Israel now, when you will be reading this article only after it has taken place. Still, that is the main topic of interest in Israel today, so I see no alternative.
Two days before the election, we are all waiting with bated breath for the day itself. Every election is accompanied by the sense that it is a fateful moment in history, but the current election seems to be more momentous than ever.
Living in Israel, I can attest that most of the Israeli people favor the right side of the political map. I can also attest that most Israelis feel a connection to Jewish tradition. This is evident every year on the holiday of Sukkos, when sukkahs are visible everywhere in the country, even in the most secularized cities and neighborhoods. I have seen Israelis, even those who hardly looked likely to have the slightest interest in religion, rushing to hold the arba minim at every opportunity. And the strong feelings for Yididshkeit in our country will be evident once again on Pesach, when the vast majority of Israelis abstain from chometz and observe the mitzvos of the holiday.
Yes, there is a sizeable minority of people in Israel who hate religious Jews. This cannot be denied. After all, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the father of Yair Lapid, received 15 mandates in his day when he ran on a platform based exclusively on hatred of chareidim. I still have vivid recollections of his campaign propaganda; he mocked everything that is holy to us in the most appalling way. I remember one particular broadcast in which he ridiculed the concept of kashrus. And he received 15 mandates in the election. The only conclusion we can draw is that there are about 15 mandates’ worth of people in Israel who hate Judaism. I presume that most of them were among the million non-Jews who were imported from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and other such countries by the Israeli government. At the time, the policy of encouraging the aliyah of non-Jews was a blatant effort to curb the rising power of the chareidi parties; even as the chareidi community grew, the waves of immigration caused Israel’s secular population to swell, offsetting the rise in the chareidim’s clout. Yitzchok Shamir and Arik Sharon both believed that the influx of non-Jews would balance out the mounting influence of the chareidi parties and that most of the non-Jewish immigrants would be right-wing voters. And they appear to have been right on both counts.
The horrific incitement against chareidim that is rampant in Israel today, and that seems to have combined with the hatred for Jews that these immigrants absorbed in their lands of origin, is one of the reasons that the election is such a fateful event. All I can do is invoke the words that we will all recite at the Seder: In every generation, our enemies rise up against us to destroy us, but Hashem saves us from their hands.`
Elie Wiesel on Responding to Anti-Semitism
The incitement in Israel today should not be taken lightly. It is pure anti-Semitism. It makes no difference what came over Yvette Lieberman since the days when he was considered a friend of the chareidim; the bottom line is that he quacks like an anti-Semite. The words of Lieberman and his ilk, along with the appalling silence of the media and the rest of the country’s politicians, speak volumes about Israeli society. When Lieberman announced that he would not sit in a government with the Joint Arab List and when he proclaimed that Arabs should not be citizens if they won’t be loyal to Israel, he was roundly condemned. Yet when he vowed not to sit in a government with chareidim and described them as bloodsucking parasites, there was no response.
Yair Lapid is cut from the same cloth. True, Lapid has followed the recommendations of his advisors and strategists and has remained silent for much of the campaign, in order to avoid removing any `doubt about his foolishness by opening his mouth.
Lapid, whose aggressive and offensive behavior is highly reminiscent of his father, even advised his voters to refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric. In any event, the same tired refrains surfaced in his own comments again and again. It was all about money, the chareidim, extortion, and the army—typical fodder. His goal is to play on the most sensitive nerves in the Israeli psyche in order to foment hatred of chareidim in an already polarized country. Once again, it is a typical anti-Semitic ploy. And once again, it is a threat to be taken seriously.
Elie Wiesel once wrote, “I believe that we should say something very simple to the anti-Semites living in our midst: We live in a free society. You want to be anti-Semitic? Fine. That is your choice. But you must know that anti-Semitism puts you on the side of Chmielnitzky, Torquemada, and many other murderers throughout the course of history. You are on the same side as Eichmann, Hitler, and Himmler. Be anti-Semites if you wish, but we will fight you. We will fight you with all our might.” The Buchenwald survivor and Nobel laureate added, “The only battle that I know as a Jew is the fight to be even more Jewish.”
Wiesel was referring to non-Jewish anti-Semites, but the same sentiments could be directed at the anti-Semites in Israel today.
The Fruits of Incitement
Just as I wrote the above warning to take this hatemongering seriously, reports came in of an incident that proves this point. In a terrible incident of violence, a chareidi man was attacked on a bus. The victim, an employee of the Kol Chai radio station, was lightly wounded in an assault on the 240 bus from Tel Aviv to his place of work in Bnei Brak. His attacker was a fellow passenger who screamed at him that the chareidim had brought the coronavirus to the country. The victim was taken to Maayanei HaYeshuah hospital with injuries to his face.
The victim, a resident of Kfar Chabad, related, “I was taking the bus as I do every morning. I was dressed like a chareidi, and a man who appeared to be about twenty years old suddenly came over to me and said, ‘The corona came because of you.’ Then he punched me in the stomach. I was alarmed, and I stood up and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And then he punched me in the face.” Blood ran down from his face, and the other passengers removed the attacker from the bus while the victim continued on his way to work. When he arrived, he was sent to the hospital by ambulance.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced in response to the assault, “This morning, I instructed the director of the National Public Transportation Authority to work with the police in order to bring the criminal who attacked a chareidi passenger on a public bus to justice. We will not allow the passengers on public transportation to be harmed.”
The administration of Radio Kol Chai announced, “We are horrified and revolted by the unprecedented and deplorable attack against one of our employees solely because he is chareidi, which was perpetrated by an attacker who had been fed by incitement. This is the result of the anti-Semitic rhetoric that has been purveyed against the chareidi community, which led a hot-tempered young man to lash out violently against another person solely because he was chareidi. We call upon the politicians of every party to condemn this violence in the strongest terms and to abandon their violent discourse against chareidim, whose impact was made clear this morning.”
As I mentioned, you will be reading these lines only after the election. Israeli law prohibits publicizing the results of polls during the last three days before an election, in order to prevent pollsters from manipulating voters. Incidentally, that shows us that the lawmakers in this country were afraid that poll results might be falsified. For instance, if a pollster wants Blue and White to succeed in the election, he might make sure to publish a poll showing that the party will receive five mandates. This way, if anyone is interested in voting for Blue and White but fears that the party might not cross the electoral threshold and that their vote will be squandered (which is a very real possibility), they will be convinced that it is safe to cast their ballot for the party after all. A right-wing pollster might likewise inflate the results for Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party, to ensure that right-wing voters who are concerned about wasting their votes will feel confident voting for him. Then again, the strategy could be exactly the reverse: If a pollster wants Smotrich or Gantz to fall short of the threshold, he might make sure to publish a poll showing the party in question failing to amass the critical number of votes, which would lead potential voters to steer clear of them.
The final results of the polls were released on motzoei Shabbos, including the “poll of polls,” which presents the average results of all the other polls. The chareidi parties seem to be in a fairly decent position. The Likud has risen to somewhere in the range of 31 to 33 mandates, while Lapid has dropped somewhat, to around 19 mandates. UTJ and Shas are expected to receive a combined total of about 18 mandates, Naftoli Bennett is polling somewhere between nine and twelve mandates, and Smotrich is shown receiving five. If these numbers hold true, then Netanyahu will have more than 61 seats in the Knesset on his side. Of course, the religious community is davening that this will be the case.
Incidentally, I have written several times that Bennett would never allow a left-wing prime minister to come to power on his account. Well, Bennett himself said as much this past motzoei Shabbos, when he almost promised that he would support Netanyahu. I would be willing to wager that Gideon Saar will ultimately cast his lot with the Likud as well. And even if Saar himself doesn’t, then three or four of the Knesset members on his slate certainly will. His New Hope party includes some staunch right-wing figures who would never aid the establishment of a left-wing government.
A Surprising Psak from the Chazon Ish
This week, I heard a remarkable story from Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, a highly accomplished public figure. The story clearly took place many years ago, since its protagonist, Rabbi Shimon Siroka, passed away in 1986. I won’t go into too many historical details, but Rabbi Shimon Siroka was one of the leaders of the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel movement, which was Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz’s party within Agudas Yisroel and was supported by Rav Shach, the Steipler, and, in earlier years, the Chazon Ish. Zeirei Agudas Yisroel was effectively the forerunner of Degel HaTorah, which was first founded as an independent party and later united with Agudas Yisroel to form the umbrella party of Yahadut HaTorah (United Torah Judaism).
Rabbi Bloom related that Rabbi Siroka traveled to Baltimore to raise money in advance of a national election in Israel. I calculated that this probably took place in the year 1960. Rabbi Bloom, who was a yeshiva bochur at the time and was the head of Pirchei Agudas Yisroel, accompanied him on his travels. Rabbi Siroka shared an incredible story from years earlier with his young companion: A certain man in Bnei Brak believed that it was forbidden to vote in the Israeli elections, but he decided for some reason to ask the Chazon Ish in order to verify his assumption. To his surprise, the Chazon Ish ruled that he was obligated to vote!
On the day of the election, the Chazon Ish encountered the man in the street and asked if he had voted. The man replied, “I don’t have the three lirot to pay the poll tax.” The Chazon Ish replied, “Do you have tefillin? Sell your tefillin in order to pay the poll tax and vote!”
The Chazon Ish later explained to Rabbi Siroka, “Putting on tefillin is a mitzvah, and voting is also a mitzvah. I wasn’t concerned that this man wouldn’t wear tefillin; I knew that he would borrow tefillin from someone else if the need arose. I was afraid, however, that he might not vote….”
Rav Aharon Kotler’s Support for the Israeli Torah World
This week, I read that Rav Aharon Kotler regularly took great interest in the elections for the Knesset in Israel. He encouraged the chareidi political effort through letters, telephone calls, and telegrams. He once visited Eretz Yisroel a few days before an election; according to some accounts, he actually made a special trip to Israel in order to join in encouraging the community to go to the polls. He delivered a shiur in Eitz Chaim and then proceeded on foot to the offices of Agudas Yisroel on Rechov Press. He was accompanied by Rav Yisroel Grossman, the rosh yeshiva of Karlin and one of the most prestigious rabbonim of Yerushalayim. As they walked, Rav Aharon said to his companion, “I don’t understand something. How is it that I don’t see even a single election poster for Gimmel on any of the homes here?”
The election for the Fifth Knesset was held in Elul 5721/1961. Shortly before the election, Rav Aharon sent a telegram to Israel, which was read aloud at an Agudah convention in Yerushalayim. “The Torah world in our country [America] joins you at this difficult time,” Rav Aharon had written, “as a fierce war rages against those who wish to uproot all that is holy…. This is a time that will determine who stands for Hashem. Therefore, I call upon all our brothers in faith to fulfill their obligation to ensure the success of the list of Gimmel and Agudas Yisroel, for the sake of the honor of Hashem, the Torah, and our religion.”
Coronavirus Wards Closing
What else do I have to report to you? First, here is an update from the fight against corona. Boruch Hashem, the situation has been improving. According to official statistics, there are fewer than 20,000 active cases of coronavirus in Israel today. That isn’t to say, however, that the virus has disappeared from our lives completely. Just this week, I went to someone’s house in Har Nof to pick up a package for my wife, and I was warned at the door not to enter the house, since the occupant had received a message from the Health Ministry just an hour earlier notifying him that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Still, we all feel that our collective burden is being eased. Personally, I have resumed davening in the Pressburg shul after spending a year davening outdoors, in a courtyard minyan that called itself B’chatzros Hashem.
The coronavirus wards in the hospitals are steadily shutting their doors. Ichilov and Maayanei HaYeshuah were the first hospitals to announce the closure of their coronavirus wards, and other hospitals have followed suit. Restrictions on air travel are continuing to be lifted, although tourists aren’t yet allowed into the country; nevertheless, that is bound to change soon. At the same time, those handling the pandemic response were irate when the Supreme Court ordered the government to halt its draconian closure of the skies; they feel that it is too early to reopen the airport completely.
On an interesting related note, the government will be operating four polling stations at the airport on Election Day, for the first time in history. This is for the benefit of any Israelis who return to the country on the day of the election but who will be required to enter quarantine. These travelers will be permitted to vote in the airport before returning home to complete their periods of quarantine. (Arriving travelers are now permitted to quarantine at home while wearing electronic monitoring bracelets, rather than being sent to coronavirus hotels.)
Russia and Iran
This week, President Reuven Rivlin visited three countries in Europe: Germany, Austria, and France. He was accompanied on his trip by Amir Kochavi, the chief of staff of the IDF. Both men tried to recruit the leaders of those countries to join Israel in its struggle against Iran and in its bid to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons. The three European heads of state responded with effusive praise of Binyomin Netanyahu.
The rising tensions between the United States and Russia are also somewhat frightening to Israel. (By the way, imagine what would have happened if Trump had called Putin a killer or, for that matter, if he had stumbled on the steps leading to Air Force Once—and, as we know, three times constitutes a chazakah!) Israel has a special relationship with Russia, which is the patron of Syria. If America and Russia enter a state of war, even a cold one, it could potentially affect us. We can only daven for Hashem to protect us.
Pesach Plans at the Kosel
Pesach is in the air, and we are looking forward to finally witnessing the resumption of the traditional birkas kohanim at the Kosel Hamaaravi on Chol Hamoed. This practice was instituted by a wonderful man named Rav Mendel Geffner in the year 1971, exactly 50 years ago. Last year, the event was held on a very limited basis, with only ten kohanim participating; this was done solely to avoid abrogating the minhag. It was also held in a more limited fashion on Sukkos, albeit with the participation of more kohanim and more mispallelim, but only the residents of the Jewish Quarter were allowed to come to the Kosel at the time.
This year, there will be two sessions of the birkas kohanim, since there is still a cap on gatherings. At the moment, several hundred people are permitted to assemble together, but no more than that. Therefore, the traditional birkas kohanim event will be held on Monday and on Tuesday at the Kosel. In case you are interested, the brachos will be recited at 8:45 at Shacharis and then at 10:15 for Mussaf.
Fortunately, the usual shiurim on Chol Hamoed will also be resuming this year. Under ordinary circumstances, thousands of shiurim are organized every year on Chol Hamoed in thousands of shuls throughout the country. On Pesach and Sukkos of this past year, it was impossible for large gatherings to be held, and the shiurim could not take place. This year, boruch Hashem, we will have the opportunity to attend numerous Torah lectures once again.
The Minister of Internal Security recently responded in writing to an inquiry about the refusal of the police to investigate an attack on mispallelim at Meron, in spite of the photographic evidence that had been presented to them. Minister Ochana wrote, “I received your query, and I respectfully respond as follows: The Israel Police relates with great severity to incidents of the kind described in your query. The police therefore began an investigation of the incident. In the course of this investigation, they conducted and are conducting various operations for the purpose of gathering evidence and completing the investigation in the most professional manner, with the goal of bringing the perpetrators to justice. At this time, the investigation is still underway. Therefore, we cannot divulge further details about it at the moment.”
The text of his response was familiar to me. That is because Ochana gave the same answer, word for word, to a parliamentary query about a near-lynch in Maaleh Shomron. His previous answer was simply copied and pasted into a new document. That isn’t a crime, but it is certainly a distasteful form of evasion. In the case of the attack in Meron, is there anything wrong with the police revealing whether they had examined the images of the attack? And is there any reason for them to be secretive about whether they had identified any suspects in the attack in Maaleh Shomron?
On a related note, the city of Yerushalayim was shocked in Shevat of the year 5779 when the Siach Yisroel shul in Kiryat Yovel was ransacked by vandals and its sifrei Torah were desecrated. “In light of the severity of the incident,” in the words of the police, a special investigative team was assigned to the case. Everyone, ranging from the mayor of Yerushalayim to the prime minister of Israel, expressed shock at the incident. But then … the case was closed. Oc hana wrote, “The police have informed me that in spite of the establishment of a special investigative team at the police command center in Yerushalayim, which conducted many diverse operations, no suspects were located. Under the circumstances, the case has been closed due to the lack of a known perpetrator.” In spite of the appalling nature of the crime, the police decided to give up on attempting to find the perpetrators.
Police Compensation to Chareidim
This leads us to another story involving the police, chareidim, and incitement. (And there is no question that the police themselves are influenced by the incitement against chareidim and that their behavior is affected accordingly.) In three recent cases, the courts have required the police force to compensate chareidim who were mistreated by police officers. The first case took place a month ago; the court required the police to pay 13,000 NIS to a resident of Beit Shemesh who was arrested on suspicion of taking part in an illegal protest, since he was searched without a warrant and the police delayed his release from jail for almost a full day. The second case was the case of Dov Frankel from Mea Shearim (who “happens” to be an attorney) who was shoved to the ground by a police officer in an unprovoked act of violence. Frankel was awarded a payment of 15,000 NIS. This case evoked enough outrage that the Department of Internal Police Investigations was forced to launch its own inquiry. In November 2020, Frankel’s attacker was indicted on the charge of assault that caused bodily harm. The officer, according to a police spokesman, has been dismissed from the police force.
This week brought us a third case: A judge in Yerushalayim ordered the police to pay 24,000 NIS to a chareidi Beit Shemesh resident who suffered a number of injustices, including the arrest itself, the conditions under which he was jailed, and the refusal of the police to comply with a court order to free him.
In my humble opinion, the problem with these verdicts is that they do not include a penalty for the offending police officer himself. When the police force is required to pay damages, the money comes from the state rather than from the officer who is guilty of the crime. This does not serve to deter future abuses of this nature. It is only when the violent police officers themselves suffer the consequences of their actions that the punishment will have a deterrent effect. The case of Dov Frankel’s attacker, which led to actual criminal charges, is a suitable example of the power of deterrence, but even if a police officer merely had to pay a monetary fine out of his own pocket, it might still prevent future abuses.
The Option No One Expected
Chazal tell us that when Bnei Yisroel arrived at the Yam Suf, the nation was divided into four groups, each with a different opinion. One group felt that they should cast themselves into the sea, while another argued that they should return to Mitzrayim. A third group argued that they should fight the Mitzrim, and the fourth group advocated davening for the Mitzrim to be defeated. Each of these groups was addressed in Moshe’s response to them. The first group was told, “Stand and you will see Hashem’s salvation.” To the group that advocated returning to Mitzrayim, Moshe announced, “As you have seen Mitzrayim today, you will not see them again.” To the group that suggested going to battle against them, Moshe declared, “Hashem will fight for you.” And to the group that called for prayer, Moshe said, “And you, be silent.”
Ostensibly, Bnei Yisroel had identified all the possible ways to deal with their predicament; there was no viable response evident other than these four courses of action. But Rav Ovadiah Yosef used to comment that Hashem provided them with a fifth option, one that no one had even imagined: He caused the sea to split and allowed them to cross it on dry land. No one could have foreseen this eventuality, and the lesson is clear: Our job is only to rely on Hashem and allow Him to manage our affairs. We need not concern ourselves with precisely how our problems will be solved.
EXIT POLLS GIVE NETANYAHU SLIM MAJORITY
Exit polls after Israel’s fourth election in two years indicated a slim majority for Binyomin Netanyahu and allow him to form a right-wing coalition providing he can come to an agreement with the smaller parties that would be expected to join his government.
Polls conducted by Channels 11, 12 and 13 saw a Netanyahu-led coalition of Likud, Shas, UTJ and the Religious Zionist party reaching 61 seats together with the Yamina party of Naftoli Bennett who speaking after the polls closed reiterated that his heart is on the right.
The Likud is projected to win 31 seats, giving the right-wing bloc with Bennett 61 and the center-left bloc was projected to have 59, including the Arabs, but without Bennett.
The media had predicted that Netanyahu’s nemesis Gideon Saar would reach 20 seats with his new party, Tikvah Chadasha, but exit polls placed him at winning only 6. After polls closed, he promised not to join in a coalition with Netanyahu.
The Religious Zionist party led by Bezalel Smotrich was predicted to hover close to not making the cutoff number, instead he won 7 seats. Apparently, many chareidim voted for him as well, costing UTJ a seat or two and Shas one seat.
The exit-poll average projected the following result: Likud 31, Yesh Atid 18, Shas 9, Reshimah Meshutefet 9, Yeminah 8, Avodah 7, Kachol Lavan 7, Otzmah Yehudit 7, UTJ 6 or 7, Tikvah Chadasha 6, Yisroel Beiteinu 6, Meretz 6.
67.2% of Israelis voted, the lowest percentage since 2013.
Obviously, the exit polls are not the final results.