A Shocking Attack on the Light Rail
As is often the case, I am not sure where to begin this week’s column. There is much to report about politics and about the coronavirus pandemic. Then again, perhaps the leading story should be about the young woman who died after being served a milchig dessert in a fleishig restaurant.
The woman was eating at a kosher fleishig restaurant in the city of Rosh Pina. When the kitchen staff ran out of dessert, a worker was sent to purchase ice cream in a nearby store, and he returned with dairy ice cream. The patron, who suffered from a severe milk allergy, had no reason to suspect that the dessert that was served to her contained milk. She immediately suffered an allergy attack and was rushed to Ziv Hospital, where she died.
This is a horrific story for many reasons, but it also speaks volumes about the field of kashrus. The restaurant, after all, had a hechsher. That should give us an idea of the value of a kashrus certification that does not include strict supervision! We all wept along with the victim’s mother, who revealed that she had scrupulously protected her daughter for 22 years from foods that would endanger her.
Another major story is a disturbing trend that came to light this week. Arab youths have been assaulting Jews, recording their actions on video, and then uploading the videos to their social media. It seems that the more vicious the attack, the more admiration the perpetrators earn. This is simply appalling. We have already witnessed the fourth such incident within a week.
It began last week, when two young yeshiva bochurim were traveling on the light rail in Yerushalayim. Two Arab youths were standing near the bochurim, and one of them can be heard on the video urging his friend (in Arabic) to do something audacious. One of the Arabs approached one of the yeshiva bochurim and delivered a ringing slap to his face, and the two Arabs quickly fled from the train, laughing at their own insolence. The video circulated among Arabs, but it quickly traveled to other circles as well and evoked widespread revulsion. The chareidi MKs responded with outrage, each in his own unique style. I won’t begin quoting them here, since those statements alone would fill this entire column.
A few secular figures also spoke out against the appalling crime, including MK Mossi Raz of the Meretz party, who called the father of the victim (whose name is Broide) and expressed his indignation. MK Ofer Kassif of the Joint Arab List also issued a fierce condemnation. In fact, Kassif himself tasted the wrath of the police not long ago. The Department of Internal Police Investigations is currently looking into that incident, in which the MK was assaulted by law enforcement personnel.
The police moved quickly to arrest the Arab youth who slapped the bochur on the train, and the court extended his remand for several days. Of course, the chareidi community is demanding a harsh punishment for the assailant, hoping that that will put a rapid end to this despicable phenomenon.
A Leftist MK with Interesting Sympathies
A word about MK Ofer Cassif is in order. You might be inclined to catalog him as an enemy, in light of his membership in the Joint Arab List. However, I would advise against jumping to that conclusion. Here is something that he said in the Knesset just a few months ago:
“Over the years, another dark side has been revealed in the tragic story of the immigrants from Arab and Islamic countries. A broad array of testimonies has shown that Zionist organizations deliberately incited violence against Jews, in order to induce them to immigrate to Israel. The activists of the Zionist movement themselves carried out three pogroms against the Jewish community in Iraq in the years 1950 and 1951. In his book The Arab Jews, Professor Yehuda Shenhav quotes a classified document that was sent from the Foreign Ministry to Moshe Sharett, the foreign minister at the time, describing the exultant reactions of Jewish expatriates from Iraq in Israel after the hanging of two of the operatives who were accused of those actions. The document proves that even at the time, there were some people in the Iraqi Jewish community—and elsewhere as well—who knew that the Zionist movement itself had taken part in the acts of violence against them…. When they arrived in Israel, the immigrants lived under oppressive conditions, the product of a deliberately racist policy that affected their housing, education, employment, culture, and even their freedom of movement. Of course, there is also the subject of the kidnapped Yemenite children, those who vanished without a trace, about whose fate very little is known. Members of the Knesset, a process of healing must begin with recognition. Let us not be afraid to recognize the crimes of the past. Let us not be afraid to look at the Nakba, to take responsibility and to act to correct it. Let us also not be afraid to look directly at the crimes that were committed against the Jews from Arab and Islamic countries, to take responsibility for those things as well and to work to rectify them. It will still be painful to examine these crimes even many years later, but it will be much less painful than ignoring the injustices and the wounds that have yet to heal.”
Cassif is a very interesting person: a Jew who serves on the Joint Arab List and espouses radical left-wing views, yet also castigates the State of Israel for its brutality toward the chareidi community in the past and in the present. He is especially critical of the government’s actions during the years when Israel absorbed immigrants from the Arab states, who were deliberately led astray from Yiddishkeit.
A Disgrace to the State
The incident on the light rail was the first in a series of such episodes. After this initial act of violence, a chareidi motorist was assaulted in his car by Arabs throwing rocks near Shaar Yaffo, and an Arab youth shoved a police officer to the ground in the Old City of Yerushalayim. A yungerman from Mea Shearim was attacked with stones on Friday night. All of these incidents fit the same pattern: They were perpetrated by Arab youths who filmed themselves and then posted the videos on the internet. In the case of the yungerman who was stoned, the judge decided to free the perpetrator, claiming that the crime wasn’t sufficient grounds for an arrest!
The most recent incident as of this writing (and let us hope that there will be no more) took place in the city of Yaffo, which has a mixed population of Arabs and Jews. Rabbi Eliyohu Mali, the rosh yeshiva of a yeshivat hesder in Yaffo, was violently attacked by two Arabs on Sunday. Once again, the incident was filmed; the video shows one of the Arabs kicking Rav Mali while the other threatens him. This attack, however, might have had a different motivation, since Rav Mali’s yeshiva had been working to purchase a building in the area. Once again, the police worked quickly, and about an hour after the complaint was filed, two Arab residents of Yaffo were arrested.
The yeshiva administration released the following statement: “This yeshiva has been operating in Yaffo for 13 years, and while we have experienced some episodes of violence over the years, there has never been anything that reached this scale. The yeshiva has a good relationship with its neighbors in the area, and we have no doubt that this was a nationalistic response to the efforts of Jews to purchase real estate owned by another Jew. We are grateful to the police for quickly apprehending the assailants, and we ask for this matter to be handled strictly and firmly, in order to restore the peace and tranquility that have existed here throughout the years.”
In this case, the outraged reactions came from the political right. MK Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) drew a link between all the incidents: “The violent nationalistic attacks against Jews in religious garb are a disgrace to a sovereign state. This is a result of the ongoing neglect of the security infrastructure and the lack of governance.”
Refuah Sheleimah to Yitzchok ben Lida
A terrible misfortune took place on the day before Yom Hazikaron (which was observed last Wednesday). Itzik Sadian, a 26-year-old disabled IDF veteran who had fought in the Golani brigade in Operation Protective Edge, set himself on fire in front of the offices of the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitative service in Petach Tikvah. Sadian, who was recognized as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was listed in serious condition after the incident. He was evacuated by a team of paramedics to Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, suffering from burns on every part of his body. As of this writing, he is in serious condition. His two brothers visited Rav Chaim Kanievsky and tearfully asked him to daven for their brother, Yitzchok ben Lida. Rav Chaim advised them to “strengthen yourselves in Torah learning,” and the brothers pledged to learn Maseches Makkos for Itzik’s benefit.
The entire country was shaken by the incident. It has long been known that disabled veterans face an uphill battle when fighting for their rights. The professionals in the Ministry of Defense can sometimes be rigid and unsympathetic; they may be suspicious that the applicants for benefits are trying to trick them. Sadian had asked several times for his disability entitlement to be increased, only to be repeatedly turned down. But if he set his own body on fire, it is clear that his plight had become intolerable!
The officials in the Defense Ministry reacted with chagrin. Benny Gantz said, “I wish Itzik Saidian a refuah sheleimah from the bottom of my heart. The Ministry of Defense will conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this tragic incident. We have a moral obligation to do everything possible to help the disabled veterans of the IDF, the best of our children, who paid the heaviest possible price so that we could live securely in our country.”
Gantz’s statement drew a wave of fierce criticism, with some commenters noting that he has never taken the slightest interest in the rehabilitation services division of his own ministry.
President Reuven Rivlin also issued his own public reaction. “I am davening with all my heart for a complete recovery for Itzik Sadian,” he asserted. “Among our sons and daughters who returned from battle, there are many, far too many, for whom the fight is never over. I see you, and I share your pain. Even when the physical wounds heal and the pain subsides, there are those who have no rest, who are constantly thrust back into the battle. We owe the survival of the State of Israel to Itzik and to all our children who are still fighting. We are responsible for their fate.” These were admirable words, but they were also just that—mere words.
At the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu also spoke about the incident. “On the eve of Yom Hazikaron, we witnessed a shocking incident,” he said. “Itzik Sadian, who fought in the Golani Brigade in Operation Protective Edge, set himself on fire in response to his tremendous psychological hardship. Unfortunately, I know that he is not the only one of our combat soldiers to be struggling with this challenge. Earlier this evening, I spoke with Idan Kliman, the chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, and I expressed my profound dismay over this incident. I told him that I feel obligated to bring about sweeping reforms in the way that we deal with our wounded and disabled veterans.” But this, too, was nothing but words.
The Annual Incitement on Yom Hazikaron
Every year, Yom Hazikaron turns into a field day for anti-chareidi incitement. There are always provocateurs who position themselves in Mea Shearim, waiting to catch chareidim in the act of ignoring the memorial siren. Unfortunately, there are always people who fall into their trap….
When a secular Israeli sees a chareidi refusing to stand still while the siren sounds, he does not understand the reason. All he sees is a chareidi Jew showing disdain for the fallen soldiers of the IDF. And that is aside from the handful of chareidim who gather every year to burn the Israeli flag in Mea Shearim, making sure that their actions are filmed and publicized. We are used to this already, and the religious community is always prepared to go on the defensive when Yom Hazikaron arrives.
This year, someone went so far as to connect the chareidim’s disregard for Yom Hazikaron with the tragic case of Itzik Sa
dian. The following is a quote from an editorial written by a senior economist in Yediot Acharonot:
“In an urgent meeting held on Tuesday morning, MKs Gafni and Smotrich met with Finance Minister Katz in order to approve the transfer of millions of shekels to yeshivos…. This gang of politicians called for an urgent meeting on the day before Yom Hazikaron in the office of the Finance Minister. No, they were not discussing an immediate increase in the budget for treating combat trauma. That wouldn’t bring them any more mandates in a fifth election. Instead, they were discussing a much more important matter on this solemn day—an increase of millions of shekels for yeshivos. And no, they were not embarrassed about it. That is a fact.
“MK Moshe Gafni, the leader of United Torah Judaism, and MK Betzalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist party, are proud of their accomplishment, which is utterly detached from reality…. Millions of shekels will be transferred to yeshivos—not to soldiers suffering from combat trauma, not to welfare services, the health system, education, an increase in stipends for the elderly, youth at risk, the battle against traffic accidents—which are on the rise again—or the fight against domestic violence, or to increase the police presence in the Arab sector. Why should Smotrich and Katz care about any of those things on the eve of Yom Hazikaron? They also promised funds for fighting crime, reducing crowding in classrooms, increasing public transportation services, and expanding financial support for the elderly. They promised those things, but so what? There is no one in the Knesset to show concern for any of these things, in contrast to the talmidim of yeshivos. And no, I do not have anything against talmidei yeshivos. But how can they come to the office of the Finance Minister on the eve of Yom Hazikaron, after a terrible incident in which a soldier suffering from trauma set himself on fire at the entrance to an office of the Defense Ministry, and demand money for the talmidim in yeshivos who haven’t served in the army for a single day? I have a problem with that. It is heartless.”
We must not belittle the potential impact of this article; it is pure incitement, and incitement tends to find its mark. This is nothing but cheap demagoguery. If the government had earmarked money for any other purpose, would someone complain about the fact that it wasn’t allocated for IDF veterans instead? Of course not. But when the funds are given to yeshivos, there is room for incitement.
Incidentally, if not for the blatant discrimination against yeshivos, there would be no need for them to constantly fight for their funding. The problem is that the funds for yeshivos are not part of the official state budget, and the chareidi parties must fight every year for the money that is rightfully due to them. This funding is omitted from the state budget in order to force the chareidim to demand it, which provides a constant pretext for incitement against the religious community. As you can see, the cards are stacked against the yeshiva world in Israel.
The Clock Is Ticking for Netanyahu
On April 6, Binyamin Netanyahu received the mandate to attempt to form the next government. He has a deadline: The mandate is valid only for 28 days, and Netanyahu must notify the president at the end of that period whether he has succeeded in assembling a coalition. What will Rivlin do if Netanyahu fails? He has two options. First, he can assign the mandate to a different member of the Knesset—possibly Bennett, Saar, or Lapid. Alternatively, he can inform the Knesset that it can do as it pleases.
As things look now, it appears that Netanyahu will fail, and if that happens it is likely that everyone else will fail to assemble a government as well. As I have pointed out in the past, the chances of the “anyone but Bibi” camp uniting to form a government are virtually nil. The left-wing parties, and certainly the Joint Arab List, be hard pressed to accept Naftoli Bennett as prime minister, nor will they allow Gideon Saar to take that position. And it is hard to imagine that Bennett and Saar, who market themselves as staunch right-wing figures, will enable Lapid to become the next prime minister, especially since they both declared before the election that they would never permit it. But you never know, politicians often break their promises.
It seems that Gideon Saar will have to renege on one of his two campaign promises. On the one hand, he promised that he would never sit in a government with Netanyahu; at the same time, he vowed that he would not allow Lapid to become the primes minister. Of course, there is one scenario in which Saar will be able to keep both promises: if the Likud appoints a candidate other than Netanyahu, such as Health Minister Yuli Edelstein or Knesset speaker Yariv Levin, to serve as prime minister. In that case, Saar would probably be pleased to join the government. But the Likud party refuses to consider this possibility, for now anyway.
Where does that leave Gideon Saar? Right now, he is under enormous pressure. Newspaper advertisements are calling on him to renege on his vow to boycott Netanyahu. The advertisements make the same point that I have explained: He will have to backtrack on one of his promises, and he should at least refrain from lending his hand to the formation of a left-wing government. Saar’s second-in-command, former Likud minister Zeev Elkin, is also being pressured to steer him toward a rapprochement with the Likud.
Netanyahu is the leading figure behind this campaign of pressure. Last week, in a speech delivered to the Likud party, he called on Saar to “come home.” Netanyahu declared that the party was Saar’s natural place and assured the New Hope chairman that he would receive all the respect he was due if he returned. “This is where you grew up, and you will be received with open arms,” Netanyahu said.
One can only imagine how much anguish Netanyahu could have spared himself if he hadn’t mistreated Saar (and Bennett and Elkin and various other people) quite so much in the past.
In any event, Netanyahu has less than two weeks left to resolve the political deadlock.
A New Idea: Direct Elections for Prime Minister
Betzalel Smotrich is also facing monumental pressure. He has been asked to withdraw his vehement opposition to the establishment of a government supported by the less radical Arab party, Raam, which is headed by Mansour Abbas. But Smotrich continues climbing further and further up his tree, insisting that he will not permit such a government to be formed on his watch.
The chairman of the Religious Zionism party announced Sunday that he would even prefer a government led by someone other than Netanyahu—in other words, a left-wing government—over one that would be supported by the Raam party. “Instead of trying to establish a right-wing government [with Bennett and Gideon Saar] you are rushing headlong into the arms of terror supporters,” he declared, fiercely castigating Netanyahu and his cohorts. Smotrich also did not flinch at the prospect of a fifth election resulting from his intransigence. “Even another election would be far better than this suicide,” he proclaimed. In any event, Smotrich argued, a government relying on the Arabs’ support would not last very long, and the country would be left without a government once again, having also given a stamp of approval of sorts to supporters of terror.
Raam got even with Smotrich and blew up Netanyahu’s collation negotiations by backing the “Never Netanyahu” crowd, in protest of Smotrich’s speech. The vote was 61-52 to take control of the Knesset away from Netanyahu. This move could lead to disastrous consequences for Netanyahu, should the Knesset now be enabled to vote on such things as banning a person under indictment, or on trial for corruption from serving as prime minister.
Meanwhile, Yair Lapid visited America last week, where he met with his political strategist. The unspoken message was that he is not concerned about a fifth election and is confident that he will have a good showing. After returning to Israel, Lapid renewed his talks with the anti-Netanyahu bloc this week. For the third time since the election, he met with his arch nemesis, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, and then met with the other party leaders as well.
If Lapid wants to succeed, he will have to work hard to hold on to Naftoli Bennett. If Bennett chooses to align himself with Netanyahu, then the anti-Netanyahu bloc will not have a chance of succeeding. Personally, I believe that even Bennett’s support will not be sufficient for it to succeed; their shared animus toward Bibi cannot possibly bridge the ideological gaps between Bennett and the far left. Then again, he can sell himself for a good position.
This week, a new idea was floated. Instead of a fifth election, which would undoubtedly lead us back to the same dead end, the government can rapidly pass a law calling for a direct election for the prime minister. Netanyahu has no doubt that he would win (unless the Knesset bans him from running).
The Gap Between Ego and IQ
I have another comment to make about the election. Now that the election is behind us, it can be fascinating and somewhat amusing to read the interviews given by the various candidates before the country went to the polls. And one thing is for sure: There is plenty of mussar to be derived from it. The megalomania and sheer lack of modesty are not the only things that are compelling about it; it is also their shortsightedness and lack of sense. It is astounding to observe how people can be blinded by their biases. There was a running joke in the Knesset at the time: What is the longest distance between two points? The distance between the ego of a Knesset member and his IQ.
One of the candidates in the New Hope party lashed out at Netanyahu, who had previously appointed him to a major diplomatic post, and later castigated Naftoli Bennett. “I am sorry to see that politics can have such a negative impact on a good person such as Naftoli Bennett,” he declared. Most striking of all was this comment: “In any event, Naftoli will be a senior partner in the government that will be founded by Gideon Saar.” He added that Smotrich would be a worthy partner in the government, “but without Otzma Yehudit and Noam.” As for the chareidim, he said, “We will invite the chareidi parties to coalition talks. But unlike the current situation, in which Netanyahu is completely dependent on the chareidi parties and many things are affected by that relationship, the situation under us will be different. They will be partners, but they will not be the exclusive decision makers on certain issues, as is the case today.”
The speaker in this interview was Dani Dayan, former Israeli consul in New York (who was appointed by Netanyahu to that position) and onetime chairman of the Yesha Council. The interview took place at the beginning of the month of Adar, when Dayan first entered the political arena. Dayan was the eleventh candidate on the New Hope slate. As you know, the party received only six mandates in the election, and if they overplay their hand they can very well be headed toward the abyss of political oblivion. In retrospect, then, his self-assured comments are both amusing and sad.
When Pundits Play with the Numbers
Permit me to make one more observation. I become indignant when I read some of the political spin that is published in the Israeli media. Last Tuesday, I read an opinion piece in Yediot Acharonot in which the writer fumed about Gideon Saar’s refusal to recommend Lapid to form the next government. (The New Hope party did not recommend anyone for the task.) “Does anyone believe that during the 28 days that the mandate will be in Netanyahu’s hands, he will not succeed in establishing a government?” the writer demanded rhetorically.
This editorial was penned by one of Netanyahu’s most ardent detractors, who takes every opportunity to excoriate the prime minister. This was a sudden and jarring change of tune. The prevailing view has always been that Netanyahu will not succeed in forming a government; all the pundits were making that prediction until the moment Netanyahu received the mandate from the president. But when they needed an excuse to attack Gideon Saar, suddenly it became clear that if Netanyahu was given the mandate, he would succeed. We can only hope that they got it right this time!
I also find myself laughing at those who constantly reiterate that this is Netanyahu’s fourth failure to win an election, as if the political deadlock reflects poorly on no one other than Bibi. One journalist wrote, “One thing is certain: The consistent poll results that showed that a solid majority of Israeli citizens are not interested in seeing Binyomin Netanyahu continue as prime minister were manifested in the election for the fourth time in a row.” To which I would respond: How, exactly, were those results manifested? As of now, the election seems to have shown that the pro-Bibi camp outperformed the anti-Bibi parties. Mansour Abbas and his four seats, for example, are not part of the camp that defines itself by opposing Netanyahu. Nor is Naftoli Bennett. But even more than that, just as much as Netanyahu has failed to emerge from this election as a winner, this is also the fourth time that Yair Lapid has tried and failed to soar. And what about Gideon Saar? He has suffered a stinging defeat; after polling at 20 mandates when he launched his new party, he has plummeted to somewhere near the electoral threshold. So what, exactly, are they boasting about?
One Year Later and No Arrests Have Been Made
Last year, a group of chassidim were attempting to travel to Meron on Lag Ba’Omer on a back road (avoiding both the main highway and the police roadblocks that were set up to block access to the mountain) and were attacked by local Arabs. After the incident, the chareidi Knesset members submitted parliamentary queries to the Minister of Internal Security to find out if the perpetrators had been identified and brought to justice. They stressed that the police had received videos of the attack, and they should have been perfectly capable of locating the assailants. One year later, the police have made no progress.
The chareidi lawmakers have no intention of allowing the matter to rest. They will continue questioning the minister and demanding justice. But this episode speaks volumes about the police. The chareidim in Israel have gotten the unmistakable message that they are considered second class citizens. An assault on chareidim simply does not receive the same attention from the police as an attack on citizens from any other community.
Of course, this is not the only area in which the chareidi Knesset members are hard at work. The Israeli parliament may have started its new session sluggishly, but I enjoyed walking into the Knesset and watching the chareidi MKs dominate the proceedings. While they haven’t yet been permitted to submit new bills (of which there are plenty in the pipeline) or motions for the agenda (and again, there is plenty to discuss), this Monday featured a series of one-minute speeches, and the speakers included the chareidi MKs, whose voices were delightful to hear once again. There was also a swearing-in ceremony for the new legislators who joined the Knesset to replace some of their colleagues, who had resigned under the Norwegian Law: Eliyohu Bruchi received Uri Maklev’s seat, Yosef Taieb took the place of Aryeh Deri, and Yaakov Tessler replaced Yaakov Litzman. On Sunday evening, I looked at the attendance board at the entrance to the Knesset, and I marveled at the fact that while there were few people in the building, most of those present were chareidim. No one can accuse the chareidi MKs of slacking off on the job.
No Statistics on Thefts of Sifrei Torah
In spite of the political turmoil that holds the country in its grip, the Shas party took the time to respond to the recent desecration of shuls in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. The party’s delegates hurried to visit the shuls in order to show solidarity with their congregations and to give voice to their outrage over the heinous crimes. Aryeh Deri captured the painful feelings everyone shared when he declared, “I am shocked and pained by the terrible hate crime that was committed tonight, when an aron kodesh and a shul were set on fire in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. Unfortunately, the vicious incitement in recent months has had a powerful impact. I call upon the Israel Police to locate the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Someone will have to make sure that the police take these crimes seriously. Less than three months ago, we were all horrified when similar desecrations took place at Chen HaTzafon and Ahavas Doniel, two shuls in the city of Petach Tikvah. And we all still remember other such incidents that occurred before that. This trend is extremely disturbing.
On a similar note, do you know how many sifrei Torah have been stolen in Israel over the past five years? Do you know how many of the seforim were retrieved, how many of the thieves were caught, and how many of them were brought to justice? For that matter, what penalties did they receive? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you are not alone.
The theft of sifrei Torah, unfortunately, is a widespread phenomenon. Sometimes, it isn’t only the thieves who are at fault, but also the authorities who take the matter lightly. There is nothing more outrageous than the sense that the police will not make much of an effort to apprehend a thief who steals a sefer Torah.
In the month of Shevat 5779, the Siach Yisroel shul in Yerushalayim was vandalized and looted. We were all appalled by the sight of the sifrei Torah torn and lying on the floor. As I mentioned in the past, the case was closed and the perpetrators were never found. Several months ago, criminals broke into three shuls in Yeruchom. When the Minister of Internal Security was asked about these events, he revealed, “We do not have any information about the number of sifrei Torah that have been stolen or desecrated. The theft of a sefer Torah is not categorized as a distinct type of crime in the penal code, and therefore I cannot provide statistics on this subject.”
You see, stealing a sefer Torah or desecrating a shul is not viewed as a special category of crime in Israeli law. The theft of a sefer Torah is a theft like any other; vandalizing a shul falls under the general category of property damage. When that is the approach, then the entire police force, from top to bottom, can be expected to receive a tragic message. And that explains everything.