My Take on the News

Painful Scenes in Amona

The signs declared, “Amona will not fall again,” but Amona has fallen. And why? As I told you last week, the Supreme Court is the ruling power in this country, and that was its decision. In retaliation, the government has decided to authorize the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Yehuda and the Shomron, including 650 in the city of Beitar Illit.

Do you see what happens in this country? In the State of Israel, it has been impossible to build new apartments in Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit, because these two cities are considered “settlements” and our government has been afraid of Barack Obama. Now, because of the political right’s outrage over the destruction of Amona, and in the wake of the change in Washington, the government has decided to build new apartments in Yehuda and Shomron. Will that assuage the anger of the right? Absolutely not. They are furious. The images that emerged from Amona last Wednesday morning, images of wounded civilians and police officers, will not fade from the public consciousness any time soon. And Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett are both targets of the rage of the right.

The source of the widespread outrage was not only the evacuation itself, with the concurrent desecration of Amona’s shul, but also the announcement that the Supreme Court had ruled that the compromise reached with Amona is not legal. In other words, the court is preventing the government from implementing its agreement to relocate the residents of Amona to the other side of the hilltop.

In addition to the approval of new construction, the prime minister decided to transfer the Regulation Law to the Knesset. This proposed law – which I discussed with Minister Uri Ariel in an interview published in these pages not long ago – stipulates that in the future, even if an Arab manages to prove that a Jewish settlement is built on land that once belonged to him or his family, the Jewish-owned buildings will not be destroyed if they were built without knowledge of the land’s Arab ownership. Instead, the former owners will receive monetary compensation. This is precisely what would happen if the same thing took place in Tel Aviv; the bill extends the law to apply to Yehuda and Shomron as well.

The Knesset dealt with this bill at the end of last week, as well as this past Monday. Naturally, there was a difference of opinion that ran along party lines. Some MKs were enthusiastic about the bill and extolled it as a just and moral law, while others took the exact opposite position, decrying it as a racist, illegal bill that would perpetuate injustice. The attorney general has already announced that if anyone petitions the court against the bill on the grounds that it is unethical, he will not be able to defend it. That statement will certainly have one effect: If no one was already considering challenging the bill in court, which is not very likely, now it will certainly be challenged. The attorney general essentially invited such an appeal to the courts. And that means that we are far from having reached the end of this saga.

There is yet another reason that this story is not over yet: Without question, there will be calls for an investigation of the violence that took place during the evacuation of Amona. Reports have been heard that as soon as the youths protesting in Amona were herded onto buses and their cell phones confiscated, they were beaten with “murderous blows.” At the same time, there will also be calls for an investigation into the assaults on soldiers and police officers at the scene.

Bolsheviks in Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Netanyahu, of course, is still at the center of public attention as well. Last Friday, he was interrogated for the third time. The questioning was three hours long – although that is not a terribly long time when we consider that every answer he gave was painstakingly transcribed word for word, which was undoubtedly very time-consuming.

The subjects of the interrogation are no secret. First, there is the matter of the gifts that the prime minister received. There is no longer any dispute as to whether he accepted gifts. The question now is how much he was given. If the value of those gifts adds up to hundreds of thousands of shekels, then it will be considered a very serious matter. The other subject is Netanyahu’s attempt to secure favorable publicity in Yediot Acharonot in exchange for closing down Yisroel Hayom.

Netanyahu is very confident of his innocence. “There will be nothing, because there is nothing there,” he asserted repeatedly in the past. This past week, he changed his tune, claiming that he is the victim of harassment and a “media lynch.” He has accused the left of trying to bring about a regime change by circumventing the democratic process. Could this shift in his responses indicate that he is concerned about the investigation’s outcome? In his most recent publicized reaction, Netanyahu accused the media and the left of “Bolshevism.” The use of that word enraged quite a number of people, including some who were never anti-Netanyahu.

In fact, unless some of the information that has been leaked from the interrogations is false, Netanyahu does have reason for concern. Both Arnon Milchan, the millionaire who reportedly gave Netanyahu the gifts, and Arnon Mozes, the owner of Yediot Acharonot, are rumored to have arrived at their own interrogations with large piles of documents. It is possible that they managed to provide the police with some evidence. In fact, it is even possible that one of them may be about to become a state witness.

The Attorney General Under Scrutiny

It is amazing to observe how everyone sees the situation from his own point of view, and not from any other vantage point. It is Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who will ultimately decide whether Netanyahu will be indicted, and the question now being debated is whether he will be able to make an impartial decision on the subject. After all, in his previous position as secretary of the cabinet, Mandelblit was very close with Netanyahu, and it was Netanyahu himself who appointed him to his current post. Will he be capable of making a decision that is so damaging to Netanyahu?

This is how the arguments go: On the one hand, Netanyahu appointed Mandelblit, so it seems unthinkable for the attorney general to indict him. On the other hand, Mandelblit knows that if Netanyahu is exonerated, the media will tear him apart. Then again, he is a man of the right and wears a yarmulka, so he couldn’t possibly allow a right-wing government to fall. At the same time, like all of his predecessors in that office, Mandelblit undoubtedly has his eye on a seat on the Supreme Court, and indicting Netanyahu would be a step in that direction. But still, some argue, he worked closely with Netanyahu as secretary of the cabinet; he will certainly close the case. Others retort that he was also a military prosecutor, and he is used to resisting pressure, so perhaps he will indict Netanyahu, after all. Then again, he may be frightened at the prospect of negative publicity in Yisroel Hayom, or perhaps he is encouraged by the potential for Yediot Acharonot to report favorably on his actions. These and other arguments are bandied back and forth. Some claim that Mandelblit wants to be the darling of the right, while others believe that he is interested in being adored by the left.

In the end, it all boils down to a simple dispute: Some believe that Mandelblit is a right-winger, while others insist that he is a leftist. The truth, perhaps, is that he is somewhere in the middle…

Davening for Rav Shteinman and for Ourselves

Many things happened this past week. We have had reasons to celebrate along with reasons to weep. For us, as believing Jews, the most pivotal event of this past week was the illness of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. Just ten days ago, word quickly spread: “He has been taken back to Maayanei.” The reference was to Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital, and there was no need to specify who “he” was. There was no need for words; everyone knew, and everyone tensely awaited further news. We were all filled with worry, hoping that he would return home. We heard that he was having difficulty breathing. There was talk of a “complicated treatment” – which we understood to mean a possible tracheotomy – and our levels of pain jumped.

We daven for Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib ben Gittel Faiga, but we are davening for ourselves as well. Chazal tell us that the talmidei chachomim are like a fortified wall for the Jewish people. They are our shield and our protection.

On that note, it is fitting to quote the words of Rav Yonason Eibeschutz: “This is a sign for all Torah scholars whose strength is depleted by the Torah. It is our obligation to daven for their welfare and strength, for they are the guardians of the Torah and our souls are bound up with theirs. If there were no talmidei chachomim, chas v’sholom, we would have no life; therefore, we are obligated to pray to Hashem with all our hearts for their youth to be renewed like an eagle, for them to have renewed strength and to raise their wings like eagles. That is a great mitzvah, aside from davening to Hashem for learning itself” (Yaaros Devash, Amud Hatefillah). He also states, “This also leads to an increase in kavod haTorah, for how could anyone not desire Torah if all of Klal Yisroel is davening for his well-being and health? There are wealthy people who spent large amounts of money so that there will be a few lomdim always davening to Hashem for their welfare, but this talmid chochom has all the Jews everywhere in the world davening for him. Therefore, we must daven for them extensively, for we live in their shade.”

The Strike That Achieved Nothing

There are three more topics that deserve to be mentioned in a summary of last week’s events: the strike in Yerushalayim, the surprising developments as the saga of Elor Azariya’s trial heads to its close, and the State Comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge, which is liable to deal a serious blow to the prime minister, although the extent of the damage cannot be predicted at the moment. We will leave the latter two topics for next week, bli neder, but we will deal with the strike in Yerushalayim, which has now come to a close. There is also the matter of the Kosel. This past week, the chareidim told the prime minister that the compromise with the Reform movement should be considered null and void, and he should relay that in his response to the Supreme Court. Of course, that story is also not over yet.

The strike in Yerushalayim began with a fierce dispute between the Yerushalayim municipality and the Finance Ministry over the sum of 800 million shekels, which is quite a large amount of money. The government decided previously to make an additional allocation of funds for Yerushalayim in light of the city’s financial difficulties. However, the Finance Ministry has been delaying the release of those funds. Mayor Nir Barkat threatened, shouted, argued, and demanded the release of the funds, and when all else failed, he decided to take the drastic step of declaring a full municipal strike. Schools were closed, there were no municipal services (nor were there police officers distributing parking tickets), and even garbage collection was suspended. The situation was intolerable for the city’s residents, myself included.

The Ministry of Finance was unfazed by the strike. Officials from the ministry announced that the city would not receive a single cent in funding until they had examined the claims that its affairs had been managed unprofessionally – in other words, wastefully. The ministry knows how to use all sorts of tactics, including leaking information to the media, and details concerning the budget of the mayor’s office – a sum of millions of shekels, in stark contrast to the amount spent under his predecessor, Uri Lupoliansky, which was only one-fifth that amount – have already been made public. An anonymous source added, “Nir Barkat boasts that he takes only one shekel a year as his salary from the municipality, but his mismanagement costs the city millions of shekels.” Another leak revealed that the Finance Ministry is considering designating a financial monitor for the city, a drastic step that is taken when a mayor leads his city to bankruptcy.

As the garbage piled up in the streets of the city and the air was polluted with its odor, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Mayor Barkat to end the strike. Last Wednesday, the strike came to an end, with Barkat having gained nothing. He has yet to receive the additional funding, while the demands for a probe of his management of the city have remained in place. Hence, there is a significant likelihood that he will lose a good deal because of this strike.

“Because I’m on Strike”

At the beginning of last week, a yungerman in Yerushalayim called the city’s 106 hotline to find out if it was true that school had been canceled throughout the city, as the radio had announced. “There is no school,” the municipal worker who answered the phone confirmed to the caller.

“But why not?” demanded the outraged father.

“Because of the strike,” came the laconic reply.

“I know about that,” the caller said, “but how can you make an announcement like that at the last minute? Do you know how difficult it is for us to make arrangements for our children?”

“This is the situation,” the city employee replied apathetically.

“Can you explain your reasoning to me?” the caller asked, his indignation mounting.

“No.”

“Why not?” he pressed.

“Because I’m on strike.”

The UN and the Holocaust

Last week, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked throughout the world, including in Yerushalayim, as I mentioned previously. Events were held in the German Bundestag, and the German flag was flown at half-mast. Similar events took place in Austria. Both are countries that have plenty of sins for which to apologize. An event was also held at the death camp at Auschwitz, attended by Holocaust survivors who flew in from Israel. The director of the Wiesenthal Center in Yerushalayim revealed that it is possible that hundreds or even thousands of Nazis suspected of war crimes are still alive today.

On Friday, January 17, the United Nations General Assembly marked the day commemorating the Holocaust. The new secretary-general, Antonio Gutierres, was there, along with Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon. The main address was delivered by Noach Kliger, a 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor and a correspondent for Yediot Acharonot. Noach considers it his special mission to speak about the Holocaust whenever possible. I accompanied him three years ago on a parliamentary delegation that visited Auschwitz, where he spoke at a large ceremony.

Noach Kliger’s Chilling Tale

Noach Kliger repeated that same story in his speech at the United Nations. “There were about 60,000 of us who were marched out of Auschwitz by the Nazis,” he said. “We were forced to walk at a rapid pace, and anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot. The roads from Auschwitz were filled with the bodies of people who had been shot by the SS because they couldn’t maintain the pace. Others simply lay down in the road and died from exhaustion. The march continued for five days until we reached a small town on the border. When we arrived, there were less than 19,000 of us left. The others had been left on the sides of the road.

“We were then herded into train cars, 150 people in each car. After a while, about two-thirds of the prisoners in my car died. We sat on piles of bodies. When we finally reached the camp, some of us made a calculation and realized that they hadn’t eaten in two weeks. How had they managed to stay alive? Only a few of us survived, not many. One day, a young prisoner of about 15 or 16 years of age turned to us and asked us to say Kaddish with him for his father. We didn’t listen to him. We were sitting and waiting for our own deaths, and he was talking about Kaddish? He said, ‘If you say Kaddish with me, I will give you bread,’ so we agreed. We asked him if we could say Kaddish while we were sitting, since we had no strength to stand. After he said Kaddish, he gave us the bread, and I ate my piece very quickly, of course. While I was eating, I asked him, ‘When did your father die?’ He said, ‘Not long ago.’ I asked him, ‘Where did he die?’ And he said, ‘You are sitting on him.’”

It is a truly horrendous episode. May Hashem avenge the blood of His servants.

In the United Nations, Noach Kliger added a postscript to this story. “This story has an interesting conclusion,” he said. “Several years later, in my newspaper, I wrote about this story on Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. On that same day, I received a telephone call from Haifa. ‘Mr. Kliger,’ the caller said, ‘I am the boy from the train.’ I didn’t believe him at first. I thought it was extremely unlikely that the same person had read my account, but he said, ‘I can prove it to you. I wrote the same story in a publication for Holocaust survivors last week.’”

Kliger concluded his address to the UN by asking them to preserve the memory of the atrocities of the Holocaust, so that the world will never forget.

Keeping a Low Profile

The prime ministers of Israel tend to act self-assured – toward the world at large, toward America, and, of course, toward the Arabs. I was once present at a discussion in which Yitzchok Rabin participated, and someone asked him, “How can you have given weapons to the Palestinians? What will you do if the police officers of the Palestinian Authority use those weapons against us?”

Rabin let out a loud laugh. “What do you mean?” he replied with complete confidence. “It won’t happen, and if it does, we will attack them. We will clobber them!”

Our leaders have become slightly less boastful since that time, but the general attitude has remained the same. It is as if they feel that Israel is more intelligent and capable than any other country. The Regulation Law is now being used to annex Yehuda and Shomron, as well as the city of Maale Adumim, and preparations are being made to transfer the American embassy to Yerushalayim. Binyomin Netanyahu acts like a sheriff, the single-handed dispenser of justice throughout the world. He seems to feel that he can decide who will be elected president of the United States, and who may write in the Israeli newspapers. He hands out failing grades to Obama and excellent marks to Trump. It seems that the closer he comes to a criminal indictment, the more he believes he can antagonize the rest of the world. He has already created a conflict with Mexico, which I have written about separately.

Allow me to share with you a few words spoken by Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l at the inaugural event of the Vaad Hapoel Haolami of Agudas Yisroel during Teves 5742: “The Gemara states in Maseches Yevamos (121a): Rabbon Gamliel says: Once, I was traveling on a ship and I saw a different ship that had been destroyed, and I was distressed because of a talmid chochom who had been on it – Rebbi Akiva. When I arrived on dry land, he came and sat before me and discussed halachah. I said, ‘My son, who rescued you?’ He said to me, ‘A plank from a boat came to me, and whenever a wave passed over me, I lowered my head before it.’ From this, our sages taught that when wicked people confront a person, he should lower his head.’

“This has been the way of every Jew throughout the generations, throughout the years of golus,” Rav Shach continued. “The Jew would always lower his head before the gentiles and would refrain from standing up to them in a conflict. That is how we were rescued from their hands, and we have retained the upper hand, for the Jewish nation is alive and will exist forever.”

Rav Shach’s Reminder

Rav Shach shared this perspective with many legendary leaders from all over the world, including two presidents of the World Agudah, Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowitz. At that event, Rav Shach continued, “I must preface my remarks by noting that we have a highly respected prime minister [Menachem Begin], who has a good relationship with religion. But you should know that if he boasts that we were able to survive for 3,700 years without the Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Cooperation with the United States, then the answer is that we also lived for 2,000 years without the Golan Law and, in fact, without the Golan Heights altogether, and we can go on living without that law. You should also know that all the nations are the same, and even the best among them do not love the Jews. Just as Germany produced a Hitler, even America, England, and France can bring forth similar leaders from their midsts. I imagine that when the prime minister submitted the Golan Law, President Reagan sat in the United States with a smile on his face and thought, ‘I can easily put an embargo on their exports, even for just a week or two, and that entire country will be destroyed.’

“The Gemara teaches us a fundamental rule,” Rav Shach went on. “‘Whenever a wave passed over me, I lowered my head before it.’ It is forbidden for us to antagonize the nations of the world. We have a path of our own; the path of the Torah has been passed down from generation to generation. In every generation, every Jew understood this; he was filled with the recognition that even when he had to dance before the poritz and praise him, his heart would be filled with mockery and derision for that man, whom he considered a thief, a murderer, and a madman. It was only for the sake of his family that he had to dance before the goy, so that he would not lose his parnassah. Today, unfortunately, there are even talmidei chachamim and rabbonim who lack the awareness that we have a path of our own!”

One final quote from that speech: “The existence of the Jewish people is endangered in a situation of this sort,” Rav Shach asserted. “We must awaken within ourselves the knowledge of the truth that the existence of Klal Yisroel is not dependent on the existence of the State of Israel; rather, the existence of the State of Israel is dependent on the existence of Klal Yisroel. The State of Israel is not the Jewish people! Even if we see something as being beneficial for the State of Israel, who is to say that it is good for the Jewish nation? When we antagonize the United States, we endanger the Jews of America by clashing with the American government, and there is no telling what price we may have to pay for that provocation.”