The New Government’s Nefarious Intentions
The new government has been around for only about two weeks. But while most of the ministers, including the prime minister, are much more adept at talking than actually doing anything, the difference has already become noticeable. First of all, the government’s first official decision was to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the disaster in Meron this Lag Ba’Omer. Does anyone actually believe that they really care that much about the chareidi community? Has Lapid, Lieberman, or even Benny Gantz suddenly developed a deep sense of concern for religious Jews? Why, of course not! As far as they are concerned, the purpose of the decision is to antagonize the chareidim, to create the pretense that they are taking better care of the community than the chareidi politicians themselves, and to rally the entire government around the only type of cause on which they all agree—opposition to religion. After all, they do not see eye to eye with each other on any other issue.
A few words of explanation are in order, so let me set the record straight. The chareidi parties are absolutely in favor of investigating the tragedy in Meron. Nevertheless, they are still opposed to a state inquiry commission. That is because such a commission has only one purpose: to identify the people who can be blamed for the disaster. (For instance, after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, the official inquiry commission decided that Arik Sharon was not fit to serve as Minister of Defense. Never mind the fact that he later became the prime minister of Israel….) What the chareidim want is a parliamentary commission of inquiry (rather than a state commission) whose goal will be to offer recommendations for measures that would prevent such catastrophes in the future. Unlike a parliamentary commission, a state commission of inquiry would be headed by a retired judge. And experience shows that nothing good has ever come out of such a person…. In this case, former Justice Elyakim Rubinstein of the Supreme Court has been suggested as the potential chairman of the committee. Rubinstein wears a yarmulke, but that is not a point in his favor; experience has also shown, unfortunately, that the judges who wear yarmulkes are often worse than the bareheaded ones.
The members of the committee are to be picked by Esther Chayut, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. According to a report leaked to the press on Sunday, Chayut has already said that she is not certain at all that she will select Rubinstein for the task. It will be interesting to see what she decides. The government’s objective should be to find someone who understands the significance of the hillula, and who has an appreciation for the chareidi lifestyle.
New Transportation Minister Promises Buses on Shabbos
One thing is certain: We have entered a new era. There is no question about it. And the problem is that the government’s anti-religious approach is seeping into the mindset of every official and functionary throughout the country. What that means is that a religious Israeli will begin to encounter hostility in every government office.
The anti-religious proclamations have already begun. For instance, the new Minister of Transportation, Merav Michaeli, took a ride on the train this Friday and announced that she intends to support the operation of public transportation on Shabbos in every city where the mayor is in favor of it. Now, this was just a statement and not an action. Nevertheless, the statement itself has significance, and it is bound to encourage all sorts of people and institutions to begin the process of promoting chillul Shabbos. Moreover, the fact that a minister in the Israeli government can make such a statement is itself a chillul Hashem.
Another lamentable statement came from the current Minister of Environmental Protection, a member of the Meretz party, who announced that she will prevent the Nature and Parks Authority from instituting separate swimming hours at springs and streams in the country’s nature reserves. This is an assault on the rights of a large portion of the populace—both men and women, and Jews and Arabs alike—who are interested in separate swimming hours, but these champions of “democracy” do not seem to be concerned about that. From their perspective, gender segregation is a form of discrimination and therefore intolerable, even if the men and women themselves are in favor of the segregation.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs made a point of informing the Reform and Conservative movements that “the State of Israel will be open to all streams [of Judaism] and will recognize them all equally.” This minister is Nachman Shai, who served in the Knesset on behalf of the Labor party. Once again, it is still in the realm of mere words, but the statement itself is significant enough.
To make a long story short, then, the current government is developing into a malady for the State of Israel.
To make matters worse, the new Minister of Religious Affairs has come up with a plan of his own: to appoint a committee that will “examine” the religious status quo in Israel. Of course, that “examination” will have one purpose: to determine what elements of the status quo can be eliminated. There is certainly nothing good that can come from his idea.
Dozens of Students Infected, Airport in Chaos
For a while, we were starting to believe that Israel had beaten the coronavirus. The government has even abolished the requirement to wear masks in enclosed areas, and it seemed as if the coronavirus had disappeared from our lives completely. Unfortunately, we have learned that this isn’t exactly true. The virus has appeared again, evidently having crept into the country through our airport. Ironically, travelers who arrived in Israel last weekend were not required to undergo corona testing, even though many of them arrived from countries where the pandemic is still in full swing. Why were they exempted from the tests? Because the airport was simply too busy! This doesn’t sound like something that should happen in an enlightened country that is supposed to protect its citizens, but that is exactly what happened.
Two outbreaks of coronavirus have already been detected in Israel: one in Binyamina and another in the secular city of Modiin (not to be confused with the chareidi city of Modiin Illit, which sits adjacent to it). In Binyamina, 45 students in two schools were found to have contracted the virus; officials believe that the source of the infection was a single student whose father had just returned from abroad. In Modiin, 20 students tested positive for the virus. In response to the outbreaks, the schools were closed, the students were ordered to remain at home, and the obligation to wear masks in public was reinstated! One can only imagine the furor that would have broken out if this had happened in a chareidi school instead.
Meanwhile, the Indian strain of the coronavirus has cast its shadow over the entire world. A few cases of the virus have already been detected in Israel, and the country has restricted entry from India in response. Among the restrictions, which were imposed last week, was a ban on tourists arriving from India and a monthly quota of 300 students and foreign workers from the affected country. All arriving travelers from India have also been required to quarantine in designated hotels, with the exception of travelers who recovered from corona or were vaccinated in Israel. Last month, about 1000 people entered the country from India, only a quarter of whom were vaccinated. Only sixty-three of the arriving travelers were found to be carrying the virus; however, there were some arrivals who were not even tested.
Arab Terror Within and Without
Palestinian terror within Israel and from outside its borders has not abated. On the military front, Israel is contending with Hamas, which has been threatening to renew its rocket fire into Israel and has already begun dispatching terror balloons into the country. The balloons have set fire to many agricultural areas. This is terrorism that has not claimed any lives, but it is terrorism nonetheless. Last Friday, the air force responded to the balloons by attacking low level Hamas targets in the Gaza strip. However, the government is concerned that the escalation might lead to a new round of violent conflict between Israel and Gaza, which might include rocket fire.
And then there is domestic terror as well. Israeli Arabs have become increasingly daring, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the change in government. The battle-scarred city of Lod enjoyed a certain measure of calm until the beginning of the week, but then the rioting and violence resumed. The police arrested the imam of Lod, who was accused of inciting Arabs to murder Jews, but he was released to house arrest by a judge in Rishon Letzion. I wonder, even if the imam stops broadcasting his incitement over the mosque loudspeakers, isn’t it logical to assume that he will continue quietly urging his followers to attack Jews? The riots have resumed in Yerushalayim as well, with violent incidents taking place in the Old City as a whole, and on Har Habyis in particular. Arabs have brazenly attacked police officers; it seems that they have no fear of the police or the government. Sixteen Arabs were arrested in the recent wave of riots, but the arrests do not seem likely to make a dent in the violence.
Last week, the Arabs’ audacity became apparent in another incident that occurred in the Arab village of Deir al-Assad, near the city of Carmiel. In this case, the police were called after gunshots were heard at an Arab wedding. (The Arabs have a custom of firing weapons in the course of their celebrations.) The police arrived, and a violent commotion broke out. Two police cars were torched, and police officers were beaten. It was a disgrace to the police and a sign of their loss of control over the Arab populace. But that is the situation in Israel today.
Netanyahu Is Out but the Harassment Continues
Binyomin Netanyahu is no longer the prime minister of Israel, but that hasn’t stopped his enemies from continuing their battle against him. The demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence on Rechov Balfour, where Netanyahu still resides, have not abated. Since the former prime minister has yet to move out, he is still being treated to a daily barrage of shouts and jeers from the nearby intersection. In fact, Netanyahu’s continued presence on Rechov Balfour has become a topic of contention in its own right. Never in the past has a prime minister (such as Ehud Olmert) been pressured to leave his official residence as soon as he was unseated, but Netanyahu has come under scathing criticism, as his detractors make it seem as if he is refusing to leave. This week, the media reported that Bennett asked Netanyahu to leave the prime minister’s residence within two weeks, and Netanyahu agreed.
This brings us to another story concerning the recently booted prime minister. The media reported this week that documents from the prime minister’s vault were illegally shredded last Sunday, hours before Bennett took office. The reports quoted senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office as asserting that Netanyahu had ordered the documents shredded. The vaults containing those documents are located in several rooms in the “aquarium,” the sterile area occupied by the prime minister and his highest-ranking staff members. The contents of the vaults usually include the schedules of high-ranking workers in the prime minister’s office, along with other materials relevant to their regular activities. The reports did not specify which documents had been destroyed. Netanyahu denied the allegations. He claims that even if certain papers were shredded, he was not personally involved in the matter. Nevertheless, a preliminary probe has already been opened.
And the ballyhoo doesn’t end there. According to another report this week, on the day the new government was sworn in, a large delivery of soft drinks arrived at the prime minister’s residence on Rechov Balfour. According to Yediot Acharonot, the soft drinks, which came with a bill for 6000 NIS payable by the state coffers, were ordered earlier on the same day and arrived just a few hours before the government stopped covering the Netanyahu family’s expenses. According to those sources, the person who ordered the shipment of drinks was taking advantage of the fact that the government was still paying the family’s bills. However, Tzachi Braverman, the outgoing substitute manager of the Prime Minister’s Office, claimed that the order was placed two or three days earlier, when it was still unclear whether Netanyahu would be remaining in his position. Netanyahu himself firmly denied any wrongdoing. “There was nothing unusual about this,” he insisted. “It was an ordinary delivery for the ongoing running of the prime minister’s residence; the drinks were ordered to be served at work meetings and while hosting guests. Enough with this persecution!”
The Hangman from Iran
The newly elected president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, has been dubbed “the hangman of Iran.” For Israel, and for anyone else who desires peace, his election is very bad news. Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett (we will have to get used to his new title) commented at the cabinet meeting this Sunday that Raisi’s election is a very bad development for Israel. The Israeli foreign ministry released an official statement (on Shabbos, in keeping with the spirit of its new minister, Yair Lapid) describing Raisi as “the most extreme Iranian president to date” and “the butcher of Teheran.”
Raisi is allegedly responsible for the executions of tens of thousands of Iranian citizens who opposed the ayatollahs’ regime. He is an extremist who is dedicated to Iran’s nuclear military program, which has been moving forward rapidly. His election leaves no doubt as to Iran’s intentions and should certainly be a source of concern for the international community.
According to a senior official in Iran’s interior ministry, Raisi emerged as the victor in the election with a total of 17.8 million votes. Following his election, Amnesty International called for an investigation against Raisi for crimes against humanity, including the murder, kidnapping, and torture of thousands of his political opponents in the late 1980s. According to the human rights organization, Raisi was “a member of the death committee responsible for the abduction and execution of thousands of the regime’s political opponents in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the locations of their bodies have remained concealed to this day,” Amnesty added. “The information was systematically hidden by the Iranian authorities. We call for him to be investigated.
“As the head of the Iranian judicial system,” the statement continues, “Raisi oversaw intensive violations of human rights, and many executions took place on his watch.” The organization called on the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council to take concrete steps against Raisi immediately. “We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his role in crimes against international law both past and present,” they insisted.
Meanwhile, several heads of state have already congratulated Raisi on his election, including the leaders of Turkey, Syria, and even Russia—i.e., Vladimir Putin. America has yet to respond, and Israel is watching its moves intently. Will the American government open a dialogue with the butcher of Teheran? We will have to wait and see. Raisi has said he will not meet Biden.
Israeli Officials in Washington
Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, is currently visiting Washington. The tensions in the south placed his trip in question until the last minute, but it was ultimately decided that he would travel to America in spite of the situation. Of course, this is the first visit of an Israeli official to the United States since Naftoli Bennett assumed the premiership. Kochavi’s visit focuses on the nuclear agreement between Iran, America, and other world powers, along with many issues of strategic importance. Since the visit is taking place shortly before the expected signing of a new nuclear pact, the security establishment considers it extremely important.
Prime Minister Bennett, Foreign Minister (and Alternate Prime Minister) Yair Lapid, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have a consensus that Israel must avoid antagonizing the American administration. At the same time, they feel that topics under dispute must be raised with the United Sates government, and that they must broach any issues that require clarification in light of the expected policy changes in Washington.
The Israeli security establishment estimates that after the elections in Iran, the Americans hope to sign a new agreement within a month and a half. Israeli officials believe that the agreement is already a done deal, and that Israel will have to use that time to try to change some of its most important clauses, while at the same time persuading the Americans of the agreement’s potential impact on other areas, including the Iranian military presence in Syria and Hezbollah’s precision missile project. Kochavi intends to remain in America for six days and to return to Israel on Friday. During his stay, he will be the guest of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In addition to his meetings with top brass in the army and Pentagon, Kochavi was also meeting with the Secretary of Defense, the head of the National Security Council, and the directors of leading research institutes in Washington.
On a similar note, President Reuven Rivlin, who will soon be completing his term as president of the State of Israel, has already received a date for his meeting with President Biden in the White House. Rivlin will hold a series of meetings in the United Nations and will meet with representatives of the Jewish community in America. Rivlin and Biden are scheduled to meet on Monday, June 28.
Hillula of the Ohr Hachaim Canceled
There is much more to report about events in Israel. For instance, I haven’t yet written a word about the new opposition, which is doing its best to present a combative front against the new government. Last week, there was a debate in a Knesset committee in a session chaired by Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid). Toporovsky presided over the session with an iron fist and expelled every member of the opposition from the committee chamber. It was a display of sheer brutality.
On another note, the government is supposed to extend a law known as the Family Reunification Law, which prevents Arabs from other countries from “marrying” Israeli Arabs and thereby gaining the right to Israeli citizenship. This is a temporary measure to prevent an influx of Arab immigrants, and it must be extended every year. The time has come to extend the law once again, and the Arabs in the Knesset, of course, have no intention of supporting it. Without the Arabs, the coalition will not have a majority; moreover, several members of Meretz have also declared that they will not support the extension. The government expects the opposition to come to the rescue; after all, this is a clearly right-wing law, and there is no reason it shouldn’t garner their support. The opposition, however, has a different take on the situation: They have no reason to serve as a safety net for the current government. On the contrary, let the new powers that be discover on their own that it was a mistake to rely on the Arabs! To make a long story short, this has been the basis of this week’s excitement in the Knesset.
Two other distressing issues have arisen this week. First, the yahrtzeit of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh is this Thursday. Every year, masses of people flock to the kever of the Ohr Hachaim in honor of his yahrtzeit. The police have always beefed up their presence in the area, Egged has always made sure that there would be buses running, food and beverages were supplied for the visitors by generous volunteers, and the hillula invariably became a major event. Last year, the annual event was canceled on account of the coronavirus. This year, there are suddenly no funds in the public coffers to provide for the usual arrangements, and the police claim that they must ban the visits to the kever in order to protect the public. This seems to be a thinly veiled show of hostility for an important religious event.
Meanwhile, an outrageous incident took place this week when a group of schoolchildren from the Hadar school, a Jewish school in Raanana, were taken on a field trip to learn about other religions. The children visited a church and a mosque in Haifa; at the mosque, they were taught about Muslim religious practices, and some of the children even kneeled. This was an absolute disgrace.
A Tribute to Dr. Schussheim
As you read in last week’s paper, Dr. Eliyohu Yosef Schussheim passed away in Yerushalayim. I once interviewed Dr. Schussheim for an article here in Yated Neeman (in February 2017), and he shared some fascinating stories with me.
Dr. Eli Schussheim was a lifelong fighter. During our interview, he described how he had fought for his rights to observe Shabbos as a student in medical school. He married his wife, Shoshana Rochel, in Argentina, and the couple decided to move to Eretz Yisroel and establish their home in Yerushalayim. The Schussheims left behind a life of comfort and a promising future in order to make the move; they felt strongly that in Israel they would be able to raise a family steeped in the values of the Torah.
Every day of his life was an unending progression of acts of chessed. As a doctor, he was immensely devoted to his patients. His clinic on Rechov Ponim Meiros in Yerushalayim seemed to have a magnetic pull, attracting patients from near and far. With his gracious demeanor, his dedication to every individual, and his immense professional acumen, he was a highly sought-after practitioner. He was also an excellent surgeon. Many people sought medical care in his clinic, ranging from foreign tourists to members of the Eidah Chareidis. He was a famous figure, a man with many connections, and a highly admired member of society. He was active in numerous areas, and he acquired friends and admirers everywhere he went. As a doctor, he earned acclaim and admiration; he published numerous articles about medicine and halacha, and he made himself available to the gedolei Yisroel whenever they were in need of medical information. At the same time, he enlisted the support of the greatest rabbonim of the generation for causes that he deemed worthy (such as the fight against smoking in the chareidi community). He was also the personal physician of many gedolei Yisroel.
His prodigious altruism was manifested, among other things, in Efrat, the organization that he considered his crowning achievement. When he spoke about Efrat’s activities, which encompassed many areas, he became suffused with enthusiasm, like a child bubbling with excitement over a brand-new toy. The walls of his office in Kiryat Moshe were lined with pictures of babies, all of whom were alive because of his efforts. There were thousands of such children, some of whom have already become parents and even grandparents. No one was more delighted than Dr. Schussheim himself when he was invited to a simcha of one of “his” children. His work in this area led him to be known as the “children’s savior.”
As the director of Efrat, Dr. Schussheim often had to fight valiantly for its cause. There were plenty of anti-religious or liberal figures who openly declared war on him, and there was no red line that they were unwilling to cross. But Dr. Schussheim fought with determination and always managed to find a way to continue and even expand his work. He was blessed with a personal charm that enabled him to overcome all of his opponents. He met with irreligious health ministers and managed to win them over; he had an unusual oratorical talent and rare persuasive powers. In addition to his work with Efrat, he was involved in innumerable other pursuits for the benefit of the community. He founded the senior citizens’ residence in Neve Simcha, where he served as the medical and administrative director for many years. He was also responsible for overseeing mohalim on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate, and he earned the trust of all the chief rabbis of Israel. He was also a respected and prominent doctor in Shaare Zedek and Hadassah, the major hospitals in Yerushalayim. For a period of time, he also served as the Knesset physician. During the Yom Kippur War, he served as a doctor in the army and set up field hospitals on the front lines. Dr. Schussheim kept an impressive collection of newspaper clippings from those days, which demonstrated the kiddush Hashem that resulted from his activities.
I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Schussheim and his righteous wife for the first time about 30 years ago. He was our doctor, and we visited his clinic dozens, or perhaps even hundreds of times, largely thanks to my rambunctious offspring. We were also close friends, and Dr. Schussheim recruited me to assist Efrat’s efforts both within the Knesset and, to a certain extent, in the media. In addition to all that, we were neighbors; he lived on Rechov Reines in Givat Shaul, and I was very fond of him. Last Shabbos, he collapsed while davening at the amud. He was rushed to the hospital, and his many friends, who numbered in the thousands, stormed the heavens to daven for his recovery. A few days later, on erev Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, he returned his soul to its Creator at the age of 80. A huge crowd turned out for his levayah, and the speakers lauded him effusively. He was buried in the cemetery in Sanhedria.