Thursday, May 23, 2024

My Take On The News

Another Terror Attack in Yerushalayim

Once again, there has been a terror attack in the Old City of Yerushalayim.

Shortly before the end of last Shabbos, an Arab youth attempted to murder a 20-year-old yeshiva bochur named Avrohom Elmaliach, who was in a rush to light the menorah on time and took a shortcut through the alleyways of the Old City. The incident took place at a location known as Kikar Shechem. The assailant managed to stab Elmaliach, but his wounds were listed as moderate, and he was rushed to Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center for urgent care.

From his hospital bed, Elmaliach related, “An Arab terrorist jumped on me with a knife; he had obviously set out to stab any Jew he came across, and I was the only Jew walking in the area at that time. I was on my way back from Mincha. When the soldiers arrived, he let me go and ran after them; that shows he was simply looking for Jews to attack. He didn’t shout or even utter a word.” Elmaliach expressed his thanks the police officers who killed the terrorist. “I want to thank them,” he said. “They truly saved me. If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be here with you.”

This incident comes on the heels of the attack that took the life of Eliyohu Kay and seems to reflect a general atmosphere of lawlessness that has held sway in the Old City of Yerushalayim in recent weeks. The Shabak intelligence agency suspects that this escalation has been backed by Hamas, which seems to have gained some control over the Arab populace of the Old City.

Killing of Terrorist Triggers Investigation

But this is only the beginning of the story. On Motzoei Shabbos, just a few hours after the attack, the two officers who killed the terrorist were summoned for questioning by the Department of Internal Police Investigations (DIPI, or Machash), which is tasked with investigating situations in which the police were too quick to pull a trigger, such as when a terrorist was killed at a time when he was no longer posing a threat. The questioning of the two officers led to a major outcry. They were interrogated for about three hours and then were released.

The DIPI investigators were alarmed by the backlash against them, and they hastened to explain their actions. “Whenever a civilian is killed by police fire,” the department explained in an official statement, “the DIPI conducts an investigation into the circumstances. This is a routine procedure, and the investigation should not be seen as casting aspersions on the conduct of the police officers during the incident. The DIPI’s obligation in such incidents is to meticulously follow the dictates of the law and balance the vital need to protect the life of any human being with the need to allow police officers to effectively and fearlessly protect the public from hostile elements. We must emphasize that these investigations are conducted with the full awareness that when a police officer finds himself at the scene of a terror attack or in any other life-threatening situation, he must use his discretion and make decisions within a matter of seconds, in the middle of a threatening situation that creates a sense of emergency. In this case as well, the investigators of the DIPI are performing their jobs with all the necessary professionalism and sensitivity. A decision will be reached at the end of the investigation, after all the circumstances have been examined.”

This statement did nothing to quell the criticism directed at the investigators, mainly because the department’s claims were factually untrue. When it is clear that police officers behaved correctly, they are never summoned for questioning. There have been incidents in the past in which the police caused deaths and were not investigated after the fact, since it was clear that they had acted properly. Why, then, were these two officers interrogated?

Some believe this is the beginning of an attempt spearheaded by the left to indict the officers on trumped-up charges, in an echo of the experiences of Elor Azariah. The police officers have already been denounced from the left side of the political map, which lends credence to this theory. The Arab members of the Knesset are calling the killing an act of murder, since video shows the terrorist wounded and lying on the ground before he was shot to death. No one denies that the first time the terrorist was shot, when he attempted to attack a policewoman, was completely justified; the debate is only over the second shooting, which took place when he was already on the ground and seemingly neutralized. Nevertheless, there was a case in the past —a terror attack on Rechov Malchei Yisroel — when an Arab terrorist was shot several times and seriously wounded but managed to get up and attack a police officer with an axe.

In short, it is clear that we still haven’t reached the end of this story.

The Prime Minister Backs the Police Officers

Behold the audacity of the Palestinians: Mere minutes after the terror attack, riots broke out at the same site. The police used stun grenades to disperse dozens of Palestinians who were attempting to throw stones at the security forces. This incident put the entire area on heightened alert, and police reinforcements were stationed along the entire road leading to the Damascus Gate. In the Arabs’ view, they were protesting what was clearly a heinous crime — a murder committed by the Zionist police.

The terrorist turned out to have been an illegal alien who had no connection with any terror organization; he was neither a Hamas operative nor a member of Fatah. This bolsters the supposition that he acted on his own. This type of attack is difficult for the Shabak to anticipate and foil; they generally rely on a network of informants and collaborators who inform them when a planned attack is in the offing, but they have no way of knowing when a lone Arab is about to commit a spontaneous act of violence. It certainly bears noting that Israel estimates that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Palestinians in the country without permits every day, most of whom are illegal workers.

Meanwhile, despite the ongoing investigation, the two police officers have received support from many quarters. Doron Turgeman, the commander of the police force in the Yerushalayim district, released a statement summing up the incident, in which the police officers were painted in a favorable light: “We wish a speedy recovery to the injured victim. Around 4:30 p.m., the terrorist, a resident of the Shomron, arrived in the area, encountered a religious Jew, and cruelly stabbed him. He then attempted to stab two police officers, one male and the other female, but they quickly recovered and shot him. The police officers acted rapidly and with determination.” The Border Guard also announced its support for the officers’ actions.

On Motzoei Shabbos, Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett spoke with Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, instructing them to take action to prevent further violence in the aftermath of the attack. Bennett also expressed his approval of the officers’ actions: “The two police officers acted quickly and with resolve, as we would expect of the officers of the Israeli Police, to repel a terrorist who attempted to murder an Israeli citizen. I would like to express my full backing for you. This is how we expect our officers to act, and they have lived up to our expectations. We must not allow our capital city to become a focal point for terror.”

At the cabinet session on Sunday, Bennett added, “We must all give our backing to the two heroes.” Nevertheless, I will not be surprised if this incident sparks a controversy that keeps it in the public eye for a long time.

Tension Mounts Between Israel and America

Had we been spared the bad news that descended on us this past week, in the form of both the terror attack in Yerushalayim and the tragic car accident near Modiin Illit (more on that below), my leading story would unquestionably have been the serious problem of the rift between Yerushalayim and Washington over the subject of Iran. Some have gone so far as to say that America has actually turned its back on Israel.

Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, recently released an open letter against Naftoli Bennett. Slamming him for his handling of the Iran issue, Barak wrote, “Israel’s most urgent need is to collaborate closely with the United States to define shared goals and strategies for a scenario in which Iran becomes a ‘threshold state.’ It should not be having a public dispute and trading accusations with the American administration that have no practical benefit and are seen by the world as hollow gestures, and that reflect confusion rather than a serious policy that is backed by the capacity for action.”

This week, Bennett spoke with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in what was reported to have been a very bad phone conversation.

General Giora Eiland (res.) declared at the beginning of the week, “The recent statements by Bennett and Mossad chief Dovid Barnea were not sufficiently cautious. When the head of the Mossad says that ‘the Mossad will know how to stop the Iranian nuclear program,’ and then he travels to the United States on the following day, he is essentially inviting a simple response from the Americans: ‘If the Mossad knows how to stop the Iranian nuclear program, what do you need from us? Stop the program on your own, and it will be good for everyone.’ Therefore, I believe that some of our statements were out of place.”

Eiland was referring to the Mossad director’s statements at a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony attended by the prime minister, when he declared, “Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. That is a promise.” This was merely a boastful show of self-assurance on the part of the new director of the Mossad, and it is not exactly compatible with Bennett’s previous promise that he will not take any action against Iran without informing the Americans (and perhaps even receiving their permission). That promise, incidentally, earned him some fierce criticism from Netanyahu.

This week, the Mossad chief traveled to Washington for a series of meetings with American officials. Defense Minister Benny Gantz followed him to America shortly thereafter. The Americans have already made it clear to high-ranking officials in the Israeli security services that they would object to any surprise clandestine actions taken by Israel while they are in the middle of negotiations with Iran, since they believe that any such actions would spoil the chances of their talks succeeding.

Tragic Accident Near Modiin Illit

Another piece of news related to the Palestinians is the tragic car accident that took place just before Shabbos near the city of Modiin Illit. The accident, which occurred at the Ofarim junction, was caused by a Palestinian driver making an illegal U-turn at a point in the road where it is prohibited even to pass another car, much less to make a complete change of direction.

The Palestinian car collided with a vehicle driven by the Meoded family, resulting in the deaths of the family’s two children, nine-year-old Halleli and three-year-old Tov Ro’i. Both parents were severely wounded. The two occupants of the Palestinian car were killed in the accident as well. The accident occurred shortly before Shabbos, and the entire country greeted Shabbos in a state of grief. The children’s levayos were held in Rechovot, the city where the Meoded family had lived until just two days before the accident, when they relocated to the settlement of Bruchin in the Shomron.

This accident drew attention to an ongoing problem on the roads of Israel — the reckless driving of Arab motorists. It also raised awareness of the fact that many Arabs drive cars that are not roadworthy. The car involved in the accident was supposed to have been removed from the road; however, the Arabs tend to ignore regulations and often continue driving defective vehicles, sometimes even without license plates. Although it was the Arab’s driving habits, rather than the condition of his car, that seemed to cause the accident in this case, their lackadaisical attitude toward vehicle safety was also raised for discussion.

Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, proclaimed at the levayah, “During the height of the Festival of Lights, a great light was extinguished here. The entire Shomron family and all of Am Yisroel share the mourning and pain of these families. Our hearts are broken over these two tender children, and Am Yisroel is davening for the recovery of the parents, who have been hospitalized in serious condition.”

Indeed, let us all daven for the recovery of Hodaya bas Esther and Yaniv ben Ahuva, the injured and bereaved parents.

A Religious Affairs Minister Who Pretends to Be Religious

I have written in the past about Dudu Amsalem, a high-ranking member of the Likud party who served as a government minister in the past. Today, Amsalem sits on the benches of the opposition and relishes the occasional opportunity to give the government a piece of his mind at the Knesset podium. His outspoken diatribes tend to infuriate the current government ministers, especially Naftoli Bennett, and even more so Yair Lapid.

Last Tuesday, just before the time arrived to light the menorah, Amsalem exercised his right to deliver a “personal statement” to the Knesset. Any member of the Knesset who feels he has been personally insulted in a speech has the right to respond to it at the end of the Knesset sitting. In this case, it was Yair Lapid who invoked Amsalem’s name, commenting that he wished he himself could be Amsalem.

Amsalem responded, “Mr. Lapid, it would take you many years of learning to become another Amsalem. You would need to finish your academic degree, to expand your knowledge of Jewish tradition and Jewish history, and to increase your general knowledge as well. I would advise you to immerse yourself in a mikveh as well, for the sake of general purity…. You are a super hypocrite…. You released a video depicting yourself as a world-class military hero. At first, I thought that the video was about a commander of Sayeret Matkal, the paratroopers’ brigade. ‘A missile fell here,’ he said, ‘and a Katyusha fell there, and a Syrian plane passed over me right here.’ You should go shine Yaakov Peri’s shoes! Do you understand how cruel you are, and how hypocritical?

“Now, since it is Chanukah, I would like to share a dvar Torah with you,” Amsalem continued. “We are reciting Al Hanissim now. I would like to say to the Minister of Religious Affairs: Please listen to a short dvar Torah before you destroy all of religion in the State of Israel. What was it that you said? ‘I am holding myself back from firing the Rishon Letzion’! Do you think that you can fire him? How can you even let that word cross your pitiful lips? Go kiss his hand tomorrow and beg his forgiveness for everything that you are doing to Am Yisroel!”

As I wrote last week, Rav Yitzchok Yosef has come under attack for his efforts to uphold the standards of halacha, and the Ombudsman of the Judiciary even recommended weighing the option of dismissing him from his position.

“What do we say in Al Hanissim?” Amsalem went on. “We recite the words, ‘You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.’ The first phrases represent great miracles, since it is only natural for the weak and few to be defeated by the many and the strong. But what is the miracle of the wicked being defeated by the righteous? Here is the answer: In truth, the wicked army should naturally win every battle. They have no red lines and no sense of morality; they have nothing, and they will use every tactic imaginable to achieve their goals. By nature, they should be undefeatable. In the same vein, you are a government without morals and without values….

“Yesterday, I heard an interesting idea. The Beis Hamikdosh has already been destroyed, so why are we celebrating Chanukah? The Gemara actually states that all the holidays will be abolished, but Chanukah will always be observed. Why is that? The idea is that Chanukah demonstrates the victory of the spirit over the material. Therefore, Minister Kahana, I promise you that for Am Yisroel, even though you are the Minister of Religious Affairs and pretend to be religious, spirituality will ultimately defeat the ignorance with which you live.”

Yisroel Beiteinu Tries to Teach the Chareidim

Let us turn our attention to some of the recent bills concocted by the “wise men” of the Knesset. I wrote recently about the laws that were meant to provide funding for cats, donkeys, and trees. Thousands of other laws have been placed on the table of the 24th Knesset, and most of them will never see the light of day. This week alone, dozens of laws were submitted, some of which were utterly bizarre.

One of the bills, however, was very serious. Formulated by Betzalel Smotrich and Orit Struck and supported by over 30 members of the Knesset, including chareidi MKs and others who are not affiliated with the right, it was meant to enshrine the observance of Tisha B’Av in Israeli law. Personally, however, I would have refrained from supporting it, solely on account of the explanatory notes, which state, “We have had the privilege of returning to our land and to Har Habayis and the Kosel Hamaaravi…. The Knesset of Israel is the sovereign institution of the Jewish people and embodies, more than anything else, the return to a national existence. Therefore, it stands to reason that this day, with all its values and messages, should be observed by the Knesset with a special, statesmanlike debate.”

Another law, proposed by Meir Porush, would have the government provide a free dishwasher to any family with a minimum of four children. Of course, this was a reaction to the new tax on disposable dishes. I am sure that this law would evoke great rejoicing in Arab villages if it were passed.

And then there was a law hatched in the headquarters of Yisroel Beiteinu, which earned the pompous support of the likes of Idit Silman and Moshe Tur-Paz as well. This law, which officially calls for the establishment of a public chareidi school system, is a presumptuous move on the part of its authors. The explanatory notes make it clear that their intent is to “educate” the chareidi community: “The establishment of public chareidi schools will offer an educational solution to the portion of the chareidi community that wishes to teach their children as chareidim but sees great importance in the need to provide them with appropriate, equal education like any other child in Israel, and with professional tools to integrate into the future work force.”

The lack of equality for chareidi job applicants is a stain on the conscience of the State of Israel, but it is the epitome of gall for these people to claim that they will open schools for the chareidi populace. Let them teach themselves! The religious community can manage very well without their help.

Government Backtracks on Phone Tracking

The government recently decided to reinstate the policy of using cell phone tracking to trace the whereabouts of coronavirus carriers. It was a drastic step to take, but when the previous government chose to implement it, the need was inescapable. When it was resumed in response to the omicron variant, the tracking was able to be reinstated for 24 hours by a cabinet decision; after that time, it required the approval of the Knesset.

This time, it was opposed by certain elements in the government who viewed it as an anti-democratic measure. The goal was to use the technology to trace the locations of people who were placed in quarantine and to ensure they hadn’t left their assigned locations; however, it also meant that the Shabak would have access to extensive private information about ordinary citizens.

Ironically, the measure was favored this time by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, the chairman of the Meretz party, who was one of the most vocal opponents of the same practice under the previous government. During the Netanyahu era, Horowitz himself declared, “All night long, there has been talk of using cell phones to track people. This is nonsense. It is much more than merely tracking a person’s location. All your movements, all your meetings [not to mention text messages and many other things that the Shabak is able to extract from a phone] and those of the thousands of people around you will be included in the data available to the government, and any government employee will have access to that information! I am a free citizen, and I am not willing to let the government enter my life in this way.”

That was the Nitzan Horowitz of June 2020. Yet in 2021, Nitzan Horowitz has spearheaded the government’s decision to reinstate the same tracking he had railed against. That was hypocrisy at its best. And who was responsible for the rejection of the measure? For the most part, it was torpedoed by the other members of the Meretz party.

A Government Trusted by No One

These days, no one trusts the government of Israel. When they decided to impose strict measures, shutting the country’s borders completely to incoming foreigners, the people felt it was a draconian step and unjustifiably harsh. After all, the government could just as well have permitted Jewish tourists to enter Israel while tightening the testing requirements. At the same time, when the government decides not to clamp down on activities and gatherings during Chanukah, the people feel that they are too lax. After all, is it really responsible to allow tens of thousands of people to gather together at a time like this?

The people also take a jaundiced view of the government’s supposed diplomatic accomplishments. Benny Gantz received a royal reception in Morocco, and it was perhaps the first time in history that Israelis in uniform (the members of Gantz’s entourage) were allowed to set foot on Moroccan soil. Nevertheless, an unspoken question lingered in the air: What price did Israel pay in exchange for these gestures? Was the price too steep, just as the government made a major concession to Jordan after Lapid’s visit to the country, and just as it paid a heavy price for the release of the Israeli couple jailed in Turkey on false charges? People have not bought into the praise that the government has been heaping on itself.

To make matters worse, Naftoli Bennett has been on the receiving end of blistering criticism for his family’s recent vacation overseas. Last weekend, the prime minister advised Israelis to cancel all unnecessary travel out of the country, due to the concern that they might return carrying new variants of the coronavirus. As it turns out, while he was calling on the country’s citizens to refrain from traveling abroad, his own wife and children were packing their bags and heading out of the country for a vacation.

Bennett was slammed from every direction for this. He released his own statement about the vacation, professing to be completely transparent about his own actions, but that did not alleviate the public outrage. He also explained that the past half a year has been very difficult for his children, but no one thought much of that explanation either.

Hypocrisy in the Media

At the same time, if this had happened during Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister, the outcry would have been a thousand times greater. In fact, all the journalists who count themselves as part of the “anyone but Bibi” camp — in other words, who are consumed with hatred for Bibi Netanyahu — decided not only that Bennett wasn’t deserving of criticism, but that he should actually be praised. Instead of bashing Bennett, they applauded his wife for doing what she felt was best for her children and completely disregarding her husband’s recommendations to the citizens of Israel. Some of their praises were utterly absurd and served to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Israeli media in its bottomless antipathy toward Netanyahu.

In another show of hypocrisy, several journalists (all enemies of Bibi) suggested that the media should actually ignore both Bennett’s wife and President Herzog’s wife. They explained that it is inappropriate for a woman to face public criticism solely because of her husband’s position in the government.

Never has a more disingenuous statement been made. The very same journalists had no qualms about attacking Binyomin Netanyahu relentlessly because of his own wife’s behavior. Sara Netanyahu has been hounded ceaselessly by the media ever since her husband became prime minister, and their son Yair has suffered the same treatment. (Netanyahu’s other son, Avner, avoids the limelight and has thereby managed to spare himself the flood of media criticism.) It is the height of hypocrisy for them to call for Prime Minister Bennett’s wife and children to be left alone, when they did not accord even a trace of that same courtesy to the Netanyahu family.

Strong Words from South Africa

Last week, I wrote about the travelers who flew to Israel from South Africa to visit the family of Eliyohu Kay and who were unceremoniously booted from the country upon their arrival due to an abrupt change in Israeli policy. As I mentioned, this forced the travelers to be mechallel Shabbos. They were placed on a flight departing immediately for Dubai, but even after that flight landed, they were not allowed to remain there and were instead forced to depart right away for South Africa. One of the women wept as she revealed that it was the first time in her life that she had flown on Shabbos.

Well, that wasn’t the end of the story. In response to the incident, the rabbonim and dayanim of South Africa wrote a fierce letter of protest to Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett. The chief rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, also issued a public condemnation of Israel’s actions, and added another point: “The State of Israel is the home of every Jew in the world, especially at a time of crisis. The total closure of the State of Israel to Jews throughout the world is a signal to other Jewish communities that Israel considers them to be second class. The new variant does not distinguish between Jews with Israeli citizenship and other Jews. The correct way to block the entry of new variants is to create an efficient apparatus for testing, including a period of quarantine, as was the case in the past.

“Do not close the gates of the State of Israel to us,” Rabbi Goldstein warned the government. “That is the beginning of a slippery slope, which may cause more harm than good. I call on the prime minister and the members of the coronavirus cabinet to give more thought to the potential repercussions before making that decision.” Of course, all this was in addition to his protest over the chillul Shabbos forced on Jewish travelers by the State of Israel.

A Peek into Israeli Poverty

In conclusion, I would like to make two more points.

First, I believe that recognition is due to the people in Eretz Yisroel who organized performances and events on Chanukah in accordance with the instructions of gedolei Yisroel, without compromising on the Torah’s standards of propriety. This made it possible for thousands of bnei yeshivos to enjoy entertainment that was fully appropriate. For instance, the municipality of Beitar Illit arranged an event featuring the brothers Aryeh and Shmuel Brunner, along with Michoel Streicher, stirring great excitement in the audience.

The Igud Bnei Yeshivos also held an event in the Old City of Yerushalayim featuring the singer Shloime Gertner. I wasn’t there, but I was told it was a very special event. Another two highly successful events were held at the Binyonei Ha’Umah convention center on the last two nights of Chanukah, both organized by Shulem Wagschal in collaboration with the chareidi radio station Radio Kol Chai. The main performer in the first event was Shmuli Unger, while the second featured Naftoli Kempeh. Both events were held for men only.

My second comment comes in the wake of a visit to the chesed organization known as Ohr Leah, which also maintains a kollel near the Brisk yeshiva, in a basement adjacent to the Avichayil bakery. I was awed by the incredible work done by Rabbi Eliyohu Cohen to assist families struggling with financial hardship.

Several years ago, I interviewed Rabbi Cohen at length about the conditions under which poor families in Yerushalayim live. This time, once again, he painted a rather disheartening picture of the situation in the city, revealing that many more families are being driven into poverty by the financial edicts passed by the current government. He showed me a series of heartrending letters he received, each describing the terrible plight of another family mired in poverty. He also showed me the packages that had been prepared to be distributed to poor families in honor of Chanukah. There were thousands of packages, each intended for a single family on his list. The numbers were staggering — and deeply impressive.



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