Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

My Take On The News

Trump Slams Netanyahu for “Ingratitude”

To say that the world of Israeli politics has been beset by turmoil would be putting it mildly. And the current brouhaha just so happens to have been sparked by the previous president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Yediot Acharonot recently published some excerpts from an interview that Trump granted to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid. And in typical Trump fashion, the former president did not mince words. Ravid managed to secure the interview fairly easily; he received a positive response to his request very quickly, and his meeting with Trump was scheduled for just three weeks after he made the request. The interview took place at the Trump estate in Florida. Ravid remarked that he saw only two employees in the entire massive compound during his visit. “Trump looked very lonely, and possibly very bored,” he wrote. The interview was undoubtedly linked to the publication of Ravid’s new book about the peace accords with the United Arab Emirates, which is bound to be filled with praise for Trump. In fact, it seems that the book is going to be titled Trump’s Peace.

In one noteworthy moment in the interview, Trump expressed fury over the fact that Binyomin Netanyahu congratulated President Biden after the latter’s election. Actually, according to Trump, the word “election” is a misnomer. Trump himself, along with others, still believes that the election—and the White House—was stolen from him.

“My wife, Melania, was the first one to see the video, and she drew my attention to it,” Trump said. “I liked Bibi, and I still like Bibi, but I also like loyalty, and he made a terrible mistake. I was disappointed with him on a personal level. The elections here were very controversial, and they are still controversial. But even before the ink dried, Netanyahu recorded his congratulations to Joe Biden. It was too early, OK? Let’s put it like this: He congratulated him very early, before most other world leaders. I haven’t spoken to him since then.”

Trump was visibly agitated as he spoke. “I liked Netanyahu very much,” he said. “There was no one else who did more for Bibi than I did. There was no one else who did more for Israel than I did. But the elections in this country were stolen, and Netanyahu was the first person to congratulate Joe Biden. The leaders of other countries, such as Brazil, waited months. So did Putin and Mexico. They also felt that the elections were rigged.”

The impression that was created was very clear: Bibi Netanyahu used to boast that he and Trump were “like brothers,” and his close ties with the American president served to boost his popularity in Israel. But that favored status has blown up in his face. It goes without saying that Netanyahu’s enemies danced with joy when they discovered that the former president had turned on him. And it did not take long for his critics in Israel to begin rehashing and harping on Trump’s scathing comments.

The Criticism Backfires

Former President Trump went on to list other favors that he had done for Netanyahu, for which the former Israeli premier, in his view, did not show him sufficient gratitude. “Take the Golan Heights, for instance,” Trump said, referring to the fact that the United States finally recognized Israel’s claim to the Golan during his presidency, after all of his predecessors refused to do so. “That was a big deal. People tell me that it was a gift worth ten billion dollars. I did it before the [Israeli] elections, and it helped him a lot. He would have lost the election without me; it was because of me that it ended in a stalemate.”

Trump made many fascinating statements during the interview. Among them was the following comment on the Iranian nuclear deal: “It is a tragedy. Biden is returning to the deal now because he doesn’t have a clue. The Israelis fought against the nuclear agreement, and Obama didn’t listen to them.

“Listen to what I am telling you,” Trump continued. “If I hadn’t come along, I think Israel would have been destroyed. OK? Do you want to know the truth? I think that Israel would have been destroyed by now. They were not friends; if they had been, then they would never have made the deal with Iran. And guess what? Now they are going to do it again! If they return to the nuclear agreement, Israel will be in very grave danger.”

But it did not take long for people to begin examining the facts as Trump had presented them. The consensus in Israel is that the reason Netanyahu hurried to congratulate Biden, in spite of his personal friendship with Trump, was to protect the interests of the State of Israel, which would need the sympathies of any president elected in the United States. For that decision, Netanyahu deserves to be applauded, not condemned. However, Trump also claimed (in a part of the interview that I haven’t quoted) that Netanyahu deceived him and that he never truly intended to make peace with the Arabs, to return territories to them, and to stop annexing Arab land in exchange for peace. These claims are actually to Netanyahu’s credit. Trump’s criticism is evidence that Netanyahu put the interests of the State of Israel ahead of his own friendship with Trump. And that means that by badmouthing Netanyahu, Trump may actually have bought him added approval in Israel.

Barak Ravid may have been trying to disparage Netanyahu. Yediot Acharaonot, in its unprecedented coverage of Trump’s invective against the former premier, certainly wasn’t looking to do any favors for Bibi. The bottom line, however, is that the story reflected positively on the former prime minister, defying his critics’ hopes that it would sink his public approval. Moreover, it was later revealed that Ravid’s interview with Trump actually took place in February. Since then, as Trump himself has attested, he has “worked things out” with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s response to the revelations was relatively low-key. “I deeply appreciate President Trump’s great contributions to the State of Israel and its security,” he said. “I am also very appreciative of the importance of the powerful alliance between Israel and the United States. That is why it was important to me to congratulate the incoming president of the United States.”

The Netanyahu Family Loses Its Bodyguards

Bibi Netanyahu was in the headlines this week for more reasons than one. Another story that brought him back to the public eye was the loss of his family’s security detail.

Netanyahu himself, as a former prime minister, is entitled to lifelong security, along with a government-sponsored chauffeured car, office, and secretarial services. The same privileges are enjoyed by his predecessors who are still alive (i.e., Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak). The main question now is what sort of protection will be provided to his family. Half a year has elapsed since Netanyahu left office, and the future of the Netanyahu family’s security detail was discussed this week in the Ministerial Committee for Shabak Affairs, which is chaired by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.

In an ill-considered move, Netanyahu went public with his battle for his family to continue receiving security; he insisted that they are in need of protection since their lives are regularly threatened. His arguments failed to impress the Israeli public, coming across as more of a self-serving bid for prestige than a genuine concern. Netanyahu himself, as well as some of his close allies, warned the government that if his family members are harmed, the government itself will be to blame. But this argument did not prove very persuasive.

Even during Netanyahu’s time in office, it was fairly unusual for the family members of a prime minister to receive a government-sponsored security detail (along with associated perks such as a chauffeured car). But as long as he remained in office, this was somehow allowed to continue. Now that he is no longer serving as prime minister, it is perceived as completely unnecessary. Netanyahu reminded the public that previous prime ministers also received security details for many years after they left office, but this argument likewise fell flat, since the former premiers’ family members did not receive security of any kind.

This Sunday, the committee decided to uphold the decision it reached in the month of June and to remove the security detail that has been assigned to the Netanyahu family. In an official statement, the committee explained that the decision was based on professional assessments provided by the security establishment. In other words, the Shabak intelligence agency and the police had decided that there is no substantial threat to the safety of the Netanyahu family, in spite of Binyomin Netanyahu’s insistence to the contrary. Netanyahu reacted to the decision with outrage, which did not do much to improve his public image.

Bennett’s Blunder

Now for some news about the coronavirus. In Israel, the government has decided that we have entered a fifth wave of the pandemic, and there is much talk about a series of measures to be taken to suppress the new omicron variant. A number of cases of the variant have already been identified in Israel, and the countries of Africa are seen as the source of this latest mutation of COVID-19. Several other countries have already been labeled “red” as well. However, for those of us who live in Israel, the new measures that the government plans to implement are the most important issue.

The Israeli government intends to ramp up its battle against the coronavirus with new measures that will include a mandate to vaccinate children, or at least sanctions against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. The government also plans to ban public gatherings and to require shoppers to display their Green Passes (a document that proves that the bearer has received three doses of the vaccine or has recovered from the coronavirus) before entering malls. Above all, they plan to embark on an aggressive program of enforcing the mask requirement in public places. The law still requires masks to be worn in indoor public areas, but enforcement has been very lax, as the public has come to feel that we have put the pandemic behind us. The government now intends to begin intensive, brutal enforcement of this requirement.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bennett embarrassed himself severely in the course of his efforts to promote vaccination. At the beginning of the cabinet session this Sunday, Bennett repeated his call for the entire country to receive the vaccine, adding a dire warning that the new variant is sweeping through the world and that the Israeli people must be protected. To drive his point home, he informed his listeners that two boys recently passed away in England after contracting the omicron variant, since they hadn’t received three doses of the vaccine. There was only one problem: The story was false.

Later in the day, Bennett released the following statement: “Two days ago, the BBC reported that two British students in the same class contracted the coronavirus and died shortly thereafter, a week apart. I spoke about this incident at the cabinet session this morning, and I erroneously said that they had become sick with omicron rather than corona. Indeed, the two boys died after contracting a different strain of the coronavirus, rather than omicron. Either way, corona is dangerous to us and to our children. I have a request for Israeli parents: Vaccinate your children and protect them from corona, with all its variants. There is no need to book an appointment in advance; you can go directly to the vaccination points. Let us protect the health of Israeli citizens and of the Israeli economy.”

But while Bennett took responsibility for his error, he did not succeed in erasing the bad aftertaste of his error that morning. Meanwhile, his next step was to head directly to the airport for a 24-hour trip to the United Arab Emirates. Bennett seemed to be hoping that his diplomatic excursion will boost his popularity, but it is doubtful that he will gain much esteem in that way. For now, the government has further displeased the public by introducing yet another ministerial position, with the appointment of a new deputy education minister. Can this government possibly become any more bloated?

Another Terror Attack

The wave of terror is continuing, and the latest attack took place once again in Yerushalayim. Last Wednesday, a 26-year-old woman was stabbed in the back while walking her children to school in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Yerushalayim. The terrorist, a 15-year-old girl, escaped after the attack but was located and arrested in a nearby school, where she appears to be a student. The victim was taken to Hadassah Har Hatzofim and was listed in serious condition at first, but the hospital soon changed its report and announced that she was only lightly wounded. This murder attempt is the sixth in a series of terror attacks that have taken place in the months of November and December, including the shooting attack that claimed the life of Eliyohu Kay.

Speaking of that attack, as I mentioned in the past, Kay’s murderer, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, wasn’t a reckless young man whose passions were stoked by anti-Israel rhetoric. On the contrary, he was a middle-aged teacher employed in a municipal high school with an Arab student body, who lived in East Yerushalayim and received a salary from the Yerushalayim municipality. This week, three residents of East Yerushalayim were arrested on suspicion of posing with a picture of Abu Shkhaydam. The three suspects hung a giant banner bearing the terrorist’s picture in public area on Har Habayis, and Israeli soldiers removed the banner and tore it up.

It should be noted that there is great cause for concern in the fact that the terrorist was an Israeli Arab, an adult, and a teacher who was ostensibly in full command of his faculties. The Shin Bet fears that this is a sign that Hamas has gained control of the Arab populace of East Yerushalayim, which is quite a frightening prospect. But we have always known that if Hashem does not protect a city, no human being can guarantee its safety….

The question now is what, exactly, was gained from the arrest of the three Arab suspects. Now that they were taken into custody for a short time, will they stop hating Jews? And what about the thousands of other Arabs in the city? Is there any reason to believe that they will give up their aspirations to harm us? What can be done to reduce their implacable hatred for Jews? Destroying a banner and arresting three youths, only to release them a short time later, hardly seems to be much of a solution.

Rav Yitzchak Yosef to Skip Session of Dayanim Appointment Committee

The Knesset will soon be discussing the outrageous statement of Justice Shoham, who had the temerity to speak out against Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Rishon Letzion. As I explained in these pages two weeks ago, Shoham, who serves as the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary, received a complaint about the public statements made by Rav Yitzchak Yosef against Minister Kahana’s kashrus reform. Shoham decided that the complaint against the rov was justified and that the chief rabbi should be rebuked and possibly even dismissed from his post. As I mentioned at the time, the complaint came from the Reform movement itself.

With every passing day, the travesty of Shoham’s decision becomes even more apparent. Kalman Liebskind, a prominent Israeli journalist, demonstrated that Shoham, a former Supreme Court justice, openly shows preferential treatment to his colleagues on the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Esther Chayut, while discriminating against the dayanim on the Bais Din Hagadol—including Rav Yitzchak Yosef, who is currently serving as the president of the Chief Rabbinical Council and previously held the post of nosi of the Bais Din Hagadol. Liebskind’s article in Maariv last week presents some mind-boggling facts that deserve to be quoted at much greater length.

Four members of the Knesset—Uri Maklev, Moshe Arbel, Avigdor Maoz, and Shlomo Karai—filed urgent motions for the agenda to discuss Shoham’s outrageous comments, and the Knesset presidium accepted their motions. The issue will now be discussed in the Constitution Committee. It will be very interesting to see how the committee chairman, who represents the Reform movement, will deal with it!

Meanwhile, the Knesset presidium has once again shown its ability to blur an issue by grouping disparate motions for the agenda together under a single title. The four motions were combined under the heading “The Decision of the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary.” This bears almost no resemblance to the original title of Moshe Arbel’s motion, which read, “Justice Shoham’s Despicable Decision Regarding the Rishon Letzion, and the Double Standard Concerning Judges Who Make Statements on Communal Issues.” The other three MKs had likewise adopted a different title for their motion: “The Discriminatory Behavior of the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary.” For some reason, the word “discriminatory” was censored, resulting in the much more toneless title that was tacked on to the combined motions. And in my opinion, this act of censorship was completely inappropriate!

In a related piece of news, Minister Kahana announced this week that he had scheduled the next session of the Dayanim Appointment Committee to take place soon. Rav Yitzchak Yosef, whose position as chief rabbi makes him a member of the committee, responded that he will insist on attending the meeting remotely, since he refuses to sit in the same room as Kahana.

Kosel Compromise Officially Frozen

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that President Yitzchok Herzog touched off a firestorm by lighting a menorah on Chanukah at the Meoras Hamachpeilah. I predicted that Herzog would try to balance out his actions by attending a Peace Now event, or something of the sort. As it turns out, I was wrong only about the details. Herzog did not meet with Peace Now, but he did invite the representatives of the Reform movement—including the rabbi who serves in the Knesset, as well as the members of Women of the Wall—to the President’s Residence to meet with him. And these people brought plenty of ideas and attitudes with them that are completely foreign to Judaism. Anyone who danced with joy over the president’s actions at the beginning of Chanukah must have been bitterly disappointed by this move. And anyone who refrained from celebrating at the time undoubtedly felt vindicated now. In any event, this is yet another chapter in the Reform movement’s ongoing efforts to insert themselves into every part of Israeli society.

The Reform movement has not succeeded in taking hold within Jewish society in Eretz Yisroel. Israeli Jews, even those who aren’t personally religious, always prefer authentic Judaism over the bogus version peddled by the Reform movement. In their frustration, the movement has been pouring all of its energy and assets into a bid to destroy everything that is connected to Judaism. Of course, the judges of the Supreme Court are active participants in this campaign to undermine and chip away at genuine Judaism, as are several individuals in the Knesset who are currently holding positions of power. We can only daven that this evil government will soon fall and they will not be able to carry out their nefarious intentions.

Meanwhile, there is at least a small bit of possible good news. The chareidi parties called an emergency meeting last week (which is discussed at length in a separate article) and announced that any attack on the sanctity of the Kosel will trigger a full-scale political war. This seems to have swayed Prime Minister Bennett and Matan Kahana, the Minister of Religious Affairs, who announced afterward that they would not implement the Kosel agreement. For now, the plan has been frozen—undoubtedly out of fear of the million-man protest that the chareidi parties intended to organize. The problem is that if the government is not releasing an official response, there is no telling what the Supreme Court will decide to do. The court has already received petitions on the subject, which require it to release a ruling, and we all know that the justices of the Supreme Court fear no one.

Then again, perhaps we will soon discover that they, too, will be cowed by the prospect of public backlash.

At this time, the court is also dealing with another issue related to religion: After it ruled that hospitals are required to permit visitors to bring chometz onto their grounds on Pesach, a new petition arrived demanding the same rights for visitors to army bases. And I would not be surprised if the Reform movement was behind this petition, as well.

Tensions in the Air

There are many more things that I could write about, but I have to stop somewhere. Still, I must mention the hostilities that have lingered in the air in Israel’s mixed cities. Not even a year has gone by since the cities of Lod, Haifa, Akko, and Yaffo were rocked by violence and Arab riots, and some believe that the hostilities may be ignited again very soon. This week, the mayor of Lod warned the prime minister that the riots seem likely to resume—as if we didn’t already have enough troubles to worry about….

A very different type of violence has been recurring at the entrance to Yerushalayim every few days, as protestors have gathered again and again to demonstrate against the police and the courts. Remember Ahuvya Sandak, the young man who was killed in a collision between a police car and a vehicle in which he was a passenger? This was a terrible story that ostensibly should have led the police officers involved in the incident to be investigated and put on trial. In fact, that is exactly what Ahuvya’s family and friends are demanding, but the police seemed to have escaped judgment. This week marked the first anniversary of Ahuvya’s death, and the demonstrations were intense and furious. The problem is that the police have a tendency to lose their own self-restraint at these protests; they have been responding with brutal violence and have been using skunk water against the protestors, which has saturated the entire area (including my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul) with a horrific stench. Perhaps I will interview Ahuvya’s father for a future issue of this newspaper.

There have also been riots in the vicinity of the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik. The Jews would like to see the Arab residents of the area move somewhere else, but the Arabs themselves are insisting on the opposite—that the Jewish residents vacate the area. This has resulted in a prolonged, rancorous conflict. Every week has brought another “minor” incident, which gives us plenty of cause for concern. May Hashem protect us all!

With the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Yerushalayim

Last Monday, after midnight, I had the privilege of standing across from the Kodesh Hakodashim together with the Vizhnitzer Rebbe. The Rebbe sat and davened, and I observed him from behind. He held a list of names, each representing a person in need of a yeshuah, and he shed a tear over every name. He sat there for a long time, softly murmuring his heartfelt tefillos. And please do not ask me how I managed to gain access to the area. As you may be aware, that particular spot is always closed to visitors, and one must arrange for access in advance. During these tumultuous times, it is even more difficult than ever to obtain permission to visit the area.

A handful of chassidim, including two gabboim, stood silently in the background as the Rebbe davened, watching him with emotion. The rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, was also present, along with his right-hand man, Yossi Bloch. A prominent photographer (who is also a lulav vendor who provides high-quality lulavim to many gedolei Yisroel) was present as well.

In spite of my Litvish nature, I couldn’t help but be moved. In fact, I am sure that my emotions would have been stirred even if I hadn’t been a descendant of Vizhnitzer chassidim myself. (My mother was born into a chassidish home, where she spent her childhood years until the Holocaust tore her family apart.) My last visit to this spot had come many years earlier, when I accompanied Rav Yitzchok Kaduri to the same place for the same purpose.

“How should I introduce you?” one of the gabboim asked me when the Rebbe finished davening.

“As the grandson of Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson and the son of Rav Moshe Menachem Yaakovson, the rov of Beer Yaakov,” I replied.

The Rebbe’s face lit up when he heard that. My grandfather had a special connection with the previous Rebbes of the Vizhnitz dynasty, and my father was also close to the previous Rebbes (partly on account of my mother’s roots in Vizhnitz). With that introduction, the Rebbe treated me to an effusive brocha for myself and my family.

The Russian General Buried as a Jew

A few minutes before Shabbos began, Reb Shea Deitsch, the head of the Shaare Zedek chessed network in Moscow, received a message accompanied by a peculiar picture. The picture showed a levayah taking place in the snow, in a military cemetery, with Reb Shea’s son, Reb Avrohom Boruch Deitsch, presiding over the event. Reb Shea was aware that his son works as a kiruv activist in Kaliningrad, the city previously known as Konigsberg, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania situated on the coast of the Baltic Sea. But the story behind the picture did not emerge until Sunday. (Parenthetically, Reb Shea’s father is Rav Moshe Shmuel Deitsch, a famed tzaddik and prodigious baal chessed in Yerushalayim.)

As it turned out, the picture was taken at the funeral of a Jewish polkovnik (general), whose Jewish wife and son had asked for the deceased to receive a proper Jewish funeral with Kaddish and a minyan. The niftar’s son is also a military officer, and it appeared that he was the one who managed to secure authorization for a religious service to accompany the official military ceremony. Up to this point, this seems to be a fairly common story of a Jewish man who asked for a Jewish burial, and of a Russian general who insisted, against all logic, on his father receiving a proper Jewish kevurah. But what makes it even more amazing is that all of this came on the heels of a recent fascinating discovery, which may spell the beginning of a major transition in the family’s lives.

After the Nazi invasion of Soviet territory in June 1941, which was led by the Nazi general Kurt Christmann, the Jews in the city of Krasnodar were herded together. Most of the Jews were immediately massacred in cold blood, on the direct orders of the Nazi general. One Jewish woman, however, adopted a Russian name and managed to find refuge in an apartment belonging to her Russian acquaintances. Her life was saved as a result, and she went on to raise a family of her own. That woman’s granddaughter is married to the son of the recently deceased polkovnik. After his father’s death, the Russian officer began researching his own family history, along with that of his wife, and when he discovered that his entire family was Jewish, he insisted on arranging a Jewish burial for his father. He has also begun to learn a bit about Yiddishkeit. One can only imagine how this story may continue to develop….

Four Words That Changed History

Every year, I am fascinated by the Torah’s account of Yosef Hatzaddik’s tribulations—his conflict with his brothers, his enslavement and imprisonment, his rapid transition from prison to the royal palace, and his pivotal role in saving his family from starvation. And every year, I am reminded of a powerful comment that I heard from Rav Uri Zohar many years ago. Rav Uri noted that the chain of events that led to Yosef’s salvation and that of his family began with four words: “Madua pneichem ro’im hayom—Why are your faces desolate today?” In his prison cell, Yosef could have ignored the sour expressions on the faces of the two incarcerated officials. In fact, why should he have interacted with two goyish prisoners? But Yosef did take an interest in them; he made a point of inquiring about their welfare and asking about their moods. And this was the beginning of a miraculous series of events that led to the birth of Klal Yisroel.

I think the moral of the story is abundantly clear….

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