Wednesday, Jun 22, 2022

My Take On The News

The Government Sinks to a New Low

It is difficult to keep up with the pace of recent events in Israel. I wrote last week that the government seems to be marching steadily along to its inevitable demise. To be honest, I am not the only person who made that prediction. The entire country watched expectantly to see how—or whether—the government would survive the first week of its summer session. What happened in the end was simply unbelievable: In order to survive the no-confidence motions and the concern that the opposition might gather 61 votes to topple the current regime, Yair Lapid went to the Joint Arab List and basically asked them what it would take to convince them to vote along with the coalition. For those who were aghast at the government’s willingness to depend on Raam for its survival, this was a thousand times more outrageous. You can certainly see why the majority of the Israeli people are opposed to the current government.

The government made another astounding move last week as well. There was great fear that another defector might leave the coalition’s ranks and join the opposition, with the prime suspect being MK Yom Tov Kalfon of Yamina. Kalfon initially joined the Knesset under the provisions of the Norwegian Law when Matan Kahana, the Minister of Religious Affairs, gave up his parliamentary seat to focus on his ministry. To prevent Kalfon’s anticipated defection, Bennett ordered Kahana to step down from his post so that Kalfon would be automatically ejected from the Knesset. These are the terms of the Norwegian Law: If a government minister resigns from his position in the Knesset and remains a minister, his seat is automatically assigned to the next individual on his party’s slate. And if the minister later resigns and returns to the Knesset, the legislator who replaced him will be automatically dismissed. Therefore, beginning on Sunday, Yom Tov Kalfon was no longer a member of the Knesset and Matan Kahana was no longer a minister. (Yes, this is the same Kahana who has been promoting reforms of the kashrus and giyur systems and who accepted responsibility for the hillula in Meron.) This marks another low point for the coalition.

Meanwhile, President Biden announced his intention to visit the Middle East, including Israel. At first, this announcement sparked rejoicing in Yerushalayim over what seemed to be a historic diplomatic accomplishment. But then Biden revealed that he plans to visit a specific destination in East Yerushalayim as well and specifically requested not to be accompanied by Israeli officials. With that, the diplomatic achievement was transformed into a diplomatic blow. This is yet another testament to the government’s complete lack of siyata d’shmaya.

Bennett Is Blamed

This past weekend was a very sad time in Israel. Noam Raz, a commando in the Yamam counterterror unit of the police force, was wounded on Friday in a fierce firefight in the village of Burkin, near Jenin, during an attempted arrest of a suspect who had barricaded himself in his home. Shortly thereafter, Raz succumbed to his injuries. The 47-year-old policeman, a resident of the settlement of Kida, was survived by his wife, Efrat, and their six children. At his funeral, which was held on Sunday, many effusive eulogies were delivered.

Raz was shot during a joint operation of the IDF, Shabak, and Yamam, when the forces surrounded a building containing a wanted terrorist in an effort to prevent an anticipated terror attack from being carried out. Armed Palestinians quickly gathered in the vicinity and opened fire on the Israeli forces, severely wounding Raz. A helicopter was rushed to the scene and Raz was evacuated to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. After hours of exchanging gunfire with the Palestinians, the Israeli forces finally managed to take the wanted terrorist into custody.

Naftoli Bennett paid tribute to Raz by declaring, “We have lost a hero, a courageous fighter who gave up his life during a counterterror operation. During his 23 years in the unit, Noam participated in countless operations to thwart terror attacks, endangering himself and saving lives, as his superiors have attested, with courage and with modesty. We will continue to fight terror with determination and with an iron fist until it is defeated and we have restored the security of the citizens of Israel. This is the legacy that Noam has left to us.”

But in keeping with a pattern that has recurred after several terror attacks, Bennett was once again denounced by the bereaved family. His offers to visit the families of terror victims were recently spurned, and when he called a family on the telephone to comfort them after a tragic loss, they responded with scathing criticism. Noam Raz’s son has been the latest to heap scorn on the prime minister’s head. “You had the exact location of the house,” the orphaned son berated the prime minister. “You could have fired a single missile instead of endangering the lives of fifty combatants, each of whom alone is worth more than this entire government. Why does Hilleli have to grow up without a father? Why won’t Naveh be able to learn with him for his bar mitzvah? Why won’t Eitam be able to share a cup of coffee with him? … These leftists are selling our entire country to our enemies. How did we reach a situation in which the terrorists who shot my father were brought to the same hospital where he was taken? How does that happen? I have no more words; the time has come for action!” Before the funeral, Raz’s son declared explicitly, “My father’s blood is on Bennett’s hands.” It was a poignant echo of the words of the widow of Yehonatan Chavakuk, who was killed in the recent terror attack in Elad, who likewise castigated Bennett for the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death.

Hashgocha Protis in Every Area

The events of recent days have produced some chilling images, such as the pictures of an axe used as a murder weapon or pools of blood gathering beneath the body of a man who was brutally killed. Chazal’s teachings about the brutality of Yishmoel seem to have taken on new meaning in the aftermath of these events, both the murderous rampage in Elad and the firefight in the alleyways of Jenin. At the same time, there is a lesson to be drawn from this painful period: a resident of Elad revealed to me that while three men were killed in the terror attack, many other people experienced tremendous miracles that spared their lives. The incident could easily have become a tragedy on a much more massive scale, chas veshalom (see the separate article on this topic). While we mourn, we must also be cognizant of Hashem’s miracles and kindnesses to us.

As believing Jews, we do not question Hashem. We understand that Hashem’s calculations are beyond our ability to comprehend, and that everything that occurs in this world is decreed in Shomayim. That, too, is an important part of the lesson to be learned from these painful events. We believe that everything, even these horrifying deaths, is orchestrated from Above with perfect precision.

The weekly publication of the Klausenberger Rebbe’s teachings featured the following comment this week: “The very first foundation of emunah is believing that Hashem, Who created the entire universe, is the ultimate Cause of all things, and that nothing in the world happens on its own or without a reason…. My holy ancestor from Sanz used to recite the entire order of ‘Ani Maamin’ every day with blazing passion, and he would translate and expound on every word in Yiddish…. One day, someone mustered the courage to ask him why he did this. After all, the man pointed out, every Jew believes in Hashem. My grandfather replied, ‘You believe, but I know!’

“This is a great and lofty matter—to know and truly feel that there is nothing that takes place in the world that is not directed with hashgocha protis from Above…. It is not enough for a man to believe that the world has a Creator Who manages it in a general fashion…. Complete emunah is the belief that every act in this world, no matter how small, is a function of hashgocha protis.”

The Rebbe went on to share a remarkable story: “The Rebbe Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk was once teaching his talmidim about this concept, and he remarked that even when an animal leaves dung on the street, the exact location where the dung falls is determined by hashgocha protis. There was one talmid listening to this who wasn’t very wise or spiritually advanced, and he found it hard to accept that hashgocha pratis should apply to such a matter. The next day, that talmid rose early in the morning to immerse himself before Shacharis, and while he was walking down a slope on the way to toivel, he slipped on a patch of snow and fell. He hit the ground and his body continued rolling down the incline, and it seemed that he was about to be killed by the impact at the bottom of the slope; however, his fall was suddenly broken by a small protrusion along the side of the mountain, and he was saved. When he examined the protrusion that had broken his fall, he discovered that it was a clump of animal dung. That morning, when he arrived in the bais medrash, Rav Elimelech approached him and said, ‘Now you have seen that everything is coordinated by hashgocha from Above.’”

Let us daven for Hashem to exercise His hashgocha to spare all of us, in the merit of those who were slaughtered by vicious terrorists.

An Alternative Government

After escaping defeat in the no-confidence motions last Monday by the skin of its teeth, the government began to boast about its “victory.” The new coalition chairman, Boaz Toporovsky, who took the place of Idit Silman after her defection to the opposition, was quite pleased with himself and his political allies. But it is a sad situation when a government must rejoice over the mere fact that it hasn’t fallen, even though everyone agrees that it is doomed to disintegrate before long. A government that needs to crawl to the opposition parties and depend on their good graces for its survival, especially one that places itself at the mercy of the Joint Arab List, has neither a chance of surviving nor the moral right to continue existing.

According to the Knesset regulations, a motion of no confidence in the government must be accompanied by a proposal for an alternative government. United Torah Judaism presented such a proposal this week, and I was quite impressed with their conception of the distribution of power within the government. Their proposal named Moshe Gafni as the candidate for prime minister, followed by a series of other chareidi MKs assigned to various ministerial portfolios. In this imagined government, the finance minister would be Yaakov Margi, the housing minister would be Yaakov Litzman, and Moshe Arbel would hold the position of foreign minister. Yoav Ben-Tzur would serve as defense minister, Meir Porush would be the education minister, Michoel Malchieli would be the communications minister, and Uri Maklev would hold the position of justice minister. The Public Security Ministry would be headed by Chaim Bitton while the Health Ministry would be under the aegis of Yaakov Asher, Yinon Azulai would serve as Minister of Transportation, Yisroel Eichler would hold the position of Minister of Religious Affairs, Yitzchok Pindrus would be the Minister of the Economy, and Moshe Abutbul would be the Minister of Labor and Welfare. Finally, Uriel Bosso would serve as Minister of Agriculture, while Yosef Taib would be the Minister of Diaspora Affairs. This roster of officials would undoubtedly function far better than the ministers of the current government, who have done nothing but cause harm and destruction.

The basic principles of the government were likewise formulated by UTJ. For instance, the proposal states, “In accordance with the definition of the Jewish identity of this state, the government will preserve the Jewish character of the state in the public sphere and will work to correct the constant erosion of the status quo. The government will work actively to reinforce the personal security of its citizens, while fighting with resolve against violence, crime, and terror. The government will work to give priority in providing services to create equal opportunities for its citizens, regardless of their places of residence, socioeconomic status, or religious beliefs.”

Politicians Haunted by Their Own Words

Today, when every word uttered by a public figure is recorded and easily retrieved, politicians have been learning just how carefully they must weigh their words before giving a speech or even writing a social media post. (Of course, this can be a mussar haskel for the rest of us, as well.) For instance, the media has been digging up many of Yair Lapid’s pretentious statements, some of them from the very recent past, and exposing him for the fool he is.

One salient example is Lapid’s infamous harangue about the “jobs.” This diatribe, delivered during Netanyahu’s administration, accused the former prime minister of being interested only in handing out positions to his political cronies (“What is a minister without portfolio, anyway?” Lapid demanded sardonically) and of forming a bloated and wasteful government that was incapable of achieving anything. “We are sick of your corruption!” Lapid declared pompously. Today, the Bennett-Lapid government is the largest government in Israeli history, with a record number of ministers serving under the Norwegian Law, as well as deputy ministers and ministers without portfolio holding positions for the sake of their positions alone. There are plenty of officials in this government, under Lapid himself, who seem to have jobs that were created for them. Lapid has proven to be a champion at distributing meaningless jobs and wasting government funds in the process—the same offenses for which he excoriated Netanyahu. Both the office of alternate prime minister itself and his frequent travels abroad in his capacity as foreign minister have cost the taxpayers copious amounts of shekels.

Prime Minister Bennett’s words from the past are likewise coming back to haunt him. Two years and two months ago, Bennett wrote, “Bogie Yaalon, Gantz, and Yvette Lieberman are deliberately endangering the security of the citizens of Israel. As the Minister of Defense, I declare that an Israeli government that is dependent on the votes of the Joint Arab List would create a tangible and immediate danger to the lives of Israeli citizens and the lives of soldiers in the IDF. Their hatred for Netanyahu has robbed them of all sense.” Well, what will the Bennett of May 2022 do with the criticism voiced by the Bennett of March 2020? What can account for his dramatic turnaround?

I am sure that both Bennett and Lapid, who have both been exposed repeatedly as ugly hypocrites, would be very happy to burn all the records of their previous public statements and avoid being caught in further contradictions. But let us hope that this government, steeped in falsehood and hubris as it is, will itself soon disappear.

Guests in the Knesset

The Knesset is an interesting and lively place that sometimes serves as the backdrop for fascinating encounters. Last Monday, for instance, a delegation from America arrived in Israel, consisting of members of Rabbi Eli Mansour’s congregation in Flatbush. The visitors arrived for a meeting with the members of the Shas party, where they were joined by Binyomin Netanyahu.

This was not my only interesting experience this week. Sunday is usually a fairly uneventful day in the Knesset, but this week I arrived to find a group of distinguished-looking visitors from France in the building. The group met with several members of the Knesset, including MK Yosef Taib of the Shas party, who is himself an immigrant from France. I was introduced to an affable and distinguished-looking member of the group named Ariel Amar, and I was informed that their visit had something to do with the Abraham Accords, although the exact connection eluded me.

In any event, I found Ariel Amar to be a fascinating conversationalist with many interesting stories to tell. He spoke about the importance of the connection between the Jews of France and the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel, and he insisted that accommodations must be made to ease the transition for immigrants from France. He also expressed sadness over the immigrants whose children were enrolled in religious in France but were willing to enroll their children in secular schools in the State of Israel. He spoke highly about Yosef Taib and the relationship that had developed quickly and successfully between the two of them, and he related that he is vying for the presidency of a French-Jewish umbrella organization known as CRIF. The election will be taking place in another month, and as far as he is concerned, his motto echoes the classic words of Rashi, “Like one man with one heart.” Unity, he insists, is the key to strength. The French communities themselves must unite with each other, as well as with the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel. He also shared many fascinating stories about his encounters with gedolei Yisroel in the past. I have no doubt that I will meet him again.

A Blow to the Prosecution in the Netanyahu Case

I have barely written about the ongoing trial of Binyomin Netanyahu, but the criminal proceedings are still barreling forward. This week, however, the prosecution suffered a major blow.

The charges against Netanyahu are based on a meeting between Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Ministry of Communications, and Netanyahu, who was heading the ministry at the time, in which Netanyahu allegedly either hinted to Filber or told him directly to make certain accommodations for Bezeq and Shaul Elovich. If you remember, one of the criminal cases against Netanyahu involves his connection with Bezeq, Elovich, and the Walla web site. This meeting, which the prosecution has dubbed the “facilitation meeting,” was allegedly the context in which Netanyahu instructed his subordinate to adjust the regulations in a way that would favor Elovich and his interests. It still hasn’t been proven that Netanyahu actually gave any such instructions, but it has since come to light that at the time when the prosecution claimed that this meeting took place, it was actually impossible for it to have occurred. This revelation wasn’t enough to torpedo the entire case, but it certainly dealt a solid blow to the prosecution.

On Sunday, the prosecution appealed to the court to adjust the date of the alleged meeting as it is specified in the charge sheet. In its official statement, the prosecution admitted, “The District Attorney’s Office for Taxation and Economic Crimes recently asked the District Court in Yerushalayim to alter paragraph 64 of the charge sheet in the cases [against Netanyahu]. As you will recall, paragraph 64 states, ‘At an unknown time, very shortly after Filber’s appointment was approved and in the context of the quid pro quo relationship that existed between the defendants, Netanyahu and the Eloviches, defendant Netanyahu summoned Filber to a meeting in his office. At that meeting, defendant Netanyahu informed Filber that defendant Elovich had complained to him about the way that the Ministry of Communications was handling his businesses, and he instructed Filber to act in his capacity as director-general of the ministry to benefit defendant Elovich.’ The prosecution is asking the court to adjust the beginning of this paragraph so that it will state, ‘At an unknown time, after defendant Netanyahu decided on Filber’s appointment [rather than after the appointment was actually made] as above in paragraph 62, and in the context of the quid pro quo relationship….’ The remainder of the paragraph will remain as is. This emendation is necessary in light of an overall review of the evidentiary basis for establishing the date when the meeting took place, in light of witness Filber’s testimony on May 11, 2022. The prosecution asks the court to accept this request for the sake of the pursuit of truth.”

Thus, the prosecution did not change any of the details of its allegations regarding the content of the meeting; the attorneys merely sought to amend the date when the facilitation meeting was alleged to have occurred. Furthermore, since the defendants categorically deny that there was facilitation at all, and since the case presented by Netanyahu’s defense team includes the arguments that he would have made if the charges had originally placed the meeting before Filber’s official appointment, the change in the indictment would not impair the defendants’ ability to defend themselves against the charges. The prosecution also argued that all the evidence that supports the emendation was presented to the defense already and was also part of the body of evidence presented to the witness himself during his cross-examination. In addition, aside from Filber, the witnesses for the prosecution who have testified thus far were not involved in the facilitation meeting, and their testimony therefore does not have any bearing on the time when it occurred. Furthermore, most of the correspondence presented by Netanyahu’s lawyers regarding the timing of the meeting took the form of correspondence between Filber and other witnesses who haven’t yet testified in court. “Based on all the circumstances,” the prosecution concluded, “the defendants will still retain the ability to continue clarifying this matter in the cross-examination of witness Filber, as well as questioning witnesses and supplying evidence regarding the time when the facilitation meeting took place. This satisfies the tests established in previous court cases for an indictment to be amended.”

It doesn’t take a legal expert to cut through all this verbiage and figure out exactly what happened here: The prosecution suddenly realized that its case was about to fall apart, and it hurried to amend the indictment to prevent that from happening. This is highly unusual, and highly suspicious!

Death in a Prison Cell

There was a tragedy in Ayalon Prison a few days before Pesach, when a prisoner named Gur Hamel was found dead in his cell. The 52-year-old Hamel had been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering a Palestinian in revenge for the deaths of his friends Shlomo Libman and Harel Bin-Nun, who were killed in a murderous terror attack. Very few people had even heard of Hamel before his death, and even fewer supported him. It was later revealed that Hamel had cried out in his cell for help for several hours before his death. During a phone call with lawyers from the organization known as Honenu, which often supports people who were convicted of murdering Arabs in retaliation for terror attacks, Hamel cried out, “I am dying from pain! I am writhing with pain in my abdomen! Please call someone; they are not doing anything for me here!” Listening to the recording itself is quite chilling. Adi Keidar of Honenu immediately contacted the wardens at Ayalon Prison and demanded urgent medical treatment for his client. That evening, Keidar was informed by the Prison Service that Hamel had received treatment and his condition was improving. Nevertheless, he passed away in his cell on the 11th of Nissan.

This is a horrific incident that may be a sign of unforgivable negligence. (The Prison Service claims that they handled the matter appropriately and that a commission of inquiry was established, as always, to probe the inmate’s death.) The incident also focused the public’s attention on the inequality between Jewish murderers and Palestinian killers, as the Prison Service seems to discriminate heavily in favor of the latter. Incidentally, MK Moshe Abutbul submitted an urgent query about this incident, but the Knesset speaker did not agree that it deserved to be recognized as urgent, and therefore it hasn’t yet been answered. An urgent query submitted by Yinon Azulai regarding Meron likewise failed to receive approval.

Celebrating the Allied Victory on 26 Iyar

This coming Tuesday, the Knesset will mark the anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. In the rest of the world, this occasion is celebrated on May 9; in Israel it is commemorated on the 26th of Iyar, the Hebrew date of the event. Four years ago, the Knesset passed a law calling for a religious event to be held in the Kosel plaza to mark the occasion, and the practice has become a standard feature of the day over the past few years. For the sake of accuracy, it bears noting that this practice actually dates back further than the law itself; the event at the Kosel was pioneered by a certain Jew from Moscow named German Zakharyaev, who was also the driving force behind the law that made the celebration inexorably linked to the 26th of Iyar.

On Tuesday, I listened as Moshe Abutbul lavished praise on German (Gavriel) Zakharyaev of Moscow and on the leaders of the Conference of European Rabbis. “According to the law,” Abutbul said, “the anniversary of this event must be marked on its Hebrew date as well…. All of this came about on the initiative of the patron of the Jews of the Caucasus and one of the senior members of the Russian Jewish Congress, Mr. German Zakharyaev. Every year, events are held all over the world because of his initiative. Several years ago, Israeli children learned six million mishnayos! He also donated sifrei Torah in memory of those who were murdered. From this place, I would like to say ‘yasher kosach’ and to wish him many more accomplishments in his activities on behalf of Jews throughout the world.”

At the end of next week, there will be a very respectable event held at the Kosel Hamaaravi. Similar events will be held in shuls throughout the world.

“Don’t Touch the Beard”

Let us end with an entertaining story. I have written in the past about Reb Nissim Chajaj, my highly proficient barber whose skill with a pair of scissors is neatly matched by his wisdom. Between snips, Reb Nissim will often spout quotations from the Gemara and other sources in Chazal. Before Pesach, I arrived at his shop for a haircut and was surprised to discover that the clock on his wall was working. For as long as I could recall, the hands of that clock had been motionless, as if there was nowhere in the world for him to procure a battery. Yet now the hands had resumed their movement, and the clock even showed the correct time. “Is everything all right?” I asked the barber, indicating the functioning timepiece.

Nissim laughed. “Indeed, I never look at this clock, and it has been out of commission for a few years already,” he admitted. “It has never bothered anyone before, but last week there was a tzaddik here who did not realize that the clock wasn’t working and missed Mincha because he was relying on it. When that happened, I decided that enough was enough; I was going to see to it that the clock would work again. I put in a battery.”

It was a sentiment typical of my devout barber. It would never bother him to have a clock that isn’t functioning, but if another Jew missed Mincha on his account, he would be deeply distraught.

Having thus begun a conversation, Nissim continued, “Listen to this story. The rov of the neighborhood was here recently; he is very fond of me. We talked about all sorts of things, and I quoted various Gemaras and shared chiddushim with him. We also spoke about parnossah, and he said to me, ‘Nissim, do you want to have abundant parnossah?’

“‘Of course,’ I replied.

“‘Then let me give you a piece of advice: Don’t touch your beard,’ he told me.

“I replied, ‘Rabbeinu, there are forty days every year when I do not touch any beards, and during those forty days I do not earn a single cent!’ Of course, I was referring to the forty days between erev Pesach and Lag Ba’omer. The rov laughed heartily at that comment!”

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