Lapid Hoping for a Quick Dissolve
The biggest story this week, of course, is the dissolution of the Knesset and the government. It is difficult to write much about the topic, since we still do not know at the time of this writing what will happen. There are two basic options: The first and most reasonable likelihood, in light of the circumstances, is that there will be a new election. The Knesset Committee will have to come up with a date for the election that meets with the approval of all the parties, and then the Knesset will have to approve both the date and the bill that calls for the Knesset to dissolve. At this point, the date under discussion is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, although there is still much disagreement about it.
The second option is for a new government to be formed within the current Knesset. Of course, that is the option favored by Netanyahu and the chareidi parties. It also seems to be the best decision on an objective level; an election will be a huge drain on the national coffers, and there is no reason for the country to undertake that expenditure if it can be avoided. But while this seems to be the better of the two scenarios, it is also less likely to unfold. Netanyahu is finding it difficult to gather 61 supporters within the current Knesset with whom he can form a replacement government.
As of now, Netanyahu and Lapid are both working hard, each pushing for his own preferred scenario. In order to become prime minister now, Lapid must ensure that the Knesset Committee brings the bill calling for the Knesset’s dissolution to a vote quickly, so that the legislature will dissolve and the date of the election will be finalized. The more time passes, the more opportunity Netanyahu will have to assemble a majority in support of a new government in the current Knesset, thus blocking Lapid from taking over as the country’s premier. Netanyahu himself, meanwhile, will be happy to see any delay that will give him a bit more time to recruit defectors from the previous coalition to join a right-wing government.
The Committee Game
At this moment, the coalition is trying to rush the bills to dissolve the Knesset to a vote, while the opposition is not in any hurry to see those bills passed into law. And yes, there is more than one such bill. Last Wednesday, the Knesset approved eleven different bills calling for its dissolution. There was no particular reason that eleven separate bills were needed; it was simply that as soon as one party decided to submit its own proposal, the others followed suit. The authors of the bills included Yitzchok Pindrus of UTJ and Michoel Malchieli of Shas, as well as several other MKs from the Likud, the Arab parties, and even Meretz and the Religious Zionism party. The catch, however, is that all of these proposals were approved only in their preliminary readings. The next step in the process is for the bills to be transferred to the Knesset Committee for further discussion, then to return to the full Knesset for their first readings, and then to be passed back to the committee to be modified again before undergoing their second and third readings. It is only after a bill is approved by the Knesset in those final readings that it passes into law. This entire process could theoretically be completed in a single day; however, in practice, it tends to take several days.
There are a couple of variables in this process that can make a significant difference: which committee will be tasked with reviewing the bills and how the committee chairman will relate to them. The Knesset Committee is always responsible for handling bills of this nature; thus, the proposals to dissolve the Knesset were sent to that committee as soon as they were approved. However, that is where the process hit a snag. The coalition asked the committee chairman to convene the committee last Wednesday, as soon as the bills were approved in their preliminary readings, but he did not comply. This may have something to do with the fact that the committee chairman is none other than Nir Orbach, who is widely believed to be helping Netanyahu establish an alternative government (and a right-wing one, of course).
In response to Orbach’s stalling, the coalition decided to bypass him and to send the bills for review to the Constitution Committee instead. This committee is headed by the Reform MK. Although this committee has never been the venue for discussing issues such as dissolving the Knesset, the coalition feels that they are permitted to violate any precedent or protocol that does not suit their agenda. (It must be noted, though, that they stipulated at the outset that either the Constitution Committee or the Knesset Committee would be authorized to deal with these bills. Still, it is a dramatic departure from longstanding precedent.) This looks bad and smacks of political machinations, but they simply do not care. The Reform MK told the media that if Nir Orbach moves quickly and schedules a meeting of his committee to discuss the bills, the Constitution Committee will withdraw itself from the issue; however, if Orbach delays, then the Constitution Committee will take charge of preparing the bills for a vote. It is clear that the coalition hopes to have the Knesset’s dissolution approved this week, and thus to avoid giving Netanyahu the time to establish a right-wing government in the current Knesset. But as I said, there is still a good deal of ambiguity on this subject.
The Hypocritical Government
And this leads us to one of the most hypocritical moves of the current government. This government justified its very existence with the assertion that Netanyahu was leading the country to a fifth election, which would be a disaster for the State of Israel. Naftoli Bennett and Yair Lapid repeated this mantra time and again, in order to convince the Israeli voters that they were merely pursuing the country’s best interests when they established a left-wing government with stolen right-wing votes.
There is no question, after all, that control of the country was stolen from the right. The political right has a clear majority in Israel. Gideon Saar and Zeev Elkin, the founders of the New Hope party, are staunch supporters of the right who were longtime members of the Likud. Several other MKs who left the Likud to join them, such as Sharren Haskel, answer to the same description. So while it is true that they carried the banner of the “anyone but Bibi” movement, they are still ardent supporters of the ideological right. Yvette Lieberman of Yisroel Beiteinu has likewise spent his life firmly positioned on the right side of the political map, and the Yamina party, led by Bennett and Shaked, also identifies with the right. How did all these politicians justify joining forces with the left and center, including Yesh Atid and Blue and White? They made only one argument to back up this move: that anything was acceptable in order to avoid a fifth election, which would be catastrophic for the country. They claimed that no sacrifice, even selling the country to the Arabs and the left, was too great to avoid a fifth election. Even including Mansour Abbas in the government and giving in to all of his stipulations was considered a reasonable price to pay for this purpose.
But what is happening now? Lapid is doing absolutely everything in his power, and Naftoli Bennett is assisting him in every possible way, to ensure that there will be a fifth election! Somehow, it has become more important to prevent Netanyahu and the right from establishing a new government than to stave off another election. And it doesn’t take much insight to realize that this has been their motivation all along. They were never truly concerned about preventing a fifth election, avoiding a massive outlay of government funds and saving the government and the state from chaos and turmoil. On the contrary, their agenda was always to keep Bibi Netanyahu out of power and get themselves in power instead of him. And there is only one word for that: hypocrisy!
Bennett Warns of Danger in a Right-Wing Government
Naftoli Bennett’s comments last weekend were yet another show of blatant hypocrisy. Last week, to mark the end of his tenure as prime minister, Bennett submitted to a round of media interviews. In almost every interview, he proudly touted his achievements, insisting that this has been an excellent year for the State of Israel and that he functioned perfectly as the country’s prime minister. He claimed to have done everything right and to have avoided every mistake.
The only error to which Bennett would admit was his failure to keep the members of his own party close to him. He recognized that they slipped away from him one at a time, beginning with Amichai Chikli, followed by Idit Silman, and culminating with Nir Orbach, whose departure, Bennett admitted, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. When Orbach warned that he would vote to dissolve the Knesset unless the Yehuda and Shomron Law was passed, and when Bennett saw that the law was bound to fail (since it was also opposed by Meretz and the Arabs, and it had already been defeated in one vote in the Knesset), he hastened to announce that the government had reached the end of its days.
This may well mark the end of Bennett’s political career as well. In his interviews, Bennett refused to reveal whether he intends to remain in politics or to return to life as a private citizen. And while he did not divulge his plans, it seems most likely that he will retire from politics altogether. The remaining members of Yamina will have to choose their own next moves. Netanyahu hopes that they will all support a new right-wing government in the current Knesset, including Ayelet Shaked and Matan Kahana. At this point, I wouldn’t say that it is impossible.
My main point, however, relates to another statement that Bennett made: “At this time, a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu would be a disaster for the state.” Bennett began his career at the far right of the political map, yet he is exiting the world of politics expressing an attitude that sounds more typical of an ardent leftist. In a dramatic shift, he actually expressed abhorrence at the thought of a right-wing government!
In any event, regardless of whether Bennett lied to the country at the beginning of his career and actually sympathized with the left all along, or he lied only in the middle of his time in the government when he made off with a large number of right-wing votes and used them to form a left-wing government, the bottom line is the same: He was one of the greatest charlatans and hypocrites in the history of Israeli politics.
Unanswered Questions on the Political Scene
There are two topics related to the government’s fall that really deserve to be discussed at greater length. The first is the issue of all the changes that the government planned to implement in order to undermine the Torah and religious life in Israel. There were plans underway to cause serious harm to the giyur system, the field of kashrus, and the status of rabbonim, and, of course, to create tremendous hardships for yeshiva bochurim and kollel yungeleit throughout the country. The government also exhibited great sympathy for the Reform movement, and there was even a government minister (Nachman Shai) who was assigned to advocate for the movement, while the coalition itself included a Reform member of the Knesset. When Rav Gershon Edelstein was told that the government had fallen, his immediate response was to attribute it to the zechus of Torah learning, an impression that is widely shared throughout the country. This is the end that can be expected for all the enemies of the Torah.
Another topic that deserves lengthier treatment is the assortment of possible political constellations that may yet be formed. For instance, there is talk of the possibility that Gideon Saar and Benny Gantz, the chairmen of New Hope and Blue and White, might choose to merge their parties and run as a joint list in the next election. Saar knows that the polls show his party failing to cross the electoral threshold; at the same time, his supporters can also bring in three or four mandates. Meanwhile, it is also possible that Benny Gantz will join Netanyahu’s government even now, taking the position of alternate prime minister or even serving as the first prime minister in a rotation agreement. And the future of the Yamina party must also be examined. Who will vote for the party after its constituents were betrayed by Bennett and Shaked? Why, in fact, do the polls still show them receiving between four and six mandates? Apparently those votes would come from leftists.
Another question that must be addressed is why Netanyahu still believes that he can find 61 supporters in the current Knesset. (The answer: Because there are some lawmakers who know that they will not be part of the next Knesset and might join his government to hold on to their seats!) And then there is the riddle of Itamar Ben-Gvir. Is it his presence that has caused the Religious Zionism party to soar in the polls? Or is the party’s success due to the fact that Yamina has lost all of its right-wing voters? Is Ben-Gvir a threat to the chareidi parties, or is there no reason for them to fear that he will siphon off some of their votes?
Bli neder, I will write about all this in the future. We have a relatively long election campaign ahead of us, and there will be time to address all of those issues at length.
A Few Words of Advice for President Biden
I can only imagine what the American ambassador to Tel Aviv (or perhaps Yerushalayim) is telling the State Department in advance of President Biden’s visit. I imagine the following missive, with the words “Top Secret” stamped in large letters at the top of the page:
“To: The State Department
“From: The Ambassador to Tel Aviv
“At the request of the Secretary of State, I am sending a summary of all the information that must be delivered to the president before he arrives in the Middle East and in Israel. At this point, there has been an upheaval in the Israeli government. The previous prime minister will no longer be holding that position, and the alternate prime minister will greet the president when he arrives. As for the prospects for the future, I can say with certainty that half of the people in Israel do not want Binyomin Netanyahu to serve as prime minister, since they loathe him. The other half want him to become the prime minister in spite of the fact that they loathe him.”
At this moment, as you can see from my speculative letter, it seems that Lapid will be the prime minister of Israel when Biden visits. But again, one can never know what will happen from one day to the next. Unfortunately, Lapid is a big talker and a man of little substance. I would ordinarily try to explain how he managed to become the prime minister of Israel; unfortunately, it is a mystery to me as well.
President Biden is coming to Israel at a time of uncertainty and despondence. The cost of living is skyrocketing, terror is rearing its head, and there is a general sense of frustration and hopelessness. The people of Israel are watching the behavior of the country’s politicians and bursting with outrage. If the government were a person, it would need to be given psychiatric treatment; its behavior has been erratic and irrational.
I would advise President Biden to keep his promises to a minimum. When President Trump visited Israel, he offered many gifts, but it is not at all clear that this was good for the peace process. On the other hand, he should not hold back his praise. Israelis tend to have a sense of inferiority, and they practically melt when they are praised. The president can also expect to hear a series of rambling, dull speeches from his hosts, who are known for their total lack of sensitivity to their guests.
Speaking of speeches, we have all gotten used to hearing boastful addresses from Israeli prime ministers, who can never seem to stop boasting that the country is a light unto the nations and the birthplace of countless startups, innovative irrigation systems, Waze, and cherry tomatoes. Lately, Israel has given another new invention to the world: the concept of an alternate prime minister. When he arrives this time, Biden can expect to be greeted by two heads of state: the prime minister and the alternate prime minister. And there is a strong possibility that they will jostle with each other for a spot in front of the cameras. On that note, the president should also be warned that it should come as no surprise to him when a cheerful-looking Muslim politician positions himself beside them. After all, that man is the de facto ruler of Israel today, a country where common sense does not exactly hold sway.
Let me share one more word on this subject: When President Trump landed in Israel, there was a member of the Knesset named Oren, a man in a gray shirt who caused a major stir, who stepped out of line to greet the visiting president and ask for a “selfie.” I would advise President Biden to be prepared for the possibility that he will receive similar requests, even from more senior government officials who are about to fade into obscurity.
Actually, I have a final piece of advice for the American president: Don’t come! He would be well-advised to wait until the future of Israel’s government becomes clearer. Within a few days, we will know who the next prime minister will be, and how secure he will be in his position. Perhaps it would be best for the president to delay his visit until that happens.
The Lessons to Learn
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the office of the opposition chairman, Bibi Netanyahu. I was there at the same time as Ikki Cohen, the son of the late Meir Cohen-Avidav, who held a seat in the Knesset as a member of the Likud party and wore a black yarmulke. Ikki Cohen is responsible for running Netanyahu’s office, and I observed that he was having a difficult time dealing with the volume of visitors to the office. Since that day, the government has fallen and Ikki Cohen has been blessed with a grandson. But I digress.
On that particular visit, I was accompanied by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz of this newspaper. Netanyahu said to him, “I hope that you are davening for this government to fall. If you daven just a little harder, it will.”
Evidently, Bibi had learned the most important lesson of all: Anyone who tries to fight against Hashem will ultimately suffer the same fate as the dor haflagah. In addition, Netanyahu had already sensed that the alliance between Lapid, Bennett, and their other cohorts was strained to the point of breaking. By that time, Nir Orbach had already given his ultimatum to Bennett, and the handwriting, so to speak, was on the wall.
Now that the government has fallen, sighs of relief have sounded from every direction. The people who set out to destroy the Torah world in Israel will be removed from their key positions, and an era of greater sanity will dawn. This government fell because it failed to govern the country as it should have, because it was an evil government led by people who reveled in wickedness and oppression. And it fell because falsehood cannot endure. The government disintegrated because it was a failure and because Hashem thwarted its designs. We have now seen exactly what happens to people who lack the single critical ingredient for success—siyata d’shmaya.
I believe that there are lessons that must be taken to heart from this experience. Most significant among them is the fact that the religious community must try to avoid antagonizing others. Of course, there will always be people who will not feel the need for a pretext to wage battles against Yiddishkeit, but that does not mean that the community should give them more fuel for their antagonism. It is sometimes important to try to understand those who see religious Jews as the enemy, and to try to come up with ways to mitigate their hostility.
When Lieberman spoke derisively about kollel yungeleit, accusing them of spending their days drinking coffee and insinuating that talmidei chachomim serve no purpose in the country, everyone was appalled. But Rav Mordechai Neugroschel responded by preparing the text of a rebuttal that was sent to the chareidi MKs. Perhaps it is time for people like Rav Neugroschel to step forward and to make an attempt, at the very least, to change the way the chareidi community is viewed in this country. Perhaps it is important to remember that just as the chareidim themselves felt oppressed and threatened under the current government, there will be a large sector of Israeli society, perhaps even half the country, that will feel equally unsettled when Netanyahu and the chareidim return to power. What can be done to prevent their discomfort? Is there any way to make the transition easier for them? At the very least, is there a way for the chareidim to avoid being the target of their hatred and animosity? These are the questions that must be asked and seriously addressed at this time.
Terror in Turkey
But let us put the political situation aside for a moment and focus on some of the many other stories that deserve our attention. As I always tell you, Israel is a country that manufactures news stories at a dizzying pace. For instance, there is much discussion regarding when the next chief of staff of the IDF will be appointed. The time has come for the current chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, to step down from the position. In general, the defense minister will nominate a candidate, or even two or three possible candidates, to fill the position, and then the cabinet will make its selection; however, the current government is no longer functioning, and as a rule, a government that is being dismantled does not make significant appointments. At the same time, it is considered intolerable for the position of chief of staff to be left unoccupied. But as of now, the appointment will be delayed. This isn’t the best situation for the army, but there is no alternative.
The latest events in Turkey also deserve some mention here. As I noted in a previous article, the National Security Council recently warned Israelis against traveling to Turkey, and some Israeli citizens who were in the country were contacted and advised to return home immediately. Before long, an even more alarming incident took place: An Israeli family was suddenly approached by Israeli intelligence officers on the street in Istanbul and was whisked off to the airport and sent directly home to Israel; the tourists weren’t even given the chance to return to their hotel to collect their belongings. Evidently, terrorists were waiting to ambush them in the hotel.
An even more disturbing piece of news emerged: It was reported that a group of Iranian terrorists were captured while plotting to carry out a terror attack, with one of their targets being the former Israeli ambassador to Turkey. The terrorists were apprehended in a hotel in Turkey, with large quantities of weapons in their possession.
In other news, a police official was convicted in court on charges of assaulting protestors during the demonstrations against Bibi Netanyahu on Rechov Balfour. This was particularly infuriating because police brutality is a far greater scourge during chareidi and right-wing protests, yet there hasn’t been a single police officer who was convicted of assault for any of those offenses. On the contrary, a high-ranking official who shoved a young boy into a wall and then slapped him was subsequently acquitted of all charges! One senses a highly disturbing double standard at work.
Widespread Love for Torah
I recently received a copy of a right-wing magazine known as Achshav. This particular issue, which was published before Pesach, featured a survey dealing with the public attitude toward Torah learning, and the results may be considered amazing. When the respondents were asked whether they believed it was important for Torah to be learned in the State of Israel, only 8 percent responded that it was not important. Another 16 percent felt that it was only somewhat important, and 75 percent asserted that it was either “important” or “very important.” This response was at its greatest prevalence among older respondents, but even the younger ones, who ranged in age from 18 to 30, largely attached value to learning Torah.
In response to another question, 74 percent of the respondents wrote that they were not interested in reducing the classes on Torah offered in schools (whereas 15 percent supported such a measure). Personally, I was surprised to learn that Torah is taught as a subject in Israeli schools at all. Meanwhile, almost 40 percent of the respondents claimed that they learn on a weekly basis, and 84 percent of that group claimed that they wished to learn even more. Another interesting statistic was the fact that 26 percent of men preferred Gemara over other forms of Torah learning, while 22 percent preferred to learn Tanach and 15 percent expressed a preference for halacha.
It seems to me that the results of this survey should be seen as an impetus for increased efforts in the world of kiruv.
A Slow Response to Moishy Kleinerman’s Disappearance
A terrible saga is currently unfolding in Israel: A young man named Moishy Kleinerman left his home 90 days ago and vanished off the face of the earth, and until three weeks ago, the police did nothing about the situation. Even when they began trying to locate him, it was only because of a groundswell of public outrage over their inaction. MK Moshe Abutbul put it succinctly last Tuesday when he told the Public Security Committee in the Knesset, “Not enough was done to publicize this story. We, the elected representatives of the public, must also learn from this.”
First and foremost, the police demonstrated an outrageous lack of responsibility. But it wasn’t only them; everyone was too slow to respond to the disappearance. Perhaps this was due to the sense that the boy left home in response to a family conflict and that there was no criminal involvement in his disappearance, but it still should have attracted greater attention.
Eventually, attempts were made to bring the issue to the fore. Then it was the Knesset’s turn to be at fault, when it foolishly turned down the request for an urgent discussion in the Public Security Committee concerning the boy’s disappearance. No fewer than five members of the Knesset filed a request for the discussion, titled “Moishy Kleinerman Has Been Missing for 78 Days, and the State of Israel Is Remaining Criminally Silent.” The request was signed by MKs Uri Maklev, Michoel Malchieli, Emily Chaya Muatti, Avigdor Maoz, and Idit Silman. But the Knesset presidium refused to approve it.
Nevertheless, the issue was raised in the Knesset, in the context of the one-minute speeches to which the Knesset members are entitled. According to the Knesset protocols, MK Michal Woldiger said, “Yesterday, I visited the mother of Moishy Kleinerman…. The family feels that they have been abandoned. They claim that the police haven’t done nearly enough to locate their missing son. The disappearance was handled by the police force in Modiin, while the incident took place in Meron. There was no manpower dedicated to it, no one traveled to the site of his disappearance, and no searches have been conducted. He has now been missing for 79 days. The family was forced to use money that they do not possess in order to hire a private investigator, to hire teams and recruit volunteers to conduct searches, and to rent buses and provide food and drink for the search parties, but the child still hasn’t been found. I call on the Israel Police Force to transfer this case to the northern division or the national division of the police and to deal with it with all the seriousness it deserves.”
Knesset speaker Mickey Levi seemed somewhat flustered in his response: “I would like to point out that MK Margi brought up this topic in a meeting of the presidium, and MK Toporovsky and the chairwoman of the Public Security Committee, MK Merav Ben-Ari, requested a discussion on the topic. A special discussion has been scheduled for it…. The police officials will be called in and a discussion will be held. I hope that it will be this week.”
“But the request for an urgent discussion was rejected,” Woldiger replied.
“But it will take place,” Yaakov Margi piped up.
Let me explain. In the meeting of the presidium last Monday, Margi expressed outrage over the rejection of the request for an urgent discussion. The Knesset speaker tried to defend himself by explaining that a different topic had already been approved for discussion in the Public Security Committee, and he did not want to take the unusual step of approving two discussions at once. In order to placate Margi, he suggested appealing directly to the committee chairwoman to have the committee meet to discuss the issue, and that is what was done. The result was the discussion held this Tuesday. But there is one thing that I do not understand: For the committee chairwoman to schedule a session of the committee, she does not need the approval of the Knesset speaker. I am not sure why Levi was involved in the matter at all.
In any event, my point is that everyone in Israel began to come to their senses last week and to take the disappearance seriously. Let us hope that Moishy will be found alive and well. On Tuesday, someone was arrested in connection with the case, but due to a gag order, no information was released.
Facing the Truth
Last Thursday, a pair of hespedim were delivered in the yeshiva of Kiryat Malachi for Rav Uri Zohar. One speaker was Rav Yehuda Amit, a master of hashkofah and chinuch and outstanding rosh yeshiva, who remarked, “Rav Uri Zohar opened our eyes. He was a famous man who came from there, from the place of falsehood to the truth, and who helped us to see the light…. In Parshas Behaaloscha, Moshe tells his father-in-law, ‘You will be our eyes.’ Rashi explains, ‘Whenever something eludes our eyes, you will enlighten us.’”
This was a novel perspective on Rav Uri Zohar’s extraordinary contribution to our generation. Rav Amit asserted that his yeshiva owes a special debt of gratitude to Rav Zohar—gratitude that should be shared by Klal Yisroel as a whole.
The other speaker was Rav Uri’s son, Rav Aharon Zohar, who quoted the Ramchal’s explanation of the subterfuges employed by the yetzer hora to prevent people from giving much thought to their actions in life. “The yetzer hora knows that if people were to begin thinking about their behavior even slightly, they would immediately begin feeling remorse for their deeds … until they abandon sin altogether,” the Ramchal writes.
“Every person has occasional moments of inspiration, but many people tend to suppress those feelings or ignore them,” Rav Aharon declared. “That was what was special about my father: He searched for the truth, and he did not try to run from it when it was revealed to him. That was his greatness. An entire group of celebrities met with Rav Zilberman,” he added, “and Rav Zilberman showed them the truth. They scheduled another meeting, and none of those men showed up for it; my father was the only one who came. That was because of his uncompromising quest for the truth and his refusal to flee from it.”