Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

My Take on The News

Lieberman’s Alleged Crimes Draw No Reaction

Election season in Israel is beginning to look like a circus. I would even say that it is sickening. The headlines were dominated by the allegations that Finance Minister Lieberman tried to hire a hit man to murder a superintendent in the police force when he was under criminal investigation 20 years ago. There is a certain person who was once very close to Lieberman and has been spreading this accusation in recent days. A few days after the allegations surfaced, Lieberman released a statement denying the veracity of the claims.

What bothers the public about this story isn’t even the possibility that it may be true. Rather, many people are questioning why the criminal justice system hasn’t taken the allegations seriously, and no investigation or probe has been ordered into the story. In fact, no one in the judicial system has even uttered a peep about these claims, whereas even the slightest misstep from Bibi Netanyahu always triggered an avalanche of criticism and protests on Rechov Balfour. Did Lieberman earn immunity from criticism on the part of the media and the judicial system by aligning himself with the left? That certainly seems to be the case, and it is utterly abhorrent!

And how did Lieberman himself react when he could no longer remain silent about the issue? This was his response: “This all comes from Netanyahu [in other words, Netanyahu recruited his former associate to slander him] and he is the scum of the human race!” That was how the finance minister of the State of Israel responded publicly to allegations against him. Of course, this coarse manner of speaking seems to indicate that he is under tremendous pressure, and his language was far from statesmanlike, to put it mildly. But this response, also, evoked no reaction from his compatriots on the left. The double standard is as blatant as ever.

An Uncertain Future for UTJ

As I have mentioned in the past, the deadline for submitting party lists for the upcoming election is the 15th of this month. The Central Elections Committee dedicates two days for this purpose, in this case Wednesday, September 14, and Thursday, September 15. I have witnessed these proceedings many times in the past, and far too many times over the past couple of years. The judge who chairs the committee sits at the front of the Sprinzak Auditorium along with his deputy chairmen, and an usher invites the representatives of the various parties to enter the room in a predetermined order. The judge shakes hands with group, and they sit down across from him and exchange a few pleasantries while submitting their forms. There are always a few bizarre party lists that supply us with comical moments during this ceremonial process.

Two days later, the campaign propaganda begins, and the country enters the frenetic mood of the last stretch before the elections. This is also the time when the petitions to disqualify various parties will be submitted. The right-wing politicians will ask the committee to disqualify the “representatives of terror,” while the left wing will make the same request about the “supporters of terror” on the right. The members of the Central Elections Committee vote along party lines, but the final decision is always made by the Supreme Court, since any parties disqualified from the election inevitably appeal the decision to the court.

While frantic negotiations will probably continue until the last minute, the basic breakdown of the parties is already becoming clear. Now that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have caved to the pressure from Netanyahu and decided to run on a shared slate, the focus is on United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazic chareidi party. The burning question is whether Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel will run together or disband their alliance. As far as Degel HaTorah is concerned, the main issue of contention is ideological, since the chassidus of Belz has ostensibly agreed to accept the regulations of the Education Ministry in its own institutions. Rav Gershon Edelstein has stated unequivocally that Agudas Yisroel cannot remain the partner of the Litvish chareidi party while making their own calls with respect to such fundamental issues. At the time of this writing, the two chareidi factions are conducting intensive discussions in an effort to prevent a split. The main concern is that polls show that Agudas Yisroel will not cross the electoral threshold if it runs separately, which would mean that the chareidi community would lose representation in the Knesset. It would also be detrimental to the right-wing bloc and possibly cost it the critical mass of 61 mandates needed to form a government. The representatives of Degel HaTorah are not concerned about their party crossing the threshold; they are confident that they will receive enough between 4 and 5 mandates and polls bear them out. Of course, I am not going to report in too many details on this internal conflict, but as soon as the outcome becomes clear, I will let you know.

Yair Lapid’s Daily Blunders

I could easily write a daily column with constant new examples of Yair Lapid’s foolishness; however, since this is only a weekly column, I will have to settle for that. This week, after an extended campaign of pleading and flattery, Lapid finally managed to secure a telephone call with President Biden. I can only imagine what Biden was saying both before and after the conversation; I presume that he joked about it with his doctors.

Personally, I was both amused and concerned by the statement that Lapid released after his talk with the American president: “A short time ago, Prime Minister Lapid spoke with President Joe Biden of the United States about the negotiations between the world powers concerning the Iranian nuclear agreement and the various efforts that are underway to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The two leaders discussed recent events and Iran’s terrorist activities both within the Middle East and beyond it. During this conversation, Prime Minister Lapid praised the president for America’s recent offensives in Syria.”

This short statement was a textbook example of foolishness and arrogance that can only do harm. Just this week, the media reported that Israel’s secret talks with Qatar failed after Lapid insisted on publicizing a telephone conversation. Lapid himself is a destructive force; he does nothing but cause harm, and his decision to publicize his conversation with Biden was no exception. Was he really certain that he had the right to make America’s actions in Syria an official matter of public record? And what did he gain by talking about the negotiations? The Americans and the Europeans have already rejected the man completely. The only reason that the nuclear deal hasn’t been signed yet is that Iran infuriated the Americans with a series of new demands; Lapid and Israel have nothing to do with it. What was Lapid thinking?

Even more irritating—and amusing—is the fact that Lapid referred to himself and Biden collectively as “the leaders,” as if they were on equal footing. Lapid is like the fly that sat on an ox’s ear while it was plowing the field and then whispered to the beast after a full day’s work, “Wow, look what we did!”

Will Bennett Return to Politics?

Forgive me, but I am not done with Lapid just yet. This week, Lapid released yet another statement: “In spite of the election campaign, the summer, and the holidays, this government is hard at work. Together with the defense minister, the alternate prime minister, and the defense establishment, we are conducting intensive efforts to prevent the nuclear agreement from being signed.” Again, who is even talking to Lapid today? The negotiations are between America and Iran; Israel is not involved at all. And what holidays is he referring to? Two weeks ago, he similarly praised Moshe Leon for continuing to make progress in Yerushalayim in spite of “the holidays.” Something is undeniably off about the man.

Parenthetically, Naftoli Bennett is still holding the title of alternate prime minister. His official responsibility is to deal with the Iran issue, yet he is not actually participating in any of the discussions concerning Iran. What madness! Moreover, this week there were some hints that Bennett is considering rescinding his decision to resign from politics. He discovered that the polls show that his party will cross the electoral threshold if he returns, and he is therefore tempted to step back into the ring. After much twisting in the wind, he issued a statement that he will not run.

Not long ago, I wrote in jest that when Lapid was handing urgent notes to his personal advisor during important meetings, it was probably about the only thing that concerned him: making sure that the photographers from the Government Press Office were shooting him from the best possible angle. Little did I imagine that we would discover just two weeks later that this was actually the truth! I also recently wrote that Netanyahu had told me that Lapid is the best possible prime minister as far as the Americans are concerned. When I asked why, Netanyahu replied, “He will be their lackey.” As it turns out, Lapid is even less than that; the Americans do not even pay attention to him. And it is no wonder that the Democratic presidents of America were so repelled by Netanyahu, who didn’t hesitate to adopt a tough stance in his dealings with them.

Miracle on the Jordan Valley Road

I do not know if you are familiar with Route 90, otherwise known as the Jordan Valley Road, which runs from Teveria to Yericho and from there to Yerushalayim. It is a very narrow road, with only one lane in each direction. The terrorists who struck there this week knew exactly what they were doing: They targeted a bus carrying dozens of soldiers, seemingly aware that novice soldiers are brought to the military bases in the area every Sunday. Most of those bases belong to the division of the army known as the Kfir Brigade. And the terrorists were probably also aware that the soldiers tend to be unarmed. Israeli officials are working under the assumption that the terrorists were very well-informed, and that their attack on this particular bus on that particular road was not a random choice at all.

There were three terrorists, and they were clearly planning to carry out a massacre. Their van blocked the road, and the bus driver had nowhere to turn. The terrorists emerged from their vehicle and fired on the 60-year-old driver with three weapons, wounding him with their bullets. (The driver is listed in moderate to serious condition.) The next stage of their plan was to use the explosive materials in their car, which was packed with gasoline and homemade explosives. Had they managed to set the bus on fire quickly enough, dozens of soldiers would almost certainly have been trapped in the burning vehicle. And if any of the soldiers had managed to break the windows or open the doors to escape from the vehicle, they would have been greeted by a hail of bullets from the terrorists. Horrific!

Once again, this should give you an idea of the sort of challenges posed by terror in Israel today. And you should understand that terror is a phenomenon that tends to propagate itself. Any attempt to murder Jews, especially if it succeeds in taking a Jewish life or even wounding a victim, inspires these creatures to commit further attacks. In the terrorists’ twisted minds, murdering a Jew is the greatest possible accomplishment—especially if the terrorist himself dies along with his victim.

The Miracle That Foiled the Attack

Once again, this incident is a clear sign of the Heavenly protection that is accorded to Klal Yisroel at all times; this was a potential bloodbath that turned into an incident that was, in comparison, relatively minor. And one can only imagine how many other such plans are thwarted before the terrorists have a chance to carry them out at all.

As it turned out, one of the commanding officers on the bus was armed, and he opened fire on the three terrorists. One of the terrorists had already managed to pour gasoline on the bus, but the gunfire emanating from the vehicle forced him and his two accomplices to flee. They entered their van and began driving away, although it is hard to believe that they would have managed to escape; even though there are Palestinian settlements in the vicinity of the scene of the attack, the entire area is closely monitored by security cameras, including aerial ones. The terrorists’ chances of escaping were probably nil. However, their escape was thwarted by another factor as well: Their vehicle, which was filled with explosive materials, caught fire. It is still unclear what ignited the flames, but the fire does not seem to have been caused by gunshots from the bus filled with soldiers. It is more reasonable to assume that it was the result of a chain of mishaps and negligence (and perhaps typical foolishness) on the part of the terrorists themselves.

Realizing that their own vehicle was on fire, the terrorists ran for their lives. Two of them were captured and were found to have sustained severe burns. The third, who was probably similarly burned, escaped into the nearby shrubbery. His accomplices claimed that he was armed. As of Monday afternoon, the escaped terrorist remains at large, which is somewhat surprising. In any event, the security services are aware of his name and all of his identifying details.

Seven occupants of the IDF bus were injured in the attack, including one soldier who was seriously wounded and the driver, who was considered moderately injured. The rest of the victims suffered only from light injuries. All of the wounded were transferred to Rambam Hospital, and most of them have already been released.

Six Terror Attacks in Ten Days

The attack on the Jordan Valley Road was the sixth attempted murder of Jews over the past ten days. As I have written repeatedly, Palestinian terror does not rest. The terrorists are constantly plotting to attack and harm Jews. Before this shooting attack, there was another attempt on the lives of soldiers in Kiryat Arba last Friday. The hero in that story was M., a soldier in the Givati Brigade who neutralized the terrorist during a stabbing attack. M. himself is trained as a paramedic, and after shooting the terrorist, he provided lifesaving first aid to a soldier who was stabbed in the neck and continued monitoring his condition until help arrived.

The young man recounted his experience as follows: “We were standing guard over the public transportation lane when the terrorist came up behind us and stabbed my team sergeant. I opened fire, the terrorist was neutralized, and then I secured the area. As a paramedic, I provided lifesaving treatment to the sergeant. We will continue to work day and night to protect the Chevron area and all the citizens of Israel.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced in response that he wished a speedy recovery to the IDF soldier who was wounded in the attack, and that he wished to praise the soldier who neutralized the terrorist and thus prevented a much more serious tragedy.

This terror attack took place at the Beit Einun junction, which has witnessed many attempted acts of terror in the past and was a focal point for the violence during the “knife intifada” in October 2015. The military post is adjacent to the entrance to Chevron for Palestinians, and many Arabs pass through this area every day. Based on the initial investigation, it seems that the terrorist emerged from a car and approached the 19-year-old soldier from behind before stabbing him in the neck. The other soldier stationed at the post immediately fired at the terrorist three times and liquidated him. The wounded sergeant was evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital while fully conscious.

Eliyohu Libman, director of the Kiryat Arba Council, said after the attack, “I would like to thank the soldiers and police officers who stand here and protect us at all times and in every type of weather. Terror will not deter us from living here. We will continue developing this place and bringing hundreds of thousands of people to our area to visit the Meoras Hamachpeilah to daven, and we will attract more young couples to live here as well. Next year, we will once again open new preschools and schools, just as we did during this academic year. I demand a restoration of deterrence, and I call on the State of Israel to exact a heavy price from anyone who harms Jews or their supporters, in Israel or anywhere in the world.”

150 Terror Attacks in 2022

Before the country could recover from the terror attack on the Jordan Valley Road, terrorists struck again, this time in the vicinity of Neve Tzuf, where an explosive device was thrown at a group of soldiers on Sunday evening. Four soldiers were lightly wounded in the attack and required medical treatment; one of the victims was transported to Tel Hashomer Hospital. This was the seventh terror incident in ten days; may Hashem protect us!

Here are a few chilling statistics: Based on data presented to the security services, there has already been a significant uptick in terror attacks in the year 2022. There were only 91 attacks in the entirety of the year 2021, 16 of which targeted civilians while the other 75 were committed against security forces. The year 2022, meanwhile, has already seen over 150 terror attacks, with 19 directed against civilians and over 130 targeting the security forces. Most of the terror attacks did not result in injuries—which demonstrates that we are living with miracles on a daily basis!

These statistics do not include incidents of rock throwing or the use of Molotov cocktails; however, the figures do include gunfire directed at soldiers and police who entered Palestinian towns and villages. The statistics indicate a sharp increase in terror attacks, especially acts of violence directed against security forces. At the same time, there has been a major increase in the number of arrests carried out by security forces in Yehuda and Shomron, with over 1200 suspects arrested since the beginning of Operation Break the Wave.

Bochurim Who Inspire

We are already well into the month of Elul and tens of thousands of bochurim and yungeleit have already returned to their yeshivos and kollelim. Now it is time to wake up to the message of Elul and to cry out to Hashem for mercy, while modeling our own aspirations after those young men whose voices echo in the botei medrash throughout the country. And there is something else that I find refreshing and inspiring at this time of year: the sight of young men, newly introduced to the religious world, arriving at Slichos with yarmulkes that they hastily pulled out of their pockets or borrowed from their grandfathers. And the boys who have actually left their secular high schools to join the ranks of talmidei yeshivos are deserving of special praise.

This week, a kiruv activist (who did not want me to share his name but was willing to reveal that he works under the aegis of the Wolfson family’s kiruv network) showed me a report of his recent accomplishments, which consisted of a long list of names of bochurim entering various yeshivos, including institutions in Telz Stone, Kiryat Sefer, Beer Yaakov, and Kiryat Malachi. What a wonderful achievement!

I have actually offered to write about the yeshiva in Kiryat Malachi several times in the past, but the yeshiva administration is not interested in publicity. Nevertheless, anyone who enters its bais medrash is bound to emerge as a changed person. I once heard Rav Yitzchok Hacker, rosh yeshivas Grodno in Beer Yaakov, telling a young baal teshuvah, “There is a tremendous quality to Kiryat Malachi. I know bochurim who have been shaped by the shmuessen of Rav Yehuda Amit.” The yeshiva somehow maintains a perfect balance of bochurim from mainstream yeshivos such as Ponovezh, Bais Mattisyohu, Brachfeld, and Landau’s, and former students of secular high schools who have since become religious. The talmidim influence each other and manage to boost each other to ever higher heights, to the point that it becomes impossible to differentiate between the two groups. The sight of these former students of secular schools reaching enormous spiritual heights is unfailingly inspiring.

On the topic of kiruv, Rav Uri Zohar often used to quote the posuk, “If you extract the precious from the vile, you will be like My mouth” (Yirmiyohu 15:19). Rashi comments on this posuk, “‘You will be like My mouth’—that I will make a decree and you will overturn it.” A kiruv worker who transforms the lives of others, guiding irreligious Jews to the path of Torah, is given the power to overturn a Divine decree! And the same presumably applies to a person who extracts the “precious from the vile” within himself. These people should be a lesson to the rest of us as well.

Herzog in the Bais Medrash

Public figures in Israel often visit various schools in honor of the beginning of the school year. Binyomin Netanyahu, for instance, visited a school in Netanya this week. The chareidi community’s school year begins somewhat earlier, on Rosh Chodesh Elul rather than September 1. This year, President Yitzchok Herzog decided to visit various chareidi schools in the city of Elad on Wednesday, the fourth of Elul, during their first week of studies. His first visit was to Yeshivas Torah B’Tifartah, where he sat together with the bochurim and joined their discussion about a sugya in the Gemara.

Herzog sat on a bench between two yeshiva bochurim and learned a sugya together with them. What I found most impressive about it, though, was that the bochurim surrounding them went on with their own learning, not even casting a glance in the president’s direction.

Herzog’s next stop was a local Talmud Torah, which he visited along with the mayor of the city, Yisroel Porush. There was a particularly bittersweet moment during that visit, when Herzog gave a special gift to Naharai Gol, a child whose father, Boaz Gol, had been murdered during the recent terror attack in Elad. When he finished his tour of the city, the president said, “I was happy to mark the beginning of the school year together with the chareidi educational system here in Elad. Unfortunately, the residents of this city recently experienced a harrowing terror attack, but today I saw smiles and joy on the faces of the students, the parents, the teachers, and the principals. I hope to see such smiles tomorrow everywhere else in the country, when the secular school system begins its new year.” Herzog thanked the mayor and other city officials, along with the school principals and faculties, for hosting him on his visit.

True, the president of Israel hasn’t become chareidi, and he is capable of paying the same type of visit to a Reform institution. Nevertheless, a good word deserves to be recognized.

A New Road and a Fake Claim

This week, a new road in Yerushalayim was opened to traffic. The road begins in the hills near the entrance to the city and leads directly to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, with an exit to the neighborhood of Har Nof. Anyone who needs to access that part of Yerushalayim will no longer need to travel there via the main entrance to the city. This will save time and will also reduce the regular traffic congestion at the entrance to Yerushalayim. The new road, which came with a price tag of 3 billion shekels, took three years to complete, which is considered quite fast by Israeli standards. The bad news is that trees were planted in honor of the road’s inauguration, even though it is customary for the establishment in Israel to observe the halachos of shemittah. It was also disappointing that the current Minister of Transportation took credit for the new road, even though she hardly deserves any credit at all; the initiative began and was nearly brought to completion under the Netanyahu government.

Merav Michaeli, the Minister of Transportation, also sparked outrage when she announced again that she intends to do everything in her power to promote public transportation on Shabbos. She even claimed that the failure to operate the light rail in Tel Aviv on Shabbos is costing the state about one billion shekels every year. Of course, we know that that would not be a reason to desecrate the sanctity of Shabbos, but in any event, professional sources revealed that the claim itself was bogus. On the contrary, they showed that running the light rail would itself cause a financial loss to the state.

Meanwhile, the prices of milk and dairy products have risen by 4.9 percent. This is something that hasn’t happened in many years and that represents another blow to the wallet of the Israeli consumer. Thanks to the rapidly rising prices of all sorts of basic commodities, the spiking cost of living in Israel has become the central focus of the current election campaign.

There were two other important pieces of news this week. First of all, the Foreign Ministry issued a warning for travelers to refrain from going to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Second, the country is reeling from a couple of horrific tragedies: In Tzefas, a six-month-old baby tragically passed away. Before we could recover from that news, we were informed of the death of Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Anshin, a distinguished Breslover chossid in Beit Shemesh from a well-known family, who was killed by a truck on Sunday evening. A few hours later, a bochur named Nehorai Shalom was killed on Highway One, near Telz Stone. Unfortunately, it seems that the middas hadin is still in force.

A Child’s Cry

Let me conclude with a brief thought about the meaning of the shofar’s blast. I will never forget the brilliant moshol with which Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus explained the impact of tekias shofar. He vividly described a child waiting in his room to receive his punishment for a recent bout of mischief. As his parents prepare to discipline him for his misbehavior, they suddenly hear a terrifying scream. The boy has accidentally slammed the door on his finger, and he is seriously injured. Suddenly, the punishment is forgotten, as his parents whisk him off to the emergency room and dote on him with compassion and concern.

“That cry,” Rav Pincus used to say, “is the sound of the shofar!”

I once heard a similar thought from Rav Moshe Goldstein, the famed expert on chinuch and kiruv who serves as rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ayeles Hashachar. Rav Goldstein presented the following moshol: A prince once left the fold, traveling far away from the royal palace and forgetting his upbringing, his father’s home, and even the language with which he was raised. After many years of estrangement, he returned to the palace, but he had changed beyond recognition and even his father was unaware of his identity. Then the prince shouted a word that was known only to the members of the royal family, and he was welcomed back to his parents’ home.

The prince’s cry, Rav Goldstein explained, is similar to the sound of the shofar that will herald our redemption. We have changed beyond recognition, but when the shofar sounds, we will be connected to our roots once again.

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