Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

My Take on the News

Another Terror Attack Averted

I began my column last week with a report on the terror attack in the Jordan Valley, and I emphasized the fact that it ended miraculously. The incident very nearly ended in a massacre, as the three terrorists (all local residents) were on the verge of setting fire to the bus and killing all of the newly inducted soldiers who occupied it. Well, this week I have a similar story to report. The site of the miracle this time was the city of Yaffo.

Yaffo is essentially an extension of Tel Aviv. It is perhaps best known for its population of Israeli Arabs and for the large clock tower that stands in a square in the middle of the city. Every Israeli has passed the Yaffo Clock Tower at some point, since it is located on the route leading from Tel Aviv, especially the area containing the hotels, embassies, and beaches, to Yerushalayim. The Clock Tower also happens to be adjacent to a large police station.

On Thursday, several police officers noticed a suspicious-looking individual in the vicinity of the tower. When they approached him, he made no attempt to flee or to resist them; even though he was armed with a veritable arsenal of ammunition and with a machine gun that could have killed dozens of people, he did not even attempt to shoot the police officers. Instead, he meekly surrendered to them and handed his weapons to them, admitting that he had been on the verge of opening fire on passersby.

The media repeatedly emphasized that the terrorist was carrying a submachine gun and two pipe bombs. With these weapons, he could easily have perpetrated a mass slaughter. The terrorist himself confessed that he had planned on opening fire on the civilians and security forces in the area and then throwing his pipe bombs into the crowd and escaping. Interestingly, he had a criminal record, having been arrested in the past when he was caught on Har Habayis with a knife during Ramadan. According to one official in the defense establishment, the man was planning on carrying out a major terror attack, and his arrest prevented an act of mass murder. Prime Minister Lapid met with the two police officers who arrested the would-be terrorist and praised them for their actions. Any intelligent person can understand that this was an overt miracle.

Israel in Need of Heavenly Mercy

This incident should draw our attention once again to the constant attempts by Arabs to commit acts of terror in Israel. Security experts have declared with certainty this week that we are about to witness a wave of terror attacks—Hashem yishmor—in the main cities in Israel. The wave of terror over the past few weeks has focused on the areas of Yehuda and the Shomron, and there was some uncertainty as to whether the terrorists planned to cross the Green Line and to begin carrying out attacks in the large cities as well, as they did in the previous wave of terror. However, the defense establishment seems to have resolved that question, at least partly due to the incident in Yaffo.

There is a significant difference between a terror attack in Yehuda or the Shomron and one in Israel within the Green Line. It is much easier for terrorists to strike in an area that is directly connected to the towns and villages inhabited by Arabs. The terrorists do not need to traverse large distances to attack Jews there, and they can operate on the very same roads that they utilize regularly. All they need to do is set up an ambush on the road and then hurl a rock or a homemade explosive at a Jewish-owned car. As far as the Israelis are concerned, it is still a heinous act of murder; from the Palestinian perspective, though, it isn’t considered much of a heroic act. And Hamas and Hezbollah have recently been pushing Palestinians to carry out “heroic” terror attacks—which means striking in large and heavily populated cities. Of greatest concern to us is the possibility that they may target those cities on Rosh Hashanah and/or Sukkos.

Why are these terror organizations ramping up the pressure in this way? Because they want to show that they are the ones in charge (as opposed to the more “moderate” Abu Mazen of the PA), and because they want to ruin the Jewish holidays and undermine the morale of the people of Israel. (Of course, they are also motivated by their general appetite for the murder of Jews.) A murderous attack in Yerushalayim or Tel Aviv, chas v’sholom, would make a far greater dent in Israeli morale than an attack on the roads in Yehuda and Shomron. In addition, there is the fact that the Yomim Tovim make for a tempting time for terror, and that Arab extremists are gaining influence while Abu Mazen’s popularity and power are waning. (Some say that he is approaching the end of his reign, and possibly the end of his life as well.) Hence, on Sunday night the defense experts in Israel issued their dire warning.

Incidentally, whenever you read about “wanted terrorists” who were apprehended, let me tell you how to read between the lines: This happens almost every day, and it means that the terrorists were arrested while on their way to commit an actual attack. To make this even more chilling, let me add that the Shabak has been foiling terror attacks every day, completely unbeknownst to the citizens of Israel. Here in Israel, we are in dire need of Heavenly mercy!

Michaeli Pushes Public Transportation on Shabbos

Let us turn our attention to the elections, beginning with an issue that has arisen only because of the election and that should not be taken lightly. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who is also the chairwoman of the Labor party, has been trying to rack up chiloni votes by talking about guaranteeing public transportation on Shabbos. Like many leftists, Michaeli knows how to talk and make noise but tends to be incapable of actually accomplishing anything; however, even if she doesn’t implement her plans, her words may still have an impact. Michaeli has already boasted that the Carmelit in Haifa will operate on Shabbos, as will the train in Tel Aviv. For the time being, of course, she hasn’t succeeded in delivering on either of those promises.

At the same time, the government did take a certain step toward accommodating her goals in the cabinet meeting this Sunday, when the cabinet unanimously approved her proposal to place public transportation in the hands of local governments. This would make it easier for local governments to operate buses on Shabbos, and the decision is therefore a step toward the fulfillment of her anti-religious agenda.

The proposal will be difficult to implement even in a city such as Tel Aviv, since it is part of a larger metropolitan area. In such areas, where several cities share the responsibility for public transportation, it is reasonable to assume that at least one local government will object to running mass transit on Shabbos. For instance, the Bnei Brak municipality can be expected to refuse to join the metropolitan authority that will promote public transportation on Shabbos in the Gush Dan region. That refusal will likely pose a serious hurdle to the planned transportation authority, since many buses that connect all the cities of Gush Dan pass through Bnei Brak; without the city’s inclusion, it will be impossible to manage the public transportation system even during the week.

The idea of transferring control of public transportation from the state to the cities is actually drawn from the examples of America and Europe, where the mass transit systems are run by city governments. In Israel, however, it will probably make it easier for many cities to run their public transportation systems on Shabbos. At this time, when the state government is in charge, the religious status quo prevails and buses do not operate on the Jewish day of rest; however, if the bus system is placed in the hands of city governments, it will be easy for them to alter the rules as they please. The chareidi political leadership has already announced their intent to restore the previous system as soon as they can do so.

Lieberman Crosses Red Lines

Yvette Lieberman is the most fascinating figure in this election season, and probably the most saddening one as well. As I mentioned last week, he is feeling threatened by someone who used to work with him and has begun making serious allegations against him, claiming that Lieberman ordered the murder of a police commissioner. It is hard to give credence to such a serious accusation, and I actually find it quite astounding that Lieberman’s allies on the left have not made the slightest effort to distance themselves from him. But as usual, their animosity toward Bibi apparently trumps all other concerns. Nevertheless, Lieberman’s campaign propaganda has begun to take on a panicked note, as he seems to have recognized the seriousness of the claims against him.

Last week, as he was heading into a cabinet meeting, Lieberman was asked by a reporter about the accusation that he had hired a hit man. He responded by blaming Netanyahu and the Likud for recruiting his former associate to make those claims. Then he added, “Netanyahu is the scum of the human race.” Many people were rightly appalled by Lieberman’s unbecoming language. Such expressions have never before been heard in the public sphere in Israel. Ironically, the left tends to accuse Netanyahu and his Likud party of incitement, and Lapid regularly refers to them as “vitriol machines.”

A week went by, and there was another cabinet meeting this week. Of course, Lieberman attended the meeting, like any other minister in the government, and he was accosted by reporters again as he prepared to enter the room. Once again, he responded by railing against Netanyahu, this time in an even more egregious way. “This is a blood libel,” Lieberman insisted. “It is very characteristic of Netanyahu. A person [i.e., his former aide] suddenly remembers something that happened 20 years ago and begins publicizing it two months before the elections. That is typical of Netanyahu’s methods, which are exactly like those of Goebbels and Stalin. He makes the worst and most absurd accusations and repeats them a million times until people become used to the absurdity.”

It didn’t take long for outraged reactions to Lieberman’s invective to begin pouring in. The Likud announced, “The national inciter, Don Lieberman, is in an unrestrained panic. His false and infuriating words are a disgrace to the memory of the Holocaust. We call on the leaders of the left, Lapid and Gantz, to immediately condemn him for this atrocious statement.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared, “I admire Finance Minister Lieberman very much, but I reject his words and the unacceptable comparison to those who carried out the worst atrocities in the history of mankind. Even during a contentious election campaign against someone who is seeking to harm the standing of the government and the judicial system, there must be limits.”

Moshe Gafni said, “For a man who is trying to promote the sale of pork throughout Israel, and who spouts obscenities against various sectors of Israeli society, it is not surprising that the Holocaust and its various elements are not considered a tragedy that cannot compare to other issues. The time has come for him to leave us alone and to no longer be a part of public life in the State of Israel.”

Betzalel Smotrich wrote, “Yvette Lieberman is the most dangerous politician in Israel. He is a brutal provocateur with no path and no morals of his own, who has been acting for years as an agent of chaos spreading hatred and boycotts, and who has dragged the State of Israel to the abyss because of his own personal interests. Now he is also disgracing the memory of the Holocaust. The Israeli public must remove him from power in order to turn Israel into a better place.”

In another surprising reaction, Chaim Ramon, a leftist former justice minister who is now retired, denounced Prime Minister Lapid, arguing that he should have told Lieberman in no uncertain terms that he will be dismissed from his position as finance minister if he does not clearly retract his statement.

Groundless Boasting

Speaking of Lapid, allow me to make a brief observation. The Prime Minister’s Office proudly announced last week that America had informed Israel through secret channels that the nuclear agreement with Iran, for now, will not be signed. This evoked a sigh of relief in Yerushalayim, since the current version of the agreement was seen as the worst possible deal for Israel’s interests.

However, the Israeli government has no reason to boast. The fact that a bad agreement with Iran was temporarily delayed has nothing to do with Israeli efforts of any kind. On the contrary, Israel’s attempts to influence the process failed miserably. Both the Americans and the Europeans scornfully rejected the Israeli arguments and made their decisions in complete opposition to the requests from Lapid and other Israeli officials. The only reason that the signing was delayed is that Iran itself reneged on its commitment to a particular clause in the agreement, which showed contempt for the American demands. If anything, this was in spite of Lapid and not because of him.

The Israeli government also announced boastfully that America had given Israel the latitude to act freely against Iran, as if this was some sort of diplomatic achievement. The truth, however, is that it is nothing of the sort. America has always agreed that Israel may act freely in its own defense. The only issue of contention was whether Israel would need to inform America in advance of any planned military action against Iran. Netanyahu never acceded to this demand, and America had no choice but to swallow his insistence. However, rumor has it that Lapid caved to the pressure from America and agreed to this stipulation.

Meanwhile, Mossad chief David (Dadi) Barnea made some public remarks two weeks ago about the problems presented for Israel by the agreement with Iran. Of course, this was another public strike against Lapid, who proceeded to rebuke Barnea for his statements. At the same time, Lapid also sent Barnea to Washington to try to convince the Americans again that the Iranians are dangerous and are lying. On Friday, the Mossad director finished a round of talks in the Pentagon and the Department of State. We can only hope that he was successful.

Party Lists to Be Submitted This Week

There is much that could be written about the election, but at this point, I think it would be quite strange to write about all the alliances and splits that may or may not take place, when we can simply wait until the end of this week to find out who will be running against whom. On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, all of the parties are required to submit their slates for the election. Signs have already been put on display in the Knesset building to indicate where the various party representatives are to wait their turns, and where the judge chairing the Central Elections Committee will sit along with his deputies to receive the lists. I already know from previous years that some people are bound to camp out overnight outside the building in order to be the first to submit their lists and thus receive what they consider a favorable letter for their ballots. The symbols are distributed on a first come, first served basis.

On the left, there is great fear that one of the two left-wing parties, either Labor or Meretz, will fail to cross the electoral threshold. As a result, the two parties are being pressured to run jointly, but Merav Michaeli, the chairwoman of the Labor party, has balked at that suggestion. Ironically, there was a dramatic change in the polls this week, and the latest figures indicate that Meretz has a greater likelihood than Labor of passing the electoral threshold. In any event, Lapid summoned the chairwomen of both parties—Michaeli and Zehava Galon—to a meeting on motzoei Shabbos and tried to pressure them to run together; however, his efforts did not bear fruit.

Meanwhile, the parties on the right have been dividing into fragments. Ayelet Shaked, who used to lead the Yamina party, formed a new party called the Zionist Spirit together with Yoaz Hendel, a government minister who used to be aligned with Benny Gantz. (Hendel and Tzvi Hauser formed a political party that they called Derech Eretz.) At the beginning of this week, though, the Zionist Spirit fell apart, with Shaked and Hendel deciding to part ways. Of course, this quick turnaround bought them some derision from the public. As of now, Shaked has announced her intention to join forces with the Bayit Yehudi party. If you are confused by all this, you are not alone. But the real problem is that all these fragments of political parties might cause the right-wing bloc to lose a mandate or two, which could turn out to be a critical loss.

Likud and Shas Address the Cost of Living

The high cost of living in Israel is the main issue in this election. The Likud recently decided to make it their main issue, but the Shas party capitalized on it even earlier, adopting “Hungry for a Change” as its election slogan two weeks ago. Not that this came as a surprise to anyone; everyone knows that the country is impoverished and the government is starving the people. Talk to the average man on the street, and you will see this quite clearly. The problem is that those who have full stomachs can never truly understand the mindsets of those who are hungry. It is not surprising that the only politicians capable of empathizing with the poor and feeling their plight are those who represent the chareidi populace, with its large number of families who are living in poverty (even if by choice).

The chareidi political leaders themselves come from that world, and they understand it today as well. In an election broadcast this week, Aryeh Deri declared mysteriously, “Forty-one million people are not a mistake.” Everyone listened intently to find out what he meant, and Deri continued, “Forty-one million Americans are not a mistake. If America gives food vouchers to 41 million citizens, then that must be the right thing to do.” Indeed, three years ago when he was a minister with the ability to do so, Deri distributed such vouchers to 350,000 poor families (including Russian families). He has now promised that if and when he returns to power, he will see to it that the government spends one billion shekels every year distributing food vouchers to the poor.

I presume that some of the other parties will likewise attempt to capitalize on socioeconomic issues to boost their performance in the polls, speaking in grandiose terms about food security and social justice. But Yisroel Beiteinu, Labor, and the others were part of the current government, which imposed the most crippling economic decrees on the Israeli public. How can they speak convincingly today about promoting “social justice”?

I imagine that some politicians will try to deny the basic presumption that there has been an increase in the number of people living in poverty. In this world of falsehood, every lie tries to pass itself off as the truth, especially during the election season. Well, take a look at the picture accompanying this article, which I took on a side street in Yerushalayim. I can tell you in confidence that this photograph was taken at the entrance to the home of Rav Uri Zohar. As you can see, it shows an elderly man rummaging through bags of garbage, seeking some form of sustenance in the detritus discarded by others. I asked him if he was embarrassed to be seen rooting through the garbage, and he replied, “Yes, I do find it embarrassing, but sometimes I find treasures that other people threw away. I have found unopened packages of biscuits, and even medicines.”

Such is the situation in Yerushalayim today!

Singling Out Netanyahu

In a recent economic newspaper, I came across the following line: “Watching the competition between Shaked, Ben-Gvir, and Smotrich, there is one man who is very worried—Binyomin Netanyahu.” There is nothing about this that is untrue; if Ben-Gvir or Smotrich had caused a loss of three or four right-wing mandates by running separately (as Ben-Gvir did in the past) then it would indeed have been a cause for concern. And if Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel wasted a mandate or two, that could also have been a critical loss to the right. Therefore, Netanyahu certainly had good reason for worry, and the news item reflected a reasonable and justified concern. The political landscape has changed since the article was published, but I still have a point to make: The media could just as easily have pointed to Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Gideon Saar, or even the entire left as being worried about the outcome of the competition between these politicians. Just as Netanyahu would worry about the prospect of a loss of mandates for the right, the politicians on the left would be equally concerned about a situation in which the right remains united and powerful. But the media is always looking for a pretext to depict Netanyahu in a negative light, and this was no exception.

Uman and Kever Yosef

Is there any commonality between Kever Yosef in Shechem and the kever of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman? As you are about to see, there certainly is.

There is no question that every Jew has the right to visit every site in Eretz Yisroel, especially the kevorim of our ancestors. Those who visit the burial places of tzaddikim for the sake of davening may well be considered shluchei mitzvah. But there is a halachic question that must be addressed: Is a person permitted to endanger his life for this purpose?

I am referring to the ongoing trend of mispallelim visiting Kever Yosef in Shechem, sometimes in coordination with the Israeli security forces and with the accompaniment of armed guards, and at other times without such coordination, which makes the visit all the more dangerous. This is very wrong. The fact that the government is displaying weakness in its dealings with the murderous Palestinian regime should make no difference; that is not a factor that permits individuals to endanger themselves. The only question that these mispallelim should ask is whether they will be facing tangible danger if they visit Kever Yosef.

Diplomats and army officials alike, along with askonim and rabbonim in Ukraine, have sounded warnings about the potential dangers involved in visiting Uman. Last week, I mentioned that the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued an advisory against traveling to Ukraine. If the Russians fire missiles, no one can guarantee us that there will not be a tragedy in Uman on Rosh Hashanah among our brethren. Who would dare make such a trip without a psak halacha endorsing it?

Last week, MK Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Yerushalayim and currently one of the senior figures in the Likud party, paid a visit to Uman. Of course, the Foreign Ministry was aggrieved by this move. And I will let you in on a secret: The cabinet secretary tried to gather the chareidi MKs from both UTJ and Shas for a meeting concerning the upcoming Rosh Hashanah in Uman, only to be rebuffed by the legislators, who are not interested in having any dealings with him. This story wasn’t even reported in the Israeli press, but I can share it with you.

Where Are the Arsonists?

A fire recently broke out in a shul in Nof Hagalil. In the middle of the night, smoke was spotted billowing from the shul’s windows, and a firefighting team rushed to the scene and prevented the sifrei Torah and other sifrei kodesh in the shul from coming to harm. Adi Malka, the director-general of the municipality, promised that the city would do everything in its power to ensure that the shul can resume functioning as soon as possible. And since this city is under the auspices of Mayor Ronen Plot, I am confident that this promise will be fulfilled. Personally, I hope that this wasn’t an anti-Semitic act of arson, which would make the story all the more painful.

Of course, I can’t help but be reminded of the torching of shuls in Lod, and I have to wonder why the arsonists haven’t yet been caught. I am also reminded of the attack on the Siach Yisroel shul in Kiryat Yovel in Yerushalayim, which shook the country. The sight of sifrei Torah desecrated and thrown to the floor left many people in tears, including the prime minister at the time, who called on the police to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The mayor of the city also assured the public that the police would locate the vandals and bring them to justice, and the police set up a special investigative team. Somehow, however, the perpetrators have yet to be found. Unfortunately, this should be a source of shame for the Israeli authorities.

Remembering the Injured

Everyone is keenly aware of the recent spate of tragedies that have rocked our country. Men, women, and children have perished in bizarre and torturous ways, with one disaster following closely on the heels of another. Rav Uri Zohar once taught me that the Zohar states that the chevlei Moshiach are similar to birth pangs: as the waves of pain come closer together, it is a sign that the geulah is nearing. Before the redemption comes, Klal Yisroel must suffer through a series of painful ordeals.

We all mourn with the families of the deceased victims of these disasters, but one thing that seems to receive less attention is the plight of the victims who were “only” wounded. Sometimes, we breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing that someone was injured but not killed in a tragic accident or terror attack; what we fail to realize is that even if the person was spared from death, his or her life may have become pure torment.

I recently received a copy of the latest edition of Tikvah, a magazine published by the Organization of Victims of Hostilities. The latest issue tells the story of Tziona Kalla: “November 2012. During Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip, Merav Kalla-Weitzman was driving on the Tunnels Road in Yerushalayim together with her mother, Tziona. At the last bend in the road, just before the settlement of Beitar Illit, their car was attacked by terrorists.” The two women had stumbled into a death trap; a sharp rock was hurled at the car, and Tziona was critically wounded. Alive yet severely injured, she was sedated and intubated for two months and then spent the next year in rehabilitation. To this day, her daughter attests, she hasn’t yet regained her strength. The family was shattered; their lives continue in the shadow of that terror attack.

The next time you read about the wounded victims of an attack, remember that every injury might represent a struggle that, in some cases, continues until the victim’s dying day.

Sights and Sounds of Elul: Slichos at the Kosel

As you know, Sephardim have already been reciting Slichos since the beginning of Elul, while the Ashkenazic community will begin on motzoei Shabbos. There is something very compelling and unique about the Sephardic Slichos; even many Ashkenazim have attended their Slichos from time to time.

Every night, thousands of people attend Slichos at the Kosel; however, every few days, the Kosel Heritage Fund arranges special mass Slichos, when people come from all over the country to attend. This past motzoei Shabbos, over 20,000 people flocked to the Kosel over the course of the night to recite Slichos. The highlight of the evening was the main Slichos service at 12:30 a.m.

The Kosel Heritage Fund is making an effort to distribute the flow of visitors over the course of several nights in order to avoid a situation in which the plaza is too densely packed with visitors for the crowd to be controlled. This happened in previous years, especially at the Slichos attended by Rav Ovadiah Yosef or those organized by Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim. This week, the organization called on the public to scatter their visits to the Kosel for Slichos over the course of Elul rather than coming en masse at the end of the month and during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, to ensure the safety and well-being of all visitors to the site.

These events are always deeply moving. They are times when Klal Yisroel shows its true face, when young people who do not generally even wear yarmulkes suddenly appear at the Kosel, clutching their copies of Slichos and tearfully begging Hashem for forgiveness. It is an inspiring sight indeed.



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