Wednesday, Jan 25, 2023

My Take On The News

A Call to Rebellion?

It seems as if we are on the verge of an insurrection. The Israeli left has refused to accept the results of the election, and they are calling for outright rebellion.

In 1977, when Menachem Begin came to power, one of the elders of the Labor party—a man named Yitzchok Ben-Aharon—made the infamous comment that if the people of Israel voted for Begin, then the time had come to change the people. Obviously, changing the government was out of the question, as far as he was concerned.

Since that time, this quote has become symbolic of any effort to overturn the will of the people. Today, we are hearing many similar sentiments. The first came from Ram Ben-Barak, formerly the deputy director of the Mossad, who is one of the leading figures in Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Ben-Barak is an ardent leftist with a vicious tongue. Last Friday, a newspaper article featuring an interview with Ben-Barak bore the title “Who Cares About the Election? Does the Street Get to Judge?” Ben-Barak apparently does not understand that the street definitely does get to judge, and that a vote cast by any other Israeli citizen carries exactly the same weight as his own. In a democracy, the people choose their leaders.

Ben-Barak’s venomous tongue did not spare the chareidi community either. “When this generation realizes that every person has been supporting half a chareidi family until now, and now they will begin supporting two chareidi families, there will be no secular Israelis remaining here,” he predicted. “The chilonim are not going to let themselves be exploited. But perhaps that is the vision of the chareidi and religious sectors, after all: a state of halacha with no secularists at all.” These nonsensical claims have no basis in reality and are fueled purely by hatred and cruelty.

The next leftist figure to climb on the bandwagon of incitement was Gadi Eizenkot, the former chief of staff of the IDF who joined the party led by his buddy, Benny Gantz, before this election. Eizenkot, who was quoted on the front page of Yediot Acharonot, declared, “We need to bring a million people out into the streets, and I will be one of them.” Actually, if you read the article carefully, you will see that this was a provisional statement: Eizenkot called for a million-man protest if Bibi Netanyahu betrays the “national interests.” But the media apparently saw no reason to include that provision in its quote. Besides, who will be the judge of whether the “national interests” have indeed been violated?

Netanyahu Denounces Traitorous Talk

Worst of all was the headline in Yediot Acharonot on Sunday, which asserted that “dozens of mayors and hundreds of principals and parents are opposed to giving Maoz authority over school curricula.” This was a reference to Avigdor Maoz, who received a deputy ministerial position in the Prime Minister’s Office. As the head of the newly created National Jewish Identity Authority, Maoz has been given control over several issues, one of which is the material studied in secular public schools. This was in keeping with one of his demands during the coalition talks, in which he participated as the head of his party, Noam, which was a faction within the Religious Zionism party.

To be honest, no one understands why Netanyahu gave Avi Maoz, who is essentially a one-man party, everything he asked for. After all, Netanyahu has 63 supporters even without Maoz’s vote. But if you read the article published here a while ago about Netanyahu’s attendance at Yitzchok Pindrus’s birthday party, you will understand the reason: Netanyahu and Maoz have maintained a close friendship for many years, ever since the latter headed the campaign for the release of Natan Sharansky and Netanyahu, as the Israeli ambassador to the UN, provided him with excellent advice.

Nevertheless, ever since the media reported on everything that Netanyahu plans to give to Maoz, a wave of fierce demonization against both men has rocked the country. This wave of outrage is transparently political, but that hasn’t stopped it from gaining steam. In fact, Lapid called on the heads of local authorities to refuse to implement any decisions made by Maoz, and Netanyahu angrily responded that that was tantamount to a call to rebellion against the government. “I was elected to lead the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said, “and I intend to do so as an emissary of the people and in the spirit of the national and democratic principles with which I was raised in my father’s home and that have guided me throughout my life. I vehemently condemn Lapid’s efforts to incite officers in the army and mayors of Israeli cities against the elected government of Israel. Lapid’s behavior is both dangerous and harmful to democracy. The IDF must be left out of any political dispute, and it is certainly forbidden for anyone to incite senior officers in the army to rebel against the Israeli government, which has received the endorsement of the people. That is a red line that must not be crossed.”

Meanwhile, Haaretz went a step further in its headline, which declared, “Widespread Opposition of Local Authority Heads to Maoz Might Cause Change.” Indeed, they are hoping to bring about the dissolution of the elected government by sowing dissent. Which begs the question: Did anyone on the right ever have the gall to incite a veritable insurrection against Lapid and his government, even when their actions threatened the most fundamental values of the religious community? Of course not! But for them, this behavior is somehow acceptable.

Chareidim Becoming a Punching Bag

What makes this rhetoric even more of a problem is the fact that it borders on anti-religious incitement. The enemies of the chareidi public are aware that any accusations related to money always manage to produce a rising tide of animosity, and they take advantage of every opportunity to malign chareidim with any such charges. Today, we are witnessing a campaign of incitement and delegitimization directed not only at the elected government and the majority of the people but also against the chareidi public in particular!

Menachem Horowitz is a well-respected journalist with a long career in the media; he is the northern correspondent for one of Israel’s television networks and is highly regarded in the secular community. This week, he wrote an article with a title that effectively sums up his message: “Not Yet in the Government but Already a Punching Bag: The Lost Battle of the Chareidim in Israel.”

“Dear chareidim,” Horowitz wrote in the body of the article, addressing the chareidi community, “don’t bother wasting your energy. Take a lesson from the settlers: The people who hate you will continue to hate you even if you try to show them the positive side of the majority in your community. Their image of you has already taken root; the battle against the chilonim is over, and there are no winners.”

Horowitz continues, “Things haven’t been easy for the chareidi parties during the past year and a half outside the coalition. They were forced to see their traditional positions of strength held by bitter ideological foes such as Nitzan Horowitz (in the Health Ministry), Alex Kushnir (the Finance Committee), and, above all, Matan Kahana (in the Ministry of Religious Affairs). For a short time, they were on the other side of the government—in the opposition where everyone battles for crumbs, where the most they could do was fight to prevent new laws and edicts from being passed. They even briefly questioned their unbreakable political alliance with the Likud. But they were spared at least one hardship during this period: They did not need to face the repeated attacks on their way of life and the manner in which they manage their communities. After years of active partnership in the government, after the Covid crisis thrust them into the spotlight and saw accusing fingers pointed at them, the chareidim—as a community and with their collection of leaders—enjoyed a brief period of quiet. But now, even before the government has been formed, the chareidim have once again become the great enemy, the punching bag of the public, based solely on leaked reports from the coalition talks and statements made to the media. Everything is being thrown into the new campaign filled with loathing toward the entirety of chareidi society.”

Horowitz’s analysis is correct. And that is a very good reason for worry.

Majority of Israelis Favor Torah Learning

The bnei Torah have somehow become a focal point of the national controversy. You may recall that I wrote recently about the inebriated and vile radio broadcaster who spoke harshly against bnei yeshivos and advised chareidim to hang themselves with their tefillin straps. I have also written about the campaign of incitement against chareidim that has been opened here in Israel. The hostility focused against bnei Torah in this country is enormous.

Most of the critics of the government budget for yungeleit are people who have no idea of what a yungerman is—or what a government budget is, for that matter. Some of them are driven by malevolence and others are simply fools, but the common denominator between them is that they have no understanding of the facts. Moreover, they have no understanding of the basic underpinnings of the world’s existence. This issue has surfaced once again for two reasons—because of the implacable hatred that has always hounded the Jewish people, and because the chareidi politicians demanded that the government double the official stipend for kollel yungeleit. There have been some voices within the religious community that have actually found fault with that demand; they feel that this was too sensitive a time for this subject to be raised. The answer that I have heard to that objection—which I find to be completely reasonable—is that because the bnei Torah were reviled and maligned during the election campaign, it was necessary to make a strong statement now about their benefits to society.

I can prove that the opponents of kollelim are only a minority of the Israeli populace. Half a year ago, in honor of Shavuos, the right-wing magazine Achshav published a survey conducted by Professor Yitzchok Katz and his think tank. One of the questions was: “Is it important for the State of Israel to have people learning Torah?” A full 75 percent of the respondents wrote that it was “important or very important.” Broken down by sector, these respondents made up 57 percent of the chiloni pool of subjects, 90 percent of the members of the traditional community who were polled, 95 percent of the national religious sector, and 97 percent of the chareidim. Even among the chilonim, then, the majority supports Torah learning. Let us therefore not be too concerned by the views of the minority. And let me mention one other interesting statistic: Out of the respondents who claimed that they themselves engage in Torah learning, a full 84 percent responded that they wished they could learn more!

Double Standards in the Press

It seems that hypocrites no longer feel the need to hide their double standards. While there was a time when they would lurk in the shadows, they have come to feel no shame even about advertising their prejudices in the front pages of a newspaper. Take the recent editorial in Haaretz, titled “Don’t Give It to Smotrich.” The author writes, “Betzalel Smotrich must not be given control of the Civil Administration—the government body responsible for approving construction in the settlements, paving roads, and demolishing homes built in outposts and Palestinian settlements.”

My answer to this article is twofold: First of all, no one takes orders from the editor of Haaretz. Second, doesn’t he realize that in a democracy, the people choose their leaders? If the majority of the nation voted for the right, then why shouldn’t the right—and Smotrich, as its representative in the government—have its way? Moreover, what about the other side of the coin? How could a staunch leftist such as Ram Ben-Barak have served as the deputy director of the Mossad and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee? How could Yair Golan, an eccentric liberal with very little understanding of anything, have served as chief of operations of the Yehuda and Shomron Division? This is a man who despises Israeli settlers, whom he derisively described as “loathsome people and subhuman,” yet it was somehow acceptable for him to be in a position where he would make decisions affecting their lives—yet Betzalel Smotrich is considered unfit to hold the same position.

This hypocrisy has no shame, but it does have a place in Yesh Atid. This week, the party released a statement announcing that “we have no intention of remaining silent while the incoming government tries to trample on the law-abiding community of people who pay taxes and serve in the army.” This comes from Yair Lapid, the man who held a desk job in the army, who arranged positions for his political cronies and dismissed former Shabak head Yaakov Peri based on his military background. How can he dare preach sanctimoniously in this fashion?

And here is another example of hypocrisy: The front-page headline in The Marker declared mournfully, “Sectarian Battle Over Budgets and Jobs Threatens the Public Coffers.” The writer was troubled by the implications of the impending distribution of positions in the government. “If Smotrich receives the Treasury,” he wrote, “then the chareidim will demand a foothold in the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transportation, the Housing Ministry, the Education Ministry, and the Health Ministry. There will also be a battle over the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galil, where it is possible to distribute 400 million shekels a year without oversight.” Woe to Israel, according to The Market, if the “sectarians” are in charge.

Once again, the hypocrisy is blatant. Yvette Lieberman, the head of the most sectarian party in Israel—the party of immigrants—was able to serve as the finance minister without garnering such objections. Hamad Amar, a Druse and member of Yisroel Beiteinu, was able to be a minister within the Finance Ministry. Oded Forer was able to serve within the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galil. But for some reason, chareidim are not permitted to be in positions in which they can lower the prices of water and electricity and arrange for food vouchers and assistance for people buying homes—because the chareidim are “sectarian.” The newspaper makes no effort to hide this blatant double standard.

Why Is It Important to Replace the Knesset Speaker?

Last Monday, at the beginning of the Shas party’s weekly meeting, Aryeh Deri spoke to the press. He voiced his grievances against the Likud and explained that the Shas party has already made all the concessions it can possibly afford for a government to be established.

Of course, we should not be too alarmed by this statement. It is important to read between the lines while negotiations are taking place. Sometimes, certain things are said for the sole purpose of frightening people other than those who are mentioned explicitly. For instance, although Deri seemed to be faulting Netanyahu, he might actually have been trying to alarm Smotrich. But then Deri mentioned another point: “I can’t understand how it is that we still haven’t managed to replace the Knesset speaker,” he said.

He is absolutely correct in making that point. The first step in any change of regime is to replace the Knesset speaker. This is something that must be done even before a government is formed and sworn in. It should be the new government’s very first move. The procedure calls for over 60 members of the Knesset to sign a document demanding that the Knesset speaker schedule a session of the Knesset for his replacement to be selected. Once those signatures are collected, the speaker has no choice but to comply. Even if the new Knesset speaker will occupy the position only temporarily, it gives the government control over the Knesset. When the previous Knesset was founded, Yuli Edelstein was unseated immediately. Of course, he tried to prevent it, and the Supreme Court even intervened, but in the end he was unsuccessful. Every day that Mickey Levi remains in the position is an accomplishment for a man who will soon be relegated to the opposition benches.

Why is it a problem that Levi is still holding on to his position? For one thing, he was so brutal and unstatesmanlike that every additional day that he remains the Knesset speaker is a disgrace and a slap in the face to the Likud. Furthermore, every day that he remains in power is a sign that the new coalition is failing to take control of the country. Most important of all, however, is the fact that the Knesset speaker holds exclusive control over the daily agenda in the Knesset—and that is a critical power. Netanyahu will need to pass several laws before the government is sworn in, but as long as Mickey Levi remains in control of the Knesset, he will refuse to place those laws on the daily agenda.

What are the laws that must be passed in order for the government to take shape? For one thing, there is the override clause, which is important to UTJ and Shas in order to preserve the draft exemption for bnei Torah, and to Smotrich and Ben-Gvir because of the changes they want to make in their ministries before taking their new positions. Neither of them trusts the Likud to implement those changes once they are already in office. Shas has another reason for its interest in the override clause: the tax offenses that Deri was convicted of committing. As soon as he becomes a minister in the government—and he is actually supposed to receive two portfolios—there will be petitions filed in the Supreme Court against him. Therefore, it is necessary for the override clause to be passed before those petitions are filed, in order to make it clear that Deri can be a minister even if the court rules otherwise.

So Why Is Levi Still the Knesset Speaker?

All of this should lead to the obvious question: Why, in fact, is Mickey Levi still holding his position as Knesset speaker? The answer to that question is somewhat embarrassing. In order to replace the Knesset speaker, the new coalition will have to submit a document signed by at least 61 MKs to the Knesset presidium requesting a debate in the Knesset. The Likud has already gathered all the requisite signatures, with the exception of the signatures of the seven members of UTJ, since the four members of Agudas Yisroel are refusing to sign. These lawmakers insist on progress in the coalition talks with the Likud before they will agree to move forward with replacing the Knesset speaker.

Another problem is the lack of agreement within the Likud party as to who will be appointed as the next Speaker, even if it is merely a temporary appointment. At first, the Likud was planning to temporarily install Yariv Levin in the position, as he has already held the post briefly in the past. However, there are a few individuals who have set their sights on this position, having already come to terms with the fact that they will not become ministers in the government, and all of them are opposed to allowing Levin to take the position on a temporary basis. They fear that Levin will become enamored with the post and will decide to give up the position of Minister of Justice, which has already been designated for him, in order to remain in power as the Knesset speaker.

For the debate and vote on replacing the Knesset speaker to take place during a given week, the 61 signatures must be submitted no later than Monday morning of that week. As of now the election for Speaker is scheduled for next Monday.

A Call for Transparency

Speaking of the outgoing Knesset speaker, here is an interesting story with a connection to him. There is a nonprofit watchdog organization called the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel that enjoys monitoring the government’s wasteful expenditures. This group recently demanded and received a list of all the payments made by the government for the members of the 24th Knesset on their travels out of the country. This document includes the period of corona, when there was hardly anyone leaving the country. The most bizarre and sensational part of the list was undoubtedly Mickey Levi’s trip to New York: His six-day stay in the Big Apple cost the State of Israel over $100,000.

In any event, the government records show that 33 delegations of Knesset members traveled to a variety of destinations around the world. Some of these trips were sponsored by various organizations both in Israel and abroad, but the bills for others were footed by the state. According to Uri Szold of the Movement for Freedom of Information, “This is very important information at a time when the Ethics Committee, which is responsible for approving overseas travel from Knesset members regardless of whether it is funded externally or by the Knesset, is not operating due to political disputes. In the absence of a mechanism for approval for these travels, one would expect the Knesset to maintain greater transparency and to be especially judicious regarding allowing the elected representatives of the people to travel abroad. The Knesset itself should have published all the requests that were submitted for approval and the considerations involved in its decision to accept or reject each trip, as is done publicly when the Ethics Committee convenes.”

Some Concerning Statistics

The coronavirus has been rearing its head again. This week, Israel’s coronavirus czar, Dr. Salman Zarka, visited the rabbonim of Bnei Brak and warned them that the situation is becoming worrisome and the virus is becoming more infectious. He claimed that the numbers are even more concerning within the chareidi community, and that the number of seriously ill Covid patients in the chareidi community has increased over the past two weeks to five times the previous figure!

Some unsettling statistics on a different subject were published this week by two official sources: the Academic Center for Law and Science and the Knesset Research and Information Center. These two institutes have confirmed what everyone has known for a long time: The majority of immigrants to Israel are full-fledged Gentiles. According to the Academic Center’s researchers, only three out of every ten immigrants from the former Soviet Union are Jewish. In other words, the State of Israel is being flooded with non-Jewish immigrants, and the consequences for Israel may be grave—in terms of the spread of anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews, as well as the potential for intermarriages, chas v’shalom.

Another area of concern for every citizen in Israel is the phenomenon of violence in the public sphere. I tend to avoid writing about crime, but I will tell you in general terms that there have been too many incidents of road rage leading to violence in recent days. An argument over a parking spot can sometimes lead to murder. A motorist cutting off another driver might also find his life threatened. The situation has become so frightening that people are demanding that the government do something to restore security to its citizens.

Six Hundred Acts of Terror in November

Unfortunately, Arab terror is still continuing to plague us. At the beginning of this past Shabbos, a terrorist attempted to murder a Border Guard officer at the Hawara checkpoint in Shomron. The terrorist was killed by soldiers stationed at the checkpoint, and the UN envoy hurried to call for an investigation of “the murder of the Palestinian.” How appalling!

In another incident, gunshots were fired at a bus carrying civilian passengers near Ofra. Miraculously, there were no fatalities.

I have already mentioned that there are fears in Israel that we are heading for another escalation of violence. In one incident, a missile was fired from the Gaza strip toward the settlements in the Gaza envelope. Defense experts claim that this was an act of vengeance on the part of the terror organizations for the killings of several of their operatives. Miraculously, the missile exploded in an open area, causing no harm.

This past month of November has been labeled “Black November,” and a few statistics will make the reason very clear. First of all, over 600 acts of terror against civilian targets were committed this month, including 452 incidents of stone throwing, 76 uses of homemade explosives, and 54 incidents of tire burning. Five Israelis were murdered, leaving behind 17 orphans and four widows. All of this information comes from a report issued by an organization known as Hatzalah Without Borders, which stresses that these incidents targeted civilians; the report does not include acts of violence directed against soldiers. The acts of terror also included 36 cases in which motorists were deliberately blinded with lasers, 11 uses of bombs, seven shooting attacks, five incidents of paint being thrown at cars, three incidents of fireworks being thrown at cars, and one car bombing.

Excessive Pro-Palestinian Resolutions

The United Nations is becoming more and more radical in its animosity toward Israel. There was recently an outcry in America against Israel after the death of a reporter who was killed during a gun battle, with no clear sign whether the stray bullet that hit the reporter was fired by the Israelis or the Arabs. Of course, the United Nations decided immediately that Israeli soldiers were at fault. And ever since the Israeli election, sources in Washington have been repeatedly announcing that if Israel takes any “extreme” steps, the American government will not look favorably upon the measures. In other words, they are trying very hard to intimidate Netanyahu.

Perhaps it is important to add, though, that Secretary of State Blinken has actually tried to calm the rising passions. Without even resorting to being quoted anonymously, Blinken told the media, “The president and the administration will judge the Israeli government by its actions, not by the identities of specific office holders.” Apparently, the officials in Washington began to realize that they had overstepped their bounds.

Last Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the “Nakba”—the Palestinian term for “disaster,” in reference to the establishment of Israel—alongside the festivities surrounding the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. The Palestinians observe Nakba Day every year as a day of mourning. Ninety countries supported the resolution, which was sponsored by the Arabs, while 30 countries voted against it and 47 abstained. Among the opponents of the resolution were the United States, Australia, and most of the countries of the European Union. Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, denounced the resolution. “Try to imagine the international community commemorating your country’s Independence Day by calling it a disaster,” he rebuked his audience. “What a disgrace!”

Standing at the UN podium, Erdan produced a copy of the New York Times published shortly after the declaration of Israel’s independence, with a headline reporting that Jews living in Muslim countries were in severe danger. Erdan lashed out at the countries that supported the resolution. “I would like to remind you of some historic facts,” he said. “On November 29, this institution adopted the resolution concerning the partition plan. The Jewish people accepted that plan without hesitation, while the Arabs rejected it. Five Arab armies, along with the Arabs who lived in Israel, tried to destroy Israel and its citizens. And they didn’t stop with the Jews in Israel itself; they began expelling the Jews from their countries as well.”

This wasn’t the only blatantly anti-Israel act of the United Nations in recent weeks. Last month, the UN accepted a Palestinian proposal calling for an urgent opinion from the International Court of Justice at the Hague regarding “the legal significance of the ongoing Israeli occupation.” In simple terms, this means that the court will pass judgment over Israel. This resolution received the votes of 98 countries in favor, with 17 against and 52 abstentions. Once again, it was opposed by a list of countries including the United States, Italy, Germany, Australia, Canada, Austria, and the Czech Republic. The number of countries abstaining from the vote was relatively high, and most of the countries of Europe, including Ukraine and Russia, were among the states that abstained.

Mishnayos in Memory of the Nazis’ Victims

An interesting piece of news arrived from Europe this week: Thousands of children across the globe will be learning millions of mishnayos in memory of the kedoshim who were killed in the Holocaust. The public competition and selection of a winner will take place on the 26th of Iyar, which is commemorated as the Day of Liberation and Salvation—the date when the Nazis surrendered. This is a program that has been organized in the past by German Zakharyaev; this time, it will be overseen by Anachnu V’Tzeetzaeinu, an organization in Israel that unites about 60,000 children and their parents in father-son learning programs at 1000 locations in 70 cities and towns. This week, hundreds of children participating in the program attended a mass tefillah event at the Kosel Hamaaravi. This event marked the beginning of the second cycle of the Yizkor program, the largest mishnayos program of its kind in the world, in memory of the martyrs of the Holocaust.

Over the course of ten months, the program calls for thousands of Jewish children throughout the world to learn 6,250,000 mishnayos in memory of the many Jews who were killed al kiddush Hashem by the Nazis and their collaborators, and of the quarter of a million kedoshim who lost their lives battling the Nazis as members of the Allied armed forces and the underground. The competition on the 26th of Iyar will unite representatives from the mishnayos programs in Europe, the United States, and other countries as well.

A Telegram from Rav Moshe Feinstein

It is always interesting to come across pieces of history, and I recently discovered another fascinating find. The year 1977 was the year of the so-called Mahapach (upheaval) when Menachem Begin and the Likud party came to power, displacing the Labor party. On April 7, Prime Minister Rabin announced his resignation, and Menachem Begin first began serving as prime minister after the election on June 21. In the interim, Rav Moshe Feinstein sent a telegram to Yitzchok Rabin with the following passage, which was composed in Hebrew but appeared in English letters: “To Yitzchok Rabin, prime minister of Israel. We forcefully object to any attempt to change the status of the Kosel Hamaaravi, even the smallest portion of it, which is under the control of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Its sanctity must not be violated by destructive actions. The Kosel Hamaaravi, the last remnant of our Bais Hamikdosh, is the property of all of Klal Yisroel, and it is forbidden to alter its structure or form in any way. Chag someach.”

 

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