Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

My Take on The News

A Biased Resolution in the UN

If Binyomin Netanyahu was looking for evidence of Israel’s current standing on the international scene, he certainly got his answer on Friday night. This past Friday night—on Shabbos, as if to add insult to injury—87 countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of a resolution calling for the International Court of the Hague to be asked for a legal opinion concerning the ongoing Israeli “occupation” (their term, of course). Twenty-six countries, including Israel and the United States, voted against the resolution, and 53 countries abstained. Netanyahu made a last-ditch effort to narrow the gap by at least convincing additional countries to abstain, but he never actually stood a chance of changing the outcome of the vote. Ukraine abstained at the last minute, after the Ukrainian president received a phone call from Netanyahu. In any event, this resolution is a sign of the UN’s constant, automatic hostility toward Israel, but it also indicates the terrible damage wrought to Israel’s international standing by Yair Lapid. During his tenure as Israel’s foreign minister, Lapid brought ruin to Israel’s foreign relations in every way possible.

Aside from the fact that this resolution is very unpleasant for Israel, it also may have some negative practical ramifications. A legal opinion issued by the international court isn’t binding, but it certainly has the potential to bolster certain boycott movements and to harm Israel’s relations with other countries. It should be noted, though, that the court in question isn’t the International Criminal Court, with which we are already familiar from other episodes in the past; rather, the UN plans to seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice. On a practical level, that means that the court wouldn’t be able to call for senior Israeli officials to be arrested for questioning, and that its opinions do not carry the weight of an actual judicial verdict. Nevertheless, there may still be other implications. The supporters of this resolution hope to establish a very specific narrative in the international sphere, which would certainly play into the hands of the BDS movement and other organizations striving to cause harm to Israel. The legal opinion would also benefit from international respect, and many other countries and organizations would base their own actions on the court’s findings.

The UN resolution was celebrated by the Palestinians, who viewed it as a major victory. “This is a new triumph for the Palestinian nation and its justified interests, which places it on the road to establishing its freedom and national independence by founding an independent state within the borders that existed before June 4, 1967, with its capital in Yerushalayim,” they declared. The Palestinian president added that the resolution had been made precisely at the right time, coinciding with the establishment of a right-wing government in Israel. “The United Nations resolution has exceptional importance due to the timing of its release, at the same time that an extremist right-wing religious government has taken power in Israel and threatens the Palestinian nation with additional violations of its legitimate rights by continuing the aggression on its land, the attacks on its rights, property, and assets, and the desecration of the sanctity of sites that are holy to Islam and Christianity,” he said.

Lapid and the Ambassador

Incoming Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu responded to the UN resolution with exceptional ferocity. “Like hundreds of other despicable resolutions against Israel that were passed in the United Nations General Assembly over the years, the shameful resolution passed today will not be binding on the Israeli government,” he declared. “The Jewish nation is not an occupier in its own land or in its eternal capital city of Yerushalayim.”

Netanyahu revealed a small portion of Israel’s efforts to avert the resolution, which were made in part by President Yitzchok Herzog. “In recent days, we have conducted talks with various world leaders that led them to change their votes,” he said. He praised Herzog and Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, as well as the staff of the Foreign Ministry, for managing to reduce the number of countries voting in favor of the resolution.

In spite of this defeat on the diplomatic front and the automatic anti-Israel majority that exists in the United Nations, it was encouraging to note that most of the countries that are not automatically opposed to Israel did not vote in favor of the Palestinian-sponsored resolution. The Israelis were also pleased by the fact that most of the Western and European countries voted against the resolution, and that the number of countries supporting it dropped by eleven since the preliminary vote held in the UN one month ago. Netanyahu made sure to mention this: “After our intervention, eleven countries changed their votes, which made a difference: The countries supporting the Palestinian resolution are now a minority of the members of the United Nations. We will continue fighting for the truth,” he vowed.

After the vote, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, revealed that after Yair Lapid became prime minister—and possibly even before that, when he was serving as Israel’s foreign minister—he never exchanged a single word directly with Ambassador Erdan. This may have been due to the fact that Erdan is a senior member of the Likud and was appointed to his position by Netanyahu. But regardless of the reason, it is a sign of Lapid’s outrageous lack of responsibility during his tenure as prime minister. Because of his own petty personal or political considerations, he was willing to harm the country by failing to coordinate properly with the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

Aryeh Schupak’s Murderer Planned a Mega-Attack

During his final speech in the Knesset as the outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid boasted about his government’s success in preventing terror attacks. This only reinforced my perception of the man as being completely detached from reality. Everyone here in Israel knows that we have been through an extremely difficult year. And if we needed a reminder of the situation, we recently received one, after the terrorist who planted the bomb that murdered Aryeh Schupak was captured.

The terrorist is Eslam Froukh, a 26-year-old resident of Yerushalayim whose mother holds an Israeli identity card and whose father lives in Ramallah. Froukh did not have a criminal or security record. He had an advanced education and is a certified engineer who studied at a recognized academic institution in Yerushalayim and worked in a factory in Mishor Adumim. He appears to have planned and carried out the terror attack on his own, without any assistance. In other words, he failed to check off any of the boxes that would have led the Shabak to become suspicious of him before he committed a terror attack: He was educated and was not poor, he lived in Yerushalayim rather than the territories, and he operated alone rather than with a group.

Froukh planned the terror attack down to the minutest details, including his getaway. He believed that he would not be caught, and during the days between the attack itself, on the morning of November 23, 2022, and his arrest six days later, on November 29, he went on with his life as if nothing had happened: He continued sleeping at home, he went to his workplace as usual, and so forth. He was arrested at his place of work by Yamam counterterror activists and Shabak operatives. during the course of an ordinary workday.

After Froukh was interrogated and revealed more details of the incident, it became clear that it was a great miracle that the terror attack did not become a deadly bombing on a far more massive scale. Froukh had actually planned for both bombs to go off simultaneously, but the bomb at the Ramot Junction actually exploded half an hour later than the one at the bus stop at the exit from Yerushalayim. He had also planned to set off a much larger explosive, weighing five kilograms, about twenty minutes after the first blast in the Ramot area, with the intent of harming the security forces and emergency medical personnel who would rush to the scene of the bombing. The police revealed that the next bombing was prevented by a malfunction in the detonation system, and that Froukh used some means other than cellular phones to set off the bombs. Froukh hid the unused bomb near the area of his escape route, and the authorities believe that he planned to use it to perpetrate another terror attack at some later date.

And that is not all. Recent reports from the Ministry of Justice reveal that our enemies have not stopped plotting to harm us. Two Arabs were recently indicted on suspicion of having planned a mass terror attack at the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim. A 17-year-old terrorist from Wadi Ara was charged with planning a murderous terror attack in the Old City of Yerushalayim. And two Israelis were recently injured when a homemade explosive was thrown at a bus traveling toward Har Hazeisim in the vicinity of Har Hatzofim. The terrorists do not seem to rest for a moment.

The Myth of Chareidi Coercion

As the old adage puts it, ein simcha k’hataras hasefeikos—there is no greater cause for joy than a resolution of uncertainty. Israel is now celebrating the end of its own period of uncertainty, as the new government is finally getting down to business. The new ministers and other government officials have finally been chosen and appointed, but even more to the point, the government can now finally begin the business of ruling the country, and the coalition agreements can actually be implemented.

If you read through the text of the agreements, you will see that they have a single basic theme: correcting the damage and injustices caused by the previous government. The new coalition intends to undo the economic harm caused by its predecessors and, even more importantly, to repair the harm that was caused to the fabric of religious life in Israel. The previous regime behaved brutally and brazenly, violating every norm of governance while no one attempted to keep its behavior in check. And it is astounding that in spite of all of their own misconduct, they have the audacity to heap criticism on the chareidi parties!

In spite of the opposition’s claims, throughout the history of the State of Israel, the chareidim have never tried to force anything on anyone. At most, they have stood up for certain visible Jewish standards in the public sphere, since the State of Israel is not only a democratic state but a Jewish one as well—but that is all. No one was ever coerced to observe the Torah under duress. This week, Rav Dovid Yosef addressed this very issue and reminded the public, “My father used to say that a hail of stones is not an effective means of being mekareiv anyone!”

This is my response to the endless wave of incitement that is rocking the country. The lies being published are horrific, and part of the secular community is actually buying into those falsehoods. The truth is that the chareidi parties’ demands are indeed prolific; they stood their ground on every issue of importance, including the draft law, education, the Rabbinate, the Reform movement and the Kosel, and social welfare issues such as food vouchers and the housing crisis, not to mention financial support for the yeshiva world. This was all part of their promise to the religious public. Nevertheless, there isn’t a single demand that is new or unprecedented. For the most part, the goal is to put an end to the unjust policies instituted by the previous government; there are no efforts being made to impose new rules or behaviors on anyone else. And that means, quite simply, that the incitement against the chareidim is utterly baseless.

The Electric Company’s New Scheme

The government’s first priority will be to bring down the rising cost of living. This week, the prices of electricity and gasoline were raised, which will have an immediate impact on other prices as well. During the election campaign, Netanyahu himself spoke about this issue and promised to work to remedy it. The new finance minister, Betzalel Smotrich, likewise announced on his first day on the job that he intends to lower taxes. This week, a poll was conducted—after the new government was sworn in—to determine the issues of greatest interest to the average Israeli citizen. As could be expected, the pollsters found that the average citizen is most concerned about the cost of living, not about foreign affairs, government policy, or any of the ideological differences that divide the right and the left.

To make matters worse, many businesses are in the process of laying off workers. This is an ongoing trend, especially in the periphery of the country, and it is a devastating trend. When a person is laid off, he loses not only his salary but his sense of integrity and fulfillment in life; this casts a pall over his entire family. And many families are suffering from this phenomenon at this time. I am not going to blame the outgoing government for this, but it is certainly a painful phenomenon.

Speaking of electricity, I read that the electric company has proposed limiting the supply of electricity to poor families. The law prohibits cutting off the electric supply of a household that hasn’t paid its bills (this law was introduced by the chareidi legislators in the Knesset two terms ago), and the company is now trying to bypass the legal restriction by limiting the electric supply in advance rather than terminating their supply after the fact. I was so astounded that I do not even know what to say about this approach.

Hundreds of Bills Tabled in the Knesset

The Knesset, like the government, has finally begun its work. Whenever a new Knesset is inaugurated, which has happened many times in recent years, I am always amused by the various newspaper headlines that announce various “new” bills placed on the Knesset table as if they were actually newsworthy. One headline read, “Proposed Law Would Encourage Long-Term Rents,” while another proclaimed, “Bill Introduced to Stop Funding of Incitement.” The reason I find this amusing is that hundreds of bills are tabled at the beginning of every new Knesset, and most of them are copies of bills introduced in the Knesset’s previous terms. Moreover, the likelihood of these bills actually being passed into law is virtually nil in most cases; the purpose of submitting the proposals is more to make a statement than to actually bring about a change.

The reason it is unlikely for the bills to pass is that most ministries generally do not like having anyone interfere with their work, and they are bound to oppose any new measures. In addition, if a law will cost a significant amount of money, the government is bound to oppose it, and if a bill proves popular, then the government itself will adopt the idea and table its own version of the legislation. All proposed laws must pass a review by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and most bills are opposed by the committee. If a bill is introduced by someone in the opposition, the coalition will automatically dismiss it. If the bill’s author is part of the coalition, then the rules of coalition discipline will obligate him to remove it from the table himself.

This week, 1080 new bills were tabled in the Knesset. Some of them were completely predictable, such as a law calling for the dissolution of the Knesset, an override clause that would allow legislation to withstand attack by the Supreme Court, and a new chometz law. (On the other side of the spectrum, someone introduced a law promoting public transportation on Shabbos.) Several members of the Knesset are featured prominently among the authors of the bills: Uri Maklev, Yinon Azulai, Shlomo Karai, Ahmed Tibi, Moshe Arbel, Yaakov Asher, and Moshe Abutbul.

Glancing through the bills, I discovered that Mrs. Yasmin Friedman is still acting as an advocate for cats and dogs; she has now introduced a new bill that would set a legally required minimum living space for a pet with puppies or kittens (five square meters, to be precise) and would require certain amenities to be included in its space, such as wood chips, special toys, and a padded floor. The inmates in Israel’s prison system would be envious if this measure passed. Meanwhile, Boaz Toporovsky, along with several other MKs, introduced a bill that would call for the government to set up a database containing the DNA records of domesticated dogs, so that a dog can be identified by excrement discovered on the sidewalk and its owner can be fined. This is a problem that exists mainly in Tel Aviv.

Another bill was submitted by Moshe Saadah, who served until recently as the deputy head of the Department of Internal Police Investigations. Saadah proposed severing all ties between the DIPI and the state prosecution, as well as the connections between the police and the prosecution; he believes that the police have been working together too closely with the prosecution. He also proposes that the DIPI, rather than the police, should be charged with investigating prosecutors who are suspected of misconduct. Meanwhile, Yaakov Asher introduced another bill calling for the payment of damages to the families of the victims of the Meron tragedy, and Yinon Azulai resubmitted a bill to prevent overcharging in hospital vending machines. These are certainly bills that would be worthy of support.

Uri Maklev also authored dozens of bills, many of which would certainly be greatly beneficial if they came to fruition. One of the bills called for a reduction in the penalty imposed on a passenger on public transportation who fails to swipe his magnetic card. Maklev was wise enough to have the bill signed by several of his colleagues in Degel HaTorah as well, so that they can continue pushing it through the legislative process if he receives a position as a deputy minister. Avi (Avigdor) Maoz, in contrast, submitted his own bills (such as the proposed “Law of the Jurisdiction of Rabbinic Botei Din”) on his own. If he becomes a deputy minister, then nothing will come of all his hard work. When a Knesset member becomes part of the executive branch of the government, any bills that he has submitted become null and void automatically.

Kuseife Takes On Kasif

This week, the justices of the Supreme Court quietly discussed a petition filed against the Israeli government by Kuseife, a Bedouin local council in southern Israel. The council demanded that the government cancel the plans for the construction of the chareidi city of Kasif and return the land to the council’s jurisdiction. They argued that the government’s decision was not reasonable and that its goal is to crowd out the Bedouin populace in the area. The court case deals with the housing crisis that is a major challenge for the entire chareidi public, and the response of the Ministry of Housing includes dozens of supporting documents that serve as evidence of how the chareidim are viewed by the state authorities.

Here is a brief excerpt of the state’s arguments in response to the petition: “The petitioner’s claim that external considerations were involved in this decision does not meet the threshold of proof for an argument of this nature. The decision to establish Kasif as a chareidi city was based on planning considerations only, as part of a holistic and broad effort to respond to the needs for planning and construction in Israel. As we explained above, the Israeli government has found that it is necessary to advance construction for the chareidi populace, and the establishment of the city of Kasif as a city designated for a chareidi population, which is planned to include over 20,000 residential units, may contribute significantly toward meeting the goals that were specified and defined…. There is no basis for the claim that the establishment of the settlement is a bid to crowd out the Bedouin populace in the Negev.”

In its petition, the local council of Kuseife asked the court to issue a temporary stay preventing the government or any other body from continuing the development of Kasif. This request was rejected. Nevertheless, the judges (Stein, Mintz, and Fogelman) asked the government to respond with a number of details within 90 days. The judges are particularly interested in the information that the government possessed and the factors that it took into consideration when the decision to build the city of Kasif was made, at first almost ten years ago and then again in recent times, and why the land wasn’t given to Kuseife instead.

Apikorsus with a Precedent

Not long ago, Eretz Yisroel was shaken when a television host named Eyal Berkowitz, in a fit of emotion, labeled the chareidim as “idlers” and expressed dread of the prospect that they might enter the government. Several days ago, Natan Zahavi expressed similar sentiments. However, their comments really should not make much of an impression on anyone. It may be disturbing to observe the depths to which a Jew can descend, but Chazal themselves have already alerted us to the fact that when a Jew falls, he often falls hard. Apikorsim have existed in every generation throughout history; the comments of these two entertainers are nothing new. On that note, I recently came across an interesting comment made by Rav Avigdor Miller, one of the great talmidim of Slabodka, which was published in Toras Avigdor.

When Rav Miller spoke about the generation of Noach, he shared the following recollection: “I remember that when I was a yeshiva bochur in Europe, Jews who passed us in the streets would often call us ‘parasites.’ That was the situation in Europe before World War II. A yeshiva bochur was a target of disparagement and shaming. They looked us up and down and said those words to us without any shame. I am sorry to say this, but many Jews in Europe publicly showed contempt for yeshiva bochurim. They called us names, and ‘parasites’ was one of their favorite insults. Those Jews were apikorsim. In their eyes, anyone who did not produce something material was worthless. That was how in was those days. ‘Mai hanai lan rabbanan—What do the Torah scholars do for us?’ is a question asked by many people. Even those who do not ask it verbally often think it in their hearts: ‘What do we gain from them?’ They may say to themselves, ‘True, there are Jews in Yerushalayim who suffer from poverty and privation for the sake of the Torah. They have fourteen children and live in two rooms, and they are deep in debt because they learn Torah throughout their lives. Torah learning is the highest value for them. They should be praised for it.’ Anyone who thinks that is a wonderful Jew. He says, ‘I am happy for them,’ and he might even give charity to them, but not because he understands that the entire world benefits from them. That is a terrible mistake. It is a destruction of middos. A tzaddik brings tremendous benefit, to you and to the entire generation.”

Miracle in the Hospital

The following is a true story that recently took place in Yerushalayim and that I was asked to publicize. The story involves a young woman who was diagnosed with a tumor. Any such diagnosis is the culmination of a long process that begins with unexplained pains, followed by an X-ray, and then, as the suspicions grow, a CT scan and an MRI. At every stage of the process, the patient’s heart tends to pound with anticipation and dread. When the radiologist determines that there is a tumor, the next step is an urgent biopsy. Of course, the young lady’s parents davened fervently and tearfully throughout this process, and their daughter davened for herself as well. But while they were going through this ordeal, they did not share their secret with anyone. After all, why should they cause anyone else to worry?

The young woman’s instincts told her that she should make some improvement in the realm of tzinus, specifically because it was a significant challenge for her. She was confident that Hashem would show kindness to her in exchange for the hardship she was taking upon herself. She committed to changing several aspects of her dress, and she showed up for the biopsy, which was actually a miniature operation of sorts, with confidence in the mercy of her Creator. The family was hopeful that the results would show that the tumor could be easily cured. Of course, making their way through the hospital corridors was a daunting experience once again. Their hearts pounded in unison as the young lady prepared for the procedure. The automatic doors closed behind her, and she waved at her parents. “Be calm,” a kind nurse told them. “It will be good.”

Time passed, and then a commotion suddenly erupted. A doctor and nurse hurried over to the parents and announced, “Something is strange. We can’t find the tumor!”

“What do you mean?” they asked.

“What we mean,” the doctor said, “is that after she wakes up, you can go home. There is no cancer to treat!”

It was truly a miracle.

After hearing this fantastic account, I spoke to the father personally and asked him if this story is true. “Absolutely,” he said. “That is exactly the way it happened.”

“And why do you want it to be publicized?” I asked him.

“To give thanks to Hashem for His miracles,” he said, “and to encourage others to take on kabbolos before the warning signs even emerge.”

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