Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My Take On The News

A New Scourge: Child Terrorists

The month of Adar is here and it is time for us to increase our joy, even though it is not an easy proposition to do so at this time. We are all still grieving in the wake of the terror attack in Ramot. The mother of the murdered boys, Devorah Paley, has become a powerful force promoting unity. Masses of people came to visit the family during the shiva, including many of the gedolei hador. In addition, the media also showed up and broadcast images of Mrs. Paley and her eldest son, Tzviki, creating a tremendous kiddush Hashem. President Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu also visited the grieving family, and the latter asked the mother for permission to display a picture of her two sons in his office. “It will make it easier for me to explain the nature of our enemies to visitors from abroad,” he said.

Sadly, things haven’t exactly been quiet here in Israel during the time since the murderous attack. “Minor” terror attacks are barely reported in the news anymore, but there were a few distressing incidents last week, including an attempted car ramming attack at the Shuafat refugee camp, where the terrorist tried to ram a car into a group of police officers. In other incidents, a 14-year-old terrorist attacked a Jewish youth with a knife in the Old City of Yerushalayim, and a 13-year-old Arab pulled out a knife on a bus in the middle of a security inspection and stabbed the soldier who was inspecting the bus. This episode ended in a terrible tragedy, since a security guard tried to shoot the Palestinian youth and accidentally killed the soldier instead. The latter two incidents have made the world aware of an unfortunate new phenomenon: terror attacks perpetrated by children.

In addition, the communities in the south came under rocket fire, and another very serious and unprecedented phenomenon occurred when Palestinians began throwing homemade explosives at vehicles at the Neve Yaakov junction. This is an area that is always quiet, but it seems that the escalation in violence is beginning to affect neighborhoods in Yerushalayim. That, of course, is truly unsettling.

Right now, Israel’s security services are very worried about the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began last week and often brings violence in its wake. Palestinian nationalism sends to surge during the month of Ramadan, and the authorities are always concerned about the prospect of increased violence. In addition, it is a month when tens of thousands of Palestinians ascend to Har Habayis every Friday, and the Israeli authorities are especially concerned about the prospect of violence on the last Friday of the month. This past Friday already saw riots taking place in the Old City. In short, we must continue davening fervently that there will be no further calamities.

Are Israelis Urging America to Fight Israel?

The battle against judicial reform is still raging. Last week, President Herzog delivered a speech calling on both sides to reach a compromise and to lower the flames of controversy. He presented an organized plan that called for the government to halt the legislative process involved in the reform while beginning a dialogue between the parties to this dispute—the government, the opposition, and the Supreme Court. However, the president’s plan wasn’t put into action, as neither of the sides was willing to take up the gauntlet. The government announced that they would pass several of the clauses and then sit down to engage in dialogue after the preliminary votes; the opposition rejected that idea. It also became very clear that there is no unified consensus among the members of the opposition, and that Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz cannot even come to an agreement on a shared position regarding the reforms.

In the midst of all this turmoil, the attorney general barred Prime Minister Netanyahu from involvement in any aspect of the judicial reform, including the attempts to broker a reconciliation between the warring sides. I am sure that this sounds absurd to you, but it is exactly what she decided. President Herzog even went so far as to ask her to reverse her decision, but she remained insistent. The truth is that it was a bit of a bizarre request for Herzog to make, considering that the attorney general is presumed to be giving her opinion on the provisions of the law, and there is no reason for her to change her interpretation of the law due to a request from the president. In any event, this only served to further stoke the flames of hostility, and the attorney general managed to infuriate the government as well. She also evoked outrage when she suggested that Netanyahu might be declared unfit to serve for office due to his conflict of interest over the judicial reform. The government responded by preparing to pass a bill that will stipulate that a prime minister can be declared unfit to hold office only for medical reasons. Personally, I am curious if there is a similar mechanism in American law.

Meanwhile, the sort of story that could only occur in Israel unfolded: An editorial in the left-wing newspaper Haaretz called on the American administration to refrain from using its veto in the upcoming discussion in the United Nations Security Council over a potential condemnation of Israel. That potential condemnation was triggered by the Israeli government’s decision to legalize certain outposts in response to the terror attacks in Ramot and Neve Yaakov, and there is talk of including the judicial reform as another reason to censure the country. But it is sad to see Jews in Israel exerting pressure on America to harm the State of Israel. The same criticism can be leveled against Lapid, who has been engaging in “talks” with Americans and has warned that “we are going to lose America.” Some feel that Lapid is behaving like a fifth column within the State of Israel, urging the Americans to oppose the elected government of Israel in general and its prime minister, Binyomin Netanyahu, in particular.

Nides Asks to Put on the Brakes

Once we are discussing America, it is impossible to overlook the recent actions of Ambassador Tom Nides. The American ambassador is taking sides in the dispute within Israel, which is not a good thing at all. Last weekend, the ambassador revealed that the Biden administration had advised Prime Minister Netanyahu to “pump the brakes” regarding the planned judicial reform. “That is what we are doing now,” Tom Nides told the press. “We are telling the prime minister, just as I tell my children, to pump the brakes. It is time to slow down, to try to reach some sort of consensus, and to unite both sides.”

Nides made this statement in an interview with David Axelrod, former advisor to President Barack Obama and now a political commentator for CNN. “It is very complicated,” Nides said. “They [the Israelis] are trying to do things too quickly, and it would be a good thing for them to hit the brakes and slow the pace. That is the message that I gave to the prime minister.”

Nides was highly undiplomatic. “President Biden explained that our relationship with Israel is very important to him, but we will not move aside or ignore actions that we consider to be opposed to our values,” he said bluntly. “The United States will not sit here and tell Israel how to choose the judges of its High Court and what to do in its reforms. But we do believe in democratic values and democratic institutions, and that is critical to the relations between us.” The ambassador added that President Biden was speaking out of concern for Israel.

The ambassador seemed to get a bit carried away. “I believe that Netanyahu’s coalition will ultimately open negotiations with the opposition over the judicial reform, but for the time being, major damage is being done,” he went on. “Not only Reform and liberal Jews in America, but modern and conservative Jews are also worried.” Some leading European politicians made similar statements, albeit in even stronger terms. And here in Israel, people are beginning to wonder if someone within this country is fueling their condemnations.

Chikli Accuses Obama of Backstabbing

Of course, the ambassador’s words managed to infuriate the political right in Israel. Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the Constitution Committee and an expert jurist who belongs to the Religious Zionism party and is one of the leading proponents of the judicial reform, tried to put the ambassador in his place. “I don’t think that there is a need to meddle in the internal affairs of any state,” Rothman said. “The current vote deals with a change in the system for selecting judges that will make Israel a democracy like all other democracies in the world. I don’t think that there is any legitimacy, neither in Israel nor abroad, in claiming that it endangers the State of Israel.”

Rothman also alluded to the fact that there are individuals within Israel who are acting contrary to the state’s interests. “If a responsible person doesn’t want to be part of the state opposition, he won’t lead a BDS campaign against our state,” he said. “He won’t lose an election and then burn the country down as Yair Lapid is doing. Someone who is concerned about the State of Israel would sit and talk.”

Another person who spoke out against the ambassador was Amichai Chikli, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs. “I say this to the American ambassador: Mind your own business,” Chikli declared. “You should be pumping the brakes yourself. You are not sovereign here, to deal with the judicial reform. We will be happy to discuss foreign affairs and defense with you, but you must respect our democracy.” Chikli added, “We saw that the Obama administration did not give backing to Israel. Sometimes they even stabbed us in the back. That was Obama’s legacy, which was also seen in his final vote in the United Nations. Nides’s statements are extremely problematic.”

A Partial Delay

“We won’t stop for even a single moment,” Yariv Levin has declared, infuriating his opponents. A massive protest was held outside the Knesset on Monday, similar to the one that took place last week. Incidentally, last week we were all admitted to the Knesset building through an emergency exit. There were a few hours in the morning when it was utterly impossible to drive a car into the area. Nevertheless, the legislative process will continue. It was supposed to take place last Monday and Wednesday and was postponed until this week out of respect for the president, but even that consideration has its limits.

There are three laws that Yariv Levin and his leading partner in this initiative, Simcha Rothman, feel an urgent need to pass immediately. The first is a law that will change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, stripping the three judges on the committee of their veto power (along with the representatives of the Israel Bar Association) and transferring that power to elected politicians in the government. The second is the so-called Deri Law, which stipulates that neither the Supreme Court nor any other judicial authority has the power to override appointments that have been approved by the government or Knesset. The third is a law granting supremacy to the Basic Laws, which states that if the Knesset enacts a law that is categorized as a Basic Law, the Supreme Court will not have the power to strike it down. This measure is better known as the override clause, since it allows the Knesset to override the court.

I have told you this in the past, but I will repeat it now: This third law is being brought to an urgent vote due to pressure from the chareidi parties. One of the clauses in the coalition agreements between the Likud and the two chareidi parties, UTJ and Shas, calls for the immediate passage of an override clause. This is a matter of paramount importance to the chareidi parties for one reason: the draft law.

In the past, whenever a law was passed granting a draft deferment to yeshiva bochurim—whether with or without quotas and criminal sanctions—the Supreme Court always came along and struck down the law, claiming that it was a sham and an attempt to deceive the country. These rulings came in response to petitions claiming that the laws fostered a lack of equality between chareidi and secular youths, and the court always accepted the arguments that the draft law violated the Basic Law guaranteeing equality among all citizens of the country, and therefore ordered the Knesset to draft a new law. To be honest, there is no other law that can be passed; we know that the chareidim will never accept a law that requires the forced conscription of yeshiva bochurim. The only draft laws acceptable to the chareidim will be the sort of diluted laws that the Supreme Court is bound to reject. Therefore, it is crucial for the government to pass a new Basic Law that will deprive the court of the power to overturn any Basic Laws. The next step will be to enact a law known as the Basic Law: Torah Study, which will include a draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim just like the one that was previously struck down by the court—but this deferment will be immune to judicial review.

Mandelblit Confirms Deri’s Claims

Last week, there was another development pertinent to the Deri Law, when former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was interviewed in the media and dropped several bombshells. For one thing, he said that the plea bargain reached with Aryeh Deri wasn’t really a special leniency; it was entirely just and appropriate. This pulled the proverbial rug out from beneath the feet of the Supreme Court justices, who had argued that Deri lied to the judge in his case when he promised to resign from political life permanently, in the hope that this would lead the judge to accept the lenient plea bargain. If the agreement wasn’t really a leniency, then there was no motivation for Deri to falsely claim that he was making a permanent exit from politics. Mandelblit also said that no one actually asked Deri to resign permanently from political life or even to step down at all (even from the 24th Knesset, from which he did actually resign).

Mandelblit’s interview—or, rather, the part that wasn’t originally broadcast but was later leaked to the press—infuriated everyone in the country who values justice. His comments verified every single statement made by Deri. Based on Mandelblit’s comments, it is clear that the judges of the Supreme Court committed an unforgivable and irrevocable offense, regardless of how positive a spin one puts on it. In effect, the Supreme Court conspired to destroy Aryeh Deri. It was astounding that Mandelblit claimed that the plea agreement wasn’t an act of leniency for Deri at all. In fact, some believe that it was utterly draconian. Moreover, Mandelblit claimed that the notion of Deri dropping out of public life was never discussed at all. When the Shas party members discussed this interview during their weekly meeting, they nearly exploded with outrage.

Mandelblit also mentioned that there were “problems” in the investigation and that it was unnecessarily prolonged (“for quite a few years”). He concluded, “The law enforcement system was not at its best in this case.” When he was asked if he had been given the impression that Deri was stepping down from public life, Mandelblit said, “Not at all. It wasn’t part of the agreement.” The interviewer pressed, “You mean that as far as you were concerned, it wasn’t necessarily true that Deri knew that he was leaving politics?” Mandelblit replied, “Correct. That was very clear.”

It is unfortunate that Mandelblit didn’t make these comments prior to the Supreme Court hearing. In any event, he certainly stripped the legitimacy from the judges’ verdict and amplified the chareidi community’s sense of persecution. Most importantly, he echoed exactly what Deri said in his own defense—the very same statements that many refused to accept as truth when they came from Aryeh Deri.

Supreme Court Ruling Grows Shakier

At the party meeting, Deri mentioned that he had been asked why he did not speak up (as the Supreme Court justices alleged) when the judge in his case stated for the record that he was leaving politics altogether. During his earlier interviews, Deri had claimed that he had missed the judge’s statement, possibly due to the emotional nature of the moment. After a few days passed, however, it was discovered that the judge never made that statement at all. But if the judge never voiced his conviction that Deri was leaving public life, and there was never any reason for Deri to leave politics, and the plea agreement absolutely did not demand that he leave public life, then why was Deri disqualified to serve as a minister?

It is also infuriating to watch as some propagandists draw a connection between Deri’s case and the judicial reform program. The chareidi parties are demanding justice for a man who has been unfairly persecuted for decades; what does that have to do with the judicial reform? Amazingly, the avowed defenders of justice are remaining silent in the face of the judiciary’s blatantly immoral behavior. Perhaps the conclusion that must be drawn is simply that we are still in golus.

Meanwhile, an eloquent and persuasive legal expert named Yonah Sherki has published an article slamming the court’s ruling against Deri; he likens the Supreme Court’s verdict to shooting an arrow and then painting the target around it.

On the same topic, I would advise you to hold onto your seats for this next revelation: Mandelblit held a conversation with a senior journalist in which he specified that he was not to be quoted. Such exchanges are generally attributed to anonymous sources, even though everyone understands exactly where the information comes from. In this case, the media declined to publish one important part of their exchange: When Mandelblit was asked why he had agreed to sign a lenient plea agreement, he replied, “Lenient? It was nothing of the sort.”

Mandelblit then dropped another bombshell, which was also not initially reported. Roni Tadmor, the prosecutor for taxation and financial cases, was responsible for handling the investigation into Deri’s affairs—and he had advised Mandelblit against indicting Deri at all! Tadmor explained that in such cases, it is not the standard practice to press charges against a defendant. Mandelblit mentioned this to substantiate his claim that the plea agreement wasn’t lenient at all; he also explained that he was the one who decided to file an indictment against Deri in spite of this recommendation.

And people wonder why the Israeli public is losing faith in the judicial system….

Aharon Barak Reveals His Folly

Speaking of judges and the Supreme Court, Professor Aharon Barak, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court and the architect of Israel’s judicial revolution, is in the news again. The entire Israeli media has been beating a path to his door in recent times, and Barak has been granting interviews without cease. In one case, he was asked if he believes that the world has a Creator, and he responded with an emphatic no. Apparently, elderly am haaratzim develop a more voracious appetite for publicity in their old age…. Professor Barak also demonstrated the truth of Chazal’s teaching that silence is a “fence” for wisdom. The more he talks, the more he makes himself into a laughingstock.

This week, a young fellow who has been monitoring Barak’s interviews shared some of his observations with me. First of all, he commented that Barak asserted that he does not believe in a Creator, but he also declared that he considers Judaism equivalent to democracy. Not only is that an unrealistic statement, it is also inherently contradictory; if a man considers himself an atheist, the concept of Judaism has no meaning to him. Barak also made some heretical statements. His life is completely devoid of Yiddishkeit of any kind. He is a total am haaretz.

The media’s efforts to portray Barak as some sort of virtuous ascetic are also laughable. Barak admitted that his own monthly salary is “only” 40,000 shekels (after taxes) and that his wife earns “only” 30,000 shekels—a small fortune for most Israeli citizens. He claimed that “we have only a single apartment, of which I own 50 percent,” but the media reported that Barak actually owns several apartments. He also contradicted himself multiple times. He claimed that Netanyahu had agreed to plead guilty to crimes in the context of a plea agreement, but Netanyahu denied that claim. Barak then said, “All right, there is a dispute between us. He might be right or I might be right, but at this point it doesn’t make a difference.” Except that it certainly does make a difference!

Barak also claimed that he is not following Netanyahu’s criminal trial, which is very difficult to believe. He gave inconsistent answers to the question of whether Yariv Levin consulted with him about his judicial reform initiative, and he also could not keep his story straight about his childhood in Kovno. In one interview, Barak claimed to remember playing in Kovno as a child; in a different conversation, he claimed that he did not remember the city at all.

In spite of his effort to project an air of humility, Barak referred to one of the panels of Supreme Court justices as “miserable.” He also made himself appear ludicrous when he boasted, “I am in the middle of writing a 3000-page book about the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.” One wonders where such megalomania comes from. Even if he manages to come up with dozens of pretexts to “kasher” the Basic Laws, what could possibly fill 3000 pages? Perhaps it is as Rav Shimshon Pincus once said: Sometimes, a single lie forces a person to add another thousand lies afterward to uphold it. Perhaps the same thing is true of the deception and conniving that led to the birth of the Basic Laws.

Is a Shortage of Pesach Products in the Offing?

I have many more things to report to you; first, let me make a brief comment about Turkey. The number of confirmed fatalities from the devastating earthquake has already reached nearly 50,000—and that is aside from all the people who survived but have been left homeless and penniless. The stories emerging from the disaster zone have touched people everywhere. Of course, Jews throughout the world were deeply saddened to learn that the bodies of the leader of the Jewish community in Turkey, Shaul Cenodioglu, and his wife, Fortuna, had been found in the rubble after the quake. But the calamity may yet affect the Jewish community in Israel in another way as well: Mashgichei kashrus have warned that there may be a major shortage of Pesach products in Israel, since many of those products are typically imported from Turkey.

On another interesting note, last week I was in the Knesset when the Special Committee for Bridging Social Gaps on the Periphery (yes, there is such a committee) held its first session. This is a new committee headed by MK Avrohom Betzalel of the Shas party. There was a fascinating discussion, which was attended by a number of mayors, most of them from cities on the periphery, and many other members of the Knesset. Ofer Cassif, the lone Jew on the Joint Arab List, had the temerity to say what the chareidim sometimes suspect. He spoke about prejudice and discrimination against residents of the periphery, Sephardim, and the poor (all of which generally go together), and then he said, “People try to tell us not to let the genie of ethnic discrimination out of the bottle, but I must say that it has been a long time since it was in the bottle. It has simply become more sophisticated.”

The media, meanwhile, has not only become partisan; it has become completely detached from reality. In Yediot Acharonot, the newspaper that is probably in the best position to influence public opinion in Israel, a recent editorial slammed the current government. “The list of social causes that this government has abandoned for the sake of advancing its judicial revolution is endless,” the editor wrote. “All of these things are not receiving the attention of the members of the coalition, who promised to work for us.” The newspaper also mentioned the recent report on poverty released by the National Insurance Institute, which it claimed met with “thunderous silence” on the part of the government. But this criticism was absolutely unfounded; the Knesset certainly discussed the poverty report. Last month, six members of the Knesset submitted urgent motions for the agenda in response to the report; all six spoke in the Knesset, and the deputy finance minister responded. The issue was then moved to a committee for further discussion. Thus, it was not only taken seriously but actually progressed to the next stage of government work. And this is only one example of the media’s complete ignorance of the facts.

Thousands of Mothers Can’t Sleep at Night

One of the speakers who addressed the subject of the poverty report was Yonosan Mashriki, a new Knesset member on behalf of the Shas party. Mashriki delivered a powerful speech that received everyone’s attention. “My friends, members of the Knesset,” he announced, “there are 522,000 families in this country who do not know whether they will have food to eat tomorrow. There are 522,000 mothers who cannot sleep at night…. Hunger has no skin color; the desire to have a full stomach is not exclusive to any ethnicity. Hunger can wear a yarmulke or be bareheaded; it can be Jewish or Muslim, and it can afflict a person from Kyiv or Tunisia. Hunger is hunger.

“If there was even one mother, just one, who didn’t have food for her children, we would be required to move heaven and earth to help her. But we are speaking about 522,000 mothers. Woe to the society that turns its back on suffering parents and starving children. We have been commanded not to ignore the poor; we must help them…. This is Ido, it is Yael, it is Shimon, and it is Hadar. It is Moshe, the father who works in a factory, and Simcha, the mother who works as a cleaning lady. The world exists for people like these, who will never compromise on their children’s education and won’t let their families go without medications, but who spend every night anxiously wondering whether they will have food on the following day.”

A Bris and a Jewish Name

In Sefer Tehillim (49:12), Dovid Hamelech states, “They call their names upon the land.” Rav Ovadiah Yosef used to quote this posuk when he expressed his objections to people who adopted secular names in place of their Jewish names. When a man named Yosef decides to call himself Joe, Rav Ovadiah used to say, it will not be of any benefit to him; the day will come when he will return to his original name.

This, Rav Ovadiah explained, is the message of this posuk: When people are buried in the earth, they will be called by their Jewish names. Whether they like it or not, their true names will accompany them to the grave. Rav Ovadiah also quipped that this same idea might be read into the common declaration at a bris milah, “Just as he has been brought into the covenant, so may he be brought into Torah, chuppah, and maasim tovim.” The same Jewish name that is given to a child at his bris, Rav Ovadiah explained, should be carried proudly at his bar mitzvah, at his wedding, and throughout his life.

A Gift for Everyone

In last week’s parsha, we read about Bnei Yisroel’s declaration of naaseh v’nishma. There is something peculiar about this declaration: How could every individual Jew have made this statement in the plural, effectively voicing a commitment on behalf of all of his brethren as well? How did every Jewish person know that his fellow Jews would be equally willing to make the commitment?

This week, I came across a beautiful story that provides an answer to this question.

Rav Yankele Galinsky, the famed maggid, related the following: “I once traveled to America and stayed at the home of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky. On motzoei Shabbos, he invited me to accompany him to Boro Park for his grandson’s bar mitzvah, and we traveled there together. There were many roshei yeshivos and many other guests in the hall, and during the meal, the bar mitzvah boy stood up and conducted a siyum on five masechtos. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky then began speaking, and he said, ‘The Midrash and the Zohar state that the yetzer hatov comes to a person at his bar mitzvah. Until that time, a person is accompanied only by the yetzer hora, which is implanted in him throughout his childhood; that is why it is known as the old and foolish king. But that means that our bar mitzvah boy learned five masechtos while he was accompanied only by the yetzer hora. How is that possible?’

“Rav Yaakov went on to describe how he had once gone to an elementary school in Monsey to test the children, and he asked them how it was possible for every Jew in Klal Yisroel to make the declaration of naaseh v’nishma in the plural form, which meant that he was expressing a commitment on behalf of his fellow Jews as well. None of the children knew the answer to this question, and Rav Yaakov then pulled out a package of candies from his pocket and announced that he would be distributing the candies in spite of the fact that no one had known the answer. ‘Who likes chocolate?’ Rav Yaakov asked the boys.

“The students all chorused in unison, ‘We all do!’

“Rav Yaakov looked at them with a smile and said, ‘Now do you understand? There are some things that one does not need to ask, because it is obvious what everyone else thinks, just as it is obvious that everyone likes chocolate.’

“Rav Yaakov turned to the guests at the bar mitzvah and said, ‘That is also the explanation for these siyumim. The yetzer hora is powerless to overcome the tremendous desire that a Jew feels to learn the holy, precious Torah, even when the yetzer hatov is not present.”

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