Danger in Yehuda and Shomron
I am filled with sympathy for the Jews who live in outlying settlements in Yehuda and Shomron. They live in constant fear, with the specter of terror attacks perpetually looming over their heads, but when they lose their patience and try to give the Palestinians a taste of lawlessness, they are vilified as terrorists. You have certainly already read about the bloodbath at the entrance to the community of Eli; last week, the Yated managed to report on the terror attack at the last minute. The multiple murders left the country reeling in shock and grief.
But the murderous attack wasn’t the only reason for their fear; the residents of Yehuda and Shomron fear for their lives on a daily basis. I have already written about the terror on the roads and the regular throwing of rocks and homemade explosives. Just this week, a little girl was injured while traveling in a car that was pelted with stones. These incidents aren’t even reported in the media. On Tuesday evening, Israelis at the Qalandiya checkpoint noticed a Palestinian man moving suspiciously among the cars and drawing close to them. Civilian security guards, who were manning the checkpoint together with police officers from the Yerushalayim district, ordered the suspect to stop. As they approached him, they saw that he was carrying a bag containing a knife. At a certain point, when the suspect tried to flee, the security forces began the procedure for placing him under arrest, without shooting at him, and the suspect dropped his bag and was taken into custody. An initial probe of the incident indicated that the Palestinian was planning to carry out a terror attack. After his arrest, he was taken for questioning by the security services. Earlier on that same day, a 50-year-old Israeli was moderately wounded when he was stabbed in his abdomen after entering a store with his son in a Palestinian village. The Israeli victim was treated by MDA paramedics and was taken to Sheba Tel HaShomer Medical Center. These are routine events; may Hashem protect us all!
Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, spoke out against the government after the attack in Eli and declared, “The Israeli government is giving up on the security of its citizens. It is doing too little, too late, in the face of the current wave of terror and is losing its power of deterrence. We are in the middle of a wave of terror, and if the government doesn’t come to its senses, it will spread throughout the country. The Palestinian Authority has turned terrorism into the most profitable occupation. If a terrorist is captured, he will receive a salary from the Palestinian Authority that is taken from our money, the funds that Israel continues transferring to the authority. Unfortunately, the Israeli government has repeatedly lost its deterrent power. We need to launch a comprehensive counterterror military operation, to bring back the checkpoints, confiscate weapons, and go on the offensive. The people expect the government to wake up, to stop the wave of terror, and to restore the citizens’ security. We will not agree to live in the shadow of terror.”
Two days later, on Friday night, a terrorist opened fire on security forces at the very same spot — the Qalandiya checkpoint in Yerushalayim — lightly wounding two men in their twenties, one of whom was a civilian security guard. The security forces returned fire and neutralized the terrorist, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Police officers, Border Guard officers, and IDF soldiers were summoned to the scene, and a team of MDA paramedics treated the victims and evacuated them to Hadassah Ein Kerem. The terrorist, who arrived on foot, was shot with an M-16 machine gun. The Al-Aqsa Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack.
An Unusual Announcement
The above information should give you some idea of what has impelled Israeli settlers to take the law into their own hands and burn and destroy Palestinian property. And while vigilante activities are certainly beyond the pale in any normally functioning country, there is still a world of difference between condemning the settlers’ actions and attacking them as vehemently as the Israeli media has done, to the point of referring to them as Jewish terrorists.
The atmosphere of antipathy toward the Jewish settlers has grown especially intense following an unusually harsh announcement released jointly by IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shabak director Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. The three men, who make up the top brass of Israel’s entire defense establishment, wrote the following: “In recent days, Israeli civilians have been committing violent attacks against innocent Arabs in the areas of Yehuda and the Shomron. These attacks violate every moral and Jewish value and are considered nationalist terror in every respect, and we are obligated to fight against them. The security forces have been working against those rioters despite the danger to the lives of IDF soldiers, Israeli police officers, and operatives of the General Security Service. This violence is leading to an increase in Arab terror, harms the State of Israel and the international legitimacy of its security forces in their fight against Arab terror, and distracts the security services from their main task of fighting Arab terror. The IDF, the Shabak, and the Israel Police Force are obligated to continue acting with determination and with all the means at our disposal to preserve security and enforce the law in Yehuda and Shomron. The IDF will increase its presence to prevent such incidents in Yehuda and the Shomron, and the Shabak will expand its arrests, including the administrative arrests of rioters who are engaging in extremism and violence within the villages. We call on the leaders in the settlements, the educators, and the public figures, to publicly condemn these acts of violence and to join the battle against them.”
Ambassador Nides Speaks Out
You may have noticed that the three officials mentioned a policy of administrative arrests. I must point out that these arrests are terrible abuses of power; the detainees are often beaten viciously and are denied meetings with their lawyers. This is a violation of the most basic rights of a prisoner, but even worse than that is the fact that it robs the settlers, who live with constant mortal danger, of any sense of legitimacy.
The American ambassador to Israel was also not silent in the face of this phenomenon. On Thursday, Ambassador Nides said, “We will not stand on the sidelines and watch this settler violence. It needs to stop.” In response to the deadly shootings near Eli, Nides added, “My heart breaks for all the families who lost their loved ones 48 hours ago.” Then he said, “I was very clear and very specific when I said that we will not stand on the side and we will not accept what has happened in recent days in the Palestinian villages. We are pushing the Israelis to do everything they need to do in order to stop these people.” These comments were made by the ambassador at a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian youths in Tel Aviv. Nides emphasized that America is encouraging the Israeli government to instruct its security forces to take every possible step to prevent settler violence against Palestinians and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
A Bombshell Comment from the Judges
I have written a separate article this week about Netanyahu’s trial, but I will add one comment here. The judges recently told the prosecution that it will be very hard for them to secure a conviction in the bribery case against Netanyahu and that it is advisable for them to consider a plea bargain. This came as a bombshell on the political and legal fronts alike, and the media has been analyzing and discussing the issue without ceasing. Amazingly, the attorney general quickly responded that as far as she is concerned, the trial will continue as usual — in other words, she is completely ignoring the judges’ comment. She opined that since we are only halfway through the trial, the judges’ statement is not relevant at this time.
The attorney general’s statement elicited a cascade of ridicule. Considering the fact that the first half of the trial consisted of witnesses for the prosecution and the remainder of the trial will be dedicated to witnesses for the defense, her position seems absurd. If the judges feel at this point, after hearing the prosecution’s witnesses, that they are losing the case, how will the witnesses for the defense change that? Many people have attributed the attorney general’s comments to the fact that she does not have any experience in criminal court. But even Netanyahu’s most ardent critics, including the journalists who have done nothing but attack him mercilessly, have recently changed their approach.
This week, all eyes are on Brighton, England, where businessman Arnon Milchan has been placed on the witness stand to testify about the cigars and champagne that he gifted to Binyomin Netanyahu and his wife. Milchan’s testimony is crucial for the case, since the indictment alleges that he funded the Netanyahu family’s supply of champagne and cigars in exchange for Netanyahu’s support for extending a tax break that had enormous economic value for him. For the time being, however, Milchan has been telling the court about his close friendship with the Netanyahus, which has been eroding the prosecution’s case, since it seems to indicate that the gifts were an expression of friendship rather than an attempt to influence a politician. Milchan also challenged the prosecution with a simple question: “What is the connection between Sara and Bibi? If I gave champagne to Sara, what does that have to do with Bibi?”
‘Do You Want Me to Look at the Ceiling?’
Arnon Milchan appeared ill as he laboriously climbed the steps to the room where he delivered his testimony. In fact, he insisted on testifying in England because he claimed to be too ill to travel to Israel. Sara Netanyahu, who received special permission to be present for the court sessions, was in the room as he spoke, while the judges and Binyomin Netanyahu listened to his testimony from Yerushalayim.
There were plenty of ludicrous moments during the proceedings. At one point, the prosecuting attorney said, “I would like to inform [the judges in Yerushalayim] that Mrs. Netanyahu is here in the room with us and is maintaining eye contact with the witness at all times. I would like to point out that it is prohibited to make faces at the witness or to hint to him in any way.”
Amit Chadad, the defense attorney, spoke up in response. “I have never heard of or seen any rule that prohibits maintaining eye contact with a witness,” he said. “I don’t even know what that means. Unless Mrs. Netanyahu has sprouted eyes on her back, this does nothing but reflect on the prosecution’s questioning. What sort of argument is it that Mrs. Netanyahu is influencing the witness with her eye contact? What does that mean?”
Judge Feldman said, “The prosecution has requested something.” It was clear that she did not understand what was being asked.
“What should I do?” Milchan asked. “Do you want me to look at the ceiling?”
Arnon Milchan will be testifying for ten days, from Sunday through Thursday for two consecutive weeks, from 12:00 until 6:00 p.m. every day. If his testimony doesn’t provide support for the prosecution’s claims, then the tide will certainly turn in Netanyahu’s favor in this case as well. Many people already do not doubt what has really happened: The judiciary decided to trump up charges against a sitting prime minister and destroyed an entire country in the process, dragging us all into an endless cycle of elections and, worst of all, causing a terrible rift within the Israeli people.
Coalition to Advance Reasonability Bill
There is much more that could be written about Netanyahu, but I will try to focus on other subjects at this point. However, it is impossible to get through a column without some political news, so let us begin with that.
The protests are steadily dying out. People are not taking to the streets as they used to, possibly because they have already lost their tolerance for the demonstrations or because they are beginning to realize that Netanyahu isn’t quite the bad guy that he has been made out to be. On the other hand, Ehud Barak is continuing to speak at the protests in an effort to ignite controversy. This week, Barak repeated his call for a civil rebellion, which left him sounding very bad. Several complaints were filed against him, since his calls for rebellion are likely illegal. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that anything will be done about it.
There was also a conflict with the Druse in the north, and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir met with the Druse sheik in an attempt to restore calm. In the meantime, Netanyahu has also become involved in the situation. But this isn’t the type of story that deserves too much attention.
Meanwhile, the Knesset is debating when, how, and to what extent to advance the judicial reform or at least some parts of it. The Likud party has decided, in light of the inappropriate behavior of Lapid and Gantz, to stop giving much consideration to them. This week, they plan to advance the reasonability bill, which will prevent the judges of the Supreme Court from invalidating decisions of the government or the Knesset on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” From now on, the judges will not be empowered to make the subjective decision of what is considered reasonable. This law is important to the chareidim for a couple of reasons: It will help reinforce the draft exemption for yeshiva bochurim and it should make it possible for Aryeh Deri to return to the government. I predict that the Knesset will discuss the law as early as this coming week.
Shuvu recently held bar mitzvah and bas mitzvah celebrations for hundreds of children in its schools. Every Shuvu event is inspirational, and an event for children reaching the age of mitzvos is especially meaningful. The boys’ event was attended by two gedolei Yisroel, Rav Yehuda Silman, and Rav Yehuda Aryeh Dinner, and the children received sets of tefillin. At the event for girls on the following day, the principal addressed the students, and another speech was delivered by the mayor of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Avrohom Rubinstein. I was quite impressed with the assortment of dedications that I observed: one label read “in honor of the marriage of Rabbi Yosef Hoch’s daughter,” while a group of siddurim were donated by Rika Knopf, the widow of Reb Mordechai, and another dedication was in memory of Chana Naomi bas Michoel Yosef. The people of Shuvu are experts at giving hakaras hatov where it is due, which is a very important quality.
I was especially moved when I listened to the speech delivered by the director of Shuvu, Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman. “A few days ago, I was on a plane and found myself sitting next to a man who was greeted by everyone who passed him with the words ‘Shalom, Uzi,’” Rabbi Gutterman said. “I wondered who this Uzi was; he was presumably someone famous. I asked his name, and he replied, ‘Uzi Dayan.’ He has been a deputy chief of staff of the IDF and a member of the Knesset and is a person of renown in the secular world.” I will add that Uzi Dayan is also a decorated figure who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit of the IDF, participated in the rescue of the passengers on the hijacked Sabena plane, and served as the head of the National Security Council.
“We began to talk,” Rabbi Gutterman continued, “and I told him about Shuvu. Then he said to me, ‘You know, children in Israel who attended secular schools do not know anything about Judaism.’ That is the reason that we have an entire generation of adults who know nothing about Yiddishkeit! To illustrate his point, he told me a story: There was a certain prestigious person who was supposed to attend a ceremony and was told that he should be prepared to recite Kaddish. He arrived there, opened a siddur, and began reciting, ‘Vayechulu haShomayim v’haaretz.’ People immediately began shouting at him to correct him; he had confused Kaddish with Kiddush!
“I told Dayan that I was traveling to Eretz Yisroel to attend a bas mitzvah celebration for the students of Shuvu, and that we teach Torah and derech eretz to our students. He was very moved and told me that this is the proper way, and he added that he would like to come and visit our school.
“As the girls of Shuvu, you all have a twofold responsibility,” Rabbi Gutterman added. “You have a duty to yourselves, since the responsibility for your observance of mitzvos now rests on you rather than your parents and the school staff. But you also have a responsibility to everyone around you: your families, your relatives, and others. You serve as the examples of what it means to be a bas Yisroel.”
Speaking of Shuvu, this week the Freedom of Information Movement published the statistics received from the Education Ministry about the scores obtained by students throughout the country on the Bagrut matriculation exams. Some of the schools were shown to have outstanding performance, while others left much to be desired. What is most astounding — but, then again, probably not surprising — is the fact that most of the schools at the top of the list were religious schools. Ulpanat Darchei Noam was the leading school in the country for Hebrew composition, while Ulpanat Bnei Brak led the country with its students’ performance on the mathematics exam. As usual, the Shuvu schools placed toward the top of every list, and a Shuvu school actually earned first place for its students’ performance on the civics exam. The average grade on that exam in the Shuvu high school in Petach Tikvah was 97.85, while Darchei Noam showed an average score of 96.08. This was not only a sign of the faculty’s exceptional investment in their students but also a significant kiddush Hashem.
Let’s Turn Down the Music at Weddings
Rebbetzin Taibe is an outstanding woman. I value her opinion not only because of her exceptional personality but also because of her sister, who is a distinguished rebbetzin in Eretz Yisroel and the widow of a founder of a large, thriving makom Torah. I am taking this opportunity to make a statement that the rebbetzin asked me to publicize, but I will add that she effectively took the words right out of my mouth. She has decided to speak out about a disturbing phenomenon that has no real explanation.
“This Simchas Torah, I began thinking about Jewish music,” the rebbetzin began. “The hakafos on Simchas Torah are a manifestation of the covenant between Hashem and Klal Yisroel, and we sing and dance for long periods of time to celebrate it. But I feel compelled to write about the tremendous pain and anguish that has been caused to my generation by the younger generation when they play music at a thunderous volume at weddings. These young people aren’t willing to lower the music by a single decibel, because they consider it ‘simchas chosson v’kallah.’ But a wedding is also a form of covenant; it is a covenant between the chosson and kallah and between the young couple and Hashem. Chazal tell us that the Shechinah rests upon a marriage. When the day of the formation of this covenant causes terrible pain to the grandmothers and grandfathers who are the reason that this couple exists in the world, is the Shechinah really with them?
“Rav Wolbe writes in his sefer, Alei Shur, ‘How foolish are the youngsters who wait for a simcha as if it is a time of freedom and frivolity. They are offering a foreign fire in the sanctuary of Hashem, substituting the strains of emptiness for genuine, sacred simcha. One must prepare for a simcha precisely as one would prepare for a tremendous avodah. It requires kavanah and intensive thought just like davening or fasting.’
“In the past, the music at weddings served to create a certain background and to determine the atmosphere. Music is certainly important and pleasant; even the Bais Hamikdash took pride in having all sorts of musical instruments. Today, however, this disco music has become the central aspect of the event, with the youths dancing as if they are putting on a performance. Aside from the terrible damage that this causes to the hearing of any person at any age, and the fact that it is impossible to have a conversation of any kind during the dancing, many grandparents find themselves leaving a simcha in disappointment or deciding in advance that they will not attend. The loss of their presence outweighs any gain that may be derived from this.”
The rebbetzin signed her letter as “a pained grandmother with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” Let us take her heartfelt words to heart.
Secularists Claim Coercion
In the spirit of the mandate to “know your enemy,” I am in the habit of monitoring an organization that calls itself the Secular Forum. I recently saw a message sent out by this forum to those whom it believes are its allies in its battle: “Dear supporters, this week we held a special gathering at the Kibbutzim College to discuss the concept of autonomy. We talked about the challenges and difficulties facing the secular community, which is interested in maintaining its lifestyle and preserving its values, in light of the existing realities in Israel, and we examined various possible solutions. After years of assault on the values that are important to us, it is clear that a separation between the different ‘tribes’ and autonomy for the secular public — and for other communities as well — will be the only way for us and our children to be able to continue living here. We thank all of our supporters and the many interested parties who attended, and the various speakers at the event. It is true that the idea of separation will be difficult to implement, but that was also the Zionist vision in its time. It isn’t a short process, nor is it binary. It is a goal to strive for so that Israel can continue existing.”
This twisted tirade is enough to drive anyone mad. Can they really believe that the secular public in Israel needs to defend itself against attack? Is anyone interfering with a secular Israeli’s ability to lead a secular life? Are they even able to come up with a single example of religious coercion? The only factual argument they can invoke is the fact that Israel does not permit civil marriages, but that is really a matter of principle; this country was founded as a Jewish state with the bare minimum of conditions that make it possible for us to live here as Jews. If they want to live in a completely non-Jewish country, without Shabbos or Yiddishkeit in the public sphere and without kashrus in the army, that is a different matter entirely; it has nothing to do with autonomy. After all, do they want the State of Israel to refrain from recognizing Jewish holidays as vacation days? That, too, would be a form of coercion. Personally, I believe that these people are deceiving either themselves or others. I feel that they are raising a hue and cry over an issue that doesn’t really exist. And as is often the case, the best defense is a good offense.
The most likely explanation for all this, I believe, is that they are enemies of religion who are operating under the guise of pursuing justice. In another letter to their supporters, they wrote, “How many Garinim Toraniim [groups of religious Zionists who settle in irreligious areas to promote Jewish observance] are there in secular neighborhoods in your city, and what are they doing there? Why are chareidi entities running the afterschool programs in the municipal public education system? Is it legal for segregated prayers to be held at Dizengoff Square? Where is it possible to advance civil marriage? How can we reinforce secular rights? How should we prepare for the municipal elections in another four months? Come and meet your partners on this journey.” With all this talk of politics and their concern about the looming municipal elections, I doubt that they are actually fooling anyone.
The Government Shows Disdain for the Knesset
The Knesset legal advisor, Sagit Afik, recently wrote a long letter that can be summed up in a few words: The government relates to the Knesset with disdain. This letter was written in advance of a discussion on this subject in the Knesset House Committee, and it describes its subject matter in slightly less aggressive terms: “the difficulties in carrying out the Knesset’s responsibility to oversee the government, and the government’s legal responsibilities to report to the Knesset and its committees.”
The Knesset, which is Israel’s legislative branch, is the body assigned to oversee the executive branch of the government. That is one of the reasons that the Knesset has been given tools such as parliamentary queries and motions for the agenda. It is also the reason for the existence of the Knesset committees. The Finance Committee oversees the Finance Ministry, the Health Committee oversees the Health Ministry, the National Security Committee oversees the Ministry of National Security, and so forth. Government employees who are summoned to appear before a Knesset committee are legally bound to comply with such a summons, and government agencies are obligated to provide the information requested by the Knesset Research and Information Center, which is responsible for providing position papers requested by the members of the Knesset. The law obligates the government to turn over information to the Research and Information Center without delay, and to relay information requested by a Knesset committee no later than 24 hours before the committee meets.
“In spite of the dictates of the law and the Knesset regulations,” Afik wrote, “the Knesset, its committees, and the Research and Information Center often encounter significant difficulties in obtaining information from some of the government ministries, as will be explained in detail below. It should be emphasized that some of the government ministries and public agencies cooperate fully with requests for information from the Knesset and are prepared to assist with anything that is asked of them. At the same time, some of the government ministries that possess large amounts of information and many statistics that are necessary for the Knesset to do its work do not cooperate with such requests and significantly hinder that work.” As an example of her claim, Afik cited MK Ofer Cassif’s request for statistics on suicides in the IDF. Cassif was ignored by the government, although the information was released to the press. She also revealed that she had personally spoken to the attorney general and to the legal advisors of the ministries that refused to release information, but she was rebuffed.
Afik also pointed out that many representatives of the government do not attend relevant committee sessions, do not submit required materials, arrive at the sessions without sufficient information, or send junior representatives in their place. She also complained about the lack of a Knesset regulation requiring a minister to appear at least once in every Knesset session before the committee that oversees his ministry, to report on the ministry’s activities and to present an overview of its actions, its plans, and the use of its budget. She also claimed that the government’s contempt for the Knesset is evident in its attitude to parliamentary queries, in the failure to have a government minister present in the Knesset, and in the fact that a minister will often send a colleague to respond to a question in the Knesset in his place. Since the colleague, who holds a different position, will not be capable of giving full answers to any questions that the Knesset wishes to ask, this shows a similar lack of respect for the Knesset’s work.
The Knesset legal advisor also lamented the cancellation of the “questions hour,” which was instituted temporarily in the 20th Knesset, in which the prime minister or another minister was required to spend a full hour responding to questions concerning his sphere of responsibility. Afik’s letter also offers solutions to all the problems that she points out. The Knesset House Committee will now discuss the matter, but in the meantime, the government hastened to publicize the schedule for government ministers attending the Knesset committee sessions.
The Movement for Bringing Down the Government
As I pointed out in my article about Yair Lapid, many of Israel’s politicians have been exposed as hypocrites when their past statements were retrieved from the government or media archives. For instance, Ehud Barak, who joined the protestors who shut down the Karkur Junction and called for a civil rebellion, made the following statement when he served as prime minister: “No country can allow itself to witness such scenes and such displays of violence and lawbreaking on the part of its citizens, no matter how pained they may be. We cannot and are not prepared to accept the closure of roads or any other disruptions of normal life.” The hypocrisy, of course, is glaring.
But perhaps the most egregious show of hypocrisy comes from the Movement for Quality Government. When the Likud government passed a two-year budget, this movement excoriated them. “A two-year budget is anti-democratic, irresponsible, and absolutely illegal,” they wrote. Yet when the Bennett-Lapid government passed a budget for two years, the same movement announced with pleasure, “The Knesset has approved a budget for the years 2021 and 2022. The country can continue moving forward.”
To give credit where credit is due, I will reveal that this reversal was exposed by Netanyahu, in a speech on the Knesset floor. “There has been a petition filed by an organization that calls itself the Movement for Quality Government against the budget we passed last week,” Netanyahu said. “I quote: ‘A two-year budget is anti-democratic, irresponsible, and absolutely illegal.’ But just a year and a half ago, when the Bennett-Lapid government passed a two-year budget, the same movement said, and I quote, ‘The government can finally move forward. We congratulate the Knesset members who freed Israel from economic chaos.’ A better name for them,” Netanyahu added sardonically, “would be the Movement to Bring Down the Government — if it is a right-wing government, of course.”
The Forgotten Salt
Bli ayin hara, he is 87 years old. He is elderly and frail and has suffered through many tribulations in his life. His family members have recently noticed that his strength seems to be deserting him; he has been increasingly in need of assistance. Last Shabbos, one of the couples came to help him, and when the time came for Kiddush, they made sure to surreptitiously watch him to ensure that he recited it correctly. Throughout the evening, they endeavored to correct any mistakes they observed, albeit with the utmost discretion. After hamotzi, they noticed that the zaidy hadn’t dipped his challah in salt, and they discreetly dipped their own pieces of bread in salt while making an effort to avoid calling attention to his omission.
Nevertheless, the zaidy observed their actions and said calmly, “It is my minhag to refrain from dipping the challah in salt on Friday night, in keeping with the view of the Chasam Sofer.” This was indeed the Chasam Sofer’s custom; the practice of dipping challah in salt is based on the Torah’s injunction to place salt on a korban, but the only korbanos placed on the mizbei’ach at night are the eimurim, which are not offered on Shabbos. Of course, there are those who disagree with the Chasam Sofer. In any event, the young guests were pleasantly surprised to learn that their grandfather hadn’t forgotten the salt, after all.