Once again, deciding on a story to open this column is a tough call. Perhaps I should begin by writing about Dovid Yitzchok Yehuda, the IDF soldier who was killed by friendly fire in a tragic mistake. This week, the chief of staff received a report on the investigation into this sad event. Or perhaps it would make the most sense to begin with the latest drowning in the Kinneret, which has been added to a list of tragedies this summer that was already far too long.
But maybe I should really begin by writing about the beginning of the school year in yeshivos and chadorim throughout Israel. (The secular school year begins September 1; the Torah institutions opened on Rosh Chodesh Elul.) It was quite inspiring and heartwarming to see the number of new schools that have opened and to watch thousands of children return to learning Torah. The sight of yeshivos throughout the country beginning the Elul zman was also incredibly poignant.
Unfortunately, though, I cannot limit myself to uplifting stories; there are matters of a darker nature to report as well. Last Tuesday, the security cabinet, which is officially known as the Ministerial Committee for Matters of National Security, met to discuss the current situation. The ministers and the leaders of the defense establishment, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, made a series of decisions about targeting terrorists and the masterminds behind their attacks. The cabinet authorized the prime minister and the defense minister to take action on this subject. According to a brief report released to the press, “The cabinet backs the commanders and soldiers of the IDF and the members of the security forces in their operations against terror for the sake of the security of the citizens of Israel.”
There is a mounting wave of terror taking place, and the people of Israel feel a distinct lack of security, despite living under a right-wing government that pledged to put an end to the plague of terror that began under the previous government. Something needs to change, and the government is searching for a way to make that happen.
Murders in Huwara and on Har Chevron
Two deadly terror attacks were committed last week. The first was the murder of a father and son at a car wash in Huwara; the murderer approached the car and fired on the two men at close range. The second attack occurred last Monday in southern Har Chevron and claimed the life of Batsheva Nigri, a 40-year-old mother of three girls and resident of the settlement of Beit Chaggai, who was murdered in a shooting attack committed by an occupant of a passing car. One of her daughters, who is 12 years old, was with her in the car but was miraculously not injured. The driver, Aryeh Leib (ben Ella) Gottlieb was severely wounded and taken to Soroka Hospital in a semi-conscious state and suffering from bullet wounds. This week, boruch Hashem, his condition improved.
Silas Shai Nigreker, the 60-year-old father who was killed in Huwara, and his 29-year-old son Aviad Nir, along with Batsheva Nigri, raised the number of civilians killed in terror attacks since the beginning of the year to the highest it has been in a decade. In 2014, 36 civilians were killed in terror attacks (and 75 soldiers and civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge). The year 2021 saw 18 murders of civilians, and in the year 2022, under the Bennett-Lapid government, the number rose to 29. This year’s tally of murdered civilians has already reached 34, and it is only the month of August; the end of the year 2023 is still over four months away.
This terrible situation led the leaders of several local councils in Yehuda and Shomron to organize a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office, where they called on the government and the defense establishment to change their approach to security. Among the participants were Yochai Dimri, the head of the Har Chevron Regional Council; Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council; Yisroel Gantz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, and Shlomo Neeman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. (You may recognize the latter two names, since both men were interviewed for this newspaper in the past.)
Israelis Refuse to Be Victimized
Shlomo Neeman declared, “The Palestinian Authority, which finances terror, teaches terror to its children, and organizes terror activities, must be declared an enemy, and we must go to war against it. We are willing to suffer losses in battle, but we will not tolerate being like ducks in a shooting gallery. A mother has been murdered in front of her daughter, a father and child were murdered together, two brothers were murdered together, and the list goes on. The IDF, its soldiers, and its commanders know how to do their work, but we need to change our approach. We call on the Israeli government and its leaders to allow the unlimited development of settlements and to launch a campaign to eliminate our lowly enemies. Jewish blood must not be cheap!”
Less than a day after the terror attack, the terrorists who murdered Batsheva Nigri were captured. In a joint operation involving the IDF, the Shabak, and the Border Guard, the two terrorists who committed the shooting attack, both residents of Chevron and members of the same family, were arrested. In their initial questioning, the terrorists linked themselves to the attack. After their arrest, the weapon that was used in the attack was confiscated as well.
The terrorists were abetted by accomplices and were able to hide in an apartment prepared in advance for that purpose in Chevron by other members of their family. The house was surrounded by Yamam forces, and an announcement was made over a loudspeaker demanding the terrorists’ surrender. The terrorists surrendered to the Israeli forces without resistance. Shabak operatives conducted a brief interrogation on the scene, and the terrorists confessed to carrying out the attack and revealed the location of the weapon used in the murder. They were then transferred to Shabak custody for further questioning. The suspects were located through intelligence obtained by the security forces and thanks to the tracking of their escape after the terror attack. Batsheva Nigri’s family was informed in the morning that the terrorists had been captured and had admitted their guilt.
Women’s Protest in
Bnei Brak: Hypocrisy and Malice
The ongoing incitement against chareidim is another topic that demands to be addressed here. The secular media has repeatedly denounced government funding for chareidim, and the leftists have adopted the “exclusion of women” as their latest pet peeve. Many articles, most of them either completely false or heavily biased, have appeared in the press on this subject, accompanied by opinion pieces and venomous caricatures depicting chareidim as intractable haters of women.
This week, an article spanning an entire page in Yediot Acharonot made the following observation: “In May, in advance of the hillula on Lag Ba’omer, large signs were posted on the sidewalks in the neighborhood of Bais Yisroel on the route to the event. One sidewalk was labeled ‘for women,’ while the other was labeled ‘for men.’” Of course, the writer’s intent was to paint a picture of a society that ostracizes women and excludes them from public functions, but let me make a couple of comments. First, it is very amusing that they had to reach all the way back to this past Lag Ba’omer (or perhaps even Lag Ba’omer of two years ago) to find something to denounce. Couldn’t they come up with a more
recent example of the exclusion of women? Second, if each of the sidewalks was designated for one of the two genders, then how is this automatically considered discriminatory against women? Why isn’t it seen as equally disrespectful toward men?
The subject of separate bathing hours at natural springs also sparked disingenuous condemnations. The attorney general and the legal department of the Nature and Parks Authority argued last week against the decision made by the authority and by the Minister of Environmental Protection to designate hours for separate swimming at certain natural springs. They claimed that the idea of separate hours was a violation of the law. This is more than just foolishness; it is pure malice. The separate hours were added to the daily schedule at a time when bathing in the springs had been prohibited, meaning that it was a loss to no one; neither men nor women were deprived of existing hours at the times when the springs were limited to one of the two genders. But even if this decision had affected the ordinary hours at the springs, so what? Are the chareidim not citizens of this state? Don’t they deserve the opportunity to swim under conditions geared to their sensitivities? Besides, doesn’t anyone realize that this had nothing to do with excluding or discriminating against women? After all, just as women were excluded from the men’s hours, the men were also barred from the springs during the women’s hours. Each gender was therefore subject to the same limitations. It was only the hostility and malice of these officials that led them to dispute the decision.
Worst of all, of course, was the women’s demonstration held in Bnei Brak last Thursday. For some reason, the police decided that it was appropriate to close streets in the center of Bnei Brak because of the demonstrators descending on the city from elsewhere in the country. What hypocrisy and wickedness this was!
High Murder Rates in the Arab Sector
There is another issue that has been dominating the headlines in Israel and has been deeply disturbing all the citizens of this country, although I suspect that you will find it hard to understand why it is a matter of such concern. This issue is the high rate of murders within the Arab sector. The phenomenon is mind-boggling; Arabs have been murdering each other without cease. Almost every day brings a new homicide. These incidents tend to result from clashes between Arab clans or criminal organizations, but many of the victims died simply because they were caught in the line of fire. The two most recent murders seem to have been quasi-political in nature and partly due to infighting within the Arab community. In one case, the victim was the secretary of the city of Taibeh; in the other, it was a man who had announced his intention to run in the upcoming mayoral election in Abu Snan and was killed along with two other people who were standing beside him. The front-page headline of Yediot Acharonot following these murders was the phrase “Out of Control!” printed in large block letters. The subheading read, “158 murders in the Arab sector since the beginning of the year.” Twenty-five of those murder victims, I should add, were public figures.
The most scathing criticism for this phenomenon has been leveled at National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Benny Gantz described the situation as a “ticking time bomb” and openly attacked Ben-Gvir. What is especially sad about this—or perhaps amusing, depending on your perspective—is that when the previous government was in power, Ben-Gvir attacked the Bennett regime for every case of murder in the Arab community, lambasting Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev in particular. (The criticism for Bar-Lev was well-deserved.) In the wake of the latest spate of terror attacks and murders, Bar-Lev has struck back at Ben-Gvir, who succeeded him in his former position. “You make noises as if you are a minister, but in the end of the day, the result is zero,” the former minister derided his successor. Bar-Lev also mentioned an argument that took place between them when he was a minister and Ben-Gvir was an ordinary member of the Knesset: “I was correct in the televised argument between us in Chadera, when you kept up your shameful habit of cynically dancing on the blood of the murder victims, and I described you as a zero. I left everything ready for you,” he added accusingly. “Major projects were underway, funds had already been invested, and positive results had been achieved in the fight against crime on the Arab street. The murder rate was in a downward spiral, dropping by 17 percent. The heads of crime families were caught and imprisoned. Local authority leaders, public figures, and ordinary citizens were all telling me that I was doing a good job and that I should keep it up. When I left office, I left detailed instructions that could be understood even by a hilltop youth such as yourself. All you needed to do was not interfere; you needed only to sit quietly and not do any damage. But you are not even capable of doing that.”
Bar-Lev’s stinging diatribe continues, “You are addicted to cameras, chaos, and violence. You are a person who lacks the most basic abilities and is incapable of the most basic effort or comprehension to contend with this type of challenge. You are lawless and dangerous beyond compare, and I tremble to think that the internal security of the State of Israel has been placed in your hands.” Bar-Lev also derides Ben-Gvir for blaming the entire world for the situation but failing to find fault with himself: “You make noises as if you are a minister, but in the end of the day, the result is zero. Zero abilities, zero talent, zero understanding, and zero desire to accomplish. Every minute that you remain in your position endangers more lives and harms the national security of the State of Israel.”
This is certainly a painful harangue to read. And there is no question that Ben-Gvir is in trouble.
Trouble Looms for Lawyer with Loose Morals
A fascinating story began last week, and it isn’t over yet. There is a man by the name of Eliad Shraga who is the founder and director of a nonprofit organization known as the Movement for Quality Government. Shraga always speaks in lofty terms about concepts such as justice, government transparency, and stamping out corruption, making himself sound like a noble warrior fighting for the cause of morality. He has spearheaded almost every petition filed with the Supreme Court against religious matters (a category that is broad enough to include Aryeh Deri’s ministerial appointment). He is practically a regular visitor to the chambers of the Supreme Court.
According to a report recently exposed in the media, Shraga was found to have compelled all of his employees to sign contracts requiring them to participate in the protests against the judicial reform. He was not fazed when the legal advisor of his own organization warned him that the move was illegal. When one of the employees sued him in court, Shraga asked for the proceedings to take place behind closed doors, so that the story would be hidden from the public. Remember, this is the man who is constantly trumpeting the cause of transparency and the public’s right to know!
Before Shraga could recover from this blow to his image, another revelation took the country by storm, when it was revealed that he had charged an enormous sum in legal fees (over 1.5 million shekels) to the sister of a disabled army veteran. The woman’s brother had left her a sizable inheritance when he passed away, but her nephews tried to claim a portion of the estate for themselves, and Shraga represented the sister in court. The exorbitant fee that he charged her cast him in a very bad light. To make matters worse, it was revealed that Shraga habitually insists on his clients signing a confidentiality agreement in the event that he enters into arbitration with them. All of this paints a very unflattering picture of the man.
In short, Shraga is in trouble. There have already been demands for him to resign from his own organization, and some of his left-wing supporters are considering halting their donations. The Ethics Committee of the Israel Bar Association announced that it intends to launch a probe into his practices. Meanwhile, Shraga shamelessly appealed to the Supreme Court this week against the Shas party’s plan to distribute food vouchers in the near future, in fulfillment of its campaign progress. His appeal argues that the criteria for the vouchers discriminate in favor of yungeleit in kollel.
Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi reacted to the petition with the following statement: “This is just the latest step taken by an organization that is biased, one-sided, and completely detached from reality. Eliad Shraga is a despicable person who opposes everything in this country that is good. This man, who is reported to have charged a fortune to represent a hardworking woman in court when the will of her childless brother, a disabled IDF veteran, was contested, wants to withhold food vouchers from hundreds of thousands of families. He claims to be advocating for quality government, but he is really destroying this country and wasting the Supreme Court’s time with meaningless petitions.”
The Attorney General Fights the Government
I have written about the attorney general’s treacherous behavior in the past, but things are only getting worse. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara informed Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is officially her superior in the government, that she is opposed to the establishment of the Pegasus Commission. This commission, whose formation was announced a month ago, is to be tasked with determining whether the police tapped into the cell phones of private citizens using the Pegasus spyware program without permission from the court, especially in the course of the investigations concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu. The attorney general rejected the committee’s establishment, claiming that the law does not permit the government to examine the conduct of the prosecution and police with regard to court cases that are currently underway.
“In cases that are being heard in court, the investigative entities and the prosecution answer to the court, when necessary, regarding the manner in which their investigations were carried out,” Baharav-Miara explained. “The involvement of a committee that was established by the government, and whose members were chosen by the government, in an ongoing court case is a violation of criminal law and violates the independence of criminal proceedings, as well as undermining public trust in the purity of the criminal justice process.” Of course, Baharav-Miara will never say this explicitly, but what she truly fears is that police misconduct in the Netanyahu case will indeed be discovered. She also invoked the specter of a conflict of interest once again with regard to Netanyahu.
The justice minister was outraged by her reaction and accused the attorney general herself of suffering from a conflict of interest in this case, since the committee will be examining the conduct of the prosecution and the Justice Ministry, and she is a prominent figure in both. “Your intervention is extremely puzzling,” he said. “The conflict of interest of the attorney general in this issue cries out to the heavens.”
In fact, he is right!
Yossi Beilin Double Crosses the Government
The attorney general’s behavior will certainly leave future historians scratching their heads. Her job description is to serve as a legal advisor to the government, yet she has been taking an adversarial position to the government instead. She is hostile to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Communications Minister Karai, and Dudu Amsalem, who is a minister in the Justice Ministry, and she is also opposed to the legislation passed by the government. She has warned the prime minister that she might declare him unfit to hold office because of his conflict of interest with regard to the judicial reform, while she herself suffers from a greater conflict of interest than anyone else. She is no different from Esther Chayut, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who has decided that she has the authority to rule on petitions against the same reform that she has already denounced as the destruction of democracy. These charlatans are guilty of the ultimate abuse of the power granted to them by virtue of their offices.
Before the Knesset began its summer recess, I heard Dudu Amsalem comment that Gali Baharav-Miara is the most dangerous person in the State of Israel today. “There is a rebellion taking place in the IDF, for all intents and purposes, but the attorney general sees nothing and hears nothing,” he said. “Until she is dismissed—and we should have dismissed her already—the security of this country will be damaged. She is a genuine danger to the stability of the democratic State of Israel.”
This isn’t the first time that an attorney general has acted against the interests of the government, or at least has failed to represent it. During the Bus 300 affair in the mid-1980s, the attorney general at the time, Yitzchok Zamir, who later became a justice on the Supreme Court, refused to accept the proposal of two prime ministers, Shimon Peres and Yitzchok Shamir, to pardon the Shin Bet officers involved in the scandal before they were brought to trial. Instead, Zamir ordered the police to launch a criminal probe. Zamir also refused to represent the head of the Shin Bet and the prime minister in the Supreme Court. He was immediately fired, and Yosef Charish was appointed to replace him.
Gali Baharav-Miara’s behavior is highly reminiscent of Yitzchok Zamir. It certainly does not seem unreasonable at all for her to be dismissed. It is ludicrous for the government to hold on to an attorney general whose legal advice is of no interest to it. If not for the horrifying impact of her behavior, one might even find it amusing.
But let us return to the Bus 300 affair for a moment. Attorney General Charish supported the notion of pardoning the defendants before a trial. President Chaim Herzog (the father of the current president) was also involved the process. Yossi Beilin, who served as the cabinet secretary in the national unity government that existed at the time, was asked to meet with the president and present the decision to grant early pardons. The meeting was scheduled to be held early in the morning, but Beilin asked for a private session with the president before the official meeting began. At their first discussion, Beilin said to Herzog, “The next meeting will take place between the president of this country and the secretary of the cabinet. This meeting will be between Vivian [Herzog’s nickname] and Yossi.” Beilin then asked the president to reject the request that he planned to present during their second meeting. If that isn’t a breach of trust, then I don’t know what is.
Now, how do you suppose I know this story? Well, Yossi Beilin tells the story in his book Sodot Shelo Ekach Iti (Secrets I Won’t Take with Me), published by Yediot Acharonot. In fact, he is proud of it. In any event, Herzog ignored Beilin’s personal request and accepted the official one that came from the government; he agreed to sign on the defendants’ pardons.
The Parents’ Vacation
This week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling against the Ministry of Education, which seemed to have turned a blind eye to the needs of families with children on the autistic spectrum. Amazingly, even though many families have been given the gift of such children, including the families of senior officials in the government and other public figures, the organizations that assist them have been reduced to begging for the funds they need, and in many cases, doors are slammed shut in their faces. Ask anyone who is involved in organizations such as Ezer Mizion, Mesugalim, Ezras Achim, or Siach Sod, and this is what you will hear. Anyone who is familiar with such situations can tell you that it is genuine torment.
The Gas Tank Is Empty
We are already in the middle of Elul, and it won’t be long before we are begging Hashem to grant us another year of life. We must all daven for life every year anew; it is not something to be taken for granted. As we approach the Yomim Noraim, it should not be with the attitude that we are simply davening for Hashem not to take away the lives that we have. On the contrary, we must understand that our lives are coming to an end, and we are davening to be granted life once again. Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, the master of mesholim, likened this to the gas tank of a car; as we approach Rosh Hashanah, our “tanks” are reaching the empty mark, and we daven to Hashem to refill them.
I made this observation last week in Petach Tikvah, at a camp program run by the organization Refuah V’Chaim. A parent of a sick child from Yerushalayim advised me to visit the program on Monday afternoon, which was the day when I was on duty at the geriatric facility Beit Rivka. The companions of the patients there are required to leave the ward every day between 1:00 and 4:00, which gave me the perfect opportunity to visit this program. I met the directors of the program, whose lives revolve around giving to others, and dozens of seminary students who were dedicating their vacation time to this enormous chessed. I also met a group of small children suffering from serious illnesses, for whom the week at Refuah V’Chaim provided an invaluable respite.
Refuah V’Chaim is an organization with 14 divisions, which is involved in chessed throughout the year. The camp program is associated with just one of those divisions. I can barely even begin to describe the vast logistical considerations involved in conducting this program, not to mention the fortune in funding that it requires. Every child in the camp is essentially a world unto himself, with his own vast array of challenges, medications, medical equipment, and constant needs. The girls serving as counselors were individually trained to handle the needs of their respective campers. In addition, there is a medical staff on site at all times. Every child receives his medications at the precise time they are needed. If it is necessary, their food is pureed for them as well.
One of the children who captured my heart was a boy named Yudi, an adorable child who seemed at first to be unaware of his surroundings. When his counselor, Gila Trebelisi, patted his hand, he suddenly became animated, roaring with joy as his eyes shone. Evidently, the heart can communicate through any barrier. I was also amazed to discover that the counselor, Gila, holds a regular job at an office. This means that her week of volunteer work at the camp program came at the expense of her paid vacation days.
After spending some time with these children, I was overcome by emotion. It was difficult to witness the suffering and illness that have descended on other Jews. There are so many families struggling with profound hardships, but there is also an incredible amount of chessed being performed. I could easily write volumes about Refuah V’Chaim—about the counselors and the director of the program, about the rebbe who visited the program and was moved to tears, about Reb Naftoli Weinberger and Reb Boruch Himmel, about the outstanding staff, and, above all, about the siddur belonging to one young girl, whose pages were stuck together with her tears. May our Father in Heaven have mercy on all these suffering children.
A Lesson from the Subway
The headlines in Israel this week focused extensively on trains, especially the newly inaugurated light rail in the Gush Dan. The prime minister and transportation minister were both present for the festive event marking the opening of the light rail. Of course, the anti-government protestors were also there to continue demonstrating against the judicial reform. They held another demonstration on Shabbos, decrying the fact that the train does not operate on Shabbos. And there was much discussion and debate over who deserves credit for what.
The hype about trains reminded me of Rav Uri Zohar. Rav Uri often traveled on the subway trains in New York for the purpose of saving time. For Rav Uri, time that could be spent on avodas Hashem was precious.
When Rav Uri traveled on the subway, he had a flash of insight. He realized that the city of New York has an entire subterranean world, a web of train tracks serving various subway trains, with every route color coded and leading to its own destination. At dozens of intersections in Manhattan, a person can head down a flight of stairs, pay a fare, and then enter a world that exists parallel to the aboveground city of Manhattan. Once you have paid your fare, you can board a train of your choice and travel in any direction you choose. Every entrance to the subway has a large board with signs delineating the numbers and colors of all the trains that stop there, and with clear indications of the exact location of the particular stop. Rav Uri pointed out that there are only two pieces of information that a subway passenger needs to have: where he is and where he wants to go. As soon as he has those two details clear, the signage provides all the other information that he requires. Once you know where you are standing and where you are headed, you can choose the simplest, most straightforward route to your destination.
Rav Uri would say that the most important thing for a person to know is where he is. “As the sign tells you in every subway station, ‘You Are Here!’” he would declare. “That is the basis of everything. Once you know where you are, you can examine your destination and understand your purpose in the world. All that is left after that is for you to find the path to reach your destination, and not to give up on that goal.”