Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

My Take on the News

The Prime Minister’s Predictions

Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu delivered another combative speech. This time, his target was the media, rather than the police.

Netanyahu took advantage of a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony for the Likud party in Kfar Maccabiah to deliver this speech. The advertisements for the event emphasized that only members of the Likud party would be admitted, and that they would have to show identifying documents to gain entry. In his speech, Netanyahu predicted that the police would recommend indicting him, but that he would ultimately be vindicated.

“The world sees our achievements,” the prime minister said, “and the left sees them as well, and they know that they can’t defeat us in the voting booths… When the entire truth comes to light, everyone will see that this was a carefully organized witch-hunt. Nothing will come of any of these allegations, because there is nothing there. The slanderers in the city squares and in the newspapers are trying to inflate this story before it is completely debunked. Now they are trying to build tension by speculating about the recommendations. Well, I will let you in on what is going to happen: In just a few weeks, reporters and pundits will sit in all the television studios and will begin their news programs with the explosive news that the police have made very severe recommendations – the most severe that the country has ever seen…

“You are probably asking yourselves how I know this,” he continued. “Well, the story was leaked in January, almost a year ago, that the police will recommend an indictment against Netanyahu. We have a very good press in this country; they know what is going to happen a full year in advance, just a few days after an investigation begins… In that case, though, I have a question: Why were another five investigations necessary? Why did they need to spend another year on it? It has been a waste of time, and a waste of the public’s money. So there will be recommendations. So what?”

Netanyahu added that 60 percent of the recommendations made by the police are rejected by the prosecution and do not result in indictments. Among other cases, he cited the investigation into Ruvi Rivlin, claiming that the police recommended indicting Rivlin, but the attorney general at the time rejected their recommendation.

There is much that I could point out about this speech. For instance, Netanyahu didn’t use Rivlin’s name. He referred to him as “the person who is president today,” and the audience jeered loudly. That shows how the Likud party feels today about Rivlin, who was once one of its senior members. In addition, Netanyahu was mistaken. In Rivlin’s case, the police actually recommended exonerating him. Nevertheless, he was correct in the broader sense. In most cases, the police recommend pressing charges after they conclude their investigations, but those indictments generally do not take place.

Netanyahu’s speech quickly became the subject of much political commentary. Netanyahu’s detractors claimed that the prime minister was visibly tense, and that he seemed to understand that the noose is beginning to tighten around his neck. If he has already begun to speak about what will happen after the police make their recommendations, they claim, it is obvious that he believes that the police will recommend an indictment.

On a lighter note, let me digress for a moment to share something that will make you laugh. This year, as in the past, I saw an advertisement released by one of Israel’s largest companies announcing an end-of-year-sale. The advertisement noted that the sale will take place on “Chol Hamoed Chanukah” – a term that merely showcases the advertiser’s ignorance. You see, we have plenty of am haaratzim in this country…

Politics in the Police Force?

Speaking of investigations, MK Dovid Bittan, a member of Netanyahu’s inner circle, announced that he is stepping down from his position as chairman of the coalition. The coalition chairman must spend many hours in the Knesset, and Bittan feels that the investigations surrounding him will make it impossible for him to carry out his responsibilities properly. The resignation came as a bitter blow to the prime minister, not only politically but also emotionally, as Bittan is a close associate of Netanyahu. The allegations concerning Bittan relate to the period when he was a member of the Rishon Letzion city council. According to the reports, the police are making a concerted effort to recruit one of the suspects in the case as a state witness against Bittan.

The fact that the police began investigating Bittan precisely at this time, when he has been promoting laws that would curb their power (including the law that would bar the police from submitting recommendations to the prosecution), has caused many people to lose faith in the police themselves. It was reported that the attorney general warned the police not to begin investigating the case openly at this time, since it would not look good for them. The investigation actually began clandestinely a year and a half ago. The police commissioner, however, insisted on pursuing it.

MK Betzalel Smotrich announced, “If anyone believes that the investigation into Bittan at this time is a coincidence, please raise your hand.” Not a single hand was raised. The public is convinced that the police have embarked on a vendetta, just as the authorities have targeted other public figures whom they perceived as threats in the past, including Ruvi Rivlin, Refoel Eitan, Avigdor Kahalani, and the late Yaakov Neeman. Other public figures who see what is happening are afraid to protest, lest they themselves be targeted as well. It is clear that there are no red lines that the authorities are unwilling to cross. No one is willing to try to put them in their place, because no one wants to become the target of the next criminal investigation.

Doubletalk from a Former Chief Justice

The uproar surrounding the proposed Recommendations Law is actually a study in hypocrisy. All of a sudden, the bill has been denounced as “unethical” and harmful to the battle against corruption. Yet Police Commissioner Alshich himself announced, after he was appointed to his position, that he would put an end to the practice of making recommendations after an investigation. Why is it that the same idea is roundly condemned because the bill was proposed by a member of the Likud?

This week, former Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch delivered a speech at an award ceremony, where she voiced her own opinion of the issue. “The judgment of the court is not a replacement for the judgment of the government,” she said. “The court determines the legality of the actions or inactions of the executive branch; that is its function.”

This is pure doubletalk. If the court decides on the legality of the government’s actions, how can its judgment not be a replacement for that of the government? If the court can overrule the government’s decisions, including those pertaining to national security (such as by freeing imprisoned terrorists), then isn’t that precisely what it means?

Beinisch denied that the appointments to the Supreme Court operate through cronyism, and she decried the fact that the court is often dubbed “the gang from Rechavia.” She pointed out that the court includes justices from Tel Aviv and even from the periphery of the country – as if she didn’t understand that the term is an allusion to the court’s character and its view of the world, not the specific neighborhood where its judges reside. Or does she think we are all completely obtuse?

I laughed when Beinisch voiced her concern that the standing of the attorney general might be impaired by the new law. Beinisch was particularly political and aggressive during her own tenure as state prosecutor, and she mercilessly attacked Yosef Charish, the attorney general at the time. In the judicial community, he became known as “Charish-Chantrish,” a nickname that was attributed to Beinisch. In this recent address, she also expressed her opposition to the bill that would declare Israel the national homeland of the Jewish people, and she insisted that all the Jewish holidays and religious practices, including the right to observe Shabbos, are already anchored in law. This despite the fact that she never missed an opportunity to attack Jewish values.

Former Police Officers Point Fingers

Recently, three retired officials from the police force – two former police commissioners and one former head of the investigative wing of the police force – were interviewed for a newspaper article. The subject of the article was the “pressure” that the prime minister is reportedly exerting on the current police chief. I find it difficult to understand the complaints about Netanyahu’s “pressure.” Is he expected to remain silent when the investigators are violating every norm of behavior? I also find it strange that they have condemned the Recommendations Law as a form of “pressuring” the police. There is a very large school of thought that maintains that the function of the police is solely to investigate, and it is the prosecution that should decide whether to indict a suspect. There may be some logic in the idea that the police should make recommendations, but there is just as much logic – and probably even more – in the notion that they shouldn’t do so. There is certainly no reason for the law to be considered “pressuring” the police.

If anyone had any doubt that the police are politically motivated, that doubt should have been removed by their announcement that they are expediting their investigation in order to make recommendations before the law is passed. And if anyone needed further proof, then the three interviewees for the article – Yaakov Turner, Assaf Hefetz, and Moshe Mizrachi – supplied it.

Yaakov Turner recalled the investigation into Aryeh Deri many years ago, when he claimed that Deri tried to compel the police to replace the investigators with officers of Sephardic descent. “What could we do?” Turner said. “It happened to be that all the investigators assigned to the case were already Sephardic….”

That is absolutely untrue. There were Ashkenazic investigators involved in the case, including those who had sworn to “liquidate” Deri, as they understood their instructions from Roni Milo and Dorit Beinisch. The Deri investigation benefited from more funds and resources than any other investigation in the history of the state. And at the end of the day, Deri’s enemies lost the public case. The private case, in which he was convicted, was based on a very dubious charge, which was rejected by the country’s foremost legal experts. The prosecution claimed that Deri had accepted payments from the administration of Yeshivas Lev Bonim prior to the founding of the Shas party, with the understanding that he would repay them with political favors after the party was created. The conviction was based on the testimony of a single witness, a man who had turned his back on religion and was considered an incorrigible liar even by the state’s admission. Despite this serious character flaw, the judge, Yaakov Tzemach, decided to accept the witness’s testimony. Can there be any doubt that the investigation was politicized? Furthermore, why should Turner’s word be accepted on the subject? He himself was once found guilty of spreading falsehood through the media. How can he speak out against Netanyahu?

Assaf Hefetz, the second interviewee, admitted that he was never pressured directly. However, he claimed that during the Braun-Chevron case, he received certain strong hints. He did not specify who made those hints or what they wanted. Now, if I were Hefetz, I would have done anything to avoid mentioning the Braun-Chevron case, which was a classic example of politically motivated decisions made by the “rule of law”: At the time, the prosecution decided not to indict Netanyahu or Hanegbi, but to prosecute Deri. This sparked an uproar throughout the country, and the authorities were forced to backtrack. That case is also evidence that the Recommendations Law is eminently reasonable. At the time, the police recommended indicting all three players in the story (Netanyahu, Hanegbi, and Deri), but the prosecution decided to indict only Deri.

The third interviewee was former Police Superintendant Moshe Mizrachi. If I were in his place, I would have turned down the interview altogether; Mizrachi himself has a record of exploiting his position for political purposes. Mizrachi, who served in the Knesset during its previous term as a member of the left-wing Zionist Camp, targeted Avigdor Lieberman for investigation during his tenure in the police force. Lieberman, as everyone knows, is a staunch member of the political right. At the time, Lieberman complained that Mizrachi was working to destroy him, and he was ridiculed for that assertion. About 15 years ago, the Machash (Police Internal Investigations Department) examined whether Mizrachi had engaged in illegitimate wiretapping in order to gather evidence against Lieberman. The inquiry led to a recommendation for Mizrachi to be indicted.

At the end of 2003, then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein announced his conclusion that Mizrachi’s actions had been problematic. That type of determination is itself “problematic” for a senior official in the police force. Rubinstein felt that Mizrachi had used improper judgment and had not respected the orders of the court. Mizrachi was saved from indictment by the skin of his teeth, but he was also shown the door. He should certainly be the last person to speak out against “political pressure,” when he used his own position in the police force for unmistakably political purposes.

Praying for Rain on the Banks of the Kinneret

What else happened this past week? First of all, there was the levayah of Mrs. Azan and her children. It was an unfathomable tragedy. Our entire country wept for their loss. We heard the grandmother eulogizing her progeny, and we were all overcome by tears. The family’s grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Hamra, is a well-known figure, who previously served as the rov of Damascus. There is a famous picture of him sitting with President Hafez Al-Assad. Today, he lives in the city of Cholon. Many visitors streamed to his home to pay their condolences, including Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the former Rishon Letzion, who rarely leaves his home.

We also rejoiced in the freedom of Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin. The joy that swept through America reached us here as well. Rubashkin is very close to my own heart, largely because of the campaign waged on his behalf by my good friend, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz. Many rabbonim and admorim had davened for him and encouraged him. The Sanzer Rebbe, who visited America immediately after Rubashkin was jailed, went to visit him in prison.

We have also been davening for rain. I wrote two weeks ago that the scientists here in Israel are concerned that we may be facing a drought. The rabbonim of the Eidah Hachareidis have called for mass tefillos. A tefillah gathering was organized in Bnei Brak, and even the chief rabbi of Israel became involved. He arranged for tefillos to be held on the banks of the Kinneret, the place where the lack of water makes the most powerful impact, as the water level in the Kinneret has been falling. On that note, it was actually quite refreshing to see a video of the king of Morocco coming to a shul and asking the rov, the gabbaim, and the other mispallelim to pray for rain. It has been a very dry winter in Morocco as well.

New Mechitzos at the Kosel

This week, the vice president of the United States did not come to Israel. He was originally supposed to visit our country last Monday, and the Knesset announced that it would hold a festive sitting in his honor. We were then told that there were some problems in Washington, and that President Trump needed the vice president at his side. His arrival in Israel was therefore postponed until Wednesday, and the Knesset prepared to hold the same festive sitting last Thursday. But then he announced that he would not be coming at all. In diplomatic language, one would say that the visit was “postponed indefinitely.”

Meanwhile, there has been an uproar over Mike Pence’s request to hold a press conference at the Kosel immediately after his arrival in Israel. The rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, announced that the press conference could be held only in the upper plaza, and the vice president’s aides were slightly annoyed by his decision. The Israeli left immediately decided that the time has come to fire Rav Rabinovich. And all of this was on account of a visit that didn’t materialize.

In other Kosel-related news, a magnificent new shul has been opened at the Kosel, thanks to a donation from Yitzchok Teshuva. In addition, the mechitzos between the men’s and women’s sections of the Kosel plaza were replaced with more beautiful and more mehudar partitions. This, too, resulted in an indignant outcry. Unfortunately, that is the way things happen here.

We all enjoyed President Trump’s response to the United Nations; he never fails to surprise us. Of course, we also enjoyed the speech of the American ambassador to the United Nations, and her announcement of the veto of the anti-Israel resolution.

Two laws are progressing through the legislative process. One is a law that requires the Minister of the Interior to approve any municipal bylaw that allows chillul Shabbos. The other law obligates the minister responsible for issuing Shabbos work permits to take the dictates of the Jewish religion into consideration.

This week, the country also witnessed major protests staged by the employees of Teva Pharmaceuticals, Israel’s flagship company. Copaxone, the drug manufactured by Teva to treat multiple sclerosis, has turned the company into an international corporation raking in massive profits. In recent years, though, Teva began suffering losses for various reasons (including the introduction of a drug that competes with Copaxone), and it announced the dismissal of thousands of employees throughout Israel. This resulted in widespread outrage, since the company has received many benefits from the Israeli government, including land allotments for corporate buildings and tax exemptions, yet when it found itself in a precarious financial position, it targeted its Israeli employees for dismissal.

Lessons from the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l

On Monday, I attended a gathering where Rav Yerachmiel Boyer delivered the main address. He is a former mayor of Bnei Brak and was a member of Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach’s inner circle. He is also a gifted orator and a rosh kollel, and he works to be mekarev members of the aircraft industry, the largest industry in the State of Israel. Many baalei teshuvah are religious today because of Rav Boyer’s efforts.

At this gathering, Rav Boyer’s facial expression bespoke tremendous sorrow. His emotional pain was the product of his mourning for Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l, as well as for the victims of the tragic fire in Flatbush. Rav Boyer himself is no stranger to suffering. About ten years ago, all of Bnei Brak wept during his eulogy for his granddaughter, Nechama Yaakovson (a daughter of my brother, Rav Aharon). Several years earlier, he lost his own daughter, who was a mother of ten children.

“Everything around us is crying out and collapsing, and that means we must rethink our own paths,” Rav Boyer said. “How much longer will we refuse to change? How much longer will we remain the way we have been? Let us pull ourselves up. Let us learn from Maran, the rosh yeshiva, who was the master of giving in to others, of closing his eyes and not uttering a word when he felt it was necessary. Let us learn to see the friendship of others and to ignore their wrongs. One never loses from giving in, Rav Aharon Leib used to say. One can only gain from it. He would say that he has never found anything better for the world than having compassion.”

Rav Boyer added that the passing of an adam gadol may create a blemish in the “great” Name of Hashem (the 72-letter Divine Name, which includes all of the other Names of Hashem), just as the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh caused a blemish in that Name. That, he explained, is the reason that we proclaim, “Yisgadel veyiskadesh shemeih rabbah – Let the great Name of Hashem be exalted and sanctified,” after the passing of a great man. “Our obligation at this time of the birth pangs of Moshiach, at this time of tragedies beyond the laws of nature, is to understand what is expected of us – to increase kevod Shomayim, to be more careful about the honor of others, to give in to others, not to begrudge them anything, and, most importantly, to sanctify Hashem’s great Name,” he concluded. His audience took his words to heart, tearfully resolving to improve their own commitment to interacting properly with others.

A Puzzling Scandal in Ashkelon

Something strange is happening, but it is not clear exactly what. Just a few days ago, it was reported that a group of Jewish youths had been baptized at a beach in Ashkelon. According to the report, two missionaries had opened a church in a private home in the center of Ashkelon and they performed the baptism ceremony at the nearby beach.

“The families of the youths who participated in the event contacted the activists of Lev L’Achim,” the article related. “The activists quickly arrived, finding the parents shocked and beside themselves with dismay… The families received guidance and, acting on the advice of Lev L’Achim’s legal experts, the parents filed a complaint at the Ashkelon-Lachish police station, accusing the missionaries of violating clause 368a of the penal code, which prohibits converting a minor below the age of 19 to a different religion.”

According to the news article, one of the missionaries was so aggressive that “he was removed by the Border Guard from a Lufthansa flight to Berlin several months ago, after he attempted to preach Christianity to the passengers at the gate, while they waited to board their plane.” This is something that I find difficult to believe. Did the Border Guard really remove a passenger from a flight to Berlin because he was preaching, which isn’t illegal? Is it possible that Jewish youths from Ashkelon were actually baptized without their parents’ knowledge? This is such a shocking story that it simply doesn’t make sense. If it is true, could we have been so blind as to be oblivious to this happening, or so weak that we did nothing about it? And if it isn’t true, then why is it being reported as news? Bli neder, I will monitor the story and will attempt to clarify exactly what happened.

Confusing Klops

At Maariv last Sunday night, before Shemoneh Esrei, someone pounded loudly on his shtender. We all stood up straight and grew tense. What did he want? What was the purpose of the klop? Was he trying to remind us about Al Hanissim? It was already the middle of Chanukah. Why would we need a reminder? After all, we had just recited Al Hanissim during Minchah. Finally, one person in the shul realized that it was a reminder to recite Yaaleh Veyavo in honor of Rosh Chodesh. But for that purpose, he felt that banging on the shtender once would not be sufficient, and he proceeded to strike his own shtender twice – once for Al Hanissim and the second time for Yaaleh Veyavo.

A third person in the shul, though, misinterpreted the second person’s actions. He thought that the second person had pounded on his shtender twice in order to signal that the first person had been mistaken and that there really was nothing to add to the davening. Obviously, that meant that the second man had forgotten about Rosh Chodesh, and so the third person felt compelled to correct his error. To that end, he immediately pounded on his own shtender three times – once for Al Hanissim, once for Yaaleh Veyavo, and one more time to indicate that the previous person had been mistaken. And so it continued…

Evidently, it is time to institute a universal code for communication through pounding on shtenders, and to find a different way to signal that someone was mistaken, rather than through another klop on the shtender.

Discrimination is Alive and Well

This week, a report was released concerning the state of health care in the State of Israel and the findings were quite disappointing. It was revealed that immigrants, the elderly, and the poor suffer from a severe lack of proper health care services. The “poor” are mainly members of the Sephardic community. Another report showed that the gap between Sephardim and Ashkenazim has grown in the educational system as well.

Yoel Marcus is a famous journalist who wrote for Haaretz over the course of many years. He was closely connected to all of the prime ministers of Israel from Ben-Gurion through Ariel Sharon, including Golda Meir, Yitzchok Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Menachem Begin. For a long time, very few people knew that he had been born in Turkey. He came to Israel at the age of 11, together with a Youth Aliyah group, and he was taken in by an Ashkenazic institution. This week, Marcus was awarded the Sokolov Prize and was interviewed by Haaretz. I am quoting him only because of one comment that he made in the course of his interview.

When Marcus was asked if the country is facing religious coercion, he replied, “I pray that it won’t happen.” Then he went on, “Do you know what? I may be Yoel Marcus, but I am half Ashkenazic and half Sephardic. My grandfather was the rov of the Ashkenazic community in Istanbul. I once wrote in an article that I am somewhat Sephardic… After it was published, a certain judge wrote to me, ‘Mr. Marcus, we don’t know each other, but you made a grave mistake when you revealed that you are of Sephardic extraction. You will see now that your entire life will change. It will change for the worse, and you will see that you will become severely disadvantaged.’”

Yaakov Cohen, who is almost 60 years old, is an actor and a standup comedian. He is chiloni, and he is Sephardic. Not long ago, he was interviewed about a film in which he plays a starring role – a film that depicts the establishment of the Shas party. “They were simple, ordinary people,” Cohen said about the subjects of the film, “and they decided to establish a party. As soon as they founded it, they were rejected and ridiculed.” Cohen admitted that he had voted for the Shas party three times, but he also admitted that he is no longer certain if he will vote for them – because Rav Ovadiah Yosef is no longer alive. When he was asked about ethnic discrimination, he did not hesitate to acknowledge its existence. “There are gaps between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, and there always will be,” he said. “But look at the people on the periphery; no one even thinks about them, and it has nothing to do with any specific ethnicity. Miri Regev was right. There were years of tremendous neglect, and the time has come to take care of this so that the young people will not leave this place.”

Cohen, who grew up in Migdal Ha’emek, added the following about the neglect of the country’s periphery: “The lack of concern for the periphery is universal; it spans the divide between different parties and different governments. People were brought there so that there would be lower-class laborers. They couldn’t be given too much, or else there wouldn’t be a lower class. It should come as no surprise that they felt shortchanged. How could it be that other parts of the country were allowed to flourish, while they were not?”

A Cup of Coffee at Hadaasah

A yungerman recently went to Hadassah Har Hatzofim with his wife for a series of medical tests. At one point, the young husband made his way to the Café Hillel counter, hoping to slake his thirst and to quell his anxiety with a cup of coffee. A Sephardic man who was standing nearby, and who did not look particularly chareidi, inquired if he was a member of a kollel. “Yes,” the young man replied.

“Where do you learn?” the older man asked.

“In the Mir.”

“In that case,” the stranger said decisively, “the coffee is on me.” The startled yungerman tried to refuse the offer, but the man was adamant. “I am paying for your coffee,” he insisted.

“But why?” the yungerman asked.

“Because my rov said that my tikkun comes through helping bnei Torah.”

He went on to explain, “I have a son who has left yeshiva, and I am devastated by it. My wife and I have both been completely shattered. We have been baalei teshuvah for the past 20 years. I have been through many nisyonos, and I always said to Hashem that I accepted all of His challenges with love, and my only request was for my children not to leave the path of Torah. But now it has happened: My older son has left yeshiva, and my younger son in Talmud Torah has also begun to show weakness. I have no doubt that it is because of my sins. The rov told us that we should help bnei Torah and that Hashem would reward us. That is why I am asking you to let me pay for your coffee, and to have some cake as well. If you are here with your wife, take some food for her as well, and I will pay for it.” The man had only one request: “Please daven for my son, Chaim ben Limor.”

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