My Take on the News

Netanyahu Crosses Swords with the Police Chief

Commissioner Roni Alshich, the head of the police force, revealed in an interview last Wednesday that the police were wrapping up their investigations and preparing their recommendations. On Tuesday they recommended an indictment.

Alshich also commented on a police official named Ritman, who recently became entangled in legal troubles of his own. The commissioner insinuated that specific people had engineered his legal woes. Ritman, who holds the rank of nitzav (deputy commissioner, the equivalent of a major general in the army), oversees all of the investigative units of the police force, including the unit investigating the prime minister. Thus, Alshich implied that the allegations against Ritman didn’t arise by chance, but that someone had instigated his accusers to file complaints against him. In all likelihood, that would mean that Netanyahu himself was responsible for it. The Supreme Court told Alshich that he should take action against Ritman, and that it is improper for him to be covering for the officer. Nevertheless, Alshich was unmoved; he insists that Ritman has done nothing wrong – or, at least, almost nothing.

In response to Alshich’s comments, Netanyahu went on the offensive. “It is shocking to discover that the police chief is repeating the same spurious allegations, implying that Prime Minister Netanyahu has employed private investigators against the police officers who are investigating him,” he wrote. “It is shocking to find that he also repeated those false allegations to the media, implying that Prime Minister Netanyahu was involved in the complaints against Deputy Commissioner Roni Ritman…. How is it possible that Ritman is heading the unit that is investigating the prime minister, and is personally involved in preparing the recommendations against him? Any honest person would have to ask himself how people who make such bizarre allegations against the prime minister could possibly investigate him with objectivity, and how they could make recommendations on his case without bias. Today, a pall of suspicion has been cast over the investigations of the police department and their recommendations against Prime Minister Netanyahu. The insinuations of the police chief are so egregious that they demand an immediate, objective investigation into his claims that the prime minister has employed his own investigators. Once it is revealed that there is no truth to this, the obvious conclusions can be reached regarding the way the investigation has been managed, and regarding the recommendations that have been made against the prime minister.”

This, in effect, was a declaration of war – a war between Netanyahu and Alshich.

The clash was prompted by the decision of the police to recommend indicting Netanyahu, despite the fact that the government is in the process of outlawing such recommendations. This week, Alshich said defiantly, “I don’t work for the prime minister; we will make recommendations.” Of course, that meant that the police plan to recommend an indictment; it is simply not clear in which case and on what charges. Netanyahu responded, “The decision is made by the attorney general, not the police. I am not worried. I know that nothing will come of this, because I know the truth.”

It seems that we are on the verge of a political earthquake. Netanyahu is not obligated to resign from office even after an indictment. He will be required to resign only if he is convicted, and that seems very unlikely.

 

Protesting in Poland

We have had some other subjects of interest as well. First of all, MK Yaakov Peri resigned from the Knesset as a result of a televised news report. That is a story in its own right. The biennial budget was also brought before the Knesset. That, too, is worthy of separate coverage. The Reform movement is continuing to breathe down our necks. For some reason, their prayer area at the Kosel is beginning to be prepared for use, even before the Supreme Court reaches its final decision. Meanwhile, the rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, has asked to give his own response to the two laws on which I reported last week. Bli neder, I will address all these subjects next week.

Another major story concerned the Polish government’s decision to ban references to the Nazi concentration camps as “Polish death camps.” This law has already progressed through the legislative process, even though Netanyahu asked the Polish government to delay passing it.

In Israel, the reaction to this law bordered on hysteria. Our ambassador to Poland – whose husband is a Reform rabbi in Israel and one of the leaders of the battle against religious laws – was asked by the prime minister to lodge a protest. She did that at a ceremony that seems to have taken place on Shabbos (see below). The Poles denounced her statement, accusing her of violating all the established norms of diplomacy. Did we gain anything from voicing our outrage? I doubt that we did. I imagine that we will end up apologizing to the Poles, especially since their main argument – that the death camps were built by the Germans, not by the Poles – is actually correct.

They do not deny the fact that there were Polish people who murdered Jews. No one can deny that there were Poles who carried out pogroms against the Jews, Poles who delivered Jews to the Nazis, Poles who looted and pillaged Jewish homes, and Poles who hated us. The Poles admit to all of that, but they also asked us to concede that if hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved, many of them were spared because of the actions of “good” Poles. They want the record of their crimes to be accurate and not exaggerated. That is a legitimate request that should not evoke outrage in Israel. Certainly, it should not produce the type of reaction that has been heard.

True, there were Poles who were evil and sadistic. There were also Poles who were murderous and anti-Semitic. But the death camps were German, not Polish. They were German death camps built on Polish soil. That is all that the Polish government wants us to accept, and if that is their demand, why should we complain? After all, we ourselves demand the same of the nations of the world, lehavdil: We expect them not to blur the distinctions between different offenses. We expect them to understand that the Arab populace of Israel may not be treated fairly, especially in the eyes of foreigners, but that does not warrant accusing us of wholesale slaughter. We may be “occupiers,” but we are not brutes; we control the land where they live, but we are not murderers. The Poles say, and justifiably so, that they are not the ones who established and ran the death camps. Yet Netanyahu’s impulsive move threatens to destroy our diplomatic ties with a country where Jewish communities still exist. One would think that some caution would be in order. Why should we strike them with every diplomatic weapon in our arsenal and harm ourselves in the process? At the end of this battle, we will find ourselves begging for their forgiveness….

 

Tzipi Hotovely Stands Her Ground

Last week, the Knesset discussed the current conflict with Poland. The government’s response was delivered by Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister. The actual foreign minister is Binyomin Netanyahu himself, who holds that position in addition to his title of prime minister.

Hotovely said, “The prime minister has publicly expressed his strong opposition to the law passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament on January 26. On the instructions of the prime minister of Israel, who is also the foreign minister, the Israeli ambassador to Poland discussed the subject with the prime minister of Poland during a memorial service in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. That service was held in Auschwitz on January 27, and the ambassador presented our position to the prime minister. The relevant official in the Polish embassy in Israel was also summoned for a conversation in the Foreign Ministry, where a similar message was conveyed. On January 28, our prime minister spoke with the prime minister of the Polish government on the same subject. Following that conversation, it was decided that a team would be appointed to discuss the matter with the Polish authorities. The Israeli team will be headed by Yuval Rotem, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry. It is important to emphasize that the legislative process hasn’t yet been concluded in Poland, and we are in the middle of a dialogue with the Polish government about this issue, and about other issues involved in the historical record. This issue is the top priority of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw, and we are attaching great importance to it.”

Hotovely’s then said, “I would like to take this opportunity to make something clear. Israel agrees that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is indeed inaccurate. The death camps were established by Nazi Germany on conquered Polish soil, and it is important to make that clear. But that does not excuse the Polish people who took part in the murder of Jews. That is why we reject the proposed law, and we have made that position clear to the Polish government. We believe that the law will not aid the continued exposure of the historic truth, and we are concerned that it may prevent discussion about the historic message that stems from the Holocaust. At this time, I would like to say the following: There are excellent ties between Israel and Poland. In the spirit of those ties, we will continue our dialogue with the Polish government even on issues on which we have differences of opinion. I hope that a solution will be found.”

I have two comments about this. First, January 27 was a Shabbos. That means that Netanyahu called the ambassador on Shabbos, and it is possible that she delivered her speech on Shabbos. The memorial service that she attended, where she discussed the law with the prime minister of Poland, may also have been held on Shabbos.

Second, Hotovely asked the Knesset to accept her response and to refrain from sending the issue to the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee for further discussion. She argued that that committee was the wrong venue for discussion of the matter. She knew that there was a majority against her, since all of the Knesset members who raised the subject insisted on having it discussed in the committee. But instead of giving in to their demands and avoiding a public loss, she insisted on putting the question to a vote. The result, of course, was that she lost: Two members of the Knesset voted in favor of her request (and Hotovely herself was probably one of them), while six others voted against her. This is typical of the way things are done in the government: Every politician insists on sticking to their own position, even when they know that they are guaranteed to lose.

 

A Troubling Trend

Three weeks ago, something happened in Israel: Avigdor Lieberman, a government minister and coalition partner with the religious parties, was indignant about the passage of the Supermarket Law. In order to express his ire, he made a show of visiting a shopping center in Ashdod on Shabbos, where he visited the stores that were open and even purchased treife food. This was purely for the sake of making a statement. The reason he chose Ashdod is that the city is home to a large community of Russian immigrants, potential voters for his party. We were angry with Lieberman, but we weren’t sure how to respond, since we needed his support in the vote over the draft law. While we waited, three weeks passed.

In the meantime, the enemies of Yiddishkeit throughout the country seem to have awakened. The incitement against us appears to be bearing fruit. There have already been several incidents over the past two weeks, in different cities, in which men with yarmulkas and women with head coverings were targeted in acts of violence.

Last week, I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as Dovid Elbaz from Ashdod. He served in the past as an aide to Foreign Minister David Levi. “I took a bus to Tel Hashomer Hospital,” he related, “and since I am visually impaired, I sat in the front seat. The bus driver recognized me and helped me sit down. I was sitting next to the window on the right side of the bus, and I noticed that another passenger sat down beside me. He had clearly boarded the bus as well, and I realized soon enough that he had deliberately chosen the seat next to me, even though the bus was fairly empty. Suddenly, he punched me in the elbow. I was shocked; I couldn’t even move. He started shouting at me, ‘You Sephardim should go to Bnei Brak! The country doesn’t belong to you!’ Then he punched me in the forehead. I fell, and I believe that I passed out. I was taken to the hospital.”

Dovid Elbaz will soon be reaching his eightieth birthday. “With Hashem’s help, I have done teshuvah,” he told me. Today, he is sad. He has seen and heard the incitement in Ashdod, and he is worried about the potential consequences. “It pains me very much that the media is one-sided,” he said. For the most part, only the anti-religious elements have a voice in the media.

 

The State Defies the Supreme Court

The state has shown that when it wants to, it is capable of turning its back on the Supreme Court – and on tens of thousands of inmates in the country’s prisons. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein ruled, in his last verdict before his retirement, that conditions in Israel’s prisons are unsuitable, inappropriate, and illegal. International law requires that every prisoner receive a certain minimum amount of living space; prisons of Israel have not been living up to that requirement. Rubinstein gave the state a specific amount of time to rectify the situation, and that grace period is about to come to an end.

Last week, Haaretz reported that the government plans to ask for a nine-year extension to implement the required reform. “Why not ninety?” an inmate asked me wryly when he heard about their intent.

The government’s reason was made clear in the Knesset last week by Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security. Erdan is one of the people most involved in this matter, since the Prison Service is under his jurisdiction. The Ministry of Justice and the attorney general’s office are also involved in the subject.

“The date for carrying out the decision established by Justice Rubinstein is completely unrealistic,” Erdan asserted in his remarks to the Knesset. “In such a short amount of time, it is impossible to solve the problem of about 6,000 prison cells that do not conform to the standards imposed by the Supreme Court. It is impossible to produce that number of appropriate cells within the type of time frame that the court decided – whether it is a year, a year and a half, or two years. It simply cannot happen… I presume that the honored Justice Rubinstein did not intend for us to simply release thousands of terrorists, murderers, and thieves from prison to simply allow them to roam the streets freely. He must have meant that we should act in a responsible fashion.”

Erdan also found a place to lay the blame for his difficulties: the Ministry of Finance. “I want to make one thing absolutely clear,” he said. “The budget that the Finance Ministry is now proposing for 2019 will be a disgrace to the court. That will be solely the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance.”

 

When Mitzrayim Left the Bnei Yisroel

I promised you a report on one aspect of the festivities surrounding the Knesset’s birthday celebration on Tu B’Shevat, and the time has come for me to make good on that promise.

Rav Dovid Lau, the Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, delivered an address at the festive event in the Knesset shul. There is something about him that is reminiscent of his illustrious father – something about the way he speaks, his tone of voice, his style of delivery (including the question-and-answer format), and the way his addresses always leave their desired mark.

He recounted a story that seemed, at first, to be unrelated to anything he was discussing. “The year was 1975,” he began. “I was in the fifth grade in the Ohel Yaakov elementary school, and we had a teacher from Pardes Chana named Stern. We were quick to notice that every movement of a chair caused him to tremble. When we moved our desks, he would automatically scramble for refuge under his own desk. There were some unruly and insensitive children in the class who purposely moved the furniture in order to elicit those reactions.

“One day, he let us in on his secret. He said to us, ‘If any of you had been with me last year on the battlefield during the Yom Kippur War, you would understand what these scraping sounds mean to me. Think for a moment before you move a chair.’ From that day on, we were very careful about it.

“The teacher had come back from the war, but the war had never left him,” Rav Lau continued. “Today, we are familiar with battlefield trauma and the necessity of treatment. At that time, we didn’t understand it. A full year had passed since the war, and this man was still suffering from the sound of chairs scraping across the floor.”

I listened intently, wondering what Rav Dovid was driving at.

He smiled, paused for a moment, and then switched gears slightly. “The mitzvah of remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim can be fulfilled by reciting Shiras Hayam, according to the Magein Avrohom,” he said. “But the Chasam Sofer asks: Is that possible? Where in Az Yoshir is there any mention of the ten makkos or of the miracles that happened in Mitzrayim? It speaks only about the splitting of the sea, not about the actual departure from Mitzrayim.” Rav Dovid quoted several pesukim from memory, his voice rising and falling rhythmically as he spoke. And then he offered his own answer to the question: “It is true that the Jewish people left Mitzrayim on the fifteenth of Nissan – but Mitzrayim didn’t leave them!”

The complete and genuine liberation from Mitzrayim, Rav Dovid asserted, took place only after Krias Yam Suf, when the Jewish people saw their oppressors lying dead on the shore. It was only at that moment that Yetzias Mitzrayim reached its culmination, for that was when “Mitzrayim” was removed from within the Bnei Yisroel. And that is why the pesukim of Az Yoshir indeed refer to Yetzias Mitzrayim. With that, the entire drasha came together – including the story about the rov’s unfortunate elementary school teacher.

After the speech, a member of Rav Dovid’s staff asked me if I had enjoyed it.

“Yes,” I said. “Nevertheless, I would prefer to see Rav Dovid Lau as the guest of honor at a yarchei kallah, rather than a guest in the Knesset. I would take greater pleasure in attending a shmuess he delivered in a kollel, rather than watching him affix a mezuzah to an El Al plane. And I also wish he had been here on time.”

“There is a single answer to both of your comments,” the other man replied in amusement. “The rov was late because he was delivering a shiur kloli to a group of dozens of yungeleit.” I made a few inquiries, and I soon discovered where Rav Lau had been. Just before coming to the Knesset for the Tu B’Shevat event, he delivered a pilpul on the subject of “birurei Yahadus” at Darchei Hora’ah, a kollel for the training of future dayanim and rabbonim.

 

Parking Fines on Shabbos

Recently, police gave out parking tickets in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in Yerushalayim on Friday night. What made the police decide to enforce the city’s parking regulations on Friday night in a religious neighborhood? Ramat Shlomo is a religious neighborhood, and municipal inspectors – and certainly police officers – generally do not enter religious neighborhoods on Shabbos in order to examine how the residents have parked their cars.

This question was raised by MK Yaakov Asher, who submitted a parliamentary query on the subject.

Minister Gilad Erdan responded: “I must say that in principle, if you were to ask me about the order of priorities, I do not think that enforcing parking regulations should be at the top of the police department’s priorities. This is especially true in neighborhoods where cars do not travel on Shabbos because the overwhelming majority of the residents are observant. So I do not truly think that it is the right thing, within the order of priorities of the police. As a general rule, we do not prohibit enforcing the laws, but the enforcement does not actually take place. As a former mayor of Bnei Brak, you certainly know that.”

Then came the explanation. “Regarding the specific case about which you have asked, I questioned the police thoroughly about it. Unfortunately, I cannot give you all of the details. The reason the police were there was not for the purpose of enforcing parking regulations. I cannot go into greater detail, but it was to prevent another form of crime, in order to protect the residents of the neighborhood. During the course of those activities, which had nothing to do with the enforcement of parking regulations, the police officers discovered that many cars were blocking some of the routes of travel. As you know, the roads must remain open in case of emergency situations, to permit the passage of ambulances, fire trucks, and so forth. Therefore, the parking fines were issued for that reason. This is not a new phenomenon or a new policy. It was unusual, and it was because the police were present in the neighborhood due to other circumstances.”

 

A Battle of Wits in the Knesset

Last week, MK Yehuda Glick was scheduled to present several parliamentary queries. If he had been absent from the Knesset, his questions would have been automatically cancelled. Ahmed Tibi, who was chairing the sitting at the time, called upon Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchok Cohen to prepare to respond. Rabbi Cohen did not notice that Glick had rushed into the plenum, and he protested that the questioner was not present.

“Mr. Deputy Minister of Finance, the kohein koton,” Yehuda Glick announced.

“Stick to the text of the question that you submitted, MK Glick,” Tibi admonished him.

“Yes,” Glick acknowledged. “Am I allowed to say ‘Mr. Deputy Minister of Finance’ or is that prohibited as well?” With that, he moved on to his first question. “Mr. Chairman, deputy speaker of the Knesset, MK Dr. Ahmed Tibi,” he said, “there was a report in the news that the Minister of Transportation announced that there will be a duty-free store available for passengers on domestic flights, including a tax exemption on alcohol and cigarettes.” This was the first of his four queries.

“Thank you, MK Yehuda Glick,” Yitzchok Cohen said, beginning his response. He paused to make a verbal jab at Glick, commenting, “He said that he visits the Har Habayis. I would like to suggest that you visit the Har Habayis on a regular basis – but in Mini Israel.”

“Is there a duty-free shop in Mini Israel?” Glick asked.

Cohen went on to address Glick’s question. “Duty-free stores are only for travelers who are leaving the country, not those who are flying to different locations within Israel. That report was untrue,” he asserted.

Glick’s next question was completely unrelated and dealt with the tax on cigarettes. “Every year, 8,000 people die from smoking,” he said. “As long as you haven’t levied the tax, you are directly responsible for those deaths. There are rabbonim who permit ascending the Har Habayis and there are those who prohibit it, but all the rabbonim agree that smoking is prohibited.”

“Let us agree that you yourself will not do either of those things,” Tibi said.

The third question dealt with the sale of individual cigarettes. This is prohibited by law, but that law is not enforced, and Glick was outraged by that fact.

“Fortunately, we have a doctor in the plenum,” Cohen said.

“We passed a law concerning a machine for emergency resuscitation,” Tibi said.

“What is that machine called?” Cohen asked.

“A defibrillator,” Tibi replied.

After receiving his answer, Glick had the right to ask another question. “Due to the late hour and my compassion for the other people who are still here, I will forgo the additional question,” he said.

I have to question one thing: Where is the logic in banning the sale of individual cigarettes? This causes a smoker to buy an entire pack of cigarettes instead, which will lead him to smoke much more.

 

The Heavy Hand

In conclusion, here is a story that I heard from the person involved.

One morning, Reb Dovid arrived at Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s shul on Rechov Hakablan in Yerushalayim. After davening, he approached the rov to wish him a good morning, and when he asked permission to kiss the rov’s right hand, Rav Ovadiah extended his left hand instead. Rav Dovid was surprised by the deviation from the norm, and he asked what had prompted the change.

Rav Ovadiah replied, “Last night, a yungerman from South America came to me to discuss a shailah of great importance. He told me that he was listed in the population registry in his home country as illegitimate, and there was doubt as to whether he could be permitted to marry an ordinary Jewish girl. My heart was greatly affected by his situation, and my tears flowed onto my desk. I saw a suffering Jew standing before me, and I wanted to help him. I spent the entire night analyzing the question, and corresponded by fax with rabbonim throughout Eretz Yisroel and the rest of the world. I conducted a thorough investigation of his parents’ marriage, and after consulting the greatest poskim, I came to a clear halachic conclusion. Finally, early in the morning, I wrote a lengthy teshuvah in which I ruled that he was permitted to marry. I was happy that I had been able to help him. However, I didn’t want to issue the ruling until I heard the opinion of Rav Shalom Mashash. I sent him the teshuvah by fax, and by 7:00 in the morning, he had confirmed my position. Boruch Hashem, when I came to Shacharis this morning, I was able to approach that yungerman and inform him that he is kosher.

“My right hand is in pain from the exertion of writing throughout the night, and it is hard for me to move it,” Rav Ovadiah concluded. “Therefore, I extended my left hand to you.”