My Take on the News

“Hefetz Doesn’t Know Anything!”

Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu may have been out of the country, but his thoughts were focused on the investigations at home. In one of his interviews in America, Netanyahu was asked, “What are the perks that you receive as a prime minister?”

 

“I get to be investigated,” he replied flippantly.

Netanyahu was also asked about the investigations during a press conference at the White House, with President Trump and the First Lady at his side. Netanyahu may have been slightly flustered by the question, but he did not allow it to show. “I will address that later,” he said, referring to his scheduled meeting later in the day with a group of journalists from Israel. He felt more comfortable speaking to them about the subject.

The Israeli reporters also asked Netanyahu about the latest dramatic development in the investigations: Nir Hefetz, who was practically the private spokesman of Sara Netanyahu, signed an agreement to become a state witness. That development was a front-page news story in Israel. The major question is what information Hefetz can provide to the police that they were not able to receive from the other state witnesses: Ganor in the submarine case and Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Ministry of Communications. With the addition of a third state witness, some believe that Netanyahu’s fate has been sealed and that his political career is over. Others have interpreted it in precisely the opposite way: If the police need another state witness, that is a sign that they have amassed very little evidence against Netanyahu.

Nir Hefetz, who also worked in the prime minister’s office for a period of time, may be able to shed some light on the relationship between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the CEO of Bezeq. Netanyahu received many gifts from Elovitch; however, that alone may not constitute a criminal offense. A prime minister should not be ousted because of cigars. The police, however, claim that Elovitch bribed the prime minister. Elovitch received millions of shekels in financial aid for Bezeq from Netanyahu, and the prime minister received favorable coverage on Walla, the news website that Elovitch owns. Shlomo Filber can attest that Netanyahu pressured him to help Elovitch. Hefetz may be able to fill in the other half of the picture, testifying that he worked with Elovitch to shift the coverage on Walla so that it would be favorable to the prime minister and his wife.

On the day before he left for the AIPAC conference and his meeting with Trump, Netanyahu was interrogated by the police. His wife was interrogated simultaneously (to prevent them from coordinating their answers). The interrogation was held on Friday, and they flew to the United States on Motzoei Shabbos.

At the press conference in Washington, Netanyahu said, “Hefetz? He wasn’t part of the action; he knew nothing. The only thing he might know about is the well-being of our dog, Kaya.” She died just a few days ago. Upon hearing the news, someone quipped, “Kaya was the only member of the prime minister’s inner circle that preferred to die rather than become a state witness.”

Netanyahu spoke out harshly against the practice of recruiting state witnesses. “People are being offered incentives to fabricate stories against me,” he said. On Thursday, at an exhibit about Yerushalayim that took place in the United Nations headquarters, he refused to retract his accusations against the police. “Yes,” he said, “my wife, my family and I are being persecuted! At the same time, I have gained tremendous popularity,” he added. And he is correct about that.

 

“You Are Comrades of the Nazis”

The Knesset’s image as a legislative body was severely tarnished by the events of the past winter. The Knesset Ethics Committee was inundated with work throughout the season, as it dealt with a steady stream of complaints from members of the Knesset about their colleagues. Those complaints resulted from the shallow discourse that dominated the Knesset during the winter. Oren Hazan is always cited as an example of the nadir that the Knesset has reached, but he is far from the only one. Both in the Knesset plenum and in its committees, many comments were made that are ugly and undignified for a national parliament. In one case, in a debate about the African infiltrators, one of the members of the Meretz party shouted at the Likud, “You are comrades of the Nazis!” This past week, after several discussions, the Ethics Committee decided to reprimand that member of Meretz for her comment.

Everyone lashed out at Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, who remarked in a closed discussion that he lamented the lack of dignity in the Knesset in general and within the Likud party in particular. If he had only known that his comment would be leaked to the public, he would have been much more cautious, especially considering his position within the government. But as ill-advised as it may have been for him to voice that opinion, he was absolutely right. This Knesset has often been criticized as being worse than any of its predecessors, and that criticism is completely justified. In many ways, the Twentieth Knesset has outdone all of the previous incarnations of the country’s parliament.

One of the decisions made by the Ethics Committee was to permit the speaker, under certain circumstances, to eject members of the Knesset from the plenum even without warning. The impetus for this was the fact that certain members of the Knesset violated established protocols during festive sittings of the Knesset, behaving in a way that disgraced the Knesset. One of the most noteworthy examples was the behavior of the Arab members of the Knesset during Vice President Mike Pence’s address.

 

Bickering in the Plenum

Just to give you an idea of what has been happening, let me present an excerpt from the protocols of the Knesset during an address delivered last week by Yariv Levin, Minister of Tourism. Levin is known for his civility, and if he lost his temper during a discussion in the Knesset, that certainly says a good deal about the situation.

It happened when Levin was responding to a motion of no confidence that was submitted by Yair Lapid. Lapid delivered an address to explain his motion and then immediately left the plenum. Yariv Levin was outraged by this. “I would like to respond,” he said, “but I can’t do that if the person who presented the motion is not in the plenum… Please inform him that I am waiting for him, since I would like to ask him a few questions… I heard MK Shapir speak,” Levin went on. “Every other word in her speech was ‘corrupt,’ and every third word was ‘investigations.’ Of course, I remembered that she was just as critical when a person was chosen to lead her party who was silent during his own investigations.” (Stav Shapir is a member of the Knesset who is constantly fulminating against the “corruption” of the government. Her party is led by Yitzchok Herzog, who was investigated by the police about the funding of his primaries and exercised his right to remain silent.)

Stav Shapir interjected, “This populist attack is not suited to your intelligence.”

“She was even thinking about giving up her spot on the Zionist Camp’s list,” Levin said sarcastically. Turning serious, he exclaimed, “What hypocrisy! What temerity!”

For a long time, a flurry of accusations were hurled back and forth. The members of the Knesset shouted at each other for being hypocritical, arrogant, and corrupt. Levin crossed swords with the Zionist Camp and then set his sights on Yesh Atid. “Well, we are sitting here and waiting, and Mr. Lapid is not here,” he said. Levin related that he had cancelled an important meeting in order to hear Lapid’s speech. That comment enraged the opposition, evoking another barrage of responses.

“Let the ministers first make sure that they are here to respond all the time!”

“There seems to be no end to the disgrace!”

“There is no limit to the hypocrisy!”

“Mr. Lapid, Mr. Lapid, what are you afraid of?” Levin said.

“Who is afraid?” demanded Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid.

Levin continued pretending to address Lapid, who had not returned. “Where are you? Come here. Come and listen to my answer. Come back and answer the questions that the people want to ask you… Where is Mr. Lapid?”

“The same place as the prime minister,” Stern said snidely.

“The prime minister is running the country,” Levin said.

“And so is Lapid,” Stern retorted.

“Mr. Lapid is still not here,” Yariv Levin announced, “and he will not be coming back. So I will ask Mr. Lapid’s empty chair: Did you record your meetings with Milchan in your official calendar? Did you report your connections with Milchan? Weren’t you in touch with him over the years?”

Such is the state of parliamentary discourse in the State of Israel today.

 

Expecting the Unexpected

Political commentators are in vogue today.

There are about as many theories and predictions as there are commentators. Every police reporter knows how to concoct theories based on what seems to be taking place in the interrogation rooms. By the same token, every political commentator knows how to explain why his particular theory is the most logical. They seem to have forgotten that we still remember what they said about the previous government: that no one had an interest in dissolving the government, and there was no reason for it to fall. Despite their predictions, that government did fall when Netanyahu decided to rid himself of Finance Minister Lapid.

Evidently, the events of the past term have been forgotten all too soon. The previous government was considered highly stable. There was the “Brothers’ Pact” between Bennett and Lapid, and the government seemed indomitable. And then Netanyahu suddenly began to suspect that Lapid was scheming to oust him from power and he dismissed Lapid from his position. With that, the government fell. The present government arose in its place, with the chareidim now in the coalition, while Lapid has been banished to the opposition. As usual, Netanyahu’s suspicions were groundless, and he acted hastily to rid himself of a potential threat. His actions ran against any logic. There was nothing sensible about what he did. Or, as the posuk states, the hearts of kings and ministers are in the Hands of Hashem.

There is a vort that Rav Ovadiah Yosef used to cite in situations such as our current one, when logic seems to indicate that there is no way out of a problematic situation. The Medrash states that when the Bnei Yisroel reached the Yam Suf, they were divided into four groups. One group wanted to jump into the sea, while another group wished to return to Mitzrayim. A third group advocated doing battle against the Egyptians, while a fourth group said, “Let us cry out against them.” It seemed that these were the only four options; there was no other course of action that could possibly be taken. Yet the situation ultimately ended in a way that no one could have foreseen: Hashem caused the sea to split.

This was a completely unforeseen resolution. In fact, it was something that no human being could possibly have predicted. But Hashem is all-powerful, and He can bring about things that seem utterly impossible.

 

Vandalism in the North

The Shas party has introduced a new member of the Knesset. Under the Norwegian Law, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchok Cohen resigned from the Knesset while maintaining his ministerial position (like Litzman and Porush) and was replaced by a man named Dan (or Dani) Saida. The new MK is a charming man who lives on Moshav Ohr HaGanuz, near Meron, and is a farmer.

Saida became acclimated very quickly to the Knesset. Last week, he filed a motion for the agenda dealing with the country’s water supply. He revealed that the water level in the Kinneret has reached a dangerous low, yet according to the chairman of the Water Authority, Israel has been transferring large quantities of water to Jordan. The motion cited statistics provided by Giora Shacham, the chairman of the Water Authority. “How can we be so magnanimous to our neighbors when the Kinneret is shrinking?” Saida demanded.

Last week, Saida submitted an urgent parliamentary query titled “Swastikas Sprayed at the Kever of Yehoshua bin Nun in the Shomron.” His query was directed at the Minister of Internal Security and sought information as to who is responsible for protecting the site. The Knesset speaker did not approve it as an urgent question.

This week, Saida filed a query on a different subject: A patient suffering from leukemia was ordered by his doctors to take a particular medication, but the Meuchedet health fund refused to approve the medication for him. After a while, the health fund agreed to provide the drug, but only on the condition that the patient would pay 1,000 shekels for each dose. The patient requires eight doses, and he does not have 8,000 shekels at his disposal. This time, the speaker approved his question as an urgent query. On Wednesday, Health Minister Litzman responded. “The health fund offered a compromise,” he pointed out.

Saida, who was entitled to an additional question, remained adamant. “This man does not even have 1,000 shekels,” he said. Litzman then offered Saida some advice as to how he could assist the patient.

Saida submitted yet another parliamentary query to the Minister of Internal Security, this one concerning an incident that took place on Moshav Burgata in the north. “This week,” he wrote, “the mikvah building in Moshav Burgata in the Chefer Valley was vandalized by unknown perpetrators. To the best of my knowledge, an official complaint was filed with the police. I would like to ask: Are the police aware of the details of the incident? Was a complaint indeed filed, and if so, was it investigated? What did the investigation reveal? Were the suspects located? Do the police have any details about similar incidents of vandalism at religious buildings during the past three years? If so, what were the locations and in how many cases were the perpetrators brought to justice?”

The building targeted by the vandals was a new mikvah, which was scheduled to be inaugurated this week. In all likelihood, the vandals were Arabs.

 

Shabbos and the Embassy

MK Michoel Malchieli, another member of the Shas party, submitted an official query to determine whether the Israeli ambassador to Poland (whose husband is one of the leaders of the Reform movement in Israel, as I wrote last week) was mechallel Shabbos in her official capacity. This seemed to be implied by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who informed the Knesset that the ambassador had spoken to the prime minister of Poland, acting on Netanyahu’s instructions, at a memorial service in Auschwitz. The date of the memorial service coincided with Shabbos. Malchieli therefore asked if the ambassador had indeed violated Shabbos by attending the event and if Netanyahu had contacted her on Shabbos in order to give her those instructions.

This was the answer he received: “The organizers of the ceremony at Auschwitz were sensitive to the subject of Shabbos. Therefore, the event was scheduled by the organizers, who coordinated it with the ambassador, to be held after Shabbos ended. The rov of the community was also present at the event. On January 27, Shabbos ended at 4:59 p.m., and the ceremony began at 6:30 p.m. Therefore, the ambassador’s participation in the ceremony did not involve chillul Shabbos. The phone call from Israel, in which she was instructed to speak with the Polish prime minister, took place shortly before the ceremony began, and thus was also after Shabbos ended. The ambassadors of Israel throughout the world are sensitive to the subject of Shabbos and do not participate in events that involve the public desecration of Shabbos.”

We will attempt to corroborate these details.

 

French Jews in Israel

Makor Rishon newspaper dedicated almost an entire supplement to the subject of the Jewish immigrants from France who have settled in Israel in recent years. The supplement included the results of various surveys that were conducted among the immigrants. And these statistics are certainly deserving of our attention.

Fifteen percent of the immigrants define themselves as chareidim. An additional 33 percent define themselves as religious. In essence, that means that half the immigrants from France are observant. But will their children attend religious schools? Do the government officials who are overseeing their aliyah relate to those immigrants as religious Jews? Moreover, another 30 percent of the French immigrants categorize themselves as “traditional,” meaning that a full 80 percent of the immigrants from France have some connection to their Jewish heritage.

Among the newly arrived immigrants, 48 percent are opposed to the operation of public transportation on Shabbos. That is a huge percentage. Within the Israeli public itself, a vast majority favors allowing public transportation to run. The reason for that is that people do not understand the meaning of Shabbos. The French immigrants, however, do understand Shabbos; deep down, they appreciate its value.

In one survey, the immigrants were asked, “If elections for the Knesset were held today, which parties would you vote for?” One quarter of the respondents said that they didn’t know, and another quarter claimed that they would vote for Likud. Seventeen percent said that they would vote for Bayit Yehudi, with another 5 percent supporting United Torah Judaism, and 5 percent stating that they would vote for Shas. The pollsters also claimed that 2 percent of the immigrants responded that they would vote for the Joint Arab List. However, I find that part extremely difficult to believe.

Over the past five years, about 2,000 new immigrants from France have arrived in Israel every year. Over the past decade, there have been 37,000 Jewish immigrants.

 

A Day of Delight for Special Children

On Purim, I had a deeply moving experience that I must share with you.

B’Lev Echad is an organization founded by a young man from Yerushalayim (who got married just a year ago) that has grown into a large organization. It is hard to describe their outpouring of chesed for the families of children with special needs. Down Syndrome is an aptly named condition; it thrusts an entire family “down” into the depths of shock and despair. It takes time for the family to realize that they have been granted an enormous privilege, that they have been chosen to raise a very special child – a child with unique needs, but a special one nonetheless. None of Hashem’s children are unwanted; He loves them all. Nevertheless, it is a difficult experience, and the families need to partner with people who will share their burdens.

The same is true of children with autism. The lives of their parents, their siblings, and many others often revolve around those needs. It is important to empathize with autistic children; it is equally important to hear the cries of their families. B’Lev Echad, which prides itself on cultivating “the power to smile and be happy,” understands their pain. Even more importantly, B’Lev Echad works to help them.

On Purim, I was exposed to one of the organization’s events. I was amazed by the organization and its counselors, all of whom were yeshiva bochurim. Every family invited to the event received a ticket and a yellow wristband. Admission was limited to sick children and their families. I met a family with an adorable little girl who was confined to a wheelchair, and I asked them what they gained from the event. The father replied enthusiastically, “It gives the children a tremendous amount of encouragement. They wait eagerly for each event. It gives them joy and strength. This little girl,” he added, pointing to his daughter in the wheelchair, “also derives tremendous joy from it. She practically dances with joy when she hears about another event.”

B’Lev Echad was launched at the end of Elul 5770. It began as a temporary project to assist a patient in Kaplan Hospital in Rechovot, but it has grown into a massive enterprise that encompasses many sick children and their families. The embrace of B’Lev Echad rids them of the shame they feel at having to receive help from others; the events make them feel valued and special. These remarkable events, which are open only to those who have the “privilege” of having a sick child or sibling, give the attendees an incredible feeling.

Dudi Weitman and the human malachim who work with him were successful in bringing joy into the days of Purim for these special children. Volunteers in costume arrived in rented cars to distribute special mishloach manos packages, and the children were delighted.

The organization is now preparing its Pesach project, which will include a massive event on Chol Hamoed.

 

An Erev Shabbos Request

In conclusion, let me share a heartwarming story with you.

This year, a certain young boy had to spend the Shabbos of Parshas Zachor in the hospital. He was scheduled to undergo an operation on Motzoei Shabbos, and he had been told that he should be admitted to the hospital before Shabbos. It wasn’t an extremely serious operation, but any surgery is a daunting experience. And so he was about to begin an unpleasant Shabbos, albeit not a horrible one.

Just before Shabbos began, the boy telephoned his mother, his voice sounding somewhat strained. Of course, that was only to be expected for a young man who was not accustomed to spending time in hospitals, especially on Shabbos, and especially on the eve of an operation.

“Everything will be fine,” his mother assured him upon hearing his voice. “If you believe that things will be good, then it will be good. Hashem’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.”

The boy laughed. “Ima, I didn’t call to ask you for encouragement,” he said. “I am feeling optimistic.”

“Then what’s wrong? Why do you sound tense?” his mother asked.

He explained, “Abba prepared a small bag for me with some chocolate and a copy of Iggeres HaRamban, but I forgot to bring it with me. It’s on my bed.”

“You know that we don’t have time now to get it to you,” his mother said.

The boy laughed again. “I know that. I hope that I will manage somehow without it.”

“Then what do you want?” she asked.

“I want to ask you to hide the bag in my drawer, so that Abba won’t feel bad when he sees that I left it at home.