My Take on the News

Criminal Meals?

An indictment has been handed down against Sarah Netanyahu.

To be honest, I must admit that this was only to be expected. It was reported earlier that the attorney general offered to accept a monetary payment in exchange for dropping the charges against her, but Mrs. Netanyahu finds it difficult to part with a single cent, and she refused to fork over the funds. This left Mandelblit with no alternative but to press charges.

According to the charge sheet, Mrs. Netanyahu stands accused, along with a senior official in the prime minister’s office, Ezra Saidoff, of falsifying reports in order to benefit from taxpayer funds. According to the allegations, she claimed that there was no cook in the prime minister’s residence and she was therefore permitted to buy prepared food for her family. After the fact, it was discovered that there was indeed a hired cook in the house. However, the woman had been registered as a member of the cleaning staff in order to hide the fact that she was a full-time cook.

According to the charges, Mrs. Netanyahu charged the government a total of 393,000 NIS during the years 2010 through 2013, for meals ordered from a variety of restaurants in Yerushalayim. She is also charged with fraud for hiring chefs to cook meals in the prime minister’s residence for various occasions, such as a birthday party for her son Avner or a dinner in honor of the Netanyahus’ American friend, Sheldon Adelson. According to the official regulations, there is a cap on the amount of money that may be spent per portion. Saidoff is accused of telling the chefs to falsely record that they prepared a larger number of portions, so that the cost of each meal would be fully covered. Because of these falsified reports, the government paid a total of 35,000 NIS to three different chefs. These are funds that Mrs. Netanyahu should have paid out of her own pocket.

Since this case is actually part of a battle over public opinion, the government has asked for the trial to begin with a panel of three judges, which is the standard practice in cases involving severe crimes. The government explained the request on the grounds that “these are crimes that were perpetrated, according to the charges, in the official residence of the prime minister, through fraudulent abuse of the rules that apply to the prime minister and his family, and in consideration of the public sensitivity of this case and the public standing of the defendant.”

After the indictment, Mrs. Netanyahu’s attorneys held a press conference and fiercely criticized the prosecution. “Sarah didn’t know the rules, and she took a polygraph test to prove that she didn’t know them,” they insisted. They also attacked the regulations themselves. The case is bound to be interesting as it unfolds.

As for the prime minister himself, he is making an effort to show the country that he is not fazed by the indictment and that he is pursuing his ordinary business as usual. This past week, he met with King Abdallah of Jordan. From Netanyahu’s standpoint, this is the latest in a long series of encounters that allow him to portray himself as a person who is involved in much more meaningful pursuits than his detractors, who are preoccupied with petty political squabbles.

 

An Iranian Spy in the Israeli Government

You have probably never heard of Gonan Segev before, but in Israel he is a well-known person. Segev is a former government minister who previously served time in prison for attempting to smuggle drugs disguised as candies; he was caught in Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands and served his sentence in Israel. In recent years, he has been living in Nigeria. Last week, it was revealed that Segev has been in Israel for the past two months – in jail and under a media blackout. The charges against him are mind-boggling: He is suspected of spying for Iran.

Segev was elected to the Knesset 30 years ago as a member of an obscure party known as Tzomet. In every election in Israel, there is always a little-known party that enters the Knesset with a dramatic splash and then disappears shortly thereafter. The party was launched when the outgoing chief of staff of the IDF, Rafael (Raful) Eitan, decided to run for the Knesset. Eitan was an ardent right-winger, who was known for his hawkish attitudes. His platform was based on the issue of the chareidi draft, and he campaigned with all the hatred and incitement that he could drum up for yeshiva bochurim to be drafted. He chose an assortment of obscure candidates to round out his party list. Among them was a doctor, kibbutznik and former military officer named Gonen Segev, who seemed to fit Raful like a glove.

The party won a major share of the seats in the Knesset and joined the coalition. Segev served as Minister of Energy during the years 1995 and 1996 and it did not take long at all for him to become heavily involved in political machinations. The party was divided by internal strife and splintered into separate groups; some of its members even defected to the left and supported the Oslo agreement. After the Rabin assassination, Segev became a government minister in the Peres administration.

In 2007, Segev was released from prison and moved to Nigeria. He claimed that he felt that the State of Israel would never forgive him, and that he would forever be stigmatized as a former prisoner and criminal if he remained there. The government now claims that Segev has been spying for Iran since 2012 and has even visited Iran on several occasions. For his part, Segev claims that it was a hoax, that he was simply trying to make some money at the Iranians’ expense, and that he had planned to be a double agent. In truth, even though Segev was a minister in the government 30 years ago, he knows very little – if anything at all – about what is happening today. But in any event, it came as a major shock to the State of Israel that a former IDF officer and government minister would betray the country by spying for an enemy state.

 

A Blow to the Shin Bet

Another bombshell that fell this past week was a court decision regarding the suspects in the Duma arson case. The court’s ruling came as a serious blow to the Shin Bet: The justices of the District Court disqualified some of the suspects’ confessions.

Here are the details of the case. In July 2015, a fire claimed the lives of three members of the Dawabshe family – two parents and their infant son – in the Arab village of Duma. In January 2016, the police filed charges against two Jewish youths from the settlements who belong to the “Price Tag” movement. The Shin Bet claimed that the two suspects had confessed to setting the fire. Their attorneys, however, claim that the confessions were extracted using “special means” – i.e., torture – and are therefore invalid.

No one denies that the arson was a crime. However, that does not justify incriminating innocent people for a deed they did not commit. The Shin Bet has been holding the two suspects in its dungeons, and it has decided that they were the arsonists. I met the parents of one of the youths, and I found them to be highly refined people. The “special means” that the Shin Bet employed is a euphemism for brutal torture. Based on a Supreme Court decision, the Shin Bet is authorized to use torture to interrogate Palestinian terrorists if there is reason to believe that they are concealing information about an imminent threat. That is, torture is acceptable when it can be used to prevent a suicide bombing on a bus in Yerushalayim, for example.

Meanwhile, the trial, which has been taking place behind closed doors, has yet to deal with the actual facts of the case. For the time being, the court has been discussing the confessions. The Shin Bet claims that the confessions are valid because they were received only after the “special means” were used – i.e., in a regular interrogation with ordinary police officers, which followed the questioning by the Shin Bet. The father of one of the youths said to me, “That is a ridiculous argument. They tortured two boys and then, when they had a ‘break,’ they dragged them into an adjacent room so that they could make their confessions to the police. The boys knew very well that they would soon be returned to the hands of the Shin Bet interrogators, who were waiting for them in the room they had just left. Did they forget what had been done to them just a few minutes earlier and would certainly be done to them again?” His argument is quite persuasive.

Last week, the judges ruled that the Shin Bet’s use of torture “caused serious harm to the suspects’ basic right to integrity of body and mind and to their dignity,” and that “this violation requires all the confessions collected during the interrogations to be invalidated.” The youths’ initial confessions from the period after their arrests were not disqualified, and the Shin Bet claims that those confessions are sufficient evidence to convict them. Therefore, the Shin Bet believes that the youths will ultimately be convicted, even though most of their confessions were disqualified. But whatever the outcome of the trial will be, the Shin Bet itself has come to look very bad. There is now evidence that the criticism that has been leveled at the intelligence service was justified.

 

Miracles in the South

Meanwhile, the phenomenon of kite terror continues to plague us. It is truly appalling: Small children stand in Gaza, on the other side of the border, where they set kites on fire and then fly them into Israel. The burning kites have landed in fields in the Negev and have destroyed thousands of dunams. Sometimes the fires are ignited in empty fields. In other cases, they consume agricultural produce. In any event, this phenomenon is pure insanity. It has been happening for a month already, and it was only this past week that legislators thought to announce that a terror kite is no different from a rocket. The army is now preparing to fight against the Arabs flying kites as if they were firing rockets. After all, the kites can also kill.

There is just one problem with this plan: The kites are being flown by minors. Nevertheless, one member of the Knesset – incredibly, a member of the Yesh Atid party – has proclaimed that the IDF must shoot and kill these perpetrators despite their age. Before he was elected to the Knesset, Chaim Yellin served as the chairman of the Eshkol Regional Council, which borders on the Gaza strip. Yellin, who was born in Buenos Aires and immigrated to Israel, took up residence in the kibbutz of Lahav in the south, which is located on the border with Gaza. Therefore, he is well aware of the gravity of the situation. The farmers of the south held a press conference where they revealed that since this form of terror began occurring, there have been 300 fires, and over 5,000 dunams of land have been burned. Prime Minister Netanyahu has already announced that the issue is a top priority and that the army will increase the severity of its response. Rumor has it that the IDF is working on some sort of laser-guided advanced technology that will surprise the perpetrators of kite terror.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party who is a cabinet member, announced, “This is murderous terror perpetrated by Hamas. [The kites are] a lethal weapon intended to kill our children. We must relate to a balloon carrying explosives or a burning kite as if it were a Kassam missile. We must stop shooting to the side, and we must begin shooting directly at the target.” In other words, the army must shoot to kill the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, the Arabs in the south are continuing to fire rockets and mortars at Israel as well. I came across a precise record of the number of explosives fired at us, and I discovered that the Iron Dome system has neutralized less than one-third of the projectiles. The remainder fell in “open areas” – that is, they did not fall directly on homes. This is a miracle of unfathomable proportions: There have been dozens of rockets and missiles, but boruch Hashem, none of them have harmed a single human being.

 

Madness in Tel Aviv

Two other topics occupied much of the country’s attention this past week: the phenomenon of child abuse in day care centers and an event in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

In various day care centers in the country, security cameras showed the workers abusing babies who were placed in their care. One small baby, Yasmin Vineta, died as a result. In most of these cases, the day care workers are not Jewish, and in some instances the children under their care are children of immigrants, rather than Israelis. Nevertheless, the incidents are still horrific.

The other issue relates to an event organized by a Lubavitch organization at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, ordered the event canceled because the organizers planned to separate men and women. His approach is both bizarre and outrageous, but there was nothing that could be done about it.

 

Why Are We Opposed to the Muezzin Law?

With all due respect to Sarah Netanyahu and Gonen Segev, we, the chareidi community, have something else on our minds. We are currently dealing with the new draft law, and our sense is that we can neither live with it nor live without it. The law will give us breathing space for a few years, and the gedolei Yisroel have always adopted the approach that it is best to stave off evil for as long as possible. Therefore, it would seem that the best option is to support it. However, it seems almost unthinkable to vote for the law.

The new law was drafted by the Ministry of Defense to replace the law that we ourselves formulated, which was itself a replacement for the law enacted during the Bennett-Lapid period. Our law was overturned on September 12 by the Supreme Court, mainly because it lacked sanctions. Therefore, the current bill contains sanctions, albeit minimal ones. Yet we wonder if that is a reason that we should support it. Even if the law is passed, there is still a potential threat to our yeshiva bochurim: If the Supreme Court rejects this law as well, it will be disqualified again, and then anarchy will prevail.

The new law was formulated by the Ministry of Defense and states that it considers the “security needs” of the country. Will the Supreme Court have the temerity to disagree with the Ministry of Defense regarding Israel’s security needs? The judges may indeed make such a decision. Aside from that, it is possible that the court will not accept this law for a different reason: because it does not fully resolve the problem of inequality. These are the reasons that you will not find us rejoicing over this law. On the other hand, many want the law to pass, so that the immediate threat to the future of yeshiva bochurim will be averted.

How can the law pass if we refuse to vote for it? For that purpose, we would need the “help” of the MKs in the opposition. Yair Lapid has already said that he will support the bill. He is attempting to score public relations points among his voters; after all, he built his political career on his support for drafting yeshiva bochurim.

We are actually counting on the Arab MKs to help us in this regard. They generally do not involve themselves in internal Jewish issues, and they certainly avoid taking a stance on the draft. They are keenly aware that the next Supreme Court petition might address the fact that Arabs are not drafted.

This time, though, we know that the Arabs will vote in favor of the law. The reason is simple: We have made a deal with them. There is another law that is virtually a matter of life or death for the Arabs: the Muezzin Law, which was proposed by a member of the Bayit Yehudi party. This bill would prohibit Muslims to broadcast their call to prayers over loudspeakers. This week, the chareidi representatives announced that they are opposed to the Muezzin Law. Naturally, everyone suspects that this is part of some sort of deal between the chareidim and the Arabs, and the Bayit Yehudi party has already blasted us for it.

 

A Cruel Jailer

This week, the newspaper headlines announced, “Is the Party Over for Terrorists in Israeli Prisons? Public Committee Established to Examine the Conditions of Security Prisoners.” This committee, which was established by Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan, was announced by Erdan himself at an international convention dedicated to the war on terror. This topic has recently come to the fore after imprisoned terrorists won the right to watch sports programs on television. In another case, a terrorist in prison was even able to choose his own guards. The committee is evaluating whether the conditions for imprisoned terrorists are excessively favorable.

With all due respect to Minister Erdan, I would have liked to suggest establishing a committee to examine the conditions faced by Jewish inmates in the prison system. This week, I received the following text message from a chareidi prisoner: “A new commander was brought to this wing. The commander, whose name is Yehoshua, insists on holding lineups of the prisoners. Everyone had to wear their uniforms and to wait for him to arrive in their cells. When the first inspection began, he entered the area of the refrigerators and found a latte behind one refrigerator. He picked it up and then threw it forcefully on the floor. He entered a cell and saw a small bench, and he began screaming and smashed it on the floor. The bench broke into pieces. Every morning, his inspections are accompanied by screaming.” In another message, the inmate added, “He is supposed to oversee this wing and see to it that our personal needs are met. He has a history of provocation and physical and verbal abuse in other wings… He was placed in the religious wing because the people here are quiet… He does nothing to care for our needs (such as extermination, fans, or relief from the terrible crowding), and we have grown accustomed to living like animals… He takes advantage of our lack of freedom to abuse us every day, to drive us out of our minds and rob us of our psychological equilibrium. Everything he does is accompanied by screams, threats, and degradation.”

I would like to ask Minister Erdan if this warden’s actions are considered reasonable conditions for imprisonment. His practices include imposing collective punishments, ignoring requests from the prisoners, inhumane screaming, exacting revenge from prisoners who complain, interfering with religious services, and confiscating sports equipment. The warden cannot bear to see the prisoners exercising. He calls them “donkeys,” throws their food in the garbage, and regularly screams at them, “You are prisoners first and human beings second!” Among his other choice comments are, “Nothing bad will happen if you don’t eat for a day,” and, “Don’t lean on your bed while I am here.” To a prisoner who was shuckeling while learning, he said, “Don’t try to fool me. We don’t play games here!” He is also the source of the ban on hats and jackets.

In another story this week, an inmate in Shatta Prison discovered that the prison minyan had been canceled and the shul was locked. Another inmate, in Chermon prison, has been suffering from wounds on his body and has not been given any treatment.

Prison is not a resort, of course, but it should not be a facility for torture either.

 

Reproof Mixed with Love

This week marks the yahrtzeit of the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg. The Klausenberger Rebbe suffered terribly during the Holocaust but survived the horrific death camps and went on to build a chassidic empire. This week, I received issue number 1788 of Divrei Torah, a publication of the rebbe’s shiurim on Chumash. The weekly pamphlets are rich with the rebbe’s enjoyable and meaningful vertlach on the parsha. The material sheds light on some of the most challenging questions on the parsha. The rebbe was known for his profound love for every Jew, which is evidenced in part by the many institutions that he founded, including yeshivos for Sephardim and Laniado Hospital in Netanya, yet he did not refrain from delivering reproof when he felt that it was necessary. Here are a few excerpts from this week’s issue:

“People busy themselves building spacious homes in chutz la’aretz, and they have reached the point of having despaired of the geulah, when the truth is absent. This means that they are lacking the element of truth in their actions – the true intent for their deeds to be motivated for kevod Shomayim, rather than for the accumulation of honor and wealth like the Eirev Rav. They also rejoice in the joys of the nations…

“At this point, I would like to share my feelings about something that I once saw, when I was at the Kosel Hamaarovi. I saw how people, who are certainly better and worthier than I am, danced and sang there. I was astonished at the sight, for how could anyone rejoice when they are standing next to the last remnant of our destroyed Bais Hamikdosh? But instead of fainting from the great distress, they were dancing and rejoicing…

“In this, we see an example of the corruption of our generation, in our many sins, for there are people who act like animals and are shamelessly mired in physicality. Today, people come with kvittlach and requests of the sort for which they would have been thrown out in earlier times for disturbing us with such nonsense. Fool! A single moment of teshuvah and good deeds in this world is better than all of life in the World to Come. Sit and learn Torah!”

The supplement includes a story told by Rav Yaakov Moshe Spitzer, who related that he was once surprised to receive an invitation to a simcha from a stranger. When he expressed his puzzlement, the baal simcha explained, “My family and I felt very distant from Yiddishkeit for a while, and I once came to the Imrei Shefer bais medrash for Mincha, where I saw a copy of Divrei Torah on the table. For some reason, I decided to take it, and after I brought it home and read through it, I found that I was shaken to the depths of my being. Thoughts of teshuvah began to circle through my mind, until I burst into tears. I read the divrei Torah over and over, and I gave them to my family to read as well. This caused us to change for the better, and our family and approach to chinuch were transformed, and we became true yirei Shomayim.” Ever since that day, he related, he made sure to visit Imrei Shefer every week in order to collect the weekly publication, which he would learn together with his family. Now that his son had reached the age of bar mitzvah, he returned to Imrei Shefer to express his gratitude to the man who distributed the publication there every week, whom he credited for the transformation in his family.