The prime minister spoke and the Knesset voted. The results were to be expected: 61 in favor and 59 against. The government rests on the narrowest possible majority. Some consider it perilously narrow. There were some exciting moments, such as when the new ministers – who had never held such positions before, and some of whom are even new to the Knesset altogether – were sworn in. For example, Dovid Azoulay, whom my readers may recall from my interview with him three weeks ago about the country’s preparations for Lag Ba’omer, is now the Minister of Religious Affairs. And then there is Aryeh Deri, who has closed a circle in his life: Over twenty years after he was ejected from the government – without having done anything to deserve that ejection, many believe – he has returned to occupy a senior ministerial position. After the first session of the government, Deri commented, “I looked around and saw that I am the most veteran member of this government.”
Regarding Dovid Azoulay, many were surprised by the fact that he was chosen for the position over other members of the party who precede him on the list, some of whom have even served as ministers in the past. Meshullam Nahari, for instance, was a minister in the Treasury, and Yaakov Margi has been the Minister of Religious Affairs, a position that has also been held by Yitzchok Cohen. Yet, now, Azoulay has been appointed to a ministerial position, while Cohen and Nahari have been tapped to serve as deputy ministers, and Margi has been assigned to head the Knesset Education Committee. I asked Azoulay if the reason for his advancement is that he agreed to resign from the Knesset in exchange for the position, thus making way for former MK Avraham Michaeli to receive a seat. Azoulay smiled, indicating that my guess was correct.
Shortly before midnight this past Thursday night, the ministers of the new government took an oath of allegiance. This is a sample declaration: “I, Zev Binyamin Begin, the son of Aliza of the Arnold family and Menachem, of blessed memory, obligate myself as a member of the government to maintain allegiance to the State of Israel and its laws, to carry out my duties as a member of the government in full faith, and to uphold the decisions of the Knesset.”
All the new ministers made the same declaration, substituting their own names. Additional ministers and deputy ministers will be appointed at another Knesset session. For now, Yaakov Litzman and Meir Porush, as well as Meshullam Nahari and Yitzchok Cohen, are not yet ministers in the government.
The session ended at 11:56 p.m. Had it continued for a few more minutes, it would have set a historic precedent, as the Knesset has almost never been in session on a Friday.
The Arabs Scream
It began with shrieks and screams. The prime minister began his address, but he was interrupted by the Arab Knesset members, who screamed ceaselessly and were ejected from the plenum one after another. President Reuven Rivlin, who was the Speaker of the Knesset until his recent election, watched the scene from his seat of honor. It sounded like this:
Netanyahu: “Mr. President, Mrs. Rivlin, honored guests, Mr. Speaker, members of the Knesset, and honored audience. This evening, with Hashem’s help, we will establish a government in Israel. We will preserve our security, we will make progress toward peace–”
Masoud Ganaim (interrupting): “What peace? What peace are you promising?”
Netanyahu: “We will develop the economy–”
Ahmed Tibi (interrupting): “First you have to make peace with Silvan Shalom!”
This was an allusion to Netanyahu’s difficulties in preventing an uproar within his own party over the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Silvan Shalom, a senior figure in the Likud, demanded the position of Foreign Minister, threatening not to vote for the government if he did not receive it. Ultimately, he settled for the Interior Ministry.
Netanyahu: “We will narrow the gaps in society, and we will do all of this for the benefit of every Jewish citizen.”
Masoud Ganaim: “He started with a lie — the word ‘peace’! He has incited against Arabs!”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein: “Member of the Knesset Masoud Ganaim, I am calling you to order for the second time. My fuse is very short today. It is not a good idea to test me.”
Ganaim: “We will not sit here and listen to words of incitement against the Arab citizens of the country.”
Edelstein: “One more word and you will be ejected from this hall.”
Ganaim: “This is a narrow coalition!”
Yuli Edelstein motioned to the Knesset ushers to remove Ganaim from the hall. Applause was heard from the observers’ gallery, which is against Knesset protocol. Edelstein was enraged. “If there is applause one more time, I will empty the gallery and this session will not be celebratory!” he warned. “If there is applause one more time, the gallery will be cleared!”
Esawi Frij now spoke up. “What is that all about?”
Edelstein: “Member of the Knesset Esawi Frij, I am calling you to order for the first time.”
And so it went on, without end. All of the Arab Knesset members interrupted Netanyahu, heckling him and refusing to allow him to speak. They complained that he had frightened the public by announcing that the Arabs were “flocking” to the polls on Election Day. Indeed, that is the reason that the Likud jumped from the 23 mandates predicted by the polls to the 30 mandates the party won in the election. The Arab Knesset members were all ejected from the plenum, and they left together in protest.
At the conclusion of his address, Netanyahu called on Yitzchok “Buji” Herzog, to join the government, suggesting that the system of leadership in Israel be changed, and presented the members of the new government.
An Ugly Address
In keeping with protocol, Netanyahu’s address was followed by one from the leader of the opposition. Yitzchok Herzog knows how to prepare a good speech, and from his point of view, this time was no exception. However, many feel that his address was far too sharp and was not appropriate. It grated on many ears. We will quote a few excerpts from his address.
“Honored President of the State, Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin, welcome back from your mission,” Herzog began, acknowledging his listeners. “Chairman of the Knesset, MK Yuli Yoel Edelstein; Mr. Prime Minister, MK Binyomin Netanyahu; and honored members of the Knesset. In Israel, the day when a new government is sworn in is generally a time of celebration. It is a holiday for democracy, a day to celebrate the will of the people in the elections, and a holiday for Israel. Today, to my chagrin, is not a festive day. It is not a time for joy at all. The people are looking at the new government, Mr. Prime Minister, and it is not the government that the people wanted. It isn’t even the government that half the people wanted. Mr. Prime Minister, your natural partners have picked your pocket. Instead of a government, you have established a circus, the Netanyahu Circus. It is a government for grabbing whatever you can, a government that was established at the very last moment, almost at midnight, and on the margin of a single vote. It is a government that was established at any price, and for a single goal: so that you can continue to hold on to the position of prime minister. You, sir, have established a government without a path and without a conscience, a government without a vision, without true founding principles, without a plan, and without hope.”
And that was not all. Herzog continued, “On Election Day, you said things that a prime minister of Israel is forbidden to say about citizens of the country, even for the sake of winning an election. How is it possible that the prime minister of the Jewish state can speak this way about people who are citizens of the state, discriminating against people merely on the basis of their religion? You have come to power through lies.”
He continued with the sort of incitement used by the enemies of the Jewish people: “You paid nine billion shekels out of our pockets to your coalition partners in order to remain in your seat on the basis of a single vote, literally at the last minute. You paid twenty million shekels to each member of the Knesset, and you spent 42 days negotiating, making commitments and zigzagging, alternately threatening and making concessions.”
Of course, Herzog’s words infuriated the Knesset members, who knew that Herzog would have been prepared to give no less than Netanyahu, and perhaps even more, to his coalition partners, if only he had been the candidate to assemble the government. “You’re lying!” Meir Porush shouted. Yaakov Litzman called on him to apologize. But Herzog merely continued with his shameful speech.
The Money Disappears
In recent days, there have been two unfortunate cases in which investors took money from many avreichim and then disappeared. One of the areas in which there is no difference between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, or between the Litvishe and Chassidishe worlds in Eretz Yisroel, is that of false investments. These people steal from everyone equally, without discrimination. In every circle, there are those who are enticed by the allure of investing money that they do not own, with the sad result that connivers ultimately vanish with the funds.
Exactly one year ago, at the end of Iyar 5774, I wrote about a drashah delivered by Rav Moshe Uri Eisenstein, the rosh kollel of Machaneh Yisroel and rov of the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Yerushalayim, who spoke at a siyum at the Daf Yomi shiur of Rav Eliyahu Yitzchok Pincus. Rav Eisenstein, who also serves as the av bais din of Badatz Tevunos Aryeh and is responsible for the neighborhood tzedakah fund, made a statement at the time that, in retrospect, seems positively prophetic:
“I want to caution the avreichim about investments that promise impossible returns. If I was able to, I would prohibit chareidi newspapers from printing advertisements about these investments,” he declared, referring to small notices printed in a number of chareidi newspapers that promise fantastic returns on deals in which struggling avreichim are tempted to invest money that they do not possess. In response to these advertisements, they borrow money for investment purposes, or even sell their homes to invest the capital, confident that they will soon be able to repurchase their homes, along with half of another apartment.
Rav Eisenstein related that he once spoke with the well-known posek, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fischer, about whether a certain business investment required a heter iska. The potential return was very high. Rav Fisher told him, “The promised return indicates that it isn’t an investment at all. It’s theft! Theft doesn’t require a heter iska. All there is here is theft, not an investment deal.”
Reports from the Back Room
With a new Knesset comes the need to meet new people. In every corner of the Knesset, colorful papers are posted with pictures of the members of the Knesset. Many of them are unfamiliar: Tali Ploskov, Eyal Ben-Reuven, Abdallah Abu Maaruf, Naavah Boker. I have to feel sympathy for the ushers. And there are so many young people on the list. I commented to MK Itzik Shmuli of the Zionist Camp, who is very young but has been in the Knesset for the past two years, that he undoubtedly must feel like a veteran….
Behind the Knesset plenum is a room where the country’s elected lawmakers sit in armchairs and sip coffee. On days when a Knesset session continues past 8:00 in the evening, they are also treated to platters of cookies and cut vegetables. Last Monday, someone went over to speak with MK Meirav Michaeli (a granddaughter of the famous Dr. Kastner), and she asked who he was. He was surprised. “Me? I’m a member of the Knesset, Yaron Mazuz.” She was highly flustered.
Here is another tidbit from that back room, which few are permitted to enter: Last Tuesday, there was an uproar in the Knesset plenum. A representative of the Meretz party read a report from the left-wing organization that calls itself “Breaking the Silence,” leading MK Yinon Magal of Yisrael Beiteinu to shout, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! Collaborators!” In other words, he was accusing them of treachery to the state, a harsh accusation indeed.
Oren Hazan of Likud, another new Knesset member, tried to stop Magal, along with another unidentified lawmaker. Magal was ejected from the plenum and sat in the back room, smiling. Yisroel Eichler and Meir Porush sat with him and the three spoke in Yiddish, as if they had studied in the same cheder. Then the third “screamer” arrived. “Machlouf,” MK Ahmed Tibi rebuked him, “you should learn from Hazan how to shout.” With that, I learned that the third man was yet another newcomer, MK Machlouf Miki Zohar.
“He is a good boy,” said MK Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas in reference to Miki Zohar. “He signed on the kashrus law for us.” In other words, he joined the proponents of the law. Tibi, I remarked, is like the “Moshe Gafni” of the Arabs. Ten of them can put up a fuss, but only Tibi will receive a prominent spot in the headlines.
Tibi laughed. “You have to know how to scream,” he said. “It has to be short, communicative and informative. I knew all along that after the fight in the Arrangements Committee yesterday, I would be the one who was quoted.”
In the smoking corner, as usual, sat MK Yaakov Peri, a government minister until recently and one of the most charming individuals in the building. I asked him, “Nu, Yankele, are you going to be a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee?”
“Who knows?” he replied.
“You and Yair Lapid are the only members of Yesh Atid with a background in security,” I quipped. He laughed loudly. Indeed, Peri previously headed the Shin Bet, but Yair Lapid performed his “military service” by working as a newspaper reporter.
“I hope,” I added, “that you aren’t going to be like the other ministers who became regular Knesset members and disappeared.”
“Not a chance!” he responded. “I’m not like that.” I suggested that he form a lobby, and he exclaimed, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” He is planning to form a lobby for Holocaust survivors.
I went on to share a story with the legislators in the vicinity. “Rabbi Yitzchok Peretz was a minister and resigned. He came to the Knesset in the luxury car that he had kept for an additional month, as was the custom for departing Knesset members. The guard at the entrance to the Knesset asked one of the occupants of the car to show him his entry permit. Rabbi Peretz quickly informed the guard that the man was his guest and the permit would be arranged inside the building. ‘That can’t be done,’ the guard said.
“‘Anyone who is in my car is always allowed to enter,’ Peretz protested.
“‘True,’ said the guard, ‘but that applies only to ministers, and you are not a minister.’ It was disgraceful!”
Yair Lapid made his way over to us and I remarked snidely, “How did you let go of Boaz Toporovsky? You had only one normal person in your party and you threw him out!”
He was clearly grasping for a comeback, but he replied, “We didn’t throw him out. He is now responsible for the field!”
I haven’t yet mentioned the burden borne by the Knesset printer. The dedicated workers are facing the prospect of drowning in a sea of work. Every new Knesset member has ordered stationery and business cards with his or her name, as have their aides and spokesmen. And then there are the ministers who have become Knesset members. One card in particular catches my eye: “MK Rabbi Shai Piron.”
Last week, I promised you a story about Yoav Galant, the new Minister of Housing. I will include that in our next installment, along with a story about the mussar haskel that was shared with me not long ago by Moshe Kachlon, the new Finance Minister and the head of Galant’s party.
More About Kavim
Last week, I wrote about the Kavim bus company and the municipality of Modiin Illit, not realizing what I was getting myself into. Modiin Illit is the only chareidi city without a bus to Meron on Lag Ba’omer, and a member of the municipality had published an article claiming that the Kavim bus company, which had recently won the tender to provide transportation in the city, had committed to provide a bus line but was shirking its obligations. At this point, I must quote the response I received from Yisrael Katz, the Minister of Transportation, on this subject:
“The details are known. In the tender for providing service to the city of Modiin Illit, the option (but not the commitment) for running a bus line between Modiin Illit and Meron was indeed included. Nevertheless, in the course of implementing the tender, the local government made requests to make certain additions and increases in volume to the existing services, and the company decided in conjunction with the municipality to redirect the resources that would have been involved in running this line for the benefit of improving the regular service offered to the residents. It should be noted that the matter is being reexamined now in conjunction with the municipality. As was mentioned, the decision not to run the line was made with the cooperation and at the initiative of the local authorities, and therefore there is no reason for us to be involved.”
As a result, the residents of Modiin Illit were forced to travel to Meron by way of Bnei Brak and to pay more for the trip, although one must wonder why the Kavim company didn’t arrange for a bus to Meron on its own accord, considering that it should have been highly profitable. In any event, it seems that my initial report was inaccurate. The municipality was a partner in the decision to cancel the bus line, but it received other improvements in exchange. It is almost certain that any mayor would prefer an improvement in bus service for his constituents on every day of the year over a bus to Meron once a year.
Chemo and Therapy
Naftali (Tuli) is a retired classroom rebbi. Since his recent retirement, he has maintained regular learning sedorim and has been volunteering twice a week for Ezer Mizion. His job is to visit the oncology ward at Hadassah Hospital in Yerushalayim and to help allay the fears and concerns of the patients there. With his natural charm, ready smile, and endless supply of stories, he certainly has the resources to do so.
This past week, he entered one of the sterile hospital rooms with a mask on his face, hoping to continue a conversation that had been interrupted three days earlier. To his surprise, the bed was now occupied by a young man who was both hairless and bareheaded. Noting his surprise, the young man said, “Don’t be startled. It’s because of the radiation.”
The visitor chuckled. “I’m not afraid of a bald head. I was simply expecting to see someone else here.”
“Yes,” the young man whispered. “The person who was here before me passed away last night.”
Naftali choked. He quickly recovered and entered into a pleasant conversation with the new patient, establishing a rapport with him and learning about his life. When he discovered that the young man was from a religious home, he offered to help him put on tefillin.
“Look,” the young man said, “I am angry at the world. I rebelled against my father’s home, but out of respect for you, I will put on tefillin now. It has been many years since I last did so.”
Instinctively, the former educator asked, “Why are you angry?”
“It is about something that happened over ten years ago, and it is a slightly long story. Maybe we will speak about it next time.”
The visitor was persistent, and the young man relented.
“My rebbi in class punished me for something I didn’t do. He put me in the corner with my back to the class. I have carried that shame with me ever since. That’s why I decided to disconnect myself from everything that that school taught me and from everything that my home taught me. That’s why I don’t wear a yarmulka.”
It was clear that the young man had no interest in continuing the discussion, but Naftali could not drop the subject. Listening to the details of the incident, he felt his throat filling with tears.
He, too, remembered the story all too well….