Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

Snippets from Israel

Aryeh Deri Returns to the Interior Ministry

Aryeh Deri has returned to the Ministry of the Interior after a 22-year absence. The phrase “Interior Minister Aryeh Deri” will now be spoken again. A few people objected to his appointment on the grounds that, in their words, a thief must not be permitted to return to the scene of the crime. I would like to write a few words about that.

Deri was tried on two different sets of charges, which became known as the “personal case” and the “public case.” He was convicted in the personal case – based on the testimony of a single state witness, who was of doubtful reliability even according to the state itself – and was sentenced to imprisonment. This case concerned the accusation that Deri had taken bribes from the Lev Bonim organization before being appointed to his positions in the government. How did the court accept the testimony of a witness known to be a liar? Judge Tzemach decided to view the testimony as separate from the person who gave it. How could it have been a bribe if Deri wasn’t yet holding public office? For that, Tzemach devised a creative idea: “It was like ‘casting your bread on the waters,’” he explained. But none of that had anything to do with the Ministry of the Interior, and Deri’s conviction in that case should have no bearing now on his return to that post.

What should affect him is the “public case,” in which Deri was accused of committing offenses in the capacity of Minister of the Interior. According to the charge sheet, Deri took advantage of his position and his authority as the Interior Minister to allocate funds to chareidi organizations, in what amounted to a conflict of interests, a breach of the standard procedures of the Interior Ministry, and a show of disregard for the decisions of the local councils. Incidentally, Deri did not deny his actions. He admitted to most of the facts in the charge sheet, but explained that his actions had been part of a campaign of corrective discrimination. “By transferring these funds, I fulfilled my obligation as a public figure,” he declared. “If I hadn’t given these funds to disadvantaged populations, I could have been charged with breach of trust.”

The public case was deferred so that the court could focus on the personal case. The deliberations took a full 13 years, until Deri was acquitted. Let me repeat that: He was acquitted. This took place three years before Rosh Hashanah 5764, on Wednesday, the 27th of Elul, 5763 (September 24, 2003). The mere fact that the court session was scheduled immediately before Rosh Hashanah was sufficient to indicate that the court planned to acquit him. A person would not be summoned to court before a holiday in order to be told that he is being convicted. Deri was acquitted on four out of five of the charges brought against him and was convicted only on the least severe charge, which accused him of a “crime” that he did not deny committing: aiding an organization known as Kol Yehudah. He was convicted of breach of trust, the lowest possible level of offense.

The court did not dispute the fact that Kol Yehudah was deserving of government funding. However, it argued that Deri’s involvement and the speed with which he saw to it that the talmud Torah received its funding from the Yerushalayim municipality was based on corruption. Nevertheless, Judge Dotan, the vice president of the court, commented, “I was uncertain if it was justified for the charges to be pressed regarding the specified dates.”

As I mentioned, Deri was acquitted of all the other charges. The court rules that he had acted properly: “In all the cases mentioned in the first four charges, the defendant ordered the allocation of funds to the entities specified in the charge sheet in consultation with the heads of the local authorities and with their cooperation, sometimes in a more organized way and other times less, all in accordance with the usual working procedures.”

In case anyone feels that Deri’s conviction on the personal case is sufficient to disqualify him from serving as Minister of the Interior, the answer to that is simple: The Supreme Court has already ruled that he is permitted to hold a ministerial position, and as far as the personal case is concerned, it makes no difference if that position is in the Ministry of the Economy, the Ministry of the Environment, or the Ministry of the Interior. The case itself, after all, had no specific connection to the position of Interior Minister. As for the public case, Deri was acquitted on those charges. And even though he was convicted on the charge of breach of trust in the Kol Yehudah case, the court’s verdict also praised his actions as Minister of the Interior. It is no wonder that the Supreme Court refused to order the government to prevent Deri’s appointment as Minister of the Interior. “We’ll deal with a challenge when the time comes,” the judges announced, hinting at what their decision would be. If they wanted to prohibit Deri to hold the position, they would have announced it immediately.


The Knesset Marks Fifty Years

Preparations are almost complete for an event to be held on Tu B’Shevat, when the Knesset will celebrate its birthday. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Knesset’s presence in its current location in Givat Ram. Over the course of the day, the members of the Knesset will participate in conferences and an assortment of other events with a crowd of thousands from all over the country.

One of the main events of the day will take place in the Knesset auditorium, featuring an unusual panel discussion. The panel will be called “Two Edelsteins” and will feature a discussion between Yoel “Yuli” Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset, and Erez Edelstein, the coach of Israel’s basketball team, on the subjects of leadership, sports, politics, and what they have in common. The panel discussion will be led by Zouheir Bahloul, a current member of the Knesset and a former sports broadcaster.

The various events will be held throughout the day and will conclude with a special sitting of the plenum, where speeches will be delivered by the Knesset speaker, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, and Yitzchok Herzog, the leader of the opposition. The Knesset has released a glossy brochure describing all the events, albeit with one omission: the festive tefillah scheduled to take place in the shul in the Knesset building. Traditionally, this tefillah is attended by the chief rabbis of Israel, and sometimes the chief rabbis of Yerushalayim, as well as the Speaker of the Knesset, who is a regular mispallel in the Knesset shul.


To Speak to a Human Being, Press 5

Speaking of the Knesset, here is another tidbit:

Sometimes, there is no place more entertaining than the Knesset plenum, and Eitan Cabel, a Knesset member from the Zionist Camp, is one of the most entertaining characters in that plenum. Cabel recently introduced a proposal for a new consumer protection law in a parliamentary address that simply begs to be quoted. The proposed law, which obligates companies to give callers the option to connect to a live person at the first stage of a phone menu, received support from the government despite the fact that Cabel is a member of the opposition – for the simple reason that the law is considered both reasonable and necessary.

Cabel began, “First of all, I want to thank the Minister of Communications, who is also the Minister of the Economy, for the bill that is now before you was brought here with the approval of both of these ministries.”

Cabel was referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is currently serving as the head of several different ministries, for lack of an alternative.

Erel Margalit interjected, “Did he also agree with the Interior Minister?”

Eitan Cabel: “There was a discussion and there was an agreement. The purpose of this proposal is to increase the obligation of a business to provide customers with quick and efficient telephone service…”

Cabel’s law would require every company with an automated menu on its phone system to first provide callers with the option of being transferred to a live operator and only then to offer a flurry of other options. Cabel maintained that the current system causes people to go to the trouble of visiting a company’s offices in person rather than dealing with their phone systems, or even forgoing their services altogether.

“This is a phenomenon that we have all experienced,” Cabel went on. “Even if you are a VIP and you call a company, no matter what company it is, you suffer through a tedious phone system. If you are a potential buyer, they answer the phone right away, and they always have answers to every question. But that is only when you want to make a purchase. As soon as you are in their customer database, good luck finding your new friends! Sometimes it is blatant torment. You want nothing more than to ask a simple, short question, and you hear a dizzying list of options: ‘For someone to hear you, press 1. For someone to listen to you, press 2. If you want someone to talk to you, press 3. To speak to a human being, press 4. If you want to speak to your grandmother, press 5…’”

“I pressed 5 and it didn’t help!” called out Meir Cohen, who was chairing the session.

“You didn’t get through to your grandmother?” Cabel replied. “Don’t worry. You won’t be getting anything else from them either.”

“You should have pressed 5 and then the pound sign,” Erel Margalit quipped.

“And what happens next?” Cabel went on. “Sometimes the message says, ‘For more efficient service, enter your identification number.’ And then, when you get to the end of the menu, it has forgotten the number and it says again, ‘For easier service or a quick live response, enter your identification number.’”

“Or the pound sign again,” Erel Margalit added.

“It’s as if all of our time was given to us to be wasted on dealing with these foolish machines,” Cabel continued.

“Hey, that’s not nice!” Margalit interjected again. “There are people who invented those machines.”

“All right, I apologize,” Cabel said. “Sometimes, we find that the machine is actually more intelligent than the person who invented it… You may not have noticed this, Mr. Speaker and Minister Yariv Levin, but when the companies want to sell you something, their service centers are available almost all day long. If you need assistance, they can be available only half that amount of time. This week, the members of the Knesset heard a story about an 88-year-old man who bought a scooter. I don’t know if the account is true, but the bottom line is that the company told him that he had to return it within a certain number of days – another law that I passed in its time – or else he wouldn’t be able to get his money back, but they wouldn’t send a messenger to pick it up.”

“He should bring the scooter back to the store,” Nachman Shai spoke up.

“The entire realm of customer service needs to be completely overhauled. Thank you, and I am happy that you support the proposal,” Cabel concluded.

Yariv Levin went to the podium to respond on behalf of the government, and Yoel Hasson, who had replaced Meir Cohen as the chairman of the sitting, asked him, “Sir, is it true that you are going to become the next Minister of the Economy? Are you preparing for the position now? Is this your training?”

Levin, who holds the post of Minister of Tourism, replied, “I wouldn’t be opposed to describing it in that way.”

The proposal was put to a vote and garnered 43 votes in favor, with no opposing votes or abstentions. With that, Cabel scored another victory in his battle on behalf of the “little” citizen.


Cleaning Up in Yerushalayim

The sanitation workers in Yerushalayim went on strike, leading the streets of the city to be filled with the stench of garbage. This was a byproduct of the struggle between Mayor Nir Barkat of Yerushalayim and Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon on which I reported not long ago. Barkat announced that the municipality was running out of money – since the Finance Ministry hasn’t been transferring the funds that the city is due – and he was therefore forced to dismiss 170 municipal workers. When layoffs take place, they affect the temporary workers, not those with established jobs, and most of the city’s temporary workers are “sanitation engineers” – or garbage collectors. Notices of dismissal were delivered to 170 of the city’s garbage collectors, and all their coworkers showed their solidarity by launching a strike. The result was that mounds of uncollected garbage filled the streets of Yerushalayim.

In Yerushalayim, unlike in America, most of the neighborhoods are equipped with “tzefarde’im” – open garbage dumpsters. When there is a strike in the sanitation department, the bags of garbage pile up higher and higher, until they fall to the sides. Eventually, the city’s residents begin depositing their refuse next to the dumpsters rather than inside them, since it is bound to fall to the sides anyway.

How did the situation end? The Finance Ministry realized that they would find it difficult to contend with the residents’ ire over the stench of the uncollected garbage, and they transferred the sum of 17 million shekels – approximately 3.5 million dollars – to the Yerushalayim municipality. This sum was precisely what the city needed to pay its temporary workers, enabling it to cancel the dismissals it had issued and thereby put an end to the strike. The municipality announced that the amount transferred to it was too small and that it expects to receive the full sum that it is due. Otherwise, the next strike will be in the education or welfare departments.

But the story did not end there. The money arrived, yet the garbage remained in the streets. The city explained that in addition to the funds for the workers’ salaries, it also needed money to pay the companies that dispose of the trash, which is a costly endeavor. In short, the Finance Ministry needed to send more money.

Along with all this, the public clashes between Kachlon and Mayor Nir Barkat continued, with the latter openly declaring his desire to become the country’s prime minister. “I love Yerushalayim,” Kachlon announced, “but I cannot understand its mayor.” Barkat shot back, “Unfortunately, Yerushalayim is not on the Finance Minister’s list of priorities.” Naturally, certain individuals are attempting to put an end to this ludicrous war of words, for everyone’s benefit.

As for the garbage, the city finally began removing it.

The garbage strike in the city and the minimum transfer of funds from the Finance Ministry are perfect examples of the way the country conducts all of its affairs.


Little Murderers, Major Hatred

The current terror wave – primarily the stabbing attacks, as opposed to the car-ramming attacks carried out by Arab drivers – have changed more than just the behavior of the average Israeli citizen in public. Every ordinary person today has developed the habit of looking around cautiously whenever he is waiting at a bus stop or light rail station, but that is not all. The phenomenon has also forced the Israel Prison Service to overhaul its approach, since a large percentage of the terrorist murderers are minors.

This makes life infinitely more complicated for the Border Guard police and other soldiers who stand guard throughout the country. Until now, our security forces had a reliable profile, more or less, of a potential terrorist: a person within a certain age range, who appears to have an excessively large abdomen or is carrying a handbag. But now they must forget all of that. Today, even a young boy wearing a backpack or an Arab girl in a school uniform could be a potential stabber.

For the prison service, this has resulted in a minor upheaval. The terror wave has led to the opening of a juvenile wing in Ofer Prison, which is already filled to capacity. The chief warden of the prison has now received instructions to remove all the adult prisoners from another wing of the prison and to prepare it to hold minors – i.e., small murderers with large knives. The chief warden’s name is Junior Superintendant Bassam Kishkush. He is presumably a member of Israel’s Druse community; many of the Druse work for the prison service.

Approximately 1,300 Palestinian Arabs have been arrested since the beginning of the current wave of terror attacks, among them many youths. About 120 of the minors are imprisoned in the new wing of Ofer Prison, while the rest have been scattered throughout a number of other facilities: the prisons in Megiddo, Sharon and Givon. Kishkush explained that incarcerated minors are handled entirely differently than adult prisoners. He also revealed that the true leaders of the Palestinian youths incarcerated in Israeli prisons are the adult security prisoners, and that the weekly Friday sermons in the prison include heavy doses of incitement. In short, the youths who were arrested for acts of terror will be leaving the prison more heavily indoctrinated, more radical, and more passionate about attacking Jews. May Hashem protect us.


The Telltale Drawing

The following story is about an incident that took place many years ago, but I heard about it only this week.

In recent days, Rabbi Natan Chaifetz of Lev L’Achim observed the yahrtzeit of his mother, Rebbetzin Sarah Dina Chaifetz a”h. Rebbetzin Chaifetz spent many years teaching in a Bais Yaakov in Tzefas, where she was known as an extraordinary tzadeikes whose deeds were generally cloaked in layers of concealment. Her home in the heart of Tzefas was open to everyone in need and was a wellspring of spiritual and material succor. In the school where she taught, she was also known as the address to turn for anyone in distress. She had a profound understanding of her students’ psyches, which enabled her to help them resolve countless difficult issues.

One day, Morah Sarah paid a visit to the home of one of her students. She spoke with the girl’s mother, asked a number of questions, and announced at the end of the visit that she herself would thenceforth pay for the family to have a cleaning lady every Thursday to scrub the entire house, polish the silver, and wash the floor in honor of Shabbos. The cleaning lady’s wages would come from the meager salary she received for her teaching work. The kindly teacher did not explain the motivation for her munificence.

“Interesting,” the grateful mother said. “The truth is that until now, cleaning for Shabbos has been the responsibility of my daughter, who attends your school.” She took a deep breath and then added sadly, “I have felt for a long time that it was too much of a burden for her. But what could I do about it? I have no choice. I am ill and I can’t clean the house myself.”

A few days later, the Chaifetz family learned about their mother’s actions. “What led you to visit that family’s home?” they asked her. “Did you know about the situation? Did you have some sort of ruach hakodesh? How did you know that all the household work was being performed by an eighth-grade girl?”

The rebbetzin replied sagely, “It was very simple. I noticed that something about the girl’s posture indicated that she was sad, and I asked her teacher and found out that she hasn’t been successful in her studies over the past few months. So I called her into my office and asked her to draw me a picture. That is all.”

“But how did you know? What did she draw?”

“She drew a giant sponja stick,” the rebbetzin replied.

A simple deduction!




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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