My Take on the News

A Tragedy in the Shin Bet

The next day, Wednesday, Biden met separately with Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. He asserted that America condemned the acts of terror, but he was also quick to make a stinging remark to Netanyahu. The two argued about the subject of America’s defense aid for Israel. Netanyahu prefers to delay a final agreement until the next president is in office. “The violence must end,” Biden said, but then he added, “but not by force.” Well, Mr. Vice President, if it isn’t ended by force, then how do you propose to end it?

There was also a terror attack in a market in Petach Tikvah, where an Arab attempted to murder Yonatan Azarihab, a man who was handing out Breslover pamphlets to the merchants at their stalls. Yonatan managed to recover enough to seize the terrorist’s knife and stab him back, killing him with his own knife. Naturally, he became a national hero. In Yerushalayim, two police officers were wounded when a terrorist shot at them from a motorcycle. All of this took place last Tuesday.

And then Wednesday arrived, and I got up in the morning to some shocking news: Gunshots had been fired at a bus on Golda Meir Boulevard. I realized that it was the bus that served the chareidi neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo and Ramot. I was stunned: A bus had been shot at? Who could know how many people had been harmed? But then I received the reassuring news that no one was injured in the attack. The two terrorists, meanwhile, continued on their way to East Yerushalayim, where they were killed inside their car.

The number of terror attacks in the past two weeks has gone down, but the severity of the attacks has increased. Now they are using guns instead of knives.

And then there was the sad story of Amir Maimoni of the Shin Bet, who was accidentally killed by friendly fire after being mistaken for a terrorist. It is possible that he was dressed as an Arab when he was killed. Ihe Shin Bet’s field operatives often disguise themselves as Arabs when they set out to meet their Arab contacts. It was a heartrending incident.

Political Isolation or the Opposite?

There is a process in the Knesset known as “40 signatures.” If 40 members of the Knesset sign a request, a special discussion is held that the prime minister is required to attend. His presence is required throughout the discussion; if he leaves for a few minutes, the sitting is interrupted until his return. This past week, a 40-signature discussion was held under the title “The Isolation of the State of Israel.” All of the speakers of the opposition accused Netanyahu of behaving in a manner that has caused all the countries of the world to sever their ties with Israel.

Netanyahu listened and grew enraged. Finally, he went to the podium himself to deliver a caustic rebuttal. Here is an excerpt of his speech:

“In these days, as you were speaking of political isolation, I have just come from lunch with the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis. It was a very important and warm meeting, one of many. It will be interesting to see if it is reported at all on the television news tonight. Tomorrow, as you know, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, will be arriving here, yet in the middle of all this, the Knesset is discussing our political isolation. I would like to tell you that it is good that we are having this discussion, since it gives us an opportunity to take a break from the deluge of visits of foreign dignitaries.”

Here is another excerpt: “In 2015, there was a rise of approximately 30 percent in the number of visits, in contrast to the previous year. To the best of my recollection, in 2014 the foreign minister was holding a full-time position. In other words, all of your criticisms are not serious and don’t reflect the complex yet positive situation of Israel’s relations with the countries of the world. The number of visits we receive is so great that I sometimes wish for some political isolation, if only to give us a chance to breathe!”

Netanyahu also commented on America. “Now, there are those among us who are already mourning the collapse of Israel’s relations with the United States. I took a stand against the dangerous agreement with Iran, and as part of that effort, yes, I went to the American Congress. I maintained that the situation called for the Israeli prime minister to address the Congress of the United States, but you called it the collapse of our relations. There was never such a collapse, and there never will be. I want to tell you about a poll that was conducted just this past week by the Gallup Institute. Every year, for decades already, the Gallup Institute has been examining the attitude of the American public toward Israel. The figures right now indicate very strong support for Israel. They also clearly show that that support has been increasing over time.”

A Nightmarish Road

Last summer, I paid a visit to a pleasant family living on Rechov Chazon Ish in Beit Shemesh. The hospitality was wonderful, the food was delectable, and I enjoyed the pleasant breeze from their balcony despite of the heat wave that held the country in its grip. The problem was the return trip. I had a meeting in Yerushalayim, and in order to avoid being late, I left my host’s home an hour and a half before it was scheduled to take place. But on Route 38, I was stuck in traffic for over an hour.

Many Americans are familiar with this road, whether because they have visited someone in Beit Shemesh or because of the “American” cemetery located off the road. This is a cemetery that was opened decades ago for the sake of people from America who wanted to be buried in Israel.

The other unfortunate drivers told me that they had already grown accustomed to the situation. They await the day when the road will have two lanes and will never be the scene of a traffic jam. But until that day, motorists will continue to suffer through endless delays. I recently had occasion to take that road again, and the situation was the same. An ambulance with a blaring siren barely managed to get through the congestion, making it a genuine case of life-threatening danger. The upgrade of the road will probably be unprecedented at least in terms of the amount of time it will take to complete.

Which Community in New Jersey?

Following MK Yaakov Margi’s trip to Crimea, which led to a diplomatic incident, the subject of Knesset members traveling abroad has become a hot topic. Margi explained that his trip was approved by the Knesset Ethics Committee, and he even asked the committee to notify the Foreign Ministry about it. Every member of the Knesset who travels abroad on behalf of any organization is required to receive the prior approval of the Knesset Ethics Committee. I examined the list of approved travels and discovered that to date, from April 2015 through February 2016, the committee has approved over 150 requests. This doesn’t mean that 150 Knesset members traveled abroad, since some of them made more than one trip. Some of them were guests of Reform organizations or were very closely connected with them.

Yair Lapid, for one, loves to travel. Well, perhaps he hates traveling, but he is definitely a frequent flier. In January 2016, Lapid visited Belgium on behalf of the European Union. In December 2015, he visited Washington on behalf of the Saban Forum. One month earlier, he was in Germany. In October 2015, he flew to England on behalf of an organization known as Emunah. Prior to that, he traveled to New York for a political forum whose nature I haven’t determined. One month before that, he went to the Czech Republic on behalf of some Middle Eastern center. In June 2015, he visited England on behalf of the Jewish News. That same month, he visited New York on behalf of a Jewish American organization. One can assume that at least some of these organizations were connected to the Reform movement.

Nachman Shai and Sharren Haskel traveled to Los Angeles last January for “study.” Nachman Shai also traveled to Turkey. In February 2016, several Knesset members – Bar-Lev, Hasson, Zandberg, Tibi, Ben-Ari, and Kish – visited Washington. Trachtenberg visited Prague, America, Australia, France, and Italy; in fact, he was in Prague twice. Sharren Haskel also visited Germany and Taiwan. Stav Shapir visited America together with Zehava Galon. She also visited Germany, made another trip to America (on behalf of an avowed Reform organization), and travelled to Holland and France.

Herzog visited France on behalf of the Rabin Center of France, and he traveled to America on behalf of an organization that sounds Reform. He made another visit to America on behalf of AIPAC. In England, he was a guest of the Brooklyn Institute.

It seems that all the members of the Knesset enjoy visiting America. Elazar Stern traveled there as a guest of Bnei Tzion. Lieberman and Hanegbi were guests of the Brookings Institute. Michael Oren visited America on behalf of the Touro Law Center. Oren also visited Panama and Azerbaijan, the latter in the company of Lieberman, Landver and Razvozov. He also visited Los Angeles and Belgium. This is quite an impressive travel record for Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

Tzipi Livni visited Zurich on behalf of Keren Hayesod, America on behalf of the Haaretz newspaper, and Canada on behalf of the Halifax Forum. She visited America again, together with Michael Oren, on behalf of another organization, and she traveled to Germany on behalf of the Labor party and to England on behalf of a magazine.

Our own parties also have representatives on the list. Yaakov Margi visited Russia as a guest of Rabbi Binyomin Wolf. This was his well-known trip that included Crimea on his itinerary. Yoav Ben-Tzur, Margi and Moses all traveled to Taiwan as guests of the government of Taiwan. Yigal Guetta is not on the list, but he is visiting Bulgaria at this moment as a member of a delegation from the Knesset.

Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin visited America on behalf of an organization that appears to be purely Reform in nature. Yinon Magal, in contrast, traveled to America on behalf of a Chabad organization. Merav Michaeli and Omer Bar-Lev visited America on behalf of J-Street, the organization that is not only of doubtful allegiance to Israel, but is also openly pro-Reform. Incidentally, the two also paid a visit to Jordan together. Tzachi Hanegbi visited America twice: once in December 2015, as we have already mentioned, and once in August 2015, on behalf of “the Jewish community in New Jersey.” Can anyone tell me what that means?

My purpose here is neither to weary you with these details nor, in fact, to entertain you. With all due respect to the Ethics Committee, I must say that it does not appear to be doing its work thoroughly enough. Do they truly believe that a vacation sponsored by J-Street, which has a clear agenda, won’t have any effect on a Knesset member? And if – and I base this on pure conjecture – “the Jewish community in New Jersey” is a Reform community involved in a perpetual struggle against the chareidim of the State of Israel, wouldn’t Tzachi Hanegbi feel indebted to them?

No Concern for
Sifrei Torah

In Tammuz of 5775, a Sefer Torah was stolen from a shul on Rechov Rabbeinu Tam in Ramat Hasharon. Recently, I asked for details on the results of the investigation, along with several other police investigations into thefts of Sifrei Torah over the past five years. The answers to my questions were shocking to the point of attesting to pure negligence.

Regarding the case in Ramat Hasharon, I learned that the gabbai of the shul and one other man both attested that they had seen the suspects in the area of the shul on the morning of the theft. Nevertheless, the case was closed. As for the other cases, in 2010 there were 35 investigations opened into the thefts of Sifrei Torah, 21 of which were closed on the grounds that the perpetrator was unknown. The rest of the investigations also yielded no results. In 2011, five cases were opened. Three were closed because the perpetrator was unknown, while the other two were closed for “lack of evidence.” In 2012, nine cases were opened; two were closed because of a “lack of public interest,” and another five were closed because of an “unknown perpetrator.” Over the past three years, 21 cases of stolen Sifrei Torah have been reported. Twelve of those cases were closed due to an “unknown perpetrator,” two for lack of evidence and one for lack of public interest. I haven’t discovered a single case in which a Sefer Torah was stolen and the thief was actually brought to justice, despite the large number of thefts. This should tell you something about the Israeli police.

Joe Biden’s Impeccable Timing

My living room window overlooks the highway that connects Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. As a result, I didn’t need to listen to the news to find out when Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, would be arriving in Yerushalayim. All I had to do was look out my window to see the convoy of police motorcycles, followed by a police car, followed by the row of three Mercedes stretch limousines, one of which contained the visiting vice president. These vehicles were followed by a series of large black cars with tinted windows, containing the American security detail. One can only imagine how many cars would have been in the convoy if the president himself had been visiting.

In any event, Biden was here in Israel for a brief visit, and his timing was excellent.

Why do I find the timing appropriate? Because last Tuesday night, while he was visiting Shimon Peres in Tel Aviv, a terror attack took place in the streets. A single terrorist struck, wounding 12 people and killing one. The fatality, Taylor Force, was a 29-year-old American tourist who was a former officer in the United States army and had served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Force was in Israel on a group tour and was a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was also a graduate of the West Point military academy.

For some reason – perhaps because the murder victim was American, or a student, or a former soldier in the American army – this time, condemnations were heard from the United States: from the president of the university, the spokesman for the State Department, and others ranging from John McCain to Bob Corker of Tennessee. At the same time, the United States updated its travel warning for Israel and the consulate instructed its employees not to enter the Old City.

At the moment the attack in Yaffo took place, Biden was right nearby as a guest at the Peres Peace Center. He even related that his wife and grandchildren were in the streets at that moment and that he feared for their wellbeing. “My wife and grandchildren were eating on the beach not far from where it happened,” he said. “That simply gave me an understanding of what can happen.” Shocked by the attack, Biden reacted with a sharp condemnation: “Terror against women, children and innocents is intolerable.”

The Injustice System

Here is another story connected to our judicial system: A man named Mickey Tzolar, a former associate of Finance Minister Avrohom Hirschson (who also served time in prison) and a senior official in the Histadrut labor federation, was acquitted of criminal charges that were brought against him. Judge Yehuda Fargo expressed disapproval of the fact that the charges had been filed in the first place, plunging Tzolar into six years of lengthy judicial proceedings and emotional torment. The Minister of Justice was asked if the member of the Attorney General’s office who filed the charges would be expected to take a lesson from the acquittal, to which she responded, “The charges were brought by the Finance Ministry.”

Ten years ago, the Ministry of Health accused Dr. Pinchas Feinmesser of causing the death of a child. The doctor was dismissed from his position and his life was essentially destroyed. Two years ago, an investigative committee exonerated him.

Will the officials in the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Health pay a price for their decisions, which destroyed the lives of others? And if not, why not? Why should they be different from any person who must pay for his crimes? If any official – a prosecutor, a police officer, an inspector, or a tax official – will be immune to prosecution, who can guarantee that he won’t be too quick to inflict years of misery on others?

Twenty years ago, Eli Horwitz, the CEO of Teva Pharmaceuticals and father of the drug Copaxone (for multiple sclerosis), received a telephone call. A representative of the investigations department of the Tax Authority informed him that his company was to undergo an audit that would be “longer than usual.” Horwitz was shocked to learn that he would be investigated “under warning” – in other words, on suspicion of criminal activity. A close associate of many senior government officials and winner of the Israel Prize, who had turned down offers to serve as the Finance Minister and as the head of the Bank of Israel, Horwitz was now suspected of tax evasion to the tune of 18 million dollars. He was found guilty of the charges in the District Court and was in shock. His comments about Judge Procaccia and prosecuting attorney Moshe Ledor in that case are not fit to be quoted here. Horwitz was subsequently acquitted in the Supreme Court. “The prosecution,” the justices wrote, “failed to meet the standard of proof.” Some have pointed out that one of the justices who ruled in Horwitz’s favor was a close friend of his attorney.

Nechemiah Strassler, one of the foremost figures in Israel’s general media, wrote at the time that “the prosecution and Moshe Ledor need to make a reckoning. They filed criminal charges despite the fact that the professionals in the Tax Authority recommended against it. Throughout the process, the prosecution acted as if it had a single goal: a conviction at any price and by any means. It was not seeking the truth, which is the real purpose of the public prosecutor.”

At the time, Horwitz said, “I have been through a difficult six years. It has been much more difficult than it appears… This was a case of frivolousness and wickedness on the part of the authorities. It was an injustice that can never be excused…. I felt that Ledor, representing the prosecution, was waging a personal battle against me. My sense was that a man was standing before me who wielded enormous power and was using it in a way that was improper. I managed to oppose him with my own battery of lawyers, but what would the average citizen do?” Ten years after his acquittal, Horwitz passed away.

I dream of a law that will hold people of authority personally responsible for the decisions they make that jeopardize other people’s lives. If it is revealed that they were careless or negligent, they should compensate their victims. Years ago, I actually launched a bill of this nature targeting the state prosecutor’s office, after several high-profile acquittals. The Minister of Justice was enraged by the proposal and spoke from the Knesset podium, demanding that the members of the Knesset vote against it.

Children and Students

This week, I heard from Rav Shmuel Markowitz, rosh yeshivas Ponovezh, that his father, Rav Tzvi Markowitz zt”l, once quoted his own father-in law, Rav Shabsi Yagel (a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, who passed away in January 1958), as declaring, “My students are as beloved to me as my children. I rejoice in my students’ success just as I rejoice in my children’s success.” But since he was meticulous about avoiding the tiniest hint of untruth, he stood up again after making that comment and added, “But it is possible that I would be more distressed by my children’s failures than by those of my students.”

The Stronger Side

A town rov once visited the Chofetz Chaim in Radin with a difficult question: In his town, modern elements had taken control of communal affairs and were seeking to establish a modern school to replace the cheder. The rov wanted to know if he should give in to their demands, thus seeing to it that he would remain in his position and potentially influence the community in other ways, or if he should combat them, taking the risk that they might replace him with another rov who would allow them to destroy all religious life in the community.

“It is always better to be on the side of the one who is strong,” the Chofetz Chaim replied.

The rov smiled with satisfaction. “That’s exactly what I thought,” he said. “It’s best to gain whatever we can, rather than losing everything.”

The Chofetz Chaim walked his visitor to the door. As they parted ways, he added, “The only One I know Who is strong is the Master of the Universe.”