Sunday, June 27, 2021

I'm Not Dying To Save You

Over the last few days I have seen a number of Jews, who purport to care about the well-being of the State of Israel, criticize Israel over the civilian casualties in Gaza, despite the fact that Israel made extraordinary efforts to minimize such casualties, unprecedented in the history of warfare. They said that it would be better to avoid any military response at all (since it inevitably results in some civilian casualties, no matter how much effort is taken to minimize them) and simply rely on Iron Dome. They bemoaned how Israel's actions will result in sanctions and loss of aid to Israel. 

Such attitudes are, at best, utterly stupid. Iron Dome is only about 90% effective, which is why Israelis still had to rush to bomb shelters, and several people were nevertheless killed. And the rockets don't only exact a price in terms of human life and physical injury - the psychological damage, especially to children, is immense. Furthermore, there is enormous economic cost. And that's all with Israel attacking and neutralizing the rocket launchers and terrorist infrastructure. If Israel did nothing at all, the attacks would go on forever! No country could possibly survive that way. 

Furthermore, for Israel to send a message that "We will not defend the lives and well-being of our citizens if this causes loss of civilian life in hostile regimes" would be announcing its death sentence. Hezbollah would immediately launch its own arsenal at Israel, which is vastly more powerful than that of Hamas.

What about the political cost of Israel's military campaign? Yes, that's certainly a serious matter, and it's precisely what unfortunately forces Israel to end its campaigns before thoroughly neutralizing the threats. But the political damage is far, far less than the damage that would be suffered if Israel simply did not respond to attacks on its cities. (And fortunately there are still some sensible political leaders and parties who understand the necessity of Israel's actions and do not suffer from Judeopathy.)

So, considering that expecting Israel not to do anything is so stupid and dangerous, why would Jews who purportedly care about Israel expect such a thing? I think that I figured out the answer. 

One of these people, who claimed to care about Israel more than those who actually live there (!!!), said that he wants to avoid the "shame and embarrassment" of Israel being a pariah state. I think that's what it's all about. Certain people have a very strong sense of identity as liberal Westerners. They hashtag Black Lives Matter. They abhor absolutely everything that Trump ever did. They are progressives, through and through. For such people, it's deeply embarrassing for their own sense of identity to be associated with a country whose actions are being condemned by their political bedfellows. (And it's unthinkable for them to politically support those who acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself.)

I can understand that this is embarrassing. But don't expect me to compromise the safety and well-being of my family and neighbors in order to save you from embarrassment. Frankly, it's revolting to even ask it.

 

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Meron: The Unavenged

The new Israeli government has only been in place for a week, and it already has an important accomplishment under its belt - albeit one that ought not to have been an accomplishment at all. 

I'm talking about the cabinet decision yesterday to appoint a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster - nearly two months after the tragedy happened. One would expect that after the worst civilian disaster in the history of a country, a commission of inquiry would be established immediately. After the Grenfell Tower fire in England, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an inquiry the very next day. But here in Israel, the establishment of such a politically independent inquiry was blocked by the charedi political parties, because, as they unwittingly let slip, they didn't want charedi politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the disaster to actually have to shoulder the blame. They only wanted an inquiry in which they would be able to control who does the inquiring.

Of course, there weren't enough Charedi MKs to alone be able to prevent an independent commission of inquiry. But they were enabled by MKs in the Likud, a party that often seems to rate loyalty to select politicians as more important than pretty much anything else, including national security. In a shocking tweet yesterday, Likud MK Shlomo Keri declared that "the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster is revenge on the outgoing administration." And Likud MK Katie Shetreet claimed that "The government is not interested in what happened in Meron. Their objective is to embarrass the Haredi MKs, the former Prime Minister, and the families, instead of helping them financially. The government just wants blood and for heads to roll." In fact, the families were begging all along for a state commission of an inquiry

Meanwhile, a large event took place at Binyanei Ha-Umah to mark the shloshim of the Meron victims. It proclaimed to be about how "HaKadosh Baruch Hu has issued a wake-up call that unity and ahavas Yisrael is the call of the hour," and promoted the concept of charedim learning Torah with non-charedim. It was arranged by Kesher Yehudi, an organization which some would describe as seeking to unite different sectors of Israeli society, while others would describe as seeking to do charedi PR/ kiruv with non-charedim. I found the event to be deeply disturbing. The 45 deaths were not caused by a lack of ahavas Yisrael; they were caused by charedi separatism and charedi disregard for civil law and the laws of science. And they want to spin it to be mekarev more people to being charedi?

In case you think that this is too cynical a take, consider this: one of the speakers was none other than Yaffa Deri. That's the wife of Aryeh Deri, perhaps the politician most responsible for the negligence at Meron, who proudly declared before Lag B'Omer that he had managed to prevent any restrictions on the number of people who could attend, because those trying to do so don't appreciate how Rabbi Shimon's merit protects the attendees. 

What about the families of the victims? Since they are almost all charedi, naturally some of them are caught up in the charedi Daas Torah/ political spin on things. Still, as noted, they were begging for a state commission of inquiry. And one of the nost prominent families, who are furious with the leadership in their own community that enabled this to happen and sought to prevent a commission of inquiry, made their feelings painfully and blatantly clear. On the tombstones for their sons, the inscriptions end with הי"ד - "May God avenge their blood." 

Some are shocked by this phrase, but it is, unfortunately, entirely appropriate. The Torah describes the case of an entirely accidental murder, in which the relative is a goel hadam, one who avenges the blood of the victim. The case of Meron is far worse; it happened due to gross negligence and greed, and justice was being blocked.

It is certainly reasonable for the families of the victims to cry out, "May God avenge their blood." And thanks to the new government of Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and others, with which Daas Torah and charedi politicians do not exert influence, this wish can finally be addressed.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

"Sssshhh!!!!"

"Why do you have to point out problems in the charedi world? Why do you have to be so negative? What are you going to accomplish, anyway? Besides, you have impure motivations, so you're not allowed to say it!"

As you can imagine, these criticisms comes up a lot. I wrote a post in response last year, but I think it's time for another!

Every society has its problems, some more serious, some less serious. Charedi society has some very serious problems indeed, relating to institutionalized poverty and fundamental issues regarding a widespread failure to contribute to the economy and the military. Aside from the immense harm that this causes to charedi society, these are problems which economists rate as a major threat to the entire State of Israel. Even some people in the charedi world have openly acknowledged that these are extremely serious national problems.

In open and free societies, there is generally no shortage of people calling out the problems that exist. In charedi society, there is very much a deficit of this. The charedi press follows a certain party line and stifles dissent. The charedi voices that I mentioned above as calling out the problems are rare exceptions, who are making little headway. 

Furthermore, many of the problems are facilitated by distortions of classical Jewish theology, or of factual reality, which few people have the combination of scholarship, intellectual honesty, freedom and desire to call out. There's not too many forums in which people are explaining why concepts such as "Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam" and "Torah LiShmah" do not at all mean what they are popularly thought to mean, or which point out why the much-vaunted charedi higher education and army programs are unfortunately of considerably smaller significance than is often believed.

Discussing these issues on this website makes an impact in all kinds of ways. First of all, the many thousands of readers include many people within the charedi world, some of whom influence the lives of many others as well as their own. And it's also important for people outside of the charedi world to be aware of these issues, so that they can make better-informed choices on issues such as where they send their children to be educated and who to vote for. (Did you know that the new government in Israel will be removing the legal prohibition against charedim age 21-24 going to work - which the charedi parties oppose?)

Finally, to address the claims about my motivations. Aside from the fact that there are many misconceptions about my motivations (which have much more to do with living in Beit Shemesh than what happened with my books), it's just irrelevant. You don't stop someone trying to put out a fire just because you think he has bad reasons for doing so.

(It's important to remember that to the extent that the problem of child molestation is at all taken seriously in the charedi world, this is primarily because there was some "nasty" blogs insisting on calling it out. Even Agudas Yisrael admitted this.)

Some people have very nice, idealistic reasons for wanting to sweep problems under the carpet and paint a rosy picture of the charedi world. But in doing so, they are contributing to the problems. The first step to solving problems is to acknowledge their existence.

 

See too: "Isn't It Lashon Hara? Do I Have Noble Motives? And What Do I Hope To Accomplish?"

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Who Are The Most Charitable Jews?

Twenty-seven years ago, when I was searching to define my place in Orthodoxy, there was one raw fact that made it clear to me that charedi society is the ideal community. And I read it in The Jerusalem Post. I don't remember the exact numbers any more, but it was a statistic about charitable giving. It demonstrated that charedim give far more to charity than do national-religious Jews, who in turn give far more to charity than do secular Jews.

There you have it. A black-and-white statistic, in a non-charedi publication, showing that charedim are the most charitable Jews. Is this not clear evidence that theirs is the right path?

Eventually, over the years, I came to realize that there are many other issues to take into consideration. But in this post I would like to address this very statistic, which I recently saw quoted as praise for the charedi way of life. Because what many people don't realize is that it is a fundamental distortion.

Put very simply, the problem is that the larger amount of charity that charedim give is vastly offset by the lower amount of taxes that they pay and the higher amount of welfare that they draw.

As discussed in the anonymous guest post on this blog, Do Charedim Live Off The State?, the average charedi household pays only 34% of the income tax, national insurance and health insurance paid by the average non-charedi Jewish household. The average charedi household also spends 16% less on taxed goods and services, despite the much larger number of people living in it. And then the average charedi family receives 66% more in welfare and support payments than that received by the average non-charedi Jewish family.

It is abundantly clear that the charedi community’s relative contribution to Israel’s economy falls significantly behind that of its non-charedi Jewish counterpart. And when all is said and done, the average charedi household does receive considerably more funding from the state than it pays in taxes.

In other words, it doesn't help when people give more of their earnings to charity, if their earnings are incredibly meager and they are living off the state. (Not to mention that much of these charitable donations are going to supporting charedim who are willfully needy, rather than to those who cannot do anything about their situation.) Medical services and defense forces and welfare benefits and all the other things that the country needs to survive and help the unfortunate are not paid for by tzedakah donations; they are paid for by taxes. 

Furthermore, all these essential services are run by people with professional careers - i.e., not by charedim. You need doctors and weapons experts and engineers and scientists, along with the money to pay for employing such professionals. Otherwise, you end up with a third-world country in which there is immense suffering - which is what economists warn that Israel is heading towards, and rare sensible figures in the charedi world are raising the alarm about. Remember, people in charedi kollels are not just making a personal lifestyle choice - they are also raising their children without any serious secular education or desire for professional careers.

What about the chareidi charitable contributions to society, in terms of chessed organizations? Charedi apologists like to boast about Hatzala, Zaka, Yad Sarah, Ezer Metzion, and Masbiya. These are indeed wonderful institutions. But it's a drop in the bucket compared to the contributions that non-charedim make to society, in terms of army service and sherut leumi. Army service is three years, plus annual reserve duty. And again, the most important contribution to society is to actually build up the economy.

Judaism teaches that it's not enough to have a good heart; one must have a good head, to ensure that one's good deeds are being done correctly. And it doesn't help to blind oneself to the problems that exist. Only if we are honest about the problems can we begin to address them.


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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Racist Zionists and Liberal Charedim

Yesterday, somebody challenged me to write about a horrific video in the news yesterday. It showed a group of religious Zionist youth at yesterday's Flag Parade in Jerusalem, chanting "Death to the Arabs." Apparently, my interlocutor thought that I would not acknowledge problems in the community with which I identify. He was mistaken. Of course, we all have our biases, but I am perfectly ready to acknowledge the Religious Zionist community has a problem with anti-Arab racism and violent extremism.

At the same time, as far as I can tell, this is very much a minority part of the Religious Zionist community. Certainly the overwhelming majority of the religious Zionist community would never chant such things. Furthermore, they call out and condemn this behavior (although perhaps not in as many numbers one would wish). And so, while violent extremism is a particular religious Zionist problem, it is simultaneously not broadly representative of the religious Zionist sector. In other words, it would not be correct to issue a general statement that religious Zionists are violent would-be killers - although racism against Arabs, to a greater or lesser degree, does seem to be a more widespread problem.

Inaccurate generalizations are a reason why I intensely disliked the Netflix series Unorthodox. (Full confession: I didn't get even halfway through it, so if my comments are rendered inaccurate by the full series, let me know.) I don't know much about chassidic communities in New York, but I suspect that they are not as broadly unpleasant as the series indicated. And the depiction of secular, non-Jewish life in Germany was ridiculous. Of course, I'm sure that there are as many nice Germans as anywhere else. But the idea that all of them are the loveliest people, with no antisemitic tendencies whatsoever, and nobody takes advantage of a vulnerable girl? If you're making a series demonstrating dysfunctional and evil behavior in the chassidic community, it's hardly fair not to show any flaws in non-Jewish society.

And this brings me to a Facebook post by a certain chassidic rabbi which, in the 12 hours since it was posted, has received over three thousands likes and over a thousand shares. Rabbi Doniel Katz argues that "the consistent depiction of Hareidim and Torah Judaism by mainstream media, from Netflix to the daily news, is somewhere between delusion, slander and the literal equivalent of racism." He goes on to describe his family in detail, and reveals that they break all stereotypes. His wife works out with a gay female fitness coach. His children learn grammar, math and science, and after-school activities include Tae Kwan Do and robotics. None of them believe that the world is literally 6000 years old, and they freely read books about dinosaurs and science. They grow up to believe that when they are ready, they will "get a good job or learn a profession to support whatever lifestyle they choose." And they frequently host all kinds of religious and secular Jews as Shabbos guests.

Now, this sounds like a really, really wonderful family. But Rabbi Katz overreaches considerably. He then declares that "the truth is, while there might be many Hareidim who aren't like what I described above, it's still an accurate description of literally hundreds of thousands of Hareidim in Israel and the US."

No it is not!

Rabbi Katz's family as is about as representative of charedi society as the chassidim in Unorthodox. He and his wife are American baalei teshuva who are on Facebook. The vast majority of charedi society is absolutely not as he describes. And the simple proof is this: there is no way that any charedi publication would print his essay without heavy censorship!

How many charedi schools in Israel, or chassidic schools in the US, are teaching math and science to an serious level? Hardly any. How many charedi kids in Israel are learning Tae Kwan Do and robotics? Very few - aside from being ideologically against it, most charedim can't even afford such extracurricular activities. How many charedi schools in either Israel or the US are teaching that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago? Not a single one. (At the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we don't even dare mention the "D" word!) How many charedi kids are taught the ideology and the education such that when they are ready, they will "get a good job or learn a profession to support whatever lifestyle they choose"? Hardly any.

In the comments to Rabbi Katz's post, there are countless non-charedim declaring how beautiful his post is, and how it needs to be shared widely. But there are also numerous chassidim and charedim stating how inaccurate and hurtful and even dangerous it is. It would be wonderful if everyone or even most people in charedi society were like Rabbi Katz's family, but the fact is that they aren't. As a generalization (i.e. applicable to most though not all), charedim do not believe in prehistoric dinosaurs, raise their children with a solid secular education and the ability and desire to get a professional career, or host non-charedi Jews for Shabbos meals (unless it's to convert them).

Misrepresenting charedi society in order to counteract the distortions of Netflix is wrong. It is hurtful to those who have suffered from the shortcomings of charedi society. It creates false expectations with people who are thinking of joining this society, and who later suffer when they see that it's not what they were told it was. And it prevents charedi society from attempting to solve its shortcomings. If you don't even acknowledge the extent to which shortcomings exist, what chance is there of fixing them?

 

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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Prime Ministers' Speeches

There were two amazing speeches that were not heard this week. One was that of new prime minister Naftali Bennett, whose speech was drowned out by heckling. The other was that of alternate prime minister Yair Lapid, who opted not to give his speech after the circus surrounding Bennett's speech. Both these speeches deserve to be heard, and are printed below. I personally found them tremendously inspirational, and I hope you do too.

Full text of Naftali Bennett's speech:

His Excellency President Reuven Rivlin; President-elect Isaac Herzog; Mr. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President of the Supreme Court, Justice Esther Hayat; Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin; my partner in forming the Unity Government, Member of Knesset Yair Lapid, and his wife Lihi; Ministers of the outgoing government; Ministers of the incoming government; Members of Knesset; honored guests.
 
I want to begin my words by saying, on my own behalf, and in the name of the members of the designated government, in the name of this House, and in the name of all the citizens of Israel – thank you. Thank you to the outgoing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for your many years of service, replete with achievements, for the sake of the State of Israel. As Prime Minister you acted throughout many years to embolden Israel’s political, security, and economic strength. I saw you from up-close, in extensive security deliberations, late into the night, investigating, making inquiries and considerations out of a sense of grave responsibility. 
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, over the years, we have not always agreed, but we have both sacrificed much on a personal level in order to serve our people, the people of Israel. Expressing gratitude is a fundamental principle in Judaism. This is the time for the people to say to you, thank you.
 
I also want to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the Tenth President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, for his years as President, as Speaker of the Knesset, and as a public servant. And to congratulate President-elect, Isaac Herzog, and wish him much success. God willing, we will work together very well.
 
Honored ladies and gentlemen, this is a special moment. The moment in which the baton of leading the people and the country passes – as in a relay race – to the next generation. It a sacred endowment. 
 
The State of Israel is not ‘just another country’. It is the dream of generations of Jews – from Marrakesh to Budapest, from Bagdad to San Francisco – a dream we merited to see realized every day before our very eyes. Each generation has its own challenges, and out of each generation comes the leaders that can overcome them.
 
The external challenges we face are great: the Iranian nuclear project, which is moving towards a crucial point; the ongoing war on terror; Israel's image in the world and the unfair treatment it receives in international institutions – these are all sizable and complex tasks.
At this time, we are also facing an internal challenge. The ongoing rift in the nation, as we see in these very moments, which continues to rip apart the seams that hold us together, and has thrown us – one election after another – into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting. 
Such quarrels, between the people who are supposed to be running the country, led to paralysis. One who quarrels, cannot function. 
 
And so Israel ceased to be managed: a lack of governance in the Negev and loss of the South for 12 years, riots in mixed cities, the lack of state budget, the terrible disaster in Meron.
Dear friends, in the guests gallery today, sits Maya Moreno, widow of my friend, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Moreno, of blessed memory. At every important juncture of my life, I think of Emmanuel. The intensity of his devotion and sense of mission guides us.
 
Friends, as the Jewish people tend to be people with opinions… and as we see here, the Parliament of the Jewish state, is a parliament of opinions, and anyone who has ever seen a pair of students studying Talmud together, or a heated debate about a product in the office corridors of an Israeli start-up, understands the force for good of “disputes for the sake of Heaven”. But there are points in Jewish history in which the disagreements between us have gone out of control, in which they were no longer “disputes for the sake of Heaven”, times in which they threatened us, and all that we have built with our sweat and blood.
 
Twice in history, we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit with one and another and compromise. Each was right, yet with all their being right, they burnt the house down on top of us. I am proud of the ability to sit together with people with very different views from my own.
 
This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility. We understood that we have to safeguard our home. To continue on in this way – more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook – is just not an option. Therefore, we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss. And I want to thank my friend, Foreign Minister-designate, MK Yair Lapid, who showed national responsibility, political generosity, and without whom we would not be here today.
 
The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness.
 
The government that will be formed represents many of Israel’s citizens: from Ofra to Tel Aviv, from Rahat to Kiryat Shmona. Precisely here lies the opportunity. Our principle is, we will sit together, and we will forge forward on that which we agree – and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side.
 
To the citizens of Israel I say: this is a sensitive moment, of political change. I call on all, to demonstrate maturity and restraint. 
 
The new government will be a government which strives for real, practical solutions, to the problems faced by the country and its citizens. The work-plan which we are presenting today is the most detailed in years. We have come to work. To remove the barriers, to free up the jams, and to turn our country into what it can be.
 
The following, are some of the things the government will promote immediately:
 
We will take responsibility for the education of Israeli children from birth. The most formative years. As a first step, we will transfer responsibility for infant daycare to the Ministry of Education.
 
We will enable many ultra-Orthodox youth to go out to work by lowering the (national service) exemption age from 24 to 21. Not by force, but by positive encouragement, allowing young people who want to learn a vocation to be able to, and those who want to study Torah will continue to do so.
 
We will close with immediate effect the Ministry of Digital Affairs, the Ministry for Water, the Ministry for Communal Advancement, and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs.
 
Foreign Minister-designate and Alternate Prime Minister-designate, Yair Lapid, will lead a process to rehabilitate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is a fundamental tool for building Israel’s political strength.
 
Finance Minister-designate Avigdor Lieberman, will lead a plan by which we will return to work those who lost their employment due to COVID-19. We will bring in as many people as possible in the high-tech industry, where there are higher salaries, by setting a national target of raising the number of high-tech workers to 15% of the workforce by 2026.
 
We will reduce superfluous regulation and frustrating bureaucracy, and we will work for citizen-friendly government services, as in Singapore among other countries – without paperwork, without queues.  
 
We will make life easier for independent workers and small business owners, including through unemployment benefits.
 
We will increase income support for the elderly to 70% of the minimum wage.
 
We will open up competition in Kashrut (kosher certification), and set standards for the system. This will lighten the burden on restaurant owners, ending the stranglehold monopoly in this area, bringing down the cost of food, and strengthening the public’s faith in the level of Kashrut.
 
Justice Minister-designate Gideon Saar will lead a process to create an appropriate balance between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government, whereby his initiative to split the role of the Attorney General is a significant first step.
 
We will – finally – promote a national plan for the North of Israel, including establishing a hospital and a university in the Galilee.
 
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will lead a process to significantly strengthen and build up the IDF through a multi-year plan, which will include significant investment in offensive and defensive capabilities. We must invest because the threats will not leave us. Our soldiers deserve the best and most advanced equipment in the world.
 
We will work to upgrade Israel’s public transport system, led by Transport Minister-designate Merav Michaeli.
 
We will strengthen the building of communities across the Land of Israel.
 
We will ensure Israel’s national interests in Area C – and we will increase standards to that end after much neglect in this area.
 
And yes my friends, we will open a new page in the relations between the State of Israel and the country’s Arab citizens. The Arab community will be represented in the coalition by Mansour Abbas and his party. This is a process that I must give credit to Prime Minister Netanyahu who held a groundbreaking series of meetings with Mansour Abbas, who reached out a hand. This was the right thing to do. We understand the plight and needs of the Arab society. The fight against crime and violence, the housing crisis, the gaps in education and infrastructure – will be addressed.
 
We will begin the process of regulating the Bedouin settlements in the Negev, so that Israel’s Bedouin citizens can live in dignity. 
 
Health Minister-designate Nitzan Horowitz, will prepare the health system for a new age of community, and home based medical care, and together we will prepare an emergency plan in the case of future pandemics. You can’t always know there will be a vaccine, not every illness has a vaccine, and you have to be prepared to build on vaccinations, but also on an organized plan and not as we saw in the last year.
 
We will accelerate the pace of building homes in Israel. The government will take the initiative, remove obstacles, and allow for extensive construction throughout the country, in order to but the breaks on the rise in the cost of housing. There has been a slowdown in the building of houses in the last year – we should be seeing the opposite – we should have increased the building, there is a deficit in housing which drives up the prices, and no propaganda will hide that. Therefore we will up the pace of building to but the brakes on the rise in prices, and allow young people – who serve in the army, fulfil reserve duty, pay their taxes, and have no chance of building a house. So yes, we need to deal with this.
 
The government will work to promote Jewish immigration (Aliyah) to Israel, and the best integration for them.
 
We will strengthen the bond between the State of Israel, and the Jews of the Diaspora. We will care for our brothers and sisters around the world, we will fight against the wave of antisemitism.
 
We will safeguard the State of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, as a Jewish and democratic state.
 
And that is just part of our plans. As I said, we have come to work! For everyone.
 
From here, I turn to the ultra-Orthodox community. Although the ultra-Orthodox parties chose not to join the coalition, that does not mean you are not represented - I will represent you, we will represent you. The new government will respect the study of Torah, the Torah which kept us safe for so many years in exile, and at the same time will work to remove the barriers which prevent the ultra-Orthodox community’s integration into the employment market, and Israeli society. Instead of perpetuating the same methods, we will have the opportunity to address the deep problems which burden ultra-Orthodox society: key amongst them the housing crisis. The pace of construction of apartments, neighborhoods, and cities simply does not keep up with natural growth, and there is room for the establishment of new ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and even a new city in Israel.
 
I was asked by the father of Eliyahu Shmuel, of blessed memory – a 16 year old ultra-Orthodox boy, who was killed in the Meron Disaster – to remember him in my swearing in address. Eli was a sweet child. He always helped his friends, and saw the good in everyone. We will not forget Eli, and we will not ignore his death. A State Commission of Inquiry will be set up.
 
Honored ladies and gentlemen. The government is setting out on its path, as the greatest threat to Israel, the Iranian nuclear project, is reaching a critical point. The Middle East is still yet to recover from the effects of the first nuclear deal, which emboldened Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, and with international legitimacy.
 
Iran, through its Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, has established terrorist outposts - from Syria, through Gaza and Lebanon, and to Yemen. Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will once again lend legitimacy to one of the most discriminatory and violent regimes in the world.
 
Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Israel is not party to the agreement, and will maintain full freedom to act.
 
Last month, we received a reminder that the conflict with the Palestinians is still here. We must remember, and remind the world, that our enemies deny our very existence in the Land of Israel, and that this is not a dispute over territory.
 
We need military strength, civil resilience, and a belief in the justness of our path at times when the conflict raises its head.
 
I hope the ceasefire in the south is maintained. But if Hamas again chooses the path of violence against Israeli civilians, it will encounter a wall of iron.
 
Violence and terrorism are not a natural phenomenon or destiny with which we are supposed to just come to terms. The Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, and understand that violence will be met with a firm response.
 
That said, security calm will lead to economic moves, which will lead to reducing friction and the conflict.
 
To the Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu, and Sayed families. The government led by me will work to bring home the IDF’s fallen, and the Israeli citizens held in Gaza by Hamas. We see in their return a sacred duty, which should be undertaken out of responsibility. 
 
The government will work to establish and expand peace agreements with the Arab states, to increase regional economic, entrepreneurial, and cultural cooperation, and to deepen the direct connection between the peoples of the region, such as the connection between the citizens of Israel and the citizens of the United Arab Emirates.
 
Dear friends, on behalf of us all, I want to thank the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, for standing alongside Israel during the last operation in Gaza, “Guardian of the Walls”, and for his longstanding commitment to the security of Israel.
 
President Biden said during the operation, “Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace”.
 
It is important that this message be heard, and internalized, in the Middle East.
We greatly appreciate the support of the United States, our greatest friend. My government will make an effort to deepen and nurture relations with our friends in both parties – bipartisan. If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust, and mutual respect.
My fellow Members of Knesset, in light of the ongoing turbulent debate, the people are looking to the House. Let us maintain respectful debate. I understand those for whom today is difficult, but friends, this is not a day of mourning. There is no Disengagement here. There is no harm being caused to anyone. There is a change of government in a democracy. That’s it. And I assure it is a government that will work for the sake of all the people. We will do all we can so that no one should have to feel afraid. We are here in the name of good, and to work. And I say to those who intend to celebrate tonight, don’t dance on the pain of others. We not enemies, we are one people.
 
Now, hours before accepting this responsibility, I pray to God that He grant me wisdom and understanding to lead the State of Israel.
 
“Heavenly Father, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first flourishing of our redemption, guard it in your abundant kindness, spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Send forth your light and truth to its leaders, ministers, and advisors, and grace them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who guard our holy land, grant them deliverance, and adorn them in victory. Give peace in the land, and grant its inhabitants eternal happiness.”
 
With God’s help, we will do and we will succeed. Amen.
 
Members of Knesset, I am now honored to present before you the government what we have formed, in alphabetical order (in Hebrew).
 
Naftali Bennett – Prime Minister and Minister for Settlement Affairs
Yair Lapid – Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Alternate Prime Minister
Ministers affiliated with the Prime Minister:
Ayelet Shaked – Minister of the Interior
Gideon Sa'ar – Minister of Justice
Ze’ev Elkin – Minister of Housing and Construction, Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage, and Minister Responsible for Government Liaison with the Knesset
Yoaz Hendel – Minister of Communications
Yifat Shasha-Biton – Minister of Education
Matan Kahana – Minister for Religious Affairs
Ministers affiliated with the Alternate Prime Minister:
Avigdor Lieberman – Minister of Finance
Orit Farkash HaCohen – Minister of Science and Technology
Orna Barbivai – Minister of Economy
Benjamin Gantz – Minister of Defense
Hili Tropper – Minister of Culture and Sport
Hamad Amar – Minister in the Finance Ministry
Yoel Razvozov – Minister of Tourism 
Meir Cohen – Minister of Labour, Welfare, and Social Services
Meirav Cohen – Minister of Social Equality
Merav Michaeli – Minister of Transport and Road Safety
Nachman Shai – Minister of Diaspora Affairs
Nitzan Horowitz – Minister of Health
Oded Forer – Minister of Agriculture and Development, and Minister of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee
Issawi Frej – Minister for Regional Cooperation
Omer Bar Lev – Minister for Internal Security
Pnina Tamano Shata – Minister for Immigration and Absorption
Karine Elharrar – Minister for Energy
Tamar Zandberg – Minister for Environmental Protection
 
The date of the handover between the Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister is August 27, 2023. I request, Mr. Speaker, that the Members of the Knesset express their support for the Unity Government, so that we may begin to restore stability and functionality to the State of Israel. Thank you.
 
 
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Knesset, Prime Minister Designate, outgoing Prime Minister, President of the Supreme Court, honored guests.

In the Book of Judges, the phrase “the land was peaceful for 40 years” appears three times. I don’t know what will happen in 40 years, but let us all hope that in the future, we will be able to say of the government we are forming today: “the land was peaceful for 40 years.”

Because that is what we need. Israel is hurting. It is time for peace in this land.

In a democratic country, governments rise and fall. A generation goes and a generation comes. That is the natural order of things. This is a complicated coalition, maybe the most complicated in the country’s history, but the reason for its creation is actually simple: it is time.

It’s time. It is even a little late. This change is unavoidable because time does not stop. It’s time to change the operating system; it’s time for a change of generation.

But before we look to the future, we have another task — we need to find a way to forgive one another for the past. Hate is a prison, and forgiveness is the way out.

I look at the past few years in the life of this country: the protests, the anger, the terrible things that have been said in this hall. I don’t want to be held hostage by those years.

In the past six years, I have sat in the opposition. Much of that time, I have been angry at the way the government treated us. The solution is not to treat them the same way. The solution is to behave differently.

I want to say to the opposition from this podium — our door will be open to you. We know that the public that voted for you has real needs. We won’t agree on everything, but we will always listen.

The past few years have seen us all turned from people into labels — right, left, secular, Haredi, Jewish, Arab. This government has been formed so that we stop being labels and revive our common identity, people, with all our complexities.

One of the Haredi Knesset Members sent me a message just before Shabbat which said, “The Kotzker Rebbe defined the saying, ‘Just as their faces are not the same, so their opinions are not the same’ as meaning, ‘Just as no person is angry that his friend has a different face, so no person should be angry at his friend’s different opinions.’” And then he added: “Let us hope for days of common good.”

If the Kotzker Rebbe had known his words would become a WhatsApp message full of good intentions between two Knesset Members, one Haredi and one secular, in a free and democratic Israel, then I think he would have been pleased. I believe he would have said to us, “It cannot be that you do not see how close you are.” We have an argument between us over politics and values, but we are not enemies. We live here together. Our fate is intertwined.

After all the insults and the warnings, the real divide in Israeli society isn’t between left and right. The real divide is between moderates and extremists. Those who want to build and those who want to destroy.

We will not let the extremists destroy the State of Israel. We will not let hate control us. Violent racists do not become patriots just because they wrap themselves in a flag. They will not define for us what it means to love Israel.

We are not enemies. Even the most strident opinions, even the most heated arguments, will not turn us into enemies. We will not let extremists destroy our ability to speak to one another and to work together for the good of the country.

Melanie Klein, one of the great psychoanalysts, explained that, corresponding to the desire to destroy, people also have a desire to repair. We have within us something strong that seeks to heal the world and ourselves. This government was formed out of that desire.
 
We have a lot to fix.

We have to fix the discourse between us and we have to fix the sidewalks in Taybeh. We have to fix the internal medicine departments in our hospitals and the internal divides on religion and state. We have to fix our democracy and our relations with the Democratic Party in the United States. We have to fix the social gaps, and ensure that every child in Israel has a computer, and high-speed internet, and an equal opportunity to succeed.

It’s a lot of work. We have a lot of work to do. The only way to succeed is to work together. The cynics will mock — they always do — but cynics have never created anything.

If you want to build something, to create something, you need to trust other people. No home — a private one or a national one — was ever built by one person alone. The architect needs the engineer, the engineer needs the builder, the builder needs the brickmaker. This government was formed because we believe that our role is to build something better together. We believe that what connects us — what makes us one people and one nation and one country — is taking responsibility.

We are not only creating a government today, but also going back to the basic truth that our role is not only to look after ourselves, but also to look after one another. To care not only for people who think like us, but for all those who walk the Israeli journey with us.

This government was not formed for politicians. It was formed for teachers and engineers, farmers and police officers, small business owners, and Holocaust survivors, and school children.

It is being formed for Meital, the young woman with a nose piercing who stopped me in the street and said, “I didn’t vote for you, but you owe me.” And she’s right. I do owe her. Because she is the legal owner of the future we are being entrusted to build.

People ask us, what do you have in common? What is there in common between Merav Michaeli and Avigdor Liberman? What is there in common between Ayelet Shaked and Benny Gantz and Mansour Abbas? Between Gideon Sa’ar and Nitzan Horowitz? What is there in common between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett?

The answer is — this country. That is the thing that unites us. That’s our shared love. None of us thinks that we love the country more than the other. None of us has ownership over patriotism or love of the country.

What we have in common is the understanding that you cannot claim to love Israel if you hate half of the Israelis.

There is nothing easier than finding common ground between us, if you know where to look. The care for small businesses in the periphery. The importance we place on the education of our children and the healthcare of our parents. The understanding that the IDF needs to be strong and uphold clear moral values. The recognition that this country is governed by the rule of law and that we need to show zero tolerance to corruption, especially in the public sector. The understanding that it is the duty of the Jewish state to ensure civic equality for every citizen.

There is one more thing that we have in common; when something is broken we don’t look for someone to blame, but for a way to fix it. This government has come to fix what is broken. That is its role, its mission. That is the major change it brings with it.

Before I finish, I want to thank my incredible team that created and built this government: Hillel Kobrinsky, our commander, Dani Vesely, Dana Pitelis Kaduri, Naama Shultz, Gili Haushner, Yael Bar, Roei Konkol, Yair Zivan, Neta Attias, Tami Nassee, Ethel Hooven, Meir Cohen, Rami Yehudicha, Mark Mellman, Oded Gazit, and Guy Busy. Without you, it wouldn’t have happened.

Thank you to all the heads of the parties in the new coalition who came on board and worked and pushed, first and foremost my friend and partner, Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett. I believe in you. You will do great things for Israel.

Thank you to each of the Knesset members who brought us here today. Each of you had to show commitment and compromise. You put the country and your values before your personal interest.

I thank all the amazing people who went to stand on bridges and at junctions, they are the ones who brought us to this moment. And thank you to our Knesset members for your determination and wisdom and support.

And a final thank you to my support group, Lihi Lapid, Shulamit Lapid, my sister Merav Roth, Ilil, Yoav, Lior, and Yaeli, and to my father, who did a good job supervising from above.

Thank you.
 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Other Natural History Drama

Today I watched some wild animals tearing into their desired prey, and I also watched some lions tearing into a herd of buffalo. The former was much more distressing, even by Knesset standards. The incoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett, could barely get a sentence out. There's a lot that can be said about the behavior and speeches at the Knesset today, but what stood out for me most were several instances of the most rank hypocrisy.

First was Bibi declaring that Bennett and Lapid are "like Iran" (!!!) for wanting to create the "anti-democratic" concept of term limits for a prime minister - which is exactly what Bibi himself proposed many years ago. Aside from the hypocrisy, the fact that he compared Bennett/Lapid to Iran is an utter disgrace. And this is especially appalling at a time when there are efforts to condemn Ilhan Omar for comparing the US and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas.

Second was Bibi slamming Bennett as being treacherous to right-wing values for relying on political support from Israeli Arabs. This is just absurd; Bibi himself has spent weeks (including this past week) making offers to the Arabs in exchange for their not supporting Lapid/Bennett.

Third was Bibi condemning Bennett for betraying his (secondary) campaign promises - when Bibi was extremely happy last year for Ganz to betray his central campaign promise and prop up his coalition. Apparently, when Bennett seems to break his promises, it's unacceptable, but when Ganz breaks his main promise, it's "what a great guy, he changed his mind based on seeing the light!"

Fourth was Deri shouting about the loss of Kavod HaTorah. Are you kidding me?! This from a religious man who spent three years in prison for bribery? Besides, the charedi parties have caused the greatest disgraces to Torah. Under the leadership of Rav Elyashiv, they ensured that the post of Chief Rabbi would go to a man who was known to be under a cloud of allegations for fraud and sexual improprieties, and to who nobody's surprise ended up in prison. And it's only a few weeks ago that 45 people died in Meron as a result of charedi separatism, with Deri himself proudly declaring that he was able to prevent limits on the number of people going to Meron that were going to be imposed by people who "do not understand the protective merits of Rabbi Shimon."

Fifth was Litzman, in a post-Knesset interview, slamming Bennett as going against the notion of democracy, and in virtually the same breath, proudly justifying his heckling and declaring that if he would have had his way, Bennett would not have been allowed to speak at all. Because it's really democratic to want to stop your political opponents from being able to speak.

Finally, it's just astonishing to see so many people blaming Bennett for there not being a right-wing government, when the fact is that there simply weren't enough numbers for a right-wing coalition, and the single reason for that is Bibi himself. Everyone knows that if Bibi, having seen that he was incapable of forming a coalition, would have stepped down in favor of someone like Nir Barkat or Yuli Edelstein, Likud would be leading a coalition. I can understand that some people are very upset about the current coalition - but the person to blame is the person who spent years trying to destroy anyone who presented a challenge to his power.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The King's Speech

For many years, I was a greatly enthusiastic fan of Bibi Netanyahu, known to his adoring fans as "King Bibi". His book, A Place Among The Nations, made a profound impact on me. As prime minister, he clearly accomplished great things for Israel, especially the international highlighting of Iran as a serious threat and the steps taken to combat it.

My opinion of Bibi changed dramatically in April 2018, as a result of a certain incident on Independence Day. It wasn't an enormous incident, on the scale of things. But it was immensely revealing.

Independence Day in Israel is marked by a ceremony with the lighting of torches at Mount Herzl. In order to make this an event for the entire nation, it is traditionally kept free of politics. The Speaker of the Knesset presides over the event, and even the president does not speak, and of course not the prime minister.

But in 2018, the Minister of Culture overseeing the event was Miri Regev, a Bibi groupie. And she was determined that King Bibi would speak. The Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, was furious at the politicization of the event, and threatened to boycott it. 

Eventually, a compromise was reached. Netanyahu would be allowed to light a torch, and would deliver a short speech of no more than five minutes in length (compared to the Speaker's eight minutes). And the speech would be limited in scope to discussing the Declaration of Independence rather than any political campaigning. A formal signed commitment from the Office of the Prime Minister was made to this effect.

The day came. The Speaker of the Knesset spoke for eight minutes. And then King Bibi arrived, with an honor guard arranged by Regev. And instead of speaking about the Declaration of Independence, he spoke about the state of the country under his leadership. And instead of speaking for five minutes, he spoke for fourteen minutes.

It was utterly revolting. It's not just that Bibi acted with a complete lack of integrity. It's that he did it so blatantly - that even a signed commitment meant absolutely nothing at all. And it wasn't for any reason other than self-aggrandizement. The country's traditions, the importance of national unity on Independence Day, the commitment to the Speaker, all meant nothing; the only thing that mattered to Bibi was Bibi.

Since then, it became increasingly clear that this was his standard modus operandi, with potentially serious implications for national security. When defense minister Moshe Yaalon asked President Rivlin to ask Chancellor Merkel why Germany had sold submarines to Egypt, Rivlin was astonished to be told by Merkel that Bibi had approved it - and realized that he done so without consulting anyone on such a grave matter. Bibi originally denied having secretly approved the sale; he subsequently admitted to it, but claimed that he had obtained approval from the Attorney General - which the Attorney General immediately flatly denied

Another example was brought to light yesterday. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy stated that Bibi had "harmed the spy agency’s ability to operate under cover due to his desire to publicly take credit for operations for his own political gain." He added that he hopes that "the expected new prime minister and government would return to keeping the Mossad in the shadows to help maximize its effectiveness and not use it for self-aggrandizement."

As a wise man once proposed, it's good to have term limits for a prime minister. Bibi achieved many great things, but eventually he proved the maxim that power corrupts. It is a tragic end to his illustrious career. Let's hope that future prime ministers will learn from his mistakes and remember to place the national interest ahead of their personal interests.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Vizhnitz for Yaffed and Lapid!

Yaffed is an American organization which seeks to address the problem of charedi yeshivos failing to teach secular education to their students and leaving them woefully unprepared to be able to support their families. In Israel, such campaigns are fought by politicians such as Yair Lapid. Despite the fact that this is in line with Chazal's dictum that a person is obligated to teach his son how to make a living, the official representatives of the charedi community are staunchly opposed to such efforts. In public statements, they argue that yeshivos give a much better education than is popularly claimed.

But now, something incredible has happened. A strong message in support of the message of Yaffed and Lapid has emerged from none other than the Vizhnitz community! 

As discussed in the previous post, one of the Vizhnitz sects has been rallying around Chaim Stern, a pillar of their community who was convicted of all kinds of fraud. Despite his criminal conviction, his rebbe and his community maintain that he is a tzaddik. As for the crimes for which Stern was convicted, they explain that he was a victim of circumstance - the circumstance of a woefully inadequate secular education. A memorandum submitted to the court detailed this as follows:

"Mr. Stern was not a good businessman. He had no business experience, no secular education, limited ability to read, write (in English), or do math... and he has no business schooling or training. As a result of these limitations, Mr. Stern has no appreciation for the niceties of bookkeeping or proper business management... Even though Mr. Stern had barely any secular education, having only attended a religious school up through approximately 8th grade, had never run even a small business himself and certainly did not have any experience running a complex and highly-regulated company like a nursing home, nonetheless, with “the blessing of the Rebbe,” Mr. Stern decided to enter the nursing home industry. This naïve optimism in his ability to carry the day through nothing but hard work would lead to financial disaster and, eventually, to the crimes to which Mr. Stern has pleaded guilty..."

There you have it. Running a business requires various skills and education, which are not taught in yeshivos. Failing to possess such skills and education can lead to financial disaster, crime, and imprisonment. As Chazal said: "Whoever does not teach his son a trade, has taught him robbery."

Yaffed and Lapid should plaster the Vizhnitz statement on billboards. It makes their case perfectly.

 

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Who Glorifies Evil?

From the United States Department of Justice:

CHAIM STERN, 72, of Flushing, New York, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven to 30 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release... Between approximately 2011 and 2018, Stern stole approximately $4.1 million from the BHCC Pension Plan, over which he was the trustee, principally by diverting the money to a purported charity, called Em Kol Chai, which Stern controlled, as well as to himself and other entities.  Also, in approximately February 2015, Stern misapplied $305,608.06 from BHCC Health Plan by diverting the money from a stop-loss insurance plan that was intended to pay for an employee health claim, and instead used it for other purposes, including Em Kol Chai, the operation of the BHCC, and for Stern’s personal use. Stern also failed to pay millions of dollars in other health insurance claims that he was obliged to pay on behalf of his employees, resulting in many cases in debt collection action against employees by the health care providers.

From the Hartford Courant:

A handful of former Stern employees appeared in court through video conferencing and said the crime has ruined their lives.

Maria Alves said she recently retired after 43 years, and is broke. In addition, she said she owes $45,000 in unpaid medical bills because her health care insurance plan denied her claims for surgery. “When I retired - I just turned 66 today, I had no money,” Alves said.

Former employee Constance Morton said she is being sued by a health care provider after her daughter required surgery and the health care insurance claims were denied. “My credit is ruined because I have claims that have gone unpaid.,” Morton said. “I’m sorry but I don’t feel sorry for Mr. Stern because he didn’t feel sorry for us. He didn’t keep it open for us. He kept it open for himself.”

Other employees complained of similar suits and of being pursued by collection agents, even though they never stopped paying their employee contributions toward health care coverage. An unidentified former former employee complained of being denied access to the pension benefits for for the first six years of retirement. ”I worked for BHCC for 40 years” the employee said. “I applied for my pension on December 5, 2015. As of today I have not received anything.”

From Lawrence Dressler's blog:

Stern’s attorney projected videotapes of Stern’s many fans attesting to the charitable and selfless nature of Mr. Stern. Stern submitted 60 pages of character letters from friends, neighbors and family members. Stern’s daughter in law, Gitty Stern, wrote in her letter the following: “...If there would be some more Chaim Sterns on this Earth, this world would be a better place! Please extend him the mercy and compassion he has shown others in his entire life, everyone can benefit from his goodness!” 

Rabbi Isaac Oelbaum of the K’Hal Nachlas Yitzchok shul of Kew Gardens Hills wrote a letter attesting to Stern’s good deeds... Rabbi Keeva Grunblatt, the Dean of the Rabbinical Seminary of America submitted a letter of support. Attorney Moshe Schwerd... wrote the following: “In over 30 years of practice, I have never been moved to pen a letter such as this… though I would not characterize Mr. Stern as a friend, I know him and, more importantly, I know of his vast and selfless contributions to a myriad of philanthropic causes.” 

From Matzav.com, back in September 2013:

In the Vizhnitzer Bais Medrash in Bnei Brak, Maftir Yonah was sold for $28,000 to R’ Chaim Stern of Queens, NY.

From B'Chadrei Charedim, April 20, 2021:

A year ago, when court proceedings began, the Chassidus arranged a widespread Pidyon Shevuyim campaign, to raise funds for first-rate lawyers. Recently, as the date of the verdict approached, many days of prayer were arranged at the Western Wall, at Kever Rachel... and at yeshivos and Talmudei Torah.

From B'Chadrei Charedim, March 29, 2021:

A rare and unique assembly took place on Tuesday this week, in the Hall of Vizhnitz Chassidus in Bnei Brak. The Rebbe sought to glorify and support the greatest supporter of their institutions, R. Chaim Stein, who would be entering prison the next day for tax fraud. The Rebbe surprised everyone with words that an Admor has never stated about a Chassid... "Tomorrow, our precious Chaim ben Sara Rivka does not go to prison for something that he did for himself. He goes for something about which I can attest was all for the place that we are in right now - it is all in his merit... My holy father is standing in Heaven and wants to show an example, for the sake of the education of future generations, of what mesirus nefesh for a Rebbe and Chassidus looks like! ...If people ask me, which sect of Vizhnitz do I belong to, I will say: I am the Rebbe of R. Chaim Stern!" 
 
From a comment by a friend of mine:
 
It seems like the rest of the world doesn't exist from their perspective. Stealing from non-Jews or even non-Charedim is almost a victimless crime, in their eyes.

Friday, June 4, 2021

A Stolen Election?

It's fascinating. The people who believe that Bennett has no right to be prime minister (since Likud has the most seats) are the exact same people who believe that Trump had every right to be declared winner of the 2016 election even though he had three million fewer votes than Hillary.

When I posted this insight on Facebook this morning, a lot of people protested the comparison. I'd like to address the arguments:

1. "The US has an electoral college! The popular vote is irrelevant!"

Yes. And Israel has a system in which whoever manages to put together a coalition of 61 MKs becomes prime minister. The popular vote is likewise irrelevant.

2. "Okay, so it's legal. But it's not right for someone to be prime minister with only a handful of supporters!"

When you are measuring the support for Bennett as prime minister, what do you take as the alternative? If you were to take a poll as to how many people in the country would prefer Bennett becoming prime minister to further rounds of elections, you would probably find that a very lot of people - likely even the majority - are happy with what Bennett did.

3. "But Bennett has no moral right to betray his voters!"

Bennett, like all politicians, made many promises. It became impossible to fulfill all of them, since circumstances made some of them mutually exclusive. Bennett promised not to sit in a government with Lapid as prime minister or to become prime minister with a small party or to rely on the support of Arabs. But he also emphatically promised that he would do everything possible to prevent yet another round of elections (which are an absolute disaster for the country, and which would not result in a right-wing majority), and he also said on many occasions that he's willing to sit with anyone. Voters who listened carefully realized that the latter promises were more important than the former ones. Yes, he broke some promises, but had he not taken this path, he would have been breaking bigger promises. As someone who voted for Bennett and paid careful attention to what he said, I would have felt betrayed had he not taken this path. Many other Yamina voters feel the same way.

4. "But I voted for Bennett and I feel betrayed!"

I'm sorry for you. But you have to accept that things don't happen the way that you ideally prefer. There was never going to be a scenario with Bibi as prime minister of a right-wing coalition. That was tried and failed, again and again. It was this, or endless elections. Bennett made the best decision that he could, under the circumstances.

Did you know that the IDF is unprepared for a conflict with Iran, because the air force is obsolete (the majority of the IAF’s aircraft are between 30 to 50 years old), and it's been impossible to implement the critical multi-year upgrade plan because there has not been a government to pass a budget? The electoral impasse was a grave threat to national security. Bennett is saving us from that.

5. "The system is so messed up!"

Yes, it is. But Bennett's actions are fixing the biggest mess, which is that the system can get stuck in endless rounds of elections, with no budget being passed, and the country being paralyzed. (Of course, it could all have been avoided had Bibi stepped down as leader of the Likud. But Bibi would never sacrifice his political career for the country's welfare.)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

An Underappreciated Wonder

Many people are expressing amazement at the extraordinary unity coalition that was just formed in Israel. It's truly an astonishing testimony to how people can work together when they are determined to do so. Of course, there is the benefit of ousting Bibi (who has accomplished amazing things for Israel, but was ruining the country by putting his political survival above the country's wellbeing). But that does not undermine the accomplishment of creating such a broad coalition.

At the same time, many people who voted for Bennett are absolutely furious with him and feel betrayed. As someone who voted for Bennett myself, I am aligned with many others who believe that he did exactly the right thing, which is to deal with the circumstances at hand in the best way. I would like to point out a few underappreciated ways in which his decision was correct.

First is that the Bennett-haters, even from their right-wing perspective, are making the same mistake that many of those who oppose the '67 conquest of Judea and Samaria make. With any given course of action, you can't pass absolute judgment on it; you have to evaluate it in light of the alternatives. Controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians might indeed be awful, but if the alternative is a terror state firing missiles at Tel Aviv, then it's preferable. Likewise, you might not want Bennett making any compromises with Lapid or Mansour Abbas, but the alternative is not a right-wing government; it's either endless elections (which is absolutely terrible for the country) or a government in which Lapid doesn't even need Bennett.

The second point to take into account is that last night, a terrible blow was struck to Hamas. Dr. Joshua Berman expresses this well:

The formation of the new government in Israel is a massive blow to Hamas and denies it two of its major achievements from the last round of fighting.

1. Hamas fired its first rockets the day before this very coalition was set to ink an agreement on May 11. When negotiations for this coalition were discontinued, Hamas scored a huge victory: it demonstrated that it had the power to make or break coalitions in Israel.

2. Hamas basked in its capacity to bring about unprecedented mutiny by Israeli Arabs and the threat of out and out civil war. Imagine how emboldened Hamas would have been to let loose its rockets again had those signature achievements remained. 

Instead, the formation of the new government--including for the first time the participation of an Arab party in spite of the pummeling of Gaza--demonstrates that Hamas is not the kingmaker in Israeli politics, and that the will of the Arab community to work towards coexistence is actually far stronger than many imagined.

Finally, here's something else to appreciate: the new coalition government in Israel will have one of the largest number of Zionist MKs of any government in the last few decades. 

This is, of course, because the non-Zionist charedi parties are not part of it. And this provides a unique opportunity to make necessary changes to help the charedi community, which has been greatly harmed by its elected representatives indulging their short-term needs at the cost of their long-term wellbeing. Radical change is needed to prevent the charedi community causing immense harm to itself and the country as a whole, and this government might possibly be able to make this happen.

Shaken By The Lulav

There are many aspects of Judaism which make people feel uncomfortable. The mitzvah of arba minim sometimes falls into that category. Shak...