I wrote in my last posting about the passing of First Lady Nechama Rivlin, z”l. But I return to this subject briefly now because the mourning of her loss has been so real, so unusual, that it has been a balm to the sore soul of our nation.
I didn’t know her personally, but I was deeply touched, and I saw how many, many others were, as well. She was a person not only of great compassion and gentleness, but also of enormous integrity: something to be greatly valued, especially today.
Part and parcel of this was the integrity of the relationship she had with her husband Rubi, (Reuven) Rivlin. There was the authenticity: it shined through in the photos that made the media: the two of them holding hands, the gentleness with which he looked upon her.
Her funeral was held on Wednesday, which would have been her birthday; it took place in a special section of Har Herzl cemetery reserved for Israel’s notables. Prior to this, her coffin had been brought to the Jerusalem Theater lobby, to allow the public time to pay their respects. At the graveside, the president noted that a few weeks ago she had expressed a desire to come home. “Tonight, on this hilltop, you are home,” he said, noting the plants, which she had loved.
“I was blessed to be the husband of the wife of the president of Israel. I will continue to seek you day and night.”
I suppose we would have to say we had a moment of “authenticity,” as well, in recent remarks made by MK Bezalel Smotrich, of the Jewish Home Party – Bayit Yehudi. He was explaining his desire to become minister of justice because of his hope that Torah Law might be returned to Israel, and that Israel might have judges as of old, as in the time of King David.
Smotrich is very authentic: he says what he believes. But this sort of authenticity is not always uplifting or helpful. His subsequent attempt to explain – that he didn’t mean to do this all at once or via coercion – did not help. It was too late.
When I learned what he had said, I knew immediately and with certainty that, although he has a brilliant legal mind, he had no chance of becoming justice minister. We are now going to new elections ostensibly because of Lieberman’s quarrel with the control that the ultra-Orthodox have in the country. The entire issue of religious influence on how we are governed is exceedingly hot. And Smotrich hit the wrong note, big time.
The irony is that he has valid points. Not that we should be governed exclusively by Torah law, but that within Torah law there is a wisdom, a moral compass, that it would benefit us to draw upon.
“Yes, I believe that the Torah and the wonderful, 2,000-year old heritage of the Jewish people have a lot to give in our days as well,” he subsequently wrote. “So let’s stop being afraid of our roots. First and foremost, uproot the ignorance… and implement as much as is possible from all that is good…”
I would agree with this, and only wish he had thought first and said it differently – or, better, refrained from saying it right now because of the tenor of the times. There is wisdom in knowing what people are ready to hear.
After Smotrich made his comment, Prime Minister Netanyahu almost immediately tweeted that Israel would not be a halachic state (one governed by Jewish law).
There was a need to appoint a new justice minister – as well as a new education minister — because this past Sunday, Netanyahu, in a surprise move, had fired Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
The reason given for the dual firing was that the two, running as the New Right party, had not passed the threshold and thus had no place in the Cabinet.
Perhaps. Maybe their failure in the last election undercut their authority. But the Cabinet as it is now operating in the interim until the next election is comprised of ministers from the previous election when they were both in Jewish Home and had passed the threshold.
Bennett has long been at odds with Netanyahu and frequently challenges him. Right now, the prime minister is particularly angry at both Bennett and Shaked for breaking off from the Jewish Home in the last election and running as the newly established New Right. They drew votes away from Likud, and their failure to pass the threshold contributed to the current crisis. Thus, many see the joint firing as having been motived by Netanyahu’s ire, and his desire to prevent them from operating as ministers during this campaign.
No sooner had the news of the firings been made public, then Rafi Peretz , chair of the Jewish Home Party, and Bezalel Smotrich called for the prime minister to appoint them as education minister and justice minister respectively. They maintained that these were positions that should be filled by members of Jewish Home, as Bennett and Shaked had been in that party when they were appointed.
Because of the limbo situation in which we are currently operating, any appointments to the Cabinet now are of an interim nature only. This means the appointments can be made by the prime minister without further ratification, and that the interim minister can fill the role in its basics but cannot take any innovative steps or make significant changes.
Until these positions are filled, the prime minister automatically serves as de facto minister. Filling the post of justice minister was the immediate priority, because legal authorities said it would be a conflict of interest for Netanyahu to fill this role when he has the possibility of an indictment hanging over him. As it is, it took him three days to decide on someone (once Yariv Levin made it clear he didn’t want the position on an interim basis).
On Wednesday, the prime minister appointed Amir Ohana of Likud as interim justice minister. Ohana is right wing, a lawyer who worked in criminal law for a decade, a former officer in the military police, and a former Shin Bet official. He is the first openly gay person to become a minister in Israel.
From what I’ve seen, I really like him.
There is less urgency with regard to appointing an interim education minister – it is “wait and see.”
As to Bennett and Shaked, there is much speculation; the two have been struggling with some hard decisions. There was talk that Shaked, who is more popular, might be enfolded again into Likud, where she served until 2012. But Netanyahu was not in favor of this. (Surprise!)
There were also rumors of on-going negotiations between Shaked and Bennett’s New Right and the Union of the Right, regarding formation of that larger coalition for elections. But they have said that for now they are going to function as the New Right and negotiate participation with the Union of the Right later.
Dear friends, do not be distressed if you find the above description of the situation just a tad confusing or overwhelming. You are joined in this response by many who live here.
Apart from the above, there is one particular concern I have about this interim period: Netanyahu will not want to hit Hamas hard because of concern that if we go to war it would impinge on the election. We had thought there would likely be war right after the last election. In fact, from what I am reading, that’s what Hamas thought as well. But here we are, and the situation is more than a little maddening.
I read commentators who say Hamas does not want war (although Islamic Jihad likely does). But if Hamas is tip-toeing in order to avoid provoking Israel, you’d have a hard time proving it by me. There were 7,000 people at the Gaza fence last Friday, some of whom rioted. As well, a large number of incendiary balloons have been launched, many of which have started fires.
More significantly, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have replenished their arsenal of rockets to the level they possessed before the 2014 war: That is 10,000 projectiles, mostly medium and short range.
“…the stockpile was replenished through a combination of smuggling supplies into Gaza and local production by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
Make no mistake about it: the clamor by Hamas to loosen restrictions on goods into Gaza has as its goal easing the ability to smuggle rocket supplies.
The assessment is that, while Hamas is weak, it still has the capacity to make difficulties for Israel. “Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told the Journal that Hamas was ‘playing with fire…’”
While Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar recently declared that:
“Iran provided us with rockets, and we surprised the world when our resistance targeted Beersheva.
“If not for Iran, the resistance in Palestine would not have possessed its current capabilities.”
And how is Israel responding? By making concessions for “humanitarian purposes.”
It was recently reported, for example, that we are now allowing steel wire into Gaza, wire that had not been permitted in for 12 years. Obviously, while the fishermen use this wire, if it had not been allowed in for 12 years, it is a dual-use item that was blocked for reasons of possible use by terrorists.
And the limit on the range for fishing by Gaza fishermen? It changes every day or two: Last week the range was tightened to 10 nautical miles because of the launching of incendiary balloons. This adjustment came just days after we had expanded the limit to 15 miles, after a cut in the range the week before.
I am not making this up, as ludicrous as it sounds. This reflects a very serious lack of deterrence policy.
As the IDF explains: This is “part of a policy that differentiates between terrorist activities and an uninvolved civilian population.” What I see is the influence of the Trump “peace team” which conceptualizes matters this way and is quite likely vigorously encouraging us to take certain positions.
We need a strong right wing government badly.
But all of this pales compared to what is going on to our north. In an upcoming posting, I want to move away from election issues (oh! do I want to) and focus on this more extensively. The most significant point I wish to make now is the difference I see between Netanyahu’s hesitancy to take strong action with regard to Hamas in Gaza and his very firm and determined response to activity by Iran in Syria and the Iranian puppet group Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this regard he is tough, and I trust him implicitly.
Last week the Syrians attempted to hit an IAF warplane patrolling the skies in northern Israel. Then on Saturday evening, “two rockets were fired in the direction of the Israeli Golan Heights with one of them reaching Mount Hermon where it exploded without causing damage or casualties.
“The Israeli air force (IAF) responded by launching airstrikes on positions of Hezbollah and the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the vicinity of Damascus, killing three Syrian soldiers and 7 members of Hezbollah and the Quds Force….
“Military experts think it’s entirely possible that IAF warplanes still enter Syrian airspace in order to act against the Iranian axis and that the fact that the Syrians never used their S-300 systems against the Israelis indicates the use of the sophisticated anti-aircraft shield requires Russian approval.
“The Russian ban on the use of the S-300 system against Israeli warplanes operating in Syria could be the result of understandings reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu…
“What is clear, however, is that Iran has no intention of stopping its entrenchment in Syria and is apparently testing Israel’s resolve.” (Emphasis added)
The resolve is very firm:
Israel has not acknowledged this officially, but late last Sunday night there was an attack on the Syrian T-4 air base near Palmyra – which Israel has hit in the past. According to a satellite imagery analysis done by ImageSat International, the attack appeared to be a pinpoint strike, targeting “one element or just a few elements” connected to Tehran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program in Syria, indicating that the components were of “particular importance.”
Last week the IDF announced the destruction of Hezbollah’s largest “flagship” cross border attack tunnel. It started in the southern Lebanese village of Ramiya and stretched one kilometer before it entering into northern Israel, for several dozen meters, close to the communities of Zarit and Shetula.
Dug at a depth of 80 meters, it had taken Hezbollah several years to construct. It was equipped with lighting equipment, ventilation and ladders, as well as railroads to transport equipment. Infrastructure that had been installed enabled the extended presence of terrorists inside. This tunnel, which was near completion, had been discovered last January. An investigation of several months was carried out along the route of the tunnel.
This is the last of the Hezbollah cross border tunnels, as they have all been destroyed now by explosives and flooding with liquid concrete. The IDF, however, is aware of tunnels that exist in Lebanese territory near the Israeli border.
I will not be posting again until after Shavuot, marking our receiving of the Torah, Saturday night and Sunday here, and Monday as well outside of Israel. Chag Sameach to all who are celebrating!