First matters first. And so I begin with news of a major terror attack that took place in Be’ersheva, in the Negev, yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. It is the worst attack that Israel has endured in some time. Four people, two women and two men, are dead. Two women were wounded; their condition has been downgraded from serious to moderate.
The attack was carried out both by ramming and stabbing. Reports vary in some details, but the progression of events roughly follows this sequence:
The terrorist rammed a man on a bike and then exited his vehicle to begin a stabbing spree. At a nearby gas station he stabbed a female employee, as well as a passer-by. He returned to his car and drove to a local commercial center, BIG, left his vehicle and stabbed three more people. An Egged bus driver at the scene attempted, without success, to talk him into relinquishing his weapon. When the terrorist refused, and lunged at him, the driver and an armed civilian on the scene both shot, killing him.
First responders from both United Hatzalah and MDA were on the scene. Wounded, found in three different locations, were treated on the scene before being transported to the hospital.
One of the victims of this multi-pronged terror attack was the individual on the bicycle, Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, the father of four. He was a Chabad emissary who ran a synagogue in the Nahal Beka neighborhood of Be’ersheva, as well as the neighborhood’s Colel Chabad soup kitchen.
A Chabad representative described Kravitzky as “someone who was all about charity and selfless care.”
The other victims succumbed to the stabbings. Two are mothers, each with three children: Doris Yakhbas, 49, and Laura Yitzhak, age 43. The fourth is Menachem Yehezkel, 67, a brother to four.
The terrorist was a Bedouin, an Israeli citizen, from the Bedouin town of Hura, a hotbed of ISIS sympathizers not far from Be’ersheva. In 2016, the terrorist had been sentenced to four years in prison for using his position as an educator to promote ISIS among students and teachers; he had apparently been planning to go to Syria to join ISIS. He was released from prison about 18 months ago.
It is worth noting that the terrorist’s sentencing for ISIS involvement was lenient because, declared the judge, “the defendant took full responsibility for his actions, admitted to the indictment, expressed remorse for his actions, and said he knew he was wrong and would not do it again.” (Emphasis added)
Prosecutors, on the other hand, had referred to him as a “ticking bomb.”
There is a lesson here, if we are wise enough to learn it. The naiveté of the judge: trusting an ISIS agent.
Michael Barak, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, has noted that now the terrorist appears to have acted in accordance with instructions found in ISIS attack manuals. “In its manuals, ISIS calls for ‘lone-wolf’ attackers to use vehicles for ramming attacks, and when these can’t drive any further, to stop and use sharp knives for stabbings…’this creates maximum carnage.’”
Condemnation of the attack was fairly universal (except of course with regard to terror groups such as Hamas, which praised it). But I want to mention a statement coming from the Hadash party headed by Ayman Odeh, which is a faction of the Joint List in the Opposition. It was MK Aida Touma-Suleiman of Hadash who said:
“The way of violence is not the way of the Arab public in general and the Negev in particular, and is not part of the just struggle of the Negev Arabs against the dispossession and oppression…”
I choke on this. The Negev Bedouin are exceedingly violent. It is a real problem that has not been sufficiently addressed by our government. Often, law has not been enforced and the situation is about to get worse. See this by Regavim:
“By removing the enforcement chapter from the new Five Year Plan for the Bedouin Sector, the government has turned its back on the Negev and bartered away the south of Israel to the Islamic Movement.”
And then to speak of Negev Bedouin “dispossession and oppression” when these Arabs have the protection of Mansour Abbas (Ra’am) in the government, who has secured considerable perks for them, including passage of a law that allows illegal Arab homes in the Negev to be hooked up to the electric grid – thereby rendering them de facto legal.
I have mentioned this in the past, and will undoubtedly return to it in the future: Some solid percentage of Negev Bedouin men practice serial polygamy. In seeking wives, they often import women from Gaza, who are hostile to Israel and raise their children with their perspective. Over time, the attitudes of the Bedouin have been radicalizing.
This was the third terrorist stabbing attack this week. We are moving into a period of increased terrorism. Security is being bolstered in all parts of the country.
All of the adjectives I employed in my title, above, apply in one respect or another to the current situation in Ukraine, and, in particular to Ukrainian interactions with Jews and Israel.
I noted when I began writing about this subject that it was particularly complex and convoluted, and it remains so.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky had been imploring Israeli officials for an opportunity to address the Knesset. In spite of the current Knesset recess, arrangements were made for him to do this electronically on Sunday. What was originally billed as a closed event just for members of the Knesset and ministers evolved into a widely broadcast public affair.
This was Zelensky’s opportunity to implore Israeli officials to provide more assistance, and he blew it badly. What he did was to draw a parallel between the Shoah (Holocaust) and the current suffering of the Ukrainian people. Big mistake, and a major historical inaccuracy – a spurious parallel. Even though many civilians are dying in this war, Putin is not trying to kill every Ukrainian, as Hitler set out to eliminate all Jews.
Then he made it worse, saying: “Ukrainians have made their choice. Eighty years ago, they rescued Jews. That is why the Righteous Among the Nations are among us. People of Israel, now you have such a choice.”
The words jarred badly. Yes, there were Righteous Gentiles among the Ukrainians, but far more of them were zealous in helping the Nazis. His use of this false history to push Israel to do more was offensive.
After he finished his address, I found that many Israelis, including some MKs and ministers, were deeply angry. My own reaction was a bit different. I felt the offense, I was put off. But I also felt enormous sadness for Zelensky, and for the situation. And I wanted to cut him some slack. Not to say it was OK, his false position, but that I understood his pain and desperation. It was palpable.
As Ruthie Blum wrote: “According to a Talmudic interpretation of the book of Job, ‘a person is not held responsible for what he says when he is in distress.’”
The stress Zelensky is living with, moment to moment, has to be unreal. He is watching the suffering of his people, and their incredible bravery, and he is modeling strength for them.
I have a close friend who was head of the Washington DC branch of the Soviet Jewry movement. She had travelled to Russia, worked with the Refuseniks. Early on in the war, as I spoke about the inhumanity of the Russian attacks, her response was, “They were always like that. They are savages.” Then she paused and said, “Worse than savages.” I think of this as I track the war: Bombing a maternity hospital, and then a cancer hospital; shooting at civilian corridors. This savagery is one source of Zelensky’s desperation. In reflecting it, he distorted history, but the desperation is real.
I find it interesting that President Andrzej Duda of Poland has now made the Holocaust analogy:
“My countrymen, Poles, are looking today at Mariupol and are saying, ‘God’ — they say it with tears in their eyes — ‘Mariupol looks like Warsaw did in 1944 when Nazis, Hitler’s Germans, were brutally bombing houses, killing people, killing civilians with no mercy at all.’”
And so the question remains as to whether Israel is doing the maximum that we can do for Ukraine. Obviously, Zelensky didn’t think so, but what matters is what we think. There are a number of aspects to this question. I had hoped to examine them in some detail, but the terror attack had first priority, and so I will be more succinct.
The first and most important principle to which we must adhere as we consider what we might owe Ukraine – if anything – is that Israel’s first obligation is to the Jewish people. If we don’t watch out for ourselves, we can rest assured no one else will.
There were, broadly, three things he sought.
One was weaponry, and he mentioned the Iron Dome specifically. For a number of reasons, we will not be providing Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine. We have a limited number of batteries, and would leave ourselves deeply vulnerable, should Hamas decide to attack while our defensive equipment was on loan.
To the best of my knowledge, we have provided humanitarian material generously, but not any military equipment. If we were to provide defensive equipment – vests, helmets, etc., would this cause Putin to be sufficiently angered so that he would terminate his deconfliction agreement with us? While it seems quite unlikely, it is not possible for me to say.
What I do know is that, with the strong possibility that sanctions will be lifted on Iran, it becomes even more important that we remain able to hit Iran in Syria. Our leadership has clearly decided to act with caution in this regard.
Zelensky expressed the belief, as well, that we should be applying sanctions against Russia. For the very same reason that we will not supply military equipment, we will not be doing this either.
And then, Zelensky sought a statement of overt condemnation of Russia from Bennett.
I think that would be appropriate. While Bennett has been reticent, Lapid has done so, and there have been no repercussions.
Bennett’s position is that he is available to assist as a mediator – has at some level been filling that role – and thus must provide an appearance of impartiality. But Zelensky’s retort was, “Indifference kills…You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil.”
This resonated with me. I suspect this may be at the heart of Zelensky’s disappointment. He didn’t feel that we are truly with Ukraine. When Lapid spoke out, he said it was the moral thing to do. I would like to see Bennett do the same at this point.
But, wait, prior to this presentation hadn’t Zelensky indicated that he appreciates Bennett’s potential role as mediator? Didn’t he speak of the possibility of meeting in Jerusalem? He cannot have it both ways. I believe that there is a solid possibility that in his Zoom presentation he expressed his true feelings on the matter.
What I ponder is whether there is any real substance to Bennett’s role as a mediator. Since I am not privy to Bennett’s phone calls, I cannot say.
I ponder Bennett’s motivation, as well. Is he attempting to “out-Bibi Bibi”? That is, Bibi, who is masterful on the international stage.
By Monday, having been apprised by aides of the Israeli response to his talk, Zelensky softened his approach in his pronouncements of the day. He said he understood the difficulties of Israel’s position, and appreciates what Israel can do.
Again, there was allusion to mediation. Some talk of Bennett going into Ukraine should it come time for mediation surfaced in the news. Yet it remains unclear to me if this is something Zelensky seeks, or that Bennett is offering. My sense is that it is the latter, but we shall see.
Last night Zelensky indicated that peace talks with Russia were tough and sometimes confrontational, but “step by step we are moving forward.” No indication that Bennett has anything to do with this.
In the end, it seems unlikely that Zelensky’s address to the Knesset and ministers will affect any change in our policy.
Our field hospital in Mostyska, outside Lviv in western Ukraine, began operations yesterday and immediately received the first patients. In addition to 10 tents, the hospital will be utilizing rooms inside the school next to which it is located. The Israeli mission’s 100 staff members – 80 of whom are doctors and nurses – will sleep on-site in that school.
Said Yoav Bistritsky, the charge d’affaires of Israel’s embassy to Ukraine: “This team will bring to Ukraine the best knowledge, the most innovative opportunities that this country has ever seen. We promise to keep supporting Ukraine in the coming future too, and we hope to see peace in this land.” (Emphasis added)
Cutting-edge equipment has been brought in.
In my last posting, I wrote about the despicable Thomas Nides, and the partisan position he was expressing. I return to this subject here because I want to further emphasize the impropriety of an envoy of another country attempting to modify our behavior or tell us what to do. He spoke of trying to prevent us from doing “stupid” things.
See Jonathan Tobin, editor of JNS, on this:
But the problem is more pervasive than just Thomas Nides. We see again and again that foreign officials (most specifically from the US and EU) think they have the right to intervene in our internal affairs, as they would not think of doing elsewhere. Consider:
“Fifty Democratic US Congress members wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the weekend to ask Washington to intervene on behalf of hundreds of Palestinians threatened with having their homes demolished…”
It’s Blinken’s business?
What disturbs me most with regard to all of this is the attitude of some members of our own government, who seem to look over their shoulders before acting. We cannot expect to be treated like a sovereign nation unless we truly believe we are a sovereign nation with the right to make our own decisions. I believe this hesitancy is responsible for a failure to act domestically in many situations in which we should act. And even after all these years, I see it as lingering galut mentality.
I close with a small correction from my last posting:
There was a truncated sentence that read: “As Mark Dubowitz, (CEO) and Jonathan Schanzer (Senior VP, pictured below) of the…” The end of that sentence had dropped off. Dubowitz and Schanzer are with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.