Sunday, November 17, 2019

The greatest threat to a democracy: a rogue police and Prosecutor's Office

(Last update: November 18, 2019)

Can a democracy survive if a nation's voting public no longer trusts the police and its legal arm, the nation's Prosecutor's Office? As you'll see in a moment, recent events in Israel suggest just such a question. 

This question has arisen because of a series of criminal investigations against Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (here). Rumor has it that an indictment now appears practically guaranteed (here), possibly as early as November 26, 2019. 

Netanyahu has been fighting to save his career. For some, the fact that Netanyahu fights against the criminal accusations against him doesn't prove that Israel has a vibrant democracy--you know, that Israel allows the man to claim he's innocent until proven guilty. Instead, those against Netanyahu take a different approach. They say that his fighting for his career threatens the integrity of Israel's democracy (here). 

These anti-Netanyahu 'experts' see their accusations against Netanyahu as pure proof of guilt, nothing less. Essentially, they ask, how can a democracy remain a democracy when those found to be criminally guilty (in the media) remain in power?

For others, Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty. That, they say, is his democratic right. The  counter-argument that  'we must defend our democracy by forcing the man to resign now' only suggests that it is they who stand against Netanyahu in this matter who threaten Israel's democracy. 

The police and its legal arm, the national Prosecutor's Office (the Attorney General's Office) contribute to the fog that has surrounded this 'good for democracy or bad' discussion. They've been working overtime to criminalize what some call normal interactions between politicians and publishers (here). If Netanyahu goes to trial, the police and the Prosecutor's Office will cast a chill on publisher-politician behavior--and give police effective control over the press (see here).

The argument here is that he who controls the freedom of speech (and press) more easily controls whether or not a nation retains its democracy.

Israel's voters don't know how to respond to such a discussion. They can barely understand Israel's election system, let alone a discussion about what threatens the democracy that underpins those elections. 

This is a complicated case with enormous consequences. It isn't just about Netanyahu. It's about how a democracy is supposed to work, something Israel's Prosecutor's Office might not understand (here). 

Voters have reacted in two ways to all of this. First, these criminal allegations against Netanyahu have meant that Israeli voters have become unable to decide who they want to see as a national leader. The key election question seems to have been, how can I vote for someone the media calls a criminal? 

The police-media drumbeat against Netanyahu has taken its toll. In  reality, voters have turned against Netanyahu. But barely--only enough to give his opponent a meager one-seat advantage in this last election. That's not a resounding rejection of the current leader (Netanyahu). But it's enough to paralyze Israel's election system.

In fact, in the two election-attempts we'd had during 2019, voters haven't chosen anything at all: neither Netanyahu nor anyone else in Israel has received enough votes to form a national coalition government. (Read here for a fairly even-handed look at how Israel's election system works, one that was prepared in April 2019 before the first of two elections in 2019; for an explanation of why that first election failed--and why now the second election is so close to failing (Benny Gantz has until November 20th to form a government; if he cannot, there could well be a third election)--read what I would call a highly-charged-but-possibly-accurate view of Israel's voting system, by Daniel Greenfield (here).

This question of Israel's democracy being threatened started because of what some see as police misbehavior during its investigations against Netanyahu. Police have been investigating Netanyahu for almost three years for crimes against the State (or, the 'people'). Netanyahu now faces serious criminal charges for bribery, corruption and what Israel calls, 'breach of trust' (here). 

These investigations appear, so far as many voters are concerned, to render Netanyahu a criminal (above). At least, that's how some in the media present this unfolding drama. While there is no law that says a Prime Minister indicted for crimes must step down until he's been cleared of all charges, many in Israel's media cry that Netanyahu is guilty-until-proven-innocent--and must therefore step down immediately. They claim he is 'clearly' unfit to hold National Office, something which, of course, has not yet been proven. 

Given the pressure the police and their media allies have put on the Prosecutor's Office through almost three years of damning leaks against Netanyahu, the Attorney General may be trapped. He may feel that this 'ongoing public trial' the police and media have engaged in against the PM needs to be cleared up. Facing three years' worth of damning anti-Netanyahu media reports, the Attorney General may feel the only way to end the anti-Netanyahu clamoring is with a trial.

The stakes for Netanyahu are high. If found guilty, he (Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister) could land in prison. 

The second part of Israel's voter response to these accusations has just shown up in a new poll. Here, just 22% of Israelis maintain a strong faith in Israel's police, and only 28% percent feel the same about Israel's Prosecutor's Office (here). 

This isn't good news for the police, the Prosecutor's Office--or for Israel. On average, some 75% of Israeli voters appear not to trust the police or the Prosecutor's Office. Please note that these numbers may not be just a one-off experience  for Israel. They're part of a disturbing trend. 

Back in early March, 2019, some 42 percent of respondents to another poll agreed that, when it came to the accusations against Netanyahu, the public perception was that the nation's Attorney General had caved in to Israel's political Left to hound, harass and seek the arrest of the Prime Minister (here). That's how much voters trusted the Prosecutor's Office (and the police doing the investigations) eight months ago. Now, public trust in these two institutions appears to have cratered, as the latest poll (above) suggests: only 22% of respondents trust the police?

This is dangerous. If a nation's voters come to believe the police are not honest, and if at the same time that public also believes the Prosecutor's Office, which prosecutes those whom the police want prosecuted, also is untrustworthy, then that democracy will be seriously threatened. 

That's how much power the police have. That's how powerful a nation's Prosecutor's Office is. These two institutions are supposed to protect a democracy's Rule of Law. If they 'go bad', they can destroy a democracy.

Have they now gone bad? 

Read Caroline Glick (here). Unelected officials in the Prosecutor's Office will very soon judge Netanyahu. They're going to decide if or how politician-publisher interactions should be criminalized. Apparently, at least some in that office may also have an 'anti-capitalism' (read, 'anti-Western-style democracy') bias as well (Glick, ibid). That's an existential threat to Israel's democracy because Israel has a Liberal, Western-style democracy (here) where the freedoms of speech and press are fundamental to Israel's political structure (ibid); a Netanyahu indictment could redefine what is 'freedom' for the press (see the Glick essay just cited). 

When the police and Prosecutor's Office criminalize politician-publisher interactions, how do you think publishers will start behaving? Will they risk jail by interacting with a politician? Will they risk bankruptcy to defend themselves against a long string of leaks against them?

Indicting Netanyahu means the Prosecutor's Office will not defend two of a Liberal Democracy's founding Principles (to protect freedoms of speech and the press). They will be criminalizing those Principles. 

That doesn't protect anybody's democracy. It hurts it. It undercuts it. Instead of protecting democracy in Israel by indicting Netanyahu, Israel's Prosecutors will be condemning it. That will elevate the power of the police--and that, in turn, will open the door to a state controlled by the police.

This is a real problem for Israel. The nation's democracy is being threatened by the very people supposed to protect it.

The Left in Israel, including much of the media, may finally get what it's wanted for more than a decade--to get rid of Netanyahu. Be careful what you wish for, Israel. You may get it. 

Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Israel under attack!

In the early-morning darkness of November 12, 2019, Israel's IDF (Israel Defense Force), along with Israel's Security Agency (Shin Bet), attacked a home in Gaza (here). Killed in that attack was a man named, Baha Abu Al Ata. This is a name you have probably never heard before.

Al Ata was no ordinary man. He was a Senior leader of the terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the  most aggressive anti-Israel organizations trying to destroy the Jewish state. They appear to be based in Gaza. He is considered to have been responsible for most of this organization's recent anti-Israel terror activities in Gaza. He led and personally participated in attacks against Israeli civilians (ibid). He is considered to have been responsible for  most of the terror attacks against Israel from from Gaza over the past year (ibid).

He was no saint. He lived to commit violence against Israel. He died an appropriately violent death.

Less than an hour after Al Ata died, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened revenge. "We will" it declared, "Shake the Zionist entity" (newsbrief, arutzsheva, 0543, November 12, 2019). 

This is exactly what Israel experiences this morning. At 0553 today, just ten minutes after that threat of 'revenge', air raid sirens in Southern Israel (near the Gaza-Israel border) began to sound. It is now 1050 in the morning here in Israel, November 12, 2019. In the slightly more than 4 hours since that threat, at least 100 rockets have been reported to have been fired into Israel, some 28 just between the two minutes, 1003-1005, alone. That adds up to one rocket every 4.5 seconds.

This barrage continued through 1008. The intensity remained the same, app one rocket every 4-5 seconds.

In Israel's South, near the Gaza border, at least 17 small communities have had air raid sirens sounded. Everyone runs for a shelter. At least two children are reported to have 'collapsed' trying to get into a shelter.

Right now, I'd say the two main target areas for these rockets have been, first, the southern coast of  Israel, including the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon. My guess also is that the second main target has been Tel Aviv.

It's hard to tell. Tel Aviv is my guess because these rockets from Gaza are not guided missiles. They aren't precise. Tel Aviv seems to me be a target area because so many rockets have landed in communities 4-6 miles south of Tel Aviv--or closer.

I have a son and daughter, both married, living in the Northern portion of Tel Aviv, inside city lines. At app 0800 this morning, my daughter 'whatsapped' us to say she had just heard three explosions. My son talked to me at about 1000 this morning. He lives not far from his sister. He reported that, so far, as of 1000, he'd heard 5 explosions. Three of them seemed farther away from his apartment in center-city, two closer. 

Israel is truly under siege. Schools in these areas above are closed. Businesses are closed. People are being told not to go out. My Tel Aviv son-in-law has been told not to go to work today, but to stay home and work from home. It's as close to a 'lock-down' as you can find.

Public transportation has been disrupted.  Train service has been disrupted in these areas. Emergency Medical Services are out in force treating people. So far, these injuries seem to be mostly shock and 'injury'. Public shelters have been opened. An emergency 'situation room' to monitor health services and damage report services have been opened.  

The IAF (Israel Air Force) has begun to bomb Gaza. No reports as yet--but in the past, most targets for the IAF in Gaza have been empty buildings and warehouses. Will we see more of the same?

Today, a Tuesday, is the day new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is to start his first day as Defense Minister. In the past, he has been a critic of 'soft' Israeli responses to these rocket attacks. Will his response to this new rocket assault be more severe?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Caroline Glick, Benjamin Netanyahu--and Israel's survival as a democracy -- with UPDATE

(Last update: October 25, 2019)

Most of Israel's media has been following three long-running criminal investigations (here) against Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Most of this media coverage appears to focus on 4 sets of details: (1) the individual cases against Netanyahu for bribery, corruption and 'breach of trust'; (2) how Natanyahu must be indicted in order to protect Israel's democracy (the media has apparently assumed Netanyahu to be guilty before indictment or trial); (3) how Netanyahu has an absolute obligation to step down from office before being indicted, even though the law doesn't require this; and (4), since Netanyahu has not yet stepped down, he most certainly should do so once he is indicted, even though the law doesn't require that, either.

Otherwise, most media news outlets claim, Israel's democracy will be threatened. Therefore, for our democracy's sake, Netanyahu should step down immediately--if not sooner.

Caroline Glick has just published an essay that raises serious questions not only about the three cases against Netanyahu, but also about "Israel's democracy" (here). If you want to see the 'case' against Netanyahu in an entirely new light--one not yet explored here in Israel--you 'd be wise to read her essay (see below).

Now, late October, 2019, the three criminal cases against Netanyahu have advanced to the stage where Israel's Attorney General (Avichai Mandelblit) is studying the results of a four-day pre-indictment hearing for Netanyahu that ended some two weeks ago. Mandelblit will decide sometime over the next seven weeks if Netanyahu should go to trial--or be exonerated (here).

Some in Israel claim that these three cases against Netanyahu, which have harassed Netanyahu for more than three years, are linked (here). Some argue that these charges are the reason Netanyahu didn't win the April, 2019 national elections. The weight of all the 'corruption' stories simply hung too heavily around his neck. These cases are also the reason, for some, that  Netanyahu couldn't win enough votes in the follow-up September 2019 elections to retain his hold on the PM office. 

Now, Caroline Glick has written a bombshell of an essay about Mandelblit's responsibility to Israel in this case. Her point of view is brand new to Israeli readers. 

Mandelblit has less than eight weeks to decide to indict Netanyahu--or cancel more than three years' worth of police investigations. Glick claims that what's at stake here for Mandelblit is nothing less than Israel's reputation as a Western democracy. She suggests that, if Mandelblit makes the wrong decision (which is to indict Netanyahu), Israel can lose its reputation as a 'Western democracy'. Her title is, "Netanyahu, the media and the fate of Israeli democracy". It's available here.

Her  thesis is simple. Because, she claims, these three cases involve three individuals seeking special treatment in exchange for what we can call some kind of positive news coverage for Netanyahu, Mandelblit has to be careful how he evaluates his facts. Why? Because, Glick argues, Western democracies have already seen such cases; and in each such instance--even when there is evidence of a quid pro quo--a democracy simply doesn't criminalize such news-media/politician discussions. Criminalizing such discussions would have a chilling effect on all journalist-politician relations,she argues; and these media/politician interactions represent a very special kind of relationship that's too precious to a democracy to chill through a criminalizing label.

Read her essay. It's startling. 

Her essay presents two interesting issues. The first issue is, are each of these three cases against Netanyahu really about gifting to Netanyahu positive news coverage in exchange for special treatment? In perhaps two of these cases, such an offer does appear indeed to be 'on the table'--if news reports are accurate. But the question is, did Netanyahu accept the offer? That's not entirely clear. Then, in a third case, the offer itself isn't clear.

In the end, none of this could matter because of a second issue--a remark cited by Glick: one of the prosecutors at the pre-indictment hearing is reported to have claimed that something about this 'danger' of criminalizing any journalist-politician relationship is, 'a capitalist position' (ibid). 

This single comment could be innocent--and therefore unimportant. But it could also be something else: an anti-capitalist, ideological, political bias. Does such a bias belong in a courtroom? Is such a political reference ever relevant in a courtroom?

In Israel, the one answer to such questions is, too often, yes. That is, such language is too often very relevant in Israel's courtrooms. Too often, such language is an ideological bias that prejudices Israel's most important courts--to the Left. 

Such an existing political bias--and such a biased political comment from a presumed-to-be-objective prosecutor--could suggest that these three cases aren't about criminal behavior at all. This bias suggests that these cases could actually be about how social justice warriors inside Israel's Attorney General's office now travel down the road to damning democracy: in the name of 'protecting democracy', perhaps they'll find Netanyahu guilty of a kind of corruption no other Western democracy dares to embrace. These 'warriors' can thereby 'chill' Israel's political climate so as to take 'democracy' out of Israel.

Such a biased political remark during a legal proceeding certainly suggests a social-justice bias--a bias that leans Left, to Socialism. It suggests a bias that rejects the freedom-of-speech sensibilities that Western democracies so cherish. 

Social justice Socialism never seems to look down the road to think about the unintended consequences of its actions. Just look at social justice warriors in the USA calling for police to be disarmed, without thinking about the consequence of such a demand. 

In America, it is this rise of social-justice Socialism that threatens to undercut the rule of law where, for example, it is a Socialistic 'anti-capitalist' bias that threatens to get a sitting President impeached through secret hearings. There have been just three impeachments in US history, and none--until now--has ever used closed-door hearings to plot out an impeachment case against a sitting President. 

More and more, social justice-Socialism law looks like closed, hidden Soviet-style authoritarian law than open, transparent Western law. By definition, social justice Socialism isn't 'capitalistic'. It's anti-capitalist. 

It's also anti-democracy. Is this Netanyahu's problem? Is his  behavior being judged not through the lens of a democracy, but through a Socialist, anti-democracy lens?

If so, he'll go to jail. But if Netanyahu is indeed to be judged through such an anti-democratic lens, upon what law what this change established in Israel? 

Calling a sensitivity to freedom of speech issues involving journalists and politicians simply 'a capitalistic position' is disturbing, to say the least. Israel's stature as a first-rate world democracy could be seriously undercut if Israel's chief law-enforcement officer listens to such talk and ignores the most basic of Western democratic ideas about free speech in order to criminalize what no leading modern democracy has yet dared to criminalize.

Will Mandelblit go down this road? More important, is this the anti-democracy road Israelis want?

If Glick is correct, Israel's democracy could be at stake here. Read her argument. 

What happens to Netanyahu--and to Israel--with these criminal cases may all depend on how Israel's Attorney General's office defines "capitalist". If their definition is anti- capitalist and anti-democracy, Netanyahu doesn't stand a chance. 

UPDATE: a new story in today's (October 25, 2019) timesofisrael (here) suggests that 'senior prosecutors' in Israel's Attorney General's office are reported to be unmoved by anything Netanyahu's lawyers said during the October 2-8, 2019 pre-indictment hearings. They seem intent to keep intact all of the original charges. Such a report is disturbing. It tends to confirm the analysis above. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Fast of Gedaliah and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

(Please  note: there are conflicting dates given for the story I am about to tell. I have chosen one time-line. Others use different dates)

(Last update: October 4, 2019)

The Jewish Fast of Gedaliah always falls on the third day of the Jewish month, Tishrei. In the Jewish calendar, the 3rd of Tishrei is the day after Jews around the world celebrate the two-day Holiday called, Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. This year, 5780 (2019 on the secular calendar), this Fast occurs today, Wednesday, October 2nd.

Today's title suggests a connection between this day of public fasting and Israel's current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. If you wish to see this connection, consider first what this Jewish Fast day commemorates. Then, consider the story of Mr Netanyahu. 

The name, Gedaliah, belongs to a man we know today as, Gedaliah ben Achikam ben Shafan. This Gedaliah (the son of Ahikam, the grandson son of Shafan) lived in Israel more than 2,400 years ago (here). His story is referred to twice in our Tanach, once in the Book of Yirmiyahu (chapters 40-41) and then, again, more briefly, in Malachiim 2 (Book of Kings 2, chapter 25) (ibid). You can look up those chapters for details of his story.

Not long after the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Jewish Temple--and most of the Jewish settlement enterprise in Israel [in 586 BCE (here)]--he decided to allow a remnant of Jews to remain in Israel. He appointed the Jewish Gedaliah as governor over this remnant (here).

Gedailah ruled over Israel at a time when Babylonia was the most powerful nation in the world. Gedaliah is said to have believed that maintaining a strong and peaceful relationship with this all-powerful nation would be good for Israel. That is, he appears to have believed that staying on Babylonia's 'good side' would mean that Israel would thrive (ibid). 

Indeed, following a policy of 'staying in line with' Babylonia, Israel's economy improved under Gedaliah's rule (ibid). By arranging a 'foreign policy' that favored Babylonia, Gedaliah was able to use his domestic leadership skills to strengthen Israel's ability to stand alone economically.  Through this combination of a shrewd foreign policy with a skilled domestic policy, Gedaliah created a success formula for Israel's existence. 

Netanyahu is no different than Gedaliah. Like Gedaliah, Netanyahu has a foreign policy that works closely with the interests of the modern world's most powerful nation, the US. Like Gedaliah--or, perhaps more successfully than Gedaliah--Netanyahu has combined a shrewd foreign policy with excellent domestic leadership skills to guide Israel to historic economic gains. 

Despite these achievements, both Gedaliah and Netanyahu are plagued by enemies. In Gedaliah's case, some Jews were jealous of him--and hated both his leadership and his policies (ibid). Disaffected Jews plotted against him. They wanted him gone. Gedaliah was warned to tread carefully with these plotters, but he didn't listen to that advice. 

On a Rosh Hashannah, he invited his main opponent to join him for the Holiday meal. At that meal, that opponent--along with men he had brought with him to the meal--rose up and murdered Gedaliah (here). 

This murder not only ended Gedaliah's life. It also ended the Jewish settlement enterprise in Israel (ibid). Gedaliah's leadership was such that his murder represented a devastating blow to Israel's well-being. Without him leading, Jews abandoned Israel. Israel withered into weakness and decline. 

We mourn today that loss. We fast, both for his death and the treachery which preceded it.

This, in essence, is the story of Gedaliah's Fast. It's short. It's ugly. Its consequences were disastrous for the Jewish remnant in Israel struggling to remain in Israel.

Today, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces what some feel is a similar treachery. What is at stake today isn't Netanyahu's life. No one seriously fears for his physical survival. But what some do fear today is for Netanyahu's political career. Netanyahu's enemies have, it seems, a lust to destroy him; and some in Israel fear the international and domestic consequences Israel will face should he be toppled.

Netanyahu's and Gedaliah's enemies share a starling similarity. Both sets of enemies hated their national leader. Neither wanted the leader they hated to remain in office. Both sets of enemies chose to destroy that hated leader--one through murder, the other by destroying the leader's reputation.  

Today's enemies of the state leader are frustrated. They hate Netanyahu. But they've only been able to keep him out of the Prime Minister's office  just once, some 20 years ago. Since his return to office in 2009, he's become Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister, ever. His enemies hate that he's done that despite their efforts to unseat him. His successes make them look like fools. They hate that, too.

While we don't know much about how and when Gedaliah's enemies plotted, and with whom, we know a lot about Netanyahu's enemies. Beginning perhaps in 2015, these enemies have been trying to remove Netanyahu from office outside the ballot box. Until now, Netanyahu's enemies certainly haven't beaten him at the ballot box. That has seemed pretty much impossible. So, beginning perhaps 4 years ago--some will say this all began much earlier-- Netanyahu's enemies hit upon a new tactic. They decided to destroy him with accusations of corruption. 

In Gedaliah's days, those who plotted against him sought to murder him. Today's plotters against Netanyahu seek only to 'murder' Netanyahu's political career. 

After close to four years of attacks, the accusations against Netanyahu have begun to talk hold in the nation's psyche. More and more voters have come to believe that, where's there's so much 'smoke' (accusations that are repeated some daily), there must indeed be fire (with all these accusations, the man must be guilty, right?). 

Some voters, so convinced, express a visceral hate for the man. They want to see him destroyed; or, if  not destroyed, then in jail (which, of course, amounts to the same thing). Now, with Israel's criminal justice system on the verge of indicting Netanyahu for the accused corruptions he is supposed to have committed, his enemies appear ready to celebrate finally getting rid of him. 

Gedaliah and Netanyahu. Two leaders felled--or brought to  the "felling" post (court)--by plotters and haters. No small irony, this--on the Fast of Gedaliah, no less.

Gedaliah long ago lost his life because of treachery. Will Netanyahu lose his political life now because of an equally hate-filled treachery? The Jews of Israel suffered when Gedaliah lost his life. Will Jews in Israel now suffer again if--as many expect--Netanyahu's political life is destroyed? 

Can Netanyahu save his career and his reputation? Will indictment bring out the howling wolves of 'he must resign now'?

Will a trial save him--or be the final nail in his political coffin?

Stay tuned. This ugly tale of modern Jewish treachery has just begun.  

How is this going to end? G-d knows.

(Some of us are fasting today. Have an easy fast)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Jews, the nations--and Days of Judgment, 2019

(Last update: September 27, 2019)

Beginning Sunday evening, September 29, 2019, Jews around the world begin a Holy ten-day period of Judgment. This period of Judgment means that this is the moment when our individual fates will be decided for the next twelve months. 

On Rosh Hashannah, we tell HaShem, our G-d, that, "Before You all hidden things are revealed" (see the Mussaf service, shemoneh etray, in the paragraph that begins with, "אתה זוכר" --"You remember"). Before G-d, we proclaim, "everything is revealed and known" [to Him] (ibid). 

On this day, it will be decided who will succeed, who will fail; who will be healthy, who will fall sick; who will live, who will die.

In case one believes nations are exempt from such judgment, the prayer cited above goes on: "Regarding countries, it is said on this day which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance" (ibid). 

On this day, in other words, the entire world is judged. No one is exempt.

This ten-day period of Judgment begins with the first day of Rosh Hashannah. It ends with the Jewish Holy Day, Yom Kippur--the day our fates are sealed for the year. 

This year, Yom Kippur will be Wednesday, October 9th.

The Jewish G-d is merciful. He doesn't just judge and seal our fate on the same day. He gives us ten days between the beginning of Rosh Hashannah (when we are judged) and the end of Yom Kippur (when He decides what will happen to us). We are to use these ten days to try to change or modify His Judgments for the better. 

We can effect this change-for-the-better two ways. First, through heart-felt prayer . Second, by acting with greater piety during this period. 

It's a G-dly gesture for our benefit. We get 'extra time' to mend our ways--and extra time to plead our case, to show we mean to change.

You see, Judaism teaches that G-d wants us to return to Him. He doesn't enjoy punishing us. Instead, He wants us to  repair our behavior and mend our relationship with Him. 

Our Jewish G-d isn't meticulous at this time about how we do this repair. He doesn't require exacting demands to be met or a precise order of actions to be taken in order to receive His favor. He simply wants us to make an effort--any effort--to show we are trying to improve.

Actually, our Jewish G-d is more lenient than that. He gives us a bonus. He gives us even more days to show Him we care about our relationship with Him. 

Our tradition teaches that, even after the Book of Life is sealed on Yom Kippur, we all have an extra eleven days after that to repair ourselves. We have until a holiday called, Hoshannah Rabba (this year on October 20th) to change His Judgment of us.

Because we read in our prayers that nations ("countries") are also judged at this time (see above), we must remember that, while nations are judged on many levels, their ultimate judgment will be based  upon how they have treated the Jewish nation (you can see this most clearly if you study the beginning of the Talmud Tractate Avodah Zara).

So look around the world. How have the nations treated Israel this past year? 

Indeed, how has the United Nations treated Israel? How has the world of Islam treated Israel? How has the European Union (EU)--and the individual nations of the EU--treated Israel? How has the United States treated Israel?

Then, consider how some nations are doing. You'll see that some appear fine. Others appear to suffer. 

Look again at how mother nature (controlled by G-d) treats the nations. In some cases, weather conditions--and future forecasts--are fine.  But for others, weather patterns cause much suffering. 

Look at the effects of immigration on Western nations. How's that going? 

Remember, the UN believes in open migration. The UN also condemns Israel more often than all other nations combined (here, here). Is there a connection between these two things?

You can see a connection by looking at what the UN's belief in the human rights 'sanctity of migration' has done to a Europe that has a history of anti-Israelism and antisemitism. Sweden's migrants threaten to make Sweden the rape capital of the world (here, here)--unless, that is, some other Western Europe country grabs that title first (here). 

Then, as a result of open, unrestricted migration policies, some EU nations now face wild, chaotic Islamic -controlled 'no-go' zones where local police dare not enter for fear of attack. 

Western nations seem threatened in innumerable ways by  non-Western migrants who don't speak the local language and who have  massive unemployment problems--and a hatred for all things 'Western'. National budgets are threatened by the weight of paying benefits for these unemployed; and in too many EU communities, crime in migrant-heavy areas increases almost exponentially.

The West has problems--with weather, birth rates, cultural threats, and crime. The West also spits on Israel. Is their a connection?

The UN proclaims its religion of 'human rights' as often as it  condemns Israel with lies. At the same time, UN Member States experience as host of 'ills': for some, it's an economy that stagnates; for others, it's crops that won't grow; for others, it's rampant crime; for still others it's a growing threat of civil war--or, increasing clashes between groups who entertain diametrically opposed agendas, and who won't abide by the rules of law. 

Yes, Judaism teaches that nations will be judged based upon how they treat Israel. Even as we know that HaShem is patient, often allowing nations (and individuals) to 'roll merrily along' with hardly a hint of rebuke or visible Judgment, if you pay attention to the news, you can nevertheless see how this concept of Judgment begins to unfold. You can see that, after a millenna of Jew-persecution (and now, today's anti-Israelism), Western nations begin to pay a steep price, where the very fabric of national life is threatened by Islam (hereherehere ). 

The lesson that many still refuse to learn is this: those who condemn, attack and scorn the Jewish nation will pay for that scorn and those attacks. Our Jewish G-d will see to that because all are accountable.

Rosh Hashannah lies before us. Our Days of Judgment are close. 

Will nations correct in order to change their fate? 

Will you?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Israel's election highlights an identity crisis

It's been less than 48 hours since national election voting stations across Israel have closed. All ballots have been collected. As of this writing, some 95 percent of votes have been counted. 

Although the dust and the political dirt-clouds from this most recent election season have barely settled, we can nonetheless begin to see, for perhaps the first time (?), what this election was really all about. It certainly wasn't about Left vs Right or the efficacy of a two-state solution--or even, at some level, about Netanyahu vs Gantz.  

Yes, on the surface, we were voting for either a politically Right-leaning Benjamin Netanyahu or for a politically Center-Left Benny Gantz. But some of today's post-election rhetoric suggest that this election was actually about something completely different (here).

It seems that in this election, Israelis were actually voting either to make Israel a Liberal, Progressive, secular and anti-religion modern 'Democracy'--or, to make Israel 'more Jewish'.

The choice of Netanyanhu or Gantz for Prime Minister was the surface debate. It's what we saw most of the time. It's what dominated our three-month-long campaign news cycle. But the underlying reality beneath that surface involved a far different theme, one that appeared not as consciously rational or intellectual, but as mean-spirited political slander--the kind of near-hate-speech we occasionally experience and then quickly ignore as simply too raw, too impolite to think about.

This election wasn't a political election. Apparently, it was a religious election. 

The question which Israel's media framed for Israel was both clear and biased, if not downright bigoted. This question was, what kind of Israel do you want to live in?

This question wasn't framed as a debate. It was framed by religion-denouncing politicians who went to the gutter to say/ask, 'hey Israelis, do you want to live in an Israel that's Liberal, secular Progressive and free like everybody else in the West? Or, do you want to live in an Israel that's run by religious 'extremists and 'messianics' who will (in essence) take away your freedoms and ram their god-stuff down your throats? 

 Well, Israel has voted. Israelis have made their choice. With their votes, they've said--loudly and clearly--we aren't sure what we want.

By voting for what amounts to a stalemate, voters have basically split their vote between Netanyahu (I'll give you a Jewish, Zionist state that will include religious factions) and Gantz (I'll lead you to a secular state that will deliberately exclude the religious) (here). 

Israeli voters have used the voting booth to say, 'look, we like our Judaism. We really do. But we love the supposed freedom and unrestraint we see everybody else in the West has'. 

Israelis, in essence, voted for both religion and the secular. But it seems they're not going to get both. They could get instead a secular government many of whose leaders and members appear to hate most things religious. 

This stalemate leaves Israel with a uniquely Jewish national identity crisis. The Israeli craving to 'be just like everybody else' creates a political mess. It leaves Israel with no definitive choice for Prime Minister--and a strong post-election anti-religious atmosphere that threatens to linger above us like a poisonous cloud, capable of descending upon us with little advance notice.  

The unwanted truth is, our religion teaches us we are destined to be a 'kingdom of priests'. But in these days preceding our Final Redemption, Israelis have not chosen to embrace their Destiny. They've chosen instead to encourage (perhaps without intention) to boost the morale and power of those who want to remove our religion entirely from the marketplace--and from our lives. 

This curiously anti-religious election result leaves us with a quandary: who are we? Are we to be the world's only truly 'Jewish' state, or are we to become just another non-Jewish nation?

Apparently, Israel's voters don't know.

Yet this inconclusive election has had one conclusive result. It has empowered those Jews among us who spit on our religion--in public. It has emboldened Jews among us who appear to hate our G-d, and appear to want us to hate Him, too.

This is not a good thing. If our long and bloody history has taught us anything, it's that denouncing our Faith never leads to anything good for the Jewish people. 

Can we pull ourselves out of this crisis?  Can we show our G-d that we stand steadfast for Him--or will we slip further into crisis?

 Stay tuned. This ugly drama has only just begun.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Israel's election day. Is this why Israel needs HaShem?

(Last updated: September 18, 2019)

Today--September 17, 2019--is a national election day for Israel. Many voters are disgusted. They may not vote.

They're disgusted for one or more of several reasons, among them: some voters see this election as unnecessary--Israel should have found a way to create a governing coalition after the April 2019 election--having to vote again  now is a disgrace and a waste of hard-to-come-by taxpayers shekels.  Other voters are disgusted by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu because they believe media accusations that he is selfish, ego-maniacal and corrupt, and needs to be tossed into history's dustbin; these voters believe the anti-Netanyahu politicians who are  trying to unseat him in the elections; these accusing politicians declare loudly that Netanyahu is "extremist" and 'corrupt"; they say he's a 'now-disqualified' leader who has finally lost the trust of the 'people' and who therefore needs to be voted out of office. Yet other voters are disgusted by Netanyahu opponent Avigdor Liberman (head of the  Yisroel Beteynu Party). This politician, these voters say, deliberately caused the need for this election re-do; they say he selfishly refused to participate in forming a governing coalition after the April election and chose instead to see the post-election governance process collapse--so he could run again to gain more votes; he ran this second time with an anti-religion campaign, a campaign has used over-the-top anti-Haredi (the ultra-religious here) vitriol. Finally, some believe that all these issues disgust them because they (these issues listed above) represent clear evidence that the entire Israeli election process has failed miserably.

The polls opened this morning at 7 am. My wife and I went to vote just before eight am. Lines to vote seemed short. Does this suggest a pattern?

By 10 am, two local news reports appeared covering early turnout numbers. Both reported that 15 percent of Israelis had voted by 10 am. But one news site said this number compares to a 2 percent turnout by 10 am in the April election--while the second news site said this 10 percent number was 2.1 percent higher than the early-morning April turnout. Which was correct? No one said.

Now, after the noon hour of election day, rumors fly--at least in my neighborhood. A  friend of ours stopped over a little while ago and said she had heard what this election was really all about: you go to vote, she said, if you want to keep Netanyahu, and you don 't vote if you want him to lose.

Is that true? No one knows.

In the ultra-religious (Haredi) world, a desperate call has gone out: if Netanyahu loses, those who win will quickly remove HaShem from all of Israel. These anti-Netanyahu/anti-Haredi elements are campaigning, some Haredi say, on a platform that says, 'HaShem, go away; we don't want you in Israel any more'.

Some Haredi claim that if Netanyahu loses, the Haredi world in Israel will deteriorate badly. Given the anti-Haredi campaign rhetoric we've seen, that could be a correct assessment. Some Israeli seculars truly hate Haredi--and everything 'religious' in Israel. 

One late morning headline declared, "Ultra-Orthodox voters 'fighting for their lives' on election day" (here). That might be only a slight exaggeration.

Some say the Haredi see this election as a battle to protect their ability to live their lives as they want. It's a war, some Haredi say, to protect the 'Honor of G-d' (ibid). Other in the Israeli Haredi world say, 'we must get out and vote!' (ibid).

Will they? G-d knows. After all, some Haredi don't want any Haredi to vote. They want Haredi to boycott the election (here).

This election isn't going to end anytime soon, certainly not when voting stations close tonight at 10 pm. There will be claims of voter fraud, voter intimidation and improper ballot counts. There will be many complaints to the Election Committee (which, in theory, supervises the election process). Indeed, there will be complaints that the Election Committee itself has acted corruptly against certain groups.

Today Israel votes. Tomorrow Israel will complain. Welcome to Israel, the Land where miracles keep us going, not man.

Yes, we need HaShem here. We need His miracles. This election proves it. Man can't govern this country alone, despite his claims to the contrary. Man is simply too busy looking to destroy his political enemies (imagined and real). He has little interest in governing properly.