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A Moral Stain

Mark ThomasEPA-EFEREXShutterstock

“Foes or friends, this must be heard,” wrote Gunter Grass in his poem “This must be said: what a mess!” This brings me to another poem, written by another German, a pastor named Martin Niemoller, titled “First They Came…” While most of you are probably familiar with this poem, it must be heard again:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this short ‘confessional prose’ because of Israel’s—especially Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s—reaction to the devastating, atrocious, brutal invasion of Putin’s Russian forces into the proud, peace-loving country of Ukraine. We are all accustomed by now to the erroneous, overused term Nazis, Hitler this, Hitler that. But if ever there was a justification for it, then it is now. His name is Putin. Though he too uses the Nazi terminology wrongly for his propagandist usage. Of course, in his case, the name of another maniacal murderer, another megalomaniac despot comes first to mind. Stalin.

Whatever you call him, though, his intentions and actions are very clear, and are playing horrifically daily in front of our eyes. And so is the courageous, inspiring resistance of the Ukrainian people and their leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky—the only other Jewish leader of a country in the world—which has inspired the entire world with his resolute strength under such tremendous pressure. Not much less so for President Biden, for his straight, clear-eyed stand for freedom, democracy, and the Ukrainian people against the tyranny and unprovoked war of Putin and the Russians. He has taken a firm stand from the beginning, and was able to unify not only the American Congress and people of this country (to a large, impressive degree), but also Europe and the entire free world as well.

Who was left behind? Why, Israel of course, the very country one would expect to be at the forefront of those marching and speaking in defense of Ukraine. Another overused term/word, the Holocaust, and its crucial lessons, never had a better time to be used meaningfully. Yet the Israeli government fell silent suddenly. Not its people, no: they demonstrated and raised their voices in support of the Ukrainian people. And not all the government. Foreign Minister (who’s supposed to be the next prime minister after two years to this coalition government) Yair Lapid spoke quite forcefully against the Russian invasion. And Israel, after all, voted together with the other 141 countries in the UN Assembly to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Indeed, as I write this, Israel is planning to establish a field hospital in Lviv, Ukraine. Israel is also, though not problem-free, absorbing many refugees. Some Jews, some not. Among them was a group of Jewish orphaned children. Commendable. Yet PM Bennett, fancying himself Churchill, Kissinger—most likely Chamberlain, however, for his appeasement—had refrained so far from condemning Russia by name or deed. Worse still, the Ukrainian government, hearing the drums of war loud and clear coming from across the border with Russia, had asked America for a supply of the Iron Dome missile defense system, to fight the invading army’s rockets and missiles that were sure to come. Let‘s stop here and think for a moment what a difference to the brave Ukrainian fighters that would’ve made. But no. Though the US administration had agreed, Israel had refused to go ahead with it. Frightened of who and what exactly?

Well… Putin. Our century’s Hitler/Stalin. This goes deep, my friends, to the essence of the creation of Israel and its moral fortitude. I have no doubt that in the days to come Israel would help Ukraine even more. And it will do some good deeds. But in the crucial moment of need, it failed to stand up for the tyrant. Bennett fancied himself a peace negotiator, even broke the Shabbat in order to fly to the dictator’s long table. What for? What did he think? That he will convince him to stop the war? That he can bring peace where there was no wish for peace? He may have confused, when it came to Putin’s treatment of Israel, the snake’s apathy for empathy.

I’m very well aware that Israel has its own needs and calculations. Free air attacks in Syria’s skies on Iran’s forces there, and torpedoing the imminent renewal of The Nuclear Deal with Iran. Which I see, by and by, as Bennett’s real concern and urgent flight to Moscow. His attempt to receive confirmation from the despot that he would cancel his approval of it. Real politics has its demands. But not in that moment of defiance in which the whole world is holding its breath, united (almost) in its worry that a madman, with an immense arsenal of nuclear bombs, will push the trigger and blow this world up.

NO. This was a time for moral strength. For moral clarity—not moral relativity. For everything Israel, the Jewish state is supposed to be about. History was calling. But the call was not returned. Not initially, anyhow. Which the free world—“Foes or friends, this must be heard… This must be said: what a mess!”— will surely remind us of in the next, our own hour of need.

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Moral Turpitude: Who, and What Killed Netanyahu’s Plea Deal?

jewishjournal.com

As I write this column, it seems clear that Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the plea deal with Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who’s about to retire at the end of this month. It is also clear that the deal was rejected because of the ‘Moral Turpitude’ clause, which stipulated that Netanyahu was to admit to it, and as a result will resign from his membership in the Knesset, from leading the Likud party, and retire too from the political arena for seven years. But why? It was so close?

Some reporters ‘in the know’ reported that it was ultimately Sara Netanyahu, his wife, who’d put the kibosh on that deal. That Netanyahu had committed a ‘Moral Turpitude’ while in office as Prime Minister for so many years was not in doubt. That’s what surely happens when you accumulate that much power, for so long a time, and begin to see yourself as the incarnation of ‘King David,’ urged on by a conniving wife, and a right-wing extremist son. You are becoming all-powerful, and all-power is essentially corrupt. To admit to ‘Moral Turpitude,’ however, and worse to recuse yourself from political life—while you are still, and by far, the most popular leader in Israel—is another matter altogether.

Let’s remind ourselves briefly what, as indeed I was writing about here a number of times before, Netanyahu is accused of: Fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Not small a change. Which he denies, of course, of ever having or committed. He has accused AG Mendelblit, the Police and prosecutors of corruption and all kind of other accusations. But against all odds and many delays, his trial has commenced and continued unabated. It so happened because in three consecutive elections Netanyahu had failed to form a majority government, and thereafter kill the trial. In the government he was finally able to form, with Blue and White’s Gantz, he was forced to accept that the trial will go on.

Again, as predicted in this blog not once (based on minimal legalistic knowledge), the trial not only materialized but has proved much more problematic, and potentially damaging to Netanyahu than he and his fervent supporters had thought possible. A number of witnesses had produced damaging evidence, causing shaking and headaches for Netanyahu’s defense. So much so that it was Netanyahu himself who began hearing the squeaking iron gates of jail being open, welcoming him in. As a result, he turned to former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, probably the most respected Judge still in the land, to facilitate the plead deal.

So Barak turned to Mendelblit, who began the process. It was reported also that during that process, he had offered Netanyahu initially only two years’ absence from political life, which was much easier for Netanyahu to accept. However, prosecutors and legal minds involved had raised hell about it. And rightly so. With all due respect to AG Mendelblit and all that he has done to bring the trial forward, it is well worth remembering that he has served in Netanyahu‘s government, and was regarded as a close confidant for a time, if not a friend. So The “Moral Turpitude’ clause became seven years. As you know, seven years is a very symbolic, significant number in the bible and Jewish tradition and history.

For a while, as has been reported in the Israeli media, the odds in favor of such a plea deal becoming a reality were very high. “In a few days.” “Early next week.” So screamed the headlines. And I have to admit that, unlike the plurality of Israelis, as a number of polls have suggested, I felt that I would welcome such a deal. As a staunch objector to Netanyahu and all that he has represented, from instigating Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, squashing any chances of the two-state solution from becoming a reality, the continuation of the settlement endeavor, and his bro hugging of the pitiful, despotic Trump, I still saw his potential removal from Israel’s political life as more important than seeing him go to jail.

Furthermore: The government just approved an inquiry into Germany’s ‘Submarine Affair,’ in which Netanyahu can be in real ‘troubled water.’ It might generate more opportunities to put him behind closed bars. There are of course Netanyahu’s supporters, and some legal minds, who don’t see it this way, and believe the prosecution is on shaky ground. Come what may, the possibility of Netanyahu going to jail certainly exists. He knows that. But he also knows that unlike other cases in recent Israeli history—President Katsav, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—if he is convicted and about to be locked up, it will create havoc. His supporters will raise hell, and the possibility of blood in the streets, a semi civil-war, is likely. Which, I believe, Netanyahu would welcome, both personally and politically.

And so, what killed the deal at the end was indeed the ‘Moral Turpitude’ clause, and not his wife’s orders, even if that was part of it.  Specifically, the retirement from political life for seven years, and not so much the partial admittance of guilt on his part. Like his American bro, Trump—who can also hear the gates of the legal system finally beginning to close on him—the one thing he couldn’t stand was the loss of power. Dictators need the power to sustain their wellbeing. Crimes are no big deal for them; they commit them all the time. Being out of power, however, is akin to death.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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