Festival of darkness: 6 things to know for December 29
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Festival of darkness: 6 things to know for December 29

Israeli politicians and pundits wake up to news of another mass-casualty attack targeting Diaspora Jews; some use it as an opportunity to lecture American Jewry

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of a residence in Monsey, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, following a stabbing spree late Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP/Allyse Pulliam)
An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of a residence in Monsey, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, following a stabbing spree late Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP/Allyse Pulliam)

1. Extinguishing the light: Israelis wake up to news of yet another attack targeting Jews in the Diaspora, this time in Monsey, New York, where at least five people were injured at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at a rabbi’s home by a man brandishing a machete.

  • Eyewitnesses tell local media that Rabbi Chaim Leibish Rottenberg had just concluded the candle-lighting in his home, where dozens of Hasidim had gathered, when a masked man entered with a machete, stabbing at least five people before heading to an adjacent synagogue where congregants had barricaded themselves inside. The attacker fled the scene upon realizing that the building was locked, but police later said they arrested a suspect after locating a car connected to the crime scene in New York City.
  • The attack leaves at least two people in critical condition and reignites fears of anti-Semitism in the insular ultra-Orthodox community, just a month after another stabbing attack and amid what officials have described as a spate of anti-Jewish assaults in the New York region.
  • “I threw a large table at him, and then he told me, ‘Be careful, I’ll get you,” witness Yosef Eliyahu recalls in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.
  • “The person who threw the chair probably made him more angry and he turned to him and stabbed him another three times. From there, he went into the kitchen, where there was a man who probably walked in from the courtyard, a man with a slight [developmental] disability who stood there shocked and paralyzed by fear. He was hurt the most,” a neighbor who said he spoke to eyewitnesses tells Channel 13.

2. Kicking them while they’re down: While most Israeli officials and pundits responding to the tragedy sufficed with “thoughts and prayers” and calls to beef up security at Jewish gatherings in the US, others saw an opportunity to lecture.

  • “Alongside the deep sadness and wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured, it’s important to know that the main solution to these trends is immigration to Israel,” tweets Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman.
  • Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish lawmaker representing the predominantly Arab Joint List in the Knesset, blames the stabbing on US President Donald Trump. “Hatred of human beings is infectious: Where Trump incites against Muslims and immigrants, anti-Semitic movements will thrive and Jews will be attacked.”
  • A Channel 12 morning show opens with news of the stabbing, but Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Yossi Yehoshua grumbles over having to start the week with such depressing news. He cuts off lead anchor Niv Raskin and urges him to first ask him about his weekend because “our viewers are sensitive, and we need to ease them into the week.”
  • Others prefer more traditional grieved responses. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog says, “This past year, the Jewish holidays have turned from joyous times of light to dark days filled with fear for Jews around the world.”
  • Seeking to explain the attack to an Israeli audience, Kan’s Moav Vardi tweets, “In all the cases in NY where the identity of the attacker is known to us, they have been African Americans. These attacks have been anti-Semitic, of course, but there is no ideology behind it like those perpetrated by the far-right (Pittsburgh, Poway) or the far left (Jersey). This makes it difficult to detect and prevent… The problem is that seeing a Jew on the street and punching him has become a trend.”

3. Burning a bridge: In Australia, Jewish community leaders and members of parliament are livid over the Israeli cabinet’s decision to promote Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to the top post in his office.

  • The United Torah Judaism chairman has been thrust into the position, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to vacate due to his legal woes. However, Litzman is also facing a possible indictment over allegations he sought to prevent alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer’s extradition to Australia.
  • In what he said was the first time an Australian Jewish leader had sent an open letter to the prime minister of Israel, Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler called Litzman’s appointment “a slap in the face to the Australian Jewish Community, the Australian people, the community of Australian [immigrants] in Israel and most shockingly to the survivors of Malka Leifer’s alleged abuse.”
  • In an effort to calm their frustrated Australian counterparts, Israeli officials have explained to Canberra that Sunday’s appointment was merely a “formality” given that Litzman has already been serving as deputy minister with full ministerial powers and that the move was only being carried out due to the prime minister’s legal woes, a source with knowledge of the issue told The Times of Israel.

4. When they go low, we’ll go not as low? Israel Hayom’s front page headline reads “After the win ‘we’ll attack the ground,’” and inside the paper lays out the Likud party’s plan of attack: 61 Knessets seats for the right-wing coalition, without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, which sounds an awful lot like their plan the last time they went into elections.

  • The difference this time around will be that the party will adopt a strategy of running a positive campaign and holding a ton of rallies to get people excited, emulating the success of Netanyahu’s campaign in the Likud leadership primary against Gideon Sa’ar.
  • “We didn’t attack our opponent and almost totally ignored his existence. We saw the results in the primaries how it lowered the excitement on the other side,” says Miki Zohar to the paper, offering a nice little alternative history in which the prime minister’s minions did not attack Sa’ar and those around him relentlessly.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Sima Kadmon cautions against drawing any conclusions about the general election based on the primary: “Netanyahu only won with 41,792 votes. What can you extrapolate from such a number other than his supporters will always see him as the big winner no matter what he does and what role he runs for. And what can it say about his ability to win in March, when millions, and not a few tens of thousands, will go to the polls.”
  • But Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer contends that Netanyahu’s ability to keep Sa’ar under the key 30% support mark will bolster his ability to keep his whole bloc in line, which is the biggest key assuming votes stay generally the same in March.
  • “Netanyahu survived the last three months thanks to his bloc of 55 MKs, none of whom, including Sa’ar and his tiny band of supporters, wavered. Even if this eases to 54 or 53 in March, that bloc will still almost certainly be sufficient to prevent an alternative government that isn’t reliant on the votes of the Arab-dominated Joint List. Netanyahu believes that the result in Likud has cemented the bloc for another round,” he writes.

5. Sa’ardonic response: Yedioth reports that Likud is trying to figure out how to approach Sa’ar now that the party is supposed to reunite and heal all rifts.

  • Never one for subtlety, the paper blasts “If Sa’ar makes another mistake, we’ll erase him” across its front page, attributing the quote to senior Likud officials.
  • The news site reports the first big test of that supposed healing will be seeing how many Sa’ar-supporting politicians show up to Netanyahu’s candle-lighting ceremony on Sunday night.
  • “Likud is already looking ahead and thinking about what price — if any — Sa’ar will pay,” the paper reports.
  • Giving a hint as to how things may go, Sa’ar tweets a picture of the Yedioth front page and says “Haven’t you learned that threats don’t work on me? This is not Likud’s way.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld contends that Sa’ar misread the political map in thinking that Likudniks would be willing to throw out their leader for a better chance at winning power again, when they were actually mostly concerned about protecting him from all those trying to wear him down because of his legal woes.
  • “The feeling of being hounded, which is usually built into a camp, is today at a peak. It’s not just the left or the media, but the whole state system, from the cops to the prosecution to the High Court. Netanyahu may be fighting a personal battle, but the feeling is that everyone else is being targeted,” he writes, echoing a Netanyahu talking point that attacks on him are attacks on all his supporters.

6. Blue and fight: Looking at why Blue and White isn’t attacking Netanyahu for attacking the courts, Zman Yisrael’s Nati Yefet writes that it’s because the rival party found that there are up to a third of Likud voters who don’t agree with him taking that tack.

  • “They say that maybe Netanyahu managed to rally the Bibi-ites, but the outer layers of the right-wing ‘onion’ is shying away from him. In other words: they are trying to not interfere with Netanyahu tying his own noose,” he writes.
  • Channel 13 news reports that the party is ramping up its campaign in other ways, including a focus on the damage the last year of political instability has done with no government to pass laws or budgets.
  • The Channel’s Seffi Ovadia notes that more interesting is what kind of campaign Yisrael Beytenu will run, but in the meantime the party is making do with attacking both Likud and Blue and White.
  • A day after Likud Minister Ofir Akunis attacked Blue and White leader Benny Gantz by calling him a political rookie, Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson writes that he actually spent the last year transforming from a neophyte with fairly modest goals to someone who can soon be prime minister.
  • A big part of that, he writes, was the decision to join up with Yair Lapid, whom he uses as a sort of human shield: “Under Gantz, Lapid looks like a carbon copy of the prime minister. Though it’s thought that Gantz did not like Lapid’s attacks, it’s actually the opposite. Gantz learned to love the fighting spirit of his partner and was happy he was there to do the dirty work for him. Gantz was also happy that Lapid eroded his own image as someone fitting to be prime minister. In the last round of elections, Gantz benefited from the prime minister’s repeated accusations that it was Lapid endangering the creation of a government. Gantz actually also wasn’t happy entering the coalition [with Netanyahu].”
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