Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK Israel Eichler

United Torah Judaism MK Israel Itzhak Eichler, 61, is a tall and thin man, dressed in a Hasidic garb, bespectacled, with a well groomed, white beard and thick, long, white earlocks. An important activist in the Belz Hasidic community, he has been a journalist and newspaper publisher, and served in the Knesset, on and off, since 2003. His brother, Ya’akov Eichler, is one of the most popular Israeli TV hosts, anchoring a thoughtful and entertaining weekly show about the Knesset’s activities, as he faces the camera dressed in the same Hasidic garb as his brother the MK.

MK Eichler and his fellow Hasidic member in United Torah Judaism, Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman (the faction also includes four “Lithuanian,” or non-Hasidic members) are considered by the Israeli media, which are largely secular and anti-religious, as two of the most effective and reliable parliamentarians. Some of that praise becomes evident in our interview with Eichler: he is honest and does not flinch from tough questions. He is a seasoned politician, which is to be expected after more than three terms as MK, but our interview reveals a dedication to civil service one typically associates with a novice office holder.

“If not for our father in Heaven, I would have long since run away from here — although I wouldn’t know where.”

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Eichler is not an optimist when it comes to the chances of the Jewish State to survive. He repeats the phrase, “If not for our father in Heaven, I would have long since run away from here — although I wouldn’t know where.” He sounds believable when he declares that he’s met secular Jews whose fear of God would classify them as more Haredi than the “official” Haredim, but at the same time he recoils from engaging in conflict with the “secular hegemony,” whom he fears and views as thoroughly morally corrupt , to the point where, if the situation called for it, they would raise arms against religious Jews.

We asked him what he thinks the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community can contribute to the Israeli society. Many Jews, secular and “ba’alei t’shuva” (returnees to the faith) have fallen in love with the Haredim when they had a chance to spend quality time in their midst. A community that doesn’t use profanity, doesn’t curse, empathizes with the other, offers charity, values humility—even if some or much of it is just for show—leaves an indelible, positive impression. Israeli society could certainly benefit from the taming influence of such people — why won’t they engage more with the rest of the population?

“…the Haredim and the secular did not emanate from two different nations, but have come from the same family, the same culture and the same nation…”

“First, I have to assume that the Haredim and the secular did not emanate from two different nations, but have come from the same family, the same culture and the same nation, and were separated over behavioral and cultural issues,” MK Eichler responds. “The fundamental assumption is that a person who is obliged by the commandments governing the relationship of man and God and man and his fellow man must also be gentler and more refined, more so than a person who says, I’m not obliged by the Torah, I decide for myself what good qualities are.

“The fact that God gave us a choice between good and evil does not suggest that we decide what’s good and what’s evil. … The Creator has decided that this is good and that is evil. And then you’re free to choose.

“But the modern way of life is, No, I’ll decide what is good and what is evil. And that approach is leading to the destruction of the world. I lecture frequently in prisons, and there’s hardly any prisoner I meet who thinks he did something bad. He acted righteously — and he has ten different reasons to justify himself. ISIS believe they’re doing the right thing. Communism also believed it did the right thing. The slave merchants in America thought they were doing the right thing. So that when Man decides what’s good and what’s evil — it’s very bad.

“This is why a Haredi Jew, by definition, would be obligated to do good and not evil as prescribed by God, and if he doesn’t, he’s less Haredi, even when he’s dressed Haredi. And another Jew who isn’t Haredi, if he’s doing good as God wants it — he’s Haredi, as in the verse “Hared al dvar Hashem” (“All who tremble at the words of the God of Israel.” Ezra 9:4). So that all these definitions are sociological and psychological, they’re not essential. Essentially, a Torah observant Jew is the ideal Jew, and the more commandments he observes, the more ideal he becomes; the fewer he does, the less ideal he becomes. Still, we don’t deserve a medal for being good.”

MK Eichler notes that in cases of an emergency, of which it seems Israel has more than most other places, most of the Haredim who show up to help are volunteers, while the majority of secular respondents are paid workers. This is because religious Jews are obligated to help, he believes.

Our conversation began veering in an unexpected, even bewildering direction, when we mentioned the prediction made recently by demographer Ya’akov Feitelson, that by 2026 the number of Jews in Israel is expected to surpass the number of Jews everywhere else in the world. This would immediately trigger the “upgrading” of a large body of commandments from a rabbinic to a Torah-level status, and inevitably increase the number of points of conflict between the religious community and everyone else. Haredim have always played the role of the “Nebechdike Shimshon” — Samson the weakling — projecting both an aggressive and a timid image, coupled with a fear of leading (Only recently, UTJ MK Ya’akov Litzman made history by having to be forced into a ministerial post against his own objections).

“You defined it very well,” Eichler admitted, adding, “We’re very afraid of taking control of the state. First, because as soon as we’ll say we want to take over, make no mistake about it, the other side, the anti-religious, will forget all the rules of democracy and all the moral values — like that cat who was trained to serve as waiter at a ball, until it spotted a mouse — on the day the secular papacy understands that there exists such a danger, the entire IDF weaponry will be utilized to defeat the ‘Jewish Hamas’ and ‘Jewish ISIS.’

“I complained once to a former justice minister about the activism of the courts, who were intervening in legislation without the authority to do it, disregarding the separation of powers. So he told me, ‘Listen, forget this nonsense. When we realized that [Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party chairman] Aryeh Deri and Rav Ovadia [Yosef] brought in 17 Knesset mandates (in the 1999 election), and you (UTJ) are getting stronger, we realized you were going to conquer our state. And we had two options: either declare a military coup d’état, or a judicial coup d’état. We didn’t go for a military coup because we don’t trust the army’ — back then Shas received more votes in the army than the entire left…

“‘So we decided,’ he told me, ‘to shift the balance in all the government ministries to favor the judicial system’ — empowering the Attorney General, the State Prosecutor, the government legal advisers, the attorneys, because the legal system doesn’t rely on the masses — ‘And that’s how we’ll save our country.’ And they did it. What we’re seeing today — they did it.

“And I say that as soon as they realize that they’re losing control, it will be dangerous [for religious people] to live here. That’s why I say all the time, I don’t want it. Give me Yavne and its sages (a reference to 1st century sage Rabban Yokhanan ben Zakai’s request of the Roman emperor outside the burning Jerusalem], give me what I can handle. I’ll try to make Shabbat more pleasant for people, do what I can using democratic means, I’ll sit in the Knesset and will do whatever I can — but I don’t want to rule over you.

“Tzadik, you don’t have a clue! You’re scaring them! They’ll fight you! Such a sweet Jew, and so naive…”

“Incidentally, this has been the big mistake of Religious Zionism. I had here a very important official of Religious Zionism, and I told him, Watch your tongue… He was saying, the day will come when we will have Haredi pilots, and in Judea and Samaria we already have 400 thousand Jews, and he’s spreading this all over the world. I told him, Tzadik, you don’t have a clue! You’re scaring them! They’ll fight you! Such a sweet Jew, and so naive…

“The left is saying today that Bennett is more dangerous than the Haredim, because he wants to molest the queen while she is with them in the house (a reference to the Megillah, where King Xerxes catches Haman who has just fallen on Queen Esther’s bed, appearing to be implanting himself as the new king under the watch of the old one. Esther 7:8).

“Which is why we have to be smart, not scare them, not provoke the nations, and not provoke the Israeli nation either. And do we even want a Haredi state? We’re yet to manage the Jewish State, God save us from a Haredi state…”

Is it always going to remain this way, or will there be a time in the future when it will change?

“I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, but Israel is in such a state that there’s a very big question mark over its very existence. The world has changed, for good and for bad. There are no more countries, no hegemony, no ministers and no kings. There’s only force, cruelty, murder, terrible lust — and whatever happens to the gentiles_ is also happening to the Jews.

“I told [Defense Minister Moshe] Bogie Ya’alon, You are prepared to fight countries, to fight armies, you’re even prepared to fight terrorist organizations. You have the wherewithal to infiltrate every terror organization and figure out who’s doing what. But you have no idea how to deal with the youth intifada, the new generation whose rebbe is Facebook and the Internet and Twitter, and all the values and all conventions do not speak to them — ‘We’ll destroy the very foundations of the old world’ (citation from The Internationale) — and we are the old world.

“This week the chief of staff admitted publicly that he has no information on what’s going on. But I’ll tell you, all of us are yet to comprehend the new world. In this new world there’s no room for a Jewish state in the Muslim conquered lands, as they put it. The Arab world never actually recognized the State of Israel. But when there were kings, when Saddam Hussein was in charge, or [Egyptian president Gamal Abdel] Nasser, they would show up to fight, received their blow, and for the next ten years they knew they had to be quiet. And when Nasser decided to sit quietly — 80 million Egyptians would sit quietly. Today it’s an insane world.

“On the other side, in the State of Israel, too, there’s no hegemony — other than the cultural, terrorist hegemony of the media which runs the police, the courts… One of the most important things that [new police chief Roni] Alsheikh has done was forbidding police officers and their commanders to give interviews. A very important change. Which means that this did not use to be the case. Commanders would be sitting with journalists, the journalists would be telling them what to do, and they created an atmosphere which destroyed every spark of humanity, solidarity, Jewishness. So that the Jewish State is also rotten from the inside. And when that’s rotten, and we’re facing so much open lust for murder — had I not believed in the Creator who guards us in a supernatural way I would have recommended to anyone who can, to pack their suitcases and flee — but I don’t even know where. For sure not to France or Sweden or the rest of the deluged Europe, and I no longer trust America either.

What about the good, dedicated, gifted Israelis in the security system and elsewhere?

“When the entire system is rotten from within, even if you’re a good officer, if the receptionist at the emergency line doesn’t transfer the call to you that two young women reported they had just seen a man sitting on a bus with a bloody shirt [a reference to Nashat Milhem, the gunman who killed three Israelis in Tel Aviv], you can be the best officer, but what will you do?

Eichler also notes the failure of the emergency hot-line in the summer of 2014 to alert security forces about the distress call they received from one of the three Jewish boys kidnapped by Hamas. “I don’t know how this goes in other countries,” he says, “but here — wherever you touch, it gets stuck. There are one million employees in the public sector, about whom Bibi [Netanyahu] already said, as finance minister, that half are doing nothing, and the other half only reach 50% of the productivity of the private sector.”

“The schleppers are weighing down the gifted ones in the [IDF] system.”

MK Eichler includes the IDF, Israel’s sacred cow, in the realm of great waste and low productivity, except there he believes it’s 1 productive soldier for every ten. He is a sworn opponent of the open draft, not only because it plucks Haredi students from their learning, but because by insisting on drafting everyone, the Army ends up wasting astonishing amounts of resources, only to end up with a much less effective system.

“Those who object to my approach are saying that in order to get the best soldiers, you have to put all of them in a basket and naturally, the best ones will rise up. They don’t understand that the schleppers are weighing down the gifted ones in the system.”

Is MK Eichler really a prophet of doom? When he is pressed against the wall, probably. He repeats time and again his faith in God who would help Israel. But barring that, his observations are darkly pessimistic. “I once told one of our great rabbis, It’s not only that the gentiles in America aren’t waiting to take us in (should there be another Holocaust], the Jews in America aren’t waiting for us, either. They wouldn’t absorb us there if we flee…” and MK Eichler emphasizes his next statement with a loud tapping of his fingers on his desk: “The most dangerous place for a Holocaust by ISIS will be here, in Israel.”

Aware that his statements are the stuff of controversial headlines, Eichler offers a more palatable perspective:

“Now, if you want me to sound an optimistic note, I visited a great rabbi who asked me, What will be with this ISIS? I told him, It’s all your fault. Why is it our fault? he asked. So I told him, You were praying to God against the Iranian bomb, the Iranian incitement, the Shiite, the Hezbollah… — Rashi comments on Numbers 21:1 that the Amalekites pretended to be Canaanites so the Israelites would pray to God to protect them only from the Canaanites, but the Israelites prayed that God save them from everyone.

“So I told him, you kept praying against the Shiite, Shiite, Shiite — and God saw that Netanyahu was unable to fight the Shiite and Iran, so God ignited the Sunnis, who are the majority, and everyone used to wonder why they don’t stand up the expanding Shiite hegemony, especially when they’re about to own the bomb and rule not only over Israel but, most importantly, over Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, and the Shiites will rule over the Sunnis, which would be their greatest disaster — came God and imbued the Sunnis with the craziest, suicidal spirit, a desire to die the likes of which never existed before in history, and they launched a world war against the Shiite — this after Saddam Hussein initially buried a million Iranian boys in the Hawizeh marshes in their 8-year war — so God sent ISIS to fight against the Shiite and you are complaining that ISIS is strong?

“The situation is very unstable,” MK Eichler concludes. “God will decide how He will handle it, but if you’re debating the next Holocaust, I have no doubt the most likely place for it is right here, in our country. When I tell you the state is falling apart, I know what I’m talking about. I can’t repeat anything I hear at the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, but I can tell you that every time I come out of one of its meetings I say, God in Heaven, if You were not here I would have fled now to wherever I could.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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