Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Decaying relations with Diaspora yield bold words in Israel, but little action


Israeli politicians rushed to condemn their government’s decision Sunday to freeze a plan promoting pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.

Voices from across the political spectrum, including members of the governing coalition, criticized the vote by the Cabinet as a reckless affront to American Jewry. They warned it could weaken the community’s support for Israel.

“Canceling the deal constitutes a severe blow to the unity of the Jewish people and communities as well as the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

However, as in the past, such concerns were not enough to affect policy: An overwhelming majority of the Cabinet voted in favor of freezing the plan. Amid the outcry, haredi Orthodox politicians celebrated another success in preserving the powers and privileges granted to their community by the state.

When Israel approved the Western Wall plan in January 2016, it was widely hailed as a historic compromise between non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews. The Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, the multi-denominational Women of the Wall prayer group and the haredi Western Wall rabbi negotiated the plan over several years.

They agreed to significantly upgrade the egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall plaza and allow leaders of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements to manage it. In exchange, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation would maintain control of the main prayer section. Women of the Wall, which for nearly two decades has protested limitations on prayer rites in the women’s section of the familiar Western Wall plaza, would move to the expanded space, known as Robinson’s Arch.

But when the plan was made public, haredi leaders decried the concessions to what they saw as illegitimate forms of Judaism, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who heads the Heritage Foundation, quickly withdrew his support. The haredi political parties have since pushed the government to scrap the plan entirely, which it came just short of doing Sunday.

Among the Cabinet ministers, only Lieberman, the head of the hawkish Yisrael Beinteinu party, and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the ruling Likud, voted against the freeze. In announcing the decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had appointed Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman to draft a new plan for the site. He said construction on the pluralistic prayer section would continue uninterrupted.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement and a vocal advocate of the plan, called the government’s decision an “unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry.”

“The stranglehold that the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox parts have on Israel and the enfranchisement of the majority of Jews in Israel and the world must – and will – be ended,” he said Sunday in a statement. “We are assessing all next steps.”

Tzipi Livni, a prominent lawmaker in the opposition Zionist Union political coalition, took to Facebook to explain why Israeli Jews should be concerned about the feelings of their American counterparts when it comes to prayer at the Western Wall and a new bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

“Why do we care about Jewish Israelis from the Western Wall and the Conversion Law? Because it is important to us that Israel remain the state of the Jewish people and that Judaism be what connects us — and not what divides us,” Livni said Sunday in a post.

“The cancellation of the Western Wall arrangement and the new conversion law tear the Jewish people apart. The prime minister of the Jewish people divides them for the purpose of political survival, and gives the ultra-Orthodox parties a monopoly over the Judaism of all of us.”

Shuki Friedman, the head of religion and state research at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank in Jerusalem, said many Israelis resent the influence that haredi leaders exert over state institutions. But, he said, most people do not prioritize issues of religion and state, nor do they embrace liberal forms of Judaism.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will shake up Israeli politics. The storm is mostly in the media,” Friedman told JTA. “Generally speaking, the Reform and Conservative movements have failed in Israel, and the public isn’t really concerned about them. Therefore, mainstream politicians aren’t going to challenge the haredim on an issue like the Western Wall. ”

Meanwhile, he said, the haredi political parties have an almost singular focus on protecting their narrow interests. That makes them useful to forming and maintaining governing coalitions, but at the cost of accommodating those interests.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the haredi United Torah Judaism party welcomed the Cabinet decision as a victory over liberal Jews.

“This decision sends a clear message to the entire world that Reform Judaism has no access to or recognition at the Western Wall,” he said Sunday in a statement. “I thank the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, and the chief rabbis of Israel. To their merit we were able to sanctify God’s name.”

Also Sunday, government ministers approved a bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. The conversion bill, drafted last month by Interior Minster Ayreh Deri, head of the haredi Shas party, apparently aims to circumvent a March 2016 Supreme Court ruling that allowed those who undergo private Orthodox conversions in Israel to become citizens under the Law of Return.

Since helping to form the current government in 2015, haredi politicians have rolled back various efforts to reform the relationship between synagogue and state — many of them enacted under the previous government, which did not include them.

In November 2015, the Knesset postponed and watered down a law that would have ended the traditional exemption from military conscription for most haredi men. And in July 2016, Education Minister Naftali Bennett assumed the authority to ignore a law slashing state funding for haredi schools that do not teach math and English. State funding for yeshivas has reached record highs three different times under the current government.

However, some Israelis are mounting challenges to the religious status quo outside of the Knesset. The Cabinet’s decision came on the day of a High Court of Justice deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the Western Wall plan and build the pluralistic prayer space. How the court would react to the freeze was unclear.

Also, in an unprecedented move, the semi-official Jewish Agency issued a resolution on Monday calling on the government to reverse its decision, saying the move was un-Zionist.

“We deplore the decision of the [Government of Israel] which contradicts the vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky and the spirit of the Zionist movement and Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people and the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world,” said the resolution, which the agency’s board of governors passed unanimously.

Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky were perhaps the most important Zionist leaders of the 20th century.

“We declare that we cannot and will not allow this to happen. We call on the GOI to understand the gravity of its steps and accordingly reverse its course of action,” the resolution continued.

Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was at the Cabinet meeting Sunday before the vote to freeze the Western Wall plan. He presented a report by the think tank he co-chairs, the Jewish People Policy Institute, that urged the government to promote Jewish pluralism, in part to ensure the continued support of American Jewry.

While dismayed by the ministers’ decision, Eizenstat said he felt his message was heard.

“I’ve been doing this for many years, and I’ve never seen a meeting that lasted so long nor one that had such a spirited debate,” he told JTA. “There was tremendous engagement on our point by nearly all the minsters. It was clear they took it seriously.”

Gal Gadot in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Clay Enos/DC Comics

Gal Gadot ranked most popular actor on social media


Gal Gadot, the Israeli star of the film “Wonder Woman,” rose to No. 1 on The Hollywood Reporter’s Top Actors list.

Gadot moved up from No. 4 over the past two weeks in the ranking of the most popular actors on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus. The last tracking week ended June 20, according to The Hollywood Reporter; the latest list was released Saturday.

Others on the list include Dwayne Johnson, Zendaya, Priyanka Chopra, Lucy Hale, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, Lily Collins, Shay Mitchell and Mark Wahlberg.

Gadot, 32, has become an international sensation since “Wonder Woman” premiered, but she has been a household name in Israel since winning the Miss Israel pageant in 2004 at 18.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem on May 28. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO

Jewish Agency, Reform movement cancel meetings with Netanyahu following Western Wall decision


The Jewish Agency’s board of governors canceled a scheduled dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Israeli government decided to freeze a plan to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

Also Monday, the heads of the Reform movement in the United States and Israel said they would cancel a meeting with the prime minister scheduled for Thursday in the wake of the decision. The meeting had been arranged several weeks ago.

The Jewish Agency announced the cancellation on Monday, the day of the dinner. The statement also said the group would change its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem “in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.”

A Knesset ceremony Monday to kick off the board of governors meeting also was canceled.

The Jewish Agency also announced that it had unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Israeli government to reverse its decision to suspend the deal and a separate decision to advance a bill that would only recognize conversions completed under the auspices of the haredi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

The resolution said the proposed conversion bill “has the devastating potential to permanently exclude hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people.” It also said the board “deplores” the decision to freeze the Western Wall agreement intended to “establish the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world, as stated: ‘One Wall for One People.’”

“The Government of Israel’s decisions have a deep potential to divide the Jewish people and to undermine the Zionist vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky to establish Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people,” the resolution also said.

The Jewish Agency’s newly installed board of governors chairman, Michael Siegal, told Haaretz on Monday that his agency would re-evaluate its relationship with the Israeli government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, explained in a statement that his movement had been “deeply encouraged” 18 months ago when Netanyahu and his Cabinet, over the objection of haredi Orthodox parties, had passed an agreement that was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.

Jacobs said Netanyahu rescinded the agreement without discussion with North American leaders.

“The decision cannot be seen as anything other than a betrayal, and I see no point to a meeting at this time,” Jacobs said. “After yesterday’s shameful decisions, we feel that at this moment, after more than four years of negotiations, it is not clear that the current Israeli government honors its agreements.”

The agreement would have doubled to nearly 10,000 square feet — half the size of the Orthodox main section just to its north — a section where men and women could pray together on the western side of the Temple Mount. A committee of non-Orthodox leaders and government officials was to manage the non-Orthodox section, and a single entrance was to lead to both sections.

Members of activist group Women of the Wall speak to the media following the Israeli government's decision to create an egalitarian prayer plaza near Jerusalem's Western Wall, January 31, 2016. (Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters)

24 short and sober comments on the sudden death of the Kotel compromise


If you haven’t heard the news, the Israeli government has decided to freeze – that is to say, kill – its own resolution to create a platform for egalitarian and progressive Jewish practice at the Western Wall. The ultra-Orthodox parties put their foot down, and the cabinet caved. Here are some very short comments on a much-discussed issue.

1.

Don’t bother to fake shock and bafflement. The decision was anything but surprising.

2.

Don’t waste time on outrage. The decision is outrageous – the response to it should be measured and well planned.

3.

There’s no substitute to political power. The rest is whining. If anyone needed any proof, there it is.

4.

Think about it again: is it really important to you to have a third platform near the Kotel? How important? Are you willing to put your money, energy, dedication, where your mouth is? If not, move on – because the Haredim just proved that for them this issue is really important.

5.

The big black threat of a “rift” between Israel and world Jewry does not work in Israel. Maybe because Israelis don’t care if there’s rift, maybe because it has been overused throughout the years, maybe because they believe there’s already a rift, maybe because a vague “rift” is just not concrete enough to be scary. If you care about changing Israel, search for new strategies.

6.

Do not confuse the interests of small groups in Israel with those of large groups in the US. I have enormous respect for the dedication and determination of Women of the Wall. I still wonder if their cause – the cause of relatively few women – justifies the means – a rift separating millions of Jews from one another.

7.

The behavior of the Haredim is ghastly, disrespectful, hurtful – pick your choice. But they also show great dedication to their cause. Yes, a cause I vehemently disagree with. But dedication nonetheless.

8.

Do not bother with polls showing that most Israelis support the Kotel compromise. Most Israelis probably also support tax cuts that they do not get and better weather in late June that they cannot get. Polls have to examine not just the views of Israelis but also the intensity of their conviction. That is, are they willing to put their energy where their mouth is (see point 4)?

9.

The Prime Minister might be a coward for not testing how far the Haredim will go in their insistence on killing the compromise. But it is not surprising that most of those thinking he should have taken the risk are also those who don’t want his government to survive.

10.

Many respondents rightly called the decision to rescind the compromise “shameful.” But the response in Haredi circles when the decision to approve the compromise was made was not much different. Shame is in the eye of the beholder. That is why we need politics – to pick the winner of the shame contest.

11.

Yaakov Katz asks: “Also, where was Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the cabinet member who is supposed to represent Diaspora Jewry’s interests in the government? In January 2016, after the cabinet passed the original Kotel deal, he called the vote ‘historic’ and told this newspaper that ‘From today the Kotel is open to all Jews.’” Katz, currently the editor of The Jerusalem Post, was an advisor to Bennet. He asks a good question. Don’t expect any answers.

12.

Reminder to self: use “historic” with caution.

13.

Don’t expect the court to make this issue go away. The strategy of attempting to make policy using the courts – instead of building political power – is also overused.

14.

“So, what can we do?” an American Jewish leader asked me yesterday, when I was sharing my sober observations with him. He was clearly unhappy with my response. I suggested that he read my article from exactly a year ago – June 2016.  Here’s what I said: “making the battle for the Kotel more concrete for Israelis might require a more severe measure… to begin a civil resistance-style fight on the ground. That is, to send groups of progressive Jews to the Kotel to pray in mixed groups. Reform and Conservative prayers at the northern plaza of the Kotel.” Does anyone have the masses to support such a move? If yes, I’ll join the protest. If not, I’ll move on – regretfully.

15.

You want to make this painful for Israel? Cancel Birthright for six months. Make sure no one – or almost no one – gets on Birthright buses. You want to make it painful for Israel? Cancel all flights, hotel reservations, meetings with Israeli officials, fundraising, support for Israeli institutions.

16.

But before you do, think about it again: is this important enough to see it through whatever the cost? – because the ultra-Orthodox will not surrender without fight.

17.

Stop being insulted by the ultra-Orthodox or other Israelis calling you names. So what if they think Reform Judaism is “wicked”? Why should anyone care?

18.

Do not try to convince Israelis – not even me – that the Kotel issue is the most urgent issue on Israel’s agenda. It is not.

19.

Criticizing the rabbinate, or Haredi leaders, will not get you far. Israelis dislike the rabbinate and have little respect for Haredi leaders. They do not fight for the Kotel compromise not because they fear the rabbis or do not understand that the rabbis hurt Israel. They do not fight for the Kotel because it is not important enough for them to fight for.

20.

Also note that the rabbis are generally smart: they don’t take away from Israelis what Israelis truly value – such as soccer on Saturdays.

21.

The Haredim are not “wrong” – they just have different priorities.

22.

Netanyahu was not wrong yesterday – he just has different priorities.

23.

Something to remember: you cannot oppose a government on all things and then expect it to be attentive and responsive to your sensitivities.

24.

Your priorities – and by “your” I mean the priorities of those supportive of the canceled (sorry, halted) decision – are my priorities. We failed to convince the government of Israel that they ought to be its priorities too. So yes, I believe that the government made a decision that is harmful for Israel and the Jewish people. I also believe that we, supporters of the compromise, failed to build on the momentum and force the implementation of the decision.

Episode 43 – What is Israeli food? A conversation with Gil Hovav


Everybody who comes to Israel adores the food – it’s colorful, diverse and multi-cultured. As Israelies, we grow up eating Tunisian, Romanian, Iraqi and Italian food, and many other cuisines – sometimes all in the same week. And for us it’s quite normal. So normal, perhaps, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves: Is there even such a thing as Israeli cuisine?

To try and answer this question, Two Nice Jewish Boys called upon the master of Israeli food, Gil Hovav. Every Israeli household has been eating from Gil’s plate for over two decades. He’s starred in numerous televised cooking shows and food documentaries. He is a man of the world, an author, a lover of Hebrew (and Arabic!), the great-grandson of Ben Yehuda (the reviver of the Hebrew language) and above all – one helluva mench. Join us for a gastronomic episode.

We also played an amazing song by Hagar Levy! Check her our on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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Haredi Orthdox men in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood walking alongside an Israeli soldier on June 6, 2008. Photo by Lara Savage/ Flash90

Charedi Orthodox mob in Jerusalem pelts Israeli police with stones, calls soldiers Nazis


Charedi Orthodox Jews pelted police with stones, eggs and other objects while the officers tried to remove three Israeli soldiers who were being verbally attacked at evening services in Jerusalem.

The three soldiers were in uniform when they entered the synagogue in the Charedi Mea Shearim neighborhood on Wednesday night. Residents surrounded the synagogue and prevented the soldiers from leaving, shouting epithets including “Nazis” at them, before the police were arrived, Ynet reported.

Mea Shearim has been the site of several attacks on soldiers in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the son of Orthodox former Knesset member Dov Lipman, who made aliyah from Baltimore in 2004, was attacked on a Friday when he stopped at a religious bookstore to buy a book. A mob surrounded the store and then pushed in through its front door as the owner showed him out the back door, where he was picked up and taken out of the area anonymously by an ambulance.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Will American Jews resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


1.

It’s been a busy week in Middle East peace making, but don’t lose sleep over it. As the White House acknowledged yesterday, making peace takes time. It takes a long time. More than a 24 hour visit by Jared Kushner to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kushner had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Abbas, and, judging by the leaks from these two meetings, this time it is the Israeli side that is more satisfied.

Why? Probably because of the American focus on Palestinian funding of terrorism – not direct funding of terrorism, but there is no other way to interpret the payments provided by the Palestinian Authority to the families of suicide bombers. The Trump administration understands this, and is pushing Abbas to forgo with this unreasonable habit. Abbas is afraid to do such a thing – it is political suicide, and it could trigger violence directed at the PA.

And why is Israel more relaxed? Because most of what it might be required to do, though unpleasant and politically challenging, is doable. If the US asks for a freeze of certain settlement activities, Israel can accept the challenge – it has already done such things in the past. And since the main goal in the Israeli-Palestinian game, at least for now, is not to be the one saying no to Trump – Israel is currently better positioned than the Palestinians.

That’s not a lot, but it’s something.

2.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he argued that American Jews – and he isn’t talking about American Jews such as Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman – can have a big role in helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace:

A new, more committed alliance has emerged that is hoping to have an impact. It is made up of Palestinians who are genuinely committed to absolute nonviolence, along with Israelis and diaspora Jews who are willing to translate their support into direct action. Some existing American Jewish groups have made serious changes in the way they present their peace agenda, while new Jewish diaspora groups are emerging based on the idea of direct action.

He is wrong for three reasons:

1. American Jews don’t have much influence on Israel when it comes to its foreign affairs and security policy.

2. American Jews of the camp Kuttab refers to do not have much sway over the Trump administration – in fact, these groups are seen as hostile by the administration (for good reason).

3. American Jews cannot change the fundamental realities that have made the conflict unsolvable thus far.

3.

Nathan Thrall’s new book is making headlines because of the unapologetic approach it takes – beginning with the name of the book – towards pressuring Israel and the Palestinians and forcing them into a compromise. The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine is well written. But it states the obvious: humans might cave under pressure, when they realize that the price they are paying for their actions is higher than their gains.

What it fails to do – in my opinion – is explain two points:

1. Why is it so essential for the world to force a compromise? The world hasn’t forced a compromise in Syria, in the Ukraine, in Yemen, and in so many other places around the world. Yet Thrall focuses on this specific conflict zone as if it must be a first priority for the world community. I find that odd.

2. Thrall makes the mistake that economists used to make when they used game theory to understand human behavior. He treats the Middle East – us – as rational players in a rational game. Make us lose, and we will compromise. Make us suffer, and we will accept an uneasy solution. To his credit, Thrall makes the case with conviction, and based on many examples. But he fails to see that the real compromise, the painful concessions, are much more profound than anything that was asked of Israel and the Palestinians in the past. He fails to see that at some point, the response to pressure could be counter pressure – force, violence. He fails to see that if this happens, the price paid by all sides will be very high – there will be a lot of suffering, and a lot of bloodshed, and possible chaos.

For some reason – see point A – Thrall is ready to take such a risk. For a much better reason – see point B – it would be wise not to take such a risk.

4.

Thrall answers some of these questions in an interview with Lee Smith. Here is, for example, part of his answer on why America cares so much about this issue:

Americans care deeply about the Holy Land; presidents and secretaries of state find in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a fairly low-stakes – from the perspective of core U.S. interests – but high profile arena in which they might cement their legacy and possibly make history; and there is also a strong element of inertia.

Again, to Thrall’s credit, he gives an honest answer. To his discredit, he doesn’t see that these are poor reasons for someone to argue for using force (and by this Thrall means economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure) to resolve the conflict.

A general view of apartment blocks under construction is seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit in 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Trump administration reiterates: Israeli settlements do not help the peace process


The Trump administration again said that Israel’s settlement expansion does not help the peace process.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert at a media briefing Tuesday spoke about the development of more Israeli settlements in response to a reporter’s inquiry.

The report asked Nauert, “If the Israeli government would stop building settlements or would issue a freeze at the present time, that would help accelerate the process, correct?”

Nauert responded, “The president has been clear all along – his position on this has not changed – and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a new policy earlier this year to curb settlement building in the West Bank, acceding to President Donald Trump’s wishes, but Jewish settlement building has continued.

The State Department statement came on the eve of a visit to Israel by Trump’s point man on the peace process, Jared Kushner, who with his team hopes to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In Israel, Kushner met with the family of an Israeli border policewoman killed by a Palestinian terrorist.

Amar’e Stoudemire playing for Hapoel Jerusalem in a game against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Jerusalem on Feb. 16. Photo from Flash90

Amar’e Stoudemire unsure if he will play basketball again in Israel next year


Amar’e Stoudemire returned to Miami from Israel but does not know if he will be back to play basketball despite applying for citizenship.

Stoudemire and his Hapoel Jerusalem club won the Israel Premier League championship last week.

“It felt amazing after a long season to lift up the championship trophy,” the former NBA All-Star told the New York Post in an interview published Wednesday.

Stoudemire, 34, also told the Post he is weighing his options for next year, including retirement, returning to play for Hapoel Jerusalem or playing again in the NBA, perhaps with the New York Knicks, a former team.

The 6-10 forward said he would enjoy defending Hapoel’s title, but the Israeli media have reported that he did not see eye to eye with the Hapoel coach.

Stoudemire was a partial owner of Hapoel, which he had to suspend in order to play. He signed a two-year contract with the club last year.

“The fans have been amazing — at every game they’re cheering, ecstatic all game and positive,’’ Stoudemire told the Post.

Stoudemire —who isn’t Jewish but identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites — told the Post of his religious observances.

“I follow all the laws of Moses, Passover with unleavened bread, Yom Kippur, the culture and law of the land,” he said. “It was perfect for me. I was able to adapt easily because we all followed the same laws of the Torah.’’

Stoudemire’s wife and children spent the year with him in Israel.

Photo from Twitter

Swastikas painted on walls inside Jerusalem synagogue


Swastikas were painted on the walls inside of a synagogue in central Jerusalem.

The vandalism was discovered Wednesday morning in the Hasidic Lelov synagogue in the Nachalot neighborhood. Swastikas were painted as well as on the outside walls of nearby apartment buildings.

Police said the vandal or vandals also attempted to set fire to religious books in the synagogue. No suspects have been identified.

Swastika attacks on synagogues in Israel reportedly are rare.

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images.

Jared Kushner meets with Netanyahu during one-day visit to Jerusalem


Jared Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem.

Kushner is in Israel for a one-day visit to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to push Israel and the Palestinians toward renewed peace talks.

“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace, and Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit,” Netanyahu said before the start of the Wednesday afternoon meeting,” The Times of Israel reported. “I know of your efforts and the president’s efforts, and I look forward to working with you to reach these common goals.”

Kushner was accompanied to the meeting by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East; and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

Earlier Wednesday, Kushner and Friedman visited the family of Hadas Malka, the Israeli border policewoman killed Friday night in coordinated terror attacks near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Kushner is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday evening following the Iftar meal breaking the day’s Ramadan fast.

He is reported to be flying out of Israel shortly after midnight Thursday.

Greenblatt arrived in Israel ahead of Kushner on Sunday and met with Netanyahu, Abbas and other officials. He also visited the Malka family as well as the Western Wall.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the White House has been holding behind-the-scene talks since Trump’s visit to the region at the end of May, which reportedly was planned by Kushner.

Unnamed White House officials cited by several news sources reiterated that an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a priority for the Trump administration.

Kushner is currently under scrutiny as part of the investigation into whether Trump officials colluded with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. Photo from Reuters

Jared Kushner visits home of Israeli police officer killed in terror attack


Jared Kushner upon arriving in Israel on Wednesday visited the family of an Israeli border police officer stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump as well as the president’s Jewish son-in-law, is in Israel to lead the Trump administration’s push for restarted peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, visited the family of Hadas Malka for about a half hour, Ynet reported, citing a close friend of the Malka family. Kushner told the family that “the president himself asked him to express condolences on behalf of the United States.”

The family spoke to their American guests about Malka, 23, and her bravery, and updated them about the investigation into the attack, Ynet reported.

When Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, arrived in Israel on Sunday, he visited the Malka home and the Western Wall before the start of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Ynet also reported Wednesday that two kindergarten buildings under construction in the coastal city of Netanya will be named for Malka and Hadar Cohen, 19, a border police officer who was killed in a terrorist stabbing attack in February 2016 — like Malka, at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The parents of both women will be invited to inaugurate the buildings when they are completed.

Haim Eshed (Photo: The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies)

The Weapons Wizards exchange, part 3: On some of Israel’s unsung heroes


Yaakov Katz is an Israeli journalist who currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper’s military reporter and defense analyst. In 2012-2013 he was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is a faculty member at Harvard’s Extension School where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. Prior to taking up the role of Editor-in-Chief at The Jerusalem Post, Katz served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett.

This exchange focuses on Katz’s recent book (co-written with Amir Bohbot) The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here.

***

Dear Yaakov,

Your book ends with a description of your curious meeting with Shimon Peres, whom you describe as “the man who built Israel’s military and purported nuclear capabilities.” Now while Peres’ contribution to Israel’s security was recently collectively celebrated by the Israeli public following his death, your book contains a great deal of unsung heroes.

For our final round, I’d like to ask you to choose 3-4 people who don’t get enough credit for their contribution to Israel’s culture of military ingenuity. Whom should Israelis know more about and thank for their country’s vital military edge?

We’d like to thank you once again for doing this exchange.

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

That is a good question. The truth is that while I had heard and read a lot about Peres’s involvement in building up Israel’s military industry, it wasn’t until I did the research for the book did I gain a full appreciation for his role. It is quite amazing the impact one individual can have on the trajectory of a nation.

You are right that our book has a number of unsung heroes. There is “Talik” – IDF General Israel Tal – who came up with the idea for Israel to build its own tank, what is now known as the Merkava, one of the most sophisticated and best-protected tanks in the world.

There was Haim Eshed, the colonel from Military Intelligence who came up with the idea for Israel to build its own satellite in the late 1970s when he understood that peace with Egypt was coming and that it would entail an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. Israel needed to see what was happening in Egypt, and satellites was the only way, but most people were sceptical that Israel – a country not yet even 30 years old – could achieve such a technological feat.

There was Danny Gold, the IDF brigadier general, who championed the Iron Dome, pushed it through all of the government and military bureaucracy, violated some regulations and gave Israel a system that has been a tremendous success in protecting peoples’ lives at times of war.

There was Shabtai Brill, the IDF intelligence officer, who came up with the idea for Israel to take a toy airplane, attach a camera to it and fly it over the Suez Canal in 1969. This started Israel’s billion-dollar drone industry and made it into a drone superpower.

And there was Danny Shapira, the test pilot who got the French to reconfigure the Mirage and install on it a rapid-fire cannon – the French only wanted missiles – which was then used successfully during the Six-Day War to shoot down 51 enemy aircrafts all by cannon fire.

And there are many others. Some are chronicled in this book, but most are not. They are part of an amazing group of innovators, scientists and soldiers who are constantly thinking about how to keep Israel safe in a volatile Middle East.

What fascinated us during the research for this book was the common denominator between all of these different characters. People who are looking for ways to innovate, to push through their ideas or inspiration how to be persistent in their own work environments, can learn a lot from these characters.

What all these characters did individually, but also together, was see opportunity where others saw peril, be creative and innovate while refusing to take no for an answer.

Eshed, for example, was told numerous times that his satellite idea would fail. His colleagues tried to get him fired. Brill’s toy airplane idea was a huge success but then the IDF shut down the project, a tragic mistake since it could have had drones to give it a warning ahead of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Talik’s tank idea seemed way too expensive for Israel to fund. And Gold got rewarded for the Iron Dome with a State Comptroller investigation and critical report.

All of them refused to give up. They refused to surrender to the naysayers. This is a lesson for us all.

Shmuel – Thanks again for this opportunity.

Yaron Versano, left, with Gal Gadot. Photo from Instagram

Gal Gadot’s husband went viral on Instagram because of this t-shirt


You can’t blame Gal Gadot’s husband for feeling a little protective or anxious these days. His wife, the star of the “Wonder Woman” film, is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Yaron Versano, a 38-year-old Israeli real estate developer who has been with Gadot for over 10 years, posted a photo of himself in a humorous t-shirt alongside his wife last Thursday.

#mywife #therealwonderwoman ❤️

A post shared by JaronVarsano (@jaronvarsano) on

The image has since been liked over 109,000 times and garnered nearly 1,500 comments.

That’s likely because of the message on Versano’s shirt, which shows a generic symbol for a female above the words “Your Wife” next to a depiction of the Wonder Woman character, which is above the words “My Wife.”

Buzzfeed pointed out that the shirt is available for anyone on Amazon, although it might seem custom-made for the man who is, according to at least one commenter on his Instagram post, the “luckiest person ever.”

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in the Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters, on Dec. 13, 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Israel reportedly is secretly aiding Syrian rebels along Golan border


Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels on the border in the Golan Heights for several years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The aid includes cash, as well as food, fuel and medical supplies, the newspaperreported in an article that first appeared on its website Sunday night. The story cited interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters.

The Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups and its financial assistance helps pay the salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to the report. In addition, Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria.

Rebels and the military loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been fighting since 2011 in a civil war that at times has spilled over into Israeli territory with errant fire. The Israeli military has responded to the rocket and artillery fire that landed on Israel’s side of the Golan Heights.

Israel has acknowledged treating thousands of Syrians injured in the war, both on the border and in hospitals in the north of the country, as well as providing some humanitarian aid to civilians living near the border, including food and clothing.

Israel’s military neither confirmed nor denied The Wall Street Journal report, telling the newspaper that the Israel Defense Forces is “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces … in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”

The fighters interviewed for the story told Journal reporters that the Quneitra-based group Fursan al-Joulan, which means Knights of the Golan, is the main rebel group coordinating with Israel, which first made contact with the Israeli military in 2013 when Israel cared for some of its fighters. Its spokesman told the Journal that “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” and “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

Israel, which captured and annexed the Golan Heights in 1967, reportedly is concerned about a permanent Iranian and Hezbollah presence at its border under Assad, and that Iran would transport weapons to be used against Israel to Hezbollah military bases in southern Lebanon and the Syrian side of the Golan. Israel in recent years has bombed such arms shipments, leading to accusations that it was involving itself in the civil war.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, U.S. President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani pose for a photo during Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sunday Reads: Trump & the Qatar crisis, David Grossman’s Man-Booker prize, The intermarriage wars


US

Kate Brannen, Dan De Luce, and Paul McLeary report on the Pentagon’s objections to the White House’s Iran and Syria plans:

Despite the more aggressive stance pushed by some White House officials, Mattis, military commanders, and top U.S. diplomats all oppose opening up a broader front against Iran and its proxies in southeastern Syria, viewing it as a risky move that could draw the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran, defense officials said. Such a clash could trigger retaliation against U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran has armed thousands of Shiite militia fighters and deployed hundreds of Revolutionary Guard officers.

Benjamin Friedman and Joshua Shifrinson take a curious look at the hysteria around President Trump’s attitude towards America’s NATO allies:

Now that the dust has settled on President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip, we can assess the damage. The conventional hysteria notwithstanding, Trump’s rudeness towards NATO allies did not reveal his intention to abandon them and end U.S. global leadership. It’s actually worse than that, at least from our perspective. Trump is alienating allies without reducing U.S. defense commitments to them. He isn’t surrendering U.S. leadership so much as defiling it.

Israel

Peter Berkowitz discusses Micah Goodman’s new book about pragmatic ways forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Another name for the ambition to solve the unsolvable is messianism. Easing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians depends on Israelis on the left and right overcoming their messianic inclinations. It also requires Palestinians to overcome theirs. And American presidents to overcome theirs.

It is not every day that an Israeli author wins the Man-Booker prize (in fact, this is the very first time). Here is Jonathan Freedland’s interesting interview with author and bereaved father David Grossman:

“There is life and there is joy and there is our granddaughters and friends and writing books. There are many things,” he says, his voice quiet. “Yet in order to do almost anything, you have to act against the gravity of grief. It is heavy, it pulls you down, and you have to make a deliberate effort to overcome it. You have to decide that you won’t fall.

Middle East

Daniel Byman and William McCants argue that the US shouldn’t take sides in the Qatar crisis:

As long as the United States wants to provide security for the Arab Gulf nations and fight terrorism, it cannot afford to pick sides in a destabilizing fraternal squabble. That would undermine the very purpose of U.S. involvement in the first place, and risk incurring disaster. Instead, Washington would do well to encourage its allies to resolve their differences while pushing all of them to do better on counterterrorism and curtailing government-sponsored hate speech.

Tom Stevenson examines Egypt’s current social and economic state of emergency under General Sisi:

Against the backdrop of declining quality of life, increasing hardship for the poorest and the unrelenting threat of radical extremism, the regime has felt compelled to maintain high levels of political repression. All this, while doing little to address the basic demands of the Egyptians who took to the streets in 2011 to unseat Mubarak. Opponents of the regime remain divided and fatigued, but the situation has put serious strains on the social and political fabric.

Jewish World

Jeffrey Woolf muses on the “intermarriage wars” going on in the Conservative movement:

Over the past days, the Jewish media (including Facebook) has been abuzz over suggestions by three Conservative rabbis, Amichai Lau-Lavie, Ben Hoffman, and Daniel Stein to embrace intermarriage (Lau-Lavie and Stein) and patrilineal descent (Hoffman). Having watched the trajectory of the Conservative Movement over the past five decades, I am sure that both positions will be adopted, despite the stated objections of the head of United Synagogue. The reason I say this is that such a development would be consistent with the underlying philosophy of the Conservative Movement.

Jewish mother expert Marjorie Ingall, whom we recently had an exchange with, shares her thoughts on the current state of the Jewish father:

So where does that leave American Jewish dads today? Who are they, and what do they stand for? It seems that in a more diverse Jewish world, generalizations about Jewish dads are relics, much as they are for Jewish mothers. Diversity, acculturation, and secularization mean that Jewish dads, for better or worse, are just American dads.

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Bipartisan backing builds for Taylor Force Act


With the issue of Palestinian payments to families of terrorists receiving increased attention on Capitol Hill, a growing number of influential Senators — including top Democrats — have signaled their intention to support the Taylor Force Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told an audience at the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Leadership Mission on Thursday that he “feels so strongly” about the bill, which would completely defund US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the stipends do not end. “If the President is unable to get Palestinians to cease these payments, Congress is going to act,” Schumer said.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, “I very much support what Senator (Lindsey) Graham (R-SC) is attempting to do.” (Graham is the lead sponsor of the Taylor Force Act). Cardin clarified that he does not oppose in principle the cutting of all US assistance to the PA, while acknowledging that the bill “may need some adjustments.”

“We must end the practice of Palestinians rewarding those who kill Jews,” announced Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who also serves on the SFRC, to a cheering OU crowd. “We are working very hard with our colleague Senator Graham, who sponsored the Taylor Force Act, to define it in a way that meets that goal but doesn’t undermine in some respects the potential challenges that the state of Israel has.”

Chairman of the SFRC Bob Corker (R-TN) noted on Tuesday during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s testimony that he intends to advance a form of the legislation past the SFRC by the August recess. The Tennessee lawmaker also stressed on Thursday to Jewish Insider that the bill would be a “Taylor Force-like Act.”

However, some Democrats expressed skepticism. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) emphasized, “I am not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority.” Supporting the spirit of the bill, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was concerned about the potential fallout of a complete cut-off. “To the extent that it is a targeted way to remove financial support for the despicable practice of providing bonuses for the families of suicide bombers or terrorists, I will support that. To the extent that it is overly broad and cuts off all assistance to all Palestinian entities, I don’t think that’s in the security interest of Israel or the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), an original co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, reiterated his enthusiasm for the legislation. “We need to bring it up. We need to vote on it. We need to pass it.” The Texas lawmaker also cited his resolution that he introduced in January to completely defund the United Nations due to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement constructions.

In addition to the Taylor Force Act, Senators at the Orthodox Union event also discussed the importance of fighting the BDS movement, Thursday’s 98-2 Iran sanctions vote, and the Jerusalem reunification resolution recently passed. “It’s been a pretty good two weeks for Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel),” asserted Schumer.

Cardin was introduced as the only sitting Senator who is a member of an OU Synagogue.

While not mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a waiver and keep the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Cruz charged, “I believe it is long pass time to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem where it belongs.” The top Senate Democrat agreed with the Cruz on the issue of the US Embassy with Schumer explaining the importance of transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem, “We ought to get it done once and for all.”

A flower is placed by next to the name of a former concentration camp inside the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The German and the Israeli


I’m not sure how to view what happened at lunch today. Coincidence? Serendipity? Or “bashert”, the Yiddish word that means “meant to be”.

I know several now-middle-aged Germans who never met a Jew until, as adults, they traveled outside their country. Nearly twenty years ago, one such German was my seatmate on a long, delayed trans-Atlantic flight. Andreas, from Cologne, was happy when I mentioned that my mother was born in Germany; his expression, however, turned somber when I explained that we’re Jewish, and she and most of the rest of her family managed to escape their “heimat”, or homeland, in the years after Hitler came to power. Other relatives, of course, were not so lucky.

Whenever I meet young Germans, here or during my four trips to that country, I do my best to make relevant and real what seems like ancient history to them. We ended up speaking for hours about my family’s experience in the Holocaust and his family’s actions during the Third Reich. Although he knew neither Jews nor Shoah survivors, he was surprisingly sensitive to my stories and clearly moved by them.

Andreas and I became friends on that flight, and have stayed in touch since then. I visited him once in Cologne, and he’s visited me at my home in New York, where he travels every year for business.

He was in town this week, and we went to lunch at a pleasant Long Island restaurant overlooking a pond. The conversation inevitably turned to politics and history, and we discussed whether there is any basis for comparing America’s current leader to Germany’s long-dead Fuehrer. We spoke about his two sons, ages 14 and 11, and what they know of Germany’s history.

After we finished eating, we went outside to the restaurant’s balcony to take some pictures with the spring scenery. We were alone for a couple of minutes until an elderly white-haired woman stepped outside and asked us if it was OK to smoke there. I said I had no idea, and she apologized, saying she’d mistakenly thought we were restaurant employees. By that time I’d recognized her accent, and asked in Hebrew, “You’re Israeli, right?”

She was surprised, but laughed and confirmed my hunch. Continuing in Hebrew, I asked if she’d been born there. Again, laughter, and the response “What, you want to know my whole complicated life story?”

Well, I answered, I’m a reporter, and yes. Go right ahead! After she spoke for two minutes in Hebrew, I stopped her and said (in Hebrew), please repeat that in English, as I want my friend, a non-Jewish German, to hear this.

So Maya told us how she was born in Tel Aviv in 1938, but the following year, her parents inexplicably decided to return to Europe, where they’d been born, with her and her eight-year-old brother. To their horror, they soon were entangled in the Nazi web, fleeing from place to place, country to country, hiding in forests, being caught and escaping detention… all in all, a typical Holocaust survivor’s story (if it can even be said that there is such a thing). Maya only remembered the last, frantic years of the saga clearly, from ages four to six; she discovered the rest of the details years later from her parents and brother.

“And then”, she concluded, “we finally returned to Tel Aviv from Europe after the war ended, and we were all almost killed in a huge explosion. We made it into the shelter in the nick of time”.

With that, Maya said she had to get back to her friends, having decided to forego her smoking break for our entirely unexpected chat.

She went inside, and I turned to Andreas. He looked stunned, his eyes wide with astonishment at what he had seen and heard over the previous five minutes. I had to smile. “This is not exactly the kind of unplanned conversation you might have with a stranger in Deutschland, is it?”, I said. “In fact, I guess this is the first time you’ve actually met someone who survived the Holocaust”.

Andreas nodded. “You know”, he said slowly, shaking his head in disbelief, “I was thinking the most interesting thing I would tell my kids next week was about the 35-mile bike tour I took from Jersey City. But now I have a very different story to share with them.”

Talleen Abu Hana visited Washington, D.C., to speak about her experience being a transgender woman in Israel. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Israeli Arab transgender beauty queen opens up about her story


The Israeli Embassy marked LGBT Pride Month with a reception for Jewish and Israeli activists and leaders.

About 100 people attended the event, which featured an address by Talleen Abu Hana, an Arab Christian from Nazareth who won the first Miss Trans Israel beauty pageant in 2016.

The embassy also paid tribute to the 49 victims of last year’s massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

“Just as the noxious fumes of anti-Semitism ultimately poison all of society, so too hatred towards the LGBT community threatens all of us,” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said in brief remarks.

He also asserted that Israel is the sole country in the Middle East with the “values that progressives are supposed to champion,” referring to Israel’s legal and popular support for gay rights.

Abu Hana spoke about her experience as a transgender woman in Israel. After winning the beauty pageant, she was runner-up at the Miss Trans Star International Pageant and a contestant on Israel’s “Big Brother.”

As a boy growing up in Nazareth, Abu Hana grappled with an intense internal conflict between “body and soul,” she said. When she showed an interest in women’s clothes and makeup, her father lashed out at her.

“Transforming from the most beloved child to the one everyone hated … I was lost and started thinking of killing myself,” she said.

Abu Hana moved to Tel Aviv, where the LGBT community is known to be strong and accepting. One evening while hanging out with new friends, a transgender woman was talking about her transition.

“I didn’t get what she was talking about,” Abu Hana recalled.

Another male friend said, “She’s transgender, just like you.”

Abu Hana was taken aback and insisted she was not. The male friend then took her face in his hands and said, “You are going to be a woman and a beautiful one.”

In an interview before the Pride event, Talleen emphasized the importance of moving to Tel Aviv, where the support she found as a Christian and an Arab facilitated her transition.

Israel’s universal health service covers the costs of sex-reassignment surgery.

“The law is on your side,” Talleen said, referring to the ease of changing one’s gender and name on government-issued documents.

After winning Miss Trans in 2016, Abu Hana quickly rose to fame in Israel, where she is often mobbed by fans eager to take a selfie. In addition to modeling, she speaks to transgender youth at shelters in Tel Aviv and most recently at Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ community center in Washington. She said she is humbled to be “an ambassador for peace between one’s soul [and] one’s body.”

Abu Hana now lives with her boyfriend, who she met before her transition on a night of dancing at a Tel Aviv club.

“I’m lucky to be an Israeli,” she said. “Being an Israeli means being truly free.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Jan. 10. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

Israel denies Palestinian Authority has stopped paying terrorists’ families, contradicting Tillerson


The Palestinian Authority has not stopped paying salaries to the families of terrorists jailed in Israel, according to Israeli officials, contradicting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The officials, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, said Wednesday that they have not seen a change in the P.A. policy. A day earlier, Tillerson told senators at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the policy had changed.

“I have not seen any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Liberman told Israel Radio.

An unnamed Israeli diplomatic official told Israeli publications, “We are not aware of any change in the Palestinian Authority’s policy, and as far as we know they are still paying funds to terrorists’ families. The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite to and encourage terror through financial support.”

Issa Karaka, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz that the payments have been made this month and will be made next month.

“Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr,” he told Haaretz. “Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong.”

Tillerson in his remarks before the Senate committee, speaking about the Palestinians, said: “We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Three Sa'ar 5 class missile corvettes of the Israeli Navy cruise off the shore of Israel during a training exercise (Credit: the Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson's Unit)

The Weapons Wizards exchange, part 2: On Israel’s massive arms exports


Yaakov Katz is an Israeli journalist who currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper’s military reporter and defense analyst. In 2012-2013 he was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is a faculty member at Harvard’s Extension School where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. Prior to taking up the role of Editor-in-Chief at The Jerusalem Post, Katz served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett.

This exchange focuses on Katz’s recent book (co-written with Amir Bohbot) The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). You can find part 1 right here.

***

Dear Yaakov,

The book, and your first answer, present quite a positive take on Israel’s history of military innovation – and it truly is an impressive success story.

But one could take a step back and wonder whether a country of 8 million people should be the sixth largest arms exporter in the world – whether this is something we should be proud of. Weaponry and arms exports can be murky business sometimes, and I don’t think it would be controversial to say that not all of Israel’s customers have been squeaky clean democracies beyond any reproach (Apartheid South Africa comes to mind).

My question: are there darker sides to the story of Israel’s military innovation? If so, how do you think they should affect our general assessment of the phenomenon?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Thanks for the question. It is based, I noticed, on two parts. You ask about the murky side of arms deals as well as the darker side of Israel’s innovation.

Let me start by saying that I agree with you – there are murky deals that Israel has made over the years. There are questionable sales of arms to countries in Africa and other parts of the globe (Southeast Asia and South America). In the book, for example, we tell the story of how Israel got its start selling weapons to India, which is today one of the country’s biggest arms buyers. It was basically because Israel told India it wouldn’t ask questions about human rights issues like the US. It didn’t attach strings to its sales. The same, by the way, is what happened with China. People can read more about this in Chapter 8, called “Diplomatic Arms.”

It is important, though, to remember the historical and regional context for these deals. For the first 50 years of Israel’s existence, these deals were done (you mentioned the ties with Apartheid South Africa as an example) and stemmed, I think, from the fact that Israel is located in the Middle East without friends or allies nearby. With its back is up against a wall, it found itself needing to make deals where it could, even in some ethically questionable places.

A lot of that has changed in recent years with new oversight and restrictions on export of arms and sales. There are currently two agencies in the Defense Ministry which are responsible for approving deals, and there is a lot that is done in coordination with the US. As we tell in the book, when Israel wanted to sell drones to Russia in 2009, it had to first get approval from the Pentagon.

The second part of your question is about what you call the darker side of Israel’s military innovation. Here I have to disagree with the description. We need to make a distinction between the innovation process which is the focus of “Weapon Wizards” and the arms sales that follow. The technology that you find in Israel is usually developed, first and foremost, to provide for the needs of the IDF.

The problem is that the IDF is a small military and is not a large enough customer to incentivize local companies to develop high-end weaponry. For that reason, the vast majority of products that Israeli defense companies manufacture are exported. This way, the companies can keep production lines open and prices down for the IDF.

At Israel Aerospace Industries, the biggest government-owned company, for example, 78 percent of sales in 2014 were to foreign customers. This is the same basic breakdown for all of the large defense companies in Israel. This is unlike any arrangement elsewhere in the world. In the US, foreign sales make up a significantly smaller portion of sales for defense conglomerates. International sales at Boeing’s defense division represented about 35 percent of its business in 2014. At Lockheed Martin, that figure was only 20 percent.

Take the Popeye missile, one of the Israeli Air Force’s most advanced weapons, as an example. Developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Popeye can accurately hit targets through a window from over 60 miles away. It is one of the air force’s most sophisticated standoff missiles. But how many can the Israeli Air Force order? To keep prices down, it needs to export the missile. That is why one of Israel’s most sophisticated weapons— the type of  technology a country would usually want to keep to itself— has been sold to the US, India, South Korea, Australia and Turkey.

In short, if Israel doesn’t export the Popeye, Rafael won’t be able to afford to develop and produce it and then the IDF won’t have it.

My point is that we need to differentiate between the two stages – the stage of the innovation and the stage of the arms sales. The innovation is the focus of the book, which tells the story of how tiny Israel managed to beat the odds and develop weapons that have changed the battlefield. The murky deals that came after that are a challenge, but one that needs to be viewed through the context I described above.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Tillerson: Palestinian Authority to stop paying terrorists’ families


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators that the Palestinian Authority will stop paying the families of terrorists who have attacked or killed Israelis.

“We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us,” Tillerson said on Capitol Hill Tuesday at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson noted that he and President Donald Trump both spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the issue during recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.

The American Jewish Committee welcomed Tillerson’s remarks.

“If a firm U.S. stance actually leads to the end of this outrageous practice, as Secretary Tillerson said will be the case, AJC would be the first to applaud,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement.

According to Times of Israel, an Israeli general told parliament last month that the Palestinian Authority has paid out nearly $1.2 billion to terrorists and their families over the past four years.

The missing drama in ‘Oslo’


The first thought that popped into my mind after seeing “Oslo,” which just won a Tony award for Best Play, was: “That’s it?”

The play left me empty. The brilliant acting and stage directing couldn’t overcome my disappointment that “Oslo” added little to the conversation and only reinforced Western stereotypes about conflict resolution.

The play deftly dramatizes the behind-the-scenes efforts of a Norwegian diplomat-couple who bring Israelis and Palestinians together to sign the 1993 Oslo Accords. As you can imagine, to get these parties to agree to anything, there is endless coddling, nudging, arguing and agonizing. It’s in those twists and turns that the play finds most of its drama.

But there’s an elephant in the room, and it looms over everything. No matter how much drama you see on stage, you can’t help but feel the distracting drama of that elephant, which is this: The agreement which the play worships has turned out to be a dud, a failure of the highest order. The light at the end of the Oslo tunnel was really an oncoming train.

So, as much as I enjoyed the acting and the story, I felt its emptiness. Because the play makes such a powerful claim to historical truth, that truth comes back to haunt it. The play wants to have it both ways: It wants us to enjoy the history it shows, but ignore the history that annoys. In my case at least, it was too much to ask for.

The tragedy of Oslo makes the drama in “Oslo” almost trivial. The real drama of the Oslo story is not in its excruciating negotiations, but in its stunning failure. For all the difficulty that the play dramatizes, the agreement itself is very modest. It doesn’t tackle the most serious issues of contention. It kicks the can down the road in the hope that mutual trust will build between the parties. Of course, the opposite happened. The violence and mistrust have gotten significantly worse since Oslo.

In real life, that kind of tragic outcome can be demoralizing. It’s almost too much to bear. But that’s why we need great art—to make us confront ugly truths. Great art is not there to manufacture hope. That’s what preachers are for. Great art should have the courage to take us where we don’t want to go.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict where core narratives are rejected, mistrust rules, resentments accumulate and hatred flourishes. Brilliant negotiators are useless in the face of such hardened conditions. A play that would have tried to capture that tragedy would have captivated me.

Would it have won a Tony? Probably not. Tragedy doesn’t sell. Hope sells. Hope is the elixir of the civilized mind. No matter what reality tells us, we must show some hope. The price we pay for this obsession is that we don’t learn our lessons. In the case of Oslo, the great lesson is that when a foundation is corroded, you can’t build anything.

From the standpoint of the Palestinians, that foundation means your society marinates you in Jew-hatred from birth, you are taught that the Zionist narrative is a fraud and Israel is a land thief, and you are promised that millions of refugees will eventually return to that hated Israel and take over. How does a piece of paper negotiated in a Norwegian ivory tower by people you don’t trust counter any of that? It doesn’t and it can’t, even if it’s signed on the front lawn of the White House.

I hope a playwright will tackle the Oslo story one day without fear of going to the depressing depths of the conflict. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes you have to hit your own bottom before you can see the way up. Maybe the playwright can write an alternate, imaginative story where the heroes are not clever dealmakers but hard-nosed changemakers who try to build something real from that ugly bottom.

“Oslo” never takes us to that bottom. It prefers the comfortable Western cliché that savvy and determined negotiators can accomplish anything. That may be true on Broadway, but it’s not in Ramallah or Jerusalem.

What happens to basic decency during terror attacks coverage?


Let’s talk about decency.

 

Last week was the perfect example of the double-standards that dominate the global media – vowing to battle terror, but only when it’s outside Israel.

 

How can a Muslim extremist butchering innocent civilians be framed as a horrific terror attack when happening in Europe, and as a young teen being chased by police when happening in Israel?

 

To answer this question, we might need to go one step backwards, and ask ourselves how can a terror attack can even be called anything but what it actually is?

 

When terror strikes Israel, something strange happens to the global media. A terrorist becomes “a young teen,” his motive turns from hatred and extremism to “frustration from the ‘occupation’,” and he will never be neutralized and captured by heroic police officers, but “chased and killed by Israeli police.” Almost never will you read about the victims of the attack, because when it comes to Israel, the world turns upside down.

 

This severe issue of double standards was almost undetectable until Islamic terrorism started taking over Europe a few years ago. After years of Palestinian terror in Israel going almost unnoticed globally (as there was always a “justification” in the form of the “Israeli occupation and frustration,) we thought the tragedies that struck Europe would be a wake-up call to the world. These horrific attacks of innocent people outside of stadiums, on the street and in public transportation were supposed to be the tragic circumstances that will unite the world.

 

Sadly, it didn’t happen. The world, Israel included, united with Europe, but terror in Israel is still considered “justified.”

 

With every terror attack, we think “This is it. Now the Western World will unite against terror.” But sadly, Israelophobia gets in the way…


I recently stumbled upon a video of a lecture by journalist and public speaker Dennis Prager, at Oxford University. He was sitting in front of a room full of young men and women and asked the following question: “In the 1930’s was there a debate over the following proposition: that Great Britain is a greater threat to peace than Nazi Germany, or if Nazi Germany is a greater threat to peace than Great Britain?” Then, he said: “Nazi Germany was to Britain what Hamas is to Israel. Whether you agree with the Israeli policy or not – it is irrelevant.”

 

This is where international media lacks decency, and shows double standards and hypocrisy. Terror is terror is terror, no matter where. Justifications can always be found, because at the end of the day, news items are nothing but stories with carefully written plots. But just imagine what will happen if CNN or BBC will report an “armed teenager frustrated with Britain’s immigration policies was shot and killed by police after letting out his rage, resulting in 40 civilians killed.”

 

Can’t even imagine? This is what we see, to our deep sorrow, every time terror strikes us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Waters has been a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign within the cultural arena. He has lobbied countless artists to refuse to perform in Israel, while publicly criticizing others for doing so.

Wish You Weren’t Here Roger Waters


Boycott of Waters Launched With Petition, Website and Film

A group calling itself “We Don’t Need no Roger Waters” are calling for a boycott of musician Roger Waters. The Change.org petition wants a worldwide boycott of Waters until he renounces antisemitism and the unjust boycott of the State of Israel. The group has launched a website and Facebook page, and will be releasing a movie this summer.

The former frontman for Pink Floyd has increasingly used his rock-star status to defame and call for the boycott of Israel. He infamously flew a pig drone painted with swastikas and Stars of David at his concerts in 2013. Waters screens anti-Israel film clips during his live shows and viciously attacks any artist that chooses to perform in Israel.

Waters isn’t just anti-Israel, say his detractors, he’s actually a Jew-hater. They are firing back against his supporters by countering that Waters is not just anti-Israel, but actually a racist who espouses bigotry and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.

According to the filmmakers, “Wish You Weren’t Here is a shocking, explosive and compelling film by award winning filmmaker/No.1 NY Times bestselling author Ian Halperin.” The film sets out to answer such questions as is Roger Waters an anti-Semite?

Halperin, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, traveled for two years researching his story, and the film includes interviews with leading figures such as including Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, Haras Rafiq, Palestinian and Israeli leaders, U.S., British and French government officials, The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Alan Dershowitz and Dr. Charles Small.

Instead of using music to build bridges and foster peace, it seems that Waters is actually another brick in the wall.

 

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90/JTA)

The Israeli right’s impatient war on its left-wing universities


Here’s an Israeli story that more than a few Americans would easily understand: it is the story of Israeli universities, tilted heavily leftward, and of the failed right-wing attempt to nudge them rightward. In the last couple of days, Israel has been abuzz over this issue, with the usual suspects singing the usual tunes. “Fascism,” sing the left and its university professors – “politization,” sing the right and its activists. Students threaten to strike. Lecturers vow to resist all attempts to silence them. And one philosopher, Prof. Asa Kasher, under a barrage of criticism, accuses them all of playing politics.

Kasher was asked by Education Minister Naftali Bennet to solve a problem – or what Bennet considers to be a problem. Universities are controlled by leftists and tolerate speech and action that is beyond the pale of Israeli public discourse. Universities employ professors supportive of boycotts against Israel. Universities brainwash their students by letting professors politicize their classes and make them a pulpit for radical ideas, all from the same political camp.

How can Kasher solve such a problem? Kasher has experience writing codes of ethics. He drafted the IDF code of ethics. So he was asked by the minister to write a code of ethics for campuses, in the hope that such a code would somewhat tame these tendencies of professors to play politics in classes. “The purpose of my document is to protect academia from political adulteration,” Kasher said on Sunday. The code includes instructions that would supposedly prevent teachers from using their position to advance a political agenda, although Kasher recognizes the obvious fact that not all political issues can be avoided in classes.

Yesterday, he was under attack. His colleagues in academia used harsh words to describe his code and the minister’s initiative. “The ethical code, proposed by Prof. Asa Kasher, undermines institutes of higher education’s freedom to decide their own codes of conduct for their academic staffs, and thus infringes on academic freedom in the most serious and fundamental way,” argued the umbrella organization of the heads of Israel’s universities. Kasher was called a censor, a fascist, dangerous, a mouthpiece.

Most of my critics, Kasher argues, did not bother reading the code, don’t know what it says. He describes the attacks on him as a Pavlovian response, as part of the problem that he is trying to remedy – a politization of academic discourse. “The problem that these people have with the ethical code is the problem they have with [minister] Bennett,” he said. “As soon as Bennett signed on, the left was opposed.”

He surely has a point, but his critics do not oppose the ethics code only because of Bennett’s involvement. They oppose it because they do not see a problem that needs solving. They oppose it because their fear of political meddling in their business is much stronger than their discomfort with the fringe elements in their midst.

Indeed – that is the key question as we observe the drama unfolding: is there a problem?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes – universities tilt leftward, and in many of their faculties there is no variety and diversity of views. In the last couple of days I heard some more horror stories about professors that occasionally harass students that come to classes in IDF uniform, about professors who use their time to preach against the government and its policies, and about professors who use derogatory terms when someone disagrees with their radical politics. It is easy to understand why a right-wing Minister of Education would be dissatisfied with such a situation and why he’d feel obligated to trigger a gradual change.

No – while universities tilt leftward, and while horror stories are not rare, it is still quite possible for a right-wing or centrist student to study, graduate, even excel at university. Students in Israel are not children. They are adults. They can handle annoying teachers without the need for constant protection. They might even benefit from the exposure to kooky views – views much different from their own. And as for severe cases of misbehavior – these can be handled on a case by case basis.

In other words: there is a problem, but it seems as if in this case Bennet decided to use a heavy hammer to solve a problem that is not a large nail. This is both damaging for the reputation of Israel and its universities and unwise, because it will fail. A high-profile battle between the Minister and academia might be good for him, politically speaking. It will not achieve what the right wants to achieve – in fact, needs to achieve: a gradual alteration of university tendencies and a weightier representation of conservative views in Israeli academic discourse.

An ethics code will grab the attention of the public for a few days, it will incite left against right and right against left, it will make headlines and ignite fury. An ethics code will not make a change, because universities are not like the military. They are not institutions with the hierarchy of the IDF, where all one needs is an ethics professor to write a code (an impressive, thoughtful, fine code in the IDF’s case) and the IDF leadership to make it mandatory for it to work. Universities are more elusive. Universities are more difficult to tame. Changing them will take years, not weeks or months. Changing them without ruining them, or severely damaging their reputation will take a nuanced, cautious, cunning approach.

If Bennet wants to make universities change, he will have to be smarter, and much more patient, and have a better plan. But who knows, maybe all he really wants is today’s headlines.

Actress Gal Gadot signing autographs for fans during the “Wonder Woman” premier in Mexico City on May 27. Photo by Victor Chavez/WireImage

Israelis kvell over Gal Gadot’s public response to a 7-year-old fan


Is it possible that Israelis could fall even more in love with Gal Gadot, its homegrown Wonder Woman?

The answer this week is a resounding yes.

On Thursday, the star of the new blockbuster responded, on Facebook, to a young Israeli girl’s endearing handwritten fan letter.

Gadot called the 7-year-old, Zoey Vardi-Bar, “clever and creative” and sent her a “big hug.” The exchange between the leading lady and her fan quickly went viral in Israel, adding to what is already a national infatuation.

The girl’s mom, Liat Vardi-Bar, posted a photo of the note Monday on Facebook. She described Zoey as a feminist and a big fan of heroines, including Wonder Woman — and the 7-year-old, disappointed by the lack of Gadot-themed merchandise at Israeli stores, had left a note on the subject on the kitchen table that morning.

“Dear Gal,” Zoey wrote in blue and red marker, with some spelling and grammar errors. “I love Wonder Woman very much, meaning you. So if you don’t mind? Could you please produce games, pajamas and surfboards of Wonder Woman. With love Zoey Vardi Bar. I am 7 1/2 years old.”

In the middle of the note, she wrote Gal Gadot’s name surrounded by hearts.

Zoey’s note. Photo from Facebook

 

After the post received several dozen comments, Gadot — who has two young daughters of her own with her husband Yaron Varsano, an Israeli real-estate developer — weighed in with a personal message to Zoey. She explained that she was not in charge of Wonder Woman merchandise, but praised the proposal.

“Sweet Zoey. I loved reading your letter. You have really beautiful handwriting. Good job!” she said. “I’m not responsible for the issues of pajamas and surfboards, but I think it’s a really great idea and we certainly need to find whoever is responsible for this and tell him to produce games, pajamas and surfboards of Wonder Woman.

You are very clever and creative. Interesting to know what you would like to be when you grow up.. In the meantime I am sending you a big hug. Gal.”

The message ends with a smiley face icon.

Vardi-Bar, who lives in a small town near Haifa, reposted an image of Zoey’s note along with Gadot’s response. In an accompanying message, she praised Gadot as a real-life superhero.

“I haven’t admired anyone for a very long time, and then Gal arrives with tons of personal magic and strength that can stop the entire planet,” Vardi-Bar said. “This is just a little note of a 7 1/2 year-old girl (my daughter who will be so excited when she comes back home from school), but in my eyes, it’s huge and testifies so much about this woman who is Wonder Woman on the outside and apparently the inside as well.”

Zoey Vardi-Bar. Photo from Facebook

 

The Facebook page of the popular nightly news show Hazinor on Israel’s TV Channel 10 picked up the story on Thursday, which quickly spread across Hebrew Facebook. By the afternoon, the post had more than 6,000 “likes” and 100 comments praising Gadot.

“She served in the army, a beauty queen, a successful actress in Hollywood, a mother and still a kind person. Apparently she really is Wonder Woman,” said one woman.

Long popular in Israel, Gadot has become an international sensation since “Wonder Woman” premiered last week — raking in hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide and earning largely positive reviews. Israelis have watched with pride as Gadot, who is from Rosh Haayin and served as a combat instruction in the army, has become a bona fide movie star and feminist icon.

Gadot’s appearances on American TV or in Facebook live videos gets breathless coverage by the local press. Photos and videos of her as a soldier, a young model, 2004’s Miss Israel and an actress in smaller Hollywood roles seem to blanket Israeli social media, accompanied by kvelling comments.

A huge billboard for the movie overlooking Tel Aviv’s main highway declares, “We love you!” Nearby, the Azrieli Towers, the tallest buildings in Israel, featured illuminated messages in honor of the Israeli premiere of “Wonder Woman.” One read, “We are proud of you, Gal Gadot,” and a second said, “Our Wonder Woman.”

Lebanon’s ban of the film, because of its Israeli star, has done little to dampen the mood.

At a screening of “Wonder Woman” at a cinema in central Tel Aviv Saturday, the sold-out audience applauded Gadot’s on-screen heroics from the beginning to the end.

But for at least one little girl, all that was not enough.

“My heart exploded with pride that the way I work and what I believe permeates the children,” said Vardi-Bar, describing her reaction on finding Zoey’s note. “Want something? Make it happen.”

WATCH: Israelis react to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman


 

The Jewish Journal asked movie-goers in Jerusalem for their thoughts on Israeli actress Gal Gadot, star of “Wonder Woman.” They were excited to respond.

RELATED: Gal Gadot and the Jewish essence of Wonder Woman


Harvey Stein is a filmmaker and video journalist (he made aliyah in 2006), and has made many short videos for various websites. His feature documentary “A Third Way” (about Rabbi Menachem Froman and others) came out last year, and his new feature project, “Double Selfie,” going into production later this year, is a mockumentary set in Jerusalem. He can be reached at jerusalemnewyork@gmail.com.

 

 

Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Photo courtesy of ActiveStills

Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman undermine peace for Palestine


One of the reasons I like superhero movies is because it’s always obvious whom to root for.

Let’s take Wonder Woman, because she’s killing it at the box office, and she has the added cachet of minority status, which makes her even more appealing: It’s a no-brainer to cheer for the beautiful woman with superhuman strength and unassailable moral clarity over the treacherous Ares, God of War, who seeks the destruction of humankind.

Simple plots with uncomplicated characters work just fine in fiction. In nonfiction, not so much.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that two famous fiction writers, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, are failing to grasp the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The best-selling novelists, husband and wife, currently are on a press tour for a new book they edited, “Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation,” which, given the world-class pedigree of the contributors, would appear to be a marvelous book.

The problem is not the work itself but the way Waldman and Chabon are promoting it. In interviews, they have turned their brief tour of the West Bank into undeniable evidence that they’ve discovered the absolute truth of the conflict: It’s Israel’s fault. And they describe the situation in such shallow and simple terms, I half-wondered if “Kingdom” was a children’s book. (It’s not.)

The book is, in fact, a compilation of stories from assorted contributors, including Pulitzer Prize winners and a Nobel Laureate, that seeks to illuminate the lives of long-suffering Palestinians who have toiled under Israeli occupation for the last 50 years. It’s a noble endeavor. And the pair deserves credit for their good intentions. But the way these two seasoned storytellers are discussing their “findings” is so one-sided, bereft of nuance and oblivious to history, it made this pro-Palestinian American Jew cringe.

The story of the Waldman-Chabon book begins in 2014, when Waldman returned to Jerusalem, the place of her birth, after a long absence. “We couldn’t deal, like so many American Jews, with what it meant to go back,” she said last week during a live internet broadcast sponsored by the New Israel Fund. “We didn’t want to engage.”

But then Waldman was invited to attend the Jerusalem Writer’s Festival. Afterward, members of Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers seeking to expose and end the occupation, offered to show her around Hebron. There, she saw the impact of Israel’s occupation for the first time — poverty, oppression, injustice. Then she went to Tel Aviv, where she “had an amazing time, [and] got drunk every night.” She decided to do something about this unfair contrast.

She returned home to Berkeley and suggested to her husband that they take up the Palestinian cause through a writing project. “I thought he wouldn’t want to alienate his Jewish audience,” she said, somehow unaware that a majority of American Jews support a two-state solution. “To his credit, without hesitation, he said instantly, ‘Of course, yes, we’ll do this.’ ”

In the spring of 2016, they brought 29 of the world’s most eminent writers to visit — exclusively — the West Bank, East Jerusalem and even Gaza, if they pleased. Afterward, Chabon declared to the Forward that Israeli military occupation is “the most grievous injustice I have seen in my life.”

He should get out more.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that two famous fiction writers, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, are failing to grasp the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s disappointing when you discover that your literary heroes sometimes are myopic and obtuse. That they would spend far more time immersing themselves in the lives of one of their characters than they spent zipping through one of the most complex regions in the world is perplexing. But that hasn’t stopped Waldman and Chabon from casting themselves as daring literati, shining a light in Israel’s dark corners.

“As soon as you start asking questions,” Chabon said, “everything comes back to this massive bureaucracy that …  exists only to remind Palestinian people that they are utterly subject to Israeli power. And the way that power demonstrates itself most effectively, demoralizingly, is not by dropping bombs, bulldozing houses, it’s the everyday tiny indignities to which Palestinians are subjected: What it takes for a Palestinian who needs dialysis to get dialysis, what it takes a Palestinian businessman … to arrange a meeting. The way the rules get changed so whimsically, [it’s] so clear it’s being done on purpose to demoralize, to dehumanize.”

Not everything Chabon says is untrue. I trust he saw “indignities.” But he fails to mention the indignity of total Arab-Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state since the Balfour Declaration, in 1917, and at least half a dozen times since then. For someone who’d be short a few novels without Jewish history, how conveniently he chooses to ignore it.

For “Kingdom” Chabon wrote about Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman he admires for persevering despite the odds, for “building this glass palace while missile strikes are occurring all around him.” That Israel experiences much the same thing is an irony apparently lost on him.

The conflict that has mystified and humbled generations of experts and world leaders is, for these two writers, superhero simple: Palestinians, good; Israeli government, evil.

But this is what happens when serious writers engage in conflict tourism. And it is unworthy of their gifts. What a shame to marry such weighty voices to a shortsighted conclusion. It gives their experience, and their book, a gravitas it hasn’t earned.

“This conflict is not a morality play where one side is all right and the other is all wrong,” American diplomat Dennis Ross said when I reached him by phone. Ross has worked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an envoy, expert and direct negotiator serving the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations.

“When you demonize one side, you don’t make it easier for two sides to reconcile,” he said. “You make it harder.”

King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

Jordan’s anti-Israel rhetoric on rise despite security cooperation


The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which Israel fought against Jordan and other Arab states, is showing how much has changed in the Israel-Jordan relationship.

Since 1994, the two countries have had an official peace treaty, and over the years, security cooperation has deepened. Ties between their armies are close, and they share an interest in preventing unrest in the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence officials say the security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Jordan and Israel are stronger than ever. They count this cooperation as one of the strongest weapons in Israel’s arsenal and say it is crucial for both countries’ stability.

At the same time, however, popular sentiment in Jordan against cooperation with Israel is rising. Last month, a delegation of sheikhs from various tribes visited Israel, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin, whose father was one of the first to translate the Quran, the Muslim holy book, from Arabic into Hebrew and was an Islamic scholar.

The sheikhs spent five days touring Israel and meeting religious figures. When they returned, they encountered an outcry against them and their visit to Israel in the mainstream media and on social media. That anger intensified after two incidents — the first, when Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker after he stabbed an Israeli policeman; the second, when Israeli troops in September shot a Jordanian tourist who tried to carry out a knife attack.

“There is a clear increase in anger and support for anti-normalization,” said Mohammed Husainy, the director of the Identity Center in Jordan.

Anti-normalization means opposition to cooperation with Israel in any field. It is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli government and Israeli citizens. For example, BDS has tried to prevent pop stars from giving concerts anywhere in Israel, not only in the West Bank.

After Israel and Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994, Israeli tourists began to flock to Jordan, especially to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Jordanians began to visit Israel, although mostly to see relatives in the West Bank and to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Some Israeli analysts say that King Abdullah allows the anti-Israel rhetoric as a way for Jordanians to blow off steam.

“The Jordanian regime maneuvers between its need to cooperate with Israel and to address the sentiment of the population,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor at Tel Aviv University. “They do allow anti-Israel rhetoric in the media and at the popular level whenever there is a small incident.”

The situation is similar to that of Egypt, the other country with which Israel has a formal peace treaty. Although security cooperation is close, most Egyptians are vehemently anti-Israel. 

Egypt, Jordan and Israel have similar security concerns and all want to eliminate the terror threat from ISIS, which also has killed dozens of Egyptian police in the Sinai. All three countries see a nuclear Iran as a potential threat.

Most analysts say that in the long run, the common security interests will continue to overshadow the public anger at Israel.