Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria speaking at a news conference at Marlins Park, Nov. 19, 2014. Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images.

Jared Kushner’s family won’t buy Marlins if current owner becomes ambassador to France


The Kushner family has dialed down its interest in buying the Miami Marlins now that reports have surfaced claiming the baseball franchises current owner will likely be named the U.S. ambassador to France.

Since Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is a senior adviser to the president, the Kushners reportedly are wary that the purchase would look like a corrupt ambassadorship-for-team trade.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, 76, is expected to be announced for the post within days, The New York Times reported Thursday. He donated at least $125,000 to the Trump campaign last September.

Reports last week indicated that the Kushners, led by Jared’s brother Joshua, had been in talks to buy the Marlins for months. Loria’s asking price was $1.6 billion.

“Our family has been friends with Jeff Loria for over 30 years, been in business together, and even owned a AAA baseball team together,” Jared Kushner’s brother-in-law Joseph Meyer, who took over the Kushner-owned New York Observer when the 36-year-old moved to Washington, D.C., to become an aide to Trump, told the New York Post in a statement Wednesday night. “Although the Kushners have made substantial progress in discussions for us to purchase the Marlins, recent reports suggest that Mr. Loria will soon be nominated by the president to be ambassador to France.

“If that is true, we do not want this unrelated transaction to complicate that process and will not pursue it. The Kushners remain interested in purchasing a team and would love to buy the Marlins at another time.”

Loria, a Jewish art dealer from New York, owned the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) in the early 2000s. He purchased the Marlins in 2003 and the team went on to win the World Series that year. Since then, the Marlins have not reached the playoffs, and Loria has become unpopular among the club’s fans for meticulously keeping the payroll among the lowest in the league.

Israel, Brazilian Jews slam recall of Brazilian ambassador from Tel Aviv


Representatives of Brazil’s Jewish community said their government’s recall of its ambassador from Israel amounted to a defense of Hamas.

The statement by CONIB, an umbrella body, came Thursday, a day after Brasilia announced that it was recalling for consultation its ambassador to Israel, Henrique Sardinha, to protest Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza.

CONIB expressed its “indignation with the announcement sent Wednesday, which evidences a one-sided attitude to the conflict in Gaza in which the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticizes Israel and ignores the actions of the terrorist group Hamas,” CONIB wrote in a statement titled “Reaction to Itamaraty’s declaration  which criticizes Israel and spares Hamas any criticism.”

Itamaraty is the name of the palace that houses the ministry.

In its statement Wednesday, the ministry wrote: “The Brazilian government considers as unacceptable the escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine. We vigorously condemn the use of disproportionate force by Israel in the Gaza Strip, which resulted in an elevated number of civilians victims, including women and children.”

The statement mentioned neither Hamas nor any other offensive actions by Palestinians.

Israel also condemned the Brazilian statement.

“This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Jerusalem Post. “The moral relativism behind this move makes Brazil an irrelevant diplomatic partner, one who creates problems rather than contributes to solutions.”

Foreign Ministry strike may delay Dermer move to D.C.


Ron Dermer may take up his new diplomatic position as Israel’s next ambassador to the United States later than originally planned due to a strike by Foreign Ministry employees.

Dermer, who was officially named to the position last week, was scheduled to take up his post next month. But Foreign Ministry workers are refusing to arrange his diplomatic passport, process his transfer to Washington or arrange for his departing airplane ticket, according to the Times of Israel.

Last month, the strike by the Foreign Ministry Workers’ Union caused a halt to consular services at Israeli embassies and consulates in the United States and around the world. The work stoppage has prevented the paperwork for families coming on aliyah this summer and threatened to prevent athletes from 14 countries from participating in the Maccabiah Games, which begin on Thursday.

Dermer, who immigrated to Israel from Florida 15 years ago,  succeeds Michael Oren, a New Jersey native. Oren announced on July 5 that he would be vacating his post in the fall.

The work stoppage is part of a nearly 4-month-old labor dispute. The workers are protesting salary cuts and poor compensation packages offered to spouses of overseas diplomats.

In addition to not having completed diplomatic paperwork, Dermer has not received a preparation course required for new diplomats . The embassy also has not requested permits from the United States needed for a new ambassador, according to the Times of Israel.

Ron Dermer officially named Israel’s U.S. ambassador


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Ron Dermer as Israel’s next ambassador to the United States.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced Tuesday in a statement that Netanyahu had decided to appoint his former senior adviser to the post.

“Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said in the statement. “I have known him for many years and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the State of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally — the USA.”

Dermer, who immigrated to Israel from Florida 15 years ago, will take up his new post later in the year and succeed Michael Oren, a New Jersey native. Oren announced on July 5 that he would be vacating his post in the fall.

Dermer, 42, left the Prime Minister’s Office in March after four years as Netanyahu’s senior adviser. He had served as the economic attache at the Israeli Embassy in Washington from 2005 to 2008.

Dermer, a father of five, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and holds a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford.  He also co-wrote with Natan Sharansky the best-selling book “The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror.”

Michael Oren is staying put — which is a good thing


Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States. And he has no plans to stop being Israel’s ambassador to the United States. 

This was news to me, as reports abound on the Internet that, as of March 2013, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will replace Oren in Washington, D.C.

“The reports of my demise are grossly overstated,” Oren told me during an interview on the evening of Jan. 15, just before he took the stage at the Saban Theatre for a major address to the Los Angeles community.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he said.

Oren said that, while things can always change, no one has asked him to leave his role — officially or unofficially — and he has no plans to do so.

Which is, as they say, good for the Jews.

What is happening now in Jewish life is as plain to see as the hole in the bagel: American and Israeli Jews are drifting apart, splitting into two tribes and in danger of becoming one people separated by a common religion.

Michael Oren is one of those rare people who mind the gap.

This was in evidence as he spoke at the event, sponsored jointly by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The gig was not exactly a tough assignment — telling an audience of about 1,000 guests hand-selected by the consulate, Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools just how special the U.S.-Israel bond is. It was like convincing Arnold Schwarzenegger that exercise is good for you.

But Oren is practiced at the harder stuff, too — explaining Israelis to American Jews, and American Jewry to Israel — and that job is only getting harder.

Consider this: In the recent American election, close to 80 percent of American Jews supported President Barack Obama, while, in Israel, polls showed a similar percentage supported Obama’s opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney. Israeli Jews overwhelmingly supported the second Iraq War. American Jews overwhelmingly opposed it. 

Think back to the Obama-Bibi rancor of 2010, when Israel declared in the face of U.S. umbrage that it had approved construction of 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem. American Jewish support for Netanyahu on that issue dipped to 44 percent. Support for Obama was 59 percent.

The aspects of Israel that upset or alienate large sectors of American Jewry, such as the control of Orthodoxy over civil matters, elicit a shrug from most Israelis.

And the things that keep Israelis up at night, like the Arab uprisings, many American Jews approach with a more hopeful attitude.

“They see what’s happening in Egypt and Syria and think Lexington and Concord,” Oren told me — and then later, the audience — “we think, ‘oy vey.’ ”

The surprise turnout for the centrist Yair Lapid in this week’s election is a sign that a bigger chunk of the Israeli electorate than pundits predicted does care, and votes, on issues of religious freedom. But the gap persists, and Oren (like, fortunately, Lapid himself) remains one of the few Jewish leaders who can bridge it.

Oren and I met in the Saban Theatre’s green room before the main event. A security detail arrived first, then aides and consular officials, then Oren’s wife, Sally, and a strikingly handsome, 20-something sabra who turned out to be Oren’s son. Oren is grayer than the last time I interviewed him, in 2010, but still army-uniform lean.

I immediately brought up the various brouhahas — my word — that had arisen between the United States and Israel that week.

Just that morning, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in Bloomberg News, reported that Obama, in his frustration over Netanyahu’s decision to allow settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E1, repeatedly said, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” 

Oren, to his credit, neither shot the messenger nor denied the accuracy of the message. 

“It just doesn’t reflect the reality in Israel,” he said.

He focused instead on the positive — Bibi’s stated willingness to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, provided they come to the table. 

Another brouhaha: the accusation among staunch pro-Israel activists that Sen. Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, is anti-Israel, or even anti-Semitic.

“Do you think the phrase ‘Jewish lobby’ is anti-Semitic?” I asked.

“Well,” he said — and this is why he’s Israel’s top diplomat — “it’s inaccurate. Not every one who supports Israel is Jewish.

“I don’t like the phrase ‘Israel lobby’ either,” he added, pointing out that pro-Israel forces in America are Americans acting in what they assert are America’s interest. 

Stepping back, I asked Oren about my deeper concern, whether these incessant brouhahas don’t indicate a deepening rift between American and Israeli Jews.

On the one hand, Oren pointed out that support for Israel among all Americans is at a 20-year high. Even among younger people, he said, despite claims to the contrary. Oren is one of those rare Jewish leaders who isn’t afraid to relay good news to audiences more accustomed to doomsday pronouncements.

But Oren, born and raised in America, is acutely aware that different life experiences make for different outlooks. He moved to Israel as a young man. His wife’s sister was murdered in a bus bomb attack. In the army, he survived an attack that killed many of his buddies. His son was severely wounded in combat as well. Oren, a preeminent historian and author, has a deep intellectual understanding of the forces that guide the Middle East. But nothing beats being there.

“Look, we Israelis know what it means to deal with suicide bombers, terror, regional turmoil. Israeli Jews do the heavy lifting. These are profound differences,” he said.

“There’s a gap in understanding. If American Jews would see it from the inside out, they’d better understand it.”

And, he added, Israelis don’t often see the deep support that American Jews marshal and maintain for Israel.

“There’s an expression in Hebrew,” he said, quoting Ariel Sharon: “Things look different from here than they do from there.”

Oren didn’t say it, but a little humility on both sides might just help.

His aide ended the interview — it was time for the ambassador to take the stage. We shook hands.

“What’s that word brouhaha come from?” he said, ever the curious researcher. “Can someone look that up?  Does that have anything to do with malarkey?” 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism

As protests rage over anti-Muslim movie, the cast claims it was misled by script


Protests over an anti-Muslim film continued outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, while in Yemen security guards fired at demonstrators who stormed the U.S. Embassy gates.

On Thursday in Yemen, the protesters tore down the American flag and burned it, according to reports. The protests in Cairo continued late Wednesday, a day after protesters climbed the embassy walls and tore down and tried to torch the American flag.

Security reportedly was increased at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the globe in the aftermath of the violence allegedly incited by the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The two-hour film, which attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was seen as leading to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. diplomats in a rocket attack on Tuesday at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The protests were sparked by the translation into Arabic of a trailer for the movie.

In a statement sent to CNN, the 80 members of the cast and crew said they were “grossly misled” about the film, which they believed was a historical movie about life in the Arabian Desert.

“We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved,” the statement said according to CNN. “We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

Anti-Muslim dialogue was dubbed in after the filming, an unnamed actress, who also said there was no Muhammad character in the script, told CNN.

The actress said she spoke to the director Wednesday and “He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” CNN reported. The director reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer.”

Media outlets, including JTA, had reported that a man calling himself Sam Bacile, who said he was the film's director and producer, claimed that he was an Israeli American real estate developer. But a consultant to the film, Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that the film's director is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Bacile told the Associated Press that he went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that some 15 people were associated with the making of the film, all American citizens and most evangelicals.

Klein was called an “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said he is “Secretary and Founder” of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of mosques and abortion clinics.

A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.

The Israeli government in Jerusalem could not turn up any citizenship records under that name, while California officials reported that no real estate license had ever been issued to a Sam Bacile.

Media bloggers and columnists are questioning why Bacile would claim that the $5 million film was paid for by “100 Jewish donors,” calling it a set-up. Blogger Edward Blackthorn (www.publici.com) raised some basic questions as to why $5 million was needed for a film described as “unprofessional” by the Hollywood Reporter, and expressed doubt that any producer could find 100 financial backers for such a dubious enterprise.

U.S. envoy to Libya killed over anti-Muslim movie


The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked over an anti-Muslim movie.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag, and then tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of a movie directed by Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real-estate developer, titled “Innocence of Muslims.”

[UPDATE: More information on “Sam Bacile” here]

The two-hour movie, which according to the Associated Press cost $5 million to make and was financed by more than 100 Jewish donors, attacks the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, Bacile told the AP.

Bacile went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” she said in a statement.

Slain U.S. Ambassador Stevens helped nurture Libyan democracy


Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in the Libyan city Benghazi, was deeply involved in the transition of the North African state and had been U.S. envoy to the rebels who overthrew strongman Muammar Gadhafi last year.

Stevens, 52, who had been ambassador to Libya since May, was one of four Americans who died when Islamist gunmen stormed the Benghazi consulate and another safe house refuge on Tuesday night.

The California-born veteran diplomat, an Arabic and French speaker, served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli between 2007 and 2009, in the waning years of Gadhafi's mercurial and brutal rule in the oil-rich country.

As the country dissolved into civil war, he was appointed the U.S. envoy to the Transitional National Council, which was coordinating the revolt against Gadhafi, and returned aboard a Greek cargo freighter that docked in Benghazi in April, 2011.

President Barack Obama, who vowed to bring the killers to justice, stressed Stevens's deep ties to Libya and his commitment to helping Libyans build a nascent democracy out of the chaos of war.

“It is especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped save,” Obama said Wednesday. Benghazi had been the cradle of the anti-Gadhafi revolt.

“He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Stevens graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982, taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and earned a law degree in 1989.

He joined the foreign service in 1991 and had posting in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, before working in Libya.

“The death of Chris Stevens is a travesty,” said friend Robin Wright, a journalist who worked extensively in the Middle East who is now a scholar at the United State Institute of Peace.

“He represented the very best of American diplomacy. He knew the streets, not the just the elites. He had an infection enthusiasm about the extraordinary history playing out across the Middle East, which he witnessed up close,” she said in a statement.

Israel calls in Egypt envoy, says peace deal vital


Israel’s foreign ministry called in the Egyptian ambassador on Friday to stress the importance of the two countries’ historic peace accord, an Israeli official said, after Egypt’s prime minister said the treaty was not “sacred”.

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told Turkish television on Thursday that the 1979 peace accord with Israel could be changed for the benefit of the region.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said foreign ministry Director General Rafi Barak told Egyptian envoy Yasser Reda that treaties must be honored to the letter.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Israel and Egypt fought four major wars in which tens of thousands lost their lives before they signed the 1979 treaty, ushering in more than three decades of relative calm.

Relations between Egypt and Israel, strained since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in February, were plunged into crisis last Saturday when protesters in Cairo stormed the Jewish state’s embassy, forcing most of its diplomats to flee Egypt.

A cross-border attack last month has also frayed ties between the two states, with Israeli forces killing five Egyptian security guards during gun battles with Palestinian militants, who had earlier ambushed and killed eight Israelis.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by David Stamp

Meet Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, Bahrain’s Jewish U.S. ambassador


The appointment of Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo (46), the first female Ambassador from Bahrain and the first Jewish Ambassador of an Arab country in Washington, was praised by U.S. diplomats when it was revealed recently in one of the Wikileaks cables.

It’s not rare to hear in diplomatic circles in Washington about the “smart move” the Bahrainis made, sending to the U.S. a Western-educated woman who represents a tiny minority of the kingdom’s population.

One of Bahrain’s 36 Jews, Nonoo told the “Moment” magazine, a national magazine dedicated to Jewish politics, religion and culture founded in 1975 by Elie Wiesel, that she never experienced religious prejudice in her home country. “I had a normal Jewish upbringing. I was born into Judaism. It’s no different from growing up like a Jew in America. It’s my religion.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador: Life might be easier without U.N.


Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations told JTA that “life might be easier” if the world body didn’t exist.

Meron Reuben added, however, that “whether we like it or not, we have to partake in its deliberations.”

The United Nations “is the most important multilateral organization in the world,” Reuben said. “Israel cannot be seen to be outside the United Nations.”

Reuben spoke with JTA on Monday morning hours before he was scheduled to hold his first face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since his temporary appointment by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Netanyahu did not approve of Reuben’s appointment, so Reuben has taken the post on an interim basis.

“The hypocrisy of the United Nations makes Israel the scapegoat for everything,” Reuben, who also serves as Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, said in an interview. “We have learned, unfortunately, to live with this, but I hope it won’t go on forever.”

Reuben also said that Israel has made some positive strides at the United Nations in recent years, noting the passage three years ago of the first Israeli-sponsored resolution at the international body, the rising number of Israelis who hold official positions in the U.N. bureaucracy—15 in the U.N. hierarchy and 65 in affiliated organizations—and the establishment of an official U.N. Holocaust day of remembrance.

“It’s good that people around the world see what Israel has to offer,” Reuben said.

Michael Oren, making the case for Obama


Michael Oren outlines what may be his toughest assignment: Making the case to a skeptical public for a leader who’s hard to pin down.

Pitching Bibi to the Americans?

No, that’s an easy one.

The real problem for the Israeli ambassador to Washington is how to make Israelis understand President Obama.

“Obama often doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Israel,” Oren said in a pre-Rosh Hashanah interview with the U.S. Jewish media. “I think it’s important at some point that he visits us.”

The interview appeared to represent Oren’s most intensive effort yet to counteract speculation in some Jewish and Israeli corners that the Obama administration has been chilly, if not outright hostile, toward the Netanyahu government. It comes at the start of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks and a new anti-Iran sanctions regime, two developments seen as bolstering Israel’s need to be seen as enjoying strong relations with the White House.

In the interview, Oren reviewed the strides of the past year and the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish world looking ahead.

Among the accomplishments, he counted the renewed peace talks with the Palestinians and overcoming the public disagreements between the United States and Israel over those talks. Along the same lines, he also listed his ability to settle public disagreements with J Street, a left-wing pro-Israel group that has faced heavy criticism from centrist and right-wing critics.

As for future challenges, Oren said the prospect of a nuclear Iran loomed large. Less threatening, but nonetheless clearly a concern for him, was handling criticism from pro-Israel hawks now that the Jewish state was plunging into peace talks that would involve compromise.

Oren, who was born and raised in New Jersey, brings to his understanding of the Obama administration the nuance of a historian versed in the trajectories of both nations. He said that a major part of his job is explaining the Obama administration to Israelis, through interviews with Israeli media.

“I try to put it in perspective, Israelis are tough,” he said, using a Hebrew colloquialism that means “You can’t put one over on them.”

“I don’t try to polish things up. We’ve had disagreements over settlements, we’ve had disagreements over Jerusalem—but you’ve got to see a big picture. The U.S.-Israel relationship is vast.”

Oren went on to outline areas of cooperation—defense, commerce, intelligence sharing—that would characterize any American administration, Republican or Democrat, until a reporter asked the ambassador to get specific about Obama.

“I have a different take on the Cairo speech,” Oren said, referring to Obama’s June 2009 speech to the Muslim world.

The speech was lambasted in Israel and some U.S. Jewish circles for emphasizing Holocaust denial as an Arab failing but not making a broader case for ancient Jewish claims to Israel.

“A lot of people in Israel said the Cairo speech, they weren’t thrilled with the Cairo speech. I said, wait a second, this is the first time a president of the United States has gone to the heart of the Arab world and introduced Israel’s legitimacy, and said to the Arab world you’ve got to recognize the legitimate Jewish state,” Oren said. “It was an amazing thing; he didn’t get credit for it.”

Oren also praised Obama for making good on his pledge to ramp up pressure on Iran through sanctions to make transparent its suspected nuclear program. The ambassador asserted that the multilateral sanctions are “biting” the Iranian regime.

“He’s had a very robust position on Iran,” the ambassador said. “Again, I don’t think people understand fully just how determined he is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Tellingly, the success surprises Oren.

“We had the Iranian issue, which could have been the source of the greatest divisions between the Israeli and American governments, and over the course of this year you saw no daylight between our governments,” he said.

Still, Oren implied that the harmony on this front might not last.

“They have not yet in any way stopped enriching uranium or pressing on with their nuclear program,” he said of Iran. “So that’s going to be the true test, six or nine months down the road we’re going to have to reassess and see where the sanctions are going.”

The Obama administration has said it wants a full year to test the Iranians. The Israeli and U.S. governments could conceivably fall out over whether a military strike is necessary to stop the nuclear program.

Oren played a role in speculation about U.S.-Israel differences when his conversations in conference calls with fellow diplomats were leaked to the media. His follow-up explanation at the time was the object of some derision: Oren insisted that he never said there was a “rift” in the relationship but a “shift.”

He went some way in explaining the issue in his recent interview.

“The administration promised change, and it’s an administration of change,” he said. “Obama is not a status quo president; he promised change domestically, he promised a change in foreign policy. One of my jobs was to figure out what this change was and report it back.”

Change is scary, Oren suggested, and Obama needed to make his case directly to the Israeli public.

“The timing has to be right,” Oren said. “I think that when he does come, when he reaches out, I think there will be a greater sense of support for him. It will be very important for the peace process—we’re going to be asked to take some big risks.”

Restarting direct talks helped put behind Israel and the Palestinians the issues that had vexed them—settlements in the West Bank and building in eastern Jerusalem—for the moment. Oren noted that the end of a 10-month Israeli partial moratorium on settlement building looms Sept. 26, and that while Israel understands the pressures leading Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to demand its extension, Netanyahu is under pressure, too.

Netanyahu’s “credibility is an asset for the peace process,” Oren said, anticipating a time—within a year, according to Israel’s timetable—that Netanyahu will have to make the case to the Israeli public for territorial concessions. “You don’t want in any way to impair his credibility.”

Notably, Oren described the negotiations as among three entities—Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. And he described the moratorium in terms of negotiations with the United States.

“We’re discussing this with the administration very intensely, we’re looking for ways to get around the hurdle,” he said.

Oren also anticipated resistance from the American Jewish right.

“The moratorium was very unpopular with the American Jewish right,” he said. “I anticipate further, if we move down this road toward an agreement with the Palestinians, that’s just going to begin.”

Oren said his tensions with J Street were overblown and are in any case behind them. He said he communicates regularly with the organization’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

“Does everything they do please me? They do not,” Oren said, referring to J Street’s criticism of both Israel and Hamas in the 2009 Gaza war. He hastened to add that “We understand that the American Jewish community is politically pluralistic, but the tent of pro-Israel organizations is a very big tent, is very inclusive.”

Including J Street in a “pro-Israel” tent is bound to be jarring to some ears, particularly among some centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups that have endeavored to describe the organization as representing the interests of a detached U.S. Jewish minority, if not an anti-Israel agenda.

Oren clearly sees himself, however, as a bridge between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. He noted his role in interim success having to do with women who want to worship equally at the Western Wall and in concerns about a Knesset bill that would have negated successes in getting Israel to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions.

In the former case, he noted that the Prime Minister’s Office is now monitoring the situation and ensuring that women—while still unable to hold services at the Wall—have easy access to a nearby alternative site.

In the matter of conversions, Oren noted that the matter has been put on hold for six months while a commission examines how to reconcile overseas conversions with the demand among Israelis from the former Soviet Union who are demanding a streamlined Israeli process.

Oren finished the interview on a hopeful note.

“It’s going to be a year of challenges on many levels, but it’s a year of great opportunities and hope, of peace, security of Israelis and our Palestnian neighbors,” he said. “And a year of continued support, understanding and love between Israel and Jewish communities.”

South Africa to return ambassador soon


South Africa’s ambassador to Israel is to return “within two to three weeks,” an official said.

The announcement came Wednesday in a statement released by the South African Union of Jewish Students, citing a spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation.

The ambassador was recalled in protest of the interception by Israel of a Gaza-bound flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish national passengers. Turkey was the only other country to have recalled its ambassador in response to the incident.

Tuesday, SAUJS presented a memorandum to government spokesperson Saul Molobi expressing its “utter dismay and outrage” at the government’s decision.

“Yesterday was a victory for Jews, South Africans and all those concerned with creating a human rights culture in South Africa,” the statement issued Wednesday read. “We will be keeping a vigilant eye on this claim and if necessary will be back to make our voice heard again.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and the Office of the Chief Rabbi issued a statement June 3 expressing their “profound disappointment” at the decision to recall the ambassador, calling it “premature and inappropriate.”

“As South African citizens we call upon our Government to adhere to an even-handed policy on the situation in the Middle East and to give due weight to Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” the statement read.

Senior diplomat: Ambassador not a reward for Syria


Washington should not limit communication with Damascus over an alleged arms transfer to Hezbollah, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and current assistant secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, testified Wednesday before the House of Representatives subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia in the wake of Zouheir Jabbour, the most senior Syrian official in Washington, being summoned to the State Department over the alleged transfer of Scud missiles from Syria to Hezbollah.

Feltman has led the Obama administration’s outreach to Syria.

Feltman was peppered with questions from several lawmakers as to why the United States would seemingly reward bad behavior by Damascus with the appointment of a U.S. ambassador for the first time in five years.

Feltman, while refusing to comment on the Scud missiles in an open setting, adamantly maintained that the appointment of an ambassador was not a reward, and underscored the need for U.S. officials to use all of the diplomatic tools at their disposal to help break up the Syria-Iran relationship.

“He [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] is listening to people like Hassan Nasrallah, he is listening to people like Ahmadinejad,” Feltman said. “We need to be making our message to him loud and clear and directly.”

Asked by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) to name “the central issues that need to be solved … that are keeping us in a belligerent relationship,” referring in particular to the Golan Heights and water issues, Feltman acknowledged that a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and Syria, would solve some issues.

Oren tapped as envoy


Israel’s new government has selected Michael Oren as its ambassador to Washington.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Oren Sunday night to inform him that he had been selected, according to a statement released Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Oren, a dual U.S.-Israel citizen who currently is a visiting professor at Georgetown University in Washington, has earned plaudits for his extensive scholarship on the 1967 Six-Day War. More recently he published a popular history that traced American Zionism to the founders as a rebuke to “realists” who advocate tempering close U.S.-Israel ties.

In an analysis last year, Oren wrote that an Obama administration was likelier to clash with Israel on certain policies than one led by John McCain, then the Republican candidate. Some critics of Israel in recent weeks have depicted the analysis as an attack on Obama, but Oren’s defenders say it was a dispassionate and scholarly assessment of how each candidate’s stated policies would play out.

More recently, Oren has advocated withdrawing from much of the West Bank, a position that Netanyahu has rejected.

Unlike other postings, made at the discretion of the foreign minister, the Washington envoy is usually chosen by the prime minister because of the sensitivity of the post. Oren will replace Sallai Meridor, who was known to be close to Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert.

First female Israel ambassador to U.N. shows humor, optimism


Gabriela Shalev is a self-declared optimist, which is a useful personality trait if you are Israel’s recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations.

Since the United Nation’s default position is to condemn Israel, while warmly applauding the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Hebrew University law professor might be forgiven a touch of wariness instead.

Indeed, Shalev, who assumed her new post two months ago, described her first impression of the world body as “Orwellian,” marked by double-speak and double-think.

Addressing some 300 friendly UCLA students on Nov. 14, under the auspices of the university’s Israel Studies Program, Shalev lightened her professorial demeanor with flashes of humor and a strong feminist consciousness.

Asked by a student if there was a downside to being Israel’s first female U.N. ambassador, she answered that, on the contrary, it “felt great” to be a woman among the predominantly male diplomats.

“I’m treated with particular respect by the Arab delegates, because I am a woman,” the 67-year-old ambassador said. “Or maybe it’s my gray hair.”

She recounted that she felt some trepidation when she was asked to meet with the president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua. He had previously hugged Ahmadinejad and was publicly described as an “Israel hater” by Shalev.

Instead, when Shalev entered his office, Brockmann rose “and kissed me on both cheeks,” she related with the glee of a teenager describing her first date. “I was so surprised; he was so nice.”

It also seems to be a good time to be a woman in Israel, Shalev said. Currently, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Speaker of the Knesset, foreign minister and potential prime minister are all women.

Of course, it’s not all kisses and cocktails at the United Nations, Shalev warned.

There is the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear program, continuing attacks by terrorist groups, and the “heartbreaking” — for both sides — situation on the border with Gaza.

But the optimist returned.

“I’m very hopeful that in the next four years, we will achieve, if not peace, an agreement by Israel and a Palestinian state to live next to each other,” she said.

“We have a traditional belief in the birth pangs of the Messiah, that the redemption of the world will come after a time of great pain.”

Shalev spoke on Nov, 16 on a non-political aspect of Israel-U.N. relations while addressing a research symposium hosted by supporters of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Through the U.N.’s health, agricultural and scientific agencies, Israel is playing a large role in spreading the country’s know-how to developing nations and showing that there is more to Israel than the conflict with the Arabs.

Pointing especially to BGU’s research in desert agriculture and habitation, Shalev said that “much of what we are to share with the world begins in the classrooms, laboratories and fields of Ben-Gurion University. It is a fact of which we should all be very proud.”

Israel taps ‘political outsider’ as new U.N. ambassador


TEL AVIV (JTA)—An exceptional intellect paired with an unflappable exterior are traits Gabriela Shalev’s high-powered colleagues and friends say will serve her well when she leaves for New York to become Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations.

Shalev, an internationally renowned law professor, will be the first woman to serve in the post. She was appointed to replace Dan Gillerman.

“She has a strong will and she knows what she is talking about,” said Meir Shamgar, a former chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court.

Shamgar first encountered Shalev when she was a student in a course he taught at Hebrew University. A few years later Shalev joined Shamgar as a colleague on the university’s law faculty, where she worked until 2002.

More recently, the two served together on a panel outlining ethics guidelines for Cabinet ministers.

Shalev, 67, is an expert in contract law and a political outsider not associated with any party who has been serving as the rector of Ono Academic College near Tel Aviv.

In appointing Shalev, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated that she was determined to put a highly qualified woman in the role.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly had favored Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York and a Labor Party member.

Some Israeli commentators criticized Livni for picking a political outsider, but Jerusalem Post columnist Calev Ben-David said Livni’s choice may work well for the audience that perhaps matters most: international public opinion.

“Livni was justified in wanting a woman for the post for reasons beyond gender advancement: Polls show that given Israel’s militaristic image abroad, women make the best general impression as our advocates in the international media,” Ben-David wrote.

Despite some grumbling from the diplomatic corps that one of their own again was passed over for the important position in New York – Gillerman also had been a political outsider until his selection – Shalev’s supporters say she is a quick study who will compensate for any foreign policy inexperience with her talents as an orator and a team player.

Shalev declined a request by JTA to be interviewed for this story. Her office said she will not be giving interviews until she assumes her post in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, which begins in September.

The daughter of German Jewish refugees in what was then British Mandate Palestine, Shalev grew up with a strong work ethic. She helped support her family while a student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, from where she earned a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in law.

She also did post-doctorate work at Harvard after her husband, an Israeli army officer, was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Shalev raised two young children alone.

“The experiences of Israel are part of her, and she’s also paid a price,” said Orna Lin, a former student of Shalev’s and a good friend.

Lin described Shalev as a relentless worker who also knows how to find time for students and friends, and who can talk as easily about her passions for opera, classical music and art as she can about legal disputes.

This was not the first attempt to draw Shalev into government work. Shalev declined several high-profile posts, including judgeships and the office of attorney general. Nevertheless, she is no stranger to public positions.

Shalev has been a member of the Jewish Agency board of governors and was chairwoman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Shalev has spent time in the United States as a visiting professor at such schools as Tulane, Temple and Boston College.

Alan Hoffman, the director-general of the Jewish Agency’s education department, called Shalev’s selection “an inspired choice.”

“She has all of the tools to be able to interpret Israel to the nations of the world,” Hoffman said. “I think she is unusual in the academic world in that she has not only been a professor but very active publicly.”

Lin says Shalev is always calm and in control.

“She can deal with any situation and never seems to be baffled by anything,” Lin said. “I think her intelligence will help prevent her from falling into the landmines that await in a place like the U.N.”

Her predecessor, Gillerman, was a former businessman who upon leaving his post this summer was lauded as a seasoned diplomat with excellent rhetorical skills. Observers said Gillerman succeeded in raising Israel’s profile at the United Nations and bolstering its image around the world.

At a farewell party last month for Gillerman, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered deep praise for the Israeli envoy’s tenure at the world body, noting the “special challenges” of representing Israel.

Shalev will have plenty of challenges awaiting in New York. Most notably, she must navigate the notoriously anti-Israel atmosphere at the United Nations and help push for diplomatic support for Israel’s efforts to halt Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Former Jewish Agency head tapped as Israel’s next ambassador to U.S.


One of Sallai Meridor’s first acts as chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency for Israel was to deliver relief to a Muslim country, Albania.

The delivery of food and medicine to refugees from the Kosovo crisis in April 1999 was a first for the organization best known for rescuing Jews — and was a sign that the scion of one of Israel’s founding families had a perpetual yearning for a wider diplomatic role.

A little more than a year after Meridor shocked the Jewish world by quitting the agency before his term ended, telling friends he hankered for a diplomatic role, his wish is about to come true: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nominated him on Oct. 4 to be Israel’s next ambassador to Washington.

The one sentence statement from the Prime Minister’s Office simply said Olmert and Livni “decided that Mr. Sallai Meridor will be appointed as Israel’s ambassador to Washington in place of Danny Ayalon, who is completing his four-year term.”

Meridor, 51, still faces confirmation by the Cabinet and must be cleared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal team. But with Livni and Olmert in agreement — and they are at odds on just about everything else recently — his appointment is a sure thing.

Sources said he is set to start in January.

Meridor’s appointment comes at a critical time. The U.S.-Israel relationship has arguably never been stronger, but the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace that both countries had embraced has been crumbling amid chaos among the Palestinians and growing regional threats from Iran and Iraq.

It also comes after Olmert’s political fortunes were severely hampered by the damage Israel suffered this summer during its war with Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israeli prime minister is hoping to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Traditionally, Israel’s ambassador to Washington goes beyond the role of intermediary between Jerusalem and Washington, with the ambassador often involved in helping to set Israeli policy.

Meridor had already been seen as a shoo-in because of his decades-old friendship with Olmert.
Both men are “princes” of the Likud Party establishment who have moderated their hawkish views. Olmert now leads the centrist Kadima Party, which broke away from the Likud last year.

That friendship is probably the critical element explaining Meridor’s appointment, according to Jewish leaders who have known both men for decades.

“The most important thing for an ambassador to the United States is to have the confidence of the prime minister, and they go back many years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Meridor also has a reputation for integrity, rolling back the Jewish Agency’s notoriety for patronage during his 1999-2005 term, and cutting its expenses.

The Jewish Agency, involved in the rescue and absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel as well as Jewish education around the world, is the primary overseas recipient of North American federation funds.

As head of the agency, he pushed for the accelerated immigration of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia, and the establishing of MASA — a program to bring thousands of Diaspora youth to Israel for long-term study and visits. He advocated aliyah from Western countries and established a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which helped boost immigration to Israel from North America and most recently, England.

He is well-known — and praised by American Jewish officials of both political and philanthropic organizations.

Sallai has a tremendous intellect and the capacity to multitask at the highest level of detail,” said Jay Sarver, the chairman of the agency’s budget and finance committee. “He has a deep, deep Jewish identity and neshama, and a deep belief in Zionist action.”

Stephen Hoffman, the president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the former president of the United Jewish Communities, worked closely with him during his term at the agency.

“He is a good listener and he is articulate in English as well as Hebrew,” Hoffman said. “He thinks strategically and looks at a lot of different angles, is cautious and gathers a lot of opinions before he makes a move.”

Friends say that the more recent role at the helm of the Jewish Agency obscures his talents as a diplomat. As an adviser to Moshe Arens, who served as foreign minister and defense minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he cultivated a friendship with James Baker. That was exceptional because Baker, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was not known for friendly relations with Israel.

Dennis Ross, the veteran peace negotiator and diplomat, worked for Baker at the time. Meridor knows how to explain Israel’s needs, he knows how to work effectively with American administrations, he knows how to see the big picture,” Ross said. “Israel could not have made a better choice.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, said they looked forward to working with someone with solid Washington experience.

“He is a highly effective advocate, is well-acquainted with the ways of Washington, D.C., and will surely bring his considerable talents to bear in his new post,” said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block.

Meridor has often straddled two worlds – as a West Bank settler who lives in Kfar Adumim, a settlement near Jericho likely to be dismantled in the withdrawals that Olmert has advocated.
His dual majors at Hebrew University were in the history of Islamic peoples and the history of the Jews. He speaks Arabic.

“Sallai has the ability to take people, to appeal to people from the right and the left and make people feel comfortable whether he agrees with their opinions or not,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who admires Meridor despite their disagreements on last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “In this kind of job, that’s an important trait.”

Klein noted Meridor’s profound affection for the whole biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.

France Honors Quiet Diplomacy of Rabbi


Quiet diplomacy rarely makes headlines, but one example of the art received public recognition this month when France bestowed one of its highest honors on Rabbi Gary Greenebaum.

In conferring the National Order of Merit, France’s second highest civilian award, on the Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the French ambassador to the United States praised Greenebaum as “a man of dialogue.”

Greenebaum earned the compliment for his below-the-radar efforts over the past five years, at a time when attacks on French Jews and synagogues kept escalating and were met with seeming indifference by the government in Paris. The most infamous recent incident was the kidnapping, torture and murder of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, who died in February.

In the wake of anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes, outraged American Jewish organizations have issued the usual protests and denunciations, but Greenebaum took a quieter approach, characteristic of his organization.

The AJC, which was founded 100 years ago in response to pogroms in czarist Russia, considers foreign relations its special niche, earning it the unofficial title of “State Department of the Jewish People.”

Long before the Halimi incident, “I started meeting frequently with the then-French consul general in Los Angeles, Jean-Luc Sibiude,” recalled Greenebaum in an interview. “The official French line at the time was that the attacks were the work of a few thugs, who just happened to beat up Jews, and that there was no anti-Semitism in France.”

Over a number of “forthright but positive” sessions, Greenebaum politely asserted that France needed to face up to its home-grown anti-Semitism.

Greenebaum thinks he made progress, he said, but “we did it quietly, without grandstanding. We always kept in mind that France has the largest Jewish community in Europe, and the third largest in the world, and that what counted was the long-range relationship.”

Sibiude apparently was impressed, and three years ago, he told Greenebaum that he wanted to nominate him for the Order of Merit.

Last year, when new Consul General Phillippe Larrieu took over, the relationship with Greenebaum continued. A few weeks ago, the French diplomat informed the AJC director that the award had been approved by the French president and invited him to a reception at his residence.

At the April 2 event, 150 invited guests from the local French, Jewish and interfaith communities applauded as French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte inducted Greenebaum as an officer in the French National Order of Merit. In making the presentation, Levitte referred to Greenebaum as “a man of dialogue” and praised him for strengthening pluralism around the world.

In accepting the honor, Greenebaum cited the long history of Jews in France. He also referred to a number of recent anti-Semitic incidents in France, saying that the country is presently “caught in a period of cultural upheaval” but predicted that “long-term, France will overcome its difficulties.”

As a special fillip to the occasion, the ambassador, who is Jewish, recalled that his own father had worked for the AJC in Paris for more than 30 years.

The Order of Merit was established by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963 to recognize “distinguished merit” and is rarely bestowed on foreigners.

Greenebaum savored the occasion, but it was back to work the following day.

“There are 34 other foreign consulates in Los Angeles with which we have to stay in touch,” he said.

 

Transplant Recipient Will Parade Success


Like many native Angelenos, Ilene Feder has never been to the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. However, the Studio City resident not only will be attending the New Year’s day festivities on Monday, Jan. 2, for the 118th Rose Parade, but will have a vantage point few get to experience: She’ll be riding on a float.

Feder is one of 23 individuals from throughout the country who will ride on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, representing organ and tissue recipients, living organ donors and donor family members. The float’s theme is “Life Transformed.”

In 1995, Feder, then a 40-year-old international flight attendant, led a healthy, active lifestyle that included skiing, running and scuba diving. Following a routine checkup that showed elevated liver enzyme levels, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.

The condition caused a clot in the artery that supplied blood to her liver. Feder underwent surgery to bypass the blockage, but within nine months, it was clear that her liver was shutting down.

When her doctor told her that she would need a liver transplant, “I flipped out,” Feder said. “But the support that I had from the transplant community and from my family saved me. I got heaps and heaps of information that I didn’t get from my doctors.”

Now Feder, who received a donated liver in August 1996, reaches out to others who are awaiting or have received a transplant. She helped start local chapters of the Transplant Recipient International Organization (TRIO) in Westlake Village and Sherman Oaks and became an ambassador for OneLegacy, the transplant network serving the greater Los Angeles area. She has also spoken at various synagogues and organizations to promote organ donor awareness.

Although Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism sanction — and in fact advocate — organ donation, Feder believes that some may retain misconceptions about Judaism’s view.

“People think you need to be buried whole, but it’s a mitzvah to donate an organ,” Feder said. “It makes me feel good that my religion backs my convictions.”

Feder’s transplant has enabled her to resume an active lifestyle. Although she has less stamina than she had before getting sick, she has since traveled to such locales as Israel and China. She’s also attended the Transplant Winter Olympics. And, of course, she’s getting ready for her role on Jan. 2.

“I’m practicing my Princess Di wave,” she said. “I’ve got it down.”

The Rose Parade, with the theme, “It’s Magical,” will take place on Monday, Jan. 2, at 8 a.m. and will air on several local TV stations.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the Santa Ana/Tustin group of Hadassah of Long Beach/Orange County will host “Pikuah Nefesh — to Save a Life,” a program discussing the Jewish view of organ and tissue donation. The event will feature Rabbi Ken Millhander of Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton; Sharon Zepel, mother of a teenage donor; and organ recipient Lynda Trachtman. For event location and more information, call (714) 545-7162.

Nation & World Briefs


London, Tel Aviv Bombing Link

One of the terrorists in the July 7 London transit-system bombings reportedly knew one of the bombers in a 2003 Tel Aviv terrorist attack. Mohammed Siddique Khan knew Omar Sharif, one of the two British terrorists to attack Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv restaurant, in April 2003, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported. Khan, 30, one of the four suicide bombers whose attacks on London’s transport system killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700, was friendly with Sharif.

In February 2003, Khan visited Israel for one day, leading to speculation that he may have been on a reconnaissance mission for the Mike’s Place attack. Sharif’s accomplice, Asif Hanif, blew himself up, killing three people; Sharif failed to detonate his explosive belt in the attack. He escaped only to be found dead in the sea some days later.

Sharon’s Son Indicted

The son of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was indicted on charges of illegally financing his father’s Likud Party primary campaign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz filed charges against Omri Sharon on Tuesday, prompting the Likud lawmaker to forfeit his parliamentary immunity.

According to media reports, Mazuz and Omri Sharon had discussed a possible plea bargain, but the negotiations collapsed when the latter demanded that he serve no jail time.

Mazuz cleared the prime minister and two senior advisers in connection with the case in February. Omri Sharon, who also is charged with fraud, breach of trust and perjury, could be sentenced up to seven years in prison, but media reports said any prison time would be much less, probably months.

Pentagon Sells to Israel

The Pentagon plans to sell Israel’s air force up to $600 million of equipment and maintenance. The contract would cover service for Israel’s F-15 and F-16A/B fighter jets for 10 years, the Pentagon said last Friday.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the U.S. by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said in a notice to Congress.

Congress has 30 days to block the sale, but is unlikely to do so.

Ambassador to Israel Named

The White House named Richard Jones as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Jones, a former ambassador to Kuwait and Lebanon, was named to the post Monday. He most recently served as a senior adviser and policy coordinator on Iraq at the State Department. Jones replaces Daniel Kurtzer, who has served in the post for four years.

Group Calls for Niger Aid

The American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry called on the international community to urgently address the prospect of mass starvation in Niger. Monday’s call comes after the inaugural meeting last week of the group’s Consultative Committee on Africa-Jewish Relations at the United Nations. In a statement, the AJCongress-Council for World Jewry noted 2.5 million people, including 800,000 children are in dire need of emergency food aid.

Chabad Founder’s Son Converted Out?

Recently discovered documents in Belarus appear to confirm rumors that the son of Chabad’s founder converted to Catholicism. According to a recent Ha’aretz report, Hebrew University Professor Shaul Stempfer discovered documents in the national historical archives in Minsk that chronicle the conversion of Moshe Zalmanovitch, the youngest son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, about 180 years ago. The files, which once belonged to the Catholic Church, contain a letter written by Moshe in 1820 in which he professes his Roman Catholic faith. According to the documents, Moshe was mentally unstable, and after a stint as adviser to the czar, ended his life in a mental hospital in St. Petersburg. Chabad historian Yosef Kaminetzky responded to the Ha’aretz story by saying the Minsk documents are forgeries, and Catholic authorities in Minsk tried to convert Zalmanovitch against his will.

Israelis Triumph at Maccabiah

Israeli athletes won the largest number of medals at the 17th Maccabiah Games. Athletes representing the Jewish state won 381 medals, including 146 golds, in the open competition at the games, which ended July 21. The U.S. team finished second with 156 medals. Russia finished third with 48 medals, and Canada fourth with 28.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Q & A With Daniel Ayalon


The mid-August Israeli pullout from Gaza is fraught with risks and unknowns, but the Israeli government remains committed to “unilateral disengagement,” says Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Ayalon spoke with The Journal about the reasons for disengagement, a policy he characterized as virtually inevitable and worth the sacrifice of the Israeli settlers who will have to leave their homes.

Ayalon, age 49, has served as Israel’s top diplomat in the United States since July, 2002. He played a leading role in negotiating the blueprint for a two-state solution known as the “Roadmap for Peace.” Prior to his U.S. posting, Ayalon was chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. From 1997 to 2001, he was deputy foreign policy adviser to former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Jewish Journal: To what extent was the government prepared for the protests and resistance to the pullout from Gaza?

Daniel Ayalon: The government has been prepared and, I think, is prepared. It wasn’t something that we did very cheerfully. We did foresee objections. We do empathize with the people. We’re talking about three generations, 8,000 people who made their lives there. It is very difficult to uproot.

But the prime minister had to make the decision because he knew this was the best course of action to take and the best way to strengthen Israel — politically, securitywise, economically and I also would say socially. And understanding that Gaza is not an asset but a liability.

JJ: What do you mean when you speak of Gaza as a liability?

DA: Everybody realizes that there was no future for a Jewish presence in Gaza. You have 1 million or 1.2 million Palestinians and 8,000 Jews. The numbers talk here. And from a historical or biblical point of view, I’m not sure that Gaza was part of our land in the past.

JJ: What history are you talking about? History covers a long time in this part of the world.

DA: The past of the Jewish people. Gaza as I recall was Philistine land. Back in March 1979, during the negotiation of the second Camp David accord between President Carter, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, at that time Begin offered Gaza to Sadat and Egypt together with the rest of the Sinai peninsula.

So there was no great attachment to the Gaza, ever.

JJ: But there was a Jewish presence.

DA: Right, although strategically you cannot compare Gaza to Jerusalem, the Judean Hills, the Jordan River valley and all these areas.

JJ: Yet the Israeli government did allow and encourage these settlers to go to Gaza.

DA: Totally. They were sent by successive Israeli governments.

The first settlements there were built before the peace treaty with Egypt. So on the southern front we still had all these threats when Egypt was still the enemy. Egypt is no longer an enemy and the demography is also a factor. After all these years we have 8,000 people surrounded by these 1 million Palestinians.

[Years ago] you couldn’t really foresee the [future] developments. I can guarantee you: Had we had 1 million Israeli settlers in Gaza, we wouldn’t have left Gaza. If we had 500,000 Israelis, we wouldn’t have left Gaza.

JJ: How much does it cost Israel to protect the settlement region, Gush Katif, on an annual basis?

DA: Well, listen we had to keep there a division, about 20,000 troops. I would say it was quite costly. But the cost is not the factor. Protecting other areas is very costly as well. Strategically there is just no merit in staying there.

JJ: Of course, you could allow the settlers to stay, but inform them that they may soon become citizens of a Palestinian state.

DA: This is not realistic. No one was even contemplating this.

JJ: So you’re saying the settlements are a dead-end vestige of policies that, in the past, seemed to make sense. That doesn’t exactly make things easier for the settlers.

DA: We are very proud of the settlers’ achievements. I believe that their effort, their endeavors, were not in vain. And we applaud the achievements of the settlers over there. We do understand their pain.

It is incumbent on us, the government, to make sure the people who are losing what they’ve spent all their lives building will feel the least pain possible. And for that there are packages of compensation and other services that will be rendered and offered to the population there, from economic help to professional advice and placement, to psychological treatment as well. We try to prepare all of this.

JJ: You’re saying that all this upheaval is justified for the greater good of Israel.

DA: By doing the disengagement, by leaving Gaza, we have much strengthened our position in Judea and Samaria. Sometimes you come to a juncture when you have to make a choice and you have to look ahead. And you have to think of the global picture.

Disengagement is a very timely thing to do, the right thing to do for the people of Israel, and I hope for the region.

One more thing: This pullout did not follow an agreement with the Palestinians, but it followed something which is much more important, an agreement with the United States. Disengagement has to be viewed in the context of Israel-United States relations. It was enthusiastically endorsed by President Bush, and most in the international community are also accepting and endorsing it. Disengagement is something that creates a common agenda between us and the United States.

In support of disengagement, President Bush wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sharon reiterating his commitment to Israel’s security, and his commitment to strengthening Israel’s defense and deterrence capability. And President Bush went to an extent that no other president did talking about Israel living in recognized and defensible borders.

Not to mention that the American government now supports the realities on the ground. They do not expect us to return to the 1967 or 1949 lines, which is also a great asset. They don’t expect the Palestinian refugees to ever go back to Israel. That also is a great benefit that we have received because of the disengagement.

And we have received the political reassurance that the only road ahead is the roadmap to peace. The United States will not accept any other initiatives that are undesirable from any other quarter of the world. And there’s also a commitment to strengthening the Israeli economy. So all these factors are also very important in the decision to pull out from Gaza. Israel will be much stronger after the disengagement.

JJ: To what extent does the success of the pullout depend on the Palestinians?

DA: We would expect two things. First of all, during the disengagement, we would like to see that they make sure that terror doesn’t erupt. Toward that goal we have allowed them to move 5,000 security troops of the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank to Gaza. And we would expect they would create a perimeter or a buffer for our own troops, who would mostly be engaged with our own population, dealing with them and pulling them out — something that is not only excruciatingly painful but also very complicated.

If we encounter enemy fire and terror we will have to respond. And we will have to respond in a very decisive way because we will not allow them to pursue us as we move out. We will not allow even the perception of terror winning.

Secondly, we would expect the Palestinians to coordinate with us all the economic and civil affairs. For instance, we intend to leave most of infrastructure intact for the Palestinians to use, to create value for the Palestinian economy. For instance, there are greenhouses that could employ 8,000 to 10,000 people, which could sustain 100,000 or more Palestinians, about 10 percent of the population of Gaza.

After the disengagement, they will have to dismantle the terror infrastructure. They will have to disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organizations. They will have to arrest the fugitives and the known terrorists, break their cells and do it on a sustainable basis, so they can really come with us and negotiate on the roadmap. But the ticking bomb of Hamas is re-arming, re-grouping, recruiting new terrorists on a daily basis, and nothing is being done about it. The Palestinian Authority will have to take it head on if they want to be a viable partner for the future.

JJ: Isn’t there an argument for leaving intact the houses once occupied by Israeli settlers? Or at least letting the Palestinians make that decision?

DA: They have conveyed to us that they would prefer for those houses to be demolished because they are not suitable for Palestinian living because they are very expensive on land consumption. With the density of the population in Gaza, I think they would prefer high rises. Instead of 8,000 Israelis, they can inhabit this same area with tens of thousands of Palestinians.

We would like to see Palestinian refugees settled over there. It’s very unfortunate that throughout all these years, and certainly since the Palestinian Authority was created with Arafat in 1993, that they have not done anything to help their own refugees. Certainly they can move those refugees out of very miserable and inhumane conditions to new housing. Also by creating this housing, by building new housing, it can give a lot of immediate employment to the citizens of Gaza.

JJ: So how will the demolition be handled?

DA: The houses will be demolished by Israel. And the debris will be taken out by the Palestinians, who would not have to bear the costs for it. Israel is willing to participate in that cost. The international community should as well.

JJ: Some critics characterize disengagement as a defeat, as a retreat that will just encourage more violence and bring enemies who will never accept Israel’s existence closer to Israel’s doorsteps.

DA: I don’t think this is the case. We are leaving Gaza quite triumphant. Hamas was on the run. If you recall, we have taken on all its leaders, including Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Sheik Yassin. [Israel forces killed Rantisi and Yassin.] We really demolished all the infrastructure.

The reason the Palestinians have voted in a massive way for Abu Mazen is because he offered them a strategy of quiet and of doing away with terror. He has not really performed yet, but the terrorism did not further the Palestinians’ national interest. They have lost militarily. They have lost economically. They have lost in international legitimacy. And they have not done what they wanted to do, which is break the Israeli spirit.

Will terror spring out of Gaza? I doubt it. If it does, we will have all the legitimacy to respond in a very decisive way. And the Palestinians would want to see Gaza as a showcase. If they can govern Gaza in a responsible way, without terror, then they may have a case to start the roadmap and talk about other areas. If not, then nothing will be moving ahead.

JJ: Critics on the left say that even while Israel is withdrawing from Gaza, it is entrenching itself elsewhere in the territories and even expanding areas of control.

DA: Everything always depends on the performance of the Palestinians. If they will make good on their obligations in the roadmap: to dismantle the terror organizations, to complete their reforms, to create a viable entity with one rule of law and a monopoly over the military and the guns — then we can negotiate in good faith.

We cannot move forward to the second stage before the first stage is completed.

JJ: Is anything nonnegotiable, such as the status of Jerusalem, for instance?

DA: I repeat to you what Prime Minister Sharon said: Jerusalem is the one indivisible, united, eternal capital of Israel forever and ever.

JJ: Do you have a particular message for the Jewish community of Southern California?

DA: There is great compatibility between the American economy and Israel. In Israel, we’re talking about a very developed high-tech economy with a very well trained labor force that is also excelling in areas like entrepreneurship. We are proud to be the United States’ largest trading partner in the Middle East.

There are many American companies that are represented in Israel. And we would like to see more. I would like to see them look into business opportunities for joint ventures and investments. Now is the time to invest. Equity is still cheap in Israel. The growth is up and tourists are back. The economy is moving in the right direction. We are deregulating, changing the tax code, privatizing — so I think now is a good time to invest in Israel.

Also in your area I have met with many leaders in the entertainment industry. I have invited many of them to Israel and many of them did come. I would take this opportunity to [invite] actors and actresses to come to Israel, to discover Israel, and also to promote it.

JJ: Is there anything that could derail or postpone the pullout?

DA: I hope not. We are prepared to do it. And we are going to do it. We understand the demonstrations. We are a democratic country and they have the right to do it. But Israel also is a country with the rule of law. D-day will be Aug. 16, and we would expect the settlers to leave voluntarily. I hope most of them will. And those who will not, we will have to deal with them, very compassionately and with great patience. And just bring them back one by one.

Q & A With András Simony


András Simonyi, Hungary’s ambassador to the United States, made his first visit to the Museum of Tolerance Feb. 11 to plan a spring memorial marking this year’s 60th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of Hungarian Jews in 1944.

A trim man who speaks in the short but thoughtful answers typical of a seasoned diplomat, Simonyi, 51, became the Washington, D.C., ambassador in 2002, after seven years of representing Hungary at the European Union and NATO.

Raised an atheist in communist Hungary, Simonyi’s mother was Catholic and his father was Jewish; his paternal grandparents died in Auschwitz. He talked with The Jewish Journal about anti-Semitism, Israel and how Hungary’s 1956 revolt against the Soviet Union relates to Iraq’s liberation.

Jewish Journal: How will the 60th anniversary of the deportations be observed in Hungary and in the United States?

András Simonyi: We’ll have a couple of major events in Budapest. Two will stand out: One is on the 15th of April, which is basically the day the deportations started in the countryside in Hungary, [and] a Holocaust museum in Budapest will be inaugurated.

I, as the ambassador to the United States, will also commemorate the event at a reception given in Washington, D.C. We will have a major event in New York. I am here partly to discuss with the Jewish community in Los Angeles the way we will commemorate the event in Los Angeles.

JJ: Hungary’s first Holocaust museum opens this year. Has Hungary’s debate over its Holocaust role been missing until now due to the communist years? The French debated France’s Holocaust role in the 1950s and 1960s, but the 1990s debate in post-communist Hungary was about communism. Did that contribute to this delay?

AS: I think so. But the important thing is that when you look back at history, all dictatorships are bad, and you don’t start discussing which dictatorship is worse, because you have to do justice to all, whether they’re victims of the Nazism and the Holocaust, whether they’re victims of communism and the gulags. For us, we have to remember that one life is as precious as another life.

JJ: Hungary has not seen the rise of anti-Semitism that has gripped France in the past few years. What do you attribute that to?

AS: Unfortunately, anti-Semitism exists everywhere, even in Hungary. Some of the anti-Semites in Hungary are very noisy, but the government is very clear on cracking down on anti-Semitism. There is a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Hungary, which is a sign that Jews in Hungary feel confident about the present and their future…. Slowly, but confidently, Hungarians are facing the darkest moment of history, and I really think the 60th anniversary should be marking this facing of the past.

JJ: Far-left parties worldwide have pro-Palestinian stances often so strong that they exclude Israel’s right to exist, and the problems of far-right anti-Semitism are well-documented. What is the state of Hungary’s far-left and far-right political parties?

AS: It is quite obvious that the democratic parties, left and right in Hungary, have a huge responsibility in making sure that they [anti-Semites] are pushed aside. They’re not in the Hungarian Parliament, which means that Hungary, the overwhelming majority of Hungarians, say no to an anti-Semitic party.

JJ: How does Hungary balance its relationship with Israel and with European Union-wide concerns for the situation in the Palestinian areas?

A.S.: Hungary was the first country in the Eastern bloc to re-establish [after the fall of communism] diplomatic relations with Israel. It was just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On the other hand, it is very important to send a clear signal that we in the international community, with the European Union, with the United States, want to be part of assisting a solution to the conflict in the Middle East. Hungary has held hands with the United States as it went to war against Saddam Hussein.

JJ: Most Hungarians have not used Hungary’s anti-Soviet revolt in 1956 to make comparisons in support of the Palestinians’ intifada.

AS: I think that would be most ridiculous to draw any parallels. Honestly, fortunately, this is not a very popular belief. Hungarians in 1956 stood up against dictatorship, stood up against Soviet Russian occupation.

I would draw the parallel with what we wanted to achieve in 1956 with the war on terrorism and against Iraq. Partly why we thought we had to get rid of Saddam Hussein and do it together is because we remember what it means when democracies fail to act.

Hungary is a hard-core democracy, and we have learned the hard way, through Nazism, through communism, what it means when a country embraces radical ideas that exclude others. In 1944, Hungarians were deported; as far as I’m concerned, they were Hungarians. Hungarians deporting other Hungarians.

Ross Options


In his featured speech to the crowd assembled for the Yom HaShoah program at Sinai Temple, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the diplomatic point man for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during previous administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton, acknowledged his disappointment in the current violence and outlined what he views as the likely possibilities for the conflict.

"The Palestinian people are being victimized. We have to ask ourselves who is responsible," Ross said. "I was at the negotiating table when Arafat had a chance to end the occupation." Now, he said, "It is a war. Arafat helped to bring that war on."

Noting that "it doesn’t matter" whether Arafat is unwilling or unable to stop suicide bombers, he said, "It is hard to escape the conclusion that we have crossed that threshold, where peaceful coexistence is no longer possible."

Ross laid out three options he views as possible solutions to the current fighting.

First, the "bypass Arafat" option, which he also referred to as the "exile" option. Though the suggestion that Israel "can’t deal with [Arafat] anymore" drew spontaneous applause from the crowd, Ross emphasized that "you don’t beat something with nothing," and Israel would still need a political solution, with or without Arafat.

Ross’ second option is the ideal — create a timeline of responsibilities, starting with security for both sides. Ross shared, based on his experience negotiating with both men, what he feels is the major difference between Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. With Sharon, he said, "it is hard to get him to make commitments, because he actually believes he has to fulfill them."

And so, Ross arrived at the third option, "not one I have personally favored," he said, but one that "probably will happen." The third option is unilateral separation, in which the Israelis withdraw completely from the settlements and build a wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The unilateral move is "not a solution," but "a way station."

"I’d like to be more hopeful," Ross said, "but I can’t be right now." — M.L.

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