Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Rachel Kohl Feingold and Abby Brown Schier graduating from Yeshivat Maharat, an orthodox institution that ordains female clergy (Joe Winkler/JTA)

Let’s pretend to change political and spiritual realities

I’ve already written last week about our era of make-believe. The evacuation of the Amona settlement, I wrote, was a manufactured drama. The settlers needed it, the coalition needed it. The outcome did not change, but the actors played their part with reasonable success. Thus, other actors feel the need to participate in their own drama of make believe. Let’s pretend that the Knesset can truly pass an “outpost bill” that could withstand legal challenge. Let’s pretend that the Orthodox Union can truly – by issuing a statement – reverse the trend of women becoming clergy in Orthodox synagogues.

Let me deal with both.

1. The outpost bill

The outpost bill aims to prevent evacuations like Amona, when Jews sit on private Arab land in the West Bank for a long time. It essentially says that Palestinian owners will get compensation – and Jews will not be evacuated. The Attorney General warned that this law is illegal. The Prime Minister asked the Knesset not to vote on the legislation prior to his meeting with President Trump. But the Knesset, as of Monday morning, seems insistent.

Why? Make believe is the answer.

The head of the Jewish Home is criticized by his base for failing to prevent the Amona evacuation. The members of the Likud party are worried that if they postpone the vote Bennet will make them look leftish. Other members of the coalition just don’t care. Why should they care? It is widely assumed that the law is indeed illegal, and that the High Court will strike it down. If that happens, everybody wins. Israel does not have a problematic law on its books. The leaders of the right look bold and daring. The prime minister proves his better judgment. The opposition proves that it fought against a truly problematic law. The court takes the heat. The court is not part of the political system, so no politician really cares if the justices take the heat.

Brace yourself: The right is going to celebrate a non-achievement. The left is going to mourn a non-death. The right is going to pretend that the new legislation solves a major problem for Israel – it does not. The left is going to pretend that the new legislation is yet another sign that Israel is committing suicide – the legislation means no such thing.

2. The OU Statement

The American Orthodox Union issued a statement according to which women will not be allowed to serve as clergy in Orthodox synagogues. The statement pathetically also says: “just as the Rabbinic Panel has made clear that women serving in clergy roles or holding clergy titles is at odds with halacha and our mesorah, the Panel has also proclaimed – and celebrated – the important, and fundamentally successful roles that women can and must play within our communal and synagogue structures, including as educators and scholars.”

Some more make believe. Let’s pretend that any of the proponents of women’s elevation was waiting to hear from this OU panel. Let’s pretend that any of these proponents is going to follow the ruling. Let’s pretend that “Orthodoxy” is still a stream of Judaism cohesive enough to be considered a stream.

This statement, again, is an everybody-wins type of decision.

The ruling rabbis win: they will not be attacked by fellow conservative Orthodox rabbis. Yes, they will have to deal with some criticism from the more liberal Orthodox voices. But let’s be honest – attacks from liberals are usually less aggressive and hence of less concern.

Conservative Orthodoxy wins: their way is still the highway of Orthodoxy. They might see that the wind is blowing in new directions, but at the moment they are still able to withstand the wind and hold the line.

The Orthodox Union wins: it has proved to be no less Orthodox than the ultra-Orthodox organizations.

The liberal Orthodox groups win: they need someone to fight against and a cause to rally their troops against. Had they been less trigger-happy, they would shrug this statement off – why should they even care about a statement or a ruling of this or that group of rabbis? They do, though. The battle is part of the platform.

Orthodox women win: Their “issue” is back on the table. It has been proved, once again, to be the defining issue of Orthodoxy today.

But what has changed as a result of this statement? Nothing has changed. Nothing at all.



White House senior advisor Steve Bannon attends as U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sunday Reads: Steve Bannon’s book club, The new red-line with Iran, Netanyahu’s flattery for Amona


Marc Tracy crossed paths with Steve Bannon and found it interesting that he was reading David Halberstram:

Mr. Bannon was carrying a book, and when an incoming president’s guru is reading a book, you should find out what it is. I walked by and peeked. It was “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam’s 1972 history of the strategic errors and human foibles that birthed the disastrous American involvement in the Vietnam War. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s transition to the White House, in December 1960.

Now I really knew it was him.

Adam Chandler writes about Trump’s non-policy on Israeli settlements:

Four days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government announced that it would build 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. In another era—as in anytime before two weeks ago—this kind of announcement would have immediately drawn censure from the State Department and perhaps even the president. Instead, the White House said nothing. Palestinian officials, international observers, and some Israelis were dismayed. On the Israeli right, there was jubilation: “We’re going back to normal life in Judea and Samaria” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.


Yossi Shain writes about the growing ideological disparity between American Jewry and the Israeli government:

There is a big, dangerous gap between the passionate embrace US President Donald Trump is receiving from the Israeli government and the great amount of hatred towards him among liberal elements and many in the American political center. This situation could create an even bigger split among American Jewry, which mostly votes Democrat.

Mazal Mualem criticizes the Israeli right’s “flattery fest” for Amona:

During the late afternoon of Feb. 2, as harsh images of the violent evictions from the Amona outpost and reports of wounded police officers flooded the media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, at a memorial for Ron Nahman, the town’s former mayor. Having avoided the Amona eviction for a few weeks, Netanyahu took advantage of the forum to talk about it. During the eviction, activists threw cleaning liquids, acid, oil and glass bottles at the police, but anyone expecting to hear Netanyahu disavow their shameful actions, never mind condemn them, was soon disappointed.

Middle East

Derek Chollet thinks that the US will come to regret the new red-line with Iran:

As some of my Shadow Government colleagues have correctly observed, there is a good reasons for calling out Iran’s destabilizing behavior, even if the Trump administration could have done so more artfully and with a greater chance of bringing other countries along (including Russia). But the challenge for Trump now will be similar to what Obama faced: By sending such a message, every step over the line on Iran’s part can be portrayed as a test of manhood — with the press, national security hawks, and certain allies goading the president into action.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan believes Trump is playing into the hands of Iranian hardliners:

Iranians have paid a high price for the inflammatory statements of their statesmen, but they have paid a bigger price for the ignorance of the opposite side to domestic politics in Iran, its lack of knowledge about the country’s history. Trump’s behaviour only plays into the hands of hardliners in Iran, particularly those who want to show the president, Hassan Rouhani, was wrong to find peace with the west.

For nearly 38 years, Iranian leaders have failed to convince their people that the US, which they call “the Great Satan”, was their “enemy” too. Trump’s first fortnight in office suggests that he may do that job for them.

Jewish World

Alon Pinkas believes that American Jews are just not that into Israel:

There is a false and misleading premise, adopted conveniently by most Israelis and some in the American Jewish community according to which American Jews wake up in the morning, spend their productive day and go to sleep at night thinking about Israel and what they have done for it today. That was never the case.

Sue Eisenfeld visits some of America’s most endangered Jewish communities:

I have traveled to more than 10 dead and dying Jewish communities, mostly in the Deep South, some of which are too-far gone or too-long dead for JCLP to work with. What is heartbreaking is witnessing the remains of Jewish life where there is still something left to save, if only a savior would appear. These are places where the synagogue has been torn down or sold or is having trouble staying afloat due to a dwindling population, or where the old Jewish cemetery — once on the outskirts of town and now in the middle of a development that doesn’t necessarily value it — has only one person, or no one, left to care for it and pay for maintenance or restoration.


Israeli policemen try to remove pro-settlement activists from a house during an operation by Israeli forces to evict settlers from the illegal outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A settlement evacuated: A manufactured emotional drama


Amona is no longer. A settlement was built and cultivated on a mountain top, and now it’s gone. Policemen and women evacuated the settlers, bulldozers dealt with the houses. Israel is still a country of law and order, and its government – think what you want about its policies and hawkish tendencies – abides by court decisions. So, as I wrote not long ago: the settlers do not control Israel’s politics. They have a voice, they have a standing, they have achievements, and they have failures. Ultimately, the government is in control, and not them.


Evacuations seem dramatic when you follow the procedures. But the evacuation of Amona is not dramatic. The settlers and their supporters have to fake shock and outrage, the government has to fake sorrow and reluctance, the public is dragged to fake excitement and concern – all of it is manufactured emotional drama. Made for TV, much ado about nothing. Or very little. Of course, it is somewhat sad to see a community having to dismantle itself. But the fate of Amona was sealed long ago, and the residents of Amona had many opportunities to find a way for them to move forward together, as a community of builders, someplace else. They made their choice: evacuation drama. It was not necessarily a foolish choice. When there is drama, the government gets nervous and feels a need to compensate the settlers for their agony. Amona could not be saved, but compensation for it could, and still can, be bolstered.


The story of Amona is a long one. A few weeks ago, my brother, Israel Rosner (with colleague Itai Rom), presented it in an almost hour long TV investigative report for Channel 10 News. I will present it here in one sentence: The State of Israel turned a blind eye when activists decided to build a new settlement in Amona, on land owned by Palestinians, and then realized that the legal problem with such a move could not be overcome.

The settlers of Amona were pawns in a game much larger then themselves. But not completely innocent pawns. Yes, they naively trusted the leaders who told them that everything is going to be OK. Still, they are not naïve.


The Amona case and its outcome are partially a result of Israel’s changing norms. Some things could be done twenty years ago with a nod and a wink, and now the bastards have changed the rules. The settlers rightly argue: we built Amona the way we built many other settlements. Brick by brick, trick by trick. Why is the result destruction this time? Because of the private land on which Amona was built. Because of the more aggressive legal tactics of anti-settler NGOs. Because of the court’s growing impatience with such trickery and illegality.

There are many reasons to regret the fact that Israel is becoming more formalized, less flexible and loose in applying certain norms. There was something charming about Israel’s youthful naughtiness. But Israel is getting older and larger – and can no longer behave like a juvenile punk. Also – it cannot and should not steal land from its legal owner.

What now? Nothing much. Israel is going to test the waters with the Trump administration and attempt to go back to pre-Obama policies in the West Bank. That is, back to building in the settlements. The internal battle within the Israeli right is going to be not about whether to build but rather about where to build. The Prime Minister and Defense Minister want to build in the so-called settlement blocs. Their coalition partners are going to pressure them to also build in more distant settlements.


The Obama administration made life difficult for Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it also made life easier for him. He was the ultimate excuse with which to reject the demands of his more radical partners.

The settlers and their supporters hope that the Trump administration will not provide Netanyahu with such excuses. They hope to strip Netanyahu of his excuses.

But they can’t: He still has the general attorney (who recently announced that he will not defend the legality of a pro-settlement legislation if passed in the Knesset). He still has the court – as the drama in Amona proves.



Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces during an evacuation operation at the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona. Feb. 1. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Netanyahu announces new settlement for Amona evacuees as police work to empty outpost

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a new West Bank settlement will be established for the evacuated residents of the Amona outpost.

Netanyahu made the announcement Wednesday evening as Israel police and security forces were evacuating the last of the homes for the 40 families living in Amona.

It will be the first new settlement established in 25 years.

A committee assigned to promote the establishment of the new settlement, according to the statement sent out by the Prime Minister’s Office, will determine its location and start the process of establishing it. The committee will be made up of representatives of the settlers,  Netanyahu’s chief of staff, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s adviser for settlement affairs, according to the announcement.

Netanyahu promised the Amona residents more than a month ago that he would provide them with a new community if the deal struck with them at the time fell through.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Court cancelled a December agreement by the government and the Amona residents to move their community to land adjacent to the evacuated outpost, after Palestinians came forward claiming ownership of the land.

Earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that Amona is an illegal settlement built on appropriated Palestinian land. At least three demolition orders have been issued since 1997.

As of late Wednesday night, police and security officers had emptied nearly all of the Amona houses and evacuated at least 4,000 protesters from the outpost, according to reports. Some 60 people reportedly remained holed up in the outpost’s synagogue, and it was estimated that the operation to evacuate the outpost would take until morning. It is not known when the demolition of the buildings would be complete.

At least 24 police officers have been injured in the evacuation, with the arrest of 13 protesters.

Temperatures fell below zero after nightfall, making the evacuation harder on Israeli forces and protesters alike.

Hundreds of police entered Amona on Wednesday morning to carry out the court-ordered evacuation. The activists, including many teens, had stationed themselves in homes and the outpost’s synagogue.

Some police were hit and injured by rocks as well as caustic materials, such as bleach and paint.

In 2006, a confrontation between settlers and police forces attempting to evacuate them turned violent, leaving many injured. The February demolition was postponed from Dec. 25 to give the state time to provide new housing for the residents.

Amona residents approve last minute deal for peaceful evacuation

Residents of the Amona West Bank outpost approved a last-minute deal to stave off a large-scale forceful evacuation by the Israeli government.

The residents voted 45 in favor and 25 opposed with two abstentions to approve the deal.

Late on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home political party, met with Amona families to offer them a deal that would build 24 homes on the same hilltop where they currently live and assist the other 16 families in finding homes nearby.

The offer comes after residents early Thursday morning voted 58-20 against a deal that would have seen about a dozen families relocated to another plot on the hill and the rest resettled in the nearby settlement of Ofra. A representative of the Amona residents said that deal offered no commitments and described it as “Swiss cheese.”

The new deal would require the Supreme Court to give the Israeli government an extra month to prepare living spaces on the new plot of land, which Israel has declared abandoned by its previous Palestinian residents.

The Supreme Court determined that Amona was built on Palestinian-owned land and ordered the residents to be removed by Dec. 25. It has turned down two requests by the government to extend the deadline for evacuation, but is expected to be amenable to the new request.

The Amona representatives had told Israeli media they thought the new deal would be a tough sell to fellow residents. The Amona residents were set to vote on the deal Sunday.

“We have done the maximum,” Netanyahu said at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Now I can only hope that the residents of Amona, who are now discussing the proposed outline among themselves, will accept it and this would be the right decision for them, for settlement, for the entire people of Israel and for the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu also said: “In recent months, especially in the past few weeks and the last few days, and yesterday, we have been making very great efforts to reach an agreed-upon solution in Amona. We have held dozens of discussions and submitted very many proposals, some I would say out-of-the-box, very creative proposals. We did so out of goodwill and love for settlement; love for settlement, indeed so. There has not been a government that showed more concern for settlement in the Land of Israel and no government will show more concern.”

Some 1,000 people gathered in Amona Saturday night to show support for the outpost and to hunker down to block the evacuation. Israel Defense Forces soldiers also reportedly have arrived in the area in preparation for the evacuation, which reportedly will take place this week.

In an open letter to the Amona residents that also was posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu on Friday called on the families to refrain from violence against the security forces that will be sent to evacuate the outpost and to remove their children from the site prior to the evacuation.

Pro-settlements firm forged 14 of 15 West Bank land deals

Nearly all of the West Bank real estate acquisitions made by a company run by a pro-settlement activist were forged.

The details of the transactions by the Al-Watan company, owned by the Amana housing company and run by director-general Zeev Hever, were broadcast Monday on Israel’s Channel 1. A full report was to be broadcast Tuesday night on the Channel 10 news program “HaMakor with Raviv Drucker.”

According to the investigation, the documents used by illegal outposts to prove they had purchased land from their Palestinian owners were forged. Some 14 of 15 real estate transactions were found to be forged, according to the report.

The report was based on two Palestinians who acted as straw men for Al-Watan, purchasing property from landowners and then transferring it to Amana.

Among the settlements involved in the deals, which date back to at least 1990, were Migron, Amona and Givat Asaf.

Al-Watan rejected the allegations, according to the Times of Israel.

Evacuation of two iIlegal outposts postponed

Two illegal West Bank outposts set to be evacuated by the end of the year have a reprieve.

The Israeli government informed the Supreme Court that the Givat Asaf outpost will be demolished in July, and that Amona will be demolished by December 2012. Both northern West Bank outposts are built on private Palestinian property.

The Migron outpost is still scheduled to be demolished by March, the state reportedly told the court. Israel also will remove some homes in the Ramat Gilad and Mitzpe Yitzhar outposts that are built on private Palestinian land.

The government has been looking for ways to make outposts constructed on state land legal. But in response to several lawsuits in the Supreme Court by Israeli human rights organizations, it agreed to demolish outpost buildings, including homes, on privately owned Palestinian land.

A Supreme Court-ordered demolition of homes in the Amona outpost enforced by the government in February 2006 sparked a confrontation between settlers and police that turned violent.

Amona Violence an Uncertain Harbinger

Had Ariel Sharon been able to continue as Israeli prime minister, his main strategic goal would have been establishing a new long-term border between Israel and the West Bank.

That remains the primary aim of his Kadima Party, but last week’s violent clashes between settlers and police at the tiny West Bank outpost of Amona show just how difficult achieving it might be.

The intensity of the confrontation highlighted a profound rift between young settler radicals and the State of Israel. Some even go so far as to say they no longer feel any allegiance to secular Israel and want to establish a theocratic “State of Judea” in its stead.

The confrontation also brought to the surface differences inside the settler movement itself: The young radicals advocate uncompromising physical resistance to any further withdrawal plans; the moderates argue that the most rational thing the settlers can do is work with the government in drawing up new lines that take their interests into account.

The issue surfaced again when Israel’s acting prime minister said a probe into the clashes is unnecessary. Ehud Olmert said at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting that accusations of excessive police force during the Feb. 1 evacuation of Amona should not be investigated because he doesn’t want to politicize the event.

On Sunday night, settlers and their supporters showed they wouldn’t let the issue die easily either, as tens of thousands filled the streets of Jerusalem to rally against what they called an excessive use of police force in quelling the riots.

The already-explosive situation is further complicated by the fact that Israel is in the throes of a general election. All the major parties are trying to exploit government-settler tensions.

In the fighting over the demolition of nine illegal permanent homes built at Amona, more than 200 people were injured. The radical settlers wanted to make a point: Further evacuation of the West Bank will encounter much tougher opposition than the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank in the summer did. The police wanted to establish a precedent, too: to show that nothing will deter them from carrying out government policy. Both sides are convinced they got their messages across.

For the young settler radicals, the evacuation of the Gaza and northern West Bank settlements was a traumatic experience. For many it caused a major shift in their attitudes to the State of Israel. From ardent Zionists, they became bitter critics, arguing that settlement is a central Zionist tenet, a step toward the coming of the Messiah, and, therefore, any state that gives up settlements undermines hope for redemption.

“A growing proportion of the National Religious public is becoming post-Zionist,” said Avihai Boaron, a young lawyer who headed the Amona campaign against the homes’ demolition. “The State of Israel is no longer seen as the beginning of redemption. On the contrary, it is seen to be impeding the natural development of the Jewish people. Not very wisely, Israel is turning good citizens from lovers of the country into, dare I say it, enemies of the state.”

For the moderates, the lesson learned from the Gaza withdrawal is very different. For them, the state remains supreme, and the challenge is to prevent a schism between the rest of the people and the settlers.

Leading the moderate camp is Otniel Schneller, a former head of the Yesha council of settlers.

The settlers, he argues, are servants of the majority, as reflected by the elected government. It can expand or curb settlement as it sees fit, and the settlers should go along with whatever decisions it takes. His goal is to avert future confrontation by getting the government to adopt a plan for new borders that most settlers will be able to support.

To this end, he has joined Kadima, and put his plan for settlement relocation on the table. Schneller defines four types of settlement: those inside the separation fence, those close to it, those with strategic or historic value and those far from the fence with neither.

The first three categories would be retained by Israel, the fourth relocated inside the fence or in Israel proper to make way for a contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel. Schneller said he showed his plan to Sharon the day he suffered his major brain hemorrhage, and to Olmert a few days later. He claims both were impressed and that he has reason to believe the plan will be adopted as official Israeli policy.

The key, though, is how much settler support he gets. Many young radicals are already branding him a traitor. But Schneller claims most settlers are behind him.

“It’s hard to believe. I thought there would be an intifada against me. But it’s just the opposite. People have not stopped phoning me. They want to help, to take things forward, to see where it leads,” he said in an interview.

The current settler council is vacillating. Its leaders maintain close ties with radicals, while exploring compromise proposals of their own with the government. A day after doing virtually nothing to curb settler violence on Amona, council leaders Benzi Lieberman and Zeev Hever met with Foreign and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to discuss their proposed map of settlement.

The feelers came as all the main political parties are trying to use government-settler tensions in the wake of the Amona clash to score political points. The parties on the right maintain that Olmert deliberately sought the violent confrontation to create a strongman image. On the left, the claim is that under Sharon, things would have been under control, and the level of violence much lower. Olmert’s retort to critics on both sides of the political spectrum is the same: He was simply doing what had to be done — carrying out a Supreme Court order to demolish the illegal homes.

The public seems confused. On the one hand, 50 percent think that Olmert wanted a bloody fight; on the other, 57 percent blame the settlers for the level of violence. More importantly, the Amona fracas seems to be having no perceptible effect on the nation’s voting patterns. In weekend polls after the violence, Kadima still had more than 40 of the 120 Knesset seats, with Labor at somewhere 16 and 21 and the Likud at between 13 and 17.

The fact that such major developments as the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections and the violent police-settler showdown have failed to dent the polls has led several Israeli pundits to conclude that election has, to all intents and purposes, already been decided. Although balloting is still eight weeks away and the campaigns have hardly started, it seems that it will take something really extraordinary to alter the anticipated outcome.