Can Trump Pull Off a Deal to Disarm North Korea?

Last week, the United States and North Korea stunned the world as they announced their plan to have a summit for their two respective leaders. This surprising diplomatic turn has prompted far more questions than answers, some of which seem like they should have been asked in the tone of a soap opera narrator’s voice-over. Here are a few:

A Question on South Korea:

Did South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an ambitious politician who recently came into office, flatter the leader of the free world into meeting the dictator of North Korea as a means of pushing Moon’s vision of reunification on the Korean peninsula?

A Question on North Korea:

Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?

Questions on the U.S:

Did President Donald Trump, without input from his National Security Council, impulsively reward the Kim regime with a long-sought diplomatic opportunity without any guarantee of compromise? Did Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and aggressive foreign policy cause Kim to fear for his regime’s survival and to sue for a quick agreement, or is Kim closer to marrying his nuclear weapons with intercontinental ballistic missiles and confidently playing from a perceived position of strength?

A Question on China:

Will China be pleased at negotiations aimed at stability on the Korean peninsula, or will it resent Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs and Kim’s meeting with Trump before meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping?

Questions on objectives:

What would a “good deal” look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? What would be the U.S. goals at such a summit? To restart negotiations aimed at stability on the Korean peninsula? To accept regime preservation in exchange for denuclearization? Even if the regime relinquished its “treasured sword” — the nuclear program its leaders believe guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?

A Question on Trust:

How can we “trust but verify” future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements and is in the last stage of work on missile re-entry capability as the final piece of a decadeslong effort to protect its regime with a nuclear umbrella? Is Kim distrustful of the U.S., as he is well aware that Libya relinquished its nuclear assets after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, only to see its dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, overthrown a few years later?

Real answers will have to wait until further details are known. But drawing on the past and looking into the future, it would behoove us to take some lessons, experiences and nuances into account.

The American Experience

Some commentators viscerally judged Trump’s quick acceptance of the invitation to meet Kim before the end of May as “impulsive” and a “granting of prestige” never before extended by a sitting U.S. president to the Pyongyang regime.

Within hours, the Trump administration clarified that scheduled military exercises with South Korea would go on, that sanctions were not being lifted, and that “concrete” steps from North Korea would be required as a precondition to any meeting.

As he plans for a potential summit, then, Trump might wish to draw lessons from the protracted Arms Control Treaty negotiations conducted by President Ronald Reagan, who was willing to disappoint Western commentators issuing rushed “victory” or “failure” report cards on his administration’s summit meetings with the Soviet Union.

In 1986, Reagan walked away from the Reykjavik Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, sensing that the U.S. could achieve better results for arms control and human rights by maintaining its commitment to missile defense, which the Soviets vehemently opposed. Gorbachev soon gave in. Sometimes, short-term setbacks set the stage for improved results.

But even Reagan’s success, which led to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, did not end our competition with Russia, which has rebounded to assert its regional ambitions and desire to be a significant player on the world stage. Russia is still a dictatorship, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently bragged about the country having weapons so powerful that “now you will notice me.”

What would a “good deal” look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality?

Some deals might not be worth making. On July 14, 2015, President Barack Obama announced the Iran nuclear deal. While that deal has halted or significantly reduced Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capability, it has done nothing to deter the Mullah terror state from aggression in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon and, indeed, its continued collaboration with North Korea. Trump has castigated the Iran deal. Time will tell if he can make a better one with North Korea.

The Korean Context 

South Korea — officially the Republic of Korea — is a robust democracy featuring pro-American “free Koreans” and more “independent Koreans” who support President Moon Jae-in — elected in 2017 after the highly controversial impeachment of his opponent, Park Geun-hye. The split in South Korea over American troop presence and close alignment is profound. Moon leans left, and his vision for peninsula reunification is not universally shared.

The Korean peninsula was ruled by Imperial Japan from the early 20th century until the end of World War II. The day after the 1945 American bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, the Soviet Union invaded Korea, dominating the region north of the 38th parallel. U.S. forces moved into the south, ending Japanese rule.

North Korea — officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — invaded the South in 1950. In the “see-saw war,” Seoul, the South’s capital, changed hands four times. As part of a “police action,” the United States, with the backing of the United Nations, finally pushed up to the Yalu River on China’s border, provoking the Chinese entry on the side of the North. A “war of attrition” lasted until the armistice of 1953, which created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). No peace treaty was ever signed, and the DMZ has been anything but demilitarized since, with numerous violent skirmishes over the decades.

In 1968, 31 North Korean commandos crossed the DMZ in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee at his residence in the Blue House. Fighting tied to attack resulted in the deaths of 68 South Koreans, three U.S. servicemen and 28 of the North Korean commandos.

However, two days later, North Korea seized a U.S. Navy spy ship, the USS Pueblo, in disputed waters, killing one American sailor and taking prisoner 82 others who were tortured over an 11-month period until their eventual return across the DMZ’s “Bridge of No Return.”

Other cross-border raids included the infamous “Axe Murder Incident,” in which two U.S. Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers on Aug. 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA). The officers were surrounded and killed as they attempted to trim an overgrown poplar tree that was partially blocking United Nations observers’ views across the bridge.

Seeking to enforce the armistice, the U.N. Command, supported by U.S. and South Korean forces, conducted Operation Paul Bunyan, which succeeded in cutting down the tree and re-establishing deterrence against the North. One of the soldiers who participated was Moon Jae-in, now the president of South Korea.

In 1994, the Clinton administration negotiated an “Agreed Framework” that sought to freeze and replace North Korea’s plutonium nuclear weapons program with two light-water reactors. The Yongbyon nuclear reactor was shut down, and the North agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the U.S. and South Korea suspended “team spirit” military exercises in the region and offered North Korea financial assistance, relaxed economic sanctions and 500,000 tons in annual deliveries of heavy fuel oil to use for energy production. All parties pledged to seek to normalize relations.

In a recent private meeting, Bush shared his regret at “kicking the can down the road,” explaining it was his most difficult security problem.

President George W. Bush tried to restore a path to nonproliferation and briefly removed North Korea from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. By 2002, though, he declared North Korea part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq. The North then kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors and continued its march to a deliverable nuclear weapon.

In a recent private meeting, Bush shared his regret at “kicking the can down the road,” explaining it was his most difficult security problem. He feared the North would respond to any preventive military action by annihilating innocent South Koreans in Seoul who live within a 35-mile range of some 15,000 tube and rocket artillery burrowed into granite mountains and protected behind blast doors.

Finally, years of “Six Party” talks attempted again to encourage North Korea to shut down nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and a path to normalized relations. These talks broke down after the 2009 North Korean satellite launch over the Pacific Ocean, which was essentially an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test. Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” did not address the rising North Korean threat over his eight years in office that followed.

Know Your Adversary

Kim Il-Sung, variously called “Great Leader,” “Heavenly Leader” and even “The Sun,” was installed by Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin in 1948, and he indoctrinated the North Korean population through a 46-year reign. A new calendar was introduced that used 1912 — the year of Kim Il-Sung’s birth — as year 1.

Kim Jong-Il was considered not just his son and successor but his reincarnation. Known as “Dear Leader,” he sat at the center of a similar cult that asserted he could control the weather. Hundreds of memorial statues dedicated to the Kims dot the countryside, despite devastating famines and systemic poverty. A massive mausoleum outside of Pyongyang houses the embalmed bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

Kim Jong Un was officially declared the “supreme leader” following the state funeral of his father in 2011. In 2013, official North Korean news outlets released reports that, due to alleged “treachery,” Kim Jong Un had ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek and many of his children, some by use of flamethrowers. Kim is also widely believed to have ordered the February 2017 poisoning assassination of his brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia.

In recent years, Human Rights Watch asserted: “Abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world. They include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. North Korea operates secretive prison camps where perceived opponents of the government are sent to face torture and abuse, starvation rations, and forced labor. Fear of collective punishment is used to silence dissent. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom.”

In 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Council charged North Korea with crimes against humanity.

In the six years since Kim Jong Un, at the age of 27, assumed power as only the third leader of the DPRK, he has tested dozens of missiles, far more than his father and grandfather.

On July 4, in both 2006 and 2009, North Korea tested short- and mid-range missiles. On July 4, 2017, the North passed a major threshold by launching its first ICBM, which experts said had the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland.

In the same period, Pyongyang has also tested nuclear warheads, including a “successful” test on Sept. 3, 2017. The fastening of a nuclear warhead onto a long-range delivery system is a red line that could provoke an American preventive strike.

American policymakers are generally united in asserting the unacceptability of the North Korean nuclear threat and its ability to transfer or trade nuclear technology to nonstate actors. Even the threat of attack on American allies or interests caused Secretary of Defense James Mattis to warn of “a massive military response.” At the DMZ in October 2017, Mattis asserted “our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Trump’s Approach

Prior to his inauguration, Trump received a briefing from Obama that North Korea was a particularly complex issue. Trump reportedly acknowledged to advisers: “I will be judged by how I deal with North Korea.”

On April 4, 2017, U.S. military intelligence observed Syrian planes from the Shayrat Airbase drop munitions of sarin gas on the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Governorate.

Trump viewed the pictures of dying children and decided to act, later telling reporters that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

By the morning of April 6, 2017, senior administration officials had briefed congressional leaders and Russian forces in Syria of a potential military strike on Syrian air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel supplies. At 3:45 p.m., in a makeshift war room at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., country club, Trump consulted his national security officials and approved the immediate launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the USS Ross and the USS Porter warships in the Mediterranean Sea.

“I will be judged by how I deal with North Korea.” — President Donald Trump

Trump then welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping for several hours of discussions, which included a thorough exchange of views on North Korea.

The leaders and their wives then enjoyed a private dinner, after which Trump excused himself to receive a briefing from Mattis.

When he returned, Trump advised the Chinese leader of the attack just underway in Syria.

(Since that early meeting, Trump has touted a respectful personal relationship with the Chinese leader and lobbied for cessation of Chinese deliveries of regime-sustaining goods to Pyongyang. Xi appears to be going along with Trump’s approach to North Korea so far.)

A week later, on April 13, 2017, a U.S. Air Force Lockheed MC-130 dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on ISIS-Khorasan militant forces and tunnel complexes in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. Trump asserted that he had given U.S. commanders “total authorization” to defeat ISIS.

The Trump foreign policy has certainly been aggressive: Syria. Afghanistan. Special Operators against ISIS. Support for Israel and pressure on the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Even acceding to increased domestic spending in exchange for the end to sequestration limits on American military budgets.

Watching all of this was Pyongyang, the target of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” through increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (“rocket man” on a “suicide mission” who will face “fire and fury”).

Addressing South Korea’s National Assembly on Nov. 8, 2017, the first anniversary of his own election, Trump delivered a stern message: “This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past. … Do not underestimate us. And do not try us. … We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated.”

In the closing section of his Jan. 30 State of the Union address, Trump addressed all parties with clear messages of warning, resolve and passion to confront “the ominous nature of this regime.”

“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” he said. “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

Trump then went further, paying respect to the Warmbier family, whose son and sibling Otto, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to hard labor in North Korea. Upon his return home in June 2017, his injuries resulted in his death.

Time will tell if Mr. Trump remains loyal to first principles and invests in the long process of deterring, containing and reversing the North Korean nuclear threat, or instead seeks a quick deal with a tough adversary that merely makes for interesting TV.

Larry Greenfield is a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

Week of Mar. 16, 2018

Why We Can’t Talk About Trump

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower -- Pictured: Donald Trump -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

I have a dear friend who feels nauseated anytime she hears the word “Trump.” It’s a physical reaction. She feels so disgusted by the man that she’s unable to consider whether he’s capable of doing anything good. Her Trump Derangement Syndrome is rooted in the man’s character flaws — all of the offensive, impulsive and mendacious behavior that has dominated American airwaves for the past two years.

The truth is, we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s not even close.

In May 2017, I wrote a column quoting historian Max Boot: “The problem with writing about Donald Trump is that the outrages come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up.”

My point was that Trump was still mired in the “emotional staples of reality television, the junk food of entertainment, where cat fighting, backstabbing and manufactured drama rule the battle for ratings.”

Having been the star and executive producer of “The Apprentice” for 14 years, Trump couldn’t seem to shake the habits of a world where the greater the chaos, the higher the ratings. “That was the lesson Trump inhaled from reality TV,” I wrote. “Outrage is not just the norm, it’s the key to success.”

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

Of course, it’s one thing to act like a narcissistic loudmouth when the stakes are television ratings, and quite another when the stakes are the welfare of your nation and the world.

Whereas his old antics might have offended a character or two on his reality show,” I wrote, “today, those same antics could lead to nuclear war …  and other such unpleasant things.”

In fact, for many months after I wrote that, there was talk of Trump’s impulsiveness triggering a nuclear war with North Korea. Even my hairdresser — who never talks politics — asked me if we were headed for a nuclear war.

On the food chain of Trumpian nightmares, a nuclear war takes the crown.

So, you can imagine the cognitive dissonance last week when we got word that North Korean President Kim Jong Un might be interested in negotiating nuclear disarmament. Talk about a reversal: from fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

Needless to say, we’re still far from success. As you’ll read in our in-depth analysis by Larry Greenfield in this week’s cover story, there are many complex questions to consider, among them:

“Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?”

“What would a ‘good deal’ look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? … Even if the regime relinquished its ‘treasured sword,’ the nuclear program it believes guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?”

“How can we ‘trust but verify’ future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing, when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements?”

So yes, it’s complicated, but it’s still far better than the nuclear brinkmanship we had a few months ago. As Greenfield reminds us, Kim Jong Un must have paid attention to Trump’s policy of maximum pressure through “increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (‘rocket man’ on a ‘suicide mission’ who will face ‘fire and fury’).”

Maybe Trump’s unpredictability was just what was needed to get a brutal dictator’s attention. Maybe it takes a coarse bully to scare off another coarse bully. But now that he’s got Kim’s attention, will Trump have the tenacity and patience to follow through? And if he does pull off the ultimate deal, how will Trump haters react?

Talk about a reversal: From fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

When I bring up “positive outcomes” with my Trump-hating friend, it makes little difference. Her disgust precludes her from entertaining any positive thoughts about Trump, even a Trump who would pull off a near-miraculous deal to disarm North Korea.

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

And yet, having said all that, it would still be amazing to see Trump pull off a deal to denuclearize North Korea. And, while he’s at it, it’d be equally amazing if he could renegotiate the Iranian deal that currently allows an evil regime to build nuclear weapons at the end of the agreement.

When the stakes are so high, it’s OK to hope for results, even from a rude and impulsive TV star who craves ratings.

Trump Beverly Hills Visit Prompts Protest

An inflatable Trump holding a KKK hood was the centerpiece of an anti-Trump demonstration in Beverly Hills on Tuesday.

About 300 people descended on Beverly Hills on Tuesday to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump, who was in the neighborhood for a fundraiser.

The protest took place at Beverly Gardens Park, at Beverly Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, beginning around 5 p.m. and concluding at 8 p.m.

A large, inflatable Trump, holding a Ku Klux Klan hood, stood at the southeast edge of the park. Music by rapper Kendrick Lamar played on a loudspeaker, competing with the chants of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA.”

A couple of women wore pussy hats, which were ubiquitous during the Women’s March. A terrier wore a sign across its body reading, “Dogs Against Trump.”

Terrier against Trump.

Protestors carried signs denouncing the president’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The signs read, “Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine. Palestine Will Win!”

A protestor carries a sign denouncing the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


Janice Batzdorff, a congregant of independent egalitarian community Movable Minyan who carried a sign reading, “Make America Kind Again,” also expressed concern with the president’s decision on Jerusalem.

“I have mixed feelings about it, but I don’t think it is the president’s position unilaterally to make that change,” the North Hollywood-based librarian said.

Batzdorff denounced the president’s stance on “environmental issues; his hatefulness toward immigrants and the way he did not condemn the anti-Jewish sentiment of that march in Charlottesville. And he is going into talks with [North Korean Supreme Leader] Kim Jong-Un without having any experts on Korea in his administration.”

Janice Batzdorff and Pearl Ricci attended the anti-Trump rally together.

Sandy, 83, a retired attorney who declined to provide his last name, held a sign reading, “Dump Trump, Fake President,”

Sandy, who has previously been active with the Jewish Federation, called the president “a disaster for the country, the world and the good people who live here.”

The president’s rhetoric surrounding immigration was disturbing, he said.

“The immigrants who live here are good people,” he said. “We want them here.”

Helen Hoffman, who attends Stephen Wise Temple High Holy Days services, expressed her displeasure with the president, “the as*hole in the White House,” she said. “I can’t say his name because it makes my stomach content rise up to the top.”

Based in the San Fernando Valley, Hoffman turned out with several members of Swing Left, an organization focused on regaining progressive Democratic seats in the 2018 House elections. She said she was hoping to help elect Democrats to represent California’s 25th and 21st districts, which are currently represented by Republicans.

Additional protestors spoke on behalf of labor workers, including members of Teamsters Local 396, a Covina-based union representing UPS, waste and recycling workers.

“The values we hold as Californians are not the same the president holds,” Union spokesperson Adan Alvarez, 30, said.

Dozens of Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) officers were on the scene. While a BHPD lieutenant said there were no reports of violent incidents at the protest, Gregg Donovan, a former employee of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau who carried a sign expressing support for the president, said somebody tried to knock his hat off.

“I heard the president was going to be in Beverly Hills and wanted to welcome him,”  Donovan said.

Other than the hat incident, Donovan said the event was peaceful.

“This is the safest place on earth,” he said of Beverly Hills.

A protestor in costume alludes to Trump going to jail one day for his alleged collusion with the Russians to win the White House.




Trump to Replace Tillerson with Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the media at the U.S. State Department after being fired by President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Trump announced on Twitter on Mar. 13 that he is firing Rex Tillerson from the secretary of state position and replacing him with Mike Pompeo, who had been serving as CIA director.

Trump’s tweet read, “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Trump later told reporters that he and Tillerson “got along quite well but we disagreed on things,” most notably the Iran nuclear deal.

Tillerson defended his record as secretary of state to reporters later in the afternoon, stating: “Working with allies, we exceeded the expectations of almost everyone with the DPRK maximum pressure campaign.”

The outgoing secretary of state said that his last day on the job will be Mar. 31.

“What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges,” Tillerson said.

Nowhere in Tillerson’s speech did he thank Trump.

There are conflicting accounts about the exact timing of Tillerson’s firing. The Washington Post reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Tillerson while he was in Africa on Mar. 10 that Trump had decided to fire him. However, top Tillerson aide Steven Goldstein claimed that Tillerson found out about his firing on Tuesday, as Kelly had only vaguely warned Tillerson about an upcoming tweet from Trump. Goldstein, who reportedly criticized Trump’s decision-making to reporters in recent weeks, was also fired.

Reports of brewing tension between Trump and Tillerson had been circulating for some time, most notably that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron.” The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that Tillerson had been actively undermining Trump’s efforts to seriously change or kill the Iran nuclear deal, as the outgoing secretary of state “recently caved to European pressure to walk back” Trump’s proposed changes to the deal. That was the final straw for Trump.

Pompeo seems to be more in lockstep with the president, as Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake explains that Pompeo is a staunch opponent of the Iran deal and has taken a hard line against the Kremlin.

Trump to Meet with Kim Jong Un

FILE PHOTO - A combination photo shows a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) handout of Kim Jong Un released on May 10, 2016, and Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters/File Photo & REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

President Trump is reportedly set to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sometime in May.

South Korean officials issued the announcement on Mar. 8, stating Trump was doing so as part of an invitation from the South Korean government to get the hermit kingdom to talk about possible denuclearization.

Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser to the South Korean government, stated that Kim Jong Un “pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear missile tests” until the talks take place and that the North Korean dictator had been yearning to meet with Trump.

Chung praised Trump’s handling of North Korea as the reason for the hermit kingdom agreeing to such a proposition and was hopeful that North Korean denuclearization could actually occur.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump will indeed meet with Kim Jong Un.

“President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and [South Korean] President Moon,” Sanders said in a statement. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

However, Sanders added that “all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain” for the time being.

Trump tweeted about the scheduled meeting:

Prior to this announcement, Trump and Kim Jong Un had been throwing barbs each other, most notably Trump warning the North Korean dictator that he would face the full “fire and fury” from the U.S. if North Korea struck the country and Trump tweeting that he had a larger nuclear button than Kim Jong Un.

Trump would be the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean dictator.

David Light’s View of Zombies, Being Married to a Rabbi and the Trump Era

ZOMBIES - David Light, screenwriter. (Disney Channel/Edward Herrera)

David Light, 44, is a Los Angeles-based comedy writer whose first produced feature — Disney Channel’s “Zombies” — premiered last month to an audience of more than 10 million. Co-written with partner Joseph Raso, the song-and-dance musical tells the story of star-crossed high-school freshmen (a zombie and a cheerleader) who learn to love each other despite their differences.

Outside of Hollywood, Light is best known as the “rebbetzin” at IKAR, the politically progressive activist community founded by his wife, Rabbi Sharon Brous. “When I was going around for meetings when I first got to town, the idea that I was a comedy writer was not particularly interesting, but the fact that I was married to a rabbi was — and still is,” Light said. We caught up with him last week to discuss the relationship between Jews and Zombies, how Camp Ramah inspired his writing career and why Hollywood could be a vehicle for decency.

Jewish Journal: The last time I interviewed you was in 2007, for a story about what it’s like to be married to a rabbi. Now you’re a big Hollywood writer. Which job is harder?

David Light: (laughs) Don’t you mean which job is more fun?

JJ: “Zombies” is about a zombie and a cheerleader who are both outsiders. How does being Jewish give you insight into the marginalized, especially since American Jews today are so well integrated?

DL: Being Jewish makes you both an insider and an outsider, and we’re constantly balancing between those worlds. I grew up the Jewiest kid in public school, so navigating that taught me a lot and gave me experiences to draw from.

JJ: Can you elaborate on how being Jewish informs your writing?

DL: I went to Camp Ramah in the Poconos (in Pennsylvania), [and] there was ‘mail day,’ when you’d send a letter home to prove you were alive and surviving at camp. But I figured out how to game the system, since [the counselors] weren’t checking content; they just wanted an envelope. So I started to address empty envelopes and send them home, week after week. After like, six weeks, I finally got a “package” slip — and [I] opened it up and it was empty. My mom totally one-upped me. When I got home, I was grounded until I could write a letter for each week of camp. Out of that moment, I fell in love with writing.

“What I love about zombies is that they’re this working-class monster.”

JJ: “Zombies” incorporates the timeless appeal of people from different backgrounds being attracted to each other. How do you reconcile that cultural trope with the fact that you’re part of a tradition that discourages intermarriage?

DL: Ugh. [laughs] So you’re asking me to answer why ‘star-crossed lovers’ and make the case for not marrying out of the tribe?

JJ: I’m just curious how you square “loving the other” as a broad cultural value with the fact that Judaism discourages the intermingling of difference when it comes to romance.

DL: Look, I think we’re living in a profoundly indecent time. It just feels like the world is so polarized right now and we wanted to do a movie that values open heartedness and decency. And in the Disney canon, a movie about humanity makes sense; but right now, it feels countercultural. So we thought if our cheerleader could find a way to open her heart to a monster, that there’s real humanity to that.

JJ: Even if the monster is, say, the NRA?

DL: Oh, gosh. That’s the Rorschach you’re putting on this?

Some of us might have different ideas about who the monster is. So are we talking about being open-hearted to all monsters or to a certain kind of monster?

I don’t think being a card-carrying NRA member makes you a monster. But I do think we should hear more voices coming from those members who are more moderate about gun control and sensible reform. I keep wondering, where’s the law enforcement that’s in the NRA? How can they possibly want more assault rifles on the streets?

JJ: Movie monsters have often been a political or cultural metaphor for the prevalent fear of the moment. What do your zombies represent?

DL: Are you asking me, “Are the Israelis or the Palestinians zombies?” (laughs) What I love about zombies is that they’re this working-class monster. They don’t have the sex appeal of a vampire or the cool powers of a witch. They’re just relentless; they keep coming. The [Centers for Disease Control] even did a whole zombie-preparedness campaign because it helped people think about, “What if it all goes wrong? What if the apocalypse really does come?”

JJ: IKAR, the community your wife, Rabbi Sharon Brous, founded, and which you helped build, has developed a national reputation for political activism. How are things going during the Trump era?

DL: IKAR was founded during the (George W.) Bush years, so we were forged in the fires of resistance. I think there was a lot of core value alignment during the (Barack) Obama years and now we’re back to a moment of resistance and opposition.

Report: Trump Admin Bans Polish President, Prime Minister from WH Over Holocaust Law

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in the White House East Room in Washington, U.S. March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

A report from a Polish media outlet is claiming that the Trump administration will not meet with Poland’s president or prime minister unless the recently passed Holocaust law is rescinded.

The Onet website is reporting that a memo from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell to the Polish government condemned the law and stated that “no high-level bilateral contacts between countries” would occur unless the law is repealed. Mitchell also gave Poland an ultimatum that Congress would zero out funding to joint military projects in Poland if the law remains intact and the U.S. would severely retaliate if any American faces criminal punishment under the law.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki told the Associated Press that the report was not true, although he admitted that the White House was not pleased with the law.

The Polish Foreign Ministry told The Hill in a statement, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs received signals that the American administration is concerned about the implementation of the amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance. However, since then, Polish diplomats have conducted a series of meetings, in which it was thoroughly explained to our partners, not only American, the scope of the proposed changes in Polish law and the essence of the legislative process in Poland.”

Under the law, those who claim that Poland was complicit in the Nazis’ atrocities toward Jews during the Holocaust face a maximum of three years in prison.

The law has caused a rift between Israel and Poland. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has excoriated Poland for the law, stating, “There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is attempting to ease the tension between the countries.

“Amid the rising wave of antisemitism in Europe, our country is again the safe haven for the Jewish community – as it was throughout the eight centuries before World War II,” Morawiecki wrote in a letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. “I would like to assure you that I will do my best to improve our relations and put importance on our common history of living and, unfortunately, enormous suffering, on Polish soil. Both Poland and Israel have the moral obligation to be the guardians of the truth of Holocaust because of their history.”

At AIPAC, Vice President Mike Pence Affirms U.S.-Israel Bond

Vice President Mike Pence addresses the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference

At the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence opened his speech on Monday night by calling Trump the “most pro-Israel president in American history.” He began the statement, however, by calling Trump the “most pro-life president” but then corrected himself to say pro-Israel.

It was the one gaffe in an otherwise well received speech in Washington D.C., on the second night of the three-day AIPAC conference. Multiple times during his remarks Pence reiterated the U.S. commitment to supporting the State of Israel.

“American stands with Israel, today, tomorrow and always,” he said.

Frequently garnering applause during his approximately 20-minute remarks, Pence denounced the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, saying the U.S. “would no longer certify the disastrous nuclear deal,” which was ratified under former U.S. President Barack Obama.

He indicated the possibility the U.S. would withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

He said the recent decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel set him apart from his predecessors.

“While every president for the past two decades promised to recognize the capital of Israel, President Trump did more than promise—he delivered,” Pence said.

“By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” he added.

The U.S. plans to open its embassy in Jerusalem this May, he said, which would move the American embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv.

While the Arab world denounced the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Pence spoke of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, saying that Israel is finding unlikely allies in the Muslim world.

“The winds of change are blowing across the Middle East. Longstanding enemies are becoming partners; old foes are finding new ground for cooperation and the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause to meet, as the president’s said, history’s great test, and conquer extremism and vanquish forces of terrorism, and we will meet that test together,” Pence said.

Jerusalem Filtered Through a German Museum

A German and an American watched the same clip shown toward the end of the “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition that opened at the Jewish Museum Berlin in December, coincidentally the same week U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At the museum, videos screening on monitors mounted back-to-back told stories of Jerusalem residents via footage from a German documentary titled “24h Jerusalem.” One pair told the story of Zeruya Shalev and her survival of the Jerusalem No. 19 bus suicide bombing, and of Mahmoud from Shuafat, who hasn’t gone to school for several years.

In the video, Mahmoud complains about the “wall” that cuts into the land where he used to fly kites. He and a friend taunt the Israeli guard by flying a kite across the security barrier.

“The pigs and dogs would chase us,” he says in the film, referring to Israelis and suggesting they should throw rocks.

He slammed the museum for alleged anti-Israel bias as reflected in city ads featuring the Islamic crescent as the only religious ornament.

After watching it, the German woman, in her 70s, shook her head in dismay.

When asked why she disapproved, she said, “I don’t like what Israel is doing to the Palestinians,” and pointed to another vignette in which an elderly Arab longs for the home he lost in 1948, still holding the house key.

It didn’t bother her that Mahmoud referred to Israeli soldiers as “pigs and dogs” or that he threatened to throw rocks.

“They’re frustrated and have no weapons.” Like the German government, she’s displeased with Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Then came Jake from Montana, a 20-something on a vacation break in Berlin.

“I’m not sure what to think,” he said, asking for more context. Was Mahmoud a high school dropout? Was he cut off from his school or home?

“What about his threat to throw rocks?” this reporter asked.

“I didn’t like it,” he replied. “That only brings more violence.”

Jake preferred not to comment on Trump, who was the subject of ridicule during his European travels. But he said he loves America.

Although the exhibition portrays itself as examining Jerusalem from the perspective of three monotheistic religions, the story it tells is really one of two sides: a showdown between Judaism and Islam, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, and these days, inadvertently, Trump and Germany.

In an interview with the Journal before my visit, museum director Peter Schäfer said the exhibition seeks to impose no political position and instead hopes to offer visitors enough information to reach their own conclusions.

“Having said that, of course, we have our opinions about this, and I have my own opinions about this, and my personal decision is that it’s not a wise decision by Mr. Trump, and that the status of Jerusalem can only be decided at the end of the negotiations in which all parties involved take part and come to discussion and compromise,” he said.

The Jewish Museum Berlin is a public museum with a largely non-Jewish staff. Schäfer is Catholic, having studied at Hebrew University in the 1960s. The exhibition was curated by Margret Kampmeyer, a German of Christian faith and an art historian, and Cilly Kugelmann, a German-born Jew and former museum executive who served in an advisory role. Kampmeyer first visited Jerusalem two years ago for research.

“Welcome to Jerusalem” serves as the main attraction while the museum remodels its permanent exhibition on German-Jewish history, and it features replicas, maps, photographs and artwork of prominent Jerusalem iconography. The topic was chosen because the museum often seeks to address themes of interfaith importance.

“One of our goals with the exhibition, if at all possible, is to address not just Judaism but also, if possible, Islam and Christianity,” Schäfer said, citing recent exhibitions on religious head coverings and on the binding of Isaac as examples.

Jerusalem fits this goal perfectly, but Eldad Beck, the Berlin correspondent for the Israel daily newspaper Israel Hayom, has publicly taken the museum to task for its extensive focus on interreligious themes at the expense of Jewish narratives. He slammed the museum for alleged anti-Israel bias as reflected in city ads featuring the Islamic crescent as the only religious ornament. Schäfer, in defense, told the Journal that the ad was the first of a series.

“If you ask me why did we start with the Islamic crescent, I cannot tell, but of course, the idea you could see easily,” he said. “The idea, of course, is to allude to the Dome of the Rock.” As the religious symbol topping this contentious landmark, he believes it is among the more recognizable Jerusalem icons.

But the same image also appears as the brochure cover, and Beck’s criticism goes further. In his book “Germany at Odds,” Beck dedicates a chapter to the museum, outlining Kugelmann’s affiliation with the “Israelkritik” movement in Germany, which largely blames Israel for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“It’s very typical of the German position, and they’re just using this museum to promote their distorted view of Judaism,” Beck said. “A country with such a history of the Jews should not be allowed to do it.”

He was particularly incensed by the exhibition climax: a short film titled “Conflict.”

“This is amazing because they took out almost everything that has to do with Arab-Muslim violence and put only the Jewish and Zionist violence,” Beck said. “Later on, during the Second Intifada, you have some mentioning of the bombings, but it’s so minor that the overall impression that you get from this film is that the Jews came, took the land, took the city, and the poor Arabs are there to suffer.”

Sympathizers with Israel’s claim to Jerusalem may be bothered by more than just the exhibition’s apparent bias. The portrayal of the Holy City lacks soul, coming across as a chore, a lecture, a collection of clichés — or worse, propaganda.

In my opinion, rather than exacerbate tensions by focusing on conflict, why not dramatize the beauty, depth and liveliness of a modern city that people of all faiths call home? Let’s see Jews and Arabs peacefully coexist. Let us enter the colorful Arab shuk or the happening Machane Yehuda Market. Let us sit at the cafes, bars or walk the rose-lined golden streets. And most of all, let us pray, hope and dream. Because what’s worse than leaving with the impression that Israel is the aggressor is leaving with: “What are they even fighting for?”

Orit Arfa is an author and journalist based in Berlin. For more on the exhibition, go to her blog on

Mueller Indicts Former Trump Campaign Manager Over Alleged Financial Crimes

FILE PHOTO - Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia investigation, at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed down a new indictment against President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates on multiple counts of tax and bank fraud.

The indictment alleges that from 2006-2015, Manafort and Gates avoided paying taxes on the money they earned from working on behalf of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian political parties by concealing it as “loans”; the money was then used to refinance their mortgages, among other uses.

Additionally, the indictment claims that the pair funneled over $75 million from offshore bank accounts to directly purchase various goods without paying taxes on that money. Manafort and Gates also allegedly defrauded banks out of over $20 million in loans by overstating Manafort’s income and concealing debts they owed.

The indictment levies a total of 32 charges against Manafort and Gates; the initial indictments from October consisted of 12 charges.

Manafort is pleading not guilty. On Feb. 18, it was reported that Gates will eventually plead guilty and testify against Manafort.

The significance of all this is that the batch of charges could coerce Manafort into a plea deal where he testifies against members of the Trump campaign on any possible Russian collusion. The indictment itself does not mention anything related to any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is what Mueller was appointed to investigate.

The full indictment can be read here.

Abbas Criticizes US and Israel in UN speech; Haley Fires Back

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech at the United Nations on Feb. 20 criticizing the United States and Israel on hampering peace negotiations.

Abbas railed against the Trump administration’s actions on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

“In a dangerous, unprecedented manner, this administration undertook an unlawful decision which was rejected by the international community to remove the issue of Jerusalem off the table without any reason,” Abbas said.

The PA president added, “This administration has not clarified its position. Is it a two-state solution, or the one-state solution?”

Abbas then claimed that the Palestinians have a historical connection to Israeli land.

“We are descendants of the Canaanites that lived in Palestine 5,000 years ago, and have continuously remained there to this day,” Abbas said.

Abbas also went after Israel for being a “permanent settlement colonization.”

“We are working for the occupation, we are employees for the occupation, and we say that Israel must be held to its obligations as an occupying power,” Abbas said.

Abbas advocated for Palestine to have full member status at the U.N. and for a two-state solution mediated by a “multilateral international mechanism.”

Abbas walked out of the room when he was finished speaking, prompting Haley to remark to the PA president, “Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk. But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mr. President, is yours.”

“The United States knows the Palestinian leadership was very unhappy with the decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem,” Haley added. “You don’t have to like that decision. You don’t have to praise it. You don’t even have to accept it. But know this: that decision will not change.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon criticized Abbas for inspiring “a culture of hate in Palestinian society.”

“When we extend a hand, Abbas extends a fist,” Danon said.

Letters to the Editor: Fake News, #MeToo, Table for Five, Larry Greenfield and Ruth Ziegler

Truth, ‘Fake News’ and American Politics

Regarding the Journal’s cover story “Can Truth Survive?” (Feb. 9): Reporter Shmuel Rosner probably doesn’t believe it can. His story is devoted mostly to a critique of a Rand Corp. study called “Truth Decay.” I confess I have not read the study and therefore am unable to comment on it.

Rosner recounts many of President Donald Trump’s falsehoods, the intentional conflation of opinion with fact, the tedium of cable news and even the cost of the decay of truth. It wasn’t until the end of his story that he disclosed his opinion: that truth decay “stems not just from the evil doers but also from the do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.”

Is he kidding? Because if he is serious, he believes that we do not have the ability to understand, to judge, to evaluate, to choose, to be capable of rational thought, or simply that we are just too lazy and don’t care. For our collective sake, I hope he is dead wrong.

Louis Lipofsky via email

Shmuel Rosner laments the decay of truth and writes, “Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.” But Rosner doesn’t state the obvious: Republicans voted this compulsive liar into office and Republicans have long had an enormous problem with truth.

Why do so many Republicans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he was born in Kenya, that global warming is a hoax, that there is widespread voter fraud, that the Russia investigation is a hoax? Because too many of them self-censor and listen only to conservative media like Fox News and conservative talk radio, so they are easily duped.

And why do they self-censor? Because they have bought into the argument that the mainstream media are biased. Yes, the mainstream media have a liberal bias. But it doesn’t invent outright lies like the ones listed above.

Trump doesn’t care about the truth because he knows his supporters don’t care about the truth. That’s why he calls everything “fake news” and gets away with it.

Michael Asher via email

Hysteria, Obscurity and the #MeToo Movement

Having just read Danielle Berrin’s column on male hysteria (“Male Hysteria,” Feb. 9), I’m now even more convinced of the female hysteria of the #MeToo movement, a movement that will quickly be hoisted by its own petard.

She claims that a few of these powerful and predatory men have actually been charged with a crime. I haven’t heard of any of these powerful men being charged with a crime, notwithstanding the fact that being charged with a crime is not the same as being found guilty of a crime.

Berrin complained that far too many female artists live and continue to live in obscurity. This might be true, but there are undoubtedly far too many talented male artists who also continue to live in obscurity.

Giuseppe Mirelli, Los Angeles

Table for Five Is Weekly Food for Thought

In your “Table for Five” section for Parashat Mishpatim (Feb. 9), Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, argues for “the ethical imperative to protect and secure the needs of the stranger,” and “make the marginalized — rather than the elite  — our priority.”

I am a Conservative convert to Judaism, having embraced Judaism more than 50 years ago. I am a dues-paying member at an Orthodox synagogue near my home, where I go daily to minyan. I am also a member of four other non-Orthodox synagogues, where I regularly go and lead services in Hebrew, and am a cantor at one during the High Holy Days. While I can fully participate in those other synagogues, I am not permitted to get an aliyah to the Torah or be counted for a minyan at the Orthodox one. If I were to go to Israel, I could not be married there or be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Non-Orthodox convert women also know that their children will not be counted as Jews in parts of the Jewish world. Yet Jews born of a Jewish mother are considered fully Jewish even if they repudiate their Judaism, castigate it and couldn’t care less about being counted for a minyan or getting an aliyah.

Our people were made to feel like invisible outsiders when we were slaves in Egypt. Why should those of us who turned our lives around to incorporate Judaism into it now be made to feel like we are invisible outsiders in some Jewish circles? I call on Rabbi Yanklowitz and his fellow Orthodox of conscience and morality to work to change what I feel is an unjust standard, so that those of us who have transformed our lives to embrace the Jewish people and God’s Torah are not made to feel like marginalized strangers within the Jewish world.

Peter Robinson, Woodland Hills

I was delighted at Rabbi Mordecai Finley’s teaching on the Torah portion in your Tu B’Shevat issue (“Table for Five: B’Shalach,” Jan. 26). He admonished the Israelis for their sarcasm. Indeed, rightfully so; such humor can be a sign of contempt.

Irony or sarcasm is indeed biting. Hurt people hurt people. The conclusion of Rabbi Finley’s commentary made the greatest impression: Because you have been done wrong does not give you license to do someone else wrong.

Thanks to your wonderful newspaper and your knowledgeable contributors and staff.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Remembering Ruth Ziegler, a True Community Supporter

We join the Jewish community in mourning the loss of Ruth Ziegler, a dear friend, supporter and member of Jews for Judaism’s board of governors (“Philanthropist Ruth Ziegler, 98,” Feb. 9).

For two decades, Ziegler supported our innovative educational services. After being honored at our 2005 gala, she funded a major endowment to ensure that Jews for Judaism’s life-saving counseling services would be available in perpetuity.

When I asked Ziegler what motivated her to make such a generous gift, she responded, “At the gala, I heard a mother share her pain after losing her daughter to another religion, and how you rescued her. I want to make sure no one else experiences that pain.”

Ziegler believed in saving a Jewish life and saving the world. Jews for Judaism is honored to play a role in perpetuating her legacy.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder and executive director of Jews for Judaism, International

Polish Law Demonstrates Dangers of Altering History

When any government, including Poland, attempts to whitewash its history, it usually ends up with paint stains on its hands (editorial cartoon, Feb. 9). Although we can’t compare the two, Americans should not be so quick to condemn others for their behavior without first checking our history. This month it will be 76 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his executive order to intern Japanese-Americans after the U.S. entered World War II. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court avoided answering whether these people’s constitutional rights were violated.

Barry Bereskin via email

Write, Larry Greenfield, Keep on Writing

I love reading Larry Greenfield’s work. If I was not married happily, I would want to marry his brain! Keep his writing coming!

Allyson Rowen Taylor, Valley Glen

Letter to the Editor Overlooks Certain Facts

In last week’s letter from Reuben Gordon, he completely misunderstood the media coverage regarding President Donald Trump’s comment that there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville, Va., march. Gordon states that it was in regard to the Confederate monument debate and that there were good people in support of keeping Confederate statues. The people he is referring to were Neo-Nazis; there are no good people on that side and I guess Gordon did not hear or did not want to hear their continual shouts of “Jews will not replace us.”

Edward A. Sussman, Fountain Valley

Reuben Gordon’s letter supporting President Donald Trump just because Trump supports Israel is a sad example of tunnel vision. Trump is an aggressive, ignoramus racist who is in the process of inflicting severe harm on Americans (Jews included), … so to excuse his arrogant, narcissistic self because of his support of Israel is foolish and perhaps even dangerous.

Rick Edelstein via email

He Asked and He Received a Small Change in Journal

When I ran into my friend David Suissa a couple of months ago while strolling down Pico Boulevard, I congratulated him on his new position at the Jewish Journal and the upgraded look of the paper. I then told him that Rhina, my elderly parents’ non-Jewish caregiver, noticed that the time Shabbat ends was no longer listed. As their caregiver, she needs to know when Shabbat concludes, and she wants to consult the Jewish Journal for that information. Suissa promised to correct it. Sure enough, in the next week’s edition, the time of Havdalah was once again listed! So thank you, David, for magnificently upgrading the paper, and on behalf of Jews and non-Jews who care when Shabbat ends, thanks for the weekly notice! Keep on publishing a great newspaper. Kol ha-kavod!

Mark Goldenberg, Beverly Hills


The Feb. 9 edition of Moving and Shaking misreported the venue for the L.A. Jewish Home’s Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018 gala. The event took place at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

In a Feb. 2 Calendar item, visiting scholar Andrew Porwancher was misidentified.

Going Where Justice Calls

Photo courtesy of Mustafa Zeno/Bend the Arc

Every day since Donald Trump rescinded the Dream Act, one hundred twenty dreamers have lost their DACA protections. This means that they can be deported at any time from the only country they know (and love) to a country that they were born in, but do not recognize in any meaningful way.

Last week, a group of justice seekers decided to speak up.

I was part of a multi-generational gathering of Jews and their allies, of all affiliations and no affiliations. More than one hundred folks milled about at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sepulveda, listening to Hebrew songs and protest songs, listening to speeches, chanting, clapping, and shmoozing. This was a gathering that would have pleased any program director of any Federation. These hundred plus folks were not, however, at a Federation fundraiser, or a hip synagogue social held outside on the street. This was a political demonstration outside the offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The point of the gathering was clear: No vote for a Continuing Resolution (CR) without the passage of the Dream Act. Feinstein voted against the last CR, and we were there to thank her and to strengthen her resolve, the resolve of the Democratic caucus in general to once again demand a clean Dream Act. A Dream Act that does not hold the fates of 800,000 young people hostage to a wall, or an extreme right wing immigration agenda.

One of the most profound questions that is facing our country today is this: What does it mean to be a citizen? Is citizenship merely the result of the accident of birth? The granting of a certificate? The culmination of a bureaucratic odyssey? Or is citizenship a commitment to certain bonds of mutual responsibility and care? Is citizenship perhaps the promise and practice of upholding the ideals of creating a more perfect union? Are the commitments of citizenship actually those commitments to supporting family and community? To working hard and creating human happiness for self and others?

The point of the gathering was clear: No vote for a Continuing Resolution (CR) without the passage of the Dream Act.

The Jewish tradition teaches us that it is, rather, the commitment to mutual care and supporting the weakest among us; to creating a more just and prosperous community and society which defines what a citizen is. And so it is time that we changed the conversation. It is beyond time that we recognize that the dreamers, and their families and all immigrants—documented and undocumented, who are in this city and this country to create a life, to find security or refuge, to enjoy and proliferate the benefits of justice and democracy—are already citizens. We just have to work out how to get them their papers.

The Jewish people is an immigrant people, a refugee people, and a diasporic people. We know in our bodies the precariousness of knocking at the door of countries who did not want us to enter, and the promise of those who opened their doors. The Jewish community in the United States, after a pretty rocky start, has enjoyed the benefits of security and stability that are the result of being welcomed to this country.

We also know what happens when citizenship is narrowly defined based solely on the accident of birthplace or skin color. We remember that when Jews were deported from Paris during World War II, the buses wound their ways through the streets filled with Parisians who knew who the passengers were, knew what was happening to them, and where they would end up, and did not protest—because they didn’t consider the Jews citizens. So-called upstanding citizens with the right papers and the right blood and the right race, let this happen.

We will not let this happen again.

The sting of disappointment in the evening was that though the Jews were there, (gathered by Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, together with IKAR and Reform CA) the Federations were not. The “leadership” of the Jewish community need not consult the latest Pew research poll to find out where the Jews, young and old, are. They are on the corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda, and similar street corners in dozens of other cities and in our nation’s capital. They are where justice calls.

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Ph.D. is the Rabbi-in-Residence for Bend the Arc: Jewish Action in Southern California.

The Kurdish Dilemma

Kurds living in Cyprus shouts slogans during a demonstration against the Turkish offensive on Kurdish forces in northwest Syria, outside the American Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Recep Tayyip Erdogan might be a strong leader of Turkey, but consistency is not his strongest suit. He embraces Hamas but calls Kurdish forces “terrorists.” He supports Palestinian peoplehood, but deploys Turkish forces and goes to war when there’s even a hint of Kurdish peoplehood, no matter where.

The Turkish president is at war now, one whose aim is to thwart any hope for a Kurdish sovereignty in northern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurds in Syria to be terrorists because of their ties with Turkey’s Kurds, and attacks them with great force. The Kurdish militia is puzzled by the attack, but even more so it is frustrated with Washington. Before he was elected, President Donald Trump declared himself to be a “fan of Kurds” and vowed to repair the fraught relations between Turkey and the Kurds. All the Kurds get from Trump today, as they are attacked by the Turks, is a call for restraint. He is their fan the same way he is a Patriots fan. He will cheer them when they win, but this doesn’t mean that he will tackle the Eagles when the game is played.

The Kurds were useful warriors in the fight against ISIS, and as they sent their men to war, their hope was for some kind of reward. Alas, in the international game of power, memories are short and players are cynical. Yesterday’s most important ally is no longer necessary. In fact, it might even become a burden. The Kurds were abandoned by the Trump administration, wrote Israeli Middle East expert Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University. They were abandoned by Trump the same way Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was abandoned by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Do you still remember 2011 and the high rhetoric of the Arab Spring? In the Middle East, people do remember. Countries remember. Governments do. In fact, even in America there are some who still remember these days of elation and delusion: “Obama’s embrace of the Tahrir Square protesters’ demand for Mubarak’s immediate departure was idealistic, popular and understandable at the time. But it was arguably among the biggest mistakes of Obama’s presidency,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about a year ago.

All the Kurds get from Trump today, as they are attacked by the Turks, is a call for restraint.

That’s a generous assessment. Obama was not idealistic in making Mubarak leave. He was cynical. He was also not as “understandable” as Ignatius wants you to believe. The Saudis were terrified by Obama’s move and believed that they might be next in line for abandonment. Many Israelis and Israel’s government also were puzzled by this move. They looked at Obama and realized that trusting him was problematic. They looked at him and realized that he does not understand the Middle East and doesn’t much know what to do to keep it stable. They looked at him abandoning Mubarak, and then at Russian President Vladimir Putin sticking with Syrian President Bashar Assad and knew they had a problem.

The seeds of the agreement with Iran were planted in the Arab Spring. They were planted when the Iranians realized that Obama has no tendency to stay loyal to America’s allies. Obama erred twice in abandoning Mubarak: It did not work for his as a realist, to abandon the leader who could keep Egypt relatively stable, and it did not work for him as an idealist, because he ended up getting an Islamist replacing Mubarak. And then another revolution.

Trump does not have the same tendency to play the role of the idealist. He wears his cynicism on his sleeve. His abandonment of the Kurds is thus more consistent with his general attitude: to support the winners and let the losers fend for themselves. He might be fond of the Kurds and might be irritated by Erdogan (everybody is irritated by Erdogan), but this does not change much when he crafts his foreign policy agenda. The Kurds, no doubt, deserve better, but their ability to cause trouble is currently limited. The Turkish government, no doubt, deserves worse. But it has the power to put U.S forces and interests at risk.

This is as sad and as condemnable and as non-idealistic as it is predictable. You can say one thing for Trump: What you see is what you get. He does not pretend to be what he is not. And, of course, this carries an important lesson that Israel never misses. In the Middle East, only those who have power survive. In the Middle East, American promises have value only when the party involved is strong enough for the U.S. to worry about. The “special relations” are important, but they can last only as long as Israel can make trouble.

TRUTH DECAY: Should you believe a study that documents the fast erosion of Americans’ belief in documented studies?

There is an irony inherent to a scholarly attempt to convince you that we live in an era of “Truth Decay.” The phrase is the catchy title of a new Rand Corp. study that delves into “an initial exploration of the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life.”

The paradox is that the thesis — that we no longer trust facts — undermines the means — a study built on facts.

If this, as the study suggests, is an era in which “Americans are placing less faith in institutions that were once trusted sources of information,” then why would the same Americans trust the Rand Corp. and its findings?

If this is, as the authors argue, an era in which there is “increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data,” then why would they expect the readers to accept their interpretations of facts and data?

The authors, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, clearly do have such expectations, maybe because they understand that there is no alternative to data and analysis. They also acknowledge that, alongside this decay, there is a tendency “in many areas of American society” to rely on “facts and data” today more than ever.

In other words, this is a time of both fake news and big data. It is a time of growing reliance on populist punditry “and opinion-based news,” but also a time in which “even baseball, football, and basketball teams increasingly rely on data to determine which players to draft.”

So, is Truth Decay just a polite way to describe the era of Donald Trump, whose long list of misstatements includes repeating more than 50 times the falsehood that his tax cut was the biggest ever (even after Treasury Department data showed it ranked eighth)?

It is and it isn’t. Complaints about the weakening of truth in public life intensified with the rise of Trump, and are clearly linked to it. But Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

There is hardly a shortage of articles lamenting the end of a supposed era of truth. Roger Cohen, writing in The New York Times two years ago, dated the beginning of this era to 2014, and to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he wrote, “a pure Soviet product, traffics in lies.” Putin was there before Trump, so “Trump is not alone. There is a global movement of minds,” Cohen wrote.

And Cohen was not alone. Last March, the cover of Time magazine presented the question “Is Truth Dead?” At about the same time, the magazine Democracy held a symposium to consider the question: “Can truth survive Trump?” No wonder that just last week, a political fact-checking website crashed during Trump’s State of the Union address.

The scholars of the Rand Corp. are clearly worried. It is hard not to agree with them that “Truth Decay and its many manifestations pose a direct threat to democracy and have real costs and consequences — economic, political, and diplomatic.”

In analyzing this situation, they identify four trends that together contribute to this time of decay: increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; the increasing relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

Some of these trends hardly need to be proven. A brief glance at the polls reveals the public’s growing distrust in institutions. And just watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Of course, this trend of mistrust in the media and nonstop punditry did not begin with Trump. Rather, it made Trump a credible presidential candidate. And now it haunts him. He is both an instigator and a victim of American’s distrust.

Other trends are more difficult to pinpoint. But the authors still make a decent effort to prove their case — by showing, for example, “the recent rise in skepticism about the safety of vaccines.”

The vaccine case reminded me of “The Influential Mind,” a book published in 2017 by Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience. (Full disclosure: I was the editor overseeing the Hebrew edition.) Sharot describes the September 2015 Republican presidential primary debate in which the moderator challenged then-candidate Trump’s assertions — contrary to scientific evidence — that childhood vaccines were linked to autism.

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who was then a candidate (now Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development), replied that numerous studies “have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Not hesitating to respond, Trump asserted that, “Autism has become an epidemic … it has gotten totally out of control. … You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.” He went on to describe a colleague’s young child who became ill after being vaccinated, and, he alleged, “now is autistic.”

Sharot writes about this moment with a sense of awe. “My response was immediate and visceral. An image of a nurse inserting a horse-sized syringe into my tiny baby emerged inside my head and would not fade away. It did not matter that I knew perfectly well that the syringe used for immunization was a normal size — I panicked.”

She recounts this moment to make a point she illustrates time and again in her book: Evidence does not work. In fact, as she later explains, “presenting people with information that contradicts their opinion can cause them to come up with altogether new counterarguments that further strengthen their original view.”

Sharot is not listed as a source in “Truth Decay,” but her sobering argument should serve as a warning. The Rand scholars portray our current era as different from previous times: Once, we were more prone to listen to evidence; now, we are less prone to do this. But is that really true? Were people really more rational in the past, making decisions based on evidence more than we do today?

The authors do not argue that today’s trend is unprecedented. In a chapter on past Truth Decays, they count three earlier periods in which truth diminished to make room for non-truths: the 1880s-90s, the 1920s-30s, and the 1960s-70s. Their aim is to provide these parallels to help explain what we see today.

In all three examples, the authors note, the media were changing. Yellow Journalism thrived in the Gilded Age; radio and tabloids emerged in the ’20s and ’30s; and New Journalism and the era of television were hallmarks of the ’60s and ’70s. As they compare these three periods to today’s supposed Truth Decay period, they carefully conclude: “Perhaps the clearest similarity across the four periods is that each offers examples of the erosion of the line between opinion and fact and of ways in which the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion over fact seems to have increased.”

And yet, historical parallels are a tricky tool, and the authors readily admit that “although each of the periods … exhibited a significant rise in disagreement over social, economic, and political policies and norms, there is little evidence that agreement about the veracity and legitimacy of basic facts declined in previous eras.”

What are “basic facts”? Americans, by and large, agree that the earth is spherical, that the sun rises in the east, and that water boils at a certain temperature. They disagree — and this is nothing new — on evolution, on global warming, on UFOs. In 2008, not all of them were convinced that Barack Obama was an American citizen. That was years before Trump’s election, and before Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.

Watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Today, they can’t agree on the facts — or “facts” — detailed in the memo released last week by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Was the FBI trying to assist Hillary Clinton? Was it trying to sabotage the election of Trump? The memo contains some facts that are indisputable and some that mean little without context. The context is often what makes facts more elusive than the Rand report tends to admit.

In analyzing the factors behind Truth Decay, the authors, to their credit, attempt to put these causes on a scale of those having more and less impact on how people debate truth and facts. Their conclusion: It is Facebook, Twitter and the other social media phenomena that make us easy prey for falsehoods: “Changes in the information system play an outsize role in the challenges presented by Truth Decay because those changes affect the supply of both fact-based information and disinformation.”

It’s not an earth-shattering conclusion, but it is an interesting comment on the human condition and on the human ability to process information.

Yes, our leaders tend to lie from time to time — some more than others. Yes, the current leader of the United States is especially flexible with the facts and especially bold in making unfounded statements. This boldness, it is worth saying, occasionally also gives him the ability to cut through vagueness and expose simple truths.

But leaving Trump aside for a moment, and reading carefully through the long Rand study, one realizes that Truth Decay — if you accept this analysis, and look at the historical parallels — is as much about too much information as too little. In other words, it stems not just from evildoers who deliberately hide the truth from us, but also from do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Trump Attacks ‘Little Adam Schiff’ in Tweet. Here Are 5 Things to Know About Schiff.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to launch an attack against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as the House Democrats are preparing to release a memo in response to the Nunes memo:

Here was Schiff’s response:

Here are five things to know about Schiff.

1. Schiff’s district encompasses part of the Los Angeles area. According to a Journal cover story on Schiff in April 2017, Schiff’s district “extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest.” Schiff has served in Congress since 2001 and used to be a member of Glendale’s Temple Sinai.

2. Schiff is considered to be a moderate by some, others view him as a deeply partisan congressman. A 2006 profile of Schiff in The Hill described the congressman as “a moderate, a compromiser, a man who chose law school over med school because he thought it would give him greater opportunities to serve the public.” However, National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “I don’t think people appreciate Adam Schiff’s incredible talent to sound above the fray, non partisan and more in sorrow than in anger, while being hyper partisan. He’s better than Harry Reid was and is almost as good as Tom Daschle.”

Conservative Review has concluded that Schiff has voted with conservatives only 12% of the time during his House tenure.

3. Schiff has constantly hyped the narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. For instance, Schiff told CNN in December, “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help, and that is pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”

Schiff’s hyping of Trump-Russia collusion combined with his status as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee has caused him to become a frequent guest on cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, but his critics argue that Schiff has been unable to provide sufficient evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

4. Schiff has constantly railed against the Nunes memo. Schiff argued vociferously against the memo being released, arguing that it would harm national security, although there is nothing in the memo to suggest that. Over the weekend, Schiff argued that the memo being released could result in more Oklahoma City bombings.

5. Schiff’s critics have accused him of leaking false information to the media and being a partisan hypocrite. Mollie Hemingway listed numerous examples of this at The Federalist, including an anonymously sourced Daily Beast story falsely claiming that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) snuck into the White House in the dead of night to obtain documents showing evidence of surveillance by the Obama administration – the same way Schiff had described it. Schiff has denied accusations of being a leaker.

Additionally, in 2013 Schiff argued for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reforms on Russian television, causing some to accuse him of hypocrisy for repeating a Kremlin talking point then, yet is now quick to hype Trump-Russia collusion. Others have noted that Schiff doesn’t appear to be interested in verifying the Steele dossier that is alleged to have been the basis of a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.

Five Key Facts About the Newly Released Nunes Memo

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For the past couple of weeks, there has been all sorts of hype around a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, alleging abuse by the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) in the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The memo has finally been released; here are five things to know about it.

1. A dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign seems to be a key part in surveillance against Carter Page, who worked for the Trump campaign. Per the memo, the dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele who was being paid by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the research firm Fusion GPS and law firm Perkins Cole to find dirt on Trump. The DOJ and FBI both knew of Steele’s connections, yet the application to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant did not mention that Steele was working at the behest  of the Clinton campaign and DNC. The memo also notes that outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified in December that they wouldn’t have attempted to obtain a FISA warrant against Page if not for the Steele dossier.

Additionally, the memo highlights the fact that the FBI had barely started their corroboration of the Steele dossier when the FISA application was submitted and that in June then-FBI Director James Comey described the dossier as “salacious” and “unverified” allegations, although this characterization of Comey’s comments on the dossier doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Others have noted that there has yet to be anything to corroborate the main allegations in the dossier.

However, USA Today points out that Page had first appeared on the FBI’s radar in 2013 for possible Russia connections. It’s unclear how much of a role that played in obtaining the FISA warrant against Page, but the memo seems to suggest that the Steele dossier played a significant role in obtaining the warrant.

The Democrats are disputing that the dossier played a major role in obtaining the warrant:

2.  Steele really, really did not want Trump to be president. According to the memo, Steele told then-Associate DOJ official Bruce Ohr in September 2016 he “was desperate” and “passionate” about ensuring that Trump would never be elected to the presidency. Ohr was recently demoted for not disclosing his meeting with people behind the Steele dossier; his wife also worked for Fusion GPS in 2016 but it is not known if she had any involvement with the dossier. The FISA application against Page, which was sought a month after Steele made his alleged comments to Ohr, did not mention Steele’s stated feelings about Trump nor did it mention any possible conflict of interest with the Ohrs and Fusion GPS.

The memo also points out that Ohr worked closely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate possible Trump-Russia collusion.

3. Steele leaked his dossier to members of the media in order to pressure the FISA court to approve the application to spy on Page. The memo alleges that Steele leaked contents from the dossier to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News and other media outlets in September; he also provided information about the dossier to David Corn of Mother Jones the following month. The information that Steele provided to Isikoff in his Yahoo article was used in the FISA application against Page to justify a warrant, but did not disclose that Steele had provided the information used in Isikoff’s article. Steele was eventually dismissed as an FBI source for failing to disclose his leaking to the media to the bureau.

4. The memo claims that certain members of the FBI were biased against Trump. The memo specifically singles out FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who was one of the key figures in opening the FBI investigation on Trump-Russia collusion, and his paramour, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, for sending text messages stating their desire to see Clinton elected president over Trump and that they discussed an “insurance policy” against Trump’s election with McCabe. This has all been reported elsewhere.

5. However, the Steele dossier did not trigger the investigation against Trump; George Papadopoulos was the trigger. The memo points to the FBI investigation starting in July 2016 due to Papadopoulos, who used to work for the Trump campaign, bragging about the Russians having opposition research on Clinton to an Australian diplomat.

There has been a wide variety of reactions to the Nunes memo:

The full memo can be read below:


Senior Settler Leader Talks Trump

Oded Revivi. Photo by Yesha Council/JTA

For the first time in American history, a senior settler leader from Israel was formally invited to the inauguration of the president of the United States. This inauguration was, of course, that of Donald Trump, and the guest was Oded Revivi.

The affable Revivi, 49, serves as both chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council (the official body representing more than 406,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria) and mayor of Efrat, a modern Orthodox settlement town south of Jerusalem. He sat near the front to witness the swearing-in ceremony and now enjoys close ties with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Trump adviser on Israel Jason Greenblatt.

And while this is the first time an American administration has actively engaged settler leaders, Revivi is not sure Trump’s showering of goodwill on Israel, particularly with his announcement on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, will necessarily translate into rapid settlement expansion any time soon.

“The right wing in Israel, in my view, was too quick to celebrate the victory of President Trump,” Revivi told the Journal, speaking from his office in Efrat just hours before attending Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Knesset on Jan. 22. “They were right in celebrating the victory because the other option would be much worse, but the assumption that President Trump is Santa Claus who’ll be able to deliver everything we dream about was not grounded in reality.”

“The assumption that President Trump is Santa Claus who’ll be able to deliver everything we dream about was not grounded in reality.” — Oded Revivi

So far under the Trump administration, no new building permits have been granted for Efrat, although two new neighborhoods have been in construction in the past two years that will allow Efrat to grow from 10,000 residents to 16,000.

“In my understanding — and I’ve had quite a few meetings with the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], and I try to understand what are American guidelines for building in Judea and Samaria — it seems to me President Trump said to the prime minister something along the lines of parents wanting a child to play nicely, when the parent says: ‘I know you know how to behave.’ The reaction of the child is to freeze in his place because he doesn’t know what his boundaries are.”

Revivi was elected in 2008 (and re-elected in 2013) by a constituency eager for Efrat’s expansion, but upon stepping into this new role after a decadeslong career as a lawyer, Revivi’s main task was to ensure Efrat was well-managed. Efrat is among the more socio-economically successful settlements.

The nature of Revivi’s role as mayor, as well as his fluent English, made him the natural successor to Dani Dayan, currently Consul General of Israel in New York. Revivi lived in the U.S. and England as a child while his parents served as Jewish Agency emissaries, and his wife is British.

Revivi takes nongovernmental organizations, congressmen, AIPAC representatives and other decision-makers throughout Efrat in part to dispel settler stereotypes.

“The vast majority of people living in Judea and Samaria move here for financial reasons, social reasons, not because of ideological reasons,” he said.

Himself included. He moved with his family in 1993 in large part for affordable housing, although that has changed in Efrat. Demand is high and real estate prices in Efrat now exceed those in many Jerusalem neighborhoods. Revivi believes quality of life for all, Jews and Arabs alike, should be the main factor in any discussion about peace in the region.

“That’s why we have to find a new approach, a new solution, which isn’t on the table in the moment,” Revivi said.

Letters to the Editor: Racism, Trump, Jerusalem and Suissa

Label a Person Racist When It’s Deserved

We must agree to disagree about the premise of Shmuel Rosner’s questions (“The Rush to Racism,” Jan. 19). There are more than two criteria to label someone a racist.

President Donald Trump has a history of denying leases to African-Americans 40-plus years ago. He accepted, after denying he knew former KKK member David Duke, Duke’s endorsement during the campaign. His words have emboldened haters like no president before. His policy to deny people who are not white entry to United States and most recently his “shithole” comment all point to the same conclusion.

If you act/feel like a racist, you quack like a hater/racist and you call neo-Nazis “good people,” you are a racist.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Trump’s Comment About ‘Developing’ Countries

I (and I suspect many other Journal readers) take umbrage at Karen Lehrman Bloch’s assertion that we are all shitholers (“We are All Shitholers,” Jan. 19).

That and similar terms aren’t ones I use. I was born in the United States. Yes, my grandparents came from Russia and Poland, as did the ancestors of many people.

And I disagree strongly with her assertion that the leftist media get hysterical over everything President Donald Trump says and does.

I’m not sure which media outlets she is referring to as leftist — does she mean legitimate news outfits like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC? Reporting on presidential outrages in word or deed is not hysterical, it’s legitimate reporting.

At least Bloch appears to understand that Trump’s bigotry is un-American. She should also point out that it violates biblical injunctions, too.

Daniel Fink, Beverly Hills

In the past few decades, I have traveled to nearly 50 countries, mostly as a negotiator on deals to sell American products in places such as China, South America and Europe but also (more recently) as a tourist.

Most of these trips were to “developing” countries that President Trump called “shitholes.”

Yes, I have been to some rough places in the world: I went to Syria to help a Texas mom whose 12-year-old daughter was kidnapped by an ex-husband and was being held near Damascus. I discovered an international criminal group in Europe on a case I was working on (that had bilked U.S. investors out of $1.5 million) and had to go “undercover” for a while.

But the only place out of 50 countries I have been to, where my life was really in jeopardy, was in the United States — in East Texas — when I was kidnapped by a white guy. Not Nigeria. Not South Africa. Not Asia. True story. All of these events are documented in my book “Better Times Ahead April Fool.”

So don’t call nations “shitholes,” Mr. Trump, because I found great people in the worst of places, and some terrible people in the “best” of places.

Michael Fjetland, via email

Zioness Organization’s Time Is Now

Thank you for your wonderful story about the Zioness organization (“Zioness Movement Joins Women’s March,” Jan. 19). This is an organization whose time is long overdue. There is a strong need on the left for this type of organization. We Jews on the left have been slammed with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate speech and actions. Occasionally, it comes from other Jews and Jewish organizations.

I’m writing because of an Israel-bashing Muslim woman who spoke at the Women’s March. This marred an otherwise inspirational event, and was so unnecessary. I would say that almost all people at the march had multi-ethnic and multiracial sentiments.

This Israel bashing is nothing new. It seems always to be lurking in the mass movements on the left. My first exposure to it was in the women’s movement in the 1970s. Then it was in the LGBT movement. Then it was in the anti-Iraq War movement. Now, here it is at the Women’s March. I will always be a progressive because I put people’s lives first. There’s nowhere else for me to go.

Let’s hope the Zionesses become powerful and strong!

Sue Roth via email

Jerusalem as Capital of Israel

Last month, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem the capital of Israel, yet I did not see any positive comment that I know of from rabbis with the exception of Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob, who asked the members to send letters or email to thank Trump. Even though Jerusalem belonged to Israel for 2,000 years, Trump was the first president who promised and delivered. Thank you, Mr. Trump.

Benny Halfon via email

Suissa’s Hits and Misses

Thank you, David Suissa, for an outstanding column (“Abbas Fails His People —  Again,” Jan. 19)!

Mahmoud Abbas and his friends appear to be the “fundamental obstacle” to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He retains power by focusing on the presumed “victimhood” and the misery under which his people live, claiming Israel is the oppressor. Abbas’ argument: Israel is to blame for all the hardships Palestinians are suffering.

Prediction: Just as is happening in Iran, one day the Palestinian people will wake up and realize the truth, and get leaders who truly want to help their people to enjoy a better life. Then they will welcome Israel as a partner rather than the enemy.

Meanwhile, Abbas enjoys his share of the billions of dollars donated from around the world — just as Yasser Arafat did before him. Furthermore, he uses much of those funds to reward and encourage terrorism. And the U.N. condones it all, blaming Israel for the plight of the Palestinians. In this regard, let’s wish for lots of luck for U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and President Donald Trump.

George Epstein via email

The publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal is on a trip to the land of Oz! Suissa is dreamy and nostalgic for the smells of the land that decreed Jews’ station in this land to be dhimmi: to face humiliation from birth to death (“A Hunger for Memory,” Jan. 12).

Perhaps if Suissa wasn’t daydreaming about the good old days in a country that held its Jews in humiliation and bondage, he might have remembered to speak up for the Jew Robert Levinson, who is believed to be rotting in the mullahs’ gulag. But then, how could Suissa be expected to remember Levinson when he’s dreaming about the good old days living the dhimmi. All the space in this not-for-profit Jewish weekly showing concern for the protesters in Iran and not a bloody word for the Levinson. Perhaps Levinson is in a cozy gulag in his Muslim cell.

Jerry Daniels, Marina del Rey

Why Israelis Like Trump More Than Americans Do

Shmuel Rosner clearly explained why Israeli Jews like President Donald Trump more than American Jews do (“The Trump Gap,” Jan. 19). I would like to add one more element to his explanation: What is good for America is good for Israel. The Israeli euphoria should be dampened by the fact that his erratic attempts of diplomacy have alienated him from our (and Israel’s) natural allies and greatly diminished American leadership in the Middle East. Thus, despite his rhetoric, he has lost America’s ability to act as an honest broker in future peace negotiations and give political cover in international relations.

At home, his attack on American institutions already is causing greater division and rivalry among our population. If not reversed, this can cause a weakening that will reflect in our ability to influence world affairs, and particularly support for Israel.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Report: Trump Admin, PA Haven’t Talked In Over a Month

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Relations between the Trump administration and Palestinian Authority (PA) have chilled to the point where they haven’t spoken to each other in over a month.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the chief negotiators in the Israel-Palestine conflict – Jared Kushner and Jonathan Greenblatt – haven’t had any sort of dialogue with the PA since Dec. 6, when President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, although there have been some meetings with Palestinians that have been kept under wraps.

“They’re under a lot of pressure not to talk,” a top White House official told the Jerusalem Post. “It doesn’t bode well for what we’re trying to create if there’s no freedom of speech among the Palestinians. So that troubles me greatly, and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

Since Trump’s Jerusalem move, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has become increasingly unhinged and hostile toward the United States. He recently gave a speech in which he “he deployed anti-Semitic tropes, undercut the Jewish connection to Israel, and blamed everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Napoleon to Winston Churchill for Israel’s creation” and “repeatedly cursed President Donald Trump (“may your house fall into ruin”),” according to The Atlantic.

Abbas has also stated that the PA won’t accept any peace agreement mediated by United States and wants Europe to have greater involvement in such talks. On Tuesday, Abbas gave a speech at the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels and called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine, and the EU gave him his support.

Despite all this, the Trump administration remains undeterred in their attempts to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as the White House official told the Post they will eventually put forward a “plan that we think is appropriate, reasonable, fair for both sides, in particular for the Palestinians to have a brighter future.”

“It’s going to be up to the parties to make their decisions if they can come to terms on a deal,” the official said.

Bigotry in Context—the Dangers of Trump

The media “sh*tstorm” is perpetual. Donald Trump has managed to suck up the media oxygen virtually 24/7. If it isn’t his “sh*thole” comments about much of Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, it’s his tweets about compromises in Congress or his unrelenting dismissal of opponents with derisive diminutives.

The media has little choice but to report, analyze and comment on the daily distractions. What the media should do, but usually don’t, is put Trump’s actions and words into perspective. Admittedly, there is little precedent for the narcissistic self-aggrandizing occupant of the White House—what president has come close to his performance and personality? Historians suggest that he is truly sui generis. But an effort should be made to educate Americans as to what might transpire were his prescriptions to be enacted.

There are historic precedents for the kind of jingoistic, ethnocentric bigotry that has emanated from this administration regarding immigration and its implications—short term and long term—are pretty ugly.

For starters, we should all be reminded—-as the Bible admonishes—-to never forget from whence we come, “remember that you were slaves in Egypt”(Deuteronomy 15:15).

We were almost all immigrants at one point in the not too distant past. The kind of hostility and simple-mindedness that Trump (and his attorney general) have demonstrated should chill every thinking American. But the impact is attenuated by the historic ignorance that abounds.

A partial curative emerged today from one of the bulliest pulpits in the land short of the White House—The New York Times. Bret Stephens, the Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning columnist has a brilliant column reminding us all that bigotry, fear, lies and distortions are  nothing new in the immigration debate. In fact, virtually every one of the “America First” tactics of the Trump administration has been employed before against different sets of immigrants—what’s new is the administration’s ability to reach tens of millions with their hate and lies.

The target cohort that Stephens chose as an example of historically similar nativism is Jewish immigrants to the US of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Not unlike today’s targets (El Salvadorans, Iranians, Haitians, et al.) Jews were decried as purveyors of crime (the NYPD police commissioner falsely asserted that half of all crime in New York City was committed by Jews); Jews were viewed as socially undesirable (“social discards”) as compared to northern Europeans (sound familiar?); Jews were attacked as “moral cripples” “reeking of the ghetto” who were unprepared for citizenship, and on and on.

The list of accusations from a century ago is extensive and the ring of familiarity is chilling. What Stephens brilliantly does is ask the question, what if the bigots had prevailed? What would America be missing if those of supposed “genetic inferiority” had been denied admission, if the restrictionists had prevailed?

A question that our historical perspective allows us to answer. A media bound to today’s headlines can’t ask what would America be missing if we pulled up the gangplanks and closed our ports of entry. We have only history as a guide, and it suggests that Trump’s ethnocentric fears are insidious foolishness.

Yet imagine if the United States had followed the advice of the immigration restrictionists in the late 19th century and banned Jewish immigrants, at least from Central Europe and Russia, on what they perceived to be some genetic inferiority. What, in terms of enterprisegeniusimagination, and philanthropy would have been lost to America as a country? And what, in terms of human tragedy, would have ultimately weighed on our conscience?

Today, American Jews are widely considered the model minority, so thoroughly assimilated that organizational Jewish energies are now largely devoted to protecting our religious and cultural distinctiveness. Someone might ask Jeff Sessions and other eternal bigots what makes an El Salvadoran, Iranian or Haitian any different.

Stephens’ piece is powerful and right on target. Today’s bigots see the world through their distorted prism, it takes reason, logic and some historical context to counteract their warping of reality.

Bravo Bret, an important piece that should be mandatory reading in every home in America!

Letters to the Editor: Islam, Mensch List, Trump and Immigration

A Meaning Lost in Translation

In his Jan. 12 column “A Hunger for Memory,” David Suissa quotes Aomar Boum’s book “Memories of Absence” as translating the word dhimmi as “people of the book.”

The term dhimmi always has been translated inaccurately as meaning “people of the book” or “protected people,” who are exempt from Islamic law. However, the term is not native to Arabic and its usage is descriptive rather than factual translation. It is borrowed from Hebrew, related to the biblical Hebrew word d’mama, which means silent or still (as in the kol d’mama daka, the “still, small voice” that the prophet Elijah hears in 1 Kings 19:12 and as in numerous Psalms such as in Psalm 62:2 (al dhomi lach, “don’t hold Yourself silent”).

The Quran does not mention dhimmi and it is stated only in the Hadith in various agreements between the Prophet and Jewish tribes in Medina. It has always struck me as a derogatory and humiliating term referring to Jews in the Muslim world as a “silent second-class,” who were expected to stand when a Muslim walked by, not allowed to ride horses or own a piece of land. In most Arab countries, Jews were allowed to live only in limited closed quarters called hara. In contrast, Hebrew has the term ger, referring to non-Jews who live among the Jews and accept and observe the seven Noahide laws. The term, as used in the Torah and discussed lavishly by Maimonides, never implies discrimination or humiliation against the ger but rather full acceptance and total respect.

Ed Elhaderi, Los Angeles

Journal’s Hits and Misses

My compliments on Larry Greenfield’s reflections on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (“King’s Dream,” Jan. 12”). He promotes King’s vision of racial friendship, and points out the growing voices of black separatism and leftist violence. The Journal is to be commended for thoughtful diversity of views. “Antifa” is not our friend.

Norman Epstein, San Francisco

Just wanted to tell you I like your new format and human interest stories. Very good — sharing how people are helping people. But I miss some of your columns that offer intellectual and challenging thought — like Dennis Prager.

Karen Rae, Sherman Oaks

The 11 vignettes in the “Mensch List” cover story (Jan. 5) were heartwarming. But one omission troubled me. Our species is devastating the biosphere, including countless wild species. Reportedly 98 percent of U.S. charitable contributions are to organizations whose concern is our species whereas only 2 percent are to organizations whose principal concern is the environment or wild species. The Journal’s list follows in the same spirit. The efforts of all 11 honorees are human-focused. Was there no one in the “overwhelming influx of inspiring nominees” who works to protect nature and who is deserving of recognition?

Ben Zuckerman, Los Angeles

Susannah Heschel’s essay was a “blast from the past,” bringing to the fore the incredible insights, acumen and razor-sharp mind that characterized her father’s work (“What Would My Father Say?” Jan 12). Most importantly, Heschel emphasized her father’s unrelenting search for the truth and the homeostasis that was universally acknowledged between his fiery words and his concomitant nonviolent actions of resistance.

Contrast that with the dissembling screed that Ben Shapiro penned about the reported scatological remarks made by President Donald Trump in his self-deified role of a (“who shall live and who shall die”) present-day Nero. To offset this treasure trove of conservative tried but not true journalistic legerdemain, Shapiro sprinkles in a few seemingly apolitical political crumbs about Trump being a charismatic boor with a volatile yellow streak running down the center of his back.

Defending that which is best about Judaism (defining a religious person as maladjusted; attuned to the agony of others and never satisfied but always questioning) is the gist of Heschel’s gift to the Journal reader, while Shapiro’s gift is the benighted defense of that which is indefensible.

Marc Rogers, North Hollywood

President Trump has been in office for a year, so let’s look at the facts. Third-quarter economy grew 3.2 percent. Unemployment at a 17-year low. Stock market sizzling. Stopped foreign college graduates from coming here and taking our jobs. Illegal immigrants are leaving. Foreign countries are opening plants here. American companies are coming back. Retail sales for December were up over the previous year. All this despite two major hurricanes and major wildfires in California. If you bashers are going to bitch in good times, what are you going to do in bad times?

Joseph B.D. Saraceno, Gardena

Ben Shapiro hit the nail on the head. When the entire Michael Wolff affair is said and done, it won’t be Donald Trump who emerges worse off. It will be the fake news mainstream media who subscribe to Wolff’s journalistic style, namely, if you like what you read, take it as truth. That’s the essence of confirmation bias that the mainstream media are foisting on the public.

The mainstream, liberal, left media blew their integrity in the desire for a cheap hit by defending Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury.” They relied heavily on the falsehoods of Wolff’s book while ignoring some of the major achievements of Trump, such as tax relief for the middle class, defeating ISIS, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

Trump’s Comment About Certain Nations

I am the daughter of an immigrant. As we are confronted with the most recent profane and derogatory comments by President Donald Trump concerning groups who have sought and wish to seek refuge in the United States, we must remember Jews who were turned away from entry into this country only to be returned to a country where they were murdered.

Some Jewish groups have ignored previous vulgar and bigoted comments made by Trump. How can they remain silent now? Every Jewish organization that claims to promote freedom and tolerance should denounce his words.

Cynthia Hasday, Los Angeles


‘Sacred Protectors,’ Jan. 12:

I have spent time in Morocco and this is mostly true. Of course, like anywhere on Earth, there will be some Moroccans who will not behave so gallantly. One of the most beautiful, oldest Jewish cemeteries is in Marrakesh. … Rabbis request being buried there. It is like little else you’ve ever seen; simply breathtaking and moving. The old Jewish quarter is pretty amazing too.

La Pickwell

Respect is due to these Moroccan, Muslim protectors of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. A good story of humanity gone unnoticed.

Herman Meltzer

We need to hear more stories like this. I’m sure that they are out there.

Ginny Baldwin

Thank you, Aomar Boum. Shalom. Aleikum-as-Salaam. Peace be upon you.

Eb Hoene

‘A Hunger for Memory,’ Jan. 12:

Beautiful and touching story.

Ruth Solomon Wolitzer

Nice to hear a positive story about living in a Muslim land.

Beth Anderson

82 Rabbis and Jewish Activists Arrested During DACA Protest

Photo from Facebook.

A total of 82 rabbis and Jewish activists were arrested on Wednesday during a protest against President Trump ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The protest occurred on Capitol Hill, where over 100 rabbis and Jewish activists conducted a sit-in in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. The protesters chanted “We will not be moved!” and “Let my people stay!” in favor of the Dreamers. The protesters were also surrounded by red paper that read, “Jews demand a clean Dream Act!”

The 82 protesters were arrested for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” in a public building, but most of them are expected to be released.

“We as Jews know the experience of being immigrants,” Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement Associate Director Barbara Weinstein told the Huffington Post, “and as Americans, we’re deeply aware of our history as a nation of immigrants, and that throughout that history immigrants have been a source of strength for this country.”

Before the sit-in, the protesters handed out petitions to congressional members that featured over 5,000 signatures advocating for Congress to pass the Dream Act.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Bend the Arc were among the Jewish organizations at the protest. Members of Congress who stopped by to support the protesters included Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL).

DACA was first implemented as an executive order under the Obama administration in 2012that prevented 800,000 Dreamers from being deported.

The protests come as Congress and the White House are attempting to reach a deal on DACA, but so far no deal appears to be imminent. Congressional Democrats are threatening to block a spending bill that funds the government if there is no DACA deal by Friday.

The Rush to Racism

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

About a month ago, when I last traveled to the United States, I purchased “The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” by Richard White. It is the latest volume of history produced as part of the authoritative Oxford History of the United States, and it takes a while to read.

It takes a while because of its length and detail — almost a thousand pages of scholarship and storytelling — and the way it constantly forces the reader to think about parallels of past and present.

The fate of immigrants is one such tempting parallel. When historian White writes about groups who rejected Catholics or Jews, or about groups who rejected immigrants from southern European countries or from China, the reader can hardly avoid the resemblances — and the differences.

One reads a book to get away from the daily noise of the news, and yet the news creeps in through the cracks.

Of course, the Gilded Age was a long time ago. But the inherent tension that underlies all debates about immigration is here: on the one hand, the benefits a country reaps when it accepts immigrants; on the other hand, the inevitable cultural change that immigrants force on their new country. And note that it was much worse then than it is now. As White describes it: In the 1890s, “concern over immigrants began to look more like panic.”

Trump is guilty of being reckless with the language he uses, but is it wise to call him a racist?

Every state has some kind of immigration policy. A state without such policy is not a state. And when devising such policy, opposition to immigration, as well as support for it, is natural and not irrational.

Sadly, the opposition often manifests itself in ugly racism, bigotry, populism and incitement. Thus, one cannot always identify the true motivations and fears behind it: Does the president oppose immigration from certain African countries because he thinks that these immigrants are less likely to integrate into the U.S. — or because of his dislike of the color of their skin?

In the past week, more newspapers and activists began using the term “racism” to describe the policy of Donald Trump, relying on a plethora of disturbing evidence. Indeed, Trump is guilty of being reckless with the language he uses. And he has a history of troubling incidents that prompt the question of racism.

But is it wise to call Trump a racist?

Consider the following argument: “Racism” is a terrible trait. It is also a trait that delegitimizes a person or the positions he or she is holding. At least, this is what most decent people hope. For this to be achieved — for “racism” to remain a uniquely negative allegation — two terms must be met: “Racism” must be clearly and narrowly defined; and the definition must be one that the vast majority of people accept.

Why? Because a broad, or a vague, definition of “racism” makes it a political tool that is hurled at too many positions and hence loses its effectiveness at being a red line beyond which positions become illegitimate, and because a nonconsensual definition of “racism” turns it from the ultimate sin to yet another matter of disagreement.

What happened last week when Trump was called a “racist”? There are two possibilities. The first: His legitimacy and his views eroded (because decent people do not want to be identified with racism). The second: The power of the term “racism” eroded (if you define the views of a third of the population as “racist,” you now have many people who no longer think that “racism” is so terrible).

Is Trump a racist? It is encouraging to see that the president himself vehemently rejects such accusations, hence proving that “racism” is still a negative enough term to scare off people. Still, some insist on calling him that — and curiously enough, it is often the same people who think it immature of Trump to insist on the term “Islamic terrorists” when describing a group of, well, Islamic terrorists.

Is it foolish for the president to specifically talk about “Islamist terrorism”? If the cost outweighs the benefit, then it is.

Is it essential to call the president a racist? Maybe, but first consider the possible negative impact that such expansive use of this terminology could have.

Think how bad it would be if the attempt to delegitimize Trump ends up even slightly legitimizing racism.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

We Are All Sh*tholers

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I spend most of my time on Facebook criticizing the left. Pointing out all of the ways it has become illiberal. For this, I have been called all sorts of names and blocked by friends of 20 years.

During the 2016 election, I switched to the more urgent task of arguing why Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. After the election, I went back to criticizing the left.

I rarely mention Trump, although I have praised him when deserved: his appointment of Nikki Haley; his recognition of Jerusalem; his support for the Iranian protesters.

So, I was quite surprised by the response I received when I wrote that the president of the United States should not have said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to Africa. “Why do we need more Haitians? Why don’t we take more immigrants from places like Norway?”

That evening, I actually thought that all of Trump’s hardcore supporters would disappear from Facebook for a bit. I was quite wrong. They wrote endless defenses of his use of the word.  Defenses — complete with vile imagery — that left little doubt of the commentator’s prejudices.

What was most astonishing is that these were not his alt-right supporters. I’m not friends with alt-righters. These were otherwise rational conservatives who had befriended me because of a shared desire to defend Israel.

Aside from vile jokes about the countries, the word that kept coming up was “refreshing.” How refreshing it was to finally have a president that spoke “the truth.”

After unfriending the worst commentators, I asked a simple question: “Would you find it refreshing if he called Israel a shithole?” But Israel is not a shithole, they replied, missing my point.

I tried another tactic: “Well, my family comes from that sh*thole country Russia. I look forward to hearing Trump talk about it that way.” No response from the president’s defenders.

That night, I wrote: “Here’s the sad irony of Trump supporters who are unable to even say, ‘he shouldn’t have said that.’ For years, we all begged Obama peeps to admit when he made a mistake. To just say it, and move on. But they couldn’t do it, no matter how bad it was. And now many of those same peeps are doing the very same thing.”

But the fact that Trump supporters had become a mirror image of President Barack Obama supporters, who they loathe, also had no effect.

Instead, for the crime of saying Trump shouldn’t have used that word, I was called: a leftist; a virtue signaler; a traitor; a snowflake; and, perhaps most interestingly, a “so-called columnist at the Jewish Journal.”

There were some Trump supporters who had no problem criticizing his language. And I was happy to see that Commentary quickly posted a beautiful “Letter from a Shitholer,” by Iranian American Sohrab Ahmari: “The toxic discharge flows daily from your office and Twitter account into the stream of national affairs — and the homes of Americans struggling to raise children amid an already-vulgar culture. … It is a new moral low point for the American presidency.”

It doesn’t matter that the leftist media get hysterical over everything he says and does. It doesn’t matter that President Barack Obama ended up doing far worse things to African countries, most notably by helping to create a slave trade in Libya.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America.

It matters even less that we have a president who uses language not fit for a bar in Queens.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America: that people come from all sorts of countries to live in freedom and dignity. That the idea of taking white Europeans over nonwhites from poor countries is the same sort of bigotry that was used a hundred years ago against Eastern European Jews.

Jews were thought to be “undesirable,” “of low physical and mental standards,” “filthy” and “un-American.” And now we have Jewish Americans saying the same things about Africans and Haitians.

The left has many problems. But this problem on the right is truly ugly. Perhaps it’s time for some Jews to look in the mirror.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author living in New York.

THE TRUMP GAP: One Year in, Why Israelis Like the President So Much More Than American Jews Do

President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

How do you measure a year?

It has been exactly 12 months since Donald Trump was sworn in as the new and surprising president of the United States. But from an Israeli viewpoint, Trump’s first year actually began on Dec. 24, 2016. That was the day after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 by a vote of 14-0, with one country — the U.S. — abstaining, yet refraining from using its veto power.

In the eyes of most Israelis, it was the last, vengeful act of Barack Obama’s administration, a stunning departure from U.S. policy of many years. Obama decided to let the Security Council pass the measure, which demanded an immediate halt to all Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There was no policy-based argument for the action. It was an ego-driven move, a last act of frustration.

Israel’s response was telling. It marked the beginning of the counting of a new year: “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The resolution was indeed absurd. And Trump — bolstered by his feisty U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley — was quick to note that, going forward, the United States wouldn’t tolerate such resolutions.

Almost a year to the day after the Obama-backed, anti-Israel resolution came a U.S.-vetoed, anti-Trump resolution. In December, the U.N. condemned Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him.

Between these two unfortunate votes was a year filled with nervousness (when Trump was elected), glee (when Obama departed), adjustment (when Trump seemed to get along with Israel’s leaders) and hospitality (when the president visited Israel in May).

Yes, there was also some embarrassment. Can Israelis really get along with such a leader? Is this man going to be our friend? With time and while much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him. Foul language aside, U.S. domestic hurdles aside, kooky tweets aside, in his speeches — although not always consistent — Trump identified many sentiments and themes compatible with their own.

In Poland last July, he spoke about working “together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

Is that a worldview? It is not always clear that Trump has something coherent enough to be called a worldview. But he surely has sentiments. And these sentiments, his desire to guard “bonds of culture, faith and tradition,” make Israelis — not all Israelis, but more than a few — feel comfortable with him.

When Trump entered office last January, 69 percent of Jewish Israelis expected his attitude toward Israel to be friendly. According to Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index poll, “this belief stretched across all political camps” and included Jews and Arabs. A year later, the same pollsters found that “a large majority of the Jewish public (65 percent) think President Trump’s public declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel was in Israel’s best interest.”

Consider this: 77 percent of American Jews disapprove of Trump, according to the annual survey of American Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee. An almost mirror image is found among Jews in Israel, where, as the Pew Research Center documented, 64 percent have confidence in Trump’s “ability to lead.” A December Jerusalem Post poll found that 77 percent of Jewish Israelis call the Trump administration “more pro-Israel” than pro-Palestinian.

Of course, Israelis are not a monolithic group. They have many worldviews. Many Israelis dislike Trump and his policies. They believe he is dangerous to the United States and the world. The leader of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Galon, once described him as the “sex offender, homophobe, Islamophobe in the White House.”

Still, many Israelis aren’t apologetic about their fondness for the president. It is their habit to like an American president if he likes them back. Thus, Israelis voiced high approval of Democrat Bill Clinton, of Republican George W. Bush and now many have positive views of Trump. They might recognize that his reported insult of Haiti and African countries is problematic, they might see that his persona and manner are hardly presidential and that some of his habits are highly disturbing, but as outsiders, Israelis first consider their own interests. If Trump is on Israel’s side, a majority of Israelis will be on his side.

This is certainly reflected in the language of Netanyahu, who has said that “Israel has no greater friend than Donald Trump.” Compare that to the convoluted phraseologies he employed when he was forced to commend Obama for his friendship. “The president of the United States — including President Obama — every one of the U.S. presidents represents and acts on the tremendous innate friendship of the American people and Israel,” was one way he put it. That is to say: The friend is not Obama, but the American people. “They’re all friends of Israel, equally representing the friendship of America,” Netanyahu said of U.S. presidents in a 2011 interview with NBC’s David Gregory.

It is Israelis’ habit to like an American president if he likes them back.

To be sure, Israelis’ fondness for Trump puts them at odds with people in many other countries — and with many Americans. So, there is risk involved: The more Israel is branded as Trump-friendly, the more it becomes an outlier in the eyes of those who instinctively feel that what Trump is for, they must be against.

This was evident when Trump decided to acknowledge the obvious fact that Jerusalem is, and will remain, Israel’s capital. Leaders of U.S. Reform Judaism opted to respond to this decision by condemning its timing. “[The] White House should not undermine [peace] efforts by making unilateral decisions that exacerbate the conflict,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky tagged this negative response “terrible.” He easily identified the sentiment behind it: “Everything that comes out of Trump is bad, from their perspective.”

President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Indeed, it is — a reason to worry about the future of Israel-Diaspora Jewish relations. Of course, this is hardly the first time that Israeli and American Jews have been at odds over important political issues. Over the past two decades, that has been the norm. American Jews did not support the Bush administration and the initiation of the Iraq War, while Israelis did. Most American Jews never abandoned the Obama administration, not even when Israel argued that it failed to defend Israel and didn’t act like a friend.

But with Trump, every phenomenon seems to be on steroids. Most American Jews view the president with unparalleled horror, while Israelis are content with him. “Like him or not, Trump’s first year in office has been good for Israel,” concluded former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

Good, relatively speaking. Good, as in better than the previous eight years. The Trump administration has not seemed inclined to manipulate Israel into something it doesn’t want. It has not engaged in speaking in public and in private against Israel’s leaders and their policies. It has not attempted to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, as Obama famously said he would. It did not pull any surprises on Israel — well, not more than Trump surprised the rest of the world on Twitter. It was clear and unapologetic in showing its affinity for Israel.

So yes, relatively speaking, the Trump administration is an improvement when it comes to the U.S. relations with Israel.

But “good” might be too strong a term. Besides the kind words, the warm relations and the better atmosphere, there are also actions to be considered. And when it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach. One thing that’s “good for Israel” is a U.S. that takes the role of leader in the Middle East, but it is not clear that Trump is invested in having such role.

He left Syria to the Russians, reasonably arguing that it was too late in the game for him to have real impact. He has not yet formulated a clear path on Iran. His gut sentiment was there, but not the policy to match it.

That is true even after the president recently clarified that the U.S. is ready to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement unless it is changed in the coming months. Such a development could present Israel with a dramatic dilemma if Iran responds to the U.S. pullout by reigniting its nuclear program. That’s why a joint simulation by the Rand Corp. and Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies concluded that renegotiating the Iran deal is not a realistic goal and that the Trump administration has no “clear plan” as to how Iran can be forced to improve it.

It’s no wonder that Israel’s intelligence agencies believe that the probability of war is higher today than it was a year ago. Of course, that is not exactly Trump’s fault, but it is worth noting that his year in office has not contributed much to preventing war. Russian forces have pulled out of Syria while Iranian forces have gone in. Israel has reportedly attacked Syrian targets on a regular basis to send the message that it will not tolerate Iran at its border. Hezbollah is freer to consider other targets than it was during the height of the Syrian war. Hamas is relying on Iranian support. Amid all these developments — and then some — the U.S. seems inactive, even numb.

President Donald Trump at a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Last week, Trump evidently was reluctant when he opted to extend Iran’s relief from economic sanctions, keeping intact this part of the Obama-era agreement. Trump was a fierce opponent of the deal. He hinted repeatedly that he had no intention of keeping it. Trump ran for office as the anti-Obama. It clearly pains him to have to reaffirm any Obama policy.

When it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach.

That is true for Iran and also helped lead to the Jerusalem statement — Trump’s most notable departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy and bluntest demonstration of his willingness to change the rules of the Middle East game.

Many analysts wondered about the real motivation behind Trump’s decision suddenly to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and thus put his potential peace initiative at risk. Some questioned to what extent Israel pressured the administration to make the declaration. Some pundits saw the hand of Vice President Mike Pence, while others blamed more sinister forces, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who they said drove Trump to what they viewed as an irrational act.

The truth is simpler: Trump hated the idea of having to sign the waiver delaying the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. He hated it because he had made a promise to move the embassy, and Trump wants to be able to boast that he keeps his campaign promises. He hated it and hated the fact that his advisers — including the secretary of state and the national security adviser — advised him to sign the waiver, anyway.

The result was a compromise: The president signed the waiver but made a declaration that diminished the symbolic meaning of the waiver and turned the signing into a purely technical act. The waiver delays the actual moving of the embassy but the U.S. policy is clear: It considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

True, this is merely a symbolic statement, as many observers were quick to point out. But that misses the point. A capital is a symbol. Jerusalem is a powerful symbol. A symbolic statement was all that was needed. It is of little importance whether the building in which a few officials push papers is in this or that town.

The Palestinians seem to understand this. So they reacted with the fury they always demonstrate when they discover that — contrary to what their Western supporters led them to believe — time is not necessarily on their side. For now, the Palestinians’ ties with the Trump administration are strained — even more so after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at Trump and the U.S. in a lengthy speech earlier this week. Still, at some point, the Palestinians will have to factor in this president’s temper. If they insist on rejecting his overtures, if they insist of denying him the wonderful peace process he vowed to advance, the price could be significant.

Not that Trump has much chance for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He doesn’t. Not that Israel would want him to focus on the peace front. It doesn’t. What Israel wants from Trump is to keep the relationship intimate and close. That, it has a fair chance of getting. What Israel wants is for Trump to get more involved in halting the advance of Iran in the region. That, it may not get.

What Israel wants from Trump is another good year — good, not just better than previous years. If the first year was the good year of forgetting Obama, maybe the second year can be good in and of itself.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Trump Admin Cuts Funding to UNRWA

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the "Conversation with Women of America" meeting event at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that they’re going to cut $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

In a letter to the agency, the administration told the UNRWA they would continue to provide $60 million to the UNRWA, but they would be withholding the remaining $65 million until further notice. The administration also called for the agency to undergo a series of changes. The $60 million to the agency is a drastic reduction from the $355 million that the U.S. provided the UNRWA in 2017.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl denounced the move in a statement, claiming that it put the lives of Palestinians at risk.

“At stake is the access of 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools, and their future,” said Krähenbühl. “At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At stake is the access of refugees to primary health care, including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon praised the move in a statement.

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities,” said Danon. “It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose — the welfare of refugees.”

The move comes after President Trump threatened to withhold money from the Palestinians if they refused to engage in peace talks. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared in a weekend speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that they would not consider any deal forged by the United States and even. Abbas also cursed at Trump, exclaiming, “May your house be demolished!”

According to the Jerusalem Post, there was some debate within the Trump administration how the president should follow through on his threat. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley advocated for Trump to zero out funding to the UNRWA altogether, but ultimately the president sided with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to partially fund the agency. The Israeli government also wanted Trump to partially fund the agency.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser to the Foundation of Defense Democracies, argued in a New York Post op-ed that the UNRWA only serves “to keep Palestinians as perpetual refugees.”

“In truth, it’s not a refugee agency but a welfare agency, which keeps millions of people in a permanent state of dependency and poverty — all while feeding Palestinians an empty promise that one day they’ll settle in Israel,” wrote Goldberg.

Additionally, U.N. Watch has reported on how UNRWA teachers have a penchant for making anti-Semitic Facebook posts, including “Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

Trump Admin Waives Iran Nuclear Sanctions But Announces New Targeted Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing a proclamation to honor Martin Luther King Jr. day in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Trump administration is reportedly waiving sanctions on Iran’s nuclear sanctions as part of the Iran deal but is announcing new sanctions on specific individuals and entities in Iran.

According to anonymous officials on a conference call with various reporters, Trump will not issue any more waivers after Friday unless specific fixes are made to the Iran deal. Trump is hoping to fix the sunset clause in the deal, which removes restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs by the end of 10 years, as well as make clear that Iran’s nuclear and missile programs are “inseparable” and in need of restrictions.

Additionally, the president is hoping that the Iran deal will require better United Nations inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites and that Iran avoid a “breakout period” of being able to produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.

If Trump’s fixes aren’t met within 120 days, the White House signaled that the deal would be nixed altogether.

The Treasury Department also announced on Friday that sanctions would be leveled against 14 individuals and entities in Iran that are connected to “serious human rights abuses and censorship in Iran” as well as Iran’s missile program.

“The United States will not stand by while the Iranian regime continues to engage in human rights abuses and injustice,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are targeting the Iranian regime, including the head of Iran’s judiciary, for its appalling mistreatment of its citizens, including those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and for censoring its own people as they stand up in protest against their government.”

Some of the people targeted on the new round of sanctions includes:

Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) notes that Iran’s Central Bank was not included on the list of sanctions; had the bank been sanctioned it would have been a major blow to the Iranian regime.

Nevertheless, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif lashed out at Trump on Twitter over his Friday moves:

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) didn’t like the idea of waiving Iran’s nuclear sanctions.

“Waiving the sanctions on the ayatollah while protesters are dying in the streets would be a serious mistake,” Cruz told The Weekly Standard. “We should be doing everything humanly possible to support, to encourage those protests, to tell the Iranian people, we stand with you.”

Rubio issued a statement recommending that Trump should “impose new sanctions against elements of the Iranian government, including the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks, that are involved in or facilitating the regime’s human rights abuses against Iranian protesters, its ballistic missile program, or its support for terrorism.”

According to the Daily Beast, Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have been working with White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on an agreement that would keep the Iran deal intact.

Standing Up for Freedom

FILE PHOTO: People rally in support of Iranian anti-government protests in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida/File Photo

For the tens of thousands of Iranian protesters who have taken to the streets across Iran to demand freedom, it’s déjà vu all over again. The last time Iran’s maltreated populace tried to break free from Islamofascism during the Green Movement in 2009, the mullah regime orchestrated a brutal crackdown with the tactical consent of the impotent West.

Almost a decade after that fateful, bloody summer, the Iranian people are still being held hostage by the same clerical regime. That’s right, President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate in name only, who proudly carries on the torch of Khomeinism.

Something has changed, however, in that a new man has entered the White House, giving protesters a fighting chance to stand tall in the face of absolute tyranny.

President Donald Trump has come down on the right side of history. Breaking with his predecessor’s appeasement policy toward Iran, Trump has firmly thrown his weight behind the people’s noble quest for freedom.

Meanwhile, the reactions of other Western governments have been at best scandalously muted, and at worst shockingly indifferent or even morally ambiguous.

The U.K.’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, said his government “regret[s] the loss of life that has occurred,” which sounded more like condolences to a tragic accident than a clear message to a regime mowing down its own citizens. His German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, drew an equivalence between the oppressed and their oppressors when he called on “all sides” to show restraint.

Europe’s moral myopia makes America’s leadership all the more critical. We can lead the way by burying, once and for all, the destructive myth brought to life by the Obama administration, that the mullah regime is a legitimate partner. By kicking the nuclear accord back to Congress, the president has taken a critical first step.

“Hungry” is a word protesters chant over and over again to describe the Iran of today. They are hungry because they are suffering from poverty, and they are hungry for freedom. Supporters of the nuclear deal predicted that the billions of dollars released to Iran from sanctions relief would inject new life into the ailing Iranian economy and usher in an era of political reforms.

But instead of bringing food to the table, the mullahs have exported chaos and destruction to the region — funding the killing fields of Syria, supporting the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, and building precision-weapons factories in Lebanon.

As much as we may like it to, the Iranian regime is not going to fall tomorrow. What is playing out on the streets of Iran is only the beginning of a long, painful process.

Iran’s clerical tyrants have survived mass demonstrations before. If the Iranians are to stand a chance in their fight against their oppressors, America must take concrete steps to hit the regime where it hurts. Some steps we can take alone; others we must take in partnership with our allies.

The U.S. and its allies must cut off the financial bloodlines the regime uses to fund its atrocities: The Central Bank of Iran, and the personal business empire of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

What is playing out on the streets of Iran is only the beginning of a long, painful process.

We must also work with social media giants WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter and other platforms to prevent the regime from using their codes to identify and persecute activists with prolonged prison sentences or even death. It’s also important to work around the regime’s cyber-ban that cuts off Iranians from the outside world.

It is crucial to isolate Iran on the international diplomatic stage. European governments must no longer roll out the red carpet for the architects of the clerical regime in hope of lucrative business deals. And universities and media companies must no longer give Iranian officials a free pass as long as journalists, academics and activists remain in jail without due process.

In short, if Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, it must act as a normal country.

One cannot help but wonder how Iran would look today if the West, spearheaded by the Obama administration, had not been so accommodating to the Iranian regime in the summer of 2009. We need freedom-loving people everywhere to stand with the Iranian people and correct the mistakes of the past.

Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel-American think tank in Washington, D.C.