Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders asks envoy nominee David Friedman whether some funds for Israel should go to Gaza


Sen. Bernie Sanders asked David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, whether he would back using funds earmarked for assistance to Israel to help rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Sanders in a letter he handed Friedman after they met Wednesday also asked whether he thinks the tax-exempt status of groups that fundraise for settlers should be reviewed. JTA obtained a copy of the letter on Thursday.

The questions in the letter are significant as they suggest the path forward for Israel policy among progressive Democrats.

Sanders has emerged as a de facto leader of progressives following his insurgent but unsuccessful campaign last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. In perhaps the best-received speech over the weekend at the annual conference of J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, Sanders pushed the theme that pro-Israel Jews need not hesitate to criticize Israeli government policies.

His letter outlines three questions for Friedman: whether he supports a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the appropriateness of an ambassador having deep involvement in the settler movement as a fundraiser and advocate, as Friedman does; and regarding Israeli assistance.

Two states has long been Democratic policy and for 15 years was official U.S. policy until Trump retreated into agnosticism on the issue when he met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second two points, however, venture into areas that Democrats have yet to embrace.

“As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination [of] their tax-exempt status?” Sanders asked.

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

David Friedman. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

J Street has advocated for withdrawing tax-exempt status for groups that fundraise for settlements. Other pro-Israel groups – including some of J Street’s allies on the left – oppose the position, in part because it could trigger far-reaching consequences for all nonprofits on the left and right while turning tax-exempt status into a political battlefield.

Sanders also asked Friedman whether “a portion” of the $38 billion in defense aid to Israel over the next 10 years under an agreement signed last year by former President Barack Obama “should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials” to Gaza.

Aid to Israel in Congress and the pro-Israel community has been sacrosanct, and no president has seriously proposed cutting it since Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Subsequent presidents used short delays in delivery of assistance and the amount that the United States guarantees Israel’s loans as means of leveraging pressure on Israel, but assistance has been untouched.

Sanders cast the proposal in part as one that would help secure Gaza by stabilizing the strip. But it comes at a time that Republicans in Congress are proposing cutting assistance to the Palestinians as a means of pressuring them into direct talks with Israel and pushing the Palestinian Authority to end subsidies for the families of jailed or killed terrorists.

Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, did not reply to a request for comment. His ambassadorship is controversial in Congress and in the Jewish community because of his past involvement with settlers, and because of the rhetoric he has used to describe Jews who disagree with him.

An exhibition of the artwork of Hadar Goldin, who was killed by Hamas in August 2014. Photos by Bart Batholomew/Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Slain Israeli soldier’s art inspires parents’ mission


Leah and Simcha Goldin are grieving parents. Frustrated, vocal and driven, they have traveled from the Knesset to the United Nations to, just last week, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, bringing with them a traveling collection of their son’s artwork known as “Hadar Goldin: The Final Peace” to bring attention to his plight.

“It is our mission to bring Hadar home,” Leah said with a straight-ahead gaze, her voice shrouded in a thick Israeli accent.

Bring Hadar home.

Leah Goldin has uttered those words too many times since August 2014, when her son first went missing.

When Hadar comes home, they will not embrace, as mother and son ought after being separated for so long. There will be a ceremony and, most likely, a press conference. But Hadar’s remains will be in a coffin with an Israeli flag draped over it. A grave will be filled, topped with tilled soil. This is what “Bring Hadar home” means.

Of course, that’s if Hadar comes home. But to Leah, a doctor of computer science, and her husband, Simcha, a professor at Tel Aviv University, there is no “if”: They have dedicated themselves to make sure that day comes.

“Hadar is a victim of a cease-fire, rather than a victim of a war,” his mother said, nearly three years after that breach of cease-fire, which took her son’s life.

On Aug. 1, 2014, after a flare-up of escalations between Israel and Hamas during Operation Protective Edge, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire. Two hours into that ceasefire, Hamas ambushed Israeli soldiers in the southern border town of Rafas, a raid resulting in Hadar’s death and the kidnapping of his body, which was dragged back to Gaza through a network of underground tunnels. He was a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces at the time.

During that summer conflict, the body of staff Sgt. Oron Shaul also was captured. Both bodies are still in Hamas’ custody, and the Goldins want the international community to pressure Hamas for the return of their son’s body.

So it’s through Hadar’s traveling collection of art — with pieces ranging in style from expressionist paintings to daily life sketches to journal entries — that the Goldins hope to make strides on the matter. They first got the idea to put together a collection while sitting shivah for their son, after being approached by art curators from Ein Hod  (an artists village near Haifa). “And they advised us to put up an exhibition; we didn’t realize we could do it,” said Leah.

In September, the collection was on view at the United Nations in New York during the General Assembly. “Since this cease-fire was brokered by John Kerry, secretary of state, and Ban Ki-moon, general-secretary of the U.N., they should be held responsible. They should be accountable for his return,” Leah said. Neither Kerry nor Ban came to the exhibition, she said.

“And they knew about the exhibition,” Leah added. “I cannot tell you why they did not want to go. You should ask them.”

“It’s a question of responsibility,” Simcha added.

“And accountability,” Leah said. “Sometimes if you don’t face it, it’s a way to say, ‘I don’t know about it. It does not exist.’ But it does exist. It exists with the exhibition, with showing Hadar’s portrait, with his uniform,” she said.

art-parents-exhibitThe Goldins have traveled to New York, Miami and Los Angeles, lobbying for the return of their son’s body.

“We are looking for ways to raise it as an American issue. And by that, getting the support of the U.S. administration to motivate Hamas to bring Hadar home,” Leah said.

At the collection’s opening Feb 15 at the Museum of Tolerance, Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, delivered a sermon, referring to a passage from Exodus, where Moses made an oath to carry his ancestor’s bone into the Promised Land.

“We have the obligation to retrieve the bones of our lost brother like Moshe Rabbeinu,” his voice, a desperate plea, echoed through the microphone. “We must do everything we can.”

On Feb. 20, the collection moved from the Museum of Tolerance back to Israel, traveling, yet again, to the Knesset before going  to the Opera Tower in Tel Aviv. The Goldins are asking the community for help.

“We’ll appreciate any advice and any help to resolve it and bring some closure to our case,” Leah said.

Plain and simple, they want to give their son a proper Jewish burial.

Who was Hadar Goldin? He was a son, a brother, a fiance, an intellectual, and an artist. He was a voracious reader, a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and an espresso drinker.

“I used to do still photography until Hadar took my camera when he was a teenager,” his mother said, “and then he was the one behind the camera.”

Hadar observed the world. Ever since he was a kid, he liked to draw and write. He was a doodler, illustrating scenes of daily life, jazz on a street, caricatures of people he knew. He’d draw in pocket notebooks, on scraps of paper, whatever he could find. On the back of an equipment list while stationed near Gaza, he drew his wedding invitation, a scene portraying his fiance and himself in a house, ripened pomegranates in the trees. He painted oil-on-canvas scenes of a man fishing; deer in a pasture; the war-torn skyline.

Hadar Goldin was 23 years old when he died, three weeks before his wedding.

There is a piece in the collection that hangs in Simcha’s study at home when it isn’t traveling with the exhibition.

“You need to see it,” Simcha said. “It’s a long debate whether it’s a bird or something else.”

It looks like a dove, hovering over a lake, its wings stretched out in full extension. An orange sun bleeds into the sky as a girl, doused in a powdery white light, watches from a distance.

“The sad thing is it’s only the potential. He was killed, so you can only see his potential on the walls. It’s very sad. It’s very painful,” Simcha said about his son’s artwork.

“But on the other hand, it’s there. It’s unique. It’s nice,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”


Correction: 3/1 – This story originally said Leah Goldin is a computer programmer – she is a doctor of computer science.

From left: Claudia Puig, president of the L.A. Film Critics Association; Robert Magid, producer of “Eyeless in Gaza;” Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Rezner and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa. Photo courtesy of Roz Wolf.

Moving and Shaking: New Gaza film screening, local olympian celebrated, TIOH Rabbi announces retirement


“Eyeless in Gaza,” a documentary that attempts to show how Israel suffered from biased media coverage during its 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, had its Los Angeles premiere on Feb. 6 at the iPic Theaters in Westwood.

The film incorporates news footage of the war, including that of a media company capturing on camera Hamas fighters setting up rocket-launch sites in densely populated Gaza neighborhoods. Israel has long maintained that this is standard practice by Hamas and that it is part of the reason why Israel inflicts high civilian casualties on Gaza in the event of violent conflicts with the anti-Israel terrorist organization.

The 50-minute film also incorporates original interviews with Hamas officials; Israeli-Canadian journalist and author Matti Friedman, who formerly served in the Israel Defense Forces and pro-Israel attorney Alan Dershowitz. It delves into the history of Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip, beginning with Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and its dismantling of settlements in the region.

During the 2014 war, mainstream media depicted Israel as using disproportionate force against the Gaza people. Reporters cited the uneven death toll — 1,483 Palestinian civilians killed compared to five Israeli civilians, according to gazadeathtoll.org, which cites the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — as evidence of Israel’s brutality.

The film explains that Israel’s Iron Dome defense prevented Israel from suffering higher casualties despite the constant rocket fire on Israel from Gaza.

About 60 people attended the screening, including pro-Israel philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

A post-screening panel featuring the film’s producer, Robert Magid; Hollywood journalist Alex Ben Block; Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Renzer; and Tribe Media Corp. President David Suissa examined the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Los Angeles Film Critics Association President Claudia Puig moderated the panel.

The film will be available Feb. 28 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.


From left: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinsky; Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) Executive Director Rabbi Dave Sorani; NBC Universal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer; and JGSI Director of Operations Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg attend the Jewish Executive Leadership Conference. Photo courtesy of Jewish Graduate Student Initiative.

The Jewish Graduate Student Initiative (JGSI) on Jan. 29 drew the largest crowd ever to its Jewish Executive Leadership Conference, which was held at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

More than 400 Jewish graduate students and recent college graduates attended the conference that featured 50 panelists and three keynote speakers.

The goal of the conference was “to create a forum for Jewish graduate students and young professionals to interact with high-level Jewish executives who share insights into their careers and industries while impacting upon them the importance of philanthropy and community leadership,” said Rabbi Matthew Rosenberg, JGSI director of operations. “Participants are then introduced to volunteering opportunities with a full range of L.A.’s premier Jewish nonprofits.”

The featured speakers addressed a variety of topics, including real estate, finance, law and the entertainment industry. The three keynote speakers were Scooter Braun, founder of the entertainment and media company SB Projects; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal; and Elaine Wynn, co-founder of Wynn Resorts.

“This year was our best-attended and most successful conference ever, with our best lineup of speakers to date,” Rosenberg said. “We look forward to hosting an even bigger and better event next year and getting even more young people involved in their Los Angeles Jewish community.”

— Mati Geula Cohen, Contributing Writer


World Swimming Championships XOlympic champion swimmer Anthony Ervin, a native of Valencia, is among inductees elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for 2017.

Ervin captured a pair of gold medals at last year’s Olympics in Brazil in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter relay. His performances were a near repeat of his gold- and silver-medal-winning efforts in the same events at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. He now resides in Florida.

The other inductees to the hall of fame include two Americans, a Canadian, a Hungarian, an Israeli, a New Zealander and a Russian.

One of the Americans, who among all the inductees arguably has had the longest impact on spectator sports, was the late Albert Von Tilzer, a New Yorker who wrote the immortal baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908. The other American, Thelma “Tybie” Thall-Sommers, was a two-time world champion in table tennis. In 1948 she paired with Richard Miles to become the first Americans to win the world mixed doubles title. In 1949, as a member of the U.S. team, she won world championships in singles and doubles. She also won several national titles during her career.

The other inductees are:

The late Hy Buller of Canada, a National Hockey League star who played for the New York Rangers. He set a rookie record in 1951-52 for scoring the most goals, and ranked second for most goals among all NHL defensemen in three consecutive seasons.

The late Joszef Braun, who joined the MTK Budapest soccer club in 1916 at age 15 and three years later was named Hungary’s “Player of the Year.” His team won nine national championships through 1924. Braun perished in a Nazi forced labor camp in 1943.

Israel’s Lee Korzits, a four-time world sailing champion, who won her first Mistral-class title in 2003. After a long layoff due to injuries, the Hadera native won world gold medals in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

New Zealand sailing champion Jo Aleh, who won gold medals (with Olivia Powrie) in the women’s 420 Class event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and at the 2007 and 2013 world championships.

Swimmer Semyon Belits-Geiman, a Moscow native who broke 67 Soviet national freestyle records, set a world 800-meter freestyle record in 1966, and the same year won two gold medals at the European championships. In 1999, he and his wife moved to Stamford, Conn.

The election results were announced in December by the hall of fame’s co-chairmen, Alan Sherman of Potomac, Md., and R. Stephen Rubin of London. Formal inductions are slated for July 4 at the hall of fame’s museum on the Wingate Institute campus in Netanya, Israel.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor



rabbi-rosove-headshotT
emple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) Senior Rabbi John Rosove has announced his plan to retire from TIOH and become the Reform synagogue’s rabbi emeritus, effective June 30, 2019.

By the time he retires, Rosove will have served as senior rabbi at TIOH for 30 years and “will have completed 40 years of service to the Jewish people since my ordination” at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, in 1979, Rosove said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“Though my retirement is still two-plus years away, I am announcing now to give our Temple leadership the time necessary to thoughtfully establish a process that will ensure the best and wisest selection of my successor as Senior Rabbi,” he said.

Rosove assumed the position of senior rabbi at TIOH in 1988. The Los Angeles native graduated from the UC Berkeley in 1972.

He is the board chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America; holds a seat on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; serves as a Jewish Agency for Israel committee member; recently was national co-chair of the rabbinic cabinet of J Street, a left-leaning, pro-Israel organization and more.


From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community. Photo by Eitan Arom.

From left: Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Shalhevet High School senior Micha Thau; and Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal participate in a discussion about Orthodox Judaism and the LGBT community.
Photo by Eitan Arom.

In middle school, Micha Thau wanted to live what he called “the Jewish Orthodox American dream” — a future with a house in Beverlywood with a Honda Odyssey in the driveway, four kids and a pretty wife eight years his junior. When he realized he was gay, in eighth grade, “it spit in my face, robbed me of all motivation.”

Now a senior at Shalhevet High School, Thau spoke at Westwood Village Synagogue on Feb. 8 as part of a panel called “Modern Orthodoxy and LGBT: Navigating a Complex Reality,” alongside Shalhevet head of school Rabbi Ari Segal; actor and comedian Elon Gold; Westwood Village Synagogue Rabbi Abner Weiss; a clinical psychologist, and moderator Alexander Leichter.

In high school, Thau was ready to come out to his community. “It came to the point where staying in the closet was so much more painful than anything that could happen outside of it,” he explained to about 50 people who gathered at the synagogue, upstairs from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Westwood.

Something clicked for Segal when he realized Thau had spent years worrying if Shalhevet would ostracize him for being gay. “I made a decision at that moment,” he said. “We were going to have a [gay-straight alliance], we were going to stop pretending that we don’t have gay kids at the school.”

After that, Segal wrote an editorial for Shalhevet’s newspaper calling LGBT acceptance “the biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.” With Thau at the helm, Shalhevet issued a pledge Jewish schools can sign to commit themselves to supporting gay students. So far, Shalhevet is the only school to have signed it, Segal said.

Gold, an observant Jew, played a gay father in the web series “Bar Mitzvah.” He spoke about his brother, Ari, who came out at the age of 18. To this day, his brother doesn’t feel comfortable within the Orthodox community, Gold said. “He is a very proud Jew,” he said. “He just feels like he can’t stay observant. It’s too conflicting.”

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

A Jewish man covered in a talit, prays in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank on Dec. 18, 2016. Photo by Baz Ratner/ REUTERS

Poll: Americans nearly split over support for Palestinian state


Americans are nearly evenly divided over support for a Palestinian state, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Some 45 percent of Americans back the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 42 percent oppose it, according to the poll taken during the first week of February. Some 13 percent said they have no opinion.

One year ago, support for a Palestinian state was at nearly the same level, 44 percent, but a lower percentage, 37 percent, opposed it. At that time, 19 percent said they had no opinion.

Broken down by political party affiliation, 61 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Independents are in favor of a Palestinian state.

The results are from Gallup’s annual World Affairs poll conducted Feb. 1-5. A random sample of 1,035 Americans over 18 was polled. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The poll also asked respondents if their “sympathies” lie more with the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Some 62 percent of Americans said they sympathized more with the Israelis and 19 percent with the Palestinians in numbers that are similar to the past several years. Another 19 percent responded with no preference, broken down into 5 percent who say they sympathize with both equally, 6 percent who sympathize with neither, and 8 percent who responded that they have no opinion.

In the splits by political party, 82 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents said they sympathized with Israel.

Asked about their opinions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, some 49 percent of respondents said they viewed him favorably and 30 percent unfavorably — both figures the highest recorded in the poll — with 13 percent saying they never heard of him and 8 percent saying they have no opinion.

Broken down by party, 32 percent of Democrats viewed Netanyahu favorably and 41 percent unfavorably, and 73 percent of Republicans viewed Netanyahu favorably and 11 percent unfavorably. In 2015, before Netanyahu spoke against the Iran nuclear deal in Congress, a speech that was boycotted by several Democratic members of Congress, 31 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably and 31 percent unfavorably, and 60 percent of Republicans favorably and 18 percent unfavorably.

Rep. Brian Mast (R–Fl.)

The U.S. Army vet, IDF volunteer, now in Congress


From Jewish Insider.

He has quite the resume. Freshman Congressman Brian Mast (R-Fla.) served 12 years in the U.S. Army earning a Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Medal, in addition to obtaining an economics degree from Harvard. For many in the Jewish community, the icing on top is that Mast volunteered with the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in January 2015, packing medical kits at a military base near Tel Aviv.

However, the Florida legislator’s climb from the U.S. Army to Capitol Hill has not been without challenges. Stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Mast lost both legs along with his left index finger in the blast. In an interview with Jewish Insider from his Congressional office, Mast focused on the high cost of war including the 67 friends he has lost while serving overseas. “I have seen the gamut of instances from friends of mine getting sprayed by automatic weapon to stepping on explosive devices, like I stepped on, to falling off the side of a mountain or a cliff. Everyone sticks out very vividly, very clearly.”

Mast has formed an especially close relationship with the Jewish community. After the interview, he showed Jewish Insider a shirt sitting in his office of the Congressman’s name written in Hebrew letters above an American flag. Calling the White House’s omission of Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day a “missed opportunity,” the Florida lawmaker invoked his previous visit to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

The 2014 war in Gaza strongly impacted Mast, who is married with three children. After observing anti-Israel protests in Boston during the conflict, he noted the “hypocrisy” of those demonstrating. “I said that if any of our neighbors were firing rockets into the U.S. like that, guys like me would go and kill them immediately and every American would be proud of us for doing so.”

Already last summer, he endorsed Trump as President, even when many Republicans were fleeing from the real estate mogul. Explaining his support, Mast told Breitbart News in June, “If you have an infestation of rats and rodents in your home and you need to call the exterminator, you don’t necessarily care about the personality of the exterminator. You just care that he gets rid of infestation.”

Mast also backed the White House’s decision to place a temporary travel ban of individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations including Iraq and Syria. With approximately 500,000 killed in Syria and 4.5 million refugees, Mast contrasted the mass exodus with how he believes Americans would have handled a similar situation. “For everybody that I know here in the U.S., if that (Syria) was the kind of reality that we faced, we as a people here would fight until our last breath to protect our communities. You wouldn’t see us seeking refuge somewhere else.”

image1-2The Army vet’s recent election to Congress continues his longtime service to his country. “Everyone has their place in life. Some people want to build the biggest business or save the most children. My purpose was service to this country and the military is the place that you go in my opinion to serve at the highest level for your country.”

Jewish Insider: You served for 12 years in the U.S. military including overseas in Afghanistan.  What were the most powerful moments of your service? 

Congressman Brian Mast: Probably the most powerful moments that I had were those times when I lost friends — of which I lost 67 friends to date. There is undoubtedly, a cost to war, especially when you have been at it for 15 years. I have been removed from the battlefield for six years now. I have seen the gamut of instances from friends of mine getting sprayed by automatic weapon to stepping on explosive devices, like I stepped on to falling off the side of a mountain or a cliff. Everyone sticks out very vividly, very clearly.

JI: Did losing your own two legs in addition to the deaths of so many of your colleagues cause you to question the lengthy U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?

Mast: No. The immediate time of going over there, right after the events of 9/11. A reckoning that had to happen. We were attacked and there was absolutely going to be a response to that attack. Beyond that, there have been refugee places, terrorist safe havens and terrorist training camps. And that is exactly what Afghanistan was prior to 9/11 and prior to us going into there. So, that had to be eliminated as a pipeline. One of the things that you realize as the ongoing war on terrorism is that while there should certainly be a strategy to exit these places, there also has to be a very specific strategy to maintain and not become like Iraq or Syria right now where you can say probably the biggest mistake that was ever made was withdrawing too soon and leaving a vacuum in place there that allows for the facilitation of the kind of situation that we have going on with ISIS right now.

JI: What motivated you to join the U.S. military?

Mast: I loved the military. I knew at a very young age it was where I was going to end up. It’s what I wanted to do. It’s just the right place for me. As I always tell people, I was like a round peg in a round hole. Everyone has their place in life. Some people want to build the biggest business or save the most children. My purpose was service to this country and the military is the place that you go in my opinion to serve at the highest level for your country. So, I loved it. I knew I was going to be there.

Mast: You established a very strong connection with Israel that led you to even volunteering with the IDF. Can you describe how Israel became such an important personal cause?

I grew up in a Christian home and Christian school my whole life. I was always raised for support of Israel. It was certainly always part of my household. That doesn’t mean that I always knew why that was the case. It was just the way that I was raised. But, there was actually a very specific catalyst for me going and serving with Israel. This goes back to 2014. I was injured in 2010. This was after I was injured and out of the army. I am studying up in Cambridge and we lived right next to the Boston Commons. That summer was Operation Protective Edge, there were a lot of protests going on around the country, people that were protesting Israel for defending itself from the barrage of rocket attacks. I didn’t agree with those that were protesting Israel. It seemed completely hypocritical especially those in the U.S. I said that if any of our neighbors were firing rockets into the U.S. like that, guys like me would go and kill them immediately and every American would be proud of us for doing so for defending our country in that way so it seemed like a very hypocritical, double standard.

The catalyst was one specific night when all of these protests were going on, there were people out in the Boston commons and they started saying things to me and my family, harassing us about me being a U.S. service member which really, really struck me. It was that moment that it really sank in the parallel that exists between the United States and Israel and what we represent: those things that unfortunately become all too cliche to say, but it’s very serious to say that we do represent freedom, democracy and human rights for all people. Those are things that are not represented throughout the rest of the Middle East. Those protestors recognizing as a U.S. service member, I fought for the exact same things that those Israeli service members were out there fighting for that instigated them to pinpoint me. It is not hard for people to figure out that I am a U.S. Service member. I don’t have any legs and I always have that hat on that is sitting right behind you that says Army Rangers on it so most people can figure it out pretty quick. So when I saw this parallel playing out, I said to my wife that night, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I want to find a way to show my support for Israel because these people out there protesting them in the drop of a dime with no provocation decided to start harrassing us. It speaks so perfectly to how you can’t appease these ideologies of hatred.

JI: The White House issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning Jews or anti-semitism, a move widely criticized among American Jews. How do you interpret the Trump Administration’s statement?

Mast: It’s incredibly important that we do remember the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the number of survivors that we have from the Holocaust are dwindling. It was probably a mistake to not very specifically mention that. It’s a big missed opportunity, especially if it is something that falls on your heart and not go out there and speak passionately on that day.

JI: Among the Republican party there is a debate about whether to support the two state solution. What is your opinion on the issue?

Mast: I am a person that says that the future of Israel should be decided by Israel. I don’t mind the USA playing an invited role in diplomatic negotiations, but I don’t think for us to go out there and impose our will or our blueprint for peace is something that would be lasting. The blueprint for peace has to be decided by the climate in Israel and those stakeholders and come to an agreement. That involves us not playing a role or pushing for a two state solution, that is not something that I personally push for in any aspect whatsoever.

JI: So, do you believe the Palestinians should ever be granted statehood? 

Mast: I don’t see a desire for them to have a state, certainly before they were to normalize their relations with the world. Do I see the need for the creation of another terrorist state in this world? Absolutely not. When you have the leaders– if you want to call it Palestine– that call for the destruction of Israel and praise the destruction of Israel and call for the same thing for the U.S. that is not a state that I think is beneficial for us to play a hand in creating.

JI: During a House floor debate last month you said: “Palestinians [are] a group that has been historically defined by their responsibility for terror.” What did you mean by this statement?

Mast: When you look at their background and acts of terrorism: That is what they are defined by. There is a reason that you see a large fence all the way around and a guarded area throughout the area that they reside in. There was a time when that didn’t exist. Why was that fence put up? That fence was put up because of the rash of bombings that occurred. You look at their leaders. You look at the ways they praise acts of terrorism. That is what they are defined by. That has been probably one of their chief exports has been terrorism, so I think that is something that defined them as a people.

JI: Did you support President Trump’s travel restrictions including the indefinite barring of Syrian refugees from entering the United States?

Mast: Yeah. I think there is something very prudent about the U.S. analyzing who we allow entry to in this country and how we allow entry to them. When you look at the time periods that are proposed: 90 days and 180 days, these are not big, long lasting time periods. If you look at any U.S. government action, there are very few things that you can point to that happen in 90 or 120 days in order to do something well and do something right. So, yeah, I think it is prudent when you look at the State Department’s recommendation on travel to these countries, it’s important to ask yourself: if we don’t recommend travel there why would we necessarily want travel allowed in and that is a reason to answer those questions. People tell me, ‘well these are law abiding citizens coming from these countries,’ I think it is very important to scratch the surface of that and say what are the laws that are being adhered to when you have largely Shariah-driven countries like Iran where the execution for someone for being homosexual or the severing of limbs are things that you can still find essentially on the books. That’s what it means to be a law abiding citizen in some of these places.

It’s very hard to imagine Iraq and Syria in any semblance of what they were in the past. The kind of nation states they were in the past. It is even more difficult to imagine them returning to that kind of thing if you allow everybody that you would consider to be moderate, the kind of people you would want to build a government around, middle class people that have skills and the ability to build infrastructure in that country without those people in place and as difficult as it is to say, I think I have the ability to say this as well as anybody. I know the cost of war, I know the cost of war on myself.

What I can tell you is that for everybody that I know here in the U.S., if that (Syria) was the kind of reality that we faced, we as a people here would fight until our last breath to protect our communities. You wouldn’t see us seeking refuge somewhere else. That is who we are as Americans and that is part of what makes us great. If they ever want to have a kind of future for their nation states that they want to be proud of again, they have to find that resolve to stay and fight and create a kind of country they want to create just like we did during our own revolution.

Enemies and economics: Doing business at the Israel-Gaza border


In his disquisition on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Dec. 28, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the “dire” humanitarian situation in Gaza. On this point, he was accurate, noting that “Gaza is home to one of the world’s densest concentrations of people enduring extreme hardships with few opportunities.” 

Kerry added that “1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance. … Most have electricity less than half the time and only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink.”

He rightly blamed Hamas, which, instead of building economic infrastructure and taking care of its people, “continue to re-arm and divert reconstruction materials to build tunnels, threatening more attacks on Israeli civilians that no government can tolerate.” 

What Kerry failed to mention — though he made a passing reference to the “closing of crossings” that have choked off supplies from Gaza — is that for the past decade, Israel has consistently and judiciously provided for Gaza’s needs, through an import-export nexus at their border, known as Kerem Shalom.

Since 2006, when Israel imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Gaza — a response to Hamas launching rockets into southern Israel — Kerem Shalom, nestled on the border between Israel, Gaza and Egypt, became a lifeline for the 1.8 million living in the strip. Much of the time, Israel is solely responsible for the flow of goods going in and out of Gaza. This is not either country’s wish, of course; but Israel took measures to protect itself, and ever since, has had to face the unique predicament of providing for her enemy.

Over the past decade, Israel and Egypt tried sharing responsibility for this effort, but Egypt has proven a temperamental partner and often closes its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, shutting down trade completely. 

When this happens, Israel finds itself — sometimes for months— totally responsible for Gaza’s civilian needs. 

Imagine bearing sole responsibility for stimulating your enemy’s economy — for providing its civilians with water, gas, electricity, medical supplies, building materials, even butter. Imagine also, the task of operating an import-export point in which you cannot trust your trade partner, your trade partner does not trust you, and you must ensure that the tons of goods that pass through on nearly a thousand trucks each day do not contain materials that can kill you.

Welcome to Kerem Shalom, ground zero of this operation.

“We don’t want any photographs of dogs, scanners or soldiers with weapons,” the Israeli official managing Kerem Shalom on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense warned me when I visited there last month at the invitation of the government.

“This is a special mission to support an enemy people,” he declared, and for security reasons could not divulge his name. “Most [Gazans] are innocent, but Gaza is occupied by Hamas terrorists.”

He pointed to a collection of mortar shells and rocket parts that sit on a table at the back of his office — strewn about like collectibles. “We’ve been hit by Gaza; we’ve been attacked by Gaza; and we have to serve Gaza,” he said.

Each day, 200 people work at Kerem Shalom, including 75 Palestinians from Gaza, paid by the Palestinian Authority. “There’s no trust between sides, but we have to work together,” the official said.

In this tense operation, workers on either side unload each truck and the driver is sent away. Goods are loaded onto a second, on-site truck, and put through a series of security inspections — massive scanners capable of scanning 100 tons of goods in seven minutes, then Malinois wolf-dogs and, finally, human beings. After goods pass inspection, they are loaded onto a third truck belonging to whichever side is their destination. “Everything here is risk management,” the official said. “Nothing that can hurt Israel can come through here.”

Part of that risk management — for Israelis — includes deciding how many “dual-use” materials they should allow into Gaza. Seemingly innocent items such as cement, for example, can be used for building housing or building tunnels. 

Last August, Israeli authorities intercepted a shipment of commando knives hidden among tools. Other checkpoints in Israel have intercepted electrodes (hidden in butter), ammonium chloride (disguised in table salt) and wet suits (believed to be for a seaborne attack) — all on their way
to Gaza. 

Nevertheless, business at the border is booming: In 2012, 69,000 trucks delivered goods through the crossing; in 2016, that number rose to 190,000, according to statistics from the Ministry of Defense. 

Kerem Shalom hardly makes Gaza perfect. Residents have electricity for only eight hours per day (though those infamous Hamas tunnels were powered 24/7). There’s also high unemployment, inflation and a black market that makes regular goods unaffordable for most people.  

Kerem Shalom is a bittersweet compromise for both parties, wherein the risks are high and the benefits, measured. In a better world, it wouldn’t have to exist at all, and the blockade would end. 

It would have been nice if Kerry had acknowledged Israel’s delicate balancing act between security and civility. Israel’s policies toward Gaza may not be charitable, but they are compassionate; something the world never sees when foreign journalists only swoop in to cover conflict. The situation is not ideal, but it is humane.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Trump’s triumph: Netanyahu is in a good mood


Love him or loathe him, when Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the room, everyone pays attention. 

Bibi could be in a good mood, or a bad mood, or a little bit of both, but he is always an energy vortex: the center and the star, chest out, chin up, basking in the limelight.

Last week, I was in the room when he entered with the force of a wind tunnel. I was among a group of Jewish journalists from the United States, Europe and Latin America who were invited to Jerusalem at the invitation of his government and watched as Bibi used his charismatic power to polarizing effect. 

In a stunning switch from his usual apocalyptic diatribes — including, most notably, to the U.S. Congress — Bibi was in a triumphant, optimistic mood. During a 30-minute, carefully planned press conference, with questions and questioners selected in advance, the Israeli prime minister decided to flout the rules and go off script. 

We could ask him anything we wanted, he said.

But when Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, introduced the group and attempted to ask her first question, the impatient prime minister interrupted. 

“Is this a speech or a question?” he asked. 

He dismissed her inquiry about anti-Semitism in the U.S. — whether from the alt-right or the far left — as a “fringe phenomenon” and pushed the conversation where he wanted it to go.

“After you ask me all these things, I’ll tell you a few things,” he said in his deep, velvety voice. “You might ask me whether something is changing in the world about Israel. What about Israel’s isolation? You gotta ask me that! If you don’t, I’m gonna ask it: Israel’s growing isolation in the world. We have to talk about it.”

He caught our group off guard when he challenged about 50 journalists to guess how many world leaders he is scheduled to meet with in 2017. “Isolation” implies not many, but Bibi didn’t really want us to guess — he wanted to brag.

“Two hundred and fifty!” he exclaimed. 

This new Bibi wasn’t pounding the table about Israel as pariah state, or holding up graphs about nuclear proliferation red lines. He was proclaiming the Jewish state as the world’s most popular. He was eager to enumerate a list of recent accomplishments, including lucrative trade deals with Asia and renewed ties to Latin American leaders who want to “change their relationship to Israel.” Then, he borrowed a play straight from Fidel Castro’s playbook and drew our attention to a PowerPoint slide about Israel’s record-shattering dairy cows. 

Occupation be damned! Israel now truly can call itself the Land of Milk and Honey.

But things didn’t come across as so sweet to Bibi’s audience, an informed and impassioned group who follow the prime minister’s every move and weren’t buying his bravado. 

“I’ve seen the prime minister many times interact with journalists, diplomats and other officials and I’ve rarely seen him act in such a mean-spirited manner,” an Israeli journalist, who asked not to be named because he covers the prime minister, told me. “He appeared annoyed, arrogant, irritated … and he seemed not interested in what people had to say and what they care about. He just wanted to get his talking points across.”

“He turned our press conference into his press conference,” an Austrian journalist agreed. “He’s the master of the show, not us.”

“I was entertained,” a Dutch television reporter confessed at dinner. 

The Americans were thoroughly disgusted. The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt recalled another occasion, many years ago, when Bibi was dismissive of the Jewish press. Rosenblatt said he was in the room for back-to-back press conferences in New York, one for mainstream media and the other for Jewish journalists, and watched Bibi go on a charm offensive for the likes of Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, only to appear listless and gloomy for the Jewish outlets. 

How strange that a prime minister who fancies himself “the leader of the Jewish people” would behave so erratically and offensively when he has home-court advantage. Rather than a show of respect and appreciation — he had invited us there, after all — we got a show of swagger and superiority.

“I think for right-wing populists in Europe, Bibi is a sort of role model,” the Austrian journalist said, referring to well-documented ties between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and one of Austria’s far-right political leaders. “Because of his rhetoric, because of his behavior to the press, and [because] he’s survived any scandal that’s ever taken place here.”

If I hadn’t been to the Gaza border earlier that day, on a visit coordinated by Netanyahu’s own government, I might be more excited about the astonishing dairy cows. But Israel still faces real threats and harsh choices. So while there are many reasons to celebrate her wonders, there also are reasons for her leader to show a little modesty. 

But instead of destroying golden calves, Bibi has become one. The day of our press conference, Tel Aviv sculptor Itay Zalait erected a 14-foot golden effigy of “King Bibi” in Rabin Square — a statement-making art installation that captured worldwide attention and drew comparisons between Bibi and dictators like Saddam Hussein. The prime minister’s supporters roundly condemned the stunt and the statue was toppled quickly.

But the artist’s point was made: If Bibi is more than merely a modern statesman and sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people, he is heir to the leadership tradition of Moses — who was “more humble than any other person on earth.” 

Signing trade deals doesn’t obviate the lessons of Torah.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Jeremy Ben Ami and Morton A. Klein talk Israel, Palestinians, settlements and the two-state solution


Teenage daughter of Jerusalem light rail attacker released from detention


The teenage daughter of the eastern Jerusalem gunman who killed two Israelis in a shooting spree in an attack on a light rail stop was released by Israeli security forces.

Eiman Abu Sbeih, 14, was released on Sunday, a week after the attack, by Israeli security forces, on condition that she stay away from Jerusalem for two months, not give interviews and not post on social media, Ynetreported. Her family also was fined about $650. Her 18-year-old brother was arrested over the weekend and her twin brother also remains in custody, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The teen was arrested on Monday, hours after a video of the teen  praising her father, Misbah Abu Sbeih, 39, of the Silwan neighborhood, went viral on Facebook.

“We deem my father as martyr,” Eiman said in the video, according to Maan. “We hope he will plead for us before God on judgment day. … I am proud of what my father did.

“We’re very happy and proud of our father,” she also said. “My father is a great man. Our relationship, as father and daughter, was excellent.”

Abu Sbeih shot and killed at least one person at the Ammunition Hill light rail station in northern Jerusalem, then continued shooting as police pursued him on Oct. 9. Officers ultimately shot and killed the assailant, who had been expected to report to an Israeli prison at the time of the attack to serve a four-month sentence for assaulting a police officer in 2013.

The Hamas terror organization in Gaza claimed Abu Sbeih as one of its operatives and praised his “operation.”

Rocket from Gaza strikes southern Israel for second day in a row


A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck Israel for the second day in a row.

The rocket fired Thursday afternoon landed in an open area in a southern Israeli community near the border with Gaza. No injuries were reported.

It triggered the Code Red rocket warning system in communities near the border with Gaza, sending residents scurrying for bomb shelters.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Reports from Gaza on social media said the Israel Defense Forces were retaliating.

On Wednesday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed on a residential street in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. No injuries were reported, though two residents, ages 15 and 60, were treated for shock at a nearby hospital. The road, as well as cars parked nearby and houses near the landing site, was damaged.

About an hour later, Israeli tanks reportedly shelled Hamas targets in northern Gaza. Later in the day, Israeli Air Force jets also hit a number of Hamas posts in northern and southern Gaza, according to the IDF.

Israel holds the terrorist organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza. Late Wednesday, the Islamic State-affiliated Ahfad al-Sahaba-Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis terrorist group claimed responsibility for that day’s attack.

In mid-September, Israeli airstrikes struck three Hamas targets in northern Gaza in response to a mortar shell fired from Gaza into Israeli territory. In August, the IDF carried out dozens of air and artillery strikes on Gaza after a rocket fired from the coastal strip struck a residential area in Sderot.

Israel’s best kept secret (weapon) is a tour guide


Our group’s infatuation with Michael Bauer began in a small conference room at Tel Aviv's Carlton Hotel, where he stood at the front of the room armed with a set of maps and taught the history of Israel — from Abraham to Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Gaza war — in 45 minutes.

It deepened in the Golan Heights, when he stood atop a bombed-out Syrian bunker captured by Israel in 1967 and explained the modern history of Syria — from Assad I to the rise of political Islam and ISIS — as the distant thrum of explosions rocked our consciences for 17 heavy minutes.

On a Jerusalem promenade overlooking the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Bauer offered Bible passages and Koranic stories to illustrate why the magical city sparkling beneath us has remained for thousands of years the most ardently loved and hotly contested real estate in the world.

Each time he finished, our group would erupt in cheers.

“I’m a bit like a performer,” Bauer, 43, admitted when I met with him separately one evening in Tel Aviv. “I enjoy the drama.”

For us, members of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation’s “Reality Storytellers” trip last month, Bauer, our tour guide, was a highlight among highlights. What began as a light infatuation eventually morphed into something resembling rock-star obsession, as our group frequently chanted his name and compared him to the fictional Jack Bauer from “24.” (Ever the on-guard Israeli, Bauer sometimes carried a gun.)

In case you’re thinking we were easily impressed, allow me to disavow you of that notion. We were about 50 people familiar with excellence – among us were prominent political speechwriters, screenwriters, actors, entrepreneurs, executives and foundation directors; some who call the Obamas and Clintons their bosses, others who work for prominent media companies including the New York Times and Facebook. Part of why Bauer was so effective at telling Israel’s story is because he spoke to all of us — Jews and non-Jews; Israel veterans and Israel first-timers; those already highly educated about the country and the conflict and those just beginning to understand how Israel ended up with the West Bank and Gaza to begin with. Bauer refused to oversimplify; rather than present “two sides,” he’d instead offer multiple competing perspectives that sometimes contradicted each other. “Teaching these topics is so complex, and if you do not understand the complexity, you miss the whole thing,” he told me.

Bauer has spent more than 20 years guiding groups through Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and Turkey, as well as Poland and Germany, via his company, Bauer Trails. His expertise in minority relations, religion, history and the Arab-Israeli conflict has attracted an international clientele that includes foreign diplomats – including members of the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as a former Prime Minister of Canada – in addition to Hollywood celebrities like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Bauer’s reputation for presenting facts unalloyed to politics, and his theatrical gift for storytelling has also won him repeat business from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. It’s safe to say he’s probably Israel’s top tour guide, but that would not encapsulate the additional work he does teaching at Israeli colleges or within the intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.  

Only once did Bauer reveal his emotional side. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Bauer surprised the group when he abruptly paused his tour in the Warsaw Ghetto section to share a personal reflection. As light streamed down from the sole window in the museum’s interior, Bauer said, “I can’t tell you how huge this event is in the Israeli psyche. This is the part of the Holocaust Israelis study the most – the Jewish uprising.”   

In person, Bauer looks more like the combat commander he once was than the educator he is now — shaved head, intense blue eyes and a face lined by desert sun. Though his formal education was standard, Bauer has been reading books, he said, “all my life.”

“I’ve loved history since I was kid, and Israel is a haven for history,” he told me. “I was also always curious. Even in the military, I was always trying to understand why are we doing what we’re doing.”

Photo by Neta Cones

Bauer grew up in a middle class, center-left neighborhood in an agricultural village outside Tel Aviv. Today he lives on a Kibbutz southwest of Jerusalem with his wife and five young children. When I asked him what it’s like raising children a few miles from the Green Line, where there are occasional violent skirmishes, he said, “I could live anywhere in the world; I live here out of choice. And I believe that my [kibbutz] is the best place to raise kids.”

Even though Bauer’s tours are exceptionally fair-minded and apolitical, his passion for where he lives pulsates through his prose. “I love my country,” he said, when someone in our group asked about his personal politics. Looking down as he answered, he nestled his feet in the gravel. “I love the rocks.”

There is something almost mystical about Bauer’s teaching, beyond the obvious spiritual subject matter. It shows in the way he marries history, religion and archaeology, or the way he lights up when reading passages from Torah or the New Testament that he can prove actually happened. This quality is part of why our group felt so in awe of him; teaching the history of the world, he somehow made the world make sense. In seven days, Bauer transcended the role of tour guide and simply became our Rav, our teacher.  

Not that he sees himself that way: “For me, I’m not a spiritual person,” he insisted. “The Bible is an unbelievable text and book, and I do believe in many things that are written in it, especially when I can prove it academically. And what I cannot prove, I am full of appreciation for, because I cannot argue with a text that has influenced so many people. I have respect for the Bible — beyond.”

When I pointed out that “beyond” is a spiritual word, Bauer laughed.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about him isn’t his lack of spirituality, but his lack of ego and material ambition. He was mostly unfazed by all the adulation and attention he received. “I’m not a big deal,” he insisted. And later, when I asked him what he dreamed of, he said: “My true mission is to be able to raise my family and support my kids.”

Since he values family so deeply, I asked how a secular Israeli might express his gratitude.

“I say, ‘Thank God,’” he replied automatically. Then he cracked a smile.

“I do say ‘Thank God.’”

Danielle Berrin: Why were you drawn to the study of Arab-Israeli relations?

Michael Bauer: It’s something that shapes our life over here. I live on the green line, so I see Arabs, fences, borders every single day. And I see Israeli-Arab relations as the future; whether it’s negative or positive, it’s a crucial part of our life.

DB: As an Israeli, can you teach the conflict objectively?

MB: It’s not that I don’t have a political view, I do; but I don’t have an agenda. My agenda, if there is one, is that at the end of a program of mine, I’d like you to appreciate Israel and respect Israel, with its complexity.

DB: What do you hope someone who has no prior experience of Israel will learn from your tour?

MB: The importance of size and location. Location in the context of the Middle East [matters], but location is not only geographic. It’s always political. Understand that we are now sitting in Tel Aviv, and two days ago, there were missiles an hour away from here. [My first night home from our tour last week,] I was drinking wine and telling my wife about the group, and I could hear ‘BOOM’ and see the lights.

It’s also very important to understand the history, including [the religious texts]. There’s a deep connection of people to the ground over here.

DB: What do you hope someone who already knows a great deal about Israel learns from you?

MB: For people that know all the facts, the next thing they need to learn is the [role of the] psyche. There’s a gap sometimes between the facts and what people think and believe. Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and Jews and Muslims think not. The Muslims think that Mohammad rose up to heaven on a night journey from Al-Aqsa, and the Christians and Jews think not. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what really happened; it’s only what people think and what they’re willing to do about it. Same with discrimination in Israel: If I tell you there’s discrimination, you can tell me there isn’t discrimination, and then we can argue about it. But if I tell you Arabs feel discriminated against, that you cannot argue. That is a fact. If the Palestinians feel there is an occupation, it doesn’t really matter what is happening on the ground – I mean, it matters — but it matters more what they feel when they get up in the morning. If Jews wake up in the morning and they’re afraid, you can’t tell them they shouldn’t be afraid because they have an F-16. That’s irrelevant. People need to consider feelings as given facts.

DB: So how do you teach the deep, psycho-spiritual connection people have to this land?

MB: If people really want to know, they need to go back to Abraham and then all the way to yesterday.

DB: What do you wish the world knew about settlements that isn’t  considered in media coverage?

MB: Someone that tells me “I am in favor of the settlements” or “I am against the settlements,” for me, that’s very shallow. It actually means they don’t know much. There are different settlements and different settlers. You have smaller, isolated settlements that are religiously ideological; you have settlements along the valley that are more agricultural, very strategic, less religiously ideological. You’ve got big settlement blocs of 30,000-40,000 people, which are Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion. Then you have a few you need to argue [about]; then you have a few that are near the Green Line. And then you have East Jerusalem — the Jewish quarter, Gilo, French Hill and so on. All of that is different.

If you were to go to French Hill tomorrow and make elections, you would realize that a majority of them are voting for Meretz, which is an anti-settlement party. Which means, they don’t see themselves at all as settlers. Are we allowed to build in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem? Most Israelis will say ‘Yes.’ Most Israelis are not aware that they’re actually on the other side of the Green Line. They’ll say “I’m against settlements.” And you’ll say, “What about Gilo?” “Oh, that doesn’t count.” So if you don’t know the nuances of settlements, don’t hold an opinion.

DB: How do you talk to people about the occupation? Do you even use that word?

MB: When someone says “occupation,” I need to understand what is it exactly that they’re talking about. Because when Hamas says “occupation,” we are right now in Tel Aviv, sitting in “occupied” land. So what is occupation?

It’s true that Israel, in 1967, occupied territory. That’s a fact. But the moment I start using the word “occupation,” it becomes politicized.

If you ask me, “What do you think about the occupation?” I’ll ask you: “Which occupation?” Right away. And then you will tell me about the West Bank, and I’ll say, “OK, you’re asking about the policies of Israel in the West Bank.”

The fact is that tomorrow Palestinians will wake up in the morning and they will feel occupied. There’s not one soldier in Gaza, but they feel occupied. Why? Because they are encircled by Israel and also Egypt, which is hostile to them as well. And because Palestinians, most of them, see all of Israel as occupied. That’s also fact. Who is responsible for the occupation? That’s a political argument. Now the question is, what is the solution?

DB: How do you reconcile feeling rightfully rooted in this land with Israeli policies that have caused suffering to others who also feel rightfully rooted in this land?

MB: I do not want to belong to an occupying force, and I do not want to rule other people as an Israeli. But given the fact that an agreement that I believe was fair was offered and rejected by the Palestinians in 2000 — and then came the disengagement in 2005 — [those] for me, as an Israeli, were crucial for feeling well when I look in my mirror.

DB: How do you talk to your young children about where they live?

MB: I believe that we have to be honest no matter what. Usually we’re not honest with our kids because we want to protect them. I am always honest. During [Operation] Protective Edge, when there were missiles falling on our kibbutz, I told them “There are missiles.” They knew it came from Arab people in Gaza strip that are led by an organization called Hamas. At the end of the day, you don’t want them to be terrified and hate Arabs, so it’s a complicated balance. Many times, they see me armed, and they’ll ask me suddenly, “Why are you armed?” So how do I tell them I am taking a gun, but they are safe so they should not be afraid?

Photo by Rick Sorkin

MB: As a secular Israeli, how do you think about the fact that the Bible and the history of this land intersect?

For me the Bible is a book of history, literature and philosophy. And I fully accept the fact that for a lot of other people, it’s a spiritual book, which requires a little faith. I’m not a spiritual person, but I do work with people of Jewish faith, Christian faith, atheists, Buddhists. Everything. And I need to make it relevant for everyone.

When I can take that book and prove that a lot of it happened, that it was written here, and I can connect the geography, the culture, the people and the land, I do get excited by the fact that I belong to this people, and they are my ancestors in those texts.

And when I prove to Christians who are not devout that [a lot of] what’s written in the New Testament makes sense — I can actually prove it to them — I love it. I’m a Jew, and I’m strengthening Christian identity! It’s very funny because I’m not spiritual, but strengthening people’s spirituality makes me very happy.

MB: Where is your favorite place in Israel?

I like to go to the Negev or Judean desert, because I love the wilderness. All religions were born in the desert, so that’s where I like going more than any other place.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Rabin’s granddaughter, ex-military and gov’t officials call for Israeli referendum on territories


The granddaughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin joined a group of former Israeli military and government officials in launching a campaign demanding a referendum on the future of the West Bank and Gaza.

Groups including Peace Now and Blue White Future also initiated the campaign, titled “Decision at 50,” to consider the future of Israel on the 50th anniversary of its capture of the West Bank. Artists and social activists also signed on.

“This is the most sensitive and explosive issue in Israeli society today, and we demand that after 50 years we will get the right to decide on our own future,” the founders of the initiative said in a statement Monday. “We cannot allow ourselves another 50 years of governments’ indecision, during which decisions are made every day on the ground.”

Officials of the movement on Monday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for the promotion of a referendum and requested a meeting with him.

“A decision through a referendum on the most critical question for the future of Israel will be a statement regarding where Israel is heading and provide guidance to Israeli governments in their policy making on this crucial matter,” the letter reads.

Among those who have signed on are Noa Rothman, Rabin’s granddaughter; Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and an ex-Knesset member; Gen (Res.) Amram Mitzna, a former Labor Party chairman; Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Knesset member; Gilead Sher, chief of staff and policy coordinator to Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and defense minister.

Netanyahu says Netherlands, Israel to improve water, gas supply to Gaza


The Dutch government will assist Israel in improving water and gas supplies to energy-strapped Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday during a visit to the Netherlands.

Netanyahu said that while his government is in a conflict with “terrorists” in the occupied territories, Israel still wishes to improve the quality of life for most people living there.

“We have no battle, no qualms with the people of Gaza”, he said. “The first step is to improve the supply of energy and water to Gaza, including laying a gas pipeline.”

He said he was publicly committing to making it happen.

Gaza faces an energy crisis due to damage to its electric network from past conflicts, together with Israel's coastal blockade and other sanctions and restrictions.

Currently the country has electricity less than half the time, using an 8-hour on, 8-hour off rationing system.

A gas pipeline from Israel could allow Gaza's power plant to double generation from around 200MW at present.

Water supplies to Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank have long been a point of tension between the neighbours, with the Palestinians saying Israel prevents them from accessing adequate water at an affordable price.

Netanyahu did not elaborate on details of the gas pipeline plan, saying only the Dutch, with their long history of water management, would help.

Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

2nd Gaza humanitarian worker indicted for assisting Hamas


A United Nations humanitarian aid worker in Gaza used his position to provide material assistance to the terrorist efforts of Hamas, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

Waheed Borsh, 38, was indicted in Beersheba District Court on Tuesday for assisting Hamas. It is the second indictment of a Gaza Palestinian aid worker accused of assisting Hamas in the last week.

Borsh was arrested on July 16 by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police, the Shin Bet said in a statement issued Tuesday. The statement said Borsh confessed that he carried out activities that aided Hamas.

Borsh, from Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip, has worked for the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, in Gaza as an engineer since 2003. His areas of responsibility include demolishing houses damaged during armed conflicts and clearing the rubble from sites after demolition.

The UNDP, one of the world’s largest multilateral development agencies, conducts development and rehabilitation projects for the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip. The projects include assisting in the rehabilitation of housing damaged during armed conflicts.

The Shin Bet said its investigation of Borsh discovered that he had been instructed by a senior member of Hamas to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas’ military interests.

In one such activity last year, he helped build a military jetty in the northern Gaza Strip for Hamas naval forces using UNDP resources, the Shin Bet said. Borsh also persuaded UNDP managers to prioritize the rehabilitation of housing in areas populated by Hamas members in response to a request by Hamas.

Borsh, who told investigators that there are other Palestinians employed by aid organizations that are working for Hamas, also disclosed information on Hamas tunnels and military bases that he had been exposed to during his work in Gaza, the Shin Bet said.

The Borsh case “demonstrates how Hamas exploits the resources of international aid organizations at the expense of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip,” according to the statement.

On Thursday, the Shin Bet announced the arrest of Mohammed El-Halabi, 32, director of the Gaza branch of the international humanitarian aid organization World Vision, on charges that he funneled tens of millions of dollars from the charity to Hamas.

DNC video highlights Clinton’s Israel record, role in Iran deal


On Tuesday, as delegates and party leaders gathered to formally nominate Hillary Clinton for president in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Convention Committee released a five minute video highlighting Clinton’s accomplishment and leadership skills as secretary of state.

The video, titled ’67′ (Clinton served as the 67th secretary of state) – aired on stage during prime time – touts Clinton’s brokering of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, mediating peace talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as rallying the world’s major economies to build a crippling sanctions regime that led to Iran coming to the negotiating table and paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal, among others. 

“She understands that peace calls for patience,” former Israeli president Shimon is quoted as saying by an on screen script, followed by footage of rockets fired into Israel and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. “She is very formidable and indefatigable,” the campaign quotes former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.