Why Spain is standing up to BDS — for now


Only last year, Spain was still the undisputed bastion for the BDS movement in Europe.

Some 50 Spanish municipalities had passed resolutions in recent years endorsing BDS — an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — more than in any other European country.

Relying on backing from a strong far left, the branches of Spain’s BDS movement were able to exert considerable pressure.

Last August, BDS activists pressured the organizers of a reggae festival near Barcelona to demand that the American-Jewish singer Matisyahu sign a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Matisyahu, who was the only artist asked to sign the document, was disinvited when he declined. He wasreinvited following an international outcry over what was perceived as an anti-Semitic measure.

It was not an unusual occurrence in a country that topped the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015 anti-Semitism index in Western Europe, and where Jews are often conflated with Israel — including by a Catalan lawmaker who in May demanded the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community be removed from the local government’s parliament for being “a foreign agent.”

But the wind has shifted for BDS in Spain, where the movement recently was labeled discriminatory in a series of legal defeats and resentment growing against its activists because they oppose trade with Israel at a time of economic crisis.

Over the past year, pro-Israel activists have obtained 24 rulings, legal opinions and injunctions against BDS in Spain, according to ACOM, a nonprofit based in Madrid. Thanks to litigation by its volunteer team, including several lawyers, BDS motions have been repealed, defeated or suspended this year in a dozen Spanish municipalities.

“The BDS movement in Spain is established and works systematically,” said ACOM’s president, Angel Mas. “But for the first time, they are encountering a response that is as systematic.”

Last month in Campezo, a town 210 miles north of Madrid, an ACOM ultimatum forced the City Council to scrap a resolution passed in June in support of BDS. ACOM threatened to sue based on precedents set this year in Spanish tribunals ruling that BDS is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

In January, Spain’s Council of State, the country’s highest consulting body, made a similar ruling, forcing the government to compensate a West Bank Israeli university to the tune of $107,000 over its exclusion for political reasons from a state-sponsored scientific competition.

Such rulings are commonplace in neighboring France, where BDS is included among other forms of illegal discrimination against countries or their citizens under a 2003 law introduced by Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish lawmaker. Dozens of BDS activists have been convicted in France of inciting hate or discrimination based on the Lellouche law and other legislation. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party in February said it would pass similar laws.

But in Spain, where a judge in 2009 opened a war-crimes probe against the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such strong judiciary treatment of BDS is unexpected and revolutionary, according to Yigal Palmor, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who had served in Spain during the 1990s as cultural attache.

Palmor said the BDS shift coincided with several developments in Spain that were welcomed by Israeli diplomats and Jewish community leaders. They include legislation to naturalize Sephardic Jews, support for Israel’s position on Palestinian statehood, a crackdown on anti-Semitic hate speech and a massive investment in the restoration of Jewish heritage sites.

Palmor attributes these changes to a mix of factors, including Spain’s gradual adoption of European standards on hate speech, improved rule of law and the election of a relatively stable centrist government.

And then there’s the effect of the financial crisis. Many Spaniards feel their country cannot afford to spurn any partners – especially not an affluent Western country like Israel. Last year, Spain had 21 percent unemployment and 45 percent among workers under 25.

The effects of the financial crisis on popular attitudes toward BDS were on full display last month in the northern city of Santiago de Compostella. After its City Council passed a nonbonding resolution supporting BDS, Israel’s national airline El Al reportedly ended talks on opening a direct connection to the city.

Local politicians for Spain’s centrist Popular Party accused the local government, led by a far-left party, of sabotaging the local tourism industry and precious jobs.

Israel, whose GDP per capita in 2015 was 36 percent higher than Spain’s $25,831, provides Spain with approximately 350,000 tourists annually.

Some observers also see a financial incentive in Spain’s historic legislation last year to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews with ties to Spain.

Spanish officials described the move as correcting the historical wrong done to Iberian Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – a state- and church-backed campaign of persecution that began in 1492 and was not abolished until 1834. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain and countless others became Christians under duress.

At least 4,500 of their descendants became Spanish citizens under the legislation in a process that generated millions of euros in revenue for Spanish notaries, government offices and language instructors. The legislation coincided with several Spanish initiatives to draw wealthy residents from abroad as well as tourists.

In 2004, Spain’s Congress passed a nonbinding motion conditioning support for Palestinian statehood on direct negotiations between both sides. The motion was considered a diplomatic victory for Israel and its supporters, especially after the parliaments of Britain, France and several other European countries pledged unconditional support for Palestine.

Until recently, Spain’s largely independent judiciary was subject to pressure from BDS supporters, noted Ramon Pérez-Maura, a journalist for Spain’s ABC network.

“The problem was pressure and intimidation of judges by lobby groups with anarchist traditions and violent tactics,” he told JTA. “There has been a crackdown on this sort of thuggery and this has empowered the judiciary, not only on Israel.”

Representatives of the BDS movement in Spain did not respond to JTA’s requests for an interview. But a campaign launched on their website in April showed they are feeling the heat.

In a petition titled “Stop criminalizing BDS,” they asserted that “activists of non-violent struggle [against Israel] are under threat.” They urged the European Commission to enforce in Spain “human rights guidelines guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to boycott.”

Though Spain has modernized greatly since the fall in 1975 of the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, “it is still a decade or two arrears in many areas” compared to other Western European countries, Palmor said. Many Spaniards display strong anti-American – and by proxy, anti-Israeli — sentiment and “a worldview of Jews that’s at times based on medieval imagery,” he said.

With a Jewish population of only 6,000, there is “a lot of ignorance about Jews,” Palmor said. That manifests itself in phenomena that hardly occur elsewhere in Western Europe, including the airing of anti-Semitic screeds on public radio and cases like the Matisyahu affair.

Those tendencies suggest why Mas of the ACOM group is not celebrating his victories over BDS just yet. He calls it a fight against a rival much larger and stronger than his group of volunteers.

“The Spanish Jewish community is small and overstretched,” he said. “It’s not the kind of community that can easily confront over time a challenge presented by well-entrenched activists with foreign funding and a foothold in government.”

Israel has had success against ‘lone wolf’ terrorists — here’s how


“Lone wolf” terrorism in Europe is making headlines around the world. But in Israel, the phenomenon of angry or troubled individuals taking up arms is old news.

Since October, Israelis have endured a wave of violence that has been carried out largely by individual Palestinians without backing from terrorist groups — so much so that some have called this the “lone wolf intifada.”

As of the end of June, 38 people had been killed and 298 injured by attackers, according to the Shin Bet security service.

Yet the violence appears to be winding down, at least for now. In October, when the wave of violence is said to have started, the number of attacks against Israelis spiked to 620. In June, there were 103 attacks, lower than in September, before the wave of violence began.

A large majority of the attacks — some 1,500 out of 2,000 — were in the West Bank, where the Israel Defense Forces is responsible for protecting Israelis. Here are five key methods the army used to turn the tide of violence.

Keep the terrorist groups out of it

The wave of violence may be considered a lone wolf intifada, but that’s because the army has put a lid on the terrorist groups, a senior IDF officer told reporters during a briefing this week. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job.

Since the second intifada, the last major Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s, the Israeli army has managed to largely dismantle the networks run by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the West Bank, according to Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general and an analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank. 

“Basically the terror networks are dismantled, and basically the security forces are dealing with maintenance,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean terrorist groups have stopped trying to launch attacks against Israelis. In the past three months, the army has thwarted dozens of attempted attacks by Hamas alone in what the senior official called the “old war” against organized terror. 

“We’re still having day-to-day indications of them trying to find people in the West Bank, fund them, give them weapons, give them explosives and tell them to shoot Jews,” he said. “This hasn’t changed.”

Predict the unpredictable

A new war is being waged against the lone wolves. Their attacks started last fall in Jerusalem, sparked by Palestinian fears of Jewish encroachment on the Temple Mount. But the center of the lone wolf intifada quickly shifted to the West Bank city of Hebron, with attacks on soldiers and settlers in the area, as well as across Israel.

Around that time, at the end of last year, the army began building a system to deal with the new threat that was emerging, the senior officer said. The goal was to predict the unpredictable: when, for example, a particular Palestinian youth might grab a knife from his mom’s kitchen and take to the streets to spill Israeli blood. Motives can range from nationalism to family problems, he said.

“Unlike terrorists who belong to Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, if you get to their house the week before the attack, the kid doesn’t know that he’s a terrorist yet,” the senior officer said. “So that’s the main challenge.”

Based on what was known about previous attackers, the army created an alert system that is constantly being tweaked. These days, army analysts feed huge amounts of intelligence information into that system — a combination of “social media, human intelligence, signal intelligence,” according to the senior officer, who declined to provide further details about intelligence gathering. In return, he said, the system produces a small number of alerts about potential future attacks.

“One of the ways you produce an alert is, what are the last actions that a specific individual did,” the senior officer said. “For example, if he’s exposed to incitement and right afterwards he rents a car, maybe an unregistered car, this raises questions.”

In response to an alert, options include arresting a suspect, monitoring his or her actions, intervening through the family or deploying troops to a potential target area. When attackers are arrested or killed without managing to cause carnage, future attackers are thought to be deterred.

“The attacks are decreasing because of their ineffectiveness, because most of them fail,” said Brom, the Institute for National Security Studies analyst. “There is a limit to the number of even frustrated young people who are willing to give their life and to achieve nothing. So it makes sense that over time, the numbers of attacks are fewer and fewer.”

Go after the inciters

Incitement to violence can occur in person, through traditional media or over social media. Hamas is responsible for a large portion of the incitement of Palestinians against Israel, the senior officer said.

“They create some of the memes of the high-level incitement, or the incitement which is very powerful that you see on the web,” he said. “So when you handle most of the Hamas incitement, or when you stop some of the incitement from getting to social media, you also have less incitement by private people that are just sharing a specific post or adding incitement.”

Get guns off the streets 

Despite Israel’s control of the West Bank’s borders, weapons manufacturing in the territory has “increased drastically” in the past couple years, according to the senior officer. He estimated there are hundreds of production centers there.

In recent months, he said, the army has launched an organized crackdown, including closing some 20 locations producing homemade Carl Gustav submachine guns, or “Carlos,” like those used last month by two Hebron-area cousins in a deadly shooting at the upscale Sarona market in Tel Aviv.

“They paid for their suits more than they paid for the weapons,” the officer said of the Sarona shooters, who wore dress suits during the attack. “And our logic is very simple … If not everyone can get a weapon with 2,000 shekels [about $500], the price will go up and they’ll have to make all sorts of arrangements and meet more and more people in order to get the weapon they want, we will see fewer attacks with weapons because people will make more mistakes.”

Israeli soldiers guarding the home where Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, was stabbed and killed in a terror attack in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank on June 30, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Limit blowback

At the same time, the army tries to minimize its footprint on Palestinian society. That starts with trying to arrest rather than kill attackers and would-be attackers, the senior officer said.

According to Brom, the army also pushes to limit collective punishment, like the withholding of taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, or revoking permits to work in or visit Israel.

“The more you can separate between the public from the perpetrators, the better,” he said.

When the army does implement measures with punitive effects, like refusing to return the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks or destroying attackers’ homes, it aims only to target the attackers’ supporters, according to Brom.

Col. Ido Mizrachi, the head of engineering in the Central Command, which is responsible for the West Bank, acknowledged in another briefing with reporters that demolishing Palestinian homes causes resentment, but said he thinks the deterrent effect is stronger. To maintain that balance, he said, his engineers work quickly and use techniques to ensure that surrounding homes, or even adjoining apartments, are not damaged.

While the senior officer downplayed the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel, Brom said the partnership is one of the main factors that enables the army to limit wider tensions.

“If the Palestinian Authority stopped cooperating, the Israeli security services would be in a situation in which they would have to do themselves what the Palestinian Authority is doing,” he said. “The problem is, that would create much more friction with population at large. And more friction with population at large means more motivation for more youngsters to join terrorist groups.”

Overall, the army believes this combination of tactics has helped to change the mentality of Palestinians in the West Bank, reducing the number of people willing to risk their lives to attack Israelis.

“We saw more and more people not becoming pro-Israeli or pro-Zionist, but understanding that they don’t achieve anything from this escalation, that it hurts them economically, that it doesn’t help the life conditions, that it doesn’t achieve anything on the national level,” the senior officer said.

Judaism as world wisdom


Sandra is in my office because her marriage is falling apart. She is not a member of any synagogue, and doesn’t consider herself religious. But she read some of my insights online and decided that a Jewish perspective might help her figure out her next move. 

Jason is 16 and wrestles with what his life is supposed to mean. He heard me speak, and could use help discovering a meaning for his existence. 

Yusuf writes on my public Facebook page that he’s a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t know any Jews, and I’m his rabbi. Kathy, a Catholic from Maine, writes that she feels the same.

We stand on the precipice of the third great transformation of Jewish life in modern times. It shouldn’t be news to any of us that Judaism has exhibited a dual tendency of retaining the value it inherited from the past and, at the same time, transforming that inheritance to advance the needs of each new age. That trend has accelerated. Judaism is emerging from tribal expression into a stream of world wisdom. 

The bulk of American Jews descend from the great immigration of 1880-1920, when Ashkenazi Jews left the Pale of Settlement for the East Coast of the United States. Most American Jews to this day are related to Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the shtetls of Eastern and Central Europe. They fled to the United States, it should be noted, to get away from two repressive dangers: The first (and the one we love to talk about) are the Cossacks and anti-Semitism. But the second oppressive reality they fled was Orthodox rabbinic Judaism. Make no mistake, the learned and the pious stayed in Europe, and they and their descendants were murdered. 

We are the children and grandchildren of the plucky ignoramuses who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They didn’t bother asking their rabbis’ permission to move to New York, they just packed and left. Onboard, they flung their tefillin and their wigs into the turgid Atlantic. They were not only leaving Russian oppression, they were also escaping rabbinic oppression. No surprise that when they came to North America, the prerequisite was to create a safe, comfortable haven where they could be comfortable as they were: fighting the anti-Semitism of the surrounding culture and creating spaces where they didn’t have to feel excessively Jewish. Ironically, the only way they could avoid a sense of being “too Jewish” was to retreat to places where there were only other Ashkenazi Jews. They created the legendary lodges in the Catskills, where you could talk with your hands, eat pickled herring or pickled salmon (which is something!). The food was kosher and mostly mediocre, but you could order as much of it as you wanted. These havens hired Jewish artists and comedians who shared the immigrants’ humor and sensibilities. 

Those new American Jews needed a haven because the larger culture slammed shut the doors of opportunity. Our immigrant forebears were restricted to certain neighborhoods and specific jobs. They were criticized for talking too loud, with their hands, in Yiddish. They felt like outsiders and so they created institutions in which they would not have to deal with being different. No surprise that they created synagogues where a congregant didn’t have to be too Jewish and wouldn’t get hassled for the patina of Jewish they maintained. These Americanized synagogues successfully met the needs of that first generation. What is extraordinary is that these Jews erected institutions throughout the country. They built synagogues, they established rabbinical schools, and created institutions of Jewish learning and culture that enabled them to successfully navigate the larger culture while feeling at home in this adopted country. 

Their institutions successfully met their needs, but those needs are no longer our own. 

The second great transformation of American-Jewish life took place around and after World War II when millions of our people were butchered back in the very countries we had fled a generation or two earlier. The pressing issue was no longer how do we conform to the ways of this country or even how to gain a foothold, but how to combat the virulent midcentury anti-Semitism? How to create a space for ourselves as Jews where we can be participants in the robust and raucous life of American democracy? To meet these new needs, the institutions that were created and modified in this generation were no longer places to retreat so we didn’t have to be consciously Jewish, this post-War generation created powerful anti-defamation leagues. They expanded congresses and committees. Now was a time to mediate Jewish power in democratic contexts: They scrambled to generate effective ways to support the Zionist effort creating a Jewish democracy in the Middle East, and they created agencies that would engage in the political system and the cultural life of America. This is the period in which the Jews took advantage of the openings in American life, attending their colleges and universities, composing the music sung in their musicals. We became their entertainers, their artists, their doctors and their experts. That age reaped unprecedented success for the postwar generation of Jews. 

Nobody today comments on the disproportionate number of Jews in the Supreme Court or in Congress. It is commonplace to hear Yiddish in the entertainment industry, the finance industry, business and academia. That presence is a tribute to the success of the second transformation of American-Jewish life, the time in which we intensified our Jewishness and insisted that we had the right to apply the lesson of the civil rights and women’s liberation movement: that we could be ourselves not only in private (which is what the first generation established), but also adamantly in public. In ways large and small, we put big Jewish institutions out there for the whole world to see. That was the second wave. 

Today’s challenge with the first and second wave is that they succeeded. They accomplished what they set out to do. American Jews by and large feel comfortable in private and safe in public. And we feel safe exerting pressure on the political system as a whole. This past summer witnessed the American-Jewish community engage in a brutal internal debate on the Iran nuclear deal, a contentious issue of international concern, with Jewish institutions publically exerting enormous political pressure on the United States Senate and with a popularly elected president (who most Jews support) willing to go head to head on an issue that many in the community felt was vital to its own well-being. Whether you agree with that move or not, what’s noteworthy is there were no earthshaking repercussions: Jews were still invited to two Chanukah parties in a kashered White House. Both Democrats and the Republicans still compete to represent Jewish voters and invite Jewish engagement in the upcoming elections. 

Jews are a public facet of American-Jewish life. 

The first two generations’ waves have succeeded, but we paid an unanticipated price for that success. That price is that we can no longer use fear to inspire Jewish living anymore. We can’t use guilt, ethnic solidarity or insecurity as a reason to be Jewish anymore. These claims are what motivated Jewish life in this country for a century: terror and anti-Semitism, the specter of being rejected, isolated and marginalized; these just don’t sell anymore. We Jews live in the same neighborhoods, graduate from the same schools, attend the same universities, enter the same professions, and offer our counsel at every level of business, in academia, in science and in government. 

So, what’s left? What are the needs of today? 

It turns out that Judaism is one of the great traditions of world wisdom. We have nurtured a way of life that has caressed and strengthened a resilient people throughout our wanderings. Whatever the political conditions in each age, Jews could retreat to Torah learning, to the practice of mitzvot (literally commandments, but much more: embodied practices of holiness and responsiveness), to warm and engaging community. In that embrace, they could emerge renewed. 

We have wandered through persecutions and exaltation, into places that were happy to host us and other places that could barely abide our presences. In and out of all of those locations, we carried Torah with us because it made our lives better. Torah – the living and the learning — molded us to be more resilient and stronger.

The time for fear has ended. No one will be scared into being Jewish anymore, and they shouldn’t. Yes, resurgent anti-Semitism afflicts Europe, roiling some of our college campuses, and criticism of Israel’s policies often masks a murderous hatred of Israelis and Jews. These phenomena are real and must be contained. But we are no longer trapped in passive terror. 

Much of the world is open to our insights. Because it turns out the Book of Deuteronomy is right. The Torah tells us, “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who, when they shall hear all these statutes, shall say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6), that we are to live our lives in such a way that the nations of the world will look at our practice and say, “What a wise people! What a great God!” Rashi’s interpretation removes any possible misunderstanding: This verse speaks about wisdom. Rav Saadia observes that it is specifically about justice and truth. The standard for Jewish authenticity is wisdom, justice and truth, such that a well-meaning gentile will notice and be inspired.

What would it look like to elevate that criterion for this third tide of American-Jewish life? This hunger for wisdom is not limited to North America. Those same dynamics now affect Jewish life in Europe, Israel, Latin America, Canada, Australia and everywhere there are Jews. Indeed, we are blessed to live in an age in which millions of non-Jews are willing to glean Jewish wisdom if it will help them live better lives. An example: Hospitals now routinely consult with experts in Jewish bioethics (along with other spiritual/ethical counselors) to practice a humane form of medicine. Several years ago, Harvard convened a conference on the environmental challenge that included authorities in Jewish traditions of land and living with the earth. Sharing traditions like letting the land rest every seven years or the Sabbath as a day of harmony with creation offer assistance to a humanity lacking in tools for better living. We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life, if people can thrive better because of the wisdom Judaism brings to our lives and our communities. Rabbi Harold Schulweis offered an early example of this approach when he established pro bono legal, psychological and para-rabbinic counseling at Valley Beth Shalom as a way of conveying Jewish wisdom and care for any who sought it. The offer of wisdom drew in people.

So that’s the task. That’s what’s going to bring in today’s people. This network of emergent communities, the more established Jewish institutions, the camps that we run, the youth groups that we offer, the adult education, the introduction programs — all of them are a constant effort to give back to the Jewish people and humanity what is already theirs: this ancient and time-tested path for being human. But that old/new goal changes our rhetoric. This passage in Deuteronomy invites us to admit that the standard by which we judge whether someone is a good Jew is no longer how punctilious they are in particular rituals or prohibitions. The question we must train ourselves to ask is: If someone who isn’t already engaged in Jewish practice were to look at your life or community, would they say, “Wow! I love how Judaism augments their values, the way they treat each other, the way they include the outcast, the way they pursue lives of justice and compassion. I want to be more like them, because the Judaism that keeps them strong and keeps them focused and keeps their eye on the goal makes them kinder and sweeter and wiser and more generous and more resilient. And I need some of that, too”?

What if we placed the criteria for a good Jew not in the hands of a small cabal of rabbis and agencies who assess Jewish status by how well one practices a particular ritual, how learned and literate they are in ancient texts, how pure their bloodlines, how vocal their nationalism? Those characteristics can indeed matter, but they are important for what they cultivate, not as an end in themselves. They ought to deliver a mensch (think, for example, of Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service, Elie Wiesel, Betty Friedan, Jerry Seinfeld, Ruth Bader Ginsburg), which should be apparent even for someone who doesn’t read Hebrew or Aramaic or is able to supervise a kosher establishment. 

This kind of decency ought to be visible in the way we conduct our lives with ourselves, with our loved ones, with each other and how we engage the world. That’s what our Torah passage insists: that a gentile will look at our lives and recognize that whatever is inspiring us is wise and good and would benefit anyone. But let’s add another group into that mix. Maybe when we say “the nations” we ought to include that large sector of our own people who are themselves wrestling with Jewish illiteracy and ambivalence. How about all those Jews who don’t know how to practice mitzvot? When they look at our religiosity, are they inspired? Or do they recoil before what appears to them as lunacy and cruelty? 

If our passion for Judaism makes us appear insane, smug and judgmental, well, the Torah has already weighed in on whether that counts as good Judaism. Rashi is already agreed with Deuteronomy’s judgment whether it does or not. 

I want to be clear here: I am not arguing against rigorous learning or scrupulous practice. But if the practice does not lead to a broadness of heart, it is no service to God. If it doesn’t lead to a deeper capacity to feel the pain of your fellow human being, to take on their suffering as your own, if it doesn’t allow you to rejoice when something good happens to the one sitting next to you, then what is it for?

Our challenge as Jews hoping to mentor this next wave is to help midwife the transition from Judaism as an ethnic enclave into Judaism as a world tradition of wisdom. We have what to teach: that God sides with the outcast seeking liberation and that all must be included (Passover seder), that we are more than our résumés (Shabbat), that the land owns us rather than the other way round (ger toshav), and that all people deserve respect and dignity (tzelem Elohim). We have what to share with the world: our values, our stories, our traditions and guidelines, our love of a place, our ways of sanctifying time and family, our hunger for justice. 

Ours may be the greatest secret that humanity has yet to discover because it has been hiding in plain view. And it is our job to bring it out there into the world. There are bright lights already pushing back the shadows, groups like CLAL, the Hartman Institute, American Jewish University’s Whizin programs, Rabbi Benny Lau’s innovative 929.org, Ron Wolfson’s relational Judaism and countless others.

To do that, you have to know the sources. How else can we transmit the wisdom that people are starving for if we don’t ourselves become fluent in it? 

How can we become their teachers if we don’t teach them the language of our classics, if we do not teach them the rhythms of Hebrew and its multiple layers conveying meaning over meaning if we don’t ourselves become practitioners?  

How can we show people what a life of spiritual discipline can be if we don’t root ourselves in that Tree of Life, the Torah and its forest of sacred commentaries (midrash, Talmud, codes, philosophy, kabbalah, hasidut, etc), and grow in mitzvot as well? 

But if we do these things simply as a way to judge others more harshly, if we perform these mitzvot thinking they are the criteria for Jewish judgmentalism, then we betray our own heritage. We turn our back on God, and in this age, no one is putting up with it anymore because they can live a perfectly fine life without it.

So the only reason left for engaging in Torah, the only reason left for our pursuit of mitzvot, is because it brings joy, because it augments depth, and because it heightens wisdom, resilience and community in an age that is scared and desperately lonely and exhausted by the pain of making it through another day. We are, I believe, the heirs of one of humanity’s most beautiful creations, one of God’s greatest gifts. Our heritage is truly something shimmering and on a hill, but it is our job to take it off the hill. It is our job to become so welcoming with it and so good at providing access to it, that we can share it with those who have not yet accessed it. And by those I mean three categories of people: 

I mean Jews who have been swimming in the sea of Torah for a long time and have lost their way. Lost their way because they thought that being punctilious was the end in itself, the goal rather than a means to an end. We can help them through our living to see Torah as a path for a greater life. 

I mean a path for those Jews who have been so wounded by the way Judaism was presented to them, inflicted on them, that all they had when they turned to Torah was pain and rage. We can help to show them there’s another way, a truer way in which Torah becomes the balm of its own healing, and Torah becomes the solution to the problems that its defenders took upon themselves to inflict.

And I mean a new group in this day and age: those legions of human beings (and they number in the thousands if not millions), people who are open to wisdom wherever they find it, people who are willing in the same day to practice Hindu yoga, Zen meditation, listen to a talk of the Dalai Lama and read a tweet from Pope Francis. Yes, they are willing to look at the Facebook page of a rabbi or sage if it can offer something to help them live a better life (check out facebook.com/rabbiartson, facebook.com/rabbiwolpe or facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist for three great examples). 

In an age when people are finally willing to embrace the wisdom of Judaism, don’t we owe it to them to make it available, to be able to first of all wrap ourselves in it like a cloak, and then to be able to share the warmth with those who cross our paths? Don’t we owe it to them to seek them out and help them with Torah’s wisdom whether they are Jewish or not? This isn’t about changing the label; it is about giving access to a tradition that has inspired and transformed human life across the ages. The digital revolution opens access through blogs, online magazines and newspapers, podcasts and videos. Any teacher can enrich our lives anywhere.

What we are sitting on is too precious for us to try to own or monopolize. This is no time for business as usual, no time for simply doing Jewish without opening it to the world. The resilience of Judaism comes from having been repackaged from a time when we were assaulted, and at the same time, allowing us to renew ourselves for each new age. Now is the time for us to be renewed, to allow this time, this day, this age to forge new contact to the Torah of healing, the Torah of humanity, the Torah of wisdom and compassion, and to allow ourselves to be made over in its image so that we ourselves will be forces for healing in turn.


Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (bradartson.com) holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

Europe is not lost


I'm the Chairman and Co-founder of an organization called Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network) whose European affiliates promote relations between Europe and Israel.  I travel often for site visits to Paris, Berlin, and other capitals in Europe to assess the situation firsthand.  Often, before I go, an American friend warns me, “Things are pretty bad there, the situation might be hopeless.”  Sometimes they just saw an article about an anti-Semitic incident in Marseilles, or a British labor union voting to boycott Israel.   There are a lot of news stories about things like that, more than any positive developments.

But what I actually witness on the ground in Europe is a very different story.  Yes, there are certainly some problems.  But overall, Europe's relations with Israel are flourishing, not dying.  Israel’s trade with the EU has increased from 20 to 30 billion euros per year over the last 10 years.    Europe's partnership with Israel is among the closest the EU has with any non-member state.  The EU stated officially that it is “against the so-called 'BDS' and we are against any attempts to isolate Israel.” 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, and the top European Council–all have expressed strong opposition to any boycott of Israel.  In fact, all have expressed support for expanding Israel's economic relations with the European Union, not curtailing them. 

Europe is not turning its back on Israel.  In the ten years since the BDS movement was launched in July 2005, declaring Europe to be its number one target, the EU has signed twelve additional commercial agreements significantly expanding relations with Israel. 

In October 2012, against fierce opposition from leaders of the BDS movement, the European Parliament ratified a critical framework agreement on Israeli industrial products, by a vote of 379-230.  In July 2012, the EU approved unprecedented steps to enhance Israel-EU relations in 60 trade and diplomatic policy areas, including increased access to the EU’s single market, closer cooperation on transport and energy, and enhanced ties with nine EU agencies.   

Jews hold high positions many European governments.  Many Jews in European countries continue to prosper and succeed.   Jewish populations are generally stable and in some places growing, not declining.  The problems are real, but the sky is not falling. 

Yes, Moslem immigrant populations are large and growing more rapidly, sometimes bringing with them virulent anti-Israel ideologies and not a little anti-Semitism.  But where these attitudes have emerged, they have provoked strong opposition and passionate rejection from the vast majority of Europeans.  They have also led to the rise of powerful opposition movements in many European countries.  In fact, the European political parties hostile to these foreign ideologies, are much larger than the radical elements coming in, so the balance is not necessarily against Israel.

The fact that there are more Moslems than Jews in Europe does not mean that the Jewish cause there is mathematically doomed.  In the world there are one and a half billion Moslems and close to four hundred million Arabs, but Israel has the strongest air force within a thousand mile radius.  In the United States, Jews comprise under 2% of the population, but we punch way above our weight in the political system and in economic and cultural affairs.  It is our destiny to be the few among the many, but this does not mean we are destined to perish.  Why should Europe be different?

The eruption of terrorism in Paris and Brussels has awakened Europeans to the reality of Middle Eastern extremism.  There is greater understanding that the animosity in the Middle East is not open to sweet reason, and that strong measures are sometimes required to deal with the threats.  There is more understanding why Israel finds it so difficult to come to a political accommodation with some of its neighbors.

Europe is far from lost for Israel.  The misperception that Europe is lost discourages friends of Israel in Europe and beyond from taking steps that can actually make the situation better.  It shrinks the international resources available to invest in pro-Israel activity in Europe, when potential American supporters think the money would be wasted.

Yes, there are dangers in Europe, but there are also opportunities.  Bringing modern methods of advocacy and political action to bear in key European capitals, make it possible to answer the threats and even go to new heights in many areas.   The future will not belong to those who pile up lists of problems that are supposedly insurmountable, but to those who see the potential and act to build a better future.

Larry J. Hochberg is the Chairman and Co-founder, Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network)

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried


The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.


Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Europe should label terrorists, not tomatoes


On Nov. 11, while Islamic terrorists were preparing for their Friday night massacre in Paris, which would leave 132 people dead and 352 injured, one of the big news items was the European initiative to put special labels on Israeli goods made in disputed territory.

As the European Commission explained, this was not new legislation, but a clarification of existing legislation dating back to 2012. In other words, the European obsession with singling out Israel for special punishment didn’t just start last week. It’s been an ongoing affair.

So, while Islamic terrorists have been scheming to terrorize the European continent, bigwigs in Europe have been laboring over how to “protect” European consumers from Israeli olive oil, vegetables, honey, eggs, wine and other goods produced in the West Bank.

Well, that ought to keep Europeans safe!

As much as I’m disgusted by the sight of religious fanatics rampaging through Paris murdering people who just want to enjoy life, these murderers are simply doing what they believe their prophet or God wants them to do. It may violate every standard of decency, but that’s what fanatics do.

Author and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls this group of Muslim fundamentalists “Medina Muslims,” in that they see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty, following the example of the Prophet Mohammed when he was based in Medina. As she wrote recently in Foreign Policy, this group argues for “an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version and take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.”

Now, you can be repulsed by this religious ideology, but you can’t tell me it’s not a religious ideology. You can’t tell me that the fanatics of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups are fighting for jobs or better immigration laws.

The one European leader who seems to get this is British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said in an address last July: “What we are fighting, in Islamic extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm.”

While religious fanatics may have an ideological explanation for their barbaric acts, what’s the explanation for those self-righteous European bureaucrats who spend so much of their time singling out and maligning Israel?

Now that they’ve witnessed the barbarians crashing the gates of the City of Lights, will their priorities finally return to sanity? Or will they continue to obsess over Israel and treat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the mother of all global conflicts — as if its resolution could somehow stop the rampant Islamic violence now threatening Europe and other parts of the world?

I wonder if those European honchos ever ask themselves what kind of message they’re sending to terrorists when they labor so publicly over the labeling of Israeli vegetables. That they mean business in their fight against terror?

Here’s my suggestion for all European leaders who really do mean business in this new war: Stop your obsession with Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And stop thinking that beating up Israel will somehow gain you sympathy with Islamic terrorists. It won’t.

Yes, Israel needs to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians – for its own sake. The majority of Israelis would love nothing better than to get a divorce from the Palestinians. They’ve seen how the word “occupation” has become a big, sharp blade that enemies conveniently use to bludgeon the Jewish state. At the same time, they worry that if Israel leaves the West Bank, that blade would only get bigger and sharper as groups like ISIS and Hamas take over. For now, Israel is stuck, and its enemies know it.

In any event, regardless of the stalemate with the Palestinians, Israel should be the least of Europe’s concerns. For one thing, you don’t hear reports of Israeli terrorists trying to enter Europe to wreak havoc on European cities. Israeli tourists flocking in? Definitely.

If anything, European leaders should be actively enlisting Israel’s help to fight this rising scourge of terror that now threatens their populations. God knows the Jewish state has enough expertise in this area.

But first, Europe will need a lesson in the priorities of labeling. Label the terrorists, yes. Label their ideology, yes. Label the allies who can help you fight them, yes.

Just stop labeling Israeli tomatoes.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

What Syria’s refugees think about Israel might surprise you


Israel’s government is in cahoots with Syrian President Bashar Assad. America wants to keep the Syrian civil war going for as long as possible. Russia is outmaneuvering the United States on the global stage.

Those are some of the viewpoints you’re likely to hear if you talk politics with Syrians pouring out of their war-torn country and into Europe.

When I went to Berlin recently to write about the wave of migrants arriving in Germany, one of the questions I was most curious about was something that had nagged at me since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad began bombing its own people back in 2011: Now that you see the true face of your government, do you look at its longtime adversary, Israel, any differently? Could the enemy of your enemy be your friend?

But when it came to their views on Israel, there seemed to be more conspiracy theory than political theory. And I was surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) that for many Syrians, the defining element of their identity is sectarian rather than national, and therefore they’re more concerned with the divides among Alawites, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds than the divide between Arab and Jew.

“Israel and Bashar [Assad] – same-same,” said Khalid el-Hassan, a 17-year-old from the Syrian coastal city of Tartus who recently made his way to Berlin.

El-Hassan cited the quietude that for years prevailed along the Syria-Israel border and Assad’s repeated failure to respond to Israeli airstrikes in Syria both during the civil war and before it.

Emad Khalil, a 22-year-old law student from Aleppo, repeated a myth that is widely accepted as fact across the Arab Middle East: that the two stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates rivers, and the Star of David is a sign that the Jews seek to control all the land in between, from Egypt to Iraq.

“You come to visit Syria, OK. You come to take our land, not OK,” he said.

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA's Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. (Uriel Heilman)

Some of the Syrian refugees interviewed in Berlin insisted on taking selfies with JTA’s Uriel Heilman, in Yankees cap. 

When I told Khalil the myth about the flag had no truth to it, he shrugged.

“I saw it on a documentary,” he said.

To be sure, I heard a range of viewpoints expressed, from the Syrian Kurd who was curious about teachers’ salaries in Tel Aviv to the bereaved Syrian mother who asked me why, if we’re all children of Adam and Eve, can’t we just get along?

To my Western ear, many of the Syrians’ convictions sounded outlandish, incoherent or ignorant. I mostly suppressed the urge to argue, however. My aim wasn’t to convince them why they were wrong, but to get a sense of how they see the world.

Given their experiences over the past four-plus years of civil war, the Syrians I met were less interested in talking about Israel than what they said was the West’s failure to help them.

Hadiya Suleiman, 45, a native of Deir ez-Zur in eastern Syria whose 18-year-old son was killed by a roadside bomb she said was rigged by ISIS, said she and other Syrians were happy when President Barack Obama was elected. But his inaction following the Syrian revolution changed her mind.

“I think what’s happening now is Obama’s responsibility; if Obama wanted he could stop the war,” said Suleiman, who has five surviving children.

Suleiman accused the “Jewish lobby” in America of thwarting any action on Syria, saying that U.S. policy favors seeing the civil war drag on so that the Syrians continue killing each other. She also blamed the rise of ISIS on America’s mismanagement of its invasion of Iraq.

Idris Abdulah, 30, an unemployed Syrian Kurd who came to Germany a year ago, said it wasn’t fair to blame America for ISIS; he fingered Assad for creating the ISIS problem by releasing Islamic militants from Syrian prisons shortly after the outbreak of the civil war. But Abdulah said America’s failure to act decisively in Syria shows American weakness, especially in contrast to Russia.

Noting Russia’s success at wresting Crimea from Western-backed Ukraine, Abdulah declared, “America is losing. Russia is winning.”

He added, “We all hate the American government because it’s not doing anything for the Syrian people even though it can. We don’t hate American people.”

Then he offered me the hot cup of tea a friend had just thrust into his hand.

El-Hassan said he was disappointed by the shoddy welcome Syrian refugees have received in Europe — especially given Syria’s “magnanimous” welcome of refugees in decades past from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Until he reached Germany, el-Hassan said, he encountered mostly hostility, from the Hungarian guards who beat and detained him to the Serbians who refused to provide lodging and other assistance.

“In Serbia, in Macedonia, we sleep in the street, but nobody cared,” el-Hassan said. “Here in Germany, we sleep in the street, but people come to bring us food, sleeping bags. Here they are very good men.”

When I asked why Persian Gulf states weren’t taking in Syrian refugees, the answer was straightforward: “The Arabs don’t love us,” el-Hassan said.

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn't found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. (Uriel Heilman)

Idris Abdulah, a Syrian Kurd who arrived in Germany in 2014 and still hasn’t found a job, says he hopes one day to work helping refugees like himself. 

Abdulah said he believes Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia are afraid that incoming Syrian refugees could destabilize their tightly controlled societies by pushing for more freedoms.

So far, Syria’s Muslim neighbors have borne the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis. Approximately half of Syria’s 17 million citizens have been displaced by the civil war. Aside from the millions who have been internally displaced, some 2 million have gone to Turkey, more than 1 million have fled to Lebanon, over 600,000 have found shelter in Jordan and about 250,000 have gone to Iraq.

Many of those countries have balked at taking in more Syrians due to dwindling international funding for Syrian refugees and concerns about the destabilizing effect of an even greater influx.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany announced six weeks ago that her nation would take in 800,000 asylum seekers, it prompted a fresh wave of Syrians to risk the perilous journey to Europe. (By contrast, the United States has accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees over the past four years. The Obama administration announced in September that by 2017 it would increase the number of asylum seekers it accepts annually to 100,000 from 70,000. That figure includes not just Syrians but refugees from all over the world.)

Syrians aren’t the only ones heading to Germany. The refugee camps I visited in Berlin are full of Iraqis, Pakistanis, Eritreans and citizens of too many other countries to count – including Russian speakers from Central Asia. Some are fleeing war, violence or repression, but many are economic migrants seeking better opportunities. It’s a point of consternation for many of the Syrians, who accuse others of misrepresenting the dangers they face back home – and even acquiring fake Syrian identity papers – in an effort to be granted asylum in Germany.

Despite her hopes for a new life in Germany free of war and peril, Suleiman said she’d go back to Syria in a heartbeat if the war ended. But there may not be much to go back to.

“For 10 years I worked to build a house, and now it’s all crushed by Assad’s bombs,” she said. “I tried living under ISIS control, but anybody who said anything that disagreed with ISIS was beheaded.”

Suleiman said she tried to gain admission to Kuwait, where her husband has worked for the past 13 years, but she was denied entry. The same thing happened when she tried Saudi Arabia. Now she has one child in Austria and four with her in Germany, where she arrived in late September.

“But Syria,” she said, “is still my home.”

Iran deal: See dealer for details


The more I get into the Iran nuclear deal, the more it feels like the television show “Mad Men” — you know, those slick advertising geniuses who seduce you with promises but downplay the fine print.

It’s like one of those radio commercials for hot new car deals, where the announcer chokes on his breath while reading the qualifiers: “MSRP excludes taxes, title, other options and dealer charges; higher MSRP will affect lease price; dealer sets actual prices; lessee responsible for insurance; closed-end lease offered to approved customers only through participating dealers; additional charges may apply at lease end; supplies limited; offer ends March 1. See dealer for details.” 

Oh my, what a deal.

Well, it certainly reminds me of the Iran deal, which is littered with fine print, some of it quite treacherous. 

“Anytime, anywhere” was a wonderful promise … until we discovered the qualifier that Iran can delay inspections of its nuclear sites by more than 24 days. In fact, the process is so cumbersome and bureaucratic it can easily stretch out, according to The Wall Street Journal, to three months or more.

Three months or more! That’s like telling a drug dealer you’ll be busting his house next Tuesday at noon. As Jackie Mason noted, restaurants in New York City have a much tougher inspections regime than what we negotiated with Iran, because they can be inspected at any time without any notice.

This is not about partisanship or politics. It’s about something we all have in common: We hate getting ripped off, especially by slick Mad Men.

Why is this issue so critical?

Because a super-tough inspections regime was supposed to be our consolation prize for allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure. If you’ll recall, the original goal of diplomacy was pretty straightforward: The United States and its partners would make a major concession — the end of nuclear sanctions — in return for Iran making a major concession — the end of its nuclear program.

When we decided to concede to Iran the right to keep most of its nuclear infrastructure, inspections became the decisive deal point. Anything short of ironclad would seriously weaken the deal. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the inspections regime we negotiated is ironclad?

As bad as that is, though, it gets worse.

“Anytime, anywhere” came with another sexy promise: “snapback sanctions.” In combination, these two promises created an irresistible sales pitch: “We’ll surely catch Iran if it cheats, and when we do, the sanctions will snap right back!”

Irresistible, yes, but wait until you see the fine print.

Simply put, in the unlikely event that we ever do catch Iran cheating and try to “snap back” sanctions, there won’t be many sanctions left to snap back to.

Here is how Washington Institute’s Executive Director Robert Satloff explains it: “Let’s say that the U.N. Security Council does order the reimposition of sanctions. According to my read of the agreement, all contracts signed by Iran up until that point are grandfathered in and immune from sanctions. That means one can expect a stampede of state-to-state and private sector contracts — some real, many hypothetical — all designed to shield Iran from the impact of possible reimposition of sanctions.”

In other words, Iran can quickly rack up a slew of deals with Russia, China and Europe worth more than $100 billion and, even if Iran is caught building a nuclear bomb behind our back, we will have zero power to undo those deals.

I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, this fine print stinks.

The grandfather loophole is especially lethal. Once the Persian mullahs make their irrevocable deals, why should they fear us? It will be difficult enough to catch them cheating — what will restrain them if they’re not even afraid to get caught?

As the emotions are heating up in our community over this deal, I’d like to suggest a less emotional reaction: Study the fine print.

I have, and that’s why I oppose the deal. It’s full of nasty surprises. There are many other examples, such as the sneaky switch from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, which says Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles; to the current deal, which says only that Iran is called upon not to undertake such activity. From the mandatory “shall not” to the permissive “called upon”— sneaky, indeed.

The Iran nuclear deal may be complex and hard to understand, but, in my book, the real danger is in the fine print. Study it closely. This is not about partisanship or politics. It’s about something we all have in common: We hate getting ripped off, especially by slick Mad Men.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

In Israel, European Jews warn of growing anti-Semitism


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

European Jewish leaders say there is more anti-Israel sentiment and more anti-Semitism in Europe today than at any time in the past 60 years. A new poll found that nearly 150 million Europeans think Israel is an apartheid state and even uses Nazi methods.

A group of European Jewish leaders who are visiting Israel on behalf of the Israel Jewish Congress told Knesset members that they have been subjected to harassment and death threats. For example in London, residents are bracing for a large neo-Nazi rally next month, and many Jews in Europe say they do not display any Jewish symbols for fear of an attack.

“Anti-semitism has been increasing a lot,” Saskia Pantell, the Executive Director of the Zionist Federation of Sweden told The Media Line.

“Jewish children in one Jewish school in Stockholm have not been allowed to go outside during recess for security reasons. We had a winter camp cancelled for security reasons. It’s getting very limited in regards to freedom. Most Jews don’t say their Jewish or wear a kippa (skullcap) or Star of David.”

She herself has been the target of death threats, and said the community in Sweden, which numbers 15,000 – 18,000 Jews was shaken by the shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen in February.

Even in Germany, which has a broad program of Holocaust education, and has been especially sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish acts are up 25 percent over past years.

“We always say that Jews feel safe (in Germany),” Itai Abelski, a young Jewish leader in Germany, which has an estimated 125,000 Jews, told The Media Line. “But how does a Jew feel safe if he doesn’t show he is Jewish?”

He said there is a discrepancy between government positions, with Israel and Germany being close allies, and what the general population believes. There is also an increase in Germany of radical Muslim sentiment.

Some of these Jewish leaders say that growing sentiment against Israel, especially since last summer’s war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement that left more than 2100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead has intensified the tensions. The United Nations Human Rights Council this week released a report criticizing both Israel and Hamas for possible war crimes, and saying that about 1400 of the dead were civilians – a number Israel disputes.

More Europeans are calling for a boycott of goods from Israel, or at least from areas that Israel acquired in 1967. The European Union is currently considering this type of labeling, and some private companies have begun to divest from Israel. Stephane Richard, the CEO of the Orange telecommunications company, sparked a furor in Israel when he said he would dump Israel “tomorrow” if he could, although he later apologized.

“They see a lot of conflation between attacks on the state of Israel and on them as Jews,” Arsen Ostrovsky, the director of research at The Israel Jewish Congress told The Media Line. “There is a blurring of the lines between attacking Jews and attacking the state of Israel.”

The Congress brought 35 Jewish leaders from 26 European countries to meet Israeli officials to try to find ways to fight anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement known as BDS. In France, Ostrovsky said, half of all hate crimes are directed at Jews even though Jews represent only one percent of the total population in France. It is still the largest Jewish community in Europe with about 500,000 Jews.

“Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are the same thing,” Gil Taieb, the Vice-President of the Jewish community in France told The Media Line. “We saw that wherever there was a demonstration in favor of BDS, they spoke in favor of anti-Semitism.”

He said the community is still reeling from the January shootings of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris. The four were buried in Israel, partly because government officials feared their graves could be desecrated, he said.

At the same time in some Jewish communities in Europe, some Jews are pushing back against the harassment.

“Many are sick of it and are starting to wear large Jewish star necklaces,” Pantell of Sweden said. “They get death threats but they say they just don’t care anymore and they will speak out for Israel.”

Orange pullout seen as sign of BDS influence on French policy


To Israel’s supporters, the decision by the French telecommunications giant Orange to dump its Israeli affiliate is not only a politically motivated divestment by a major multinational corporation, but a sign that European policymakers are being impacted by efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

Citing the French government’s ownership of a quarter of Orange’s shares, European pro-Israel groups said the move reflected the rising influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and France’s growing impatience with Israeli reluctance to make concessions to the Palestinians.

“Orange’s pullout is part of the French government’s attempt to bring Israel to its knees and accept the Pax Europeana,” said Sammy Ghozlan, founder of the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, which has taken legal action against numerous promoters of BDS.

But Orange insists it’s nothing of the sort. In a statement Thursday announcing the termination of its relationship with its Israeli affiliate, Partner Communications, Orange said it was merely effecting a policy to end its presence in countries where it does not directly provide services. Its motivations, the company said, “have nothing to do with any political debate.” Israel is the only country where a third party is using the Orange brand, the firm said.

That claim was made harder to believe by the fact that it came only a day after Orange CEO Stephane Richard, speaking at a conference in Cairo, said he would abandon Partner “tomorrow morning” if not for contractual penalties.

“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt,” Richard said. “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”

Richard later told Ynet he did not mean to suggest the pullout had anything to do with Israel or its conflict with some of its Arab neighbors.

Ghozlan called Orange’s statement “a transparent lie.” Yonathan Arif, the vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said Orange may be attempting to avoid prosecution for discriminating against a nation, which is illegal in France.

“Orange is active in many areas where human rights are violated, but Orange does not pull out of there,” Arif said, adding that the French government was ultimately responsible and must “intervene and alter the decision.”

The Anti-Defamation League was not buying Orange’s claim either. Like the CRIF, the ADL pointed its finger at the French government and urged it to “make clear that complying with demands to boycott Israel are illegal under French law and contrary to the country’s national interests and moral values.”

“Orange took a cowardly decision to cave in to demands by the international campaign to boycott Israel,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced a similar appeal to the French government as did Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin

On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reiterated French opposition to boycotts of Israel, adding that “it is for the president of the Orange group to determine the commercial strategy of the company.”

The furious reaction comes amid mounting concern about the growth of the BDS movement as well as growing anger at the French government. Last month, the CRIF took the rare step of publishing a letter its president, Roger Cukierman, had sent to Fabius complaining about France’s support for United Nations anti-Israel resolutions that are opposed by many other major democratic powers, as well as the reception in March of a convicted Palestinian terrorist at the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters. While the CRIF has conveyed similar messages privately, the publication of its complaint was an exception for an organization that generally aims to cultivate constructive relationships with French officials.

“These policies create a certain atmosphere that is conducive to boycotts,” said Ghzolan. “Orange took its cue from the French government.”

France’s government is not the first to be perceived as encouraging divestment from Israel. In the Netherlands, the Vitens water company in 2013 cited its consultations with the Dutch Foreign Ministry in explaining why it decided to end its cooperation with its Israeli counterpart, Mekorot.

“The influence of BDS on policy is more than a trickle; it’s a flow,” said Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “And it’s happening all over Europe.”

This Passover, raging anti-Semitism, ascendant Iran facing Jews


This post originally ran on Fow News.

On Friday night Jewish families in Israel and throughout the world will celebrate our Passover Seder, a wondrous interactive event remembering we were once slaves unto Pharaoh and celebrating our freedom and first baby steps as a nation. In the middle of the symbol-rich ritual, we fill a cup of wine–Elijah’s Cup – and then open our doors to ‘welcome’ the spirit of Elijah the Prophet. The biblical prophet has a special place in the Jewish narrative, as every newborn boy is placed on “Elijah’s Chair” for his circumcision. Why Elijah? Our tradition teaches that he is the messenger who one day will return to announce the advent of a messianic era of peace.

But Israelis worry that a series of moves by foes and friends are effectively slamming shut the door towards peace and hastening the next catastrophic war in The Holy Land.

Uppermost in everyone’s mind is the looming reality that Iran will have clear path to nuclearization with the means to deliver a bomb atop a missile or in a terrorist suitcase.v While Israel ponders her next move, Arab nations are already scurrying to obtain their own nuclear options. And with their traditional US protector AWOL, these same states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are already responding militarily to Iran’s power grab in Iraq and Yemen, further destabilizing the raging fires of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, even as negotiations in Geneva finally yielded a preliminary agreement with Tehran, Israelis were subjected to earlier this week, the latest direct threat from Iran’s chief of the Bajiis militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, who declared– that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” Not a peep of protest from P5+1 leaders. Tehran is already launching new actions to bolster their bluster. Last year,Naqdi confirmed Iran was increasing efforts to arm Palestinians on the West Bank and the Mullahocracy has taken new measures to threatenIsrael’s northern border.

A senior Israeli Defense Ministry official confirms that Iran is converting Zilzal unguided rockets into accurate, guided M-600 projectiles by installing accurate warheads.

The Algemeiner quoted Israeli Colonel Aviram Hasson describing Iran as a “train engine that is not stopping for a moment. It is manufacturing new and advanced ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. It is turning unguided rockets that had an accuracy range of kilometers into weapons that are accurate to within meters.” Hezbollah “is getting a lot of accurate weapons from Iran. It is in a very different place compared to the Second Lebanon War in 2006,” he warned.

Now comes word from The Times of London that Tehran is developing a new front against Israel as its allies in Syria are crushing anti-Assad rebel groups in the Golan Heights.

Israel could soon be confronted directly by Iranian troops on their border Iranian short-range missiles targeting Israeli communities.

Tehran is once again aiding Gaza-based Hamas that has been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars, logistical, and military support from the Iranians.

Many, perhaps President Obama among them, would argue, that such an array of existential and strategic challenges against Israel should push Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a quick deal with Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA).

However, the PA has proven to be part of the problem, not the solution.  It has lost support of the West Bank Palestinian street through its serial corruption and failure to call elections. It has been said that diplomats sign treaties but only people make peace. If so, the Palestinian Authority itself has been signaling their Israeli neighbors that they are preparing their kids for war, not peace. The important NGO, Palestinian Media Watch continuously documents how PA uses education and culture to promote haters and terrorist murderers of Jews.

Now PA President Abbas has exercise his so-called nuclear option by joining the International Criminal Court in Geneva enroute to bring war criminal charges against the very leaders he supposedly is committed to negotiate with.

This Passover Israelis and Jews the world over are incensed and worried by the thundering silence of the United States, the European Union in face of the increasingly brazen Iran-led threats to the Jewish State, the blatant Jew-hatred promoted by Palestinian leaders and the spiking anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

This isn’t about a personality or policy clash with Bibi Netanyahu; it is about the safety of 8 million Israeli citizens and endangered Jewish communities in Europe. The threat of the US abandoning Israel to the wolves at the UN Security Council won’t bring peace, but only further chaos and violence to the imploding region. If world leaders are truly committed to a safe and secure Jewish state and to combat anti-Semitism, they need to address these real-world concerns with deeds—not empty Holocaust Memorial Day Never Again slogans.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Israel’s most valuable Muslim ally


Jews worldwide will soon mark the onset of a Jewish New Year with the specter of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. Amid the preponderance of daily bad news, it is uplifting to celebrate narratives of tolerance and respect. Earlier this month, I was one of 12 rabbis meeting with two distinguished Los Angeles-based diplomats, Consul General of Israel David Siegel and Consul General of Azerbaijan Nasimi Aghayev. We broke bread together and discussed our shared goal of shining a positive light on the unique story of Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation that enjoys positive relations with the United States, Israel and its own Jewish community.

[Related: 

Anti-Semitic fliers delivered to Sydney Jewish neighborhoods


Anti-Semitic fliers were dropped in the mailboxes of private homes in Jewish suburbs of Sydney.

Residents of Bondi Beach and Double Bay, which contain large numbers of Sydney’s 40,000-plus Jewish community, found the flier in their mailboxes on Monday.

“Wake up Australia,” the flier reads. “Jews have been kicked out of countries 109 times through history. … Could it be that having them in a European country is harmful to the host?”

The flier included an invitation to join Squadron 88 and check out the local white supremacist group on Facebook. It also included a reference to Stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website, and to check them out on Facebook.

“The flier is an appalling litany of racist stereotypes, all too predictable from neo-Nazi organizations,” said New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff. “It’s no coincidence that 88, which appears on the flier, represents HH, which stands for Heil Hitler.”

The flier also reads, “The Jews own all Hollywood studios & 97% of US newspapers and media. Any movie or tv show you watch may well be coming straight from Israel.”

Police are investigating the flier, the latest episode in a spike of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Australia since the start of the war in Gaza seven weeks ago.

Alhadeff said his organization complained to Facebook, but the social media platform said it had reviewed the Squadron 88 page and it “doesn’t violate our community standards.”

“It is very disappointing that Facebook fails to grasp the import of what is expressed in the flier,” Alhadeff said. “If the people at Facebook who are tasked with monitoring its standards don’t consider this flier to be hate speech, what is?”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose district includes the two suburbs, condemned the flier as “a crude and vicious attempt to intimidate and insult the Jewish community.” He added, “Racism must be opposed, called out and condemned wherever it is found.”

U.N.’s Ban bemoans upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks over Gaza


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “deplored” the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks, particularly in Europe, as a result of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

Ban “emphasizes that the conflict in the Middle East must not constitute a pretext for prejudice that could affect social peace and harmony anywhere,” read a statement issued Monday by his spokesman in New York.

Anti-Semitic attacks, violence and hate speech have increased as a result of demonstrations throughout Europe and elsewhere against Israel’s military effort in Gaza to eradicate Hamas tunnels and rocket fire from the coastal strip.

Ban in the statement also called for an “immediate cessation of violence” in Gaza and negotiations.

The statement came a day after Ban condemned the shelling of a U.N. school serving as a shelter for displaced Gazans, calling it “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law.” The United Nations and the Palestinians blamed Sunday’s shelling, which killed at least 10 Palestinians, on Israel.

The Ebola-like plague of anti-Semitism sweeping the West


My parents, who have lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, recently met their new neighbors.  They are French Jews from Paris who describe themselves as refugees. ” We came to the conclusion that there was simply no future for us in France.  Jews are targets there and the government cannot and does not want to protect them. France is lost.” 

Their message resonated with me as I returned to Israel from a  speaking tour of Southern Africa.  In South Africa I watched as President Jacob Zuma and many of his secondary ministers, fulminated about the international crimes of the Israeli government in Gaza.  In Namibia, a country with only a handful of Jews and with no previous strong record of antisemitic animus, television news programs consistently portrayed a one dimensional view of the conflict, failing entirely to present the context of Operation Protective Edge and castigating the worldwide Jewish support for Israel as the primary culprit.

In Ethiopia, where I stayed for two days, almost everyone I met seemed to think that Israeli war crimes deserved international sanction and that Jews should be made to pay reparations for the destruction of Gaza hospitals and educational facilities.

In Australia, a country with a very strong record of governmental support for Israel, a cartoon in one of the country's leading dailies depicted a hook-nosed Jew reclining in a chair marked with a Star of David casually using a remote to destroy Gazan property.

And In Germany, demonstrators in Berlin – and not just Muslims – could be heard yelling “Death to Israel”, and “Zionists are fascists, killing children and civilians!” and a Berlin imam was recorded using his sermons to ask Allah to kill the Jews “to the very last one,”.

In response, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumnn said; “We are currently experiencing in this country an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews. We would never in our lives have thought it possible any more that anti-Semitic views of the nastiest and most primitive kind can be chanted on German streets. Jews are once again openly threatened in Germany and sometimes attacked.”

Throughout the world, Jews have felt the tremors of an upheaval that should be deeply unsettling if not shocking. For it is not simply Israeli policies which have been criticized.  Colleagues in Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, England, Italy and as far away as Iceland have reported unparalelled outbursts of anti-semitic activity and sentiment in their countries.

The steep rise in antisemitism which has emerged in the streets of  the world's capitals is a salutary reminder to us all of one of the abiding features of Western history: Antisemitism, despite the denials of governments and citizens – and our own self delusions, is a permanent feature of life in dozens of countries outside Israel that will not die. We fool ourselves into believing that it manifests only as a territorial claim or is some kind of residual spasm of a long cured illness.

For it surely is not. The disease is congenital and much like the Ebola Virus now sweeping  Western Africa  –  deadly and incurable. Despite the horrifying lessons of the Holocaust, the supposed safeguards of a powerful international human rights movement and the sanctimonious pronouncements of world leaders, the contagion of antisemitism has not been eradicated but persists in the minds of millions of people who remain convinced of a malevolent Jewish stereotype which threatens the peace of the world. 

If this is so, then where is it safe for Jews to live?

That is exactly the question that an Austrian-Jewish journalist reporting in 1895 on the polarizing anti-semitic trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, came to ponder: “if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country?

Theodor Herzl's words ring in my ears as I sit in Jerusalem and write these words.  Despite whatever you read in the world's newspapers or hear from sage voices in the commentariat, the Jews of Israel feel safe – a fact which has little to do with the use of advanced technology or the deployment of one of the world's most sophisticated armies.  United as at no time since perhaps the Six Day War, the Israelis as individuals and as a country seem to have finally grasped the fact that no territorial surrender, no peace agreements and no humanitarian gestures will appease their enemies.  That is because they accept, better than we in the Diaspora ever could, that the war against them extends beyond their borders and beyond the Middle East.  It is an age old  war of extinction, driven by the the most pernicious form of anti-Semitism and if they have to make a stand against it then they will do it in their own land, with their own resources and on their own schedule .  The determination to defeat the enemy and to make the State of Israel a true place of refuge for the Jewish people has contributed to a remarkable resilience and an unshakeable faith in the future which has allowed life in most of the country to continue, to the greatest extent possible, as normal.

I had to wonder about this as I perused my emails mid-flight on my way back from Ethiopia. 

Familiar with my somewhat frenetic travel schedule, an Australian friend asked:  “Are you home yet – wherever that might be?”

As I touched down at Ben Gurion Airport , saw the Israeli flag fluttering  in the moonlight, watched the cars pass by with blue and white ribbons attached to their antenna and witnessed the bumper stickers and posters declaring an unwavering commitment to victory, without  hesitation I wrote back: 

” Yes, I am home – and I am safe.” 


Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and owns a home in the Old City of Tzfat in  Israel.

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas


Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Germany, France, Italy jointly condemn Gaza-related anti-Semitic acts


In a joint statement the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy condemned anti-Semitic acts arising out of the recent wave of anti-Israel demonstrations across Europe.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini met in Brussels Tuesday to coordinate a response to protests in Berlin, Paris, The Hague, Antwerp and Brussels that have included chants calling for the murder of Jews and that in France have devolved into riots targeting synagogues.

“Anti-Semitic agitation, hate speech against Jews, attacks against people of Jewish belief and against synagogues cannot be tolerated in our societies in Europe,” the ministers’ statement reads. “We strongly condemn the outrageous anti-Semitic statements, demonstrations and attacks in our countries in recent days,” the joint statement said.

Nine synagogues in France have been targeted over the last week, Jewish groups said.

On Wednesday, approximately 10 youths assaulted a disabled Jewish woman in southeastern France, the French Jewish community’s SPCJ security unit reported. The youths hurled stones at the woman and chanted slogans about killing Jews.

Speaking at a Holocaust commemoration in Paris on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the phenomenon as a “new anti-Semitism.”

“Traditional anti-Semitism, this old disease of Europe, is joined by a new anti-Semitism that cannot be denied or concealed, that we must face,” he said. “It happens on the social networks and in workers’ neighborhoods, among ignorant young men who hide their hatred of Jews behind a facade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.”

New initiative would encourage European Jews to make aliyah


A new aliyah agency tasked with persuading European Jews to move to Israel is under consideration.

The Joint Operation for Aliyah Promotion would be a joint initiative of the Israeli government and the institutions involved in aliyah and Europe: the Jewish Agency for Israel, the United Israel Appeal, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund, according to the Jewish Agency.

JNF already has raised the money for the initiative — approximately $29 million over the next two years.

The money would be used to provide outreach such as information sessions and job fairs to Jews living in areas experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, as well as financial incentives to convince them to move to Israel rather than another country.

The issue could be brought to the Cabinet as early as next week.

Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of aliyah and immigrant absorption, said in a statement that the joint effort “will enable us to increase the number of immigrants coming to Israel and will illustrate Israel’s role and the importance it places on ingathering the exiles.”

For some West Bank CEOs, no lost sleep over boycott threat


Of the 200,000 wine bottles Yakov Burg produced last year, 16,000 went to Europe.

The possibility of a boycott and repeated rumblings that Europe is planning to label goods produced in the settlements could decrease that number, but Burg isn’t worried.

The CEO of Psagot Winery, which is located in a settlement of the same name in the hills of the central West Bank, Burg prides himself on running a Jewish-owned business in the West Bank, even welcoming groups of Christian Zionists who want to volunteer during the harvest.

The winery’s location, though, also makes it a prime target for boycotts aimed at goods produced in the settlements.

“There are a lot of places that won’t buy the wine, so of course there’s damage,” Burg told JTA. “It doesn’t scare me. We need to fight the boycott, not just do what they want.”

The effort to boycotts goods produced in the West Bank, long an objective of anti-Israel activists and some Jewish critics of the Israeli occupation, has achieved some notable victories in recent weeks.

Last month, PGGM, the largest Dutch pension fund, announced it was divesting from five Israeli banks because of their involvement in financing Israeli settlements. That was followed by an announcement that Denmark’s Danske Bank was blacklisting Israel’s Bank Hapoalim over its settlement activity. Sweden’s Nordea Bank has asked two other Israeli banks for more information about their activities in the settlements.

In the United States, settlement goods were in the news recently after actress Scarlett Johansson came under fire for representing SodaStream, an Israeli company that produces home soda machines at a factory in the West Bank.

And in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands already label goods made in the settlements, and the European Union has threatened repeatedly to take the labeling continent-wide. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week that Israel could face even greater boycott pressure if peace talks with the Palestinians collapse.

But several CEOs of companies that operate factories in the settlements acknowledged that while boycotts could hurt sales, they don’t yet represent a serious threat to business.

Yehuda Cohen, CEO of the plastics company Lipski, which has a factory in the northern West Bank Barkan industrial park, says sales dropped 17 percent in 2010 when local Palestinians started boycotting his products. His company has since recovered, growing by 18 percent last year.

Though only a fraction of Lipski’s products are shipped abroad — 16 percent of total sales are for export, of which a majority goes to Europe — Cohen acknowledges that the EU move to label settlement products is a real threat. Labeling settlement products, Cohen says, could hamper relations with retailers.

“I don’t think we’ve come to the level of a boycott, but labeling is half a boycott,” Cohen said. “The retailer will say, ‘I don’t want problems. Israel is not acting well.’ ”

A European boycott could have a much larger impact on SodaStream, which according to a 2012 Bloomberg News report looks to Europe for a majority of sales. The company’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, subsequently told the Forward recently that having a factory in a settlement was a “pain in the ass.”

The impact of a boycott, though hardly irrelevant, would be more limited for Psagot and Lipski, neither of which are as reliant on European business.

But neither Burg nor Cohen share Birnbaum’s sentiments about the virtues of operating a business in the West Bank. Nor does Rami Levy, the head of the budget supermarket chain Rami Levy Hashikma Market, which operates three locations in the West Bank.

For Burg, his vineyard’s location is in part an ideological statement of opposition to a Palestinian state. Cohen said he supports Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the goal of a two-state solution. Like other CEOs of companies with West Bank operations, he believes his company furthers the cause of peace by giving jobs to Palestinians.

“Not only does it not do damage, it provides an example of how to live together, how we can do business together,” Levy said. “When you open businesses, you create more jobs. Just don’t discriminate based on religion, race and nationality.”

Levy, whose chain employs about 2,000 Palestinians, was part of a delegation of 100 Israeli businessmen to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month aimed at encouraging a peace agreement. More than half the 90 employees of Lipski’s West Bank factory are Palestinians. Burg employs four Palestinians out of 20 total employees.

Hilik Bar, who chairs the Knesset Caucus for Furthering Relations Between Israel and Europe, said Levy’s argument won’t convince Europeans in the absence of a peace agreement. Bar strongly opposes boycotts, but the Labor party lawmaker believes the government needs to pursue peace more aggressively.

“It’s not just the two [Scandinavian] banks; it is spreading everywhere,” said Bar, who also chairs the Caucus for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict. “Israel has an image as a state worthy to isolate. It’s a whole world we’re giving up on economically as long as we don’t come to a two-state solution.”

But Levy claims not to be worried. Europeans, he says, talk a good game when it comes to settlements, but ultimately they’re focused on the bottom line.

“If we let them profit, in the end they’ll invest,” he said. “The Europeans know one thing: Israel treats them well.”

Deeply unpopular at home, French president embraced on Israel trip


For Francois Hollande, the most unpopular head of state in France in more than half a century, his first presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority promised a respite from the daily pummeling over his country’s stunted economy and his perceived flimsiness as a leader.

In Israel, everything was set for a hero’s welcome for someone who supported Europe’s blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military unit, waged a relentless war on anti-Semitism and scuttled a nascent deal over Iran’s nuclear program that was stridently opposed by Jerusalem.

“I will always remain a friend of Israel,” Hollande said in Hebrew upon arriving Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the sentiment, calling Hollande “a leader with principles and deep humanity” — praises that reflect the gratitude many Israelis and French Jews feel toward a man who has transformed France from one of Israel’s fiercest European critics into an important ally.

Controversy threatened to derail Hollande’s visit even before he arrived.

A planned speech to the Israeli Knesset was canceled briefly after Hollande decided he would prefer to follow President Obama’s lead and address university students. Outraged, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein nixed a reception for Hollande and froze cooperation with the French Embassy on the visit.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, ended the row on Nov. 9 with his announcement that Hollande would address the Knesset after all.

“I know you rely on your own strength for defense, but know that France is your friend and will not allow Iran access to nuclear arms, for it would a be threat for Israel and the world,” Hollande said in his address to the parliament Monday evening.

“Everything must be done to solve this crisis through diplomacy,” Hollande said, adding: “We shall maintain sanctions until Iran has renounced its nuclear program.”

In the French media, the Knesset incident received considerable play because it touched on Hollande’s Achilles’ heel: His perceived indecisiveness, even among members of his own Socialist Party.

“Hollande is more of a grayish leader. He’s not a star like some of his predecessors, including Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Daniel Shek, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Paris during Sarkozy’s term from 2007 to 2012.

Along with this perception of weakness, Hollande is contending with a worrisome financial crisis and a large rise in the unemployment rate, which has reached 26 percent among the young — more than triple the rate in Germany. Earlier this month, the Standard & Poor credit agency cut France’s rating for the second time this year, exposing Hollande to the charge that he is not delivering the growth and welfare he promised.

Indeed, popular support for Hollande is at a record low. A poll released Sunday by the market research firm IFOP found that Hollande’s approval rating had plunged to 20 percent, a dramatic falloff from the 54 percent he enjoyed following his election in May 2012 and two points below the previous all-time low set by Mitterrand in 1991.

But on issues of particular importance to French Jews, Hollande has a stellar record. Since his election, hundreds have been arrested and dozens convicted for anti-Jewish violence and incitement. And last year, the president cleared his schedule unexpectedly to accompany Netanyahu to Toulouse for a memorial for the four victims of a French Islamist attack on a Jewish school there in 2012.

Such overtures may make French Jews more forgiving of Hollande’s shortcomings on other fronts — but probably not much.

“It would be incorrect to call Hollande popular among French Jews, who also worry about the economy as all French citizens do,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities in France.

On Israel, Hollande reversed France’s objection to the European Union blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military wing. Then, earlier this month, France blocked a deal between world powers and Iran, taking a harder line than the United States over the terms of an accord.

“These moves were not born of any desire to curry favor with Israel,” Shek said, “[but] the French position was nonetheless appreciated in Jerusalem.”

This was not expected of Hollande when he first sought to replace Sarkozy, a right-leaning leader seen as more responsive to Jewish concerns than his predecessors. Some French Jewish leaders — including Cukierman’s CRIF predecessor, Richard Prasquier — warned that a Socialist in the Elysee Palace may hurt Franco-Israeli relations because of a perceived anti-Israel bias among the French left.

“So far, the opposite has been the case,” said Yaron Gamburg, a media adviser at the Israeli Embassy in France. “If anything, there has been a deepening of the sturdy partnership that existed during the term of Sarkozy.”

In addition to his political support, Hollande has been willing to advance bilateral trade with the Jewish state — something his predecessors limited, many believe, to avoid angering Arab states. French exports to Israel currently stand at $1.5 billion — 33 percent lower than Britain and nearly half the volume of Italy.

Joining Hollande in Israel are dozens of French businessmen, and several bilateral trade agreements are expected to be signed during the visit, which ends Tuesday. In his Knesset speech, Hollande said he has decided to jump-start scientific, cultural and commercial exchange with Israel.

Though Hollande has continued France’s condemnations of Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, in his visit Monday to Ramallah he said the Palestinians should give up their call for a return of refugees to Israel in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Hollande in the seat of the Palestinian Authority said it was “urgent” that Israel reach an accord that creates a Palestinian state with “joint control” in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinian issue is the one area where France and Israel differ — and even there, under Hollande the French partners are very open,” Gamburg said. “There are no surprises.”

Some argue that such openness is an improvement to relations under Sarkozy, who despite vowing to improve Franco-Israel relations, cast a surprise vote in favor of UNESCO membership for the Palestinian Authority in 2011.

Still, Sarkozy is generally seen as a major improvement over Chirac, who had declared former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persona non grata in France. Sharon urged French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

“Sarkozy, who raised many hopes, ended up disappointing Jews and Israelis because he was unreliable,” said Joel Rubinfeld of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament. “Hollande’s presidency began amid doubts, but ended up instilling trust that Sarkozy never had.”

Stick to Israeli settlement guidelines, ex-European leaders urge EU


Former European officials and heads of state called on the European Union not to relax new guidelines on Israeli settlements.

Fifteen members of the European Eminent Persons Group sent a letter Monday to EU foreign ministers urging them to keep in place the guidelines, which make Israeli entities and activities in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights ineligible for EU grants and prizes.

Last week, the EU sent to Israel a diplomatic team to talk to Israeli officials about implementing the guidelines.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on the European Union to postpone their implementation, saying it would help facilitate the restarted peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The letter specifically references the Horizon 2020 program to promote scientific research and development. Israel is the only non-European country that has been asked to join the prestigious program and talks on Israel’s signing already are underway.

“With great concern we have taken note of recent calls to delay, modify or even suspend the European Commission guidelines on funding of Israeli entities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967,” the letter read. “We urge you to uphold this commitment by supporting the guidelines and their full application by EU institutions, notably in regard to the ongoing negotiations about Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020.”

The letter suggests that softening the guidelines would “undermine the Palestinians’ trust in the negotiation process and their ability to continue the talks.”

In response to the letter, the European Jewish Congress called the guidelines “discriminatory” and said the letter “is a danger to peace, as it hands one side a political victory without having to compromise and deepens the Palestinian feeling that they can gain more outside of negotiations than in them.”

The European Union has argued that the guidelines put into writing a long-standing policy.

BDS pressure grows in Europe


Two weeks ago, the Dutch public learned of what appeared to be an unprecedented victory for European advocates of boycotting Israeli products. Four major supermarket chains reportedly declared a boycott of products from the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

But the “victory,” as some activists in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement called it, was short lived.

Days later, the international supermarket chains Aldi and Hema, along with the smaller Hoogvliet and Jumbo chains, distanced themselves from the boycott they were said to be enacting. According to the companies, the reports owed to a corporate error or inaccurate reporting.

Yet spokespeople for the four chains also acknowledged that their stocks currently include no products from Israeli settlements.

That allowed both Israel’s supporters and its critics to claim victory in a fight that is quickly spreading across the continent, as various European groups have sought to use their economic power as leverage to oppose Israeli settlements they consider illegal.

“The chains’ hurried about-face proves the failure of attempts by anti-Israel groups to single Israel out for criticism in the supermarket,” said Esther Voet, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group based in The Hague.

But Sander Becker, a reporter for the Trouw daily, which broke news of the supposed boycott, said the affair may have exposed the existence of a “silent boycott” in which stores keep settlement products from the shelves but don’t admit to what they are doing.

Companies may “shun products from settlements while publicly claiming it’s because of ‘price, quality and availability’ — the three harmless [parameters] stipulated in statements by all the supermarket chains,” Becker said.

Becker’s report was based on a document published in April by a research agency called Profundo at the request of several Dutch NGOs critical of Israel.

Titled “Dutch economic links with the occupation,” the report said Hoogvliet, Aldi and Jumbo admitted to instructing Israeli suppliers to refrain from sending goods produced in the settlements. Dutch media later reported that Hema made similar requests.

A spokesperson for Profundo said in an interview that the report is accurate and that statements were based on answers to its questions. But a spokesperson for the Dutch subsidiary of Aldi, a German chain with stores in 18 countries, told JTA the statement on the boycott was “a false representation of reality” caused by “a mistake in the answers provided” to Profundo.

Aldi “has no policy on products from the West Bank and the Golan,” the spokesperson said.

Hema, a large Dutch supermarket chain with branches in five European countries, also denied a boycott policy. Jumbo and Hoogvliet issued statements saying politics play no role in decisions about what products to stock.

“We have Israeli wines on sale, none of which are produced in the occupied territories,” a Hema spokesperson said.

Trade between Israel and the European Union totaled approximately $39 billion in 2011, with Israeli exports accounting for 41 percent of the total. Settlement goods constituted only “a small fraction” of the amount, according to the Irish government.

The limited availability of settlement products in Europe means that boycotting them would lead to little loss of revenue for Israeli companies. But even if not damaging economically, Jerusalem views the moves against the settlements with alarm, fearing their spread could lead to further isolation.

Yet Israel has been helpless to do much about it. Despite intense protests by senior Israeli officials, the labeling movement is spreading, even in countries that are traditionally sympathetic to Israel.

In March, the Dutch government advised local supermarket chains to label any product from the territories lest customers be “misled.”

Last month, the European Commission, a body of the European Union, issued new guidelines prohibiting its organs from awarding grants or other incentives to institutions and other parties from settlements.

The EU also is pushing through new rules to ensure products from the settlements are labeled as such. Some goods already are labeled in British, Danish and Swiss supermarkets.

EU foreign policy chef Catherine Ashton said the new rules will be released sometime this year.

Boycotts by major retailers, however, are very rare in Europe. One exception — a move last year by Britain’s fifth-largest chain store, the Co-operative Group, to boycott goods produced in the settlements — caused an uproar.

But Pieter van Oordt, an importer of Israeli products to Holland, says the supermarket affair ultimately may benefit Israel.

“I don’t know what made the supermarkets declare a boycott, but I think their retractions are a reaction to a strong sentiment of popular discontent and a lot of angry emails,” he said. “I expect they’ll think twice next time around.”

EU envoy targets settlements


Israel’s settlement building is increasingly isolating the country in Europe, leading to European Union policies that could reinforce Israel’s delegitimization, according to the top EU representative to the peace process.

Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said increasing frustration with the settlement movement is leading Europe to adopt policies that single out Israel for punitive measures.

In a June 5 interview at the EU’s Washington mission, Reinicke, in town for meetings with counterparts in the Obama administration, cited two policies in particular: increased levies on goods manufactured in West Bank settlements, which already are in place, and labeling to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those in the West Bank, which is under consideration.

“What the Europeans feel compelled to do is to make clear that our political position, our understanding of the territory of the State of Israel, which is the borders of 1967 including West Jerusalem, has to be reflected in our legal relationship between Israel and the European Union,” he said.

Reinicke said the European establishment overwhelmingly opposes actions that isolate Israel as a whole, noting for instance the decision by British physicist Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference in Israel this summer.

“The vast majority,” he began, then corrected himself. “Everybody is against this,” he said, referring to the boycott and divestment movement.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the policies distinguishing settlement products from Israeli products reinforce the movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

“The danger is there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good development.”

Reinicke suggested that the labeling policy would soon be adopted.

“The number of foreign ministers who are supporting this are increasing,” he said. “This is a development we should look at, which is not a good development.

“It is almost impossible to explain to any European why settlement is continuing all the time. It is difficult to explain to Europeans why increased settlement activities mean an increase of security for the State of Israel.”

The pessimistic scenario outlined by Reinicke echoed similar warnings this week from John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, and from the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, one of Israel’s staunchest friends on the continent.

“Yes, the United States of America will always have Israel’s back,” Kerry said in remarks to the American Jewish Committee on June 3. “We will always stand up for Israel’s security. But wouldn’t we both be stronger if we had some more company? “

Also addressing the AJC, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described an erosion of support for Israel in Europe.

“Alarm among Israel’s foreign partners about the continued expansion of Jewish residential areas beyond the Green Line, steadily eroding the size and contiguity of the residual non-Jewish territories, often seems to be felt in Israel as a political nuisance to be overcome rather than a serious questioning of Israel’s political credibility,” he said.

The Czech Republic was the only European nation to join the United States and Israel last year in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid to enhance its United Nations status to non-member state observer.

Most of the other 27 members of the European Union abstained on the vote. Asked why Europe does not treat the Palestinian Authority’s quest for statehood recognition absent negotiations with Israel with the same seriousness that it opposes settlement expansion, Reinicke said it was hard for European nations to adamantly oppose a diplomatic maneuver.

“We think that the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table without preconditions,” he said. “We had a strong discussion and very, very intensive discussions among the Europeans about how to move. But the bottom line, it is a sort of diplomatic activity. It is peaceful, not a violent one.”

He expressed coolness about a plan advanced by Kerry to seek $4 billion in private investment for the Palestinian areas, noting that economic conditions — in particular the ability to move people and goods about freely — are more important than money.

Kerry’s investment plan, which a number of Republicans in Congress have rejected, won a hearty endorsement from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Reinicke suggested that Europe would soon join the United States in designating Hezbollah — or at least its military wing — as a terrorist entity, which would curtail the Lebanon-based terrorist group’s fundraising on the continent.

“If you see the public statements of the major foreign ministers,” he said, “I think there is a move in this direction.” 

Report: Western pressure halted Fayyad resignation


The United States and Europe are pushing to tamp down an internal Palestinian power struggle, Palestinian sources say.

Citing unnamed Palestinian sources, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that a meeting scheduled for Thursday between Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas was postponed under American pressure. Fayyad was expected resign at the meeting.

The United States and the European Union wish to avoid internal power struggles within the Palestinian Authority at a time when the Americans are attempting to jumpstart peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Haaretz reported.

“The Americans view Fayyad as having great impact on the level of donations and financial support of the Palestinian Authority,” a source said.

Over the past few weeks, already tense relations between Fayyad and Abbas have reportedly deteriorated due to major disagreements over government policy in the Palestinian Authority.

Cyprus verdict could inhibit Hezbollah operations in Europe


The conviction in Cyprus of a Hezbollah operative plotting to attack Israelis could undercut efforts by the terrorist group to carry out additional attacks outside the Middle East.

Last week's conviction was the second confirmation in recent months that Hezbollah is active on European soil. The first was when Bulgarian authorities identified the Lebanon-based terrorist group as being behind the July 2012 bombing in Burgas that left six people dead, five of them Israelis. Hezbollah also is believed to be behind recent plots against Israelis and Jews in India, Thailand and Azerbaijan.

The Cyprus conviction makes Europe likelier to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, and that would bring new restrictions on Hezbollah that would have immediate operational consequences for the group, says Daniel Benjamin, the top counterterrorism official at the State Department in President Obama’s first term.

“If Hezbollah has to increase its operational security in Europe, if it can't use Europe to fundraise or travel through, it will be challenged to innovate to avoid being caught by European authorities,” Benjamin, now the director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, told JTA.

The Cyprus court found Hossam Taleb Yaacoub guilty of a plot to attack Israeli tourists in the Mediterranean island nation. Yaacoub, who holds Lebanese and Swedish passports, was trained in the use of weapons and scouted sites in Europe, including a Cypriot airport.

Yaacoub acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and staking out areas frequented by Israeli tourists, but said he did not know his work was part of a plot to kill Israelis. The court, which has yet to sentence him, rejected the denial.

The evidence that led to Yaacoub’s conviction helps tip the balance toward listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, diplomats from two leading European Union member states told JTA. Hezbollah already is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and several other countries.

“Our position is that we've always said that if we have proof that holds up in court, we can enter the procedure,” said Karl-Matthias Klause, the spokesman for the German Embassy in Washington. “There is a general readiness into looking into forbidding the military wing of Hezbollah.”

The other diplomat, whose country has been among those resisting such a classification, said the Cyprus conviction would make it harder not to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

“Bulgaria and Cyprus changes the equation,” said the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity. “The topic becomes one of European solidarity.”

Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism analyst at the FBI and a senior terrorism analyst at the Treasury Department in the George W. Bush administration, said he had just returned from meetings in Europe with security and foreign affairs officials.

“No one is debating anymore whether they are terrorists,” said Levitt, who is now a senior fellow analyzing counterterrorism at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Now it’s more, will designating them as terrorist group undermine security in Lebanon? I can have that conversation; it’s a better one than 'are they terrorists?' “

The timing is propitious, said Levitt: Hezbollah is reactivating outside the Middle East for the first time in more than a decade, partly because of pressures on its two main sponsors, Iran and Syria. Its recent plots have been more hits than misses, which Levitt attributes to Hezbollah being out of practice and because Iran is rushing the group into staging attacks.

“Now you see in Cyprus what happens when they go back to tradecraft,” Levitt said, referring to Yaacoub’s careful monitoring of the comings and goings of Israeli tourists.

U.S. and Israeli officials for months have been pressing Europe to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Obama repeated the call last week during his Israel visit.

“When I think about Israel’s security, I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families,” Obama told a convention center in Jerusalem packed with cheering university students. “That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is: a terrorist organization.”

The diplomat from the country reluctant until recently to list Hezbollah as terrorist said the issue is complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. Cutting off the group would curtail European influence in Lebanon at an especially sensitive time: Lebanon is absorbing refugees from the Syrian civil war, and there are concerns that the fighting in Syria may spill over into Lebanon.

“We have to keep in mind that Lebanon is very fragile and we have to avoid what could further destabilize it,” the diplomat said.

One possible solution touted in Europe would be to designate Hezbollah’s so-called military wing as terrorist while maintaining ties with its political operation in Lebanon.

The United States recognizes no such distinction, Levitt said, but if Europe wanted to do so, there likely would be no U.S. objection.

“They want to make the distinction for convenience, they want to have leverage, so fine,” he said.

One outcome U.S. officials should oppose, Levitt said, would be to designate only individuals with Hezbollah but not the group as a whole as terrorist.

Benjamin said sparing Hezbollah’s political wing would not be a problem as long as the ban on the military wing made it harder to raise money and run agents.

“A designation worth anything will include a ban on solicitation and fundraising in Europe, and provide the legal predicate for terrorism prosecutions,” he said.

Should Europe take those steps, it could embolden other countries to do so as well, Benjamin said.

“Hezbollah being designated by Europe will embolden other countries to step up cooperation around the world,” he said.

Israel says Iran, Hezbollah waging global terror campaign


Two men with links to the terrorist organization Hezbollah were implicated in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six, including five Israelis, a Bulgarian official has said.

Hezbollah also financed the bomb attack on a tour bus full of Israelis last July, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters on Tuesday following a six-hour Cabinet meeting.

The people directly behind the attack were part of Hezbollah cell that included two operatives using passports from Australia and Canada.

Unveiling the results of the six-month inquiry in Sofia on Feb. 5, Tsvetanov said: “We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” adding: “There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.” The pair had lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010 respectively, the AFP news agency quoted Mr Tsvetanov as saying.

Until now Bulgaria has avoided making public any suspicions about who was behind the attack and prior to Tsvetanov's news conference, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev did not confirm nor deny reports that Bulgaria would blame Hezbollah and Iran for the terrorist attack.

Israel has blamed both Hezbollah and Iran for the attack, which also killed the Israeli tourists' Bulgarian bus driver. Iran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of staging the attack.

“There should be no more equivocation, Hezbollah should be added to the E.U.’s officially group of terrorist organizations without delay or reservation,” Moshe Kantor, president of European Jewish Congress, said in a statement after the Bulgarian announcement.

The U.S. Congress in recent weeks has called on European bodies to join the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

British and Dutch officials pressed last year for concerted E.U. action against Hezbollah, a major player in the Lebanese government, but other nations including France have resisted efforts to blacklist the group in an apparent effort to maintain good relations with Beirut. The U.K. has classified only Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist group, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Feb. 5: “There is only one Hezbollah, a single organization with the same leadership.” He added: “The attack in Burgas was on European soil against a member of the European Union. We hope the Europeans will draw the necessary conclusions as to Hezbollah's true nature.”

In his statement, Kantor said Hezbollah's designation by the E.U. as a terrorist entity “should not be subject to political considerations, but whether proscribing Hezbollah will hinder its continuing efforts to murder innocent civilians in Europe and around the world.”

EU High Representive Catherine Ashton commended the Bulgarian authorities for their attention to the investigation,

“The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on E.U. soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians. The High Representative condemns all terrorist acts, wherever they take place, and emphasises that the E.U. and member states are committed to the fight against terrorism, whoever stands behind it,” she said Tuesday through a spokesperson.

For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free


The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
 
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of www.LaszloStrategies.com and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Czech ‘Joe Lieberman’ could be Europe’s first Jewish president


If the pundits are correct, the Czech Republic may become the first country other than Israel to elect a Jewish president.

Jan Fischer, 62, an understated former prime minister who led a caretaker government following a coalition collapse in 2009, is neck and neck in the polls with another former government head as the nation holds its first round of presidential elections on Friday and Saturday.

The two front-runners advance to a runoff, and political prognosticators are predicting that Fischer will reach the second round.

“He's like our Joe Lieberman,” said Tomas Kraus, chairman of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, referring to the failed U.S. vice presidential candidate. “Whether or not you support him, you can't help but be proud he has come this far.”

Fischer, whose career highlights include running the Czech Statistical Office and serving as vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, slipped from first to second in the polls following a lackluster performance last week in a televised debate.

His ascent from skilled technocrat to high-echelon politics — and possibly to Prague Castle — sheds light on the region's nuanced relationship with Judaism and Israel. 


Running on a platform promoting economic growth and political transparency, Fischer also is known for his pride in what he calls the Czech Republic’s “very friendly relations with Israel.” He noted that the Czech Republic was consistently one of Europe's most ardent supporters of Israel in times of crisis, a tradition dating back to the 1920s when the first Czechoslovak president, Tomas Garyk Masaryk, endorsed the creation of the Jewish state.

More recently, the Czech Republic was among only a handful of countries in the world to vote against upgrading the Palestinians' status at the United Nations.

Fischer thus finds it unnecessary to bluster in the same way as his chief presidential rival, Milos Zeman, who has declared his support for a preemptive strike against Iran.

“I have no need to demonstrate my friendly attitude towards Israel because everyone is familiar with it, so I don’t need to say something very strong,” he told JTA in a wide-ranging interview, adding that he is well aware that “Iran is the dark force in the region.”

Fischer’s professions of devotion to Israel weren't always so robust. Before the Communist regime collapsed in 1989, it was dangerous for anyone — especially a government employee — to sympathize with Israel because the authorities toed the Soviet anti-Zionist line.

His upbringing is a case study of post-World War II Jewish life in Central Europe. His father survived Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, and his mother was Catholic. He celebrated Czech Christmas and attended synagogue.

“My father brought me to the synagogue for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and Purim,” Fischer recalled. “During Pesach we didn't organize a seder, but we did have matzah. Father was a member of the Jewish community until the end of the 1950s.”

That changed once Czechoslovak Communist leaders became more virulently anti-religious; Judaism was no longer high on his family's list of priorities.

It changed again — as it did for many of Fischer's generation — when his son began to discover his Jewish roots. Also named Jan, Fischer’s son was born in 1989, the same year the Velvet Revolution swept communism from the country.

“He was very interested in the story of the Holocaust and he liked to talk about my father despite [the fact] that he died in 1975,” Fischer said. “Through his discoveries he developed a strong bond with Judaism, and he brought me back.”

Fischer credited the Lauder Jewish School, which his son attended, for educating the whole family.

Fischer’s father, also a Prague statistician, was forced to collect numerical data on Jewish families for the Nazis.

“When he arrived in Auschwitz he didn't expect to live, but Mengele found out he was a mathematician and thought he could be of use,” Fischer said.

Although some may not deem Fischer as Jewish by halachah, or Jewish law, he invokes the Holocaust experience as a defining characteristic of those who view themselves as Jews.

“It is a common tragedy,” he said, “and based on it I feel part of this community.”

Even in the relatively liberal-minded Czech Republic, however, being Jewish can be a political disadvantage. When Fischer took over as prime minister, a smattering of comments on blogs referred negatively to his Jewish origins. There were hints, too, that Fischer was part of a secret brotherhood, as one of his advisers also was Jewish.

But Czechs mostly were just curious about their new leader's religious background. His ethnicity again became a focus of public fixation when when his predecessor, thinking he was off the record during a taped magazine interview, slurred a gay minister and Fischer, linking a penchant for compromise to his Jewishness.

During his tenure as prime minister, Fischer was admired for aggressively pursuing extremist groups that were terrorizing the country’s largest minority, the Roma. As a result of these activities, and partly on account of his religion, Fischer's son was put under police protection.

Still, asked about anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic, he responds, “This country has so many political problems, but anti-Semitism is not one of them.”

Although Fischer’s influence as president would be limited in a parliamentary democracy and his powers largely ceremonial, the head of state does occasionally remark on foreign policy issues. And that is where Israel comes up again in conversation.

Fischer is bluntly critical of the European Union’s sometimes muddy statements with regard to Israel. Asked if he agreed with the EU's repeated condemnation of Israeli settlements, he said, “The voice of the European Union is sometimes strong [on this topic]. It is not the opinion of every country. The reality is that the EU hasn't got any foreign policy. I don't think the settlements are the greatest issue in the region. Iran is the greatest issue.”

If there is a shadow hanging over Fischer in the eyes of Czech voters, it is not his religion but his former membership in the Communist Party. Fischer says he joined under pressure to keep his job as a public employee and has publicly apologized for the decision.

“I gave in and it is nothing I am proud of,” he said.

Compared to his two larger-than-life predecessors — human rights luminary Vaclav Havel and Euroskeptic Vaclav Klaus — Fischer is distinguished largely by the fact that he is so reserved. Critics have noted his lack of charisma.

Jiri Pehe, a former adviser to Havel and now a well-known political commentator, doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing. Fischer, he says, appeals to the average citizen.

“Czechs are fed up with a presidency where a president has to be highly visible and interfere with party politics, and make speeches on issues like global warming,” Pehe said. “Maybe they want someone ordinary, someone to act as the chief notary, putting a seal on international documents.”

Rabbi Manes Barash, who runs a Chabad synagogue in Prague where Fischer occasionally prays, takes the charisma issue a step further.

“A lot of people who are crooks have charisma,” Barash joked. “Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have charisma.”

On a more serious note, Barash says Fischer might be good for the country, which is among the most atheistic in the world, according to surveys.

“That he is a believer is something very special for the Czech Republic,” Barash said. “Such a secular society, it is missing here.”

Netanyahu thanks Czech Republic for support


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Czech Republic for standing with Israel against a United Nations resolution that gave the Palestinians enhanced statehood status.

The Czech Republic was one of nine countries to vote against the resolution in the U.N. General Assembly on Nov. 29 that gave the Palestinians non-members observer statehood status.

“Thank you for your country's opposition to the one-sided resolution at the United Nations; thank you for your friendship; thank you for your courage.  I know that in voting against the one-sided resolution, the Czech Republic stood with the United States and Canada and a handful of other countries against the prevailing international current.  But history has shown us time and again that what is right is not what is popular, and if there is a people in the world who can appreciate that, it's the people of your country,” Netanyahu said Wednesday during a meeting with Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Nečas, referring to the 1938 takeover by Germany of the Sudetenland.

“I know that your country has learned the lessons of history.  So has my country, Israel.  That is why Israel will not sacrifice its vital interests for the sake of obtaining the world's applause.  Israel is committed to a genuine peace with our Palestinian neighbors – a genuine and durable peace.  For peace to endure, it must be a peace that we can defend,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu stopped Wednesday in the Czech Republic on his way to Germany for an annual joint session between the Israeli and German governments.

Israel says it will stick with settlement plan despite condemnation


Israel rejected concerted criticism from the United States and Europe on Monday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to expand settlement building after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Washington urged Israel to reconsider its plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the move hindered peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals to give similar messages.

An official in Netanyahu's office said Israel would not bend. “Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made,” the official said.

Angered by the U.N. General Assembly's upgrading on Thursday of the Palestinians' status in the world body from “observer entity” to “non-member state”, Israel said the next day it would build the new dwellings for settlers.

Such projects, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, have routinely drawn world condemnation. Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the two areas.

In a shift that raised the alarm among Palestinians and in world capitals, Netanyahu's pro-settler government also ordered “preliminary zoning and planning work” for thousands of housing units in areas including the “E1” zone east of Jerusalem.

Such construction in the barren hills of E1 has never been put into motion in the face of opposition from Israel's main ally, the United States. Building in the area could bisect the West Bank, cut off Palestinians from Jerusalem and further dim their hopes for a contiguous state.

Israeli television stations reported Jerusalem's district planning commission would soon approve plans for several thousand more housing units, including more than 1,000 Israel had shelved two years ago after angering Washington by publishing the plans before a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

The settlement plan, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, would deal “an almost fatal blow” to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We don't want to shift into sanctions mode,” French President Francois Hollande told a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. “We are more focused on persuading.”

Washington made clear it would not back such Israeli retaliation over the U.N. vote, which Palestinians sought after peace talks collapsed in 2010 over settlement building.

“We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two state solution,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron played down what diplomatic sources said was the possibility of recalling Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv, saying: “We are not proposing to do anything further at this stage”.

A French Foreign Ministry official, responding to reports Paris might bring its Tel Aviv envoy home, said: “There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval.”

Ahead of a Netanyahu visit this week, Germany, considered Israel's closest ally in Europe, urged it to refrain from expanding settlements, and Russia said it viewed the Israeli moves with serious concern.

RETALIATION

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel could not have remained indifferent to the Palestinians' unilateral move at the United Nations.

“I want to tell you that those same Europeans and Americans who are now telling us 'naughty, naughty' over our response, understand full-well that we have to respond, and they themselves warned the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said building in E1 “destroys the two-state solution, (establishing) East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and practically ends the peace process and any opportunity to talk about negotiations in the future”.

The United States, one of the eight countries to vote alongside Israel against the Palestinian resolution at the General Assembly, has said both were counterproductive to the resumption of direct peace talks.

In Europe, only the Czech Republic voted against the status upgrade while many countries, including France, backed it. Netanyahu plans to visit Prague this week to express his thanks.

In the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for the governing Hamas Islamist movement, called Israeli settlements “an insult to the international community, which should bear responsibility for Israeli violations and attacks on Palestinians”.

In another blow to the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, Israel said it was withholding about $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues this month, arguing Palestinians owed $200 million to Israeli firms.

“These are not steps towards peace, these are steps towards the extension of the conflict,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

Only three weeks ago, Netanyahu won strong European and U.S. support for a Gaza offensive that Israel said was aimed at curbing persistent cross-border rocket fire.

Favored by opinion polls to win a January 22 national election, he brushed off the condemnation and complaints at home that he is deepening Israel's diplomatic isolation.

Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that his government “will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places on the map of Israel's strategic interests”.

But while his housing minister has said the government would soon invite bids from contractors to build 1,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem and more than 1,000 in West Bank settlement blocs, the E1 plan is still in its planning stages.

“No one will build until it is clear what will be done there,” the minister, Ariel Attias, said on Sunday.

Israel froze much of its activities in E1 under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush, and the area has been under the scrutiny of his successor, Barack Obama.

Most world powers consider Israel's settlements to be illegal. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to the West Bank and Jerusalem and regards all of the holy city as its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer, Dan Williams, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Gareth Jones in Berlin, John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris and Tim Castle in London; writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Philippa Fletcher