Today’s peaceniks live with 60s envy

Not all demonstrations are created equal. Protesting for civil rights in the 1960s, for example, is not the same as protesting to “end the occupation” in 2016. The former was, literally, a black-and-white issue; the latter is anything but.

The thing with demonstrations, though, is that it’s often hard to tell which is which. Rebels protesting injustice all have that same look of righteous indignation. They demand immediate change and leave no room for doubt or complexity. When they hit the streets, they unleash their visceral emotions, not their thoughtfulness or intellect.

This past week, to coincide with the Passover holiday, hundreds of mostly young Jewish activists under the banner of #IfNotNow (INN) unleashed their emotions across the country to protest Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. They looked very much like those activists arrested in the civil rights marches in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s.

They proudly held up slogans such as, “No Liberation With Occupation” and “Dayenu — End the Occupation.” By trespassing on private property, some of them got arrested and made the news. I’m sure they were rock stars at their Passover seders. Martyrs for the cause.

But what cause, exactly?

What noble mission has aroused such certainty and passion in these activists?

Not surprisingly, it’s the most media-friendly cause in the world: Demanding that Israel end its disputed occupation of the West Bank. After all, if Blacks in the 1960s deserved their civil rights, don’t Palestinians today deserve to see Israel leave the West Bank?

Well, yes, except for a few inconvenient wrinkles, such as:

As soon as Israel leaves the West Bank, Hamas can swoop in and start slaughtering Palestinians, just as it did in Gaza after Israel left. ISIS can also move in and start chopping off Palestinian heads. In other words, “ending the occupation” can also mean “ending the protection” of Palestinians against Islamic terror. How’s that for a complication?

Here’s another complication you won’t see captured by INN slogans: Palestinian leaders have had several opportunities to end the occupation over the past 20 years, and they said no to Israeli offers each time.

One reason for their serial rejection has been their reluctance to compromise on their demand that Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants return to Israel proper, a move that would effectively end the Jewish state.

Another reason for their rejection is money. As long as they can claim victimhood, Palestinians get billions in international aid. For corrupt Palestinian leaders, this makes the occupation a personal ATM that funds their villas and private jets and keeps the global money flowing. Who’d want to end that?

And let’s not forget that while those leaders are getting rich, the occupation enables them to keep bashing the Zionist state they so despise.

Add it all up, and is it any wonder that irresponsible, corrupt and unaccountable Palestinian leaders have never rushed to see the end of the occupation?

I know, these are all messy complications for protesters who need a clean narrative — the narrative that it’s all up to Israel to make things better. These protesters are simply following the popular mantra that discriminates against the Jewish state: When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, everything is on Israel's shoulders. 

The protesters make no demands whatsoever on the Palestinians, such as ending their culture of Jew-hatred, corruption and chronic rejection. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren once put it, Palestinians have become “two-dimensional props in a Jewish morality play.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine INN activists demonstrating in front of the Palestinian Consulate with this slogan: “Stop Teaching Hatred and Start Teaching Peace,” or this one, “Say Yes NOW to Negotiations,” or this one, “Stop Stealing Aid from Your People.”

The inconvenient reality is that Israel cannot end this conflict on its own. This is an intractable, two-way conflict with no easy solutions and plenty of blame to go around. It’s a far cry from the black-and-white fight for the civil rights of Blacks in America.

Anti-occupation demonstrators need to know that when they scream for a simple solution to a complex problem, they hide the very complexity of the problem and make a solution that much more unattainable.

All eager peaceniks would be wise to listen to the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who had this to say to the INN protesters arrested in the lobby of the New York City building where the ADL rents space:

“It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

Will they take him up on it? I doubt it.

Greenblatt’s offer can never compete with the drama of getting arrested and making the evening news. There’s no adrenaline rush in engaging in honest dialogue and grappling with complex issues. For wannabe rebels who can't tolerate complications, it is only their smugness and certainty that are black and white.

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

3,000 in Tel Aviv protest government, call for two-state solution

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv and called for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

About 3,000 demonstrators gathered Saturday night in Rabin Square and marched to the Israel Defense Department headquarters at a rally sponsored by Peace Now. They chanted slogans such as “Jews and Arabs don’t want to hate each other” and “Israel, Palestine, two states for two peoples,” according to reports.

Among those on hand were Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, and Stav Shaffir of the center-left Zionist Union alliance.

“Bibi, you’ve failed,” Galon said, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “You’ve failed in providing personal security for the citizens of Israel, you’ve failed in proposing any kind of vision for changing the reality.”

The demonstration comes amid a wave of terror attacks by Palestinian “lone wolf” assailants against Israelis in recent weeks that has seen 10 Israelis and 49 Palestinians killed. Israel says that at least 20 of the Palestinians killed were attackers.

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.”

Exodus to Egypt? Why African migrants marched on Israel’s border

For two years, Israel’s government has been encouraging its population of African migrants to leave the country.

But when 1,000 Eritreans and Sudanese marched on Israel’s southwestern border on Friday, they couldn’t get through to Egypt. After two days of camping out in protest on the border, the hundreds who remained were arrested Sunday by Israeli authorities and placed in prison.

“We are a state,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabin Haddad told JTA. “To just go to the border and cross, you can’t do that. Whoever wants to leave needs to do it according to protocol.”

When it allows migrants to leave, Israel will only permit their return to their home countries — where they would face repressive regimes — or to one of a few third-party countries whose identity Israel has declined to publicize. Israel provides grants of $3,500 to those who leave.

For those who remain in Israel, the government has built a detention facility near the Egyptian border, called Holot, that now houses more than 2,000 people. Detainees receive food, shelter and health care, but their freedom of movement is restricted as they must stand for roll call three times daily. The detainees have no release date. Failure to show for roll call, or refusal to answer the summons to Holot, are punishable with prison time.

“It was horrible to be in Holot and to be in prison,” said Philemon Rezene, 26, an Eritrean chosen to represent the protesters at a Tel Aviv news conference Sunday. “They had a very miserable life. There was a shortage of food, a shortage of sanitation, a shortage of medical care. They were always under strict control. They wanted at least to be free in an open area.”

The migrants’ march on the border is the latest stage in their conflict with the Israeli government. The migrants are seeking asylum from Eritrea and Sudan, which are ruled by repressive regimes.

But Israel says they are economic migrants seeking a higher standard of living, and it fenced off its border with Egypt in 2012 to prevent future migrants from entering. Anyone who crosses Israel’s border illegally now faces a year in prison.

Last year, Israel approved the financial grants for voluntary departure and opened the Holot facility. Approximately 3,000 out of Israel’s African migrant population of 60,000 have chosen to voluntarily depart.

Chafing at their restrictions, the detainees who marched toward the Egyptian border last week aimed to cross into Egypt and wait there for assistance from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, according to Liat Bolzman, an Israeli who accompanied them.

Blocked by Israeli border guards, the protesters set up camp on the border, sheltering themselves with sheets, and surviving on food and water brought by supporters.

Two days after the initial march, units of Israeli immigration police and border guards forcibly dispersed the camp and sent the remaining protesters to Saharonim Prison, next to Holot. Bolzman said six protesters were injured during the operation.

“They were ready to cross,” she said. “It’s better than sitting in the detention center for they don’t know how much time. They said we can’t live like this anymore, we’re ready to take this risk and cross the border rather than be here.”

But though the migrants say they are fed up with Israel, crossing the border and receiving U.N. help in Egypt may not be realistic.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is known among migrants for harrowing stories of kidnapping and torture. And the representative in Israel of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said that migrants who cross the border without proper documentation should not expect prompt assistance from the United Nations.

“In order to make this possible, you can’t just start marching for the border,” said the representative, Walpurga Englbrecht, while also urging Israel to improve conditions for migrants. “You cannot just assume everything will be arranged at the end if there are no arrangements made beforehand. If you go to another country, you need a passport. You need an entry visa.”

Anat Ovadia, spokeswoman for Israel’s Hotline for Migrant Workers, an aid organization, suggested that the goal of the march was more to gain Israeli sympathy for the migrants, not for them to cross the border.

“This step was a protest step to get Israel’s attention and get U.N. attention,” Ovadia said. “It’s a testament to how much Israel is despairing them.”

Obama expresses deep concern to Egypt’s Morsi about violence

U.S. President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday to express his “deep concern” about the deaths and injuries of protesters in Egypt and said dialogue between opposing sides should be held without preconditions, the White House said.

“The president emphasized that all political leaders in Egypt should make clear to their supporters that violence is unacceptable,” the White House said in a statement.

“He welcomed President Morsi's call for a dialogue with the opposition, but stressed that such a dialogue should occur without preconditions. The president noted that the United States has also urged opposition leaders to join in this dialogue without preconditions.”

Morsi called on Thursday for a national dialogue after deadly clashes around his palace.

“(Obama) reiterated the United States' continued support for the Egyptian people and their transition to a democracy that respects the rights of all Egyptians,” the White House statement said. “The president underscored that it is essential for Egyptian leaders across the political spectrum to put aside their differences and come together to agree on a path that will move Egypt forward.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by Stacey Joyce

Israeli summer: Hoping for change, calling for violence [WEB EXCLUSIVE]

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” John F. Kennedy wisely put forth in a 1962 speech. As I write this, the Occupy Wall Street movement is in full swing, and I can’t help but be reminded of my summer covering the social and economic protests in Israel.

I arrived in the southern Israeli town of Sderot at the beginning of August to begin working on a documentary following the “Israeli Summer” social movement. I was blown away by the hundreds of thousands of people actively rallying against the economic and political status quo. It seemed as though every town I traveled through had a tent city—the ubiquitous emblem of the cause. These weren’t just Ashkenazim from the wealthy, developed center, but an ethnic, religious, and political chop suey of people from all sorts of backgrounds.

Story continues after the jump.

When I arrived in Israel, I was naively idealistic. It took me less than one week to realize that despite the fervent but peaceful way in which Israeli citizens protested the economic status quo and lack of social equality, the only overarching consensus was that no major social reforms could come to fruition until Israeli citizens died. Not just a few, but enough to shake the government out of its coma, was the expressed sentiment.

I was horrified to repeatedly hear this morbid maxim uttered by Hawks, Doves, and Anarchists alike. Solidarity meant nothing other than the illusion of a unified Israel, when in the minds of many Israelis, they were just as divided as ever—the only unifying theme among the protestors was the belief that violence was the only true avenue for change.

The first time I heard this expressed was as my friend and I were walking down the semi-deserted streets in Be’er Sheva after the August 13th rally—a rally that drew approximately 25,000 people, and ended at midnight with a heartfelt crowd-wide rendition of “Hatikvah.”

I innocently asked my friend if he thought the protests would change anything, and without missing a beat, he said, “Honestly? Nothing will change until someone dies, or a lot of people die. It takes death for the government to act. That’s how it has always been, and I think that this is no different.”

Wait. What?

Weren’t these rallies so peaceful because they were supposed to stand out in stark contrast to the violent Arab Spring erupting all around Israel? Was all of this talk of solidarity and community a farce?

No, it wasn’t. But the movement wasn’t coming strictly from a place of unbridled hope and altruism either.

The undercurrent of negativity also became clear when I interviewed young adults at the Sderot tent city, who turned out to be working journalists and media and marketing students.

I was led to a folding chair, and was instantly made the makeshift moderator of a debate between approximately a dozen protestors. It was an unusual first interview, but it allowed me to hear the discussion at large, rather than from one person at a time, and it gave me a greater understanding of the movement.

I was impressed by the restraint everyone showed when they disagreed with each other, and the real surprise was just how much they disagreed about important things. Like what the protest was about. To this day, there is no consensus on exactly what people were rallying together for other than the amorphous “economic and social problem.”

Sounds familiar to Americans now, doesn’t it?

Although hope was ever-apparent in the protest activities in Israel this summer, that sentiment was frequently tinged with the fatalistic notion that peaceful protests could never make enough of an impact to actually change society.

There is a scene in the musical, “Les Miserables,” the morning after a student uprising is extinguished. The women who are left behind sadly sing:

“Nothing changes, nothing ever will…”

I hope that something good does comes out of this movement—the only other alternative, one that resembles the Arab Spring—is much too sinister to imagine.

Israeli Cabinet approves Trajtenberg report

The Israeli Cabinet approved the Trajtenberg report, which proposes solutions to Israel’s socioeconomic problems.

The Cabinet approved the report Sunday by a vote of 21 to 8. The vote reportedly came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the Yisrael Beiteinu party a deal to vote in favor. Netanyahu agreed to more benefits for working couples, soldiers and those in national service in exchange for the votes, the Israeli business daily Globes reported.

The 14-member committee of academics and economists, which was chaired by Manuel Trajtenberg of the Israel Council for Higher Education and a former Tel Aviv University economics professor, was appointed following mass protests last summer to look at the problems facing Israel and come up with solutions.

Among its recommendations, the committee proposed expanding free education to 3- and 4-year-olds; reducing the excise taxes on fuel and tariffs on electrical products and foodstuffs; increasing benefits for working mothers; and implementing health and regulatory changes. The report also called for the construction of nearly 200,000 new apartments, encouraging smaller apartments and rental units, and imposing fines on empty apartments and development-ready sites that are not being used.

On the revenue side, along with defense spending cuts, the committee recommended increasing taxes on high earners, corporations and capital gains, as well as freezing planned tax cuts for the middle class.

Before the vote, Netanyahu said, “Approving the report will allow us to submit detailed decisions to the Cabinet in order to lower the cost of living.  A combination of these steps will lower the prices of goods and marketing in the economy, will significantly lower parents’ expenditures for education, will reduce customs duties, and will make housing more available.”

Israel holds suspects in settler deaths, mosque fire

Israel said on Thursday it had arrested five Palestinians in the West Bank in connection with the stoning of a vehicle that overturned, killing a Jewish settler and his baby late last month.

Their arrest earlier this month was announced after Israel said it was holding a Jewish youth as a suspect in the retaliatory torching of a mosque on Monday in the Arab village of Tuba-Zangariya in northern Israel.

The September 23 deaths of settler Asher Palmer and his son are believed to have driven reprisal “price tag” attacks by pro-settler extremists since then. “Price tag” is what assailants have scrawled as graffiti at the scene of their attacks, alluding to the deaths of the settler father and baby.

Retaliation for the deaths has included the setting of a mosque on fire inside Israel and a stoning attack on Palestinian homes in a West Bank village, which triggered a Palestinian protest in which one person was shot dead by Israeli troops trying to quell it.

An Israeli security official said two Palestinians were suspected of stoning Palmer’s car as he drove in the Hebron area, and that three others were suspected of having taken his gun after he was killed in an ensuing car crash.

The weapon has since been retrieved, said the official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

No more details were given about the suspects.

Israeli media said the suspect in the mosque arson was a resident of northern Israel who had been studying at a religious seminary at a settlement in the West Bank, territory Israel occupied in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a state.

Three other militant settlers were charged in a court in Jerusalem on Wednesday with planning to set fire to a West Bank mosque.

Mainstream leaders of the 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank have strongly condemned the mosque vandalism and urged the Israeli government to apprehend the perpetrators.

Tensions between settlers and some of the 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank have risen alongside a Palestinian application for statehood recognition filed at the United Nations last month, a step Israel opposes.

Palestinians launched the statehood bid a year after peace talks collapsed over Israel’s refusal to extend a partial moratorium on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Big climax to Israel’s summer of protest — but then what?

Demonstrations on Sept. 3 by more than 400,000 Israelis calling for social justice represented a powerful climax to an unprecedented summer of protests and activism.

The nationwide protests, billed as the March of the Million, have been called the largest demonstration in Israel’s history. Whether they ventured out in person — in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and many smaller cities throughout Israel — or watched the protests on television, many Israelis felt galvanized by the mass mobilization.

The next morning, as some protesters headed home after dismantling the tents they had raised in city parks this summer, organizers said the movement was entering a new phase.

For now the country is awaiting the recommendations of the Trajtenberg Committee, a panel of academics, economists and policymakers appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the protests. The committee will be releasing its suggestions for socioeconomic reforms in the next few weeks.

Yet Israelis are wondering precisely what sort of change will result from the summer of protest. Will it come to an abrupt end with recommendations to cut some budgets and augment others, or will there be a more far-reaching transformation of Israeli politics?

Unquestionably it is the first time that “Israelis got a sense of empowerment that they can change things, that they can get organized and protest in a peaceful way,” said David Nachmias, a lecturer in the School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “They want social justice; they want to change public policy.”

How this desire will translate into the realm of politics is an open question. Many signs at the protests assailed Netanyahu and his government, and the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, urged Israelis on Facebook to attend the demonstrations. Protest organizers, however, have tried to keep the political world at a distance from their movement in the hopes of appealing to wide segments of the Israeli public.

Several leaders emerged from the tent cities and weekly protests as nationally prominent figures, including Daphne Leef, who was the first to set up a tent in central Tel Aviv to protest her inability to find an affordable apartment, and Itzik Shmuli, the chairman of National Student Union. Both were featured speakers at the main rally that drew some 300,000 people to Tel Aviv’s Hamedina Square.

Many observers have pointed to the differences between the two young leaders, which reflect tensions within the movement as a whole. Leef, who tends to speak from the gut, has blasted the Trajtenberg Committee as a cynical effort established to deceive the public. Shmuli, by contrast, has been interested in engaging with the committee and, like other student leaders before him, is mentioned as a natural for entering politics.

Shmuli is “one of the people to look for” as an emerging political leader, said Hani Zubida, an assistant professor of public policy at IDC Herzliya who helped organize a coalition of Israel’s peripheral populations for the summer protests that included single mothers, Arabs and lower-income communities.

“People are calling for his campaign tour for the next primaries,” Zubida said. “The fact that we saw him week in and week out on the stage means something.”

At the same time,  Zubida said, nobody is sure what will happen next. He believes that some protest leaders may be co-opted into the current political parties, which could be “extremely beneficial, as it might show that the government is trying to face the challenge and embrace ‘these people’ into the system.”

Nachmias is hoping that the wave of protests results in the formation of a new political party with a socioeconomic agenda rather than focusing on security issues. Israel has been in the midst of a governance crisis, he said, and the government has been unable to formulate and implement long-term public policies, partly because of its electoral system that empowers small parties representing various interest groups.

“People are sick and tired of the governance crisis,” he said. “The speakers were talking about the new Israel, the empowered Israelis. If there is a new political party, that’s the greatest achievement they can have.”

Hebrew University historian Alexander Yakobson wrote in Haaretz that the movement itself cannot be turned into “a political party, or a camp with a clear-cut political and ideological character, without losing most of its participants and all of its public influence.” Yakobson also wrote that while the movement has given a boost to more social democratic economic policies, ultimately change will have to come through the championing of these issues in the political realm.

“The Labor Party, under new leadership, is a natural candidate to carry a banner of this kind, but of course there are also other options and combinations of options,” he said in Haaretz. “The bottom line is that this is a matter for a party or parties. It is clear that the voting public will not vote on the socioeconomic issue alone, but its importance will no doubt increase.”

In the meantime, the public is waiting to see what the Trajtenberg Committee will recommend to ease the burdens facing the middle class.

Expectations are that the panel will call for significant cuts in the defense budget, as well as recommend raising corporate, inheritance and capital gains taxes. The committee also is expected to recommend increases in the education, health and social welfare budgets; lowering income taxes for the middle class; offering tax breaks for working parents; and breaking up the country’s monopolies.

Still, Zubida said, the committee cannot meet the movement’s aspirations for change.

“This is about more than just recommending more competition and doing away with monopolies,” he said. “We need a different vision for Israel.”

Like many others, he would like to see a new political party emerge from the protest movement. As an active participant in the protests, Zubida remarked that the wonder of the tent cities was “everyone was talking to everyone else.” He would like to see the negotiations and discussions that took place in those ad hoc salons continue to happen in different neighborhoods and places throughout Israel.

Protest leaders are trying to keep the dialogue going. Instead of another mass march, 1,000 round tables will be set up the night of Sept. 10 outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for public meetings and democratic discussions of social issues.

“This is a brand-new trend,” Zubida said. “It’s the first time in Israel that there are different social coalitions working together. It’s a semi-revolution.”

U.S. Jews sign petition backing Israel’s social justice movement

Nearly 4,000 American Jews have signed a petition from the New Israel Fund in support of Israel’s social justice movement.

The petition was published Sept. 2 in the International Herald Tribune in advance of the movement’s major demonstration on Sept. 3, which brought out 400,000 Israelis in what some say was the largest protest in Israel’s history.

“We, friends of Israel from across the globe, are inspired by the Israeli public’s demand for social justice,” read the petition, addressed directly to Israelis. “We share your values. We long for the day that Israel will be a place where every Israeli can live with respect and dignity. Your protests demonstrate the depth of Israel’s potential to be a beacon for social justice and democracy throughout its region. We know that the values of social justice, of equality and of democracy are inextricably linked. Thank you for standing up and speaking out for a better Israel.”

The organization announced last month that it was financially supporting the movement.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks on Aug. 30 quoted former New Israel Fund’s associate director in Israel as saying that it would not be a tragedy if Israel disappeared as a Jewish state.

The cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in February 2010 said that Hedva Radovanitz told the embassy’s political officer “that she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”

The organization said in a statement that the quotes attributed to Radovanitz do not reflect the position of the organization, which is a negotiated solution of two states for two people.

A transformational revolution in Israel

I am reading the status updates, Tweets, interviews and articles.I read them and I DO believe what I read.

I believe what I read because I knew that we were changing, I just didn’t realize the level of how powerfully inspiring and creatively driven the burst of change would be.
And since (or maybe because) I am not in Israel at the moment, I wanted to write a few words.

I read an article yesterday about the women behind the Social Revolution of Israel and my I had tears in my eyes. They were describing the “female power”; the receiving, listening, vulnerable and ‘accepting of the other’ aspect of this revolution. They talked about their refusal to fall into old patterns of violent and angry debate, and I understood how much this revolution is unlike anything else we’ve ever seen.

So how is this one different from the others?

Well, first it’s not just about the “what”, its about the “how”.

And the first “how”?  The Web of course.

Quicker than I can write 140 Characters, 1000 people got a Facebook update or a Tweet and decided to go to the massive demonstration tonight. This speed is unfathomable to offline people.

The second different ‘how’, is LOVE.

It is not a protest AGAINST something, it is a protest FOR something.

What they DO want, not what they DON’T want. And why is that?

Because some of us have indeed been to Goa, we studied a bit of Kabbalah, we read some Ray Kurzweil or Siddhartha, maybe we were just born a bit more tolerant and open to listening than the
older generation – or maybe we took a meditation class or two, and we understand that from negativity comes more negativity.

This protest is not just about yelling, these are the growing pains of a society.

And what do you call us? ‘New Age’?

I am here to say a very simple thing – YES.

We ARE New Age. What? Do you prefer to be ‘Old Age’?

Because if you feel like staying ‘Old Age’ and labeling me as ‘New Age’, then I am OK with that.

And while you comprehend that we will “Like“ your status and LOL it up, we’ll ask you to RT us as we create a new Meme – and there you go. Half of you already lost me.

But the other half is cracking up laughing.

And I am not in Israel, but the people who have been living in tents around the country in the past month will keep smiling at each other, smoke a Hookah, participate in the free Yoga class which
became available all over the country, debate peacefully and patiently among each other, play a song on the guitar and keep moving forward.

True, this revolution still doesn’t have a clear leader, true there are no focused demands which can be achieved quickly, true we need to watch for anarchy but there is something completely different happening here.

My generation is never going to be the same again – and it is not because of the actual political results we may or may not achieve at the end, but because of the WAY it has been done. All of this has been done with no leader, no centralized organization – but with Google Docs and Twitter. No one person who decides how it goes, but instead it’s a hive mind behind it – a community who decides together and creates our new reality as we go.

And this, my beloved readers, is not just a revolution.

It’s a transformation.

And it moves me to tears.

Reform movement backing Israeli protests

The Reform movement’s international arm is supporting social justice protesters in Israel.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism in a statement Monday said it “stands with all in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and every tent city established to say that the Israel for which we have all fought and sacrificed must be an Israel that treats its citizens with dignity and respect, and offers the most basic of needs: housing, food, child-care and education, to all in an affordable way.”

Reform becomes the largest Diaspora movement to back the protesters. Its statement marked the eve of the 9th of Av, the fast day commemorating numerous Jewish tragedies.

The protest movement, dubbed J14 for demonstrations that started July 14, brought some 300,000 people into the streets of Israel on Saturday night, the biggest turnout so far.

“Jews are supportive of social justice everywhere in the world including israel, and this is one of the great social justice events in israel’s history,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set up a commission to consider protesters’ demands.

Other U.S. groups to express support for the movement include the New Israel Fund, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu.

Meanwhile, Israelis in the United States are pitching tents in public spaces, taking up the protests crisscrossing Israel. Small tent cities have sprung up in New York’s Times Square, across the street from the White House and at a park in Los Angeles, Ynet reported.

About 200 ex-Israelis and supporters of Israel’s housing protesters demonstrated Sunday in Los Angeles’ Woodley Park in a protest organized on Facebook, according to Ynet. The Israeli protesters said they would return to the country of their birth if the cost of living was less and the financial pressures were not as great.

Knesset to meet during recess over protests

Israel’s Knesset will meet in a special session on the rash of protests sweeping the nation despite being on summer recess.

The debate scheduled for next week was announced Monday, after 50 opposition lawmakers signed a petition calling for the session titled “Netanyahu’s tax government is disconnected from the people and ignoring the public protest.” Only 25 signatures were necessary to call the meeting during a recess.

The signatures were collected by the Kadima and National Union parties.

On Monday, hundreds of senior citizens protested in Tel Aviv against the high cost of living, calling for lower medicine costs, a cancellation of the value-added tax on basic necessities and safeguards on the value of their pensions.

Knesset to take summer break despite protests

Israeli lawmakers voted to take their summer recess despite a wave of protests over social and economic issues.

The Knesset presidium on Monday voted down a proposal to delay the Aug. 7 start of the parliament’s summer recess, a proposal that had garnered support from lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition coalitions. Lawmakers from the Shas and Kadima parties were the only representatives to vote in favor of the proposal submitted by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the head of Shas.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni had thrown her support behind the proposal.

“The Knesset needs to keep working,” said Livni, the chair of Kadima, said Sunday. “Fixing what is happening on the streets has to be done through the Knesset.”

Israeli-Arab lawmakers objected to canceling the recess since this year it falls at the same time as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Knesset is scheduled to return at the end of October, but Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would convene the parliament in the interim if the government is ready to take steps to alleviate the housing and economic crises.

Al-Qaeda to Syrian protesters: Israel’s next

Al-Qaeda urged Syrian rebels to save some of their anger for Israel and the United States.

Ayman al-Zawahri, the successor to the slain leader Osama bin Laden, in a video posting Wednesday denounced Syrian President Bashar Assad as “America’s partner in the war on Islam in the name of fighting terror.”

But while he commended Syrians, many of them Islamists, who rose up against the Assad regime four months ago, Zawahri said the revolt should reach well beyond Damascus.

“Tell both America and Obama: Our powerful uprising will not stop until we raise the victorious banner of jihad over Jerusalem,” he said.

Housing protests roil Israel as tent cities pop up

On Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s version of Park Avenue, a burgeoning tent city has sprung up amid crowded cafes and its canopy of ficus trees.

The squatters are protesting soaring housing prices in the country, and they have galvanized a sudden full-scale national protest, from Kiryat Shemona in the North to Beersheva in the South, that has plunged the government into crisis mode.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned trip to Poland this week and the interior minister has called for the Knesset to cancel its summer recess. Tent cities are swelling in cities across Israel, protesters are blocking roads and activists have practically besieged the Knesset. On Saturday evening, an estimated 20,000 marchers filled the streets of Tel Aviv calling for affordable housing.

“For years, Israelis have been like zombies because of the security situation and did not speak out when other areas were ignored, like education and the economy,” said Amir Ben-Cohen, a 30-year-old graduate student camping out on Rothschild Boulevard. “Enough. We are a new generation.”

Some are hailing the protests as Israel’s version of the Arab Spring. This Israeli Summer movement is being led by university students and young professionals in their 20s and 30s who until now have shown little interest in demonstrations or activism. One sign strung between tents in Tel Aviv read, “Rothschild, corner of Tahrir,” a reference to the Egyptian uprising that centered in Tahrir Square.

With a recent Haaretz poll showing 87 percent of Israelis supporting the housing protesters, their grievances appear to be striking a chord nationwide.

Like much of the world, Israelis recently have seen cost-of-living metrics rise across the board, especially for food and gas. But unlike in the United States, where real estate prices are in retreat, housing prices in Israel have skyrocketed, on average doubling since 2002.

With the average Israeli salary at $2,500 a month and modest-sized apartments in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area selling for $600,000, many Israelis feel priced out of their own neighborhoods, particularly young people who live in places where there is a dearth of rental properties.

“What is very troubling for Netanyahu is that this is not a left wing versus right wing protest. It’s one of the few issues that cuts across all political spectrums,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a Bar-Ilan University political scientist.

He noted that in Israel it’s unusual for socioeconomic issues to take priority over political-security issues.

Netanyahu “is definitely nervous,” Lehman-Wilzig said, “and he should be nervous.”

Netanyahu, who had identified the shortage of affordable housing as a potential crisis when he came to power in 2009, has been busy scolding his own ministers for not doing enough.

“Give me ideas for a solution,” Netanyahu was quoted by the Israeli media telling his Cabinet ministers.

The prime minister announced Tuesday that his government was preparing a battery of solutions, among them plans to reduce bureaucratic hurdles to building new housing projects and measures that would help young people make their first real estate purchases.

He also promised construction of new student dormitories and the construction of 10,000 two- and three-bedroom units, mostly in central Israel, to be earmarked for young couples, large families and students. Half would be available as rentals.

Hours after Netanyahu’s news conference unveiling his plan, the protest’s leaders held their own news conference dismissing the plan as a piece-meal attempt to divide students from other protesters.

“When he talks about students and discharged soldiers, what about our grandparents? What about the disabled?” said Yigal Rambam. “Every section in Israeli society suffers from the housing problem and there isn’t a general solution here. Any real solution must deal with rental prices, the prices of buying land, public housing and housing assistance.”

Itzik Shmueli, head of the National Union of Israeli Students, said at the news conference that although Netanyahu’s plan was “unprecedented” and “historic,” it remained insufficient and that the union would continue participating in the protest.

Experts attribute the vertiginous rise in real estate prices in recent years to a combination of Israel’s small size, relatively high population growth, a strong shekel and an influx of foreign buyers, especially American and French Jews. Demand is strongest in the central part of the country, where most Israelis work and live, though prices in the periphery have risen, too.

In a country that managed to weather the international financial downturn exceptionally well and where 2011 growth is projected to reach an impressive 5.2 percent and unemployment is at a historic low, many Israelis still feel financially strapped. A significant portion of the nation’s private wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few families, the gaps between rich and poor is wider than ever and poverty rates remain among the highest in the Western world.

Israeli hospitals and health clinics are in the midst of a doctors’ strike, which followed a large social workers’ strike. Both groups cited low wages as their reasons.

A boycott last month of cottage cheese to protest rising prices for an Israeli staple appears to have been a symptom of widespread economic discontent that the housing protests also are tapping into.

“Whereas the street has been relatively quiet in the last 20 years, it’s beginning to wake up and demand part of national wealth that does not seem to be trickling down as much as it should,” Lehman-Wilzig said. “It’s not a call to return to Israel’s socialist past but to a more collective feeling of society as a whole.”

While young people in particular are finding their voice when it comes to issues that affect their wallet, this segment of society appears less interested in taking to the streets when it comes to ideological issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The demonstrators have said theirs is a nonpartisan struggle. In interviews, they say they don’t want to interject hot-button political topics like the cost of subsidizing home building in West Bank settlements or for haredi Orthodox families at the risk of alienating would-be supporters of their cause.

At a protest outside the Knesset on Sunday, Itay Gottler, who heads the student union at the Hebrew University, spoke of a popular movement.

“This is a struggle that involves secular people, the ultra-Orthodox, religious, Arabs, young people and students,” he said. “This is the struggle of the people.”

Ahmadinejad: Arab world conflicts will lead to collapse of Zionist regime

The latest conflicts in the Arab world would eventually lead to the collapse of Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday.

“The latest conflicts will leave no chance for the Zionist regime [Israel] to survive as all the involved countries are against the occupation of Palestine,” Ahmadinejad said.

He added that the Arab states should be careful not to rely on the United States and its allies, “as their ultimate aim is to save” Israel.


Arab unrest alters power balance in as yet unseen ways

They were the devils they knew.

Though Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood, surrounded by countries whose leaders or people wish its destruction, over the years it had adjusted to the status quo, more or less figuring out how to get by while keeping an eye on gradual change.

But the sudden upheaval in the region that in a matter of weeks has toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and threatens autocrats in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, is forcing Israel to grapple with how to recalibrate for dramatic change.

For the time being, as Israel sits and watches how things play out from Tripoli to Manama, Bahrain, it’s not clear exactly how the game will change.

“The best answer is we don’t know,” Ron Pundak, the director of the Peres Center for Peace in Herzliya said this week at the J Street conference in Washington.

“The biggest change since 1967 is this tsunami rolling across the region whose end results no one really can foresee,” said Samuel Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who attended the conference. “Something new is happening in the Arab world.”

In some places, like Libya, the immediate effects on Israel are minimal. Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi’s state has had no ties to Israel, so the dictator’s demise—if it comes—wouldn’t change much for Israelis.

“The civil war raging in Libya poses no immediate cause for concern in Israel,” Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff wrote in Haaretz.

However, the cumulative effects of the Middle East unrest are prompting shifts throughout the region that may require dramatic strategic rethinking in the Jewish state.

Every time a protest movement in the Middle East succeeds, protest movements elsewhere are emboldened, and that has put many regimes that for decades have not been hostile to Israel—including those of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and North Africa—on alert and at risk.

With Israel and the West engaged in a proxy war with Iran for regional hegemony, the fall of autocratic regimes allied with the West provides an opening for Iran to expand its power and sphere of influence.

And Iran is intent on doing so. It was no accident that just days after the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tehran dispatched two warships to sail through the Suez Canal—something Iran had not dared to do since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The ships docked in Syria in what Iran’s Navy chief, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, described as “a routine and friendly visit” to “carry the message of peace and friendship to world countries.”

In truth, it was an exercise in saber rattling.

Iran is projecting “self-confidence and certain assertiveness in the region,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN. Nevertheless, he said, “I don’t like it, but I don’t think that any one of us should be worried by it.”

When a pair of rockets fired from Gaza hit the Israeli city of Beersheba last week, some Israeli analysts saw it as another example of Iran’s saber rattling. Iran has sent weapons to Gaza and seeks more influence there, even though the strip’s Hamas rulers are Sunni Muslims, and Iran is a Shiite power.

“I do not recommend that anyone test Israel’s determination,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the rocket attack.

The great fear is that regimes friendly toward Israel (Egypt, Jordan), or friendly with Israel by proxy via the United States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain), or not actively hostile (Libya, among others), will be co-opted by elements with greater animus toward the Jewish state.

That hostility could come from any one of a number of places. On the Egyptian front, the long-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of Hamas, stands to gain greater power. In the cases of Tunisa and Libya, there is fear that al-Qaeda could capitalize on a power vacuum and take root. In Bahrain, which is overwhelmingly Shiite but ruled by a Sunni king, the concern is that genuine democracy could throw the country the way of Iran.

“The regional balance of power is changing, and not necessarily in Israel’s favor,” Robert Serry, the U.N. secretary-general’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said at the J Street conference.

But there could be some good news, too. The uprisings that have spread from North Africa to the Persian Gulf have been broad-based, loosely organized protest movements led by young people networking through the Internet and social media like Facebook. They have not been dominated by Islamists, and the protesters have not made Israel a focal point.

Whether these young people really will take hold of the levers of power, and how they will relate to Israel in the future, are open questions.

For those concerned with Israel, the unrest is being interpreted one of two ways, depending largely on political leanings. Those on the right point to the instability as a reason for Israel to be more wary of concessions in any peace agreements, since their peace partner could disappear at any time.

“Why should Israel expect that another agreement would not be overturned by some new revolution, change of mind or cynical long-term plan?” columnist Barry Rubin wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

Those on the left say that if Israel does not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quickly with a peace deal, the new generation of leaders emerging in the Arab world won’t be able to see Israel as anything other than an occupier and repressor of Palestinian rights. Arab commentators echo that thinking.

“The hatred of Israel will not end until you start treating Palestinians with freedom and dignity,” Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy said at the J Street conference. “This is the time for Israel to sit down and make concrete concessions.”

In Jerusalem, the government is still in the wait-and-see mode, albeit with as much handwringing as possible.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking Tuesday in Brussels, warned that the danger is that democracy movements in the Arab world will be “hijacked,” emulating the “model of Iran, the model of Hamas in Gaza, the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to the German news agency DPA.

Ayalon also said the unrest in the Arab world demonstrates that the notion of the Arab-Israel conflict being the region’s most serious issue is just not true.

“The real major problem of the Middle East, which is now so glaringly evident, is the dysfunctionality of the Arab societies,” Ayalon reportedly said, noting the absence of “rights of any kind.”

Yemen’s president: Israel planned, funded Arab uprisings

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, blamed Israel for planning and funding protests in several Arab states.

“There is an operations rooms in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world,” Saleh reportedly said Tuesday during a speech at Sanaa University, adding that the operations room is “run by the White House.”

“The wave of political unrest sweeping across the Arab world is a conspiracy that serves Israel and the Zionists,” he also said.

Yemen has been the site of anti-regime protests for the past two weeks—one of several Arab countries in which protesters have attempted or succeeded in deposing their rulers.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years, has rejected calls to step down.

Yemeni opposition leaders rejected an offer for a unity government on Monday. Some 24 people have died in the violence.

Saleh has promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 and that his son would not seek the top job.

L.A.’s Iranian Americans keep tabs on new freedom protests in Iran

In the wake of the Feb. 14 Iranian protests for greater freedom, which took place throughout that country, Iranian Americans of various religious backgrounds in Southern California have been closely monitoring the developments and voicing support for those seeking democracy.

The Iranian Americans here have been in close contact with student opposition groups in Iran, and leaders said the recent demonstrations there were sparked, at least in part, by the recent success of the massive public protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

“After protesting the 2009 fraudulent presidential election in Iran, the people in Iran were again inspired this time by seeing people in Tunisia and Egypt rise up against their governments for freedom,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, who heads the Los Angeles-based Iranian Marze Por Gohar political party, which opposes Iran’s government. “You’re seeing thousands of Iranians demanding regime change in Iran when they’re chanting in the streets,” said Farahanipour. Chanting, “ ‘Mubarak, Ben Ali and now it’s time for you to go, Seyed Ali!’ — which is a reference to the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Iran.”

Iranians organized another mass anti-government demonstration on Feb. 20 to commemorate the seventh day of mourning for two slain students, Sanah Jaleh, 26, and Mohamad Mokhtari, 22, who were killed during the Feb. 14 demonstrations when Iranian security forces attacked a crowd in Tehran.

According to various anti-regime Web sites in Iran, the demonstrators in Tehran were met by hundreds of anti-riot police and Basiji militia, who lined the streets and on several occasions fired directly into the crowd and beat protesters with steel batons. In one neighborhood, the Basiji took over a commercial building and dropped tear-gas canisters from the roof onto the protesters.

The Iranian government has barred foreign journalists from entering the country to cover the demonstrations, but social networking Web sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have been flooded with video taken by protesters during the demonstrations. The videos show thousands of young men and women wearing surgical masks, throwing rocks at riot police, setting trash cans on fire, chanting slogans of “death to the dictator” and setting on fire posters of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Here in Los Angeles, on Feb. 14, about 50 Iranian Americans opposed to Iran’s regime protested in front of the U.S. Federal building in Westwood to mark the 32nd anniversary of the current Iranian government’s rise to power.

The local Iranian American community has also been glued to the various Persian-language satellite television programs broadcast here, hoping to get information on demonstrators and friends. Viewers of the Tarzana-based Pars Television were shocked last week when one unnamed pro-regime militia member called into the program from Iran and threatened viewers. During his call, he shouted at the show’s host in Farsi, saying, “My brothers and I will not have mercy on anyone! If anyone dares to stand up and question the authority of the Supreme Leader, we will kill each and every single one of them! My hope is that one day I will encounter you and your supporters to cut your heads off myself!”

Leaders of the Iranian Jewish communities in Southern California and New York have remained mostly quiet about the current situation in Iran and the fate of Iran’s Jews for fear that what they say may be used as an excuse by the Iranian regime to retaliate against the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still living there.

“The Jewish community in Iran can be considered as a sort of hostage population, and they may be facing new pressures soon, even though they were not involved at all” with the demonstrations, said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist who heads the Los Angeles-based Committee for Religious Minorities in Iran. “This is because the paranoid Iranian regime, thinking Israel has had a hand in the riots, may pressure the Jewish community to stage pro-Palestinian and pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, issue statements and hold rallies, like they forced the Jews to do in 2009.”

Indeed, in January the Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency (FNA) reported that “the Iranian student Basiji militia, of the Abu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in the western Iranian province of Hamadan were rioting outside the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb and threatening to destroy it if Israel destroyed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.” The news reports said Basiji militia had removed the mausoleum’s entrance sign, covered the Star of David at the mausoleum’s entrance with a welded metal cover and demanded the site be placed under the supervision of the local Islamic religious authority.

According to one FNA news report, the Basiji protesters also demanded that the shrine lose its status as a nationally protected religious site because “the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty; it honors Esther and Mordechai, who were the murderers of Iranians, and their names must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews.”

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has sent a letter to Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),  asking the organization to condemn the threats to the mausoleum and calling on UNESCO to request the Iranian government to protect the site. Aside from a handful of local Iranian-Jewish activists, Iranian-Jewish community groups in Southern California and New York have remained silent about the threats to the mausoleum in Iran.

Nikbakht said small minority groups in Iran, and in particular hated minorities such as the Jews, have always been in danger during periods of crisis since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“Times of turmoil, war and revolution are the most dangerous, because not only may a Nazi-like government, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, decide to use its Jewish hostages for deterrence or revenge — but smaller groups of fanatics within the society or the armed forces may decide to do something themselves to the Jews during a chaotic situation,” Nikbakht said.

Requests for comment on the status of Iran’s Jews or the Esther and Mordechai mausoleum made to the Beverly Hills-based Iranian Nessah Synagogue and to Dr. Kamran Beroukhim, chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in West Hollywood, were not returned. Similarly, calls to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the leadership body of Jews in Iran, were not returned.

Nevertheless, some Iranian American political activists in Los Angeles expressed optimism at seeing young protesters demanding real democracy in Iran, while still uncertain what benefit the demonstrations might have, because they felt the protests were poorly organized.

“In my opinion, the current demonstrations are not going to yield results, because people are just demonstrating up and down a few major streets and in the ‘revolutionary square’ in Tehran which has no real impact on the government,” Farahanipour said. “They are not marching in front of the Parliament, homes of political leaders, the prisons or the state-run media outlets — if they did so, it could slow things down and have some kind of an impact.”

Analysts see sharp differences between the situation in Iran and those of Tunisia and Egypt, countries that each had only had one military force and a central government. Unlike those countries, the Iranian regime has power bases spread throughout the religious sector, as well as the political factions and the revolutionary guard, all willing to help prevent a coup d’état. Likewise, the Iranian government makes use of seven major security and military apparatuses to quash political opposition, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), Basiji militia, the Supreme Leader’s personal security forces, Ministry of Intelligence security forces, the judiciary’s security forces, municipal police forces and the country’s internal security forces. During the 2009 demonstrations in Iran, the regime even utilized members of the government-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah to beat, kill and later torture protesters in Iran’s major cities.

On Feb. 18, the Iranian government bused in thousands of regime “loyalists” from cities throughout Iran for a rally in Tehran calling for the executions of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Iranian activists in Southern California were quick to discount the authenticity of the pro-regime rally.

“These protests in support of the regime are not legitimate because the government has 10 percent of the country’s population on their payroll, and these people will do whatever the government tells them to do, because they don’t want to lose their paychecks,” Farahanipour said.

Kianoosh Sanjari, an Iranian journalist working for the Washington, D.C.-based “Voice of America in Farsi” television program, who is a former Iranian student-opposition leader, said protesters in Iran were extremely disappointed with the Obama administration for being slow to voice public support for the populist uprising in 2009 seeking regime change in Iran as well , and again during the current crisis.

“Last year we heard the people of Iran’s disapproval of Obama when they chanted in the streets, ‘Obama, you’re either with us or you’re with them!’ ” Sanjari said. “The demonstrators are very upset with Obama, because they see how he treated the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, America’s close ally, by demanding his resignation and freedom for the people of Egypt — yet, at the same time, he says nothing to Khamenei and the Iranian regime, who are enemies of the U.S.”

The majority of Iranian-American activists believe the best way for the United States and the West to bring about a new democratic government in Iran would be to voice moral support for the demonstrators seeking freedom, and to increase the political and economic isolation of the Iranian regime.

Calls for comment to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in New York were not returned.

For more videos and information on the current situation in Iran, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog at

Iranian officials blame Israel, U.S. for protests

Iranian officials blamed Israel and the United States for protests that broke out in the Islamic Republic, leaving one dead and dozens injured.

“The parliament condemns the Zionist, American, anti-revolutionary and anti-national action of the misled seditionists,” Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Tuesday during an open session of parliament a day after the demonstrations in support of the peoples’ revolution in Egypt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

During the session, lawmakers called for the execution of opposition leaders and former presidential candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Moussavi. They also chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” according to reports.

“We have information … that America, Britain and Israel guided the opposition leaders who called for the rally,” deputy police chief Ahmadreza Radan said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The demonstrations ended by Tuesday, according to reports.

Dozens of opposition protesters were arrested in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, and Iranian security forces fired tear gas at protesters marching in central Tehran toward Freedom Square on Monday, Reuters reported.

Iranian officials banned rallies in support of Egypt. Opposition leaders reportedly had planned such rallies after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in public remarks that the Egyptian reformists had taken a page from Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 in toppling a monarchy supported by the West.

Also Monday, anti-government protesters demonstrated in the streets of Yemen and Bahrain. 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton backed the Iranian protestors, telling reporters Monday in Washington that they “deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and are part of their own birthright.”

The European Jewish Congress called on European leaders to press unequivocally for democracy and freedom for the Iranian people and express concern about the situation in Iran.

EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor called on European leaders to issue similar responses that were released during the recent demonstrations in the Arab world.

“In the spirit of the ongoing fight for democracy in the region, it is vital that the European leaders do not suddenly fall silent when they are needed the most,” Kantor said. “As Europeans we should fully support those who fight for freedoms that we take for granted.”

Unrest in Egypt could lead to Israel’s worst nightmare

For Israel, the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime raises the specter of its worst strategic nightmare: collapse of the peace treaty with Egypt, the cornerstone of its regional policy for the past three decades.

That is not the inevitable outcome of the unrest; a modified version of the Mubarak government could survive and retain the “cold peace” with Israel. But if, in a worst case scenario, democratic or Islamic forces were to come to power denouncing Israel and repudiating the peace deal, that could herald the resurrection of a major military threat on Israel’s southern border.

The largely American-equipped and American-trained Egyptian army — by far the most powerful military in the Arab world — numbers around 650,000 men, with 60 combat brigades, 3500 tanks and 600 fighter planes. For Israel, the main strategic significance of the peace with Egypt is that it has been able to take the threat of full-scale war against its strongest foe out of the military equation. But a hostile regime change in Cairo could compel Israel to rethink its military strategy, restructure its combat forces, and, in general, build a bigger army, diverting billions of shekels to that end with major social and economic consequences.

A hostile government in Cairo could also mean that Egypt would be aiding and abetting the radical Hamas regime in neighboring Gaza, rather than, as at present, helping to contain it.

Worse: If there is a domino effect that also leads to an anti-Israel regime change in Jordan, with its relatively large Islamic political presence, Israel could find itself facing an augmented military threat on its eastern border, too. That could leave it even worse off than it was before 1977, facing a combined military challenge from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians—with the added menace of a fundamentalist Iran that seeks to acquire nuclear weapons.

The strategic importance of the peace with Egypt has come to the fore during a number of crises over the past decade. Without it, the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005), the Second Lebanon War (2006) and the Gaza War (2008-2009) could easily have triggered wider regional hostilities. But in each case, in the teeth of regionwide popular sentiment against Israel, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak adamantly rejected calls to commit Egyptian soldiers to the fray. On the contrary, Mubarak was critical of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of Hamas in Gaza for provoking senseless killing, and he played a significant role in achieving postwar ceasefire arrangements. “Not everything Mubarak did was right,” President Shimon Peres declared Monday. “But he did one thing for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. He kept the peace in the Middle East.”

Because Mubarak has served as a bulwark against regional chaos and was for decades a central pillar of American strategy against the radical forces led by Iran, Israelis found it baffling that President Obama turned his back on the embattled Egyptian leader so quickly. Pundits argued that Obama’s stance sent a deeply disconcerting message to America’s moderate allies across the region, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, that they, too, might be as peremptorily abandoned in time of need. That message, the pundits said, might drive those equally autocratic leaders elsewhere for support, even possibly toward America’s regional foe, Iran. Secondly, the pundits insisted that by distancing himself from Mubarak, Obama was encouraging the would-be revolutionary opposition in Egypt in a gamble that could prove counterproductive to American and Western interests. Clearly, the American president was hoping for democracy in Egypt and a concomitant increase in popular support for America across the region.

In his Cairo speech in June 2009, Obama offered the Muslim peoples of the Middle East a new beginning. Now, he seems to be using the Egyptian crisis to underscore that appeal to the Muslim masses. But Israeli pundits warn that this is most unlikely to work. They maintain that instead of democracy in Egypt, there could well be a two-stage revolutionary process—an initial quasi-democracy, overtaken within months by the emergence of an autocratic Islamic republic under the heel of the Muslim Brotherhood. It would be similar to what happened when the United States supported pro-democracy forces against the Shah in Iran in the 1970s, only to see the emergence of the fundamentalist Ayatollahs. Moreover, in the event of an eventual Muslim Brotherhood victory, the big regional winner would be fundamentalist Iran.

Israeli diplomats across the globe have been instructed to quietly make the case for the importance of stability in Egypt. Careful not to exacerbate an already delicate situation by saying anything that might be construed as support for one side or the other, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has merely reaffirmed Israel’s desire to preserve regional stability. But it is safe to assume that his government would be relieved to see power remaining in the hands of Egypt’s current ruling elite — say, through a peaceful handover to Mubarak’s recently appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman.

The Israeli hope is that Suleiman, the former head of Egypt’s intelligence services and a major player in everything related to Egyptian-Israeli ties, would be able to continue Egypt’s pro-Western alignment and its support for the peace deal with Israel, while allowing a greater degree of democracy in Egypt and pre-empting the rise of an Islamic republic. But it is unclear how much popular support he can muster, given his close ties down the years with Mubarak, who seemingly overnight has become the most hated man in Egypt.

However the events in Egypt play out, they will clearly have an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The very notion of a threat to the peace with Egypt will almost certainly further reduce the Netanyahu government’s readiness to take risks for peace. In a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem on Monday, Netanyahu re-emphasized the importance he attaches to the security element in any peace package—“in case the peace unravels.” As for the Palestinians, the Egyptian protests could trigger Palestinian demonstrations pressing for statehood—without peace or mutual concessions.

As usual, events seem to be reinforcing both sides of the Israeli political divide in their core beliefs. The right is already saying that Israel should not make peace unless it can be assured of ironclad security arrangements, and the left maintains that if only Israel had already made peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world, then popular unrest such as the protests in Egypt would not be potentially so earth-shattering.

Either way, the events in Egypt are not good news for those advocating Israeli-Arab peacemaking. They could push efforts to resolve the conflict back several decades.

Dilemma of pro-Israel groups: To talk Egypt or not?

As Egypt convulses, pro-Israel groups and U.S. Congress members are seized by the ancient maternal dilemma: If you have nothing nice to say, should you say anything at all?

The question of whether to stake a claim in the protests against 30 years of President Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy is a key one for the pro-Israel lobby and pro-Israel lawmakers because of the role they have played in making Egypt one of the greatest beneficiaries of U.S. aid.

And in the same way that the outcome in Egypt continues to idle in the gear of “anyone’s guess,” there is little consensus in the byways of pro-Israel Washington over how to treat the nation and its nascent revolution.

The competing claims were evident in the divergent, and at times contrasting, calls issuing from figures known for their closeness to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the trendsetter in the pro-Israel community. In general, reactions to the unrest in Egypt crossed political lines, with some liberal and conservative commentators pressing the Obama administration to help topple the regime, and others stressing the need for stability.

Some AIPAC-related called for assistance to Egypt to be contingent on whether the emerging government remained committed to cooperation with Israel. Others were emphatic in omitting Israel as a consideration, saying it was not the place of Israel or its friends to intervene in what appears to be an organic shucking-off of a dictator.

Josh Block, AIPAC’s former spokesman who is still close to the lobby, said the commitment of whatever government emerges to peace with Israel should be a critical element in considering whether to continue the $1.5 billion Egypt receives in aid, much of it in defense assistance.

“Given what’s taking place, it’s appropriate for the U.S. government to be reviewing U.S. aid to Egypt,” said Block, now a senior fellow at the centrist Progressive Policy Institute and principal at the consulting firm Davis-Block. “No matter what happens, clearly one of the top criteria Congress is likely to use is Egypt’s approach to its peace treaty obligations with Israel.”

That seemed to be the tack adopted by U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. She framed her statement in the context of the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel, which is the basis for Egypt’s status as one of the top recipients of U.S. aid.

“Ever since the historic Camp David peace accords more than 30 years ago, Egypt and the United States have been partners in seeking a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she said. “It is in the interest of the United States and regional stability that this period of turmoil and uncertainty be resolved peacefully and that Egypt remain a strong ally.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took that posture further, saying in a statement that U.S. assistance should be contingent on an election that allows only parties that recognize Egypt’s “peace agreement with the Jewish State of Israel.”

Such cautions are fueled by fears of the role the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood might play in a new Egypt. Other pro-Israel lawmakers notably omitted reference to the peace with Israel in their statements.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee, called for a suspension of assistance to Egypt until Mubarak left—and then its renewal once a transitional government was in place, whatever its makeup.

“I believe the United States must suspend its assistance to Egypt until this transition is under way,” said the statement from Ackerman, who is Jewish and a pro-Israel stalwart.

In an interview, Ackerman said the omission of an Israel reference was deliberate.

“I understand the angst and anxiety that exists in Israel, but we’re not going to pick the next leader of Egypt,” he said.

Instead, Ackerman said, the United States should use what he said was a closing window of opportunity, and side pronouncedly with the people and against Mubarak.

“If we sign the people of Egypt up as lobbyists, they will do the right thing,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who is also Jewish and the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs committee and the author of last year’s sweeping Iran sanctions law, also kept Israel out of his statement. Unlike Ackerman, however, he said assistance should continue as a means of stabilizing the Egyptian military.

“So long as the Egyptian military plays a constructive role in bringing about a democratic transition, the United States should also remain committed to our ongoing assistance programs for Egypt, both military and civilian,” he said.

Betting on the military was perhaps the only certainty in the current chaos, said David Schenker, an Egypt expert at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank The Egyptian army is popular among Egyptians and, unlike the hated police, has taken steps during the uprising not to alienate the street.

“The arbitrator of this may be the military,” Schenker said. “It doesn’t want to cede power to a civilian power that’s Islamist. The army has entrenched interests with this regime and likes very much its relations with the U.S. military.”

Egypt’s potential collapse triggered an intense “who’s to blame” debate in Washington over which party or group had done more to prop up Mubarak’s regime. One emerging theme was that more should have been done to use aid as leverage to nudge Mubarak toward democratization.

Pro-Israel congressional insiders said there had always been talk throughout the years of shifting funds from defense aid to democratization assistance, at times from unlikely bedfellows: Ros-Lehtinen and the Zionist Organization of America had backed such a shift, but so had the former Appropriations chairman, Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), a frequent Israel critic.

Such initiatives were abandoned, the insiders said, both in Congress and in the Bush White House after Hamas won elections in the Gaza Strip.

In a hearing on Egypt assistance in May 2006, just after the Hamas victory, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), the lawmaker who is perhaps closest to Israel, made this aside: “I am wondering if I need a change in the way I think about the Middle East and about democratizing nations that are no more ready for democracy than the man on the moon.”

The remark made headlines in Egypt.

Now some pro-Israel voices are saying that not pushing for democracy has disastrous consequences—including critics of the regime. For example, the ZOA, which has frequently accused the Egyptian government of undermining peace and pressed for a reduction in U.S. military aid, now is calling for the Obama administration to do everything it can to keep the regime in place, with Mubarak or one of his associates in charge.

Obama “should be showing some loyalty to a regime with which we have had good relations for 30 years,” ZOA President Mort Klein said. “If we have elections in the near future, you’re going to have a result like in Gaza. Of course I want democracy, but I don’t want democracy when the results support Islamic takeover.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Yeshiva World News that the United States should have been working more proactively to ensure an orderly transition to democracy.

“This is something that we knew was coming—we should have been working at it all along,” Hoenlein said, adding that the Bush administration had paid lip service to the notion of building democratic institutions and the Obama administration not even that.

Hoenlein warned against the emergence in Egypt of possible transition leader Mohammed ElBaradei, saying he covered up Iran’s true nuclear weaponization capacities while he directed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

“He is a stooge of Iran, and I don’t use the term lightly,” Hoenlein said. “He fronted for them, he distorted the reports.”

ElBaradei, who directed the IAEA from 1997 to 2009, returned to Egypt following his third term. Soon he was touted as a possible challenger to Mubarak’s autocractic reign and has emerged during the protests as a consensus figure.

During his term as IAEA chief, ElBaradei said Iran was further away from a nuclear weapon than many in the West claimed and castigated Western powers, including Israel, for suggesting that a military option against Iran was increasingly possible. He made it clear in those statements that his posture stemmed from the U.S. failure to heed warnings from him and other weapons experts that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons capacity.

ElBaradei also has been cool to Israel, however, and has infuriated Israel’s military establishment by saying that Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal undercuts efforts to keep Iran and other countries from going nuclear.

In an interview with The Washington Post just before he retired, he said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not want to get rid of Israel, but to replace it with a non-Jewish state—two concepts Israelis and pro-Israel groups see as synonymous.

Hoenlein was not alone. Reporters were bombarded this week by e-mail from pro-Israel groups with ElBaradei quotes that appeared hostile to the United States. In some cases, however, the quotes were taken out of context and questionably sourced.

Keith Weissman, a former AIPAC lobbyist and analyst who witnessed the Iranian Revolution unfold and who has lived in Egypt, said the warnings about ElBaradei were overheated.

“From what I see in Cairo there is no evidence he is on an Iranian agenda,” he said

Weissman said tThe inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in the opposition alliance ElBaradei is leading should not be a cause for concern.

“In a post-Mubarak Egypt, you’d want the Brothehood close,” he said.

In any case, meddling is counterproductive, said Lara Friedman, the legislative director for Americans for Peace Now, writing in an op-ed for JTA.

“Denying the reality of change in Egypt does not help Israel; it only guarantees that Israel’s future relationship with Egypt will be more difficult,” she said.

Just Say No to NPR

Recent boycotts of media outlets, launched mostly by grass-roots groups concerned about anti-Israel bias, have prompted criticism from a few establishment Jewish organizations that have argued that because the Jews and Israel have been the victims of boycotts, the tactic is illegitimate and immoral.

But these arguments ignore certain basics.

First, to state the obvious, the current campaigns bear no resemblance to the protracted, global economic, diplomatic and cultural exclusions Israel has suffered or the ferocious campaigns against Jewish businesses in Nazi-era Europe. Those anti-Jewish boycotts, dictated by ruling regimes, were rooted in a hateful bigotry and aimed at the elimination of a people and a state, not the redress of an offending policy.

The protests against The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and others are initiatives by individuals, not governments, and are freely joined by anyone who accepts the arguments of the campaigners. No one is compelled to end their subscriptions to the publications, just as no one, surely, is compelled to continue them.

Boycotts in the American context have long been a tool of consumer complaint and social policy activism, sometimes an effective one — often not — and Jews, including Jewish organizations, have participated in them.

For example, was the Central Conference of American Rabbis wrong in 1985 to call on 1.2 million Reform congregants to boycott nonunion California grapes in support of Cesar Chavez’s campaign?

From another perspective, to say that boycotts should not be used by Jews because Jews have been the victims of boycotts makes no more sense than to assert that because guns and soldiers have been wielded against Jews and Israel, Jews should forego their use, no matter what the provocation, in order to present a more pure moral face to the world.

Although the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has not initiated or sponsored boycott campaigns against any national or regional newspapers, there has been a call to suspend financial support for one media outlet until its harmful anti-Israel bias ends.

That institution is National Public Radio (NPR).

The network receives tax support, both directly and indirectly, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and aggressively solicits financial gifts from listeners and underwriters (who are actually business and institutional advertisers). A matrix of local and national boards cultivates supporters and helps advance NPR’s fundraising efforts.

Are Jewish listeners under obligation to provide both the involuntary support to NPR, entailed in their taxes allotted to the network, and additional donations in response to the constant entreaties by station managers and NPR officials?

Are Jewish listeners duty bound to send checks to help finance programming in which grave allegations are routinely leveled at Israel without a single Israeli given the right of response?

The many examples of distortion are far too numerous to recite in detail. A July 1 program, for instance, charged that Israel continuously shoots at innocent sewer repairmen in Gaza, thwarting efforts to assure healthy conditions for Palestinian civilians. So relentless are Israeli snipers, according to NPR, that international “activists” must position themselves, physically, between the shooters and the repairmen. Palestinian “human rights” and medical workers all join in attesting to the allegedly malevolent role of Israel.

But not a single Israeli is permitted to answer the charges.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesmen categorically denied the NPR claims to CAMERA and said, moreover, NPR had never contacted them about the story. The IDF spokesman also noted that the network’s reporters rarely call to fact check allegations made against the military.

Under public pressure in this instance, NPR posted a note on its Web site expressing “regrets” for failing to include any Israeli spokesman. The regrets were not broadcast on-air where a substantial audience might hear them, nor was there a follow-up story presenting the Israeli version of events.

The “regrets” were evidently insincere since one-sided, accusatory coverage continues unabated.

An especially incendiary story on Aug. 31 by Anne Garrels included six Palestinians leveling charges against Israel for allegedly depriving them of needed water in West Bank towns.

No Israeli or pro-Israel voices were included.

Garrels herself added to the deceptions, twice stating that only half of West Bank towns have tap water. What she neglected to mention is that all towns were given the option of being connected to the National Water Carrier to tap water, but some refused on political grounds, refusing to recognize Israel’s presence in any guise.

That excluded bit of information would have radically altered Garrels’ story of blameless Palestinians victimized by stone-hearted Israelis. But her reports are typically short on factual accuracy and long on emotive editorializing.

Troubled at rising public dismay over the coverage, NPR executives have responded, not by rigorous attention to assuring every broadcast is balanced and accurate, but by hiring a PR firm to help spin their image in the Jewish community.

All the while, the distortions continue.

A media outlet unwilling to address serious substantive complaints through the normal channels of interaction over a more than a decade, which is the case with NPR, cannot expect the Jewish community to underwrite unfair and damaging distortions.

What self-respecting people supports its own defamation?

Andrea Levin is executive director of CAMERA,

Shas Blinks First

Prime Minister Ehud Barak last weekend won his first trial of strength with his religious coalition partners. The Israel Electric Corporation defied Orthodox protests and laboriously transported 250 tons of turbine parts over Friday night from a factory in Ramat Hasharon, north of Tel Aviv, to a new power station 80 miles away in Ashkelon.

Officials appeared to have postponed the shipment while they reviewed alternative routes and timings, but, with the panache of a commando operation, they decided at the last minute that they had no choice and sent the massive load on its 13-hour journey at 8 p.m. Hundreds of secular Jews lined the highway and cheered the convoy of flatbed trucks that was accompanied by nine police cars and crawling along at barely 5 miles per hour.

The traffic police argued that moving the turbine on a weekday would snarl up major roads for hours in the heart of the country. Engineers ruled out minor roads for fear that bridges would collapse under the weight. Another suggestion, to transport the load over three nights, was dropped because no suitable stop-over points were found along the route.

The Sephardic Shas Party, which had threatened to pull its 17 Knesset members out of the coalition if the turbine rolled, was left spluttering with indignation. National Infrastructure Minister Eli Suissa, who spearheaded resistance to the move, branded it “unprecedented chutzpah.”

The Electric Corporation decision was endorsed in advance by the prime minister, who insisted afterward that it was a professional, not a political, matter. “In line with the status quo, which has been in place for 50 years,” his office announced, “the movement of such unusually large loads has been carried out on Shabbat and festivals.”

Government officials pointed out that 20 similar journeys had taken place on the Sabbath over the past six months, two as recently as July. Until now, the religious parties had never complained.

The battle of the turbine is not yet over, however. Another five shipments, each as huge as last weekend’s, have still to be moved south. The same experts who couldn’t find an alternative to Sabbath “desecration” last week are looking again, but the dilemma hasn’t changed.

Shas is still breathing fire and brimstone, with United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party panting reluctantly in its wake. But few, if any, political observers believe it will pull out. Shas leaders know that Barak could manage without them. He would have little difficulty adding secular fringe parties to the 58 seats he would still command in the 120-member parliament.

The turbine campaign is widely interpreted as part of the struggle to succeed the disgraced Shas leader, Aryeh Deri, who is due back in Israel this weekend after a summer’s seclusion in New Jersey. Eli Suissa, who wants to stop the loads moving, is pitted against the more malleable Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eli Yishai, who enjoys the blessing of the movement’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

More to the point, Shas cannot afford to be out of government. Rabbi Yosef said so in as many words during the coalition negotiations in June (which made it much easier for Barak to bring Shas on board with a minimum of concessions). The Shas independent school network, the foundation of its power in the impoverished “development” towns and inner-city slums, has a deficit of at least 65 million shekels (about $16 million).

“As of today,” Shlomo Ceszana wrote in Ma’ariv this week, “the network is on the verge of collapse. It has no money for salaries, and, though it expands every year by thousands of pupils, it wants to keep growing. Such growth is only possible if the funds keep flowing.”

For funds read state subsidies. Over the past decade, Shas has eaten into the Likud’s blue-collar heartland by providing free education, from kindergarten up, for more hours a day than the state secular and religious schools can afford. It throws in free meals as a bonus. All of this is paid for by the often-reluctant taxpayer.

The expansion was particularly marked during Binyamin Netanyahu’s precarious government, when religious parties were constantly upping the price for their allegiance. Barak promised to bail out the Shas schools, but only if they opened their account books, taught secular as well as Torah studies and raised their teaching standards.

Rabbi Yosef knows that this is his only hope. Without the fund-raising talents of Aryeh Deri, who is appealing a four-year corruption sentence, Shas has no alternative source of finance. It would also lose the patronage commanded by the party’s four ministries, which provide hundreds of jobs for Shas loyalists.

Ma’ariv’s Ceszana estimates that Rabbi Yosef “controls the tap on a budget of about 1.5 billion shekels in the Religious Affairs Ministry, and the appointment of local rabbis and religious councils.”

Without the schools, without the charismatic Deri and without the pay packets, Shas would soon shrink back to its old level of about four Knesset members. It doesn’t look like a party about to commit suicide.