The Israeli Chamber Project, with Carmit Zori on violin and Assaff Weisman on piano, visits UCLA. Photos courtesy The Israeli Chamber Project.

Israeli Chamber Project sets sights small for UCLA program

When members of the Israeli Chamber Project take the stage at the Jan Popper Theater in UCLA’s Schoenberg Music Building on Feb. 26, their interactions may provide a timely, if unintentional, example for U.S. residents and elected officials to follow amid today’s divisive political culture.

The ensemble’s leaderless music-making process — in the words of one of its pianists, Assaff Weisman — is comparable to the flexibility that successful politics demands.

“The ever-changing role of who leads a piece requires consensus and great respect for each other,” Weisman said. “When we’re on stage, we share in the duties of leadership to make a cohesive whole. Everybody contributes.”

Founded in 2008, the Project consists of distinguished 30-something musicians who get together throughout the year for chamber concerts and educational and outreach programs in Israel, the U.S. and other countries. It currently has 11 members, plus guest artists, who are deployed in different numbers and configurations depending on the program.

At UCLA, three Project members — Weisman, Carmit Zori on violin and Sivan Magen on harp — will take turns performing duets by J. S. Bach, Sebastian Currier, Carlos Salzedo, Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók.

Weisman, who offstage leads the group as its executive director, said “project” is the important word in its name. “We see our mission as ongoing, not finite,” he said. “We’re all about bringing music to as wide a public as possible.”

The UCLA concert, which will begin with Bach’s early 18th-century Sonata for Harpsichord and Violin in B Minor (BMV 1014), arranged for harp by Magen, follows the ensemble’s usual innovative programming of old and new music, except that this time it is traveling light.

“We’re doing a series of duos, which is unusual for us,” Weisman said. “We usually travel with a bigger group.”

Currier’s “Night Time” Suite for harp and violin from 2000, which follows Bach’s sonata, has a special place in the ensemble’s repertory — they performed it for their debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2012.

“The suite’s five short movements traverse different stages of the night,” Weisman said. “They are restless, quietly introspective pieces full of mystery.”

Weisman said he is especially excited about Salzedo’s 1922 Sonata for Harp and Piano. Indeed, the program at UCLA should be a feast for lovers of that ethereal instrument. Salzedo, a French harpist, pianist, composer and conductor from a Sephardic family, who died in 1961, also founded the harp program at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, which became The Juilliard School.

“There are not many works for harp and piano, and this is one of the best,” Weisman said. “It hardly ever gets performed. We try to take risks, and whether we’re performing old or new music, we push the envelope when we can.”

The idea for the Project came from its founder, Tibi Cziger, an Israeli clarinetist who is now its artistic director. Cziger, like Weisman, began his music studies in Israel and continued them at Juilliard.

“There was little to no support for the arts in Israel, so Tibi saw another way for us to develop our careers and address the musical brain-drain at home,” Weisman said. “Our mission became to give back to the places where we started — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Haifa area — and to address a situation where musicians are compelled to find a career path elsewhere.”

Weisman recalled the group’s first tour of Israel, during which the musicians found themselves performing a folk piece by Bartók in a small jazz club in the middle of the Negev Desert.

“Children came with their parents and grandparents, and they sat on the floor,” Weisman said. “There was an upright piano that didn’t function well, but I made do. We played Bartók’s ‘Contrasts,’ a trio for clarinet, violin and piano. They were engaged. We saw that as proof that even a challenging piece can go over well in the strangest places.”

As cultural ambassadors, the ensemble has worked with a diverse cross-section of Israeli society, including the Orthodox, Israeli Arabs and Russian immigrants. Its impact and excellence was recognized in 2011 when it was named the winner of the Israeli Ministry of Culture Outstanding Ensemble Award.

In addition to their performances, the Project’s members also give master classes throughout Israel, as well as in the U.S. and Canada. In 2016, the group made its debut in China.

Another part of the group’s mission is supporting the next generation of composers by commissioning new works. In June, it will perform the premiere of a clarinet quintet by Menachem Wiesenberg, and in 2018 it will debut a new work for harp, strings and clarinet by Gilad Cohen.

After its performance at UCLA, the ensemble is scheduled to travel to Israel for a series of concerts from March 21-25, to New York for concerts in April, then back to Israel for a tour in June.

Weisman said the focus of the ensemble’s work and discussions in Israel is usually centered on music, not politics.

“Our interactions with all segments of Israel’s diverse society have always been filled with mutual respect and understanding,” Weisman said. “I find people are happy to leave politics at the door. But by focusing on music, we can, at least momentarily, break down some of the barriers of cultural identity, language and religion.”

The Israeli Chamber Project performs Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. as part of the free Chamber Music at the Clark series at the Jan Popper Theater in the Schoenberg Music Building at UCLA, 445 Charles E. Young Drive, East. Tickets are awarded by lottery. For information on how to enter the lottery, go to

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool

A Palestinian state – or security and stability?

Here is a fun fact that people tend to forget: When Israel attempts to make peace with its neighbors, it is usually not due to American mediation or initiative. Egypt and Israel made peace with the help of President Jimmy Carter, but the surprise initiative came from Anwar Sadat, an Egyptian president who decided to make history and come to Jerusalem. Israel and the Palestinians began their arduous and (still) unsuccessful journey to peace in Oslo. The US was invited to get involved only when the talks produced a promising – so the leaders of Israel thought at the time – beginning.

It is worth remembering that as we look at the confusing, and at times conflicting, messages and stories one reads in the papers about the prospects for yet another attempt at having peace. Last week, it was President Trump hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu and vowing to work for peace. This week it is the revelation (by Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid) concerning a secret peace summit last year in Aqaba – in which Netanyahu met with Secretary of State John Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Clearly, something is going on. Clearly, it involves Israel and a few Arab Sunni states who all have a mutual rival – or enemy – in Iran. Clearly, the Palestinian issue is on the table as only one component of a much larger agenda. Clearly, the road for turning any regional initiative into something concrete that will bring about peace is still long.

President Trump seems to see an opening: “Our administration,” he said last week, “is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to see an opening: “We can seize an historic opportunity because for the first time in my lifetime and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally.”

What is the purpose of an initiative that brings Israel and other Arab countries to the table? It is, as Trump said, to have “security and stability.” This means cooperation between countries that have a stake in containing Iranian expansionism in the region. This means cooperation between countries that all have a stake in quieting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Currently, the conflict is impinging on the Arab nations’ ability to publically work alongside Israel because of its impact on the “Arab street.” Since these countries – and Israel – all want to increase the level of coordination, a solution that tames the impact of the Palestinian issue on the larger, more important issues is necessary.

The Palestinians have few illusions. They know that the leaders of the Arab world don’t care much about them. But they have the power to disrupt any alliance with Israel by rallying the masses and forcing the issue back to the center of the Arab agenda.

Do Arab leaders also have power over the Palestinians? Can they assist in convincing them to accept a deal that Israel could live with? In theory, they do. In practice, this tactic has been tried and has failed more than once. Bill Clinton hoped to get the blessing of Arab leaders during the Camp David talks of 2000, and his book tells the story of his disappointment with their reluctance. They were not willing to tell Yasser Arafat that he needs to compromise on Jerusalem. They were not willing to force him into accepting a deal that forgoes the “right of return.” It is possible, of course, that in the current atmosphere, when the need for them to work with Israel becomes greater, their reluctance will be tamed and their enthusiasm will grow. But it is also possible that as Israel has become less inclined to accept a reality of a Palestinian State – it is willing to talk about a “state minus” or an “autonomy plus” – Arab leaders will be even more disinclined to pressure the Palestinians.

One thing is clear: A certain marginalization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fact. The world has better, more exciting things to think about. Arab countries have greater concerns. Israel has got used to the idea that a solution to the conflict is not forthcoming. Even some Palestinians are looking around and wondering if now is the best time to test the ability of their society to stand on its feet against a backdrop of Middle East upheaval.

So yes, the Palestinians can draw some encouragement from the fact that President Trump conveyed an interest in working towards a solution to their situation. They might also notice the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is successfully manipulating his rightwing coalition to prevent the establishment of more settlements in the West Bank. Both he and his Defense Minister stand firmly in their insistence that good relations with the Trump administration are more important to Israel than the construction of new settlements (although they do hope to keep building in existing settlement blocs and in Jerusalem).

But they surely notice that the main parties to negotiations are not them. They are Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It is an alliance of grown-up actors whose main interest is not helping the Palestinians to have a state, but rather making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stop being a nuisance that distracts the minds and sucks the energy of leaders who need to deal with greater things.


U.S. President Donald Trump smiles a as he holds a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Sunday Reads: Trump will defeat ISIS, The Arab states’ two-state solution, The Egyptian public & Israel


Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky take a look at how Trump can take on Iran without sparking war:

Unless the administration has a clear end state in its sights and a viable road map for getting there, it will find itself on the short end of the stick in confronting Iran when vital American interests are not at stake and taking on Tehran will only make the situation worse.

Andrew Exum predicts that ISIS will fall during the Trump administration (and that Trump is going to take credit for it):

But the fall of the Islamic State is going to happen, and it’s going to happen on this president’s watch. Like the American jobs he claims to have created that were announced long before he took office, Trump will take credit for the Islamic State’s defeat. It will be in his 2020 campaign speeches, and it will be a cudgel with which he beats the Democrats each time they (or John McCain) point out his incompetence on issues of national security.


Dennis Ross doesn’t believe that Trump’s intention of involving the Arab countries In peace talks signifies a retreat from the two-state solution:

If Arab states decide that engaging on the peace issue with Israel makes sense, they will want to show that they delivered for the Palestinians what they could not produce for themselves. They won’t drop Palestinian demands, they will come to represent them.

The great irony may be that involving the Arabs is almost sure to ensure that there must be a two-state outcome if the effort is to lead anywhere. The Arab leaders cannot accept the Palestinians to be subsumed into an Israeli state.

Elliott Abrams examines the prospects of Trump’s “big deal” for Israel and Palestine:

But optimism should be restrained. Cooperating with Israel is always risky for the Arab states, which is why they do it in secret. It is a potential domestic political problem of great magnitude for them, so why should they risk it? The answer is that it would improve the lot of the Palestinians—but that has never been and is not now a compelling objective for most Arab leaders. It’s “nice to have” but not worth any real danger. They are most likely to try it if a strong and reliable American president presses them to do so, over and over again.

And that’s the rub here. Arab leaders do not yet know if they have a strong and reliable president with whom to work, or whether he is going to make this regional peace deal a major goal that he will pursue over time.

Middle East

Haisam Hassanein writes about the Egyptian public’s perception of Israel:

Observing Egyptian culture closely, including the way the young generation is taught to think about Israel, it becomes clear that the high-level relationship between the two countries would deteriorate should the shared security threats return to the pre-Islamic State level. Simply put, the Egyptian government would not have the incentive to continue building a covert relationship with a country viewed by the majority of Egyptians as the eternal enemy, expansionists desperate to take Sinai back and therefore a main reason to rally around the military.

The shaping of the young Egyptian mind on the subject of Israel starts in school, with the Islamic religious narrative that frames the Jews as traitors.

Rick Noack writes about a new report showing that the Islamic State’s “Business model” is failing:

“It is clear that the Islamic State’s business model is failing,” said ICSR director Peter Neumann. “It used to be the world’s richest terror group because it basically was a state. But its biggest strength at that time — the ability to loot and extract money through taxes in newly conquered territories — became its most significant weakness as it suffered battlefield losses.”

Jewish World

ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt is amazed Trump has not spoken up against anti-Semitism:

The issue is not whether Trump is anti-Semitic. The issue is whether he will stand up to anti-Semitism, let alone other forms of bigotry. And, as president, he will face far more difficult and daunting challenges in the years ahead, but speaking out against intolerance should be a no-brainer.

Tyler Cowen talks to Rabbi David Wolpe on leadership, religion and identity:

So if you want to attribute that to the fact that David listened to God, and that the Psalms are in fact an expression of David’s soul, I don’t have a problem with that. But if you want to be a pragmatist about it and just look at results, I would say that’s how you judge the success of a leader then and now.

Jason Fenton, shown at 16 in Israel in 1948

Jason Fenton, youngest fighter for Israel, dies at 85

Jason Fenton, who left his native London in 1948 to become the youngest foreign volunteer in Israel’s War of Independence, died on Jan.21, 2017 at 85 in Minneapolis after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

The son of a rabbi, Fenton was an indefatigable champion of the Jewish people and Israel during more than 50 years in Los Angeles and Orange County and the last four years of his life in Minneapolis.

A talented writer and public speaker, Fenton regularly addressed audiences in synagogues, churches, public forums and classrooms.

He immigrated to the United States in 1956, received a Ph.D. degree at UCLA and then pursued a lengthy career as a professor of English and of Jewish history at community colleges and state universities, primarily in Orange County.

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Ivor Fenton, Jason clandestinely left England for Israel and there fought with the 4th Anti-Tank Unit, composed of volunteers from the world’s English-speaking countries. His service, under fire, was arguably the defining experience of his life. In addition to his many speaking engagements, he authored “Strength and Courage: The Untold Story of the MACHAL Volunteers Who Helped Win Israel’s War of Independence,” appeared in two documentaries, and frequently participated in TV interviews.

After moving to Minneapolis to be near his daughters, and despite advancing illness, Fenton taught a very popular continuing education course in Jewish Biblical History through the University of Minnesota.

Fenton is survived by three daughters, Mina Rush, Tamar Fenton and Suzanne Fenton, 11 grandchildren, one great-grandson and his former spouse, Judith Fenton. He had a profound influence on his daughters, who are all deeply involved in Jewish life as professionals and volunteers, and on their descendants. The family requests that any donations in Jason Fenton’s memory be directed to the Lone Soldiers Program ( or to Friends of the IDF (

Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinians wait to pass during a protest calling for reopening of a closed street, in the West Bank city of Hebron Feb. 9. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Palestinian support for two-state solution drops, poll finds

A majority of Palestinians do not support a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, a survey found.

The survey released Wednesday found that 44 percent of Palestinians back the two-state solution, a decline from 51 percent who supported this approach in a similar survey from June. The later survey had 59 percent of Israelis supporting two states, down from 55 percent in the earlier poll.

The survey, called Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll, was released by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah with funding from the European Union.

The poll, which surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,207 Israelis, Jewish and Arab, was conducted in December. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

It also found that just over one-third of Palestinians and a majority of Arab Israelis supported one state as well as a confederation, while 24 percent of Israelis backed one state and 28 percent a confederation.

Nearly identical numbers of Jewish Israelis (58 percent) and Palestinians (57 percent) said they supported a broader regional peace involving the Arab world and Israel.

The survey also found that 86 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 71 percent of Israeli Jews do not trust Palestinians. In addition, 51 percent of Israeli Jews, 48 percent of Israeli Arabs and 68 percent of Palestinians agreed with this statement: “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”

In addition, 66 percent of Jewish Israelis fear the Palestinians; among West Bank settlers the number rises to 72 percent. Nearly half of Jewish Israelis also fear their fellow Arab citizens of Israel, and 60 percent of West Bank settlers feel this way.

Some 43 percent of Palestinians said they fear Jewish Israelis in general, and 52 percent fear soldiers and armed settlers. Most Arab Israelis, or 82 percent, do not fear Jewish Israeli.

David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. Feb. 16. Photo By Yuri Gripas/REUTERS.

Trump’s Israel envoy pick David Friedman: ‘No excuse’ for past rhetoric on liberal Jews

David Friedman at the launch of U.S. Senate hearings to confirm him as ambassador to Israel said there was “no excuse” for his past rhetoric targeting liberal Jews.

In his opening remarks, Friedman said his attacks were “partisan rhetoric” during a heated presidential election campaign. Friedman is Trump’s longtime lawyer and was a key surrogate to the Jewish community during the campaign.

He called the liberal Middle East policy group J Street “kapos” and the Anti-Defamation League “morons.” He also likened Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Adolf Hitler.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member of the Foreign Relations committee, which must approve Friedman to advance his nomination to the full Senate, said the terms seemed to go beyond partisan rhetoric.

Cardin said he and Friedman had in common that “our parents were proud Zionists who worked and did everything they could in support for the State of Israel.” But noting his father was the president of a synagogue – Friedman’s was a rabbi – Cardin added, “My father taught me to respect different views.”

The Maryland lawmaker also noted that some of Friedman’s statements – particularly his attack on Schumer, made during the heat of the battle over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – came before the campaign and in many cases were written comments.

“I’m having difficulty understanding your use of those descriptions and whether you really can be a diplomat,” Cardin said.

Friedman appeared chastened.

“I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse,” he said. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature and character.”

Cardin also pressed Friedman about past statements that appeared to oppose a two-state solution addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted his backing for settlements, including some deep inside the West Bank.

Friedman replied that he had been skeptical of a two-state solution, but would welcome any solution arrived at by the Israelis and Palestinians that ended suffering for both peoples.

Protesters interrupted the hearings at least three times, including by a contingent from the Jewish protest group If Not Now who sang as they were ejected “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” “Build a world of kindness.”

Salam Fayyad on Feb. 13, 2013. Photo by Issei Kato/Reuters

Fayyad affair: A symptom of a diplomatic disease

Consensus builds against using the appointment for inappropriate quid pro quo

Regardless of what else might be said about Salam Fayyad, his moment of bringing near consensus to this contentious region’s most diverse schools of thought will forever typify his already considerable lifetime achievements. Sadly, the catalyst was the inability to appoint the right man to the right position absent issues related but not germane to the appointment itself, a situation cogently – and aptly — described as “stunningly dumb” by former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.

[This story originally appeared on]

Lest the ambassador be accused of bias, it is illustrative to search one’s memory for an example of a similar pan-partisan outpouring in a situation where no world leader had died. While the present political environment demands criticism of the new administration by all who are not self-proclaimed right-wingers, telling is the growing array of conservative thinkers willing to be blunt and critical of the administration on the Fayyad issue. To those of us who know Fayyad well, the attack comes against the one regional leader who least deserves the smear.

A leading Israeli newspaper trotted out a 2013 quote by Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a leading conservative thinker known to be as close as any to Prime Minister Netanyahu, lauding Fayyad, whom he touted as “a partner for peace.” Also on the right, The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, himself a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, added his admiration, tweeting “Even I like Fayyad.” The tweet by Vivian Bercovici, the former Canadian ambassador to Israel appointed by the (conservative) leader known to have one of the closest personal relationships with Netanyahu, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was quoted by Israel’s liberal newspaper, Haaretz: “This is an odd move by Nikki Haley. Does she know anything about him?”

Person by person, article by article, publication by publication, the point was made: Fayyad is both worthy and capable of carrying out the Libyan mandate of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who selected him from among a number of candidates. The Media Line has learned that the choice was made amid significant competition after which Fayyad was deemed to be the man most likely to succeed.

When Guterres chose Fayyad, while apparently basing his selection on the former Palestinian Authority prime minister’s stellar reputation among the international community, it seems he neglected to take into account the region’s penchant for self-inflicted wounds even in the course of diplomacy. Indeed, although it was American-educated Fayyad, the veteran of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank whose ascension to the prime ministry provided the requisite fiscal confidence without which no Western nation would donate to the fledgling quasi-government headed by Yassir Arafat, that appointment was made before international diplomacy fused Israel and the PA into an indivisible political unit that demands equal attention for the other if the occasion arises to do business with one.

Yet, the phenomenon is fueled by the parties themselves. While the Palestinian Authority has staked out the United Nations as its proving ground for a “Plan B” approach to statehood, Prime Minister Netanyahu has responded in kind telling his weekly cabinet meeting that, “the time has come for reciprocity in the UN’s relations with Israel and free gifts cannot be constantly given to the Palestinian side. The time has come for positions and appointments to be made to the Israeli side as well. Should there be an appropriate appointment, we will consider it.”

In the course of numerous conversations with Fayyad both during his tenure as prime minister and afterward, he spoke of the thousands of infrastructure projects he completed in the Palestinian territories and by extension, would bring to Libya. In 2010, he spoke of a celebration marking the thousandth completion.

Yet, the nixing of the Fayyad appointment is the result is another of the Middle East’s patented stalemates and loss of talent for a job that needs to be done. From the Israeli perspective, former parliamentarian Dr. Einat Wilff told The Media Line that who serves as the UN Special Envoy to Libya is “none of our business.” But regarding the UN itself, Wilff argues that “if the government of Israel is only legitimized in the UN with the Palestinians, it is a stain on the UN. Israel is and should be considered a legitimate country in the UN regardless of Palestinians.”

Without doubt, the Fayyad appointment and its ensuing blowback is symptom, not disease. But such gross and unsubtle manifestations of the underlying malady are nevertheless useful for the clarity they provide. For the Palestinian Authority, it is a clear indication that its end-run around the negotiation process is not without diplomatic cost. Here, the loss of an opportunity for one of its most accomplished statesmen to be the peacemaker in Libya is arguably a cost with a value worth scores of memberships in UN-affiliated agencies.

For Israel, being seen as insisting upon a quid pro quo because a Palestinian national is selected for a prestigious position that has no nexus to the Jewish state opens it to the sort of accusations that inevitably accompany it to the international stage. Epithets far worse than “petty” or “demanding.”

As Wilff said, “If the person is good for the job it should be based on merit, not linkage.”

FELICE FRIEDSON is President and CEO of The Media Line news agency and founder of The Mideast Press Club. She can be reached at (Due to time differences, please cc to

Demonstrators walking beneath Israeli and American flags at a pro-Israel rally in New York City on April 7, 2002. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Most Americans maintain favorable view of Israel, poll finds

Seventy-one percent of Americans view Israel favorably, the fourth straight year the Jewish state has received a favorable rating of 70 percent or higher, a Gallup poll found.

The survey was released Wednesday, ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States and meeting with President Donald Trump. It was conducted earlier this month.

The favorable rating includes respondents who said they viewed Israel very or mostly favorably.

Since 2014, the proportion of Americans who say they view Israel favorably has remained at 70 to 72 percent, according to Gallup data.

Israel’s favorability rating in the most recent poll did not fall below 61 percent for any major demographic or political group. Republicans and adults aged 65 and over had the most positive views of the Jewish state at 81 and 77 percent, respectively.

Earlier this week, Gallup released data from a poll that showed Americans nearly evenly divided over support for a Palestinian state, with 45 percent backing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 42 percent opposing it.

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

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by boasting about his election victory

During President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, Trump was asked a direct question from an Israeli reporter about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” — on the same day that the Southern Poverty law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the United States, most subscribing to anti-Semitic views, rose in 2016. It also came after a six-week period in which Jewish community centers around the country were forced to evacuate in three separate incidents due to coordinated bomb threats.

Below is the question and answer from the news conference at the White House, with my annotations.

REPORTER: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?

And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it?

DONALD TRUMP : Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. [Turns to Netanyahu] You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

Trump, we know, often boasts about his Electoral College victory. But what connection is he drawing between charges of bigotry and the strength of his win in the election? Is it possible that he tuned out after the first part of the question — in which the reporter mention “your election campaign and even after your victory”? Is he stalling before answering the anti-Semitism question? Or, and this seems likely, is he suggesting that whatever criticisms people have about his unusual and taboo-breaking campaign, he was vindicated by the electorate?  He has used this tactic before: On Nov. 14, right after the election, Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” asked if was going to going to release his tax returns. Trump replied, “Obviously, the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily.”

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

It’s notable, given the question and the fact that he is standing next to the prime minister of the Jewish state and in front of the Israeli flag, that Trump makes no mention of Jews or anti-Semitism at this point. Specific attacks on Jews (and some of his supporters during the campaign launched some doozies, especially at journalists like Julia Ioffe and Jonathan Weisman) are subsumed under “every other thing that is going on.” Jewish antennas are on high alert on this point, especially after the White House released an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided.

Did Trump just acknowledge he won the election only because we have a “very divided nation”? If so, that would contradict his early boast about the size of his victory, as well as his repeated unsubstantiated claims that his loss of the popular vote was only the result of massive voter fraud.

And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

Trump has been significantly less inclined than most recent presidents to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, although he did say in his inaugural address, “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.

When Trump finally gets around to mentioning Jews, he has five in mind: son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner’s wife Ivanka and their three children. For some in the Jewish community, his Jewish relatives are all the evidence they need that Trump will not tolerate anti-Semitism. Defending Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, against allegations of anti-Semitism, the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein wrote in November, “Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter Ivanka, whose children go to an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?”

But other Jewish groups felt Trump did not do enough during the campaign or since to send a strong message to bigots and white supremacists that they weren’t welcome in his coalition. The Anti-Defamation League wasn’t satisfied with Trump’s response today, tweeting, “Troubling that @POTUS failed to condemn real issue of anti-Semitism in US today.”

I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.

OK? Thank you.

On the campaign trail, Trump often invoked “love” as a solution to America’s racial and religious divides, as he did after winning Indiana in the Republican primaries: America, he said, which “is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we’re going to love each other, we’re going to cherish each other and take care of each other.”

Minority groups might prefer a little less love and little more focus on the issues that concern them most, like, in the case of the Jews, a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism and a pledge to carefully monitor hate crimes and threats.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) acknowledges Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump-Netanyahu meeting: Tell me what you heard from Trump, and I will tell you what you want


Donald Trump is a political Rorschach test. His press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu was a Rorschach test.

He killed the two-state solution and buried it, the panelist sitting next to me in a TV studio, a former Israel Knesset Member of the right, concluded.

He asked Netanyahu to restrain settlements, declared the main headline of Haaretz daily.

Trump was speaking, we were all listening, we were all hearing what we wanted to hear.

The president is personally committed to peace. He knows that both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, will have to make compromises. Sounds like Barack Obama in disguise.

The president has no special attachment to the two state solution. He is willing to consider other options. Sounds like Israeli Minister Naftali Bennet.

Tell me what you heard from Trump, and I will tell you what you want.


Still, some things are worthy of attention. The first of which: Trump promised nothing. He did not promise to move an embassy to Jerusalem, nor did he promise to do something about Iran that his predecessor did not do. Yes, he said he will do whatever he can to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons. Go to the archive: there are many such statements by Obama. In fact, Obama even claimed to have achieved this goal by signing an agreement that both Trump and Netanyahu believe is far from satisfactory.

There were many platitudes in the press conference, and the leaders’ body language was relaxed. But what about substance?

The truth is simple: On substance, the dovish camp won with “hold back on settlements.” On nuance, the hawkish camp won with no mention of the two state solution.


Netanyahu can now come back and tell his more hawkish coalition allies: we have to restrain settlement activity.

His coalition allies, dizzy from celebrating the unmentioned two state solution, might listen, or might realize that they were manipulated.


Trump is wiser than Obama when it comes to dealing with Israel.

Obama began his relations with Israel by being critical, and by making demands. Trump is making similar demands – restrain settlements – he professes similar ambitions – bring about peace. But he manages to do all of this without alienating Israel. Count it as an achievement.


I wrote an article last week about Trump, anti-Semitism in America, and Israel’s response to it. I wrote, sometimes Israel is willing to turn “a blind eye to anti-Semitism in exchange for political support. Sometimes this means ignoring the trivialization of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust… Israel sometimes agreed to help other countries and parties whitewash their images. It’s often a trade: We, Israel, will get what we need in the form of money or arms or political support. You will get the right to showcase Israel as proof that you aren’t an anti-Semite”.

I do not disagree with Netanyahu’s strong response to the question about anti-Semitism in America this evening: “There is no greater supporter for the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. We should put that to rest”, he said.

I agree, and also think it proves my point.

Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks after a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 2, 2016. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL players flap upends Israel’s PR game plan

Almost 30 years ago, the late theater impresario Joe Papp got into hot water when he canceled a scheduled production of a pro-Palestinian play at his flagship Manhattan theater, the Public.

Rumors flew at the time that he caved in to pressure from wealthy Jewish donors, but Papp — born Joseph Papirofsky but muted in his Jewish identity most of his life — had a more personal explanation: “Having so recently reasserted his Jewishness but having never presented an Israeli or Palestinian play,” a JTA article explained, “he didn’t want his first statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be seen as pro-Palestinian.”

Papp’s decision was seen at the time as a small victory by the pro-Israel camp, an insult to the Arab community — and an embarrassment by champions of artistic freedom. But at a news conference where Papp explained his decision, I heard something else: a curious citizen of the world who didn’t want to enlist in anybody’s propaganda war.

I remembered the Papp incident when I read that Seattle Seahawks defender Michael Bennett and some other NFL players were backing out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government and America’s Voices in Israel, an initiative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Bennett apparently pulled out after reading an article about the trip in The Times of Israel, which included official statements by two Israeli Cabinet ministers saying the trip was intended to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the pro-Palestinian narrative about Israel.

Gilad Erdan, whose varied portfolio includes public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy, said he hoped the visit would offer the players “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.” Fighting BDS, he said, “includes hosting influencers and opinion-formers of international standing in different fields, including sport.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin hoped the players would come home with “positive stories about Israel” that would “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state.”

On Feb. 8, Bennett tweeted that he was not going to Israel, complaining that “I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner.”

He pledged to come to Israel one day, and to visit the West Bank and Gaza, “so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

It’s not clear how much the players knew about the sponsors or the purposes of the trip before accepting. The America’s Voices in Israel Facebook page explains that it “organizes week-long missions to Israel for prominent headline-makers with widespread credibility,” in order to generate stories about Israel that “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish State.” Accounts of the trips show an itinerary heavy on holy and historical sites, fine dining and visits to Israel’s highly regarded human services sector, like a program for people with special needs. The trips are often led by Voices’ director, a rabbi with a background in right-leaning efforts promoting Israel.

Still, my guess is the players didn’t know much about the organizers. Nor did they appreciate the politically charged nature of visiting the region. Every country has a tourism board that tries to entice celebrities with free trips and deluxe accommodations. In recent years, the Golden Globes swag bag has included round-trip tickets to Fiji and a free stay at a five-star resort.

The difference is that Fiji is not a global hot spot, and if anyone is boycotting Fiji it has more to do with a bad Yelp review than an organized political campaign. The BDS movement is intent on demonizing Israel and shaming celebrities who don’t revile the country or are open to hearing both sides of the story.

The day before Bennett announced he wasn’t going, the Nation published an “Open Letter to NFL Players Traveling to Israel on a Trip Organized by Netanyahu’s Government.” Signed by Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and others, it is a model in the effort to de-normalize Israel. Quoting Erdan, they assert that the trip was “designed explicitly to improve Israel’s image abroad to counter worldwide outrage over its massacres and war crimes.” Addressing African-Americans like Bennett, it links the Palestinian cause to that of “black and brown communities in the United States.”

And their complaint is not just about the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, but a Jewish nation-state “with more than 50 laws that privilege Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens.” One of its strangest passages compares Trump’s travel ban on refugees with Israeli restrictions on migrants trying to enter the country illegally from its tense border with Egypt. (Needless to say, the letter does not address why these “asylum seekers” from Sudan and Eritrea see Israel as a more desirable destination than the countries they are fleeing and the Muslim-majority countries they must pass through to get there.)

Like the Israelis, the BDS groups who signed the letter also employ celebrities in the battle of hearts and minds — citing musicians like Lauryn Hill and Roger Waters who have refused to play in Israel. The question for Israel is whether it should fight fire with fire — celebrity with celebrity — in waging public diplomacy.

The good news for Israel is that its opponents often overplay their hand. BDS is not a “peace movement” in the sense that it wants two viable, secure states for Israelis and Palestinians. The letter to NFL players says BDS will target Israel until it “complies with international law and guarantees Palestinian rights” — an intentionally unspecific formula that coupled with the activists’ refusal to talk about a two-state solution or the Jews’ right to a state of their own suggests their ultimate goal is a single binational state.

Perhaps Bennett and the other no-show players caved to the BDS side, although the NFL story is playing in Israel as a fumble on the part of Erdan and Levin. By making explicit the implicit purpose of the “mission,” they put the players in an untenable position. Israel is understandably eager to seize on signs of normalcy in the face of the BDS assault. But sometimes discretion is the better part of hasbara. In recent years Israel has pushed the “Brand Israel” tactic of public diplomacy, backing efforts to promote Israel’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, science and gay rights. When the government’s fingerprints are obvious, such events have inspired protests at film festivals, museums and theaters.

Maybe the problem is contained in the word “mission,” borrowed by Jews from Christian evangelists and suggesting a trip meant to win converts. Perhaps a better model for these kinds of trips is a symposium or a fact-finding trip, exposing visitors not just to what makes Israel fun and inspiring, but to its challenges in all their complexity. If celebs knew they were going to get a range of perspectives on the country and the conflict, perhaps they’d feel more confident in telling the BDS crowd to back off.

To Bennett’s credit, he signals that he has an open mind, and that when he does visit, he’ll hear from both sides. If he does, he’ll experience an Israeli and Palestinian reality infinitely more complex — more multicultural, more historically aware, less reductive — than the patronizingly binary picture scrawled by the authors of the open letter. And he just might discover that Israel has the more convincing story to tell.

Michael Bennett at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., on Dec. 11, 2016. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

NFL stars pull out of Israel visit, saying they feel ‘used’

Two top National Football League players pulled out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the country’s tourism ministry, saying they felt “used” by the government.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Friday posted a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. on Twitter with the caption: “Im not going to Israel.” On Saturday, he tweeted that he would one day take his own trip to Israel and also visit Palestinian areas.

Earlier Saturday, he tweeted letter with a longer explanation.

“I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware until reading this article about  the trip in the Times of Israel that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will,” he wrote.

“I will not be used in such a manner. When I go to Israel — and I do plan to go — it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

Bennett also said that one of his heroes was boxer and black activist Muhammad Ali. ”I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies and always willing to be a voice for the voiceless,” he wrote. “I want to be a voice for the voiceless and I cannot do that by going on this kind of a trip to Israel,” he said.

After Bennett posted the letter on Twitter, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills retweeted it, saying, “Couldn’t have said it any better. I’m in!”

The publicity trip was announced by the Israel Tourism and Public Diplomacy Ministries on Feb. 5. The NFL delegation was to feature 12 current or former players.

The 10 players presumably still signed on for the trip are: Martellus Bennett of the world champion New England Patriots, Cliff Avril, Delanie Walker, Michael Kendricks, Cameron Jordan, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Dan Williams, Justin Forsett and ESPN commentator and former linebacker Kirk Morrison.

They are to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and the Black Hebrew community in the southern city of Dimona. Some of the players are expected to be baptized in the Jordan River. An exhibition game with a squad from the Israel Football Association is scheduled for Feb. 18 in Jerusalem.

An open letter to the delegation published Thursday in The Nation and signed by several pro-Palestinian organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, and by author Alice Walker and actors Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, called on the players to reconsider the trip, saying it is part of an effort to “help the Israeli government normalize and whitewash its ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.”

Marine Le Pen (C), French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, visits the Salon des Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship fair) in Paris, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Sunday Reads: Is Israel’s bipartisan support at risk?, Le Pen against yarmulkes, the Republican challenge


William Kristol writes about the Republican challenge in the age of Trump:

This imposes on the Republican party a peculiar obligation: to guide him when possible, to check him when advisable, to rebuke and oppose him when necessary. And, of course, to support him when he does the right thing, as in the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But support of a president of one’s own party is, as it were, natural. It’s opposition that will be difficult.

David Makovsky takes a look at the issues that will be discussed at the Trump-Netanyahu meeting:

To be sure, neither leader is likely to put forward any concrete agreements on such issues during this initial meeting. Rather, their wide-ranging discussion of key topics will probably be foundational, setting the basis for which decisions will need to be made in the months ahead.


Ben Dror Yemini believes Israel is risking its bipartisan support by aligning with the Trump administration:

I was at the protests against him last week. I spoke to countless pro-Israel Jewish activists. There is one conclusion: Israel is playing with fire. In the past, Israel received bipartisan support. The Democrats have not turned into Israel haters. But only a blind person can’t feel the change. This isn’t predetermined destiny. It can be stopped. But I’m not certain that the current government is capable of doing what is best for Israel. It is enthusiastic over the illusion of an alliance with the new administration. This is dangerous.

David Horowitz gives his perspective on the same issue:

If Netanyahu places Israel fawningly and uncritically in Trump’s corner, he will risk alienating Israel from subsequent American leaderships. He will have deeply undermined US bipartisan support for Israel on a scale that dwarfs the impact of his Obama-challenging, anti-Iran deal speech to Congress in March 2015. He will also, not incidentally, deepen the alienation from Israel of a sizable chunk of America’s Jewish community.

And when the American political pendulum swings again, as swing it surely will, the consequences for American-Israeli ties will be devastating. To use the simple word that Netanyahu most shrinks from, the one he rightly fears the most, Israel will be weakened.

Middle East

Michael Weiss doesn’t think Trump will be able to split between Russia and Iran:

The central contradiction in Donald Trump’s foreign policy, so far as a policy can be divined, has been reconciling his love and hatred for two American enemies. The love, of course, is for Vladimir Putin; a “killer,” sure, but then again, who isn’t? His hatred is for the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was quite rightly described by Defense Secretary James Mattis the other day as the “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” albeit one still enjoying close Russian air and tactical support and intelligence-sharing in Syria, as well as a healthy and growing arms trade with Moscow.

Karim Sadjadpour imagines how Trump’s impatience could make the US stumble upon a war with Iran:

Yet given Trump’s ambitious inaugural promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism completely from the face of the Earth,” a policy whose success is measured in years if not decades will appear weak and inadequate. This lack of strategic patience is precisely why the prospects for conflict with Iran are greater than they’ve ever been.

Jewish World

Yair Rosenberg explains Marine Le Pen’s demand to ban yarmulkes and dual French-Israeli citizenship:

Beyond anti-Jewish prejudice, there is another force at work here: Islamophobia. The desire to marginalize Muslims is implicit in all of the above Le Pen policies: bans on dual citizenship are meant to impact Muslim immigrants, while bans on religious attire are meant to suppress the expression of Islam. But in order to deflect charges of bigotry, the National Front needed to implicate at least one other religious group so they could argue that they were not simply targeting Muslims for discrimination. Thus, Jews became collateral damage in the far-right’s anti-Muslim dragnet.

Heather Gilligan writes about the curious story of Jewish refugee professors who found their homes at black Universities in the 40s:

When Jewish refugee Ernst Borinski fled Nazi Germany, he found a new home in very strange place: Jackson, Mississippi. The South was openly a racial hierarchy when he arrived in the 1940s, and Jews were not considered white. Yet Borinski was just one of about 50 Jewish intellectuals who fled the Holocaust and settled in the deep South to teach at historically black universities.

2 Palestinians reported dead in Gaza tunnel blast

Two Palestinians were killed and five were injured in what Gaza authorities said was an airstrike on a smuggling tunnel between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’ health minister, Ashraf al-Qidra, said Thursday, the day after the strike, that it was carried out by Israel, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman told Maan that the army was not involved in the incident.

Maan identified the two fatalities as men aged 24 and 38.

On Wednesday, four rockets were fired from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula towards the southern Israeli city of Eilat. No casualties were reported in the incident, which an affiliate of the Islamic State group said it had carried out.

A number of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the vast tunnel networks that lie below Hamas-controlled enclave. They are largely used for smuggling in the south and military purposes in the north.

Both Israel and Egypt have targeted the tunnels for destruction in the past.

On Thursday, six people were wounded in a shooting attack in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikvah.

Israeli police said a 19-year-old Palestinian man, Sadeq Nasser Awda from Nablus, opened fire Thursday afternoon near an outdoor market, Army Radio reported. The alleged assailant was arrested at the scene.

None of the wounded suffered life-threatening injuries, according to media reports.

Wisdom is the Antidote

In the last two weeks or so, I have read a great deal of statements made by Jewish organizations and rabbis dealing with our immigration policy and the merits of compassion, protest and defiance.  I’ve seen Facebook posts by liberals and conservatives that contain words in all caps.  In general, I’ve seen many statements but listened to little conversation.

I would like to add a different note to this conversation.  The quality we are missing from dialogue today is wisdom.  Wisdom is the key corrective measure to our brokenness today.  Movements and mob mentalities usually feed off of emotions rather than rational thought.  The Jewish community should not get sucked into partisan warfare and bullhorn politics just because it feels good.  We should worry less about feeling good and concern ourselves more with acting prudently and elevating discourse.

We, the Jewish People, are commanded by the Torah to follow the path of wisdom.  Deuteronomy 4:6 states, “Observe them (the laws) faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’”  We should be elevating the national dialogue, not feeding into a bipolar system consisting of executive orders and mass defiance.  We can choose a third way – the path of wisdom.

Last week, I listened to an interview with legal expert Alan Dershowitz, who explained that Attorney General Sally Yates should have outlined the constitutional legalities and illegalities of President Trump’s executive order on January 27th limiting immigration before she resigned.  Yates was not a hero for resigning.  Our national dialogue, and the responsibilities of her job, required her to bring forward her legal arguments into the public domain.  Dershowitz observed that Yates made a mistake and made “a political decision rather than a legal one.”  I would argue she made an emotional decision, rather than a rational one.

Rational thought had its day in court last Friday. US District Judge James Robart in Seattle heard the case and ruled to suspend the executive order.  Then, the administration challenged Robart’s ruling.  Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Robart’s decision.  Whether or not one agrees with the outcome, the US legal system functioned exactly as they are expected.  The courts decided this issue according to legal reasoning and logic rather than hysteria.  I believe the rabbis of the Talmud would have preferred judicial arguments as well.

President Trump nominated Neil Gorusch for the Supreme Court.  Emotions aside, I believe he is qualified.  I heard Rep. Nancy Pelosi describe him as “a hostile appointment” by President Trump.  Even if that’s true, he is still qualified.  President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.  I believe he was also qualified for the position.  Garland never even received a confirmation hearing.  The Republican majority in the Senate acted as immaturely as Yates.  They made an emotional decision and covered their ears rather than argue the merits of Merrick Garland’s nomination.

How long can this amazing country last without dialogue or compromise of any kind?  Is no rational conversation about immigration and safety possible?  One that acknowledges the fears and merits of immigration.  Is no rational conversation possible about Supreme Court nominees?  Is it better to vilify every judge in the entire judicial system until nobody is left?

We as Jews are commanded to heed the words of God and the Torah, not to faithfully observe the positions of a single political party.  Too often today it seems like I am speaking with a Jewish Democrat or a Jewish Republican.  If we are more loyal to policy than to values, then why even attend synagogue?  Why not just worship the political party platform?

The Torah is bigger than politics.  It is bigger than policy.  And it has to remain so for the sake of the future of the Jewish People.  The Torah challenges us to navigate through ideas that make us feel good and make us feel uncomfortable.  That is the Divine wisdom of the Torah.  We continue to read it and study it and debate the Torah every week as a community.

We are required to bring wisdom into the conversation, not accept the indecency of today’s shouting.  We must reject our current broken political system and raise the level of intellectual conversation.  As Deuteronomy teaches, our conduct must inspire others to look at us and say, “…that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”

The Jewish People have always offered the world a model of wisdom.  Our Talmud models heated debate that produces a synthesis of ideas – a well-reasoned compromise.  Now is not the time to descend into extreme partisanship.  That does not benefit the future of the Jewish People.  Now is the time to offer our neighbors the antidote to the stagnation and shouting that has enveloped us.

As we say every time we open the ark to reveal the Torah, “Blessed is God who gave the Torah to Israel in holiness.”  God gave us the Torah and now we, as American Jews, must share it with those around us so that we can reason, can reach compromise and can once again seek solutions to our communal problems – together.

The Forbidden Conversation, written and performed by Gili Getz. Photo by Basil Rodericks

‘Forbidden Conversation’ has people talking

In the summer of 2014, Gili Getz flew home to Israel to visit family. But the 43-year-old actor and photojournalist, who has lived in New York for the past 20 years, spent much of that trip going in and out of bomb shelters, heeding the incessant warnings of sirens from the Gaza War.

That bloody summer, which widened the canyon-like ideological divides between many in the pro- and anti-Israel camps, also silenced the spirited political debate Getz had long appreciated with his father.

“It was the first time we ever struggled talking,” Getz said. “We reached some sort of wall that I’d never experienced before. With the war and that volatile atmosphere, conversation became contentious, and our ability to talk openly about choices Israel faced was shrinking.”

Getz’s new one-man show, “The Forbidden Conversation,” is his attempt to scale that wall and expand the discussion. The 35-minute show is an intimate, honest reflection on his experience with his father, the current state of how people with conflicting political views talk about Israel, and why it matters.

He will stage the show at The Pico Union Project, a multifaith cultural arts center, on Feb. 14 and 16. The Feb. 14 show will be a workshop and lunch for mostly clergy, educators and community professionals. The Feb. 16 show will be open to the public and will feature a panel of experts discussing the challenges of dialogue. 

Getz grew up talking politics endlessly with his father, a career politician who spent time as Israeli ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Getz was optimistic about achieving a lasting peace with the Palestinians. His father was of another generation — hardened, more conservative. Tense debate wasn’t uncommon. Disagreement abounded. It fueled compelling discussion. It kept Getz engaged and in tune with Israel’s political landscape. It always ended with food.

Getz developed his show as an artist fellow at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture at the 14th Street Y in New York. He wanted space to understand if others experienced what he had and what they were doing about it in their communities.

He was fascinated with what people felt when talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People young and old, politically left and right, were tired of screaming matches, tired of being demonized. He found rabbis fearful of any conversation about Israel, afraid to alienate congregants. The struggle, and often pain, was ubiquitous.

Getz premiered the piece in the spring of 2015 at the 14th Street Y. A panel discussion ensued from it and Getz decided to have the audience break up into discussion groups afterward to continue the dialogue. It’s a signature of the show that stuck for subsequent performances on college campuses and at Jewish institutions. The show has now become as much of a dialogue with the audience as it is a performance.

Getz said he loves seeing his audiences break up into groups because “that’s where they can really talk.”

“We have had people representing many different political perspectives,” he said. “Some might disagree with me personally, but most have had a positive experience overall. People on my left and right have shared their struggle to engage with others on Israel.”

A high point for Getz was hearing a male audience member loudly boast after a performance that he had managed to talk to people about the Gaza War without yelling or screaming.

“For this guy, it was the fulfillment of his own personal ‘I have a dream,’ ” Getz said.

However, Getz has received one note of criticism: Why even bother talking about Israel? If it’s so strained, why not just disengage?

Getz pushed back on that view:

“The American-Jewish community is deeply connected to Israel. The notion that we can’t develop a culture where we can talk openly about such an important issue in our community, I don’t accept. It’s the one opinion I have a hard time with.”

Getz makes it a point at performances to address individuals who are skeptical about engagement on Israel. For him, that’s where the discussion starts — persuading people that, because Israel is such a near and dear issue in American-Jewish circles, engaging on Israel equates to engaging communally in a strictly Jewish context.

“A kid growing up in the Jewish community today learns that we can’t disagree respectfully while sharing a space grounded in Jewish identity and commitment to the community,” he said. “A space like that doesn’t exist. If they don’t learn there’s a healthy way to disagree while also being committed to the community, they’re likely to leave it altogether. If we have a space that supports engagement with Israel, however it comes — as long as it’s grounded in Jewish identity and genuine concern for the well-being of Israelis and Palestinians — it should be welcomed. That includes supporting the settlement movement, opposing occupation, solidarity with Palestinians and everything in between. Spaces like that have to develop or it will exacerbate the divide.”

Getz also believes that hearing the other side, something his show strongly promotes, can benefit hardliners, regardless of their political leanings. 

“Those spaces and honest dialogue help us better understand our own arguments,” he said. “We don’t always understand our own viewpoints fully until we are confronted by other human beings who voice a counterargument.”

In the play, Getz discusses his own progressive position. He opposes the occupation and is a proponent of a two-state solution. An illuminating moment comes when he refers to Israel’s fallen prime minister, Yitzak Rabin, as his “first political hero.”

During the early 1990s, Getz was a photographer for the Israeli military — his mandatory service. In 1995, on his final assignment, he took photos at the funeral for Rabin, who before his death was on the precipice of peace with Palestinian leadership.

When asked about Rabin, a drawn-out silence passed before Getz answered:

“Doing this play, I went back and thought about those times, and looked at those photos, and relived the trauma of the Rabin assassination and the death of the peace process, essentially — what I feel ended up being the death of the two-state solution,” he said. “This play is definitely a way for me, still, to mourn all that. And it definitely shaped my point of view.”

The scene after a terrorist attack in Petah Tikva, Israel, on Feb. 9. Screenshot from YouTube

6 wounded in attack in Petach Tikvah

Six people were wounded in a shooting and stabbing attack in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikvah.

Israeli police said a 19-year-old Palestinian man from the West Bank opened fire Thursday afternoon near an outdoor market, CNN reported. One person reportedly was stabbed in the commotion.

The alleged assailant was arrested at the scene.

None of the wounded suffered life-threatening injuries, according to media reports.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for photographs outside number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Is Israel justified in trying to break Breaking the Silence?

Connecting the dots is easy.

In Jerusalem: “The Jerusalem municipality is shutting down the Barbur Gallery, a nonprofit art space in the downtown area, because it planned to host an event by Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans’ anti-occupation group which collects testimonies from soldiers serving in the Palestinian territories.”

In Britain: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday asked his British counterpart Theresa May to halt funding for what he called nonprofit organizations that are “hostile to Israel.”

Also in Jerusalem: “The Foreign ministry plans to reprimand the Belgian Ambassador to Israel Olivier Belle over his country’s support for the non-governmental groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to do so, after discovering that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel had met with representative of the left-wing group during his three-day visit to Israel.”

At the airport: “senior Jewish-American executive of the New Israel Fund, which helps fund many left-wing organizations working in Israel and the West Bank, was delayed for questioning by immigration officials upon arrival in Israel on Wednesday in what the group claims was for political reasons.”

Understanding and explaining their meaning is more difficult.

It is more difficult because all explanations are politically charged.

Certain people, the New Israel Fund has many such people, believe the government is involved in an attempt to silence legitimate voices. The event in which the NIF was involved, they say, was “a serious act aimed at intimidating a social activist because of her activities for Israel and Israeli society. The Israeli government… has been persecuting Israeli human rights activists for some time now. Now this policy is being directed at diaspora Jews as well.”

Other people believe that the government of Israel has finally mustered the courage to do something against organizations that take advantage of Israel’s relaxed approach and hurt its foreign relations and security. “The Barbur Gallery” – the gallery that hosted the Breaking the Silence event – “is funded from public money”, Minister Miri Regev reminded the Mayor of Jerusalem. It should not use these funds to “constitute a house for Breaking the Silence, an anti-Israel propaganda organization which spreads lies against the State of Israel and IDF fighters.”

Of course, every case is unique, and every case should be examined separately. A gallery that gets public funding might be subjected to rules different from those governing Israel’s foreign relations. Israel requesting the Brits to reexamine their funding of Israeli NGOs is different from Israel’s decision to reprimand Belgium for a meeting the Belgian PM had in Israel. The questioning of an NIF dignitary at the airport should be looked at carefully to determine whether this was intentional political harassment or maybe an intentional provocation by the visiting NIF staffer.

But overall, it is clear that Israel is upping the ante in its activity against some of the most politically critical organizations that operate here. Why? Two possible reasons come to mind – and these are not mutually exclusive.

One – it is politically beneficial for a right-wing coalition aiming to convince its voters that it is “doing something” about the most annoying elements within Israel’s society. The NGOs in question are the political strawman against which the coalition can unite.

Two – it is strategically important for Israel to dismantle a complicated infrastructure, run by irresponsible Israelis and funded by foreign governments, aiming to weaken Israel. This infrastructure of organizations is a crucial player in the BDS battle against Israel, as it gives Israel’s enemies the ammunition and the cover they covet as they strive to undercut Israel’s ability to defend itself and its interests.

For some Israelis and foreign observers, it’s easy to determine which of these considerations has been fueling the government’s actions. If they dislike the government, they’d go for the less flattering explanation. If they dislike the organizations, they’d go for the more flattering one. It is not as easy for the many Israelis who dislike both the government – or at least some of its more populist actions and rhetoric – and also dislike organizations that appeal to world public opinion in an attempt to turn the world against Israel.

Last year, in a survey I handled for JPPI, we found that a majority of Jewish Israelis believe that there is “too much freedom of expression” in Israel. This belief is widespread, and, as one can expect, grows stronger as we move from left to right and from secular to religious.

It is a disturbing belief, which is not quite characteristic: Jewish Israelis are known for being blunt, for being straight, for refusing to accept authority, for refusing to recognize hierarchy. But still, they feel that a line is being crossed by too many Israelis, and that the government, by letting all things pass, does not properly serve the interests of the country. We did not ask about this specifically in our survey, but it would not be unfounded to assume that Israelis’ unease with Israel having “too much freedom of expression” is mostly about the organizations that the government is currently trying to tame.

Is it a reasonable action by the government? I think it is, within limits. Asking the Brits not to fund opposition organizations in Israel is reasonable. Asking a Belgian visitor not to meet with Breaking the Silence during a formal visit is also reasonable. Asking an art gallery whose funding comes from my taxes not to engage in political activities is reasonable. Still, I’m a little concerned about all of these actions. I am concerned because I don’t trust that the government will identify the red line beyond which these actions become dangerous to Israel’s freedom of speech.

Scarlet Michaelson in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Scarlet Michaelson.

Meant2Be: A different kind of love

raised my cup of wine as the rabbi recited Kiddush in a space that was filled with young adults. My plan had been to stay in Jerusalem for five months, but this was my sixth.  

The city had compelled me to stay. The sounds of Hebrew and Arabic, both familiar and mysterious, were a musical mingling of speech and prayer. The scent of Middle Eastern delicacies wafted through the air. I lived close to train tracks, but the train no longer ran. Its tracks were paved over into a walking path, and on that summer’s evening, I saw my name etched into that path, urging me to stay even longer.

A California native, I had moved back home after attending college. My sister was a full-time student immersed in her studies; my father had begun a separate chapter in life with his new wife and daughter; and I was engaged in a frustrating job search.

Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I shuttled her to appointments, picked up her medications, did grocery shopping and laundry, and sat with her so she wouldn’t be alone.

I knew she had a life-threatening condition, but I didn’t believe she would die. She made improvements, then worsened, then recovered again. I was convinced that the radiation and radioactive iodine treatments would work. That somehow the tumors in her head and spine would shrink and disappear.

Toward the end, a medical professional told me how sick she was. I still couldn’t believe it. My mom had never believed it either. It wasn’t like a Hallmark movie, where we held hands and cried. We fought until the end, which is why the end was so devastating. I couldn’t imagine a future without her. My mom had always loved me warmly and wholeheartedly. Now that she was gone, where would I find love?

After my mother’s death, my father and his new family moved across the country. Staggered, I turned to my sister. Born several years apart, we’d lived separate lives. She was precocious, whereas I was the more obedient daughter, the overly responsible sibling. I assumed that, despite our differences, we would be there for each other now. Instead, she informed me that she wanted her space. I had to move on.

I found a room in an apartment. My new roommate was Israeli and had been living in the States for years. I got to know his friends, most of whom were Israeli ex-pats. They hung out in groups, speaking Hebrew and sharing stories. The language, which I’d learned in elementary school, came back to me.

Finally, I went to visit Israel. It was my first time traveling alone. I stayed in hostels in Jerusalem, and rented a room in Tel Aviv. I had an amazing time navigating around in Hebrew and English, meeting people, and falling in love with a place I’d only heard about.

When I went back to the States, I moved to be near my mother’s mother. I loved being with my grandmother. She was sweet and funny; we cheered each other up and found joy in small things together. But my grandmother’s health was failing, and after a short time, she, too, passed away.

Her death brought back the broken feeling I had after my mother’s death. I moved again, wanting to be near relatives, but couldn’t integrate into their nuclear families. I didn’t feel like I belonged.

And so I returned to Israel — this time it was work-related. I discovered people who took Jewish learning seriously and saw that I could study to enhance my life. The idea appealed to me so much that, after going back to the States and working overtime for six months, I put my belongings in storage and returned to Israel to learn.

During this time, I realized that Judaism is more than a religion — it is a way to live. I met people who were different from my secular Israeli roommate and his friends, people who observed Shabbat, ate strictly kosher and prayed every day. Many of them were progressive and open-minded. I didn’t know religious people could be that way.

I quickly took on the practice of Shabbat. Without television, the internet or shopping, my new community and I were present for each other. Keeping kosher was relatively easy for me, because I had been a vegetarian since college. And I found myself enjoying prayer — connecting with something greater than myself, an eternal something that also connected me with my mother and grandmother. When I prayed, I felt embraced by love.

My year in Jerusalem changed me. There, among the olive trees and pale limestone, I felt whole again. Jerusalem, the holy city, gave me a sense of being part of a type of family that I had never known. This family was not biological. Instead, its members connected by practicing ancient traditions in a modern world. This family had faith and hope in the future.

Finally, so did I.

Scarlet Michaelson is a writer living in Pico-Robertson.

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Israel intercepts rockets aimed at Eilat

Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome system intercepted at least three missiles fired from the Sinai at its southernmost resort town, Eilat.

The Israeli media quoted the army as saying the missiles were fired Wednesday evening. There were varying counts on the total number of missiles fired, between four and seven. There were no injuries.

Eilat has not suffered an attack since 2012, according to Haaretz.

Israel and Egypt have beefed up efforts to roust militant Islamist terrorists in the Sinai peninsula, territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and returned to Egypt as part of the 1978 Camp David peace accords.

Earlier this week there was a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Asylum seekers protesting at the Holot detention center in the southern Negev Desert of Israel on Feb. 17, 2014. Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

How Israel’s travel bans are — and aren’t — like Trump’s

Defending his executive order directing the construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, President Donald Trump pointed to Israel as a model, saying “a wall protects.”

With another swipe of his pen two days later, on Jan. 27, Trump enacted a targeted travel ban. As it turns out, that executive order, which has since been suspended by a federal judge, also has at least superficial similarities to Israel’s immigration regime.

“Officially, we are like Trump,” said Amnon Rubenstein, a law professor at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and former Israeli education minister. “We don’t accept refugees or immigrants” who aren’t Jewish under Israel’s Law of Return. “But the reality is a little different.”

Israel for years has maintained Trumpian semi-bans on entry by citizens from several Arab countries and asylum seekers. The difference is that the law is often not enforced.

The Trump travel ban barred entry to the United States by immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days. It also blocked all refugees for 120 days, and refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria indefinitely.

Since 2007, Israel has legally refused entry to most citizens from three of the countries on Trump’s list — Iran, Iraq and Syria — as well as from Lebanon. These “enemy states” were added to a 2003 emergency law, passed in response to the second intifada, that has largely stopped Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from living in Israel.

Israel has also taken a relatively hard line on asylum seekers, who in its case come mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. The state has generally deemed these migrants “infiltrators” seeking work, though many have fled persecution and human rights abuses at home, according to human rights groups. Between 2009 and the beginning of 2015, Israel granted refugee status to just five of more than 3,500 applicants, or a fraction of 1 percent. That contrasts with the 84 percent of Eritreans and 56 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers who received either refugee status or extended protection in other countries in 2014, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

At the same time, Israel has deterred more African migrants from coming and sent out those who have already arrived. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted in a tweet responding to Trump’s shout-out, Israel in 2014 completed a fence along its border with Egyptian-controlled Sinai. The previous year, Israel built a detention center in the Negev just for the migrants, and it has given cash incentives to tens of thousands to return to South Sudan or go to third countries with which Israel has reached agreements.

“Israel, like the U.S. right now, is violating its obligations to refugees,” said Tally Kritzman-Amir, an expert in immigration law at the College of Law and Business outside Tel Aviv and the academic supervisor of its Clinic for Migrants’ Rights. “If you ask me, part of being Jewish is about remembering what happened to our people in the past, and maybe even being proud that we are able to provide some protection now.”

But whereas Trump’s travel ban allows few exceptions, Israel’s immigration laws are full of loopholes and are sometimes simply ignored entirely.

“Israel is primarily a country of Jewish repatriation. Non-Jewish immigration is supposed to be very limited,” said Alexander Yakobson, a historian at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “And yet the number of non-Jewish immigrants here is staggering. This is achieved not through policy but through non-enforcement of immigration laws.”

The law targeting West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and citizens of the four Arab countries allows the interior minister or regional military commanders to make various exceptions. These include the options to grant residency to older Palestinian spouses and citizenship to young children. Citizenship, or a lesser status, can also be granted to someone “of special interest to the State” or who “performed a significant act to promote the security, economy or some other important matter of State.” Such a person, whose family may be included, must identify with “Israel and its goals.”

A 30-year old gay poet who had fled persecution for his sexuality in Iran and professed to be “in love with” Israel was allowed to enter the country last year and stay.

For those who need to enter Israel for work or medical care, temporary visas can be issued. Israeli army medics have brought more than 2,600 Syrians to the country for care, though the state will not recognize them as refugees, and tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians are permitted to work in Israel, with thousands more coming in illegally.

Even African migrants in many ways have been accommodated. Israel has expelled few, and more than 45,000 are estimated to remain in the country. Several years ago, the state announced it would not enforce employment laws that would prevent them from working. In Tel Aviv, where most of the migrants have settled, they work behind the counters of bars and restaurants on nearly every block, speaking Hebrew with Israeli waiters and waitresses.

Trump’s travel ban has been challenged in U.S. federal courts as discriminatory, with lawyers pointing to his calls as a candidate for a “Muslim ban” as proof. Israel has similarly been accused in its Supreme Court of privileging Jews and discriminating against would-be Palestinian immigrants and African refugees when it comes to immigration. The state’s security arguments have mostly carried the day, with the courts only requiring tweaks to its policies.

A U.S. federal appeals court is expected to rule on the legality of Trump’s travel ban within days, after which an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to the media in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2015. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land

Germany condemned a controversial new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Berlin said Wednesday that the “regulations law” undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

The law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

Censure of the law has come from governments around the world, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinians. The United States has refused to comment. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that it “will be obviously a topic of discussion” when President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet later this month.

Most of Israel’s political opposition and even members of the governing coalition oppose the legislation. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

“In view of the many reservations which the Israeli attorney general, among others, has affirmed once more, it would be good if the bill could soon undergo a critical legal review,” the German statement said. “We hope and expect that the Israeli government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party was the law’s staunchest supporter, is meeting Wednesday with her German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

Likud party member Tzachi Hanegbi speaks at the J Street conference in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29, 2013. Photo from JTA

The man who may replace Bibi

A close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzachi Hanegbi, currently the Likud Minister of Regional Cooperation, arrived in the US capital last week to meet with Congressional officials and attend a Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy (WINEP) seminar. With police investigations against the Israeli premier for alleged corruption intensifying, Ma’ariv and Al-Monitor columnist Ben Caspit wrote on Sunday that Netanyahu would likely select Hanegbi as his replacement if he were forced to step down.

During his time in Washington, Hanegbi spoke with Jewish Insider about the Iran deal, settlement construction and recent legislation to defund the United Nations stemming from its December resolution condemning Israel. While President Donald Trump had called his “number one priority to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” Hanegbi clarified that such a move is not a “realistic demand.” The Likud minister added, “The US can withdraw from the agreement, but it is not going to make the agreement disappear or torn apart.”

Hanegbi declined to comment directly on the legislation pushed by GOP Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) about completely defunding the UN in response to the December Security Council vote. “I feel that it is not going to be wise on my part to give suggestions to the United States,” he noted. At the same time, Hanegbi added, “There are several ways to repair it. Not all of them are militant. Some of them can be through diplomacy.”

(Editor’s note: The interview was conducted before the White House statement on settlements)

Jewish Insider: Last week you said, “Nobody, I think, in Israel is really calling for tearing the JCPOA agreement (Iran deal) apart.” Why is this the case? 

Tzachi Hanegbi: “Because it is not realistic since it’s not only an American-Iranian agreement. It’s an agreement that was signed by the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and it was adopted by the United Nations and the European Union and by most countries in the world. The US can withdraw from the agreement, but it is not going to make the agreement disappear or be torn apart. So that is not a realistic demand.”

JI: In response to the UN Security Council vote in December against Israeli settlements, should the US cut off all of its assistance to the international body? (Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have introduced legislation to end American assistance to the UN) 

Hanegbi: “I feel that it is not going to be wise on my part to give suggestions to the United States what is the right way to repair the devastating damage that was done with this resolution. There are several ways to repair it. Not all of them are militant. Some of them can be through diplomacy. We know the target: to make this resolution disappear. How to do it? As I said, there are various options.”

JI: Have you met with any Trump Administration official while you are in Washington?

Hanegbi: “I am concentrating during my visit only on the Congress and the forum that was convened by the Washington Institute.”

JI: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 3,000 settlementhomes in the West Bank in addition to 2,500 units last week. Do you see this new construction surge in response to the new Trump presidency? 

Hanegbi: “I really don’t know why it was announced. I remember many protests of the last Administration so I am sure there were several occasions of such announcements. I don’t know why they were in week one [of the Trump admin] but I think that the administration understands that the way to go forward is to advance the negotiations and go back to discussing the issues. Once you have the solution, and you have final arrangements and two states for two people solution, there are not settlements anymore. There is a border and there is Palestine and Israel. This is a major understanding of the current administration.”

Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Defense, Eli Ben-Dahan (front) and other Israeli lawmakers gesture as they attend a vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel’s juvenile settlement legalization law

The newspapers cannot even agree on a name for the law that the Knesset passed last night, with a 60-52 vote.

One option: Provocative Law to Retroactively Legalize Settlements.

Another one: historic legislation hailed by the Right.

Another one: Contentious Palestinian Land-grab Bill.

Another one: Sweeping legislation that aims to prevent future demolitions of settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

What is this law really about?

It is a law that aims to prevent the evacuation of homes built on Palestinian-owned land many years ago – that is, to save a few hundred settlers an inconvenience. It is a law aimed to demonstrate to the public that the Knesset is doing everything within its power to support the settlers – an important political voting bloc. It is a law aimed at scoring points within the right-wing camp as its leaders try to position themselves for a future battle for Israel’s leadership in a post-Netanyahu era. It is a law aimed as provoking the High Court into proving, once more, that the incompetence of the right is truly the fault of legal elites rather than misguided policies.

Put me as an all-of-the-above responder. And also none-of-the-above. My headline for this morning – following the vote that affirmed the law that allows Israel to compensate a Palestinian land-owner, instead of evacuating a settler from a home built on the Palestinian’s land – is somewhat different. My headline is:

The Knesset passes provocative Frustration Law.

The Knesset passes – that’s a fact.

Provocative – I think that is also a fact. The Palestinians were provoked, the Israeli left was provoked, the status quo was provoked, and I assume many countries in the so-called International Community will claim to be provoked.

Law – Another fact. At least for now. It is a certainty that a legal appeal will force Israel’s High Court to decide whether this law is truly legal. It is widely assumed that the High Court is going to reject the legality of this law – as the Attorney General warned the government it will.

Frustration – Yes, that is the part I need to explain. Why do I call it the Frustration Law?

I will begin by reminding us all that Israel’s right-of-center coalition has been in power for most of the time since 1977. It is a strong coalition that has the support of most Israelis – and even more so of Jewish Israelis. It is a coalition that includes secular and traditional hawks, religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox parties. It is a coalition sympathetic to Israeli settlements and to Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

It is also a coalition that never agreed on and never presented a coherent remedy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a dreamy Israeli left is willing to hand the Palestinians land in Judea and Samaria in return for peace; and while a more sober Israeli left-of-center advocates for an Israeli withdrawal from parts of Judea and Samaria to have a clear Jewish majority and rid Israel of the occupation (even if there is no peace as a result of such a move); the right-religious coalition is split and incoherent. Some factions of it maintain that the status quo is currently the only option. Some insist on a two-state solution yet maintain that the other state – Palestine – will be a “state minus,” whatever that means. Some want to keep all the settlements in place, and all the land in Israeli hands, and give the Palestinians “autonomy” (autonomy-plus is a little less than a state-minus). Some want to annex the territory and give all Palestinians the right to become Israeli citizens.

So the right has many solutions but not a solution. Moreover, it has many solutions that cannot be sold: Israelis are not quite comfortable with adding two million (or one and a half, as if that matters) Palestinian citizens. The international community does not accept the legality of settlements. The Palestinians show no inclination to accept any less than a full state status. The High Court insists that lawfulness has to be maintained.

The right is stuck. It has the political power, it controls the government and the Knesset, but it does not have a clear solution to sell, and does not have the majority to support it. Thus, it passes a law that is more an airing of frustrations than it is a solution to anything.

The right-wing coalition is frustrated with Israelis who do not accept its solutions (the “left” – namely, all those who do not support the coalition). The right-wing coalition is frustrated with an international community that attempts to pressure Israel to accept a solution that is also no solution. The right-wing coalition is frustrated with a court that refuses to let it look for solutions outside the boundaries of the law. The right-wing coalition is naturally frustrated with Palestinians, who refuse to agree to its prescribed remedy for the conflict.

So it turns to the immature non-solution of passing meaningless laws and declaring victory. As if keeping some home in the settlement of Ofra from being evacuated – in the unlikely scenario in which the court accepts the legality of the new legislation – solves anything. As if giving Israel the right to compensate private owners of land in the West Bank rather than letting them keep their land is going to lighten the burden of the conflict whose roots are deep and whose immunity to solution is strong.

No, the Israeli right is not responsible for the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not yet solved. No, the Israeli right is not necessarily wrong in rejecting solutions that aim to dismantle all settlements and sever Israel’s ties to Judea and Samaria. No, Israel’s right is not the only faction whose bank of ideas is empty and whose only viable option is to more or less stick to the status quo.

But it is guilty of juvenile behavior. Passing a law to air its frustration with a complicated situation is juvenile behavior. After forty years in power, the coalition could be expected to be more mature. After forty years in power, it would be fair to argue that the time for juvenile behavior has passed.

The assembly hall of the Knesset on Oct. 31, 2016. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Knesset passes historic bill to legalize settlements on Palestinian land

The Israeli parliament passed a bill that would retroactively legalize some West Bank settlements built on private Palestinian land.

Knesset lawmakers voted 60-52 in favor of the measure late Monday to legalize some 4,000 settler homes.

The law, which prevents the government from demolishing the homes, comes less than a week after police forcibly evacuated the Amona outpost. It represents the first time the government has tried to implement Israeli law in Area C, part of the West Bank that is under Israeli civilian and military rule, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Knesset member Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the pro-settler Jewish Home party said Monday that the bill was “dedicated to the brave people of Amona who were forced to go through what no Jewish family will have to again,” The Times of Israel reported.

The bill has drawn sharp condemnation. Leaders of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, the second and fourth largest parties in the Knesset, respectively, both warned against its passage.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said the bill violates local and international law and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present for the vote, as his scheduled return from a trip to the United Kingdom was delayed.

Following a Monday meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu denied he had sought to delay the vote after Feb. 15, when he is set to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Haaretz reported.

“I never said that I want to delay the vote on this law,” Netanyahu said. “I said that I will act according to our national interest. That requires that we do not surprise our friends and keep them updated – and the American administration has been updated. This process was important for me because we are trying to act this way, especially with very close friends.”

On Thursday, Trump in his first statement on Israeli settlements since taking office said construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” in reaching a peace agreement, though he denied that existing settlements are impediments to a deal.

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which have traditionally been hesitant to weigh in on Israeli domestic issues, both criticized the measure on Monday.

ADL leaders said it would harm Israel’s image abroad and lead to legal repercussions.

“[I]t is imperative that the Knesset recognizes that passing this law will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director.

The director of ADL’s Israel office, Carole Nuriel, added that the measure “may also trigger severe international legal repercussions.”

AJC said it was “deeply disappointed” about the bill’s passage and called on the Supreme Court to “reverse this misguided legislation.”

“The controversial Knesset action, ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in Washington, is misguided and likely to prove counter-productive to Israel’s core national interests,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

B’Tselem, a watchdog monitoring human rights abuses in the settlements, slammed the bill.

“The law passed by the Knesset today proves yet again that Israel has no intention of ending its control over the Palestinians or its theft of their land,” the group said in a statement. “Lending a semblance of legality to this ongoing act of plunder is a disgrace for the state and its legislature.”

Peace Now, a left-leaning group promoting the two-state solution, also criticized passage.

“By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books,” the group said in a statement. “By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.”

Thom Yorke performing with Radiohead in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 1. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Radiohead will play in Israel in July

The acclaimed British rock band Radiohead will take the stage in Israel this summer.

The Grammy-winning group, which has sold over 30 million albums around the world, will play at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park in July, Haaretz reported Sunday. The specific show dates and ticket prices have not yet been released.

As Haaretz noted, the band became popular in the Jewish state after a version of its song “Creep” was featured in a 1993 commercial for the Israeli fashion brand Castro. The group performed in Israel that year, then again in 1995 as the opening act for R.E.M.

Since then, the band has gone on to become one of the most successful rock outfits in the world. Its ninth and latest album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” was released in 2016.

In 2015, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood collaborated with Israeli composer Shye Ben-Tzur on a record called “Junun.” The making of the album, which was recorded in the Rasjathan region of India with a group of Indian musicians, was the subject of a documentary filmed by the famed director Paul Thomas Anderson.

An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile launching during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran. Photo by Fars News/Reuters

Iran says missile can reach Tel Aviv in 7 minutes

A senior Iranian official threatened immediate retaliation against Israel if it is attacked, warning that Iranian missiles can reach Tel Aviv in seven minutes.

Mojtaba Zonour, a senior member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and a former Revolutionary Guards official, made the remarks over the weekend to Iran’s Fars news agency. Zonour also threatened to destroy the American military base in nearby Bahrain if Iran is attacked.

“The U.S. Army’s 5th Fleet has occupied a part of Bahrain, and the enemy’s farthest military base is in the Indian Ocean, but these points are all within the range of Iran’s missile systems and they will be razed to the ground if the enemy makes a mistake,” Zonour said Saturday. He added: “And only seven minutes is needed for the Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv.”

The comments came in the wake of Iran’s testing last week of a ballistic missile, a move that prompted President Donald Trump to impose a new round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The test also set off a flurry of tweets from Trump, included one on Feb. 2 saying that “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.” The following day, Trump tweeted that Iran is “playing with fire.”

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions targeting individuals or entities it said had assisted Iran’s missile program.

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

Let’s pretend to change political and spiritual realities

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

Let me deal with both.

1. The outpost bill

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

Why? Make believe is the answer.

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

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

2. The OU Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Episode 23 – MK Sharren Haskel: A new generation in the Likud Party

tnjb-logo-2-0MK Sharren Haskel joined the parliament not too long ago, in late 2015. Nevertheless, she’s managed to do quite a bit in the last year and a half. Haskel, the youngest MK of the Likud party, is the flag-bearer for the cannabis bill which was long opposed, and recently endorsed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

In addition to being an active member on several Knesset committees, Haskel works diligently on issues such as public diplomacy, the environment, health care, and animal rights. Returning from the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, Haskel sat with Two Nice Jewish Boys to talk about her life and service as a Knesset Member.

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

A settlement evacuated: A manufactured emotional drama


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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