Israeli soon-to-be superstar Gal Gadot in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Clay Enos/DC Comics

Could Gal Gadot become the biggest Israeli superstar ever?


Try to think of the most famous Israelis in history. Not necessarily the most consequential or “important” ones — like any number of Nobel Prize winners or behind-the-scenes Middle East peace deal negotiators — but those who are most universally recognizable.

Most lists would likely include a pioneering role model (Golda Meir), a supermodel who once dated Leonardo DiCaprio (Bar Refaeli), its seeming prime minister for life (Benjamin Netanyahu), a politician with crazy hair (David Ben-Gurion), a war hero with a pirate-style eye patch (Moshe Dayan) and a virtuoso violinist (Itzhak Perlman).

Some might even mistakenly include a fictional character — Ziva David, the former Mossad agent on “NCIS,” America’s most-watched TV show, who is played by a Chilean actress.

But a new name may soon go at the very top of the list: Gal Gadot (pronounced “gahl gah-DOTE”).

The actress and model is set to star in the upcoming remake of “Wonder Woman,” a film based on the legendary DC Comics series that hits U.S. theaters June 2.

[MORE: Why casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman really matters]

Starring in the average Hollywood superhero blockbuster instantly makes any actor an international sensation — but this isn’t your average superhero flick. “Wonder Woman,” featuring one of the few iconic female superheroes, carries the kind of symbolic weight that could turn Gadot into a global feminist torch-holder for decades to come. (That’s assuming the movie doesn’t tank, that she’ll continue to appear in sequels, and that feminists will accept a role model whose everyday outfit is essentially a one-piece bathing suit.)

For those who don’t know her yet, Gadot, 32, has long been a household name in Israel, where she has been a supermodel since winning the Miss Israel pageant at 18 in 2004. Unlike Refaeli, the famed Israeli model she is often compared to, Gadot is known, too, for carrying out her mandatory two years of military service in the Israel Defense Forces. And if you’re wondering: Yes, she is married (to Israeli real estate businessman Yaron Versano).

Gadot scored a part as an ex-Mossad agent in the fourth film of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise in 2009 — in part, she has said, because director Justin Lin was impressed with her military experience. Since then she has had a few other small roles in Hollywood films, such as “Date Night” (starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey). Her first appearance as Princess Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman’s real name) came in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in 2016.

Gadot, 32, shown in a scene from “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Alex Bailey/DC Comics

 

So she isn’t yet widely known outside of Israel (except maybe to a hardcore cadre of “Fast and Furious” fans), but her public profile is about to radically change. “Wonder Woman” isn’t an amazing piece of art, though it will likely satisfy fans of the other over-the-top superhero films released in the past decade or so. It is projected to perform at least as well as some of its male-centric counterparts, such as “Captain America” or “Thor,” at the U.S. box office (at least $65 million to $83 million) and should rake in hundreds of millions of dollars around the world.

Beyond the numbers, “Wonder Woman” must also bear the weight of the feminist anticipation that has been building steadily around the film for years. The hype only increased when a female director (Patty Jenkins) took over the project in 2015, making “Wonder Woman” the first female superhero film to be directed by a woman.

And Gadot is actually already well on her way to becoming embraced as a feminist icon. Last fall, she was included in a U.N. ceremony honoring the Wonder Woman character as an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. (The United Nations soon dropped the character as an honorary ambassador after staffers there complained that the comic book superheroine was “not culturally encompassing or sensitive.”) Gadot recently proclaimed that Wonder Woman “of course” is a feminist in an Entertainment Weekly interview that is being cited across the internet. From her lack of underarm hair to the kind of shoes she wears, everything is being analyzed through a feminist lens.

It won’t hurt Gadot’s popularity that she seems to be, as the original Wonder Woman character was in the comics, sculpted from clay by a god. On screen, she has a magnetic quality — simultaneously graceful, elegant, tough, athletic and bursting with sex appeal.

How popular will Gadot become? It’s hard to say. Other recent female superhero movies have starred actresses who already were well-known, such as Jennifer Garner in “Elektra” and Halle Berry in “Catwoman.” Neither movie made much of an impact. Hollywood is also prone to reboot its most popular franchises, swapping out actors and diluting a star’s connection to a character (see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in the various Spider-Man films, and the many actors linked to Batman and Superman).

Cast member Gal Gadot poses at the premiere of “Wonder Woman” in Los Angeles on May 25. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

 

One thing is for sure: Gadot will go down in history as a distinctly Israeli actress. Unlike Natalie Portman, an international superstar and Oscar winner who was born in Israel but left at age 2, Gadot speaks English with an Israeli accent. She talks openly about being from a small Israeli city, Rosh Haayin, and her love of the Israeli character.

“In Israel, people have chutzpah,” she said in a recent cover story in Marie Claire. “People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games. Here, everyone’s like, ‘We love you; you’re so wonderful.’ I prefer to know the truth, not waste time.”

So if Gadot finds the the superstardom she seems headed for, Israel will have a new most famous face.

President Donald Trump is flanked by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10. Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Lieberman said Israel tweaked intel-sharing after Trump revelations to Russians


Israel’s defense minister said Israel had made changes to how it shares intelligence with the United States in the wake of President Donald Trump’s revelation of highly classified information to Russian officials.

Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio on Wednesday that the change would not affect the close U.S,.-Israel intelligence sharing relationship.

“I can confirm that we did a spot repair and that there’s unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States,” Lieberman said, according to a Voice of America report.

“What we had to clarify with our friends in the United States, we did,” said Lieberman, who would not elaborate. “We did our checks.”

Trump in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador to the United States earlier this month described in detail information that led the United States to conclude that the Islamic State terrorist group was planning to attack an aircraft with a laptop bomb.

He did not describe sources, but the detail could lead the Russians to learn who had provided then information and could identify the spy who infiltrated the group, according to reports.

Some reports said Israel had shared the information with Trump.

Britain also reassessed its intelligence sharing after U.S. media published details about this week’s deadly bomb attack on a pop concert in Manchester. Trump ordered an investigation into those leaks.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, D.C., on May 3. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Tillerson embraces Middle East linkage theory


Aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace, as he explained President Trump’s investment in relaunching direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

While Tillerson did not fully explain his comments, the mere suggestion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian is key to solving the broader problems of the Middle East in challenging violent extremism is “nonsensical,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute. “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.”

Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.”

At the same time, Rumley emphasized that there were some kernels of truth in Tillerson’s comments. “Certainly, one of the reasons the concept of an ‘outside-in’ approach has fallen out of favor with this White House is that Arab leaders have communicated their reticence to bring their covert relationships with Israel to light without advancement on the Palestinian front. So I do think there is a layer of truth here in that solving the ‘peace dilemma’ may give regional actors the ability to advance their relationships with Israel.”

White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster on May 16. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Why was McMaster not invited to Trump’s meeting with the Israelis | Tillerson embraces linkage | Ashkenazy to take over the Plaza?


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KAFE KNESSET — McMaster left out of Bibi-Trump meeting — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The White House National Security advisor General H.R. McMaster did not participate in the Trump-Netanyahu meeting on Monday, Kafe Knesset​ has learned. McMaster had a long, three-hour meeting with Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman on Monday evening, but according to multiple Israeli sources, he did not participate in the leaders’ summit that took place beforehand at the King David Hotel.

Trump and Netanyahu met on Monday evening, and started their encounter as a four-eyes meeting. Two Israeli officials said that later on the forum was joined by several advisors, to a Plus-3 forum. The President was then joined by Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman. The Israeli team was augmented with Ambassador Ron Dermer, Special Envoy Isaac Molcho and foreign policy advisor Jonathan Schachter. According to an Israeli official who was present at the venue, at some point, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was invited to join the expanded meeting. However, McMaster sat outside the King David room during the course of the entire meeting.

Two sources in the PM’s office said that Israel did not determine who would sit in from the US side. And it is worth pointing out that McMaster’s counterpart in Netanyahu’s office also did not participate in the meeting. However, the Israeli National Security Advisor seat is currently filled by a temporary appointment, Eitan Ben-David, and as such, is not considered nearly as substantial an advisor as McMaster. Two former US administration officials told Kafe Knesset that McMaster’s absence from the meeting is “highly unusual” and “for the President to prioritize his son-in-law and his lawyer over the National Security Advisor for these kind of strategic discussions is unconventional, to say the least.”

In the week ahead of Trump’s Israel visit, some of McMaster’s statements raised some eyebrows in Jerusalem. First, he announced that the President intends to use the meeting to express “his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” which, by the way did not end up happening. Then, during a press briefing, he twice refused to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel, dodging questions on the topic with the answer: “That is a policy decision.” At the same time, a NYT article last week claimed that President Trump “has complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings, and has referred to him as “a pain.” A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment about McMaster’s absence from the meeting. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: Tillerson Embraces Middle East Linkage Theory — by Aaron Magid: Aboard Air Force One yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Netanyahu and Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.

Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute, noted: “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.”[JewishInsider]

Elliott Abrams tells us: “The Obama administration also began with the view that “solving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to peace in the entire Middle East. It’s not a new thought–but it is discredited, so I am  surprised to see it emerge again in these early months of the Trump administration. It is completely wrong. Does anyone really believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has much to do with the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, or Syria? Does Israeli-Palestinian peace end the subversion by Iran, or stop its nuclear program? The United States faces enormous challenges in the Middle East–from Russia and Iran, from jihadis and terrorists–and seeing them through the prism of Israeli-Palestinian relations leads nowhere–or leads to failure.”

“Dating conflict at 50 years old, Trump appears to quietly adopt Arab stance” by Raphael Ahren: “The White House’s use of Six Day War as starting point of strife may indicate it sees pullback toward 1967 lines as key to reaching peace.” [ToI]

PRESSURE IS ON  — “US said pushing Israel to transfer parts of West Bank to PA administrative rule” by Alexander Fulbright: “Despite a series of economic incentives approved on Sunday by the Israeli cabinet, the US wants to see greater concessions to the Palestinian Authority and views the recent measures as insufficient, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. Specifically they have asked for areas in the northern West Bank to be transferred from Area C to Area B, according to the report… The Prime Minister’s Office later denied the Channel 10 report.” [ToI] • Naftali Bannett: “The era in which we treat the Land of Israel as a mere piece of real estate – that era is over.” [INN]

“After Trump’s Israel love offensive, will Bibi reach a deal with him?” by Ben Caspit: “There is no way Trump will be able to ignore the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative if he really wants to resuscitate the now moribund diplomatic process. But will Netanyahu be willing to enter into negotiations on the basis of that initiative? Given the current state of his coalition, the answer is no… The question now is whether President Trump will be able to create the iron bridge that Netanyahu can use to cross that Rubicon for the first time in his career.” [Al-Monitor]

“We Can’t Predict Whether Trump Will Succeed in the Middle East” by Hussein Ibish: “The big danger is that Trump is raising expectations only to see them dashed because he lacks a real plan… Even with the best of intentions, miscalculations can cause enormous harm…  Alternatively, this may be just another Trumpian boondoggle, a baseless and reckless gamble at everybody else’s expense.” [TheAtlantic]

“Israel’s ‘Biggest Friend’? Not Quite” by Bari Weiss: “Mr. Trump may be a boor, goes the logic, but didn’t he promise to tear up the Iran deal? Wouldn’t the man who called himself Israel’s “biggest friend” finally move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? And wouldn’t the straight-talker buck the stalemated peace process and acknowledge the truth about the conflict — namely, that Palestinian recalcitrance, not settlements, is the real obstacle to peace? To paraphrase the country singer Toby Keith: How do you like him now? That’s a question that Mr. Trump’s pro-Israel supporters ought to begin asking themselves in the wake of the president’s visit this week to Jerusalem… There are plenty of people who might make an argument in favor of Mr. Trump’s decision to maintain all the essential features of the policy status quo that he inherited from Mr. Obama. But based on this visit, Mr. Trump’s right-wing pro-Israel supporters aren’t — or shouldn’t be — among them.” [NYTimes

ON THE HILL TODAY — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee will be voting on a new Iran sanctions bill. All Republicans, with the possible exception of Senator Rand Paul (KY), are expected to support the Senate legislation in addition to prominent Democratic co-sponsors such as Ranking Member Ben Cardin (MD) and Cory Booker (NJ). Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told Jewish Insider last week that they were still undecided about the legislation. The bill was delayed until after Iran’s presidential elections, which occurred on Friday, to avoid any appearance of US intervention in Iranian internal affairs.

John Kerry’s tweetstorm: “After Rouhani’s reelection, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation. This is not the moment for a new Iran bill. There are many tools to up the pressure already in place and at our disposal. We need to weigh/consider risk to JCPOA. We need to consider the implications of confrontation without conversation.” [Twitter

–Update: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted just now as we’re going to print. The committee passed the new Iran sanctions bill by a vote of 18-3 with only one Republican (Rand Paul) voting against it. Senators Udall and Merkley also opposed the measure.

“Treasury chief says reviewing Iran’s aircraft licenses” by David Lawder: “The U.S. Treasury is reviewing licenses for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran, department head Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday… “We will use everything within our power to put additional sanctions on Iran, Syria and North Korea to protect American lives,” Mnuchin said in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee. “I can assure you that’s a big focus of mine and I discuss it with the president.”” [Reuters

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — “Trump’s $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Shouldn’t Worry Israel, Ex-intel Chief Says” by Gili Cohen: “U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the recent massive arms deal does not endanger Israel and is therefore no cause for concern, according to Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies. “It consists of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system to intercept ballistic missiles, whose chance of reaching us is very low, tanks Israel knows how to deal with and Black Hawk helicopters – these are weapons that shouldn’t raise concern,” Yadlin told Haaretz.” [Haaretz]

On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress raised questions about the Trump administration’s weapons deal with Riyadh — by Aaron Magid: Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday afternoon that the agreement “complicates the QME issue. We want Israel to always have a qualitative military edge in that region. It’s great that right now there seems to be a rapprochement between the Sunni states and Israel, but if we’re starting a new arms race to maintain the QM, that’s not a positive thing.”

Across the aisle, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) urged further time to examine the deal. “As we speak, I’m working to learn more. I’m sympathetic to Israel’s concerns so I’ve asked my staff a few hours ago to pull more information so we can see what new agreement was made. I share the concerns of Israel, which is our most cherished and reliable ally in the Middle East,” he said.

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump leave foreign trip early” by Jordan Fabian: “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will leave the president’s nine-day foreign trip early to return to Washington… “The plan was always for them to go back to D.C. after Rome,” a White House official told reporters… The official explained his decision to leave early, saying Kushner “helped plan and oversee the first part of the trip” that included the stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and at the Vatican.” [TheHill]

“Ivanka and Jared’s Roman date night in Rome” by Jennifer Smith: “The married couple dined at da Sabatino le Cave di Saint Ignazio restaurant… Their date night menu consisted of pizza margherita and caprese salad for Ivanka and a heartier combination of pasta, dumpling and bruschetta for Jared.” [DailyMail] • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection [Artnet]

“Spicer’s absence in papal visit reveals Trump’s family-first rule” by Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who are both Jewish but nonetheless attended the Vatican session with the President — have rarely been away from the President’s side as he navigates the tricky international politics of the Middle East and Europe.” [CNN

BUZZ ON BALFOUR: “Israeli police question U.S. casino mogul Adelson in Netanyahu probe” by Maayan Lubell: “Israeli police questioned U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson on Thursday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a law enforcement source said… The source said Adelson gave his testimony in regard to what police have dubbed “Case 2000″, involving suspicions Netanyahu negotiated a deal in 2015 for favorable press coverage with the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth… Adelson, who visits Israel periodically and was questioned in a police station near Tel Aviv, is not a suspect, said the law enforcement source.” [Reuters]

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Dan Loeb says Dow-DuPont merger plan may leave $20 billion on table [CNBC] • Peter Lowy Maps Westfield Growth [LABJ] • David Bistricer’s Clipper Realty to buy Touro College building on UWS for $79M [TRD] • Guess How Much Penn President Amy Gutmann Makes Now [PhillyMag] • The 25 coolest tech companies in Israel [BI] • Mark Cuban leads $1.5 million round in SaaS management tool Meta SaaS [VentureBeat]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Plaza Hotel has a promising deal with a Saudi prince” by Lois Weiss and Steve Cuozzo: “Hoping to lift the storied Plaza Hotel out of a years-long rut, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal has partnered with Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. to force a buyout. The deal could pry the Plaza out of the hands of accused fraudster Subrata Roy, who had been locked up in India amid allegations that he bilked investors out of billions of dollars, leaving the Fifth Avenue landmark’s operations to languish over the past five years… City boosters are hoping the Plaza can finally open a new chapter, with a purchase by Ashkenazky, headed by Ben Ashkenazy and Michael Alpert, of a controlling portion of Al-Waleed’s pivotal stake in the hotel.” [NYPost]

“NYC Council Speaker Defends Zoning Chairman’s Right to Raise Political Cash From Real Estate” by Will Bredderman: “Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today argued Councilman David Greenfield, her chairman of the powerful Committee on Land Use, has a legal right to use a state campaign account to circumvent local regulations barring politicians from raising money from real estate companies. The Observer revealed on Monday that the councilman has maintained GreenfieldNY, a political committee for an undeclared state office… As of January, GreenfieldNY had a balance of $308,641.71. Of that, $86,600 came from corporate donors, all but a few of them directly tied to development interests—donations that city Campaign Finance Board rules explicitly forbid, but which state Board of Election regulations allow.” [Observer]

“Simcha Felder Tells Fellow Rogue Democrats to Rejoin the Party Fold” by Jesse McKinley: “Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who also sides with the Republicans… sent a letter urging Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, the leader of the faction, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, to “unconditionally and publicly rejoin the Democrats.” Mr. Felder’s letter concluded by suggesting he might unify with fellow Democrats, too, if the conference did. Mr. Felder has previously said he would side with whatever party would best serve his district, which includes a large population of Orthodox Jews.” [NYTimes]

ACROSS THE POND: “Ariana Grande’s manager Scooter Braun’s heartbroken wife pays tribute to Manchester bombing victims” by Lara Martin: “The wife of Ariana Grande ’s manager Scooter Braun has paid heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Manchester concert bombing that left 22 innocent people dead. Yael Cohen Braun reflected on the devastating terror attack while spending precious time with her and Scooter’s eldest son, Jagger, during a family day out at a snow park. Alongside a photo of her with Jagger and her father, she wrote: “My dad and I took my big boy to see snow for the first time today… Held space in the moment for the 23 families who have lost moments like this forever. Snuggling those I love a little closer today.”” [Mirror]

“How US intelligence leaks upset two allies in one week” by Zachary Cohen: “Just days after President Donald Trump was reported to have revealed highly sensitive, likely Israeli-shared intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office, the United Kingdom is voicing its frustration over leaked information coming from US sources. UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd slammed US leaks on the investigation into the attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, as “irritating” on Wednesday after a string of details emerged from US law enforcement sources before they were released by British police or officials.” [CNN]

PROFILE: “Wanna Know What Donald Trump Is Really Thinking? Read Maggie Haberman” by Rachael Combe: “Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington… She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,” [Annie] Karni says… Trump has also sent her his famous press clippings with Sharpie notes on them, mostly with criticisms, but at least once with praise. Lately he’s gone digital (sort of): He’ll write the note on the clip, and then have White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks take a picture of the note and e-mail it to her.” [Elle

“Eli Pariser Predicted the Future. Now He Can’t Escape It” by Jessi Hempel: “Six years after the Upworthy cofounder coined the term “filter bubble,” things are much worse. The problem with online distribution, Pariser believes, is that specific, true information can’t compete with that guy surfing off his roof. “Is the truth loud enough?” he asks. “If the problem is that the truth isn’t loud enough, it points in very different directions than if the problem is that fake news is misleading people.” [BackChannel]

MEDIA WATCH: “Ken Kurson resigns at Kushner-owned ‘New York Observer’” by Dylan Byers:
“Ken Kurson, the editor-in-chief of Jared Kushner’s family-owned New York Observer, has resigned. In a move rich with political intrigue, Mr. Kurson said he would begin a new job next week as a senior managing director at Teneo Strategy, a division of the corporate advisory firm run by allies of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a memo to staff, Kurson said Kushner had “never received the credit he deserves for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the cultural fabric of our city.” Defending Kushner against the “snark” and “unfair criticism” of his detractors, Kurson said the Observer “wouldn’t exist were it not for the willingness… of the Kushner family to cut those checks. They didn’t have to do that.”” [CNNMoney; NYTimes

SPORTS BLINK — Heard Last Night: “On Wednesday, John Elway received the Mizel Institute 2017 Community Enrichment Award in recognition of his more than three decades of community service in Colorado. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock served as masters of ceremonies at the dinner and presented Elway with special honors from the state and city. About the honor, Elway said, “As far as what Larry Mizel’s done for the community with the Mizel Institute and everything, I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m obviously humbled. There’s been a lot of great people that have won this award before tonight. The list of awardees before me is tremendous. I thank Larry so much, and I’m humbled by the award.” [MileHighSports; ABC7]

DESSERT: “Silver Lake’s Mh Zh Is The Israeli Sidewalk Cafe That L.A. Didn’t Know It Was Missing” by Oren Peleg: “Mh Zh, a new Israeli restaurant opened in Silver Lake this Spring, fits into the second of these two metrics. Co-owner Conor Shemtov may be a native Angeleno, but he has spent years in kitchens near and far, including time in the central Israeli city of Ramla. The Israeli influence remains. The restaurant’s name itself is a Hebrew play on words. Mh Zh, pronounced “mAH zeh” means “what is this” in Hebrew, but could just as easily be read as mezze, a Middle Eastern version of tapas.” [LAist]

BIRTHDAYS: Physicist and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jack Steinberger turns 96… Academy Award winning film producer and director, responsible for 50 major motion pictures, Irwin Winkler turns 86… Co-founder and CEO of the clothing manufacturer, Calvin Klein Inc., which he formed with his childhood friend Calvin Klein, he is also a former horse racing industry executive, Barry K. Schwartz turns 75… Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1986 (including 7 years as Chief Judge), now on senior status, Douglas H. Ginsburg turns 71… British journalist, editor, author and Jewish community leader, he has been the City Editor of the Daily Mail (London) since May 2000 and a past VP of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Alex Brummer turns 68… Actor, voice actor, and stand-up comedian sometimes referred to as “Yid Vicious,” Bobby Slayton turns 62… Member of the Australian Parliament since 2016, Julian Leeser turns 41… NYC-based senior producer for i24 News, Alison Kurtzman turns 27… Pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization who had two effective appearances for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Ryan Sherriff turns 27… Olympic Gold medalist at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, gymnast Aly Raisman turns 23… South Florida resident Marjorie Moidel… Laura Goldman… John Davis… Robin Kramer

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Two people wearing Israeli flags are told to leave by a protest organizer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip, in Ottawa (Photo by Reuters)

The All the Rivers exchange, part 3: On tribalism


Dorit Rabinyan was born in Kefar-Saba, Israel and wrote her first novel, Persian Brides, at age twenty one. An award-winning international bestseller translated into ten languages, Persian Brides established her as the voice of a new generation in Israel. Rabinyan won the Israeli Film Academy Award for best television drama of 1997 for Shuli’s Fiancé, and the Eshkol Prize for her second novel, Strand of a Thousand Pearls. She lives in Tel Aviv.

This exchange focuses on Rabinyan’s book All the Rivers (Random House, 2017), a controversial novel that tells the story of an affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. Parts one and two can be found here and here.

***

Dear Dorit,

Your previous response mentioned the “suffocating sack of multitude…” in a way that doesn’t quite clarify if you see such suffocation negatively or positively. You tend to use passive language: “We are programmed”, “We prove loyalty to our tribe by…”. Well, should we strive to change this? Should we attempt to escape this programmed tribal affiliation?

Of course, this question goes back to the core of your book, and also to the question raised by its Israeli opponents (many of them, it should be said, did not bother to read it first). Put simplistically: do you approve of interfaith, intertribal, and international romantic relations? Or maybe you surrender to a programmed culture that views such relations negatively?

***

Dear Shmuel,

I’ll answer your question in two parts, starting with the tribal affiliation question:

Not only am I not alienated from our tribal feelings as Israelis and Jews – in the love story between Liat and Hilmi I actually give expression to these forces. The forces that shape our desires and fears – and form the nature of the most personal decisions we do or don’t make – are, in fact, the subject at the heart of the novel: the books asks to what extent a person is nothing but the image of his native landscape or, if you like, the image of a conflict tearing his native land apart. Maybe it was the telescopic view from New York – this distance and estrangement that exile enables – through which the tribal code of Israeliness felt especially transparent and harsh while writing the book. This Jewish-Arab intimacy – which undermines the Jewish command to not mix with goyim and which runs again the Zionist command to remain separate in the Middle Eastern space – actually gives special validity to the strong pulse of our community’s isolationist DNA. These tribal forces are active in Hilmi as well, and at the moment of truth he does turn his back on Liat and show his loyalty to the Palestinan collective; but in Liat’s case it seems that the collective instinct ingrained in her is stronger than her free will and that this is due to deep historical education and heritage.

I think that the conclusion that arises from the novel is that the tribal feeling is almost a force of nature. Even when we think that we are free of it, that we are independent individuals, masters of our own destiny; even when we would like to believe that we have crossed oceans and escaped the land we were raised in and that we are far away from the group that programmed our identity and loyalty to fit its own needs; even then we will see how strong this pulse, for better and worse, beats in our subconscious. This goes for our excellent humanistic values as well as for our racist consciousness, stereotypes, and anxieties. Not only do I not think that the tribal instinct is bad – through Liat and Hilmi I reflect how natural, human, and organic to their national identity it is.  Moreover, I believe that the liberal ethos whose crisis the world is currently witnessing – with the rise of Trump, Brexit, etc’ – is a reaction to the contempt that liberalism has showed toward the deep need for, and the solace found in, tribalism. Human beings need boundaries like other animals need it: a framework that gives order to the place you belong to, that delineates your sense of home. Nationhood is not at all foul in my view;  it is the nationalists who use this deep feeling – and the need for acceptance, for self-definition – that give it a bad name.

Now to the question regarding my approval of intertribal relations:

My immediate response? Every man or woman need to do what seems right to them. You didn’t expect me to answer this question with a “yes, I’m in favor” or a “no, I’m against,” right? While there is a stinking political scandal linked to me and my novel, I’m still a writer and not a politician. What interests me is the world of the soul, the complexity, the emotional dilemma, the endless shades between the black and the white.

That being said, since we already mentioned the scandal, I’ll tell you something curious – In the early days of 2016, when Israeli public discourse was feverishly obsessed with Borderlife and with the reasons given by the pedagogical committee that banned it from the school curriculum, the news desk of the IDF radio [one of Israel’s largest radio stations] asked Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics  for data on the magnitude of the phenomenon of interfaith Jewish-Arab marriage. They wanted to examine the immediacy and severity of the “threat of assimilation” that my book –Which was accused of “encouraging teenagers to engage in romantic relations between Jews and non-Jews” and “threatening separate identity” (quotes from the notorious education ministry report) – was associated with. Do you have any guess what the number was? Well, in the last twenty years there was an annual average of 18 Jewish-Arab couples who registered to get married or to receive ‘known in public’ status. I think that this negligible number shows how utterly ridiculous the whole affair surrounding the banning of the book actually was. I believe that this statistic is enough to show us how far the tribal code ingrained in Liat’s soul – the isolationist mentality pre-programmed in her by the Israeli-Zionist education system – is from being threatened by any work of art. An Israeli-Palestinian love story – beautiful, gentle, and moving as it may be – and Hebrew literature in general cannot change the demographic balance between the Jordan river and the sea, and not even within the 67 borders.

 

 

Manchester, Israel


Suicide Terror Attack Opens Painful Wounds

A Manchester suicide bomb attack on young people leaving a concert and memories of the what Israelis endured for years flood into my mind. The faces of the young people murdered at the Dolphinarium Disco, the Sbarro Cafe, on city buses, and at urban malls across the country flood back into view.

The bloodshed reawakens the trauma from all those years ago.

From 2001-2005, at least 136 suicide attacks were launched against Israel. During the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada, Sept. 2000 – Dec. 2005, a total of 1,100 Israelis were killed and many thousands were injured, paralyzed, and maimed.

I don’t know how Britain will respond to the latest attack terror against innocent Brits.

I don’t know how Britain will respond to the faces of 22 dead concertgoers who had their entire lives in front of them, who are going to be buried this week.

I don’t know how Britain will respond to the dozens of injured, who will have to spend years rebuilding their lives, and only some who will regain full use of their bodies.

However, the next time a British politician of journalist condemns Israel’s response to Palestinian terrorism I ask all of us to remind these people of the names and stories off all those killed, injured and maimed in Manchester.

May God comfort those in mourning and heal the sick and take revenge on those that perpetrated this horror.

A Charedi Orthodox man participating in the kapparot ritual in Ashdod, Israel. Photo by Dima Vazinovich/Flash90

Animal rights group appeals kapparot court ruling


Maryland-based animal rights organization, United Poultry Concerns, is appealing a recent federal court ruling that determined that Chabad of Irvine acted legally in its performance of kapparot, an ancient High Holy Day ritual involving the slaughtering of chickens.

The animal rights group is claiming that the use of the chickens violates California’s business code. However, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. of the Central District of California ruled on May 12 that the Chabad was not engaged in a “business act” because the ritual is supported by donations.

The case now goes to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case began last year when United Poultry Concerns argued that the Chabad was violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits “intentional killing of an animal and does not contain an exception for religious sacrifice.” The group alleged that the Chabad group was engaging “in business practices for profit in which they charge a fee to kill and discard animals.”

The Chabad typically accepts donations of $18 from each participant of kapparot, according to Rabbi Alter Tenenbaum, Chabad of Irvine’s spiritual leader.

In an interview, Tenenbaum praised the judge’s decision.

“I think he saw through it — that this is nonsense, this whole case is nonsense. We do kapparot once a year with 100 chickens. That issue today of animal rights is bogus,” he said. “We do it legally.”

Tenenbaum said the organization has not been donating the chickens, as is customary, but that an organization picks them up and discards them.

Bryan Pease, the attorney for United Poultry Concerns, said that while the judge determined that the practice failed to meet the criteria of an unfair business act, he did not address the legality of slaughtering chickens without the intention of eating or donating them.

“We’re charting legal territory here that hasn’t been covered — whether an institution accepting donations for this kind of ritual is considered a business practice,” Pease said. “It’s appropriate for the Ninth Circuit to weigh in.”

Tenenbaum defended the practice as comporting with thousands of years of Jewish history.

“It is a service we are offering people,” he said. “If people want to do it the right way, the original way, they have the ability to do it, and I don’t think it’s the government or any agency to tell us how we practice religion, as long as we are staying within the confines of law.”

Performed annually around the time of Yom Kippur, when community members atone for their sins, kapparot is an ancient ritual that involves transferring one’s sins to a slaughtered chicken. The atoning person waves a live chicken around his or her head, and the chicken is slaughtered afterward in accordance with kosher laws. According to Chabad.org, “its monetary worth [is] given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.”

The practice has become problematic with animal rights organizations, prompting some Jews to perform the ritual by waving a bag of coins around their heads instead of using live chickens.

Those opposed to it include progressive faith-based organizations. Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) has long opposed kapparot. Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director at CLUE, said he was disappointed over the federal judge’s decision in the Irvine case. He said his organization would continue to fight against the practice.

“I don’t think it’ll change the momentum or the desire to stop it. So in terms of organizing, it will not change much of anything,” he said. “I think it’s a disappointing decision — I’m not surprised by it — but nevertheless we will continue to really focus on just the audacity of the ritual in public spaces.”

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump’s trip: experts react


“If President Trump wanted to demonstrate his stunningly pro-Israeli credentials to pave the way for pressing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu for concessions down the road, this trip couldn’t have gone any better.”

Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


“President Trump risked stepping on his own narrative of strong support for Israel and restarting peace talks with his ‘I didn’t say the word Israel’ moment. … Regardless, the president is likely to leave Israel with the well-deserved sense that the visit was a success.”

Dan Shapiro, former United States ambassador to Israel


“The president’s belief that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace appears to be based on statements made to him by [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas. But actions by the PLO speak louder than words. The previous Israeli offers of peace were rejected, the glorification of terror continues, and payments to terrorists continue to be made.”

Elliott Abrams, former United States assistant secretary of state


“If he is going to try the same flawed policies that have failed for decades, he, too, will fail. The road to peace will begin in the towns and cities of Judea and Samaria, and we pray that he will accept our invitation to come and see real peace and coexistence in action.”

Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish communities


“Donald Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall. To a Jew, that is remarkable. … His timing to visit the Middle East at this time was impeccable. He couldn’t have picked a better time. It’s true that the Saudis proposed a peace proposal years ago, but now it’s a different Saudi Arabia. Oil is down. Saudi Arabia has a huge problem with Iran. Saudi Arabia realizes that there’s only one strong country in the Middle East that can benefit it, and it’s Israel. … [The Gulf States] are waiting for the time when it will be acceptable to have that great alliance and one of the great players will be the State of Israel, because who else can stand up to Iran other than Israel or the United States? His timing was excellent. This he could not have handled better.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles


“At a time when UNESCO and others continue to deny Jewish history, identity and rights in Jerusalem and Israel in general, the president’s visit to the Western Wall serves as a critical reminder to the world that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We are grateful that the administration recognizes the threat Iran’s regime poses to the world and to Israel in particular. We are also excited about the new possibilities of increased cooperation and even peace between Israel and the Arab world. Time will tell if these regional efforts and peace negotiations with the Palestinians will be successful, but we remain hopeful.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs, an Israel education organization

Screenshot from Twitter

Trump’s Twitter profile features his Western Wall prayer


President Donald Trump changed his Twitter profile’s background picture to feature a photo of his prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Trump or one of the people he trusts with his personal Twitter account posted the photo on Monday after Trump had prayed at the wall. The previous picture showed Trump seated in the Oval Office surrounded by staff.

Trump’s feed also included tweets reflecting his assessment that his Middle East tour this week was a success.

He thanked Israel’s leaders for their warm reception.

President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall on May 22. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Hopeful rhetoric, vague vision for peace after Trump’s Middle East visit


President Donald Trump has come and gone from his trip to the Middle East, his first foreign excursion since taking office earlier this year. He arrived — first in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Israel — with strong words about Iran as the neighborhood bully and, like so many American presidents before him, buoyant words for the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Optimistic words. Hopeful words. They all conveyed a vision and new possibility for peace in the region, a prospect “I’ve heard,” he said, that is “one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling we will get there eventually, I hope.”

Good for Trump. A new American president. A new chance for a solution. A new team to get it done.

But where were the new ideas Israeli leaders are so certain he has? What is the new approach? How does he propose to untangle the thorny issues on the ground — boundaries, settlers, Jerusalem, etc. — that have left so many presidents before him bloody with failure?

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians was a topic of much discussion when Trump visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was front and center, but not necessarily the first item on the agenda. In his speech to the Arab world in Riyadh days before, in his unscripted photo-op with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his later remarks in the prime minister’s house, Trump was more focused on Iran as the source of menace in the region. He and Netanyahu suggested that there are new opportunities in the region. Countries must unite against a common threat — Iran. That’s an opening that can be explored.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chat as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen in between them. Photo by Kobi Gideon/Courtesy of Government Press Office

Michael Oren, historian, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, said he believes that this new reality is a conduit of a “tremendous” shift. If once it was assumed that a peace with the Palestinians could lead to reconciliation of Israel with the rest of the Arab world — the situations is now reversed: A peace with the Arab world could lead to a deal with the Palestinians. If the Saudis come on board, if other Gulf states come on board, if the Arab world realizes that fighting against Israel makes no sense in this era of radicalism, the Palestinians might realize that the train of peace is leaving the station and that they’d better hurry so they don’t miss it.

Maybe this is what Israeli leaders mean when they constantly talk about “new ideas.” Trump is a devotee of “new” ideas, “bold” ideas, “different” ideas. For Israel, to resist his push for a deal would be a mistake. But it might be able to convince him that his predecessors failed because of their conventional thinking — and that he, a man bold enough, ought to reformulate the meaning of the ultimate deal. The “two-state solution” is old, tired — and it is so Clinton and Obama. Trump could make his mark by thinking outside of the box, that is, by dropping old ideas and replacing them with new ideas.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sang the praises of new ideas after his meeting with Trump: “Our destiny — Palestinians and Jews — is to live together in this land,” he said. “In order to achieve this, we need new ideas, new energy that will help us move forward, together.”

But move where? Rivlin has his new ideas; he supports one state, or a confederation of Israelis and Palestinians. Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party and the leader most forthright in attempting to directly tell Trump what needs to be done (“We expect you to be the first president to recognize a united Jerusalem,” he said, to which Trump responded, “That’s an idea!”), has different new ideas. He supports an autonomy for Palestinians and annexation of the rest. Other leaders also have new ideas, including the oldest “new” idea of sticking to an improved status quo.

Does Trump have new ideas? If he does, we were still waiting to hear what they are as he departed for Europe. It was worth noting that Trump refrained from using the term “two-state solution” during his visit. It is possible that he is more open than his predecessors to considering alternative ideas, assuming he has them. In Saudi Arabia, in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem, he kept hinting that his deal is partially built on the goodwill of the conservative Arab regimes of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Former President Bill Clinton failed to get them on board at Camp David. He was disappointed by their refusal to help him push the late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, toward accepting the deal that was offered to him. Trump and some of his top advisers believe circumstances have changed in a way that could make such a push more realistic today.

His brief trip was barely a beginning of a long process of exploration of these assumptions and ideas. Although it sent a symbolic message of involvement and new energy, it did little to advance a detailed vision of a peace process. And of course, involvement is crucial, as both Arab and Israeli leaders made clear in their remarks, taking a swipe at the Barack Obama administration.

“We are happy to see that America is back,” said Rivlin, usually not the type to bash the former president. Netanyahu, not surprisingly, was more direct: “I want to tell you also how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”

President Donald Trump with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The new American president ought to know that there is no correlation between the number of visits to the Middle East and the level of success in handling Middle East affairs. Yes, Trump made “history” — a word used much too often to describe routine events — in going to Israel and Saudi Arabia earlier in his term than any other president. He made “history” again by being the first sitting American president to visit the Western Wall. So what? Nixon made history by being the first president to travel to Israel. Shortly afterward, he was forced out of office. Clinton made history by coming to Israel more than all other presidents, four times. It did not guarantee his success.

The only presidential visit that really made a change was Jimmy Carter’s in 1979. That was a dramatic visit, with ups, downs and crises. It was a make-or-break visit: Carter traveled to Egypt, then to Israel, and forced the hand of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to accept the peace deal that was proposed to him. A few years ago, Israel’s state archives released documents from that visit, including a cable that was sent from Zvi Rafiah, Israel’s then-liaison to the U.S. Congress. Carter briefed congressional leaders when he was back in Washington, D.C., and Rafiah reported to his superiors in Jerusalem that during this meeting, Carter described his meeting with the Israeli cabinet as “terrible.”

“Terrible” and “horrible” are two of Trump’s favorite words. So maybe he will also describe parts of his visit as terrible. Maybe he did not appreciate the food, or the heat, or the forced selfie with Knesset Member Oren Hazan. But as far as we know, by the end of his visit on May 23, nothing truly “terrible” happened. Everybody was nice to him. Everybody agreed with him. Everybody encouraged him to keep doing what he is doing, whatever that is.

A time for confrontation might still come, when a more detailed plan emerges, and a real price is demanded of the parties. Already, Israel and the Palestinians got a taste of the future. Israel watched reluctantly, yet silently, as the Saudis bought weapons in quantities that might put Israel’s military edge at risk. The Palestinians witnessed an American president visiting the Kotel. They heard an American president, not for the first time, raise the issue of terrorism as an obstacle they need to overcome to achieve their objectives. They heard him say “peace” but not “a Palestinian state.”

And so. There was a visit and it went smoothly. For Trump, that is certainly an achievement. Everybody was trying to convince everybody that the visit was successful and that Trump is exactly what they expected him to be.

But there was reason for caution. On the evening of May 22, about an hour before Trump and Netanyahu made their joint statement in Jerusalem, I was sitting in a radio studio in the city of Modi’in. The interviewee on the line was Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi, an Arab legislator, an articulate critic of Israel’s policies, and a frequent visitor at the offices of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

He was cautious. Very cautious. Wisely cautious. Tibi has hopes, but he isn’t letting them get too high. He knows Trump changes his mind, he said. He knows it is not yet clear what Trump wants, beyond the generalities of having a “deal” and brokering “peace.” He knows Trump won’t always have the patience necessary to see a bumpy peace process through. And so Tibi’s message was simple: I’ll believe him about his Israeli-Palestinian peace effort when I see it.

When I asked Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s communications minister, about Trump reportedly walking back on his campaign promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, Hanegbi didn’t even blink before explaining that a visit to the Western Wall is much more important than moving the embassy. And when Tibi was asked if he was annoyed by Trump’s visit to the Kotel, Tibi didn’t even blink before explaining that it was an insignificant event that reinforced the fact that the U.S. does not recognize the site as Israeli.

Despite what did and didn’t happen, give Trump credit for this: He was polite, almost gaffe free and vague enough to keep the valuable posture of a Rorschach test: for now, all interpretation of his actions and intentions are still in the eye of the beholder.

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

Democrats and Republicans flip on Western Wall


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to answer whether Jerusalem’s Western Wall or Kotel is part of Israel when asked by Pool reporters on Monday morning before arriving in Tel Aviv for his first ever visit. The top US diplomat followed the same approach to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster who also declined to clarify if he believes that the holy Jewish site is under legal Israeli sovereignty when pressed by White House reporters. On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress switched their traditional roles on this sensitive issue when responding to the Trump administration’s policies as the city of Jerusalem continued to play a key role during President Donald Trump visit to Israel.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I think they’re being sensitive. Much like, what I would be sensitive. They are in the midst of some very interesting times and are being wise with what they want to weigh in and how they want to handle things,” Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Jewish Insider on Monday evening. “I wouldn’t begin to second guess what they are doing because I don’t know the pressures that they are under.”

However,  Democrats critiqued the administration for this policy decision. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) emphasized that she “very much” believed that the Kotel is part of Israel. “It’s a lack of understanding of the holiness of the site i.e. understanding the faith and the history that’s attached to it.” On a similar note, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) said, “I recognize that the Western Wall is part of Israel. I think most members of the House do.”

While Republicans were frequently quick to condemn the Obama administration for criticism of the Netanyahu government, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) refused to criticize senior Trump administration officials: Tillerson and McMaster regarding the Western Wall.  “I don’t know their reasons for not being able to answer, so I can’t comment on that,” Carter noted.

Assessing Trump’s first overseas visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Carter lavished praise upon the President. “I think he’s done a great job. It’s certainly a better situation for America. Instead of our chief elected official, going over and apologizing for everything we’ve done, we finally have someone who is going over there and asserting themselves and American interests. I’m proud of that.”

But, Crowley offered a more restrained assessment. “So far, the world hasn’t fallen apart so I give him credit for that. I would have liked him to say something about the inequities and the human rights violations that take place in Saudi Arabia.”

At the same time, Rep. Mark Pocan focused on the President’s potential impact on the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen when visiting Riyadh on Sunday. “I’m more concerned about what he’s (Trump) doing in Saudi Arabia with whatever deals he made regarding the arms sales in Yemen because if the major port in Yemen is bombed, we are told a half a million people will go in famine. We are trying to keep laser focused on the Yemen issue. It’s a big armed sales with no preconditions whatsoever,” he explained.

Guess what? The world needs Israel


Since its inception, Israel has been a country under siege. When it’s not attacked by terrorist forces, it’s attacked by diplomatic ones. Over the past few decades, it has been condemned mainly for its failure to make peace with the Palestinians. This conflict has dominated global consciousness like no other. Throughout the Middle East, it has been used by dictators to divert attention away from the oppression of their people.

President Donald Trump’s eagerness to make the “ultimate deal,” which he reiterated during his visit to Israel, only continues the obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether we like it or not, it is the conflict, as much as anything, that has shaped Israel’s narrative throughout much of the world.

And yet, despite all that, something is changing. New winds are blowing. Slowly, quietly, a parallel narrative about Israel is beginning to emerge. And since the conflict with the Palestinians is so intractable, my sense is that this new narrative will play an increasingly greater role in shaping Israel’s future.

In essence, more and more countries are looking at Israel and saying: “Politics or no politics, these guys can help us. They’re doing things no one else is doing. They seem to have a pulse on this crazy and fast-changing new world we’re in.”

If your country, for example, has a problem with cybersecurity that can endanger your infrastructure, and you hear that Israel has unique technology that can fix the problem, are you going to pass on that solution because the Palestinian conflict is unresolved?

Similarly, if your people are running out of drinking water and you need Israel’s cutting-edge desalination technology, or if your country is under threat from Islamic terrorists and you know that Israelis have the most expertise in that area, will you let the Palestinian conflict get in the way of your core interests?

Giant nations like India and China, as well as emerging nations on the African continent, are not waiting for a peace breakthrough before engaging with Israel. Why should they? Doing business with Israel is in their interest. It boosts their economies. It strengthens their countries.

The same thing has been happening in Israel’s own backyard. In a 2012 report titled, “The Badly Kept Secret of Israel’s Trade Throughout the Muslim World,” Haaretz detailed Israel’s low-key but growing engagement with its Arab and Muslim neighbors, including the export of medical, agricultural and water technologies to the Gulf states.

In terms of security, Sunni-dominated countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states need Israel’s military might to fend off their sworn enemy, the predatory Iranian Shia regime. There’s a reason the Gulf states compiled a proposal to take “unprecedented steps toward normalization with Israel,” as reported last week in the Wall Street Journal.

They need Israel.

Sure, they had to throw in the obligatory statements about Israel making gestures to the Palestinians. But don’t kid yourself– these requests have softened with the years. They’re a sign of the shifting tides. These Arab countries are feeling vulnerable and they need help, even from Israel. Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

None of this means that Israel shouldn’t make every effort to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians, regardless of the odds. A solution is strongly in Israel’s interest. And in global diplomacy, optics matter and effort counts, even if it ends in failure.

Drumming up hatred for the Jewish state because of the Palestinian problem is not as good for business as it used to be.

To its credit, though, Israel has never let the failure of peace and the presence of war demoralize the nation. While much of the world condemned the country, and hostile neighbors launched attacks, Israel kept right on innovating to meet the challenges of the modern world. Instead of being paralyzed by a siege mentality, the little Jewish state pushed relentlessly to build a thriving nation, with all of its flaws and imperfections.

And now, suddenly it seems, this tiny nation is in big demand. From medical breakthroughs to green technology to cybersecurity to digital innovation to water conservation to food security, Israel is at the forefront of creating solutions for the new century.

This is not Start-Up Nation as a tool for better hasbara, or positive propaganda. This is Start-Up Nation as a tool to better the world.

It must make Palestinian leaders sick to see the hated Zionist state start to thrive on a global scale. Maybe they were hoping that by refusing all peace offers, glorifying terror and attacking Israel’s legitimacy, they would make Israel implode. The opposite happened.

We can only hope that, one day, they too will realize that building hatred for the Jewish state is bad for peace and bad for business.

 

President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The trouble with Trump’s tolerance tour


Post-truth POTUS turns out to be perfect casting for tackling the One True Religion problem.

Even if it were someone else, not Donald Trump, pulling the planet’s attention to the world’s three Abrahamic religions; if it were Barack Obama or George W. Bush, say, or even Eleanor Roosevelt, making an ecumenical pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican City, the trouble with tolerance would still be a burr under the interfaith saddle.

Pluralism is the euphemism for how we manage the mess made when the worshippers of different gods maintain that theirs is the One and only God, and when sectarian worshippers of the same God claim that their way of worship is the one and only Way.

We contend with this dilemma, as we do with other discomfiting realities, like earthquakes, mortality and incipient male-pattern baldness, by denying it. Pluralism whistles past the graveyard of religious persecutions, inquisitions, pogroms, coerced conversions, civil wars, crusades and genocide. Instead of dealing forthrightly with doctrinal warfare, we acclaim mutual respect a common value, and we declare religious diversity a feature of civilization, not a bug that’s infested human history.

As for the varieties of irreligious experience, contemporary pluralism treats nonbelievers as all in the family. Diversity extends the same welcome to atheists and agnostics that it does to everyone else. Ditto for anyone who identifies as spiritual but not religious. God is great, God is dead, God is nature, God’s a metaphor, God is you, God is me, God’s a mystery, God is now: Pluralism wraps its arms around interpretations like those with no less graciousness than it affords to God is Yahweh, God is Christ, God is Allah.

That message is beautiful, incoherent and very American. It’s the least bad answer to the tension between religions and democracy. It’s what we want our culture to depict and our politics to project – a supremely inclusive message to a world of warring faiths.

Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi Salafists finance Sunni warfare on Shia Muslims, is an ironic choice for President Trump to declare that his visit to “many of the holiest places in the three Abrahamic faiths” was a journey in the spirit of “tolerance and respect for followers of all faiths.” Trump himself is an improbable carrier of that message. He is the candidate who said, “I think Islam hates us”; who ran on a Muslim ban; whose simulation of Christian piety was a transparent hustle for the evangelical vote. The only One he worships is himself. Hypocrisy scarcely begins to describe his speechwriters’ paean to our kinship as children of Abraham; gall, cynicism and arrogance come to mind as well.

But one thing inadvertently equips Trump to reconcile the professions of unique truthfulness by incompatible religions: his utter indifference to the truth. Trump wouldn’t recognize a contradiction if it bit him on the butt. A fact isn’t a fact to him; it’s just a gambit, an alternative to consider. “Believe me” means “true”; “false” means “true”; “fake” means mean. Welcome to the epistemological fun house. Have a tremendous day.

If nothing is truly true, then there’s nothing to crown as the one true religion. Tolerance treats every belief as equally valid; Trump treats every belief as equally meaningless. Pluralism ties itself into pretzels trying to accommodate conflicting prophets and reconcile competing prophecies. But if prophecies are just fake news, interfaith dialogue is interfake dialogue, and the ultimate consequence of ultimate tolerance – hey, anything goes – isn’t a catastrophe, it’s Access Hollywood.

There’s a kernel of self-deception at the core of pluralism: For the sake of peaceful co-existence, we con ourselves into thinking that the truths that matter most to us don’t much matter at all. Trump, con to his core, flips that: Thinking that anything matters is the mark of a mark. Doctrine is for dummies; nihilism is bliss. Kumbaya, folks.

To solve the pluralism puzzle, there’s an alternative to Trump’s know-nothingism that appeals to me. Ken Wilber, whose work synthesizes wisdom traditions, calls it the search for the greatest common denominators, for the highest common factors, across all theologies and thought systems. For instance, the golden rule, do unto others, Kant’s categorical imperative, John Rawls’ veil of ignorance: whatever you call it, acting from that principle is what so many religions and moral philosophies exhort us to do, irrespective of their Gods or stories or paradigms. Instead of merely tolerating one another’s differences, we can actively discover ourselves in each other’s mirrors.

The Abraham narrative, which comes to me from the Hebrew Bible, has always troubled me. I know there’s commentary that makes it less fearsome than I find it, but I’m stuck in its literal meaning. When God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, it strikes me as a cruel test of Abraham’s absolute obedience – and a warning that any failure of mine to obey the letter of God’s laws could be fatal.

I’m not comforted that I share this origin story with the other Abrahamic religions. It makes me wonder if fundamentalism – fanaticism – is what we really have in common. I’d rather connect with my spiritual cousins through Adam. His story puts the knowledge of good and evil in human hands. That got him exiled from the garden. But no one turned life after Eden into life after truth.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a statement after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport on May 22. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu, a man in the middle, scrambles to give Trump a warm welcome


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did his best to give Donald Trump a warm welcome when he landed Monday at Ben Gurion Airport on his first trip abroad as U.S. president.

Netanyahu offered support for Trump’s stated aspiration to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. But he also made clear his right-wing government has no plans to leave the West Bank anytime soon.

“Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” the Israeli leader said. “The peace we seek is a genuine one, in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands, and the conflict ends once and for all.”

Netanyahu has pushed his government to accommodate Trump both on his trip and in his effort to make an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But many Israeli ministers have signaled they are not willing to yield much more political ground.

Just getting all the ministers to show up at the airport for the welcoming ceremony reportedly took cajoling by Netanyahu. The prime minister had to angrily mandate attendance during the Cabinet meeting Sunday because several ministers had opted out upon learning they would not be included in the receiving line, according to Israeli media reports.

“It’s a four-hour wait, work hours, phone calls, mail, meetings. I have things to do in those four hours,” Culture Minister Miri Regev told Army Radio Monday ahead of Trump’s arrival. “To drag us there to stand as the scenery — that’s ugly. It’s beneath the dignity of the government of Israel and does not give any more respect to President Trump.”

In the end, Trump shook hands with all the ministers, as well as dozens of deputy ministers, religious leaders and the heads of the army, police and Mossad foreign intelligence service.

Several officials, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, urged Trump to break with decades of U.S. policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Under pressure from his political right, Netanyahu has insisted he is applying similar pressure. Last week he went as far as to release minutes from his February meeting at the White House that he claimed proved as much. But Netanyahu has made an effort to defer to Trump in a way he did not always with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

After the reported airport ultimatum Sunday, Netanyahu got the Cabinet to OK a raft of measures designed to signal goodwill to the Palestinians. They included the development of some West Bank industrial zones, opening the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day and increasing building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full control. The Prime Minister’s Office later said the measures came at Trump’s request.

Also, in April, Netanyahu won Cabinet approval for new restrictions on settlement construction in a gesture to Trump. The vaguely formulated policy is to build new West Bank housing, whenever possible, in already built-up areas of settlements.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu explained to his ministers, according to Haaretz.

Right-wing members of the governing coalition, led by Bennett, have gone along with Netanyahu. But they have made clear that their loyalty has limits.

On Sunday, Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, voted against the measure to boost Palestinian building in Area C. Bennett, the party’s leader, told fellow ministers over the weekend that the move amounted to a de facto change in borders for which Israel would receive nothing in return, Army Radio reported.

Although Bennett was part of the unanimous Cabinet vote in April to restrict settlement building, he immediately criticized the policy. Several other right-wing members of the coalition, including Likud lawmaker Yehudah Glick, expressed concerns that it amounted to a settlement freeze.

Most of the fire has been directed at Netanyahu for allegedly failing to push a right-wing agenda hard enough. Attacking the United States is not considered good politics in Israel, and politicians who heaped praised on Trump in the wake of his election in November may be hesitant to turn against him. But the Trump administration has recently tried their patience, including by backing off the president’s campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel’s contested capital, Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv and by asking Israel to stop expanding settlements — if not to stop building them entirely.

When the White House released a pre-trip promotion video last week that featured a map of Israel without any of the territory Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War — the West Bank and the Golan Heights — Shaked told journalists, “I hope this is a matter of ignorance and not policy.”

Netanyahu will have a chance to explain his political situation to Trump in person when they meet in Jerusalem, first for work at the King David Hotel and later for dinner with their wives at the prime minister’s residence. How that will affect the speech Trump is slated to deliver at the Israel Museum on Tuesday remains to be seen.

But Bennett has promised to push ahead with a bill to annex Maale Adumim, a large settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem, after Trump leaves. Even Issac Herzog, the head of Israel’s political opposition and the chairman of the center-left Labor Party, visited the city last week in what he said was a symbol to Trump that it must ““remain under the sovereignty of Israel, as part of an agreement on Jerusalem that will remain a united city.”

The White House captures a live feed as being broadcast from “Jerusalem, Israel” on May 22. Screenshot from YouTube

White House website captions Trump livestream as coming from ‘Jerusalem, Israel’


The White House captioned a live video feed of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking together as being broadcast from “Jerusalem, Israel,” a departure from the policies of past presidents.

The caption during Monday’s news conference at the prime minister’s residence came as Trump administration officials continue to differ over whether to describe the city as being part of Israel.

The Obama administration at least twice – in 2011 and then again last year – corrected photo captions and datelines that had read “Jerusalem, Israel” to “Jerusalem,” reflecting longstanding executive branch policy that the city should not be described as being in any country until there is a final status agreement. (Congress recognized the city as Israel’s capital in 1995.)

The George W. Bush administration also routinely captioned photos and listed the city on schedules and in news releases as simply “Jerusalem.”

Trump campaigned on a pledge of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, but has since retreated.

His administration has delivered mixed messages on the topic. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has said he would prefer to be based in Jeruslem, and his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said she regards the city as being in Israel. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, have both refused to say the city is in Israel when asked by reporters ahead of and during this week’s presidential Middle East tour.

Trump earlier Monday also appeared to split the difference: He visited the Western Wall in the Old City – in the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in 1967 – accompanied by Israeli government officials, including the rabbi of the wall. However, he would not agree to allow Netanyahu to accompany him.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Netanyahu changes the news narrative, perhaps intentionally


President Trump came to Israel with an ambitious task: relaunch the peace process and get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to certain guidelines that would help the two sides work towards a successful outcome.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

But just a few hours into the trip, the news narrative shifted. A story that has caused headaches for the Trump administration in recent weeks was brought to life during the President’s first overseas trip. Perhaps uncoincidentally, this shift of attention away from the White House’s push for a renewed peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians could have been just what Netanyahu was hoping for.

As Trump and Netanyahu wrapped up their opening statements ahead of a bilateral meeting at the King David Hotel, Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev called out a question to the two leaders asking if there was concern about the Israeli intelligence that Trump shared with the Russians in the Oval Office. Trump appeared to ignore the question and starting walking away but Netanyahu decided to answer it. “The intelligence cooperation is terrific,” he said.

At that point, Trump appeared anxious to respond and engage the cameras. “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump insisted. “Never mentioned during that conversation. They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

Within minutes, Twitter and Cable News immediately picked up on the brief off-script moment. “His comment now brings back a story that had died down, as he protests a specific he wasn’t accused of,” Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter, tweeted. “Trump denies saying “Israel” during Russia meeting, doesn’t deny sharing intelligence,” the chyron on MSNBC read, playing the remarks over and over.

Screenshot from MSNBC

 

Screenshot from CNN

 

Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that the U.S. would issue no apology over Trump’s disclosure of highly classified Israeli intelligence regarding ISIS to Russia. “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”

In public statements during the trip, Trump reiterated his hope of brokering peace in the Middle East, emphasizing the unique opportunity that could lead to new relations between Israel and Arab states in the region.

Israeli troops remove the body of a Palestinian who was shot dead after trying to stab Israeli border police on May 22. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Knife-wielding Palestinian teen shot and killed in Jerusalem as Trump tours nearby


Israel Police officers shot and killed a Palestinian teenager who attempted to stab them just outside the Old City of Jerusalem as President Donald Trump was visiting holy sites in the city.

The teen, who was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as a 16-year-old from Bethlehem, approached the Border Police officers at a guard post in eastern Jerusalem on Monday afternoon with the knife drawn and disputed with the officers before being shot, according to the police.

No Israeli security forces were injured in the attempted attack in the town of Abu Dis.

The visit by Trump raised security in the area significantly. He is scheduled to visit Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Authority, and meet with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

The incident also took place amid the backdrop of Palestinian protests throughout the West Bank on Monday in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners seeking better prison conditions. Nearly 30 Palestinians have been injured in the protests, at least three seriously.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Ivanka Trump and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, delivers remarks to the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Short visit, low bar: Trump in Israel, 12 points


1.

The three most important words that President Trump has uttered in his Middle East visit (I know the trip is not yet over, but I believe that these will remain the three most important words when it is) are “jobs, jobs, jobs.” As in: “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Trump is about business. Countries that are able and willing to engage him in a businesslike manner have the edge as he crafts his foreign policy. The Saudis were quick to understand this and thus can look back with satisfaction. They did not understand Obama – they do understand Trump. The question for Israel this morning is: to what extent does a good visit in Saudi Arabia mean trouble for Israel?

2.

Israel – or at least some parts of it – is slow to understand what makes Trump tick. It is slow to understand that a wise country doesn’t toy with Trump’s ego. Yesterday, the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was astonished to learn that his ministers did not intend to come to the airport to welcome the president. They thought it was a waste of time. A lot of waiting for little benefit for themselves. And of course, they were right. It is a lot of waiting. It is a waste of time. Also – it is their duty. If they do not understand that shunning Trump for whatever reason is irresponsible, offensive and dumb, they do not deserve to be ministers. Netanyahu forced their hands, and they will come. He also had to force their hands and pass a package of economic measures that will benefit the Palestinians. Remember? Jobs, jobs, jobs.

3.

You can already read thousands of words about Trump’s speech to the Arab world in Saudi Arabia. I thought it was a fine speech. Presidential in tone, unapologetic in message, devoid of mishaps and embarrassments. If you are willing to ignore the inconsistencies between Trump’s campaign slogans and Trump’s policy speech, you end up with a clear message that we can sum up with just four points:

A. I have nothing against Islam and Muslims, but will not shy away from telling the truth about Islamic terrorism.

B. Dealing with terrorism and stabilizing the region is what the US expects from its Arab and Muslim allies.

C. How these allies achieve this outcome is of less concern to the US.

D. Iran is a common enemy, and the US is not confused when it separates friend from foe.

4.

What’s to like about the speech?

It is clear, it is not too wishy-washy, it puts forward a realistic goal.

What’s not to like?

It does not concern itself with human rights in the Arab world.

5.

How does it compare with President Obama’s famous Cairo speech? It is less inspiring, and more down to earth. It is less about long-term ideals and more about the short-term need for stability.

Both Obama and Trump have large egos. Surprisingly, it is Trump who was better at taming his ego as he wrote his speech aimed at the Arab world.

6.

Trump did not mention Israel as one of the countries that were hit by terrorism. This is strange. On the other hand, he did mention Israel, Netanyahu, Jerusalem, and Jews in a speech in Riyadh. His Jewish daughter and son in law were visible members of his entourage. He will fly directly from Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv. All these are signs of silent normalization.

7.

Trump said nothing about his plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, except that he wants to broker such a peace agreement. It doesn’t seem as if he has a plan. But he might surprise us with one tonight or tomorrow.

8.

He will be in Bethlehem for about an hour. He will be in Yad Vashem for half an hour. He will be in Israel and the West Bank for about 24 hours. Presidential attention deficit order is not a recipe for success in Middle East negotiations (truth be told: Presidents with more patience have also failed in brokering peace).

9.

Why did Trump go to Saudi Arabia? ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ might be the answer. Why is he coming to Israel? Maybe because of his Saudi visit. That is to say: maybe the only reason he is coming here is that he doesn’t want to repeat Obama’s (intentional) mistake in Cairo and skip Israel when he comes to the region.

10.

What to expect? Up until now, his visit hasn’t deviated from a strict script. His Saudi visit is thus a success. It will be interesting to see if Trump can have the same self-discipline in the messier environment of Israel.

11.

Israel’s coalition has been tense because of this visit. Neftali Bennet of Habayit Hayehudi seems to feel that there’s an opportunity for him to coalesce the right around him – as Netanyahu is forced to showcase his more moderate face in anticipating a Trump peace initiative.

Is Bennet being irresponsible? He is. Would Netanyahu act differently if the roles were reversed? I don’t think he would. Both are politicians – and this is what politicians do when they see a political opening.

12.

Presidential visits are not as important as we make them seem. They are mostly ceremonial. Thus, if the visit is not a failure – if there’s no mishap, or confrontation, or clear unease – it is a success. This is a low bar. A low bar for a short visit. It is reasonable to expect all the leaders involved to be able to jump over it.

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Credit: Reuters/Fars News/Majid Hagdost)

Sunday Reads: Trump’s upcoming speech on Islam, Rouhani’s re-election, The poem that ended Norway’s ban on Jews


US

Colum Lynch writes an interesting piece on how the Obama administration backed down from pressuring Russia on the Syrian chemical weapons issue:

The episode highlighted the limits of American diplomacy in dealing with a regime that had agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons program only under the threat of military action — and that flouted its obligations when the threat was removed. But the Obama administration’s caution fits a broader pattern of conflict avoidance with Russia over Syria’s use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. In contrast with its previous efforts to isolate Moscow economically with sanctions following it annexation of Crimea, the Obama White House depended on Russia’s cooperation in ending the civil war in Syria and containing the regime’s chemical weapons program.

Ahead of Trump’s big speech in Saudi Arabia, David Graham takes a look at the history of American presidents explaining Islam to Muslims:

Trump, in the footsteps of the predecessor he frequently criticizes but often emulates, now heads to give his speech having frequently voiced a fierce dislike for the religion. Stranger still, he’s giving the speech in Saudi Arabia, which is a far more religiously cosseted state, and perhaps the foremost exporter of extremism in the Muslim world. Given the errors of his better-intentioned predecessors, it is hard to imagine Trump, with his history of inflammatory comments, coterie of anti-Islam advisers, and general disregard for facts and detail, will avoid the trap of positioning himself as the authority of what Islam is, is not, and should be.

Israel

Ben-Dror Yemini refers to Trump as “a president in the service of BDS”:

His understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely no different from his understanding of other international issues, which isn’t much. His diplomatic vision is: “Do whatever you like, one state, two states.” Never before has an American president given equal importance to a solution presented by the BDS movement, which is in fact the solution of Israel’s radical right as well—one state.

Denis Ross and David Makovsky give President Trump a “peace game plan” ahead of his visit to Israel:

It is noteworthy that without any fanfare, Moscow announced last month that Russia recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Arab states have also implied it in their Arab Peace Initiative, which calls on Israel to withdraw to June 4, 1967 lines — lines that would mean West Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Trump should be willing to challenge both sides directly — pressing the Israelis to stop building beyond the security barrier, while demanding that Palestinians end incitement of terror, and Arabs at long last admit that West Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Middle East

Tom Rogan thinks the US should be tougher on the Turkish secret service men who beat up protesters during Erdogan’s visit to the US:

Still, in this latest incident — a premeditated assault on the U.S. constitutional right to peaceful protest — the TPPD has crossed a line. It, and the Turkish government more broadly, must face consequences for their actions. For a start, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to show public anger. Outdoing yesterday’s placid semi-condemnation from the State Department, Tillerson should summon the Turkish ambassador and call out Turkey’s breach of U.S. law. Tillerson should also — and specifically — note the TPPD’s ludicrous hypocrisy. On its website, the TPPD takes care to outline “human rights” and diplomatic-communications training as key priorities. I’m not joking.

Robin Wright muses on the re-election of Iranian President Rouhani:

In 1979, the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously quipped that the revolution was about “justice and independence,” not “the price of watermelons.” He said economics was only “for donkeys.” Four decades later, the early revolutionaries are discovering that the price of watermelons—the issues of a normal state—can determine their fate. And having a hostile superpower determined to squeeze Iran harder, whether by empowering regional rivals or imposing new sanctions, will not make normalizing the Islamic Republic any easier.

Jewish World

Gary Rosenblatt reports on a curious event in which four Jewish thinkers shared their personal thoughts and dilemmas concerning Israel and the diaspora:

And so it goes. There are no easy answers to Israel’s dilemma as it continues to struggle to be both a Jewish state and a democracy. But the four writers — Klein Halevi, Stephens, Krauss and Friedman — each in their own way, continue to grapple with that reality, bringing their unique experiences and talents to bear on the Jewish condition today.

That was the takeaway for me. It’s not our responsibility to come up with “the answer,” but it’s crucial that each of us reflect on the hard questions and engage in the conversation.

Kenneth Steven tells the story of the Norwegian poet who helped end Norway’s constitutional ban on Jews:

Highly romantic though it was, and designed to make Christmas eyes weep, Wergeland’s purpose was clear, which was to awaken his people to the reality of the asp in the heart of their newfound and hard-won constitution. They had to see that the clause went against the whole spirit of the constitution, and the very character of the Norwegian people.

 

 

Israeli Light #3 – Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem of Holon, Israel


I received two urgent emails on Friday morning, May 5, asking me to contact Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem, the Rabbi of Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol in Holon, Israel with whom my congregation was in a sister synagogue relationship. Both asked me to extend Galit my emotional support.

One came from Rabbi Nir Barkin, the Director of Domim, a program funded jointly by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) that links Israeli synagogues with Diaspora congregations. The other was from my ARZA President, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg.

Earlier that day in Jerusalem, Rabbi Noa Sattat, the Executive Director of Israel’s Religious Action Center, asked me to give Galit a hug for her that night when my leadership tour would be spending Shabbat with her congregation.

None of the three explained what had occurred that provoked them to reach out to me. I am well aware of how challenging Galit’s work is and I assumed they were just encouraging me to be as supportive as I could be.

Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem began this Holon Reform community located southeast of Tel Aviv five years ago. A thriving city of 250,000 mostly secular middle-class Jews, it is fertile ground for the growth of non-Orthodox liberal Judaism. Given Galit’s keen intellect, open heart, liberalism, and her infectious enthusiasm, if anyone can build a community there, she can.

Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol does not yet have its own building. It rents space for services and classes and has enormous potential to be a center of Reform Jewish life in Holon. Its congregants include people of every walk of life and many highly educated and professionally productive members. For example, the community’s chair is Heidi Pries, a researcher, and lecturer at Tel Aviv University School of Social Work. Her husband Ori is a lead web developer in a Tel Aviv-based web company. Another member, Anat Dotan-Azene, is the Executive Director of the Fresco Dance Company and her husband Uri is the tech director of a leading post production sound studio for Israeli television and film. Another member, Michal Tzuk-Shafir, is a leading litigator in the Israeli Supreme Court and was President Shimon Peres’ (z’’l) legal advisor. Her husband Nir is an industrial engineer working as an information systems manager. Galit’s husband Adar is the former chief inspector of civic studies and political education of the Israeli Ministry of Education and is the soon-to-be manager of teachers’ training at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In association with her congregation, Galit created a Reform Jewish elementary school that is a part of Israel’s national secular school system. More than 100 children are enrolled in kindergarten, first and second grades and a grade is being added every year.

Despite all the activity, Kodesh v’Chol faces substantial financial and space challenges because unlike Israel’s orthodox synagogues and yeshivot, the Reform and Conservative movements receive no government funds due to the political hegemony of the Orthodox political parties.

In the secular city of Holon, Galit did not anticipate what was to take place the night before my leadership group joined her for Shabbat services, which turned out to be the reason for the two emails and Noa Sattat’s concern.

Galit’s elementary school had been offered classroom space in a Holon public school for this coming year by the Holon municipality, and a meeting was planned on the night before our arrival with all the parents. However, four uninvited parents from the public school that was hosting Galit’s congregation’s school crashed the meeting and began screaming obscenities against Reform Judaism, Rabbi Cohen-Kedem and the planned-for presence of the students in the local public school building.

They viciously threatened Galit and warned that the children themselves would be in danger should the congregation’s school be on the premises. They said that they would spit on the children.

Galit confessed to me that she lost her cool, but when I asked what that meant, it was clear (recalling Michelle Obama) that though Galit was deeply offended and upset by the behavior of these parents, ‘when they went low she went high.’

Galit called the principal of the school and though apologetic and embarrassed, she would not take action against the offending parents.

Galit called the municipal authorities who had given the Kodesh V’Chol School its space and demanded that they find new classroom space. At this time, we are waiting to learn where the school will be housed.

I and our group were stunned, but in hindsight, we should not have been surprised. The Reform movement in Israel still has a long way to go in establishing itself as broadly as possible.

At the moment the Israeli Reform movement attracts 8% of all Israelis. According to surveys, however, when Israelis are asked about their attitudes towards Reform and Conservative Judaism, between 30% and 40% say that if there were a Reform or Conservative synagogue in their neighborhood, they would attend.

I told Galit how proud I am of her for the dignity and resolve with which she stood her ground and responded with moral indignation to those offending parents. I was moved as well that she placed the welfare of the children first. She refuses now to use this public school out of concern for the well-being of the children.

I also expressed my own conviction that this ugly incident could be a watershed moment for her community.

When word spread of the Thursday night encounter, many more families showed up for services. There were more than a hundred men, women and children singing and praying together. The children came under a tallit for a special blessing. Modern Hebrew poetry and music was sung along with music from the American Reform movement. The service was warm-hearted, upbeat and joyful.

Galit delivered a passionate and moving sermon based on two verses from the weekly Torah portion Kedoshim (Leviticus 19) – “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart” and “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

She did not mention the incident from the night before, but everyone understood the context of her remarks.

Galit represented the very best of Judaism generally and the Israeli Reform movement specifically.

That was a Shabbat service I will never forget and Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem has shown herself to be one of the bright lights in the firmament of Israeli leaders.

People walking through the mostly haredi Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Israel, on July 16, 2015. Photo by Flash90

Israel’s demographic future: Crowded and very religious


Israel’s projected future looks a lot like a visit to the Jerusalem central bus station: crowded and very religious.

According to a government report to be released in full next week, the Jewish state’s population will double in about 40 years. Some 29 percent — or 5.25 million of its projected 18 million residents — will be haredi Orthodox Jews. That’s more than triple the current 9 percent.

“Israel will have the highest population density in the Western world,” Sergio DellaPergola, a preeminent Israeli demographer and member of the report’s steering committee, told JTA. “Interestingly, haredim will overtake Arabs as the largest minority.”

The Central Bureau of Statistics revised upward its previous projection, made in 2012, that the population will reach 15.5 million in 2059, with 4.5 million haredim. DellaPergola said the bureau had wrongly assumed Israel’s fertility rate would continue to decline.

If this report proves accurate, Israel — with a land area of some 8,000 square miles — will be more densely populated than the West Bank and the Gaza Strip taken together are today. Some experts have warned of impending disaster, but DellaPergola said Israel still has room to expand outside its geographic center, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem region, in what Israelis call the “peripheria,” or periphery.

“Israel has a huge area that is very underpopulated,” he said. “If you can distribute the population more equally across the periphery, density is not a problem. But I haven’t seen much strategy from the government.”

The government has implemented a development plan focused on poor rural towns, but a State Comptroller’s report released last week accused former housing minister Uri Ariel of misappropriating tens of millions of shekels earmarked for such places.

Gilad Malach, who analyzed the Central Bureau of Statistics report for the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, noted that other societies have proven able to adapt to high population density.

“It’s not necessarily a disaster,” he told JTA. “Singapore and Hong Kong are even more populated [than Israel is projected to be], and they are successful states. Great cities also function almost like states.”

Israel is growing rapidly mostly because of its birth rate, which DellaPergola said is the highest of the world’s 100 most developed countries, “some of which aren’t that developed.”

Once exceptionally fertile, Arab-Israeli women now have an average of 3.13 children, the same as their Jewish fellow citizens. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report, Arabs will comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population in 2059, compared to the current 21 percent.

By contrast, after ticking downward when child subsidies were slashed in 2003, the haredi fertility rate has stabilized the past five years at 6.9 children per woman. Malach said the projected haredi population boom should be a “call to action” for Israel. He recommended the government, along with civil society, invest in haredi education and workforce integration, as well as rethink its large-family policies.

The idea is that as the haredi community becomes a bigger part of Israeli society, it must hold its own in the economy — but some current government policies incentivize haredim to remain out of the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of haredi men receive government stipends of $120 to $215 a month to study in yeshiva. Just under half of them do not work, although the percentage has been unevenly decreasing for over a decade.

Haredi families also disproportionately benefit from monthly government allowances of $42 to $52 per child.

“If we focus on policy regarding pro-natality, and specifically integration of the ultra-Orthodox into society, the dramatic growth predictions may not be fulfilled,” Malach said. “It would also be good for the prosperity of the State of Israel.”

Although hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into haredi education and employment in recent years, child allowances were restored in 2016 as a condition of the haredi political parties joining the governing coalition.

DellaPergola agreed that a change in government policies could lower the haredi fertility rate. But he insisted the Central Bureau of Statistics report was accurate to within “hundreds of thousands,” saying it had taken into account the trend toward haredi employment.

Moshe Friedman, the CEO of Kamatech, a nonprofit that helps bring haredim into the high-tech industry, said there is no reason to fear the growth of his community. He said his group has trained or found jobs for 7,000 people since it started five years ago, and that he cannot accommodate everyone who wants to participate. A 40-person cybersecurity course he recently opened with Cisco got 900 applicants, he said.

“I see a really good trend of haredim who want to be part of society, part of the economy,” Friedman told JTA. “I understand from this new report the importance of the work we are doing to help the haredim integrated into society. So I think it will be OK.”

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump and her husband senior adviser Jared Kushner at the White House in Washington, U.S., on May 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Jared Kushner, the Saudis’ Personal Shopper | Shabbat Force One | Facebook snooping on Israeli Houseparty App | Israeli judge on emojis


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IF YOU SAY SO — “Ivanka and Jared get a rabbinical pass to fly Air Force One” by Annie Karni: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday, after receiving a rabbinical dispensation to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, according to a White House official… The rules can be broken in life-threatening situations, or if there is a safety concern, according to Jewish law. It was not clear on what grounds the exception was made to accompany the president on his first international trip.” [Politico] • Ivanka Trump is going to Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Israel with Trump as a senior adviser [BusinessInsider]

–Flashback to February‘s Public Radio International story — “Does Israel recognize Ivanka Trump’s Jewishness? It does now” [PRI]

PERSONAL SHOPPER: “$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch” by Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt and Matt Apuzzo: “On the afternoon of May 1… Jared Kushner welcomed a high-level delegation of Saudis to a gilded reception room next door to the White House… The two sides discussed a shopping list that included planes, ships and precision-guided bombs. Then an American official raised the idea of the Saudis buying a sophisticated radar system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. Sensing that the cost might be a problem… Mr. Kushner picked up the phone and called Marillyn A. Hewson — the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, which makes the radar system — and asked her whether she could cut the price. As his guests watched slack-jawed, Ms. Hewson told him she would look into it… The package also includes “maritime assets,” meaning ships, so the Saudis can assume more of the burden of policing the Persian Gulf and Red Sea against Iranian aggression. It does not include high-end items like the advanced F-35 fighter, whose sale to Saudi Arabia would alarm Israel.” [NYTimes]

ON THE HILL — Dem Senators undecided on imminent Iran sanctions vote — by Aaron Magid: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to advance legislation next week tightening sanctions against Iran with a vote possibly coming as early as Tuesday, according to multiple legislative sources who spoke with Jewish Insider. Leading Democrats remain undecided. “It continues to be a work in progress. Congress clearly retains the right in the wake of the nuclear agreement to apply new sanctions for Iran’s non-nuclear provocative behavior in the region,” Chris Murphy (D-CT) explained. “It’s a matter of right-sizing those sanctions to the actions Iran has taken.” When asked by Jewish Insider, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) explained, “I’m still looking at it. We are looking at it trust me, But, it’s a little bit premature.” On a similar note, Sen. Jeff Merkley(D-OR) said, “We’re holding lots of conversations about it. There are a lot of amendments that are being considered. We don’t know the shape of the bill and I’m looking forward to what actually comes before the committee.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of the SFRC, signaled her opposition to the legislation, telling Jewish Insider, “I have reservations about it. I am particularly concerned that we are acting on it when it’s more critical for us to act on Russia sanctions right now. I’m concerned about the impact it will have on the JCPOA.”[JewishInsider

TRUMP’S ISRAEL TRIP COVERAGE (there’s way too much of it, but here goes)

PRIOR TIES: “Trump’s Business Ties to Middle East Precede Him” by Steve Eder and Jesse Drucker: “Mr. Trump has come close to a major development deal in Israel…Last year, his executives were discussing a deal to be a partner on a 61-story tower in Tel Aviv that would have included residences and a hotel, according to Eric Danziger, the chief executive of the Trump hotel division. But Mr. Danziger said Mr. Trump’s election had prompted the Trumps to withdraw to comply with the ban on foreign deals. “We had to retreat, period, simply because of the election,” Mr. Danziger said. “Had he not won, we would have done” the deal. Eric Trump, one of the Trump sons now managing the company, said in an interview in February that the Israel deal was emblematic of the new realities facing the company. “You can’t build the tallest building in Tel Aviv and try to negotiate peace in the Middle East,” he said.”

Jared Kushner… who is expected to be part of the presidential delegation, has his own deep ties to Israel as a real estate developer and investor… The firm he ran until January, Kushner Companies, has taken out at least four loans from Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim… Another Kushner lender from Israel, Bank Leumi, admitted in 2014 that it had conspired to help American taxpayers hide income using offshore accounts. Kushner’s firm has also worked in partnership with Harel, a large Israeli insurance company, and almost bought another Israeli insurance company, Phoenix. Kushner Companies also bought several floors of the former New York Times building from Lev Leviev, an Israeli businessman and philanthropist.” [NYTimes]

“Israelis on edge before Trump visit” by Oren Liebermann: “Only days before President Donald Trump visits Jerusalem, Israeli politicians describe an atmosphere of “nervousness” and “confusion.” One politician put it more bluntly. “No one has any idea what the plan is.” A changing schedule and shifting locations have made planning for the visit difficult… An impulsive President, liable to make spontaneous statements, has only heightened the sense of anxiety… “Something will go wrong. That we know, but we don’t know what,” said one politician half-jokingly. “A successful visit right now is for it to be over.” [CNN] • Presidential visit to Israel, 43 years after Nixon’s, stirs memories of another era [LATimes]

Schedule as of Thursday evening: “The official visit is set to begin at 11:00 AM, when Trump’s Air Force One is expected to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. From the airport, Trump will fly via helicopter to his first stop in Jerusalem- the President’s Residence… From the President’s Residence, the Trump family will travel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. They will then make their way to the King David Hotel for a two-hour rest period… The Trump family will attend a celebratory dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in the evening… The second day of Trump’s visit will begin with his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. After this meeting, Trump will return to Jerusalem and visit Yad Vashem. At 1:30 PM on Tuesday, Trump is expected to deliver a highly-anticipated speech at the Israel Museum.” [JerusalemOnline]

THE CARROT — Gil Hoffman: “Settlements are not an obstacle to peace, Donald Trump will tell Israelis in Jerusalem next week, according to 2 Ayala Hasson on Channel 10.” [Twitter]

THE STICK — “US source: Trump will ask Benjamin Netanyahu to curb West Bank settlement activity” by Michael Wilner: “[Trump] has expressed a general concern” with ongoing Israeli settlement activity, the [senior WH] official noted. “He will reiterate that,” the official said. “He has not abandoned the two-state solution.” Trump first outlined his concerns with Israel’s settlement construction outside of existing settlement blocs in February… Now Trump expects “assurances and signals from the Israeli government that they’ve heard his views,” the senior official said.” [JPost

“Shaked vexed by White House map missing WB” by Moran Azulay: “Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) voiced her disapproval Friday against a map of Israel recently circulated by the White House… which failed to include the West Bank and the Golan Heights. “I hope this is just ignorance and not policy,” Shaked said.” [YNet]

KAFE KNESSET — Pressure on Bibi — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: This week, ahead of Trump’s visit, 800 members of the Likud’s Central Committee signed a petition demanding a vote on a decision to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. The signatures were collected by Shevach Stern and Natan Engelsman, heads of the Likud settler lobby, and will be brought to a vote within 30 days. Other senior Likud Ministers like Zeev Elkin and Yuval Steinitz gathered with hundreds of party activists this morning for a special event held by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat under the title “Unite with Jerusalem.” Barkat referred to the US Embassy move and said “I hear that there are people whispering to President Trump that moving the Embassy to Jerusalem will harm peace efforts … the truth is the opposite. Only US and international recognition of Israeli sovereignty will bring us closer to peace. President Trump, there is no deal without a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty – move the Embassy to the capital.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Michael Oren’s advice for Trump: Connect with Israelis and reassure them” by Raphael Ahren: “The sight of the president of the United States with a kippah on his head at the kotel is a powerful message to Israelis,” Oren said. “We cannot underestimate the depths of Israelis’ sense of threatened security in our region… and when the president of the United States comes here and makes a show of love and support for Israel, you’re going to see a bump up, not a bump down, in his popularity.” [ToI Poll: President’s popularity plummeting among Israeli Jews [JPost]

Aaron David Miller: “Lessons for Trump and Kushner From My 20 Years of Failing at Middle East Peace” [ForeignPolicy]

JI INTERVIEW — Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry and a Middle East expert at the Center for a New American Security, shared his thoughts about Trump’s trip and push for peace in a phone interview yesterday. “The first thing is, he just needs to avoid stepping in any stage management problems,” Goldenberg explained the complexity of Trump first visit to the Jewish State. “I’m worried about that. Whether it’s going to the Western Wall and messing around that… I just think you need to get that stuff right. And it’s delicate, difficult and hard to do as the President, especially when you’ve never done it…

Goldenberg on why Trump is investing so much time on peace process: “I think there are a few things that appeal to him about the issue. The first is, even though this Israeli-Palestinian issue is not what it used to be in terms of the importance of national interest, it’s still the international diplomatic holy grail. It’s still the peace deal that every leader wants to bring home. It still gets disproportionate amounts of coverage in the press. And so, somebody like Trump is probably attracted to the idea of being that guy, especially since he sees himself as the deal-maker… I feel like this is probably also a foreign policy issue that he’s been a lot more exposed to than others and therefore something that resonates more with him. And you can see by the company he seeks whether it’s Ron Lauder or [Sheldon] Adelson or whoever he’s talking to, this is part of his world and this issue comes up a lot.”

Goldenberg responds to the ZOA’s Mort Klein who called his former colleagueKris Bauman ‘pro-Hamas’: “First of all, Kris is a military professional. Ninety percent of people who work in any president’s National Security Council are career officials. Their job is to present the options themselves, and then it’s up to the political appointees and the people at the very top to really make the decisions about where the policy goes. Our whole report was about how to keep the West Bank from becoming Gaza. It seems hard to me to characterize somebody as “pro-Hamas” — it’s just ludicrous. This notion that he is this far-outside-the-mainstream official is just silly. I think that his views, and everything I’ve ever seen, reflect what is the real debate inside of Israel and what is the real debate inside the United States.” Read the entire interview here [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — in some circles at least — The Economist’s Cover Story: “Why Israel needs a Palestinian state” — “Most Israelis are in no rush to try offering land for peace again. Their security has improved, the economy is booming and Arab states are courting Israel for intelligence on terrorists and an alliance against Iran. The Palestinians are weak and divided, and might not be able to make a deal… A Palestinian state is long overdue. Rather than resist it, Israel should be the foremost champion of the future Palestine that will be its neighbour… The reason Israel must let the Palestinian people go is to preserve its own democracy… Israel is too strong for a Palestinian state to threaten its existence. In fact, such a state is vital to its future. Only when Palestine is born will Israel complete the victory of 1967.” [Economist]

BEHIND THE SCENES: “The Trump Administration’s Tug-of-war Over the Israel Embassy Move” by Barak Ravid and Amir Tibon: “The group urging Trump to refuse to sign the waiver and finally move the embassy is headed by Bannon himself. A number of these sources told Haaretz that Bannon doesn’t see the embassy move as a promise by Trump to Israel, but as a promise to the president’s right-wing nationalist base that put him in the White House… Another dominant figure in the group pushing for the embassy move is new U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman… “Friedman is working on the embassy issue all the time,” one [administration official] said… The administration’s internal debate is expected to continue right up until the June 1 deadline. Haaretz has learned that the camp which supports the embassy move, understanding that the other side currently has the upper hand, is now trying to push Trump to “compensate” Israel for the move’s postponement.” [Haaretz]

OVAL OFFICE INTERVIEW FOR SHELDON’S PAPER: “Trump says hasn’t ruled out visiting Western Wall with Netanyahu” by Boaz Bismuth: “U.S. President Donald Trump… told Israel Hayom in an exclusive interview Thursday: “We have great respect and friendship for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.” … The decision to visit the Western Wall “with the rabbi is more traditional, but that could change,” Trump told Israel Hayom Editor-in-Chief Boaz Bismuth at the White House Thursday, when asked why Netanyahu would not accompany him… Q: You say that you still want to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but considering the pressure coming from Arab leaders, some Israelis are worried that you might not do it. [Trump:] “We have some very interesting things in the works, we will be talking about that in the future.”” [IsraelHayom]

TOP TALKER: “Lieberman Is a Finalist for F.B.I. Director, Trump Says” by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman: “President Trump… told reporters on Thursday that he was “very close” to choosing a successor to James B. Comey, and he named Joseph I. Lieberman… as a finalist. But members of Mr. Trump’s staff — alarmed by his rapid embrace of Mr. Lieberman, a charming 75-year-old political operator with no federal law enforcement experience — have quietly urged him to take more time to make such a critical hire. By late Thursday, the president appeared increasingly likely to leave Friday for a nine-day foreign trip without picking a new director… Mr. Trump and Mr. Lieberman had good chemistry when they met privately, one White House aide said — a key ingredient for Mr. Trump in hiring people. He is also friendly with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” [NYTimes; CNN]

DERSHOWITZ’S ADVICE — “How Trump Can Get Out of His Jam” — “If I were President Trump, I would jump on the proposal to have Congress appoint an independent commission. If he’s innocent, it’s the best way to exonerate him. And even if he’s not, it’s the best way to discover the whole truth and not the partisan, partial truths favored by many politicians, journalists and pundits—and, most important, prosecutors.” [Politico]

JARED’S ADVICE — Kushner urged Trump to attack Mueller appointment — by Maggie Haberman: “Mr. Kushner — who had urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey — was one of the few dissenting voices, urging the president to counterattack, according to two senior administration officials.” [NYTimes]  

** Good Friday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Cammeby’s taps Suffolk Construction for Coney Island’s tallest tower [TRD• Activist investor Paul Singer goes after Athenahealth [Axios] • Jessica Lessin built a business to prove information doesn’t have to be free [Recode] • Bill Rudin to replace Rob Speyer as REBNY chair [RealDeal]  WeWork founder Adam Neumann donates $1 million to help find bone marrow donors [CNN

STARTUP NATION: “Facebook wants to know why teens are using Israeli group video app Houseparty” by Kurt Wagner: “Facebook issued the survey to find teenagers who would come to Facebook headquarters to participate in a study about “texting and messaging apps,” including Houseparty. They offered participants $275 in Amazon gift cards to participate… Before Houseparty existed, the company’s main product was a live video streaming app called Meerkat. CEO Ben Rubin basically threw in the towel on live video broadcasting in part because Facebook’s live video efforts were starting to pick up and Twitter had recently bought a rival service, Periscope. So it’s possible that a survey like this means Facebook is preparing to get into group video calls.” [Recode]

SPOTLIGHT: “Mark Cuban Is Tired of Your ‘Uber of Something’ Pitch” by Adam Grant: “In his first Original Thinkers column, Adam Grant talks to the brash Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner about the ideas that shape him, from his take on ball hogs to the importance of after-work drinks.” [EsquireMag]

NYC 2017 WATCH — “Controversial Hedge Fund Giant to Host Fundraiser for NYC Mayoral Candidate Bo Dietl” by Will Bredderman: “Steven A. Cohen—whose multibillion-dollar S.A.C. Capital Advisors collapsed amid insider trading allegations—will host a May 23 fundraiser for the mayoral campaign of ex-NYPD cop Bo Dietl… A source forwarded the Observer an invitation to the “cocktail reception” to be held at the Beacon Court condominium complex on East 58th Street in Manhattan, where Cohen owns a duplex unit he has unsuccessfully sought for years to sell… In 2013, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the Securities and Exchange Commission accused S.A.C. Partners—although not Cohen personally—of profiting unfairly from illicitly gained insider information.” [Observer

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Emojis prove intent, a judge in Israel ruled” by Ephrat Livni: “Emoji have become an integral part of postmodern dialogue, so it’s only natural that the cute and convenient images are sneaking into lawsuits… The happy exchanges between parties, with pictograms, indicated an intent to do business, according to the ruling by Judge Amir Weizebbluth in a Tel Aviv small claims court about the apartment deal gone awry. He wrote in the opinion: The…text message sent by Defendant…included a smiley, a bottle of champagne, dancing figures and more. These icons convey great optimism. Although this message did not constitute a binding contract between the parties, [it] naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the Defendants’ desire to rent his apartment…These symbols, which convey to the other side that everything is in order, were misleading.” … The judge awarded the misled landlord 8,000 shekels, covering damages and legal fees, which amounts to about $2,200.” [Quartz]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Senior Counsel in the DC office of Blank Rome LLP specializing in government contracts law, Harvey Sherzer turns 73… A New York State judge since 1995, later serving as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals (2009-2015), now of counsel in the NYC office of Latham & Watkins, Jonathan Lippman turns 72… Clinical psychologist, author, teacher, public speaker and ordained rabbi, Dennis G. Shulman turns 67… A nurse by profession who served as member of the Wisconsin State Assembly (2009-2015), Sandy Pasch turns 63… Harvey D. Harman turns 61… Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces since 2015, Gadi Eizenkot turns 57… Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi, born in Milan, now Chief Rabbi of Russia, friend of Vladimir Putin, Shlomo Dovber Pinchas Lazar (better known as Berel Lazar) turns 53… Journalist, teacher and playwright, now  deputy managing editor for news and a columnist at the New York Daily News, Gersh Kuntzman turns 52… Author of 23 novels that have sold over 14 million copies in 34 languages, four of which have been adapted into Lifetime Original Movies, Jodi Picoultturns 51… CEO of Bend the Arc, a Jewish partnership for justice, Stosh Cotler turns 49… Professional baseball player who pitched for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Zachary “Zack” James Thornton turns 29… Professional ice hockey forward for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Brendan Leipsic turns 23…

SATURDAY: Canadian businesswoman and elected official, she served in the Ontario Legislative Assembly (1985-1997) and as an MP in the Canadian House of Commons (1997-2004), Elinor Caplan turns 73… Democratic member of the New York State Assembly since 2007, representing the 97th Assembly District in Rockland County, Ellen Jaffeeturns 73… Former member of the US House of Representatives from Connecticut’s 2nd district (1981-2001), Sam Gejdenson turns 69… Director of international affairs, policy and planning at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Michael Alan Salberg turns 65… President of the Aspen Institute, former CEO of CNN and former Managing Editor of Time, Walter Isaacson turns 65… Born in upstate NY as Michael Scott Bornstein, former Israeli ambassador to the US (2009-2013), now a member of Knesset for the centrist Kulanu party, Michael Oren turns 62… Chief Legal Affairs Anchor for ABC News (and son of First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams), Dan Abramsturns 51… Executive Director of Business Forward and Deputy National Finance Director for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, Ami Copeland turns 45… Program Associate at the Michigan-based William Davidson Foundation, Vadim Avshalumovturns 32… Legislative Director for Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA 30), Lauren Wolman turns 31… VP of Austin-based digital agency Harris Media, Josh Canter turns 25… National Chair of the High School Democrats of America — and one of JI’s avid young daily readers — Aylon Berger turns 17… Ilene Leiter… Abraham Eckstein… Harold Fox

SUNDAY: Former MLB pitcher, played (1957-1967) for the White Sox, Indians, Angels and Astros, an All Star in 1961 and 1962, Barry Latman turns 81… US Senator from Minnesota since 2009, previously a comedian, actor and writer, Al Franken turns 66… Guitarist and composer, Marc Ribot turns 63… Billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthtropist, CEO of the Boston-based Baupost Group, Seth Klarman turns 60… Bestselling author, staff writer at The New Yorker and legal analyst at CNN, Jeffrey Toobin turns 57… Actress and playwright Lisa Edelstein turns 51… Head of Dewey Square’s sports business practice, author and former AP journalist, Frederic J. Frommer turns 50… Chief program and strategy officer at the Michigan-based William Davidson Foundation, Darin McKeever turns 43… CBS Interactive’s executive producer, Mosheh Oinounou turns 35… Los Angeles-born, raised in Israel, international fashion model for Versace and others, Sharon Ganish turns 34… Director of Global Affairs at 1776, a global incubator and seed fund, Brandon Pollak… Ron Solomon

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WOW air has plastered Israel with advertisements about its bargain flights there featuring its distinctive purplish logo. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

There’s a $149 deal on flights to Israel? Don’t believe the hype.


Wow, what a deal! Or not?

The headlines screamed at me from every Israeli newspaper, in both English and Hebrew: only $149 for a flight from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to New York on WOW air.

The Iceland-based airline has plastered Israel with advertisements featuring its distinctive purplish logo for the new deal, and many Israelis are talking about it. Flights begin on Sept. 20.

Of course, the no-frills flight goes through Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, but that is not much of a hardship — people travel through European capitals all the time in search of cheap flights between Israel and the United States.

However, the Israeli business daily Globes helped to put the $149 fare into perspective.

For starters, the $149 price is only for a one-way ticket, and there is no guarantee that you will get the same fare for a return trip. The cost of flying home on the airline is more likely to cost around $400, according to Globes.

In addition, one suitcase of 44 pounds or more costs $70 dollars, each way — though a personal item such as a purse or backpack is thankfully still free.

Choosing a seat costs another $10 each way, which is not necessary but comfortable, especially if you are not travelling alone or cannot live without an aisle seat.

As for food, don’t even think about free snacks on a no-frills flight like this one. You will be brown-bagging it, unless you want to buy very over-priced offerings once you’re in the air.

After adding all of those considerations together, a round trip between one of several major cities in the United States and Israel on WOW air would cost around $700 or $800.

To put this into perspective, El Al, Israel’s national carrier, has $665 mid-week one-way fares on a round-trip flight to New York in September, the round trip being some $1,170.

And for all of you who do not live in New York or one of the major cities served by WOW, you would need a separate flight to your final destination. WOW does not appear to have any add-on deals with any domestic U.S. airlines — so if I wanted to travel to visit my family in Cleveland, for example, I would have to pay hundreds of dollars more. My total with an add-on to Cleveland on El Al comes out to $1,400. A stand-alone New York to Cleveland round trip is about $400, bringing my bargain WOW total to $1,200.

WOW isn’t sounding so, well, WOW anymore. I’ll take one of the major airlines, please.

President Donald Trump in New London, Conn., on May 17. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The pro-Israel right is starting to feel unease with Trump


The Zionist Organization of America launched two broadsides against a Trump administration it has ardently defended, signaling a growing unease on the pro-Israel right with the president’s Israel policies.

The ZOA, the flagship for the conservative pro-Israel community, slammed President Donald Trump for retreating from a campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It also attacked the appointment of Kris Bauman, a veteran Obama administration negotiator, as the Israel adviser on the National Security Council.

Criticism of Trump from the Jewish right, while growing, is almost always accompanied by a caveat that his Israel policies are better than those of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and praise for some of his appointments.

The ZOA statements came Wednesday, the same day an array of Jewish groups held a celebration in the Capitol of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

During the celebration Republican lawmakers – without naming the Trump administration – decried the failure to move the embassy to Jerusalem. One of those present, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Republican Jews in Congress, later released a statement explicitly criticizing Trump and urging the move.

Trump the candidate had vowed to move the embassy as one of his first acts upon assuming the presidency, but since elected has retreated from the pledge. This week, an unnamed top U.S. official told Bloomberg News that the relocation from Tel Aviv was off the table for now.

The story prompted expressions of concern of varying intensity from the Jewish right.

Morton Klein, the ZOA president, said in a statement that the slowness to move the embassy “sends a message of weakness” and called it “painful.”

Zeldin, one Trump’s most prominent Jewish supporters during the presidential campaign, said in his statement that the Bloomberg report was “an ill-timed mistake on the part of the administration to make this decision and announcement.”

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, the umbrella group with a constituency that according to polls was lopsided in its support for Trump last year, said in an interview that those voters were likely “disappointed” with the delay.

Klein in an interview Thursday offered up the caveat that he was still grateful that Trump had won the election.

“This guy in his heart and soul is very pro-Israel in a serious way,” he said, naming among other appointments Nikki Haley, the outspoken U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “So many of us had high expectations it would be 100 percent on Israel; that might have been too high an expectation. He’s so much better than Obama or than Clinton would have been,” referring to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, said Trump’s Jewish critics should keep the bigger picture in mind: His first tour overseas, next week, will include Israel and a visit to the Western Wall.

“It should be comforting, and those who are critical should note the symbolism of the president doing it at this time,” he said, noting the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “It sends a symbolic message and one that should resonate throughout the Jewish community and the international community.”

Much of the pro-Israel right remains a strong area of Trump support on foreign policy. Breitbart News, with several alumni occupying key posts in the administration, has not advanced tough criticisms of the president’s Israel policy, although it has been critical of Trump on some domestic issues.

Conservative groups that reviled the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, chief among them the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, are pleased with Trump’s policies. While Trump has not scrapped the deal, he has ramped up his rhetoric targeting the regime and added sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing.

Conservative pro-Israel voices — among them Klein — have been outspoken as well in defending top Trump advisers who hail from the “alt-right,” a loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes anti-Semites but also strident defenders of Israel.

Still, there are signs that unease with Trump’s Israel-related choices is deepening on the right. The tendency in Trump’s first months in office was to blame any decision that the pro-Israel right found unappealing on officials Trump did not appoint – civil service professionals whose tenure dated back to the Obama or George W. Bush administrations, or even further back.

But now, some of the fire is being directed at Trump appointees. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, has earned opprobrium from the pro-Israel right wing for his bid to sideline Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a young NSC staffer who is known for his hard-line Iran views. Trump nixed McMaster’s decision to move Cohen-Watnick to another agency.

Now fire is being directed at Bauman, whom McMaster named recently as his chief adviser on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Klein in a separate statement called Bauman, who served on the U.S. team during the 2013-14 failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, “pro-Hamas.”

Klein based his assessment on a screed against Bauman published last week in FrontPageMag, which unearthed a 2009 academic work by Bauman citing views that recommend accommodating Hamas as a necessary evil in any negotiations toward a final status outcome. Bauman also is unstinting in describing Hamas’ brutality and terrorism in the paper.

Daniel Shapiro, until January the U.S. ambassador to Israel, on Wednesday called Klein’s attacks the “lowest of low blows,” noting that Bauman’s brief was to improve security for Israel in the West Bank ahead of a final status agreement.

Also troubling for the pro-Israel right has been Trump’s warmth toward the Palestinian Authority leadership, particularly P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Trump welcomed at the White House earlier this month and with whom he will meet in Bethlehem next week.

“I’m disappointed he brought a guy who rewards terrorists who murder Jews to the White House,” Klein said, referring to P.A. subsidies for families of jailed and killed terrorists.

The White House said in its readout of the Trump-Abbas meeting that Trump raised the issue of the payments and urged Abbas to stop them.

Prime Minister Levy Eshkol (third from right) with Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Mininister Yigal Allon (right) visiting army units in the Negev, 1967 (Public Domain)

Six comments on new documents from the Six-Day War


Israel’s State Archive has released new documents from the Six Days War. These are documents that were sealed for 50 years, since the war, and are now available to the public. There are transcripts of full cabinet meetings and of the security cabinet meetings. There is a lot of material. And a lot of it makes for an interesting read. Here are a couple of pointers for the careful reader of the transcripts, or the reports about them.

1.

In cabinet meetings people say many things. It tense cabinet meetings they say even more things. Thus, when transcripts are released it is easy to isolate quotes and make big headlines out of them to serve a position or an ideology. If it were up to us, a politician muses, we would “deport the Arabs to Brazil.” Is this a statement that proves Israel’s malicious intentions? Some might say yes. They had the same reaction when Yitzhak Rabin mused about his desire to see Gaza drowned in the Mediterranean.

But you can also see it as a statement proving the soberness and realism of Israel’s ministers at the time – a statement proving that they realized, on day one, that occupying a territory in which many Arabs reside is going to be a headache. They did not deport anyone to Brazil. They were stuck with the headache. We are still stuck with it.

2.

Not everything that the ministers say during cabinet meetings seems impressive in retrospect. But what is quite impressive is the ministers’ refusal to engage in desperation in the weeks leading to the war and their reluctance to completely surrender to the euphoria after the war. The ministers behave in these meetings like all Israelis did: the period leading to the war was highly warrying and the country was in a dark mood during the three weeks of “waiting.” The period after the war was one of celebration and sense of invincibility.

The ministers are apprehensive, and they are uplifted – but in a more subdued way. They do not panic before, they do not lose proportion after. Yes, many of their assessments seem naïve, misconstrued, even foolish in retrospect. But this is not due to a lack of seriousness.

3.

Reading the debate about the future of the West Bank feels like deja vu. There are annexationists who wanted to absorb the territory, and believed that the demographic problem – that is, having to absorb so many Arabs along with the territory – will sort itself out. Menachem Begin, a member of the emergency cabinet that was assembled prior to the war, argued that within seven years there will be a Jewish majority in the West Bank (this still hasn’t happen). There are those for whom demography is the key: Pinchas Sapir, the Finance Minister, warns of Israel’s future as a Jewish State if so many Arabs will become residents or citizens of Israel.

It is almost boringly familiar, and yet so distant.

4.

I’m reading a transcript of a security cabinet meeting from the 26th of May, 1967. Yitzhak Rabin, then the IDF’s Chief of Staff, is asked to assess whether Israel can withstand an attack. Look how careful he is: “I think if we have the tactical surprise, there is a possibility… that we will have achievements.”

Here is a question: Was this a professional failure on part of the IDF and Rabin? Consider a different scenario, an imaginary mirror-image scenario: it is the same meeting but Rabin promises a great victory and then Israel faces a military defeat. What would we say in such a case? – probably that the Chief of Staff didn’t not correctly assess the situation, and hence provided Israel’s political leaders with inaccurate information because of which they made the wrong decisions.

But no one has the time, nor the reason to ask the exact same question when the assessment of the military commander is inaccurate in a positive sense – that is, a prediction of great difficulty that later proves to be an overstatement.

5.

Everything is there. A minister warning Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that the IDF ought to be reminded to treat the civilian population humanely. Ministers for and against taking East Jerusalem. Concern because of possible over-eagerness to prolong the war and occupy more territory because of the victories.

And there are also lies that Israel decides to tell. The protocol shows how Israel attacked Syria in the Golan Heights. Minister Yigal Alon calls for the attack, disregarding the possibility of diplomatic tension with Russia because of it. He prefers, so he says, controlling the Heights over diplomatic relations with the Russians. The director of the Foreign Ministry warns against action: attacking Syria will complicate things for us with the Russians, he says. But Rabin wants action. “Ending such a war without hitting the Syrians would be a shame,” he says.

Israel tells the world that the Syrians are fighting. “This is not the truth,” argues Minister Moshe Haim Shapira. True, says Minister Alon. “I admit that this isn’t the truth, but these are the kind of lies that we can tell to have peace” – namely, to have the Syrians’ cannons removed from the Heights that overlook Israel.

6.

Some things still feel different, and the most notable of them is the approach of the representatives of Israel’s religious-Zionist sector. Today, they are the most hawkish. In 1967, they were famously the least hawkish. They were the ones preaching for caution and moderation.

Haim-Moshe Shapira did not want the attack on the Syrians. His friend Zerach Warhaftig cools down Dayan when the defense minister suggests that Israel send its forces to Beirut, Lebanon. “I would argue that we should have some limits,” Warhaftig says.

Discussing the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on June 18, a few days after the war, Dayan asks his colleagues: “Who gave the order to put a Mezuzah over there?” The Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, responds: “the marble was broken.”

Dayan: “We come to a place that is holy to Muslims, and also to Christians, and also to us.”

Shapira – the Zionist-religious minister – the predecessor of today’s Habayit Hayehudi party – responds: “especially for them.”

So yes, some things do change.

 

President Donald Trump at the White House on May 17. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Trump won’t move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem for now, senior official says


The Trump administration reportedly will not be moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv for now.

An unnamed senior administration official on Wednesday told Bloomberg News that it would be “unwise to do it at this time” as President Donald Trump is getting ready to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks to move the embassy.

“We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done,” the official said, “but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israeli in 1995, but successive presidents have waived a provision in that law that requires the United States to move the embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Trump campaigned on a pledge to move the embassy, but has retreated from it since assuming office. Next week he will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall in the Old City, but his team rejected a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accompany him.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, demurred this week when asked to say whether the administration regarded the Western Wall as part of Israel. However, the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the same day that she sees it as Israeli.

The Orthodox Union, which had complained earlier in the week about McMaster’s comments, was “disappointed” in the news that Trump would not be moving the embassy now, said Nathan Diament, its Washington director.

However, Diament said in an interview, his group was still watching to see whether Trump would exercise the six-month waiver of the 1995 law, which every president has done since the law was passed, and which he must do by June 1.

“If he were to announce next week or the week after that he’s not signing the national security waiver and if the process of evaluating how the move would take place were to begin, that would be a step in the right direction,” he said.

Meanwhile, a celebration at the Capitol marking the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification drew top Congress members from both parties. Among those on hand were Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House minority whip.

A number of Republican congressmen at the event alluded to McMaster’s refusal to name the Western Wall as Israeli territory and called for moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

Event sponsors included the Religious Zionists of America and another 24 pro-Israel and Jewish groups. The celebration coincided with the annual congressional lobbying day for one of the groups, NORPAC, among the preeminent pro-Israel political action committees.

Reps. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., and Francis Rooney, R-Fla., marked the celebration by introducing a nonbinding resolution celebrating Israel’s capture of the eastern portions of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Photo by Ben Luria

Episode 38 – Traveling the Holy Land with Gal Mor


During April 2017 a record breaking of 349,000 tourists visited Israel – the highest number per month since the establishment of Israel. From the vast Negev desert to the vivacious cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to the Tuscanesque hilltops of the Galilee, indeed, the land of Milk and Honey has a lot to offer the world traveler.
Yet for the traveler coming here, the country’s small size can be misleading – there is so much to do and to see, that even a two weeks trip is hardly enough.
Gal Mor, one of the co-founders of the famous Abraham Hostel chain, has been a world traveler for most of his life. He joins Eytan and Naor to talk about tourism in Israel, backpacking culture and more.
An Islamic State flag flying in the Syrian town of Tabqa on April 30. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli agent undercover in ISIS at risk due to Trump intelligence leak, ABC reports


An undercover Israeli agent inside the Islamic State has been put at risk by President Donald Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russia, ABC News reported.

The spy had provided Israel with intelligence about a plan by Islamic State, or ISIS, to cause the crash of a passenger jet on the way to the United States, according to the report aired Tuesday evening. Israel had shared the intelligence with the United States on the condition that it not be identified as the source of the information, unnamed current and former U.S. officials told ABC.

According to the intelligence, the undetectable bomb was to be hidden in a laptop, which has led the United States to consider banning all laptops on flights from Europe coming into the country. The U.S. now bans laptops on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump revealed the intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in an Oval Office meeting last week.

At a news briefing Tuesday, H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, discussed the meeting between Trump and the Russian diplomats, in which he took part.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said.

Trump said in a tweet Tuesday that he had “the absolute right” to share information and wanted to show good faith, so that the Russians would “greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

In January, an Israeli newspaper reported that American intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts not to share sensitive information with the Trump administration because of the threat that it could be leaked to Russia.

On Wednesday, Yediot Acharonot cited an unnamed Israeli intelligence source as saying that Israel will have to reassess what information it shares with the United States and not hand over the most sensitive of it.

The All the Rivers exchange, part 2: ‘We Israelis and Palestinians are programmed to identify with only one narrative’


Dorit Rabinyan was born in Kefar-Saba, Israel and wrote her first novel, Persian Brides, at age twenty one. An award-winning international bestseller translated into ten languages, Persian Brides established her as the voice of a new generation in Israel. Rabinyan won the Israeli Film Academy Award for best television drama of 1997 for Shuli’s Fiancé, and the Eshkol Prize for her second novel, Strand of a Thousand Pearls. She lives in Tel Aviv.

The following exchange will focus on Rabinyan’s book All the Rivers (Random House, 2017), a controversial novel that tells the story of an affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. Part one can be found right here.

***

Dear Dorit,

Let’s consider the “demon” to which you referred in the last round. What is the nature of this demon? That is, what is the main obstacle that your love story has to overcome? Is it religious difference? National conflict? Family consideration? Technical difficulties? Reading the book, one realizes that the protagonists have an issue, but it is not easy to pinpoint.

Can you explain it?

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Of course, Hilmi and Liat both have their own rationalization and psychological course that evolves along the storyline. But beyond the obvious core obstacle that their love for each other is doomed to an impossible fate, or at least to a very challenging or demanding one, I’d say their mutual demon is perhaps generalization: the suffocating sack of multitude that we, “all Palestinians” and “all Israelis,” are packed into together by being citizens of this conflict. It’s the right for individuality that is taken away from us by birth and we’re later on forced to sacrifice – the nationalization of the personal, of the intimate. Hilmi and Liat are revolting against this demon by redeeming each other from the sack. When Liat first meets Hilmi, she unknowingly follows Emmanuel Livinas’s Philosophy, just by her careful description of Hilmi’s features; by her look specifying his facial details and by particularizing him, she acknowledges both his and her humanity. Because this sack does not only suffocate our private identity – it also blinds us.

Both by formal education and by subliminal currents of the two cultures, Israelis and Palestinians are blinded from acknowledging the other’s perspective. We are programmed to fortify our identification with only one narrative, one history. We prove loyalty to our tribe by denying the opposite tribe’s justifications. Again, following Levinas, this sack is partially torn from Liat’s sight when she returns home to Tel Aviv and sees it through Hilmi’s eyes; when she dares to observe her Israeli reality through dual viewpoints. She is not liberated from the inner boundaries that designed her identity, those which travelled with her to New York and were preventing her from following her heart and her love for Hilmi; she is not at all redeemed from her guilt towards him, but yet she gains that double outlook, and his gaze is carried within hers.

 

President Donald Trump at the White House on May 16, 2017. Photo by Michael Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images

When a government won’t let you look away


No one who has lived in Israel or even visited for an extended time can forget the top-of-the-hour news broadcasts on Kol Yisrael, or Israel Radio.

Before its shutdown this week as part of a byzantine reform of public broadcasting, the government-run station preceded its brief updates with a series of short beeps and one long one marking the hour. On public buses, the driver would turn up the sound and the passengers would go quiet as a voice-of-doom announcer would intone, “Kol Yisrael m’yirusalayim, shalom … Hinei hachadashot …” — “The Voice of Israel from Jerusalem, shalom. Here’s the news …”

Even in periods of relative calm, you could sense people holding their breaths until the news turned out to be something benign or unsensational. My Hebrew was never great, but even I remember feeling relieved when the first thing the announcer said was “Rosh hamemshala,” or “prime minister.” My thinking was, nothing dire could be happening if they’re talking about the government.

The standard explanation for all this solemnity was that Israel was a country perpetually on the edge, and every newscast could bring notice of a new threat or sudden disaster. On visits to Israel over the decades, I learned to appreciate living in a country of relative stability and calm, where threats were usually distant and few issues were existential.

Whatever else you can say about the past four months, the Trump administration has robbed us of that luxury.

I am hardly the only one who powers up his phone in the morning, or clicks on the radio, and wonders, “OK, now what?” And there is almost always a what. A tweet from Trump accusing his predecessor of illegally wiretapping his phones. A military strategy session held in full view of diners at his Florida resort. A Friday afternoon immigration order that throws airports into chaos. A friendly overture to the Philippines’ autocratic president. Or Turkey’s autocratic president. Or Egypt’s autocratic president.

Blame Trump or a hysterical media, but the whole notion of stability and calm seems so … 2016. Honestly, I’ve been wracking my brains trying to remember a key moment from either of Barack Obama’s two terms. Yes, there was the overall sense of a personally popular and politically divisive president wrestling with the opposition in the House and Senate. There were popular decisions and unpopular decisions. But the alarming and, as they say in the news business, “holy s**t” moments were few and far between. His first inauguration was inspiring. The announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden was way cool. I remember tearing up when he sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for a victim of the Charleston church shooting. And chuckling when he played along with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.”

And that’s about it for “No Drama Obama.” Trump, by contrast, provides as much drama in a week as Obama would in a year or two. Do you remember the Comey firing? How about the evolving series of explanations offered by his aides? Or Trump’s interview with Lester Holt, in which he said he had already decided to fire the FBI director before the Department of Justice could provide a, well, justification.

You’re forgiven if you thought, in the wake of Monday night’s bombshell about Trump sharing highly classified information with the Russians — the Russians! — that the Comey thing took place a few months ago rather than last Tuesday. I was about to sink into a stupor on the bus ride home Monday when my wife messaged me, “Did you see the Washington Post story?” Nap averted! That meant an evening of surfing the cable news networks and thumbing through Twitter. After a night of restless dreams — in one I was forced to spill my deepest, darkest secrets to a beast with the face of Sergey Kislyak and the body of Sergey Kislyak  — I woke up to Trump essentially confirming the account his top aides had denied the night before. Five minutes ago came word that Israel was — no surprise here — the source of the intelligence Trump disclosed to the Russians (the Russians!).

The nature of this presidency is that the unusual and unprecedented quickly supplants the abnormal and the unheard of, cycle after cycle. The left cries emergency. The right celebrates the disruption. And most of us switch on our televisions the way we do a broken barbecue grill, bracing for the explosion and singed eyebrows.

There is an upside, I suppose, to all this craziness. You can’t say people aren’t paying attention. Last year, according to Nielsen, cable news viewership almost doubled, with adults watching over 27 billion minutes per week. (That’s cumulative, by the way. I first read that as saying individual adults watched 27 billion minutes of cable news each week and figured, sounds about right.) The failing New York Times added 308,000 new digital subscriptions in the first quarter of this year. JTA posted record numbers of online readers during the election campaign and it has continued into the Trump presidency.

Friends regularly tell me they and their children are more engaged in public affairs than they were before the election campaign. More quietly, Trump foes admit that they don’t remember the news ever being this interesting, or entertaining, outside the occasional crisis — although they will quickly say it is entertainment they can do without.

Israelis like to claim that the high stakes of living in a stressed-out country actually make life seem more precious. According to the U.N.’s recent World Happiness Report, Israel is the 11th-happiest country in the world, three places ahead of the United States. When the Christian Broadcasting Network asked a young Israeli named “Sam” why that would be, he replied, “I think that the things that are really important to people here in Israel, they’re not sort of superficial things.”

But all this paying attention comes with a price. An American Psychological Association survey in February found that 57 percent of Americans say the current political climate is a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of their stress. (Unsurprisingly, Democrats were about three times as stressed as Republicans.) An APA official suggested people limit the amount of time spent consuming the news and social media.

The biggest price may come in the loss of a basic sense of freedom. If any institution is running well, its activities are mostly invisible or unremarkable to the people using them. (No one tweets, “The A Train was on time, uncrowded and delightfully clean!,” and not just because it never is.) A citizen should be able to turn off the media for a while without feeling that she will be missing something significant to her well-being or survival.

“One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all,” Andrew Sullivan wrote recently. “The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene.”

The ominous message of George Orwell’s “1984” is that “Big Brother is Watching You.” Maybe just as ominous is the idea that we can’t stop watching Big Brother.