Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 25. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Netanyahu defends suspending the Western Wall agreement. Here’s how.


American Jewish leaders are calling it a betrayal.

They say that 17 months after achieving a historic agreement to provide a non-Orthodox space at Judaism’s holiest prayer site, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reneged in a Cabinet vote Sunday, effectively canceling the deal and caving to the interests of his Charedi Orthodox coalition partners.

Netanyahu disagrees. Far from killing the compromise, he believes the vote has given it new life. And far from betraying Diaspora Jewry, he says the vote shows his concern for Jews around the world.

In a lengthy conversation Monday with a senior Israeli official, JTA was given some insight into Netanyahu’s defense of the vote freezing the 2016 Western Wall agreement: why he did it, what the vote leaves in place and what it means moving forward.

The agreement, which was passed by the Cabinet in January 2016, has three components. First is a physical expansion and upgrade of the non-Orthodox prayer section south of the familiar Western Wall plaza. Second is the construction of a shared entrance to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections. Third is the creation of a government-appointed, interdenominational Jewish committee to govern the non-Orthodox section.

Sunday’s decision, the senior official said, leaves in place the physical expansion of the prayer site while suspending the creation of the interdenominational committee. Netanyahu’s haredi partners, the official said, objected to the idea that the committee amounted to state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism.

With the controversy over the committee frozen, the official said, actual building at the site can start unhindered and will be expedited.

“The symbolic piece was holding the practical piece hostage,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, told JTA. “What was frozen yesterday was the symbolic part. The practical part of advancing the prayer arrangements, that can now move forward. Regrettably, there are those on both sides who are spinning this as cancellation.”

However, several aspects of the project as it stands are murky. It isn’t clear whether the expansion of the site will proceed according to the dimensions outlined in the 2016 agreement. Nor is it clear whether construction will begin on the shared entrance to the site or whether the non-Orthodox space will have a staff, accessible prayer books and Torah scrolls, as promised in the agreement.

Israeli lawmaker Nachman Shai, left, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky at a meeting in the Knesset on June 27, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

 

The official told JTA that the suspension of the deal is itself a compromise: the Charedi parties wanted to cancel the deal altogether, a step he said that Netanyahu was unwilling to take. Freezing the agreement, the official said, allows for continued negotiations to rework it. It also may provide an acceptable answer to the Supreme Court, which is considering a petition to force the government to provide an “appropriate space” for non-Orthodox prayer at the wall.

The official added that “The prime minister takes Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry very seriously.”

But non-Orthodox leaders were not placated by these assurances.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, called Sunday’s vote “sleight of hand.” He is treating it as a cancellation of the agreement, given that the agreement had not been implemented nearly a year and a half after being passed.

“It’s not really a freeze, it’s a kill,” he said. “It’s already been frozen. It hasn’t been moving for 18 months. We were waiting, and assured by the prime minister that entire time that negotiations were happening and they would get back to us. That hasn’t happened.”

Jewish leaders also called the expansion of the prayer space insufficient. They noted that the shared entrance would grant the non-Orthodox space equal standing with the Orthodox section, but the current plan for expanding the space is unknown.

“The physical portion of this agreement was far more extensive, including opening the site to the main plaza, making it visible and accessible,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “What the government is currently planning to do in no way meets the promises and the details of this agreement.”

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall prayer group, whose activism led to negotiations over the wall, also said that any physical expansion of one of the most sensitive sites in the world would take years. Given the delays that have already plagued the process, Hoffman said she is hesitant to trust assurances from Netanyahu.

“We sat for three years in good faith, our group split over this, we paid such a price, how could I possibly believe you?” she recalls telling Tzachi Hanegbi, a government minister and Netanyahu ally, on Tuesday. “And now you’re going to compromise over the compromise?”

On Tuesday, at the conclusion of its board of governors’ meetings in Jerusalem,  Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky urged 200 employees who represent the agency abroad to prepare for criticism of the government’s suspension in the Diaspora. The night before, the Jewish Agency canceled its scheduled gala dinner with Netanyahu over the Cabinet vote.

According to a statement, Sharansky urged the emissaries to “listen to expressions of anger and criticism that are being heard in many Jewish communities and bring them to the attention of public figures and politicians in Israel.”

After meeting with the prime minister on Monday, Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told The Times of Israel that American Jewish groups plan to lobby Israelis to support their concerns about religious pluralism. American Jewish leaders, he said, will also invest more in lobbying Israeli lawmakers.

But the Israeli official told JTA that trying to force change in Israeli religious policy is what leads to acrimony over these issues. Better, he said, to let the laws change gradually and quietly.

“So what you have is, you have the status quo: a set of slowly evolving, informal rules,” the official said. “Often you get into trouble when one of the sides tries to formalize something by going to court or by legislation.”

President Donald Trump in Iowa on June 21. Photo by Scott Morgan/Reuters

Israel and Russia only countries to view Trump more favorably than Obama, poll shows


Israel and Russia were the only two countries to have a more favorable view of President Donald Trump than his predecessor, Barack Obama, at the end of his time in office, a survey found.

The annual survey by the Pew Research Center on America’s image abroad also found that some 81 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Trump, compared with a median of 58 percent, according to the results released Tuesday.

Some 40,447 respondents in 37 countries outside the United States answered the survey from Feb. 16 to May 8.

Israel’s favorability rating of the United States has held steady over the past several surveys, including 81 percent in 2015, 84 percent in 2014, and 83 percent in 2013. In 2009, the rating was at 71 percent, the lowest since the survey was started 15 years ago.

In Russia, 41 percent have a favorable view of the United States under Trump, compared with 15 percent under Obama.

Israelis’ confidence in Trump was measured at 56 percent, compared to 49 percent for Obama at the end of his second four-year term. But the median showed 22 percent confidence in Trump and 64 percent in Obama.

The survey also found that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed said they considered Trump to be a strong leader, compared to a median of 55 percent. Some 54 percent of Israelis said Trump is well qualified to serve as president; the median was 26 percent.

Considering the border wall with Mexico, 42 percent of Israelis supported Trump’s idea, compared with 24 percent from all countries surveyed. On Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, 69 percent of Israelis were opposed, comparing to the 71 percent of the other countries surveyed.

“The sharp decline in how much global publics trust the U.S. president on the world stage is especially pronounced among some of America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada,” according to the survey.

Among close U.S. allies, in Germany, the favorability ranking for the U.S. has dropped to 11 percent under Trump from 86 under Obama; in France, 14 percent from 84 percent, and in Canada, 22 percent from 83 percent. Sweden saw a drop to 10 percent from 93 percent.

Among Middle East countries, the U.S. did not fare particularly well under either president, but again there was more confidence in Obama. Some numbers: Turkey 11 percent for Trump, 45 for Obama; Jordan, 5 percent and 14 percent, and Lebanon, 11 percent and 36 percent.

Many countries that have had poor relations with the U.S. over many years were not among those questioned, such as Syria and Iraq.

Worshipers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 17. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

L.A. clergy respond to the Kotel controversy


We have seen the selling out of the Jewish people for crass political power.  However, it isn’t usually done by a prime minister of Israel to Jews around the world. Benjamin Netanyahu’s crass political move to renege on the compromise reached with the Reform and Conservative Movements and Women of the Wall on appropriate egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel is alarming and shameful.

The plan to build egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was negotiated by the prime minister’s own representatives. His representatives Natan Sharansky and now-attorney general Avichai Mendelbilt were the ones who spoke for the Israeli government. It was hailed as an historic agreement by the prime minister’s own office. Netanyahu came to the U.S. and himself addressed American Jewry about the importance of this.

I sat across from the prime minister a year ago February in his office when he assured me and rabbinic leaders of the Reform Movement, “It will happen.”  Following the meeting at the annual convention of the Reform rabbinate in 2016, we held the first services in what was to eventually become the new space. It was a spiritually uplifting and moving experience to pray with my fellow rabbis next to the ancient and historical symbol of our people’s continuity, men and women together as is our authentic Jewish experience.

The prime minister, who claims to speak for all Jews, has betrayed a significant portion of the Jewish people by giving in to Charedi demands.  He is not a man of his word or a man of honor and he is leading the government of Israel to act immorally.

The sacrifices of the ancient Temple were designed to restore wholeness and holiness to individuals who have sinned and to the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu instead has sacrificed the majority of American Jews on the altar of his political expediency, reinforcing the very sin that destroyed the ancient Temple: sinat chinam, the hatred of Jew against Jew. This is the sin our Talmudic Sages teach destroyed the Temple. Netanyahu’s actions further alienate American Jews from finding a place and connection to the Jewish homeland. As a Reform rabbi I try to build up that connection and help Jews find their way home. The prime minister has increased the distance and removed the welcome mat from the doorway.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami


I am saddened, of course, that things had to come to this point, and that no effective compromise was brokered that could avoid the considerable pain experienced on both sides of the divide. I cannot say that I understand what happened.

I am saddened by the hype and the untruths that are being spread. While I can understand some of the feelings of let-down in the non-Orthodox world, I cannot understand charges that this move is a repudiation of their Jewishness. It is rather, for better or worse, nothing but the affirmation and continuation of a long-standing policy recognizing the holiness of the Wall as defined by halachah. No one — no one — is barred from participating in prayer there. The leaders of the movement to carve up the Kotel were not motivated by lack of a place where they could pray according to their fashion. Robinson’s Arch would have been more than adequate. The word that they have used has been “visibility,” i.e. they wished to make a statement about the legitimacy of their beliefs in high profile. Let’s at least be honest that this is not about equal access. It is about marketing.

Mostly I am saddened that the rift between Jewish brothers and sisters has become so cavernous that people speak of “rethinking” their commitment to the State of Israel. Do we support it because of what it can do for us, or because of its centrality in Jewish thought? Could it be that lots of non-Orthodox folks in Israel sense this wavering commitment, and are therefore prepared to listen to the Orthodox position, recognizing that only a halachic tradition will be a guarantor for the Jewish future?  I suspect that the heterodox movements have lost far more through this than a place at the Southern Wall.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Co-founder of Cross-Currents, an online journal of Orthodox Jewish thought


This is a triumph of expediency and fear over principle and unity. We all understand the political calculation involved, and the need for the prime minister to keep his coalition happy. But as Harry Truman memorably said, sometimes you have to put your principles aside and do what’s right. This betrayal tastes bitter in the mouths of those who love our people and our land.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple


This move by the government of Israel reneging on the Kotel agreement and promoting the conversion bill that would disenfranchise 500,000 people in Israel and around the world is a violation of the trust of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed a small group of religious extremist fanatics to separate the Jewish people from the State of Israel so that he can remain Prime Minister regardless of the importance of maintaining the unity of the Jewish people.

Jews everywhere should insist that the Prime Minister withdraw the conversion bill from consideration in the Knesset and reverse his government’s decision to ignore the Kotel agreement. The Prime Minister should also apologize to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who at the Prime Minister’s request five years to find a compromise agreement on the Kotel that unifies the Jewish people, did so and then Netanyahu dismissed the compromise agreement without even informing Sharansky in advance. Netanyahu’s decision humiliated one of the great heroes of the Jewish people.

Rabbi John Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood


In December 1988, I was a first-year rabbinic student living in Jerusalem when the first group of women naively took a Torah scroll to the women’s side of the Kotel and held a prayer service. Their heartfelt offering did not sit well with many who witnessed it. I was not among that original group, though several of them came to our living room later that afternoon to debrief and cry.

That year brought new meaning for me to the terms “hard rock” and “heavy metal,” for in the months afterwards I served the newly forming women’s group as a shomeret (a guard). The guards formed a ring around those praying, and faced the angry ones so the others could turn inward, trying to worship.

We tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to protect those praying from the vitriol, spittle, tear gas canister (thrown at us by one of the Orthodox men who picked it up after the police threw it at them), and one heavy metal chair that suddenly came flying through the air in our direction, injuring one of the women as she prayed.  It was the first year of the first Intifada, but the rocks coming over the Kotel from above made more sense to me, and were in some ways less frightening, than the weapons and words thrown by Jews at Jews.

The soldiers who protect the Jews at the Kotel were as taken aback as we were.  On a later visit a woman carried a Torah scroll on loan from the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in a baby blanket through the ever-tightening security: “Oh,” laughed the guard as he peeled back the blanket, and waved us through, “beautiful baby.”

No one is laughing now.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Beth Chayim Chadashim


We Jews must surely be the laughing stock of the world! Even as the United Nations actively delegitimizes our connection to the Temple Mount and ancient holy sites in Jerusalem and Israel, we are busy fighting with each other as to who can pray where and how, as if any of this really matters.

Both sides in this dispute ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Do any of the protagonists really think that they are making God happy by fighting with each other? The Talmud tells us that the Temple was destroyed and the exile was decreed by God as a result of the endless pointless squabbling between Jews. And yet, almost 2,000 years later, we are still squabbling! How pathetic.

Instead of fighting each other, we need to be joining forces and together fighting our real enemies — those who wish to deny the Jewish connection to our holiest site — not the Kotel, but the Temple Mount, where our Temple once stood, and will stand again, but only if we can focus our energy on making it happen, instead of wasting energy point-scoring against each other, pointing fingers, and creating ill-feeling.

In this fight, no matter who prevails there are no winners. Instead of this nonsense, our goal must be to protect Israel from its enemies, and to create a thriving center for Jewish revival and triumph in our ancestral homeland.

Rabbi Pini Dunner, Beverly Hills Synagogue


That the Israeli governing coalition reneged on its own agreement to provide a separate, cordoned off area, discretely to the side and far from the postcard courtyard that we all think of as the Kotel can’t really be a complete surprise. Politics is politics, and all politics is local. Most Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal and nondenominational voices will decry this short-sighted and discriminatory decision (as do I); most Orthodox, Charedi, and Chasidic voices will support and celebrate the power to impose their monopoly. Obviously, this has a lot to do with pluralism (which some see as a threat), and with women acting with authority in public (which even more people see as threatening).

Personally, I feel the need remind us of three simple truths: First, an Israel that circles the wagons and enacts religious policies that sound like they could have been proposed in Teheran or by the Westboro Baptist Church reveals itself to be motivated by fear and considerations of power, more than by faith and wisdom. That’s not good for Israel in the long run.

Second, if we are going to make the Wall into a locus of Jewish faith, then there has to be room for us all, each in our own way, or the imposed exclusion will itself become a justification for those marginalized and slighted to walk away from Judaism and from Israel, and that’s not good for Israel in the long run.

Third, nowhere in the Torah does it suggest that God is accessible at that Wall more than anywhere else. The portability of Torah, the insight that holiness is to be found in acts of tzedek (justice), shalom (peace) and chesed (lovingkindness) remains Judaism’s greatest insight and core conviction. So, by all means, let’s fight for our space at the Wall, but let’s remember that we show real love for God and Torah, and real solidarity with Israel, when we work for a Jewish community — here and there — that observes mitzvot, loves the stranger, learns Torah, and pursues peace.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University


I can pray at the Kotel, but my wife cannot. I can hear the Torah read at the Kotel, but she cannot. If she dons a tallit for private prayer at the Kotel, she will be arrested. If she prays aloud, she will be shouted down or escorted away.  Her spirituality, her voice, is deemed an affront to the Kotel. The great symbol of our collective destiny has become a political token, a tool of division. And sinat hinam, unbounded rivalry, our inability to embrace one another, the very reason we lost the city twice before, burns once more.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Valley Beth Shalom


I have been spat and yelled at (and worse) while davening at the Kotel.  I stand behind the efforts to bring egalitarian services there.  I am a supporter of Women of the Wall.  And I am pained (but somehow not surprised) by the recent reversal by the government, which does feel like a betrayal, and which stymies admirable efforts to open the Kotel to the full array of Jewish religious expression.  And at the same time, I choose not to wring my hands or wallow today.  I choose to celebrate, and thus identify with Rabbi Akiva in the famous story from the Talmud in which his rabbinic peers tore their garments upon seeing the ruins of Jerusalem.  They see the moment frozen in time, a destruction prophesied by a particular Biblical verse. Rabbi Akiva smiles, however, reminding them that the end of that very verse also prophesies redemption.  Now that the nadir envisioned by the verse has come to pass, the eventual ascension/aliyah is also inevitable. 
 
So why do I celebrate today?  Because even though the Charedi hold on Israeli politics is at times painful and corrupt, as the Kotel fiasco attests to, for me redemption is not tied to a particular wall. I am sometimes bemused by the fact that so much focus is put on prayer at the ruin of the Temple by the very Jews who least ache for that spot to re-emerge as the center of Jewish spirituality.  For the progressive-traditional Jew, who sees rebirth of meaningful and resonant Judaism within Israel as one of Zionism’s greatest contributions and challenges, what transpires at the Kotel may be symbolically important, but pales in comparison to the evolutions transpiring throughout the land—the mash-up of secular seekers and traditional liturgy at various Kabbalat Shabbat phenomena that are growing; the strength and vitality of Masorti and Progressive synagogues and communities despite the infrastructural challenges which inhibit them; the will exhibited by myriad Israelis to reject the authority and monopoly of the rabbanut by making decisions (which, yes, they ought not have to make) to marry creatively rather than under near-theocratic conditions.  Last summer I attended a cousin’s wedding on an Orthodox kibbutz, where the officiant was female, and at which the hordes of sweaty, tzitzit-flying, tichel-wearing celebrants saw no conflict between traditional Jewish rituals and practice on the one hand, and female religious leadership and party-style mixed-dancing on the other.  This same cousin, who helped found yet another Orthodox/egalitarian minyan in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, recently posted on Facebook wishing a mazal tov on the recent wedding…of Moshe and Eran, two of his closest male friends and fellow B’nai Akiva alumni. 
 
I’d tear a tiny thread in my clothes, as I really do wish that on my next visit to the Kotel I, and my daughters, can pray in the manner we find sacred.  But this symbolic setback is dwarfed by the extraordinary successes we see playing out in spots that are, indeed, more important to the Jewish future even than those venerable stones.  I honor the leaders of WOW and wish them strength.  And yet I know we will not win every engagement.  And the perfect is the enemy of the good.  And Robinson’s Arch is a beautiful place to hold egalitarian prayer (and a bit shadier, too!).  And if we scope out beyond those square meters, and if we are witness to (and financially contribute to) the efforts to egalitarian-ize and modernize and evolution-ize the many Judaisms of modern Israel, then we can stand with Rabbi Akiva, and celebrate the burgeoning redemptions.
Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Temple Beth Am

I stood at the Wall in 1967, having returned “home” on Aliyah with my husband, an Israeli officer. My eyes filled with tears as I approached the Wall which I could only see from the top of the Mt. Zion hotel when I was a young student in Jerusalem in 1960. I prayed and cried tears of gratitude at the open Wall.

I returned to the Wall for the Bar Mitzvah of my son in 1986. There was a mechitzah, but it was low, and no one seemed to mind when I held on to his tallit and prayed out loud, as I draped myself over the barrier from the woman’s side.

A decade later, things had changed. The mechitzah was now a wall itself and the woman’s section became smaller each year. The “Fashion Police” at the entrance to the woman’s section were more insistant, and I was chastized when I gathered my congregants near me in prayer as we visited the holy site.

By the year 2000, the Kotel area had become a war zone, not only for the intifada, but the epicenter of Jew against Jew. Rocks were thrown directly at me. On Rosh Chodesh, the catcalls and whistles grew louder and louder until the level became deafening. The Schechinah decamped elsewhere.

Robinson’s Arch was to be a worthy compromise that honored the unity of the Jewish people. I was lucky enough to lead a Shabbat servce for my congregation in the proposed Plaza area, and it was one of the holiest moments of all of our lives. Swallows flitted in and out of the crevases, the sound of the Arab call to prayer intertwined with our “mixed” daavening as the holy silence of Shabbat decended on Jerusalem.

Today, there is no holy silence. There are only tears for the pain of the Jewish people, and the opportunities we have lost.

Rabbi Judith HaLevy, Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall in 2015. Photo by Marc Sellem/Reuters

Bibi hits a wall


When push came to shove, when he had to pick between politics and principle, between personal power and Jewish unity, between his position and his people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved. He picked his position. He showed us his ultimate priority.

Surrendering to ultra-Orthodox pressure, Bibi reneged on a January 2016 agreement to ensure an official egalitarian presence at the Western Wall and, as if that weren’t enough, he supported an initiative to give total monopoly on conversions to the Chief Rabbinate. The timing couldn’t have been worse — it happened right when the Jewish Agency was having its annual conference in Jerusalem, with global representatives of the Diaspora looking on.

The moves were so insulting that the Jewish Agency did something unprecedented — it cancelled its dinner invitation to the prime minister. Meanwhile, the moves were condemned virtually across the board. You know you’ve gone too far when a beloved hero like Natan Sharansky goes against you.

Sensing that he may have overplayed his hand, Bibi has tried to do some damage control, but it’s not helping much. I think there are two main reasons for that.

First, Bibi clearly reneged on an agreement. His calls for renegotiation now ring hollow. It took years of hard negotiating, under the leadership of Sharansky, to come up with the compromise that recognized a non-Orthodox presence at Judaism’s holiest site.

As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The Times of Israel, “It was a noble compromise: The liberal denominations accepted with humility a secondary place at the Wall, but that at least recognized their right to be part of Israel’s public space; while the Orthodox seemed to accept an organized non-Orthodox presence at the Wall for the sake of Jewish unity.”

For those who fought so hard to obtain that agreement, the thought of going back to the drawing board must be demoralizing. As the head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said, “To spend four more years negotiating and then not have that implemented, either, is not credible.”

The second reason Bibi will have trouble spinning away from this crisis is that he’s associating himself with an institution with little credibility — the Chief Rabbinate. In the past year alone, two former chief rabbis, Yonah Metzger and Eliyahu Bashki Doron, have been convicted of felonies. And who is the politician leading the charge on these latest moves of intolerance? None other than Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who spent three years in jail for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Add it all up and there’s not much wiggle room for Bibi to repair the harm done to Israel-Diaspora relations. Until Bibi stands up to ultra-Orthodox forces for the sake of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish unity, they will continue to pressure him for their own divisive agenda, which puts a strict interpretation of halachah above all else.

The tragedy is that Bibi knows better. He’s a cosmopolitan Jew who understands the Diaspora and the importance of tolerance, pluralism and Jewish peoplehood. As the leader of the Jewish state, he knows he has a responsibility to make Israel a unifying force for all the Jews of the world. Once Israel becomes a divisive force that offends the majority of American Jews, what’s left? Startup Nation?

“I’m a Jew first and an Israeli second,” I remember him saying once at a Manhattan synagogue. Will he be able to say that next year at AIPAC, or at an American synagogue? Will anyone believe him? What American Jews are hearing today is that Bibi is an Israeli politician first and a Jew second. That is the price he is paying for appeasing intolerance.

What I find especially sad about this affair is that Bibi knows how to build bridges — with non-Jews. For the past few years, he has done a remarkable job opening up Israel to other countries hungry for Israeli expertise. He has traveled the world and received delegations from places like China, India, Africa and Eastern Europe in an effort to build economic and cultural bridges.

But while he built those bridges, he allowed another bridge to fray—the bridge between his government and the Jews of the world. So many of these Diaspora Jews are deeply in love with Israel and deeply attached to the Zionist miracle. I hate to think that they will now need some kind of financial “leverage” in order to be heard by the country they so love.

If the cause of Jewish unity is not enough leverage, what is?


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

Mariah Carey at a press conference for the Israeli cosmetics brand Premier Red Sea in Tel Aviv on June 26. Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Why Mariah Carey is being grilled about an Israeli corruption scandal


Mariah Carey’s latest trip to Israel hasn’t been full of screaming fans and big stages.

She’s in Tel Aviv for business as the new face of the Premier Dead Sea cosmetics brand. During a press conference on Monday, she was grilled with questions about a past relationship — specifically how her ex-fiancé might be entangled in the corruption scandal dogging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The last time the Grammy winner was in Israel, in 2015, things were much different. Carey visited with James Packer, an Australian billionaire who was her then-fiancé. The couple had some fun at the Western Wall and met with an unnamed “spiritual leader” for guidance about their future. They also had a fancy private dinner with Netanyahu — a close friend of Packer’s — and his wife, Sara.

So why else is this Israel trip different for Carey? For one thing, she and Packer broke up last October.

Oh, and Packer has also since been linked to Netanyahu’s headline-grabbing corruption scandal.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has been accused of illegally taking lavish gifts from several of his rich supporters, such as billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. He also allegedly made a deal with Yediot Ahronoth, one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, so that the publication would cover him more favorably. Several dozen people have been questioned by Israeli police in connection to the investigations.

Netanyahu has denied the charges, saying he received gifts but not bribes.

Packer has been accused of giving Netanyahu’s oldest son Yair free hotel rooms and luxury flights, and he has been wanted for questioning in Israel since March. Rumors spread that Carey might be questioned by police at some point, but this is not actually the case, according The Hollywood Reporter.

When asked about Packer’s current whereabouts, the diva had some choice words.

“I don’t know where the motherf—er is,” Carey Israel’s Channel 2 News. “How am I supposed to know? I don’t know, for real. I really have no idea about the political stuff that goes on, I don’t pay attention to it.”

Another interview with the Israeli entertainment show “Erev Tov” was shut down by her publicists.

“Oh, now they want to blame me? Someone wants to blame me for something now? What did I do? I didn’t do anything,” Carey said in the interview.

The ruffled pop star cancelled a reception she had planned for Tuesday night and is now only staying in Israel for a few days to fulfill her contractual obligations.

She does plan to visit the Dead Sea for the first time, and she’s bringing her six-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan (no typo there) along.

“I’m hoping they’ll have a good time and won’t get salt in their eyes,” Carey said Monday.

All she wants for Christmas is to be kept out of her ex’s corruption probes.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall (Photo: Reuters)

Fight or flee? A post-Kotel Jewish American dilemma


For Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, the story of the Kotel compromise – the agreement that was buried by the government on Sunday – was a story of arithmetical probabilities. He had no joy in canceling the arrangement that would have given non-Orthodox Jews, the majority of the Jewish people, a small piece of real-estate near the place most holy for all Jews. He drew no satisfaction from feeling that he had to cave under Charedi pressure. And yet, his cold calculation of probabilities made him break his promise to many Jewish leaders, especially from the US. It made him pass a government decision that he does not like.

Netanyahu estimated that the probability of damage to his coalition if he does not cave justified the angering decision. He estimated that the probability of damage to Israel if he does cave did not justify angering the Charedi parties. To make it tangible: Before the decision was made, Netanyahu estimated that there’s, say, a 20% chance that the Charedi parties actually mean what they say and will quit his coalition if the deal is implemented – a 20% chance he was not willing to take.

So, the decision was made, and the compromise was canceled. But the game of probabilities is not over – it is never over. What lies ahead? Netanyahu hoped, and estimated, that he will have to absorb criticism, anger, cries of protest, but that the Israel-Diaspora relations business will soon go back to being as usual. That is, not always great, occasionally rocky, but rarely as bad as people with specific agendas want us to think. To make it tangible: before the decision Netanyahu made, he estimated that there’s, say, a 10% chance that this time the response from world Jewry will be severe and truly painful for Israel – a 10% chance he was willing to take.

Was there a 20% chance that the Charedis were serious enough to quit the coalition? Many think there wasn’t, but I must admit that Netanyahu is a better politician than most of them.

Is there only a 10% chance that Israel-Diaspora relations will not go back to business as usual? Well, that’s up to you.

But before a decision is made, it is important to understand what is the issue at stake. Let’s begin with what it’s not: this is not about a place to pray near the Kotel. Such a place exists, and the government – including both Netanyahu and Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennet – promises to improve and expand the place for non-Orthodox practice. So, what is it about? It is about the symbolic recognition of authority. The halted compromise included elements that provided Reform and Conservative Judaism a kernel of official status. The currently proposed compromise – and the prime minister asked Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to work on it – will include everything but this kernel of official status. If US Jews want more space, they will get it. If they want a water cooler, they will have it. If they want to decorate the third Kotel platform with flowers and gold – they might even get that. The Prime Minister is willing to give them all they want – except for what he believes he cannot give. The status. In retrospect, so he and his advisors believe, the mistake was to mix the issue of place for prayer for all Jews of all stripes and denominations – something Israel can politically swallow – and the issue of legally complicated arrangements of official recognition.

This is what the prime minister is currently trying to sell to those who agree to speak with him. Yesterday, he had a tense and “unpleasant” meeting with several heads of large US Jewish Federations. Bennet has also had conversations with the leaders that gathered here for the Jewish Agency’s week of meetings. They both understand that a period of anger was to be expected. They both hope that when heads cool down a new arrangement can be found. The tougher client will be the Reform movement. The clients they hope to convince first are the leaders of the Jewish Federations.

Here are two short stories about two encounters I had with old Israeli acquaintances. On Monday, the day after the decision was made, I was invited to speak on several radio and TV shows about the crisis. In one of the studios I was sitting next to Salai Meridor, a former head of the Jewish Agency and Israeli ambassador to Washington, and an interesting exchange of words occurred. I said that the leaders of the American Jewish community ought to make Israel pay a heavy price for this decision. Meridor said that he hopes it will not come to that – but then he also said that the worse option for Israel is no reaction from US Jews, just quiet alienation. Exactly – I said – that’s why I’d like to see them respond. I’d like to see them wage a fight. Meridor smiled and nodded. I cannot say with any confidence that he agreed with me. He probably didn’t. Yet the fact of the matter is that he did not protest this call for a harsh response. I find that significant.

On Tuesday morning, I was on the radio, speaking to Avi Ratzon, whom I have known for almost thirty years. Ratzon is a populist and traditional Israeli. He is blunt, and funny, and he gives voice to Israeli populations that do not write blogs for the Times of Israel or such outlets. “Don’t threaten us!” he dared the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements. “I do not really care what they think,” he said about the Jews of America. We had a long and friendly conversation, but I can’t say that his mind was changed. Reform Judaism seems alien to him, misguided. And he was making a point that many Israelis agree with: if they don’t live here, they have no business telling us what to do.

There are three options that the Jews of America – those who care – have as they move from their initial anger and frustration to a cooler planning of their response: they can fight – a reasonable choice that comes with a price. This choice would surely alienate many Israelis away from American Jewry, as Ratzon demonstrated. They can flee – an easier choice that also comes with a price. This choice would surely alienate many Americans away from Israel, as Meridor warned. And of course, they can accept under protest the best offer that Israel is willing to hand at this time and hope for better days.

Freezing the Kotel compromise was an “affront to Zionism,” as Deputy Minister Michael Oren, scholar Donniel Hartman, and many others have argued. Refraining from battling against this decision – preferring the convenience of a detached alienation – would also be an affront to Zionism. In many ways, the crisis over the Kotel presents the leadership of Jewish Americans with a test not much different from the one facing Netanyahu before he made his own decision. A test of probabilities: what are the odds that they can get back to the old arrangement? A test of determination: can they see this battle through? A test of leadership: if they make the call – will the masses follow? A test of dedication: do they care enough about the ties of their community to Israel to have this fight?

David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Indyk, Shapiro on why Abbas ‘shunning’ David Friedman is a non-issue | Latest Kotel controversy | Dan Gilbert, Detroit’s Shadow Mayor


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DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — “Reports that Trump considering pulling out of peace efforts ‘nonsense,’ US official says” by Yasser Okbi: “President Donald Trump is reportedly weighing whether to pull out of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations following a “tense” meeting with White House senior staff and officials in Ramallah, according to London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat on Saturday… In response, a senior administration official called the report “nonsense.”” [JPost]

“Netanyahu ready to meet Abbas, but not to negotiate” by Uri Savir: “Trump has been advised by his inner circle and by former administration officials with experience in the Middle East peace process to stay out of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Everybody told him that both sides are unwilling to make the necessary compromises… Israel has conveyed to [Jason] Greenblatt that the Prime Minister is ready to participate in a regional strategy meeting in Washington chaired by Trump and also to meet with Abbas. The participation in such a meeting is conditioned on the Palestinian Authority’s taking action to stop incitement to violence and to halt all payments to the families of terrorists and prisoners in Israel… Furthermore, according to this official, while Netanyahu has agreed to restrain settlement expansion, construction will continue both in the Jerusalem area and outside of the settlement blocs.”

“In the talks with Greenblatt, Israel has emphasized its principles for any potential settlement with the Palestinians. In permanent-status negotiations, Israel will insist that all of the West Bank remain under Israel’s overriding security responsibility and that the Palestinians will only maintain a police force for public order that will cooperate with Israel on the prevention of terror. Also, Israel will demand the Palestinian leadership recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The border will be based on Israel’s security needs. Much of today’s West Bank area C (under Israeli control) will come under Israel’s sovereignty, and Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel. A Palestinian capital will be established outside of Jerusalem… The Foreign Ministry official further said that Israel will insist in the negotiations on immediate normalization of relations with the pragmatic Arab states.” [Al-Monitor]

Also in the Al Hayat report: “Ties were further strained after Abbas reportedly refused to meet American ambassador to Israel David Friedman.”[AlHayat

Two former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel, Martin Indyk and Daniel Shapiro, tell Jewish Insider that, if accurate, Friedman’s request to meet Abbas — or to join the U.S. negotiations team in Ramallah — is highly unusual. “The traditional US structure is that the Ambassador meets with Israelis, and the Consul General in Jerusalem meets with Palestinians,” according to Shapiro. “I never met with Abbas as Ambassador. I think this structure has also been the parties’ preference. I gather the new team would like to change that, but Abbas apparently resisted.”

Indyk tells us… “The U.S. diplomat who has responsibility for dealing with the Palestinian Authority is the Consul General in Jerusalem, who has no dealings with the Israeli government. Similarly, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel is not accredited to the Palestinian Authority and has no dealings with the Palestinian government in Ramallah. Generally, the Palestinians would love to have an ambassador deal with them because it connotes that they are a state. But not the US ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk did meet several times with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat but only in Gaza — in his first term (1995-1997) the U.S. Embassy had responsibility for Gaza — or to broker a ceasefire deal during the second intifada. “When I returned to Israel as ambassador the second time (2000-2001), I only met with Arafat in Ramallah or Gaza on instructions from Washington and in the company of the Consul General, but it would always be up to the Palestinian leader to agree to receive me,” said Indyk. “And it only happened in the context of trying to stop the intifada. I went with the Consul General to Ramallah and he went with me to the PM’s office in Jerusalem. As far as I know, that has never been repeated.”

DRIVING THE DAY: “Trump meets Modi: Budding romance or one-night stand?” by Josh Rogin: “One big potential announcement is that, after weeks of deliberation, the Trump administration has agreed to sell India almost two dozen Guardian drones, a deal worth more than $2 billion that would represent the first such U.S. sale to a non-NATO ally. Even that deal is symbolic of how cautiously the U.S.-India relationship continues to be viewed in New Delhi. [Narendra] Modi’s government has also been negotiating with Israel to buy drones in case the United States doesn’t come though. Modi will visit Israel next week.” [WashPost]  

TRANSITION: “Moscow Is Finally Recalling Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak” by John Hudson: “The decision to bring Kislyak back to Russia rather than appoint him to a senior position at the United Nations in New York… comes amid investigations by the FBI and Congress into the 66-year-old diplomat’s contacts with President Donald Trump’s top aides during the 2016 presidential campaign… Despite the unwanted attention, Kisylak, a former nuclear physicist, has remained a prominent fixture in Washington’s diplomatic party circuit, openly smiling and socializing at receptions held by the Azerbaijan Embassy in June, the Palestinian Liberation Organization in May and other foreign missions.” [BuzzFeed]  

“Trump considering Camp David-style summit to unite Arab leaders to fight terrorism” by Ben Evansky“Fox News has learned that the White House is discussing several options for overcoming the dispute including a broad summit modeled on the 1978 Camp David peace accords that led to the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. “It’s a Camp David moment. We’ve seen nothing like this in 40 years, and now the president wants to follow through,” a senior White House official told Fox News. In what might be seen as a warning for many countries in the region, the senior White House official told Fox News that the president is interested in behavior modification, and “not just Qatar’s.”” [FoxNews

“Trump allies push White House to consider regime change in Tehran” by Michael Crowley: “The case for political subversion in Iran has also been pressed to the White House by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies… Soon after Trump’s inauguration, FDD’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz, submitted a seven-page Iran policy memo to Trump’s National Security Council. The memo—which was circulated inside the Trump White House —included a discussion of ways to foment popular unrest with the goal of establishing a “free and democratic” Iran… It maintained that Trump has an instrumental role to play in discrediting the regime… The FDD memo argues that Rouhani’s presidency “has managed to mislead world leaders that it is a force for moderation and pragmatism,” and suggested that the Trump administration work to prevent Rouhani’s re-election, although there is no evidence that it did… Dubowitz called the memo one of several he has submitted to the Trump administration.” [Politico]

Netanyahu tweets: “We were here long before the Ayatollahs took the Iranian people hostage, and we’ll be here long after their regime is a footnote of history.” [Twitter]

FOGGY BOTTOM TUMULT: “White House frustration grows with Tillerson over jobs for Trump allies” by Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker: “[Margaret] Peterlin’s counterpart at the Treasury Department, chief of staff Eli Miller, said he has experienced no holdup or problem in getting information or arranging phone calls through Peterlin and her staff. “She is very accessible. Really at any time,” Miller said. “I work very closely with them and I’ve never had a problem — early in the morning or late at night.”” [WashPost]

“Where Trump Zigs, Tillerson Zags, Putting Him at Odds With White House” by David E. Sanger, Gardiner Harris and Mark Landler: “Some in the White House say that the discord in the Qatar dispute is part of a broader struggle over who is in charge of Middle East policy — Mr. Tillerson or Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser — and that the secretary of state has a tin ear about the political realities of the Trump administration. Others say it is merely symptomatic of a dysfunctional State Department.” [NYTimes]

TOP TALKER: “Ivanka Trump says ‘I try to stay out of politics’ despite assisting at White House” by Martin Pengelly: “I try to stay out of politics,” Ivanka Trump said [on Fox and Friends] in an answer to a question about her father’s use of Twitter to bypass most normal channels of presidential communication. “His political instincts are phenomenal. He did something that no one could have imagined he’d be able to accomplish… But I don’t profess to be a political savant.” … Though Trump claims to “stay out of politics”, she has been a familiar surrogate for her father in the media and on the world stage… Asked in the interview broadcast on Monday if she ever disagreed with her father… the first daughter said: “So naturally, there are areas where there is disagreement.” [Guardian] • Ivanka says her children call Air Force One ‘the candy plane’ because they get M&Ms on every trip [DailyMail]

HAPPENING TODAY — “Bloomberg’s Next Anti-Washington Move: $200 Million Program for Mayors” by Alexander Burns: “[Michael] Bloomberg intends to announce the initiative on Monday in a speech to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach, where he will castigate federal officials and state governments around the country for undermining cities. He plans to describe the program, called the American Cities Initiative, as a method of shoring up the global influence of the United States despite turmoil in Washington… A signature component of the proposed Bloomberg initiative will be a “Mayors Challenge,” through which city executives will be invited to compete for six- and seven-figure grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies, awarded to mayors who draw up compelling proposals for policy experimentation.”

“Asked if he had made an appeal to the New Yorker in the White House, Mr. Bloomberg said he had spoken only once to Mr. Trump since his election, describing it as a “pleasant conversation.” “He gave me his private cellphone number, and I haven’t called him,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He has mine and he hasn’t called me.”” [NYTimes]

America’s 11 Most Interesting Mayors — “Eric Garcetti: The mayor who would be president ” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “If Garcetti runs for president, he wouldn’t just make history as a rare sitting mayor to do so. He also has the potential to be the first Hispanic and the first Jewish president… The mayor can order his bagel and lox, which he loves, in fluent Spanish.”

The Shadow Mayor: Dan Gilbert* — by Nancy Kaffer: “Gilbert, 55, is not actually the mayor of Detroit, and in most of the city’s sprawling 140-odd square miles, his influence is negligible. But in the city’s now-thriving downtown—Gilbertville, some call it—this billionaire businessman wields the kind of power and boasts a résumé of civic accomplishment that most politicians could only dream of.” [PoliticoMag]

** Good Monday 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: Daniel Loeb’s Activist Hedge Fund Third Point Takes $3.5 Billion Stake in Nestlé [WSJ• A Trump Bump for Law Firm of the President’s Lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz [NYTimes] • Holland & Barrett, the UK’s biggest health food retailer, is being bought by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman for £1.8bn [BBC] • MizMaa’s Leung Sees More Investment From China to Israel [Bloomberg] • Iowa Gov. Reynolds to lead trade mission to Israel [AP]

“Joe Biden’s beef with Bill Ackman sparks heated exchange and presidential chatter” by Charlie Gasparino and Brian Schwartz: “[Bill Ackman] got into a verbal tussle with Biden at a private dinner… at this year’s SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference, a popular Wall Street confab held in May and started by hedge fund impresario Anthony Scaramucci… The question of why Biden didn’t run for president in 2016 was raised once again, by former Florida governor and 2016 GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush… Biden explained that part of the decision stemmed from the death of his son Beau Biden… That’s when Ackman blurted out “Why? That’s never stopped you before.” … Biden, these people say, turned to someone seated near him, and asked, “who is this asshole?,” a reference to Ackman. Then he turned directly to Ackman and stated: “look, I don’t know who you are, wiseass, but never disrespect the memory of my dead son!” these people say. Ackman attempted what was described as an apology, to which Biden said, “just shut the hell up.”” [FoxBusiness]

FIRST LOOK — “Jared Kushner got his start as Somerville landlord” by Matt Viser: “When [Jared] Kushner arrived in Cambridge in 1999, he plugged into campus life. He was active in the Harvard Chabad, a campus Jewish group; played junior varsity squash…  In the fall of 2000, just before the start of Jared’s sophomore year, Charles Kushner came up to Cambridge with his son. It was time to get started on Jared’s extracurricular business education. They met on a Sunday afternoon with Michael Rubin, a local lawyer, and Charles Kushner began an interview of sorts. “He said, ‘We’re in the real estate business and I want Jared to learn while he’s in college. He’s going to buy some properties and he needs guidance,’ ” Rubin recalled… Nelson Oliveira, a contractor who did all the work on Kushner’s properties, used to pick Kushner up on campus about once a week. As they drove to job sites in Oliveira’s pickup truck, Jared would talk about his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who started from scratch in the United States.” [BostonGlobe] • Kushner firm’s $285 million Deutsche Bank loan came just before Election Day [WashPost]

LongRead: “The Untold Story of How Gary Cohn Fell for Donald Trump” by William D. Cohan: “In September 2015, [Lloyd] Blankfein announced the shocking news that he had lymphoma… While Blankfein was recuperating, Cohn seemed to delight in the attention and adulation he received when he filled in for his boss on earnings calls, industry presentations, and media events… That’s when, some say, he became overconfident and decided to inquire of several of his fellow board members about becoming C.E.O., even as Blankfein was responding well to his chemotherapy treatments. ‘Gary made a play to replace Lloyd,’ according to a former Goldman partner. It didn’t work. The board was ‘noncommittal’ to Cohn, he continues… The timing was perfect for Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, to pounce. He approached Cohn, supposedly at the suggestion of mutual friends. “Jared Kushner has always been a little starstruck with Goldman Sachs people,” says a former Goldman partner who knows him well… “This was an incredibly sort of convenient and opportune kind of thing that came along for Gary because—whether he was going to Washington or not—Gary was out.”” [VanityFair

“Diaspora donors play key role in Israel’s Labor race” by Gil Hoffman: “Donors who live in the United States and United Kingdom have contributed substantial sums to the candidates in the July 4 Labor leadership race, according to information retrieved from State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s office by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday… American philanthropists S. Daniel Abraham, Jack Bendheim and Leon Black contributed $12,500, $12,000 and 12,000, respectively, to [Isaac] Herzog…. Cincinnati Jewish community leader Kim Heiman donated $12,500… Global business and communications strategist Zev Furst of New Jersey gave $3,000. Former American Jewish Committee president Robert Goodkind contributed $2,500. American Jewish Congress chairman Jack Rosen donated $2,500 to Margalit’s campaign.” [JPost]

KAFE KNESSET — Kotel compromise, conversion on the chopping block — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The day after the cabinet capitulated to Haredi demands, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting a cold shoulder from some leaders of Diaspora Jewry. The Jewish Agency Board of Directors canceled its planned dinner at the Knesset’s Chagall Hall tonight, and shifted its entire agenda to discuss the ramifications of the decisions. The Reform movement also canceled a meeting with the Prime Minister. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky released a sharply worded response to the votes, expressing “deep disappointment,” and pointing out that Netanyahu said the Kotel should be “one wall for one people.” He added that the decision “signifies a retreat…[that] will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.”

Today’s faction meetings in the Knesset were all about the Kotel controversy. President of the Union of Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Chief Executive of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly Julie Schonfeld were very popular guests. The two rabbis even sat next to Yair Lapid as he made his statement to the press opposing the decisions. Lapid said in English: “Don’t give up on us – we’re not giving up on you. We are one people.” Liberman said the Haredim are trying to turn Israel into a theocracy, “from a Zionist state to a halachic state.”

Haredi parties are on the defensive: Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni stated that, after consulting with legal experts, freezing the Kotel compromise was the best way to prevent the Supreme Court from intervening in what happens at the Western Wall. Gafni noted that the Haredi parties would have allowed the status quo if the non-Orthodox movements had not appealed to the courts. Gafni accused Reform Jewry of trying to intervene from abroad.  He observed that if they ran in Israeli politics, they wouldn’t get even one seat in the Knesset. According to Gafni, “the Reform movement is screaming like someone who murdered his father, and then went to the court and said “have mercy on me, I’m an orphan.’” Shas chairman Arye Deri said that people are only complaining because the move happened in a right-wing government. “If we were doing this in a left-wing government, we would be praised for protecting tradition and the sanctity of the Kotel. They want to use us to dismantle the government and bring down Netanyahu. We won’t let anyone take apart what we worked to build for 70 years.” And then Deri added that he’s not trying to be divisive: “Every Jew can come to the Kotel and pray.”

Kafe Knesset’s take: The decision reverberated throughout the political sphere, but, it is unclear is how much the average Israeli cares about religion and state issues when it doesn’t directly connect to their tax rates or IDF service. Netanyahu, for one, has very little to worry about electorally – his Likud base isn’t fighting for non-Orthodox Jewry, for the most part, and quite a few of them strongly oppose the Conservative and Reform movements. And on the other political side, respected Army Radio broadcaster Razi Barkai, whose left-wing and secular bona fides are undoubted, asked Jewish-American guests more than once this morning: “If you want to influence Israel, why don’t make Aliya and vote here?” Barkai’s question may show his disregard for Diaspora Jewry, but it is the crux of the matter in Israeli politics. Public opinion polls show that the importance of Diaspora Jewry to Israelis is waning. And Diaspora Jews don’t vote. So, making a quick calculation, Israeli politicians realize that they don’t need to do what Diaspora Jews want in order to survive – but they generally do need to appease the Haredim to keep a coalition together. Notice that hardly anyone voted against it, and even Liberman isn’t exactly threatening to bring down the government over religion and state. Of course, that brings up the question – are politics really everything? Don’t some things come before staying in your seat? Well, it seems we got our answer on Sunday. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]

“Netanyahu to millions of Jews: We don’t really want you” by David Horovitz: “Benjamin Netanyahu would never put it in such blunt terms, of course. And doubtless he will expend considerable rhetorical energy in the near future insisting that it is not the case.” [ToI]

“The Art of the Netanyahu Deal: Why Trump Should Pay Attention to Israel’s Broken Western Wall Promise” by Amir Tibon: “If Greenblatt wants to be more successful than his predecessors in getting what his boss has called “the ultimate peace deal,” he would be wise not just to read the memoirs of the previous peace negotiators, but also to learn from the most recent case of Netanyahu’s balancing act. Netanyahu has proven once again that his coalition partners are more important to him than promises he makes to Israel’s friends in America.” [Haaretz

“Israel’s Too-Controversial Culture Warrior” by Shmuel Rosner: “Miri Regev, Israel’s minister of culture and sport… is regularly booed when she attends plays or operas. These boos are well deserved. Ms. Regev shows no affinity for understated, nuanced, civil discourse. She has been also called “Trump in high heels” and the “Sarah Palin of Israel.” Much like these American politicians, Ms. Regev is blunt, occasionally foul-mouthed and thrives on controversy. In short, she is often an embarrassment — especially for those, like me, who think she has a point. The point is obvious: There is a difference between “freedom of expression,” which Israel must preserve, and “freedom of funding,” as Ms. Regev calls it.” [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Gay Pride marchers with Jewish flags told to leave Chicago parade” by Harriet Sinclair: “The Jewish Star of David flag was banned from the city’s annual Dyke March celebrations, and several people carrying the flag were removed from the march because their presence “made people feel unsafe,” LGBT paper Windy City Times reported… The organizers of the march told the Times the event was a pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist one and that the flags made people feel unsafe… “This is not what this is community is supposed to be about,” marcher Ruthie Steiner told the Times after seeing people thrown out because of their Jewish Pride flags.” [Newsweek; Chicagoist

“How Twitter Pornified Politics” by Bret Stephens: “This is the column in which I formally forswear Twitter for good. I’ll keep my Twitter handle, and hopefully my followers, but an editorial assistant will manage the account from now on… Things we would never say in person, acts we would never perform, become safe to indulge thanks to the prophylactic of a digital interface. After I took this job, one wag on Twitter wrote that he hoped I’d be “Danny Pearl-ed.” He must have found it funny. My 11-year-old son didn’t.” [NYTimes]

“Trump won, and Amy Siskind started a list of changes. Now it’s a sensation” by Margaret Sullivan: ““I needed a Zen moment,” Siskind, who had campaigned for Hillary Clinton, told me. “And that is a place that inspires me.” Soon afterward, Siskind began keeping what she calls the Weekly List, tracking all the ways in which she saw America’s taken-for-granted governmental norms changing in the Trump era… She posts the list on Saturday on Facebook and Twitter, and Sunday on Medium, after working on it for 15 or 20 hours a week.” [WashPost]

WEEKEND WEDDINGS — “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin marries fiancee in front of Trump” by Alana Goodman: “The 300-person guest list included President Trump, First Lady Melania and Vice President Mike Pence. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner also attended the lavish ceremony. The Vice President officiated the couple’s wedding… Jared and Ivanka arrived on a private bus reserved for wedding guests after they were earlier spotted leaving the Trump International Hotel in DC.” [DailyMail; Politico]

Marla Friedman, Eduardo Weinstein: “The bride, 31, is an editor for Apple News in New York… She is the daughter of Dolly H. Hertz of Armonk, N.Y., and Gary L. Friedman of Redmond, Wash… The groom, 36, is the head of strategy and analytics at Google in New York… He is a son of Susana Drullinsky of Santiago and the late Miguel Weinstein.” [NYTimes]

“Making friends and — maybe — major life decisions on Honeymoon Israel” by Shira Center: “An increasing number of US Jews are marrying someone of another religion… Enter Honeymoon Israel: a heavily subsidized, immersive trip for couples, many of whom are interfaith, with the aim of cultivating intentional and meaningful communities on their own terms… Eligible couples must be within the first five years of marriage or in a committed relationship. At least one of the partners must be between 25 and 40, have some Jewish heritage, and not been on an organized trip to Israel, such as Birthright.” [BostonGlobe

DESSERT — Rabbi Yonah Bookstein writes… “As we start packing this weekend to prepare for our pilgrimage to High Sierra, which starts June 29th in Quincy, CA, my heart is already pounding faster, and my smile is brighter… I’m a big believer in the power of music festivals to make the world a better place. The power of music and community to elevate our souls, enables us to build a more compassionate society. You can’t get that in a class or in a book – you have to experience this.” [HuffPost• After recent high-profile blunders, music festival promoters find bigger isn’t always better [LATimes]

BIRTHDAYS: CEO of Gibralt Capital, a Vancouver-based alternative asset manager, he has owned at various times Bache Securities, Gulf Oil, Armstrong World, Yale Locks, Hamilton Beach and NuTone, Samuel Belzberg turns 89 (today is also the birthday of his son-in-law, Strauss Zelnick)… JD and MBA graduate of Harvard, founder and CEO of ZMC (originally known as Zelnick Media), previously CEO of several media firms including 20th Century Fox and record label BMG Entertainment, Strauss Zelnick turns 60… British Labour party member of Parliament for 42 years (1966-1970 and again from 1979-2017), David Winnick turns 84… Long time play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco Giants, Hank Greenwald turns 82… Attorney and public affairs strategist, a close confidant of former President Obama, past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (2009-2011), Alan Solow turns 63… VP for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland, a psychologist known for her work on sleep patterns and behavioral well-being, Amy Ruth Wolfson, Ph.D. turns 57… Once the wealthiest of all Russian oligarchs, then a prisoner in Russia and now living in exile in Switzerland, Mikhail Khodorkovsky turns 54… President and founder of Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based nonpartisan and nonprofit policy think tank, Gidi Grinstein turns 47… Senior manager of corporate communications at American Airlines, Ross F. Feinstein turns 35 (h/t Playbook)… Staff assistant and policy advisor for the Office of Public Engagement in the Obama White House, now an advisor to the Chicago City Treasurer, Asher J. Mayerson turns 24… David Marks… Robert Levin

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]

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Decaying relations with Diaspora yield bold words in Israel, but little action


Israeli politicians rushed to condemn their government’s decision Sunday to freeze a plan promoting pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.

Voices from across the political spectrum, including members of the governing coalition, criticized the vote by the Cabinet as a reckless affront to American Jewry. They warned it could weaken the community’s support for Israel.

“Canceling the deal constitutes a severe blow to the unity of the Jewish people and communities as well as the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

However, as in the past, such concerns were not enough to affect policy: An overwhelming majority of the Cabinet voted in favor of freezing the plan. Amid the outcry, haredi Orthodox politicians celebrated another success in preserving the powers and privileges granted to their community by the state.

When Israel approved the Western Wall plan in January 2016, it was widely hailed as a historic compromise between non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews. The Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, the multi-denominational Women of the Wall prayer group and the haredi Western Wall rabbi negotiated the plan over several years.

They agreed to significantly upgrade the egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall plaza and allow leaders of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements to manage it. In exchange, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation would maintain control of the main prayer section. Women of the Wall, which for nearly two decades has protested limitations on prayer rites in the women’s section of the familiar Western Wall plaza, would move to the expanded space, known as Robinson’s Arch.

But when the plan was made public, haredi leaders decried the concessions to what they saw as illegitimate forms of Judaism, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who heads the Heritage Foundation, quickly withdrew his support. The haredi political parties have since pushed the government to scrap the plan entirely, which it came just short of doing Sunday.

Among the Cabinet ministers, only Lieberman, the head of the hawkish Yisrael Beinteinu party, and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the ruling Likud, voted against the freeze. In announcing the decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had appointed Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman to draft a new plan for the site. He said construction on the pluralistic prayer section would continue uninterrupted.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement and a vocal advocate of the plan, called the government’s decision an “unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry.”

“The stranglehold that the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox parts have on Israel and the enfranchisement of the majority of Jews in Israel and the world must – and will – be ended,” he said Sunday in a statement. “We are assessing all next steps.”

Tzipi Livni, a prominent lawmaker in the opposition Zionist Union political coalition, took to Facebook to explain why Israeli Jews should be concerned about the feelings of their American counterparts when it comes to prayer at the Western Wall and a new bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the haredi-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

“Why do we care about Jewish Israelis from the Western Wall and the Conversion Law? Because it is important to us that Israel remain the state of the Jewish people and that Judaism be what connects us — and not what divides us,” Livni said Sunday in a post.

“The cancellation of the Western Wall arrangement and the new conversion law tear the Jewish people apart. The prime minister of the Jewish people divides them for the purpose of political survival, and gives the ultra-Orthodox parties a monopoly over the Judaism of all of us.”

Shuki Friedman, the head of religion and state research at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank in Jerusalem, said many Israelis resent the influence that haredi leaders exert over state institutions. But, he said, most people do not prioritize issues of religion and state, nor do they embrace liberal forms of Judaism.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will shake up Israeli politics. The storm is mostly in the media,” Friedman told JTA. “Generally speaking, the Reform and Conservative movements have failed in Israel, and the public isn’t really concerned about them. Therefore, mainstream politicians aren’t going to challenge the haredim on an issue like the Western Wall. ”

Meanwhile, he said, the haredi political parties have an almost singular focus on protecting their narrow interests. That makes them useful to forming and maintaining governing coalitions, but at the cost of accommodating those interests.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the haredi United Torah Judaism party welcomed the Cabinet decision as a victory over liberal Jews.

“This decision sends a clear message to the entire world that Reform Judaism has no access to or recognition at the Western Wall,” he said Sunday in a statement. “I thank the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, and the chief rabbis of Israel. To their merit we were able to sanctify God’s name.”

Also Sunday, government ministers approved a bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions conducted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. The conversion bill, drafted last month by Interior Minster Ayreh Deri, head of the haredi Shas party, apparently aims to circumvent a March 2016 Supreme Court ruling that allowed those who undergo private Orthodox conversions in Israel to become citizens under the Law of Return.

Since helping to form the current government in 2015, haredi politicians have rolled back various efforts to reform the relationship between synagogue and state — many of them enacted under the previous government, which did not include them.

In November 2015, the Knesset postponed and watered down a law that would have ended the traditional exemption from military conscription for most haredi men. And in July 2016, Education Minister Naftali Bennett assumed the authority to ignore a law slashing state funding for haredi schools that do not teach math and English. State funding for yeshivas has reached record highs three different times under the current government.

However, some Israelis are mounting challenges to the religious status quo outside of the Knesset. The Cabinet’s decision came on the day of a High Court of Justice deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the Western Wall plan and build the pluralistic prayer space. How the court would react to the freeze was unclear.

Also, in an unprecedented move, the semi-official Jewish Agency issued a resolution on Monday calling on the government to reverse its decision, saying the move was un-Zionist.

“We deplore the decision of the [Government of Israel] which contradicts the vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky and the spirit of the Zionist movement and Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people and the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world,” said the resolution, which the agency’s board of governors passed unanimously.

Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky were perhaps the most important Zionist leaders of the 20th century.

“We declare that we cannot and will not allow this to happen. We call on the GOI to understand the gravity of its steps and accordingly reverse its course of action,” the resolution continued.

Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was at the Cabinet meeting Sunday before the vote to freeze the Western Wall plan. He presented a report by the think tank he co-chairs, the Jewish People Policy Institute, that urged the government to promote Jewish pluralism, in part to ensure the continued support of American Jewry.

While dismayed by the ministers’ decision, Eizenstat said he felt his message was heard.

“I’ve been doing this for many years, and I’ve never seen a meeting that lasted so long nor one that had such a spirited debate,” he told JTA. “There was tremendous engagement on our point by nearly all the minsters. It was clear they took it seriously.”

Gal Gadot in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Clay Enos/DC Comics

Gal Gadot ranked most popular actor on social media


Gal Gadot, the Israeli star of the film “Wonder Woman,” rose to No. 1 on The Hollywood Reporter’s Top Actors list.

Gadot moved up from No. 4 over the past two weeks in the ranking of the most popular actors on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus. The last tracking week ended June 20, according to The Hollywood Reporter; the latest list was released Saturday.

Others on the list include Dwayne Johnson, Zendaya, Priyanka Chopra, Lucy Hale, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Hart, Lily Collins, Shay Mitchell and Mark Wahlberg.

Gadot, 32, has become an international sensation since “Wonder Woman” premiered, but she has been a household name in Israel since winning the Miss Israel pageant in 2004 at 18.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem on May 28. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO

Jewish Agency, Reform movement cancel meetings with Netanyahu following Western Wall decision


The Jewish Agency’s board of governors canceled a scheduled dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Israeli government decided to freeze a plan to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

Also Monday, the heads of the Reform movement in the United States and Israel said they would cancel a meeting with the prime minister scheduled for Thursday in the wake of the decision. The meeting had been arranged several weeks ago.

The Jewish Agency announced the cancellation on Monday, the day of the dinner. The statement also said the group would change its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem “in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.”

A Knesset ceremony Monday to kick off the board of governors meeting also was canceled.

The Jewish Agency also announced that it had unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Israeli government to reverse its decision to suspend the deal and a separate decision to advance a bill that would only recognize conversions completed under the auspices of the haredi Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

The resolution said the proposed conversion bill “has the devastating potential to permanently exclude hundreds of thousands of Israelis from being a part of the Jewish people.” It also said the board “deplores” the decision to freeze the Western Wall agreement intended to “establish the Kotel as a unifying symbol for Jews around the world, as stated: ‘One Wall for One People.’”

“The Government of Israel’s decisions have a deep potential to divide the Jewish people and to undermine the Zionist vision and dream of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky to establish Israel as a national home for the entire Jewish people,” the resolution also said.

The Jewish Agency’s newly installed board of governors chairman, Michael Siegal, told Haaretz on Monday that his agency would re-evaluate its relationship with the Israeli government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, explained in a statement that his movement had been “deeply encouraged” 18 months ago when Netanyahu and his Cabinet, over the objection of haredi Orthodox parties, had passed an agreement that was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.

Jacobs said Netanyahu rescinded the agreement without discussion with North American leaders.

“The decision cannot be seen as anything other than a betrayal, and I see no point to a meeting at this time,” Jacobs said. “After yesterday’s shameful decisions, we feel that at this moment, after more than four years of negotiations, it is not clear that the current Israeli government honors its agreements.”

The agreement would have doubled to nearly 10,000 square feet — half the size of the Orthodox main section just to its north — a section where men and women could pray together on the western side of the Temple Mount. A committee of non-Orthodox leaders and government officials was to manage the non-Orthodox section, and a single entrance was to lead to both sections.

Members of activist group Women of the Wall speak to the media following the Israeli government's decision to create an egalitarian prayer plaza near Jerusalem's Western Wall, January 31, 2016. (Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters)

24 short and sober comments on the sudden death of the Kotel compromise


If you haven’t heard the news, the Israeli government has decided to freeze – that is to say, kill – its own resolution to create a platform for egalitarian and progressive Jewish practice at the Western Wall. The ultra-Orthodox parties put their foot down, and the cabinet caved. Here are some very short comments on a much-discussed issue.

1.

Don’t bother to fake shock and bafflement. The decision was anything but surprising.

2.

Don’t waste time on outrage. The decision is outrageous – the response to it should be measured and well planned.

3.

There’s no substitute to political power. The rest is whining. If anyone needed any proof, there it is.

4.

Think about it again: is it really important to you to have a third platform near the Kotel? How important? Are you willing to put your money, energy, dedication, where your mouth is? If not, move on – because the Haredim just proved that for them this issue is really important.

5.

The big black threat of a “rift” between Israel and world Jewry does not work in Israel. Maybe because Israelis don’t care if there’s rift, maybe because it has been overused throughout the years, maybe because they believe there’s already a rift, maybe because a vague “rift” is just not concrete enough to be scary. If you care about changing Israel, search for new strategies.

6.

Do not confuse the interests of small groups in Israel with those of large groups in the US. I have enormous respect for the dedication and determination of Women of the Wall. I still wonder if their cause – the cause of relatively few women – justifies the means – a rift separating millions of Jews from one another.

7.

The behavior of the Haredim is ghastly, disrespectful, hurtful – pick your choice. But they also show great dedication to their cause. Yes, a cause I vehemently disagree with. But dedication nonetheless.

8.

Do not bother with polls showing that most Israelis support the Kotel compromise. Most Israelis probably also support tax cuts that they do not get and better weather in late June that they cannot get. Polls have to examine not just the views of Israelis but also the intensity of their conviction. That is, are they willing to put their energy where their mouth is (see point 4)?

9.

The Prime Minister might be a coward for not testing how far the Haredim will go in their insistence on killing the compromise. But it is not surprising that most of those thinking he should have taken the risk are also those who don’t want his government to survive.

10.

Many respondents rightly called the decision to rescind the compromise “shameful.” But the response in Haredi circles when the decision to approve the compromise was made was not much different. Shame is in the eye of the beholder. That is why we need politics – to pick the winner of the shame contest.

11.

Yaakov Katz asks: “Also, where was Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the cabinet member who is supposed to represent Diaspora Jewry’s interests in the government? In January 2016, after the cabinet passed the original Kotel deal, he called the vote ‘historic’ and told this newspaper that ‘From today the Kotel is open to all Jews.’” Katz, currently the editor of The Jerusalem Post, was an advisor to Bennet. He asks a good question. Don’t expect any answers.

12.

Reminder to self: use “historic” with caution.

13.

Don’t expect the court to make this issue go away. The strategy of attempting to make policy using the courts – instead of building political power – is also overused.

14.

“So, what can we do?” an American Jewish leader asked me yesterday, when I was sharing my sober observations with him. He was clearly unhappy with my response. I suggested that he read my article from exactly a year ago – June 2016.  Here’s what I said: “making the battle for the Kotel more concrete for Israelis might require a more severe measure… to begin a civil resistance-style fight on the ground. That is, to send groups of progressive Jews to the Kotel to pray in mixed groups. Reform and Conservative prayers at the northern plaza of the Kotel.” Does anyone have the masses to support such a move? If yes, I’ll join the protest. If not, I’ll move on – regretfully.

15.

You want to make this painful for Israel? Cancel Birthright for six months. Make sure no one – or almost no one – gets on Birthright buses. You want to make it painful for Israel? Cancel all flights, hotel reservations, meetings with Israeli officials, fundraising, support for Israeli institutions.

16.

But before you do, think about it again: is this important enough to see it through whatever the cost? – because the ultra-Orthodox will not surrender without fight.

17.

Stop being insulted by the ultra-Orthodox or other Israelis calling you names. So what if they think Reform Judaism is “wicked”? Why should anyone care?

18.

Do not try to convince Israelis – not even me – that the Kotel issue is the most urgent issue on Israel’s agenda. It is not.

19.

Criticizing the rabbinate, or Haredi leaders, will not get you far. Israelis dislike the rabbinate and have little respect for Haredi leaders. They do not fight for the Kotel compromise not because they fear the rabbis or do not understand that the rabbis hurt Israel. They do not fight for the Kotel because it is not important enough for them to fight for.

20.

Also note that the rabbis are generally smart: they don’t take away from Israelis what Israelis truly value – such as soccer on Saturdays.

21.

The Haredim are not “wrong” – they just have different priorities.

22.

Netanyahu was not wrong yesterday – he just has different priorities.

23.

Something to remember: you cannot oppose a government on all things and then expect it to be attentive and responsive to your sensitivities.

24.

Your priorities – and by “your” I mean the priorities of those supportive of the canceled (sorry, halted) decision – are my priorities. We failed to convince the government of Israel that they ought to be its priorities too. So yes, I believe that the government made a decision that is harmful for Israel and the Jewish people. I also believe that we, supporters of the compromise, failed to build on the momentum and force the implementation of the decision.

Episode 43 – What is Israeli food? A conversation with Gil Hovav


Everybody who comes to Israel adores the food – it’s colorful, diverse and multi-cultured. As Israelies, we grow up eating Tunisian, Romanian, Iraqi and Italian food, and many other cuisines – sometimes all in the same week. And for us it’s quite normal. So normal, perhaps, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves: Is there even such a thing as Israeli cuisine?

To try and answer this question, Two Nice Jewish Boys called upon the master of Israeli food, Gil Hovav. Every Israeli household has been eating from Gil’s plate for over two decades. He’s starred in numerous televised cooking shows and food documentaries. He is a man of the world, an author, a lover of Hebrew (and Arabic!), the great-grandson of Ben Yehuda (the reviver of the Hebrew language) and above all – one helluva mench. Join us for a gastronomic episode.

We also played an amazing song by Hagar Levy! Check her our on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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Haredi Orthdox men in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood walking alongside an Israeli soldier on June 6, 2008. Photo by Lara Savage/ Flash90

Charedi Orthodox mob in Jerusalem pelts Israeli police with stones, calls soldiers Nazis


Charedi Orthodox Jews pelted police with stones, eggs and other objects while the officers tried to remove three Israeli soldiers who were being verbally attacked at evening services in Jerusalem.

The three soldiers were in uniform when they entered the synagogue in the Charedi Mea Shearim neighborhood on Wednesday night. Residents surrounded the synagogue and prevented the soldiers from leaving, shouting epithets including “Nazis” at them, before the police were arrived, Ynet reported.

Mea Shearim has been the site of several attacks on soldiers in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the son of Orthodox former Knesset member Dov Lipman, who made aliyah from Baltimore in 2004, was attacked on a Friday when he stopped at a religious bookstore to buy a book. A mob surrounded the store and then pushed in through its front door as the owner showed him out the back door, where he was picked up and taken out of the area anonymously by an ambulance.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City of Ramallah June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Will American Jews resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?


1.

It’s been a busy week in Middle East peace making, but don’t lose sleep over it. As the White House acknowledged yesterday, making peace takes time. It takes a long time. More than a 24 hour visit by Jared Kushner to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kushner had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Abbas, and, judging by the leaks from these two meetings, this time it is the Israeli side that is more satisfied.

Why? Probably because of the American focus on Palestinian funding of terrorism – not direct funding of terrorism, but there is no other way to interpret the payments provided by the Palestinian Authority to the families of suicide bombers. The Trump administration understands this, and is pushing Abbas to forgo with this unreasonable habit. Abbas is afraid to do such a thing – it is political suicide, and it could trigger violence directed at the PA.

And why is Israel more relaxed? Because most of what it might be required to do, though unpleasant and politically challenging, is doable. If the US asks for a freeze of certain settlement activities, Israel can accept the challenge – it has already done such things in the past. And since the main goal in the Israeli-Palestinian game, at least for now, is not to be the one saying no to Trump – Israel is currently better positioned than the Palestinians.

That’s not a lot, but it’s something.

2.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he argued that American Jews – and he isn’t talking about American Jews such as Kushner, Greenblatt, and Friedman – can have a big role in helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace:

A new, more committed alliance has emerged that is hoping to have an impact. It is made up of Palestinians who are genuinely committed to absolute nonviolence, along with Israelis and diaspora Jews who are willing to translate their support into direct action. Some existing American Jewish groups have made serious changes in the way they present their peace agenda, while new Jewish diaspora groups are emerging based on the idea of direct action.

He is wrong for three reasons:

1. American Jews don’t have much influence on Israel when it comes to its foreign affairs and security policy.

2. American Jews of the camp Kuttab refers to do not have much sway over the Trump administration – in fact, these groups are seen as hostile by the administration (for good reason).

3. American Jews cannot change the fundamental realities that have made the conflict unsolvable thus far.

3.

Nathan Thrall’s new book is making headlines because of the unapologetic approach it takes – beginning with the name of the book – towards pressuring Israel and the Palestinians and forcing them into a compromise. The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine is well written. But it states the obvious: humans might cave under pressure, when they realize that the price they are paying for their actions is higher than their gains.

What it fails to do – in my opinion – is explain two points:

1. Why is it so essential for the world to force a compromise? The world hasn’t forced a compromise in Syria, in the Ukraine, in Yemen, and in so many other places around the world. Yet Thrall focuses on this specific conflict zone as if it must be a first priority for the world community. I find that odd.

2. Thrall makes the mistake that economists used to make when they used game theory to understand human behavior. He treats the Middle East – us – as rational players in a rational game. Make us lose, and we will compromise. Make us suffer, and we will accept an uneasy solution. To his credit, Thrall makes the case with conviction, and based on many examples. But he fails to see that the real compromise, the painful concessions, are much more profound than anything that was asked of Israel and the Palestinians in the past. He fails to see that at some point, the response to pressure could be counter pressure – force, violence. He fails to see that if this happens, the price paid by all sides will be very high – there will be a lot of suffering, and a lot of bloodshed, and possible chaos.

For some reason – see point A – Thrall is ready to take such a risk. For a much better reason – see point B – it would be wise not to take such a risk.

4.

Thrall answers some of these questions in an interview with Lee Smith. Here is, for example, part of his answer on why America cares so much about this issue:

Americans care deeply about the Holy Land; presidents and secretaries of state find in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a fairly low-stakes – from the perspective of core U.S. interests – but high profile arena in which they might cement their legacy and possibly make history; and there is also a strong element of inertia.

Again, to Thrall’s credit, he gives an honest answer. To his discredit, he doesn’t see that these are poor reasons for someone to argue for using force (and by this Thrall means economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure) to resolve the conflict.

A general view of apartment blocks under construction is seen in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit in 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Trump administration reiterates: Israeli settlements do not help the peace process


The Trump administration again said that Israel’s settlement expansion does not help the peace process.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert at a media briefing Tuesday spoke about the development of more Israeli settlements in response to a reporter’s inquiry.

The report asked Nauert, “If the Israeli government would stop building settlements or would issue a freeze at the present time, that would help accelerate the process, correct?”

Nauert responded, “The president has been clear all along – his position on this has not changed – and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a new policy earlier this year to curb settlement building in the West Bank, acceding to President Donald Trump’s wishes, but Jewish settlement building has continued.

The State Department statement came on the eve of a visit to Israel by Trump’s point man on the peace process, Jared Kushner, who with his team hopes to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In Israel, Kushner met with the family of an Israeli border policewoman killed by a Palestinian terrorist.

Amar’e Stoudemire playing for Hapoel Jerusalem in a game against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Jerusalem on Feb. 16. Photo from Flash90

Amar’e Stoudemire unsure if he will play basketball again in Israel next year


Amar’e Stoudemire returned to Miami from Israel but does not know if he will be back to play basketball despite applying for citizenship.

Stoudemire and his Hapoel Jerusalem club won the Israel Premier League championship last week.

“It felt amazing after a long season to lift up the championship trophy,” the former NBA All-Star told the New York Post in an interview published Wednesday.

Stoudemire, 34, also told the Post he is weighing his options for next year, including retirement, returning to play for Hapoel Jerusalem or playing again in the NBA, perhaps with the New York Knicks, a former team.

The 6-10 forward said he would enjoy defending Hapoel’s title, but the Israeli media have reported that he did not see eye to eye with the Hapoel coach.

Stoudemire was a partial owner of Hapoel, which he had to suspend in order to play. He signed a two-year contract with the club last year.

“The fans have been amazing — at every game they’re cheering, ecstatic all game and positive,’’ Stoudemire told the Post.

Stoudemire —who isn’t Jewish but identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites — told the Post of his religious observances.

“I follow all the laws of Moses, Passover with unleavened bread, Yom Kippur, the culture and law of the land,” he said. “It was perfect for me. I was able to adapt easily because we all followed the same laws of the Torah.’’

Stoudemire’s wife and children spent the year with him in Israel.

Photo from Twitter

Swastikas painted on walls inside Jerusalem synagogue


Swastikas were painted on the walls inside of a synagogue in central Jerusalem.

The vandalism was discovered Wednesday morning in the Hasidic Lelov synagogue in the Nachalot neighborhood. Swastikas were painted as well as on the outside walls of nearby apartment buildings.

Police said the vandal or vandals also attempted to set fire to religious books in the synagogue. No suspects have been identified.

Swastika attacks on synagogues in Israel reportedly are rare.

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images.

Jared Kushner meets with Netanyahu during one-day visit to Jerusalem


Jared Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem.

Kushner is in Israel for a one-day visit to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to push Israel and the Palestinians toward renewed peace talks.

“This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace, and Jared, I welcome you here in that spirit,” Netanyahu said before the start of the Wednesday afternoon meeting,” The Times of Israel reported. “I know of your efforts and the president’s efforts, and I look forward to working with you to reach these common goals.”

Kushner was accompanied to the meeting by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East; and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

Earlier Wednesday, Kushner and Friedman visited the family of Hadas Malka, the Israeli border policewoman killed Friday night in coordinated terror attacks near the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Kushner is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday evening following the Iftar meal breaking the day’s Ramadan fast.

He is reported to be flying out of Israel shortly after midnight Thursday.

Greenblatt arrived in Israel ahead of Kushner on Sunday and met with Netanyahu, Abbas and other officials. He also visited the Malka family as well as the Western Wall.

Reuters reported earlier this week that the White House has been holding behind-the-scene talks since Trump’s visit to the region at the end of May, which reportedly was planned by Kushner.

Unnamed White House officials cited by several news sources reiterated that an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a priority for the Trump administration.

Kushner is currently under scrutiny as part of the investigation into whether Trump officials colluded with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner. Photo from Reuters

Jared Kushner visits home of Israeli police officer killed in terror attack


Jared Kushner upon arriving in Israel on Wednesday visited the family of an Israeli border police officer stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

Kushner, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump as well as the president’s Jewish son-in-law, is in Israel to lead the Trump administration’s push for restarted peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, visited the family of Hadas Malka for about a half hour, Ynet reported, citing a close friend of the Malka family. Kushner told the family that “the president himself asked him to express condolences on behalf of the United States.”

The family spoke to their American guests about Malka, 23, and her bravery, and updated them about the investigation into the attack, Ynet reported.

When Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, arrived in Israel on Sunday, he visited the Malka home and the Western Wall before the start of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Ynet also reported Wednesday that two kindergarten buildings under construction in the coastal city of Netanya will be named for Malka and Hadar Cohen, 19, a border police officer who was killed in a terrorist stabbing attack in February 2016 — like Malka, at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The parents of both women will be invited to inaugurate the buildings when they are completed.

Haim Eshed (Photo: The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies)

The Weapons Wizards exchange, part 3: On some of Israel’s unsung heroes


Yaakov Katz is an Israeli journalist who currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper’s military reporter and defense analyst. In 2012-2013 he was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is a faculty member at Harvard’s Extension School where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. Prior to taking up the role of Editor-in-Chief at The Jerusalem Post, Katz served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett.

This exchange focuses on Katz’s recent book (co-written with Amir Bohbot) The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here.

***

Dear Yaakov,

Your book ends with a description of your curious meeting with Shimon Peres, whom you describe as “the man who built Israel’s military and purported nuclear capabilities.” Now while Peres’ contribution to Israel’s security was recently collectively celebrated by the Israeli public following his death, your book contains a great deal of unsung heroes.

For our final round, I’d like to ask you to choose 3-4 people who don’t get enough credit for their contribution to Israel’s culture of military ingenuity. Whom should Israelis know more about and thank for their country’s vital military edge?

We’d like to thank you once again for doing this exchange.

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

That is a good question. The truth is that while I had heard and read a lot about Peres’s involvement in building up Israel’s military industry, it wasn’t until I did the research for the book did I gain a full appreciation for his role. It is quite amazing the impact one individual can have on the trajectory of a nation.

You are right that our book has a number of unsung heroes. There is “Talik” – IDF General Israel Tal – who came up with the idea for Israel to build its own tank, what is now known as the Merkava, one of the most sophisticated and best-protected tanks in the world.

There was Haim Eshed, the colonel from Military Intelligence who came up with the idea for Israel to build its own satellite in the late 1970s when he understood that peace with Egypt was coming and that it would entail an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. Israel needed to see what was happening in Egypt, and satellites was the only way, but most people were sceptical that Israel – a country not yet even 30 years old – could achieve such a technological feat.

There was Danny Gold, the IDF brigadier general, who championed the Iron Dome, pushed it through all of the government and military bureaucracy, violated some regulations and gave Israel a system that has been a tremendous success in protecting peoples’ lives at times of war.

There was Shabtai Brill, the IDF intelligence officer, who came up with the idea for Israel to take a toy airplane, attach a camera to it and fly it over the Suez Canal in 1969. This started Israel’s billion-dollar drone industry and made it into a drone superpower.

And there was Danny Shapira, the test pilot who got the French to reconfigure the Mirage and install on it a rapid-fire cannon – the French only wanted missiles – which was then used successfully during the Six-Day War to shoot down 51 enemy aircrafts all by cannon fire.

And there are many others. Some are chronicled in this book, but most are not. They are part of an amazing group of innovators, scientists and soldiers who are constantly thinking about how to keep Israel safe in a volatile Middle East.

What fascinated us during the research for this book was the common denominator between all of these different characters. People who are looking for ways to innovate, to push through their ideas or inspiration how to be persistent in their own work environments, can learn a lot from these characters.

What all these characters did individually, but also together, was see opportunity where others saw peril, be creative and innovate while refusing to take no for an answer.

Eshed, for example, was told numerous times that his satellite idea would fail. His colleagues tried to get him fired. Brill’s toy airplane idea was a huge success but then the IDF shut down the project, a tragic mistake since it could have had drones to give it a warning ahead of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Talik’s tank idea seemed way too expensive for Israel to fund. And Gold got rewarded for the Iron Dome with a State Comptroller investigation and critical report.

All of them refused to give up. They refused to surrender to the naysayers. This is a lesson for us all.

Shmuel – Thanks again for this opportunity.

Yaron Versano, left, with Gal Gadot. Photo from Instagram

Gal Gadot’s husband went viral on Instagram because of this t-shirt


You can’t blame Gal Gadot’s husband for feeling a little protective or anxious these days. His wife, the star of the “Wonder Woman” film, is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Yaron Versano, a 38-year-old Israeli real estate developer who has been with Gadot for over 10 years, posted a photo of himself in a humorous t-shirt alongside his wife last Thursday.

#mywife #therealwonderwoman ❤️

A post shared by JaronVarsano (@jaronvarsano) on

The image has since been liked over 109,000 times and garnered nearly 1,500 comments.

That’s likely because of the message on Versano’s shirt, which shows a generic symbol for a female above the words “Your Wife” next to a depiction of the Wonder Woman character, which is above the words “My Wife.”

Buzzfeed pointed out that the shirt is available for anyone on Amazon, although it might seem custom-made for the man who is, according to at least one commenter on his Instagram post, the “luckiest person ever.”

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in the Fardos neighbourhood after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters, on Dec. 13, 2016. Photo by Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Israel reportedly is secretly aiding Syrian rebels along Golan border


Israel has been secretly providing aid to Syrian rebels on the border in the Golan Heights for several years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The aid includes cash, as well as food, fuel and medical supplies, the newspaperreported in an article that first appeared on its website Sunday night. The story cited interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters.

The Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups and its financial assistance helps pay the salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to the report. In addition, Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria.

Rebels and the military loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been fighting since 2011 in a civil war that at times has spilled over into Israeli territory with errant fire. The Israeli military has responded to the rocket and artillery fire that landed on Israel’s side of the Golan Heights.

Israel has acknowledged treating thousands of Syrians injured in the war, both on the border and in hospitals in the north of the country, as well as providing some humanitarian aid to civilians living near the border, including food and clothing.

Israel’s military neither confirmed nor denied The Wall Street Journal report, telling the newspaper that the Israel Defense Forces is “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces … in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”

The fighters interviewed for the story told Journal reporters that the Quneitra-based group Fursan al-Joulan, which means Knights of the Golan, is the main rebel group coordinating with Israel, which first made contact with the Israeli military in 2013 when Israel cared for some of its fighters. Its spokesman told the Journal that “Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” and “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

Israel, which captured and annexed the Golan Heights in 1967, reportedly is concerned about a permanent Iranian and Hezbollah presence at its border under Assad, and that Iran would transport weapons to be used against Israel to Hezbollah military bases in southern Lebanon and the Syrian side of the Golan. Israel in recent years has bombed such arms shipments, leading to accusations that it was involving itself in the civil war.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, U.S. President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani pose for a photo during Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sunday Reads: Trump & the Qatar crisis, David Grossman’s Man-Booker prize, The intermarriage wars


US

Kate Brannen, Dan De Luce, and Paul McLeary report on the Pentagon’s objections to the White House’s Iran and Syria plans:

Despite the more aggressive stance pushed by some White House officials, Mattis, military commanders, and top U.S. diplomats all oppose opening up a broader front against Iran and its proxies in southeastern Syria, viewing it as a risky move that could draw the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran, defense officials said. Such a clash could trigger retaliation against U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran has armed thousands of Shiite militia fighters and deployed hundreds of Revolutionary Guard officers.

Benjamin Friedman and Joshua Shifrinson take a curious look at the hysteria around President Trump’s attitude towards America’s NATO allies:

Now that the dust has settled on President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip, we can assess the damage. The conventional hysteria notwithstanding, Trump’s rudeness towards NATO allies did not reveal his intention to abandon them and end U.S. global leadership. It’s actually worse than that, at least from our perspective. Trump is alienating allies without reducing U.S. defense commitments to them. He isn’t surrendering U.S. leadership so much as defiling it.

Israel

Peter Berkowitz discusses Micah Goodman’s new book about pragmatic ways forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Another name for the ambition to solve the unsolvable is messianism. Easing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians depends on Israelis on the left and right overcoming their messianic inclinations. It also requires Palestinians to overcome theirs. And American presidents to overcome theirs.

It is not every day that an Israeli author wins the Man-Booker prize (in fact, this is the very first time). Here is Jonathan Freedland’s interesting interview with author and bereaved father David Grossman:

“There is life and there is joy and there is our granddaughters and friends and writing books. There are many things,” he says, his voice quiet. “Yet in order to do almost anything, you have to act against the gravity of grief. It is heavy, it pulls you down, and you have to make a deliberate effort to overcome it. You have to decide that you won’t fall.

Middle East

Daniel Byman and William McCants argue that the US shouldn’t take sides in the Qatar crisis:

As long as the United States wants to provide security for the Arab Gulf nations and fight terrorism, it cannot afford to pick sides in a destabilizing fraternal squabble. That would undermine the very purpose of U.S. involvement in the first place, and risk incurring disaster. Instead, Washington would do well to encourage its allies to resolve their differences while pushing all of them to do better on counterterrorism and curtailing government-sponsored hate speech.

Tom Stevenson examines Egypt’s current social and economic state of emergency under General Sisi:

Against the backdrop of declining quality of life, increasing hardship for the poorest and the unrelenting threat of radical extremism, the regime has felt compelled to maintain high levels of political repression. All this, while doing little to address the basic demands of the Egyptians who took to the streets in 2011 to unseat Mubarak. Opponents of the regime remain divided and fatigued, but the situation has put serious strains on the social and political fabric.

Jewish World

Jeffrey Woolf muses on the “intermarriage wars” going on in the Conservative movement:

Over the past days, the Jewish media (including Facebook) has been abuzz over suggestions by three Conservative rabbis, Amichai Lau-Lavie, Ben Hoffman, and Daniel Stein to embrace intermarriage (Lau-Lavie and Stein) and patrilineal descent (Hoffman). Having watched the trajectory of the Conservative Movement over the past five decades, I am sure that both positions will be adopted, despite the stated objections of the head of United Synagogue. The reason I say this is that such a development would be consistent with the underlying philosophy of the Conservative Movement.

Jewish mother expert Marjorie Ingall, whom we recently had an exchange with, shares her thoughts on the current state of the Jewish father:

So where does that leave American Jewish dads today? Who are they, and what do they stand for? It seems that in a more diverse Jewish world, generalizations about Jewish dads are relics, much as they are for Jewish mothers. Diversity, acculturation, and secularization mean that Jewish dads, for better or worse, are just American dads.

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Bipartisan backing builds for Taylor Force Act


With the issue of Palestinian payments to families of terrorists receiving increased attention on Capitol Hill, a growing number of influential Senators — including top Democrats — have signaled their intention to support the Taylor Force Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told an audience at the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Leadership Mission on Thursday that he “feels so strongly” about the bill, which would completely defund US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the stipends do not end. “If the President is unable to get Palestinians to cease these payments, Congress is going to act,” Schumer said.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, “I very much support what Senator (Lindsey) Graham (R-SC) is attempting to do.” (Graham is the lead sponsor of the Taylor Force Act). Cardin clarified that he does not oppose in principle the cutting of all US assistance to the PA, while acknowledging that the bill “may need some adjustments.”

“We must end the practice of Palestinians rewarding those who kill Jews,” announced Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who also serves on the SFRC, to a cheering OU crowd. “We are working very hard with our colleague Senator Graham, who sponsored the Taylor Force Act, to define it in a way that meets that goal but doesn’t undermine in some respects the potential challenges that the state of Israel has.”

Chairman of the SFRC Bob Corker (R-TN) noted on Tuesday during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s testimony that he intends to advance a form of the legislation past the SFRC by the August recess. The Tennessee lawmaker also stressed on Thursday to Jewish Insider that the bill would be a “Taylor Force-like Act.”

However, some Democrats expressed skepticism. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) emphasized, “I am not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority.” Supporting the spirit of the bill, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was concerned about the potential fallout of a complete cut-off. “To the extent that it is a targeted way to remove financial support for the despicable practice of providing bonuses for the families of suicide bombers or terrorists, I will support that. To the extent that it is overly broad and cuts off all assistance to all Palestinian entities, I don’t think that’s in the security interest of Israel or the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), an original co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, reiterated his enthusiasm for the legislation. “We need to bring it up. We need to vote on it. We need to pass it.” The Texas lawmaker also cited his resolution that he introduced in January to completely defund the United Nations due to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement constructions.

In addition to the Taylor Force Act, Senators at the Orthodox Union event also discussed the importance of fighting the BDS movement, Thursday’s 98-2 Iran sanctions vote, and the Jerusalem reunification resolution recently passed. “It’s been a pretty good two weeks for Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel),” asserted Schumer.

Cardin was introduced as the only sitting Senator who is a member of an OU Synagogue.

While not mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a waiver and keep the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Cruz charged, “I believe it is long pass time to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem where it belongs.” The top Senate Democrat agreed with the Cruz on the issue of the US Embassy with Schumer explaining the importance of transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem, “We ought to get it done once and for all.”

A flower is placed by next to the name of a former concentration camp inside the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The German and the Israeli


I’m not sure how to view what happened at lunch today. Coincidence? Serendipity? Or “bashert”, the Yiddish word that means “meant to be”.

I know several now-middle-aged Germans who never met a Jew until, as adults, they traveled outside their country. Nearly twenty years ago, one such German was my seatmate on a long, delayed trans-Atlantic flight. Andreas, from Cologne, was happy when I mentioned that my mother was born in Germany; his expression, however, turned somber when I explained that we’re Jewish, and she and most of the rest of her family managed to escape their “heimat”, or homeland, in the years after Hitler came to power. Other relatives, of course, were not so lucky.

Whenever I meet young Germans, here or during my four trips to that country, I do my best to make relevant and real what seems like ancient history to them. We ended up speaking for hours about my family’s experience in the Holocaust and his family’s actions during the Third Reich. Although he knew neither Jews nor Shoah survivors, he was surprisingly sensitive to my stories and clearly moved by them.

Andreas and I became friends on that flight, and have stayed in touch since then. I visited him once in Cologne, and he’s visited me at my home in New York, where he travels every year for business.

He was in town this week, and we went to lunch at a pleasant Long Island restaurant overlooking a pond. The conversation inevitably turned to politics and history, and we discussed whether there is any basis for comparing America’s current leader to Germany’s long-dead Fuehrer. We spoke about his two sons, ages 14 and 11, and what they know of Germany’s history.

After we finished eating, we went outside to the restaurant’s balcony to take some pictures with the spring scenery. We were alone for a couple of minutes until an elderly white-haired woman stepped outside and asked us if it was OK to smoke there. I said I had no idea, and she apologized, saying she’d mistakenly thought we were restaurant employees. By that time I’d recognized her accent, and asked in Hebrew, “You’re Israeli, right?”

She was surprised, but laughed and confirmed my hunch. Continuing in Hebrew, I asked if she’d been born there. Again, laughter, and the response “What, you want to know my whole complicated life story?”

Well, I answered, I’m a reporter, and yes. Go right ahead! After she spoke for two minutes in Hebrew, I stopped her and said (in Hebrew), please repeat that in English, as I want my friend, a non-Jewish German, to hear this.

So Maya told us how she was born in Tel Aviv in 1938, but the following year, her parents inexplicably decided to return to Europe, where they’d been born, with her and her eight-year-old brother. To their horror, they soon were entangled in the Nazi web, fleeing from place to place, country to country, hiding in forests, being caught and escaping detention… all in all, a typical Holocaust survivor’s story (if it can even be said that there is such a thing). Maya only remembered the last, frantic years of the saga clearly, from ages four to six; she discovered the rest of the details years later from her parents and brother.

“And then”, she concluded, “we finally returned to Tel Aviv from Europe after the war ended, and we were all almost killed in a huge explosion. We made it into the shelter in the nick of time”.

With that, Maya said she had to get back to her friends, having decided to forego her smoking break for our entirely unexpected chat.

She went inside, and I turned to Andreas. He looked stunned, his eyes wide with astonishment at what he had seen and heard over the previous five minutes. I had to smile. “This is not exactly the kind of unplanned conversation you might have with a stranger in Deutschland, is it?”, I said. “In fact, I guess this is the first time you’ve actually met someone who survived the Holocaust”.

Andreas nodded. “You know”, he said slowly, shaking his head in disbelief, “I was thinking the most interesting thing I would tell my kids next week was about the 35-mile bike tour I took from Jersey City. But now I have a very different story to share with them.”

Talleen Abu Hana visited Washington, D.C., to speak about her experience being a transgender woman in Israel. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Israeli Arab transgender beauty queen opens up about her story


The Israeli Embassy marked LGBT Pride Month with a reception for Jewish and Israeli activists and leaders.

About 100 people attended the event, which featured an address by Talleen Abu Hana, an Arab Christian from Nazareth who won the first Miss Trans Israel beauty pageant in 2016.

The embassy also paid tribute to the 49 victims of last year’s massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

“Just as the noxious fumes of anti-Semitism ultimately poison all of society, so too hatred towards the LGBT community threatens all of us,” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said in brief remarks.

He also asserted that Israel is the sole country in the Middle East with the “values that progressives are supposed to champion,” referring to Israel’s legal and popular support for gay rights.

Abu Hana spoke about her experience as a transgender woman in Israel. After winning the beauty pageant, she was runner-up at the Miss Trans Star International Pageant and a contestant on Israel’s “Big Brother.”

As a boy growing up in Nazareth, Abu Hana grappled with an intense internal conflict between “body and soul,” she said. When she showed an interest in women’s clothes and makeup, her father lashed out at her.

“Transforming from the most beloved child to the one everyone hated … I was lost and started thinking of killing myself,” she said.

Abu Hana moved to Tel Aviv, where the LGBT community is known to be strong and accepting. One evening while hanging out with new friends, a transgender woman was talking about her transition.

“I didn’t get what she was talking about,” Abu Hana recalled.

Another male friend said, “She’s transgender, just like you.”

Abu Hana was taken aback and insisted she was not. The male friend then took her face in his hands and said, “You are going to be a woman and a beautiful one.”

In an interview before the Pride event, Talleen emphasized the importance of moving to Tel Aviv, where the support she found as a Christian and an Arab facilitated her transition.

Israel’s universal health service covers the costs of sex-reassignment surgery.

“The law is on your side,” Talleen said, referring to the ease of changing one’s gender and name on government-issued documents.

After winning Miss Trans in 2016, Abu Hana quickly rose to fame in Israel, where she is often mobbed by fans eager to take a selfie. In addition to modeling, she speaks to transgender youth at shelters in Tel Aviv and most recently at Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ community center in Washington. She said she is humbled to be “an ambassador for peace between one’s soul [and] one’s body.”

Abu Hana now lives with her boyfriend, who she met before her transition on a night of dancing at a Tel Aviv club.

“I’m lucky to be an Israeli,” she said. “Being an Israeli means being truly free.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Jan. 10. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

Israel denies Palestinian Authority has stopped paying terrorists’ families, contradicting Tillerson


The Palestinian Authority has not stopped paying salaries to the families of terrorists jailed in Israel, according to Israeli officials, contradicting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The officials, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, said Wednesday that they have not seen a change in the P.A. policy. A day earlier, Tillerson told senators at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the policy had changed.

“I have not seen any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Liberman told Israel Radio.

An unnamed Israeli diplomatic official told Israeli publications, “We are not aware of any change in the Palestinian Authority’s policy, and as far as we know they are still paying funds to terrorists’ families. The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite to and encourage terror through financial support.”

Issa Karaka, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz that the payments have been made this month and will be made next month.

“Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr,” he told Haaretz. “Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong.”

Tillerson in his remarks before the Senate committee, speaking about the Palestinians, said: “We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Three Sa'ar 5 class missile corvettes of the Israeli Navy cruise off the shore of Israel during a training exercise (Credit: the Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson's Unit)

The Weapons Wizards exchange, part 2: On Israel’s massive arms exports


Yaakov Katz is an Israeli journalist who currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper’s military reporter and defense analyst. In 2012-2013 he was a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is a faculty member at Harvard’s Extension School where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. Prior to taking up the role of Editor-in-Chief at The Jerusalem Post, Katz served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Israel’s Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett.

This exchange focuses on Katz’s recent book (co-written with Amir Bohbot) The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). You can find part 1 right here.

***

Dear Yaakov,

The book, and your first answer, present quite a positive take on Israel’s history of military innovation – and it truly is an impressive success story.

But one could take a step back and wonder whether a country of 8 million people should be the sixth largest arms exporter in the world – whether this is something we should be proud of. Weaponry and arms exports can be murky business sometimes, and I don’t think it would be controversial to say that not all of Israel’s customers have been squeaky clean democracies beyond any reproach (Apartheid South Africa comes to mind).

My question: are there darker sides to the story of Israel’s military innovation? If so, how do you think they should affect our general assessment of the phenomenon?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

Thanks for the question. It is based, I noticed, on two parts. You ask about the murky side of arms deals as well as the darker side of Israel’s innovation.

Let me start by saying that I agree with you – there are murky deals that Israel has made over the years. There are questionable sales of arms to countries in Africa and other parts of the globe (Southeast Asia and South America). In the book, for example, we tell the story of how Israel got its start selling weapons to India, which is today one of the country’s biggest arms buyers. It was basically because Israel told India it wouldn’t ask questions about human rights issues like the US. It didn’t attach strings to its sales. The same, by the way, is what happened with China. People can read more about this in Chapter 8, called “Diplomatic Arms.”

It is important, though, to remember the historical and regional context for these deals. For the first 50 years of Israel’s existence, these deals were done (you mentioned the ties with Apartheid South Africa as an example) and stemmed, I think, from the fact that Israel is located in the Middle East without friends or allies nearby. With its back is up against a wall, it found itself needing to make deals where it could, even in some ethically questionable places.

A lot of that has changed in recent years with new oversight and restrictions on export of arms and sales. There are currently two agencies in the Defense Ministry which are responsible for approving deals, and there is a lot that is done in coordination with the US. As we tell in the book, when Israel wanted to sell drones to Russia in 2009, it had to first get approval from the Pentagon.

The second part of your question is about what you call the darker side of Israel’s military innovation. Here I have to disagree with the description. We need to make a distinction between the innovation process which is the focus of “Weapon Wizards” and the arms sales that follow. The technology that you find in Israel is usually developed, first and foremost, to provide for the needs of the IDF.

The problem is that the IDF is a small military and is not a large enough customer to incentivize local companies to develop high-end weaponry. For that reason, the vast majority of products that Israeli defense companies manufacture are exported. This way, the companies can keep production lines open and prices down for the IDF.

At Israel Aerospace Industries, the biggest government-owned company, for example, 78 percent of sales in 2014 were to foreign customers. This is the same basic breakdown for all of the large defense companies in Israel. This is unlike any arrangement elsewhere in the world. In the US, foreign sales make up a significantly smaller portion of sales for defense conglomerates. International sales at Boeing’s defense division represented about 35 percent of its business in 2014. At Lockheed Martin, that figure was only 20 percent.

Take the Popeye missile, one of the Israeli Air Force’s most advanced weapons, as an example. Developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Popeye can accurately hit targets through a window from over 60 miles away. It is one of the air force’s most sophisticated standoff missiles. But how many can the Israeli Air Force order? To keep prices down, it needs to export the missile. That is why one of Israel’s most sophisticated weapons— the type of  technology a country would usually want to keep to itself— has been sold to the US, India, South Korea, Australia and Turkey.

In short, if Israel doesn’t export the Popeye, Rafael won’t be able to afford to develop and produce it and then the IDF won’t have it.

My point is that we need to differentiate between the two stages – the stage of the innovation and the stage of the arms sales. The innovation is the focus of the book, which tells the story of how tiny Israel managed to beat the odds and develop weapons that have changed the battlefield. The murky deals that came after that are a challenge, but one that needs to be viewed through the context I described above.

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

Tillerson: Palestinian Authority to stop paying terrorists’ families


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators that the Palestinian Authority will stop paying the families of terrorists who have attacked or killed Israelis.

“We have been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us,” Tillerson said on Capitol Hill Tuesday at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson noted that he and President Donald Trump both spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the issue during recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.

The American Jewish Committee welcomed Tillerson’s remarks.

“If a firm U.S. stance actually leads to the end of this outrageous practice, as Secretary Tillerson said will be the case, AJC would be the first to applaud,” AJC CEO David Harris said in a statement.

According to Times of Israel, an Israeli general told parliament last month that the Palestinian Authority has paid out nearly $1.2 billion to terrorists and their families over the past four years.

The missing drama in ‘Oslo’


The first thought that popped into my mind after seeing “Oslo,” which just won a Tony award for Best Play, was: “That’s it?”

The play left me empty. The brilliant acting and stage directing couldn’t overcome my disappointment that “Oslo” added little to the conversation and only reinforced Western stereotypes about conflict resolution.

The play deftly dramatizes the behind-the-scenes efforts of a Norwegian diplomat-couple who bring Israelis and Palestinians together to sign the 1993 Oslo Accords. As you can imagine, to get these parties to agree to anything, there is endless coddling, nudging, arguing and agonizing. It’s in those twists and turns that the play finds most of its drama.

But there’s an elephant in the room, and it looms over everything. No matter how much drama you see on stage, you can’t help but feel the distracting drama of that elephant, which is this: The agreement which the play worships has turned out to be a dud, a failure of the highest order. The light at the end of the Oslo tunnel was really an oncoming train.

So, as much as I enjoyed the acting and the story, I felt its emptiness. Because the play makes such a powerful claim to historical truth, that truth comes back to haunt it. The play wants to have it both ways: It wants us to enjoy the history it shows, but ignore the history that annoys. In my case at least, it was too much to ask for.

The tragedy of Oslo makes the drama in “Oslo” almost trivial. The real drama of the Oslo story is not in its excruciating negotiations, but in its stunning failure. For all the difficulty that the play dramatizes, the agreement itself is very modest. It doesn’t tackle the most serious issues of contention. It kicks the can down the road in the hope that mutual trust will build between the parties. Of course, the opposite happened. The violence and mistrust have gotten significantly worse since Oslo.

In real life, that kind of tragic outcome can be demoralizing. It’s almost too much to bear. But that’s why we need great art—to make us confront ugly truths. Great art is not there to manufacture hope. That’s what preachers are for. Great art should have the courage to take us where we don’t want to go.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict where core narratives are rejected, mistrust rules, resentments accumulate and hatred flourishes. Brilliant negotiators are useless in the face of such hardened conditions. A play that would have tried to capture that tragedy would have captivated me.

Would it have won a Tony? Probably not. Tragedy doesn’t sell. Hope sells. Hope is the elixir of the civilized mind. No matter what reality tells us, we must show some hope. The price we pay for this obsession is that we don’t learn our lessons. In the case of Oslo, the great lesson is that when a foundation is corroded, you can’t build anything.

From the standpoint of the Palestinians, that foundation means your society marinates you in Jew-hatred from birth, you are taught that the Zionist narrative is a fraud and Israel is a land thief, and you are promised that millions of refugees will eventually return to that hated Israel and take over. How does a piece of paper negotiated in a Norwegian ivory tower by people you don’t trust counter any of that? It doesn’t and it can’t, even if it’s signed on the front lawn of the White House.

I hope a playwright will tackle the Oslo story one day without fear of going to the depressing depths of the conflict. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes you have to hit your own bottom before you can see the way up. Maybe the playwright can write an alternate, imaginative story where the heroes are not clever dealmakers but hard-nosed changemakers who try to build something real from that ugly bottom.

“Oslo” never takes us to that bottom. It prefers the comfortable Western cliché that savvy and determined negotiators can accomplish anything. That may be true on Broadway, but it’s not in Ramallah or Jerusalem.