World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, left, shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in New York, March 2017. The WJC’s CEO, Robert Singer, is in the background. Photo courtesy of WJC.

UN secretary-general reaffirms ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his recognition of ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem during a meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

A statement Wednesday by the WJC said Lauder and Guterres met earlier in the week in New York, and that Guterres repeated comments he had made to Israeli radio in which he noted the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

Palestinians in recent decades have sought to undercut overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in the city.

The WJC statement said that Guterres would do what he could to stem anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations and its affiliates. Guterres said he could not keep the U.N. Human Rights Council from passing anti-Israel resolutions.

The statement noted Guterres’ role last week in getting the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to remove from its website a report accusing Israel of apartheid.

“There is a breath of fresh air coming from the United Nations,” Lauder was quoted as saying in the statement. “A long overdue breath of fresh air.”

Guterres’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S.-Israeli teen (R) arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewish community centres in the United States, Australia and New Zealand over the past three month, is seen before the start of a remand hearing at Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, Israel March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A correction: No American anti-Semitism, just an Israeli’s idiocy


Ten comments on the latest news: an Israeli was detained as a suspect in the phone threats aimed at American Jewish institutions in recent months.

1.

If you haven’t yet heard the news, here it is: a 19 year old Jewish Israeli was arrested as a suspect of carrying out hundreds of bomb threats called into US Jewish Community Centers. Apparently, “sources indicate that most of the cases of threats against Jewish communities and organizations, though not all, led investigators back to Israel.” If this guy, who has dual Israeli-American citizenship, is guilty – the case of the JCC threats is more or less closed.

2.

We know little about the youngster from Ashkelon and his motivation. We do not know if he is guilty. But let us assume for now that the arrest is not baseless. Let us try to understand what such an arrest means.

3.

It means that the wave of anti-Semitism in America was in many ways a creature of the imagination. America is as friendly to its Jews as it was before. Those of us who have been relatively cautious about this new “trend” should feel vindicated. Those of us who have been hysterical about it should reconsider their position.

4.

The teen from Ashkelon did not pay a visit to the St. Louis cemetery. So not all the cases of attacks against Jews were solved today. Then again, if most phone calls were his phone calls, the seismograph of anti-Semitic incidents goes back to normal.

5.

A lot of political points were scored as part of the discussion concerning anti-Semitism in America. Democratic critics of Donald Trump attempted to blame him for an atmosphere that prompted a wave of attacks against Jews. These critics should swallow their pride and apologize to the President. I know – apologizing to a leader who shows no tendency to apologize when he is mistaken will be difficult. But Jewish leaders should not succumb to the culture of Trumpism. They ought to take back their unsubstantiated criticism.

6.

If an Israeli kid with a telephone can create such a scare, maybe it is time to calmly and professionally reconsider the way Jewish institutions respond to phone threats. The phone calls were disruptive, among other things, because of the tendency of institutions to play it safe and take every call with a seriousness that it does not necessarily deserve. Of course, changing this habit carries risks. What if the one time an institutions doesn’t take a call seriously proves to be the one time that it was indeed serious? Still, a reconsideration of the procedures is necessary. Today it is an idiot from Ashkelon, tomorrow it can be an idiot – or a bigot – from someplace else. We should not let kids with landlines disrupt the routine of the Jewish community in such a way.

7.

What are the implications of this on Israel-Diaspora relations? That depends in some way on the motivation of the young attacker. If he is seen here as the representative of violent, hateful Israeliness – trouble is on the way. If he is seen here as just another idiot – which I assume he is – the relations will not suffer. In the meantime, caution is advised. Those people that were hasty in pointing a finger at Trump, should not repeat their mistake by pointing a finger at Israel, Netanyahu, Orthodox-American immigrants, or any other leader or group. It is time to wait for information before making a conclusion.

8.

Anti-Semites will surely have a field day with this news. Truth must be told: they’ll have a good talking point.

9.

One wonders how Trump will respond to this news. As a President, he should ignore it and let the authorities deal with it. As a Trump, it’s hard to believe that he’ll ignore it. Trump is not anti-Semitic, but he will also have a field day. Truth must be told: he will have a good talking point too.

10.

How does one punish such an idiot (assuming he is guilty of these phone calls)? The damage was significant. The motivation – still unknown. On the one hand, there’s a sense he needs to spend a long time in jail, reconsidering his actions and their implications. On the other hand, maybe he just needs to get smacked and sent back home. Spending time in jail for foolishly making phone calls seems severe. So it is not unlikely that within a short time many of us will move from being angry with this teen to pitying him.

(Update: According to his lawyer, the suspect has been suffering from a brain tumor since the age of 14 and ,as a result, has been homeschooled ever since.)

 

 

 

Is Zionism a bad word?


With characteristic poise, Rabbi David Wolpe turned to the three panelists onstage at Sinai Temple on a recent Wednesday evening, in front of a sellout crowd of some 250 people.

“I’m going to start with a quick yes-or-no question,” he began. “Do you believe that people under 35 are less attached to the State of Israel than they were 30 years ago?”

On either side of me were Rabbi Sarah Bassin, 34, of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, and Sam Yebri, 35, a lawyer, accomplished leaders in their respective Jewish communities, progressive and Persian. Each answered immediately in the affirmative. And then there was me — the only millennial on the panel, feeling intellectually outmatched, my headset pressing uncomfortably into the back of my skull.

“Yes,” I answered quickly.

And yet, in my mind, I was already hedging, picking at the very premise of the question. I scribbled the phrase “less attached” on the legal pad perched on my knee and frowned at it. Of course my generation is less attached to Israel. Is a parent less attached to an 18-year-old child than to a defenseless toddler taking its first steps into the world?

That’s the difference the past 30 years have wrought for Israel: from a state struggling out of its uncertain beginnings to a proud and mighty nation. Over the generations, the meaning of the word “Israel” has changed, and consequently, inevitably, so has the meaning of the word “Zionism.”

“No one in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state — I mean, no one, post-1967,” Wolpe said at the March 15 panel about young Zionists, sponsored by Hadassah and the Jewish Journal. “Then, a Palestinian state became orthodoxy. Everybody in the Jewish community supported a Palestinian state. Now, it’s becoming unorthodox again.”

The pendulum has swung wildly and often. What began in Europe as a movement of socialists and atheists to re-establish a Jewish homeland these days often feels monopolized by the religious right.

“Instead of creating bridges, we are contributing to the conflict between East and West by our stupid desire to have more.”
—A.B. Yehoshua, Israeli author

Each generation defines and redefines Zionism to suit its needs and circumstances. It’s a task that becomes more and more difficult, as each passing year is another separating today’s youth from the movement’s inception.

By the time I enrolled at UCLA, Zionism was read in many circles as a type of extremism. “Really?” an editor at the UCLA Daily Bruin once said to me after I professed to being a Zionist. “I didn’t expect that.” I read his meaning well enough: How could a person who seems to be reasonable also be a Zionist?

It used to be that the definition was a simpler and easier one, dictated by ironclad concerns of Jewish continuance and survival. Such was the case, for instance, in the Galician shtetl where my paternal grandfather was born, where Zionism meant young people training together in preparation to cultivate the land that would shortly become their only refuge.

In 1939, my great uncle, Mordechai Arom, was one such youth, preparing to join his brother, my grandfather Shmuel, in Mandatory Palestine, when their mother took ill. Mordechai was ready to stay in Poland to care for his dying mother, but she called him to her bedside and commanded him to go. With her dying act, she became the matriarch of a Zionist tradition that still holds. The first day Mordechai arrived in Palestine, he received a telegram that she’d died. His first week in the Holy Land was spent sitting shivah for his mother.

For my grandfather Shmuel, in the years after the war, Zionism meant building an observant congregation in Rishon LeZion even while questioning the God that sent his relatives to be slaughtered en masse. He died in 1964, struck by a car while collecting alms for the temple, later named Neve Shmuel in his honor.

Zionism intruded on my mother at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, on June 10, 1967, when news came over the radio in Mr. Cameron’s 12th-grade history class that Israeli troops had taken the Western Wall plaza. My mother was visibly emotional, so the teacher dismissed her to the library, where she wept.

After college, she got on an airplane — for the first time ever — and flew to Jerusalem, not knowing a soul in Israel, not a cousin, not a second cousin, nobody. She stayed for two years. “As soon as I knew there was a State of Israel, I knew I had to go,” she said.

Those years marked an inflection point for Zionism. It had started almost a century earlier as a whisper, an outlandish notion popularized by Theodor Herzl, a peripatetic journalist and self-identified atheist. It began, if you will, as a bad word, denounced by much of the Jewish establishment as a Messianic affectation. In 1880, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Hebrew Union College, wrote, “We want no Jewish princes, and no Jewish country or government.”

“Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people. This platform is unchangeable.”
—Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism

Of course, the attainment of such a country in 1948 changed everything. My mother was born three years later, and the first 16 years of her life were marked by an aspirational Zionism, with Israel as the David to an Arab Goliath.

That Zionism reached its high point in 1967, with Israel’s astonishing victory in the Six-Day War. Then, Israel enjoyed the world’s admiration. Today, pro-Palestinian activists, including thousands of Jews, see 1967 as the beginning of the occupation — the moment the Jewish people went from oppressed to oppressor.

That unlikely triumph has come back to haunt the conscience of American Jewish youth, who have never known any Zionism other than one of victory and strength.

Meanwhile, the 80-year history of flight, toil and fear of death that my parents and grandparents experienced as Zionism is regularly obliterated by the reductionist slogans of pro-Palestinian groups and their allies, for whom a Zionist is an occupier, Jews are the White Man and oppression in Palestine is no different from oppression in Ferguson, Mo.

Nearly half a century after my mother graduated from UCLA, African-American activist Amy Hunter was invited by Students for Justice in Palestine to speak at UCLA’s campus as part of Palestine Awareness Week.

“We will not be free here in the United States if they are not free in Palestine,” she told a small but diverse audience, their fingers snapping in agreement. “I’m clear about that.”

It’s not as if the “Zionism-is-racism” equivalence is news. My mom remembers campus leftists asserting as much in the early 1970s. In response, she and her Hillel buddies walked around with pins that read, “I am a Zionist.”

Those pins still might be a good idea today. In 2017, campus Zionists face a movement that bills itself as a global liberation struggle. In the parlance of that struggle, “Zionist” is a slur, and the connections and political opinions it suggests have become so toxic as to discourage its use, even among many who ostensibly support Jewish statehood. Imagine if people who don’t eat meat balked at calling themselves vegetarians.

Among the reasons for my invitation to speak at Sinai Temple are the many conversations I have in the course of my reporting with members of the Jewish far left, including the group IfNotNow, a diffuse network of young Jews openly challenging the Jewish establishment for its support of the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

It’s neither the largest nor the most influential pro-Palestinian Jewish group, but it’s the newest and, because of its confrontational approach, perhaps the most worrisome for mainstream Jewish organizations. Lately, I’ve taken to asking members of IfNotNow if they consider themselves to be Zionists.

Unanimously, they decline to be quoted by name and then give variations of the same answer: I’ve moved past the term. It doesn’t apply. It’s beside the point. I don’t identify either way.

These young people are neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist — they’re post-Zionist.

In fact, IfNotNow and its constituency seem to be in the minority of young people in that they care about Israel at all. A Pew Research Cemter poll in 2013 found that among Jews 18 to 29 years old, 32 percent said caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish, compared with 53 percent of Jews age 65 and older.

Within that slice of young Jews, there is, of course, a considerable range of opinion. Among such groups as IfNotNow and J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, caring means advocating a Palestinian state for the sake of maintaining a Jewish one.

But on the other hand, when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convenes its annual policy conference later this month in Washington, D.C., you can bet there will be plenty of Jewish youth in attendance for whom caring about Israel means something very different. Just ask Ron Krudo, executive director of campus affairs for the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which is active on high school and college campuses across the country. Notwithstanding anti-Israel sentiment, students “are excited to share their stories of being a proud Zionist, and what Zionism means to them.”

“Even on some of these tougher campuses, you can always find a student who’s inspired to take action and be a voice,” said Krudo, 26.

Yet the fact remains that most young Jews can’t be bothered to care, or at least don’t feel their Judaism compels them to. For many, the question of Zionism is so fraught with contradiction that it’s much easier just to swear it off entirely.

I’m not immune to my generation’s ambivalence on the matter of Jewish nationalism. In the vocabulary of my education on a liberal campus, the word “nationalist” is likely to follow the word “white” or “militant” or “ultra.” In other words, mine is a Zionism that’s not without reservations.

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent.”
— Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

But to say that I’m post-Zionist would be tantamount to saying that I’m post-Jewish — which is simple and easy but altogether untrue. The struggle for Jewish nationhood was written into my biography long before I was born.

After all, if it weren’t for the itinerant Zionism that motivated my grandfather Shmuel to drag his wife, the daughter of a cultured and well-to-do German-Jewish family, to hardscrabble Palestine, where they slept in tents and toiled without end, it might very well have been somebody else’s byline on this story; I may well have never been born. Israel is the center of gravity for world Jewry. You may object to its pull, but you simply can’t free yourself from its orbit.

To be sure, mine is not the blustering, self-assured Zionism of my parents. Even having this conversation with my mother sets her singing an interminable series of Israeli folk songs. Recently, standing in her kitchen, I pressed her on whether she truly believes that God gave us all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. “Listen,” she replied, “I don’t know who gave it to us, but it’s ours.”

I’m not so sure about that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not part of the same movement, she and I, the same multigenerational struggle for identity and soil. The panel at Sinai Temple landed repeatedly on the idea of “big-tent Zionism.” The tent has to be big enough for my parents and me.

Sometimes, that prospect feels doubtful. But nothing could be more necessary for the continuance of the movement. If Zionism is little more than a narrow political creed, it can be shouted down or reasoned away. What ultimately will win over the next generation of Zionists is what Yebri called “the beautiful aspect and miraculous magical aspect of Zionism.”

The miracle, in short, is that in 80 years, we have moved from total disempowerment to a position of such security and strength that we can argue bitterly among ourselves about what to do with it. It’s a compelling narrative, if we can capitalize on it.

“One of the strongest indicators of having a strong Jewish identity, beyond campus and education and peer trips to Israel, is a Jewish grandparent that identifies strongly with his or her Judaism, and I would submit that follows for Zionism,” Yebri told the crowd at Sinai Temple. “So if you’re a parent or a grandparent in this room who feels strongly about Israel … don’t delegate it to school or a book or Birthright, because by that point it’s too late.”

I suspect that many of the Jewish youth who have distanced themselves from Zionism aren’t as familiar with the Zionist narrative of their forebears as they are with today’s more politically charged definitions. If they were, they might be more likely to adopt it, baggage and all. It is, after all, an enthralling story, with no small share of heroes and martyrs.

A decade after sitting shivah for his mother, Mordechai, my great uncle, closed out his own life by sacrificing it to the Zionist cause — cut down while defending his village in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence. This, before Green Lines and settlement blocs and two-state solutions.

If the next Jewish generation wants to be part of a global struggle for liberation, then it may as well be our own. 

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017. Photo via REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.

Reform, but don’t leave UN Human Rights Council


Editor’s note: This opinion tackling the United Nations Human Rights Council is the “pro” argument published in conjunction with the “con” argument written by Roz Rothstein and Max Samarov, “When will the UN Human Rights Council follow its own mission?

Nearly three years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed me as its monitor — “special rapporteur” — on freedom of expression. I report to the council about the worst abuses of expression worldwide, such as attacks on journalists and independent media, members of vulnerable minorities, and the ability of anyone to seek, receive and impart information online. In this position, I know the council, its strengths and its weaknesses.

Composed of government representatives, the council gathers for several weeks every March, June and September in an ornate conference room at the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, to proclaim a commitment to such fundamental human rights as the prohibition of torture, extrajudicial killing and arbitrary detention, as well as the rights to freedom of expression, religious belief and peaceful protest.

From my experience, I can say one thing with certainty: Activists around the world, in every country, value the council as a central global platform for their voices to be heard. In my missions to Turkey, Tajikistan and Japan last year, journalists, lawyers, judges, teachers, humanitarian workers and activists all sought the help of the U.N. — at the very least, its moral support. While a U.N. visit or statement may get lost in the Western media, in many countries around the world, a word from a U.N. official or the Council can instigate controversy for days, sometimes even leading to solutions.

To be sure, the council is not a human rights nirvana. Its flaws are well-known. Forty-seven governments — including the United States — are elected to sit on the council and all other governments have a seat in the room at the Palais. Many violate human rights norms regularly, some in repressive and violent ways. These flaws, according to our new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, seem to be moving the Trump administration to consider whether the United States should abandon the council seat it won last year.

I believe the case for leaving the council is extraordinarily weak. If the administration, like Barack Obama’s administration before it, strongly objects to the council’s “biased agenda item against Israel,” as Tillerson put it, then the place to fight that bias is from within. Few listen to those outside, and few outside have the tools or the leverage to make reform.

Others have made the case for why the council serves American interests. As Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and current head of PEN America, has summarized it in a must-read contribution to the debate, U.S. departure from the council would help cede control of the human rights agenda to authoritarians — exactly those that the council is supposed to resist and restrain. She notes that a council with the United States has historically been better for human rights globally, not to mention better for Israel.

These realpolitik arguments work. Leaving the council makes no sense if we are talking about U.S. national interests.

For me, as someone who heard of tikkun olam before human rights, the council has merit on its own. We constantly sought venues for our own demands for the rights of Soviet Jews during the years of the Cold War or for the rights of African-Americans during the civil rights era. In recognizing that kind of searching today, the council amplifies the messages of those deprived of a voice or denounced as enemies of their people in their home countries.

Consider the kind of discussion that can take place during council meetings. In an era when governments kill their opponents, jail their chroniclers and repress their critics, human rights talk may seem wildly out of sync with the times. Yet there at the Palais, one by one, individual human rights advocates rise from their seats in the back of the room and make their way to microphones so that every person there — every government representative, every U.N. official — can hear. They have come from all corners of the world, and they say what the governments need to hear, calling them out for their abuses in front of a global audience.

You might hear, as I have, Bahraini advocates identify friends and family members held in prison merely for criticizing the government, some for doing so on Facebook or Twitter. You might hear criticism of Saudi Arabia for its jailing and flogging of bloggers, or condemnation of Turkey’s massive attack on the media, the bureaucracy and opposition politicians. You might learn of the ways in which Iran silences and represses its Baha’i minority, in areas such as education, music and religious tradition.

You might hear from a refugee who has fled totalitarian North Korea or war-ravaged South Sudan, a member of the Muslim Rohingya community subject to attack and statelessness in Myanmar, or from a Tibetan activist recounting the repression of Chinese authorities. You could be brought to outrage from stories of hunger in Venezuela, driven by authoritarian governance, or of fear from stories of LGBT communities in Cuba, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda and elsewhere.

This is more than idle talk; these individual interventions can have impact. The voices of victims and advocates have helped lead to important outcomes: special commissions to tell the truth about human rights abuses in North Korea or the brutality of ISIS and the Bashar Assad regime in Syria or special monitors to report on the human rights crises in Iran, Cambodia, Myanmar, South Sudan and many other places — including, yes, the West Bank and Gaza. In some cases, stories told in Geneva have helped lead to sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council in New York.

In response to advocacy by nongovernmental organizations, the council also has created special mandates and appointed individual experts to monitor human rights issues worldwide, including freedom of religious belief, peaceful protest, violence against women, racism and housing (and the one I hold on freedom of expression). It has condemned all manner of human rights abuses, from anti-Semitism to discrimination against women, from racist crimes to attacks on workers’ rights. Through its Universal Periodic Review, the council reports on every country’s human rights behavior, allowing local and international activists a role in that process.

Leaving the council makes little sense if we still are to maintain that human rights play some significant role in America’s engagement in the world, even if not a leading or pivotal one. The U.N. isn’t perfect, and neither is the United States. But walking away from human rights is not who we are, and it’s not where we should go.

Reform the council, yes. Criticize its biases, sure. But recommit to it. Fix it. And make it work for those who need it worldwide.

David Kaye is a law professor at UC Irvine School of Law and the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. He can be found at @davidakaye and freedex.org.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Five alternatives to designating separate states


This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “con” argument published in conjunction with Alan Elsner’s “pro” argument, “The Two-State Solution Won’t Die.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations of occupation and illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel inevitably answers, “We invented the cellphone” and “We have gay rights.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, always the answer is to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state on the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has managed to legitimize the proposition that the West Bank is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier there.

But for us settlers, the truth is different: The two-state solution was misconceived and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. We have a 3,700-year presence in this land, our foundational history is here, and we have reacquired control here in defensive wars. The world recognized our indigeneity in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo accords of 1920.

Additionally, as a result of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, when Hamas seized control and turned the strip into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in the hopes of getting peace in return. No Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the hilltops.

But as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong, and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel still mouths the two-state party line yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

Now, the time has come for a discussion of new options in which Israel would hold on to the West Bank and eventually assert sovereignty there. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.

At least five credible plans are on the table.

The first option, proposed by former Knesset members Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is called “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is estimated to be about 80 percent Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship.

A second alternative, suggested by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, proposes annexation of only Area C — the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords where a majority of 400,000 settlers live — while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Bennett’s, is promoted by Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are composed of separate city-based clans. So, he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven noncontiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza (which he considers an emirate already). Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside of those cities.

The fourth proposal is by journalist Caroline Glick, author of the 2014 book “The Israeli Solution.” She claims that contrary to prevalent opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel with Judea and Samaria. Alternative demographic research shows that due to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with the opposite trend among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza), and is projected to grow to 70 percent by 2059. On this basis, Glick concludes that the Jewish state is secure and that Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely similarly would annex and give the Palestinians residency rights — with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish state. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose 3.5 million residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and are actively vying to undermine the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it … there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative by former Knesset member and head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it, and given that the new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is not locked into the land-for-peace paradigm, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the bankrupt notions of the past.

YISHAI FLEISHER is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, home of Machpelah, the biblical tombs of Judaism’s founding fathers and mothers.

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Why I’m skipping AIPAC this year


This weekend is the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. Many of you will be there, and for a long time, I thought about going myself. DC, lobbying, Israel, and good friends: it sounds like a weekend I couldn’t pass up.

But this year, the thought of attending AIPAC just didn’t sit well with me. I tried to get to the bottom of why, and I realized it wasn’t because of Israel or any of my disagreements with its internal politics or policies. I knew it was deeper than that, but like any good Jew, the more I tried to dig at my internal frustration, the further I got from any concrete answer.

Then I went home to Oakland last weekend. I walked into a lecture at my temple titled “Power, Privilege, & BDS,” not expecting to enter a talk that would culminate in a discussion about UCLA student government.

“Today, American Jews face an internal conflict,” Professor Mark Dollinger of SFSU said. “On one side, we enjoy power and privilege. On the other, we maintain a Holocaust-driven fear of being marginalized and oppressed.”

I resonated with this. Since beginning at UCLA, I’ve felt incredibly lucky: I was one of just four students in my high school graduating class of 500 to become a Bruin, and I knew that it wasn’t just my intelligence that got me here but the strong support network I had growing up. At the same time, in college I’ve felt the heat of anti-Semitism beyond what I could have ever imagined: I was once told by another student that eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was akin to supporting an institution as oppressive as the American slave trade — because Ben and Jerry are Jewish.

Then came the talk about student government. I listened eagerly to what he would say, not telling anyone I myself sit on the student government of UCLA.

“When Rachel Beyda was questioned for being Jewish, we all jumped so quickly to do whatever it is we could to defend her,” Professor Dollinger said. “We sent UCLA pages and pages full of suggested protective measures for Jewish students and threatened to pull our donations if they didn’t change.”

The response he described to the Rachel Beyda incident was not surprising. For a Jew to do anything he possibly could to defend his Jewish community is an imperative ingrained in the Jewish DNA: after what our parents and grandparents went through a generation ago, who can say this is a wrong thing?

But, as the lecturer suggested, today is not 1930. Jews have made it in this country. In America, we are not alone. We have politicians, law enforcement officers, and university administrators to stand up for us. Anti-Semitism has not gone away, but we’ve got new ways to fight it. That’s a big deal.

I’ve come to understand that that is what Jewish privilege looks like today. It’s a good thing we have it: after thousands of years of persecution, it’s the least we could ask for. But I think that with that privilege comes a sense of responsibility and engagement, an imperative to help those who don’t have it.

As a leader on campus through my position on student government over the past year, I’ve been asked by a number of Jewish students why I’m not more involved with pro-Israel groups, why I don’t speak passionately about the cause, and why, in the midst of a national wave of anti-Semitism, I’m not doing more to stand up for my community.

It’s taken me a long time to write this because at UCLA, I’ve felt uneasy talking about my Jewish identity – and not only because I’ve faced hostility as a Jew, but because of the the power and privilege I’ve been blessed to have all my life. Today I’m ready to share.

I believe that until the Jewish community recognizes that we must use our privilege to help others, we will not be able both to defend our Jewish identities and have meaningful and necessary relationships with those with whom may disagree.

I know by now some of you may be rolling your eyes. I get it. Privilege, oppression, power, and inequity. These are words thrown around college campuses all the time nowadays, and it can be hard to find real meaning in them anymore. Let me try and ground this a bit.

I mean to say that we should be using our close relationships with administrators and lawmakers to help those who don’t have the privilege and access that we do, not just to protect ourselves when we feel hurt. Our privilege must be used for more than just ourselves.

I challenge myself and other Jews in the community to question the institutions of power we rely on. Are these institutions fulfilling this broader vision of Jewish privilege not just by protecting Jews from oppression, but by standing up to support those who don’t have the same power?

This is where AIPAC comes in.

This weekend, thousands of Jews will gather in a huge hall to hear Mike Pence, our Vice President, speak at AIPAC. They will cheer and clap, and when asked why they are cheering for Mike Pence, they will respond, “I support him because he fights for Israel.”

And Jewish institutions across America, while perhaps not outwardly promoting President Trump or his administration, will in fact do so by failing to oppose it. They will mute their opposition to his Muslim ban, or his border wall proposals, or his efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. They will do this because they don’t want to risk losing his support for Israel.

I won’t be there. I won’t be there because it hurts me inside to see an institution justifiably founded to support the continued existence of the Jewish people abusing our privilege – my privilege – to support an administration that violates norms of decency and fairness to so many in this country.

I refuse to support an organization that adopts an “Israel-at-all-costs” attitude, an organization that has become a fellow traveler of the alt-right, an organization that today is the epitome of Jewish power and privilege without responsibility and morality.

I think It’s time for AIPAC to do a little soul searching and re-think its approach. We’ve got to remember why Israel was founded, and we’ve got to think deeply about how best to fight for its future.

And to all of you reading this, to my friends who have taught me what Jewish community means and who have filled my days at UCLA with Jewish learning and exploration, I ask you to join me on a mission.

Let us begin to ask: what are our values as Jews? How can we use our privilege to protect our own rights while also standing up to support those who need protection?

And to those who tell us we cannot support Israel while also supporting marginalized communities at home, I say that’s a load of crap. No one can say that I cannot support Israel while also standing up against police brutality in America. That’s not how justice works.

Let’s stop compromising our values. Let’s begin to use our privilege, as our rabbis and teachers have always instructed us to: let us love our neighbors as ourselves and do for them what we hope they would do for us.

I hope you will join me on this mission. It won’t be easy at the start, but I believe that once we stand up for what we believe is right, other people and other institutions will follow.

Until then, I don’t need your support, Mr. Pence.


Rafi Sands studies Business Economics & Political Science at UCLA and is External Vice President of the Undergraduate Students Association

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York speaking at a news conference held by Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee criticizing the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign spending, March 16, 2017. Engel is joined by Reps. Albio Sires, left, of New Jersey, and William Keating of Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of HFAC-Democrats.

Jewish groups, politicians deem Trump budget bad for Israel, other U.S. interests


Citing the importance to Israel of a robust U.S. posture abroad, Jewish groups decried drastic proposed cuts in foreign assistance funding in President Donald Trump’s budget, despite assurances that aid to Israel would be unaffected.

Israel’s guaranteed $3.1 billion defense assistance next year is a “cutout” and not subject to proposed drastic cuts to foreign funding, the Trump administration said.

“Our assistance to Israel is, if I could say, a cutout on the budget, and that’s guaranteed, and that reflects, obviously, our strong commitment to one of our strongest partners and allies,” State Department spokesman Marc Toner said March 16 in a call with reporters.

The reassurance came as an array of Jewish groups and Democratic Jewish lawmakers expressed alarm at proposed 31 percent cuts to foreign spending, saying it would undercut U.S. influence abroad and noting that it currently constitutes just 1 percent of the budget.

“Our consistent position has been that, along with security assistance to Israel, we have always supported a robust overall foreign aid budget in order to ensure America’s strong leadership position in the world,” an official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee stated in an email.

Rep. Lois Frenkel (D-Fla.) argued that foreign aid helps stem the unrest that threatens security interests.

“I wish the president would spend more time talking to the generals because they would tell you that pencils can be as persuasive as cannons and food can be as powerful as a tank,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said national security interests are at stake.

“The proposed draconian cuts in areas vital to executing U.S. foreign policy could adversely affect our national security interests by potentially creating more pressure on the American military while essential diplomacy is being undermined,” David Harris, the AJC CEO, said in a statement. “Deep cuts to the State Department, including in key educational and cultural exchange programs, will severely harm America’s ability to assert our interests and values abroad.”

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, decried what it said was the budget’s isolationism.

“Over the years, many pro-Israel organizations — including J Street — have argued that Israel cannot be treated as a special case, exempted from cuts to foreign aid while programs affecting the rest of the world are slashed wholesale,” the group said in a statement. “Ultimately, weakening US foreign aid, which is already far below the contributions of other advanced economies in percentage GDP terms, undermines Israeli security as well.”

Next year is the launch of a 10-year agreement that would see Israel receiving an average of $3.8 billion a year in defense assistance.

Centrist and left-wing pro-Israel groups have long argued that overall robust foreign assistance is healthy for the United States and Israel because it sustains U.S. influence.

Toner, the State Department spokesman, fielded a question from a reporter about whether the cuts would affect funding for U.S. defense assistance to Egypt and Jordan — policies that were written into Israeli peace deals with those countries and seen for years as critical to sustaining the peace. Toner deflected the question.

“With respect to other assistance levels, foreign military assistance levels, those are still being evaluated and decisions are going to be made going forward,” he said. “So we’re still at the very beginning of the budget process, and in the coming months, these are all going to be figures that we evaluate and look at hard, obviously bearing in mind some of our — or not some of our — our treaty obligations going forward. But we’ll have more details, obviously, when the final budget rolls out in May, I believe.”

Trump administration officials have said programs targeted by the cuts have not proven their efficiency or efficacy, a claim sharply disputed by Democratic Jewish lawmakers and some Jewish groups.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), wrote a letter to House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), urging him to reject the cuts.

“We cede the role as the world’s champion of democracy, freedom and justice. And what happens then?” Engel said at a news conference March 16 unveiling the letter. “Who steps into the void? Probably a country that doesn’t share our values or priorities. Think Russia or some other country like that.”

Other Jewish Democrats lambasting the cuts included Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

B’nai B’rith International, which advocates for international assistance and also focuses on assistance to the elderly in the United States, decried the budgets cuts in both areas. The organization noted a proposed 13.2 percent cut to the Housing Department, which would adversely affect the 38 buildings with 8,000 residents in the B’nai B’rith network.

“Lack of access to safe and affordable housing for all older Americans has deep ramifications for the health and welfare of so many,” it said in a statement.

Representative Walter Jones (R-NC). Photo via Walter Jones/Facebook.

Meet the Republican congressman who calls for a settlement freeze


In many ways, Representative Walter Jones (R-NC), is a staunch conservative. He blasted former President Barack Obama’s “burdensome” environmental regulations as “completely out of touch with the American people.” The North Carolina lawmaker vehemently opposed the outgoing administration’s rule mandating that states offer Title X funding for abortion providers including Planned Parenthood. However, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far outside the norm for a Republican member of Congress these days.

This post was originally published at JewishInsider.com.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Jones called for a “moratorium” on Israeli West Bank settlement growth. Jones was one of four Republicans who voted with 76 Democrats against House Resolution 11 in January, a measure that criticized the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for condemning Israeli settlements at the end of the Obama Administration. While the overwhelming majority of Republican leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President Donald Trump assailed the UN for engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, Walter offered a dramatically different response. “I think they (the UN) can be part of a process that could be helpful,” he explained. When discussing America’s role as a mediator, the 74-year-old North Carolina lawmaker noted, “America because of its friendship and relationship with Israel – and I have great respect for Israel – I think it’s going to take more than just one country to put this together.”

Jones was one of only two Republicans to sign onto a letter currently circulating from Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VI) and David Price (D-NC), which “affirms” the two state solution. In doing so, Jones joined 113 Democrats who back the measure. Explaining his support, Jones noted, “If we just sit back, watch and complain, and nobody is making any effort to get the two sides together, I think it is wrong.” The veteran GOP Congressman cites his Christian faith in motivating his desire to search for peace. In contrast to most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Jones repeatedly used the term “Palestine” throughout the interview.

Some pro-Israel organizations have worked tirelessly to unseat Jones given his unorthodox viewpoint as a Republican on the Jewish state. Breitbart called an ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) against Jones, which included anti-Israel protesters burning U.S. and Israeli flags while narrating Jones’ Congressional record, “brutal.” The ECI ad also warned that Jones was endorsed by the “anti-Israel group J Street.” In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Jones broke with his party in 2005 emphasizing that his vote in favor of the 2003 Iraq War was mistaken, years before candidate Trump made opposition to the war a mainstay of his presidential campaign.

Despite the numerous foreign policy challenges, Jones urged Trump to signal that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be “the number one issue” in order for America “to be a facilitator to find peace.” With Trump calling on Israel to “hold back on settlements,” and the President’s Special Assistant Jason Greenblatt meeting this week with Netanyahu, and visiting a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp, Jones may have reason to be more upbeat than usual.

Israel’s players line up for the national anthem before a World Baseball Classic game against the Netherlands, in Tokyo. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Campaign to build baseball stadium in Israel takes off after World Baseball Classic


Plans to build the first regulation baseball stadium in Israel have gathered steam in the wake of Team Israel’s surprisingly strong performance in the World Baseball Classic.

Members of Team Israel participated in the groundbreaking for the complex in Beit Shemesh, a city located near Jerusalem with a large ex-patriate American population. Most of the team roster was American Jewish players with major and minor league experience who came in December with their families to visit Israel and meet Israeli fans before representing the country in the international tournament.

It is one of several baseball fields being built in Israel through the Jewish National Fund’s Project Baseball.

Following Team Israel’s three victories in the first round of the World Baseball Classic and its win in the first game of the second round, the Beit Shemesh stadium project has received donations from around the world through a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, bringing the total to $11,000 as of Tuesday morning. The goal is $850,000.

The city of Beit Shemesh provided the Israel Association of Baseball with the land for the complex, which will include a regulation-size baseball field for adult play and two smaller fields for youth baseball, batting cages, dugouts, lights and spectator stands.

The Israel Association of Baseball, founded in 1986 by a group of expatriate baseball enthusiasts living in Israel with the goal of promoting and teaching the game of baseball in Israel, has been renting local soccer fields for games and practices. It has about 1,000 participants throughout the country from Little League to adult.

Let’s stop patronizing the new generation


In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.

Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.

Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.

Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.

Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.

To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”

It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.

Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?

To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?

If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.

That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.

It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.

Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”

It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.

Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.

Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.

Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pick up truck near the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Aug. 1, 2016. Photo by Ammar Abdullah/REUTERS.

Syrian truck driver on road to Damascus reportedly killed by Israeli drone


A Syrian man was killed when the truck he was driving in the Quneitra region of the Golan Heights on the road to Damascus allegedly was fired on by an Israeli drone, Syrian media is reporting.

The Israel Defense Forces is not commenting on the alleged air strike, neither confirming nor denying the Syrian reports.

The alleged victim has been named as Yasser al-Sayed, with some reports calling him a terrorist member of Hezbollah and others identifying him as a civilian.

Hours before the strike, Syrian media reported that Syrian army forces had repelled an Israeli drone in the same area.

The actions come after the IDF confirmed carrying out aerial strikes in Syria and intercepting missiles launched at its aircraft from the ground on Thursday night.

No Israelis were hurt during the strikes Thursday night or from the anti-aircraft fire, the first time that Israel has used the Arrow anti-missile system.

According to the nrg news site, the strikes Thursday were against targets affiliated with Hezbollah, possibly on a weapons shipment to the Shiite terrorist group, which is based in Lebanon but is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s forces against rebels and Sunni militants.

The incidents on Thursday are reported to be the most serious between Syria and Israel since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago. At that time, Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Syria and Syria’s air defense system fired an anti-aircraft missile at the Israeli planes.

Israel is believed to have carried out several attacks on Syrian soil in recent years, but usually refrains from confirming or denying reports on its alleged actions there.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Israel Radio threatened to take out Syrian air defense systems.

“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said. “Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Israel climbs down the election ladder


We should begin by saying it is not very likely that Israel is about to have another election because of a childish dispute over public broadcasting. The prime minister’s threats and the finance minister’s counterthreats – one would like to roll back a reform in public broadcasting, one would like it to continue – seemed serious for two or three days. But now it seems as if both politicians, Netanyahu and Kahlon, are looking for ways to climb down the election ladder.

The nature of the dispute is almost ridiculous: Israel decided to dismantle its public broadcasting authority – an antiquated, inefficient, unimportant body – and create in its stead a new public broadcasting company. Netanyahu went along with the change and then he suddenly realized that the new body is about to become a new media entity that tilts politically leftward – or so he thinks. So he decided to reverse the decision, to which the finance minister objected. Hence the threat of elections. And if you think this is nuts – join the club. This is what most Israelis think.

But a few things are worth noting when the dust settles down on yet another coalition battle.

A. The prime minister is obsessed with the media, and his obsession is becoming a distraction. True – he dislikes the media for many good reasons and is justified in feeling that a lot of it is instinctively against him. On the other hand: he is the prime minister. He has been the prime minister for quite a long time. The media, as hurtful as it might be, did not prevent him from becoming the leader of Israel. It should not distract him from investing his time in leading Israel.

B. Finance Minister Kahlon has very few political bullets in his gun. He can make a threat, but when the prime minister decides to put his foot down, it will become obvious that the threat is hollow. Kahlon has few achievements to show for if elections are called. His voters might not come back. He might not come back. So yes, the last round of battle with Netanyahu turned him even more bitter and made him even less of a Netanyahu enthusiast. But it also taught him a lesson. Netanyahu still has most of the cards. And from time to time he feels a need to remind his junior partners how strong he is.

C. No one within the coalition has interest in holding elections. That’s why it isn’t likely that we’ll see them in the near future. Likud would likely lose seats, Kulanu could disappear, Lieberman would not necessarily get the defense ministry when the cards are reshuffled. The Haredi parties are enjoying the most convenient coalition they’ve had in a long time. The only party that could gain some power is Habayit Hayehudi. Their number of seats would likely grow, and they would possibly get a better coalition deal as a result. But what if the next coalition is a center-right coalition? In that case, they are also the party most likely to get benched. That is a significant risk for a probable insignificant gain.

D. It is not just Kahlon that was puzzled by Netanyahu’s behavior. Many of his coalition partners believe that he has lost it this time, many of them really dislike him, many of them would like to see him replaced. Netanyahu has in his coalition few admirers and a lot of rivals awaiting his downfall.

E. Public broadcasting is a nice idea that politicians tend to ruin. Since it is, by definition, an organization controlled by the public; and since the representatives of the public are politicians; and since politicians have nothing to gain from having yet another watchdog sniffing for scandals; and since the politicians have the power to tame this watchdog, the result of having public broadcasting can be one of two: either it is not significant enough to bother the politicians, or it becomes significant and then is tamed by them. It cannot be both significant and untamed. And if it can’t, the question becomes why it is needed at all.

F. What happens if elections are called in the next few months? The polls make it clear that an alternative to the current coalition will not be an easy one to assemble. That is, unless all the leaders of other parties who feel that it is time for Netanyahu to go agree to join a coalition for this purpose. That might be a short-lived coalition, but it would achieve its main objective – to get rid of the current PM and clear the field for other candidates to enter.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Sunday Reads: On ‘getting a great deal’ from the Gulf states, Saving Conservative Judaism


US

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky believe that Trump shouldn’t raise hopes about the Gulf states serving American interests in the Middle East:

The United States needs to keep its expectations low for working closely with the Sunni Gulf states. There are areas of possible cooperation — maritime and ballistic-missile defense and protection of critical infrastructure in the Gulf against Iranian and terrorist attacks — but the vision of a new U.S.-Sunni alignment that seems to be animating the United States’ broader Middle East strategy is flawed. It could enmesh us further into conflicts, such as the one in Yemen, that do not affect vital interests. If we let them, our Gulf Arab friends will drag Washington into costly and risky commitments the United States will not be able to meet, further undermining our leadership and reputation. And if Sunni Arab governments are true to form, the United States will do most of the heavy lifting while they cheer us from the sidelines and then heap blame on Washington when things go wrong.

A new Washington Institute report tries to figure out how to more effectively combat ideologically inspired violent extremism:

To be sure, Islamist extremism poses an immediate  threat  to  U.S.  security, but any serious and  effective effort to counter the extremist ideology driving groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda must be part of a larger strategy to prevent and counter the full range of Islamist and other extremist ideologies posing security threats to the United States. And the reason is not  ideological; it is practical and programmatic and has to do with how good-governance and public safety programs actually work on the ground in local communities across the country. Communities are our first line of defense  against violent extremism, so empowering and incentivizing communities to become more active in this space is in the local and national interest.

Israel

Einat Wilf believes that in order for the occupation to end, the Arab states need to go through a paradigm shift and accept Israeli presence:

How can a temporary 50-year military occupation of most of the West Bank by Israel come to an end, if the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian view of history is that 50 years of Israeli occupation matters significantly less than the countdown of the remaining 19 years on the crusader clock? It is necessary to demonstrate to the Muslim-Arab world that their view of history is wrong, and that rather than constituting a second crusader state, Israel is the sovereign state of an indigenous people who have come home. This can only be achieved through Jewish power and persistence over time. And given the vast numerical imbalance between Jews and Arabs, it can only be achieved if those who truly seek peace support the Jewish people in sending the message to the Arab world that the Jewish people are here to stay.

J.J. Goldberg takes a look at the role of Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt in the Middle East:

And while Greenblatt’s background, environment and reading choices all trend rightward, he appears to be approaching his current assignment not as a chance for self-expression but in his professional role as Donald Trump’s lawyer. That became clear when he and Netanyahu tried and failed during their first meeting to find a common language on the question of continued Israeli settlement construction, which Trump wants to rein in. The Israeli right, after years of clashing with ex-president Obama, was expecting to find an ally in the Orthodox, right-leaning Greenblatt. Rightists were disappointed to find that the visiting envoy was speaking on behalf of the president of the United States, not the Israeli settler movement.
Middle East

Avi Issacharoff sees the waning of ISIS as the rise of Iran as a regional superpower:

Thus Iran, as it takes advantage of the civil war in Syria and Islamic State’s takeover in Iraq, is looking more and more like the big winner of the Arab Spring in the region stretching from Tehran to Latakia and southward to Beirut. The Shiite crescent, which King Abdullah of Jordan warned about more than a decade ago, is amassing unprecedented power in the region even without possessing an atomic bomb and with its nuclear program frozen. If the saying “Islam is the solution” was common in the past, particularly among the Sunnis (in reference to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas), perhaps the saying from now on should be that Shiite Islam is the solution.

Adnan Abu Amar writes about Hamas’ plans to rebrand internationally with a new policy document:

With Hamas expected to hold elections in the coming weeks to select new leaders, media attention has turned to the movement releasing a new policy document in the near future that will reflect its current stance toward political events and lay out a road map for its foreign relations. Al-Monitor shed light on the document’s development last October, but it remains unclear to observers — and is thought to be a topic of debate within Hamas — whether it is simply a policy statement or an amendment of Hamas’ founding principles laid out in its 1988 charter.

Jewish Journal

Roberta Rosenthal Kwall examines how Conservative Judaism can survive as a separate movement:

Given the convergence between the movements, the real question is whether Conservative Judaism can maintain and further a religious identity and mode of observance distinct from that of Reform. The matter is critical, because according to the 2013 Pew Report, while Reform Jews now constitute 35 percent of the overall American Jewish community, practicing Conservative Jews in the United States make up 18 percent, which represents about a one-third drop over the past 25 years.

If Conservative Judaism becomes one with Reform in both theory and practice, how can it survive as an independent movement?

James Kirchik writes about Hungary’s ugly state-sponsored Holocaust revisionism:

By obscuring Jewish victimhood entirely and ascribing total innocence to Hungarians and total evil to Germans, the memorial is as factually deceptive and politically exploitative as any Stalinist icon. Just as communists downplayed or ignored the anti-Semitic intent of the Holocaust in order to claim the Nazis’ victims as martyrs to the cause of “antifascism,” the Hungarian right asserts that all Hungarians were equal victims of a foreign-imposed tyranny. Characterizing opposition to the memorial as deriving from “the pub counter of cheap political pushing and shoving that is practically unavoidable these days,” Orbán implied that complaints about historical truth are in actuality fig leaves for domestic political opponents intent on delegitimizing his government abroad.

Oak Loeb, a protester with IfNotNow, is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17.

WATCH: Seven Jewish protesters arrested at AIPAC L.A. office


Seven Jewish protesters were arrested March 17 in the lobby of the Century City office tower that houses the Los Angeles office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The protesters, who were affiliated with IfNotNow, a progressive network of millennial Jews opposed to Israeli policy, were chanting and stomping their feet when they were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, according to Capt. Tina Nieto, area commanding officer for West L.A. for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” said Michal David, 26, an organizer for IfNotNow, while a small group of protesters marched in a circle and chanted on the sidewalk behind her.

According to David, the protesters arrived at 9 a.m. at the building and blocked off entrances for about 40 minutes, encouraging AIPAC employees to go home, “for a day of reflection.” By 10 a.m., those who were not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

“Shabbat shalom! AIPAC go home!” the seven protesters chanted inside, seated against a marble wall facing the entrance.

Outside, the protesters, who numbered fewer than 10, responded with chants and statements of their own, denouncing AIPAC’s role in “propping up military occupation” and “cozying up to David Friedman,” President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for ambassador to Israel.

David said they had not contacted AIPAC before the protest. “There’s no more room for conversations behind closed doors,” she said.

More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests. Nieto said the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest.

The activists inside the lobby continued chanting until police led them away in handcuffs around 11 a.m., while the protesters outside continued to sing and look on. From there, they were taken to LAPD’s West L.A. Community Police Station, where anybody without an outstanding warrant would be cited and released, Nieto said.

The protesters ranged in age from 20 to 31 and hailed from L.A. and the Bay Area, according to IfNotNow.

On Sunday, IfNotNow is planning another, larger protest at AIPAC’s Century City office, to coincide with the L.A. Marathon, whose route passes AIPAC’s office.

AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Israel/Palestine: Standing Firm Means Never Getting Anywhere


As Jason Greenblatt meets with Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, you can’t help wondering: will anything change? Through several U.S. administrations, the talking points have remained virtually the same. Meanwhile, confidence in a two-state solution is waning in both Palestine and Israel.

“Young Palestinians start to lose faith in two-state solution,” declared a Financial Times headline recently. NPR had the same story last month. In a piece broadcast on February 17, reporter Joanna Kakissis interviewed two students at Bir Zeit University. Both of them said they don’t recognize Israel as a country. “It’s not even their home,” says one of them, referring to Jewish Israelis.

This is hardly news. In 2014, when the journalist Nir Baram interviewed people living in Israel and the West Bank, a Palestinian woman told him “We can’t live with you, we want our own state. The Jews can go back to America or Europe.” As one man put it: “All of Palestine is Palestine, from sea to sea. I don’t believe there is such a thing as Israel. All the Israelis came here from far away and conquered our lands.”

Yaasir Arafat made the same argument over 40 years ago. To him, Palestine was like Algeria under French rule. He saw the Jews as European invaders, promoting a colonialist, imperialist project which should be overthrown in favor of national sovereignty. Arafat explicitly promoted an armed struggle whose “causes do not stem from any conflict between two religions or two nationalisms. Neither is it a border conflict between neighboring States.” His goal was a single Palestinian state where Jews might also live.

On the Jewish side, advocates of two states have consistently believed in negotiations to establish agreed-upon borders between the states, arguing that nothing else could preserve Israel as both Jewish and democratic. Skeptics, on the other hand, foresee a Palestinian state that would resemble some of its Arab neighbors: unstable, undemocratic, and a greater threat to Israel’s security than the status quo. Over more than 40 years, those arguments haven’t changed much either.

All that these efforts have accomplished is to maintain a stalemate. Whether you believe that they reflect high principle or simple intransigence, the inescapable fact is that the predicament remains the same as 50 years ago. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for: an uneasy ceasefire in a multigenerational conflict, with occasional eruptions of individual and military violence.

What else could be done? The parties might accept the status quo as preferable to any of the alternatives and abandon the pretense of seeking negotiations. On the other hand, they might conclude that the situation is deteriorating and unsustainable, and be willing to modify their long-held beliefs as the basis for new negotiations. Or, combining elements of both outlooks, they might conclude that the status quo is unsustainable but that negotiations are ineffectual, and that the conflict can be resolved only by force.

Of course the participants in the Israel/Palestine debate may prefer to stick to their long-standing positions rather than contemplate something new. But is that really tenable? It takes a lot of courage to reconsider one’s own fundamental assumptions and consider changing them. But it’s a necessary step towards progress. Standing in place won’t get us anywhere.

Photo by Reuters

Zionist feminists, leftist martyrs, braggadocio peacemakers, and other bits and pieces


1.

The raging youth-movement-like debate about the compatibility, or lack thereof, of Feminism and Zionism (see here, here, here, here – there is a lot more) is one of the most idiotic debates I’ve witnessed in a long while. Can one be both a Feminist and a Zionist? It all depends on one’s definition of Feminism and Zionism. End of story.

One thing we did learn from this debate: being a Feminist doesn’t preclude anyone from also being an idiot.

2.

I get a sense that there’s a new touristic opportunity for Israel: get radical Jews to come, and make them martyrs of the left by detaining them for an hour or two.

Some of them are seriously asking for it.

I know, it is all part of the anger aimed at Israel’s decision to be tougher with people who only come to visit so they can later denigrate Israel and act against it in various institutions. And some of this anger might be justified. Israel ought to be more careful as it works to tame leftwing BDS radicalism – and to not make every critic of Israel an enemy.

Still, this new “Israel please arrest me” movement of the left is verging on the ridiculous. If you want to be martyrs, if you are such heroes, man up and go to Syria. Provoking softy Israel is hardly an act of heroism.

3.

According to a survey published on Tuesday, 32% of Palestinians believe that the Israeli occupation of Judea and Samaria will continue for at least 50 more years, while 29% believe that it will continue for 5–10 years or more. Only 24% think it will end soon.

So Israelis and Palestinians are basically in agreement. Only the Americans – and Europeans – can’t see an obvious reality and keep insisting on a grand bargain that isn’t there.

4.

It is quite perplexing that the Israeli press – which is often obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – did not really bother to report on Michael Herzog’s detailed report on the failed negotiations of 2013-2014. Herzog used soft language, but his verdict was clear: It is not Netanyahu’s fault that negotiations failed. It was John Kerry’s fault. Kerry and his team of American negotiators.

So why the relative quiet among members of the Israeli media? Netanyahu, a media paranoid, would argue that it is because the Israeli media is controlled by leftists – and all it wants is to keep making the false accusation that the talks failed because of him.

I am hardly an admirer of Netanyahu’s battle against the media. But in this case he would have a strong point.

5.

By the way: I’d advise Trump and his advisors to read Herzog (in fact, I know some of them did). One lesson they ought to take from it is not to raise expectations. Yes, sure, Trump is a deal maker and a record breaker and a tradition shaker – whatever. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not for amateurs. It is also not for the grandiose.

In other words: If Trump sets the bar as high as Obama did – he might end up where Kerry ended.

6.

Forward columnist Peter Beinart argues that when Democrats look at Netanyahu they see a Trump:

when Netanyahu speaks, Democrats hear Donald Trump. When Democrats read about Israel not allowing critics into the country, they’ll think of Trump’s travel ban. When they hear about Netanyahu’s threats to freedom of the press, they’ll think of Trump’s attacks on journalists. When Netanyahu claims his wall stopped “illegal immigration,” they’ll think of Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico.

Is he right? Maybe. Probably. Are Democrats justified in thinking that these two leaders have similar traits? Hardly. Does Beinart scold them for making such shallow comparisons? Of course not. He scolds Netanyahu.

7.

Women of the Wall filed a petition with the Supreme Court. They demand the right to pray undisturbed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Last January the court ruled in their favor. But the court is fast changing and is becoming more conservative. In fact, I wrote an article about it last week in The New York Times. Here is a paragraph (the full article is here):

It is, no doubt, a frightening time for a minority of Israelis, who believe that the liberal court is the last of Israel’s democratic institutions untouched by the right. But the rest of us see the gradual alteration of the court as a positive development, an important step for Israel’s ruling coalition of conservative voters and representatives. That is, if the conservative coalition proves worthy of the changes it is promulgating.

8.

In fact, the Western Wall is one of the places in which the conservative coalition can prove its worth. It is one of the places in which the coalition can prove that an activist court is not needed: You don’t want the court to intervene? That’s understandable. But please behave like adults and make policy on your own. The cabinet voted to establish a third platform near the Kotel. The cabinet is supposed to implement its decision. If it doesn’t do it, its case against an activist court becomes much less convincing.

Israel players are seen in front of the dugout prior to the World Baseball Classic Pool E Game Six between Israel and Japan at the Tokyo Dome on March 15, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images.

Israel’s surprising World Baseball Classic run ends with loss to Japan


Team Israel saw its Cinderella run at the World Baseball Classic end with a loss to Japan in Tokyo.

Japan snapped a scoreless tie with five runs in the sixth inning on the way to an 8-3 victory on Wednesday before more than 40,000 fans packed into the Tokyo Dome.

Israel, the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, dropped its last two games in the second round and will not advance to the semifinals next week in Los Angeles. Japan, with a tournament record of 6-0, and the Netherlands will advance from Pool E. They will join the top two teams from the Pool F games currently being played in San Diego.

Israel had startled the baseball world by opening the tournament with four straight victories, including a 4-1 win over powerhouse Cuba in the first game of the second round. But Israel lost 12-2 to the Netherlands on Monday and needed to beat Japan to move on.

Last week, in the first round, the Israelis squeaked past third-ranked South Korea, 2-1, in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan, 15-7, and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands, 4-2, to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

This is the first year that Israel has qualified for the tournament. In 2012, its inaugural WBC squad narrowly missed advancing past the qualifiers.

Most of the players are American Jews, among them several former major leaguers. WBC rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

The team appeared on the field at each game for the national anthem of Israel, “Hatikvah,” with matching blue kippahs. The club’s mascot was known as Mensch on a Bench.

An aerial view of Israel’s largest settlement, Maale Adumim, March 12, 2008. Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images.

Knesset committee delays vote on bill to annex large West Bank settlement


A Knesset committee vote on a bill that would annex the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim was postponed to avoid a conflict with a visiting Trump administration official.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation was scheduled to take up the bill, which would subject the settlement to Israeli law, on Tuesday, but delayed the discussion due to the visit by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, who is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to gauge attitudes on peacemaking.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, agreed on Monday to postpone the discussion of the bill shortly after a five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Greenblatt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Times of Israel reported. Greenblatt was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsors had initially rejected a request to postpone a vote on the legislation by three months, according to the news website.

Discussion of the bill had also been postponed in late January, following Trump’s inauguration, until after last month’s meeting between the president and Netanyahu.

The international community and the Palestinians argue that making Maale Adumim an official part of Israel will prevent the formation of a Palestinian state, since it would prevent territorial contiguity.

Some 40,000 Jewish settlers live in Maale Adumim, which Israel considers a settlement bloc that would become part of the nation under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The logo Israeli driverless technology firm Mobileye is seen on the building of their offices in Jerusalem March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The Mobileye deal: Start-up Nation or Torn-up Nation?


The largest ever purchase of an Israeli tech company was announced yesterday. Intel is taking over Mobileye for $15 billion. A hefty sum. A notable achievement. First and foremost, it is the achievement of Mobileye’s founders, inventors, managers, investors. These people had the vision to understand that developing systems that make cars smarter and more autonomic is the right thing to do. They had the capabilities and the ingenuity to develop such systems better than most others. They deserve praise for what they did (and, of course, the nice compensation they will get for their years of labor).

But Israelis – all of us – also have a right and a reason to be proud and pleased with this achievement. Some critics are questioning this right and saying that a country has no claim over the achievements of individuals, but this is hardly true. A country is an environment that cultivates achievements (or not), that fosters a culture of excellence (or not). Israel, with all of its many faults, has proven time and again to be a place in which ingenuity and excellence are encouraged. At least among some of its citizens.

As soon as the deal was announced, a debate began in Israel concerning the tax that Israel will now collect – $3-4 billion – and what should be done with it. Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted yesterday that he wants to use it to reduce the level of taxation. In truth, $3-4 billion don’t really change Israel’s fiscal situation (the sum that Israel collects annually in taxes is a hundred times larger), and hence the decision whether to reduce the level of taxes has little to do with this specific purchase of an Israeli tech company. Critics of Netanyahu say that the funds should be used to bolster Israel’s social services – namely, used by the state rather than returned to the public.

And, of course, the debate about taxes is a much larger ideological debate about Israel and its character. It is a debate about the relations between the state and society, it is a debate about human nature, it is a debate about economic strength and social cohesion. Netanyahu believes that Israel can survive only if it will be a very powerful nation. It must be strong militarily. And to achieve this, it must be strong economically.

There are other Israelis who emphasize social unity as Israel’s main source of power. To have a strong military Israel must have a sense of unity of purpose, and this sense erodes when the country becomes one of great divides between the rich and the poor, the “haves” and the “have-nots.” These critics of current Israeli policies look at Mobileye and see not just an achievement – they also see a problem. Mobileye is merely the most recent example of Israel becoming a place of great divide – on the one hand, ingenuity, excellence, wealth, mobility, and on the other hand many Israelis that are left behind. Those who cannot excel in mathematics, those who don’t serve in IDF tech units, those whose professional talents are becoming obsolete in the new economy.

It is, in short, the battle over how to prevent a Start-up Nation from also becoming a Torn-up Nation. The Netanyahus say: we must foster the talent, compensate excellence, get stronger, economically, technologically, militarily – this is survival, and you do not mess with survival. The Critics say: spread some of the wealth, or your success will be temporary and unsustainable because Israel’s pool of talent will never grow and the burden of backsliding sectors will gradually be too heavy to carry even for a booming high-tech sector.

Clearly, a balancing act is needed, and it is not an easy one to pull off. It is also not always easy for Israelis to understand the competing worldviews. Does Netanyahu want to reduce taxes because of his belief that reducing taxes is the way to success, or because he knows that new elections are behind the corner and some artificial sweeteners won’t hurt his chance of electoral success? Do the critics understand that raising taxes in a world of high mobility will only serve to scare away Israel’s best and brightest, and that the way to success is not taming Israel’s most excellent sector, but rather making other sectors rise?

Strangely – and this has been true for a long time – Netanyahu’s political strength is based mostly on voters who do not enjoy the successes of the high-tech sector. It’s based on Israelis who make smaller salaries, who live in poorer cities or in the periphery, who are less educated. For some, this is proof that his voters lack in smarts, that they don’t know what’s good for them (social justice, social services, the spreading of wealth). But is it not possible that they show good judgment by refusing to play along with the script written for them by naive well-wishers and opting to vote for the policies (Netanyahu’s, but quite possibly also Yair Lapid’s) that will provide Israel with as many Mobileyes as possible?

 

 

Israeli security forces on the scene where a Palestinian man stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 13. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

2 Israeli police officers stabbed in Jerusalem, Palestinian assailant shot dead


A Palestinian man who allegedly stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in Jerusalem reportedly was shot and killed by another officer.

The stabbing took place overnight Sunday at the officers’ post in the Old City near the Lions’ Gate. The officers were taken to a Jerusalem hospital with moderate injuries.

The Palestinian Maan news agency identified the assailant as Ibrahim Mahmoud Matar, 25, of eastern Jerusalem.

According to the Israel police, police took Matar into the post to be searched after he was stopped at the Lions’ Gate before entering the Old City. Police said he then took out the knife and attacked the officers. Palestinian witnesses told Maan that Matar was carrying a stick and was taken out of the post by a police officer and shot at point blank range.

Early Sunday morning, police raided Matar’s home in the Jabal al-Mukabar neighborhood, arresting four members of his family, identified by Maan as his parents, brother and uncle. A flag featuring the logo of the Hamas terrorist group was removed from the home, according to The Times of Israel.

Jerusalem is under increased security Sunday and Monday due to the Purim holiday, which is observed a day later than in the rest of Israel.

Sam Fuld of the Israeli World Baseball Classic team reacting after striking out in a game against the Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome, March 13. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images.

Team Israel suffers first loss in World Baseball Classic


Israel’s surprising squad in the World Baseball Classic lost its first game in the tournament, dropping a rematch with the Netherlands, 12-2.

Israel is now 1-1 in the second round of the 16-team quadrennial tournament and 4-1 overall. Israel likely must defeat powerhouse Japan on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.

Didi Gregorius, the New York Yankees’ shortstop, homered and drove in five runs to power the Netherlands. The game was called after eight innings due to the mercy rule stopping a contest with a team trailing by 10 runs after seven innings or 15 runs when at least five innings have been played.

Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, coming in at 41st in the world. But last week in the first round, the Israelis squeaked past third-ranked South Korea, 2-1, in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan, 15-7, and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands, 4-2, to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

This is the first year that Israel has qualified for the tournament. In 2012, its inaugural WBC squad narrowly missed advancing past the qualifiers.

Most of the players are American Jews, among them several former major leaguers. WBC rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

When Trump meets Abbas: Will he deliver Israel?


President Donald Trump invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. A date has not been set yet. In the meantime, Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt is visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority for talks. The Palestinians seem pleased with these developments. Israeli right-wingers, who for some reason believed a Trump presidency means they get free reign, seem a little worried. Trump has a packed agenda, and has had a chaotic start to his term, and yet he still found time to spend on the Israel-Palestine negotiations. That is not a good sign for those betting on presidential neglect.

Why is Trump doing this? During the campaign he gave an honest answer: it is a challenge that all his predecessors failed at, and it would be nice to show the world his competency by succeeding where others have failed. What is Trump’s plan for success? That is still a mystery. If the president indeed told Abbas what the White House statement says it did – “a peace agreement must be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal. The President noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other” – a rocky path awaits him. If direct negotiations resume, they are likely to produce nothing. What then?

Then he will have to make a decision: He could drop the ball and move to solve other world problems (Turkey-Netherland relations seem to have potential). He could set limited goals – instead of a comprehensive peace – and try to achieve these goals by helping Israel and the Palestinians slightly better the current situation. Or he could repeat the mistake of all his predecessors and go for the jugular. Cold calculation would advise against such a move. But Trump doesn’t always follow what other people consider to be cold calculation. Trump follows his gut, his ego, his big dreams.

In the long and nuanced review of the round of talks conducted under the leadership of former Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli negotiator Michael Herzog wrote, among other things, that Kerry appeared at times “more eager” than the two parties to reach a deal. He “pushed them beyond their limits, set unrealistic goals and timeframes, and shouldered some burdens better left alone or to the parties – in the belief that his own powers of personal persuasion could overcome any obstacle.”

What was true for Kerry is also true for Trump. His eagerness is worrisome. His possibly unrealistic goals could prove problematic. His tendency to believe in his own “powers of personal persuasion” might take him down the Kerry path. What happened in the Kerry path is well documented by Herzog. His account of Palestinian expectations is telling:

So why did Abu Mazen shut down? … the main reason lies in his unmet expectations that the U.S. side would deliver him an acceptable deal by pressuring Israel. Abbas entered the process with low expectations of Netanyahu, yet he expected or was led to believe that the U.S. side would produce a well-designed process, including significant Israeli flexibility… He was increasingly disappointed…”

There it is: If Trump wants to get to a yes from the Palestinian side, he’ll have to “deliver” Israel. And what delivering Israel means is no secret. Trump will have to demand Israeli concessions on settlements, security, Jerusalem, and other thorny items. If he does, Israel is going to cave on some issues, but at some point, it will have to resist.

For example: Israel is not going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the Jordan Valley open to infiltration from other countries after only a short period of transition. But that is currently what the Palestinians demand (according to Herzog, Abbas “offered five years as the period after which foreign forces might be deployed indefinitely in the area… Netanyahu thought in terms of decades”). The US can adopt one of four positions on this issue:

It can tell the Palestinians that Israel’s demand is reasonable – and see them “shut down” as they did with Kerry.

It can tell Israel that its demand is unreasonable – and see Netanyahu maneuver against the US position as he did with Kerry.

It can search for a middle ground – as Americans in general, and American businessmen in particular, tend to do – and discover that some things don’t work quite the same in the Middle East.

It can say that the parties have to solve this issue by direct negotiations – and watch them get stuck, one issue after the other, because the differences are just too big to bridge at this point in time.

What will Trump’s choice be? The fact that he spoke to Abbas and invited him to Washington tells us something about his stance – the Israel-Palestine issue is more a priority for him than some of us believed. The reports about Abbas being pleased with the conversation tell us some more – Trump did not let him feel that there is no reason for him to engage with this administration. Greenblatt’s visiting Israel and the PA tells us some more – the administration is not all talk, it is moving to action. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision to join Prime Minister Netanyahu in warning against settlement construction tells us some more – what they hear from Washington calls for caution.

All signs show that the games are about to begin. The teams know that they will ultimately have to score. The referee has entered the field, whistle in hand.

But he still needs to tell us the name of the game.

 

 

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on issues related to visas and travel after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, U.S. on March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Sunday Reads: Tillerson’s slow start, Sisi’s ‘Egypt First’ foreign policy, Did American racism inspire the Nazis?


US

David Ignatius takes a look at Rex Tillerson’s slow start at the State Department:

The dilemma for Tillerson, the methodical engineer, is how to connect with the mercurial tweeter in chief. A fascinating example was Tillerson’s conversation with the president just before Trump placed a telephone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Tillerson tried to explain the tricky Kurdish problem in detail, but that wasn’t what engaged Trump, according to one well-informed source.

The president interjected with an explanation of why Erdogan had survived an attempted military coup last summer: “You know what saved him? Facebook and social media.” It was a revealing, and probably accurate, presidential insight.

David Graham writes about the unbelievable appointment of a foreign agent as National Security Adviser:

In fact, it would be laughable if Trump officials had not known, since a simple Google search could have tipped them off. On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill floridly praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a crucial ally against ISIS and calling for the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader and former Erdogan ally who lives in the U.S., and whom Erdogan blamed for instigating a failed 2016 coup. Flynn complained that Barack Obama had kept Erdogan at arm’s length.

Israel

Avi Issacharoff writes about Trump’s surprising interest in Israel-Palestine peace making attempts:

All of this adds up to more than the faint indication that the Trump administration may be about to plunge into the quicksand of attempted Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. On the campaign trail, Trump acknowledged that this would be hardest of all deals, and maybe its purported impossibility is what he relishes.

The bar right now is so low that even bringing Abbas and Netanyahu together for a photo opportunity on the White House lawn would constitute quite an achievement. Both men would pay a price back home for such an appearance, but if Donald Trump were to invite them, it might be an offer they could not refuse.

Aviad Kleinberg discusses the Haredi backlash against a court decision that forbids racial discrimination against schoolchildren:

First of all, we must admit that the Haredi argument is essentially justified. Indeed, traditional Judaism does not believe in equality—not between Jews and non-Jews, men and women or scholars and the uneducated. The former in each of these three pairs deserve favored treatment. An Arab, even a good Arab, is not a real human being; a woman, even a good woman, is not really a man; and a secular person, even a good secular person, will never be equal to a religious scholar (who is better than the greatest secular scholar, even if he is a complete fool)… The discrimination against Sephardim may not be according to the law of the Bible, but it is definitely prescribed by the rabbis (the greatest sages of Israel, may they live long and happily). And in the new Israel, the secular court’s rulings are always conditional, until we find out what the Torah sages have to say.

Middle East

Eric Trager writes about General Sisi’s “Egypt First” foreign policy:

Sisi, in other words, will follow an “Egypt first” playbook, and Cairo expects everyone else to do the same. Still, if oil-rich Gulf states believe that they can’t face the region’s challenges alone, then it’s unclear why a resource-poor country with severe structural and security challenges believes that it can.

Busra Erkara describes President Erdogan’s massive propaganda machine in Istanbul:

President Erdogan had turned Istanbul into a giant site for propaganda calling upon the citizens to support his plans to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential system that would give him sweeping powers. The plan has already been approved by the Parliament, where the A.K.P. holds the majority of the seats, and its fate will be decided by a referendum on April 16.

Jewish World

Michael Eisenberg believes that American Orthodoxy’s leaders are moving to Israel:

If the leading minds of American Orthodoxy are moving to Israel and if the leading Torah and Jewish institutions are in Israel, and the innovation-centric wealth will grow in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, what will be left of the intellectual vision for American Jewry, particularly Orthodox Jewry whose epicenter is New York and the East Coast. Who, in the academic, rabbinic, and lay leadership will articulate a vision beyond Torah U’Madda at Yeshiva University and the broader community? If the future leadership continues to make Aliyah, who will paint a path forward for a communal and community ethos? Who will confront growing assimilation? Birthright long ago outsourced its Jewish identity needs to Israel by sending kids there for 10 days. A one-year gap program in Israel is now de rigeur for most Orthodox Jewish kids and many Jewish youth of other denominations wishing to grow in Torah studies and Jewish identity. To this day, the U.S. Jewish community has been unable to provide this deep identity need. That search and crystallization of identity for most Jewish kids has moved to Israel.

Joshua Muravchik reviews a book that raises the curious claim that American Racism inspired the Nazis:

Yet just as Whitman has told us nothing about the “genesis of Nazism,” so he tells us nothing about the “world history of racism.” The discrimination and persecution visited on American blacks was terrible and shameful, but how do we measure it against the European subjugation of much of Africa and Asia, against the mass murder of Armenians by the Turks, against Japan’s rape of Nanjing and murder of millions of Chinese, against fascist Italy’s treatment of the Abyssinians, against the Soviet regime’s ruthless subjugation of small ethnic groups and later its deportation of entire nationalities, against bloody conflicts among tribes, ethnicities, religions in various remote corners of the globe? Much of the abuse of one group by another around the world was and is often carried out without recourse to law; insofar as Nazi lawyers looked to American law, wasn’t it simply because they were, after all, lawyers looking for laws?

Cartoon by undergraduate political science major Felipe Bris Abejon in the UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin.

A cartoon protest threatens to redefine free-speech


There are few countries in the world – perhaps a few Islamic countries, India, Ireland – that define themselves for the world as being inextricably identified with their majority religion as Israel.  Israel is the “Jewish” state.  It wants to be seen as the Jewish state.  In certain arenas – say in negotiations with Palestinian entities – it demands to be acknowledged as the Jewish state.  I make no judgments about that. 

But if you’re going to identify as Jewish, seriously Jewish, there’s no way you can separate that identity from the Torah.  It’s the primary source of our learning, the blueprint for how Jews are supposed to live as a community, the foundation of the Jewish people.  And what more basic element could there be in the Torah than “The Ten Commandments,” mentioned twice in the Torah:  Exodus 20:2, and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6, and of which “Thou shalt not steal” is number eight (acknowledging that this can vary with interpretations – just as there are a number of interpretations of what “steal” exactly means).  “Steal” might mean steal another person – kidnapping.  It might mean taking what doesn’t belong to you.  It might mean a lot of things, but there is so much in our teachings, including about a dozen mitzvoth regarding respecting private properties and just due process, not to mention the Tenth Commandment regarding coveting the possession of others, that we all pretty much get the picture. 

So if the Ten Commandments and other mitzvot are at least one of the cornerstones of the Torah, and the Torah is the foundation of Judaism, and Israel is the Jewish state, then someone who decides to draw a political cartoon using the Ten Commandments to criticize Israeli policy would appear to be on pretty solid ground.  That’s what a UCLA contributing cartoonist, Felipe Bris Abejón did when he published a cartoon in the “Daily Bruin” newspaper, a cartoon now notorious for having been criticized as anti-Semitic and withdrawn by the paper with apologies.  The cartoon  in question, shows Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in front of two commandments, one (listed as #6) with a word crossed off:  “Though shalt not steal” and another (listed as #7) “Thou shalt not kill.”  The caption says, “Israel passes law seizing any Palestinian land,” and Netanyahu is saying, “#7 is next.” 

The caption, of course, refers to the Netanyahu controlled Knesset recently passing a law retroactively legalizing both housing and  makeshift “outposts,” at the time illegally built on Palestinian land and bringing them under Israeli sovereignty.  Some are recent; some go back decades.  Palestinian landowners would have to accept either “alternate plots” or financial compensation.  Clearly the “Regularization Law,” doesn’t mean “any Palestinian land.”  On the other hand, it does look a lot like theft of the weaker party by the stronger – never a good marketing image.  You can say it’s not theft because compensation is involved, but if someone 6’ 8” and 275 pounds, with a gun, stopped you on the street, took your watch, and offered you fifty bucks for it, take it or leave it, you’d probably still want to call a cop.  The law has been vigorously opposed by the opposition in Israel and will be appealed to its Supreme Court.   

Netanyahu’s threat to do the same thing with number seven – killing – is more problematic.  That commandment is usually meant to mean, thou shalt not murder, and once again, there are is a raft of commentary on this commandment.  To attribute to the Prime Minister the intention to implement as law, a policy to murder or in some way kill (the implication being Palestinians) is going pretty far, although there are those – and not just bizarre outliers – who would argue that this has been de facto policy for some time. 

The cartoon was strongly protested and condemned by various groups – some calling it anti-Semitic – including the anti-Defamation League, campus organizations, and even state legislators.  The ADL called it “deeply offensive….and impugning core Jewish beliefs.”  Many were outraged that the cartoon “mixed politics with religion.”  Danny Siegel, president of UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council, declared in a statement: “As a Jewish student at UCLA, I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic claim in my school newspaper that the Israeli government is purposefully using my Jewish faith to justify policy matter.”

But is that what it was doing, and is the cartoon anti-Semitic?  To me the cartoon isn’t using Jewish faith to justify policy – quite the opposite.  It’s pointing out that policy is violating tenets of Jewish faith.  It doesn’t say that Judaism calls for theft and murder; it cries out that Judaism abhors theft and murder at a fundamental level, and any attempt to legitimize it through acts of law are extremely troubling and should be scrutinized in the cold, harsh sunshine of First Amendment exposure. 

As for anti-Semitic, does the cartoon call for the destruction of the Jewish people – the spurious argument by those who label the BDS movement (which I categorically reject as wrong and wrong-headed) anti-Semitic?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Netanyahu with all Jewish people or even all Israelis?  No, it does not?  Does it equate Judaism with the abandonment of it’s mitzvot?  No, it does not.  Rather it accuses the Prime Minister of having somehow lost his way as the head of the state he so aggressively insists is Jewish, an accusation made in a variety of arguments by the opposition in his own country. 

Condemnation of the cartoon decried the fact that Abejón dragged religion into his commentary, but how can mixing politics with religion be out of bounds when discussing Israeli settlement policy, when the entire settlement history is inextricably entwined, from day one, with religious fervor and aspiration.  Somehow, the very use of religion, despite the fact that Israel identifies its very existence as religiously-based, is a taboo crossing into forbidden territory.  No one chose to defend the cornerstone of American democracy – free speech. 

Yes, Jewish history is unique.  Yes, we have been persecuted since the days of Sinai, and yes, in particular for our religion.  But that doesn’t not inoculate either Israel or Judaism from pointed and aggressive argument, and it does not allow for increasingly self-serving definitions of anti-Semitism.  The effort to steadily and relentless expand the definition of anti-Semitic, in confrontation with free speech, does not do us credit, just as the equally steady and relentless effort to equate criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism does Jews equal harm.  The “I know it when I see it” argument was dubious when used to define pornography; it is not improved when a certain segment of our demographic is allowed to define anti-Semitism for everyone, particularly public educational institutions – where the marketplace of ideas should most energetically flourish. 

The “Daily Bruin” quickly apologized and more. “This was a mistake that should have been caught at any point in the process, and it didn’t get caught,” said editor-in-chief, Tanya Walters. Was it?  Apparently no one thought so as it went to press.  I’m assuming a lot of people saw it.  I’m sure what they thought they saw was edgy, provocative commentary, not beyond-the-pale anti-Semitism.  Criticism that reminds us of our roots, our heritage, our connection to God may be uncomfortable – perhaps should be uncomfortable.  But it’s not illegal, not anti-Semitic, and should not be suppressed. 


Mitch Paradise is a writer, producer and teacher living in Los Angeles. 

Photo by Reuters

115 House members sign letter warning about one-state outcome


Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) have circulated a letter calling on President Donald Trump to “reaffirm” America’s support for the two state solution while warning against a one state scenario, which would lead to “endless conflict”.

Connolly told Jewish Insider on Thursday evening that at least 115 Members of Congress have co-signed the letter including two Republican Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and John Duncan (R-TN). Jewish Insider has obtained the text of the letter, which has not yet been publicized.

The Congressional letter expresses concern about a one state reality. “It is our belief that a one-state outcome risks destroying Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, denies the Palestinians fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations, and would leave both Israelis and Palestinians embroiled in an endless and intractable conflict for generations to come.”

In a conversation with Jewish Insider, Price cited the President’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15 as motivating the letter. “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said.

“Today, we remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidents of violence, maintain Israel as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians,” the letter states.

Connolly explained that controversial subjects — such as the current situation in Gaza — were not included in the text to ensure that the letter would receive maximum Congressional support.

The letter has obtained over support from over 25 percent of the House including Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) Deputy DNC Chair Keith Ellison (D-MN), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). 

“There are those who argued that this is just a party line letter, so when we got two Republicans, I was able to say, ‘not anymore,’” Connolly added.

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“Leadership from the United States is crucial at this juncture. We must ensure that a comprehensive agreement between the two parties is not imposed and oppose unilateral actions by either of the two parties that would push the prospects for peace further out of reach,” the letter added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the 34th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. Feb. 27. Photo by Denis Bailbouse/REUTERS.

Trump invites Abbas to the White House


President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House.

Abbas and Trump spoke on Friday and a Palestinian Authority spokesman soon after reported the invitation, saying the meeting would be aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been dormant since 2014.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, confirmed the invitation later Friday but did not add details.

Trump met at the White House last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a meeting both leaders said would lead to improved ties after eight years of tension between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu, however, appeared taken aback at Trump’s request during a press conference that Israel stop settlement building for now. Israelis are also wary of U.S. leaders assuming an oversized role in peace-making, while Palestinians have traditionally welcomed it.

Trump has said he is open to outcomes to the conflict that don’t necessarily end in two separate states. The Palestinian Authority still embraces a two-state outcome, as does Netanyahu. Trump’s retreat from the two-state solution have led some Israeli Cabinet members on Netanyahu’s right to call for annexing portions of the West Bank.

Rick Jacobs speaking at the 2013 URJ Reform Biennial, Dec. 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of URJ.

Reform movement leaders meet with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah


Leaders of the U.S. Reform movement met with Palestinian Authority President President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

The delegation of around 30 leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism, led by its president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, met with Abbas and other Palestinian officials Thursday afternoon.

Discussions during the meeting, which represented the first time a URJ delegation led by Jacobs met with Palestinian leadership, included the two-state-solution, Israeli settlements and the Trump administration.

“I was impressed with the president’s clear and unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution,” Jacobs said in a statement. “He clearly is frustrated with the lack of progress, or even the existence of ongoing negotiations. I share that frustration.”

Jacobs also said he learned from Palestinian officials that they had spoken with the Trump administration, which had confirmed that U.S. policy continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a joint news conference last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump had said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, a statement Palestinians slammed for breaking with decades of American policy.

One unnamed Palestinian official told Israel Radio that the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.” Liberal and centrists Jewish groups also criticized Trump’s statement.

During Thursday’s meeting, the delegation also spoke with Abbas “about the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to stem anti-Israeli incitement.”

“He acknowledged it was a real challenge, just as it is in Israel, and called for reviving the anti-incitement trilateral committee led by the U.S.,” Jacobs said.

Daryl Messinger, chair of the URJ North American Board, acknowledged that the two sides disagreed about some issues.

“We clearly did not agree on everything, nor did we expect to. We were warmly received, and I found our conversation to be positive,” Messinger said.

The URJ delegation, which arrived in Israel on Monday, also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky as well as members of the Knesset. The group is scheduled to speak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel in a narrow vote. David Friedman’s nomination will now go before the full Senate for approval.

Friedman’s critics cited his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement as well as his past insults of Jews with whom he doesn’t agree. Friedman had called J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators.

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

Senate panel approves Trump’s Israel envoy in near party-line vote


In a narrow vote, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel.

The committee voted Thursday 12-9 to confirm David Friedman, mostly along party lines. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. , was the only Democrat to vote in favor. The vote now goes to the full Senate.

Aside from Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the only speakers at the meeting were Democrats who opposed Friedman’s nomination. They cited many of the concerns raised by liberal Jewish groups opposed to Friedman, including his past skepticism of the two-state solution and his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement.

Most prominently mentioned was Friedman’s past insults of Jews with whom he doesn’t agree. Friedman had called J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators. J Street, during its annual conference last month, delivered the committee 40,000 signatures on a petition opposing Friedman.

“The last thing we need in this position is somebody who has a penchant for over the top hyperbolic and even false statements,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the lead Democrat on the committee, who is Jewish and is among the closest Democrats to the pro-Israel lobby, said Friedman’s appointment would undercut efforts to maintain a unified, bipartisan pro-Israel posture in Congress.

“There are those who are trying to divide us and make Israel a partisan political issue,” Cardin said. “I don’t believe that Mr. Friedman can be that unifying person.”

Corker, perhaps the most skeptical Republican during Friedman’s confirmation hearing earlier this year, said Friedman’s closeness to Trump – he has been his lawyer for over a decade – helped qualify him for the position.

“Mr. Friedman is an impassioned advocate for America and for strengthening the mutually beneficial bond between the United States and Israel,” Corker said. “The president needs an ambassador who shares his vision and confidence.”

There was a brief disruption of the voting session by the left-wing group Code Pink.

Groups opposing Friedman included the Reform movement, J Street, Americans for Peace Now and other left-wing groups. Groups backing him included the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America.

Infielder Cody Decker holding the Israeli team’s mascot, a life-sized Mensch on a Bench, after defeating the Netherlands in a World Baseball Classic game at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, on March 9. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Israel advances in World Baseball Classic with third straight win


Israel advanced in the World Baseball Classic with a victory over the Netherlands.

Israel beat the Netherlands on Thursday by a score of 4-2 to finish first in its pool in the first round of the quadrennial baseball tournament, in which 16 countries are represented.

The Netherlands also will advance after finishing the first round with a 2-1 record. The other teams in the pool, South Korea and Chinese Taipei, were eliminated.

Two teams in each of the four pools advance to the next round of the tournament. The second round will be played in Tokyo beginning on Saturday.

Israel defeated South Korea in its first game ever in the World Baseball Classic in 10 innings by a score of 2-1. It went on to defeat Chinese Taipei by a score of 15-7.  The team appeared on the field for the national anthem with matching blue kippot.

This is the first year that the Israeli team has qualified for tournament. In 2012, Israel’s inaugural WBC team narrowly missed making the tournament.

The game marks the first time that American Jewish baseball players, including several current and former Major League Baseball players, are representing Israel in a world championship. World Baseball Classic rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on that country’s team.

Male and female Israeli soldiers from the Caracal battalion gather to have their photograph taken during a 20km march in Israel's Negev desert, on May 29, 2014, Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Shocker: Many Israelis object to women in the military


Six years ago or so I wrote an article under the headline A Voice of a Woman. The controversy it covered involved a few IDF cadets who left a ceremony because of their religious objection to hearing a female soldier singing. The cadets were disciplined, and the country debated their action for a day or two. Religious Israelis cried that if the IDF wants them to be a part of it – it ought to consider their religious sensitivities more seriously. Non-religious (and many religious) Israelis responded by arguing that discriminating against women to please the religiously-sensitive soldiers is something that the IDF cannot do.

The problem was never solved – as a recent controversy that has been preoccupying Israel in the last few day days proves. The IDF needs its women soldiers. It needs its religious soldiers – who have become its most ambitious group of fighters. It needs to adjust itself to the society of which it is a part. As I wrote then: “there is no simple way to balance these competing rights. Religious soldiers can’t be made to violate their faith. The military can’t be made to alienate its most motivated group of soldiers. And I can’t educate my daughter to serve in a military that would excise women from the public sphere to accommodate the radical demands of the super pious.”

Earlier this week, a rabbi came under heavy fire for bluntly speaking against women serving in the IDF. His message was not unique. Many rabbis – most rabbis – object to women serving in the IDF. His tone and style was unique. He was rude and dismissive and, frankly, quite disgusting. So it was easy for everybody to focus on his style rather than on his principled objection to a certain trend of opening IDF units to women.

This is not the first time that Rabbi Levenstein makes waves by speaking vulgarly about trends he does not approve of. A few months ago he called LGBT Israelis “perverts” – and was fed a similar dose of condemnation. The reason some Israelis – but not all of them – are so furious with Levenstein is the position this rabbi occupies. He is the head of a well-known religious academy that prepares its students to serve in elite military units. Some of Israel’s best and brightest military leaders began their military careers in his academy. Rabbi Levenstein educates these future leaders in ways that contradict the beliefs of many other Israelis, which he perceives as “too tolerant, liberal, secular and Western.”

Being repulsed by the rabbi’s choice of words is one thing. Very few Israelis defended his language this week. Being shocked by his message was less unanimous. Minister Arye Deri, of the religious party Shas, was interviewed on the radio this morning and opened his remarks by reminding the listeners that according to most rabbis women ought not serve in the military. In fact, the state of Israel recognizes this religious objection. There is a mandatory draft in Israel, but religious women are exempt from it. All they have to do is declare that their religious beliefs prevent them from being drafted – and that’s it. They are off the hook.

How does one reconcile the condemnation of Levenstein and his views with Israel’s official policy? It is possible to reconcile the two if all we have against Levenstein is a complaint against his language. It is impossible to reconcile the two if Levenstein’s views are the issue. If, as Haaretz Daily argued this morning, “an individual who holds such chauvinistic views cannot be part of a system that prepares thousands of religious youths for military service.”

Israel tolerates the views of people who object on principle to women serving in the military. It tolerates them because these are the views of many Israelis. In fact, Israel must tolerate these people and their beliefs – as much as these people must tolerate Israel and its beliefs. Because there is no “Israel” without these people. They are Israel. A part of Israel. An important, influential, at times frightening, at times awe-inspiring part of Israel.

It is easy to declare Levenstein beyond the pale and ostracize him. He makes it easy by expressing his views in a vulgar manner. But his views concerning women serving in the military – his objection to women serving, his more stringent objection to women serving with men, his even more stringent objection to women serving in combat units with men – are the views of many Israelis. The IDF cannot ignore these Israelis. Israel’s political leadership cannot ignore them. Our society cannot pretend they aren’t there. It must accept their entitlement to have their own views, it must debate them, accommodate them, find common ground with them.

It must recognize that condemnation is easy – accommodation is not.