From left: Orna Banai, Sharon Elimelech, Evelin Hagoel, Einat Sarouf and Yafit Asulin co-star in “The Women’s Balcony.” Photos courtesy of IMDb.com.

Israeli comedy probes religious and gender conflicts


The Bukharim Quarter of Jerusalem, the locale for the movie “The Women’s Balcony,” was settled by Jews from Central Asia in the 1870s and ’80s.

Their synagogue was the center of their spiritual and communal life, and they and their descendants took their religion seriously, though not rigidly, making allowances for human weaknesses and personal quirks.

During the past 30 or so years, the once tolerant and easy-going neighborhood — like other parts of Jerusalem — has been changed by an influx of ultra-Orthodox Charedim, and in the Israeli film, we sense the beginning of the transition.

The demographic transformation of Israel’s capital is a weighty topic, but the message is conveyed with a great deal of humor, leavened by the always-popular topic of the war between the genders.

As the film opens, neighbors are hurrying along the cobble-stoned streets to join in a bar mitzvah celebration, with the women and their husbands carrying pots of home-cooked food — no catering at a fancy hotel in those rugged times three decades ago.

At the synagogue, the men sit downstairs, stealing occasional glances at the women up in the balcony, who enthusiastically throw candy as the bar mitzvah boy approaches the bimah.

Precisely at this happy moment, the balcony collapses, seriously injuring the rabbi’s wife and putting the rabbi himself and the building out of commission for the time being.

In these dire straits, the young charismatic Rabbi David (Aviv Alush) appears as a savior, offering the congregation temporary quarters and himself as the interim spiritual leader. But soon the congregation learns that the new rabbi’s service comes at a price. He preaches that the crashed balcony was God’s punishment for the immodest garments worn by the women and urges the men to buy scarves to cover the hair of their wives and daughters.

Tension rises when Rabbi David, who also has put himself in charge of repairing the synagogue, decides to dispense with the balcony altogether and exiles the women to a shuttered ante room, out of sight of the men.

When the women protest and go about raising their own money for a new balcony, Rabbi David underhandedly diverts the money for the purchase of new Torah scrolls. The docile men heed the rabbi’s edicts, but the women, led by the formidable Etti (Evelin Hagoel), organize a resistance movement.

They take a leaf from the women in Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” who ended the endless war between Athens and Sparta by denying sex to their husbands and lovers until the men agreed to stop fighting. Though the concept of a sex strike is “not something one can say out loud in a religious community,” Emil Ben-Shimon, the film’s director, observed in a phone interview, the women achieved the same result by moving out of their houses.

Forced to choose between their wives and the unbending rabbi, the men folk finally grow a spine and bid farewell to Rabbi David.

Ben-Shimon, 41, has had a successful 15-year career in Israeli television as writer and director, but always dreamed of making a feature movie. Finally, he asked his ex-wife, Shlomit Nehama, to write the screenplay and set about finding the right neighborhood to re-create the Bukharim enclave of 30 years ago.

Ben-Shimon, who lives in Jaffa, said, “I was shocked to see that about 90 percent of the residents of the old Bukharim neighborhood were now Charedim and there were separate sidewalks for men and women. … People looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

The director noted that “The Women’s Balcony” was last year’s biggest box-office hit in Israel and that “audiences loved it.” However, there was no feedback from the Charedi community “since its members usually don’t go to movies. … Their rabbis won’t let them,” Ben-Shimon said.

It took the director about three years to complete the film and he has started work on his next project, which probably will be set in Jaffa.

“The Women’s Balcony” opens March 3 at Laemmle’s Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center in Encino. 

Scarlet Michaelson in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Scarlet Michaelson.

Meant2Be: A different kind of love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, so did I.

Scarlet Michaelson is a writer living in Pico-Robertson.

Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship inyour life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

Photo from Pexels.

Letters to the editor


Thanks … but No Thanks?

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for writing what is in so many of our hearts (“Thank You, Obama,” Jan. 20). Well done, but missing one paragraph:

Thank you, Obama, for selecting Joe and Jill Biden, also fine people, who set the bar as high as you and Michelle did as examples for our nation and our youth.  

Again, Rob, a fine and important column.

Pam Pacht via email

I thank you for your “Thank You, Obama” column, and sadly say thank you to the departed Mr. and Mrs. Obama, who graced us with intelligence, wit, kindness and style. Which makes it even more difficult to face our current president, who lacks exactly those qualities.

Rick Edelstein, Los Angeles

Rob Eshman’s column overlooks many of the highly problematic issues of Obama’s presidency. To say that, “In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain,” is to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to say the least.

Obama can be credited with deporting more immigrants than any of his recent predecessors, expanding military operations in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, and granting more powers to the executive branch, which makes the Trump administration so frightening.

Aaron L. White, Los Angeles

For too many years, the Jewish Journal has been, thanks to Rob Eshman, a Democrat Party publishing organ. Naively, I always thought that the Journal’s mission was to represent all of Los Angeles’ Jewish community’s schools of thought and politics. Marginalizing readers who are not “left of center” will ultimately guarantee the demise of this publication. It is high time for the board to choose a nonpartisan editor with an inclusive world view. Let Eshman embark on his anti-Trump campaign elsewhere.

Ron Rutberg via email  

Rob Eshman should be ashamed of himself and resign as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal.

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for more than 3,000 years, since King David moved it from Hebron (where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried) to Jerusalem.

It has been our capital long before Berlin, London, Moscow or Washington, D.C.

Why are you so fearful about establishing its rightful position among the nations of the world?

What can the Arabs do to us that they haven’t already tried? What can the world do to us that Hitler hasn’t already done?

Eshman: Resign.

Betzalel “Bitzy” N. Eichenbaum, Encino

Eshman’s expressions of gratitude have almost brought tears to my eyes but vomit to my mouth.

Keep up the good work, Rob. Your popularity is soaring in Gaza, Jenin and Ramallah.

Giorgio Berrin, Lake Balboa  

It’s hard to believe that a publisher could write such gratuitous fantasies about the Obama administration’s past achievements. There is no doubt that many readers would find this article offensive and misleading. Eshman’s blind admiration of Obama’s “accomplishments” is biased, one-sided, politically wrong and far from Jewish interests.

Fortunately, in the same edition, the Jewish Journal had a sense of balance by publishing the excellent opinion piece by contributor Larry Greenfield (“A Legacy of O,” Jan. 20) describing the true Obama disasters.

I urge all readers to read his op-ed.

Alex Chazanas via email 

This has been such an ugly campaign that it’s no wonder the ugliness continues. Larry Greenfield’s piece on the Obama years surpasses even the alt-right distortions. I was shocked to read this in the Jewish Journal. 

Theresa McGowan, Santa Monica

Opposing Trump

David Suissa (“When Values Divide Us,” Dec. 23) draws a false comparison between those who hate Obama and those who oppose Trump. While I can’t speak for his Shabbat guests, Trump’s ubiquitous lying, hateful speech and winks to racists must be opposed. Yes, Mr. Suissa, these violate Jewish values. The hatred of Obama is, at best, partisan politics and, at worst, latent racism.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Washington, D.C.

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv on Jan. 24. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

More than symbolism involved with moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem


The location of the United States Embassy in Israel has been an issue of controversy for decades, but it is newly on the front burner. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a persistent Donald Trump campaign promise, one of its strongest advocates is U.S. ambassador to Israel nominee David Friedman, and Israeli officials called on Trump to relocate the embassy in their messages of congratulations on his election.

Like so many other variables in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this one boils down to whether you feel more strongly about principles or outcomes. Unlike other areas of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, this is one where the smart solution is one against which I instinctively recoil.

The historical reason for the embassy being located in Tel Aviv is because the international community views the overall status of Jerusalem as being subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is not an issue in which the U.S. is an outlier in any way — while there were a small number of primarily Latin American countries that located their embassies in Jerusalem in the past, there have been no embassies in Jerusalem for more than a decade.

Aside from the American position that the status of Jerusalem should not be prejudged, there is a daily and ongoing practical reason for having the embassy in Tel Aviv. American regional allies are adamant that locating the embassy in Jerusalem would be a literally explosive issue, and indeed Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have on national security grounds waived the requirement in the Jerusalem Embassy Act that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem. It is taken as an article of faith that moving the embassy will create protests not only in Israel but against American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and subject American diplomats and soldiers to the threat of violence.

The argument for moving the embassy to Jerusalem relies on a basic notion of fairness. Israel defines its capital as Jerusalem, and yet it is the only country in the world whose capital — determined by its own democratically elected and sovereign government — is not accepted by the rest of the international community. Despite the fact that Jerusalem does indeed represent a complex problem whose ultimate settlement must be resolved through negotiations, this is a red herring. Israel’s capital is in West Jerusalem, the newer section of the city that was built by Jewish residents of Palestine and was part of Israel from the very beginning. Its status is not and never has been disputed, was not and is not subject to any past or future negotiations, and is not the part of the city that is viewed by some as being more appropriately internationalized. Many Israelis and American Jews view the refusal to locate the American embassy in West Jerusalem as an unfair double standard and believe the Palestinian and larger Arab red line over moving the embassy to be evidence that the issue is acceptance of Israel in any borders rather than a stand against Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Many people and organizations on both sides of this issue feel very strongly about it, as evidenced by the flood of statements and commentary on it since Trump’s election. Similar to the debate over the president using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” it is an example of the divide over whether powerful symbolism should take precedence over more easily measurable consequences, and as with that debate, there are legitimate arguments for both. Irrespective of where one falls out, I wish that those on opposite sides of this divide would recognize that it is not a cut-and-dried debate.

To keep the embassy where it is does not constitute a purely neutral move. Israelis rightly feel that it signals an unwillingness to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people, the return to which was the object of centuries of Jewish longing. An American embassy in West Jerusalem does not prejudice the status of the Old City or negate the eminently reasonable desire of Palestinians to have their future capital in East Jerusalem. Keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv grants a hecklers’ veto to those whose real problem is with any Israeli presence in Jerusalem and who aim to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. As with the Temple Mount status quo, having the world’s diplomatic corps to Israel live and work in Tel Aviv is a painful concession, even if it is one that ultimately is wise for security purposes.

To move the embassy is an ideological move completely devoid of any practical considerations. It doesn’t mean that it is ultimately the wrong policy to adopt, but it is highly misleading to pretend that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is the clear “pro-Israel” move and that keeping it in Tel Aviv is a sign of less than full support for Israel. Moving the embassy will not necessarily result in chaos and riots in Jerusalem itself, but there is no question it will result in chaos and riots somewhere, whether in other spots in Israel, the West Bank, Muslim-majority countries, or at American and Israeli embassies around the world. Is making a completely symbolic statement of moving the embassy worth even one American, Israeli, or Palestinian life? Is it worth even one dollar of property damage? Is it worth the Palestine Liberation Organization following through on its threat to withdraw its recognition of Israel, or halt the security cooperation that is preventing mass terrorism and rockets from the West Bank? The idea that the American embassy can be moved in a cost-free manner is laughable.

The embassy issue is hard. Do not use it as a litmus test for what is right or wrong, what is supportive of Israel or not, what should be done or should not be done. Above all, do not turn it into such a sacred cow that keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv will automatically result in a 50 percent cut to American embassy security worldwide, as the absolutely insane bill introduced in the Senate last week will do. Policies have consequences, and moving the American embassy or keeping it where it is involves a lot more than whether diplomats will have to order new business cards. We are entering an era where every policy is in danger of being reduced to a mere rhetorical argument; do not give in to that temptation with regard to this one.


MICHAEL J. KOPLOW is the Israel Policy Forum’s policy director, based in Washington, D.C. Reach him at mkoplow@ipforum.org.

Trump tells Israeli reporter in Washington he will move embassy to Jerusalem


President-elect Donald Trump told an Israeli reporter that he will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump made the remarks at an event Tuesday evening in Washington, the Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported on Thursday.

Israel Hayom reporter Boaz Bismuth, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania for four years until 2008, attended the event sponsored by Trump’s close associate, chairman of the 58th Presidential Inauguration Committee Thomas J. Barrack Jr., for current diplomats serving in the United States.

Bismuth reported that during a conversation with Trump, he asked the president elect if he remembered telling him in a previous interview that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He reported that Trump replied: “Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem. Of course I didn’t forget. And you know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

Asked about current events in Israel, Trump replied: “I can’t wait to start working with Israel. This weekend, relations between us officially begin.”

Israel Hayom is a free Hebrew-language daily newspaper owned by Republican donor and billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

During the campaign, Trump said he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Trump’s choice for secretary of defense said at confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate on Thursday that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

“The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv, sir, because that’s where all their government people are,” James Mattis, a retired four-star general, told the senators in response to questions about policy on Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in the announcement of his nomination that he hoped to work from a Jerusalem embassy.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive U.S. presidents have exercised a waiver in the law that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons. U.S. security and diplomatic officials say that moving the embassy would stir anti-American violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Obama told Trump that embassy move to Jerusalem could be ‘explosive’


President Barack Obama said he told his successor Donald Trump that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could be “explosive.”

“Obviously it’s a volatile environment when sudden unilateral moves are made that speak to the core issues or sensitivities of either side. That can be explosive,” Obama said Wednesday at his final news conference when asked if he consulted with Trump about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv.

Obama said his administration’s message to the Trump transition team was “pay attention to this, this is volatile stuff, people feel deeply and passionately about this.”

Obama said he understands that it is important to give a new president a wide berth on policy issues.

“I think it is right and appropriate for a new president to test old assumptions and re-examine the old ways of doing things, but if you’re going to make big shifts in policy … you want to be intentional about it, you don’t want to be off the cuff when it comes to an issue this volatile,” the outgoing U.S. leader said.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, his longtime lawyer David Friedman, has said he favors moving the embassy. Trump campaigned saying he would move the embassy, but his transition team has declined to offer a timeline for the action.

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, but successive presidents have exercised a waiver that allows them to delay the move for national security reasons.

At the news conference, Obama again defended his decision last month to allow a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion. It was the first time Obama had allowed a resolution that Israel opposed.

Obama noted that his own attempts to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians had ended in failure, and said that settlement expansion was eroding the prospect of a two-state solution.

“It was important for us to send a signal that this moment may be passing,” the president said. “Hopefully that creates a debate inside Israeli and Palestinian communities that won’t immediately result in peace but will at least lead to a more sober assessment.”

2 soldiers killed in Jerusalem truck-ramming attack are US citizens


Two of the four Israeli soldiers killed in the truck-ramming attack in eastern Jerusalem were American citizens.

The soldiers were buried Monday in separate cemeteries a day after the attack on the promenade in the Arnon Hatnatziv neighborhood.

Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem was an American citizen, Haaretz reported, citing a U.S. Embassy official. He holds U.S. citizenship through his mother, according to the newspaper, citing a family member. Orbach was the oldest of six brothers.

Shira Tzur, 20, of Haifa, had American-born parents, according to Haaretz, which cited a soldier in her unit.

The others killed were Yael Yekutiel of Givatayim and Shir Hajaj, 22, of Maale Adumim.

The soldiers were on an educational trip along with several other groups. They had just gotten off a bus in the promenade when the driver of the truck, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, drove into them, reversing back over the bodies after he had hit them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited some of the injured soldiers on Monday morning. One reportedly remains in a life-threatening condition, breathing with the help of a respirator and facing more surgery.

UN Security Council condemns deadly truck-ramming attack on Israeli soldiers


The United Nations Security Council condemned the truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem that left four Israeli soldiers dead.

The statement tweeted late Sunday night by Sweden’s mission to the United Nations “condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack” in the eastern part of the city on Sunday and expressed condolences to the families of the victims and the government of Israel. Sweden holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” the statement said, and that the council finds any acts of terrorism “criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation.”

The statement “reaffirmed the need for all states to combat by all means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”

The soldiers were killed and at least 15 were injured when the driver of a large truck, a resident of the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, drove into a group of soldiers who had just exited a bus on the promenade in the Arnon Hatnatziv neighborhood, which marks the border between the eastern and western halves of Jerusalem.  The driver then reversed back over the bodies after he had hit them before being shot by a civilian tour guide and at least two soldiers.

The Security Council late last month passed a resolution by a vote of 14-0, with the Unites States abstaining, condemning Israeli settlements, calling them illegal and an obstacle to achieving peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

Israel again faces world’s rejection of settlements


Ahead of the unknowns a Donald Trump administration will bring to American Middle East policy, President Barack Obama’s administration allowed a bracing reminder on Dec. 23 that the international community does not recognize the validity of Israel’s presence in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The U.S. abstention on the U.N. Security Council vote was hardly unprecedented, but neither was it entirely consistent with recent U.S. policy. The Obama administration did not quite endorse Resolution 2334, but its abstention ensured the resolution, reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in lands captured by Israel in 1967, would be adopted. As one of the five permanent members of the 15-member council, the U.S. could have exercised its veto power. Instead, the resolution passed, 14-0.

For 24 years, the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama insulated Israel from an international community that, since 1967, has sought to exact consequences for its continued presence in disputed lands. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, those three administrations considered the isolation of the Jewish state at the United Nations to be counterproductive to encouraging Israel to take bold steps for peace.

By 2004, George W. Bush had effectively recognized the large settlement blocs bordering 1967 Israel as “realities on the ground” and suggested that the Palestinians would be compensated for the territory with land swaps. Obama’s apparent message to the world is that incentives did not work in slowing settlement expansion. The carrot having wilted, the president reintroduced the stick.

Obama administration officials have said plainly that the expansion of settlements absent a peace process led to the decision to abstain. Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in her explanation of the abstention, listed the considerations that made the administration hesitate to allow the resolution — chief among them the historic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and Palestinian intransigence. But she also noted that since the Oslo Accords, the settler population has increased by 355,000.

As much as the language in the resolution has stirred cries of “unprecedented” in Israel and in some pro-Israel precincts in the United States, it is broadly consistent with resolutions that the United States allowed from 1967 at least through the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency in January 1981.

The recent U.N. resolution reaffirmed “that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity,” and constituted a “flagrant violation” of international law. Resolution 465, passed in March 1980 under Carter with a U.S. vote in favor, determined that “all measures” that would change the physical or demographic character of the occupied lands, including Jerusalem, “have no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It further called on countries to “distinguish” between Israel and the West Bank.

Under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the council did not explicitly reject settlements as illegal, but referred to earlier resolutions that did so while continuing to assail the occupation as untenable. 

The practical consequences of the resolution passed Dec. 23 seem limited. If there was an unprecedented element to the affair, it was in the response by Israel’s leadership and some in the American pro-Israel community. 

“The Obama administration carried out a disgraceful and anti-Israel trap at the United Nations,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the lighting of the first Chanukah candle.

Statements by mainstream pro-Israel groups were relatively temperate — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the abstention “particularly regrettable.” On the right, the responses were more unleashed.

“Obama’s an anti-Semitic Israel-hater sympathizing with radical Islamic terrorists,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, in his first-ever tweet.

Netanyahu and his ambassador to Washington, D.C., Ron Dermer, said they were counting on the Trump administration to reverse course. Dermer said in multiple interviews he had evidence that the Obama administration did not simply abstain but colluded in framing the resolution, an accusation strongly denied by administration officials.

Israel is now looking ahead to a new American order. At the Chanukah ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of “our friends in the incoming administration” — David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador designate, is an active supporter of the settlement movement.

Will Trump usher in that era? His pronouncements after the resolution were relentlessly critical, promising in one tweet that “things will be different” at the U.N. after he assumes the presidency, and lamenting in another that the council’s action “will make it much harder to negotiate peace.” 

In total, the statements appeared to regret the passage of the resolution — but stopped well short of pledging to reverse its effects.

GOP senators introduce bill forcing president’s hand on moving embassy to Jerusalem


Three Republican senators have introduced a bill that would force the president to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ted Cruz of Texas would remove the presidential waiver from the 1995 law passed by Congress recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and mandating the move from Tel Aviv.

Successive presidents have exercised the waiver every six months, most recently President Barack Obama in December. They cite national security reasons over concerns that a move would lead to Islamist and Arab nationalist attacks on Americans and their allies in the region.

The bill would slash in half the funds that Congress disburses to the State Department for building, securing and maintaining embassies until the embassy opens in Jerusalem.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but his transition team said declaring a timeline for a move would be inappropriate until Trump becomes president on Jan. 20.

Rubio and Cruz lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries.

Trump nominates David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, where he will ‘work from Jerusalem’


President-elect Donald Trump is nominating a top Jewish surrogate, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel, with a statement saying Friedman will serve from Jerusalem and describing the city as “Israel’s eternal capital.’

Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has for years worked for Trump and his real estate development business, was with Jason Greenblatt, another Trump lawyer, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, one of his main emissaries to the Jewish community. Friedman this week briefed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on what to expect from a Trump presidency.

The Trump transition team’s statement said Friedman – who like the incumbent ambassador, Dan Shapiro, speaks Hebrew – intends “to work tirelessly to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995 and mandated the move to Jerusalem, but successive presidents have exercised a waiver in the law, citing national security interests. U.S. security officials believe that moving the embassy to Jerusalem, a city holy to Christians and Muslims as well as Jews and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital, would precipitate anti-American violence in the region and beyond.

In what has become a feature of transition statements, the release included a dig at the outgoing Obama administration.

“The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I’m President,” Trump said in the statement. “As the United States’ Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”

President Barack Obama increased U.S.-Israel defense and intelligence sharing, but challenged the practice of his two immediate predecessors – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – of keeping diplomatic agreements behind closed doors. Early in his administration, Obama told Jewish leaders the policy of “no daylight” had not advanced peace in the region.

Report: Trump transition team checking possible locations for Jerusalem embassy


The transition team for President-elect Donald Trump is already checking into possible locations in Jerusalem for the U.S. Embassy, according to an Israeli news channel.

Channel 2 reported Monday night that officials from Israel’s Foreign Ministry had begun checking into possible sites on behalf of the Trump team. The news came hours after Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt during his show that moving the embassy was a “big priority” for Trump.

“It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish Americans have expressed their preference for,” Conway said. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”

Foreign Ministry officials last week reportedly met with officials from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to discuss the availability of the Diplomat Hotel in the Talpiot neighborhood, a privately owned building that is home to 500 elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to Channel 2. The building reportedly will not be available until 2020, however.

Some political and security officials in Israel are expressing concern over Trump’s expected move to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem because of the expected response of the Arab world, Channel 2 reported. The report also said the action is being undertaken without coordination with the current administration of the U.S. State Department, which does not agree with the move.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States, told The Wall Street Journal that the Palestinians hope the incoming Trump administration will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. He said moving the embassy would make it more difficult to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We expect the incoming administration and the president-elect to understand the sensitivity of the issue of Jerusalem and to understand that Jerusalem hasn’t been recognized by any administration, Republican or Democrat, as the capital,” he told the Journal.

On Tuesday at a news conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a Trump decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would be “great.”

Congress passed a law mandating the move in 1995 that included a presidential waiver that lapses every six months. Each president since then has exercised the waiver, with President Barack Obama doing so as recently as last week, less than two months before he leaves office.

The waiver requires that the president assess that moving the embassy would pose a national security risk to the United States. U.S. administrations for decades have said that such a move would precipitate anti-American violence in Muslim lands.

Jerusalem mayor sees a bright future for city in the Trump era


It’s been nearly 50 years since Israel captured eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. For the past eight years, Nir Barkat has been this city’s mayor.

On Sunday evening, six months ahead of the “united Jerusalem” jubilee, Barkat received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, where he gave the keynote speech. A staunch advocate of Israeli control over all of Jerusalem, he thanked President-elect Donald Trump for his “commitment to strengthen our city by moving the U.S. Embassy home, to Jerusalem, the united and eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Late last month, Barkat sat down with JTA in his Jerusalem office to discuss in more depth his vision for the city. Having made a fortune as a high-tech entrepreneur, he easily slipped into industry jargon, speaking of the need to increase Jerusalem’s “market share” of the hearts of Diaspora Jews. He also said that all its residents were his “children.”

Barkat made clear that he sees Jerusalem as an integral part of Israel and should not be part of negotiations with the Palestinians, and expressed confidence that Trump – with whose Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, he is friendly – shares his vision.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: What does it mean for you to receive this honorary degree?

Barkat: For me, it’s recognition of the changes happening in the city of Jerusalem. The honorary degree is being received on behalf of the residents of Jerusalem. I feel very proud that indeed Jerusalem is going in the right direction, but there is lots of work still to do. Toward its jubilee next year, I think it sharpens the fact that we all need to do everything we can to improve the city year after year.

JTA: What are the positive changes you see in Jerusalem?

Barkat: Jerusalem is going through economic growth, fast economic growth, and a cultural renaissance. Practically in almost every parameter we look, this city is making progress relative to years before and relative to its peer group. I think Jerusalem is fulfilling a very important role in the world of how do you make so many different people work in one city, in one inclusive economy, with democratic values.

JTA: Jerusalem also faces problems. Palestinian terrorism surged here earlier this year, and it is still the poorest city in Israel. How do you deal with problems like that on the municipal level?

Barkat: With respect to the round of violence we had, you have to understand that today Jerusalem is 10 times safer than New York. When you look at, for example, the murder rate for crime and terror together, your chances of getting killed in the streets of New York are 10 times higher than the city of Jerusalem. I settle for being one of the safest cities in the world, focusing on economic growth and making the city tick better, work better.

We have a lot of poor people, but this city is moving year after year as a better place to live. And the more we develop our economy and education system and infrastructure, that will naturally reflect on having a better future.

JTA: As the mayor of Jerusalem, why is it important for you to reach out to the Diaspora?

Barkat: For thousands of years, every Pesach [Passover] and every wedding and practically every major occasion, the longing for returning and building and connecting to Jerusalem is in our prayers and it’s in our hearts. Everyone is a shareholder in the city of Jerusalem. It’s the capital of the Jewish people forever, and I think developing that relationship, increasing that market share of people’s hearts, is in the mutual benefit of the city and the Jewish people around the world. And my role as mayor is to expand that relationship and bonding.

JTA: Why must Israel retain control of all of Jerusalem when the Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital?

Barkat: There’s a very famous phrase in the Bible that Jerusalem makes all peoples friends. Jerusalem had and has and will always have a special role of including people. God forbid, if you divide Jerusalem it will never function. It’s one economy. It’s one vision. It will never ever function as a divided city, as it did not function for 2,000 years.

Since the reunification of the city of Jerusalem, we’re working very hard to catch up with neglect and investments. There’s lots of work to do, but the philosophy is only one, and by the way, there’s no split city in the world that ever functioned. So Jerusalem is off the table, off the negotiation table, and our goal is to make it better for all residents of the city — Muslims, Christians and Jews. They’re all my children. I need and I do take care of all of them in order to improve quality of life for all.

JTA: Do you think President-elect Donald Trump shares your vision of Jerusalem?

Barkat: It seems that the vision and the understanding of the Trump administration is more aligned with the understanding of myself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The statements that have been said support that feeling that indeed it’s going to be different. The prior administration had different thoughts as to the future of the city of Jerusalem and other elements, and hopefully that change will indeed be executed. I have good reasons to believe that’s going to be the case.

JTA: Would you like to see Trump move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as he promised during his campaign?

Barkat: Not only I, not only Israelis, I also think the majority of Americans would like to see the embassy moved. It’s a statement of understanding the role and the importance of Jerusalem for the Jewish people. It was disappointing that it did not happen so far, but it’s better late than never.

JTA: Do you expect to be freer to build your vision of a united Jerusalem with Trump in the White House?

Barkat: With the prior administration, every once in a while, we heard the sort of statement like: Freeze building in Jerusalem. So I asked the administration: Freeze what exactly? Freeze everything? Or God forbid, do you mean that I have to ask somebody if he’s Jewish or Muslim or Christian before I as mayor of Jerusalem give him a license? It’s against the American Constitution.

When we plan Jerusalem and develop it, our master plan that we share with people shows and demonstrates that we indeed are honest and fair and enable all growth — of Muslims, Christians and Jews in the city of Jerusalem — on an equal basis. I believe and hope that the new administration understands that very, very well and will let us build Jerusalem for the benefit of all residents.

Obama renews waiver delaying Jerusalem Embassy relocation


This article originally appeared on “>position paper on Israel, released six days before the election, Trump’s advisors suggested that even before negotiations take place between the two sides, “the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”

But in an “>interview with Jewish Insider, former ADL national director Abe Foxman suggested that the Trump administration should “move the process gradually rather than as a dramatic act.”

Liberal wailing over the Western Wall


Liberal Jews (mostly American or American-born) have been escalating their protests against Israel’s unequal treatment of non-Orthodox worship at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They want the architecture of the Kotel (the site’s Hebrew name) to greatly expand a marginal section where heterodox, egalitarian worship has been permitted. Israel’s more traditional sector has fiercely defended the holiness of the site from those who want both styles of worship equally validated.

But other than monthly worship services doubling as political demonstrations, liberal Jews don’t pray much at the Kotel. The designated Robinson’s Arch area has only attracted a trickle of non-Orthodox Jews, and the typical Kotel tourist has encountered the site with all its historic traditions – as is appropriate. But the protesters are now essentially demanding the Kotel they rarely attend resemble their own synagogues they rarely attend.

And that’s not fair.

The conflict is a flashpoint between Americans affiliated with the liberal Reform and Conservative movements and Israelis who – while mostly secular – tend to cede religious matters to the Orthodox. The non-Orthodox religious presence in Israel – as elsewhere outside North America – is slight. When non-observant Jews in the other continents pray or celebrate a lifecycle event, they generally choose Orthodox rites. (That’s my own approach.) In 2016, the heterodox movements are an overwhelmingly American phenomenon.

Thousands of Orthodox worshippers flood the site for prayer services three times a day, every day. At certain holidays, the crush of Orthodox Jews can top 10,000. Yet the sporadic Reform and Conservative participants, many of them tourists, want one-third of the refurbished Wall area to follow their rules. Perhaps if they started attending at a third or even a tenth the Orthodox rate, there would be something to talk about.

A thought experiment:

Many small Jewish communities in North America have but one congregation. Let’s say ten Orthodox families move to Butte, Montana and began attending Congregation B’nai Israel (Reform), or arrive in Waterlook Iowa and join Sons of Jacob (Conservative). What else could they do, with no other choice of house of worship?

Soon, they demand changes. Fire the woman rabbi and hire a man, they said. Construct a mechitza (divider) to separate worshippers by gender. All future minyanim (prayer quorums) should count only men.

The minority of observant Jews in those congregations would be showing real chutzpah to expect the larger congregation to adapt. Unless the Orthodox membership began to dominate numerically, change would be inappropriate.

The sole fact Reform and Conservative Jews exist, praying rarely (if at all) at both the Kotel and their own synagogues, does not give them a claim on a site that has never operated with their customs. If they want a say in its governance, let them show up – and not once a month or on tourist missions.

But the Kotel is our heritage, too, non-Orthodox Jews retort. Well, guess what? Orthodox Jewish prayer (also known as Jewish prayer) is another part of your heritage. And Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t forbid participation in services that strictly follow Jewish law.

At heart, the Kotel controversy is about Jewish identity. Liberal Jews want Israel – and Orthodox Jews everywhere – to declare them equally Jewish. Regarding personal status, that’s true – the majority of Reform and Conservative Jews (the ones with Jewish mothers) are 100 percent Jewish. But regarding practices that diverge from normative Jewish law, not every custom a set of Jews observes is a Jewish custom. The Jewish people have a set of obligations known as halacha (Jewish law) not subject to tinkering by those who don’t respect it.

Many of the same American Jews who trumpet Israel’s democracy when discussing the Middle East conflict quickly turn anti-democratic when discussing Kotel governance. Sometimes, they even threaten to stop supporting Israel altogether if the country doesn’t kowtow to their tantrum over a site they rarely visit.

Worshippers at the Kotel deserve the loudest voice in determining the site’s future, with Israeli citizens also contributing to the discussion. American Jews don’t even belong at the table, although the moment they commit to living in Israel they deserve equal input.

The timing of this latest push couldn’t be worse for Israel, which is fighting a resolution by a United Nations agency whitewashing the Jewish historical claim to the Western Wall. Israel would be foolish if, while highlighting millennia of prayers at the Kotel that follow Jewish tradition, it introduces prayers at the Kotel that don’t follow Jewish tradition.

As Israel defends the Kotel’s very Jewishness, liberal Jews who demand space at the Wall to, well, not pray seem petty and selfish. Their demands should be rejected.


David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Inside the minds of young Americans in Israel who chose Trump, Clinton or neither


Trump, Clinton or neither? The stakes and passions ran high for 200 young American Israelis who gathered Tuesday in Jerusalem at an election viewing party organized by Masa Israel. As a significant segment of the hundreds of thousands of American voters living in Israel—many of them dual citizens—the young voters had much to say about this year’s relatively polarizing candidates and what it was like to be in Israel during this groundbreaking election.

At the election viewing party in Tel Aviv, Masa — an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government which hosts what it calls “immersive, international experiences” for Jews ages 18-30 — polled the Masa fellows and alumni on their preferences between the two major candidates. A large majority, 70 percent, favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with many citing her experience and inclusive leadership as her biggest strengths.

Julie Duitch, who is originally from New Jersey, is interning for Signals Analytics as part of the Israel Experience Career Israel program. She maintained that Clinton was a much more qualified presidential candidate.

“The values that Trump has do not align with where America needs to be going, and Hillary has been providing so much for the United States in all of her past positions. She is much more ready to represent our country throughout the world,” said Duitch.

Josh Linden, who teaches English in Petach Tikvah as part of Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program, said he liked what Clinton stands for — namely, the way in which she brings people and countries together through her leadership style. “Clinton is all about moving forward and extending our hand to the rest of the world,” he said.

Among those who favored Clinton, many cited negative perceptions of president-elect Donald Trump as the main reason for their preference for his opponent. Na’ama Goldfill, who is originally from Los Angeles and is now interning for Career Israel at a preschool for children with autism, viewed Trump as a scary candidate with respect to his prioritization of white male voters over the electorate’s other races and genders.

“Despite the fact that I don’t agree with all of Hillary Clinton’s policies, I think she’s a more qualified candidate overall,” Goldfill said. Linden, similarly, said Trump’s “us versus them” rhetoric makes him uncomfortable. Trump’s policy on marriage equality is especially concerning for Linden, who is gay.

Some American-Israeli voters preferred Trump as a means to shake up the establishment and to influence the U.S. Supreme Court. Gabby Shuster, who is originally from Milwaukee and now works as a project manager for an Israeli overseas events company, said she voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court’s transitional period during the next presidential administration, including the need to fill the former seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“There will be maybe four Supreme Court appointments, which means instead of a 50/50 court left and right it will be a very clear majority left-wing,” said Shuster. “For me that’s a very significant power shift that is generational.” She reasoned that while a Trump presidential term would last four years, the Supreme Court seats are lifetime appointments that affect “everything in America.”

A select few of the American Israelis in attendance chose not to vote as a conscious decision and due to their lack of faith in the democratic process. Amy Albertson, who is originally from Sacramento, California, and now works as a creative content manager for Masa in Jerusalem, said she registered to vote long before the deadline. Yet she ultimately decided not to vote because she felt this election did not offer candidates who embodied the American democracy in which she strongly believes.

“I want to know that whatever bad result comes out, I don’t have blood on my hands and I didn’t contribute to this mess,” Albertson said.

Spencer Tracy, a freelance journalist from Michigan who now lives in Tel Aviv, said that while everyone around him said he had a moral obligation to vote, he chose not to cast a ballot because of his perceptions on the deterioration of American Democracy.

“It doesn’t matter who wins or loses because money is in charge no matter what…the government is run by money. The two-party system is really a one party system. Whatever minor policies they are working on are superficial,” said Tracy.

Many at the Masa event noted the significant interest that Israelis exhibited in the U.S. election, and some hypothesized which candidate might be “better for Israel.” Julie Duitch argued that Clinton would represent the interests of minorities—including Israel as a minority in the Middle East. Josh Linden was surprised by how many Trump supporters there were in Israel, but said he ultimately understood that phenomenon.

“They want something that is more American and less this vague sense of cultural identity — which is what I think is great about America — but they want something more concrete,” he said. “People here in Israel seem to think that Trump’s foreign policy is more in line with what Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname) wants and more pro-Israel than I think it actually is.”

Overall, many of the American Israelis expressed their relief that the election was coming to a close, while exhibiting a hint of skepticism about the future. Spencer Tracy said he has had enough of the election because it pervaded nearly everything aspect of life. He called Clinton “the better person” who would keep the world turning, but was curious what would happen with a Trump victory.

“I know it’s not going to happen,” he quipped — though he was wrong. “But if Trump wins, then I’d like to see what happens.”

Ian Kaneshiro, who is originally from Los Angeles and works in Tel Aviv as a digital advertiser, hoped that above all else, “Americans can pull together as one and unite under whichever president is elected….We need to work together regardless of who we voted for in this election.”


Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.

Terrorist attacks doubled in Jerusalem in September, Israel says


Terrorist attacks in Jerusalem doubled last month compared to August, according to Israel’s security agency, the Shin Bet.

There were 26 attacks in the capital in September, compared to 13 in August, the Shin Bet wrote in its monthly report for September published this week. The number of attacks perpetrated against Israelis in the West Bank remained unchanged at 78.

With the increase in Jerusalem, the total number of attacks against Israelis in September rose to 109, constituting a 17 percent increase over the 93 attacks recorded in August. The August figure was the lowest monthly tally recorded since March 2015 and the first dip since then below the 100-incident mark.

Ten Israelis were wounded in the September attacks, compared to seven in August. September saw no Israeli fatalities from attacks.

More than half of the attacks in September involved the hurling of firebombs.

Despite the increase in attacks in Jerusalem, the September tally was 47 percent lower than the average number of attacks carried out there per month since September 2015.

According to the Palestinian Maan news agency, a total of 274 individuals died during the wave of unrest starting from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30 of this year, including 235 Palestinians, many of whom were killed while perpetrating attacks. During that period, attacks caused the death of 34 Israelis and five foreign nationals — two Americans, one Eritrean, one Sudanese, and one Jordanian.

On Thursday, Israeli troops in the West Bank shot dead a Palestinian teenager who hurled rocks at a patrol, the Israel Defense Forces said. The incident occurred in the Beit Ummar area near the city of Hebron, a flashpoint for terrorist attacks. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the slain Palestinian as 15-year-old Khaled Bahar.

Earlier that day, a Palestinian man died from injuries he sustained in 2007 in clashes with Israeli troops, Maan reported. The Makassed hospital announced the death of Mahmoud Jawda, who had been treated at the Jerusalem medical center ever since he was shot multiple times by Israeli troops in Ramallah.

UNESCO and the culture of denial


The resolution by the executive board of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week to remove any reference to a Jewish link to the Temple Mount while condemning Israeli behavior in the Old City of Jerusalem is disturbing on various levels.  

First, it fortifies the impression that a body supposedly devoted to the noble goals of cultural preservation and educational advancement is simply a tool of political propaganda. Moreover, it reveals that those responsible have a profoundly deficient sense of history. The fact that the resolution mustered only a minority of those countries eligible to vote (the vote was 24-6, with 26 abstaining) offers little succor.  Somewhat more consoling was the reaction of UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, who hastened to affirm the historical connections of Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam, to the holy site by noting: “The Al Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit — or Temple Mount — whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulcher and the Mount of Olives revered by Christians.”

The UNESCO decision was symbolic and likely will have few real policy ramifications. But it taps into a destructive culture of historical denial that widens the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians. Denial of the other’s history is not unique to this conflict; it has been a regrettably common practice in troubled spots such as Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan and the Balkans, among other sites. It can have a toxic effect, deepening enmity, disdain and resistance to the very humanity of the other side.  

Sadly, the Palestinians are quite accomplished in the game of historical denial. No less a figure than Yasser Arafat startled his audience at the Camp David summit in 2000, including then-President Bill Clinton, by alleging that the First Temple was built by Solomon in Nablus, not Jerusalem. But classical Islamic sources, as David Barnett has shown in a 2011 study, do make reference to a bayt al-maqdis, the Arabic cognate for the “beit ha-mikdash” or Holy Temple, in Jerusalem.  

Meanwhile, in 2010, an official in the Information Ministry of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Mutawakil Taha, issued a report stating that the Western Wall was Muslim property and had no religious significance for Jews. More recently, there has been an uptick in denialism in Palestinian religious and political circles.  The current Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Yusuf Ida’is, has frequently declared that the Temple Mount belongs exclusively to Muslims — and that assertions of a Jewish connection are falsifications. In similar fashion, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a frequent denier, delivered an address in May 2016 that sought to dismiss “the Jews’ claims in the land of Palestine,” particularly in Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, this kind of historical rubbish is proclaimed on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and not on the fringes of Palestinian society, but at the center.

And yet, part of what makes the practice of historical denial so pernicious is that it invites and often requires historical denial from the other side. In their struggle to assert control over the land, Israeli Jews and supporters of Israel have also engaged in forms of erasure, including the denial of a link by Palestinians to Palestine.  

The holy bible of this argument is Joan Peters’ 1984 book, “From Time Immemorial,” in which the American author argued that Arabs were not indigenous to the land but were relatively late arrivals to Palestine. She refers, for example, to the “sparse Arab population” of Palestine around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, an assertion that flies in the face of almost all other data, including those of two of the leading Jewish demographers of the 20th century, Arthur Ruppin and Roberto Bachi. 

Peters’ book was initially greeted with a good deal of praise in the United States, winning a National Jewish Book Award in 1985. Upon closer inspection, the book’s flaws were exposed, owing, in no small part, to a review in The New York Review of Books by the renowned Israeli scholar of Palestine Yehoshua Porath, who pointed out that “a large majority of Muslim Arabs inhabited the land” well before the British Mandate. Even the reliably conservative scholar Daniel Pipes characterized the book as “appallingly crafted.”

Rather than die a quick death, the Peters thesis has been championed ever since by various pro-Israel activists, perhaps no more prominently than by former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who parlays the denial of the Palestinians’ historical roots into a new demographic claim that there are at least a million fewer of them in the West Bank than any other accepted source estimates.  This virtual depopulation has been greeted enthusiastically by Israeli Ministers Naftali Bennett and Tzipi Hotovely, who use Ettinger’s numbers to lay permanent claim to the occupied territories.  

In his review of Peters, Porath analyzes “the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations.” History is often summoned to celebrate the virtue of one side’s rights entirely at the expense of another’s. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are all-too-willing participants in the game of historical denial. But the Israelis and their friends can play it, too. And now UNESCO reveals its appetite for this perverse blood sport. Rather than perpetuate imbalanced and inaccurate myths, it could have insisted on the presentation of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding Jerusalem. While hardly a guarantee of success, such a dual narrative approach compels each side to acknowledge and confront the other’s past, which is a necessary, if long, step toward recognizing your enemy’s humanity. 


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.

Teenage daughter of Jerusalem light rail attacker released from detention


The teenage daughter of the eastern Jerusalem gunman who killed two Israelis in a shooting spree in an attack on a light rail stop was released by Israeli security forces.

Eiman Abu Sbeih, 14, was released on Sunday, a week after the attack, by Israeli security forces, on condition that she stay away from Jerusalem for two months, not give interviews and not post on social media, Ynetreported. Her family also was fined about $650. Her 18-year-old brother was arrested over the weekend and her twin brother also remains in custody, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

The teen was arrested on Monday, hours after a video of the teen  praising her father, Misbah Abu Sbeih, 39, of the Silwan neighborhood, went viral on Facebook.

“We deem my father as martyr,” Eiman said in the video, according to Maan. “We hope he will plead for us before God on judgment day. … I am proud of what my father did.

“We’re very happy and proud of our father,” she also said. “My father is a great man. Our relationship, as father and daughter, was excellent.”

Abu Sbeih shot and killed at least one person at the Ammunition Hill light rail station in northern Jerusalem, then continued shooting as police pursued him on Oct. 9. Officers ultimately shot and killed the assailant, who had been expected to report to an Israeli prison at the time of the attack to serve a four-month sentence for assaulting a police officer in 2013.

The Hamas terror organization in Gaza claimed Abu Sbeih as one of its operatives and praised his “operation.”

Israel suspending ties with UNESCO following vote that denies Jewish connection to Jerusalem


Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would suspend its cooperation with UNESCO because of the U.N. agency’s decision to ignore Jewish ties to holy sites in Jerusalem.

Bennett’s statement on Friday followed passionate condemnations by Israel as well as international Jewish groups and communities of a vote the previous day in Paris by the executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Through a majority of 24 to 6 votes, the board passed a preliminary version of a resolution that calls several sites holy to Judaism only by their Islamic names without mentioning its Jewish names in Hebrew or English. The sites include the Temple Mount, referred to as Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif.

Israeli officials will neither meet UNESCO representatives nor engage in cooperation in international conferences or professional cooperation with the organization, Bennett said in a statement that followed the outpouring of condemnations – including by a U.S. official who called the vote “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the move by UNESCO a “one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city” and “further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias” at the United Nations.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy adviser, Laura Rosenberer, condemned the resolution.

“It’s outrageous that UNESCO would deny the deep, historic connection between Judaism and the Temple Mount,” she said.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director-general, on Friday issued a statement that was deemed critical of the vote. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Bennett in his statement said of the UNESCO countries, “Your decision denies history and encourages terror. Those who give prizes to the supporters of Jihad in Jerusalem the same week that two Jews are murdered in the city could God forbid encourage more victims.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia voted against the resolution and 26 countries abstained. Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO called the voting an improvement to previous votes by the U.N. agency, saying Western countries had supported previous measures with similar language on Jerusalem. Russia and China were among those that backed the resolution.

“This vote was certainly unpleasant, but I’m very pleased with the result,” Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen told Army Radio Friday morning. “Our goal was to bring back France and our friends in Europe to not support the Palestinian resolution.”

He noted that Sweden, whose government is a harsh critic of Israel and the only EU Cabinet member that recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a state, also sat out the vote, as did India, which historically has supported anti-Israel resolutions in U.N. forums.

France and Sweden both abstained from Thursday’s vote after supporting a UNESCO resolution in April that also ignored the site’s Jewish ties. The April vote saw 33 votes in favor, 6 against and 17 abstentions.

Classified as pertaining to “Occupied Palestine,” the UNESCO resolution passed Thursday was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. While it affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions,” it contains two references to Judaism: One in describing holy sites in Hebron and the other in decrying “the enforced creation of a new Jewish prayer platform south of the Mughrabi Ascent in Al-Buraq Plaza.”

The so-called al-Buraq Plaza is better known as the Western Wall Plaza – possibly Judaism’s holiest site. The use of the Arabic-language name is a recent development lifted from Hamas literature, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Trump, Clinton condemn Jerusalem terrorist attack


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump condemned a terrorist shooting attack in Jerusalem that killed two people.

“The Palestinian terror attack today reminds the world of the grievous perils facing Israeli citizens,” Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a social media posting Sunday. “We must work to defeat terror once and for all. I wish everyone in Israel and the Jewish community around the world a meaningful Yom Kippur and peace.”

Clinton’s statement hours earlier on Twitter was signed with an “H,” a sign that the Democratic presidential nominee composed it personally: “I strongly condemn today’s attack in Jerusalem and my prayers go to the victims’ families. The terrorists must be brought to justice.”

 

Earlier, the Obama administration’s State Department condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”

The Palestinian assailant, a resident of eastern Jerusalem, killed two people and wounded six at a light rail station. He was shot and killed by police.

Netanyahu sues to keep his dirty laundry private


 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has filed an appeal to keep the details of the amount of money his official residence spent on laundry from being made public.

The laundry request is part of a larger request by the Movement for Freedom of Information for details of all state-paid expenses for the family’s  private home in Caesarea and official residence in Jerusalem for 2014.

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in a Jerusalem court, names Anat Revivo, who oversees compliance with the Freedom of Information law at the Prime Minister’s Office, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who supported Revivo’s decision to release the laundry expenses as part of the 2014 expenditures.

It calls the information about the Netanyahus’ laundry “private.”

In recent years, the Israeli media have focused on the Netanyahus’ expenditures while in office, including food and entertaining, which some have charged is excessive.

Israel’s ‘Shabbat war’ heats up, with Jerusalem feeling the squeeze


On the first Friday evening that Jerusalem restaurant Azza 40 opened without a kosher license, allowing it to serve customers on the Jewish sabbath, crowds of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside, threatening to smash windows and burn the place down.

“It was crazy,” said Reut Cohen, 29, the restaurant's owner and head chef, recalling the events of September 2014. “The police came, the street was blocked, there were religious people yelling, swearing, even spitting at us.”

It was just one of many protests, most of them peaceful, that ultra-Orthodox groups have mounted against cafes, restaurants and cinemas that open on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day. Several have been led by Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor, Yitzhak Pindrus.

Azza 40 is still going strong, with Friday nights and Saturdays the busiest days of the week, despite occasional disruptions. But the pressure on businesses not to open between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday has increased, fuelling tension between the growing Orthodox community and those who feel religious strictures are impinging on their freedom.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of the potential fallout of what's been dubbed by local media the “Shabbat war” came this month in Tel Aviv, a city normally known for its secularism.

Work on a new railway station and track maintenance had to be suspended on a Saturday after complaints from religious parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

It was a desecration of the holy day, said the chief rabbinate, which had largely ignored such work in the past but had been facing pressure in ultra-Orthodox newspapers and on social media to demand it stop.

“Shabbat is not open to negotiation and haggling, and there's no place to compromise its sanctity,” said the chief rabbis in a statement explaining their position.

As a result, work was moved that weekend to Sunday, the start of Israel's week, causing traffic meltdown as the main Tel Aviv highway was partially shut down. Special buses – ironically organised on a Saturday – were laid on. 

The dispute caused turmoil in Netanyahu's cabinet, with the transport minister, who supported Saturday work, on the firing line. He kept his job, and construction was quietly resumed a week later, including on Saturdays, a sign neither Netanyahu nor his ultra-Orthodox partners wanted the coalition derailed.

But while Tel Aviv was briefly shaken by the debacle, the sharp end of Shabbat tension remains Jerusalem, where the ultra-Orthodox make up a third of the population, an increase of five percentage points over the last decade, and religion is never far from any issue.

 

“IT'S A DESERT”

This week, Jerusalem's municipality charged eight grocery store owners with violating bylaws that prevent businesses in the city center from opening on Shabbat. The increasing sway of the ultra-Orthodox in the city, in numbers and politically, means the municipality is under constant pressure to clamp down.

The results are uneven: One cinema chain closes on Shabbat, another stays open, despite protests. In some cases, businesses have found convoluted solutions to allow restaurants in the centre to operate on the holy day, when tourists are often at a loss to find anywhere to eat. 

Last year, Cafe Landwer, a chain of around 60 coffee shops, opened a site in Independence Park, an attractive green space close to the Old City, across from the U.S. Consulate.

It wanted to operate on Friday evenings and Saturdays to cater to tourists and secular customers. But an ultra-Orthodox group opposed the move and threatened to withdraw the kosher certification granted to Landwer Coffee, a separate company owned by the same family, if it didn't change policy.

Cafe Landwer franchised the restaurant and its name has changed to Alma Cafe, although the menus still say Cafe Landwer. There are occasional protests by the ultra-Orthodox, but it stays open on Shabbat, its busiest day of the week.

“It's one of the few places in the centre of Jerusalem that is open on Saturdays, so everyone comes here,” said manager Karina Topaz, 23. “When we first opened, a few people came and yelled at us, but now it's okay.”

In nearby German Colony, a wealthy neighbourhood of old stone houses, there is no such permissiveness. Whereas ten years ago there were two or three cafes on its tree-lined main street that operated on Shabbat, now there are none.

“At the weekend, it's like a desert. It's dead,” said Orly Turgeman, 35, who manages a small hotel in the neighbourhood.

“You have the feeling there's nothing left in Jerusalem. There's not the environment of an open, pluralistic city.”

The ultra-Orthodox population, with its dress code of black hats and coats, has a birthrate more than twice the national average, making it Israel's fastest growing group.

German Colony has become more religious over the years, with its many elderly, Orthodox residents keen to maintain the traditional calm of Shabbat. The same is true of Kiryat Shmuel, the neighbourhood where Azza 40 is located.

“I am very much not in favour of restaurants opening on Shabbat,” said Rabbi Meir Schlesinger, whose home and synagogue are around the corner from Azza 40. “It disturbs the Shabbat atmosphere of the place, besides being against Jewish law.”

Reut Cohen, the owner, is unfazed. She now offers pork and shellfish on the menu – both distinctly non-kosher – and is determined to stand up for secular principles.

“It's critical for our business, the neighbourhood, the city and the country,” she said. “If the religious don't want to come, that's fine, but they have to live and let live.”

Ken Burns film spotlights Holocaust rescuers


The Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem recognizes more than 26,000 non-Jews for their efforts to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. Thanks to books and films, some of these Righteous Among the Nations are well known, such as Oskar Schindler and Irena Sendler, but most of them are not. 

That is about to change for two of the five Americans on the list, who are the subject of the documentary “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War,” premiering Sept. 20 on PBS.

The film is produced and co-directed by Emmy-winning documentarian Ken Burns (“The Civil War,” “The Roosevelts”) and Artemis Joukowsky, for whom it is a deeply personal, nearly lifelong project. Joukowsky is the grandson of subjects Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife who risked their lives to help hundreds of Jews escape the Nazis beginning in 1939.

The film chronicles the couple’s humanitarian mission and relationship using the Sharps’ letters and journal entry excerpts (read by Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman), archival footage and photographs from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and interviews with historians, scholars and 30 Jewish adults who were rescued as children. 

“It’s a magnificent, powerful story on many levels,” Burns said. 

It’s set in motion when the Sharps, at the request of the American Unitarian Association, travel to Czechoslovakia to aid refugees in February 1939, leaving behind two young children in Massachusetts while using a variety of methods to save hundreds of others. What they couldn’t save was their marriage, which ultimately crumbled under the strain of what they were doing. The Sharps divorced in 1954, and both married again.

Joukowsky, 55, knew about none of this while growing up around the world with his mother, an archaeologist, and barely knew his grandparents. When a history class assignment required him to “interview someone of moral courage,” his mother suggested he speak to his grandmother Martha, telling him, “She did some cool things during
World War II.” 

Joukowsky, who currently lives in Massachusetts, wondered why his family had not celebrated what his grandparents had done, and became determined to tell their story. Researching, interviewing and assembling materials for the better part of a decade, he realized he needed help, and three years ago, reached out to fellow Hampshire College alumnus Ken Burns for guidance. Burns agreed to look over the footage, and saw that it was “a diamond in the rough. You could see what it was going to become,” he said. 

Burns’ role changed from adviser to producer and co-director as he shaped the footage in the editing room and adjusted the narrative structure and tone and balanced the cloak-and-dagger suspense of the Sharps’ mission with the story of their relationship.  

“We didn’t want to just show their heroic work. We wanted to show them fully as human beings,” Joukowsky said. 

That meant including the erosion of the Sharps’ marriage, the damage their absence inflicted on their children, and what became of the couple after the war. Both continued to fight for human rights, Martha more in the spotlight. She ran for Congress in 1946, and with her second husband, Jewish philanthropist David Cogan, she worked with Hadassah and other organizations to help resettle Jewish refugees in Palestine.

It was also important to the filmmakers to emphasize the accomplishments and legacies of the survivors who owe their lives to the Sharps. “But the film is dedicated to those who were not saved,” Burns said. 

Currently working on films in various stages of production about the Vietnam War, country music, prisons and Ernest Hemingway, Burns isn’t finished exploring the topic of the Holocaust. He’s in the early planning stages of a film about the United States’ role in it, “to delve into deep and lasting anti‑Semitism within the State Department and exclusionary laws that didn’t allow immigrants and refugees in,” he said. 

Burns and Joukowsky plan to continue to work with the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., which serves as the archive for the more than 200,000 documents and testimonies they have found and are still uncovering. 

“This film has changed my life, being involved in this process,” Joukowsky said. “We have made a dramatic film that revs you up and makes you excited to learn more.”  

Toward that end, he has published a same-titled companion book to “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War,” with “much more detail” and a foreword by Burns (Beacon Press). In addition, an interfaith curriculum has been provided to schools in conjunction with the documentary. 

Burns believes the message of the Sharps’ story is clear. 

“Courage matters. Action matters. Sacrifice matters. Other human beings matter,” he said. “We are all in this together.”

Jerusalem synagogue vandalized with spray-painted crosses


A Jerusalem synagogue was vandalized with black crosses spray-painted on its outside walls.

The vandalism occurred on Sunday night at an Iranian-run Orthodox synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood in southern Jerusalem.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident after being notified by the synagogue. A police spokesman told the Israeli media that there were no suspects or known motives.

The crosses were also spray-painted on the synagogue windows.

Synagogues elsewhere in Israel also have been vandalized in recent months, including in Petach Tikvah and Safed, where Jews were believed to be the perpetrators, and in Tel Aviv.

 

Several attacks of vandalism have hit church property in the Jerusalem area and northern Israel in recent years, as well as mosques in the West Bank.

Israel’s best kept secret (weapon) is a tour guide


Our group’s infatuation with Michael Bauer began in a small conference room at Tel Aviv's Carlton Hotel, where he stood at the front of the room armed with a set of maps and taught the history of Israel — from Abraham to Operation Protective Edge, the most recent Gaza war — in 45 minutes.

It deepened in the Golan Heights, when he stood atop a bombed-out Syrian bunker captured by Israel in 1967 and explained the modern history of Syria — from Assad I to the rise of political Islam and ISIS — as the distant thrum of explosions rocked our consciences for 17 heavy minutes.

On a Jerusalem promenade overlooking the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Bauer offered Bible passages and Koranic stories to illustrate why the magical city sparkling beneath us has remained for thousands of years the most ardently loved and hotly contested real estate in the world.

Each time he finished, our group would erupt in cheers.

“I’m a bit like a performer,” Bauer, 43, admitted when I met with him separately one evening in Tel Aviv. “I enjoy the drama.”

For us, members of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation’s “Reality Storytellers” trip last month, Bauer, our tour guide, was a highlight among highlights. What began as a light infatuation eventually morphed into something resembling rock-star obsession, as our group frequently chanted his name and compared him to the fictional Jack Bauer from “24.” (Ever the on-guard Israeli, Bauer sometimes carried a gun.)

In case you’re thinking we were easily impressed, allow me to disavow you of that notion. We were about 50 people familiar with excellence – among us were prominent political speechwriters, screenwriters, actors, entrepreneurs, executives and foundation directors; some who call the Obamas and Clintons their bosses, others who work for prominent media companies including the New York Times and Facebook. Part of why Bauer was so effective at telling Israel’s story is because he spoke to all of us — Jews and non-Jews; Israel veterans and Israel first-timers; those already highly educated about the country and the conflict and those just beginning to understand how Israel ended up with the West Bank and Gaza to begin with. Bauer refused to oversimplify; rather than present “two sides,” he’d instead offer multiple competing perspectives that sometimes contradicted each other. “Teaching these topics is so complex, and if you do not understand the complexity, you miss the whole thing,” he told me.

Bauer has spent more than 20 years guiding groups through Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and Turkey, as well as Poland and Germany, via his company, Bauer Trails. His expertise in minority relations, religion, history and the Arab-Israeli conflict has attracted an international clientele that includes foreign diplomats – including members of the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as a former Prime Minister of Canada – in addition to Hollywood celebrities like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Bauer’s reputation for presenting facts unalloyed to politics, and his theatrical gift for storytelling has also won him repeat business from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Columbia University’s Middle East Institute. It’s safe to say he’s probably Israel’s top tour guide, but that would not encapsulate the additional work he does teaching at Israeli colleges or within the intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.  

Only once did Bauer reveal his emotional side. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, Bauer surprised the group when he abruptly paused his tour in the Warsaw Ghetto section to share a personal reflection. As light streamed down from the sole window in the museum’s interior, Bauer said, “I can’t tell you how huge this event is in the Israeli psyche. This is the part of the Holocaust Israelis study the most – the Jewish uprising.”   

In person, Bauer looks more like the combat commander he once was than the educator he is now — shaved head, intense blue eyes and a face lined by desert sun. Though his formal education was standard, Bauer has been reading books, he said, “all my life.”

“I’ve loved history since I was kid, and Israel is a haven for history,” he told me. “I was also always curious. Even in the military, I was always trying to understand why are we doing what we’re doing.”

Photo by Neta Cones

Bauer grew up in a middle class, center-left neighborhood in an agricultural village outside Tel Aviv. Today he lives on a Kibbutz southwest of Jerusalem with his wife and five young children. When I asked him what it’s like raising children a few miles from the Green Line, where there are occasional violent skirmishes, he said, “I could live anywhere in the world; I live here out of choice. And I believe that my [kibbutz] is the best place to raise kids.”

Even though Bauer’s tours are exceptionally fair-minded and apolitical, his passion for where he lives pulsates through his prose. “I love my country,” he said, when someone in our group asked about his personal politics. Looking down as he answered, he nestled his feet in the gravel. “I love the rocks.”

There is something almost mystical about Bauer’s teaching, beyond the obvious spiritual subject matter. It shows in the way he marries history, religion and archaeology, or the way he lights up when reading passages from Torah or the New Testament that he can prove actually happened. This quality is part of why our group felt so in awe of him; teaching the history of the world, he somehow made the world make sense. In seven days, Bauer transcended the role of tour guide and simply became our Rav, our teacher.  

Not that he sees himself that way: “For me, I’m not a spiritual person,” he insisted. “The Bible is an unbelievable text and book, and I do believe in many things that are written in it, especially when I can prove it academically. And what I cannot prove, I am full of appreciation for, because I cannot argue with a text that has influenced so many people. I have respect for the Bible — beyond.”

When I pointed out that “beyond” is a spiritual word, Bauer laughed.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about him isn’t his lack of spirituality, but his lack of ego and material ambition. He was mostly unfazed by all the adulation and attention he received. “I’m not a big deal,” he insisted. And later, when I asked him what he dreamed of, he said: “My true mission is to be able to raise my family and support my kids.”

Since he values family so deeply, I asked how a secular Israeli might express his gratitude.

“I say, ‘Thank God,’” he replied automatically. Then he cracked a smile.

“I do say ‘Thank God.’”

Danielle Berrin: Why were you drawn to the study of Arab-Israeli relations?

Michael Bauer: It’s something that shapes our life over here. I live on the green line, so I see Arabs, fences, borders every single day. And I see Israeli-Arab relations as the future; whether it’s negative or positive, it’s a crucial part of our life.

DB: As an Israeli, can you teach the conflict objectively?

MB: It’s not that I don’t have a political view, I do; but I don’t have an agenda. My agenda, if there is one, is that at the end of a program of mine, I’d like you to appreciate Israel and respect Israel, with its complexity.

DB: What do you hope someone who has no prior experience of Israel will learn from your tour?

MB: The importance of size and location. Location in the context of the Middle East [matters], but location is not only geographic. It’s always political. Understand that we are now sitting in Tel Aviv, and two days ago, there were missiles an hour away from here. [My first night home from our tour last week,] I was drinking wine and telling my wife about the group, and I could hear ‘BOOM’ and see the lights.

It’s also very important to understand the history, including [the religious texts]. There’s a deep connection of people to the ground over here.

DB: What do you hope someone who already knows a great deal about Israel learns from you?

MB: For people that know all the facts, the next thing they need to learn is the [role of the] psyche. There’s a gap sometimes between the facts and what people think and believe. Christians believe Jesus was resurrected from the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and Jews and Muslims think not. The Muslims think that Mohammad rose up to heaven on a night journey from Al-Aqsa, and the Christians and Jews think not. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what really happened; it’s only what people think and what they’re willing to do about it. Same with discrimination in Israel: If I tell you there’s discrimination, you can tell me there isn’t discrimination, and then we can argue about it. But if I tell you Arabs feel discriminated against, that you cannot argue. That is a fact. If the Palestinians feel there is an occupation, it doesn’t really matter what is happening on the ground – I mean, it matters — but it matters more what they feel when they get up in the morning. If Jews wake up in the morning and they’re afraid, you can’t tell them they shouldn’t be afraid because they have an F-16. That’s irrelevant. People need to consider feelings as given facts.

DB: So how do you teach the deep, psycho-spiritual connection people have to this land?

MB: If people really want to know, they need to go back to Abraham and then all the way to yesterday.

DB: What do you wish the world knew about settlements that isn’t  considered in media coverage?

MB: Someone that tells me “I am in favor of the settlements” or “I am against the settlements,” for me, that’s very shallow. It actually means they don’t know much. There are different settlements and different settlers. You have smaller, isolated settlements that are religiously ideological; you have settlements along the valley that are more agricultural, very strategic, less religiously ideological. You’ve got big settlement blocs of 30,000-40,000 people, which are Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion. Then you have a few you need to argue [about]; then you have a few that are near the Green Line. And then you have East Jerusalem — the Jewish quarter, Gilo, French Hill and so on. All of that is different.

If you were to go to French Hill tomorrow and make elections, you would realize that a majority of them are voting for Meretz, which is an anti-settlement party. Which means, they don’t see themselves at all as settlers. Are we allowed to build in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem? Most Israelis will say ‘Yes.’ Most Israelis are not aware that they’re actually on the other side of the Green Line. They’ll say “I’m against settlements.” And you’ll say, “What about Gilo?” “Oh, that doesn’t count.” So if you don’t know the nuances of settlements, don’t hold an opinion.

DB: How do you talk to people about the occupation? Do you even use that word?

MB: When someone says “occupation,” I need to understand what is it exactly that they’re talking about. Because when Hamas says “occupation,” we are right now in Tel Aviv, sitting in “occupied” land. So what is occupation?

It’s true that Israel, in 1967, occupied territory. That’s a fact. But the moment I start using the word “occupation,” it becomes politicized.

If you ask me, “What do you think about the occupation?” I’ll ask you: “Which occupation?” Right away. And then you will tell me about the West Bank, and I’ll say, “OK, you’re asking about the policies of Israel in the West Bank.”

The fact is that tomorrow Palestinians will wake up in the morning and they will feel occupied. There’s not one soldier in Gaza, but they feel occupied. Why? Because they are encircled by Israel and also Egypt, which is hostile to them as well. And because Palestinians, most of them, see all of Israel as occupied. That’s also fact. Who is responsible for the occupation? That’s a political argument. Now the question is, what is the solution?

DB: How do you reconcile feeling rightfully rooted in this land with Israeli policies that have caused suffering to others who also feel rightfully rooted in this land?

MB: I do not want to belong to an occupying force, and I do not want to rule other people as an Israeli. But given the fact that an agreement that I believe was fair was offered and rejected by the Palestinians in 2000 — and then came the disengagement in 2005 — [those] for me, as an Israeli, were crucial for feeling well when I look in my mirror.

DB: How do you talk to your young children about where they live?

MB: I believe that we have to be honest no matter what. Usually we’re not honest with our kids because we want to protect them. I am always honest. During [Operation] Protective Edge, when there were missiles falling on our kibbutz, I told them “There are missiles.” They knew it came from Arab people in Gaza strip that are led by an organization called Hamas. At the end of the day, you don’t want them to be terrified and hate Arabs, so it’s a complicated balance. Many times, they see me armed, and they’ll ask me suddenly, “Why are you armed?” So how do I tell them I am taking a gun, but they are safe so they should not be afraid?

Photo by Rick Sorkin

MB: As a secular Israeli, how do you think about the fact that the Bible and the history of this land intersect?

For me the Bible is a book of history, literature and philosophy. And I fully accept the fact that for a lot of other people, it’s a spiritual book, which requires a little faith. I’m not a spiritual person, but I do work with people of Jewish faith, Christian faith, atheists, Buddhists. Everything. And I need to make it relevant for everyone.

When I can take that book and prove that a lot of it happened, that it was written here, and I can connect the geography, the culture, the people and the land, I do get excited by the fact that I belong to this people, and they are my ancestors in those texts.

And when I prove to Christians who are not devout that [a lot of] what’s written in the New Testament makes sense — I can actually prove it to them — I love it. I’m a Jew, and I’m strengthening Christian identity! It’s very funny because I’m not spiritual, but strengthening people’s spirituality makes me very happy.

MB: Where is your favorite place in Israel?

I like to go to the Negev or Judean desert, because I love the wilderness. All religions were born in the desert, so that’s where I like going more than any other place.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

New rail line to connect high-tech Tel Aviv with holy Jerusalem


Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are only 60 km (40 miles) apart but they often feel like different planets, not just in terms of mentality but because the commute from the Mediterranean to the hills can sometimes take two hours.

That is set to change in the next 18 months with the completion of a $2 billion, high-speed rail line that will slash the time between the high-tech, business center and Jerusalem's Old City to just 30 minutes.

After more than a decade in the planning, the project, which has involved boring tunnels through mountains and spanning bridges over deep valleys, promises to transform Israel's two largest cities, or at least bring them a little closer.

“We are doing in Israel what was done 200 years ago in the United States, after World War II in Europe and in recent decades in Asia,” Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said on Tuesday, touting several new rail lines in the works. “The main aim is to connect Jerusalem to the rest of the country.”

There is already a train between Jerusalem and the coast — built during the Ottoman empire and added to by the French and the British — but it's a slow, scenic route that takes an hour and 40 minutes, not ideal for commuting. That said, around 7,500 people still ride it most days.

The new line takes a more direct route, cutting through the steep hills between the Mediterranean and Jerusalem, which sits 800 meters (2,640 feet) above sea level.

Working with 10 foreign companies, the line runs over 10 bridges and through five tunnels. Construction began in 2010 and is scheduled to end in March 2018.

Double-decker trains holding around 1,700 passengers will travel at 160 km/h. The plan is for four departures an hour, serving 50,000 commuters a day, or 10 million a year, said Boaz Zafrir, the chief executive of Israel Railways.

Katz believes the train will give a jolt to Jerusalem's economy, encouraging more people from the coast to open businesses in the city, which is more religious and conservative than Tel Aviv. Some Tel Avivians, fed up with high rental costs and high humidity, may also decide to move to Jerusalem.

The new line also promises to be a boon for foreign diplomats, Israeli government employees and parliament members, many of whom live on the coast but commute to Jerusalem almost daily and often lament the traffic jams.

Rabbi seeks royalties for Japanese Olympic gymnast’s ‘immodest’ use of his melody


A Jerusalem rabbi said he would seek royalties from Japan’s delegation to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for its allegedly unauthorized use of a melody he composed.

Rabbi Baruch Hayat, according to the Shirunt website of Israeli songs, composed the melody to the popular song “Kol Ha’Olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” to words attributed to the late founder of the Breslover Hasidic movement, Rabbi Nachman.

A recording of the melody, played by a klezmer band, featured in the performance of Sae Miyakawa, a 16-year-old Japanese gymnast in the Rio Olympics, that ended on August 22.

But in an interview published Thursday by Ynet, Hayat said that the gymnast never asked his permission to use the song, which he added he never would have granted because he considers her performance immodest and incompatible with the values promoted by the 18th-century rabbi who is believed to have been the author of the lyrics.

“It’s a disgrace,” the 70-year-old rabbi told Ynet, adding he will “fight for what he is owed” in terms of royalties. “This was not exactly the intention of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, to have his words play at the Olympics,” he said of the routine, which featured only the melody of the song. “And it’s not very modest.”

As a head of a yeshiva, a religious seminary, he said, he finds the use of his melody “inappropriate. Clearly, this is a matter of sanctity that cannot be used for just anything. It is known in Hasidic circles that melody also has sanctity.”

The lyrics of the song translate as, “The world is a narrow bridge;
the important thing is not to be afraid.”

 

 

With Amar’e Stoudemire’s help, Jerusalem looks to overtake Tel Aviv as Israel’s basketball capital


Jerusalem basketball fans know that when the owner of their team tweets a smiley face, the signing of a new player is about to be announced.

The day before Amar’e Stoudemire made the surprise announcement that he would be leaving the NBA to play for Hapoel Jerusalem, Ori Allon tweeted a video of an active volcano that appears to be smiling. Rap music plays in the background: “Nothing can stop me. I’m all the way up.”

The signing of Stoudemire, a six-time NBA All-Star and the biggest name to ever play for the Israeli Basketball Premier League, instantly makes Hapoel Jerusalem the team to beat. It could also mean that Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv and its powerful Maccabi Tel Aviv team, will soon be the face of Israeli basketball worldwide.

“Amar’e Stoudemire can be the guy who overturns the pecking order of Israeli basketball,” Eran Soroka, an NBA analyst for Sport5 television channel and chief editor at the Nana10 news website, told JTA. “The increased competitiveness and exposure will make Hapoel Jerusalem, not Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s team for the first time in decades. Stoudemire just has to perform.”

Stoudemire, who claims Hebrew roots and has visited Israel many times, told reporters at his basketball camp for Jewish and Arab kids in Jerusalem on Monday that he had turned down offers from at least three NBA teams. He said he felt his best chance to win his first championship was in Israel.

“To be able to continue to play the game of basketball in Jerusalem is an opportunity that can only happen once in someone’s lifetime and, for me and my family, we want to take advantage of this opportunity while I still have good health,” he said. “The most important thing for me right now is to try and create a winning atmosphere around Hapoel Jerusalem.”

In 14 seasons in the NBA, during which he battled injuries, Stoudemire averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He was drafted in the first round by the Phoenix Suns and later played for the New York Knicks for several years before finishing his NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. At 33 years old, the 6-foot-10 forward is thought to have some basketball left in him.

Stoudemire and his wife, Alexis, are shopping for a home and looking at schools for their four children.

Omri Casspi posing for photos with kids at Amare Stoudemire’s basketball camp in Jerusalem, Aug. 8, 2016.

The signing of Stoudemire will bring increased attention to the team and the league, but it won’t have a “dramatic” financial impact, according to a source in the Hapoel organization who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. The key will be success on the court, the source said.

“When we travel abroad, I assume the local media is going to be much more interested than it used to be,” the source said. “At the end of the day, if we win basketball games and we win titles and were able to create on-the-court success behind Stoudemire, then the signing will have been a good move.” (Stoudemire’s salary was not disclosed.)

Though the source said Hapoel Jerusalem is not trying to “dethrone” Maccabi Tel Aviv, he acknowledged the team wants what its competitor has.

Maccabi Tel Aviv has been the undisputed king of Israeli basketball for decades. Between 1976 and 2008, it won all but one Israeli Basketball Premier League championship, and has won four of eight since. Maccabi Tel Aviv is the only Israeli team that plays in the EuroLeague, Europe’s top basketball division — which it has won six times, including three times between 2001 and 2005. David Blatt guided Maccabi to an improbable league title in 2014 before becoming the first coach to leap from the EuroLeague to an NBA head coaching position, with the Cleveland Cavaliers, later in the year.

Long a middling team, Hapoel Jerusalem has been on the rise since Allon, an Israeli high-tech magnate, took over ahead of the 2013 season. He led a group of investors, including Stoudemire, in buying the team after its previous owner, the American oil tycoon Guma Aguiar, disappeared in 2012 and his unoccupied boat landed off the coast of Florida. Stoudemire gave up his stake in the team as part of his signing.

In 2014, Hapoel Jerusalem moved into the new Jerusalem Payis Arena, just down the street from its previous home court, where Stoudemire’s basketball camp was held. The upgrade from about 2,500 to 12,000 seats meant the fan base — and revenue stream — could be expanded. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena, which opened in 1963, holds about 11,000 fans.

At the end of the 2014-15 season, Hapoel Jerusalem won its first Israeli championship. Last year it lost in the finals to Maccabi Rishon Lezion, which edged Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals. Hapoel Jerusalem will compete this year in the EuroCup, Europe’s second division.

In the three seasons since Allon took over, Hapoel Jerusalem has seen its annual budget rise from less than $4 million to approximately $10 million — still well below Maccabi Tel Aviv’s budget of around $25 million, according to Israeli basketball league spokesman Shlomi Peri. In addition to Stoudemire, the team has signed several other former NBA players, though none warranting volcanic smiley face tweets.

Where Maccabi Tel Aviv has an entrenched advantage is in Europe. The team is among the 11 members of the European league that this year renewed 10-year contracts that guarantee a spot regardless of performance. This provides an edge in terms of attracting talent, exposure and revenue.

“I would imagine that just by participating in the EuroLeague you get a 4 million-5 million euro advantage,” the Hapoel source said. “We think we deserve a spot based on our performance over the past three years.”

At the moment, Hapoel Jerusalem can only qualify for the EuroLeague by winning the EuroCup. That’s a tall order given all the well-funded European squads in the way. But the team expects an opportunity to arise in the future, the source said, and until then it will keep building.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s digital media manager, Omer Geva, said his team would not comment on the record about a competitor’s acquisition except to say that Stoudemire’s arrival was good for the league. Maccabi Tel Aviv has signed several former NBA players this offseason.

Soroka, the analyst, said Stoudemire could help bring more attention to the league and perhaps attract a few more NBA players. The success of Israeli Omri Casspi, the Sacramento Kings forward, and former NBA slam dunk artist Nate Robinson’s stint last season with Hapoel Tel Aviv also seem to have raised the country’s profile.

Casspi, Israel’s first player in the National Basketball Association, joined Stoudemire at Monday’s camp along with fellow NBAers Rudy Gay, Chris Copeland and Beno Udrih, who were on a mission for Casspi’s nonprofit foundation to promote Israel’s image internationally.

Well over a third of the players in the Israeli basketball league come from the United States. Many have either played in the NBA or hope to. The league caps the number of foreign players a team can have on its roster at eight, and requires that two Israeli players be on the court during games.

Though the Israeli league is average by European basketball standards as far as competitiveness and salary, the lifestyle and friendliness to Americans help attract NBA players despite the security problems, Soroka said.

“We have the beaches, we have the good-looking girls, we have the bars,” he said. “People speak English, people are very warm and welcoming. A lot of people consider Israel the 51st state for a reason.”

But the main factors for most players are money and competition — in other words, the quality of the league, Soroka said. What impact Stoudemire has on that remains to be seen.

State Department ‘deeply concerned’ by Israel’s new settlement construction plans


The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned” over Israel’s construction plans in eastern Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Israeli government announced the approval of tenders for 323 apartments in neighborhoods there on top of plans for 770 units in Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb with a population of 40,000 also in eastern Jerusalem.

“We strongly oppose settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two- state solution.”

The statement also expressed concern over the demolition of illegally built Palestinian homes in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank that “reportedly have left dozens of Palestinians homeless, including children,” according to the statement.

The statement noted that more than 650 Palestinian structures have been demolished this year, which is already higher than the number demolished in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank in all of 2015.

It cited the recent report issued by the Middle East Quartet – the diplomatic grouping made up of the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union — that blamed Israel for eroding the possibility of a two-state solution with continued settlement expansion, as well as the Palestinians for incitement.

“As the recent Quartet Report highlighted, this is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” the statement said. “We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”