Letters to the Editor: Prager, Jerusalem Embassy Move and Middle East Issues


A Rational Approach to Religion

My anxieties over David Suissa’s ascendency to the Journal’s throne were relieved after seeing it was accompanied by the disappearance from its pages of Dennis Prager’s predictable aggravated assaults against liberal thinking. Now Prager has commandeered last week’s cover and the attention of Jonathan Kirsch for his book “The Rational Bible” (“A Rational View of the Torah,” May 18).

Being one of those aberrant liberals who keep trying to find good in Prager’s thinking, I couldn’t help but note from Kirsch’s review how widely Prager is followed, perhaps by everyone except liberals. Maybe it’s because his so-called rational approach to religion reaches out to the millions disillusioned these days by conventional religion. Good for him.

So what is it that fires his virulent attacks on liberals rather than using his platforms to gently coax us to make adjustments based on his criticisms, some of them quite legitimate? My fear is that an answer lies in his embrace of President Donald Trump, many of whose followers worship him because of his multifaceted outrageousness rather than in spite of it. Dennis, don’t give up on trying to reach us too, “not by might, nor by power, but by thy spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Roger Schwarz, Los Angeles


Israel and the Democratic Party

Ben Shapiro stated in his column (“No-Shows in Jerusalem,” May 18) what everyone knows but that the mainstream media seem to be ignoring:  The Democratic base has moved in a significantly anti-Israel direction over the past two decades. According to the Pew report, as of January, 79 percent of Republicans sympathized more with Israel than Palestine, while just 27 percent of Democrats did. It makes little sense that Democrats who profess to be supportive of the rights of minorities refuse to acknowledge that Israel is the only true democracy in its region and, in particular, is the only country in its region that allows serious religious diversity. However, for Democrats, the values of a democracy take a backseat to intersectionality and race grievance values.

This should be no surprise, given that the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee is Keith Ellison, an avowed Jew hater. The Democrats just assumed that they own the Jewish vote, no matter how badly they malign Israel and elevate Jew haters to prominent positions in the Democratic Party. This will not go on forever. We Jews are not as naïve as the Democrats assume we are.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

In your May 18 issue, columnist Ben Shapiro asks an interesting question about fading support for Israel on page 10. He gets a direct answer two pages later on page 12 from Israeli columnist Uri Dromi. I hope Shapiro read Dromi’s column.

Martin A. Bower, Corona del Mar


Synagogue Dues Model

Read the article about the new dues structure that is in effect at Adat Ari El synagogue and think it is very progressive (“Adat Ari El Shakes Up Dues Model,” May 18). As a longtime member for 38-plus years (and who got married there), I believe this new format will be the norm rather than the exception in the future of synagogue dues and membership structures.

Synagogues now more than ever must realize that maintaining members and reaching out to new members is a priority rather than expecting members will automatically renew, because there are more choices out there for where you can worship as a family.

Also, those synagogues with day schools attached to them are having the parents pay extra for both dues and school tuition. Because the cost of tuition is very high these days, a dues structure like this makes a lot of sense. I’m hoping to see the membership grow larger in the future at Adat Ari El because of this and our school will benefit greatly.

Jeffrey Ellis via email


The Wisdom of the Ages

Just as the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches, age 70 is the time to embrace “the fullness of years.” As Sydney Alderman Perry states at the conclusion of the article, “I don’t wish my life and the things I value to contract, but rather to take on new dimensions.” What does that mean? (“Age 70 Is No Time To Slow Down,” May 4)

To me, the latter years in our lives are best spent applying one’s life experiences and knowledge to make this a better world. When I retired, I decided to have a second career and to become involved in my community.

As my second career, I chose poker. I found the mental challenge and stimulation of the game, as well as the social interaction, to profoundly help my aging brain.

About 20 years ago, I created a seniors  poker group at a senior citizen center. Starting with six members, it quickly grew to more than 200. Having kept in contact with many of them over the years, I found it remarkable that (to the best of my knowledge) not a single one has developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently I was evaluated for memory health by a team of experts at UCLA. My score: 100. Wow! Especially considering that I’m 91. As far as being involved in the community, I recommend that retirees consider joining one of the many senior citizen centers in Los Angeles. I have found the exercises and classes, as well as other activities a big plus.

George Epstein via email


Embassy Move to Jerusalem

The world should salute President Donald Trump for following through on his commitment to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Kudos also to the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for their assistance in bringing this about.

Although what happened last week was momentous, in retrospect, it should not have been all that remarkable. After all, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995 declared Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and mandated that the U.S. Embassy be transferred to Jerusalem no later than 1999. However, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, although making promises that they would follow the law, did not.

To his credit, Trump — who has now shown himself to be perhaps the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House — was not deterred by the many predictions that the Arab world would unite behind the Palestinians in resisting this move and that America’s geopolitical interests would suffer.

Last week’s events came at a particularly opportune time. The message of firm U.S. support for Israel after eight years of Obama wilderness was unmistakable and cannot but dissuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from thinking he can continue to fashion a fictive Palestinian narrative and sell it to an amen corner in the White House. It is also a message to Iran and others that the U.S. stands behind its allies and is not concerned about political correctness.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hill


Middle East Issues

Some of the media seem to be delighted when Islamic children die from uprisings and conflicts involving Israel. Last week, it was reported that an 8-month-old Palestinian infant was killed during Israel’s current defense of her border, which is not a protest but an armed invasion. My first reaction was why was an infant anywhere near the fighting? Someone would have had to bring the infant to the battle site. Hamas is known for using civilians, including children, as shields. I saw nothing in the media reports deflecting any blame from Israel. Not surprising.

Michael Gesas, Beverly Hills

One can’t help but notice the irony of 57 Islamic nations calling this week for the creation of an international force to protect Palestinian Arabs after their recent human shield abomination in Gaza. Hamas openly has admitted it offered its people as cannon fodder and confirmed that most of the dead were terrorist combatants hiding among civilians paid or coerced to be there.

For 70 years, despite their daily genocidal threats, a billion Muslims haven’t been able to destroy the Jewish state or protect their brothers in four declared wars and tens of thousands of acts of terrorism. The military threats have been supplemented by a highly successful anti-Israel disinformation campaign funded with hundreds of millions of petrodollars. Now they want the rest of the world to help them.

Only the most obtuse individual wouldn’t notice there’s something wrong with this picture. Despite the conspiracy accusations against the United States and a supposed cabal of wicked, controlling bankers (read: Jews), Israel’s adversaries might have to face the fact that it is here to stay. Which is just as well because its humanitarian, educational, scientific and moral contributions to the well-being of the world are unequaled per capita.

Perhaps reason will miraculously spring forth from the hateful brains that spew hatred toward the Jewish people. Perhaps not.

Desmond Tuck via email

I am an old Reform Jew who spent my teen years agonizing over World War II and the Holocaust. I joined the free world celebrations when it destroyed the Nazis and created the State of Israel. David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence promised that all residents would have equality, making it a true democracy.

It is my understanding that on April 30 the Knesset voted on an updated version of the “Nation-State” bill. Nowhere in the legislation is Israel defined as a democracy.

It is pathetic, but quite understandable, because the population of Orthodox voters has grown. They believe that God gave the Jews all of the Holy Land.

So what is Israel’s next action regarding the 5 million Palestinians that they control on the West Bank and Gaza Strip? The righteous, unilateral creation of a Palestinian state? Stupidly, the Palestinians rejected partition, but there are about 2 million non-Jewish Israeli citizens. I think it is possible that a Palestinian state could become an important ally of Israel.

Martin J. Weisman, Westlake Village

Letters to the Editor: Reviving Judaism, Middle East and Diaspora


Reviving Judaism

For 30-plus years, the Conservative movement has not seriously addressed why younger Jews have left this branch and its philosophy.

As writer Steven Windmueller assesses the situation, one of his ways is to build from the bottom (“Reinventing Liberal Judaism,” May 11). I did this in the Philadelphia area 30 years ago, but the elders did not support it.

In less than nine months, we grew a 30-ish crowd from 10 to 60, including their families.

This is the only way to introduce Judaism to those who resist and to listen to the younger population so that the institution provides for their needs.

Baby boomers must give way to the needs of the millennials or Conservative Judaism will not be viable in the near future (10 years).

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark


Insight Into Torah Portion

I would like to thank the Journal for publishing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Table for Five commentary in the Journal’s May 11 issue. It provides deep insight into the parsha. However, the rabbi goes much further, enunciating simply and clearly God’s role and rights as the creator of the universe and in consequence, linking core principles of Judaism to these rights. It is, for me, an unforgettable “teaching moment,” beautiful in its simplicity, clarity and importance.

Hopefully, the Journal will provide more of Sacks’ commentaries and insights in the future. Table for Five is one avenue to accomplish this, but I am sure the Journal has others. We need them.

Edward Gomperts, Glendale


Complex Issues in the Mideast

I read the May 4 edition of the Jewish Journal with great interest. As a non-Jew, I was happy to read the Leon Wieseltier view that “the merit of a view owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?”).

So here goes. I read in Rick Richman’s story (“The Second and Third Israeli Miracles”) that the Palestinian Arabs have rejected six offers of a state. My question is: How many of these offers would have stopped settlement in the West Bank and dismantled the settlements and removed the settlers?

And the other question: Suppose California were occupied by, say, Mexicans. How many Californians would have supported the “offer of a state” that would leave more than half a million Mexican settlers in hilltop strongholds and withheld a slew of powers over the economy, security and policing?

Christopher Ward via email

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Iranian duplicity with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, he was preaching to the converted. This is much ado about nothing, since the P5+1 took Iranian mendacity into strict account when fashioning the inspection regime that is part of the Iran nuclear deal.

The nuclear agreement with Iran that slows its development of atomic weapons is a bad accord for many reasons. President Donald Trump is right to force the issue now. He does not need a primer on Iran and its penchant for lying. The president has decided it is better to scrap the agreement altogether and re-impose sanctions, or try to amend the agreement as our allies prefer.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills

I would strongly encourage journalists to emulate the unflinchingly centrist style of Michael Berenbaum’s recent column (“Pity Mahmoud Abbas,” May 11). Most who criticize the Israeli government’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians tend to forget or ignore just how awful and intransigently anti-Semitic the leadership is on the other side. And most who decry the wrongs of Abbas or other Palestinian leaders tend to forget or ignore the suffering of the very people they lead.

If only we could stop being so one-sided in our rhetoric and attitudes, we might lessen the number of people so brainwashed by the “left” that they forsake the need to defend Israel from her truest enemies, or so brainwashed by the “right” that they forsake the need to prevent Israel from emulating said enemies.

Michael Feldman, Los Angeles

I am very confused. It feels like if I support Israel’s existence, then I am supposed to be pro-current administration (i.e., President Donald Trump), which I definitely am not! But if I support peace and freedom for everyone in the Middle East, I am supposed to do that by opposing the “occupation” of the West Bank and by supporting activities and groups that all lead to Hamas — a group defined as working to destroy the Jewish state.

All my left-wing friends support “anti-Zionism,” which translates to pro-Hamas, but they insist that they like Jews and will defend the rights of Jews. My right-wing friends (yes, I have some) support the idea of a Jewish homeland but they support many other things that I find odious.

Strange bedfellows, no? I want to find a place in the middle. I think maybe we should move the homeland to Antarctica but someone will surely accuse us of oppressing the penguins.

Lynne Bronstein, Van Nuys

Notwithstanding his fighting words in a recent mosque sermon that Tel Aviv and Haifa will be totally destroyed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami should sit down and shut up. Israel’s air force did serious damage to Iranian military installations in Syria last week in retaliation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard assault, seemingly launched against the advice of Russia and their Syrian hosts, when it fired 20 rockets at Israel.

Sadly, the murderous threats emanating from imams in mosques all over the world, that Israel/America/Jews must be destroyed, have a “blowback” effect in making Muslims who are innocent of such hatred look like extremists. One might hope that the moderates would be able to suppress those imams who preach hatred from their pulpits.

Maybe they’re too afraid, or worse, maybe they don’t want to. It’s difficult to know which, but also easy to feel compelled to defend against vile religious leaders who can’t seem to be shut down by those who wail about Islamophobia.

Desmond Tuck, San Mateo


Less Shouting, More Listening

I read on the Journal website “Pro-Palestinian Protesters Attempt to Shut Down Israeli Speakers and Fail” by Aaron Bandler, and I agree totally with the reporter. I believe that the Palestinians’ chanting was unacceptable. I think it was great of UC Irvine’s Students Supporting Israel to point out that they would show their perspective and not keep silent. Also, they said that they will continue to make the voices of the pro-Israeli students heard. That shows peace, not hate, which is what the world needs.

Eliyaou Eshaghian, Tarzana


Israelis in the Diaspora

This is another in a long line of letters disputing wild, unsourced journalistic estimates of Israelis living in the Diaspora, which Danielle Berrin has repeated as “more than 1 million” (“Wandering Israelis,”  April 13).

The most trusted demographic estimate done by Pew Research in 2010 was 230,000 Jewish emigrants from Israel living in other countries, with the most, 110,000 in the U.S. This aligns with my 1982 published estimates for Israeli emigrants in the U.S. and about my estimate of 25,000 living in and around Los Angeles.

Fun fact: Using Berrin’s source data from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics of about 2.2 million flying abroad in a six-month period, and the U.S. nonimmigrant Israeli entry estimates for roughly the same period, fewer than 1 in 10 Israeli tourist flyers eventually landed in the U.S. As we are all learning, visiting or immigrating to the U.S. is a pain.

While the Los Angeles Israeli community has become much more organized, now raising tens of millions of dollars yearly through the Israeli-American Council (IAC), in the 36 years since a realistic estimate of numbers has been published, I have not found any evidence that the number of Israelis has changed substantially from being about 1/20th of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Pini Herman, Beverly Grove

(This letter originally appeared in the April 20 edition.)

Berrin responds: Pini Herman asserts that my column includes “wild, unsourced journalistic estimates” regarding the number of Israelis living in the Diaspora. This is untrue. While it is difficult to estimate the exact number of Israelis living in the Diaspora for a variety of reasons, the upward trend is clear. Estimates from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the prime minister’s office and a Pew Study suggest the number could be as low 300,000 and as high as 1 million. Just last week, Newsweek reported that from 2006 to 2016, more than 87,000 Israelis became U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is up from 66,000 from the previous decade. For a long time now, rumors of a so-called Israeli “brain drain” have permeated public discourse. In 2011, Foreign Policy ran a story headlined “The Million Missing Israelis.” Last August, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wondered, “Can Israel bring home its million U.S. expats?” Many of these articles examine the ways the Israeli government has tried to stanch the brain drain by enticing the best and brightest Israelis back home, sometimes through ad campaigns or initiatives like the 2011 I-CORE program, a $360 million initiative to lure Israeli scholars back to Israeli universities. According to Newsweek, “Results were so underwhelming that the program was ended after three years.”

None of these facts is wild or unsourced; we ought to pay attention to the trend suggested by even inexact statistics.


CORRECTIONS

A story about the death of Rabbi Aaron Panken (“Remembering Rabbi Aaron Panken,” May 11) mistakenly reported the date of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion New York ordination ceremony as May 7, two days after Panken’s death. The ceremony was held May 6, one day after his death.

An item in the May 11 edition of Movers & Shakers incorrectly identified Tanya Waldman as the co-director of Witness Theater: Voices of History. Her name is Talya Waldman. Also, a photo caption accompanying the May 1 Israel Bonds luncheon mistakenly identified Marlene Kreitenberg as Ruth Low.

A headline on a Q-and-A with Rabba Sara Hurwitz failed to include her honorific (“An Orthodox Woman in the Time of #Metoo,” May 11). The Journal regrets the oversight.

Hot Take: Shmuel Rosner on the volatile situation in the Middle East


Check out this episode!

Shmuel Rosner: In the Mideast, a dangerous summer ahead


Jewish Journal Political Editor and New York Times contributor Shmuel Rosner helps us make sense of a Middle East that is getting more dangerous and complicated by the day.

Check out this episode!

By Nixing Iran Nuclear Deal, Trump Opens a New Chapter in Volatile Mideast


FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File photo

With European powers either unable, or unwilling, to meet his demand to “fix” the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump on May 8 followed through on his threat to “nix” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is formally known, and re-impose “the highest level of” economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction — that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” Trump asserted. “We will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.”

The president in January warned that he would scrap the accord unless its “disastrous flaws” were addressed, and, to this end, had for months been lobbying France, Great Britain and Germany to formulate a side agreement to eliminate the JCPOA’s so-called “sunset clauses” — which remove limitations on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in just over a decade — as well as curb the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program and involvement in fomenting unrest in the Middle East.

The question now is: What comes next? While Tehran threatened to take measures “stronger than [Trump] imagines” now that the United States has backed away from the deal — including “vigorously” jump-starting its uranium enrichment program — the Iranian regime is believed to have contingency plans for the continuation of the accord without American participation. In fact, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani  kept this door open, saying on May 7 that “what [Tehran wants] for the deal is that it’s preserved and guaranteed by the non-Americans.”

While Trump vowed to continue working with allies to find a “real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat,” most analysts agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that Tehran will abide by any such process. In fact, Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement describing the White House’s move as “illegal and illegitimate.”

By contrast, initial contacts by The Media Line with opposition sources in Tehran suggest that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s critics were energized by Trump’s words, which included a direct address to the “long-suffering people of Iran … [with whom] America stands.”

The president in January warned that he would scrap the accord unless its “disastrous flaws” were addressed.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on national television just moments after Trump’s speech in order to reaffirm his support for the “brave decision.” This, while no doubt cognizant of the fact that Washington’s move raises the heat on Iran, whose rulers may conclude that they have little to lose by unleashing their proxies on Israel.

Efraim Kam, a former colonel in the research division of Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence and currently a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said that “it is more likely than unlikely that the Iranians will respond,” although he does “not think there will be a major war, but instead a [tit-for-tat] exchange.”

Indeed, the Israeli army is on high alert in the north, where municipalities were ordered on the day of Trump’s announcement to unlock public bomb shelters over what the military called “unusual Iranian forces” in Syria. The Iranian mullahs may even determine that opening a front against Israel is in their best interest, using the conflagration as justification to restart their atomic program, if not make a full-out dash for a nuclear bomb.

Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel’s Arrow defense program, developed jointly with the U.S. to neutralize the threat posed by longer-range ballistic missiles, concurs that “there is a very high potential for an intensification. Iran has spoken of a reprisal [against Israel] but the question is how it will be expressed. The Iranians are good chess players and will do something that will give them the maximum benefit with minimum damage.”

By ditching the JCPOA, then, Trump effectively opened Pandora’s box in the Middle East tinderbox. Many world leaders have warned that such action could lead to a large-scale military confrontation, not only involving the Jewish state and Sunni Arab countries, but also potentially the United States and Russia, which has re-emerged as a force in the region.
In the past, historians have described such conflicts — those involving multiple players and pitting global powers against one another — as world wars.

Finally, Iran Meets Resistance: Four Comments On Trump’s Decision


U.S. President Donald Trump announces his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

1. The Middle East suddenly looks different.

Note both the US and its controversial decision to pull out of the Iran deal – and Syria and the repetitive military blows that Iran absorbed in recent months.

Note these two developments and realize that something important has changed: Iran, after a long period of relative calm and easy choices, faces tough opposition from the US and Israel. Iran has to reconsider the benefit and the possible cost of its actions. On Tuesday – Trump drew a diplomatic red line. The status quo is over, and the ball is now in Iran’s court.

On Tuesday night, hours after Trump made his announcements, sites near Damascus were bombed again. Another red line was reemphasized: Israel would not permit a significant Iranian presence in Syria. The sites bombed were reportedly the sites from which Iran was ready to launch an attack on Israel. So the status quo of Iranian presence in Syria is also challenged.

Trump presented Iran with a choice: Resist and bear possibly grim consequences, or renegotiate a deal which the US is ready to accept.

Syria’s limited skirmishes present Iran with a choice: Insist and bear possibly grim consequences, or give up on your Syrian dream.

2. In February 2015, when Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel was about to speak about Iran before Congress, I pleaded with him to reconsider his speech. “Speaking up next month before the United States Congress”, I wrote, “would not serve Israel’s interests. Instead of being an opportunity to seriously address the risks of Iran’s nuclear program, such a speech would scuttle the discussion.”

Is now the time to say that he was right and I was wrong? I am not yet sure about that, but I think it is time to consider the possibility that he, indeed, was right. Yes, his speech was enraging to the administration. But at that point in time, Netanyahu correctly assessed that Obama and Kerry had crossed a point of no return concerning the agreement. They were going to sign it no matter what. Yes – Netanyahu also enraged Democratic legislators. It is still a problem for Israel that the Iran deal is perceived in the US (much less so in Israel) as a partisan issue. But at that point in time Netanyahu was ready to pay a political price with the Democratic Party to scuttle a deal he perceived as highly dangerous for Israel.

Did he achieve what he wanted? At the time of the speech he did not. A deal was signed. Israel was ignored. Netanyahu was ridiculed for his speech. Yet a seed was planted. His speech did establish Israel’s uncompromising position. And it did serve for many American politicians as an opportunity to state their own position on the Iran deal. Netanyahu can make a solid case that what we see today is at least partially the result of what he did three years ago. An honest observer must consider this case – and with it, his previous position.

3. Donald Trump made up his mind a long time ago that the deal was not an achievement but rather an embarrassment. He made up his mind a long time ago that what he wants is to ditch the deal. He should get credit even from rivals for being a man of his word – this is what we all want from our politicians, don’t we?

Well, that depends. We all like to commend the leaders who make good on promises they’ve made during election season. That is, unless we dislike these promises. If we dislike these promises, what we’d say is as follows: A good leader is a leader who can see the difference between promises given during election time, and the realities of having to govern.

In other words: Trump will be praised for doing as he said he’d do by those wanting him to do just that. He will be condemned by all others, and will not even get credit for, yet again, doing what he said he was going to do.

4. Trump deserves credit, but only if ditching the nuclear deal is a first step of many to follow. In fact, this is the most important fact we all need to understand as we assess the meaning of today’s news: These news items are just nuggets. They are but one step in a long process. Judging the wisdom and predicting the outcome of Trump’s action is something we all do, without noticing that for the time being, as we hear the sound of bombs going off near Damascus, and as Trump’s words still echo, our judgments and predictions mean little.

Think of it this way– a car beginning its journey to a faraway city. Is it going in the right direction? Maybe it did for the first ten miles– but if after ten miles it takes the wrong turn, or breaks down, or has no fuel, the car will never get where it needs to go. And, of course, the same is true if you believe that the car began its journey headed the wrong way. A sober driver can still recalculate and turn around. A wise driver might still take another way that is less crowded.

Is Trump’s car headed in the right direction? I think it is, but this doesn’t mean it will get to its final destination. You might think that it’s headed in the wrong direction, but this also doesn’t mean that Trump’s car is lost. One thing both supporters and opponents of Trump’s decision can agree on: It is a new day in the Middle East, a new day for Iran, and a day of reckoning.

Strikeout Over Syria?


The U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey fires a Tomahawk land attack missile April 14, 2018. U.S. Navy/Lt. j.g Matthew Daniels/Handout via REUTERS.

The United States, Great Britain and France on April 13 launched a coordinated military strike targeting three chemical weapons facilities in Syria, in response to the reported use of such weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad the previous week in Douma. The Western intervention — the most significant during the seven-year Syrian civil war, with some 100 missiles having been fired — received mixed reviews in Washington, London and Paris, with some praising the resolve of leaders to uphold the longstanding international norm of preventing the use of nonconventional weapons, whereas others maintained that Assad got off too easy or altogether denounced the West’s interjection of itself into another war abroad.

Where the Middle East is concerned, much of the public, as well as some governments, are perennially weary of any Western involvement in regional conflicts, especially in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 2011 NATO operation that removed from power longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Given that coalition forces did not uncover stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Libya (in fact, there is evidence that Saddam Hussein transferred them to Syria), and taking into account that Tripoli had voluntarily ended its nuclear program in exchange for better relations with the West, many are skeptical that the latest attack was, in fact, geared toward preventing Assad’s use of chemical arms rather than advancing Western interests.

There is a divide largely along political and religious lines, with Shiite-ruled countries aligned with Iran, Assad’s main backer along with Russia, having denounced the attack. For instance, the defense minister of Lebanon — controlled by Tehran’s Hezbollah proxy, which itself is heavily involved in the fighting in Syria — described the mission as “a flagrant violation of international law.” Iraq, which is increasingly being pulled into the Islamic Republic’s orbit, warned that such action “threatens the security and stability of the region and gives terrorism another opportunity to expand.”

By contrast, Sunni Muslim states, led by Saudi Arabia, expressed support for the Western strikes, with the Arab League having called for an international probe into the “criminal” use of chemical weapons. Nonetheless, some analysts deemed the reaction relatively muted, perhaps a reflection of the concern on the part of Persian Gulf states that the U.S. could use the mission as a pretext to pull American troops out of Syria.

The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

“[The Western attack on Syria] was very limited, as it was designed to show Assad that there will be consequences any time he uses chemical weapons against his people, but at the same time not to make the Russians mad.” — Gad Shimron

Sulaiman Al-Akeily, a Saudi political analyst, said that, given its limited scope, the attack did not achieve its intended effect — a position shared by many in Riyadh, which may explain why King Salman made no mention of it during a high-profile summit the next day.

“The strikes served only to give Assad legitimacy because [they] did not reduce his military power and his position on the ground was not weakened,” Al-Akeil said. “Moreover, the operation did not cover enough locations in Syria, especially strategic military bases, which are the most important things to be destroyed. It also did not target any Iranian assets.”

Instead, Al-Akeily contended that the West’s motivation was “to wash away the guilt” of having done relatively little to prevent Assad’s massacres. But even this, he explained, was largely a show, given that “the Syrian regime was threatened for a whole week, which gave it time to transfer chemical weapons to Russian warehouses.”

Eran Singer, an Israeli political analyst specializing in the Arab world, agreed that the Western assault had little effect on the overall dynamics of the war, an assessment reinforced by former Mossad agent Gad Shimron. “It achieved the goal of putting restrictions on Assad’s regime,” Singer said. “The Syrian government is still winning many battles around the country, and this will not change.”

Shimron, while describing the strikes as moderately successful, stressed that the operation should have been broader in scope: “It was very limited, as it was designed to show Assad that there will be consequences any time he uses chemical weapons against his people, but at the same time not to make the Russians mad.”

Hanna Issa, a Palestinian law professor, slammed the Western “aggression,” which he argued contravened international law. “It is totally unacceptable for three countries that are members of the [United Nations] Security Council to behave like that,” he said. Furthermore, he noted that the attack occurred before international inspectors arrived in Douma to investigate whether chemical weapons had indeed been used.

Despite the criticism, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley asserted that the strikes were “justified, legitimate and proportionate,” adding that U.S. military forces remained “locked and loaded” in the event Assad were to use nonconventional arms in the future.

Pivoting East: Israel’s Developing Strategic Relationships in Asia


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands ahead of their talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing last month. Photo by Etienne Oliveau/Reuters

David Ben-Gurion foresaw the future in 1959 when he told the Knesset plenary that the Soviet-American domination of the world was “transient” because China and India would replace the geopolitical duo.

Noting that ancient Israel’s foreign relations were first confined to the Fertile Crescent and then extended only as far as Persia and Rome, Ben-Gurion realized that the modern world was built entirely differently: Asia’s place within it would be dominant, and this prominence would materialize sooner rather than later. “Two decades,” he predicted in 1966 while fielding questions from youths in Tel Aviv.

It has taken longer for both Asian giants to develop into economic powers, and for Israel’s originally Western-oriented foreign relations to start pivoting East.

Ben-Gurion’s Asian vision was, to be sure, ahead of its time.

Recognizing Communist China as early as 1950, over Washington’s objections, Ben-Gurion persuaded China to announce in 1954 the imminent establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel, only to then see Mao Zedong change course and fully back Israel’s enemies.

China’s original, utilitarian policy — based on Mao’s concern for maintaining ties with the Arab world and the Nonaligned Bloc, co-founded by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser — morphed over the next decade into ideological zeal, as Israel was seen as part of Western nations’ opposition to the Cultural Revolution’s philosophies.

A similar pattern evolved with India, under its anti-Zionist first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Considering demographic and economic trends, there is reason to believe that within about two generations most Israeli exports will head to Asian destinations.

After first refusing to recognize Israel, New Delhi finally did so in 1950 but took another three years for it to let Israel open a consulate in Mumbai (then called Bombay), while refusing to exchange ambassadors with the Jewish state.

The situation was better with Japan, which exchanged ambassadors with Israel in 1952, less than a month after the end of its occupation by the United States. Unlike China and India, Japan was now an American satellite, and as such lacked its fellow Asian powers’ urge to impress the Nonaligned Bloc.

However, Tokyo had economic reasons to keep Israel at arm’s length because its heavily industrialized economy depended for its existence on Middle Eastern oil. Japan’s leading businesses, including its major automakers — Mitsubishi, Toyota, Mazda and Honda — surrendered to the Arab League boycott. Therefore, Israel’s initial ties with Asia were subdued.

While altogether ostracized by the Muslim belt that stretches from Afghanistan through Bangladesh to Indonesia, not to mention the Arab lands on Asia’s western end, Jerusalem cozied up with relatively peripheral Thailand, Burma and the Philippines while patiently awaiting a breakthrough with the Asian powers.

Ironically, the only strategic partner Israel initially found in Asia was Iran, to which it sold arms and food and with which it built farms and neighborhoods while helping Iran’s oil deliveries to Europe through the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline.

Israel’s ties with Iran were severed in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, which coincided with China’s abandonment of its own anti-Western fanaticism. But well before those developments, Israel-Asia relations began to transform, improbably and unnoticeably, in unassuming Singapore.

Surrounded by hostile Muslims while at odds with the Communist powers and unable to enlist Western governments’ military assistance, Singapore had an urgent need for an army — which Israel happily supplied.

Israel Defense Forces generals arrived in Singapore soon after its independence in 1965 and secretly built from scratch a powerful military that to this day is considered the best-equipped and trained army in its region. Israel, for its part, emerged with a strategic foothold in the Far East, forging a close alliance that flourishes to this day with what has since become one of the world’s richest and most stable countries.

The Singaporean saga was followed closely in Beijing, where the Soviet Union’s 1969 invasion of Afghanistan was viewed with alarm and Mao’s legacy was giving way to Deng Xiaoping’s economic U-turn.

Moscow’s unpredictability spurred Deng to order an inspection of the Chinese military’s hardware, after which he concluded that an upgrade was urgently needed. Realizing Israel’s success in Singapore, he began secretly buying Israeli arms.

Initially administered through the Israeli consulate in British-ruled Hong Kong, the Israeli-Chinese relationship would quietly mature while communism itself withered. The consequent disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, and America’s emergence as the sole superpower, paved the way to the great diplomatic breakthrough Israel had awaited since its inception.

Israel and China exchanged ambassadors in January 1992. The following week, India said it would open an embassy in Tel Aviv. The following year, Israel and Vietnam established full diplomatic relations and Israel reopened its embassy in Seoul, which it had closed in 1978 due to cutbacks.

The diplomatic path to Asia that Ben-Gurion had mapped had thus been paved. Now, with military traffic already bustling along this route, the stage was set for the commercial relationship that would soon grow at breakneck speed.

The Israeli economy’s Asian era was launched by Japan, whose cautious investors concluded by the early 1990s that their fear of the Arab League boycott had become anachronistic.

The turning points in this regard were the Gulf War, which, as seen by Tokyo, pitted Arabs against Arabs regardless of Israel, and the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, which gave reason to believe that the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict was waning.

Consequently, Japan changed course.

Tokyo’s big investment houses began sending delegations to Tel Aviv, signaling that they now saw Israel as a diplomatically safe and financially lucrative destination for their clients. Asian capital began arriving to invest in Israel’s fast-maturing high-tech sector, while Japanese car models that Israelis had previously seen only in Europe and America now sparkled in Tel Aviv car dealerships and soon crowded Israeli highways.

Asia’s newly rising powers arrived on the heels of their Japanese role model.

With all diplomatic barriers collapsed, Asian-made clothes, toys, electronics and white goods swamped Israel’s newly proliferating shopping malls, while Israeli goods — from foodstuffs and computer software to military radars and avionics — flowed to the East.

By 2015, Israel saw its exports to Asia — which less than a quarter-century earlier were negligible — eclipse its exports to the U.S., comprising a quarter of overall Israeli exports and nearly equaling exports to Europe, which in 2015 stood at 28 percent.

Though Asia’s share of the Israel economy narrowed a bit in 2017 — thanks to renewed growth in Europe and the U.S. — the general trend is clear: Israeli exports are tilting to the East. Israel’s arms industry had $5.7 billion in sales in 2016, 40.1 percent of which were with Asian countries, well ahead of Europe’s 27.5 percent and North America’s 19.3 percent.

Considering demo-graphic and economic trends, there is reason to believe that within about two generations most Israeli exports will head to Asian destinations.

In terms of imports, in 2016 China sold more products and services to Israel than any other country, totaling 13.5 percent of Israel’s imports at $7.9 billion, ahead of U.S. imports at 12.3 percent and $7.2 billion.

Hardly a decade after China supplied a mere 0.6 percent of Israel’s imports, it seemed only natural in 2015 when Shanghai-based Bright Food bought a controlling share in Israel’s largest dairy food company, Tnuva, for an estimated $1.4 billion, while the Chinese investment group Fosun bought Israeli cosmetics giant Ahava for $27 million.

Israel’s trade with India, while smaller in quantity than with China — $1.15 billion in exports and $800 million in imports in 2016 — is more dramatic in its quality. The same Israel where India once would not even station an ambassador is now its second-largest arms supplier after Russia, having sold the subcontinent missiles, radars, artillery batteries, surveillance aircraft and other weapons.

A quarter-century’s worth of commercial commotion was underscored by a slew of high-profile diplomatic visits that in Israel’s first decades were unthinkable.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s five-day state visit to Israel in 2000 was followed by five visits to China by Israeli presidents and prime ministers, the last of whom were Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 and the late Shimon Peres in 2014.

Netanyahu visited Japan in 2014 and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abbe visited Israel in 2015; President Ezer Weizman and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India in 1993 and 2003, respectively; India’s President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel in 2015 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel last July; and Netanyahu visited the subcontinent in January accompanied by 130 businessmen.

The gradual pivot to Asia is also expressed in the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s recasting of its outposts worldwide, having decided to close its consulates in Minsk, Marseilles, Philadelphia and San Salvador, and open new ones in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Bangalore.

Those moves also explain Israel’s decision to join, as a co-founder, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese-led version of the World Bank, despite American misgivings.

The relentless effort to create strategic partnerships with Asian powers registered one great failure, in 1999, when the Clinton administration torpedoed a signed deal to sell China American-made but Israeli-upgraded Phalcon spy planes.

The cancelation cost Israel a $350 million compensation fee to Beijing, and signaled a broad retreat from China’s defense deals with Jerusalem, although the two countries’ armies’ chiefs of  staff exchanged visits in 2011 and 2012.

Israel thus received a humbling reminder that its burgeoning Asia ties must be cultivated without compromising relations with its most important ally, the United States. Israel, therefore, sought a different kind of strategic relationship with China. Having found that formula within a few years, its implementation is now well underway.

Israel was not unique in buying toys, sweatshirts or dishwashers made in China. Similarly, what China bought in Israel, scores of other countries bought from the Jewish state, as well.

All this changed, however, when the two countries set out to help each other advance to the next phases in their very different economic histories, with Israel selling China educational goods and China selling Israel infrastructure projects.

Israel and China are forging a strategic partnership. … It is only a matter of time before this economic and educational hyperactivity impacts the Middle Eastern conflict.

Chinese public works giants have teamed up with Israeli companies in building the Carmel Tunnels under Haifa and the Acre-Karmiel railroad, and they are now involved in upgrading the Ashdod seaport and constructing Tel Aviv’s subway.

Most crucially for Israel, China wants, and is indeed poised, to build the planned Tel Aviv-Eilat railway, expected to be the greatest infrastructure project in the Jewish state’s history.

Israel, at the same time, set out to help China realize its next national aim: to shift part of its workforce from manufacturing to invention, and thus transition its economy of mass production to a post-industrial future.

Realizing Israel’s technological accomplishments, China’s Tsinghua University signed a deal in 2014 with Tel Aviv University to create a joint center for research of solar, hydrological and other environmental technologies.

In 2015, Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was hired to build a $130 million technological institute in Guangdong, China. And in April 2016, Jilin University signed an agreement with Ben-Gurion University to establish a center of entrepreneurship and innovation. East China Normal University followed up that agreement with an announcement that it would open, together with the Technion, a Chinese-funded program on the Technion campus that would specialize in neurobiology, biomedicine and other fields.

Thus, Israel and China are forging a strategic partnership, the likes of which Israel never previously experienced because no superpower ever used Israel to cultivate its own industrial development. It is only a matter of time before this economic and educational hyperactivity impacts the Middle Eastern conflict.

China, India and Japan can do wonders in this regard by imposing a peace deal on Israel’s enemies, while the U.S. imposes one on Israel. This will be particularly true for Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf States, which vitally need China to buy their oil and gas. China’s leverage in Tehran as a major petroleum buyer also applies to Japan and India.

The day when Asia plays such a role in the Mideast conflict may seem a distant reality right now, but then again, it has only been one generation since Chinese and Indian ambassadors arrived in the Jewish state, and 40 years since Jerusalem’s lone strategic partner in Asia was Tehran.


Amotz Asa-El is The Jerusalem Post’s senior commentator. A version of this article originally appeared in the Post.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: curiosity and other values


Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.

“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

From left: David Suissa and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Check out this episode!

My Reform Colleagues Were Wrong on Jerusalem


A general view of Jerusalem's Old City shows the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in the foreground as the Dome of the Rock, located on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, is seen in the background December 10, 2017. Picture taken December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

We were wrong.

As Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky pointed out, “The Reform response to the recognition of Jerusalem was terrible. When … a superpower recognizes Jerusalem, first you … welcome it, then offer disagreement. Here it was the opposite.”

Sharansky was referring to the Dec. 5 statement issued by all 16 North American Reform organizations and affiliates in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The operative clause reads: “While we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process.”

There have been several attempts to clarify this position, but not by all of the original signatories. It is still the official position of the entire North American apparatus of the Reform movement. If our movement’s affiliates have had a change of heart, all of them should say it through another statement: “We made a mistake.”

If not, and if we still stand by our original statement, I want the Jewish world to know that this position is not my position, nor does it reflect the views of multitudes of, perhaps most, Reform Jews.

We were wrong on the politics. With the exception of one small hard-left party, there is wall-to-wall agreement among the Zionist parties in the Knesset supporting the embassy move. We have alienated the very people who support and defend us in our campaign for religious pluralism and equitable funding. Sharansky himself is the most dogged and prominent supporter of the Western Wall compromise.

More important, we were wrong on the merits. We have yearned for Jerusalem for two millennia. It is the source of our strength, the place where our people were formed, where the Bible was written. Jews lived free and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a thousand years. Our national existence changed the world and led to the creation of two other great faiths.

The world’s superpower finally did the right thing, and we opposed it — not on the principle, but on the “timing.” The timing? Now is not the right time? Two thousand years later and it is still not the right time? As if there is a peace process that the Palestinians are committed to and pursuing with conviction.

There were critics who accused the civil rights movement of moving too quickly. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s response: “The time is always ripe to do what is right.”

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “For years now I have
heard the word ‘wait’ … that [our] action … is untimely. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see that justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

King often reminded us that time is neutral, that it can be used constructively or destructively. Israel’s opponents have used time more effectively than we have. They have so distorted history that so many around the world question the
very legitimacy of Jewish ties to Zion and Jerusalem. We have neglected teaching and conveying, even to our own children, our millennia-old love affair with the Land of Israel and Jerusalem as its beating heart.

Judaism without Eretz Yisrael is not Judaism. Judaism without Jerusalem is not Judaism.

This is not to deny that others consider Jerusalem holy. It is not to deny that the Palestinians seek Jerusalem as their capital. I am in favor of two states for two peoples. For that to happen, some kind of accommodation on Jerusalem will be necessary. If and when it occurs, I will support it.

But let no one be fooled. Peace will never rise on foundations of sand. Any agreement will collapse under the weight of its own inconsistencies if constructed on a scaffolding of lies.

President Trump simply acknowledged reality. It is about time. It should have been done decades ago, in 1949, when Israel declared Jerusalem its capital. Many presidents — Democrats and Republicans — promised to move the U.S. Embassy.

The embassy will be in West Jerusalem. Who contests West Jerusalem? President Trump did not pre-empt the eventual borders of Jerusalem. He did not preclude a permanent status agreement. He simply acknowledged a fact. Where do people meet Israeli prime ministers, presidents, parliamentarians and Supreme Court
justices — in Tel Aviv? Where did Anwar Sadat speak when he wanted to
convey on behalf of the Egyptian people a message of peace to Israelis: Tel Aviv?

The embassy will be in West Jerusalem. Who contests West Jerusalem? President Trump did not pre-empt the eventual borders of Jerusalem. He did not preclude a permanent status agreement. He simply acknowledged a fact.

It is for each country to declare its own capital. What other nation declares a capital unrecognized by the nations of the world? What kind of special abuse is reserved for the Jewish nation?

At the same time, it is proper and necessary for us to remind ourselves and others that we are committed to a two-state solution that will require territorial compromises from both sides, including in Jerusalem. We should continue to urge the American government to help bring about a negotiated peace.

We also should urge the international community to disabuse the Palestinian national movement of its exaggerated expectations and its insidious efforts to undermine and erase our connection to Zion. Until that happens, peace is an illusion.


Ammiel Hirsch is senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. 

Jerusalem Move Blows Up Mideast Myths


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump made what was, according to the media, a cataclysmic decision: He declared that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, and that the United States would move its embassy there.

This move, we heard, was unprecedented and dangerous. It was supposed to launch a massive terror campaign against Israel and the Jews worldwide. It was supposed to sink the so-called “peace process.” It was slated to blow up the Middle East.

None of these things have happened.

They haven’t happened because Trump merely recognized reality. The reality is that Jerusalem is the Jewish dream, the heart of the case of Israel as Jewish territory. If we forget Jerusalem, we forget our right hand. If Jerusalem is not linked to Israel, Israel might as well be in Montana. Jerusalem has far more to do with Israel than Tel Aviv.

Furthermore, there is no moral case for Jerusalem to be placed in non-Jewish hands. Under Jewish rule, holy sites have been preserved and access to those sites granted; while under Muslim rule, holy sites have been destroyed and defaced, and access to those sites denied. Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Old Testament; it isn’t mentioned once in the Quran. Jerusalem is only important to anyone because it was first important to the Jews.

This means that Israel was never going to give away Jerusalem in any negotiation with the terrorist Palestinian government. Here is Yitzhak Rabin, the father of Oslo, in 1995: “Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people and a deep source of our pride. We differ in our opinions, left and right. We disagree on the means and the objective. In Israel, we all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem, the continuation of its existence as capital of the State of Israel.”

Nor should Israel give away Jerusalem — particularly not to the Palestinian Authority, whose charter still denies the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And Israel should never be discussing handing over any territory to Hamas, an actual terrorist group that has stated its dedication to Israel’s destruction.

“We all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem … its existence as capital of the State of Israel.” — Yitzhak Rabin

Recognizing this truth means setting a serious groundwork for peace. No divorce can be negotiated without a common frame of negotiable items. Jerusalem is not negotiable. End of story. Trump recognized that, and in doing so, he undermined the chief rationale driving Palestinian terrorism: the delusional hope that spilling enough blood would cause the West to push Israel into surrendering its spiritual and physical capital.

Trump’s move also fostered peace by formally recognizing that Israel’s new alliances with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia against Iran are more important than any religious dispute over Jerusalem. There have been no serious protests from any of those governments — each of which attacked Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Those governments now recognize that Israel is an important strategic ally in the region.

The lack of blowback from Trump’s decision has left only two groups angry: Democrats and the media. Democrats are angry because they have been publicly humiliated: The Senate voted 90-0 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital not six months ago, and yet Democrats were now forced to denounce Trump for taking their words seriously. The media are angry because they have spent years building the myth that conflict in the Middle East centers on Israeli intransigence. Now it’s clear that it was Muslim intransigence all along that caused conflict, and that Muslim willingness to side with Israel against Iran supersedes religious conflict.

So, well done, President Trump. And thank you for speaking plain truth and acting bravely when most were willing to offer empty only verbiage backed by inaction and fear.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Episode 67 – Middle East Break Down


The Middle East isn’t the friendliest neighborhood to grow up in, especially for Israel. With the cold peace it shares with both Egypt and Jordan to the persistent “state of war” it holds with Iraq and Iran, Israel is hard pressed to find a friend in its corner of the world. The USA is often seen as Israel’s big brother, its protector, its ever-loyal ally, but the United States lies thousands upon thousands of miles away geographically and light years culturally. So how does a country like Israel fit in in its home town? What’s its role here in the Middle East? How does a young nation forge relationships in such a harsh climate?

Here to help us understand the intricacies and intrigues of the Middle East is Barak Ravid. Barak is the chief diplomatic correspondent for Channel 10 News in Israel. Before that he served as the diplomatic correspondent at Haaretz for a decade, covering the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense, dealing with issues such as U.S.-Israeli relations, EU-Israeli relations and the peace process.

Barak Ravid joins us today to talk about Israel’s place in the Middle East.

Barak Ravid on Facebook and Twitter

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Author’s Goal: Show ‘Human Side of Jews’


Michael Bassin. Photo courtesy of Michael Bassin

Brimming with intrigue and suspense, Michael Bassin’s outlandish stories make him seem like the lovechild of Dan Brown (“The Da Vinci Code”) and Frank Abagnale (“Catch Me If You Can”).

During a year as a student in the Middle East, he was accused of being a secret agent and threatened by a former Hezbollah fighter in Beirut, who told him: “You’re an Israeli. I can see it in your eyes. I’ve already killed two, and I said once I kill my third, I can die peacefully.”

But for all his capers, Bassin, 32, is really just a nice Jewish boy from Cincinnati with an aw-shucks attitude.

His newly released book, “I Am Not a Spy: An American Jew Goes Deep in the Arab World & Israeli Army,” recounts his exploits during a year in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — peppered with jaunts to Lebanon, Syria, Oman, Kashmir and Jordan — while he was a junior studying International Relations at George Washington University.

While his Jewish day school and Conservative youth group upbringing gave Bassin a solid pro-Israel foundation, it was the relationships he forged with Muslims at his public high school that made him itch to see the other side.

“I wanted to make peace in the Middle East,” Bassin said with the earnestness of a beauty pageant contestant. His role models were people like former American diplomat and Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross.

“I also wanted to be the dorky Jew in the room — but without the glasses. I don’t wear glasses,” he said.

So in the summer of 2006, Bassin spent a few months intensively studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo. From there, he went on to spend seven months at the American University of Sharjah, UAE.

After word got out about his Jewish identity in Sharjah, Bassin quickly became something of a cause célèbre. A particularly hostile group of students from the Palestinian diaspora led a crusade against him, he said, spreading the rumor that he was a Mossad agent.

“Yet the more they demonized me, the more popular I became,” Bassin said.

“I showed them the human side of Jews,” he continued. “Propaganda aside, it’s very hard to hate the person sitting in front of you.”

Ironically, Palestinian students from East Jerusalem ended up becoming Bassin’s closest allies on campus. They, too, were viewed with suspicion by other students — especially by those second-generation diaspora Palestinians who had never set foot in either Israel or the Palestinian territories — since they were far more moderate in their attitude toward Israel.

“The fact that they were so utterly shunned by other Palestinian students because they didn’t say Israel and Jews were bad in every way, the fact that they had some nuance to it, made them go in the opposite direction,” he said.

“I wanted to make peace in the Middle East.” — Michael Bassin

He told the Journal of his repeated efforts to strike up a conversation with a beautiful girl in a hijab who always found a way to abscond. “I realized I was having a public relations problem in that people were too afraid to talk to me,” he said.

In an effort to combat his ostracism, Bassin joined the biggest student group on campus, the Palestinian Cultural Club. Although at first he was treated like “the plague,” eventually people became used to his presence, he said. Even Samira, the beautiful girl in the hijab, apologized for being hostile.

“She told me, ‘If I’m going to hate you, I want to do so for my own reasons,’ ” he said. “We ended up becoming extremely good friends.”

Bassin credits his experiences in the Arab world for his decision to make aliyah. Although his time spent in the Middle East made him internalize the fact that human beings are malleable creatures that can learn and grow and affect geopolitical climates, he doesn’t believe this is something that will happen anytime soon.

For Bassin, the next step in his quest to support the Jewish state was to move there and join the military. He was recruited as a combat translator for the Kfir Infantry Brigade. These days, Bassin works as the chief revenue officer in an ad-tech startup in Tel Aviv.

When asked if he ever could see himself embarking on similar adventures again, Bassin smiles.

“I was a kid then,” he said. “I didn’t know my head from my tuchis. But you never know.”

My Rant Against Conformity


As I write, Facebook feeds me a story of a play at a prestigious university that satirized political correctness and was shut down for offending political sensitivities. It’s unclear why any political beliefs should be beyond mockery, but zealous indignation seems to be the spirit of the age.

The 1960s had their liberation, the ’90s their chemical utopianism, and today we have the tyranny of offense. It seems as if every week another speaker is shut down, bullied out of a college auditorium or drowned out by the shrill protests of pious 18-year-olds acting as our own morality police.

Enabled by feckless administrators, their inability to stomach ideas even mildly at odds with their facile dogmas is suffocating our public discourse. We’ve come to accept the shutting down of some discomfiting opinions as outright sacrilege, and the imposition of others as de rigueur. This, in the age of ISIS.

The yearning for soothing certitudes, for truths set in stone, is strong in our species. Our urge to organize around shared myths is hardwired in us, a product of evolution’s hardest-fought battles. But slavery to ideological idols is what characterizes the most shameful chapters of our past — as it does the worst societies of our present. The imposition of one group’s preferred ideology and the silencing of others by intimidation is what happens in dictatorships. It shouldn’t be happening on an American college campus.

Oceans of blood have been spilled and centuries devastated in humanity’s effort to extricate itself from the beguiling embrace of ideological conformity. The price of our evolution, of science and progress, is the ability to tolerate ideological diversity, slay taboos and brush off offense. Today, that sacred history seems to be forgotten, the 30-Year War eclipsed by the 30-second attention span, enlightenment with sanctimonious hypersensitivity and entitled imposition.

We are boldly going where man has been before, charging headlong into a past where truth is a slave to tradition, where humility and empathy are very much absent. Driven by those who would presume to impose morality on us, we are returning to where the most dysfunctional and repressive states on our planet still reside. How long before our fragile students start to riot in response to unflattering cartoons?

As in Middle Eastern tyrannies, some of our temples of learning are becoming the epicenters of the new, dogmatic obscurantism. College campuses have come to resemble inquisition courts. Rather than smashing idols as should be their calling, far too many professors seem instead to serve as high priests of the cult of conformity, sacrificing young minds on the altar of their dogmas. Brown has become our Riyadh, Berkeley our Karachi.

Enter stage left, the Antifa Intifada. In 2017 America, it is to be expected that people promoting the freedom to express unpopular ideas are routinely smeared as Nazis — the modern version of devil worshippers — and violently assaulted as heretics by masked mobs possessed by zealous righteousness.

And, not unrelated, university administrators are ever more eager to serve as guardians of gender virtue. The wave of revealed alleged assaults — by those Tinseltown folks most likely to be loudly preaching a new sexual morality to the rest of us — should not in any way be dismissed. It is a tragic thing to see so many women reputedly abused by so many men. But the answer to that abuse is not for the state to insert itself between men and women — in the bedroom, on campuses — as it has. Rather than teaching responsibility and respect to our young, we have let the state dictate how to manage youthful sexuality in our colleges. In an overreaction to the reported abuse of some, innocent flirting by the many becomes more risky, more threatening, more at odds with ever-narrowing and sanitized speech codes.

Undergirding this sorry spectacle is the new national pastime of collective schadenfreude, not unlike that of medieval mobs tossing rotten produce at the condemned or Middle Eastern imbeciles celebrating the murder of others by handing out oily sweets. So, too, today is it sport to watch from behind our monitors the others who crash and burn under public opprobrium, whether they deserve it or not.

And, of course, underneath this belligerent, subjective and arbitrary moralism is wall-to-wall anti-Zionism. In the East as in the West, attitudes toward Israel seem to be the litmus test for determining when people have lost their minds along with their humility.

Welcome to a Western caliphate, where good intentions buttressed by rigid dogma and moral posturing are turning disagreement into sin, sexuality into a minefield, and the future into the past.

And as in the past, the path to liberty and light must be paved but with deliberate desecration. For the only way to deal with those who fly into hysterics at any minor slight is to make them numb to offense by repeated exposure.

Those who love the freedom to think and feel as they wish would do well to find someone to offend, and quickly.


Philippe Assouline is a lawyer and doctoral candidate in international relations and political psychology at UCLA.

LAUSD Accused of Hosting Anti-Israel Teacher Course


Screenshot from Twitter.

A local pro-Israel organization has accused the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of hosting an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel continuing education course for its teachers.

In an Oct. 20 letter to the LAUSD school board, Jack Saltzberg, executive director of a nonprofit called the Israel Group, wrote that a two-day course for L.A. educators promoted “the Palestinian cause, while blatantly vilifying and polarizing Jews and the State of Israel, based on false history, lies, mistruths, and standard anti-Semitic canards.”

He pointed out that the Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose L.A. chapter offered the course, indicates on its website that it supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS. According to its website, Fellowship of Reconciliation is a national network of community organizers dedicated to rallying for “domestic and international peace and justice, nonviolent alternatives to conflict, and the rights of conscience.”

The continuing education course, “Learning About Islam and the Arab World,” took place on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21 at the Koreatown headquarters of the district’s largest teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Educators who attended the course received salary points, a district metric used to allocate raises.

Taught by two LAUSD teachers, the course included a Socratic seminar titled “Palestine/Israel” and a presentation called “Palestine Today: No Way to Treat a Child,” according to an agenda the Israel Group said it obtained. Saltzberg posted the agenda and other materials he said he obtained from the course on his website, theisraelgroup.org.

The Israel Group also sent a letter of complaint to the Orange County Board of Education about a course of the same name being offered by Fellowship for Reconciliation members to Orange County teachers. That course first convened on Oct. 4 and was set to continue on Oct. 25.

Other pro-Israel groups including the Los Angeles-based StandWithUs picked up Saltzberg’s letters. StandWithUs posted a call to action on its website that included contact details for district board members and a sample letter of concern.

District spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in an email to the Journal the district received complaints from concerned citizens, but did not say if they included parents or teachers.

In a separate statement, she said LAUSD approved the course in 2013 after it was “reviewed for multicultural awareness, respect for diversity, dialogue, and non-violent conflict resolution.” The statement added that course approval “does not constitute an endorsement of the L.A. Unified. Outside vendors, educators, and foundations are encouraged to submit classes for consideration.”

School board member Nick Melvoin, who is Jewish and whose district includes parts West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, said in an email he is working on “ensuring that there is no promotion of hate speech, violence, or religious intolerance” in professional development courses.

He said a district staff member attended the Oct. 21 session to observe whether “the program presented an unbiased view. I have heard no developments that suggest otherwise, but I have and will continue to press the Superintendent and her staff for a full report to evaluate all relevant information.”

The teacher’s union where the course took place also said in a statement it was working with the district to identify the next steps.

“The course is based on false history and mistruths.” – Jack Saltzberg

Fellowship of Reconciliation said the course was organized by a grass-roots chapter in L.A. rather than the national office in New York. Grass-roots chapters “are independent entities that coordinate their own campaigns and educational programming on a wide range of peace, justice, and human rights issues,” Ethan Vesely-Flad, the group’s director of national organizing, wrote in an email. The group’s local chapter could not be reached before the Journal’s deadline.

After receiving reports about the course, the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement calling it “problematic,” saying it contained “substantial misrepresentations and distortions of established historical facts, omissions of relevant facts, and inflammatory language.”

However, the ADL stopped short of condemning the district, adding “the instructor openly stated that the workshop presented only the Arab perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “encouraged participants to both fact-check course content.”

Saltzberg, who founded the Westlake Village-based Israel Group in 2014, said in an email that he heard about the L.A. course after a non-Jewish teacher attended the Oct. 14 seminar and sent him the course material.

He wrote that his goal is not just for the district to cancel the workshop or sever ties with the organizer, but rather “for every public school district in the nation to be on notice and warned before they decide to sponsor such an anti-Semitic and one-dimensional course.”

After Trump’s third meeting with Netanyahu, experts perplexed with approach


President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 18. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Even back in 2004, when Donald Trump was the host of the reality television show The Apprentice, the real estate developer expressed supreme confidence in his ability to solve the decades long Israeli-Arab conflict. Trump told former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry that year: “It would take me two weeks to get an agreement.”

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Nonetheless, in the over 34 weeks since Trump has taken office and after his third round of meetings last week at the United Nations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the peace process remains stagnant.  This week, with Israeli and Palestinian officials trading insults after Ramallah successfully joined Interpol on Wednesday and a Palestinian terrorist killing three Israeli security officials at a West Bank crossing this week, analysts note that the Trump administration-led process appears unable to sustain positive momentum.

Michael Koplow, Policy Director at the Israel Policy Forum, criticized Trump’s refusal to endorse the two state solution while meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. “To continue to be coy about it and not utter the phrase two state solution and act is if there is some sort of magical answer that nobody else has ever discovered is ridiculous,” he told Jewish Insider.

“I don’t exactly know right now what the strategy is from the US,” said Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and co-author of a recent biography on Abbas. Rumley added that without a framework going forward, the Palestinians are concerned that they would take unpopular domestic steps such as cutting the payments to families of terrorists and “follow the Trump team to something that ended up as a status quo quasi- agreement, leaving them in the cold.”

Into the 10th month of the Trump presidency, the administration has still declined to outline any concrete proposal towards relaunching talks. “There is a good chance that it (peace) can happen. The Israelis would like to see it. And I think the Palestinians would like to see it and I can tell you that Trump administration would like to see it,” the President declared on September 18.

For all the attention on the Trump administration, David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute expressed skepticism about the attitudes towards peace in Jerusalem and Ramallah. “I do not think both the Israelis and Palestinians have the requisite domestic political will to do anything that is politically hard for them. It is hard to imagine a breakthrough at this time.” Makovsky cited the inability for the PA to curb incitement along with the Israeli cabinet freeze of a proposal to expand housing units in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya as signs that Jerusalem and Ramallah remain unable to take the steps necessary towards peace.

In a September 19th speech to international donors, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt highlighted how the current US approach “departs from some of the usual orthodoxy” while emphasizing collaborative wastewater projects and economic assistance. Noting the economic challenges in Ramallah, Greenblatt added, “The PA is still dependent on international donors and is unable to afford important services which Israel is willing to provide – so I encourage all of us to work with the parties, in a coordinated manner, to reduce fiscal losses and ensure that the PA collects the taxes it is owed.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, explained that without a “top-down component” addressing core political issues including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, then the infrastructure projects “will become conflict management tactics rather than conflict resolution tactics.”

In contrast to the friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, many supporters of Israel appreciate the warmer approach taken by the Trump White House towards the Jewish state. Trump made a point during his UN meeting not to publicly criticize Netanyahu’s government and Greenblatt has repeatedly thanked the Israelis for taking steps that improve the West Bank economy.

Yet, some worry that the bear hug towards Israel could impair the U.S. ability to serve as a fair broker. In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman departed with longstanding State Department policy by referring to the “Alleged Occupation.” Palestinians were also disappointed when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vowed to block any Palestinian from serving in senior UN role as a way to counter UN bias against Israel. “You also at some point cross a line from being tilted to the Israeli side and going full blown of being Israel’s advocate against the Palestinians,” Koplow said.

“We know from a very long and unfortunately sad experience that the absence of a serious process will over time result in pressures building up that contribute to the resumption of violence,” Kurtzer concluded.

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Iran claims successful test of missile capable of reaching Israel


A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran announced that it successfully tested a new medium-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.

The announcement was made Saturday by Iran’s defense minister, Amir Hatami.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defense capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” he said in a statement Saturday.

The missile, dubbed Khoramshahr, reportedly has a range of 1,250 miles and can carry multiple warheads.

Footage of the missile test, including from a camera mounted on the missile, was shown on Iranian state television, though it did not say when the test took place.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the missile test “a provocation to the United States and its allies, including Israel,” as well as “further proof of Iran’s ambition to become a global power that threatens not only the Middle East, but all the countries of the free world.”

“Imagine what would happen if Iran would obtain nuclear weapons, which is where she is headed. We cannot let this happen,” Liberman said in the statement, which he posted on his Facebook page.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or to dump the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement between world powers and the Islamic Republic, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Following Iran’s announcement of the missile test, Trump on Saturday tweeted disparagingly of the deal.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” he wrote.

Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal, which the president must do every six months under U.S. law.

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the altering or scrapping of the deal.

Why Trump’s U.N. speech thrilled Netanyahu — for the moment, anyway


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The number of times President Donald Trump mentioned Iran or its derivatives in his U.N. speech?

Twelve, and each time to emphasize its threat.

The number of times he mentioned the Palestinians or derivatives? That would be zero.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, paying Trump the rare leader-to-leader gesture of attending his speech and applauding throughout, was clearly pleased.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Netanyahu tweeted immediately after the 40-minute address on Tuesday. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Short term, Trump delivered big time on the Netanyahu wish list: He came closer to pledging to kill the Iran nuclear deal reviled by the Israeli leader and did not even mention peace with the Palestinians, which Netanyahu does not believe has traction at this point.

But wait, there’s more. Trump mentioned the word “sovereign” and its derivatives 21 times on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York.

Long term, Netanyahu and Israel may not be as enthused by Trump’s dream of a world in which nations make a priority of “sovereign” interests — or as the president put it, repeating a campaign phrase that unsettled many U.S. Jews, “America First.”

Trump’s overarching theme was a retreat from the robust interventionist role that to varying degrees has characterized U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, that undergirded the U.S.-led effort following World War II and its devastation to establish the United Nations.

“Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world,” Trump said. “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.”

What that means practically is not clear, much like the rest of Trump’s foreign policy nine months into his presidency. But Israel’s security establishment has been wary of an American retreat from world affairs, especially when it comes to its war-torn neighbor Syria and the alliance between Syria’s Assad regime and Iran.

Trump’s emphasis on Syria — the thrust of much of his speech — was the routing of the Islamist terrorist threat embodied there by the Islamic State. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah share that goal.

Secondarily, Trump said he would intervene when what he called the “criminal” Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

What Trump did not say — and what the Netanyahu government had demanded — was whether he would seek the removal from Syria of Iran and Hezbollah, which launched a war against Israel in 2006 and appears to be building a missile arsenal ahead of another war. (Trump did twice attack Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that threatens Israel.)

More broadly, Israeli Cabinet ministers — especially the defense minister, Avigdor Liberman — repeatedly expressed the concern that the Obama administration diminished the U.S. profile in the Middle East. Israel has long considered a robust U.S. profile in the region as key to its security.

On the Iran deal, Netanyahu could only be pleased at what he heard.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said of the 2015 agreement, which trades sanctions relief for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Netanyahu said from the same podium several hours later.

He lavished plenty of praise on Trump in his speech. Referring to Trump’s visit earlier this year to the Western Wall, Neyanyahu said, “When the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.”

Netanyahu also said “we will act to prevent Iran” from establishing a permanent base in Syria, developing weapons to be used against Israel from Lebanon and Syria, and establishing a terrorist front against Israel on the Lebanon border.

The Israeli, who had a long meeting with Trump in the days before the General Assembly launched, suggested that his message was congruent with Trump’s.

“Today I will say things that the rulers of Iran and the people of Iran will remember always,” he said in Hebrew in a social media post two hours ahead of his speech. “I think they will also remember what President Trump says.”

Trump says Israelis and Palestinians both want peace


President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Donald Trump said he believes there is a chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace because both sides are committed to it.

“I think we have a chance of doing it, I think the Palestinians would like to see it happen, I think the Israelis would like to see it happen and usually when you have two groups that would like to see something happen, good things can happen,” Trump said Thursday at a news conference at the White House with the emir of Kuwait. “I think there is a chance that there could be peace.”

Trump since assuming office has attempted to restart peace talks, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House and visiting the region. His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been in the region three times, and his top international negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, has been a constant presence there.

Despite these efforts, and initial enthusiasm from the Israelis and the Palestinians, officials on each side now say the effort is sputtering because the other is not serious about peacemaking.

Trump will meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month.

Can a shakshuka stain kill you?


Photo from Wikipedia

The folks at Pico Café serve a mean shakshuka, that clumsy word made famous recently by Conan O’Brien in his television adventures from Israel. Shakshuka is a hot and spicy Israeli breakfast dish consisting of eggs submerged in cooked tomatoes. The one I ordered the other morning seemed to have an extra dose of the red stuff — the scourge of white shirts everywhere.

Maybe because my conversation with a friend got a little lively ( I think we were talking about Trump), I didn’t pay much attention to the pathway between the tomato sauce and my shirt. I’m sure you can see where this is going: At one point, I looked down and there it was, the dreaded little stain on my shirt.

I tried to clean it with a napkin and ice water, but that was like trying to make a peace agreement in the Middle East — beyond useless. My brain quickly processed the dilemma: Should I go back home and change my shirt, or should I go straight to the office and carry the stain with me all day, tolerating the psychic wear and tear that would involve?

Since my house wasn’t too far away, I voted for peace of mind and rushed home to change the shirt.

That decision almost ended my life.

You see, from my house, it was quicker to take the Santa Monica Freeway to the office. Had I driven from the restaurant, I would have taken Olympic Boulevard.

So, there I was in my clean shirt driving happily on the freeway under a glorious California sun and with the jazz music playing, cars to the left of me, cars to the right, cars all around.

There’s an odd feeling of safety these days when you drive these sturdy new cars with so many comfort and safety features. On a freeway, this illusion of safety is somewhat magnified, because everyone seems to be gliding along in their protective bubbles and in their own lanes.

Some drivers, as you know, love to explore new lanes, especially new lanes that go a little faster than the one they’re in. I’m one of those explorers.

A smart choice can lead to an accident. A wrong choice can save your life. We are all at the mercy of fate.

Since I was driving a new car, I wasn’t in tune with its blind spots, so, as I tried to shift into a faster lane to my left, I missed seeing a car that was already there. The mere glimpse of the car made me do a sudden and jerky move, and for one little second, I thought I had lost control of the car.

How can I describe the horror of that second?

I remember reading a French writer who described love at first sight as “when a second lasts a century.” Well, maybe that describes it — in a second that seemed to last forever, I saw death at first sight. I experienced the cliché of seeing my life flash in front of me. 

After the shock wore off, I started reflecting on the shakshuka.

One silly tomato stain made me change my shirt, which made me take the freeway, which put me in a position where I almost got into into a deadly accident. Could that little stain have triggered the end of my life?

These philosophical musings may be intriguing but, in reality, they have little practical value. We make choices all day long that take us into unknown territory. For all I know, the deadly accident would have occurred on Olympic Boulevard, in which case the shakshuka stain would have saved my life. We’ll never know.

I have a friend who met his future wife on an escalator in an airport. Had he gone to a restroom or stopped for coffee or done any number of trivial things at that time, he never would have met her. His life would have been entirely different — different family, different everything.

The smallest decision can lead to a life-changing, or even a life-ending, event. A smart choice can lead to an accident. A wrong choice can save your life. We are all at the mercy of fate.

Of course, none of that means we shouldn’t put the odds on our side.

In my case, my shakshuka adventure reminded me of the razor-thin fragility of life. It also reminded me of something else: Whether there’s a stain on my shirt or not, I really should learn how to stay in the slower lanes and just enjoy the music.


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

Greenblatt’s Gaza proposal leaves more questions than answers


Jason Greenblatt in Israel. Photo from Facebook

Towards the end of Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the Middle East this week, he visited the Israeli-Gaza border with IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “It is clear that the Palestinian Authority must resume its role in managing the Gaza Strip,” Greenblatt declared and explained, “since Hamas has severely harmed the residents and failed to meet their most basic needs.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Yet, Middle East experts questioned how realistic Greenblatt’s proposal is and urged more clarity from the Trump administration in how they would implement the return of PA rule in Gaza. “I think it is good that the Trump Administration expressed support for PA governing Gaza,” explained David Makovsky, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The question remains how to make this happen. Abbas missed a moment to establish the PA back in Gaza after the 2014 war. The PA has yet to put forward a plan that would make Gazans believe they care about them. For Abbas to win back Gazans, he cannot speak in generalizations but he needs a plan. The US cannot want the PA back more than the PA itself.”

Following the 2014 Hamas-Israeli conflict, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the United States, France, and Jordan to return PA forces to Gaza, Walla News reported.

“Absent any strategy or structure, it’s a pipe dream today,” said Grant Rumley, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). “There are no incentives for Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza when it can have (Abdel Fatah) Sisi or (Mohammad) Dahlan and the U.A.E. bail it out, and there are no incentives for Abbas to risk troops and political capital without guarantees that a repeat of the 2007 civil war won’t happen. Re-inserting the PA into Gaza will require a framework, regional buy-in, and a leadership in Ramallah that is willing to take risks — I see none of those on the horizon today.”

A White House spokesman declined Jewish Insider’s request for comment on the White House’s proposal.

Conditions in Gaza remain dire. Power in Gaza has declined to approximately four hours a day after the P.A. reduced fuel payments to the impoverished enclave. Unemployment in the impoverished enclave has spiked to 42% and among youth it’s at 58%. Hamas and Israel have fought three bloody wars resulting in thousands of casualties between 2008-2014.

Khaled Elgindy, a Brookings fellow focusing on Palestinian politics, cautioned, “Various Palestinian officials have said in one form or the other that they will not go back to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks. The fact that this statement is coming from the Trump administration may not be helping things. People in Hamas may be looking at it: ‘Wait a minute, Is this an attempt to try and impose something on Hamas?’”

The timing of Greenblatt’s statement supporting the return of Fatah rule in Gaza is noteworthy in light of a senior Israeli government official’s comments to Yediot Achronoton Tuesday clarifying that Jerusalem is “interested in the stability of Hamas rule in Gaza.” Elgindy asked, “Does that mean the US and Israel are not on the same page when it comes to Gaza?”

While backing the Trump administration’s focus on the challenge of Gaza, Rumley concluded, “Unfortunately, absent any parameters or way forward, the Trump administration is likely to reach the same dead-end as the Bush and Obama administrations.”

Jared Kushner was in the Middle East. Did Trump’s A team bring a peace plan?


Jared Kushner, left, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Aug. 24. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

Seven months into the Trump presidency, Israel and the Palestinians, along with other countries in the Middle East and experts on policy in the region, are still waiting for the U.S. administration to describe its preferred framework for peace there.

Kushner, who Trump has charged with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, arrived Wednesday in Israel for his third visit to the region. He and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, held meetings the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before wrapping up a Middle East tour that the U.S. described as “productive,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Something has to come out of this trip that demonstrates that the peace process is not dead and buried,” Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents who is now president at the Wilson Center, told JTA. “The whole world is watching. Some sort of event or framework is necessary.”

Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy in Washington, D.C., was more blunt at a meeting earlier this month with reporters.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” he said.

For its part, the Trump administration does not appear to be poised on the brink of a breakthrough. The Palestinians had hoped for a commitment to two states — Trump in February had retreated from 15 years of explicit U.S. commitment to the outcome. But on Wednesday, as Kushner’s party was landing in Israel, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, made it clear that nothing on the two-state front had changed.

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be,” she said. “It has to be workable to both sides. And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

The inclination toward caution — leaving the pace of advancement to the parties — is a reaction to the burns suffered by the United States when previous administrations took a more proactive role in brokering peace.

It’s an experience Kushner is keen not to revisit — something he made clear earlier this month in a leaked chat with congressional interns. Kushner rarely speaks in public, and the exchange last month was a rare insight into how he has been approaching the renewal of the peace talks. It underscored how embryonic the administration’s approach was to peacemaking.

“So what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said in a recording obtained by Wired magazine. “And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”

Kushner’s remarks — hesitant, if not feckless — were  in contrast with the intensity of the Trump administration’s activity at the start of his presidency, said Daniel Shapiro, the Obama administration’s ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017. In addition to Greenblatt’s near constant presence in the region and the two visits by Kushner, Trump visited Israel and the Palestinian areas in his first overseas trip as president, and has hosted Netanyahu and Abbas at the White House.

“Trump obtained a significant degree of leverage through his first meetings” with Netanyahu and Abbas, Shapiro said. “That kind of leverage is wasting an asset if it’s not used.”

A perception that has arisen: One of the obstacles to a coherent White House Middle East policy was infighting between relative traditionalists like Kushner and Powell — a Middle East hand who served in senior positions in the George W. Bush administration — and hard-liners like Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist. Vanity Fair reported this week that Bannon lobbied hard to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and “pushed a tougher line against the Palestinians than Kushner did.”

Pro-Israel groups that favor a hard line in dealing with the Palestinians lamented the appointment of David Satterfield, a veteran U.S. diplomat with experience in the Middle East, as acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. The Zionist Organization of America worries that Satterfield will bring “unwarranted pressure on Israel.”

ZOA has also labeled Powell, who directed charitable activities at Goldman Sachs after serving as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs in the George W. Bush administration, as “hostile to Israel.”

If Bannon’s exit from the White House means the administration will adopt a more traditional “honest broker” approach to the Middle East, some suggest that Kushner is likelier to push for talks — and compromise — on both sides.

The ex-negotiator Miller said that didn’t seem likely. Bannon’s preoccupations were elsewhere, he said, and in any case, it’s not as if Kushner and Greenblatt — Orthodox Jews with longstanding ties to Israel, including to its settlement movement — were slouches when it came to defending the country’s interests.

“You didn’t need Steve Bannon to create a huge sort of tsunami tilt in favor of Israeli sensibilities,” Miller said, as opposed to the coolness of U.S.-Israel relations under the Obama administration.

Another factor inhibiting a breakthrough is the domestic tribulations of each leader. Both Netanyahu and Trump are facing the possibility of criminal inquiries into their administrations, and Abbas faces the old internal challenge from Hamas, the terrorist group running the Gaza Strip, and newer ones from younger leaders in his own Fatah movement.

Still, the itinerary of the Kushner trip suggests the nascent stages of a grander strategy, according to Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The U.S. delegation, which included stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

“There is still interest across the region to explore a regional architecture for peace,” Schanzer said, referring to plans that Trump and Netanyahu have touted in the past that would create the conditions for a broader and simultaneous peace deal among Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states.

“This idea is that the Israelis and the Arabs could find ways to ensure a better quality of life and some progress toward autonomy for the Palestinians while simultaneously exploring shared regional priorities with the Arabs,” he said, including shared strategies to confront Islamist terrorist groups and contain Iran’s influence. “If done in parallel, it could be productive.”

The time to strike on such a regional approach was now, Schanzer warned, noting that both Russia and China were making inroads into the region.

“You’ve got the Russians effectively commanding the Israelis to pay visits,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s visit this week to Moscow, which seemed to preoccupy the Israeli leader more than the Kushner visit.

Russia maintains a presence in Syria, and Israel is pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin to make sure that any outcome in that country’s civil war is not to the benefit of Russia’s de facto allies in the conflict, Iran and Hezbollah.

According to Schanzer, “The Trump administration needs to guard this portfolio jealously if they want to maintain control” in the Middle East.

Australian broadcaster explains why it left Israel off the map


Australia’s national news service defended its decision to broadcast a graphic showing a map of the Middle East that included Palestine but not Israel.

Shown during an Aug. 17 segment on ABC News Australia, the map illustrated a story about how laws in 11 Muslim-majority countries and the Palestinian territories treat rape victims.

“The story was about the repealing of a law in Lebanon that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims,” a senior executive for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. told JTA. “The map showed other countries where this law had already been repealed (in the blue) and countries where campaigners are actively trying to have it repealed (in the yellow).”

Israel, the executive explained, never had the law to begin with, so it was not included. Had it been included, the spokesman suggested, the criticism might have been even more intense.

“In context, I wonder if including Israel in the map might have attracted more warranted criticism … The story had nothing at all to do with it,” the spokesman said. “We have commented on the story to the Daily Mail and they’ve amended the story.”

The graphic made news after a pro-Israel, anti-Islamist activist, Avi Yemini, posted it on his Facebook page.

“Last night ABC News wiped Israel off their map,” Yemini wrote. “They’re literally doing the Islamists’ dirty work for them. We must DEFUND these traitors immediately.”

Yemini was not satisfied with the public broadcaster’s explanation.

“They’ve hit back with an excuse that could almost work,” he wrote on Facebook. “Except for one ‘minor’ detail: PALESTINE IS NOT A COUNTRY!”

The Lebanese parliament voted last week to abolish a law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims.

The clause remains on the books in the Palestinian territories, according to ABC News Australia.

Inside Senator Bob Corker’s realist doctrine


Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

It was a rare and dramatic moment of Congressional foreign policy activism. On June 26, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, singlehandedly blocked all U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and five other Arab regimes until the public feud between those countries and Qatar ended. With no resolution in sight, Corker’s decision to withhold consent has prevented the White House from shoring up military ties with Saudi Arabia. Corker’s move came just two weeks after 47 of his Senate colleagues objected to arms sales to Riyadh in a tight vote, with many citing human rights violations and the country’s “indiscriminate killing” in Yemen. At the time, Corker insisted that Saudi Arabia had not intentionally bombed civilians and sided with 52 other lawmakers to proceed with the arms deal.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The rollercoaster month highlighted how a lawmaker from Tennessee, with a worldview distinct from the neoconservatives who typically dominate GOP foreign policy, wields significant influence over U.S. diplomacy. Welcome to Senator Corker’s realpolitik foreign policy doctrine: maintaining strong ties with U.S. allies while rejecting arguments to prioritize human rights concerns when implementing sensitive international agreements.

During a sit-down interview with Jewish Insider in his Senate office, the affable Corker explained that he is neither “an ideologue or a neo-con” but rather a “pragmatic realist.” The Chairman emphasized that foreign governments have their owns strategic needs, which must be met before reaching any agreement. “I am a business guy and want to constantly figure out ways of advancing our national interest, but I am not locked into an ideological frame,” he said.

Corker’s approach — privileging national interest and realism over ideology — has disappointed some human rights activists. Stephen Mclnerney, Executive Director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), explained, “Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa in general have never really been a priority for Senator Corker.” Unlike Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mclnerney says Corker has withheld significant public pressure against the Egyptian government for its political repression, and hasn’t held a single committee hearing in the 115th Congress to highlight President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s human rights violations.

Henry Nau, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and an expert on foreign policy realism, explained that a reluctance to lambast Cairo on human rights is consistent with the realist viewpoint citing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a model. “Don’t mess around the internal affairs of other countries. That just makes it more difficult to cope with conflicts and stabilize the status quo,” Nau asserted.

The clash between democratization and realism reached a tipping point in March when the U.S. lifted human rights restrictions on a weapons deal and permitted the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain. For Corker, this was a welcome change. “We have had a longstanding position in our office that human rights should be dealt with separate and apart from arms sales,” he noted in a bid to prioritize Washington’s security ties with Gulf allies. Human Rights Watch has assailed Bahrain for jailing opposition activists along with security forces’ “disproportionate” use of violence in its ongoing crackdown on dissent. Mclnerney believes that arms sales could be used as leverage to propel change from authoritarian regimes regarding human rights violations. But Corker has a different view: “We have just tried to compartmentalize the sales of arms as not part of a human rights issue.”

A balancing act on Israel and Iran

Corker has tried to adopt a more realpolitik strategy putting aside ideological concerns in favor of maintaining productive ties with both Israel, its neighboring Arab states and international institutions. In contrast to conservative lawmakers — Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) — Corker declined to co-sponsor legislation that would defund the United Nations after the 2016 United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSC 2334) criticized Israeli policy. The Tennessee lawmaker has not supported S.11, legislation demanding the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move many Arab states oppose. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker could have advanced either bill but never gave the legislation a markup opportunity or committee vote.

At the same time, Corker marshalled support in recent months to advance the Taylor Force Act out of committee, legislation that would cut U.S. economic aid to the Palestinian Authority until they cease payments to families of terrorists. “This legislation will force the P.A. to make a choice: either face the consequences of stoking violence or end this detestable practice immediately,” Corker stated in support for the bill. The Taylor Force Act passed Corker’s committee earlier this month by a 17-4 bipartisan margin and has since gained the backing of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who previously served with Corker on the SFRC, praised the Senator’s commitment to gaining bipartisan support for the legislation. Coleman commended Corker for “bringing a deep commitment (to Israel) but always proceeding in a thoughtful, pragmatic way, which I respect.”

Despite working to advance the Taylor Force Act, Corker’s rhetoric on the Middle East is distinct from the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party. “Having a military presence in the West Bank ad infinitum–forever–by Israel is really something different than a two state solution,” Corker cautioned. Corker does not expect a quick resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sympathized with the challenges facing the Jewish state. “I understand that we are not going to move to no security in the West Bank,” Corker added.

As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker worked to block the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran. The Chairman cited the 2015 Iran review bill, which required the White House to submit the nuclear deal before Congress for a vote of approval before sanctions could be lifted. “We were able to pass a law 98-1 that gave us the ability to try to vote and stop it,” he recalled. “It put in place a 90 day delay in the agreement being implemented, which infuriated the Obama administration and forced them to come forth with all of the details of the agreement in advance. That was the first time that I can remember in the ten and a half years that I’ve been here, that we took back power from the executive branch.”

However, some Republicans argue that Corker did not fight hard enough against the deal. “Corker took a middle of the road approach on Iran, being very careful not to the rock the boat in any direction,” a former GOP staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asserted. “As a ranking member and then as a chairman, he never did all he could to hold the line against the Obama administration to try to prevent a bad deal with Iran.” The Congressional aide recalled a 2014 Republican effort to vote on an additional Iran sanctions bill to thwart the agreement. Corker was one of three Republican Senators who declined to sign a letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) demanding a vote. Nonetheless, earlier this year Corker pushed forward bipartisan legislation backed by AIPAC that tightened sanctions against Iran and protested Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

Juggling independence and close ties with the Trump administration

Corker, who was in the running for Secretary of State in the days leading up to the inauguration, has sought to establish a close working relationship with the Trump administration. Jared Kushner, a senior White House advisor and the President’s son-in-law, told Jewish Insider in an emailed statement, “Senator Corker is a leading voice on some of the most serious issues facing our country and provides valuable guidance, advice and input both when he agrees and disagrees with us. It has been a tremendous honor to work with him on various projects including the President’s first international trip.”

After Trump’s overseas trip to the Middle East and Europe in May, Corker noted, “I could not be more pleased with his first trip. The trip was executed to near perfection.” Yet, the Tennessee lawmaker has since offered subtle criticism of the President’s foreign policy across the globe. Although Trump has repeatedly tried coercing North Korea to give up its nuclear program by boosting sanctions, Corker cautioned, “The intelligence community would likely tell you that there is no amount of economic pressure that you can put on Kim to get him to change trajectories.” Furthermore, after Trump divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials — originally obtained from Israel — Corker acknowledged that the White House was in a “downward spiral.” While the Trump administration pressured lawmakers to dilute sanctions against Russia after Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, Corker remained firm. He worked with both Republicans and Democrats to pass a sanctions bill targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Last month, in the midst of negotiations to advance the Taylor Force Act, Corker metwith Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy for Middle East peace. Recalling the discussion, Corker appeared to lack the Trump administration’s enthusiasm to invest the White House’s limited resources on Israeli-Palestinian talks. “It’s interesting to me that they are pursuing it (Israeli-Palestinian peace), but there are a lot of other issues that I think could be resolved and are resolvable. I don’t think this one, in the short term, is one of those,” Corker asserted. While some in the Trump administration may be trying to secure the “ultimate deal” for ideological reasons, Corker’s focus on pragmatic goals in the turbulent Middle East highlights his realism doctrine.

When Corker initially entered Congress, “he questioned the value of being in the Senate,” noted Coleman, who currently serves as Chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “I don’t know if he found the Senate that exciting: there was a lot of talk and not a lot of action.” Yet, Corker’s rise to Chairman of Foreign Relations has now offered him a substantive and influential role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

Sunday Reads: Kissinger on North Korea, Netanyahu attacks the media, A Jew in Charlottesville


Henry Kissinger (Photo by Reuters)

US

Henry Kissinger weighs in on the North Korea nuclear crisis:

Since denuclearization requires sustained cooperation, it cannot be achieved by economic pressure. It requires a corollary U.S.-Chinese understanding on the aftermath, specifically about North Korea’s political evolution and deployment restraints on its territory. Such an understanding should not alter existing alliance relationships.

Paradoxical as it may seem in light of a half-century of history, such an understanding is probably the best way to break the Korean deadlock. A joint statement of objectives and implicit actions would bring home to Pyongyang its isolation and provide a basis for the international guarantee essential to safeguard its outcome.

Aaron Blake writes about what the conflicting voices in the White House on this matter show about the Trump administration:

As I wrote Wednesday morning, we may be witnessing a little “Good Cop, Bad Cop” here, with the administration providing different signals to keep North Korea guessing. It’s the “madman theory,” which says you want your enemies to think you’re capable of anything.

But this also seems to fit into a pattern of the White House not really having its story straight and figuring things out on the fly — which would be a perilous strategy, given the stakes of the North Korea situation. And it also fits into a long-running pattern of White House officials undermining one another, both privately and publicly. Having members of your staff undercut your own secretary of state doesn’t seem like a great way to do business. 

Israel

Micah Halpern writes about Israel and the fight against ISIS:

Israel is watching the fight to uproot ISIS very carefully. It is of utmost importance to get ISIS out of the area and far from the Israeli border. The entire Middle East, even Hezbollah, understands this.

But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. 

Nahum Barnea takes a look at Netanyahu’s attempts to deflect the corruption scandals he faces:

Netanyahu isn’t telling them the truth when he describes the investigations against him as a plot devised by a hidden enemy (the media? The Left?) to replace the government. The Netanyahu cases are being investigated by a police commissioner who he appointed. Only a person who has lost his mind can attribute left-wing views to Roni Alsheikh. The decisions on the cases are being made by an attorney general who he appointed, a man who served under him as cabinet secretary. Whoever ascribes left-wing views to Avichai Mandelblit is living in a fantasy world. The media’s influence on their decisions is smaller than the media’s influence on Netanyahu’s decisions.

Middle East

James F. Jeffrey and Wa’el Alzayat suggest consulting with the Powell Doctrine in the efforts to contain Iran in Iraq and Syria:

The objective of any U.S. military response to those violations has to be clear: to protect newly liberated areas and members of the international community who are helping there, rather than to initiate any future offensive operations against the regime or Russian interests in Syria. Of course, protecting areas in southern Syria, Raqqa, and the north would not only help civilians there but also undermine Iran’s efforts at extending its arc of control from Tehran to Beirut and serve as a pressure point in support of more serious political negotiations.

Sir John Jenkins writes about the West’s attempt to engage with Islamists:

I’m always happy for members of that Select Committee to correct me. But I cannot think of a single example where Western diplomatic or any other sort of engagement has produced any change in the position of any political Islamist. Deniable channels of communication may sometimes be wise, for example when we have kidnappings to resolve or to ensure the physical security of diplomats (both of which we had to do in Gaza when I was HM Consul General in Jerusalem).

But our decisions publicly to engage with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood after 2000 and in 2008 to re-engage diplomatically with Hizbollah’s political wing produced absolutely no shift in their thinking.

Jewish World

Nathan Guttman reports on his experiences at the Charlottesville hate rally:

“[L]ittle Mayor Signer — SEE-NER — how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” asked Richard Spencer, a right-wing leader who dreams of a “white ethnostate,” as he stood on a bench under a tree to rally his troops, deprived of their protest.

The crowd knew exactly how to pronounce his name: “Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew” some shouted out. The rest burst out in laughter. And that was one of the only moments of levity the alt-right audience gathered under the tree enjoyed.

JTA reports on a letter written by the leaders of Poland’s Jewish community amid the growing levels of public antisemitism:

Earlier this month, a lawmaker for the anti-immigration conservative Law and Justice Party, Bogdan Rzonca, wrote on Twitter: “I wonder why there are so many Jews among those performing abortions, despite the Holocaust.”

Schudrich in an interview for JTA called this an “outrageous statement that smells of anti-Semitism.” He noted Rzonca was not reprimanded for the statement. Schudrich said that this “deafening silence by the government on specific acts or statements on anti-Semitism is disappointing and disconcerting.” In that regard, he added, “the letter is criticism” of the government.

Trump sending top envoys to Middle East to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace


From left: Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Jared Kushner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images.

President Trump will soon a team of his top aides, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on a tour of the Middle East to advance “substantive” Middle East peace talks.

The delegation “will be meeting with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” a senior administration official said Friday in a statement sent to JTA.

The delegation will comprise Kushner, a top aide whose brief includes Middle East peace; Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s top peace negotiator; and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser.

“As President Donald J. Trump has clearly stated, he is personally committed to achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that would help usher in an era of greater regional peace and prosperity,” the senior administration official said. “He believes that the restoration of calm and the stabilized situation in Jerusalem after the recent crisis on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif has created an opportunity to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration.”

A lethal July 14 attack by terrorists that killed two Israelis police at the Temple Mount led Israel to install metal detectors. That was followed by increased tensions among Palestinians, who worship at the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Israel removed the metal detectors following interventions by Jordan and by Trump administration officials.

The trip, which does not yet have dates, reflects Trump’s approach of brokering a broader Middle East peace and includes meetings with some of the regions most important players.

“The president has asked that these discussions focus on the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, combating extremism, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there, strengthening our relations with regional partners and the economic steps that can be taken both now and after a peace deal is signed to ensure security, stability, and prosperity for the region,” the statement said.

David Satterfield, veteran U.S. diplomat with Mideast experience, named assistant secretary of state


Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Ambassador David Satterfield, director general of the Multinational Force and Observers at MFO North Camp in el Gorah, Egypt, Oct. 22, 2011. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

David Satterfield, a veteran U.S. diplomat with experience in the Middle East, will become acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Satterfield will take the position on Sept. 5, replacing Stu Jones, who will retire on Aug. 11, a State Department official told JTA. His appointment was first reported by The Associated Press.

Satterfield has served in diplomatic positions in several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia. He also served as senior adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration and served as the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq.

For about five years, starting in 2009, he was director general of the multinational force in the Sinai, which helps maintain the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. He returned to the State Department in 2014 to be a special adviser on Libya.

Satterfield in his new post is expected to focus on Iraq.

It is not known if President Donald Trump will appoint Satterfield to the position permanently.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in a tweet called the naming of Satterfield “Good news. David Satterfield is a pro’s pro. He brings knowledge, judgment, and creativity to the post, pending a confirmed nominee. “

Robert Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute, a D.C. think tank, said the temporary appointment was a “wise choice.” He added that the U.S. government “has few more experienced, savvy officials, w/broad background across #Mideast, than David Satterfield.”

Daily Kickoff: Kushner’s thoughts on ME peace | Gillibrand withdraws support for anti-BDS bill | When Stripe’s founder visited Israel & Ramallah


Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner speaks outside the West Wing of the White House on July 24. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

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TOP QUOTE — Jeffrey Goldberg on why politics has become a form of religion: “Everybody needs religion, it just manifests itself in some way. People need to believe in something larger than themselves, they need to affiliate with something transcendent. I think for Bernie Sanders-type people, I think Bernie Sanders has become a religious figure… Religion came about because humans desired something transcendent, something that would explain mysteries that even science couldn’t explain, something that unifies them against darker, larger forces, and politics plays that role for a lot of people. That’s one of the reasons it gets so personal. That’s one of the reasons that political language becomes so hypermoralized. It’s not that your opponent is wrong, it’s that he’s evil. And that manifests itself on all sides of the political debate.” [RadioAtlantic]

ON THE HILL — Senate Updates the Taylor Force Act — by Aaron Magid: An updated version of the Taylor Force Act was released yesterday, signaling increased momentum towards passing the legislation. Based on the recommendation of Elliott Abrams, the new text contains an exemption for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. The legislation would also allow continued payments towards Palestinian humanitarian programs as the bill only restricts funding to programs, which “directly benefit the Palestinian Authority.” While some pundits, including former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro and former Obama administration official Ilan Goldenberg, proposed inserting a National Security Waiver allowing the president the ability to delay implementation, no such waiver exists in the updated version. The bill also obligates the U.S. Secretary of State to submit a report annually attesting to the Palestinians’ fulfillment of ending the terror payments. [JewishInsider]

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet on Thursday morning for a business meeting to discuss the Taylor Force Act [SFRC]

“The Smart Way to End ‘Pay to Slay’” by David Makovsky, Dennis Ross and Lia Weiner: “Rather than placing the bulk of U.S. aid on the chopping block, legislation must be crafted to incentivize the PA to reform its behavior — not further downgrade its ties with the United States and Israel. This seems to be the sentiment of senior members of Congress on both sides of the aisle… Being smart counts for more than being right. And, the smart approach is one that also recognizes that innocent Palestinians, who have not been able to vote in an election for more than a decade, should not be forced to pay for the mistakes of a government they cannot control.” [ForeignPolicy]

THE ULTIMATE DEAL — Kushner On Middle East Peace: “What Do We Offer That’s Unique? I Don’t Know” by Ashley Feinberg: “On Monday, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke to a group of congressional interns… The speech… offered a rare insight into the man who President Trump has tasked with… creating peace in the Middle East, among other tasks. It’s the latter, though, that’s both the most deeply personal for Kushner (a staunch supporter of Israel) and that prompted him to embark on his longest, most rambling answer during yesterday’s question-and-answer session.”

Highlights — “What I’ve determined from looking at it is that not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this… We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation… What do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know… We’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”

Kushner on the Temple Mount Crisis: “There were… two Israeli guards killed at the Temple Mount… so Israelis [unintelligible] putting up metal detectors on the Temple Mount, which is not an irrational thing to do…. So then what happens is they start inciting it. They say look, you know, this is a change to the status quo… And that really incited a lot of tension in the streets… So ultimately we were able to work with them, and we were able to get the Israelis to take down to the different forms of surveillance that the Jordanians were okay with, and we talked with the Palestinians the whole time to try to get their viewpoint on it.” [Wired]  Listen to the full audio here [Wired]

Kushner to interns: “I did a lot of dumb things, I bought a newspaper—which was … very interesting” [Twitter]

“What Kushner’s Leaked Speech Gets Wrong About Mideast Peace” by Aaron David Miller: “For a would-be peacemaker, if you ignore history it will bury you… You don’t need to be a historian to be a successful negotiator, but knowing which gripes matter and which ones don’t is crucial… I was stunned, too, by Kushner’s quip that “not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this.” Remember the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties? Those weren’t chopped liver…  The only three Americans to ever succeed in Arab-Israeli peacemaking—Kissinger, Carter and Baker—all operated off a pro-Israeli script. But they also were prepared to push the Israelis along with the Arabs. You can’t do Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking without applying ample amounts honey and vinegar. Nobody is going to plant a tree in Israel in honor of Jared Kushner should he succeed—at least not immediately.” [Politico]

“Trump’s plan for Mideast peace fades” by Ben Caspit: “A senior Israeli political figure admitted to Al-Monitor… that, “As of now, Trump’s peace initiative looks like it is completely bogged down.” He added, “The Palestinians have lost trust in the peace negotiations teams. Greenblatt is rapidly approaching the status of persona non grata, just like Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. The president is not involved, and it looks like he has distanced himself considerably from Middle East affairs, particularly given the serious problems he has inside the White House.” …A senior Israeli minister speaking on condition of anonymity added, “The Americans aren’t really a presence here. They let us do whatever we want. They don’t set the tone, and they don’t dictate the agenda.” [Al-Monitor]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) withdraws from the Israel Anti Boycott Act — by Jacob Kornbluh and Aaron Magid: Gillibrand asked Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday to remove her name from the anti-BDS legislation following pressure by the ACLU and other liberal advocacy groups. Glen Caplin, a senior advisor to the NY senator told us: Gillibrand “opposes BDS and has a different read of the bill. However, considering there are many people who have a different read of the bill, the bill is ambiguous. She believes it needs to be rewritten and she would support the bill if it were rewritten to specifically address those concerns.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), a supporter of the bill, told JI’s Aaron Magid, “It’s been pretty much a settled law as far as this is a commercial activity that you can’t be listening to a boycott by Arab countries. So I don’t think it’s a legal issue or a constitutional issue at all. On this matter, I don’t agree with them (ACLU).”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said that while he remains a co-sponsor at this time, “there are some issues with the bill that need to be considered and addressed, which I am doing and talking to my colleagues. While we are in the process of negotiations, I am not going to comment further.”

NY Post editorial… “Kirsten Gillibrand’s profile in cowardice: Add New York’s once-moderate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to the ever-growing list of Democrats who live in mortal fear of alienating the party’s hard-left base. Or to the ranks of senators who apparently don’t even read the bills they co-sponsor.” [NYPost

Sen Ron Wyden (D-Ore) still supports the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and he says the ACLU has misinterpreted the effect the bill would have on Americans and their ability to protest Israeli policies. “This bill continues to allow anyone to boycott Israeli products or to say they intend to boycott Israeli products,” says Henry Stern, a spokesman for Wyden’s office. “This bill wouldn’t prevent anybody or punish anybody for making those choices. It does nothing to restrict Americans’ speech. This bill doesn’t create any new penalties either—it uses the same language as a 40-year-old law that prevents American commercial activity from participating in concerted boycotts led by foreign governments.” [WWeek]

HILL SUMMER TRAVEL — House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-D) is leading a delegation of 19 House Democrats on a weeklong trip to Israel. The delegation will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and military officials. They will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The trip is organized by AIPAC’s American Israel Education Foundation.

PROMOTIONS: “Trump’s Peace Envoy Expands His Team” by Amir Tibon: “Victoria Coates, a member of President Trump’s National Security Council, was recently promoted to the position of senior director for international negotiations, in which she will be working under Jason Greenblatt… In recent weeks, the NSC has been in discussions with the State Department over the possibility that a number of diplomats and policy experts from the department would begin working directly for Greenblatt… Greenblatt has relied on the State Department for information, advice and technical arrangements, but the NSC is looking to “staff up” his team.” [Haaretz]

“Military academic Mike Bell promoted to top Middle East adviser on NSC” by Connor O’Brien and Andrew Restuccia: “Retired Army Colonel Michael Bell has been promoted to the top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, two White House officials said. Bell, who was most recently the NSC director of Persian Gulf affairs, is now the senior director for the Near East. He succeeds Derek Harvey, who was dismissed last week by national security adviser H.R. McMaster.” [Politico]

KELLY’S WHITE HOUSE: “A reset of her own: Ivanka Trump moves forward” by Betsy Klein: “The couple “have a lot of admiration and respect for (John Kelly) and his ability to professionalize the West Wing and are eager to follow his lead,” [a White House] official said. “They want this to work,” the official said… The West Wing shakeup — if it is successful in minimizing damaging leaks and other harmful distractions — presents Trump with the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and set a new narrative focused on her specific priorities and work.” [CNN

Politico publishes the transcript of Trump’s recent interview with the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerard Baker — by Josh Dawsey and Hadas Gold: “Ivanka Trump stopped by the Oval Office during the interview, telling Baker she heard he was there and wanted to say hello… “And I liked your editorial today, very nice. (Laughs.)” the transcript quotes Ivanka Trump as saying. “Oh, good, good. Well, you see, you know, my colleagues write those, so they’ll be – they’ll be –” Baker said, likely referring to the editorial section that is separate from the news section at the newspaper, before being cut off by the president. “You did a good job,” Trump said. “Yeah, you really did,” Ivanka Trump added. “Thank you very much. Thank you,” Baker replied. “You did a good job,” Trump continued before referring to Kushner: “He’s a good – he’s a good boy.” “They wrote a very nice editorial, so very good,” Ivanka Trump said.”

POTUS on Russian lawyer meeting: “Look at Jared, everybody – we do appreciate the editorial – but everybody said Jared Kushner. Jared’s a very private person. He doesn’t get out. I mean, maybe it’s good or maybe it’s bad what I do, but at least people know how I feel. Jared’s this really nice, smart guy, who’d love to see peace in the Middle East and in Israel, OK?” [Politico

”How will Trump handle the boredom?” by David Suissa: “It will be a battle to watch. On one side, you have a taskmaster who has been given authority to bring order to the castle, and on the other, you have an impulsive boss who loves drama and whose attention span is measured in tweets. The more Kelly succeeds, the more boredom he will bring to the White House. This will force our president to concentrate on things like… policy.” [JewishJournal]

TOP TALKER: “Behind Fox News’ Baseless Seth Rich Story: The Untold Tale” by David Folkenflik: “On April 20, a month before the story ran, [Ed] Butowsky and [Rod] Wheeler — the investor and the investigator — met at the White House with then-press secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering. The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published… On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News’ story appears, Butowsky leaves a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, “We have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do.” … Spicer says he is not aware of any contact, direct or not, between Butowsky and Trump. And Butowsky now tells NPR he has never shared drafts of the story with Trump or his aides — that he was joking with a friend.” [NPRWashPost]

HEARD YESTERDAY — White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “It doesn’t bother me that the Press Secretary would take a meeting with somebody involved in the media about a story. None of that was disclosed. They had a conversation and that was the end of it… The President didn’t have knowledge of this story. The White House didn’t have any involvement in the story.”

IRAN DEAL: “Iran Says New U.S. Sanctions Violate Nuclear Deal” by Rick Gladstone: “Iran said on Tuesday that it had lodged a complaint with the commission that polices possible violations of the Iranian nuclear agreement… The commission includes representatives from all seven countries in the accord… and is coordinated by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top foreign policy official.” [NYTimes]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained his position on the Iran deal during the State Department press briefing yesterday: “It is important in my view that we coordinate as much as we can with our European allies and with Russia and China, who are signatories as well, because the greatest pressure we can put to bear on Iran to change behavior is a collective pressure… It’s an agreement that should serve America’s interests first and foremost, and if it doesn’t serve that interest, then why would we maintain it? … I think there are a lot of alternative means with which we use the agreement to advance our policies and the relationship with Iran. And that’s what the conversation generally is around with the President as well, is what are all those options.”

“Averting a Third Lebanon War” by Mark Dubowitz and [Rep.] Mike Gallagher: “Sanctions lifted under the Iran nuclear agreement should be restored. Blacklist the Central Bank of Iran and expel Iranian banks from the Swift banking system. Some will worry this financial pressure could put the Iranian nuclear agreement at risk. So be it. This is the price Iran must pay for pushing the region into another bloody confrontation. And if sanctions don’t succeed, Israel should be given the wide berth it needs to address the threat using all means at its disposal.” [WSJ]

Ben Rhodes resurfaces: “If Trump tears up Iran Deal even though Iran is complying, why would China or DPRK think he’d stick to a nuclear deal on Korean Peninsula?” [Twitter]

2018 WATCH: “Want to know if Democrats can take back the House? Keep an eye on this Orange County race” by Amber Phillips: “The Orange County-area seat represented by Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) is a typical, affluent suburban Republican district that went for Clinton over President Trump by nearly nine points. That made it one of the most pro-Clinton Republican-held districts in the nation… No surprise then, that Royce, who has been in office for more than two decades, has at least five potential Democratic challengers… Royce is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and… has $3 million cash on hand.” [WashPost

BUZZ ON BALFOUR: “Netanyahu’s Former Chief of Staff Ari Harowin Talks to Become State Witness” by Revital Hovel: “Law enforcement authorities are getting close to reaching a state’s witness agreement with Ari Harow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff. Harow, who was very close to the prime minister, has been linked to two pending investigations against the prime minister.” [Haaretz; Telegraph] • Flashback: Who really is Ari Harow? [JPost]

KAFE KNESSET — Criminal Cucumber Season — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: It is the beginning of what is known in Israel as the “cucumber season,” that time of the summer in which most of the country slows down, as well as the news cycle. But this year, as various police probes involving the PM and his closest confidants advance, it appears the media will have quite enough headlines to keep busy. This afternoon, Sarah Netanyahu is set to arrive at the Lahav 433 (Israel’s version of the FBI) headquarters for another investigation in the “residence affair.” This is the case in which she is suspected of alleged fraud, breach of trust and misuse of public funds for private expenses at the PM’s residence. The police already recommended last year that Sarah Netanyahu be indicted the case. The investigation today is one of the final steps ahead of concluding the case and submitting an official recommendation by the State Prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Balfour’s residents might be concerned about other recent developments, as the state is now engaged in advanced negotiations to turn Ari Harrow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, into a state witness… If the law enforcement efforts come to fruition, Harrow will be the second state witness enlisted as part of the ongoing probes into Netanyahu and his associates, following Miki Ganor, the Israeli representative of the ThyssenKrupp ship company, who has signed a deal as part of the submarine affair investigation, aka file 3000, and his testimony is expected to incriminate Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron… Netanyahu’s personal media advisor Nir Heffetz issued a response today in which he “reiterates to all of the concerned media outlets that there will be nothing because there was nothing.” However, as the list of former aides and confidants starring in criminal headlines continues to grow longer, Netanyahu sure would be happy to shift the cucumber season agenda far from where it is now. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

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

BUSINESS BRIEFS: LogMeIn buys Israeli AI startup for $45M [Bizjournals] • Kushner Companies caught in legal battle with New York restaurant owners [FoxNews] • Jared Kushner stepped down from 266 ‘corporate positions.’ What does that mean? [WashPost] • TPG to Invest in Israeli Cyber Security Firm GuardiCore [Reuters] • High-Profile Lawyers Targeted in Mexico Spyware Scandal Involving Israel-based NGO Group[NYT] • Activist Shareholder Doubles Down Against $7.4 Billion Sabra Merger [SeniorHousing] • Houston-area business leaders — including Fred Zeidman — submit letter in opposition to ‘bathroom bill’ [Chron• Arianespace, Avio launch 10th Vega rocket, orbit two Israeli-made satellites [SpaceNews] • Israeli taxman seeks $45 million from Coca Cola over royalties: report[Reuters] • Macron Should Call Billionaire Patrick Drahi’s Bluff [Bloomberg] • P&G hits back at Peltz, says investor not entitled to board seat [Reuters]

LongRead: “How Two Brothers Turned Seven Lines of Code Into a $9.2 Billion Startup” by Ashlee Vance: “In May, Patrick [Collison] went on a five-day tour of Israel to meet with investors and young entrepreneurs and tout these products. Much of the trip felt like he was still in Silicon Valley: At Google’s Tel Aviv office, he talked to startup founders amid “Tech It Easy” posters and potted plants with stickers reading “You are outstanding!” Midway through the trip, he went to Ramallah, in the West Bank. About 50 people were at the offices of Leaders, a Palestinian organization that runs the region’s only technology park… During his talk, Patrick explained to [Odeh] Quraan and the others that he could identify with feelings of isolation because of his upbringing in rural Ireland… Audience members told him they were set to deliver a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to PayPal chiding the company for allowing Israeli settlers to use the service but not Palestinians. Patrick countered that Stripe wants to expand its business in Palestine and anywhere else entrepreneurs need help.” [Businessweek

“Tales From Inside an Israeli ER” by Matthew Stein: “Dr. Ofer Merin, Shaare Zedek Hospital, Israel… “From a purely medical point of view, treating terror victims is no different than other patients, but there are differences. First, terror victims come to the hospital in a much more critical condition, which means treatment is more urgent…. To make things more complicated, in many of these incidents, we had to treat the terrorist alongside the victims. Sometimes, if their condition is more critical, we’ll operate on the terrorist first. We’re extremely strict with treating patients as patients without judging them, but explaining this to the victims and their families is not easy.”” [Ozy]

“Ex-Trump lawyer, Marvel superhero chairman in epic Palm Beach feud” by Alexandra Clough: “[Marc] Kasowitz is representing Canadian businessman Harold Peerenboom in a years long lawsuit against Isaac Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment and a Trump pal… If Kasowitz feels inclined to hold back against Perl­mutter because of his friendship with Trump, Kasowitz isn’t showing it.” [PalmBeachPost

“Booker Doesn’t Regret Fundraising With Jared And Ivanka In 2013, But “Wouldn’t Take A Dime From Them Now” by Katherine Miller: “No,” he told the hosts of BuzzFeed News podcast Another Round on Saturday. “Listen, I wouldn’t take a dime from them now, but this was a time when they were Democrats. I mean, they were supporting Hillary Clinton, uh, and the Kushner family were big New Jersey Democrats, and really helped to fight against Chris Christie and a lot of other folks.” … He said he had not had a conversation with Kushner or Trump “really since the — since well before the election.” “I literally have people saying, ‘I’m unfollowing you on Facebook ’cause you are in league with the Kushners, and the Trumps,’ and I’m like, ‘What planet are you from? Are you listening to the media here?’ I’m leading, in the Senate, criticism of those folks.” [BuzzFeed]  

“The ‘Rock Star’ Activist Leading the Resistance: The ACLU’s political director and possibly the most powerful Muslim in American politics” by Daniel Malloy: “In 2000 at Harvard, [Faiz] Shakir was co-chair of Islam Awareness Week. The week’s final event, which Shakir says he did not plan or attend, was in coalition with other local colleges and sent proceeds to the Holy Land Foundation, a charity supporting Palestinians. HLF was later shut down by the feds, and its leaders were found guilty of sending money to Hamas. Foes also labeled Shakir an anti-Semite, based mostly on personal tweets by people who worked under him at ThinkProgress. Shakir says the accusations have “no merit,” but they stung. “It cut pretty deeply,” Shakir says. “It’s the type of thing I’ve been working my life against. I was always deeply involved in forging relationships across ethnic and religious differences.” [Ozy

“When Progressives Embrace Hate” by Bari Weiss: “It turns out that this “homegirl in a hijab,” as one of many articles about her put it, has a history of disturbing views, as advertised by . . . Linda Sarsour… There’s no doubt that Ms. Sarsour is a regular target of far-right groups, but her experience of that onslaught is what makes her smear all the more troubling… What’s more distressing is that Ms. Sarsour is not the only leader of the women’s movement who harbors such alarming ideas. Largely overlooked have been the similarly outrageous statements of the march’s other organizers… Recall that only a few months ago, Keith Ellison, a man with a long history of defending and working with anti-Semites, was almost made leader of the Democratic National Committee.” [NYTimes

TALK OF THE TOWN: “In Borough Park, a Councilman Departs but the Feud Goes On” by Shane Goldmacher: “The battle of Borough Park between Mr. Hikind, a 67-year-old who has been in office since 1983, and Mr. Greenfield, 38, is a classic generational struggle for power in one of the densest concentrations of Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish voters in America… “Complicated,” Mr. Greenfield said. “That’s my word. Complicated.” What exactly set off the dispute during Mr. Greenfield’s brief tenure as Mr. Hikind’s top aide more than a decade ago remains a mystery. Neither man would discuss it. “I really don’t want to talk about that,” Mr. Hikind said. “That’s for the book.” [NYTimes] • Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s son, Yoni, jumps in race for City Councilman David Greenfield’s seat [NYDailyNews]

“Uneasy Welcome as Ultra-Orthodox Jews Extend Beyond New York” by Joseph Berger: “Skyrocketing real estate prices in Brooklyn and Queens are forcing out young ultra-Orthodox families, which are establishing outposts in unexpected places, like Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, the Willowbrook neighborhood on Staten Island and in Bloomingburg, N.Y., in the foothills of the Catskills. The influx, however, has provoked tensions with long-established residents, as the ultra-Orthodox seek to establish a larger footprint for their surging population.” [NYTimes]

“My summer at Morgan State University” by Adam Neuman:“‘Morgan State University?’ My mother had now asked me on three separate occasions if this was officially where I had selected to enroll in coursework during the summer of 2012. I nodded and smiled. From grade school and beyond, the majority of my life experiences were solely centered around Jewish interaction and connection. My exposure to people of various faiths, backgrounds, races, and the other intricacies that made humans, well, human, had remained limited. The notion of veering off of a simpler course startled my mother. It also startled me. But, frankly, I was poorer because of it. My lack of exposure had hindered my mind and my soul. So, yes, yes, and yes were the three responses to my mother.” [BaltimoreSun]

JI reader Josh Hantman emails…
“My buddy Dave Kay, a 32 year old British Israeli tour guide, husband and father of an adorable 2 year old, has been fighting stage 4 cancer for the last year. He is a big mensch with a massive heart, and now he needs some help. We’re looking to raise a small amount to help him get the treatment he needs. #SaveDave” [YouCaring]

BIRTHDAYS: Jerusalem born actor, who moved to the US as a child, and has appeared in over 400 TV episodes, Nehemiah Persoff turns 98… Co-founder and chairman of NYC-based real estate development firm, Rockrose Development Corporation, Henry Elghanayan turns 77… Long-time member of Knesset, in the Likud party (1984-2006) and the Yisrael Beiteinu party (2009-2015), he  also held several ministerial posts, Uzi Landau turns 74… Retired colonel in the US Army and a recipient of the Medal of Honor and 7 other medals, he taught at West Point and serves as a military analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, Jack H. Jacobs turns 72… Long-time librarian, now residing in Houston, Irene Seff turns 71… Associate / Executive Director of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (1978-2006), then Director of HUC-JIR’s Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (2007-2015), Richard A. Siegel turns 70… Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host, columnist for the Jewish Journal, author and public speaker, Dennis Pragerturns 69… Op-Ed columnist for the International New York Times, he has worked as a foreign correspondent in fifteen different countries, Roger Cohenturns 62… Democratic member of the US House of Representatives for Nevada’s 3rd congressional district since 2017, she is planning to run  for the US Senate in the 2018 election, Jacklyn Sheryl Rosen turns 60…

Owner of Newton, Massachusetts-based MPG Promotions, Elliot Mael turns 52… ATP professional tennis player (1983 to 1996), who was once ranked sixth best in the world, Aaron Krickstein turns 50… VP of Sales for Hearst Television, Eric J. Meyrowitz turns 47… Former reporter for both the AP and Wall Street Journal, now the DC-based national security reporter for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg turns 43… Speechwriter and executive communications program manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Steve Rabin turns 39… CEO of a multi-national toy and gift company, Isaac William (“Zevy”) Wolman… Director of special projects at the DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Julia Nayfeld Schulman turns 33… Actress best known for her 1999 “Pepsi Girl” role as a 7 year old, and later for subsequent teen roles, Hallie Kate Eisenberg turns 25… VP and General Counsel of Yeshiva University, Andrew ”Avi” Lauer… Harriet Cohen

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

Jared Kushner on Israeli-Palestinian peace: ‘There may be no solution’


Jared Kushner speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House on June 19. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If Jared Kushner is the only person who can deliver Middle East peace — as his father-in-law Donald Trump said — he comes off as a reluctant savior.

In a speech delivered Monday to a group of congressional interns and leaked to the media, Kushner expounded on the Trump administration’s efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. What emerged was an outlook that at once was resolutely pro-Israel and skeptical of the chances of success.

“So what do we offer that’s unique? I don’t know,” Kushner said in his seven-minute answer to an intern’s question in a recording obtained by Wired magazine. “And we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on.”

Kushner traveled to the region in June along with President Trump’s chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, to meet with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders and suss out the chances of reaching a peace deal. It’s among a bevy of issues that Kushner has taken on as a senior adviser to his father-in-law — including criminal justice reform, streamlining the federal government, stemming the opioid addiction crisis and more.

In the speech, Kushner sounds unenthused to be handling the peace process. He opens his answer by saying “this is one of the ones I was asked to take on,” and becomes more pessimistic from there, criticizing Israeli and Palestinian leaders for being mired in history and unable to let go of minor provocations.

“You know everyone finds an issue, that ‘you have to understand what they did then,’ and ‘you have to understand that they did this,’” Kushner said. “But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”

He also made some questionable claims. Kushner said that “not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years we’ve been doing this,” apparently dismissing Israeli peace pacts with Egypt and Jordan, the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Then he said “the variables haven’t been changed much” — something that both Israeli and Palestinian officials would fiercely dispute. Israelis charge that their withdrawals from territory have been met only with terror and incitement, while the Palestinians claim growing Israeli settlements are making a Palestinian state near impossible.

Aaron David Miller, who worked on the peace process in Republican and Democratic administrations, said he appreciated Kushner’s skepticism while adding that his dismissal of history is misguided.

“If you want to have any chance of doing anything on this issue, you have to see the world the way it is, not just the way you want it to be,” Miller told JTA, adding later, “You do need a history lesson, big time, because if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t have a chance of figuring out where you’re going.”

Kushner did boast how the Trump administration mediated an agreement to provide Palestinians with an increase of 32 million cubic meters of fresh water. He also praised his team for helping resolve the recent Temple Mount crisis that erupted when three Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli police officers, and escalated when Israel set up metal detectors at the holy site revered by the Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

In describing recent events, Kushner displayed a pro-Israel stance — unsurprising given that he was raised in pro-Israel Jewish day schools and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once slept in his childhood bed. Palestinian officials have criticized Kushner for siding with Netanyahu during his June meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kushner did not speak of the two-state solution in his answer. He defended Israel’s decision to erect metal detectors as “not an irrational thing to do,” although Palestinians decried the move and said the security measures made them feel like suspects at their own holy site. He criticized a Palestinian imam for forbidding worshippers from passing through the metal detectors.

And in recounting fatalities during the weekend of violence that followed the detectors’ placement, Kushner listed only the Israelis — including three members of an Israeli family stabbed to death in their home by a Palestinian terrorist — and did not mention the Palestinians.

Miller said that while Kushner is clearly pro-Israel, he is not the first American negotiator who is partial to Israel’s interests due to longtime associations with the country.

“It’s clear that emotionally, by virtue of his background and his association with Israel and the prime minister, there’s a high degree of sensitivity” toward Israel, Miller said. “That’s hardly new in the wonderful world of peacemaking. You could have said that about any number of individuals who participated in this process over the past 20 years.”

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been largely stalled for well over a decade. Four years ago, then-Secretary of State John Kerry poured his energy into starting negotiations that ultimately went nowhere. The same goes for negotiators under the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, including Bill Clinton himself. The Oslo Accords, however, were signed during his presidency.

The difference is that those negotiators all at least sounded optimistic as they were beginning their quests. Kushner, at least in this would-be private briefing, sounded at times like he was already close to giving up hope.

“You have some people who don’t want to see and achieve an outcome of peace,” he said. “And other people sometimes thrive in the chaos … And that’s not new to politics, and it’s not new to that conflict. It’s just the way it is.”

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