Ed Elhaderi (middle) with high school classmates in Libya in 1967. Photos courtesy of Ed Elhaderi

From a culture of anti-Semitism to becoming a Jew


A Libyan’s nomadic journey of self-discovery and understanding

That hot afternoon seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago this month. I was 15 and living in Sabha, a small city in the Sahara Desert of southern Libya. An older cousin told me about the reports on Cairo Radio about the dire situation facing the Egyptian army.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said.

I didn’t fully understand the politics of what would come to be known as the Six-Day War, but I knew that what was happening was bad for us as Arabs and Muslims. All around me were other teenagers absorbing the tense mood and looking to vent their rage at the Jews.

I followed the crowd to the only Western-style establishment nearby, a bar. It was early afternoon and the place hadn’t opened yet. A few older boys broke down the door, and a crowd stormed in, breaking bottles and dumping alcohol onto the street outside.

Standing in a crowd, I joined the chants: “Death to the Jews!” “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

The truth is that I had never actually met a Jew. I grew up in a small nomadic village of 20 families, a collection of mud huts with palm-frond roofs that wouldn’t have looked much different 2,000 years earlier. Health care was so primitive that by the time I was a young boy, my parents had lost three children to illness.

Sunni Islam was the only way of life I knew. My preschool was in a mosque, where an imam taught us to read and write by drilling us with verses from the Quran. After that, our education was more secular — I went to mosque, going through the motions, but I was hardly devout. I never was exposed to any alternatives or avenues to question the life we had.

Our textbooks didn’t mention Israel, and people used the word Yahudi, Jew, only as an insult. The Jews had rejected the Prophet Muhammad, so they were considered to be condemned. The only Jews I saw were in Egyptian movies, in which they were portrayed as menacing, monstrous characters — hunched over and speaking with high-pitched nasal accents.

I did know Palestinian Arabs. My elementary school had once hired a young Palestinian as a teacher. Because he was Palestinian, the community welcomed him warmly and supported him generously.

Elhaderi-Libya

Elhaderi receives the prestigious First Honor National Academic Award from Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud in 1974.

After high school, I went to the University of Tripoli, where I was neither politically active nor religiously observant. During my first year there, my father arrived to deliver tragic news: My mother had died. I channeled my grief into focusing on my studies, earning a place in the prestigious chemical engineering program.

Hoping for a career in the country’s burgeoning oil industry, I won a scholarship to study abroad in one of the top-ranked programs in my field, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Leaving behind my father and one younger brother, I set out for my first journey beyond Libya.

In Madison, I discovered a campus teeming with international students — Iranians, Nigerians, Europeans, Asians. Amid the activist ferment of the mid-1970s, each group freely and openly expressed its political and cultural identity.

I did that, too: When I moved into an office I shared with two other graduate students, I tacked up a large poster of Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, wearing his iconic kaffiyeh, brandishing a semiautomatic rifle.

It was 1974, just two years after the murder of Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympic Games and the same year as the terrorist massacre in the Israeli town of Ma’alot. Half of the department’s faculty and perhaps a quarter of its students were Jewish, yet it didn’t strike me that my choice of décor might offend anyone. Many colleagues undoubtedly reacted by steering clear of me.

And then, for the first time, I began getting to know Jewish people. The encounters happened organically, in classrooms and the student union. Two Jewish professors in my department were kind and understanding. Over one leisurely summer, I spent time with a Jewish philosophy professor who engaged a group of us over beers in leisurely discussions about politics and life. I was struck by how they were just people — wonderful, decent, normal people. They defied every stereotype I had been fed while growing up in Libya.

The contrast was so striking that not only did I begin to reconsider my assumptions about Jews, but I also came to re-examine every aspect of my life. Gradually, I came to see how the black-and-white worldview I had grown up with didn’t jibe with reality.

The more experiences I had with Jews, the more I felt drawn to them. I even began thinking that I wanted to marry a Jewish person (although I didn’t have a particular one in mind). Perhaps that would help me to cleanse myself of the hateful mindset of my upbringing.

USC-Grad

Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, after he received his doctorate in chemical engineering from USC in 1982.

After three years in Madison, I transferred to USC. A few months after arriving in Los Angeles, I was practicing tennis at the Ambassador Hotel when I struck up a conversation with an attractive young woman named Barbara and suggested we volley. When I told her my background, she said, unprompted, “I just want you to know, I’m Jewish.”

We exchanged phone numbers, and a week later, I called her. It took a couple of weeks before we connected again, meeting to play tennis and dine on Mexican food. We got along well. Not long after that, I went out of town to take a break from my studies and returned to find a note from Barbara telling me she missed me.

Before long, she invited me to meet her parents. Barbara’s father had lived in Israel, serving as an officer in its War of Independence. And one of her sisters’ boyfriends was an Israeli who had served in the Israel Defense Forces.

I’m sure that when they learned that she was dating a Libyan named Abdulhafied (the name I had grown up with and still used), they thought Barbara had lost her mind.

Still, we grew closer. After a couple of months, we moved in together into an apartment her parents owned in Koreatown. At first, the arrangement was one of convenience, but soon our lives became intertwined. Barbara lovingly helped me through my doctoral thesis and cared for me in ways no one had since my childhood.

She also welcomed me into her family’s life, and, despite our contrasting backgrounds, her parents accepted me with love. Barbara’s family wasn’t particularly observant — they celebrated only Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover.

In 1980, we married at their Fairfax District home. At that point, I didn’t consider myself a Muslim, but rather a spiritual searcher. Together, Barbara and I had explored a nondenominational church called Science of Mind. Our wedding ceremony blended elements of Judaism with some of our own personal touches.

By then, my relationship with my aging father, still back in Libya, was distant. I spoke to him only occasionally, and his question was always: “When are you coming back?” I chose not to share the news of my marriage.

As we settled into our life together, Barbara and I only had limited Jewish observances: Rosh Hashanah dinners, Chanukah gift exchanges, seders hosted by her parents. Together, we continued our spiritual search, occasionally joining a colleague of Barbara’s at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

cov-edsdad

Elhaderi’s father, Elsaidi, in front of his home in the Libyan village of Hatiet Bergen in 1979.

Eager to start a family, we struggled with infertility for many years. We were just days from adopting a baby when the birth mother had a last-minute change of heart. Then, just a week later, Barbara learned she was pregnant. Our daughter, Jessica, was born in 1991 and, two years later, we had a son, Jason.

Not long after that, my father died. We had spoken only occasionally since my last visit to Libya, in 1979. I had shared little about my new life with him, knowing it would have been nearly impossible for him to grasp the pluralism and openness I had come to cherish.

Surely he couldn’t have imagined the next step in my spiritual journey. When Jason turned 12, he announced that he wanted to have a bar mitzvah. We were living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and a neighbor, the Israeli-born wife of a rabbi, offered to teach him to read Hebrew and start some initial religious study.

He also began studying Judaism and his Torah portion with a Chabad rabbi at a shul not far from Barbara’s parents. I sat in on every class, slowly learning about Jewish prayer and customs, as Jason studied his haftarah and maftir. The more I absorbed, the more I felt drawn to Judaism.

On the day he became bar mitzvah, I stood on the bimah, filled with pride in my son and awe for the beauty of the service I could barely understand — and overflowing with emotions I could not fully explain.

The power of that day also made me start to ponder my own mortality. It pained me to realize that since I wasn’t Jewish, I could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery beside my beloved wife.

Not long after the bar mitzvah, I told Barbara that I wanted to convert to Judaism. A rabbi we knew directed us to American Jewish University’s Introduction to Judaism Program, and Barbara and I enrolled.

Our 18 months in the class felt like a second honeymoon: While I learned about Jewish history, Torah and Jewish rituals, I felt closer than ever to Barbara, and I fell in love with Judaism.

cov-edcitizen

Ed Elhaderi and his wife, Barbara, celebrate his becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985.

When I met with my sponsoring rabbi, Perry Netter, then at Temple Beth Am, he asked only one question: “Why do you want to be Jewish?” Choked up with emotion, I couldn’t speak. I simply cried.

“OK,” he said, smiling. “You pass.”

Something else happened: The more I learned about Judaism, the more I saw parallels in my own upbringing in Libya. When I learned about the mezuzah, I remembered how in my childhood village, families posted palm fronds wrapped around verses from the Quran in their doorways. Words I learned from biblical Hebrew seemed to echo colloquial terms unique to the region of my youth.

Investigating, I learned that Jews had lived for thousands of years in Libya, including in my native region of Fezzan — although most left in 1948, and nearly all of those remaining fled just after the Six-Day War. My strong feeling was that I wasn’t so much discovering a new faith as uncovering a long-hidden part of myself, that perhaps some of my ancestors were Jews.

On the morning when I went before the beit din — the rabbinical court — to finalize my conversion, and plunged into the waters of the mikveh, I felt joy combined with a serenity that had eluded me for decades. I felt that I was returning to where I belonged.

Our family joined Temple Beth Am, where I felt increasingly at home, regularly attending on Shabbat and weekdays. At home, we shared weekly Shabbat dinners, at which I started offering each of my children a blessing.

I also engaged in regular Torah study and found particular resonance in Rabbi Akiva’s wisdom from Pirkei Avot: “Everything is foreseen, yet free choice is given.”

That essential tenet — that we can embrace God but decide our own fates — encapsulates much of what I hold dear about America and Judaism. I grew up like so many people in closed societies, knowing one way of life, having one set of beliefs, and taught to despise anything beyond that realm.

cov-barmitzvah

Ed Elhaderi (far right) at his son’s bar mitzvah in 2006 with (from left) daughter Jessica, in-laws Ellen and Bob Levin, son Jason and wife Barbara.

The best guidance for overcoming that kind of internal and external strife is another piece of advice from Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.”

My own learning came full circle in November 2012, when Barbara and I traveled to Israel. We landed in the late afternoon, and by the time we arrived at our Tel Aviv hotel, Barbara wanted to rest, but I felt energized, so I took a walk. Traversing the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa until midnight, I marveled at the variety of people I saw — young and old, from so many ethnic backgrounds. I was amazed by the sights and smells and how alive the city was.

Scanning the faces I passed on the street, I could not help but think back to my youth, to the hatred for Israel and Jews that had been fed to me.  As we traveled the country — Jerusalem, Safed, the Golan, Rehovot — Israel entered my bloodstream. I felt at home.

The trip deepened my connection to Israel and to being Jewish. In synagogue on Shabbat mornings, I began to take notice of a part of the service that I hadn’t thought much about: the prayer for the State of Israel.

Now I say it each week with full intention: “Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy.”

Occasionally, as I say those words, I think back to my 15-year-old self, on that hot June afternoon on the streets of Sabha. And I say an extra prayer of gratitude to God for carrying me on this remarkable journey to myself.


ED ELHADERI is a real estate investor and developer who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and son. He is writing a memoir about his journey from his Libyan childhood to his life as an active and committed American Jew. Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles author and editor who helps people tell their life stories in writing.

Jared Kushner at a luncheon with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina at the White House on April 27. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Daily Kickoff: Kushner returns to Middle East as he reconsiders his legal team | Meet the ‘Most Kosher Bacon’ in Congress | Sebastian Junger’s Tribe


Have our people email your people. Share this sign up link with your friends 

KUSHNER STUDYING ABROAD — “Jared Kushner to Travel to Middle East in Effort to Advance U.S. Peace Efforts” by Carol E. Lee: “Mr. Kushner plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss “their priorities and potential next steps” in the peace process, [a] White House official said. He is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday. Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Trump’s top representative on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, plans to arrive in the region two days earlier.”

“The White House official stressed that no major breakthroughs are expected during the trip and said there is no expectation for three-party talks at this time. “It’s important to remember that forging a historic peace agreement will take time, and to the extent that there is progress, there are likely to be many visits by both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to the region,” the official said, “and possibly many trips by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington, D.C., or other locations as they pursue substantive talks.”” [WSJ; WashPost

Jason Greenblatt tweets: “Excited to be traveling back to Israel and the Pal. territories to continue the discussion about the possibility of peace.”

Why it matters — Aaron David Miller tells us… “First, that despite reports of special counsel investigation into his business dealings, Kushner is determined to signal he’s alive well and working. Second, Trump had made it unmistakably clear that Kushner’s his guy on this issue from the get go. It’s been six months, time to make his debut. Finally, they may believe that sending Kushner will create a greater sense of seriousness and urgency. But what they’re missing is that it’s not the mediator; it’s the parties who won’t make the key decisions. It’s a good thing they’ve signaled there are no breakthroughs on this trip; because there won’t be any.”

KAFE KNESSET — What Kushner and Greenblatt may see — by Tal Shalev: Kushner and Greenblatt intend to continue to promote the administration’s peace efforts, but they might also get a taste of the brewing – even boiling – political tensions their plans are already creating. For instance, during their stay, Kushner and Greenblatt might pass by a protest tent facing the Prime Minister’s office these days. The head of the Beit El Regional Council, Shai Alon, is intensifying his campaign against Netanyahu, demanding the government live up to its 2012 commitment to build 300 new housing units in the settlement… As part of the campaign, the Beit El Regional Council released a video today, headlined “Netanyahu – the man who lies again and again,” and this afternoon residents are planning a rally, and are expected to be joined by Likud and Jewish Home ministers and MKs, who have embraced their demands. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

JI INTERVIEW — Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE) discussed his decades-long military career, support for Israel and what it’s like being a backer of President Donald Trump’s agenda in Congress during an interview with JI’s Aaron Magid. “I was raised in a home where my dad was very pro-Jewish. He taught me early, ‘Those who bless Israel will be blessed,’ quoting Genesis,” Bacon noted. Adding that during his three decades of military service, while serving in Europe and NATO, he worked with Israeli defense officials on missile defense.

The GOP cornhusker enjoys using his last name for political use.During the campaign, he asserted that “a vote for Bacon will always be a vote against pork.” During the interview, the Nebraska lawmaker pointed out that at AIPAC events, he’s frequently introduced as the “most Kosher bacon anybody’s ever met.”

Bacon on Trump’s Middle East peace push: “All of our presidents come in with this vision that we can broker some major peace deal. I’m not convinced we can with the Palestinians until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. As long as they are paying families to commit suicide operations, I just don’t see a reasonable chance of an agreement with them. I would have encouraged Trump not to push down that path because I don’t see a good negotiating partner. I just think until the Palestinians show more earnestness in wanting to have peace, I wouldn’t push Israel to do it.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider]

AIEF BRINGING DC PARTISANS TOGETHER: “Israel trip calms some D.C. tensions” by Daniel Lippman: “A number of former top Trump campaign officials and prominent Democrats say that their trip last week to Israel helped them dial down the bitter partisanship of current-day Washington. Trump campaign alumni Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, former Obama White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, and Paul Begala were among the participants in the seven-day trip that ended Saturday… The trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation and organized by AIPAC political director Rob Bassin; other trip-goers included Juleanna Glover, Corry Bliss, Trey Nix, Brad Todd and Jeffrey Pollack…”

“The 16 American political and Washington operatives traveled the entire country from the border of Lebanon to the Gaza Strip and also spent time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, meeting with government officials in the Knesset, entrepreneurs and business leaders. On the trip, “You’re actually on a bus for a couple hours and you’re talking about your career, your job, the company that you work for, the things that you’ve done in your past, your kids. It really made some strong connections,” said J. Toscano. Burton noted the “stark contrast” between all the security challenges that Israel faces and “then you come home and see the abject stupidity in the debate over Shakespeare in the Park in New York City.” [Politico

Spotted hanging in the West Wing — Trump’s Israel Photos: Two pictures from President Trump’s recent visit to Israel are currently hanging in the hallways of the West Wing… One photo is the President inserting a personal note between the monumental stones during his historic visit to the Western Wall. The other photo is of Trump grasping the hand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a speech on Middle East peace at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Kushner Is Said to Be Reconsidering His Legal Team” by Ben Protess,  Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Sharon LaFraniere: “Some of [Jared] Kushner’s allies have raised questions about the link between his current lawyer, Jamie S. Gorelick, and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia… Given the president’s sentiments, he might view any link to Mr. Mueller with suspicion, including Ms. Gorelick’s representation of Mr. Kushner, according to one person who has been contacted about the matter. An official close to the president disputed that, saying Mr. Trump is pleased with Ms. Gorelick’s representation of his son-in-law… People within Mr. Kushner’s circle recently reached out to some courtroom litigators about possibly joining his legal team. Among the lawyers contacted, one person said, was Abbe D. Lowell, a prominent trial lawyer whose previous clients include Jack Abramoff, the powerful Republican lobbyist, in a corruption scandal that shook Washington in 2005. Mr. Lowell is currently defending Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, against federal corruption charges.” [NYTimes]

Blake Hounshell: “Very clear pattern with Kushner stories. See a bad one coming, plant a positive one in a different outlet.” [Twitter]

“In Hamptons House, a Link to Manafort and Jared Kushner’s Dad” by Andrew Martin: “Jared Kushner was a junior at Harvard when an enterprising political operative was drawn into his family’s orbit. His name: Paul Manafort. The Kushners and the Manaforts, it turns out, go way back — at least when it comes to two of New York’s great obsessions: money and real estate. Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, received a mortgage on a 10-bedroom home in the Hamptons on Long Island. The $150,000 loan was made by NorCrown Bank, in Livingston, New Jersey, whose chairman was Kushner’s father, Charles, the patriarch of the family real estate empire and, at the time, a Democratic powerbroker in New Jersey.” [Bloomberg]

“Meet the man managing Trump’s biggest crisis yet” by Eliana Johnson, Josh Dawsey and Josh Gerstein: “Veteran GOP operative Mark Corallo is known for accepting tough crisis-management cases, but even he wasn’t daredevil enough to accept the job an embattled President Donald Trump considered him for last month: White House communications director. Instead, Corallo chose to stay outside the building, becoming the top spokesman for Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz.” [Politico Trump’s tough-talking outside counsel Mark Kasowitz may do him more harm than good[NYDailyNews]

DRIVING THE DAY — Top technology industry leaders are expected to attend the first White House tech summit organized by Jared Kushner’s Office of American Innovation. President Trump will participate in the American Technology Council roundtable in the afternoon.

— “Attendees are expected to include Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Oracle’sSafra Catz, and venture capitalist John Doerr, among others.” [Axios] • For Tech CEOs, Not Attending White House Summit Is Greater Risk [WSJ

ULTIMATE DEAL: “Trade talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia mark a historic first” by Michael Binyon and Gregg Carlstrom: “Saudi Arabia and Israel are in talks to establish economic ties… Arab and American sources said that the links would start small: allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf, for example, and letting El Al, the national airline, fly over Saudi airspace. However, any such progress would bolster the alliance between Iran’s two most implacable enemies and change the dynamics of the many conflicts destabilising the Middle East.” [SundayTimes

“Palestinian pilgrims to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia” by Itamar Eichner: “The United States, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel have recently been conducting secret negotiations to coordinate the first flight of Palestinian pilgrims from Ben Gurion airport to Saudi Arabia, with a short layover on the way, probably in Jordan… The Americans initiated the matter as a result of President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel… A senior Israeli source said… the flight would be carried out through a foreign company that is neither Israeli nor Saudi. The Palestinians will be able to make pilgrimages to the holy places in Mecca and Medina. This is the closest to a direct flight that has yet to be offered.” [YNet

“Abbas eyes Merkel as Plan B if Trump fails on Mideast peace” by Uri Savir: “A senior Palestinian minister close to President Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Monitor… “We are showing great flexibility, as directed by President Abbas, on the phrasing of the condition to freeze settlement construction — restraining it to the existing built areas of settlements.” … According to Palestinian sources, a special Abbas envoy visited Riyadh last week, in the midst of the crisis with Qatar, to coordinate positions and the insertion of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative into the negotiation process… Yet, given Trump’s domestic troubles and Netanyahu’s positions, he believes Ramallah must have a fallback position in the diplomatic realm. “Unlike many others in the international community, the Palestinian president has not given up on Donald Trump,” he said. “But should Trump disappoint, like others in the international community, we have decided to opt for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in conjunction with French President Emmanuel Macron, to take the lead in preventing a deadlock in the peace process.”” [Al-Monitor

“Israel Gives Secret Aid to Syrian Rebels” by Rory Jones, Noam Raydan and Suha Ma’ayeh: “The Israeli army is in regular communication with rebel groups and its assistance includes undisclosed payments to commanders that help pay salaries of fighters and buy ammunition and weapons, according to interviews with about half a dozen Syrian fighters. Israel has established a military unit that oversees the support in Syria—a country that it has been in a state of war with for decades—and set aside a specific budget for the aid, said one person familiar with the Israeli operation… Israel’s aim is to keep Iran-backed fighters allied to the Syrian regime, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, away from the 45-mile stretch of border on the divided Golan Heights, the three people said.” [WSJ

2020 WATCH: “How Jason Kander Won by Losing” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “He’s clearly a star and everybody knows it,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who campaigned for Kander (when he ran for Senate against Sen. Roy Blunt in 2016) and has continued checking in with him by phone… “He’s the funniest of the candidates that we’ve had since I started doing this.” … And maybe, just maybe, he’s running for president in 2020 anyway. By then, he would only be 39 — seven years younger than Obama was in 2008. When I put this to Kander during our interview, he danced: “Politicians never say never to anything.” Which is what, as I pointed out to him, people who are running for president tend to say… “I’m really focused on making sure we still hold elections right now,” Kander said. “And maybe one day I’ll be in one.”[Politico

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

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Investors welcome tougher Israeli regulations[CNBC] • Israel to build quantum communications tech lab [ZDNet] • Billionaire John Paulson Joins Valeant’s Board of Directors [Bloomberg] • George Lindemann sells Palm Beach home 21% below asking price [TRD• Dodgers President Stan Kasten understands the task before Jeanie Buss [LATimes]

HEARD IN CANNES: “Ari Emanuel says leaving ICM was his toughest moment” by Claire Atkinson: “Ari Emanuel’s dramatic, Hollywood script-worthy exit from talent agency ICM more than 20 years ago was the mogul’s biggest professional fight, the WME/IMG co-CEO recalled on Sunday. “It was the day we walked out of ICM,” Emanuel admitted Sunday at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, asked to recall his most trying times in a session called “Survival of the Fittest.” “We were sued and we had no money and no clients. It was a bad situation.” Emanuel exited ICM in 1995 to set up a rival new agency and attracted talent agents across the business to launch Endeavor.” [NYPost]

“Sebastian Junger Focuses on Syria” by Alexandra Wolfe: “Mr. Junger grew up in Belmont, Mass., the son of a mother who is a painter and a Jewish physicist father who fled to the U.S. from Europe at the beginning of World War II. He found the wealthy suburb cold and sterile. “It just felt like a bubble,” he says… In his latest book, “Tribe,” he looks at the human need for community. He came up with the idea for the book after wondering why he got depressed when he left Sarajevo for short breaks in the 1990s. He found that soldiers felt the same way when they left the battlefield, as did people who left cancer wards as survivors. They missed the community they had left. “All of a sudden, I got it,” he says. “There’s a theme here.” What people instinctively want, he says, is to belong to small groups with a clear purpose. Too many of us are missing that sense of community and purpose in our increasingly isolated modern lives, he says.” [WSJ]

“He Thought He’d Be Your Rabbi. Now, He’ll Get You a Mortgage” by Ron Lieber: “Perhaps it was preordained that David Frankel would become a mortgage banker… His path to the industry was neither straight nor narrow. In the summers, he left for Jewish sleepaway camp, an experience that helped lead him to rabbinical school in Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York — places where his alma mater, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, had campuses. He graduated, and while the career didn’t stick, many of the texts and values did. As best as he can tell, he is the only ordained rabbi who spends his days helping people get the right home loan… So he thought he might be a camp director or a rabbi at a Hillel, a Jewish organization on college campuses. But as much as he loved text study and translation, he eventually figured out that his outspoken nature and skills were not a perfect match for the rabbinate… Today, he works for a direct lender called Guaranteed Rate.”[NYTimes

“These penthouses are bringing suburbia to the city” by Hana R. Alberts: “Victor had a bar mitzvah here and we had 50 to 60 people,” [architect Andrew] Tesoro added.” [NYPost

WEEKEND WEDDING: Ari Schaffer, a research analyst in the White House communications shop, married Marissa Schwartz, a senior analyst at The Advisory Board Company, yesterday at the Rockleigh Country Club in New Jersey. The two met at Kesher Israel Synagogue in Georgetown. [Pic] h/t Playbook

SPOTTED: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending the wedding of David Keyes, the Prime Minister’s foreign media adviser and spokesperson. [Pic; Instagram] h/t Adam Finkel

BIRTHDAYS: Journalist, academic and political figure, active in the Democratic party, she served as US Ambassador to the Netherlands (1978-1981) in the Carter administration, Geri M. Joseph turns 94… Binnie Stein turns 78… Attorney, investment banker, film producer, deputy mayor of NYC (1982-1985), EVP of Cushman & Wakefield (2004-2010), commissioner of NY / NJ Port Authority since 2013, Kenneth Lipper turns 76… Owner of Pittsburgh-based Wenkert Healthcare Services, after a long career as a territory sales manager for GlaxoSmithKline (1992-2014), Harry E. Wenkert turns 61… President and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson turns 60… Investment advisor and broker at the Sherman Oaks, California office of Morgan Stanley, Inna N. Zalevsky turns 60… Overland Park, KS resident Kathi Shaivitz Rosenberg turns 58… Director of communications for New York State Assembly member Steven Cymbrowitz since 2012, Adrienne M. Knoll turns 57… Moscow-born, Russian activist, member of the executive committee of the World Jewish Congress (1991-1996) and EVP of of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (2001-2008), Valery Engel Ph.D. turns 56… Co-founder of Centerview Partners, a boutique investment bank based in NYC, he hosted Barack Obama (2014) and Hillary Clinton (2015) for fundraisers in his Upper East Side Manhattan home, Blair Wayne Effron turns 55… Singer-songwriter, voice actress, dancer, choreographer, actress and television personality, she was a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Lakers at the age of 18, Paula Abdul turns 55… Member of Knesset for the Zionist Union party since 2015, in the 1990s she was a legal advisor to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin turns 47… Founder of JSwipe, a Jewish dating app created in 2014, David Austin Yarus turns 31… Founder and executive director of Kahal: Your Jewish Home Abroad, which helps Jewish students studying abroad, Alexander Jakubowski turns 25… Jessica Brown

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]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on June 6. Photo by Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Reuters

Turkey’s Erdogan backs Qatar in Gulf split


President risks Ankara’s relationship with the US and Saudis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed support for Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain abruptly cut ties with the emirate.

The countries imposing sanctions accused Doha of supporting extremist groups and being too close with their enemy Iran. They severed diplomatic ties and major transportation links, and suspended air and sea travel to Qatar, closing its only land border.

[This story originally appeared on themedialine.org]

Erdoğan criticized the sanctions and on Wednesday the Turkish parliament fast-tracked two recently-drafted agreements that will send Turkish troops to Qatar, train the country’s gendarmerie forces, and authorize joint military exercises. Turkey opened a military base there in 2014 that currently hosts 150 Turkish soldiers but has an estimated capacity for 3,000.

“Turkey really wants to reassure Qatar that Ankara is behind them,” said Gönül Tol, director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and professor at George Washington University.

Tol told The Media Line that Qatar is an important market for Turkish construction and defense firms, and the two countries, whose ties have been getting closer in recent years, see eye-to-eye on many regional issues.

Both oppose Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and both want to contain Iran without confronting or completely alienating it.

However, Ankara’s actions may come with negative consequences.

“It makes economic sense, but on the other hand, it will complicate [Turkey’s] relationship with important allies like Saudi Arabia and the United States,” Tol said.

She says Erdoğan’s move has surprised US officials.

“No one was expecting that. Here [in Washington] people were saying that Turkey will probably want to remain neutral.”

Tol says Ankara’s decision may further damage US-Turkish relations, already at a very low point.

“Trump sees Qatar as a country that’s financing terrorism. So Turkey will be seen as the spoiler against efforts to cut that financing.”

President Trump made statements on Twitter on Tuesday praising Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut ties with Qatar, though the emirate hosts the United States’ largest regional military base that plays an important role in the fight against the Islamic State.

Emre Işeri, professor of international relations at Yaşar University, told The Media Line that Turkey may be shooting above its weight and is making a risky choice to alienate Saudi Arabia and the United States.

“Since 2007, Ankara has been presenting itself as a regional hegemonic power with only middle-power capabilities. Turkey is not capable of transforming the region without the backing of a great power,” Işeri said.

“The new Turkish foreign policy team has [failed to read] the changing geopolitical setting of the Middle East under Trump’s America and King Salman’s Saudi Arabia.”

But Özden Oktav, international relations professor at Medeniyet University, says this is an opportunity for Turkey to play a mediating role.

“Ankara will spend its utmost effort to show how Turkey is still an important player in the region by giving weight to and tilting towards Qatar and Iran,” she said.

Professor Tol says the points of conflict between Qatar and its neighbours go back at least to the Arab Spring protests.

“The problems that caused the current crisis aren’t new. The Gulf countries, especially Saudi [Arabia], have been quite concerned about Qatar since the Arab uprisings started,” she said.

Qatar and its media supported the Arab Spring protests that spread across the Middle East from 2010 – 2012, unlike many of its neighbors.

Tol thinks the Saudi-led countries may have chose to act against Qatar now because of President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, his first official trip abroad.

“I think Trump’s visit emboldened the Saudis,” she said. “[Trump] signaled to the United Arab Emirates and to the Saudis that he wouldn’t back Qatar if something like this happened.”

President Erdoğan has been careful not to harshly criticize Saudi Arabia, a powerful regional player.

“Turkey doesn’t want to completely alienate the Saudis,” Tol says, pointing to Saudi investments in Turkey and the importance of the Saudi market for Turkish defense firms.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS

Shavuot session uses biblical holiday to teach about refugees


The star of the Shavuot liturgy is Ruth, celebrated as the first convert to Judaism. But a late-night study session held by seven synagogues and two Jewish advocacy organizations recast the holiday’s main character as a prototype for today’s refugees, fleeing conflict across Africa and the Middle East.  

The groups met at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) on May 30, the first night of Shavuot, for an evening of learning about Torah — and asylum and immigration policy.

“The American-Jewish community is a refugee community,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the Jewish refugee resettlement organization, told the crowd of some 350. “And now that we’re in, we owe it to [today’s] refugees to ensure they’re treated the way our ancestors were treated, or the way our ancestors should have been treated.”

A program called “Refugees, Immigration and Jewish Responsibility” drew together members of VBS, Temple Beth Hillel, Temple Isaiah, Adat Ari El, Congregation Kol Ami, Stephen Wise Temple and University Synagogue.

Later on in the evening, the crowd broke up into individual study sessions led by the rabbis of the various synagogues present. Sitting in a circle of some two dozen guests during one of them, VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein connected the theme of refugee relief with the biblical plight of Ruth, whom Feinstein called “the quintessential stranger.”

In the text, the widowed and wandering Ruth, having followed her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, is redeemed by a Jewish man, who marries her and gives her a son.

Feinstein argued that only through accepting the stranger can the Jewish people bring about their own redemption: Ruth’s great-grandson is King David, from whose lineage the Messiah is prophesied to come.

Hetfield likewise turned to Torah to encourage the crowd to welcome the stranger — a commandment repeated 36 times in the text, he said.

HIAS opened its doors in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to assist Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe. But in the late 20th century, the stream of Jewish refugees began to recede.

Although the group was “founded to welcome refugees because they were Jewish,” Hetfield said, “today HIAS welcomes refugees because we are Jewish.”

He noted that in 1939, around this time of year, the passengers on the German ocean liner MS St. Louis celebrated Shavuot before it was turned away from North America and sent back to Europe. Many of the Jewish refugees onboard eventually were murdered by the Nazis.

The incident had a lasting impact on Jews in the United States, as well as its immigration policy.

Hetfield recalled that when he was an official at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a branch of the State Department, one of his superiors used to say, “Every policy that the United States has should follow one rule when it comes to refugees, and that is, ‘Would this policy have saved the passengers on the St. Louis, or would it turn them back?’ ”

After Hetfield, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, a VBS member and co-founder of the anti-genocide organization Jewish World Watch, urged those present to take action.

“There’s so much noise and chaos in Washington that this issue will get lost if we’re not constantly reminding them that it matters,” she said, calling on those in the audience to write to their members of Congress to take action on the global refugee crisis.

After her remarks, the crowd met in five groups for text study.

“Tonight, you get an opportunity you don’t normally get,” Feinstein said, “which is to learn with a rabbi who’s not your rabbi.”

The Shavuot holiday, which commemorates the handing down of the Torah, was a fitting occasion to bring together different synagogues, said Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of Temple Beth Hillel, noting that the synagogues gathered “shoulder to shoulder, as if we were at Mount Sinai receiving the Torah. What could be more beautiful than that?”

Photo by Paul Takizawa

Miriam Waghalter: A hope for peace in the Middle East


AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: YULA Girls High School
GOING TO: Rutgers University

In the summer of 2015, Miriam Waghalter and three girls from her Arabic language class at YULA Girls High School went to Israel to meet and travel with four Muslim girls.

“It was very eye-opening in terms of coexistence between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs,” Waghalter said. Before the trip, she was apprehensive about going to Arab villages, “but I realized the Muslim girls were just as scared as we were because of all the stereotypes they have about Jews. We overcame those together and we became really good friends.”

That experience gave her hope for the future and solidified her determination to work toward mitigating conflicts in the Middle East.

“When I was there, I saw we could push past our barriers. Talking to adults who say there’s no chance, the high from the trip faded,” she admitted.

“But I always try to remember how I felt when I was there, and I don’t want to lose that hope for peace. I think a big part of what has to change is education in schools and communities; there’s a lot of false perceptions. There needs to be more participation in coexistence programs, like Arabs and Israelis playing on the same baseball team. When you’re friends with somebody, you’re much less likely to want to fight with them.”

Waghalter first became interested in international affairs as a Hillel Hebrew Academy student, when she participated in a Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer global studies program. But she never thought of it as a career until YULA began offering an Arabic course, which she’s taken for three years. Knowing Hebrew helped, she said. “A lot of the letters and words are similar.”

This year, Waghalter began participating in the high school leadership program MAJIC — Muslims and Jews Inspiring Change. “We’re in the second semester now and we already have relationships, so it’s much easier to talk about conflict and be honest with each other,” she said.

A straight-A student and YULA Girls’ valedictorian, Waghalter received a double college scholarship at Rutgers University in New Jersey. As of now, she plans to major in political science and get a master’s degree in international studies.

“I want to do some sort of advocacy, specifically for issues in the Middle East,” she said. “It could entail working for an NGO (nongovernmental organization) or a lobbyist or government at some level, probably at first in America but eventually, Israel.”

She has visited Israel four times, including twice on family trips and once last summer with Helen Diller Teen Fellows, a leadership development program for Jewish teens. She also enjoys participating in Model U.N. and attending lectures on Israel.

But she has many interests outside of her primary focus and course of study.

Waghalter is a section editor of The Panther, YULA Girls’ newspaper. She takes part in Moot Beit Din, Jewish mock trials that decide modern cases — who is at fault in a driverless car accident, for example — based on halachic sources.

From eighth to 11th grade, she competed in the national Bible contest Chidon Hatanach, and she volunteers with Chai Lifeline’s Big Siblings program, which assists families dealing with illnesses. (She cares for the children of an Israeli family new to the U.S.) Interested in fashion design, she’s president of the YULA Fashion Club and served as a Nordstrom Fashion Ambassador.

After graduation, she’ll be just as busy, though her summer plans are still solidifying. She has a part-time job at Karen Michelle Boutique and she applied for a fellowship with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

“I really like to push myself to my limits,” Waghalter said. “I have more stress when I’m not working as hard as I could be. I don’t want to settle for less.”

— Gerri Miller, Contributing Writer

Can you change the mind of a jihadist?


Of all the things I’ve read about the latest jihadist terror attack from London, one line in particular from Prime Minister Theresa May stood out.

Terrorism will only be defeated, she said, when we make young people “understand that our values, pluralistic British values, are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.”

But at the same time, May spoke about the need to crack down harder on those “young people” and the extremism that feeds them.

So, on the one hand, May wants to get tougher with the killers, while, on the other, convince them that British values are superior.

Maybe that represents, in a nutshell, the dilemma of fighting jihadist terrorism. To really win the war, you have to fight them physically and psychologically, but when you’re so busy with the physical, who’s got time for the psychological?

The focus in England right now clearly is on security, on preventing the next attack. Is there anyone on May’s team working on her goal of influencing values? I doubt it. The mood in the country is to stop the bad guys from killing — not to change their values.

But let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that, simultaneous to the crackdown, May would hire a marketing agency to create a campaign that might positively influence the bad guys. What would that look like?

One of the first things you learn in the advertising business is never to use the word “impossible.” There’s always the “best possible” answer to a problem, however unlikely it is that you can solve it. It’s about moving things forward — will the campaign make things a little better? Will it improve the odds of success?

Something else advertising teaches is to boil everything down to its essence — a few words, an image, a single thought. The goal is to light sparks, plant seeds, break the ice.

In our case, a key question is: How would you plant seeds of doubt in the mind of a jihadist who believes he’s doing God’s work when he slices the neck of a woman enjoying a beer in a British bar, or runs over pedestrians strolling happily on a Saturday night?

The easy thing to do would be to throw our hands up and give up. If someone thinks killing is holy, how do you counter that? But, like I said, this is a thought experiment. If the prime minister of England wants an ad campaign to influence the minds of religious extremists, what do you recommend?

In my mind, I see only one thing: We must fight holy with holy. They say killing is holy? We say life is holy.

The idea would be to rally leaders across all cultures and religions — especially Muslim leaders and preachers — to launch a “Life is Holy” campaign. The advertising would provide the sparks, but community leaders would preach the message on the ground.

A pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.

The campaign would reclaim holiness on behalf of life. We would promote the holiness of life with the same passion religious killers promote the holiness of killing. Instead of playing defense, life would play offense.

A “Life is Holy” message has some clear benefits: It’s true, believable, simple and passionate.

Of course, no marketing campaign can solve the problem of jihadist terrorism. There are too many jihadists who are moved by verses in the Quran that speak of killing the infidels, and too many preachers who feed this violence.

What marketing can do, however, is provide an aspirational vision. It can tell future generations of potential jihadists that real holiness lies in life, not killing. If enough Muslim preachers throughout the world reinforce this message in their sermons, we might begin to make a dent.

In her remarks, Prime Minister May spoke of cracking down on “safe spaces” online and in self-segregated Muslim communities that can harbor extremism.

If she is serious about doing this, she must infiltrate these extremist “safe spaces” with messages that promote the holiness of life — with billboards and memes, for example, that show the faces of people of all colors and religions as being worthy of holiness. Most critically, she must enlist local Muslim preachers to lead the way.

In sum, a “Life is Holy” campaign, if done right, can ignite an in-your-face pushback to the culture of death that infects the minds of jihadist killers. The “Life is Holy” message must be ubiquitous — it must be on T-shirts, street corners and social media. It must be loud enough to marginalize anyone who doesn’t support it.

In combination with a serious security crackdown, a pervasive “Life is Holy” movement will, at the very least, put killers on notice that they no longer own holiness.


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

Capt. Rafi Sivron dangles his feet in the Suez Canal the day after the end of the Six-Day War. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

The hidden hero of the Six-Day War


It was a war the world had never seen — pre-emptive, daring, lightning fast. In six days — 132 hours — one small army defeated five. By the last day, Israel had captured territories four times its former size. The war changed the map of the Middle East — of the world — in ways so profound, from Washington to Cairo, from the United Nations to The Hague, from college campuses to refugee camps, that the fight over the spoils of that conflict continue.

The war that began June 5, 1967, ushered in decades of deep American diplomatic, economic and military engagement in Israel, and introduced a new vocabulary into the news — terror, Islamic fundamentalism, Messianism, suicide bombers, hijacking, refugees, Palestine.

This year, the 50th anniversary of that war, its consequences linger. Israel’s stunning victory swung America firmly to its side, jump-starting a special relationship that includes billions of dollars in foreign aid and unprecedented security cooperation — a bond that affects every American soldier, diplomat and taxpayer.

Israel’s continued control over some of the territories captured in that war and of their inhabitants is still a flashpoint of international controversy and a source of deep moral and strategic disagreement among Jews themselves. Many Jews and Christians who explain the sudden victory as the hand of God fiercely resist any peace that requires the return of biblical lands. Others fear that in Israel’s victory lay the seeds of its own demise if the result is that Israel ceases to be a Jewish, democratic state.

[TIMELINE: The six days of war]

Meanwhile, writes Said K. Aburish in his 2004 book, “Nasser: The Last Arab” (St. Martin’s Press), the Six-Day War “was so unexpected in its totality, stunning in its proportion, and soul-destroying in its impact that it will be remembered as the greatest defeat of the Arabs in the twentieth century. The Arabs are still undergoing a slow process of political, psychological, and sociological recovery. It is easy to trace all that afflicts the Arab world today to the defeat which the 1967 War produced.”

Millions of Arabs lost faith in their secular leaders and turned to fundamentalist Islam. The Palestinians realized they couldn’t rely on conventional Arab armies to beat Israel and pinned their hopes instead on a man named Yasser Arafat —and so the age of modern terrorism was born.

You have to read only the headlines any given week to understand that while Vietnam is history, the Six-Day War is current events.

The Arabs refer to the war as the naxa, or setback. The victors christened it the Six-Day War. Neither name gets it right.  “Setback” is an epic understatement, like calling a scalping a haircut. And although “Six-Day War” deliberately echoes the biblical Creation story, it obscures one of the most important facets of the war itself: the very reason why Israel won.

The outcome of the war was decided in its opening hours. Israeli warplanes took to the skies in the early morning of June 5 and headed on a stealth mission toward Egypt. They flew just a few meters above the Mediterranean Sea to avoid radar. They banked toward land, fanned out over dozens of airfields, rose and then dived down to unleash a hellfire of cannon fire and bombs on their targets. All of Egypt’s airfields were rendered useless, and most Egyptian aircraft were destroyed. Israeli planes then decimated the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi air forces. Within two hours, in three waves of attacks, Israel had destroyed 452 enemy airplanes. It had complete control of the skies.

The attack began at 7:45 am. By 10:30 a.m., air force commander Gen. Motti Hod turned to Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and reported, “The Egyptian air force has ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.”

Israeli combat aircraft stream toward Egypt at the launch of Operation Focus, the surprise attack designed by Capt. Rafi Sivron and Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo.

The Six-Day War was a victory of intelligence over firepower, of preparation over bluster, brains over brawn. It was a triumph of foresight and planning, the vision of the few that set in motion the bravery of many. In that sense, one of the real heroes of the war — the most crucial and the least known — was a 20-something air force navigator named Capt. Rafi Sivron. Long before the first shot was fired, Sivron and his immediate superior, Lt. Col. Jacob “Yak” Nevo, created the plan that won Israel the war. They were the men behind Operation Focus.

In most books and articles about the war, stuffed with the exploits of generals, soldiers and politicians, Sivron and Nevo make cameo appearances — if at all. In the cataclysmic drama of those six days, there indeed may have been bigger actors, producers and directors — but those two wrote the script.

In January 2014, while I was working on a project about the war, I asked Uri Dromi, a journalist, Journal contributor and former Israel Defense Forces helicopter pilot, if he knew anyone who fought in it.

“Have you heard of Operation Focus?” he said.   

“Of course.”

“Well, that was Rafi.”

I immediately dialed the number Uri gave me.

Rafi’s voice was strong, with a pleasant Israeli accent and precise English diction. As I was to learn over hours of conversation, in all things he did, Sivron was nothing if not precise.

Rafael Sivron was born in Haifa, the son of German immigrants who moved to pre-state Palestine from Berlin in 1934. His father’s parents remained in Germany. They were murdered in Terezin.

Sivron joined the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in 1954. He excelled as a navigator, flying missions in a variety of aircraft and helicopters. In 1962, at a NATO school for anti-submarine warfare in Malta, he met Nevo.

In the cockpit of a combat jet, Nevo was without equal, “the father of Israeli aerial combat,” in the words of IAF historian Iftach Spector. Nevo pioneered IAF dogfighting techniques, pushing himself and his planes to the limits.

Despite very different styles, the two bonded. Nevo was slight, thin — cockpit-sized. He also was serious and reclusive.

Sivron was movie-star handsome and far more outgoing. He prodded Nevo to have fun, which for Sivron meant taking breaks for tennis, attending the opera and playing “almost professional” classical piano.

Back in Israel, the head of the air force, Ezer Weizman, had long held that Israel’s best chance for winning the next war would be to destroy enemy air forces on the ground. The logic was sound, but there was no plan to carry out what other military leaders thought was a strategic fantasy.

Toward the end of 1962, Weizman tapped Nevo to come up with a plan, and Nevo remembered Sivron from Malta. By then, Sivron headed the air force subsection for operational planning, figuring the life-and-death logistics for Israel’s frequent counterattacks, stealth missions and patrols.

“When I say I was the head of this section, you could have in mind that I have something like 20 to 30 people working for me — maybe it is today this way. But then I was all alone,” Sivron said.

Nevo asked Sivron to design an attack plan. Sivron said he was too busy.

“You know what?” Nevo said. “There’s no war on the way, so pick a time. If you want to take three months, take three months. If you want to take three years, take three years.”

Sivron agreed. He was just shy of his 27th birthday.

Rafi Sivron in 1978 as the Israeli defense attaché in London. Photo courtesy of Rafi Sivron

As a present to himself, Sivron asked a friend returning from Italy to bring back an elegant fountain pen like the one he saw advertised in glossy magazines. Though he couldn’t really afford it, Sivron splurged on the pen, a Parker 61.   

In a plain, three-story building in central Tel Aviv, in a tiny room at the end of a long corridor, Sivron sat alone at his desk, with that Parker pen, designing Operation Focus.

In the pre-planning stage, Sivron and Nevo brainstormed ideas for their plan, often bringing in experts from other departments. That’s when they came up with their first good idea: concentrate on the runways.

Gen. Hod had long said that a fighter jet is the most dangerous weapon in the world when it is in the air, but on the ground, it is useless. Nevo and Sivron figured if Israeli jets simply destroyed enemy planes, new ones could always arrive and take off. But without runways, nothing could get airborne.

“So this was decided, and I got an open hand of how to do it,” Sivron told me. “At this time, the Egyptians, Syrians and the Jordanians had about 20 military airports with 55 runways. So it was a problem, of course.”

In Hebrew, German Jews are called yekkes — a word that connotes extreme punctuality and exasperating attention to detail. Nevo, the pilot, left the operational details to Sivron.

“I was the yekke,” Sivron said.

Sivron focused first on the runways.

“You can’t attack airports if you don’t know where they are,” he said, “if you don’t know how they look, if you don’t have a picture, if you don’t know which aircraft.”

Reconnaissance photos provided Sivron with up-to-date knowledge of the enemy airfields. Israeli spies embedded in the highest echelons of Syrian and Egyptian society transmitted more details. Sivron learned the thickness of each runway, the type and parked position of each airplane, the patrol times and break times for each squadron, the distance each radar worked, the number of anti-aircraft guns.

Every detail mattered. Sivron learned that while Israeli jets used high-pressure tires, the MiGs that the enemy air forces flew used low-pressure tires. If you bombed a runway with normal bombs, ground crews could just fill it with sand and planes still could take off. The IAF outfitted their Mirages with two 500 Kgs bombs.  All the bombs were fitted with innovative fuses that changed the timing of the detonators in order to afflict maximum damage on concrete runways.

Knowing where Egyptian observation posts were stationed enabled Sivron to design flight paths to avoid them. He matched the number of runways with the number and type of planes necessary to take them out, the altitude at which they needed to climb on approach, the angle at which they needed to attack, the possible effects of dust and wind, the number, weight and power of bombs each pilot needed to carry, how low and fast each plane could fly to avoid radar.

“When you fly a Mirage at 450 knots,” Sivron said, “if the sea is calm you have no ability to realize at what altitude you are. You can easily drop to the water. If you hit the water, it is your last flight.”

Nevo led endless test missions and bombing runs over mock-ups of Egyptian air bases in the Negev, feeding data back to Sivron, who sat at his desk, crossing out old vectors, calculating the timing anew.

Because the Arabs had so many more planes than the Israelis, Sivron and Nevo were counting on another ability the IAF had been developing for several years: shaving the time it took for a plane to land, refuel, reload, and get back in the air.  

For several years, squadrons used to compete as to who will do the turnaround quicker,” Sivron said. “These turnarounds in competition were made with substantial effort involving one aircraft at a time, almost laboratory-like conditions.”

With limited ground crews and the large number of jets involved in Operation Focus, the Israelis planned on a turnaround time of 20 minutes.  Not as fast as seven, but still six times faster than the best the Egyptians could do. The Israelis would make up in flight time what they lacked in hardware.

Still, Operation Focus demanded that almost every Israeli combat plane and bomber go on the attack. Twelve would be left to defend the homeland. 

“It was not an easy decision,” Sivron said. “People say it was self-explanatory. It was not at all.”

I asked Sivron how much help he had in figuring it out.

“I was alone,” he said. “Alone with myself. Nobody else was involved in this.”

Two years after he began his work, Sivron wrote his last calculation with the same Parker 61 he started with. As he finished the last line, the pen topped working.

The master plan for Operation Focus was printed and bound in an almost 60-page blue-covered booklet. Sivron wrote the main body of the order, which described the method and principles of Moked.  Of the six appendices, Sivron wrote the two main ones, “Forces and Tasks” and “Routing.”

A meeting of senior brass went over the plan, line by line. They didn’t make a single change.  From the first draft it was called Moked, Focus.  The finalized order was passed on to the squadron leaders, base commanders and head of departments at the headquarters of the IAF.  This was in September 1965.

Each top secret copy was numbered; each number was logged to its owner.  Sivron, who by then had been promoted to major, was not given one.

“I could take it only to one place,” he said, “and that’s to prison.”

Sivron began studying economics and Middle East history at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Land captured by Israel in red

That summer, Lt. Col. Yoash Tzidon, the head of the IAF’s armament development section, decided to run Operation Focus through a newly acquired machine called a computer. By then, Hod had replaced Weizman as air force commander. Based on the likelihood of navigation problems, early detection, fog, wind and anti-aircraft fire, the computer determined that the chance of Operation Focus succeeding was 7 percent. 

Sivron was unfazed. He had total confidence in his plan, and the data and calculations behind it. But the final decision rested with Hod.

“He was not an intellectual person,” Sivron said of Hod. “He was a farmer with a very straight way of thinking. Hod turned to Tzidon, ‘You know this is the best plan we have. If you want to make another one, go ahead.’”

The computer lost.

A year later, as tensions mounted between Egypt and Israel, Rafi Harlev, the head of the IAF operations, called a meeting of all squadron leaders.

“We have a plan,” he told them. “It’s over a year old.”   

He passed out copies of Operation Focus for review and debate.

Again, there was not a single change.

In the popular imagination, the Six-Day War is a modern-day David and Goliath story. Just by the math, Israel truly was David. The Arab armies had more than twice the number of troops, and more than three times the number of combat aircraft and tanks. The Egyptians and Syrians were backed by Soviet weaponry and advisers — who could join their side at any moment.

But even though Israel was outnumbered on paper, it had advantages David couldn’t imagine. The Israel Defense Forces was the best trained, most professional and most highly motivated army in the Middle East. It was designed to defend the country. It had (and has) nuclear weapons.

The Arab armed forces, meanwhile, were designed to quell internal dissent and prop up unpopular regimes. In his new book, “The Six-Day War” (Yale University Press), Guy Laron reports a 1961 conversation between the Israeli spy Wolfgang Lutz (who fed intelligence to Sivron) and Egyptian Gen. Abd al-Salam Suleiman, whom Lutz  had first plied with whiskey.   

“We [in Egypt] have enough military equipment to conquer the whole Middle East, but equipment isn’t everything,” Suleiman said. “The army right now — in terms of training, military competence and logistics — will not be able to win a battle against a fart in a paper bag.”

As war appeared imminent, the CIA informed President Lyndon Johnson that should hostilities break out, Israel would win in 12 days. But though the Americans and even the Israeli high command were confident of eventual victory, the Jewish state’s leaders were wracked with concern that the casualties Israel would suffer would be devastating.   

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol gave voice to that fear. At a cabinet meeting on the eve of war, he said, in Yiddish, “Blut vet sich giessen vie vasser.” Blood will run like water.

Israel’s best hope to ensure victory at an acceptable cost was a pre-emptive strike. It was Operation Focus.

Three weeks before the war started, Sivron donned his uniform and left his dorm room for IAF operations headquarters, where he was assigned to plan combined operations. By then, he was married, and he felt keenly what failure would mean: that his young family would be slaughtered like his paternal grandparents.

Weizmann had been pleading with Eshkol to implement Moked, in which he had complete confidence.  On June 4, Eshkol, after receiving what he felt was a “yellow light” from the Americans, agreed.

On June 5, a fleet of Israeli planes took off after dawn.

In the central control and command room of the IAF, Sivron followed the take off and flight path of the armada he had planned.

Equally both tense and thrilled, he knew that if the Egyptians detected a single Israeli plane, the surprise attack could end in disaster.

Sivron watched as the majority of jets reached the “pull up point,” when they leapt from their low altitude sneak attack to enable their bombing run. It was still two full minutes before the first bomb had been dropped.

“I turned around and said, ‘We have won the war.’”

For Rafi Sivron, the Six Day War ended two minutes before it started.

The Israeli jets  roared up on the Egyptian bases undetected — Yak Nevo’s among them. Many of the Egyptian pilots were eating breakfast when their planes and runways went up in smoke. Each wave brought more success. Soon after the first Israeli planes returned to base, it became clear to the air force that the plan had exceeded even its own expectations. Sivron was relieved, but not surprised. Focus worked.

I asked Sivron what he made of the success.

“Moked wasn’t worth anything without the pilots and crews and all the members of the air force,” he said. “We lost 24 pilots.”

The war would rage on for five more days. There would be tough, costly ground battles for Gaza, the Sinai, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. All of them would have been immensely more difficult if Israel hadn’t gained control of the air.

As historian and Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren pointed out in his essential history, Six Day War, Egypt still could have stalled or even reversed Israeli gains on the ground. Victory still depended on many things: the pilots and soldiers, their commanders, the unity of the entire country, as well as Egyptian miscalculation.

But it is impossible to imagine Israeli victory without the plan. It wouldn’t have been a movie without a script.

Egyptian planes destroyed at a Sinai air base on the first day of the war. Photo: Israel National Photo Archive

For  Sivron, too, the war continued. On Day Two, June 6, Sivron, who was still responsible for combined operations, joined his helicopter squadron as a pilot to carry troops over Saudi Arabian territory to land them in Sharm-El-Sheik, in the Sinai peninsula.

On June 10, he was at the front command post of the IAF in the southern Galilee, part of two squadrons of helicopters gathered in order to prepare a massive troop landing in the 
southern Golan Heights.   Sivron was assigned to remain at the command post. Instead, he decided to join as a co-pilot in leading the landing.

In the second run, his squadron landed 20 troops some 30 kilometers ahead of advancing Israeli ground troops. The crossroad where they landed, called Butmia in Arabic but since renamed Rafid in Hebrew, remains until today the easternmost point of the border between Israel and Syria. It was 1 PM on the sixth day of the war.

A day later, Sivron piloted a helicopter to the Golan to evacuate a wounded officer. He returned in a Jeep ahead of advancing Israeli tanks, meeting with U.N. officials and Syrian prisoners. By 3 p.m. on June 11, the war was officially over.

“All of it was in our hands,” Sivron said.

One day after the cease-fire, Rafi Sivron entered the offices of air force operations HQ. Nobody was there. Everyone had gone out to celebrate. 

Sivron took a car and a friend and drove for 24 hours, all through the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal.

“Everything was still burning,” he said. “Hundreds of tanks beside the road, dead soldiers.  Then we went to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall.”

One week later, he was back at the university, studying.

Yak Nevo retired as a colonel from the Israeli air force in the late 1970s. He tried to set up a business but was unsuccessful. He turned to woodcarving and died in relative obscurity in 1989, of multiple organ failure, at the age of 55.

Sivron went on to serve in the air force until 1981, including a stint as defense attaché in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. He retired as a brigadier general. Later, after a dozen years as El Al Airlines’ director of operations control and planning, he retired in 2000.

He lives in Tel Aviv with his second wife. From both marriages, he has five children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

“Now I am playing tennis five times a week,” he said, “which keeps me young.”

Sivron is 81. I remarked how astounding it is that much of his country’s fate rested in his hands when he was only 27.

“This is the reason that I can talk to you now,” he pointed out to me. “If I were 37 then, maybe we wouldn’t be talking.”

Rafi Sivron, today

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how the astounding victory of the Six-Day War, like any solution, created a slew of new problems. At the time the fighting raged, though, none of these were apparent, or mattered. Israel faced imminent attack by five Arab armies. If it lost, the country would be obliterated. That’s what the Arab leaders were saying, and 22 years after the Holocaust, Israelis were inclined to believe them.

“The only thing worse than a great victory,” Eshkol, the Israeli prime minister, said at the war’s end, “is a great defeat.”t

When all sides were locked in an existential confrontation, Israel’s reasons and objectives were clear and unambiguous. Rafi Sivron knew why he was fighting and what winning looked like. When you know those two things, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to win.

We Americans have grown resigned to endless wars and ambiguous outcomes. The wars in Vietnam and Korea ended in evacuation instead of victory. We still are mired in Syria and Iraq, fighting ISIS, the dregs of the Iraq War. American troops are still in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11.

If there’s a lesson in Operation Focus, it’s embedded in the very name: If you must go to war, concentrate on what you’re fighting for, and how to win.

And if you really think wars are won in only six days, or by some act of divine intervention, think again.

A group of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall after it was recaptured in the Six-Day War. Photo by David Rubinger

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


Few wars fought on any soil have had as profound an impact as the Six-Day War, which began June 5, 1967. The Jewish Journal asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to assess the war’s aftermath 50 years later.

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

The Six-Day War was a turning point. Until then, Arab leaders were all about avenging Palestine; the defeat in 1948 swept the old elites out of power and brought in younger ones from the military. They made Palestine the central issue — not to resolve it but to use it internally and in their rivalries with other Arab leaders to see who could dominate the Arab world. Pan-Arabism — one Arab nation — was the idiom, and Palestine was the vehicle around which it was built. That, for all practical purposes, ended after those six days in June 1967.

Dennis Ross

Palestinians, who had left their fate to the Arabs after 1948, now knew they could not count on them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders — while claiming they now would assume responsibility for fulfilling national aspirations — found it easier to focus on symbols and not substance, rejection rather than reconciliation, and grievance rather than achievement. Even today, their tendency remains more a flag at the United Nations than state and institution-building. There are those like former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who recognize that the State of Palestine is far more likely to emerge when the rule of law becomes more important than seeking resolutions in international forums that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Israelis expected peace after the war. The Cabinet adopted a secret resolution on June 19, 1967, accepting withdrawal to the international border in return for peace with Egypt and Syria. More discussion was needed on the West Bank/Gaza. Israelis had not expected to be occupiers of what at that time were a million Arabs. The Oslo process was supposed to resolve the problem of occupation, but has not.

The challenge now — 50 years after 1967 — is for Israeli leaders to figure out how to avoid becoming a binational state when it is not clear that two states for two peoples can be negotiated, much less implemented, anytime soon.    

DENNIS ROSS is a former Middle East envoy and negotiator under four U.S. presidents.


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

As the three-week buildup to the Six-Day War began, Jews sensed that Jewish life was again at risk, this time in the State of Israel. Once again, the world was turning its back. The United States would not come to Israel’s aid. The United Nations troops left.

Michael Berenbaum

A friend suggested that we bring the Israeli children to the U.S., where they would be safe. I decided that my place was to be in Israel. If the Jewish people were threatened, it was my fight, my responsibility. So instead of attending my college graduation ceremony, I left for Jerusalem. I was in the air when the June war began, and landed in Israel just in time to be in Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

I can still hear the words of the bus radio announcement as it was driving on old Highway 1: 

“An IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman has said: The Old City is ours; I repeat the Old City is ours.”

I can still see the tears in the eyes of my fellow passengers as they embraced one another.

On the fifth day of the war, I went to Shabbat eve services and heard then-Israeli  President Zalman Shazar speak the words of “Lecha Dodi”: “ ‘Put on the clothes of your majesty, my people. … Wake up, arise.’ All my days I have prayed these words and now I have lived to see them.”

Never were those words more true. Never did they touch my soul more completely. I was a participant in Jewish history; I was at home in Jewish memory; I was embraced by Jewish triumph. However much skepticism — political and religious — has entered my understanding of that war and its consequences in the past 50 years, that moment is indelible in my soul and touched it, oh, so deeply.

My role in the war was anything but heroic. I organized a group of American volunteers to drive and work on garbage trucks. In that capacity, I helped clear the rubble of the war that divided Jerusalem at Jaffa Road and some of the stones from the homes demolished near the Wall. I was there on Shavuot when 100,000 Jews went to the Wall — under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 1,878 years — and women in miniskirts danced alongside Charedi men, each fully absorbed in the moment, oblivious to the incongruity of what they were doing.

And yet, looking back, I think we are still fighting the Six-Day War, now a 50-years war. The “victory” has lost its majesty and mystery, though not its necessity. Even without walls in the center of Jaffa Street, Jerusalem is a divided city, nationally, ethnically and religiously. Repeated triumphs have not yielded security. The Jewish narrative is anything but simple: From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem of Gold to an earthly place divided and dividing. Time has made it more difficult to return to that heroic, miraculous moment -— more difficult but perhaps not less urgent.

MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

Both of my parents are seventh-generation Israelis. On June 3, 1967, I was in medical school in Philadelphia studying for my med boards when the Arabs were surrounding Israel, screaming for its destruction.

Howard Rosenman

I flew to Israel,  volunteered as an intern in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and was stationed in Gaza. On the morning of June 8, my commanding officer, who knew of my family — called “Vatikay Yerushalayim” (“The Ancients of Jerusalem”) — said, “Tzahal [the Hebrew acronym for the IDF] is about to recapture the Old City. Go up to Jerusalem.”

I was there when Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar on Har ha’Bayit (the Temple Mount). It was the most important moment in my life.

I was then transferred to the Hadassah Medical Center, and Leonard Bernstein came to conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Har ha’Tzofim (Mount Scopus).

Bernstein came to visit the volunteers. “You look exactly like a waiter of mine at a discotheque in New York City,” he said to me.

“I am your waiter,” I answered. He immediately invited me to the concert.

Afterward, at the party at the King David Hotel, he offered me a “gofer” job on the documentary film of “the maestro” conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Tzahal, with Isaac Stern playing the violin. It was a war zone and you couldn’t go unless you got special clearance. 

Lenny encouraged me to leave medical school: “You are too good of a storyteller. Go into the arts. You will never bow to the Mistress of Science.”

Back in Philly, while assisting on an amputation, I decided to take a leave of absence. I called up Mr. Bernstein and told him, “I took your advice.”

Mr. Bernstein then introduced me to Katharine Hepburn, whose assistant I became on [the Broadway musical] “Coco,” and Stephen Sondheim … and my life was never the same again.

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

Eight years ago, I happened to be in Memphis, Tenn., where I visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The guided tour was led by an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 80s, who introduced himself as a civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon Nazarian

As he walked us through the museum, we arrived in the hall showcasing an actual Freedom Rider bus. He proceeded to share with us the story of young students bravely coming to Memphis, in racially mixed groups, to show solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Knowing that many of the courageous riders were Jewish students, I raised my hand to ask his perspective on the role of the American-Jewish community in the civil rights struggle.

His answer has plagued me to this day. He said that at the height of the civil rights battles, the Jewish community had stood side by side with the African-American community, that is, until the 1967 Six-Day War.

During and after the war, he said, the attention and passion of the Jewish community turned completely toward Israel and away from the equal rights struggle in the United States. He went on to say that he, along with the leadership of the civil rights movement, felt completely abandoned and forgotten and continue to feel that way to this day.

Although this was a narrative I had never heard before, it helped explain what may have been the beginning of the deep rift that has taken hold between the Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., as felt and viewed from the perspective of the African-American community. We are still realizing the ripple effects of those momentous six days; this is another ripple that continues to impact our community here in the U.S.

SHARON NAZARIAN is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

For my parents and many of their friends, the Six-Day War brings to mind David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall, their hopeful young faces an indelible reminder of Israel’s miraculous military victory less than 25 years after the Holocaust. But for many millennials, the Six-Day War is not what comes to mind when they think about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, my peers have tended to view Israel largely through the lens of more recent conflicts. As we tell Israel’s story on college campuses and to a new generation of U.S. policymakers, we should keep in mind that Israel’s incredible contributions to science and technology, its vibrant democracy and free press, and its commitment to treating victims of the Syrian civil war are likely to resonate more strongly than its struggle for survival in 1967.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

The war
Became the wall.
But it was also
Families fleeing, fighters dying
Ghosts returning, rejoicing.
The city no longer a widow
The people no longer an orphan.
The tangle of promise and power
Tight as a schoolgirl’s braids.
And the Jews,
Bearing rifles and regulations
Dove deeper into history,
Brutal, fickle history,
Afraid
And unafraid.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Episode 40 – Six days of war that shaped the Middle East with MK Dr. Michael Oren


This month we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War – a war, it seems, that shook the Middle East and reshaped Israel forever. In Israel the war is spoken of almost as a legendary tale, whereas for the Palestinians it’s remembered as the event that brought upon the occupation. For that reason, and many others, it is still one of the most controversial events in Israel’s short history.

Deputy Minister Dr. Michael Oren has a rich biography. He was an historian teaching in Harvard, Yale and Princeton. He also taught in Israel in both Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University. He was the Israeli ambassador to the United States and today he serves as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office. He is also the author of several books including “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.” 2NJB had the honor to sit down with MK Oren for a special talk commemorating the war and the great victory.

RSS Subscribe

Direct Download

Michael Oren’s Facebook and Twitter

Michael Oren’s books on Amazon

Pope Francis in Genoa, Italy, on May 27. Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

Leftism’s influence on Western religion


Last week, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, the religious leader of a billion people, gave the visiting president of the United States, the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, a parting gift.

It was a copy of something the pope had written. A papal encyclical, in fact.

Was it on the annihilation of Christians in the Middle East? Was it on the ongoing disappearance of Christianity in Western Europe? Was it on evil in the name of God being perpetrated by radical Muslims around the world, especially in Europe, the Middle East and the United States?

No.

It was on climate change.

It was not surprising.

Last year, five days after an 86-year-old French priest had his throat slit by two Muslims yelling “Allahu Akbar,” Pope Francis was interviewed on the papal airplane returning to Rome from Krakow, Poland. A Catholic journalist, Antoine Marie Izoard, with i.Media, a French Catholic news service, asked the pope about the French priest and Islam:

Izoard: “Catholics are a bit in shock, and not only in France, after the barbarous assassination of Father Jacques Hamel — as you know well — in his church while celebrating the Holy Mass. Four days ago, you here told us that all religions want peace. But this holy, 86-year-old priest was clearly killed in the name of Islam. So, Holy Father … Why do you, when you speak of these violent events, always speak of terrorists, but never of Islam, never use the word Islam? … Thank you, Holiness.”

As reported by the Catholic News Service, this is what Pope Francis responded:

“I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy … this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law … and these are baptized Catholics! There are violent Catholics! If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence.”

In other words, the pope likens: 1) a person who happened to have been baptized a Catholic as a child — and who may have no Catholic identity as an adult — with an adult who affirms a religious identity; and 2) the murder of a girlfriend or a mother-in-law — most likely a crime of passion — with the ritual murder of a Catholic priest.

Pope Francis then added that “Terrorism grows when there are no other options, and when the center of the global economy is the god of money. … This is a basic terrorism against all of humanity!”

The idea that Islamic terrorism is a desperate act arising from poverty is widely held among people on the left. But it is completely untrue. Most Islamic terrorists come from the middle class or above, as did the 9/11 hijackers.

The only explanation for these statements is that Pope Francis has inherited his theology from Catholicism but, unlike his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he takes much of his moral outlook from leftism — in his case, the leftism that permeates Latin America, including Latin American Catholicism. This is not conjecture. In addition to the comments cited already, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last November, the pope equated Christianity with communism:

“It is the communists, in all cases, that think like Christians. … What we want is to fight against inequality, the greatest evil that exists in the world.”

The Western combination of Judeo-Christian morality and classical political liberalism — with their doctrines of moral accountability, moral absolutes, confronting evil, and political and social freedom — has produced the most moral societies in world history.

The pope of the Roman Catholic Church should be its greatest advocate.

But because of leftism, he isn’t.

Leftism has had an identical impact on mainstream Protestantism, non-Orthodox Judaism and, of course, secular Jews and non-Jews.

In the past 100 years, leftism has influenced Judaism and Christianity far more than Judaism or Christianity have influenced the world. If you want to understand the modern world, that may be the most important thing to understand.

And that explains why the pope gave the American president his writings on climate change and why he says almost nothing about Islamic violence generally or the decimation of Christianity in Muslim lands specifically. On the left, carbon emissions and economic inequality are the greatest problems confronting humanity. On the right, which includes traditional Jews and Christians, evil — the inhumane treatment of people by other people — is the greatest problem confronting humanity.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the great evil was Nazism; after that, it was communism. And in our time it is Islamism, the movement that seeks to impose Islam on humanity.

But the pope is more concerned with climate change than with slaughtered Christians; mainstream Protestant churches seek to economically strangle Israel; and most non-Orthodox Jews fear climate change more than they fear the Ayatollah Khamenei. Such is the state of mainstream Western religion in our time.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard weekdays in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are welcomed by Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Saudi Arabia on May 20. Photo by Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Reuters

Trump wants to sell lots of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Why are Israel (and its friends) keeping quiet?


The year was 1981 and the director of AIPAC was calling for a “showdown” with the Reagan administration, saying “This country is being held hostage to the whims of the Saudis.”

At issue was the sale to Saudi Arabia of AWACS, aircraft with radar-enabled surveillance capabilities that at the time were state of the art.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, then helmed by Tom Dine, famously lost the battle but won the war: President Ronald Reagan got the necessary congressional backing to secure the sales to Saudi Arabia, but AIPAC had drawn enough blood from a powerful and popular executive that from then on the Israel lobby became known as a force to be reckoned with.

Some 35 or so years later, another massive sale to Saudi Arabia is set to go, valued at $110 billion, and it also includes combat aircraft and sophisticated radar technology. President Donald Trump made the sale a signature accomplishment of his Middle East tour last week.

But this time, neither AIPAC nor Congress are putting up much of a fight.

The defense purchase was part of a broader trade pact that Trump in Saudi Arabia, the first leg of his inaugural trip overseas as president, called a “landmark agreement.”

“We will be sure to help our Saudi friends get a good deal from our great American defense companies, the greatest in the world,” he said in a May 21 speech in Riyadh to the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Pro-Israel groups do have concerns, but no one is running to the ramparts just yet. AIPAC wants Congress to exercise its oversight capability, the lobby’s spokesman, Marshall Wittman, told JTA.

“We believe Congress should closely scrutinize such arms sales to ensure they do not undermine Israel’s security in a dangerous and volatile region,” he said.

The Zionist Organization of America, the lone major Jewish group expressing reservations about the sale, was nonetheless circumspect in outlining what it said were its “serious concerns.”

“ZOA appreciates and echoes the good U.S. intentions related to the weapons sale to the Saudi Kingdom,” its May 22 statement said.

Citing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ZOA said “the deal is intended to enhance the Saudis’ ability to counteract and combat ‘malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders’ and to bolster the Saudi Kingdom’s ability to ‘contribut[e] to counterterrorism operations across the region.’”

So what are the differences between 1981 and 2017?

On the surface, much is similar. But there are changes in circumstance that may be driving the reluctance to confront Trump. Let’s review.

Iran as a threat

Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, first proposed a major combat aircraft sale to Saudi Arabia as part of the Cold War. The bipartisan strategy for decades had been to squeeze the Soviets by arming U.S. allies.

By the time Reagan assumed responsibility for the relationship with Saudi Arabia, containing Iran became a factor. The 1979 revolution had installed an Islamist regime whose default was hostility to the West, particularly to the United States.

The ancient rivalry between Sunni Islam, centered in Saudi Arabia, and Shia Islam, predominant in Iran, took on a political hue almost as soon as the new Iranian regime was installed. Ayatollahs in Iran delivered broadsides against Saudis from the outset, and complained about Saudi treatment of Iranian pilgrims during the annual hajj to Mecca.

Saudi Arabia and the United States – already close – shared a new interest in keeping Iran from expanding its influence in the region.

That calculus remains in place nearly 40 years later. The difference is that Iran has sought to become a nuclear power, and one, moreover, with tens of thousands of troops battle hardened by the country’s seemingly endless engagements in the region. Whereas Israel in the 1980s saw Saudi Arabia mostly as a troublemaker with plenty of oil money, it now sees it as a partner with a vital interest in stopping Iran.

“It’s a testament to how much has changed in the last decade, that the Israelis don’t quite see the Saudis as enemies any longer,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “They’re certainly not allies, but I’m not sure they even see them as adversaries.”

How solid is the House of Saud?

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the Israel lobby’s principle objections to the sale of AWACs and other arms to the Saudis was twofold: Can you trust these guys? The Saudi regime was (and is) Islamist, and its alliance with the West was one of convenience, and not of shared values. And even if you can trust these guys, can you trust them to survive, given the fragility of the regime?

“In moments of crisis, when the security and the survival of the Royal Family and its regime are clearly at stake, the Saudis inevitably turn to the United States,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a 1982 report. “Between such crises, however, the Saudis try to pursue policies that serve anti-American purposes, weaken the West, play into the hands of the Soviets, and strengthen pro-Soviet, anti-American forces in the Arab world.”

Arab regimes were inherently unstable, or so went the argument: Saudi’s King Faisal was assassinated by an Islamist relative in 1975, extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 and were ousted only after a bloody siege, and an Islamist gunman killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 for making peace with Israel. Handing the Saudis a cache of sophisticated arms seemed reckless if anti-American radicals could one day seize them.

Concerns about the commitment of the Saudis and other Gulf Arab governments to the alliance with the United States flared after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when it emerged that 15 of the 19 attackers were from Saudi Arabia, and that al-Qaida was funded to a great degree by private Saudi and Persian Gulf money.

Those concerns have abated as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have cracked down on terrorist financing. Additionally, the Islamic State’s emergence as a terrorist entity with the potential not just of disrupting established Arab states but replacing them has intensified Saudi efforts to confront terrorism.

Have the concerns about the stability of the Saudi regime similarly abated?

Not at all.

“The potential for regime change in Saudi Arabia remains,” Schanzer said. “What happens if you have an Arab Spring scenario in the same way Israelis were deeply concerned with Morsi inheriting the largest Arab air force?” Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, was elected president of Egypt in 2012 and ousted in a pro-Western coup in 2013.

Moreover, the threat of weapons delivered to friendlies falling into the hands of enemies has been freshened by that very phenomenon in the Syria civil war.

Israel and the pro-Israel lobby are less vocal now about the threat of an Islamist takeover in part because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deeply invested in the informal alliance between Israel and the Sunni Arab states, said Douglas Bloomfield, a political columnist who in the 1980s was a top AIPAC lobbyist.

“Don’t forget Bibi has established his own relationship with the Saudis,” Bloomfield said, using Netanyahu’s nickname, “and doesn’t want them to think he’s running in opposition to what he wants them to spend their money on” — that is, confronting Islamists and Iran.

Israel’s qualitative military edge

It’s long been pro-Israel doctrine that an Israeli military capability sufficient to defeat enemies is not enough, that there needs to be enough of a gap between Israel’s capabilities and those of its enemies to prevent an outbreak of war.

In 1982, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Moshe Arens, bluntly warned that the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states would “erase” Israel’s qualitative military edge.

After Trump announced the new sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, delivered a similar warning.

“We have also to make sure that those hundreds of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia will not, by any means, erode Israel’s qualitative edge because Saudi Arabia is still a hostile country without any diplomatic relations and nobody knows what the future will be,” he said, according to Newsweek.

But Steinitz’s statement was an outlier. Two factors have changed since the 1980s: The Soviet Union, a major arms supplier to Israel’s enemies, is gone; and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge has been a matter of U.S. law since 2008 — Israel has recourse to Congress if there is any concern.

American jobs

The boost that arms sales would deliver to the U.S. economy is a key feature of the pitch to sell arms to the Saudis, as it was in the early ’80s.

Decades ago, the pro-Israel lobby cast that appeal in sinister terms. Arms salesmen who “talked of jobs, of black ink for the aerospace industry and of recycling petrodollars” are “a thousandfold more telling adversaries (of the Jewish people) than juveniles painting swastikas on Jewish buildings,” the Anti-Defamation League’s director at the time, Nathan Perlmutter, said in 1982, as the AWACS story was ongoing.

Now, not so much. Why? In The Atlantic last week, military theorist Andrew Exum outlined an array of reasons why the arms sale is a winning — and sellable — strategy for the Trump administration. Among them: It’s business for the companies and workers who make the weapons; the Saudis and other Gulf states will become invested in American strategic interests because they are reliant on Americans for replacement parts, and arms sales “drive down the cost of our own weapons and thus the amount of money U.S. taxpayers have to spend on defense instead of other priorities like, say, the State Department, school lunches, or housing subsidies.”

The pro-Israel lobby

AIPAC stood up to a popular and recently elected president in the early 1980s. Why is it reticent to take on an unpopular and recently elected president in 2017?

For one thing, AIPAC 35 years ago had a Democratic U.S. House of Representatives eager to take on a Republican president. This time, the White House and both houses of Congress are Republican. Moreover, after two years of tensions between AIPAC and the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal, AIPAC is only now gingerly rebuilding its ties with the Democratic Party. Notably, among the handful of Congress members who have raised (qualified) concerns about the sales are Democrats who stood with the lobby during the Obama years, Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., an outlier among his Republican colleagues known for his wariness of entrenching America in the Middle East.

Perhaps most salient is how AIPAC takes its cues from Israel’s government on which battles to pick. Netanyahu, who clashed with Obama, has been unstinting in his cultivation of Trump, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, seen as one of the U.S. officials closest to Israel, helped negotiate the Saudi deal.

“I think Bibi is probably telling people ‘sheket bevakasha,’” the Hebrew phrase meaning “Quiet please,” Bloomfield said. “Don’t upset Trump.”

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

Lebanon calls for ban of ‘Wonder Woman’ film because lead actress Gal Gadot is Israeli


Lebanon’s Economy Ministry has filed a request to ban the upcoming film “Wonder Woman” because its star, Gal Gadot, is an actress and model from Israel.

A Lebanese security official told CBS News on Tuesday that the required committee of six Lebanese ministries has yet to take up the request.

At least one advance screening of the film is scheduled for Wednesday in Beirut, according to CBS.

Lebanon is officially at war with Israel and bans Israeli products. Lebanese citizens are not allowed to travel or have contact with Israeli citizens.

The film is still scheduled to be released in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait on Thursday. It will be released June 22 in Oman and June 29 in Bahrain.

Gadot, 32, does not shy away from touting her Israeli heritage. She praised the Israeli military in a widely shared Facebook post during the 2014 Gaza War.

Amelia Saltsman's silan. Photo by Tess Cutler

In the land of milk and silan


The Bible drips with mentions of honey. There’s the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey; its symbolic use at Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year; and at Shavuot, coming next week, to represent the sweetness of the gift of the Torah. And then there are those sensual lines in The Song of Songs: “Sweetness drops from your lips, O bride; honey and milk are under your tongue.”

But what sort of honey? Historians now believe that most biblical mentions of honey refer not to the golden nectar produced by bees, but to a syrup prepared from dates. This makes sense. Reducing bushels of dates — one of the revered seven biblical species — into amphorae of “honey” turns out to be a perfect preservation method. Not to mention, those long-lasting jars of the region’s first sweetener were immensely portable just in case of an expulsion, say, to Babylon.

[Recipe: Silan recipe for Shavuot]

Creating date honey, dibs in Arabic (also translated into English as date molasses or syrup), was, and is, a processing technique common to all date-growing regions of the Middle East and North Africa. For Jews, the culinary tradition is most associated with the Jews of Iraq (ah, Babylon), who spoke Judeo-Arabic. They called it silan, the term adopted into modern Hebrew.

According to Jewish food scholar Gil Marks, Iraqi silan-based charoset, halek in Judeo-Arabic, is the original “mortar,” a logical deduction, given the abundance of dates in early Jewish civilizations and the absence of apples. (The Ashkenazi apple-based version is a mere thousand or so years old.) Traditionally, silan was made once a year after the date harvest in early fall, giving dates and date honey first-fruit status at Rosh Hashanah.

Over the millennia, silan has never been out of production, whether at home or in date-syrup manufactories. (Date presses were found in the ruins at Qumran and elsewhere; modern Israeli commercial production didn’t begin until the early 1980s). The sweetener always has been highly regarded by locals for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties and thought to aid a variety of conditions, including lowering blood pressure and enhancing sexual prowess.

With today’s growing interest in Middle Eastern cuisines, silan is having a well-deserved moment. The ancient recipe is pretty much the same one used today: one ingredient plus water subjected to four basic techniques in sequence — soaking, cooking, extracting and reducing — that require no kitchen inventions beyond fire. The result is something of a miracle: silky smooth, rich brown that glows auburn when the light catches it, and complex notes of deep caramel, citrus and even coffee revealed through long, slow cooking. And, once upon a time I imagine, there were hints of smoke as the date extract slowly reduced over live embers.

I wanted in. I needed to join the ancient lineage of cooks in a process little changed by modern technology. My fascination with silan began with my paternal grandmother, Rachel Yochanan Ben-Aziz, who came from many generations in Iraq before she, my grandfather Ezekiel, and six of their seven children, among them my father, immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in the early 1930s. Although I learned a lot about Iraqi cooking from Safta Rachel during our visits to Israel and hers to us in Los Angeles, I somehow missed the bit about silan until after she had died.

A few years ago, my cousin told me about our safta’s delicious silan-and-toasted-pecan charoset. I immediately added it to our Passover traditions, using ready-made syrup I bought at the Iranian market in my neighborhood. Then, one day, my Aunt Hanna let slip that safta used to make her own silan. Wait, what?!?

I had little to go on. From Hanna, I knew only that my grandmother had soaked a lot of dates in water and enlisted her nephews to vigorously wring, that is, extract, the “juice.” Initial research in cookbooks and online didn’t offer much more. In fact, I discovered some pretty wild attempts to re-create silan, including the addition of copious amounts of sugar. This would have been unlikely in the original process, since, at 60- to 80-percent sugar, dates were the regional source for sugar production, not sugar cane or beets. And besides, how would my grandmother have had access to all that sugar in those early lean years in Israel? My guess is that the use of cane sugar is a modern shortcut to thick syrup, and that the missing ingredients lost through the years were a couple of steps plus time and patience.

But, the misguided sugar shortcut offers clues. Because date solids are very dense, water must be introduced to release the sugar, resulting in diluted flavor. A second step was needed — cooking the soaked pulp — to begin reconcentrating the sugars and start caramelization.

Then, using what I know about making clear caramel syrup by slowly heating, melting and reducing cane sugar with a little water to keep it liquified, I applied those principles to Safta Rachel’s extracted “date juice.” That was it; a slow reduction was the fourth and final step to gorgeous silan.

So, not exactly a recipe. Just four rudimentary techniques that ask a cook to slow down, pay attention and develop a feel for the process. Making silan never ceases to surprise me. I’ve learned something new with every batch I’ve made these past few months. I suspect it will always be thus. Perhaps by the time I will have been at it as long as my grandmother was, I’ll be OK with that.

Amelia Saltsman

Here’s what you need to know about making silan at home. It requires a lot of dates. Two pounds net a scant two cups of syrup, which is actually an ample amount of honey. Any number of date varieties will work, such as barhi, medjool, halawy or khadrawy. Each imparts its own color and flavor characteristics to the finished silan, and each particular batch of dates affects the cooking time and final yield, depending on how fibrous or dried it is. Avoid the deglet noor variety, the most commonly available cultivar; it changes color when exposed to heat and yields beet-red silan. And the honey date variety, I learned from Chef Jeremy Fox, turns purple when cooked.

Start soaking the dates the night before you want to make silan, and figure on a half day of intermittent work to finish. There’s not a lot of active work other than the extraction step; plan on puttering around the house as the dates cook, cool and reduce in turn.

Invest in a nut-milk bag to simplify the extraction step, but don’t bother to spend money on pitted dates or take time to pit them, since you’ll discard all the date solids anyway. The uncracked pits may even add flavor — there’s a traditional date-pit coffee substitute made from roasted and ground seeds.

The syrup is rather forgiving. If you’ve reduced it too far and it’s turning into taffy, stir in a little water and cook briefly to restore. After you pour the finished silan into jars, deglaze the pot with water for a small, second round of thin silan that is the cook’s reward.

And here’s what you should do with silan. Drizzle over almond butter or tahini and toast for a breakfast of champions. Spoon over thick yogurt or vanilla ice cream and top with strawberries, bananas or orange segments, and chopped nuts (a little crumbled halvah couldn’t hurt). Use silan instead of molasses or brown sugar in pies and cookies. Mix it with harissa for a spicy-sweet mop for grilled vegetables. When served with shanklish — a Lebanese way with labneh with za’atar and garlic — and the green wheat known as freekeh — “new ears parched with fire” — this main dish becomes a Shavuot homage to both milk and honey and the spring wheat harvest we’ve been so anxiously awaiting.

Ready-Made Silan

Let’s get real. Silan is too wonderful and versatile to enjoy only when you have time to make your own. Ready-made silan is a fantastic convenience condiment to have in one’s pantry — if you buy a good-quality one. Now you know to look for those that contain dates and nothing else (some ingredient lists include water; some don’t). Various brands have long been available at Middle Eastern, Iranian and Israeli markets. Silan has gone mainstream enough to show up at Whole Foods and other high-end supermarkets; Date Lady, an American brand selling imported silan, is the most commonly found. My favorite commercial Israeli brand is Kinneret Farm, the country’s largest producer of high-quality silan. It is available online at makoletonline.com and on Amazon. I haven’t yet found it on grocery shelves in the Los Angeles area.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump’s trip: experts react


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

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


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

Dan Shapiro, former United States ambassador to Israel


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

Elliott Abrams, former United States assistant secretary of state


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

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


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

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


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

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

Saree Makdisi

UCLA Professor: What’s wrong with Jews being a minority in Israel?


Finally, after about an hour of partisan arguments from both sides, I heard something that got my attention.

I was attending an event sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union, billed as “A Spirited Debate on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).” It featured, on one side, professor Judea Pearl, who was born in Tel Aviv, and students Philippe Assouline and Joseph Kahn, and, on the other, professor Saree Makdisi, who is of Palestinian descent, and students Ahmad Azzawi and Wali Kamal.

In front of a diverse audience of about 100 people, Pearl’s side argued the motion that “BDS is not moral.”

Nothing surprised me too much in the back and forth. The Pearl side reiterated the well-known arguments against BDS — namely, that it is out to undermine the Jewish state rather than search for peace — while the Makdisi side framed BDS as fighting the Israeli occupation with the best nonviolent tool available.

While we’ve heard many of the arguments before, it was helpful to hear them all in one place and in a polite manner, with no yelling or insults. You could feel some underlying tension throughout the debate, but the panelists made a genuine effort to conduct themselves with civility.

Makdisi based many of his arguments on universal values such as fairness, equality, justice and so on. Focusing on those values helped him finesse the Achilles’ heel of the BDS movement — the fact that it doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Promoting the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel, for example, means the effective end of the Jewish state, what a panelist on the Pearl side called “national suicide.”

Makdisi took that word — suicide — and ran with it, almost ridiculing it as an example of needless hysterics from the Zionist side. You could see where he was going. What kind of just society would treat the arrival of Palestinians as a national suicide? Sure, there may be a huge number of Palestinians who would enter the Jewish state, but what’s wrong with Arabs and Jews living side by side, in full equality, in the same state and under the same government?

My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

Then, he really got the audience’s attention when he blurted out these words: “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?”

There was a gasp among pro-Israel supporters. Pearl made a grimace, commenting that minorities are not treated very well in the Middle East.

I have a feeling Makdisi himself regretted his words as soon as he said them.

Why? Because he’s no fool. He’s a knowledgeable professor, and he surely knows what’s wrong with Jews being a minority in a country in the Middle East.

He knows that, for centuries, Jews in Arab and Muslim countries were treated as second-class citizens, or dhimmis. He knows that many of those Jews were persecuted and expelled after the birth of Israel in 1948.

He knows that there are 50 Muslim countries in the world, but only one Jewish state.

He knows that in many of those 50 countries, minorities are routinely persecuted and oppressed.

And he knows that in the Jewish-majority country of Israel, the Arab minority has more civil rights, freedom, legal protections and economic opportunities than Arabs have virtually anywhere else in the Middle East.

He knows all of that.

So, when he said, so innocently, “What’s wrong with Jews being a minority?” he probably forgot who was in the audience. Maybe he thought he was talking to a Students for Justice in Palestine crowd, for whom a Jewish minority in the Jewish state would be like manna from heaven.

But he wasn’t. There were some proud Zionists in the audience, and I was one of them.

I’m a Jew who was born in an Arab country, where my ancestors were a minority for centuries. The stories I heard were not of human rights and equality. They were stories about surviving by behaving — by keeping our heads down and never forgetting our second-class status. My grandparents in Morocco never got to fight for their rights, as Arabs do in Israel. They weren’t allowed.

That’s why, for 1,900 years, Jews from all over the world yearned to return home to Zion and Jerusalem. That’s why the Zionist movement fought so hard for the rebirth of the Jewish state — because the Jewish experience of being a vulnerable minority in a hostile land is not one we want to relive.

When Makdisi suggested that Jews should become dhimmis again in their own country, he confessed what the BDS movement is really about — and it isn’t very moral.


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

Guess what? The world needs Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They need Israel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The trouble with Trump’s tolerance tour


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Donald Trump at the White House on May 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump waives nuclear sanctions, keeping deal with Iran in place


President Donald Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran, keeping in place the Iran nuclear deal he has derided, but added new sanctions relating to Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles.

The waiver Wednesday of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program has been expected since last month, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Iran to be in compliance with the 2015 agreement that relieves sanctions in exchange for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program.

Tillerson at that time said the Trump administration would nonetheless review the terms of the deal because of Iran’s violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions related to ballistic missile testing, as well as its backing of terrorism and taking sides in regional unrest. Iran backs the Assad regime in its bid to suppress the civil war in Syria, among other involvements in the region.

Missile testing and Iran’s involvement in terrorism and regional violence were not covered by the nuclear deal, and the Obama administration kept in place sanctions targeting Iran for those activities.

Trump during his campaign had derided the nuclear deal as the worst he had ever seen and said he would reconsider it, but unlike other Republican primary candidates, he did not say he would scrap it.

Under Obama, the United States joined five other major powers in forging the pact. Pulling out in the absence of clear Iranian violations would likely upset U.S. allies and other nations involved in making the deal work.

The new sanctions, added by the Treasure Department, target two senior Iranian officials and entities based in China and Iran that are supporting Iran’s missile program.

“This administration is committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing behavior, such as Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and support to the Assad regime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the sanctions.

Separately, the State Department said it might add new sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights abuses, which also are not covered under the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“As we continue to closely scrutinize Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA and develop a comprehensive Iran policy, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses with new actions,” Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said in a release.

Jones’ remarks accompanied the State Department’s semi-annual report to Congress on sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights abuses.

An Islamic State flag flying in the Syrian town of Tabqa on April 30. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump blew it, big-league


The New York Times has a new feature called “Say Something Nice About Trump.”

Last week, I was all set to do so. As President Donald Trump was preparing to embark on his first official trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, I found myself thinking nice things. It occurred to me that on the Israel-Palestinian issue, Trump had come out of the gate in a far more effective way than his predecessors.

On May 8, for instance, I was on a phone call with Dennis Ross, the former United States ambassador who served four American presidents as a Middle East envoy and negotiator. And this is what Ross said: Donald Trump has a better chance than President Barack Obama did at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite Trump’s support from the anti-two-state-solution crowd, despite the fact Trump’s own ambassador to Israel called pro-two-state groups “worse than kapos,” Ross said Trump has handled the Middle East diplomatic dance better than Obama so far. He said Trump has impressed the Palestinian leadership, gained their trust. And he had the Israelis in his pocket.

For someone who has seen Trump as dangerous to Israel’s future and ill-informed on Middle East affairs, it was surreal —but heartening.

“What is going on,” Ross said of the president, “is he continues to emphasize that this is a deal he really wants to do. Only last week, he said he couldn’t think of a single reason why he can’t reach agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think what he meant by that, not that there weren’t differences, but that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal. In any case, this is one of those challenges that is deeply rooted [for Trump]. What the president has done is make [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] more relevant, which is important at a time when he does not have a lot of popularity.”

Ross’ call, arranged by The Israel Project, came on the eve of Trump’s visit in Washington with Abbas. The remarkable part was that Ross outlined a clear way forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, out of the long and dangerous impasse between the sides. And the Moses who could lead them? Donald J. Trump.

Trump has leverage, Ross said. He is seen as someone who can deliver and, beyond that, someone who, unlike Obama, will exact a cost if he’s rejected. So Trump can make tough demands of Abbas, including ending payments to the families of terrorists, and — in private — can ask for difficult sacrifices from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I was listening, shaking my head, wondering if I had completely misjudged Trump when it comes to Middle East policy. Perhaps I had overestimated the hard-line attitude of his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps I hadn’t taken into account the moderating forces of Trump’s childhood friend, Ron Lauder.

But more likely, I had forgotten my cardinal rule for understanding Donald J. Trump: The man will say anything in a room to make a sale. Alec Baldwin is not Trump. Trump is Alec Baldwin — in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Because only one thing counts in this life!” Baldwin’s real estate huckster character says. “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!”

To get elected, Trump had to appeal to evangelicals and pro-Israel hard-liners like Sheldon Adelson. But to sell a bigger deal as president, he has new constituencies. The Saudi vote isn’t big in Florida or Wisconsin, but it sure matters in the Middle East.

“The more the administration, the president and his representatives are dealing with the Arab leaders, the more what they’re hearing from them is they’re prepared to work with them,” Ross said. “But on [the Palestinian-Israeli] issue, they’re asking for a two-state outcome.”

So in the spirit of saying something nice about Trump, I was all set to assert that he would continue to confound the very people who trusted him to do exactly what hard-liners in Israel, and their American armchair Golanis, want him to do.

But then, Trump happened. That is, shortly before his trip abroad, the president gave sensitive intelligence information to the Russians, intelligence that was revealed to have come via Israel.

Here’s how bad this is: Israeli intelligence had somehow penetrated ISIS command well enough to get detailed knowledge of its upcoming terror attacks. Now those methods and sources are burned, thanks to the president of the United States. The fact that Russia can now discern the methods and sources for that intelligence and pass it on to their allies the Iranians, who can funnel it to Hezbollah, is a criminal act against Israel.

This disaster will shadow Trump’s trip, shuffle the equation in ways that are now impossible to imagine — even if no other shoes drop between now and when he touches down in Israel.

The evidence was building that Trump was not going to be the hand puppet Sheldon Adelson thought he bought Bibi for Chanukah. Now, flying across the Atlantic with a self-inflicted puncture to his competence and credibility, Trump needs Bibi more than ever to keep his credibility afloat.

A week ago, Trump was positioned perfectly to land in Israel and shake things up. Now he will arrive, shaken, weakened, vulnerable, neutered.

I tried so hard to say something nice. It’s still not the time. And there’s no one to blame but Donald Trump.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Under Trump, daylight re-emerges in US-Israel relationship


Just days before President Donald Trump’s first visit to Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship is undergoing its first major crisis in the Trump era. ZOA’s Klein: “The President is getting bad advice.”

HOW IT STARTED: During a Sunday morning interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Tillerson said that any decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not be made for some time, adding that it would take consultations with Israel and the Palestinians to see if the move would advance the peace process. “I think it’ll be informed, again, by the parties that are involved in those talks,” Tillerson said. “And most certainly Israel’s view on whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Hours after the interview was broadcast, Netanyahu issued a rare statementresponding to Tillerson’s remarks. “Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process,” Netanyahu said. “On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.” He repeated this statement at the weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.

DID BIBI ADVISE TRUMP AGAINST MOVING? On Monday, in response to a Fox News report that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the embassy right away, the Prime Minister’s Office released partial transcripts of Netanyahu’s White House meeting as proof that he had urged the President to move the embassy. “The embassy – the PM supports moving it,” a summary of the Oval Office meeting read. During a working lunch at the White House, “the PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate President Trump into believing.”

The Prime Minister’s office also released a transcript of a meeting between Ambassador Ron Dermer and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn on January 16: “Dermer explained why moving the embassy would help advance peace and not the opposite. This would send the message that we are in Jerusalem to stay. Moving the embassy would force the other side to contend with the lie they’ve constructed – that Israel has no connection to Jerusalem – and will cause them to understand that Israel will be here forever with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Visiting the Wall: According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the U.S. advance team rebuffed a request from Netanyahu’s team to accompany Trump while he visits the Western Wall. According to the report, the US team explained that the site is part of disputed territory in the West Bank and not under Israeli sovereignty. An official in Netanyahu’s office expressed“astonishment” over the comment. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has contacted the administration to discuss the matter.

REACTIONS: Abe Foxman, former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), lambasted the White House for its “very serious misunderstandings” on sensitive and important issues to Israel and the Jewish people. “It makes many of us — who are hoping for a change in U.S.-Israel relations — nervous,” Foxman, the current Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told Jewish Insider. “I cannot believe that the traditionally pro-Palestinian functionaries in the American Consulate in Jerusalem are making the decisions on the Kotel and Jerusalem.”

The current CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, urged the White House to clarify its stance following the report. “The Kotel is 100% part of Israel and holy to Jews around [the] world,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“When a President or Prime Minister needs to put out record of a private conversation to defend themselves against the other or their domestic opposition, it’s not a good sign,” Aaron David Miller, Vice President for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Jewish Insider. “Remember the agreement between these two [leaders] to manage differences by not going public?”

“Playing with the Jerusalem issue complicates not just the putative peace process, but everyone’s politics,” Miller explained. “If Trump wants to hang a ‘closed for the season’ sign on the peace process before it ever gets started, he should fool around with the Jerusalem issue.”

“The administration has boxed itself in by focusing on Jerusalem and not doing what every other administration (R or D) has done which is to punt the issue,” he added.

Dore Gold, former MFA Director General and current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, defended Netanyahu’s action, saying the Prime Minister is right to push on Jerusalem as Israel commemorates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “Now that the administration is expressing strong determination to reach a final status deal, naturally Israelis are concerned about what happens to Jerusalem,” Gold said in an email. “This is a core value of national identity for Israelis which may not be fully appreciated by the outside world.”

Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who will be in Israel during Trump’s visit, was reportedly “furious” about Tillerson’s comments on the embassy. Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said on Monday that he is very disappointed with Trump’s handling of the issue. “I am very disappointed he hasn’t moved the embassy,” Klein told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “It’s a mistake. This harms President Trump’s credibility and if the Arabs don’t respect his credibility, it is more likely that they would be making impossible demands.”

“The President is getting bad advice from some of his aides,” Klein continued. “All I say to his people is: the embassy hasn’t been moved for the 23 years since Oslo and you haven’t gotten peace. So the problem is obviously not moving the embassy to Jerusalem.” Klein elaborated that in recent meetings at the White House he told Trump aides, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, that “moving the embassy would make the Palestinians and the Arab world understand that Trump is serious and doing what’s right and that the jig is up.”

Klein said he’s worried about Tillerson citing the current Secretary of State’s relationship with former Secretary of State James Baker. “I am concerned that Tillerson will begin to pressure Israel to take stands that they can’t take,” he said. “I am worried.”

A White House spokesperson told Jewish Insider, “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.”

From left: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on May 3. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Peace process: Here we die again


It’s a good thing I’m not a diplomat working on the non-existent Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” a 25-year pipe dream that left the Emergency Room years ago for the coma unit. I mean, what would I tell my boss? Sorry, I can’t work on a project that is guaranteed to go nowhere and will only lead to more cynicism?

Luckily, I’m no diplomat, nor do I work at a think tank or organization that gets paid to show optimism. I can tell you exactly what I think.

And here’s what I think: I’ve been following the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the Oslo days in the early 1990s, and I think it’s the biggest fake news in the world.

When I see President Trump get all excited about making “the ultimate deal,” I roll my eyes. All I see is another Western dreamer about to be sucked into the labyrinth of a Mideast bazaar, where a truth is only uttered by accident.

The prince of this peace bazaar is the formidable Mahmoud Abbas, the wily and duplicitous Palestinian leader who says with a straight face that he wants peace and a two-state solution. The fact that he has never actually put an offer on the table is an inconvenient detail. What matters is that he has evaded all responsibility and convinced the world that Israel is the real obstacle to peace.

The losing merchant in the bazaar is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thinks he’s winning because he hasn’t yet given up anything. What Bibi doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that as long as the world blames Israel for the conflict, he will remain the losing merchant.

And now, here comes the original artist of the deal, the leader of the free world who thinks he can pull off a miracle. “We will get this done,” President Trump has announced.

Caught up in his miracle deal, Trump barely noticed when Abbas showed up for an official visit at the White House and started seducing him. The shrewd Abbas brazenly lied that Palestinian society is being raised on a “culture of peace.” Instead of pushing back, the president kept pushing his dream, obviously ignoring bazaar rule #1: Never show your zeal to make a deal.

Now that Trump is hooked, Mahmoud Abbas will work his game. He will tantalize Trump with empty promises and pressure Bibi to deliver on concrete ones. He will put all the blame and responsibility on Israel. He will involve other players so he can hide behind them. In sum, he’ll do whatever he can to undermine the Jewish state and make Bibi sweat. That’s his game.

The dark secret of the conflict is that Abbas is perfectly happy not to resolve it. His nightmare is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, which would mean that the hated Zionist state would survive as a Jewish democracy. Why would a Palestinian leader ever want to rescue the Zionist project?

Abbas also knows that the “Israeli occupation” is his ATM machine. As long as it continues, he has the best of both worlds: He gets to bash Israel in global circles while the foreign aid keeps flowing into his bank accounts. And let’s remember this other detail: With Israel protecting the West Bank, Abbas never has to worry that Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and turn Ramallah into Aleppo.

Forget all the rational explanations you hear, such as, “The most Israel can offer is less than the Palestinians can accept.” That makes it look like a normal conflict where the parties are too far apart. It’s not about that. It’s about the unspoken reality that Palestinian leaders have enormous incentives NOT to separate from Israel, and no amount of Israeli concessions or peace processing will ever change that.

In other words, if separation from the Palestinians is your ideal endgame, forget about making a deal. The only chance of that happening is if Israel makes unilateral moves.

In the meantime, if Bibi is tired of seeing Israel get blamed for the conflict, there is one move he can make: When he meets with Trump in Israel next week, he could say: “Mr. President, Israel has made several offers in the past to end the conflict. To show us that he is serious about peace, it’s time for Mr. Abbas to do the same. When you see him, please ask him to stop funding terrorism and promoting Jew-hatred, and ask him to present you with a specific proposal to end the conflict once and for all.”

Will Abbas do it? Never. Not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to. Bibi knows that. He should make sure Trump and the rest of the world know it, too.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Donald Trump at he White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process


Momentum is building toward resumption of the dormant Middle East peace process. The efforts by presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, the successful visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House last week, and President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank all signal that, for now, the Trump administration is serious about promoting peace. Can it succeed where others have failed?

Optimists believe things could be different this time around. An alignment of interests between Israel and key Arab Sunni states seeking to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and to confront Islamic extremism has made these countries ready to embrace ways to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind them. Pessimists warn, however, that except for the new U.S. administration, not much has changed.

The truth is probably in the middle. A changing regional setting coupled with a renewed interest in the conflict on the part of an unconventional U.S. president could open a window of opportunity. But rather than overpromising to achieve the ultimate deal, a promise that would likely backfire, the administration could take concrete steps that might pave the way toward resumption of an earnest peace process. Here are four steps that could help get there:

• The president could state a clear vision, while setting realistic benchmarks, and remain committed for the long haul. Speaking generally about “peace” and implying indifference between the two-state and one-state options may suffice for first meetings, but the Trump administration could articulate that in the absence of another feasible option, it is committed to a two-state solution that allows the peaceful existence of a Jewish democratic Israel alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But promising to end the conflict in an unrealistic time frame could dim the chances for success. In this part of the world, when it’s all or nothing, it usually is nothing. It would make more sense to move forward with concrete measures and achievable goals to gradually help set the stage for a two-state solution.

In addition, Greenblatt is perceived in the region as directly executing the president’s wishes. This credibility could be crucial for regional leaders.

• Second, the administration could promote a three-pronged approach combining bilateral, multilateral and unilateral processes. Traditionally, the U.S. role in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts focused on bringing the two sides to the negotiation table hoping that with a little help, they would reach a peace deal. Focusing solely on a bilateral approach has not worked before and it is unlikely to work now.

In parallel to resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. could promote a multilateral approach by bringing in the Arab Sunni states to help back the Palestinians and incentivize Israel. Unilateral independent steps could include pushing Israeli and Palestinian leaders on issues that are hard for them politically at home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

While too sensitive to push for during a highly publicized hunger strike of Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Authority (PA) could be prodded to stop generously paying prisoners convicted of terrorism. This could send an important signal to Israel and to the world that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

  • Third, the U.S. could continue efforts to stabilize the Gaza Strip, while at the same time seeking to help strengthen the PA. The Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse and the winds of war are blowing again between Israel and Hamas. This administration has been following the footsteps of its predecessor in an attempt to stabilize Gaza. Building on these efforts, Trump could use his leverage to coordinate with Israel and push the Gulf States — maybe during his visit to Saudi Arabia before he heads to Israel — to follow through on their pledges to help stabilize Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move to curb settlement construction in the West Bank is a welcome start, but Israel could be encouraged to do more to rein in settlement expansion.

Efforts also could focus on providing Gaza’s residents with clean drinking water, proper sanitation, a regular supply of electricity and improved freedom of movement for people and goods. It is crucial, though, that efforts in Gaza do not bolster Hamas at the expense of the PA.

Trump gave a much needed boost to the weak PA by meeting with Abbas, calling it an “honor,” tweeting about the meeting and not asking Abbas publicly to make any compromises.

• Finally, the administration could sign the waiver forestalling the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem so close to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War could shatter any chance of peace and risk plunging Jerusalem and the whole region into turmoil.

Such steps may not bring about the ultimate deal. Despite regional dynamics and a new energy from the White House there are still plenty of obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Without a clear, consistent plan that delivers quick, tangible results to both Israelis and Palestinians and helps restore trust between the two sides, the newly created window opportunity to addressing this conflict will close again.


Shira Efron is a policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp., a special adviser on Israel with Rand’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and a professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School.

An Israeli prison guard escorts jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, middle, to a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court on Jan. 25, 2012. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Cookies for Barghouti; Crumbs for Palestinian people


Hunger strikes usually conjure up images of a united front of beleaguered campaigners for a just cause led by a heroic, larger-than-life leader.

Rarely however, does the mastermind behind a 1,000-strong hunger strikers get caught stuffing his face.

Now some Palestinians are left hungering for some truth.

Marwan Barghouti — the self-promoted reincarnation of Nelson Mandela — and a convicted murderer, recently called on Palestinians in Israeli prisons to join him in a hunger strike for better conditions. Only problem is a video showing Barghouti “eating two cookies and a candy bar in the toilet stall of his cell. The video shows Barghouti appearing to try to hide the evidence by flushing the wrapper down the toilet.”

Once a self-declared “peace advocate,” Barghouti turned mastermind of Intifada suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Barghouti was sentenced to fifteen years in jail on five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Just as he sent suicide bombers out to die during 2002-2005 while remaining safely behind the scenes, he now munches on cookies and, in the words of Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while he “urged his fellow prisoners to strike [against prison conditions] and suffer while he ate behind their back.”

It is this Cookie Monster of Palestinian Murder Incorporated who, from behind bars, plots the destruction of democratic Israel while the Palestinian man and woman in the street, beggared by the pervasive corruption of the Palestinian Authority, struggle to survive on the crumbs.

Barghouti’s shameful, murderous hypocrisy is also reflected in another member of the Barghouti clan, Omar, who founded the so-called BDS (Anti-Israel) boycott of Israel. Never designed to help a single Palestinian, its goal is to use “soft power” to demonize and cripple the Jewish state. Among their main “victories”, forcing Sodastream to close its factory built past the 1967 Green Line. As a result, Palestinian workers who were paid equal salaries as their Jewish co-workers, lost their ability to sustain their families. Recently arrested for tax evasion, he was allowed to travel to Yale to pick up the Gandhi Peace Prize!

Hate, hypocrisy, terrorism, and corruption of their leaders only delay and derail the hope of Palestinians for a bright future.

Instead of leading boycotts of Israelis, Palestinians should have attended the recent. 2017 Milken Global Conference. There a panel which included renowned venture capitalist and former UC Regent Chair Richard C. Blum, a Rwandan businesswomen-activist Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Angela Homsi, Director of Angaza-Africa Impact Innovation Fund, joined with Jeremy Bentley, Head of Financial Institutions and Public Sector, Citi Israel, and other Israeli hi-tech innovators to discuss visionary but practical projects. Among the ideas discussed were using drones to overcome the infrastructure deficit across the developing world, foster new technologies to enable nations to meet sustainable development and climate goals, and jump-starting business startups across Africa.

Don’t look for purported “next generation” Palestinian leaders like the Barghoutis to embrace the true path towards peace and statehood. So long as there are millions pouring from the UN, governments, and NGOs that help sustain the bigotry, corruption and terrorism, Palestinians thirsting for opportunity in the here-and-now are having to forge their own path to a brighter and more prosperous future.

Let us hope that the new leaders of the United Nations, Secretary General Antonio Guterrez and US President Donald Trump will lead the way by halting the funding of fraudsters, bigots, and murderers, and instead begin to invest in all those interested in real peace.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman is a historian and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Lynne Silbert (left) and Ada Horwich with a Syrian child at a refugee center in Greece. Photo courtesy of IsraAID

How to help save Syrians


Why did we go?
As images of the Syrian refugee crisis played out on our TV and computer screens, we, like so many people, felt helpless and horrified. 

We wanted to help, and fortunately for us, we knew where to turn.

Both of us had met Yotam Polizer, co-chief executive of IsraAID, Israel’s largest humanitarian nongovernmental organization. Working with Muslims, Christians and Jews, IsraAID has provided lifesaving disaster relief and long-term support in nearly every humanitarian crisis of the 21st century — setting a good example for Israel in the process.

The group currently is working in 17 areas of the world, including South Sudan, Nepal, Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Colombia, Peru and Greece, where Syrian refugees are landing to flee a civil war now in its sixth year.

IsraAID has been working in Greece since September of 2015.  By now, fighting between the Syrian government and opposition groups has resulted in the deaths of 470,000, by some estimates, and displacement of over 6 million more, according to the United Nations. Greece has become a primary way station, from where refugees hold out hope that they will reach Germany, a “promised land” of sorts that has absorbed the most Syrian immigrants — more than 600,000 — among all countries in Western Europe.

As mothers, grandmothers and psychotherapists, we fell in love with IsraAID’s mission to respond immediately to people facing natural or man-made disasters, even those from countries like Syria that have declared Israel its enemy.

Polizer invited us to see firsthand the magnitude of the crises and the work IsraAID has been doing in Greece.  And, because of our training, we were asked to be consultants to the staff for the eight days we visited. IsraAID has sent 120 Arab and Jewish-Israeli professionals to provide support for the refugees, focusing on long-term trauma counseling for about 750 refugees.

IsraAID works in seven refugee shelters and camps around Greece, providing psycho-social support through therapeutic groups for women, men, children and adolescents, as well as individual counseling and specialty needs for others, such as art therapy for women and children.

Most organizations either save lives or change lives. IsraAID does both. Polizer invited us to visit IsraAID’s project in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, which has a long Jewish history. There, at the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, we met members of his team: Sigalit, a Jewish Arabic-speaking psychotherapist; Anat, a Jewish Arabic-speaking art therapist; and Khaled, an Arab-Israeli occupational therapist.

We visited three sites where the refugee families are housed: An abandoned high-rise, a rundown hotel in the countryside and a converted factory with no private kitchen or toilet facilities. Each site is supported by NGOs from Greece, Italy, Great Britain and elsewhere, offering various services, such as facility management, facility construction, education and recreation.

All the refugees in Thessaloniki had arrived by boat after observing drownings and illnesses on their journey from Syria. After first living in tents, suffering a terribly cold winter, they were moved to more “permanent” shelters, like the ones we worked in. Most of the families were not intact, separations caused by deaths and relocation: three or four children with no father, fathers with no children, children with no mother.

What did we do?

On days that we were with children, we observed their need for attention and affection and an eagerness to learn English, play, do art projects, dance and throw around balls. We spent hours facilitating play and communication skills as children described their treacherous sea journey by holding their tummies and pretending to shiver.

We sat in women’s groups led by Anat and Sigalit. As they slowly built up trust, the women became open to new challenges facing them: How to parent in new lands with new cultures, how to encourage education for their children, and how to speak up for their needs and express their feelings. Some of the mothers even forgot how to play with their children. The leaders helped them to remember.

We watched Khaled, age 26, who did not appear old enough to be a father but was old enough to reach the adolescent boys, helping them to express their feelings and cope with undue stress and aggression. Without speaking the language, we recognized in the boys hope, excitement and connections. For instance, Amid, 12, began the session sitting apart from the other boys but with Khaled’s skills and encouragement, moved next to another boy and even left the session speaking with some of the other kids.

Often, we were invited in for a cup of tea with the families in their meager surroundings. Despite their circumstances, their culture of hospitality remained.

We met Fatima from Aleppo, a mother of four. Her youngest child is only a year old and has never met her father. He was able to relocate to Germany and hoped that would hasten the family’s permission to move there. So far, there is no indication that the move will happen. While Fatima attended a women’s group, we sat with her children and played games.

Each refugee family is given an allowance for food and necessities, and Fatima’s small apartment was immaculate despite her limited resources. Due to traumatic experiences walking from Syria to Turkey and crossing the water in a dangerous lifeboat, she insisted her children stay inside. We had hoped to take them outside to meet others, but she was too frightened.

Susi, 7, was living in the rundown hotel with a depressed aunt and her father, whose culture did not teach him parenting skills. Her mother relocated to Germany, hoping to speed the family’s reunification. Susi was in perpetual motion due to her high level of stress, depression and separation anxiety caused by being away from her mother. She hugged us as we entered the grounds, pulling us away from others in a desperate attempt to find comfort and affection. When we had to leave, Susi ran after us and jumped into the car. Our hearts were broken, not knowing what to do. We drove away but the sad memory has stayed with us.

Mohammed, 16, was living in the concrete factory. We first saw him body-building in a parking lot. Although he looked quite healthy as the leader of a group of adolescent boys, led by Khaled, we learned later that he has had two heart surgeries since arriving by lifeboat.

As we observed him in the group, we realized Mohammed’s anger and aggression were transformed into leadership and role-modeling. It was hard to imagine that he recuperated in this rundown facility without private bathrooms and quiet surroundings. We couldn’t help but wonder what his future will be. We pray for his future.

Realizing the need for important supplies, we went shopping and bought personal items for the women, formula and diapers for the babies, and soccer balls and art supplies for the children. We also bought colorful wooden chairs to add to the community’s limited supply. IsraAID distributed the items for us.

As these families wait for relocation, which may take one or two more years, if ever, we felt grateful for the work of IsraAID in making the delay less difficult.

There are many reasons to despair while watching the darkness descending on Syria. But don’t ignore the light.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on May 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump, Abbas link renewed peace talks to countering Islamic State


President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would help bring about the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I know President Abbas has spoken out against ISIS” and other terrorist groups, Trump said Wednesday at a White House ceremony welcoming Abbas, using one of several acronyms for the Islamic State. “We must continue to build our partnerships with the Palestinians’ security forces to counter and defeat terrorism.”

Abbas said a final status agreement that included a two-state solution would help defeat the terrorist threat scourging Israel’s Arab neighbors.

“For us to bring about a comprehensive and just peace based on the two-state solution, such matter would give a great impetus to the Arab Peace Initiative and the other international initiatives, as well as be able to fight and deter terrorism and to fight the criminal ISIS group … which has nothing to do with our noble religion,” he said.

The Arab Peace Initiative refers to the 2002 proposal by Saudi Arabia to trade an Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on the 1967 borders for a comprehensive Israeli peace with most of its Arab neighbors.

Trump, with the encouragement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has embraced the concept of a broader peace that encompasses both the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors, partly as a means to better confront the threats posed by the Islamic State as well as Iran.

The U.S. leader said he was optimistic that he could pull off the deal that has frustrated at least four of his predecessors, with the most recent collapse of talks in 2014 followed by the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We will get it done, we will be working so hard to get it done,” Trump said.

Abbas’ remarks Wednesday underscored key differences, however. Netanyahu has not embraced the Arab Peace Initiative, in part because of the breadth of its compromise, based on the 1967 lines. Abbas said the 1967 lines remained the predicate for a peace deal. Abbas’ explicit citation of the two-state solution also suggests a nuanced difference with Trump, who has retreated from 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the two-state outcome.

Trump praised Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, which the United States helps fund.

“They get along unbelievably well,” he said. “I was very impressed and somewhat surprised at how well they get along.”

Trump did not address — at least in the public portion of the meeting — a demand by Netanyahu that Abbas stop Palestinian Authority payments to families of terrorists killed or jailed by Israel. He did call on Abbas to address incitement.

“There can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate, there’s such hatred, but hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long,” he said.

Abbas said his government was teaching its young people peace.

“We are raising our youth, our children and our grandchildren, on a culture of peace,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, D.C., on May 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Pence at Israel Independence Day event: Jerusalem embassy under ‘serious’ consideration


Vice President Mike Pence celebrated Israel’s independence and touted the Administration’s unapologetic support for the Jewish State at a White House reception to mark Israel’s 69th Independence Day on Tuesday.

Pence told the crowd that in a phone call a short while ago, he wished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “Happy Independence Day.”

“Under President Trump, if the world knows nothing else, the world will know this – America stands with Israel,” Pence said to applause. “President Trump is a lifelong friend and a supporter of the State of Israel. President Donald Trump stands without apology for Israel, and he always will.”

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process amid growing “momentum” and the understanding that Israel will be required to undertake compromises, the Vice President assured the Jewish leaders, “President Donald Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel, not now – not ever. Today, America’s support for Israel’s security is at record levels.”

Pence added that – “as we speak” – the President is “giving serious consideration to moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

The event took place in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Cruz, Rep. Lee Zeldin as well as Democratic House Members Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider attended the event, among others.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman delivered opening remarks and served as emcee. According to Friedman, this marks the first time the White House hosted an event on Israel’s Independence Day. He thanked President Trump and Vice President Pence for “initiating what we hope will be a joyous annual event for many years to come.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

 

President Donald Trump will host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House tomorrow. “The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday. “That’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”