Strikeout Over Syria?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pivoting East: Israel’s Developing Strategic Relationships in Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequently, Japan changed course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Reform Colleagues Were Wrong on Jerusalem

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

We were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerusalem Move Blows Up Mideast Myths

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

None of these things have happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 67 – Middle East Break Down

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

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

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

Barak Ravid on Facebook and Twitter

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

Michael Bassin. Photo courtesy of Michael Bassin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rant Against Conformity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAUSD Accused of Hosting Anti-Israel Teacher Course

Screenshot from Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[This article originally appeared on]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran claims successful test of missile capable of reaching Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twelve, and each time to emphasize its threat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump says Israelis and Palestinians both want peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can a shakshuka stain kill you?

Photo from Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

That decision almost ended my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I describe the horror of that second?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenblatt’s Gaza proposal leaves more questions than answers

Jason Greenblatt in Israel. Photo from Facebook

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

[This story originally appeared on]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian broadcaster explains why it left Israel off the map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Senator Bob Corker’s realist doctrine

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

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

[This story originally appeared on]

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

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

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

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

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

A balancing act on Israel and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

Juggling independence and close ties with the Trump administration

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Kissinger (Photo by Reuters)


Henry Kissinger weighs in on the North Korea nuclear crisis:

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

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

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

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

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


Micah Halpern writes about Israel and the fight against ISIS:

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

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When a Jewish camp raised a Palestinian flag

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Two weeks ago, a Jewish summer camp in Washington state raised the Palestinian flag. The story went viral, and Jews around the world went berserk. Not long afterward, the flag came down and the camp administration apologized. “Jewish Camp Sorry for Raising Palestinian Flag in ‘Friendship,’ ” read a headline July 31 on the Jewish Daily Forward website.

My reaction? Deep disappointment.

According to news reports, Camp Solomon Schechter of Olympia, Wash., had raised the red, white, black and green Palestinian flag to welcome a delegation of Palestinian youth that was visiting under the aegis of Kids4Peace, an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to “ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world.” The predictable collective howl of disgust from the Jewish community led to an email of explanation from the camp to parents, followed soon after by an official statement of apology. And with that, an attempt at outreach had been eclipsed by an instinctive negative Jewish response to a controversial symbol.

If you check out the comments section below the story on any news site, you’ll find a fair amount of blatant anti-Palestinian racism, and some limited support for the camp, but the majority opinion is that camp officials committed an outrageous act by choosing to fly this flag. I believe this group reaction to what took place is a shame on our community.

In candor, I might have reacted in similar fashion a month ago, before I traveled with an organization called Encounter to Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Ramallah and other areas in the Palestinian territories. Encounter assembled a group of around 30 people dedicated to ahavat Yisrael — the love of Israel that Encounter considers a core value of all its trips. These were rabbis, Jewish educators, NGO executives and other Jewish influencers chosen to go on a “listening trip.” Over an intense four days, we met a multitude of Palestinian speakers who steeped us in narratives that ran counter to those we’d grown up with — their narratives.

[David Suissa responds: Raising a Palestinian flag is not the best welcome sign]

When I’m agitated, my shoulders have a tendency to rise. And early on the first day, they were probably up over my ears. I heard words that didn’t sit well with me: “Palestine,” “occupation,” “Nakba.” And I saw symbols that distressed me: graffiti of raised knives, portraits glorifying Yasser Arafat, and yes, the Palestinian flag. But I discovered that as I opened my heart to our speakers, fellow human beings with very different viewpoints and life experiences, my shoulders reached equilibrium, I quickly got past years of knee-jerk reaction, and was able to hear and appreciate some very uncomfortable stories.

These Palestinian kids, walking into a pro-Israel Jewish camp, were reaching out across decades of conflict to make a connection. What an act of courage and hope.

Understand, I didn’t walk away having adopted every position of every speaker I was exposed to, but I got past a lot of automatic negative response, allowing myself to be open to nuance. Because for the first time in four visits to the region, I met and interacted with Palestinians, the people with whom Israelis live side by side, and with whom they will continue to live whatever the future may hold.

My four days with Encounter, which included an overnight stay with a welcoming Palestinian family in Beit Sahour, gave me a far deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the years I’ve spent reading and talking about the topic. It turns out the simple and obvious and crucial element is honest, open interaction. And that happens to be the concept to which Kids4Peace is dedicated.

I personally have no problem at all with what Camp Solomon Schechter did. These Palestinian kids, walking into a pro-Israel Jewish camp, were reaching out across decades of conflict to make a connection. What an act of courage and hope. It seems to me a quintessentially Jewish response on the camp’s part to welcome these citizens of nowhere — neither Israel nor Palestine — with a symbol familiar to them. I understand that some have a more negative gut reaction to the Palestinian flag than I do. And I believe that Camp Solomon Schechter should have anticipated the outcry and sent an email to parents ahead of time, explaining the rationale and putting the act in context.

But nowhere in the internet comment threads did I see anyone evince any interest in the actual visit. Everyone is so caught up in an emotional argument about a piece of cloth that the real story is utterly obscured. What did these Palestinian kids have to say? How did the Solomon Schechter campers respond to them? Were connections made? That’s the story; that should be our focus.

The camp directors explained to parents that their intention in flying the Palestinian flag was to offer campers a “teachable moment” about acceptance. Here’s hoping that we American-Jewish adults can use this story as a teachable moment about our own priorities as a people.

Joshua Malina is an actor best known for his roles in “The West Wing” and “Scandal.”

Why more Israelis are moving to the US

Children waving Israeli and American flags at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City on June 4. Photo by Perry Bindelglass

Six years ago, the Israeli government released a series of controversial ads to show its expatriates that they would never feel at home in the United States.

But last year, Israeli Cabinet members lined up to address a Washington, D.C., conference celebrating Israeli-American identity.

The ad campaign, which was pulled following a backlash from Israelis and Jews abroad, represented Israel’s traditional attitude toward citizens who left its borders. Emphasizing its image as the Jewish national homeland — and ever concerned about its Jewish-Arab demographic balance — Israel’s government has long encouraged Jews not only to move to Israel but to stay there. In 2014, then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid called Israelis who moved to Berlin “anti-Zionists.”

But the parade of Israeli ministers who spoke at the 2016 conference of the Israeli-American Council attested to a shifting reality: Whether the Israeli government likes it or not, the Israeli-American diaspora is real, growing and leaving its mark on the United States.

Here are four things to know about the Israelis who live in the United States.

No one knows how many Israelis live in the United States — but it could be a million.

There’s no real way to know how many Israelis are living in the United States. Any first-generation child of Israelis is considered an Israeli citizen, and Israel can’t force its expatriates to register with their local consulate.

Estimates of Israelis in America vary widely — from about 200,000 to as many as a million. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some 250,000 Israelis acquired permanent residence in the United States between 1949 (when 98 Israelis left the infant state) to 2015 (which saw about 4,000 Israelis move stateside). But that number does not chart deaths or Israelis who moved back.

The 2013 Pew Research Forum study on American Jews found a similar number: About 300,000 Jews in America were either born in Israel or born to an Israeli parent. In total, Pew found that first- or second-generation Israelis account for about 5 percent of American Jews.

Even the Israeli government produces two different numbers. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that a little more than 500,000 Israelis in total moved abroad from 1990 to 2014 — and nearly 230,000 came back. But Israel’s U.S. Embassy told JTA that between 750,000 and 1 million Israelis live in the country. Adam Milstein, chairman of the Israeli-American Council, an umbrella group for Israelis here, told JTA that includes 400,000 children born to an Israeli parent.

In recent years, Israel has lost more people to the United States than it has gained. From 2012 to 2015, according to Homeland Security, 17,770 Israelis took up residence in the United States. During that span, fewer than 13,000 people made the move  from the United States to Israel.

They are centered in New York and Los Angeles.

Israelis tend to go where the Jews are. Milstein estimates that about 250,000 Israelis each live in the Los Angeles and New York City metro areas, which also boast the two largest Jewish communities in the United States. Smaller concentrations of Israelis (and Jews) live in South Florida, Chicago and San Francisco.

Those cities, in turn, have developed a range of services for their Israeli diasporas. Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry maintains Israeli Houses in nine American cities that host cultural events and political activism. The Israeli-American Council has chapters in 15 cities. And communities boast active Facebook groups: “Israelis in New York” includes 18,000 members.

The cities also provide ample opportunities for Israeli culture. Israeli cuisine is a staple of New York’s restaurant scene, from chef Einat Admony’s mini empire of eateries, to Dizengoff, an Israeli restaurant with branches in Philadelphia and New York. Aroma, the iconic Israeli coffee chain, has branches in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

And Israeli musicians — from Idan Raichel to Shlomo Artzi to Sarit Hadad — are never hard to find on New York’s concert scene. An adaptation of Israeli novelist David Grossman’s book “To the End of the Land” opened recently at the the annual Lincoln Center Festival.

They come for education and work.

Neither the Israeli Embassy nor the Israeli-American Council tracks why Israelis move to the U.S., but Milstein suspects it’s for professional and academic reasons. Israel’s small size means Israelis with college or advanced degrees often seek to advance their careers in places with more opportunities abroad.

Israelis “don’t have the roots [of] someone whose family lived in Italy for 20 generations, or who lived in America for the last 150 years,” Milstein said. “The Jewish people, the most valuable asset they have is their brain. They can take their brain[s] anywhere.”

Israel, conversely, has begun to worry about its “brain drain” recently. A 2013 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies found that for every 100 Israeli scholars who stayed in Israel, 29 left for positions abroad in 2008.

The drain is happening in the tech industry, too: According to the Israeli Executives and Founders Forum, an Israeli tech association, there are nearly 150 Israeli startups in Silicon Valley.

Israel still wants them back.

Israel’s government may have recognized that it can’t bring back all the Israelis from the United States, but it’s still trying. The appeal is both emotional and economic.

The 2011 ad campaign, for example, featured a series of shorts highlighting the Israeli-American cultural divide. In one, a child of Israelis in America, video chatting with Israeli grandparents, talks about the upcoming winter holiday of Christmas, not Hanukkah. In another, an Israeli woman comes home to commemorate Memorial Day in Israel with a candle — her American boyfriend mistakes it for romantic lighting.

More recently, Israel has also laid out financial incentives to draw expatriates back, including a program set to launch later this year called “Returning at 70,” a reference to Israel’s 70th Independence Day in 2018. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry will provide returning Israelis with financial assistance for six months, and will even cover a portion of their salaries in order to ensure they can find work in their old-new home. The government is also offering free professional development courses and consulting.

Israelis who have opened businesses stateside, meanwhile, will receive about $14,000 for the costs of relocating the business. And Israelis who move to the country’s underdeveloped northern and southern regions are eligible for grants as well as loans with low interest rates.

But Milstein says that even with these programs, Israeli officials still understand that it’s better to embrace expatriates than shame them into coming home.

“By trying to raise our guilt feeling, it backfired,” he said. “The State of Israel is getting to the realization that [our] being here, they can’t do too much about it. We can help the State of Israel a lot. They understand we can be their strategic asset.”

With sanctions and warnings, Trump and Congress step up pressure on Iran

President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, on July 25. Photo by Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump said he would be “surprised” if the United States adjudicates Iran in compliance with the nuclear deal in three months and the U.S. House of Representatives approved new sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic, signaling increasing fragility for the 2015 agreement.

“We’ll talk about the subject in 90 days, but I would be surprised if they were in compliance,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The United States must declare Iran in compliance every 90 days. Trump, acting on the advice of his top security advisers, agreed to do so earlier this month, but with great reluctance.

Later the same day, Trump in Youngstown, Ohio, again expressed misgivings about the deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a rollback in its nuclear program. The agreement was President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.

“If that deal doesn’t conform to what it’s supposed to conform to, it’s going to be big, big problems for them,” Trump said. “That I can tell you. Believe me.”

Trump reportedly is coming around to embracing an argument that Iran is in violation of the “spirit” of the deal even if it is complying with its narrow particulars, mandating limited uranium enrichment. Iran has continued its ballistic missile testing and maintains an interventionist role in conflicts in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria.

Congress also is increasing pressure on Iran to roll back non-nuclear activities that the United States considers disruptive.

A bill that the House passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday ramps up sanctions on Iran for its missile testing, human rights abuses and backing of terrorism, and tightens the president’s ability to waive the sanctions. The measure, which also includes Russia and North Korea sanctions, has yet to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, backs the bill.

“AIPAC urges the Senate to quickly pass the legislation and the president to sign it into law,” AIPAC said in a statement.

Defenders of the nuclear deal say it was designed purely to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power, allowing the United States and its allies to more comfortably confront it on issues like terrorism, military interventions and missile testing. Obama, like Trump, continued to sanction Iran in those areas.

Trump also targeted Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that is an ally of Iran, in remarks Tuesday at a joint news conference with the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri.

“Hezbollah is a menace to the Lebanese state, the Lebanese people and the entire region,” the president said. “The group continues to increase its military arsenal, which threatens to start yet another conflict with Israel, constantly fighting them back.”

Trump, however, declined to say whether he would back new sanctions targeting Hezbollah under consideration in Congress.

“With the support of Iran, the organization is also fueling the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria,” he said.

Separately, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution calling on Iran to release U.S. citizens and residents held in prison, including Robert Levinson, a Jewish former FBI agent who has been missing since 2007 when he was in Iran on what has been revealed as a rogue CIA operation.

The White House made a similar appeal earlier this week.

From a culture of anti-Semitism to becoming a Jew

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

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 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 and 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.


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 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 had only 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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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

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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 **

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

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

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

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.”

Turkey’s Erdogan backs Qatar in Gulf split

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

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]

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.