Israel’s Defense Ministry backs away from comparing Iran deal to Munich pact


Israel’s Defense Ministry offered a quasi-apology for comparing the Iran nuclear deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement.

On Monday, saying the media misinterpreted the original statement on Friday, the Defense Ministry said the reference to the Munich pact — a failed bid by European powers to appease Nazi Germany — “was not intended to make a direct comparison, either historically or personally. We are sorry if it was understood otherwise.”

The ministry added: “We wish to clarify that the State of Israel and Israeli defense establishment will continue to work in close and full cooperation with the US, out of a deep appreciation and mutual respect.”

The new statement added, however: “Israel remains deeply worried that even after the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Iranian leadership continues to declare that its central goal is the destruction of the State of Israel, and continues to threaten Israel’s existence in words and deeds.”

Israeli news reports over the weekend said the Prime Minister’s Office ordered the latter statement after being blindsided by the Defense Ministry’s statement on Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office worked overtime Friday night to downplay the original statement, including in a telephone call to the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, according to the reports.

The statement was in response to President Barack Obama saying on Thursday in defense of the deal, amid allegations that the United States paid Iran $400 million as “ransom” to secure the release of American prisoners, that the “Israeli military and security community … acknowledges this has been a game changer.”

“By all accounts, it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” Obama also said.

“The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on the existing reality, but they have no value if the facts on the ground are the complete opposite of those the deal is based upon,” the original Defense Ministry statement said.

“The Munich Agreement didn’t prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust precisely because its basis, according to which Nazi Germany could be a partner for some sort of agreement, was flawed, and because the leaders of the world then ignored the explicit statements of [Adolf] Hitler and the rest of Nazi Germany’s leaders. These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel.”

Netanyahu reaffirms alliance with U.S. following rebuke of Obama’s Iran Deal comments


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday reaffirmed the strong U.S.-Israel alliance after Israel’s Defense Ministry sent out a statement rejecting President Obama’s Thursday’s assertion that Israeli military officials believe the Iranian nuclear deal is being enforced beyond expectations.

“While Israel’s view on the Iran deal remains unchanged, Prime Minister Netanyahu firmly believes that Israel has no greater ally than the United States,” a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister read.

Earlier Friday, the Defense Ministry headed by Avigdor Lieberman likened the nuclear deal to the failed 1938 Munich agreement. “The Israeli defense establishment believes that agreements have value only if they are based on reality. They have no value if the facts on the ground are opposite to the ones the agreement is based on,” the statement read. “The Munich Agreements didn’t prevent World War II and the Holocaust because their fundamental assumption – that Nazi Germany can be partner to any agreement – was false, and because world leaders at the time ignored clear statements made by Hitler and other Nazi leaders.”

“Hence, the defense establishment, like the rest of the Israeli people and many in the world, understands that agreements of this kind signed between the world powers and Iran are not helpful, but only harm the uncompromising struggle that must be undertaken against a terrorist state like Iran.”

On Thursday, President Obama 


” target=”_blank”>Subscribe here.


Will President Obama speak at J Street?


Speculation abounds that President Obama may refocus his attention, during the final year of his presidency, on the failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Observers now wonder where and when?

Election year initiatives are typically fraught with complications — in a world of complicated issues, Israel and the Middle East play in a league of their own. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined an invitation to meet with President Obama at the White House prior to AIPAC’s Policy Conference. The official reason was Netanyahu’s desire to avoid interfering in U.S. elections by meeting with any of the presidential hopefuls addressing AIPAC.

The two leaders are in midst of negotiating a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) security package. Gaps remain (The U.S. is offering $3.4 billion of annual aid, while Israel seeks $5 billion) and could have contributed to Netanyahu postponing a visit until an agreement can be signed in-person. But a WSJ report on March 7 pointed to another source of tension: an American administration discussing new ideas to revive peace talks before Obama leaves office, and an Israeli Prime Minister fearing an Oval Office ambush.

According to Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat who participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following the Camp David summit in 2000, there’s no doubt that at some point between now and January 2017, Obama will seek to outline his own version of the Bill Clinton parameters before leaving office.

One opportunity currently being discussed, according to a half dozen insiders interviewed for this story, is the upcoming J Street National Gala on April 18 in Washington, D.C. Whether the President will take the opportunity to address a group closely aligned with his administration’s policies — that prides itself on being Obama’s ‘blocking back’ in Congress — has yet to be confirmed.

J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum did confirm to Jewish Insider that the group reached out to the White House and eagerly awaits a decision on which administration official will keynote the Gala. Vice President Joe Biden and WH Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have addressed J Street’s annual conference in prior years.

As detailed in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article on ‘The Obama Doctrine’, the President shows little interest, and perhaps a strong dislike of the D.C. foreign policy establishment. The opportunity to elevate J Street with a presidential address may be too great to pass up during the final year in office.

“I do know that the president is seriously considering making a major speech and presenting, what we call for a lack of a better term, the Obama parameters,” Pinkas told Jewish Insider. “I don’t know for a fact he would want to do this as early as April, but he could surprise us. But that said, he’s the president. He has every podium and every opportunity to do whatever he wants.”

Knesset Member Michael Oren (Kulanu), who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. (2009-2013) and has since been critical of the President’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, told Jewish Insider in a phone interview, “It’s a possibility. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility.”

“I know that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is close to his heart,” Oren explained. “If he can do anything on the diplomatic sphere, he is going to do it.”

Others were more dismissive, noting the challenge this would present to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as she seeks to make additional inroads in a pro-Israel community weary of Donald Trump.

Aaron David Miller, an American Middle East analyst and Vice President for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says there is no way Obama goes to J Street – or unveils anything prior the general election in the fall – that could potentially complicate Hillary Clinton’s White House bid.

“Why the President would go to J Street, given the nature of the relationship that exists right now, given the fact that he wants to elect her to succeed it, why would he want to complicate her life?” Miller told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “I’m not sure it’s that much of a priority, and frankly, if he went to J Street and gave a pro-peace process speech it would probably just increase the gap between his words on one hand and what he was prepared to do on the other.”

Miller maintained that Obama would consider Hillary Clinton’s campaign before taking such a step. “Not since 1988 has a two-term president passed party control to a member of the same party,” he asserted. “That’s really important if he could manage to do that. That would mean between now and November trying to do things that don’t embarrass her, giving the Republican’s all kinds of ammunition and make life hard for her. Going to J Street, in my judgment, is just a needless aggravation. I don’t understand what it would achieve.”

While agreeing that such a speech could complicate matters for Clinton, Pinkas raised the possibility that Obama would outline his vision only once the MOU is signed, minimizing the risk to Clinton. “Once he signs the MOU, which will be worth anything between $3.6 and $4.1 billion annually, he could say ‘I just provided Israel’s security with an enhancement package that will support Israel. I care about Israel’s security. But! Israel must remain a Jewish democracy. I care about Israel losing its character,’” Pinkas explained. “Once he has the MOU in his pockets, you can’t really attack him. It will also make Hillary Clinton’s case easier.”

Netanyahu’s office says White House knew meeting might not take place


The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an Obama administration official’s statement that the White House was “surprised” to learn that Netanyahu decided not to meet with the president in Washington, D.C., later this month.

“Last Friday, during a meeting in the White House, Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, expressed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appreciation for Obama’s offer to meet with him should he visit Washington,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Prime Minister’s Office “With that, Dermer also informed them that there was a high chance that the prime minister won’t go to Washington, and that a final answer would be given Monday after he spoke with him.”

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that reports in Israeli media saying that President Barack Obama was unwilling to meet with Netanyahu were “erroneous.”

“The prime minister’s office immediately corrected the erroneous news reports and officially informed the administration that the prime minister would not be coming to Washington,” said the statement, emailed to JTA by Israel’s embassy in Washington.

An Obama administration spokesman said Monday that the White House had learned that an offered March 18 meeting between Obama and Netanyahu in Washington would not take place.

“The Israeli government requested a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 17 or 18,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in an email to JTA.

“Two weeks ago, the White House offered the Prime Minister a meeting on March 18th. We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee had invited Netanyahu to address its annual conference March 20-22 in Washington, but Netanyahu turned down the invitation, according to the statement from Netanyahu’s office. He will deliver a speech via satellite.

Israeli media and CNN reported Monday evening that Netanyahu’s true motive for not visiting the U.S. capital now is that he is wary of being caught up in an especially bitter election year contest, one in which support for Israel has been a contentious issue. The reports cite anonymous sources with knowledge of Netanyahu’s thinking.

AIPAC is expected to invite some or all of the presidential candidates to its conference, and several could have requested a meeting with Netanyahu.

Vice President Joe Biden arrives  in Israel Tuesday evening for an official visit that includes a meeting with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu spoke at last year’s AIPAC conference in Washington. Obama declined to meet with Netanyahu at that time, since it was just two weeks before national elections in Israel. Netanyahu spoke at a joint meeting of Congress, however, angering the White House because it had not been made aware of the address.

A simple solution to the Obama-Netanyahu problem


Things seemed to be going so well between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Then, one meeting falls through and it sounds like the Iran deal days again.

According to the White House, the Israeli prime minister was ready to turn up for a meeting with Obama next week ahead of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference — until he wasn’t, and then he let the media blame Obama for not wanting to see him.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the prime minister was never likely to come to Washington, D.C., and the White House knew this.

So how Obama learned Netanyahu wasn’t coming is in dispute. But both sides agree that the Israeli media was wrong in its reporting that Netanyahu had been denied a meeting with the president.

“Reports that we were not able to accommodate the Prime Minister’s schedule are false,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Monday.

“On Monday news reports suggested that the PM would not be traveling to Washington and erroneously stated that the President was unwilling to meet with the PM,” the Prime Minister’s Office said the same day.

Assuming neither side is happy about the reports — and it’s hard to see why they would be — the problem is clear: a lack of communication.

Nathan Diament, the director of the Orthodox Union’s office pleaded Tuesday in a statement, “It’s terribly disappointing that, after President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to ‘move on’ from the tensions over the Iran nuclear deal, and had a professional meeting last fall, they – or at least their staffs – are slipping back into the soap opera pattern of miscommunication and media slights.”

The good news is the solution is also clear: communication.

Obama’s going to be out of town visiting Cuba during the AIPAC conference? Netanyahu’s not sure he wants to get dragged into the politics of the America presidential campaign? No problem. Just pick up the phone.

All you need is two officials who get along and who take each other’s calls. This is not a novel idea. It’s been a longstanding tradition between Israel and the United States. But numerous officials have told me that it has not been the case since the end of Obama’s first term, when national security advisers Tom Donilon and Yaakov Amidror got along famously and were each other’s point men.

Who would’ve thought Obama’s first term would become the good old days in U.S.-Israel relations?

Kerry on MOU agreement: ‘The sooner the better’


The sooner the post-Iran deal security package and the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between the U.S. and Israel on strategic cooperation is signed, the better it would be for both countries, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

“We are working on it now; we are in negotiations. We have never, ever put any of Israel’s needs or challenges on the table with respect to other issues between us,” Kerry said Thursday morning during a hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”I am confident we will get an MOU at some point and time. The sooner the better because it allows everybody to plan appropriately.”

Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet members that it’s unclear whether the two countries will come to an agreement during Obama’s term. “[We] need to see if [we] can achieve a result that will address Israel’s security needs or perhaps we will not manage to come to an agreement with this administration and will need to come to an agreement with the next administration,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by Haaretz.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Monday that the security package will likely be complete “in the coming weeks.” Netanyahu is expected to travel to the U.S. next month to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference. It remains unclear whether he will meet with President Obama to finalize the details and sign the decade-long agreement.

“Israel’s security comes first and foremost. President Obama has, I think, unprecedentedly addressed those concerns with the Iron Dome, with assistance, with our efforts on global institutions to not see Israel singled out, and we will continue to do what is necessary to provide Israel with all the assistance necessary so it can provide for its own security,” Kerry said.

During the hearing, Kerry reiterated the administration’s opposition to BDS activities against Israel.

Holocaust remembrance speeches: How Obama and Netanyahu’s worldviews differ


President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday evening at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He exchanged warm greetings with Ambassador Ron Dermer, who noted that the speech was unprecedented. (Folks present said the last time a president visited the embassy was in 1995, when Bill Clinton signed the condolence book after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination — but there was no speech.)

The greetings seemed genuinely warm. The embassy speech is the culmination of a series of events: last November’s Washington, D.C., summit between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more recent meetings between Netanyahu and top Obama aides, a revolving door of senior U.S. officials visiting Israel and accelerated talk of a generous new U.S. defense assistance package to Israel. The cumulative effect is to make it clear that the leaders are moving beyond last year’s loud arguments over the Iran nuclear deal and bitterness resulting from the collapse in 2014 of U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But here’s the thing: Even in comity, profound differences are evident in how each administration views the world. Consider the messages Obama and Dermer conveyed in their respective speeches Wednesday. Obama appealed for universal tolerance; Dermer heralded the triumph of Jewish self-defense.

Here’s Obama, and note the subtle nod, highlighted here, to the ethnic and religious divisions sowed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:

Even as the Holocaust is unique, a crime without parallel in history, the seeds of hate that gave rise to the Shoah — the ignorance that conspires with arrogance, the indifference that betrays compassion — those seeds have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, and across faiths, and across generations. The ambassador mentioned the story of Cain and Abel. It’s deep within us. Too often, especially in times of change, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, we are too willing to give into a base desire to find someone else — someone different — to blame for our struggles …

And so we’re called to live in a way that shows that we’ve actually learned from our past. And that means rejecting indifference. It means cultivating a habit of empathy, and recognizing ourselves in one another; to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim, or a nonbeliever; whether that minority is native born or immigrant; whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian. It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms, and rejecting our darkest impulses and guarding against tribalism as the only value in our communities and in our politics.

Now hear out Dermer, who spoke before Obama, but who appeared to anticipate the president’s take on the Holocaust, and who then articulated his own view:

Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we still try to make some sense of the Holocaust. We still try to learn some lesson that will shine light in the darkness. For some, the Holocaust represents the nadir of man’s inhumanity to man — and its primary lesson is to be ever vigilant against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. For others, the Holocaust shows what can happen when extremist ideologies come to power — and its primary lesson is to always safeguard the cornerstones of a free society that protect the rights of all.

For me, the Holocaust was the attempt to wipe out the Jewish people — and its primary lesson is for the Jewish people to never be powerless against our enemies. That is why like many Jews, I take great comfort in the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish state in our ancestral homeland, in the Jewish people once again having a voice, a refuge, and most importantly, the power to defend ourselves.

Then there is the way each man perceives the Righteous among the Nations, four of whom were honored during the ceremony. Obama casts righteous gentiles who saved JEws from the Holocaust as embracing a universal humanity; Dermer lauds them for their particular devotion to Jews.

Obama:

And may we all strive to live up to their noble example, to be the Lamed Vovniks of our generation, to do our part to sustain each other and to embrace the humanity that we share, and in so doing, save our world. May the memory of the lost be a blessing. And as nations and individuals, may we always strive be among the Righteous.

Dermer:

You know, the Jewish people are an ancient people with a very long memory. We forget neither our most wicked enemies nor our most righteous friends. Tonight, the names of your four esteemed relatives join the names of Oscar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg and other Righteous Among the Nations to become a permanent part of our nation’s heritage, to be remembered by our people for generations and generations to come.

So, is the U.S.-Israel relationship doomed? Not at all. In fact, eight years into the Obama-Netanyahu era, what both sides might finally be recognizing is that the other is different, and you know what, it’s all good: Israel is not a little America, America is not Israel writ large. Each has its own political and social ethos.

The triumph of the evening may be that Dermer was able to identify how Obama — the “for some” and the “for others” in his remarks — understands the Holocaust, and yet not dismiss his view. Dermer’s particularist understanding of the Holocaust as necessitating Jewish self-defense does not diminish Obama’s call for universal tolerance. The two views can coexist.

Cruz: Obama treating Israel, Americans as enemies with NSA surveillance program


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of treating Americans and Israel as enemies after a report revealed that the NSA intercepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conversations with members of U.S. Congress the past two years.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a campaign event in Cisco, Texas Tuesday evening, Cruz referred to a report by the Wall Street Journal that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) was ordered to continue the surveillance of Netanyahu and his staff, as well as monitor their conversations with members of Congress during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.

“It is not surprising that the focus of the Obama administration would be on trying to intercept the communications of our very close friend and ally, Prime Minister Netanyahu or indeed, as the article suggested, that they may well have been sweeping in conversations between members of Congress because this administration views Congress, Republicans and sometimes even Democratic members of Congress as their enemy,” said Cruz. “And indeed at times, it seems like they view the American people as their enemy.”

According to the WSJ, the administration, pursuing a nuclear agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Netanyahu and his aides and swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. Viewing it in the context of a “compelling national security purpose,” the Obama administration ordered the NSA to ramped up their surveillance of Israel as it suspected Netanyahu is readying to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. By 2013, the administration became concerned that Israel would sabotage the secret nuclear talks with Iran, the report said.

One tool was a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office, according to the report.

Cruz said the revelations were indicative of Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy “and their inability to distinguish friends from enemies.” Adding that the Obama administration has been “the most hostile and antagonistic to the nation of Israel in our country’s history.”

National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price pushed back on the report, stating that the U.S. does not “conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.” Price added that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct and backed by concrete actions that demonstrate the depth of U.S. support for Israel.”

Netanyahu and Obama set to bury the hatchet


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to meet President Obama in Washington for their first meeting in 13 months. Indications from both sides are that the men, despite their difficult relationship in the past, will not show any sign of discord in their meeting.

“On the issue of military aid, both sides are interested in moving forward,” Owen Alterman, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “Netanyahu will also be bringing confidence-building measures for the Palestinians. That’s not to say that they will agree on everything, but both sides want to have a constructive meeting.”

It is the first face-to-face encounter between the two leaders since the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu bitterly opposed, and did everything he could to get Congress to vote against it. But both men seem determined to move on from there, and rebuild their relationship.

“My conversation with the president will center on recent events in the Middle East, including in Syria, possible progress with the Palestinians, or at least stabilizing the situation with them, and, of course, strengthening the security of the State of Israel, which the US has always been committed to, while maintaining the State of Israel's comparative advantage in the face of a changing Middle East and a cycle that changes less,” Netanyahu said after his cabinet meeting. “I believe that this meeting is important in order to clarify the continuation of American aid to Israel in the coming decade. It will be another step toward realizing an understanding in this direction.”

The US currently gives Israel $3 billion annually in economic and military aid. According to Israeli press reports, Israel would like that amount to increase to $5 billion annually, and wants to sign a ten-year-agreement to that effect. US Administration officials have hinted that number may be too high, but have said they are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

“What will not be controversial is extending and increasing the military aid Israel receives from the US and intelligence cooperation on Iran,” Jonathan Rynhold, of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “The US will supply more anti-missile systems and early warning devices.”

Israel, he said, is looking for an “insurance policy” in case Iran does not uphold its promise to sharply roll back its nuclear policy. Israel also wants US permission to attack Iran if needed, and perhaps an American promise to join that attack.

There are also expected to be tensions over Netanyahu’s announcement over his new PR chief, Ron Baratz, who is on record of accusing President Obama of anti-Semitism, and Secretary of State John Kerry of immaturity. Baratz, who had been expected to accompany Netanyahu on the trip, was unceremoniously kicked off the plane, but Netanyahu has refused so far to take back the appointment.

Rynhold said that it is possible that Netanyahu’s office had not investigated Baratz closely enough, and that Netanyahu’s statement saying that the statements did not reflect his policy, should be enough to calm the situation. But other Israeli analysts said Netanyahu should fire Baratz.

“If it wasn’t so sad, we could laugh about the inability of the Prime Minister’s office to make logical appointments – the man is simply not up to the job,” Yehuda Ben Meir, an expert on public opinion at INSS told The Media Line. “Now there is a lot of opposition within the government to his appointment as well and I doubt Netanyahu will go forward with it.”

He agreed with both Rynhold and Alterman that the US-Israeli relationship is as strong as ever, and surpasses any personal tensions between Netanyahu and Obama.

Are settlers to blame for the violence in the Middle East?


The continued building of settlements on the West Bank tends to be the focal of Israel bashers. The settlements have been a contentious subject during the tenure of the Obama and Bibi administrations, and international leaders bringing attention to them is frequent. For example, last week John Kerry issued a statement somewhat legitimizing the recent wave of terrorism as a response to their continuation: “And there's been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there's a frustration that is growing.”

Irrespective of how blasphemous it is to suggest that the creation of parks, schools and homes could lead people to stab or run over innocent Jews with credibility, it’s appal-ling and unreasonable how often we hear about the settlers, as if they are the cause of instability in not only Israel, but the entire Middle East.

How can there be a remotely rational comparison between bloodthirsty, violent terror-ists on one hand and people living on disputed territories on the other? No, the settlements are not helpful to the solution in Israel, but it’s faulty to cast them as the propellor that keeps the conflict running. Alan Dershowitz reminds us that the Arabs committed terror attacks in 1949 – 1967 before there ever was a single settlement.

During my college years, Israel bashing weeks were quite common and they still are on many campuses. The central idea at these events is that their attendees are not antisemitic, but anti-zionist or humanitarian. But after a certain point, watching these hostile crowds rally month after month, pontificating about the settlements, it became clear we weren’t just talking about the policies of a small country across Earth. Condemning the settlements became an excuse for acting extreme. Howard Stern observed something similar when discussing Roger Waters’ open letter for the BDS movement: “It looks like you’re a little too consumed with it.” As difficult as it may be to assess bigotry versus free speech, that is perhaps the greatest indicator: the obsession, or the intensity of focus on one specific people or country. Because if the incentive of the BDS movement or other Israeli bashing entities was truly humanitarian, where are the condemnations of the Syrian or Sudanese governments in their human rights violations? Where is the humanitarian outcry over the seven-hundred innocent Arabs who were trampled to death in Mecca just a month ago?

Others are more reasonable and understand Israel is in an existential predicament, and that the settlements are not the cause of the conflict, but they should not be expanded, nevertheless. It’s a valid point—a final decision must be made on these ambiguous lands if there is ever going to be an end to this—but at the same time, if you are going to condemn the Jews for winning wars and making territorial gains, why not also condemn the rest of humanity? The United States, European powers like France and the United Kingdom, the Arab countries, have all had their borders defined by war. Israel is the only country I’ve read about which after seizing land offered to negotiate it right back, but the point remains: by this logic, every single person living on Earth is an ‘occupier’ or a ‘settler,’ or at least a descendant of one. Why do we only globally condemn the Jewish ones and hold rallies to have them vacate?

Let’s be real: the world’s obsession with Israel and the recent wave of repulsive violence has little to do with Israeli settlements in the West Bank or policies regarding the Temple Mount. As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach puts it, “Israel is not hated because of its security policies. It’s hated because the world has a 2000-year problem with the Jews.”

Israel faces potential challenge from Russia over Syria


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Periodically throughout the four and half years of the Syrian civil war weapon shipments destined for Hezbollah were intercepted and decimated by airstrikes inside Syria. In each instance Israel, whose air force has enjoyed unrivalled dominance of the airspace around the Jewish state’s borders, was believed responsible. But with the deployment of Russian combat aircraft to bases in Syria several weeks ago this hegemony may have ended.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Moscow underscores Israel’s uncertainty over the future in Syria. Israeli officials worry that, inadvertently or otherwise, Russian fighter jets and air defense systems may act as a screen for Hezbollah to move new arms convoys into Syria.

Several days ago Israeli artillery units fired on Syrian army positions in response to errant shells crossing the border. This represented the first time Israel has attacked Syria since Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops and jets into the country. Yet the incidents took place in the Golan Heights, far south of any Russian units which are stationed on the coast.

“The most immediate issue is one of having Israeli flights over Syrian territory (and) ensuring that Russia flights won’t have any confusion or accidental fire incidents (with them),” Yezid Sayigh, a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Media Line. But, he added, “This doesn’t need Netanyahu to visit Moscow.” In a similar manner to back channel communications between the US and Syria, Israel and Russia could have cooperated quietly to ensure that both states air forces operated in the same airspace without coming into conflict. A high level visit by Netanyahu demonstrates a deeper agenda, Sayigh said.

“(Its) more a question of working out how far will Russia go in protecting the regime (of President Bashar Al-Assad) – air defenses, new high tech combat aircraft,” Sayigh explained. Of chief concern to Israel would be the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to the Syrian military, something Russia has repeatedly said it will do, Sayigh said. The Russian built anti-aircraft system is capable of targeting planes and cruise missiles and is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. The Israeli government has stated in the past that it would not accept the S-300 being transferred to the Syrian army.

Although Israel has not actively sought to undermine the Assad regime during the ongoing conflict the two countries are still technically at war. Israelis debate whether Assad’s fall or his survival is better for Israel. Russia, on the other hand, has stated that it will work to ensure Assad remains in power, with Putin declaring that supporting the regime is the most effective way to both fight Islamic State and end violence in the region.

A possibility exists that Russian and Israeli jets could come into conflict over Syrian skies but such a scenario is highly unlikely, Zvi Magen, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line. “Russia is not fighting on the ground and in the air there is enough technical solutions (to ensure an accidental clash would not occur),” Magen said.

On the issue of Hizbullah, Israel retains the right to strike at weapon shipments and this will be understood and accepted by Russia, Magen said. “Russia is not looking for war,” and understands that Israel has certain requirements, the researcher explained. But this is not a disadvantage for Hizbullah however. “It’s good for them because they are part of this coalition – Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah,” Magen concluded.

Israel’s freedom of action over Syria could be curtailed by the Russian deployment, Raymond Hinnebusch, the director of the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, told The Media Line. “To the extent a Russian air defense umbrella reaches outward from their base in the coastal areas… this would potentially limit Israeli options,” the professor said.

The boost to the beleaguered Syrian regime that Putin’s actions represent could have far reaching implications for the whole of the region if they are enough to ensure Assad’s survival. This could alter Israel’s view of the near future and reverse assessments previously made by Israeli intelligence chiefs that Assad’s demise was inevitable.

“The main strategic change is… that the Russian presence will tend to push back against those pressuring for turning the US/Western airstrikes from (targeting) ISIS to hitting Assad,” Hinnebusch said.

Putin is “hoisting the Americans on their own petard,” by lauding the US sentiment that all states must work together to combat ISIS and then including Syria in this equation, Yezid Sayigh argued. Effectively, the Russians have created a “back window” for Assad to survive by, he suggested.

Netanyahu to address Jewish Federations after meeting Obama


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly.

Netanyahu will be a featured speaker at the general assembly, taking place this year in Washington from Nov. 8-10. Netanyahu will speak on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

His appearance will follow his Nov. 9 meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, the first meeting the two men will have had since Netanyahu launched a bid early in 2015 to kill the emerging Iran nuclear deal.

Iran and the six major powers completed the deal in July, but Netanyahu was not ready to discuss enhanced security cooperation with the United States until he was sure Congress would not kill the deal. Netanyahu did not want to be seen as giving the deal his tacit approval by agreeing to increased assistance.

Congress’ deadline to kill the deal was on Thursday; several efforts to kill the deal were unsuccessful.

The theme of this year’s general assembly is “global Jewish security,” a Jewish Federations of North America statement said. The conferences generally also attract a senior United States administration official; that person has yet to be announced.

Obama and Netanyahu to meet Nov. 9 in D.C.


President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will meet Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C.

The date of the meeting was reported Sunday by the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, citing unnamed political sources in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Nov. 8 to attend the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual conference.

On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he could not confirm a White House meeting between Obama and Netanyahu.

“We’ve made clear that consultation between U.S. and Israeli officials is something that has been ongoing. And the president reaffirmed in his telephone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu a couple of months ago that the security cooperation between our two countries would continue,” Earnest said.

He continued: “We have not yet received from the Israelis an interest in detailed discussions about deepening that security cooperation relationship, but we stand ready to have it when the Israelis are. But I don’t have any specific meetings to tell you about right now.”

On Thursday, in his annual pre-High Holidays call to U.S. rabbis, Obama said that he was ready to meet with Netanyahu during the United Nations’ General Assembly opening session, which starts next week and runs through Oct. 6. Netanyahu until now has rebuffed such overtures because of his disagreement with the U.S. leader over the Iran nuclear deal.

Does Iran deal rift mean Jews will go GOP in 2016?


One conspiracy theory making the rounds is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s various Iran-related confrontations with President Barack Obama are part of a Sheldon Adelson-plot to turn American Jews into Republican Party voters in 2016.

Even if one rejects this theory out of hand, the question still stands: Will Obama’s championing of the Iran deal trigger a significant realignment, with Jews jumping to the GOP in 2016?

The answer is maybe — but probably not, judging from the latest annual Jewish survey from the American Jewish Committee. (Before jumping in, keep in mind the survey’s margin for error is 4.7% — more than some of the shifts discussed.)

Let’s start with Obama and the Iran deal. The survey would seem to give Jewish GOPers reason for optimism.

Yes, the majority of American Jews back the deal, but only by a sliver — 50.6 percent approve and 47.2 percent disapprove. And when you dig deeper, you find that the depth of disapproval is much stronger: 16.4 percent approve strongly and 34.2 percent approve somewhat; versus 27.4 percent disapprove strongly and 19.8 percent disapprove somewhat.

About 63 percent of American Jews are not confident that the deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and 42.8 percent believe Israel will be more threatened because of the deal. Only 4.9 percent are very confident that the deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and 17.9 percent believe Israel will be less threatened.

About 53 percent approve of the way Obama is handling United States-Israel relations — a low number in light of the 70 percent or so of the Jewish vote that he won in 2012. And only 8.9 percent approve strongly.

You’d think all that would open the door to big GOP gains in 2016. Sure enough, AJC’s 2015 survey found 37.4 percent of American Jews backing a Republican presidential candidate. So if that number holds, GOP Jewish donors and activists will have plenty to smile about — that would amount to the best Republican showing since Ronald Reagan took 39 percent of the Jewish vote to best Jimmy Carter in 1980.

On the other hand, that’s not much of a GOP boost considering Obama and Netanyahu are in the middle of a full-frontal, existential slugfest. Obama won’t be on the ticket. Odds are it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton, with a deep bench of longtime Jewish backers, validators, donors, etc. She talks tougher on Israel than Obama. If you believe Michael Oren, her chemistry with Netanyahu is better. Ditto on all counts for Vice President Joe Biden.

Clinton was by far the most popular presidential candidate among Jews — with 39.7 percent identifying her as their first choice. Next up was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with 17.8 percent. The socialist in the race almost doubled the top Republican, Donald Trump, who registered 10.2 percent. (Side note: The Donald appears to be less popular among Jewish Republicans than he is with Republicans overall — Jeb Bush is a close second in the Republican field with 8.7 percent.)

Dig a little deeper and you find that the underlying data hasn’t shifted much. In the 2013 survey, 47 percent of American Jews identified as liberal, 35 percent as moderate/middle of the road and 20 percent as conservative. This time around it was: 45.1 percent liberal, 33.8 moderate/middle of the road and 20.9 percent conservative. There is a little more movement on the Democrat-independent- Republican question — with those identifying with the GOP jumping from 15 percent to 19 percent (those identifying as Democrats dropped from 52 percent to 48.6 percent and independents stayed the same at about 32 percent).

(The deeper question behind all of these numbers — for a future column — is how much any Republican Jewish gains are attributable mainly to the growing numbers of Orthodox Jews and their nearly two decade shift to the GOP column as opposed to a wide Jewish realignment.)

The survey data also suggests that Israel-Iran issues are unlikely to be the main decision point for Jewish voters. About 75 percent identified a domestic issue as their top concern, with nearly 42 percent citing the economy. National security finished second with 12.3 percent, barely beating out health care (12 percent) and income equality (11.6 percent). U.S.-Israel relations (7.2 percent) edged out Supreme Court appointments (5.6 percent). Republicans can hope that they can make inroads via these various domestic issues — but previous polling results (not to mention their own previous campaign messages) suggest that Jews skew relatively liberal on these issues; and with the GOP candidate likely to stake out solidly conservative positions, a domestic-based case will be hard sell to most Jewish voters.

One final issue that might shed light on where the kishkes of American Jews are at: Anti-Semitism in Europe. About 90 percent said that it was a problem (with 45.5 percent calling it a very serious problem). Where it gets interesting is the follow-up question, about the extent of the problem on the far right versus the far left — respondents were twice as likely (20 percent versus 10 percent) to say that most people on the far right were anti-Semitic.

In short: There is just enough here to fuel another election cycle-worth of speculative articles on whether this is the year that Republicans make major strides with Jewish voters — but odds are most of them will (again) prove to be full of hot air.

What America will offer Israel after the nuclear deal


The moment the Iran nuclear deal becomes law, as seems increasingly likely given growing congressional support for the agreement, the focus of the U.S.-Israel conversation will shift to the question of what’s next.

What more will Washington do to mitigate the Iranian threat and reassure Israel and other regional allies?

For starters, President Barack Obama seems ready to offer an array of security enhancements. Among them are accelerating and increasing defense assistance to Israel over the next decade; increasing the U.S. military presence in the Middle East; stepping up the enforcement of non-nuclear related Iran sanctions; enhancing U.S. interdiction against disruptive Iranian activity in the region; and increasing cooperation on missile defense.There also will be an emphasis on keeping any of the tens of billions of dollars to which Iran will gain unfettered access through the sanctions relief from reaching Iran’s proxies.

Adam Szubin, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary charged with enforcing sanctions, made targeting Hezbollah a focus of his meetings with Israeli officials last week, JTA has learned.

Once some nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are lifted – should Iran meet the requirements in the deal on nuclear restrictions – Washington will allocate greater resources to focusing on other sanctions unaffected by the agreement, including those related to backing terrorism, a senior U.S. official told JTA.

“We have a lot of that same personnel and resources we can devote to U.S.-specific sanctions on Iran – and not only Iran,” the official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not wanting to be seen as endorsing the deal while there’s still a chance Congress could scuttle it, has directed Israeli officials not to engage with U.S. officials on what could be done after the deal is in place. The Israeli envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, has said that Israel would be ready for discussions only after options to kill the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are exhausted.

“We appreciate the support that we have gotten from this administration, from this president, to enhance our security,” Dermer told USA Today in a July 27 interview. “And the discussion that we’ll have about the day after, we’ll have to leave to the day after.”

Congress has until Sept. 17 to decide whether to allow the deal to proceed.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is leading the opposition to the deal, argued in a memo distributed Monday that U.S. pledges of post-deal security enhancements are inadequate.

“The administration has tried to reassure those concerned by the dangerous consequences of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in two ways: by pledging increased support for Israel and our Gulf allies and by vowing that it will strictly enforce the deal,” said the memo, which is headlined “Promises Cannot Fix a Bad Deal.” “Neither approach will repair the deal’s fatal flaw: it legitimizes Iran as a nuclear-threshold state in 15 years.”

Obama in an interview Monday with the Forward attached urgency to confronting Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.

Speaking of Israel, he said, “We can do even more to enhance the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation that we have with them, and to see, are there additional capabilities that Israel may be able to use to prevent Hezbollah, for example, from getting missiles.”

The emphasis on Hezbollah was appropriate, said Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s national security adviser from 2009 to 2011.

“The president on sensing a degree of urgency with Hezbollah sooner rather than later is absolutely right,” Arad said, noting the group’s role as an Iranian proxy in helping prop up the Assad regime in Syria. “It relates to the need to uproot and to neutralize the violent and anti-American and anti-Israel radical group. It is a matter of urgent joint concern.”

Arad outlined a number of areas that would enhance Israel’s sense of security in a post-deal environment, including:

* Maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, even as the United States enhances the military capabilities of Arab Persian Gulf allies that, similar to Israel, will be seeking reassurances in the wake of the Iran deal;

* Enhancing joint missile defense programs;

* Extending the defense assistance memorandum of understanding, which since 2008 has provided Israel with an average of $3 billion in defense assistance per year, for another 10 years (it’s set to expire in 2018), and delivering promised F-35 advanced fighter aircraft to Israel;

* Enhancing joint civilian scientific research and development;

* Delivering advanced bunker-buster bombs to maintain Israel’s deterrent edge should Iran cheat on or abandon the deal. “Israel should be given this special kind of ordnance so it could have a more effective military option in case of Iranian violations of the agreement,” Arad said, arguing that this would strengthen the agreement by creating a disincentive for Iran to cheat.

*A “declaratory” component emphasizing U.S. longstanding commitments to Israel.

* Making clear that the U.S. effort to stop the expansion of Islamist terrorism and extremism targets Iranian activities as well as those associated with the Islamic State terrorist group.

Obama touched on many of these issues in a letter he sent to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Aug. 19.

“It is imperative that, even as we effectively cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon through the implementation of the JCPOA, we take steps to ensure that we and our allies and our partners are more capable than ever to deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities and support for terrorism,” Obama said in the letter, which was first obtained by The New York Times.

The president specified four areas where cooperation would be enhanced: extending defense assistance for a decade, joint missile defense research, joint efforts to improve tunnel detection (following the advances made by Hamas in its 2014 war with Israel), and “strengthening our efforts to confront conventional and asymmetric threats.”

The letter persuaded Nadler to back the deal and should be a salve to Israeli security officials, said Dan Arbell, a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Washington.

“If I were an Israeli bureaucrat right now in any of the related areas working around this, what the president provides in his letter is a pretty thorough list, which I think the Israeli defense establishment would be happy with,” said Arbell, who now lectures at American University.

Persian Gulf allies would want the reassurances that Israel is receiving as well as specific assurances of assistance in keeping Iran from meddling in Arab affairs, said Michael Eisenstadt, a longtime officer in the U.S. Army Reserve who served in the Middle East.

Even with such assurances, Eisenstadt said, Gulf allies would remain concerned that the deal enhances Iran’s stature.

“Weapons are Band-Aids on a hemorrhage,” said Eisenstadt, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “From the point of view of our allies in the region, we’ve contributed to a lot of the problem” by advancing the Iran deal.

Netanyahu, Obama have contentious conversation about Iran deal


President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister had a contentious phone call after the major powers achieved a deal with Iran.

Netanyahu in a statement said he raising two objections in the phone call.

“One, the agreement allows Iran to develop extensive capabilities that will serve it in arming itself with nuclear weapons whether at the end of the period of the agreement in another 10-15 years, or earlier if it violates the agreement,” the statement said.“Two, the agreement channels hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran’s terrorism and war machine, a war that is directed against us and against others in the region,” it said.

Netanyahu’s statement also twice said that the desire by the major powers to get to an agreement was “stronger than anything else,” although it did not say whether Netanyahu made this accusation directly to Obama in their conversation.

The White House also released an account of the phone call. It said Obama told Netanyahu the deal would “verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon while ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward.”

He also told Netanyahu the U.S. defense secretary, Ashton Carter, would visit Israel next week.

The visit, the White House statement said, “is a reflection of the unprecedented level of security cooperation between the United States and Israel, and that the visit offers a further opportunity to continue our close consultation on security issues with Israeli counterparts as we remain vigilant in countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region.”

Israel likely to turn to congress to fight Iranian nuclear deal


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

There’s a joke making the Facebook rounds of Israelis.

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?”

“A nuclear Iran.”

“A nuclear Iran, who?”

“BOOM.”

The joke shows the deep skepticism most Israelis have, from officials down to the man in the street, that the Iran deal signed today will put an end to Iran’s nuclear program and make Israel safer. The deep skepticism is being expressed almost across the board in Israel, in a rare moment of political unity and support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“This agreement is about Iran making a bomb within 15 years,” General Yakov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Netanyahu told The Media Line. “This is a threat to our existence and we will do whatever is needed. It’s become clear that we cannot build on the Americans, and Israel has to do it by itself.”

At the same time, most analysts said that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, which had been discussed in the past, is unlikely now. It would leave Israel a pariah in the international community.

The rift between the US and Israel has never seemed larger than this moment, after President Obama said the deal “prevents the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.” President Obama also pledged to veto any Congressional attempt to stop the deal.

Netanyahu, on his part, has already said that he will turn to Congress which now has 60 days to approve the deal. Israel remains skeptical about one of the crucial parts of the deal, the mechanism for inspection to ensure Iranian compliance with the deal.

“What will happen is that the inspectors will be able to visit only places declared by the Iranians or based on information they receive from intelligence,” Amidror said. “But there will be far less intelligence because you don’t spy on a state you have an agreement with the same way you do with one that is an enemy.”

Netanyahu was even more blunt at a meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in Jerusalem.

“Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons. Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted,” Netanyahu said. “Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region and in the world. This is a mistake of historic proportions.”

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman and former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman went even further, calling it a danger for the future. “History will remember the Iran deal just like the Munich Agreement (with Nazi Germany) and the agreement with North Korea,” said Lieberman. 

Iran portrayed the deal as a clear victory. In a speech to the citizens of Iran President Hassan Rouhani said, “We didn't ask for charity. We asked for fair, just, and win-win negotiations.” He added a request to the world “not to believe the Israeli propaganda and mocked the failure of the “warmongering Zionist regime.” 

Israeli experts say they are disturbed that Iran will maintain its nuclear infrastructure, and be allowed to continue to enrich uranium. They do not believe that inspection experts will be able to visit any site at any time. They reject Iran’s claim that the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and say that the international community has in effect legalized the Iranian bomb.

“Iran has a lot of experience with cheating and the deal is very complicated,” Eldad Pardo, an expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem told The Media Line.

He also said that Iran, which has been suffering from a deep financial crisis brought on by international sanctions, will now be flooded with money, which it could use to further support its proxies in the Middle East, including the Islamist Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Hamas, especially, has been facing financial difficulties due to Egypt’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

But some Middle East analysts said that even with the threat of more money flowing to terrorist organizations, the Iran nuclear deal could be good for the region.

“It is hard to see how the region would be better off without a deal,” Jane Kinnimont, a senior research fellow on the Middle East program at Chatham House told The Media Line. “We’ve spent most of the past decade debating various options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. If it is possible to manage this issue through diplomacy, it’s clearly far better than any other option.”

Michael Oren: Obama abandoned ‘two core principles’ of U.S.-Israel alliance


Israel’s former ambassador to Washington accused President Barack Obama of abandoning “core principles” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Michael Oren in an Op-Ed appearing Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal said Obama abandoned the principle of keeping disagreements private and  of “no surprises” between the countries.

Oren, who served as ambassador from 2009 to 2013, faulted the Israeli government for announcing settlement building at inopportune times, but said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not personally responsible for the missteps.

“But Mr. Obama posed an even more fundamental challenge by abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America,” Oren wrote, adding that Obama was not anti-Israel and bolstered the security relationship.

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren said, referring to a July 2009 meeting with Jewish leaders in which Obama said that the policy of “no daylight” with Israel was detrimental to U.S. interests and to advancing the peace process.

Obama in his remarks at that meeting was referring to the tendency of his two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of keeping differences with Israeli leaders out of the public eye, although there were instances in both presidencies of open disagreement with Israel.

Earlier presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, frequently disagreed publicly with Israel.

“The other core principle was ‘no surprises,’ ” Oren wrote. “President Obama discarded it in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Limits on settlement building and the two-state solution were policies in place since the Clinton administration.

Oren, now a lawmaker in the Israeli Knesset as a member of the center-right Kulanu party, advised a return to the policies of “no daylight” and “no surprises.”

“Now, with the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” he wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

U.S. denies Israeli report on Obama inviting Netanyahu to meet


The White House denied an Israeli newspaper report on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Washington next month.

Citing unnamed U.S. State Department sources, Yedioth Ahronoth daily said the two leaders could meet in the White House on July 15 or 16, after the June 30 deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal over which they have frequently clashed.

Since Netanyahu's election to a fourth term on March 17, U.S. and Israeli officials have said they expected he would meet Obama again. But no date has been set, and a White House official denied Netanyahu had received any U.S. invitation.

“No invitation has been extended, though certainly we’d expect that there will be occasion for the two leaders to meet in Washington at some point going forward,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in response to Yedioth's report.

A spokesman for Netanyahu's office had no immediate official comment on the report. Israeli officials speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told reporters that no such invitation had been received.

Netanyahu has criticized the emerging nuclear deal, which Israel fears will allow Iran the means of making a bomb, while also granting it sanctions relief that could help bankroll its militant allies in the region.

Iran says its nuclear projects are peaceful.

Is Oren’s call for ‘no surprises’ in U.S.-Israel ties possible?


Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, caused a stir this week by publicly accusing President Barack Obama of abandoning the two core principles that undergird the U.S.-Israel relationship: no public disagreements and no surprises.

But should there be no public disagreements – “no daylight,” in diplomatic parlance – between the United States and Israel, and is that kind of shoulder-to-shoulder closeness even possible between allies?

Oren, the American-born diplomat who served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington from 2009 to 2013 and is now a Knesset member in Israel’s center-right Kulanu party, outlined his argument in an Op-Edpiece in The Wall Street Journal. The piece appeared the same week as the launch of Oren’s new book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.”

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren wrote in the Op-Ed.

“With the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” Oren wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

David Makovsky, a member of the U.S. State Department team that last year attempted to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, said open disagreements and mutual surprises have characterized the relationship for decades.

He mentioned events starting from President Dwight Eisenhower’s threats to isolate Israel during the Suez war in 1956 through President George W. Bush’s endorsement in 2002 of Palestinian statehood, which caught Israelis by surprise. Makovsky also noted Israeli decisions that caught Americans off guard, such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and Israel’s entry into Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon War.

“Aspirationally, there should be no surprises,” said Makovsky, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, a think tank regarded to have close ties to the U.S. and Israeli governments. “In all candor, this is not always the case on either side.”

While it’s true that disagreements long have characterized U.S.-Israel ties, Obama was the first president to make a policy of “daylight,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies whose expertise includes the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

“This is the first time that this has been a systematic approach to Israel,” Schanzer said, noting the report cited by Oren that Obama in July 2009 told Jewish leaders he believed the policy of no daylight was contrary to American and Israeli interests and to advancing the peace process.

“When tensions came up in the past, the approach was to try to downplay it,” said Schanzer, who monitored terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury during the George W. Bush administration. “Over the last six years, when there has been a disagreement, this administration has doubled down on the conflict that existed and used those disagreements for political gain.”

Ilan Goldenberg, the chief of staff for the U.S. Middle East peace team until last year, said Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made their grievances public.

He noted Netanyahu’s strategy of public lobbying against the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers. Obama favors the deal, and his administration officials have urged Netanyahu to make his disagreements known in a private setting.

“Obama has been willing to express disagreement more than previous presidents,” said Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for a New American Security. “But the big violator of no daylight now is Netanyahu, much more than Obama, even as Obama tries to reach out.”

Goldenberg also took issue with some of Oren’s examples. Oren wrote that Obama abrogated the “no surprises” principle “in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Those positions should not have taken Netanyahu by surprise, Goldenberg said: Two states had been a principle since the Clinton presidency, and freezes on settlement growth were the policies of U.S. administrations since almost immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured disputed territories.

“Saying ‘two states and 1967 lines with land swaps’ was unprecedented was dubious given 242 and the Clinton parameters,” Goldenberg said, referring to the 1967 U.N. Security Council resolution that called for Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured during the war.

Heather Hurlburt, a director at the liberal New America think tank, said she was taken aback by Oren’s insistence in the Op-Ed that Netanyahu’s offenses, including announcements of settlement building, were missteps, while Obama’s offenses were deliberate.

“Everything the Israeli side did that was damaging was accidental, but everything the Obama side did was a personal decision of Obama?” she asked incredulously.

The penning of such an Op-Ed by a recent ambassador suggests deeper problems in the U.S.-relationship, Hurlburt said.

“If that’s how he perceived it” when Oren was an ambassador, “it’s an enormous problem,” Hurlburt said. “This is recriminating over who hurt the other person more in the relationship. It’s embarrassing. When you get to that point in a relationship, you’re usually done.”

Joe Lieberman: Next U.S. president will bring warmer relations with Israel


Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, in an interview with JTA, surmised that the next U.S. administration would be friendlier with Israel than the current one. He also expressed concern over America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying they are “going in a bad direction,” and urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to embrace the long-shelved Arab Peace Initiative.

Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew and the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate in 2000, predicted that if the 2016 presidential election were held today, a higher percentage of Jewish-Americans would vote Republican than in past races. But he noted that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s front-runner for the Democratic nod, could reverse that trend through vocal support of Israel.

“I think there will be a friend of Israel in the White House,” he said, noting that both Clinton and the leading Republican candidates all have pro-Israel records. “It will be a new beginning, a new opportunity. Is it going to be better than it has been under President Obama? Probably, yeah.”

Lieberman expressed concern over support for Israel in the Democratic Party. While almost all Democratic lawmakers support Israel, he said, Lieberman worried that younger party activists are more skeptical of the Jewish state.

“It’s something people who care about Israel are really working at,” said Lieberman, a four-term senator from Connecticut, who won as an independent in 2006 after losing the Democratic primary — in part because of his continued support for the Iraq War. “Part of it is to remind people who are liberal Democrats that, without saying everything Israel ever does is perfect, Israel is by far the most liberal country and society.”

On the issue of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, Lieberman said the proposal should be used “as a basis for negotiations which would hold the promise of progress not only with the Palestinians, for the two-state solution, but also of beginning a rapprochement with the Arab world.”

The initiative would establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian state and an agreed-upon solution for Palestinian refugees. Successive Israeli governments have ignored or rejected the initiative as a non-starter since it was first offered in 2002.

Lieberman acknowledged that progress on the Palestinian front would be difficult, given Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition and his March statement ruling out a Palestinian state on his watch. But he said being “on the offensive” in the peace process could help improve Israel’s relations with the Obama administration.

“That’s something the prime minister has to deal with and try to resolve,” Lieberman said. “It seems to me that no Israeli government should ever be in a position where other people in the world think it’s not seeking a just peace with the Palestinians, no matter how hard it would be practically to achieve that.”

In the interview, Lieberman also said the framework agreement reached in April between Iran and world powers, including the United States, leaves much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place while providing total sanctions relief to Iran.

“What started out as negotiations that would lead to the end of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an end of sanctions on Iran now ends up that the agreement will provide for the end of economic sanctions on Iran, but only a temporary turning down of Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.

And Lieberman called Netanyahu’s March speech to Congress on the dangers of an Iran deal “a plus.” The speech aroused controversy due to Netanyahu’s public opposition to the emerging agreement, as well as its timing: two weeks before Israel’s March 17 Election Day.

First elected to the Senate in 1988, Lieberman received the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 2000, running alongside then-Vice President Al Gore.

Lieberman, who has been to Israel more than 50 times, arrived this week to receive the Guardian of Zion Award from Bar-Ilan University’s Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies. Since leaving office, he has returned to practicing law, and also co-chairs bipartisan committees in two leading Washington conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute.

Obama: Disagreeing with Israel is necessary to defend it


Open disagreement with Israel on some of its policies is a necessary component of the U.S. defense of Israel in the international community, President Barack Obama said.

Obama, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg posted Thursday on The Atlantic’s website, singled out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day appeal in March to his followers to vote because Arab-Israeli voters were turning out in “hordes.”

Obama strongly criticized the appeal, and Netanyahu later apologized to Arab-Israeli leaders.

“When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” Obama said.

“And when I am then required to come to Israel’s defense internationally, when there is anti-Semitism out there, when there is anti-Israeli policy that is based not on the particulars of the Palestinian cause but [is] based simply on hostility, I have to make sure that I am entirely credible in speaking out against those things, and that requires me then to also be honest with friends about how I view these issues.”

Obama has come under fire from pro-Israel groups and a number of Democrats and Republicans since 2009, when he told Jewish leaders early in his presidency that he was ending the policy of his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of not airing disagreements with Israel in public. His critics say open disagreements undercut the alliance and make Israel more vulnerable.

The president in his interview said his differences with Netanyahu were often overblown.

“What we said publicly was fairly spare and mild, and then would be built up — it seemed like an article a day, partly because when you get in arguments with friends, it’s a lot more newsworthy than arguments with enemies,” he said.

Obama said he remained strongly committed to Israel, likening its defense to the struggle for civil rights.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African-Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” Obama said.

“These things are indivisible in my mind. But what is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values — its founding principles — that it has to care about those Palestinian kids.”

Obama also said there was no inconsistency between his pronouncements saying the Iranian regime was anti-Semitic and his quest for a nuclear deal with the same regime.

“I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program,” he said.

Obama: Meeting with Netanyahu only after nuke talks deadline


(JTA) — President Barack Obama reportedly said he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the June 30 deadline for the Iran nuclear talks.
Obama told Jewish leaders last week that a face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu would probably end with Netanyahu publicly complaining about the president’s policies on Iran, unnamed sources familiar with the meeting told The New York Times.

For now, the president said, he would speak with Netanyahu over the telephone and an Oval Office invitation would wait until after the deadline for negotiating the details of the Iran deal, according to the Times article published Thursday.

The meeting came amid a White House push to tamp down its confrontations with Israel following a rare flash of public exasperation with an ally, the Times reported.

The White House also is engaged in an aggressive effort to assuage the concerns of Jewish-American groups and pro-Israel members of Congress over the agreement, which Israel opposes because it offers Iran sanctions relief while allowing it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and to continue to enrich some uranium.

Netanyahu, who in March decried the deal in a controversial speech he gave to Congress against the White House’s wishes, has said these terms and others risked making Iran a threshold nuclear power ready to weaponize its nuclear program so fast that world powers would be helpless to stop a breakout.

But U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said Iran already has a breakout capability of several months and that the deal would increase that time to a minimum of a year. And Obama described the deal as “our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu offers alternatives to Iran deal following latest Obama criticism


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel offered alternatives on the nuclear framework agreement with Iran.

Netanyahu released a statement on Sunday with the changes to the deal signed earlier this month, a day after President Barack Obama told reporters that Netanyahu had not provided any alternatives.

The Israeli leader called on the international community to negotiate a better agreement.

In his statement, Netanyahu criticized Iran for insisting in the wake of the agreement on maintaining its nuclear capabilities and refusing to allow nuclear inspections, as well as its continuing aggression in the region.

“Let me reiterate again the two main components of the alternative to this bad deal: First, instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community,” he said. “Second, instead of lifting the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear facilities and program at a fixed date, a better deal would link the lifting of these restrictions to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

On Saturday, Obama spoke at a news conference at the Americas Summit in Panama City, Panama, on Netanyahu’s failure to come up with alternatives.

“The prime minister of Israel is deeply opposed to it, I think he’s made that very clear,” Obama said. “I have repeatedly asked, what is the alternative that you present that you think makes it less likely for Iran to get a nuclear weapon? And I have yet to obtain a good answer on that.”

The Netanyahu statement came the same day that Haaretz reported, citing two unnamed Israeli officials, that Netanyahu said at an April 3 meeting of the security Cabinet that if a final agreement is signed between Iran and the world powers, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations.

Netanyahu reportedly said at the meeting — hours before the start of the Passover seder and a day after the framework agreement was signed — that he was concerned that Iran will not break the agreement, waiting until it expires in 10-15 years and the country is not considered a threat to restart its nuclear program without the threat of international monitors or sanctions.

The security Cabinet decided at the meeting to try to persuade the Obama administration to improve the agreement. Most ministers, however, reportedly believe the best way to halt or alter the agreement is through Congress, which is where the most effort will be spent.

Letters to the editor: Trevor Noah, Koreatown transportation, JFS and more


Golden Age of Expansion

I am a recently retired baby boomer who turned to Jewish Family Service’s Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center and Eichenbaum Fitness Center for reconnection to the Jewish community, which is aiding me into this life transition of retirement (“JFS Expands Its Own Heart in the Heart of L.A.,” April 3).

How excited I became after reading in the Jewish Journal of the generous, thoughtful lead gift the Gunthers, Lois and Richard, are contributing to our Jewish senior community. 

The Gunthers possess wisdom in recognizing the value a new building will have for our community on Fairfax Avenue. 

Thank you, and thank you again Mr. and Mrs. Gunther and Jewish Family Services, for we deserve to represent our growing Jewish senior population in a grand building. Many blessings.

Dakota Sands via email

More Listening, Less Talking

I’m a quiet-mouthed person. God gave us two ears and one mouth — the more to listen than to speak (“Let’s Leave Obama Out of Our Seders,” April 3). This is an excellent article with lots to think about. How about each of us has four children inside of us? We can be knowledgeable, arrogant and sometimes do not know how to ask. Maybe all of us, good and bad, have all these qualities.

Barbara N. Roff via jewishjournal.com

Comedy Conundrum

I watched Trevor Noah’s show on HBO and I found him very funny (“The Day After for Trevor Noah,” April 3). He was not politically correct, which made him funnier.

Ilbert Philips via jewishjournal.com

I believe he wouldn’t have gotten away with it if he weren’t part of a certain minority group, which he also disparages. Shame on you, Comedy Central.

Elizabeth Crawford via jewishjournal.com

Trevor Noah’s mom is biracial and Jewish. His father is Swiss, so most probably white. We don’t know any details. In apartheid South Africa, with that family composition, he must have had a bullying hard time, unless they had money and he went to a private school. His humor, if you can call it that, comes across somewhere between juvenile and sophomoric, like most tweets. I’m betting he’s insecure, not quite sure who he is or wants to be, and has layered on this obnoxious persona the same way he tried to acquire “Black American” lingo to impress the Apollo Theater audience. I wonder how that went over. They are tough customers.

Leona Rund Zions via jewishjournal.com

Hop on the Bus, Gus!

This is a terrific article and it’s wonderful that Joel Epstein included [Wilshire Boulevard] Temple’s investment in Koreatown as helping to enrich the communities that make up Los Angeles (“Stop Waiting for the Bus,” April 3). The temple is blessed to be on Wilshire Boulevard, which is well traversed by buses, and we’re especially excited to be equidistant between two subway stops (two blocks in either direction!) 

I think that today’s youth and young adults, in general, and Jewish youth and young adults as a subset, are becoming increasingly comfortable with the use of public transportation — especially if they have lived and gone to school or worked in cities where people have historically used buses, subways and trains. I see that trend among Jewish friends, family and neighbors and it gives me hope!

Karen Schetina via jewishjournal.com

Democracy or Dictatorship?

I work for La Opinion of Los Angeles. I and others here wonder why a Jewish publication would print a cartoonist’s vitriol on a regular basis of Israel’s democratically re-elected prime minister. Do you know if others at the Journal agree with Steve Greenberg’s vitriol toward Benjamin Netanyahu, and why? 

Raffi Padilla, LA Opinion

Our Children’s Keeper

I do believe what God did next — while at one time I would not have, I cannot help but believe now (“Pharaoh Said ‘No.’ You Won’t Believe What God Did Next.” April 3). And I agree that the Jews gave us much more than monotheism — God, through Jacob’s noble descendants, gave us the knowledge of the nature of God — that God isn’t an abstract, imperceptible power (though much about God is unknowable) but, according to Moses and the prophets, God is literally like us as we are in his image, and he continues to deal with us as his children.

John Zimmerman via jewishjournal.com

Correction

In the April 3 issue of the Jewish Journal, a photo caption in the Moving and Shaking section incorrectly spelled American Jewish Committee past President Fredrick S. Levin’s name. 

U.S. and Israel escalate war of words over Iran


Israel and the Obama administration have stepped up their war of words over the framework agreement that aims to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for a gradual rollback of sanctions.

President Barack Obama made his most detailed effort yet to persuade skeptics of the accord reached last week in Switzerland in a weekend interview with The New York Times, asserting that the deal is the “best bet” to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon and promising to “stand by” Israel in the event of Iranian aggression.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his skepticism of the deal undiminished, made the rounds of American talk shows on Sunday morning to denounce a deal that he said gives Iran a “free path” to the bomb. And on Monday, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, in an effort to rebut claims that Israel had offered no alternative to a military campaign against Iran, presented reporters in Jerusalem with a list of modifications he said would make the agreement “more reasonable.”

Steinitz’s requirements included the closing of the underground nuclear facility at Fordo, a commitment to ship uranium stockpiles out of the country and an inspections regime that would allow international monitors the ability to go “anywhere, anytime” in Iran.

Under the terms of the framework accord reached April 2 in Lausanne, the Fordo facility would be reconfigured and would not enrich uranium, but it would not be shuttered entirely. Iran also would be permitted to continue to enrich uranium using its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at its facility in Natanz. The accord requires Iran to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to investigate allegations of covert activity “anywhere in the country.”

In his interview with Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Obama said the deal is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to open a new chapter with Iran while preserving all American options and capabilities in the event that Iran fails to uphold its end of the bargain.

“Iran may change,” Obama said. “If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.”

He added, “We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

Obama acknowledged that Israel is far more vulnerable to Tehran, and he sought to offer assurances that the United States would maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and come to its aid in the event of attack. The United States, Obama said, “is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”

Yet on Monday, Obama indicated there were limits to how far he would go with respect to Israel, rejecting a demand issued last Friday by Netanyahu that a final deal require Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, calling the notion a “fundamental misjudgment.”

“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in an interview with NPR. “And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. I want to return to this point: We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing.”

Obama still faces an uphill climb in Congress. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed a bill that would grant Congress the right to review the deal. The committee is due to vote on the bill April 14. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is expected to become Senate minority leader when Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires at the end of the year, said this week that he would support Corker’s legislation.

“I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement, and I support the Corker bill, which would allow that to occur,” Schumer told Politico on Monday.

American Jewish groups are also skeptical of the accord. The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs issued statements following the conclusion of the agreement last week expressing hope for a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the standoff. But the groups also expressed doubt that Iran could be trusted to faithfully execute its end of the bargain.

“Given the nature of the Iranian regime, its pattern of seeking to deceive the international community on its nuclear program, its support for global terror and its regional hegemonic ambitions, its repeated calls for a world without Israel, and its clandestine weapons efforts, AJC is deeply concerned about whether Iran will abide by any undertaking it makes, and if any inspections regime will be sufficient to monitor Iran’s full compliance,” the American Jewish Committee said.

In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Netanyahu compared the agreement to the 1994 deal between the United States and North Korea. That deal, too, Netanyahu said, was “deemed to be a great breakthrough,” but it did not prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran, the prime minister said, “is a great deal more dangerous than North Korea.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning that the agreement does not threaten Israel’s survival and that Netanyahu should “contain himself because he has put out no real alternative. In his speech to the Congress — no real alternative. Since then — no real alternative.”

Steinitz pushed back against that criticism on Monday, saying the notion that war is the alternative to the Obama deal “is wrong.”

“The alternative is not necessarily to declare war on Iran,” he said. “It is to increase pressure on Iran and stand firm and make Iran make serious concessions and have a much better deal.”

Restarting the U.S.-Israel relationship depends on Palestinians too


As someone who was critical of several steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the campaign leading up to his reelection, particularly his decision to address Congress and his statement seeming to reject a Palestinian state, I am even more troubled by statements now coming out of the White House calling for a reassessment of policy toward Israel, including a reconsideration of the historic American veto in the UN Security Council.

Let me be clear: I wish Mr. Netanyahu would do more to solidify relations with Israel's ally in America and to stand up to those in Israel who seek to make impossible a Palestinian state. None of this, however, justifies what we are hearing from the Obama administration. Their reactions raise deeper questions about their intentions and perspectives.

From the beginning of the Obama years, there was a disturbing indifference to the mindset of the Israeli public, characterized by the president's speech in Cairo and focus on Israeli settlements as the key obstacle to peace.

Talk of “neither party willing to make sacrifices for peace,” and even seeming to put the blame on Israel, simply disregarded the brutal reality of what Israelis went through for a decade starting with the Camp David meeting in 2000. There, a left-wing Israeli government, elected by a public hoping against hope that the Palestinians were finally ready to abandon their decades-long struggle against Israel, offered a true two-state solution to the Palestinians. Not only was it rejected, but violence and suicide bombs followed for years.

After that, Israeli leaders took two more steps toward that vaunted goal of two states: first the gut-wrenching withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and then the offer by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. Israelis saw these initiatives rejected again, together with Hamas taking over Gaza with its attendant rockets and war. In sum, Israelis saw an unrepentant foe still seemingly committed to irredentist goals.

Nothing much has changed since then on the Palestinian side. Hamas continues to control Gaza and, after another war, is seeking to rearm for the next conflict against Israel. And the Palestinian Authority has found every excuse to avoid negotiations, making it clear to Israelis that Palestinian leaders are far more interested in turning the international community and the U.S. against Israel than to resolving their internal problems and the conflict with Israel. Or put another way, they seemed interested in achieving a Palestinian state only if it meant not having to end the struggle against Israel.

What, therefore, would have been a reasonable response by Washington to recent developments?

Resentment at Mr. Netanyahu's sidestepping the president is understandable. If there was concern about the election of a right-wing government, however, attention should have focused less on not liking what Israeli democracy produced and more on examining why Israelis voted as they did and what can be done to change that reality.

The answer lies not in the U.S. distancing itself from Israel, which will encourage Palestinians in their belief that they can have their cake and eat it, achieving a state without accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. And it will reinforce Israeli fears of being under siege.

Rather, it lies in doing something the administration has seemingly been reluctant to do: pressuring the Palestinians into finally making the qualitative leap toward accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. This and this alone could truly change the dynamic of the conflict that has been troubling the world for so long.

Steps that would represent such change would include concrete indications of finally recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, accepting that the Palestinian refugee problem would be resolved within a new Palestinian state, declaring that a peace accord would represent the end of the conflict and future demands and eliminating the hate campaigns in the media and schools against Israel and Jews.

The absence of any progress on all these issues over many years leaves Israelis with the belief that not much has changed on the Palestinian side, and that they need to tough it out until change comes.

There are good arguments against this Israeli approach even if there is no change on the Palestinian side. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral initiative despite his belief that Israel currently had no peace partner. But as these elections show, most Israelis are ready to vote for security in the current environment.

On the other hand, if real positive Palestinian change would occur, that would generate the greatest impact for change on the Israeli side. A diminution of fears about Palestinian intentions is the best formula for a more moderate Israeli electorate and Israeli policies.

This should be a time for healing between American and Israeli leaders. The prime minister, the president and congressional leaders should not be trying to score points at the expense of the other. Instead they should refocus on the common values and interests of the two nations and recognize that we both face many common challenges in the Middle East.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Obama: Differences with Israel’s Netanyahu not personal


U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that his differences with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not personal but are based on fundamental policy differences over Middle East peace.

Obama said it was hard to envision a path to a two-state solution to the conflict – long sought by the United States – given Netanyahu's pre-election comments that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch.

Obama said he would evaluate how best to manage Israeli-Palestinian relations over the rest of his term as a result.

“The issue is not a matter of relations between leaders,” Obama told reporters at a news conference, noting that he has a “very businesslike relationship” with Netanyahu.

“This can't be reduced to a matter of somehow let's all, you know, hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya.' This is a matter of figuring out how do we get through a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and for the region,” Obama said.

Relations between the two leaders have been strained over U.S. efforts to reach an international agreement with Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

Netanyahu has sought to walk back his comments about the two-state solution, but Obama said the “corrective” came with conditions that would be “impossible to meet any time soon” and said that the prospects of an agreement appeared dim.

“We can't continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen, at least in the next several years,” Obama said, warning the issue could escalate.

“That may trigger, then, reactions by the Palestinians that, in turn, elicit counter-reactions by the Israelis, and that could end up leading to a downward spiral of relations that will be dangerous for everybody and bad for everybody,” he said.

Obama: We take Netanyahu at his word that he won’t allow Palestinian state


President Barack Obama said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “evaluating” U.S. options in the wake of Netanyahu’s claim that a Palestinian state would not be created while he was prime minister.

“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership,” Obama told Huffington Post in an interview posted Saturday on the news site. “That’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

He did not elaborate, but a number of media outlets have reported that the United States is considering no longer vetoing Israel-critical actions in international forums, including the U.N. Security Council.

Netanyahu, on the eve of the March 17 election, said the time was not right for two states because of Palestinian intransigence and Islamist-fomented turmoil. Asked by the NRG website whether that meant there would be no Palestinian state while he was prime minister, he replied, “indeed.”

On Thursday, the day he received Obama’s call — ostensibly made to congratulate Netanyahu for being reelected — Netanyahu told U.S. media outlets that he meant only that the time was not right for two states, not that he opposed the outcome. Obama administration officials say Netanyahu’s explanation is not adequate.

Obama said the security relationship between the United States and Israel would not be affected.

“We’re going to make sure that regardless of disagreements we have on policy that our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues,” he said. “And that cooperation also helps the American people to stay safe.”

Obama also said that he chided Netanyahu for his Election Day video posted to Facebook in which he urged Likud backers to vote to counter “droves” of Arab voters he said were being bused to the polls by foreign-backed organizations.

“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the nest of Israel’s traditions,” Obama said.

“Israeli democracy had been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly; I think that is what it best about Israeli democracy,” he said. “If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state.”

Cartoon: Netanyahu’s Obamabomb


+