Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback’s Rosh Hashanah sermon: We Need Each Other


Maybe it’s because she grew up in a very small Jewish community – El Dorado, Kansas was home to about ten Jewish families. Maybe it was because of her deep love for Jewish values, traditions and teachings. Whatever inspired it, my mother absolutely delighted in discovering that the perfect stranger with whom she was sitting on the airplane or whom she happened to begin speaking with in the museum or concert hall at intermission was, like her, a Jew.

If one of her kids was nearby, she’d shoot us a knowing look and stage-whisper, “He’s JEWISH.” Sometimes it was obvious. A star of David around the neck. A hamsa. Maybe it was the name – David Shapiro was an easy one. Rochel Leah Rabinowitz – a no brainer. Shmuel Cohen – a gimmee. But mom could also find the Jewish Maureen O’Malley, too.

Then it was time for some Jewish geography. Before you knew it, mom had found a connection. Maybe through an acquaintance, a distant cousin – some Rabbi we knew in common.

When I entered Rabbinical school, it got worse. Here’s how it played out:

  • Step one: Identify the Jew.
  • Step two: Chat up the Jew.
  • Step three: Discover some type of personal connection to the Jew.
  • Step four: Seize the opportunity to announce proudly to her new best friend that her son is studying to be a rabbi.

Once on a family vacation, as we sat down for our first dinner, a member of the staff approached me and said, “I hear you’re a rabbi – would you be willing to help us light the Chanukah candles tomorrow night in the lobby? Your mom said you’d love to!”

I don’t want you to think that her ability to identify and connect with Jews was flawless – sometimes her “Jew-dar” was off. Once, on a phone call with mom when I was in college, I mentioned that I was going to a Bruce Springsteen concert with some friends. “You know he’s a self hating Jew, don’t you?” She said. “I mean, he never talks about his Jewish identity, he’s not raising his kids as Jews – he hasn’t ever performed in Israel.”

“Mom,” I noted. “We’ve talked about this before. Bruce Springsteen is not, I repeat, NOT a self hating Jew. Do you know why that is, mom? It’s ‘cuz he’s NOT A JEW AT ALL. Yes, his name ends in ‘Steen’ and he’s from Jersey but HE’S NOT A JEW.”

There was a pause.

“Still,” she said, “he could be more supportive.”

My parents taught us that we were part of a community, a People – Members of a Tribe. They were devoted to our synagogue. Mom was president of the Temple sisterhood, an active lifelong learner, forever volunteering for things like the outreach committee, the book drive, and taskforces of all types. Dad was honored to be named the volunteer of the decade at our local Jewish Community Center.

For us kids, attending religious school through Confirmation was a requirement. Mom insisted that we all try Jewish summer camp and youth group. We loved it so much that we went back year after year.

And my parents walked the walk with their tzedakah dollars as well supporting the Temple, our local Federation, and a host of Israel related activities.

Their example, the way they modeled the importance of being part of Jewish community, shaped me in the most profound ways, leading me ultimately to the rabbinate, to devoting my professional life to Jewish community, education, and values. It’s what inspired me to move to Israel to study and that’s there I met my wife, the mother of our three daughters – by far the best outcome of all.

My life has meaning and purpose because of these experiences. I have a deeper sense of my small role in the cosmos because of it. Being part of this tribe, this people Israel, has helped me to feel a sense of connection in a time of increasing alienation and division. And – most importantly – it is through my community that the values of our People have been transmitted to me: a way of life that points us towards justice and righteousness and inspires us to make ourselves and the world better.

This sense of connection to a people with a shared history, destiny and set of values provides us with what the great sociologist, Peter Berger, calls a “plausibility structure.” A system of meaning which helps us to make sense of our world and understand our place in it.

But for so many people today, not just Jews, the “plausibility structure” of community itself is being undermined in profound ways.

Marc Dunkelman, a professor at Brown University, writes about this in his recent book, “The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community.”

Dunkelman describes what he calls “middle-ring” relationships. These involve people who are not family or close friends but not as distant as mere acquaintances. Over the past few decades, these middle-ring relationships have all but disappeared in America and as a result, people feel less and less connected to their neighbors, their towns, and, even more broadly, their country. An additional consequence of this alienation is a narrowing of our world-views.

Dunkelman notes that middle-ring relationships are best “suited to pierce our much-bemoaned filter bubbles” – the increasingly precise way we get our news and are exposed to the ideas of others through the various feeds, tightly controlled by ever-monetized algorithms, that limit the ideas, people and – ultimately – experiences to which we are exposed.

Before the deterioration of these “middle-ring” relationships, “a left-wing academic might talk with a conservative banker while in line at Blockbuster — if that’s how we still rented movies. An activist could explain the benefits of paid leave to a skeptical businesswoman on the sidelines of the P.T.A. meeting — if that were how we spent our Tuesday nights. Experiments that compel ordinary people to discuss a fraught topic face-to-face have illustrated that those conversations quite frequently lead participants to think differently. But without middle-ring relationships, those sorts of thoughtful, substantive interactions have become all too rare.”

And, sadly, tragically even, our ability to connect deeply with what was once not a “middle-ring” relationship but rather a kin/familial relationship, namely, to Jewish community, has also been compromised.

Locally, nationally, and internationally, our Jewish community has become more fragmented and divided politically, ethnically, and religiously. Right versus Left. Ashkenazi versus Sephardi. Orthodox versus Reform.

And, more globally, there has been a most unfortunate distancing between the two major centers of Jewish life today: Israel and America. This past summer, divisions between Israel and the Diaspora surfaced in deeply troubling ways. The Kotel controversy and the debate over a new conversion bill in the Knesset, inspired headlines in Jewish newspapers including this one that should send chills down our spines: “Netanyahu to Millions of Jews – we don’t really want you.” The author of that piece, David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, argued that the Prime Minister’s decision to freeze the Western Wall compromise plan that had been labored over for more than three years was a “blow to the heart and soul of world Jewry.”

And just a few weeks ago, in the middle of the month of Elul – our countdown to repentance – the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem said publicly that Reform Jews are worse than Holocaust deniers.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Rabbi, don’t be so naive! Isn’t this how it has always been?”

Indeed, my own grandfather used to tell me about how the German Jews in Omaha used to look down on the Shtetl Jews – my family – who had immigrated more recently from Poland.

And what about the old adage, “two Jews, three opinions”? This one is beautifully illustrated by the joke about the Jew who is shipwrecked on a desert island. The crew of a passing ship notices his campfire and comes to his aid. When the captain of the ship comes ashore, the Jew thanks him profusely and offers him a tour of his little island. He shows him the fire pit where he cooks his food, the hammock where he sleeps, and the little synagogue he built so he could offer his prayers to God. On the way back to the ship, the captain notices a second synagogue. The captain is confused. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks, “why on earth did you go to the trouble to build two synagogues!?!? You are the only Jew on this island!” “Vell,” replies the Jew, “da first shul, dat’s where I go to daven! Dis shul? I would never set foot in dis shul!”

It’s funny. And it’s awful. And it’s a rather apt metaphor for human life on this planet today – or where we might be headed.

Each of us all alone on our own little islands. Like the two couples I saw the other night out for the dinner – all four of them on their smartphones, not talking to one another, not even looking at each other.

All alone on our islands – one Jew with two synagogues, or, even worse, one Jew actively choosing to absent himself from every synagogue, from the community itself. Each one of us an island – experiencing the world, filtering our news and our friends and the values we embrace, all on our own.

And here is why this conversation is so urgent, why it matters so much, right now: Communities transmit values and a sense that, whatever the challenge, we can confront it more successfully together.

Think about the extraordinary images we’ve seen over the past few weeks of the devastation caused by hurricanes and earthquakes. Neighbors rescuing neighbors right along side professionally trained first-responders.

Friends – now, as ever, we need each other. Whatever our differences, the challenges we’re facing confront us all. Climate change, North Korean nukes, stagnant wages, social disruptions, a worldwide refugee crisis – no one is immune. Gay, straight, transgender – whether we were born in this country, immigrated here with all the proper papers, or came as an infant in the arms of a parent dreaming of a better life – we are all in this together. Only through a shared commitment to our best values will we be able to survive, to thrive, to hope for and realize a brighter tomorrow for ourselves, our children, and our world.

So the challenge is bigger and the sense of urgency is more pronounced but here’s the good news: the solution hasn’t really changed at all. It’s ultimately a matter of choice. We have a simple decision to make: Are the privileges and benefits of communal membership generally and, more particularly for us as Jews as members of this tribe, this People, worth the efforts required? If we conclude that they are, then it’s all about commitment.

And, make no mistake, it’s always been a matter of choice. In Talmudic times, there was a robust competition amongst the Jewish, Christian, and Pagan communities for the hearts and minds of the masses. The rabbis – two thousand years ago – had to make a case for Jewish community.

First, they laid out the obligations the community has toward the People. In short, the community had to provide for the physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs of everyone – no small task. Soup-kitchens for the poor; funding, and matchmakers, to make sure that orphans could marry; assistance for widows; burial societies and cemeteries for life’s end. Schools for learning. Synagogues for worship. Emissaries to represent the interests of the community to the Gentile authorities. The community would provide everything. (Sanhedrin 17b)

But the relationship must be reciprocal. The individual has obligations to the community as well.

Here’s how the Midrash puts it: “The person who asks, ‘Why should I trouble myself for the community? What’s in it for me to involve myself in their problems? Why should I care about what they say? I’m fine all by myself!” This person, says the Midrash, “מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם – destroys the world. (Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim 2:2)

An example of Rabbinic exaggeration? Perhaps. Destroying the world might be putting it a bit too strongly.

And yet, and yet. The one who thinks, “I’ll just worry about myself and my needs alone,” doesn’t this way of thinking, ultimately, lead not merely to the disintegration of one’s local community but to the disintegration of society, of civilization itself?

And here’s what makes affiliation in Jewish community in particular and the energy we expend to strengthen it more than a provincial, self-centered act. Communal affiliation is generative. The act of connecting more deeply to our particular community, leads us to a deeper sense of obligation to and concern for the broader community. Our affiliation with and affection for members of our tribe does not have to lead us to being “tribal” in a parochial, narrow, xenophobic fashion. In fact, our tribal tradition wants our particular, personal experience to be a doorway to a more expansive sense of connection and responsibility for others who, while not MOTs, are part of our broader, human family.

As the great theologian and scholar, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, argues, “our particular religious vision is also profoundly and inseparably universal.” Our People’s master narrative of our slave ancestors being redeemed at the Shores of the Red Sea, leads us to understand in a personal and profound way, the universal value of liberation and national dignity for all people.

In a time when our nation is so deeply divided and so much in need of healing, our commitment to Jewish community and the values it upholds can help us to be better Americans for, as Jews, we have always cared for more than just “our own.” As the great sage Hillel put it 2000 years ago:

״וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי?״

״If we are only for ourselves, what are we?”

For our Rabbis, the “case” for community is existential: without it, the whole world is destroyed. We depend upon community for our very survival – physical and spiritual as well for communities transmit values.

And our spirits, our souls, need the core values of our tradition especially right now.

In the face of hatred and violence, neo-Nazis and klansmen marching in our streets, our tradition reminds us (Lev 19:17):

לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ

Hatred is a sin.

In the face of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia – our tradition reminds us that God created humanity through a common ancestor for the sake of peace –

מִפְּנֵי שְׁלוֹם הַבְּרִיּוֹת

so that no man or woman could ever say: אַבָּא גָּדוֹל מֵאָבִיךָ! My father is better than yours! (Sanhedrin 37a)

We are all children of the same loving God. We are all connected.

In a time of “alternative facts” – our tradition reminds us that there is such a thing as truth and that, indeed, the integrity of the world depends on it.

In a time in our country when disagreements about our deeply held beliefs increasingly move from what should be vigorous, healthy debates to scenes of chaos and violence, our tradition reminds us that, no matter how hard, our job is to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:15)

בַּקֵּ֖שׁ שָׁל֣וֹם וְרָדְפֵֽהוּ

I could go on all day – but I won’t.

But do indulge me just one more: In a time of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety, our tradition teaches us that “the whole world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid!” In the face of the very real and frightening challenges of our lives, our tradition reminds us never to lose hope, never to give in to our fears. And being part of a community helps us to cross the bridge despite those fears.

In my own experience, the gifts I receive from being part of this community, this People Israel, far outweigh what is required of me. I get so much more than I give.

And I know this is true for so many of you here today. You’ve told me story after story about how – right here, maybe in our parenting center – you met the closest friends who have supported you throughout your life. You’ve told me about how, right here – maybe at Torah study or as a regular in Shabbat services – you’ve found meaning and strength through life’s most challenging times. You’ve told me about how our clergy have been there for your family through simchas as well as through life’s tsuris. You’ve shared how you’ve found a deeper sense of purpose as a volunteer in one of our Tikkun Olam programs.

You’ve told me – again and again – that you have received more than you’ve given.

We’re lucky – so lucky – to be part of a vibrant, established Jewish community. My mom and her family had to drive to Wichita from El Dorado to attend Shabbat services. Now, truth be told, it’s only 40 miles which took them less time than it does to get to Stephen Wise from Santa Monica on a Friday evening but still, still – it took some effort. She could hardly imagine, as a young woman, a Jewish community like ours numbering in the hundreds of thousands, boasting synagogues and day-schools and Jewish institutions of all shapes and sizes. She couldn’t imagine a shul with a pool.

My mom grew up in a town that didn’t have any Jewish institutions and barely enough Jews to make a minyan. It’s probably why she was always searching, always on the look-out for other MOTs, Members of the Tribe.

It’s part of what inspired her to give so much time and energy to her community. But I know that – ultimately – she received as much or more as she contributed.

When she died, much too young, hundreds and hundreds of members of our community were there to honor her and to support us, to carry us in our grief.

This is the commitment, this is the support, this is the sense of belonging and meaning and purpose that we all need. And it’s what our our nation and our world needs right now, too.

To get there – we’ll all need to step up. It’s hard, I know. We’re busy – pulled in a thousand directions. But it’s important. So in this New Year of 5778, let’s all commit to doing more for each other.

I’m not going to ask you to devote yourself 24 X 6 to the Temple – although you’re welcome to do so. But what if we could each commit to doing one additional act of kindness every month for our community? It might be attending a shiva minyan or showing up to pack lunches for homeless folks in our city. Maybe it’s reaching out and bringing a friend to a class or a service. Maybe it’s helping to raise funds for a special project that will bring more meaning and hope into our world. Maybe it’s volunteering to serve on a committee or help with a program. Whatever it is, let’s commit ourselves to doing more to strengthening our tribe, our community and in so doing, we’ll strengthen our city, our nation, and our world.

Friends – we need each other. Desperately. Joyfully. Eternally.

 

President Donald Trump, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on May 22. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

LeBron, Merkel. Netanyahu, Trump. On false comparisons of leaders


Every person has something in common with every other person. Richard Nixon had ears, Che Guevara had ears. Does this make Nixon and Guevara alike? They were, and they weren’t. Both were leaders, both were controversial. Both were born and died in the twentieth century.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and LeBron James are also alike in some ways. Both of them project power and determination. Both are leaders of the groups to which they belong. For Merkel, it is the Christian Democratic Union, her political party. For James it is the Cleveland Cavaliers, his basketball team. Both are leaders of not just their groups but also of their field. She is the most dominant German politician of the decade. He is the most dominant player of the decade.

Still, we are not used to comparing Guevara and Nixon, Merkel and James. But we are used to compare U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. David Rothkopf is among the latest in a long list of pundits, activists and politicians, to compare these two, beginning with a description of Netanyahu:

“His former top aides have said that he is unfit for office. He is surrounded by a swirl of scandal. His family is not helping matters, with crazy statements that are intended to be supportive but just make matters worse. He is dependent on the far right and is so politically vulnerable that he is making decisions that put his entire country at risk. He has targeted groups on the basis of religion and background, which could lead to great unrest”, Rothkopf wrote a few days ago, forgetting the ears and the eyes and the bizarre haircuts, forgetting that Netanyahu, like Trump, is a man born in the Forties.

Comparing Netanyahu and Trump is common, and thus merits scrutiny. Comparing Netanyahu and Trump is common mostly among people who dislike both, and thus merits suspicion.

Pollster James Zogby wrote that they have “a lot in common.” His main theme is about both of them being under investigation. Chemi Shalev compared the duo’s dislike of the news media: “the lethal enemy that Netanyahu is devoting his energy, his resources and his political capital to defeat -– you will know this already if you’ve been listening to Donald Trump –- is the Israeli media” when he called Netanyahu a “slick version” of Trump. Jeff Barak mentioned that “both men have been married three times, are not known for their religious piety or devotion and yet have nevertheless captured the heart of America’s evangelical Christian community.”

Examples of such comparisons are numerous and vary in content. But they all suffer from two similar traits that make them just a little more reliable than the Guevara-Nixon, Merkel-James comparisons.

  1. They use the facts that are highlighted selectively, while omitting inconveniences.
  2. They heavily rely on ideological evaluation masqueraded as fact.

Rothkopf will be the example I will use here to demonstrate this technique, because he is a wise and worthy writer. And I will begin by grouping some of his arguments according to the formula I just presented:

Selective facts, omission of others:

“[Netanyahu’s] former top aides have said that he is unfit for office.” Yes, some of them did (former National Security Advisor Uzi Arad), and others did not (former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror). And many of those who did affiliate with other political camps, and, hence, are unlikely to appreciate his policies. And many of those who did were disappointed by Netanyahu’s decisions that affected their careers. They have personal motivations to denigrate him. More importantly, Israeli voters decided that Netanyahu is fit. They have decided it in four rounds of elections.

“His family is not helping matters.” Weighing the extent to which a family is a burden on a leader, or is helping him, is very complicated. Was Nancy Reagan helping Ronald Reagan or hurting him? Was Hillary Clinton helping Bill Clinton or hurting him (was he helping her when she run for office?). Netanyahu has a family. At times, the behavior of his family members is troubling. These are facts. The rest is assessment. And by the way: I am not sure why this family reminds Rothkopf the family of Trump. The way I see it, the family of Trump is the better part of his administration.

“He is dependent on the far right.” This is a common trick of left-leaning commentators: define all “right” as “far right” and paint your rival as an extremist. Netanyahu relies on the “right,” as is the habit of right wing politicians. If this makes him like Trump; it also makes him like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

“[T]argeted groups on the basis of religion and background.” This is total miscomprehension of Israel’s character. Netanyahu did target groups, but the “basis” was neither religion nor background. The basis was nationality, in the case of Arabs, and political affiliation, in the case of left wingers. Does this make him like Trump? Was Trump the one speaking about people “clinging to religion, guns, xenophobia”? As you might remember, it was Barack Obama. So yes, Netanyahu does target groups, and in many cases this habit of his is ugly and condemnable. Like the similar habit of many other politicians (to be fair to Obama, having used him as example, he did not target other groups as much as Netanyahu).

[B]oth he and Trump have underwater poll numbers.” This is just not true. Trump has underwater numbers, Netanyahu’s numbers are good enough to give him the next round of election.

Ideological evaluation dressed as fact: 

[S]o politically vulnerable that he is making decisions that put his entire country at risk

could lead to great unrest.” This is not true on several levels. First, Netanyahu is not politically vulnerable. Second, most Israelis believe that his decisions are better than most of the alternative suggestions, and, hence, the “putting at risk” part of this analysis is not fact; it’s assessment and not quite convincing. Third, I scratched my head to understand what “great unrest” Rothkopf foresees in Israel and am at a loss. There is no unrest, and scenarios leading to unrest are no more credible for Israel than they are for Belgium.

“[B]rought his country’s democracy to a moment of crisis.” Again, this is a very general statement of little meaning. What crisis? Israel has been dealing with many problems for the last 70 years. Its democracy is stable and functioning. Its institutions are solid. The only “crisis” I know of is the crisis of people dissatisfied with Israel’s policies and political bent.

“[H]as Israel hurtling toward an existential crisis.” See above comment, with the pompous addition of “existential.” What did Netanyahu do to hurtle Israel toward this crisis is unclear to me. As you could see in my latest New York Times article, I do not think that Netanyahu’s rule is “an electrifying” time. It is time of solid stability, not crisis.

“Israel can afford Bibi far less right now than the United States can the unfit, out-of-control leader it has in Trump.” This is true, because Israel always had and probably always will have less room for error. But it points to the exact opposite of what Rothkopf is saying: it is another proof that there is little similarity between Netanyahu and Trump.

“Bibi apparently cares more about his political survival than he does about the well-being of the Jewish people he has taken it upon himself to ‘represent’.” This is a conclusion based on zero evidence. That Netanyahu decided to keep his ties with Trump as tight as possible is not because of his interest in “political survival.” It is because of Israel’s need to have strong ties with a friendly administration. Does it weaken Israel’s claim on representation of the Jewish people? I have no problem admitting that. In fact, I did it last week.

The bottom line is clear by now: Netanyahu and Trump show some similarities, but the differences between them are much greater, and make all attempts as comparing them a clear case of politics dressed as analysis. Here is a short list of some of these great differences, that make their similarities (they rely on the right, they attack the media) pale in comparison:

Trump is a novice; Netanyahu is an experienced leader.

Netanyahu is Prime Minister for a fourth term; Trump barely won one round of general election – he might still prove to be an electoral mishap.

Trump is ignorant about world affairs; Netanyahu is one of the most well informed leaders in the world.

Netanyahu is eloquent in two languages; Trump is ineloquent.

There are many other less important differences between these two leaders. Trump has a foul mouth; Netanyahu does not. Trump is businessman first and foremost; Netanyahu is a career politician. The list goes on and on, and the conclusion is inevitable: much more than there are similarities between Trump and Netanyahu – there are similarities in the outlook and the tactics and the language that of their opponents.

White House Senior advisor Jared Kushner listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A peace process? Come back another time


Leaders want many things, but can only achieve few of them. They have priorities, more than their overall desired goals dictate their policies. Is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a priority? Today, Donald Trump emissaries to the Middle East came for another visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and judging by their intensity of visits one could argue that the peace process is a priority of the administration.

Still, following the news from Washington it would seem quite odd to make such assumption. The White House has serious issues with North Korea, China and Iran –- and of course a domestic agenda, including the handling of crises, from the Russia investigation to the Charlottesville aftermath. For Trump, or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to wake up and think about the peace process would be a strange thing to do.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priorities were clarified yesterday, when he visited with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The PM is concerned about Syria and the prospect of Iran taking over the country with the tacit support of Russia. In two articles that I wrote for The New York Times in the last year I argued that for now Putin is the new Middle East sheriff and Israel must recognize this fact, and  that Israel is highly concerned about the cease fire in Syria.

I wrote: “Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem, for the United States to go back to being a superpower.” The less the U.S. gets involved in remedying the challenge of Iran in Syria, the less convincing it will be in arguing for a peace process with the Palestinians.

To take risks, to make sacrifices, Israel needs to feel secure; it needs to feel that it has backing. If the U.S. is no longer a reliable guardian of Middle East stability and peace, Israel’s inclination to take any risks for a peace it doesn’t feel is a priority will be greatly diminished.

So the American mediator is left with only one party for which the process is essential, the Palestinians. In the last few days their leadership began making threats and setting deadlines for the Trump administration. One wonders if this specific U.S. leader is receptive of such language and intimidation, but the leadership of the Palestinian Authority calculated that there is nothing to lose. If the Americans are not serious about their efforts, then other venues for progressing the Palestinian cause ought to be considered. Sadly for the Palestinians, their options are not many: the world seems to be getting busier with other problems, more urgent.

It is not a coincidence that the best days of the peace process were back in the Nineties, when the end of history seemed near, and the world was relatively free to toy with the remaining problems of small global consequences –- Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Palestine. America was at the peak of its world power, and President Clinton’s main problem was an affair with an intern. Israel was booming, and its enemies were still pondering their next moves following the first Gulf War. Yassir Arafat was under pressure to moderate, or be cast aside, having discovered that his main backers were losing power, and the world in which he thrived as a terrorist no longer exists. Relaxation and order enabled busy leaders to free their schedules for dealing with the stubborn reality of the “conflict.”

Such conditions are no longer available for anyone. Relaxation was gone around 9/11; order was gone following the Iraq War. Israel lost its appetite for peace, prioritizing stability and security. America lost its main tool for brokering peace, its hegemony as a trustworthy and highly engaged world power.

As we wonder why the likely outcome of the current round of Middle East talks is not peace, our instinctive tendency is to search for the small detail: what is Israel willing to offer, what compromises are the Palestinians willing to make, is the leadership sincere about wanting peace, is the U.S. capable and learned?

The answers matter, but they are all secondary to global realities that are hardly suitable for making progress for peace. They are hardly suitable for a world that is just too busy dealing with other things.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem July 30, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Netanyahu plans to become first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Latin America


Benjamin Netanyahu is planning trips to Argentina and Mexico in September that would make him the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Latin America.

Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the region before flying directly to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, according to The Jerusalem Post. He would return to Israel for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 20.

“Latin America has always been friendly to Israel, but I think we’re at a position where these relationships can be far, far, far advanced,” Netanyahu told President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala last fall.

The Jerusalem Post noted the trip would coincide with the 70th anniversary of the U.N. partition plan vote, when 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries were among 33 states that cast ballots in its favor, paving the way for Israel’s independence.

Israeli ties with Argentina have improved considerably since Mauricio Macri won the presidency in 2015.

The trip to Mexico also sends the signal that its abstention in anti-Israel UNESCO votes last year, as well as friction over a tweet Netanyahu posted regarding the efficacy of a U.S.-Mexico border wall advocated by President Donald Trump, are not hindering ties between the countries.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation and home to some 120,000 Jews, was left off the Netanyahu itinerary. Israel and Brazil tussled for a year over the former’s envoy choices.

“Political issues are internal problems, but if an Israeli prime minister comes to Brazil, he prefers that the government be stable because no delegation wants to present a project that after a month will change,” Yossi Sheli, Israel’s ambassador in Brasilia, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper on Sunday.

Brazil is experiencing high levels of unemployment and social instability.

Shell added that he believed the past two Brazilian presidents, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, “were against the State of Israel.”

Employees work inside the office of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network in Jerusalem. August 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Al Jazeera threatens legal action over Israel’s plans to close its Jerusalem bureau


Al Jazeera threatened to take legal action to remain in its Jerusalem bureau following Israel’s decision to close it down.

The Qatar-based news network, which is based in the same building as Israel’s Government Press Office, criticized the shutdown as “undemocratic” in a statement Monday.

“Al Jazeera stresses that it will closely watch the developments that may result from the Israeli decision and will take the necessary legal measures towards it,” the statement said.  “Al Jazeera will continue to cover the events of the occupied Palestinian territories professionally and accurately, according to the standards set by international agencies.”

Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, a Druze lawmaker for the ruling Likud Party, on Sunday announced plans to revoke the media credentials of Al Jazeera TV journalists, close the Jerusalem office, and remove the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.

The actions would require legislation and legal action, according to reports.

The channel, which has about 30 employees in Israel in both its Arabic and English channels, according to Reuters, already is blocked in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain.

Israeli officials have accused Al Jazeera of bias against the Jewish state.

“We have identified media outlets that do not serve freedom of speech but endanger the security of Israel’s citizens, and the main instrument has been Al Jazeera,” Kara said Sunday. He also said the network “caused us to lose the lives of the best of our sons.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence in Jerusalem, including over the Temple Mount.

Al Jazeera was the first Arab news outlet to interview Israeli military and government officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

Netanyahu, a dead man walking (aren’t we all?)


When there is no news, there is speculation. And in recent days there has been very little news about the criminal investigations into allegations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Investigations are slow and, besides, there is a gag order that’s preventing the news media from reporting about any developments. So there is a vacuum, and the vacuum is filled by speculation, and by ever-chatting politicians and pundits. Some of them try to convince us that the prime minister is a dead man walking. Some are trying to convince us that “there will be nothing, because there is nothing,” which is Netanyahu’s usual response to questions about the investigations.

He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied. Netanyahu suffered a blow last week when his close aid, Ari Harow, signed a state-witness agreement. One assumes that such an agreement only is signed with a witness who has something incriminating to say. One assumes that Harow was in a position that provided him unique access to Netanyahu. What did he tell the investigators? We don’t know. What does he tell his acquaintances? “I did not rat out Netanyahu” is what he says.

Is that possible? Is it possible that the police signed an agreement with a state witness when the witness believes that he said nothing incriminating about his former boss? In fact, it is. It’s possible if what Harow has to tell is open to interpretation. Harow told the investigators stories that he considers legal and they might consider illegal. Harow told them stories that he believes are not incriminating enough to put Netanyahu on trial and they might believe are incriminating indeed and strong enough to indict Netanyahu.

He is not dead yet. But the potential of a sudden political death no longer can be denied.

Harow might be naïve. He might not understand the severity of his actions. The investigators might be overeager. They might not see that in their zeal to search for an elusive truth, they criminalize trivial actions. As I remarked four years ago, prosecutors have sniffed around every prime minister for nearly two decades, with mixed results. Netanyahu, first term: investigated, not charged. Ehud Barak: investigated, not charged. Ariel Sharon: investigated, not charged. Ehud Olmert: investigated, charged, found guilty (mostly for his actions as the mayor of Jerusalem). Netanyahu, second term: under investigation again.

Olmert was forced out as prime minister because of the investigation and indictment. Netanyahu has vowed not to repeat Olmert’s actions, that he will not leave his position even if an indictment is put before the court. There is no clear indication in the law that a prime minister must resign if he is indicted.

For now, his coalition partners support his position. But political grounds can shift. Today’s support is essential but hardly guarantees tomorrow’s support. The legal situation might be navigable. But Olmert was pushed out by the political system: The Labor party’s Barak forced the Kadima party to get rid of Olmert or else (the coalition would crumble). And, of course, Barak said at the time that his motivation was pure and that his ambition was for Israel not to be corrupt.

Still, more cynical observers and members of the political cast believed at the time, and still believe, that Barak wanted Olmert ousted because of personal ambitions and his belief that a vacuum created an opportunity for him to become more powerful.

So, Netanyahu’s political fate is hanging in the air and a decision to cut short his time in office could only begin with the political system. And that comes with a lot of ifs: if the prime minister is indicted, if the public (not just his rivals but also voters of coalition parties) wants him out, if his fellow politicians master the courage to stand up to him, if coalition partners believe they can benefit from a new election or get more from another prime minister.

Last week, it appeared that some of Netanyahu’s colleagues were beginning to entertain such thoughts. This week, the tide turned, and Netanyahu proved, once again, that he is quite good at disciplining his party members. Likud ministers who were somewhat reluctant to defend him are back on the airwaves, declaring his innocence. They do it not because they like Netanyahu, not because they want him to stay as their leader, not because they are truly convinced that he is innocent; they do it because that’s the smart thing for them to do politically. It is the smart thing to do as long as Likud voters want Netanyahu to stay.

There are four scenarios under which Netanyahu could be forced out. One: If the politicians decide it is time. Two: If Netanyahu believes he needs to step aside and take care of his legal troubles. Three: If he is indicted and found guilty. Four: If the court interprets the law in a way that forces out the prime minister as soon as he is indicted.

What is the timetable for these scenarios to materialize? With politicians, one never knows, but for now, there is not one important member of the ruling coalition who wants Netanyahu to step aside. There also is no sign that Netanyahu is considering leaving. In fact, he has vowed time and again to fight and remain in office. Indictments take time. A lot of time. In any of these scenarios, Netanyahu is not leaving anytime soon.

Of course, there still is the option of a court decision that forces him out. This will not be an easy decision, because unlike throwing out a minister in Israel — a decision that is problematic personally for the minister but hardly impacts the public — throwing out a prime minister would be perceived as a political revolution by the court.

The bottom line is simple: Either we see a change of political hearts or we are destined to slog through a very long process. That Netanyahu might have to leave at some point is true. But that was true even before the investigations began (it is true with every prime minister). That the end is much closer today than it was before also is true.

But that was true even before the investigations began — it is true for all of us with every passing day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 25. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Sunday Reads: America’s pessimism, Netanyahu’s troubles, Egypt’s children


US

Americans are still pessimistic, reports PEW, not just the same Americans:

A 67% majority of the public says they are dissatisfied with how things are going in this country today, compared with 28% who say they are satisfied. This represents little change over the past year. In fact, the share of Americans expressing satisfaction with national conditions has been no more than about 30% for well more than a decade. In late October, just prior to the election, only 11% of Republicans and Republican leaners said they were satisfied with how things were going, while 52% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said they were satisfied. Today, these views are nearly the reverse: 49% of Republicans now say they are satisfied, while just 11% of Democrats agree.

Curt Mills summarizes the War Against McMaster. Just so it’s clear: Israeli officials claim that the McMaster is anti-Israel campaign is baseless:

A seemingly-coordinated hard-right campaign is underway to force McMaster from office, at the same time that McMaster has conducted a lightning-speed purge of the National Security Council that has claimed several Bannon acolytes and old loyalists to previous National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. And notably, and perhaps confusingly, McMaster has garnered the public support of prominent neoconservatives.

 Israel

Herb Keinon asks: is this Netanyahu’s end?

Netanyahu often says that all his actions are motivated by a desire to ensure the security of the country and its citizens. The public believed him, which is why he was elected prime minister on four occasions. Running the country under indictment, however, would raise questions about whether there are other factors behind his decisions. The coalition parties may be soon be faced with the decision about whether that is indeed a healthy way to rule the land.

Before celebrating (or mourning) Netanyahu’s demise, take a look at the polls:

The latest Knesset survey by Dr. Yitzhak Katz’s Maagar Mohot polling agency shows the Likud opening up a 10-seat lead over its closest competitor, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. While the Likud would, according to the poll, win 30 seats, Yesh Atid would win just 20… According to the latest poll, Netanyahu’s present coalition partners would retain 66 of the 67 seats they currently hold, with a net loss of just one mandate.

Middle East

Egypt does not need so many Egyptians:

Last month, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi cited the increase in population as one of the country’s gravest dangers. As part of its efforts to curb population, the government has sent a draft law to the parliament cutting number of times Egyptian women can take paid maternity leave, from three times to only two. The draft law retains the four months of paid maternity leave as granted under the current law. Some members of parliament have suggested granting state subsidies on food to families who only have two children.

Middle East human rights violations is nothing new. Now the Saudis are getting ready to execute 14 men – and the Washington Post is rightly upset by this:

The latest sign of this backwardness is the fate of 14 Saudi men, all from the country’s Shiite minority, who are facing execution for allegedly staging protests in the kingdom. As The Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan reported , the men are charged with terrorism-related offenses, but human rights groups say confessions from the defendants were extracted under torture. Among those condemned to death are Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, who, after attending pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, was arrested at an airport in December 2012 as he was leaving the country to visit the campus of Western Michigan University, which he was thinking of attending. 

 Jewish World

Some Australians has it backwards, but this story ought to worry every Jew who doesn’t live in Israel:

The Land and Environment Court backed the decision by Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue in Wellington St, Bondi — just a few hundred metres from Australia’s most famous beach — because it was too much of a security risk for users and local residents. Jewish leaders are shocked the decision appears to suggest they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists — and that the council has used their own risk assessment of the threat posed by IS against it.

And in Ireland, there is the curious case of a columnist still believing the old fables about Jews and money. Some Jews were more offended than others by his column (he argued that Jews are better paid in the BBC because they are good negotiators):

Let me make this clear. I am not the embodiment of some flattering characteristic shared by all Jews. When you generalise about Jewish people, you are talking about me, a Jewish person, and millions of other Jewish people, who are like and unlike me in countless ways. The only thing that I am by virtue of being Jewish is exceptional at using Yiddish expletives. Can I say shmuck in a family newspaper? Is that okay now? The stereotypical Jewish person that Myers depicts in his original article and also the Jewish person he paints in his apology are two sides of the same coin. And that person is not a real Jew. It is a figment of the imagination that does not exist in reality.

Palestinians pray on a street outside Jerusalem's Old City July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The anti-BDS act: What’s at stake for Democrats?


At the end of a week that was dominated by a virus (that’s why I wasn’t here for a few days), here are five comments on things I missed writing about since Monday:

1.

The Temple Mount crisis is in a short respite – not over. The specific tension that ignited the recent strife is calmed, but another round it all but inevitable. Why? Two reasons. 1. The Palestinians learned that Temple Mount serves them well, and can provide them with small victories. It is tempting to use such useful tool again. They will not be able to resist such a temptation. 2. Too many Israelis are displeased with the status quo and will keep working to weaken it. The record number of Jews that visited Temple Mount on Tisha BeAv is telling.

2.

The police might pull a decisive card in its investigation against Prime Minister Netanyahu, by having the PM’s former top aide Ari Harow as a state witness. Does this mean Netanyahu is doomed? There are two answers to this question: The answer of those convinced that Netanyahu is guilty, and that the only thing standing between him and a term in jail is a proper witness that could make his guiltiness official’ and he answer of those convinced that the investigation is a witch hunt, and that no witness can make a non-guilty person guilty.

What we do not know is this: Does Harow merely confirm the known facts– that is, he makes it even clearer that Netanyahu received many gifts from wealthy people – or does he contribute new facts to the mix, facts that make it impossible to argue that these were gifts and not bribe.

If it is all about gifts, the question will be one of interpretation: is it illegal for the PM to receive gifts, even many gifts, and is it an offense worthy of prosecution. If it is more than gifts – if someone can prove that Netanyahu was getting champagne in exchange for favors – that’s a whole different ball game.

3.

I understand why some people are furious with Jared Kushner and his sober comments on the Israeli-Palestinian process, but must say I find nothing objectionable about them. “We’re trying to follow very logically'” he said, “We’re thinking about what the right end state is, and we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future”.

Why are some people angry with Kushner? For two main reasons:

  1. One complaint is about tactics: Because Kushner was open, and a broker should be more discreet (tactics is the prerogative of the tactician, and maybe Kushner decided that honesty is what the peace process needs).
  2. One complaint is about content: Because Kushner is not certain there is a solution – and some people think they have a solution (it usually involves forcing Israel to do things that will put it at risk).

There is no reason to be angry with Kushner, but a follow-up question is due: if there is no solution, what should be the next step? What should it be for the parties themselves, and what role is the US supposed to play in the coming years of no solution?

4.

The anti-BDS bill is becoming an interesting test for Democrats in Congress. The ACLU opposes the bill, and some legislators seem nervous about it – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) removed her name from the bill, and my guess is that she will not be the last one to do so. New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan is already under pressure to do the same. And progressive Democrats will continue to exert such pressure on members whom they deem vulnerable to it.

What’s at stake? The simple explanation is that there are concerns about the bill and its impact on free speech. The real story is different: Elements on the left wing of the Democratic party oppose the bill because of their support of BDS. These elements wisely see this occasion as an opportunity to score a rare victory for BDS in the US, by torpedoing a highly visible bill. What needs to happen for them to succeed is simple: more Democrats must decide that the political price they will pay for shunning progressive pressure is higher than the price they will pay for shunning pro-Israel voters. In other words: the more Democrats decide not to support the bill, the more it becomes clear that Democratic legislators can no longer sustain the gap between what Democratic voters think about Israel, and how the party leaders vote on Israel.

5.

When it was still widely assumed that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, I wrote (in the New York Times) the following paragraph about the Democratic Party and Israel:

For relations between Israel and the Democrats to remain strong, one of two things needs to happen: Either Democrats’ attitudes and Israel’s policies must converge, or Democrats must become convinced that weakening support for Israel will come with a political price. Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Clinton will have to find out which it is to be, or else the drift will continue.

A year later – it continues.

 

 

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall (Photo: Reuters)

Charles Bronfman to Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Do What’s Right”


Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Like many in the Diaspora I have been dismayed, then shocked, then angry, then sorrowful, concerning the events of this past week.

Both the delay of the agreement concerning  non-Orthodox praying at the Western Wall, and the confirmation, if it passes, enabling only the Chief Rabbi and those designated by him, to rule in conversions, are, as you know by now, anathema to Diaspora Jewry.

Prime Minister, as Israel is the spiritual and emotional home of the Jewish People, these two insults confirm that only a certain denomination or Jew is welcome. To my knowledge, no other country in the world denies any Jew based on denomination.

We who love Israel and the Jewish People are left to ponder our relationship with Israel – and particularly with the coalition you lead. Significant damage has been done to our relationship in the last years because of reasons to which I need not allude. These two new issues will ensure that our youth will be more and more estranged from the great Nation that we adore..

Yes, a Birthright trip, which your Government generously funds, helps. But I foresee a decline in registration that will affect the future of our younger Jews. And polls among our youth who have. It experience Birthright demonstrate forcibly that their majority now feel estranged from Israel. What a shame!

And what a shame for all those fighting BDS throughout the world!

Prime Minister, I believe that it is your duty to do what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient.

Please immediately instigate the Agreement spearheaded by Natan Sharansky. And please withdraw your support of the Conversion Bill.

Yours,

Charles Bronfman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 25. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Netanyahu’s office: We did not seek to blame liberal Jews for Western Wall crisis


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has flatly denied a report that it instructed diplomats to blame non-Orthodox Jews for the controversy over the Western Wall.

Israeli diplomats in North America were told to blame the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements for the ongoing crisis in relations between Israel’s government and U.S. Jewry, according to a report in Maariv. The Israeli daily said the directive happened in a conference call this week between the diplomats and Jonathan Shechter, a senior aide to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s office unequivocally denied the report in a statement to JTA.

“The Prime Minister’s Office denies the directive and the position that were attributed to Shechter in the article,” the statement Friday read. “The conversation did not occur as depicted in the article.”

The controversy between U.S. Jewry and Israel erupted Sunday when the Israeli Cabinet voted to freeze a government decision that would have expanded a non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site. The government also advanced a bill that would have granted the Chief Rabbinate, a haredi Orthodox-dominated body, sole authority over recognized Jewish conversions within Israel.

The conversion bill has subsequently been shelved for six months.

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTSYUJP

Toward a renewed Middle East peace process


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Netanyahu to Trump: Let’s vanquish ‘militant Islam’


WASHINGTON (JTA) – Echoing the language favored by President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told AIPAC that Israel would work with the United States to defeat the “forces of militant Islam.”

“We must be sure that the forces of militant Islam are defeated,” Netanyahu said in a video address Monday morning to the Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.  “I’m confident the United States and Israel will stand together shoulder to shoulder to ensure light triumphs over darkness.”

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, drew criticism from Republicans and Trump for not naming Islam as an element in the threat faced by the United States in the Middle East and domestically. Trump, in turn, has drawn criticism for unnecessarily alienating moderate Muslims for emphasizing Islam in phrases like “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Netanyahu has made clear his preference for Trump over Obama and he referred in his remarks to his meeting with Trump last month in Washington.

“As you know I had an excellent, warm meeting with President Trump,” he said. “I want to thank the president for his strong support for Israel.”

He praised Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, for “standing up for what’s right” at the body. The Obama administration, in its final days, for the first time allowed through an anti-settlements resolution on the U.N. Security Council, leading to openly bitter rebukes from Israeli officials.

Netanyahu intertwined the threat Israel perceives from Iran and its potential for acquiring a nuclear weapon with the threat from the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Trump’s focus has been the Islamic threat. Despite his campaign rhetoric deriding the deal Obama reached with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback, he has barely touched the issue as president.

Defeating militant Islam, Netanyahu said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering, “means confronting Iran’s aggression in the region and around the world. It means utterly vanquishing ISIS.”

Netanyahu sounded amenable to Trump’s bid to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and extend it to a broader peace deal, although he reiterated familiar demands, including that the Palestinian Authority end incitement, stop payments to families of killed or jailed terrorists, and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

He also extended a “warm” welcome to David Friedman, confirmed last week as ambassador to Israel in a mostly party-line vote. Democrats opposed Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, because of his deep philanthropic investment in the settlements and  his demeaning broadsides against liberal Jews, which he said he regrets.

Netanyahu alluded to Friedman’s declaration last year, when Trump nominated him, that he hoped to serve as ambassador in Jerusalem. Trump, who as a candidate pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, has retreated from the promise as president and now says he is considering it.

“David, I look forward to welcoming you warmly to Israel and especially to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.

President Donald Trump, right, reaches to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

What is “a marriage of true minds” between the U.S. and Israel?


Trump is not your friend anymore, top Fatah official Jabril Rajoub warned Israel on the Ides Of March, a notorious day for betrayals. “I think Netanyahu did not sleep{Friday}night when Trump called Abu Mazen,” Rajoub boasted to the Jerusalem Post at a briefing on Wednesday, March 15 in Jericho about Abbas’ friendly conversation with Trump and invitation to Washington.      
 
Many friends of Israel, who worried that a close connection  between Trump and Netanyahu will offend America’s liberal Jewry — they voted for Obama and against Trump!– might have felt relieved. Last month, in anticipation of  Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump, Israel’s P.M was admonished in the Jewish press both here and in Israel: Be careful. Be cautious. Be cool.  If you get too close, you’ll catch the cooties. My daughter heard the same advice in third grade from the “in crowd” of her new school about the girl who first asked her for a playdate. 
 
Since I was a kid in Romania and my father was imprisoned for his politics causing me to be excluded from birthday parties, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning of friendship and what distinguishes a true friend from a false one. 

The Bard, I tell my students, is the best expert on the subject.  I believe that the fundamental principles Shakespeare outlines in Sonnet 116 apply as much to friendships between countries as between individuals.


“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/or bends with the remover to remove. /O no! It is an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken…” Sonnet 116 defines a profound and lasting human bond, and not just one between a man and a woman – the poem was actually written for a male friend – as an irrevocable commitment governed by integrity, honesty and loyalty.


“A marriage of true minds” reflects shared values of the highest moral order. With characteristic British eloquence, Prime Minister Theresa May, during her January 26 speech to Congress, quoted Winston Churchill to highlight the roots of friendship between Great Britain and the U.S: democratic governments based on “the great principles of freedom and the rights of man …which through the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas corpus, trial by jury and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.”  It is loyalty to these core principles, Prime Minister May argued, that forged the unshakable bond between our two countries as they stood side by side through history’s “tempests” to emerge victorious in two world wars and to demolish the iron curtain during the exceptionally close Regan/Thatcher years.
 
The same core values articulated by Prime Minister May were invoked by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu at their February 15 meeting in Washington when the two leaders redefined the friendship between their two countries that was shaken during the stormy years of the Obama administration.   “The partnership between our two countries,” Trump declared, is “built on our shared values” and “has advanced the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace.” And Netanyahu responded in kind: “Israel has no better ally than the United States. And I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel.”

Although both men expressed personal warmth towards each other, they also made it perfectly clear that they were articulating the terms of friendship between two nations, not two individuals – an important distinction. Confusion between the political and the personal can be an “impediment” to the “marriage of true minds” between two nations. During the Obama administration, the personal and the political got very mixed up.

Even during his last interview on the subject, President Obama defended his policy towards Israel in personal terms. “Bibi Netanyahu had a good friend in me,” America’s 44th president said, “but he didn’t always recognize it.” Is this a fair assessment? Does a good friend belittle you in public, trash you in private, befriend your adversaries, betray your allies, silence you and stereotype you? What friend listens patiently as President Obama listened to French President Sarkozy kvetch about Bibi, “I can’t stand him. He’s a liar,” and then adds fuel to the fire: “You’re tired of him. What about me?” (CNN November 8, 2011). What friend silences his friend like Barack tried to silence Bibi when Bibi wanted to express his views on the Iran deal to Congress?


Such personal attacks were not accidental but deliberate. Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama used his key weapon – the personal narrative — to justify his duplicity towards America’s best friend. The Bibi narrative enabled him to preserve both Jewish votes and Jewish funds. “This administration has been Israel’s greatest friend and supporter,” John Kerry claimed in defense of the backstabbing U.N abstention that outraged almost the entire Jewish community. “The Israeli prime minister publically supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history…I don’t think people in Israel, and certainly the world, have any idea.” The Obama administration never had a problem with Israel — O no, only with the sly, greedy, pushy, loud-mouthed Bibi and his right wing gang. 
 
In reality, Barack Obama’s attitude towards Israel and Netanyahu was a reflection of his political views. During his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama previewed the alterations he planned to make in America’s traditional stance. Suddenly the common ground between U.S and Israel was not in their shared democratic values but in their shared history of oppression. “For centuries black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation.” Drawing a deliberate parallel,  Obama counselled the terrorist organization, Hamas, “in order to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people” to choose a form of resistance to “the occupation” based on the peaceful model of protest against racist oppression practiced by Martin Luther King. Obama’s advice did not stop Hamas from building tunnels and launching 4,594 rockets and mortars into Israel in 2014. 
 
In Sonnet 116 Shakespeare uses the metaphor of the star that is the guiding light to lost ships (wandering bark) to symbolize the devotion to high ideals that drives true friendships. In the Cairo speech, Obama renounced America’s historic commitment to championing democracy throughout the world and replaced it with moral relativity. “…Each nation is grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.” During the next eight years, Obama altered U.S foreign policy to empower the mullahs of Iran and do nothing to help Iranian protesters during the Green movement; to encourage the tyrannical Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohamed Morsi and discourage the anti-Islamist regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; to befriend the communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro and deny asylum to Cuba’s political refugees. 

In the first few minutes of the meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the democratic principles upon which their governments are based. In several succinct sentences, Israel’s P.M got to the core of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. A peaceful solution – a solution that Trump recognized must be worked out between the parties themselves — depends on that one crucial ingredient required of any positive human relationship: acceptance.  Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist. Can you live in harmony with someone who wants to wipe you off the face of the earth?


The president of the U.S greeted the prime minister of Israel with the hospitality, consideration, and respect due to a good friend, an honored guest, and a democratically elected leader of a free people. Two weeks later, during his February 28 address to Congress, America’s 45th president captured his administration’s reset of the U.S-Israel relationship in a single, powerful sentence: “I have imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the state of Israel.” 
 
No matter how friendly, the meeting between Trump and Abbas will not alter the U.S-Israel alliance that was reasserted on February 15: the marriage of true minds between U.S. and Israel depends not on the ephemeral chemistry between two elected leaders, but on the everlasting compatibility between two great nations.  
 
Irina Eremia Bragin is English Department Chair at Touro College Los Angeles. She is the author of “Subterranean Towers:  A Father-Daughter Story.” You can follow her @bragin_irina
Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Israeli Government Press Office)

State Dept.: Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt is on ‘listening’ tour of Israel, West Bank


Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, is touring Israel and the Palestinian areas to gauge attitudes to peacemaking and there will likely not be any developments from the trip, a Trump administration spokesman said.

“He’s really there to listen to both sides and how they perceive getting to a peace process,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Monday in the daily briefing for reporters. “I don’t expect any big developments out of this trip.”

Trump has expressed an eagerness to bring about a peace deal while retreating from 15 years of U.S. policy backing a two-state outcome to the peace process.

On Friday, Trump spoke on the phone with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and the White House readout of the call sounded bullish on the prospects for peace.

“The President emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” the readout said. “The President noted that such a deal would not only give Israelis and Palestinians the peace and security they deserve, but that it would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

Trump on the call invited Abbas to the White House. The U.S. leader met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During that visit, Netanyahu appeared to be taken aback by a request from Trump to stop settlement expansion for now. Settlement building was a key point of tension between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and both Netanyahu and Trump have said relations would be smoother now.

Toner said settlements would be discussed during the trip, but also cautioned against any expecting any pronouncements.

“Settlements will obviously be a topic of discussion, but I wouldn’t predict there would be any resolution of that issue,” he said. “As we said earlier just a few weeks ago, with respect to settlements, we see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point.”

Greenblatt, a longtime lawyer to Trump, solicited followers this week on Twitter to track his trip.

“Honored to be meeting with Israelis and Palestinians this week as I travel to the region,” he said. “Follow me for updates on the trip.”

Greenblatt, who is an Orthodox Jew, tweeted Monday from a stop in Frankfurt, Germany, that he was saying shacharit, the morning prayer, and called on followers to “pray for peace.”

Netanyahu later posted a photo of their meeting, welcoming Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is also due to meet with Abbas in Ramallah.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 at the Yad Vashem. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

Report on 2014 Gaza War slams Netanyahu, military leadership


Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and army chief of staff did not update the Security Cabinet about the serious threat of Hamas tunnels from Gaza, the nation’s state comptroller said in a report on the 2014 Gaza War.

The Security Cabinet did not have enough information about the threat posed by the tunnels to make decisions about how to proceed during the war, leaving the Israeli military unprepared, Yosef Shapira wrote in the 200-page report released Tuesday afternoon.

The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide the military with clear objectives for the war and also failed in the one identified objective of what was dubbed Operation Protective Edge — to identify and destroy the tunnels. According to the report, which also scored then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Forces only destroyed about half the cross-border tunnels.

The report also criticized the Security Cabinet for not holding discussions on and dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the collapse of infrastructure including water and electricity.

The comptroller also criticized Netanyahu for failing to consider diplomatic alternatives in Gaza and not presenting such a possibility to the Security Cabinet for its consideration.

In the year-and-a-half prior to the Gaza War, the Security Cabinet held 33 meetings on Gaza, according to the report.

Yaalon called the report “political” and said that it “examines partial aspects of the complex campaign.” He also acknowledged that the Security Cabinet at the time was “a superficial, political and populist Cabinet. A Cabinet of leaks, of speaking with two voices – one in the room and one in public.”

Netanyahu defended the handling of the Gaza conflict, saying “The unprecedented quiet that has prevailed  since Operation Protective Edge is a test of the results.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu to resign.

“The report clearly reveals how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cabinet which he led failed in their role of understanding the threats, setting strategy, understanding the reality, properly preparing soldiers and civilians, particularly residents of the south,” he said.

Beware of ‘great friends’


Yesterday’s press conference with President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated, as if one needed more evidence, that political leaders—no matter the nation they lead—have agendas that force them to bend logic and good sense. They have no compunction about opining on issues on which they have limited expertise.

At the press conference Trump was asked by an Israeli journalist about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents since the inception of his campaign. In now typical Trump fashion, he answered with a non-sequitur that had nothing to do with the question or the underlying issues. He meandered through a citation of his Electoral College victory, clichés about “you’re going to see a lot of love” and “we are going to stop crime,” and then the coup de grace (his universal antidote for charges of insensitivity or ignorance about Jewish issues) that his daughter, son-in-law and three grandkids are Jewish.

Neither his Electoral College margin nor the religion of his daughter and grand kids have any relation to the question of whether he is “playing with xenophobia and maybe racist overtones.” His failure for the umpteenth time to respond to the question of anti-Semitism in an appropriate way elicited a brave response from the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt (one of the few Jewish leaders to demonstrate leadership in challenging times),

[Trump] missed an opportunity to decry the rhetoric of hate that seems to be surging online and in the real world…..Intentional or not, this emboldens anti-Semites.

We have come to expect this tone deafness from the Trump Administration—from their use of the fraught “America First” theme as their motto, to omitting any mention of Jews from their Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, to their even more egregious denunciation of the leaders who dared to question that omission as “pathetic.”

But for the prime minister of Israel to reflect the same tone deafness on the issue of anti-Semitism is deeply troubling. His gratuitous and inappropriate endorsement of the president as “a great friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, there is no doubt about this,” reveals that he doesn’t get the dynamics of prejudice and hate in the Diaspora.

To suggest, as Netanyahu did, that “Trump and his team” were “friends of the Jewish people” is absurd on its face.

Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, Steve Bannon, trafficked in conspiracy theories about international “elites” just a few months ago when he was the head of Breitbart News. He fostered links between far right movements in Europe and the US. He attacked “globalists, international bankers” (often code words for Jews), described Pope Francis as a “socialist/communist;” he expressed admiration for one of the intellectual forebears of Italian fascism and proponent of anti-Semitism Julius Evola. That is to not even mention his proclaimed admiration for Lenin: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Netanyahu needed to do a bit of homework about whom he gave his hechsher (a kosher seal of approval) to. His vigorous endorsement of “Trump and his team” was gratuitous and troubling. There has never been a chief advisor to the president whose priorities are so alien to how our system operates.

Trump has made his bed with Bannon and his baggage, but Netanyahu might want to take a lesson from history before he jumps in any further. Whether Bannon likes Jews or not is not the dispositive issue—it’s his distorted dangerous Manichean view of the world.

Those who consort with extremists like Bannon who have a single vision (for him that vision is “America First” and an arcane notion of “Traditionalism” that decries the influence of modernity and even the notion of compromise) will find they have a bedmate who will come back and haunt them. They don’t value allies, they value only clones because they know the right and the ONLY way.

In 1852 Nathaniel Hawthorne sounded the alarm about those, like Bannon, who have surrendered themselves to a single overruling purpose and who are convinced that they alone know the course of history,

They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly straight path.

As long as Bannon and crew are in power, Bibi, and boatloads of others, better beware of whom they ally with and “their terribly straight [and uncompromising] path.”

Netanyahu, following debate, tells Cabinet it does not matter who is elected US president


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet following the first U.S. presidential debate that as far as Israel is concerned, it does not matter who is elected.

“They both spoke of their support for Israel and the importance of bilateral relations between our two countries,” he said Tuesday at the start of a Cabinet meeting, hours after the debate Monday night in New York between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Netanyahu had met separately on Sunday with both candidates.

“It doesn’t matter which of them is elected – American support for Israel will remain strong. This alliance will stay strong and will even strengthen in the coming years,” he said.

Trump cited his meeting with Netanyahu during the debate when criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, which exchanged sanctions relief for limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Netanyahu was vehemently opposed to the deal, saying it harms Israel’s security.

“I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day, believe me, he is not a happy camper,” Trump said.

The debate was aired live in Israel on one of the country’s major television channels with simultaneous Hebrew translation.

Netanyahu sues to keep his dirty laundry private


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

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

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

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

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

Letters: Week of September 23rd, 2016.


Where Is Our Desire to Give?

David Suissa’s ingenious dovetailing of the story of Adam Krief and the Perutz Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy highlights an even bigger crisis in the Jewish world: the lack of giving (“Saving Adam Krief and Etz Jacob,” Sept. 16). At a recent bone marrow registry drive for Adam, I was excited to see many lining up but even more dismayed and even shocked at those who refused to test. I am excited to see how many young Jewish families are living in nice homes, in beautiful neighborhoods and driving luxurious cars but even more dismayed and even shocked that they refuse to donate money to schools, synagogues, hospitals or anything

What is it about this generation that celebrates a half-finished meal or a trip to Croatia on Facebook but we rarely see the same numbers of posts for donations, drives or projects that could improve the lives of one family, one community or one world? I hope that as we enter this time before the High Holy Days, that each one of us will reflect not only on what we have achieved for ourselves, but what we have provided for others. What are we willing to give up so that collectively we can gain so much more?

Tamar Andrews

Los Angeles

 

Add These to the Roster

Regarding your article on Jewish players with Hollywood  (“Jews Shined Among Stars on Hollywood Minor League Team,” Sept. 16), you missed at least one: second baseman Mike Chozen (1945). 

Inasmuch as you included an off-field employee of the Stars (Irv Kaze), it might have been good to mention probably the greatest and most creative concessionaire in baseball history. In an era when the only souvenir you could get at the ballpark was a cap and sometimes a yearbook, Danny Goodman with the Stars and for 25 years with the Dodgers (where his title was “Director of Advertising, Novelties and Souvenirs”) revolutionized the marketing of an array of “branded” items.  Now, even the lowest-level minor league clubs have souvenir shops with countless items available.  

Another worthy of mention would be Mark Scott, the Stars’ radio play-by-play man for a number of years.  

Bob Hoie
San Marino

 

Thoughts on ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

I truly enjoyed reading the article by Shmuel Rosner, because it emphasizes the fact that there are multiple opinions on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Palestinians want to ethnically cleanse their potential Palestinian state for peace (“Why Netanyahu Is Right and Wrong About Palestinian ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ ” Sept. 16). Specifically, the article details how the demand for Jews to vacate the “Palestinian territory” may be outrageous, yet calling the demand an “ethnic cleansing” may be taking the situation too far. 

However, I do believe the author fails to mention that the Jews who live in “Palestinian territory” are in fact not forced to stay there by the Israeli government “to use as a negotiation card” or to get “sympathy from outsiders.” Rather, the people who currently live in what may become a Palestinian state have lived there all their lives and it is not in the government’s place to extract them whenever it becomes too much of an annoyance to Israel — as demonstrated by the disaster of Gush Katif, in which 8,600 people lost their homes during relocation out of the Gaza strip. While Netanyahu’s fiery statement may be brought into question, the right for Israelis to remain in their homes may not.

Shira Razi

Student at YULA High School

 

Palestinian Agenda 

Rob Eshman, surely you jest (“Ethnic Cleansing? Really?” Sept. 16). Have you ever read the Palestinian charter? Not only are you a Palestinian sympathizer but now you have become a Palestinian poster boy. If the Palestinians gained a state acceptable to them, in short order, Hamas would be nose-to-nose with Israelis.

As a practical and realistic matter, all countries have been taken from others with no exception. The only truism in this regard is that a country that possesses and controls its land, and can keep it, owns it.

C.P. Lefkowitz

Rancho Palos Verdes

 

Thanks for Supporting Troops

I enjoyed Ryan Torok’s article “A Home Away From Home for Lone Soldiers” (Sept. 16). Yasher koach for all those people who give of themselves, help support those soldiers and provide them a home away from home.

Adi Ohana

Los Angeles

 

Torah Wisdom

It was quite gratifying to read Rabbi Judith Halevy’s comment on Ki Tetze, “When You Go to War” (Sept. 16) with her emphasis on how a relatively minor commandment in ancient “primitive” times about how to sensitively treat an unmarried female captive should be a model of moral behavior for soldiers and all citizens in modern times as well.

Yona Sabar

via email

 

CORRECTION: A community story about Big Sunday (“Nonprofit Big Sunday’s Employment Program Is All About Working Well,” Sept. 16) ran under an incorrect byline. It was written by Eric Bazak.

Trump adviser endorses Netanyahu claim of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Palestinians


An adviser to Donald Trump and his presidential campaign backed up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the Palestinian demand for a removal of settlements amounts to “ethnic cleansing.”

“The prime minister of Israel correctly observes that the Palestinian demand to remove all Jews from their ancestral homeland in Judea and Samaria is nothing short of an attempt at ethnic cleansing,” David Friedman, a longtime lawyer to the Republican presidential nominee and an adviser on Israel to his campaign, ” target=”_blank”>described as “inappropriate” Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinian opposition to settlements amounts to “ethnic cleansing.”

“We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.

In the video posted last week to Facebook, Netanyahu likens residents of the settlements to Arabs born in Israel.

Moscow says Abbas, Netanyahu agree ‘in principle’ to meet


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed “in principle” to meet to discuss restarting peace talks in Moscow under the auspices of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that no date has been set for the meeting, The Associated Press reported. Abbas and Netanyahu have been trading barbs in recent days over who canceled previously scheduled meetings and why.

Peace talks have been on hold for more than two years. Abbas and Netanyahu last met officially in 2010, but it is believed that since then they have held secret meetings.

Netanyahu in a meeting Monday morning with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, discussed the Putin proposal to host a face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu is reviewing the proposal and considering the timing of a possible meeting, according to the statement. He told Bogdanov that he is always ready to meet with Abbas directly and without preconditions.

In late August, Abbas’ office said the Palestinians were ready to participate in a peace initiative. Abbas said Tuesday that a meeting scheduled in Moscow this week had been delayed by Israel.

No agenda has been set for a Moscow meeting and experts say it seems unlikely that there will be a breakthrough.

Netanyahu opens school year with visit to Arab town


More than two million Israeli children headed to school for the 2016-2017 school year.

Thursday was the first day of school for most Israeli children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed students to their first day of school at Tamra Haemek public elementary school in Tamra, an Israeli Arab town in northern Israel.

The lawmakers were welcomed during an opening ceremony  by the school’s approximately 200 pupils in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Netanyahu told the students to listen to their teachers and to listen to their parents.

“I want you to learn – learn to write, learn to read, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English. I want you to learn mathematics. I want you to learn science. I want you to learn history – history of the Jewish People, the history of your public. I want you to learn the truth, and the truth says that we were destined to live together,” Netanyahu told the students according to his office.

“I want you to be doctors, scientists and writers, and be whatever you want to – and are able to – be. I want you to be loyal citizens, integrated into the State of Israel; this is your state,” he said.

Of the 2.2 million Israeli students who started school on Thursday, some 159,000 are entering first grade and 123,000 are entering their last year of high school.

There are some 180,000 educators working in the Israeli school system, including 9,000 who are teaching this year for the first time.

Turkey’s president ratifies reconciliation deal with Israel


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the reconciliation agreement with Israel restoring diplomatic ties after a six-year freeze.

Erdogan  ratified the agreement on Wednesday. The Turkish Parliament approved the deal earlier this month before they left for a summer recess, after being delayed by the July 15 military coup attempt. Israel’s Knesset had approved the deal in late June.

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens in clashes on a boat attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

Under the agreement, Turkey will drop legal claims against the Israeli military and individual officers and soldiers who were part of the Mavi Marmara raid. Also, Israel will pay $20 million to a humanitarian fund as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously apologized for the deaths, which had been another Turkish condition for the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Abbas reportedly rejects meeting with Netanyahu


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down an American request that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a bid to jump-start peace talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry made the request of Abbas at their July meeting in Paris, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported  Thursday.

Abbas refused the meeting, the newspaper said, telling Kerry that he would only acquiesce after Netanyahu froze all settlement construction and released the last group of Palestinian prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.

It’s unclear after false starts what might be next. In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem.”

But Gershon Baskin, founder and co-chairman of IPCRI-Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, who in the past has acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, told JTA in May that Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the report, saying “Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process collapsed two years ago, and progress now appears unlikely before President Barack Obama’s final term ends in January.

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.”

Israel’s Prime Minister versus Defense Minister


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Imagine that US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter gave a press conference openly contradicting President Obama. It is hard to believe that he would keep his job for more than a few hours.

That is exactly what happened in Israel over the weekend. Israel’s relatively new Defense Minister, hardliner Avigdor Liberman, compared the year-old Iran nuclear deal to the 1938 Munich agreement, saying it was a mistake to believe that Nazi Germany could be a partner in any peace agreement.

“These things are also true about Iran, which also clearly states openly that its aim is to destroy the state of Israel,” a statement by the Defense Ministry said. It added that the deal reached with Iran “only damages the uncompromising struggle we must make against terrorist states like Iran.” 

The controversial remarks were made in response to a statement by President Obama that Israeli security officials now think the nuclear deal, in which Iran gave up much of its nuclear program in exchange for the US lifting many of the economic sanctions against Iran. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had campaigned hard against the deal, but rushed to distance himself from Liberman’s statements.

While Israel’s position on the Iran nuclear deal remains unchanged, Netanyahu said, “Israel has no greater ally than the United States.” The US and Israel must work together, he continued to make sure Iran does not violate the deal.

Netanyahu also said he “looks forward to translating those goals into a common policy, and to further strengthening the alliance between Israel and the United States, with President Obama, and with the next US administration.

“Netanyahu thinks the same thing but he just can’t say it,” Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent of The Jerusalem Post told The Media Line, speaking about Liberman’s comments. “Liberman doesn’t need to get along with Obama, but Netanyahu does. According to the screensaver on Netanyahu’s computer Obama still has 165 days, three hours and 18 minutes left.”

The dispute between Israel’s two most senior politicians tells the story of Israel’s fractious parliamentary democracy. As no party is usually able to win an overall majority, Israel’s hopeful leaders must cobble together a coalition government, often giving the coalition partners power to make or break the government.

“One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing,” Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “They are not coordinating and each one is just saying what he wants. These things add up and contribute to tension in the government.”

Israel has a tradition of governments rarely completing their full terms, and coalition partners either bringing down the government or the Prime Minister calling an early election to solidify his power.

In this case, Rahat said, it will not be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Hoffman agreed, saying, “It’s Sunday in America, and besides, everyone is just waiting to see what is the next thing that (Donald) Trump is going to say.

Netanyahu and Liberman have never much liked each other. The political alliance is clearly a marriage of convenience, and Liberman is clearly angling to become Prime Minister one day.

At the same time, Netanyahu is always looking for new possible coalition partners. He has made overtures to opposition leader Isaac Herzog, offering him the Foreign Ministry in exchange for joining the government. If Liberman keeps pushing Netanyahu, he could try even harder to get Herzog to join.

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 


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Parents of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza war heckle Netanyahu at memorial ceremony


The parents of soldiers killed during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a memorial ceremony.

“We don’t believe you,” shouted Yoram Tal, whose son Omri, a captain, was killed during Operation Protective Edge. “My son died for democracy, not for this government.”

Tal’s shouts at the beginning of the prime minister’s speech Tuesday at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem were broadcast on Israeli news websites.

“As a bereaved brother, I understand your pain,” Netanyahu responded. His brother Yoni was killed in the Entebbe Airport raid in Uganda in 1976.

Another father, and his wife, called for an inquiry into the operation, according to reports.

“The families are asking the prime minister, like prime ministers before him … to set up a commission of inquiry into the events of Protective Edge,” said Moti Matt, whose son Lee, 19, was killed in Gaza.

“This is the entire demand, but the prime minister comes along and paints everything rose-colored and says everything will be fine,” said Matt’s wife, Smadar.

Netanyahu praised the success of the operation.

“The communities surrounding Gaza are flourishing because of your boys. Children are able to play outside because of your boys, and farmers are able to plow their fields thanks to the soldiers and commanders who were called to arms and stood on the front line,” he said.

Sixty-six Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians – including a 4-year-old boy — and a Thai national were killed in the conflict. Some 2,220 Palestinians were killed; the number of Hamas operatives versus civilian casualties remains in dispute.

Netanyahu also promised that the return of the bodies of two soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose remains are being held hostage by Hamas, “is an ongoing mission for me and one that we will achieve, even if it takes a long time.”

Ex-Netanyahu aide Ari Harow off the hook in fraud probe


After a week in house arrest in connection with a fraud investigation, police released Ari Harow, a California-born former chief of staff of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Harow, 43, was detained for questioning at Ben Gurion Airport last week and questioned for 14 hours in connection with suspected financial violations involving Netanyahu, but he was released on Friday. Police said they will not seek to extend his detainment at this time, the NRG news site reported. The investigation, which is subject to a partial gag order, involved suspicions of massive money laundering, Israeli media reported.

Harow resigned his post in the Prime Minister’s Office in January 2015 in order to work on Netanyahu’s election campaign. The Los Angeles native had already been questioned under caution in December 2015 on suspicion of fraud and breach of trust, when he was held under house arrest for five days.

A number of other Netanyahu associates have also been questioned in recent days.  Two additional senior officials who worked for Netanyahu at the PM’s office since 2009 are also to be questioned, according to Globes.

Police are also investigating Netanyahu for financial corruption related to three other matters: longstanding allegations of illicit funding for foreign travel; claims that Netanyahu and his family inappropriately used public state funds for food and entertainment; and the accusation that he illegally received a large sum for political campaigning from French billionaire Arnaud Mimran.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all three affairs.

According to Haaretz, police were investigating the sale of Harow’s consultancy firm, 3H Global.

Harow was raised in a family with seven children, including three who were adopted and one who has Down’s syndrome, according to The Jerusalem Post. He made aliyah to Israel with his family when he was 12 and entered the Israel Defense Forces, serving in the Golani Brigade.

He attended Bar-Ilan University and Brooklyn College in New York, where he met his wife, Naomi. They have four children aged 3 to 12.

Eyal Gabai, a former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, told the Post he was certain of Harow’s innocence, attributing the allegations that led to the police probe as trumped  up by political rivals.

“I am sure Ari did not do anything wrong and that the police will find nothing, because he is straight” as an arrow, Gabai said.

In rare call, Netanyahu offer Abbas’ his condolences over brother’s death


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to offer condolences on the death of Abbas’ brother.

Omar Abbas died in Qatar Thursday, with the funeral taking place on Friday. He had been suffering from cancer and had been undergoing treatment in Tel Aviv’s Assuta Medical Center, the AFP news agency reported.

Netanyahu called Abbas on Friday, according to an official from Netanyahu’s office, who said the conversation was “only to offer condolences.” No other topics were discussed, he said.

Palestinian state media confirmed the call.

Relations between the two men are frosty, with Netanyahu accusing Abbas of libeling the Jewish people last month after he suggested some rabbis had called for Palestinian wells to be poisoned. The Israeli leadership has often accused the Palestinian leader of promoting incitement against Israel in Palestinian media, thereby encouraging violent attacks against Israelis.

Abbas and Netanyahu shook hands at a climate summit in Paris in November, but held no significant talks.

The last substantial public meeting between them is thought to date back to 2010, though there have been unconfirmed reports of secret meetings since then.

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