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.”

President Cartes to Netanyahu: ‘Paraguay had its own Holocaust’


President Horacio Cartes, the first Paraguayan head of state to visit Israel, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his South American nation also faced a Holocaust.

“Paraguay has had a Holocaust. We lost practically all our population in a war that was called the Triple Alliance with our neighbor,” Cartes said this week during a meeting with Netanyahu, referring to the South American war fought from 1864 to 1870 between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. There were some 400,000 casualties in that war.

“But,” he continued, “I don’t want to be the country to be remembered because we had the Holocaust. I want our countries to be much closer because we share principles and values.”

On Wednesday, Cartes completed a three-day trip to Israel, where he met with high-level officials. The leaders signed bilateral agreements on cooperation in time of emergency, legal matters, education, Holocaust remembrance and culture, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding on technical development assistance for Paraguay.

“You have been an anchor of friendship,” Netanyahu told Cartes, “and we are eager to discuss with you the possibilities of increasing our cooperation with all the countries of Latin America, which we think is a continent that has a great future.”

“We want to develop the future of our relations and through you, and with your help, the future of a broader relationship between Israel and the region.”

On Monday, Cartes met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, which Rivlin called “historic.”

“Paraguay was and still is a true friend of the State of Israel since its establishment, and even beforehand when it voted for it on Nov. 29, 1947,” Rivlin said. “We are happy to strengthen the ties between the two countries and I hope that your visit here will further improve the good relations.”

The visit came in the wake of the reopening of the Israeli Embassy in Paraguay about a year ago following a 14-year hiatus due to budgetary cuts. Paraguay has distinguished itself among South American countries by supporting Israel in the United Nations and other international forums.

At the World Jewish Congress special plenary assembly in Buenos Aires in March, Cartes was awarded the Shalom Prize of the Latin American Jewish Congress for his contributions to building coexistence.

Paraguay is home to some 1,000 Jews in a population of nearly 6.7 million people.

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.

What’s alike — and what’s not — about Trump and Netanyahu defending LGBTQ rights


Donald Trump thanked Republicans for cheering his pledge to keep the LGBTQ community safe.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the LGBTQ community is inseparably part of the Israeli family.

That the statements came the same day and were both delivered by polarizing politicians generally known for appealing to traditionalists is a coincidence to be sure – but a coincidence that points to key differences in how gays are integrated in each country, particularly among conservatives.

They were also signals of how gay rights have, in both cases – among at least some Israeli and American conservatives – been embraced because of the contrast they present between Western and Muslim societies.

Netanyahu on Thursday marked the anniversary of the death of Shira Banki, the 16-year old murdered last year by a haredi Orthodox Jew at Jerusalem’s pride parade. He spoke as Jerusalem was set to launch the first pride parade since the killing.

“All men and all woman are entitled to live their lives as they choose, in dignity and security,” Netanyahusaid. “This is not just a parade of the LGBTQ, it’s not just for one group, it’s not just for or against, it’s ‘us,’ it’s ‘together.’”

Delivering the same message on Thursday in English, however, Netanyahu indulged in some compare and contrast, the Times of Israel reported: “Surrounding us are regimes who literally murder you for being gay,” he said.

Whereas Netanyahu’s Hebrew message was strictly dedicated to the proposition that gays had equal footing, period, Trump framed his comments during his acceptance speech Thursday here at he Republican convention as a national security imperative.

“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” he said. “This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good. And we’re going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

There were huge cheers, and Trump added, “I must say as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.” There were cheers once again.

Israel stripped away restrictions on gay participation in public life years before the United States did and was a pioneer in gay rights in the military. The attitude has pervaded Israeli society, and notably, when Netanyahu’s Likud Party last year swore in an openly gay member of Knesset, Amir Ohana, there was a debate in the Knesset over which political party was first to elect a gay MK.

Advances in the United States on gay rights, by contrast, have been more a function of the liberal and progressive streams in American society. Yes, Trump drew cheers for his comments. So did tech billionaire Peter Thiel when earlier in the night he declared from the podium that he was proud to be gay. But the platform approved last week by the Republican Party unequivocally rejects gay marriage, favors adoption by heterosexual married couples, and calls for protections for businesses and other entities “which decline to sell items or services to individuals for activities that go against their religious views about such activities.” The platform also seconds the thinking behind the push in several Republican-controlled states to pass “bathroom laws” requiring transgender people to use only bathrooms and showers that correspond with the gender into which they were born.

As Trump, who is known to be gay-friendly, intuited, the path to greater Republican acceptance may be through emphasizing a contrast with a perceived enemy, Islamists. The political utility of contrasting liberal democracies with Islamic states is one Netanyahu understands well; but his recent message to his fellow Israelis was about something else: acceptance and family.

Netanyahu investigation launched, reportedly for money laundering


Israel’s attorney general has confirmed that he has ordered an investigation into accusations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what the Israeli media is reporting as a money-laundering probe.

Avichai Mandelblit stressed to the media that the investigation opened late Sunday is initial and not a criminal investigation, according to reports.

The attorney general reportedly discussed the accusations with the police intelligence unit, the state attorney and the Justice Ministry.

“Following information received in matters pertaining among other things to the prime minister, and which has been presented to the attorney general by the police’s investigations and intelligence department, the attorney general has conducted a number of discussions attended by the state prosecutor and other senior officials in the Justice Ministry and the police’s investigations and intelligence department,” said a statement issued by Mandelblit’s office. “Upon their conclusion, the attorney general has decided to instruct that an examination of the matter be opened.

Many media reports on the probe published in recent days have been “inaccurate, to say the least,” the statement added.

The allegations have not been made public, although the reports say that it is a money-laundering probe separate from previous cases against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s office denied the allegations.

“As with all the previous instances, when allegations were made against the prime minister that turned out to be baseless, nothing will come of this — because there’s nothing there,” the Israeli media quoted a Netanyahu spokesman as saying.

 

Netanyahu reportedly secreted Auschwitz blueprints to Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought back original blueprints of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to Israel from Germany seven years ago, likely without knowing he was doing something illegal, according to a German journalist.

The blueprints were given to Netanyahu on a trip to Germany, Kai Diekmann said in an interview for the latest issue of the expat Israeli magazine Spitz in Berlin with publisher Tal Alon. They are now in the archives at Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial.

Diekmann, the former chief editor of Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most-read daily, told Spitz the German Federal Archives and Ministry of Interior wanted to hold on to the historical documents, which were drawn by an Auschwitz prisoner and include the signature of Heinrich Himmler. But Diekmann thought they belonged in Yad Vashem and presented them to Netanyahu in August 2009 in Berlin.

Netanyahu could not have been prosecuted for simply accepting the gift and bringing it home, Diekmann said.

Diekmann’s colleague, Sven Felix Kellerhoff, an editor for Die Welt and the Berliner Morgenpost, apparently had agreed that the documents belonged in Israel.

The Bild Zeitung had decided to buy the drawings “because we did not want them to get into the hands of neo-Nazis or other such terrible people,” Kellerhoff told JTA in 2009. He also said in an email that it was significant that “we have originals of [these] plans in Germany.”

Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, one of the experts who helped verify the documents, told JTA on Wednesday that Kellerhof informed him in August 2009 “that the drawings would go to Yad Vashem. Nothing … suggested a cloak-and-dagger operation.”

The story of how these building plans came to light in the first place remains mysterious. An antiquities dealer reportedly offered them to the Bild Zeitung, an Axel-Springer newspaper, in 2008. The documents may have been held for years in the former East German secret service archives.

Historian Ralf Georg Reuth, a senior correspondent for Welt am Sonntag, told JTA at the time that he suspected the documents came “through the black market.” He noted that East German secret service authorities often “took over material that was used to discredit Western politicians.”

They were then found when an apartment was cleared out after its occupant’s death and later bought by the Bild Zeitung.

 

Netanyahu said to authorize construction of 1,400 new settlement homes


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the construction of new housing for Jewish citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

An anonymous Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu gave the green light to build nearly the 1,400 new homes,the Associated Press reported Tuesday, primarily in response to the rash of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and visiting Americans since September 2015.

Nearly 600 new units will be built inside the Maale Adumim settlements, a suburb near Jerusalem that Israel claims as indisputable territory, with another 200 homes to be built inside Jerusalem itself. The projected plan also calls for over 600 units to rise in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon immediately criticized Israel for the impact of the new settlements on peace agreements, and urged Israel to reverse the decision.

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” a spokesperson for Ban said.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi decried the initiative as evidence that Israel is bent on “destroying the viability, integrity and territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.”

Peace Now, the Israeli organization that tracks settlement expansion, addressed both the increasing violence of Palestinians against Jews, and the potential problems with placing more housing on land Palestine hopes to claim for their state.

“There is no justification for violence, and the recent deadly attacks on Israelis must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, but settlement construction in the heart of the future of the Palestinian state is endangering both the possibility for peace and two states and the security of Israeli citizens,” the organization said in a statement.

Netanyahu to U.N. chief: Urge Hamas to free Israelis, return bodies


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use his position to help pressure Hamas to repatriate two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

In a joint appearance here during Ban’s 48-hour visit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Netanyahu also called on the U.N. to “highlight Hamas’s crimes and understand that our security measures are aimed only at keeping our citizens safe from this threat and we use judicious force in this regards.”

Ban and Netanyahu also met with the families of presumed killed Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whose bodies are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Two Israeli citizens are also being held by Hamas in Gaza — Avera Mengistu, a 28-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli, and an unidentified Bedouin-Israeli who crossed into Gaza of their own volition.

“Hamas is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your standing to help return home these soldiers and these citizens. It’s a humanitarian position and elementary humanitarian requirement that Hamas and its criminal activities is of course throwing into the winds,” Netanyahu said Tuesday during an appearance with Ban in front of reporters before the two leaders started a private meeting.

Netanyahu reminded Ban of his stated goal during a 2013 visit to Israel to work to halt anti-Israel bias in the international body.

“Regrettably, the goal of treating Israel fairly remains unfulfilled across a wide spectrum of U.N. activities and U.N. forums,” Netanyahu said.

“I know that your desire for all countries to be treated fairly and equally remains true today. I urge you to dedicate your last six months as the Secretary General of the United Nations in trying to right this wrong. And when I say that, it’s not just for Israel’s sake. It’s for the credibility of the UN,” Netanyahu said.

Ban called on Israel to work quickly toward a two-state solution.

“I encourage you to take the courageous steps necessary to prevent a one-state reality of perpetual conflict,” Ban says. “No solutions to the conflict will be possible without the recognition that both Palestinians and Jews have undeniable historic and religious connection to this land. No solutions can come through violence. It must be based on mutual respect and recognition of the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”

Earlier on Tuesday Ban visited the Gaza Strip, where he called on Israel to lift the “suffocating” blockade on the coastal strip, Reuters reported.

“The closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction effort. It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” Ban said.

The call to lift the closure came a day after Israel and Turkey announced a reconciliation agreement which keeps the blockade in place.

Netanyahu formally announces reconciliation deal with Turkey


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally announced a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, ending a six-year cut in diplomatic ties.

“Israel has made an important strategic agreement in terms of security, regional stability, and the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said Monday afternoon in Rome.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made an announcement simultaneously in Ankara. The agreement will be signed on Tuesday in Jerusalem and in Ankara.

Israeli news outlets reported that the agreement had been reached in Rome on Sunday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official involved with the negotiations.

“I don’t run the country according to tweets or headlines, but according to what is good for the country’s security, economy and interests,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement is important and isn’t devoid of criticism. Gas and the Israeli economy will be promoted by the agreement. This doesn’t mean we’ve started a honeymoon period, and I’m not trying to embellish [the agreement]. But our critical interests are promoted by this deal.”

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

Netanyahu enumerated the seven main points of the agreement,  including protecting the commanders and fighters of the Israel Defense Forces from criminal and civil charges; maintaining the naval blockade of Gaza, and assistance from Turkey in repatriating two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Netanyahu also said the agreement “opens the door to cooperation on economic and energy issues,” including selling natural gas to Turkey.

The family of Hadar Goldin, one of the soldiers whose body is being held by Hamas, rejected the deal, saying Netanyahu acted in opposition to his promises that the deal would return their son’s body and that of Oron Shaul. Both soldiers were killed during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

Lieberman, majority of Israelis oppose Turkey reconciliation deal


More than half of Israelis oppose the newly announced reconciliation deal with Turkey, according to a Channel 10 poll.

In addition, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he is against the deal, several Israeli media outlets reported Monday.

Channel 10’s poll found that 56 percent of Israelis oppose the deal that ends a six-year break in diplomatic ties between the two countries, while another 11 percent has no opinion, i24 news reported.

Under the deal, to be signed Tuesday in Jerusalem and Ankara, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens killed in a 2010 raid on a ship, the Mavi Marmara, attempting to break Israel’s Gaza blockade, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, according to i24news.

Critics of the deal include those who object that it does not demand that Turkey use its influence with Hamas to  resolve the fate of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza and whose remains have never been repatriated. Others say Israel does not owe an apology or compensation to those killed on the Mavi Marmara ship because the activists attacked the Israeli soldiers.

Lieberman, who sees Turkey as unrepentant antagonist of Israel,  said he plans to vote against the deal when it comes before the security cabinet later this week. “We won’t make a campaign out of it just as I didn’t in my opposition to the [Gilad] Shalit deal at the time, but my position is known,” he said.

Lieberman was referring to the 2011 Israel-Hamas deal in which Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

The Channel 10 poll, which interviewed 500 Jewish Israelis and 100 Arab Israelis, found that while Arabs mostly supported (72 percent) the deal, Jews mostly opposed (65 percent) it.

The poll’s margin of error was 4.2 percent.

Ex-envoy Michael Oren to Netanyahu: Don’t agree to US defense assistance offer


Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, reportedly is counseling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to conclude an agreement with the Obama administration to expand and extend defense assistance to Israel.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the U.S.-born Oren, a Knesset member with the centrist Kulanu party, opposes the agreement as it currently stands because it would freeze Congress out of spending decisions on missile defense; calls for cutting allocations offered directly to Israel’s defense sector; and would anger Republicans, who might see the deal as burnishing President Barack Obama’s legacy.

He apparently favors waiting out the elections to pursue the deal.

Oren, who since leaving the ambassadorship in 2013 has emerged as a harsh critic of Obama, has in closed meetings broken with party leader Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister who is urging Netanyahu to conclude the deal, the Post reported Wednesday.

Israel’s current package, averaging $3 billion a year, is set to expire in 2018, and the Obama administration hopes to conclude a 10-year extension that would increase assistance to between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.

Until now, missile defense spending has been subject to the approval of Congress, which routinely greatly increases whatever the president – Republican or Democrat – requests. Wrapping missile defense into the defense assistance package would freeze out Congress and constrain Israeli bids to increase spending for projects like Iron Dome or Arrow.

U.S. defense assistance routinely comes with a requirement that the money received by a beneficiary country is spent on U.S. defense contractors. Israel is the only exception, with a codicil that until now allows a quarter of the package to be spent in Israel.

Kahlon and others in Israel’s political and defense establishments favor closing the deal now in part because Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has not committed to defense assistance for Israel. On at least one occasion, Trump has said he would consider making Israel pay for the assistance.

Netanyahu until now has been reluctant to close a deal reportedly because he fears Obama will use it to bolster his pro-Israel credentials ahead of setting out recommendations for a final status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Former Israeli prime minister: Netanyahu enabling ‘budding fascism’


Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is encouraging “budding fascism.”

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference Thursday, Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu until 2013, said, “A fanatic nucleus of extremist ideology has taken over Likud by using loopholes in the primaries constitution, purging Likud’s leadership of all those who cherished democracy over populism or some fleeting achievement.”

Netanyahu was responsible for this perceived development, Barak said, whether he it allowed to happen out of weakness or as a “late manifestation” of his own core beliefs.

“If it looks like budding fascism, walks like budding fascism, barks like budding fascism, then it’s budding fascism,” he said. Barak called on Israelis to bring about regime change through democratic means.

Likud in a statement dismissed Barak’s criticism as less than credible given that he was happy to serve as defense minister under Netanyahu.

“This is about clout and jobs [for Barak], not ideology,” the statement read.

Likud and Netanyahu used similar arguments to pooh–pooh critique at the Herzliya Conference by Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member and former chief-of-staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who last month resigned from his post as defense minister.

Yaalon quit after Netanyahu asked him to become foreign minister so Avigdor Liberman could take over the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu brought in Liberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu to increase the coalition’s majority in the Knesset.

On Thursday, calling himself an “alternative” to the current leadership, Yaalon accused Netanyahu of fear mongering by attempting to scare Israeli citizens about security threats to distract them from Israel’s serious problems. Yaalon said Iran is not an imminent existential threat so long as the nuclear agreement it signed with six world powers is en force, and that “we have to prepare for future events.”

Separately, in an ostensibly non-political move into which Israelis immediately read political motives, two former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, set up a new cultural movement with the stated aim of promoting “hope and not of fear, when fear is sown in all directions”.