Peace Through Raising Expectations


I support the plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I acknowledge this is a controversial topic, and I will observe the talmudic principle of stating the primary, opposing viewpoint before my own:

“The American Embassy in Israel shouldn’t be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at this time because it will result in violence, impair the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and further destabilize a region already beset with violence and chaos.”

I disagree with this view because it expects the worst from Palestinian Arabs and Arabs in general. I believe it is racist to assume that these groups will become violent merely because something happens that displeases them.

It is true that actions by Israel and the United States have met with violence in the past. If we dig deeper, however, we find that the real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence. One need look only at the personal fortune of Yasser Arafat at the time of his death — a stash worth more than $1 billion — to grasp the profound impact of the leadership’s corruption on the Palestinian people.

Fourteen years later, Arafat’s successors continue to hire protesters for suicide missions by offering lifetime payments of $3,000 a month to their families, distributed through the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund. Thousands of families receive these payments, funded entirely by foreign aid. Needless to say, the politicians take a huge cut for themselves.

The real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence.

It’s a simple cycle: incite violence against Israelis, exploit the predictable military response for publicity, receive payments from sympathetic nations and skim for personal gain.

The leaders of this operation are not motivated to imagine peace with Israel because it would take money out of their pockets. Bypassing such leaders is the key to forging the elusive peace.

In announcing the intention to move the embassy, President Donald Trump noted that 1) the modern State of Israel declared Jerusalem its capital decades ago and has thus governed itself ever since; 2) the American pretense that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital has not contributed to peace in the region; and 3) most importantly, Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

This truth has never been taught in Palestinian schools. The fact that Jerusalem is mentioned by name 622 times in the Torah and has been the focus of Jewish prayer for 2,000 years, and has never been the capital of any other nation, doesn’t matter if such facts are not communicated to the population that is being manipulated into violence.

The proposed embassy move, which carries tremendous symbolic weight, bypasses the Palestinian Authority gatekeepers and communicates to the Palestinian-Arab people that Israel and Jerusalem will never be parted. It brings us closer to peace by respecting them enough to assume that violence is neither their only form of communication nor negotiation, when presented with actual facts.

In its coverage of the embassy story, however, the Los Angeles Times noted on its front page that the president’s announcement sent “a sense of anger and apprehension coursing through the Arab world.”

This is the racism of low expectations. How can relocating the diplomatic office to reflect a historical and practical reality create apprehension for Arabs? Who is threatening them? It’s as if the L.A. Times already is justifying the violence it expects from the Arab world.

If more violence comes, and I pray it does not, it will not be because the United States respects Israel’s right to determine its own capital like every other nation. Such violence would arise from the same corrupt leadership that has always benefited from it. If we recognize these leaders and hate peddlers for what they are, we may well hasten the day when new leadership arises that seeks to build a genuine peace and more hopeful future for Palestinians.

This kind of revolution can’t happen if we don’t engage with the people directly. Let’s assume they want peace and they’re open to new ideas. Let’s raise our expectations.

Such assumptions won’t make the road to peace a smooth one,  but at least there will be a road.


Salvador Litvak shares his love of Judaism every day  at facebook.com/accidentaltalmudist.

Photo by Efrat Lotenberg

The Bukhari Renaissance Woman


The living room in an apartment in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood was heaving with people, young and old, most of whom had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughter. Their host, Eti-Jon Eliezerov, had just finished a skit impersonating a Bukharian Jew cooking up a storm.

According to Bukhari tradition, a woman’s worth, jokes Eliezerov in a sing-song voice, is measured by whether she can peel a potato in one go.

“The peel has to be a single coil and must remain thin,” Eliezerov emphasizes.

At the age of 13, her father fell in love with her mother after observing her chop a carrot with dazzling agility.

Eliezerov was born and raised in the house in Florentine where, today, she hosts evenings celebrating Bukharian Jewish heritage. She returned to live there in 2011 after a 32-year absence, during which she married — much to her parents’ chagrin — an Ashkenazi. Together, they had three children.

Eliezerov’s parents arrived in Palestine in 1935 from Samarkand, modern-day Uzbekistan. Along with hundreds of thousands of their Jewish brethren in Central Asia, they spoke a Jewish dialect of the Tajik-Persian language. It was a grueling, two-year trudge by foot to the Holy Land, with multiple tragedies and pitfalls along the way, including a stint in an Afghani prison and the death of Eliezerov’s older sister.

When speaking of her parents, Eliezerov’s voice oozes unbridled adulation. Her mother, a dancer, and her father, a musician, traveled the world together giving traditional Bukhari performances. But little Eti, at 6 years old, paid a steep price for their wanderlust. At a loss for what to do with her, her parents put Eliezerov in an ultra-Orthodox orphanage in the coastal town of Netanya for a year and a half while her parents took off on a tour to Paris. Later on, she was moved to another institution in the town of Bnei Barak. It was only in fourth grade that Eliezerov returned to her parents’ home in Florentine.

“My mother was devastated. She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’ ” — Eti-Jon Eliezerov

Eliezerov said she feels no bitterness toward them. “I’m not angry. I was never angry at them. I’m not able to get angry at them.”

“My parents were the warmest, most hospitable people,” she says.

She credits her up-and-down childhood in her later choice to become a therapist, specializing in psychodrama and gestalt.

These days, though, Eliezerov says her calling is to restore the Florentine neighborhood to its heyday. Today, the neighborhood, which hugs Jaffa on one side and the fancy Neve Tzedek district on the other, is a haven for hipster millennials. The Florentine that Eliezerov remembers from her childhood, though, brimmed with a fusion of culture and Jewish tradition.

“There was a lot of love in this neighborhood, everyone’s door was always open. It was colorful,” she says.

Eliezerov already has gotten the Tel Aviv municipality on board with bringing back the long-dead tradition of a parade through the streets on Simchat Torah. She also spearheaded an initiative called “Florentine in a Pot,” creating a bridge between the neighborhood’s old and young populations in which the elderly give cooking workshops infused with storytelling to their young neighbors.

And in her own house, Eliezerov is living her dream by hosting monthly evenings celebrating Bukhari culture. She wears traditional Bukhari garb and serves her guests Bukhari food, such as Plov, a rich rice dish embellished with meats and carrots. Armed with a doyra, a Bukhari drum, Eliezerov dances and sings lyrics that hark back to bygone days in Samarkand.

Although she is a born and bred Sabra, Eliezerov said she felt “just like I’d arrived home” when she traveled to Uzbekistan as a guide on a roots trip.

It’s a wonder, then, that in her early 20s she rebelled by marrying an Ashkenazi of Polish descent.

“My mother was devastated,” she said. “She whined to me: ‘But his eyebrows aren’t even black!’”

Eyebrows, it seems, are not inconsequential in Bukhari tradition. Despite her choice of partner, Eliezerov was adamant to preserve some of the Bukhari traditions relating to marriage and as such she insisted on a Koshchinon, the traditional eyebrow grooming ritual. According to Eliezerov, Bukhari women are forbidden from touching their eyebrows – which, she points out, is often a unibrow – until they are about to get married. A few days before the wedding, and prior to immersion in the mikveh, the bride is surrounded by married friends and relatives who watch as the Koshchin – the eyebrow groomer – shapes her brows using a special blade and string. The Koshchin usually doubles as a comedienne, stage whispering in the bride’s ear crass nothings about what awaits her in matrimony. Special songs are sung at the occasion, and in keeping with Bukhari tradition, endless trays of food are served. To gasps of oohs and aahs, the mother of the bride also presents her daughter’s dowry, consisting of flowing gowns and dresses and bedsheets.

Nevertheless, after a 30-year marriage, Eliezerov divorced her husband. He was, in her words, too far from religion. Especially after her adult son became religious, she realized just how much she missed the faith of her childhood. These days, Eliezerov, who returned to being an observant Jew, feels like she finally has found her place in the world.

“I’m in my childhood home, making people laugh, making them cry, using my talents to move people,” she says.

“All my life, I’ve waited for this.”

Screenshot from Twitter.

Palestinian Rioters Appear to Be Transported and Protected By Ambulances


The Israel Defense Force (IDF) is claiming that ambulances were used to transport and protect Palestinian rioters, and there is video evidence to substantiate their claim.

Here is the video showing the rioters being dropped from a Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance to a riot in Ramallah:

The IDF also took photos of Palestinian rioters throwing rocks at IDF soldiers from behind an ambulance on Saturday, seemingly used the shield as a shield against the IDF.

“The rioters knew that security forces in the field would not employ riot dispersal tactics against an ambulance, and they used it to harm the forces while shielding themselves,” the IDF said in a statement.

Yoav Mordechai, the major general of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) wrote a letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross demanding that “the incident be investigated,” as the Palestinian Red Crescent claims to be “neutral” in Israeli-Palestinian disputes.

The Palestinian Red Crescent is denying that their ambulances were used in riots, issuing photographs to substantiate their claim that one of the masked rioters was a girl in need of medical help.

“PRCS affirms that it abides and shall always abide by its fundamental principles in general, and the principles of neutrality and impartiality in particular,” the organization said on Facebook. “PRCS affirms that it has done nothing but discharge its humanitarian mission and provide treatment to those who need it.”

However, the Palestinian Red Crescent did not explain what the other two rioters were doing in ambulance.

There have been prior instances of ambulances being used to aid and abet terrorists, as outlined here and here.

Times of Israel Middle Easy Analyst Avi Issachoroff has previously written that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah were involved in organizing the “Days of Rage” riots that were launched in response to President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addresses a news conference during a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers in Vienna, Austria, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

State Department Continues to Not Recognize Jerusalem As Capital of Israel On Government Documents


The State Department has long refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on their government documents and they are still refusing to do so even after President Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reports that the State Department will continue its policy of not listing Jerusalem-born American citizens as being born in Israel on passports. However, the policy does recognize Palestine as the birthplace of those who were born in Jerusalem before the establishment of Israel in 1948.

“At this time, there are no changes to our current practices regarding place of birth on Consular Reports of Birth Abroad and U.S. Passports,” the State Department told the AP.

Additionally, the department won’t redraw their maps, but they will use some sort of marker to demarcate the city as Israel’s capital.

“The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations,” the State Department told the AP. “The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

The State Department also has yet to be specify if other documents will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The AP report does highlight how the State Department could be a potential roadblock toward Trump establishing an embassy in Jerusalem. The department is already stating that it could take at least “three to four years” to make the move, even though the mayor of Jerusalem has stated it could theoretically only take a couple of minutes by turning the U.S. consulate into an embassy.

Additionally, the State Department under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has repeatedly pointed the finger at Israel as the culprit for Palestinian terrorism and has previously denied that Israel has any claim on the city.

There have been prior reports of tension between Trump and Tillerson, although Tillerson has denied such reports and Trump hasn’t publicly stated that Tillerson’s job is in danger.

FILE PHOTO: British rock star Roger Waters of Pink Floyd walks along the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, June 21, 2006. REUTERS/Ahmad Mezhir/File Photo

Boycotting the Israel Boycotter in Germany


“It’s hopeless.”

“Petitions are so stupid.”

“He won’t even read your email.”

These were some comments Malca Goldstein-Wolf received when she told people she was going to start a movement to get the director of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), the Cologne-based affiliate of Germany’s consortium of public broadcasters known as ARD, to pull out of sponsoring an upcoming June concert by Israel’s most famous boycott advocate, Roger Waters. The ex-Pink Floyd front man regularly makes headlines these days as the leader of the cultural wing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Goldstein-Wolf proved the skeptics wrong. When she reached out to WDR Director Tom Buhrow, sending him a Change.org petition with more than 1,500 signatures, Buhrow decided to end WDR’s sponsorship of the Waters concert. After Germany’s popular tabloid Bild broke the story, four other ARD regional affiliates followed Buhrow’s lead.

“I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it.” — Malca Goldstein-Wolf

While Waters’ summer concert tour in Germany will still go on, Goldstein-Wolf, 48, is pleased that it will do so without help from the German taxpayer.

“I’m just an amateur activist,” she said via Skype from her home in Cologne. “I don’t do things like this normally but I’m so sick of this growing anti-Semitism, so I decided to do something about it. I heard the promotion on WDR, and I couldn’t believe they wanted to support Waters. I thought: ‘Oh, my God. This is impossible.’ So I just sat down and wrote to Buhrow, and I did this petition.”

One columnist for Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper said ARD should thank Goldstein-Wolf for saving the broadcasters from embarrassment. Waters’ concerts sometimes feature politically controversial antics, such as releasing a pig-shaped balloon — based on an image from Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, “Animals” — emblazoned with dozens of illustrations, including a Star of David and corporate logos. Waters has pressured well-known artists scheduled to perform in Israel to cancel shows.

Goldstein-Wolf, who comes from the world of fashion, was born in Frankfurt. Her Jewish father journeyed to Israel from Romania, while her mother converted to Judaism when Goldstein-Wolf was a child. Her husband is the biological grandson of a Nazi whose widow married an Auschwitz survivor and then raised him as his own grandson. Goldstein-Wolf, who visited Israel regularly in her youth, said she considers the Jewish state as the “life insurance for all Jews in the world.”

But according to Goldstein-Wolf, Germany’s true hero in the story is Buhrow for taking a stand.

“I was really kind of desperate when I wrote,” Goldstein-Wolf said. “The answer he gave me was absolutely touching. I would have never even thought about getting such an answer. He has my deep respect for it.”

Buhrow’s email response to her was brief and to the point. “I sense that not many words or arguments will convince you, rather clear action,” he wrote. “I’m notifying you, because it’s important for me that you believe how important your feelings are to me, that I’m responding to your request: the collaboration with the concert has ended.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany praised ARD’s decision, with its president Joseph Schuster stating: “The swift and decisive reaction of the broadcasters to massive public criticism is an important sign that rampant Israel-related anti-Semitism has no place in Germany.”

Waters’ German promoter, Marek Lieberberg, a son of Holocaust survivors, called ARD’s decision “ridiculous.”

“Two things have to be separated here: private opinion and artistic work” the 71-year-old CEO of Live Nation Germany told a German newspaper. “The canon of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd is and remains brilliant. On the other hand, he has a questionable private opinion about Israel and is quite an open member of boycott movement, which I completely reject. But I cannot and will not deny him his right to freedom of expression.”

While Goldstein-Wolf is proud of this particular victory, she foresees more battles ahead. Most recently, German courts backed Kuwait Airways’ rejection of Israeli passengers. Israel also had to pull out of an exhibition at the Frankfurt Bible Museum showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls because the German government couldn’t guarantee their return should Palestinian or Jordanian authorities claim them.

For now, though, Goldstein-Wolf will focus her efforts on BDS and artists involved in the movement.

“There’s no option to give up,” she said. “You always have to fight. If you’re really authentic, if you touch people, there’s always a chance to change things.”

Who Will Protect Children From The Morally Bankrupt Palestinian Children Protection Act?


Killing children, no matter the number, is the ultimate crime against the present and future. The Jewish people having suffered the unfathomable blow of having a generation of their children—1.5 million futures wiped out by the Nazis during the Holocaust—are acutely sensitive to this issue.

But how to react when adults entomb children to dig tunnels on a mission-to-murder other children? What to do when those in power groom youngsters to be the next generation of human shields, or axe wielders, or suicide bombers?

US Representative Barbara McCollum’s (DFL-Minn.) answer is to blame Israelis when they have no choice but to do what they did  a few weeks ago with the shooting of a 17 year-old Palestinian after he nearly murdered a 35-year-old father, injured a 70-year-old Jew standing at a curb and tried to stab other Jews near the community of Efrat.

Just before Thanksgiving, Representative McCollum introduced a House bill 4391, to restrict U.S. aid to Israel if “Israeli military forces or police” engage in “physical violence” or use “military detention” against Palestinians under the age of 18. In other words, should it become law, the next terrorist attack, just like the one in Efrat, would likely trigger a U.S. aid cutoff against Israel, our only reliable Mideast ally, for the crime of defending its citizens every time a Palestinian kid, indoctrinated with hate tries to murder or maim an Israeli.

The use of Palestinian children to carry out terrorist attacks against Jews in the Holy Land actually predates the 1948 Israel War of Independence. In Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism, David M. Rosen shows how during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem modeled his lethal child soldiers after the Nazis’ Hitler Youth.

Last year, Representative McCollum was silent when on January 17, 2016, 16-year-old Morad Abdullah Adais broke into the home of Dafna Meir, mother of six children 4 to 17, in the town of Otniel, armed with an 8-inch knife. Later he bragged, “I plunged the knife into her so deeply that most of it was inside her body. She started screaming, the children saw me and also started screaming, then I stabbed her in her upper body another three or four times. She tried to fight me and tried to take the knife from me. The two children who were there were still screaming, but she continued to resist, so I pushed her, and overpowered her.”

Under McCollum’s bill the Israeli army’s arrest of Adais would likely also be deemed “illegal and abusive.”

Hamas doesn’t even try very hard to hide its criminal and systematic abuse of Palestinian children. A televised video is available for anyone to see children from ages of 3 to 5 dressed like suicide bombers, 10 to 13 year-olds embracing a collective death wish, while 14-year-olds prepare for suicide attacks, sometimes wishing farewell to their beaming parents.

The UN-backed Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers tries to redress such human rights abuse that spans the globe from Africa to Southeast Asia. Indeed, even the UN Security Council designated a “Red Hand Day” to highlight such ultimate serial abuse of children. Yet Hamas openly commits war crimes, not only by targeting Israeli toddlers with rockets, but against Palestinian children who are sacrificed as “human shields.” Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, leverage control of the school curricula, the mosques, and TV to promote a culture that reveres death over life, that prepares youngsters for the next war.

Already in 2012, journalist Nicolas Pelham, no friend of Israel, wrote in The Journal of Palestinian Studies, condemning a “cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities [that has] damaged the [Palestinian] movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs”. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 individuals have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials.

Far from imitating the song lyric about constructing a “stairway to paradise,” Hamas prefers to build tunnels to hell.

Embarrassed by revelations, such as Pelham’s about high casualties against child suicide tunnel builders, Hamas decided that the best defense is a good Big Lie offense. It launched a new PR campaign to coincide with Israel’s upcoming 70th anniversary- accusing the Israel Army for “crimes” of killing innocent Palestinian children. No mention of Hamas’ child recruits for violence and terrorism.

Whatever her motivation, McCollum and her nine co-sponsors unfortunately are serving as willing instruments of Hamas’  inversion of this awful truth.

And now, the promised Palestinian “days of rage” over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To be sure, it will be young Palestinians that the “brave” leaders of Hamas and Fatah will use as cannon fodder for their bloody photo ops. So the real question remains: Who will finally stand up and demand that Palestinian youth really be protected– from their corrupt and cynical leaders and from the morally bankrupt “Protection Act”?


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

Screenshot from Twitter.

Israeli Soldier Murdered by Palestinians in Likely Terror Attack


An Israeli soldier has been murdered by Palestinians in what is believed to be a terror attack.

The 20-year-old soldier, who has yet to be identified, was fatally stabbed in his upper torso at a bus stop outside a mall in the city of Arad at approximately 9:30 pm on Thursday. The soldier proceeded to try and get help by stepping in front of a car, where he began vomiting blood.

“He was conscious and tried to say something but couldn’t,” the driver of the car told Ynet News. “We tried to help him, he fell to the ground. We called Magen David Adom and put a towel on him.”

By the time paramedics arrived, the solider was no longer breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

“We provided life-saving medical care and performed advanced resuscitation techniques, but we were ultimately forced to declare him dead at the scene,” said MDA paramedic Ziv Shapira.

Video footage of the scene of the attack can be seem below:

There are two Palestinian suspects connected to the murder and they are still at large. The police, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces are all working together in trying to find them, even going as far as setting up roadblocks and sending out a helicopter.

The preliminary investigation suggests that the attack was “nationalistically motivated.” Arad Mayor Nissan Ben-Homo said, “The working assumption is that this was a terror attack.”

Crowds in Tel Aviv celebrate the U.N.’s vote for partition in 1947. Photo courtesy of the Government Press Office, Jerusalem. Photo by Hans Pinn

Eyewitness to History: Nov. 29, 1947, in Jerusalem


When the news broke in Jerusalem of the United Nations’ vote to partition Palestine, it was a Saturday night after sunset. I was 25 and a student at Hebrew University, taking a year off from my rabbinical program at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I was living with my grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, in Kerem Avraham, a highly religious neighborhood.

That night, all of Jerusalem erupted into joy. People ran into the streets, shouting, singing and dancing in a frenzy. Grocery stores opened to hand out free bottles of wine to the celebrators. Cars and trucks roamed the streets, offering rides to anyone who wanted to whoop it up.

The growing crowds all headed toward the Jewish Agency building on King George Street, the unofficial headquarters of the underground Jewish government. Hundreds of people danced the horah and sang Hebrew songs with wild enthusiasm.

Suddenly, Golda Meir stepped onto the balcony overlooking the crowd and asked for silence. She expressed our feeling of joy for the fulfillment of our 2,000-year-old dream of re-creating a Jewish state in Israel. But she warned us that dreams came at a price. The United Nations was not handing us a state. We would have to earn it with our lives. We would have to defend it from our enemies, and many Jewish lives would be lost before the state would be born.

Everyone became very somber as the realization of her message took hold. One could sense a powerful resolve settling in.

And then the singing and dancing resumed.


Joshua Stampfer is rabbi emeritus at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Ore.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Report: Michigan Students Behind Divestment Resolution Made Controversial Statements About Jews and Israel


A new report suggests that the students behind University of Michigan’s anti-Israel divestment resolution made some controversial statements about Jews and Israel.

The Washington Free Beacon obtained video of  Ahmed Ismail, who is a part of the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) club that pushed the resolution, referred to Zionism as “a dirty political ideology” and tried to disassociate Israel from Judaism.

“There’s no nation called ‘Judaism,'” said Ismail. “Where on the map is there a country called ‘Jews’?”

Ismail defended his comments to the Free Beacon, stating: “Any person who is a Zionist believes in the State of Israel, even though it oppresses and kills millions of Palestinians—which I call terrorism.”

Ismail said that while most Jews were Zionists, he didn’t think Judaism inherently breeds terrorism and that he had several Jewish friends.

The video also caught students concurring with the notion that the pro-Palestinian crowd should reconsider its “past nonviolent stance” as well as a Palestinian student telling a Jewish student she wouldn’t engage in a conversation with him simply because he’s pro-Israel.

“I’m not going to have a conversation with you,” the student said. “Those are my guiding principles.”

The Palestinian student did tell the Jewish student that he could listen to her.

Earlier in November, the University of Michigan’s student government passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that conducted business in Israel. The university signaled that it wouldn’t be divesting from any company in the near future since it wouldn’t make sense from a business standpoint.

Hours after the resolution passed, a swastika was found emblazoned in the men’s bathroom in one of the university buildings.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

University of Michigan Student Government Passes Anti-Israel Divestment Resolution


University of Michigan’s student government passed a resolution on Wednesday morning that called for the university to form a committee to look into possibly divesting from companies that operated in Israel.

The resolution passed with a vote of 23 in favor, 17 against and five others who abstained. The vote occurred under a secret ballot with the rationale that it was necessary to protect pro-Palestinian students from being blacklisted.

Those who argued in favor of the resolution claimed that it wasn’t targeting Israel, it was giving representation to the Palestinians.

“I want to emphasize over and over again that this resolution emphasizes the voices of Palestinian students … and to give this community a voice for the first time in CSG history is to not take away from any other community,” said senior Hafsa Tout, a representative from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

Those against it argued that the resolution was in fact targeting Israel and the Jewish people.

“It was about singling out Israel as the sole entity responsible for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Tilly Shames, the director of the university’s Hillel chapter, told Jewish students. “And that’s an oversimplification, overgeneralization of an historically complex conflict that really can’t be attributed to one side or the other.”

Despite the resolution’s passage, the university won’t be divesting from these companies that conduct business in Israel.

“The university’s longstanding policy is to shield the endowment from political pressures and to base our investment decisions solely on financial factors such as risk and return,” said Rick Fitzgerald, the university’s spokesman.

There had been 10 prior attempts to pass the resolution, they had all failed.

Q&A with Laëtitia Eïdo: Actress Wants Her Work to Be a ‘Link Between People’


With a French father and Lebanese mother, “Fauda” star Laëtitia Eïdo attributes her versatility as an actress to her mixed ethnicity, as well as family religious ties to “the three big religions”: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

In her breakout role on the Israeli-created Netflix hit, Eïdo plays Shirin, a Palestinian doctor who works in the West Bank and becomes romantically involved with an Israeli special forces officer working undercover as an Arab. During an interview from Paris, Eïdo talked about the ways “Fauda” — which premiered its second season opener this month at the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles — has resonated across the globe and impacted her own attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can also catch her in theaters on Nov. 17 as the star of the Israeli film “Holy Air.”

Jewish Journal: I read that you’re French of Lebanese descent. What is your relationship to Israel/Palestine and how did you end up on an Israeli show?

Laëtitia Eïdo: I was born and raised in the south of France in a small area called Ardèche, a very beautiful town next to Lyon. [But] my family is very mixed. Actually, [while working in Israel] I discovered that I have some Lebanese Jewish family that came to Israel in the ’70s. Before that, my relationship to the show was just the relationship of a French actress brought to Israel by her roles. It started with “Dancing Arabs” (“A Borrowed Identity” in the U.S.) by Eran Riklis, and what happened is “Fauda’s” director watched the movie and wanted to work with me. [One day] my mother told me, “By the way, do you know that we have Jewish family?” I was even more mixed than I thought!

JJ: How does your mixed background serve you as an actress?

LE: What I try to be in my life and bring through my work is to be a link between people. My character, Shirin, in “Fauda,” is close to this, because she has a French father and spends more time in Paris than in Palestine. And the fact that she hasn’t spent much time in Palestine or Israel makes her neither on one side or the other. It positions her in this in-between space, which allows her to feel compassion, which is important as a doctor. And it allows her to refuse to be part of the conflict. She’s able to break those imaginary borders between people. This is exactly what I have inherited, being a mix of three religions and mixed cultures.

JJ: What are the biggest misconceptions you think people have about Israel and Palestine?

LE: It’s the same misconception on both sides, because I’ve been on both sides of the border. People are told that they’re different and they should fear the other side. But when it comes to a personal level — not on a political one — families are the same on both sides. They laugh and cry for the same things. And, actually, I really can’t tell where the hummus is the best!

Photo by David Zimand

JJ: Israel is controversial subject matter in many parts of the world. Has the reception to “Fauda” been different depending on where you are in the world?

LE: The reception to the show is intense everywhere. Apparently, the show is becoming a big hit in the Middle East — in countries like Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In Israel and Palestine, some people love the show, and others think the show is not balanced enough. But it’s really important to remember the show is a fiction, made of stories based on a much more complex and unreachable reality. As an artist I focus on some positive things, like the fact that since the show was first aired in Israel, some teachers had to open Arabic classes for new students wanting to understand their neighbors.

JJ: On “Fauda,” your character has an affair with an Israeli who pretends to be Arab. Do you think it’s possible an Israeli/Palestinian love affair could occur under the current circumstances? 

LE: I can only tell what I see around me. It’s still too rare, but these love stories do exist. They’ve always existed in any conflict in the world, and they will [continue to] exist. More, of course, would be better, because it helps shutting down the fear, as people and families get to know and understand each other through this mixed relationship.

The War We Rarely Hear About


It seems like so long ago. Do you remember the years 2000 to 2004, when pizza parlors and cafes and discotheques were being blown up by Palestinian terrorists on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?

Over those four years of the Second Intifada, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, more than 130 Palestinian terror attacks killed over 1,000 Israelis and wounded thousands more.

I remember how we would brace ourselves for ongoing news of these attacks—which seemed to come weekly. There was almost a sense of despair: How does a free and open society stop suicide bombers who are determined to blow themselves up in the midst of civilians?

By some kind of military miracle, Israel found a way to fight back and prevail. After a particularly horrifying attack on a group of Jews enjoying a Passover seder, Israel launched a massive military campaign to root out terror cells and weapon factories throughout the West Bank. It was called Operation Defensive Shield. This was the loud war that received endless coverage in the media.

Journalism thrives on these kind of wars, when reporters and photojournalists can embed themselves with troops and report from the ground. News consumers are riveted by the dramatic war footage and the human stories that come out of this reporting. Operation Defensive Shield was no exception.

But while the military operation was getting most of the attention, another war was going on, one without reporters and cameras.

This was the quiet war against terror financing, the war we rarely hear about, the war that follows the money and is indispensable.

While one war was rooting out the terrorists, this other war was rooting out the money that funded those terrorists.

The inside story of this financial war on terror is the subject of our cover story this week, as our political editor, Shmuel Rosner, reviews “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters.”

I remember meeting the co-author of the book, attorney activist Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, in her Tel Aviv office during the Second Intifada. She had this soft spoken demeanor.

While pro-Israel activists work on “education,” she works on seizing terrorist assets.

I’m sure there’s plenty of top secret information she couldn’t share with me. But what she did share was interesting enough. Darshan-Leitner was fighting her own war against terror, using international courts. She was moved by a visit in the early 1990s to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Atlanta, the civil rights group that used lawsuits to take on neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. This inspired her to eventually start Shurat HaDin (“Letter of the Law”), an Israel-based nonprofit legal center that has been at the forefront of the legal fight on terrorism.

We often talk about the importance of the “PR War”— about how public opinion is so important in the new media age. Darshan-Leitner has gone in another direction. The tools of her trade are depositions, lawsuits, testimonies under oaths and other legal weapons. While pro-Israel activists work on “education,” she works on seizing terrorist assets. She battles not in the court of public opinion but the court of legal opinion.

Over the past 15 years, according to the Shurat HaDin website, her team has represented terror victims everywhere from Israel and the United States to Canada and Iran. Her group “files motions, seizes assets, and sends warnings to state-sponsors of terror letting them know the consequences of supporting known terror groups. Shurat HaDin has put terrorists and terror-sponsoring organizations on their heels, forcing them to spend vast sums on legal fees and preventing them from using the Western banking industry to fund terrorism.”

Since its inception, Shurat HaDin has won over $1 billion in judgments, which has led to the freezing of more than $600 million in assets around the world, with more than $120 million in actual awards. Talk about metrics.

So, when she emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me about her new book, it was a no-brainer. This is an important and fascinating story. It reminds us that the war against terror can’t be won by tanks and troops alone. The quiet warriors who combat terror in courts and global banks are just as critical. While Operation Defensive Shield was playing on television, the special unit Harpoon was operating. in clandestine places that starved the terrorists of funds and resources.

One of the roles of journalism is to dig behind the headlines and show you what doesn’t always appear in the mainstream press. Darshan-Leitner’s new book does just that, and it elevates the unsung heroes in the war on terror.

A general view shows a Palestinian flag and tents in Susiya village, south of the West Bank city of Hebron July 20, 2015. Sitting under a fig tree to escape the searing sun, Jihad Nuwaja looks out on the only land he knows - the dry expanse of the Hebron hills in the southern West Bank. Within days, his home is set to be demolished and he, his wife and 10 children expelled. Nuwaja's family is one of handful living in tents and prefabricated structures at Susiya, a Palestinian village spread across several rocky hillsides between a Jewish settlement to the south and a Jewish archaeological site to the north - land Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

11 lawmakers warn against demolition of Palestinian villages


WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) authored a letter signed by 11 House Democrats urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pressure the Israeli government and prevent the demolition of Palestinian villages Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar. “We ask you that you work with your counterparts in the Israeli government to prevent the demolition of these villages, the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes, and the expropriation of their lands,” the lawmakers said.

Located in the West Bank, the village of Susiya has attracted significant international attention. The Israeli government says that the homes in Susiya were built illegally, and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Defense Ministry has the right to demolish the structures.

Last week when asked the State Department’s view on the demolition orders for Susiya, a State Department official explained, “We are not going to comment on an Israeli Supreme Court decision.”

In a letter obtained by Jewish Insider, Charles Faulkner of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs explained, “We are closely following developments in Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar… Consulate General officials continue to visit Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar to monitor the situation.” Faulkner added President Donald Trump is committed to achieving peace and “urged both sides to refrain from taking action which could undermine that goal.”

The Trump administration’s more muted response stands in contrast to the Obama administration. Past State Department spokesman John Kirby publicly called on Israel to “refrain” from carrying out the demolitions in 2015, which the Obama administration official labeled as “harmful and provocative.”

“It is yet another example of the double standard that anti-Israel politicians apply to the nation state of the Jewish people,” asserted Alan Dershowitz, former law professor at Harvard University. “When is the last time these members of Congress complained about a domestic issue involving another foreign ally? How would Congressmen feel if Israeli members of Knesset started writing letters complaining about how America is dealing with some of its issues?”

The letter was also signed by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Deputy Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), James McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Betty Mccollum (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

In September, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sponsored an event on Capitol Hill to highlight the condition of Susiya.

This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

The Balfour Declaration at 100 and How It Redefined Indigenous People


It has been 100 years since the Balfour Declaration – issued by the British government on Nov. 2, 1917 – offered the first international recognition of Jewish national aspirations. In many ways, its importance is obvious: it encouraged some 400,000 European Jews to emigrate to Palestine in the years 1917-1940, and made it possible to lay the groundwork for the State of Israel.

But there is another significance that has not been fully recognized among modern historians, even though it tells us more about the current obstacles to peace than any of the usual explanations. I am speaking of the politico-philosophical precedent set by the Balfour Declaration regarding national identity, land ownership, self determination and the notion of “indigenous people.”

On the surface, the declaration’s text touches on none of these issues. Known as “history’s most famous letter,” this 67-word text actually reads like a holiday greeting card: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice that civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

A close examination, however, reveals two asymmetries which, by today’s standards, would probably evoke bitter objections. First, the words “people” and “national” are attached to Jews, not to the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, who are referred to as “communities.” Second, the non-Jewish communities are assured “civil and religious” rights, not national rights, let alone a “national home.”

This asymmetry is probably what infuriated Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi who, in an emotional lecture on Sept. 25 this year, reportedly pounded the table and blasted the Balfour Declaration as “a declaration of war by the British Empire on the indigenous population of the land it was promising to the Jewish people.”

Khalidi’s outrage at former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and his Declaration is hardly justified. First, the idea that the Arab population of Palestine harbors national aspiration would have been news to Balfour, just as it would have been to any political observer in 1917. Khalidi admits as much in his book, “The Iron Cage,” in which he labors to explain why Arabs did not develop a ripe sense of national identity until the late 1920s, when it was too late to “crush the Zionist Movement.”

Second, the Balfour Declaration did not preclude the creation of a “national home” for other national groups in the region, side by side with the Jewish polity. Ottoman Palestine, as we recall, embraced a huge territory which included Jordan and parts of Syria. Various partitions and coexisting constellations were proposed in the course of time, most notably by the Peel Commission of 1937 and by the United Nations in 1947. While Khalidi’s book never mentions these proposals as options, and we understand why, it was in effect the Balfour Declaration that opened these opportunities for Palestinian statehood.

Third – and this is critical – the concept of “indigenous population” has undergone a profound transformation since 1917, which Palestinian society refuses to accept to this day. By championing the Jewish plight for a homeland, the Balfour Declaration made it absolutely clear that there are other claimants to the title “indigenous population of the land” and that the arguments of those other claimants are no less defensible and no less supported by hard evidence and trust deeds.

The Balfour Declaration overturned the narrow conception of “indigenous people” as a group of tribes or families who happened to own land in a particular geographic location and pass it to their heirs over a number of generations. By focusing on the Jewish narrative, the declaration broadened the concept of indigeneity to include peoples who have maintained vivid collective memories of past civilizations and who shaped their identity through dreams of returning to the cradles of those civilizations.

This shift in the definition of indigineity was only implicit in the 67-word declaration. It was made explicit two years later, however, in Balfour’s introduction to Nachum Sokolow’s book, “History of Zionism, 1600-1919. ”

“The position of the Jews is unique,” Balfour wrote. “For them race, religion and country are inter-related, as they are inter-related in the case of no other race, no other religion, and no other country on earth. … In the case of no other religion is its past development so intimately bound up with the long political history of a petty territory wedged in between States more powerful far than it could ever be; in the case of no other religion are its aspirations and hopes expressed in language and imagery so utterly dependent for their meaning on the conviction that only from this one land, only through this one history, only by this one people, is full religious knowledge to spread through all the world.”

A man of wisdom and character, Balfour considered himself primarily a philosopher, not a historian or a statesman. It is amazing how this multifaceted individual managed to take time off his duties as Britain’s Foreign Secretary and study carefully the role that the Land of Israel had played in Jewish life through the ages. He captured this essence better than some of our most revered history professors, for whom Zionism is a 19th century invention that started with Theodor Herzl in 1896 and ended with the Six-Day War of 1967.

Balfour understood that Eretz Israel is an inextricable part of Jewish identity. Accordingly, he also understood that indigeneity is based on intellectual attachment and historical continuity no less than on physical presence or genetic lineage.

In 2014, when peace negotiations seemed somewhat hopeful, Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat was reported in The New York Times as saying: “the Palestinians could never accede to Israel’s demand that they recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. … I cannot change my narrative.” A few months later, when pressed to explain what narrative defines his position Erekat told the Times of Israel: “I am the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua. ”

On this centennial celebration of the Balfour Declaration it is worth reminding Erekat and Khalidi that the declaration’s most profound imprint on the world’s conciousness has been a universal understanding that the essence of indigineity is cultural and intellectual, not genetic or geographical.

Palestinian resistance to accepting their neighbors as equally indigenous to the region has been so obsessive and so counter-productive that it begs to be enlivened through a hypothetical scenario, however imaginary. I can’t resist imagining Balfour attending Khalidi’s lecture at Columbia, raising his hand and asking politely:

“Professor Khalidi, can you name a Canaanite figure that you are proud of? A Canaanite poem that you enjoy reciting? A Canaanite holiday that you celebrate? A Canaanite leader who is a role model to your children?

Replace the word “Canaanite” with “biblical” and you will find four questions that every Israeli child can answer half asleep.

There is merit and wisdom in hypothetical scenarios. In this case, I would hope it could mitigate the Palestinian claim to exclusive ownership of the title “indigenous people” and, God-willing, usher a genuine reconciliation effort based on mutual recognition and shared indigeneity.


JUDEA PEARL is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

From left: Ram Asad, Jonathan Elkhoury and Mohammad Kabiya speak at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Reservists on Duty.

Protesters Disrupt IDF Event in NYC


A group of anti-Israel protesters attempted to shut down an event in which Israel Defense Forces (IDF) speakers shared their experiences in Israel. While they disrupted the event, they were unable to shut it down.

The event, held by Reservists on Duty in Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan on Thursday, featured Arab speakers who served in the IDF explaining how Israel is not the apartheid nation that its critics claim it to be. Toward the end of the event, a man attempted to storm the stage while yelling curse words in Arabic. He was escorted out of the synagogue.

Other anti-Israel protesters began asking questions like “What makes you kill a little kid?” during the question-and-answer session. They weren’t happy with the speakers’ answers, prompting them to start “shouting, cursing at us, making a riot at the synagogue” according to Jonathan Elkhoury, the minority coordinator of Reservists on Duty.

“Immediately the police came and tried to calm everything down, but they wouldn’t calm down so they were forced to leave,” Elkhoury told the Journal. “They tried to shut our event down but they weren’t successful doing that.”

The protesters have yet to be identified, although they did identify themselves as Palestinians living in the United States. None of the protesters were arrested.

It was the second time that week that a Reservist on Duty event was disrupted. During Tuesday’s event at the University of Minnesota, a woman who claimed to be a Palestinian- American read prepared talking points that accused Elkhoury’s father of being a “cowardly rat” for serving in the South Lebanon Army (SLA) that was allied with Israel and accused strategic IDF consultant Mohammed Kabiya, an Israeli Bedouin, of being a “war criminal.”

The woman was eventually arrested for refusing to cease her behavior.

“It hurts them to see that our voices are strong and being listened to and that we are changing minds, so they want to shut us down,” said Elkhoury. “But they are not going to be successful doing that.”

Elkhoury added that “it’s about time that we stop being afraid to say the truth about Israel.”

Earlier in October, the Journal reported on Reservist on Duty’s event at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. The Journal’s coverage can be read here.

ca. 1917, West of Cambrai, France --- Members of the Royal Navy maneuver a tank, or "landship," over a trench during the Battle of Cambrai just west of the French town. --- Image by © Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS

Episode 62 – When the World Fell Apart: 100 Years to WWI


Since 2014 the world has been commemorating 100 years for the Great War, World War I. 16.5 Million people lost their lives in that war, and its results changed the world forever.

Among many influences, the one that is most relevant to the Jewish people, is the liberation of Israel – then Palestine – from the Turkish occupation, and the beginning of the British Mandate. This November we’re also commemorating 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. Signed by the British foreign minister Balfour, that document led to the fact that we’re sitting here right now with Kobi Hubara…

Kobi Hubara has been filling up pubs and venues with his popular history lectures throughout Tel Aviv, for years. He’s a researcher of history, a writer and a publicist, and he’s with us to talk about the war we know almost nothing about, its affect on the Jewish fate and and how it reshaped the world.

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US president Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23. Photo by Flash90

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas


The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned this week to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit — by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats — since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement last week by the Quartet, the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and Russia that guides the peace process, and again Monday with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties” — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — “to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

This week’s P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking Monday to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body last week and said the Palestinian Authority expected this week that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006-07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That elides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained — at least in part — a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Without mentioning the two-state goal, Greenblatt’s statement nevertheless called on the Palestinian government to abide by “previous agreements.” These would presumably include the 2003 “road map” that was to have culminated in Palestinian statehood.

Still, Zomlot said the Palestinians wanted more clarity from the Trump administration.

“We cannot travel a journey without knowing a final destination,” he said. Zomlot referred to Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu in February, when the president said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

From the launch of the Oslo process in 1993 until now, Palestinian Authority officials have spoken of a one-state outcome only in pessimistic terms, casting it as a dystopia engendered by a failed process. Last month, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas in a first for a Palestinian leader said that if the two-state option collapses, Palestinians could embrace one state. It would not be a predominantly Jewish state covering Israel and most of the West Bank, an outcome popular among the Israeli right, but a binational state in which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have full rights as citizens.

Abbas warned in his U.N. address that in the failure of a two-state solution, “neither you nor we will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

“As long as we mean one man and one woman, one vote, we are fine with this,” he said, adding however that the two-state solution “remains absolutely the best option.”

Zomlot also addressed the Taylor Force Act, legislation named for an American stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist that would slash funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to subsidize the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed attacking Israelis.

Palestinians say the payments mostly go to the families of the wrongfully imprisoned. Zomlot said the Palestinians proposed a tripartite commission, to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that would consider whether to remove some families from the payrolls.

“We have engaged with the administration, we have a trilateral commission,” he said. “We would offer to the United States to be the sole arbitrator and we will accept [the decision]. Guess who rejected it? Israel.”

A senior Trump administration official suggested that Zomlot was overstating the offer.

“We only received a brief general outline about this proposal which did not answer key questions or present a viable solution to the real problem, which is the official policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the official told JTA.

A senior Israeli official told JTA that the offer missed the point — the Palestinians can stop the payments on their own.

“The Palestinians don’t need Israel, the U.S. or anyone else, they just need to do it,” the official said. “Unfortunately they won’t.”

Children posing for a photo in hats that read “Exodus 1947” in a displaced persons camp in Germany, September 1947. Photo by Robert Gary

These photos of Holocaust survivors from the SS Exodus are incredible


In the summer of 1947, when the British turned away the SS Exodus from the shores of Palestine, the world was watching.

Before the eyes of the international media, British troops violently forced the ship’s passengers — most of them Holocaust survivors — onto ships back to Europe. The resulting reports helped turn public opinion in favor of the Zionist movement and against the pro-Arab British policy of limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

But much else was happening in the aftermath of World War II, and attention soon shifted elsewhere. One of the few journalists to stick with the story was Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Robert Gary, who filed a series of reports from displaced persons camps in Germany.

Seventy years later and decades after his death, Gary is again drawing attention to the “Exodus Jews,” albeit mostly in Israel.

An album of 230 of his photos will be sold at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, and a number of the images reveal the reality inside the camps, where the Jews continued to prepare for life in Palestine under trying conditions.

Some of the photos, which have little to no captioning, capture the haunting similarities of the DP camps to those in which the Nazis interned and killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust, including images of Exodus Jews repairing barbed-wire fences under the watch of guards.

But others show the Jews participating in communal activities and preparing for their hoped-for future in Palestine. In one photo, Zionist emissaries from the territory — young women dressed in white T-shirts and shorts — appear to lead the Exodus Jews in a circular folk dance.

Shay Mendelovich, a researcher at Kedem, said he expects there to be a lot of interest in the album, which is being sold by an anoymous collector who bought it from the Gary family. Mendelovich predicted it could be sold for as much as $10,000.

“The photos are pretty unique,” he said. “There were other people in these camps. But Robert Gary was one of the few who had a camera and knew how to take pictures.”

Jews dancing in a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

Between 1945 and 1952, more than 250,000 Jews lived in displaced persons camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria and Italy that were overseen by Allied authorities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Despite having been liberated from the Nazi camps, they continued to languish in Europe under guard and behind barbed wire.

Gary was an American Jewish reporter who JTA sent to Europe to cover the aftermath of World War II. He detailed the living conditions in the camps more than a year before the Exodus journey: inadequate food; cold, crowded rooms; violence by guards and mind-numbing boredom. But he reported in September 1946 that the greatest concern among Jews was escaping Europe, preferably for Palestine.

“Certainly the DP’s are sensitive to the material things and sound off when things go bad (which is as it should be), but above all this is their natural desire to start a new life elsewhere for the bulk in Palestine, for others, in the U.S. and other lands,” he wrote. “Get any group of DP’s together and they’ll keep you busy with the number one question: When are we leaving?”

In July 1947, more than 4,500 Jews from the camps boarded the Exodus in France and set sail for Palestine without legal immigration certificates. They hoped to join the hundreds of thousands of Jews building a pro-Jewish state.

Organized by the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary force in Palestine, the mission was the largest of dozens of mostly failed attempts at illegal Jewish immigration during the decades of British administration of the territory following World War I. The British largely sought to limit the arrival of Jews to Palestine out of deference to the often violent opposition of its Arab majority.

The Haganah had outfitted and manned the Exodus in hopes of outmaneuvering the British Navy and unloading the passengers on the beach. But near the end of its weeklong voyage, the British intercepted the ship off the shore of Palestine and brought it into the Haifa port. Troops removed resisting passengers there, injuring dozens and killing three, and loaded them on three ships back to Europe.

Even after two months on the Exodus, the passengers resisted setting foot back on the continent. When the British finally forced them ashore in September 1947 and into two displaced persons camps in occupied northern Germany — Poppendorf and Am Stau — many sang the Zionist anthem “Hatikvah” in protest. An unexploded time bomb, apparently designed to go off after the passengers were ashore, was later found on one of the ships.

Jews repairing fencing at a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

The widely reported events won worldwide sympathy for European Jews and their national aspirations. An American newspaper headlined a story about the Exodus “Back to the Reich.” The Yugoslav delegate from from the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine called the affair “the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine.”

Later, the Exodus achieved legendary status, most famously as the inspiration and namesake of the 1958 best-seller by Leon Uris and the 1960 film starring Paul Newman. Some, including former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, credited the Exodus with a major role in the foundation of the State of Israel in May 1948.

Gary, who was stationed in Munich, had close ties to Zionist activists; he reported early and often on the continuing plight of the Exodus Jews in the camps. His dispatches highlighted their continued challenges, including malnutrition, and unabated longing to immigrate to Palestine.

In a report from Poppendorf days after the Exodus Jews arrived, Gary said the dark running joke in the camp was that the alternative to Palestine was simple: “Everyone would choose a tree from which to hang himself.”

“The Jews of Germany demand and expect a chance to start life anew under reasonably secure circumstances,” he wrote. “They feel these places exist mainly in Palestine and the U.S. And they are determined to get there, either by legal or illegal means, or just by plain old fashioned patience.”

Pnina Drori, who later became Gary’s wife, was among the emissaries that the Jewish Agency for Israel sent to the camps from Palestine to prepare the Jews for aliyah. As a kindergarten teacher, she taught the children Hebrew and Zionist songs. Other emissaries, she said, offered military training in preparation for the escalating battles with the Arab majority in Palestine.

“In the photos, you see a lot of young people in shorts and kind of Israeli clothes,” she said. “We were getting them ready for Israeli life, both good and bad. You have to remember Israel was at war at the time.”

A 1947 photo of the fake certificate identifying Robert Gary as a passenger of the SS Exodus. (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)

Gary was one of the few journalists who continued visiting the DP camps in the weeks after the Exodus Jews returned to Europe. Somehow he even obtained a fake certificate identifying him as one of the former passengers of the ship. But by late September 1947, JTA reported that British authorities had tired of Gary’s critical coverage and barred him from entry.

“The fact that Gary and [New York newspaper PM reporter Maurice] Pearlman were the only correspondents still assigned to the story, and had remained at the camps, aroused the authorities, who charged that they ‘were snooping about too much,’” according to the report.

Israel declared independence in May 1948, and after Great Britain recognized the Jewish state in January 1949, it finally sent most of the remaining Exodus passengers to the new Jewish state. Nearly all the DP camps in Europe were closed by 1952 and the Jews dispersed around the world, most to Israel and the United States.

Gary soon immigrated to Israel, too. He married Drori in 1949, months after meeting her at a Hanukkah party at the Jewish Agency’s headquarters in Munich, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where they had two daughters. Robert Gary took at job at The Jerusalem Post and later worked for the British news agency Reuters. Pnina Gary, 90, continued her acting career.

She said her husband always carried a camera with him when he was reporting, and their home was filled with photo albums.

Decades after Robert Gary died in Tel Aviv in 1987, at the age of 67, Pnina Gary wrote and starred in a hit play, “An Israeli Love Story.” It is based on her real-life romance with the first man she was supposed to marry, who was killed by local Arabs in an ambush on their kibbutz.

“We knew life wouldn’t be easy in Israel,” she said. “That’s not why anyone comes here.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations on Sept. 20. Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Iran’s president says security for Israel is ‘not possible,’ pleads for nuclear deal


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran delivered to the United Nations an extended plea to preserve the Iran nuclear deal while saying it was “not possible” to guarantee Israel security as long as it “usurped” Palestinian lands.

Rouhani, speaking Wednesday, derided the tough talk about his country delivered a day earlier by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch of this year’s General Assembly in New York. His Twitter feed posted the lines as he spoke.

“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Zionist regime not committed to any international instrument or safeguard has the audacity to preach to peaceful nations.”

Trump and Netanyahu in their speeches both cast Iran as a rogue nation and said the 2015 nuclear deal trading sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program was an “embarrassment.” Trump hinted there would a change in U.S. posture toward the deal, and Netanyahu said it should either be amended or canceled outright.

Rouhani, whose government still fends off criticism from Iranian hardliners opposed to the plan, cast it as a template for international peace deals.

“It belongs to the international community in its entirety and not only one or two countries,” he said of the deal otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The JCPOA can be a new model for global interactions.” Iran, he said, would “not be the first” to violate the deal.

Rouhani insisted that missile testing was “only for deterrence.” Trump and Netanyahu have said that Iran’s missile advances and its military adventurism are also reasons to re-examine the Iran deal.

The Iranian leader called for peaceful coexistence, but appeared to extend his invitation to everyone but Israel.

“It is not possible for a rogue and racist regime to trample upon the most basic rights of the Palestinians, and be usurpers of this land and enjoy security,” he said.

Rouhani’s predecessors and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said they regard the entirety of Israel as illegitimate. Rouhani has not made his views clear.

He twice mentioned ancient Iranian gestures of friendship toward the Jews as exemplars of the current regime’s alleged commitment to diversity.

“We are the same people who rescued the Jews from Babylonian servility,” he said, referring to the Jewish communities established in Persia after they wer expelled by the Babylonians from Judea in the sixth century BCE. “Historically backing the oppressed, Iran upholds the right of the Palestinian people as it did those of the Jewish people centuries ago.”

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations in New York on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump ignores Israeli-Palestinian peace in UN speech, says US cannot ‘abide’ Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States cannot “abide” the Iran nuclear deal as it stands but notably omitted mention of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said Tuesday on the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Trump has said there will be a “dramatic” adjustment to how the United States treats the deal by next month, when according to U.S. law, the United States just recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Critics of the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who, unusually for a leader, was in attendance during Trump’s speech — say the lifting of some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting within a decade pave its path to a nuclear weapon. Defenders of the agreement say that other provisions written into the deal are sufficient to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.

Trump coupled Iran and North Korea as rogue regimes threatening stability worldwide. Several times he singled out Iran for its backing of the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the threat posed by the group to Israel.

Netanyahu responded effusively to the 40-minute address.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” the Israeli leader said. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

In not mentioning his administration’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, Trump departed from his predecessors. Saying an Israeli-Palestinian deal is critical to world peace is almost de rigeuer during the General Assembly, even for tiny far-flung nations that have no influence on the outcome.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Bernie Sanders sponsors event supporting Palestinian village of Susiya


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is sponsoring a September 19th briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the cause of the Palestinian village, Susiya, which is designated for demolition by the Israeli Army, a Senate staffer confirmed to Jewish Insider.

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

While the briefing marks International Peace Day which is September 21, due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, it has been moved to the 19th to allow those celebrating to attend, according to a copy of the invitation. The organizer Rebuilding Alliance declined to publicize Sanders’ sponsorship in its invitation.

The California-based Rebuilding Alliance is slated to fly-in children from the West Bank villages of Susiya and Al-Aqaba along with Gaza. “It is our hope that upon hearing their presentation, members of Congress will personally make calls to the Israeli Embassy to express concern, stop the demolitions, recognize Palestinian planning rights, turn on the lights, and assure due process,” the event explains.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Susiya is an illegally constructed outpost near Hebron and “are continuing to build in defiance of a court order.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has written multiple letters to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Jerusalem not to demolish the contested village.

Earlier this year, Sanders was one of four Senators to send a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighting the case of Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is charged by the Israeli military for obstructing soldiers. The Vermont lawmaker also delivered a harsh critique of Israel’s conduct in the 1948 war at the J Street conference last February. “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees,” he said.

The September 19 briefing will be the second pro-Palestinian event on Capitol Hill this year. In June, Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) sponsored an event titled: “50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children.”

Love story meets thriller over Englander’s ‘Dinner’


Nathan Englander — who was raised and educated in an Orthodox community on Long Island, spent five years in Israel and now lives in Brooklyn — is one of America’s leading Jewish writers. His remarkable collection of short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and both of his other previous books (“The Ministry of Special Cases,” a novel, and “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,” a short story collection) also were deeply informed by Englander’s yiddisher kop — his Jewish head.

With his latest novel, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” (Knopf), Englander is still contemplating a Jewish cast of characters on a Jewish landscape. But the new book is an espionage thriller, which means that we must now compare Englander to Graham Greene as well as Philip Roth. And he comes off well in the comparison. His new book is a page-turner with all of the moral insight and depth of emotion that characterizes what Englander has called his “thinky” books.

[Nathan Englander Q&A: A novel’s view of Israel-Palestine conflict]

The mystery focuses on a man who is known as Prisoner Z, an American Jew who is being held in solitary confinement by Israeli authorities at a “black site” in the Negev. (The character’s name and circumstances allude to the real-life case of a Mossad agent in Israeli confinement who was called Prisoner X.) As Englander invites us ever deeper into the mystery, we learn that Prisoner Z was serving as an Israeli intelligence agent in Paris when he came under suspicion of treason by his own comrades-in-arms after a delicate mission goes horribly wrong and he tries to fix it.

Prisoner Z is no James Bond. Rather, he is anxious and fretful, tortured with regret and self-doubt, and especially now that he has been “viciously awoken to the consequences of what he’d done, for Israel, for Palestine, and, most urgently, for himself.”  He is afraid to touch a newspaper left behind on a café table for fear that it has been swabbed with a deadly poison by his comrades in the Mossad. “[H]e knew how his pursuers worked because he worked for them,” Englander explains. “It was chaos theory and game theory and psy-ops and all the best intelligence and counterintelligence whisked up together.”

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth” consists of two parallel narratives in counterpoint to each other. One is the backstory of Prisoner Z, who starts out as a spy and ends up as a prisoner because, as he tells the Italian waitress who becomes his lover, “I got myself into a bind trying to fix the world.” His scruples do not impress her: “This is why I never dated Jewish men,” she complains. “You all seem very cute for a day or two, and then end up being crazy.” When he extracts a passport and “three fat stacks of bills” from a hiding place in his apartment, the waitress is impressed: “Now you seem less crazy,” she says, “and more like a dangerous spy.” In the finest tradition of the spy novel, nothing turns out to be quite what it seems.

The other story takes place in the hospital room where “the General” — who is plainly Ariel Sharon — lingers on life support. “[T]he great general lies there on his bed, waxed and rouged like a Red Delicious, looking like a fat Lenin on display,” Englander writes. “Their dear departed murderous leader, whose family will not let him die.” While the comatose patient dreams of the victories and defeats, the joys and heartbreaks of his storied life, the conversations between the young man who guards Prisoner Z and his mother, who nurses the General, are the occasion for a running debate about whether the General had been good or bad for the Jews.

“He was going to make peace,” says the nurse, whose name is Ruthi. “Peace was the bomb the General was going to drop.”

“You really believe that?” asks her son.

“If he ever finds his way back, he’ll end up looking more lefty than you,” Ruthi says.

The two stories are delicately and ironically interwoven. “Over the years, on the nights he cannot sleep, which are legion, Prisoner Z has not only greatly improved his penmanship in both Hebrew and English, but has become adept at composing without any light,” Englander writes. “He is busy writing a letter to the General, his pen pal. In the morning he will give it to the guard, to give to his mother, to give to the General, who never writes back.” As the reader will discover, the fate of these two characters is linked in even more dire and fateful ways.

Since Englander set out to write a thriller, he delivers all of the twists and turns, the shocks and surprises, that we are entitled to expect in that genre. But he does not disappoint the readers of his earlier work who know him for his exquisite sensibilities and the sheer power of his literary prose. For that reason, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” will only expand his reach and enrich his already considerable reputation.

Other New Books

Here are some authors with new books who will be visiting Los Angeles this season:

• Stephen Greenblatt is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard scholar whose work has famously focused on Shakespeare (“Will in the World”). In his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve” (Norton), Greenblatt assumes that the first two human beings whom we meet in the Bible are fictional characters, like Romeo and Juliet, although he readily concedes that the mythic figures we find in the Bible have shaped not only the culture and politics but also the history and destiny of our world.

As part of the ALOUD program of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Greenblatt will discuss his new book with his fellow scholar and Pulitzer recipient Jack Miles (“God: A Biography”), an encounter that promises to be a theological battle of titans. The event takes place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Los Angeles Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St. lfla.org.

• If you think back to Lou Grant, the memorable character that Ed Asner played on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the irascible news director with a heart of gold is entirely consistent with Asner’s public persona as a self-proclaimed “Dauntless Democrat” and a progressive goad. 

The point is made in “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nut Jobs” (Simon & Schuster), which is co-written by writer and producer Ed. Weinberger. As the title announces, the book is not a Hollywood memoir; rather, it is a spirited argument that the Constitution is the repository of liberal values and the birthright of American progressives. 

Not unlike Bernie Sanders, Asner brims with energy and vision that reaches across several generations. Asner and Weinberger will engage in a public conversation about their book under the auspices of LiveTalkLA at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena. eventbrite.com.

• People who attend services at the spiritual community called Nashuva already know that its founder, Rabbi Naomi Levy, is a gifted counselor, teacher and storyteller. So do the readers of her previous books, including “Hope Will Find You,” “Talking to God” and “To Begin Again.” 

The same wisdom, vision and charisma are on display in her latest book, “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul” (Flatiron Books), a courageous account of the power that prayer and meditation have when facing even the most heartbreaking challenges of life. 

As the title suggests, Levy argues that science and faith not only coexist but explain and support each other. “When we feel alone, we are wrong,” Levy writes. “Einstein’s words reaffirmed everything I had come to see in my own experience. Einstein was saying that we are all part of a greater whole.”

The most touching example is a dire medical ordeal that Levy endured, and I promise that the happy ending will bring tears to your eyes. Levy will present her book at several venues in Southern California, including on Nov. 7 at Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles; and Nov. 15 at Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. us.macmillan.com/author/naomilevy/.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Nathan Englander. Photo from nathanenglander.com

Nathan Englander interview: A novel’s view of Israel-Palestine conflict


More words may have been written about the Israel-Palestine conflict than there are grains of sand at the beach, but to Nathan Englander there is still room on bookshelves for a novel that stirs the emotions and invites the empathy so often lost in the conflict’s polemics. 

[MORE: Love story meets thriller over Englander’s ‘Dinner’]

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth,” the author’s fourth and latest book, is a political thriller that examines the conflict from the perspectives of a renegade Mossad agent, a young Palestinian activist and a multitude of characters swept up in the conflict’s moral vortex. Englander spoke with the Journal about the challenge of writing through controversy and his commitment to peace, now stronger than ever, in today’s fractured political landscape. 

Jewish Journal: The Israel-Palestine conflict is among the most fraught and nuanced subjects for a novel. What compelled you to write about it? 

Nathan Englander: I moved to Israel [from New York] in 1996 for the peace process, because I was just so excited for this brand-new day and peace in the Middle East. It sounds almost like a utopian vision now, but [peace] really was happening and really right there.

Over the years, the whole thing came apart. Peace between Israel and Palestine and the idea of a two-state solution fell apart, and now the opposite of progress continues to be made. I moved home [to the United States] sort of heartbroken about that in 2001.

For 20 years, I’ve always wanted to explore this conflict and my own internal belief in peace, because I don’t know what other position there is to hold. What I’ve watched over these last two decades is that the two sides separate more and more. Every day going by, every week, the people understand each other less. A physical wall has gone up — Gaza’s closed off, there’s a wall between the West Bank and Israel, there are roadblocks. Even though there was occupation and many of the same issues [in the past], people still mixed more. There was just so much more sharing of the daily life. To me, this book was a way to explore these notions of empathy on both sides.

JJ: What does this book add to the noise of opinions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict? What’s the fresh angle?

NE: I don’t think it’s the writer’s job to give answers or to give opinions. In fact, when a writer has answers, I think the work ends up being corrupted. It becomes didactic. What a book does is share a consciousness and invite people to explore the questions as best as you can. This book is not my answer; it is my optimistic lament for lost peace.

Every book is vulnerable and every book is nerve-wracking, but I’ve never been both so excited and terrified to have a book coming into the world. It’s an expressly loaded subject, one on which you can’t win. Even with people on the same side — my editor was telling me about her sweet Israeli in-laws who both read the book and got into an argument over it. If all goes well, there will be arguments. 

JJ: Did you have to change your writing style at all in handling such a nuanced topic? 

NE: I was looking for a way to tell this story for a long time because I didn’t want it to be didactic or turn into a history lesson. Nobody needed a 500-page lecture from me on peace in the Middle East. Finally, when it came to me, it was such a departure from my other books in so many ways. It’s sort of like a literary thriller that’s also a metafictional historical novel that ends up being a love story that turns into an allegory. 

I think in circles and speak in circles. When I wrote my first book [“For the Relief of Unbearable Urges”], I studied how to be linear and tell a story straight. This is my fourth book, and I was like, “I finally get to keep my circles,” because the conflict is so circular. Whichever way I start a sentence is going to upset someone — if I say, “Israel attacks Palestine” or “Palestine attacks Israel,” someone will be like, “They started first” or “No, they started first.” Who cares at this point who started first? It’s this endless, heartbreaking cycle that just happens again and again as if it’s new. 

That’s why I wanted the book to swing from side to side. It’s not even two sides — I don’t think there are many sides when it comes to Nazis or neo-Nazis, where there’s only one side that’s functional — but there are two peoples here, and there are many sides among those peoples.

JJ: While you were writing, was your target audience Jews or non-Jews, or both? 

NE: When somebody asks a variation of “Who do you write for?” I always feel like the writer got trapped into putting a form on something that has no form. Certain things are amorphous.

If a story is functioning, it better be universal. I can’t control how an Israeli will feel about the book, or a Palestinian or a left-wing person or a right-wing person. But if a story is working, it should travel across time, across space, across language, across gender, across belief.

JJ: You said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune that you feel strongly that Judaism is not your subject, your characters just happen to be Jewish. Is that still your position after writing a book about Israel? 

NE: I still stand by that statement. I think it shows more about why it’s being asked than whatever my answer is. Nobody would take a John Updike book and say, “I want to give this to my Jewish friend, but can they read this?” Or they don’t say, “Oh, I love Voltaire, but my friend’s not French and he’s not dead and he’s not 300 years old, so can I give him ‘Candide’?” You just read a book. Some people tell me, “I love your book. Can I give it to my friend who’s not Jewish?” You wouldn’t ask that in the reverse.

Still, this is the book where I feel most like a Jewish writer because of what’s happening in this country right now. Now that some things [in American society] are being let out of the darkness where they belong, I claim [the Jewish label] that much more.

JJ: What is it exactly about current events that makes you embrace that niche label?

NE: A sign of democracy in danger is how our president keeps threatening journalists and tweeting disturbing photos about hurting journalists. The reason people get afraid of writing real, honest journalism and fiction, and the reason corrupted people and demagogues are afraid of journalism and fiction and poetry across the world, is because it is a subversive form.

Writing travels. You can enter into a world far different from your own and understand that there is a reality other than the one you have been spoon-fed. I grew up in a closed, religious, suburban world — I call it a terrarium or a bubble — and opening books just blew my mind open. It just opened universes to me. 

JJ: How were you able to write Palestinian characters and understand a Palestinian’s perspective?

NE: It is hugely important to me what it means to identify, what it means to enter other cultures, what it means to co-opt. I’m not writing this book and pretending to be Palestinian. I do believe writing is a moral act, both your obligation to it and where it comes from.

But all I can tell you is that I write from the heart and put my whole heart and soul into each character equally. There’s no way to work if I am so limited.

JJ: The book’s dust jacket describes a “nice American Jewish boy from Long Island.” Is that an autobiographical character? 

NE: One of the main characters is Prisoner Z, a boy from Long Island who joins the Mossad and ends up betraying it. There was a public story [in 2010] about a real Australian agent in the Mossad called Prisoner X, who was accused of being a traitor. I got to thinking what it would be like if someone like me had joined the Mossad.

I wanted to close in on what it would take for someone like me — someone who moves to a different country, who’s so ideological and so believes in what that country is about that they join its secret service — to flip on the ethical front. What could they hear or see or empathize with the other side that would cause them to turn on their own?

JJ: How have your attitudes toward the Israel-Palestine conflict changed over the course of writing this book? 

NE: Oh, God. I can’t tell you how much, over time, my views have changed. It’s been a long evolution of ideas based on experience, and this book was a way for me to re-ponder and re-explore my positions on a million fronts.

It’s impossible for [young people] to have a memory when peace was really happening and on the horizon. It was over when [their] life began. Two-state seems impossible now, and peace between Israel and Palestine seems a ridiculous notion. That’s something I refuse to let go of, and if you think that’s a romantic notion or a naive notion, I don’t know what better idea anyone has.

But I can tell you, if it keeps building toward extreme conflict, someone’s going to win. Maybe that’s the point of the book — to say, “We should really make peace, because without it, someone is gonna win.” And I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want both peoples to have bright and open and hopeful futures.

President Donald Trump has issued few apologies and asked for many in the past year. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Apologies and non-apologies in the year of our Trump 5777


There are apologies, there are non-apologies and there are apologies that never were.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are approaching: We are in the season of repentance and its most apt expression, apologizing to our fellow women and men.

The Trump presidency presents special challenges to apology trackers: Donald just doesn’t do them, but he loves them when he gets them. And sometimes he insists he got them when he didn’t.

To be fair to Trump, his ambivalence, if not hostility, toward self-reproach is not unique, and certainly not among presidents. It took Bill Clinton months — until just days before Rosh Hashanah of 1998 — to fully apologize for embarking on, and lying about, his affair with Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush still blames the Iraq War on bad intelligence. Barack Obama took his time before eventually apologizing to Americans who lost their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn’t.

Clinton’s apology, at least, included a direct apology to Lewinsky for having called her a liar, and thus met the conditions for “teshuvah,” or genuine repentance, laid out by the Jewish sage Maimonides 900 years ago in his Mishnah Torah: One must seek forgiveness for sins against one’s fellows not from God, and directly from the wounded party. Beg forgiveness directly, Maimonides prescribed, resolve to not repeat your transgression and do what you can to make it up to the victim. Anything less is not a real apology.

In that regard, 5777 wasn’t a great year for Maimonidean apologies. Take a look:

The failing, if not sorry, New York Times

The New York Times

The Midtown Manhattan building that houses what Trump calls “the failing @nytimes,” July 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump very much wants to believe The New York Times apologized for its coverage of the election last year. But the Times insists it never apologized.

Trump’s hopes for an apology lie buried in a letter the newspaper posted five days after the election.

“After such an erratic and unpredictable election,” the editors wrote to readers, “there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?”

Trump read that sentence as a mea culpa.

“The failing @nytimes, which has made every wrong prediction about me including my big election win (apologized), is totally inept!” Trump tweeted as recently as Aug. 7.

The Times has responded by tweeting, “We stand by our coverage,” and pointing to the language of the original letter, “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same level of fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”

In a fiery speech in Phoenix last month, Trump still hoped to shake out the nugget of an apology in the Times letter.

“How about this?” Trump said. “The New York Times essentially apologized after I won the election because their coverage was so bad, and it was so wrong, and they were losing so many subscribers that they practically apologized. I would say they did.”

A sorry state of affairs

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski speaking in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 7, 2012. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Becoming the most powerful man on earth has barely slaked Trump’s thirst for deference.

“Fake News is at an all time high,” he said on Twitter in June. “Where is their apology to me for all of the incorrect stories???

Michelle Cottle, writing in the Atlantic in February, compiled a partial list of the people from whom Trump and his surrogates had demanded apologies during and since the campaign. They included Sen. John McCain, the cast of “Hamilton,” CNN’s Jim Acosta, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Megyn Kelly and Hillary Clinton.

“If anything, a grudging, coerced apology seems to delight him even more than a wholly voluntary one,” Cottle wrote.

Failing to extract an apology, by contrast, seems to enrage Trump. In June, New York magazine reported that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner failed in his bid to get MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to apologize to Trump for his show’s critical coverage of the president. The exchange culminated with the president’s attack on Scarborough’s fiancé and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, as “bleeding from the face” from a facelift.

Sorry, not sorry

Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, giving an apology message about remarks made in a released “Access Hollywood” tape, Oct. 7, 2016. (Screenshot from Facebook)

Trump’s best-known apology, delivered Oct. 8 between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was a classic of the sorry, not sorry genre.

It came after the “Access Hollywood” tape showed Trump boasting about sexual assault in 2005.

“I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more-than-a-decade-old video are one of them,” Trump, then a candidate, said in his videotaped apology.

Translation: It was over a decade old, when I was a mere child of 59. Why bother with it now?

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize,” he said.

Better; even Maimonides might approve. But Trump wasn’t done.

“Let’s be honest: We are living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today,” he said.

Uh-oh. Sounds like he is diminishing the significance of the thing he just apologized for. But at least Trump didn’t say that others have done things that are far worse.

Wait, there’s this:

“Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” he said. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”

Trump, moreover, did not apologize to his direct targets: the actress he was lusting over in the audio or the married friend he claimed he had hoped to seduce. Melania Trump, who was already married to Trump at the time the tape was made, said her husband apologized to her. Trump has said he did not.

His daughter Ivanka Trump, the evening the tape emerged, reportedly pleaded for him to make a real apology. He refused. She left the room in tears, according to The New York Times.

Trump recorded his apology on Oct. 8. He won election on Nov. 8.

Atonement for the Day of Atonement

Marchers in Los Angeles protesting President Trump’s order to end the DACA immigrant program, Sept. 5, 2017. (David McNew/Getty Images)

There have been plenty of other apologies in the Trump era.

Jewish social justice activists were miffed when they learned that the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C., was scheduled for Sept. 30, which happens to be Yom Kippur. The organizers dithered for a bit, but on Aug. 16 issued a statement saying the scheduling “was a grave and hurtful oversight on our part. It was unintentional and we are sorry for this pain as well as for the time it has taken for us to respond. Our mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.”

The date of the march will not be changed, but related events may be held on that Saturday night or the next day.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, welcomed the apology, saying the organizers “have modeled teshuvah in the past few days.”

Swiss miss

A photo of the pool at the Paradies Arosa hotel in Switzerland. (Screenshot from Paradies Arosa)

A Swiss hotel owner made all the wrong kinds of headlines when she posted signs at her place urging Jews to shower before entering the pool and telling them they could only access a hotel refrigerator at set times. Even Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, chimed in, saying the incident reflected the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

But the story was somewhat more complicated. Ruth Thomann, who runs the hotel, tearfully told JTA that she meant no offense to Jews and that she merely sought to convey information relevant only to the Jewish guests (who, she said, store their kosher food in the hotel fridge and tend to swim wearing T-shirts and other outerwear, presumably out of modesty).

“I may have selected the wrong words; the signs should have been addressed to all the guests instead of Jewish ones,” she said, adding, “My God, if I had something against Jews, I wouldn’t take them as guests!”

On Target

A Target store in Novato, Calif. (Getty Images)

Target apologized to Israelis when it couldn’t make good on orders after a shipping company offered a brief free-shipping promotion. The U.S. retail giant said it was overwhelmed by the orders from Aug. 18 to 20.

“Due to the much higher than anticipated response to the Borderfree Free Shipping promotion, we are unable to deliver order [number] and had to cancel it. We apologize for this inconvenience,” read the letter sent to  Israeli customers.

‘It’s over for me’

Kevin Myers (Screenshot from YouTube)

An Irish journalist, fired for writing what critics called an anti-Semitic newspaper column, apologized to those he offended — although he insisted his intentions were good.

“I am very very sorry to them, I really mean it, I’m not rescuing anything as far as I can see, it’s over for me,” Kevin Myers said, referring to the two Jewish female BBC broadcasters who were described in his column as hard-bargainers. “I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them.”

Jews, he had written in July, “are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price.”

Said Myers: “I said those words out of respect for their religion.”

Um, thank you?

Flag politics

A Palestinian flag flying in Gaza City in 2015. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Also in July, a Jewish camp in Washington state apologized after flying a Palestinian flag “as a sign of friendship and acceptance” to visiting Palestinian Muslim and Christian students. Critics of the flag said it was offensive and represented a regime that still incites violence against Jews. Supporters said welcoming Palestinian students on a peace mission was the menschy thing to do.

The critics won the debate.

“We sincerely apologize that we upset some in our CSS and larger Jewish community by introducing the Palestinian flag into our educational program,” Camp Solomon Schechter wrote in a letter to parents and supports. “Camp Solomon Schechter reiterates our unwavering support for the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.”

The camp’s executive director and co-board president also issued a statement.

“Camp Solomon Schechter regrets raising the Palestinian flag alongside US, Canadian and Israeli flags on Thursday and Friday mornings …,” the statement said. “We neglected to foresee in such actions the serious political implications and for that lapse in judgment, we are deeply sorry.”

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

Trump says Israelis and Palestinians both want peace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Australian broadcaster explains why it left Israel off the map


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands during a reception ceremony for Jordan's King Abdullah II in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7, 2017. Picture taken August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

The Mahmoud Abbas exchange, Part 3: On Israel and the Palestinian leadership struggle


Amir Tibon is an Israeli journalist who covers Washington, D.C. for Haaretz newspaper. Prior to Haaretz, Tibon was the diplomatic correspondent for Walla News, a leading Israeli news website. His writing on Israel, the peace process and the Middle East has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Politico Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, The American Interest, and The Jerusalem Report.

Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Palestinian politics. Rumley has published in leading media outlets, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, and contributed commentary to The New York Times, Reuters, and Newsweek. Prior to joining FDD, Rumley was a visiting fellow at Mitvim, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. While in Jerusalem, Grant also founded and edited The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs. Previously, Grant served as a consultant in Washington on issues related to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, and war-gaming strategies.

The following exchange will focus on Tibon and Rumley’s new book The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas (Prometheus Books, 2017). You can find parts one and two here and here.

***

Dear Grant and Amir,

I’d like to dedicate our third round to the complicated hate triangle between Abbas, Hamas and Netanyahu. In your book, there is a description of Abbas’ reaction to the Shalit deal, which the previous Netanyahu-led government made with Hamas:

In one conversation with a senior American official, Abbas complained that “Hamas kidnapped one Israeli soldier and Netanyahu gave them a thousand prisoners for his release. My security forces have returned to Israel more than a hundred Israelis who wandered into our territories, and we got zero appreciation for it.” Indeed, Abbas’s security forces had a policy of escorting Israelis who entered Palestinian cities and towns by mistake into the safe arms of the Israeli military. “If I behaved like Hamas, I could have a hundred Shalit deals by now—there would be no more Palestinians in Israeli prisons. But I choose to do the humane thing and get nothing in return,” Abbas lamented.

My third-round question: looking ahead to the day after Abbas, what would you like, say, an Israeli decision maker reading your book to learn about Israel’s role in the fragile Hamas-Fatah relationship? What mistakes has Israel made, does Israel have a say on the matter and should Israel pursue any specific strategy when it comes to the inevitable succession struggle? 

Thank you once again for participating in this exchange.

Shmuel   

***

Dear Shmuel,

This anecdote represents a recurring frustration that Abbas has expressed over the years in the ears of Israeli and American officials who have worked with him – that Israel, in his eyes, responds “better” (from a Palestinian point of view) to violence than to negotiations. The Shalit affair is one example he has repeatedly used in this context. The 2005 Gaza disengagement is another, and we discuss it at length in the book. Abbas and people close to him felt that instead of giving the PA a larger role in the withdrawal from Gaza, and thus empowering Abbas in the eye of the Palestinian street, Ariel Sharon insisted to go at it alone and by doing that strengthened Hamas, which told the Palestinian public that Israel withdrew under fire, and that guns and suicide bombers were more efficient in extracting concessions from Israel than negotiations.

Abbas, of course, is also painfully aware of the price the Palestinians have paid for turning to violence. That’s why despite his talk about Israel’s “encouragement” of violence, he has never actually adopted Hamas’ strategy – only lamented about it. But one important conclusion that we hope policy-makers will take from our book, is the importance of creating incentives and benefits for a leader who opposes violence and is committed to negotiations. Abbas deserves a lot of criticism – which can easily be found in our book – but even his harshest critics should give him credit when it is due for opposing violence and supporting negotiations over the years. Unfortunately, that has not happened often enough during his long career as a diplomat and a political leader.

The succession struggle that will come after Abbas is an internal Palestinian affair, in our view. Israel could perhaps affect it by, as we have suggested above, empowering moderate leaders and showing more flexibility towards those who support negotiations and compromise than towards those who support violence and strive for conflict. But they should also beware not to look too eager to support any specific candidate or faction, since that could ultimately empower the ‘other side.’ Can the damages of the past be repaired, in a way that would convince a majority of Palestinians that Abbas’ approach is more beneficial than Hamas’? We hope so, but cannot say for sure.

 

Amir Tibon

The Mahmoud Abbas exchange, part 2: On peace agreements with Arab autocrats


Amir Tibon is an Israeli journalist who covers Washington, D.C. for Haaretz newspaper. Prior to Haaretz, Tibon was the diplomatic correspondent for Walla News, a leading Israeli news website. His writing on Israel, the peace process and the Middle East has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Politico Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Tablet Magazine, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, The American Interest, and The Jerusalem Report.

Grant Rumley is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Palestinian politics. Rumley has published in leading media outlets, including Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, and contributed commentary to The New York Times, Reuters, and Newsweek. Prior to joining FDD, Rumley was a visiting fellow at Mitvim, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. While in Jerusalem, Grant also founded and edited The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs. Previously, Grant served as a consultant in Washington on issues related to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, and war-gaming strategies.

The following exchange will focus on Tibon and Rumley’s new book The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas (Prometheus Books, 2017). You can find part one here.

***

Dear Amir and Grant,

I’d like to start this round from the last paragraph of your first answer:

The two Arab leaders who have actually signed peace agreements with Israel – King Hussein of Jordan and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt – weren’t great believers in democratic institutions, to say the least. But fairly or not, history will most likely remember them by their diplomatic achievements rather than their heavy-handed governing styles at home. Sadly, as of today, the same cannot be said about Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that Israel’s two long-lasting peace agreements were signed with non-democratic autocrats is a curious point. Considering that the opposition Abbas has faced in Palestine has never consisted of peace-loving democrats, but of Islamic extremists, and that regional autocrats seem to be the lesser of two evils in today’s Middle East – has Abbas’ autocratic consolidation of power necessarily been a negative development from Israel’s perspective? Moreover, had Abbas been a powerful autocrat before 2007, would he not have been more capable of implementing the vision he started out advocating?

Can Israel ever hope for something better than a regional autocrat with a genuine interest in peace?

Yours,

Shmuel

***

Dear Shmuel,

The question of democratic versus autocratic legitimacy when it comes to the peace process doesn’t have a clear-cut answer, in our opinion. On the one hand, peace agreements between democratic societies are likelier to withstand the test of time. On the other hand, autocrats with strong grips on their respective societies have historically been the only ones able to sign a treaty with Israel.

It’s important to note that the question of how democratic, or undemocratic, Palestinian politics are, isn’t a question for Israel to answer, but for the Palestinians themselves. Israel didn’t comment on the state of democracy in Egypt and Jordan when it signed peace agreements with these countries, and it would be delighted to sign a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia tomorrow morning – assuming the Saudis gave up some of their demands – despite that country’s awful civil rights record. What Israel, or at least the Israelis who want an agreement, seeks in a Palestinian partner is someone who can be trusted and has the ability to deliver.

Our reading of the last two decades of peace talks is that a Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to implement it in order to reach a deal. Arafat had the latter, but couldn’t bring himself to accept the former. Abbas may have been the opposite: willing to sign in a vacuum, but unable to implement an agreement once he comes to power and loses Gaza. Arafat’s legitimacy derived not merely from being the father of the modern Palestinian national movement but also from his control over nearly every major decision. Abbas’ legitimacy came from his democratic mandate in winning the 2005 presidential election, yet those same voters dealt his legitimacy a fatal blow in 2006 when they chose Hamas over Abbas’ Fatah party. The setback reverberated in Washington, where both the Bush and Obama administrations largely abandoned any push for future Palestinian elections.

Yet Palestinians have a rich societal history of placing a premium on democratic institutions. Trade unions, labor groups, civil society, political parties – all have a long track record of valuing democratic elections. When Abbas told Palestinians at his first inaugural address in 2005 that this would be a year of Palestinian elections, he had a receptive audience. And it’s this same audience that’s seen him rule by executive decree since 2009, when his four-year presidential term expired. It’s this lack of democracy, when even local city council elections are delayed repeatedly, which plays a role in widening the gap between Abbas and his people.

This is not an argument for holding elections right now – Fatah is in disarray and could well lose again to Hamas – but it is an argument to not fear elections. Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza have lived the past decade with autocratic leaders without a meaningful say in who their representatives are. Polls indicate a majority in each area are tired of their current leaders. A new Palestinian leadership, with a democratic majority and a mandate to negotiate peace with Israel, would arguably have more legitimacy than the current autocratic rulers in the West Bank and Gaza.

However unlikely such a scenario is right now, it’s not an impossibility. Palestinian Basic Law calls for presidential elections sixty days after the president vacates the seat. When Abbas does vacate the presidency, there will be voices calling for national elections in both the West Bank and Gaza for a new president. Whether these calls are answered will be the truest test of Palestinian commitment to democracy, and whether or not a leader can campaign on making peace with Israel, and win.

 

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