November 14, 2018

Election: Jews Favor Israel, Oppose Trump

President Trump at the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial outside Paris. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

American Jews headed to the polls on Nov. 6 spurred by concern over health care, gun violence and the predatory glances that Republican politicians have been casting at Medicare and Social Security. These voters, still burning with anguish over the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and concern over growing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, profoundly rejected President Donald Trump and his policies.

Jewish voters chose Democratic candidates by a 76 percent to 19 percent margin, according to a new poll conducted by GBA Strategies and commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization (full disclosure: I work with J Street as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow). Voters connected the rise of racial and religious bias in the United States and the general deterioration of public discourse with the policies and actions of the Trump administration. A large majority made clear that they have been more concerned with anti-Semitism (81 percent), racism (79 percent) and right-wing extremism (79 percent) since the president took office.

Strikingly, 72 percent of those surveyed — and 66 percent of Orthodox Jews surveyed — state that Trump’s comments and policies are “very” or “somewhat” responsible for the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue.

When asked what issues most strongly motivated their vote in the congressional elections, the top issue for the most Jews from every denomination is health care. Most Jews surveyed said the two issues after that are gun violence and Social Security/Medicare. American Jews reported that domestic issues ranked highest in their consideration of which candidates to vote for, ranking Israel 12th on a list of 14 issues and ranking Iran last. When asked about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, 71 percent supported it, while 67 percent opposed Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement.

American-Jewish voters continue to care about the State of Israel, for which 65 percent report an “emotional attachment.” However, if Trump has been hoping that this attachment combined with his closeness with Prime Minister Netanyahu will win American Jews to his side, he should be disappointed. American Jews are not markedly fond of the Netanyahu — about a third of the respondents rated him favorably. Netanyahu’s policies, favored by Trump, are not popular with American Jews, 83 percent of whom support a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and 78 percent of whom support such a two-state solution based pre-1967 borders with land swaps, international peacekeepers and a Palestinian capital in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Seventy-six percent of American Jews think that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank should be fully suspended or restricted only to certain areas.

“Smart voters recognize Trump and Netanyahu are deeply out of step.”

Eighty-four percent of American Jews think that someone can be pro-Israel while being openly critical of the Israeli government’s policies. After all, these are voters who love the U.S. while being vocally critical of our current president — who criticize him because they love America and cannot abide the effects of his misrule on our country.

American Jews value a vigorous democracy that promotes healthy debate and curiosity about difference, not murderous hostility. They recall that we are commanded to care for the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. They value care for the sick, the elderly and young — for the widow and orphan as our prophets demanded. 

Whether it comes from Netanyahu or Trump, they dislike aggressive rhetoric and policies that promote social division and hatred. In Israel and in the U.S., they want to see security maintained and peace pursued, not through fear, but through diplomatic conflict resolution.

In the context of today’s political configuration, this means that American Jews solidly support Democratic Party candidates, and that is unlikely to change. American Jews are a small percentage of the population, but, increasingly, elections are decided by tiny portions of the electorate, and Jews are motivated voters. Smart candidates continue to recognize that Trump, Netanyahu and the voices that support them are deeply out of step with the American-Jewish electorate.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and blogs at jewishjournal.com/erevrav. 

A Case of A Silent, Deadly #MeToo in New York

Among the many tragedies of the past couple of weeks, on Oct. 24 the bodies of two young Saudi Arabian sisters were found near the Hudson River, bound together with duct tape. They had been seen that morning in nearby Riverside Park, praying.

Police are still investigating but suspect the sisters’ deaths were a double suicide. Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, had moved to Fairfax, Va., with their family in 2015. Rotana was enrolled at George Mason University. They ran away last December and entered a domestic violence shelter after reportedly telling authorities that they were being physically abused at home. They then left the shelter without notice in August. 

The sisters had applied for political asylum, and seemingly because of that, their mother received a call from the Saudi consulate ordering the family to return to Saudi Arabia, according to news reports. Officials at the consulate denied the allegations and told reporters that they had hired an attorney to “follow the case closely.”

Two days later, the girls were found dead. According to the police, the girls said they would rather die than return to Saudi Arabia, where they would most likely be forced into arranged marriages.

The day the news broke, my Yemenite neighbor, Waseif Qahatan, came to my apartment in tears. “I could have saved them,” she said. 

Qahatan was a child bride at the age of 14. She had been sold to the highest bidder, her cousin. Though born and raised in the Bronx, that summer she went back to Yemen to wed. Her father received $80,000 in return.

“I believed it was a ‘regular marriage,’ but the truth was, it was indentured slavery,” said Qahatan, now 32. “I was not a wife but a slave to my husband, a slave to medieval rules, a slave to my family’s wishes.”

“When I could no longer handle the pressures, I reached out to local authorities. I was told nothing could be done because I was a minor. So, I was old enough to be married but not old enough to have a say about my body or my life.”

After having her first child at 18, Qahatan was finally granted a divorce at age 20. She was back in the U.S., but a year later was stuck in a second arranged marriage. After her second child, she ran away with her children to a domestic violence shelter. “Although I was very much alone, I finally felt free,” she said.

It is another, silent, deadly #MeToo. Physical abuse, rape, stoning, honor killing — all continue to be standard practice in religious Muslim communities around the world. But because cultural relativism is a big part of leftist ideology, many feminists remain silent on the issue. Linda Sarsour, leader of the “Women’s March,” has so far had zero to say on the Saudi suicides. 

The New York Times ran a story about the tragedy that happened just miles from its offices —and then nothing. No editorials, no op-eds, nada. President Trump couldn’t be blamed for it, so why bother?

Earlier this year, Qahatan started a nonprofit called After the Veil that is geared to help young girls needing to escape abusive families or forced marriages. She posted her mission on the organization’s website at AfterTheVeil.com: “Give a voice to Arab American women in order to empower them. Provide these women with a safe haven and the resources necessary to reach their full potential.”  Further on the website, Qahatan says the location of her organization’s safe house is kept secret to protect the women staying there. 

“Arabic girls all over the world feel they have no options,” Qahatan told me. “The conditioning of Arabic culture is that of suppression and silencing the voices of those who need to be heard the most.”

She remains upset that her nonprofit wasn’t further along to help the Saudi girls, but their deaths have given her renewed focus.

“These girls had made a decision, so they were not praying for themselves but praying for girls like them to one day have a chance, to live a life of freedom,” she said. “I have fought all my life and will continue to fight against the idea that females cannot have power. To girls in this situation, I say hold on. Help is coming.”


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Fighting Anti-Semitism Should Be Bipartisan

This week, The Jewish world mourned the brutal slaughter of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue — the deadliest anti-Semitic shooting attack in American history. Americans of good heart universally grieved and condemned the evil. And then politics broke out. As always, it broke out thanks to our nation’s obsession with President Trump and his mouth.

The media immediately leaped to the conclusion that the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue — a virulently anti-Semitic white supremacist with a particular dislike for President Trump and his “globalist” policies, a man who decried the “kike infestation” supposedly forwarded by Trump — was somehow brought about by Trump.

Two pieces of evidence have been presented to support this contention. The first is Trump’s untoward rhetoric concerning the migrant caravan headed north from Honduras toward the United States border. Trump believes the caravan is directed for political purposes. The shooter in Pittsburgh specifically decried the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), stating on the social media website Gab: “HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Suffice it to say that millions of Americans agree with President Trump regarding the caravan, and that none of them but one felt it necessary to go shoot Jews. Attempts to link opposition to George Soros to anti-Semitism lack evidence at best. Those who despise the Jews don’t need an excuse to kill us. The long history of anti-Semitism shows it to be a uniquely chameleonic conspiracy theory, crediting the Jews for communist uprisings and capitalist machinations, secularizing tendencies and religious separatism, ethnic solidarity and ethnic diffusion.

“If we wish to be accurate, we shouldn’t link normal but heated political rhetoric with anti-Semitic violence.”

The only common strain: the Jews must be eradicated. To credit President Trump’s feelings about a migrant caravan with this shooting would be to grant him Rasputin-like powers far beyond the evidence.

Then there’s the second piece of evidence: Trump’s horrifying blitheness about alt-right groups in 2016 and 2017. There’s no question that Trump’s treatment of the alt-right during the 2016 campaign and in Charlottesville was despicable. I wrote about it repeatedly and incessantly. But it’s worth noting here that the alt-right has been wildly disappointed with President Trump, who has turned out to be the most pro-Israel president in the history of the United States.

Trump’s words on the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting themselves are far stronger than any words we’ve ever heard from a president before: “If you seek the destruction of Jews, we will seek your destruction.” Furthermore, we must distinguish between the alt-right, a relatively new phenomenon, and the persistent white supremacist movement, which has routinely attacked Jews; Trump wasn’t a gleam in the political eye when a white supremacist shot up the West Valley Jewish Community Center in Woodland Hills in 1999.

All of this suggests a certain gross partisanship on the part of people who, without sufficient evidence, blame Trump for the Tree of Life Synagogue murders. That’s particularly true of people who seem fully complacent with the Democratic Party’s open embrace of Keith Ellison, Linda Sarsour and Louis Farrakhan; people who brushed off President Obama labeling an anti-Semitic terror attack in France as “random”; people who shrugged away Obama’s statements about Iranian anti-Semitism (he said that they would only act in anti-Semitic fashion “at the margins”); people who pooh-pooh the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement and Hamas.

Here’s the reality: If we wish to be accurate, we shouldn’t link normal but heated political rhetoric with anti-Semitic violence. If we wish to fight anti-Semitism, we should label all anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Semitism-enabling rhetoric for what it is, regardless of partisan persuasion. And if we wish to have a country, we ought to stop conflating politics we dislike with incitement to violence. 


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

The Politics of Evil

A green two-way street sign pointing to Liberal and Conservative, representing the two dominant political parties and ideologies in national and global politics

We have entered a new era: the politicization of evil. Evil has been weaponized to score political points. Evil is only recognized if the “other side” can be blamed for it. 

Before we even knew what fully happened in Pittsburgh — while the bodies of 11 worshippers were still on the synagogue floor — leftists were blaming the massacre on President Trump. Even more hideously, many were blaming Jews who had voted for Trump. Writer Julia Ioffe took it a step further: moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was the cause. 

But winner of the most despicable quote of all goes to Franklin Foer in The Atlantic: “Any strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers. Their money should be refused, their presence in synagogues not welcome. They have placed their community in danger.” 

Ioffe’s and Foer’s remarks prompted this response from Rabbi David Wolpe in Tablet: “How do people think this message will fall on the ears of those who fled from Iran, to be told that they are in fact guilty in the death of Pittsburgh’s Jews? Or — even more shamefully — on the ears of Judah Samet. Mr. Samet, a Holocaust survivor, escaped death by 4 minutes because he was a little late to shul. He is also a strong supporter of Trump. Frank, Julia: Would you stand before this 80-year-old man, not in a tweet or online piece, but face to face, and tell him he is responsible for the death of his friends, the people with whom he prays each Shabbat? Would you bar him from the shul where he almost died, again, at the hands of Jew haters? Really? And that would make us the righteous ones?”

The irony of leftist Jews, many of whom rarely step foot in a synagogue, blaming Trump, whose grandchildren are in Jewish day schools, cannot be overstated. More to the point, when there are terrorist attacks in Israel or Europe, you never hear from leftists — except to blame Israel. When a Pakistani Muslim recently beat an elderly Jewish man in Brooklyn, I didn’t hear a word from leftists. The next day, a young Black man in Crown Heights chased a Jewish man with a stick. Leftists were silent.

“No one is born with hate in his or her heart. You are taught to hate — but you choose to be evil. You also choose to engage in the politics of evil.”

There were 7,000 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during the Obama era. Did you ever hear from leftists? But because the murderer this time was a white supremacist — because they think they can twist this against President Trump — leftists all of a sudden care about dead Jews. 

There is no question that some on the right have tried to downplay the alt-right. As we see, it doesn’t matter what the numbers are. It only takes one lunatic with a gun to slaughter 11 people. And if you are able to downplay this slaughter, if you are able to push out of your mind the fact that he fired an AR-15 at a 97-year-old woman, then you too are engaging in the politics of evil. 

No one is born evil. No one is born with hate in his or her heart. You are taught to hate — but you choose to be evil. You also choose to engage in the politics of evil. 

Right now, Jews have four sets of enemies: the alt-right, the alt-left, Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and Islamists. With his incessant hate speech against Jews, Farrakhan is actively inciting evil, and Democrats who have been unable to criticize him are engaging in the politics of evil.

Jeremy Corbyn and his followers in the British Labour Party actively engage in the politics of evil. Professors who teach their students to hate Jews and Israel engage in the politics of evil. Reporters and editors who misrepresent what is happening in Israel engage in the politics of evil.

We all need to stop and look at this horror without the buffer of politics. We all need to feel the pain of the nine families whose lives have been tragically upended by hate.

All of Israel is responsible for one another, the Talmud says. But just as important, an attack on Jews has always meant an attack on the Western values of truth, justice and freedom.

That’s what our four enemies have in common: they all hate Western values. Now is the time to unite over those values, not defame them.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Eisen and Ross on Ethical Democracy

From left: David Lehrer, Dennis Ross and Norm Eisen at Valley Beth Shalom. Photo by Ryan Torok

Author and CNN commentator Norman Eisen believes there is an “axis of illiberalism that is anchored on the two sides of the [Atlantic] ocean,” when it comes to President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Eisen, the former ambassador to the Czech Republic and ethics czar under President Barack Obama, made his remarks at a Sept. 26 event at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) titled “The Assault on Ethical Democracy at Home and in Europe.” He was also in town to promote his recently published book, “The Last Palace,” inspired by his experiences living in the Ambassador’s Residence in the Czech Republic.

Ambassador and Middle East expert Dennis Ross, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, co-headlined the conversation, organized by Jews United for Democracy and Justice (JUDJ) and Community Advocates, Inc., headed by David Lehrer.

The event drew about 600 people, including former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Jewish World Watch co-founder Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who was among the founding members of JUDJ in 2017.

Eisen spoke of how the Petschek House (the name of the palace in his book), was a metaphor for the three main surges of democracy Europe experienced over the last century: in 1918 and in 1945, at the end of World War I and World War II, respectively; and in 1989, when the Berlin wall came down.

Referring to a Rosh Hashanah sermon denouncing President Trump by VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Eisen said, “Every one of these surges has been met with on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean eventually with a counterattack, but never before —I feel liberated by the rabbi’s sermon to say whatever I want — has the counterattack invaded the Oval Office, the holy of holies of American democracy. So we are in a very unique situation now.”

Eisen quipped, “I can say [Rabbi Feinstein’s] inspiring Rosh Hashanah sermon made it all the way to the East Coast. I only shared it with my fellow socialists, so no one was outraged by it.”

Ross was also blunt when it came to critiquing the current president. He called on the Jewish community to stand up and speak out against his falsehoods. 

“We look at these populist leaders who challenge expertise, who want to fuzz facts and the reality,” Ross said. “Jews are the people of the book. If you’re the people of the book, you really cannot believe in alternative facts.”

With his anti-immigrant rhetoric, his quotas on refugees and his “America First” slogan, Trump’s emphasis on nationalism undercuts Jewish values, Ross added.

“In our tradition, we’re supposed to accept the stranger,” he said. “Accepting the stranger appears 36 times in the Torah. The idea that you accept ‘the other’ is the essence of democracy. The idea of rejecting the other is the essence of nationalism.”

Despite his criticism of the current presidency, Ross said he is nonetheless optimistic that things will eventually return to normal.

“[I] can’t predict if it will be a short eclipse or a long night,” he said, “but the dawn of democracy always comes back.”

TGIF

Three years, seven weeks, and five days after I was first told I had cancer, I am cancer free. I feel happy and relieved, but will forever feel nervous every time I don’t feel good, that it is cancer. That said, at the end of the day I am a rock star, and cancer is my bitch. My son came home to celebrate last night, and having him stay the night and sleep in his old room filled my heart with joy. Less than a month after cancer stole a dear friend, I feel blessed and am counting my blessings.

As I waited for test results, while marking the anniversary of the passing of my beloved dad who died from cancer, I thought about my life and my place in the world. I watched the painful news out of Florida and cried as I watched a mother beg for the government to keep our kids safe. It left me with a need to say a few things, about a few things. This may piss people off, and that is okay. God Bless America that I am able to not only have an opinion, but share it freely.

  • The murders in Florida this week must not be blamed on mental illness, but rather blamed on the fact that a teenager can legally buy an AR-15 firearm in America. The President of the United States is a moron and anyone who thinks prayer is the answer to this problem, is mentally deficient. I am a woman of faith and I believe in prayer, but I have had enough. The NRA can shove all the prayers up their asses and fire them into space. We need to get a hold of the guns and stop making senseless murders so easy.
  • Aziz Ansari is a pig, he is not however a sexual deviant who needs to lose his career, just because he was a loser on a date. Dear Lord. The woman “Grace”, who wrote about her date with Mr. Ansari did more harm than good to a movement that is trying so hard to do good. There is a witch hunt mentality happening, which I suppose is to be expected under the circumstances, but as women we have a responsibility to each other to be honest and fair so that appropriate action can be taken against those who deserve it.
  • I have written that the last two men I dated were lovely and it simply did not work out. Here’s the thing though, they were not lovely, I was lovely. They are assholes and I am tired of taking the high road when it comes to my dating life. I am far too nice, and the truth is that I was kind to both of these people, and they were dicks. At the end of the day I am a great girl who is worthy of a great man, and if you voted for Trump or are 53 and never married, you’ve got too many problems for me to take you on.
  • I cried when I read that Amy Schumer got married. I don’t know her, but I like her and respect how she uses the platform fame has given her, so I found myself inexplicably happy for her. She was a beautiful bride and I hope she has a loving and wonderful marriage. I’m not really the fangirl type, except for Celine Dion of course, but there is something about Ms. Schumer that puts me squarely on her side. She makes me laugh and has the gift of bringing light to darkness. Mazel Tov Amy. Thank you for you. #totalfangirl.
  • It turns out that I was correct when I shared with you all long ago that I am the only person who knows how to drive in Los Angeles. I was rear ended this week by a young man with no car insurance. He was texting on his phone and I saw him getting closer, but had nowhere to go so I just waited for the hit. We were not going fast and the damage was only cosmetic, but it pissed me off. I felt bad for the kid for about 30 seconds. He could have cared less about what he did and texted the entire time we were talking. Whatever.

I am very happy it is Friday. I am welcoming in Shabbat with an open heart and a tired mind. It has been a stressful, yet joyous week and I am going to have a couple Cosmos tonight. I know they will be delicious because I’m going to make them myself. I plan to order in Chinese food, put on my fluffiest pajamas, and enjoy the Olympics. I will undoubtedly go back and forth between the excitement of Korea and the news, struggling to make sense of things that will never make sense. I feel stuck. I am unsure what to think or feel when I am so happy, and so sad.

To the families in Florida who are experiencing unimaginable pain, you are on my mind and I send you love. May your loved ones rest in peace, and may you know I will join my voice to yours until somebody listens and gets the guns. I am sorry for your losses. Shabbat Shalom. Be safe out there everyone. We live in a scary place and the only way we will ever survive is if we start to take care of each other. Be kind to one another, use your vote for good, and scream as loud as you can that you want change. Be brave, be hopeful, and remember to keep the faith.

 

 

The only Republican in California’s Jewish Caucus quits over Trump criticism

State Senator Jeff Stone

The only Republican in the California Legislative Jewish Caucus has resigned after it released a statement strongly condemning President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County said in an Aug. 17 statement that the group “has clearly become a vehicle for a Legislative Caucus that receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Earlier that day, the caucus released a statement criticizing Trump for failing to more strongly condemn a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Responding to reporters’ questions at Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15, the president said there was “blame on many sides” for violence in Virginia over the weekend, and that “very fine people” had showed up to the rally.

That led to the caucus’ statement, which reads: “We cannot and will not stand silently by as Trump gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence. President Trump’s words betray American values and morality.”

Responding hours later in a statement, Stone said, “When I was invited to join the Jewish Caucus, I was expressly told that it was a nonpartisan Caucus, and the issues we were going to be involved with would focus on promoting the interests of the Jewish people in California and around the world. Since the election of President Trump, it seems that there has been a divergence from the Caucus’ original mission.”

Stone has supported Trump in the past. In a February op-ed in The Desert Sun, he called the president a leader with a “fresh viewpoint” who is “willing to take action on policies he campaigned on.”

Stone could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jenny Berg, a consultant for Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), the Jewish Caucus’ chair, wrote in an email to the Journal, “Assemblymember Levine regretfully accepts Senator Stone’s resignation and looks forward to working with him on their shared values.”

Why we need more history lessons

Tourists stand in front of a grafitti depicting U.S President Donald Trump on the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank town of Bethlehem August 4, 2017. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

In the cascade of one major news story after another, President Donald Trump has decided somewhat quietly to send his son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kusher, along with chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt, back to the Middle East to try to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the chances of success are not high, this nonetheless is a salutary development on at least two scores: First, it reveals that the president has not given up all hope and does seem to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as worth his attention; and second, in this conflict, stasis, or the perceived absence of diplomatic movement, often is a catalyst for violence.

And yet, there is a concerning element to this plan. Several weeks ago, in a talk with a group of congressional interns, Kushner reportedly said of diplomacy: “Everyone finds an issue … ‘You have to understand what they did then,’ and ‘You have to understand that they did this.’ But how does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books. Let’s focus on how do you come up with a conclusion to the situation.”

It is tempting to imagine that in a conflict weighed down by competing historical narratives, one can begin with a tabula rasa and then move on to a shared understanding of a peaceful future. I fear that this won’t work in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two sides cling tightly to their accounts of the past — and for understandable reasons. The Jewish/Zionist/Israeli story of liberation from exile and reclamation of the ancestral homeland contains a great deal of truth. But so does the Palestinian story of the flight from homeland to exile. In this sense, both historical accounts have a great deal of veracity, although they are mixed with myth and, often enough, denial of the legitimacy of the other side’s narrative.

Researchers have found that in post-conflict situations such as Northern Ireland and the Balkans, a key and difficult step toward reconciliation is to acknowledge the existence of multiple narratives and to work at all levels of society to educate toward an inclusive, rather than exclusive, view of the past. As I argue in a forthcoming book, “The Stakes of History,” history is not only not to be avoided in such settings, it can be an important tool of reconciliation between warring sides. Failing to acknowledge the history of the other will induce anger and indignation at every turn. And repressing difficult chapters from the past may be gratifying in the short term but ultimately will return with a vengeance, like a festering wound.

Recognizing the story of the other as part of the quest for diplomatic resolution is one sense in which history is important. There are other uses for history. The past, as the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin noted, is a huge repository of discarded, but interesting, ideas. The current state of affairs between Israelis and Palestinians is a stalemate. The long-regnant model of a two-state solution is increasingly undesirable to both sides; the alternative Israeli and Palestinian visions of a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean seem to be so divergent as to be unbridgeable. Returning to the dustbin of history can help to surface old ideas worth reconsidering in the present quagmire, even if only as interim solutions. These include, as Israeli historian Benny Morris explored in his book “One State, Two States,” confederated arrangements in which autonomous areas are joined to existing states or even a canton system that grants autonomy to different parts of the region according to ethnic, political or cultural cohesion.

There is a third way history can be of value — and this is of most direct value to Jared Kushner. American policy is far better off with a rich sense of history than an enfeebled one. Had military and political planners possessed a more refined sense of the history of ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq and the region, there might have been a greater sense of restraint before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 — and a more realistic awareness of the challenges of governing the country after it. By extension, it would seem responsible to take a deep dive into the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as into the attempts to solve it, before embarking on a new diplomatic initiative.

In fact, it might be worth reviving a proposal raised by two distinguished scholars in the waning months of the Barack Obama presidency. Political scientist Graham Allison and historian Niall Ferguson called in September 2016 for the creation of a Council of History Advisers to serve a function akin to the Council of Economic Advisers. The two proposed a number of ways in which history could be of great value to policymakers, recalling the valuable recourse to history made by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke in response to the 2008 economic crisis.

As in that case, so too in the present, we stand to benefit greatly from more rather than fewer history lessons.

DAVID N. MYERS is the president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History, as well as the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA. He is the author of “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University Press).

Palestinian Authority wants two-state commitment from Trump administration by end of August

Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington, speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 17, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

The Palestinian Authority expects the Trump administration to commit to a peace deal endgame before the close of this month and prefers it would be the two-state solution.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy to Washington, said Thursday at a meeting in his office with reporters. “It’s about time we hear it.”

Zomlot said a high-level U.S. delegation comprising Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his top adviser charged with Middle East peace; Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator; and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, would meet Aug. 24 in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian negotiating team.

The meeting will come toward the end of a tour in which the U.S. officials also will meet with Israeli and other regional leaders, including from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Zomlot said that for the Palestinian Authority, the preferred outcome remained a recommitment to the two-state solution. Trump retreated soon after assuming the presidency in January from a two-state outcome, which has been U.S. policy since 2002. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had committed to a two-state solution in 2009, also has been silent since then about his commitment. A majority of Netanyahu’s Cabinet opposes having two states.

“A two-state solution has international equilibrium, it has regional backing and it has a global consensus,” Zomlot said. “We are saying to them, we have a starting point, and letting go of this starting point is the worst thing they can do.”

Zomlot said the Palestinian Authority wanted two states based on the 1967 borders, and wanted to hear from the Trump administration how best to deal with factors that would endanger a peaceful outcome, including Jewish settlements, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and religious tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which both Jews and Muslims claim as holy.

“The how is crucial,” he said.

He said that in the wake of serious negotiations, “the Palestinian consensus government will be tasked with two things: the ending of the situation in Gaza — the unprecedented situation in Gaza — and as soon as possible the convening of Palestinian national elections.”

A major obstruction to advancing peace talks has been the absence of P.A. control in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist group is the authority. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel, have been squeezing Gaza by reducing basic supplies to its Hamas rulers, including electricity.

Zomlot would not say what the Palestinian Authority would do if the U.S. delegation did not lay out an endgame, but said uncertainty could lead the P.A. to return to seeking international recognition for statehood — a posture that Israel and the United States adamantly oppose — or to further Palestinian resistance against Israel. He said the resistance would be “peaceful.”

Zomlot conveyed an overall positive impression of Trump and his negotiators, saying they had carefully considered Palestinian positions, and that Trump’s commitment to an endgame rather than simply perpetuating the process was positive.

“The character of President Trump himself — we believe this is a person who could actually take the leap, who could exert pressure on all sides,” he said.

Zomlot and the Palestinian Authority appear to be relying on pressure by Trump as a means of delivering Israel on the two-state solution. Zomlot made clear that he did not believe Netanyahu had the wherewithal to advance to final status negotiations on his own.

“Netanyahu is behaving like a politician, not a statesman,” he said of the prime minister’s coalition maneuvering, in which he must deal with partners who oppose concessions. “Israel deserves better leadership.”

Zomlot expressed anger with Congress and the welter of proposed bills that would cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and otherwise penalize it. Chief among the measures is the Taylor Force Act, named for an American stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack, which would link funding to the Palestinian areas to the cessation of P.A. payments to the families of Palestinians killed in or jailed for attacks on Israelis.

He said the Palestinian Authority was ready to “revise and negotiate” its payment system, but would not submit to pressure.

“Don’t use financial pressure with us,” he said. “It does not work.”

Klein won’t end campaign against McMaster

Photo of Mort Klein courtesy of ZOA/Facebook.

Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, is calling reports about Sheldon Adelson disavowing his campaign against H. R. McMaster “fake news” and “rubbish.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Klein, who is on a speaking tour in Europe, insisted in a phone conversation with Jewish Insider on Wednesday that he did not consult with Adelson before launching his aggressive campaign against McMaster and that the Vegas casino mogul has never said he supported the National Security Advisor.

“Sheldon never said he endorsed McMaster. He’s made it clear that he does not take a position about McMaster. Sheldon simply said that he did not ask ZOA to do a campaign against him, that this had nothing to do with him,” said Klein. “He did not ask us to do this campaign. I haven’t even spoken to Sheldon about this. We do many projects without asking our donors.”

Klein said that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman asked him to publicize a letter he sent to ZOA asking them to listen to his arguments in defense of McMaster, but has so far not followed up. He also insisted that he did not coordinate his attacks against McMaster with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Klein also said that he “knows for a fact that Adelson did not ask that Bannon be fired.”

Asked if he would stop his campaign against McMaster if Bannon called him to do so, Klein said he would only oblige if he’s provided with “new information that showed that he is a friend of Israel and wants to fight Iran.”

Trump again condemns ‘both sides,’ including ‘alt-left,’ for Charlottesville violence

President Donald Trump giving a statement on the violence this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia at the White House, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images.

President Trump reverted to blaming left-wing counterprotesters as well as white supremacists for the violence that erupted at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In startling, off-the-cuff comments at a press conference Tuesday, the president appeared to backtrack from his statement Monday that explicitly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence on Saturday. On the day of the rally, Trump’s initial statement condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides,” a statement that shocked members of both parties for neglecting to call out white supremacists.

On Tuesday, Trump called out “the left, that came violently attacking the other group.”

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said at the news conference Tuesday in New York. “What about the alt-left that, as you say, came charging at the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

The “Unite the Right” rally Saturday saw hundreds of people on America’s racist fringe converge in defense of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and brawl with counterprotesters. After the rally was dispersed by police, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.

Attendees at the rally waved Nazi and Confederate flags, and shouted anti-Semitic and racist chants, in addition to giving Nazi salutes. But Trump said at the press conference that not all of the attendees were white supremacists.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ve condemned many different groups. but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

The president also appeared to equate Confederate generals with the founding fathers in questioning the drive to remove statues and other symbols of the Confederacy. He noted that George Washington owned slaves.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop? George Washington was a slave-owner.”

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, thanked Trump on Twitter “for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” references to the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa, a loose movement that combats white supremacists, sometimes violently.

But Congressional leaders shot back at Trump’s comments, calling for an unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, called white supremacy “repulsive” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, criticized Trump for sowing division in America.

Inside Senator Bob Corker’s realist doctrine

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

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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

A balancing act on Israel and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

Juggling independence and close ties with the Trump administration

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

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

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

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

Zen and the art of nuclear war

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

In the contest between crisis and calm, oy has an edge over om. Case in point: Just as I was giving meditation another try to take my mind off Donald Trump, the North Korea fire-and-fury horror show broke out, and Trump’s itchy finger on the locked and loaded nuclear trigger made my strategy for sanity look awfully iffy.

Even so, I’d rather be triggered to think about the risks of nuclear weapons, which don’t distract me nearly as much as they should, than be trolled by whatever random trash talk Trump tweeted 10 minutes ago.

Meditation is all about letting go of your thoughts. That’s hard enough to do for any of us whose attention is the plaything of stress about work and money, love and sex, sickness and sadness, not to mention unwanted desires, unbidden memories, undone to-do lists and other anxieties ad infinitum. Which is to say, just trying to kiss your ordinary, everyday thoughts goodbye is hard enough for all of us.

Now add all-Trump-all-the-time media to the mix, and the stress makes my head want to explode. Within hours of his nuclear saber-rattling, not only did he refuse to call out white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, he located them among “many sides,” setting up a moral equivalence between those thugs and the peaceful marchers
protesting those hate groups in Charlottesville, Va. His fake moral leadership 48 hours late only underscored how morally shrunken his own instincts are. What fresh hell is next? Each day’s news rubs our faces in how corrupt, deranged, deceitful, ignorant, impulsive and unfit for office the president is.

That surplus stress we’re under, the Trump news mental health penalty, piled on top of life’s usual worries and distractions, has hijacked my mindful attention, and maybe yours, since the election. Meditating regularly — not sporadically, as I’d lapsed into doing — seemed my best shot at escaping its clutches, short of moving to an ashram or bingeing on “The Bachelor.” But only a handful of days into resuming a daily meditation practice — boom! Armageddon is on the table and the end is nigh. Even for just 20 minutes at a time, try letting go of a thought like that.

The bright side, if there is one: The game of nuclear chicken Trump is playing with Kim Jong Un, despite its toll on our national nerves and its disruption of my try at zen, offers a teachable moment about something we’d all rather not think about.

When I was growing up, I was so crushed when my father showed little enthusiasm for building a cinder block fallout shelter in our cellar that I wrote to the Civil Defense Administration and received the how-to instructions in a self-addressed stamped envelope. His objection was cost, my father said; it’d be money down the drain, spent to protect us from something that was never going to happen.

Looking back, I suspect cost was a proxy for denial. Who could handle the truth about nuclear war? Our saltine-stocked refuge would have been incinerated instantly, along with our family, our house and every other family and house in Newark. Accepting the folly of protecting us from a Soviet H-bomb also would have required admitting the dementia of the duck-and-cover air raid drills my brother and I, like kids across the country, practiced at school.

Today, nine nations possess a total of nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons; the United States and Russia account for 93 percent of them. Protecting ourselves from them is as quaint a pipe dream now as it was during the Cold War. The consequence of those stockpiles: Three risks haunt the earth, and they might get the attention from us they deserve if denial weren’t our default way to deal with them.

The first risk is nuclear terrorism. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a black market in fissile material. Bomb blueprints are posted on the internet. The technology to build a bomb can be had for a few hundred thousand dollars. In former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry’s nightmare, one nuclear weapon detonated on a truck in the heart of Washington, D.C., coupled with nationwide panic sparked by terrorist threats of more bombs in more cities, would bring America to its knees within days.

The second risk is a false alarm, like a spurious warning of an incoming missile attack, which would activate a launch-on-warning counterattack by the (un)attacked nation and a retaliatory barrage by the other. This is not a hypothetical example. In 1980, an alarm at the Pentagon’s Raven Rock Mountain command post in Pennsylvania warned that Soviet submarines had launched 2,200 nuclear missiles toward the U.S. It was caused by a malfunctioning computer chip that cost 46 cents. But no one knew that until only seconds before President Jimmy Carter would have ordered a massive counterstrike. Luck is not a plan.

The third risk is ego. Reckless leaders make escalating threats, masculine identity disorders run rampant, some accident happens — and the adults in the room are powerless to prevent a temper tantrum from blundering the world into millions of casualties. Macho histrionics get airtime and grab headlines, but what really warrants attention, expertise and public support today is the quiet, patient, backroom zen of negotiation, diplomacy and statesmanship.

Ironic, isn’t it, that what we most need now is for the art of the deal to trump Trump.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School
for Communication and Journalism.

Can the Trump administration prevent another Gaza war?

A Palestinian protester hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the border between Israel and Central Gaza Strip July 28, 2017. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS.

Within a span of six years, Israel and Hamas have fought three bloody resulting in thousands of casualties. Gaza remains one of the most sensitive and explosive areas dividing Israelis and Palestinians. A senior Israeli military official noted in April that the severe electricity crisis facing Gaza may lead to an imminent clash. With the Trump administration announcing last week that it will send top advisors to the region once again to secure the “ultimate deal,” the question remains what is the most effective U.S. policy to prevent a fourth Hamas-Israel war and alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“If the administration’s concern was the plight of Gazans then there would and should have been some pushback when (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas decided to cut off funding for the electricity,” explained Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). Power in Gaza has declined to approximately four hours a day after the P.A. reduced fuel payments to the impoverished enclave. Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has decided that it no longer wishes to subsidize Hamas’ rule in Gaza. “The IDF comptroller report pointed to the humanitarian disaster in Gaza as a key factor in why the 2014 war happened and by any measure the humanitarian crisis is worse today,” Rumley added.

Alan Dershowitz, former Harvard University Professor of Law, called for a hawkish U.S. approach towards Gaza. “The policy should be to see the destruction of Hamas and see the people of Gaza wanting to associate themselves with the peace camp and the Palestinian Authority,” he said. While some analysts call for U.S. pressure on Israel to ease the economic burden of Gaza, Dershowitz rejects those arguments. “I don’t think the U.S. should be helping Gaza economically since every time they have been given resources, they have diverted it to terror tunnels and rockets,” he emphasized.

In addition to the electricity crisis, the economic conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate. For young adults in Gaza, unemployment has spiked to almost 60 percent and around 70 percent of residents rely on international humanitarian organizations to survive. Despite relative calm, Palestinians have fired at least seven rockets into Israel from Gaza this year.

A White House official told Jewish Insider on Sunday, “The United States continues to look for ways that we can lawfully expand our assistance to the people of Gaza and alleviate their suffering.  When we have more concrete details to provide, we will do so.”

Rumley, who recently co-authored a biography of Abbas, remains skeptical of the White House’s efforts. “Do they (the Trump administration) have a vision of what role Gaza plays in whatever this peace process is or what to do with Hamas writ large, I don’t think they do,” he explained. Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the Arab Center Washington, DC, noted, “Let’s assume that this administration succeeds in initiating a negotiated process: They need that segment of Palestinian society (Gaza), approaching two million people, to participate in the process. To keep them out would be asking for subverting the process itself.”

Brent Sasley, Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas and an expert on Israeli politics, emphasized that given Gaza’s complexities, the Trump administration should “bring career civil servants and diplomats more deeply into the policy process” who have “experience dealing with all sides.” With the economic despair deepening, Sasley recommended that Washington “Put more pressure on Netanyahu to open up fishing and farming space in Gaza,” while working with U.S. allies to increase aid into the impoverished enclave.

The peace process merry-go-round

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner listens as President Donald Trump speaks to reporters. August 11, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.

U.S. President Trump to send top envoys to region in bid to re-launch Israel-Palestinian negotiations

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me for twenty-five years, I’ll try the same thing over again…”

This play on words of an age-old adage may aptly describe the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, defined by a quarter century of perpetual failure to implement the “two-state solution,” which envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian country in exchange for an end-of-all-claims agreement with Israel.

Most observers concede that the sides today remain as far apart as ever on the so-called “core issues,” including the delineation of borders, dividing Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, etc.; in addition to which, they contend that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to deliver an accord to a population that has not been conditioned to accept the permanency of a Jewish state. Where Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is concerned, the consensus is that he either opposes the formation of any Palestinian entity outright or could likewise never push an agreement through his right-wing coalition.

There is also the Gaza conundrum and what to do about Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which rules the Strip and which despises Abbas only slightly less than it longs for Israel’s destruction. Catch-word elements such as “settlements,” “territorial contiguity,” “bi-national,” among many others, serve to entrench the notion that there is no rational justification for the belief that any peace, let alone an enduring one, may be in the offing.

In the result, why, then, is U.S. President Donald Trump dispatching three top envoys to the region later this month, with the aim of jump-starting renewed peace talks? Without the White House having signaled any fresh approach or original ideas, and without any indication that the conditions on the ground are ripe for a breakthrough (rather, the recent crisis over the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque suggests quite the opposite), what purpose can possibly be served by the upcoming visit of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt—Trump’s point men on the conflict—as well as Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell?

One theory is that Trump is trying to “internationalize” a potential solution, evidenced by the fact that his diplomats are slated to meet with, in addition to the Israelis and Palestinians, leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. But this approach is not new; rather, the Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table since 2002 and was just re-endorsed earlier this year at the Arab League summit. And while there has indeed been a quiet rapprochement between Sunni regional countries and Israel, it is based foremost on the converging interest of countering Shiite Iran’s expansionist ambitions.

A peace deal with the Palestinians would no doubt enhance these bourgeoning relations, but it seems unrealistic to expect Netanyahu to make the far-reaching concessions stipulated by the Arab proposal, even as an initial framework for future talks. From his point of view, Riyadh, for example, currently needs Israel more than it needs the Palestinians. Conversely, to expect the Saudis to modify their longstanding positions in order to bring relations with a Netanyahu government “above the table,” so to speak, likewise defies strategic sense.

Meanwhile, a White House official last week reiterated that, “peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties;” thereby throwing cold water on the so-called “outside-in” tactic of devising the parameters to be dictated to the parties.

These issues are compounded by the problems Trump has directly encountered during his peacemaking efforts, which reportedly included a March blow-up with Abbas in Bethlehem over the Palestinians’ refusal to stop paying stipends to prisoners convicted of security offenses in Israel. Both Kushner and Greenblatt have purportedly similarly sparred with Palestinian officials, with allegations of bias having recently been levelled against the former after he was caught on an open mic ostensibly siding with Israel’s decision to install security measures at the Temple Mount following last month’s deadly attack there.

Coupled with the fact that Trump’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has essentially been declared persona non grata in Ramallah due to his past support for the settlement enterprise, along with increasing criticism directed by Palestinian leaders at Trump’s actions thus far, major doubts arise regarding the practicality of renewing any process, never mind forging a broad accord. Accordingly, many have started promoting a method that relies on intermediary deals to sufficiently narrow the gaps between the two sides to enable an eventual final agreement.

Gilead Sher, a Senior Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, believes that a “more moderate setting of the bar is required that encourages a process towards a two-state reality, which, in turn, would lead to a two-state solution.” To this end, the former chief of staff to Ehud Barak and lead Israeli peace negotiator laid out for The Media Line a multi-dimensional approach in which bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are revisited “in order to replace the formula of ‘nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to’ with ‘whatever is agreed to should be implemented.'”

This, Sher contended, “would entail a mutual understanding of the necessity for a gradual and transitional process rather than a one-off, stand-alone comprehensive deal.” Moreover, he elaborated, “independent, constructive steps could also be taken by either party in order to reverse the trend towards the materialization of one state, which would be a disaster for Israel and the Palestinians.”

To this end, Sher does not rule out the possibility of “Israel unilaterally delineating a border—even a provisional one—as such will ultimately ensure the country remains both Jewish and democratic.”

While acknowledging that the Palestinians might not approve of such measures, Sher stressed that “their all-or-nothing approach, combined with an international campaign [to delegitimize] Israel has not yielded any results.” As such, in his view, “the international community should encourage this type of gradual process,” which can prevent “extremists on both sides from forging a reality that is unsustainable.”

In fact, this was the initial approach taken in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords, which did not call for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state. Rather, the deal was officially named the Declaration of Principles on Interim (emphasis added) Self-Government Arrangements, clearly indicating that an all-encompassing pact was to be achieved over time.

Oslo II, as it is known, was signed two years later, dividing the West Bank into areas A and B, over which the Palestinians were granted a measure of autonomy, as well as area C, which remains under total Israeli control and which is home to the vast majority of Jewish communities across the 1967 borders. Thereafter, the Hebron and Wye Agreements, formalized during Netanyahu’s first premiership (1996-1999), stipulated further Israeli military redeployments from the West Bank, thereby increasing Palestinian self-rule. Overall, then, the first seven years of the peace process, leading up to then-U.S. president Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000, were based on the premise of “interim” agreements.

The problem, however, is that Yasser Arafat ended up rejecting then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s proposal for full-blown statehood and instead launched the Second Intifada. Given this catastrophe, as well as the futility of subsequent intermediary proposals—notably George W. Bush’s “Roadmap For Peace” in 2003 and, most recently, Barack Obama’s 2014 “Document Of Principles—questions arise as to the validity of repeating these, or any analogous, approaches while both sides remain so deeply at odds.

According to Dr. Gershon Baskin, Co-chairman and Founder of Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives, “if Trump’s people are listening carefully to what both sides are saying, they are probably hearing that it is impossible at this point with Netanyahu and Abbas to reach a permanent status agreement.” Furthermore, he explained to The Media Line, “while the majority of both the Palestinian and Israeli publics want peace, most do not believe it is presently possible because neither side thinks they have a legitimate partner in the other.”

In Dr. Baskin’s estimation, “the only possibility for a breakthrough is for a change of leadership, either on one side or both. This way, some new kind of dynamic could open up a possibility for a real negotiation, which would most likely take the form of a direct back-channel and not a very public process.” Nevertheless, he concluded, it is “potentially dangerous” to forgo a process altogether and to say “there is nothing left on the table.” On the flip side, past failed attempts at peacemaking served only to sow additional frustrations, which then boiled over into violence.

As if to tackle history head-on, Trump remains “personally committed” to renewing some form of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as an end in and of itself. For now, then, “around and around the peace process will go, where she’ll stop no one knows.”

One thing, however, seems eminently clear—the unlikelihood that the final station on this circular diplomatic track will be named “Palestine.” Therefore, it may be high time to drop all pretense and simply resort to baby steps, with the modest aim of improving the lives of both peoples even while they remain at conflict with each other; in essence, replacing “peace” with “honest” in a process that fewer and fewer people believe in.

Trump names KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis in condemnation

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses during a statement on the deadly protests in Charlottesville, at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 14, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS.

Two days after the death of a 32-year-old woman during a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va., and amidst a furor over his delay in condemning the rally in specific terms, President Donald Trump condemned the “racist violence” and declared that “racism is evil.”

“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and other hate groups who are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said Monday in a statement he delivered at the White House.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred and violence. It has no place in America,” Trump said. He also said the Department of Justice had opened up a civil rights investigation into the attack, and honored by name Heather Heyer, who was killed Saturday after a car driven by a 20-year-old who has espoused neo-Nazi views plowed into counterprotesters.

Trump had been under pressure since Saturday to forcefully condemn the white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. His initial statement, condemning “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides” angered Democrats and Republicans alike for seeming to draw a moral  equivalence between the white supremacists and the counterprotesters. In a subsequent tweet he had expressed condolences to “the family of the young woman killed today” but did not name Heyer.

Jewish leaders also noted the widespread expressions of anti-Semitism of the rally, which included demonstrators carrying signs reading “Jews are Satan’s children,” Nazi flags and chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

In a statement Saturday, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said: “This is a moment that demands moral leadership. President Trump should acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.”

On Sunday the White House put out a statement, attributed to an unnamed  spokesperson, saying, “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, K.K.K., neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

That statement still failed to satisfy many critics who noted that some white supremacist groups who were encouraged that  Trump had not himself singled them out. On Monday, David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, called on Trump to “make clear that our nation does not countenance the warped views of bigots, as was on display in Charlottesville.” He also urged the president “to send a strong message to these extremist groups that their endorsement is not welcome.”

Jewish leaders condemn Charlottesville violence and Trump’s reaction

A white supremacist trying to strike a counterprotestor with a white nationalist flag during clashes at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Jewish groups and Jewish leaders condemned the violence at a white supremacist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, and criticized President Donald Trump for saying that the hatred and violence came from “many sides.”

“The vile presence and rhetoric of the neo-Nazis who marched this weekend in Charlottesville is a reminder of the ever-present need for people of good will to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate, and act both to delegitimize those who spread such messages and to mitigate the harm done to the commonweal of our nation and to those that are the targets of hate messages,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in statement issued on Saturday evening, adding that “once again, hate has killed.

Three people were killed as a result of the weekend neo-Nazi event. One woman was killed and 19 injured, some seriously, after a car driven by an Ohio man slammed into a crowd of counterprotesters. The driver, identified as James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee, Ohio, was taken into police custody and the incident is under investigation.

Two Virginia state troopers were killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protestors and counterprotesters.

“We commend the opening of President Trump’s statement condemning the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” but are deeply troubled by the moral equivalence evident in President Trump’s statement today. White supremacists wielding Nazi flags and spewing racist vitriol need to be specifically condemned, not only violence and hate ‘on many sides.’ If our leaders can’t call out this virulent strand of hate we will surely fail to stop it,” Jacobs also said in his statement.

Trump held a news conference from his summer vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey after posting tweets criticizing the violence in Charlottesville, including one which read: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

“What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society,” he also tweeted.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, condemned the “inconceivable violence” on display in Charlottesville.

““It is utterly distressing and repugnant that such hatred and bigotry still run rampant in parts of this country. There is no place in our democratic society for such violence and intolerance. We must be vigilant and united in our opposition to such abhorrence,” he said in a statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the violence in Charlottesville in a tweet posted Saturday afternoon. “Mayhem in #charlottesville. We pray for victims of #violence & condemn those who marched thru streets chanting #hate,” he tweeted.

He also praised Trump for condemning the violence but criticized him for not specifically condemning the white supremacist movement. “Glad @POTUS blasted violence but long overdue for moral ldrshp that condemns the agents of #hate: #WhiteSupremacists, #NeoNazis, #AltRight,” he tweeted.

 

In a statement later issued by ADL, Greenberg said: “This is a moment that demands moral leadership. President Trump should acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.”

“We call on the White House to terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement. They do not serve the values embodied in our Constitution nor the interests of the American people,” he also said.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted: “Appalled by white supremacists & neo-Nazis in #Charlottesville preaching #racism, spewing #antiSemitism & #homophobia & glorifying violence.”

The organization also called on Trump to find “moral clarity.”

“@POTUS Time for moral clarity. Condemning ‘hatred, bigotry & violence on many sides’ blurs truth & gives pass to neo-Nazi perpetrators,” AJC tweeted.

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, and Security Cabinet member Naftali Bennett, who is head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, condemned the rally and called on U.S. leaders to denounce the anti-Semitism connected to it.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the U.S. is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the U.S. and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement, adding: “The leaders of the U.S. must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who was a former candidate for president, in a tweet slammed Trump for his handling of Charlottesville. “No, Mr. President. This is a provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism and hatred and create violence. Call it out for what it is.”

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who ran for and lost his bid for a Senate seat in Louisiana, and was an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s presidential run, tweeted in response to Trump’s call for all Americans to unite against hate.

“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” Duke tweeted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trumpification of Bibi

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara react to his supporters during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

It appears that Netanyahu is more emboldened in the Trump era. He seems to be asking himself, ‘If Trump can get away with these things, why can’t I?’ Last night’s rally of thousands of Likudniks in support of Netanyahu, who is facing multiple corruption probes, was peak Trumpification. The Kafe Knesset team hasn’t been to any Trump rallies, but from our observation from afar, this seemed a lot like one.

This originally appeared as part of Kafe Knesset on JewishInsider.com

Enemy number one for Netanyahu and his supporters, was, of course, none other than the fake news media. “The Left and the media — which are one and the same — are on an obsessive, unprecedented witch hunt against me and my family,” Netanyahu said, calling the media the “thought police.” Sound familiar, American readers? “And the ‘fake news media’ doesn’t talk about all the charity work Sarah does all the time for Holocaust survivors and kids with cancer,” Bibi lamented.

The crowd booed whenever Netanyahu mentioned the media, and a name-check of Ha’aretz warranted the loudest jeers. Someone held a large sign saying “It’s not fake news, it’s f***ing news” (which probably doesn’t mean what he thinks it means) and a Netanyahu supporter was spotted in a “CNN is fake news” t-shirt. Likudniks shouted in the faces of some of the more famous reporters present. Of course Netanyahu has long blamed the media for his problems. He didn’t need POTUS to get that idea. But the style seems to be imported from Trump Tower.

The putsch: There was also a lot of emphasis in the speeches of Bibi and coalition chairman, and rally organizer, David Bitan, as well as the signs held up by attendees, of the Left attempting a “putsch.” They accused the Left of portraying Netanyahu as being “guilty until proven innocent,” rather than the other way around, and trying to unfairly influence law enforcement authorities. They said that the Left couldn’t win an election, so now they’re trying to take over the country in other, less-than-democratic ways.

Old man, new beard: Bibi also used his speech at the rally to burnish his right-wing bona fides, making sure to call out a trifecta of targets of right-wing ire: Oslo, the Palestinians and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Netanyahu cited reports that the Palestinians don’t want to negotiate in hopes that he will be ousted over the investigations, saying that of course they don’t want him out because he will not retreat to pre-1967 lines like the Palestinians want. He said that the last time the press ousted a Likud prime minister – Yitzhak Shamir – by claiming he was corrupt, Israel ended up with “Oslo and exploding buses.” And he mocked Barak as “an old man with a new beard” who speaks “nonsense.” (Barak, by the way, responded with another Facebook video slamming Bibi).

King Bibi: The Bibi cult of personality was in full force as well. “Bibi King of Israel” was a song chanted over and over by demonstrators, and many held signs of his face with the words “My prime minister.” These are actually pretty typical for Likud rallies, but take on a somewhat different meaning considering the context of this one.

“We got 30 seats in the last election – in the next one we’ll get 40,” was Netanyahu’s rallying cry.

There’s no denying that Likud knows how to party. There’s always good dance music playing at Likud events – some Sarit Hadad and some Static and Ben-El, “Whoever believes is not afraid” by Eyal Golan is a perennial Likud event favorite. The Likud members tend to be very chatty, and there are plenty of colorful personalities around, making it a fun night for reporters who are willing to mingle and get creative – as long as they stay clear of some of the angrier types.

Spotted at the Likud rally: It’s August, so people like Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were out of the country but Tourism Minister Yariv Levin went straight from the airport to Tel Aviv’s Fairgrounds in order to make it to the rally; firebrand MK Oren Hazan taking selfie after selfie after selfie, swarmed by Likudniks; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently joined the party and is trying to curry favor with the grassroots; Bayit Yehudi MK Motti Yogev, who said that he thinks Netanyahu is being treated unfairly. Bayit Yehudi sources told Kafe Knesset that the party is not happy with Yogev’s stunt; former MK Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, builder of Dizengoff Center, who ran for Knesset even though he barely spoke any Hebrew, in order to get parliamentary immunity so he wouldn’t be extradited to France.

Kim Jong-Bibi? Meanwhile, the opposition expressed outrage at the show of support for Netanyahu. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid accused the Likud of rallying in support of corruption. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said it reminded her of North Korea, where people are forced to express support for the dear leader. Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said it showed Bibi is insecure, and accused him of trying to distract from the fact that Israeli citizens are paying the price of his corruption. “Netanyahu keeps saying the nation is with him. I call on him to check that in a national election as soon as possible,” Gabbay said.

Trump (and America) as victims – the implications

President Trump leaves the Oval Office. Aug. 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/REUTERS.

For decades civil rights organizations in the United States have toted up hate crimes, tracked and reported on the growth (and decline) of extremist organizations, and filed lawsuits against bigots who engage in tortious or illegal behavior. Their efforts have chronicled an America that is far more tolerant and accepting of differences than it was thirty, forty or fifty years ago.

Those measures of bigotry were taken as accurate well back into the 20th century as America was led by elected officials who either were unambiguous advocates of civil rights and acceptance (Obama, Clinton, Bushes 1 & 2, Carter, Ford, Johnson) or who were less eager, but not openly hostile, advocates of tolerance (Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower).

The advocates of inter-group progress knew that political leaders (Southern leaders excepted for decades) were supportive of the general thrust for inclusion and diversity and the reduction in inter-group hostility. It’s hard to recall a politician with much traction over recent decades, other than George Wallace, who flaunted open hostility to ethnic, racial or religious minorities.

The metrics that were relied on are questionable in their applicability to the political situation we have today—-a president who flaunts the usual norms of civil behavior, who invokes unfounded conspiracy theories, who demonizes minority groups (Latinos and Muslims), who habitually lies, who traffics in conspiracy theories, who ignores conventional notions of truth and untruth, who evidences no humility or remorse in the face of error and who constantly claims to be a victim of others’ acts.

Having been a civil rights activist for over forty years and having been involved in combatting, exposing and monitoring hate groups during that time, I speak with some perspective on these issues; we are in uncharted territory. When the president of the United States engages in conduct that many of us have spent decades teaching young people and our peers to avoid, it’s not clear what the measurements we have long relied on for decades mean.

Trump’s conduct has the potential to undo years of work. Young people can easily believe that it’s acceptable to make fun of the disabled, to caricature minorities as “criminals and rapists,” to demean whole communities as being so forlorn that they “have nothing to lose,” to treat women as objects and to assume that criminal suspects are to be roughed up (the Bill of Rights be damned).

But the most insidious aspect of Trump and Trumpism is his pervasive attitude of being a victim; someone else is ALWAYS to blame for what goes wrong.

Prior to November 8th, the system was “rigged” against him, the media was biased and in the tank for Hillary, illegal voters would skew the results, foreign governments were taking advantage of us, trade deals were harming inept and gullible Americans, etc. If he had lost the election, there would be someone or many someones to blame.

Since January 20th the media remain a foil, illegal immigrants and inner city dwellers are still to blame–as are the Democrats– but now, so are the Republicans (post Trumpcare’s defeat). America’s intelligence agencies, recently the Secretary of State was added to the list of victimizers—Tillerson (he “flinched” on Iran), “leakers” in his White House and assorted others are all responsible for the administration’s missteps and America’s ills.

This blame shifting, paired with the complete absence of introspection or willingness to entertain the notion that HE has contributed to his failures, all take place while we have an economy that is in decent shape and a world that is not in the grip of an acute crisis.

How will the excuses and the blaming of others work when a crisis or crises arise? That may be the measure of where we have come and how much damage Trump and Trumpism is doing to tolerance and civility in society.

In a memorable essay a couple of years ago, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, warned of leaders and nations that seek to blame others for the problems they face—when their view of themselves no longer comports with the reality of their position in the world. He noted that many nations face adversity and profound challenge, even humiliation—but the adaptive ones ask themselves “what did we do wrong?” They don’t look for someone or some group to blame.

The societies that view themselves as victims and ask “Who did this to us?” invariably lead to division, disharmony, and even worse.

For Jews, societies that acted this way inevitably led to tragedy—-from the Crusades to the pogroms of the Middle Ages to the Holocaust; societies that were unable to resolve the disconnect between past glory and perceived present ignominy looked for “causes” outside their own actions, and it proved lethal.

The diverse face of America has numerous “others” to blame and Trump has shown no hesitation to blame and target and cravenly exploit differences to absolve himself of any responsibility for what he says is “wrong.”

As Rabbi Sacks observed:

By turning the question “What did we do wrong?” into “Who did this to us?” it restores some measure of self-respect and provides a course of action. In psychiatry, the clinical terms for this process are splitting and projection; it allows people to define themselves as victims. [Emphasis added]

Leaders in Congress, leaders of both parties, religious leaders and opinion molders across the country must be vocal and uncompromising in rejecting the insidious victim role that Trump purveys and which he seeks to impose on the country—to force us all to “split” and “project”; it is a dangerous game to play. It may offer short term political payoff for him, but the long term harm—for him and for us— is inevitable and incalculable.

As Rabbi Sacks warned, “Hate harms the hated, but it destroys the hater.”

Stephen Miller in running for White House communications director

Stephen Miller arriving at Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 9, 2017. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

White House policy adviser Stephen Miller reportedly is under consideration to be White House communications director.

He would replace Anthony Scaramucci, who was let go in part because of an obscenity-laden interview he gave to The New Yorker magazine late last month. Scaramucci wasn’t set to formally take the job until Aug. 15, but had been working in the position for 10 days when he was effectively fired.

The effort to find a successor to Scaramucci is still in the name-gathering process, and Miller is not the only top contender, the news website Axios reported Saturday.

Miller raised his profile last week after telling CNN’s Jim Acosta during a White House news conference that a famous poem by Jewish writer Emma Lazarus praising the Statue of Liberty as a beacon for new immigrants “doesn’t matter” since it was attached to the site years after the statue was erected.

Axios reported that White House top strategic adviser Stephen Bannon likes the idea of Miller for the job, and said Miller was the hero of the West Wing after he attacked Acosta as a “cosmopolitan” for his views on immigration.

Miller, who is Jewish and the descendant of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island, is known as a proponent of what Bannon calls “economic nationalism.”

Miller has been called “one of the chief architects” behind the executive order that temporarily banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. He also has ties to David Horowitz, founder of a right-wing think tank that “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.”

A double standard for Trump on Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S. July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernest/REUTERS.

The double standard that too many Jewish supporters of Donald Trump apply to this president was on sad display last week.

A young Palestinian man entered the home of a Jewish family in the village of Halamish on July 21 and stabbed Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon to death. No justification. No mercy. No humanity. 

Our hearts cried out for universal condemnation. Our president needed to set the example of moral leadership. As of this writing, he has said nothing. 

Well, not nothing. Immediately following news of the butchery, President Donald J. Trump did tweet. This is what he said: “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

Trump was so focused on the perceived treachery of Republicans who refuse to go along with some half-baked Obamacare repeal that he passed on the opportunity to call out terrorists, fanatics and their enablers.

My reaction to Trump’s bizarre tweet was, What if President Obama had done this?

What if Barack Obama had said nothing about the indescribably awful photos of the Salomon family murder scene? His Jewish detractors would have pilloried him — and rightly so.

The contrast points to something more and more apparent: a double standard applied by the pro-Israel community to Trump and his predecessor.

Three weeks ago, Trump recertified Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. I believe this was the right thing to do, but then again, I supported the deal originally.  Trump didn’t. But when he reversed himself, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fly to Washington and speak to Congress to publicly condemn Trump? Did Trump’s Jewish supporters call him a traitor to Israel and an Iranian puppet? Nope. Double standard.

One week ago, the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Syrian ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah troops close to Israel’s northern border.  Israel vehemently opposed the idea. But Trump sided with Putin. “The Americans completely conceded to the Russians,” a senior Israeli military official told Al-Monitor. “The very names of Iran or Hezbollah do not appear in the agreement, and there is no expression of Israeli concerns at all. Our security needs are completely ignored.”

I’m not sure the ceasefire wasn’t the right move. But I do know what holy hell the pro-Israel right would have raised if Obama had signed that deal. In this case, they said nothing. Double standard.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem  “on Day One.” Jewish and Christian audiences leapt to their feet at Trump’s promise.

Two months ago, Trump declined to move the embassy. The protest from those who applauded him? Barely a word. Double standard.

Keep in mind these all are examples from the past couple of months. Want to go back further? Imagine what the Republican outcry would have been if Obama refused to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Or if Obama had said he “doesn’t know anything about” Louis Farrakhan, as candidate Trump said of KKK Grand Nincompoop David Duke.   

A healthy swath of the Jewish community, and the larger Republican crowd, reviled Obama. But time and again they grade Trump on a curve. Obama signed a $38 billion aid deal with Israel, helped fund its Iron Dome program, stood by Israel during the Gaza War and firmly declared anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism — two years before French President Emmanuel Macron did. Did it matter? Nope. Double standard.

With one notable exception — the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein — the president’s Jewish supporters give him a pass on issues, statements and actions they would have slammed Obama for.

Obama could do no right, Trump can do no wrong. Can you even imagine the derision if Obama’s State Department had blamed Israel for Palestinian terror, as Trump’s State Department did in a report released this week?

Here’s what I wonder: Why does Trump get a pass? Maybe United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley buys Trump all the indulgences he will ever need. Maybe Obama haters simply used Israel as a wedge issue to gain Jewish votes when their real concern was other Democratic policies. Or maybe these supporters cut Trump slack because they believe he supports Israel deep down in his kishkas, or guts, and — so they like to say– Obama just didn’t.

If it’s the last reason, then I have one question that Jewish supporters of the president must consider: Does it matter if you have Israel in your kishkas if you are otherwise incompetent, unprepared, uniformed and relentlessly self-concerned?

In July 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found murdered by Palestinian terrorists — a horror no less shocking and unjustifiable than the Salomon murders last week. Almost immediately, then-President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of the teenagers and condemned the “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

It’s not asking too much of a president to respond with humanity to inhuman acts. And it’s not expecting too much of his supporters to call him out when he falls short.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Jared Kushner says Russia charges ‘ridicule’ Trump voters

Jared Kushner reading a statement at the White House after testifying behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee, July 24, 2017. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

In a rare public statement, Jared Kushner insisted he did not collude with Russia and said the query into suspicions of a relationship between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign “ridiculed” Trump voters.

“Let me very clear, I did not collude with Russia, nor did I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top aide, said Monday, reading a prepared statement after appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session.

Kushner is in the spotlight because of revelations in recent weeks that he attended a June 9, 2016, meeting organized by his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., who took the meeting believing it would be with a Russian government lawyer who had compromising intelligence on Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. Also under review are reports that Kushner’s family real estate business, reportedly like his father-in-law’s, owes money to Russian lenders.

“I had no improper contacts,” he said. “I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.”

Kushner suggested the investigation was a means of undercutting Trump’s election.

“Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won,” Kushner said. “Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.”

The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all have determined that Russian spies interfered in the presidential election. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading a probe to examine whether any of the president’s advisers aided Russia’s campaign to disrupt the election.

Kushner said he remained committed to his work, citing among his many assignments bringing peace to the Middle East.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on important matters such as Middle East peace and reinvigorating America’s innovative spirit,” he said.

Dating 101: The Politics of Love

I have been dating George for six months. We spend a lot of time together and have settled into a comfortable space. He makes me laugh and I feel protected, valued, cherished, respected, and entertained. He is kind and gentle, yet not at all a pushover. He is a good man, which I noticed immediately because one often takes notice of things they have never encountered before. I like him very much.

George and I don’t fight. Not to say we don’t disagree on things, because we do, but there is no yelling, disrespect, regret in what we say, or how we say it. There are a lot of things that are new about this relationship. I thought the biggest obstacle would be that George is not Jewish. Turns out that isn’t actually a deal breaker. He has come with me to Shabbat Services, met my Rabbi, and embraced how I embrace my faith. I am Jewish enough to carry my faith on my own, which is an empowering feeling as I always felt my partner needed also be Jewish.

So here is where we stand:

Kindness                 Check

Chemistry                Check

Sense of Humor     Check

Respect                   Check

Handsome              Check

Tall                           Check

Blue Eyes                Check

Thinks I Rock         Check

Religion                   All Good

Politics                    Oy Vey

I am a person who likes to talk about politics. I am fascinated by what is happening in America and enjoy not only the banter that politics inspires, but learning about how the political system works. It is a truly unique time for this country and I want to talk about it. Not just politics, but the news in general. From the alleged treason of Donald Trump and his family, to the senseless killings of African Americans by law enforcement, to people who sold pot being in prison next to people who sold heroin, I want to not only talk about it, but try to fix it. Whether writing about race relations, calling my Congressman to have my voice heard, or advocating for medical marijuana, it all matters to me.

It has forced me to look at my relationship in a way I never have before. I have to decide what is important and why I think it is important. Does it matter that I be with someone who thinks exactly like me? Am I holding my partner up a different level of scrutiny than I do my friends? Do I value someone who treats me well?  Is not talking about politics a deal breaker? Can I only love someone who thinks the exact same way as me?  At the end of the day it forces me to think about what I want, what I deserve, and what I am afraid of. Am I simply using politics as a way to run away from someone wonderful because I’m scared?

Rachelle Friberg is a friend of mine. I have never met her in person mind you, but she is my friend. She is a lovely young woman who reached out to me on social media after I wrote a series of blogs about a random encounter with Sarah Palin. She was hosting a radio show and asked if I would come on and talk about it. While I am sure there are many republicans in my life, she was the first one who was really out there with her politics. She is proudly republican. She is also young, educated, religious, and close with her family. With the exception of our political affiliations, we are actually quite similar and I like her very much. We have been friends for several years and she is my go to republican.

I asked Rachelle a few questions because I value her opinion on politics. She’d be a great politician and perhaps after her career as one of the best school teachers this country has to offer, she will run for office. Rachelle has always been a republican. Both her parents are republicans. She used to consider herself a conservative republican, but her views have shifted a little over time. While she still considers herself a fiscal conservative, which I suppose I am too, she considers herself more of a moderate when it comes to social issues. She has coined herself a “common-sense republican”, which I love.

I asked Rachelle if she would date democrat and it was the first time she’d ever been asked the question. She never gave the topic much thought. When it comes to dating or being in a relationship, she looks at the individual and could care less whom the guy she’s dating voted for in an election. If the chemistry is there, why would she let political differences stand in the way of her having a committed, lasting relationship? She expanded by saying having differences in beliefs whether it comes to something as important as politics, or as trivial as what kind of pizza toppings you prefer on pizza (ham and pineapple is her winner), can be a good thing in that you’ll never run out of things to talk about. Healthy debates can be a good thing and can add an element of fun to a relationship.

When we spoke about President Trump, Rachelle shared that this was the first presidential election since voting in her first election at age of 18, she didn’t vote for the republican nominee. When it came to voting day, she could not vote for an individual whom she felt did not represent her as a republican or her values. That said, she said since President Trump won, and is now president of the United States, he is her President. She respects the office of the land and believes we live in the greatest country on earth. She believes it is her duty to stand by her country, but she wishes he would stop tweeting already.

At the end of the day Rachelle does not think political affiliation of your significant other should determine whether or not you can jump all in. If you have chemistry, who cares whom they voted for? Would it make it easier if they vote the same way as she did? Probably. But Rachelle reminded me nothing comes easy without hard work and grit. Relationships can be messy, but they are also amazing testaments to the value that comes with loving someone through the good and the bad. Sometimes the best relationships come from the most unexpected circumstances. You’ll never know unless you take a leap of faith.

Rachelle made me see things differently. If she can date a democrat, then certainly I could date a republican! In a final attempt to get her to get me to walk away from George, I asked my lovely Christian friend if she would date a Jew. Her answer was really surprising to me. It was a tough question for her. She is deeply rooted in her religion but it is not the be-all, end-all of a relationship for her. She would date someone who practices a different religion because love is love and she understands how special and rare it is to find someone. Oh. My. God. I might actually be in love with Rachelle. She is a wonderful human being.

As I write this I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing. Am I trying to push away a man because of politics? Am I so certain I have yet again picked the wrong person, I am willing to get rid of him before my heart is hurt? Am I brave enough to jump in and fall in love with a man who makes no sense anywhere but my heart? It is all rather complicated and I suppose that is the thing about love. It is not relationships that are complicated, but rather love. Love is also grand and I have been searching for it for a long time. The possibility of finding it is terrifying. Not sure what I’m doing, but I am certain politics shouldn’t play a role in love.

George is a lovely man but the simple truth is that not only is he a republican, but he voted Donald Trump. At the end of the day that is something that has me stuck. This man has been gentle with my heart and inspired me to view things differently, but how can I respect someone who not only voted for, but continues to support Trump? It may simply be impossible. I hope to have a happy ending one day, and whenever that is, and whoever it is with, I will be grateful, afraid, excited, and as always, keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Bless America & PS, Trump is Mentally Deficient

As a little girl I used to dream about living in the United States. I grew up watching American television, trying very hard to lose my Canadian accent, and would always tell my parents I was going to live in Los Angeles one day. I have now lived in Los Angeles longer than I lived in Canada. This is where my son was born, where my dreams came true, where I found peace, and where I have built my life. I love the United States, I love California, and I count my blessings each and every day.

For the first time in my 25 years here, I feel uneasy. I am embarrassed by the President of this beautiful country and have said I am Canadian more in the past 9 months than I have in my entire life. I am sad and scared about what is happening here. Trump’s America is dark and depressing. The Fourth of July is a special day for everyone who is fortunate enough to live here, but with each day Trump is President we become a less fortunate nation because he puts us at risk.

On this Fourth of July I will pray. Pray for each and every one of us. Whether or not you support the 45th President of the United States, you should be afraid. Afraid of not only what you know he is doing, but more importantly, what you don’t know he is doing. He is making a mockery of his job and putting us in harm’s way. From healthcare, to being in charge of the military, to cries of fake news, our futures are in jeopardy. Important to note this is not about our political affiliations.

I know many great Republicans and there is a difference between a Republican and a Trump supporter. Republicans believe in different things than I do, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad, just different. A Trump supporter however, is just as dangerous as their leader. I have yet to meet a Trump supporter who can articulate why he a good President. They can’t because they are mentally deficient. Is that mean? Sorry, but it is time to get real and sometimes that can be mean.

I am exhausted by all the fake kindness and political correctness. I believe Donald Trump is dangerous and mentally deficient. Those who support him, by association, are also dangerous and mentally deficient. Too harsh? I don’t think so. It is my 1st Amendment right to say what I think so I will say it again. Donald Trump is mentally deficient. That feels good! Have a happy and safe 4th. God Bless America, and PS God, sorry about Donald Trump. Don’t give up on us because we are praying.

As I read this I know it will upset a lot of people. It is a politically charged time and there are lines drawn in the sand, but that does not and should not change how I write. I have never worried about what people will think about what I write, but rather worried about how I would feel about myself if I was not honest in my writing. So now it is out there. No tiptoeing, just honesty. I am scared, but I am hopeful. He got lucky when he won and we will be lucky when he is impeached.

May God Bless America. I am sending prayers and good wishes to all those who are serving in the military and putting their lives on the line for our freedom. To the military families, thank you for your sacrifices too. I am blessed to live in America and I pray for her safety. I pray for all of us actually. I hope we make it through this difficult time and come out the other side united and strong. Wishful thinking to be sure, but it is possible. All it requires is for all of us to keep the faith.

 

 

 

 

Party leaders offer partisan shots at AIPAC conference

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the AIPAC policy conference, March 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of AIPAC.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders tussled on the AIPAC stage on the final day of its policy conference over which party’s prescriptions were better for Israel.

The display of partisanship on Tuesday morning, hours before pro-Israel activists headed to the Capitol to lobby for their issues, was an extraordinary moment for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where bipartisan comity has always been a paramount aim.

Equally as extraordinary, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read aloud a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution signed virtually only by Democrats – and drafted by AIPAC’s rival, J Street, the Jewish Middle East policy group.

The partisan splits illustrated the struggles of the lobbying giant as it seeks to reconcile increasingly divided notions of what it means to be pro-Israel. Traditionally, the final day of the conference features leaders of both parties saying that if they agree on little else, they agree on how to be pro-Israel — through working with AIPAC.

But the opening speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a jeremiad against the policies of former President Barack Obama that the Senate majority leader said had left the U.S.-Israel alliance frayed and Israel less secure.

“We’ve got to rebuild our partnerships,” McConnell said. “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.”

He said the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, had emboldened Iran, in part because Obama’s preoccupation with preserving the pact diminished the will to confront the Islamic Republic.

McConnell said Iran needed concrete examples of how it would be penalized if it launched a weaponized nuclear program, and pledged to lead Congress in an authorization of force in that instance.

He also pitched President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase the military budget, although the Kentucky lawmaker did not address one of AIPAC’s three legislative asks — namely sustaining the budget for overall foreign assistance against Trump’s proposal to slash it by nearly a third.

AIPAC has long argued that assistance to Israel, which Trump wants to maintain at current levels, should never be separated from foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is a positive way to project U.S. power, the lobby says, and helps open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties with the Jewish state.

Calls to sustain that assistance were central to the speeches of the Democratic leaders who spoke: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Pelosi cast support for foreign assistance as fulfilling a responsibility to Israel.

“A strong America in the world is good for Israel,” she said. “I fiercely oppose proposals that would slash our State Department funding by 28 percent.”

Both Democrats took shots at Trump’s alliance with leaders of the far right, including his appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt- or anti-establishment right.

Schumer’s barbs aimed at Trump were implied.

“There are some who would retreat from the world stage,” he said. “They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh.”

The aviator led the World War II-era anti-Semitic America First movement; Trump has embraced “America First” as one of his slogans.

Schumer joined a multitude of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who decried the Obama administration’s decision in its final days to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements.

“The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December and it should never use the United Nations as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement,” he said to thunderous applause.

But where Schumer was uncharacteristically restrained in criticizing the new administration and defending the past one, Pelosi was robust. She decried Trump’s “presidential campaign with hate speech that went unchallenged, an atmosphere that emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, white supremacists that feel emboldened and connected to the White House.”

Pelosi, like other Democrats who spoke throughout the conference, emphasized two states as the preferred outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Republicans pulled support for two states from their platform last year, and Trump earlier this year said he was agnostic on the issue, ending 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the solution.

But Pelosi took it a step further, taking out her phone to read out loud a letter sent last week asking Trump to reaffirm U.S. support for two states, emphasizing twice that the vast majority – 189 of its 191 signatories — were Democrats.

What she left unmentioned was that J Street drafted and lobbied for the letter; AIPAC did not have a position on it.

“I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context. I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish, secure and democratic Israel,” Pelosi said, borrowing rhetoric J Street might easily use. “An Israel that recognizes the dignity and security of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That line earned her moderate applause.

AIPAC has been trying, after years of its own tensions with the Obama administration, to reassert its bipartisan profile and hold on to the ground between  pro-Israel groups that appear to gravitate to the Democrats (J Street) or Republicans (the Zionist Organization of America).

Its three legislative asks, while crafted to earn support from both parties, do not include mention of two states. (All speakers endorsed the legislative agenda, which in addition to sustaining foreign aid backed bills that would add non-nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose fines on businesses for cooperating with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.)

The two-state notion persists in AIPAC policy. Its executive director, Howard Kohr, on Sunday evening envisioned “a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

But it is nowhere near front and center as it is with other centrist Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, each alarmed by erosion for support for the outcome among Republicans in the United States as well as in Israel’s government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union for Reform Judaism and was at the conference, said failing to robustly defend two states undercut AIPAC’s mission to combat BDS.

“Without a strong commitment to two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” he said. “The only way you fight BDS” on campuses and in churches “is to say it is undermining the two-state solution.”

Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt did not request settlement freeze, Prime Minister’s Office says

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of Government Press Office.

The Prime Minister’s Office has denied Israeli media reports that Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, asked for a settlement freeze during meetings in Israel.

“The reports concerning Mr. Greenblatt’s visit to Israel and any purported U.S. demands of Israel in talks regarding the settlements are false,” read a statement issued Thursday from the office, The Times of Israel reported.

The statement came in the wake of interviews with coalition lawmakers from the Likud and Jewish Home parties that such a freeze would cause a government crisis.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Wednesday, citing an Israeli source familiar with the talks, that during his visit last week, Greenblatt made it clear that the Trump administration wants Israel to place substantial restrictions on construction in the settlements.

According to the report, Greenblatt said that the U.S. would accept Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and construction in agreed-upon settlement blocs, but with an annual quota.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, arrived in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of the week to continue the discussions with Greenblatt.

Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday before he left China that “significant progress” had been made in the talks in Washington but gave no further information.

Greenblatt during his visit also met with Palestinian officials and residents of a refugee camp.

dviser on international relations, asked for a settlement freeze during meetings in Israel.

“The reports concerning Mr. Greenblatt’s visit to Israel and any purported U.S. demands of Israel in talks regarding the settlements are false,” read a statement issued Thursday from the office, The Times of Israel reported.

The statement came in the wake of interviews with coalition lawmakers from the Likud and Jewish Home parties that such a freeze would cause a government crisis.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Wednesday, citing an Israeli source familiar with the talks, that during his visit last week, Greenblatt made it clear that the Trump administration wants Israel to place substantial restrictions on construction in the settlements.

According to the report, Greenblatt said that the U.S. would accept Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem and construction in agreed-upon settlement blocs, but with an annual quota.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, arrived in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of the week to continue the discussions with Greenblatt.

Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday before he left China that “significant progress” had been made in the talks in Washington but gave no further information.

Greenblatt during his visit also met with Palestinian officials and residents of a refugee camp.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

Egypt and Jordan: Don’t give up on two-state solution

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (unseen) at the presidential palace in Cairo Aug. 2, 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS.

he heads of Egypt and Jordan said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on having two states.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan met Tuesday in Cairo.

“The two sides discussed future movements to break the gridlock within the Middle East peace process, especially with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration taking power,” read a statement issued after the meeting.

“They also discussed mutual coordination to reach a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital which is a national constant that cannot be given up.”

The leaders also reportedly discussed Jerusalem and the maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The meeting came days after the Israeli daily Haaretz first published a report revealing that one year ago, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a secret meeting in Aqaba that included Abdullah and al-Sisi.

The deal would have included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries.

The meeting also comes after last week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., between Netanyahu and  Trump, in which Trump did not commit to a two-state solution in a break from U.S. policy from the early 2000s.

Meet the gonzo Jewish filmmaker behind Trump’s fake news on Sweden

Ami Horowitz signing New Yorkers to a fake petition in support of police officers in 2016. Photo courtesy of Horowitz.

Pressed to explain his false claim that something terrible had happened in Sweden last week, President Donald Trump traced the canard back to the reporting of Ami Horowitz, a gonzo Jewish-American filmmaker who spoke about Sweden’s problem with Muslim immigrants on Fox News.

On Saturday, during a campaign-style speech in Florida on border security and immigrants, Trump urged listeners to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” leading to widespread puzzlement and mockery from Swedes who said no terrorist attack had taken place there the previous day or even recently.

Karl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, wondered on Twitter what Trump “is smoking,” and the Aftonbladet paper ran a daily roundup from Friday featuring nothing more sinister than a small northern avalanche.

Later Saturday afternoon, Trump indicated that the only thing that happened Friday is that he caught Horowitz talking about Sweden on Fox News.

The president’s reference was arguably a breakthrough for Horowitz, focusing rare international attention on Sweden’s immigrant crime debate, which Horowitz has spent considerable — and controversial — efforts investigating.

In his Fox News interview Horowitz, a former investment banker turned activist with a camera, claimed violent crime by refugees was out of control in Sweden and that the government there is covering up reports of rape to protect “vulnerable” migrants.

Coming amid a polarizing debate about the millions of immigrants arriving in Europe from the war-torn Middle East and Africa, the comments by Trump touched off a discussion about the president’s shaky handle on the facts.

But, Horowitz told JTA, it also “put a spotlight on the main issue: Sweden’s problems with immigration and crime. Which is positive.”

Horowitz has also reported on what he and others call Sweden’s “no-go zones” – areas that are densely populated by mostly Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East that many native Swedes, and Jews especially, avoid for fear of harassment and robbery.

A 43-year-old father of two, Horowitz last year went filming in a no-go zone in the Stockholm neighborhood of Husby, where he recorded an alleged assault on himself by several Arab speakers who objected to his filming on the street.

“My crew ran off when they approached, but since I was miked we have the first few seconds of the attack,” Horowitz, a Los Angeles native who lives in New York, told the Daily Mail. “They repeatedly punched, kicked and choked me as a number of bystanders watched. Eventually they dragged me into a building, which at the time I assumed was to finish me off.” Horowitz ultimately was released.

On Monday, violence erupted in another no-go zone, Rinkeby, where locals torched several cars after police arrested a man there, the Dagens Nyheter daily reported.

Horowitz, a vocal critic of Trump during the campaign, describes himself as “at times conservative, at other times liberal.” He said the incident in Husby was not his first close call while making films that offer a hard look at liberal causes or defend Israel.

In 2016, he took an 11-hour road trip in the West Bank to counter claims that Israeli security forces restrict movement there. At a crossing point into Israel, an adrenaline-filled Horowitz was filmed throwing rocks back at Palestinians who hurled them at him and others waiting to enter.

In 2009, while filming a prickly documentary about the U.N. double standard on Israel and other issues, he traveled to war-torn Cote D’Ivoire to investigate incidents in which U.N. soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. In the same film, Horowitz seized the microphone at the controversial 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, telling attendees that they should be “embarrassed and ashamed” by their anti-Israel bias. The incident was also captured on tape by JTA.

And in 2015, he sailed with Syrian immigrants infiltrating Europe across the Aegean Sea, reporting that he saw an ISIS recruiter attempting to recruit some of the would-be newcomers.

In 2014, he filmed the reactions of students at the University of California, Berkeley, as he variously waved Israeli and ISIS flags on campus; students are shown ignoring the ISIS flag but reacting angrily to Israel’s. In another film he asked New Yorkers to sign a petition titled “Cops’ Lives Matter.”

Initially, Horowitz’s no-go experience in Sweden generated little attention in the country, where “mainstream media tend to not report the ethnicity of perpetrators of crimes,” according to an employee of the Swedish Migration Board who spoke to JTA on Tuesday on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired.

But Trump’s remarks focused intense attention in Sweden to the link between crime rates in the country of 9 million and its admittance since 2013 of more than 300,000 asylum seekers mainly from Muslim countries.

Sweden had been one of the most welcoming nations in Europe to refugees, but in 2016 drastically cut back on asylum quotas. The government said it was over housing issues.

Some have cited Sweden to defend Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Some regard Sweden as an inspiring role model for its efforts to resettle asylum seekers. But others see it as a failed experiment, and say it has contributed to an unprecedented rise in the popularity of far-right anti-Islam parties that are riding a wave of discontent over the arrival of unskilled immigrants at a time of economic stagnation.

As for Sweden’s 20,000 Swedish Jews, they have seen an explosion of hate crimes against members of their community in recent years. Dozens of incidents are documented annually in Malmo alone, a southern city with only 1,000 Jews where a third of the population of 300,000 are Muslims.

Trump’s remark also exposed Horowitz to criticism for his gonzo style of journalism, which owes more to Michael Moore and “The Daily Show” than CNN. In the past he has filmed interviews without permission, provoked onlookers’ reactions with outrageous stunts  and edited footage to ridicule interviewees. Horowitz defends his methodology as accurate, though he admits it is “confrontational and provocative.”

On Monday, two police officers he interviewed for his Sweden documentary, in which Horowitz claimed Muslims are overrepresented among perpetrators of criminal activity, said he edited their answers manipulatively. Horowitz denied the charge and attributed their reactions to pressure from their superiors.

In an op-ed published Tuesday by the Svenska Dagbladet, Linda Nordlund, a former chairwoman of the Liberal Youth of Sweden, criticized Horowitz for relying on anonymous sources in asserting that a majority of women waiting at a police station were there to report rape. She said Horowitz “is known for his xenophobic views” and that his report is “full of inaccurate statistics and innuendo.”

But in that same op-ed, Lund also said that Trump’s “false claims” and Horowitz’s “fake news” eclipse a necessary discussion on real problems – including the undisputed overrepresentation of foreigners in criminal activity. Authorities in Sweden do not publish precise data on the nationality or ethnicity of perpetrators, which the media also squelch.

Lund also noted an increase in sexual harassment in public swimming pools, though she wrote that Horowitz’s claims that rape is increasing are false.

Still, while there was a dip in the number of reported rapes in 2015, the average has risen in Sweden by 18 percent in the years 2011-2016 to an average of 6,341 cases annually, compared to 5,260 cases in the years 2006-2010, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. (Some attribute that to a change in the types of acts that can be classified as rape.)

“There’s been a lot of discussions about statistics, a lot of back and forth,” Horowitz said of the effects of his reporting in Sweden. “There’s a lot of disinformation but on the whole, this overdue discussion is a good thing for Sweden and Europe.”