The Israeli Embassy’s ‘sort of terrifying’ — and pro-partition? — map

Those of us with friends who post too much about the Middle East on Facebook have doubtless seen — or at least scrolled past — a confusing chart created by Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh, which attempts to depict the region’s conflicts and alliances.

For example,  Israel supports the Syrian rebels, which receive support from Hamas, which hates Israel, which is allied with the U.S., which is allied with Saudi Arabia, which supports the Syrian rebels but opposes the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which supports the Syrian rebels and Hamas.

Got that? Neither did I.

Now, the Israeli embassy in Washington has answered with its own chart. This one has a much simpler message: Everybody hates Israel.

Conceptually, in terms of Israeli PR, there’s nothing that new about this one. It depicts the conflicts that surround Israel and the many threats facing it. All the usual suspects are there: Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad, terrorists in the Sinai, terrorists on the Golan border, “radical forces” in the West Bank and, of course, Iran.

Pretty straightforward… except for one thing. Brandeis Israel studies Ph.D. student Ari Moshkovski notes on his Facebook that the embassy may have inadvertently endorsed calls for partition on the 1967 border:

A close look, however, reveals that this official Israeli map excludes the West Bank from Israeli territory. In fact, the Israeli embassy seems to demarcate Israel’s borders along the 1967 lines.

The  Israeli government, of course, does not consider the West Bank to be officially part of Israel — though part of the governing coalition wants to annex some or all of it.

Even so, maps and outlines of the country put out by the government sometimes include the West Bank (and sometimes don’t), and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to base current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the 1967 border. Moshkovski notes that in 2011, when President Obama called for a two-state solution based on the 1967 border (with land swaps), the pro-Israel right called foul.

Will they do so now? And does this mean anything for peace talks?

To both questions, the answer is probably no.

Ross: Iran nukes pose danger of nuclear war

The greatest danger posed by a nuclear Iran would be the increased likelihood of a Middle East nuclear war, Dennis Ross said.

“If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically,” Ross, whojust retired as the White House’s top Iran policy official, said during his first post-Obama administration address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The danger, Ross said, lies in the complete lack of communication between Israel and Iran, as opposed to open lines between earlier nuclear antagonists, like the United States and the Soviet Union.

“You are not going to have a stable situation where anyone can feel that they are going to wait,” he said. “If there is the slightest indication that Iran is changing its readiness, can Israel wait? … The potential for miscalculation would be enormous.”

Ross said President Obama was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“The administration prides itself on a certain reality that it does what it says,” he said, referring to Obama’s making good on his promise to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Regarding Iran, Ross said, when Obama “says all options remain on the table, it doesn’t mean that force is his first choice, but it means that that’s an option that he intends to exercise.”

On Israeli-Palestinian peace, Ross said the psychological gap between the sides remains wide, although substantively they are close.

He said that absent talks, Israel should preserve a “political horizon” that “validates” Palestinians that favor nonviolence, such as the current Palestinian Authority leadership. He suggested allowing the Palestinian police to expand their presence in parts of the West Bank and increasing economic access for Palestinians to all of the West Bank.

Ross has returned to work at the Washington Institute, an influential Washington think tank where he served as a top scholar from 2001 to 2009.

We felt so safe there

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like mortality is in the air.

“We had a view, trees, a yard and neighbors,” retired school bus driver Linda Pogacnik, 63, told a Los Angeles Times reporter about her Sylmar home, crying uncontrollably. “We felt so safe there. It was a perfect place for an old retired woman.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t like thinking of 63 as old. I also don’t like thinking that “we felt so safe there” is as relevant to me as it is to a mobile home community destroyed by the Sayre fire. Does that mean I’m in denial?

A couple of days before the fires began, at 10 in the morning, you would have found me in my office on the floor beneath my desk, holding on to it for a surprisingly long three minutes during the regionwide drill meant to prepare us for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Afterward, my colleagues and I spent a half hour calmly trying to understand what it would be like to sleep in parks for two weeks along with thousands of our neighbors, and to experience 10,000 aftershocks during the year that followed, and to live in a city without electricity or transportation or any of the other urban services we usually don’t think about depending on.

The evening of the day of the drill, I went to my book club. The book this month was “The Teammates,” by David Halberstam, the story of Red Sox veterans Dom DiMaggio, 84, and Johnny Pesky, 82, driving down from Massachusetts to visit their dying teammate, Ted Williams, for the last time. We book club members, men in our 50s and 60s, usually love a rousing conversation about the text at hand, but that night the conversation was about politics, food, the fine points of Yiddish curse words — anything but the Halberstam book. Afterward, on e-mail, we acknowledged the reason why: our discomfort at confronting our own forthcoming decrepitude and demise.

The week before, I had lunch with a college friend, a baby boomer like me, who’s been battling a chronic disease since its onset at age 30. Some years since then have been bad; others, more endurable. Right now, he’s doing OK.

I asked him how he had come to handle the fragility of his well-being and the uncertainty that his illness has plagued him with. His answer: “Everything is a percentage. You have an X percent chance of a recurrence over the next Y years. You have a Z percent chance of being alive from today until whenever. The percentages are never zero and never a hundred. And when they’re lopsided, you never know what side of them you’ll be on. It’s all about the odds.” He paused, had a sip of espresso, and went on. “It’s all about the odds for everyone, isn’t it? Being sick just makes you realize it more.”

A week later, while the wildfires raged, I went to Thousand Oaks to give a talk along with

Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.

A conservative, long-term investor, I’ll still admit to my sometimes ridiculous attraction to the highs and lows of risk.
Question is: How much can
I — or anyone — really handle?

At 22, I’d fearlessly seek the beta — or risk factor — in anticipation of the alpha — or excess — returns. I’d diversify my portfolio, but often follow a hot dot, whose value would quickly double, drop, then creep back up. When the market tanked? I reveled in my seemingly endless time horizon.

My strategy began to shift after some market volatility, which, combined with maturity lent a better understanding of my own assets and risk tolerance. I became more moderate, investing in diverse, well-researched stocks for a longer-term gain.

Still, my rate of return seemed nominal.

At times, I’d considered leaving the market altogether, but trusty advisers would encourage me to stay the course.

Investment decisions are best executed without emotion, they’d say.
Yeah, right, say I.

See, Smith Barney doesn’t manage this portfolio. My heart does.
Disturbingly analogous to the omnipotent stock market, in dating, the alpha of a long-term relationship drives us to invest even more: our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

We’ll work diligently to review and build our personal assets (be it career, hobbies, looks, personality or all of the above); establish our search criteria (determine characteristics of a partner); and perform severe — if often frustrating — due diligence (dating the gamut to find that sometimes elusive, but impassioned and fabled, soul mate).

As our investment pool in this feverish search shifts, so do our emotions and risk tolerance — often dramatically. And sometimes unexpectedly.

High-risk (newbie) investors might trade short-term losses (“just hanging out”) for long-term gains (dating for crazy love). Moderates (more mature) might accept some risk (getting back out there post-burn) for higher ultimate returns (falling in love … again). Lowest risk takers (seasoned cynics) may seek the safest route (maybe even … gulp … settling).

At 22 and for a while thereafter, the process was thrilling. Working to build my own assets, I was myself an actual beta — figuring my way and learning fancy investment terms while marathoning my lifestyle.

My diversified portfolio included mostly my peers: the drummer, the elevator crush who made me blush, the student, the party-guy who might actually call, the tree-hugging college friend, and even the swamped getting-established professional. My relationships gave me butterflies and stomachaches, but I withstood the volatility, hoping for high returns.

The alpha on these short-term buys sometimes seemed negligible, but experience built my assets for the long term. It also lowered my risk tolerance — a dangerous bout in my maturing stage, wherein people have paired off, leaving bounds of skeptics.

What was “edge” seemed like attitude; opinions became stubbornness. “Stability” translated to boredom; “Fun” often meant noncommittal. And as I became more selective, my investment pool downsized.

Uh oh.

Determined still, I went moderate-to-low with lower-betas who seemed ready to commit: the great guy my age, the goal-oriented (too busy) professional and the creative guy who knew how to channel it.

Ratings seemed positive, but earnings ultimately disappointed. Our stock split, and hearts got broken.

Perhaps my search criteria was askew; I considered old standbys, friends; I diversified madly to mitigate losses, but my risk skyrocketed with my diminishing tolerance and time horizon.

Should I seek growth or the undervalued stock? Hedge? Strattle? Bail out? Or, shoot endlessly for off-the-chart heart-jumps that put me in the red, then black within a matter of days?

Not quite ready to index, I sought value with potential growth. I still sought the beta.

After a market slump, and bordering the defeatist pull-out, a tip off to a charming, intelligent (younger) option surfaced. I’d stay the course for long-term growth, I thought.

First, it was blissful and fun; carefree and light; we’d stay up late and dance around who liked whom. He called me “hot” instead of pretty, bought me chocolates and wrote me sweet cards. He called too late.

And the best part: he believed in “the one.” The one!

Things were swell until liabilities in my beta’s limited repertoire emerged. He struggled to fully identify with me. My skin felt comfortable; his was still filling out. He wasn’t cynical, which, to me, meant he didn’t reflect…. Or maybe, at 25, hadn’t yet lived.

Despite my short-term disappointment, I’d already learned to sell out sooner in lieu of a more “appropriate” investment.

See, while he was still diversifying, I was — apparently — ready to focus my assets.

General rule says: the greater the risk, the greater the return. And in today’s rough relationship market, determining risk tolerance may indeed help assuage some long-term “damage.” Problem is: it may also risk a lower alpha.

And that’s no fun.

Maybe — ultimately — we’re all just betas making our way; our yields to maturity are just different.


Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at

My Brilliant Masterpiece

All the Casanovas open with some killer line.

I stick my foot into my mouth every single time.

If I were a great artist, I would use my expertise,

Turn this foolish scene into my brilliant masterpiece. — Don Conoscenti

That’s the chorus of a song by a singer-songwriter I stumbled upon while trying to think of something to say to a girl in a music club in Kentucky.

In the midst of wishing I knew what to say, I listened to this troubadour with a whole song about wishing he could know what to say.

Sometimes music is like that. It finds us when we need it; it fills the prescription. It comforts us by saying: At least some obscure folk singer-songwriter who lives out of a minivan can relate to me.

I was so overwhelmed by the sentiment and timing that, uncharacteristically, I’m willing to forgive the attempted rhyme of “line” with “time.” I do this only because Mr. Conoscenti belongs to that tiny minority of lyricists (especially folk singers) who uses the subjunctive: If I were a great artist, not “was.”

In case you’re ever on my bad side, it’s handy to know that correct use of the subjunctive will afford you a lot of slack.

Do what you will, but tell me: “If I were a better girlfriend, I wouldn’t have stolen your car, sold your cats and slept with your best friend” and most everything will be forgiven.

Anyhow, this song was about talking to girls, or more to the point, not talking. Being “frozen in their lights” as an earlier verse goes. I can relate all too well.

I go to a bar and all my wit, worldly experience and education instantly deteriorates into those POV shots in “The Terminator.” Suddenly, I’m scanning my database for a response. And unlike that title character, I come up with nothing. There’s a short-circuit. The CPU crashes. I’m not programmed for this. I’ve failed in my mission to become a player, or a futuristic murdering robot-turned-governor.

What gets me is knowing — or at least believing — that someone else in this situation would know what to say and do. All those Casanovas opening with their killer lines and closing with a phone number wile I’m left just fingering the Chex mix.

But if I were a great artist….

I’d love to be Cary Grant, James Bond — who am I kidding? I’d settle for Jimmy Fallon on a good day. (I can be foppish yet aloof, can’t I?)

I’d love to display ease and mastery of a social situation — especially one that has potential to result in meeting the love of my life (or at least the love of my evening).

Honestly, maybe I’m too hard on myself. Didn’t James Bond have his awkward teen years? Just once, wasn’t he unable to screw up his courage? Didn’t he ever say: “Bond, James Blond — I mean Bond! Oy, listen to me! I sound like such a shmuck.”

They don’t show those scenes in the movies though, do they? Instead, James Bond taunts me with his perfect swagger, perfect hair, and perfect women. I tell you: I’m beginning to think he may be a fictional character.

But back to the reality of the barroom, where I hope to craft my masterpiece. Let’s assume for a moment that a bar can be where art can happen, that The Cat & Fiddle is a canvas.

Art is risk and a great risk demands an occasional spectacular nosedive. Not every attempted Picasso is, well, a Picasso. Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” Spielberg’s “1941,” Prince’s “Black Album,” Bochco’s “CopRock,” America’s 43rd president. These are all necessary stumbles that made future work even better.

And even with a bona fide masterpiece, surely there are drafts, sketches, revisions, rough cuts. Even Jackson Pollock didn’t get the drips right the first time.

I want to keep these artworks in mind the next time I approach a woman awkwardly. I must remember: Like any artist, to make something beautiful, I have to be willing to get ugly. I’m going to get paint in my hair, fast-spinning clay under my fingernails, paper cuts, carpal-tunnel, welding burns. I’m going to have to put up with editors and critics and bachelorettes who just don’t get me.

It’s the cost of doing business, and if you keep going, you get to something ultimately more valuable than the phone number of a girl at a music club in Kentucky, or the song you keep in her honor.

By the way, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Conoscenti — most people outside of his immediate family haven’t. If you want to learn more, visit, or else join me on my next road trip across the desert. Just don’t blame me when you realize the doors are locked and you’re miles from nowhere as I’m singing folk songs with the subtle nuances of an air raid siren.

People in passing cars must think this a foolish scene, but I know better: It’s my brilliant masterpiece.

Keith van Straaten is a writer and performer who hosts “What’s My Line? — Live on Stage” Wednesdays in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

Bills Seek to End Israel Travel Penalty

It happens over and over again: A planned trip to Israel induces gasps of worry from friends who have never visited the country. Every suicide bombing or mortar attack on television reinforces the vision of Israel as a vast raging war zone.

Some travelers appreciate the concern; others simply ignore it. But this perception of danger has had serious repercussions for people in California and in other states. For several years at least, life insurance companies doing business in California and elsewhere have been denying coverage or charging increased premiums to individuals who have either recently visited Israel or plan to visit soon. The assumption is that the country is just too dangerous, and that someone foolish enough to risk going to Israel once is likely to do so again.

A bill making its way through the California Legislature would make it illegal to impose such a penalty on travelers to Israel or any other country. Two similar bills are before House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

“Traveling to Israel is so broad,” said Nancy Appel, Anti-Defamation League regional deputy director, who testified in support of the state legislation, Senate Bill 1105, at a July committee hearing. Compare “traveling to Eilat vs. going to a war-zone area.” For insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of travel anywhere in the country is “like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” Appel told The Journal.

Momentum appears to favor her view. The states of Washington, New York and Illinois have recently passed similar legislation, although the latter two only ban discrimination based on past travel, rather than future plans. A House bill by Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-Ill.), the Life Insurance Anti-Discrimination in Travel Act, deals specifically with past travel, while a bill by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Life Insurance Fairness for Travelers Act, bans insurance discrimination based on future plans.

In the Legislature, the bill was quickly introduced in midterm by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), with the support of Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is running for state treasurer in 2006.

“This bill appeared right in the middle of the session, and we only saw it a week before it was heard in the Assembly Insurance Committee,” said Brad Wenger, president of the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, which represents the insurance industry’s legislative interests in Sacramento.

The association opposed the bill at first, but then Speier’s staff struck a hallway compromise that could prove to be a model in other states or even nationally.

To secure industry support, Speier agreed that a company could deny coverage or charge higher rates if it could justify that decision by citing “sound actuarial principles” or “reasonably expected experience.” After adding that language, the association immediately changed its official position on the bill to “neutral,” making its passage a near certainty.

In plain English, the bill now allows insurers to penalize travelers to Israel only if they have actual evidence that higher risk exists. A similar resolution was reached in the 1980s, after the industry came under pressure for allegedly discriminating against the disabled.

“SB 1105 gives the California Department of Insurance the ability to ask an insurer what they’re basing a [discriminatory] decision on, and they would require a pretty good case to be made,” Wenger said.

Wenger quickly added that the department already can investigate alleged discriminatory practices.

“This just makes it a little more specific,” he said.

“Everybody was comfortable [that] this language would not create a loophole,” Appel added. “If they have hard data backing up their opinion to deny coverage or charge more, they can do that. The problem now is that they deny coverage with no data backing up their reasons.”

Still, the definition of “data” can be vague. Some past coverage denials were ostensibly based on State Department travel warnings, which, though anecdotal, derive from a credible source. Such a warning is currently in effect. The State Department cites recent bombings and notes, “The U.S. government has received information indicating that American interests within Israel could be the focus of terrorist attacks.”

Wenger did not provide specific examples of what would constitute sound actuarial principles in the context of the California legislation.

“It’s a very, very competitive market out there,” he said. “I think you have to have some sympathy for [the insurance company] when there is a place in the world that is either at war or in a very dangerous situation.”

With the insurance industry’s official neutrality, the state legislation without opposition in the California Assembly on Aug. 18. The bill is now headed to the state Senate. If it passes there, as expected, the measure would reach the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet taken an official position on the bill.

“It’s just amazing,” Appel said. “Some bills take forever to get written [but] this one happened very fast.”

Whether the bill has the intended effect will take longer to work out.


Grand Denial

During the lamest duck days of his presidency, Bill Clinton hustled to cobble together a series of under-the-wire executive orders and pardons, but he was unable to secure The Grand Prize: a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Though he continued to preach piously to Israelis and Palestinians about the need to make tough sacrifices, Clinton harbored no illusions about his chance for success. Nevertheless, he’d always been a risk-taker, and wouldn’t it have been nice to leave behind a legacy headlined by something other than Monica? A Nobel Peace Prize wouldn’t have been too shabby, either.

Ironically, Clinton entered office with no intention of getting involved in that foreign policy black hole known as Mideast negotiations. Several years ago, a source close to the president informed me that Clinton had been defending Israel staunchly against those who demanded that the Jewish state make large-scale concessions, only to have Yitzhak Rabin enter covert talks with the Arabs and concede far more than Clinton had deemed reasonable. Initially angry with Rabin, but ever the adroit politician, Clinton jumped on the peace-talk bandwagon and attempted to maneuver his way into the driver’s seat.

Rabin’s protégé, Ehud Barak, offered to relinquish even more territory and power to the Palestinians than any Western diplomat — or Rabin — would have believed feasible. And Barak continues to give ground despite receiving nothing in return, agreeing to “marathon” talks in Taba because he’s struggling to salvage a political career brought down by staggering ineptitude.

And the third player in this Levantine chess game?

Yasser Arafat, ever adroit, directs his minions to violence as he digs his heels in and demands more. And gets it. The Palestinian leader is at the top of his game. Barak and his supporters in the Israeli left are in severe denial.

Working as a psychologist, I learned about the curative value of denial. Sometimes, you just need to put on blinders in order to go on. In a sense, our very existence is a grand denial. Death is inevitable, but constant awareness of that certainty and the resultant crushing anxiety would make life unbearable. So we turn away from dark truism and live out our days in joyful delusion.

But despite its protective value, denial can be dangerous, even fatal: The alcoholic who convinces himself that one more wee nip can’t hurt as he gets behind the wheel of his car is courting disaster. So is the chain smoker who shuts his eyes to dark spots on x-rays, or the victim of domestic violence who keeps excusing the punch in the eye as an aberrant fit of hubby’s bad temper.

Denial practiced in the political sphere often leads to doom of monstrous proportions. Hitler spelled out his intentions in “Mein Kampf” years before taking power. Joseph Stalin wasn’t the least bit coy about his plans for world domination. Yet attempts were made to appease both dictators, and the result was unprecedented global horror.

Until recently, dysfunctional denial on a national scale has operated for some time in the collective consciousness of a large segment of the Israeli people. The initial concepts of peace promulgated by Rabin were grounded firmly in reciprocity, but once the Israeli left gained ascendancy, any Israeli who tried to talk about reciprocity or demanded that Arafat make good on any of his promises was denigrated as an enemy of peace. But after witnessing the Ramallah lynching, the destruction of Joseph’s Tomb and the torching of the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world, the mosaic-floored beauty in Jericho, as well as the rest of the nonstop violence orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli public opinion has finally shifted away from grand delusion and has embraced realpolitik.

Will the conversion endure?

Arafat is banking on the fact that it won’t as he continues to demur diplomatically while sanctioning murder. But despite his history as a terrorist and a despot, on one level Arafat is an honest man. Arafat has made no bones about his intentions: the total dissolution of the Jewish state and its replacement with yet another Arab-dominated Mideast dictatorship. During his contacts with American and European opinion-makers, Arafat has claimed to desire nothing more than democratic self-determination for the Palestinian people.

A prime example is his recent “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace, during which Wallace abandoned his usual pit-bull interviewing style, and, in a rather bizarre change of persona, sat back as Arafat pontificated righteously. However, when Arafat’s reign has been anything but democratic and when he and his representatives communicate to their own people in Arabic, the message is anything but peace-loving.

To wit: Palestinian Authority Minister of Planning Nabil Sha’ath’s Oct. 7 interview with the Arabic television channel, ANN: “The Palestinian people never ceased during seven years of negotiating from bursting out into intifadas against Israel and from saying its words in ways different from the way of the negotiating table.”

Or this, from Hassan Al-Kashef, director-general of the P.A. Information Ministry, in a daily Al Ayyam newspaper column last October: “The only way to impose our conditions is inevitably through our blood.”

And consider this sermon from Ahmad Abu Halabiya, member of the P.A.-appointed Fatwa Council and former acting rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, broadcast live on P.A. television: “Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them. … We will not give up a single grain of soil of Palestine, from Haifa and Jaffa and Acre.”

Halabiya and other Palestinian leaders talk about Jews, not Israelis, because this is a religious, not an ideological war, and when militant Muslim expansionists rail against America as “the great Satan,” they are referring to Christianity.
Perhaps most chilling is the P.A.’s exploitation of children as front-line warriors. Recently, I viewed a taped segment of the P.A.’s version of “Sesame Street,” in which an adorable Arab boy of 7 or 8 stood up and declared himself ready and eager to die as a martyr in the holy war against the Jews. Both the Disney characters standing in the background and the child’s teacher applauded enthusiastically. Bert and Ernie this wasn’t.

The real reason Arafat won’t accede to Barak’s offers is that he wants nothing less than the whole pie.

Clinton and Madeleine Albright — she of a lifetime of “forgotten” Jewish identity — couldn’t have cared less about any of this: They craved Rose Garden ceremonies and — that obnoxious pop-psych fiction — “closure.” If Israel had been destroyed in the process — ho hum, let’s move on to the next foreign policy challenge.

But Barak and his supporters should know better, and though aware intellectually of the P.A.’s true intentions, they have remained cut off emotionally, to a mind-boggling extent. This has allowed Arafat to renege on every single promise he made at Oslo and yet be rewarded with rising prestige in the Arab world, more generous concessions from Israel, and rising advocacy in Europe and the United States. More than any other president, Clinton legitimized Arafat. During the final months of his presidency, Clinton underwent a grotesque morph from Friend of the Jews to Palestinian Surrogate.
The fruits of the post-Oslo era are tragic and painful: As a result of the Oslo accord, hundreds of former Palestinian terrorists newly appointed as P.A. police were armed by the Israeli army. Now, those same guns are being used to shoot Israeli soldiers and civilians. Palestinian hatred for Jews is evident; the P.A. does nothing to hide it. Yet the Israeli left denies. If Barak and his aides were a person, that person would belong on the therapist’s couch.

Rabin typically brushed off questions about Arafat’s intentions with the oft-quoted, “You don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemy.” That pronouncement has acquired a sacred gloss, but Rabin’s logic was highly flawed. The truth is you can only make peace with an enemy who has decided to stop being your enemy, and nothing in the P.A.’s rhetoric or deeds lends support for that attitude shift. On the contrary, the years that have lapsed since the advent of Oslo have witnessed a hardening of Palestinian attitude, to the point where Arabic-language newspapers habitually engage in Holocaust denial, publish rabidly anti-Semitic cartoons reminiscent of the Third Reich’s Der Starmer, and resurrect medieval blood libels against the Jews.

And yet it took the bloody hands of a lyncher and months of car bombings, snipings and stabbings to finally turn around Israeli public opinion. Why was Arafat’s very explicit message ignored? Perhaps because resurrecting memories of the Holocaust and its burning message of genocidal hatred are as intolerable to the psyche as the inevitability of death.

Living with the constant reality that your neighbors want nothing other than to destroy you is excruciatingly painful. Israelis are weary of war and of being viewed as brutal occupiers, and, notwithstanding 50 years of oil-state-financed propaganda to the contrary, the Israeli people are peace-loving, wanting nothing more than to live out their lives on a few square miles of ancestral Jewish homeland.

When faced with cold facts, the ideologues of the Israeli left retort with: What’s the alternative?

There are no easy solutions to a centuries-old religious war, but one wise alternative to the current debacle would be a gradual process contingent upon the demonstration of good will on both sides and predicated upon strict adherence to clearly enunciated criteria.

More important, peace in the region will never be accomplished unless the Palestinians learn how to function democratically. Neither Israel nor the world needs yet another Arab dictatorship.

All this adds up to a torturous process. However, failure to recognize the true intentions of Israel’s enemy can result only in the attrition and eventual death of the State of Israel. No one else may care, but Israelis — and Jews the world over — should.

If history has taught us anything, it is that denial is often the last meal of wanton optimists.

Jonathan Kellerman is the author of 16 novels and five nonfiction books. His latest novel is “Dr. Death” (Random House). He is clinical professor of pediatrics at USC School of Medicine and clinical professor of psychology at USC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Making the Cut

Circumcision was Page One news in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday after a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics did all but call the ritual cutting medically meaningless. You didn’t have to be a man to feel the cut.

“Circumcision is not essential to a child’s well-being at birth, even though it does have some potential medical benefits,” said Dr. Carole Lannon, head of the AAP’s task force on circumcision. The proven medical benefits include the decreased risk of urinary infection for the baby in the first year, and fewer instances of penile cancer when older. As for the lower risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, the AAP concluded that the use of condoms and other “behavioral factors” are more important in determining a person’s risk.

The AAP has been back and forth on this issue. In 1971, it said no, circumcision wasn’t necessary; in 1989, it cited new AIDS research and said, well, maybe. Now, after examining 40 years of available medical research, the group has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to make circumcision a matter of universal recommendation, though it acknowledged some may want to continue the practice based on their own familial, religious and cultural practices. (The AAP’s website,, contains the report in full.)

“I appreciate that at least the task force indicated that circumcision was an important part of religious and cultural identity,” Rabbi Lewis Barth told me. Barth founded the brit milah program at Hebrew Union College 14 years ago, which has trained more than 200 liberal medical professionals (including some 50 women) in Jewish circumcision. “Usually, they leave religion out.”

Nevertheless, fear of the new policy’s impact was evident. A spokesman for Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem called this reporter to protest that the American doctors hadn’t mentioned that circumcision protects against phimosis and paraphimosis –problems of foreskin retraction, which affects 10 percent of those uncircumcised — or that it decreases the rate of cervical cancer in female sexual partners as some research indicates.

Still, one suspects that Shaare Tzedek doctors do not fear that non-Jewish men will develop paraphimosis. They are justifiably concerned that if pediatricians retreat from circumcision, individual Jews themselves will flee the practice.

On Tuesday, with the Times story blazing, Dr. David Barron of UCLA-Santa Monica Medical Center and a trained mohel, addressed Rabbi Donald Goor’s HUC class in Practical Rabbinics. Dr. Barron told me he became a mohel because, after years of doing hospital circumcisions, he wanted to offer his clients a ritual component to the procedure. The class that day was alive with projected scenarios from the AAP report such as the possible decline in non-Jewish circumcised men snowballing into pressure on assimilated Jews to follow suit.

On the other hand, the class wondered, if the “Who is a Jew?” battle flares up, would proof of circumcision be required for some religious privileges, like the right to stand under a chuppah in marriage?

With such concerns in mind, I considered the history of the problem. Jews have been practicing circumcision for at least 3,000 years. It is the essence of the covenant between God and Abraham defined in the Bible. Even highly assimilated Jews still maintain the practice, allowing their sons to assume this essential mark of Jewish eligibility even if membership isn’t meaningful to them.

But to do so costs them nothing. Right after World War II, for reasons that are unclear, circumcision was taken up by American hospitals. By 1983, almost all American males were circumcised, most of them in hospitals. Thus, the American public became assimilated to a Jewish ritual even though the medical benefits were never absolutely proved. And we were flattered. Now we’re confused.

Of course, those Jews who depend upon Western medical support to justify what is, at root, a religious ritual, will feel threatened by the AAP decision. Some might even forgo circumcision altogether. Having bought the secular notion that circumcision is good for everyone, they might feel diminished by the notion that it could be “just” a religious rite after all. It’s as if they need biological proof that the Ten Plagues occurred before celebrating Passover.

But for the majority of Jews, the AAP decision was mostly academic on the question of whether or not to circumcise. “This ruling actually makes my life easier,” Barron told me. “Now when I talk to a family I can ask them directly about their spiritual beliefs, or their cultural identification. I don’t have to make any claims for medical benefits.”

On the other hand, the AAP panel might have actually improved the ancient ritual: It declared that if circumcision is chosen, pain relief is essential. Some mohels have resisted anesthesia.

“I used to feel that the pain to the baby was small, and if this was the only pain he felt in his life, it wouldn’t be too bad,” said Barron, who began using anesthetic six months ago.

It always feels good when the pain ends.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life.”

Her website is

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through