Carrying a Torch


Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters.

The fifth day of the month of Iyar is your Independence Day. Yes — yours! And by this, I mean you, Los Angeles Jews; you, New York Jews; you, Chicago Jews, Sydney Jews, London Jews, Paris Jews. That this day is my Independence Day goes without saying: I was born in Israel, I have lived here for most of my life, and my children have grown up and matured in this county. But I insist it is also yours, the Jews whose Independence Day is July 4, July 14, and all others. You fortunate cousins have two of these to celebrate. Independence Day of your respective countries and the Independence Day that all Jews share (except for those insisting on being annoyingly quarrelsome).

Last week, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) published a summary of its recommendations based on a yearlong dialogue in which hundreds of Jews around the world participated. Titled “70 Years of Israel-Diaspora Relations: The Next Generation,” this study offers a framework for Israel-Diaspora relations in the coming decades of, one hopes, Jewish independence. The study showed us (John Ruskay and I served as heads of this project) that “Diaspora and Israeli Jews agree that all Jews have a ‘stake’ in the State of Israel and, therefore, the right and duty to help sustain it.” This means that Israel is both a cause for celebration (Independence Day is yours, too) and also a burden (“help sustain it”).

Embracing this burden is not always easy. Israel has problems, it has frustrating habits and questionable policies. Israelis are not always forthcoming, and rarely attentive, and sometimes condescending. For some Jews, having to battle with Israel over these things is torturous and exhausting. And that’s why it is necessary, even essential, that you celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. Israel ought not be just a burden, not just a cause of worry and apprehension, a distant dark cloud of Middle East reality. Israel must be a joy.

Do “Jews” truly believe that all Jews have a stake in the Jewish state? The data we collected at JPPI shows that indeed, they do — with the caveat that “Jews” means many Jews, but not all of them. (I assume there is nothing in the world on which all Jews agree.) But alongside the data, there is also a reality, filled with confusing signals coming from all sides. There are non-Israeli Jews pretending they no longer care (or maybe they truly don’t), and there are Jewish Israelis arguing that Israel and its interests is the only thing that matters (forgetting that Israel is a project for the Jewish people, not the other way around).

Israel ought not be just a burden, not just a cause of worry and apprehension. Israel must be a joy.

Consider the following reminder: Last year, representatives of world Jewry were invited to light a torch in the ceremony that opens the Independence Day festivities. Not all Israelis appreciated this move. Israeli author and pundit Irit Linur forcefully argued at the time that “the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry sometimes looks like the communications between a mother spaceship and mission control in Houston. But it’s the spaceship that has to get to Mars safely, when all is said and done, whereas the folks in Houston will head home at the end of the day whether the spaceship lands or crashes.” In other words: We Israelis live here and will die if necessary; you American Jews might care for us, but you don’t have real skin in the game. Hence, when the torches are lit in Jerusalem, “the proper place for anyone who’s not an Israeli is in the visitors’ gallery.”

Linur has a case. JPPI makes the opposite case by recommending that Israel “regularly take measures designed to show solidarity with Diaspora Jewry and the recognition of its importance,” including “regular symbolic participation of dignitaries in major Israeli public ceremonies.”

This year, Israel was too late to invite notable Jews (Mayim Bialik, Steven Spielberg) to light a torch and, hence, ended up having no Diaspora representative on its roster of torch lighters.

This ought to be considered a symbolic mishap: Israel’s last-minute-improvisation mentality meets the orderly Jewish-American mentality.

This ought to be considered a positive mishap: Better late than never. Next year, we might get it right.

This ought to be considered a lame invitation: Independence Day is yours, too — come celebrate it, even when the host isn’t the most gracious.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Center of Gravity Week


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In Israel, the two weeks after Pesach are always emotionally packed. Holocaust Memorial Day comes shortly after the long holiday. Independence Day is a week-and-a-half later. The combination is intense, dizzying and confusing — especially so when Israel celebrates a symbolic number, such as 70.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot defines 60 as an old age and 70 as having lived a long life. But what’s true for a man is not true for a country or for a people. For them, the Holocaust was just yesterday. As demonstrated by Jews all over the world (see graph at right), the Holocaust is still very much on their minds. For them, Israel is still young, still making rookie mistakes, still dealing with the problems that have haunted it since its birth. It also still has people around who were there when it was born.

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day and Independence Day (attached to Memorial Day) in such sequence is problematic. For many years, Israel has been fighting the widely held, yet mistaken, belief that a Jewish state is compensation for the Holocaust.

In a 2009 speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized that “the right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel,  arises from one simple fact: Eretz Yisrael is the birthplace of the Jewish people.” This was not a coincidental remark, but rather an indirect criticism of President Barack Obama’s famous Cairo speech, in which he seemed to suggest that Jewish rights to the land depended on Jewish suffering in the Holocaust (in later speeches he corrected this view).

The proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom HaAtzmaut should serve as a reminder for Jews of the great burden we all share.

Still, as Israel has been fighting this fight, it’s calendar has stood, and still stands, in the way: This week we mourned the Holocaust; next week we celebrate our independence. If this is not a confusing way to send the above, detailed message, I don’t know what is.

Earlier this week, when I was asked to speak to a group of Israeli officers about travel to Poland, this confusing reality was evident again. These officers would be traveling for Holocaust Memorial Day, then coming back for Yom HaAtzmaut — bringing along with them American members of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The educational meaning of such a contrast is clear: From complete destruction in Europe to complete overhaul and success in Israel; from defenselessness to self-defense; from miserable dependence to proud independence. Still, it should be noted that utilizing this powerful proximity of events carries the risk of sending a problematic message.

Jews returned to their country not because of the Holocaust. They started building their state before the Holocaust. They started fighting for independence before the Holocaust. I assume that Israel was ready to happen even without a Holocaust. (Of course, there is no way of proving such a theory.)

But to argue that the Holocaust played no role in the way Israel was born would be insincere. It did, in two ways: One — the less important — is common knowledge and frequently mentioned. The other — of much higher importance — is rarely mentioned.

The common knowledge is that the Holocaust probably expedited and eased the way of the Jewish state to gain acceptance and recognition. To stand in its way merely three years after a third of the world’s Jewry was exterminated seemed tasteless even to countries that didn’t usually mix emotions and policymaking.

Yet, it is another reality stemming from the Holocaust that made the main difference for Israel: The complete annihilation of the most significant community of Jews, the demise of the old center of Jewish life, created a vacuum that needed to be filled. And Israel fast became the main, if not the only, prospective candidate to fill this civilizational void. Israel became the place in which Jews would re-form an essential center of gravity.

The proximity of Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom HaAtzmaut should indeed be utilized as a reminder. But not as a reminder to the world on why Jews deserve to have a state. As obvious and banal as it sounds, it should serve as a reminder for Jews of the great burden we all share to guard, support and defend this still very young epicenter.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Killing 16 in Gaza to Save Thousands


Israeli soldiers deploy on the Israeli side of the border with the northern Gaza Strip, April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

It was as easy to figure out Israel’s two main objectives in Gaza last week as it was hard to meet these objectives. Amid a decision by Hamas to arrange mass protest near the Gaza-Israeli border, Israel’s aim was 1) To prevent protesters from crossing the border into Israel — at all cost; and 2) To do this in a way that prevents bloodshed.

Israel’s No. 1 goal was achieved as no Palestinian entered, and there was no mass attempt to cross the border. Israel made the point: Crossing the line (of the border) is crossing a line (Israel’s red line). Israel will make this point again if necessary because no country can allow people whose intentions are spiteful to cross its border unharmed.

Was Israel’s No. 2 goal achieved? That is a good question for which there is no answer acceptable to all observers. Sixteen Gazans were killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) near the border. Palestinian leaders called it butchery. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it terrorism. Left-wing Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg proposed that Israel investigate the shootings. European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini called for an “independent” investigation into the use of live ammunition by Israel.

Of course, every loss of life is a cause for disappointment. And, indeed, 16 people killed is a lot, compared to no people killed. But 16 killed is also a few, compared to 200 people killed, or 2,000 people killed.

If you ask Israel’s military chiefs about last week’s outcome, this is what they’d tell you. IDF needed to kill 16 to prevent the killing of 200, maybe more. IDF needed to kill the 16 to make it clear that Israel will not be tolerant of any attempt to cross its border. An IDF senior officer would tell you this: Had IDF not killed 16, the leadership of Hamas might conclude that it can up the ante and test Israel, and this would force IDF to kill many more under much tenser circumstances. An IDF senior officer would tell you this: By killing 16 — most of which were Hamas operatives —many lives were saved.

If you truly care about saving Palestinian lives, you ought to be pleased with the relatively low number of Palestinians killed last week.

Were all 16 deaths necessary? No one can guarantee that. The Palestinians, by deciding to stage demonstrations that will gain them nothing, knew that it is rare in such events to have everything go as planned. They knew that in such events, a so-called “strategic corporal” — be it a low-ranking soldier, or a hot-headed activist, or a confused officer — can begin an avalanche of events that ends with bloodshed without ever intending to do it. They know that controlling many thousands of demonstrators is difficult, and that supervising the actions of thousands of soldiers is also difficult. When the situation is tense; when the soldier is tired; when there’s smoke and confusion; when the two main objectives — preventing crossing and refraining from bloodshed — somewhat contradict; when all this happens, mistakes should be expected. Mistakes should be taken into account.

It is possible that the leaders of the Palestinian protesters took them into account. In fact, it is likely that they wanted mistakes to happen, as their only hope to achieve anything by staging demonstrations is by relying on these mistakes. If there is an incident of questionable killing, it will serve those calling for investigations, calling for restraint, delegitimizing Israel’s means of defense, delegitimizing Israel’s right to control its border.

If you want to know why Israel is so pleased with the Donald Trump administration, consider what happened in Gaza last week and the president’s response to it. Finally, a U.S. administration that will not buy into the notion of “strong is always wrong.” Finally, an administration that sees through the propaganda and understands that calling for restraint is akin to robing Israel of its means of defense.

Calling for restraint is also the recipe for much more bloodshed, because hesitation on the part of Israel could easily lead to miscalculation by Hamas. And miscalculation could mean more people testing Israel’s resolve. And more people testing Israel’s resolve means less room for maneuvering, less time for response, fewer options other than using live ammunition.

Under no circumstances could Israel let tens of thousands of Gazans march into its territory.  So, if you truly care about saving Palestinian lives, you ought to be pleased with the relatively low number of Palestinians killed last week. You ought to hope that this sent a message clear enough to those thinking about next week’s demonstrations.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Eat, Pray and Keep Reading


Why do we sit at a Passover seder? Why do we read the haggadah? Toward the end of my book, “The Jews: 7 Frequently Asked Questions” (not yet available in English), I presented this question in a general way and asked, Why be Jewish at all?

There is not one answer to this question, I wrote: “There are Jews by virtue of emotion, and Jews by virtue of reason. There are Jews who conduct an effortful investigation into questions of identity, and Jews whose identity is effortless, natural and uncomplicated. And there are Jews who make do with faith — and those who also need a mission.”

I recently asked a similar question for a study I’m working on for The Jewish People Policy Institute, called the “Israeli-Judaism Project.” The study aims to investigate the fine details of Israel’s Judaism — the practices and the beliefs, the dwindling habits and surging trends, the innovations and rigid traditions. My partner on the project is Prof. Camil Fuchs, Israel’s leading pollster, and together we are attempting to crack the code of this unique and very young cultural phenomenon. Compared to the 3,000 years of Judaism, the 70-year-old Israeli-Judaism is almost in its infancy.

So, we asked the Jews of Israel: Why do you keep traditions such as the seder or Yom Kippur? Most Jewish Israelis responded that they do, indeed, keep such traditions. A mere 4 percent of the respondents to our vast survey said they don’t. The other 96 percent of Jewish Israelis who participated in the survey were divided between selecting “the commandment of the Torah” as the defining factor (28 percent); those choosing a societal reason, “This is what the people around me do” (6 percent), and the vast majority whose tradition is based on cultural reasons (24 percent) and historical awareness, whether the emphasis is family history (18 percent) or the history of their people (21 percent).

Secular Israelis are the exception; a large majority of them do not read the haggadah all the way through.

For more religious Israelis, Torah is the reason to have a seder; the social reason is somewhat important only among “totally secular” Israelis (16 percent). This highly secular group (31 percent of Jewish Israelis) is also the only group of which a somewhat significant number (15 percent) “do not keep” traditions. And it is also the only group for which the reading of the haggadah ends when the meal begins.

We also asked Israelis if they read the haggadah in its entirety, including the parts after the meal, or just a part of it (see the graph on the right). Sixty-four percent of Jewish Israelis told us they read the haggadah in full — a sign of Israelis’ strong inclination to have a traditional seder, to stick with the script they heard as children in their grandparents’ houses. Secular Israelis are the exception; a large majority of them (78 percent) do not read the haggadah all the way through. I do not have parallel findings on American Jews, but we do have data that can give us a hint of where we are as we compare these two communities. According to the 2013 Pew study of Jewish Americans, 70 percent of U.S. Jewry participated in a Passover seder “last year.” In our JPPI study, we found that 97 percent of Israeli Jews responded “yes” to the question: “Do you host or participate in a Passover seder?”

Numbers can make your eyes glaze over, but they always tell a story. In this case, it is a story of people for whom the Pesach seder is still a central feature of their tradition — almost all Israeli Jews attend a seder. It is also a story of people who have many reasons to keep this tradition, but whose members maintain their own ways of observing it — that is, as they did among family and friends early in their life. And it is the story of people who read the haggadah because it is a wonderful text, they are used to it, it is easier than thinking about a substitute, or it just feels more authentic. I assume that for Israeli Jews this is because, among other things, they can read Hebrew and understand what the words of the haggadah mean, and can debate their meaning — another great Passover tradition.

Chag sameach.

Deadline Is Near — Surprise Me!


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

One of the common myths about Israel’s last election (2015) is that the polls were way off. The people were expecting a win for Labor’s Yitzhak Herzog and ended up having Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. Indeed, the 30-seat-win for Likud was a surprise, as on average the surveys before the election predicted a 22-seat loss for Likud. But the polls’ great error is a myth. Their error was in predicting the exact number of seats for each party. But they were successful in predicting the more important number — the number of seats for each political bloc.

A few days before the last election, I looked at these polls, which some Israelis interpreted as optimistic for the left because of Labor’s advantage. I then wrote the following sentence: “The numbers don’t really add up for Netanyahu’s competitors. For them to form a coalition would require an electoral miracle.” Herzog was riding high, but the math was against him. It still is. Not against Herzog personally, but against the bloc of which he is a part.

Voters shop around in the neighborhood, they move from Likud to the Jewish Home or from Labor to Yesh Atid. But they rarely vote for a party that would risk their political bloc. For such a thing to happen, there needs to be a formidable figure like Ariel Sharon. For such a thing to happen, there needs to be a tiebreaking crisis.

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Avi Gabbay (Labor) and all other self-appointed candidates to replace Netanyahu are no Sharon. They can steal one another’s voters, but they have a hard time stealing the voters of the other bloc. That is, if you believe the polls. The latest polls predict that the current 67-member coalition will get 67 seats, 63 seats, 67 seats, 67 seats, 64 seats, 66 seats, 63 seats.

Israelis rarely vote for a party that would risk their political bloc.

True, this is not a huge advantage. But coalition building is a tricky art, in which one has to count not only the number of seats available for the likely coalition but also the number of seats available for an alternative coalition. Counting these, one realizes that all alternatives still put the Likud Party as a likely winner. It can re-form the current coalition or turn to form a coalition with some of the more centrist parties. Its rivals do not have this option. Not if the numbers resemble (they don’t need to be exact) the polls.

There is another myth, or a common cliché, that should be treated with suspicion. It’s the election-surprise myth: An election is like a road trip without a map, where you have a starting point but the end point is unknown. It is true for Americans, because all that is needed is a 2-3-point deviation in the polls and you get Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. It is not true in Israel, where we build coalitions and need them to be somewhat stable to survive.

When did we have election surprises? It is quite rare. 1996 comes to mind, because of the notion that half a year after the Yitzhak Rabin assassination it was incumbent on voters to give the Labor Party its victory. But 1996, when Netanyahu first became prime minister, was an exception. It was the first of only three rounds of elections in which the prime minister was elected directly by the voters. It was personally Netanyahu vs. Shimon Peres, and not Likud vs. Labor as we have today. When you have a two-way personal race, the too-close-to-know surprise is a constant feature. When parties are elected, and blocs counted, there are few surprises: Netanyahu was likely to win in the last three rounds, Ehud Olmert was likely to win before him, Sharon was not a surprise in 2001, nor was Ehud Barak in 1999 (the last two were elected directly).

Of course, this does not mean that surprises can never occur. But they are quite rare, and seem to be even rarer today. This explains why this week we saw a Netanyahu who wants an early election in Israel — he could win and form a coalition. This explains why this week we saw his coalition partners working hard to sabotage his plans — come election, they will be the ones having to fight harder to not lose seats to one another. On Sunday, the crisis was mild; on Monday, it was raging; on Tuesday, it was a roller coaster. On Tuesday night, it seemed almost over.

Then the newspaper was put to bed. You want to call it election surprise? These are exactly the kinds of nasty surprises we writers must bear: Having to write about a crisis when the deadline is near.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israel and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

RIP, Uncle Shmuel


Shmuel Rosner died last Friday night. He was almost a hundred years old.

My phone buzzed with the news on Saturday night, when I was in New York en route to Washington, and my instinctive reaction was: So now there are just two of us left.

I was growing up as the third Shmuel Rosner, the most junior, in my extended family. There is me, born in 1968; there is my uncle, my father’s brother, born in 1940; and then there’s “Uncle Shmuel,” my great uncle, my father’s uncle, born in 1918. Most of his family, whom he left behind in Poland, perished in the Holocaust. But Uncle Shmuel had an older sister, my grandmother, who immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and then convinced her parents to let Shmuel join her a year later. He was 16 years old.

Whenever I saw him in recent years — which wasn’t much — he tended, as is the habit of old people, to repeat a story I’d heard many times before. You should know, he’d tell me, that only thanks to your grandfather I am still alive. The young Shmuel was an idealistic communist, and when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he became restless and decided to board a ship and join the anti-fascist forces. My grandfather spent a whole night of convincing to stop him from doing this. His trump card was an emotional plea: I promised your parents to keep you safe — and that’s why they let you come here. If you want to go to Spain, he said, you must go back to Poland first and release me from the commitment I’ve made.

We were three Shmuels. One of the pre-state generation, one growing up with the state, one born when the state was an established reality.

Instead of going to Spain, Shmuel joined a young group that established a kibbutz in northern Israel. The patron of this group was a legendary figure, Alexander Zeid, a founder of the first defense organizations of the growing Jewish Yishuv. Zeid was ambushed and killed by a Bedouin in 1938, on his way to meet with members of the kibbutz. When Uncle Shmuel celebrated his 80th birthday, almost 20 years ago, the family boarded a bus and visited the famous statute of Zeid on his horse, not far from where he was murdered.

On kibbutz Alonim, Shmuel met his future wife, they had three children, then moved around until they landed in the city of Ra’anana. His sister, my grandmother, died 45 years ago, but he kept going. Fifteen years ago or so, I remember bumping into him at a wedding. His hand was in a cast, broken. What happened, I asked him. Oh, he said, I climbed up a tree and fell. Maybe, I suggested, at 85 it is time to quit climbing trees. He waved me off impatiently. Yes, that’s what everyone says.

We were three Shmuels. One of the pre-state generation, one growing up with the state, one born when the state was already an established reality. I am not sure it is fair to expect more Shmuels in the next generation. The name Shmuel is hardly fashionable, and thus the children and grandchildren would be understandably reluctant to use it for their own children.

Uncle Shmuel had three children, 11 grandchildren. If I am not mistaken, the number of great-grandchildren is about the same, but keeping track becomes more difficult with every new generation. There are artists in his extended family, and business people, and accountants, and high-tech entrepreneurs and a former air force pilot. Most of his family lives in Israel, but some left and live in other countries. A hundred years is a long time. And the last hundred years were especially long for Jews.

I was thinking about Uncle Shmuel as I was making my way to Washington, to attend the annual AIPAC policy conference. As he was laid to rest, I was surrounded by people wearing suits, speaking English, discussing politics, getting ready to lobby the world’s most powerful parliament on behalf of the Jewish state. It was disorienting but also strangely comforting.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The Truth of Deir Yassin


Eliezer Tauber is an Israeli academic who specializes in the modern history of the Middle East. In the past decade, he dedicated a lot of time to writing a book about the so-called “massacre of Deir Yassin.” The result was a book arguing that there was no massacre in Deir Yassin. A detailed account of a fateful day, minute by minute, hour by hour. A convincing account. I’d be surprised to find any scholar whose familiarity with this event is more intimate. Tauber knows the names of everybody, he knows the time and the place where everybody was fighting, or hiding, or wounded, or killed.

What happened in Deir Yassin in April 9, 1948, became a seminal event of Israel’s War of Independence. This Palestinian village was located to the west of Jerusalem, and was attacked by Jewish fighters of the Irgun, one of Israel’s pre-state underground forces (the main force, Haganah, was the established force; Irgun was an opposition force, under the leadership of Menachem Begin).

The battle was bloody and many Arabs were killed, including women and children. It was followed by a propaganda campaign, claiming that what happened in Deir Yassin was a massacre. This campaign was very much responsible for the decision by many thousands of Arabs to flee their homes. Their decedents are today’s Palestinian “refugees.”

What really happened in Deir Yassin? Tauber is not the first scholar to argue that the large-scale massacre story is a myth. Professor Yoav Gelber, in “Palestine 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” makes a similar claim. Still, Tauber was more thorough than all of his predecessors in looking into this specific day of carnage. The result is a gripping narrative.

Was the massacre a myth? That depends on one’s definition of massacre.

Deir Yassin in Tauber’s account doesn’t depict a day of poorly organized battle, with confusion playing a role in making a bad day even worse. He counts one clear case of unjustified shooting. An Arab family evacuated a house in surrender. An Irgun fighter opened fire while his commander was shouting at him, “What are you doing? Stop it!” This incident, Tauber believes, gave credence to later overblown stories of larger-scale massacre, rape, mutilation and barbarity.

But the myth was perpetrated not because of confusion. It was a deliberate attempt by the Palestinian leadership to force the Arab militaries of surrounding countries to intervene in the battle over Palestine. The leaders of the Palestinians sowed a wind and reaped a whirlwind. More than convincing the Arab states to intervene (they eventually did), they convinced their fellow Palestinians to flee.

Why am I telling you this story? Because there is no other way for you — Americans — to know about it. Professor Tauber believed that his story would be of great interest to American publishers. He contacted university presses in the United States, and their response left him stunned. A representative of an elite university wrote back: “While everyone agreed on the book’s many strengths, in the end the consensus was that the book would only inflame a debate where positions have hardened.” Another one wrote: “We could sell well to the right-wing community here but we would end up with a terrible reputation.” Apparently, a book questioning the Palestinian narrative is not a book that American universities feel comfortable publishing.

One American media outlet found Tauber’s account worthy of a review: the online Mosaic magazine. The review rightly included the sober conclusion: “It’s hard to believe that Tauber’s book will put an end to the use of Deir Yassin for propaganda and political purposes. Myths take on a life of their own and historical facts are but background sets for them.” If you need any proof of that, just look at what an American publisher had to say about that review: “Of course Mosaic loved it, they tend to be to the right of Attila …”

Maybe.

Maybe Mosaic is to the “right of Attila.” Maybe Tauber is a right-wing hack. But what about his argument — the facts, the research? Is this a worthy contribution to the debate that will never end about Deir Yassin? As a reader of Tauber, and of all the many responses to his book and of many other books describing this event, I have no doubt that it is. Was the massacre a myth? That depends on one’s definition of massacre, and on having all the facts set straight. The facts that no one provides with as much detail as does Tauber (and yes, he is still looking for an American publisher).


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Is This the End for Bibi?


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

Israeli columnist Ben Caspit has not always had good luck with timing. In 2013, he penned a book about former Prime Minister Ehud Barak — his second. The first book was published in the late 1990s, when Barak still seemed fresh and promising. Caspit worked hard on the second book so that, among other things, he could correct the adoring nature of the first book. The second one, “Stealth,” was highly critical.

“Stealth” made some headlines and met with modest success, but the timing was clearly off. In early 2013, a new government was formed, and Barak, after many years as defense minister, was no longer a part of it. Caspit’s well-aimed ammunition was spent on a political corpse. The 76-year-old Barak is still with us, of course, and still makes waves occasionally, but very few Israelis believe that his dream of a comeback — which many suspect he still harbors — is a realistic one.

Caspit may have better luck with his latest book, “Netanyahu: Biography” (published in English in July under the title “The Netanyahu Years”). It has been Israel’s No. 1 best-seller for a few weeks now, as its protagonist, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, battles for his political survival and, possibly, his freedom.

“I realized there is a potential for a perfect storm,” Caspit told me recently in Los Angeles. Originally, the Hebrew version was supposed to be published first, but American publishers decided to publish the English version last year. Caspit’s Israeli publisher had a more flexible schedule that allowed it to time publication to coincide with news developments. The strategy proved successful — “More than I could ever imagine when I started working on the book four years ago,” Caspit said.

If Netanyahu serves the remainder of this term as prime minister, the book’s back cover reminds readers, he will become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s short history.

Timing is everything. It’s true for books as it is for investigations and journalistic scoops. In the past three weeks, Israelis have had to stay alert if they wanted to keep pace with developments in the Netanyahu investigations. Every week, there is new scandal. Every week, there is new angle. A few weeks ago, the police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for allegedly taking illegal gifts from wealthy people, such as Arnon Milchan, and attempting to trade favors with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, a popular newspaper usually hostile to the prime minister.

Netanyahu fought back. Police recommendations do not impress him, and he will wait for the decision of the attorney general. Or maybe he will wait even longer, for a final decision by the courts. Until then, Netanyahu reminds his base, he is under no legal obligation to step aside, quit or suspend himself. Suspicions and allegations aside, he is innocent until proven guilty. He also has the support of the people — the many citizens who voted him in as prime minister for a fourth term and, according to polls, likely would elect him to a fifth.

The public had barely digested the police recommendations when new allegations arose. The latest case alleges Netanyahu worked to benefit an Israeli tycoon who controls a communications empire in exchange for positive coverage on one of the tycoon’s news sites. Then, another bombshell hit the news when Netanyahu’s former close confidant, Shlomo Filber, decided to become a state witness against his former boss. Filber was Netanyahu’s right-hand man in the Ministry of Communication. If there is a black box in which the secrets of the Netanyahu-tycoon relationship are hidden, Filber is the most likely person with the key.

So, the prime minister is done, right? Some pundits were quick to eulogize him, and they have strong arguments. Still, Netanyahu survives.

A series of polls has shown that the public still supports the current coalition and has no inclination to replace it with another. Netanyahu’s coalition partners have no incentive to topple their hold on power, and for now stand behind him. And even the media got off Netanyahu’s back for a few days this past week after a report of a problematic exchange of text messages between a prosecutor and a judge involved in the tycoon case. Their texts, exchanged in advance of court hearings, were caught by a reporter who photographed one of their cellphone screens. Obviously, their foul equips the Netanyahu camp with a new set of rhetorical arrows, enabling it to assert that the justice system is guilty of bias.

For three days, Israelis had to consider the implications of this prosecutor-judge communication — the text was more an irresponsible banter than anything else. For three days, the focus was not on Netanyahu, but rather on the justice system and its faults. The prime miniter could take a breath. Next week, he will be in Washington, enjoying another respite from the pursuing investigators. The police are asking to interview Netanyahu, but he has an elusive schedule. Today is not good; tomorrow might be problematic; next week, he’s traveling; the week after, who knows?

Netanyahu is buying time. Maybe he’s hoping to get more information before being questioned; maybe he’s strategizing before making his next move. There is a positive aspect to all of these revelations: the prime minister doesn’t seem tired, he seems ready for a fight, energetic, uncompromising. But the negative aspect is obvious: Netanyahu’s many affairs will cast a shadow over all political developments in the coming months. They will be a diversion. They will make politicians edgy and the public weary. They will raise suspicions that government officials are more concerned with survival than anything else. They will frustrate Netanyahu’s rivals and supporters and hence make the public discourse even nastier than it is now.

The prime minister is done, right? Some pundits were quick to eulogize him, and they have strong arguments. Still, Netanyahu survives.

And as Israel moves forward, it can expect a constant stream of news, scandals, leaks, revelations, maneuvers and spin — accompanied by the constant underlying question: Will he survive? Will he become the longest-serving prime minister?

A week ago, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn declared “the final days of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule.” Benn is one of Israel’s wisest writers and, as usual, he made a solid argument predicting Netanyahu’s demise. Benn made a similarly solid argument in December 2010, foretelling the expiration of Netanyahu’s second government under a similar headline: “It’s over for Benjamin Netanyahu.” Indeed, new elections were called, but two years later. And now, more than seven years later, the “It’s over” prediction is still waiting to be fulfilled. Surely, it is only a matter of time. Netanyahu, like all politicians, and all humans, will not stick around forever.

The opposite argument, made by Bret Stephens at The New York Times, is also not foolproof.

“For all of his flaws, few have done it as well as Bibi, which is why he has endured, and will probably continue to do so,” Stephens wrote. His assessment of the prime minister’s achievements is fair, and his contemplation of public opinion — Israelis do not see a worthy heir to Netanyahu — is solid. But Israel is still a country of shifting political ground. The fact that Netanyahu has the support of his partners today doesn’t mean he will have it tomorrow.

Netanyahu is hardly beloved by his peers. Within his own Likud party, some of the ministers are eager to see him gone. He has dominated the party for many years, and a generation of young and promising leaders await their turn. The coalition is also edgy. The Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennet and Netanyahu have tense relations. Finance Minister Moshe Cahlon left the Likud Party because of Netanyahu. The Charedi parties are loyal to the prime minister, but they expect to be rewarded. Such rewards — the Charedis recently demanded legislation exempting Charedi youths from serving in the Israel Defense Forces — complicates relations between the Likud party and most of the country (the Charedi parties are highly unpopular with non-Charedi voters). Such rewards strengthen Netanyahu’s main political rival, Yair Lapid, whom the Charedis consider an archenemy.

To sum up, look at the fundamentals. Netanyahu’s options are few when it comes to the police and the justice system: They have witnesses ready to testify against him, recordings, documents, and the legal right, time and resources to keep investigating him. Netanyahu can slow them down, he can divert public attention, he can discredit the people investigating him, but stopping this train is beyond his power. This train is moving forward, and it is carrying a heavy load of toxic material.

But this legal train is not the only train on track. The political train is much faster and more agile. As long as the political calculations of Netanyahu’s coalition partners remain as they are today, he can survive. He can work to stabilize the coalition and wait patiently for the slow legal train — it might take a year or two before it reaches its next dangerous junction: the attorney general’s decision. Netanyahu can pre-empt a decision by calling for a new election, in the hope that reaffirmation by the public will make it more difficult for the attorney general to put him on trial. And, of course, he can try to forge a deal: trade his political future to escape a trial and possible conviction.

As disappointing as this scenario might be for pundits in need of catchy headlines, for a public in need of political stability, for coalition partners in need of political clarity, for international players in need of a reliable partner, no one knows how Netanyahu will play his cards. Like most politicians, Netanyahu is used to keeping as many options open as possible until emerging circumstances force him to act. For now, no major decision is required.

So, is the end of Netanyahu near? I know you want an answer, and I do, too. But as I write this, only one thing is clear: Netanyahu survived yet another stormy week.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Bibi’s Media Obsession


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an inauguration ceremony for a fortified emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was always obsessed with the media. He was always at war with the media. He always put the media market at the top of his list of needed changes. For a politician (as Americans must know), fighting the media is not a bad strategy. But Netanyahu did not just fight it — Netanyahu strived to use his power to redesign the media market to his advantage. With one hand, he fought the media that was critical of him; with the other, he nurtured a media that could glorify him.

Fighting the media is not always a virtuous strategy, but also not always a condemnable one. Netanyahu had many good reasons to suspect that the established media was against him — and had reasons to assess that fighting back will buy him support among the people.

Things got murkier, and more problematic, when Netanyahu was actively using his influence and power as the prime minister to get himself a more adoring media. Murkier, because it is not always to separate a legitimate policy preference (to have a more open media market) from a less legitimate private interest (to have a media that writes adoringly about Netanyahu). Problematic, because Netanyahu, as the prime minister, can find ways to reward the media that writes adoringly about him and punish the media that remains critical of him.

Of course, almost all politicians reward media outlets they like (by giving them scoops, by leaking information to their journalists) and punish those they dislike (by denying them information). But Netanyahu went beyond that — or so the police suspect. He rewarded the tycoons that own the media by carving rules and legislation to serve their financial interests. That’s the essence of Case 4000 — not to be confused with the two cases against Netanyahu that made headlines last week (on Feb. 20, another case was added to the mix: an alleged attempt by a man close to Netanyahu to appoint a certain attorney general in exchange for closing an investigation against his wife, Sara).

The criminal aspect of this new case will be more difficult to prove.

Case 4000 is simple: A tycoon, Shaul Elovitch, owns many businesses in Israel, among them a very popular news website, Walla. The police argue that in exchange for positive coverage on this website, Netanyahu used his power as the prime minister, and as the minister of communication — a position he insisted on keeping himself — to benefit Elovitch. One example: Netanyahu allegedly used his influence to override antitrust claims to make Elovitch eligible to take over the satellite cable provider Yes.

There are things that will be easy to prove in this case. As far back as 2015, Haaretz investigative reporter Gidi Weitz convincingly demonstrated that Walla was highly favorable to Netanyahu. But that is not a crime. Any owner of any media outlet makes rules for his company, and if this particular tycoon decided that his media company will have a certain political flavor, it is not yet a matter for the police to investigate.

The criminal aspect of this new case will be more difficult to prove: Was there a clear quid pro quo? Did Netanyahu help a tycoon (and hurt the public) to get positive coverage? Proving that Netanyahu assisted Elovitch is not enough. He might have assisted him for good reasons, because these were proper deals in line with his policies. There needs to be proof that Netanyahu aided Elovitch for bad reasons, that he aided him in order to get positive coverage.

Fighting the media is not always a virtuous strategy, but also not always a condemnable one.

But what if Netanyahu had good and bad reasons? What if he can demonstrate that his decisions were all in line with his policies — and still a suspicion remains that the positive coverage gave him the extra incentive to work for the deals? Like many such cases, a lot depends on interpretation, on weighing the evidence. But in this case, unlike many such cases, the outcome will not be something that concerns only the suspects, because the outcome is a public matter. It could topple a government. It could ruin a ruling coalition.

Last week, the police recommended to change Netanyahu in Cases 1000 and 2000 (another case involving Netanyahu and his relations with the media). The prime minister pushed back and got what he needed — more time. His coalition partners agreed to reserve judgment until the attorney general makes the ultimate decision whether to charge the Netanyahu. They did not yet change their minds, but the prime minister knows that they can quickly do it.

So, on the one hand, Case 4000 is just another straw in a large pile of many straws. On the other hand, it could be the straw that breaks Netanyahu’s back.

Letters to the Editor: Fake News, #MeToo, Table for Five, Larry Greenfield and Ruth Ziegler


Truth, ‘Fake News’ and American Politics

Regarding the Journal’s cover story “Can Truth Survive?” (Feb. 9): Reporter Shmuel Rosner probably doesn’t believe it can. His story is devoted mostly to a critique of a Rand Corp. study called “Truth Decay.” I confess I have not read the study and therefore am unable to comment on it.

Rosner recounts many of President Donald Trump’s falsehoods, the intentional conflation of opinion with fact, the tedium of cable news and even the cost of the decay of truth. It wasn’t until the end of his story that he disclosed his opinion: that truth decay “stems not just from the evil doers but also from the do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.”

Is he kidding? Because if he is serious, he believes that we do not have the ability to understand, to judge, to evaluate, to choose, to be capable of rational thought, or simply that we are just too lazy and don’t care. For our collective sake, I hope he is dead wrong.

Louis Lipofsky via email

Shmuel Rosner laments the decay of truth and writes, “Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.” But Rosner doesn’t state the obvious: Republicans voted this compulsive liar into office and Republicans have long had an enormous problem with truth.

Why do so many Republicans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he was born in Kenya, that global warming is a hoax, that there is widespread voter fraud, that the Russia investigation is a hoax? Because too many of them self-censor and listen only to conservative media like Fox News and conservative talk radio, so they are easily duped.

And why do they self-censor? Because they have bought into the argument that the mainstream media are biased. Yes, the mainstream media have a liberal bias. But it doesn’t invent outright lies like the ones listed above.

Trump doesn’t care about the truth because he knows his supporters don’t care about the truth. That’s why he calls everything “fake news” and gets away with it.

Michael Asher via email


Hysteria, Obscurity and the #MeToo Movement

Having just read Danielle Berrin’s column on male hysteria (“Male Hysteria,” Feb. 9), I’m now even more convinced of the female hysteria of the #MeToo movement, a movement that will quickly be hoisted by its own petard.

She claims that a few of these powerful and predatory men have actually been charged with a crime. I haven’t heard of any of these powerful men being charged with a crime, notwithstanding the fact that being charged with a crime is not the same as being found guilty of a crime.

Berrin complained that far too many female artists live and continue to live in obscurity. This might be true, but there are undoubtedly far too many talented male artists who also continue to live in obscurity.

Giuseppe Mirelli, Los Angeles


Table for Five Is Weekly Food for Thought

In your “Table for Five” section for Parashat Mishpatim (Feb. 9), Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, argues for “the ethical imperative to protect and secure the needs of the stranger,” and “make the marginalized — rather than the elite  — our priority.”

I am a Conservative convert to Judaism, having embraced Judaism more than 50 years ago. I am a dues-paying member at an Orthodox synagogue near my home, where I go daily to minyan. I am also a member of four other non-Orthodox synagogues, where I regularly go and lead services in Hebrew, and am a cantor at one during the High Holy Days. While I can fully participate in those other synagogues, I am not permitted to get an aliyah to the Torah or be counted for a minyan at the Orthodox one. If I were to go to Israel, I could not be married there or be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Non-Orthodox convert women also know that their children will not be counted as Jews in parts of the Jewish world. Yet Jews born of a Jewish mother are considered fully Jewish even if they repudiate their Judaism, castigate it and couldn’t care less about being counted for a minyan or getting an aliyah.

Our people were made to feel like invisible outsiders when we were slaves in Egypt. Why should those of us who turned our lives around to incorporate Judaism into it now be made to feel like we are invisible outsiders in some Jewish circles? I call on Rabbi Yanklowitz and his fellow Orthodox of conscience and morality to work to change what I feel is an unjust standard, so that those of us who have transformed our lives to embrace the Jewish people and God’s Torah are not made to feel like marginalized strangers within the Jewish world.

Peter Robinson, Woodland Hills

I was delighted at Rabbi Mordecai Finley’s teaching on the Torah portion in your Tu B’Shevat issue (“Table for Five: B’Shalach,” Jan. 26). He admonished the Israelis for their sarcasm. Indeed, rightfully so; such humor can be a sign of contempt.

Irony or sarcasm is indeed biting. Hurt people hurt people. The conclusion of Rabbi Finley’s commentary made the greatest impression: Because you have been done wrong does not give you license to do someone else wrong.

Thanks to your wonderful newspaper and your knowledgeable contributors and staff.

Daniel Kirwan via email


Remembering Ruth Ziegler, a True Community Supporter

We join the Jewish community in mourning the loss of Ruth Ziegler, a dear friend, supporter and member of Jews for Judaism’s board of governors (“Philanthropist Ruth Ziegler, 98,” Feb. 9).

For two decades, Ziegler supported our innovative educational services. After being honored at our 2005 gala, she funded a major endowment to ensure that Jews for Judaism’s life-saving counseling services would be available in perpetuity.

When I asked Ziegler what motivated her to make such a generous gift, she responded, “At the gala, I heard a mother share her pain after losing her daughter to another religion, and how you rescued her. I want to make sure no one else experiences that pain.”

Ziegler believed in saving a Jewish life and saving the world. Jews for Judaism is honored to play a role in perpetuating her legacy.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder and executive director of Jews for Judaism, International


Polish Law Demonstrates Dangers of Altering History

When any government, including Poland, attempts to whitewash its history, it usually ends up with paint stains on its hands (editorial cartoon, Feb. 9). Although we can’t compare the two, Americans should not be so quick to condemn others for their behavior without first checking our history. This month it will be 76 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his executive order to intern Japanese-Americans after the U.S. entered World War II. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court avoided answering whether these people’s constitutional rights were violated.

Barry Bereskin via email


Write, Larry Greenfield, Keep on Writing

I love reading Larry Greenfield’s work. If I was not married happily, I would want to marry his brain! Keep his writing coming!

Allyson Rowen Taylor, Valley Glen


Letter to the Editor Overlooks Certain Facts

In last week’s letter from Reuben Gordon, he completely misunderstood the media coverage regarding President Donald Trump’s comment that there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville, Va., march. Gordon states that it was in regard to the Confederate monument debate and that there were good people in support of keeping Confederate statues. The people he is referring to were Neo-Nazis; there are no good people on that side and I guess Gordon did not hear or did not want to hear their continual shouts of “Jews will not replace us.”

Edward A. Sussman, Fountain Valley

Reuben Gordon’s letter supporting President Donald Trump just because Trump supports Israel is a sad example of tunnel vision. Trump is an aggressive, ignoramus racist who is in the process of inflicting severe harm on Americans (Jews included), … so to excuse his arrogant, narcissistic self because of his support of Israel is foolish and perhaps even dangerous.

Rick Edelstein via email


He Asked and He Received a Small Change in Journal

When I ran into my friend David Suissa a couple of months ago while strolling down Pico Boulevard, I congratulated him on his new position at the Jewish Journal and the upgraded look of the paper. I then told him that Rhina, my elderly parents’ non-Jewish caregiver, noticed that the time Shabbat ends was no longer listed. As their caregiver, she needs to know when Shabbat concludes, and she wants to consult the Jewish Journal for that information. Suissa promised to correct it. Sure enough, in the next week’s edition, the time of Havdalah was once again listed! So thank you, David, for magnificently upgrading the paper, and on behalf of Jews and non-Jews who care when Shabbat ends, thanks for the weekly notice! Keep on publishing a great newspaper. Kol ha-kavod!

Mark Goldenberg, Beverly Hills


CORRECTIONS

The Feb. 9 edition of Moving and Shaking misreported the venue for the L.A. Jewish Home’s Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018 gala. The event took place at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

In a Feb. 2 Calendar item, visiting scholar Andrew Porwancher was misidentified.

Is Bibi in Trouble?


Photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

Feb. 12 was not a good day for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He was slapped on his right cheek by the U.S. administration — “reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” said the White House. But these were no “reports,” it was Netanyahu bragging to Likud Party members about his supposed discussion with the administration.

He was then slapped on his left cheek by Israel’s Supreme Court. There is no reason, the court said, to prevent the police from publicizing the conclusions it handed the attorney general in the Netanyahu legal investigation. The police do not have the power to decide if Netanyahu will be indicted. They do have the power to humiliate him and complicate his life by making the findings against him public.

Thus, a week that Netanyahu began as a leader, an orchestrator of bold military action, a statesman talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a restrained yet determined prime minister, appeared destined to deteriorate into a week he would end as a petty politician — chattering irresponsibly to party activists and stumbling into an unnecessary hitch with a friendly administration.

Then came Feb. 13. The police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for taking bribes. Within three days he turned from statesman to petty politician to suspected criminal — from Prime Minister Netanyahu to Bibi the Huckster.

Netanyahu believes his coalition will survive the first round of bad publicity from the police findings.

Netanyahu had to deal with each of these developments separately. To the Americans he quickly apologized, clarifying that he did not really mean what he said, or maybe didn’t say what he meant. What he wanted to say was, in fact, a responsible thing: This is not the time to discuss and advance the annexation of West Bank territory, and he is not going to allow it. But since saying such a thing in such a blunt way is politically tricky — the prime minister needs to keep his right-wing flank quiet while dealing with his legal troubles — he utilized the Trump administration to make his position sound less dovish. Clearly, this was a miscalculation.

His legal troubles are another matter. In a long and hearty TV appearance on the evening of Feb. 13, Netanyahu rejected each of the allegations against him. The details are quite tedious: Did he support this or that legislation for this or that reason? Did he give favors in exchange for cigars? The one worthy piece of news from the evening was the fact that Netanyahu’s main political rival, Yair Lapid, is a key witness in the case against him. Netanyahu is likely to utilize this fact to his advantage, as any suspect would.

Netanyahu believes his coalition will survive the first round of bad publicity from the publication of the police findings. No party has reason to rock the boat, and no party will gain from having a new election. In fact, the opposite is true: Most of the parties can only lose. They lose if they have to renegotiate what they already have — because of a similar election outcome. They lose if they have to contend with a less friendly, less coherent coalition. So for the time being, while the attorney general ponders Netanyahu’s legal future, the prime minister seems politically safe.

It is impossible to know at this stage if Netanyahu’s coalition can survive until the regularly scheduled elections two years from now. The attorney general is expected to decide on Netanyahu’s case by the middle of this year. The prime minister could decide to pre-empt such a decision if he were to call for a new election and get re-elected. After all, in such a scenario he would be elected when the public would already be aware of his supposed crimes and would still want him as its leader. Preempting the legal process could mean a decision on a new election in early spring, and the actual vote in early 2019.

Or, Netanyahu could decide to withstand a decision to indict him and remain at the helm while standing trial. This has never been done before, and political pressure on his coalition partners could prove it futile, but Netanyahu believes it would be legal (only the Supreme Court could thwart such a belief) and maybe even manageable. Like him, the other parties read the polls and see that another election would apparently give the current coalition more than half the seats in the Knesset and would make it highly complicated for other coalitions to form.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

DOWN PAYMENT: An Israeli F-16 was downed, but the price was worth it


The remains of an F-16 Israeli war plane can be seen near the Israeli village of Harduf February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

Israel demonstrated how serious it is about preventing the establishment of an Iranian stronghold in Syria

1982 was the last year an Israeli fighter jet was downed by Syrian forces. 1982 was the last year Israel launched a large-scale attack in an area under Syrian control. 1982 was a year of war — the first Lebanon war — in a Middle East that was much different than it is now. Syria was still a real country with a real government. Israel’s main enemy in the north was still the PLO — the forces of Yasser Arafat. Iran was engaged in a long and bloody war — with Iraq. The Soviet Union was engaged in a Cold War with the much stronger United States.

There is very little we can learn today about the state of affairs to Israel’s north from what happened in 1982. Still, people have short memories but militaries have long ones, and thus the ghosts of 1982 live in the minds of some of those engaged in the current battle for power. Syria, by taking down an Israeli F-16 on Feb. 10, celebrated a small victory over the air force that downed 88 of Syria’s fighter jets in 1982. The Russians had their own reason for a small celebration: The 19 ground-to-air systems destroyed in June 1982 during one of Israel’s most brilliant military operations were Russian (or Soviet, as it was called then). The missile downing the Israeli jet last weekend was Russian.

A phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to Feb. 10’s large-scale Israeli attack in Syria.

Before diving into an analysis, let’s recap the events. On Feb. 10, Iran sent a drone into Israel. Israel was well prepared, and an air force helicopter downed the drone. Then Israel attacked and destroyed the control vehicle for the drone, placed in a Syrian base in southern Syria, far away from the Syria-Israeli border. Iranian soldiers were killed.

Syria responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft missiles and hit one Israeli fighter jet. Its crew ejected over Israel’s Galilee, and one of the pilots was seriously wounded and is still in the hospital. Israel expanded its counterattack, targeting about a dozen Syrian and Iranian military installations in Syria. An Israeli air force general called this “the most substantial attack since 1982.” Then came the phone call from Putin. Israel pulled back. The sirens were silenced. The north quieted yet remained tense. The next round — as the cliché goes — is “only a matter of time.”

It is a matter of time because the issue at hand is not yet settled. Syria, after many years of civil war, is barely an independent country. And as that war winds down, a new war has begun — the one over future arrangements in this area. Iran — the country without which Syrian President Bashar Assad could not survive — wants its reward. It wants to establish a stronghold in Syria, right on Israel’s border. Russia — the country that enabled Assad’s survival — keeps a watchful eye over Syria to serve its own interests. Hezbollah, whose takeover of Lebanon is a prototype and a warning of what might happen in Syria, is freer today than it was during the busy days of the civil war.

Miscalculation that leads to a war with Syria or Iran is one thing. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Russia, when the U.S. stays on the sidelines, is quite another.

Israel vowed to prevent such developments. It vowed to prevent Iran from establishing another stronghold to its north. It vowed to prevent Iran from building in Syria an infrastructure that could serve to threaten Israel. Obviously, vowing alone is not enough. In the Middle East, one has to back words with action, one has to use power to make a point. And when Iran provided a pretext for attack, by invading Israeli territory with its drone, Israel jumped at the opportunity.

This was not a minor incident. Israel and Iran had been having a proxy war for many years, but this time there were no proxies. It was an Iranian drone, these were Iranian soldiers, it was Iranian equipment that Israel attacked. True — the Israeli jet was downed by Syria (acting, according to some reports, under heavy pressure from Tehran). Still, the shadow war is no longer shadowy. It is out in the open, with both countries — Iran and Israel — having to ponder the impact of their clashes on the many other components of an unstable situation.

The impact is never quite known in advance; there are only probabilities and educated assessments. Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, in his newly released best-seller, “Rise and Kill First” — a detailed book about Israel’s expert trade of targeted killings — recounts a few instances of miscalculations, some concerning Israel’s war with Iran. When Tamir Pardo, the head of Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, returned from a trip to Washington,. D.C.,  in 2012, he “warned Netanyahu that continued pressure on the United States would lead to a dramatic measure, and likely not the one that Netanyahu hoped for,” Bergman writes. Pardo believed that Netanyahu’s implied threat to attack Iran pushed then-American President Barack Obama to sign a deal with Iran. “Obama, fearing Israeli action, agreed to an Iranian proposal to hold secret negotiations,” Bergman writes. He speculates that “if the talks had begun two years later, Iran would have come to them in a considerably weaker state.” That is to say: Bergman assumes that Israel miscalculated in applying too much pressure on the U.S. to tame the Iranian threat.

Bergman’s argument concerning this incident can be a matter for debate, mainly because it doesn’t fully take into account Obama’s great interest in having a “historic” breakthrough with Iran before leaving office. But Bergman’s overall theme still stands: Israel makes decisions and takes action without always being able to rightly asses the ultimate outcome of its decisions. The alternatives — never to take action or to make decisions only when the outcome is predetermined — is nonexistent. In the rough business of war, a measure of risk is a given. Israel’s willingness to take risks is one of the tools in its arsenal of deterrence. In such context, its attack last weekend should be seen as a down payment of seriousness. If anyone was hoping that Israel would not have the stomach to get into a fight and risk a full-scale war in the north, one has to recalculate.

Fragments of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile found in Alonei Abba, about 2 miles (3.2 km) from where the remains of a crashed F-16 Israeli war plane were found, at the village of Alonei Abba, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

The shadow war is no longer shadowy. It is out in the open, with both countries — Iran and Israel — having to ponder the impact of their clashes on the many other components of an unstable situation.

Israel miscalculated many times, but so did its enemies. Quite famously — and here’s just one example — when Hezbollah inadvertently prompted the second Lebanon war by abducting Israeli soldiers. Had it known in advance that war would be the result, Hezbollah’s leader admitted later, the soldiers would still be alive and well. That was more than a decade ago, and its impact on Israel’s rivals might have faded. An aggressive approach is thus essential not to ignite war but rather to prevent one — make Iran understand that this is where the current path leads, make it realize that it cannot count on Israeli laxity.

Russia is the other addressee of this message of seriousness. For the past couple of years, since the Russians decided to jump into the Syrian mess — a bet that thus far proved solid and worthy (Obama’s grave predictions of “Russia’s Vietnam” notwithstanding) — Israel and Moscow proved meticulous in coordinating their actions in the region and prevented misunderstanding or an unintended clash. This was complicated and sometimes restrictive but mostly tactical: Israel lost flexibility in prompting combat; Russia left enough maneuver room for Israel to take effective action.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (R), and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot meet in Tel Aviv, Israel February 10, 2018 in this handout photo released by the Israel Defence Ministry. Israel Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

This worked, awkwardly, when the Syrian civil war was still going on, the players in Syria were busy fighting one another. It is less clear how Russia and Israel can manage this situation when the civil war is (almost) over, and when the battle turns to become one of Israel against any attempt at Iranian expansion.

This calls for strategic understanding, not just the tactical prevention of unintended clashes. But can Israel and Russia reach an agreement on the future of Israel’s border with Syria? For Israel, the goal is clear: to have no Iranian forces, and no forces under Iran’s control, near its border; and to be able to tame any attempt by Iran to turn Syria into an active front against Israel, Lebanon-style. For Russia, the goals are always somewhat murky: It wants Assad to survive, it wants its military bases in Syria safe, it wants to keep the Iranians happy (but not too happy) and quiet. Russia probably doesn’t want to have to take responsibility for a war between Israel and Iran.

Russia also has to take the U.S. into account. But how worried is it, considering the realities of the past couple of years? Not that long ago, Israel rarely questioned the basic commitment of the U.S. to contain Russia in the Middle East. The arrangement was clear to everybody: When the need arises, Israel deals with neighborhood sharks — small sharks and sometimes even with midsize sharks such as Iran — as long as the U.S. makes sure that no big shark, no great white shark such as Russia, interferes to tip the balance against Israel. In 1973, Israel fought against Egypt and Syria, and the U.S. was ready to clash with the Soviet Union in case of intervention. Regional power against regional power — superpower against superpower.

Putin on the one side and American presidents Obama and Donald Trump on the other side proved this assumption to be risky, maybe invalid. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. In 2014, it invaded Crimea. In the summer of 2015, it sent its forces to Syria. Obama was ineffective in his response. Maybe he just didn’t care. In 2016, Trump was elected, communicating a mixed message of standoffishness and aggressiveness. Unlike Obama, Trump made good on his word and launched a Tomahawk missile attack in Syria when reports of the use of chemical weapons tested his resolve. Like Obama, Trump steered clear of getting involved in the managing of postwar Syria and seemed to accept the Russian-dominated status quo.

This leaves Israel confused and unsure. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Syria or Iran is one thing. Miscalculation that leads to a war with Russia, when the U.S. stays on the sidelines, is quite another. Bergman, on a tour of the United States to promote his book, told me on Feb. 13 that Israel “has pleaded the United States to exert its influence over Russia, which is the only country that can pressure Iran, to prevent the stationing of permanent Iranian forces in Syria and the establishment of an Iranian military seaport. All in vain.” It also failed to convince Russia directly to tame Iran. Putin, Bergman told me, “is not interested in entering into a dispute with the Iranians and he has not interfered with their deployment in Syria.”

So, Israel is left with no choice but to up the ante and signal to all parties involved that war is an option. It has no choice but to signal to all parties involved that dithering and allowing inertia is not an option. “After it failed to recruit the Trump administration to convince Putin, Israel feels that it has remained alone, and in this situation it will respond very aggressively,” Bergman told me from New York. It already has, and is ready to act again. Worst-case scenario: This leads to real, long and bloody war, involving Iran and Israel, Syria and possibly Russia — a war that Israel’s military already has a name for: the first northern war.

No doubt, this will be a costly enterprise for all sides involved, the result of which is unknown. No doubt, it is a war Israel would like to avoid. And indeed, this is the best-case scenario: Signaling seriousness and readiness to go to war, Israel hopes to prompt Russian and possibly American involvement in halting Iran’s advancement. Such a move is the only one that will make a first war of the north obsolete.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

TRUTH DECAY: Should you believe a study that documents the fast erosion of Americans’ belief in documented studies?


There is an irony inherent to a scholarly attempt to convince you that we live in an era of “Truth Decay.” The phrase is the catchy title of a new Rand Corp. study that delves into “an initial exploration of the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life.”

The paradox is that the thesis — that we no longer trust facts — undermines the means — a study built on facts.

If this, as the study suggests, is an era in which “Americans are placing less faith in institutions that were once trusted sources of information,” then why would the same Americans trust the Rand Corp. and its findings?

If this is, as the authors argue, an era in which there is “increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data,” then why would they expect the readers to accept their interpretations of facts and data?

The authors, Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, clearly do have such expectations, maybe because they understand that there is no alternative to data and analysis. They also acknowledge that, alongside this decay, there is a tendency “in many areas of American society” to rely on “facts and data” today more than ever.

In other words, this is a time of both fake news and big data. It is a time of growing reliance on populist punditry “and opinion-based news,” but also a time in which “even baseball, football, and basketball teams increasingly rely on data to determine which players to draft.”

So, is Truth Decay just a polite way to describe the era of Donald Trump, whose long list of misstatements includes repeating more than 50 times the falsehood that his tax cut was the biggest ever (even after Treasury Department data showed it ranked eighth)?

It is and it isn’t. Complaints about the weakening of truth in public life intensified with the rise of Trump, and are clearly linked to it. But Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

There is hardly a shortage of articles lamenting the end of a supposed era of truth. Roger Cohen, writing in The New York Times two years ago, dated the beginning of this era to 2014, and to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he wrote, “a pure Soviet product, traffics in lies.” Putin was there before Trump, so “Trump is not alone. There is a global movement of minds,” Cohen wrote.

And Cohen was not alone. Last March, the cover of Time magazine presented the question “Is Truth Dead?” At about the same time, the magazine Democracy held a symposium to consider the question: “Can truth survive Trump?” No wonder that just last week, a political fact-checking website crashed during Trump’s State of the Union address.

The scholars of the Rand Corp. are clearly worried. It is hard not to agree with them that “Truth Decay and its many manifestations pose a direct threat to democracy and have real costs and consequences — economic, political, and diplomatic.”

In analyzing this situation, they identify four trends that together contribute to this time of decay: increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; the increasing relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

Trump is a result of this trend as much as its instigator.

Some of these trends hardly need to be proven. A brief glance at the polls reveals the public’s growing distrust in institutions. And just watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Of course, this trend of mistrust in the media and nonstop punditry did not begin with Trump. Rather, it made Trump a credible presidential candidate. And now it haunts him. He is both an instigator and a victim of American’s distrust.

Other trends are more difficult to pinpoint. But the authors still make a decent effort to prove their case — by showing, for example, “the recent rise in skepticism about the safety of vaccines.”

The vaccine case reminded me of “The Influential Mind,” a book published in 2017 by Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience. (Full disclosure: I was the editor overseeing the Hebrew edition.) Sharot describes the September 2015 Republican presidential primary debate in which the moderator challenged then-candidate Trump’s assertions — contrary to scientific evidence — that childhood vaccines were linked to autism.

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who was then a candidate (now Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development), replied that numerous studies “have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.”

Not hesitating to respond, Trump asserted that, “Autism has become an epidemic … it has gotten totally out of control. … You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.” He went on to describe a colleague’s young child who became ill after being vaccinated, and, he alleged, “now is autistic.”

Sharot writes about this moment with a sense of awe. “My response was immediate and visceral. An image of a nurse inserting a horse-sized syringe into my tiny baby emerged inside my head and would not fade away. It did not matter that I knew perfectly well that the syringe used for immunization was a normal size — I panicked.”

She recounts this moment to make a point she illustrates time and again in her book: Evidence does not work. In fact, as she later explains, “presenting people with information that contradicts their opinion can cause them to come up with altogether new counterarguments that further strengthen their original view.”

Sharot is not listed as a source in “Truth Decay,” but her sobering argument should serve as a warning. The Rand scholars portray our current era as different from previous times: Once, we were more prone to listen to evidence; now, we are less prone to do this. But is that really true? Were people really more rational in the past, making decisions based on evidence more than we do today?

The authors do not argue that today’s trend is unprecedented. In a chapter on past Truth Decays, they count three earlier periods in which truth diminished to make room for non-truths: the 1880s-90s, the 1920s-30s, and the 1960s-70s. Their aim is to provide these parallels to help explain what we see today.

In all three examples, the authors note, the media were changing. Yellow Journalism thrived in the Gilded Age; radio and tabloids emerged in the ’20s and ’30s; and New Journalism and the era of television were hallmarks of the ’60s and ’70s. As they compare these three periods to today’s supposed Truth Decay period, they carefully conclude: “Perhaps the clearest similarity across the four periods is that each offers examples of the erosion of the line between opinion and fact and of ways in which the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion over fact seems to have increased.”

And yet, historical parallels are a tricky tool, and the authors readily admit that “although each of the periods … exhibited a significant rise in disagreement over social, economic, and political policies and norms, there is little evidence that agreement about the veracity and legitimacy of basic facts declined in previous eras.”

What are “basic facts”? Americans, by and large, agree that the earth is spherical, that the sun rises in the east, and that water boils at a certain temperature. They disagree — and this is nothing new — on evolution, on global warming, on UFOs. In 2008, not all of them were convinced that Barack Obama was an American citizen. That was years before Trump’s election, and before Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.

Watch cable news for a few hours and you’ll see how much time is filled with conversations that blur the line between opinion and fact.

Today, they can’t agree on the facts — or “facts” — detailed in the memo released last week by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Was the FBI trying to assist Hillary Clinton? Was it trying to sabotage the election of Trump? The memo contains some facts that are indisputable and some that mean little without context. The context is often what makes facts more elusive than the Rand report tends to admit.

In analyzing the factors behind Truth Decay, the authors, to their credit, attempt to put these causes on a scale of those having more and less impact on how people debate truth and facts. Their conclusion: It is Facebook, Twitter and the other social media phenomena that make us easy prey for falsehoods: “Changes in the information system play an outsize role in the challenges presented by Truth Decay because those changes affect the supply of both fact-based information and disinformation.”

It’s not an earth-shattering conclusion, but it is an interesting comment on the human condition and on the human ability to process information.

Yes, our leaders tend to lie from time to time — some more than others. Yes, the current leader of the United States is especially flexible with the facts and especially bold in making unfounded statements. This boldness, it is worth saying, occasionally also gives him the ability to cut through vagueness and expose simple truths.

But leaving Trump aside for a moment, and reading carefully through the long Rand study, one realizes that Truth Decay — if you accept this analysis, and look at the historical parallels — is as much about too much information as too little. In other words, it stems not just from evildoers who deliberately hide the truth from us, but also from do-gooders who drown us in so much information that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Memorial Days


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

It is sometimes quite amazing to see how the Holocaust, 70 years later, is still a daily subject of discussion in Israel. Not a day goes by without it being mentioned in the public sphere. Not a week goes by without it becoming a point of contention. If you think the Jewish people will ever begin to get over this tragedy, think again.

Or just listen to how Israelis discuss their daily affairs. It won’t be too long before you also realize that this trauma is far from being healed. It is constantly on our minds.

Some things force this constancy on us. For example, the fact that from January to May, Israel marks not one but three Holocaust Memorial days. There was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked this week, and there is the religious Memorial Day, marked, along with other Jewish tragedies, on the Asarah be-Tevet fast, and then there is the actual, official Memorial Day, a week after Passover.

Yet in most cases, the Holocaust occupies us not because of special duty — a day that calls for a pause. In most cases it is us, busying ourselves with it because nothing has more power to grab our attention. We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

Consider the past two weeks. The fierce public debate over a government plan to expel thousands of illegal migrants from Africa (opponents to their expulsion insist on calling them asylum-seekers and presenting them as people whom Israel must absorb) quickly descended into Holocaust-themed arguments. The ultimate weapon was pulled out when Holocaust survivors began voicing their views on this matter — implying a moral authority that trumps government considerations in such matters of conscience.

And as this debate rages, a famous Israeli writer and artist, who wrote lyrics for Israeli classics, compared a Palestinian attacker of soldiers to Anne Frank — prompting a harsh response from Israel’s defense minister. The minister demanded that the Israel Defense Forces radio station cease from playing all songs written by this author, and was then reminded by the attorney general that he has no legal authority to enforce such a demand.

The artist, Yehonatan Geffen, later apologized for his foolishness, as did another, less prominent Israeli writer who was even more vulgar in his use of Holocaust imagery. This artist said — you need to pause before you read this — that he would gladly sit on the roof of a death camp to see the smoke coming out of its chimney, provided it is novelist Amos Oz who is put to death below him. He is so angry with Oz for using “Nazi” to describe the action of right-wing radicals that he felt an irresistible urge to make his point clear, before apologizing to whatever followers he might still have.

Then there is Poland. If the memory of the Holocaust divides Israelis when they have an internal political debate, it often unites them against external forces. Such is the case with the Polish Parliament, which now plots to pass legislation that makes reference to Polish involvement in executing the Holocaust unlawful.

Of course, the story of Poland and the Holocaust is complicated. The Poles were victims of the Nazis. The Poles were not the initiators of the mass murder of Jews, nor invited the construction of death camps in their midst. Still, evidence of Polish participation in the execution of Jews is vast and irrefutable. The attempt by Poland to silence the voices demanding acknowledgment of such participation, or the scholars who dig for more evidence of how, where and why it was done, was met with unified Israeli condemnation.

The Israeli government was adamant not to let this Polish law pass without response. Israeli opposition was sometimes even more robust in its demand for retribution (while also needling the government for having ties with right-wing European parties). In a heartbeat, the Holocaust ceased to be a tool of nasty division and has become a tool of guarded unification.

Lessons are few: It would be better for Israelis to count to 10 before they use the Holocaust to score cheap points in a conventional, if fierce, political debate. It would be better for them to ignore artists who cannot properly think before they speak. It would be better for Poland to come to grips with its past and stop trying to mask it.

Most of all, it would be better for us all to realize that we are still a traumatized people. The evidence is all around us — at times in the form of cynicism or stupidity, at times in the form of serious discussion. The only remedy is time. A very long time.

Letters to the Editor: Trump, Marriage, Partisan Divide on Israel and Women’s March


Trump and the Cycle of Violence in Israel

In the Jan. 19 cover story, “The Trump Gap,” Shmuel Rosner asserts that a “Trump-friendly” Israel “becomes an outlier” in the view of Israel and the Europeans — as evidenced in the U.N. actions of late. Is Rosner not aware that Israel’s existence has been as an outlier in the U.N. and Europe since long before the Oslo Accord? Or the U.N. Security Council’s continuous focus on destroying Israel? All of this predates the latest U.S. election by far.

Worse, in “Jerusalem, What Comes Next?” (Jan. 19), Joel Braunold argues that asserting Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem has surrendered the United States’ ability to broker peace, and that building grass-roots peace movements is the answer. What deluded bubble must one occupy to think that building communities “of collective humanity” will magically create an atmosphere of peace while our purported peace partners teach their children to become martyrs for the “holy” cause of killing Jewish women and children, and Arab supporters of peace are executed as collaborators?

David Zuckerman, Phoenix


Alternative Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s story was great, but I have my own three secrets to a happy and long-lasting relationship/marriage (“Three Secrets to a Long and Happy Marriage,” Jan. 19).

They are: 1) Always hold hands when walking; 2) Sit next to each other in a restaurant, not across; 3) Never watch TV after a date or after an evening out.

Robert Geminder, Palos Verdes


Nature and God

I read with interest “Why I Don’t Worship Trees” by David Suissa (Jan. 26).

He says that there is a difference between loving nature and worshipping God. This is interesting to me because, according to Spinoza, God and Nature are one and the same.

So, it depends on which philosopher you are reading, as to what is “true and correct” — or rather, “an adequate idea” in the words of Spinoza. I love and worship Nature, which to me is synonymous with God.

Debora Gillman, Los Angeles

I have great respect for, though not agreement with, David Suissa’s argument that Jewish tradition calls for transcending Nature and aiming for a higher place. It was such an argument that propelled the Amsterdam Jewish community to excommunicate Spinoza, who saw divinity in all of Nature, thereby incurring the anathema of being a “polytheist.”

The relevancy in our world today is that such a separation must now become anathema in order to preserve the only place in the universe we have to live. We must see nature and divinity as indivisible or risk continuing on the path that in an accelerating manner threatens to leave us as the “masters of nothing.”

Sheldon H. Kardener via email


Republicans, Too, Must Widen Their Views

Ben Shapiro, in his column “Partisan Divide Over Israel” (Jan. 26), only exacerbates that divide by insisting that only the Democratic Party has to “re-evaluate its moral worldview in the Middle East.” In fact, there are many Democrats, myself included, who strive to enhance the long-term security and prosperity of Israel by desperately working (sometimes it’s more like “hoping”) to leave the door open for a workable two-state solution. Additionally, we struggle to encourage Israel’s democratic institutions and pluralism, to reverse the increasing rejection felt by liberal Jews. Conservatives talk a good game when it comes to supporting Israel, but in reality their strategies have done more harm than good — none more so than President George W. Bush’s removal of Saddam Hussein’s counterbalance to Iranian expansion followed by his encouragement of an independent entity and “free” elections in Gaza, which led to the ascendancy of Hamas and the ensuing conflicts. It’s time for the Republicans to take off their blinders and widen their views of what will and won’t work in the Middle East.

John F. Beckmann, Sherman Oaks


The Women’s March

Thanks to Karen Lehrman Bloch for her brave piece “Why I Didn’t March” (Jan. 26). I hope her writing will open the eyes of many women who do not recognize the manipulative, anti-Zionist agenda behind the progressive movement. We can fight for human rights without allowing ourselves to become robotic pawns in a crowd led by the likes of the hateful Linda Sarsour. Let’s march for acceptance of thought and speech and let’s celebrate individual choice.

Alice Greenfield via email

I think mostly everyone can agree that our country is extremely polarized on issues concerning Israel, immigration, education, taxes, trade policies, health care, the environment, women’s rights and abortion. Very often, it’s only one issue that is paramount to the individual and it is so powerful that they will overlook positions on all the other important issues facing us. That’s why the Women’s March is so important. To assert that women were following the leaders of this march and were told what to think is absurd and demeaning. I never heard of Linda Sarsour before reading Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column and learned that she is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. I marched with the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Los Angeles who are concerned about a multiplicity of issues and, like me, have no knowledge of Linda Sarsour’s political views.

Frima Telerant, Westwood


Parties Split Over Support of Israel

Danielle Berrin, who appears to be left-leaning, and Ben Shapiro, who is right-leaning, seem to agree on something: There is a lot of partisan division in politics in the United States and in Israel which affects support for Israel. According to recent Pew research data, 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize with Israel and just 27 percent of Democrats say they identify with Israel. That should not be surprising given the fact that at the 2012 Democratic National Convention there was booing when the platform was amended to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now the No. 2 person in the DNC, Keith Ellison, is an avowed Israel-hating Jew hater.

Marshall Lerner via email


Tablets Belong in Our Schools

It was sad to read the uninformed opinion of Abigail Shrier on getting iPads out of our schools (“Smash the Tablets: Get iPads Out of Our Schools,” Jan 19). Hardly any student goes to college without a laptop or iPad these days. Not too long ago, the Yale School of Medicine gave each of its students an Apple iPad 2 for use in the classroom and their clinical responsibilities.

Litigators create their deposition outlines on iPads, and during depositions they typically have a separate iPad that’s linked to the court reporter. The use of this technology simply makes sense unless Shrier also thinks that attorneys’ brains are being compromised because of these technology tools.

The correlations she cites are just that — correlations — unproven statistical comparisons that may turn out to be false. The explicit intention of using iPads in the schools was to reach a rainbow of learners, which it accomplished, with or without the agreement of Shrier.

Joel Greenman, Woodland Hills


CORRECTIONS

The founder of Netiya was misidentified in a Jan. 26 story (“A Tu B’Shevat Question”). Rabbi Noah Farkas founded Netiya, a Los Angeles-based food justice organization; Devorah Brous was hired as its founding executive director in 2011.

The former name of de Toledo High School was misreported in the Jan. 26 edition (“De Toledo Goes Green”). It formerly was called New Community Jewish High School.

Enjoying Our Trump Card


U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after signing directives to impose tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels before signing it in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can.” —  Julius Caesar

The list of worries never shortens, and an updated version of it will probably include some of the following items: Does Vice President Mike Pence help us or hurt us by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem? Is the two-state solution mediated by the U.S. dead? Are we on the way to a one-state solution?

This evangelical politician — does he want us all to become devout Christians? Is he looking to ignite Armageddon? And what about the rift with Americans Jews — will it not grow even wider as Israel embraces Pence, whom they, the Jews, dislike?

And what happens to Israel if the Democrats take over the House and the Senate next year? Will they take revenge because of Israel’s approval of President Donald Trump (see graphic at right)? And when the embassy moves, will there be violence? And when the deal with Iran is canceled, will Iran rush to get the bomb?

Israel appreciates the Trump administration because it reshuffled the cards of worry.

There is so much to worry about that we can barely enjoy a moment. A vice president of the United States visited Israel this week. He praised Israel for its achievements. He vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital. And he made another promise: “Today, I have a solemn promise to Israel, to all the Middle East and to the world: The United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Beyond the nuclear deal, we will also no longer tolerate Iran’s support of terrorism, or its brutal attempts to suppress its own people.”

Oh, you’d say, these are just words, and we heard them before. We heard them from President Barack Obama. Yes, we did. But now we hear these words from a president who already disappointed all cynics and wiseacres by deciding to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Now we hear them from an administration whose main focus in this region is not to criticize Israel but rather to cooperate with it.

Still, we worry. Do they have a plan of what to do the day after they cancel the nuclear agreement? It is a valid worry. Because it doesn’t seem as if they have a plan. Still, we worry. Do they have a plan for advancing a peace deal when the Palestinians will not even talk to them? Also, a valid worry. If they ever had a plan, it is probably no longer practicable. Still, we worry. Is it healthy for Israel in the long run to become the one country in the world that warmly embraces the Trump administration? Again, a valid worry. Trump will not be in the White House forever. And the American public — a majority of which is critical of him — might develop a growing suspicion toward this Trump-adoring little enclave.

We worry for good reasons. And as we do, we neglect to appreciate the fact that things are going in Israel’s direction.

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The deed is done, the fact was established. The world grumbles, but with the backing of America, it will get used to this new reality. In Washington, the administration no longer goes behind Israel’s back. Yes, Trump will not be there forever, but another three (or seven) years of cooperative relations is a long time. The Palestinians must face a new paradigm. Their current leader, Mahmoud Abbas, once complained that Obama convinced him to “go up a tree” but then “he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump.” With Trump there is no tree and no ladder. There also is no validity to the old Palestinian conviction that time is on their side.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) — an agency whose main achievement is to prolong Palestinian suffering and false hope — was put on notice. Iran — a country whose bad behavior was ignored by the Obama administration, as not to ruin the prospects for “historic agreement” — was also put on notice.

Do you worry about where it all leads? I worry, too. But I still draw some satisfaction from the fact that the Iranians must worry, too, and the Palestinians must worry, and so must the UNRWA hacks and the blame-Israel hacks.

Here is one way to explain why Israel appreciates the Trump administration: It reshuffled the cards of worry.

The Rush to Racism


U.S. President Donald Trump pauses during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

About a month ago, when I last traveled to the United States, I purchased “The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896” by Richard White. It is the latest volume of history produced as part of the authoritative Oxford History of the United States, and it takes a while to read.

It takes a while because of its length and detail — almost a thousand pages of scholarship and storytelling — and the way it constantly forces the reader to think about parallels of past and present.

The fate of immigrants is one such tempting parallel. When historian White writes about groups who rejected Catholics or Jews, or about groups who rejected immigrants from southern European countries or from China, the reader can hardly avoid the resemblances — and the differences.

One reads a book to get away from the daily noise of the news, and yet the news creeps in through the cracks.

Of course, the Gilded Age was a long time ago. But the inherent tension that underlies all debates about immigration is here: on the one hand, the benefits a country reaps when it accepts immigrants; on the other hand, the inevitable cultural change that immigrants force on their new country. And note that it was much worse then than it is now. As White describes it: In the 1890s, “concern over immigrants began to look more like panic.”

Trump is guilty of being reckless with the language he uses, but is it wise to call him a racist?

Every state has some kind of immigration policy. A state without such policy is not a state. And when devising such policy, opposition to immigration, as well as support for it, is natural and not irrational.

Sadly, the opposition often manifests itself in ugly racism, bigotry, populism and incitement. Thus, one cannot always identify the true motivations and fears behind it: Does the president oppose immigration from certain African countries because he thinks that these immigrants are less likely to integrate into the U.S. — or because of his dislike of the color of their skin?

In the past week, more newspapers and activists began using the term “racism” to describe the policy of Donald Trump, relying on a plethora of disturbing evidence. Indeed, Trump is guilty of being reckless with the language he uses. And he has a history of troubling incidents that prompt the question of racism.

But is it wise to call Trump a racist?

Consider the following argument: “Racism” is a terrible trait. It is also a trait that delegitimizes a person or the positions he or she is holding. At least, this is what most decent people hope. For this to be achieved — for “racism” to remain a uniquely negative allegation — two terms must be met: “Racism” must be clearly and narrowly defined; and the definition must be one that the vast majority of people accept.

Why? Because a broad, or a vague, definition of “racism” makes it a political tool that is hurled at too many positions and hence loses its effectiveness at being a red line beyond which positions become illegitimate, and because a nonconsensual definition of “racism” turns it from the ultimate sin to yet another matter of disagreement.

What happened last week when Trump was called a “racist”? There are two possibilities. The first: His legitimacy and his views eroded (because decent people do not want to be identified with racism). The second: The power of the term “racism” eroded (if you define the views of a third of the population as “racist,” you now have many people who no longer think that “racism” is so terrible).

Is Trump a racist? It is encouraging to see that the president himself vehemently rejects such accusations, hence proving that “racism” is still a negative enough term to scare off people. Still, some insist on calling him that — and curiously enough, it is often the same people who think it immature of Trump to insist on the term “Islamic terrorists” when describing a group of, well, Islamic terrorists.

Is it foolish for the president to specifically talk about “Islamist terrorism”? If the cost outweighs the benefit, then it is.

Is it essential to call the president a racist? Maybe, but first consider the possible negative impact that such expansive use of this terminology could have.

Think how bad it would be if the attempt to delegitimize Trump ends up even slightly legitimizing racism.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

THE TRUMP GAP: One Year in, Why Israelis Like the President So Much More Than American Jews Do


President Donald Trump leaves a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

How do you measure a year?

It has been exactly 12 months since Donald Trump was sworn in as the new and surprising president of the United States. But from an Israeli viewpoint, Trump’s first year actually began on Dec. 24, 2016. That was the day after the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 by a vote of 14-0, with one country — the U.S. — abstaining, yet refraining from using its veto power.

In the eyes of most Israelis, it was the last, vengeful act of Barack Obama’s administration, a stunning departure from U.S. policy of many years. Obama decided to let the Security Council pass the measure, which demanded an immediate halt to all Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There was no policy-based argument for the action. It was an ego-driven move, a last act of frustration.

Israel’s response was telling. It marked the beginning of the counting of a new year: “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The resolution was indeed absurd. And Trump — bolstered by his feisty U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley — was quick to note that, going forward, the United States wouldn’t tolerate such resolutions.

Almost a year to the day after the Obama-backed, anti-Israel resolution came a U.S.-vetoed, anti-Trump resolution. In December, the U.N. condemned Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him.

Between these two unfortunate votes was a year filled with nervousness (when Trump was elected), glee (when Obama departed), adjustment (when Trump seemed to get along with Israel’s leaders) and hospitality (when the president visited Israel in May).

Yes, there was also some embarrassment. Can Israelis really get along with such a leader? Is this man going to be our friend? With time and while much of the world came to view Trump with (often justified) horror, many Israelis grew to like him. Foul language aside, U.S. domestic hurdles aside, kooky tweets aside, in his speeches — although not always consistent — Trump identified many sentiments and themes compatible with their own.

In Poland last July, he spoke about working “together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

Is that a worldview? It is not always clear that Trump has something coherent enough to be called a worldview. But he surely has sentiments. And these sentiments, his desire to guard “bonds of culture, faith and tradition,” make Israelis — not all Israelis, but more than a few — feel comfortable with him.

When Trump entered office last January, 69 percent of Jewish Israelis expected his attitude toward Israel to be friendly. According to Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index poll, “this belief stretched across all political camps” and included Jews and Arabs. A year later, the same pollsters found that “a large majority of the Jewish public (65 percent) think President Trump’s public declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel was in Israel’s best interest.”

Consider this: 77 percent of American Jews disapprove of Trump, according to the annual survey of American Jewish opinion by the American Jewish Committee. An almost mirror image is found among Jews in Israel, where, as the Pew Research Center documented, 64 percent have confidence in Trump’s “ability to lead.” A December Jerusalem Post poll found that 77 percent of Jewish Israelis call the Trump administration “more pro-Israel” than pro-Palestinian.

Of course, Israelis are not a monolithic group. They have many worldviews. Many Israelis dislike Trump and his policies. They believe he is dangerous to the United States and the world. The leader of the leftist Meretz party, Zehava Galon, once described him as the “sex offender, homophobe, Islamophobe in the White House.”

Still, many Israelis aren’t apologetic about their fondness for the president. It is their habit to like an American president if he likes them back. Thus, Israelis voiced high approval of Democrat Bill Clinton, of Republican George W. Bush and now many have positive views of Trump. They might recognize that his reported insult of Haiti and African countries is problematic, they might see that his persona and manner are hardly presidential and that some of his habits are highly disturbing, but as outsiders, Israelis first consider their own interests. If Trump is on Israel’s side, a majority of Israelis will be on his side.

This is certainly reflected in the language of Netanyahu, who has said that “Israel has no greater friend than Donald Trump.” Compare that to the convoluted phraseologies he employed when he was forced to commend Obama for his friendship. “The president of the United States — including President Obama — every one of the U.S. presidents represents and acts on the tremendous innate friendship of the American people and Israel,” was one way he put it. That is to say: The friend is not Obama, but the American people. “They’re all friends of Israel, equally representing the friendship of America,” Netanyahu said of U.S. presidents in a 2011 interview with NBC’s David Gregory.

It is Israelis’ habit to like an American president if he likes them back.

To be sure, Israelis’ fondness for Trump puts them at odds with people in many other countries — and with many Americans. So, there is risk involved: The more Israel is branded as Trump-friendly, the more it becomes an outlier in the eyes of those who instinctively feel that what Trump is for, they must be against.

This was evident when Trump decided to acknowledge the obvious fact that Jerusalem is, and will remain, Israel’s capital. Leaders of U.S. Reform Judaism opted to respond to this decision by condemning its timing. “[The] White House should not undermine [peace] efforts by making unilateral decisions that exacerbate the conflict,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky tagged this negative response “terrible.” He easily identified the sentiment behind it: “Everything that comes out of Trump is bad, from their perspective.”

President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Donald Trump signs a proclamation at the White House on Dec. 6 that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Indeed, it is — a reason to worry about the future of Israel-Diaspora Jewish relations. Of course, this is hardly the first time that Israeli and American Jews have been at odds over important political issues. Over the past two decades, that has been the norm. American Jews did not support the Bush administration and the initiation of the Iraq War, while Israelis did. Most American Jews never abandoned the Obama administration, not even when Israel argued that it failed to defend Israel and didn’t act like a friend.

But with Trump, every phenomenon seems to be on steroids. Most American Jews view the president with unparalleled horror, while Israelis are content with him. “Like him or not, Trump’s first year in office has been good for Israel,” concluded former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

Good, relatively speaking. Good, as in better than the previous eight years. The Trump administration has not seemed inclined to manipulate Israel into something it doesn’t want. It has not engaged in speaking in public and in private against Israel’s leaders and their policies. It has not attempted to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, as Obama famously said he would. It did not pull any surprises on Israel — well, not more than Trump surprised the rest of the world on Twitter. It was clear and unapologetic in showing its affinity for Israel.

So yes, relatively speaking, the Trump administration is an improvement when it comes to the U.S. relations with Israel.

But “good” might be too strong a term. Besides the kind words, the warm relations and the better atmosphere, there are also actions to be considered. And when it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach. One thing that’s “good for Israel” is a U.S. that takes the role of leader in the Middle East, but it is not clear that Trump is invested in having such role.

He left Syria to the Russians, reasonably arguing that it was too late in the game for him to have real impact. He has not yet formulated a clear path on Iran. His gut sentiment was there, but not the policy to match it.

That is true even after the president recently clarified that the U.S. is ready to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement unless it is changed in the coming months. Such a development could present Israel with a dramatic dilemma if Iran responds to the U.S. pullout by reigniting its nuclear program. That’s why a joint simulation by the Rand Corp. and Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies concluded that renegotiating the Iran deal is not a realistic goal and that the Trump administration has no “clear plan” as to how Iran can be forced to improve it.

It’s no wonder that Israel’s intelligence agencies believe that the probability of war is higher today than it was a year ago. Of course, that is not exactly Trump’s fault, but it is worth noting that his year in office has not contributed much to preventing war. Russian forces have pulled out of Syria while Iranian forces have gone in. Israel has reportedly attacked Syrian targets on a regular basis to send the message that it will not tolerate Iran at its border. Hezbollah is freer to consider other targets than it was during the height of the Syrian war. Hamas is relying on Iranian support. Amid all these developments — and then some — the U.S. seems inactive, even numb.

President Donald Trump at a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 22, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Last week, Trump evidently was reluctant when he opted to extend Iran’s relief from economic sanctions, keeping intact this part of the Obama-era agreement. Trump was a fierce opponent of the deal. He hinted repeatedly that he had no intention of keeping it. Trump ran for office as the anti-Obama. It clearly pains him to have to reaffirm any Obama policy.

When it comes to actions, the Trump administration has in many ways continued Obama’s hands-off approach.

That is true for Iran and also helped lead to the Jerusalem statement — Trump’s most notable departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy and bluntest demonstration of his willingness to change the rules of the Middle East game.

Many analysts wondered about the real motivation behind Trump’s decision suddenly to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and thus put his potential peace initiative at risk. Some questioned to what extent Israel pressured the administration to make the declaration. Some pundits saw the hand of Vice President Mike Pence, while others blamed more sinister forces, such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who they said drove Trump to what they viewed as an irrational act.

The truth is simpler: Trump hated the idea of having to sign the waiver delaying the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. He hated it because he had made a promise to move the embassy, and Trump wants to be able to boast that he keeps his campaign promises. He hated it and hated the fact that his advisers — including the secretary of state and the national security adviser — advised him to sign the waiver, anyway.

The result was a compromise: The president signed the waiver but made a declaration that diminished the symbolic meaning of the waiver and turned the signing into a purely technical act. The waiver delays the actual moving of the embassy but the U.S. policy is clear: It considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

True, this is merely a symbolic statement, as many observers were quick to point out. But that misses the point. A capital is a symbol. Jerusalem is a powerful symbol. A symbolic statement was all that was needed. It is of little importance whether the building in which a few officials push papers is in this or that town.

The Palestinians seem to understand this. So they reacted with the fury they always demonstrate when they discover that — contrary to what their Western supporters led them to believe — time is not necessarily on their side. For now, the Palestinians’ ties with the Trump administration are strained — even more so after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas lashed out at Trump and the U.S. in a lengthy speech earlier this week. Still, at some point, the Palestinians will have to factor in this president’s temper. If they insist on rejecting his overtures, if they insist of denying him the wonderful peace process he vowed to advance, the price could be significant.

Not that Trump has much chance for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He doesn’t. Not that Israel would want him to focus on the peace front. It doesn’t. What Israel wants from Trump is to keep the relationship intimate and close. That, it has a fair chance of getting. What Israel wants is for Trump to get more involved in halting the advance of Iran in the region. That, it may not get.

What Israel wants from Trump is another good year — good, not just better than previous years. If the first year was the good year of forgetting Obama, maybe the second year can be good in and of itself.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The Father, the Son and the Unholy Spirits (and Strippers)


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

“It is a family matter,” argued White House spokesman Scott McClellan. The year was 2001, and President George W. Bush’s twin 19-year-old daughters had just been caught by the police as they were trying to buy alcohol illegally at a Mexican restaurant.

It is a “witch hunt,” complained Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when a tape surfaced, documenting how his son Yair got drunk, associated with the offspring of wealthy Israelis, attended strip clubs and appeared to offer these fun bodies sexual favors from a female friend in exchange for money.

The Netanyahu scandal is louder. And it rests on several separate pillars of unease: 1. Netanyahu the son was having fun with the son of a tycoon who highly benefited from decisions made by Netanyahu the father. 2. The son is protected by Israel’s security agencies. 3. He was going to strip clubs and was having a night of debauchery that civilized people rightly condemn.

Yair Netanyahu is private citizen. He has no official role. On the other hand, it is well known that he lives in the official residence of the prime minister, that he advises his father, that he is involved in the wheeling and dealing of his father’s politics. Israelis pay his rent, they pay for his security.

This is a nasty affair. It is gossipy. It leaves an aftertaste.

This is a nasty affair. It is gossipy. It leaves an aftertaste. The behavior of a group of young and privileged Israelis is exposed, and it is disgusting. The prime minister’s son sounds like a punk, and one would hope that he is truly ashamed of it, as his statement seems to suggest: “These words do not represent who I am, the values I was raised on, or the principles I believe in. I regret saying them and apologize if anyone was offended by them,” young Netanyahu stated.

Other than that, there is very little substance to this scandal. The banter concerning Israel’s gas deal — Netanyahu asks the son of a businessman to “spot him” pocket money in return for the gas deal that benefited the tycoon businessman — is, well, banter. The strip club visit is something that many other young, and older, Israelis do. The dirty talk and denigrating comments are no worse than those uttered by the sitting president of the United States. We could feel for the security guards, tasked with wasting their nights watching this guy, but the issue with them is strictly professional: If there is an Israeli interest in protecting Netanyahu’s son, then they must be there.

In fact, the most troubling aspect of this affair is the impact it could have on the prime minister. On the night the scandal broke out, the Knesset passed highly controversial legislation that could ban the opening of stores on Shabbat. On that same night (and this is more serious), Israel — reportedly — sent its air force to attack an army base outside Damascus.

When such decisions are made, Israel needs an experienced and cool-headed leader, and what this leader’s son does, or how he behaves, or what language he uses, is completely irrelevant. Let Netanyahu the father be the prime minister. Ignore his son, one of many rotten apples. But there is another side to this equation: When such decisions are made, Israel needs a clear-headed leader. It needs a leader who is not too preoccupied with investigations (Netanyahu serves under the cloud of several investigations), it needs a leader who is not too preoccupied with the need to discipline his son, or to draft statements responding to reports of his son’s ugly behavior.

Of course, such preoccupation with side shows is a double dagger. Netanyahu argues that the news media, by wasting the time of citizens and his own time on nonsense such as Yair’s strip club affair, are disserving Israel. He is certain that everything said against him is connected: the police investigations, the family scandals, the Tel Aviv rallies against corruption — all are part of a mounting effort by his rivals to dethrone him. His rivals make the opposite argument: The police investigations, the family scandals, the Tel Aviv rallies all prove that Netanyahu can no longer be prime minister. That he can no longer function. That he can no longer be trusted to make decisions based on Israel’s interests, as his main motivation is political survival.

Hence, the scandal. Hence, the debate over whether the scandal is worthy of its scandalous status.

Shopping for Votes: The Haredi-Ben-Gurion Alliance


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On Jan. 1, Israel’s governing coalition suffered a blow: It could not find the majority needed to pass the so-called Supermarkets Bill, which is intended to give the Interior Ministry the power to decide whether a city can allow the opening of stores on Shabbat.

The Haredi Shas party has been demanding such a law, claiming that Supreme Court rulings have changed the sacred “status quo” on Shabbat observance. But some of the coalition parties do not approve of the bill. They dislike the idea of clashing with Israel’s secular voters over the sensitivities of a Haredi party.

On the morning of Jan. 1, in an attempt to convince the larger Israeli public that the law is required, Deputy Minister of Finance Yitzhak Cohen found an unlikely ally. Holding a sheet of paper, he gleefully read aloud from an old letter without revealing the identity of the writer. “Do you know who wrote this?” he then asked.

That Shas finds Ben-Gurion a useful ally is thus not as surprising as you’d think.

It was not a well-known rabbi, a Torah scholar or a Haredi sage. Shas was relying on an atheist to make its point: Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion. The letter, dated January 1936, was sent to a group of young pioneers — members of a kibbutz. They worked on Shabbat, and Ben-Gurion was pleading with them to stop.

“There is a need for a mandatory day of rest,” Ben Gurion wrote.

The leaders of Shas likewise believe that such day can be mandatory.

That an Israeli Haredi party uses Ben-Gurion to make its case is a positive sign — a sign of normalization, of the gradual Israelization of Haredi Israelis. Also, Shas leaders have a point. In many ways, their approach resembles Ben-Gurion’s — not necessarily on the specific issue of how Shabbat ought to be observed, but rather on the issue of uniformity versus diversity.

It is often an overlooked aspect of the debate on Shabbat, but the law currently on the table makes it hard not to notice: The debate about Shabbat is also a debate about other issues — such as the power of the state to control and dictate the culture of a country, and to control how localities behave.

It is these aspects of the debate over Shabbat that exhibit the intellectual incoherence of both proponents and opponents of the law.

Shas leaders — the initiators of this legislation — are happy to impose their cultural preferences on cities in which a majority of residents are secular. But they cry foul if a government attempts to impose its cultural preferences on Haredi cities. For example, if the government tries to force the city of Bnei Brak to open its roads to Shabbat drivers; or when it tries to force Haredi schools to include more “secular studies” such as math and English in their curricula.

The same is true as one examines the coherence of the law’s opponents. They want localities to have the freedom to open stores on Shabbat but insist on their right to impose a certain curriculum on Haredi schools. They want everyone to have the right to decide what to do on Shabbat but support strict regulation of culture by the state when they deem it important (one recent debate concerns the right of a right-tilting TV channel to broadcast news as it desires).

That Shas finds Ben-Gurion a useful ally is not as surprising as you might think. Ben Gurion wanted uniformity for many good reasons — to have a sense of community, to establish the power of the state, and to bring together a collection of people from different places and cultures. But he also wanted it because he was the one to decide what uniformity meant. In his time he called the shots, so uniformity, in most instances, meant that everybody did what Ben-Gurion said.

Today, as an important member of the ruling coalition, Shas has the power to call some shots. It can strive to achieve, on some issues, a Shas-type uniformity. So yes, you can call it “preserving the status quo.” But the real name of it ought to be: Where you sit is where you stand.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

An Officer’s Other Cheek


Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian during clashes at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the West Bank city of Nablus December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

An Israeli officer is tasked with patrolling a West Bank village. A young Arab woman attacks him. She pushes him around, slaps him, scratches, kicks. The soldier does nothing. He understands that this is a trap. There are cameras around waiting for him to hit back, waiting for him to provide them with the footage that will cast him as a villain — an armed soldier hitting an unarmed young Palestinian female.

This is what happened on Dec. 15, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. And as the footage made its way online, it stirred a debate in Israel. A debate about the woman: Was she a criminal, or maybe behaving as you’d expect from people under occupation? A debate about the young officer — was he being professional through his use of restraint, or maybe showing confusion by refraining from doing what you’d expect from a solder slapped in the face?

As often happens, this became a debate of “right” vs. “left.” But a sober discussion of this event should have nothing to do with the politics of Judea and Samaria. This ought to be a debate about cost and benefit, about military tactics in complex situations. This ought to be a debate about short-term gains and long-term pains.

Yes, there is short-term gain: The officer evaded the public relations trap that the young Palestinians prepared for him. They wanted to show the ugly face of a brutal occupying military, and what they got instead is the real face of a military going to great lengths to show restraint.

As the footage of the Arab woman slapping the Israeli officer made its way online, it stirred a debate in Israel.

Yes, there is a long-term pain: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) needs to be an intimidating force — a force that Israel’s enemies fear. A footage of an IDF officer slapped in the face by a teenage girl does not serve such an image.

There also is the internal gain and pain to be considered. A message to Israel’s society from the IDF: We attempt to be as humane as possible. Another message to Israel’s society from the IDF: You are sending us to accomplish mission impossible. A yet a third message to Israel’s society from the IDF: Know that this is the cost of having to keep a hostile civilian population under our control. Maybe there is no other choice, maybe there is no better solution, but be aware of the price.

What would be the benefit and the cost of a reverse response by the officer? This is not hard to imagine, as such instances have occurred in the past. The young woman hits the officer, the officer hits back, cameras role. A PR embarrassment for Israel. An embarrassment that is part of an ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, and to portray the IDF as a dark, cruel force.

Many Israelis, maybe a majority, would prefer such an outcome to the outcome we saw recently. They would prefer it because the young officers are their sons or cousins or neighbors, and because they feel in the Middle East that you do not let anyone slap you in the face without responding with force.

Let the cameras roll, let the world of hypocrites jabber. When you are a proud Israeli citizen, highly appreciative of the IDF and its soldiers, and isolated from the fallout of international condemnation, you’d instinctively take such a position. You don’t care about a Swedish or a Venezuelan or an American-on-campus condemnation — you care about your soldiers. You care about them not having to suffer through humiliation, about them not seeming weak.

There is a lot of sense in both positions, whether or not you support Israel’s control of the West Bank. If you support the occupation, you have fewer moral qualms about having to use force in the territories; if you oppose the occupation, you have to support an intimidating IDF as the only shield that can guarantee a safe withdrawal from the territory.

But if you support the occupation, you also understand the need for a long, patient game; if you oppose the occupation, you will upload restraint as the moral choice.

Now consider the officer’s situation. Consider him having to make all these calculations while someone is slapping him in the face.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The Power of Recognition


Skyline of the Old City and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

One of the people around the table couldn’t control herself and erupted in laughter. I couldn’t blame her. The story I was telling the group of mostly Americans earlier this week seemed to compare President Donald Trump with Alexander the Great — a comparison worthy of a good chuckle.

Still, the point was made. And it was made because of my need to explain to this group of non-Israelis why Israelis would care that a faraway foreign leader is recognizing Jerusalem as the nation’s capital.

The story is from the Talmud, and whether it actually happened is unclear. It appears in several sources, among them Josephus, the first-century Jewish scholar. But the details aren’t always the same, and in fact, many historians believe that Alexander the Great never set foot in the Holy Land.

‎But according to the Talmud in tractate Yoma (69a), Alexander gave permission for the Samaritans to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and the high priest, Shimon HaTzaddik, was informed. “What did he do? He donned the priestly vestments and wrapped himself in the priestly vestments. And the nobles of the Jewish People were with him, with torches of fire in their hands.”

This band of Jewish leaders walked all that night until it reached the armies of Alexander and the Samaritans. When dawn arrived, Alexander asked the Samaritans: Who are these people? The Samaritans said to him: These are Jews who rebelled against you. The sun shone and the two camps met each other. And then, when Alexander saw Shimon HaTzaddik, he “descended from his chariot and bowed before him.”

His escorts, no doubt puzzled, asked him: “Should an important king such as you bow to this Jew?” His answer: I do so because “the image of this man’s face is victorious before me on my battlefields.” That is to say: In past battles, he has seen Shimon’s face and only now does he realize that this is the face of a real person, the high priest of the Jews. Naturally, Alexander, after this encounter, did not destroy the Temple. In some versions — but not this one — he even came to Jerusalem to bring an offering in the Temple.

How is this story relevant to modern Israel and modern Jerusalem? In fact, it is relevant. The Jews were always a relatively minor people who lived in the shadows of great empires. Thus, they craved recognition. They needed the great rulers of the great empires to accept or even embrace them as a worthy people.

Trump’s recognition was a psychological re-enactment of something the Jewish people always seek: the approval of the great empire.

Cyrus of Persia was one such ruler of an empire — and he let the Jews go back to their land and rebuild their Temple. With Alexander, the historical facts are not as clear, yet the myth is in place. Here is another great king, the leader of another great empire, recognizing the uniqueness of Jewish Jerusalem.

Hence the burst of laughter. President Trump — the great Donald — is no Alexander. Not even close. And yet, he is the leader of the great empire of this era. In this sense, his recognition of Jerusalem echoes Alexander’s true — or imaginary — moment of realization.

We can explain why Trump’s recognition is an important political move, and we see that it has repercussions and consequences, and we follow the chain of events ignited by his speech. But first and foremost, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a psychological re-enactment of something the Jewish people always have sought: the approval of the great empire.

This is especially worth mentioning during the week of Hanukkah, a holiday marking the clash between the Jews and an empire. When Hellenistic culture threatened to erase the culture of the Jews, when that empire showed little respect to the ways of the Jews, the inevitable result was war. In the Hasmonean dynasty’s case, a triumphant war. But there have been many wars that the Jews haven’t won. So for them, the best war is often the one that can be avoided.

Indeed, the essence of America’s friendship with Israel is war prevention. When the U.S. is on Israel’s side, Israel’s enemies know that battling Israel is going to be difficult and costly. They know that their initial goal — to eradicate the Zionist project — cannot be successful.

A recognition of Israel’s capital is also a reaffirmation of the alliance. It is a signal to the countries around Israel that we still have the American shield above our heads. Contrary to what some pundits would have you believe, this shield — including Trump’s manifestation of it by his Jerusalem declaration — is a receipt for reducing violence.

The U.S. stands with Israel. The U.S. is mighty. Hence, there is no point in making war with Israel over, say, Jerusalem.

Thus, we are left with little wars. Demonstrations by frustrated Palestinians or Arab Israelis, whose leadership again failed to restrain the Arab public. The occasional terror attack — on Dec. 11, a security guard was stabbed and badly hurt by a Palestinian. But by the time this story went to press on Dec. 12, the response to Trump’s speech was less than overwhelming.

There was verbal hostility, especially from the autocratic bully ruling Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Erdogan’s threats and complaints, stating: “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from the leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions.” Netanyahu has information about attempts by Turkey to strengthen Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, and hence, his denouncing Turkey is not only about words.

Beyond the expected and tired words of condemnation, there was not much of a dramatic response to report. The fact that Israel’s prime minister traveled to Europe as scheduled this week — to receive the usual lectures from the leaders of France and other nations — is telling: Had he thought that Israel is under grave threat of severe retaliation because of Trump’s announcement, he probably would have canceled the trip. Had he thought that the visit would be intolerably hostile, he easily could have found an excuse to postpone the trip.

There was no need to do that. To anyone worried about how Jerusalem’s new status might affect the stalled peace process, Netanyahu had his answer ready: “The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move toward peace.”

Will they come to grips with reality? The Palestinians have a history of rejectionist sentiments, but their options are limited. A great desire for violence does seem to exist among the masses, and the leadership is stuck. The threat to boycott a peace process led by the U.S. is hollow. There are not many alternatives to such a process. The threat exists of the Palestinian Authority moving toward a Hamas-like approach —  but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas knows better than anyone that when Hamas takes over, there is no room left for other Palestinian factions.

In fact, Trump’s decision to detach his statement from an active peace process has its own logic. Israel conducted many rounds of the peace process of the past under the assumption that a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is part of the ultimate deal. Some Israeli leaders, such as Ehud Barak at the Camp David Summit in 2000 and Ehud Olmert after the Annapolis (Md.) Conference in 2007, were more prone to acknowledge this intention publicly. Other prime ministers, such as Netanyahu, would deny such an assumption, because they believe Israel shouldn’t tip its hand before all issues are resolved. But even in the last round of negotiations, initiated and run by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, all three parties understood that a compromise involving Jerusalem was on the table. They understood that the Palestinians also will have a capital called Jerusalem.

Consider the main components of the pragmatic political debate over the future of Jerusalem. There are two main issues to be resolved: One is where the border separating Israel from a Palestinian entity (a state, or a semi-state) will be located. The second is what’s going to happen with the holy sites, the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the Old City, Mount of Olives, etc.

The essence of America’s friendship with Israel is war prevention. When the U.S. is on Israel’s side, Israel’s enemies know that battling Israel is going to be difficult and costly.

Trump didn’t resolve these two issues. He didn’t even hint at how these two issues are to be resolved. He kept the door open for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem; he kept the door open for all arrangements that preserve the rights of adherents to all faiths to practice their religion in Jerusalem.

But he did provoke the Palestinians. The Palestinians invested a lot of effort in recent years in their attempt to undercut the historic claim of the Jewish people on Israel and Jerusalem. Trump provoked them to accept reality, to accept the underlying assumption according to which Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. He provoked them in a way that might expose the futility of any peace process.

Trump, by making his statement, sent them more than a hint that the nonsense of rejecting the Jewish connection to the Holy Land wouldn’t fly. If they are willing to deal with Israel — the state of the Jewish people that was established on a historically Jewish homeland — maybe a compromise can be reached. If their intention is to negotiate with Israel while still denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland — and that is the underlying meaning of rejecting Israel’s right to have its capital in Jerusalem — then there’s no point in putting a peace plan on the table.

Either way, the recognition of the Jewish capital of Jerusalem is a truth that will endure, in war or in peace.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Israel’s Capital. Duh!


Give President Donald Trump credit for doing the right thing. Give him credit for once using his blunt-mannered approach to do something good. Give him credit for stating the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Nothing can change this, nothing is supposed to change this. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not infringe on anyone’s rights, it does not preclude a settlement over Jerusalem in the future, it does not mean that the Palestinians can’t have a claim for parts of Jerusalem. It is correcting a wrong — the wrong notion that Israel should be the only country in the world deprived of the right to establish a capital where it wants it to be.

I know, for some people, giving Trump credit for anything is painful. These people will come up with a pile of excuses as to why the recognition of Jerusalem is wrong, or why it was done at the wrong time, or why it was done in the wrong way, or by the wrong person.

For some people, giving Trump credit for anything is painful.

They would want a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton to be the one. They would want a peace deal to be the occasion. They would want Palestinians to accept it, to give their blessing before it is done. They would want it done only under very specific terms that currently seem remote, almost unreachable.

I can easily come up with a similar list and explain why and how such things should be done. But it’s a futile exercise: First, because Trump already made his decision — The New York Times reported that the president told Israeli and Arab leaders of it on Dec. 5, before a planned announcement the following day. Second, because for many of these people, no time would be the right time, and no person would be the right person.

Recognition is important, a moment to celebrate, but we ought to remember that Jerusalem will not change as a result of it. It is still a very poor city. It is unappealing to most Israelis — being too religious, too gloomy, too dirty.

And Jerusalem’s demographic reality is also something to consider. About a third of its residents are Arab. They could potentially elect an Arab mayor and have great impact on Jerusalem’s future. Only they choose to live in denial and pretend that Jerusalem is not Israel’s to keep.

Maybe Israel will not keep all of it forever. As is well documented, previous Israeli prime ministers agreed to compromise in Jerusalem. They agreed to let the Palestinians have their capital in parts of the city. They will have their Jerusalem; Israel will have its Jerusalem. Trump will have an opportunity to twice recognize a capital called Jerusalem.

But truthfully, it is not very likely that he will have such opportunity. The Arab world, predictably, responded to Trump’s decision in its habitual way: rejection, anger, threats, the usual mix of bombast and self-pity that characterizes many of its interactions with all things Israel.

That anger will subside and recognition will be a new reality. It is hard to envision a future American president taking recognition back, or moving an embassy back to Tel Aviv. Not even the Democratic legislators who currently criticize the President’s decision — wrong time, wrong way, wrong person — will take it back. Maybe in a few days, some of them will even come to their senses and agree that cutting this Gordian knot had to be done by a sword.

The Palestinians, if or when their anger subsides, will ask for compensation. They will expect compensation. They will tell their American counterparts that their peace plan must reflect the fact that Israel already got its reward from the administration, and that now it is time for Israel to pay a price for U.S. recognition. Who knows — maybe that’s the plan. Maybe all Trump is doing now is meant to buy credit and goodwill before serving the bitter pill of a controversial peace plan.

But until this happens, give the president the credit he deserves. Give him credit for being a man of his word on this issue. Give him credit for ignoring the threats of the Turks, the French and the Jordanians.

Give him credit for understanding that some bandages should be removed without much hesitation of negotiation or fear of temporary pain. And give him credit for being one of a few number of foreign leaders who throughout history recognized the connection of Jews to Jerusalem.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Evidence of Hoopla


Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. And the timing of recent action by Israel’s coalition government is more than suspicious.

On Nov. 27, the Knesset approved — on the first vote of the necessary three — new legislation that could potentially impact the ongoing, high-profile investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The new law, if it ultimately passes, is aimed to prevent the police from making a specific recommendation as to whether to indict a suspect when an investigation has ended and leave this matter to the attorney general.

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. And supporters of the new legislation would acknowledge it — of course, not on the record. However, they will say, the law is necessary and proper, and it cuts both ways. It helps these supporters that these special times — when the party in charge has an interest in passing it — also make it viable.

Indeed, they have a point, and their position raises an important question: Should a citizen be in favor of legislation he deems proper even though the timing of passing it is improper? To put it  differently: Is it obligatory to oppose a law one deems necessary because of the suspicious circumstances of its passing?

If there is a reason for indictment, the new law will not save the prime minister.

For people living in the practical world, this is not an easy choice. We know from history that murky, questionable circumstances often prompt important legislation. In this case, though, one first has to accept the premise that the new legislation has merit beyond saving Netanyahu from being publically censured by the police after the investigation is over.

So, is it justified? Consider the case of Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Gil Sheffer. About a year ago, Sheffer was accused of sexual assault. The police investigated the accusation and came up with a clear recommendation: We have the evidence; Sheffer ought to be indicted. For almost a year, Sheffer walked around crowned with this wreath of thorns until a decision was made by state attorneys: There was not enough evidence to indict him — he was off the hook. But no one can compensate him for those 10 months under scrutiny.

Supporters of the new legislation will point to this case, and others, in which public humiliation over a decision by the police — who have the authority to investigate but not to indict — ended with a whimper. These supporters would like the police simply to do their job, which under the circumstances covered by this law is to investigate and hand the material to the state attorneys without recommendation.

It is thus plausible to defend this legislation on its merits. It also is not difficult to understand why Netanyahu and his political operators would see such a law as potentially beneficial for the prime minister. It can buy him time. If the police hand evidence against him to the attorney general without making any specific recommendation, the court of public opinion will have to be more patient and wait until the end of the legal process to see if the prime minister is going to stand trial.

As usual, there is a lot of political hoopla involved in the discussions surrounding this legislation. The prime minister’s associates lost all shame as they promoted this law with the urgency they should save for more crucial matters. The prime minister’s opponents refuse to acknowledge the fact that this law has reasoning and merit — beyond its highly problematic timing.

And as often happens with new legislation, too many hopes are hanging by a thin thread. If there is a reason for indictment, the new law will not save the prime minister. In fact, it will not even prevent the media and the public from getting enough information when the investigation is over to make their own determination as to whether Netanyahu should be indicted. Leaks, insinuation and speculation will be the substitute for police recommendation.

So if the law passes, Israel merely will be substituting one problematic procedure (police recommendation) for another (public speculation).


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The Radical Impact of Centrism


Centrism is often no more than a facade. A way of portraying one’s views as more legitimate than the views of others. But centrism can also be real. It can be a practical way for a leader or a politician to cast a net with which to capture as many voters as possible. It can be an ideological belief that the center — avoiding the extremes — is the most commendable way of policy-making.

The center is, of course, a moving target, as two Israeli leaders proved in the last couple of weeks. Earlier this week, President Reuven Rivlin exposed himself to a vicious attack from some right-wing quarters by refusing to pardon Elor Azaria, a soldier convicted of manslaughter. His portrait wearing a kaffiyeh — reminiscent of posters preceding the Yitzhak Rabin assassination more than two decades ago — was posted on social media. He was accused of leftism, of weakness.

The center is, of course, a moving target.

Rivlin does not need votes, so there is no conceivable electoral calculation behind his decision. Still, his critics would not grant him the benefit of the doubt. They assume that he does what he does to win the approval of liberal intellectuals, or the media, or the international court of public opinion, or all of the above.

A few days earlier, another Israeli leader disappointed and angered many Israelis belonging to his supposed camp. This time, it was the leader of the left-center Labor Party. He did so by criticizing his camp using a phrase that was made infamous by Benjamin Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister in the 1990s. Netanyahu, back then, whispered in a well-known rabbi’s ears: “The leftists forgot how to be Jewish.” Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party, echoed these words in a somewhat clumsy attempt to hint that Netanyahu had a point — that the left cannot win election in Israel if, rather than owning Judaism, it will run away from it.

Gabbay is not in the same position as Rivlin. He is an up-and-coming leader of a struggling party, attempting to bend it rightward to make it more acceptable to more Israelis, and possibly making it, once again, a real political alternative to the rule of Likud. Gabbay might believe that centrism is better, but he surely sees a practical need to edge toward the center.

In both of these cases, the camp supposedly suspicious of Rivlin and Gabbay was the camp praising their actions. Israel’s opposition hailed Rivlin for being principled and for not surrendering to the right-wing mob. Israel’s coalition hailed Gabbay for finally admitting the grave deficiency of his own camp. In both cases, this was a misfortune: Rivlin’s message is more relevant to the right, which seems all too wiling to forget and forgive a soldier who defied orders and shot to death an unarmed (but not innocent) man. Gabbay’s message is more relevant to the left, which seems all too willing to forget and forgo Jewish traditions and culture in pursuit of universalist ideologies.

Should we consider these two leaders to be centrists because of their decision to move away from their initial base of support and toward an imaginary (or maybe real) center? Or maybe these leaders are radicals, who boldly defy convention and a base of support, to follow a path they believe is the right path.

The answer in this case is both. That is to say: In today’s world, being a centrist is often more radical than all other options. Netanyahu does nothing radical when he plays to his base of support and gives his voters what they want. The leaders of a leftist party such as Meretz do nothing radical when they also play to their base of support and drag them away from the Israeli consensus and into the land of political impotence. Rivlin and Gabbay try something bolder — to see if by being centrists they can also nudge their audiences toward centrism, moderation and relevance.

Whether they chose the topic or the right phrase to make their case is a good question. The reaction to their respective decisions was hardly encouraging, and hence I am not certain the answer to this question is positive. But the sentiment is commendable. Yes, Israel should not be a place where soldiers shoot unarmed terrorists without proper cause and where the mob supportive of them makes the rules. Yes, Israel should not be a place where opposition to the government means abandonment of Jewish traditions and culture. Radical centrism is needed.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

President Rivlin found a Fifth Tribe: Diaspora Jews


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

1.

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin is this year’s senior Israeli speaker at the GA, the annual gathering of the North American Jewish federations. And this is not an easy job: Los Angeles is sunny, and visiting the city is surely enjoyable, but Rivlin came here as the representative of an establishment that is not highly popular with the leadership of US Jewry. Some call it a “crisis” in Israel-Diaspora relations, some deliberately want to avoid the C word. Terminology aside, the Jews of America – well, many of them – are angry with Israel’s government, and feel betrayed, neglected, disrespected. They want to see change.

President Rivlin cannot give them what they want. Moreover, his speech in Los Angeles today reminded North America Jews that “we must all respect Israel’s democratic process. The decision-making process”. American Jews must respect it, and hence accept that their ability to pressure Israel into doing something that its leadership is reluctant to do it limited. President Rivlin himself respect it, and hence is reluctant to express his support for a specific position in the great debate about – well, what is it about?

2.

In a nutshell, Rivlin’s speech included 5 main messages:

  1. Israel is wonderful, and don’t you forget that.
  2. We Jews are partners in good times and bad times.
  3. Religion and State issues are highly politicized in Israel – and this ought to be taken into account.
  4. The Jewish world and Israel are changing, and we must understand and adapt to change.
  5. While we deal with secondary issues, let us not forget the important ones: Iran, anti-Semitism and other serious threats to Jewish existence.

3.

Refereeing to the “crisis” Rivlin used his vast experience as an Israeli politician – one of the most experienced and most successful politicians we have. He used it to remind his North American listeners that “Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish-democratic state, Religion and State is a political issue”. Obviously, most Jews in the hall do not like it, but Rivlin insisted on reminding them what this reality means: “Around five Israeli governments have fallen on questions like: ‘Can combat aircraft (not on mission) land in Israel on Shabbat?’ Or on the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ that is Democracy”.

Was he defending the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to renegade on the Kotel compromise? I would not go that far. Still, he was clearly at least somewhat sympathetic to Netanyahu’s political calculations. This isn’t some joke, he reminded the room, this is serious business of having to run a complicated coalition by delicately balancing conflicting outlooks and interests.

And as for the Kotel: “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue”. Note what Rivlin did not say: he did not say that there is need to go back to the deal that the government decided to scrap.

4.

The most interesting part of Rivlin’s speech was dedicated to his theme of “tribes” – a theme that Israelis are already familiar with. Israel is no longer a coherent society. It evolved and now has four main tribes battling for space, influence, resources, ideas – while also having to maintain a certain sense of partnership, because they are all partners who have a stake in the success of Israel. “from a society made up of a clear Zionist majority, to a society made up of four clear sectors or ‘tribes’, which are getting closer in size: The secular Jews, the National Religious Jews, the Haredim and the Arabs”.

Not everybody is happy with Rivlin’s formulation, and with the action he advocates based on it. But that’s not the issue for today. What was noteworthy about his speech today was Rivlin’s attempt at counting non-Israeli Jews as a fifth tribe. “we need the partnership with you, the fifth tribe, (and very important one), the Jews of the Diaspora”.

5.

To be a fifth tribe is an honor – you are one of us – and a burden – you are one of us. It means that Rivlin just complicated the choreography of the already complicated dance of having to make four tribes get along with one another. In his speech, he did not much elaborate on this idea, but make no mistake, he probably thought about it, and already has some ideas as to how such formulation can serve us in the field of Israel-Diaspora action.

Is the Jewish Diaspora a fifth tribe? Does it want to be a fifth tribe? This can be an interesting discussion – but a fifth tribe is surely better than a second people.

Still, there are complications. World Jews are no more a coherent group that Israeli Jews are – so maybe they should not be counted as a fifth tribe but rather be added to the four other tribes (three really: secular, Zionist religious and Haredi). Or maybe to include world Jews in this formulation of tribes there is a need to add more than a fifth tribe – maybe a fifth and a sixth and a seventh.

Also: to have world Jews counted as a tribe we must assume a partnership in something. This might be easier for the Jews, but can we add them to a partnership that includes Israeli Arabs? (it is of course possible: because world Jews and Arab Israelis share an interest in the success of Israel).

And there is the numerical issue to consider. There are eight million Israelis and about the same number of Jews in the rest of the world. Is it fair to count Israelis as four tribes – about two million strong each – and then count all other Jews as just one tribe – eight million strong?

One way or the other, a fifth tribe concept is something fresh to ponder, maybe as a little respite from endlessly talking about the unresolved issue of the Kotel.

6.

As for Iran, note that Rivlin agrees with Netanyahu – and he agrees with President Trump.

How the GA Can Fix the Jewish World


Photo from Facebook.

Jewish professionals and volunteers will gather next week in Los Angeles for the GA, The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. They will convene under the somewhat vague headline “Venture Further.”

Further to where? This is probably a matter for debate, but the slogan conveys a clear sentiment: What we have now is a transitional phase. Our job is to carve a course that will move us forward “into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy and our community.”

The future of “our community.” Here is something to think about: Is “our community” the North American Jewish community or the whole of the Jewish world? Clearly, in talking about a specific community, as large as it might be, there is also a need to keep an eye on other communities, as no Jewish community is an island. The future of “our community” must consider the future of the community that it not “our community,” but someone else’s.

In this spirit, and before this special annual occasion of discussion — where I will be a speaker this year — I would like to briefly suggest a simple framework for understanding the state of the Jewish world, and, hence, the test we must pass as we attempt to venture further. I know, many of the things I am about to write are obvious. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the obvious, as not to drown in a conversation about marginal or irrelevant matters.

So, here it is:

The Jewish world rests mainly on two pillars: North America and Israel. These two pillars have different characteristics that occasionally put them at odds, and this has been especially true over the past couple of months. Their main challenges are quite simple: For Israel, it is physical survival; for North America, it is cultural survival.

Israel is located in a problematic and dangerous area, it is small, it is surrounded by people who want to see it gone. All other problems — and of course it has other problems — pale in comparison. Keeping Jews alive, in a Jewish state, is the main concern of Israel. As for culture, most worries are exaggerated: A long process of communal design eventually will produce an Israeli-Jewishness.

Jews in North America are physically secure. Their country is the most powerful on earth (I know, North America also includes Canada, Mexico and other countries). The challenge they face is cultural. They need a Jewish culture that can be preserved in a modern world, and an open society, where they are a small minority. They need it to be intense and meaningful enough to survive the expected erosion of a minority culture in a majority society.

That’s it. That’s the challenge for “our community.”

Can Israel overcome the challenge? I hope it can. To succeed, it must be strong, realistic, sober, battle ready, tough. And since this is Israel’s main challenge, it would be nice if the Jews of North America would attempt to assist Israel in this arena — even as they attempt to advance the other causes they have in mind for Israel.

Can North American Jews overcome the challenge? I hope they can. To succeed, they must strengthen their communal institutions, invest in education and find a way to have a “community” that means more than a group of people who have Jewish ancestry. And because this is their main challenge, it would be nice if Israel would assist them — even it is not always convenient, politically or otherwise.

The first step in using this formula to venture further is not to deny its validity: There are many who argue that Israel has issues larger than security, that it is about to lose its Jewish soul. These people, although right to identify some problems in need of addressing, are diverting us from prioritizing our policies in the right order. There are also many who argue that the Jews of North America have issues more important than reinvigorating their Jewish culture — fighting the alt-right, or correcting Israel’s course, or whatever. These people, while right to identify some problems in need of addressing, are diverting us from prioritizing our policies in the proper order.

Simplicity is key: Israel needs to bolster its security — the rest will take care of itself. North American Jews need to bolster their culture — the rest will take care of itself.

As to how to achieve these two goals? That is what the GA is for.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Will Trump Recertify the Iran Deal? It Doesn’t Matter


On Oct. 15, President Donald Trump will again accept the reality of a signed nuclear deal with Iran — or won’t.

Conflicting reports concerning his intentions confuse not only the media, they also confuse the governments involved in the deal. The Germans don’t know what Trump will do. The Russians don’t know. The Iranians don’t know. The Americans — yes, even those in Trump’s own government — are among the uninformed.

Asked in a recent interview if he had decided to pull the United States out of the deal, Trump responded with a vague “I won’t say that.” Maybe to maintain the mystery? Maybe because he hasn’t made up his mind?

The periodic certification of the Iran deal by the president is not a part of the deal with Iran. It is a requirement by Congress. So the Iranians don’t much care what the president reports to Congress; what they care about is the possible action by Congress after a negative report. They worry about new sanctions, and threaten to retaliate if such sanctions materialize. They worry about new demands, and clarify, for example, that demands to limit Iran’s missile program were not part of the deal.

The Iranians have a point. This wasn’t the deal. As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, explained in a New York Times op-ed: “It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns.”

Indeed, it was clear. It was clear to Iran, and that’s why it decided to sign the deal. It was clear to President Barack Obama’s administration, which ignored all other aspects of Iran’s problematic policies as it rushed to make a deal. It was clear to all critics of the deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, that was a main reason they opposed the deal.

What happens if Trump declines to recertify the deal? Nothing happens unless Congress acts. And if Congress acts, a lot depends on how it acts. Even more depends on how Iran responds to how Congress acts. And then, on how the U.S. responds to Iran’s response.

In other words: It doesn’t much matter if the Trump administration does or doesn’t certify the deal before Congress. The only thing that matters — and this was true before the deal was signed as it is true today — is the level of resolve on the part of the international community, or of countries such as the U.S., to prevent Iran from advancing its strategic objectives, such as having nuclear capabilities.

In other words, not much will change if Trump decides not to recertify the deal. What matters is whether Trump has a plan for how to thwart Iran’s malicious intentions or whether he has resolved to prioritize thwarting Iran’s malicious intentions.

When the U.S. decided to accept the deal, it was trying to ensure Iran didn’t turn nuclear on Obama’s watch. The administration was kicking the hot Iran potato to some future president’s court. Declining to recertify the deal, without having the aforementioned resolve and plan, isn’t much different. Trump, by not certifying the deal or by asking Congress to toughen the law overseeing Iran’s compliance with the deal (as Bloomberg reported), will be tossing the hot Iran potato to Congress — a body ill-equipped to make foreign policy. He will make sure that if Iran keeps moving toward achieving its objectives, he will not be the one to take the blame.

Of course, there is a symbolic significance to the way Trump handles the matter. And the fact remains that refusing to recertify the deal could be the ignition of a process aimed at curbing Iran’s belligerent behavior. But as Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren explained in his op-ed in The New York Times, “if canceled, the deal must be replaced by crippling sanctions that force Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capacity.” Canceling — without replacing the deal with something better — will not serve any goal.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Re’eh with Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss


Our guest this week is Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD. Rabbi Weiss was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from the High School for Performing Arts in Manhattan, where she majored in the Dramatic Arts. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. Rabbi Weiss received her Master’s degree and her Rabbinical Ordination at HUC-JIR in New York. Rabbi Weiss served for four years as Assistant/Associate Rabbi at Temple Shalom in Naples, Florida. While in Florida she was a “PEER” fellow in the STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) Executive Leadership Program, 2008-09. Rabbi Weiss currently serves as the President of the Washington Board of Rabbis.

In this Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) – Moses continues speaking to the people of Israel right before he passes away and before they cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. Moses asks them to recite certain blessings and curses on Mount Grizzim and Mount Ebal after they enter Israel. He demands that they destroy all remnants of idolatry from the Promised Land and asks them to choose a city which will host the Holy Temple. The Parasha also discusses false prophets, kashrut, the sabbatical year and charity. Our discussion focuses on the imperative to “open your hand,” “not harden your heart” and “lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need.”

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Va’etchanan with Rabbi Dresdner


Our guest this week is Rabbi Sruli Dresdner. Rabbi Dresdner received Rabbinic Ordination
from Dean Rabbi Yitzchak Wasserman, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Judaic Studies
from the Denver Talmudic Seminary in 1982. He graduated from Fordham Law School. He
clerked for The Honorable Howard Buschman III, and spent the next few years at the
prestigious Wall Street firm, Dewey Ballantine, before opening his own practice.
Over fifteen years ago, Dresdner returned to Jewish life full time as a Klezmer musician and
Jewish educator, in addition to serving as High-Holiday Cantor and substitute Rabbi at the
West Clarkstown Jewish Center in New City, NY.  Today he is the rabbi of Temple Shalom Synagogue Center in Auburn, Maine.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) – continues to
present Moses’ review of the Torah. Moses tells how he implored God to let him into the
Promised Land and how God refused. He recounts the story of the Exodus from Egypt,
declaring it an unprecedented event in human history. He predicts how in the future the
people of Israel will sin, worship other gods, get exiled, and return to obey the lord outside
the Promised Land. The portion also includes a repetition of the Ten Commandments and of  the verses of the Shema.

 

Previous Talks about Va’etchanan:
– with Rabbi Gary Pokras
– with Rabbi Terry Bookman
– with Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

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