September 23, 2018

What Trump Wants from the Palestinians

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

There is no agreement within the Trump government on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian arena. There is a dispute, and it is not yet clear how the president will decide whether and when a decision is made. Understanding the disagreement is necessary for understanding some of the president’s latest moves against the Palestinian leadership, including cutting aid funds and announcing the closure of the mission in Washington. Understanding the dispute is necessary to assess the likelihood that one day, if and when, similar American pressure will be exerted on Israel as well.

The dispute can be briefly explained as follows:

There are those in the Trump government who believe that the latest steps are a lever for exerting pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. This is the official position of the administration, and also the position of some government officials. They want the Palestinians at the table, want to present a plan that will benefit, in their understanding, the people of Israel, the Palestinians and the Middle East. They want to crack the unceasing walnut and amaze the world with the deal of the century. In the eyes of these officials, the announcement of the closure of the Palestinian delegation is a tactical step. A reversible step. Come to the table, negotiate, accept the American proposal, and open the mission.

There are also those in the Trump administration who believe that the latest steps are a way to signal to the world the President’s real intention: a fundamental change in the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian arena. In their opinion, closing the mission is not a tactical step of pressure, but a strategic step in keeping with the recognition of Jerusalem and the transfer of the American embassy to the capital of Israel. In fact, they say, the administration’s steps, including these last steps, should be seen as punitive measures, reflective of its overall position on the issue of Palestine.

There is a degree of consistency in the claim of those who expand: The transfer of the embassy, ​​as the president said, has brought the issue of Jerusalem off the table. UNRWA’s budget cut promises to reduce the problem of Palestinian refugees on the table. The closing of the mission in Washington foreshadows the removal of the Palestinian state from the table. Each step is well tuned to one of the core issues that prevent progress. Every step signals to the Palestinians that whatever happened, Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, and the Palestinians cannot prevent this with endless refusal. The refugees, who are mainly descended from refugees, will not return anywhere. They will have to recognize reality and be absorbed somewhere. As for the Palestinian state, this, as a senior official has said in the past, depends on the question of “how to define a state.” It would certainly be nothing more than a state minus. And perhaps only autonomy plus. Or a component in the Kingdom of Jordan. Either way, this is an entity that does not have to have representation in Washington.

The gap between the tactical approach and the substantive approach is a deep one. According to his public statements, the president is in the tactical camp – he is applying pressure in order to renew negotiations. According to his actions, he may be a member of the substantive camp – he is taking measures that will only make the likelihood of negotiations more distant, and raise the conflict on a new path of consciousness. Of course, there is also a possibility that the president does not care. Either way, he’s doing something, and it’s the reverse of what was done by the previous president, which irritates those he likes to upset. And there is a possibility that the president is tempted to take substantial steps under the guise of tactical measures. If this is the case, the maneuver is only possible thanks to the dedicated cooperation of the Palestinian leadership, which refuses to examine the seriousness of Trump’s intentions and has declared them irrelevant.

The president has a little more than two years. It’s a long time, a lot can happen. For a short time, it is hard to see how it will suffice to change an ancient conflict. If the Palestinians are right in their assessment, the president will go, and in his place will come another president, perhaps a Democrat. An important article by Clare Malone on FiveThirtyEight published this week shows that Americans, Republicans and Democrats, are tired of candidates willing to compromise or soften. They are looking for political purity. This is convenient for Israel when a Republican president strikes at the Palestinian leadership. It will be much less convenient when a Democratic president recognizes that his voters’ desire is to strike Israel.

 

Blogging 101 – Happy Anniversary

I wrote my very first blog for the Jewish Journal on July 9th, 2009. It is hard to believe I have been sharing my life here for nine years. When I started my son had just had his Bar Mitzvah, which was the catalyst that got this blog started. Charlie becoming a man changed how he viewed me, and how he viewed our life together. He turned 13 and immediately became concerned with taking care of me. I had been a single parent since he was a baby, and he felt his Bar Mitzvah marked a change in our relationship. He was going to be the man in my life.

He was very vocal about being worried about my being alone. At 13 he was looking ahead to a day he would be grown up and moving out, and he didn’t want me to be alone. He had a well thought out conversation with me, explaining that I needed to find a good man. He had clear ideas about what type of man it should be, and did not hesitate to share his opinions with me. It was sweet and kind and lovely. It was also daunting, intimidating, and stressful. There was now a clock ticking for me to find love and so I started to not only date, but blog all about it. I never could have known it would last this long, and am surprised it has.

There were good dates, bad dates, and nightmare dates. There was hope, love, and heartache. I have learned a lot about myself during the life of this blog. I became a better mother, a more grounded Jew, and an increasingly vocal liberal. By sharing my opinions about things, and inviting people into my life with Charlie, I discovered I was a great mother, and a decent and kind human being. I am a survivor of many things and have written with bravery and freedom. There is nothing about my life I have not shared here, and that is both empowering and scary.

I have often referred to this blog as a love letter to my son, and it really is. I have written with sometimes painful honesty about my life. I have no regrets about anything I have shared and am blessed beyond measure to have had people share their stories in return. I have built a family here of people who have become my teachers, friends, advocates, protectors, and cheerleaders. I have received real love and unbelievable hate. At the end of the day the good always outweighed the bad, and I know how lucky I am to have this platform.

Thank you to the Jewish Journal. They have encouraged me to share without fear. Rob Eshman is my hero and I will forever be grateful to him for bringing me on board. David Suissa is my celebrity crush and inspires me to write. My writing brings David headaches with demands to fire me. Important to note that every time I say Trump has dementia and his supporters are morons, there is a call to fire me, which only makes me want to mention Trump is a loser and his inbred supporters are garbage every time I write, even if the blog is not at all about Trump.

As I begin my 10th year with the Jewish Journal I am hopeful that this will be my last year. I have said I would write this blog until I found real love and got married again. I honestly thought that day would have come long before now, and thought I was close a couple of times, but here I am. Charlie is now 22 and currently on vacation in Japan. He calls me every day, and video chats me from places he thinks I would like to see. Yesterday we looked in amazement at the bamboo forest, walked along the flooded river, and fed monkeys and deer. I am truly blessed.

Thank you to my son, who is the love of my life and the most incredible person I know. Thank you for letting me write this blog and share our lives Charlie. You are an amazing young man and I am proud of you. Keeping the Faith is for you. I love you. To my readers, there are no words to properly express my thanks to you. You have held my hand for nine years and I am grateful for all of you. You make me laugh, wipe my tears, and embrace my voice. Thank you for reading and thank you for reminding me to count my blessing while keeping the faith.

 

My Immigration to America

When my son was a baby he went to daycare. I was a single parent who had to work, so while it broke my heart to not be able to stay home with him, I found the best possible daycare I could, and went to work. He did well and thrived with the lovely women who took care of him. It was very hard on me, but not so much for him as he was only six months old and unaware he was in daycare. One day when Charlie was a little shy of two however, I took him to daycare and he was not having it. He had what can only be described as a catastrophic meltdown.

I tried to calm him down, they tried to calm him down, and before long we were both crying and inconsolable. The owner of the daycare came and tried to help, but it was a mess. After about 20 minutes they literally had to peel him out of my arms. He looked at me while screaming his head off, calling for me, and his eyes begging me not to go. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and spent the next hour talking to the owner of the daycare, telling her I was going to quit my job and Charlie would not be back. She told me it would be fine and said I should go to work.

There were no camera phones or video chatting back then, so I just had to leave, not able to see him or he would have lost it again. I waited out of sight for another two hours until he stopped crying. I then went to work and cried for the rest of the day. I could hear the seconds ticking away in my head like a time bomb until I was able to go get him. The recollection of that day for this blog makes me cry. I cry for my young self, newly divorced and raising a baby on my own, and I cry for all the mothers and fathers at the borders who are having their babies ripped away.

I had nightmares of my son screaming for a long time, and he was home with me. Imagine what the mothers and fathers at the borders are feeling not knowing where their children are. What are the children thinking while they are alone, on concrete floors, in cages, without their parents? It breaks my heart. I am devastated by what is happening at our border. Devastated as a mother and as an immigrant. I have been an immigrant 3 times in my life. Once when my parents left Israel after the war for England, and again when my family moved to Canada to build a life for us.

The third time was when I immigrated to the United States at the age of 24 to start my life over after surviving a violent crime. Important to note that I came here for vacation and never left. I stayed illegally for a year. Because I was from Canada, nobody batted an eyelash. I lived here in Los Angeles, worked illegally for cash under the table at a doctor’s office, and nobody ever asked me a single question. I then got engaged, got married, and was issued a Green Card. It was easy because of where I came from. I blended in and  would do it all again to have left Canada when I did.

I understand why these people are risking their lives to escape from their homelands. I understand it, and frankly I support it. I believe people should be able to start over in a place that is safe and welcoming. I would do the same thing if it meant I could give my child a safe place to grow up and pursue his dreams. As for the people who say they are all dangerous killers and rapists who are taking our jobs, I can only shake my head and feel sorry for you at the same time I want to punch you in the face. Trump and his cold, heartless cult followers are crazy.

I am embarrassed by this administration. I am worried about the people who are being detained. I want to welcome every single child waiting to be reunited with their parents into my home for a hug, a bed, and simple kindness. I want to hug every parent who is praying to get the children back in the same way I was hugged at daycare. I want to understand how it is possible that people support this president and his dangerous and clearly failing mind. There but for the grace of God my friends. One of the blessings that comes with being blessed, is sharing your good fortune. As a county we should welcome people to share in our random good luck of being here already.

I’m guessing some dumbass Trump supporters will read this and contact the authorities to have me deported. It’s happened before and it will happen again. I find it quite entertaining. Almost 30 years ago I was an illegal immigrant so if they want to come for me, come on. I’ll wait here for you. You can reach me at angel@jewishjournal.com. Oy to the vey with these people. We can do better America. We are better. The only shot in hell we have to turn this around is to vote. VOTE. My message to those who were lucky enough to build a life here, remember your journey and where your family came from. We are a nation built by immigrants. We are what makes America great, so use your voice to vote. Make the journey easier for those coming after us, so they can keep the faith.

Dating 101: The Trump Test

I cannot date a man who thinks Donald Trump is a good president. I simply cannot do it. I have tried, but at the end of the day it doesn’t work for me. Hands that voted for Trump do not deserve to touch my breasts. My boobs are fabulous, and Trump is a shmuck. Not happening. I can tell you I love this country. I am an immigrant who is living the American dream. My son was born here and I am blessed to call America home. My disgust for the president is about the man who is currently in the position, not the country. Donald Trump is truly dangerous.

This is not about my political views however. It is about my dating life. I am looking for my bashert. I believe he is out there and while some days I believe it more strongly than others, there is always hope. Remaining hopeful is the biggest struggle with dating because if you give up hope, you give up. I am currently dating online and in my profile I have written the following: Important to note that if there is anything about the current president that you are not offended by, we won’t be a match. It matters to me, so I put it out there.

Today I received an email from a man in Woodland Hills. He sent me the following note: what are you talking about? Trump is for Israel and Obama nor Hillary are. Trump moved US embassy to Israel on its 70th anniversary. Trump is for the Constitution. Hillary is not. How can you be against a president that recognizing enforcing the freedoms of the Constitution? Oy vey. Stupid is exhausting and I don’t have the time or patience to deal with someone this stupid. Does he think the US just put an embassy in Israel? I can’t.

I am trying to break old patterns when it comes to dating. I want to be happy and I am smart enough to know that I don’t know what my person will look like, or what he does for a living. I am looking for kindness, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and great sex. That’s my list and I am not willing to compromise on any of it. The Trump test is frankly pathetic, but necessary. I can’t respect a man who respects this president, and I’d rather be alone than with a Trump supporter. It is a blanket statement, but I am sticking to it.

I am writing this blog while I watch the new dating show The Proposal, which proves that my dating life is not that bad. The thirst is real and the desperation of some women is suffocating. It is also hilarious. At the end of the day it is a crap shoot and finding love can take a long time, but love and luck go together, so I hope I am lucky. The only thing I know for sure is that the man I fall in love with will not be a Trump supporter. To the charming man who wrote me today from Woodland Hills, I wish you well because life must be hard when you are so stupid. Bless your heart. I am laughing, hopeful, and keeping the faith.

A Haggadah for Every Taste

A family of my close acquaintance still uses the Maxwell House Haggadah at every seder. It’s a deeply familiar haggadah that originated as an effort by the coffee company to attract Jewish consumers. To address the concerns of Ashkenazi Jews whose Passover kashrut prohibits the consumption of beans, a rabbi was recruited to certify that the coffee bean is actually a berry and not a legume. But the Maxwell House Haggadah quickly earned an enduring place in Jewish-American culture.

“The iconic blue cover and dual-column Hebrew and English translations have arguably become almost as emblematic of the holiday as the seder plate and Elijah’s Cup among Jews of the Diaspora,” Anne Cohen wrote in the Forward. “It has appeared in the suitcases of Soviet immigrants bound for Israel, been carried onto every battlefield the U.S. military has fought on since 1933, and been the guest of honor at the Obamas’ White House seder.”

By contrast, the haggadah that I use at home is my own effort at samizdat (dissident activity). Thanks to the internet, my haggadah includes portions of the traditional liturgy but also “Go Down, Moses,” an African-American spiritual; a meditation on the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; and a heart-shaking piece by former Jewish Journal contributor Yehuda Lev on a Passover that he attended while smuggling Holocaust survivors to Palestine in 1947.

So the haggadah remains a genre of Jewish art and literature rather than a sacred text. With Passover upon us, here’s a selection of haggadot — new, recent and classic — that reflect the richness and diversity of our tradition.

“Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder’s Meaning Revealed, the Haggadah’s Story Retold” by Rabbi Nathan Laufer (Jewish Lights) is a unique resource for anyone who is honored with the task of conducting a seder. Laufer makes the point that the haggadah is not just a script to be read aloud. Rather, the seder is an opportunity for contemplation, debate and reminiscence. “Each year, as our family read the Haggadah,” the author explains, “we inevitably segued into my family’s personal stories of survival and liberation from the Nazi concentration camps.” The cup set aside for Elijah, he says, was the only family heirloom that was recovered after World War II and now serves as a “cup of survival, hope and redemption.” At the same time, Laufer expands on and explains the subtext and symbolism of the traditional haggadah, thus addressing the fact that the haggadah asks far more questions than it answers. That’s why Laufer’s commentary is a good book to read in advance of Passover, but it’s even more useful at the seder table itself.

The newest haggadah is actually a book of political humor in disguise, and the joke starts in its title, “The Trump Passover Haggadah: People All The Time They Come Up And Tell Me This Is The Best Haggadah They’ve Ever Read, They Do, Believe Me” by New Yorker contributor Dave Cowan (Amazon). “I don’t know if Haggadahs were once great, and they started not being great at some point,” Trump is made to say. “Think of Trump’s Haggadah as a big play, and divide up the speaking parts amongst your guests, and you’ll re-live the greatness of Trump’s Seder.” Everyone from Melania Trump to Bernie Sanders has something to say. This book is certain to liven up any seder — if it does not result in a brawl among the Trumpers and the Never-Trumpers at your table.

Another new Haggadah with a political agenda is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder” is a publication of The Shalom Center and is downloadable without charge from the website theshalomcenter.org, although a donation of $18 is suggested.  It is authored by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who introduced the first “Freedom Seder” in the 1960s and now directs The Shalom Center, and is “woven” from three strands — the traditions of Passover, the “echoes of Passover in the Christian Holy Week” and the writings of King. The goal is to connect the ancient story of resistance to Pharoah and the continuing story of resistance to racism, materialism, militarism and sexism in America right now.” Significantly, and not surprisingly, this updated version of the “Freedom Seder” ends not with “Next Year in Jerusalem” but with “We Shall Overcome.”

Here’s a selection of haggadot — new, recent and classic — that reflect the richness and diversity of our tradition.

One sign that the haggadah remains a vigorous literary genre is the fact that an assortment of Jewish authors have tried their hands at haggadot of their own over the past few years. “New American Haggadah,” edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translations from Hebrew by Nathan Englander (Little Brown) — both of them authentic literary luminaries — is both a full-featured haggadah and, at the same time, a fresh and elevating experience. “We are not merely telling a story here,” they explain. “We are being called to a radical act of empathy.” By contrast, Dave Barry (“He is not Jewish, although many of his friends are”), Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach offer a parody in “For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them” (Flatiron Books). “We look forward to celebrating Passover for many years to come,” goes the blessing over the Fourth Cup, “until we have to gum the matzoh for fifteen minutes before we can swallow it, which we will do because it reminds us of something, although by that point we will probably not remember what.”

Perhaps the most counter-intuitive haggadah is “The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah” by Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg (BSD), which makes highly inventive use of the Harry Potter saga. For Jewish readers who recall the stern words of Deuteronomy (“There shall not be found among you … a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard…”), the conjuring up of the most famous graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry may be off-putting. Be assured, however, that the author is a pulpit rabbi with a lively imagination and a gift for catching and holding the interest of Harry Potter fans as he guides them safely to the traditional Jewish values and observances of Passover.


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

Taylor Force Act Signed Into Law As Part of Spending Bill

Screenshot from Twitter.

The Taylor Force Act was signed into law on Mar. 23, as it was included in the $1.3 trillion spending bill to fund the government.

President Trump officially signed the spending bill in a signing ceremony, stating that while he had multiple reservations about the overall bill, it needed to be signed for the defense spending.

When the bill passed the Senate on Mar. 22, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the authors of the Taylor Force Act, hailed the law as “one of the most significant pieces of legislation I’ve been involved with.”

“The powerful message from the Force family, along with effort from the pro-Israel community led by Sander Gerber, have made this possible,” Graham said.

The Taylor Force Act, named after the United States veteran who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, ends funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until they stop providing financial incentives for Palestinian to commit acts of terror against Jews.

“The Taylor Force Act was made possible in part due to the work of two of the IAC’s biggest supporters — Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson – representing both sides of the aisle to promote this important legislation,” the Israeli-American Coalition (IAC) for Action said in a statement. “Despite their political differences on some other issues, Mr. Saban and Mr. Adelson worked hand-in-hand to promote broad bipartisan support for this bill and prevent American taxpayer dollars from continuing to subsidize terror.”

Additionally, AIPAC lauded the bill for giving $3.1 billion to Israel for security assistance, $705.8 million for “missile defense cooperation” between Israel and the U.S. and $47.5 million to help Israel fight against Hamas’ use of tunnels for terror.

As the Journal has previously reported, the PA provided $347 million to Palestinian terrorists and their families in 2017, giving them well beyond what the average Palestinian earns per month if they murder Jews. The U.S. gave the PA $357 million in 2016.

Dating 101: Three Strikes

In the never ending madness that is my dating life, I’ve been asked out by three men this week, and it is only Thursday. It would be fair to assume the odds are in my favor for at least one of them to be worthy of meeting for a cocktail, but when you remember it is MY dating life we are talking about, you must know that each man was stranger than the one before him, and I struck out three times.

Man #1 is 54 years old, Jewish, divorced, and estranged from his three grown children. He is coming out of a long term relationship with a woman who has a young child. When I asked how long it had been since they broke up, he said he was actually in the process of moving out of the home they shared. He was at their house when we spoke, taking out her garbage. Dear Lord, I simply can’t.

He assured me that even though they technically still lived together, he was moving out and their relationship was long over. I quickly realized he mentioned her a lot, so I started to count. For the next three minutes he referred to his not-really-ex-girlfriend by name 26 times. He then explained that in the interest of full disclosure, he wanted me to know he voted for Trump, and would do it again.

His living situation was no longer the grossest thing about him. This man is a personal mess and a political nightmare. No good can ever come from dating that combination. We ended our conversation and that was the end of that, which brings me to man #2. This man let me know he had been divorced for three years, but was still living with his ex-wife. They have four kids, one of them still at home.

Rather than disrupt her life, they agreed to live together until she went to college, which would be this fall. He assured me I didn’t need to worry about dating him, because they had a system in place. She slept in one room, he slept in another, and they took turns dating on weekends. To clarify, they alternated weekends at the house so they could both pursue fulfilling sex lives with other people.

On his weekend at the house, his ex-wife and daughter sleep at her parent’s home. Then when it is her weekend, he goes to his mother’s house with his daughter. Really? How can this be a thing? I think this is going to screw up that kid in worse ways than a divorce would. I don’t want to judge, and everyone should do what works for their family, but I’m going to have to say no on this one. No.

Man #3 is 58 years old, not Jewish, educated, handsome, and the father of five kids. Important to note he has never been married and his five kids have four different mothers. Interesting fact, two of the kids were born sixteen days apart. Yup. His kids range in age from 8 to 36, and he would really like to have more. Fun fact: he has two grandchildren who are older than his youngest children.

I don’t have any women in my life who would find his story attractive, but bless him for sharing it so proudly. Ugh. I have struck out without ever having even made it to bat. All I can do is laugh because at the end of the day it is funny. There is someone for everyone though, so I’m sure all three of these men will find love. I’ve got 20 bucks that says they will all find it before I do, which is hilarious.

I find my dating life to be very entertaining, which is a good thing or I may want to impale myself. One day my prince will come and the only things I am certain of, are that he won’t live with his ex-wife, have multiple kids from multiple women, or think Donald Trump is anything other than garbage. So until my bashert finds me, I will continue to be entertained and remain hopeful, while keeping the faith.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses Western Wall, Iran and more

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared via satellite at the JFNA General Assembly. Courtesy of JFNA/Jeffrey Lamont Brown.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin discussed the controversial decision of the Israeli government to freeze the implementation of the Western Wall agreement; President Donald Trump’s decision to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, which Israel was opposed to when it was authorized during the Obama administration; Israel’s improved relationships with its Middle Eastern neighbors and more during the final day of the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2017 General Assembly.

JFNA Chair Richard Sandler conducted the interview with Netanyahu, who appeared from Israel via satellite, on Nov. 14. The GA was held at the JW Marriott hotel at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles.

More than 3,000 people attended.

Here is a transcript of the interview, or you can watch the interview here. The section with Netanyahu begins at the 1:17:47 mark.

Richard Sandler (RS):  Mr. Prime Minister, in January of 2016 much of our audience here today celebrated the resolution the government passed regarding the pluralistic prayer space at the Kotel. And then as we know last June the government froze the implementation. Yesterday at the GA we passed a resolution requesting the Kotel resolution be implemented. So can you please share with us the present status of the resolution and what do we tell those in our community who feel that as Reform or Conservative Jews they may not be fully welcome in Israel?

Benjamin Netanyahu (BN): First of all, you are fully welcome. Israel is the home of all Jews and it must remain so. I took on the issue of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall because I strongly believe all Jews, without exception, should feel at home in Israel.

Now, Richard, you know very well I didn’t have to deal with this; I could have left it to the courts, to the Knesset, but it is vitally important to me, personally. What the government froze in June are only the most ideologically-charged elements of the Western Wall plan. They were holding up the practical elements hostage.

So as many of you know there has been a pluralistic prayer space in the Western Wall, in the Kotel, for almost 20 years. The 2016 decision wasn’t to create prayer space; it was to improve the existing space. We are moving forward with construction to do just that, and I hope, and I am working to make sure that this happens, that you will see the improved prayer space before the next GA [in Tel-Aviv in 2018]. I am working to move forward on solutions for other issues as well.

Here is the thing that guides me—this is true from the time of Ben-Gurion, who as Israel’s first prime minster was faced with this dilemma, how to deal with the conflicting views of religion and the state, and what he articulated then is something that basically all prime ministers have done and I have done as well—you remember also with the issue of conversion, this is this principal: religious status quo issues have always been resolved as the result of evolution, and not revolution.

So, despite the disagreements, despite I have to say a lot of distortions and despite the at-times disparaging remarks about me and my government, I remain committed to moving forward. I believe that the Jewish people are all one family. I believe that Israel is the home of all Jews and that all Jews should have access and prayer in the Kotel.

RS: Now that President Trump has decertified the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] what is in Israel’s best interest and what would we like to see happen next?

BN: Well, for me the bottom line hasn’t changed, Richard. We must ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, doesn’t achieve that. On the contrary after about a decade it will leave Iran able to produce hundreds of nuclear weapons in a very short time because the deal rescinds all limitations on Iran’s enrichment capacity. They can have hundreds of thousands of centrifuges, and they plan to.

I want to thank President Trump and his administration for the current American Iran policy. I also want to thank Ambassador Haley for the strong support given for Israel at the U.N.

What President Trump has done is create an opportunity to address the deal’s flaws and in my view I don’t particularly care about the deal. I don’t care if you keep it or you remove it. But you have to correct it either by fixing it or nixing it.

I’ve been speaking to world leaders around the world actually, and I’ve encouraged them to take advantage of this opportunity. Now the question is why is Iran so dangerous? It’s dangerous because of its fanatical ideology of global conquest, its growing power, its unflagging commitment to destroy Israel, its unvarnished aggression.

Iran has already spread bloody conflict across the Middle East – in Yemen; Iraq; in Syria; in Lebanon – and we are far from alone in recognizing the Iranian threat to the Middle East. I believe that the leading Arab countries—Saudi Arabia; the Emirates; many of our Arab neighbors—see things exactly as we do, and I think they’re right.

Now Iran is scheming to entrench itself military in Syria. They want to create a permanent air, land and sea military presence with a declared intent of using Syria as a base from which to destroy Israel. We’re not going to agree to that. I’ve said very clearly: Israel will work to stop this, and we must all work together to stop Iran’s aggression, its worldwide campaign of terror and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I think if we stand together we are going to achieve it, but I’ve always said if we have to we will stand alone. Iran will not get nuclear weapons. It will not turn Syria into a military base against us.

RS: I read recently in U.S. News and World Report where Israel was ranked the eighth most powerful country in the world. And thinking about the 70 years of all the pressures and all the distractions Israel has been put under, how do you do it?

BN: It begins with a simple reality that we understand. In our area, and it’s a very, very tough neighborhood, the weak don’t survive. The strong survive. We look around us and see entire nations being wiped out. People massacred tragically. So you have to be strong, and there are basically three powers that we are all the time nurturing. The first power, you would be surprised, you’d think it is military power and it is, but it is very expensive. We nurture the Israeli army, we’re very grateful for the support, the continued support of the United States, and I am very happy I signed with President Obama the MOU for 10-year support for Israel, $38 billion, it helps, but believe me 85-percent of our budget, our military budget, has to come from Israel. And where do you get that? Well you get it from a strong economy, that’s the other power we’re developing.

And, you know, there is a great genius in our people but for too long it was shackled, it was really not allowed to burst out because we had a very controlled economy. So I’ve been working very hard over the past 20 years to liberate, liberalize our economy and it has produce a tremendous economic success.

Now you take our military and intelligence prowess, which all nations need. Our intelligence, because Israel has stopped dozens and dozens of terrorist attacks, in dozens and dozens of countries. We share that intelligence with our friends and with many countries that are not our friends but we want to stop attacks like Barcelona or Paris or the other horrors that you see, and we have. So nations want to partner with us, for intelligence or for technology. They want more milk for the cows; guess which country has the most milk per cow? It’s an Israeli cow, you know that.

Or they want solar energy. Or they want clean water.  Or they want cherry tomatoes — it’s ours too. Anything you can imagine. Autonomous vehicles. Israel has this dual prowess of technology and security and we combine that to get an unprecedented diplomatic flourish. We now have diplomatic power because many countries, many, many countries around the world, are coming to Israel, in fact some of them are standing in line – I was in Africa, twice in a year, I was in Latin America. It’s unbelievable. Can you imagine? I am the first Israeli Prime Minister to have visited a country south of the United States in the western hemisphere in 70 years. It is a tremendous change. And by the way, Mexico should be congratulated. Mexico has just decided to vote against 10 anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N., and I think they deserve your applause.

So these three powers – our economic power, our military power, our diplomatic power – give Israel great presence and great capacity to defend ourselves but they all rest on one other power – our spiritual power. Our strength as a fighter of democracy, as a society anchored in our heritage but always seeking the future, our strength is what creates greatest chances for peace, because you don’t make peace with the weak; you make peace with the strong and the threat of Iran has done one good thing: It’s brought us closer than ever to our neighbors, creating new opportunities for peace and I think you will be hearing more about that in the future.

RS: That’s a perfect segue to my last question. As you think about Israel today, what makes you the most proud?

BN: I’m most proud of the rebirth of the Jewish people through the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty. Remember that for thousands of years Jews wandered around the globe. We were homeless, we were voiceless, we were defenseless, and today the Jewish people have returned to our ancestral homeland, and today Israel is capable of defending itself, by itself, against any threat. Today we have a voice and we need to raise that voice,

I’m also proud Israel is an open society, a free society, an island of liberal democracy in a sea of terror. We have free speech, a free press, minority LGBT rights, everything, we have an Arab Supreme Court Justice, a Druze minister who I appointed in my government; female generals; gay members of Knesset. This is what a vibrant and diverse society looks like. I’m proud we have created an open economy that as I told you before has unleashed the ingenuity of our people, our capacity for innovation; I’m proud that Israel has helped thousands of Syrian civilians injured in the war.

Now I just saw the pictures of the destruction in Iran and Iraq following this week’s earthquake. I saw these heartbreaking images of men, women and children buried under the rubble. I’m proud to announce tonight that a few hours ago I directed that we offer the Red Cross medical assistance for the Iraqi and Iranian victims of this disaster. Now you heard me right. We have no quarrel with the people of Iran. Our quarrel is only with the tyrannical regime that holds them hostage and threatens our destruction. But our humanity is greater than their hatred. Israel continues to be a light unto the nations. This is what I am proud of, and all of you can be proud of, of Israel’s morals and Israel’s might.

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.

Garcetti denounces Trump plan to end DACA at AJC event

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking at an AJC event on immigration. Photo by Howard Pasamanick

Inside Wilshire Boulevard Temple on Sept. 5, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti denounced President Donald Trump’s decision announced earlier that day to rescind protections for children brought into the U.S. illegally, saying, “This is a day — a dark day — for this nation and for the city.”

Outside, left-leaning groups accused the mayor of not doing enough to protect those children.

“What do we want? Sanctuary! When do we want it? Now!” came the chants from a coalition that included Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, Ground Game L.A. and Democratic Socialists of America.

The event inside the synagogue, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), had been scheduled before the announcement of Trump’s decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration initiative.

Addressing an audience of about 100, including some who turned their backs to  him, Garcetti said he was disappointed in the Trump decision, calling it “un-American.”

But the mayor’s remarks were insufficient for the protesters outside.

“We are here because Mayor Garcetti, Police Chief (Charlie) Beck and Sheriff (Jim) McDonnell have had a history of talking big about how they are protecting immigrants without having the policy to back up some of their stances,” said Meghan Choi, a lead organizer with Ground Game L.A., a grass-roots civic engagement organization.

Actions like the protest outside the synagogue are becoming more common across the country, Steven Windmueller, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, whose expertise includes American- Jewish political behavior, told the Journal.

“I am detecting over the past eight months, a ‘radicalization’ of the left in opposition to the current administration, contributing to the further rise of socialists, anarchists and others, who I would describe as ‘rejectionists’ opposed to the President and his policies, but also unhappy with the Democratic Party,” Windmueller wrote in an email.

Trump’s decision, announced hours before the AJC event, gave Congress six months to develop a permanent solution for the 800,000 young adults, sometimes referred to as Dreamers, who currently qualify for protection under DACA.

Garcetti, who is of Latino-Jewish ancestry, said the decision to phase out DACA was personal, given his family’s history of coming to the United States illegally.

“We didn’t have the term back then, but my grandfather, Salvador, was a Dreamer, carried over the border by my bisabuela, great-grandmother,” he said.

At times raising his voice, Garcetti called on Congress to pass legislation that would codify DACA protections. He specifically mentioned Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who have expressed support for Dreamers but have not pushed for legislation to permanently legalize their status.

“Thanks for the words,” Garcetti said, “but it is time for Congress to act.

“Let us explode the myth of those who want to divide us and want us to divide each other,” he said. “We can’t afford that. We can’t afford to yell at one another, and we can’t afford to buy into the myths.”

Hours before the synagogue event, the AJC released a statement condemning the president’s action against DACA.

“Dismantling DACA is a devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of young people who have benefited from the program — and who have in turn contributed to communities across the country in which they live,” Richard Fotlin, the AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, said in the statement.

In addition to Garcetti, the AJC event featured a panel that included Sheriff McDonnell; Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Horace Frank; and Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Cindy Chang. Dan Schnur, director of the AJC’s Los Angeles region, moderated.

The panel also discussed how law enforcement and immigrant communities can maintain trust with one another. That issue is at the core of a state Senate bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from sharing data for immigration enforcement purposes.

LeBron, Merkel. Netanyahu, Trump. On false comparisons of leaders

President Donald Trump, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on May 22. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Every person has something in common with every other person. Richard Nixon had ears, Che Guevara had ears. Does this make Nixon and Guevara alike? They were, and they weren’t. Both were leaders, both were controversial. Both were born and died in the twentieth century.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and LeBron James are also alike in some ways. Both of them project power and determination. Both are leaders of the groups to which they belong. For Merkel, it is the Christian Democratic Union, her political party. For James it is the Cleveland Cavaliers, his basketball team. Both are leaders of not just their groups but also of their field. She is the most dominant German politician of the decade. He is the most dominant player of the decade.

Still, we are not used to comparing Guevara and Nixon, Merkel and James. But we are used to compare U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. David Rothkopf is among the latest in a long list of pundits, activists and politicians, to compare these two, beginning with a description of Netanyahu:

“His former top aides have said that he is unfit for office. He is surrounded by a swirl of scandal. His family is not helping matters, with crazy statements that are intended to be supportive but just make matters worse. He is dependent on the far right and is so politically vulnerable that he is making decisions that put his entire country at risk. He has targeted groups on the basis of religion and background, which could lead to great unrest”, Rothkopf wrote a few days ago, forgetting the ears and the eyes and the bizarre haircuts, forgetting that Netanyahu, like Trump, is a man born in the Forties.

Comparing Netanyahu and Trump is common, and thus merits scrutiny. Comparing Netanyahu and Trump is common mostly among people who dislike both, and thus merits suspicion.

Pollster James Zogby wrote that they have “a lot in common.” His main theme is about both of them being under investigation. Chemi Shalev compared the duo’s dislike of the news media: “the lethal enemy that Netanyahu is devoting his energy, his resources and his political capital to defeat -– you will know this already if you’ve been listening to Donald Trump –- is the Israeli media” when he called Netanyahu a “slick version” of Trump. Jeff Barak mentioned that “both men have been married three times, are not known for their religious piety or devotion and yet have nevertheless captured the heart of America’s evangelical Christian community.”

Examples of such comparisons are numerous and vary in content. But they all suffer from two similar traits that make them just a little more reliable than the Guevara-Nixon, Merkel-James comparisons.

  1. They use the facts that are highlighted selectively, while omitting inconveniences.
  2. They heavily rely on ideological evaluation masqueraded as fact.

Rothkopf will be the example I will use here to demonstrate this technique, because he is a wise and worthy writer. And I will begin by grouping some of his arguments according to the formula I just presented:

Selective facts, omission of others:

“[Netanyahu’s] former top aides have said that he is unfit for office.” Yes, some of them did (former National Security Advisor Uzi Arad), and others did not (former National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror). And many of those who did affiliate with other political camps, and, hence, are unlikely to appreciate his policies. And many of those who did were disappointed by Netanyahu’s decisions that affected their careers. They have personal motivations to denigrate him. More importantly, Israeli voters decided that Netanyahu is fit. They have decided it in four rounds of elections.

“His family is not helping matters.” Weighing the extent to which a family is a burden on a leader, or is helping him, is very complicated. Was Nancy Reagan helping Ronald Reagan or hurting him? Was Hillary Clinton helping Bill Clinton or hurting him (was he helping her when she run for office?). Netanyahu has a family. At times, the behavior of his family members is troubling. These are facts. The rest is assessment. And by the way: I am not sure why this family reminds Rothkopf the family of Trump. The way I see it, the family of Trump is the better part of his administration.

“He is dependent on the far right.” This is a common trick of left-leaning commentators: define all “right” as “far right” and paint your rival as an extremist. Netanyahu relies on the “right,” as is the habit of right wing politicians. If this makes him like Trump; it also makes him like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

“[T]argeted groups on the basis of religion and background.” This is total miscomprehension of Israel’s character. Netanyahu did target groups, but the “basis” was neither religion nor background. The basis was nationality, in the case of Arabs, and political affiliation, in the case of left wingers. Does this make him like Trump? Was Trump the one speaking about people “clinging to religion, guns, xenophobia”? As you might remember, it was Barack Obama. So yes, Netanyahu does target groups, and in many cases this habit of his is ugly and condemnable. Like the similar habit of many other politicians (to be fair to Obama, having used him as example, he did not target other groups as much as Netanyahu).

[B]oth he and Trump have underwater poll numbers.” This is just not true. Trump has underwater numbers, Netanyahu’s numbers are good enough to give him the next round of election.

Ideological evaluation dressed as fact: 

[S]o politically vulnerable that he is making decisions that put his entire country at risk

could lead to great unrest.” This is not true on several levels. First, Netanyahu is not politically vulnerable. Second, most Israelis believe that his decisions are better than most of the alternative suggestions, and, hence, the “putting at risk” part of this analysis is not fact; it’s assessment and not quite convincing. Third, I scratched my head to understand what “great unrest” Rothkopf foresees in Israel and am at a loss. There is no unrest, and scenarios leading to unrest are no more credible for Israel than they are for Belgium.

“[B]rought his country’s democracy to a moment of crisis.” Again, this is a very general statement of little meaning. What crisis? Israel has been dealing with many problems for the last 70 years. Its democracy is stable and functioning. Its institutions are solid. The only “crisis” I know of is the crisis of people dissatisfied with Israel’s policies and political bent.

“[H]as Israel hurtling toward an existential crisis.” See above comment, with the pompous addition of “existential.” What did Netanyahu do to hurtle Israel toward this crisis is unclear to me. As you could see in my latest New York Times article, I do not think that Netanyahu’s rule is “an electrifying” time. It is time of solid stability, not crisis.

“Israel can afford Bibi far less right now than the United States can the unfit, out-of-control leader it has in Trump.” This is true, because Israel always had and probably always will have less room for error. But it points to the exact opposite of what Rothkopf is saying: it is another proof that there is little similarity between Netanyahu and Trump.

“Bibi apparently cares more about his political survival than he does about the well-being of the Jewish people he has taken it upon himself to ‘represent’.” This is a conclusion based on zero evidence. That Netanyahu decided to keep his ties with Trump as tight as possible is not because of his interest in “political survival.” It is because of Israel’s need to have strong ties with a friendly administration. Does it weaken Israel’s claim on representation of the Jewish people? I have no problem admitting that. In fact, I did it last week.

The bottom line is clear by now: Netanyahu and Trump show some similarities, but the differences between them are much greater, and make all attempts as comparing them a clear case of politics dressed as analysis. Here is a short list of some of these great differences, that make their similarities (they rely on the right, they attack the media) pale in comparison:

Trump is a novice; Netanyahu is an experienced leader.

Netanyahu is Prime Minister for a fourth term; Trump barely won one round of general election – he might still prove to be an electoral mishap.

Trump is ignorant about world affairs; Netanyahu is one of the most well informed leaders in the world.

Netanyahu is eloquent in two languages; Trump is ineloquent.

There are many other less important differences between these two leaders. Trump has a foul mouth; Netanyahu does not. Trump is businessman first and foremost; Netanyahu is a career politician. The list goes on and on, and the conclusion is inevitable: much more than there are similarities between Trump and Netanyahu – there are similarities in the outlook and the tactics and the language that of their opponents.

Sunday Reads: Trump identity politics; decline in U.S. Jews’ influence on Israel

Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah display Hezbollah and Iranian flags as they listen to him via a screen during a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in the southern village of Khiam, Lebanon August 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

U.S.

Perry Bacon Jr. on the Arpaio pardon:

The trio of major announcements made by President Trump’s administration on Friday night — the departure of national security aide Sebastian Gorka, the pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the release of a formal memo from the president ordering the Pentagon not to accept transgender people as new recruits in the armed forces — illustrate two important things about the president’s governing style. First, one of the defining features of the Trump administration is that he embraces a kind of conservative identity politics, in which he promotes policies supported by groups that he favors and that may have felt marginalized during Barack Obama’s presidency. The second is that Trump’s support for those policies is not contingent on the presence of ousted aides like Gorka and Steve Bannon, who agree with him on these positions.

When the hurricane is over, Trump vs. the GOP will go back to being a significant political story. Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports:

many senators and their aides are flabbergasted by the public criticisms from the leader of their own party. They say Trump hasn’t shown a willingness to understand policy, often has more concern for his own news media coverage than anything else, and has run a White House riven by scandal and turmoil. In one recent meeting with legislators, he interrupted on several occasions to veer off topic, two senior GOP aides said, even as the health care legislation was simultaneously falling apart on Capitol Hill. There is widespread disappointment in Trump’s presidency among the party conference, said three people familiar with their feelings. Many of the senators have long distrusted Trump. The only one to endorse Trump was Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator whom Trump made attorney general — and has since publicly trashed.

Israel

Sometimes the obvious should be written: Israel has nothing to learn from Europe on terrorism. Read Yaakov Katz:

[O]n Tuesday, in a final briefing to the press before leaving the country after four years as the EU envoy, Faaborg-Andersen said that Israel can learn from Europe how to effectively combat terrorism. “Fighting terrorism,” he said, “is an endeavor that requires the whole tool box of instruments.” One of those tools, he went on to explain, is a “strong security dimension,” which Israel uses effectively. But, he added, there are other aspects involved as well, including “de-radicalization,” working with social services, and education. Now that is an interesting idea considering how many of the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Europe are carried out by citizens, some born and bred in their respective countries. In Israel, a small percentage of the attacks – like the recent one at the Temple Mount – are carried out by Israeli Arabs. Most are perpetrated by Palestinians.

David Ignatius sees opportunity for Israeli-Arab cooperation:

The Trump administration seems to envision an “outside-in” strategy for breaking the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. The U.S., it’s hoped, could eventually bring together Israelis and leaders of the major Arab states for a peace conference. Trump’s unusually close relations with both Israel and the Gulf Arabs are part of this strategy.

Middle East

Adam Taylor on Trump and Egypt:

The strict punishment of Egypt may be a recognition of how seriously the United States views the North Korean threat. In an email to today’s WorldView, Berger noted that Egypt’s alleged procurement of missile parts from North Korea was “almost as bad as it gets” in terms of sanctions violations… Will Trump’s action finally compel Egypt to break ties with North Korea? Elmenshawy thinks it will work. “What Cairo receives from its strategic relationship with Washington is not replaceable by any other country,” the columnist said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is going to get a lot of this in his visit to Israel:

US ambassador Nikki Haley sharply criticised the UN peacekeeping commander in Lebanon on Friday, saying he is “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and reiterating a call for the force to do more about it. He says there is no evidence it is actually happening.

Jewish World

I might write more about this article next week, but in the meantime, just read Samuel Freedman:

We have never been further from Israel than we are at this point. And we find ourselves at that distance because, after all the invocations of Jewish peoplehood, after all the salutes to us as a “strategic asset,” we American Jews have never been made to feel less necessary to Israel’s success or survival than we are today.

A JPPI paper that was published last week – by my colleague Dan Feferman and me makes a somewhat similar point:

[T]here seems to be a decline in the collective power of the U.S. Jewish community to influence Israeli decision-making. Once unified around larger organizations, this community has become more diffused in recent years. Politically, the once close-to-monolithic major groups have to compete with foundations and organizations who have their own, sometimes-contradictory agendas. Moreover, due to Israel’s much grown economy the U.S. community has also become less influential in its ability to wield power through massive philanthropy. Add to these facts the rising numbers of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. who will less questioningly support Israel while non-Orthodox Judaism seems, at least from the perspective of many Israelis, to be on the decline (low birthrates, intermarriage, etc.) and you have a weakening of the second arrow in the non-Orthodox movements’ quiver. Moreover, in the eyes of many Israelis, when the U.S. Jewish community does come together to influence Israeli policy, it at times does so in ways that contradict Israel’s interests, at least as defined by the supporters of the current government. There is even some sentiment within the current government that Evangelicals and non-Jewish conservatives are today, perhaps a greater source of support for Israel and especially this government’s policies, than is mainstream Jewish America. 

A peace process? Come back another time

White House Senior advisor Jared Kushner listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia U.S., August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Leaders want many things, but can only achieve few of them. They have priorities, more than their overall desired goals dictate their policies. Is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a priority? Today, Donald Trump emissaries to the Middle East came for another visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and judging by their intensity of visits one could argue that the peace process is a priority of the administration.

Still, following the news from Washington it would seem quite odd to make such assumption. The White House has serious issues with North Korea, China and Iran –- and of course a domestic agenda, including the handling of crises, from the Russia investigation to the Charlottesville aftermath. For Trump, or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to wake up and think about the peace process would be a strange thing to do.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priorities were clarified yesterday, when he visited with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The PM is concerned about Syria and the prospect of Iran taking over the country with the tacit support of Russia. In two articles that I wrote for The New York Times in the last year I argued that for now Putin is the new Middle East sheriff and Israel must recognize this fact, and  that Israel is highly concerned about the cease fire in Syria.

I wrote: “Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem, for the United States to go back to being a superpower.” The less the U.S. gets involved in remedying the challenge of Iran in Syria, the less convincing it will be in arguing for a peace process with the Palestinians.

To take risks, to make sacrifices, Israel needs to feel secure; it needs to feel that it has backing. If the U.S. is no longer a reliable guardian of Middle East stability and peace, Israel’s inclination to take any risks for a peace it doesn’t feel is a priority will be greatly diminished.

So the American mediator is left with only one party for which the process is essential, the Palestinians. In the last few days their leadership began making threats and setting deadlines for the Trump administration. One wonders if this specific U.S. leader is receptive of such language and intimidation, but the leadership of the Palestinian Authority calculated that there is nothing to lose. If the Americans are not serious about their efforts, then other venues for progressing the Palestinian cause ought to be considered. Sadly for the Palestinians, their options are not many: the world seems to be getting busier with other problems, more urgent.

It is not a coincidence that the best days of the peace process were back in the Nineties, when the end of history seemed near, and the world was relatively free to toy with the remaining problems of small global consequences –- Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Palestine. America was at the peak of its world power, and President Clinton’s main problem was an affair with an intern. Israel was booming, and its enemies were still pondering their next moves following the first Gulf War. Yassir Arafat was under pressure to moderate, or be cast aside, having discovered that his main backers were losing power, and the world in which he thrived as a terrorist no longer exists. Relaxation and order enabled busy leaders to free their schedules for dealing with the stubborn reality of the “conflict.”

Such conditions are no longer available for anyone. Relaxation was gone around 9/11; order was gone following the Iraq War. Israel lost its appetite for peace, prioritizing stability and security. America lost its main tool for brokering peace, its hegemony as a trustworthy and highly engaged world power.

As we wonder why the likely outcome of the current round of Middle East talks is not peace, our instinctive tendency is to search for the small detail: what is Israel willing to offer, what compromises are the Palestinians willing to make, is the leadership sincere about wanting peace, is the U.S. capable and learned?

The answers matter, but they are all secondary to global realities that are hardly suitable for making progress for peace. They are hardly suitable for a world that is just too busy dealing with other things.

A Jewish Historian’s Perspective: Places of Memory, Good and Bad: Paris, Rome, Jerusalem and Charlottesville

Robert E Lee Statue Being Secured for Removal New Orleans 19 May 2017.

French historian Pierre Nora spent his life describing and explaining “places of memory,” sites commemorating significant moments in the history of a community that continue to resonate and to transform from generation to generation.

For the French Republic, the Bastille is one such “place of memory,” as is the Arc de Triomphe. Begun by Napoleon and completed in 1836, the Arc is a place of French pride and memory, where war dead from the Revolution to the present are recalled and military triumph exalted.

Part of the power of this central “place of memory” resides in the architecture itself. The Arc de Triomphe is a larger version of another triumphal arch, the Arch of Titus. This arch, located on the Sacred Way in the ancient center of Imperial Rome, commemorates the victory of the Roman general Titus in the Jewish War of 66-74 CE.

Built circa 82 CE, its deep reliefs show the general, soon emperor, processing through Rome in a triumphal parade. The spoils of the Jerusalem Temple are borne aloft by Roman soldiers. Napoleon and those who came after him literally lifted this Roman triumphal arch from its foundations and placed it in central Paris, transferring the glory of Rome and the glory of Roman triumph to the French nation.

Commemorating French military prowess, the Arc de Triomphe is quite a complex monument. French victory in World War II, for example, was hardly unequivocal. Hitler did, after all, celebrate his own victory here, and France did not exactly emerge victorious by its own power.

The Arch of Titus, too, is quite a complex place. Titus had not defeated a foreign power but put down a pesky rebellion by a small province. For Christians, the Arch became a place to celebrate Christian triumph over Judaism and the imperial power of the Catholic Church. For Jews, this arch was a symbol for their own defeat, even as some took solace by claiming that its magnificence was proof that Israel had once been a “powerful nation” and formidable foe. In modern times, it became a symbol both of Jewish rootedness in Europe and a place of pilgrimage where Jews, religious and not, could proclaim, “Titus you are gone, but we’re still here, Am Yisrael Chai.” Or as Freud put it, “The Jew survives it!” Where once Mussolini had celebrated the Arch as part of the heritage of Fascism, Jews after the war assembled here to demand a Jewish State. Others imagined exploding the Arch and thus taking final retribution against Titus for his destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, the State of Israel took the Arch back unto itself, its menorah becoming the state symbol.

I tell these stories of Paris, Rome and Jerusalem as parallels to the horrible events in Charlottesville. The sculptural remains of the Civil War, North and South, are still very living “places of memory.” Whether in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Brooklyn, also modeled on the Arch of Titus, or in the thousands of statues across America, the Civil War is very much with us. Each place and time since then has thought about and reimagined “The War of Southern Secession” in complex and differing ways. The meanings of these “places of memory” are not stable. They shift and transform as essential elements of our social fabric and civil religion from generation to generation. Conflicting visions often inhere in the same sculpture, much as Jews and Classicists often “see” very different messages in the Arch of Titus.

Tearing down a “place of memory” is a serious matter. The act of iconoclasm, of tearing down or transforming a “place of memory” is never neutral. The list of such events is long and includes the Maccabees’ destruction of idols in the second century BCE, the midrashic account of Abraham breaking the idols, late antique Christians and Muslims smashing Roman religion (and burning synagogues), Orthodox Christian iconophobes destroying sacred icons during the eighth century, Protestants ravaging Church art during the Reformation, Kristallnacht, the Taliban destroying giant sculptures of the Buddha, or Eastern Europeans tearing down sculptures of Lenin and Stalin after the fall of Communism. (The list goes on.)

Such transformations of our visual cultures mark major transitions and often culture wars. They are attempts to change our memory by obliterating or shifting what we see and expect on our social landscapes, to change how we relate to our places of memory.

The ceremonial—the liminal—moment of removing a “place of memory” is always laden and significant. It is a “shorthand,” a summary statement and dramatic enactment of the ways that those present understand the place and encode its memory.

The march of the neo-Nazis, the texts they recited, the torches and flags they carried, and the violence they instigated are essential to understanding who these people are and what values they see in the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.

Reading this event, one can tease out their entire worldview—and it is horrifying. Similar tools help us to understand the counter demonstrators, civic leaders and others involved, including President Trump. This “place of memory” is now a place of bloodshed. This transformation deepens the memory and transforms a site where the soon-to-be-removed statue of Lee will no longer be present, but its shadow will be felt for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

Steven Fine is Churgin Professor of Jewish History and director, Center for Israel Studies, at Yeshiva University.

 

Inside Senator Bob Corker’s realist doctrine

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

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

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

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

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

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

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

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

A balancing act on Israel and Iran

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

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

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

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

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

Juggling independence and close ties with the Trump administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Russia probe: Let’s wait and see

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill. June 21, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

There hasn’t been this much talk about Russia in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. From May 17 to June 20, ABC, CBS and NBC spent 353 minutes of airtime talking about federal probes into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to the Media Research Center. CNN has spent an inordinate amount of time on coverage of the Russia investigation. The mainstream media seemingly break a piece a day based on leaks regarding the investigation. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from July found that 64 percent of Democrats believed that the Russians had attempted to influence the election, and that the Trump campaign had worked with the Russians to do so.

Meanwhile, President Trump travels the land calling the investigation a fraud, fulminating at special counsel Robert Mueller, and nagging his own attorney general for a perceived failure to protect him; Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity spend time nightly talking about the supposed “coup” against Trump in the press; and just 9 percent of Republicans polled say they believe the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to disrupt the election.

So, what’s driving the divide between left and right on the Russia investigation? After all, the evidence is mixed. There’s certainly evidence of an attempt to collude to impact the election from Donald Trump Jr. Last month, Trump Jr. released an email chain with publicist Rob Goldstone in which Goldstone proposed to set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” who would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” He then dragged in campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But an attempt to collude is not in and of itself evidence of collusion. No actual information apparently changed hands. And there’s no evidence of any follow-up. There’s also no evidence of coordination in weaponization of material acquired by Wikileaks, which has ties to Russia, from the Democratic National Committee. In fact, watching the campaign, it appeared that Wikileaks would simply dump large amounts of material and then members of the internet community would sift through it for damaging information — there didn’t seem to be any quick-response unit in the Trump campaign beating everyone else to the punch.

Furthermore, even collusion among members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government wouldn’t necessarily implicate Trump himself. Members of the Trump campaign could have been involved in bad action without telling Trump — and in fact, that’s highly likely given Trump’s penchant for uncontrollable outbursts on the national stage. If you were going to rig a complex conspiracy with the help of the Russians, would you tell the guy with the biggest mouth in the history of politics?

It’s also true that the Russian government apparently forged connections with Fusion GPS, a Democrat-linked opposition research group that came up with the infamous Trump dossier later exposed by BuzzFeed. According to Bill Browder, a financier targeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian-connected lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, “hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS.” As Lee Smith wrote at Tablet, “Add Fusion GPS’s contracts with Russian and Russian-linked entities together with the company’s role in compiling and distributing a defamatory dossier sourced to the Kremlin, and the idea that the Trump Dossier was a Kremlin information operation becomes quite plausible.”

This scenario wouldn’t be particularly surprising.  While the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence universally agree that the Russian government attempted to meddle in the election, they differ regarding Russia’s intent: Some members of the intelligence community think Russia wanted Trump to win or simply wanted to cast doubt on election transparency.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally; there’s evidence of willingness to collude but no hard evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

But those reasonable conclusions are now being ignored by both sides. Democrats have been shrieking for months that the election was stolen. In return, Trump has seized on that wild overstatement, fixated on it, and produced his own overstatement: “The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.” That overstatement reinforces Democratic determination to write off the Trump win as an act of thievery – he knows he cheated and now he’s lying about it!  Which, of course, prompts Republican voters to respond by stating that Democrats are exaggerating their claims, and that the current investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.

This leads to a radical impasse: No matter what the evidence, many Democrats will now suggest that Trump must be impeached; no matter what the evidence, many Republicans will now suggest that he must not be, and that the investigation should actively be killed. No matter what happens from here, it won’t be good.

The only solution: Let’s wait for the facts to come out. Let’s make a call once we know them. Until then, let’s let President Trump do his job. 

BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Will you risk Los Angeles to deter North Korea?

People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Every discussion of North Korea ought to begin with a short reminder. In the last thirty years, policy towards North Korea has been a resounding failure. American policy specifically, but also the policies of other countries dissatisfied about the prospect of a rogue and incomprehensible regime armed with nuclear warheads.

It was a failure that rests on two main pillars.  There was a lack of urgency – the crisis with North Korea never reached a point that compelled the U.S. to use its much superior force, and make the necessary sacrifices, to stop this country’s rush to arm itself.  There was also the belief in the power of diplomacy – time and again American leaders and diplomats fooled themselves into thinking that North Korea is a problem they can negotiate away.

Obviously, they could not. Writing earlier this week, David Ignatius described American  objectives as follows: “Washington’s diplomatic goal, although it hasn’t been stated publicly this way, is to encourage China to interpose itself between the United States and North Korea and organize negotiations to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. threat is that if China doesn’t help the United States find such a diplomatic settlement, America will pursue its own solution – by military means if necessary”.

This of course sounds reasonable, except for the fact that this has been Washington’s  diplomatic goal for three decades, to no avail. It did not succeed with either Democratic presidents, like Clinton, who thought (or pretended to think) that his understanding with North Korea will hold,  or with Republican presidents, like Bush, who thought that mixing in a more aggressive approach would deter the leaders of North Korea. Successive administrations failed to achieve their objective, and now it might be too late. North Korea achieved its own objective, of having the ability to shoot a nuclear armed missile far enough to reach the United States. The bizarre, seemingly irrational, misunderstood, ridiculed, clownish leaders of North Korea proved more cunning and determined than the empire foe.

Defending past presidents, we should admit that North Korea was never an easy problem to solve. It is even more complicated today, as Reva Goujon of Stratfor explained in a long article about the U.S.’ looming foreign policy crisis. “In trying to forgo military action”, he wrote, “the United States will be forced to rely on China’s and Russia’s cooperation in sanctions or covert action intended to destabilize the North Korean government and thwart its nuclear ambitions. Yet even as Washington pursues this policy out of diplomatic necessity, it knows it is unlikely to bear fruit. Because as much as they dislike the idea of a nuclear North Korea on their doorstep, China and Russia do not want to face the broader repercussions of an unstable Korean Peninsula or open the door to a bigger U.S. military footprint in the region”.

There are lessons to be learned from this developing situation, and priorities to be set. The main lesson – relevant to Israel no less than it is to the US – is that diplomacy and international pressure cannot prevent determined countries from getting beyond the point of no return. What North Korea did Iran can also do. What Iran can do, other countries in the Middle East can do. The only obstacle standing between countries and nuclear weapons is their own risk assessment – how much they need the weapons, and what price they are willing to pay to get it. If, like North Korea, they come to the conclusion that their survival depends on getting the weapons, North Korea proves the world is not competent,  unified and determined enough to prevent this from happening.

What then should be done now? Prioritization is key. And telling North Korea that it will be obliterated if it launches a nuclear attack on the US is not a priority. The leaders of Korea seem wise enough to understand this on their own – and don’t seem to have any inclination to attack the U.S. Like all other countries who have nuclear weapons, they need this measure as a deterrent against attacks, not as a mean with which to initiate war.

Disarming the North is a desirable goal, but it does not seem to be feasible at this time. The current crisis is not “analogous to the Cuban missile crisis,” as one of President Trump’s advisors said, because the North, unlike the USSR, is no superpower battling against America. Thus, disarming Korea is not the most urgent goal now. A more urgent goal is to draw the red lines for which the world (that is, the U.S.) will be going to war against Korea.

On principle, these red lines are not complicated to draw:

North Korea cannot use its newly acquired capabilities to attack its neighbors, or blackmail them.

North Korea cannot become a proliferator of nuclear weapons.

In practice these red lines invite North Korean provocation, and involve risks of miscalculation. What if the U.S. topples an airplane carrying nuclear scientists from Pyongyang to Syria? Will the Koreans respond in taking down an American military base? And how will the US respond to such action? Will it go as far as risking a nuclear attack on Los Angeles to prevent Syria from getting the knowhow and material to build nuclear weapons?

I have no answer to such a question, but there is one thing I do know. The leaders of North Korea must believe that there is such possibility – that the US is willing to take huge risks to prevent Korea from crossing these two red lines. That is where the bold language and infamous temper of Donald Trump could be useful. As scary as this sounds, the leaders of Korea must believe that the leader of the U.S. is bold and aggressive enough to ignite a nuclear war. Otherwise, they will eventually call America’s  bluff as they have been doing for the last thirty years.  And they will cross yet another point of no return.

Former top national security officials urge Trump to stick to Iran nuclear deal

US President Donald Trump (L) and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner take part in a bilateral meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not seen) in Villa Taverna, the US ambassador's residence, in Rome on May 24, 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of former top national security officials urged President Donald Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that war with Iran is “more imaginable” today than it has been in five years.

The statement, published Tuesday on the website of the The National Interest magazine, was responding to reports that Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The next assessment period is in October. The statement is signed by nearly 50 former senior U.S. government officials and prominent national security leaders.

“The international agreement with Iran continues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the statement says. “No American national security objective would be served by withdrawing from it as long as Iran is meeting the agreement’s requirements.

“To the contrary,” the letter continues, “given continuing assurance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), such a unilateral act would have grave long term political and security consequences for the United States.”

The signers recommend a “comprehensive policy toward Iran that furthers U.S. national security interests.” Such a policy would include American leadership in the JCPOA, a follow-up agreement that would extend terms of the deal farther into the future, and an additional consultative body on major disputes.

The letter also suggests establishing a regular senior-level channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and  regular consultations among U.S. allies and partners in the region to share information and coordinate strategies.

The signers warn that a U.S. rejection of the JCPOA could push Iran to return to its pre-agreement nuclear enrichment program under far weaker international monitoring.

Trump last month re-certified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the urging of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to re-certify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran at the next 90-day assessment in October.

The signers include: Morton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary for nonproliferation and secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department;  Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt; Carl Levin, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; and Barnett Rubin, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Trump (and America) as victims – the implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Rabbi Sacks observed:

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

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

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

You want McMaster out over Iran? That’s fine. Over Israel? Senseless

Seated with U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (R), U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with service members at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Is US National Security Advisor H.R McMaster anti Israel? Senior Israeli officials say there is no sign that he is. McMaster, one of them told me, is a general. A military man. His views on the Middle East are not always compatible with Israeli thinking – because he has other priorities, and is in charge of another country’s policy. But accusing him of being anti-Israel is not helpful, nor reasonable. He is a professional, discussions with him are cordial, disagreements with him are always businesslike – and he never gives the impression that ego or grudge are involved.

Nevertheless, McMaster is accused, among other things, of being anti-Israel. “In a volley of attacks from right-wing media, McMaster has been accused of being anti-Israel, having a short temper and collaborating with Obama-era officials”. So much so, that the president felt a need to defend his advisor: “General McMaster and I are working very well together”, Trump wrote. “He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country”.

That he is short-tempered is a shortcoming but is hardly unique to McMaster. If Trump does not want short-tempered people around him, he is entitled to make such a decision, but clearly that’s not why McMaster is suddenly facing problems. That he collaborates with Obama-era officials is both a plus and a minus. Even in the Obama era some officials were good at their jobs, and might still have something to contribute. That the advisor is not blind to this fact is good – and of course, carries the risk (for those who consider  it a risk) that the views of these wise officials might influence the thinking of the advisor.

So is Israel the problem? It is and it isn’t. Because in fact, there are two types of proofs by which one can  argue that McMaster is not Israel’s best buddy. The first proof concerns Israel: McMaster used the word “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the West Bank, he did not want Prime Minister Netanyahu to accompany Trump when the President visited the Western Wall, he would not even say that the Western Wall is in Israel (following him, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer stated that the Western Wall is “clearly in Jerusalem”, but refused to answer the question whether it was a part of Israel).

Taken together, all these pronouncements do not amount to much. Mc Master is solidly in the camp of those still in line with the traditional US policy of not declaring any change to the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. You could safely assume that he did not want the US embassy to move to Jerusalem – because it is a change that could ignite trouble. You can see that he opposes other implied changes to US policy – mainly because he sees no benefit to the US from making such change. The Arab world will react with fury, the US will gain little.

Is it the ideal position of an American official from Israel’s viewpoint? It is not. Is this anti-Israel? It is not. McMaster might be guilty of conventional thinking about Israel and Palestine. He is not guilty of hostility towards Israel. Not without more proof.

The other issue that is highlighted in attacks against the advisor is more serious. McMaster seems to be cautious on the issue of Iran. He does not support the idea of ditching the Iran nuclear deal. He fired from his staff some of the analysts that were more hawkish on Iran and preferred a more none-confrontational approach to contain its aggressive advance in the Middle East.

Is it the ideal position of an American official from Israel’s viewpoint? It is not. Is this anti-Israel? It is not. McMaster, for whatever reason (there are good arguments in support of keeping the deal – it is not a preposterous position) believes that the deal should be kept. For a horde of reasons, all related to his understanding of the American interest, he seems reluctant to clash with the Iranians. This is not something he does to spite Israel, or annoy it, or put it in danger. He is not anti-Israel – he disagrees with Israel on some issues.

So why is McMaster under attack? That’s a good question, with two possible answers. One – because of personal infighting within the White House. He fired people close to advisor Steven Bannon, the Bannonites are going after him. Two – because of policy differences. McMaster takes a traditional approach to foreign policy and thus takes the bite out of Trump’s foreign policy.  And of course, these two reasons are not mutually exclusive. Often personal grudges and turf battles are fought because of policy disagreements. If a group of advisors and analysts wants Trump to take a more confrontational approach to Iran – and another group want him to remain cautious and prudent – these two groups are likely to have a disagreement that will soon become personal as well as content based.

Israel rarely benefits from such disagreements. It rarely benefits from being identified with the most radical policy ideas. Men and women such as McMaster, the backbone of the military and of the foreign policy establishment, are not always easy to deal with. They can be brash. They can be conventional in their thinking. They often prioritize their reluctance to militarily commit the US to a cause, over the necessities of world leadership.

Still, they should not be made to believe that Israel is an obstacle to everything they stand for. They should not be accused of being anti-Israel only because they refuse to adopt its viewpoint. If anyone want McMaster ousted because of his conventional thinking about policy – that’s find. If anyone thinks he ought to be ousted for harboring negative feelings towards Israel – that’s senseless.

Musings on the dangers of ‘the new new anti-Semitism’ and America’s current preoccupation with ‘all things Russian’

The Westside JCC, which was targeted with two bomb threats. Photo by Ryan Torok

As an aging historian of anti-Semitism, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Indeed, my friends sometimes caution me that I see a centipede with ever-trod shoe leather when there may be none! Even so, I am not exactly alone in my concerns.

According to a new Rasmussen poll, around two thirds of American voters consider anti-Semitism “at least a somewhat serious problem” including one fourth who believe it’s “a very serious problem.” It could just be that, in the current climate of national hyper-political polarization, ordinary Americans are on to something here!

The last time that our national angst spilled over into a spike of anti-Semitism was during and after the 2007-2008 Financial Meltdown. This was an echo of prior episodes in which Americans, both right and left, became wildly fearful over the Rothschild banking family taking over the world and America. In 2008, high-profile members of Goldman Sachs but extending to others including financier George Soros were equated with a Jewish to conspiracy to engineer a global economic collapse. Readership on line and off reached unprecedented levels of that hoary anti-Semitic hoax, propagated a century ago by the Russian secret police: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Currently in 2017, no new playbook has yet emerged to galvanize a new wave of politically-inspired anti-Semitism in America. But this is not for the lack of trying by the likes former Grand Wizard David Duke and Neo-Nazi web sites like the Daily Stormer.

The first time in American history when a combined political-economic crisis sparked a national wave of political anti-Jewish conspiracy mongering was just before 1900. In 1896, during a depressed decade also marked by global economic anxieties and Middle American job losses, the Democrats nominated for the presidency William Jennings Bryan who promised to save the nation from being “crucified on a cross of gold.” Bryan and his party were by no means motivated by anti-Semitism, but Jew haters ran as fast and far as they could toward the political goal line with fiery anti-Semitic cross-of-hate imagery. The presidential election of 1896 (which Democrat Bryan lost) occurred exactly 120 years before the 2016 presidential election which Republican Donald Trump won.

Let’s look at the latest revelations about alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump Campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. One eye of a potentially anti-Semitic new political firestorm storm centered around British-born, Jewish tabloid journalist turned music promoter Rob Goldstone. Goldstone’s clients include Emin Agalarov, the son Aras Agalarov, a Russian-Azerbaijani oligarch closely connected to Vladimir Putin who in 2013 helped Donald Trump promote that year’s Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. Goldstone wrote the emails to Donald Trump Jr. resulting in the invitation to the 25th Floor of Trump Tower extended to the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June 2016 in the heat of the presidential campaign. The lure offered Trump Jr. to make the invitation was damaging information about Hillary Clinton from “the Russian government” that (according to Goldstone) meant to show its “support for Mr. Trump.” Responding in an email to this proffer that “I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting with his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, in tow.

It will now be up to Congressional Committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller to sort through conflicting accounts to decide what exactly happened around that ill-advised meeting and what comes of it. But David Duke and the Daily Stormer are already hawking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories featuring the flamboyant Goldstone.

As reported in the Forward, Goldstone says that he is ‘not defined’ by Judaism. ‘My mum was from a religious family, my dad less so. . . . I like the traditions and spirituality of my religion, but I am not defined by it’.”

Potentially more troubling and explosive is the Jew haters’ increasing focus on Jared Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump. We can see the beginnings of a grotesque caricature of Kushner as an Arch-Jewish Conspiriarch or a modern-day Svengali (a famous fictional Jewish villain who bewitched good Christian girls) or Goldstein (the political villain manipulated by Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984).

It is hard to imagine anti-Semites even trying to resist the temptation to accuse Kushner of “setting up” his brother-in-law Trump Jr. to also bring down his father-in-law Trump Sr. in some sort of Elders of Zion-style conspiracy. Indeed, in a bizarre Freudian twist, Jared Kushner is already being pictured as repeating at the expense of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., the Kushners’ own family tragedy. Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, went to jail for attempting to blackmail his own brother-in-law, William Schulder.

David Duke is already pillorying Jared Kushner for giving “large sums of money to Chabad Lubavich”—“a Zionist hate organization.” The Daily Stormer blames the Trumps’ woes on the “fat Jew” Goldstone and Kushner as “the ‘Missing Link’ in the Russian Kookspiracy” illustrated with this cartoon:

(https://www.dailystormer.com/tag/jared-kushner/)

The danger to be feared—and guarded against—is that warped minds will merge the odd Rob Goldstone with the controversial Jared Kushner into some sort of twenty-first century Judas stereotype. The Lord protect us if a brilliant anti-Semitic rabble rouser starts peddling an image combining Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello and Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice into the core image of a new Jewish global conspiracy theory!

Unintentionally, President Trump made matters worse by offering these paternal apologetics to a gaggle of reporters on Air Force One: “When they say ‘treason’— you know what treason is? That’s Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the atomic bomb, okay?” (See Gabriela Geselowitz’s recent essay in the Tablet.) Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord has also chimed in on CNN with the reminder that, in 1980, Jimmy Carter allegedly unleashed Armin Hammer to convince Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to get the Kremlin to release Refuseniks to emigrate to Israel in order to influence the Jewish vote in key states. The Kremlin did nothing.

The “new new anti-Semitism” meme is also being advanced, no doubt also unintentionally, by some on the left. On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell devoted most of one program to what, filtered through an anti-Semitic lens not shared by O’Donnell, could be viewed as an inverted Purim narrative. King Ahasuerus figures as President Trump. His evil viceroy Haman figures as Jared Kushner. Haman’s antagonist Mordecai figures as Donald Junior—who refuses to bow down to him. All we need to complete this perverted inversion is an anti-Jewish Esther: perhaps a divorced Ivanka wising up her Dad to the nefarious ways of the Jared’s tribe!

Maybe my fears of a new-new anti-Semitic revival may seem overdrawn, but stranger things have happened in the history of anti-Semitism. It is incumbent among decent Americans of all political persuasions to unite now to make sure that current national polarization about Trump Era political scandals does not escalate into a new American tragedy scapegoating Jews.

Jared Kushner says Russia charges ‘ridicule’ Trump voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy, heads to Israel to help reduce tensions

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

Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international relations, is headed to Israel in a bid to help reduce tensions as Jerusalem’s Temple Mount remains a flash point and after a Palestinian terrorist killed three Israelis in a stabbing attack.

“President Trump and his administration are closely following unfolding events in the region,” a senior administration official told JTA on Sunday night, speaking on condition of anonymity and reporting Greenblatt’s departure.

“The United States utterly condemns the recent terrorist violence including the horrific attack Friday night that killed three people at their Shabbat dinner table in Halamish and sends condolences to the families of the innocent victims,” the official said. “We are engaged in discussions with the relevant parties and are committed to finding a resolution to the ongoing security issues.”

Greenblatt would closely coordinate with the National Security Council and with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who is a top aide and is charged with renewing Israeli Palestinian peace talks, the official said.

Yosef Salomon, 70, and his children Chaya Salomon, 46, and Elad Salomon, 36, were killed and Yosef Salomon’s wife, Tovah, 68, was injured when Palestinian attacker Omar al-Abed, 19, from the nearby Palestinian village of Kobar, entered the home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish and began stabbing the family members, who had gathered at the Salomon home to celebrate the birth of a baby to another of the senior Salomon’s sons.

Thousands attended the funerals on Sunday afternoon at the cemetery in the central Israel city of Modiin.

The area around the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and also the location of the Haram A-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, has been riven with tensions since June 14 when three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site.

Israeli authorities installed metal detectors at the site in the wake of the attack and since then, Muslims have refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside of its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least 5 Palestinians in recent days.

The lesson from Poland: Trump’s sentiments are Israel’s sentiments

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he gives a public speech at Krasinski Square in Warsaw, Poland July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Since the early days of the Trump administration, Israeli policy makers have been struggling with a tricky situation: on the one hand, Israel wants to have the closest possible relations with the new administration. This is not unique to Israel and Trump – for Israel, it is always a goal to have close relations with an incoming president. With some administrations it finds success, with others – the Obama administration is a recent example – its success is more limited.

On the other hand, the Trump administration has presented a different kind of challenge for several reasons. First – many of Israel’s most avid supporters, Jews and non-Jews, Democrats and hawkish Republicans, are highly suspicious of the new administration. Trump is president, but is also highly unpopular. Trump is president, but is also highly unpredictable. Trump is president, but becoming identified with Trump could pose a problem for Israel – as it will surely not help it retain its bipartisan status in America (assuming that’s still possible, at least to a certain degree).

The questions concerning Trump’s policy toward Israel are naturally a factor. But for a relatively long time, it was impossible in many ways to understand what the Trump administration’s policy is going to look like. The president was sending mixed signals, about his intent to be the greatest supporter of Israel, but also about his intent to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – a process that could lead to conflicts and clashes. His visit to Israel was short and successful, but his policy was still unclear – another reason for Israeli caution.

It is reasonable to argue that some of this caution can be now abandoned. That is, because of the important speech made by Trump last week, in Poland. This was one of his best speeches (the bar isn’t especially high). This was also, finally, a speech that clarifies Trump’s ideology concerning world affairs. For Israel, this speech clarifies something that will surely complicate its relations with some groups of Americans, but is nevertheless reassuring: Trump thinks about world affairs in a way similar to that of the current Israeli coalition.

What did Trump say? The Economist defined Trump’s departure from precedent in the following way: “Earlier American administrations defined ‘the West’ with reference to values such as democracy, liberty and respect for human rights. Mr Trump and many of his advisers, including the speech’s authors, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, apparently see it as rooted in ethnicity, culture and religion.”

Let’s see some of the points Trump made.

He spoke positively about devotion to God – that is, about the power that a nation draws from having an active religious sentiment. Trump does not mock people who “cling to their religion,” but rather praises them.

He spoke about the values of the West – values that not all cultures and not all people share. In other words: Trump feels comfortable and confident about defending and speaking for specific, not necessarily universal, values.  “Today we’re in the West, and we have to say there are dire threats to our security and to our way of life. You see what’s happening out there. They are threats. We will confront them. We will win. But they are threats.”

What are these threats? Trump pointed fingers at the sources of the threat: “We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe…. We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory and their funding, and their networks, and any form of ideological support that they may have.” Oh, and he is not shy about calling this threat by name: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Trump is blunt about the measures needed to confront the threats: “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.”

But the key paragraph was this one – the paragraph in which Trump laid out a vision very much in line with Israel’s basic political instinct: What people of the West want is “individual freedom and sovereignty,” he said. He then added: “We must work 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.”

Here you have it: “bonds of culture, faith and tradition.” Some of Trump’s critics were quick to blame him of racism, tribalism, xenophobia, chauvinism (some writers liked his speech). Many of Israel’s critics hurl the same accusations as they consider its belief in bonds of “culture, faith and tradition” – Israel’s desire to retain its character as a Jewish State, its rejection of any formulation of a one-state solution, its insistence on demographic policies aimed at having a Jewish majority in the country. This of course does not make Trump’s future policies in the Middle east more predictable. But it does clarify a fact that many of Israel’s critics will gladly use against it: policies aside, Trump’s sentiments are Israel’s sentiments.

Trump Thinking About Leaving Peace Efforts “Nonsense” In Israel

President Donald Trump and President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands as they meet, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Tensions have never been higher in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel, with peace negotiations falling short of success, in part due to an inability to have a good moderator between the two sides. Now, US President Donald Trump has been reported to seriously consider pulling out of the peace negotiations. The report appears after there was a tense meeting between Ramallah officials and White House representatives, according to al-Hayat, UK-based Arabic daily newspaper.

After the elections of Donald Trump, several Democrats claimed that he had no interest in helping peace prevail in the area. Some even said that just like this gorgeous pearl necklace, outer beauty is what is presented while the price is never advertised. It is believed that Trump does not want to spend money on a potential peace when his efforts are focused mainly on domestic politics.

The report is claiming that Donald Trump is not decided whether or not to still remain involved in the peace negotiations. It is said that he is seriously considering pulling out of all the near future peace efforts, with a complete process withdrawal being preferred at the moment.

Senior administration officials in the Trump cabinet labeled the report as being “nonsense”. However, no official statement was made about the topic.
Al-Hayat issued the report only days after the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Jared Kushner took place. Abbas advisors present described the talks as being really tense. This was expected but it is said that the tension was higher than normal.

It seems that Abbas (according to the report) was furious after Kushner declared the Israeli demands and told them to the Palestinian leader. This included an immediate payment towards terrorists and family members. Abbas went on to accuse Jason Greenblatt (lead international negotiator for Donald Trump) and Kushner of taking the side of Israel and not wanting to commit to any requests from the other side.

It was mentioned that the Trump Administration is not happy with the fact that Abbas did not denounce the recent Jerusalem stabbing attack where a terror based initiative led to the stabbing of a member of the military. After Abbas simply refused to have a meeting with David Friedman (US ambassador to Israel) the talks were supposedly even more tensioned.

Palestinian officials declared that Americans required the Palestinian officials to curb the statements that are made about Israel as they are inflammatory. The official declared:

Kushner will submit his report to the president and, after it is submitted, Trump will decide if there’s a chance for negotiations or it might be preferable to pull out of peace efforts.

According to Abbas, Israel talks about terrorist payments as a pretext with the main focus put on avoiding the peace talks. Payments are listed as being a part of the social responsibility of the Palestinian’s government. It is expected that Donald Trump will make a statement about the topic in the following days but peace talks are now stopped.

How Breitbart explains Paris

Photos via Breitbart.

The day after President Donald Trump announced he was abrogating America’s commitment to the Paris accord on climate change, Breitbart News covered the momentous decision with this headline: “Ted Cruz Busts Elon Musk for Flying Private Jet While Lecturing Trump on Global Warming.”

The story explained nothing about Trump’s dumb move, and yet it explains everything. If you are trying to understand why Trump put a gun to his country’s head, threatened to shoot, then pulled the trigger, all you had to do was read that story.

From the actual words, you would have learned that Musk, the CEO of Tesla and several other companies, tweeted that in response to Trump’s decision, he was quitting the president’s advisory council. 

“Am departing presidential councils,” Musk wrote. “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

In response, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted, “CA billionaires pledge to never again fly private, will only fly commercial.”

Cruz was pointing out what he considered Musk’s hypocrisy in criticizing Trump’s decision while flying around the world on private jets, which uses considerably more carbon-based fuel than flying commercial jets.

Get it? Trump World’s website-of-record didn’t look at the implications of Trump’s move, its potential effect on the fight against climate change, on America’s standing in the world, or even on Trump’s domestic support. It just regurgitated a single tweet that tried to show Elon Musk is a hypocrite.

Breitbart’s entire report after Trump’s pullout was a pathetic game of gotcha over Elon Musk’s private jet.

Never mind that, on substance, Cruz is wrong. Musk advocates the importance of reducing mankind’s carbon footprint, and he has done more than almost any human to help achieve that, from creating a groundbreaking electric car to reducing the price of lithium batteries to developing solar roof tiles, pioneering new forms of public transportation, and on and on. Balance all this against the need to zoom about his low-carbon empire on a Gulfstream and he’s as big a hypocrite as an ER doctor who drinks too much caffeine in order to treat the wounded during a disaster. It may not be setting the best example, but people are dying.

The planet is dying, too, but that’s not what concerns Breitbart. The narrative it’s pushing isn’t that the Paris accord is wrong, or the effects of man-made climate change are overstated, or they’re not but here’s a better way to address it. Those positions would be suspect, but smart conservatives could present strong arguments on their behalf. Breitbart didn’t even bother to show that Trump was right.

All it did was stick out its tongue at Elon Musk. Why? Because the real enemy is not bad policy, but the elites. The know-it-alls. The people who may not be smarter and cooler than Breitbart’s readers, but those whom Breitbart’s readers think are smarter and cooler. 

Trump doesn’t know a thing about climate change policy or the Paris accord, which was joined by President Barack Obama. He proved that with his claim that “the nonbinding Paris accords” impose “draconian financial and economic burdens” on the United States. Even the 28 percent of Americans who support his pullout understand that an agreement that is nonbinding can’t also be draconian. But Trump doesn’t care about reasons, and neither do they. He knows what his people want: to stick it to Obama. To thumb their noses at Obama’s supporters. To rub victory in the face of  “the left” — even if “victory” means a more dangerous planet for their children and grandchildren.

That explains why Breitbart’s entire report after Trump’s pullout was a pathetic game of gotcha over Elon Musk’s private jet. Musk is one of “them” — an urban intellectual with an un-American-sounding name, the kind of guy who invariably gets in trouble when he flies his Dassault into some rural air strip — “You’re not from around here, are ya?” In other words, Musk fits to a T the profile of the kind of person fascist movements have targeted at least since Mussolini.

By the way, the same is true of Sadiq Khan, the London mayor whom Trump trolled after last week’s horrific terror attack on that city. Why, everyone wondered, would Trump pick a fight on demonstrably false pretenses with a mayor doing heroic work in crisis conditions? Because Khan is an urban intellectual with a nonnative-sounding name. Worse, a Muslim. The attack wasn’t against the facts, it was for Trump’s base.

And guess what website echoed Trump’s fake charge against the Muslim mayor, squeezing the lies between ads for erection pills, survival kits and $6.95 Confederate flags?    

Trump’s grand policy promises are crumbling all around him.  The Russian investigations are not cooling down, they are heating up. The men and women who serve him are busy with leaks and infighting. Senior officials in the State Department are resigning.

All Trump has left is the fervid base that cheered him on and got him where he is.  And facts, truth and logic be damned, he will keep feeding them, because he knows what they want, and he knows whom they hate. 


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

Daily Kickoff: Why was McMaster not invited to Trump’s meeting with the Israelis | Tillerson embraces linkage | Ashkenazy to take over the Plaza?

White House national security advisor H.R. McMaster on May 16. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Have our people email your people. Share this sign up link with your friends

KAFE KNESSET — McMaster left out of Bibi-Trump meeting — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The White House National Security advisor General H.R. McMaster did not participate in the Trump-Netanyahu meeting on Monday, Kafe Knesset​ has learned. McMaster had a long, three-hour meeting with Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman on Monday evening, but according to multiple Israeli sources, he did not participate in the leaders’ summit that took place beforehand at the King David Hotel.

Trump and Netanyahu met on Monday evening, and started their encounter as a four-eyes meeting. Two Israeli officials said that later on the forum was joined by several advisors, to a Plus-3 forum. The President was then joined by Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador David Friedman. The Israeli team was augmented with Ambassador Ron Dermer, Special Envoy Isaac Molcho and foreign policy advisor Jonathan Schachter. According to an Israeli official who was present at the venue, at some point, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was invited to join the expanded meeting. However, McMaster sat outside the King David room during the course of the entire meeting.

Two sources in the PM’s office said that Israel did not determine who would sit in from the US side. And it is worth pointing out that McMaster’s counterpart in Netanyahu’s office also did not participate in the meeting. However, the Israeli National Security Advisor seat is currently filled by a temporary appointment, Eitan Ben-David, and as such, is not considered nearly as substantial an advisor as McMaster. Two former US administration officials told Kafe Knesset that McMaster’s absence from the meeting is “highly unusual” and “for the President to prioritize his son-in-law and his lawyer over the National Security Advisor for these kind of strategic discussions is unconventional, to say the least.”

In the week ahead of Trump’s Israel visit, some of McMaster’s statements raised some eyebrows in Jerusalem. First, he announced that the President intends to use the meeting to express “his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” which, by the way did not end up happening. Then, during a press briefing, he twice refused to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel, dodging questions on the topic with the answer: “That is a policy decision.” At the same time, a NYT article last week claimed that President Trump “has complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings, and has referred to him as “a pain.” A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment about McMaster’s absence from the meeting. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: Tillerson Embraces Middle East Linkage Theory — by Aaron Magid: Aboard Air Force One yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Netanyahu and Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.

Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute, noted: “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.”[JewishInsider]

Elliott Abrams tells us: “The Obama administration also began with the view that “solving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to peace in the entire Middle East. It’s not a new thought–but it is discredited, so I am  surprised to see it emerge again in these early months of the Trump administration. It is completely wrong. Does anyone really believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has much to do with the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, or Syria? Does Israeli-Palestinian peace end the subversion by Iran, or stop its nuclear program? The United States faces enormous challenges in the Middle East–from Russia and Iran, from jihadis and terrorists–and seeing them through the prism of Israeli-Palestinian relations leads nowhere–or leads to failure.”

“Dating conflict at 50 years old, Trump appears to quietly adopt Arab stance” by Raphael Ahren: “The White House’s use of Six Day War as starting point of strife may indicate it sees pullback toward 1967 lines as key to reaching peace.” [ToI]

PRESSURE IS ON  — “US said pushing Israel to transfer parts of West Bank to PA administrative rule” by Alexander Fulbright: “Despite a series of economic incentives approved on Sunday by the Israeli cabinet, the US wants to see greater concessions to the Palestinian Authority and views the recent measures as insufficient, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. Specifically they have asked for areas in the northern West Bank to be transferred from Area C to Area B, according to the report… The Prime Minister’s Office later denied the Channel 10 report.” [ToI] • Naftali Bannett: “The era in which we treat the Land of Israel as a mere piece of real estate – that era is over.” [INN]

“After Trump’s Israel love offensive, will Bibi reach a deal with him?” by Ben Caspit: “There is no way Trump will be able to ignore the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative if he really wants to resuscitate the now moribund diplomatic process. But will Netanyahu be willing to enter into negotiations on the basis of that initiative? Given the current state of his coalition, the answer is no… The question now is whether President Trump will be able to create the iron bridge that Netanyahu can use to cross that Rubicon for the first time in his career.” [Al-Monitor]

“We Can’t Predict Whether Trump Will Succeed in the Middle East” by Hussein Ibish: “The big danger is that Trump is raising expectations only to see them dashed because he lacks a real plan… Even with the best of intentions, miscalculations can cause enormous harm…  Alternatively, this may be just another Trumpian boondoggle, a baseless and reckless gamble at everybody else’s expense.” [TheAtlantic]

“Israel’s ‘Biggest Friend’? Not Quite” by Bari Weiss: “Mr. Trump may be a boor, goes the logic, but didn’t he promise to tear up the Iran deal? Wouldn’t the man who called himself Israel’s “biggest friend” finally move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? And wouldn’t the straight-talker buck the stalemated peace process and acknowledge the truth about the conflict — namely, that Palestinian recalcitrance, not settlements, is the real obstacle to peace? To paraphrase the country singer Toby Keith: How do you like him now? That’s a question that Mr. Trump’s pro-Israel supporters ought to begin asking themselves in the wake of the president’s visit this week to Jerusalem… There are plenty of people who might make an argument in favor of Mr. Trump’s decision to maintain all the essential features of the policy status quo that he inherited from Mr. Obama. But based on this visit, Mr. Trump’s right-wing pro-Israel supporters aren’t — or shouldn’t be — among them.” [NYTimes

ON THE HILL TODAY — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee will be voting on a new Iran sanctions bill. All Republicans, with the possible exception of Senator Rand Paul (KY), are expected to support the Senate legislation in addition to prominent Democratic co-sponsors such as Ranking Member Ben Cardin (MD) and Cory Booker (NJ). Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told Jewish Insider last week that they were still undecided about the legislation. The bill was delayed until after Iran’s presidential elections, which occurred on Friday, to avoid any appearance of US intervention in Iranian internal affairs.

John Kerry’s tweetstorm: “After Rouhani’s reelection, there is much up in the air/room for misinterpretation. This is not the moment for a new Iran bill. There are many tools to up the pressure already in place and at our disposal. We need to weigh/consider risk to JCPOA. We need to consider the implications of confrontation without conversation.” [Twitter

–Update: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted just now as we’re going to print. The committee passed the new Iran sanctions bill by a vote of 18-3 with only one Republican (Rand Paul) voting against it. Senators Udall and Merkley also opposed the measure.

“Treasury chief says reviewing Iran’s aircraft licenses” by David Lawder: “The U.S. Treasury is reviewing licenses for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran, department head Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday… “We will use everything within our power to put additional sanctions on Iran, Syria and North Korea to protect American lives,” Mnuchin said in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee. “I can assure you that’s a big focus of mine and I discuss it with the president.”” [Reuters

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — “Trump’s $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Shouldn’t Worry Israel, Ex-intel Chief Says” by Gili Cohen: “U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the recent massive arms deal does not endanger Israel and is therefore no cause for concern, according to Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies. “It consists of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system to intercept ballistic missiles, whose chance of reaching us is very low, tanks Israel knows how to deal with and Black Hawk helicopters – these are weapons that shouldn’t raise concern,” Yadlin told Haaretz.” [Haaretz]

On Capitol Hill, Members of Congress raised questions about the Trump administration’s weapons deal with Riyadh — by Aaron Magid: Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday afternoon that the agreement “complicates the QME issue. We want Israel to always have a qualitative military edge in that region. It’s great that right now there seems to be a rapprochement between the Sunni states and Israel, but if we’re starting a new arms race to maintain the QM, that’s not a positive thing.”

Across the aisle, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) urged further time to examine the deal. “As we speak, I’m working to learn more. I’m sympathetic to Israel’s concerns so I’ve asked my staff a few hours ago to pull more information so we can see what new agreement was made. I share the concerns of Israel, which is our most cherished and reliable ally in the Middle East,” he said.

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump leave foreign trip early” by Jordan Fabian: “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will leave the president’s nine-day foreign trip early to return to Washington… “The plan was always for them to go back to D.C. after Rome,” a White House official told reporters… The official explained his decision to leave early, saying Kushner “helped plan and oversee the first part of the trip” that included the stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and at the Vatican.” [TheHill]

“Ivanka and Jared’s Roman date night in Rome” by Jennifer Smith: “The married couple dined at da Sabatino le Cave di Saint Ignazio restaurant… Their date night menu consisted of pizza margherita and caprese salad for Ivanka and a heartier combination of pasta, dumpling and bruschetta for Jared.” [DailyMail] • Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection [Artnet]

“Spicer’s absence in papal visit reveals Trump’s family-first rule” by Kevin Liptak and Jeff Zeleny: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who are both Jewish but nonetheless attended the Vatican session with the President — have rarely been away from the President’s side as he navigates the tricky international politics of the Middle East and Europe.” [CNN

BUZZ ON BALFOUR: “Israeli police question U.S. casino mogul Adelson in Netanyahu probe” by Maayan Lubell: “Israeli police questioned U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson on Thursday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a law enforcement source said… The source said Adelson gave his testimony in regard to what police have dubbed “Case 2000″, involving suspicions Netanyahu negotiated a deal in 2015 for favorable press coverage with the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth… Adelson, who visits Israel periodically and was questioned in a police station near Tel Aviv, is not a suspect, said the law enforcement source.” [Reuters]

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Dan Loeb says Dow-DuPont merger plan may leave $20 billion on table [CNBC] • Peter Lowy Maps Westfield Growth [LABJ] • David Bistricer’s Clipper Realty to buy Touro College building on UWS for $79M [TRD] • Guess How Much Penn President Amy Gutmann Makes Now [PhillyMag] • The 25 coolest tech companies in Israel [BI] • Mark Cuban leads $1.5 million round in SaaS management tool Meta SaaS [VentureBeat]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Plaza Hotel has a promising deal with a Saudi prince” by Lois Weiss and Steve Cuozzo: “Hoping to lift the storied Plaza Hotel out of a years-long rut, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal has partnered with Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. to force a buyout. The deal could pry the Plaza out of the hands of accused fraudster Subrata Roy, who had been locked up in India amid allegations that he bilked investors out of billions of dollars, leaving the Fifth Avenue landmark’s operations to languish over the past five years… City boosters are hoping the Plaza can finally open a new chapter, with a purchase by Ashkenazky, headed by Ben Ashkenazy and Michael Alpert, of a controlling portion of Al-Waleed’s pivotal stake in the hotel.” [NYPost]

“NYC Council Speaker Defends Zoning Chairman’s Right to Raise Political Cash From Real Estate” by Will Bredderman: “Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today argued Councilman David Greenfield, her chairman of the powerful Committee on Land Use, has a legal right to use a state campaign account to circumvent local regulations barring politicians from raising money from real estate companies. The Observer revealed on Monday that the councilman has maintained GreenfieldNY, a political committee for an undeclared state office… As of January, GreenfieldNY had a balance of $308,641.71. Of that, $86,600 came from corporate donors, all but a few of them directly tied to development interests—donations that city Campaign Finance Board rules explicitly forbid, but which state Board of Election regulations allow.” [Observer]

“Simcha Felder Tells Fellow Rogue Democrats to Rejoin the Party Fold” by Jesse McKinley: “Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who also sides with the Republicans… sent a letter urging Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, the leader of the faction, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, to “unconditionally and publicly rejoin the Democrats.” Mr. Felder’s letter concluded by suggesting he might unify with fellow Democrats, too, if the conference did. Mr. Felder has previously said he would side with whatever party would best serve his district, which includes a large population of Orthodox Jews.” [NYTimes]

ACROSS THE POND: “Ariana Grande’s manager Scooter Braun’s heartbroken wife pays tribute to Manchester bombing victims” by Lara Martin: “The wife of Ariana Grande ’s manager Scooter Braun has paid heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Manchester concert bombing that left 22 innocent people dead. Yael Cohen Braun reflected on the devastating terror attack while spending precious time with her and Scooter’s eldest son, Jagger, during a family day out at a snow park. Alongside a photo of her with Jagger and her father, she wrote: “My dad and I took my big boy to see snow for the first time today… Held space in the moment for the 23 families who have lost moments like this forever. Snuggling those I love a little closer today.”” [Mirror]

“How US intelligence leaks upset two allies in one week” by Zachary Cohen: “Just days after President Donald Trump was reported to have revealed highly sensitive, likely Israeli-shared intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office, the United Kingdom is voicing its frustration over leaked information coming from US sources. UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd slammed US leaks on the investigation into the attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, as “irritating” on Wednesday after a string of details emerged from US law enforcement sources before they were released by British police or officials.” [CNN]

PROFILE: “Wanna Know What Donald Trump Is Really Thinking? Read Maggie Haberman” by Rachael Combe: “Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington… She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,” [Annie] Karni says… Trump has also sent her his famous press clippings with Sharpie notes on them, mostly with criticisms, but at least once with praise. Lately he’s gone digital (sort of): He’ll write the note on the clip, and then have White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks take a picture of the note and e-mail it to her.” [Elle

“Eli Pariser Predicted the Future. Now He Can’t Escape It” by Jessi Hempel: “Six years after the Upworthy cofounder coined the term “filter bubble,” things are much worse. The problem with online distribution, Pariser believes, is that specific, true information can’t compete with that guy surfing off his roof. “Is the truth loud enough?” he asks. “If the problem is that the truth isn’t loud enough, it points in very different directions than if the problem is that fake news is misleading people.” [BackChannel]

MEDIA WATCH: “Ken Kurson resigns at Kushner-owned ‘New York Observer’” by Dylan Byers:
“Ken Kurson, the editor-in-chief of Jared Kushner’s family-owned New York Observer, has resigned. In a move rich with political intrigue, Mr. Kurson said he would begin a new job next week as a senior managing director at Teneo Strategy, a division of the corporate advisory firm run by allies of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a memo to staff, Kurson said Kushner had “never received the credit he deserves for supporting independent journalism and contributing to the cultural fabric of our city.” Defending Kushner against the “snark” and “unfair criticism” of his detractors, Kurson said the Observer “wouldn’t exist were it not for the willingness… of the Kushner family to cut those checks. They didn’t have to do that.”” [CNNMoney; NYTimes

SPORTS BLINK — Heard Last Night: “On Wednesday, John Elway received the Mizel Institute 2017 Community Enrichment Award in recognition of his more than three decades of community service in Colorado. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock served as masters of ceremonies at the dinner and presented Elway with special honors from the state and city. About the honor, Elway said, “As far as what Larry Mizel’s done for the community with the Mizel Institute and everything, I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m obviously humbled. There’s been a lot of great people that have won this award before tonight. The list of awardees before me is tremendous. I thank Larry so much, and I’m humbled by the award.” [MileHighSports; ABC7]

DESSERT: “Silver Lake’s Mh Zh Is The Israeli Sidewalk Cafe That L.A. Didn’t Know It Was Missing” by Oren Peleg: “Mh Zh, a new Israeli restaurant opened in Silver Lake this Spring, fits into the second of these two metrics. Co-owner Conor Shemtov may be a native Angeleno, but he has spent years in kitchens near and far, including time in the central Israeli city of Ramla. The Israeli influence remains. The restaurant’s name itself is a Hebrew play on words. Mh Zh, pronounced “mAH zeh” means “what is this” in Hebrew, but could just as easily be read as mezze, a Middle Eastern version of tapas.” [LAist]

BIRTHDAYS: Physicist and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jack Steinberger turns 96… Academy Award winning film producer and director, responsible for 50 major motion pictures, Irwin Winkler turns 86… Co-founder and CEO of the clothing manufacturer, Calvin Klein Inc., which he formed with his childhood friend Calvin Klein, he is also a former horse racing industry executive, Barry K. Schwartz turns 75… Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1986 (including 7 years as Chief Judge), now on senior status, Douglas H. Ginsburg turns 71… British journalist, editor, author and Jewish community leader, he has been the City Editor of the Daily Mail (London) since May 2000 and a past VP of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Alex Brummer turns 68… Actor, voice actor, and stand-up comedian sometimes referred to as “Yid Vicious,” Bobby Slayton turns 62… Member of the Australian Parliament since 2016, Julian Leeser turns 41… NYC-based senior producer for i24 News, Alison Kurtzman turns 27… Pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization who had two effective appearances for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Ryan Sherriff turns 27… Olympic Gold medalist at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, gymnast Aly Raisman turns 23… South Florida resident Marjorie Moidel… Laura Goldman… John Davis… Robin Kramer

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Politicians can’t solve every problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

President Donald Trump Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Journalists and pundits are having a field day with the ironies swirling around President Donald Trump’s dialectic on ending terrorism, delivered last week to the leaders of nearly 50 Muslim nations during his visit to Saudi Arabia.

Not least was his effort to single out Iran as the primary funder and fueler of terror while ignoring Saudi support for a vast network of madrasas teaching Wahhabism, an extremist sect of Islam. Also unmentioned by Trump was a reminder that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers — plus mastermind Osama bin Laden — were from Saudi Arabia, a country one former U.S. ambassador described as the “ideological and financial epicenter” of “theofascism.”  

But there was another more significant omission in Trump’s prescription for combating terror. You can drive out terrorists from a country physically, but how do you drive hatred from their heart? What do you replace it with? 

“Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding and the false allure of their craven ideology will be the basis for defeating them,” Trump said.

The president deployed his vision for combating terrorism mostly through the prism of  “hard power”: a top-down leadership approach that ostensibly involves international diplomacy, military might, policy-making, spying and the international banking system. He’s the American president, after all, and that is his purview.   

But is there an alternative?

Perhaps Trump didn’t want to get too specific about a more grass-roots approach because that would creep too eerily into Saudi funding of madrasas and offend his “gracious hosts.”

But hard power can go only so far. The pursuit of violent conflict and economic warfare does not lay the foundation for a profound cultural shift that would offer viable alternatives to would-be terrorists. Trump himself said he does not wish to “impose our way of life” on any other nation. But in one sense, our way of life — upheld by a liberal education — is exactly what is needed.

When it comes to the world’s most intractable conflicts — and Trump’s framing of the fight against terrorism as a “battle between good and evil” certainly qualifies — hard power must be met with partners in social change.

So let’s pivot to another seemingly insurmountable conflict, the one between Israel and Palestine. Last week, while Trump was en route to the Middle East, a group of scholars and teachers from that region headed to Los Angeles for the conference “Learning the Other’s Past,” organized by Professor David N. Myers, chair in Jewish History at UCLA.

The focus of the conference was an Israeli-Palestinian educational partnership, PRIME (Peace Research Institute in the Middle East), which produced a “dual-narrative” textbook teaching Israeli and Palestinian histories “Side by Side,” as the volume is titled.

At a certain point, the creators of the project reasoned, the only way to bridge the chasm that divides Israelis and Palestinians is to expand educational possibilities. Palestinians need to understand the Jewish imperative for statehood in their ancestral land and learn about the Holocaust. Likewise, Israelis need to recognize Palestinian claims to the land and understand how Jewish statehood triggered a Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.” 

Hard power can go only so far. The pursuit of violent conflict and economic warfare does not lay the foundation for a profound cultural shift that would offer viable alternatives to would-be terrorists.

“For me, the theory of change that really resonates most powerfully is bottom-up, people to people, community by community, school to school,” Myers told me. “That’s the kind of work that culture and education and the arts and history can promote in advance, [and which] seems to stitch together the fabric of a meaningful nonviolent coexistence.”

Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can negotiate borders, sovereignty, holy sites and settlements. But no amount of dealmaking can undo the fear, hatred, distrust and resentment that have built up between two peoples for more than a century. Only individual contact with the other side — and The Other’s story — can do that.

It is a shame and a disgrace to “hard power” that both the Israeli Ministry of Education as well as the Palestinian Ministry have banned the dual-narrative textbook from public school curriculums. A daring few are teaching it anyway, as are several other countries. The overwhelming resistance within Israel and Palestine to teaching this broader narrative, one that encompasses multiple perspectives, is a cynical attempt to entrench future generations in a protracted conflict.

It also proves that education is just as threatening as violence: Knowledge can inculcate one-sided, nationalistic ideology or it can unlock human empathy and understanding. A madrasa can be a gateway to God — or hell.   

The process of unraveling a narrow worldview, especially if one’s identity depends upon it, is always fraught.

I asked Myers, an observant Jew and a lover of Israel, what it’s like to sit in conference rooms listening to Palestinians tell stories of Israeli-inflicted pain. How does he hold his love for Israel in the same heart that aches for the suffering on the other side?

“It’s the great challenge of my life,” Myers said. “I wake up in the morning obsessed with the question, and I go to bed at night obsessed with the question. I have a deep, searing, powerful, emotional connection to [Israel], the people, the culture, the language. And yet, it often tortures my soul.”

The only solution is reconciliation, empowering people through knowledge.

The writer Adam Thirlwell teaches that power is “always an assault on individual integrity” and thrives when there is “communal blur.”

If that’s the case, Trump’s words in Saudi Arabia were sadly out of focus.

Coverage of Trump is first draft of history

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a statement after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport on May 22. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere have hurt President Donald Trump badly with their disclosures about Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey, and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The role of news media in the process of telling Trump’s story deserves the same kind of thorough examination that journalists are giving the presidency, Congress, political parties and other institutions.

I usually write about Jewish community and political affairs in this column. But, having been a journalist for years, I thought my opinion on the Trump news coverage might be helpful to our readers. When I think about them, I visualize intelligent, informed women and men vitally interested in public affairs whose political opinions range all over the lot, an interest often heightened by a special concern about Israel.

First, consider the speed and quantity of the news flow. Because of that, some of the stories may turn out to be misstated, overblown or even contradicted the next day.

The flow is fed by the 24-7 demands of cable news, fiercely competing websites and newspapers. Feeding the news are leaks and unpredictable outbursts by Trump on Twitter or in person.

There’s a lemming-like quality to the coverage. A lemming, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is “a member of a crowd with no originality or voice of his own.” This is a harsh way to describe the press corps. But the journalists do jump en masse from one hot development to another without a pause for a breath or reflection. Such coverage can be misleading as well as confusing. Each development flashes on your phone or television screen at minute-by-minute pace. It begins before dawn with Trump’s tweets, picking up the pace instantly as reporters follow them, becoming hysterical when lawmakers are interviewed midday and then sinking into incoherence in the evening when the huge panels of commentators weigh in.

A graphic example of journalists following one another blindly and thoughtlessly was last month’s coverage of the American bombing of a Syrian air base. But whatever happened with that bombing? There has not been much follow-up coverage of it since the Trump investigation began.

Follow-up, context and history matter — they reduce confusion and separate the responsible journalists from the lemmings.

Follow-up, context and history matter — they reduce confusion and separate the responsible journalists from the lemmings. The other day, I was grateful to Rachel Maddow for taking the first half-hour or so of her show to give a clear, thoughtful explanation of Watergate, the special counsel and obstruction of justice, and how they relate to the Trump-Russia investigation. She began with a description of her mother watching the Watergate hearings on television while she held a newborn Rachel. She ended with a concise explanation of the history and duties of the special counsel.

Special counsel Robert Mueller looks as though he will conduct a deep investigation, avoiding news coverage as much as possible. But there will be stories, many of them leaked from the separate Senate and House investigations.

How can the consumer of news sort through all this?

You have to slow down, even if the journalists can’t. This story has a long way to go. It may be months or longer for Mueller and his staff to complete their work. Meanwhile, you’ll be bombarded with accounts of developments billed as “bombshells.” As I’m writing this, two stories have emerged. One, from The New York Times, was that Trump told Russian officials that his firing Comey had taken great pressure off him and that Comey was “a real nut job.” The other, from The Washington Post, reported the federal investigation has tagged a current White House official as a “significant person of interest.”

To absorb what this means in one afternoon is impossible. Does it add up to an eventual Trump indictment for attempting to obstruct justice? Or will it just become more background noise, forgotten amid more important developments?

Remember, you are watching history, and you don’t know how it will turn out. I covered Richard M. Nixon from his 1968 presidential campaign to the day he stepped off his plane at El Toro Marine Air Base, having just resigned the presidency. I was faced with deadlines at all times, and my goal was to get the story in quickly and not be beaten by the competition. I never thought of history, an exception being when I watched Nixon, with an odd, unsteady gait, walk toward the crowd of thousands waiting to greet him. This was the last chapter of his political history.

Today’s reporters covering Trump are observing history and don’t know how it will end, any more than you do. Their contributions should be hailed and their mistakes understood if not forgiven.

Their dilemma was well described in a 1959 essay in the Nieman Reports by the late Thomas Griffith, a distinguished editor of Time magazine.

“Journalism is in fact history on the run,” Griffith wrote. “It is history written in time to be acted upon: thereby not only recording events but at times influencing them. … Journalism is also the recording of history while the facts are not all in. Yet, any planner of battles knows the eternal conflict between needing to know enough to act, and needing to act in time: a problem in journalism as in diplomacy and warfare.

“If journalism is sometimes inaccurate and often inadequate, ignorance would not be preferable.”


BILL BOYARSKY is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).