FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks on issues related to visas and travel after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, U.S. on March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Sunday Reads: Tillerson’s slow start, Sisi’s ‘Egypt First’ foreign policy, Did American racism inspire the Nazis?


US

David Ignatius takes a look at Rex Tillerson’s slow start at the State Department:

The dilemma for Tillerson, the methodical engineer, is how to connect with the mercurial tweeter in chief. A fascinating example was Tillerson’s conversation with the president just before Trump placed a telephone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Tillerson tried to explain the tricky Kurdish problem in detail, but that wasn’t what engaged Trump, according to one well-informed source.

The president interjected with an explanation of why Erdogan had survived an attempted military coup last summer: “You know what saved him? Facebook and social media.” It was a revealing, and probably accurate, presidential insight.

David Graham writes about the unbelievable appointment of a foreign agent as National Security Adviser:

In fact, it would be laughable if Trump officials had not known, since a simple Google search could have tipped them off. On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill floridly praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a crucial ally against ISIS and calling for the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader and former Erdogan ally who lives in the U.S., and whom Erdogan blamed for instigating a failed 2016 coup. Flynn complained that Barack Obama had kept Erdogan at arm’s length.

Israel

Avi Issacharoff writes about Trump’s surprising interest in Israel-Palestine peace making attempts:

All of this adds up to more than the faint indication that the Trump administration may be about to plunge into the quicksand of attempted Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. On the campaign trail, Trump acknowledged that this would be hardest of all deals, and maybe its purported impossibility is what he relishes.

The bar right now is so low that even bringing Abbas and Netanyahu together for a photo opportunity on the White House lawn would constitute quite an achievement. Both men would pay a price back home for such an appearance, but if Donald Trump were to invite them, it might be an offer they could not refuse.

Aviad Kleinberg discusses the Haredi backlash against a court decision that forbids racial discrimination against schoolchildren:

First of all, we must admit that the Haredi argument is essentially justified. Indeed, traditional Judaism does not believe in equality—not between Jews and non-Jews, men and women or scholars and the uneducated. The former in each of these three pairs deserve favored treatment. An Arab, even a good Arab, is not a real human being; a woman, even a good woman, is not really a man; and a secular person, even a good secular person, will never be equal to a religious scholar (who is better than the greatest secular scholar, even if he is a complete fool)… The discrimination against Sephardim may not be according to the law of the Bible, but it is definitely prescribed by the rabbis (the greatest sages of Israel, may they live long and happily). And in the new Israel, the secular court’s rulings are always conditional, until we find out what the Torah sages have to say.

Middle East

Eric Trager writes about General Sisi’s “Egypt First” foreign policy:

Sisi, in other words, will follow an “Egypt first” playbook, and Cairo expects everyone else to do the same. Still, if oil-rich Gulf states believe that they can’t face the region’s challenges alone, then it’s unclear why a resource-poor country with severe structural and security challenges believes that it can.

Busra Erkara describes President Erdogan’s massive propaganda machine in Istanbul:

President Erdogan had turned Istanbul into a giant site for propaganda calling upon the citizens to support his plans to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential system that would give him sweeping powers. The plan has already been approved by the Parliament, where the A.K.P. holds the majority of the seats, and its fate will be decided by a referendum on April 16.

Jewish World

Michael Eisenberg believes that American Orthodoxy’s leaders are moving to Israel:

If the leading minds of American Orthodoxy are moving to Israel and if the leading Torah and Jewish institutions are in Israel, and the innovation-centric wealth will grow in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, what will be left of the intellectual vision for American Jewry, particularly Orthodox Jewry whose epicenter is New York and the East Coast. Who, in the academic, rabbinic, and lay leadership will articulate a vision beyond Torah U’Madda at Yeshiva University and the broader community? If the future leadership continues to make Aliyah, who will paint a path forward for a communal and community ethos? Who will confront growing assimilation? Birthright long ago outsourced its Jewish identity needs to Israel by sending kids there for 10 days. A one-year gap program in Israel is now de rigeur for most Orthodox Jewish kids and many Jewish youth of other denominations wishing to grow in Torah studies and Jewish identity. To this day, the U.S. Jewish community has been unable to provide this deep identity need. That search and crystallization of identity for most Jewish kids has moved to Israel.

Joshua Muravchik reviews a book that raises the curious claim that American Racism inspired the Nazis:

Yet just as Whitman has told us nothing about the “genesis of Nazism,” so he tells us nothing about the “world history of racism.” The discrimination and persecution visited on American blacks was terrible and shameful, but how do we measure it against the European subjugation of much of Africa and Asia, against the mass murder of Armenians by the Turks, against Japan’s rape of Nanjing and murder of millions of Chinese, against fascist Italy’s treatment of the Abyssinians, against the Soviet regime’s ruthless subjugation of small ethnic groups and later its deportation of entire nationalities, against bloody conflicts among tribes, ethnicities, religions in various remote corners of the globe? Much of the abuse of one group by another around the world was and is often carried out without recourse to law; insofar as Nazi lawyers looked to American law, wasn’t it simply because they were, after all, lawyers looking for laws?

U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ over plans for settlement expansion


The U.S. State Department criticized an Israeli announcement approving the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday, in answer to a reporter’s question during a briefing, hours after reports of the approval. “Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank.”

The Mideast Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N., called on Israel in June to stop building in the settlements and on the Palestinians to halt incitement.

Kirby said that the State Department is “particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.”

“Potentially unlimited” is a recent term used by the State Department, and seems to indicate U.S. concerns that Israel wants to annex the West Bank.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank; and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticized Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations issued in June by the Mideast Quartet.

Carson: Hillary Knew of the U.S. Spying on Israel


Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for spying on Israel and its allies in Congress.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration ordered the NSA to spy on Israel’s government and collect their communications with members of Congress since 2012.

“It is truly disgraceful that the Obama administration has spied on Prime Minister Netanyahu, his colleagues and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress,” Carson said in a statement.

The GOP presidential hopeful accused the administration of treating Israel like an enemy. “Instead of focusing on deterring the Iran nuclear threat and fighting against the mullahs who chant, ‘death to America,’ President Obama has treated Israel, our staunch, democratic ally in the Middle East, as his real enemy,” Carson said. “Not only did he not curtail surveillance of our close friend, he has once again proven himself to be a president that our enemies need not fear and our friends cannot trust.”

Carson also took a step further and accused Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton of turning a blind eye on the NSA’s surveillance of Israel, suggesting she knew about it after quitting her job at the State Department.

“No doubt President Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration’s spying efforts on Israel,” he said. “It is shameful that she participated in undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship. Once again, she has shown that her experience in government is merely an indication that she is unfit to lead.”

“When I am president, I will stand firmly with Israel, and one of my first acts in office will be to revoke Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran,” Carson pledged.

Huckabee tweets that Obama is marching Israelis ‘to the door of the oven’


Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee cited threats from Israel’s enemies in his continued assault on the Iran nuclear deal.

A series of Twitter posts on Sunday night followed a day after Huckabee said that President Barack Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”

Bolstering his argument of the potential harm the agreement signed by Iran and world powers earlier this month would do to Israel, Huckabee tweeted quotes from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, among others.“It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region,” read one of the posts attributed to Khamenei.

A quote attributed to Nasrallah read: “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Huckabee also said in a tweet, “Tell Congress to do their constitutional duty & reject the Obama-Kerry #IranDeal.”

In an interview Saturday with Breitbart News, Huckabee evoked Holocaust images of the ovens used to dispose of the bodies of Jews gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama criticized Huckabee’s comments on Monday while on a visit to Ethiopia, saying they are “part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.” The president added that Huckabee was making an “effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines,” referring to another Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, called Huckabee’s comments “completely out of line and unacceptable.”

“To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening,” Greenblatt said. “The great tragedy of the Holocaust saw the Jews of Europe without allies and without power at the worst possible moment.”

The Democratic National Committee took issue with what it called Huckabee’s “cavalier” analogy to the Holocaust, saying such rhetoric “has no place in American politics.” Its chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a statement issued Sunday called on Huckabee to apologize to the Jewish community and the American people.

U.S. sells munitions to Israel from its surplus stockpile


The U.S. Defense Department sold to Israel munitions from its Israel-based surplus stockpile.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an email Thursday to JTA. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The weapons released were 120mm tank rounds and 40mm illumination rounds. Israel made the request July 20, which was 12 days after the launch of the current Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip. The items were released on July 23.

Kirby in his email noted that White House approval is not required for the sale of munitions in the Israel-based stockpile.

U.S. defense assistance to Israel has for years included the existence of a stockpile in the country of surplus U.S. weapons available for expedited sale to Israel.

Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon repeated U.S. calls for a humanitarian cease-fire.

“Hagel called for the cease-fire and expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as well as the loss of Israeli lives,” said a statement by Kirby describing the phone call on Wednesday. “Hagel also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security and its right to self defense and said that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.”

Netanyahu, Peres hail U.S. friendship, leadership on Independence Day


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an Independence Day message that he “appreciate(s) deeply all that America has done for Israel.”

The taped video message was played Tuesday night at the Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya. Netanyahu did not attend the event, due to a leg injury sustained while playing soccer with Jewish and Arab children last month.

Referring to the Middle East, Netanyahu said real democracy is not just having popular elections.

“By ensuring both popular sovereignty and individual rights, the nations of the region can join America and Israel in being genuine democracies,” Netanyahu said, adding that “there is ample reason for skepticism.”

However, he continued, “In the long term I believe there is reason for hope,” because “the power of freedom is bound to prevail.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres was the main speaker at the Independence Day celebration, which featured hundreds of guests.

“There is a historic friendship between our two nations. America was, and remains, Israel’s greatest ally and its closest friend,” Peres declared.

He called President Obama’s decision to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom “a moving gesture of a great leader, a great friend, President Obama. It was an expression of the unshakeable bond between our countries, our two nations, our two peoples. I felt the commitment of President Obama to the peace and security of the State of Israel. It was an uncompromising pledge to the security and future of Israel followed by generous implementation.”

Peres also discussed the shared values between the two countries, saying “The United States and Israel were conceived as ideas, to better society, serving a greater good. Always dreaming and always looking forward. Never hating, never attacking and always seeking peace. We share similarities. We are both immigrant-based societies. We both share a pioneering culture. But even more importantly we share a moral compass; we champion freedom, cherish liberty and are committed to the pursuit of happiness. We both see science and technology as the route to a better world. We value the individual as an entrepreneur and the collective responsibility as a source of strength.”

Conference examines future of U.S.-Israel relations


I’ve just finished moderating two panels at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem. I’ve just finished talking to dozens of the people attending and finished listening to other people’s panels. I’m tired and have a headache, and I am still trying to figure out a theme coming out of the conference.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a couple of notes from a roundtable on the ‎future of U.S.-Israel relations that was moderated by Mike Herzog. It was closed to the press (namely, to other press), and attended by luminaries such as Stu Eizenstat, Richard ‎Haass, Uzi Arad, Dore Gold, Malcolm Hoenlein, Abe Foxman, Dan Mariaschin, ‎David Makovsky and Alon Pinkas – I can’t name them all, but you get the picture (if ‎you’re not familiar with the names, Google them). Here’s an outline of some of what was said about some of the topics discussed. It does not do justice to the‎two-hour discussion but it will give you some idea of what was going on.‎

Read the rest of the story on Shmuel Rosner’s blog Rosner’s Domain.

U.S. to help Israel buy more Iron Dome systems


The United States will help Israel buy four more Iron Dome short-range anti-missile systems, a Pentagon official said.

Lt.-Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, told the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee Wednesday that the agency has included in its budget a proposal to pay for four more of the protection systems, which each cost about $50 million.

The system, which has been deployed near Beersheba and Ashkelon, has intercepted rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israeli communities.

Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. developed the Iron Dome on its own, but the United States reportedly believes its troops could benefit from a similar system.

Obama to host Netanyahu at White House


President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House for talks.

The meeting will be held on May 20 in the Oval Office, and the effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process reportedly will be the main item on the agenda.

“The leaders look forward to discussing the full range of issues of mutual interest to the United States and Israel,” the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference on May 21. He is also scheduled to address both houses of Congress in a joint meeting, at the invitation of Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on May 23 is expected to outline his plans for peace with the Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrives in Israel in blast’s wake


U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Israel, where he is expected to press Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks in the wake of increased unrest.

Gates, who landed in Israel on Thursday morning, less than a day after a bomb attack in central Jerusalem and following days of attacks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, is in the Middle East assessing the U.S. posture after a wave of uprisings has shaken some regimes and supplanted others.

He is scheduled to meet his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, in Tel Aviv on Thursday, followed by a meeting with President Shimon Peres. Gates is scheduled to meet the next day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Friday.

Israeli media said Barak intends to raise Israeli concerns arising out of the unrest.

Gates, who has said this is his last year in a post he has held since 2006, is arriving from Cairo, where he met with the interim military leadership in Egypt that assumed power following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Israel has sought reassurances that the new Egyptian regime will maintain the 1978 Camp David peace accords.

A half-century later, rabbis recall marching with Martin Luther King


Rabbi Israel Dresner, 81, says he’s the most arrested rabbi in America.

At least that was the case in the 1960s, he says, when Dresner was one of dozens of rabbis who answered the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for clergy from the North to join the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South.

From the Freedom Rides of 1961 to the famous march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked in the front row with King, Jews were prominent participants in the battle for civil rights that dominated the first half of the ‘60s.

Of the thousands of white activists who headed South, nearly half were Jewish, according to “Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice,” a 1998 publication of the Reform movement.

“This was living out what Judaism itself has been teaching all along, that you have to help the oppressed, the underprivileged, not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” said Rabbi David Teitelbaum, 84, of Redwood City, Calif.

As the United States gets set to mark Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 17, some rabbis who traveled South to join the man who would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize talked to JTA about the civil rights struggle.

Teitelbaum went to Alabama with four other rabbis from northern California in March 1965 for the voter registration drive of African Americans and the Selma march.

The rabbis who joined these efforts were arrested, jailed and sometimes beaten, protected by the color of their skin from the worst physical dangers, but nonetheless threatened on a daily basis.

Dresner’s first arrest was in June 1961, when he and the late Rabbi Martin Freedman of Paterson, N.J., along with eight Protestant ministers, formed the first interfaith clergy Freedom Ride. Their bus was part of a summerlong campaign of white and black activists, many of them clergy, who traveled together throughout the South to draw attention to the evils of segregation.

The young Dresner went to jail each summer for the next three years as he brought ever larger groups of rabbis and ministers to join the struggle in the South.

“I was a Reform rabbi, but I always wore a yarmulke,” said Dresner, now rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Wayne, N.J. “I wanted people to know I was Jewish.”

The president of the NAACP at the time was Kivie Kaplan, a prominent member of the Reform movement’s social action commission. Kaplan bought the Washington building that became the headquarters for the movement’s new Religious Action Center and also housed the fledgling Leadership Council on Civil Rights.

Black and Jewish lawyers on a table in that office drafted what became the major civil rights laws of the mid-‘60s, recounted Al Vorspan, who directed the Reform commission for 50 years.

It was a time when Jews and blacks often found common cause in the struggle for justice in a country where both had been oppressed.

Rabbi Matthew Simon, 79, now the emeritus rabbi of B’nai Israel in Rockville, Md., was working at a Conservative congregation in Los Angeles when he joined the 1965 Selma march.

“I had very good relationships with the black clergy in the San Fernando Valley,” he recalled. “We worked together on social action issues, on voting rights and housing rights, not just in Los Angeles but all over the country.”

Jews who took part in these efforts took considerable push-back from fellow Jews who felt that Jewish activism was better directed at issues of Jewish, not general, concern.

Most of the rabbis who marched with King, or joined the Freedom Riders, were Reform, said Vorspan, now senior vice president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

UAHC came out “strongly and unequivocally” in favor of civil rights activism, he said, but the rabbis who went South risked more than physical danger.

“Many of their congregations were on the verge of firing them for it,” Vorspan said. “I personally went to several congregations threatening to fire their rabbis and told them it would be a ‘chilul Hashem,’ ” a desecration of God’s name.

Three of the largest Reform temples in the country, including Temple Emanuel in New York, temporarily withdrew from the Reform movement, he recalled, because of the movement’s support for the civil rights struggle and later opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, leading black activists were borrowing heavily from Jewish sources, particularly the Bible, in their sermons and speeches. King himself often used biblical motifs, especially the Exodus, to dramatize the African-American journey from slavery to freedom.

One night in Georgia in the summer of 1962, Dresner and King were trapped with other activists in a house surrounded by hundreds of members of the local White Citizens Council.

While they were waiting for help, King told Dresner about the Passover seder he’d attended that spring at a Reform synagogue in Atlanta. He particularly recalled reading the Haggadah and hearing the phrase “We were slaves in Egypt.”

“Dr. King said to me, ‘I was enormously impressed that 3,000 years later, these people remember their ancestors were slaves, and they’re not ashamed,” Dresner said. “He told me, ‘We Negroes have to learn that, not to be ashamed of our slave heritage.’”

Negro was the accepted term for African American in the 1960s, Dresner noted.

In March 1965, Rabbi Saul Berman, then the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, Calif., traveled to Alabama with the rabbinic delegation from northern California.

Black leaders in Selma called, asking the rabbis to bring a box of kipot, or yarmulkes, with them.

“At that time, black people in the South were wearing kipot as a freedom cap,” explained Berman, now a prominent Orthodox scholar who teaches at Stern College and Columbia University School of Law in New York. “It was an extraordinary indication of the extreme penetration of the Jewish community.”

At the same time, Berman said, a “disturbing undercurrent” began to surface in the movement. As his group of 150 activists was arrested for the second time on its way to Selma, debate broke out as to whether they should disband, with a promise not to return, as local police were urging.

“They didn’t want to book us—half the group was clergy,” Berman said.

As the white ministers pondered the best move, the black participants became angry.

“The question arose, whose movement is this?” Berman said. “It was a precursor of much more intense feelings of that sort that emerged in the late ‘60s as black leaders began to resent white leaders who felt the civil rights movement was ‘theirs.’ I didn’t recognize the significance of that scene until much later.”

Many of the rabbis who were active in the civil rights struggle went on to support freedom for Soviet Jewry, motivated by the same sense of prophetic justice that drew them to the South, and by the desire to protect their fellow Jews in trouble, a more particularist concern that grew as the decades passed.

Today, relations between the black and Jewish communities are rarely as strong as they were in the heyday of the civil rights struggle.

“The issues of concern today are those of American society as a whole, not of blacks being able to enter American society,” said Simon, who notes that even after 30 years in suburban Washington, he still does not know his local black clergy. “I interact with them from time to time, but they’ve never come to us for a common action.”

Still, vestiges of commonality remain.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, is the only non-African American on the board of the NAACP. Many synagogues and Jewish community centers run Freedom Seders at Passover with local African-American and Latino leaders, or interfaith Shabbat services to honor Martin Luther King Day.

And rabbis who marched with King say they’d do it again.

“Because I’m Jewish,” Dresner said. “I didn’t see any alternative.”

(Amanda Pazornik of the j weekly contributed to this report from San Francisco.)

Netanyahu: Israel was ready to extend freeze


Israel was prepared to extend a West Bank construction freeze, but the United States withdrew the idea, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“The United States asked us to consider extending the freeze by three months, and the truth is that we were prepared to do so,” Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.

“At the end of the day, the United States decided not to go in that direction, rightly so in my opinion, and moved on to outlining talks on closing gaps, so that the core issues can be discussed,” he added.

The Obama administration pressed Israel to implement a three-month extension of a 10-month freeze on construction on West Bank Jewish settlements in order to keep the Palestinians at the peace negotiating table. The freeze ended in late September, one month after the Palestinians agreed to restart negotiations. In early December the Obama administration announced that it would stop pressing for the freeze, after offering Israel several inducements, including 20 F-35 stealth fighter planes and security guarantees, as a reward for a freeze continuation.

“I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the Cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

Netanyahu said that U.S. officials are scheduled to arrive in mid-January in an effort to restart peace negotiations.

On Sunday Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he was willing to hold continuous negotiations with Abbas until an agreement is reached.

U.S. opposes anti-settlement resolution


The United States opposes efforts to pass an anti-settlement resolution in the United Nations Security Council, a State Department spokesman said.

At the same time, the administration does “not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity,” Mark Toner said Wednesday during a meeting with reporters.

The Palestinian Authority is currently working on a draft of a resolution which would ask the Security Council to condemn Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem, as illegal and an obstacle to peace, according to reports. The resolution could be presented to the Security Council early next year.

“We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, and in fact, we believe continued expansion is corrosive to peace efforts, as well as to Israel’s future. We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual
goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the U.N. Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council, because we believe that these kinds of efforts don’t move us any closer to our goal, which is of two states living side
by side in peace and security,” Toner said.

He declined to say specifically whether the United States would veto such a resolution. A resolution that does not call for sanctions could cause the United States not to use its veto, according to reports.

The Associated Press reported that it had obtained a draft copy of the resolution.  The AP said that the resolution will ask the Security Council to reaffirm that “the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace…”

The resolution also reiterates the Palestinian’s demand that Israel, “the occupying Power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard…”

It also urges “the intensification of international and regional diplomatic efforts to support and invigorate the peace process towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” according to the AP.

U.S. military aid to Israel delayed


United States military aid to Israel for fiscal year 2011 has been delayed for three months.

The more than $3 billion in military aid, one of the largest amounts ever earmarked for Israel, includes grants to upgrade the Iron Dome and Arrow anti-ballistic missile systems.

The delay is a result of the Obama’s administration’s difficulty in passing the 2011 U.S. budget, which forced the president to sign a presidential order extending the current budget through March. Until then, funding for the budget will be disbursed on a month-to-month basis.

Israel usually receives its aid in a lump sum, 30 days after the U.S. annual budget is signed by the president.  Because of this year’s delay, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, Israel stands to lose millions of dollars in interest payments.

Israel received $2.4 billion in the 2010 U.S. fiscal budget. The 2011 budget is set to include, among other things, an additional $415 million to build and operate anti-missile systems, $25 million for immigrant absorption and $2 million for the U.S. Department of Energy’s energy research cooperation program, according to Globes.

The new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives includes many opponents of foreign aid.

Ehud Barak: Final status talks within months


After meeting with U.S. leaders, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted that comprehensive talks with the Palestinians on all final status issues would begin within months.

“We will have a serious discussion in coming months on security, borders, Jerusalem and refugees,” Barak told reporters Monday, ending a visit in which he met with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

Clinton, in an address Dec. 10 at the Saban Forum, urged the sides to address those core issues, just days after the United States abandoned its efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians walked out of the talks in October after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze.

Barak did not say how the talks would proceed, if not directly.

“The mechanics will be resolved in the coming weeks,” he said. Netanyahu has insisted on direct talks, and has preferred to focus only on borders and security for now.

Barak also dismissed the controversy subsequent to his remarks at the Saban Forum following Clinton’s address in which he said a final status plan would include a Jerusalem shared with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials within hours said that Barak’s position was not that of the government’s.

Speaking to reporters, Barak acknowledged as such, saying it was his personal view that Jerusalem is necessarily a topic to be considered in talks.

U.S. trying to help Israel fight fire


The Obama administration is seeking ways to assist Israel in combating its forest fires, while New York sent Israel a shipment of fire retardant.

A 747 loaded with Fire Troll 931, a fire retardant chemical, left New York Thursday night bound for Israel. The shipment was arranged by the Fire Dept. of New York and the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I want to begin by offering our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all of those who’ve died as a result of the terrible forest fire in northern Israel,” President Obama said Thursday evening, launching the annual White House Chanukah party. “As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster.”

A number of countries, including Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan are assisting in attempts to squelch the blaze in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, which has led to the deaths of 40 people and the evacuation of 15,000. The Palestinian Authority also has offered assistance.

“A short while ago, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jim Cunningham, issued a disaster declaration, which has launched an effort across the U.S. government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible,” Obama said. “Of course, that’s what friends do for each other.”

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “We are moving as quickly as we can to provide this assistance, and are heartened by similar efforts to contribute resources from Israel’s other friends around the world.”

Australia offers Israel fire assistance


Australia offered to assist Israel in the wake of the devastating fires that have claimed at least 40 lives.

“Australia stands ready to offer assistance to Israel,” Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who is due to visit Israel later this month, said in a statement Friday. “Australians know directly the devastating impact inflicted by bushfires.  I will travel to Israel later this month for an official visit and will convey my sincere condolences in person to Israeli leaders and people.”

The Israeli Embassy in Canberra thanked the Australian government.

“We wish to thank and acknowledge the government and people of Australia, who have graciously offered their assistance and expertise, even from the far side of the world,” Ambassador Yuval Rotem said in a statement. “These actions highlight the deep friendship between our two nations, and shows Australia’s willingness to stand with us during in this trying moment.”

Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

U.S. to store more weapons in Israel


The United States will store an additional $400 million in emergency military equipment in Israel.

The new equipment, which will arrive in Israel over the next two years, will be available to Israel in the event of an emergency. It will bring to $1.2 billion the amount of American military equipment being stockpiled in Israel by 2012.

Congress approved the storage of new weapons in Israel last month, but the story was first reported this week in Defense News magazine by its Israel-based reporter, Barbara Opall-Rome. The agreement between Israel and the United States includes the conditions under which the Israel Defense Forces may use the equipment, Haaretz reported.

Israel used some U.S. stockpiles of weapons during the Second Lebanon War.

The new equipment includes smart bombs and other precision weaponry, according to reports, and can be used by U.S. troops anywhere in the world.

Project linking Holocaust documents set


A project to connect Holocaust documents throughout Europe is set to be launched.

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, a four-year, nearly $10 million project, will be launched Nov. 16 in Brussels. EHRI, a project of the European Union with 20 partner organizations from 13 European countries including Israel, will be a source of information for researchers and educators around the world.

It is part of the European Union’s research program FP7, in which Israel is a partner. 

“The establishment of EHRI is especially important as different historical narratives are competing in Europe,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, a partner in the project. “Through EHRI, Europe is stating its understanding that the Holocaust has unique standing in the joint European historical narrative.”

“The nature of the events of the Holocaust, and the chaotic state of Europe in the immediate post-war, coupled with the Nazis’ effort to destroy not only the Jewish people, but all memory of them, has meant that information about the Holocaust is spread all over the world,” he said.  “In order to be able to begin to piece together what happened, information that is located in numerous archives throughout Europe must be connected. EHRI will facilitate research into the Holocaust and help us further piece together what happened, when and to whom.”

Working projects will focus on creating a shared thesaurus of 5,000 keywords, allowing unified searches across collections that contain millions of documents in numerous languages, and encouraging research by creating a network among experts in Holocaust-related fields through forums to explore cooperation in names recovery, Holocaust art, identifying photos from the Holocaust period and more. 

Other aspects of the project will deal with information technologies, access and scholarship for researchers to study at Yad Vashem and at other archives.

U.S. reportedly pushing three-month freeze extension


The Obama administration reportedly suggested that Israel extend its current settlement freeze for three months, which Israel appears to have rejected.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the suggestion Wednesday night during her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to reports Thursday citing the the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

In a statement issued to Israeli media Thursday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office said, “We do not comment on the content of negotiations. The position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the time period allotted in advance for the West Bank settlement freeze is well known, and has not changed.”

In the days leading up to the opening of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu had stated that building will continue in West Bank settlements after the 10-month moratorium is lifted Sept. 26. He later backtracked, saying construction could be limited in scope.

Abbas accepted Clinton’s suggestion, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

The suggestion reportedly proposed that once the borders of the new Palestinian state are set during those three months, Israel could resume building in areas that will remain under its control.

In a briefing about the meetings on Wednesday night, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell confirmed that settlements and the moratorium had been discussed, although he would not release details.

“We believe that these negotiations, having begun and having moved very quickly to serious and substantive discussions, should continue,” Mitchell said. “And that has been and remains our policy. We recognize that there are serious issues and challenges that are highly sensitive politically for both parties and for both leaders. We have and do encourage them to engage directly on those issues, and we join with them to share our views on how best to deal with them.”

Israel, U.S. ink open skies pact


Israel and the United States signed an open skies agreement.

Such an agreement removes restrictions on the airlines that may schedule flights between the two countries, leaving the determination to the marketplace.

“This agreement is good news for both countries,” Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation, said in a statement last Friday, after the agreement was signed.  “Consumers, airlines and economies of both the United States and Israel will enjoy the benefits of competitive pricing and more convenient service.”

Israeli officials have said that they expect prices to drop substantially as a result of the agreement.

The United States now has open-skies agreements with 97 countries.

Iran policy reveals split between U.S. Jewish and Israeli left


Israel’s highest-ranking female soldier, Brig. Gen. Yisraela Oron, was sounding all the right notes for her J Street hosts.

At the tail end of a U.S. tour for the left-wing pro-Israel lobby, Oron was lending her considerable security credentials to its platform: a two-state solution, territorial concessions by Israel and a robust U.S. peacemaking role.

The conversation with a group of reporters then turned to Iran and its nuclear potential, and Oron was unequivocal: yes to engagement, but on a timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.

“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that it is not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding that “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”

She was not. J Street explicitly opposes a timetable and has reservations about proposed additional sanctions.

The awkward moment pointed to a potential split between left-wing pro-Israel groups and the Israeli constituents for whom they claim to speak. Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian issue, little dissent exists among Israeli politicians over how to deal with Iran.

That puts left-wing U.S. Jewish groups at odds with Israeli left-wingers.

“There is a more hawkish perception among virtually all circles in Israel” than there is in the United States, said Yossi Alpher, a consultant who has worked with Americans for Peace Now. “It’s very natural. Iran doesn’t say the U.S. has no right to exist and doesn’t do the equivalent of denying the Holocaust. It doesn’t deploy proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah against the United States and on its borders.”

Right now, the differences are not pronounced—the administrations of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are virtually on the same page on the need to confront Iran, and soon. That could change, however, if Iran makes a serious counter offer to Obama’s proposal to engage.

Last week, the Iranians said they had made such an offer. Its details are not known, but it will be part of the “reassessment” Obama has pledged to complete by the end of September, when the major world powers meet at the U.N. General Assembly.

“If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary,” Alpher said. “This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions.”

Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will lobby in Washington on Sept. 10 and rally outside the General Assembly on Sept. 24 for sanctions that would end the export of refined petroleum to Iran, which imports 40 percent of its refined oil.

On Israel’s left, the Labor Party, currently part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, aggressively backs sanctions. Its leader and the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, makes Iran’s isolation the centerpiece of his exchanges with his counterparts in the West.

The smaller Meretz Party, to Labor’s left, also backs Iran’s isolation. It routinely frames its arguments for robust peacemaking in terms of the need to contain Iran’s ambitions.

Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin tells audiences that Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister who launched the Oslo process in 1993, did so principally because of his fears of Iran. Beilin told a German audience last year that he “advocates increased sanctions towards Iran in order to stop centrifugal uranium programs.”

Avshalom Vilan, a Meretz Knesset member until March, was a forceful advocate of reaching out to the nations most able to wound Iran’s economy, including Germany and India.

Across the ocean, however, left-wing U.S. Jewish groups—not to mention non-Jewish left-wing groups—are against more sanctions.

Americans for Peace Now has the most pronounced opposition.

“We don’t think crippling sanctions are right if the meaning of that is that the sanctions will not be targeted against Iran’s governments and leaders but will target Iranian people,” spokesman Ori Nir said. “We think that’s not only morally wrong but is also strategically perilous.”

Other left-wing groups also hedge on the prospect of sanctions.

The Israel Policy Forum, in a July 15 paper, encouraged engagement and said threats of enhanced sanctions were “not necessary” because Iran’s leadership knew they were forthcoming.

The most recent statement from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, dated July 2008, rejects “diplomatic isolation or veiled threats of military action” and advocates “utilizing diplomatic and economic incentives and sanctions together.”

In a policy statement, J Street says it does not oppose further sanctions “in principle,” but “under the current circumstances, it is our view that ever harsher sanctions at this time are unlikely to cause the Iranian regime to cease weapons development.” Engagement should “not be conducted with a stopwatch,” it said.

The Reform movement, which often aligns with the left-wing groups on Israel-Palestinian matters, is a bit closer to the Israeli position when it comes to Iran.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform’s Religious Action Center, disputes Americans for Peace Now’s contention that the proposed enhanced sanctions are immoral.

“These were chosen as a much more targeted way to put the maximum pressure on the power structure in Iran,” he said.

The other left-wing pro-Israel groups arrived at their Iran policies partly because of their alliance with an array of liberal Democrats wary of engaging Iran in the wake of the Iraq War and its resultant quagmire. Behind the scenes, these groups have sought sanctions that would not harm ordinary Iranians.

Supporters of tougher sanctions argue that sanctions targeting the regime have been in place for years and have had little effect.

Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for U.N. affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said that gravitating away from deference to Israeli constituencies may be healthy for some U.S. Jewish groups.

“It makes the conversation more interesting, and once that happens you’ll find more people getting involved, from the right and left,” he said.

Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum said differences might emerge next month over the pacing and intensity of sanctions.

“The Iran difference is part of a differentiation that has got to be addressed,” he said. “At some point there has to be a serious dialogue between American Jews and Israel and the Obama administration and Israel.”

One tactic might be to remind Israel that Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran appears to have rallied support in Europe in recent weeks for tougher sanctions.

“The doves,” Spiegel said, “accomplished what the hawks could not.”

After weeks of watching, Israel and U.S. groups push forward on Iran


The aftermath of Iran’s election presents the United States, Israel and pro-Israel advocates here with a dilemma worthy of a medical melodrama: Advocates for radical surgery, notwithstanding the dangers it poses, have the upper hand and the scalpel is ready—and then the patient shows signs of healing naturally.

Israel, the Obama administration and the organized U.S. Jewish community for a few weeks put on hold their plans to ratchet up confrontation with Iran over its putative nuclear weapons program to see how clashes between the government and protesters who say the June 12 election was stolen would play out.

That answer is not clear, but apparently based on reports that Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapon, the confrontationists are back by the operating table, raising the scalpel and saying its time to dig in.

That was the thinking behind a decision Monday by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to plan major rallies in September to press for sanctions. The push will be coordinated to assist efforts by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to nudge toughened sanctions legislation through the U.S. Congress in September.

The clearest sign of the renewed assertiveness was a series of statements by senior U.S. officials culminating in a speech Tuesday by Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States still prefers diplomacy, he said, “but with all options on the table, including, certainly, military options.”

Explicitly invoking “military options” is rare, especially by the nation’s top soldier, although Mullen insisted he had done so in the past after reporters at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event pressed him on the matter.

Moreover, Mullen suggested that for the first time Israel and the United States were closer than ever on when exactly Iran’s nuclear program becomes intolerable.

“The time window is closing,” he said. “The clock is ticking.”

That sounded a lot closer to the recent Israeli predictions of imminent crisis, as opposed to previous American talk of a window of about five years.

Mullen noted that he consulted closely on the matter with Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli military chief of staff, and was impressed with Israeli concerns that a nuclear Iran posed an existential threat to Israel.

Mullen’s dire warnings did not come out of the blue: He is making an unusual number of public appearances this week, speaking on the Iran issue, and Vice President Joe Biden told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that any Israeli decision to strike Iran would be Israel’s alone.

“Israel can determine for itself—it’s a sovereign nation—what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else,” Biden said.

A number of media reports in recent days suggest an intensification of efforts to coordinate the U.S.-Israel approach to Iran—and how they at times falter. Ha’aretz reported that Israel is seeking specifics on what President Obama plans to do if his outreach fails, and the Washington Times wrote that Israel is withholding a formal request to the United States to attack Iran in case it is denied.

Meanwhile, Obama told CNN in Moscow on Tuesday that the United States had not greenlighted an Israeli strike.

“We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East,” he said.

The clearest articulation of “why now” for tougher action against Iran was made by Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, addressing its constituents in a conference call Monday afternoon.

Hoenlein, who called in from Israel, said he was hearing from Israeli leaders that existing sanctions were having an effect and that now was not the time to reduce the pressure.

“We are not getting into the issue of regime change, but we are focused on the nuclear issue,” he said during the call.

“We held off for a little while to see what the outcome” of the elections would be, Hoenlein said, but pressed ahead because of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plans to attend the U.N. General Assembly and because of Iran’s continued efforts to achieve a nuclear weapon.

The plans are for a massive Washington Day on Sept. 10 that would include meetings at the White House and in Congress, and for a mass rally in New York on Sept. 24 to protest Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Lawmakers have held back on tougher sanctions in part because they also are watching the post-election fallout and because legislation usually does not move in summer months.

The most recent legislation, advanced by U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would withdraw loan guarantees from companies that deal with Iran’s energy sector. Other enhancements could target Iran’s central bank and its import of refined petroleum.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee and a key to advancing legislation, is said to be concerned that punishing Iranians when they are seeking to replace a tyranny may not be opportune.

AIPAC has a powerful ally, however, in U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who in a recent letter to Obama suggested that confronting Iran trumped other Middle East issues.

“I believe that resolving the problem of Iran’s nuclear program will help facilitate the Arab-Israeli peace process,” Reid wrote.

Speakers on the Presidents Conference call emphasized the need for volume—they expect 300 to 500 Jewish communal leaders to attend the Washington Day—and breadth.

“Get local chapters to reach out to non-Jewish counterparts all across the eastern seaboard and through the Midwest,” Hoenlein said, referring to plans for the New York rally, adding that he hoped to draw Muslim and Christian speakers.

The effort will confront a residual reluctance to assume a more militant posture, particularly one that could culminate in a strike. Mullen enumerated several reasons why the United States was still committed to diplomacy and wary of confrontation—“the vulnerabilities of regional countries that are friends of ours.”

Does a strike, he asked, “get contained or does it expand response in other parts of the world”?

Mullen said the very fluidity of the situation gave him pause.

“We’re not very good at predicting what’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen,” he said. “And not just we—lots of countries in the world.”

For Israeli ex-pats, the homeland is calling


Merav and Roy Lobel are going back to Israel. Since the birth of their baby boy, now eight months old, they have longed to be with their families. Each time they’ve hung up the phone after a call to Israel, they’ve felt as if part of their heart was still there.

Guilty feelings about living so far from home had always been there, but it escalated once Harel was born.

“Both of our families came here for the birth of our son, and after they left I felt such emptiness,” said Merav Lobel, 30, a teacher at a Jewish day school in the San Fernando Valley. “While we do have a good circle of friends who are very supportive, it can’t replace our family in Israel.”

Merav and Roy have lived in the United States seven and six years, respectively, and while they’ve had a good life and good jobs in the United States, they are planning to return to Israel this month. They admit that they are going to miss their friends, the comfort and the seemingly peaceful life in America, but they are happy to replace it with the chaos of life in Israel.

“Only in Israel you feel that you truly belong, that this is your country. America sells you an illusion. But in Israel you have substance,” Lobel said.

The American dream that brings many Israelis to this country doesn’t always come true. More Israelis than ever before are making aliyah (immigration to Israel) after spending 10 years or less in the United States, and those who help Israelis move back say they have seen a growth in the trend as the economy declines.

Roughly 19,000 Israelis leave their native country each year, but the number returning has increased from about 2,600 in 2000 to more than 4,000 last year, according to Israel’s Absorption Ministry.

While specific numbers of Israelis emigrating from Los Angeles were not available, Shani Kamara, director of the L.A. consulate’s Israeli House office, which aids returning citizens, says the number of Israelis seeking to return this year has grown significantly.

“There is an increase of 44 percent in the number of returning citizens from all around the world to Israel. New York and Los Angeles have the most returning citizens,” she said.

Israel’s Absorption Ministry’s new initiative, Returning Home on Israel’s 60th, is targeting an estimated 700,000 expatriate Israelis worldwide with tax breaks to make the move easier. Local Israelis planning to return trace their incentive for moving to missing family, wanting to raise children in Israel and suffering due to the downturn in the U.S. economy. For some, economic hardship highlights the lack of support in the United States and reminds them of the family they’ve left behind.

Arik Hezroni the owner of Dynamic L.A., an international moving company in Los Angeles, says that business is brisk these days with the rise of aliyah. While some have made their fortune in the United States and want to return to enjoy the fruits of the labor in Israel, he says most are simply losing their jobs and homes and have no fallback position.

“Many Israelis in Los Angeles are working in real estate and construction,” Hezroni said. “Some of them had lost their homes to the banks, some lost their jobs and decided that if they have to struggle financially then they are better off struggling in Israel and having the support of their families, rather than stay here and struggle alone.”

Some are so desperate they cannot afford the airfare back to Israel and call the Israeli consulate hoping to get a free ticket home, according to a consulate official who asked not to be identified. Others cut their losses, sell whatever they have left and return to Israel with little to show for their time in this country. Berni Eger is one of them.

Eger came to Los Angeles three years ago hoping to work construction, make some money and get some distance from personal problems in Israel.

“I just got divorced, and I wanted to start a new page somewhere. Los Angeles seemed like the right place. Somebody had offered me a job, and it was a good opportunity to come here,” he said.

Eger’s boss stopped paying him recently after construction work dried up.

“I know it was hard for him, as well, but as much as I sympathized with his situation, I couldn’t go on living on nothing. There were times I hardly had enough to buy food, and at that point my boss took a check from his daughter’s checking account and gave it to me. I felt so embarrassed for him and for myself. I think that was the breaking point, when I knew it’s time to leave,” he said.

For others, the decision to make aliyah is based entirely on a desire to raise children in Israel. Orly Hillel is trading economic stability in the United States for uncertainty in Israel.

“It was a good opportunity for us to come here and experience life in the States,” said Hillel, who moved to Los Angeles five years ago with her husband, Yossi, and three children — currently ages 15, 12 and 9 — after winning a green card lottery. “But now it’s time to go back home while the kids are still young.

Hillel says that while they are financially secure in Los Angeles, there’s some uncertainty about what awaits them upon their return to Israel. And yet she’s sure her family will manage.

“We were alone here, and there is no price for loneliness. Even though we do have friends here, they don’t come in the place of a family; they don’t come in place of feeling like you belong, that this is your country and this is where you should live,” she said.

Paradoxes characterize life in Israel


To be an Israeli at the time of the state’s 60th anniversary means to be resigned to living with insoluble emotional and political paradoxes. It means living with a growing fear of mortality, even as we celebrate our ability to outlive every threat. We are almost certainly the only nation that marks its Independence Day with an annual poll that invariably includes the question: “Do you believe the country will still exist 50 years from now?”

Most Israelis continue to answer in the affirmative, precisely because we know that the odds have always been against us, and that we have thrived in the face of dangers few nations would likely have survived.

We are still “the only country” — the only country whose borders are not internationally recognized, the only country whose capital city has no foreign embassies, the only country expected in negotiations to yield tangible assets in exchange for mere recognition of our existence, the only country on which a death sentence has been passed by some of its neighbors.

Terror enclaves impinge on our borders, while the threat of a nuclear Iran grows. Our wars have shifted from the battlefront to the home front. Katyushas on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem — the inconceivable has become routine.

As the jihad against us intensifies, we long for the ever-more elusive promise of normalization. Perhaps only now, in our fitful late-middle age, do we realize how touchingly naïve it was for the Zionist movement to imagine normalizing the Jews by creating the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, in a land holy to three competing faiths, in proximity to the world’s most coveted oil fields.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be proud of unimagined achievements, of being a world innovator in science and technology, of being second, just behind America, in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. And it means carrying the shame of chilul, desecration of the name “Israel.”

We have allowed ourselves to be represented by a president accused of rape, a prime minister voted the most corrupt politician in the country, a deputy prime minister convicted of molestation, a former finance minister accused of massive embezzlement. Other countries may have leaders even more corrupt than ours, but that is no comfort for a people facing life-and-death decisions and repeatedly summoned to sacrifice far beyond the capacity of any other Western citizenry.

In our late middle age, most of us are wary of the notion of fulfilling the biblical imperative of becoming a light unto the nations. “Let’s first be a light to ourselves,” we say.

Still, we suspect that we may be a light after all. In our war against the suicide bombers, we proved that a consumerist society can defeat terrorists and reclaim its public space — a historic victory for the world, even if much of the world doesn’t know it.

This is the third time in less than a century that the Jews find themselves on the front line against totalitarian evil — Nazism, Soviet communism and now jihadism. Each of those movements aspired to remake humanity in its image, and each defined the Jews as its main obstacle.

It is difficult to celebrate that pattern of enmity, but understanding the nature of our enemies should, at least, give us confidence in the essential rightness of our cause. By being the front line against jihad, Israel is performing the work of tikkun olam, helping to heal the world.

Not only are we fighting this war while bereft of inspired leadership; for the first time in our history, we lack a vision that can summon a majority of Israelis.

One after another our ideological certainties have collapsed. The dream of “greater Israel” ended in the first intifada; the dream of “peace now” ended in jihad. Finally, there was the hope of unilateralism: If we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them, we can at least determine our own borders. That fantasy ended with the missile attacks from Gaza. Now there are no answers, only improvisations.

Still, in place of ideological certainty there is hard-won sobriety. Most of us would make almost any concession to end this conflict and achieve genuine recognition of our legitimacy. But most of us realize that at this point in the conflict, no concession will bring us that recognition.

The left has won the argument over concessions; the right has won the argument over peace. For the first time since the Six-Day War, we are facing reality without ideological blinkers. The collapse of ideologies depresses but also clarifies: Finally, we understand the complexity in which we live, and that enables us to cope.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to acknowledge that our internal conflicts over identity can only be managed, not solved. As a modern state in a holy land, we are fated to remain at once secular and religious, without a decisive tilt in either direction. And with Arabs constituting over 20 percent of our population, we are fated to be both a democratic state and a Jewish State, aspiring to somehow include all its citizens in its national identity, while maintaining responsibility even for Jews who are not its citizens.

No less extraordinary than the multiple fault lines in the society is the fact that the society is holding. We have survived the murder of a prime minister and the uprooting of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes in Gaza. We know our capacity for self-devouring, the Jewish yetzer harah (evil temptation).

The vast immigration waves of the last two decades from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have yet to be integrated. But we know, too, that the ingathering of the exiles has its own momentum, and that, somehow, a people is being formed out of disparate and even antithetical communities.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be privy to a secret that most Diaspora Jews don’t know, and which we often don’t acknowledge even to ourselves: Israel is a great place to live — to cherish the informality, the vitality if not the rudeness, the endless surprises and permutations of Israeliness. Within unbearable tension, we have created ease. The food is great, the humor beyond politically incorrect. Hebrew culture scandalizes the sacred and sanctifies the mundane.

A 15-year plan for Israel


At its 60th anniversary, Israel needs a new vision that not only will guide its priorities and inform its actions, but also will be relevant to the lives of all Israelis.

This is why the ISRAEL 15 Vision, a Reut Institute plan that calls for Israel to become one of the 15 most developed nations within 15 years, is so compelling. It requires improving the quality of life of all citizens.

Quality of life is a very elusive issue. Its definition changes by geography. The quality of life of a religious and spiritual person is different from that of a secular businessperson.

Notwithstanding, quality of life is also visible and tangible. For example, anyone can tell that the average quality of life in countries like Canada or Australia is higher than in Greece or Spain. Furthermore, although income per capita is an important factor determining life, other public goods such as health, education, employment and social cohesion play a critical role as well.

Israel’s growth of recent years can be intoxicating. However, we often tend to forget that the world economy has experienced significant growth as well in recent years. Hence, impressive rates of growth notwithstanding, Israel didn’t succeed in leapfrogging — catching up with the leading nations of the world.

In contrast, during the first 20 years of the state, Israel’s economy bounced upwards. Israel doubled its well-being relative to the United States, starting with an average income of 30 percent of the U.S. average and reaching 60 percent by the early 1970s. Since then, however, Israel has not been able to bridge the gaps with the richer countries while countries such as Ireland, Singapore and South Korea have made leaps ahead.

The importance of closing the gaps with the richest nations stems from the mobility of people, technology and investment. As these highly mobile resources “choose” which country to go to, nations compete for them. Success in this fierce battle is essential for the future of any country, but is critical for the survival of Israel.

Israel suffers from the largest gap between the level of talent of its population and the quality of life offered its residents. Israel is ranked 28th in the world in quality of life, yet our population is among the most educated and technologically savvy in the world. Indeed, Israel is a leading exporter of talent, with one of the highest levels of brain drain among developed nations.

Becoming one of the 15 leading nations — roughly at the level of Holland, Singapore or New Zealand — requires leapfrogging our socioeconomic performance and growing at an annual pace of 7 percent to 8 percent for at least 10 years. This is a national challenge that will require widespread mobilization of the key sectors of society.

The phenomenon of leapfrogging is different than growth. While the world has established a recipe for stability and growth in the form of a set of accepted principles known as the Washington Consensus, which primarily calls for fiscal and monetary discipline and privatization, there is no such recipe for leapfrogging. In other words, each country charts its own path.

However, the common denominator among the countries that have leaped ahead has been their agenda. They all established an ambitious vision, identified growth engines and exhausted them, benchmarked their performance to other countries, improved the capacity of their government to make decisions and implement them, enhanced collaboration among key sectors of society and invested in human capital.

In addition, nations that leaped ahead contained their unique challenge and tapped into their individual potential. For example, Singapore understood that it was located at a junction between East and West and therefore developed the world’s leading airport, seaport and airline, while Ireland tapped the benefits of its inclusion into the European Union.

We also know that leapfrog happens as a consequence of a combination between top-down leadership by the government and bottom-up mobilization of the key sectors of society. Hence, on the one hand, reforming Israeli governance is key since it is significantly underperforming compared to our business sector.

At the same time, we have to find ways to harness mayors and local governments, businesspeople, philanthropists, nonprofits and world Jewry to the ISRAEL 15 Vision and create the space that allows them to make contributions, as well.

Finally, growth and development have to turn into a national obsession. We have had such passions in the past: greening the desert, redeeming the land or immigration absorption. The challenge for the ISRAEL 15 Vision is to become a household phrase and a framework that inspires for action.

The ISRAEL 15 Vision might be ambitious but it is attainable. Israel already is a world leader in key areas such as research and development, human capital or technology. We have outperformed expectations in the past. There is no reason we cannot do it again.

Gidi Grinstein is the founder and president of the Reut Institute. This article is based on a speech he gave at the 2008 Herzliya Conference.

Books: Former CIA analyst details failures in agency actions


“Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA” by Melvin A. Goodman (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

In the fall of 1973, Melvin Goodman and some other analysts at the CIA noticed something strange: Intercepted secret communications indicated that the Soviets were removing families and other nonessential personnel from Egypt and Syria.

This kind of evacuation, Goodman said, “is a classic indicator of war.”

Goodman and other analysts in the Soviet department brought this up to their supervisors at the CIA, but no one followed up. Goodman — a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1991 — said that it was a classic intelligence failure, letting assumptions, rather than facts, drive conclusions, since the intelligence clearly showed something was afoot.

What followed was the Yom Kippur War. Goodman said both U.S. and Israeli leaders “assumed that Egypt and Syria wouldn’t attack a stronger power, couldn’t work together, couldn’t unite…. Sometimes the facts are there, but the assumptions are so strong, so viscerally adhered to, that you can’t change anyone’s opinion.”

A different type of failure also rankles Goodman in his new book, “Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”

This other type occurs, Goodman writes, when the CIA loses sight of its proper function: to gather and analyze intelligence, then provide information and analysis to those in power. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Goodman writes, the CIA acted instead as “the handmaiden to power,” telling the Bush administration what it knew they wanted to hear.

“The CIA is not intended to be the personal weapon for the political use of the White House,” Goodman writes. “The CIA director has no business taking part in a White House effort to make the public case for war.”

Since leaving the CIA in 1991, Goodman — who’s Jewish — has worked for the Department of Defense and Department of State, been a fellow at think tanks and taught at universities. In an interview, he discussed his book and his experiences as a foreign policy analyst for more than 40 years.

Goodman said that every time he gives a lecture, especially in front of Jewish audiences, he’s asked about Jonathan Pollard.

“It always comes up,” Goodman said, “and I make people very nervous when I tell them that Pollard is where he belongs because he was stealing documents wholesale…. He was not only giving away intelligence, he was giving away sources and methods for money to Israel. I don’t think that … Zionism had anything to do with what Pollard did. He was buying necklaces and bracelets for his wife.”

In the wake of the Pollard case, was there a backlash against Jews working at the CIA?

“No, never,” Goodman said. “In fact, I never saw anything like that in my career…. I don’t think the Pollard affair created a problem for the Jews working at the CIA; I doubt if it meant anything to recruitment.”

Asked about the large number of Jewish neocons pushing for policies that may have prompted the war in Iraq and the unrest in the Middle East, Goodman said, “It’s had a personal effect on me. It’s something that comes up whenever I speak, because there are a significant number of people in this country who believe that we went to war for Israel. That we went to war to protect Israeli national security, which I don’t agree with at all.”

“But the fact that you can’t run from is that when you look at the list of the leading neoconservatives, there’s a huge number of Jews,” he said. “I know some of them, and I’ve debated David Wormser and know where he’s coming from. You really feel that [they think] they’re advancing Israeli security by using military power in the Middle East.”

“I think that what Bush has done is to weaken Israeli national security,” Goodman said. “The introduction of that kind of force in the Middle East has made it harder to get Iran back into the community of nations; it’s made [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad a very popular figure in Iran. There had been great opposition building against him, but U.S. actions have extended his tenure as leader in Iran.”

“It’s weakened Iraq, because it’s permitted terrorist organizations to operate,” he continued. “Before, Iraq never had any ties to Al Qaeda, and this self-fulfilling prophecy that Iraq is the center of the war on terror, it never was until Bush deployed force there.”

Goodman believes the Bush administration’s attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East have been disastrous. That policy, Goodman said, has “undermined countries like Jordan, where we need a stable monarchy. I think that the emphasis on democracy is totally misplaced. To the extent that places in the Middle East become democratic, they become anti-American, almost by definition.

“Democracy won’t lead to stability,” he said. “What the U.S. should be concerned about is the stability of these places and predictability of the actions of these places. And we had that to some extent, but once you use military force, you have to start over again, and Israel makes its own unwise decisions about the use of force. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then all your problems become nails.

“It’s ironic to me,” Goodman continued, “that if you look at two of the most powerful nations on earth — Israel in a regional context, the United States in an international context — it’s all about power…. [But] all of their military power and all their arsenal have not given them peace of mind.”

Briefs: CIA lifts lid on Israeli raid on Syrian reactor; Iranians raze Tehran shuls


CIA: Syria Could Have Made Two Nukes

Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was nearly ready to produce two bombs, the CIA chief said.

Michael Hayden said Monday that the secret, unfinished reactor that the United States believes Israel bombed Sept. 6 in northeastern Syria eventually would have made fissile material for bombs.

“In the course of a year after they got full up, they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons,” he told reporters.

Israel has refused to provide details on the target of the air strike, leaving the CIA to deliver an extensive briefing last week on indications that Syria was pursuing nuclear weapons with North Korean help. In an apparent reference to help from Israeli intelligence, Hayden said that CIA’s disclosures were “the result of a team effort.”

Some Israeli experts have questioned the wisdom of the CIA giving such an expansive account on the reactor because it could compromise intelligence assets in Syria. But Hayden indicated there was no breach of trust with Israel.

“One has to respect the origin of the information in terms of how it is used,” he said.

GOP Lawmakers Target Carter

Two Republican congressmen introduced legislation that would deny the Carter Center federal dollars.

U.S. Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act , or CARTER Act, last week in the wake of former President Jimmy Carter’s recent outreach to Hamas.

“America must speak with one voice against our terrorist enemies,” Knollenberg said in a statement. “It sends a fundamentally troubling message when an American dignitary is engaged in dialogue with terrorists. My legislation will make sure that taxpayer dollars are not being used to support discussions or negotiations with terrorist groups.”

The Zionist Organization of American praised the legislation.

Carter’s Atlanta-based center focuses mostly on international development. The former president met with Hamas officials against the advice of the Bush administration. He defended his meetings as his attempt to help bring an end to the violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Pollard: I Don’t Know Kadish

Jonathan Pollard says he does not know alleged spy Ben-Ami Kadish.

Kadish, 84, allegedly passed American military secrets to Israel during the same period as the former Navy intelligence analyst.

Esther Pollard, the wife of the convicted and jailed spy, said in an interview that the first her husband had heard of Kadish was when his arrest was announced last week.

Kadish, a former U.S. Army engineer, is accused of spying for Israel between 1979 and 1985, a period coinciding with Pollard’s activities. Kadish is also believed to have been run by the same Israeli agent.

“He said he did not know Kadish and asked me if this would embarrass Israel, even though this was an affair that had been known for years,” Esther Pollard told Ma’ariv.

She further downplayed speculation that the new affair could hurt Israel’s efforts to win clemency for Pollard, who is eligible for parole in 2015.

Observers believe the U.S. government will likely deny the request.

“It won’t take long for this to drop from the headlines,” she said. “There will always be people who want to interfere, but this must not obscure Israel’s goal, which is to rescue its agent from jail in a foreign country.”

Iranians Raze Seven Synagogues in Tehran

Seven synagogues in Tehran have been razed by local authorities to make way for residential skyscrapers and urban renovation, L.A. Iranian Jewish leaders report. The synagogues were located in the Oudlajan neighborhood of Iran’s capital, a former ghetto with a dwindling Jewish population.

“It is a Muslim-owned area that in the eyes of a neutral observer would justifiably require a major renovation,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

Oudlajan was the poverty-stricken site of Tehran’s Jewish ghetto nearly 100 years ago. After Iran’s Pahlavi monarchs gave Jews new freedoms more than 60 years ago, Tehran’s Jewish community gradually attained prosperity and left the area.

Kermanian downplayed the value of synagogues, saying that they were all but deserted.

“The synagogues there were mostly store fronts,” he said. “They were not the type of structures that would be considered significant historical monuments.”

While he believes the destruction of the synagogues was insensitive, Kermanian says he doubts anti-Semitism played a role.

Calls made to the Central Jewish Committee in Tehran for comment were not returned.

Tehran currently has 11 functioning synagogues, several Jewish schools and a Jewish library.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Young Jews to Pledge Genocide Fight

Young Jews will pledge to fight all genocide during a Yom HaShoah gathering at Auschwitz. Some 10,000 participants in the annual March of the Living had planned to sign the pledge Thursday — Holocaust Remembrance Day — at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

The March of the Living Pledge commits each individual, the majority of whom are aged 16 to 22, “to fight every form of discrimination manifested against any religion, nationality or ethnic group.” It goes on to say, “After the Shoah the promise of ‘Never Again’ was proclaimed. We pledge to create a world where Never Again will become a reality for the Jewish People and, indeed, for all people. This is our solemn pledge to the Jewish People, to those who came before us, to those of our generation, and to those who will follow in future generations.”

The ceremony will be led by Brig. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, in recognition of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Following Thursday’s event, a global effort will attempt to enlist the support of the 150,000 March of the Living alumni to publicly state their condemnation of genocide past and present.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ghost of holocaust haunts visitor exploring Germany


It took me more than a year to buy my ticket. My sister was living in Berlin, and I was supposed to visit her. What she didn’t know each time she asked me to come see her was how present the Holocaust was for me in my work.

I was unveiling the war’s history in my own writing while she was living, post-war, in Germany. To visit, I knew, would be to bring myself even closer to the traumas that had been passed to me through the thickness of blood.

In one week, three years of thoughts and feelings were opened up. They are leaking now that I have returned.

I had gone from partying with the people I love most in the world to the land of the Germans and the history. I shifted to the life of my sister, plus the emotions of myself. The land of many bike rides, swans in the Baltic Sea and the most beautiful river and coffee shops, all a little tainted with the stain of the past. It was a week that spanned years.

I did not want history lessons. I was full already, between the sirens that had the same sound as the pogrom sirens, the train tracks that carried us to vacation and my ancestors to their deaths and the forests, our bike riding and leisure domain despite once having served as the hiding place for so many.

My constant remembrance was irritating for my sister, but I couldn’t help it. Remembering in Germany and remembering in America are not so different, only one holds physical markers of the images that flash through my head anyway.

We went to synagogue the first night in Berlin, the shrouded shul. It was guarded by men and wrought iron and glass and walls. Inside was a small group of Jews, including Holocaust survivors.

Everything Jewish in Germany felt like the other side, as it is, to a war. It was clear that something happened, that this locale was not just a transition of space but actually held the history that haunts me even though I was not there and did not live it.

The morning after synagogue, we took the train to an island on the Baltic Sea, Insel Poehl. We biked like maniacs with Jessica the porcelain artist and met the Russian flea market people at the supermarket. It was barbecue and wine in a box for dinner and a drunken bike ride back to the guesthouse.

It was on the island in the German countryside that I understood that the war was over and had been for 60 years. I was Jewish, and they weren’t coming to get me, and I had a right to lie there and cry on a bench. A right to ride my bike. A right to vacation.

The next morning it was hippie brunch at an artist’s residence. After the Baltic Sea, it was Germany and the Gerson twins. I biked further than I thought my body could handle and sang Ricky Payton songs loudly — American loud — through the streets of Berlin.

We ate Moroccan hummus near the soccer game bars and Thai food with an Israeli DJ friend who lived on Ibiza. He and his Italian music partner had us to dinner, and we listened to trance and danced with a 6-month-old baby in one arm and wine in the other.

Then there were museums, and there were walks, and on those walks there were random memorials. Memory became a curse when concentration camps were remembered in shopping districts and Jews were given homage on street corners. I was a racialized other, despite their attempt to kindly honor 2,000 years of Jewish history. God explained on a placard, and Jews lumped together as a people; I question my name now.

And then I was stopped for having the wrong subway ticket for my bike. I cried when they took me off the train. I cried because they were rough. I cried because I hate police. I cried because I was in Germany, and I was wrong, and I didn’t listen to the blond angel with the diamond in her tooth who warned me about this.

The ticket for 40 euros somehow made me think of the $20 a month they sent my grandmother as a scant apology for the murder of her family.

An Ethiopian woman advised me to forgive and forget, contrary to the advice “never forgive, never forget” from my upbringing. Who am I forgiving now? And how do I forget?

I am racializing to cope with my racialization.

And yet, I loved graveyards in Germany because they exhibited the privilege of a marked grave. I loved the candles burning in coffee shops and the bike paths. I loved the eggs and the Vietnamese food and the graffiti. And then the architecture and the art and the beautiful people and the thrift stores and the hot pink dress I never bought. I loved my afternoon with Anya, Russian girl of steel, and the immense seesaws and the 3D triangle lawn.

I loved Germany in the present and wasn’t sure what to do with Germany in the past, let alone America in the past, and then I was suddenly in South Africa and Israel and back after those trips, and again, I question the choices in the construction of my reality.

Another Holocaust survivor died this week. Memory is the question that remains. Selecting memory, discarding memory, finding a balance between retention of past and obsession with it.

When I returned home, there was a gift from the Holocaust Museum in the mailbox. They sent me a calendar with a different drawing of war for every month. Something about bearing witness, as if memory were not innately indelible.

If we stop bearing witness will it happen again? Or will we maybe get a chance to breathe in the present without being terrified of the resurgence of the past?

I am a grandchild of the Holocaust.