November 16, 2018

Netanyahu EXPOSES Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions In Speech

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the week with a bombshell of a speech on April 30 that exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

Netanyahu told the world that Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle 55,000 files and 183 CDs from Iran that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that despite Iran’s repeated denials, the country has always sought to develop nuclear weapons and never strayed from that goal, even after the nuclear deal was forged.

“I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied,” Netanyahu said. “Big time.”

In a slideshow presentation that was only “a fraction” of the intelligence the Israelis had uncovered, the files showed that from 1999-2003, Iran had a secret operation called “Project Amad,” which the files described as “a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons.” The project’s stated goal was to develop five nuclear warheads with 10 kiloton TNT yields, the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs on missiles, per Netanyahu.

Project Amad was broken down into five elements: designing nuclear weapons, developing nuclear cores, building nuclear implosion systems, preparing nuclear tests and integrating nuclear warheads on missiles.

“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said. “The files prove that.”

Netanyahu added that facing international pressure in 2003, Iran shelved Project Amad but continued to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of “scientific knowhow” led by Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, who had also led Project Amad, as well as a lot of the same personnel who led Project Amad.

Additionally, Iran continued their uranium development at the Frodow Uranium Enrichment Facility, which was hidden underneath the mountains so Iran could continue its development of nuclear weapons under the radar.

The Iran nuclear deal allowed Iran to keep Fordow running, so long as they came clean about their nuclear program. But the uncovered files showed that Iran had told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2015 that they “denied the existence of a coordinated program aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device and specifically denied the existence of the Amada Plan.”

“Why would a terrorist regime hide and secretly catalogue their nuclear files if not to use them at a later date?” Netanyahu asked.

Netanyahu proceeded to slam the deal as “based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception.”

As Netanyahu had explained earlier in the speech, after the deal was implemented in 2015, Iran moved its secret nuclear files to a secret location in Tehran that only very few Iranians and Israelis knew about. It was from this location where Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle the nuclear files.

Netanyahu explained that the deal basically paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb, as it allows for Iran to enrich unlimited amounts of uranium after a certain date. The deal also doesn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program at all, and the consequences of this are seen in Iran continually expanding its missile program.

“This is a terrible deal,” Netanyahu said. “It should never have been concluded.”

Netanyahu pointed out that President Trump will soon make a decision on whether the United States will exit the Iran deal.

“I’m sure he will do the right thing,” Netanyahu said.

Portman’s Words Matter

Photo by Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

In “Portman-gate,” this week’s scandal of sorts, acclaimed Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman has been variously praised as a hero for speaking truth to power or vilified as a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) dupe. She is neither.

It is a cautionary tale of irresponsibly wielding the political power of celebrity in the digital age, and unwittingly sending a powerful message that, apparently, is contrary to the intended message.

As nearly everyone knows by now, Natalie Portman announced in a statement issued on April 20 that she would not travel to Israel to accept the 2018 Genesis Prize. In the original announcement, her spokesperson stated that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” The prize was to be awarded by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The blogosphere erupted. Portman was praised from the left as a truth-telling hero, and vilified from the right as embracing the BDS movement. So she issued a new statement, apparently intended to clarify her actions. “I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu,” she said. “I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance,” but “the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values.”

Still unclear, at least of this writing, is whether or not Portman feels “comfortable participating in public events in Israel.”

Hopefully, Portman will further clarify her stance, and will announce her intention to re-engage in Israeli public life. But the damage is done. Most will ignore the successive clarifying press releases issued by her people and will regard her simply as the Israeli-American superstar who now despises Israel so much she can’t even go there.

Most … will regard her simply as the Israeli-American superstar who now despises Israel so much she can’t even go there.

Portman, however, is no predictable anti-Israel agitator. To the contrary, her lifelong connection with Israel is bona fide and documented. She’s a native Israeli, born Neta-Lee Hershlag in Jerusalem. She directed and starred in the Hebrew language film adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” She has long vocally opposed Netanyahu’s policies, once noting that she found “his racist comments horrific.” Still, she has previously criticized those who utilize their celebrity to “shit” on Israel. “I don’t want to do that,” she said.

Yet, that is precisely what her original announcement did. It quite clearly signaled that she was boycotting Israel, at least for the time being. That incendiary but remarkably imprecise statement was unabashedly hypocritical. Portman is, after all, also a fierce critic of President Donald Trump. Yet, she is hardly retreating from public events in the United States. Rather, she has been a fixture at the women’s marches, and has participated in the robust anti-Trump protests. She has not retreated from the Hollywood awards scene either, and it’s a safe bet to assume that she won’t decline to accept an Oscar next year because she is distressed about “recent events” in the Trump administration.

Portman states unequivocally in her latest clarification that “I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it.” She may deny that her actions give support to BDS, but she’s wrong. They do. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said that “this latest rebuff to Israeli cultural events and accolades, coming from an Israeli-American superstar, is arguably one of the strongest indicators yet of how toxic the Israel Brand has become, even in some liberal circles in Hollywood. I can sense our South Africa moment coming closer.”

And on the other end of the political spectrum, Knesset member Rachel Azaria of Netanyahu’s coalition partner Kulanu party gets it, too. She sees Portman’s cancellation as “a warning light.” “She is totally one of us, identifies with her Judaism and her Israeliness,” Azaria said.

Celebrities of Portman’s stature have a responsibility to carefully vet the wording and reasoning of public pronouncements that they know will have significant impact. Those who love Israel but wish to criticize the government must remember: Tailor your public criticisms accurately and carefully, but don’t inadvertently give aid and comfort to those who deny the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.


Stuart Tochner is an employment attorney in Los Angeles.

The Portman Snub: A Calm Assessment

All sober analyses must begin with simple facts we can all agree on.

Fact: Actress Natalie Portman agreed to visit Israel to receive the Genesis Prize, often called the “Jewish Nobel.” Terms were set, the date was set, and organizers were preparing. Portman appointed a person to be in charge of allocating the prize money to organizations in Israel that work to empower women — organizations of her choosing.

Fact: The Academy Award-winning actress then canceled. Her explanation remains vague. She indicated her decision was related to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the event. But she knew all along that he was coming. The actress’ representative said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” but didn’t specify which “recent events.” Is she snubbing Israel over the Gaza unrest, over the fate of recent non-Jewish immigrants, over Israeli Supreme Court battles, over Netanyahu’s hair style? I assume it’s not the latter but I don’t know what it is. Maybe she’s got something up her sleeve that we didn’t take into consideration. Maybe when the case is laid out it will seem more convincing than it is now.

These are facts. If you doubt these facts — if you think she never wanted the prize, or if you think she did have clear explanation of her motivation — there’s no reason for you to keep reading this column.

Now we move from facts to analysis, which must include three main questions: 1) What was Portman’s objective? 2) Did she meet her objective? and 3) What was the price for meeting her objective?

Because we agree that Portman never provided a clear explanation for her decision, we must try to guess her motives. Possibilities include: 1) She didn’t want to visit Israel; 2) She didn’t want to stand next to Netanyahu; 3) She wanted to protest one of Israel’s policies;  4) She wanted to change public opinion in the United States; 5) She wanted to change public opinion in Israel;  6) She wanted to please certain friends or fans. And the list can go on.

Portman made Israelis even more suspicious of liberal Jewish Americans.

Because her motive is unknown, it’s difficult to determine if she accomplished her goal. Portman, who holds dual Israeli and U.S. citizenship, won’t visit Israel nor stand next to Netanyahu. Maybe she changed some minds in the U.S., but about what is unclear. Some people are using her decision for their agendas — one assumes it’s about Gaza, another that it’s about non-Jewish immigrants. Portman’s decision didn’t seem to change the opinion of Israelis on any of the debatable subjects. But it’s possible that, thanks to her, more Israelis are now convinced that relying on the support of Jewish Americans would be a mistake. And yes, we can assume that a certain circle of friends is now satisfied — but perhaps there also also friends who are now angry.

What was the price we all pay for her miscalculated (my term) decision? Although alleging she is against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Portman assisted those wanting to boycott Israel. She became a role model for those wanting to see U.S. Jews and Americans in general alienate Israel — a trend that could put Israel at increased risk. She made Israelis even more suspicious of liberal Jewish Americans, lowering the chance that they will ever heed the advice of those like Portman.

Portman’s cancelation enraged some Israeli politicians. Most of them aren’t policymakers, and they are merely utilizing Portman as a political punching bag. Netanyahu, to his credit, didn’t run with this issue (as of this writing). Portman deserves a harsh rebuke, but Israel will gain nothing from picking a fight with the popular actress. In fact, it ought to examine whether Portman’s move was deliberate, vicious and a first in a planned campaign — or whether it was truly a miscalculation.

Portman should have done her homework before insulting Israel. Israel would be wise to do its own homework before it insults her back.


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

Portman’s Blunder? She Said Yes.

Natalie Portman must be a conflicted soul. In 2015, she told the Hollywood Reporter she was “very upset and disappointed” by the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was very much “against” him, but that she didn’t want her criticisms to be “used by adversaries of Israel.”

Two years later, in November 2017, Portman was selected by the Genesis Prize Foundation to be its fifth laureate, receiving a grant of $1 million to donate to charitable causes.

As part of the vetting and selection process, Portman was made aware that the prime minister’s office and The Jewish Agency for Israel were partners in the project. She was told the prime minister (whom she disliked so much) would attend the ceremony. His participation was apparent in numerous pictures from previous galas.

Nevertheless, when she received the award, she released this statement:

“I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor. I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am. It is such a privilege to be counted among the outstanding Laureates whom I admire so much.”

Last week, five months after making that statement, Portman changed her mind and announced she wouldn’t attend the ceremony in Israel.

A representative said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”

What happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes.

After a public outcry, caused in part by the vagueness of the statement, she released a second statement via Instagram, saying that she “chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.”

The focus on Netanyahu created another public relations problem for Portman: She always knew Bibi would be part of the ceremony. She knew this was a prime minister event as much as a Jewish Agency event as much as a Genesis event.

So, what happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes. It’s still the same Bibi she dislikes and the same Israel of her “roots” and “heritage.”

In other words, there is no good, rational explanation for her global ambush of Israel. Portman knows the power of celebrity. She knows that Genesis picks famous people precisely because of their outsized influence to bring positive change to the world. She knows that Israel is already one of the most maligned countries on earth, and that her actions, as she once said, can “be used by adversaries of Israel.”

She knows all that, and she still chose to use her fame to nourish Israel’s enemies. This may be why Portman has received so little support for her decision, even among many Bibi critics. She allowed her disdain for one man to cloud her judgment about a whole country.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

This is not about criticism of Israel. Portman has every right to criticize Israel — everyone does. There’s probably more public self-criticism going on in one day in Israel than in the whole Middle East.

But Portman didn’t criticize Israel — she boycotted the country. Her action communicated to the world that she’s so turned off by Israel she can’t even live up to her commitment to attend a ceremony in the country. By shutting out Israel, she also shut out nuance and complexity, advancing the one-sided, tired, Israel-hating narrative that puts all the blame on the Jewish state for whatever goes wrong.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

I can think of one silver lining in this debacle. All the attention on the Genesis Prize means that more attention will be given to the real purpose of the initiative — how to use the prize money to make the world a better place.

Contrary to what many people think, it is Genesis that has the final say on how the prize money is allocated. The laureate only chooses the category, which this year is advancing women’s rights and equality.

In the summer, Genesis will announce grantees in Israel. In the fall, it will announce grantees in North America. With the help of matching funds, the Genesis Prize Foundation hopes to grant up to $3 million this year to help empower women’s causes.

How ironic. The country Portman insulted will follow through on its commitment to help some of her favorite causes. Maybe by Rosh Hashana she’ll release a third statement saying “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.”

Celebration, Commemoration and Disappointment

This year it has been an odd holiday season for many Jews. The joy of our celebrations has been marred by disappointment as we ponder the holidays’ themes and their implications for the world around us.

Our commemorations of suffering and slavery and then freedom ought and are meant to resonate in our activities in the real world.

As we celebrated Passover, we are instructed to feel as if we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt. [Deuteronomy 24:18, “Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from your slavery”]. The Passover Seder had us metaphorically re-experience the exodus—we consumed its symbols (the bitter herbs of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread eaten while fleeing) to make dramatic and personal the challenges and the implications of the journey from slavery to freedom.

The eight-day Passover festival has been supplemented by contemporary Jews with three more commemorations on the Jewish calendar, the first addition in more than a millennium.

Today we recollect the Holocaust, the annihilation of six million Jews with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). One week later Jews observe Israel’s Memorial Day and the sacrifice of its soldiers who defend the right of the Jewish people to be free. It is followed immediately by the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day – this year its 70th.

Most Yom HaShoa commemorations reference the indifference of the world to Jews and Jewish refugees. As the man who would become Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, said in 1937 (eleven years before the creation of the state) the world was then divided “into places where the Jews could not live and places where they cannot enter.”

In the context of celebration and commemoration, with four holidays whose themes intertwine around freedom, moral responsibility and action we witnessed the prime minister of Israel reneging on an agreement with the United Nations. A pact that would have provided refuge in Israel, Europe and Canada to thousands of Africans who have sought asylum in Israel from persecution and violence and who face the threat of death if they are forced to return to their homelands.

Israel is a sovereign state that has the right and obligation to take care of its own, thirty-nine thousand refugees in a nation the size of Israel is not without issues; but the arrangement with the UN and other nations including Canada, Germany and Italy was a viable and fair resolution to the crisis. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled the agreement within hours of endorsing it at the behest of right wing allies.

It is difficult to square our traditions and religious admonitions with the expulsion of desperate immigrants into a world where not only their freedom may be denied, but also their lives taken.

Some will commemorate the Holocaust today to largely teach that the “whole world is against us and only an empowered Jewish people that can defend itself will offer security and safety.” That is one lesson that can be drawn from the tragic events of seventy-five years ago; but surely not its only one.

The Holocaust is also a story that happened to a distinct people that has become a shared universal paradigm which speaks to human conscience. It ought to inspire active moral values, enlarge the domain of human responsibility, elicit compassion, and command respect for universal human rights and dignity. That was the core of the Jewish message transmitted by the survivors and by those millions of others who have become witnesses to their witness.

That message ought to be reflected in Israel, envisioned as a beacon to the world, a place that would not only give substance to Jewish nationalism and chauvinism but also to Jewish values. Values that reflect the Biblical injunctions on how to treat the stranger and the sojourner.  Having been history’s “wanderers” we should comprehend the real-world impact of ignoring the Bible’s noble commands.

Those values were diminished by the Prime Minister of Israel and those who pressured him to abrogate the agreement he had reached to resettle the thousands of African refugees.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu was not alone in diminishing history’s lessons and values. For on the very day that coincided with Easter and Passover the President railed against our strangers and sojourners. He demeaned foreign born children in our midst who have lived in America and are American in every sense of the term, save their citizenship papers.

Our holidays are marred by leadership who have ignored the lessons of history and the season and acted in ways as our tradition decried.


Dr. Michael Berenbaum, is the Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at American Jewish University. David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. (www.cai-la.org) a human relations agency in Los Angeles chaired by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Netanyahu Nixes U.N. Agreement on Refugees After Initially Supporting It

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on April 2 that he would be supporting an agreement with the United Nations on resettling African refugees, only to rescind his support hours later.

The agreement would have resettled 16,250 refugees to various Western countries like Canada and Germany while thousands of others would be allowed to temporarily stay in Israel so long as they are moved out of Tel Aviv. Netanyahu at first hailed the agreement as the best possible solution, but after meeting with activists opposed to the agreement, Netanyahu flipped.

“Despite the mounting legal and international limitations, we will continue to act with determination to exhaust all of the options at our disposal for expelling the infiltrators,” Netanyahu said on April 3.

Before Netanyahu initially agreed to the U.N. agreement, Israel’s solution to the 38,000 refugees from Sudan and Eritrea who had entered the country illegally was to offer them $3,500 deport them to what was believed to be Rwanda or Uganda or to their country of origin. Israel’s Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on this policy, putting deportations on pause indefinitely.

In a April 2 Facebook post, Netanyahu wrote that Rwanda was pressured by the European Union and the George Soros-funded nonprofit New Israel Fund to not accept Israel’s proposed solution.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) spokesman William Spindler told Agence France-Presse (AFP), “We continue to believe in the need for a win-win agreement that can benefit Israel, the international community and people needing asylum and we hope that Israel will reconsider its decision soon.”

The U.N. agreement did not seem to be popular among Israelis, as 47% said they disapproved of it while only 34% approved of it in a poll by Israel’s Channel 10.

As Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick has explained, the refugee issue stemmed from an influx of migrants pouring through an open border that Israel shared with Egypt 2007-2011. Israel began constructing a fence to seal off the border in 2012 and it was completed in 2013, causing the number of African migrants entering the country to decline to the point where none entered in 2017.

However, the spike in migrants caused crime to increase in Tel Aviv, Glick argued.

“Sexual offenses in neighborhoods with high percentages of African migrants were 3.5 times higher than in their rates in the general population,” Glick wrote. “Violent crime was 2.5 times higher. Robberies occurred six times more often.”

Glick added, “A survey of area residents taken by the Israeli police in 2015 showed that only 38 percent felt secure outside their homes after dark. Only 43 percent felt safe in their homes after dark.”

Adelsons Pledge $13 Million to IAC

From left to right: Yehoram Gaon, Haim Saban, Shawn Evenhaim, Dr. Miriam Adelson, and Sheldon Adelson. Photo by Idan Ozeri-Tal.

Pro-Israel mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson announced at the Israeli-American Council (IAC) Los Angeles’s 10th Annual Gala on Mar. 18 that they would be donating $13 million to the pro-Israel organization.

Miriam Adelson made the announcement toward the end of the evening at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, when people in the audience were announcing their pledges. The Adelsons’ pledge was by far the largest of the night.

“The IAC has achieved remarkable progress in advancing its historic mission,” Sheldon Adelson said in a statement featured in an IAC press release. “We are deeply invested in the organization’s long-term success and its vision of a coast-to-coast community with Israel in its heart. This is an investment in the future generations of Jewish Americans and the State of Israel.”

The IAC Board of Directors praised the Adelsons in the same press release as being “among the great Jewish leaders of our time.”

“Their bold vision, passionate leadership, and unmatched generosity have been an inspiration to all of us, and have propelled the IAC’s rapid growth and great success,” the statement said. “We look forward to partnering with the Adelsons in the years ahead to further the rapid growth of our community and our donor base, working together to make a historic impact for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Another major pledge announced at the gala was $1 million from Haim Saban, who had previously withdrawn his support for the IAC in 2015. At the time, a spokesman for Saban issued a statement to The Forward that read, “Haim Saban is focused on a range of philanthropic activities to promote pro-Israel advocacy and tackle efforts to delegitimize Israel. In the near term, Mr. Saban is also concentrating on the Friends of the IDF and the Saban Forum, both of which have major events in the next few months.” At the gala, Saban said he was inspired by the IAC’s recent conference in Washington D.C. to support the organization again.

In total, the IAC raised over $16.5 million at the gala.

The gala was celebrating 10 years of the IAC’s existence and how it has blossomed into the fastest-growing Jewish organization in the country, with notable landmarks including the organization’s first event in Washington, D.C. in 2014 and hosting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in 2017. IAC programs such as IAC Bina and IAC Gvanim have helped bring the Israeli-American community together and help them connect with their Israeli and Jewish identity and the IAC has worked with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to implement anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) legislation.

IAC Chairman Adam Milstein told gala attendees that the IAC’s growth has been due to a “strong nationwide movement” that is “rooted in our unequivocal love and support for our Jewish homeland, the state of Israel.”

“Our unwavering support for the state of Israel strengthens the Jewish community unlike any other American organization,” said Milstein.

The keynote speaker at the gala was Rabbi Avraham Infeld, an influential leader and teacher in the Jewish community worldwide. Infeld focused his address on how 250 years ago, Jews understood that being Jewish wasn’t necessarily being part of a religion, but being a part of a people. Today, thanks to modernity, a lot of Jews view Judaism as solely a religion instead, and it has been to the detriment of the community at large.

“We are living in a period in which the concept of a Jewish people has almost been forgotten,” Infeld said, later adding that the Jewish people “have become very divisive, very divided and understanding ourselves in different ways.”

Infeld said that “the IAC has an amazing job to do” to help ameliorate this issue.

The gala also featured a performance from Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon and a video message from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We’re winning,” Netanyahu said in the video. “Israel is winning. Israel has never been stronger.”

Netanyahu told the IAC, “Thank you for everything that you’re doing” and urged them to keep up the good work.

Report: Israel 11th in Happiness Rankings

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

The United Nations (U.N.) released their latest country happiness rankings on Mar. 14 and placed Israel at 11th, the same spot it’s been in for five years.

The countries in the top 10 were Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia, in that order. And given that these happiness scores are likely overstated in these Scandinavian countries, Israel’s happiness levels could be ranked even higher.

The United States was ranked 18th – a marked decline from previous years – while the Palestinian territories were placed at 104th. Iran wasn’t far behind at 106.

The report based its rankings on “GDP, social support structures, healthy lifestyles, social freedom, generosity and the absence of corruption,” among other factors, according to the Algemeiner.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News host Mark Levin on Sunday Israel’s ranking was all the more impressive given that young people in the country were ranked fifth on the happiness index.

“They have a real confidence in the future, and that’s because I think they appreciate and… I know that’s what drives me and animates me: How to ensure that the Jewish state has a permanent future of security and prosperity… and peace if we can get it,” Netanyahu said. “The people of Israel I think do identify that.”

It’s not hard to see why there is such happiness in the Jewish state given the country’s thriving startup nation and respect for various freedoms that make it akin to the United States in terms of culture and values.

Read the full report here.

Netanyahu Gets ‘Cold Feet’ on Dismantling Government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Oded Balilty/Pool

After talks of possibly dismantling the current coalition government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly got “cold feet” over it and reached a coalition compromise agreement to keep the government intact.

According to the Times of Israel, the compromise involves a vote on a bill that would exempt ultra-Orthodox Israelis from military service in exchange for a vote on the 2019 budget for the Israeli government that would avoid early elections from occurring before 2019.

The conscription bill would initially be drafted by a member of parliament, giving the Yisrael Beytenu faction the opportunity to uphold its promise of voting against the bill. Later on, the Defense Ministry will draft a conscription bill that is more suitable to the coalition at large and combine it with the current bill.

“I said yesterday I’d make a supreme effort to prevent elections… I promised, and I have kept that promise,” Netanyahu said at the Knesset on Mar. 13.

Netanyahu also told his opponents, “If there were elections, I’d be back standing here, and you’d be back to interpreting me over there. The public trust in us is huge. Now we’re going back to work.”

The conscription bill advanced in the Knesset by a vote of 59-38; in mid-April the Knesset is expected to take up the Defense Ministry version combined with the current bill.

Netanyahu reportedly agreed to the compromise because his own party, the Likud Party, told him that they wouldn’t go along with any effort to dismantle the coalition. Some had accused Netanyahu of trying to disband the coalition in order to call for early elections before the attorney general has a chance to indict him over allegations of corruption. The allegations have yet to be proven.

Is This the End for Bibi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Arnon Milchan: Hero or Anti-Hero?

FILE PHOTO: Israeli producer Arnon Milchan of New Regency Productions is shown in Los Angeles in this June 7, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo

Israeli author Meir Doron, who co-wrote an unauthorized biography on Arnon Milchan, was surprised to hear that the renowned Hollywood producer had been implicated in a bribery scandal involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Feb. 13, Israeli police recommended bribery charges be brought against Netanyahu and Milchan. The allegation? That Milchan gave Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, almost a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of expensive gifts, including pink Champagne, cigars and jewelry in exchange for billions of dollars in tax breaks.

Doron, who moved to the United States in 1989, co-wrote a biography on Milchan published in 2011 titled  “Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan.” The book delves into Milchan’s double life as an arms dealer and a covert agent while producing movies starring the likes of Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”).

Speaking with the Journal at his Encino home, Doron said he felt the allegations against Milchan were incongruous because it was the State of Israel that taught Milchan the art of bribery.

“Milchan was one of Israel’s most assertive and effective secret agents,” Doron said. “For years, he had given bribes in the millions to people in power, agents and state officials in order to advance Israel’s interests.”

“Arnon Milchan was one of Israel’s most assertive and effective secret agents.” — Meir Doron

Jewish Journal: Given your high opinion of Milchan and everything he did for the State of Israel, what was your immediate reaction to the bribery allegations?

Meir Doron: When I heard that they were talking about cigars and Champagne, I [thought those were ridiculous charges]. Really? Those are bribes? I wouldn’t have been surprised if he sent Netanyahu and his wife on a private yacht around the world, though. That’s how Milchan operates. It’s also how most producers operate in Hollywood. Milchan was always the wealthiest one in the group, the one who paid for everybody around the dinner table. It’s natural that when a wealthy friend comes to visit, he brings an expensive gift. Milchan did the same with other leaders he met throughout the years.

JJ: Do you think other Israeli leaders like the late President Shimon Peres, whom Milchan was also close to, received bribes?

MD: I have no doubt Peres, Yair Lapid and anyone else who was at the top of the government received benefits and gifts from Milchan.

JJ: But it’s only the gifts that Netanyahu received that are under scrutiny.

MD: These are things that are connected to inside politics in Israel. It started in the 1960s, when Milchan inherited a bankrupt company from his father. He learned pretty quickly how to navigate the Israeli bureaucracy in order to get special licenses, import and export credentials, and exceptional tax preferences. It was the key to his financial success.

JJ: So you think Israel should turn a blind eye to the allegations against Milchan because of everything he did for the country? 

MD: I think Israel owes it to him. He did more for Israel than any other Israeli politician. He also did more than any security personnel that serves today in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) or in Israel’s Security Agency.

Bibi’s Media Obsession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline Glick: Charges Against Netanyahu Are ‘Bogus’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the dedication ceremony of a new concourse at the Ben Gurion International Airport, near Lod, Israel February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli-American journalist Caroline Glick argued in a Feb. 14 column that the Israeli police’s recommendation of indicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over charges of corruption are “bogus” and are indicative of a grudge that the Israeli police have against Netanyahu.

The first case, Investigation 1000, involves Netanyahu allegedly accepting gifts from Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchen in exchange for Netanyahu supporting an extension of a law that exempts Israelis from paying taxes on income they earned elsewhere. Netanyahu is also said to have supported Milchen in possible business deals with Israeli television stations as well as urged then-Secretary of State John Kerry to renew Milchen’s U.S. visa.

Click argued in her column that with exception of advocating for Milchen’s visa renewal, Netanyahu never really acted on Milchen’s interests, and the visa renewal advocacy was justifiable.

“Milchen himself has a long record of service to Israel’s Mossad — its foreign spy service — and reportedly has contributed significantly to Israel’s defense,” Glick wrote. “Netanyahu claims that he acted out of respect for Milchen’s long service to Israel’s security. In addition, Israel’s late president and prime minister, left-wing icon Shimon Peres, also intervened on Milchen’s behalf with U.S. authorities.”

Investigation 2000, the second case, involves Netanyahu allegedly discussing a deal with Yediot Ahoronot publisher Arnon Mozes in which Mozes would have provided more positive coverage of Netanyahu if he supported a bill that would have hampered the circulation of Yediot Ahoronot’s competitor, Israel Hayom.

While there is a recording of the conversation, Glick notes that there is no evidence the discussed deal ever occurred, as Netanyahu vocally opposed the bill that Mozes wanted passed. In fact, “Netanyahu disbanded his government and the Knesset and called new elections a bit more than a year into his term” to ensure that the bill never saw the light of day.

“In other words, the police are recommending that Netanyahu be indicted for a conversation that went nowhere, which he recorded,” Glick wrote. “And the police are not investigating 42 out of the 43 lawmakers that supported a move that would have given Mozes everything he asked Netanyahu for, but didn’t receive, while the 43rd lawmaker was subject merely to a brief interrogation.”

Glick then pointed out that Israeli police have investigated Netanyahu and his wife multiple times during his stints as prime minister and none of them have ever produced anything substantial. She also noted that Israeli police chief Roni Alscheich leveled baseless claims against Netanyahu in a recent interview, including that the prime minister sent out private investigators against the police and that Netanyahu attempted to bribe Alscheich.

“Even the police’s most fervent media supporters were aghast at Alsheich’s allegations – coupled with the fact that he has refused to investigate any of them,” Glick wrote. “To summarize: just as the police were set to announce their recommendations, Alsheich made clear that he has a personal vendetta against Netanyahu and is prepared to overthrow his government.”

Glick concluded her column by noting that the Israeli Knesset has no way to provide oversight over the Israeli police, which differentiates it from the U.S. Congress’ oversight powers of the FBI.

Read the full column here.

H/T: Daily Wire

Is Bibi in Trouble?

Photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Police Recommend Indictment Against Netanyahu

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool/File Photo

Israeli police announced on Feb. 13 that they are recommending that the attorney general indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption, fraud and breach of trust.

The recommendation stems from two investigations. The first involved Netanyahu allegedly accepting illicit gifts from wealthy patrons and the second being that Netanyahu discussed a deal with Yediot Aharonot newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes about passing legislation that would have hampered the circulation of Israel Hayom, a competitor to Arnon Mozes, if Mozes provided more positive coverage toward Netanyahu.

Additionally, the police recommended indicting Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood mogul who allegedly gave Netanyahu gifts for a U.S. visa and Netanyahu’s support for a law that would allow Israelis who returned the country after living elsewhere to avoid paying taxes for 10 years, for bribery. Yair Lapid, a leader of Yesh Atid, is a key witness in this matter.

The police are also recommended that Mozes be indicted for bribery in the alleged deal between him and Netanyahu.

The decision on whether or not to indict Netanyahu falls into the hands of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a decision that could take a while. Mandelblit was criticized by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for preventing Israeli forces when as Military Advocate General, he prevented the IDF from bombing a key Hamas location over the possibility of civilian casualties in 2008.

Netanyahu has insisted that the allegations are baseless.

“Nothing will divert me from my commitment to the good of the nation,” Netanyahu said in an address. “I have not known a day in office without vicious allegations against me and my family.”

Report: Israeli Police Will Recommend Indicting Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov/Pool

Israeli media is reporting that police will recommend indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption, although Netanyahu is downplaying the recommendations.

According to Ynet, “Police chiefs are in unanimous agreement that there is sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribe taking in Case 1,000 or the so-called ‘gifts affair.’” The announcement is expected to happen on either Feb. 12 or 13.

The “gifts affair” case involves Netanyahu allegedly accepting “illicit gifts”; for instance there is a report of Netanyahu asking for cigars during a meeting of extending the U.S. visa for Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan, who gave Netanyahu “hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne.”

Israeli law allows the prime minister to receive “small” and “reasonable” gifts, but there is some gray area as to what gifts fall under this purview.

Netanyahu assured Israelis in a Facebook video that nothing will come of the recommendation, as the attorney general has to decide whether or not to follow through on the recommendation.

“I am certain that in the end of the day, the legal authorities can only reach one conclusion, the simple truth: There is nothing,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is also being investigated about a possible deal discussed between him and a newspaper publisher of the paper providing more positive coverage of Netanyahu in exchange for the passage of a law that would hurt the paper’s main competitor. The police are expected to punt the issue to state prosecution.

Throughout the investigation into both matters, Netanyahu has maintained that he has not committed any wrongdoing.

“The witch-hunt to topple the government is in full swing but it will fail because of this simple reason: There will be nothing because there was nothing,” Netanyahu’s office said in an August statement.

Senior Settler Leader Talks Trump

Oded Revivi. Photo by Yesha Council/JTA

For the first time in American history, a senior settler leader from Israel was formally invited to the inauguration of the president of the United States. This inauguration was, of course, that of Donald Trump, and the guest was Oded Revivi.

The affable Revivi, 49, serves as both chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council (the official body representing more than 406,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria) and mayor of Efrat, a modern Orthodox settlement town south of Jerusalem. He sat near the front to witness the swearing-in ceremony and now enjoys close ties with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Trump adviser on Israel Jason Greenblatt.

And while this is the first time an American administration has actively engaged settler leaders, Revivi is not sure Trump’s showering of goodwill on Israel, particularly with his announcement on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, will necessarily translate into rapid settlement expansion any time soon.

“The right wing in Israel, in my view, was too quick to celebrate the victory of President Trump,” Revivi told the Journal, speaking from his office in Efrat just hours before attending Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Knesset on Jan. 22. “They were right in celebrating the victory because the other option would be much worse, but the assumption that President Trump is Santa Claus who’ll be able to deliver everything we dream about was not grounded in reality.”

“The assumption that President Trump is Santa Claus who’ll be able to deliver everything we dream about was not grounded in reality.” — Oded Revivi

So far under the Trump administration, no new building permits have been granted for Efrat, although two new neighborhoods have been in construction in the past two years that will allow Efrat to grow from 10,000 residents to 16,000.

“In my understanding — and I’ve had quite a few meetings with the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], and I try to understand what are American guidelines for building in Judea and Samaria — it seems to me President Trump said to the prime minister something along the lines of parents wanting a child to play nicely, when the parent says: ‘I know you know how to behave.’ The reaction of the child is to freeze in his place because he doesn’t know what his boundaries are.”

Revivi was elected in 2008 (and re-elected in 2013) by a constituency eager for Efrat’s expansion, but upon stepping into this new role after a decadeslong career as a lawyer, Revivi’s main task was to ensure Efrat was well-managed. Efrat is among the more socio-economically successful settlements.

The nature of Revivi’s role as mayor, as well as his fluent English, made him the natural successor to Dani Dayan, currently Consul General of Israel in New York. Revivi lived in the U.S. and England as a child while his parents served as Jewish Agency emissaries, and his wife is British.

Revivi takes nongovernmental organizations, congressmen, AIPAC representatives and other decision-makers throughout Efrat in part to dispel settler stereotypes.

“The vast majority of people living in Judea and Samaria move here for financial reasons, social reasons, not because of ideological reasons,” he said.

Himself included. He moved with his family in 1993 in large part for affordable housing, although that has changed in Efrat. Demand is high and real estate prices in Efrat now exceed those in many Jerusalem neighborhoods. Revivi believes quality of life for all, Jews and Arabs alike, should be the main factor in any discussion about peace in the region.

“That’s why we have to find a new approach, a new solution, which isn’t on the table in the moment,” Revivi said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.N. Denounces Trump’s Jerusalem Move in Vote

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The United Nations voted on a resolution to condemn President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The resolution passed by a margin of 128 in favor and 9 against, with 35 abstentions and 21 countries that didn’t vote at all. The nine countries who voted against the resolution were the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Tongo, Honduras, Guatemala ans Palau. Among those voted in favor of the resolution included Britain, France, Germany and Turkey, and Canada and Mexico were among those that abstained.

Here is the full record of how each country voted:

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the U.N., had some sharp words for the U.N.

“The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” said Haley. “We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Haley also pointed out that the U.S. “is by far the single largest contributor to the U.N.” and suggested that their funding to the U.N. could be reduced or withdrawn altogether in light of the vote.

“When we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognize and respected,” said Haley. “When a nation is singled out for attack in this organization, that nation is disrespected. What’s more, that nation is asked to pay for the privilege of being disrespected. In the case of the US, we are asked to pay more than anyone else for that dubious privilege.”

Haley also criticized the U.N. as being “a hostile place for the state of Israel.”

“It’s a wrong that undermines the credibility of this institution and that, in turn, is harmful for the entire world,” said Haley.

Haley made it clear in her speech that the vote will not deter the U.S. from moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Trump suggested that the U.S. could reduce funding to countries that voted in favor of the resolution.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” said Trump. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized the vote, blasting the U.N. as “the house of lies.” Netanyahu also thanked Trump, Haley and the countries that voted with Israel.

Journal columnist Ben Shapiro pointed out on Twitter that Thursday’s vote is in line with the U.N.’s record of anti-Israel bias:

 

Netanyahu Thanks Nikki Haley for Vetoing Anti-Israel Resolution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during an event marking "The Appreciation for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism Day" at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israeli Prime Minister Benjaim Netanyahu put forward a video thanking Nikki Haley, the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations, for vetoing an anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

The resolution, put forward by Egypt, would have rendered President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to eventually move the U.S. embassy there as “null and void” and prevented “the establishment of diplomatic missions” in Jerusalem.

But Haley prevented it from going into effect by wielding the U.S.’s veto power, and Netanyahu expressed his gratitude to her.

“On Hanukkah, you spoke like a Maccabi,” Netanyahu said in a video. “You lit a candle of truth. You dispel the darkness. One defeated the many. Truth defeated lies.”

When Haley issued the veto, she declared, “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” adding that “it’s scandalous to say we are putting back peace efforts.”

“The fact that this veto is being done in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us,” said Haley. “It should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the Security Council.”

Danny Danon, the Israeli U.N. ambassador, also criticized the resolution.

“While the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah that symbolizes the eternal connection to Jerusalem, there are people who think that they can rewrite history,” said Danon. “It’s time for all countries to recognize that Jerusalem always was and always will be the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of Israel.”

Before the U.S. used its veto power, 14 countries voted in favor of the resolution, including Britain and France.

Netanyahu BLASTS Iran Over Forcing Wrestler to Forfeit: ‘Hating Others Will Never Make You a Champion’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video on Monday blasting the Iranian regime for forcing one of their wrestlers to forfeit a match so he wouldn’t have to face an Israeli.

Netanyahu began the video by recounting the story of Alireza Karimi-Machiani, who was on the path toward easily defeating Russian wrestler Alikhan Zhabrailov until his coach ordered him to quit the match, as Iran prohibits its athletes from facing any Israelis in a sporting match.

“Close your eyes and think about Alireza for a moment,” said Netanyahu. “He trained countless hours. He dreamed of becoming a world champion. But the Iranian regime would rather see its athletes lose than compete against Israelis.”

Netanyahu then put forth a suggestion to help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

“I want you to film yourself playing a sport against someone of a different nationality, a different faith, a different color,” said Netanyahu. “I want you to compete like hell – we’re all for competition. Then I want you to shake hands, go out for a drink together and then upload this to social media.

Netayanhu continued, “I want you to show Iran’s regime that hating others will never make you a champion. It only makes you a pathetic and insecure loser.”

The Israeli prime minister provided some uplifting words for Karimi-Machiani.

“The tyrants who made you take a fall will fall themselves,” declared Netanyahu. “A regime that crushes the creative and competitive spirits of its people – that regime is doomed.”

The full video can be seen below:

When Karimi-Machiani was forced to forfeit the match, he lamented that he had trained for “months” and that “achieving a world medal is the only happiness for any of us.”

“Would it not be oppression if our authorities undermine my hard work again?” the Iranian wrestler told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA).

Evidence of Hoopla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Radical Impact of Centrism

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

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

The center is, of course, a moving target.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Israel Offers Aid to Iran-Iraq Earthquake Victims, Iran Rejects It

A man walks past a damaged building following an earthquake in Darbandikhan in Sulaimaniya Governorate, Iraq, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Israel offered to provide aid to the victims of Sunday’s earthquake at the Iran-Iraq border, but Iran rejected Israel’s offer for help.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video on Wednesday explaining that “as a father, as an Israeli, as a Jew, I wanted to help.”

“Israel has no quarrel with the people of Iran,” said Netanyahu. “We never have. Our only quarrel is with the cruel Iranian regime, a regime that holds its people hostage, a regime that threatens our people with annihilation.”

Netanyahu added that Israel has a history of providing humanitarian aid worldwide, including “Haiti, Phillippines, Mexico” and those who have been afflicted by the Syrian civil war.

“We do all this for one reason: we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” said Netanyahu. “Too many times in my people’s history, the world failed to act when it could, the world failed to do the right thing. So we have a special sensitivity to help those in need.”

Netanyahu concluded the video by noting that Israel’s constant humanitarian aid shows the true nature of Israel.

“This is Israel,” said Netanyahu. “Compassionate. Caring. Kind.”

An anonymous official from Netanyahu’s office told the Times of Israel that Iran shot down Israel’s offer for aid.

“This shows the true face of the Iranian regime,” said the official.

Iran also rejected Israel’s offer for aid in 2003 after an earthquake killed over 26,000 people.

Sunday’s earthquake registered at a 7.3 magnitude, killing 500 people and wounding almost 8,000.

Netanyahu, Rivlin and Others Offer Insights at GA

Richard V. Sandler and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin Photo courtesy of JFNA

The 2017 General Assembly (GA) featured three giants of Israeli leadership — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Netanyahu’s appearance on the final day of the three-day gathering was virtual, as he participated in a live conversation via satellite. The Nov. 14 interview conducted by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Chair Richard Sandler marked the conclusion of the GA.

During a 15-minute conversation, Netanyahu said he appreciates U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance on Iran as well as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s willingness to fight against Israel bias.

But he specifically stressed that his issues with Iran are with the country’s leadership, not its people. In fact, he said he had just announced hours earlier that Israel would provide medical assistance to the Red Cross to aid in the recovery effort for Iranians and Iraqis after the recent earthquake on the Iranian-Iraqi border.

“We have no quarrel with the people of Iran,” Netanyahu said. “Our quarrel is only with the tyrannical regime that holds them hostage and threatens our destruction.”

Rivlin, whose in-person appearance on Nov. 13 prompted ramped up security, discussed the need for Israel and Diaspora Jewry to work together in confronting anti-Semitism.

“We are one nation,” he said, appearing before a backdrop decorated with Los Angeles landmarks, including the Hollywood sign, the Capitol Records building, the downtown skyline and the Santa Monica Pier. “As one nation, we shall continue to fight together against anti-Semitism in all its forms; from the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, to terror attacks against our brothers and sisters around the world, from BDS [the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement] on campuses, to attacking Israel’s legitimacy in the U.N. There is no room for hesitation; we must continue the fight against it as one united front.”

As he walked on the GA stage on Nov. 14, shortly before Netanyahu’s appearance, Sharansky, a living legend who escaped the Soviet Union, drew a standing ovation. In a heavy accent, he said how important it was that there was Jewish unity in America during the time of the free Soviet Jewry movement.

“As one nation, we shall continue to fight together against anti-Semitism in all its forms.” — Reuven Rivlin

“That’s how the struggle was developed. That’s why for many years in prison, whenever the KGB was trying to tell me I was alone, I knew the Jewish people were behind me,” he said.

That sense of a need for Jewish unity carried through other sessions at the GA. The previous day, during a panel titled “Philanthropy, Politics and Federation,” Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Jews need to stand together in the face of challenges — and how they do it is important.

“A lot of people in the community want us to be their voice, but their voice is not every voice,” Sanderson said, explaining the role of Federation is to be a convener, not to release statements about political situations.

Sanderson’s remarks followed a discussion about the backlash the L.A. Federation faced after releasing a statement of opposition to the Iran deal during the Obama years.

Tablet Magazine founder and editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse, participating on the panel with Sanderson, said she wished Jews, even when they disagreed, would be willing to lose an argument with each other for the sake of unity.

“I think the challenge for Federation is in trying to relay that message, trying to explain to people in fact their voice is going to be heard much more clearly and much more loudly when they have solidarity with other Jews,” she said.

We, the Pickles

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most memorable phrase of the past week — the phrase for which his speech at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset will be remembered — is untranslatable.

Yes, you can call it the “pickles speech,” but this makes no sense. In Hebrew, “pickles” is “chamutzim.” In Hebrew, “chamutzim” is also “sourpuss.” So, the “pickles speech” (in Hebrew, “Ne’um HaChamutzim”) is truly the “sourness speech.”

Netanyahu mocked his rivals by calling them “pickles,” as he blamed them for being irreparably sour and dissatisfied. “You are constantly grousing,” Netanyahu said about them, “attacking and nitpicking. … You deal with nonsense, but you know deep down that in democratic elections, we will win.”

Yet the chief pickle of the day was not the usual opposition leader or some party hack. It was Israel’s president, a Likud Party veteran, Reuven Rivlin. Without mentioning Netanyahu or his party by name, Rivlin harshly criticized the attitude of the ruling majority and its tendency to treat all criticism as politically motivated and hence illegitimate. “The media is political, the democratic institutions — everything from the [civil service] professionals to the state comptroller — political,” Rivlin said. “The Supreme Court is political, the security forces are political. And is even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces, political? The entire country and its institutions are filled with politics.”

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal.

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal. They clearly dislike each other, but that’s beside the point. What they say is what’s important, and what they say it what’s disturbing.

Rivlin, rightly, feels that his party and former friends lost their way, and lost their sense of stately responsibility. He did not say this in such words, but what he meant was: You all have become party hacks, no longer caring for the country and its people, only caring for maintaining your government.

Netanyahu, rightly, feels that no matter what he does, his critics grumble. If the economy is doing well, he does not get credit. If Israel is strong, he does not get credit. If terrorism is contained, war is avoided, relations with the United States are solid and Israel’s position in the world improves, he does not get credit.

Both of these leaders lost their trust in the good faith of important institutions — a disease of our time (see this week’s number on the right side of the page). Rivlin, for example, does not believe that the government is acting in good faith to better Israel when it attempts to rein in the Supreme Court’s activists. Netanyahu does not believe that police are acting in good faith to better Israel when they investigate his deeds and misdeeds.

This is a disturbing sentiment, because trust is all a government has in a democratic society. Without the general trust of the public, it cannot properly function. If citizens do not trust the police, they will not complain, nor tell it the truth. If citizens do not trust the courts, they will not accept their verdicts. If citizens do not trust the government, they will search for ways to circumvent the government — to change the rules or ignore them.

Lack of trust is a dangerous disease because it is very hard to heal. Netanyahu is unlikely to heal it, because of his belief that every attempt to mend the differences will be a sign of weakness and used against him. Rivlin is unlikely to heal it because the minute he steps into this minefield, he becomes a suspect in the eyes of those who see conspiracies and enemies around them. The opposition is unlikely to heal it, because it has political motivations that it rarely resists — namely, when opportunity to politicize an issue presents itself, the opposition usually jumps on it and thus reveals its un-stately motivations.

Maybe the next leader, after Netanyahu, can do something to mend this sense of mistrust. Maybe, but Netanyahu is not going away without a fight. Why would he, when all he sees around him are blunt attempts to dethrone him by means other than winning an election — investigations, insinuations, allegations, exaggerations and the pickiness of pickles? n


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

Iran to continue missile program, calls Trump ‘featherbrained’

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran has vowed to continue its missile program and called President Trump “featherbrained” in light of his recent actions toward Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a statement that read, “Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization.”

On October 13, Trump announced that he was going to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and that his Treasury Department would slap the IRGC with sanctions for involvement in terror activity, although he did not explicitly designate them as a terror organization.

The IRGC denounced the sanctions in the statement.

“Imposing cruel sanctions against the Guards and hostile approach of the rogue and brute president [Trump] shows the failure of America and the Zionist regime’s wicked policies in the region,” the statement read.

The IRGC also called Trump “featherbrained.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently tweeted, “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised Zarif in a video, telling the Iranian foreign minister to “delete your account.”

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, recently warned of Iran’s “repeated ballistic missile launches.”

“When a rogue regime starts down the path of ballistic missiles, it tells us that we will soon have another North Korea on our hands,” said Haley.

Netanyahu to Iran’s foreign minister: ‘Delete your account’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 30. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple message for Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday: “Delete your account.”

Netanyahu was responding to a tweet from Zarif stating that “Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]; standing firm with those who defend us & the region against aggression & terror.” The Israeli prime minister pointed out the tweet’s irony given that “the regime bans them from using Twitter.”

“Apparently, I have a higher opinion of the Iranian people than their leaders,” said Netanyahu in a video.

Netanyahu proceeded to highlight some of the heinous actions committed by the IRGC and Iranian regime.

“I’m sure that ordinary Iranian mothers and fathers wouldn’t have blown up a Jewish community center in Argentina filled with little children, because that’s what the Revolutionary Guard did,” said Netanyahu, referencing the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ AIMA Jewish community center. “I’m sure that ordinary Iranians want to live in peace and don’t want their government to shoot students in the streets, hang gays in cranes, torture journalists in prison.”

Netanyahu then declared that “one day the Iranian people will be free” and concluded the video by telling Zarif: “Delete your account.”

The full video can be seen below, via the Times of Israel:

On Friday, President Trump slapped the IRGC with sanctions for being complicit in terrorism, although he didn’t’ specifically label them as a terrorist organization.

Episode 60 – Let’s Talk Bibi

It can be safely said that Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most controversial figures in Israeli politics. He’s seen by many as the savior of the Jewish people while many others consider him the antithesis to everything democratic and Israeli. He’s worshiped, he’s cursed. He’s praised and he’s ridiculed. One thing is for sure, no one is indifferent to Bibi.

It’s only fitting that such a leader would be embroiled in corruption charges for most of his political career. Most recently, the cases nicknamed cases 1000 through 4000 have intermittently surfaced in the headlines here in Israel and around the world. Cigars and champagne, German submarines, secret deals for favorable coverage, conflicts of interest, conflicts of interest, conflicts of interest.

However, Netanyahu is also held up as one of the great leaders of our time. He’s hailed for taking a hardline against some of Israel’s staunchest critics and most hostile enemies. His international diplomacy is unrivaled in the Israeli political sphere. His free market capitalism and the policies he set in motion during his tenure as Finance Minister are credited by many with restoring Israel’s economy after the Second Intifada.

So it’s about time: we need to talk about Bibi.

Lahav Harkov is the Senior Knesset Reporter and Analyst for The Jerusalem Post. She’s often invited to lecture on Israeli Government and Politics in Israel and abroad. The BBC, France 24, Sky News and many others have sought her insights about breaking news. She’s published articles in CommentaryThe New York PostTablet and Makor Rishon, just to name a few. And she was recently recognized by the JTA as the 5th-most influential person on “Jewish Twitter.”

Lahav Harkov joins us today to help tackle the man that is Bibi… not literally.

Lahav’s Twitter and FB

(Photo credit: the Kremlin)

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After Trump’s third meeting with Netanyahu, experts perplexed with approach

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 18. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Even back in 2004, when Donald Trump was the host of the reality television show The Apprentice, the real estate developer expressed supreme confidence in his ability to solve the decades long Israeli-Arab conflict. Trump told former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry that year: “It would take me two weeks to get an agreement.”

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Nonetheless, in the over 34 weeks since Trump has taken office and after his third round of meetings last week at the United Nations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the peace process remains stagnant.  This week, with Israeli and Palestinian officials trading insults after Ramallah successfully joined Interpol on Wednesday and a Palestinian terrorist killing three Israeli security officials at a West Bank crossing this week, analysts note that the Trump administration-led process appears unable to sustain positive momentum.

Michael Koplow, Policy Director at the Israel Policy Forum, criticized Trump’s refusal to endorse the two state solution while meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. “To continue to be coy about it and not utter the phrase two state solution and act is if there is some sort of magical answer that nobody else has ever discovered is ridiculous,” he told Jewish Insider.

“I don’t exactly know right now what the strategy is from the US,” said Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and co-author of a recent biography on Abbas. Rumley added that without a framework going forward, the Palestinians are concerned that they would take unpopular domestic steps such as cutting the payments to families of terrorists and “follow the Trump team to something that ended up as a status quo quasi- agreement, leaving them in the cold.”

Into the 10th month of the Trump presidency, the administration has still declined to outline any concrete proposal towards relaunching talks. “There is a good chance that it (peace) can happen. The Israelis would like to see it. And I think the Palestinians would like to see it and I can tell you that Trump administration would like to see it,” the President declared on September 18.

For all the attention on the Trump administration, David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute expressed skepticism about the attitudes towards peace in Jerusalem and Ramallah. “I do not think both the Israelis and Palestinians have the requisite domestic political will to do anything that is politically hard for them. It is hard to imagine a breakthrough at this time.” Makovsky cited the inability for the PA to curb incitement along with the Israeli cabinet freeze of a proposal to expand housing units in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya as signs that Jerusalem and Ramallah remain unable to take the steps necessary towards peace.

In a September 19th speech to international donors, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt highlighted how the current US approach “departs from some of the usual orthodoxy” while emphasizing collaborative wastewater projects and economic assistance. Noting the economic challenges in Ramallah, Greenblatt added, “The PA is still dependent on international donors and is unable to afford important services which Israel is willing to provide – so I encourage all of us to work with the parties, in a coordinated manner, to reduce fiscal losses and ensure that the PA collects the taxes it is owed.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, explained that without a “top-down component” addressing core political issues including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, then the infrastructure projects “will become conflict management tactics rather than conflict resolution tactics.”

In contrast to the friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, many supporters of Israel appreciate the warmer approach taken by the Trump White House towards the Jewish state. Trump made a point during his UN meeting not to publicly criticize Netanyahu’s government and Greenblatt has repeatedly thanked the Israelis for taking steps that improve the West Bank economy.

Yet, some worry that the bear hug towards Israel could impair the U.S. ability to serve as a fair broker. In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman departed with longstanding State Department policy by referring to the “Alleged Occupation.” Palestinians were also disappointed when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vowed to block any Palestinian from serving in senior UN role as a way to counter UN bias against Israel. “You also at some point cross a line from being tilted to the Israeli side and going full blown of being Israel’s advocate against the Palestinians,” Koplow said.

“We know from a very long and unfortunately sad experience that the absence of a serious process will over time result in pressures building up that contribute to the resumption of violence,” Kurtzer concluded.