June 18, 2019

U.S. Slaps Further Sanctions on Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The United States is putting further sanctions on the Iranian regime, with the latest round targeting Iran’s largest petrochemicals company on Friday.

The Associated Press reports that the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company has been conducting business with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the Trump administration designated as a Foreign Terror Organization in April.

We intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC,” Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action is a warning that we will continue to target holding groups and companies in the petrochemical sector and elsewhere that provide financial lifelines to the IRGC.”

According to the Treasury Department, the aforementioned petrochemical company accounts for around half of Iran’s petrochemical exports and 40 percent of the country’s petrochemical production. Petrochemicals are chemicals extracted from petroleum and other fossil fuels that are used in making products like soap and fertilizer.

The latest round of sanctions comes after a former deputy for the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran could get nuclear weapons as soon as six-to-eight months. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, a top commander of American forces in the Middle East, told NBC News on June 6 that Iran poses an “imminent” threat to the United States.

I would say the threat has probably evolved in certain ways even as our defensive posture has changed and become more aggressive, and we certainly thank our Iraqi partners for many of the things they’ve done,” McKenzie said.

In May, the United States sent Air Force bombers and a carrier strike group to the Middle East to counteract potential unspecified threats from Iran. President Donald Trump said earlier this week that war with Iran could break out at any time, but he prefers to hold a dialogue with the regime in Tehran.

Report: Iran Attempting to Obtain WMDs

FILE PHOTO: A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran September 27, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS

Intelligence from two German states has concluded that Iran has been making efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Post reports that the German states of Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s intelligence have each issued reports spanning hundreds of pages on the threat of nuclear proliferation, particularly Iran. The Bavarian report stated that Iran is attempting “to expand its conventional arsenal of weapons with weapons of mass destruction,” which would include “atomic, biological, chemical weapons.” Iran has attempted to hide their actions through an illicit end-around of “German export controls,” according to the Post.

Similarly, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern report concluded that Iran, along with Pakistan, Syria and North Korea, are among the countries that are using their intelligence agencies to engage “in unlawful procurement activities in the field of proliferation, using globally oriented, conspiratorial business and commercial structures.”

The aforementioned intelligence reports come as President Donald Trump’s visiting the United Kingdom, where he is expected to seek help from the British government in putting pressure on Iran. The Trump administration currently sees Iran as the chief threat in the Middle East; in May 2018, Trump announced that the United States would be leaving the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Switzerland on June 2 that the U.S. would be open to a dialogue with Iran without any pre-conditions, but Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that Iran would only engage in a dialogue with Trump if he showed them “respect.”

Letters to the Editor: Joe Biden’s Flawed Approach, ‘Character Assassination’ of Trump

Joe Biden’s Flawed Approach
Dan Schnur describes in his column (“The Joe Biden Gamble,” May 10) using arguments against President Donald Trump the policymaker but not against Trump the person. It’s apparent that Biden is against Trump in every way, shape and form. Biden apparently knows that Trump has done an enormous amount for the economy in two years, what former President Barack Obama — Biden’s boss — couldn’t do in eight years.

Schnur then describes Biden’s repeated references to the 2017 “white supremacy” rally in Charlottesville, Va. Biden described the demonstrators who wanted to preserve a Confederate statue as “white supremacists,” and Schnur repeated it. The people who opposed tearing down the statue were Unite the Right. The depiction of them as “white supremacists” has as much credibility as the Russia collusion hoax.

When Trump said there were good people on both sides in the Charlottesville event, he did not validate or indicate in any way that he was supporting any of the people who dressed like Nazis. Jared Taylor, one of the few people who got it right, wrote in American Renaissance right after the Charlottesville episode that people who get the news from the mainstream media might have believed that all of the violence was caused by “white supremacists.” It’s perfectly logical that peaceful, law-abiding people were there who just don’t want a mob to come into town to tear down the statue. Of course, what caused the violence was hostile counter-demonstrators, many of them wearing helmets and carrying shields. If they had not been there, there would have been no violence, and the rally would have taken place as planned.

Of all people, it was Trump who came the closest to getting it right, condemning “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” This, of course, earned him near-universal condemnation. Joe Biden explained, “There is only one side,” and the problem was Unite the Right. This prompted a storm of retweets and similar sentiments.

Here, one side is demonstrating peacefully, though provocatively; the other side — the good side — is committing violent aggression. This is the moral calculus of Biden and the rest of the left. If Biden runs on this platform, he will have a lot to explain after the underlying premise of his platform is exposed as false, just as the Russia collusion narrative was exposed as a hoax.
Marshall Lerner, via email


‘Character Assassination’ of Trump
Letter writer Stephen J. Meyers is upset about “character assassination” of Trump (May 10). I wonder which part of Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s story about Poway is “character assassination” (“Dealing With the Threat of Home-Grown White Nationalists,” May 3).

Is it “Facts are not ‘fake news,’ though things described by President Donald Trump as fake news are just facts he doesn’t like revealed by the news.’ ” That’s 100% true, so it can’t be that.

Is it “Why then is 99.9% of our president’s attention focused on his largely invented dangers posed by brown people?” I’m sure you could quibble about the percentage, but it is a fact that he’s been very vocal about the border situation.

Or is it “Let’s use a Trump technique and repeat, repeat, repeat the fact that our president and other leaders of our country are ignoring the reality that nearly all extremist murders are being committed by homegrown white nationalists, not the immigrants over whom they obsess”? You can disagree about the premise, but it is 100% true that Trump repeats talking points obsessively, like any wannabe dictator. 

So which part is “character assassination” and which part is “fake news about Trump”?
Steve St. John, via email


Christianity and Judaism
With the ongoing and recent events in the world regarding the animus toward Christianity and Judaism, I feel compelled to write. I recently read Ben Shapiro’s column (“Don’t Give Anti-Semites What They Seek,” May 3), and that inspired me to write to you.

I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I attended Catholic schools. I have no Jewish ethnicity but being a New Yorker, I was exposed to Jewish culture on a daily basis. As a child, I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and that affects me to this day. I have read extensively about the treatment of Jews in Europe during World War II and I felt great outrage and sadness. After graduating, I worked in Jewish companies and made many friends. I love the Jewish sense of humor and strong family ties.

I went to Vilnius, Lithuania, recently and toured the Jewish section of town. As I stood on the cobblestone sidewalk, I was full of emotion to know of the annihilation that occurred there. And now renewed anti-Semitism is showing its face every day and I am truly alarmed. Has nothing been learned? 

I hope to visit Israel someday, and I will continue to stand with the Jewish community against dark forces. I pray that people of all faiths realize what dangerous times we are in.
Amy Matturro, via email

Stephen Smith’s column “A Christian Killer in Poway” (May 3) insists all Christian leaders must denounce the Poway synagogue killings. Anti-Semitism is escalating: If Poway presages events to come, there is ample cause for alarm.

But American Christians remain friends more than foes to Jews. Care must be taken not to jeopardize that, as the article’s tone and demands seem apt to do. Jews need Christians’ support. But Christians have challenges, too — and support should be reciprocal.

“Imported anti-Semitism” (with which Europe is familiar) fosters rising crimes targeting Jews, and fans societal acceptance of anti-Semitism — extending to Congress, where party elders have responded tepidly to the anti-Semitism championed from their midst. In the U.S., anti-Christian violence remains rare but it is open season on Christians in academic discourse, in a fashion that would not (yet) be tolerated against Jews (and would be condemned were the target Muslims). Internationally, anti-Christian violence is deadly: Help eludes Egyptian Coptics and Syrian Christians, under assault despite long historical presence in those regions. The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka signal expansion of the threat to Christians — and underscore the shared perils that should bind Christians and Jews.

It is mortifying that any Christian espouses the Poway suspect’s sentiments. But we mustn’t forget the broader picture: U.S. Christians have been great friends to Jews and to Israel, a small nation that assumes outsized importance, as burgeoning anti-Semitic assaults in Europe drive ever more people to seek refuge there.

Let’s make sure the friendship that Christians extend is respected, treasured — and reciprocated.
Beatrice A. Golomb, via email

The Jewish Journal printed two letters that were well thought out in response to Smith’s column. However, based on the negative change in attitude of some Americans toward Zionism and Judaism, I am not so certain that America will remain as positive as it is now.

Many American Christians are thankful for the positive influence of Judaism all over the world. However, they must be sure to state their horror over events like what took place at Chabad of Poway. There must be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.
Neal Silversher, via email


‘Even-Handed’ Anti-Zionism?
In reference to David Suissa’s May 10 column (“How Even-Handed Should We Be With Terrorists?”) and George Epstein’s May 17 follow-up letter to the editor, IfNotNow’s and Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ statements are, at least as quoted, anything but even-handed. It is grotesquely one-sided to blame Hamas rocket fire primarily or exclusively on Israel The consequence of labeling such statements as even aspirationally even-handed is that it gives us an excuse not to be even-handed. 

I agree with Suissa that terrorists do not “deserve” even-handedness. And after rocket fire, unequivocal condemnations like the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt’s are likely wiser than delving into the complex history of the conflict. But long-term, in no way should we excuse ourselves from being even-handed with our own. Just as self-hating ire blaming Israel for every Palestinian misdeed is shameful, so too is entirely dismissing the complexity of the conflict or the very possibility of our own mistakes.
Michael Feldman, Los Angeles


Now it’s your turn. Send your letters to the editor. Letters should be no more than
200 words and must include a valid name and city. The Journal reserves the right to edit all letters. letters@jewishjournal.com.

UCLA Panel Examines Fake News in U.S.,Israel

A panel at UCLA examined “‘Fake News:' New Media and the Changing Political Culture in the U.S. and Israel.” Photo by Ryan Torok

During a May 19 lecture at UCLA, four journalism experts examined the importance of media in a world where the term “fake news” is now part of the daily lexicon.

“Without media, some of democracy cannot function properly, and if you have mistrust in the media then the media cannot fulfill its societal roles,” said professor Eytan Gilboa, founder and director of the Center for International Communications at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. 

Gilboa made his statement as part of a panel titled, “ ‘Fake News’: New Media and the Changing Political Culture in the U.S. and Israel.” He spoke alongside Jane Elizabeth, managing editor of The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., and the Durham Herald-Sun; Anat Balint, a media scholar and lecturer at Tel Aviv University; and UCLA Department of Communication professor Tim Groeling. Around 40 people attended the event organized by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

During his presentation, Gilboa displayed a graph showing that the media is one of the least trusted institutions in the United States, especially among Republicans. “Democrats are much more trusting of the media than Republicans by huge gaps,” Gilboa said.

He added that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump have “observed these mistrusts of the media and capitalized on them, used them, exploited them for election and other purposes and gained from those accusations.”

Elizabeth spoke about the role social media has played in disseminating false stories, noting that fact-checking on Facebook is the “biggest game of whack-a-mole you’ve ever seen.” 

She also spoke about “deep fakes,” which she described as the manipulation of video to make a person say something they never said. “This will be a problem in the 2020 election,” she added. 

“When you attach the word ‘fake’ to news, you also aim at the work of journalists.”— Anat Balint

Balint spoke about slanted coverage in Israel, laying much of the blame on Netanyahu. She called the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is supported by pro-Israel philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, as a “propaganda platform personally oriented toward Netanyahu. It is a façade of a newspaper that doesn’t hold any journalistic value,” she said.

The news, Balint said, should be a conduit for honest public discourse. “When you attach the word ‘fake’ to news,” she said, “you also aim at the work of journalists.”

During her presentation, Balint showed an image of a huge Netanyahu campaign billboard for the April 9 Israeli elections showing Netanyahu and Trump shaking hands. She described both leaders as “disruptors of public discourse because of their attacks on the media,” adding that with the rise of social media and its increasing role in the news landscape, individual leaders have greater platforms than media outlets. 

Groeling said some fake news sites exploit credible news sources, citing a website that intentionally resembled ABC News, which published a false story that there would be a do-over of the 2016 presidential election.

While there are fact checks to make up for erroneous reporting, they are not distributed as widely as the underlying stories, he said, adding that part of the problem for real journalists is that most people are not media experts and don’t enjoy spending time rigorously exploring the news.


 

Qatar Shows Two Faces to the World

Four Israelis were buried earlier this month in the wake of nearly 1,000 rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired into Israeli population centers, striking schools, synagogues and homes. 

The attacks were a massive escalation, showing both the capabilities and determination of the terror groups to strike deeply and indiscriminately within Israeli territory. With new rockets, Israel’s main population centers surrounding Tel Aviv were under fire, as was the country’s rumored nuclear reactor at Dimona. Israel’s anti-missile system, Iron Dome, as well as luck and providence prevented the deaths of Jews on a massive scale.

Amid the back and forth, it appeared an Israeli ground invasion was imminent. There’s no country in the world that would allow such a threat on its borders to persist, yet a cease-fire between Israel and the terror groups, negotiated in part by Qatar, seems to be holding — at least temporarily.

Qatar’s role in negotiating an end to hostilities with Israel is more than a bit ironic, as that nation has been Hamas’ principal system of financial and diplomatic support.

The Islamist terror group’s long-standing relationship with Qatar runs through the Muslim Brotherhood. In its founding charter, Hamas declares itself as a branch of the Brotherhood in Palestine. For its part, the Brotherhood long has understood Hamas to be the tip of the spear when it comes to armed jihad against Israel. America’s largest terror finance trial, U.S. vs. Holy Land Foundation, described the primary function of the Brotherhood in America as being a fundraising and communications tool for the terror group.

Since the U.S. government closed Texas’ Holy Land Foundation more than a decade ago for funneling millions to Hamas, foreign nations such as Qatar largely have picked up the slack. Money for a terror group like Hamas is fungible. This means investing in social services and territory itself. Part of Qatar’s largesse solidifies Hamas’ grip on the population: bribing Gazans with services, feeding its citizens with jihadist propaganda, and maintaining a security force that stamps down dissent and engages in murders of suspected collaborators.

But Qatar doesn’t just support Hamas directly in Gaza. The Gulf emirate bankrolls the group’s massive communications support network, including the institutions, media outlets and influencers that comprise most of anti-Israel activism globally.

Joey Allaham
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

“Qatar has quickly and quietly built an unrivaled global influence operation.” — Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project

Qatar’s Support for Islamists
For a half-century, Qatar has been a tiny oasis for Hamas’ ideological mothership, the Muslim Brotherhood and many of the world’s most virulent Islamists. In the 1960s, Gamal Abdel Nasser again banned and cracked down on the Brotherhood in Egypt, forcing thousands of the group’s agitators, clerics and community organizers to retreat elsewhere into the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Since then, the Arabian Gulf emirate of Qatar has been the Brotherhood’s most hospitable base of operations. In time, Brotherhood Islamism soon would emerge as Qatar’s de facto state ideology, as the ruling al-Thani family welcomed the Islamists with lavish funding, the highest state honors and the establishment of new Islamist institutions that would indoctrinate thousands of extremist clerics.

With the turn of Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia against Islamism, today Qatar is the last major state patron for Brotherhood activists and groups, especially in the West. Since Qatar’s most prominent export, state-owned television network Al-Jazeera, was founded in 1996, the Brotherhood has played a crucial role in programming and setting the editorial line, providing the network’s strong ideological Islamist backing.

By backing the Brotherhood in the region, Qatar’s adventurism greatly imperils the security of Israel as well as the United States. The emirate undermines the stability of its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; it promotes Islamists in vulnerable, Western-open societies; and it diplomatically and financially supports violent terrorist groups such as Hamas, al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Of course, nobody who credibly can be called pro-Israel would want to be in the position to defend these policy priorities, even for satchels of cash on offer from Doha, Qatar’s capital.

Nevertheless, after Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, two well-connected Jews became lobbyists and signed a substantial contract to represent the Islamist-supporting emirate of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. That decision got them working against Israel’s interests and eventually did considerable damage to their careers and reputations.

Qatar’s Media Empire of Influence
Information warfare products consist of weaponized information translated into a variety of media — from books and articles to television interviews, blog posts and tweets. Qatar’s media empire comprises 38 sports television channels in 36 countries, exclusive broadcasting rights to Turner-owned channels in the Middle East and North Africa, a Qatar Airways-sponsored monthly travel series on CNN and more.

“Qatar has quickly and quietly built an unrivaled global influence operation,” said Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, which provides legal services for the Jewish community. “It presents a squeaky-clean face to the West that hides the regime’s support for the most extreme Islamist groups … groups that murder Israelis and gravely threaten U.S. interests.”

Al-Jazeera is the most important news network broadcasting in Arabic in the world, with tens of millions of viewers spread across Arabic-speaking communities in nearly every country. Drawing a massive estimated audience of 35 million weekly, Al-Jazeera’s most popular Arabic program was “Sharia and Life,” starring Qatar-based virulently anti-Semitic cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent jurist.

Al-Qaradawi’s most infamous statement was an ode to Adolf Hitler: “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption,” he proclaimed on Al-Jazeera. “The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them — even though they exaggerated this issue — he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”

In explaining why Qatar can never turn its back on the Brotherhood or anti-Western Islamism, scholar David Warren stressed the importance of al-Qaradawi and his legacy in that country. “The Qatari royal family became a key supporter of Qaradawi,” he wrote. Today, al-Qaradawi meets regularly with the emir and his family, and the state media regularly distribute photos of family members embracing the sheik with great affection and reverence.

“Since the U.S. government closed Texas’ Holy Land Foundation more than a decade ago for funneling millions to Hamas, foreign nations such as Qatar largely have picked up the slack.”

“The fact that there is anti-Semitic material in Al-Jazeera is significant; that it has a daily diet of anti-American material is significant,” Middle East Broadcasting Networks president Alberto Fernandez said during a recent Washington conference on Qatar’s influence operations. “But the greatest problem with Al-Jazeera is how, for a generation, it has mainstreamed and normalized an Islamist grievance narrative, which has served as sort of the mother’s milk for all sorts of Islamist movements.”

As London-based Muslim liberal Nervana Mahmoud noted, the Qatari outlet “labels Arab states with good relations with Israel [like the United Arab Emirates and, most recently, Saudi Arabia] as ‘Arab Zionists.’ ” Of course, this kind of rhetoric makes Middle East normalization and eventual peace and with Israel more difficult.

Al-Jazeera is the world’s most successful and influential state-directed information operation. Its sophistication is evident in its ability to promote two very different messages to two audiences simultaneously. In Arabic, Al-Jazeera pushes a stream of vile, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and attempts to rile up religious and extremist Muslims against attempts at positive, human rights reforms in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. In English, however, Al-Jazeera presents itself as progressive and left wing, attacking these same nations efforts at reform as fake and inadequate. A rebranding in English as “AJ+” was further meant to obscure the Islamist-run network and to appeal to younger people in the West, with social media material in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. 

Al-Jazeera’s mask is held tightly in place but occasionally it slips. Only last week, AJ+ Arabic and Al-Jazeera were rocked by a severe anti-Semitism scandal, beginning with a Holocaust-denial video. The video — professionally produced by the Doha-based network — denied that extermination took place at the Nazi concentration camps and accused the Zionist movement of benefiting from the atrocities. Soon, the network’s critics were finding recent tweet after tweet from a variety of Al-Jazeera contributors.

In an attempt to quell the anger that threatened to destroy all the effort Al-Jazeera had put into cultivating AJ+’s reputation and target audience, the network suspended two staffers. Calling the disciplined employees “scapegoats,” Muslim liberal commentator Asra Nomani tweeted, “The government of Qatar needs to take responsibility & everyone making excuses for Al-Jazeera is complicit in a cover-up.”

The scandal did damage Qatar’s influence operation — but just how much damage is yet to be seen. At the very least, more Americans know that the AJ+ social media content that’s targeted toward their children and young adults is actually Al-Jazeera, a foreign network owned and operated to advance the interests of the Qatari state. This kind of exposure is vital.

Unfortunately, American elites and policymakers long have been soft targets for Qatari information warfare, especially if it’s coated with the sheen of the network’s respectability. Even then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Like it or hate it, [Al-Jazeera] is really effective.”

Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Photo by Reuters

After the 2016 election, the specter of Russian news and commentary outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik as serious threats to American democracy allowed the massive Qatari elephant in the room, Al-Jazeera, to largely escape similar scrutiny. Last year, though, Congress finally appeared to get serious about foreign states’ roles in information operations directed at American citizens and media consumers. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requires all U.S.-based foreign media outlets — including Russia Today and Al-Jazeera — to identify themselves clearly as foreign outlets and report to the FCC every six months on their relations with their foreign principals. Trump signed it into law in August 2018; to date, neither foreign outlet has filed with the FCC or made their reports available to Congress.

When Qatar pays off people with pro-Israel bona fides, it has a downstream effect; others who might know less about the issues or the region itself will follow the thought leader.

Qatar’s Other Instruments of Influence
Qatar doesn’t control just networks. The larger picture of how its information assets play off one another is impressive. For example, a typical news story or TV news segment might feature a journalist to report the news; reference a recent think-tank study; and provide several experts to contextualize the importance of the news and provide historical perspective. What would happen to the coverage if all these elements shared a common benefactor — especially one that is adamant about message discipline and advancing its interests?

More than any other nation, Qatar shrewdly has invested in the infrastructure of this kind of influence, and it shows. Last month, The New York Times published an expansive story in a Sunday edition arguing that Democratic support for Israel quickly was evaporating in the wake of an ascendant boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Nathan Thrall, who wrote the story, tried to make the case that prominent Democratic donors deviously worked behind the scenes to maintain public support for Israel, even as the party’s base soured on the Jewish state. Thrall painted a bleak picture of Israeli atrocities and echoed age-old themes of untoward Jewish influence in America’s “paper of record.”

Yet, nowhere in the piece did the Times disclose that some of those paying Thrall’s salary have agendas hostile to Israel. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has received significant foreign funding from the emirate of Qatar, with other funding coming from U.S.-based backers of BDS.

The pro-Hamas ICG isn’t the only think tank that benefits from Qatar’s largesse. The Qatar Foundation owns the Brookings Doha Center, the Qatar-based branch of one of the oldest think tanks in the world, the Brookings Institution. The foundation’s listed “100%” ownership stake means Qatari heads of state control the Brookings Doha Center.

Even as it has been routinely criticized for promoting Islamic extremism, including anti-Semitism, the Qatar Foundation has been, like Al-Jazeera, a way for the emirate to project soft power — usually influence in one way or another — in the service of its national interests. The foundation’s three shareholders are in the highest echelon of Doha’s royal family.

Qatar lavishly spends on universities, not only in the United States, to create a network of American-affiliated schools in the emirate that will be predisposed to support it and its policies. The Qatar Foundation paid six U.S. universities hundreds of millions of dollars to operate campuses at the Education City complex in Doha. These universities are CornellTexas A&M, Carnegie MellonVirginia Commonwealth UniversityGeorgetown and Northwestern.

Exposés in The New York Times and on Tablet in 2014 show that rather than producing objective, data-driven analysis about the region, Qatar’s millions colored the work the think tank produced. “[T]here was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government,” Saleem Ali, a former visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, told the Times.

Yet, members of the media and policymakers still use these outlets as authoritative sources of analysis on the Middle East. Qatar-backed media outlets — including those such as CNN, which count on substantial advertising revenue from the oil-rich emirate — often feature talking heads from Brookings, ICG and other institutions with undisclosed financial ties to Doha. This cynically impressive scheme continues to work, thanks to the biases of the media and others who don’t want to look too closely at the sources of funding and influence.

For Qatar, endowments to Brookings and the International Crisis Group are tiny pieces of a much larger strategic influence campaign it successfully has waged in recent years, spanning from these multimillion-dollar investments in Washington, D.C., think tanks, universities and dozens of media outlets it owns to, most recently, a controversial and hard-knuckled, eight-figure lobbying effort in Washington.

Recruiting Muzin and Allaham
When the diplomatic war with Saudi Arabia intensified in the summer of 2017, Qatar likely recognized the need for more air cover in Washington. What better way than getting Jewish lobbyists to persuade influential Jewish community leaders to soften their stances on Qatar?

This effort culminated in a successful influence operation American lobbyists and agents — specifically Stonington Strategies, run by former kosher steakhouse owner Joey Allaham and former deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) Nick Muzin — carried out with Qatari money. 

Muzin grew up in the Toronto Jewish community. He was a good student and a high achiever, completing medical school in the Bronx before switching gears and turning to law school at Yale. After a marriage to Andrea Michelle Zucker, the daughter of Charleston billionaires Anita and Jerry Zucker, he soon became involved in South Carolina politics. He helped then-Charleston City Councilman Tim Scott get elected in Washington, first to the House of Representatives, then to the Senate. Muzin worked as deputy chief of staff for Cruz during Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, appearing often with the candidate at Jewish community events.

Allaham was born into a family of Syrian Jews in Damascus and arrived in the United States in the early 1990s. He opened several of New York’s premier kosher restaurants, including Prime Grill. One by one, though, Allaham’s seemingly successful restaurants began shutting their doors. Toward the end of 2017 — when Stonington’s contract with the Qataris was in full swing — the Forward reported on the closing of the last of Allaham’s restaurants, Prime at the Bentley, as Allaham was embroiled in lawsuits over a series of kosher Passover excursions he canceled, allegedly never returning his customers’ deposits.

In addition to his contacts in the Republican Party and the conservative movement in Washington, Muzin had married into a wealthy and well-connected family. In Manhattan, Allaham’s restaurants were upscale; his customers included not just the most important and powerful members of New York Jewish society but, significantly, anyone who’d want access to them. Muzin and Allaham were not Qatar’s only lobbyists in the United States. But by using their credibility to target and compromise some very influential voices, they unquestionably did the most damage to the Jewish community and Israel’s supporters in America. Together, the pair received approximately $7 million from Doha, according to an exposé on Tablet. Not only was that an awfully big paycheck for two newly minted lobbyists, but it enabled them to generously spread around a lot of dollars.

Of course, $7 million is a small fraction of the sums Qatar admits to spending on annual lobbying activities. Most of the money goes to buy the usual PR firms and advertising campaigns, media operators and former congressmen, generals and ex-staffers who are paid largely to open key office doors to influential people inside the Beltway. It’s this last group that’s most interesting and in the case of Stonington Strategies, deeply cynical.

Over the course of a year or longer, armed with funds from Doha, Muzin and Allaham launched an influence operation targeting prominent leaders in the Jewish and non-Jewish conservative communities. They used that money to wine and dine Israel supporters, bring them to Doha, donate to their nonprofits and, finally, convince them that Qatar — the patron of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran’s ally — is friendly toward Israel. And for a time, it seemed they were succeeding.

Lifting the Veil
An influence operation is the strategic use of interpersonal relationships and institutions. A long-term relationship or affiliation with an institution or person builds and solidifies the kind of goodwill that can be immensely valuable for a lobbyist to exploit. It takes surprisingly little contact and effort for a target of an influence operation to become an ally. For example, a longtime friendship with a Qatari lobbyist may make one predisposed to trust and feel sympathy for the Qatari point of view.

The relationships Muzin and Allaham could leverage for Qatar’s benefit were tremendously valuable. These connections enabled them to enlist others with unimpeachable pro-Israel credentials who could, in turn, serve as surrogates for Qatar’s interests. When Qatar pays off people with pro-Israel bona fides, it has a downstream effect; others who might know less about the issues or the region itself will follow the thought leader.

Modern information warfare is slick and unnoticeable; influence operations, though, are as insidious as they look. We understand that when politicians or influencers go on all-expense-paid junkets, it’s a clear example of bribery. The quid pro quo (for example, a trip to the Doha Forum) doesn’t have to be immediate, and it doesn’t have to be readily apparent. However, there is a promise of some kind of profit: money, fame, career advancement or even virtuousness. Wealthy nations such as Qatar can extend these kinds of benefits to a great many people — and they do.

“For a half-century, Qatar has been a tiny oasis for Hamas’ ideological mothership, the Muslim Brotherhood and many of the world’s most virulent Islamists.”

Thankfully, Muzin and Allaham’s aggressive, well-paid jaunt as lobbyists for Qatar soon darkened their reputations in both the tightknit pro-Israel and conservative communities in Washington, New York and Los Angeles. Their willingness to target longtime opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, including former Republican National Committee finance chairman and pro-Israel philanthropist Elliott Broidy, also grated on many in the pro-Israel world.

Qatar is alleged to have been behind the hacking of more than 1,500 prominent individuals, from former Department of Defense and CIA officials to European intelligence officials, Washington think-tank experts, journalists and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. With most people conducting business online or via text or email, targeted cyber-espionage campaigns can do tremendous damage to private citizens or countries.

According to a recent filing in District of Columbia Courts, Stonington’s Muzin and Allaham allegedly were behind the distribution of hacked and doctored emails belonging to Broidy. The lawsuit alleges that Stonington “was among the vehicles used by the State of Qatar to funnel funds to others involved in the attack.”

After it was revealed he had been targeted, Boteach described it as “a dangerous and direct attack by a foreign government against American citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Broidy was a prime target of the Qatari’s efforts in the United States; silencing him was very important, both to the lobbyists and their funders in Doha. They attempted to do so through a media campaign of intimidation, as the lawsuit alleges Greg Howard of Mercury Public Affairs worked with journalists eager to expose a Republican ally of Trump. Mercury Public Affairs is a lobbying and public affairs firm registered as a foreign agent of Qatar in the United States and is a subsidiary of Fortune 500 company Omnicom Group. The media offensive against Broidy took advantage of media outlets willing to run with incorrect information as long as it fit into their narratives.

Aside from the legal liability and stacks of lawsuits the lobbyists’ actions caused, the Qatar episode left their reputations largely in tatters. Amid the accusations in the Broidy cyber-espionage case, Muzin and Allaham publicly distanced themselves from Doha in June 2018. “Stonington Strategies is no longer representing the State of Qatar,” Muzin tweeted.

Ultimately, their plan to have the American Jewish community embrace Qatar didn’t really work — at least not as well as their Qatari patrons had hoped. However much one spends, one can have a hard time convincing most people that one of their most potent enemies is their ally.

The extent of Qatar’s influence and information operations remains one of the least-covered and least-scrutinized stories of the past few years — including its campaign to curry favor within the Jewish community. That slowly is changing. Because of Qatar’s promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood and its alliance with Iran, more Americans are coming to understand Qatar is a malign force, not just in the Middle East but in this country.

Israel’s political and security establishments understand this, as evidenced by multiple Israeli officials who assailed Qatar in their recent conversations with me on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference in March. 

What was most shocking for these Israeli officials is not Qatar’s influence campaign itself, but the Jewish leaders who lent their de facto kosher certification to the emirate. “The Jewish leaders who became pawns of the Islamist-supporting regime in Qatar and accepted these state-funded trips to Doha did nothing short of betray Israel and the Jewish people,” an Israeli diplomat told me. “There has been concern about this campaign at the highest levels in Jerusalem. Those who participated in this disgrace should be held accountable.”


David Reaboi is senior vice president of the Security Studies Group.

Jewish Agenda for 2020: Dump Trump to Eliminate Anti-Semitism

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I guess it’s time to talk once again about the Jews and American politics. 2020 is not far off and presidential politics are on everyone’s minds — pollsters and organizations included. The Jewish Electorate Institute published its findings on how the Jewish electorate views the 2020 elections. These results are based on an online survey among 1,000 Jewish voters nationally. The margin of error is +/-3.2 percentage points. 

So, what do we learn from this survey?

1. American Jews feel threatened. “Nearly three-quarters (73%) say Jews in the United States are less secure compared to two years ago.” 

This number is quite dramatic. Whether the political response of most Jews to this sentiment is the proper response is a different matter: “The largest bloc (43%) say they are looking to elect a candidate who shares their values, and 39% say they want to work to defeat President [Donald] Trump in 2020.” 

So, the Jews feel threatened, and believe that defeating Trump is the way to improve their situation. Only time will tell if their assessment of the situation and their proposed remedy make sense. 

 2. Jewish activists and leaders ought to note that only few Jews consider intensified Jewish activity to be the best response to anti-Semitism. Only 4% believe that becoming more active in a synagogue is one of the best ways to “improve the security of Jews,” only 12% prescribe “Jewish social action.” In other words, their response to anti-Semitism is political, not communal. 

3. Combative Israelis ought to note that only 12% of US Jews believe that adding “armed security” is going to improve their security. If you need more proof that Israeli Jews and American Jews live on different planets, there is it.

4. When a Jew feel threatened and believes that the president is the main cause of the threat, it is no wonder that he does not approve of the job the president is doing. Indeed, President Trump’s job approval rating among Jews is low. 

But now, look at how similar the following numbers seem: 73% of Jews feel more threatened; 71% disapprove of Trump’s handling of his job; 71% disapprove of Trump’s handling of anti-Semitism; 67% intend not to vote for Trump in 2020; 65% are Democrats. Is this a response to anti-Semitism or merely politics-as-usual with a new and possibly effective narrative to be used against the president? 

Similarly: The number of Jews that say they are Republicans: 25%. The number of Jews intending to vote for Trump: 25%. The number of Jews concerned about “Democrats tolerating anti-Semitism in their own ranks:” 27%.  

The mixing of anti-Semitism concerns and charges and political tendencies continues.

 5. Here is one hint as you search for answers: While Orthodox Jews are exposed to anti-Semitism no less, and possibly more than other Jews (because they are easier to identify in a crowd), their political response to the new circumstances is very different. The most visible manifestation of this is the fact that most Orthodox Jews (57%) approve of President Trump. (by the way, the sample for this survey included a relatively small number of Orthodox Jews: 7%).

6. The new report says, “Domestic issues dominate the policy priorities of the Jewish community as they determine which candidate to support in 2020.”That is to say, Jews are like most other Americans. It’s not about “the Benjamins,” nor about the “allegiance” with Israel. It’s about America’s future, and the future of Jews in America. 

Still, it is not easy for an Israeli to accept that “a candidate’s stance on Israel is of relatively low importance to Jewish voters as they determine which candidate to support in the 2020 election.” And one has to wonder: Is Israel so low on the agenda because it no longer matters to Jewish Americans? Or maybe it is low because the Jews in some unconscious way caved to the intimidation of “dual loyalty” smear perpetrators. That is, they prefer not to tell pollsters that Israel does matter.

7. Of the two options — Israel doesn’t matter, or intimidation works —I’m not even sure which is worse. 

8. On the other hand, consider these facts. Sixty-five percent of Jews say that “whether the candidate supports Israel” is “one of the most important” or “very important” for them as they decide “for whom you will vote.” That’s two thirds of all Jews. And if we add those who say “somewhat important” we get to 92%. So, it’s not as if the Jews stopped saying Israel is important. The only thing that happened is that they also say, in even greater numbers, that other issues matter to them.  

Looking at the overall number makes one wonder about the methodology of the question. The Jews deem important protecting Medicare and Social Security (97%); combating anti-Semitism (96%); making quality affordable healthcare available to every American (95%);  enacting gun safety laws (93%); combating the influence of white supremacists and the far right (92%); combating terrorism (97%); and the list goes on and on proving that Jewish voters want everything. They want jobs and security, they want fair taxes and public education, and they also want support for Israel. That supporting Israel gets a slightly lesser ranking than gun control could signal something, but could also be an insignificant result. 

I recommend that next year the Institute make the question one of priorities: force the interviewees to choose “support” or “guns;” to say what they want more, “support” or “fair taxes.” Only then will we have a clear picture of Israel’s importance to the voters.

9. In the same vein, the only issue where majority of US Jews approve of the president’s job is in US-Israel relations (55%). This signals appreciation. This signals that Jewish voters attribute importance to this item.  

Trump: ‘If Iran Wants to Fight, That Will Be the Official End of Iran’

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the National Association of Realtors' Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, U.S., May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump tweeted out a warning to the Iranian regime May 19 stating that it “will be the official end of Iran” if the mullahs attack the United States.

The tweet came in response to a rocket falling nearby the U.S. embassy in Iraq May 19; the rocket was purportedly launched from the East Baghdad region, where various pro-Iran terror groups reside group. The aforementioned groups have reportedly distanced themselves from the rocket launch.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “Never threaten the United States again!”

Trump followed up by tweeting Monday, “Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready. In the meantime, their economy continues to collapse – very sad for the Iranian people!”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted in response to Trump Monday that “EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran.’ NeverThreatenAnIranian. Try respect – it works!”

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated in recent days after the U.S. deployed warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to U.S. intelligence that “Iran is threatening American interests in the Middle East,” according to Politico. The U.S. has also ordered all non-essential personnel to evacuate Iraq.

Cartoonist Blames ‘Jewish Propaganda Machine’ for Criticism Over NYT Cartoon

Screenshot from Twitter.

António Moreira Antunes, the artist who drew the anti-Semitic cartoon in the New York Times, told CNN Wednesday that the outrage over his image came from the “Jewish propaganda machine.”

The cartoon depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog guiding a blind, yarmulke-wearing President Donald Trump. Myriad Jewish organizations and individuals, including Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, condemned the cartoon as being anti-Semitic.

Antunes told CNN that his cartoon was a commentary on the relationship between Trump and Netanyahu and not intentionally anti-Semitic. He added, “the Jewish propaganda machine” spins any sort of criticism against Israel as stemming from “someone anti-Semitic on the other side, and that’s not the case.

“The Jewish right doesn’t want to be criticized, and therefore, when criticized they say, ‘We are a persecuted people, we suffered a lot… this is anti-Semitism,'” Antunes said.

The Times issued an apology on April 28 and on April 30 published an editorial highlighting the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide. In it, the editorial acknowledged that “anti-Zionism can clearly serve as a cover for anti-Semitism — and some criticism of Israel, as the cartoon demonstrated, is couched openly in anti-Semitic terms.”

Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger, sent a memo to staff members Wednesday stating disciplinary action would be taken against the production editor who greenlit the cartoon. The editor has not been publicly identified. Sulzberger added in the memo that the Times’ bias training will have a “direct focus on anti-Semitism” going forward.

Netanyahu Says He Wants to Name a New Community on Golan Heights After Donald Trump

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

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants a new community on the Golan Heights named for Donald Trump.

The announcement Tuesday comes a month after the U.S. president signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981. The United States is the first country to recognize the Golan as part of Israel.

In a video message posted to YouTube Netanyahu said: “I’m here on the beautiful Golan Heights. All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Therefore, after the Passover holiday, I intend to bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J. Trump.”

Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and their two sons spent Tuesday touring the Golan Heights, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

6 Jewish Takeaways from the Mueller Report

A reporter departs with his official copy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, outside the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NEW YORK (JTA) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election was released to Congress and the public Thursday, adding new details to what had been disclosed about its findings by Attorney General William Barr when Mueller concluded his investigation last month.

The 448-page document, released after a nearly two-year long inquiry, says Mueller’s investigation did not establish the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian interference effort, which was described as “sweeping and systematic.” The report drew no conclusion as to whether the president or his aides had engaged in obstruction of justice.

Trump was more than pleased by the findings, praising the report and tweeting several times “No Collusion — No Obstruction” on Thursday. As expected, Democrats did not share the view, with congressional leaders calling for Mueller to testify before the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency combed through the report in search of Jewish links and tidbits. Here is what we found, including the story of an unusual gift that Jared Kushner received from the head of a Russian government-owned bank, the president talking about how he missed a former lawyer who was Jewish and how the transition team tried to influence a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.

The head of a Russian government-owned bank brought Kushner an unusual gift.

In November 2016, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak requested a meeting with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, according to the report. Kushner agreed and two weeks later the meeting took place, with Flynn joining as well.

During the meeting Kushner said the incoming administration wanted “to start afresh with U.S.-Russian relations” and asked Kislyak for a contact close to Putin. In December, Kislyak asked for a second meeting, but this time Kushner wasn’t as eager, instead saying one of his assistants, Avi Berkowitz, could attend in his stead. During that meeting, Kislyak told Berkowitz that he had a contact in mind for Kushner: Sergey Gorkov, the chairman of the Russian-government owned Vnesheconombank bank.

Kushner met with Gorkov the next day. Seemingly eager to create a favorable impression, Gorkov brought with him two gifts. One, according to the report, was a painting. The other was a bag of soil from the town in Belarus where Kushner’s family came from. Though the report does not elaborate on the gifts or how they were received by Kushner, the dirt was likely from Navahrudak, where his paternal grandparents, Reichel and Joseph Kushner, lived. During World War II, the town was occupied by the Soviet Union and then Nazi Germany, which turned it into a ghetto. Conditions were bad and the Nazis would come in at will and kill people. Kushner’s grandmother escaped through a tunnel dug by Jews and lived in the woods for nine months with her sister and father.

The report talks about the U.N. Security Council vote that condemned Israeli settlement.

In December 2016, the transition team was concerned with an upcoming vote at the Security Council on a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements, fearing — correctly, as it turned out — that the outgoing Obama administration would use the occasion to deliver a parting shot at an Israeli government with which it often disagreed. The report says that Trump and other members of the transition team were in touch with foreign government officials in an effort to get them to delay the vote or vote against the resolution. Kushner led the effort.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in touch with Russia multiple times about the vote and asked Russia to vote against or delay it, but ultimately Kislyak said Russia would not do so. Trump was in touch with Egypt, which postponed the vote by a day, but ultimately voted in favor of the resolution like all the other members of the council, except the United States, which abstained.

Flynn would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak regarding the Security Council resolution and other issues.

Mueller looked into whether George Papadopoulos acted as an Israeli agent.

In a section addressing whether any members of the Trump campaign were acting for foreign governments, it emerges that Mueller looked into whether George Papadopoulos, a former member of the president’s foreign policy advisory panel, acted on behalf of the Israeli government. Papadopoulos and his wife had both previously made claims to the media that Mueller had probed his ties with Israel. The report confirms their accounts.

“While the investigation revealed significant ties between Papadopoulos and Israel (and search warrants were obtained in part on that basis), the Office ultimately determined that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction under [the Foreign Agents Registration Act] or Section 951” of the tax code, the report reads.

Papadopoulos, a Greek-American former Trump adviser, spent 14 days in federal prison last year for lying to the FBI. He has said he met with two Israeli businessmen in 2017 over a “routine” investment proposal. (Papadopolous had shown an interest in Israel’s energy sector and in April 2016, just days after he was named to the Trump campaign, attended an energy conference in Israel.) Papadopoulos later accused the two men of trying to frame him. He said that an Israeli, George Tawil, introduced him to Shai Arbel, who co-founded the Israeli cyberintelligence company Terrogence, as part of a scheme to plant marked hundred dollars bills on him in order to incriminate Papadopoulos when FBI agents searched his luggage upon his return to the United States.

A Russia-born think tank CEO warned Kushner about not highlighting Russia during the presidential campaign.

From April 2016 until the election, Kushner was in contact and met with Dimitri Simes, the Russia-born CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for the National Interest. Simes, who advised Kushner on foreign policy, warned him about making sure Russia did not become an issue that could hurt Trump’s campaign.

“Simes raised the issue of Russian contacts with Kushner, advised that it was bad optics for the Campaign to develop hidden Russian contacts, and told Kushner both that the Campaign should not highlight Russia as an issue and should handle any contacts with Russians with care,” the report reads.

The report also describes a meeting between the two men in August 2016, during which Simes “provided Kushner the Clinton-related information that he had promised.” The next few lines of the report, which describe the information, have been blacked out for “personal privacy.” However, it states that Simes had previously written in a memo to Kushner about information regarding what he called “a well-documented story of highly questionable connections between Bill Clinton” and the Russian government. Kushner forwarded that memo to senior campaign staffers with the message “suggestion only.”

Trump longs for his old lawyer Roy Cohn.

On March 3, 2017, the day after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia inquiry, former White House counsel Don McGahn met with Trump, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon in the Oval Office. The president was angry at the Sessions recusal, saying “I don’t have a lawyer,” and mentioning how previous attorneys general had protected the presidents under whom they served.

Trump then told McGahn that he wished he had Roy Cohn, the late Jewish lawyer and notorious political fixer — not to be confused with Michael Cohen, the Jewish attorney who also served Trump as a fixer – working for him. Priebus recalled that the president described Cohn as a winner and a fixer, that Cohn would win cases for him that had no chance, and that Cohn had done incredible things for him.

Kushner tried to stay in the room before Trump fired Comey.

At 4 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2017, following a Homeland Security briefing, Trump dismissed those gathered and asked to speak alone to FBI Director James Comey. Sessions and Kushner lingered, but the president “shooed them away,” along with Priebus, who had attempted to enter the room. In an interview with The New York Times on July 17, 2017, the president denied that he shooed anyone out of the room, and then deflected by asking his granddaughter Arabella Kushner, who had just entered the interview room, to say hello to the reporters in Chinese.

The Mueller report, however, concludes that “Despite those denials, substantial evidence corroborates Comey’s account.”

On the Path to Annexation Coalition?

From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

According to exit polls conducted on Israel’s national election day, April 9 (this story was written when only exit polls were available, and the final vote tally wasn’t known), no leader got a clear mandate to do as he pleases. Voters finally can rest after having played their role in this election. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, are just beginning a long journey of tough and treacherous negotiations with small and power-hungry parties. Their aim seems simple: to gain the support of 61 members of the Knesset. But it’s not really simple. For one, because getting to 61 seats means, in many of the possible scenarios, getting the support of parties with a great sense of entitlement. 

Let’s examine the scenarios, all of which must be based on early results and exit poll numbers. By the time you read this, the numbers might have changed (for information on changes, including updated graphs of possible coalitions, see the Journal website). But one thing is worthy of note at the outset: Israelis didn’t approve of small, radical parties in this election. Israelis voted for the center. They voted for two parties whose ideologies are  similar. More than half of the votes went to the two big mainstream parties: Likud and Blue and White. 

Blue and White has more seats, so its leaders will argue that they deserve a chance to form a coalition. But the party’s advantage isn’t overwhelming. Its leaders argued during the past few weeks that they need an advantage of more than five seats to get a mandate from the president. The exit polls didn’t reveal such an advantage, and so, if it can’t present President Reuven Rivlin with new information — such as a commitment of parties such as Kulanu or Yisrael Beiteinu to join a Gantz coalition — the president is unlikely to choose Gantz over Netanyahu. Rivlin probably would prefer that because although it’s common knowledge that relations between Rivlin and Netanyahu are quite tense, there is the office to consider, and the legacy. Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.

Netanyahu’s coalition is likely to include all of the members of his previous coalition. The Likud Party is stronger than is was in 2015, but this strength will not translate to more leeway in the forming of the next coalition. That’s because small parties in small coalitions tend to be demanding. A coalition can’t form without the United Right, so the party will expect significant reward. A coalition can’t form without Kulanu, so that party’s Moshe Kahlon will expect significant reward, possibly even the position of finance minister. Yes, he might have only four seats, but he still wants to retain this senior position. 

“Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history.”

The price will be paid by the members of Likud. Netanyahu won’t have many cards to play with. If he must give away the education, defense, finance and justice minister posts, Likud members will get less senior cabinet ministries. And yes, they will grumble, they will complain behind Netanyahu’s back. But they can’t much argue with a leader who delivered another victory, for a fifth time. True, the Likud party is not the largest party. It was not the largest party 10 years ago and still formed a coalition.

In every election, there are few memorable events that join the pantheon of great political moments. In 1981, tomatoes were thrown at Shimon Peres. In 1996, Israelis went to sleep thinking that Peres would be the next prime minister, and woke up the next morning to discover that no, it was Netanyahu. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin made a memorable, if brute, victory speech (“I will lead, I will navigate”). In 2001, the fierce Gen. Ariel Sharon was downgraded to a teddy bear-type grandfather. 

In 2015, Netanyahu’s election day warning that Arab voters are “flocking to the polls” was the high point — and low point — of the campaign. And no, this Netanyahu last-minute clip wasn’t the direct cause for Likud’s final surge and ultimate win. There’s no proof to back that up. And yet, it was a moment that captured the essence of Netanyahu’s political strength and weakness: his mastery of political strategy and laser-beam ability to implement it, and his complete lack of concern for decency. 

In 2019, Netanyahu displayed those same qualities with a vengeance — first, when he was pushing hard for the merger of right-wing and radical right-wing factions. He was the matchmaker of the Jewish Home, a very right-wing party, with Otzma Yehudit, a small, fringe faction that many, including Supreme Court justices, consider to be at least partially racist. One member of this faction was eliminated as a candidate by the court, but the other stayed. Netanyahu, in his quest to use all available votes on the right, is personally responsible for the fact that this radical member of the Knesset gained a seat at the table (on April 9, leaders of the Jewish Home vowed that he will get the seat no matter the number of seats the party ends up capturing).

During the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu did something that seems like the exact opposite of what he intended to do previously. In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, he warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud. Not any party that was part of the bloc. Not any party that had committed itself to join his coalition. Only Likud. Netanyahu trusts no one. Not the leaders of the New Right party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, not the leader of Kulanu, Moshe Kahlon; not the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. The media counted all these leaders as members of Netanyahu’s bloc. And yet, the prime minister decided to take a risk and propagandize against them. 

The risk was twofold. 

Risk No. 1: Parties essential to forming a coalition might not cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%. Only a few weeks ago, Netanyahu was willing to tolerate a racist so as not to lose any vote, but now he was suddenly willing to risk many votes of parties who might not cross the threshold. 

Risk No. 2: Leaders essential to forming a coalition might get angry and decide to take revenge after the votes are counted. These leaders were disappointed by Netanyahu’s so-called “Gevalt campaign” because it put them at risk. But the prime minister is cynical about such things. When he wins, all is forgiven. At least, he hopes it’s forgiven. If he loses, none of it matters. 

Netanyahu’s lack of concern for decency was his rival’s main asset. Gantz heads a group of decent leaders. For most of the campaign, with few exceptions, they didn’t use harsh language, didn’t incite against others, didn’t attempt to polarize the public. They made a bet that Israelis got tired of Netanyahu’s hyperactive rhetoric. They made a bet that many Israelis who might agree with Netanyahu’s policies are tired of his personality. Thus, their main effort was not to be an ideological alternative to Netanyahu, but rather to be a behavioral alternative to his way of politicking. And in a way, their bet worked just fine: Blue and White came from behind and within two to three months to become the largest Israeli party — in fact, the largest party in many years. The last party to gain a similar number of seats was Sharon’s 2003 Likud Party.

“Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.”

The party that was assembled for this mission, Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), is a makeshift group of former generals, officials, activists and celebrities who agree on most things and also agree to be agreeable when they disagree. That’s one thing that Netanyahu isn’t capable of doing. Moshe Yaalon is a former member of Likud, and a rather hawkish member. Yair Lapid was a minister in Netanyahu’s government, and is also quite hawkish. The party that Lapid headed until the merger into Blue and White was also a diverse group of people who don’t always agree with one another. 

Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history. It says nothing controversial. It does nothing controversial. It proposes nothing controversial. It is a party of the status quo. That is its main strength, that is its main weakness. Thou shalt not insult your fellow citizen. Thou shalt not hurt any feelings. Thou shalt not rock the boat. Thou shalt not storm the Bastille — be it the Supreme Court, the media, old elites, the academy. These leaders insisted on only one controversial position: They will never join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. On the night of April 9, they reiterated their commitment to never sit with Netanyahu. So, a unity government is out of the question, unless further complications make such option the only wat to avoid another round of election.

To make himself attractive to right-wing voters, Netanyahu made a bold statement that on the eve of election day got only a fraction of the attention it deserved. Asked by an interviewer if the next government, headed by him, would annex the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, the prime minister said yes. “I’m going to apply sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlement points because from my perspective, every such point of settlement is Israeli,” Netanyahu said. Some of his rivals dismissed this as empty campaign rhetoric. They were wrong. 

Well, not completely wrong. The timing surely was tied to the election and to Netanyahu’s decision to pillage his allies on the right. But they would be wrong to assume that annexation would be nothing more than a campaign ploy. Netanyahu, usually cautious in the diplomatic arena, often reluctant to initiate moves as bold as annexation, smells an opportunity. The annexation of the Golan Heights recently was recognized by President Donald Trump’s administration. If the Golan can be annexed, why not Gush Etzion? 

Not long ago, an Israeli presented this exact question to a Trump administration official. “What’s the difference between the Golan and the Gush?” The response was silence. Obviously, the official didn’t see much difference. The Gush was taken away from Israel in the war of 1948 and was recaptured by Israel in 1967. Two years ago, Lapid, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals, participated in a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in Kfar Etzion. He said that the Gush is “at the center of Israeli consensus.” When Netanyahu ponders the possibility of gradual annexation of areas in the West Bank, backed by the Trump administration, the Gush is a good place to start.

“In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, Netanyahu warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud.”

On the eve of the election, the Trump administration handed Netanyahu another piece of political ammunition. In an unprecedented move, the administration designated the elite Iranian military unit, the Revolutionary Guard, a “terrorist organization.” It took the prime minister maybe 20 minutes from the moment the decision was announced to the moment he first used it in a radio interview — one of more than a dozen a day he conducted between April 7 and April 9.

Trump was Netanyahu’s most useful political tool. Trump’s friendship with Netanyahu was his most talked-about asset. The president moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, canceled the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. Netanyahu believes that he deserves some of the credit for these actions. He believed that the voters give him credit for these actions. 

Gantz could take credit for no such achievements. A few weeks before election day, he knew nothing about the looming Trump peace plan. He was not briefed by anyone. He was not asked to weigh in. Gantz knew all along that Netanyahu is Trump’s choice. In private conversations, he made the assumption that if and when he becomes prime minister, the administration will be quick to adjust to the new reality. And he is probably right about that.

On the night of April 9, the Trump peace team was following the news coming out of Israel and weighing its options: They can hold publication of the plan until a new government is formed, or they can put the plan on the table now or right after Rivlin decides who gets to form the next government. 

Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the later date would give a new Israeli government time to prepare for what’s coming. Choosing the earlier date would shape the negotiations as a new coalition is formed. Before election day, more than a few observers and pundits assumed that an early issuance would be a pretext to forming a unity government. The plan would hand Netanyahu and Gantz the ladder with which to climb off the tree of mutual snub. 

There is logic behind such an assumption. The parties on the right probably would object to any peace plan; Netanyahu and Gantz recognize that Israel must respond positively to the plan; unity is the logical outcome. That is, if one assumes that the right would object to the plan. But what if the Trump plan is much more acceptable to right-wing voters than previously assumed? What if the plan is one that a Kahlon and a Lieberman and a Rafi Peretz (of the Jewish Home) can accept as a basis for negotiation? 

“In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal… Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition.”

Don’t dismiss such an option, and with it the option that an early publication of the plan would help Netanyahu form not a unity government but rather a right-religious government. Here is what Netanyahu is going to tell them: We have a great opportunity to completely overhaul the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. We can form a coalition, say yes to Trump, wait for the Palestinians to say no (they already did, and will do it again), and then turn to unilaterally shaping the future. 

In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal. From southern Lebanon in the late 1990s, from Gaza in 2005. Even today, different groups advocate for unilateral moves in the West Bank, from evacuation of settlements to setting up clear borders. 

Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition. There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when I am still here — before the indictment and trial and verdict (those joining him will get cushy jobs and will be asked to commit to see him through the trial). There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when Trump is still in office — before the threat of a Democrat in the White House (maybe Beto O’Rourke, who called Netanyahu a “racist” earlier this week) makes unilateralism too risky. 

Let’s get over our personal grievances and work together to seize this opportunity, Netanyahu would tell them, with the Trump plan laid on the table. If this is a plan that guarantees no evacuation of Jewish settlements; if this is a plan that guarantees a retention of control over the Jordan Valley; if it guarantees freedom of operation to the Israel Defense Forces in all of the West Bank; if it calls for a united Jerusalem; if this is the plan, and indeed, it seems to be the plan — would they dare say no?


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

Honeymoon Ending? How Israel Could Turn on Trump, and Vice Versa

Photo by Ronen Svulun/Reuters

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted during a recent visit to the White House that the Jewish state had “never had a better friend” than United States President Donald Trump, most citizens back home nodded in agreement. In fact, the U.S. leader’s approval rating is higher in Israel than anywhere else in the world.

Trump has done what most Israelis never imagined possible, foremost by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city. During Netanyahu’s most recent trip to Washington, Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the parts of the Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

Equally critical is that, unlike the Obama administration, Trump’s hard-line approach to Iran dovetails with that of the government of Israel, and especially Netanyahu. To this end, the president withdrew from what he called the “disastrous” 2015 nuclear accord aimed at barring Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and reimposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Trump also has implemented financial penalties on Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy in Lebanon that effectively paralyzes that country’s government, while now, the State Department designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. 

U.S.-Israeli military relations, meanwhile, are at an all-time high, underpinned by a 10-year memorandum of understanding granting the Jewish state over $3.8 billion in yearly funds (although the lion’s share must be spent in the U.S.). The two countries regularly conduct joint exercises and last month, for the first time, the U.S. military’s European Command brought with it the THAAD missile-defense system.

In this vein, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally, announced his intention to formalize a mutual defense agreement that he said would demonstrate to the international community that “an attack against Israel would be considered an attack against the United States.”

Perhaps most important to Israelis is that after 25 years of rejection by the Palestinians, most notably by turning down three comprehensive Israeli peace offers, Trump is holding Ramallah to account. He cut hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas imposed a boycott on all U.S. officials in the wake of Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. Trump also shuttered the Washington mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which dominates the PA and still views itself as the official voice of the Palestinian people.

Similarly, Trump has little patience for UNWRA, the United Nations agency responsible for looking after Palestinian refugees. Many view the body as perpetuating, rather than solving, the refugee problem by financing generations of Palestinians from cradle to grave instead of integrating them into their resident countries. (The U.N. agency also happens to be stacked with employees of Hamas, the terrorist group that runs the Gaza Strip, something that amounts to tacit support for one of Israel’s most brutal enemies.)

In response to the financial cutoffs — coupled with the perception that Trump is biased toward Israel — Palestinian politicians and journalists have slammed the president’s point men on negotiations. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, international negotiator Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been referred to, respectively, as naive and inexperienced; a “Mongoloid”; and a shill for the “settler” movement.

“The possible demise of the “bromance” between Netanyahu and Trump would definitely harm the interests of both countries while empowering their enemies.”

While the disrespect is mainly explained by Trump having done more than any other U.S. leader to endear himself to Israelis, the White House’s soon-to-be-released peace plan could end the honeymoon with Jerusalem by sparking a major government and public backlash — to which Trump might, characteristically, respond impulsively and with fury.

In reality, Israelis and Palestinian remain so far apart on the core issues of the conflict that it is almost inconceivable that peace talks can be jump-started.

First, Israel considers the division of Jerusalem — the eastern part of which the Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state — as an absolute nonstarter. This is largely predicated on the political supremacy of the Israeli right and a majority of the population that deems Jerusalem the Jewish people’s “eternal and undivided” capital (although rumors have circulated that Trump will offer the Palestinians control over various suburbs on the outskirts of the city).

So, too, there is exactly zero chance that some 5 million Palestinian refugees will be allowed the right to return. (Notably, only about 750,000 were displaced or left voluntarily from Israel during the 1948 war, meaning that the vast majority of these people are the offspring of those who actually fled.)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 reportedly offered to absorb 10,000 of these people every year for a decade in return for peace, but the Palestinians never responded. His proposal also included Israel handing over about 95 percent of the West Bank and the formation of an international body to oversee holy sites in Jerusalem. (The Gaza Strip had been relinquished in 2005 by his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.)

The thorniest issue may be the future status of the West Bank, where approximately 500,000 Israeli citizens live in scattered communities. On April 6, Netanyahu added fuel to the fire by affirming that “all the settlements, without exception, regardless of the blocs, must remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

More specifically, the prime minister stressed that on his watch, not a single Israeli would be uprooted from the West Bank and that there would be no discussion about peace whatsoever if Trump even suggested this.

Then, the next day, Netanyahu went a step further by saying “a Palestinian state will not be created, not like the one people are talking about. It won’t happen.”

Normally, pundits would attribute such statements to election rhetoric, but Netanyahu claimed that he conveyed these non-negotiable conditions to Trump during their March meeting. The prime minister also told the president that Israel demanded “continued control of all the territory to the west of the Jordan” River in order to secure the nation.

This revelation caused yet another uproar in Ramallah, with top-ranking PLO official and longtime peace negotiator Saeb Erekat suggesting that “Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the [global] community … reward[s] it with impunity.” He added that the Palestinians would “pursue [their] rights through international forums, including the international criminal court, until we achieve our long overdue justice.”

Erekat was implying that the PA was committed to achieving statehood, although not through a U.S.-mediated initiative, which it has repeatedly shot down out of hand.

No amount of Israeli politicking is likely to moderate the PA’s intransigence, but there is still a chance that to get a better deal. That said, recent reports suggest that the most Trump would be willing to offer is minor interim steps focused on economic development, which in turn might improve Palestinian lives and thus make them more amenable to compromise.

Alternatively, the most unpredictable American president in history could drop a bombshell on Israel and follow his predecessors’ lead by endorsing the two-state formula with associated stipulations. This potentiality stems from an understanding that the PA, along with Arab nations, would never countenance an accord that offers fewer benefits than previous ones.

Therefore, if the White House is serious about presenting a proposal that will not be pronounced “dead on arrival,” it would have to contain various elements to entice the Palestinians to return. 

Therefore, Trump’s “deal of the century” could put him on a collision course with what is liable to be a government headed by Netanyahu, and parliamentarians who are even more nationalistic. If so, their respective constituencies could force the coalition’s hand, prompting angry reactions that quickly overshadow, and possibly undo, much of the good will.

The possible demise of the “bromance” between Netanyahu and Trump that plays out in the media would definitely harm the interests of both countries while empowering their enemies.

Rep. Omar Calls Trump Adviser Stephen Miller ‘White Nationalist’

Rep. Ilhan Omar. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

(JTA) — Right-wing critics railed against Rep. Ilhan Omar for calling White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller a “white nationalist” amid a string of tweets decrying the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration reform policies.

The detractors accused the Minnesota Democrat of targeting Jews — a claim she has heard several times since joining the Congress in January.

Omar targeted Miller, who is Jewish, just days after President Donald Trump said that the country could not take in any more refugees. “Our country is full, can’t come, I’m sorry,” Trump said during a speech Saturday in Las Vegas at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting. Also in recent days, video from May 2018 resurfaced in which Trump described people trying to come into the country as “animals.”

Omar has had a strained relationship with the Jewish community since taking office after employing anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalty and Jews and money, and the resurfacing of past tweets considered anti-Semitic.

“Stephen Miller is a white nationalist,” her tweet Tuesday read. “The fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.”

The tweet was accompanied by an article indicating that Miller convinced Trump to appoint a tougher candidate to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Miller was behind Trump administration policies that included separation of immigrant families, and has advocated for closing the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Donald Trump, on Twitter, quoted a Republican consultant, Jeff Ballabon, who said on Fox News Channel, ““What’s completely unacceptable is for Congesswoman Omar to target Jews, in this case Stephen Miller.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., blamed Omar for targeting Jews.

“During my time in Congress before @IlhanOmar got here, I didn’t once witness another Member target Jewish people like this with the name calling & other personal attacks. In 2019 though, for @IlhanOmar, this is just called Monday,” his tweet said.

Others, including those who have been sharply critical of Omar for her past statements, ridiculed the notion that her attack on Miller was anti-Semitic, or that Miller could not be a white nationaist because he is Jewish.

“Lee, you’re a disgrace,” Josh Marshall, the founder of the liberal Talking Points Memo news website, replied to Zeldin on Twitter.”Miller is a white nationalist. Trying to rope in Judaism as a heat shield like this is both comical and frankly disgusting.”

Seth Mandel, the editor of the conservative Washington Examiner magazine, said Miller’s Jewishness did not exempt him from being called a white nationalist.

“I don’t begrudge Miller and his defenders taking offense at being called ‘white nationalist,’ but the idea that a Jewish person *can’t* be a white nationalist is ahistorical,” Mandel said on Twitter. “There are Jewish anti-Semites, and there have been Jewish white nationalists.”

Miller, who is descended from immigrants who came through Ellis Island, is seen as one of the architects of the Trump administration’s initial travel ban on seven Muslim countries.

Miller has denounced white nationalists in the past; in the late 2000s at Duke University, however, he reportedly worked with Richard Spencer, who would become a prominent white nationalist, to bring to Duke a speaker, Peter Brimelow, who has been identified as a white nationalist.

Earlier, Omar in two tweets criticized the outgoing head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, for working to enforce such policies. Nielsen submitted her resignation on Sunday.

On Monday, a photo of Miller briefly illustrated the Wikipedia page for Kapos, Jewish prisoners who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Trump Admin Designates Iranian Guard As Terror Organization

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition 2019 Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The Trump administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terror Organization on April 8.

President Trump made the announcement in a statement that read,This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft. The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”

Trump added that the designation “sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”

“We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior,” Trump said.

Those that conduct business with the IRGC could now be prosecuted for under charges of supporting a terror organization, according to National Public Radio.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Monday “that the IRGC amounts to a significant amount of the Iranian economy through pure kleptocracy,” meaning that “businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to ensure that companies with which they conduct transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move in a tweet, writing that Trump is “keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism.”

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement, “Recognition of the IRGC as a key arm of Iran’s global terrorism strategy is vitally important to the U.S., which first designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. We applaud President Trump for taking this highly significant step.”

The Iranian parliament said they’re planning on retaliating by labeling the United States military a terrorist organization.

The IRGC is responsible for the deaths of more than 600 Americans during the Iraq War – which violated a truce at the time between the U.S. and Iran – and has been involved in terror attacks such as the 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 241 Americans.

Trump’s West LA Visit Prompts Pre-Shabbat Road Closures

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump is visiting the Southland on Friday April 5 for a fundraiser in Beverly Hills, which means traffic on the West Side before Shabbat will be more of a mess than usual.

Air Force One is expected to touchdown at LAX at approximately 3:15 p.m. and then the president will take Marine One to Santa Monica Airport.

To prepare commuters, the LAPD has posted the following closures:

2:30-3:30 p.m.: The area around Bundy Drive between Airport Avenue and W. Pico Boulevard.

3-4 p.m.:  The area around Sunset Boulevard between S. Sepulveda Boulevard  and N. Hillcrest Drive (Beverly Hills)

6-7 p.m.: The area around Sunset Boulevard between S. Sepulveda Boulevard  and N. Hillcrest Drive (Beverly Hills)

6:30-7:30 p.m.: The area around Bundy Drive between Airport Avenue and W. Pico Boulevard.

Closures / Restrictions (no bus routes impacted by the hard closures)

1-7 p.m.: Sunset Boulevard  between Foothill Road and Hillcrest Road will be closed from 1-7 p.m.: Foothill, Elm and Maple Drives will be closed between Sunset Boulevard  and Elevado Avenue.

Candle Lighting for Shabbat in Los Angeles is 6:59 p.m.

Trump Signs Proclamation Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights as Netanyahu exits the White House from the West Wing in Washington, U.S. March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday, March 25, officially recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Syria.

The proclamation states, “Any possible future peace agreement in the region must account for Israel’s need to protect itself from Syria and other regional threats. Based on these unique circumstances, it is therefore appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Trump said at the White House, after meeting with with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “This was a long time in the making and it should have taken place many years ago.”

Netanyahu praised and thanked Trump, telling him, “Israel has never had a better friend than you.”

“Your decision to recognize sovereignty is a two-fold act of historic justice: Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defense, and the Jewish people’s connection to that land goes back generations,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu was in Washington, D.C., to address the AIPAC conference, but cut short his trip to return to Israel Monday after a terrorist missile hit a home in central Israel Sunday evening.

Sandra Parker, chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, said in a statement, “As a direct result of Syria’s ruthlessness and Iran’s increasing presence in the Arab Republic it has been clear for years that Israel could never relinquish control of the Golan Heights. President Trump recognized this reality and acted on it. This policy has enjoyed bipartisan support and we are especially grateful to the President as well as those Members of Congress, including Senators Ted Cruz, Kevin Cramer, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Representative Mike Gallagher, for leading on this issue.”

However, the United Nations will not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The UN’s policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed,” U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, referencing resolutions that have referred to the Golan as being “occupied” by Israel.

Syria’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Trump’s move “makes the United States the main enemy of the Arabs.”

AG Barr: Mueller Report Finds No Evidence Trump Campaign Colluded With Russia

U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house in McClean, Virginia, U.S., March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Attorney General William Barr issued a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee leaders on March 24 stating that Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find any evidence that members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

Barr’s letter, which summarizes Mueller’s report, highlighted the following quote from the report: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The letter goes onto highlight the following quote from the Mueller report on the matter of Trump potentially committing obstruction of justice: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr’s letter states. “Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”

Mueller Will Reportedly Not Issue Any Further Indictments

FILE PHOTO: Robert Mueller, as FBI director, listens during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing about the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

Special counsel Robert Mueller will not be issuing any further indictments after concluding his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

According to the AP, Mueller submitted the report to Attorney General William Barr on March 22; while the report has not been made public yet, a Department of Justice official told the AP that Mueller won’t be issuing any more indictments.

In a letter to leaders of the judiciary committee in the House and the Senate, Barr said, “I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.”

Mueller was appointed in May 2017; the investigation has resulted in dozens of indictments.

Trump Says He Recognizes Israeli Sovereignty Over Golan Heights

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Akron-Canton airport in Canton, Ohio, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump announced in a March 21 tweet that he is recognizing Israel’s full sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Syria.

Trump tweeted, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a March 21 joint press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Trump’s declaration is “a miracle of Purim.”

First he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then he pulled out of the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, and now he has perhaps made the most important decision,” Netanyahu said. “The message he has given the world is that America stands with Israel. We are deeply grateful for the great support and the unmatchable support for the security of the State of Israel. There is no greater friendship than that between the United States and Israel.”

He added, “This evening I want to say just one word: Thank you.”

Pompeo called Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights “a bold and important decision.”

“It shows that the soldiers Israel lost in battle there have been worthy and meaningful and important,” Pompeo said.

Simon Wiesenthal Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “President Trump is right. Tyrant [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad killed [a] half million-plus of his own people, displaced millions, now Tehran’s lackey. Israeli Golan sovereignty protects Jewish state, Jordan, from Iran-led terror. Jewish presence on Golan traces to 5 century BCE. Druze, Jews, and Arabs safer knowing Assad will never return.”

The Israel Policy Forum said in a statement, “Israel Policy Forum supports U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Prior to its capture by Israel in 1967, the Golan was used for decades as a launching ground for attacks against Israel and its northern residents. It is a critical strategic asset in Israel’s defense of its northern border, and the presence of hostile Iranian forces and militias in Syria – including IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and Hezbollah fighters – only reinforces the strategic imperative of Israeli control over the territory.”

However, the Israel Policy Forum expressed concern that the move could “risk inflaming the situation in southern Syria by baiting Syrian forces or other pro-regime elements into carrying out a response” and that it would lead toward Israel annexing Judea and Samaria.

“We call on the Trump administration to unequivocally state that recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan has no bearing on the status of the West Bank, and that U.S. policy remains that any change in the West Bank’s status quo must come as a result of a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israel Policy Forum said.

Rep. Adam Schiff Discusses Israel at Temple Emanuel

Congressman Adam Schiff in conversation with Rabbi Sarah Bassin. Photo by Aly Blue Headshots

Although many view Democrats as having turned away from Israel, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has been a consistent voice of support for the Jewish state. “The Jewish state is held to a completely different standard than any of its neighbors,” the Jewish congressman said during a March 19 discussion at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) with TEBH Rabbi Sarah Bassin.

Schiff represents California’s 28th district and chairs the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign. During the Trump presidency, Schiff has become one of the most prolific faces in the Democratic Party.

Thus, the night of his appearance, people turned out in droves at the Beverly Hills synagogue to hear the 58-year-old congressman. Closed-circuit TVs were set up near the rear of the sanctuary for those seated far from the bimah as Bassin kicked off the evening by highlighting her synagogue’s advocacy efforts around anti-gun violence. Speaking about the recent mass shooting at the mosques in New Zealand, she asked Schiff his thoughts about the epidemic of gun violence.

Schiff said the United States was reaching a “tipping point” regarding gun policy thanks in part to the activism of the Parkland, Fla., students who experienced a mass shooting in 2018 resulting in 17 deaths.

Would that lead to gun safety legislation passed by the U.S. House and the Senate and signed by the president? Schiff said he could only hope so.

“I refuse to accept this is the best we can do,” Schiff said.

During the wide-ranging conversation, Schiff spoke about the dramatic changes social media have brought on society, not all positive. He compared the advent of the internet to the printing press, adding that people’s ability to have access to instantaneous information from their phones, coupled with social media, have had “unintended consequences,” including contributing to a society where “lies travel far faster than truth.”

He was speaking, of course, from personal experience. In his role on the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff has investigated how the Russians have used the internet to spread misinformation and sow division in the U.S.

The current world is one of “deepfakes,” he said, where the tech-savvy can take someone’s face, place that person in a video and have that person make statements they never said. For an outsider, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between real and fabricated, he said.

“There is no easy fix for this,” Schiff said.

He spoke about global authoritarianism and dangers posed by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The very idea of liberal democracy around the world is at risk,” Schiff said.

And Trump hasn’t done his part to remind the world that the U.S. is a force of good against evil, Schiff said. He expressed some of his deepest frustrations not with the president, however, but with the Republicans who haven’t taken a stronger stance against Trump.

“I think when this chapter of history is written, some of the most damning language will be for Republicans who did nothing when democracy was under attack,” Schiff said.

Asked by Bassin what message Schiff would like from the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, Schiff spoke about the economy. He said that although employment figures are strong, people are not earning enough to keep up with the high cost of living.

The audience’s reception to Schiff was warm, with Bassin frequently reminding them to hold their applause until the end of the event — outside the synagogue, however, not so much. As people waited in line to enter the synagogue for the discussion, a protest of about 20 people on the opposite side of the street denounced Schiff’s stance on child vaccinations.

“Vaccines are not kosher,” a sign plastered to the side of a parked car said.

Recently, Schiff urged Google, Facebook and Amazon to remove content from their platforms promoting misinformation about vaccinations. He has also introduced a resolution in the U.S. House declaring that vaccinations save lives.

Bassin denounced the protestors at the start of her discussion with Schiff. She said that although Judaism values minority opinions, those who deny their children vaccinations are wrong.

Schiff took a more humorous approach, saying he was accustomed to demonstrators targeting him for his positions.

“I’m trying to branch out from the pro-Trump people who picket me often,” he said.

 

Author Christopher Noxon on Civil Rights, Conversion and Israel

Christopher Noxon

Los Angeles native Christopher Noxon just came out with his third book. His first was “Rejuvenile,” about the blurring of lines between childhood and adulthood. Next came “Plus One,” a novel loosely based on his longtime marriage to television writer and producer Jenji Kohan. (The two recently separated.) His latest book is “Good Trouble: Lessons From the Civil Rights Playbook.” 

A convert to Judaism who belongs to both IKAR and Temple Israel of Hollywood, Noxon, 50, spoke with the Journal about his work, his passions and becoming a Member of the Tribe.

Jewish Journal: How did you come to write and illustrate a book on the civil rights movement?

Christopher Noxon: I was on a Jewish Book Council tour [for “Plus One”] and it was two days after the election of Donald Trump. I was in Memphis. I was talking about male house caretakers and female breadwinners and thinking that was very important, and then all of a sudden, this election happened and it seemed really not important. I ended up in a chance encounter with the [National] Civil Rights Museum, which is at the Lorraine Motel — which is where Martin Luther King was assassinated — and I sort of just had a breakdown, a reckoning. Just the very crushing and immediate sense of history going backward.

They had this big wall of mugshots at the museum of Freedom Riders and people who were at sit-ins and I started drawing [in my notebook]. There was something about those faces — in the moral clarity and in the resolve and in the defiance — that I just thought, “I need to connect with that spirit; that’s the spirit we all need right now.” I had actually written a book about conversion. At that point, I was supposed to go out to publishers with it. I talked to my agent about it. She’s the one who said, “You need to be doing this.”

JJ: I heard you are donating all the proceeds from “Good Trouble.”

CN: All the money that I am getting from the book is going to the Center for Popular Democracy, which is an activist group that does racial justice and health care. I knew that as a white guy writing about civil rights, it was important that people know, first of all, anything you like that I say is because of people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker and Martin Luther King and [Rabbi] Sharon Brous and [Pastor] Otis Moss III and all these people who have put their selves on the line for many, many years. One of the guys in the book is a guy named Reverend R.K. [Smith]. He’s a man I met in an airport on my way down to Atlanta.

JJ: Just coincidentally?

CN: Yeah. He is a former preacher at Dexter Avenue Church, where Dr. King started the Montgomery bus boycott, and we have become really close. He says, “You’re late to the plate, but you’re swinging.” I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m trying to profit or benefit from the work of black folks who have been in this world for a long time.

“I knew that as a white guy writing about civil rights, it was important that people know anything you like that I say is because of people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker and Martin Luther King and [Rabbi] Sharon Brous and [Pastor] Otis Moss III.” 

JJ: Who is the intended audience for “Good Trouble?”

CN: It grew out of this practice of sorting out my feelings and thoughts in pictures and words in a journal. I wanted the book to have that feeling, not to feel like a political treatise or a historical primer but a really personal reflection. A lot of people who see the book now think this is great for middle schoolers, for high school kids, because it’s graphic. I never thought of it as a book for young adults. But I totally see why that works.

JJ: Is there something Jewish about this project?

CN: For sure. Very basically, I talk about Abraham [Joshua] Heschel, who was close friends with Dr. King and who is quoted in the book as saying that when he marched in Selma, [Ala.], it was like praying with his feet. And he was a big presence in my conversion. I read a bunch of him when I was converting. To me, this idea of turning your faith into tangible action, about deeds and not creeds, is the essence of Judaism.

JJ: When and why did you convert?

CN: August 2015. I was bored with the constant explaining about acting Jewish but I’m not officially Jewish. I had that conversation so many times. I just needed to settle it.

JJ: That’s a big thing to go through to counter boredom.

CN: OK. That’s true. I felt settled. I felt resolved. And I felt like I had definitely found my people. There was no question in my mind. It had always been wrapped up in family but at a certain point, it was about the community. I wanted to be looking out from inside this camp and not standing on the outside of the crowd.

JJ: Do you think you’ll get back to the conversion book?

CN: I will. I just feel like right now is not the time. I basically use what’s called the hatafat dam brit, which is the ritualized bloodletting, as the hook, so to speak, to talk about larger issues of conversion and spirituality and Jewishness. But now is not the time to put my man hurt on display. There’s a lot more hurt that matters a lot more.

JJ: “Good Trouble” just came out so this may seem an unfair question, but what’s next for you?

CN: Actually I have a great answer. I signed a deal to illustrate a book about Israel. I’m doing it with this guy Daniel Sokatch. [Editor’s note: Sokatch runs the New Israel Fund.] He’s writing the words. I’m doing the pictures. The preliminary title is “Israel: WTF?” Basically we’re both like, we need “Israel for Dummies” for smart people.

Greenberg’s Cartoon: Pelosi’s Democratic House

For more of Greenberg’s artwork, visit his website. 

Why Downplay Hate Crimes Against Jews?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the media fell hard for the story of Jussie Smollett. Smollett, a gay, black actor on the TV show “Empire,” falsely claimed that he was attacked by two Donald Trump-loving rednecks on the mean streets of Chicago. Smollett said that he was out in the middle of the night in Chicago, purchasing a Subway sandwich, when two men who recognized him from “Empire” began to call him a “f—–” and a “n—–.” They then looped a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him while shouting, “This is MAGA country!”

There were a few problems with this story. First, Trump fans are not exactly the chief demographic for “Empire” (Nielsen estimates the show’s audience is 61 percent black). Second, Chicago is not exactly MAGA (Make America Great Again) country — only 12.5 percent of votes cast for president in 2016 went to Trump. Third, Smollett never lost control of his sandwich. Fourth, Smollett then waited 40 minutes to report the attack. Fifth, when the police asked for his phone to verify his claim that his manager had heard the attack, he refused. 

Nonetheless, the Smollett attack dominated media coverage for weeks, with Smollett appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to castigate his doubters as racists. Actress Ellen Page told Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk-show audience that the attack was Mike Pence’s fault. CNN’s Brooke Baldwin lamented, “This is America in 2019.”

Except it wasn’t. Smollett, it turned out, allegedly paid two of his friends to stage the attack. Smollett’s story, then, was false. The media allowed it to flower — and propped up Smollett’s claims that doubters were bigots — because it fit their narrative of America as deeply racist and homophobic in the era of Donald Trump. Even after the story fell apart, commentator Liz Plank of Vox appeared on CNN to explain, “There has been an increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, against Muslims, against black people.”

Plank did not mention the group most bedeviled by an increase in reported hate crimes: Jews. Reported hate crime incidents and offenses against blacks rose between 2016 and 2017 approximately 13 percent; against LGBTQ people, 4 percent; against Muslims, 17 percent; against Jews, 26 percent. On a per capita basis, Jews are by far the most targeted group in the United States, about four times as likely to be targeted as black Americans, and twice as likely as LGBTQ Americans and Muslim Americans.

“The media care more about hate crimes that fit their narrative.”

Last weekend, the front window of the Chabad of Bushwick (N.Y.) was smashed, even as the rabbi and his wife and children slept there for Shabbat. This is hardly the only recent attack in Gotham. According to The New York Times, “there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20.” 

Why, then, has this spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes received so little coverage? The New York Times admitted: “it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime [in New York City] has been associated with a far right-wing group.”

In other words, the media care more about hate crimes when the perpetrators are white and when the victims aren’t. They care more about hate crimes that fit their narrative. And hate crimes against Jews don’t count as much, particularly when those hate crimes aren’t driven by white supremacy. 

Why not? Why wouldn’t the left-wing media be interested in a narrative about an increasingly anti-Semitic America in the same way they’re fascinated by narratives about an increasingly racist, Islamophobic and homophobic America? Because Jews in America are successful financially and educationally; because, generally speaking, the notion that America is anti-Semitic is absurd. Everyone understands that America is ridiculously philo-Semitic. So if the Jews aren’t generally hate crime victims, what are we to make of the fact that every other group is targeted less often than Jews? Better to ignore anti-Semitism than to admit that perhaps America is incredibly tolerant and diverse.

Better for the narrative to prevail than the truth: that despite the presence of evil bigots in our midst, America is a pretty fantastic place.


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire.

Rep. Omar to CNN Reporter: ‘Are You Serious?’

Photo from Flickr.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) lashed out at CNN reporter Manu Raju on Feb. 13 when he asked her questions about her recent controversies, saying to him, “Are you serious?”

According to Raju, he asked Omar to comment on President Trump calling on her to resign after she tweeted that AIPAC [American Public Affairs Committee] buys off politicians to support Israel, and she declined to comment. When Raju was about to ask her again later on, Omar said, “Are you serious? What’s wrong with you?”

Omar eventually said, “Yes I tweeted, and there’s a response. You can run that.”

Omar was likely referencing her tweet from earlier in the morning, when she said to Trump, “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?”

On Feb. 11, Omar was asked by reporters if she had learned anything from her controversial tweets and if she regretted them; Omar referred them to her statement addressing the matter. Omar also said she was “always surprised” by the criticism and she was “absolutely not” worried about losing her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

Comey Discusses Trump, Mueller and Life After the FBI

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Taking center stage before 1,600 people at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Feb. 10, former FBI Director James Comey broke the ice by commenting on what he believed everyone in the audience was thinking about: his height. 

“It’s a freak show, it really is,” said the 6-foot, 8-inch Comey. “In my head, I’m about 5 feet, 11 inches.”

Comey, who served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, was appointed FBI director in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama. As most people are aware, he was fired on May 9, 2017, by President Donald Trump.

Recalling that fateful day, Comey spoke of how he had been addressing a room of FBI employees in Los Angeles when a headline flashed on the television screen that he had been fired. “I was numbed, honestly, and stunned, and felt like I’d been pushed out of a bullet train,” he said.

Trying to figure out how to move on, Comey said he followed the example of his wife, Patrice, who had coped with the death of their infant son from a preventable infection by working to spare other mothers from that pain. 

Comey spent most of the next year writing a book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” which was published in April 2018. The idea, he said, was to write about leadership and disguise the book as a memoir. 

Comey told the audience at the Saban that he did not want to focus on his feud with Trump, rather, he wanted to discuss the qualities of ethical, effective leadership. An effective leader, he said, should combine kindness with toughness and confidence with humility. He noted that Obama had these abilities, adding, “I was stunned by how good Barack Obama was as a listener.” 

“We should all, wherever we are on the political spectrum, just root for Mueller to finish his work and let the facts be found that illuminate the truth, whatever that is.” — James Comey

Comey also touted having a sense of humor as an essential tool for any good leader. He praised both former President George W. Bush and Obama for having the ability to be funny. He noted that he could only recall one instance when President Trump had laughed. 

Following his 50-minute address to the audience, Comey participated in a 30-minute question-and-answer session moderated by attorney Kevin James. 

Comey was asked how he felt about being hated by both Republicans and Democrats over his decision to announce the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days before the November 2016 presidential election. Comey replied that announcing the investigation or keeping it from the public was a choice between a bad decision and a catastrophic one. He said he chose the bad decision. 

People who are still upset with how he handled the Clinton investigation are viewing the incident through partisan lenses, Comey said. In its decision to reopen the investigation, he added, the FBI was attempting to rise above partisanship. 

When James asked Comey if he believed Trump’s legal troubles were
mounting, Comey took the opportunity to speak about his own views on the Mueller investigation. 

“I don’t know what [Mueller] is going to come up with,” Comey said. “I hope people don’t root for a particular result. We should all, wherever we are on the political spectrum, just root for Mueller to finish his work and let the facts be found that illuminate the truth, whatever that is.” 

Following the event, attorney William Bloch, who had read Comey’s book, told the Journal he was impressed that Comey made the evening about more than his bitterness toward the president. “I thought he was very thoughtful and philosophical in his approach,” Bloch said. “He took it up a notch from being about who is right and who is wrong.”

Julie and Charles Shamash attended with their son, Griffin, a junior at Milken Community Schools. Julie said she was opposed to Trump, while Charles said he supported the president. 

“America is not L.A. and New York,” Charles said. “We live in a bubble here. … There are people who think differently.”

Julie retorted, “When you ask someone who supports Trump, ‘Why do you like Trump?’ they can’t give you one reason.”

Why I’m Angry About Trump’s Speech

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

The president of the United States laced this year’s State of the Union with references to anti-Semitism. He invited a Holocaust survivor of Dachau and an American World War II veteran who liberated the camp to the address. He acknowledged last year’s horrific massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, honoring a survivor and a first responder who was injured terribly in the attack. Good, right? Then why are so many Jews so very, very angry?

Because, in the context of this speech, to think about the Holocaust is to think about the St. Louis, the ship transporting hundreds of Jewish refugees in 1939, turned away from the United States and sent back to Europe, where many passengers eventually died in the Holocaust. It is to remember that Jewish refugees were slandered as invaders and cultural polluters by the politicians whose slogan was “America First.”

So when President Donald Trump pairs invocations of the Holocaust with calls to militarize our southern border against refugees who are fleeing horrendous violence in their own countries — the social breakdown of which is attributable directly to the lingering effects of American intervention on behalf of brutal dictatorships — Jews get angry. Because the same calumnies that Trump is aiming at immigrants of color were aimed at us.

Because, to honor the courage of Judah Samet, who survived the Holocaust and the Tree of Life massacre is to remember why that massacre was perpetrated. The suspected killer of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh made it clear in writing that he was especially incensed at HIAS, the Jewish agency that assists them, writing, “It’s the filthy EVIL Jews. Bringing the (sic) Filthy EVIL Muslims into the country!! Stop the kikes then Worry About the Muslims!” Yes, this killer was angry at Trump for not being racist enough — but woven throughout his rants are tropes derived from Trump.

As Pittsburgh’s Bend the Arc Moral Minyan put it, “We will not let you use the Holocaust, our most painful history, to distract us from the real dangers at hand — the dangers you yourself have nurtured with your racism and xenophobia …. There are refugees seeking safety in America today, just as our Jewish parents and grandparents did during the Holocaust, yet once again America is calling them dangerous .… There are internment camps at our southern border and thousands of children separated from their parents by your administration.”

Trump’s pre-emptive deployment of outrages visited on the Jewish people only served, for many of us, to bring into sharp focus the great danger that his movement represents. We have seen what happens when demagogues whose actual policies favor corporate wealth and lead to an ever-greater gap between rich and poor evoke the “working class” in order to divert the anger of struggling workers away from the wealthiest and aim it at the most vulnerable: at a racial and religious other.

As Stacey Abrams observed genuinely working class-friendly policies not only address such issues as health care, student loan debt and wages that don’t rise with the cost of living (not a mention in the president’s speech), they also speak to the different histories and cultures within the working class. They address embedded and systemic racial and gendered and religious inequality. They certainly do not seek to pit one group of workers against another.

In response to the SOTU, Abrams addressed the precariousness of all working people’s lives in the United States today and managed to do that while honoring the particular struggles of people who have to persevere against additional obstacles because of who they are. The contrast between those speeches and Trump’s performance demonstrates why “populism” is such a useless descriptor.

Trump has indulged in a coy flirtation with neo-fascism throughout his presidency. This is the person who was able to discern “fine people on both sides” of a clash between neo-Nazis and their opponents; who did not use the State of the Union address to issue a firm denunciation of white nationalism. Bend the Arc is right. Keep our people out of your mouth.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland. She serves as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow at J Street. 

Greenberg’s Cartoon: Political Coffee Run

Deeply Divided Jews Desperately Need to Find Common Ground

Over the course of its history, Israel’s relationship with its Jewish world partners has undergone a series of transitions.

Against the backdrop of the Holocaust during the middle of the 20th century, Israel’s “survivability” was seen as critical to the welfare of the Jewish enterprise. “One people, one destiny” was the dominant motif during the first 20 years of statehood, when Israel enjoyed broad Diaspora support.

“Sustainability” was the defining element for the next quarter century. Here, the nature of the Jewish partnership, symbolized by the United Jewish Appeal campaign of the time, “We Are One,” would rest on garnering and maintaining political, economic and military support vital to Israel’s standing. Over these past 25 years, Israel moved away from themes reflecting its earlier vulnerable position and promoted an image of an exemplar of political and social ingenuity based on its emergence as a technologically accomplished nation-state with a sophisticated economy and an advanced military. In this third phase, Israel has become the dominant player in global Jewish matters, but it has also experienced a fundamental disruption in its historic partnership with its Diaspora as a widening divide has developed with some of its former partners.

On a host of policy matters today, one can find deep divisions between the liberal-orientated attitudes of a majority of American Jews, who differ with the center-right views of the government in Jerusalem over such policy questions as settlements and human rights. More particularly, some Jewish Americans are uncomfortable with Israeli initiatives to remove African asylum seekers and proposals that seek to curb the free-speech rights of boycott, divestment and sanctions supporters or deny admission into the Jewish State of individuals associated with specific anti-Israel movements. Just as Jewish American liberals defended the Obama administration’s record on Israel, President Donald Trump’s supporters embrace his policies in connection with the Jewish State, creating in the wake of these disagreements significant gaps among Israel’s historic partners.

“Engaging in effective communication and dialogue will require a shared base of knowledge, a level of open reflection, and a culture of civility.”

Israel’s defenders argue that Diaspora communities do not have the right to publicly critique Israel over its policies and actions — only citizens of the Jewish nation do. Members of the Diaspora challenge that argument, noting that Israel was created as the collective expression of the Jewish people, and as such all Jews not only have the right to express their views but have an obligation to assert their ideas.

Beyond these internecine battles, debates over how the international community should engage Iran or whether dissent of Israel’s actions constitutes anti-Semitism have opened deep crevices between Israel’s traditional Jewish supporters.

Instead of creative dialogue, one finds disagreement and discord. Some Jewish Americans frame their criticisms in moral terms, suggesting that Israel ought to hold itself to a higher standard consistent with the Jewish values that shaped its Zionist heritage. They have lost trust in an Israeli government that has moved to the political right, become mired in political corruption scandals, and continued to operate around what they consider to be a set of deeply flawed assumptions. As a result, Jewish Americans’ engagement with Israel has been declining, especially among younger Jews, which presents another challenge to Israeli authorities and Jewish-American leaders.

As these debates unfold, critics of Israel’s politics are dismissed as misguided or as undermining the Jewish State by their refusal to defend and protect this historic experiment in nation building.

Indeed, both Israelis and Jewish Americans have their respective visions or images of the Jewish State, some of which are based on romantic perceptions of Israel’s Zionist origins. Others might be described as political realists, as they focus on the multiple military and security threats that have defined Israel’s history and remain its core challenges. A third constituency could be defined as “bound by history,” for whom specific events, such as the Oslo Accord and its promise of peace, resonate as the pivotal moment in Israel’s diplomatic journey. For this cohort, particular personalities or events have ultimately defined their vision of how Israel ought to act.

With its enthusiastic endorsement of President Donald Trump, Israel could be seen symbolically as an ideal “red state” base for his administration; while many Jewish Americans might metaphorically represent a “blue state” constituency, with their overriding opposition to this White House and current Israeli policies.

With the issue of intersectionality, American Jews are often forced to choose between their social justice priorities and their Zionist passions. Maybe for the first time in American history Jews are engaging with allies on specific issues where they find common ground, yet knowing that these “friends” espouse views that may be perceived as anti-Israel.

Political tensions are also prevalent within Israel, as evidenced by a host of domestic policy conflicts. These internal disagreements among Israeli citizens resemble a geopolitical war between “the state of Tel Aviv” with its secular, liberal orientation and “the state of Jerusalem” with its traditional religious and politically conservative perspective.

While many Jewish Americans are experiencing great discomfort about the current political theater in the United States, Israelis on the political left are expressing concerns about the status of their democracy as scandal and corruption appear to be on the increase. Even as the issues that animate these communities’ angst appear to be vastly different, there exists an impasse, even a state of gridlock, common to these two political systems. Both nations appear unable to rely on politicians or institutional elites to be able to change the status quo.

So, the question here is how can we find common ground — not only between Israelis and Americans but also within our respective, deeply divided societies? Engaging in effective communication and dialogue will require a shared base of knowledge, a level of open reflection, and a culture of civility.

“Jewish history readily informs us that where our people remain in discord, the political outcomes have been profoundly problematic.”

We are dramatically reminded that this experiment in state building is a relatively new venture — hardly a significant period of time to develop a mature, sophisticated understanding of how a nation, its citizens or its Diaspora partners ought to behave and operate. Jewish history readily informs us that where our people remain in discord, the political outcomes have been profoundly problematic.

The political divide speaks to a larger set of issues outlined by these key questions: 

Does the liberal Jewish mainstream share any common political ground with its more politically conservative co-religionists? How might we find ways to open such conversations?

The political divide around Israel is a central element in the battle over the Jewish future. As Jewish Americans, what should be our relationship with the Jewish State?

Politically conservative Jewish American are embracing closer ties between the Trump administration and Israel’s political establishment, as they seek to advance Israel’s security. Liberal Jewish Americans are seeking to halt the expansion of settlements, promote a Palestinian-Jewish dialogue and advance a human-rights agenda as a way to ensure Israel’s long-term security. What, if any, are the common threads here for a shared discussion?

Who is permitted to critique Israel? The political right argues that the prerogative of criticism belongs only to the citizens of the Jewish State. Its counterpart, the Jewish progressive community, contends that Jews across the world are partners in the task of building and defending the State of Israel, and as such ought to be able to participate in a conversation concerning the nature and character of the Jewish political enterprise.

How do we negotiate the Jewish religious divide? One of the core issues to this division is centered on Jerusalem and the question of the “Kotel.” Will Jews find a way to negotiate shared accommodations in response to their different religious inclinations

Finally, what does it mean to be Jewish in a 21st-century environment where the scourge of anti-Semitism, racism and ethnic hatred has re-emerged? Will Jews find common ground in order to unite in this battle? (Enemies of the Jewish people do not distinguish between the Jewish left and the Jewish right.)

Can Jewish Americans even be defined at this point as a community, with shared values and common goals? Is there anything that can align our divergent factions so that the Jewish people can achieve our long-term interests?

As battle lines have intensified around Israeli and American politics and policies, friendships have ended over political disagreements, and organizations have been pressured to take positions. Sadly, even dinner-guest lists are being screened to ensure that those invited share political viewpoints in concert with the host. Civility and consensus have given way to name-calling and political separation.

Is this the first time in Jewish history where our community seemed fractured? No! In fact, the pathways of Jewish history would suggest that Jews have been constantly in contention with one another. Some have argued that this has been an asset, as contentious debate and controversy has stimulated creative responses, great literature and thoughtful commentaries, as well as significant Jewish heroes and leaders. Others have viewed these divisions with grave concern, judging our historic infighting as being destructive over the centuries to our people’s well-being.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives special attention to this corrosive issue, when he writes:

“Recent history — the Holocaust and the sense of involvement that most Jews throughout the world feel in the fate of Israel — has convinced us that the Jewish destiny is indivisible. We are implicated in the fate of one another. That is the substantive content of our current sense of unity. But it is a unity imposed, as it were, from outside. Neither anti-Semitism nor anti-Zionism, we believe, makes distinctions between Jews. Hence our collective vigilance, activity and concern. But from within, in terms of its own self-understanding, the Jewish people evinces no answering solidarity. External crisis unites Jews; internal belief divides.”

Over the past decade, in particular, Jewish groups have begun to address the civility issue. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs in 2010 created a “Civility Statement.” Based on the civility initiatives developed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, this national statement was developed:

“As a community, we must commit ourselves and ask others to open their hearts and minds to healthy, respectful dialogue based on our love for our neighbors and our people. We therefore agree to treat others with decency and honor and to set ourselves as models for civil discourse, even when we disagree with each other. We commit ourselves to this course to preserve an essential element of a community — the ability to meet and talk as brothers and sisters.”

In light of the difficult and contentious conversations and programs around Israel on college campuses, Hillel, among other agencies, has developed guidelines for such discussions. And the Resetting the Table organization is collaborating with partner organizations, as it says, “to build important communication across political silos in American life. Our work ranges from one-off forums to intensive year-long programs for institutional and community transformation that replace long-standing distrust or avoidance with a culture of healthy dialogue and deliberation.”

Jews have worked across party lines and with those with whom we may have had political disagreements in the past, in order to achieve what is best for this nation. We will do so again. Let the conversation begin!


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Portions of this article were previously published on eJewishphilanthropy.com.  

Shoah Survivor Who Escaped Pittsburgh Shooting Among SOTU Guests

Screenshot from Twitter.

A Holocaust survivor who also survived the October Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh will be among President Trump’s guests at the State of the Union.

Judah Samet, 81, was among those that were supposed to be sent to Auschwitz in 1944, but  damaged railway lines prompted Samet and his family to be sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp instead, where he spent 10 months before the camp was liberated.

On Oct. 27, Samet was four minutes late to Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life synagogue because he was conversing with his housekeeper; when Samet arrived in the parking lot, a man informed him that a shooting was occurring.

Samet remained in his car until the shooting ended.

“I was very lucky,” Samet told USA Today. “Four minutes saved my life.”

Samet will be one of the White House’s 13 guests at the Feb. 5 State of the Union address, which includes SWAT team officer Thomas Matson, 41, who was shot multiple times at the Tree of Life shooting.

Samet told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he will “say a Jewish blessing that you say only when you meet a head of state” when he meets with Trump at noon.

“I like him very much,” Samet said. “He is strongly pro-Israel. That a man would go outright for Israel and declare for Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel … that was something new.”

The State of the Union will begin at 6 p.m. PT.

I’m Not Making Unsupported Claims; You Are!

In the Letters to the Editor section of the Jan. 31 Jewish Journal issue is a letter titled, “Don’t Print Speculation.” The letter’s author complains about a column by Dan Schnur which, he says, contains an “unfounded supposition” about Donald Trump. He then goes on to broadly accuse “Never Trumpers,” saying, “Without any facts to support their position, they rely on conjecture, speculation and innuendo.”

I completely agree that unfounded accusations about people are far too common, especially in social media, so I wanted to see for myself what this letter was referring to. Assuming this author is writing about Schnur’s Jan. 16 column, the letter writer seems to have missed the second paragraph, in which Schnur lays out a series of facts as evidence in regard to Trump’s connections with Russia.

One may or may not agree on what to make of those facts, but at least they are there. On top of that, I read the message of the column as warning us against jumping to conclusions and urging us to wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller publishes his findings of Trump and Russia.

So, right off the bat, this appears to be a case of the letter writer falsely accusing Dan Schnur of coming to an “unfounded supposition.” It gets worse from there.

He accuses BuzzFeed of publishing an “unverified dossier” even though BuzzFeed at the time provided appropriate context for it, and much of the dossier has since been verified. He also takes BuzzFeed to task for the story in which it claimed Michael Cohen was instructed by Donald Trump to lie to Congress.

In other words, the letter writer does exactly what he accuses “Never Trumpers” of doing. He accuses them of relying on “conjecture, speculation and innuendo” without any facts, and then as an example, he uses two examples from a single media outlet, with the first example being that apparently he just didn’t like the facts the outlet published (the existence of the dossier is a fact and what it contains is a fact, whether or not all of those contents have yet been verified), and the second example being a case in which facts as BuzzFeed understood them were supplied, although the accuracy of some of those facts are currently in dispute. It’s true that some may believe the letter writer’s complaints may reflect poorly on BuzzFeed, but they are not examples of speculation without facts, and they hardly support his broad claim about “Never Trumpers.”

I do not place the whole blame for this on the letter writer. Although we can’t control what is being said on social media, responsible media outlets like the Jewish Journal can, and I believe should, refrain from contributing to the degradation of intelligent public discourse by printing columns, blogs, letters to the editor, or anything else which contain patently false or obviously misleading information, nor should it print ad hominem attacks or broad claims that are unsupported by facts. The Jewish Journal cannot solve the problem, but it can refrain from contributing to it.