April 19, 2019

Israelis Voted Center (Yes, They Did)

Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

We don’t expect our politicians to be completely truthful on a good day. When coalitions are formed, their members do nothing but lie. So as you observe Israel from afar in the next six or seven weeks, remain skeptical. Don’t believe the rumors about certain parties having their way; don’t believe the gossip about this or that person getting this or that position; don’t buy the reports about future government policies. Remember: They all spin, maneuver, mislead, pretend. It’s all part of coalition negotiation. It’s all a part of politicians having to look like winners at the end of a process whose main essence is compromise. 

The eventual outcome is pretty much set: A government of right-religious parties with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. If you disliked the outgoing government, you are not going to like the new government. If you feel that the exiting government was reasonable, you are likely to have the same feeling about the incoming government. All in all, Israel went through a tough campaign to find itself in about the same place. If you read this column in the past couple of months, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

This is who we are: right wing and traditional. But don’t be fooled by images — we aren’t extremists. In the last election, a majority of Israeli Jews voted for two centrist parties, Likud and Blue and White. One of them will form a coalition, and thus must give more radical elements the power to dictate their terms. And yet, the majority of centrists marks a certain boundary that the radicals cannot cross, so as not to put their majority status at risk. 

Where do we see this boundary? We see it everywhere. Example: The ultra-Orthodox parties never seriously attempted to ban soccer games on Shabbat. They didn’t attempt such a thing even though they oppose all commercial activity on Saturdays. They didn’t attempt such a thing even when their political power was at its peak. They didn’t attempt such a thing because of the transparent boundary of centrism. The Israeli center is ready to have a debate about many things, but it’s not ready to even begin a conversation about soccer games. 

“So as concerned people follow the formation of a new coalition, my first advice is to be suspicious, and my second is to be calm. Israel’s policies will remain close to the centrist majority.” 

Another example: No government thus far has proposed to annex the West Bank and naturalize its Palestinian population. I don’t expect any future government to suggest such a thing. Why? Because of centrist Israelis who want Israel to retain its clear Jewish majority. Not even the radicals of the right can persuade an Israeli government to adopt such a policy. Not even if these radicals have the power to make or break a government.

So as concerned people follow the formation of a new coalition, my first advice is to be suspicious, and my second is to be calm. Israel’s policies will remain close to the centrist majority. Israel’s policies will remain close to the policies of previous governments. No, Israel isn’t going to retake Gaza — not unless the situation, security- wise, becomes unbearable. No, Israel isn’t going to eliminate the supreme court. It might tweak its wingspan of authority, but that’s not the same thing. No, Israel isn’t going to force religiosity on its elementary school students, not even if the somewhat radical leader of the Tkumah party becomes education minister. By the way, one of the great secrets of the Education Ministry is that officials there have very little room to maneuver. They can make changes, they cannot revolutionize. Certainly not in one term. 

Remember that fact if you are an outsider who tends to worry a lot about Israel’s future. Remember that you were probably as worried, if not more, after the 2015 election. Four years later, Israel is not in ruin. Four years later, few things changed, some for the better (the number of students excelling in math), some for worse (traffic congestion). Some remained about the same. 

Remember that fact if you are an outsider who expects a new government to make all your dreams come true. That isn’t going to happen. The next Netanyahu government will have a narrow majority of a few seats, and will be able to implement only the policies that all members of the coalition accept. The rightists will have to take into account the center-right members. The untrained-Orthodox will have to be considerate of the secular members. And all parties will have to take into account the voters, most of whom aren’t radicals.

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

Jew-Hatred Also Hurts the Haters

Demonstrators protesting outside the Spanish Government Delegation in Barcelona, Oct. 20, 2015. Photo by Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

It’s common knowledge by now that Jew-hatred, also known as anti-Semitism, will find its way into most societies one way or another, no matter what Jews do or don’t do.

The latest incarnation of this age-old phenomenon has been to hide behind Israel-hatred, as if to suggest that being against the Jewish state is not the same as being against Jews. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has been at the forefront of this modern-day sneak attack on Jews.

But here’s what you rarely hear: Hating Jews hurts the haters at least as much as it hurts Jews. It saps their spirit. It sucks their energy. It provides a sugar high, but what lasts are the self-destructive poisons of bitterness and resentment. 

Look at the greater Middle East today, a 22-country cesspool of Jew-hatred for the better part of the last century. Decade after decade, despite the many sectarian and ethnic conflicts among these countries, one thing has united them: Hatred of the Jewish state, fueled by hatred of Jews and Judaism.

This Jew-hatred was promoted by dictators desperate to stay in power by blaming every failure on the Jews and the Jewish state. As Iranian activist Ahmad Hashemi wrote in 2013, “Instead of dealing with root causes of the problems, they [Middle Eastern leaders] preferred to choose a simplistic answer and solution for all unresolved issues… just point a finger at Israel and the Jews.”

This, more than anything, is the dirty secret of the Middle East: Hating the Jews has backfired on the Arab world.

When the Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011, it looked as if protestors had figured out the scam and were telling their corrupt leaders: “Our miserable living conditions have nothing to do with Israel or the conflict with the Palestinians. We’ve had enough. We’re holding you accountable.” 

As we know, the Arab Spring fizzled. The dictators shut it down. The misery continued. But, failure or not, the Arab Spring served to highlight one of the great ironies of our time: Having been taught to hate the Jewish state for so long, Arab protestors ended up demanding precisely what the Jewish state already offered its citizens—basic freedoms, basic rights, economic opportunities.

How crazy is that?

Imagine the panic of an Arab dictator living in fear that his people will figure out what he himself has long known: The Arabs with the most amount of freedom, human rights and opportunities in the Middle East live in that dreaded Jewish state.

This, more than anything, is the dirty secret of the Middle East: Hating the Jews has backfired on the Arab world. It has mired their nations in resentment and bitterness. Of course, it’s not the only factor in their failure to advance, but it’s a crucial psychological one.

It’s only recently that venerable Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have woken up to the realization that the Jewish state can help them grow and prosper and even defend against enemy forces. We can only hope that this becomes a trend; that other Arab nations will see the futility of hating the Jewish state and look to emulate its more productive ways.

Hating consumes a lot of energy. Even on U.S. college campuses, the BDS movement is one of animosity and resentment. At no point will you see this supposedly pro-Palestinian movement sponsor a program to help Palestinians. That would be too positive. Instead of building, BDS tears down. Instead of loving Palestinians, BDS hates Israel. 

In the long run, it is the builders, the dreamers, the creators, who win.

Look at the Palestinian leadership. They could have had a Palestinian state a long time ago, had they cared about building rather than undermining. Instead of promoting mutual co-existence and prosperity, they promoted hatred of the Jewish state. Instead of saying yes to peace, they said no to Jews. They have wasted generation after generation teaching Jew-hatred.

These haters, however, are not stupid. They see how Israel is winning the battle on the ground. They see how the Jewish state, for all its flaws, blunders and stumbles, continues to grow, to thrive, to attract the best companies in the world, to send spaceships to the moon and humanitarian assistance to disaster areas, and to be tough when it has to defend itself. This must drive them nuts. While Palestinian leaders promote animosity, Israel promotes growth.

The Jew-haters of BDS, like Jew-haters throughout the Arab world and beyond, eventually learn the life lesson we all learn: Hatred and resentment sap your energy; growing and creating renew it.

In the long run, it is the builders, the dreamers, the creators, who win.

Actress Rafaëlle Cohen Explores Israelis’ Love of Berlin

The “Cities of Love” film franchise showcases great metropolises around the world. “Berlin, I Love You” features 10 vignettes set in the German capital, introduced by the Israeli character, Sara, played by Los Angeles-based French-Jewish actress Rafaëlle Cohen. However, it’s easy to miss Cohen’s name in the marketing materials, especially alongside some of her famous co-stars, including Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson and Mickey Rourke. 

The film was released in the United States in February to lackluster reviews, many of which blasted the vignettes for barely scratching the surface of what makes Berlin so lovable. It only received a two-star rating on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) and a one-star rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film can be streamed now on Amazon Prime.

But the story of an Israeli singer (Cohen) and her German love interest, a street performer named Damiel (Robert Stadlober), frames and anchors the film. A review in Variety said, “But at least these two characters offer a semblance of continuity, against which the shorts serve as variably amusing digressions.” 

Brushing off critics, Cohen told the Journal at a restaurant in West Hollywood that she would rather focus on the film’s beauty as well as her good fortune in being cast in a tale that resonated with her as a Jew who periodically visits friends and family in Israel. 

Having spent several weeks living in Berlin in the summer and fall of 2017 to film the movie, Cohen said she sees Israelis’ attraction to Germany among third-generation Holocaust descendants as a unique, postwar act of German-Jewish reconciliation. 

While the Israeli Embassy in Germany has no official statistics on how many Israelis currently live in the German capital, NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported that according to Tal Alon, the Berlin-based editor of the Hebrew-language magazine Spitz, at least 10,000 of them are estimated to have moved to Berlin in the past decade.

“I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root.” — Rafaëlle Cohen

Of her time in the European hot spot, Cohen said, “First of all, I felt the presence of Israelis in Berlin who had true open minds. And I know there was a movement of Israelis for many years to Berlin, and it fascinated me to see that the flower that blossomed out of the crack of the war was coming back to meet its root. I found that so beautiful.”

Berlin, Cohen added, is “the only place in Europe that I felt was really willing to seek forgiveness and ask for forgiveness, and realize the harm that has been done.”

Cohen was born in Paris. Her mother is from Tunisia and her father is from Morocco. The family moved to London when she was 3. Cohen originally became an engineer in London but abandoned the profession in 2011 to follow a career in the performing arts. She landed the role in “Berlin, I Love You” just two months after moving to Los Angeles from London in 2017. 

“I believe in divine alignment and divine timing,” Cohen said. “I believe I create my own reality and I came [to Los Angeles] to create what I was here to create, and I see the magic every day.”

She also described meeting the director of “Berlin, I Love You,” Josef Rusnak, as one of those magical moments. “I was told he met many celebrities, but he really wanted to find someone who could sing and have this Israeli feel,” Cohen said. 

With her long curly hair and olive skin tone, Cohen certainly looked the part. But more importantly, Cohen found the Israeli character intriguing. In the film, Sara takes her German beau on a mini-journey from the home her Holocaust survivor grandmother was forced to flee, to the steamy dance floor of the famous Berghain nightclub and the beloved public outdoor karaoke extravaganza at the Mauerpark Sunday flea market.  

“It was a dream to be able to interpret so many different aspects within one character,” Cohen said. “There’s this angelic kind of innocent being who wants to enjoy life. There’s the peaceful being. There’s the raw woman who has sensuality who wants to eat [Damiel] up and to give him so much pleasure. There’s the singer, with the ability to sing in front of 2,000 people and share music.” 

These days, some Jews look askance at Jews who make their lives — and loves — in a capital stained by its attempt at Jewish genocide. Sara, Cohen said, captures that third generation who find healing in returning to Germany. It’s part of the process of forgiveness, she said. 

“There is no resentment to be had. There is only now,” Cohen said. “Sara’s grandmother is proof of that. If there is one thing that the Shoah survivors teach us, it’s let’s be grateful for the life that we have. And let’s not darken our days with resentment.”

Cohen notes the contrast between Berlin and Paris, where today, bubbling anti-Semitism is making headlines in the French capital. She said she believes these expressions of Jew-hatred come in part from a lack of honest confrontation over the past among descendants of French Nazi collaborators, and she would rather they express their frustrations, however negative, and begin to heal.

“Anti-Semitism is mostly unspoken, precisely because it is so shamed, so people don’t even want to go near their thoughts on the matter, let alone express [them],” Cohen said. “They use the conflict in Israel, which is talked about on the news, to express their hidden frustrations against Judaism; hence the many amalgamations between French Jews and Israelis or French Muslims and Palestinians.”

Cohen still regards Paris as one of the most beautiful cities in the world but said she is now falling for Los Angles. And since shooting the film, Berlin has given L.A. some competition. 

“I sensed the same sense of freedom that I feel [in Los Angeles in Berlin],” she said. “The freedom [to become] who you want to be. And it’s the only place I felt that way in Europe. I think it’s totally linked to the fact that Berlin is the only city that really faces its darkness. I fell in love there.”  

Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel, “Underskin,” is a German-Israeli love story. 

Gadot, Rivlin, Sela Fire Back Against Netanyahu’s Instagram Remarks

Gal Gadot at the UK premiere of “Criminal” at The Curzon Mayfair in London on April 7. Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin joined Gal Gadot March 11 in pushing back at remarks made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wrote on social media March 10 that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.”

The Times of Israel reported Rivlin rebuking Netanyahu at a Jerusalem conference about Egyptian-Israel peace March 11 by saying, “We must get to the point where we are truly able to say: No more war and bloodshed between Israelis and Arabs. Between Israel and all Arabs.”

“I refused and refuse to believe that there are political parties that have surrendered the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish, state,” Rivlin continued. “Those who believe that the State of Israel must be Jewish and democratic in the full sense of the word must remember that the State of Israel has complete equality of rights for all its citizens.”

Netanyahu’s response came from an Instagram post made on March 9 by model and actor Rotem Sela, who wrote, “Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”

Actress Gal Gadot who is most well known for playing DC superhero Wonder Woman, backed Sela in an Instagram story (which has since expired) March 10 writing “Love your neighbor as yourself …  The responsibility to sow hope and light for a better future for our children is on us. Rotem, sister, you are the inspiration for us all.”

Jewsraelis: A Cultural Revolution

A vast array of data proves that Israel’s Jews reinterpret Judaism by mixing tradition and nationalism, making questions of continuity obsolete. 

After King Cyrus allowed the Jews in Babylonia to return to the Land of Israel in 538 BCE, most of them chose to remain in exile. They may have missed their country but their longings didn’t include a strong desire to settle there again. Such attitudes persisted into the 20th century when Jewish-American rabbi and thinker Arthur Hertzberg decreed that “The character of the Jews is of sophisticated nomads.” They love their homeland passionately, but at the same time are also “the most cosmopolitan people.”

Not anymore.

Zionist thinkers, from their early days, believed that the role of a national homeland was to rescue the Jews and Judaism from their cosmopolitan state. Historian Ben-Zion Dinur expressed that view without mincing words: “There’s one problem with Judaism, and it is called exile.” Thus, political Zionism stressed the need to offer the Jews a physical refuge from anti-Semitism. Its adherents had woken up from the dream of integrating among other nations and believed that only a defined and secure geographic territory could sustain the Jews. Spiritual Zionism emphasized the need to offer the Jews a cultural refuge from assimilation. Its adherents realized that the prospect of preserving Judaism when among other nations wasn’t viable. They believed that only a defined geographic territory could supply Judaism with the spiritual energy for its continued existence. In other words, political Zionism wanted to rescue the Jews from the dangers threatening them from the outside, whereas spiritual Zionism wanted to rescue the Jews from the dangers threatening them from the inside. 

“Israel, we strongly believe, is indeed a hub of a revolutionized Judaism. It is the hub of a new Jew.”

Both of them, and all other sub-streams of Zionism, developed the concept of the “new” Jew and its multiple meanings. The idea of the “new” Jew, like the principle of Diaspora negation, explained Prof. Yitzhak Conforti of Bar Ilan University, “provided a middle ground for all forms of Zionism.” All Zionists rejected the Diaspora, “and all saw a need to create and educate a new Jew. However, each of the various forms created a type of new Jew that reflected its particular ideology.”

So, Zionists expected a new Jew to emerge. They were correct in their assessment — a new Jew was born. It was born and had grown and is now standing on both feet. A book penned by me and my co-author, professor Camil Fuchs, “#IsraeliJudaism,” presents this new Jew in detail. Israeli Judaism, we argue, is Judaism like none other today or throughout history. It is a new type, a new branch of Judaism. As the subtitle for our book states — “A Portrait of a Cultural Revolution” — Israel, we strongly believe, is indeed a hub of a revolutionized Judaism. It is the hub of a new Jew.

We base our conclusions on a vast amount of data. Fuchs, a mathematician at Tel Aviv University, is Israel’s leading statistician and pollster. And so, I asked him to join me in running a comprehensive study about Israeli Judaism for The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), where I am a senior fellow. Our task was simple: 70 years after Israel was born, identify the main characteristics of its Jewish culture. We did not want to make guesses or come up with intellectual theories that look good on paper — we wanted hard evidence. We wanted to know what the Jews of Israel are doing culturally in their everyday life. 

To achieve this, we ran surveys with more than 3,000 respondents — that’s a very big sample for a society of 6 million. (The average Israeli survey you read about in the newspaper includes 500 participants.) We asked each of these Israeli Jews close to 400 questions. To supplement our findings, we dug out many hundreds of other data sets, studies and books about Israel. As a motto for our research we chose a quote from the Talmud: “Pook hazi mai amma davar” — Go out and observe what the people are doing.

We now know what they are doing. We know Israelis practice a new brand of Judaism born from mixing traditional sentiment and national sentiment in a way that makes the two indistinguishable. In many cases it is very hard — maybe impossible — to determine where the Jew ends and the Israeli begins, or where the Israeli ends and the Jew begins. Most of us — 55 percent, to be exact — are Jewsraelis.

To reach this conclusion, we scanned many thousands of data points and used several methodologies of statistical analysis (that is to say, Fuchs ran statistical analyses while I was waiting impatiently for the results). Our most telling model was locating the Jews of Israel on a graph with two dimensions — one for tradition, one for nationality. We used 32 questions from the survey to create a map. If a Jew lights candles on Friday night, they get a point for tradition. If they shop on Shabbat, they get a point for nontradition. 

And of course, this exercise was not meant to make a point about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of doing this or that on Shabbat. As we were writing this book, we agreed to be as nonjudgmental as possible when we looked at what the Jews of Israel do. In fact, it was impossible for us to be judgmental, because we are two authors who often disagree on the appropriateness of this or that. I am much more traditional and conservative than Fuchs. Do we approve of shopping on Shabbat? It does not matter, because all we do is measure it. And then we apply numbers to it, to differentiate between a person who does the traditional thing (no shopping) and a person who does the less traditional thing (shopping).  

We measure points of Jewish tradition, such as keeping Shabbat laws, and we measure behaviors of Israeli nationalism, such as raising the Israeli flag on Independence Day. Those who raise it get a point for nationalism. Those who say that Israel should not be a Jewish but rather a neutral civil state (about 9 percent of the Jewish population), get a point for non-nationalism.

Our map shows a Jewish population divided into four unequal groups. The majority is the group of Jewsraelis — that is, the Jews who score high on keeping Jewish traditions and on keeping national practices. Here is one example of what such Jews look like: 38 percent of Jewish Israelis raise the flag on Independence Day (nationalism) and make Kiddush on Friday night (tradition) and say that it is important for them to be Jewish (level of intensity). The percentage of Jewish Israelis who don’t make Kiddush and don’t raise the flag and say it’s not important for them to be Jewish is much smaller — 8 percent. 

So, we have four groups: Those practicing tradition and nationality (“Jewsraelis,” the 55 percent majority); those who mostly practice nationality (15 percent we call “Israelis” in the book, who tend to come from secular quarters of the old-fashioned Labor Party Zionists and whose culture is relatively devoid of keeping Jewish traditions); those who practice mostly Jewish traditions and many fewer Israeli customs (17 percent we call “Jews,” who are mostly Haredi Israelis); and those who, relatively speaking, practice neither (13 percent we call “Universalists” — urban, liberal, left leaning and often alienated from other Israelis.).

A few myths are refuted in our book that American Jews should know about.

One myth — that Israel is becoming more religious — is not true. The secular group is growing rapidly. In the book we include a story about a huge battle in the city of Petach Tikvah in the 1980s over the opening of a movie theater on Shabbat. (I remember it as a young soldier at the time.) That was a big deal. Policemen on horses were called in to calm violent demonstrations. The government was shaking. It seemed like a serious cultural crisis. Now, 30 years later, 98 percent of all movie theaters in Israel are open on Shabbat. 

“If you consider tradition rather than religion — and in the book we make an effort not to confuse them — Israel’s Shabbat is still strong.”

Another example that we already touched upon: the issue of shopping on Shabbat. Not long ago, suggestions for a possible grand bargain between secular and religious Israelis in regard to Shabbat included the idea of having cultural institutions open and commercial enterprises closed. One such suggestion was authored by two renowned Israeli intellectuals — Rabbi Yaakov Medan and law professor Ruth Gavison. They thought they were both compromising — he, by accepting a reality of opened cultural institutions such as movie theaters; and she, by agreeing to keep shopping malls closed. 

Our book questions whether such a proposal would be practical today. That’s because, according to our numbers, a clear majority of secular Israelis (about half of all Jews) shop on Shabbat. Shopping on the day of rest has become a habit for them, a part of their weekend culture. Rolling it back would be difficult, if not impossible. Rolling it back would also ignite the kind of political battle that politicians tend to avoid. So again, when it comes to halachic Shabbat observance, Israel is secularizing.

Does this mean Shabbat as a cultural Jewish phenomenon is also weakening? That depends on your viewpoint. If you only consider an Orthodox religious version of Shabbat to be a worthy exercise, then the answer is yes. There is less religiosity and less religious coercion of rules in the public sphere. However, if you consider tradition rather than religion — and in the book we make an effort not to confuse them — Israel’s Shabbat is still strong.

In 65 percent of Israel’s Jewish homes, candles are lit on Friday night. In 68 percent of these homes, Israelis make a Kiddush. More than 80 percent of Jewish Israelis have a family meal on Friday night — that’s tradition. Jewish Israelis keep many of the Jewish traditions, but without the need to be religious or follow the script dictated by ancient religious texts. 

Take another example: A clear majority of Jews in Israel light Hanukkah candles for eight days. They light the candles more than American Jews, even though Americans attribute more importance to Hanukkah than do Israeli Jews do — for whom it’s not such a major holiday. Israelis light candles because this is what we do in Israel. It’s an integral part of life. We have a seder on Pesach, we raise the flag on Independence Day, we dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah. And by “we” I mean almost all of us. 

And yes, we also have this habit of confusing, or mixing, Jewishness and Israeliness. Thus, Independence Day becomes a Jewish holiday — not an Israeli holiday. Most people who celebrate it are Jews. The flag they raise is Jewishly themed. The ceremony on Mount Herzl includes 12 torches lit by 12 Israelis who represent 12 tribes. Why 12? Read the Torah and find out. Why torches? Go to the Mishna and find out. Independence Day is a civil celebration like all other Independence Days in all other countries. But it is also very much a part of a new Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar of Jewish Israelis. The themes of the day make it Jewish, and also the views of the people celebrating it.

We asked the Jews of Israel many questions about their beliefs and values, and from their answers it is easy to extract a simple reality: many of them no longer see a difference between being a good, patriotic and contributing Israeli to being a good Jew. The lines blur. The culture is a melting pot of tradition and nationalism.  

For instance, there are non-Jews serving in Israel’s military, such as Druze and Bedouins. Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that to be a “good Jew” one must serve in the Israeli army. There are many non-Jews living in Israel as good citizens — one-fifth of the population is not Jewish, most of it Muslim, a small minority Christian. Nevertheless, two-thirds of Jewish Israelis believe that to be a “good Jew” one must educate their children to live in Israel. 

Combining these many findings — just a tiny fraction of which we have in the book — you get a new picture of Israel’s Jewish society and of Israel’s Jewish culture. It is a society that moves away from religion and from religious coercion, but does not move away from Jewish traditions. It moves away from the control of rabbis and the mandatory observance of certain practices, but does not move away from voluntary, relaxed, widespread Jewish practice.

It is a society whose Jewish culture is no longer as mobile as Judaism used to be. This is Judaism connected to living in a certain place, surrounded by certain people, governed by certain rules. Israel is the only place such Judaism works — and it works without much need for worry about its long-term viability.

What about Jewish continuity? For many Israelis that’s a weird question — a question for the Diaspora. The continuity of Israel’s Jewish culture is very much ensured by the environment in which they live.  

We begin our book by explaining how Israel serves as the answer to three challenges of the modern world. “Since in the modern world nations exist in civil states — we will build for the Jews a civil state; since in the modern world religion no longer serves as a strong glue for Jews — we will gather them to a place in which their Judaism no longer depends on strict observance of halachah; since the modern world makes it easy for Jews to assimilate and disappear — we will offer a social framework in which there is not much opportunity for assimilation.”

“Two-thirds of Israelis say it is “very important” for them that their children will be Jewish. Nearly two-thirds of Jews have complete confidence that their children will indeed be Jewish.”

Israel is all this. And judging by the numbers, it is a great success. There is little to no assimilation in Israel. There is little, if any, erosion of the extent to which Jews feel Jewish. Hence, worry about “continuity” — a concept American Jews are highly familiar with — is practically nonexistent in Israel.

We asked the Jews of Israel: On a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 having no confidence and 10 having complete confidence — to what extent are you confident that your children will also be Jewish? (How can anyone have complete confidence in having a certain future for one’s children? Well, one can live in Israel and thus have it.) 

If you want to understand the stark difference between Israeli Jews and American Jews by looking at just one set of numbers, this is probably the one you ought to look at. A strong majority of Jewish Israelis, 61 percent, have complete confidence — that is, a 10! – that their children will also be Jewish. A vast majority, 86 percent, rank it from 8 to 10. And when we asked the same question about whether their grandchildren will be Jewish, the number of responses ranking confidence from 8 to 10 were only slightly lower — 79 percent.

So, either Israeli Jews are fools and don’t understand where they live, or they understand and internalize what it means to be Jewish in Israel. It means that if Israel survives (that’s for another article, about a different topic), Jewishness survives. Not just survives — it thrives.

Two-thirds of Israelis say it is “very important” for them that their children will be Jewish. Nearly two-thirds of Jews have complete confidence that their children will indeed be Jewish. Maybe that’s why the Jews of Israel are happy. 

That, and the wonderful December weather.

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

Wording of Survey’s Questions Matters

new survey by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland shows that an increasing number of Americans support a one-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “When one considers that many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Middle East experts, already believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible, especially given the large expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Telhami writes, “it’s not hard to see why more people would be drawn to a one-state solution.”

Is this new finding important? It is and it isn’t.

It’s important because it shows that Israel fails to communicate its position to American audiences, especially Democratic voters and younger voters (of which 42 percent support a one-state solution).

It’s not important because the one-state solution is still not a viable option, and thus not an option.

Telhami conducts his poll every year, and almost every time, I write critically about it. This is because his polls, conducted under the pretense of being impartial, in fact raise the suspicion that they are an act of advocacy for certain positions.

Take the question of the one-state solution. What it offers is a mirage. “A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”

Sounds good? It does. In fact, I see no reason why Americans wouldn’t support such solution to a nagging problem. But what would happen if the survey question were reworded to reflect a more plausible outcome: “A one-state solution: An attempt to establish a single state that is likely to result in Jews and Arabs constantly fighting for control and spilling even more blood than today.” Would Americans still support it?

Another choice offered to Americans is this: “Do you favor the Jewishness of Israel more than its democracy” or “Israel’s democracy more than its Jewishness”?

Presented with this false dichotomy, most Americans give the answer you’d expect. They favor democracy (one wonders: should non-Jewish Americans even worry about Israel’s Jewishness?)

Telhami argues (in the publication Foreign Policy) that “What many read as a rising anti-Israeli sentiment among Democrats is mischaracterized; it reflects anger toward Israeli policies and … the values projected by the current Israeli government.”

The semantics Telhami uses here (and he is not alone) are simple: Place the bar for being anti-Israel so high that it becomes almost impossible to reach. That’s convenient, especially for anti-Israel activists.

I know that in left-wing circles it’s becoming popular to argue that being anti-Israel is not akin to being anti-Semitic. But read this question and see if it makes you feel somewhat uneasy: “How much influence do you believe the Israeli government has on American politics and policies?”

The answer, of course, is that the Jews (and by this, we mean the Jews of Israel — not the good Jews of America) might have too much influence. Fifty-five percent of Democrats think they do; 44 percent of young Americans think they do. Would they also say that the governments of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain or China have too much influence on American politics? I bet many of them would — but Telhami didn’t ask.

Americans want fairness, and hence many of them expect their government to “lean toward neither side” when “mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But how does one measure “leaning?” Here is an example: If the U.S. government says, “We would not tolerate Palestinian suicide bombers killing innocent people in Tel Aviv,” does this count as “leaning” toward Israel, because it’s critical of something that only Palestinians do? Another example: If the U.S. government says, “We believe that Palestinian insistence on a right of return imperils any prospect for a successful peace process,” does this count as “leaning” toward Israel, because an impartial position would be to say, “Let’s compromise on a right of return for half the people”?

In other words, what if the U.S. government doesn’t “lean” toward the Israeli position but rather toward a more reasonable position that tends to be the Israeli position? Would Americans want their government to lean toward an unreasonable position for the sake of being impartial?

Missile Strikes Expose Limited Options in Gaza

Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

It’s Nov. 13 and all of Israel is focused on the Gaza Strip.

This morning, after a barrage of Hamas missile attacks, it appeared Israel had no choice but to up the ante. Its deterrence of Hamas wasn’t working. Its reluctance to go to war was being perceived as weakness. Its measured counterattacks following the massive bombings of Israeli cities looked like acts of hesitation.

The morning air felt heavy with the looming specter of death — mostly, but not only, from the impending deaths of Gazans. Would the “dead men walking” in Gaza’s streets be counted by the dozens, the hundreds or maybe the thousands? We braced ourselves for the next round of violence to erupt.

Now, this evening, a cease fire is suddenly on the horizon. Will it hold? (By the time you read this in the Journal, you’ll know. At this moment I write, I don’t.)

Israeli leaders, goes the cliché, have only two options in Gaza. They can conduct small wars and arrange for short-term ceasefires; or they can send the Israel Defense Forces to reoccupy Gaza and uproot the government of Hamas. But reoccupation of Gaza is not an option — it is madness. Luckily, Israel’s leaders, while not perfect, are not mad. 

What are the real options in Gaza? One is to fight Hamas until it accepts certain terms that result in peace and quiet for a while. The other one — an option heralded by some opposition leaders — is to help the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza. That is, to cooperate with Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas. 

Leaders who support the latter option suspect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not pursue it because he is averse to strengthening the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. Netanyahu, they argue, prefers to deal with two weakened Palestinian factions so he can claim to have no partner for a comprehensive peace deal that includes all Palestinians. Maybe. But there is an alternative explanation to such a strategy — which is no less sensible. Netanyahu does not believe that Abbas and his allies can control Gaza effectively. He does not want to waste Israeli resources — or lives — on a lost cause. 

Netanyahu has been very clear, possibly too clear, in expressing his reluctance to go to war in Gaza.

“Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.”

“I am doing everything I can to avoid an unnecessary war,” he declared in Paris before rushing back to Israel as a rain of rockets threatened to escalate into war. In the past couple of months, Netanyahu has negotiated (indirectly) with Hamas, has allowed Qatar to transfer money to Hamas, and has accepted the embarrassment of being criticized from right and left. Hamas has tested him time and again, sending hordes of demonstrators to harass the IDF near the Gaza fence, firing the occasional rocket, and burning fields on the Israeli side of the border. 

If or when war begins, Netanyahu will be portrayed by some international media as a bloodthirsty warmonger. But a sober assessment of his actions — including in this past week when many others were ready for heightened violence — would conclude that he might have been too hesitant, too accommodating, too eager for compromise. He was the one restraining the cabinet, reining in his gung-ho colleagues. Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.

The eruption of violence began when an Israeli elite unit was discovered and attacked in the Gaza Strip. The unit’s mission in Gaza has remained secret, but military professionals insist it was essential. When Hamas retaliated, Israel responded calmly, understanding the need of Hamas to blow off steam. Then Israel learned that Hamas’ definition of blowing steam was greater than expected. A bus was attacked by an antitank missile, and a soldier was badly wounded. Rockets were fired on Israeli cities and citizens. In Ashkelon, a man was killed. Ironically, he was a Palestinian worker — the only man Hamas was able to kill as of this morning. (The Middle East is filled with such unfortunate ironies.) 

Netanyahu still wanted to limit the scope of Israel’s response, to explore the possibility of a ceasefire. His logic was solid: A war will not change the basic realities that make Gaza a thorny problem for Israel.

Lewis Carroll wrote in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” that sometimes “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Today, Netanyahu insisted that sitting is better than running, if all one wants is to keep in the same place.  

True, seeing a country sitting on its hands does not instill much awe or inspiration. But in Gaza, Israel doesn’t wish to inspire. It wishes to avoid disruption and violence. No more, no less.

‘You Don’t Understand’

“Some American Jews look at Israel with horror. Israel — and Israelis — don’t seem to understand a simple truth: President Donald Trump is “sowing hatred and divisiveness in this country that will allow the kind of people who supported Hitler to also take action,” as one such Jew, Henry Siegman, president emeritus of the U.S./Middle East Project, told Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs. 

Some Israeli Jews look at American Jews with horror. American Jews don’t seem to understand a simple truth: Donald Trump is “a true friend of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people,” as Bennett said. Israel, said Ambassador Ron Dermer, is “not aware of a single non-Israeli leader” other than Trump “that has made such a strong statement in condemning anti-Semitism.”

Jews in the United States have had political differences with Jews in Israel concerning many issues for a long time. In the past two years, Jews in both nations added Trump to the long list of disagreements; Israeli Jews appreciate his support, American Jews reject his manners and policies. But the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh made these differences more acute, and the conversation about them more bitter. American Jews feel that Israel is willing to throw them under the bus of anti-Semitism in exchange for the temporary political support of a bigoted president. Israeli Jews feel that American Jews are utilizing a tragedy for political purposes and thus alienating Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.

“You don’t understand” is the phrase Americans use. A few days ago, a respected scholar sent me an email. “Anyone who tries to separate the tragedy and its wake of bitter grief from ‘politics’ does not experience on a daily level the corrosive tragedy eroding America today,” she wrote. Indeed — most Israelis don’t experience such “corrosive tragedy.”

“You don’t understand” is a phrase Israelis also use, when American Jews attempt to lecture them on this or that. You don’t have to spend nights in shelters around Gaza; you won’t pay the price if a peace process blows up; you are too naïve and too distant to appreciate the dangers of a Middle East. You don’t understand.

The inability of Jews to understand the circumstances of other Jews is a given. When a Jew lives among gentiles, there are certain antennas he or she must develop to survive. When someone says, “George Soros, the Jewish billionaire,” these antennas interpret it as a signal, one to which Israelis are tone deaf (What’s the problem? Isn’t he Jewish? Isn’t he a billionaire? Isn’t he justifiably disliked?).

 “In the past two years, Jews in both nations added President Donald Trump to the long list of disagreements.”

The same is true for signals that Israeli antennas detect, and many Americans don’t. Consider former President Barack Obama. American Jews saw a president whose views reflect their own values and priorities. Israel’s antennas screamed that something was missing, that something wasn’t right.

Israelis and Americans often make a similar mistake. They believe that the other side — their Jewish kin — doesn’t much care about them. 

In recent days, many Jews in the U.S. (and some in Israel) blamed the Israeli government of grave sins of indifference. Israeli Jews aren’t immune to jump to similar conclusions when talking about American Jews. There is some truth to both arguments. Israel, naturally, is more focused on keeping Israel safe and thus less sensitive to anti-Semitic undertones of supportive political leaders. American Jews, naturally, are more sensitive to their own problems, and want Israel to forgo its realpolitik calculations whenever a Jew feels in danger. 

Still, there’s a better explanation for the differing interpretations of the situation — better than assuming neglect or apathy. Israelis are tone deaf to the sensitivities of American Jews, and thus cannot comprehend their position. American Jews are tone deaf to the sensitivities of Israeli Jews, and thus cannot comprehend Israel’s policies. There is no remedy for this situation, other than having faith. Israelis must believe that the American Jews — annoying complaints and useless advice aside — want Israel to thrive and survive. American Jews must believe that the Israeli Jews — annoying ignorance and insulting disregard aside — want the American Jewish community to thrive and survive. 

The tragedy of Pittsburgh could be a moment that separates Jews from one another. But it is not too late to hope that it can be a moment that instills in us the missing faith.

Read More from Rosner’s Domain: Oy, Wow, and Other Comments on the Midterms, the Jews and Israel

Israelis Celebrate Jerusalem Day Amid New Political Reality

People take part in the March of the Nations, in which Christians from around the world and Israelis protest against anti-Semitism and in support of Israel, in Jerusalem, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The historic and ancient city of Jerusalem has been the destination of countless religious pilgrimages for Jews, Christians and Muslims over the centuries. Yet the city also has been at the heart of bloody battles, crusades and, more recently, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So it should come as no surprise that a holiday aimed at celebrating the holy city would spark controversy and highlight competing narratives. Such is the case with Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in Israel commemorating the city’s reunification following the Jewish state’s victory in the 1967 war, during which it gained control over east Jerusalem.

By coincidence, Jerusalem Day this year fell on May 13, one day before the inauguration of the new United States Embassy, which follows President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Traditionally, [Jerusalem Day] been celebrated more by the national-religious in Israel, even though, of course, it’s a national holiday,” Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies, explained to The Media Line.

“It is true that in terms of the civilian population, the ultra-Orthodox don’t really care and the secular [population] doesn’t care so much, either,” he conceded, before qualifying that some elements of the holiday unify Israelis.

“When the eastern part of [Jerusalem] was ruled by Jordan, there was no free access to places of worship for the Jews and there was no freedom of religion,” Navon said. “It’s only since Israel reunified the city that you have this freedom of religion and respect for all holy sites. I think this is something that most people recognize.”

Nowhere, however, is the ideological split more apparent than at the Jerusalem Day right-wing Flag March, in which thousands of people parade through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter waving Israeli flags. In the past, the parade has been marred by some participants using anti-Arab epithets and engaging in physical violence.

“People who say it’s divisive don’t have to take part in it,” Navon said. “It’s not the only way to celebrate Jerusalem’s reunification. People can choose what kind of event they want to attend or not on Jerusalem Day.”

“It’s only since Israel reunified the city that you have this freedom of religion and respect for all holy sites. I think this is something that most people recognize.” — Emmanuel Navon

Some people are already offering more inclusive alternatives.

“We think [Jerusalem Day] is an important day for reclaiming the city because in the last few years [it] has turned into something a little more nationalistic,” said Michal Shilor, the Activism for Tolerance Campaign Coordinator at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC).

Now in its third year, the stated goal of the Jerusalem Tolerance group is to help Jerusalemites undertake initiatives that promote tolerance and diversity. It has become a platform for dozens of Jerusalem Day events aimed at combating the Flag March, which many consider offensive.

“This year there are 80 events within [the span of] 36 hours that are talking about tolerance,” Shilor noted, including tours of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, literary gatherings and encounters with people with disabilities, among other things.

“It’s not that there’s an issue with celebrating Jerusalem Day,” she said. “It’s more that the way it has been celebrated in the last few years [has sometimes] turned into violence and racism.”

U.S. and Israeli officials attended a May 14 ceremony marking the official opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. The ramifications of such a move are still not fully understood, but analysts agree it marks a turning point in the city’s history.

According to Navon, “It will be remembered as a major event.”

This article was originally published on The Media Line.

Teaching About Israel at U.S. Camps, These Israelis Do Some Learning Themselves

Erez with friends Dvir and Dor welcome Shabbat at Camp Ramah in California. Photo courtesy of Erez Marchini

I sat down to interview a prospective summer camp counselor, and suddenly I felt a wave of anxiety.

The meeting, more than a decade ago, was no ordinary interview. Ilan, in green fatigues, was shouldering a semi-automatic weapon.

He was among a special pool of Israeli young adults near the end of their army service who had applied to serve as shlichim (ambassadors) at North American Jewish camps in a program administered by the Jewish Agency for Israel.  Nervously eyeing his gun, I was tempted just to say, “Take the job! It’s yours!”

The truth is, there was anxiety on both sides of the table. Ilan and I came from different worlds. He was born into a secular, Zionist household to parents who made aliyah from India. I grew up Los Angeles, in a family that was deeply involved in the Jewish community. At the age at which Ilan was training as a soldier, I was leading Shabbat services at my college Hillel.

For most Israelis, being Jewish is an unquestioned part of their core identity. But their engagement in Jewish practice tends to be more complex, concentrated on the extreme ends of the secular/religious spectrum. North American Jews, in contrast, have increasingly rich and diverse approaches to Jewish life and learning.

I have made 11 trips to Israel to recruit shlichim — previously for Camp Ramah in California and more recently for Camp Bob Waldorf in Glendale, where I am the director. When I interview these candidates, I can’t help but wonder what they will make of camp — our gleeful approach to prayer, our particular Shabbat rituals and our obsession with Israeli folk dancing (an activity that, ironically, isn’t often part of their lives).

While the stated goal of bringing these young Israelis to camp is to strengthen American campers’ and staff members’ connection with Israel, I am routinely inspired by how the experience affects the Israelis themselves.

This year, the Jewish Agency will invest $3 million in its Summer Shlichim Program. Roughly 4,500 candidates will be screened and 1,400 matched with 180 day and overnight camps. They arrive eager to teach about history and culture, facilitate difficult conversations around conflict and peace, and inspire Americans to visit Israel. Often they succeed. In the process, many develop an emotional attachment to camp. They forge deep and lasting friendships and their own Jewish identity evolves. It’s an investment with multiple returns.

“Camp really opened my eyes and taught me to see and appreciate different shades in Judaism.” — Erez

Consider Erez, whom I met more than a decade ago when I worked at Ramah. Erez had grown up Orthodox in Israel, and the idea of liberal Judaism was completely unfamiliar to him. That summer, I watched him build relationships with other staffers and his 15-year-old campers over cups of Turkish coffee that he prepared. He was warm and curious and took his programming duties seriously. By summer’s end, he felt proud of how he had represented Israel and was acutely aware of his own growth as a Jew.

“Camp really opened my eyes and taught me to see and appreciate different shades in Judaism. It deeply influenced my spirituality,” he told me recently. “Every time I look for a synagogue now, I search for services that are fun, happy and full of song.”

Elinoy had spent three years as a combat and fitness instructor in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before she came to Camp Bob Waldorf as a shlicha in 2016.  Raised in a secular family on a kibbutz, she found that working at a Jewish summer camp in the United States made her see her Jewish identity in a new light. For the first time, she came to view Judaism not just as a religion, but as a source of meaning, inclusion and cohesion.

Before camp, she had never recited the Birkat ha-Mazon, the blessing after meals, but she soon found herself singing it along with the campers. “I do not find meaning with the entire blessing, but at camp, I found some strong points,” Elinoy told me recently. “Reciting it makes me grateful for the food on my table and appreciative of my life.”

Even more surprising to shlichim like Erez and Elinoy is how being at camp makes them grow in their relationships with Israel. Both arrived eager to teach about the diverse range of people who have a claim on Israel and the complex ethical issues the IDF soldiers confront. Elinoy recalls an IDF training simulation she ran at camp that provoked an important discussion.

“It gave campers an opportunity to ask questions about growing up in Israel and opened serious conversations about what it means to serve our country,” she said. “These conversations emphasized my identity as an Israeli and opened my eyes to how people in the U.S. view the IDF.”

By stepping into their roles as educators, shlichim also become students of Israel through the eyes of non-Israelis. Encountering American Jews and their varied opinions of Israel, they are sometimes forced to confront unexpected points of view. Their perspective on political and religious issues may evolve, as does their understanding of what it means to be a Zionist in the Diaspora.

Just as invaluable are the lifelong relationships that camps nurture between Israelis and Americans — and among the Israelis. At Bob Waldorf, Elinoy started running each morning with Stevie, an American staff member, and soon their friendship blossomed into a serious
relationship. This month, Stevie plans to enroll in a graduate program at Tel Aviv University and is relieved to know that camp friends await.

He and Elinoy plan to return this summer to Camp Bob Waldorf, where Elinoy — to her own surprise — has applied to be the camp’s Jewish educator.

Erez, who spent four summers at Ramah, still considers his camp friends to be his closest. Of the six buddies with whom he spent his entire wedding day, four were from camp.

On my most recent Israel trip, I met my old friend Ilan at a Tel Aviv café. No longer in his fatigues, Ilan now works as a film editor. He is eager to share how much his camp experience transformed his connection to Judaism and Israel.

“The contact with the staff and campers all gave me a sense of belonging — a stranger would not understand,” he said.

Then, just before we parted ways, he smiled. “I was hoping you were going to invite me to return to camp,” he said, “with my wife and 2-year-old son!”

Zach Lasker is director of Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale and the former camp director at Camp Ramah in California.

German Government Kills Resolution Condemning Kuwait Airways’ Discrimination of Israelis

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The German government succeeded in killing part of a resolution on Thursday that would have condemned Kuwait Airways’ discrimination toward Israel, according to a press release from The Lawfare Project.

The German Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry persuaded the German Parliament to modify a resolution that would have advocated for the German government putting an end to Kuwait Airways’ refusal to provide travel to Israelis.

The reason: the Chancellor’s Office and Foreign Ministry were concerned about how such a resolution would affect negotiations with Kuwait Airways on the matter.

“When it comes to discrimination, there should be nothing to negotiate about. The time has come for Germany to enforce its laws, safeguard its values, and act to stop the vile and systemic anti-Semitism perpetuated by companies like Kuwait Airways,” Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, said in the press release. “The German public – and all decent people — should demand to know the nature of these negotiations, and to understand the German Federal Government’s plans for ensuring the Kuwait Airways complies with the law.”

Lawfare Project German counsel Nathan Gelbart told the Journal in an email that he didn’t think the German government nixing the condemnation of Kuwait Airways in the resolution would affect the current lawsuit against Kuwait Airways.

“The political outcome has no connection to the legal one in my eyes,” wrote Gelbart. “The court can dismiss our appeal (though I am confident we are right) but politically KAC might be forced to stop their third destination flights or to transport Israelis.”

Back in December, a Frankfurt court dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Israeli against Kuwait Airways, claiming Kuwait’s laws needed to be respected. Gelbart, who is representing the Israeli, said in a press release at the time, “The Frankfurt District Court’s verdict has allowed antisemitic discrimination to be imported into our country and helped whitewash and sanitize it. We cannot allow our laws to be subverted by the state-sponsored racism of other nations.”

The Lawfare Project has appealed the Frankfurt Court’s ruling.

Dispatching ‘Ambassadors’ for Israel

Eyal Biram. Photo by Jonathan Lee

Eyal Biram has deep roots in Israel; his family’s presence in the region can be traced back eight generations on both sides. “I think it’s amazing, something unique in Israel. Most of the people are immigrants,” he said. His father’s family is from Hebron; his mother’s, Jerusalem. His maternal great-great grandfather, Yoel Moshe Salomon, was the founder of Petah Tiqvah. Israel is in his DNA.

Biram grew up on a small moshav (agricultural settlement) called Ramot haShavim in the center of the country. He said the highlight of his early years was spending 12 years with the youth movement Haichud Hahaklai (Agricultural Union). By the time he graduated from high school, he had decided to delay military service in order to do a year of volunteer work with the youth movement. “Now, it was my turn to give to the children like all the guys who did that for me,” Biram said.

With his year of volunteer national service complete, Biram felt more “mature, more ready to start my army service,” he said. Biram was drafted into an elite combat unit, and, after two years of regular service, as intended, went on to become an officer.

He served in the military for six years, double the mandatory three years for men, and was discharged at age 26. “I was worried that I would get out of the army when I was very old. But during my service, I realized how much the army gives me skills for life,” Biram said. “I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.”

After the intensity of serving in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Biram needed a break. He was granted a three-month leave to travel and clear his head. This sojourn to the Far East would provide him with an “aha moment” he never could have foreseen.

While in the Philippines, Biram had a short but life-changing conversation with a local Filipino in a bar. He said that this young man had heard a lot about Israel on the news but had never met an Israeli. During their brief encounter, Biram realized he had an incredible power: the power to shift people’s perceptions of Israel.

“They didn’t know that it wasn’t at war all the time,” Biram said. “They didn’t understand the complexities of Israel, that it’s not just black and white.”

Biram isn’t just an officer, he is also a diplomat.

It is an Israeli cultural phenomenon to take long trips to far-flung places after being discharged from the military. Indeed, the Israeli post-discharge backpacker has become ubiquitous from South America to Southeast Asia. In these backpackers, Biram saw a built-in distribution network for soft diplomacy, and he returned to the military determined to realize this potential.

“I think my six years in the army was equal to 12 years in civilian life.” — Eyal Biram

As Israel increasingly is losing the battle to project a positive public image, Biram is at the forefront of advocacy innovation.

“With the thousands of Israelis traveling abroad, we have a specific and efficient way to make great hasbarah (advocacy) for Israel, but no one has used this before,” he said.

While still in the army, Biram began to plan to harness the post-discharge traveler’s potential. He quickly found friends and mentors to support his idea of training soldiers pre- and post-discharge in basic communication and advocacy tools. After being discharged in June 2017, he launched the nongovernmental organization ISRAELis, working in full cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces and other educational partners to prepare Israeli soldiers to act as “ambassadors” during their post-discharge trips.

By July 2018, ISRAELis is projected to have 30,000 soldiers complete a one-hour training as part of their official mandatory discharge educational program. “Most of our work is teaching them that they are actually ambassadors. We give them the tools to tell their personal stories [and] include Israel in order to make a positive impact in this encounter.”

ISRAELis offers an advanced, full-day workshop for those who want to delve deeper, and these men and women form the basis of the travelers network. A digital platform of resources also is planned to launch this year.

And Biram, like most Israelis his age, already has a few trips planned.

Settler Opens Her Home to Peace

Caroline Schuhl Schattner

Fourteen years ago, during the Second Intifada, Caroline Schuhl Schattner of Toulouse, France, felt the time had come to realize her Zionist dream. Frustrated with French news media coverage that made Israel out to be the aggressor during the prolonged uprising, she moved to Israel intent on becoming an actor in Israeli history, not a bystander.

Schuhl Schattner enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and joined a combat rescue unit. Today, at the age of 34, with a master’s degree in linguistics, a husband and three children, she lives in Efrat, a largely Modern Orthodox town in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, where she continues to work at making peace.

Every two weeks she hosts informal meetings in her home between Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in and around Gush Etzion, a flashpoint in 2015-16 for what is sometimes known as the “Knife Intifada,” a period when Palestinians regularly stabbed, shot and ran over random Israelis in the streets.

Schuhl Schattner believes that many Palestinians reject such violence, and she is determined to get Israeli Jews to know them, and for them to get to know Israeli Jews.

“I saw that Jews and Arabs live in the region and I see how they see each other — in business, at the shopping center — but they don’t know each other,” Schuhl Schattner said in phone interview from her home in Efrat. “Even though they meet via commerce, Jews have a stereotypical view of Arabs and Arabs have a stereotypical view of Jews. I thought that it’s a shame. We all live here, and we’ll all continue to live here.”

Schuhl Schattner was recently appointed project manager for olim [immigrants] at the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Her work with Palestinians is her personal initiative that she began a year ago.

Recently, she led a joint Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest in the village of Kfar Hussan.

“Most of the Palestinians, they’re people who want to live well — that’s what’s important to them,” she said. “And part of the good and simple life is to live in harmony with the Jews. Many of them don’t have extreme political views. If you succeed in having Jews and Palestinians meet each other, and the Palestinian sees the Jew is not the enemy, he’ll break out of his stereotypical view, and vice versa.”

The joint harvest produced a Facebook friendship between a young Israeli and a Palestinian, who are not allowed by Palestinian law to meet in person. Palestinians must receive permission from Israeli authorities to enter Israeli towns, but the Palestinian Authority can imprison Palestinians who interact socially with Israelis.

“Part of the good and simple life [for most of these Palestinians] is to live in harmony with the Jews.” — Caroline Schuhl Schattner

These days, about 20 to 30 people meet in Schuhl Schattner’s home for coffee, cookies, cake and conversations about topics that are generally taboo at the table: religion and politics. At the meetings, Palestinians often relay their frustrations with living under IDF controls that limit their freedom of movement, while Israelis express their fear of the terrorism and violence that make such security measures necessary. But participants from both groups generally agree that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart — it seeks to thwart attempts at normalization in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and it feeds off conflict.

Schuhl Schattner said some of her friends and neighbors have been skeptical about her efforts, but she remains undeterred, encouraged by the story of one of her Palestinian friends whose brother was released from prison 10 years ago after serving a term for terrorist activity. After the friend introduced his brother to his Jewish friends, the brother’s hatred of Israel and Jews faded.

“I don’t care how much hate you instill in someone’s head,” Schuhl Schattner said. “If you have a good meeting, that’s what stays.”

Trump ban does not invalidate US visas for Israelis born in banned countries

Protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv on Jan. 29. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

U.S. visas held by Israeli citizens born in the seven Muslim-majority countries covered under President Donald Trump’s travel ban remain valid, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has confirmed.

A statement about the visas was posted Tuesday on the embassy’s website.

“If you have a currently valid U.S. visa in your Israeli passport and were born in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, and do not have a valid passport from one of these countries, your visa was not cancelled and remains valid,” the statement said. “Similarly, we continue to process visa applications for applicants born in those countries, so long as they do not have a valid passport from one of those countries and have not otherwise declared themselves to be a national of one of those countries.”

It added, however: “Authorization to enter the United States is always determined at the port of entry. We have no further information at this time.”

Asked about the issue Monday by the French news agency AFP, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem referred the question to the State Department, which could not answer the question several hours after it was posed.

Some 140,000 Israelis were born in the seven countries covered in the 90-day travel ban imposed by the executive order signed Friday by Trump. About 45,000 were born in Iran and 53,000 in Iraq, according to AFP, citing official statistics. Most are older than 65 and did not retain citizenship in their birth countries.

Small majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution

A new poll finds that only a small majority of Palestinians (51 percent) and Israelis (59 percent) support a two-state solution, meaning an independent Palestinian state next to Israel. There is a high level of distrust and fear on both sides and both sides believe there is little chance for an independent Palestinian state.

These were the findings of a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll, published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. The poll, which has a margin of error of three percent in either direction, surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,184 Israelis and was released Monday in Jerusalem.

For many in the region, the results come as no surprise. There have been no substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in years, and a recent wave of violence of Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians have left more than 30 Israelis and 200 Palestinians dead in the past year. Yet the poll’s results can be seen as hopeful or pessimistic depending on your frame of mind.

“I thought the situation would have been much worse,” the Israeli pollster responsible for the survey told The Media Line. “I think we are not yet at the point of no return. We still have a majority believing in the idea (of a two-state solution) and it’s all about leadership. Public opinion is not the main obstacle (to a peace deal).”

Others however, see the glass as half-empty.

“I am worried — it underlines the fact that there is a diminishing level of support on the Israeli side for the mere substance of peace,” Elias Zananiri, a former journalist who is today the Deputy Chair of the PLO’s Committee for the Interaction with Israeli Society, told The Media Line. “The fact that only 48 percent of Israelis want peace is really frightening for me as a Palestinian.”

When it comes to the question of perception of the other, the situation is even more bleak. The survey found that 89 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 68 percent of Israeli Jews feel the same way about Palestinians. Two-thirds of Israelis say they fear Palestinians, while close to half of Palestinians feel the same way.

The survey was partially funded by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German political foundation, and the European Union. EU officials said they saw cause for hope in the findings.

We need to continue to articulate our support for the two state solution, and publicly outline what we can do to bring the parties back to the negotiating table,” David Geer, the Deputy EU Representative in Jerusalem said. “There is no room for complacency and a great deal of work needs to be done.”

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki said he was most surprised by the reactions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement since 2007. Shikaki said Palestinians in Gaza were more in favor of a peaceful solution with Israel than Palestinians in the West Bank.

“It seems a lot of people who liked Hamas do not necessarily buy into Hamas’ policies regarding the issue of the peace process,” Shikaki told The Media Line. “Support for Hamas in Gaza is due to other factors and it doesn’t mean they share Hamas’s value system.”

The survey asked about support for a peace agreement “package” based on issues discussed in previous rounds of negotiations. It suggested a demilitarized Palestinian state, Israel withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines with agreed-upon territorial swaps, a group of 100,000 Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to Israel, West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and an end to all future claims.

Support for this nine-point plan is highest among secular Israeli Jews (56 percent) versus just nine percent for ultra-Orthodox. On the Palestinian side, some 57 percent of voters from the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas support the plan, compared to 25 percent of Hamas voters.

But adding incentives can change people’s minds. If the agreement includes a wider or regional Arab-Israeli peace, one quarter of Palestinians and Israelis would change their mind and support a deal. In 2002 Saudi Arabia offered the Arab Peace Initiative that would give Israel peace with dozens of  Arab and Muslim states but it did not get off the ground as the second intifada broke out. Some in the region say it is time to revive that initiative.

“Regional peace is a winner,” Shikaki said. “If I have any advice for the next US administration, it is to think regionally.”

Gallup: 50% of Israelis approve of U.S. leadership

About half of the Israeli public approved of U.S. leadership in 2015, down from 54 percent in 2014, according to Gallup’s 2016 U.S.-Global Leadership Report “>ecent poll showed that a majority of Israelis (51 percent) think the next president would be better than President Barack Obama, while 26 percent see no change. A mere 8 percent think the next president would be worse than Obama and 15 percent did not know or had no opinion.

Palestinians reject Netanyahu’s call for direct talks, support French plan

The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister rebuffed the latest call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct talks, opting instead to join a French-led multilateral peace initiative.

“Time is short,” Rami Hamdallah said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “Netanyahu is trying to buy time … but this time he will not escape the international community.”

Hamdallah made the remarks during a meeting in Ramallah with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is in the region this week to promote the French peace initiative. The initiative calls for a multilateral international conference later this year to jump-start peace talks. If the initiative fails, France has said it will recognize a Palestinian state, though adding the conference would not “automatically” spur any action.

“Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences, U.N.-style,” Netanyahu said. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international diktats or committees from countries around the world who are sitting and seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake in it.”

Poll of Israelis: Clinton more suited to be president

A plurality of Israelis think Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, would be better than Hillary Clinton at fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Israel relations, a new poll published on Friday showed.

According to the poll, conducted by Panels Politics research institute for “>Peace Index poll showed that while a majority of Jewish Israelis think Clinton would be better for Israel than Trump, 42 percent don’t trust her at all when it comes to safeguarding Israeli security.  On the other hand, a whopping 62 percent are sure or think that Trump will be committed to safeguarding Israel’s security if elected as president.



Fearful for economic future, Israelis want Scandinavian-style government, survey shows

On one hand, most Israelis say their financial situation is good and getting better. On the other hand, they’re worried they won’t be able to provide for their children.

On one hand, they want significantly more government spending in a wide range of public services. On the other hand, they say they pay too many taxes.

These are among the confused results of a wide-ranging economic survey obtained by JTA ahead of its publication Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. The survey results show widespread Israeli positivity when it comes to personal finances, disappointment in government and a desire for a broader welfare state on the Scandinavian model.

“These are people who, in the present, have a reasonable situation, but because of all of the change in the global arena, they’re very scared of the future,” said Tamar Hermann, the study’s lead author. “It’s not that someone is scared of the future because of his present situation. The situation isn’t totally bad; it’s pretty good. But we don’t know what will be in the future.”

Israel has had a relatively strong economy in recent years. The country joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations, in 2010. Its unemployment rate is around 5 percent, and its per capita GDP has risen from $26,500 in 2010 to $34,300 in 2015. The economy is growing 3 percent annually, according to the Bank of Israel.

But at the same time, Israelis have become increasingly frustrated with their economy. The past two Israeli elections have seen centrist, bread-and-butter-focused parties gain significant followings. In 2011, half a million Israelis took to the streets as part of a summerlong protest over the high cost of living. Smaller demonstrations took place the following summer.

Study author Hermann said the protests stemmed, in part, from the debt Israelis feel the government owes them in return for their mandatory military service. Most Jewish-Israeli men serve three years in the army, while women serve two.

“People say, ‘I pay with my life, in years of my life,’” she said. “They say, ‘We pay taxes and serve in the army. The state should take care of us.’ The feeling is the state isn’t giving enough.”

Recent data, in some ways, depict an unequal economy. According to a report by Israel’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israelis spend more on consumer goods in comparison to the residents of other OECD countries — particularly food. Only three countries in the OECD have greater income inequality, defined by the group as the difference in income between the richest 10 percent and the poorest 10 percent. More than one-fifth of Israelis live under the poverty line.

Frustration amid prosperity has resulted, according to Tuesday’s survey, in contradictory attitudes. Despite the economic challenges, the majority of both Israel’s Jews (59 percent) and Arabs (58 percent) are happy with their financial situation. More than three-quarters of both populations believe their economic situation will improve in the coming years.

But at the same time, majorities of Jews and Arabs worry they won’t be able to provide for their children or save money for the future. More than a quarter say they have trouble making ends meet each month. A quarter of Jewish and 40 percent of Arab contractors and freelancers expect to be unemployed at some point before they retire.

“The work market has changed,” Hermann said. “You don’t have tenure [anymore]. In high-tech, from age 45 on, you’re obsolete. There’s an element of fear here. Maybe [difficulties] won’t happen, but the fear is it will happen. That’s not even to mention wars and things like that.”

Israeli Jews in particular, according to the survey, look to the government to better their lives. Nearly 60 percent of Jews prefer a “Scandinavian model” economy, with high taxes and a robust welfare state, over an “American model” with lower taxes and fewer government services. Nearly half of Jews (45 percent) say they want more government involvement in the economy.

Majorities of all Israelis also want the government to spend more on the following sectors: health, police, education, academia, transit, welfare and housing.

But most Jews are critical of their government, according to the survey. Almost 62 percent say their tax burden is unfair. Most rate Israel’s civil service “poor” or “very poor” when it came to areas like efficiency, transparency and quality of service. And most say government improves when experts from the private sector join the civil service.

“Israelis are unlike some in the U.S. that consider the government part of the problem,” said IDI President Yohanan Plesner. “In Israel, people have very high expectations of the government to be involved and take responsibility. It means there’s a much greater need to ensure the government is effective in the provision of services.”

Israeli Arabs, on the other hand, report higher levels of satisfaction with the government than do Jews, but a majority (63 percent) prefer the low-taxes, fewer-services American model of government. Only about a quarter want more government involvement in the economy.

While Israeli Jews and Arabs differ on the role of government, neither trusts Israel’s political institutions. A 2015 IDI survey found that less than half of Jewish and Arab citizens trust the government, the Knesset and Israel’s political parties.

Plesner said Arabs may prefer fewer government services because, unlike Jews, they feel the government discriminates against them and is not built to serve their needs.

“There is perhaps less trust that if the government has a major role, that [Arabs] as a minority would benefit from it,” Plesner said. “Jewish Israelis have low trust, but high expectations.”

The poll surveyed 500 Israeli Jews and 100 Israeli Arabs from March 29 to April 3, and has a 4.1 percent margin of error.

Poll of Israelis: Clinton leads Trump 40-31; More trust Trump on security

A majority of Israelis think Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will be committed to safeguarding Israel’s security, while more think Hillary Clinton is the favored candidate from Israel’s standpoint, a new poll published on Monday showed.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly “>showed that 42 percent of Israelis think Clinton is the preferable presidential candidate from the standpoint of Israel’s interests, while 34 percent think Trump would be better for Israel.

Poll of Israelis: Hillary leads Trump 40-30

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s latest stream of controversial comments may have also cost him the support of the Israeli public, even more than his suggested “neutral” approach on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the AIPAC speech did not help him.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Peace Index poll published on Tuesday, 30 percent of Israeli Jews think Trump is the preferable presidential candidate from the standpoint of Israel’s interests, while 40 percent think Hillary Clinton would be better for Israel. Last month’s poll showed that 34% of the Jewish-Israeli public thought a Republican president will be better for Israel, compared to 28 percent who thought so regarding a Democratic president.

Clinton also leads Trump 43-24 as the preferable candidate from a U.S. standpoint.

Trump leads Clinton 28-10 as the candidate who will be a better president from the standpoint of Israel’s interests among Israeli Arabs. 36 percent see Clinton and Trump as good to the same extent.

Poll of Israelis: 58% see Trump as friendly

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump may have hit a nerve among Jewish voters in the United States when he suggested he would take a “neutral” approach on Israel, but not so much among Israelis.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Peace Index poll published on Sunday, 61 percent of Israeli Jews see Trump’s position on Israel as very or moderately friendly, 14% as not at all or not so friendly. The numbers are the same (58% vs. 13%) when matched among the general Israeli public, including Israeli Arabs.

The poll also showed that 34% of the Jewish-Israeli public think a Republican president will be better for Israel, compared to 28 percent who think so regarding a Democratic president. Thirteen percent believe that from the standpoint of Israel’s benefit, it makes no difference from which party a president will be elected.

Between the two Democratic presidential candidates, 40 percent sees Hillary Clinton as preferable from Israel’s standpoint. Only 16 percent preferred Bernie Sanders, who’s Jewish and stayed on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960′s.

Poll: Only 20 percent of Jewish Israelis see Arab citizens as ‘equals’

More than one-third of Jewish Israelis see their Arab fellow citizens as “enemies,” and only 20 percent said they consider Arab-Israelis their “equals,” a new poll has found.

The poll was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 600 Israeli Jews by the Institute for National Security Studies, which is holding its annual conference this week. It also found that 44 percent of Jewish Israelis see Arab-Israelis as “people who needed to be respected but also treated with suspicion,” Haaretz reported Tuesday.

The think tank’s poll, which is not yet available on its website, also interviewed 200 Arab citizens of Israel, finding that 70 percent identify as Israeli in some form, whether describing themselves as “Israeli Arab,” Palestinian Israeli” or “Arab with Israeli citizenship.”

Haaretz did not report the poll’s margin of error or the dates when the interviews took place.

Fifty-three percent of Arab-Israelis polled by INSS said they had “good relations with Jews,” while 19 percent said they did not have or were not interested in having contact with Jews. In addition, according to Haaretz, 70 percent said “equality of rights” for Arab-Israelis was their most pressing problem, ranking it above the issue of Palestinian rights.

Some of Israel’s highest-ranking officials, including President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, spoke at INSS’s conference in Tel Aviv this week. Speaking on Monday, Rivlin warned that an increasing number of Arab-Israelis are expressing support for the Islamic State, a topic not addressed in the poll.

“Research studies, arrests, testimonies, and overt and covert analyses – many by the INSS – clearly indicate that there is increasing support for the Islamic State among Israeli Arabs, while some are actually joining IS,” Rivlin said in his speech, according to a transcript shared by his office.

While noting that he did not blame the entire Arab-Israeli community, he said Arab-Israeli leaders need to do more to condemn extremism.

“I do not for a moment deny the responsibility of Arab leadership. Their condemnations — which sometimes sound forced, which are too feeble, too hesitant, that are spoken in Hebrew but are then formulated differently in Arabic — indicate, above all else, fear. More serious than this are those voices that blame the ‘occupation’ as the source of all ills, while displaying sympathy and understanding for attacks on innocents.”

Israel sees 25 percent drop in terrorist attacks

The number of terrorist attacks on Israelis decreased significantly in December over the previous month, Israel’s security agency said.

The Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, recorded in December a total of 246 attacks by Palestinians on Israel compared to 326 in November, the organization said in its monthly report released earlier this week.

The 25 percent drop led to fewer casualties. While November had 10 fatalities and 58 wounded from terrorist attacks, December had three fatalities and 44 wounded.

In the December report, the Shin Bet for the first time added the category “Jewish terrorism” to the synopsis of its monthly report. It listed only one incident: The hurling of two smoke grenades into a home near Ramallah, resulting in no injury.

Of the attacks against Israelis documented by Shin Bet in December, 183 involved the hurling of firebombs. All three fatalities were in stabbings.

The attacks are part of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “wave of terrorism” that began in September amid claims by Palestinians that Israel was plotting to increase its control over or destroy Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by security forces and civilians while carrying out the attacks and in subsequent rioting.

Since Sept. 1, the Shin Bet has documented over 1,415 attacks, which resulted in the death of 25 victims and dozens of wounded. Of those, 620 attacks occurred in October alone.

On Thursday night, Israeli troops in the West Bank killed a Palestinian man whom they said tried to stab a soldier. Earlier that day, three Palestinians were killed elsewhere in what the Israel Defense Forces said was an attempted stabbing attack.

The Settler and the Stone Thrower

I managed just a few words with Mohammed before the guards led him away. After I’d turned away for just a second, the only sound I could hear was the clink of his leg irons and he was gone.

I’d come to attend Mohammed’s trial at a military court as part of an Israeli group to show support for Mohammed and his family. I’ve gotten to know his family over the past year, particularly his father, Ziad, a prominent peace activist who has forged relationships with Israelis of all political stripes and affiliations. Now, with his 15-year-old son accused of throwing stones at Israeli cars near my home in Gush Etzion, we had come to show support for Mohammed and the family, and to encourage the judge to show leniency.

Not that I take a particularly forgiving stance vis-à-vis stone throwers. Like most Israelis, I understand the need for our expansive security regime in Judea and Samaria, especially at a time that Palestinian terror attacks are happening virtually every day. Many of my neighbours in Efrat, Tekoa, Alon Shvut and elsewhere have suffered stoning attacks, and the rocks being thrown are not pebbles. The attacks have killed more than one person and injured many more. It is significant to say openly that I do not have a better solution to dealing with Palestinian terrorists than court.

But to me, calling for stiff penalties for stone throwers means also seeing first-hand what that position looks like. And although the visit was my first experience in jail, it was the latest of a series of experiences I’ve orchestrated in the Palestinian world over the past several years, trying to understand the Palestinian experience of Israel. I’ve tried to listen to ordinary Palestinians, in refugee camps at checkpoints around Judea and Samaria, in the souks and casbahs of West Bank cities and more.

Lastly, at least in this case, I was convinced that that it would be better – both for Mohammed, and for Israel, to have him at home. There, at least his father would have the opportunity to demonstrate messages of peace and reconciliation, instead of the clear messages of hate and violence he would surely ingest in prison.

In many ways, our day in court was the closest I’d come to “experiencing” Palestinian life under Israeli rule, which in many ways is simply a life-long series of delays. Palestinian friends had warned us to plan to spend the whole day at the jail – the court does not issue hearing times, only dates, meaning families arrive early and wait. Through the iron bars, we could see dozens of Palestinian parents milling in an outdoor holding cell, surrounded by fences and topped by a corrugated tin roof that provides protection from both the summer sun and the winter rains. From the outside, it was not clear if there were any drinking fountains or bathrooms.

There is no accurate way to portray the look of despair on the faces waiting to see their loved ones, mainly teenagers and young adults. It was a look I’d seen before – every time I’ve joined Palestinians as they underwent Israeli security procedures at checkpoints, at Ben Gurion Airport, at the entrance to the local Rami Levi supermarket and elsewhere. It is a look that runs deeper than an immediate issue of being frisked or having a 19-year-old soldier gruffly ask to see an ID. It is a look that betrays a deep sense of emptiness, of humiliation, of utter hopelessness. Here, the Hebrew- and Arabic language sign reading Welcome to ____ Prison  seemed like a cruel joke, accented by the announcements shouted over the loudspeaker in what sounded to me like an aggressive, abrasive Arabic.

We greeted Ziad, shaking hands through the fence to his obvious joy and the bewilderment of the other Palestinians, who couldn’t quite grasp the fact that a group of Israelis – including Orthodox settlers – had come to court with him. Then, two hours after submitting our ID cards, we were finally admitted, again for a minor taste of the Palestinian experience. Each member of the group answered some basic questions, then waited for the soldiers behind the bullet-proof glass to open the iron turnstile leading to the first of three checkpoints. Two metal detectors and a body frisk later, we were inside a maze of iron and bars.

Inside the courtroom, the judge was professional, courteous and appeared to be caring. Reporters who cover West Bank Palestinians say that trials of teenage stone throwers routinely last fewer than five minutes, and that could certainly have been the case here were it not for our presence, and the plea for leniency, made by one settler on behalf of the group.

Eventually, the judge recessed the case to gather more information. (The hearing was a closed-door session because the defendant is a minor, so the Jewish Journal cannot reveal any more details about the case.) But he did appear to have been moved by our demonstration of support.

That put the other members of the group on a bit of a high as the guards led us back to the prison gate, nearly eight hours after we had arrived but hopeful that the judge would show leniency when it came time to sentence Mohammed…

For me, however, I headed home to hug my children, thankful for the safety provided by our security establishment but haunted by the sight of Mohammed’s mother, trying hard to suppress her tears as she headed home for another night without her son, with the clink of leg irons ringing in her ears.

Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Responding to Kerry article, Netanyahu blames Palestinians for lack of peace progress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the lack of progress toward peace in an apparent response to statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The time has come for the international community to understand that the reason there is no negotiation and no progress toward peace is not Israel’s fault but that of the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu said Tuesday during a tour of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command headquarters, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement released to the Israeli media.

Netanyahu cited a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research released Monday regarding Palestinian attitudes toward the two-state solution and stabbing attacks on Israelis, which said that 45 percent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution and 67 percent support stabbing attacks on Israelis. The statement inflated the percentages, however, saying that “some 75 percent of the Palestinians reject the two-state solution and about 80 percent support continuing stabbing attacks.”

“That’s not surprising because Abu Mazen is continuing constantly to stir things up with false propaganda about Al-Aqsa, false propaganda about executions and by rejecting any genuine attempt at coming to negotiations,” Netanyahu also said, referring to the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas.

A New Yorker profile of Kerry published Monday tracing his work with Iran, Syria, Israel and the Palestinians quoted the secretary of state as criticizing Israel for not knowing whether it wants a two-state solution or to become a binational state, and whether it wants to be a democratic state or a Jewish state. Kerry also criticized Israel for continued settlement building and demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists.

Obama calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘exercise restraint’

President Barack Obama, making a surprise address, told a Haaretz-sponsored conference in New York that Israelis and Palestinians must “exercise restraint.”

“Inexcusable violence has taken too many lives — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others,” Obama said via teleconference on Sunday morning at HaaretzQ, the liberal Israeli newspaper’s event with the New Israel Fund. “I’ve been clear that Palestinian leaders have to condemn the ongoing attacks and stop the cycle. Individuals responsible for violence, including violence against Palestinians, have to be brought to justice, and we call on both sides to work to diffuse tensions, exercise restraint, prevent more loss of life and restore hope.

“Of course, the best way to reduce tensions and ensure Israel’s own security is to continue working in concrete ways towards a two-state solution.”

A spate of attacks since October has killed 22 people, according to the Israeli government. In the same period, 106 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, police or civilians either while committing attacks or in their aftermath, on suspicion that they were about to carry out attacks or clashes with Israeli forces, Reuters reported last week.

The U.S. leader, who was not on the program of speakers, told the audience of approximately 600 at the Roosevelt Hotel that they would always have a partner for peace in him and in the United States.

“Peace is necessary, just and possible,” Obama said.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, in his keynote address noted his visit last week with Obama and emphasized that “the president’s commitment to a secure Israel is beyond any question.”

Saying peace is important for Israel’s safety and security, Rivlin said, “For that we need to think outside of the box.”

The conference, the first of its kind for Haaretz in the United States, is designed to provide a “unique platform for robust debate and intelligent reflection” on key issues regarding Israel, according to the newspaper.

“Isolated under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the editors of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper are coming to New York to try to restore a sense of reason,” Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote in the Daily Beast on Friday. “We begin by turning to our American friends whose voices have been drowned out for too long.”

Rivlin, saying he sometimes is “annoyed and angry” by what he reads in Haaretz, said however that the newspaper is “a beacon for freedom of expression in Israel” and “I am here today because I believe the free market of ideas is a holy principle.”

With Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans that accuses Israeli soldiers of mistreating Palestinians, presenting on one of the panels, Rivlin praised the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and earned vigorous applause.

“The IDF does everything in its power to keep the highest moral standard possible, even under impossible conditions,” he said, adding that no other army in the world is as moral.

Tzipi Livni, a Knesset lawmaker from the center-left Zionist Union party and Israel’s former justice minister, in her address criticized the settlements.

“Settlements don’t give security to Israel,” she said, “settlements take security from Israel.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO and a leading negotiator for the Palestinians, said the source of the current violence is failed peace talks.

“When every day we bury our loved ones — it’s for one thing,” Erekat said. “It’s our failure to achieve peace. It’s out failure to achieve a two-state solution.” He begged the audience not to give up on the idea.

Erekat insisted that Israel has a partner for peace with the Palestinians, saying the conflict with Israel is purely political. He also called the Islamic State terrorist group “criminals and thugs,” saying they have nothing to do with Islam.

Others scheduled to speak are the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh.

Most Israelis say terror wave isn’t intifada

Most Israelis, Jewish and Arab, say the ongoing string of attacks does not qualify as an intifada.

According to a poll released Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, the majority of Israelis say the current wave of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks that began in October is a “limited uprising.” The second Palestinian intifada a decade ago killed some 1,000 Israelis in a series of suicide bombings. Twenty-two people have been killed in the recent wave of attacks, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website.

Jewish- and Arab-Israelis disagree over whether the attacks are being planned by the Palestinian leadership. Sixty-one percent of Jews say the leadership has been involved, while 58 percent of Arabs say the attacks are spontaneous.

The two groups are also split on whether an Israeli-Palestinian accord would reduce the violence. Seventy-one percent of Jewish-Israelis say it would not, while 72 percent of Arab-Israelis say it would.

Two-thirds of Jewish-Israelis and 64 percent of Arab-Israelis fear for the safety of their loved ones due to the terror wave.

In wake of stabbing, Palestinians and Jews clash in Hebron

Hours after a Palestinian stabbed a Jewish man in the already tense West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinians and Jews clashed violently there.

In the aftermath of the stabbing Monday that left the Jewish victim critically wounded, dozens of Jewish residents marched in protest to Hebron’s old city, where they threw rocks at Palestinians, the Times of Israel reported.

The clashes, in which the Palestinians sent rocks back in retaliation, occurred outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are believed to be interred. The site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, houses a synagogue and mosque.

Israeli security forces forced the Jewish protesters to retreat to Hebron’s Jewish neighborhood and restrained Palestinian demonstrators. There were no reported injuries or damage.

In the attack, a 21-year-old Palestinian man stabbed a Jewish man in his 40s near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, leaving several wounds to his upper body. The victim was moved to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he arrived in severe condition, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli forces shot and killed the assailant, Ihab Fathi Miswadi.

Hebron, which is home to several hundred Jewish settlers and approximately 170,000 Palestinians, has been the site of several Palestinian terror attacks in recent days and has been the scene of some of the largest atrocities in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1994, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire at Muslims worshipping at the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque, killing 29 and wounding more than 125. In 1929, more than 60 Jews were murdered by Palestinians during a pogrom in Hebron.

Israeli government, military disagree over unrest

Two months into a wave of stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis, gaps are emerging between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the military and intelligence chiefs over what is driving the violence.

The rifts raise questions about whether the right tactics are being used to quell the unrest, the most sustained that Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank have experienced since the last Palestinian uprising, or intifada, ended in 2005.

While there is agreement between Netanyahu, the military and the Shin Bet security agency about broad aspects of the violence – that it is being carried out by “lone-wolves” active on social media and that tensions over the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have contributed – the deeper causes are disputed.

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused 80-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of directly inciting the unrest. He also describes it as a manifestation of Palestinians' hatred of Jews and unwillingness to accept Israel's right to exist.

“What is driving this terrorism is opposition to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, within any borders,” he said as he left for the climate talks in Paris on Sunday.

In contrast, the military and Shin Bet have tended to point to a variety of economic and socio-political factors that they see fuelling Palestinian anger and frustration, particularly among young men and women in the West Bank.

While they have criticized Abbas and his Fatah party for tacitly condoning the violence, including praising “martyrs” who have carried out stabbings, they have avoided accusing the Palestinian leader of inciting it directly.

“The motivation for action is based on feelings of national, economic and personal discrimination,” the Shin Bet wrote in an analysis last month. “For some of the assailants an attack provides an escape from a desperate reality they believe cannot be changed.”

At a cabinet meeting in November, the head of the army's intelligence division gave a similar description, leading to a row with at least one minister who was angry that the general's briefing was not in line with the government's position.

The details were leaked to Israeli media and confirmed to Reuters by a government source who attended the meeting.

Since Oct. 1, when the violence began, 19 Israelis and an American have been killed. Over the same period, Israeli forces have shot dead 97 Palestinians, 58 of whom were identified by Israel as assailants.


As well as differences in identifying the causes, there are gaps in the approach being advocated to quell the situation.

The military, which has been in the West Bank for 48 years and is minutely involved in maintaining stability, in coordination with Palestinian security forces, is pushing for pinpoint operations that target specific perpetrators.

Senior ministers who sit on Netanyahu's security cabinet want a heavier toll to be exacted on the Palestinian population, arguing that it is the only effective deterrent.

So far, Netanyahu has shown no inclination to launch a large-scale military operation, despite ramping up deployments in the West Bank by 40 percent and calling up reserve units.

He has also rejected suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that he offer concessions to the Palestinians to diffuse tension. Violence has to end first, he says.

Instead, there is a strong presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints across the West Bank, without the sort of iron-fisted tactics that marked the last intifada, although the homes of several attackers have been destroyed.

“This is about taking pinpoint action to tackle specific challenges,” a senior army officer told Reuters, saying operations focused on three particularly unruly areas.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said the military was trying to ensure that the bulk of the population, which is not involved in violence, is as unaffected as possible.

One example of the balance the military is trying to strike is in Beit Ummar, near Hebron, the most volatile West Bank city. On Friday a 19-year-old from the village, Omar Zaakiek, got into his car and drove into six Israeli soldiers, who shot him dead.

Within hours Netanyahu's security cabinet announced Beit Ummar would be put under “closure”, with cars barred from entering or exiting, except via a winding back road, and pedestrians having to pass through an Israeli checkpoint.

Locals accused Israel of collective punishment. The mayor said Zaakiek's family was told their home faced demolition, a tactic the army and Shin Bet have called counterproductive.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz acknowledged the rift between some ministers and the military and said the latter's policy of trying to isolate the attackers was flawed.

“It is legitimate to have an argument about distinguishing terrorists from the Palestinian population,” he told Channel 10 TV. “It is completely clear that the more you differentiate, the more your ability to deter is limited.”

So far Netanyahu has headed off the pressure. But the situation remains precarious. Given the complex roots of the violence, Michael said there was no military solution.

“This reality cannot last long,” he said. “Ultimately one side will make a mistake and the situation will spin out of control.”