March 20, 2019

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.”

Acclaimed Israeli Author and Peace Activist Amos Oz Dies at 79

Amos Oz died December 28 at age 79.

Renowned author and Israel Prize winner Amos Oz died Friday following a short battle with cancer. He was 79.

His daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger announced his death on twitter, stating: “My beloved father, Amos Oz, a wonderful family man, an author, a man of peace and moderation, died today peacefully after a short battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his lovers and knew it to the end. May his good legacy continue to amend the world.”

Born Amos Klausman in Jerusalem in 1939, Oz won dozens of awards for his work that included more than 40 novels, short stories, essays and articles. His 2002 memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness” was made into a movie in 2015 directed by and starring Natalie Portman.

Oz’s books have been translated into 45 languages. A finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2017, he was also a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A co-founder and a spokesperson for the Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) organization, Oz was a vocal proponent of a two-state solution. In November his book “Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land” – three essays adapted from his lectures about the state of politics in Israel today, was released in the United States.

Oz was quoted as saying that he wore his polarizing left wing views as “a badge of honor.”

Following his death, tributes poured in. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “One of the greatest authors Israel had to offer. Oz made endless contributions to the renewal of Hebrew literature, with which he deftly and emotionally expressed essential aspects of Israeli life.”

President Reuven Rivlin said, “Sorrow descends upon us as the Sabbath begins. A literary titan. Splendor of our authors. A giant of the humanities. Rest in peace, our beloved Amos.”

Oz’s wish to be remembered is probably best summed up in one of his own quotes:

“When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner in an out-of-the-way library somewhere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.”

Read David Suissa’s thoughts on Oz’s passing.

 

 

 

Housing Law Is Counter to Israel’s Spirit

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Update: On July 18, the Knesset passed the Basic Law.

Fifty years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was enacted. Commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, it prohibited various forms of discrimination “in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Since then, HUD has been monitoring trends in racial and ethnic discrimination in rental and sales markets. According to the most recent survey, conducted in 2013, while housing discrimination is illegal, in practice, it unfortunately exists: “(w)hite homeseekers are more likely to be favored than minorities. Most important, minority homeseekers are told about and shown fewer homes and apartments than whites.”

A case in point happened in 1973, when the Justice Department sued a management corporation and its president, Donald Trump, for alleged racial discrimination against Blacks who wished to rent apartments in the New York city boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. When Trump started making noises about a potential presidential run in 2012, rapper Snoop Dogg quipped: “Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time he pushed a Black family out of their home.”

Seriously, in the United States housing discrimination is prohibited by law and generally condemned by public opinion. In Israel, on the other hand, housing discrimination might not only become a practice, but officially allowed by law.

If all goes well for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then next week the Knesset will pass the Basic Law: Israel as the state of the Jewish people, which he had designated as one of his priorities. That Israel doesn’t need such law is besides the point. The world knows that Israel is a Jewish state, and whoever doesn’t recognize it will not be impressed by this law or another. The main problem with this law is that it shatters the already fragile Israeli democracy.

At the crux of this controversial bill lies article 7b., which says “the state can allow a community composed of people of the same faith or nationality to maintain an exclusive community.” That this idea has already been dismissed by the Israeli Supreme Court two decades ago didn’t deter the initiators of this bill. In 2000, Chief Justice Aharon Barak ruled on the case of the Ka’adans, an Israeli-Arab couple who had been refused permission to buy a plot or home in Katzir, a Jewish cooperative settlement in northern Israel. “We do not accept the conception that the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish state justify discrimination by the state between citizens on the basis of religion or nationality,” wrote Barak in his landmark ruling.

Likkud Minister Yariv Levin called the Ka’dan ruling a “disgrace” and “the destruction of Zionism.” Now, as one of the initiators of the new Nation-State Law, he serves his revenge. And if the Supreme Court insists on holding such discrimination illegal and unconstitutional? No worries, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is already advancing the “overriding clause,” which will enable the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions.

As always, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin stepped forward to save Israel’s soul. In an impassioned letter he sent on July 10 to the joint Knesset and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, he implored members of the Knesset (MKs) to re-examine the repercussions of the specific article: “I also ask for us to look inward, into the depths of the Israeli society: are we willing in the name of the Zionist vision to lend a hand to discrimination and exclusion of a man or a woman based on their origin?”

President Rivlin, who always knew how to reconcile his ardent Zionism with his liberal view, went on to warn the MKs that discrimination will not be limited to Arabs: “The bill before you allows any group, in the broadest of terms and without any monitoring, to establish a community with no Mizrahi Jews, Haredim, Druze and members of the LGBT community.”

What Israel needs in order to strengthen its Jewish character is more Jews who would seek to make the Jewish state their home. The way to accomplish that is by aspiring to become what the prophet Isaiah called “light unto the nations,” not by passing discriminating laws, which only undermine Israel’s democracy and tarnish its name.

Uri Dromi is the director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. From 1992-96, he was a spokesman for the Israeli government.

Netanyahu, Rivlin and Others Offer Insights at GA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Rivlin found a Fifth Tribe: Diaspora Jews

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

1.

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin is this year’s senior Israeli speaker at the GA, the annual gathering of the North American Jewish federations. And this is not an easy job: Los Angeles is sunny, and visiting the city is surely enjoyable, but Rivlin came here as the representative of an establishment that is not highly popular with the leadership of US Jewry. Some call it a “crisis” in Israel-Diaspora relations, some deliberately want to avoid the C word. Terminology aside, the Jews of America – well, many of them – are angry with Israel’s government, and feel betrayed, neglected, disrespected. They want to see change.

President Rivlin cannot give them what they want. Moreover, his speech in Los Angeles today reminded North America Jews that “we must all respect Israel’s democratic process. The decision-making process”. American Jews must respect it, and hence accept that their ability to pressure Israel into doing something that its leadership is reluctant to do it limited. President Rivlin himself respect it, and hence is reluctant to express his support for a specific position in the great debate about – well, what is it about?

2.

In a nutshell, Rivlin’s speech included 5 main messages:

  1. Israel is wonderful, and don’t you forget that.
  2. We Jews are partners in good times and bad times.
  3. Religion and State issues are highly politicized in Israel – and this ought to be taken into account.
  4. The Jewish world and Israel are changing, and we must understand and adapt to change.
  5. While we deal with secondary issues, let us not forget the important ones: Iran, anti-Semitism and other serious threats to Jewish existence.

3.

Refereeing to the “crisis” Rivlin used his vast experience as an Israeli politician – one of the most experienced and most successful politicians we have. He used it to remind his North American listeners that “Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish-democratic state, Religion and State is a political issue”. Obviously, most Jews in the hall do not like it, but Rivlin insisted on reminding them what this reality means: “Around five Israeli governments have fallen on questions like: ‘Can combat aircraft (not on mission) land in Israel on Shabbat?’ Or on the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ that is Democracy”.

Was he defending the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to renegade on the Kotel compromise? I would not go that far. Still, he was clearly at least somewhat sympathetic to Netanyahu’s political calculations. This isn’t some joke, he reminded the room, this is serious business of having to run a complicated coalition by delicately balancing conflicting outlooks and interests.

And as for the Kotel: “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue”. Note what Rivlin did not say: he did not say that there is need to go back to the deal that the government decided to scrap.

4.

The most interesting part of Rivlin’s speech was dedicated to his theme of “tribes” – a theme that Israelis are already familiar with. Israel is no longer a coherent society. It evolved and now has four main tribes battling for space, influence, resources, ideas – while also having to maintain a certain sense of partnership, because they are all partners who have a stake in the success of Israel. “from a society made up of a clear Zionist majority, to a society made up of four clear sectors or ‘tribes’, which are getting closer in size: The secular Jews, the National Religious Jews, the Haredim and the Arabs”.

Not everybody is happy with Rivlin’s formulation, and with the action he advocates based on it. But that’s not the issue for today. What was noteworthy about his speech today was Rivlin’s attempt at counting non-Israeli Jews as a fifth tribe. “we need the partnership with you, the fifth tribe, (and very important one), the Jews of the Diaspora”.

5.

To be a fifth tribe is an honor – you are one of us – and a burden – you are one of us. It means that Rivlin just complicated the choreography of the already complicated dance of having to make four tribes get along with one another. In his speech, he did not much elaborate on this idea, but make no mistake, he probably thought about it, and already has some ideas as to how such formulation can serve us in the field of Israel-Diaspora action.

Is the Jewish Diaspora a fifth tribe? Does it want to be a fifth tribe? This can be an interesting discussion – but a fifth tribe is surely better than a second people.

Still, there are complications. World Jews are no more a coherent group that Israeli Jews are – so maybe they should not be counted as a fifth tribe but rather be added to the four other tribes (three really: secular, Zionist religious and Haredi). Or maybe to include world Jews in this formulation of tribes there is a need to add more than a fifth tribe – maybe a fifth and a sixth and a seventh.

Also: to have world Jews counted as a tribe we must assume a partnership in something. This might be easier for the Jews, but can we add them to a partnership that includes Israeli Arabs? (it is of course possible: because world Jews and Arab Israelis share an interest in the success of Israel).

And there is the numerical issue to consider. There are eight million Israelis and about the same number of Jews in the rest of the world. Is it fair to count Israelis as four tribes – about two million strong each – and then count all other Jews as just one tribe – eight million strong?

One way or the other, a fifth tribe concept is something fresh to ponder, maybe as a little respite from endlessly talking about the unresolved issue of the Kotel.

6.

As for Iran, note that Rivlin agrees with Netanyahu – and he agrees with President Trump.

Excerpts from the President’s Speech at the GA

Screenshot from YouTube

Dear friends, I remember the first and only time that my father slapped me.

It was just after my Bar-Mitzvah. Some relatives from the United States came to visit us.

I asked them: “Why don’t you make Aliyah?”

I told them: “Israel is the only place for Jews!”

And then my father slapped me.

He said: “Jews need  to take care of each other, not threaten each other.”

That slap made me realize that the relationship between us, the Jewish People, must be based on one simple demand: mutual responsibility.

A commitment to the security and the wellbeing of all our People.

This commitment, must be stronger than any disagreements. We have the challenge of establishing our relationship as a value. a value that is above any argument.

As for the Kotel agreement. The development of the agreement was a sensitive process, led by our government, in order to try and bridge the gap. I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue. It is our mutual responsibility, and a common interest. At the same time,we must all respect Israel’s democratic process. The decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish-democratic state, Religion and State is a political issue. Maybe the most explosive one.

Around five Israeli governments have fallen on questions like: “Can combat aircraft (not on mission) land in Israel on Shabbat?” Or on the question of “Who is a Jew?” That is Democracy.

My friends, You have real, positive and effective impact on the Israeli system and society. We have built strong channels of cooperation on strategic issues. You have great impact on the Israeli agenda. I ask you, don’t stop.

As part of the challenge of building the relationship between us, We need to create an honest and open dialogue between the sides, this is our only way to move forward.

Today, Iran is establishing its control through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and up to the Mediterranean. This is not just a threat to Israel – It is a threat to the entire world. Iran is the number one exporter of international terrorism. It is a country whose leaders call openly for the destruction of the state of Israel.

We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. That is madness.

We must work together to prevent that.

The current agreement puts both Israel and the united states in danger, and shakes the stability of the entire region.

It is not enough to enforce all parts of this agreement. It has to be improved, so that we will be prepared for the day after it expires.

This is the Jewish and democratic state that we all dreamed of for two thousand years.

A state based on the vision of the prophets of Israel. A state that respects the unique identity of each sector in Israeli society, and in the Jewish people. A state that regards equality and fairness as its guiding light. A state that demands shared responsibility from all. A state that does not compromise on it’s Jewish identity or it’s vision of Jewish people-hood, while also having a vision of a shared Israeli-identity, for all its citizens. Jews and non-Jews alike.

We, the Pickles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

McMaster refuses to clarify U.S. position on Kotel

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaks to reporters in the briefing room at the White House on May 16. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

U.S. National Security H.R. McMaster briefed reporters about President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip overseas at the White House on Tuesday.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

The President’s Israel trip schedule: “The President will continue on to Jerusalem where he will meet with President (Reuven) Rivlin and lay a wreath at Yad Vashem. The President will then deliver remarks at the Israel Museum and celebrate the unique history of Israel and the Jewish people while reaffirming America’s unshakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East. Later that day, he will meet with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. That night, the President and the First Lady will join the Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu for a private dinner. The following morning, the President will meet President [Mahmoud] Abbas in Bethlehem where he will convey his administration’s eagerness to facilitate an agreement that ends the conflict, and he will urge Palestinian leaders to take steps that will lead to peace. And he will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and say a prayer at the Western Wall.”

The National Security Advisor was asked to respond to reports yesterday that U.S. officials told the Israelis that the Western Wall is part of disputed territory in the West Bank and not under Israeli sovereignty. A WH spokesperson said yesterday that the comments “do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.” McMaster, however, refused to clarify the Trump Administration’s position on the matter.

#1 – Reporter: Can you tell us if Prime Minister Netanyahu would join President Trump at the Western Wall? And does the President believe that the Western Wall is part of Israel?

McMaster: “No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall. He is going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme – to connect with three of the world’s great religions and to pay homage to these religious sites that he is visiting, but also to highlight the theme that we all have to be united against what’s really the enemy of all civilized people, and that we have to be joined together with an agenda of tolerance and moderation.”

#2 – Reporter: I want to follow up on Jennifer’s question which you didn’t answer about the Western Wall being part of Israel?

McMaster: “Oh, that sounds like a policy decision, you know — and that’s the President’s intention. And I did answer the question in terms of what his intention is whether to go with Israeli officials. The President’s intention is to visit these religious sites to highlight the need for unity amongst three of the world’s great religions – unity in confronting a very grave threat to all civilization and unity in embracing an agenda of tolerance.”

Amidst changing regional and international landscapes and bomb threats, American Jewish leaders return home from Israel

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, right, with Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. Photo courtesy of Chris Goldenbaum.

“This is a new era,” claimed Malcolm Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which safeguards the interests of the American Jewish community, sustains bi-partisan support for Israel, and addresses the critical concerns facing world Jewry.

The delegation of 110 leaders of America’s most important Jewish umbrella organizations returned home to continued bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers and organizations across the country following their mission in Israel after visits to Egypt, Morocco, and Greece.

Upon arrival in Israel, Hoenlein proclaimed that he is optimistic about opportunities for Middle Eastern partnerships to increase stability in the region.

“There is a new attitude, a new atmosphere, partly driven by instabilities in the region and partly by Iran. The messages we hear everywhere are the same: coming to terms [about the causes of instability in the region] and new approach [to addressing the causes],” Hoenlein said.

Before the Cyprus visit, Hoenlein cited successful meetings with Egyptian and Moroccan Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Ministers of Interior, heads of religious councils, royalty, ambassadors, and government officials. The important message of both meetings, said Hoenlein, were the new opportunities for recognition and aspirations for tolerance and countering extremist tendencies.

“There is great interest in looking at ways to cooperate with Israel as a central hub in this process,” specifically citing Israel’s energy capacities and desires to counter Iran’s nuclear weapons program that will serve as a further bond between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries.

The group also met the former President of Bulgaria, Rosen Plevneliev, who participated in the opening dinner with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “There is a recognition of desire to move away from the instability of the Middle East, and our meeting with the President of Bulgaria is an indicator of this,” said Hoenlein.

He added that there are other countries, “some of which would surprise you,” that have privately expressed their interest in being part of a Middle Eastern partnership. He hypothesized that under-the-radar private meetings will increase in the next year with these countries.

Among the discussions at the conference were lectures addressing the U.S.-Israel relationship under the new U.S. administration, reapplying pressure on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, keeping the United Nations accountable for delegitimization of Israel and anti-Semitism, countering BDS and growing anti-Semitism within the American public and on U.S. campuses, strengthening Jewish-Christian relations, building alliances with U.S. minority groups, promoting bipartisan support for Israel, and most of all, promoting unity within the American Jewish community.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also focused his address to the conference on keeping a united vision on Israel in the context of polarizing politics in the American Jewish community. “We cannot allow Israel to be a political football between different sides and ideologies,” he said.

Echoing Former President Kennedy, he exclaimed, “Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter, it is a national commitment.”

In terms of Israeli foreign policy, President Rivlin said, the three most important issues are “number one, our relationship with the United States of America,” “number two, our relationship with the United States of America,” and “last but not least, Israel’s relationship with the United States of America.”

In addition to meeting with Israel’s elected leaders and strategic thinkers, the conference delegates were briefed on the importance of free, objective, and accurate media in the U.S. and Israel, Israel’s regional dangers of ISIS and Hezbollah, minority communities within Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s entrepreneurship and investment in high tech fields.

Before departing back to the United States from Israel, the conference concluded with a daylong visit to Cyprus, featuring meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

Just as the conference began with successful meetings in Egypt and Morocco, so too did it end with an amicable meeting in Greece.

President Nicos Anastasiades announced, “In a world characterized by the rise of turmoil, extremism, sectarianism, and terrorism, Cyprus, and Israel—two countries at the heart of the Mediterranean that share the same values and common vision– are beacons of stability, and natural partners of the West in the Middle East.”

 

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, New York Daily News, Forbes, and The Hill.

Abbas declines meeting with Rivlin while both in Brussels

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin expressed regret that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declined to meet with him while the two leaders were in Brussels.

Martin Schultz, the parliament’s president, had offered to arrange and mediate the meeting while both Abbas and Rivlin were at the European Union to speak to the Parliament and meet with EU officials.

On Thursday morning, Schultz told Rivlin that Abbas had refused the meeting, the Israeli media reported, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official. Rivlin said he had welcomed the initiative.

He also said: “On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refuses again and again to meet with Israeli leaders,” Rivlin said.  Instead Abbas “turns again and again to the support of the international community.”

“We can talk. We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence,” the Israeli leader said.

Abbas’ office told Haaretz that no meeting had been planned with Rivlin.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday, Abbas blamed global terror on Israel’s control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

“Once the occupation ends, terrorism will disappear, there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” Abbas asserted.

He also reiterated Palestinian Authority support for a two-state solution based on the recent French peace initiative and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.

Also in his speech, in off-the-cuff remarks that do not appear in the PA’s official transcript, Abbas accused Israeli rabbis of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian water, a medieval anti-Semitic libel, Reuters reported. Reuters and other news sources could not verify that such a call took place, and the group that Abbas’ office cited as having provided the information denied providing such information.

In his speech to the parliament on Wednesday, Rivlin rejected the French peace initiative, saying it “suffers from fundamental faults.”

“The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it,” he said.

Biden returning to Israel 6 years after diplomatic row over building

Vice President Joe Biden will visit Israel for the first time since a 2010 trip set off a diplomatic row over Israeli building in eastern Jerusalem.

Biden is scheduled to arrive for a two-day visit on March 8, and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“His arrival will include leaving the plane, a red carpet and handshakes. There will be no welcoming ceremony and no speeches,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by Israel’s Government Press Office.

During Biden’s 2010 visit, Israel announced plans to authorize 1,600 units in a Jewish neighborhood of predominantly Arab eastern Jerusalem.

On Monday, the Hebrew-language news website NRG reported that unnamed senior Obama administration officials have appealed to Israeli public figures and government officials to refrain from announcing any new building in Jerusalem or the West Bank during the Biden visit. An unnamed U.S. official also reportedly told NRG, “Building for the city’s Arab sector would be welcomed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month before the visit was finalized that “Vice President Biden is a welcome guest in Israel anytime he decides to come here.” Biden and Netanyahu met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

Prior to visiting Israel, Biden will travel on March 5 to the United Arab Emirates, where he will meet with its crown prince and prime minister. After leaving Israel, Biden is scheduled to travel on March 10 to Amman, Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II and visit U.S. and Jordanian troops training together.

Israel’s Rivlin to UN envoy Samantha Power: Tell Abbas direct talks are urgent

Israel’s president told Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to send a message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: Direct talks are the only way to end their conflict.

Power, making her first visit to Israel as U.N. envoy, arrived on Saturday. Her four days in the area will include visits with Palestinian Authority leaders; she met on her first day with Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

“Power will discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, including the United States and Israel’s shared security concerns and close cooperation,‎ prospects for a two-state solution, and the importance of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the region” during meetings with Israeli officials, the State Department said in a statement.

On Monday, Power met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Rivlin called Power “a bridge between very decisive voices in the world, and we welcome you as one who can bridge gaps and as a real friend.”

He also said: “I know that you are meeting the Palestinians, and I would ask to transfer once again a message to President Abbas, that he must understand the conflict between us — the tragedy between us — can only be solved through direct negotiations. No solution can be imposed on either side, and we must negotiate to come to an understanding.”

Netanyahu told Power there is a direct connection between Palestinian incitement in schools and the media and the latest wave of terrorism and violence, and called on the international community to demand that the P.A. stop the incitement, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

During a speech to Israeli high school students later Monday, Power criticized the United Nations for its disproportionate criticism of Israel.

“Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea,” she said.

She also spoke in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said she hoped to see an official state of Palestine at the United Nations during her tenure.

On Sunday, Power visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Outrage over removal of Israeli flag at Haaretz Conference

The removal of the Israeli flag ahead of a Palestinian representative at the Haaretz conference in New York on Sunday is continuing to make waves and has sparked harsh criticism from Israeli politicians.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, an Israeli flag that was placed on the stage for the opening session of the newspaper’s inaugural conference at the Roosevelt in NY was removed from the ballroom moments before chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat took the stage.

Many participants criticized the move.

In an official statement released hours after the incident, Haaretz said, “Mr. Erekat’s team requested he not be made to speak next to the Israeli flag, and we honored his wishes.” In an interview with Army Radio Monday morning, Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken said, “Haaretz doesn’t hold conferences against the backdrop of the Israeli flag. Would the Office of the President agree to have a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag? I don’t think so. We did not place a Palestinian flag on the stage during Erekat’s speech. We had no intention of placing any flag on the stage. We placed it on stage at President [Reuven] Rivlin’s request, and removed it at Erekat’s request.”

During his address at the conference, Erekat stated that “Israel has a partner on the basis of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also said that the Palestinians have “recognized Israel’s existence and her right to live in peace and security in borders based on the 1967 lines.”

Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) called the incident “a disgrace to everyone involved.”

“Erekat is a senior Palestinian Authority official who for years has been involved in the negotiations with Israel. His refusal to address the conference against the backdrop of the Israeli flag is yet another indicator how willing the Palestinians are to achieve peace,” Elkin said, according to Israel Hayom. “This incident proves, yet again, that the problem we have with the Palestinian leadership is not a territorial dispute, but it lies with their inability to recognize a Jewish state within any lines.”

Added Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, “This is the vision of peace at the Haaretz conference in the US: to remove Israeli flags from the stage because of the demands of Saeb Erekat? It’s another record in contempt and self-effacement. And with whom specifically does Erekat intend to make ‘peace?’ With Ahmed Tibi?”

Yair Lapid, one of Israel’s leading opposition leaders, said the move “shows a loss of national pride by the far left in Israel.”

At the opening of the Yesh Atid Knesset Faction meeting Monday, Lapid said, “Imagine the outcry if an Israeli speaker at an international conference in New York had asked to remove the Palestinian flag. This kind of behavior leads us to a bi-national state. It is where the far left and far right come together, both are leading us down that path. It is time for a clear distinction in this country between the moderates and the extremes.”

“The Zionist left of Ben Gurion, of Rabin, would never have allowed something like this,” said Lapid. “This kind of behavior eats us up from the inside and we can’t go on like this.”

The Haaretz conference also featured speeches by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Joint Arab List party leader MK Ayman Odeh, as well as a video message by President Barack Obama.

Odeh was treated like a rock star at the conference. His speech was constantly interrupted by raucous applause and standing ovations, almost equivalent to Netanyahu’s reception at AIPAC’s annual conference. “The conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved,” Odeh declared. “the occupation is the Palestinian people’s tragedy, but it is also Israel’s prison. We must liberate both peoples from the prison of occupation.”

Last week, Odeh sparked controversy when he ditched a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after learning that the group shared office space with the Jewish Agency and other pro-Israel organizations.

Rivlin’s appearance at the conference raised criticism back home for agreeing to participate in a conference that included “Breaking the Silence,” a group that accuses the IDF of war crimes. Rivlin addressed the issue at the start of his remarks by saying, “From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation.”

Meeting Rivlin, Obama reaffirms ‘unbreakable bond’ with Israel

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon, the first such meeting between the two.

Speaking to reporters at the start of the meeting, Obama said the meeting with Rivlin gives an opportunity to “reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our two countries and our two people.” 

“We consider our commitment to Israeli’s security to be one of the most important principles of American foreign policy. It is one that is shared by Democrats and Republicans alike,” the president said. “I’ll discuss with President Rivlin the work that we’re doing to develop another memorandum of understanding that can lay the foundation for additional long-term assistance for Israeli’s defenses.”

Obama also said the two would discuss the ways in which the US can be “helpful in tamping down tensions between Israeli’s and Palestinians” and “the challenges that we all face from terrorism, from instability in the Middle East.”

“Although obviously this is a time at which the prospects of a serious peace may seem distant it is important that we continue to try,” Obama said.

President Rivlin remarked, “The obvious should be said from time to time and even be written, Israel has no greater friend than the United States.” 

He thanked Obama for financial, military and diplomatic help that the US had provided Israel on his watch. The Israeli President compared Obama to the “Shammes” – the middle candle that kindles the 8 candles. “The Shamash is not a civil servant — it is the leader. The leader who, with him, we are lighting all the candles. And we know, Mr. President, that you have lit the candles for the last seven years to show the way and the right way to your people and to the entire world,” Rivlin explained. “And we are very sure that the eighth candle that you will light in the next year will be the same — to show the whole world how to go in the light and to be able to fight everything that we should not accept and we should not get along with.” 

Rivlin added, “We have no war with Islam. We [are in] war against those who are using ideas in order to create extremism and threats towards the whole innocent people in the world.”

He said he and his wife were looking forward to the Hanukah reception later on at the white house.

Netanyahu, Rivlin meet after more than 2-month hiatus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin met in Jerusalem for the first time in more than two months.

The meeting on Friday, which was reported two days later, was considered routine, and covered the regional diplomatic situation, recent news developments, the fight against terror and the security situation in Jerusalem, according to reports.

The meeting at the president’s residence in Jerusalem came after reports surfaced that the monthly meetings between the two leaders had been suspended over differences in foreign policy. Netanyahu and Rivlin had met at least once a month since Rivlin became president a year ago, but their last meeting was on July 17.

“I think we’ve exhausted our differences vis-à-vis our relations with the different international systems,” Rivlin said in an interview with Army Radio earlier this month. “Until these things are off the agenda, it seems we don’t need to meet because it seems each one is busy with the same issues.”

In interviews with the Israeli media in early August, Rivlin publicly criticized Netanyahu’s handling of relations with the United States and President Barack Obama.

Rivlin was not the prime minister’s choice for president, and Netanyahu actively worked against Rivlin’s election.

Rivlin: Nation’s right to West Bank not debatable

Israel’s right to the West Bank “is not a matter of political debate,” President Reuven Rivlin said.

Meeting Monday with West Bank leaders, Rivlin also said that “settlement of the land of Israel” is an expression of that right.

Rivlin called the settlers “pioneers,” saying that they “pay along with the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the heaviest price.”

“The settlements are at the forefront of the struggle, and the price paid by the settlers is a painful price indeed,” he said at the meeting at his residence in Jerusalem with nearly 20 heads of regional and municipal councils, including Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh. “We must, and are able to, deal with the current wave of terrorism, to fight it, and not allow anyone to disrupt our daily lives.”

Rivlin added: “Our sovereignty in this land means responsibility for all those who live here, and obliges all of us to uphold the strictest of moral codes, which is inherent in each and every one of us. I know that the settlement movement as a whole has confirmed this moral and ethical stance, and I want to strengthen and encourage you, on this clear standpoint.”

Roeh told Rivlin that the unofficial freeze on building public infrastructure and development in the West Bank is “causing serious harm to the citizens and the children.”

Rivlin to GOP congressmen: Israel will defend itself against Iran

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told a delegation of visiting Republican Congress members that Israel “can and will do all that is necessary to defend itself” in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

“Along with Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum, I am deeply concerned about the recent nuclear deal signed with Iran,” Rivlin told the group at a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. “We stand together in a partnership, established on the strong foundations of common values, and a shared vision, deeply rooted in democracy, the values of liberalism, and human rights for each and every citizen.”

The delegation, which is being led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority leader, is from the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Rivlin called Israel’s allies, including the United States, “a strategic cornerstone for us.” He added: “The U.S.-Israel relationship has known ups and downs. We must not be alarmed by disagreements when they arise. Whatever Congress decides, it will be your decision as representatives of the American people. We, as your allies and partners, must make sure that whatever the result of this vote, our strategic alliance stands and grows even stronger.”

Later on Tuesday, another congressional delegation visited the Temple Mount and was harassed by a group of Muslim men. The tour of the site holy to both Jews and Muslims was interrupted first by worshippers who yelled at the lawmakers, making them unable to hear their guide, and then by guards from the Muslim Waqf, the religious administrators of the site, The Jerusalem Post reported. There was no physical contact.

During its visit, the group also toured Israel’s southern border with Egypt, the Golan Heights near the border with Syria and West Bank settlements.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., led the tour, which was organized by the Israel Allies Foundation. The foundation works with Congress and parliaments around the world to mobilize political support for Israel.

Israeli president calls on P.A. to act against terrorism surge

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at a Ramadan break-fast meal with Arab leaders called on the Palestinian Authority to act against a recent surge in terrorism.

Addressing the uptick in attacks by Palestinians against Jewish targets since the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Rivlin said at his Jerusalem residence on Sunday night, “We are working extensively to ensure a festive atmosphere in the Palestinian areas, but the Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to act decisively against terrorists seeking to sabotage our daily lives here.”

Rivlin emphasized building trust between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.

“The citizenship of the Arab residents of the State of Israel is not a goodwill gesture,” he told the Arabic media before the Iftar meal. “It is the citizenship of individuals and of a society which is part and parcel of this land; this land is their homeland, the State of Israel is their home. I am happy that Arab community leaders and citizens see this house as an address to raise their concerns, and I hope that this cooperation will go from strength to strength.”

Sunday night also marked the end of a Jewish fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, marking the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 C.E. following a long siege.

“Today it so happened that we all fasted together, Jews and Arabs,” Rivlin said. “For all of us, the purpose of this fast is not to discipline the body, but to cultivate in our minds and spirits compassion and kindness, and opening our hearts to the one another.”

Rivlin decried recent animosity between the Jewish and Arab communities and called for the leadership on both sides to build trust and cooperation.

“These have not been easy weeks for anyone who loves this country; for those who believe we have the ability and the duty — as Arabs and Jews — to live together. At this time, in the face of those on both sides who seek to fan the flames, we cannot and must not remain silent,” he said.

Netanyahu’s efforts to form Israeli government go down to wire

Benjamin Netanyahu, locked in down-to-the-wire coalition talks, faces a midnight deadline to form a government or risk being denied a fourth term as Israel's prime minister.

Nearly two months after a convincing election victory, Netanyahu is struggling to build a solid parliamentary majority, with a former ally abandoning him this week.

The key to his political future now lies with the ultranationalist Jewish Home party, which advocates annexation of parts of the territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Shortly after the March 17 vote, Netanyahu and his Likud party appeared to be coasting toward a right-leaning government with control of 67 of parliament's 120 seats.

But on Monday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose once-strong relationship with the Israeli leader turned sour long ago, dropped a bombshell by taking his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party out of the coalition talks.

That left Netanyahu with the support of two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and a centrist faction, a total of 53 seats, making the addition of Jewish Home's eight legislators crucial for a majority.

Such a narrow government would make Netanyahu vulnerable to policy demands from even his most junior coalition partners, continuing a long tradition of unstable politics.

Jewish Home is certain to push for the expansion of Jewish settlement, a policy that could deepen Israel's rift over the issue with its main ally, the United States, and the European Union.

The party's leader, Naftali Bennett, has called for the annexation of parts of the West Bank. That goes beyond Netanyahu's pledge to continue to build in settlements in areas Israel intends to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

Bennett is also a strong supporter of a bill, promoted by Netanyahu, that would anchor in law the status of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Critics, among them Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, have said it runs counter to the founding fathers' vision of equality for Arab citizens.

RIGHT-WING LEGISLATION

Other proposed legislation likely to be pursued by a new Netanyahu government would seek to limit the power of the Supreme Court to overturn laws passed by parliament and tighten controls over foreign donations to left-wing organizations.

Zeev Elkin, a Likud negotiator, said Bennett was demanding the justice minister portfolio for Jewish Home, a post critical to the smooth passage of cabinet-approved legislation to parliament for ratification.

“I think this is extortion, I have no other way of describing it,” Elkin said on Army Radio. But political commentators predicted Netanyahu would bend.

The 14-day extension Rivlin granted Netanyahu to announce a new government, after an original 28-day period ran out, expires at midnight (05:00 p.m. EDT).

Under Israeli law, Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator, with Issac Herzog, leader of the centre-left Zionist Union, the likely candidate.

A coalition pact between Netanyahu and Herzog would ensure a broad government, but the Zionist Union chief has not strayed from his post-election pledge to take to the opposition benches.

For Princess Charlotte, a pretty in pink gift from the Israeli president

Who knew Israeli President Reuven Rivlin had such a keen fashion sense?

As the media frenzy surrounding the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s second child continued through Monday, Rivlin and his wife, First Lady Nechama Rivlin — grandparents of six — sent the newborn British princess a frilly pink dress that reads “From Israel With Love.” The dress also includes a heart charm and a hamsa, a Middle Eastern symbol of success and protection from evil.

“We would also like, through your good offices, to convey a warm message of congratulations and good wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their daughter, sister to Prince George, and to wish them much joy, health and happiness,” the Israeli president and first lady wrote in a letter to Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William’s grandmother.

Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diane, who was born on Saturday, will be called Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge and will be fourth in line to the throne. She will also have a nice head start on her royal wardrobe.

When William and Kate’s first child Prince George was born two years ago, then-Israeli President Shimon Peres sent him a shirt, pants, hat and tie outfit with an even more Israeli theme. It also included the “From Israel With Love” tag but in addition featured a blue-and-white color scheme.

Given Kate Middleton’s renowned fashion sense, Rivlin chose a very appropriate way to say “Mazel tov” to the royal couple.

Amid protests, Rivlin visits Hebron and Kiryat Arba

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivered a speech at the inauguration ceremony for a new Jewish museum in Hebron amid protests.

Speaking Monday at the Hebron Heritage Museum, which commemorates the 1929 riots in which Palestinians in the West Bank city killed dozens of Jews, Rivlin said “we can and should try” to encourage “dialogue” there.

Several dozen demonstrators — a mix of Palestinians, leftist Israelis and foreign activists — protested the visit, and Palestinians said Israeli soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators, Yahoo News UK  reported.

The Jerusalem Post described the  encounter between police and protesters as a “small scuffle” that ensued “until security forces dispersed the protesters.”

Also Monday, Rivlin visited the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. In 1994, a Jewish settler murdered 29 Palestinians during prayer services at the mosque there.

“We are in an election season. We are permitted to disagree, but we must not degrade each other, not on the right and not on the left,” Rivlin said in an address in Kiryat Arba. “Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens are entitled to respect. We established a Jewish and democratic state here, a state that’s as committed to its Jewish principles as to its democratic ones. We are all equal and obligated by the law.

“Organizations on the left asked me to boycott the Jewish community in Hebron,” Rivlin said, adding that right-wing activists had asked him to decline an invitation to speak next month at an event organized by the Haaretz newspaper and partly funded by the New Israel Fund.

“I did not cancel my visit to Hebron as I would never cancel my participation at Haaretz’s conference on democracy,” Rivlin said.

Approximately 700 Jews and 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron.

Peres at Rabin memorial: Ruling over others against Jewish values

Israel cannot protect its Jewish and democratic character without peace, former President Shimon Peres said at a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin.

“Peace has become a derogatory term. There are those who say that those who believe in peace are naive, not patriots, delusional,” Peres said Sunday night to thousands of people gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv for the event. “But I say to all those in a clear voice, those who give up on peace are the ones who are delusional.”

Rabin was assassinated 19 years ago by Yigal Amir, who remains in jail. Wednesday marks the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar of the assassination.

“Ruling over another people is against our values as Jews. To pursue peace is a mitzvah. It’s also very practical, very Jewish,” Peres said.

The Israeli Peace Initiative and November 4th groups were among the organizers of the memorial, which featured a more political overtone.

A second memorial, sponsored by a coalition of groups from the left and right, including youth movements, is set for Saturday in Rabin Square. President Reuven Rivlin will serve as keynote speaker at the rally, which will remember Rabin’s life and legacy, the Dror Israeli Movement announced Sunday.

 

Israel must export self-criticism

It was unsettling to hear Israeli President Reuven Rivlin say last week, “The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment.”

Rivlin was referring to the resurgence of animosity between Israeli Arabs and Jews in the wake of the Gaza war, but he could as easily have been referring to any number of Israeli “ills” that demand “treatment.”

I used to be really bothered by this kind of harsh self-criticism, especially when it came from Israelis themselves. Do our enemies really need more ammunition against us? Do we Jews really need to wash so much of our dirty laundry in public?

I still have sympathy for those sentiments, but only because Israel is the only country in the region engaging in such self-reflection and self-criticism. 

Imagine for a second the shockwaves throughout the world if we heard these words from the leader of Saudi Arabia: “The time has come to admit that Saudi Arabia is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment.”

We would have to pinch ourselves if any Arab leader would declare, for example: “Decent societies depend on human rights, women’s rights and gay rights; on freedom of speech; freedom of religion; accountable government; an independent legal system and great universities.”

Imagine if the young people who risked their lives protesting during the long-gone Arab Spring would hear their Arab leaders say things like: “It’s time we stop blaming others for our problems and start taking responsibility for our own people and our own future.”

This kind of talk can only happen in cultures that encourage people to speak up and think for themselves. It can’t happen in a culture of fear, as we see now in Egypt, where political activist Sanaa Seif was sentenced last week to three years in prison simply for protesting what Amnesty International has called “Draconian” anti-protest laws.

As much as I admire the freedom to protest in Israel, it saddens me that of the 21 countries and territories in the Middle East and North Africa monitored by Freedom House, Israel is the only country classified as “free.” We seem to take for granted that Arab countries can’t catch up to Israel on the freedom front, but isn’t that the bigotry of low expectations?

Yes, Israel is paying a price for this imbalance. After all, if only one country in the region routinely points out its shortcomings — and much of the world picks on that country as well — how can one not conclude that Israel is deserving of the worst condemnations?

In the long run, though, it’s worth paying that price. It’s not a coincidence that Israel is a global leader in scientific and cultural innovation and that its economy is so far ahead of any other in the region. Behind this phenomenal success is a restless culture of self-criticism and responsibility that keeps the country on its toes and propels it forward. 

Israel’s shortcomings are legion — from social and economic injustices, to ethnic discrimination, to the high cost of living, to its failure to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians — but so are its armies of critics and activists who fight to expose these faults and to make the country a better place. This makes for a noisy and messy society, with much of the noise coming from the criticism itself.

Sometimes it’s tempting to look at this criticism — as when President Rivlin called Israel a “sick society” — and throw your hands up in disgust. But it’s the second part of Rivlin’s statement — the part where he said the illness “demands treatment” — that is really Israel’s secret sauce. The very conference at which Rivlin was speaking, “From Hatred of the Stranger to Acceptance of the Other,” is evidence of that secret sauce. Such efforts at self-correction happen throughout the country on every issue. It’s not always pretty, and it often fails, but that is Israel — an imperfect country in a continuous state of correction. 

Now, imagine if all the countries of the region had the chutzpah — from the top down — to openly admit that their societies are sick and demand treatment. Imagine if they emulated Israel’s messy system and created a social and legal culture with the power to tackle chronic problems like the oppression of women and the absence of economic opportunities. The freedom and power to make things better is the beginning of true hope. 

Israel may have a lot of good things to export to its Arab neighbors, but for my money, its most essential export should be its culture of relentless self-criticism.

A truly sick society is one that refuses to call itself sick. 

Presidents of Israel, Poland tour new museum on Jewish history

The presidents of Israel and Poland together took a guided tour of a new museum of Jewish life on Tuesday that tells the story of how Poland was for centuries home to a flourishing Jewish community before becoming a graveyard for Jews in World War II.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, and their wives, walked side by side through the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where the main exhibition opened on Tuesday.

Poland is associated with Auschwitz, Treblinka and other death camps on its soil where Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews. But it had also been home for 1,000 years to one of the world's largest Jewish communities.

“…For centuries this multi-confessional, multi-national republic was for them a safe place and, generally a friendly place, a beautiful exception on the map of Europe,” Komorowski said in a speech at the opening.

“This colourful, rich world was destroyed by World War II, was destroyed by the Holocaust,” he said.

The museum, on the site of the Warsaw ghetto, charts that history by displaying Jewish life in Poland over the centuries, from times of peace to the pogroms they suffered.

“Only these parallel tales of heroism and pettiness, of sacrifice and crime, of life and death, can bring us together again,” said Komorowski.

The museum building, a modernist glass cube, was paid for by the Polish state while the main exhibition is financed through donations, many from Jewish entrepreneurs who emigrated from Poland to the United States.

The mass murder of Jews was perpetrated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany. But there were instances of Poles betraying Jews who were in hiding to the Nazis, and of Polish people killing Jews.

In one of the deadliest examples, residents of the Polish town of Jedwabne herded its Jewish community into a barn and set fire to it. There were also cases of Poles saving Jews from the Nazis by hiding them or facilitating their escape.

The Israeli president said the opening of the museum showed Poland was changing.

“As time passes Poland is becoming braver in confronting itself and confronting its past,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Rivlin attends ceremony marking Arab-Israeli massacre and calls for ‘repair’

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Kassem and attended a memorial ceremony marking the 1956 massacre that killed 47 town residents.

Rivlin on Sunday became the first sitting Israeli president to participate in the annual ceremony.

“We must look straight at what happened in the Kfar Kassem massacre and teach all the future generations about it,” Rivlin said during the ceremony. “A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired.”

Rivlin said that the Arab sector in Israel “has suffered from years of discrimination” and that “many Arabs in Israel are faced with racism from Jews.”

At the same time, he called on the Arab-Israeli community “to act responsibly and denounce violence and terrorism.”

Rivlin asserted that: “The Arab population will always be part of the flesh and blood of the state of Israel.”

He promised that no one would be “pushed out” of the country, but at the same time stated that “the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership. Along with this, the Jewish public must understand, that the ambition of so many, to live alongside a Zionist Arab minority, which proudly sings the Hatikvah (national anthem), will not and cannot be realized.”

The ceremony was held at the local community center and was attended by members of the municipal council, representatives of the families of those killed and injured in the massacre, community leaders, and students from Kafr Kassem and the neighboring Jewish community of Rosh Haayin.

Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2007 apologized for the massacre during a visit to the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in December.

The massacre occurred on Oct. 29, 1956 on the first day of the war in the Sinai. A curfew had been imposed on the village, but the town’s residents were not aware of the curfew. They were shot and killed by Israeli troops as they returned home from work.

Eight of the soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to prison.

 

Israel’s Rivlin seeks to cure ‘disease’ of racism

Israel’s president fills a largely ceremonial role — meeting with foreign dignitaries, representing the government at state funerals and other official gatherings. But the office’s new occupant has embraced a challenge not inherent to the job: curbing what he sees as an epidemic of anti-Arab racism.

“Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease,” Reuven Rivlin, 75, told a group of Israeli academics on Sunday.

The Likud party elder statesman has been Israel’s most vocal politician in recent history on issues of racial discrimination and violence within the Jewish state. And he’s taking on the issue at a particularly challenging moment, when as he explained in his speech, “the tension between Jews and Arabs within the State of Israel has risen to record heights, and the relationship between all parties has reached a new low.”

Of Israel’s population of some 8.9 million people, about 20 percent is Arab.

Strong condemnation of anti-Arab racism in Israel is generally the province of the country’s Arab and left-wing politicians. So Rivlin, who opposes Palestinian statehood and advocates annexing the West Bank, does not seem like an obvious candidate to take up the cause. But despite his position on the two-state solution, the president has a reputation for defending civil liberties and minority rights within the land that Israel controls.

Rivlin took office in July — as the war between Israel and Hamas intensified and just weeks after three Jewish extremists captured and burned alive a Palestinian teen. The teen’s murder was a revenge attack for the kidnapping and deadly shooting of three Israeli teenagers in June.

But nearly two months after a cease-fire was declared, Arab-Jewish tensions have not waned. Last Tuesday, Jewish extremists burned a West Bank mosque, damaging prayer books and rugs. The same day, reports emerged of three Jewish brothers beating a Palestinian construction worker. And the following day, Arab protesters at the Temple Mount injured three policemen in riots that continued across Jerusalem throughout the week.

Then on Sunday, dozens of Jews moved into buildings overnight in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, the second such move into the primarily Arab neighborhood this month. The next day, Arabs threw firebombs at the building in protest.

Rivlin has also called for an end to racism in high-profile TV appearances, in Facebook posts and at a recent dedication ceremony for a Jerusalem road bearing the name of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. And he made headlines last month when he notably recorded a video with an 11-year-old Arab-Israeli, George Amira, who had endured homophobic bullying at school. In the video, which went viral, Rivlin and George sit side by side in silence, holding up sheets of paper that call for an end to “violence, hostility, bullying, racism” in Israel.

“He said I was a courageous kid,” George told JTA. “He said he has friends who don’t have that courage.”

Former Likud minister Dan Margalit, who grew up with Rivlin in Jerusalem and served alongside him in Knesset, told JTA that Rivlin’s anti-racist activism stems from a commitment to traditional revisionist Zionism. The ideology espouses Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel, including the West Bank, as well as democracy and minority rights for Israel’s Arab citizens.

Although he supports Israeli annexation of the West Bank, the former longtime Knesset member broke with his party by opposing a 2010 law that criminalized boycotts of goods produced in Israeli settlements. The same year, Rivlin attempted to block the Knesset from stripping an Arab-Israeli lawmaker of her parliamentary privileges as punishment for participating in the flotilla operation to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Ruvi stayed the course,” Margalit said, using Rivlin’s nickname. “Racism is one of the worst attitudes and crimes you can think of. We were persecuted and killed by racists for generations, so to think there would be racism in our country is horrendous.”

Because Israel’s presidency is ceremonial, Rivlin’s power to advance policy changes is limited. Case in point: His predecessor, Shimon Peres, had little impact on Israeli government policy toward the Palestinians despite constantly calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace during his term.

“I think there’s a limit to what the president of the state can do,” said Gadi Gvaryahu, chairman of Light Tag, a coalition that opposes anti-Arab racism. “He can cry out from time to time, or protest from time to time, but the trends happening here are difficult and profound, and if the government doesn’t have a clear policy, even the president can’t influence.”

On the issue of racism, the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank that researches Israel’s democratic institutions, is developing a curriculum to teach tolerance and pluralism. It is also setting up a task force to review existing anti-racism laws in Israel.

Mordechai Kremnitzer, the institute’s vice president of research, met with Rivlin on Sunday and is optimistic that the president will endorse its initiatives.

Activists for Arab-Israeli rights told JTA that racism demands forceful action from Israeli lawmakers. But some said they appreciate that Rivlin is raising an issue that had been largely ignored and feel he is creating a more conducive atmosphere for coexistence.

“The Arab public finds itself in despair from the amount of racist incitement and racist attitudes that exist,” said Jafar Farah, chairman of Mossawa, an organization that advocates for Arab-Israeli rights. “When suddenly Rivlin’s voice rises, people say maybe there’s a chance. Maybe we can live a shared life in this state.”

 

Rivlin: Violence an epidemic in Israeli society

The epidemic of violence permeates every sector of Israel, the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, said in an address.

“It is time to honestly admit that Israeli society is ill – and it is our duty to treat this disease,” Rivlin told the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities on Sunday at a conference titled “From Xenophobia to Accepting the Other.”

“The tension between Jews and Arabs within the State of Israel has risen to record heights, and the relationship between all parties has reached a new low,” he said. “We have all witnessed the shocking sequence of incidents and violence taking place by both sides. The epidemic of violence is not limited to one sector or another, it permeates every area and doesn’t skip any arena. There is violence in soccer stadiums as well as in the academia. There is violence in the social media and in everyday discourse, in hospitals and in schools.”

The president added that he has been verbally abused, including on his Facebook page.

Rivlin said that Israeli academia can play a “crucial role” in reducing violence in Israeli society.

“The academic sphere, in which cultures and languages ​​are taught from a desire to get to know them deeper, where there is a ‘you and I’ affinity, there is a place which generates not only learning but also a real encounter,” he said.

Rivlin called on the academy to be “a space which prepares a new generation of Israeli citizens to talk to each other, and especially to learn how to listen to each other.”

Palestinian mosque in West Bank torched in suspected arson

A mosque was set alight in a suspected arson attack in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday and the name of an Israeli vigilante group called “price tag” was found scribbled on an outside wall, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the incident in Aqraba, a village east of Nablus, and urged Israel's police chief to head an investigation adding that the case “should be treated as terrorism”.

The “price tag” group has carried out scores of attacks on Palestinian, Israeli Arab, and church property in the West Bank and inside Israel since 2008. The group says it aims to exact a price for any opposition to settlement building.

Residents told Reuters they noticed smoke coming from the building before dawn and rushed to douse the flames, which damaged a carpet and blackened one of the walls.

“If we hadn't rushed to put out the fire the entire building could have gone up in flames,” said Maher Fares, a villager.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official from the Nablus area, said he suspected Jewish settlers in the area had carried out the attack. The settlement of Itamar is about 2 miles north of Aqraba.

“They broke a window and threw a firebomb into the mosque which burned the carpet,” Daghlas said.

Hebrew script reading “price tag” had been scrawled on the outside of the mosque, a Reuters cameraman said.

Rivlin demanded a wider crackdown against the vandals. Many suspects arrested in the past have been minors who are released without .

“We cannot continue to regard incidents like these as marginal. Rather, we must uproot them,” a statement from his office said.

“If we do not act decisively, we will all pay the 'price tag',” Rivlin also said.

Reporting by Abed Qusini and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Luke Baker and Raissa Kasolowsky

A rare and peaceful ‘Eid Kippur’ in Israel

This year, for the first time since 1981, the Jews’ biggest fast overlapped with one of Islam’s biggest feasts.

The two holy days, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Eid ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice, or Eid for short), have polar-opposite energy levels: Eid is about abundance and is celebrated by Muslim Palestinians with a flurry of barbecues, mini Ferris-wheel rides, family reunions and shopping trips.

Jewish Israelis observing Yom Kippur, in contrast, sink into such a deep state of prayer and repentance that even the secular among them don’t dare start an engine or crank a stereo. For one day each year, the Israeli airport shuts down and the nation’s streets empty out; even police vehicles turn off their sirens. 

So, while the world marveled over “Eid Kippur,” as it came to be called, the holiday overlap set off warning bells for leaders of mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel.

“All of us were expecting clashes — a very black situation,” said Raies Abu Seif, a 43-year-old criminal attorney and community leader in the central Arab-Jewish city of Ramle.

Conflict wounds were fresh. A devastating 50-day war between Israel and Gaza had ended only one month before, ripping hundreds of families apart. And soon after, just days before the holidays, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state voiced new extremes at the United Nations General Assembly: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the war a “genocide,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Gaza’s government to ISIS.

Perhaps to compensate — and to avoid violent riots like the ones that hit the northern town of Acre on Yom Kippur 2008 — Jewish and Muslim leaders across Israel launched a vigorous campaign urging tolerance on Eid Kippur.

Palestinian children in Jerusalem’s Old City wait in line for their turn on a mini Ferris wheel set up for the Eid holiday.

On Oct. 2, Israel’s newly anointed President Reuven Rivlin met with Muslim leaders on neutral territory — the majority Christian town of Kafr Yassif. 

“As with any meeting of worlds, the coincidence of these holidays this year has all the ingredients to be a source of friction, just as it offers every reason to be used as an opportunity to repair and make a fresh start,” Rivlin said.

And a few miles away in Acre, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the local sheikh was telling a room full of junior-high school students: “We have a life and a future, but sometimes there is a small minority that waits for the moment to wreck it all. Don’t let them. Don’t let anyone from the Jewish side or the Arab side dirty the beautiful picture of Acre.”

These pleas from the top were apparently heeded on Eid Kippur, when, according to Muslim and Jewish residents who spoke to the Journal, a tragic and tense summer gave way to a remarkably peaceful fall holiday.

Ramle attorney Abu Seif guessed that perhaps the hype was so intense that everyone overcorrected. 

“After a situation of big anxiety — many talks, many meetings, publications on Facebook and all the media asking, ‘How will we overcome this day?’ — it was actually very quiet. I was very surprised,” he said.

In fact, said Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi, “It was better than most days.”

According to Mayor Lavi, the city received zero complaints on Oct. 4 from city residents. From his own home, too, the mayor said he heard “nothing — not a thing. The city was absolutely quiet during Yom Kippur.”

In Ramle, an interfaith council made up of more than 40 community leaders met for several Eid Kippur-themed meetings in the weeks before the big day. 

During these talks, the council’s Muslim members ended up making some key concessions: For the first time ever, three of Ramle’s main streets would be blocked off from traffic, and mosques would be required to turn down their loudspeakers.

Abu Seif also said he knew of many Muslim citizens who made the personal choice to walk, instead of drive, to the mosque for morning prayers. Others, he said, postponed the sacrifice of the lamb — normally performed on the first day of Eid — to the second day.

Some younger Muslim residents were somewhat frustrated about the dampened festivities, Abu Seif said. “Today the younger people have more awareness about their identity, and about their Eid” than on the last holiday overlap circa 1981, he told the Journal. “They know more about their rights.”

But in the end, he said, “They know this happens only once in about 33 years. And they know the importance of Yom Kippur, because their families are living here many, many years.”

According to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, in all the mixed Arab-Jewish towns across Israel where police deployed extra forces, the only incident on Oct. 4 was a local brawl in Haifa. (“But not necessarily because of the holiday,” he added.)

In Jaffa — the old Arab port town annexed into Tel Aviv in 1948 — a car full of young men sped down a main street on in the afternoon of Oct. 4, music blaring from its open windows. The Orthodox Jews whose prayers drifted from a nearby synagogue, though, didn’t seem to mind. Just a few buildings down, a stream of secular young Israeli Jews ran through the alcohol stock of a corner shop owned by an Israeli-Arab who had doubled his prices for Eid Kippur.

“Eid Kippur: One set of Jaffa neighbors blasting Israeli pop, another has Cheb Khaled on repeat,” journalist Gregg Carlstrom tweeted. “Coexistence through bad music.”

One hour east, within the stone confines of Jerusalem’s historic Old City — where deeply religious residents are packed tightly into four quarters, divided by faith — the day went just as smoothly, Jewish and Muslims residents later told the Journal.

“We stayed on our side, and they stayed on theirs,” said Muslim teenager Basel Jaber. An Ethiopian-Israeli security guard standing near the Western Wall, who did not wish to give his name, confirmed as much.

A couple of days later, on Oct. 6, across the Old City near the exit to the world-famous Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, an elderly man from Gaza with tears in his eyes said he and his wife had just prayed at the golden monument for the first time since they were teenagers. 

“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “I wish my sons and daughters could be here.”

The 75-year-old, who didn’t want to give his name for fear that Israel might deny him a permit to visit the mosque next year, was one of around 1,500 Gaza citizens over the age of 60 allowed into Jerusalem and the West Bank over the three days of Eid. 

On Oct. 6 in Jerusalem, a Muslim woman shopped for Eid ul-Adha while a group of Jewish women carried home palm fronds for the upcoming Sukkot holiday.

This flow of visitors reportedly marks Israel’s most significant ease of its blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Thousands of West Bank residents also were allowed to visit friends and family in Israel during the Eid holiday. One of them, Hamud Abdalla, a 20-something Palestinian tour guide from Bethlehem, said he was granted a three-day pass into Israel with only four days notice. (He said he’d applied for a pass before but wasn’t approved.)

On his first day in Israel, Abdalla took a one-hour shared taxi ride west to Tel Aviv and saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in his life.

“Oh wow, it was so amazing,” he said of the sea. And of the many Jewish people he met at the beach, he said: “They were very open-minded. Everywhere you go, you see happy people. 

Abdalla guessed this ease of restrictions also helped feed the Yom Kippur calm.

Abu Seif, the attorney from Ramle, agreed. “If you release things and people have more movement, there will be more understanding,” he said. “The people will be more at ease, not feeling anger and hatred. Because the more you put people under pressure, the more you find them frustrated, conflicted.”

As chapter closes, Shimon Peres hailed by normally divided Knesset

In the midst of a grinding war in Gaza, a sometimes near-empty Knesset gallery was packed last week for an uplifting moment: what probably was the final political act of Israel’s elder statesman.

Shimon Peres — former Israeli prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and now former president — stood before the Knesset for the last time as a public servant on July 24, just prior to the inauguration of his successor, Reuven Rivlin.

Facing his professional home for almost all of the past six decades, Peres gave a farewell speech that traced the arc of his long career, recounting Israel’s past, defending it in its present predicament and offering hope for its future.

“We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony,” Peres said. “And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.”

It was a toned-down ceremony due to the continuing conflict in Gaza and was an inauspicious time for Peres, 91, to be exiting the political scene.

For decades, the man who in 1994 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping engineer the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords has repeated over and over that peace is within reach and could be achieved in his lifetime. Yet the final months of his presidency saw the acrimonious collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the murder of four boys — three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teen — and Israel’s bloodiest military offensive in five years.

Peres is known today as a peacemaker, but he began his career in the Defense Ministry, helping to cement a close military alliance with France in the 1950s and developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Peres advocated the settlement of the West Bank and Gaza.

Only in the 1980s, as Labor Party leader, did Peres become the peacenik he’s known as today. And it was only after he left party politics for the presidency, in 2007, that he rose above the parliamentary rivalries and failed leadership bids that had embroiled and foiled him over the previous few decades to become the unifying figure he is today.

Peres is the phoenix of Israeli politics. From hawk to dove, from faction leader to uniter, he has ridden the wave of Israeli history and somehow stayed afloat while others fell, faded away or died. It is that history that makes Peres one of the few Israeli leaders who could deliver the speech he did last week: at once vociferously defending Israel’s offensive in Gaza while als0 calling for an aggressive approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“There is no place to doubt our victory,” Peres said, adding immediately: “We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.”

In a political career that spans 55 years, Peres has never prevailed in a popular election. He became prime minister in 1984 after his party, unable to form a government, entered into a unity coalition with the Likud. He also occupied the post briefly in 1977, after Yitzhak Rabin resigned, and in 1995, after Rabin’s assassination.

The peace treaty Peres yearns for has yet to be signed. But whether or not peace comes in his lifetime — though in his tenth decade he still appears energetic — his starring role in so much of Israeli history has earned him a respect that transcends political divisions.

At the Knesset session on July 24, Peres received thunderous applause from a generally divided house.

The man who succeeds him, Reuven Rivlin, is in many ways Peres’ opposite. Rivlin is a lifelong Likudnik; Peres has bounced between three parties. Rivlin wants to annex the West Bank; Peres prefers a two-state solution. Rivlin has pledged to focus his efforts on healing Israel’s internal divisions; Peres at times has acted like Israel’s second foreign minister.

Though he is no longer a government official, Peres is unlikely to disappear. He intends to continue working for regional reconciliation at his Peres Center for Peace and he still will be a presence in the media and at international conferences.

And Peres’ story remains woven into the history of Israel — its successes, its failures, its frustrations and its resilience.

“When I return and meet the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear,” he said near the end of his speech. “Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey, and the miracles of Israel.”