July 18, 2019

EU Caught in the Middle of U.S.-Iran Nuclear Showdown

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmit attend a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran’s July 1 claim that the Islamic Republic had surpassed the amount of enriched uranium it can possess under the limits imposed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

The JCPOA is a 2015 agreement aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear drive. It was signed by Iran along with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and the United States, the last of which pulled out of the deal in 2018, claiming it was not strict enough.

Iran says it will further speed up its program in terms of the level of enrichment if steps are not taken to relieve the economic strain that re-imposed U.S. sanctions have placed on the country’s economy. It gave July 7 as the target date for exceeding the stipulated enrichment levels of its stockpile.

The IAEA’s findings will do nothing to ease the already sky-high tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which says its adherence to the rest of the agreement now depends on Europe, which is trapped in the middle of the face-off between Washington and Tehran.

In an effort to save the nuclear deal, senior diplomats from the U.K., China, France, Germany and Russia met with Iranian officials in Vienna on June 28. They announced that a trade mechanism called INSTEX, designed to circumvent U.S. sanctions, was now operational. But Iran says that is not enough.

Still, Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said the wording of the meeting’s final statement indicates the diplomats believe solutions can be found.

“There has been some progress made,” she said. “[Even if] Iran officials said this is not enough to essentially stop Iran from going [past] its stockpile threshold, if you look at wording that came out of the joint commission on [June 28], there is a sense that through diplomatic means, they may be able to solve the stockpile issue.” 

Geranmayeh said how the situation unfolds hinges largely on how much progress Iran sees in the talks and how much oil it will be able to sell. Tehran has had conversations with Beijing and OPEC regarding oil exports, she said.

U.S. Special Representative on Iran Brian Hook has given the Europeans an ultimatum, saying the EU can either trade with the United States or do business with Iran.

“No company of note has chosen Iran [over the U.S.],” Mohamed Ismaeel, assistant researcher at DERASAT, the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies, said in an email.

“As a result, while European countries may support the deal, they cannot ensure the Iranian economy continues to benefit in any way,” he said. “I believe the Iranians are attempting to push the Europeans into a corner [saying they will not stick to the nuclear deal] as a final negotiation tactic to see if the Europeans can provide anything of note to assist the Iranian economy — the Iranians have little to lose and no cards to play but this one.”

According to the International Monetary Fund’s April 2019 report, Iran is facing a 37.2% level of inflation since the Americans re-imposed sanctions last year.

One implication of the growing tensions will be an increase in the number of cyberattacks by both sides, according to Yossi Mansharof, Iran and Shiite expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Haifa University. He said Iran already had used its “significant cyber capabilities” to attack “vital” targets in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, including oil infrastructure.

“I believe the Iranians are attempting to push the Europeans into a corner [saying they will not stick to the nuclear deal] as a final negotiation tactic to see if the Europeans can provide anything of note to assist the Iranian economy — the Iranians have little to lose and no cards to play but this one.”
— Mohamed Ismaeel

“The [recent] shooting down of the U.S. drone by Iran was very dangerous for [Iran], and they realized they had crossed a red line with [President Donald] Trump,” he said. “So now … they will move their offensive operation to the cyber field.” 

Although the EU also opposes Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the Middle East and its negative role in various arenas in the region, its insistence on preserving the nuclear agreement and its persistent efforts to establish a mechanism for evading American trade sanctions are encouraging Iran to escalate its subversion throughout Europe, Mansharof said.

“The plan of the radical wing of the regime headed by [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is to expend more pressure on Europe to get economic concessions from it,” he explained. “From the very beginning of the nuclear deal, the Revolutionary Guard did not want [it]. Since the pragmatic wing [in the Islamic Republic] is very weak, it is very easy to understand why Iran is acting like this.”

Iran is hitting back to convince the United States to ease its maximum-pressure campaign, as it feels isolated and in a state of economic war with the U.S., according to Geranmayeh.

“Iran is signaling that actions from the U.S. are going to be costly, not just for Iran but for the region as a whole, whether by the energy market being disturbed or U.S. military assets disturbed,” she said, noting that Iran had determined that the “strategic patience card” was not working.

“It will come at a cost,” she continued. “Iran will not abide [by] the [nuclear] agreement while sanctions [are in place].”

She said it was difficult to determine how Trump would react to such a strategy as he has not eased sanctions on China or other countries, although he did reverse his decision on a retaliatory military strike after the drone was shot down.

Iran wants to make a deal, but on its own terms, Mansharof said, noting that during the previous decade and under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State group, it had built up transnational Shiite networks in Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq.

“Iran spread out its influence and if it wants to, it can target American soldiers and bases across the Middle East,” he said. “From an American point of view, [if Europe bypasses the sanctions], it is financing the radical wing of the [Iranian] regime.”

Iran also has warned Europe that along with a continuation of its nuclear program, it will work on the development of long-range missiles that can reach Europe, according to Mansharof. 

DERASAT’s Ismaeel noted that the current tensions also could destabilize the entire Persian Gulf region, which he believes is key to the stability of the world in general.

“Gulf security is world security, and if Iran chooses to escalate [the situation], there will be a globally negative effect — oil prices will skyrocket, as will gold, and world trade will be under huge threat,” he said. “Iran seeks to destabilize the region and has for the past few years threatened our security. I hope the current situation helps in curtailing Iranian negative behavior, even if only from a financial perspective.”

Essentially, Mansharof said, neither side actually wanted a war, and Iran was biding its time, waiting for the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the hope that Trump will be voted out of office while at the same time making sure that the current administration is not taking further steps in the military field.

“We can never say never, and [if there is] even one more attack by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, I can see Trump having no other choice and attacking Iran just to hold his [credibility] as president,” he said. 

Sanctions of this measure had never previously been imposed on Iran, Mohamed said, and Tehran currently is under maximum pressure.

“These sanctions are the only way forward, and they are effective,” he added. 

The ECFR’s Geranmayeh sees things differently. While Iran might not actually want an outright war with the U.S. if it continues to feel squeezed into a corner, she said, it could feel it has “less to lose and very little to gain” by taking no action, inching the possibility of war even closer.

Holocaust Survivor Inspires in ‘Reinventing Rosalee’

Scene from “Reinventing Rosalee”

By any measure, Rosalee Glass has led a tough life. Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1917, she and her husband, Abraham, were forced to work in a Siberian labor camp during Word War II. Their newborn son died there, from starvation. After the war, the couple was transferred to Kazakhstan, where they lived in a chicken coop and had a baby girl who died from tuberculosis and malnutrition. 

The Glasses eventually escaped in 1951 with their new son, Manny, and headed to Miami, where their daughter Lillian was born. However, the couple soon was separated when Abraham, suffering from tuberculosis, was sent to a sanitarium in Colorado for three years. Rosalee stayed in Miami with the children. 

Finally reunited in 1954, Rosalee and Abraham spent the next four decades together until Abraham’s passing in 1996. Then, in 1999, Manny went into anaphylactic shock, was rushed to hospital and died following a botched intubation.  

Rosalee sank into a deep depression, so Lillian brought her mother to live with her. “I took her to the finest restaurants,” Lillian told the Journal. “She wouldn’t touch her food. I took her to the theater and films but nothing would work. She would just wail and scream and be in a daze. And then, all of a sudden [in 2003], she woke up one morning and it was like the clouds parted.”

Rosalee declared that she wanted to live. And not just live, but live her life to the fullest. “I wanted to make myself happy,” she told the Journal.

Despite the fact that she was already in her 80s, Rosalee starting taking piano lessons, dived into tai chi, took tango and boxing classes, and learned French. In her 90s, she got an agent and embarked on a successful acting career, starring in commercials for Google, Porsche and Hallmark, and appearing in a Super Bowl commercial for Dodge. For her 100th birthday, she went to Alaska to ride with sled dogs, started an online life-advice service called Rosalee’s Personalized Advice and released a book, “100 Years of Wisdom.” 

In her 90s, Rosalee got an agent and embarked on a successful acting career, including appearing in a Super Bowl commercial for Dodge. For her 100th birthday, she went to Alaska to ride with
sled dogs.

In 2018, Lillian made a movie about her now 102-year-old mother’s inspirational life story, called “Reinventing Rosalee.” The film has been shown at 92 film festivals around the world and has won 45 awards. It shows Lillian and Rosalee’s travels around the globe between 2005 and 2017, culminating with Rosalee’s 100th birthday celebration.

During their travels, the globetrotting mother-daughter team visited Poland, Italy and Russia. They toured Stalin’s dacha in Russia — where Rosalee got a kick out of using his private toilet — and buried photographs of relatives that died in the Holocaust in Poland. 

While on a tour of the Vatican in 2005, they stumbled across the coronation of Pope Benedict XVI, where the pope and his priests blessed them both. “That was very good,” Rosalee said. “I felt like a new person.” 

The film also tells Rosalee and Abraham’s love story, using old photos and footage that Lillian found. According to Lillian, the first thing Abraham said to Rosalee when he met her was, “I’m going to be with you for life.” Then, on his deathbed, the last thing he was said: “I was with you my whole life.”

“They had a beautiful life together,” Lillian said.

When people watch “Reinventing Rosalee,” it inspires them to call up their parents and spend time with them while they can, Rosalee said, adding that the film also shows that “it’s not too late to live your dreams. It’s about really going for it and choosing life and not being bogged down by the smallness or pettiness of life. Rosalee’s secret to a long life is that she has no hate in her or prejudice or negative feelings. Everything is positive, and that makes such a difference.”

Rosalee said she is looking forward to her 102nd-and-a-half birthday in June. And for everyone who wants to know how to live to 100, Rosalee has one simple tip: “Have love in your heart.”

“Reinventing Rosalee” was released May 7 on Digital HD, VOD and DVD. 

Schiff Pushes Back Against Calls For Resignation

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 30 about the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is pushing back against those that are calling on him to resign from his position as chair of the House Intelligence Committee and from Congress.

Addressing his Republican colleagues in the House Intelligence Committee on March 28, Schiff said there was more than enough evidence to support that President Donald Trump and the Russians colluded during the 2016 election.

“You might say that’s all OK, you might say that’s just what you need to do to win, but I don’t think it’s OK,” Schiff said. “I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think its unpatriotic and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”

The calls for Schiff to resign began after special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation last Friday. A four page summary of Mueller’s findings by Attorney General William Barr said that there was no evidence to support that Trump colluded with the Russians during the 2016 election.

On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that Schiff should resign from Congress.

As chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating possible collusion between Trump and the Russians, Schiff has been one of the most vocal Democrats arguing there was collusion.

Schiff has demanded the release of the full Mueller report by April 2.


Israel’s Hard Choices in Venezuela

Those old enough will remember when Iran kidnaped American diplomats at the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979. That hostage-taking of Americans was real.

In Venezuela, the tiny Jewish community has reason to fear that the desperate Maduro regime might also really “take it hostage” for any number of reasons. The Trump administration has asked Israel to back America’s campaign to support Juan Guaido, leader of the democratic opposition, against Maduro’s dictatorship. Elliott Abrams is playing a critical role as the U.S. special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela.  Because of legitimate concerns for the safety of Venezuela’s dwindling Jewish population, Israel had to tread carefully. On the other hand, the Venezuelan regime has long been a legitimate menace to Jews — and not just in Venezuela. This is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone ahead and recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

Just last month, the Iranian government launched a destroyer with stealth properties — allowing it to avoid radar detection — that will be based in Venezuela. Rear Admiral Touraj Hassani Moqaddam of the Iran navy has announced, “Among our plans in the near future is to send two or three vessels with special helicopters to Venezuela in South America on a mission that could last five months.” Iranian intermediate-range missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland have been based in Venezuela for years. Russia, Cuba and Maduro’s Venezuela have had a triple military alliance.

When Hugo Chávez was alive, the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report documenting Venezuela’s descent into authoritarian rule. Casualties so far: fair elections, an independent judiciary, an uncensored media, freedom of religion, the rights of political prisoners. Now, there is mass starvation, bloodshed in the streets and accelerating flight abroad. Beneficiaries are narco-terrorists financed by Chávez, like those who a few years ago threatened Colombia, who could menace the U.S.’s southern border.

Expelling  Israel’s ambassador in 2009, Chávez’s frightening mutual admiration society with geno-cidal anti-Israel Iran was paralleled by his special relationship with Sheikh Nasrallah of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, identified by Interpol as the perpetrators — at Iran’s behest — of the murderous 1994 attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr Al-Din — formerly charge d’affaires at Venezuela’s embassy in Syria and director of political affairs at its embassy in Lebanon — as one of the key “facilitators and fundraisers” for Hezbollah.

Chávez was long associated with extreme leftist Venezuelan anti-Semites such as William Izarra, Diego Salazar, Juan Salazar and Kléber Ramírez, as well as extreme rightist anti-Semites from Argentina such as Norberto Ceresole, Aldo Rico and Mohamed Seineldín. In 2003, his government-controlled media incessantly equated “Hitler and Sharon.” In 2004, while Chávez was on a state visit to Iran, his police mounted a 6:30 a.m. raid on Caracas’ Club Hebraica, which had a Jewish day school attended by 1,500 children. The children of the Caracas Jewish community were held hostage while Chávez’s uniformed thugs ostensibly looked for contraband arms smuggled in from Israel. Chávez blamed “the descendants of the same ones who crucified Christ.”

Chávez revealed himself not as the latter-day Bolívar he claimed to be but as a new incarnation of fascist Juan Peron. His inspiration was Argentina’s leading Peronista ideologue, Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole, author of the anti-Semitic blueprint called “The Plan.”

The writing on the wall — boycott threats, synagogue takeovers, desecration of Torah scrolls and pipe bombings — could have been set to Wagner’s apocalyptic music. Is it any wonder then that the Exodus of Venezuela’s Jewish population — including disproportionately younger and wealthier members — continues, including to Israel?

With so much already on its plate, Israel had unpalatable choices in Venezuela. Netanyahu should be commended for making a difficult but wise choice by recognizing Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman is a historian and co-author of “From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, African Americans.”

Does Trump Work for Russia? Let Mueller Do His Job

Special Counsel Robert Mueller

When it was reported in the past week that President Donald Trump frequently talked to his aides last year about his desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, alarm bells went off across the political spectrum and around the world. Such an action would have almost certainly precipitated the end of NATO, thereby eliminating the foundation of the post-World War II security structure and leaving both the United States and its Western allies at serious risk to the increasing threat of Russian aggression.

Given Trump’s resistance to admitting Russian interference in the 2016 election; his extremely solicitous behavior toward and secret conversations with Vladmir Putin; and the suspicious dealings with Russian government representatives by Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser Michael Flynn, his son Donald Jr., and his son-in-law Jared  Kushner, it would be logical to assume that he is acting in obeisance toward one of the world’s most authoritarian and belligerent leaders. 

But Trump has been complaining about this country’s financial commitments to international organizations for more than 30 years. So it is also reasonable to conclude that Trump’s long-held nationalistic and isolationistic tendencies that have driven his thinking on trade, immigration and security policy led him to the conclusion that a coalition like NATO had outlived its usefulness. Alternatively, one could make a plausible argument that Trump’s threats were nothing more than negotiation brinksmanship, an aggressive (and fairly successful) effort to force our allies to increase their financial contributions to the alliance.

We don’t know yet which of these motivations drove Trump, but that hasn’t stopped most of us from convincing ourselves that we do. And most of use have come to those conclusions based less on our knowledge of U.S.-Russian relations or geopolitical history than our opinions about immigration, climate change and Brett Kavanaugh. The president has become a Rorschach test for most voters, and most of us now view his individual policy decisions almost completely within the context of our broader regard — or disregard — for him. But that means that we often leap to conclusions before we have all the facts at hand. Resisting that impulse requires a level of patience and perseverance, which, understandably, is in short supply.

When it comes down to it, we don’t know if Trump works for the Russians. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller does know — and appears to be very close to telling the American people what he knows. At least for now, whether you happen to believe that Trump is a criminal, a hero, an isolationist, a snake-oil salesman or some combination thereof, that has to be good enough.

“Don’t get me wrong. … If Trump has been doing Putin’s dirty work — wittingly or unwittingly — then he should be removed from office and sentenced to prison.”

Don’t get me wrong. I would like to know just as much as you if the president of the United States is an agent of this country’s most significant geopolitical foe. If Trump has been doing Putin’s dirty work — wittingly or unwittingly — then he should be removed from office and sentenced to prison. If his actions are simply bluster and braggadocio from a narcissistic chief executive, more conventional political remedies are available through the 2020 election. And if this was a misbegotten scheme to open a hotel in Moscow that spiraled into something far more nefarious, then Congress, under its powers established by the U.S. Constitution, will have to decide what to do about a corrupt leader of the executive branch.

At some point in the weeks or months ahead, Mueller will submit his report. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will then decide whether the information in that report justifies initiating impeachment proceedings, and if it does, the Republican-controlled Senate will decide whether to follow suit. Removing a sitting president from office requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, so Trump’s fate ultimately will be decided by exactly 20 GOP senators. Their votes will be determined by the veracity of Mueller’s conclusions and the strength of his arguments.

Why the civics lesson? Because the process described in the preceding paragraph is going to take a very long time. More than two years passed from the beginning of the Watergate hearings until Richard Nixon’s resignation. The charges against Bill Clinton were defeated in the Senate roughly 13 months after his relationship with Monica Lewinsky became public. If Trump is impeached, the process is unlikely to conclude until some point at the height of the 2020 presidential election. Which means that those 20 Republican senators will be making their decisions in the middle of one of the most polarizing and divisive campaign seasons in American history.

Either consciously or intuitively, Trump understands this. The lesson he has internalized from his years on the national political landscape is that he gains nothing from attempting to persuade undecided or skeptical voters to join his team. His victories have been almost entirely predicated on his ability to motivate his most dedicated supporters. He has seen that his ability to leverage Republican members of Congress depends on his base’s willingness to pressure their elected representatives into falling in line behind him.

The midterm elections showed the limitations of Trump’s approach. His allies not only were outnumbered by his opponents, but those opponents were much more motivated than his troops — the result of which was a historic Republican defeat in the House of Representatives. But Trump’s efforts to excite the GOP base in red-state Senate races preserved his party’s majority in that chamber, reinforcing his belief that he can prevail only when he’s able to incite his backers to a fever pitch.

One other thing about those 20 Republican Senators: Trump knows he cannot broaden his foundation of political support to convince them to save him. His only option is to inflame GOP loyalists to a level of outrage against his — and their — enemies. While Trump is highly skilled at rousing his supporters, he is even more talented at goading his opponents into a frenzy. He is highly aware that high-dudgeon Democrats can inspire Republican fury just as effectively as he can.

Along with this scorched-earth communications strategy, Trump’s personal makeup requires a constant state of highly visible bellicosity as well. An old quote, attributed at various times to Irish author Brendan Behan and basketball player Dennis Rodman, says, “The only bad press is an obituary.”

Or, as Trump stated in his book, “The Art of The Deal”: “Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.” 

Over the course of a career in the ferocious New York City media market, Trump learned how to fight for space on Page Six and for time on Howard Stern’s radio show. Trump saw that turning unfavorable attention into something favorable is much easier than trying to get an audience to listen when it is barely aware of your existence. This approach brought him tremendous benefits once he announced his candidacy; as the ongoing conflicts and controversies he provoked on the campaign trail allowed him to completely overshadow his more measured rivals. While Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio played by old-school Marquess of Queensbury rules, Trump was the political equivalent of a UFC fighter. By the time they understood what he had done to them, he was the Republican nominee.

Two-and-a-half years later, little has changed. For reasons having to do with both strategy and temperament, Trump’s default reaction to almost any public or media opportunity is to look for opportunities to cause even more outrage. When The New York Times reported last weekend that the FBI had opened an investigation into whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia, Trump turned up the outrage meter to the highest possible level.

Combined with the escalating fight over the government shutdown, Trump was brawling on multiple fronts — which is right where he wants to be.

Trump knows that most voters dislike him. He knows he can’t change their disgust. But he understands that his path to victory relies on his ability to make his opponents just as unlikable. So, he baits his foes into not just reacting to him, but overreacting.

For Trump’s critics, waiting on Mueller’s report might not be as viscerally satisfying as responding in-kind. But the special counsel’s report is coming. Then we’ll know for sure. But not before.

Dan Schnur teaches political communications and leadership at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Israel’s Election Handbook: No Mergers, No Doubts

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Splits continue – mergers await.

Main News

The Arab Party is also on its way to a split.

Netanyahu made his case against pre-election decision on hearing.

Internal security warns from outside interfering in election, Russia rebuffs allegations.


Feb. 11 is the day of Labor Primaries.

Developments to Watch

Political: Arab split could mean two Arab parties in the Knesset, or one party that does not cross the finish line (leading to a reduction of the record number of Arab MK’s in the current Knesset).

Personal: According to polls taken since she split with the Labor Party, Tzipi Livni does not make it into the next Knesset. She must find a new political home, or she might disappear.

Material: It’s not clear if and how Russian intervention can impact Israeli voters. This is not America: Voters are generally speaking more informed, engaged and involved.

What’s the Race About

Still nothing. But to get some more input listen to the Rosner’s Domain podcast with veteran political commentator Yaron Deckel.

Possible Wild Cards:

A decision to indict/not indict Netanyahu.

Resignation of Labor’s Avi Gabbay.

Violence in Gaza.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 25, the day new elections were announced. Since then, parties fractured, but blocs remain relatively stable.

What you can see next (again, for the two options) is how little changed on average since the beginning of 2018. We compare the average of polls since January 2018, to the average of the last 5 polls. The result: two to three more seats to the center, one to two less seats to the right and the left. Over all, the political situation remains the same. A coalition can be formed by the right plus some of the center, or by the center plus some of the right.


Focus on One Party

While other parties go up and down, the Likud Party is relatively stable. It also has a projected number of seats that’s more than double than the next party in line. If there are no mergers that can push other parties above the 25-seat line, there is little doubt that the Likud will form the next coalition. The President cannot let a party with 13 or 17 seats to form a government, when Likud has 28 or 30 seats.








Chess Tournament Moved From Saudi Arabia to Russia After Concerns Over Israeli Team Entry

Photo from Pexels.

Saudi Arabia has been barred from the Fédération lnternationale des Échecs (FIDE) from hosting an international chess tournament in December after a couple of Israelis expressed concerns that they couldn’t be guaranteed entry into the country to participate.

FIDE announced in a Nov. 30 tweet that the tournament would take place in Russia instead of Saudi Arabia on Dec. 25-31. FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky told the Times of Israel that the reason for the move was that “officials in Riyadh could not guarantee an entry to representatives of all the national federations who had a right to participate in the event.”

In November, two Israeli chess players, with help from The Lawfare Project, wrote to the FIDE that they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the tournament, citing the fact they were among the seven Israelis that Saudi Arabia prevented from entering the tournament.

We couldn’t just sit and wait for FIDE to do the right thing – we are proud to have supported this action which ensures that no chess player will be banned from a tournament because of their nationality,” Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein said in a statement. “It is hard to believe that in 2018, a country could be allowed to host an international event while practicing such blatant discrimination, but I welcome FIDE’s decision to make sure that last year’s scandal will not be repeated.”

Iran Engaged in Fake News Campaign on Facebook

Photo from Max Pixel.

Facebook has announced that they have removed several pages, accounts and groups connected to Iran that they say promulgated disinformation of United States politics leading up to the upcoming midterm elections.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, stated that Facebook has taken down 82 pages, accounts and groups that engaged in “inauthentic behavior,” which included posts “about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration.”

Examples of such posts included a fake Time magazine cover of President Trump that stated, “The worst, most hated president in American history!” as well as a photo of UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn attributing the following quote to him: “The idea that somehow or other you can deal with all the problems in the world by banning a religious group from entering the U.S.A. is offensive and absurd.”

While Gleicher said they could tie some of the removed accounts, groups and pages to Iran’s state media, they could not establish a concrete connection between them and the Iranian government.

“Free and fair elections are the heart of every democracy and we’re committed to doing everything we can to prevent misuse of Facebook at this critical time for our country,” Gleicher said.

Ben Nimmo of The Atlantic Research Council’s Digital Lab said that the propaganda disseminated from the Iranian accounts resembled “left-leaning Americans to amplify divisions over politically charged issues in the U.S.” and they followed a similar playbook that the Russians used in the 2016 elections, according to USA Today.

Facebook also removed accounts for spreading Iranian disinformation in August. There was some overlap between those accounts and the ones removed in October.

Why Trump Is Bad for Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

There are few policy arenas in which President Donald Trump has been more successful in his misdirection of the nation’s attention than the Middle East. For many in the Jewish community — including many in its leadership — there is a reticence to speak up about the outrages of the Trump administration, in large measure because of the president’s perceived “support” for Israel.

After all, he recognized Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he has been a staunch advocate for Israel in international bodies, and he embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while making virtually no demands on him. It looks so appealing.

But the reality is that much of what Trump has done vis-a-vis Israel is, in fact, a superficial performance — rhetorically, diplomatically and symbolically — that is at odds with the very policies that will help the Jewish state in the long term. In fact, his policies put the nation, and what exists of an international order striving for calm, in greater peril than it has been in many years.

Community Advocates, in partnership with Jews United for Democracy and Justice (“JUDJ”), four major synagogues (Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple), and the Jewish Center for Justice recently hosted an event at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino featuring Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and special adviser for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in several administrations.

Ross is among the most knowledgeable experts in the world on the diplomacy of the Middle East. He has served as the point man in negotiations between the Arab states, Israel and the United States in every administration since President George H.W. Bush (under Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama). He facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty; he brokered the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 1997 Hebron accord, and intensively worked to bring together Israel and Syria in a peace deal. He is also the author of several authoritative books on the region and the peace process.

If one wants a thoughtful, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis of what is transpiring in the Middle East, what the future portends and what the real-world implications of policy decisions are, there is no one who knows more and has more experience in the region than Dennis Ross. He is the best of the Middle East mavens.

In describing Trump administration policies toward the region’s issues, Ross spoke of a “crisis of values” and “a real Russia problem.” Trump has made the situation far worse than it has been in decades.

“Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — in its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts is dangerous to everyone involved. “

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to provide Syria with S300 surface-to-air missiles as well as sophisticated electronic counter measures, which the Trump administration has not objected to. Those moves, combined with “malign Iranian activities,” has put Israel in a nearly impossible, precarious and potentially existentially dangerous position. Ross observed that until now, “the Russians have given the Israelis a free hand to carry out operations (in Syria) and they (the Israelis) have carried out more than 200 operations in Syria against Iranian and Shia militia targets. They no longer have a free hand and the Iranians have been given a free hand. … The Israelis won’t allow themselves to be put in a position where they are threatened in almost an existential way by what the Iranians are introducing into Lebanon and Syria. … so far, they have had to manage the Russians entirely on their own. Do you think it’s an accident that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made nine visits to Moscow to see Putin?” (emphasis added)

Ross made clear how the Trump response to Russia’s actions in Syria, to essentially absent himself from the conflict, differs from his predecessors and places Israel in peril. “Historically, there was a relationship that we had where we kind of said to the Israelis ‘OK, you are responsible for dealing with the threats in the region, we will provide the material support, but when it comes to the Soviets and others outside the region that might threaten or inhibit you, that’s on us.’ That was the historic posture of Republican and Democratic presidents alike — and I know that since I served in most of those administrations. That has not been the case now.” (emphasis added)

Ross laid out the steps that the administration should take to counter Russia, Iran and the Shia militias — none of which is happening. Rather, Trump has offered a vague pledge, “‘I’ll call Putin at some point.’” Ross sarcastically observed, “well, that’s reassuring.” The way to deal with Putin, Ross advised, is not to follow the Trump playbook. “He (Putin) is a transactionalist … you have to speak his language, you don’t tout him with incredible offers.”

Trump’s missteps aren’t just related to Russia and the Middle East:

We have walked away from a ‘rules-based international order. … [Trump sees] no value in multilateral institutions. … the essence of what Trump said to the U.N. is that national sovereignty trumps everything else. Well, we’ve seen what that means — that means that governments can do whatever they want to their own people and national sovereignty precludes anyone from the outside being able to intervene and do anything about it.

The whole import of ‘Never Again’ was that it wasn’t supposed to be a slogan, it was supposed to be a principle. But when the principle is national sovereignty, you can forget ‘Never Again.’ ”

Ross couldn’t have been clearer. He sees Trump as a huge threat to whatever equilibrium might exist in the Middle East by his inexplicable inaction vis-a-vis Russia. That failure of will increases the likelihood of escalation as the Israelis defend their interests against the Iranians, the Shia militias and the Syrians; all without the United States neutralizing the Russians.

In its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts, Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — is dangerous to everyone involved. As Ross observed, “what we are contending with now is really an assault on our values; by the way, it’s not just an assault on our democratic values, it’s an assault on our Jewish values.”

Last week saw further confirmation of the Trump administration’s denigration of the values that are intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish state: American moral leadership.

In his dismissal of taking action against the Saudis in the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump betrayed a disdain for America’s leadership role in the world if it might exact a price on our economy — “they’re [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment … that doesn’t help us” — he responded when asked about Khashoggi.

A far cry from President Harry Truman recognizing Israel in 1948 despite threats of retaliation from the Arab states, or President Richard Nixon sending arms to Israel in 1973 notwithstanding the Saudis’ imposing a painful and costly oil embargo on us. 

President John Kennedy once urged Americans “to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Trump is brazenly rewriting our 60-year-old American creed.

Symbolic gestures, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, might bring momentary satisfaction, but too much is at stake to think in such short-sighted terms. Looking at the big picture, as Ross so eloquently stated, leads to the inevitable conclusion that Trump’s failure of will with the Russians isn’t good for Israel, for the international order, or for the prospects for a moderately peaceful world.


David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. Janice Kamenir-Reznik is a longtime community leader in Los Angeles.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Files Brief for Russia to Release Schneerson Library to Chabad

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center announced in a July 25 press release that they have filed an amicus curiae brief to a Washington, D.C. court calling on Russia to release the historic Schneerson Library to Chabad.

The library was initially seized from Chabad by the Soviet Union shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; the library’s archives were then stolen by the Nazis before being reclaimed by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit to reclaim the library in 2004. In 2009, Russia backed out of the lawsuit, alleging that Chabad didn’t have any right to the library. All 100 senators and the Department of Justice have sided with Chabad, although the State Department in 2016 filed a “Statement of Interest” that Chabad’s claim to the library goes against international law. That State Department has yet to nix that statement.

“The Schneerson Library, made of thousands of books and archives, is a source of inspiration to hundreds of thousands of followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, and to millions of others deserves more respect than to be lying in a basement or warehouse somewhere in Moscow for 73 years,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and legal counsel Martin Mendelsohn said in a statement.

The Schneerson Library was named after Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson, who collected 12,000 books and 25,000 religious documents that contain the thoughts and teachings of various rabbis.

Trump Walks Back Russian Meddling Remarks

REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Trump sparked controversy on July 16 by proclaiming in a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 United States election. Trump walked back those comments on July 17.

When asked during the July 16 press conference if he believed Putin or the intelligence community on Russia meddling, Trump responded, “My people came to me; [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

A day later, Trump told reporters, “I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies, always have.”

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

The president added that he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it WOULDN’T be Russia” in the July 16 press conference.

Trump also told reporters that he and Putin discussed North Korea and denuclearization.

For Now, Trump Won’t Impose Russian Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a roundtable on tax cuts for Florida small businesses in Hialeah, Florida, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on April 15 that the U.S. would be implementing a new batch of sanctions against Russia for propping up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as he uses chemical weapons against his own people. However, The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump has not approved of such sanctions.

The Post report states that the sanctions are under “serious consideration” but Trump is reluctant to sign off on them unless Russia gives him “another triggering event” to do so. The White House is officially calling Haley’s statement on sanctions a mistake, however although others said it was strange that Haley would make such a mistake given that how “disciplined” she is in ensuring that her statements are in line with Trump’s thinking.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”

According to CNN, the targets of such Russian sanctions would include “banks and equipment suppliers” as well as “Russian companies that sell helicopters and helicopter parts to Syria.”

Haley had said on CBS’ Face the Nation, “You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”

The sanctions matter comes after the U.S. led a coalition that launched airstrikes against Syria, targeting three chemical weapons facilities. Trump reportedly followed Defense Secretary James Mattis’ advice and made the strikes smaller than they potentially could have been in order to show restraint.

Haley Announces New Sanctions on Russia, Warns That More Airstrikes Against Syria Could Come

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the rounds on the Sunday morning show circuit and announced two pieces of news: the U.S. will be imposing new sanctions on Russia and more airstrikes could be coming Syria’s way.

On Fox News Sunday, Haley stated that the Russian sanctions would occur on Monday.

“If you look at what Russia is doing, they continue to be involved with all the wrong actors, whether their involvement in Ukraine, whether you look at how they are supporting Venezuela, whether you look in Syria and their way of propping up Assad and working with Iran, that continues to be a problem,” Haley said.

Haley was also asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on what the Trump administration would do if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued to use chemical weapons, noting that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave seemingly contradictory statements on the matter.

“What I can tell you is the president has made it very clear that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we have no tolerance for it,” Haley said. “We are going to watch out for the best interests of the American people. He made a point and hopefully Assad gets it. If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”

Haley declined to say if military action in Syria is a possibility.

On Friday, a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people. Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria were struck, although other chemical weapon facilities were left untouched. Trump has hailed the strikes as a blow against Assad, but the Syrian dictator is reportedly in “positive spirits” after the strikes because he doesn’t think his grip on power is being threatened.

Israel Allegedly Launched Airstrikes Against Syria After Assad Launches Chemical Attack Against His Own People

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

UPDATE: Iran is claiming that seven Iranian military personnel died in the airstrikes. Israel is now reportedly bracing itself for a counterattack by Iran’s proxy terror group Hezbollah.


Israel allegedly launched airstrikes in Syria after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people over the weekend.

Russia and Syria claimed the strikes came from two Israeli F-15 planes, which resulted in 14 dead, including four Iranian military advisers in addition to multiple officers in the Syrian Army. Israel has not directly confirmed that they were the ones who launched the strikes, but their foreign ministry issued a statement condemning Assad for his chemical weapons attack.

“The attack shows clearly that Syria continues to possess lethal chemical weapons capabilities and even to manufacture new ones,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “In so doing Syria is grossly violating its obligations and the decisions of the international community in this matter.”

Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, a town that is close to Damascus and was held by the Syrian rebels, resulted in at least 40 people dead. According to The Times of Israel, “victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth” and there was also the scent of chlorine in the air.

Additionally, the Syrian American Medical Society has claimed that over “500 cases — the majority of whom are women and children — were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

A local activist told NBC News, “Whole families, mothers and little children and babies, they were all dead. They tried to escape death, but here in Douma, there is death is everywhere.”

Assad and the Russian government have denied the attack, but President Trump isn’t buying their denial.

“To me there’s not much of a doubt,” Trump told reporters on April 9. “If they’re innocent why aren’t they allowing people to go in and prove [it].”

Trump is expected to announce if the U.S. is going to take any retaliatory measures against Syria for the chemical attack. Defense Secretary James Mattis wouldn’t rule out airstrikes against Syria.

According to Syrian media, Syrian and Iranian forces are already on the move out of fear of possible U.S. airstrikes.

Israel has launched numerous airstrikes against Syria over the years, mainly against Hezbollah. There is evidence to suggest that Israel’s alleged airstrikes were in part aimed at curbing Iran’s grip in Syria in addition to being a retaliation against Assad’s chemical attack.

We Need a New U.N.

Photo from Flickr.

Another week, another Israel bashing session at the United Nations.

Following the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday that resulted in at least 16 dead, the U.N. Security Council responded by drafting a resolution calling for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to be investigated for the various Palestinian deaths. The resolution was vetoed by the United States, but the fact that the U.N. yet again put the blame on Israel instead of on the terror group Hamas, who are using civilians as human shields in an attempt to wage a war with Israel, is disgraceful.

This is par for the course for the Israel-hating U.N. On March 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel due to the Jewish state’s so-called “occupation” of East Jerusalem. The UNHRC has a bad habit of denouncing Israel at least once a week, the same UNHRC that consists of countries like Venezuela, China and Cuba, which aren’t exactly halcyons of human rights.

Then there are the reported anti-Semitic Facebook posts from United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) teachers, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron as belonging to the Palestinians… the list goes on and on.

The statistics prove it too: CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out in December that the U.N. General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions that singled out a specific country from 2012-15. The number that singled out Israel: 83.

“Considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?” Tapper said.

I would go a bit further: what does the U.N. do well, exactly?

It certainly doesn’t do well addressing actual human rights abuses, like the ones Tapper cited. Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that the international body “could have done much more” to stop the Rwanda genocide.

What about Russian and Chinese aggression? The U.N. tribunal’s 2016 ruling that China has no sovereign claim over the entirety of the South China sea has done nothing to stop Beijing from ramping up military exercises in the area. Similarly, the U.N. has done little to curb Vladimir Putin’s intervention into the Crimea.

Reminder: Russia and China wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council, preventing any real action to be taken on Syria, North Korea and Iran.

What about global poverty? A 2012 study conducted by New York University’s William Easterly and Mississippi State University’s Claudia Williamson concluded that the U.N.’s aid practices are toward the bottom among aid agencies worldwide. And as Chelsea Follett of HumanProgress noted, the U.N. is touting top-down, centralized government programs as the source for the decline in global poverty when in actuality it is economic freedom that has caused the dramatic decline in poverty.

The environment? A 2017 New York Times article detailed how the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund was established to help impoverished countries deal with climate changes, yet the money raised by the fund have gone toward questionable private sector projects instead of those countries. And the U.N.’s prized Paris Climate Accords’ impact on the climate would be negligible while harming the U.S. economy.

Peacekeeping? How can the U.N. be trusted in this area when their peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in various countries and have been cited as the cause of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti?

With all this mind, is the U.N. really worth the nearly $8 billion that the U.S. allocates toward the international body?

The unfortunate truth is that the U.N. is a far cry from the bastion of freedom that the Allied powers intended when they first formed the international body in 1942 to fight the Axis powers. Freedom-loving countries like the U.S. and Israel are the minority in the U.N.; so long as that is the case, no reforms will solve the structurally flawed nature of the incompetent and immoral U.N.


This is what I’d love to see on the Global to-do list: Creating a new world body that will do justice to the ideals of the United Nations, an organization that has dishonored its very mission.

Trump Names John Bolton As His New National Security Adviser

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

President Trump announced on Twitter on Mar. 22 that former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would be his new national security adviser.

Trump tweeted that Bolton would be instated on April 9:



The New York Times originally broke the news, reporting that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Trump had been discussing him leaving the job for awhile now but the timing was accelerated to end the speculation and to ensure that Trump had the security team he wanted before he meets with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

McMaster and Trump have been clashing for quite some time.

“General McMaster’s serious, somber style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues,” the Times reported. “They had differed on policy, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Mr. Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.”

McMaster also seemed to be less of a friend to Israel and softer on radical Islam than Trump, as McMaster had reportedly viewed Israel as “an occupying power” and screamed at the Israelis for their concerns over Hezbollah.

Bolton, on the other hand, is as pro-Israel as it gets. In November, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News calling for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem as soon as possible and in May, Bolton told the Jerusalem Post, “I don’t think the two-state solution is viable anymore.” Bolton argued that Judea and Samaria should be divided between Israel and Jordan and the Gaza Strip should be given to Egypt. When Bolton was assistant secretary of state from 1989-1993, “he coordinated the effort to rescind the United Nations resolution from the 1970s that equated Zionism with racism,” according to Hank Berrien of the Daily Wire.

The former U.N. ambassador has also detailed a lengthy exit strategy for leaving the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting that there is an increased likelihood that Trump will pull out from the deal altogether. Bolton has also been a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”

Haley Issues Warning to Russia, Iran and Syria: ‘The United States Remains Prepared to Act If We Must’

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the U.N. Security Council on Syria during a meeting of the Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a stark warning to Russia, Iran and Syria on Mar. 12 over the recent bombings in Syria: the United States is ready to take action if need be.

At the United Nations Security Council, Haley explained that Russia had been constantly blocking efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria stopping Bashar al-Assad’s forces from striking the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus. Russia eventually relented and agreed to a ceasefire, but only because they had a heavy say in each syllable of the agreement.

Haley proceeded to accuse the Russians of violating the agreement by taking advantage of a provision that allows for military strikes to take out terrorists.

“In the eyes of Russia, Iran and Assad, the neighborhoods of Eastern Ghouta are full of terrorists,” Haley said. “The hospitals are full of terrorists. The schools are full of terrorists. The Syrian and Russian regimes insist that they are targeting terrorists, but their bombs and artillery continue to fall on hospitals and schools and on innocent civilians.”

Haley then stated that the U.S. is producing a new ironclad ceasefire agreement that doesn’t feature any loopholes for the Assad regime to use against their own people. If the Security Council is unable to adopt the resolution, then the U.S. is ready to take matters into their own hands.

“Any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering – most especially the outlaw Syrian regime – the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” Haley said. “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”

Russia is standing by its defense that they’re simply weeding out terrorism in the area and is claiming that they are attempting to implement the current ceasefire agreement.

Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking Research Fellow Elizabeth Tsurkov explained in a Twitter thread how “horrific” the situation is in Eastern Ghouta:

The Assad regime is essentially a client-state of Russia and Iran. Russia has been controlling the Syrian civil war since 2015 in the absence of a serious U.S. presence in the region, although there are issues surfacing for the Kremlin as their forces seemed to be bogged down in Syria for the foreseeable future. Syria is a key ally for Tehran, as the country serves as a route for Iran to arm their terror proxy Hezbollah.

In April 2017, the Trump administration launched airstrikes against the Assad regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons against its own people.

H/T: Daily Caller

The Future of Jewish Life in Russia

When considering the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement that peaked in the 1980s, it’s easy to focus on the romantic notion of liberation. After all, over a million Jews left the Soviet Union for Israel and the United States, making the movement a crown jewel of communal activist success.

But such success is hardly the complete story.

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

In Maxim D. Shrayer’s study “With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia,” the complicated nature of what it means to live as a Jew in Russia is delicately addressed. Shrayer was born in Moscow in 1967 and, with his family, spent nine years as a refusenik before emigrating to the U.S. in 1987. Having written and translated numerous books, including two memoirs, Shrayer has become an expert in Russian-Jewish literature and culture.

This newest study details his trip to Russia in 2016 with his fifth-grade daughter, Mira. Like most good Jewish works, Shrayer’s begins with a question that compels us to ask further questions. In the prologue, Shrayer asks Oleg Dorman, a Jewish filmmaker living in Russia, a complicated question: “Why do you stay here?”

What’s missing from the narrative of liberation is the complexity of cultural nostalgia — the visceral pull of a homeland, even when that homeland has betrayed you.

Dorman says poignantly, “G-d gave me as a Jew such a place in life — to live in Russia.” It’s a startling answer to a seemingly simple question. And the idea that God chooses where people will live (and die) is a distressing notion. But it is in this fashion that Shrayer begins his book.

In Moscow, there is a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, founded in 2012. It is a miracle that such a place should exist, given the long history of Russian anti-Semitism and the plight of Jews in Russia only decades ago, namely the Soviet Union’s efforts to “annihilate Judaism and traditional Jewish life.” Yet even the remarkable presence of such a place in Russia is unsurprisingly fraught.

Dorman tells Shrayer that when a tram stops at the museum, it is announced only as the “Museum and Center of Tolerance,” all references to Jewishness glaringly omitted. It’s hard to believe, and so Shrayer decides to see for himself, and takes the tram to the museum to discover that the announcement for the stop has indeed been cleansed of all Jewish references. It is a tram stop “already loaded with the baggage of Soviet antisemitism” in a society where the word “Jew” is “somehow indecent,” not something said out loud.

The narrative of Shrayer’s journey through Moscow is interspersed with memories of his own childhood in Russia, and the omission of the word “Jewish” from the tram stop announcement reminds him of his sixth-grade peers laughing hysterically at the mention of the word “Jew” in relation to a composer’s score known in Russia as “Two Jews: Rich and Poor.” Shrayer recounts how the word “Jew” itself was worthy of derision, and so to them the idea of two Jews was especially dirty and hilarious.

A question addressed, however, is whether the omission of the word amounts to real anti-Semitism or whether it is simply a vestige of Soviet discrimination that has lost its meaning and impact. Recent surveys of Moscow residents suggest that Jews are in ninth place as “targets of antipathy,” falling below Roma and Tajiks, as well as Americans, Ukrainians and Armenians. Shrayer agrees that overtly anti-Semitic behavior in Russia has declined considerably in the post-Soviet era, although he is not as optimistic as the study’s authors, who claim that “the dominant attitude toward Jews is that of moderate respect,” and that “negative connotations are largely gone.”

But if anti-Semitism has truly declined in Russia, where have all the anti-Semites gone? History suggests that anti-Semitism never really disappears, but only shrinks beneath the surface to bubble up in new ways. Shrayer draws an important distinction between Russia’s “professional Jew-haters” — politicians and extremists publicly espousing anti-Semitic rhetoric — and average citizens. While public denunciations of Jews are fewer, anti-Semitism’s “putrid flowers continue to bloom” particularly on social media. And so it is that “unprejudiced average Russian citizens by day” are transformed into “outspoken anti-Semites by night.”

It would seem that Russian anti-Semitism has simply put on a new face. It is surprising then that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is so popular in Russia. Strikingly, most Chabad activists of Russia are ex-Soviets who have become ba’alei t’shuva, and are “Pushkin-quoting men and women in Hasidic attire.” In Shrayer’s words, Chabad-Lubavitch is the “guardian of Russia’s Jews” — a  complex identity indeed.

Shrayer admits that for him, a map of Moscow does not simply reflect his childhood and first love, but is also a “map of antisemitism” revealing the texture of a place that is simultaneously “more tolerant and more foreign” to him. “I’m conflicted about which of the two maps to unfold,” he writes, “which memories to suppress.”

The question of why Jews remain in Russia persists, and in search of an answer, Shrayer interviews seven people. Are they, as columnist Aleksandr Minkin suggests, “living on top of a volcano” whose eruption is imminent or is this an overreaction?

Writer Afanasy Mamedov tells Shrayer that Jewish life in Russia “depends on direct philanthropy,” lamenting that contemporary Russian Jews have no patrons of the arts, no philanthropists in the way they existed for Russian Jews in the late 1800s. “The birth of the next Kafka is unlikely here,” he says. “Everything is still rising from the old yeast.” Indeed, the mass exodus of Jews from Russia has come at a tremendous cost for the literary world.

One of the greatest 20th-century writers, Isaac Babel, left the Soviet Union in 1935. But his identity as a Russian-Jewish writer was tied intricately to living in the Soviet Union: He returned in 1939 and was executed. “If I did not live with Russian people, I would cease being a writer. I would be like a fish out of water,” he once said.

While Russian-Jewish writing flourishes outside of Russia, it often manifests as immigrant literature that is as much a product of a new and foreign home as it is of the writer’s homeland. And although it is quickly becoming its own remarkable literary genre, one can’t help but lament the limited potential for new Jewish literary greats to rise in contemporary Russia.

What, then, is the future of Jews in Russia?

Yakov Ratner, a member of the Chabad community who runs a Jewish publishing house, claims that the future of Jewish life in Russia depends on the extent to which parents are interested in a distinctly Jewish identity. Otherwise, it is only “chance [that] could carry such a child” toward Jewishness.

The interviewees all share, despite their optimism, a sense of foreboding. The Jewish population that remains in Russia is an aging one, its birthrate the lowest of any ethnic group. There are more Russian-speaking Jews living outside of Russia than within its borders. So why do they stay? It’s a question that both is and is not answered in this important study. But it also raises the question: How important is it to Diasporic Jews that Russian Jewish life continue to flourish, and what are we going to do about it?

Monica Osborne is scholar of Jewish literature and culture. She is the author of “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma.”

Haley: We ‘Need to Take Action on our Own’ on Iran

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on after arriving to watch a training of the COBRAS, Honduras National Police Special Forces, at their base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called out Russia for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Iran for arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen and suggested that the U.S. could put matters into its own hands.

“If Russia is going to continue to cover for Iran then the US and our partners need to take action on our own,” Haley said. “If we’re not going to get action on the council then we have to take our own actions.”

According to Reuters and Algemeiner, the drafted resolution first stated that Iran violated an embargo on supplying weapons to the Houthis based on a report from U.N. experts but was later watered down to only express “particular concern” about Iran’s violations to appease Russia. And yet, Russia still vetoed the condemnation, as they were reportedly skeptical of the experts’ conclusions.

Haley’s statement comes as the Trump administration is considering nixing the Iran nuclear deal unless substantial changes are made, and Haley said that the Security Council “doesn’t help” proponents of the deal.

“That just validated a lot of what we already thought, which is Iran gets a pass for its dangerous and illegal behavior,” Haley said.

Iran claimed that the U.S. and Britain were simply scapegoating them for the carnage in Yemen. Tehran has denied accusations that they are arming the Houthis, although their denials are belied by various reports to the contrary. It’s unsurprising that Russia would provide cover to Iran given the two countries have been allies for years due to their shared hatred toward the West.

As the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) points out, Iran and the Houthis share differing beliefs in Shia Islam but they are aligned by geopolitics since “Iran seeks to challenge Saudi and U.S. dominance of the region, and the Houthis are the primary opposition to [interim President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-] Hadi’s Saudi- and U.S.-backed government in Sana’a.”

The Houthis ignited the three-year civil war in Yemen when they wrestled power from Hadi, prompting Saudi Arabia to intervene in the conflict and fight the Houthis in an attempt to curb Iran’s influence in the region and reinstate Hadi’s power. The U.S. is backing the Saudis in the conflict.

The civil war has been devastating on the civilians, as thousands have been killed and millions more are in dire need of aid.

Trump Attacks ‘Little Adam Schiff’ in Tweet. Here Are 5 Things to Know About Schiff.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday to launch an attack against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as the House Democrats are preparing to release a memo in response to the Nunes memo:

Here was Schiff’s response:

Here are five things to know about Schiff.

1. Schiff’s district encompasses part of the Los Angeles area. According to a Journal cover story on Schiff in April 2017, Schiff’s district “extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest.” Schiff has served in Congress since 2001 and used to be a member of Glendale’s Temple Sinai.

2. Schiff is considered to be a moderate by some, others view him as a deeply partisan congressman. A 2006 profile of Schiff in The Hill described the congressman as “a moderate, a compromiser, a man who chose law school over med school because he thought it would give him greater opportunities to serve the public.” However, National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “I don’t think people appreciate Adam Schiff’s incredible talent to sound above the fray, non partisan and more in sorrow than in anger, while being hyper partisan. He’s better than Harry Reid was and is almost as good as Tom Daschle.”

Conservative Review has concluded that Schiff has voted with conservatives only 12% of the time during his House tenure.

3. Schiff has constantly hyped the narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. For instance, Schiff told CNN in December, “The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help, and that is pretty damning, whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.”

Schiff’s hyping of Trump-Russia collusion combined with his status as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee has caused him to become a frequent guest on cable news networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC, but his critics argue that Schiff has been unable to provide sufficient evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

4. Schiff has constantly railed against the Nunes memo. Schiff argued vociferously against the memo being released, arguing that it would harm national security, although there is nothing in the memo to suggest that. Over the weekend, Schiff argued that the memo being released could result in more Oklahoma City bombings.

5. Schiff’s critics have accused him of leaking false information to the media and being a partisan hypocrite. Mollie Hemingway listed numerous examples of this at The Federalist, including an anonymously sourced Daily Beast story falsely claiming that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) snuck into the White House in the dead of night to obtain documents showing evidence of surveillance by the Obama administration – the same way Schiff had described it. Schiff has denied accusations of being a leaker.

Additionally, in 2013 Schiff argued for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reforms on Russian television, causing some to accuse him of hypocrisy for repeating a Kremlin talking point then, yet is now quick to hype Trump-Russia collusion. Others have noted that Schiff doesn’t appear to be interested in verifying the Steele dossier that is alleged to have been the basis of a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.

Five Key Facts About the Newly Released Nunes Memo

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For the past couple of weeks, there has been all sorts of hype around a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, alleging abuse by the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) in the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The memo has finally been released; here are five things to know about it.

1. A dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign seems to be a key part in surveillance against Carter Page, who worked for the Trump campaign. Per the memo, the dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele who was being paid by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the research firm Fusion GPS and law firm Perkins Cole to find dirt on Trump. The DOJ and FBI both knew of Steele’s connections, yet the application to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant did not mention that Steele was working at the behest  of the Clinton campaign and DNC. The memo also notes that outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified in December that they wouldn’t have attempted to obtain a FISA warrant against Page if not for the Steele dossier.

Additionally, the memo highlights the fact that the FBI had barely started their corroboration of the Steele dossier when the FISA application was submitted and that in June then-FBI Director James Comey described the dossier as “salacious” and “unverified” allegations, although this characterization of Comey’s comments on the dossier doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate. Others have noted that there has yet to be anything to corroborate the main allegations in the dossier.

However, USA Today points out that Page had first appeared on the FBI’s radar in 2013 for possible Russia connections. It’s unclear how much of a role that played in obtaining the FISA warrant against Page, but the memo seems to suggest that the Steele dossier played a significant role in obtaining the warrant.

The Democrats are disputing that the dossier played a major role in obtaining the warrant:

2.  Steele really, really did not want Trump to be president. According to the memo, Steele told then-Associate DOJ official Bruce Ohr in September 2016 he “was desperate” and “passionate” about ensuring that Trump would never be elected to the presidency. Ohr was recently demoted for not disclosing his meeting with people behind the Steele dossier; his wife also worked for Fusion GPS in 2016 but it is not known if she had any involvement with the dossier. The FISA application against Page, which was sought a month after Steele made his alleged comments to Ohr, did not mention Steele’s stated feelings about Trump nor did it mention any possible conflict of interest with the Ohrs and Fusion GPS.

The memo also points out that Ohr worked closely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate possible Trump-Russia collusion.

3. Steele leaked his dossier to members of the media in order to pressure the FISA court to approve the application to spy on Page. The memo alleges that Steele leaked contents from the dossier to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News and other media outlets in September; he also provided information about the dossier to David Corn of Mother Jones the following month. The information that Steele provided to Isikoff in his Yahoo article was used in the FISA application against Page to justify a warrant, but did not disclose that Steele had provided the information used in Isikoff’s article. Steele was eventually dismissed as an FBI source for failing to disclose his leaking to the media to the bureau.

4. The memo claims that certain members of the FBI were biased against Trump. The memo specifically singles out FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who was one of the key figures in opening the FBI investigation on Trump-Russia collusion, and his paramour, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, for sending text messages stating their desire to see Clinton elected president over Trump and that they discussed an “insurance policy” against Trump’s election with McCabe. This has all been reported elsewhere.

5. However, the Steele dossier did not trigger the investigation against Trump; George Papadopoulos was the trigger. The memo points to the FBI investigation starting in July 2016 due to Papadopoulos, who used to work for the Trump campaign, bragging about the Russians having opposition research on Clinton to an Australian diplomat.

There has been a wide variety of reactions to the Nunes memo:

The full memo can be read below:


The Other Russia Mystery

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Syria is a front in need of attention. It is a front where Israel might risk war.

Two weeks ago, Israel reportedly — it did not officially comment — attacked south of Damascus. A week and a half ago, Israel (reportedly) attacked again. In both cases, there was an aura of vagueness surrounding the targets. An “Iranian base,” it was said. A “Syrian military facility.” Why were these specific targets attacked? What is it that bothers Israel about them — assuming it really was Israel that attacked?

Then, on Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly landed in Syria and declared victory over ISIS and announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you,” Putin told his troops. “You are coming back home with victory!”

Why now and not two weeks ago or two weeks from now? Only Putin knows. In recent weeks, Russia backed the Syrian narrative, according to which the regime is close to winning the war, while the U.S. argued that these declarations of an impending victory are premature. So maybe Putin was just making the point by putting his money — or military forces —  where his mouth is.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. Putin is rightly satisfied.

In many ways, this debate is about semantics. Define “victory”; define “Syrian victory.”

The Donald Trump administration believes that a vast majority of the forces fighting in support of the Syrian government — the regime still under the control of the ever-doomed-to-departure President Bashar Assad — is made up of foreign forces. A victory? Maybe. But this will not be a victory of Syrian forces under Assad. It will be a victory of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, of Iraqi militias and, most of all, of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Russia seems to be pleased enough with such victory. When its leader decided to jump into the Syria swamp, his goal was to fill a vacuum created by American inaction, save his ally Assad and keep Russian interests in the country unharmed. Looking at these three objectives, Putin is rightly satisfied. He was able to demonstrate to Middle Eastern and other world regimes that Russia is an ally no less — or maybe more — reliable than the United States. He was able to guard Russia’s interests in the country (among them, military bases). He was able to save Assad, for now. In the summer of 2011, President Barack Obama first called for the Syrian president to step down. The Russians said no. The Russians had their way.

Israel was disturbed by many of these developments. Having Russia, rather than the U.S., as the main power broker in the region does not seem appealing. Having Assad becoming an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing. Having Assad win the war as an Iranian proxy does not seem appealing.

Israel warily watches as payback looms. Iran won the war for Assad, and is now expecting a reward: military presence in Syria, not too far from the Israeli border.

Israel declared such development a red line. Speaking in a video message to the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clear: “We will not allow a regime hellbent on the annihilation of the Jewish state to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.”

So, after the attacks (allegedly by Israel) in Syria, one has to assume that the goal is in line with this message. Sabotage all the Iranians’ attempts to entrench themselves in Syria. Destroy their facilities and disrupt their plans, sending them a message of warning.

This message is aimed at Iran and its allies, but no less at Russia and the U.S. The superpowers can let the situation deteriorate by letting Israel and Iran conduct a war in Syria’s territory. They also can choose to prevent it by taking a side. The potential problem for Israel is obvious: What happens in case Russia takes Iran’s side — that is, insist that Israel cease from attacking in Syria — while the U.S. remains on the sidelines?

Israel can do what’s necessary to stop Iran from entrenching in Syria. But opposing the Russians is a lot riskier. Thus, the reduction of Russian presence on Syrian soil puts Israel in a position more convenient for free action.

On the other hand, the Russians are leaving and an even larger vacuum must be filled. Iran seems ready to try to fill it. Israel seems ready to not allow it. So, a proxy war becomes even more likely today than it did a few weeks ago.

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

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Discussions With Russian Ambassador

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and is willing to testify against Trump in the Russia investigation.

Flynn faced charges of lying to the FBI that he didn’t tell Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a United Nations resolution in December declaring all Israeli settlements in Jerusalem to be illegal. He also faced charges of lying about telling Kislyak to hold off any retaliation against sanctions and that he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would indeed “moderate its response.”

Flynn refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at first due to his loyalty to Trump, but eventually acquiesced due to increasing legal bills and the feeling that Trump was leaving him out to dry.

The former national security adviser issued a statement that read, “It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

The charges Flynn plead guilty to have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, however given Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller it’s unlikely that he’ll receive significant jail time.

Flynn is expected to testify that Trump told him to talk to the Russians about cooperation between the two countries on Syria and ISIS. It is also being reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was the one who ordered Flynn to contact every foreign representative and lobby against the anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Ty Cobb, Trump’s lawyer, claimed that Flynn’s plea is of no significance.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Cobb. “The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

However, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” at the news of Flynn’s guilty plea.

“What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks,” a source told Politico. “[George] Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”

In West Hollywood, Serving Up a Little Bit of Russia

Alexander and Victoria Urevich in their Kovcheg Russian bookstore. Photo by Olga Grigoryants

For more than 10 years, Alexander Urevich and his wife, Victoria, have run Kovcheg Russian Books, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Street, selling books, magazines and newspapers to Russian-speaking immigrants.

Kovcheg, which means “ark” in Russian, carries more than 50,000 books and sells a wide range of decorative items, including Russian nesting dolls, wooden platters and toys. For years, the store has been a go-to place for film studios looking for unique posters and medals from the Soviet era.

“We know our customers by name,” said Alexander, 63. “Not just our customers but their families, children and grandchildren.”

Over the years, the store has become a popular hangout for senior citizens, who drop by to read books and talk politics. American-born children of Russian-speaking immigrants bring their offspring to practice Russian with Alexander, whom they call Uncle Sasha, using the Russian diminutive for his name.

The store has remained open despite changes in the neighborhood. West Hollywood’s Russian-speaking population shrank about 30 percent to 3,872 people from 2000 to 2010, a city study found. Although the shop is located outside West Hollywood proper, most of its customers live there, Alexander said.

The Ureviches, both Jewish natives of Russia, made aliyah, living in Petah Tikva for two years before moving to California with their three children in 2002.

The couple learned about the bookstore, which has operated at its current location for more than 35 years, from an advertisement in a Russian-language newspaper. They sold an apartment in their native Ekaterinburg, Russia, and got a $15,000 loan from Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles to buy the business.

“I didn’t care what I would do — sell sausages, furniture or books,” said Victoria, 60. “I just wanted to start our own business.”

The store became an instant success, with customers of all ages visiting from as far away as the San Fernando Valley and Marina del Rey. Some would linger for hours, reading books and chatting with the owners.

“People would come and sit here for hours, talking about their kids and grandkids,” said Alexander, who eventually eliminated seating to stop customers from staying too long. “We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.”

“We have no chairs now, and people still come and sit here for hours.” – Alexander Urevich

But despite a steady influx of customers, sales have declined in the last four years.  Since 2007, when the couple took over the store, average book prices have soared from $5 or $7 to $10 or $15 — prices many find prohibitive.

“Our rent is high and business is slow and books are hard to sell,” said Victoria, who partly blamed the popularity of e-books. “It’s getting tough because nobody wants to buy books anymore.”

Sandwiched between a beauty salon and a caviar shop, the store greets customers with a wooden box of $1 books. Inside the store, a Soviet flag hangs on the wall next to a wooden cuckoo clock and icons of St. Maria. A glass case displays wooden jewelry, wooden kitchenware and paintings. On the shelves, Sholem Aleichem novels sit next to books about UFOs.

On a recent afternoon, Larisa Gamburg stopped by the store with her three children. Her daughter brought a handmade greeting card to Victoria and Uncle Sasha.

“Victoria and Uncle are very friendly and are always ready to help find a good book,” the 11-year-old said.

Her mother said the family visits the store at least once a month and buys books that she read growing up in her native Ukraine, including “One Thousand and One Nights” and “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne.

Gamburg said she and her children enjoy spending time with Victoria and Alexander, who help her children practice Russian.

“It’s one of a few places in the area where we can find Russian books,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Robert Mueller indicts three former Trump campaign staffers as part of Russia investigation

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Robert Mueller, the independent special counsel in the investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has handed down indictments to three former staffers in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The three men who have been indicted are Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates as well former foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Manafort and Gates are facing charges of money laundering from a Ukrainian political party that has ties to the Russian government as well as failure to report that they were foreign agents. Both have currently been placed on home confinement; they are both pleading not guilty.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, issued the following statement:

Papadopoulos plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his correspondences with the Russians. Emails show that Papadopoulos was in contact with the Russians about possibly securing a meeting with Trump to receive some opposition research on Hillary Clinton; the indictment alleges that Papadopoulos lied about those correspondences.

Papadopoulos’ attorneys issued a statement that they wouldn’t comment on the matter until the case reaches court:

Trump tweeted that the indictments didn’t reveal any evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the indictments.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” said Sanders. “The real collusion scandal, as we have said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia.”

The White House has also stated that they expect Mueller’s investigation to wrap up soon.

WSJ: Mueller Should Step Down from Russia Investigation

Screenshot from YouTube.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has called on former FBI director Robert Mueller to step down from his role as special counsel in the Russia investigation.

The editorial recapped the news that broke earlier in the week that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) paid Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm, to unearth information against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. The firm produced a dossier comprising allegations against the president, including the claim that the Russians were blackmailing Trump with videos of him with Russian prostitutes. The editorial noted that the dossier was “based on largely anonymous, Kremlin-based sources.”

The editorial then pivoted to the FBI, pointing out that they were paying Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier, “to continue his work in the run-up to the election.”

“Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” the editors asked.

The FBI’s role in regards to Fusion GPS and the Russian investigation needs to be investigated, which is why the Journal’s editors believe Mueller should step aside.

“Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey,” the editors wrote. “It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

Mueller was appointed as an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Others who have called on Mueller to step aside include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

D.C Judge to Request Israel’s Assistance In Dispute with Russia Over Chabad Books

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

Judge Royce Lamberth, a federal judge of the District of Columbia, will request Israel for their assistance in a dispute with Russia over religious texts.

The dispute involves the Chabad-Lubavitch movement demanding that Russia relinquish a collection of texts that are invaluable to the movement. So far, Russia has refused to hand them over.

According to The National Law Journal, Chabad told Judge Lamberth on Tuesday that Kedem Auction House in Israel was able to a get hold of one of the texts, so they requested that Lamber ask an Israeli court to mandate Kedem to explain how they obtained the book. Lamberth approved their request and issued a legal letter to an Israeli court.

“Chabad has brought to this court’s attention the apparent intention of the Witness, Kedem Auction House Limited of Jerusalem, Israel, to auction a volume that has been identified as part of the Chabad library in Russia’s possession,” the letter reads. “Based on information presented to this Court and found to be credible, the volume is subject to this Court’s previous judgment and order.”

Lamberth also reportedly ruled that the book obtained Kedem shouldn’t be sold.

The texts in question involve a collection of 12,000 books and 25,000 handwritten documents that were stored by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn during World War I, which is why they are known as “the Schneerson collection.” Rabbi Chaim Cunin told Deseret News that these documents feature “notes from rabbis” and “personal thoughts and teachings.”

“The documents include the stories and struggles of people who, in some cases, only exist on these pages,” said Cunin.

The Russians seized half of the Schneerson collection in 1918; the rest were seized years later by the Nazis. In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union got their hands on them.

Chabad first filed a lawsuit against Russia to return the texts in 2004. Russia withdrew from the case in 2009 and has refused to hand them over, claiming that Chabad has no legal claim to it. However, Tablet’s Avital Chizik has written that the Russians are simply afraid of “setting a legal precedent for returning nationalized Soviet property at large.”

Russia’s refusal to hand over texts prompted Lamberth to sanction them $50,000 per day in 2013, which has accumulated to $83.5 million. Chabad argued on Tuesday that the sanctions should be increased to $100,000 per day.

All 100 U.S. senators have called for Russia to release the texts. The Department of Justice has also sided with Chabad, although they are wary of further sanctions that may result in Russia taking retaliatory measures.

Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein collapses, dies on stage

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

(JTA) — The celebrated pianist Mikhail Klein collapsed and died on stage at the age of 72 while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk.

Klein, who in 1987 was awarded the prestigious title of Honored Artist of Russia, died at the foot of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday before hundreds of people who had come to hear him play, said the municipality of the Siberian city, situated near Russia’s border with Mongolia.

“I was sitting in the front row and, seeing that Mikhail Leonidovich was ill, ran up to him,” the head of the city department of culture, Vitaly Baryshnikov, told RIA Novosti.

Two of the city’s most prominent physicians were in attendance but their attempts to reanimate him with a cardiac massage did not succeed. He died, reportedly of heart failure, just before 8:30 p.m. He had lived in Irkutsk for the past 45 years and has worked for the Irkutsk Philharmonic for all that time, the orchestra wrote in an obituary mourning his death.

With his “fanatic devotion to the arts,” the obituary said, he “brilliantly represented Russian musical art in many cultural and educational activities” locally and abroad. “His other passion was sports, loyalty to his friends — colleagues in the volleyball team, which he carried through all his creative life,” the statement also said.

Known in Russia and beyond for his renditions and interpretations of works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other great composers, Klein, who was Jewish, was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast.

He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition that he wrote featuring fragments of several famous Russian songs, before he collapsed.

Ukraine arrests three alleged terrorists accused of targeting Jews in Uman

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrim blows a shofar, near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, in Uman, Ukraine, Sept. 21, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

(JTA) — Ukrainian police arrested three men they said were terrorists who, in their efforts to pit ethnic groups against one another, also targeted Jews in the central city of Uman.

The men were arrested earlier this month at a border crossing while carrying explosives, according to the KP news site. Citing unnamed officials from the regional prosecutor’s office, the news site reported that the suspects were planning to blow up a monument for Hungarians in a bid to escalate tensions over legislation in Ukraine that outlaws the use of Hungarian at elementary schools.

The three suspects were also behind a string of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, including the hurling on Sept. 21 of a grenade at Jewish pilgrims in Uman, where 30,000 Jews convene each year on Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the Jewish holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

They are also accused of dousing a synagogue in Uman with red paint in 2016 and leaving a pig’s head there – an incident that many people attributed to hatred of Jews and locals’ growing dissatisfaction with problems associated with the pilgrimage.

They are further accused of spraying the words “death to Jews” on the synagogue in Chernivtsi in November and trying to set fire to the synagogue in Lviv in July. The suspects denied these and other allegations.

Though prosecutors have not said this, the arrests prompted theories that the three suspects were working for Russia to exacerbate social tensions in Ukraine and give the country a bad image abroad.

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged allegations of sabotage after 2014, when a revolution led by nationalists in Ukraine toppled the rule of former president Viktor Yanukovych, whom some critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backs separatists in Ukraine’s east.

The two countries have also exchanged accusations of anti-Semitism in an apparent attempt to discredit each other in the West.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg defends targeted ads in face of ‘Jew hater’ controversy

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at Advertising Week in New York on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

Allowing hateful terms as options was “a fail on our part,” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg said in a post in which she also defended targeted advertising.

Sandberg also announced in the message posted on Facebook last week that the company is strengthening its policies and tools on targeted ads.

ProPublica, an investigative website, reported earlier this month that a news website was able to target ads at Facebook users who expressed interest in “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” Facebook removed the categories after being alerted to their existence and said it would seek to prevent such categories from popping up for potential advertisers.

Sandberg wrote in her post: “Seeing those words made me disgusted and disappointed – disgusted by these sentiments and disappointed that our systems allowed this. Hate has no place on Facebook – and as a Jew, as a mother, and as a human being, I know the damage that can come from hate. The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part. We removed them and when that was not totally effective, we disabled that targeting section in our ad systems.”

She defended targeted advertising, which allows companies to place ads based on demographics on the buying history of consumers, or on behavior and self-identification. Facebook relies heavily on algorithms to find and highlight content.

“Targeted advertising is how Facebook has helped millions of business grow, find customers, and hire people,” Sandberg wrote. “Our systems match organizations with potential customers who may be interested in their products or services. The systems have been particularly powerful for small businesses, who can use tools that previously were only available to advertisers with large budgets or sophisticated marketing teams.

Sandberg said Facebook would clarify its advertising policies and tighten enforcement processes to ensure that content that goes against Facebook’s community standards cannot be used to target ads; by adding more human review and oversight to the automated processes; and by creating a program to encourage users to report potential abuses directly to the company.

“We hope these changes will prevent abuses like this going forward,” Sandberg note, adding that Facebook has had “a firm policy against hate.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Facebook sent out Happy New Year messages to users it believed to be Jewish. But many who received the message are not Jewish and may have received the greetings because they followed a group with a Jewish theme or posted a message on the Facebook page of a Jewish friend, Mashable reported.

“We send messages about religious moments to people in countries where a large proportion of the population observes the religion, or where the religious date is a public holiday,” firm policy against hate. “We may also show the message to people who’ve expressed interest in the holiday.”