Sunday, May 5, 2019

65 to 1


We're getting clobbered here.  Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and whoever else in Gaza who loves violence over peace are hammering Israel.   Not just the border communities that have been terrorized by these barrages for years.  People in cities and towns across Israel's south are running for cover.

Not one of the over 400 missiles heading toward Israel are targeting military installations.  Every single one of the rockets fired at Israel are intended to kill and maim civilians.  The fact that only three civilians have been killed is due to Israeli defense actions, civilians taking cover, and luck.

I receive e-mail headline alerts from the NY Times.  The alert I woke up to this morning from the august paper of record that publishes "All the News That's Fit to Print,"  the paper that publishes op-ed after op-ed bashing Israel, the paper that prints a myriad of articles and essays examining every wart Israel has from every angle, the paper that publishes cartoons that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud?  Here it is:

"BREAKING NEWS: Maximum Security, the only undefeated horse in the field, won the Kentucky Derby to keep his streak intact at a fraught time for horse racing."

But the Times never gives up in its efforts to get it right, to cover the most important stories, to keep on focusing on those areas on which it has focused incessantly.  So, 28 minutes later I get more of all the news that's fit to print:

"BREAKING NEWS: In a stunning reversal, Maximum Security was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby.  Country House a 65-1 long shot, was named the winner."

The Times is particularly irritating, and given its years of biased, inordinate focus on every blemish that Israel has, it's satisfying to point out its failure to prioritize the events here in Israel over Country House's dumb luck.

One also feels compelled to note the irony, in this particular circumstance, of the name of the horse who got knocked out for, apparently, sliding into another horse after jumping over a puddle:  Maximum Security.



Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Election Results and My Depression--Complete Column

It appears some people did not receive the link to continue the column.  Here is the entire piece.


A good number of American friends have asked me how I feel about the recent elections here in Israel.  In short, kind of lousy.  Depressed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is in a fairly solid position.  However, contrary to some reports, he does not own the country.  He did not win the vote overwhelmingly.  The country is not all of one mind, i.e. right-wing.

As Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer wrote in an insightful and non-hysterical column, while Israeli democracy has its challenges, the election did not mark its demise.

The veteran Likud Party, with the master politician at the helm, won 36 seats, having received about 29% of the vote.  A good number of its seats came by cannibalizing some of the parties to the right, such as Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's New Right Party, which just missed the 3.25% threshold needed to be in the Knesset.

The main opposition, a newly-minted centrist party, fairly quickly thrown together by the amalgamation of four parties, two of which were themselves recent creations, led by a somewhat awkward former general in his first political campaign, captured 35 seats, having also received about 29% of the vote.

The right plus the religious parties that will form the coalition will have a total of 65 seats, or 54%.  Saying "plus the religious parties" rather than classifying them as "right" is apt because these parties have narrow, parochial interests.  Satisfy those interests (some would say "buy them off") and they will join the coalition.  For years the religious parties were part of coalitions led by Labor.

The center and left plus the Arab parties will have a total of 55 seats, or 46%.  Saying "plus the Arab parties"  is appropriate because these parties range from Communist to strictly Islamic, and also because they are not Zionist, i.e. they don't believe in a nation state for the Jewish people even though they fully participate in it, they will not join a governing coalition, and a governing coalition will not invite them in.

However, they will support a coalition from the outside.  There have been hints by some Arab political leaders of a willingness to change this position under some conditions, but this is the case for now.

If Netanyahu and the right did not win an overwhelming, crushing victory, why am I feeling lousy?

Because  Israel needs a change.

It needs a prime minister who is not embroiled in several scandals and is subject to indictment pending a hearing.  (In Israel, a person is entitled to a hearing before the Attorney General before the indictment can be issued.)

It needs a prime minister with a vision for how we move to a separation from the Palestinians, affording them the maximum opportunity to govern their own affairs while ensuring Israel remains a secure, democratic, and Jewish state.  This could eventually lead to an independent Palestinian state, depending on how the Palestinians take up the mantle.  i.e. much differently than what they've done in Gaza and the West Bank to date.

It needs a prime minister who is not so afraid of losing his coalition that he reneges on his agreement regarding the Western Wall and otherwise takes or allows policies and attitudes that unnecessarily alienate and disenfranchise millions of North American Jews.

It needs a prime minister who is not so desperate so as to run, even by today's standards, a despicable campaign.  Israel has real issues that require real, substantive debate.  The campaign was virtually devoid of such debate.  Capably and frequently employing social media, the Likud dug deep into the dirt bag.  Among some of its stunts was the spreading of  rumors about Gantz' alleged psychiatric and marital problems.

In a disgraceful finale, Likud sent members with cameras into Arab polling stations.  The purpose was intimidation.  The transparently dishonest ostensible reason was the prevention of fraud.  If the latter was the real reason, Central Elections Committee was the entity to ask to take appropriate action.

The Elections Committee ruled the camera stunt illegal.  If Likud was really interested in preventing fraud, it might have wanted to send cameras into Ultra-Orthodox polling stations.  One area reported a turn-out of 108%.  Even Chicago's Richard Daley would have blushed.

Unfortunately, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is a bright, articulate, talented politician who has accomplished much, he has failed on these vital points.  It was time for a change.

Yet, decent, reasonable, moderate people voted for Netanyahu and Likud.  Why?  Not because they are ignorant, or racist, or myopic.  Rather, because they are people with everyday concerns.  Concerns such as safety and security and feeding and clothing their families.

Many people who voted for Likud know very well Netanyahu's negatives, and they do not like them one bit.  They know Israel risks losing the Jewish state if we do not move to separate from the Palestinians and give them some version of independence and sovereignty.

But they point to a few overriding factors:

1)  The last 10 years have been prosperous.  While not without challenges, the country is doing well economically.  People are eating, getting educated, driving on good roads, vacationing, enjoying life.  On nearly every scale measuring quality of life and contentment, Israel and Israelis score high.

2)  Security.  This is not a theoretical concern here.  It is tangible, and it is life and death.  Under very difficult circumstances, with threats everywhere, Netanyahu has kept the country safe.

Netanyahu has expanded and deepened relationships with African countries. While mostly under the public radar, he has established important strategic ties with several Sunni Arab countries.  He has strengthened relations with China.  He has managed to maintain a vital relationship with Russia's Putin while Russia and Iran prop up and establish a presence in Syria, having been given a green light to do so by both Presidents Obama and Trump.

While most American Jews and American liberals bemoan the fact, Netanyahu has established a close, dividend-paying relationship with the President of Israel's most important ally, the United States.   These Americans, many of whom criticized Netanyahu for not having a good relationship with Obama, now criticize him for having a good one with Trump.

They forget two important things:  a) Netanyahu did not elect Trump.  Americans did.  b)  Netanyahu's job is to take care of Israel's interests, not worry about American domestic policies.

A few days before the election I was talking to a friend who said she was leaning toward Netanyahu.  I expressed my surprise.  Eileen (not her real name) has four adult children and a gaggle of  grandchildren.  She lived through the Intifada, when parents worried about their kids being blown up on buses and in restaurants.

There are memorial plaques all around Eileen's and my neighborhoods with names of people, many of them young, who were torn to bits by these terrorist acts.  All four of Eileen's children have been in the army, a time when parents never get a good night's sleep.

Eileen told me that she knows Netanyahu has many faults.  She does not like the alleged corruption and the feeling of privilege and entitlement.  She is concerned about the future with the Palestinians.  But she stressed that Netanyahu has given her family security, has protected her children, and that was foremost in her mind.

I asked:  But Blue and White has three generals in its leadership.  Don't you trust that they can keep you and your family safe?

Eileen:  Rabin and Barak were generals.  They didn't.  (Many Israelis would add Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the ensuing years of missiles, as well as three wars, to the list.)

Me:  Stuttering.  I had no good response.

Eileen represents a lot of Israeli voters.

While Netanyahu will almost certainly be forming the next coalition, it will not be without  difficulties.  Some of the parties that he needs will be demanding policies and positions that will be difficult for him to give, or that conflict with the demands of other parties.

However, he is a master at the rubric's cube of Israeli coalition-building.  It won't be pretty, but it would be a huge surprise if he were not able to pull it off.  The old saying, "If you like law or sausage, don't watch how either is made" seems to have been thought up with Israel's system of forming a government in mind.

Netanyahu has one overriding ambition now:  to stay out of jail.  As the investigation into his alleged corruption proceeded, and as the state prosecutor recommended prosecution, and as the Attorney General issued his Indictment Pending Hearing, the prime minister got increasingly focused and strident in his defense.  He resorted to attacking and undermining the institutions of a democratic society, attacking the press, law enforcement, and the judiciary.

Some of his allies have raised the possibility of passing what is referred to here as the "French law." The French law prohibits prosecution of the president while in office.  The United States has no such law, but the Department of Justice currently has a policy that a president cannot be indicted or prosecuted while in office.

The "French law" being floated by some Israeli politicians on the right would be retroactive and, therefore,  protect Netanyahu.  Moreover, one Knesset member advocates covering all Knesset members.  This is not a "get out of jail" pass.  It's a "do whatever you feel like and never worry about going to jail" pass.

The fear is that Netanyahu is so desperate for immunity that he will agree to just about anything to get it passed.  In this case, "anything" means extending Israeli sovereignty over major "settlement blocs" (i.e. Jewish communities) in the territories.

In the last days of the campaign, in addition to going to the gutter against Gantz and Blue and White, and in addition to visiting Trump and Putin, and in addition to visiting the Western Wall with the Brazilian president, and in addition to welcoming home the remains of a soldier missing for 37 years, Netanyahu pledged that he would annex these communities.

Even though any final agreement with the Palestinians would no doubt include some if not all of these communities under Israeli sovereignty, doing so unilaterally would be a very disruptive step.  Netanyahu knows this.  There is a reason he has resisted, at considerable political risk, taking such a step for all the years he has been in office.  There is a reason no other Prime Minister in the 52 years of Israeli control of the territories took such a step.

But now he is desperate to stay out of jail, and remaining Prime Minister is the only path he sees to doing so.  So he pledged to do something he knows is bad for Israel.

Netanyahu is a master at squirming out of commitments.  So, even though he made the pledge, and even though he might very well base coalition membership on the pledge to annex in return for the French law, there is still a good chance he will find a way not to do it.

And here is a very rich irony.  Who might "rescue" Netanyahu from his pledge?  None other than his good friend Donald Trump.  Trump may ask or pressure Netanyahu to not make a move until the "deal of the century" is unveiled.

The deal might include annexation in exchange for autonomy for Palestinian areas and a capital in a Jerusalem suburb.  The Palestinians and the Israeli right that Netanyahu's government depends on would, for entirely different reasons, reject the deal.

We'd be back to where we are:  No deal. No annexation. And, no surprise:  Netanyahu as Prime Minister, protected from indictment while in office.

Proving the old axiom:  the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And me?  I'm feeling kind of lousy.  Depressed.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

The Election Results and My Depression--Complete

It appears some people did not receive the link to continue the column.  Here is the entire piece.


A good number of American friends have asked me how I feel about the recent elections here in Israel.  In short, kind of lousy.  Depressed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is in a fairly solid position.  However, contrary to some reports, he does not own the country.  He did not win the vote overwhelmingly.  The country is not all of one mind, i.e. right-wing.

As Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer wrote in an insightful and non-hysterical column, while Israeli democracy has its challenges, the election did not mark its demise.

The veteran Likud Party, with the master politician at the helm, won 36 seats, having received about 29% of the vote.  A good number of its seats came by cannibalizing some of the parties to the right, such as Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's New Right Party, which just missed the 3.25% threshold needed to be in the Knesset.

The main opposition, a newly-minted centrist party, fairly quickly thrown together by the amalgamation of four parties, two of which were themselves recent creations, led by a somewhat awkward former general in his first political campaign, captured 35 seats, having also received about 29% of the vote.

The right plus the religious parties that will form the coalition will have a total of 65 seats, or 54%.  Saying "plus the religious parties" rather than classifying them as "right" is apt because these parties have narrow, parochial interests.  Satisfy those interests (some would say "buy them off") and they will join the coalition.  For years the religious parties were part of coalitions led by Labor.

The center and left plus the Arab parties will have a total of 55 seats, or 46%.  Saying "plus the Arab parties"  is appropriate because these parties range from Communist to strictly Islamic, and also because they are not Zionist, i.e. they don't believe in a nation state for the Jewish people even though they fully participate in it, they will not join a governing coalition, and a governing coalition will not invite them in.

However, they will support a coalition from the outside.  There have been hints by some Arab political leaders of a willingness to change this position under some conditions, but this is the case for now.

If Netanyahu and the right did not win an overwhelming, crushing victory, why am I feeling lousy?

Because  Israel needs a change.

It needs a prime minister who is not embroiled in several scandals and is subject to indictment pending a hearing.  (In Israel, a person is entitled to a hearing before the Attorney General before the indictment can be issued.)

It needs a prime minister with a vision for how we move to a separation from the Palestinians, affording them the maximum opportunity to govern their own affairs while ensuring Israel remains a secure, democratic, and Jewish state.  This could eventually lead to an independent Palestinian state, depending on how the Palestinians take up the mantle.  i.e. much differently than what they've done in Gaza and the West Bank to date.

It needs a prime minister who is not so afraid of losing his coalition that he reneges on his agreement regarding the Western Wall and otherwise takes or allows policies and attitudes that unnecessarily alienate and disenfranchise millions of North American Jews.

It needs a prime minister who is not so desperate so as to run, even by today's standards, a despicable campaign.  Israel has real issues that require real, substantive debate.  The campaign was virtually devoid of such debate.  Capably and frequently employing social media, the Likud dug deep into the dirt bag.  Among some of its stunts was the spreading of  rumors about Gantz' alleged psychiatric and marital problems.

In a disgraceful finale, Likud sent members with cameras into Arab polling stations.  The purpose was intimidation.  The transparently dishonest ostensible reason was the prevention of fraud.  If the latter was the real reason, Central Elections Committee was the entity to ask to take appropriate action.

The Elections Committee ruled the camera stunt illegal.  If Likud was really interested in preventing fraud, it might have wanted to send cameras into Ultra-Orthodox polling stations.  One area reported a turn-out of 108%.  Even Chicago's Richard Daley would have blushed.

Unfortunately, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is a bright, articulate, talented politician who has accomplished much, he has failed on these vital points.  It was time for a change.

Yet, decent, reasonable, moderate people voted for Netanyahu and Likud.  Why?  Not because they are ignorant, or racist, or myopic.  Rather, because they are people with everyday concerns.  Concerns such as safety and security and feeding and clothing their families.

Many people who voted for Likud know very well Netanyahu's negatives, and they do not like them one bit.  They know Israel risks losing the Jewish state if we do not move to separate from the Palestinians and give them some version of independence and sovereignty.

But they point to a few overriding factors:

1)  The last 10 years have been prosperous.  While not without challenges, the country is doing well economically.  People are eating, getting educated, driving on good roads, vacationing, enjoying life.  On nearly every scale measuring quality of life and contentment, Israel and Israelis score high.

2)  Security.  This is not a theoretical concern here.  It is tangible, and it is life and death.  Under very difficult circumstances, with threats everywhere, Netanyahu has kept the country safe.

Netanyahu has expanded and deepened relationships with African countries. While mostly under the public radar, he has established important strategic ties with several Sunni Arab countries.  He has strengthened relations with China.  He has managed to maintain a vital relationship with Russia's Putin while Russia and Iran prop up and establish a presence in Syria, having been given a green light to do so by both Presidents Obama and Trump.

While most American Jews and American liberals bemoan the fact, Netanyahu has established a close, dividend-paying relationship with the President of Israel's most important ally, the United States.   These Americans, many of whom criticized Netanyahu for not having a good relationship with Obama, now criticize him for having a good one with Trump.

They forget two important things:  a) Netanyahu did not elect Trump.  Americans did.  b)  Netanyahu's job is to take care of Israel's interests, not worry about American domestic policies.

A few days before the election I was talking to a friend who said she was leaning toward Netanyahu.  I expressed my surprise.  Eileen (not her real name) has four adult children and a gaggle of  grandchildren.  She lived through the Intifada, when parents worried about their kids being blown up on buses and in restaurants.

There are memorial plaques all around Eileen's and my neighborhoods with names of people, many of them young, who were torn to bits by these terrorist acts.  All four of Eileen's children have been in the army, a time when parents never get a good night's sleep.

Eileen told me that she knows Netanyahu has many faults.  She does not like the alleged corruption and the feeling of privilege and entitlement.  She is concerned about the future with the Palestinians.  But she stressed that Netanyahu has given her family security, has protected her children, and that was foremost in her mind.

I asked:  But Blue and White has three generals in its leadership.  Don't you trust that they can keep you and your family safe?

Eileen:  Rabin and Barak were generals.  They didn't.  (Many Israelis would add Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the ensuing years of missiles, as well as three wars, to the list.)

Me:  Stuttering.  I had no good response.

Eileen represents a lot of Israeli voters.

While Netanyahu will almost certainly be forming the next coalition, it will not be without  difficulties.  Some of the parties that he needs will be demanding policies and positions that will be difficult for him to give, or that conflict with the demands of other parties.

However, he is a master at the rubric's cube of Israeli coalition-building.  It won't be pretty, but it would be a huge surprise if he were not able to pull it off.  The old saying, "If you like law or sausage, don't watch how either is made" seems to have been thought up with Israel's system of forming a government in mind.

Netanyahu has one overriding ambition now:  to stay out of jail.  As the investigation into his alleged corruption proceeded, and as the state prosecutor recommended prosecution, and as the Attorney General issued his Indictment Pending Hearing, the prime minister got increasingly focused and strident in his defense.  He resorted to attacking and undermining the institutions of a democratic society, attacking the press, law enforcement, and the judiciary.

Some of his allies have raised the possibility of passing what is referred to here as the "French law." The French law prohibits prosecution of the president while in office.  The United States has no such law, but the Department of Justice currently has a policy that a president cannot be indicted or prosecuted while in office.

The "French law" being floated by some Israeli politicians on the right would be retroactive and, therefore,  protect Netanyahu.  Moreover, one Knesset member advocates covering all Knesset members.  This is not a "get out of jail" pass.  It's a "do whatever you feel like and never worry about going to jail" pass.

The fear is that Netanyahu is so desperate for immunity that he will agree to just about anything to get it passed.  In this case, "anything" means extending Israeli sovereignty over major "settlement blocs" (i.e. Jewish communities) in the territories.

In the last days of the campaign, in addition to going to the gutter against Gantz and Blue and White, and in addition to visiting Trump and Putin, and in addition to visiting the Western Wall with the Brazilian president, and in addition to welcoming home the remains of a soldier missing for 37 years, Netanyahu pledged that he would annex these communities.

Even though any final agreement with the Palestinians would no doubt include some if not all of these communities under Israeli sovereignty, doing so unilaterally would be a very disruptive step.  Netanyahu knows this.  There is a reason he has resisted, at considerable political risk, taking such a step for all the years he has been in office.  There is a reason no other Prime Minister in the 52 years of Israeli control of the territories took such a step.

But now he is desperate to stay out of jail, and remaining Prime Minister is the only path he sees to doing so.  So he pledged to do something he knows is bad for Israel.

Netanyahu is a master at squirming out of commitments.  So, even though he made the pledge, and even though he might very well base coalition membership on the pledge to annex in return for the French law, there is still a good chance he will find a way not to do it.

And here is a very rich irony.  Who might "rescue" Netanyahu from his pledge?  None other than his good friend Donald Trump.  Trump may ask or pressure Netanyahu to not make a move until the "deal of the century" is unveiled.

The deal might include annexation in exchange for autonomy for Palestinian areas and a capital in a Jerusalem suburb.  The Palestinians and the Israeli right that Netanyahu's government depends on would, for entirely different reasons, reject the deal.

We'd be back to where we are:  No deal. No annexation. And, no surprise:  Netanyahu as Prime Minister, protected from indictment while in office.

Proving the old axiom:  the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And me?  I'm feeling kind of lousy.  Depressed.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Hypocrites, Hype, and Hope



I was a registered Democrat until 2010, when I resigned in protest of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel. I felt that, during the 2008 campaign, he had misled me and others about his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and with his contention that he was a friend of Israel. Resigning from the party was a way to register my objection.  

I recently rejoined the party. Not because I have suddenly reversed my views on President Obama’s treatment of Israel, and not because everything in the party is rosy. I’ve signed back up because there is now a credible and much-needed effort to fight the attempt to move the party away from its traditional support for Israel.
The pro-Israel community needs to be embedded in as wide a swath of the political spectrum as possible. There will come a day when the Democrats will have the presidency again, and there will come a day when they will control both houses of Congress. And, while the filibuster isn’t what it once was, and while many more issues divide along partisan lines than in the past, it is still much easier to get things done, or to stop bad things, if you have strength in both parties.
Further, those who have been in the American political trenches for years recall when the Democrats were Israel’s steadfast friends and there was a large part of the Republican Party that was not supportive. Politics being as fickle as it is, that could happen again, and quickly.
So, I’ve rejoined the party and I’ve signed up with the Democratic Majority for Israel, a group of veteran Democratic leaders and operatives who are working to maintain the Democratic Party’s traditional support for Israel. https://demmajorityforisrael.org/
Yes, there are a few new Democratic members of Congress who are strongly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and yes it is distressing that several presidential candidates, in a transparent attempt to pander to the anti-Israel “progressives” they see as important in certain primaries, make some outrageous and inaccurate anti-Israel statements. It demonstrates that there is much work to be done.
It was heartening to see the line-up of Democrats at the annual AIPAC policy conference. Some of them made some good speeches. Also great to hear from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer that about 30 new Democratic members of Congress will be joining him on a trip to Israel sponsored by an AIPAC-related non-profit.
Still, there are disconcerting developments. Five or six presidential candidates did not show up for the AIPAC conference. Whether it was in response to MoveOn.Org’s petition leaning on them not to go, or whether it was the result of their own political calculation, it is not a good indication of their sense of where political advantage lies.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tribe Envy


In disagreeing with the US Department of Justice’s long-held policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, noted Harvard Constitutional law Professor Laurence Tribe referenced with approval the ability of Israel’s judiciary system to indict its sitting prime minister.
While I would very much prefer that Israel not find itself in the position of demonstrating the strength of its institutions under these circumstances, the situation does illustrate Israel’s remarkably independent and robust law enforcement and judiciary systems, as well as the integrity of key Israeli officials.
Professor Tribe’s “compliment:” “I’ve never agreed that a sitting president can’t be indicted. Given the fraught politics of impeachment, that policy all but puts every American president above the law. If Israel can indict a corrupt PM, we should be able to indict a criminal POTUS.”  https://mobile.twitter.com/tribelaw/status/1101163276187115520
For many the indictment has been very slow in coming. The investigation and decision-making process have taken years. The Prime Minister’s opponents have accused the Attorney General, a Netanyahu ally, of dragging his feet. The Prime Minister’s supporters have accused him of succumbing to the opposition’s pressure in filing an indictment.
The fact is that the Israeli judicial system is very thorough, robust and excruciatingly slow. It should be celebrated.
Firstly, the police, headed by a Netanyahu appointee who the Prime Minister and his supporters later attacked, conducted a thorough investigation and made his recommendations. Then the highly respected state prosecutor, whose family was subjected to personal threats, reviewed law enforcement’s work and made his recommendations. Then the Attorney General, a Netanyahu appointee under pressure from all sides, conducted his review and came to a decision.
And it isn’t over yet. Netanyahu is “indicted pending hearing,” a process that could take another year. Only after the subject of the investigation is afforded a hearing before the Attorney General can the AG file a final indictment. After that, a trial could take even more years.
Along with many others, I would like to see Netanyahu resign. Israel needs a full-time Prime Minister focused exclusively on the well-being of the country, not one desperately fighting for his legal and political lives. The work is too important, and the cloud of illegality is too heavy, for him to continue to serve while fighting the charges.
Unfortunately, according to Israeli legal scholars, it is not clear that he is required to resign until after the hearing and final conclusion.
It should be noted that it is far from unusual for the Israeli judicial system to prosecute powerful politicians. In 2012 and 2015, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery and breach of trust for crimes convicted when he was mayor of Jerusalem. In one of the most notorious cases, Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sent to prison for rape and obstruction of justice by Judge George Karra, a Christian Arab Israeli later elevated to the Supreme Court.
While it is disappointing, to put it mildly, to see an Israeli prime minister mired in corruption and striking out against the media, law enforcement, and the judiciary in desperation, it is heartening to see Israel’s democracy and judicial system working. A sitting prime minister was indicted after a thorough process where his rights were protected. Prosecutors and police with integrity and under enormous pressure did their jobs. A free press reported on it.
Now, on April 9th, Israel will have a free election where the people, knowing the facts and the arguments, will decide whether the Prime Minister and his party will continue to lead the country. No one questions that when the time comes, power will be transferred according to the law.
This only would happen in a relatively few countries in the world. Among those countries established (or, in Israel’s case, re-established) about 70 years ago, it is particularly rare.
(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Left, Right, Trump, Jew-hatred, and America



In the wake of the horrendous massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, much has been written about whether President Trump was responsible for the murders, who else might be responsible, is Trump an anti-Semite, how prevalent Jew-hatred is in American society, and what is creating this atmosphere where more blatant expressions of Jew-hatred and even violence are becoming common.

Vandalism to synagogues and other Jewish institutions is making the news. These incidents and other manifestations of anti-Semitism have been going on for years. Now they seem more blatant and frequent and are clearly garnering more attention from the media.

It is likely that but for being turned in by concerned family members, a Jew-hating young man in Washington, D.C. was on the verge of committing another massacre like the one in Pittsburgh.
Just days ago, a Toledo man was arrested for planning a deadly attack on a local synagogue.

In Baltimore a man screaming “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump” during the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof set off an understandable panic as many in the crowd expected bullets to follow. Never mind that it was an impulsive and totally inappropriate outburst borne of frustration with President Trump’s immigration stance. The point is that Jews are seen as such a target in today’s America that the audience thought it meant bullets would fly.

Hate-motivated crimes against Jews have increased substantially, and while Jews represent just 2% of the U.S. population, they are the victims of 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

A few commentators have criticized these statistics, saying they create a false impression because they include “non-violent” acts like vandalism. Jews in America should be comforted by that? Swastikas on synagogues, JCC’s, and days schools don’t leave scars? Words like “kike” and “dirty Zionist” scrawled on walls and Internet posts don’t mean people shouldn’t be on guard, that they have no reason to be fearful?

A columnist for the Forward asked Young American Jews whether America is still safe for Jews. There were a mix of answers, some pessimistic, some hopeful. But just the fact that the question was asked and serious, diverse answers ensued tells one a lot about the mental state of American Jews when it comes to Jew-hatred. Most American Jews would have thought the question ludicrous just five or 10 years ago.

The actual Nazi or KKK members in the U.S. is a minuscule percentage of the population. Those that go out and march and scream also represent a very low percentage of the population. But a recent reputable poll found that 9% of Americans think that it is legitimate to hold neo-Nazi views. That's about 22 million people. When you add in the five or 10 or 15 million more who feel that way but are too smart or too embarrassed to admit it, that is a whole bunch of Americans, and that is frightening.

Ultimately, the man who pulled the trigger is responsible for the horrible deaths in Pittsburgh. And, ultimately, the person who spray paints graffiti on a synagogue, or a person who sends bigoted vitriol through cyberspace, is responsible for his or her actions. But, for the atmosphere in the U.S. that has given rise to public expressions of Jew-hatred and gives license to those who are tempted to use violence, for that there is plenty of blame to go around, and it is not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dear Airbnb

Airbnb announced that it will no longer provide its services to Jewish homeowners in the West Bank. Although this decision will probably impact no more than 200 people and will have no effect at all on the Israeli economy, it is nonetheless a highly offensive decision and morally very questionable.  I wrote a letter to the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky:

Dear Mr. Chesky:

I am writing to register my strong objection to Airbnb’s decision to stop providing its services to those Jews who live in Jewish communities in the area commonly referred to as the West Bank.  My family and I will not be using Airbnb’s services unless this decision is reversed.  I would like to explain why.

At best, your decision reflects a lack of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and is ill-considered.  At worst, it is a manifestation of Jew-hatred, aka anti-Semitism.

The Balfour Declaration stated that the British government looked favorably on the development of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.  Originally Palestine included the territory that is now Israel, the disputed West Bank, and Jordan.  When England was given a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations it was with the full knowledge that England had issued the Balfour Declaration.

Subsequently the British created Jordan, arbitrarily tearing it off from what was Palestine and giving it to a dictator imported from elsewhere in the Arab world.  That dictator’s descendants still control Jordan even though about 70 percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian.

In 1947, in a painful compromise, those Jews working to create the Jewish state in that area that was left agreed to a compromise:  the Jewish state would be a very narrow strip along the Mediterranean Sea, along with the Negev Desert and a part of the Galilee, and another Arab state would be created in what is now the West Bank.  (In those days, Jews and Arabs were both called Palestinians, although most in the Arab world considered the West Bank not a Palestinian state but part of southern Syria.)

The Arab world rejected this compromise.  In the 1948 war that resulted, Jordan took control of the West Bank.  Only Iraq, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom recognized Jordan’s sovereignty over the area.  The Arab world did not.  Jordan did not allow creation of a Palestinian state.  Very few people advocated for it.

In 1967, Israel fought a defensive war against Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other Arab nations.  As a result of that war Israel took control of the West Bank.  Given the history as outlined above, as well as the war, it was entirely reasonable for Israelis to claim control of the area and to develop communities there.