Sunday, July 15, 2018

Useful Idiots and Other Players

For the last several weeks, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others in Gaza have been using kites and other means to fly incendiary devices and explosives into southern Israeli communities and fields near the border.

Virtually all targets have been civilian. Thousands of acres of fields as well as communities have been burned and threatened with destruction. The other day Israel finally stepped up some actions to try to stop the attacks. In response, the Palestinians have fired a huge barrage of rockets into Israeli communities, targeting civilians.

Israeli civilians are now sleeping in shelters and running for cover with just seconds marking the difference between life and death or injury.  Children are traumatized.

Iran is encouraging and supporting this as a way to divert Israel and the world's attention from its efforts to establish military bases in Syria and to encourage Syria to attack Israel. Thank you, Presidents Obama, Putin, and Trump, and the P-5+1.

I have seen and heard nothing from CNN, the NY Times, Senators Sanders and Feinstein, the UN, the EU, Rabbi Jacobs and the Reform Movement, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Breaking the Silence, Ireland, Human Rights Watch, and the myriad of other persons and groups who predictably condemn and caution Israel at the first sign of violence, regardless of history or context.

The Israeli public has had enough and is understandably demanding that the government take stronger action to protect the children, women, and men of the south.  In response, Israel is about to act.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as part of their strategy, deliberately embed military resources among civilians, hoping to cause death and injury of Palestinians and thereby sympathetic international attention and condemnation of Israel.  And it works every time.  Everyone plays according to script, with the international players seemingly relishing their role as dupes, albeit self-righteous ones.

When  Palestinians start to be injured and killed, I am sure we will hear from all those I listed above and more about "disproportionate" force (which simply means they would be happier if Jews died), the "cycle of violence," "restraint by all parties," and more platitudes ad nausea.

The roles of hypocrites, opportunists, bigots, and useful idiots never seem to have any shortage of enthusiastic players.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Great Divide

It seemingly took less than a few minutes for the most recent poll about the divide between American Jews and Israelis to get plastered on every Jewish website, news report, Facebook page, and e-mail box.

My response: resignation, and a yawn. Next thing we'll learn is that there is gambling in the house.
Israeli Jews are increasing in number and are living a Jewish national life daily, up-close, and sometimes with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The American Jewish population is decreasing, and for most American Jews, Judaism is a an occasional thing, Israel is a minor, very occasional thought (most haven’t even visited once), a source of discomfort when Israel has to do what a nation in the Middle East has to do to survive, and not something that fits in with their desire to be part of a universal, inclusive, feeling-good-about-reaching-out-to-others self-perception.

Much is written about how the divide between American Jews and Israeli Jews is exacerbated by Israel's conduct and policies toward Palestinians, toward and about non-Orthodox Jewry, and the like. How Israel is alienating the mainstream American Jewish community and alienating young American Jews.

This is true to a certain extent. Israelis live in a different political environment, with a different political structure, with a different perspective on synagogue and state, with a different security situation, and on and on. American Jews, from their perspectives, are just not going to be comfortable with everything Israelis do because of their situation and perspectives.

Because most of them are largely ignorant of Israel's history and circumstances and perspectives, and because most of them are heavily infused with and invested in their history, circumstances, and perspectives, American Jews are not going to be very understanding of or comfortable with much of what Israel does.

But this is for those who are paying attention. Most are not. Most hardly give a thought to Israel. On a daily basis, most barely give a moment to thinking and living as Jews.

American Jews’ connection to Israel is mostly falling by the wayside not because of any particular Israeli policy. Most pay little or no attention. It is evaporating because most Jews' connection to Judaism is evaporating.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bibi and the Nukes

It is long past time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office. He’s got more baggage than Samsonite.

Among many people there is now an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction against Netanyahu on virtually every issue he raises. It is not always deserved, even though there is a good argument that he contributed to this near Pavlovian reaction.

Netanyahu has acted responsibly on some issues, particularly when it comes to the security of Israel which, for understandable reasons, is a very high priority here. For example, during the last Gaza War, undertaken to stop the missiles being fired into Israel and to stop the tunnels used to terrorize the south and to attempt to kidnap soldiers, there was much pressure from the right to go further into Gaza and to overthrow Hamas.

Netanyahu did what was necessary for Israel's defense but he resisted the pressure to go any further, knowing that it would create an untenable situation. He took a lot of flak for, in the view of those advocating such an action, not eradicating the problem once and for all.

Regarding the recent showcasing of Iranian documents and discs that demonstrate that Iran lied when it told the world it never had a nuclear weapons program, I could have done without Netanyahu's public show. I would have preferred that he present the information privately to relevant leaders around the world. Now, instead of the focus being on the issues, i.e. does Iran pose a nuclear threat and should the current deal be modified or rescinded, much of the focus is on Bibi’s presentation and veracity.

Of course, that problem is irrelevant if the intended audience was simply Donald Trump and it was determined that this was the best way to reach him. Coming just hours after Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit, one suspects this may have been a requested performance with that one-person audience in mind.

It is unfortunate that Netanyahu’s presentation is the focus of attention and that many doubt its authenticity. Of course, one can argue that without the presentation, or performance, no one would have paid any attention to the issue.

The criticism of the presentation is unfortunate for several reasons. First, just in terms of intelligence work, i.e. the spy game, this operation made James Bond and anything written by Tom Clancy look like minor league play. They spymasters should be given credit, anonymously, of course.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


The U.S. should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is its capital. The U.S. embassy should announce its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem, a process that will probably take years to complete. Embassies should be in the capital of countries, and, as far as I know, they are in every other country where the U.S. has an embassy. 

Many have warned that such recognition and such an announcement would be the end of the peace process, that it would be the death knell for any peace plan, that it would set things back immeasurably.

For the last 70 years, Jerusalem has not been recognized as the capital of Israel and the embassy has not been in Jerusalem.  How's that peace process been working out?  How have the plans been going?  Have things been moving ahead smoothly?

Perhaps it is time to try a different tact. Perhaps it is time to treat the Palestinians, and many of their supporters, like adults, with adult rights and responsibilities.  Actions, and inaction, have consequences. Tantrums in the form of violence,  threats of violence, and non-cooperation should not be rewarded.

The Palestinians and others have raised the possibility of violence if the U.S. goes through on its reported intention to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to move the embassy.

As Alan Dershowitz and others have argued, one of the primary reasons terrorism is used so often is that it has worked. When Yasser Arafat perfected the "art" of hijacking in the 1970's, the Europeans caved. They couldn't move fast enough to release out their back doors terrorists they had arrested via their front doors.  The U.N. welcomed Arafat as a hero, gun on his hip and all. 

Two very different American presidents deserve equal blame for encouraging the perception that terrorism works.  Jimmy Carter sat paralyzed for a year with American embassy personnel held as hostages in Iran.  Ronald Reagan talked tough but quickly removed troops and retreated from Lebanon after the attack on an American barracks that killed over 200 Marines.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lebanon Does Comedy

It's nice to know that given all of its problems, Lebanon has a sense of humor.

Its Office of the Boycott of Israel announced that Lebanon is boycotting Justice League because the star, Gal Gadot, is Israeli.

Yes, the boycott of Wonder Woman by Lebanon and a few other Arab countries was so successful. Wonder Woman has blown the roof off of box office records.  Gal Gadot probably polls up there with Pope Francis, Prince Harry, and Chunky Monkey. (By the way, Ben and  Jerry's is very popular in Israel, and a visit to its factory store is a great way of topping off a day visiting the Ashkelon area.)

Lebanon is basically a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran, with Hezbollah holding the director's seat. It is the center for a likely clash of epic proportions between the Shiite and Sunni worlds, with Saudi Arabia and Iran showing about as much regard for its people's welfare as a bunch of cats at a mice buffet.

It probably has had more assassinations than all of the Bond, Godfather, and Bourne movies combined.  Its economy grew by about 1.8% in 2016.  Its per capita income was $13,860.  Its citizens have won no Nobel Prizes.  (One British citizen who was of half Lebanese Christian descent and one American who was of Lebanese Christian descent have won, per Wikipedia.)

Across the border, seemingly every day there is an announcement of another major international company establishing an R and D center in Israel and/or buying up an Israeli start-up.  Seemingly every day there is an announcement of a breakthrough on the way to a miracle cure for one disease or another.

Chinese investors are scouring the country looking for investments and, as a bonus, creating a new destination for Chinese tourists. Hollywood is buying up Israeli script ideas faster than Carrie Mathison can escape a well-planted IED (For the uninitiated, see the Homeland TV show).  Israeli's economy grew 4% in 2016, more than twice that of Lebanon. Its per capita income was $37,400, three times that of Lebanon. Israel has had 12 Nobel Prize winners.

One can only hope that Lebanon keeps that Office of the Boycott of Israel humming along, fully staffed. It's obviously doing a terrific job.  It must keep a dozen Lebanese fully employed.  And it is providing some pretty good laughs for those of us south of the border.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Thanksgiving to Remember?

I have had many debates with friends over the years about President Obama’s foreign policy, which I thought was very likely to lead to dangerous situations in several parts of the world, particularly here in the Middle East. President Obama had a strategic vision of the U.S. withdrawing from its traditional “policeman of the world” role in several of the world’s regions and of regional players developing balancing acts of their own in each region.

Many predicted that this policy would lead to disaster in the Middle East, and it may just be coming to fruition. It resulted in Iran and Russia moving in at an extraordinary scale and pace to fill the void. One can argue that it is, at least in part, responsible for the deaths of a half million Syrians, the displacement of millions more of them, and basically the disintegration of Syria as a unified nation. Not to mention the slaughter in Yemen.

One can argue whether the nuclear deal is a plus or a minus in terms of perhaps delaying Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for 10 or 15 years before becoming an internationally legitimatized nuclear power, but one cannot argue with the fact that it did nothing to make Iran a more responsible member of the “family of nations” as Obama predicted it would. Iran has become more aggressive, more destabilizing, and more set on hegemony in the area.

The Obama Administration's policy was naïve and misguided, and its policies have led to a very dangerous situation.

I don’t credit President Trump with any deeply held strategic vision. He is just a narcissistic, unread, impulsive, insecure bully, although he may have a few people around him who have some background, reasoning ability, and strategic vision. Despite all of his tough talk, he basically has allowed the results of the Obama vision to occur, and may have actually accelerated them.

President Trump agreed to allow Iran/Russia to be right on the Golan Heights, within kilometers of Israel. Iran and Hezbollah are in control of Lebanon. Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, quit, laying the blame on both Iran and Hezbollah and thereby precipitating a crisis in Lebanon and the region. Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf States, has urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

We have a powder keg on our Northern border. Hezbollah/Syria/Iran may very well start a war with Israel to try to divert attention away from its aggressiveness in Lebanon and to try to unite the Arab/Muslim world against us rather than have much of it aligned against them. Or, Sunni forces, led or encouraged by Saudi Arabia, may start a war against Hezbollah, drawing in Syria and Iran and, ultimately, Israel.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Isabel Kershner, the NY Times, and the Demise of Our Democracy

A friend from the US recently sent me Isabel Kershner’s “Jerusalem Memo,” published in last Tuesday’s New York Times.

The headline:  "Is the End of Israeli Democracy Nigh?  Israelis Debate its Future"

My friend’s accompanying note:

“Seems the USA is not alone in facing a constitutional crisis. Curious what you think about this.”

My response, with a few modifications:

Dear Steve (name changed):

The New York Times seldom misses an opportunity to predict Israel’s last curtain call, and Kershner’s column fits the well-established pattern.  It is overwrought.

I don’t think we are facing a constitutional crisis here.  For starters, we don’t have a constitution, so technically we can’t have a crisis about it, although one could argue that we are consistently in a crisis of sorts because of the absence of one.

There are things that I am seriously concerned with, e.g., the efforts to permit the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions, although I have to admit that even though I like the Court’s decisions most of the time, it is the most activist court I have ever seen and half the time I cannot figure out a rationale for the decisions I like other than “it is the right thing to do.”

Netanyahu is not the devil that the Western and liberal Jewish press and communities like to make out, but he is a political weasel par excellence who I did not vote for and, now, a desperate politician who will attack the press and others to stay in power.  Wow, that is certainly unique.

The mention of the law on NGOs is off-base in my view.  Sure, the motivation of those on the right may not have been good government but, rather, to counter-attack, but the legislation as enacted is acceptable:  if 50% of the NGOs funding comes from foreign governments, the source must be disclosed.

The legislation affects about two dozen organizations. The law is reasonable considering these NGO’s try to impact Israeli policy both by work in Israel and by trying to influence the policies and attitudes of other countries, organizations, and individuals toward Israel. Laws in the U.S. are stricter.