Monday, March 9, 2020

Panic, Economic Suicide, and the Virus

Today Israel announced that it is imposing a 14-day self-quarantine requirement on everyone coming from anywhere.  Except for citizens returning home and possibly non-citizens coming for exceptionally long visits, this requirement basically means Israel is physically cutting itself off from the world.

In a way, an irrational response to the coronavirus has accomplished what BDS has failed to do:  isolate Israel. 

Today I received an e-mail from one of the non-profits that works with the international press to try to ensure that Israel gets a fair shake in the news.  The organization reported that it had held a press conference to “make sure the international media accurately report Israel’s highly responsible approach.”

Except it is not.  It is a panicked, over-the-top response that is needlessly causing inconvenience, chaos, and panic for millions of people and is going to severely damage if not destroy Israel’s economy.

For most of the population, the coronavirus is less harmful than the flu. It almost exclusively seriously impacts the elderly and those with already compromised immune systems. Very few young people have had a serious case.

The statistics simply do not support the fear that has taken over Israel and much of the world:

Responsible doctors and other experts are advising the elderly and those with compromised immune systems to avoid crowds and to not fly or take cruises.  They are advising others to take reasonable hygienic measures such as wiping down surfaces and thoroughly washing hands.

The initial high death toll, the stuff of screaming headlines, was mainly due to ignorance as to what was happening and how to deal with it, and to vulnerable populations clustering in venues that amounted to petri dishes, i.e. cruise ships and senior housing facilities.  China, where the disease was first detected, is already seeing rates of infection and death decline (assuming its reports are reliable).

Dr. Jeremy Faust, who teaches at Harvard Medical School and writes for Slate, believes that the mortality rate will be lower than people think and that people are unnecessarily panicking.

Dr. Steve Polansky of Sacramento, California sees one silver lining in what otherwise is a sea of irrationality:

“The one benefit to all this irrationality is that people are taking precautions with hand washing. So what will happen - the incidence of deaths from INFLUENZA will be markedly reduced which will be great. Other than that, I blame this massive hysteria on the media. Practice appropriate hand hygiene and if you have a cold, stay home. If you are running a fever and a cough, call your MD for instructions. Otherwise live your life.”

Israel is killing its economy and possibly fraying its relationships with other countries for no reason.  Rather than trying to cut itself off from the world and contributing to fear, confusion, and severe damage to the economy, it should be taking reasonable, methodical steps to protect the public’s health. 

 (Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Sanders, Trump, Biden: The U.S., Israel, and the Jews

I cast my ballot in the California primary.  I voted for Joe Biden.  It wasn't the happiest or most enthusiastic vote I ever cast.  But it could be one of the most important.

Biden is a bit past his prime.  I don't agree with him on every issue.  But he is a competent, decent man who will govern from the center/left and will act responsibly, and who will surround himself with competent, reasonable people.

In contrast, the other two candidates with a realistic chance of taking the oath on January 20th are adverse to the interests of the United States, of American Jews, and of Israel.

As Yossi Klein Halevi has written, a race between Sanders and Trump would be a nightmare for American Jews.    Both men are radical, polarizing figures.  History shows that Jews don't do well in radical, polarized societies.

Wittingly or unwittingly,  Trump and Sanders are working in tandem to make Israel into a polarizing, partisan issue.  Both are trying to turn the Democratic Party against Israel.

Sanders has surrounded himself with and empowered people who trade in anti-Semitic tropes and who would deny the Jewish people our right to self-determination in the land in which we are an indigenous people. Hate and bigotry is equally despicable, and should be opposed, whether it comes from the right or the left.

Sanders lied about and smeared AIPAC, which has as members and which hosts speakers from across the political spectrum. He showed that he is a hypocrite, having spoken at conferences that feature Jew haters and people who would deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination.

And in 2015 he spoke at Liberty University, the university founded by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and now led by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr.  It is a bastion of opposition to gay rights, reproductive rights, and other rights and beliefs the left holds sacrosanct. Apparently just to show what a proud Jew he is and how much he respects Jews and Judaism, he spoke there on Rosh Hoshanah.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

It's morning in Jerusalem

We split our time between Jerusalem and Sacramento, California. I happened to have been corresponding with some folks back in Sacramento. I decided to add a report on our morning here in Israel. With some minor modifications, here it is: 

In the meantime, I thought you might all want a first-hand account of what has happened here this morning.  As you probably know, early this morning Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad member responsible for many terrorist activities and reportedly planning some imminent ones.  In response, as of an hour ago (around 9:30 a.m.) Israel has been hit with about 50 rockets targeting civilian areas. 

Tzeva adoms (Red alerts--piercing sirens) have gone off everywhere from Gaza up to Tel Aviv.  All schools and workplaces from Gaza to Tel Aviv were shut down this morning.  (A few minutes ago authorities said that workplaces could open if there was a shelter close by and people knew how to get to it.) 

We have been in close contact with our daughter.  She lives in the center of Tel Aviv in an old building with no shelter.  Her wake-up call this morning was a Tzeva Adom going off around 8:00 a.m.  I helped her determine where the closest shelter was located and whether she would have the time to get to it when more alarms went off.  She has also been in touch with the food tour operator she works with.  They are discussing how to handle the situation.  (Some of the tour groups and people signed up for tours want to continue with the tours!) 

About 10 minutes ago a Tzeva Adom went off in Modi’in, a suburban community mid-way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, about 25 minutes from where we are in Jerusalem.  This led Dana (my wife) and I to discuss the real possibility of rockets targeted at Jerusalem, which last happened during the 2014 war.  We live on the top (third) floor of a 1950’s building in Jerusalem.  Saying it is a not a model of solid construction is an understatement.  No shelter.  No safe room.  We know where the neighborhood shelter is but we think we would not be able to get there in time. 

The general instructions in this kind of situation are to go into the stairwell because it is the most distance from outside walls and windows.  However, as I pointed out to Dana in 2014 my feeling, based on being a contractor’s son, is that the staircase would collapse if you breathed hard on it.  So I think the most reasonable approach is to have a drink and pray.

One of the broadcasters interviewed a resident of the South. To paraphrase him:  "We get this all the time. We've had over a 1,000 rockets targeting us. You are now paying attention because it is hitting the Tel Aviv area."

At the same time my wife e-mailed a friend in one of the communities in the South, asking how she and her family and community were doing.  Her response:  "We are o.k.  It seems we are not alone this time."

I hope the entire spectrum of the American Jewish community will express its strong solidarity with Israelis at this time. 

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Senator Warren's Table

I’ve supported a two-state solution for 30 years.  I believe that it would have been better if many of the “settlements,” i.e. communities of Jews, had not been built in the territories.  The country would have been better off had the resources and the people been devoted to settling more Jews in the Galilee and the Negev, and to developing additional infrastructure for all of the residents of those regions. 

I have supported candidates for Prime Minister from parties that would have slowed down or stopped altogether the building of settlements beyond blocs that would be included in Israel in any final settlement.  I would accept the removal of some “hilltop” settlements out in the middle of nowhere and consisting of a few trailers if it would deliver true peace, the acceptance of the right of Jews to our nation in the Middle East, an end of claims, and no “right of return” of descendants of refugees, people who never lived in Israel. 

Israel needs strong supporters in, and strong support from, both parties.  Both parties will control Congress at one time or another.  Both parties will have a member in the White House at one time or another.  I want the Democrats to have a pro-Israel candidate.

Elizabeth Warren is not that candidate.   When asked if she would withhold aid if Israel engaged in settlement activity she finds adverse to a solution, she declared that “everything is on the table.”
Why, if I find the settlements problematic, would I not vote for someone who uses funds as leverage for curbing some settlement activity? 

Because it shows that Senator Warren is no friend of Israel, has no respect for Israel, has little if any understanding of the reasons for a lack of a peace agreement, and most likely will have an adversarial relationship with whoever is the Prime Minister of Israel. 

Israel is a democracy.  Its government reflects the will of its people, albeit, like any other democracy, in a rough and sometimes convoluted manner.  Israelis live in a rough neighborhood.  They have experienced wars, terrorism, and a country that threatens their annihilation while developing nuclear weapons. 

Israelis have elected governments that have adopted Israel’s policies regarding settlements.  Israelis, having endured terror during the Oslo Process and the Second Intifada, will undoubtedly elect a government that adopts policies Senator Warren finds objectionable and not conducive to advancing peace. We now know how a President Warren might respond when she and the Israeli people disagree.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Anger management

Many Americans, including many American Jews, are upset and angry that Israel conceded to President Trump’s pressure and has decided not to allow a visit to Israel by Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar.  (Actually, according to the Congresswomen, the visit was to be to “Palestine," which tells you a little about the agenda.)

Americans are angry that Israel is aiding Trump in his campaign, at least partially fueled by racism, to ostracize the congresswomen.  American Jews who care about Israel as well as their place in the Democratic Party are angry that Israel conceded to an obvious effort to create division in the Democratic Party and to weaken crucial bipartisan support for Israel.  American Jewish leaders are also concerned that Israel’s doing Trump’s bidding will further exacerbate the divides in the American Jewish community. 

All are right to be angry and upset.  I am angry and upset that Trump pressured Israel.  I am upset that Israel caved in.  I fear the long-term consequences to the American Jewish community and to the bi-partisan support for Israel, which is vital. 

But these Americans and, in particular, American Jews, who are angry at Israel are directing their anger at the wrong place.  And these Americans are displaying an unfathomable degree of hypocrisy and inconsistency. And American Jews are demonstrating a complete inability to even acknowledge that perhaps Israelis have a legitimate reason for seeing things differently.  Moreover, they cannot see the irony in the current situation even though it should be hitting them in the face.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer first announced that Israel would permit the visit.  Then President Trump, undoubtedly for narcissistic, racist political reasons, leaned on Israel not to do it. Unfortunately, despite the deplorable motivations, Trump is nonetheless the president of the United States and he has control over things that are crucial to Israel's security, some of them existential. And he is vindictive.

Trump has moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, something other presidents committed to do but did not do.  He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he has taken on anti-Israel activities and organizations at the UN and other world bodies to an extent no other president ever did.  It may pain pro-Israel Democrats like me to to have to recognize that President Trump did these things, but they are facts nonetheless. 

And it is of no matter what Trump's motivations were for taking these positive steps.  If we undid every good thing politicians do for personal, self-interested political reasons, we’d have to erase much of the progress of the last 100 years.

To defy any president of the United States is a substantial risk for Israel.  To say “no” to this one, who has taken positive actions for it and who surely thinks he has been a great friend, is to take a huge risk. As I said, the man is vindictive, and he is petty.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Not My Father's America

Forget the politics. Forget whose fault it is. Watching what is happening on the southern border of the United States is depressing and disgusting. It's shameful.

I am glad that my father, his brothers, his friends are gone. This is not the America they served for, fought for, sometimes marched and rallied for, voted for, and, despite different politics, different levels of education, different degrees of success, believed in. It's not the America I grew up being taught to believe in.

Yes, it may have been an idealized America. It may have been only a part of America.  But it was a good and decent America, even if it was in their and our dreams, even if it was their, and our, idealized America.

It was not an America where immigrants, legal or illegal, refugees, people afraid and on the run, people seeking a better life, were demonized.  It was not an America where immigrant children are torn away from their parents and are sleeping on concrete floors with aluminum "blankets." It was not an America where fathers and baby daughters wash up dead on river banks.

In my father's America, and mine, we helped people who were in desperate straits. We didn't perpetuate their misery.

As an American citizen, brought up on the ideals and the dreams of America that my father imbued in me, not naive about its faults, but still a believer in the ideals, I am ashamed.

Former First Lady Laura Bush rightly asserted that what is happening on the border belies America's claims</a></a> to be a moral nation: 

"Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place." 

The 99 year old former Nuremberg trials prosecutor Ben Ferencz knows crimes against humanity when he sees them, and he says he is seeing them now:

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.