Friday, December 19, 2014
Monday, December 15, 2014
My wife and I returned about a week ago from a terrific month-long trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I was very proud of myself for planning the entire trip. We were on our own, hooking up with a couple of mini-cruises on the Mekong River and personal guides along the way.
My nominations for the three greatest inventions of our times: 1) Penicillin. 2) Airplane mileage. 3) Trip Advisor. Penicillin is an easy one, of course. We all--that is we all that were born in the 1950's--learned that it saved millions of lives a year.
The other two because it is just hard to imagine planning and executing a great trip on a reasonable budget without those two items. OK, so I had to knock the atom out of the top three in order to fit airline mileage on the list. I will admit it's close.
Overall impressions and reactions from the trip: Beautiful part of the world. Wonderful, welcoming people. Grand, tragic histories. Particularly tragic for Cambodia. Unfortunately corrupt governments.
After 30 days in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, and the Mekong Delta, in Phnom Phen and Ankgor Wat, in Pakse and the Four Thousand Islands, in remote villages of the Laotian north, and in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, the question that kept going through my head: why exactly did we Americans see these people as a tremendous threat and feel the need to bomb the living daylights out of them?
They, particularly the Vietnamese, seem to be the most industrious, capitalistic people one can imagine. They appear to have the same deal with their government as the Chinese have: We'll let you one-party Communists have the power and generally run things, and you'll leave us alone and let us make money and try to improve our lives.
They certainly did not seem intent on knocking dominoes down and spreading Communism throughout the world. Which does make you wonder: how do you know when the threat is real enough and requires standing up to it? We thought the dominoes would fall. The Red Scare or Red Menace was real. The Communists wanted to take over the world. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Khrushchev, Ho Chi Minh. They were the bad guys. We had to stand up to them.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
“The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace," Obama said. Then, departing from printed remarks made available to reporters beforehand, he added: "And that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel."
Israelis need the President of the United States to tell them what to reflect on during our holy days?
Too many Israelis are ready to abandon the hard work of peace? What planet is the President inhabiting? This is unbelievably offensive and factually wrong. Has he ever seen the graves of the thousands of young people on Mt. Herzl? The memorials to terrorist victims? Has he heard the prayers for peace?
I know of no Israeli who is "ready to abandon the hard work of peace" or who doesn't pray or hope for peace daily. To make such a statement at any time is offensive and insulting. To do so on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, when every Jew prays for a peaceful year, reflects on the past year, and tries to rededicate himself to a worthy life, is just unbelievably insensitive.
Despite all of my criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy, and my many concerns about his policies that have hurt Israel and the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I have always tried to regard him with the respect a President deserves. However, this is simply outrageous and I have no respect left for this president.
Over and over again, Israelis have taken great steps for peace, only to be faced with terrorism, missiles, and hate. Israelis continue to reach out to their Palestinian neighbors and to be willing to make great sacrifices for a real peace. And, after having done so, when we must then defend ourselves from a less than optimum position, the world condemns us, with the U.S. Secretary of State publicly and sarcastically mocking our efforts at precision.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Why do I think the Secretary of State might be deserving of the Prize? Well, when was the last time we've seen Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President al-Sissi, Jordan's King Hussein, the Saudi's, and the United Arab Emirates all united and in agreement? No, I can't remember that time either.
But, Kerry has done it. How? By pulling one of the stupidest stunts in the history of American foreign policy. All those parties, allies of the U.S., feel betrayed by the U.S. and are incredibly angry at what they see as an American lifeline being tossed to a terrorist organization whose ideology and actions represent a serious threat to the region.
Hamas was on the ropes. Gazans had had it with them for dragging them into this war. The Egyptians, who rightly see Hamas as a terrorist extension of the Muslim Brotherhood and who have put a tighter blockade on them than Israel, had proposed a ceasefire deal that Israel had embraced and that would have ensured an end to the rocket fire and the tunnels. Abbas, who the Obama Administration purportedly wants to promote as the leader of the recently reunited Palestinian Authority, had embraced the proposal.
Hamas rejected the proposal because it would have made them look like losers and would have crippled their ability to terrorize Israel. One would think that the U.S., having designated Hamas a terrorist organization like al-Queda and other evil organizations, would have liked the notion of Hamas appearing to be losers and, in fact, being seriously set back in their objectives.
So, what does the Secretary of State do? Well, first, his undersecretary, in a soon amended tweet, puts out a message that ends with "#United with Gaza." How did that happen? No one seems to know.
Then, the Secretary of State himself is heard saying into a microphone that was supposed to be off (whoops, how does that always happen?) ridiculing the notion that Israel is trying to do "pinpoint strikes," apparently astonished that wars initiated by Hamas from within heavily populated areas might lead to the death and injury of Gazans when Israelis defend themselves.
Then, the Secretary jets off reportedly uninvited to mediate a ceasefire. He stops in Egypt where the Egyptians, apparently peeved at him for past slights, find a clerk that purportedly does not know who he is and, therefore, puts him through a security clearance. He pops in on Israel where he meets a "no" to one of his ceasefire proposals.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Thursday, July 17, 2014
A bitter irony of this is the fact that Hamas initiated and is engaging in this war for reasons that have little to do with Israel. The reasons are:
1. The organization's general decline in standing in the Arab world and with its people. This is a hail Mary to try to recapture lost stature and to rally their own people and the Arab world.
2. The demand that Egypt open up the Rafah crossing into Gaza. By closing the crossing and destroying the thousands of tunnels used to smuggle in goods Egypt has caused great hardship and, most importantly to Hamas, has cut off a large part of the supply of missiles and other weapons.
(Except for relatively brief temporary closures, Israel's crossing has never completely closed. Humanitarian goods have continued to cross, even during the worst fighting. Gazan residents, including children in need of heart surgery, continue to cross into Israel for treatment.
Moreover, Israel continues to supply water and electricity to Gaza. The electricity supply has been decreased in recent days. The reason: Hamas missiles hit electrical lines. Yes, Hamas attacks the electrical supply of its own people. And, as crazy as Israel is in terms of continuing to supply Gaza and to care for Gazans in our health facilities despite its attacks, we are not sending our repairmen into harm's way to get the electricity back up. At least, I pray we are not doing so.)
Sunday, July 13, 2014
I'm pretty sure that when Nat King Cole's silky smooth voice sang the lyrics of the song heralding the carefree days of summer--already a bit dated given the throes of the Civil Rights Movement and the imminent upheavals of 1963 America--he had nothing like our summer of 2014 Israel in mind. Still, it has been crazy and it is all a bit hazy.
I got up a week ago Thursday morning at 4:00 a.m. to drive from our apartment in Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport to pick up our first granddaughter, Shoshana Bette, on her first visit to Israel. As long as I was there, I also picked up her parents, our oldest son and his wife.
At that time of the morning, it took me 32 minutes to drive about two-thirds of the width of the country. As we think about giving up territory for peace, and as we endure missiles aimed at our civilian population centers from Gaza, from which we withdrew nine years ago, those 32 minutes trouble me.
I first came to Israel at the age of 18. My son first came at 14. His daughter is here at 11 weeks. The march of Zionism.
Even though she cannot appreciate it, it is an unabashedly joyous feeling to share Israel, particularly Jerusalem, with another generation of our family. When our other son heard that his niece was coming with her parents for her first visit to Israel, he decided to come too, so we had our entire immediate family here.
Even as tensions rose, we all delighted in strolling on Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Road and in exploring the Old City for the umpteenth time, this time with the next generation literally in hand. Accompanying my son as he approached the Kotel with his infant daughter was one of those moments that make life worth living.
And we were not the only ones living life's moments, cherishing the minutes and having fun. Israel is a remarkable place, and Israelis are a remarkable people. Despite the problems, the Old City was full.
The rest of Jerusalem was bustling. Israelis, tourists, Jews, Christians, Muslims were visiting, eating, shopping, working, riding the bus. People living life, and taking care of business. From spectacular joy to the mundane minutes of life to taking cover from rockets, Jerusalem and Israel are marching, sometimes prodding, onward.
Yet, simultaneously, we were incredibly sad, ashamed, and distressed. Deeply saddened over the death of three of our teenage boys who were mercilessly murdered for the act of trying to get home from school. It's been said many times, but one of the truly unique aspects of life in Israel is that everyone feels it when we lose someone, especially when the victim is an innocent youth.
If we don't know the person, we know someone who does. Regardless of a connection or not, we feel like we know the person. Other than perhaps on 9-11, I don't think Americans of my generation have ever felt this feeling of loss over someone who is a complete stranger. At least, I have not.
We here in Israel feel it much too often. And we have felt it terribly and deeply over the loss of our three boys. We feel shame, and anger, and sadness, that extremist Israeli Jews would take revenge by killing an innocent young Palestinian teenager and somehow think it is justified. They do not act and they do not speak for me, and they do not act or speak for most Israelis.
As things began to heat up, with rockets hitting the South of Israel and Israel increasingly responding, but with no inkling of what was to come, we gathered up the whole family and headed for a long-anticipated overnight in Zichron Yaakov. Wine, food, views, nearby beaches, and peace and quiet. Or so we thought.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Not against each other, heaven forbid. Not even together against another country.
No, it's more like what an elderly friend, colleague, or relative--in other words, I can't remember who--used to say when people asked if we knew each other: "We went to different schools together."
Israel and the U.S.--we've been to different schools, but we're learning the same lesson together: when it comes to standing up to the bad guys, you have to, well, stand up and push them back down. Otherwise, they think they can get away with it, and they keep doing it.
For Israel, do not expect it to trade prisoners to gain the release of the three boys recently kidnapped. There have been over a dozen kidnapping attempts since the beginning of the year. This one is in the news because it succeeded.
The Palestinians believe kidnapping works because Israel gave up over a thousand prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit. They openly look to and cheer for obtaining another "Shalit."
It appears that srael is going to break them of this practice. We may not find the boys alive, but it is becoming clear that the IDF intends to upend life in the territories in its efforts to do so.
Add to that the continuing rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at innocent civilians in the South. While these attacks are largely ignored by the world media, they cannot be ignored by the residents trying to live normal lives there.
Eventually, the actions in the West Bank and the rockets in the South, along with Israel's response, will erupt into war. I expect the world to pay attention at that point because it will be time for the UN, the EU, the Arab League, and all the usual suspects to condemn Israel's aggressive actions. Count on the Obama Administration expressing its concern and urging all sides to use restraint.
For the U.S., sometimes you must play the role of savior and world power even when you are tired of it. Our desire to recede from that role in the Middle East may be coming back to haunt us in a big way.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
"Have you seen it?" "It's unbelievable!" "Startling!" "I've never seen stuff like this." "You have got to get it!"
This is about all I heard a few months ago from many of my American Jewish friends who are interested in Israel and the Middle East. One exclamation reflecting astonishment after another, backed up by a unified choir of praise and wonder from pundits and reviewers.
One would have thought that someone discovered that Moses had a sixth book, or perhaps that Sports Illustrated had put out a gold-emblazoned 50-year compilation of the best of the issue everyone anticipates but no one reads.
The only hint that they were talking about something that was not wonderful and miraculous was that the exclamations often also included comments such as "We were terrible." "How could we have done this?" "I'm ashamed."
It turns out many of my friends and acquaintances, along with the professional reviewer and pundit classes, were hyperventilating about the recently published My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit, the left-leaning columnist for Haaretz, Israel's well-known left-leaning daily newspaper.
What got them so excited when there have been so many other books about Israel and the region?
All my friends and acquaintances mentioned to me was Shavit's characterizations of how we Zionists wiped out Arab villages, took their lands, and made the Palestinians into the downtrodden, victimized refugees they allegedly are today.
Several of the excited ones specifically mentioned Chapter Five, in which Shavit recounts his version of how and why the Zionists allegedly designed and implemented a plan to throw all Arabs out of the city of Lydda. It probably didn't hurt that an edited version of Chapter Five was published in the The New Yorker, which is edited by Shavit's good friend, David Remnick.
That, of course, got the chattering classes chattering to the uber-degree, and the book seemed to be touted just about everywhere. A slam on the Zionists? Home run. In The New Yorker? Grand slam!
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Anyone with an ounce of knowledge of the conflict would know not to have much hope that this dispute is going to be resolved anytime soon. Still, those of us who truly desire a solution and who are willing to compromise, we still hope. As the saying goes, you gotta have hope. Even if it's audacious.
I have previously lamented, some would say bitterly ranted, about how President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, wittingly or unwittingly, do and say just about everything possible to encourage the Palestinians to believe they need not make concessions and to ensure that negotiations will fail, that Israel is blamed for the failure of negotiations, and that Israel is undermined in the court of world opinion.
(See, for example, What In The World, Birthday Wishes and a New Jersey Gangster's Threats, and It's The Bomb!)
In the wake of the apparent demise of the talks, the Secretary continues his virtually 100 percent record in this regard. Although the State Department subsequently, post-headlines, backed off slightly, the Secretary initially laid the blame for the current failure on Israel's doorstep.
The Secretary said that Israel's refusal to release the fourth batch of terrorist prisoners and its announcement of "700 settlement units in Jerusalem" was "poof," the end of negotiations. But why were those actions the cause of the breakdown? Why did they constitute the "poof" moment?
Because the Palestinians decided they were reason enough, or an excuse, to walk away from negotiations.
Why was Abbas making it clear that he intended to negotiate until the fourth batch of prisoners was released and then to quit and to go to the UN and other international bodies not the "poof" moment that caused the breakdown?
Why was Abbas and his associates repeatedly, clearly, and unequivocally stating that they would never recognize the right of the Jews to a nation not the "poof" moment that caused the breakdown?
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Yesterday was a good day for justice in Israel, although it was the final blow to my admittedly anemic celebrity picture gala. I'll sacrifice for a good cause, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's conviction and hopeful exit from the public stage is a very good cause indeed.
I was involved in California politics for 30-plus years. Virtually everyone with that kind of a record (yes, some would argue, sentence) has walls full of pictures of them with a panoply of politicians, officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood stars or wanna-be stars that the person met along the trails.
Not me. For whatever reason, that picture gallery decorating approach never appealed to me. My offices had pictures of sailboats, mountains, and kids. The stars were ones I never met: Koufax, Drysdale, a circa 1920 Fenway shot. I did have one of those famous pictures of the Big Three, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, at one of those once far-off locations that we only knew about because of 10th grade world history.
That was it. My gallery consisted of my kids, inanimate objects, and mostly real famous dead guys. Except for one. I once accompanied the CEO of a client, a California start-up, to a conference featuring then Trade and Industry Minister Olmert and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The CEO, his wife, me, and one or two others had a picture taken with the Minister and the Governor. All smiles and happiness.
Even I, disinclined as I was to clutter the office with smiling pretend best friends, could not resist hanging a picture of me hanging with the celebrity action-hero governor of the biggest state in the Union and a future PM of The Promised Land. What could top that? A picture with Ben-Gurion? Lady Gaga?
As we were arranging for the framing of the picture, it just seemed like the CEO, his wife, and the one or two others were cluttering things up, distracting from the real focus of the picture, extraneous. My wife or the framer (not me!) suggested a little clip job was in order.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
If a rocket lands in a desert and the networks don't report on it. . .
CNN International is a marvel of a television network. As I write this Wednesday night 60 rockets have been shot from Gaza at Southern Israel, targeting civilians. But here's the top news as reported by CNN:
1. Two buildings blown up in New York, apparently due to a gas leak.
2. The continued search for the lost Malaysian plane.
3. Demonstrations in Turkey focused on the death of a 15 year old injured in the crackdown by the increasingly repressive Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan nine months ago.
4. Ukraine and the upcoming referendum scheduled by Crimea.
5. The South African murder trial of "the bladerunner" Oscar Pistorious.
All worthy of top-of-the-news coverage, except perhaps the Pistorious trial. But 60 unprovoked rockets targeting civilians in a regional hot spot?
Nada. Nothing. Zip.
But running below the reports: "Stayed tuned for these and more international stories." I did. They didn't. Of course, this is the network whose regional base is Abu Dhabi, and whose stories are often done in collaboration with one or another Gulf nation or Gulf-owned business.
Monday, March 3, 2014
What in the world is President Obama doing and thinking?
Is President Obama single-handedly writing the book on how to ensure that the Palestinians and Israelis do not make peace, or has he put together the worse group of advisors in U.S. history? Frankly, I'm baffled.
Despite a right-wing coalition and heartburn from his own Likud Party, Prime Minister Netanyahu has halted settlement construction for nine months, endorsed a two-state solution, released murderers of civilians, and most recently, indicated that he is willing to continue negotiations on the basis of Secretary of State Kerry's proposed framework, albeit with reservations.
On the other hand, President Abbas has reiterated that he will not accept Israel as a Jewish state, that he will not give up the "right-of-return" for millions of people who never lived in what is now Israel, and that he intends to stop negotiating once he gets the last of the murderers he wants released.
Yet, in a scenario strikingly similar to when President Obama ambushed Netanyahu on settlements several years ago and thereby destroyed any chances for progress on peace for quite some time, the President in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg once again laid all the burden and blame on Israel and Netanyahu just as the Prime Minister was on his way to meet with the President and address the annual AIPAC conference.
As David Horovitz, the Editor-in-Chief of The Times of Israel, made clear in an appropriately sardonic and pointed manner, it is one hell of a way to welcome an ally, to bolster confidence, and to provide the undergirding for making tough, life-or-death decisions.
If the President and his Administration are truly interested in a peace deal and not in just assigning blame if a deal does not happen, then it is simply unfathomable that this is the strategy they have come up with.