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." 
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/laura-bush-separating-children-from-their-parents-at-the-border-breaks-my-heart/2018/06/17/f2df517a-7287-11e8-9780-b1dd6a09b549_story.html?utm_term=.f45321c9d0a6 

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.



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)