Monday, May 20, 2024

Home alone?

 (Originally published in The Times of Israel)

My wife and I arrived back in Israel two weeks ago after an extended stay in the U.S.  Even with the overwhelming problems and challenges, it felt great—liberating—to be back. You immediately feel that here Jews are making our destiny, are in control of our life as a people, that we have agency.

The contrast to the current situation in the U.S. is striking. The contrast to where we had been staying, Oakland, California, where the Jew-hatred and the goal of destroying our nation are loudly and proudly asserted at city council and school board meetings, on signs of demonstrators, and in windows of residents and businesses, is particularly striking.

Beginning with the poignant posters and artistic displays at the airport of dog tags representing the hostages, you are overwhelmed immediately with the sadness everyone feels for the hostages and the apprehension about the future.

We arrived just 48 hours before Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, whose somber mood resonated even more deeply this year. On the afternoon of Erev Yom HaShoa, as restaurants and shops closed, as the radio played appropriate music and programming, you could feel the heaviness in the air. We then marked our people’s greatest tragedy while renewing our vow that we will never be defenseless again.

Just a week after Yom HaShoa came two particularly difficult days. First it was Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), never an easy one when Israelis remember the thousands of mostly young people who have died defending the nation, as well as the thousands of victims of terror.

This year, with the events of October 7th still raw, with hostages then in their 221st day of captivity, with the bodies of murdered hostages being recovered, and with soldiers being killed and wounded daily, was especially tough.

We then transitioned into Yom HaAtzamaut (Independence Day).  The atmosphere usually turns light and we rejoice in the anniversary of the re-creation of a free and independent Jewish nation.  Israelis play music, barbecue, watch a tremendous air force flyover, and dance.

This year was much more subdued.  We did have some friends over for the traditional barbecue, although many others did not engage in the usual activities.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Biden's terrible turn

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

President Biden’s initial responses to Hamas’ atrocities demonstrated moral clarity, strategic acumen, and clear support for the victim of the attack, Israel.

Now, either from strategic errors or out of political concerns, or both, Biden is making some very serious mistakes, both on policy and politics.

The Biden Administration is wrong to pressure Israel not to pursue and eliminate Hamas in Rafah, the last refuge of the surviving four or five Hamas battalions.

Anything short of the total elimination of Hamas militarily will be claimed as a victory by Hamas, and it will be seen that way in the region.  Israel will have lost its most essential defensive tool: deterrence.

The attacks, which went on long before the October 7th attack and which momentarily got the world’s attention on October 7th, will resume.  Israelis will lose faith in the army’s ability to protect them.

The south as well as the north of the country will be uninhabitable.  It will be the start of the end of the Zionist enterprise.  That is why some have referred to Hamas and the October 7th attack as a “slow-motion existential threat.”

The Middle East nations that Israel has established relations with and those that are candidates for the future, all of whom look to Israel as a bulwark against terrorism and Iran, will view it as ineffective, a paper tiger.  They will start making their accommodations with Iran.

The more the Biden Administration pressures Israel not to invade Rafah, the more Hamas leaders Sinwar and Haniyeh and their fellow murderers think they can outlast the Israelis and survive as a force, and the more they will demand in exchange for the hostages.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Twilight Zone

 (Originally published in The Times of Israel)

“You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind ... a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination—your next stop, the Twilight Zone.” Rod Serling’s introduction to The Twilight Zone.

Sometimes when the subject involves the Middle East, it feels like you must be in another dimension. Up is down. Right is wrong. The world is absurd. It’s stranger than fiction. You must be in the twilight zone.

--My wife and I took one of our granddaughters to the National Children’s Museum in Washington D.C. The museum includes a play apparatus featuring tunnels. The sponsor: Qatar.

Well, nobody can say they don’t have access to specialists.

--The Big Dig, the Boston megaproject that buried an interstate under the city and extended out to Logan International Airport, took nine years to plan and about 15 years to build. It ran into a myriad of obstacles and a good number of disasters. It disturbed transportation and the city of Boston generally for years. Everybody knew about it.

San Francisco’s Market Street Subway, plans for which were first developed in 1912, took from 1967 to 1980 to build. Market Street was torn up for over a decade. Business was a mess. Streets were a mess. San Franciscans were in in an uproar about the disruption. Everybody knew about it.

Somehow, though, Hamas built about 350 miles of tunnels in the Gaza Strip, a space 25 miles long and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide and, miraculously, nobody knew a thing about it.

None of all those innocent Gazans knew, even though there were hundreds of entrances to the tunnels, including in homes, hospitals, mosques, public buildings, and even though missiles and munitions were manufactured and stored inside the tunnels.

None of those European nations and NGO’s and their leaders and employees that poured billions of euros into Gaza for “humanitarian aid” knew.

None of those leaders and employees of UNRWA and other UN agencies had a clue about the sophisticated tunnel system, the entrances, the missiles, the weaponry.

All that dirt. All that noise. All the blasting and hauling. All that shaking. Miracle of miracles—nobody saw or heard a thing.

As Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes famously said, “I know notheeeng. Notheeeng.”

--13,000 UNRWA employees, most of them Gazans, and nobody suspected that there might be just a few Hamas members and sympathizers among them, even though Israel, UN Watch, and other groups repeatedly pointed out how some UNRWA’s employees colluded with terrorists, how the curriculum in UNRWA-affiliated schools was full of hate toward Jews and Israel and glorified violence and “martyrdom.”

Israel has now provided proof that 12 UNRWA employees participated in the October 7th atrocities. Apparently UNRWA’s vehicles and facilities were also used during the horrific assault against civilians.

UNRWA has fired some of the perpetrators. According to UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, the decision was taken “to protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance” to Gazans. Not, apparently, because it is wrong to murder, rape, and torture Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and others.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is horrified” by the accusations and an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted.” Next thing one can expect is that Guterres will be “shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

The U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Finland, Italy, and the Netherlands, and a few other countries have suspended contributions to UNRWA. They have demanded a “comprehensive, transparent, full review of UNRWA” and how this happened.

They are undoubtedly all shocked, surprised, and horrified. It was all so unanticipated.

It’s as if this attack came out of nowhere. It’s as if no one knew that UNRWA employees worked with, coordinated activities with, were members of Hamas. It’s as if UNRWA has not participated in the nurturing of the ultimate victim culture that defines the Palestinian world.

It’s as if UNRWA has not been an integral partner in the inculcation of generations of Gazans in hate toward Israel and Jews and in the dream of their elimination and the establishment of Palestine “from the river to the sea.”

They knew notheeeng.

--The Richardson Center, named for former Energy Secretary and UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, is known for negotiating and facilitating the release of persons unjustifiably held captive in foreign countries. It has advised some of the families whose members are being cruelly held hostage by Hamas.

The Center has reportedly advised the families not to publicly criticize Qatar even though Qatar is a major funder of Hamas and is a host country for its leaders, and even though many suspect that Qatar could be putting much more pressure on Hamas.

Seldom mentioned: Qatar has been a significant funder of the Richardson Center since 2017. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

--More than one thousand Swedish musicians and other artists have called on the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to ban Israel from this year’s Eurovision competition over its actions aimed at eliminating Hamas. The group accuses the EBU of being inconsistent in that it banned Russia from participating but is allowing Israel to participate.

I must have missed Ukraine invading Russia, slaughtering 1,200 people, raping, torturing, humiliating, and kidnapping hundreds of civilians.

I must have missed Russia warning Gazans to move out of the way of the battles, providing maps with zones so that they could move to safety, providing warnings before bombing, and allowing water, energy, and food into the area.

Apparently being a Swedish musician does not require much in the way of critical thinking.

A 2024 twilight zone, indeed. It would be entertaining if it wasn’t consequential in the real world.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Biden, Bibi, the Emir, and Tony Soprano

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Over his decades in politics, President Biden has demonstrated a genuine warmth for and attachment to Israel. One cannot question that in the current war he demonstrated unprecedented support at some political risk.

He made a trip to Israel to demonstrate his support while it was under attack. In an unprecedented step, he moved two aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine into the Mediterranean and twice firmly declared “Don’t,” an admonition clearly directed at Hezbollah and Iran. He vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

When Congress failed to approve additional support because of Republican recalcitrance to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, he took the extraordinary and controversial step of supplying military equipment to Israel without Congressional approval.

Now, the Biden Administration is taking some serious steps that could be mistakes or could lead to tremendous positive change. One thing is for sure: they are fraught with danger.

I have long supported the creation of a Palestinian state. Anyone living in the real world and understanding the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, is under no illusions that such a state will bring peace, will stop terrorism, will create regional stability, and/or will result in a flowering democracy. It undoubtedly will not.

But the status quo has not been a great success either. The crucial advantage of a two-state solution is that it preserves Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation and, at least partially, relieves Israel of the responsibility for another people. And there is a slight chance, with an emphasis on slight, that a state of Palestine could result in Palestinians being forced to take responsibility for themselves and to be held accountable as a nation.

It might, to a certain extent at least, encourage them to stop wallowing in victimhood, a wallowing that, as explained well in two-state supporters Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf’s The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace, has handicapped their progress, has provided an incubator for terrorism, and has spawned so much misery for themselves and for Israelis.

It will turn the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from one of supposed omnipotent occupier/conqueror versus downtrodden, powerless victim to one of nation- versus-nation. For too long the world has assumed that the Palestinians have no agency and, therefore, no responsibility for themselves or for their conduct. Establishment of a nation, albeit a demilitarized one with limitations on sovereignty, might disabuse the world and the Palestinians of that notion.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Is the world upside down?

Country A is viciously attacked by Terrorist Group B, which rapes and tortures women, mutilates bodies, kidnaps and holds hostage children and women and the elderly, fires thousands of missiles at civilians, and pledges to do it all again.

Country A, with hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens, demanding that the hostages be released, says it cannot live with the threat of Terrorist Group B doing it again. It attacks the territory controlled by Terrorist Group B, its objective being to eliminate the threat and to get the hostages released.

Because terrorist Group B has used funds and materials intended for the people of the territory to build a tunnel system larger than the New York subway system, to embed its terrorist infrastructure under and in hospitals, mosques, and schools, and to build and fire missiles aimed at Country A’s civilians, hundreds of thousands of the residents of Terrorist Group B’s citizens are displaced, killed, and injured.

In response, Failing Country C, a country thousands of miles away, a beautiful country with tremendous resources, beautiful landscapes, and wonderful people that is quickly going down the drain because of massive corruption and incompetence, a country that cannot reliably provide water and electricity to its people, files a complaint alleging genocide against. . . .Country A, the victim. The Jew.

The UN International Court, and much of the world, see nothing odd about this.

Kafka couldn’t do better. Brett Stephens described well just how morally obscene the situation is.        

Hitler was right about the Big Lie. He asserted in Mein Kampf that people would believe outrageous lies because they could not believe that anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Hitler and the Nazis utilized the Big Lie to murderous effect, and Jew-haters continue to use the tactic. Jew-haters that would delegitimize and destroy the only Jewish majority nation in the world continue to use it.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Blowin' in the wind

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

As I was driving my car back from a store in the southern part of Jerusalem on Tuesday, Peter Paul & Mary’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” was blowin’ through the speakers.  “How many times must a man look up. . . “ And then, the ominous warning and “Missile, Ashkelon.”

A few observations from social media that fit the moment:

“If only the kids at the music festival would have had any time to say ‘Ceasefire.’”

“In four weeks, Hamas launched more than twice as many missiles into Israel as Germany launched V-2’s into Britain in five months.”

“Assad Kills 500,000 Muslims in Syria.       Streets of London:  Empty.

230,000 Muslims dead in Yemin.                Streets of London:  Empty.

24,000 Muslims massacred in Myanmar.  Streets of London: Empty.

Israel defends itself against Hamas.           Streets of London packed with protestors.”

Not to mention one million Muslim Uyghurs essentially imprisoned by China.  Streets of London: Empty

Only when Jews defend themselves do the London streets and the campuses of elite American universities fill with righteous protestors and the UN focuses its fiery and its attention.

The President’s residence is just up the block from our apartment in Jerusalem.  I walk by it frequently.  I regularly park across the street from it. Whenever I do either, I almost always marvel how close the public can get to it, and how accessible it is.

The one or two guards that stand outside, and the one who walks up and down the street peering into the cars parked nearby, usually look relaxed and sometimes look bored.  An American cannot help but make comparisons to the no-go zone that has been built around the White House.

A few days ago I noticed a change:  the guard checking cars now appears to be wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Israeli life has changed.  Israeli minds have changed.  We are living in a reality that is difficult to label.  We go about our business—shopping, meeting friends, working, going out for coffee or a meal. But just below the surface, and often protruding through the surface, life has changed.

You turn a corner and there are pictures of a kidnapped toddler and a grandma on a bus bench.  Walk up the street and an empty baby stroller sits, symbolizing the kidnapped babies, nobody concerned that it might be taken.

Vigils here.  Vigils there.  Memorial ceremonies tonight.  Can’t make that one?  No problem; there are two or three around town tomorrow night.

The changes, the life lived only by a traumatized people, hit you in the face, and in the gut. As described by Shira Pasternak Be’eri, life here now is different, surreal, tense. It is tainted, overwhelmed with worry and tragedy.

 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Caught abroad

It’s been a week since the horrendous attack by Hamas on Israel.  I am sad, overwhelmed, angry, and feeling helpless.  It’s been difficult to get a handle on thoughts, to think things out.  I wouldn’t even call these Random thoughts.  It’s more accurate to call them scattered thoughts. Here they are:

If you think some of the things you say prompt looks of puzzlement from folks, I suggest responding to people who say “Aren’t you glad you’re not in Israel right now?” with “Actually, I wish was there.”

We made Aliyah in our mid-50’s.  I like to more accurately describe it as “Aliyah-lite.”  We go back and forth to the U.S. a couple of times a year, spending two or three months each time we are back.  We’ve had the luxury of not having to make a living in Israel.  We have not raised children there, although we do have an adult daughter living in Tel Aviv.

Still, we’ve grown attached.  We had been visiting for years prior to making Aliyah.  We had made great friends.  We’ve known their kids since they were young.

Aliyah (becoming citizens), spending around seven months a year there, having a daughter there, negotiating the health system, getting aggravated with the cable and gas companies, showing visiting friends around, getting into heated political arguments, demonstrating week-after-week for democracy, living through a few wars and periods of increased terrorism—it’s all enhanced our attachment.

We know our favorite restaurants and cafes.  I know where the best falafel in Jerusalem is. (Doesn’t everybody?)  The guy at my favorite bureka joint gives me a welcome nod when I walk into the shop.

I’ve got my car guy, and my tire guy.  My tire guy’s brother is a car guy in Roseville, outside my life-long home of Sacramento.  Small world. After some serious investigating, my wife has that all-important indicator of belonging: a hair stylist whose appointment you do not miss, come hell or high water, missiles, or earthquake.

In short, we feel like we belong.  We’ve got roots.  We’ve got a stake.

We were supposed to return to Israel from the U.S. on October 10, three days after Hamas started its horrific onslaught.  We had already delayed our return because of some family members’ serious health issues.

So, as odd as it sounds, I feel a bit strange here in California while wishing to be in Israel, despite being in our early 70’s and knowing we’re not exactly crucial to the war effort.

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We've been pretty much in constant contact with our daughter, and in frequent contact with friends. WhatsApp groups help. Our daughter has been hearing lots of booms both from the Irone Dome intercepting missiles but also from some that got through.

She, like a lot of Israelis who live in older apartments, has no shelter in the building and no safe room. So, you stand in the staircase, and you get to know your neighbors better.

Our friends and children and grandchildren are all o.k. but some have been under near-constant attack. Many of our friends' children have already been called up and more will be. Over three hundred thousand have been called up already, so everybody has somebody or knows somebody affected.

That’s about 3.7 percent of the population, the equivalent of about 12,300,000 if it were the U.S. As one can imagine, this is a parent's worst nightmare.

In the South hostages have been taken. There were gun battles in Israeli towns. Bases attacked. Horrible scenes of beheadings, rape, humiliation. Babies intentionally burned to death. Some of our friends know people taken hostage, wounded, kidnapped.  Some have lost relatives.

Everyone is impacted, and everyone is involved: providing shelter to those from the South; giving clothing, food, blood. Taking strangers who have lost their homes, or those needing to escape the bombardment, into their homes.

This is no war on distant shores, and it is no war you watch on TV safely ensconced on your comfortable couch.

Many of our friends are up at all hours of the night, night after night.  I am afraid it is the first of many nights like that.

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Israel is often condemned when there are inadvertent civilian deaths from its actions. Hamas is deliberately killing, wounding, and taking civilians--including women and children--as hostages. There are videos of captured civilians--women--bloodied, hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded, being dragged out of vehicles and thrown on the ground in Gaza.

I hope, but doubt, that the world will remember this when Gazans are killed, as Hamas knows they will be, something they will exploit on the world stage.  Indeed, it has already started.

The UN regularly condemns Israel for its alleged failings. The UN Human Rights Council already managed to pass a resolution expressing alarm over harm to Palestinians without mentioning the butchering and beheading and burning of Israeli babies.

The U.N. is warning about massive consequences for innocent Gazans if Israel does what is necessary to eliminate Hamas and its infrastructure. But, the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres implored Israel not to direct people to leave, that such a movement would be inhumane.

Is this guy a joke? (Rhetorical question) What would he like?  Israel should just leave intact the regime and the infrastructure to repeat the slaughter and torture it engaged in?

The U.N. head says it is impossible to move one million people from Northern Gaza to Southern Gaza in 24 hours.  Yet, reports are that 443,000 have already moved, despite the fact that Hamas is preventing some from leaving.

Israel takes no pleasure in injury and death of innocent people.  But only the Jewish state would be expected not to do what is necessary to stop what happened when Hamas’ murderers invaded the south of Israel.

A great way to protect Gaza’s civilians:  Get Hamas to lay down its arms and leave.  Qatar, that bastion of enlightment that the world awarded the FIFA World Cup to, is a major supporter of Hamas.  Perhaps Qatar should reason with them.

Egypt has received 80 billion dollars in U.S. aid since 1978, 50 billion of which was military aid. Perhaps the U.S. could persuade Egypt to open its border with Gaza and let the residents have temporary refuge in Sinai.  Instead, the Egyptians reportedly will not even let American citizens in Gaza into Egypt without extorting concessions from the U.S.  What are friends for?

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Question from a friend:  What was Hamas’ end game in doing this?

At the risk of being politically incorrect, the people who did this attack and those who support and sympathize with them have a differerent cultural orientation and psychological make-up than we do.

That’s a convoluted way of saying "Who knows?" This is not about achieving freedom for Gazans or a two-state solution. I am not even sure it is about achieving one state.

For many, it is fulfilling some perceived religious mandate to slaughter the infidels--Jews, Christians, non-believing or moderate Muslims. (They've killed and wounded plenty of Israeli Arabs--civilians, doctors, military).  It is about spreading their brand of Islam over the world.  A caliphate.

For some, it is simply psychotic hate.

I suppose that the higher-ups, along with Iran, have some strategic vision of how this will weaken Israel, humiliate us and the West. They probably know that if Israel does what now needs to be done, the world will quickly turn on us. If so, they win.

The Gazans who die are just necessary tools, expendable for the greater cause. If we back off because of pressure about the incidental killing of innocent Palestinians or our own concern about the costs to our young people, they win.

They surely saw Israel's internal divisions and misread that for a lack of resolve and unity when attacked. They have always read that wrong. Regarding the Western world, particularly Europe, they know (as we've long seen) that Europe is pliable. Terrorism has worked for decades in Europe. European nations often cave, cut side deals, and the like.

They see weakening American resolve regarding Ukraine, with some of the extremists on the right refusing to fund Ukraine and some actually touting Putin's lines. They saw us leave Afghanistan, humiliated. They saw Obama's cave-in after the red-line in Syria.

So, I guess they figure they win if Israel goes in and destroys them and tens of thousands of "martyrs" die. They win if we are pressured to back off or back off on our own. If we go full in and, as is likely, the world turns on us, they win.

What, exactly, they win is a mystery to me. But I am sure they will think it is a win.

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Time to go?:

As a small country in a tough neighborhood, Israelis have a necessary but almost quaint-feeling tradition during times of crisis and external threat: We unite in common purpose.  We stop the internal fighting.  We put aside differences.  We support and trust our leaders (or we did).

After the crisis has passed, the government appoints commissions to investigate.  After the commissions issue their findings, the country and officials are supposed to “draw conclusions.”  Israelis protest, express anger, call for resignations.  People resign. Elections follow.

This time might be different.  The nation is united, but the anger is already seeping out.  Prime Minister Netanyahu and the governing coalition needlessly tore the country apart by attempting to jam through legislation that would have neutered Israel’s judiciary and undermined its democracy.  He and his allies attacked the military, reservists, and leaders of the security services when they expressed opposition.  He tried to sack the defense minister when the minister warned that advancing the legislation was putting the country’s security in jeopardy.  The government shifted resources to the territories to protect and police sometimes lawless settlers.

Many, some publicly, some privately, now question Netanyahu’s judgment.  They question whether his actions are motivated by self-interest or by their need for security for their children and themselves.  They wonder:  should this be the man at the head of a nation at war?

Former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim recounts how a Conservative backbencher sounded the call that brought Neville Chamberlain to resign and brought Churchill to power in 1940:

‘It was late in the day on Tuesday May 7, 1940, when Leo Amery, a middle-aged former minister and Conservative Party backbencher, rose in his seat to address the House of Common in the aftermath of Britain’s disastrous Norway campaign. His party leader, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had offered a weak defense of the Norway debacle, and several others had already criticized the Prime Minister. Amery then tore into the Chamberlain government, and concluded with Oliver Cromwell’s memorable words “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” Three days later, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill succeeded him.’

Zakheim declares: “It is time that someone in Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud Party rose in his Knesset seat and echoed Amery’s famous words.”   https://jstribune.com/zakheim-in-the-name-of-god-go/

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Just wondering:

I have heard many U.S. and world leaders declare that Hamas does not speak for Gazans or represent the legitimate rights of Palestinians.  I have yet to hear a Palestinian leader say it.

And a parting shot:

Does Ben Wedeman get his check directly from Hamas, or does it go through CNN?