Tuesday, December 5, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lebanon Does Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Thanksgiving to Remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

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

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

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

My friend’s accompanying note:

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

My response, with a few modifications:

Dear Steve (name changed):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mr. President: Do Not Do a Drive-by

President Trump:
I know that presidential visits are jam packed with meetings and events, and that there are many demands on your time.  Reports are that you are scheduled to spend 15 minutes visiting Yad Vashem.  I do not know if this is due to scheduling demands or to your personal inclinations.
In any event, if that is all the time you have to devote to learning about and paying respects to the slaughter of six millions Jews and millions of non-Jews, as well as to the plan to completely destroy the Jewish people and their religion and culture, I request that you not visit.
It is impossible to have a serious visit in 15 minutes.  Everyone knows that.  It is an insult to those who were murdered and to those that survived the unspeakable torture of the Holocaust to do a drive-by visit to the solemn ground that is Yad Vashem.  It violates its sanctity.  It would be akin to dropping by Arlington National Cemetery for a photo op on your way to a meeting..
If you cannot make a serious visit to Yad Vashem that devotes appropriate time for and pays proper respect to the history and memory of the millions who lost their lives during the Holocaust, it would be better for you not to go at all.
(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mood Swings

Being a Jew in Israel this time of year is tough.  It's moody, and it's personal.  I've gone from being incredibly, deeply depressed to incredibly joyous and hopeful.  Within a few minutes.

Last Sunday night and Monday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It's a regular work day.  But it's not.  Restaurants and entertainment venues were closed on Sunday night.  Things were open on Monday.  It's business as usual.  But it's not.  Ceremonies take place.  Prayers are said. Television stations run testimonials, movies, discussions.  Personal witnesses, now old, remember. The memory pervades.

The contrast to the Jews' situation today is vivid.  In between the memorials, the programs, the constant reminders, my thoughts kept turning to this:  It would not happen today.  Jews today have restored our homeland.  We have threats.  We have problems.  But we have a nation.  We have an army, and a navy, and an air force, dedicated to one thing:  keeping us safe. Protecting us.

And, whether they like it or not, our nation, and our military, keeps all Jews safe.  Not just because it guarantees a place of refuge, but because it has changed the perception of Jews in the world.  Talk to a Jew who was alive prior to the birth of Israel.

As the day goes on and evening comes close, you can feel some of the sadness start to fade away, slowly.  In anticipation of the upcoming holidays, flags and banners start to appear on balconies and on cars.  The mood begins to change.  But we still remember.  The feeling and the memory overlays the next week's events.

On Wednesday my wife and I took a drive down to Mitzpe Ramon.  Two and a half hours down, two and a half hours back.  A long day.  It was worth it.  

When my brother-in-law came to Israel for the first time at the age of 15, the program he was on placed him for a weekend of home hospitality with Shimon and Cipi and their four young children.  Forty years later our families are very close.  My wife and I are invited to every holiday get-together and to every family simcha. 

As a baby in Poland, Cipi’s family knew what was coming and they worked with a priest to place her with a Polish Catholic family.  Until she was six or seven, she thought she was a Polish Catholic peasant girl.  She arrived in Israel with a cross around her neck and was raised in an orphanage.