Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Kotel: The deal that wouldn't happen

 Just after Prime Minister Bennett and other members of his government repeated what has become a mantra for them—how Israel is for all Jews, how they want all streams of Judaism to feel welcome, equal and appreciated, etc. etc.—and not long after pledging once again that they would pass the long-delayed Kotel agreement negotiated during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tenure, a deal Netanyahu reneged on under pressure, the Bennett government demonstrated  a similar modicum of backbone when it comes to keeping its pledges and backing up its lovely words about Israel’s approach to non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews:  It announced that it was breaking its pledge.

Bennett and several of his coalition partners, as well as President Herzog, have put relations with Diaspora Jewry, and particularly with American Jewry, at the top of their stated priority list.  If they do not already know, they will soon learn what anyone familiar with non-Orthodox American Jews knows:  that for a large majority of the 90% of American Jews who are not Orthodox, feeling that they are not treated as equals by Israel will forever be an obstacle to them identifying with and feeling as close as they might to Israel.

To a great majority of that majority, the Kotel represents a tangible and visible sign of the lack of equal treatment and equal status.  While they may not visit Israel often, and while many never visit, for those that do come the Kotel is at the top of their list, and it is often among the most meaningful and emotional stops on their visit.

In case someone is tempted to disregard these Jews as alienated malcontent lefties marching with IfNotNow as they shout anti-Zionist slogans, I suggest counting the number of AIPAC conference attendees not wearing kippot.  On second thought, it will be easier to count those wearing kipot.

I’ve spent a decent number of hours explaining to Israelis why the Kotel, a wall seldom if ever visited by a great number of American Jews, located in a country seldom if ever visited by them, is such a lightening rod, such an important symbol of acceptance, equality, and appreciation to those Jews.

As mentioned above, the Kotel and, specifically, the Kotel deal, has become a symbol of how Israel looks upon and treats non-Orthodox Jews.  And, for those Jews who look further, the problems they see with the symbol reflect reality:  rabbis not recognized, marriages not recognized, funding not equal by a long shot.  And the list goes on.

I’ve spent an equal number of hours explaining to American Jews why, despite the fact that there are so many non-Orthodox “secular” Israelis (a very misleading term—see Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuch’s “#IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution” for a picture of how Israelis do their Judaism), they are not demonstrating about and voting on this issue.

For most of these non-Orthodox Israelis, it is an occasional irritant:  weddings, divorces, and death.  Security, education, economics, transportation are the issues that stare them in the face daily.  Many of them seldom if ever visit the Kotel, viewing it as an Orthodox synagogue.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Their house burning, American Jews take a hose to Israel?

A relative (I’ll call her Melanie) recently asked me what I thought about a notice from her Reform Synagogue in the Western U.S. announcing a program exploring the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The program promised to hear all voices, get new perspectives, not place blame, discover creative solutions, and other well-intentioned platitudes comfortingly explored thousands of miles away from the scene.

After responding to Melanie’s question with some platitudes of my own about the benefits of gaining more knowledge and hearing from a variety of perspectives, as well as something about the need to understand history and context, I then wrote much more than Melanie asked for:

On a more general note, the program raised something I have been thinking a lot about lately: When we first started coming to Israel frequently, I would often bring up my concerns about how Israel related to and was perceived by the American Jewish community. I did this because I recognize the importance of that community to Israel and to the future of the Jewish people.

Many of the Israelis I met, including people who made Aliyah from the U.S. and other countries years ago, would often just shrug in seeming resignation, or they would make some dismissive comment.

They seemed to be resigned to American Jews having problems with and not understanding Israel, and to being unable to convince American Jews of Israel’s positions and concerns. Some even seemed to be contemptuous of the American Jews expressing their concerns about Israel’s actions or positions. I could not understand how they could be so dismissive.

Now, after having lived here in Israel a good part of the last decade, I am more understanding. People living here, including me, my wife, and our daughter, have dealt with periodic wars, taking shelter from missiles, sending kids off to battle, cars and trucks driving into bus stops, knifings, and other life-threatening and certainly traumatic events.

In between these “incidents,” people here are living lives just like others in the world: Putting kids through school, dealing with elderly parents, fighting traffic, doing their jobs, trying to afford apartments, shopping for groceries, complaining about prices, enjoying good wine, booking weekends at hotels, listening to music, dealing with Covid, and even, occasionally, arguing and complaining about politics.

They live in a country which, like many other countries, has challenges and things to complain about. But, overall, given the history of the country and the neighborhood we are in, Israelis live in a rich, resourceful, fun, rewarding, meaningful country. They (or we) have much to be proud of.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

My arteries and the territories--The Ben & Jerry's boycott

While my arteries may be happy, it pains me to say this:  I will be boycotting Ben & Jerry's and, to the extent I can keep track of their myriad holdings, the ice cream company's parent company, Unilever. I will be urging others to do the same.  (Ben & Jerry's is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever.  In an unusual arrangement, Ben & Jerry's is run by its own "independent" board.)

Ben & Jerry's announced that it is boycotting the "Occupied Palestinian Territories."   It's announcement is vague and confusing, which probably reflects the lack of in-depth knowledge and the confusion of those making this ill-advised decision.

Does the announcement apply to every inch of the land beyond the 1949 armistice lines, including Jewish neighborhoods and communities that, until the Obama Administration referred to everything beyond those lines as "settlements," everyone, including the Palestinian Authority, understood would be included in Israel under any two-state agreement?

Does it include Jerusalem neighborhoods to the north and south of the city center that straddle the "Green Line" and that were established to provide a buffer after travelers on the road into Jerusalem were constantly harassed and bombarded by Jordanian forces when they controlled the hilltops surrounding the narrow corridor pre-1967?

Does it include Gaza, the territory Israel withdrew from in 2005 but which the anti-Israel/pro-boycott choirs now applauding still refer to as "occupied?"

Does it refer to all of eastern Jerusalem, or just the shops and apartments with mezuzahs?

Does it mean that the shops in that part of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor that are on the west side of the 1949 armistice lines (which no one recognized as a final border) go on selling Ben & Jerry's while those on the east side of the line do not?   Same question regarding Beit Safafa and Talpiot and a host of other neighborhoods.

If so, watch out for a Saturday night stampede. Funny--I can continue to buy my car tires in Beit Safafa, but not my Ben & Jerry's sugar rush.

Does it mean that all of the Palestinian neighborhoods, towns and shops, and millions of Palestinians, the great majority of whom are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, will no longer be able to buy Chubby Hubby and Chunky Monkey?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The election: relief, hope, and realism

 Friends keep asking:  How do you feel?  What do you think?

Me: I feel relief.  I’ve got some hope.  I’m sober and realistic.


That Bibi Netanyahu is no longer Prime Minister.  Despite what many in liberal quarters think, he did some good things.  He kept Israel relatively safe.  He resisted pressure and temptation when Israel could have acted militarily more aggressively and, perhaps, recklessly.  He made diplomatic inroads around the world.  He solidified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  He kept Israel economically healthy and vibrant.  He vanquished a deathly virus.

He even was the first right-wing Prime Minister to say, albeit with not unreasonable caveats, that Israel would accept a two-state solution.  Yes, he later backed away from that for political reasons.  But, if the Palestinians had grabbed the opening and worked to build a state, Netanyahu may have had no opportunity or reason to back away from his statement.

Despite that record, Netanyahu could not put together a 61 member coalition over the course of four elections in two years.  Why?

Because he became poison.  He became destructive.  He alienated allies who he felt might compete for leadership of Likud.  He broke promises left and right.  He and his family began to think of themselves as entitled to the position.  One post-election symptom of that feeling of entitlement:  they apparently don’t have plans to immediately vacate the Prime Minister’s residence.

Politicians who largely agree with his policies refused to join a coalition with him because he either lied to them, excluded them, or plotted against them.   They opted for the “change” coalition despite serious ideological differences with several of its members.

Indicted for serious crimes from trading government policy for favorable press treatment to just feeling entitled to receive expensive wine and cigars, he attacked law enforcement and the judiciary, including his own appointees.  He attacked the institutions of a democratic and free society.  At the very end he wasn’t even original, throwing about completely bogus charges of election fraud and the deep state.

He made alliances with or appointed unqualified lackeys to important positions, several of whom have been indicted or are under investigation for various crimes.  He held up budgets so as to invalidate an agreement to transfer the prime ministership to a colleague as promised.  In the interest of staying in power, he legitimized racist individuals and parties long persona non grata in Israel’s politics and society.

The Knesset session during which the new government was elected illustrates the level of conduct to which Netanyahu’s supporters and associates stooped.  Rather than respectfully listen to the speech by the soon-to-be elected Naftali Bennett, they deliberately disrupted the proceedings, interrupting repeatedly with demeaning and disturbing charges.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Musings and questions

Now that we have a ceasefire, I've just been thinking.  So far, I've come up with this:

If Israel's (and Egypt's) "siege" on Gaza has been so airtight, how the hell did Hamas get 4,000 missiles, or the materials and machinery to make them, as well as the weaponry needed to shoot them?  And, as a friend asked me, if Netanyahu is so good on security, how did he let that happen?

If the AP has such reliable and thorough reporters, how did they not know that there were Hamas operations in their building?  Pretty much everybody else knew.

If AP, CNN, seemingly millions of others, and/or you are in a fit over Israel destroying a building (!) after giving an hour's notice (!) to get out but fail to mention that 4,000 missiles are being fired at innocent kids, women, and men, there is a moral screw loose somewhere.

"Proportionality" has got to be the most misused word in the English language right now.  Contrary to what John Oliver and Bernie Sanders might think, it does not mean that an equal number of Jews (and their fellow Arab Israeli citizens) must be injured or killed.

It also does not mean that Israel has to use the same amount of force as Hamas.  (e.g. see the U.S. v. Taliban in Afghanistan or the Allies v. Dresden in WWII).  It means there must be a legitimate military objective and that the force must be appropriate to achieving the objective.

While the Sheikh Jarrah dispute and the Damascus Gate and Al-Aqsa Mosque tensions were an opportunity that Hamas exploited, they were not the reason Hamas started the war.  They were a pretense.  But assuming they were the cause, and assuming the commonly misused definition of proportionality, how the hell do those issues justify 4,000 missiles fired at civilians??!!

The war was used by many American leftists to attack Israel's very existence.  According to them, we are a bunch of people who, without any connection to the land, recently randomly decided to settle in the only place in the Middle East (about one and a half percent of the total land mass) without water, oil, or much else, and we proceeded to kick all of the natives out.

Never mind that Jews have a connection to Israel, and a continuous presence, going back thousands of years. Never mind that there are 1.9 million Israeli Arabs living within the 1948 armistice lines and millions more in the territories captured in 1967.  And never mind that about 45% of Israel's Jews are from Arab nations, many of them or their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, having been among the 850,000 Jews forced to leave Arab nations in 1948.

But, let's assume that we all just got over here in the last few years.  Do these people berating us as colonial usurpers with no ties to the land realize that many Israelis have been here longer than many of their families, have been in North America, a land to which their families have exactly zero ancestral ties?

Many Israeli families have been here 80 or 90 or 100 years.  How many of the families of the critics came to America prior to 1920?  The family of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who happens to speak fluent Arabic, has been in Jerusalem since 1809.  How many families of those characterizing Israel as a bunch of interlopers have been in the New World since 1809?

And, by the way, do those geniuses think that North America was just a depopulated barren wasteland when their families arrived?  Do the names Pontiac, Seattle, Malibu, Manhattan, Miami, Mississippi,  and Chicago just come from a screwed-up game of Scrabble?  Did American sports teams just dream up offensive names?

And then there was President Polk's little escapade into Mexico.

Are these ignorant, hypocritical critics of our oppressive colonial usurper regime packing up and going back to Europe anytime soon?

And, can somebody tell me when the far left became anti-immigrant?  Or does that only apply to Jews immigrating to their ancestral homeland?

Just some thoughts that come to mind.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Remember this moment

 A few years ago I was a guest at a meeting in the U.S. of some lay and professional Jewish community leaders.  In some concluding remarks, the chairwoman of the meeting made a passing comment about how the Israeli government paid no mind to the opinions and sensitivities of the American Jewish community, and that hopefully someday it will.

Most of the attendees either nodded their heads in silent agreement or did nothing at all.  No one objected.

While no fan of the then-current Israeli government, or of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I nonetheless could not let this off-the-cuff, almost flippant comment go by.  As the chair was about to close the meeting, I raised my hand and said "excuse me."  I then went onto say something like this:

"This is a two-way street.  While American Jews may feel that Israelis are insensitive to them and ignore their views, Israelis have similar feelings.  They feel American Jews are not there for them when it really counts.  Two examples:

"1)  During the Second Intifada that started in 2000, after Arafat's rejection of the Clinton/Barak proposals for a Palestinian state and the resort to violence, American Jews were a rare site in Israel.  The busloads of Christians kept coming, but the Jews?  To the Bahamas and Hawaii, one might speculate.  Certainly not to Israel.

"2)  Israelis saw the Iran deal as an existential threat.  Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu was the face of the opposition to the world, and, yes, one can certainly argue with his approach.  But the view that the deal presented a serious, life-and-death threat to Israelis and their children was a position held across the political spectrum.

"Israelis were up against a popular American President, President Obama, whose Administration resorted to less than admirable strategies to paint those opposing the deal as warmongers.  On occasion, they hearkened back to thinly disguised, old tropes used against Jews for centuries.

"Where did most American Jews come down?  With President Obama, not Israel.  From the perspective of many Israelis, these two incidents told them American Jews are fair-weather friends.  When the going gets rough,  American Jews aren't there."

The meeting adjourned.  I saw one or two faces with indicating appreciation, nodding understanding.  

The rest: silence.

Here in Jerusalem we can see the demonstrations in the U.S. by those that would love for Israel to disappear. But we do not see the demonstrations of years gone by, of proud, public, unafraid Jews in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco.

Yes, there are a few brave, lonely, determined voices.  But nothing organized by the major American Jewish organizations.  Nothing like the tens and hundreds of thousands of years gone by.

It seems like American Jews have become timid, without confidence, when it comes to supporting the only Jewish-majority nation in the world, a nation that has its challenges and that makes mistakes, but that has been miraculous in what it has accomplished and, under extraordinarily trying conditions, is generous in its conduct towards its enemies.

A nation that seeks peace but refuses to not defend itself in the face of rampant aggression against its people. A country that changed the perception of all Jews in the world, and that made Jews strong and proud.

In the face of that nation suffering over 3,100 missiles fired at its civilian population, a population that would have been devastated but for its defensive systems and its shelters, American Jews are, as my former rabbi in Sacramento put it, the Jews of silence.  

We've seen this movie before.  We saw the Pittsburgh Platform, wherein the budding Reform Movement rejected Zionism and the concept of the Jews as a nation and asserted that Judaism was simply another religion whose adherents would meld comfortably into the countries of which they were citizens, in this case the United States, the Promised Land, the Golden Medina.

We saw the timid, silent American Jews of the 1930's and 1940's, those that counseled against demanding strong measures to rescue the condemned, to not rock the boat, to not  pressure, all out of fear of irritating the Roosevelt Administration and of calling into question their loyalties.

We saw major American Jewish organizations and so-called leaders of the American Jewish community cringe and criticize as Hillel Kook (a.k.a. Peter Bergson, Revisionist Israeli leader) who organized loud and very public rallies and marches and pageants demanding American action aimed at saving Europe's Jews, to little avail.

We saw the early days of the Soviet Jewry Movement, when the Jewish "establishment" warned that protestors were upsetting the Nixon Administration's rapprochement with the Soviet dictators, assured us that they knew how to get the job done quietly and diplomatically, when in reality they were fearful of being charged with putting Jews before America and with losing their invitations to Washington dinner parties.

We know who in these instances have been judged heroic and who have been judged cowardly.  We know who we now admire and who we do not respect.

We know who stood proudly when the lives and limbs of their brothers and sisters were under dire threat, and who were concerned for their status with those they look to in the general community for acceptance and legitimacy.

American Jews and American Jewish organizations will not be proud of this moment in Jewish history or in Israel-American Jewish relations.

The next time American Jews complain that Israelis are not considering their feelings and taking into account their opinions and needs, remember this moment. Be assured that Israelis will.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A night at the concert

Since Monday night Hamas has fired over 1,000 missiles at Israel, all aimed at civilians.  For some inexplicable reason, the authorities allowed an outdoor concert to take place last night at the Israel Museum here in Jerusalem, usually a beautiful night time venue. And for some stupid reason, my wife and I went.

In the middle of the concert, we could see a couple of the ushers looking toward the west, the Tel Aviv area. Those of us in the back seats stood up and could see fire, lights, etc. in the sky. I checked the alert app on my phone. Missiles in Rishon LeZion, just southeast of Tel Aviv.

Our daughter lives in Tel Aviv. She checked in on us and we on her. After a few minutes, we decided our 1950's apartment with no shelter was still better than the Israel Museum outdoor theater. So we left.

On the 10 minute drive home, the radio station kept interrupting with a siren sound and a monotone voice saying a city, and then "take shelter" (my interpretation, which is not perfect).

City after city: Rishon LeZion, Herzliya, Holon (bus hit), Ramat Hasharon, Tel Aviv, Jaffa. It just kept going on and on. Every announcement my wife and I shuttered, paralyzed. Checked with our daughter again.

I've heard no condemnations from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the Squad, et. al. We are now hitting back hard. But, we're polite.  We give out warnings before we target a building so that the "innocent civilians" can leave.  My question:  do the bad guys stay put so that they look like good sports?

Once the body count on the other side gets up there, we'll start hearing about proportionality (a much misunderstood and misused military doctrine), the  cycle of violence, restraint, and a host of other meaningless platitudes.

We'll hear about how so many more Palestinians than Israelis have died. This basically sounds like our critics would be happier if only more Israelis were killed.  If only we wouldn't use our resources and concern for life to build shelters and defenses, they'd feel better.

Friday, April 23, 2021

A Stomach Punch

 A few weeks ago I was e-mailing with a friend in the U.S. about Israel's most recent election and the stalemate in forming a coalition. This friend is not some marginally identified Jew. He is a regular at his synagogue. He has headed up Jewish community organizations. He's attended AIPAC conferences and programs.  He and his wife sent their kids to a Jewish day school. His family visited Israel on several occasions.

In the course of our exchange my friend (I will call him "Mike") wrote this:

"I have to admit, and I think I am not alone in this thought, that I have grown farther away from Israel in the last eight years or so. I am just tired of the direction the country has gone in. No, I certainly am aware of the risks involved in a center-left government but I don’t think Yesh Atid really is even moderately left, so why can’t it win an election?

The country is just leaning more and more to the right so it just does not seem to be the Israel that was in my heart nor in my conviction to support."

My heart sank. A stomach punch.

It is not news that a growing number of American Jews no longer feel as strong a connection to Israel as they or their parents once did. It's also no secret that while American Jews largely identify with the Democratic Party and a more liberal agenda, Israelis, at least on foreign affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, have adopted what to American Jews is perceived as a right-leaning approach.

But coming from such a connected, knowledgeable, long-time supporter? If we've lost Mike, we're really in trouble. Truly depressing and distressing.

I did not respond. What's the point of arguing? My friend was not arguing politics. He was expressing feelings that have developed over years of experience and observation. It's difficult if not impossible to argue with feelings.

The e-mail has gnawed at me. It did occur to me to ask Mike whether, even though he was strongly opposed to President Trump and was greatly distressed at the course the U.S. took under the Trump Administration, had he "grown farther away from" the U.S.? Although he was "tired of the direction" the U.S. had taken under Trump (and, for that matter, under George W. Bush), did he feel that the U.S. "does not seem to be the [U.S.] that was in my heart nor in my conviction to support."

In short, did worry and disappointment with the U.S. cause Mike to loosen his connection with and concern for the country? Or, as a citizen who loves his country and has a stake in it, did he dig in, get more involved, discuss and advocate, and vote?

I suspect Mike did the latter. He cares about his country and the course it was on. He didn't "grow farther away."

Friday, April 2, 2021

The good, the bad, the ugly; the Israeli coalition negotiations


[The prior version did not include the link to the continuation of the post.  Here is the complete version.]

 It’s springtime and the Passover break. The Jerusalem sky is a beautiful blue and, after a couple of days of terribly dirty air coming off of the desert last week, the air is crisp and clear.

With over half of the adult population vaccinated and infection rates falling dramatically, Israel has been opening up. Restaurants, hotels, and other venues are open to those with Green Passes. Parks are packed, and stores are busy.

In addition to recounting and identifying with our forebears escape to freedom and the beginnings of our nation, this Passover many Israelis feel a sense of modern-day liberation as we take steps toward some semblance of “normal” life. This feeling of liberation feels good.

The pall on the party is the feeling that we are still captive to a stalemated political system and a dysfunctional government. We’ve been through four elections in two years, and the latest election left us with no clear path to a governing coalition.

We have an indicted Prime Minister who just won’t get the hint and go. He is tangled in conflicts as his government’s justice system prosecutes him. He attacks his own law enforcement officials and his Attorney General. He is willing to see the government paralyzed, the nation operate without a budget, and the people endure another election as he continues to cling to office.

In his effort to bolster his prospects, he opened his coalition and the doors of the Knesset to an avowed racist party, disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane who, along with his Kach party, were long shunned by Israeli parties and politicians across the spectrum. After some legislative and judicial give-and-take, the Knesset voted to ban Kach from Israeli elections.

The country needs to be liberated from this debacle. The people need to be freed from the jaws of stalemate and dysfunction. If voting is the criterion, Israeli democracy works. Too much. We need a conclusion.

The party leaders are using the holiday break to discuss, to probe, to connive, to make and consider offers, and to pressure. It is difficult to see how a lasting coalition that can govern effectively will emerge. The old saying “If you don’t like how law or sausage is made, don’t watch how either is made” applies equally to Israel’s coalition formation process.

In the meantime, there is some good, some bad, and some ugly:  


Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s best efforts, with intentional or unintentional support from Benny Gantz, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas, Barak Obama, the U.N., John Kerry, and the Israeli left itself, there still is a significant amount of support for the center, center-left, and left. Between Gantz’s Blue & White (8 seats), Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (17), Meretz (6), Labor (7), there’s 38 seats.

While nowhere near the 61 needed to form a government, 38 is nothing to sneeze at. If you toss in the Joint List (6) (made up of three parties: the Arab-Jewish Communist/Socialist Hadash, the Arab nationalist Balad, and the Arab nationalist/secular Ta’al), which most likely would not join a coalition but could support it from the outside, you have an even more impressive bloc of 44.

Also heartening:

There are two parties on the right, many of whose members previously were Likud members and leaders, who, for both principled and personal political reasons, have pledged not to join a coalition with Likud so long as Netanyahu leads it. Gideon Sa'ar’s New Hope and Lieberman’s Israel Beitanu each won seven seats. That puts the anti-Bibi coalition at 58.

Somewhat baffling:

Naftali Bennett, leader of the to-the-right-of-Likud Yamina party. Bennett’s transparent ambition to be Prime Minister seems to be as strong as Netanyahu’s. He somehow thinks that winning seven seats entitles him to the position.

Not having committed to which side he would join or not join, and his sole criteria seeming to be becoming Prime Minister, it is difficult to know where Yamina will wind up. It is also difficult to conceive of Yamina teaming up in any kind of lasting, productive coalition with the likes of Meretz, Labor, and the Joint List, but more tangled relationships have been made in the name of political ambition.

Best line of the post-election wrangling:

When Benny Gantz, as leader of what was then a large, four-party bloc, abandoned his central pledge not to join a coalition with Netanyahu, he thought he had a rock-solid agreement with Netanyahu to rotate the Prime Minister’s position in the fall of this year. The only “out” in the agreement was if a budget was not passed.

What Prime Minister would deliberately deprive a country of its budget, thereby hampering planning and initiatives vital to the country, for the sake of escaping an agreement to give up the PM’s office? Gantz, who arguably bought the deal for noble reasons and who did prevent some destructive actions while in the coalition, apparently was the only breathing Israeli who did not realize that Bibi Netanyahu was the PM who would be quite willing to sacrifice the nation’s budget and to go to the fourth election in two years in order to remain as PM and to hopefully stay out of prison.

Just to provide extra comfort, Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardic religious Shas party, a long-time Netanyahu partner, assured Gantz that he would step up if Netanyahu were to renege on the deal. So when Netanyahu reneged on the deal, Deri, a once-convicted Minister of the Interior who is again serving in the Netanyahu government as Minister of the Interior, did and said. . . . nothing.

So, when the Prime Minister tried to entice Sa’ar into coming back into the fold by promising him a rotation to the P.M.’s office, Sa’ar’s response was: “Only if Deri guarantees it.”

Very distressing:

Under Israel’s proportional representation system, a party that does not reach the threshold of 3.25% of the vote does not enter the Knesset and its votes are lost to that party and to any bloc that they may have helped form.

Bezalel Smotrich is the leader of the far-right Religious Zionist Party. He favors Israel being “run according to the Torah and Jewish law,” but he says that he recognizes that “we can't because there are people who think differently from us, and we have to get along with them.” He is anti-gay. He has called Reform Judaism a “fake religion.” He supports segregation of Arab and Jewish women in maternity wards.

As offensive as these views are, there are two other parties that are arguably even more repugnant: Noam, whose principle focus seems to be advancing an anti-gay agenda, and Otzma Yehudit, the party referenced above which was inspired by Meir Kahane and whose leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, has or had hanging in his living room a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994.

Fearing that Noam and Otzma Yehudit would not receive enough votes to clear the 3.25% threshold, thereby “wasting” right-wing votes, Prime Minister Netanyahu offered incentives so as to encourage the two parties to join Smotrich’s Religious Zionists.

Proving once again that no standard is too low to violate in his own self-interest, Netanyahu has now assured that the heir to Meir Kahane, the man for whom former right-wing Prime Minister and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir would leave his seat when he rose to speak, will be seated in the next Knesset. He could very well be a Minister.

Encouraging, potentially a game-changer:

Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally refused to join governments, although they have occasionally supported governments “from the outside” (This was the case during Yitzhak Rabin’s peace efforts.) The Arab parties did not want to support Zionist governments, and the non-Arab parties did not want non-Zionist parties in their coalitions.

This may be changing. Arab parties have historically based their identities, their campaigns, and their Knesset rhetoric on ideological, nationalistic, anti-Zionist programs. A common rap on their Knesset members has been that they have been more interested in touting the cause of the Palestinians than fixing the streets and stopping the violence in Arab communities.

There is now a crack in that concrete. In a bit of irony, Ra’am, a conservative Islamist party led by a guy whose last name is Abbas, broke away from the Joint List and declared that it will consider being part of a coalition that provides real, solid benefits to its communities. Mansour Abbas is putting delivering for his community over ideological points and cheers in the anti-Israel hotbeds of Europe and North America.

Netanyahu and Abbas played some political footsie during the campaign. Despite perceptions among some American Jews, the Likud has provided bigger budgets and other benefits to Arab communities than any governments before it.

When pressed toward the end of the campaign, Netanyahu declared that he would not form a coalition with Ra’am because it is anti-Zionist. Within hours after the votes were tabulated, one of his chief allies was saying “well, maybe.” However, Smotrich of the Religious Zionists, an essential partner of Likud, has essentially said “over my dead body.” Even if all of Netanyahu’s supporters would accept Ra’am, it is likely that going in with Smotrich and his allies is a bridge too far for Abbas.

That leaves the anti-Bibi bloc for Ra’am to possibly support. There, too, some of the right-wing partners have objections and problems, and visa-versa. And some of the left-wing parties will have a problem with Ra’am’s anti-gay and other very conservative views. Nevertheless, the leader of a conservative Islamist Party possibly being the key component in selecting the next Prime Minister amounts to an earthquake on the Israeli political landscape.

I am writing this on Thursday evening. In a few minutes Abbas will be speaking on national television, and all of Israel is waiting to hear what he has to say. Who woulda thought? Basically no one.


While to the right when it came to military matters and the territories, the Likud Party was always a party strongly supportive of due process, individual rights, the judicial system, a vibrant free press, and democracy. The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who led Likud and its predecessor party since the founding of the State, was a stickler for the law. Many bitterly opposed his political views. Few questioned his ethics and morality and his commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.

The Likud Party that Bibi Netanyahu has led for 22 of the last 28 years is a badly recognizable ghost of Menachem Begin’s Likud. Many of its leaders dedicated to its long-time principles have left it. Talented potential challengers to Netanyahu have been forced out. Menachem Begin’s own son, former Knesset member Benny Begin, is no longer a member.

Those remaining in Likud rally around Netanyahu regardless of the crimes he is charged with, the promises he makes and breaks, the attacks he leads, and the intrigue and shenanigans he engages in. Party members viciously attack opponents and target the judicial system, law enforcement, the media, and pretty much anyone else that dares criticize Netanyahu or, as some of his supporters refer to him, Bibi Ha-Melech (King Bibi).

President Reuven Rivlin, a Likud member longer than many Likud members have been out of diapers, recognizing the current stalemate, the continued dangers of an unstable government, and the looming possibility of another election, recently urged Israeli parties to consider “out-of-the-ordinary coalitions, collaborations that cross sectors, working in a serious and dedicated way for the good of all of Israel’s citizens.” Likud Party leaders attacked him.

Also sad:

Bibi Netanyahu is a very smart, talented politician. He served bravely in the IDF. He played a key role in Israel’s transformation to a hi-tech, economically vibrant country. He kept the country financially sound and safe during his record-setting tenure as Prime Minister. He fostered relations with African countries, and he created game-changing breakthroughs with Gulf states. He got Israelis vaccinated against Covid faster than any other people on earth.

Now he is embroiled in a corruption trial. He conflates the interests of the country with his own self-interest. He may have deluded himself into thinking that only he can protect Israel and, therefore, any means is justified in the ends of remaining Prime Minister. He attacks the institutions of the state in order to maintain his position.

He has done nothing to move Israel toward some kind of separation from the Palestinians. To the contrary, he has moved Israel closer to one-state in which we will be forced to choose between a Jewish or a democratic state.

No one trusts his word.


The Prime Minister has called upon Bennett and Sa’ar “to come home. . . to the right” for “the benefit of all the citizens of Israel,” seemingly forgetting that Sa’ar’s six seats were built on a platform rejecting Netanyahu.


A fool’s errand. But never count Netanyahu out. He’s smart. He’s desperate. He’s persistent. He’s determined. He’s got more lives than the proverbial cat.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The vaccine "joke" and those sensitive Jews

 It's Pavlovian. Someone makes an inaccurate, out-of-context, stereotypical comment about Israel or Jews. Jews react, condemning the comment as false, feeding anti-Semitism, being anti-Semitic, and coming from an anti-Semite.

The defenders of the comment or commenter then respond that the Jews are using anti-Semitism to protect Israel, that not every critique of Israel is anti-Semitic, that Jews are trying to stifle legitimate debate, that Jews are too sensitive, that Jews exploit the Holocaust, and on and on.

The pattern is so common, it is tiresome. And we are now seeing it repeated in the case of Michael Che's "joke" on SNL that since Israel has vaccinated half of its population, it is only vaccinating Jews.

The point is not whether Che is anti-Semitic or even whether the “joke” was anti-Semitic. The questions are whether it is true, fair in the context of the situation, and whether, given the history of bigotry and persecution of Jews, it unnecessarily contributes to the atmosphere that encourages prejudice against Jews and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions.

Critiquing Israel is fine. Israelis and Jews do it all the time. However, a one-off joke about Jews keeping a vaccine only for themselves, with no background, no context, and devoid of any truth is not, given Jewish history and current threats, a critique.

And the joke did not appear out of nowhere. The joke would not have been made, and SNL viewers would not have had any reference point, if the audience had not been subjected to weeks of misinformation and unfair allegations against Israel for the alleged sin of not providing vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  In short, it was the natural outcome of a sustained campaign of lies, the types of lies that have led to injury and death to Jews in the past.

Israel is vaccinating all of its citizens regardless of religion or ethnic or national background. This includes the almost two million Israeli citizens who are Arab/Palestinian.  This is unremarkable because all Israelis are covered equally by Israel's universal health care system.

What prompted the “joke” was undoubtedly the unfair and unjustified charges that Israel is not providing the vaccine to the West Bank and Gaza.  The "joke" was  neither funny nor accurate.