Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Dangers Incorporated in Trump’s Inaugural Address

As an American expat sitting in Tel Aviv and listening to the inaugural address delivered by President Donald J. Trump was a very unsettling experience. I paid attention to his words wearing many hats —  American, Israeli, American historian, and that of someone about to go on air shortly afterward to try to make sense of what the freshly-minted president had said. By the time Trump ended his speech, every part of me was troubled. Many have written how poorly Trump’s speech compared to previous inaugural addresses (undoubtedly true). Others  expressed concern the President chose not use the opportunity of his inaugural to reach out to the rest of the country — the majority of whom did not vote for him (also true). However, to me, as someone who has divided my life between living in Israel and the US, what frightened me most was Trump’s use of the phrase, “America First,” and the pointed meaning he gave to those words. Trump proclaimed: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” He went on to declare: “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.” In a mere few sentences, Trump undermined the basis of the world system that the US has championed since World War II.

America has always seen itself as more than the sum of its parts. Even from those first moments, when the first colonies were starting, Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts referred to Boston, which was yet to be established, stating: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” Since then, Presidents and leaders — including JFK and Ronald Reagan — have referred to that as an essential aspect of what it means to be an American.  The American role has always been to be that light in the world. In the post-war world, there has been universal consensus that America might be required to make sacrifices (as the strongest nation on earth), in order to ensure that the horrors of the two world wars did not repeat — and though sometimes those sacrifices would result in short time pain, those actions are healthy for the United States as well.

And so, it’s been over the course of more than 70 years, since the guns of World War II were silenced. The  world has not always been peaceful, but the horrors of the World Wars have not returned — more importantly, the world and the United States have prospered. The United States GNP (adjusted for inflation) has grown from $2.2 Trillion in 1946 to $16.7 Trillion in 2016; and the world GDP rose from USD $5.3 Trillion to $73 Trillion today (keep in mind that immediately after World War II much of the world’s industry outside of the US lay in ruins). The world and the United States have both been enriched economically and while America’s percentage of world GNP has gone down from the world ravaged by World War II, America has steadily become more wealthy. There is not a reputable economist in the world today who believes protectionism is a good economic policy, for any country — except possibly, for the youngest emerging economies, but certainly not for a country like the United States.

The American economy is not perfect. Trump is certainly not wrong to point out many of the problems that exist throughout America’s middle-West, in former industrial cities, who today, are mere hollow version of their former selves. It is true that some of the economic damage has been caused by Globalization. However, the majority of these hardships are the result of technological transformations that have eliminated jobs, while allowing production to continually increase. True, there are problems in America, but none of them rise to the level of “carnage,” as it was so labelled by President Trump.

Many in Israel enthusiastically welcomed the election of President Trump. They believed the words he spoke about moving the embassy to Jerusalem were different than those of his predecessors. They believed that having a pro-settlement US ambassador would make all the difference. What they did not — and still do not — understand is what it means to have a President who speaks about “America First” and carries out a foreign policy reflective of that worldview — i.e., having a President who stated in an interview for the Times of London and the German newspaper Bild: “I think people want, people want their own identity, so if you ask me, others, I believe others will leave,” undermines the global order that has kept peace and insured prosperity … and moreover, that peace and global order have, despite conflicts with its neighbors, have been the bedrock upon which a strong and prosperous Israel has been built. The day before the Trump inauguration, Nadav Eyal, lead foreign affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 News stated that Presidents tend to try to actually implement the ideas they put forward in their inaugural addresses. Today, after the fact, much of Israel and the world hope Trump’s words were as his supporters often state, just a stake in the ground to open negotiations, and not the real policies he hopes to implement.POTUS_Speech2

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Ari Shavit and Sexual Harrassment

The Israeli world of journalism and politics is an uproar today, not over the fate of the Supreme Court or of the settlement of Armona and certainly not over the latest anti-Israel decision as Unesco.  But rather at something more prosaic and maybe over something more important in some way-the accusation by an American Jewish Journalist, Danielle Berrin that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Israeli journalist later self identified as Ari Shavit.  Frankly I am not surprised, not that I know Shavit personally, but rather I spent a fair amount of time around places where Israeli males met American Jewish female professional and have seen what the results have been.  Of course my experience is from another era- I worked in the American/Israeli/Jewish years when I was young 17-20 and than later in my mid 30’s and it was a different time with different expectations.  Certainly during my service in the Israeli Air Force I saw things that in todays world, would  end careers.  But during my years working for Jewish Agency I saw first hand the actions of Israeli visitors.  It was still the years of the macho Israeli soldier, and they felt free to get their way with often willing American Jewish women students and professionals.  Many of the women were willing participants, although in retrospect since many of the sinners were their bosses or other in a hierarchy above them in many of the case one can not speak about willing consent, others less so. It was widespread, and reached to people today who hold some of the highest positions in the government.

I think it is better today, although I obviously cannot be sure.  My daughters did not experience in the army any of what I saw when I was serving. The problem seems to be greater among older Israeli men who seem to be stuck in the past, a past that might have been pleasant for them but not for women who were on the receiving ends of unwanted attention or much more.  We cannot be a society that tolerates this sort to behavior in any way.  Ari Shavit role as the spokesman for the liberal Israel is over.  Its too bad he was not a bad spokesman.  Hopefully American won’t elect someone to be President who is guilty of as much or more than Shavit- but  its irrelevant- there can be no excuses, no questions, sexual harassment is a career ender however talented an individual may be.

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A New Day; Another Terrible Day

 

The news last night from Nice was truly horrific. A terrorist did not need a gun, nor did he need explosives (although he had both) to allow him to kill over 85 people and wound an even larger number. The dimensions of the Nice attack are hard to imagine. Once again, people were out to enjoy the night, enjoy the fireworks, enjoy the celebration of French Liberty – and now 85  of them are no longer. There are children who will never see adulthood, and adults whose children will never know them. I can go on …

I guess those of us who have studied history should not be surprised. Compared to even one day of World War II, the terrible terror attacks of the last month simply pale in comparison. That is without even taking in account the Holocaust – just accounting for the shear number of battlefield deaths, deaths from bombings and other violence. I guess we somehow believed the world was beyond that. For those of us who grew up in the 60’s the fear of nuclear annihilation was ever present, and yet abstract. It was nothing like seeing a truck mowing down dozens and dozens of people.  Of course, to some extent, those of us who live in Israel are used to such terrible events.  But, as I have written before, though nothing justifies acts of terror, at we least understand why they do what they do. It seems much harder to understand how a Muslim  resident of France can just murder so many people in cold blood; murder so many children.

I see people on Twitter saying the Nice attack just proves we have to fight terror even harder. But what does that mean? What can we do? There are one billion Muslims in the world – and only a very very small percentage of them are potential terrorists. That being said, even a small percentage of 1 billion is a very big number. Unfortunately, there is no supreme authority in the Muslim world who can make it clear that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a supreme commandment.  So what is the alternative?

The Western World is in for difficult times. The line between the right to be free to say whatever one wishes and/or believe whatever we wishes is colliding with our collective right to live in safety.  I fear there will be no choice, but to further impinge on all of our civil rights in order to successfully fight against terror.  However, even then, in a world where communication is instant and constant how do you stop hate from seeping in? How do you stop words of incitement from reaching those who are susceptible to it? I wish I had an answer, but I am clueless.

Originally this whole post was going to be all about Rabbi Haskel Lookstein and the unwillingness of the Israel Rabbinate to accept his conversion. I have known Rabbi Lookstein for 46 years, since I was a freshman at Ramaz. When I first met Rabbi Lookstein he was a young rabbi starting to take over the helm from his father who had founded Ramaz, and was the firebrand of the Orthodox community. Over the years, I worked with Rabbi Lookstein on a few projects in the world of Soviet Jewry and Jewish communal affairs (most of which took place almost 30 years ago.) As the principal of my high school; later, as the high school my oldest daughter attended, I always held him in esteem.

To be truthful I was not shocked that the Rabbinic Court in Petah Tikvah did not accept Rabbi Lookstein’s conversion – Not because there was anything questionable about it;  and not due to any doubt that Rabbi Lookstein is anything but a fully practicing Orthodox Rabbi. Rather, because Rabbi Lookstein has always been identified with the more progressive elements of the Orthodox community; which is the polar opposite of the stilted, backward,  18th century rabbis who run the Rabbinic Courts in this country.

Needless to say, everyone in the organized Jewish community was outraged. Natan Sharanskly issued a statement, UJA/ Federation did the same. However, it’s really for naught. The political realities of this country are that Netanyahu prefers the ultra-Orthodox over everyone else as his coalition partner. Therefore, Netanyahu will never do anything to upset that apple cart. Even the “firebrand fighter” of the ultra-Orthodox, Yair Lapid has said he will no longer fight them, (after realizing he will never become Prime Minister if they opposes him.) If American Jews truly care about these issues, it is time for them to rethink their relationship with Israel and find ways to pressure this, or future Israeli governments in ways that would truly be effective.

My opinion of Rabbi Lookstein was not enhanced this week by his decision to speak at the Republican National Convention.  I understand that he converted Trump’s daughter and Ivanka is a member of his congregation, but …

One last word … The latest investigations surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu seem to be getting very serious. The situation will become clearer in the coming days.

 

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A Difficult Week in the World

It has  been a quiet week in Israel-  its about time.  I wish I could say the same for the rest of the world and certainly for the rest of the Middle East.  Last nights shooting in Dallas was just another terrible event in a string of horrific events.  Most of those events of course occurred in the Middle East and South Asia mostly the doing of ISIS.  The terror attacks in Istanbul, Lahore and Baghdad were particularly brutal and the death toll is hard to imagine.  They do not get the press that attacks in Paris or Brussels get but for those who are victims the results as ever as devastating.

To me the events of the past few weeks have been particularly depressing, in some ways more so than attacks that take place here.  When there is a terror attack here we can always rationalize it and say that if only.,.. If we were not occupying them .…  However, when we see Muslim killing other Muslims or just killing westerners who are visiting Muslim country it certainly undermines those thoughts.  These past few days the concerns that I have always had as to whether it would ever be possible to reach a peace agreement have strengthened.   Will the Palestinians ever be willing to finally accept the division of the land.  My fear is even if we were to reach an agreement with some entity representing the Palestinian people, there will always be those who will never accept it, and will be willing to blow themselves and some of us up to stop it.  Can people who find it is unacceptable for a non Muslim to have dinner in a restaurant in Lahore ever accept the our presence in the midst of the Muslim world?

Forty years ago while in the army I met a soldier whose Father had fought in Israel’s War of Independence.  I vowed than that I would do all I could to make sure that my children would not have to serve.  Well two have already served and my youngest this week had his first call up notice- pre induction exams. Like any Israeli parent the moment is alway a combination of pride and dread.  Pride since my son like all those who went before him is ready to do his service.  Dread because the idea of having another child  don a uniform is simply frighting. Its been 40 year and so little has changed.  We are a richer, more developed society, but no more secure than we were back then. Our enemies are diminished, but the lethality of new weapons have given unconventional armies capabilities far beyond what they had in the past. It’s depressing.

On a totally other note- Former Minister of Finance and leader of the Yesh Atid party caused a small firestorm in Israel today when he criticized the appointment of Noa Landau as the new English editor of Ha’aretz.  He criticized her because her significant other (not sure if its her husband) is very involved in Breaking the Silence.  55Lapid has had an active campaign against breaking the silence these past few weeks, as part of his campaign to show that his heart is in the right.  The firestorm that he rightly created was from the sexism shown by saying that a persons suitability to hold a job should be questioned based on what his or her significant other does.

If you want to become a little more depressed just read this statement by the this Iranian military leader IRGC Deputy Commander Salami on the coming destruction of Israel  

On a final note- it looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very pleasant trip visiting Africa this past week.  He looked like he enjoyed it far more that he has enjoyed his recent trips to the US.  He also seems to have improved our relations with the nations in the region significantly.  So while I generally criticize him, his actions both in restoring relations with Turkey and improving our relations in Africa have both enhanced Israel’s strategic standing in the world significantly.  So for once kudos to the PM.

 

PM Netanyahu speaks before the Ethiopian Parliament.
PM Netanyahu speaks before the Ethiopian Parliament.
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The Children of James Donovan- A Special Interview

I had a marvelous discussion last night that I have to share.  I review books and movies from time to time on my website, historycentral.com, and thus I am often approached to review books, movies or given the opportunity to interview people.  I was approached recently by the PR firm working for Disney who is promoting the film Bridge of Spies.  The movie chronicles the  freeing of Gary Powers and the defense that James Donovan, who is portrayed in the movie by Tom Hanks, gave to Rudolf Abel who was convicted of spying for the Soviets and whom Donovan arranged to be exchanged for Powers. I was giving the opportunity to discuss the film and their father with Donovan’s three children, John, Jan and Mary. I had a delightful chat with them.  They gave me a unique perspective on a man who was clearly devoted to the law, while at the same time, devoted to his family.

I asked them if they saw much of their father during the height of the trial and they proudly told me that their father was always home for dinner, and how he worked at home in the evenings.  Their father had a great den where he worked, but that door was always open for his kids.  I asked the children whether they had any problems in school from other children who were upset that their father defended a “Commie”,  and they said only once in a while.  It did not bother them when strangers attacked them, but it did hurt when people they knew criticized their father. Donovan was committed to explaining to his kids what he was doing and why.  He took one of the kids with him on a visit to the Soviet Union and even took one of them with him to Cuba when he was negotiating for the release of the rebels captured in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Their father had put together with some short films on the Holocaust to be used at the Nuremberg trial, and were thrilled that Steven Spielberg, the director of Bridge of Spies, spoke highly of the short films their father made.

The sibling, who must all be in their late 60s and 70s, seemed close and although they claimed that each were very different were certainly tied together by their love of their father and appreciation of his work.  When the sibling got on the phone they had no idea that I was talking to them from Israel, but when they heard I was in Tel Aviv it seemed to become even more animated and one of them told me about his visit to Israel 40 plus years ago.  It was a fascinating and inspiring 30 minutes and I wish I had time to do more similar interviews.

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Terror Returns-

It’s been a very difficult day,  we have gone from worry about the state of the world to once again worrying about our problems here. For a few days we could be spectators, seeing the events in Paris as events that we should be concerned with as Westerners but still it was happening there and not here.  I found the events scary, only in the sense that it showed how strong the hatred could be- and in Paris it was general not aimed at anything specific in the way many Palestinians hate us.  I had written my weekly column for Newsweek on an Israeli perspective to the attacks in Paris, and how at least from my perspective they are worse them the Palestinian attacks on us.  I must say I am tired of all the whining about double standards, yes killing us is terrible, but we should not be surprised A) that the world gets more upset when the number 1 tourist destination gets attacked and so many get gunned down.  France gets 83 million tourist a year we barely get 3 million, why are we surprised that people identify with Paris.  Not to mention the attack on Paris could easily happen in any other place our attacks are centered here, with people rightly or wrongly think they have been wronged.

Today terror returned to Israel- 5 deaths, two right here in Tel Aviv, the ambulances carrying the wounded passed close to my window.  Its not a distant matter.  Its also terribly depressing since I see no solution.  No solution for us and no solution for the world from greater terrorism.  A survey was published that 11% of the citizens of Turkey have positive feelings towards ISIS.  One could say- you see it’s only 11 percent, but 11 percent is over 8 million people.  How does the world end this?  It is has been fighting it now for 20 years in one way or another, and the sum total has been we are worse off today then we were 20 years ago.  Then there is our problem.  Anywhere else in the world our dispute could have been settled with a partition, but the Palestinians could not expect us here on even part of the land. Now we have a people who really really hates us.  There is nothing we can really do about that.  Yes maybe we could have done something different over the years but here we are, the hate us, and the mother of one of the terrorist said tonight that she is proud of her son who had done Palestine proud- how do we reach peace with people who believe that.  So we cannot reach peace, we cannot pull out and we cannot live with them? What do we do?  I truly do not know?

Despite all this life in Tel Aviv goes on.  The streets tonight are packed like any Thursday night.  Tonight near my house there was a demonstration at MacDonalds to allow the workers to organize.

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Another Depressing Week

Its been another frustrating week. It has not been a terrible week like last week, but in some ways a more depressing one.  Depressing since its clear that events of last week will pass and nothing will change.  Even as they were happening we saw many of the spokesman from the right starting from Prime Minister Netanyahu talk about how terrible it is but…. That prompted one of the few members of the old guard of the Likud left in politics MK Benny Begin to say, the very problem with the right “is the but”.

I was slightly hopeful at first that the confluence of the three events together last week- the events at Bet El, the stabbing in the Gay Pride March and the burning of the Palestinian infant would be enough to maybe break through to the average Israelis and maybe wake them from their blissful slumber, but it’s clear that is unlikely to be.   Today after the Palestinian attack on the West Bank the PM and others on the right immediately put out statement attacking the left for not condemning the Palestinian attack after condemning the attack on the Palestinian child.  I will not relate to the fact that my twitter feed within minutes of the attack was full of condemnation by Yitzhak Herzog and Tzpi Livni- I guess they are not on the Left ( I do not follow Zahava Galon so I can’t say whether she quickly condemned it), what I find most disturbing is that lack of understanding, that we are what is called in Hebrew “The Ribon”. We control most of the West Bank and its our responsibility to protect its citizens from ours, not to mention there is a real difference between attacking soldiers and burning an infant.

 

Of course, if all of this was not enough, I can truly be depressed about what is going on in Washington.  I truly do not understand our Prime Minister- as I have said before it’s lose lose.  What the hell are we doing?  I wrote about it yesterday in a piece entitled Has Prime Minister Netanyahu ever heard of The Genet Affair?  and strangely received the least response of anything I have written lately.  Despite my  desire to try to understand why we are still opposing the Iran agreement, I have yet to hear a coherent argument.  One friend, with clear right-wing leaning wrote on Twitter to me “We don’t accept diktats from others. Gone are times when we can’t speak for ourselves. We are masters of our own destiny. Not U.S.”

I have no words..

Tonight comes the unconfirmed report that we are refusing to take part in a Joint US Israel Defense Exercise.

I could go on, but I  fear writing will be more depressing than cathartic

 

 

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