Category Archives: General Israel

Controversial Remarks on Yom Hashoah

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Last night all the restaurants, bars and stores were closed, the TV programming was centered on the Holocaust and at 10 AM today sirens throughout Israel sounded for two minutes of silence. Everyone came to a halt to remember the six million who were killed.

At Yad Vashem last night Prime Minister Netanyahu gave his traditional speech in which he promised that there would never be a second Holocaust. He, as usual described Muslim unwillingness to accept Israel as a Jewish state as a continuation of the very same anti-semitism that resulted in the Holocaust. Usually on Holocaust Memorial Day the news cycle is filled with the stories of the Holocaust, stories of survivors and every once in a while, some of the difficulties that the ever diminishing number of survivors find themselves living under.  Every year the government promises to do something to help, while continually failing to do so.  I should write a whole article on the refusal of the government to pay a monthly stipend to the survivors who arrived after 1953 (when the reparations agreement was signed with Germany) and their attempts to defend the policy and delay court action long enough until the last survivors dies of old age, but that is for another day.)

Today’s news cycle has been dominated by two other stories – the first, being confrontations around the Gaza border and the discovery of another Hamas tunnel which was the cause of hostilities. The larger story, at least in terms of coverage, has been the reporting on the speech made by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj General Yair Golan. In his address given in at Kibbutz Tel Yosef, Golan stated: ”If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.”

The speech set off a firestorm of criticism, especially from right wing politicians. Education Minister MK Naftali Bennett stated: “The Deputy Chief of Staff made a mistake and he must correct it immediately,” Bennett continued, “before Holocaust deniers will raise these erroneous words as a standard, before our soldiers will be compared to Nazis, God forbid, with legitimization from high above.”  Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked stated that Golan was “confused” and added that Golan was showing “contempt” for the Holocaust”.

This afternoon Defense Minister Ya’alon defended Golan saying that attacking Golan was another assault by some politician on the I.D.F.. Ya’alon asserted that it was the role of senior officers not only to lead, but to establish norms of conduct within the I.D.F.

Golan went on to say in his speech that purity of arms had always been a challenge that the IDF faced, but it was a challenge it faced with open eyes. He stated that the Holocaust “must make us think deeply about the responsibility of leadership, the quality of society, and it must lead us to fundamental thinking about how we, here and now, treat the stranger, the orphan and the widow, and all who are like them.”

Golan’s words cut deep to the one of the fundamental divides among those who try to understand the Holocaust and apply the lessons they glean today. On one side of the divide are those who say the Holocaust and its lessons are unique to the Jewish people and what it teaches us is that the world hates us and we can only rely on ourselves.  That has certainly been the official message of this government. The alternative understanding that Golan had the temerity to present is that the lessons of the Holocaust are more universal, and they teach us about tolerance, about hatred of the other, and most importantly, show where extreme intolerance and hatred can lead. Golan was trying to say that our society has been very good at learning the first lessons, but not so good at learning the second. Unfortunately, attacks on Golan for even bringing up the question of acceptance of ‘the other’, of those less-fortunate, proves the very necessity for the speech. Have we become a society where self-reflection even on a day a solemn as today has become unacceptable?

General Yair Golan
General Yair Golan

Israel and Democracy

Over the years, Israel the years has rightly taken pride in itself for being the only democracy in the Middle East. The nature of the enduring bond between Israel and the United is complicated and relies on a variety of factors. However, there can be no doubt that one reason for the close U.S.-Israel relations has been the sense of shared democratic values the two countries share.

I am not one of those people who goes around proclaiming,“our democracy is under siege,” or “the sky is falling, we are about to become a dictatorship.”  Nor (at this point in my life) am I going march about declaring – “our system of government is fatally flawed and I’m plan to change that. I am old enough to have been involved in the first serious attempts to revamp Israel’s dysfunctional political system (in 1977, through a party named “Dash”, led by Yigal Yadin.) Despite all of its efforts, I watched up close as Dash crashed and burned.

Yes, I do still believe that our system is very problematic and I could present any number of solutions that would improve it. Though I am enough of a realist to know how difficult it is to change a system in which too many parties and individuals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo … making Israeli political reform most likely impossible to achieve any time soon.

That being said, I do believe that sustaining a democracy is not an easy proposition – especially in a young country whose democratic roots are not steeped in history.  In addition, the nearly 70 years of continuous state of war that have characterized Israel’s existence, together with our extended occupation of the West Bank present unique challenges for any democracy. To further complicate matters Israel’s unique definition of itself as a “democratic” and “Jewish” state poses its own set of obstacles.

All of these factors translate into is the need to strengthen the very foundation and understanding of democracy in Israel. Israeli students are never exposed to many of the philosophers of democracy, (such as, Locke and Rosseau.) Moreover, since Israel never had a constitutional convention – or even an extended debate over its Declaration of Independence – Israeli students are never presented the discussions that frame those foundational documents, which every American school-age student is taught. To many Israelis, Israel is to be considered a democracy solely because we have nation-wide elections every four years.

It has become clear to me that the way I can work best to strengthen Israel over the coming years is by working to reinforce Israeli democracy. Doing that does not mean fighting the day-to-day battles over legislation and civil rights; rather it means taking the long view, helping educate the coming generations on the meaning of democracy.

To this end, my wife and I, together with a group of like-minded Israeli friends have just founded a new organization, named “Arachim Laderech – Values in Action.”  The sole objective of Arachim Laderech is to educate Israelis of all ages (with special emphasis on high schoolers) regarding what democracy means. Our goal is develop an organization that will be able bridge the gaps between changing ministers and governments, and will be able to transcend the sense that democracy is a “leftist project.”

As we launched this new endeavor, we have been fortunate to work in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on a number of projects, including a key venture educating Israelis on the American Presidential election system – a program that can be implemented without becoming involved in the sectarian right–left, religious-–non-religious divides that make achieving many educational aspirations so difficult.

We have an ambitious list of projects that we hope to accomplish in the next few years, including: developing and providing lessons plans, apps, educational resource materials and teacher training all focusing on education toward democratic values. We hope to work across all sectors of society with one goal – and only one goal – in mind, i.e. to strengthen the understanding of democracy in our society. I hope that as many of my readers as possible will become involved, either by helping develop material, giving financial support or taking on leadership roles in this essential enterprise.


Passover Eve in Tel Aviv

The week in Israel is coming to an end, as Pesach is   at our doorstep.  Tel Aviv tomorrow night will be a ghost city, with all of its young residents taking off for the homes of their parents usually outside of Tel Aviv.  Of course, many Israelis have left for vacations overseas, this week being the busiest of Ben Gurion Airport.  Once upon a time, the majority of travelers would be Jews coming to spend Passover here, but these days those numbers are way down.

Politically this week the career of the head of the opposition MK Bougie Herzog effectively came to an end.  At this point, he is what one would call the “walking dead”.  His final downfall was not the fact that the police are investigating him for campaign law violations, but rather, it was his statement two days ago in Ashdod that the problem with the Labor party is that it has been seen as worrying more about the Arabs and then about the Jews.  I understand what he was trying to say- but he is over as a politician leading the Labor.  His policy of trying to move to the right of Netanyahu seems pathetic, especially when Bennet cannot even do it.  Bennet actually succeeded this week in outflanking Herzog from the left.  After Herzog stupid statement Bennet stated I am the Minister of Education of all Israelis, Jews and Arabs and  I love them all.

This was a week of tunnels found,  buses being blown up by Hamas in Jerusalem; thankfully no one was killed. It was a week that Netanyahu decided to have a cabinet meeting on the Golan to declare that the Golan will always be ours, in the meantime he managed to get the world to say it was Syrian.  It was a week where the big story this morning was that Netanyahu threatened to fire Bennet at the cabinet meeting. Of course, he did not fire him and bring down his government.   Today, Netanyahu visited Putin for the third time this year and announced that he will return for another visit in two months.  Obama is in Saudi Arabia and Netanyahu is in Moscow- growing up who would have believed  it.

Tomorrow night we all sit down at our Seders, in the end, we traditionally say next year in Jerusalem.  As a nation, we no longer have to say it, as someone who lives in Tel Aviv it’s not something I wish for.  As a kid after the ’67 war we would say the rebuilt Jerusalem but after some of the architectural monstrosities that have been built in Jerusalem these past few years ( think about the Holy Land project)it’s hard to wish for that. We have been saying Jerusalem in peace and that is about as good as we can wish, and seemingly as unattainable as Zion was for the 17th centuries Jews. We did finally return and hopefully we will eventually be able to live in peace, I doubt our generation but I still hope for my grandson’s generation.

So I wish my readers a  Happy Passover, may you all have meaningful seders with friends and family!

My Dad in Jerusalem in the early 70's
My Dad in Jerusalem in the early 70’s

A Complicated Day

I just came back from the rally in Rabin Square that is being held in support of the soldier accused of killing a neutralized Palestinian terrorist.  It’s a complicated story.  Originally when the demonstration was announced  I thought I would have to write a Newsweek article about the demonstration, but yesterdays hard news stories trumped todays news, so I think I can pass.  Besides its late and i put much more effort into my Newsweek stories than I do for these blog posts.

It many ways it was a good day for Israel today, the court system worked.  This morning Yosef Chaim Ben David who was the leader of the group that killed Abu Khdier the Arab teenager burned to death  last year was found guilty of murder.  The court rejected his plea of insanity.  The judge hinted that he would be sentenced to life in prison.  A short time later, Yishai Schlissel’s was convicted of murder for his attack on participants in the gay pride parade in Jerusalem last year.

Rally at Rabin Square
Rally at Rabin Square

Tonight a more complicated environment took place in downtown Tel Aviv as thousands came to Rabin Square to show their solidarity with the soldier who is accused of killing the Palestinian terrorist who had already been neutralized.  The accused was not at the location at the time of the attack but arrived later.  The crowd was surprisingly not the average right wing gathering.  Only a small part of the crowd were religious.  I spoke to many of the participants and one theme kept repeating itself, the kid could be any our kids.  We sent him and we should stand behind him even if he made a mistake.  It was a sentiment that I could understand and even sympathize with.  My only problem comes down to the fact that he the soldier did not just make a mistake, he seemingly in cold blood killed the wounded terrorist.


People asked me at the rally how I would feel if it was my son, and when I heard both the Father and Mother of the soldier speak, my heart broke for the pain they are going through.  The Mother was crying throughout her short speech.  On the other hand, I would hope that my son whatever the circumstances and the general anger, would not go and just shoot someone.

It’s a hard story, there have certainly been many cases of soldiers losing it in war, killing POW’s and more.  Take a look at this story of British soldier in Afghanistan.  As I discussed with one religious woman from a settlement tonight, serving in Hebron is not easy for soldiers the pressures are high on all sides and its easy enough to just lose it.  But should there be consequences?  I worried after spending time on occupation duty in Gaza 35 years ago that the occupation would have terrible consequences for our society, it has whether we like it or not.  So maybe we cannot blame the soldier who was sent to do an impossible job but it’s our society at large who cannot come up with a solution.

The crowd
The crowd

In some ways my saddest conversation tonight was with a man who kept on saying that we have to beat the terror once and for all.  He was close to my age and when I reminded him that this has been going on in one form or another for our whole lives he just repeated but we have to beat it.


Some Reflections on Coming Events and a Survey of High School Students

Tomorrow night the right wing is having a demonstration in Rabin Square in support of the soldier who is accused of shooting a wounded and neutralized terrorist.  Nadav Eyal the chief foreign correspondent for Channel 10 news tweeted, what a bad idea this was, “it was going to cause the foreign press to start really covering the story.”  I tweeted back to him that yes it was indeed going to force me to write an article on the story, and he quoted my tweet.  A small twitter storm broke out on the subject, this time with me tweeting mostly in Hebrew.  It’s a problem, however, once again I will feel tomorrow night that there is not choice but to write a story about an embarrassing demonstration, with well known singers coming out to defend the soldier.  It was suggested to me that I tie into my story the story of a British soldier who in 2011 was accused of killing an already wounded Taliban fighter, and charged with his death. There were demonstrations in support of the soldiers although at first glance the incidents seem very different, I will research the story tomorrow before writing my column.

Unfortunately, tomorrow’s rally and the article I will no doubt write tie together with the survey I translated Friday from Yisrael Hayom.  That survey of Israeli high school students included answers by 60% of them that a terrorist who was wounded and neutralized should not get medical aid, with the same percentage believing that a soldier who then comes along and kills the terrorist should not be court-martialed. Those answers would not be so bad if 85% of the same respondents did not think that the IDF was the most moral army in the world and 48% did not think that Arab Israelis should have the right to vote.  I am quite sure that a very high percentage of the same respondents would also have said that they were proud that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East.  Experts in polling tell me that I should not be surprised.  High school students are the most right wingers in the Israeli population.  Friends have told me the I should not be surprised, it represents the very real fear that people feel from attacks on the street by terrorists.  All of this is partially true.  But it’s also true as a new friend who I was having coffee with today said- Netanyahu has been very successful in turning everyone who oppose us into terrorist, every terrorist into ISIS and then turning ISIS into Hitler.  He has then thrown the Arab Israelis in with the terrorist and more recently any of the NGO who oppose his policies into  the same mix.  The success of that effort partially explains the opinion poll results.

The other part is a true lack of understanding of what democracy and democratic values mean.  To me, that is the most important problem that needs to be focused on, and it’s on that, that I intend to focus much of my efforts in the coming months and years. More on that in the near future.


Reflections on Attack in Brussels and Trump at AIPAC

When I woke up this morning I was planning to write about Trump’s speech at AIPAC last night, it was the last thing I heard as I was going to sleep.  By the time I got back home this morning the news alert came across my phone of a bombing in Brussels.  Israeli news went live to Brussels and that became my morning.  The news was bad and only got worse as the time went on .  The world seems to be  faced with a problem that there is no real solution.  What do you do when a part (even if it’s a small part) of a major religion has declared war on the civilized world?  It is a war that has been going on for twenty years, has gotten worse over time and no one has a real solution to it.  I certainly do not claim to have a clue at this point.

Tel Aviv hold a solidarity vigil with Brussels
Tel Aviv holds a solidarity vigil with Brussels

Which brings me to the AIPAC conference.  This afternoon Israel time Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the convention.  Since it was in the midst of the non-stop news from Belgium it was carried live on Israeli TV.  In fact, it was shown on split screen with Netanyahu filling a third of the screen and the pictures of the destruction at the airport taking up the rest.  Netanyahu’s speech was not all that different from speeches that he has given in the past.  This speech  began with condolences to the victims of today’s attacks.  He, of course presented the standard line that the terror attacks in Europe are merely a continuation of the terror attacks against Israel.  Terror with no real goals.  Usually, I just dismiss that view, and part of it is clearly ridiculous.  Regardless of one’s political views, it must be admitted that the Palestinians have a grievance.  Does it justify terrorism of course not, but one should not say they have no grievance.  On the other hand, I have recently begun to believe there is a greater link between the act of the ISIS and our dispute with the Palestinian then we have understood to date.  That tentative link I believe is the difficulty that Islam has in making compromises. After all, we would never have had 70 years of war if the Arab/Muslims of Palestine had been willing to compromise in 1947.  Or if they had been willing to accept their defeat in 1949 and just resettle in new places.  I believe we have underplayed the religious element of the conflict.   Its been easy in the last few years to say that the window of compromise was closing as the conflict has become more religious and less a secular nationalist conflict.  However what if it was always a religious conflict and we just did not recognize it.

Now finally to Trump, I had no doubt that AIPAC had to invite him.  He is after all the most likely Republican candidate for President.  I also opposed the walkout for the same reason.  On the other hand the enthusiasm that he was received with was stunning and depressing.  How a Jewish group could receive a demagogue with such enthusiasm is beyond my understanding.  Even more importantly how can anyone believe that Trump is the best candidate for Israel. I say that on two levels.  First, his contradictory statements. Who knows what he actually believes.  But more importantly, his stated policies for US foreign relations will, without doubt, weaken the United States in the world.  The strength of Israel is indirectly tied to the strength of the United States.  A Trump presidency would clearly weaken America in the world.

One final comment on the speech that Bernie Sanders did not give but published, It showed a sophisticated understanding of Israel and the Middle East, but he loses me when he attacks the disproportional Israeli response to the missile fire from Gaza.  It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of  the average Israeli.  I am sorry so many people died in Gaza, but all that had to happen to stop the killing was for Hamas to stop firing rockets at us. I am not sorry that  the missiles that were meant to kill me were intercepted by our anti-missile systems and thus, our response was “disproportional”  .  I want all our encounters with our enemies to result in disproportional results.  That will end when they fully accept our existence here, there unwillingness to compromise may in fact be indicative of their religious inhibitions to compromise


Super Tuesday a View From Israel

Living in Israel during an American election year has always been an experience. I have had a site on Presidential elections on the web  for 20 years and it needs to be continuously updated. This forces me to be more attuned to events and follow them closely in real time. Thanks to twitter I can get up in the morning in Israel and  hear blow to blow accounts of the various debates.


Of course the rather unusual nature of this years primary process has generated greater interest then usual in the elections, and as a result I find myself often answering questions about the elections to Israelis that I know. Reporting for Newsweek has put me in the position of giving American a little of how does it look from over here perspective. This year however, my connections to the election process have been a little more formal. We have been working with the US Embassy on a number of projects this past year, and about two months ago we jointly came up with the idea of an App that explains to Israelis the US elections process. I think there is woeful lack of knowledge about the US and its democratic processes in Israel, and as I mentioned above the election section was the first part of our web site to go up 20 years ago so it was a natural fit. In early January it was decided to go ahead and develop an App based on our current material plus additional material that we developed, all of which we translated into Hebrew. The goal was to have it ready for March 1st Super Tuesday, a day that the Embassy was planning an event. So we began work, and happily we were able to create the App in time and it was approved by Apple the day before. The App which includes an introduction by Ambassador Shapiro is free and available in the Israeli and US App stores for the iPhone, and runs in whatever language you have your iPhone set to. An Android version should be ready in the coming days. This was also the first content App that I did the programming in, in Swift. Of course whenever I ran into trouble Eytan was always there to help.You can download the app here

On the evening of Super Tuesday I found myself presenting the App to a house full of guest in the home of the Deputy Head of the US Mission in Herziliah. It was a fun and interesting evening.

Presenting at the home of the Deputy Head of US Mission
Presenting at the home of the Deputy Head of US Mission

As to the results themselves- one of the ideas for the evening was a contest to have people pick who was the likely winners in each of the contests. I must say there were a enough surprises Tuesday night that there were no winners, the closest winner had only two contests wrong. It was a night of small surprises, with Rubio pulling off a surprise victory in Minnesota, or Cruz winning in Alaska. But the overall narrative seems crystal clear on the Democratic side- Hilary will win, and while still a little hazy on the Republican side the means of stopping Trump are what is most hazy. If it was anyone else, he of she clearly would be the presumptive nominee. While Carson has bowed out, it seems clear that neither Cruz Rubio or even Kaisich will . By the time they do, it will most likely be too late for the anyone to stop Trump. Of course Trump could self-destruct- and certainly something terrible could be found in “his closet”. but if I had to bet at this moment I would say it will be Clinton vs Trump. What I find most interesting as someone who reads the news constantly, and of course sometimes write it, is how little has been discussed about what factors are driving the Trump and the Sander phenomena. What is causing so many Americans to choose candidates far from the mainstream? Candidates who in any other elections year could hope at best for a third party nomination. I have written a little about this before and will write about it in more depth in the future.


Three Thoughts

Three random thoughts of the last few days.  The first and the first and most disturbing was the information that Hadar Cohen, the young Border Policewoman killed yesterday, was still in basic training when she was killed.  It surprised me and saddened me to learn how little the army has learned in the 40 years since I was in basic training.  In 1975 they sent me and my fellow soldiers, who at the time had been in basic training for all of one week, to the Casbah of Nabulus to patrol.  I even spent a day guarding Joseph’s tomb and having stones thrown at me, after having fired my rifle all of once.  Now forty years later they send a soldier early in her training to one of the most attacked locations in Israel.

The second totally unrelated news was from a Knesset committee on public relations.  The Foreign Ministry reported that the total budget worldwide was approximately 10 million dollars and that their budget for Sweden was $17,000.  For over a year I have been amazed at Israeli chutzpah on the matter.  They wonder why they fail at Hasbara- and while Israeli policies are sometimes to blame the failure to fund any serious effort is certainly a major factor.  I have never understood how Israel can receive over $2 billion a year from the US and not think it needs to do any serious marketing.

Final thought relates to recent stories on the F-35, the US new front line fighter jet that Israel has contracted to buy at over $200 million a plane.  The F-35 does not seem to living up to expectations and by some measurements is inferior to Israel’s current aircraft.  I have always been very skeptical to the idea of buying a plane that cost $200 million.  But then what do I know.!

Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Magic" Buus flew the F-35C for two hours
Lt. Cmdr. Eric “Magic” Buus flew the F-35C for two hours

The Wedding Tape

I’m glad it’s Christmas and I’m glad yesterday was Christmas Eve my editor is not working  for this  story should be written for  Newsweek, I can’t and I’m glad.  I know it’s a digital world and whatever you write goes everywhere however, the events of the last few days need to be written. I cannot ignore the events of the last few days, but I am happy they will be appearing on my blog and not in Newsweek.  The New York Times has a story this morning and it does a reasonable job of the describing  the events of the last two days, but ultimately it’s missing a little context. Two nights ago Israel channel 10 broadcast a video of a wedding that took place two weeks ago, in which the young celebrants were dancing with guns and knives celebrating the burning of the Arab family Dawabsha.  In the attack an infant and his Mother were burned to death while others were inured

Here you can see the video

The tape had undoubtedly been leaked by the Shin Bet, who was being criticized for their aggressive interrogation of the suspects in the killing. The Shin Bet  has received court approval to use physical means to obtain the cooperation of those being held, and there were rumors that they have finally confessed. Protests took place in front of the home of the head of the Shin Bet and violent demonstrations have also taken place at the entrance to Jerusalem and other places.  A number of right wing politicians attacked the actions of the security services.  The service often uses physical means to obtain the cooperation of Palestinian prisoners and while the Israeli supreme court has outlawed such interrogations they created a loophole for the “ticking bomb theory”. That loophole has been generously interpreted by the Israeli security services and courts.  In this case, they used the theory that those being held were planning additional attacks something that is more than likely although whether it was a ticking bomb or not is certainly up for interpretation.

While the question of how to interrogate prisoners is an important one and certainly deserves its’ own attention for the moment this is not the heart of the story. For the heart of the story is the celebration itself and what it means.  It first and foremost says that A, those who burned the Dawabsha family were Jews, B that they have supporters.  The film immediately received almost wall to wall condemnation, with even Prime Minister Netanyahu criticizing what was depicted there, although he was quick to say that Palestinian incitement is worse.  Naftali Bennet the head of the right wing Bayit Hayehudi came out with the strongest condemnation claiming that people like that were the greatest threat to goals of the settlement movement. Some of the right wing spokesmen were a little more circumspect in their attacks, with Minister of Justice Shaked decrying the fact that the film was shown, with some still attacking the actions of the Shin Bet.  A group of National Religious Rabbis issued a statement calling on the Shin Bet to stop interrogating suspects and asking that their confessions be thrown out.

The real question facing the Israeli public is whether those shown on the film are a small isolated group or in fact, represent a much larger group of people.  I have no way of answering that, not living in their circle or almost ever visiting the West Bank.  I fear however, it is. How much of the hatred has come from an education that emphasizes our superiority, or how much we are the “chosen people”?  How many of the “true believer” think that they are doing gods work on earth?  How different is that then the killers of ISIS?  Furthermore,  I always opposed the occupation not because of what we did to the Palestinians, ( who as a group I always felt were one of the least deserving of statehood of any national group) but rather what it did to us, what it did to our soldiers.  You can’t be an occupier for three years and return unaffected.  You cannot live in the middle of the West Bank in “hostile “ territory where you are hated and develop a love for your neighbors.  People like to say that Jews do not do these sort of things, but Jews have also never in our recent history been occupiers.  I don’t have answers, as anyone who reads me regular knows, we cannot make peace with ourselves, but we must understand that 45 plus years of occupation leads us down a path where some of our children turn out unrecognizable.  The mutual hatred is very real.  They hate us and many of us hate them, but we are the ones in power, and we must find the ways to insure that our children do not hate , that our children do not engage in hideous actions, that somehow despite 100 years of warfare we remain true to the values that make us  deserving of being a people.

My beautiful picture


What does the resignation of Silvan Shalom say about Israel?

The stabbings continue. There has been more rocket fire from Lebanon. However, on Sunday evening most Israelis turned their attention to a dramatic political/social development. On December 21st Israel’s Minister of Interior/Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom resigned from the government and from the Israeli parliament. Shalom’s resignation came after 11 different women came forward and claimed he had sexually harassed them at some point within the last ten years.

Shalom joins a long lineup of powerful Israeli men who have been disgrace and lost their jobs in over the course of the past decade as a result of their sexual impropriety. Of course, topping that list is Former President Moshe Katsav, who is currently serving a prison sentence for rape. The tally of top police officials who have either been forced to resign, or who are currently under a cloud of suspicion, is long and includes a high percentage of those who were amongst Israel’s top cops only a short while ago.

Just two weeks ago Yinon Magal, a freshman member of Knesset was forced to resign after a former subordinate co-worker accused him of improper advances at Magal’s going away party. Magal’s swift acceptance of responsibility and abrupt resignation from the Knesset seem to have given Shalom’s accusers the courage to finally come forward. Charges of Shalom’s sexual impropriety first surfaced last year when Shalom was planning a Presidential run; charges which eventually derailed his candidacy. After a brief police investigation the Attorney General cleared Shalom of the allegations, however the shadow of impropriety never quite left Shalom. Then, last week, one victim after another started coming forward report their accusations to the press. By Sunday, when corroborating witnesses began coming forth, Shalom had no choice but to resign. Shortly after Shalom’s resignation the Attorney General announced that despite his departure from the Knesset and political life, the A.G. was ordering the police to begin a criminal investigation into Shalom’s behavior.

Silvan Shalom
Silvan Shalom

When events like the above-mentioned occur it is always a challenge to put them into perspective. Should we be ashamed that so many of our politicians and other public officials have been accused of sexual improprieties? or should we be pleased that these facts have come to light and that the people who have acted inappropriately (and in many cases criminally) are paying the price?

While many commentators this morning are rightfully lamenting the reality that women had previously felt too uncomfortable to report Shalom, in this case I choose to see the glass half full. The transformation that has occurred in Israel in the past generation regarding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable work place behavior is truly remarkable.

A generation ago, the former commander of the Air Force, and later President of Israel publicly stated: “The best men become pilots, and the best women are for the pilots. If someone were to utter such a statement today, that person would find him or herself instantly unemployed. Needless to say, today a number of Israel’s pilots are in fact women.

When I served in the army (approximately 40 years ago), it was common for the married senior commanders to carry on an affair with their young secretary. Thankfully, a generation later, when my daughters served, neither of them were subjected to any inappropriate experiences (and the same was true for most of their friends.) Sexual relations between senior commanders and young soldiers have become strictly forbidden, and constitute a clear-cut career-ender for anyone who violates that rule.

Of course, the system is still far from perfect. One of my daughter’s friends did indeed encounter harassment during her enlisted service in the army. Initially, no action was taken. However, once the allegations were brought to the attention of the base commander, swift and appropriate action was taken. The perpetrator, who was in the regular army found himself discharged and the young woman went on to become an officer, who now serves as part of the standing army, and expects to make her career in the military.

For most of my life, Israelis have always liked to say – “We are a young country, still finding its way” – and that is certainly the case in many areas. I have no doubt that in the areas of relations between men and women, as well as regarding how we treat acts of impropriety, we still have a way to go. However, its clear that with the many challenges facing Israeli society, in this area at least the progress has been remarkable.  Hopefully, we will be able to tackle our many other challenges just as well.