Category Archives: Reflections

A Very Disturbing Encounter About Syria

I wanted to share what I found a disturbing encounter I had this evening.  I appeared on i24News in Arabic something that I do once or twice a month. I speak in Hebrew and its translated into Arabic and of the reverse for the questions or another guest words.  I was there to speak about the differences that Sec of Defense Mattis has been saying – The US will continue to have troops in Syria and President Trump who says they should all come home.  The other guest in the studio was talking about the agreement to evacuate the Palestinian Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Damascus.  The other guest was speaking in Arabic and the Hebrew translation in my ear kept talking about the terrorist.  Every reference to the rebels and the Palestinians was to the terrorist. I thought there might have been a problem with the translation so when the segment was over and we got up to leave I asked him did you say all the time in Arabic terrorists.  He said yes.  We then began arguing, he saying that all the opponents of Assad are terrorist, he did not start the war it was outside terrorist sent by Saudi Arabia that began the war. I of course disagreed.  I then asked him if it was ok for Assad’s planes to bomb hospitals.  He said yes they are all terrorists in the hospitals and its fine to bomb them.  I said it was against international law and to the best of my knowledge no one had ever deliberately targeted hospitals before.  He started yelling you westerners with double standards, what did you do in Hiroshima.  He then said something about us being like the Crusaders ( I am not sure I fully caught that) and that they (whoever they were ) were here before us and will be there long after we are gone.

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A totally disturbing encounter

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Yom Hazikaron

It’s Yom Hazikaron here in Israel. The day when most of the country comes together and remembers the sacrifices that this country has required. The ceremony in Rabin Square varies little from year to year, sad songs interspersed with the stories of the those who have fallen. Those stories are always well done and moving with often parents or other loved ones talking about the fallen. Tonight I was struck by the number of stories of those who perished in the Yom Kippur War or the time before and after. Very often soldiers who were close to my age. In almost every one of these cases, it was a brother or a friend from the unit who spoke, for by now the parents are gone.

Its hard hearing the stories and thinking of the kids who were my age, but never got to live the life that I have had. Never got to have children and grandchildren. It’s hard to realize what so many sacrificed so that we could live here in freedom.

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Tonight’s events come one week after Yom Hashoah, and in some ways put the sacrifice of Israelis into perspective. The 23,646 soldiers who died represented a terrible loss. However, I can still remember my Mother talking about all of her first cousins (probably 40 out 45)who died during the holocaust and never got to live, and then I think of the 1 million children who perished, a number that is simply too big to understand.

So here we stand 70 years after the establishment of the State. The State of Israel that we the Jewish people dreamed of and the founder of Modern Zionism took the steps to make it a reality. That state in many ways has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. We are a wealthy country with a strong economy who despite our small size leads the worlds in many areas. And yet in one way it has not succeeded at all. Our children like us still have to go into the army. We fear that next year when we commemorate Yom Hazikaron the number of those we remember will have gone up.

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Help!! Bolton to NSC

I was about to go to sleep when the news just hit that General McMaster has been replaced with Bolton. McMaster is a General and a scholar of the Viet Nam War.  Like most people who have actually been in the army and fought, he believed in doing everything you can short of going to war.  Trump and Bolton have not been in the army.  Bolton has been a strong supporter of using military force.  He has proposed a preemptive strike on North Korea, and is a strong supporter of ending the Iran agreement.

I have to say sitting in Tel Aviv I really find this scary.  I have  been trying to understand why PM Netanyahu has been pushing at the moment to end the agreement.  I understand he always thought it was a weak agreement, but the weakest part of it is that it partially sunsets in 8 more years.  Why on earth would you force it to sunset now?  With a US administration that is in chaos? With a US administration that is angered most of the world on what matter or another?  With an administration that has just announced it is starting a trade war with China?

Just a late night rant- maybe now it makes sense why the Israeli government acknowledged our bombing of the Syrian reactor, despite the fact that the intelligence community thinks it was a bad idea- to show it can be done.  Begin did it, Olmert did it now Bibi wants to do it. There was an article this week in Maariv that said the Bibi knows he will be indicted, he is just playing for time hoping for a miracle (or a war).

Three adults have left the administration in one week- Cohen, Tillerson and now McMaster. They are being replaced by people with less experience and knowledge whose main qualification is they know how to say yes to Trump.

 

Oddly tonight on the Israeli news Nadav Eyal did a piece on the Iraq War 15 years later, similar to what I wrote in my Newsweek column today and he was asked by Yaron London if there were anyone who still thought the war was a good idea- His answer John Bolton.  Help….

I will stop writing and go to sleep, please excuse the typos-

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Thanksgiving, Tzipi Hotovely, and American Jews — A Bit of a Rant!

Today is Thanksgiving. It is the one American holiday that our family continues to celebrate in Israel.  This year, as in most past years, the majority of the people attending the celebration will be friends of my daughter Tali.  This time she did most of the cooking. My main responsibility was purchasing the turkey. Not as easy as it sounds.  Supermarkets in Israel do not stock whole turkeys, and it required special effort to get my local market to order one.  It is so rare that when I got to check out line, the woman manning the cash register called over the other workers to see something they had never seen before … a whole turkey.

Thanksgiving brings up happy memory of my youth.  For all of my childhood and teen years we always went to the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by one of my Grand Aunts. They were big affairs with the large extended family in attendance.  Everyone would bring something else, with my Grandmother making her lemon meringue pie, and my Grand-uncle Morris, a veteran of the US Navy (one of the first Jewish Naval officers) always being in charge of carving the turkey.

Thanksgiving 1961?

Remembering those events also reminds me a little of how I felt in the last few years I attended the event, as the year of my Aliyah and induction in the Israeli army came closer.  I was so sure of myself then. I knew all the answers.  I felt a little superior to some of my relatives, with my clear connection to Israel (at the time I was already working for the Jewish Agency).  I remember giving a speech at a convention, a few weeks before we (myself and several friends) made Aliyah — the complete details of which I do not remember, but it was clearly a speech that represented my view at that time, which was the traditional “Shlilat HaGolah,” or negation of the diaspora.

Over the past 40 years, some of that time spent living here in Israel and some time in the US, my views have evolved.  There was no question that 42 years ago when I first made Aliyah, I believed every Jew should move here.  I really did not see any future for the Jewish diaspora.  Today, I feel it’s not that simple.  While from a national perspective, I still believe it would be great of all Jews moved to Israel, I know that that’s not going to happen and that this place that I have always called home — even when I did not live here — is not the right place for everyone.  As to the future of the diaspora, it’s four decades later and the US Jewish community, despite what I thought then, is still going strong.  Still the same concerns I had 40 years ago remain.

Which brings me to the events of the last two days. Yesterday I participated in an hour-long show on i24News, where the main guest was Morton Klein of the ZOA.  My parents met each other at the young ZOA, and both were extremely active in that organization in their youth.  For many years, throughout my childhood, my parents would go to monthly ZOA meetings, where they would have food, listen to a speaker and discuss events.  Back then, ZOA was non-political, similar to Hadassah — a far cry from the very right-wing ZOA of today, whose annual dinner was attended by Steve Bannon. However, that is not what I want to write about now — nor do I want to write about the high salary the ZOA pays Klein as President. I guess I am just jealous that I was a lay President of a Jewish organization (a school) for nine years and never saw a cent.

What I want to talk about is the discussion we tried to have with Klein about the crisis in the relations between Israel and American Jewry.  Interestingly, when asked directly, he said the Israeli government should have honored the Kotel agreement, it itself had negotiated, but he immediately pivoted and said he saw no problem with the relationship between American Jews and Israel. He stated that as soon as American Jews hear from him how murderous the Palestinians are they immediately support Israel.  Leaving aside how absurd the statement itself is, the incredible one-dimensional nature of someone who has been working in the American Jewish community, as the head of the ZOA, for 23 years was breathtaking. To not recognize the breadth and depth of some of the problems between the two communities was astounding.  Of course, other things he said and believes, for instance, that someone cannot be an antisemite if they like Israel, was equally mind-boggling (but that is for another discussion).  Klein did mention that he has been writing a column every other week for Briebart — but…

What was just an interesting discussion on a TV show took center stage in the Israel political discourse, a few hours later, when on the same station that I had appeared, just a few hours earlier, deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely was interviewed on “The Rundown”.  When asked about the problems in the relationship between American Jews and Israel, Hotovely took the Netanyahu line that the Israeli government was doing a great deal to ensure that non-orthodox Jews could pray as they wish at the Kotel.  When pushed by anchor Nurit Ben, Hotovely made her fatal mistake by saying that American Jews cannot understand us — “since their children do not go into the army like our children do.  They do not fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Being unqualified for her job, Hotovely had no idea that the claim she made is an old canard used by antisemites, claiming that Jews do not fight in the army.  Of course, during the times of the draft in the US, that claim was just false — the Jews sent the highest percentage of soldiers to fight in World war II of any ethnic group and leaving apart the American Jews I know serving in the Armed forces, there is an element of truth. The US armed forces consist primarily of people from either the lower middle class or from families that have long traditions of service in the military.  Neither of which are groups that Jews are generally a part.  So, yes there was a grain of truth in what she said.  There was an even greater truth in what she meant to say — or was trying to say — however awkwardly.

There is a gulf of understanding between those who go the army and those that do not. There is a gulf between those whose children have to go to the army and those that do not.  I feel it personally, as the draft date for my youngest rapidly approaches.  There can be no denying how it impacts the relationship between American Jews and Israelis, but that has always been the case.  Whether it was in ’67, ’73 or any other point, that difference has always been very real.  No, the problems in the relationship today have nothing to do with this unchanged reality, they have everything to do with the Kotel agreement the government failed to honor; Netanyahu’s embrace of Trump, when most of American Jewry hates him; the failure of the Israeli government to speak out promptly about antisemitic incidents in the US and other similar issues.  There are many fundamental issues at work that nobody wants to even discuss — like what happens to a relationship that was fundamentally based on dependency, once the dependent party (Israel) is now strong and wealthy?

Of course, no one wants to discuss any of that …

Instead, everyone has called for Hotevely to be fired. I agree she should be fired because she is unqualified for the job — having no diplomatic experience and representing the extreme right-wing of the government, i.e., not really the type of person you want to effectively put in charge of the Foreign Ministry, but the careless half-truth she uttered last night is clearly not the reason.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this rant — Thanksgiving.  Two days ago, Sarah Huckabee, the White House Press Secretary asked reporters to say what they were thankful for before asking questions. It was not an appropriate question, however, since one of the hats I wear puts me on the White House press list, I will answer that question — as someone who is a much less sure of myself than I was so many years ago at my grand-aunt’s house on Thanksgiving … I am thankful for the wonderful family that I have. I am blessed with a happy marriage and three wonderful grown children.  I am also thankful that in this period before the twilight of my life, I have the opportunity to share my opinion on matters such as this, since other than the bored readers who have read through this piece, earlier tonight I had the chance to appear on Arabic TV and try to explain the Hotovely controversy to an Arabic speaking audience.

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Trump’s Speech to the UN

It’s been a crazy few days. Rosh Hashanah is coming, and I have been going back and forth to Yaffo, appearing on i24 News four times in the past three days. This afternoon I was asked to appear again. I sent in my latest Newsweek story before I left for the studio.

After my appearance, I stopped in Shuk HaCarmel to buy a few things. At the same time, I was listening, and partially watching Trump’s speech at the United Nations. While his statements on North Korea were troubling (has he never heard of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote “talk softly and carry a big stick”??), and his talk about Iran is reckless, since the U.S. does not have a plan B (although I was on the air the other night with an Iran expert who believes that U.S. sanctions alone could collapse the regime- I do not buy that) what was worse, was the end of the speech and his calls to blatant Nationalism. His calls to Nationalism has brought out the worst humanity has to offer. He envisions a world opposite to the world that I had hoped my children and grandchildren would inherit from us. It, of course, got worse, when Prime Minister Netanyahu stated:”In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech”. So now I can be embarrassed to be an American, and to be an Israeli at the same time.

On Sunday I participated on a panel in which one of the topics discussed was the crisis between American Jews, and Israel. While others focused on the Kotel agreement, I said the issue is deeper and relates to values. A prime example of this, is the Israeli government’s enthusiasm for Trump, at a time where most American Jews feel very differently. Today’s speech and Netanyahu’s response underscores that.

GA pays tribute to the memory of His Excellency Baldwin Lonsdale (Vanuatu)

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Corruption or Animal Rights?

We live in a strange country at a strange time. On Friday it was officially announced that the wife of the Prime Minister Sara Netanyahu is going to be indicted for misuse of public funds.  No one in the right mind believes that her husband was not aware of what was going on.  All last week the news was filled with stories of different people arrested all of them confidants of the Prime Minister. (See my Newsweek story) .  But tonight what is happening in the streets of Tel Aviv? About 100 people have come out for the demonstration against corruption, and 14,000 or more are taking part in a rally for animal rights and favoring vegetarianism.

 

Demonstration at Habima against corruption
Demonstration at Habima against corruption

Most of those attending the rally against corruption were people in their 50’s,60’s and 70’s. The speaker called for Bibi to resign and described the many corrupt things that have happened, and gave a preview of some of the things that have not been understood by the public yet.

The large rally for animal rights was filled with young people including some of the younger members of the Knesset.  It was well organized and the crowd was enthusiastic.  They seemed strangely hopeful that they would make a difference.

Marchers for Animal Rights on Dizengoff
Marchers for Animal Rights on Dizengoff

I interviewed a few of the marchers and asked them why they came out.  Two young women said because they cared about animals.  I asked why not go to the rally against corruption? They shrugged and said they cared about corruption, but animals are something that tugs at your heart.  They said animals cannot speak for themselves.  When I asked another couple why did they come out for animal rights and not for the slaughter in Syria (there were a couple of rallies at the Russian Embassy where 100 people showed up)they also shrugged and said they really care about animals.

animalrights Click for short video

We are at a strange place.  Young people want to express themselves but seem convinced that when it comes to politics or even economics it’s impossible.  Instead, they seem to be directing themselves to a nice generic cause- where they cannot fail, after all, there are more vegans and vegetarians in Tel Aviv every day.

 

I am not sure whether to laugh or cry

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Bibi and Trump Who Will Fall First?

My professional world at least the journalistic part of it is strangely bifurcated.  For Newsweek I write about political, military events here in Israel, as I do for the economic publication that I cover Israel for, but for CEEMarketwatch  I spend time following all the main economic stories in Israel.  On the other hand, when I appear on TV on i24News or on Radio I return to my roots and my expertise on American politics.  Once in a while, they meet when   Bibi visits Washington or Trump comes here.  However, at the moment it seems that my two worlds and my two expertise are meeting in a sort of strange virtual way.

Both last night on the phone with a friend and this morning when I had my daily get together with a group of friends at the dog park the discussion was who was going to be forced out first, Bibi or Trump.  Yes, I know many say it will never happen, and where is the fire? ( well there seems to be a little fire recently) but around both of them the smoke is so thick that somewhere in there, there must be a blazing fire.

In reality in the past week on both sides of the Atlantic, the walls have no doubt been closing in just a little on respective leaders.  On Trump’s side the Emails released by his son while not directly tying him to the crime or without a doubt establishing a crime, have undermined six months of denials, members of his campaign clearly met with the Russians.  How much collusion will come out in the coming weeks and months is unknown but if I had to guess I believe the revelations that will come out over the coming months will take everyone’s breath away.  I am amazed at those defending him, although I should not be after all enough people voted for him so he became President knowing what they did, there can be no doubt at this point that was willing to accept help from the Russians, help that will turn out to be decisive.  There is much we still do not know and as a result, I have not updated my  book on the History of Presidential elections yet but the outlines are clear, and I do not believe that President Trump will make it to 2020- but then I did not think he was going to elected

Here the investigations into Bibi and those around him keep getting deeper and in the case of the latest two investigations much more explosive.  There are currently four different investigations of Bibi or people close to him.  They are now called Case 1,000, Case 2,000 Case 3,000 and Case 4,000.  The first case is where the most direct evidence has already been collected relate to Bibi’s receipt of gifts and other things that were not proper and not reported that apparently come to a cumulative value of $100,000’s.  The second case relates to tapes of conversations in which Bibi promised financial benefits to the publisher of the Yediot Achronot if it would publish favorable stories on him and unfavorable stories on his rival.  The incentives including having Yisrael Hayom (the Adelson paper) not publish on Friday, something if he was not lying about his connection to the paper he should not have been able to offer.  Case 3,000 involves the purchase of submarines and frigates from Germany.  The charge is that money exchanged hands from the manufacturer to former member of the Nation security council a lawyer that is Bibi’s cousin and sometimes lawyer and the former head of the Navy.  While Bibi is not formally being investigated in this case yet, he was at the forefront of the efforts to buy the subs from Germany and it would seem in retrospect it may have been the reason that Bougie Ya’alon who opposed the purchase was fired by Bibi.   Finally, we have the newest case that of Bezeq. It started with the investigation into the purchase of Yes (satellite provider ) by Bezeq.  Yes was privately held by the Shaul Elovich, who controlled Bezeq, and it’s alleged that Bezeq bought Yes at a very inflated price and furthermore that Yes cooked its books to ensure that Elovich received the maximum he could.  It should be noted that Elovich is a friend of Bibi’s a friendship he tried to hide, and when it was outed Bibi was forced to recuse himself from dealing with Bezeq or its competitors in his role of Minister of Communications a role he insisted on.  The investigations took a turn when the hand picked (by Bibi ) Director General of the Ministry of Communication was arrested and interrogated on the charge of acting against the interests of the public on behalf of Bezaq.  He has been remanded to house arrest for 14 days.

So lots of smoke surrounds both Trump and Bibi.  Both have been investigated many times before and both have avoided prosecution.  Will they this time?  My sense is there is just too much smoke, and in both cases, it will only take one of the lesser defendants to agree to become a state witness and turn on the big boss.  At least in the nation that is never boring there is no chance of boredom setting in.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are welcomed by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, on their arrival to Ben Gurion International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are welcomed by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, on their arrival to Ben Gurion International Airport, Monday, May 22, 2017, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
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Thoughts on Another Rally

I went tonight to the rally in Rabin Square by Sholom Achshav to mark 50 years of occupation.  Before going I was skeptical – another rally, what would it accomplish?  On the other hand putting on my journalist hat, I said how can I not go. When I first arrived, I was enthusiastic. I went around interviewing people taking notes. I even got a some good quotes.  A man about my age, who is a wounded veteran and who lost his brother in the Yom Kippur War said “that the Six Day War was a great victory- but if we keep the territories forever it will be the end of the state.”  Another couple, also my age who actually arrived in Israel from Argentina 42 years ago two months before I first arrived said “we have to bring about change”.

But then the rally started and the speeches began.  There were a few minutes of news in the speeches, Herzog who was met with both cheers and boo’s called for the creation of one bloc on the center left that would include both Kachlon and Lapid- both names were met with boo’s but Herzog went on to call for an open primary for the leader of the bloc.  Nice idea but it’s not clear how you get Lapid who is convinced that his only chance to be Prime Minister is to move to the right, to join in the effort.  Ayamn Odeh, that head of the Joint Arab list called for the creation of joint bloc called the democratic bloc.  An interesting idea, but after interviewing Odeh two years ago I have been very disappointed in his actions, and even in his speech.  He was very careful in defining himself, as a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel, but could not call himself an Israeli.

As the rally came to the end, I mostly felt sad.  A feeling I have been having often lately( not on a personal level but on a political level).  Sad that this was the nth rally I have attended in the last six years since we returned, sad that there was nothing new.  Sad that the left continued to think short term, instead of worrying about the long term.  Odeh talked about democracy, but in reality democracy is eroding in this country, and most people are not even aware of it.  I am not sure of the answers but I am fairly sure that our current leadership does not have them.

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Self Indulgent Reflections

Today is my  birthday and I thought it would be appropriate to spend  few minutes reflecting on the year that has gone past, not so much personally although its been an interesting if not economically challenging year, but more from a professional perspective.

Many of you reading this have known me for long time- a few probably going all the way back to elementary school, and of course many of you are new readers who I have never met.  When people asked what I do over the years it has never been a simple answer.  I am sure my children sometimes are jealous of their friends who can answer the question what does your Father do, by simply saying doctor, lawyer, businessman etc.  My identity is more complicated.  Am I an educator, a historian, a software developer, developer,businessman, political activist, or a journalist?  Over the last 40 years I have been a little of all of these things to a greater or lesser degree.  Circumstances of my life at various points have changed that mix, and in the last year that mix has clearly changed- today journalist probably comes first, with historian and software developer coming after.

My identity as a journalist developed rather late in life- a little over ten years ago, when I first started writing my Israel Update, that soon became a weekly radio appearance and three years ago I started writing a regular column for Newsweek.  Today,  I am also  an economic correspondent for subscription web site on emerging markets, plus a regular guest on i24News where I appear on a regular basis, mostly talking about the election and of course since the Trump inauguration about the Trump Presidency.

Which brings me to what I actually wanted to write about and that is reflecting on being a journalist is such partisan times.  Being a historian is easy.  I am one of those people who do not believe in relativist history, at least for events that have taken place during the last 200 years.  Events are events, we have enough information today to say that with the exception of a few security related events there is not such thing has fake history.  Yes, history can be interpreted differently, ie how much weight should we give to the economic causes of the Revolutionary War as opposed to the political need of people to feel represented.  However, two hundred years later I have no problem laying out the facts and giving my interpretation, but so labeling it.

My role as a journalist seems more complicated. First, of course we do not have perfect information on events that are taking place. Second when you report news you are being selective.   My column in Newsweek is a perfect example.  I have had the luxury of having a regular column titled Tel Aviv Diary which appears under opinion.  That luxury frees me from having to be comprehensive and allows me to add opinion to what I write.  But what should I write about?  How critical should I allow myself to be of my own government?  It’s always a difficult line.  If I was writing in Hebrew for an Israeli daily or Israeli web site, there is no question I would be much more critical than I am in Newsweek.  There is little that I like about our current government in Israel, and no one with the exception of President Rivlin who I respect.  How strongly should that come through in my writing?  What stories should I write about- both keeping into account what is interesting  and what might be of interest to readers of Newsweek?

When I lived in the US there was always the question- what right did I have to criticize? After all I was not living in Israel.   But now that we have been back for over five years those questions are no longer relevant- but still it’s sometimes hard to be as critical as I would like to be or maybe should be.

Which brings me to the last question and that is about the Trump Presidency.  I have had a section on my web site about Presidential elections since 1995 and have written a book on the History of Presidential Elections, thus I have tried to be as non partisan as possible about American politics.  However, as the recent election campaign was reaching towards its conclusion and I began to fear that there was an actual chance that Donald Trump could win, I felt I had to write an article on Why a Jew Should Not Vote For Trump.  It ended up being one of the most read articles in the Times of Israel in 2016, and while it did not accomplish its goal it propel me into the partisan maelstrom.  In my many appearances on i24 News I have worn two very different hats, that of a historian of the Presidency, which of course come natural and as a foil to a guest Mark Zell who is the Head of the Republican Party in Israel.  I have been amazed at thr slavish support that Zell and others have given to Trump.  On Wednesday I listened as he said that Trump has been acting very Presidential since day one- and that his inaugural address was not dark, after all he was there and I was not.  What position should I take to the person I believe is a danger to the world and should never have been elected to the Oval Office?  The detached historian? the partisan journalist? The political activist? Difficult choices in very complex times.

I live in a country I love and have loved almost all of my life, but it is led by a Prime Minister who is under criminal investigation and in all likelihood is going to be indicted sooner rather than later.  My country of birth, whose history I have studied my whole life and who I have always thought to be the greatest country on earth is being led by a man who is wholly unequipped to do so, and whose corruption may be deeper and wider than anyone can imagine.

The Chinese have the curse – you should live in interesting times – For journalists this is always far from true, but sometimes even for a journalist/news junkie like me it becomes more than even we want to deal with.  As I enter the 63rd year of my life – I am not sure what to hope for both for America and for Israel.  Living in Israel is never boring, but today that can be said for events throughout the globe.  I can just hope in the next year that I can do a good job explaining these events to my readers and listeners. It will be  a challenge.

My beautiful picture
With My Mother when I was less than one.
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Trump Week One- Bibi Near the End

It’s been a difficult week.  As someone who is an American Israeli whose specialty is American history and to a lesser extent the Presidency, it has been like watching a car crash in slow motion.  Of course things in Israel have not been better as it’s become clear that the level of corruption in our government is greater than we thought – but more on that later.

Last friday night, the last chance that this was going to be a normal presidency ended with the inaugural address. I won’t repeat what I wrote in my Newsweek article about the address or what I said on the air afterwards on i24, but suffice it to say it was the most divisive inaugural address in American history.  It went downhill from there. Saturday was his speech at the CIA where we learned how obsessed he was about the size of the crowds at the inauguration, and where one of the least appropriate places he attacked the media.  A few hours later his spokesman made a fool of himself giving a briefing stating that Trump had the largest crowds at any inauguration.  So the week went – a hissy fit when Mexico would not agree to pay for the wall that he wants to build, more obsessive talk about him winning the popular vote if only the illegals did not vote. Of course the best for last his Friday announcement on banning all admission  including those holding green cards from 7 Muslim nations.  There was the minor issue of the White House issuing a proclamation on the Holocaust without mentioning Jews.  In case one was to think that it was merely an oversight, the White House clarified that it was deliberate, since not just Jews died in the Holocaust, but at least Trump is “not an antisemite like Obama”.

The three most problematic aspects of what has happened in the last week are: 1) Everything seems to be done without proper staff work.  Decisions of the magnitude that Trump has been making are usually done only after widespread review, and input from the relevant agencies of the government. He is using his reputed intuition to make world shattering decisions.  2) The Republicans in Congress seem to be going along, almost none willing to take stands against actions that go against everything they have ever said they believe in.  When former Vice President Dick Cheney is making the strongest statements criticizing Trump’s actions, we know we are in bad shape. 3) Finally, the realization that being President is not going to change Trump for the better. He will not grow into the job.  He will not spend the time needed getting up to speed on matters that he does not know, and he will never be willing to make decisions based on the proper staff work.  One final note on Trump: the announcement that Bannon will become one of the principles of the National Security Council is frightening.  The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces is out and Bannon is in.

As to Israel it was incredibly disturbing to see Netanyahu come out with a Tweet in support of Trump’s wall.  Netanyahu has clearly decided that the views of American Jewry or the 50% of Americans who oppose Trump are unimportant.  I will be writing an article for Newsweek tomorrow on the subject. Any input would be welcome. In the meantime the legal system is closing in on Netanyahu.  It’s becoming clear that the cases against him are strong and it’s only a matter of time until he is indicted.  He will try to stay on, the law is grey, but the precedent is not.  Who will replace him is unclear but an era is coming to an end.

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