Category Archives: Reflections

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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The over the top reaction to the UN Resolution

Since yesterday  the Jewish world as well as the Israeli political world has been obsessed with the UN vote and the fact that the US did not exercise its veto in the vote.  Israeli ministers including Netanyahu himself, called it the knife in the back of Israel and a very anti Israeli resolution.  Prime Minister Netanyahu stated tonight that “ Obama administration has carried out an underhanded and an anti-Israel maneuver at the UN Security Council.”  Nothing about the nations like Russia who actually voted for the resolution and did not abstain.  My twitter feed has been full statements from many of the Republicans that I follow ( yes I follow people I usually do not agree with) about what terrible act this was- how this proves how anti- Israeli Obama is.

 

Wow is all I can say- people seem to have lost their mind, on many levels.  Lets start with the fact that even if you do not agree with the resolution, it is a resolution under Article 6, which means there are no enforcement mechanism.  Second there was hardly anything new in the resolution-it says that the UN and the world does not recognize any activity beyond the 67 lines as legal.  Nothing new in that, and clearly under international law it’s clearly true.  The only really negative thing for Israel is the fact it calls on the world to differentiate between products produced in the West Bank ( 4% of Israel’s export) and those in Israel proper.  In a strange way while some people think this might help the BDS movement, in fact it could have the opposite impact since that same differentiation between Israel proper and the territories could serve as a break to general BDS against Israel.

The most absurd aspect of the reaction is the fact that two weeks ago Prime Minister Netanyahu who  initially opposed the passage of the law that would legalize the building on private Palestinian lines, warned that if it was passed there would be a UN  resolution. For internal political reasons he supported the misguided law and what he warned in fact has taken place . Read my article in Newsweek from two weeks ago- it explains all of this.

I also find the statements that this resolution is going to hurt the chance for peace- Really-  I am not a big believer in peace.  I am sad to say I do not believe there will peace in my lifetime, I do not see the Palestinians making the concession necessary, and neither do I see us making the needed concessions, so saying this resolution will decrease the chances of peace is absurd.  I am still waiting for Israel’s peace initiative.

Finally, to all the lovers of Israel in America- understand that if you carefully read this resolution that other then the reference to East Jerusalem at least half of Israelis would agree with it.  This resolution deals almost exclusively with the settlement in the West Bank, settlements that have grown not because most Israelis want them to, but because of the nature of the Israeli political system that give extreme views greater weight.  Obama is no more a hater of Israel then every voter of Meretz and the Labor Party.  His speech at Peres funeral was one of the best Zionist speeches that I have heard in a long time-  It easily could have been given by Ben Gurion or any of that generation.  Yes its not the speech the Bibi would give- and Bibi is our Prime Minister- but its a long road to go from thinking that Bibi is a problematic Prime Minister to saying that someone is anti Israel or worse anti semitic.

 

On a related note, I went tonight to a press conference by Yair Lapid- the person with the best chance of unseating Prime Minister Netanyahu.  I tweeted before the press conference began the question will he break right or will he break left-  I actually knew the answer in advance based on what he said to me after the Iran deal was announced-he was going to break right- and indeed he did- saying he had worked  with the government to stop the the resolution, and attacking the “left “ for celebrating the passage of the law.  He did attack the Netanyahu government for not being prepared and for the fact that there is no foreign Minister at the moment.  He said that Netanyahu had complained of a tense relationship with Obama, but wrongly claimed that our relations with other countries was much better.  I asked him what exactly was bad in the resolution- and there he fudged his answer- stating   that the resolution calls for a return to Six Day War borders, does not allow for building a terrace on a house in the territories, and finally calls on Israel to accept the Arab Peace initiative as it is, without dealing with refugees.  All of which is inaccurate-the resolution lists a long list of proposals and calls on the sides to use them as a basis of negotiations.  As to the Six Day War borders it is like every other resolution or position of almost every government in the world it says that any agreement must be based on those borders with changes agreed to by the parties.  Lapid however, is trying once again to make sure he is the alternative of Netanyahu and is convinced that the only alternative that can win is one that leans right, he may be right.

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What Have We Done?

I have been struggling whether to write this article since last night.  I knew I did not want to put it into my Newsweek column.  Last weeks column was difficult enough to file.  I am also working on another article for Newsweek that will not make many people happy, so I almost wrote the following for the Times of Israel, but even there I did not feel comfortable writing this so here it is on my little  blog.

What spurred me to write this were the Tweets last night be Israelis including MK Herzog decrying that fact that the world was not doing enough for the those trapped in Aleppo.  I replied that that might be true but what have we done?  For the last few years as I hear our leaders talk about the holocaust and how the world did not do enough I have cringed.  What gives us with the largest and most effective military in the Middle East the right to talk about what the world has not done- when the only thing we have done is give some medical aid to those who arrive at our border.  Our Prime Minister is too afraid of his relationship with Putin to even condemn the indiscriminate Russian bombings of hospitals.  I understand all the very good reasons why we should not intervene, why we did not even create a safe haven next to the Golan Heights.  It was clearly not  in our “interests”.  When discussing with friends I get should our children risk their lives for people who hate us? Its all true but….

The but is that the Allies, in World war II had many legitimate reasons for not changing their war plans that were after all aimed at toppling Hitler.  So it’s time for us to stop decrying the fact that the world did not do enough to save the Jews during the holocaust.  They did not.  And the world has not done enough to stop the murderous Assad regime with the help of the Iranians and Russians for killing his own people.  They have not.  But what did we do?  We could have grounded the Syrian Air Force in five minutes, we could have saved thousands if not tens of thousands of lives, but it was not in our interests.  None of us really wanted to risk our children or take the chance that Hezbollah would start firing missiles to save some Sunni Arabs who were being slaughtered.  That is reality, and it’s not a very moral reality that we live in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit in the United States to speak in front of the Congress. In the photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speech at the AIPAC conference. øàù äîîùìä áðéîéï ðúðéäå ááé÷åøå áàøöåú äáøéú òì îðú ìðàåí îåì ä÷åðâøñ. áúîåðä: øàù äîîùìä áðéîéï ðúðéäå áðàåîå áëðñ àéôà"÷.

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Rabin Memorial and Reflections on an Article That Went Viral

I just returned from the Rabin Memorial in Rabin Square, after years in which it was a totally apolitical affair, tonight it became something else.  It did so largely because the traditional organizers did not have the money to organize and in the last moment the Zionist Union stepped forward to become the sponsor.  In many ways I actually think this was more proper.  Over the years when all the youth movements sponsored it, the event became too parve.  It was too important not to insult anyone and be in the consensus that included Betar and Bnei Akiva than to present anything but the most general educational message against violence.  When they organized it there could be no hint that the assassin was rightwing, or had religious motives. Tonight was different. The Zionist Union took a risk organizing the event- were people going to show up?  They received a great assist from the head of the government coalition today when he gave a talk and said the assassination of Rabin was not a political act.  It was of course the most successful political assassination in recent history.  The crowds came – the square was full, between 50 – 70,000 people turned out.  Recent actions by the government to silence the opposition were very much on the minds of the people who came and the people who spoke. The music was good but the best speech by far was given surprisingly by Tzpi Livni, who spoke about the values of Zionism. She said Zionism was not attacking the press, Zionism was not attacking the courts, and Zionism was not living in a country where we become the minority.

Of course events in Israel are eclipsed by American politics. Its been an interesting few days for me. I was reluctant to write my article on Trump and the Jews and said so at the very beginning of the article.  I felt I had no choice since, however small my soapbox was I have at least a small following and maybe I can do my part.  I was shocked when my article went viral – and has now been shared 33,000 times.  At this point it is the most read article on the Time of Israel today, this week, and this month and it shows no signs of slowing.  I have to hope that most of the people who shared the article agree with it.  So I guess I did my part.  On the other hand, when you look at the responses that the article has garnered and the names I have been called it’s very impressive.  It’s interesting how most of the people just call me names and don’t try to refute the facts.  I am also always struck by the amount of hate out there and how much nonsense people repeat.  I am cautiously optimistic that Hilary will win, and yet I fear she might not, since I truly cannot understand how anyone could vote for Trump, so maybe I am truly underestimating his support.Rabin Square

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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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Five Years in Israel

Today marks the fifth anniversary of our return to Israel. Our landing was tough having arrived soon after my Mom passed away and watching in the first  months we were here my Fathers health deteriorate to the point that he died three months after we arrived.  Living here continues to be struggle financially, but that has unfortunately been my fate most of my life. Moving back and forth between between Israel and US probably never  helped that.  This is my first experience living in Tel Aviv and I must say that while in my high school year book I have a quote that says that even though I was not born in Jerusalem, I have felt a Jerusalemite my whole life, today it’s Tel Aviv that I love more than any other city in the world.  Becoming a Newsweek columnist with a column called Tel Aviv Diary has certainly cemented that relationship. The research for our App Journey Tel Aviv combined with my column has allowed me to know the city from the top( I interviewed the mayor) and the bottom( I have walked almost all the city adding locations to our App).

Being in Israel has also resulted in another change.  Its very much in vogue today to write how people will need multiple careers.  While that is certainly true for the future, that has certainly been true for me.  While one hand I have been involved in the development of software for three decades and the writing of history even longer, what defines my prime activities in life has changed a number of times over the years.  Much to my surprise and certainly not something that I would have guessed before we came, I am now more of a journalist than anything else.  While having a regular column in Newsweek has certainly given me both access and a certain level of prestige, it was not until I started working for European economic web site, who are actually paying me to file multiple stories a day that it became clear that today I am primarily a journalist.  I probably still spend more time a day working on software and history, but its become my writings that defines me today

I was worried about returning here this late in life, I was 56 when we came back and was concerned about being the outsider.  That is the one worry that was unnecessary.  The combination of having been in the IDF, having two children who have served, and having a third on the way has eliminated any concern in that direction. Of course it helps to be fluent in Hebrew and have a dog, but there is no question that I feel totally at home as if I lived in Tel Aviv all my life and am thankful every day that we live here. We have made many friends, and have access to all aspects of life in Tel Aviv. (Well almost every  we will never be a 20-30 year old single).

One finally thought, none of this would have been possible without my family,  Amy who has always been at my side and been my partner in everything I have done these last 25+ years  and three great kids.

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Some Random Thoughts Before Rosh Hashanah

Its been a while since I wrote a blog piece.  For the last month since I stated working for Emerging Market Reports plus started MYIsraelNews I have gone from writing one or two articles top for Newsweek plus a blog piece or two every week, to writing on average ten stories a day.  While I am enjoying it and Emerging Markets is helping to pay our bills,  writing a blog article which is more writing sometime seems like a mountain too high to climb. Since we are effectively in the midst of a five day weekend in Israel and I cannot imagine there will be any economic news until Wednesday to write about and hopefully no political military news, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some thoughts. Furthermore I am hopeful that this will be a quiet week and my Newsweek article long planned but not yet written will be this week about the Jewish vote in the US.  On Wednesday we will have been back in Israel for five year, I hope to reflect on that then, so here are some random thoughts that I did not want to write for Newsweek as a new Jewish year begins

First on the decision of the Joint Arab List not to attend Peres funeral: it was in my mind one of the stupidest  things I have seen lately, and while they are not part of the traditional left in this country it is another example of the left committing collective suicide.  The Left including the Arabs seem more concerned about being right than accomplishing anything.  Accomplishing something is a matter of convincing voters.  You do not convince voters this way.  You do not convince the average Israelis that is ever a chance at reconciliation when you effectively say that even Peres who spent the last quarter of his life trying to find a way to achieve peace cannot be forgiven for earlier “mistakes” than how do you ever reach peace.  It was terrible decision and will effectively delegitimize the Joint List further.

 

The decision of the White House to correct the Email to the press: I am officially a member of the White House press corp- (because of my section on the web site on the Obama Presidency. ) I along with the rest of the Press Corp received Friday night an Email that corrected an earlier E-mail with Obama remarks at the funeral.  The original one said Mt Herzl Jerusalem, Israel the corrected one marked out Israel .One has to keep in mind this has been US policy since Harry TrumanI checked back at all my E mails from the earlier visit and everything said Jerusalem without Israel. My daughters passports say Jerusalem and not Israel as place of birth. The US never officially recognized any de jure borders beyond the 1947 partition plan and Jerusalem was suppose to an international city under that plan, This time it was a mistake that should have just been left alone. President Obama left behind good will with his speech, it was partially undermined by this correction

A few thoughts on the death of President Peres: Israel faces a real crisis.  When I was speaking to Herzog on Thursday night he compared it to the US after the Founding Fathers, but I mentioned to him that did not go that well for the US- He agreed and said that was our challenge.  It really is a problem for the country, after Netanyahu the other leaders of Likud are not very competent people to say the least.  That does not bode well for the future. They say the whole world suffers from a lock of leaders, our suffering is worse than many places.

One comment on the US elections: I am astounded that there are people who are actually planning to vote for Trump.  Its seems inconceivable that anyone can think after all we have seen that this man should be in the Oval Office.  There has never been someone less prepared and less suited for the Presidency.  You can agree or disagree with policy but I am not sure how anyone can disagree about the man fitness to be President.  A further issue for  Jews remains the fact that he brings out the worse in Americans, including a level of anti-semitism that we may have all thought existed but are shocked to see out in the open the United States

My last thought Before Rosh Hashanah relates to Syria.  As an American and as an Israelis I am ashamed.  We have been spending the past 70 years saying never again, and yet when it comes down to it, its Never Again only when its easy- or maybe when its Jews, I am not sure which.  There are only two countries that could have stopped the at least part of the slaughter in Syria, the US and Israel. The US for reasons I will never fathom did not because of President Obama’s unwillingness to use conventional force, has led to his decision not to even threaten the use of forces, and Israel because it’s not in our interest.  From the Israeli perspective we need to stop talking about how the world did not do enough during the World War II  to stop the holocaust.  It was not in their military interest to do more, even if they could have, which is a highly disputed historic point . It’s not in our national interest to get involved, but if we wanted to we could ground the Syrian air force in a matter of minutes.

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The Silence is Deafening

I have not written much in the past few weeks, but that is about to end.  As of September 1 I will for the first time being writing professional (being paid) for regular reporting primarily economic news from Israel- more about that later in the week.  At the same time I will be launching a new mini web site of news from Israel- more on that later as well.  Tonight I wanted to write about something that has been bothering more and more lately- The daily killing that has been going on to the North of us in Syria. Of course it’s nothing new its been going on for 5 years, but somehow in the last few days some of the pictures posted in my Twitter feed of the kids being killed in Syria have stuck a new chord with me.  Maybe its my son preparing for what is a right of passage in this country a trip to Poland that has once again made me reflect on the meaning of the trip and the meaning of the lessons of  the holocaust.

The horrific killing in Syria go on year after year.  The use of the illegal chemical weapons continue despite the so called agreement to remove them, and no one seems to care.  Yes people want to stop ISIS and they are doing what they can do to attack it, but as to the deliberate killing of civilians- nothing.  Two days ago the Syrians took an Israeli tactic and perversely stood it on its head.  Israel is known of the doubt tap on the roof when it wants to attack a building.  A small bomb that does no damage to warn people to get out and then the real bomb a few minutes later.  The Syrians instead double tapped by attacking a hospital and then coming back and attacking the funeral of those being buried as a result of the first attack.  The UN has just concluded that the Syrian government has continued to use Chlorine Gas as a weapon- Where is the outrage?  The Russians bomb civilians and the world is silent. Where are the people out in the streets of Europe in front of the Russian embassy’s?Where are the crowds demanding that the Iranians stop supporting Assad.  I do not see anyone demonstrating in front of the White House demanding the US ground the Syrian airforce. As a matter of fact I do not see anyone here doing the same.  In Israel the Syrian story has almost disappeared from the newspapers.  Unless an errant shell falls on the Golan Heights- no one cares?

During World war II the world could say they did not know- at least until it was too late they did not know- and once they knew there was little that they could have been done.  But the whole world has been seeing what has been going on in Syria-  WE all know and yet we are all complicit.  President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, President Putin, Prime Minister Netanyahu and you and me are all complicit in the crimes that have taken place 80 miles Northeast of my apartment.  We do not care- We will continue to memorialize the holocaust but as we do so we continue to dishwner the memory of those who died, because instead of Never Again  we have been saying “Never Again to the Jews”.

The Silence is Deafening

August 28, 2016
August 28, 2016
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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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The Meaning of Brexit

History is replete with examples of attempts to bring the world together. In 1814, representatives of most of the nations of Europe met at  the Congress of Vienna.  They did not try to erase national borders, but did try to bring peace to the countries of Europe after the upheavals of the French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. One hundred and six years and two major wars  later – including the terrible horrors of World War I – and the League of Nations was born. The League of Nations was the first embodiment of the utopian notion that mankind  could bring unity to the world. That body, proved to be incapable of containing the winds of Nazism and a nationalist Japan. Before the last shots were fired and Nazi crematoria were discovered, the horrors of World War II convinced world leaders, under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that part of the answer was a new world organization. It was hoped this body might prove stronger and more resilient than the League of Nations. This organization became the United Nations. The UN while more effective than the League of Nations – thanks partially  to the active participation of the United States – has had its limitations.

For Europe, the United Nations was only a partial solution. The devastated nations of postwar Europe , needed a better way to compete in a world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, in 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community was born, to integrate the coal and steel industries of France and Germany. That was followed by the Treaty of the Rome that was signed in 1957 which established  the Common Market, starting as a European Free Trade Zone.

In  1993,  the free trade zone evolved, when the Treaty of Maastricht was signed establishing the European Union and common European citizenship. Nations maintained their own identities, but ceded a certain part of their sovereignty to the Union. Soon French, Germans, Brits, and eventually  Poles and Croats all became common citizens. When the new millennium dawned people who had fought for centuries were now forging a common identity.

Now, 16 years later that new millennia is looking much less hopeful. Yesterday’s decision by the people of Great Britain to exit from the world’s most ambitious experiment in common citizenship is the latest and by far strongest blow to that vision.

Why did this happen? Why are are the people’s of the world choosing to move apart instead of moving together.  It’s a question I have been asking these past few months – long before the results of last night’s vote were determined. While there are no absolute answers, the momentum towards unity came to a screeching halt in September 2001.  On the day the towers in New York fell, it became clear that  a fundamentalist strain of Islam that had widely been considered an aberration, had the power to impact lives far and near.

What followed? The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq  destabilized a vast part of the Muslim world and   created a  refugee crisis.  That destabilization intensified with the destruction of Syria combined with the rise of ISIS and spread what has become a massive refugee crisis to Europe.   This  was certainly a contributing factor to yesterday’s vote. But refugees are not the sole cause of the British vote, although their role should not be underestimated.  Underlying this vote are economic, financial and social factors that cannot be ignored.  The idea of one world and one European economy was sorely tested in the Economic Crisis of 2008. Suddenly, the very interconnectivity that had made aspects of prosperity possible, also proved to be the world’s economy’s Achilles’ Heel.  The subsequent Greek debt crisis proved simultaneously the strength and weakness of the EU, its ability to weather the short-term fiscal crisis, while not providing a solution to the underlying economic problem was not a good harbinger for the future of a United Europe.

In addition, the growing social and economic change brought about by the computer, smart phone, and all of the future innovations have created a clear disquiet among parts of the population. It also presents a true challenge to find jobs and occupations for those who have been and will be, replaced by computers, robots and self-driving cars. In times like this, individuals receive comfort in their national identities – e.g. “we are British and not European” or “We will make America Great Again”. People turn inward and blame the “other” for their problems, the “immigrants” the “migrants”, the “Muslims”, and I dare say – in some cases – the “Jews”.  People believe their nationality, their ethnic identity, their religion is superior to that of the “other”.   When people are uncertain they seek comfort in what they know, they believe promises even if they based on lies or falsehoods. It is a dangerous time. Of course, things are not always straight forward and membership in the EU was not always free of difficulties. That being said, there are few economist, who do not believe that the British have shot themselves in the foot with this vote, certainly economically.

In 1966, when I was eleven years old, the legendary science fiction series “Star Trek” debuted.  Star Trek depicted a future world, where mankind had overcome petty nationalistic and religious divides and joined forces with other races from other solar systems for the common good. Star Trek depicted an optimistic future, not one without its challenges, but optimistic all the same. I became a fan – maybe not quite a “Trekkie”, but a fan just the same. At the same age I also became a Zionist. I guess as much as I hoped for the future Star Trek imagined, I feared that history had not been kind to those who put too much faith in the better nature of mankind – a reality that was doubly true for the Jewish people. For most of my lifetime, I have watched a slow but steady march towards the Star Trek universe I first met in my youth. For the past 15 years, I have seen that march stop and reverse course.  Last night’s vote was the clearest indication of that, and I fear that the future of my children and grandchildren will not be as bright as I once could have imagined.

 

 

Brussels
Brussels
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