Category Archives: Reflections

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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Terror- Does the Name Really Matter

Terrorism is a hard topic to write about, simply because it seems to hopeless.  In the last few days terror has touched very close to home- when the attack in Tel Aviv took place at a restaurant I frequent often, and relatively far away- in Orlando Florida at a club I have never been to.

Terror has been a constant companion in my adult life, the first attempted hijackings occurred when I was in high school.  A high school classmate was on the El Al plane that was supposed to have been hijacked by Lylia Kaleb as part of the Black September hijacking.An El Al security guard thwarted that hijacking, others were not as lucky and had the pleasure of spending  time in the Jordanian desert including some fellow New Rochelle residents. This was the time the world and Israel lived through the Munich Olympics attacks.  As I have written previously terror has struck me personally when my best friend from Elementary school was killed when his TWA plane was blown up over the Mediterranean by terrorist under the employ of Qadaffi.  I could continue to list the cases of terror in the world, and they included the many bombings during the Second Intifadah here in Israel- One of them the bombing of a Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem occurred directly across the street from my daughter’s apartment.

The list goes on and on. Of course, one of the most striking elements of the list is that with a few exceptions most of the terror attacks have been done ( Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing being the biggest of them) by Muslim terrorist.  Of course,  America has suffered far more mass shootings motivated by factors other than political terrorism, and I would be happy to right an article how there is no reason in any sane society to allow its citizens to own AR-15 assault rifles but that is a whole other article.

While the net is full of the arguments whether to call this radical Islamist terrorism or not, I find the argument ridiculous.  Why is it important?  How does it solve the problem?  Yes an overwhelming majority of terrorist have been mMuslim, and yes for whatever reason parts of the Muslim world seem most angry and have been resorting to terror for two generations, but how does this help us? Its been clear to me for a while that one of the reasons we have not solved our problems with the Palestinians for a century clearly has to do with religion.  Ok now that we all feel better, and can blame everything on radical  Islam now what?

This morning when I read a story about a Rabbi who ruled that girls over the age of 5 could not ride bicycles I said to myself isn’t it time we say that these Rabbis are as insane as the radical Muslims.  That is probably true, thankfully they don’t tend to be violent- and their is no Jewish equivalent of Jihad.  But how does that help us?.

I have passed my 60th birthday- modern terrorism has been around since I was 13-  I am yet to hear a plan how to end it.  In Israel, we get into the arguments about yes we should pull out of the territories because it breeds terror or no we should not because its the only way we can stop it, and of course both sides have legitimate arguments, but in the end its once again irrelevant to ending terror.    The US has been actively fighting wars against terror since before 9/11.  Can it really say its made significant progress?

Do I think President Obama should refer to much of the terror that has occurred in the last few years as Jihadist- sure?  What percent of today’s attack should we ascribe to Jihadist ideology and what part to homophobia?  We will never know since the shooter is dead, and besides they seem to go hand in hand.  But would it make a difference if President Obama said Jihadist terror, I don’t see how?

So I will end my rant tonight where I began- I have no clue how to reign in this forever metamorphosing terrorism.  Its disheartening.  I have no solutions, I have no insight to spare- just sadness at all the lives that were lost for no reason today in Orlando- last week here in Tel Aviv and forty years ago when my friend who was studying at Harvard and was the smartest person I knew was killed, what lives all of these people might have lived.  I am not sure what the total number of lives that have been ended by terrorists in my lifetime is, but tonight I shed a tear for all them.

 

Eitan Bard  on the right and the author in the center
Eitan Bard on the right and the author in the center
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Political Turmoil Continues in Israel- New Anti Semitism in the US?

Two very unrelated stories are dominating my thoughts as I write this.  The first the resignation this morning Avi Gabi the Minister of Environment, from the Netanyahu government and the second an article this morning by Jonathan  Weisman  in  the New York Times on the anti-semitism that he encountered after writing stories that were somewhat critical of Trump.

Gabi resigned this morning stating that he could no longer sit in a government that was destroying relations with the United States and dividing the country.  He warned that the second Temple had been destroyed because the nation was not united and stated that the current government was leading the country in that direction.  Gabi stated that the firing of Ya’alon was something that should never have been done, endangered us and was a “frog he could not countenance”. Gabi also opposed the recent controversial gas agreement and said he considered resigning after it was passed but decided at the time to continue to work form within. Ya’alon and Gabi are considered by many as the two minister with the greatest personal integrity and it leaves the cabinet with almost no one who cares about liberal values.  It puts the head of Gabi’s party Moshe Kachalon, in a very difficult position forcing to justify why he remains in the current government instead of bringing it down.  Kachalon is the only one that can do that, but believes that he can bring down the price of apartments in the company and thus win the affection of voters.  I am sorry to say he is not likely to succeed, but that is a different post. The feeling that that our ship is being captained by either fools or people whose ideology is blinding them to reality continues to be very unsettling to say the least.

Of course if I want to feel good about politics here all I have to do is take a look at what is happening in the United States at the moment. I continue to be an ardent observer and have remained tangential professional involved in the election process, working with the US embassy here to promote greater understanding of the US elections and its process. While I have avoiding in this election cycle from writing too much, since I have learned the humility at trying to predict the future based on the events of the past, I was truly struck by the article by Jonathan  Weisman “The Nazis Tweets of trump God Emperor” . In the article the author a reporter in the New York Times Washington bureau, describes the storm of anti semitism that he has encountered after daring to criticize Trump in any way.  Weismann described how he was a typical assimilated Jew who was largely unconnected to the Jewish community.  He describes his encounter with a 17 year old Jewish girl who was an LGBT and Black Lives Matter who stated that “there is no anti-Semitism, certainly nothing compared with the prejudices that afflict other minorities.” Weismann argued with the girl saying that you cannot ever ignore antisemitism – he wrote he thought he was sounding like his mother.  Trump has brought out a wave of anti semitism that many thought no longer existed.  Jews should have known better I suppose, when things start going bad somehow Jews are always at fault.    I have written before on why I thought both Sanders and Trump have been successful – how ultimately technology has been replacing workers and upsetting the balance between  capital and labor.  That has created a mass of insecure people, people who are supporting Trump and to a smaller degree Sanders .  These people are also turning on the “powerful Jews” .  Jews have been totally accepted in the American Mainstream, so much so that it is guaranteed that whoever becomes President will have grandchildren that are at least partially or fully Jewish, and that is clearly fine with them . Despite this, on the right and the left fringes it’s clear that anti semitism has returned, if it ever had disappeared. I have always been someone who thought American was somehow different, its’ history insulated from the events that have happened to Jews in other parts of the world.  Today I am not so sure.  A country that might elect Trump might do other things that were until now hard to contemplate.

A friend said to me last night- did you hear the good news? What ? The new poll results that Trumpo is in the lead.  Why was that good I asked,? hHe said “maybe if Trump is elected 500,000 Americans Jews will come here, together with the British Olim and French we can finally change this country”  Maybe the two things that I have been reflecting on this morning are not so separate after all.

Leo Frank
Leo Frank
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What does it say about our Prime Minister if he picks Lieberman as Defense Minister

The past two days have been the craziest days I can remember in this country in terms of politics, and they certainly have not ended well.  I try to write at least one column a week for Newsweek even when the news is slow.  Yesterday morning I decided that there were two stories that were only loosely linked, the story of the ongoing disagreements between Netanyahu and the army and the story of the negotiations that Herzog was having with Netanyahu.  Frankly I did not understand why Herzog was engaging in the negotiations since I did not see how they could turn out well.  It just did not make sense to me that Netanyahu would be willing to give the minimum that Labor needed to justify entering into a coalition with Likud.  The thrust of my article was clearly in that direction and initially dealt with how Labor was coming apart over the issue.  Events of the day changed the article dramatically and the day ended  with Avigdor Lieberman as our new Defense Minister.

I have to say as someone whose son received his first draft notice today, the idea of Lieberman as Defense Minister is abhorrent.  Netanyahu’s actions in appointing him should prove to anybody who cares about Israel how dangerous he has become to Israel.  There are only two reasons that explain the appointment of Lieberman- Netanyahu’s perception that it will help him politically, or his interest in harming the army and its command. To many of us the army is one of the  last bastions of intelligent people making decision in the public sector in this country.  Either reason is frightening.

To realize how terrible  this idea is, you only have to reflect on the facts- and I am not talking about Lieberman’s politics, which while I think are self-defeating and immoral- do not disqualify him.  What should disqualify him, is his lack of experience, lack of temperament and the smell of corruption that surrounds him. Never has   a man as unqualified been appointed to Defense Minister.  He had a minimum army service, has never run a large organization and never shown any expertise in the matters of defense  beyond making provocative statements.  Worse than that, he is known not to have patience for meetings that last longer than 10 minutes.

Who is he replacing ? A former Chief of Staff, commander of the Central Command, commander of the most elite units, who by all accounts has been an excellent Defense Minister.  What might the current Defense Ministers sins be- he thought a soldier who by all accounts killed a wounded terrorist in cold blood for no reasons should be tried.  He defended the deputy chief of staff who might have picked the wrong day to warn about certain racist phenomena in our society, but most of us think he was right in warning about.  So now, Netanyahu  has appointed one of the people responsible for those problematic phenomena in our country  to be Defense Minister.

By the way have I mentioned the fact that although he was not charged in the end with corruption after a 10 year investigation, the fact that his 19-year-old daughter received a $17 million shekel consulting contract remains very suspicious, to say the least. Now that same man is going to be responsible for the largest budget of the state of Israel.

I repeat a qualified thoughtful experienced Defense Minister is being replaced to serve the narrow political interest of Netanyahu.  I am yet to hear any thoughtful person come up with a single justification.  Everyone I know is very worried by this development and i am clearly understating the level of concern.   I have to laugh when I read about the Conservative and Reform movements sending a delegation to convince Netanyahu to save the agreement on the access to the Wall.  Do American Jews really think that a man who put an unqualified demagogue to be in charge of the Defense Ministry because it was politically expedient, cares about the views of American Jewry when its not politically expedient to listen?

Netanyahu

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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
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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.

Knesset
Knesset
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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
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