Monthly Archives: May 2016

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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