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”.
Tonight is Tisha B’Av, it’s a fast that I have always felt should be eliminated. To me it has always been antithetical to basic Zionism to be mourning the loss of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago,when today it is once again under Israeli sovereignty. I understand those who said, that despite events of modern history, Jerusalem is far from living in peace. I have also understood the arguments about how we have to remember the events so we avoid the internecine hatred that to many was the cause of fall the Jerusalem. As many of you know my concern for the country that I live (Israel) is very real. Most of that concern is not from our external enemies but our internal problems, but strangely this Tisha B’ Av my concerns are more about the United States the land of my birth and less about Israel.
Something very dangerous occurred in the US this past week. While the whole candidacy of Donald Trump has been problematic and so many of his comments that he has made that are troubling have been too numerous to list, his comments in the last few days are very dangerous. I am not talking about his 2nd amendment comment, which while to most it’s clear what he meant, was at least ambiguous. No, it’s been his comments that the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen by his opponent. He repeated that on Thursday when he said that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if it’s stolen. Polls currently show him losing that state by11-16 points. He has requested that people sign up to be poll watchers so the election is not stolen by “crooked Hilary” . The United States is in uncharted territory. Months before an election the results are already be discredited. When what seems inevitable happen on November 8th and Donald Trump loses large number of his supporters will indeed believe that the election was stolen. They will believe that Hilary Clinton is not the legitimate President, and a few might take actions that I do not even want to imagine.
One of the most basic facts about United States history has been the peaceful transition of power after an election. The acceptance of the results. Even in the most divisive election in US history 1860 when Lincoln won, no one questions whether he had won or not. Some states were not willing to accept the results and therefore attempted to secede from the Union causing the Civil War. In the last 20 years there has been a troubling attempt to discredit and not truly accept the new President. We saw that to some extent with President Clinton with Whitewater and of course much more so with President Obama with the birther movement. One could rightly blame the Republican establishment from never totally disavowing the birther movement- and we can easily use the analogy of riding a tiger- that tiger has brought Trump. However, we cannot go back in history and undo the damage. Even if every Republican elected official comes out tomorrow and says that they respect the electoral process and have no fears that the election will be stolen it may be too late.
America is a strong a resident nation and in its 240 year history has endured many challenges. I lived through the turbulent 60’s and although I was a young boy remember 1968 well. Never in my life however have I feared for America as I have in this election and more so in the past week. I am confident that Trump will lose this election by close to a landslide- but fear two things: first that there are actually people after all that has occurred in the past two weeks who are planning to vote for him, second, that sometimes a bell cannot be unrung. The bells that Donald Trump has rung since beginning his campaign are going to be very difficult to unring. It will be up to President Clinton together with the Republican leadership after this election is over to find a way to the bring American people together. Today on Tisha B’Av I fear not for the disunity here in Israel- but rather for that in the United States.
It’s been a strange two weeks in Israel, clearly the most important news has been happening abroad and not here. That is frankly very nice. Of course the news abroad been either bad or very strange. Bad of course, is the repeated terror attacks. As I have written before my fear is there are no solutions at least any time soon. It’s the fear of terror that might bring the far right to power in Europe, and it’s the fear of terror that might further destroy the European Union, and it is the fear of terror that might bring Donald Trump to the White House. The Donald Trump story is the strangest, the fact that he is the nominee of the Republican party is astounding, and frankly the fact that I know people who are actually thinking of voting for him is even more astounding to me. To me the policies that Presidents come to office with is not of great consequence. I wrote biographies of both FDR and JFK and what made them both in my opinion great Presidents, was two things, the first and most important their ability to analyze new situations, draw on both their own knowledge and that of their advisors as well to come up with the best solution to the problem. Does anyone truly believe that Trump is capable of that? There is nothing in his history that would show him qualified to be President, and just the opposite it’s unbelievable that his actions and statements have not disqualified him to date to run and be taken seriously. But I guess these are not normal times, and the hatred that has been directed at Hilary is not normal hatred. I hear from people she is a liar, but than hear they are going to vote for Trump who by all accounts does not even know the difference between the two. Furthermore, while people may or may not like the expected policies that Secretary Clinton might bring to the Presidency, at least we can anticipate what they are going to be. When it come to Trump it’s completely unknown. The world is fragile place at the moment, what it does not need is a “bull in a china shop” which in the best case will be what Trump will be. The second trait that FDR, JFK and for the matter Reagan shared was a fundamental belief in the greatness of America- something they do not seem to share with Trump.
While these have been relatively quiet weeks in this country, the are certainly not weeks without local news. Most of that news has been taking place on the plain where religion and state meet. It’s been taken place on two levels. On one between the mainstream of the country and the what are called “Chardal ” Rabbis. These are not Charedim who wanted nothing to do with the state, but rather people who consider themselves Zionist, who believe that our return to the land is part of gods plan. But they are much more rigid in their interpretation of orthodoxy, thus they are called Chardal. Two weeks ago one of the Chardal Rabbis who runs a pre army school, called homosexuals degenerates and objected to some of the policies of the army relating to homosexuals and related matters. That same week the writing of the newly nominated Army Chief Rabbi came out, in which he condoned the rape of captive women in war, and wrote against having women in the army. He claimed that he was merely answering theoretical questions and does not share those beliefs today. Both events created a domestic firestorm that lasted for a day or two
This week with a little less controversy, the Knesset under the prodding of the government passed two laws that the Charedim (Ultra Orthodox) demanded. The first barred Conservative and Reform Jews from using public mikve ( ritual baths)for conversions. The second removing the requirement from Ultra Orthodox schools that receive government funds from teaching Math and English. One thing became perfectly clear this week, this government is so dependent on the Ultra Orthodox that even if its decision have a strong negative impact on relations with diaspora Jewry they will give in to their demands.
A final note, this week while testifying in the Knesset Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot stated that the greatest threat the IDF faces is not from external threats, but by elements of the Israeli society that seem to be trying to delegitimize the IDF.
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.
It has been a quiet week in Israel- its about time. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the world and certainly for the rest of the Middle East. Last nights shooting in Dallas was just another terrible event in a string of horrific events. Most of those events of course occurred in the Middle East and South Asia mostly the doing of ISIS. The terror attacks in Istanbul, Lahore and Baghdad were particularly brutal and the death toll is hard to imagine. They do not get the press that attacks in Paris or Brussels get but for those who are victims the results as ever as devastating.
To me the events of the past few weeks have been particularly depressing, in some ways more so than attacks that take place here. When there is a terror attack here we can always rationalize it and say that if only.,.. If we were not occupying them .… However, when we see Muslim killing other Muslims or just killing westerners who are visiting Muslim country it certainly undermines those thoughts. These past few days the concerns that I have always had as to whether it would ever be possible to reach a peace agreement have strengthened. Will the Palestinians ever be willing to finally accept the division of the land. My fear is even if we were to reach an agreement with some entity representing the Palestinian people, there will always be those who will never accept it, and will be willing to blow themselves and some of us up to stop it. Can people who find it is unacceptable for a non Muslim to have dinner in a restaurant in Lahore ever accept the our presence in the midst of the Muslim world?
Forty years ago while in the army I met a soldier whose Father had fought in Israel’s War of Independence. I vowed than that I would do all I could to make sure that my children would not have to serve. Well two have already served and my youngest this week had his first call up notice- pre induction exams. Like any Israeli parent the moment is alway a combination of pride and dread. Pride since my son like all those who went before him is ready to do his service. Dread because the idea of having another child don a uniform is simply frighting. Its been 40 year and so little has changed. We are a richer, more developed society, but no more secure than we were back then. Our enemies are diminished, but the lethality of new weapons have given unconventional armies capabilities far beyond what they had in the past. It’s depressing.
On a totally other note- Former Minister of Finance and leader of the Yesh Atid party caused a small firestorm in Israel today when he criticized the appointment of Noa Landau as the new English editor of Ha’aretz. He criticized her because her significant other (not sure if its her husband) is very involved in Breaking the Silence. 55Lapid has had an active campaign against breaking the silence these past few weeks, as part of his campaign to show that his heart is in the right. The firestorm that he rightly created was from the sexism shown by saying that a persons suitability to hold a job should be questioned based on what his or her significant other does.
If you want to become a little more depressed just read this statement by the this Iranian military leader IRGC Deputy Commander Salami on the coming destruction of Israel
On a final note- it looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very pleasant trip visiting Africa this past week. He looked like he enjoyed it far more that he has enjoyed his recent trips to the US. He also seems to have improved our relations with the nations in the region significantly. So while I generally criticize him, his actions both in restoring relations with Turkey and improving our relations in Africa have both enhanced Israel’s strategic standing in the world significantly. So for once kudos to the PM.
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.
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.
Yesterday was another interesting day in American politics, as Secretary of State Clinton was giving a speech taking apart Donald Trump, House Speaker Ryan succumbed to the Republican political disease and became the latest Republican leader to announce that he would support Donald Trump in the general election.
The rush of Republican leaders to endorse Trump has been breathtaking. The same man ,who many called a threat to the Republic is now someone that these politicians can now support to achieve the highest post in the United States. Of course, why they have been doing it is really all too clear- self-preservation. The single strongest instinct of a politician is self-preservation. These Republicans fear that if they do not fall into line, Trump’s supporters will take retribution and they will be voted out of office. In today’s highly partisan world the thought of supported a Democrat is unthinkable for these Republican politicians despite the many dangers that a Trump Presidency could bring. I must admit I did think that Rep Ryan would hold out longer and extract some concessions from Trump on issues of substance- but I guess…
There are two exceptions to those Republican who has slovenly thrown in their support for Trump- former Presidents and the largely Jewish neo conservative intellectuals of the party. The former Presidents Bush as well as the 2012 contender Romney are not now, nor will they be in the future running for office, so they have the luxury of being men of principle and state they will not support a man who is totally unqualified to be President and who could be dangerous to the United States and the world.
I have to believe that the neo cons could not divorce their sense of Jewishness from the potential threat that Trump presents. While no one is claiming that Trump is anti-semitic, the same thing cannot be said for his supporters. Supporters he refuses to repudiate. More important, however, Trumps rhetoric toward other ethnic groups whether Hispanic or Muslim should be making the hair of any Jew involved in the public sphere stand up on the back of their necks. As one listens to Trump, it is easy to imagine another time, 80 years ago when another demagogue came to power in a democracy. He was voted into power by the German people. Not once have Jews asked How is that possible? How did the German people not know? How could they elect someone who spew hatred? If you want to know the answer to we only have to look at events in the US these last months, and maybe more importantly, these past few weeks, as one Republican politician after another fell into line supporting the most dangerous major party candidate for the Presidency in the US history.
One final note, support for Trump has grown in Israel thanks to the support of Yisrael Hayom, the paper controlled by Sheldon Adelson- now an avowed Trump supporters. That being said as a right leaning friend who I had lunch with this week said. We know what Hilary will be like and it might not be great for Israel but its not likely to be too bad either. Trump adds a level of danger to the equation – a level of uncertainty that Israel cannot afford.
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.
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?