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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How Can All the Republican Politicians Support Trump?

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.

Donald_Trump

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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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A Complicated Day

I just came back from the rally in Rabin Square that is being held in support of the soldier accused of killing a neutralized Palestinian terrorist.  It’s a complicated story.  Originally when the demonstration was announced  I thought I would have to write a Newsweek article about the demonstration, but yesterdays hard news stories trumped todays news, so I think I can pass.  Besides its late and i put much more effort into my Newsweek stories than I do for these blog posts.

It many ways it was a good day for Israel today, the court system worked.  This morning Yosef Chaim Ben David who was the leader of the group that killed Abu Khdier the Arab teenager burned to death  last year was found guilty of murder.  The court rejected his plea of insanity.  The judge hinted that he would be sentenced to life in prison.  A short time later, Yishai Schlissel’s was convicted of murder for his attack on participants in the gay pride parade in Jerusalem last year.

Rally at Rabin Square
Rally at Rabin Square

Tonight a more complicated environment took place in downtown Tel Aviv as thousands came to Rabin Square to show their solidarity with the soldier who is accused of killing the Palestinian terrorist who had already been neutralized.  The accused was not at the location at the time of the attack but arrived later.  The crowd was surprisingly not the average right wing gathering.  Only a small part of the crowd were religious.  I spoke to many of the participants and one theme kept repeating itself, the kid could be any our kids.  We sent him and we should stand behind him even if he made a mistake.  It was a sentiment that I could understand and even sympathize with.  My only problem comes down to the fact that he the soldier did not just make a mistake, he seemingly in cold blood killed the wounded terrorist.

Protester
Protester

People asked me at the rally how I would feel if it was my son, and when I heard both the Father and Mother of the soldier speak, my heart broke for the pain they are going through.  The Mother was crying throughout her short speech.  On the other hand, I would hope that my son whatever the circumstances and the general anger, would not go and just shoot someone.

It’s a hard story, there have certainly been many cases of soldiers losing it in war, killing POW’s and more.  Take a look at this story of British soldier in Afghanistan.  As I discussed with one religious woman from a settlement tonight, serving in Hebron is not easy for soldiers the pressures are high on all sides and its easy enough to just lose it.  But should there be consequences?  I worried after spending time on occupation duty in Gaza 35 years ago that the occupation would have terrible consequences for our society, it has whether we like it or not.  So maybe we cannot blame the soldier who was sent to do an impossible job but it’s our society at large who cannot come up with a solution.

The crowd
The crowd

In some ways my saddest conversation tonight was with a man who kept on saying that we have to beat the terror once and for all.  He was close to my age and when I reminded him that this has been going on in one form or another for our whole lives he just repeated but we have to beat it.

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Some Reflections on Coming Events and a Survey of High School Students

Tomorrow night the right wing is having a demonstration in Rabin Square in support of the soldier who is accused of shooting a wounded and neutralized terrorist.  Nadav Eyal the chief foreign correspondent for Channel 10 news tweeted, what a bad idea this was, “it was going to cause the foreign press to start really covering the story.”  I tweeted back to him that yes it was indeed going to force me to write an article on the story, and he quoted my tweet.  A small twitter storm broke out on the subject, this time with me tweeting mostly in Hebrew.  It’s a problem, however, once again I will feel tomorrow night that there is not choice but to write a story about an embarrassing demonstration, with well known singers coming out to defend the soldier.  It was suggested to me that I tie into my story the story of a British soldier who in 2011 was accused of killing an already wounded Taliban fighter, and charged with his death. There were demonstrations in support of the soldiers although at first glance the incidents seem very different, I will research the story tomorrow before writing my column.

Unfortunately, tomorrow’s rally and the article I will no doubt write tie together with the survey I translated Friday from Yisrael Hayom.  That survey of Israeli high school students included answers by 60% of them that a terrorist who was wounded and neutralized should not get medical aid, with the same percentage believing that a soldier who then comes along and kills the terrorist should not be court-martialed. Those answers would not be so bad if 85% of the same respondents did not think that the IDF was the most moral army in the world and 48% did not think that Arab Israelis should have the right to vote.  I am quite sure that a very high percentage of the same respondents would also have said that they were proud that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East.  Experts in polling tell me that I should not be surprised.  High school students are the most right wingers in the Israeli population.  Friends have told me the I should not be surprised, it represents the very real fear that people feel from attacks on the street by terrorists.  All of this is partially true.  But it’s also true as a new friend who I was having coffee with today said- Netanyahu has been very successful in turning everyone who oppose us into terrorist, every terrorist into ISIS and then turning ISIS into Hitler.  He has then thrown the Arab Israelis in with the terrorist and more recently any of the NGO who oppose his policies into  the same mix.  The success of that effort partially explains the opinion poll results.

The other part is a true lack of understanding of what democracy and democratic values mean.  To me, that is the most important problem that needs to be focused on, and it’s on that, that I intend to focus much of my efforts in the coming months and years. More on that in the near future.

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My Article in Newsweek Set off a Storm of Comments

In the last 24 hours I have been called, a “self -hating Jews” , “ a hater of Israel”, a “Zionist Pig” and “spokesman for the Israeli Government”.  Those were just a few of the 107 comments made on my article that was published yesterday by Newsweek.

I have had a column in Newsweek now for almost two years called, Tel Aviv Diary, trying to give a perspective of Israel from Tel Aviv.  The column started during the Gaza War of 2014, but has since grown to cover a wide range of events, mostly, however, security and politically related.  This was the first time one of my articles created the storm that it did.  I wrote the article with a certain reluctance.  While my own preferences on the Israeli political spectrum would be considered by many left of center, I consider myself mostly a pragmatist.  Throughout my active life in the Israeli/Zionist world a period that now extends over 40 years I have always taken the position criticizing Israel should be done from the confines of Israel.  That said in all the articles that I have written, I have always striven to ensure that I maintain as high a level of journalistic professionalism as I can and have never tried to consciously slant a story one way or another.  For the last year my articles have appeared mostly under the section Opinion ( but that is a function of the fact that my editor moved from being the Foreign Editor of Newsweek to the Opinion Editor) which has given me the freedom to sometimes express opinions, but I have tried to follow the statement “just the facts”

My relationship with Newsweek does however, allow me to write on whatever topics I deem interesting and relevant to the readers, with the understanding that it will provide insight into Israel and Tel Aviv today.  Thus I am certainly not bound to write about everything that happens here, many of which would be considered “inside baseball” by many foreign readers.  It was thus with a certain reluctance that I decided to write a column about the separate rooms in Israeli maternity wards for Arabs and Jews and the incendiary statement made by MK Smotrich and the ensuing criticism of his remarks.  It was a story that had dominated Israeli news for two days and unfortunately reflected a certain reality in Israel. It was a story that I felt needed to be told.  I have often published articles that are more critical or more opinionated in the Times of Israel blog section, but the reality is their platform is such, that unless you become one of the “Featured Posts”, you disappear from view almost immediately, and thus the number of readers is often very limited.

I think I did a reasonable job in laying out the facts of the story without being overly critical of too many of the players and even presented a relatively flattering view of Minister of Education Naftali Bennet.  Thus, I was surprised by the comments that the article unleashed.  On one hand the minute I saw the headline, I should not have been surprised.  I should note- I have no control over the headline, something that critics of various correspondents do not seem to recognize.  We write a story and our editors or the headline writers choose the headlines.  Their choice is based on some connection to the story and a headline that they feel will get read,r to click on the article and read it.  In the days when media was mostly conveyed on paper medium, the headline was considered important, a way to get the attention of the reader. Today it’s much more important, readers do not read almost any publication linearly like they once did, but instead pick and choose the stories that strike their fancy, usually based on a quick look at the header.  While I disagreed with the choice of headline “Apartheid Arrives at the Maternity Ward”. It was an effective headline and at least reflected aspects of the story.  Of course, effectiveness is a function of the results and this article certainly generated the readership and level of interaction that a mostly web based news organizations desire.  So much so that the Editor and Chief of Newsweek wrote me an E-mail thanking me for the article.    Is it a fully accurate headline,? No its was not- Israel within the 1967 borders is not an apartheid state- Arabs are free to take any jobs go anywhere, live anywhere they desire.  Is there racism and discrimination in the Israeli society?Yes as there is in almost any society.  Is it codified in the laws? Something that is required to be apartheid, the answer is no.  Of course, the situation is completely different on the West  Bank but that is a different article.  What is true however, is that in our state of perpetual war, it is too easy to fall into the trap of becoming an apartheid state.

One final thought on what was planning to make a short posting- The level of discourse in the comments was clearly frightening on both sides. Those that were pro Israel immediately attacked me for writing the story, “what gave me the right to criticize Israel- and Israel that seemingly can do no wrong”  Of course, they obviously know little about me, but they immediate draw the conclusion that if someone is even mildly critical of Israel they must be an anti semite of self-hating Jew.  Second there seems to be no understanding that there is a clear difference between the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and the Arab- Israelis who are full citizens of Israel. Something I will try to address with an article in coming weeks.

Finally, when it comes Israel’s critics, for them there are no half measures, our very existence remains the original sin, at least, based on the comments, reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would result in the partition of the land would be a half measure at best for them.

I truly do not know who seem scarier- our supporters who think we can do no wrong and our opponents who think we can do no right.

If you did not read the article or want to read the comments here it is

 

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