Category Archives: Daily Life Israel

The Druze Rally- What does it mean?

A little over two weeks ago in the final hours of the Knesset session, two laws were passed, two laws that filled Rabin Square. The first two weeks ago and the second tonight. The crowds were very different but the anger and disappointment were not.

The first was the law on government funding of surrogacy- an amendment that would have included gay men in the bill was introduced, and after publicly promising to support the amendment Prime Minister Netanyahu voted against it. He quickly united the LGBTQ community and after a day of strikes, a rally was held that filled the square. While the purpose of the rally was to protest the issues of gay surrogacy-there was an underlying feeling as expressed by many of the speakers that more was at stake.

Tonight’s rally was different as I wrote in my Newsweek article, most of those on the left and center opposed the law. I thought it was not needed and would just hurt Israel’s image in the world for no good reason. I did not anticipate how the non-Jewish minorities in this country would feel, especially those who have clearly tied their future and identity to the state of Israel. The Druze community felt they had been stabbed in the back. Bibi’s supporters argue that the bill does nothing to hurt their rights, however, it clearly gives Jews greater rights without protecting these same minorities. It also removes Arabic as an official language of the country. The Druze, however, do not take to the streets quickly. They first tried to find a common ground with Netanyahu and negotiate a change. Preferably for everyone, but maybe just for their own community. At some point this week Bibi decided it was in his political interest (for reasons that I do not fully understand) to turn the Druze, into our enemies. He held a meeting on Thursday night ostensively to work out a deal, but in fact, he blew up the meeting claiming that Amsam Asad had brought up Apartheid saying Israel was an Apartheid State. When in fact it was Bibi who brought up a Facebook post that Amsam Asad had put up warning that the law could lead to an Apartheid State. He demanded an apology and when Asad, a reserve brigadier general refused, he walked out of the meeting and Bibi lied about what took place.

For the next 48 hours, a campaign against the Druze and the rally took place. Forged documents were circulated saying that the rally had received support from UNESCO, and the EU. Bibi retweeted a tweet saying that the New Israel Fund was behind the rally, and so it went lies after lies-

The rally itself was very different from any rally I have attended. First of all, there were the Druze. They had come in the thousands. Two hours before the streets of the city were filled with buses and cars bringing tens of thousands of people. The rest of the participants were a completely different crowd than that which turned out two weeks ago. It was my generation that filled the square and not the 20 and 30-year-olds who had come out for LGBTQ right two weeks ago. My estimate is that there were 100,000 people in the Kikar tonight- some are saying 250,000 but I doubt that number but maybe.
The rally began with one of the organizers reading the Declaration of Independence and ended with tens of thousands of Druze singing Hatikva. The Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tari, who had never before spoke at a rally stated” Despite our unreserved loyalty, Israel doesn’t see us as equals,” The theme was simple we accept this is a state of the Jews that we live in, a state that we have given our total allegiance to- however as much as it is the national homeland of the Jewish people we want to have full and equal rights.

The rally and events of the last two weeks bring into sharp focus what does a Jewish state mean, what does it mean to be an Israeli and what is equality. What will be the longterm consequences I truly do not know but for his political survival Bibi seems willing to pull the Temple down on all of our heads.

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Was tonights rally a start of something bigger or not?

I just came back from the very large rally in Kikar Rabin (60,000-100,000)against the vote in the Knesset not to include gay men in the law approving payments for surrogate adoptions.  It was the largest rally that I can remember recently, and it followed a day of strikes and smaller rallies all over the country.

The rally was attended by young and old and probably most important a demographic that has been missing from most protests this year- the 30 somethings that were there in large numbers filling up the square.

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While the rally and the days’ events were initially aimed solely at the issue of gay surrogacy- it soon became apparent that the issues were larger. The anger was directed at all of the many things that the government did in the past week and beyond.  Speakers talked about the arrest of the Conservative Rabbi. A settler from a Kibbutz surrounding the Gaza Strip spoke about events there this past week, Yael Dayan(daughter of Moshe Dayan), 80 and ailing spoke, about saving the Declaration of Independence from the Nationality Law that passed last week.

Bibi brought this on himself by his zig zags last week.  On Monday speaking out and releasing a video supporting gay men receiving the same rights as other in surrogacy, and then on Thursday when the Ultra-Orthodox threatened him he led the vote against it.

That act inflamed the feeling of that part of the country who have liberal values and do not want to be dictated to by a group of Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis.  It coalesced around the issue of LGBTQ rights where there is wide consensus and where everyone knows someone- but it may be deeper.  Ultimately that is the question of the night.  Have the events of the past weeks awakened those who want Israel to be part of the Western world – a liberal democracy from the slumber, or is this another transient phenomena limited to a single issue?

I do not have the answer.

 

 

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Prime Minister Netanyahu Had a Bad Day

It’s been a difficult day for Prime Minister Netanyahu. For the first time in at least a generation to the leader of the Jewish world ignored the recommendation of the Israeli Prime Minister and picked someone he did not want to be the Head of the Jewish Agency.  They nominating committee overwhelming selected Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog.  The head of the Jewish Agency has traditionally been from the same party as the Prime Minister.  Netanyahu had wanted Yuval Steinitz currently the Energy Minister and a Netanyahu loyalist.  However, the diaspora leaders said no, they wanted Herzog.  Some say it is a result of the anger at Netanyahu that still exists because of his withdrawal of the Kotel deal.  There can be no question that Herzog is the more qualified candidate.  He has a better understanding of the diasporas, grew up in a home that was deeply Jewish and is as close to royalty that exists in the country.  His Grandfather was Chief Rabbi and his Father both UN Ambassador and President.  By all accounts in the period that he was actually a minister he was considered to be very competent, and of course, there is the small matter that he is a Ramaz graduate.  

Of course, there is a chance that this is really wanted Netanyahu wanted to happen. He and Herzog have always gotten along well, and he knows that he will be a good bridge to the diaspora.  Netanyahu did not seem to fight very hard.  Israelis political observers believe he was surprised by the development.  Even though I am not a great fan of Bibi when it comes to politics there is very little that gets by him.  It should be noted that with opposition receiving the  Jewish Agency there will be pressure to give the Likud the Jewish National Fund.  It is the JNF that has real money, over $1 Billion in the bank and land worth many times that and that is the real prize for the Likud.  A Likud member argued with me today when I said that this was a problem.  He countered that the JNF is corrupt, I agreed- but then he said that the Likud would clean up corruption.  I just laughed and said that the Likud and cleaning up corruption were an oxymora .

The bigger problem for the Netanyahu is no doubt the decision of the Attorney General to indict his wife on fraud and breach.  The case relates to ordering $100,000 of outside food for personal use while at the same time having a cook on premises to cook.  The real problem in what happened is she lied about it, and to use plain vernacular she tried to cook the books. 

While this case is not really connected to the main cases against Netanyahu there are similarities.  The Case 1000 is all about getting gifts for Netanyahu and Sara, and both Case 2000 and 4000 which both center on getting favorable news coverage for Bibi and in many cases Sara.  So while Bibi is not implicated in this case Sara is directly and indirectly in the others.

It should be noted that in 1977 Prime Minister Rabin resigned because his wife illegally held on to their dollar account in the US.  At the time it was illegal for Israelis to have accounts outside of the country, and the Rabin’s established the account while he was Ambassador to Washington. According to the law at the time you had to close the account within three years and the account was discovered by a reporter four years later.  

On a side note, I mentioned the Rabin story to an Israeli friend who is in her late 30’s and she had no idea.  I guess it is not taught in history class.

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

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Yom Hazikaron

It’s Yom Hazikaron here in Israel. The day when most of the country comes together and remembers the sacrifices that this country has required. The ceremony in Rabin Square varies little from year to year, sad songs interspersed with the stories of the those who have fallen. Those stories are always well done and moving with often parents or other loved ones talking about the fallen. Tonight I was struck by the number of stories of those who perished in the Yom Kippur War or the time before and after. Very often soldiers who were close to my age. In almost every one of these cases, it was a brother or a friend from the unit who spoke, for by now the parents are gone.

Its hard hearing the stories and thinking of the kids who were my age, but never got to live the life that I have had. Never got to have children and grandchildren. It’s hard to realize what so many sacrificed so that we could live here in freedom.

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Tonight’s events come one week after Yom Hashoah, and in some ways put the sacrifice of Israelis into perspective. The 23,646 soldiers who died represented a terrible loss. However, I can still remember my Mother talking about all of her first cousins (probably 40 out 45)who died during the holocaust and never got to live, and then I think of the 1 million children who perished, a number that is simply too big to understand.

So here we stand 70 years after the establishment of the State. The State of Israel that we the Jewish people dreamed of and the founder of Modern Zionism took the steps to make it a reality. That state in many ways has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founders. We are a wealthy country with a strong economy who despite our small size leads the worlds in many areas. And yet in one way it has not succeeded at all. Our children like us still have to go into the army. We fear that next year when we commemorate Yom Hazikaron the number of those we remember will have gone up.

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Corruption or Animal Rights?

We live in a strange country at a strange time. On Friday it was officially announced that the wife of the Prime Minister Sara Netanyahu is going to be indicted for misuse of public funds.  No one in the right mind believes that her husband was not aware of what was going on.  All last week the news was filled with stories of different people arrested all of them confidants of the Prime Minister. (See my Newsweek story) .  But tonight what is happening in the streets of Tel Aviv? About 100 people have come out for the demonstration against corruption, and 14,000 or more are taking part in a rally for animal rights and favoring vegetarianism.

 

Demonstration at Habima against corruption
Demonstration at Habima against corruption

Most of those attending the rally against corruption were people in their 50’s,60’s and 70’s. The speaker called for Bibi to resign and described the many corrupt things that have happened, and gave a preview of some of the things that have not been understood by the public yet.

The large rally for animal rights was filled with young people including some of the younger members of the Knesset.  It was well organized and the crowd was enthusiastic.  They seemed strangely hopeful that they would make a difference.

Marchers for Animal Rights on Dizengoff
Marchers for Animal Rights on Dizengoff

I interviewed a few of the marchers and asked them why they came out.  Two young women said because they cared about animals.  I asked why not go to the rally against corruption? They shrugged and said they cared about corruption, but animals are something that tugs at your heart.  They said animals cannot speak for themselves.  When I asked another couple why did they come out for animal rights and not for the slaughter in Syria (there were a couple of rallies at the Russian Embassy where 100 people showed up)they also shrugged and said they really care about animals.

animalrights Click for short video

We are at a strange place.  Young people want to express themselves but seem convinced that when it comes to politics or even economics it’s impossible.  Instead, they seem to be directing themselves to a nice generic cause- where they cannot fail, after all, there are more vegans and vegetarians in Tel Aviv every day.

 

I am not sure whether to laugh or cry

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Thoughts on Another Rally

I went tonight to the rally in Rabin Square by Sholom Achshav to mark 50 years of occupation.  Before going I was skeptical – another rally, what would it accomplish?  On the other hand putting on my journalist hat, I said how can I not go. When I first arrived, I was enthusiastic. I went around interviewing people taking notes. I even got a some good quotes.  A man about my age, who is a wounded veteran and who lost his brother in the Yom Kippur War said “that the Six Day War was a great victory- but if we keep the territories forever it will be the end of the state.”  Another couple, also my age who actually arrived in Israel from Argentina 42 years ago two months before I first arrived said “we have to bring about change”.

But then the rally started and the speeches began.  There were a few minutes of news in the speeches, Herzog who was met with both cheers and boo’s called for the creation of one bloc on the center left that would include both Kachlon and Lapid- both names were met with boo’s but Herzog went on to call for an open primary for the leader of the bloc.  Nice idea but it’s not clear how you get Lapid who is convinced that his only chance to be Prime Minister is to move to the right, to join in the effort.  Ayamn Odeh, that head of the Joint Arab list called for the creation of joint bloc called the democratic bloc.  An interesting idea, but after interviewing Odeh two years ago I have been very disappointed in his actions, and even in his speech.  He was very careful in defining himself, as a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel, but could not call himself an Israeli.

As the rally came to the end, I mostly felt sad.  A feeling I have been having often lately( not on a personal level but on a political level).  Sad that this was the nth rally I have attended in the last six years since we returned, sad that there was nothing new.  Sad that the left continued to think short term, instead of worrying about the long term.  Odeh talked about democracy, but in reality democracy is eroding in this country, and most people are not even aware of it.  I am not sure of the answers but I am fairly sure that our current leadership does not have them.

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Ari Shavit and Sexual Harrassment

The Israeli world of journalism and politics is an uproar today, not over the fate of the Supreme Court or of the settlement of Armona and certainly not over the latest anti-Israel decision as Unesco.  But rather at something more prosaic and maybe over something more important in some way-the accusation by an American Jewish Journalist, Danielle Berrin that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent Israeli journalist later self identified as Ari Shavit.  Frankly I am not surprised, not that I know Shavit personally, but rather I spent a fair amount of time around places where Israeli males met American Jewish female professional and have seen what the results have been.  Of course my experience is from another era- I worked in the American/Israeli/Jewish years when I was young 17-20 and than later in my mid 30’s and it was a different time with different expectations.  Certainly during my service in the Israeli Air Force I saw things that in todays world, would  end careers.  But during my years working for Jewish Agency I saw first hand the actions of Israeli visitors.  It was still the years of the macho Israeli soldier, and they felt free to get their way with often willing American Jewish women students and professionals.  Many of the women were willing participants, although in retrospect since many of the sinners were their bosses or other in a hierarchy above them in many of the case one can not speak about willing consent, others less so. It was widespread, and reached to people today who hold some of the highest positions in the government.

I think it is better today, although I obviously cannot be sure.  My daughters did not experience in the army any of what I saw when I was serving. The problem seems to be greater among older Israeli men who seem to be stuck in the past, a past that might have been pleasant for them but not for women who were on the receiving ends of unwanted attention or much more.  We cannot be a society that tolerates this sort to behavior in any way.  Ari Shavit role as the spokesman for the liberal Israel is over.  Its too bad he was not a bad spokesman.  Hopefully American won’t elect someone to be President who is guilty of as much or more than Shavit- but  its irrelevant- there can be no excuses, no questions, sexual harassment is a career ender however talented an individual may be.

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Five Years in Israel

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

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

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

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

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Some Random Thoughts Before Rosh Hashanah

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Three Thoughts

Three random thoughts of the last few days.  The first and the first and most disturbing was the information that Hadar Cohen, the young Border Policewoman killed yesterday, was still in basic training when she was killed.  It surprised me and saddened me to learn how little the army has learned in the 40 years since I was in basic training.  In 1975 they sent me and my fellow soldiers, who at the time had been in basic training for all of one week, to the Casbah of Nabulus to patrol.  I even spent a day guarding Joseph’s tomb and having stones thrown at me, after having fired my rifle all of once.  Now forty years later they send a soldier early in her training to one of the most attacked locations in Israel.

The second totally unrelated news was from a Knesset committee on public relations.  The Foreign Ministry reported that the total budget worldwide was approximately 10 million dollars and that their budget for Sweden was $17,000.  For over a year I have been amazed at Israeli chutzpah on the matter.  They wonder why they fail at Hasbara- and while Israeli policies are sometimes to blame the failure to fund any serious effort is certainly a major factor.  I have never understood how Israel can receive over $2 billion a year from the US and not think it needs to do any serious marketing.

Final thought relates to recent stories on the F-35, the US new front line fighter jet that Israel has contracted to buy at over $200 million a plane.  The F-35 does not seem to living up to expectations and by some measurements is inferior to Israel’s current aircraft.  I have always been very skeptical to the idea of buying a plane that cost $200 million.  But then what do I know.!

Lt. Cmdr. Eric "Magic" Buus flew the F-35C for two hours
Lt. Cmdr. Eric “Magic” Buus flew the F-35C for two hours
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