Yesterday I wrote an article about the depressing week it was. Bet El, the stabbing in Jerusalem and learning who the perpetrators of the church arson in the Galil were. This morning as I woke up came the terrible news of the arson attack on a Palestinian home by Jewish extremists. It really should not come as a surprise-that these “Tag Machir” attacks have been going on for a number of years and our vaunted security services seem unable to stop them. This mornings’ attack brought wall-to-wall condemnation from all our politicians, but I fear it will not mean much. Will all of the settlements in the West Bank be put in curfew while the army searches? Of course not. Will any of the religious or communal leaders who have taught those who have committed these terrible acts be jailed or even fired for incitement? Will we look into the mirror of our society and understand there is a rot growing there, that will not disappear?
Politicians cannot get away with provocations one day and condemnations the next. Politicians who provoke need be fired, as must teachers, Rabbis, Imans and all others.
35 years ago I spent a “summer vacation” doing reserve duty in Gaza. What I saw then convinced me that we could not remain an occupying power. Not because of what it did to the Palestinians, but what it was doing to our own soldiers. How they acted, what we did was not what I had come to expect a Jewish state and Jewish army would look like. I was afraid for the long term impact of our society, and it’s clear that my fears have been born out with time. Those of us sitting in Tel Aviv try to be as oblivious as possible to events a mere 40-50 miles from us. I told one friend in the park this morning about what happened and his reaction was to effectively put his hands on his ears and say I don’t want to hear.
I have long believed that peace is not something that we alone can bring about, and it may indeed be true that it is unattainable now or in the rest of my lifetime. However, that does not remove from us the responsibility to teach our children other moral values. To demand that all the children in the country (whether Haredi, National Religious, Secular or Arab) be taught that no ones’ beliefs is superior to another. That no person is worth more than the other. We are all free to believe what we like, and act within the law as we wish, but we are not free to think less of another because he or she does not share our religious, nationalist beliefs or our sexual orientation. Unless and until that becomes the first and foremost goal of our educational system the events of the last few days will continue to occur.
All of that does not take away from the fact that I hope we can find a way to end our national cancer that is the occupation.
I was going to write an article about the events today in the settlement of Bet El, but just ran out of steam, and am too far behind on the projects that actually pay the rent. However, in talking to friends tonight I realized that people do not really know what the story is. So I will spend five minutes- with just the facts- analysis will wait for tomorrow or Friday.
Bet El is a settlement in the West Bank, known to be one of main line non extreme settlements. 8,000 people live there. A few years ago a contractor decided to build two large apartment buildings on land that he did not own, without permission. Neighbors whose views his buildings were about to block complained. The state went to court demanding that the buildings be demolished since they had not been approved, and were on Palestinian private land. Twice the Supreme Court ordered the building destroyed, the final time with a deadline of July 30th. Two nights ago the army seized the site and awaited an expected decision of the Supreme Court. The state had gone back to the court and said the building was now legal, explaining that even though it was on private Palestinian land, it was seized before a historic Supreme Court decision that said private Palestinian land could only be taken for Defense purposes, therefore the seizure was legal. It therefore asked that while the state appealed the decision that their be a temporary hold on the order to destroy the buildings. Meanwhile the soldiers who had come to the settlement were met with stones, piss bombs and more. Finally this morning the Supreme Court ruled that the demolition had to go on, nothing changed and there is such a thing as a final decision- a final decision by the court said that the houses ( which were unfinished ) had to be destroyed.
The Ministry of Defense ordered them destroyed, and young settlers tried to stop the army from going about the task. Meanwhile member of the Bayit Yehudi demanded that Netanyahu announce new buildings plans, which he promptly did by recycling an old announcement. The situation reached a higher pitch when MK Yogev from the Bayit Hayed called for the physical destruction of the Supreme Court, he later clarified that he was only speaking metaphorically. As of tonight the buildings have been destroyed but the consequences of the action are still unclear- and I will try to explore them in an article tomorrow
The news tonight is that Jonathan Pollard will be released in November after being incarcerated for 30 years. Pollards’ release is not early, it’s standard after serving 30 years of a life sentence.
I have always identified with Pollard and felt guilty for not doing more on his behalf. We are close to the same age, the major difference is that when I went back to graduate school I had already been in the Israeli army, so I was of no interest to the recruiters of the CIA NSA and others that tried to recruit my fellow students at Columbia’s School of International Affairs. I have always wondered what would have done if I had been put in Pollards position. Luckily I was never placed in his position.
It’s hard to contemplate the 30 wasted years, the children he never had all the wonderful things that I did over these past 30 years and he did not.
I hope thousands of Israelis greet him, and I expect the Israeli government to give him 30 years of back pay and a pension that a military officer would get. But I hope none of the current and past Israeli politicians have the chutzpah to do anything but apologize to him. For we have failed him, he has sat in jail for 30 years and we could never find a way to free him. History will not be kind to the Israeli politicians, American Jewish leaders and others could do nothing but let him waste his life away in jail.
I can only hope that he lives a long life and gets to enjoy the rest of it as a free man in the State he gave up so much for.
It’s Tisha B’Av in Tel Aviv as it is in the rest of the world. Last night Tel Aviv exhibited is normal schizophrenia to religious holidays, with all the bars closed, but some restaurants were closed and some were open, with no particular pattern.
When I was 17 and still considered myself religious during a summer I spent in Israel, I concluded that it was wrong to continue the fast day, now that we had Jerusalem and certainly in those days felt like we had the Temple Mount. To me it was just another example of the unwillingness to make fundamental changes now that we had the state. Of course for many years I continued to fast, until I could stop myself.
As my religious affiliation changed over the time and for many years I identified more with the Conservative movement, I was particularly upset at that movement- after all the Orthodox movement does not really have the means of making changes, the Conservative movement does not have the guts to make any changes.
Talking to a friend in the park today, who is more conservative than me (politically) but not any more religious, he defended the continued observance of the day by saying, that is one of the beauties of Judaism, its unchanging. That of course in my mind is one of its biggest failings; Orthodoxy does not have the means to changes ( and of course the Haredi world follows the views of Chazon Aish ” if it’s new it’s bad”) the Conservative world does not have the guts to make changes, and the Reform world does not seem to know what to change. For those of you fasting I hope you have an easy fast- for the rest of us it’s another work day here in Israel.
So yesterday my article in Newsweek appeared on why the Jewish community and Israel should stop trying to block the Iran deal. I had wanted to publish the article in the Jewish world, but when the Jewish Week did not get back to me, it was simpler just to use it as my weekly column . Its so strange that this matter has turned into such a litmus test, when I am still waiting for one person to show me how opposing the agreement turns out good for Israel. On one of the most important items in Israel’s security, both the agreement and more importantly our relations with the United States, politics are dominating, both Israeli and American. No serious discussion is taking place here. I remain frustrated by the lack of thought.
I am a bit humored by the fact that commentators in the US have been criticizing the hearing on the topics, while in Israel people can only stare in amazement at what seems to be the seriousness of the hearing. Here there have been “public hearings” on the agreement between the government and the gas companies. The hearings were forced by the courts and have not been taken seriously by the government
Yesterday I wrote an article in the Times of Israel, Why I thought it was crazy for the Israeli government to continue opposing the agreement with Iran, and agreement which is less then optimal. Last night I received the E-mail that said that AIPAC and other Jewish organizations are all in, in their opposition. I think it’s crazy and self defeating. Not one person can explain to me scenario how this ends well. But instead like lemmings the American Jewish community and most Israelis politicians keep saying the same thing. What is the alternative- “A Better Deal”. Yes it would have been better to have a better deal, but considering where we are now, that is impossible. After I said it’s a fight we can’t win, he said it’s better to fight and lose then not fight at all. My answer, that is for people not for nations. We should not fight a fight we cannot lose, and even if we win we lose. Not sure what I can do, but I will continue trying to bring some sense somewhere.
So the agreement has been reached in Vienna, and I must say I have rather mixed feelings about it. I have read the full agreement, and I have issues with many items. I have no doubt that with a different negotiator America might have done better. That said the US was never going to get the agreement that Netanyahu wanted. This agreement does freeze the Iranian program for between 10-15 years, and does bring the break out time to a bomb from 3 months to a year. All good accomplishments. Its geopolitical implications however, are bad. The bottom line what was the alternative? Yes maybe a better negotiating team( certainly not Bibi based on his success in negotiating a coalition agreement)might of had a better outcome- but could anyone have gotten the Iranians to agree to a 25 year agreement instead of 15? Could anyone have gotten them to agree to immediate inspections of any and all of their military bases? I truly do not know. The moral implications of negotiating any agreement with the Iranian regime are problematic- but what was/is the alternative.
I do think that Israel will be making a mistake if it actively lobbies Congress. Whatever it wants to do quietly is fine, but I was very surprised by what Lapid said to me on the phone during the interview i had with him today.
This past week talks between the the major powers and Iran on its nuclear program have repeatedly been extended. This past week almost all of the reporters on location have been convinced that an agreement would be announced any day. In my interactions with some of them I heard, its complicated and they are going over ever detail carefully. I have an alternative theory- Before this round of talks began the Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei gave a speech outlying his red lines. Observers wrote them off as posturing, I suspect that this is not the case that Khamenei might have meant what he said. The Iranians I believe were sure that the West would cave, as they have done before, and my sense is that Secretary of Kerry might have been inclined to make further concessions but President Obama was not wiling to do so.
If you are reading this you are probably saying what is he smokin, but hear me out. Two weeks ago I believe that President Obama might have been more flexible- before the recent Supreme Court decisions sealed his place in history. His accomplishments in the domestic arena are set, he does not need this agreement to secure his place in history, a bad agreement could just destroy his future reputation. So neither side is willing to give in, but neither side want to give up- we have a stalemate.
Everything I just wrote is purely speculative- but its as good an explanation of events this past week in Vienna as any