The Wedding Tape

I’m glad it’s Christmas and I’m glad yesterday was Christmas Eve my editor is not working  for this  story should be written for  Newsweek, I can’t and I’m glad.  I know it’s a digital world and whatever you write goes everywhere however, the events of the last few days need to be written. I cannot ignore the events of the last few days, but I am happy they will be appearing on my blog and not in Newsweek.  The New York Times has a story this morning and it does a reasonable job of the describing  the events of the last two days, but ultimately it’s missing a little context. Two nights ago Israel channel 10 broadcast a video of a wedding that took place two weeks ago, in which the young celebrants were dancing with guns and knives celebrating the burning of the Arab family Dawabsha.  In the attack an infant and his Mother were burned to death while others were inured

Here you can see the video

The tape had undoubtedly been leaked by the Shin Bet, who was being criticized for their aggressive interrogation of the suspects in the killing. The Shin Bet  has received court approval to use physical means to obtain the cooperation of those being held, and there were rumors that they have finally confessed. Protests took place in front of the home of the head of the Shin Bet and violent demonstrations have also taken place at the entrance to Jerusalem and other places.  A number of right wing politicians attacked the actions of the security services.  The service often uses physical means to obtain the cooperation of Palestinian prisoners and while the Israeli supreme court has outlawed such interrogations they created a loophole for the “ticking bomb theory”. That loophole has been generously interpreted by the Israeli security services and courts.  In this case, they used the theory that those being held were planning additional attacks something that is more than likely although whether it was a ticking bomb or not is certainly up for interpretation.

While the question of how to interrogate prisoners is an important one and certainly deserves its’ own attention for the moment this is not the heart of the story. For the heart of the story is the celebration itself and what it means.  It first and foremost says that A, those who burned the Dawabsha family were Jews, B that they have supporters.  The film immediately received almost wall to wall condemnation, with even Prime Minister Netanyahu criticizing what was depicted there, although he was quick to say that Palestinian incitement is worse.  Naftali Bennet the head of the right wing Bayit Hayehudi came out with the strongest condemnation claiming that people like that were the greatest threat to goals of the settlement movement. Some of the right wing spokesmen were a little more circumspect in their attacks, with Minister of Justice Shaked decrying the fact that the film was shown, with some still attacking the actions of the Shin Bet.  A group of National Religious Rabbis issued a statement calling on the Shin Bet to stop interrogating suspects and asking that their confessions be thrown out.

The real question facing the Israeli public is whether those shown on the film are a small isolated group or in fact, represent a much larger group of people.  I have no way of answering that, not living in their circle or almost ever visiting the West Bank.  I fear however, it is. How much of the hatred has come from an education that emphasizes our superiority, or how much we are the “chosen people”?  How many of the “true believer” think that they are doing gods work on earth?  How different is that then the killers of ISIS?  Furthermore,  I always opposed the occupation not because of what we did to the Palestinians, ( who as a group I always felt were one of the least deserving of statehood of any national group) but rather what it did to us, what it did to our soldiers.  You can’t be an occupier for three years and return unaffected.  You cannot live in the middle of the West Bank in “hostile “ territory where you are hated and develop a love for your neighbors.  People like to say that Jews do not do these sort of things, but Jews have also never in our recent history been occupiers.  I don’t have answers, as anyone who reads me regular knows, we cannot make peace with ourselves, but we must understand that 45 plus years of occupation leads us down a path where some of our children turn out unrecognizable.  The mutual hatred is very real.  They hate us and many of us hate them, but we are the ones in power, and we must find the ways to insure that our children do not hate , that our children do not engage in hideous actions, that somehow despite 100 years of warfare we remain true to the values that make us  deserving of being a people.

My beautiful picture

What does the resignation of Silvan Shalom say about Israel?

The stabbings continue. There has been more rocket fire from Lebanon. However, on Sunday evening most Israelis turned their attention to a dramatic political/social development. On December 21st Israel’s Minister of Interior/Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom resigned from the government and from the Israeli parliament. Shalom’s resignation came after 11 different women came forward and claimed he had sexually harassed them at some point within the last ten years.

Shalom joins a long lineup of powerful Israeli men who have been disgrace and lost their jobs in over the course of the past decade as a result of their sexual impropriety. Of course, topping that list is Former President Moshe Katsav, who is currently serving a prison sentence for rape. The tally of top police officials who have either been forced to resign, or who are currently under a cloud of suspicion, is long and includes a high percentage of those who were amongst Israel’s top cops only a short while ago.

Just two weeks ago Yinon Magal, a freshman member of Knesset was forced to resign after a former subordinate co-worker accused him of improper advances at Magal’s going away party. Magal’s swift acceptance of responsibility and abrupt resignation from the Knesset seem to have given Shalom’s accusers the courage to finally come forward. Charges of Shalom’s sexual impropriety first surfaced last year when Shalom was planning a Presidential run; charges which eventually derailed his candidacy. After a brief police investigation the Attorney General cleared Shalom of the allegations, however the shadow of impropriety never quite left Shalom. Then, last week, one victim after another started coming forward report their accusations to the press. By Sunday, when corroborating witnesses began coming forth, Shalom had no choice but to resign. Shortly after Shalom’s resignation the Attorney General announced that despite his departure from the Knesset and political life, the A.G. was ordering the police to begin a criminal investigation into Shalom’s behavior.

Silvan Shalom
Silvan Shalom

When events like the above-mentioned occur it is always a challenge to put them into perspective. Should we be ashamed that so many of our politicians and other public officials have been accused of sexual improprieties? or should we be pleased that these facts have come to light and that the people who have acted inappropriately (and in many cases criminally) are paying the price?

While many commentators this morning are rightfully lamenting the reality that women had previously felt too uncomfortable to report Shalom, in this case I choose to see the glass half full. The transformation that has occurred in Israel in the past generation regarding what is acceptable and what is not acceptable work place behavior is truly remarkable.

A generation ago, the former commander of the Air Force, and later President of Israel publicly stated: “The best men become pilots, and the best women are for the pilots. If someone were to utter such a statement today, that person would find him or herself instantly unemployed. Needless to say, today a number of Israel’s pilots are in fact women.

When I served in the army (approximately 40 years ago), it was common for the married senior commanders to carry on an affair with their young secretary. Thankfully, a generation later, when my daughters served, neither of them were subjected to any inappropriate experiences (and the same was true for most of their friends.) Sexual relations between senior commanders and young soldiers have become strictly forbidden, and constitute a clear-cut career-ender for anyone who violates that rule.

Of course, the system is still far from perfect. One of my daughter’s friends did indeed encounter harassment during her enlisted service in the army. Initially, no action was taken. However, once the allegations were brought to the attention of the base commander, swift and appropriate action was taken. The perpetrator, who was in the regular army found himself discharged and the young woman went on to become an officer, who now serves as part of the standing army, and expects to make her career in the military.

For most of my life, Israelis have always liked to say – “We are a young country, still finding its way” – and that is certainly the case in many areas. I have no doubt that in the areas of relations between men and women, as well as regarding how we treat acts of impropriety, we still have a way to go. However, its clear that with the many challenges facing Israeli society, in this area at least the progress has been remarkable.  Hopefully, we will be able to tackle our many other challenges just as well.

Why both Obama and the Republicans are Getting it Wrong About ISIS

Neither President Barack Obama nor the Republicans seem to understand the threat presented by radical Islam. According to an article published last week in The Atlantic by Peter Beinart, the President believes that radical Islam, as practiced by ISIS, is “a small toxic strain within Islamic civilization.” Moreover, Obama does not believe radical Islam is a true ideological competitor to democratic capitalist societies. In contrast, some Republican presidential candidates consider radical Islam the single greatest threat to western civilization – with Mario Rubio warning we are at war with people who “literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical Sunni Islamic view of the future.” Unfortunately, each of these perspectives completely misses the point – albeit for very different reasons. Obama’s view completely overlooks the pull of religion, while the Republicans, whose base is comprised largely of evangelicals dare not  raise the issue of religion at all.

The true challenge facing the west is not as President Obama states – whether the ideology of radical Sunni Islam will be more compelling than the ideology of the west. Rather, the daunting clash surrounds whether extreme religion is more compelling than the ideas and tenets of western democratic thought. The fight over communism was eventually determined by economics (since communism turned out to be an inefficient engine of economic development in the second half of the 20th century). It is harder to see how a battle with fundamentalist religion can easily be won.

In 1999, Thomas Friedman wrote The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman’s underlying question was whether the world – and especially the Muslim world – would pick the path of the “Lexus” (i.e. technology, education, and a better future for their children), as opposed to fighting to retain control of their olive trees. Friedman’s visionary book was the first to correctly present the dilemma we face today. Friedman book had one weakness he understated the central role of religion in determining the existential importance of the olive tree, placing too much emphasis on the role of nationalism.

Regrettably, over the course of the past 16 years the “Olive Tree” has won. From bus bombings here in Israel, to the attacks of 9/11; from the massacres carried out by Boko Haram in Africa, to the genocide going on Syria; fighting over olive trees in the name of religion has taken hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide – almost all of these terrible loses have been in the Middle East.

President Obama’s position that radical Islam is merely a passing phenomena, which if only contained will disappear, might have been justified – had the Muslim Brotherhood not successfully hijacked the Arab Spring in Egypt (even if temporarily). History might have taken a different turn had the fall of Mubarak brought a liberal democracy to power in Egypt. However, that did not happen and for a year we witnesses the rise of a religious theocracy in the center of the Arab world, until it was overthrown.

The problem of fundamentalist religious sects is not limited to the Muslim Sunni world. Here in Israel democracy has been under assault by those who believe God gave all of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, and no man has the right to return any of that gift. Fundamentalist interpretations of Judaism led to the assassination of a Prime Minister, as well as a concerted and successful program to undermine any chance of reaching peace. The impact of Jewish zealots could also result in changing some of the fundamental values of a nation founded to be a secular democracy, with Jewish culture informing its national character.

That all being said, one should not stop after only examining Islam or Judaism. Why are the Republican presidential candidates as misguided as President Obama? The answer is the same reason that 90 years after the Scopes trial (a trial during which John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a Tennessee school) almost none of the Republican candidates are willing to say they believe in Evolution – for fear of offending their fundamentalist base; a base that believes the literal word of the Bible must be believed and cannot be reinterpreted based on modern knowledge.

The liberal democratic world is engaged in a fight, and its a fight that is as all encompassing as the fights against Communism and Fascism. It is a fight over our very values, proclaiming we are all equal, regardless of whether we are men, woman, gay, straight, black white, or anyone else. This is a fight over the very concept that a woman’s life is her own, as is her body. This is a fight over who possesses the ultimate authority in a nation – elected officials or religious leaders.

Nearly 220 years ago the brightest minds in America met and wrote the U.S. constitution. America’s founders understood how dangerous it would be for religion and government to mix.  They understood that it was the responsibility of the democratically elected government to ensure the rights of the people. As such, they composed a constitution, creating a mechanism that could be amended to protect the rights of all people. Today, the real confrontation is the conflict between those who believe that both men and women have “inalienable rights”, among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and those who believe that religious leaders who follow the dictates of texts from previous millennia should decide what rights individuals retain. Today, the nexus of the fight is with ISIS, the most extreme of the Muslim groups. Ten years ago the battle was with Al Qaeda. Before that the challenge was with the theocrats in Teheran. It should be clear that our struggle today is also with those who blow up abortion clinics, and those who try to stop the teaching of evolution in the schools, and with those who deny women education and freedom of choice in their lives.

I say to President Obama: ISIS may or may not be contained in the coming months. However, the fight against the very ideas that have spawned ISIS cannot be so easily contained. This contest is not (as too many Republicans claim) against radical Islam. Our fight is against anything radical, (or more correctly fundamental religion), regardless of which religion it is a part. We are capable of achieving tactical victories over ISIS or any other one group. Yet, in order to achieve a strategic victory over the forces of darkness, who push to return us the middle ages, we must recognize our true enemy – and that is religious fundamentalism, regardless of its stripes.

President Barack Obama receives an update on the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., from Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, as National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens, in the Oval Office, Dec. 2, 2015
President Barack Obama receives an update on the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., from Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, as National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens, in the Oval Office, Dec. 2, 2015

Reflections on Radical Islam- and oh unrelated President Riviln

Today my regular column in Newsweek is about President Rivlin and how a right wing politician became the favorite of the people of Tel Aviv.  One of the things that I left out was how unassuming he is.  He flies on regularly scheduled flights, economy and on this visist he arrived in New York and took Amtrack to Washington.  Could anyone imagine Bibi traveling in any other way than in his leased plane? Rivlin represents what we would like to be and is the antithesis of Bibi- that is part of the reason we love him.NTarnopolsky_2015-Dec-08

I  have not written until now my reactions to events in America, the actually bombing and the American reaction.  The bombing engendered in me a profound sense of sadness.  I understand the attacks on us here in Israel.  We can deal, and although I believe the underlying reason we have not been able to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians has a great deal to do with Islam, its still at its core a fight over land a fight that one can understand.  I also understand the total frustrations of a young Palestinian who has grown up knowing only our occupation, and the only Israelis he has gotten to know are the members of our army or other security services.  It is not unreasonable to that they would lash out and try to do something, anything.  I also do not consider attacking Israeli soldiers as acts of terror.  Attacking civilians clearly is and we should learn to differentiate.  But I am deviating from my main point, something that I will not do in an article but feel free to do on my blog- I find it so hard to understand how someone who grew up in America could turn his guns of innocent people and slaughter them in the name of Islam.  I might understand it if they were attacking government building or other symbols of authority- don’t get me wrong I would not condone it in any way, but at least, I might understand it.  But a group of regular people at a holiday party?  Some of the other mass shootings, however inexcusable and horrendous at least seem to have some logic- a kid or kids who feel picked on at school lashing out at his classmates or even the attack on the Planned Parenthood Clinic- spurred on by lies told by politician a slightly deranged person attacks.  But here a husband and wife team give up their child and kill the innocent?

How does the world fight this? I truly do not know.  We are fighting  religious people.  Yes we are not fighting all of Islam, but there is clearly a strong strain in Islam that has condoned violence- and has condoned violence against the innocents.  How do you fight this. The numbers speak for themselves, even if only 5% of the Muslim condone these acts you are talking about 50,000,000 people.  There is a very real problem when religions think they should move from the spiritual to corpereal world.  We can see that with our own right wing religous groups.  It is something that needs to be addressed and discussed openly, but the problem with the more extreme Islamist is very real and very difficult to address.  If we look at almost all the violence in the world in the last 20 year with a few exception ( Ukraine being one) they have all and are all taking place where Islam meets the west.  Why is that? How do we fight it? It’s not enough to say that the Islamic world will have to work that out on their own, for while Islamist are killing fellow Muslims in larger numbers then they are killing others, as we have seen in Paris and now in San Bernidino, others are dying as well. I do not have the answers or even a thread of an answer.  I am tired to hearing we must first identify the cause, or if only Obama would say what the problem is.  Well we have all known what it is, and I certainly have said what it is, but now what?  I truly do not know and that is scary!