Note: Chemi Shalev, the Haaretz opinion writer, warns that Trump and Bibi are playing with fire vis a vis Iran and Hezbollah.
“Netanyahu puts country’s trust and fate in hands of impulsive president with little experience and no achievements
The prize for most ludicrous statement this week goes to authoritative Israeli officials who briefed reporters that as far as the looming clash between Iran and the U.S. is concerned, Israel “will stay out of the picture.” For most people and governments around the world, Israel is the picture itself. Against the world’s better judgment, Benjamin Netanyahu pressed Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran, thus putting Washington and Tehran on an inevitable collision course. Even now, Netanyahu and his ministers have to exert themselves to hide their drooling over the prospect of seeing Tehran down on its knees – because of the threat of war, or because it was carried out.
The prime minister’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, who is not bound by the gag order imposed by Netanyahu on his ministers, advocates a powerful preemptive strike by the U.S. against Iranian installations, including, presumably, its nuclear infrastructure. “In two hours, it will all be over,” he said in a radio interview last week. Even though the rule is that predictions of quick victory are notoriously short-lived, especially in the Middle East, Amidror and the many Israeli officials who agree with him privately may be an exception – provided they have received ironclad guarantees that a devastating U.S. strike won’t induce Tehran to unleash its doomsday weapon – thousands of Hezbollah missiles – against America’s number one ally, Israel, the root of all evil.
Netanyahu and his colleagues have understandably shied away from preparing the public for the possibility that the campaign against Iran could entail retaliation by Hezbollah – such an eventuality might mar Netanyahu’s reputation as the grandest schemer of all time. The lack of any other public discussion of the threat, however, is puzzling. Whether it derives from a false sense of security that the missiles from the first set won’t fire in the third; or relies on expert analyses that Hezbollah wouldn’t dare risk its privileged status in Lebanon, never mind its very existence; or stems from trust in Israel’s power of deterrence or from blind faith in Netanyahu’s diplomatic acumen, the lack of debate reflects a willful blindness toward a clear strategic and increasingly present danger to Israel’s future. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, such collective myopia was dubbed “konceptzia.”
If Hassan Nasrallah fails to disobey an order from Tehran to “die with the Philistines,” as Samson said before bringing the house down on himself and his enemies, Hezbollah could impose a harsh military campaign on Israel. In a worst-case but nonetheless plausible scenario, Hezbollah could fire thousands and thousands of guided and unguided rockets and missiles on Israeli strategic targets and civilian population centers. Many of these missiles carry a 500-kilogram or 750-pound explosive device, capable of flattening a city street and killing anyone within a 100-meter range. The thought of the destruction and loss that could be wrought by one such rocket – never mind hundreds – makes Hamas rocket attacks in the south seem like child’s play.
Out of a healthy respect for the organization’s potential to wreak havoc, Netanyahu and the heads of Israel’s security services have traditionally walked a fine line with Hezbollah, careful not to push the Shi’ite paramilitary group into a corner of desperation. In the present confrontation with Iran, however, Israel isn’t calling the shots. It has put its fate and trust in the hands of a capricious U.S. president whose foreign policy achievements so far include volunteering to serve as Kim Jong Un’s stateside PR manager while he continues his country’s nuclear drive, as well as the ambitious “ultimate peace plan” which so far has only yielded the debacle in Bahrain, to which, it seems, Israel is not invited.
Trump is entering the fray like a lone ranger, devoid of allies, with a sense of self-confidence that is in inverse proportion to his experience and diplomatic talents. He is engaged in a complex game of brinkmanship with people long considered masters of the art. For now, however, Israeli public opinion, guided and encouraged by its leaders, is giving Trump standing ovations.
There may come a day of reckoning, in which Netanyahu is asked to account for his string of decisions on Iran – from confronting Barack Obama to goading his successor Trump, from advocating the abandonment of a flawed but workable nuclear agreement in favor of a risky and complex clash with Iran, managed by an impulsive novice.
But such a accounting will take place only after the rubble has been cleared, the dead are buried, Netanyahu explains there was no other choice and promises that the goal of stopping a nuclear Iran is clear-cut and close at hand, if only the world would listen.”
In response to Ambassador David Friedman’s comments that the Trump administration could likely endorse potential unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami issued the following statement:
“David Friedman has once again made clear that he is acting not as the US ambassador to Israel but as the settlement movement’s ambassador to the United States. By essentially giving the Netanyahu government a green light to begin unilaterally annexing Palestinian territory in the West Bank the Trump administration is endorsing a flagrant violation of international law. They are discarding decades of bipartisan US policy, trampling on the rights of Palestinians and helping the Israeli right-wing to destroy Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
Even limited unilateral annexations in the West Bank would be intended to help make the occupation permanent and to prevent the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Over the past few weeks, both the House and Senate have introduced resolutions opposing annexation and rejecting any US effort that would accept or promote it. All Members of Congress who genuinely care about Israel’s future and support a two-state solution should immediately add their names to those resolutions and hold this administration accountable for its disastrous policies.”
Note: The following is a letter sent today to the Reform Movement by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice President of the Reform Zionist and Israel Committee for the Union of Reform Judaism and the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). It is worthy to be read and distributed widely.
“The Zionist movement had a central goal of creating a Jewish State. Yet, it also had a goal of instilling Jewish pride. Of creating the “New Jew”, or as Max Nordau referred to it, to create “Muskeljudentum” or “muscular Jewry.” This would be the antithesis of the old Diaspora Jewry, who was weak and defenseless, who couldn’t handle physical labor and were not masters of their own destiny. But Jewish pride wasn’t only about backbone and brawn. It was about getting past the self-deprecation, being the anti-nebech and being proud of our tradition, our heritage, and of what we were able to accomplish.
Many Jews the world round felt that sense of pride with the State of Israel – especially in its triumphant moments after the Six Day War, the raid on Entebbe, and every subsequent Nobel Prize or public achievement. When Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European championship and American-born Israeli star proclaimed “anachnu al hamapa, ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa!” a literal translation of an English phrase into his adopted language, but a novel saying in Hebrew, became a new, popular phrase in Israel meaning: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
Having Jewish pride meant the ability to raise our flag high and be unabashed to waive it proudly. But Jews never really had a flag until the Zionist movement came around. Which is why it was so deeply troubling that the Washington DC Dyke March chose to ban this flag as well as any semblance of the Magen David at today’s march.
Friday’s march, according to its organizers, seeks to celebrate groups of people who organizers said typically are excluded from messaging around Pride, including those of various races, religions, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. I don’t level this accusation lightly, but despite being promulgated by two Jewish activists, this reeks of antisemitism. The ban is so full of irony and hypocrisy as Rabbi Rachel Timoner writes:
“…you can’t be against nationalism when it comes to the Jewish people and in favor of nationalism when it comes to the Palestinian people. In this line of thinking, DC Dyke March organizers say that they’ve banned the Jewish star on flags because it’s a nationalist symbol, but that they welcome the Palestinian flag. They say that they stand with the Palestinians because they are a displaced people. A cursory study of Jewish history would demonstrate that the Jewish people have been displaced over and over again, all around the world.”
So, where does the symbol actually come from?
According to scholar Gershom Scholem’s “Magen David – History of a Symbol“, which was released 27 years after the author’s death, the symbol was seen in biblical times as decoration, but the first book that referred to the symbol as “Magen David” was written by Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century, and as a mystical talisman in the early middle ages.
The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. (One of these flags can still be found in Prague’s famous Altneushul).
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.
Of course, not every Jew feels that sense of pride. For some, that symbol may stand for occupation and oppression. It is our job and to change that. Not through spin-doctoring or propagandizing, but through the real work of making our society better and righting the wrongs that have occurred. To make our flag stand for our values of Jewish peoplehood, and a Jewish Nation-State and just society. And a flag of justice, equality and peace.
The Dyke March and Pride marches the world around are incredibly important for LGBTQ rights and recognition. For the simple and basic human notion that a person should be able to be who they are, to be open, and free. We need more marches. We need them in places where those rights – after all these years of struggle – are still not a given.
We, as Jews, need to be there. To say that we’re proud to be Jews of many identities and orientations. And we need to fly our flag.
As Reform Jews, I’m proud that our Movement helped lead the Pride March in Jerusalem yesterday and that we led it with our Torah and values flying high.
On this Shavuot take pride in who we are. Learn our Torah and sacred tradition. And don’t be afraid to fly your flag high.”
David Leonhardt in today’s NY Times talks about the shrinking of Europe’s traditional political parties reminding me of William Butler Yeats famous poem quoted by Churchill in the darkest of days during WWII (see below)
|“The shrinking of Europe’s traditional political parties continues.|
|In Britain, the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, finished in third place and fifth place in this weekend’s European Parliament elections. The populist right-wing Brexit Party finished first, with close to 32 percent of votes.|
|In Germany, the two establishment parties — one center-right and one center-left — lost more than quarter of their combined seats. The biggest gainers were the left-leaning Greens.|
|In France, the Greens gained as well, although the right-wing National Rally (known until recently as the National Front) finished first. The two traditional parties finished fourth and sixth.|
|Many people felt relief that far-right parties — which traffic in xenophobia — didn’t do better in this weekend’s elections. Instead, candidates who support the idea of the European Union combined to win a majority of seats. I share that relief.|
|But I think it’s important not to lose sight of the main story line. Across much of Europe and the United States, dissatisfaction with the status quo remains the dominant political mood. That’s why so many European parties that were powerful only a few years ago now finish well outside the top two spots. It’s also why Donald Trump was able to take over the Republican Party and win the presidency — and why control of Congress has flipped back and forth in recent years.|
|In the 2020 presidential campaign, Trump will no doubt attempt to tap into this anti-establishment mood once again. He will be the incumbent, which will make that strategy trickier for him. But he will be an incumbent like no other, one who constantly shows his disdain for the status quo.|
|Democrats will need their own plan for speaking to this desire for change, especially if they nominate the decidedly establishment Joe Biden.”|
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, / And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
-William Butler Yeats
I am a fan of Preet Bharara, an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. Preet has a podcast called “Stay Tuned with Preet” in which he comments on legal and prosecutorial matters and interviews experts on the law and diplomacy.
This week, Preet responded to a question from a listener who asked whether he thought it is the duty of our Congressional Representatives to uphold the law or to demur because of the feared negative political consequences that might result.
In his response, Preet framed the issue of impeachment of the President well. I transcribed that response here. He said:
“You’re a House Dem and you aren’t sure impeachment is electorally smart, but you are sure that it is constitutionally warranted based on the facts. What’s the right thing to do? Isn’t duty greater than speculation?
…if you have the view that there’s overwhelming evidence someone committed some transgression, and you have the power to hold that person accountable, then yes, you do have the duty.
I recognize Democrats’ hesitation – of Nancy Pelosi and others…what are you supposed to do? I understand that as a political prediction-matter if you think that the most important thing for America in the world in the next couple of years is for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020, and you also think your reading of semi-ancient history of 20 years ago [i.e. the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his political comeback after the fact] that your reading of impeachment will undermine the ability to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, why you might have some hesitation. While in good faith you are still working toward this important election you don’t want anything to get in the way of that. I understand that. But the problem is that dubious calculations are being made by members of Congress. Knee-jerk timidity based on 1998 jitters is not leadership.
So, on the one hand, if you have this concern about the election and the effect that impeachment proceedings will have on that election, but on the other hand you have certitude – moral, ethical, and factual certitude – that the President committed acts that justify impeachment, how do you choose?
To me, the first thing is speculative, and people have been very bad about speculating what is going to happen in the future. And so, in a world in which one decision is merely speculative and the other you feel in your heart and mind is certain, then you go with the certain – you go with the definite, and you hope that that changes hearts and minds, and people understand that you are doing things in good faith and you are proceeding in a way that is about the truth and about accountability and values as opposed to scoring political points; and people can see you are doing things in that way – then you have to proceed.
I’m not saying that tomorrow articles of impeachment need to be filed. What I am saying is that as a member of Congress you feel deeply that impeachable offenses have been committed, then you can’t shy away from moving towards that, whether it’s by having hearings along the way to get more evidence and to put more of the picture of what happened before the American people where you get to a point where you pursue formally that thing called impeachment, then you need to proceed.
However, if you don’t think that impeachable offenses have been committed, then it’s an easy decision for you – and you don’t proceed…every Congressperson needs to decide for themselves what they think happened here and not to unduly shy away because of some speculation about how it will be perceived in some future election.”
I hold no hope for Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal even before he reveals it because neither he nor his son-in-law Jared Kushner understands the dynamics within Israeli and Palestinian societies or between the two peoples. They think they can solve this intractable problem by infusing money into the Palestinian community. The Middle East doesn’t work that way. The history of failed peace attempts is proof.
Micah Goodman, an Israeli philosopher, author, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has written an important book called “Catch-67 – The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). He describes well the conundrum facing Israelis and Palestinians within their own societies and in light of their histories, ideologies, demographic claims, religious and political orientations within each society, and in their relationship with each other.
For his conclusions and more detail, please go to my blog at The Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/catch-67-why-trumps-deal-of-the-century-is-folly/
On Thursday, May 22, 1969, I was arrested in a peaceful mass bust of 482 University of California Berkeley students and faculty for protesting the police killing of one man and the injury of hundreds more with buck shot and bird shot during the “People’s Park” controversy. I was sent to and spent a 24-hour period at Santa Rita prison. What I experienced there terrified me and transformed me into the political and social justice activist that I would become.
See my blog at the Times of Israel to learn what happened that day in the prison at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/i-was-a-prisoner-at-santa-rita-50-years-ago/
National survey finds Democratic voters most likely to back presidential candidate who acts as fair and impartial broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations
WASHINGTON, DC — A clear majority of likely Democratic primary voters have favorable views of Israel and believe it is compatible to hold these views and be critical of the Israeli government, according to a new poll. The poll found that most Democrats believe that the US should act as a fair and impartial broker for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The national survey, conducted by GBAO and commissioned by J Street, found that Democrats have a positive view of Israel (+25-point favorability) and the Palestinians (+13) and a highly negative view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (-27). An overwhelming 75 percent say that they would be most likely to back a candidate who supported both Israelis and Palestinians, while a similar 74 percent say that they want the US to act as a fair and impartial broker rather than side solely with Israel.
“The old playbook of unconditional support for the Israeli Prime Minister is clearly out of date, and presidential candidates should feel confident expressing both their support of Israel and their criticism of Netanyahu policies that violate long-held American positions,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s a clear path to a balanced, principled and forward-looking consensus position that the vast majority of Democratic voters are ready to rally behind.”
Democrats clearly believe that it’s compatible to be supportive of Israel and critical of its government. 81 percent agreed that “someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be pro-Israel” — including 92 percent of those who view Israel positively. 61 percent said they were less likely to support a candidate who believes that the US “must stand behind all of [PM] Netanyahu’s policies”, while 69 percent were less likely to support a candidate who says that the US “should continue financial and military aid to Israel without any restrictions, regardless of whether Israel expands settlements or annexes Palestinian territory.”
Democratic voters support Israel, and hold nuanced views toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Choosing between the Israelis and Palestinians is a false dichotomy for these voters, and they want the US to play an active role as an honest broker that helps the parties reach a peace agreement,” said pollster Jim Gerstein.
The poll found that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel is a non-issue among Democratic primary voters — only 36 percent have heard even a little about it, while 63 percent have heard nothing. There is neither strong opposition (13 percent) nor support (12 percent) for BDS. At the same time, however, Democrats are clearly against legislation that would penalize people who boycott Israel and potentially infringe on the Constitutional right to free speech. 54 percent oppose such legislation, while just 22 percent support it.
At a time when the policies of the Trump administration are increasing the prospects for a dangerous new conflict with Iran, the vast majority of Democrats (72 percent) believe the US should re-enter the JCPOA nuclear agreement, including 45 percent who strongly support doing so.
When asked who they were currently planning to vote for in the presidential primary, 36 percent said Joe Biden, 13 percent said Bernie Sanders, 8 percent said Elizabeth Warren and 6 percent said Kamala Harris. Other candidates receiving at least 1 percent support included Pete Buttigieg (5), Beto O’Rourke (4), Cory Booker (3), Amy Klobuchar (1) and Julian Castro (1).
GBAO designed the questionnaire for this national survey of 800 likely voters in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. It was conducted May 1-5, 2019 via landlines and cell phones. The sample is subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Senior Digital Associate, J Street
The poll results, including the full survey, crosstabs and summary of findings, are available at https://jstreet.org/j-street-2019-poll-of-democratic-primary-and-caucus-voters
In this era of Trump, millions of Americans are stepping up to fight Trump’s distortions of fact, moral turpitude, corruption, and violation of law even as Senate Republicans neatly fold up their tents in ways similar to how Austria and Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium folded theirs eighty years ago. While our era and nation are in so many ways different than the 1930s and Germany, the moral collapse of societal norms in those years is similar to the moral collapse that we are witnessing today at the highest levels of the American government. One cannot help but read the past into the present when considering the era Eric Vuillard describes in his eloquent history-novella called The Order of the Day.
For the complete blog at the Times of Israel in which I compare Hitler’s march to war and the moral turpitude of the Trump era, see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-order-of-the-day-and-the-era-of-trump/