Forward Thinking

Yesh Atid's Ofer Shelah on War, Grief and Promise

By J.J. Goldberg

It’s been a while since I’ve had the weekly privilege of translating and editing Ofer Shelah. Some years back he was the Forward’s Israeli commentator as well as a military and sports correspondent for Maariv. Now he’s Yesh Atid’s Knesset faction chairman. Today, marking Soldiers’ Memorial Day in Israel, he posted these thoughts on his Facebook page (in my poor translation - the Hebrew original is after the jump). His bottom line: The only true respect for the fallen is to vow that force will never again be used except in genuine self-defense.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that Lapid and Yesh Atid are just a warmed over yuppie version of Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu. ! היידה עופר

In the years after the First Lebanon War, Memorial Day was for me a day of private grief and longing. In that war, which remains to this day deeply divisive, my generation – comrades, commanders, soldiers – went first and fell, and their loss was immediately and deeply felt. For one day, it managed to cover over the helpless, bitter anger that that costly, pointless war aroused.

The years passed; the faces of the dead faded. In my annual Memorial Day conversations with my father, who with his generation fought and lost more than we ever did, the anger became stronger than the sadness. We would speak about the fact that this place, where we live and which we fought to defend, as it’s customary to say and as we say to the families of the fallen in a clumsy attempt to offer comfort for our friends who fell, is taking on an appearance that transforms our longing for them to anger over our lives that aren’t worthy of their loss.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yesh Atid, Ofer Shelah, Israeli Memorial Day, Israel Defense Forces, First Lebanon War

Israel and Iran: What '60 Minutes' Didn't Tell You

By J.J. Goldberg

Leslie Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (transcript) gave important exposure to his views on the folly of attacking Iran. However, she got two things very wrong, both of which weakened the strength of his case against a military strike. The bottom line is, she let you think Dagan is a lone voice. In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.

Stahl suggested as though it were credible that Dagan was pushed out of the Mossad, supposedly because of the messy assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010 — and hence that his campaign against the Netanyahu-Barak war talk is a petty act of revenge. In fact, Dagan was supposed to retire in late 2009 at the mandatory age of 65, but Netanyahu asked him to stay on for another year and he ended up retiring on schedule in January 2011.

More seriously misleading is her assertion early on that it’s “unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly.” That makes it sound like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. In fact, as I’ve written before, Dagan’s views have been publicly echoed by every single ex-Mossad or Israel Defense Forces chief going back to 1996, with the single exception of super-hawk (and Netanyahu ally) Moshe Yaalon. Now, that is unheard of.

Even more astonishing, the current heads of the IDF and Mossad, Benny Gantz and Tamir Pardo, have now gone public resisting Netanyahu’s war push. Even Dagan didn’t dare to do that. That’s beyond unheard-of.

Here’s the roll-call:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuval Diskin, Shaul Mofaz, Mossad, Meir Dagan, Mahmoud Mabhouh, Israel Defense Forces, Iran, Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, Efraim Halevy, Dan Halutz, Danny Yatom, Benjamin Netanyahu, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, "60 Minutes, " Leslie Stahl

Connect the Dots: IDF vs. Rabbis, Silencing the 99%

By J.J. Goldberg

Sometimes the biggest news isn’t found in a hot new scoop, but in a recapitulation of a string of things you knew about but hadn’t put together already—or in little details that flesh out a trend you’d heard about, showing you how fast it’s building up.

An example of the first: Former labor secretary Robert Reich’s Christian Science Monitor blogpost last Tuesday about the ways in which the wealthy have gained and used their access to public discourse in order to change the rules of the game and further enrich themselves —

Yet when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with all this, they’re told the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Instead, they’re treated as public nuisances – clubbed, pepper-sprayed, thrown out of public parks and evicted from public spaces.

An example of the second: Haaretz military reporter Amos Harel’s news analysis the Friday before last about the growing culture war within the Israeli military between the secular values of the senior command and the increasing numbers of increasingly devout Orthodox soldiers and officers. You’ve heard about the tensions. Here are some of the details:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yitzhak Rabin, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, Robert Reich, Supreme Court, Occupy Wall Street, Rabbi Eli Sadan, Israel Defense Forces, Citizens United, Amos Harel, Akiva Eldar

New Year's Greetings From the IDF Chief of Staff

By J.J. Goldberg

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, offers a 2-1/2 minute video new year’s greeting to “Jewish people in Israel and around the world.” Here’s the Hebrew version, in which he says mostly the same things but sounds a lot better, if you can follow it. He’s got a nice touch, IMHO.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz, Rosh Hashanah

Demography as Destiny: Israel's Growing Right Shapes Law, Military

By J.J. Goldberg

The increasingly progressive Atlantic Monthly correspondent and former Forward staffer Jeffrey Goldberg (for the last time, no, we’re not the same person) posted a link on his blog Tuesday to an online essay — which he called “hard to disagree with” — by senior research fellow Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. Here’s the excerpt Goldberg posted on his blog:

The anti-boycott law isn’t about protecting Israel from boycotts that target the country in general, because basically these don’t exist in reality. It’s about protecting the settlers from boycotts of settlement goods, a movement that is very real and growing, especially in Europe. But the anti-boycott law is only the tip of the iceberg in a profoundly anti-democratic shift in Israeli political attitudes. This is partly a consequence of a siege mentality, but it also has a great deal to do with demographic shifts among the Jewish population.

The large Russian immigrant community is better organized than ever, and the extreme religious community is growing at a much faster pace than the rest of Israeli society. Both constituencies are pushing Israel toward a new form of authoritarianism, within Jewish society.

For the record, I’ve been writing about this Israeli demographic shift for a couple of years now: (Here and here with numbers on the overall demographic trend; here, here and here on the way it’s affecting the army and the alarm within the General Staff over the topic.) Up to now the issue hasn’t much entered the public discourse in this country, partly because it’s obscure and rarely hits the front pages in Israel; partly, too, because it touches on some pretty radioactive Jewish sensibilities. It seems like it’s taken the Boycott Law and the larger debate over anti-democratic legislation (here is a pretty sharply framed Haaretz piece on the trend) to put it on the agenda here.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Radio Kol Chai, Military Rabbinate, Jeffrey Goldberg, Israeli Demographics, Israel Defense Forces, Hussein Ibish, Haaretz, Eleazar Stern, Boycott Law, Avihai Rontzki, Avi Zamir, Amos Harel, Yedidya Meir, Ynet




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