Forward Thinking

Netanyahu's Speech Makes an Amazing Techno Dance Song

By Sigal Samuel

You haven’t seen Bibi’s speech until you’ve seen it like this.

Noy Alooshe, the Israeli remix king best known for his 2011 “Zenga Zenga” spoof, has outdone himself with a remix of his prime minister’s speech to Congress.


In the video, Bibi bosses around the audience members like they’re little kids, issuing alternating commands of “Sit!” and “Stand!” — a reference to a Hebrew children’s song (“Ooga Ooga Lashevet Lakum”). He wins countless standing ovations with his constant refrain of “Iran! Bomb! Iran! Bomb!” And his juxtaposition of “Iran” and “Haman” seems to be a real crowd-pleaser, too.

Meanwhile, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett watches the livestream on TV, happily lapping up this show of American pageantry. Whenever he flips the channel, we get snippets of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid yelling “Yalla be-Karchana!” — loose translation: “Party hard!” — and of Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On flouncing around in her cringe-worthy campaign video. Both of these politicians look ridiculous — like flighty and superficial teenagers — by comparison to Bibi, who’s all gravitas and scare tactics and feathery blue-white hair.

In between references to “Game of Thrones,” “Google” and the Ayatollah’s “tweets,” Bibi’s got Barack Obama and Joe Biden running laps. They look, well, like little lap dogs…and the total effect is pretty amazing.

Just try dancing to it!

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How Netanyahu Put the Democrats to Shame

By Jonathan S. Tobin

House Democrats listen to Netanyahu’s speech / Getty Images

As the echo of the sustained ovations that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress began to fade, Democratic apologists for the Obama administration had a problem. For several weeks, the White House succeeded in focusing attention on the question of the alleged breach of protocol and partisanship that they claimed the invitation to Netanyahu represented. But once the address was actually delivered by the prime minister, this spin on events passed its expiration date.

Faced with Netanyahu’s powerful arguments explaining why an Iran deal predicated on a series of Western retreats would be a disaster, the White House and the rest of the president’s cheering section need to find a way to defend positions that have discarded the president’s past pledges to end Iran’s nuclear program. But, instead, they are reverting back to last week’s talking points. It won’t work.

Netanyahu laid out a cogent analysis of why a deal that leaves Iran in possession of its nuclear infrastructure and will eventually expire is an invitation for more Iranian cheating. But even if you believe that the U.S. has the sort of intelligence that would enable it to detect a nuclear breakout in time, the sunset clause that President Obama has discussed means, as Netanyahu pointed out, that even in the unlikely event that the Islamist regime abides by its terms, the deal may still lead to a nuclear Iran.

Moreover, contrary to his critics, Netanyahu did offer a realistic alternative to Obama’s strategy of negotiation by capitulation. By returning to the path of tough sanctions (strengthened by the Kirk-Menendez bill now before Congress) that the president prematurely abandoned in 2013, there is a chance that the regime can be forced to negotiate terms that are consistent with the president’s 2012 campaign promises. The president seems more intent on building a new détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime bent on regional hegemony than in using the leverage he discarded.

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11 Lies Netanyahu Told Congress on Iran

By Lara Friedman

Getty Images / Lior Zaltzman

The case Netanyahu laid out against an Iran deal in his address to Congress revolves around 11 core arguments. Think they sound convincing? Look at those arguments one by one, and you’ll see why each of them is bogus.

Argument #1. More pressure can secure a better deal with Iran than current negotiations. If Iran walks away from talks now, this pressure will eventually bring it back to the table, ready to make more compromises.

Pressure in the form of sanctions — especially multilateral, international sanctions — helped convince Iran to come to the negotiating table. But Iran’s red lines in negotiations, including retaining some level of enrichment, are clear. Additional U.S. pressure now, aimed at forcing the Iranian regime “to its knees,” is far more likely to scuttle talks than to force greater Iranian flexibility, and the failure of diplomacy would be blamed on the U.S., not Iran. One result: no deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. Another result: strengthening those in Iran who support weaponization of the nuclear program as a deterrent against attack. And a third result: the almost certain collapse of the international sanctions regime, which has been critical to restraining Iran’s nuclear program so far.

Argument #2. The only good deal with Iran is one that completely or nearly completely dismantles Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, preventing Iran from enriching or limiting Iran to close to zero enrichment.

Zero enrichment or complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is both unachievable and unnecessary. It’s unachievable because just as U.S. negotiators must get a deal they can “sell” to their constituencies, Iranian negotiators must be able to sell a deal to their own constituencies as meeting their own red lines. And it’s unnecessary because assuming “zero enrichment” and “complete dismantlement” are genuinely shorthand for “the best possible guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful,” this goal can be achieved through a nuclear agreement that includes strict limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and stringent safeguards and transparency with respect to Iran’s nuclear facilities and materials. Insisting on “zero enrichment” or “total dismantlement” guarantees no deal — which means it guarantees that such limits and safeguards are absent.

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Netanyahu's Speech Just Raised the Stakes for All

By Jane Eisner

Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically, effectively — and perhaps, dangerously — raised the stakes in his speech to Congress today.

The Israeli prime minister employed his considerable rhetorical skills to command the room, describing Iran in terms designed to frighten and excite, painting a ferocious picture of a nation hell bent on exporting its vicious brand of revolutionary terror and “gobbling up” nations all around its volatile region. And he did a masterful job of critiquing what he said are the current terms of an agreement being negotiated by the United States and other Western powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a deal that he claimed would “all but guarantee” that Iran would, sooner or later, become an atomic power with evil intentions.

Netanyahu may have accomplished what his Congressional patron, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, intended: To make it difficult, if not impossible, for lawmakers to approve the deal so ardently sought by President Obama. Netanyahu may well have also accomplished his main political motive in Washington: To secure his own reelection, by delivering a stirring speech laced with Jewish themes and a touch of Hebrew, beamed to prime-time Israel just weeks before it goes to the polls.

But this high stakes gamble also entails its own risks to the prime minister and the nation he wishes to continue to lead, and to the United States.

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The Real Existential Threat Is Not Iran. It’s Bibi.

By Lisa Goldman

Getty Images / Lior Zaltzman

On the eve of his departure to Washington this week, Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli press assembled on the airport tarmac that he had a “sacred duty” to do everything in his power to protect Israel and the Jewish people from existential threats. As Netanyahu has said nearly every time he’s made a public address over the last decade or so, he believes that Iran is out to destroy the state of Israel. More recently, the Israeli prime minister has amped up his fear message with his frequent insistence that the only safe place for Jews to live is the state of Israel. In reality, Israel is a far more dangerous place for a Jew to live — just look at the relative casualty counts. And Netanyahu has not only made Israel a more dangerous place for Jews, but he has made them more vulnerable in the Diaspora as well.

In fact, you could argue that Netanyahu’s policies have made Jews — in Israel and around the world — more vulnerable than they have been at any time since 1948.

On Netanyahu’s watch, the Israeli military launched two military campaigns against Gaza in as many years. On both occasions, hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians came under rocket fire from Gaza. Children spent their summers in bomb shelters, while parents living on the Gaza border tried to keep from panicking every time an air raid siren caught them more than 30 seconds from the nearest safe room. Seventy-one Israelis were killed in last summer’s war, and another six were killed in the 2013 operation called Pillar of Defense. The media and military experts credited the air defense system known as Iron Dome with minimizing Israeli civilian casualties, with the Israeli foreign ministry even presenting a Hanukkah menorah designed like a mini Iron Dome to U.S. ambassador Dan Shapiro.

Iron Dome is, as most people know, funded by the United States, with emergency additional funding approved by Congress during last summer’s war. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was among the leaders of the initiative to expedite emergency help to Israel. But on Sunday she said on CNN’s Face the Nation that Netanyahu was “arrogant” and “did not represent” her as a Jewish American. Will she be as quick to support Israel in the future, now that Netanyahu has so openly insulted President Obama and the Democrats? It’s hard to say, but certainly dividing American support for Israel, which for years was unswerving and bipartisan, makes Israel look vulnerable in the international arena.

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Bibi Should Speak to Congress — and We Should Listen!

By David Hazony

Getty Images / Lior Zaltzman

Despite all the chatter to the contrary, it’s important for Netanyahu to speak before Congress tomorrow — and we should all hear him out.

For those of us who don’t yet see why — who focus too much on protocol and politics and L’Affaire Boehner and so may have missed some of the key substantive questions along the way — allow me to make the case for Bibi in a nutshell.

For months now, America’s most important allies in the Middle East have been deeply troubled by the negotiations taking place between the P5+1 states and Iran over the latter’s nuclear weapons program. Maybe it’s the fact that the Administration stopped using the word “dismantle” when describing its demands. Or maybe they think the whole idea of turning the world’s biggest terror supporter and destabilizing force into a “successful regional power” isn’t very wise. Or maybe it was Tehran’s decision to blow up a mock American aircraft carrier just when you’d expect them to be conditioning their public for a great reconciliation. For whatever reason, the very allies who have the most to lose by a bad deal — Saudis, Egyptians, Israelis and more — are highly concerned. They’re really clamoring to be included and to have their voice heard before it’s too late.

That’s reason enough to hear another opinion other than that of the Administration.

In the last few weeks, however, the Netanyahu speech has also been mischaracterized in at least two big ways.

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4 Questions for Benjamin Netanyahu

By Gideon Aronoff and Dan Fleshler

Getty Images

(JTA) — Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

As American Jewish progressive Zionists, we are deeply worried about the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel. We know you would like pro-Israel Jews to publicly defend your positions on Iran and your plans to speak to Congress next week. But we need some clarifications:

1) Is there any outcome you would endorse that Iran could conceivably accept?

You have made clear that you want Iran to be stripped of its nuclear capacity, without even a limited ability to enrich uranium. But people involved in the negotiations say the zero enrichment demand cannot be achieved because Iran would never accept it. If that is your demand, aren’t you precluding any possibility of a negotiated deal?

You are reportedly going to call for tougher sanctions on Iran. If they are imposed, do you expect that any Iranian leader would survive if he proposed relinquishing all nuclear research and development, which has been a national priority since the days of the shah? We’ve searched hard and can’t find any experts on Iran who believe that will be possible.

2) If you won’t accept any agreement that could in fact be reached with Iranian leaders, what alternatives do you propose and how do you expect us to defend them?

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What’s Eric Fingerhut Doing at a Jerusalem U Event?

By Dorri Olds

Eric Fingerhut speaks at Jerusalem U film screening / Dorri Olds

Trying to get an unbiased education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a never-ending conundrum. It’s like the parable of the blind men and the elephant — one blind man grabs the tail and says, “An elephant is like a rope,” another feels the trunk and says, “An elephant is like a snake.” Depending on where you go for information, you may get the tail or the trunk, but never the whole elephant.

On the evening of February 25, Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y hosted a screening of Jerusalem U’s documentary, “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus.” After the movie there was a panel discussion featuring Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of Hillel International, and three student activists, Justin Hayet from Binghamton University, Chloe Valdary from the University of New Orleans and Daniel Mael from Brandeis University. The moderator was Andy Borans, executive director of AEPi International.

For those who don’t know, Jerusalem U is a far-right, pro-Israel online organization. Don’t be fooled by the name: they aren’t a real university. But if you Google “Jerusalem University,” you get to their website.

I asked Jerusalem U founder and CEO Rabbi Raphael Shore to explain the U in the organization’s name. “Have you ever looked at iTunes U? Hello?” he said. “It’s a very common thing these days. If we had said ‘University’ people would say, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ but when we say ‘Jerusalem U’ it indicates we are an Internet place of learning.”

Three student activists speak at Jerusalem U film screening / Dorri Olds

When I asked if Jerusalem U offers a balanced education on Israel, Shore said, “We don’t feel we have to have 50% of Palestinian voices, just as the Palestinians don’t present 50% of Israeli voices.” When I asked if he felt that Jerusalem U offers a non-biased view of Israel, he said, “There is no such thing as a non-biased view on anything. That’s life.” When asked if educators about Israel should give equal time to Palestinian voices, he contradicted his earlier statement by saying, “We give 50% to Palestinian voices. That’s balanced.”

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You Want To Give Every European Jew a Gun — Really?

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Getty Images

In an article originally titled “Why Every Jewish Man, Woman, and Child in Europe Should Get a Gun,” Liel Leibovitz claims that European Jews need guns because they can’t trust their governments to protect them from anti-Semitic “savages.”

Leibovitz chides those trusting in “reasonable measures,” arguing instead that, “European Jews with guns can make a difference.” Kudos for correctly identifying guns as the opposite of reasonable measures — but every other element of this claim bears debunking.

“In Europe, Jews are seen at best as a foreign element exercising undue influence,” Leibovitz claims. Really? “At best”? He then contradictorily cites French Prime Minister Manuel Valls as genuinely caring about Jews — before slamming him for not doing enough for their security.

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Can Yoga Fix the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

By Batya Ungar-Sargon

Farashe

(JTA) — Inhale your arms up into warrior one. Exhale and extend your arms into warrior two.

I followed the instructor’s soft but firm voice as she led me and five other women through the yoga poses, and the deep breathing helped to calm my nerves. The large tiled room was gently lit through white curtains that masked the busy city life outside Farashe Yoga.

Farashe is Arabic for butterfly, and the busy city outside the studio’s walls is Ramallah.

Exhale into your reverse warrior, the instructor guided us. I complied, letting out a long-held breath.

Ramallah is just six miles north of Jerusalem. But to get there from Jerusalem requires passing through the Kalandia checkpoint, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. A red sign outside the checkpoint reads “This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority/ The Entrance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against The Israeli Law.”

Area A is under Palestinian jurisdiction. Cars like the one I was in, rented in Israel, are not insured there. But my American passport pacified the Israeli soldier manning the checkpoint and we were waved through without delay.

Farashe is near the center of Ramallah, through a lively marketplace, where fruit and vegetable vendors shout out the prices of persimmons, dates and the largest cabbages I have ever seen. Past the famous stone lions of the Al Manara Square and across the street from the Stars & Bucks Cafe (its motto, according to a server, is “Let Starbucks come to Ramallah and sue us”) sits the stone building that is home to the studio. Behind a green door, up a stairway littered with cigarette butts and fast food wrappers, is the yoga studio. The class cost 20 shekels, or about $5.

When I initially reached out to Farashe, I was told by a man named Ibrahim that I would be “more than welcome to attend.” But when I told them I was a journalist from a Jewish publication, Ibrahim responded, “Farashe has a very strict policy about which media channels to talk (sic), as we are an organization that abides by BDS regulations,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which attempts to place political pressure on and economically isolate Israel.

My request for an interview, he told me, had been denied.

Farashe

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Is It Even Possible to Vote Against Israeli Occupation?

By Jonathan Katz

Getty Images

In the latest news to come out of this already-strange Israeli election, the Jewish Press stated on Sunday that the ballots for the upcoming election will be printed in Karnei Shomron by Yisrapot, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank considered illegal under international law. The pro-settler writer at that publication claimed that leftists who want to “stay true” to the boycott should therefore avoid the ballots on March 17 — with a specific barb aimed at the Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On.

What is interesting — and to me, as an anti-occupation Jew, terrifying — is the way this contract shows just how entwined Israel is in its occupation of the West Bank, and how “normal” the settlements have become in Israeli administration.

First, the fact that this contract was awarded to a settlement company shows how entrenched Israeli rule over the West Bank is. The system allows for ballots to be printed in an area not technically part of the state; what’s more, it signals that there is no desire to end the occupation anytime soon. In a way, the simple act of printing the ballots is a political act: it indirectly declares governance over the area.

For Palestinians who cannot vote in the elections, it also adds insult to injury: the ballots allowing Israelis a choice in their state’s rule over another people will be printed on land that that people did not choose to have occupied.

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Why Young British Jews Are Hiring a West Bank Lawyer

By Jessica Belle Weiss

Israeli soldiers arrest a young Palestinian boy following clashes in Hebron / Getty Images

I am part of a group of 30 young Zionist leaders from the British Jewish community. As people who love Israel, we want to see it thrive as a sanctuary for the Jewish people, one that stays true to the democratic, tolerant and peaceful ideals it was founded on.

That’s why we launched the Kids Court In Conflict Campaign. Our goal is to raise £26,000 to fund a lawyer to represent Palestinian youths in the IDF military court system in the West Bank. We believe that all people, guilty or not, deserve access to due legal process. So far, our campaign — only a little over two weeks old — has raised just over £11,000.

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Why We Need Birthright in Reverse

By Jay Ruderman

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress about Iran has ignited a rancorous debate within the American Jewish community. Some argue that the speech will alienate Democrats and undermine bipartisan support for Israel. Others say that a potential U.S. deal with Iran leaving the mullahs’ nuclear capacity intact so threatens Israel’s security that it justifies the risk of alienating President Obama.

But no matter what side of the debate American Jewish protagonists come down on, they have a clear appreciation for what’s at stake. They know that many American Jews feel caught in between support for Israel’s right to advocate its position on Iran to the world and deference to the president’s prerogative to define American foreign policy. They are well aware that American Jewish support for Israel can be complicated by Israel’s conduct, real and perceived, toward American political leaders.

Most Israelis, by contrast, have little awareness of the complexity of American Jewish support for Israel, according to a poll of Israeli attitudes recently commissioned by our foundation. Such lack of awareness can have severe consequences for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. and, by extension, Israel’s security.

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My Night at Jerusalem's First Public Drag Show

By Elisheva Goldberg

Courtesy of Jerusalem Gay Student Association, photo by Leshem Brosh

“Did you see the drag show?” I asked a friend at last night’s Winter Noise Festival. “Yeah,” he responded, “did you see the racist a**holes?”

Last night, in the hippest corner of Jerusalem’s city center, young Jerusalemites made history. They held the city’s first-ever public and municipally sponsored drag show.

For four years running, the Winter Noise Festival has held public events every Monday night in February, pushing the city’s religious-conservative limits. Last night’s drag show took place amidst well-quaffed street musicians (including a klezmer marching band) and cave-bar dance parties (heavy on beards and vintage outfits), and was advertised discreetly as the “Shushan Run.” The only descriptor of the event on the municipality-sponsored website referred slyly to “the wildest race in the city” — a “race in heels” — for Jerusalem’s queens.

And what fun that “race in heels” was! One queen I interviewed was wearing a miniskirt, fishnets and six-inch platform heels in the chilly Jerusalem night. Imagine running a race in those! Her makeup was caked to her face and I had the thought that gobs of her mascara might soon begin falling from her eyelashes by the sheer force of gravity. Her yellow jacket made her look like a six-foot-six queen bee. Her name was “Mama Off” and she told me that the best thing about the drag show was the protest happening next door.

Mama Off was referring to the angry noises of Benzion Gopstein and his Kahanist cronies in LEAVA, a racist, xenophobic, violent organization just outside the event grounds. Last year I wrote about LEAVA’s protest against another Winter Noise Festival event in which Jews and Arabs joined together in song; their activities have only gotten more angry and violent since then.

But Mama Off was happy about the demonstration. Why? Because “it demonstrates that we’re doing something right — and it shows that racism and homophobia are the same thing.”

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Canada's 'Fox News North' Shuts Amid Losses

By Michael Kaminer


With its audience shrinking and losses mounting, a Canadian TV news network known for its pro-Israel views – and right-of-center politics – has pulled the plug after four years.

Sun News Network, whose firebrand stances on hot-button issues earned it the sobriquet “Fox News North,” went dark this morning. The channel liked to claim it offered counterpoints to the “lefty bias” in Canadian media.

The channel was also home to controversial personalities like Ezra Levant, who lost a 2012 libel case after calling a describing a Muslim law student as “a serial liar, a bigot and a Jew-hating ‘illiberal Islamic fascist’” in a blog post, according to the National Post.

Part of the network’s challenge might have been a cultural disconnect in Canada, where viewers seemed less receptive to Sun News Networks’ take-no-prisoners attitude. But Sue-Ann Levy – like Levant, a columnist for the Sun newspaper in Toronto, the network’s sister property – told the Forward that the channel faced more fundamental problems.

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Does Brian Williams Punishment Fit 'Crime'?

By Uriel Heilman


(JTA) — By now, anyone interested enough to have read about the issue knows the basic facts: Longtime NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about having been on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003. In truth, he was on a different helicopter that landed unimpeded about a half hour after the other chopper was forced down by hostile fire.

The apology Williams offered last week when the truth of the matter became impossible to ignore (thanks to a reporter from Stars and Stripes) was deemed insufficient by the commentariat and, eventually, by NBC. Williams essentially said it was an honest mistake – “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” was how he put it. But critics said it was an outright lie and that his failure to own up compounded the original lie with a dishonest apology.

Now NBC has suspended Williams without pay for six months and is undertaking its own internal investigation to determine what else Williams has said doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

There are a couple of things that are confounding to me about this whole turn of events.

The first is the most obvious: that a man this likable, this good-looking, this … tall could have peddled this untruth for so long. Who could ever have imagined he was lying through those picture-perfect white teeth? (Except for the ignored military veterans who have been grumbling about Williams’ dishonesty for years, of course.) Shame on you, Williams, for ruining what had been up till now a happy relationship.

Not that I watch “NBC Nightly News,” of course. Though I grew up on Tom Brokaw and still find his South Dakota lilt and peculiar staccato the ultimate authoritative voice in news, as an adult I don’t think I ever sat down to watch the early evening TV news, and now I don’t even own a TV. But I did like Williams’ cameos on “30 Rock,” stints on “Saturday Night Live” and guest appearances on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart (whose just-announced retirement from the show is a real tragedy, if we’re already bemoaning the loss of a news anchor).

What really confounds me about the Williams affair is this ill-conceived punishment.

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Why Losing Jon Stewart Hurts the Middle East

By Sigal Samuel

Jon Stewart and Bassem Youssef on “The Daily Show” / Youtube

Jon Stewart quitting “The Daily Show” is bad for the Jews. It’s bad for the Muslims. It’s bad for the entire Middle East.

If you want to know why, just watch this clip of the real Jon Stewart joking around with “Egypt’s Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. It aired shortly before Jon announced his decision to leave the show, and it revolves around a simple question: What can America do to fix the Middle East?

Bassem’s answer is simple, too: “How about — nothing!”


Jon plays devil’s advocate, arguing, “If the people choose the wrong government, we’ll help them get it right. Some boots on the ground, some advisers.” Which, of course, sets Bassem up to explain just what’s wrong with America’s interventionist foreign policy.

But then Bassem takes it one step further — by laughing at himself, at his own argument, at his own people. He provides that dash of self-deprecation without which comedy fails to be, you know, comedic (Israel’s totally unfunny “Hakol Shafit” is a good example of this).

“We want you to f—k off and leave us alone,” Bassem says. “But not right away. We could still use the aid money, and a few weapons, and some investments… What I’m saying is, if you could f—k gradually off, that would be better for everybody.”

This is Middle East comedy at its best: an unflinching look at the catch-22s and double standards that plague both — no, all — sides.

And who’s been providing the mechanism for this comedy for over 15 years? Jon, of course. He’s been providing it not only in the U.S., but also in places like Egypt, where he inspired Bassem to start his own wildly popular satire show that began as a Middle Eastern riff on “The Daily Show.”

Every week, Bassem took to TV to wittily eviscerate the top leaders of the Arab world, and endear himself hugely to the Arab public (40 million viewers!). But then Sisi came to power in Egypt — and, sadly, the dissenters went the way of the Pharaohs.

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Award for Most Unfunny Israeli Comedy Goes to...

By Elisheva Goldberg

Tzipi Livni as depicted by Israeli satire “Hakol Shafit” / YouTube

When it comes to political satire shows, Israeli television spans the gamut. On Channel 2 there’s Israel’s version of Saturday Night Live, called “Eretz Nehederet” or “A Wonderful Land.” Israel’s Jon Stewart-esque “Gav HaUma” recently moved to Channel 10. Both of these shows have dedicated followings — “Eretz Nehederet” consistently tops charts and “Gav HaUma” grabs an elite audience.

So when a new political satire show rolled into town broadcasting on Channel 1, you might have thought it would make a splash. But that hasn’t been the case with “Hakol Shafit” (liberally translated, “It’s All Fair Game”).

In some ways, “HaKol Shafit” has everything you want from political comedy: a news desk, fake interviews, costumed sketches. But it all falls flat — it’s just not funny.

Part of the reason for this unfunniness stems from the show’s inability to laugh at itself. There’s no self-reflective humor here, no self-deprecation — in fact, no apologetics at all. It’s vulgar, and intentionally so. The last scene of the 25-minute pilot, for example, depicts Tzipi Livni as a motorcycle-and-leather, stand-up-to-pee punk, and Isaac Herzog as a fawning effete in a wedding dress. (No Hebrew skills necessary: just go to the 22:22 mark and you’ll see what I mean.)


This is not a show that laughs at itself — it’s a show that laughs at others. It’s like a cocksure bully, taking punches because it can. “HaKol Shafit” doesn’t mock the grotesque or the absurd, it is the grotesque and the absurd. And the grotesque and the absurd can’t be funny without some sort of self-reflection.

This failure to tickle has a lot to do with the show’s right-wing roots. “Hakol Shafit” was founded by right-wing journalist and Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor Caroline Glick in 2009. Back then, the show was called “Latma” (“slap” in Hebrew), and it was Glick’s way of getting her opinion pieces to broader, younger audiences and expressing her “frustration” with the liberal media. Latma was a project of the Center for Security Policy, an Islamophobic think tank run by Frank Gaffney Jr., where Glick, in her capacity as the CSP’s senior fellow for Middle East Affairs, put it together.

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Let the Bibi-Gate Blame Game Begin

By Nathan Guttman


Let the finger-pointing begin.

Two weeks into the Bibi-gate (or perhaps Bohener-gate, or simply speech-gate) controversy, with no sign of Democratic anger subsiding, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies are starting to look for excuses.

The defense Bibi has settled on can be summed up in three words: “It’s Boehner’s fault.”

Policymakers and congressional staff members have been hearing this line in closed-door meetings with Israelis for the past week. Israelis, including Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli embassy in Washington, have been arguing that they were blindsided by House Speaker John Boehner.

It was all, they say, one big misunderstanding.

According to this explanation, Netanyahu, through his ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, had understood that Boehner would make sure that Democrats were on board with the idea of inviting the Israeli leader to address a joint meeting of Congress on the problem of Iran’s nuclear development activities. Maybe not all Democratic leadership, but at least enough to allow all sides to say with a straight face that it was a bipartisan invitation.

Furthermore, Netanyahu and Dermer did not know — at least according to people who have been in touch with Israeli officials dealing with the mess created by the invitation — that Boehner would announce the visit the morning after President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech. The timing appeared designed to rebut the president’s stand on Iran, thus infuriating the president and his fellow Democrats.

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Should I Fly Home To Vote in Israeli Elections?

By Lior Zaltzman

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

I was exactly 18 the first time I voted in the Israeli elections. I was a newly minted soldier, uniform all fresh and stiff, with the dent of the strap of my M16 on my shoulder, waiting in line at an army base. More than anything I was welling up, filled with hope and a sense of importance, just a sting of it. And for a second I felt empowered in a country that often left me feeling hopeless and powerless.

It’s eight years later and I’m walking around downtown Brooklyn with my Israeli best friend from elementary school. I tell her that I’m thinking of going back home for the elections. And she laughs. It’s such a waste of your time, she says. Come for Passover instead.

I wish I had something to say in response.

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