Israel is working on a secret plan to cede the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, a lawmaker from the ruling Likud party has claimed.
“The issue here is that the prime minister wants to be rid of the Temple Mount,” Moshe Feiglin, a powerful figure on the right flank of the ruling Likud party, wrote in a column published today.
Feiglin has fought hard for the right of Jews to pray at Temple Mount since winning a Knesset seat in January — causing him to clash with Likud’s party whip. Currently, Jews may only ascend during specific hours and may not pray there.
Feiglin wrote that while past negotiations broke down after other subjects were settled on the matter of Temple Mount, the “current process is just the opposite: Prime Minister Netanyahu has already reached agreements in principle and now he is going to create the facts on the ground and get the public accustomed to the new reality.”
He went on to describe what he sees on the horizon. “First, Israel cedes the Temple Mount and Jerusalem while declaring that we are doing no such thing. But the facts on the ground show that we are — in front of our very eyes. At a certain stage, Netanyahu will have to admit the truth. “
According to most analysts the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached something of an impasse, and it is unlikely that Feiglin would be the man to know about a secret deal that has been kept from the rest of the world.
The Temple Mount has long been a popular setting for conspiracy theories. Many Arab leaders claim that plans are underway by Israel to demolish the Al-Aksa mosque and demonstrations against the “danger” to Al-Aksa are common.
Feiglin ends his column with a rebuke to the religious-right, saying that by not visiting in large enough numbers, they are allowing this to happen. “We cannot complain about Netanyahu or the police because if only twenty Jews a day visit the Temple Mount, as opposed to tens of thousands of Arabs, then all my words are meaningless,” he wrote.
The Arab conspiracy theory about Temple Mount gets people galvanized; are we seeing the start of a Jewish conspiracy theory to the same end?
A small yet vocal group seems to be holding the artistic and ethical sensibilities of the Jewish community of Washington, D.C. hostage, leading Theatre J to scale back its planned production of ‘The Admission’ by Motti Lerner.
Theatre, like all arts, is meant to create dialogue as well as delight, foster intellectual discourse for new and challenging ideas, and to bring community together over important social issues through creativity and openness. In other words theatre is meant to enlarge us, not constrain us.
The small group, COPMA (Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art), is advocating censorship. In its small-minded way it has decided that Jewish communal funding mechanisms should not fund plays they feel de-legitimates Israel. As a result they started a witchhunt to force the local Jewish federation to withdraw funding from Theatre J’s, home at a Jewish community center.
This is McCarthyism, pure and simple.
Motti Lerner’s credentials are impeccable. He is an honored member of the Association for Jewish Theatre (as is Theatre J). He has written for television and for theatres throughout Israel including the Cameri and the Habimah National Theatre. He won the Prime Minister of Israel Award for Writers, the Meskin Award for Best Play (1985), and the Israeli Motion Picture Academy award for best T.V. drama in both 1995 and 2004.
The Knesset returned to work today, after its exceedingly long summer break, and all indications are that we’re in for a session full of passion, arguments, and anger.
The key issues on the table divide Israel along its various social and electoral cleavages: religious, ethnic, dove-hawk, and left-right on domestic matters. And of course, this is without even touching on the big strategic matters of Syria, Iran, Egypt etc.
First up, religious. It’s supposedly decision time for the issue of the Haredi draft. Expect angry stamping of feet by Yesh Atid when proposals fail to meet the scale of draft it promised voters and the tearing up of legislation proposals at the Knesset podium by Haredi lawmakers. Expect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trying to mediate between them and ultimately trying to delay any decisions — but not without plenty of spilled ink, raised tempers, and talk of Yesh Atid walking out of the government.
Chief among the ethnic conflicts will be objections by Bedouin citizens to the state’s plans to urbanize them and remove them from lands to which they claim historic rights (the state doesn’t agree). This is a highly emotive issue that could well serve for an outlet for broader frustrations in the Arab sector.
Doves and hawks will clash on every detail of the ongoing negotiations. If there are more terror attacks, there will be more claims from hawks that negotiations should be suspended and/or the planned release of Palestinian prisoners (a concession that Israel is making as part of the peace process) should be cancelled. Expect one of the most bitter confrontations over the bill to require a referendum before any peace deal is agreed. Hawks see this as a get-out clause and/or a democratic right; doves tend to see it as an underhand way to sabotage any diplomatic advances.
On domestic policy, the left and the right will face off over the High Court’s recent decision that struck down a controversial law that allows the state to detain illegal immigrants for up to three years. The right is furious, claiming that Israel’s hands have been tied and it is weakened in its actions against illegal immigrants. But it goes deeper than this — the right sees this as underscoring all that is bad about the High Court, chiefly what is perceived as its political activism against the government. The left views the High Court decision on this issue as a welcome indication that the justice system still protects the weak, and will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid and return moves in Knesset to challenge the ruling or to institute long-term detentions by way of new legislation.
It’s a long time since the Knesset got much real work done. This time last year the Knesset was already gearing up for elections; then came coalition building; and just as the government was formed and lawmakers were settling in to their offices, it was the summer vacation. Now is the time for the many Knesset freshmen to get themselves noticed — and they have the perfect politically-charged environment in which to do so.
The Israeli election in January was widely lauded as a testament to the revival of Israel centrism. Coming out of nowhere the brand new Yesh Atid party won 19 seats — almost a sixth of the Knesset’s mandates. Is this revival now over?
A poll just conducted for the Globes financial newspaper found that if elections were held now, Yesh Atid would poll at just 12 seats, down by 7.
The two main parties to the right of Yesh Atid have, between them, increased their support by the equivalent of 6 seats, which would appear to indicate that Yesh Atid voters have shifted their support rightwards. Yesh Atid’s loss is the gain of Likud and the religious-Zionist Bayit Hayehudi.
But how much is this shift about ideology, and how much is it about the honeymoon period of celebrity-turned politician Yair Lapid ending, hitting Yesh Atid support hard? Has the ideological direction of Israel changed, or have Israelis just lost their love of Lapid and looked around at which other parties are options for their support?
And if the shift is ideological, is it as simple as it seems? With the Likud-led government participating in peace talks with the Palestinians, many Yesh Atid voters may have turned to Likud but remained avowedly centrist on the peace process. Their logic most likely goes: why support a centrist party when the stronger Likud party is following the centrist policy of negotiating?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went a long time to neutralizing Lapid’s appeal on social issues, which had been strong, by cornering him in to the role of Finance Minister. Now he could be stealing his thunder as a centrist.
The Knesset returns to work this week after a long summer break. Whether Yesh Atid’s woes stem from personality factors or Likud bursting its bubble, if is to survive as an electoral force, it desperately needs to prove its relevance.
Israel’s political golden boy Yair Lapid has been making the rounds in Washington this week, filling up some necessary gaps in his resume.
The telegenic Lapid, who until recently was a newspaper columnist and TV host, had hardly had a chance to establish ties with the American political elite before pulling a huge surprise in last year’s elections and becoming the leader of Israel’s second largest party.
Now finance minister, Lapid has replaced his trademark black T-shirt with a dark suit. And he is making sure not to miss any required stop on the power tour.
In his week long tour of New York and Washington, Lapid spent an evening speaking to PBS’s Charlie Rose and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board; in Washington he met with the House and Senate leadership; sat down with the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC; and gave what is almost a mandatory presentation for any aspiring Israeli leaders coming to town – a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In coalition negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu following the January elections, Lapid initially aimed for the post of foreign minister, but after Likud members insisted on keeping the position open for Avigdor Lieberman, Lapid opted for the treasury. The trip to Washington was timed to fit his participation, with other finance ministers from around the world, in the fall meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
But Lapid succeeded in packing his schedule with diplomatic meetings and speeches, indicating that his interest in the foreign ministry, or, as many speculate, in running for prime minister in the next elections, has not subsided. The administration rolled out the usual tribute it reserves for up-and-coming Israeli leaders: a one-on-one meeting with the vice president. Biden and Lapid met for more than an hour on Thursday and the meeting, according to official readouts, focused on Iran’s nuclear threat and the upcoming negotiations with Tehran.
News of the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a towering religious and political figure in Israel, plunged millions into mourning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yosef “was imbued with love for Torah and his people.” President Shimon Peres cut short a meeting with Czech Prime Minister upon hearing of Rav Ovadia’s death. Ordinary people fainted with emotion and grief.
Even amid this outpouring, we should not forget Yosef’s true colors: He was a racist and inflammatory bigot.
It is true that Yosef was an instrumental and often lenient religious arbitrator throughout his decades-long career. He famously ruled that widows of Isreali soldiers who went missing in the 1973 Yom Kippur War should be allowed to remarry. When large number of Soviet Jews arrived in Israel in the 1970’s and it was unclear if they were really Jewish by traditional, rabbinic standards, Yosef found a way to ensure that they would be accepted as legitimate members of the Jewish community.
At the same time, we should not be blinded by his political or religious importance to his shameful discriminatory language. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Yosef said black Americans brought the disaster on themselves.
“There are terrible natural disasters because there isn’t enough Torah study,” he said. “Black people reside there (in New Orleans) Blacks will study the Torah? (God said), ‘let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
The rabbi’s offensive talk was not limited to the African American community. In 2007, Yosef explained that some Israeli soldiers are killed in battle because they are not observant enough.
(JTA) — I didn’t need to ask directions.
Stepping out of the Central Bus Station, I saw them, men in hats and coats walking together slowly, a steady stream moving east along one of Jerusalem’s central thoroughfares to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. At 5 p.m., an hour before the funeral, the streets were already closed to cars – the capital’s rush-hour rigmarole giving way to foot traffic that was softer but no less intense.
From a distance it looked homogenous –aerial photographs would later show a sea of black choking the broad avenues of haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem. But as the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform – some still holding their guns. Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi hasids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves. Women, almost all with modest dress and vastly outnumbered, mostly stood to the side.
The men talked, they shook hands. A few took out their cellphones, perhaps not ready to begin the public mourning of a public leader who, to many, still felt so close. Everyone in Israel knew Ovadia Yosef’s name, but in public his followers would hardly use it, opting instead to call him Maran, our master.
On the sidewalk, a half-dozen men stood at a long table offering a sugary orange drink. Behind them, a speaker blared a recording on loop, quoting a common blessing:
“’To give life to every living soul!’ Come say a blessing over a cold drink to benefit the soul of Maran, may his holy righteous memory be blessed!”
The faithful heeded the call, crowding around a spigot, holding cheap plastic cups that formed a growing pile on the ground once the commandment was fulfilled.
Behind them, on the street, men and boys stood with oversize tins collecting charity. Paper printouts taped to the cans promised that Maran approved of the collection.
It’s Olive War season. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a gourmet reality television show, but rather a several-week period of clashes where Palestinians and settlers try to hit each other in their pockets, via their olive groves.
In recent years, attacks by Palestinians on settler groves and vice-versa have increased significantly. Of course, it’s more than just a financial warfare — it’s about deflating morale, flexing muscles, and spreading fear as well.
The harvest is about to get in to full swing, and both sides are already getting defensive. The Samaria Residents’ Council, a grassroots settlers’, organization, is urging Jews in the West Bank to get cameras ready to record “provocations that are bound to come.” Among the Palestinians, there are already reports of settler vandalism, with Bethlehem-based Maan News claiming that settlers destroyed over 50 olive trees today in the south Hebron hills.
Recent months have seen the start of some ugly Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, which have been calmed and contained quickly. However, out in what some commentators call the Wild West Bank, where tensions are less carefully managed, mutual olive grove attacks could conceivably spur nastier violence.
Every olive harvest puts the West Bank on edge, but this one in particular, with both settlers and Palestinians feeling frustrated with the international community, their own leaders, and the other side, will prove particularly challenging.
Almost two thirds of Palestinians think that a third intifada is round the corner if the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail, according to a new poll.
The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion asked Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza whether they “anticipate the outbreak of a third Intifada in case the peace process ends in failure” and found that 58.4% do. Only 26% said no, and the remaining 15.6% declined to answer.
The results of this poll are noteworthy not only because they underscore that the Palestinian public sees the negotiations as a high-stake exercise, but also because they point to a gulf between the declared position of the leadership and the public. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly that there will be no third intifada as long as he is in power.
It’s unclear from the poll whether the 58.4% that foresees an intifada if talks fail think that Abbas would break his word, or believe that the breakdown of negotiations would discredit Abbas and force him to resign.
At the start of President Barack Obama’s presidency, he announced a “pivot towards Asia” after years of American military and political resources being bogged down in the Middle East.
Obama’s speech Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly shows how clearly the pendulum has swung back. Although he referred to Iran, Syria Israel, and Palestine a combined 71 times, Obama only mentioned China once. He left out other Asian nations such as India, Japan, and North Korea altogether. This imbalance speaks volumes about Obama’s understanding that in the current era it is nearly impossible to avoid the volatile Middle East.
The speech also highlighted his abandonment of democratization and human rights as supreme values, replaced with a Henry Kissinger-style Realpolitik.
When addressing the Syrian crisis, Obama asked rhetorically how the United Nations and United States have handled this delicate affair. His underwhelming response: “We believe that as a starting point the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.”
Gone was the rhetoric calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate removal from power. The stated root for this policy is also illuminating, “I did so (supported intervention) because I believe it is in the national security interests of the United States and in the interest of the world.” His main focus is American security interests and global norms.
Obama continued by outlying his doctrine using American military power: if America’s allies in the region are attacked, oil flow disrupted, terrorist bases built, or weapons of mass destruction utilized. The president pointedly avoided promising that the U.S. would will use force to prevent genocide or to end a human rights massacre like in Syria. Translation: Obama is giving free rein to Assad to continue slaughtering his own people. Just don’t use chemical weapons or stop the flow of oil to Chicago or Los Angeles.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who is known as Abu Mazen, met Sept. 23 with American Jewish leaders, at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. There were plenty of former ambassadors, members of Congress, diplomats and dignitaries — former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright identified herself as “also a former person” — and even some currently in office. Martin Indyk, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for instance. Not to forget Wolf Blitzer.
It was a friendly crowd. All but we journalists (who stayed decidedly neutral) went to great lengths to express admiration for Abbas’s attempts at negotiations and support for a two-state solution. Again and again, it was noted that a strong majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor this outcome.
But Abbas has a more difficult task of persuasion within his own family. One of his sons, it turns out, is not a believer.
Starting Wednesday night, we can all look forward to a week of eating (and in some cases, sleeping) outside.
Sukkahs come in all shapes and sizes. Some people will cobble something in their backyard, others will use the handy space provided by an outdoor balcony, and still more may see it as a chance to show off their creative streak.
From Manhattan’s Union Square to the dark alleys of Venice, here are some pretty striking symbols of one of Judaism’s most festive holidays.
The crisis in Syria, has overwhelmed discussion of other Middle East issues in the past month, not the least of them being the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Still, the passage of two decades with little or no progress in the peace process has not passed unnoticed. Analysts and former negotiators from all sides have tried to explain, in articles and think-tank gatherings, why, so long after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to reaching a peace accord than they were in the moments following Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat’s historic handshake.
“One of Oslo’s best legacies is that the majority of each population now favors a two-state solution, though each is convinced that the other does not share its convictions,” wrote David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a paper he published on Monday.
But as Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to revive long-dormant talks between the two sides, a surprising side show has also emerged — one that takes on not the question of Oslo’s failure, but the validity of its fundamental premise: the notion of dividing the land into two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
Those critical of this premise got their biggest boost last Sunday when the New York Times Sunday Review gave its lead story over to a scathing opinion piece, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, who portrayed the major players’ clinging to a two-state solution as one of the main obstacles to finding other, more productive paths to peace.
“The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned,” Lustick wrote.
Calls have been voiced in the past to abandon the two-state solution and the peace process whose stated aim is to reach that outcome. But these were largely limited to the margins of the discussion. Scholars such as [Henry Siegman] who have publicly given up on the viability of a two state solution, have been sidelined in the discourse over the future of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
Does the article by Lustick — a longtime skeptic of the two-state solution — herald a breakthrough of his perspective into the mainstream?
Response to the article, in hundreds of comments posted online, seems to suggest otherwise. While a broad sense of pessimism still dominates any policy discussion about Secretary Kerry’s attempts to bring about a peace accord, there is no visible shift within mainstream discourse toward a one-state solution.
That sense of things seemed reinforced during a September 16 debate hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. The discussion featured author Peter Beinart, who argued in favor of the two-state solution, and Israeli academic Yehuda Shenhav who spoke about the demise of the two state solution and the need to discuss instead the concept of one state in which Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal rights and some form of shared sovereignty.
Here too, the stage and the speakers were as noteworthy as the substance of their discussion: an Ivy League university’s Israel studies center hosting a debate challenging the basic idea of separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states, held between two prominent intellectuals.
But the venue, as it turned out, also provided an illustration of the limits of the one-state solution’s penetration into the broader peace process discussion.
The event, though coming on the heels of the Times’ highlighting of the issue, was held in a small lecture hall that comfortably seated an audience estimated at no more than 100 people. This could suggest that the one state solution is still a topic primarily of interest to a fairly limited coterie concentrated on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and other, comparable districts elsewhere — not a debate ready for prime time.
Will the doors of Israel’s detention centers really open, allowing illegal immigrants to walk free?
According to today’s High Court ruling, this is exactly what should happen over the coming weeks. Israel’s High Court has just struck down a controversial law that allows the state to detain illegal immigrants for up to three years.
Judges decided that administrative detention for illegals violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, and therefore the Anti-Infiltration Law that permitted it is invalid. Instead, the state can only detain illegals for far shorter periods.
Excitement is spreading through detention camps, where news of the ruling is just being heard. But the joy on the part of illegals — and the human rights groups that fought the law — may be premature.
Back in 2006 the court overturned another law, which bound migrant workers to their employers during their time in Israel. The state simply ignored the ruling for many months, and a full two years after the court gave its ruling, and in so doing said that the law violated migrants’ basic rights, it was fully in place.
Only since 2008 has it been cancelled gradually, employment sector by employment sector. And alternative legislation that limits migrants’ employment choices has been enacted to replace the cancelled law.
So, the court may have spoken on the Anti-Infiltration Law today, but it’s far from clear how this will translate to action.
Two countries; two chief rabbinates. But the institutions could hardly be more different.
I have spent part of this summer observing the Chief Rabbi elections in Israel, and part in the U.K., hearing the opinions of British Jews about the end of the Jonathan Sacks era, with their Chief Rabbi (or strictly speaking the Chief Rabbi they share with the Commonwealth) due to retire on Sunday after two decades. The London-based congregational rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will replace him.
Sacks’ great success has been showing a dignified face of Judaism to non-observant Jewry and to non-Jewish Britain. He is famous for his short “Thought for the Day” monologues on BBC Radio and for his writing in the mainstream media. Sacks is a popular public intellectual far beyond the Jewish community, as he seems to know how to say the right things to inspire without pushing his beliefs.
In fact, the common tongue-in-cheek comment about him among Orthodox Jews is that he has been “Chief Rabbi for the Gentiles” — revered outside of his obvious following, Orthodox Jewry, but failing to resonate in this observant community.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has precisely the opposite orientation — it represents Orthodoxy and fails to communicate its message beyond.
Throughout centuries of Jewish history, there has been a rich and wide-ranging debate over what constitutes Jewish values and how we might live them out as Jews. Talmudic tradition repeatedly makes it clear that this debate is in fact, a sacrosanct cornerstone of our spiritual heritage.
Jewish Voice for Peace is proud to be part of this Jewish marketplace of ideas. We believe our vision has important and critical role to play in the Jewish communal debate over Israel/Palestine. But we have no illusions that all Jewish institutions will accept our alternate views. We are certainly open to hearing differing points of view; indeed, we would welcome such a conversation as a machloket l’shem shamayim — a debate for the sake of heaven.
Sadly, in the Jewish communal world sacred debate too often devolves into denigration and political name-calling. The latest example: the Anti-Defamation League’s recently released report that publicly puts JVP on the same level as hate groups such as the Aryan Nations and the Montana State Militia.
The people of Newtown have received plenty of advice on keeping children safe since their town was plunged into the national spotlight last December.
Now, Israel is offering its best words of wisdom.
“Awareness has become part of our DNA,” said David Rubin, a former Israeli government official.
Rubin and a group of Israeli experts spoke last week at the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, established by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to review and recommend policies on mental health, gun safety, and school security in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown.
The 16-member Commission, meeting in Hartford, battled technological difficulties to communicate via Skype with consultants from The Israel Experience in Homeland Security, or TIX, which advises law enforcement, government agencies, and businesses on matters of security.
Since the December rampage, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza drove up to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 students and staff, school security has been a concern in Connecticut. Yet the attention it has received in the state has paled in comparison to the polarizing issue of firearms restrictions and the compelling dilemmas surrounding the treatment of mental illness.
A working group of a bipartisan legislative task force was dedicated to discussing school safety, but Friday’s appearance by the Israeli group introduced a more comprehensive security philosophy. It also revealed a nuanced but profound divide in the way Americans and Israelis view public safety.
Rubin, former Israeli Economic Minister to North America, along with Israeli Secret Intelligence Service veteran Dov Shiloah and Assaf Heffetz, former Commissioner of the Israel Police, explained that in Israel, school security begins with awareness, a sort of intensified version of the American “If you see something, say something” campaign.
J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby that was shunned in its early years by Israeli government officials, is now making another step toward the acceptance by Israeli politicians.
This coming September, J Street will host, for the first time, a member of Knesset from the ruling Likud Party and a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party at its annual conference in Washington.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a hardliner turned peace supporter, will be the first member of the Likud to participate in a J Street event. Hanegbi is the son of Geula Cohen who was a fighter in the Irgun underground organization operating before the establishment of the State of Israel and who later became a right-wing politician.
Hanegbi’s first steps in politics were as a pro-settlers activist and he was one a handful of Israelis who refused to evacuate the settlement of Yamit during the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai which was part of its peace agreement with Egypt.
He was also a vocal critic of the Peace Now movement during the 1980’s.
In the Knesset, Hanegbi was first elected in 1988 as part of the Likud Party, but in 2005 he broke off with other members led by Ariel Sharon to establish the more moderate Kadima party. Later Hanegbi returned to the Likud and has since spoken in favor of a two-state solution. Still, in interviews and statements Hanegbi has stressed the responsibility of the Palestinians for the lack of progress in peace negotiations.
Hanegbi’s participation at the J Street conference, a result of outreach efforts conducted by the lobby’s office in Israel, is viewed by organizers as a mark of success. It is a sign, said Jessica Rosenblum, the group’s director of media and communications, “of the growing acceptance of J Street and the growing recognition of the common purpose,” of advancing a two-state solution.
J Street’s founding in 2008 was initially met with a cold shoulder by the Israeli government. Officials refused to meet with the lobby’s activists and the Israeli embassy boycotted its events. Since, however, the group established working relations with the embassy and an Israel senior diplomat delivered a speech at last year’s conference gala dinner. Hanegbi’s participation will signal yet another step by J Street away from its lefty image and closer to the Israeli mainstream.
Another first at this year’s conference will be the participation of Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas at the event. Shas, a Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party has supported in the past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but has since shifted to the right. Currently it is not a member of the Netanyahu governing coalition.
(JTA) — Sarajevo is a city with a rich multicultural past, but it also bears the scars of war. Take a short walk through the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and you will see the many cemeteries and bullet-riddled walls, which are undergoing restoration.
These lay side by side with magnificent churches, mosques and synagogues. For this reason, 100 Jews and Muslims from 39 countries gathered there last month to listen and learn from one another at an interfaith dialogue conference organized by the Muslim-Jewish Conference.
I was uneasy about participating. I was concerned that as an Israeli, a secular Jew, a combat soldier in the reserves and a Zionist activist, I would be surrounded by political activists whose sole purpose is to vilify Israel. From my experience, many dialogue initiatives have been hijacked by radicals, who silence any voice that is different.
On the very first day, however, my concerns were allayed. I found myself sitting and talking with young men and women from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, European Muslims, along with Jews from all over the world, each voicing their unique perspectives on conflicts, hate speech, gender relations and religious practice. Miraculously, despite the Arab-Israeli conflict, the different sides succeeded in overcoming the stereotypes, biases and ignorance we all have.
On the interpersonal level, it was a great success: a diverse group of Jews and Muslims who set aside their cynicism and mistrust, and engaged in friendly conversation for a week. Many questions were asked, some of them difficult and pointed, but there was room for answering, explaining and listening, an attempt to bridge the gaps that for many Israelis often seem unbridgeable.
It was not all rosy. Disagreements and tensions were present, and groups opposing interreligious dialogue accused the organizers of promoting certain political agendas. We may have been successful in overcoming our personal differences and finding common ground, but hatred, the foundation of violence, is still rife in many parts of the Muslim and Western worlds.
You could probably forgive the proprietors of Nikuv for feeling slightly giddy after the final results of Zimbabwe’s election were announced this weekend.
The Israeli company’s client, President Robert G. Mugabe, romped home with 60% of the vote and his ruling ZANU-PF party grabbed more than two-thirds of the seats in the troubled southern African nation’s parliament.
Mugabe, 89, turned back a challenge from longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party, beating the former trade union leader by about 1 million votes, according to official results.
Even better, there was none of the violence or blatant intimidation that marked past elections, like the 2008 vote that Tsvanigirai won and also led to widespread chaos and international condemnation.
So how did Nikuv, a shadowy company headquartered the Israeli town of Herzliya, play such a central role in the vote in a farflung African land?
Why did Nikuv CEO Emmanuel Antebi, and top aide Ammon Peer reportedly jet into the capital of Harare for 90 minutes of valuable face time with Mugabe on Tuesday, just hours before the polls opened?
The opposition and independent watchdogs say it’s because Nikuv was a vital cog in Mugabe’s strategy to massively rig the watershed election and maintain his grip on power.
The strategy apparently succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with Mugabe and ZANU-PF running up never before seen vote totals in some areas. In some urban constituencies, ZANU-PF increased its vote 10 and 20-fold. In rural areas, some districts recorded more votes than the adult population.