Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, famed for his uncompromising support of Israel, locked horns with a jeering crowd of even more uncompromising supporters of Israel in a Times Square hotel ballroom on Sunday.
Appearing at a day-long seminar on Israeli security, the celebrity scholar was repeatedly heckled and booed as he described his contacts with Palestinian leaders and urged civility in public discourse. Returning fire, Dershowitz told the audience they were “part of the problem, not part of the solution” and “you don’t speak for anybody but yourselves. Fortunately, nobody is listening to you.”
The occasion was the second annual Jerusalem Post Conference, an odd combination of high-level exchanges on security policy and raucous, far-right pep rally. The title was “Fighting for the Zionist Dream,” though it might just as easily have been named “Fighting Over the Zionist Dream.” Most of the day was devoted to thoughtful presentations by senior Israeli defense leaders, analyzing the complexities of Iran and Syria policy and discussing ways of reigniting peace talks with the Palestinians. Speakers included a former prime minister, a ranking Likud cabinet minister, a former army chief of staff, a former Mossad director, a former chief of military intelligence and others, including several Jerusalem Post journalists.
The paying audience, close to 1,000 New Yorkers, received most of the speakers politely, applauding only occasionally when someone saluted Israel’s soldiers or criticized Iran and booing lustily when they disagreed. The most enthusiastic reception was reserved for Post columnist Caroline Glick, a passionate opponent of Israeli-Palestinian compromise known for her slashing attacks on liberals.
The Dershowitz flap was essentially a replay in high-definition of a ruckus that punctuated the first Post conference, held a year ago in the same Marriott Marquis ballroom with many of the same speakers.
Israel’s new finance minister, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, gave his first Knesset speech as a cabinet minister on Monday, April 22, the opening day of the parliament’s spring session, and in defiance of longstanding tradition, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Longtime Knesset observers say they can’t remember ever hearing such a frontal, direct confrontation with the Haredi parties from the Knesset rostrum.
Beforehand, the session heard six opposition motions of no-confidence, including several attacks on Lapid’s government budget proposal. Meir Porush of the opposition United Torah Judaism party (the seated man with the white beard; to his right, with a black beard, is UTJ’s Moshe Gafni) complained about the impact of the budget on Israel’s security and also charged that the government was “starving children.” Instead of defending his budget proposal, Lapid delivered a stinging, sarcastic attack on the Haredi parties.
If you understand Hebrew, it’s worth watching. In fact, even if you don’t understand Hebrew well, you can watch it while following along with my translation, which appears after the jump. Lapid’s exchange with the Haredi lawmakers goes up to 7:15. After that he begins to respond to a no-confidence motion of MK Moshe Mizrahi of Labor. I stopped translating after a few sentences of this exchange, because it starts getting into budget technicalities.
For context, you can read this Haaretz report on the proposed cuts in government budgets for Haredim. Also worth reading: this column on the speech and its fallout by Jerusalem Post commentator Ben Caspit, as well as we this one by Haaretz Jewish World writer Anshel Pfeffer on the challenges facing Lapid and this one by Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger looking at ways Lapid and the Haredim can find common ground. But above all, watch Lapid, Porush and UTJ’s Israel Eichler go at each other. It’s great theater.
And my translation:
Israel’s political map is about to upended when Netanyahu and Liberman go on television at 2 p.m. Eastern time to announce a joint Knesset run. They’re apparently not merging their parties but forming a joint list. The aim is to ensure that Bibi ends up with the largest Knesset bloc after the January 22 elections, guaranteeing that he can form the next government. A Haaretz poll last week showed that if Ehud Olmert enters the race atop a new list that includes Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, he would outscore the Likud by one seat, 25-to-24, and win the first shot at forming a coalition. An earlier Jerusalem Post poll showed the Olmert superlist doing even better, beating the Likud 31-27. News 1 reports today that Bibi and Liberman could jointly grab 40 seats, guaranteeing that they bury even an Olmert superlist.
The kink in the plan is the religious vote. Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party puts a very high priority on a secularist agenda. Haaretz reports today that the joint Bibi-Liberman list is expected to give high priority to Liberman’s secularist agenda, and might even reach out to bring Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into a governing coalition. But the Likud relies heavily on religious voters who won’t like that. There’s a good chance that some of them will flee to the settler-based national-religious bloc, which appears to be running under a new banner that will join the Bayit Yehudi-NRP party with the National Union, reducing the Knesset strength of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list. It’s possible, though, that some will break toward Shas, particularly now that Arye Deri is returning (sharing power with Eli Yishai, who remains no. 1 on the Knesset list but hands over the party chairmanship to Deri).
So the 60,000 shekel question becomes: Can Haim Ramon engineer a center-left coalition that brings back Olmert atop a new list uniting him and Livni with Lapid and Mofaz’s Kadima, and work out a platform that allows them to join after the election with Ramon’s old friend and fellow dove Arye Deri? Can the various personalities bury their egos and feuds and join together to restore the peace process and two-state solution before it dies forever?
After seeing, hearing and reading the flood of anguish and outrage that’s followed Israel’s decision to free 1,027 terrorists in return for one captured soldier, you might be astonished to learn that Israelis approve of the deal by a nearly 6-to-1 margin, according to a poll published in the Jerusalem Post October 18. The Dahaf poll showed 79% for the swap and just 14% opposed. The margin among women was 86% to 5%. The same article reported another poll, by the Midgam organization, showing a narrower but still hefty 69%-to-26% approval.
I learned about this from the October 18 edition of the Daily Alert, the news digest emailed to tens of thousands of American Jewish mailboxes every morning from Israel on behalf of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Since the Daily Alert is supposed to be a pretty comprehensive round-up of Israel-related news and analysis, I looked for an article that would explain what it was that Israelis liked about the deal. I couldn’t find one. The closest thing I found was a bit of backhanded praise by Elliott Abrams from the Weekly Standard giving all the reasons why it was a Hamas victory, but then gushing over Israel’s oh-so-Jewish concerns for its children’s lives.
Everything else in today’s Daily Alert was an open or veiled attack on the decision to deal with Hamas, with headlines like “Israel’s Deals With the Devils” (Robert Mnookin, Wall Street Journal) “Why (Almost) Everyone Loses in the Prisoner Swap” (Benny Morris, National Interest), “Turkey’s Acceptance of Terrorists Reveals Hamas Ties” (Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post), and a news piece from Haaretz about Mahmoud Abbas hailing the freed Palestinians as “freedom fighters.” The two previous Daily Alert editions, October 17 and October 14, were even more strident in savaging the Netanyahu government’s decision. And people wonder why American Jews are so much more hawkish than Israelis.
Yes, Virginia, there was a logic behind Israel’s decision, and not merely a soft-headed willingness to throw prudence to the wind in response to a mother’s tears. The Daily Alert must have accidentally overlooked that stuff. Or maybe they wanted to shield us from leftist propaganda. For example, this Jerusalem Post article by former Netanyahu bureau chief Ari Harow.
There is still much discussion about the firing early last week of Larry Derfner, the lefty Jerusalem Post columnist. Derfner wrote in our pages that he regretted making it seem like he was legitimizing Palestinian terror against Israelis. He intended only to shock his readers into thinking about what some of the reasons behind the terror might be, namely the occupation.
To its credit, The Jerusalem Post ran on Sunday an op-ed by Jeff Barak, a former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, defending Derfner. Barak made the point that whether you find Derfner’s opinion abhorrent or not, “it’s not really a viewpoint that’s outside the Israeli consensus.”
As Exhibit A, he pointed to a well-known quote from Defense Minister Ehud Barak from when he was running for prime minister in 1999. If he had been born a Palestinian, he said, “I would join a terror organization.”
But it is how Barak (Jeff, not Ehud) ends his piece that seems most provocative. He sees in Derfner’s firing not what is wrong with Derfner or even the Jerusalem Post, but what might be wrong with an increasingly vocal element in Israeli society. Here are his closing words:
In fact, it is the readers who vehemently called for a boycott of the Post if Derfner were not fired who present the real danger to Israel. Their narrow, self-righteous view of the world and Israel’s place within it, coupled with their failure to accept any criticism of Israel that jars with this viewpoint, encourages a totalitarian mind-set that damages the fabric of Israel as an open, tolerant society in which freedom of expression is a basic right.
Okay, I will come clean. In Daniel Gordis’s latest column for the Jerusalem Post, he writes about meeting “one of America’s leading Jewish journalists” whom he describes as “extraordinarily smart” and who cares a lot about Israel.
Imagine my surprise to read about myself. Not that I mind his characterization (thank you, Daniel!), but I mind having what I thought was a private conversation publicized without my knowledge or consent.
And it was a great conversation – for nearly two hours, Gordis spoke with me and Dan Friedman, the Forward’s arts and culture editor, about a range of topics, from his plans for expanding the Shalem Center, which he heads, to politics in Israel, to the challenge of raising children both here and there. He’s an interesting, articulate thinker, and while we don’t agree on certain key issues, he was a civil sparring partner.
We’ve now posted a piece by Larry Derfner, who was fired earlier this week from the Jerusalem Post, where he had been a longtime left-leaning columnist. He makes reference to his initial blog post (dated August 21 and now removed from his website, Israel Reconsidered) that lost him his job. With his permission we have excerpted it here as well as his apology, written on August 26.
From Derfner’s original post:
I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation, which has been the case since the Netanyahu government took over (among other times in the past).
When we say that the occupation is a terrible injustice to the Palestinians, but then say that Palestinian terror/resistance is a terrible injustice to Israel, we’re saying something that’s patently illogical to anyone but a pacifist, and there aren’t many pacifists left, certainly not in Israel.
If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t. And that’s not easy for a nation that sanctifies the right to self-defense; a nation that elected Irgun leader Menachem Begin and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister.